U.S.-Russia Tension over Nuclear Treaty

The United States has given Russia 60 days to comply with the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), otherwise the U.S. will consider leaving the pact. The deadline was issued on Dec. 4, 2018 by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at a NATO meeting in Brussels. It came in response to intelligence evidence concerning Russia’s SSC-8 ground-fired cruise missile, which the U.S. claims is in violation of the treaty by providing the country with the potential to launch a nuclear strike on Europe with little prior notice. The INF treaty bans land-based missiles with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometers, but Russia maintains that the SSC-8 missiles have a range of less than 500 kilometers. The Associated Press quoted Pompeo as stating, “Our nations have a choice. We either bury our head in the sand or we take common sense action in response to Russia’s flagrant disregard for the expressed terms of the INF Treaty.”

On Dec. 5, 2018 Russian President Vladimir Putin addressed the situation by denying the allegations and claiming the United States was looking for an excuse to withdraw from the treaty. He warned that if the U.S. were to pull out and begin developing missiles banned by the agreement, Russia would follow suit.

Wave of French Protests Continue

The Eiffel Tower, along with many museums, shops and restaurants, will be closed on Saturday, Dec. 8, 2018 to minimize damage and potential violence during an expected series of anti-government protests. The planned demonstrations will come a week after what The Associated Press called “France’s most violent urban riot in more than a decade.” The protesters behind both events have been dubbed the "gilets jaunes" or “yellow jackets,” and their movement began in mid-November as a response to an increased fuel tax.

French President Emmanuel Macron cancelled the tax hike on Dec. 5, 2018, but the group’s focus has expanded beyond the original issue. In addition to further complaints about taxes and the high cost of living, BBC News reported that the "gilets jaunes" have now brought over 40 demands to the French government, calling for such reforms as a lowered retirement age and a minimum pension.

As of Dec. 6, the yellow jacket protests had resulted in two deaths and hundreds of injuries. BBC News said that French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe has announced 89,000 police officers will be on duty throughout the country on Saturday, including 8,000 officers in Paris who will be accompanied by a dozen armored vehicles.

A separate protest centered around educational reforms took place on Dec. 6, 2018. The demonstration was held in opposition to Macron’s proposed changes to the baccalaureate, an exam required for students to go to university. Over 140 of the protesters were arrested in a clash with the police outside of a school in Yvelines.

Astronauts (and Worms) Reach the ISS

A Soyuz rocket successfully docked at the International Space Station (ISS) on Dec. 3, 2018 — three months after a previous attempt was aborted. The launch was originally planned for later in December, but was pushed forward to prevent the station from being temporarily unoccupied when the previous crew returns to Earth. The new crew brought to the ISS consists of American Anne McClain, Canadian David Saint-Jacques and Russian Oleg Kononenko. They are scheduled to spend six and a half months on board the station. 

BBC News quoted Kononenko as saying that “[the crew is] psychologically and technically prepared for blast-off and any situation which, God forbid, may occur on board."

Two days after the launch, another rocket followed. The second one was a SpaceX Falcon 9 that left for the ISS after a day’s delay, carrying supplies, research equipment and worms. According to BBC News, “Thousands of worms have been fired into space so that scientists can learn how their muscles work in zero gravity.” The objective of the study is to gain a better understanding of the muscle loss experienced in low-gravity environments by worms and humans alike.