Putin Signs Laws Annexing 4 Ukrainian Regions

Local resident Ekaterina, 22, stands next to her residential building that was damaged after an overnight Russian attack in Kramatorsk, Ukraine, Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022. (AP)
Local resident Ekaterina, 22, stands next to her residential building that was damaged after an overnight Russian attack in Kramatorsk, Ukraine, Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022. (AP)
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Putin Signs Laws Annexing 4 Ukrainian Regions

Local resident Ekaterina, 22, stands next to her residential building that was damaged after an overnight Russian attack in Kramatorsk, Ukraine, Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022. (AP)
Local resident Ekaterina, 22, stands next to her residential building that was damaged after an overnight Russian attack in Kramatorsk, Ukraine, Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022. (AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed laws absorbing four Ukrainian regions into Russia, a move that finalizes the annexation carried out in defiance of international law.

The documents were published on a Russian government website on Wednesday morning.

Earlier this week, both houses of the Russian parliament ratified treaties making the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions part of Russia. The formalities followed Kremlin-orchestrated “referendums” in the four regions that Ukraine and the West have rejected as a sham.

The move comes as Moscow's war in Ukraine has entered a new, more dangerous phase. Russia faces mounting setbacks on the battlefield, with Ukrainian forces retaking more and more land in the east and in the south — the very regions Moscow has pushed to annex.

The borders of the territories Russia is claiming still remain unclear, but the Kremlin has vowed to defend Russia's territory — the newly absorbed regions, too — with any means at its disposal, including nuclear weapons.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy responded to the annexation by announcing a fast-track application to join NATO and formally ruling out talks with Russia. Zelenskyy’s decree, released Tuesday, declares that holding negotiations with Putin has become impossible after his decision to take over the four regions of Ukraine.

On the battlefield on Wednesday morning, multiple explosions rocked Bila Tserkva, setting off fires at what were described as infrastructure facilities in the city to the south of the capital Kyiv, regional leader Oleksiy Kuleba said on Telegram.

Early indications are that the city was attacked by so-called “kamikaze” or suicide drones, he said.

Bila Tserkva is about 80 kilometers (50 miles) south of Kyiv.

Russia has increasingly been using suicide drones in recent weeks, posing a new challenge to Ukrainian defenses. The unmanned vehicles can stay aloft for long periods of time before diving into their targets and detonating their payload at the last moment.

Many of the earlier attacks by the Iranian-made drones happened in the south of the country and not near the capital, which hasn't been targeted for weeks.

In a later post, Kuleba said that a total of six Shahed-136 drones struck the city, one of the largest in the region after Kyiv itself. One person was injured in the attacks.

Dozens of rescue workers were on the scene and still working to extinguish the fires hours after the attacks were reported, he said.

Ukrainian forces, in the meantime, continued to make gains in the south. Kyiv's military said Wednesday they have recaptured more villages in the Kherson region as a part of their massive counteroffensive effort.

Operational Command South said that the Ukrainian flag has been raised above Liubymivka, Khreschenivka, Zolota Balka, Biliaivka, Ukrainka, Velyka and Mala Oleksandrivka villages.



Kyiv: Russia Has Fired More Than 8,000 Missiles, 4,630 Drones in War so Far

A Ukrainian serviceman of the 65th Mechanised Brigade of the Ukrainian Armed Forces salutes his brother-in-arms who rides atop an armored personnel carrier near the front line village of Robotyne, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine February 21, 2024. REUTERS/Stringer
A Ukrainian serviceman of the 65th Mechanised Brigade of the Ukrainian Armed Forces salutes his brother-in-arms who rides atop an armored personnel carrier near the front line village of Robotyne, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine February 21, 2024. REUTERS/Stringer
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Kyiv: Russia Has Fired More Than 8,000 Missiles, 4,630 Drones in War so Far

A Ukrainian serviceman of the 65th Mechanised Brigade of the Ukrainian Armed Forces salutes his brother-in-arms who rides atop an armored personnel carrier near the front line village of Robotyne, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine February 21, 2024. REUTERS/Stringer
A Ukrainian serviceman of the 65th Mechanised Brigade of the Ukrainian Armed Forces salutes his brother-in-arms who rides atop an armored personnel carrier near the front line village of Robotyne, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine February 21, 2024. REUTERS/Stringer

Russia has launched more than 8,000 missiles and 4,630 drones at targets in Ukraine since the start of the war in February 2022, Ukrainian air force spokesperson Yuriy Ihnat said on Thursday.

Ukraine has received advanced air defense systems, including several units of the Patriot system, from Western allies throughout the invasion, enabling it to shoot down more missiles.

Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said on Thursday that Russian troops may need to reach Ukraine's capital Kyiv to achieve the goals of what Moscow calls a "special military operation.”

According to Russian state news agency TASS, he said Russians and Ukrainians are one nation and the Ukrainian government, which Moscow calls the "Kyiv regime, must fall."


Biden Strengthens Cybersecurity in US Ports

US President Joe Biden. (EPA)
US President Joe Biden. (EPA)
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Biden Strengthens Cybersecurity in US Ports

US President Joe Biden. (EPA)
US President Joe Biden. (EPA)

US President Joe Biden signed an executive order Wednesday aimed at strengthening cybersecurity in US ports, particularly given risks associated with Chinese-made cranes.

"America's ports employ 31 million Americans, contribute $5.4 trillion to our economy, and are the main domestic point of entry for cargo entering the United States," Anne Neuberger, deputy national security advisor for cyber and emerging technology, told reporters.

"The continuity of their operations has a clear and direct impact on the success of our country, our economy and our national security," she said.

The order establishes "minimum cybersecurity requirements" and aims to improve the reporting of incidents by ports and port facilities.

The federal government is additionally supporting the manufacture of US cranes and is investing $20 billion in port infrastructure over the next five years.

"Chinese threats are one key threat that this executive order... will help protect ports against," Neuberger said.

Rear Admiral Jay Vann, commander of the United States Coast Guard Cyber Command, told the press briefing that Chinese-manufactured ship-to-shore cranes make up the largest share of the global market and account for nearly 80 percent of cranes at US ports.

He said the coastguard has already assessed the cybersecurity of 92 Chinese-made cranes out of the "over 200" installed at American ports.


Israel Intercepts Apparent Houthi Attack Near Eilat

A trail of white smoke in the air from what the Israeli military said was an intercepted target is pictured in Eilat, Israel February 22, 2024, in this screengrab taken from a social media video. Ronit Zilberstein/via REUTERS
A trail of white smoke in the air from what the Israeli military said was an intercepted target is pictured in Eilat, Israel February 22, 2024, in this screengrab taken from a social media video. Ronit Zilberstein/via REUTERS
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Israel Intercepts Apparent Houthi Attack Near Eilat

A trail of white smoke in the air from what the Israeli military said was an intercepted target is pictured in Eilat, Israel February 22, 2024, in this screengrab taken from a social media video. Ronit Zilberstein/via REUTERS
A trail of white smoke in the air from what the Israeli military said was an intercepted target is pictured in Eilat, Israel February 22, 2024, in this screengrab taken from a social media video. Ronit Zilberstein/via REUTERS

Israel intercepted what appeared to be an attack launched by Yemen's Houthi militias Thursday near the port city of Eilat as the group escalates its assaults over Israel's war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, authorities said.
Sirens sounded early Thursday morning over Eilat, followed by videos posted online of what appeared to be an interception in the sky overhead.
The Israeli military later described the interception as being carried out by its Arrow missile defense system.
Israel did not identify what the fire was, nor where it came from. However, the Arrow system intercepts long-range ballistic missiles with a warhead designed to destroy targets while they are in space.
The system “successfully intercepted a launch which was identified in the area of the Red Sea and was en route to Israel,” the Israeli military said. “The target did not cross into Israeli territory and did not pose a threat to civilians.”
Eilat, on the Red Sea, is a key port city of Israel. On Oct. 31, the Houthis first claimed a missile-and-drone barrage targeting the city. The militias have claimed other attacks targeting Eilat, which have caused no damage in the city.
Since November, the Houthis have repeatedly targeted ships in the Red Sea and surrounding waters over Israel’s war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. They have frequently targeted vessels with tenuous or no clear links to Israel, imperiling shipping in a key route for trade among Asia, the Mideast and Europe.


Italy Arrests 12 People over Speed Boat Migrant Trips from Tunisia

FILE - Migrants swim next to their overturned wooden boat during a rescue operation by Spanish NGO Open Arms at south of the Italian Lampedusa island at the Mediterranean sea, Aug. 11, 2022. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco, file)
FILE - Migrants swim next to their overturned wooden boat during a rescue operation by Spanish NGO Open Arms at south of the Italian Lampedusa island at the Mediterranean sea, Aug. 11, 2022. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco, file)
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Italy Arrests 12 People over Speed Boat Migrant Trips from Tunisia

FILE - Migrants swim next to their overturned wooden boat during a rescue operation by Spanish NGO Open Arms at south of the Italian Lampedusa island at the Mediterranean sea, Aug. 11, 2022. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco, file)
FILE - Migrants swim next to their overturned wooden boat during a rescue operation by Spanish NGO Open Arms at south of the Italian Lampedusa island at the Mediterranean sea, Aug. 11, 2022. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco, file)

Italian police said on Wednesday they had arrested 12 suspected human traffickers for allegedly organizing high-speed transfers for at least 73 illegal migrants from Tunisia to Europe.

Expert pilots operated the speed boats crossing from Tunisia to Marsala in Sicily between June and September last year, police said in a statement, describing them as "VIP trips".

The traffickers transferred relatively small groups of up to 20 people on each of four trips, charging fees of up to 6,000 euros ($6,500) per person, the statement said.

The trip, on a crowded and less seaworthy vessel, would normally cost under 1,000 euros per migrant, an official with knowledge of the matter said.

Italy and other European governments have taken an increasingly hard line on immigration in recent years amid a surge of arrivals of asylum seekers and undocumented migrants. EU data shows fewer than 100,000 irregular migrants made to it Europe in 2020, but that rose to 250,000 last year.

Six Tunisians and six Italians were detained as part of an investigation coordinated by European police body Europol and the Italian anti-mafia police unit.

Also, 19 illegal migrants were held and eight Tunisian boat operators were arrested last year during the initial part of the investigation. Four of the boat crew were also charged over firing naval flares at a military vessel during an attempt to evade being apprehended by authorities.

Since the beginning of the year, 4,247 illegal migrants have landed on Italy's shores, data from the home affairs ministry shows. That is down from more than 12,500 at the same stage in 2023, when Italy recorded unprecedented pressure from the number of people trying to reach Europe.

Tunisia has replaced Libya as North Africa's main departure point for people fleeing poverty and conflict elsewhere in Africa and across the Middle East in the hope of a better life in Europe.


Lula Meets Blinken after Gaza Comments Spark Diplomatic Rift

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (R) receives US Secretary of State Antony Blinken for a meeting at Planalto Palace in Brasilia, Brazil, 21 February 2024. (EPA)
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (R) receives US Secretary of State Antony Blinken for a meeting at Planalto Palace in Brasilia, Brazil, 21 February 2024. (EPA)
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Lula Meets Blinken after Gaza Comments Spark Diplomatic Rift

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (R) receives US Secretary of State Antony Blinken for a meeting at Planalto Palace in Brasilia, Brazil, 21 February 2024. (EPA)
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (R) receives US Secretary of State Antony Blinken for a meeting at Planalto Palace in Brasilia, Brazil, 21 February 2024. (EPA)

US top diplomat Antony Blinken met President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on Wednesday, as the Brazilian leader was in the middle of a diplomatic spat with Israel over comments in which Lula likened that country's war in Gaza to the Nazi genocide during World War Two.

In brief remarks in front of reporters as they met at Brasilia's presidential palace, Lula remarked that US presidential elections are coming up in November.

Secretary of State Blinken responded that politics in the US were "so polarized" and the election would come down to six or seven battleground states including Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Nevada.

"There are fewer and fewer undecided voters," Blinken said. "There's a battle for a very thin segment of the electorate."

In a statement after the meeting, which lasted almost two hours, the Brazilian presidential office said that Lula and Blinken had discussed several topics ranging from the G20 summit to peace efforts in Gaza and Ukraine.

"President Lula reaffirmed his wish for peace and an end to the conflicts in Ukraine and the Gaza Strip," the Brazilian government said. "Both agreed on the need for the creation of a Palestinian State."

US officials had previously said they expected Lula and Blinken to have a robust conversation on issues of global security, including the conflict in Gaza sparked by attacks in southern Israel by Hamas militants on Oct. 7.

Israel said on Monday that Lula is not welcome in Israel until he takes back the comments.

State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said on Tuesday that Washington disagreed with Lula's comments, but declined to preview what Blinken would say in the meeting on the issue.

Lula's comments came after he visited the Middle East last week and just ahead of a meeting of foreign ministers in Rio de Janeiro as part of Brazil's presidency of the G20 group of advanced economies.

Washington, which provides Israel with military and diplomatic support, has urged Israel to protect civilians but defended Israel's right to target Hamas militants in the Gaza strip.

Ahead of Blinken's travel to South America, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Brian Nichols told reporters that sharing ideas on the conflict in Gaza would be "crucial to the conversation" between Lula and Blinken.


Czechs Extradite Suspect in Iran-Backed Murder Plot to United States 

Farmers drive tractors during a protest against European Union agricultural policies, grievances shared by farmers across Europe, in Prague, Czech Republic, February 19, 2024. (Reuters)
Farmers drive tractors during a protest against European Union agricultural policies, grievances shared by farmers across Europe, in Prague, Czech Republic, February 19, 2024. (Reuters)
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Czechs Extradite Suspect in Iran-Backed Murder Plot to United States 

Farmers drive tractors during a protest against European Union agricultural policies, grievances shared by farmers across Europe, in Prague, Czech Republic, February 19, 2024. (Reuters)
Farmers drive tractors during a protest against European Union agricultural policies, grievances shared by farmers across Europe, in Prague, Czech Republic, February 19, 2024. (Reuters)

The Czech Republic on Wednesday extradited a man facing charges in the United States for plotting the murder of a prominent critic of Iran's government, the Czech Justice Ministry said.

The ministry said Polad Omarov was handed to representatives of US authorities at the Prague Vaclav Havel Airport on Wednesday morning after the suspect had exhausted all options of appeal.

Omarov was arrested in the Czech Republic in January 2023.

The ministry said the justice minister had ruled in July last year in favor of extradition, but the action was delayed by the suspect's complaint with the constitutional court, which was rejected.

Omarov, along with Rafat Amirov and Khalid Mehdiyev, were charged with murder-for-hire and money laundering for their roles in the thwarted Tehran-backed assassination attempt of a critic of Iran's government who is a US citizen and lives in Brooklyn, New York.

The US did not name the alleged victim when it detailed charges in January 2023, but Mehdiyev was arrested in 2022 in New York for having a rifle outside the Brooklyn home of journalist Masih Alinejad. A longtime critic of Iran's head-covering laws has promoted videos of women violating those laws to her millions of social media followers.

US prosecutors in 2021 also charged four Iranians alleged to be intelligence operatives for Tehran with plotting to kidnap a New York-based journalist and activist. While the target of that plot was not named, Reuters confirmed it was Alinejad.

US prosecutors have said Omarov was a resident of the Czech Republic and Slovenia. The Czech Justice Ministry said on Wednesday he was a citizen of Georgia.


Russia’s Top General Visits Troops in Ukraine to Discuss Next Steps 

Chief of the General Staff of Russian Armed Forces Valery Gerasimov meets with service members who, according to the Defense Ministry, participated in taking Avdiivka, at a Russian military command center in a location given as Russian-controlled Ukraine, in this still image taken from video released February 21, 2024. (Russian Defense Ministry/Handout via Reuters)
Chief of the General Staff of Russian Armed Forces Valery Gerasimov meets with service members who, according to the Defense Ministry, participated in taking Avdiivka, at a Russian military command center in a location given as Russian-controlled Ukraine, in this still image taken from video released February 21, 2024. (Russian Defense Ministry/Handout via Reuters)
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Russia’s Top General Visits Troops in Ukraine to Discuss Next Steps 

Chief of the General Staff of Russian Armed Forces Valery Gerasimov meets with service members who, according to the Defense Ministry, participated in taking Avdiivka, at a Russian military command center in a location given as Russian-controlled Ukraine, in this still image taken from video released February 21, 2024. (Russian Defense Ministry/Handout via Reuters)
Chief of the General Staff of Russian Armed Forces Valery Gerasimov meets with service members who, according to the Defense Ministry, participated in taking Avdiivka, at a Russian military command center in a location given as Russian-controlled Ukraine, in this still image taken from video released February 21, 2024. (Russian Defense Ministry/Handout via Reuters)

Russia's top general, Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov, visited troops fighting in the war in Ukraine to discuss the next steps after the taking the town of Avdiivka, state media reported on Wednesday.

President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday Russian troops would push further into Ukraine to build on their success on the battlefield after the fall of the town of Avdiivka where he said Ukrainian troops had been forced to flee in chaos.

Gerasimov was shown awarding medals to Russian troops involved in taking Avdiivka and he was given a report by the commander in charge of the Russian assault on Avdiivka, Colonel-General Andrei Mordvichev, state media said.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told CNN that Avdiivka would not have fallen had Kyiv received weapons held up by the US Congress' failure to approve a large aid package.

After the failure of Ukraine to pierce Russian front lines in the east and south last year, Moscow has been trying to grind down Ukrainian forces just as Kyiv ponders a major new mobilization.


Alexei Navalny’s Mother Files Lawsuit with Russian Court Demanding Release of Her Son’s Body 

Flowers are seen placed around portraits of late Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who died in a Russian Arctic prison, at a makeshift memorial in front of the former Russian consulate in Frankfurt am Main, western Germany, on February 20, 2024. (AFP)
Flowers are seen placed around portraits of late Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who died in a Russian Arctic prison, at a makeshift memorial in front of the former Russian consulate in Frankfurt am Main, western Germany, on February 20, 2024. (AFP)
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Alexei Navalny’s Mother Files Lawsuit with Russian Court Demanding Release of Her Son’s Body 

Flowers are seen placed around portraits of late Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who died in a Russian Arctic prison, at a makeshift memorial in front of the former Russian consulate in Frankfurt am Main, western Germany, on February 20, 2024. (AFP)
Flowers are seen placed around portraits of late Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who died in a Russian Arctic prison, at a makeshift memorial in front of the former Russian consulate in Frankfurt am Main, western Germany, on February 20, 2024. (AFP)

The mother of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has filed a lawsuit at a court in the Arctic city of Salekhard contesting officials’ refusal to release her son’s body, Russia’s state news agency Tass reported Wednesday.

A closed-door hearing has been scheduled for March 4, the report said, quoting court officials.

Lyudmila Navalnaya has been trying to retrieve her son’s body since Saturday, following his death in a penal colony in Russia’s far north a day earlier. She has been unable to find out where his body is being held, Navalny’s team reported.

Navalnaya appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin Tuesday to release her son’s remains so that she could bury him with dignity.

“For the fifth day, I have been unable to see him. They wouldn’t release his body to me. And they’re not even telling me where he is,” a black-clad Navalnaya, 69, said in the video, with the barbed wire of Penal Colony No. 3 in Kharp, about 1,900 kilometers (1,200 miles) northeast of Moscow.

“I’m reaching out to you, Vladimir Putin. The resolution of this matter depends solely on you. Let me finally see my son. I demand that Alexei’s body is released immediately, so that I can bury him like a human being,” she said in the video, which was posted to social media by Navalny’s team.

Russian authorities have said the cause of Navalny’s death is still unknown and refused to release his body for the next two weeks as the preliminary inquest continues, members of Navalny's team said.

They accused the government of stalling to try to hide evidence. On Monday, Navalny’s widow, Yulia, released a video accusing Putin of killing her husband and alleged the refusal to release his body was part of a cover-up.

“They are cowardly and meanly hiding his body, refusing to give it to his mother and lying miserably,” she said.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov rejected the allegations of a cover-up, telling reporters that “these are absolutely unfounded, insolent accusations about the head of the Russian state.”

Navalny’s death has deprived the Russian opposition of its best-known and inspiring politician less than a month before an election that is all but certain to give Putin another six years in power.

Since Navalny’s death, about 400 people have been detained across in Russia as they tried to pay tribute to him with flowers and candles, according to OVD-Info, a group that monitors political arrests.

Authorities cordoned off some of the memorials to victims of Soviet repression across the country that were being used as sites to leave makeshift tributes to Navalny. Police removed the flowers at night, but more keep appearing.

Peskov said police were acting “in accordance with the law” by detaining people paying tribute to Navalny.

Over 60,000 people have submitted requests to the government asking for Navalny’s remains to be handed over to his relatives, OVD-Info said.


Britain's Nuclear Deterrent Missile System Misfires during Test

Crew from HMS Vengeance, a British Royal Navy Vanguard class Trident Ballistic Missile Submarine, stand on their vessel as they return along the Clyde river to the Faslane naval base near Glasgow, Scotland December 4, 2006. REUTERS/David Moir/File Photo
Crew from HMS Vengeance, a British Royal Navy Vanguard class Trident Ballistic Missile Submarine, stand on their vessel as they return along the Clyde river to the Faslane naval base near Glasgow, Scotland December 4, 2006. REUTERS/David Moir/File Photo
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Britain's Nuclear Deterrent Missile System Misfires during Test

Crew from HMS Vengeance, a British Royal Navy Vanguard class Trident Ballistic Missile Submarine, stand on their vessel as they return along the Clyde river to the Faslane naval base near Glasgow, Scotland December 4, 2006. REUTERS/David Moir/File Photo
Crew from HMS Vengeance, a British Royal Navy Vanguard class Trident Ballistic Missile Submarine, stand on their vessel as they return along the Clyde river to the Faslane naval base near Glasgow, Scotland December 4, 2006. REUTERS/David Moir/File Photo

Britain's Trident nuclear deterrent system misfired during a test last month, when a missile crashed into the ocean off the Florida coast near the submarine that launched it, The Sun newspaper reported on Wednesday.
The Sun said the first-stage boosters on the missile, which was equipped with dummy warheads, did not ignite during the Jan. 30 test, Reuters said.
The Ministry of Defense said an anomaly occurred during the test but that the failure had no implications for the wider system.
"As a matter of national security, we cannot provide further information on this, however we are confident that the anomaly was event specific, and therefore there are no implications for the reliability of the wider Trident missile systems and stockpile," the MoD statement said.
"The UK's nuclear deterrent remains safe, secure and effective," it added.
The failures of the Trident tests are likely to exacerbate concerns over the readiness of Britain's navy in the event it is drawn into a full blown conflict.
Britain's nuclear deterrent is provided by a fleet of four nuclear-powered submarines which are equipped with the Trident ballistic missile system, manufactured by Lockheed Martin.
According to the Royal Navy website, there has always been a British ballistic missile submarine at sea since 1969, and that "a credible nuclear deterrent depends on the ability to threaten an assured and effective response to aggression."
The nuclear deterrent system costs around 3 billion pounds ($3.79 billion) per year to operate - equivalent to roughly 6% of the UK's overall defense budget. Parliament voted in 2016 to approve building a new class of submarines, due to enter service in the 2030s, at a cost last estimated at 31 billion pounds.
A previous test of the system in 2016 also ended in failure when the missile was reported to have veered off course.
Earlier this month, the MoD's Royal Navy warfare force had to withdraw its HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier from the largest NATO exercise since the Cold War after routine checks identified an issue with a coupling on the carrier's starboard propeller shaft.


Iran Dismisses Plan by UN Nuclear Watchdog Head to Visit Next Month 

Rafael Grossi, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency speaks at the panel session during the second day of the World Government Summit in Dubai on February 13, 2024. (AFP)
Rafael Grossi, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency speaks at the panel session during the second day of the World Government Summit in Dubai on February 13, 2024. (AFP)
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Iran Dismisses Plan by UN Nuclear Watchdog Head to Visit Next Month 

Rafael Grossi, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency speaks at the panel session during the second day of the World Government Summit in Dubai on February 13, 2024. (AFP)
Rafael Grossi, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency speaks at the panel session during the second day of the World Government Summit in Dubai on February 13, 2024. (AFP)

Iran's nuclear chief on Wednesday dismissed a suggestion that the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Rafael Grossi would visit Iran next month but instead invited Grossi to a conference in Tehran in May.

Grossi said this week Iran was continuing to enrich uranium well beyond the needs for commercial nuclear use and said he planned to visit Tehran next month to tackle "drifting apart" relations between the IAEA and the country.

But Mohammad Eslami said a visit next month was unlikely due to a "busy schedule" without giving further clarification. "Iran's interactions with the IAEA continue as normal and discussions are held to resolve ambiguities and develop cooperation," he said at a weekly press conference in Tehran.

Eslami said Grossi had been invited to attend Iran's first international nuclear energy conference in May.

Speaking to Reuters on Monday, Grossi said while the pace of uranium enrichment had slowed slightly since the end of last year, Iran was still enriching at an elevated rate of around 7 kg of uranium per month to 60% purity.

Enrichment to 60% brings uranium close to weapons grade, and is not necessary for commercial use in nuclear power production. Iran denies seeking nuclear weapons, but no other state has enriched to that level without producing them.

Under a defunct 2015 agreement with world powers, Iran can enrich uranium only to 3.67%. After then-President Donald Trump pulled the US out of that deal in 2018 and re-imposed sanctions, Iran breached and moved well beyond the deal's nuclear restrictions.

The UN nuclear watchdog said the 2015 nuclear deal "is all but disintegrated."