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May 2, 2014

Early Friday, Ukraine launched an "anti-terrorist" offensive to retake Slovyansk and other eastern Ukraine cities it has lost to pro-Russia militias. Moscow sharply criticized Ukraine's decision to try to reassert control over its own territory; Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitri Peskov warned ominously that Ukraine's "punitive operation" essentially destroys "all hope for the viability of the Geneva agreements" to halt the violence.

The Geneva agreement, of course, required the pro-Russia militias to lay down their arms, too, and instead they've just taken over more cities. Russia has amassed troops along the Ukraine border, for military "exercise," and denies that its special forces are in Ukraine guiding the separatist uprising. There's a growing body of inconclusive evidence suggesting otherwise, but if not Russian "green men," who exactly is organizing the well-armed, well-coordinated capture of eastern Ukraine?

Ukraine's invasion, launched early Friday morning, isn't going well so far: Pro-Russian militants shot down two Ukrainian attack helicopters with shoulder-fired missile launchers, killing two Ukrainian servicemen, and shot at a third helicopter carrying medics. The expert use of anti-aircraft missiles is proof that "trained, highly qualified foreign military specialists" are operating in Slovyansk and elsewhere in eastern Ukraine, the domestic intelligence agency SBU told Reuters, "and not local civilians, as the Russian government says, armed only with guns taken from hunting stores."

The SBU is hardly a disinterested source, but Russia doesn't seem to have an answer for that. Earlier this week, The Daily Beast reported that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told a group of world leaders last Friday that "intel is producing taped conversations of intelligence operatives taking their orders from Moscow and everybody can tell the difference in the accents, in the idioms, in the language." Kerry added: "It's not an accident that you have some of the same people identified who were in Crimea and in Georgia and who are now in east Ukraine," and Russia's denial of involvement "is insulting to everybody's intelligence."

That, or Russia just doesn't care what we think. Peter Weber

6:26 a.m. ET

On Wednesday, British Home Secretary Amber Rudd said that Salman Abedi, the 22-year-old man who is believed to have exploded a suicide bomb at an Ariana Grande concert on Monday night, was known to British intelligence and security agencies "up to a point." The bombing, which killed 22 people, including children, and wounded dozens of others, "was more sophisticated than some of the attacks we've seen before, and it seems likely — possible — that he wasn't doing this on his own," she added. Police in Manchester said they have arrested three more men in south Manchester in connection with the attack, in addition to the 23-year-old they arrested on Tuesday.

"The intelligence services know a lot of people, and I'm sure we will find out more what level they knew about him in due course," Rudd told reporters, referring to Abedi, "but at the moment all they have confirmed is that they did know about him. And as I say, we will find out more when the operation is complete." She also expressed annoyance at U.S. intelligence leaks about the ongoing investigation. The operation includes sending military personnel out to the streets, beginning with 400 to 800 troops but up to 3,800.

Britain has raised its terrorism alert level to critical, its highest level, which indicates that another attack may be imminent. The Islamic State has said on social media that a "soldier of the caliphate" was able to "plant explosive devices" at the arena Monday night, but there is no known connection between ISIS and Abedi, a Briton of Libyan descent. In Manchester on Tuesday, hundreds gathered for a vigil outside City Hall to mourn the victims and pledge to fight hate with love. You can learn more in the Associated Press report below. Peter Weber

5:40 a.m. ET
Sam Yeh/AFP/Getty Images

On Wednesday, Taiwan's Constitutional Court recognized a legal right to same-sex marriage, ruling that the parts of the civil code that prohibit such unions violate the country's constitution. The justices gave lawmakers two years to change the laws to permit same-sex marriage, or they will be come de facto legal. Both main political parties, President Tsai Ing-Wen, and a majority of the public support same-sex marriage, so amending the law shouldn't be too heavy a lift.

Still, "it's still unclear how far parliament will go," says BBC News Taipei correspondent Cindy Sui. There is also significant opposition from religious and traditionalist voters to making Taiwan the first Asian nation to permit same-sex marriage, and the legislature could give gay couples full rights, civil unions, limited marriage rights, or take no action at all. Peter Weber

5:04 a.m. ET

On Tuesday, the White House released President Trump's first budget, titled "A New Foundation for American Greatness." That's "slightly grandiose for a financial document," Stephen Colbert said on Tuesday's Late Show. "That's like calling a grocery list 'A Bold Vision for Yogurt and Dog Food.'" And the foundation? he said. Trump is apparently building it "out of the ground-up bones of poor people."

The budget calls for slashing funding for food stamps (SNAP) and a children's health insurance plan (CHIP), for example. "So he's cutting SNAP and CHIP, to which America's children replied, 'Stop' and 'Help,'" Colbert said. "I know this is an unpopular position these days, but I believe children should go to the doctor and eat. Where do I find the courage?" But the budget isn't just aimed at children and the poor, it's also "filled with brutal, senseless cuts to medical research," including 19 percent from the National Cancer Institute, Colbert said, as the crowed booed. "Listen, Trump said we'd be sick of winning, and he is ready to deliver on the first half of that sentence."

"Speaking of things that keep spreading, the Russia investigation is only getting worse for the president," Colbert said, mentioning Monday's revelations that Trump apparently also asked the NSA chief and director of national intelligence to quash the Russia investigation, and translating former CIA chief John Brennan's very boring testimony to a House committee on Tuesday: "Basically, he's saying he knows that Russia tried to recruit members of the Trump campaign, he's not sure if they did. That's like saying: 'We know the mob tried to cut your brake cables, we just don't know if they succeeded — here are the keys, have a great drive!'"

"While he's been overseas, the president has not been tweeting as much," Colbert noted. "I assume it's because he's too cheap to pay for data roaming." But it also might be because last week, Trump's aides reportedly staged a Twitter "intervention." Colbert was mock-horrified: "You can't take Twitter away from Trump! That's like taking the nudity away from Game of Thrones — it's the reason why we watch the show." Apparently, this particular Twittervention "included White House staff only, but there are plenty of us who have been deeply affected President Trump's tweets," Colbert said, "so I just want to take a second to speak to President Trump personally." You can hear his intervention below. Peter Weber

4:04 a.m. ET

President Trump arrived at the Vatican on Wednesday, and "he's so excited to finally meet Jude Law," Stephen Colbert said on Tuesday night's Late Show. "Now, Rome is the third leg of Trump's tour of some of the world's major holy sites, and if I did not know any better, I would say that Donald Trump is really trying to get in touch with God here." "God" appeared on the Late Show ceiling. "You got that right, Stephen," he said.

"Lord, how do you feel about Trump going to all these holy sites around the world?" Colbert asked. "You pray with three major religions in one week?" the ceiling deity replied. "I don't know, it seems a little needy." Colbert asked if "God" could disclose what Trump prayed for at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, and "God" demurred: "Sorry, Stephen. Unlike some people, I don't give away top secret information from Israel." Still, it must be flattering getting all this attention, Colbert said, and God said no, not at all: "This whole thing's just a distraction from the Russia scandal. I mean, Trump even asked me if I could get James Comey to stop the FBI investigation." Did he? Watch below. Peter Weber

3:42 a.m. ET
Alessandra Tarantino/AFP/Getty Images

On Wednesday morning at the Vatican, President Trump held a 30-minute private meeting with Pope Francis in his studio; both men brought translators. Before the meeting, a smiling Trump and pope shook hands for the cameras, and Trump said it was "a great honor" to be there. After their meeting, Pope Francis and Trump exchanged gifts — the pope gave Trump copies of his three main papal writings and a medallion by a Roman artist that he called a symbol of peace; Trump gave Francis a first-edition set of writings from Martin Luther King Jr. and a piece of granite from Washington's Martin Luther King. Jr. Memorial — and the pope left for his weekly audience with the public in St. Peter's Square.

"Those arriving for the regular papal audience were almost clueless to the fact that mere feet away from an encounter between the heads of the world's biggest temporal superpower and its biggest spiritual superpower," reports Inés San Martín at Crux. "Big groups dressed for the occasion with matching T-shirts and baseball caps, streaming into St. Peter's Square even as Trump's motorcade was entering the Vatican through a side door known as the 'Peruggino.' This was the pope's one request, and it was done solely so that it wouldn't disrupt those going into the square: instead of coming in through the famous Via della Conciliazione that leads to St. Peter's Square, the motorcade took a side route ... using an entrance next to the pope's residence, Santa Marta."

Trump and his entourage were also treated to a tour of the Vatican, including the Sistine Chapel. Peter Weber

3:03 a.m. ET

Not all popular music from the 1980s has withstood the scrutiny of time and tastes. But 30 years ago, U2 released Joshua Tree, the album that made them the No. 1 band in the world and a household name, and they were on Tuesday night's Jimmy Kimmel Live to talk about it. They discussed the album cover, and how they used the same photographer for the backdrop on their current tour, and then they literally pushed Jimmy Kimmel out of the way and played "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For." Watch and enjoy below. Peter Weber

2:41 a.m. ET

President Trump and first lady Melania Trump arrived at the Vatican on Wednesday morning for their meeting with Pope Francis, and the first lady was wearing a mantilla, or lace head scarf covering her hair.

Fussing over the fashion choices of presidential wives is pretty silly, but it is worth noting — as Trump did with Michelle Obama — that women in Saudi Arabia are legally required to cover their heads, and neither Obama nor Melania and Ivanka Trump did so on their visits to the Muslim kingdom. Women are not required or generally encouraged to cover their head in the Catholic Church.

Ivanka Trump, a convert to Orthodox Judaism, wore a head-scarf at the Vatican, too. Peter Weber

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