Biden, Putin talk about Ukraine

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN speaks to Russian President Vladimir Putin (White House photo).

For the second time in a month, U.S. President Joe Biden and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin had a phone call about tensions over Ukraine being the main topic.

Russia has deployed an estimated 95,000 troops at its border with Ukraine, a former part of the Russia-led Soviet Union. According to United Press International, Putin requested the call and used it as an opportunity to urge the U.S. and NATO to pledge not to admit Ukraine to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization or put any “offensive weapons” into former Soviet republics.

The U.S. has vowed to press with severe economic sanctions if Russia attacks its neighbor, and NATO has refused to promise to not accept Ukraine as a member, although no decision has been made.

Thursday’s call was not made public, so each side’s spokesperson made some general remarks about the conversation, which reportedly lasted about 50 minutes. The two leaders will speak again in talks scheduled for Jan. 10.

Colorado fires burn homes, thousands flee

Wind-pushed wildfires outside of Denver have destroyed an estimate 580 houses on Thursday. Additionally, a hotel and a shopping center have been burned, according to the Associated Press.

The blaze, carried along by wind gusts of over 100 miles an hour, started in mid-morning and has scorched 2.5 square miles. Six people are reported injured. So far 50,000 people have been ordered to evacuate the cities of Louisville and Superior.

Sports: College grid tournament to kick off

The two semifinal games of the College Football Playoffs will be played on Friday afternoon. Top-ranked Alabama (12-1) will take on fourth-seeded Cincinnati (13-0) in the 12:30 p.m. game. It’ll be Michigan (12-1), the second seed, against Georgia (12-1) in the other semi at 4:30 p.m. Both games will be televised on ESPN. The winners will meet for the title on Jan. 10 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis at 5 p.m. (all times local).

Weather: Say goodbye to the rain

After three days of rainy skies, the West Orange County area should see at least some sun on Friday, New Year’s Eve. The daytime high is forecast to be 61 with an overnight low of 45. The sun should come out strongly on Saturday with a daytime high of 63(42). Sunday should be similar.

Finance:  Bears have a small romp

Thursday brought the bruins back to Wall Street, with all three major exchanges showing retreats for the second day. The Dow was down 98 points to close at 36,193. The S&P 500 slipped 13.5 points to 4,768.75 and Nasdaq declined 47.25 points to finish at 16,383.

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