First Thing: Russia’s Black Sea flagship sinks | US news

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Russia’s Black Sea flagship missile cruiser, the Moskva, has sunk while being towed to a port after an explosionaccording to the Russian defense ministry.

It comes after Ukraine said on Wednesday its military struck the Moskva with Neptune anti-ship cruise missiles, while distracting its crew with a drone, causing it to start sinking and forcing the crew of 500 to abandon ship.

The Russian defense ministry said on Thursday: “The cruiser ship Moskva lost its stability when it was towed to the port because of the damage to the ship’s hull that it received during the fire from the detonation of ammunition. In stormy sea conditions, the ship sank.”

  • Is Russia’s claim about a “storm” true? The claim of bad weather being a factor was questioned by observers. “Looking at the weather report outside of Sevastopol today the winds were about 4 mph with 40-degree [4C] temperatures and a little bit of rain,” the former commanding general of the US army in Europe told CNN.

  • What’s the significance? The sinking of the Moskva – the pride of its fleet and the most prestigious vessel involved in the war against Ukraine – represents a symbolic blow to the Kremlin.

  • What could this mean for Russian strategy? The CIA director, William Burns, warned of “desperation” from the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, who could resort to using a tactical or low-yield nuclear weapon as a result of his country’s military setbacks.

Russia warns of nuclear weapons in Baltic if Sweden and Finland join Nato

Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting on Thursday.
Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting on Thursday. Photograph: Mikhail Klimentyev/AP

Moscow has said it will be forced to strengthen its defenses in the Baltic if Finland and Sweden join Nato, including by deploying nuclear weapons.

Finland and Sweden are deliberating over whether to abandon decades of military non-alignment to join Nato, with the two Nordic countries’ leaders saying Russia’s onslaught on Ukraine has changed Europe’s “whole security landscape”.

Lithuania played down the threat, saying Russia already has nuclear weapons in its Baltic Kaliningrad enclave. That claim has not been independently verified.

  • que should we expect next as the war enters its seventh week? Ukraine is braced for a powerful attack in the east.

  • What sanctions is Volodymyr Zelenskiy calling for? The Ukrainian president this week has been urging the west for greater sanctions such as to stop buying all Russian oil. He also wants diplomats to return to Kyiv.

Former British citizen convicted in ‘Beatles’ Islamic state kidnapping trial by US jury

El Shafee Elsheikh, right, is seen here in 2018.
El Shafee Elsheikh, right, was convicted for his part in a hostage-taking scheme. He is seen here in 2018. Photograph: Hussein Malla/AP

A member of an Islamic state group that beheaded American hostages in Iraq and Syria, nicknamed the Beatles for their British accents, has been found guilty in a US court of terrorism offences.

A jury found El Shafee Elsheikh, a 33-year-old former British citizen, guilty on all eight counts after a trial in Alexandria, Virginia.

The jury deliberated for four hours before reaching its verdict in the most significant prosecution of an Islamic State member in the US. Elsheikh stood motionless and gave no visible reaction as the verdict was read. He faces up to a life sentence in prison.

  • What was he charged with? Elsheikh was charged with hostage-taking, conspiracy to murder US citizens – journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and aid workers Peter Kassig and Kayla Mueller – and supporting a terrorist organization.

  • Did the survivors identify him? No. Although the Beatles had distinctive accents – survivors identified them as John, George and Ringo – they always took great care to hide their faces. Prosecutors suggested Elsheikh was Ringo but only had to prove he was one of the Beatles.

In other news…

Actor Amber Heard sits with her legal team during Johnny Depp's defamation case against her at the Fairfax County circuit court in Virginia on Thursday.
Actor Amber Heard sits with her legal team during Johnny Depp’s defamation case against her at the Fairfax County circuit court in Virginia on Thursday. Photo: Reuters
  • Boris Johnson’s plans to send unauthorized asylum seekers on a one-way ticket to Rwanda have been decried by opponents. The UK government plan was attacked as inhumane, expensive and deadly with senior Conservatives also criticizing Johnson.

  • The defamation case between Johnny Depp and Amber Heard thundered on, with the couple’s marriage counselor, Dr Laurel Anderson, describing their relationship as slipping into “mutual abuse.”

  • An archaeological dig under Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris you have uncovered an extraordinary treasure of statues, sculptures, tombs and pieces of an original rood screen dating to the 13th century.

  • Covid cases are rising in the north-east US as many Americans travel for spring break and religious holidays. The increase is being driven by the more transmissible Omicron variantBA.2.

  • A Mexican woman died in a “senseless tragedy” after attempting to climb the US border wall in eastern Arizona. the sheriff’s office said her foot and leg became entangled as she tried to maneuver down. She was 32.

  • An Ohio man who claimed he was only “following presidential orders” from Donald Trump when he stormed the US Capitol has been convicted by a jury. It took jurors less than three hours to reject the defense of Dustin Byron Thompson, 38.

Stat of the day: Man who paid $2.9m for NFT receives top bid of just $6,800

Sina Estavi, the chief executive of the crypto exchange Bridge Oracle.
Sina Estavi, the chief executive of the crypto exchange Bridge Oracle. Photograph: Mehran Harati/Reuters

Sina Estavi, the crypto entrepreneur who paid $2.9m for an NFT in March last year featuring the Twitter boss Jack Dorsey’s first tweet, looks likely to lose almost everything on the asset. By Thursday Estavi had received a top bid of just $6,800 for the non-fungible token; he was hoping for $48m. But the owner’s confidence in his NFT was not shaken. “This is the Mona Lisa of the digital world,” he told Reuters, adding he might not sell it.

Don’t miss this … Tacos, treehouses, virtual golf: top firms try to bribe workers back to the office

A man playing golf in an office
It’s virtual game time. Photograph: PeopleImages/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Since the Covid pandemic began, millions of workers around the world have gone remote. Now bosses are offering special sweeteners to anyone willing to trudge back. Everything from virtual golf, free tacos, “pet stipends” and more. Google is giving US employees money for electric scooter subscriptions. Goldman Sachs is blasting live music outside offices. But in a tight labor market, whether the tactics are successful remains to be seen.

Climate check: Canada ignored warnings of virus infecting farmed and wild salmon

Salmon swimming in a river during the spawning season in British Columbia, Canada.
Salmon swimming in a river during the spawning season in British Columbia, Canada. Photograph: edb3_16/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Canada was warned in 2012 by its scientists that a virus was infecting farmed and wild salmon. But successive governments ignored the expert advice, saying for years that risks to salmon were low. The 2012 report was finally released in March this year after a multiyear access-to-information battle. The industrial salmon industry was accused of relying on the government to “hide their sins”.

Last Thing … Experience: a cactus saved my life

Matthew Brown
Matthew Brown: ‘The slope was steep and hard, and there was nothing to grab on to.’ Photograph: Gareth Iwan Jones/The Guardian

When I was living in Chile on a gap year aged 18, says Matthew Brown, we went hiking in the Cajón del Maipo, a wildlife-rich canyon in the mountains to the south of Santiago. The narrow path fell perilously away, not quite sheer but steep and hard. I remember noticing some rocks at the edge of the drop shift slightly. As I was processing this, the ground beneath my hiking boots gave way. ‘This is it,’ I thought as I started to roll down the canyon, rapidly picking up speed. Then I came to an abrupt stop…

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