Ukraine urges ‘comprehensive’ NATO response to Russia

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Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko speaks to servicemen taking part in brigade tactical exercises near Goncharivske village, Chernihiv region, not far from the border with Russia. ( AFP)
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Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko comforts Irina, wife of detained Ukrainian sailor Yury Budzinsky in Kiev. (AP Photo)
Updated 04 December 2018
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Ukraine urges ‘comprehensive’ NATO response to Russia

  • Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin hinted that at least one NATO member was ready to enhance its presence in the Black Sea in response to a call from Kiev
  • NATO foreign ministers meeting in Brussels discussed the Azov Sea standoff but did not agree any concrete new measures to help Ukraine

BRUSSELS: Ukraine on Tuesday pressed NATO to come up with a “comprehensive answer” to Russian aggression in the Black Sea, as the alliance treads carefully for fear of escalating tensions further.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin hinted that at least one NATO member was ready to enhance its presence in the Black Sea in response to a call from Kiev following Russia’s seizing of ships and sailors in the Kerch Strait.
NATO foreign ministers meeting in Brussels discussed the Azov Sea standoff but did not agree any concrete new measures to help Ukraine.
“What is critically important is to have a very clear and comprehensive answer to Russian acts of aggression... (and) Russian abuses of Black Sea security,” Klimkin told reporters.
The clash last week off the coast of Crimea, annexed by Moscow in 2014, left 24 Ukrainian sailors and three navy ships in Russian hands and sent tensions soaring.
European leaders have rebuffed Ukrainian calls for more support against Moscow, but Klimkin indicated that a NATO country was ready to step up, without giving clear details.
“This presence will be enhanced and we have to see which country will be the pioneer. You will hear that not from us but from the alliance member,” he said.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg repeated a call for Russia to return the sailors and ships and ensure freedom of navigation in the Azov Sea, an offshoot of the Black Sea home to key Ukrainian ports.
He said the alliance had stepped up its presence in the area over the past year, but announced no new practical help for Ukraine.
The United States is pressing Europe to “show some leadership” on the Azov Sea crisis.
“We really want to see European allies do more,” a senior US State department official said.
“We want to see European allies take greater responsibility for a security problem that’s just 200 miles from Germany’s border.”
But European countries — some of which have strong business links to Russia — are deeply wary of doing anything that might exacerbate the situation.
“We will continue to make every effort to ensure that this conflict does not turn into a serious crisis. and that can only be achieved with a political solution,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said.
Klimkin said he would use talks with EU officials next week to ask whether the international response could include barring Russian commercial shipping from international ports.
Ukraine has accused Moscow of blocking merchant vessels from entering and leaving Azov Sea ports.
But Kiev said Tuesday that Russia had begun allowing some ships to enter Ukrainian ports on the Sea of Azov, in what could signal an easing of tensions in the flashpoint area.


Firefighters battle wildfire in Portugal, 32 people hurt

Updated 22 July 2019
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Firefighters battle wildfire in Portugal, 32 people hurt

COLOS, Portugal: More than 1,000 firefighters battled a major wildfire Monday amid scorching temperatures in Portugal, where forest blazes wreak destruction every summer.
About 90% of the fire area in the Castelo Branco district, 200 kilometers (about 125 miles) northeast of the capital Lisbon, was brought under control during cooler overnight temperatures, according to local Civil Protection Agency commander Pedro Nunes.
But authorities said they expected heat in and winds to increase again in the afternoon, so all firefighting assets remained in place. Forests in the region are tinder-dry after weeks with little rain.
The Portuguese Civil Protection Agency said 321 vehicles and eight water-dumping aircraft were deployed to tackle the blaze, which has raced through thick woodlands.
Nunes told reporters that the fire, in its third day, has injured 32 people, one seriously.
Police said they were investigating what caused the fire amid suspicions it may have been started deliberately.
Temperatures were forecast to reach almost 40 C (104 F) Monday — prolonging a spell of blistering weather that is due to hit northern Europe late this week.
Recent weeks have also seen major wildfires in Spain, Greece and Germany. European Union authorities have warned that wildfires are “a growing menace” across the continent.
In May, forest fires also plagued Mexico and Russia.
Huge wildfires have long been a summer fixture in Portugal.
Residents of villages and hamlets in central Portugal have grown accustomed to the summer blazes, which destroy fruit trees, olive trees and crops in the fields.
In the hamlet of Colos, 50-year-old beekeeper Antonio Pires said he had lost half of his beehives in the current wildfire. Pires sells to mainly Portuguese and German clients, but also to Brazil and China.
“(I lost) 100 out of 230 (hives), so almost half,” Pires said. “A lot of damage.”
The country’s deadliest fire season came in 2017, when at least 106 people were killed.
The average annual area charred by wildfires in Portugal between 2010 and 2016 was just over 100,000 hectares (247,000 acres). That was more than in Spain, France, Italy or Greece — countries which are significantly bigger than Portugal.
Almost 11,500 firefighters are on standby this year, most of them volunteers. Volunteers are not uncommon in fire brigades in Europe, especially in Germany where more than 90% are volunteers.
Experts and authorities have identified several factors that make Portugal so particularly vulnerable to forest blazes. Addressing some of them is a long-term challenge.
The population of the Portuguese countryside has thinned as people have moved to cities in search of a better life. That means woodland has become neglected, especially as many of those left behind are elderly, and the forest debris is fuel for wildfires.
Large areas of central and northern Portugal are covered in dense, unbroken stretches of forest on hilly terrain. A lot of forest is pine and eucalyptus trees, both of which burn fiercely.
Environmentalists have urged the government to limit the area of eucalyptus, which burns like a torch. But it is a very valuable crop for Portugal’s important paper pulp industry, which last year posted sales worth 2.7 billion euros ($3 billion). The government says it is introducing restrictions gradually.
Experts say Portugal needs to develop a diversified patchwork of different tree species, some of them more fire-resistant and offering damper, shaded.
Climate change has become another challenge, bringing hotter, drier and longer summers. The peak fire season used to run from July 1 to Sept. 30. Now, it starts in June and ends in October.
After the 2017 deaths, the government introduced a raft of measures. They included using goats and bulldozers to clear woodland 10 meters (33 feet) either side of country roads. Property owners also have to clear a 50-meter (164-feet) radius around an isolated house, and 100 meters (328 feet) around a hamlet.
Emergency shelters and evacuation routes have been established at villages and hamlets. Their church bells aim to toll when a wildfire is approaching.
With 98% of blazes caused by human hand, either by accident or on purpose, officials have also been teaching people how to safely burn stubble and forest waste. Police, army and forest service patrols are also increased during the summer.