First Thing: Europe ‘closer to war’ than at any point in 70 years | US news

Good morning.

Europe is closer to war than at any point over the past 70 years, a UK government minister has warned, as Russian troops amass on the borders of Ukraine and western leaders warn that an invasion could take place early this week.

The armed forces minister James Heappey told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme he feared “we are closer than we’ve been on this continent” to war “for 70 years”.

Western leaders are mounting a final effort to negotiate diplomatic solutions after US intelligence said an attack could be imminent. The German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, will travel to Kyiv for talks with Ukrainian officials and British prime minister Boris Johnson said he would hold further talks with world leaders to bring Russia “back from the brink” of war.

  • Is Joe Biden involved in the last minute negotiations? Yes but yesterday, the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, urged Joe Biden to visit Kyiv “in the coming days” in a show of moral support. However, the White House has made no mention of the invitation so it’s unclear if Biden intends to go.

  • Is time running out to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis? US intelligence over the weekend claimed that Russia had accelerated plans for an invasion and could move troops across the border as soon as Wednesday, before the end of the Winter Olympics on 20 February.

Key US-Canada border bridge reopens after police clear blockade

Police remove all truckers and supporters after protesters blocked Ambassador Bridge. Photograph: Nathan Denette/AP

The key Ambassador Bridge trade link between Canada and the US has reopened after police cleared the last Covid restriction protesters, ending a six-day blockade.

Police moved in to clear and arrest the remaining protesters on the border bridge yesterday, trying to end one of the main demonstrations that have broken out across Canada against Covid-19 vaccine mandates and other restrictions to bring the pandemic under control.

After issuing warnings, police said arrests would be made and vehicles towed just after dawn near the bridge linking Detroit and the city of Windsor, Ontario.

By Sunday afternoon, most protesters had gone and vehicles that were blocking the way had been removed, and the bridge reopened just before midnight on Sunday.

  • What about the protests in Ottawa? Small-scale protests there swelled to what police said were 4,000 demonstrators. The city has seen that on past weekends, and loud music played as people milled about downtown where anti-vaccine demonstrators have been encamped since late January.

Kamila Valieva cleared to skate at Winter Olympics

Kamila Valieva
Kamila Valieva had tested positive for a banned angina drug. Photograph: Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP/Getty Images

Kamila Valieva, the 15-year-old Russian skater who charmed these Winter Olympics before her positive drugs test sent shockwaves across the world, has sensationally been cleared to compete in the individual event due to the “exceptional circumstances” of her case.

The court of arbitration for sport, which delivered its verdict yesterday, said that banning Valieva while her doping case was ongoing “would cause her irreparable harm”.

The three-person panel also ruled that the World Anti-Doping Code was unclear when it came to suspended “protected persons” under 16 years of age and said that a 44-day delay in reporting Valieva’s positive test for the banned angina drug trimetazidine had affected her ability to mount a defence.

“The panel considered that preventing the athlete from competing at the Olympic Games would cause her irreparable harm in these circumstances,” Matthieu Reeb, secretary general for the court of arbitration for sport, told the world’s press.

  • Does everyone agree with the decision? No. Sarah Hirshland, the president of the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee said she was “disappointed” by the decision. “This appears to be another chapter in the systemic and pervasive disregard for clean sport by Russia,” she added.

In other news …

Super Bowl: Rams v Bengals, Sofi Stadium, Inglewood, California, United States on 13 February
Los Angeles Rams offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth celebrates his team’s victory with Matthew Stafford’s daughter. Photograph: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times/REX/Shutterstock
  • Six years after the Los Angeles Rams returned to California – after a 20-year sojourn in St Louis – the Rams are Super Bowl champions for the second time in their history. They have been accused of trading away their future to build a team of superstars, but their fans are unlikely to care now. And here Sam Wolfson reviews the half-time show by Dr Dre, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Kendrick Lamar and Mary J Blige.

  • Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam, has said an “onslaught” of Covid-19 infections has dealt a heavy blow and overwhelmed capacity as daily cases surge to record highs. Daily infections have multiplied by a factor of 13 over the past two weeks, with authorities scrambling to control the deepening outbreak.

  • Donald Trump has endorsed rightwing Republican candidates who support his baseless claims of a stolen election for key posts in Michigan, raising the prospect of a Trumpist take over of how the key battleground state might run its elections.

  • Some players of the viral word game Wordle have complained that it has become harder since it was bought by the New York Times late last month. The New York Times has denied any changes have been made to Wordle since the acquisition. “Nothing has changed about the game play,” they said.

Don’t miss this: lessons for lifelong lovers

Heart graphic
Heart of the matter: ‘Never raise a complaint with a criticism. It always makes people defensive’ and other tips for keeping the love alive. Illustration: Danae Diaz

After that initial attraction, what keeps a couple together? And as we change and grow over the years, how do we make sure we move in the same direction? Six relationship experts on how to keep that loving feeling. Philippa Perry suggests remembering your partner is not responsible for your happiness, you are. “I don’t recommend entering a relationship believing love will conquer your personal demons and, then, when it doesn’t, blaming your partner for you not feeling happier.”

Climate check: small pets at risk of heatstroke as temperatures rise, study finds

Guinea pigs
Cats, guinea pigs, rabbits and ferrets are being taken to vets with heatstroke. Photograph: USPCA/PA

Dogs are not the only pets vulnerable to heatstroke, and experts are saying that people should be aware of the risk to smaller animals such as guinea pigs and rabbits, especially as global temperatures rise. Researchers say their findings highlight the need for better public awareness of heatstroke and the risk to all animals, and that cases will continue to rise with warmer weather because of the climate emergency.

Last Thing: how a mountain lion became Los Angeles’ wildest celebrity

Mountain lion P22
Griffith Park’s famous feline has been dubbed the ‘Brad Pitt of mountain lions’. Photograph: Alamy

The mountain lion known as P22 has become something of a celebrity in the city of Los Angeles. The big cat resides in Griffith Park, a 4,000-acre park tucked in the Hollywood hills, and has inspired murals, songs and even an exhibit about his life. Beth Pratt, California director for the National Wildlife Federation, has a tattoo of P22 and dubbed him the “Brad Pitt of mountain lions” – attractive, enigmatic and unlucky in love. He has plenty of deer to eat, no male competitors in his territory, but also no hope of finding a mate.

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