Russia’s Vladimir Putin hopes US counterpart Joe Biden less impulsive than Donald Trump

Russia’s Vladimir Putin hopes US counterpart Joe Biden less impulsive than Donald Trump
Russian President Vladimir Putin voiced hope Friday that US President Joe Biden will be less impulsive than his predecessor Donald Trump. (AFP)
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Updated 12 June 2021

Russia’s Vladimir Putin hopes US counterpart Joe Biden less impulsive than Donald Trump

Russia’s Vladimir Putin hopes US counterpart Joe Biden less impulsive than Donald Trump
  • Russian leader describes Biden as a ‘career man’ who has spent his life in politics
  • Biden has said he is under no illusions about Putin and has described him as ‘a killer’

WASHINGTON: Russian President Vladimir Putin voiced hope Friday that US President Joe Biden will be less impulsive than his predecessor Donald Trump, ahead of his first summit with the new US leader.
In an interview with NBC News, Putin described Biden as a “career man” who has spent his life in politics.
Though he described relations with the United States as having “deteriorated to its lowest point in recent years,” Putin said he expects he can work with Biden.
“It is my great hope that, yes, there are some advantages, some disadvantages, but there will not be any impulse-based movements on behalf of the sitting US president,” he said, according to a translation by NBC News.
“I believe that former US president Trump is an extraordinary individual, talented individual... He is a colorful individual. You may like him or not. But he didn’t come from the US establishment,” Putin was quoted as saying.
Biden plans to raise a range of US complaints, including over purported Russian election interference and hacking, in the summit with Putin on Wednesday in Geneva at the end of the new president’s first foreign trip.
Putin has openly admitted that in the 2016 vote he supported Trump, who had voiced admiration for the Russian leader. At their first summit, Trump infamously appeared to accept Putin’s denials of election interference.
Biden has said he is under no illusions about Putin and has described him as “a killer” in light of a series of high-profile deaths including of Kremlin critic Boris Nemtsov.
Asked directly if he is “a killer,” Putin chuckled but did not give a yes or no answer.
“Over my tenure, I’ve gotten used to attacks from all kinds of angles and from all kinds of areas under all kinds of pretext and reasons and of different caliber and fierceness, and none of it surprises me,” he said, adding that the term “killer” was a “macho” term common in Hollywood.
Such discourse “is part of US political culture where it’s considered normal. By the way, not here, it is not considered normal here,” he said.
Putin also dismissed as “fake news” a report in the Washington Post that Russia is planning to supply Iran with an advanced satellite system that would allow it to track potential military targets.
“At the very least, I don’t know anything about this kind of thing,” the Russian leader said, speaking from the Kremlin. “It’s just nonsense garbage.”
According to interviewer Keir Simmons, Putin also denied any knowledge of cyberattacks on the United States, and called on Biden to strike a deal with Russia on cyberspace.


Airlift begins for Afghans who worked for US during long military campaign

Airlift begins for Afghans who worked for US during long military campaign
Updated 30 July 2021

Airlift begins for Afghans who worked for US during long military campaign

Airlift begins for Afghans who worked for US during long military campaign
WASHINGTON: Some 200 Afghans were set to begin new lives in the United States on Friday as an airlift got under way for translators and others who risk Taliban retaliation because they worked for the US government during its 20-year war in Afghanistan, US officials said.
The operation to evacuate US-affiliated Afghans and family members comes as the US troop pullout nears completion and government forces struggle to repulse Taliban advances.
The first planeload of some 200 evacuees were expected to be bused to Fort Lee, a US military base in Virginia, for final paperwork processing and medical examinations.
The Afghans who worked for the United States are being granted Special Immigrant Visas (SIV) entitling them to bring their families. As many as 50,000 or more people ultimately could be evacuated in “Operation Allies Refuge.”
The first group is among some 2,500 SIV applicants and family members who have almost completed the process, clearing them for evacuation, said Russ Travers, President Joe Biden’s deputy homeland security adviser.
The Afghans were expected to remain at Fort Lee for up to seven days before joining relatives or host families across the country.
The evacuees underwent “rigorous background checks” and COVID-19 tests, Travers added. Some were already vaccinated, and the rest will be offered jabs at Fort Lee.
The surging violence in Afghanistan has created serious problems for many SIV applicants whose paperwork is in the pipeline amid reports — denied by the Taliban — that some have been killed by vengeful insurgents.
Some applicants are unable to get to capital Kabul to complete required steps at the US embassy or reach their flights.
“We do lack the capacity to bring people to Kabul from other parts of the country or to house them in Kabul,” Tracey Jacobson, State Department coordinator of the operation, told reporters.
The SIV program has been plagued by long processing times and bureaucratic knots — which the Biden administration and Congress are working to undo — that led to a backlog of some 20,000 applications. The State Department has added staff to handle them.
“The US has had 20 years to anticipate what the withdrawal would look like,” said Adam Bates, policy counsel for the International Refugee Assistance Project, which provides legal aid to refugees. “It’s unconscionable that we are so late.”
Kim Staffieri, co-founder of the Association of Wartime Allies, which helps SIV applicants, said surveys the group has conducted over Facebook show that about half of SIV applicants cannot reach Kabul, including many approved for evacuation.
Congress created SIV programs in 2006 for Iraqi and Afghan interpreters who risked retaliation for working for the US government.

India reports most new COVID cases in three weeks

India reports most new COVID cases in three weeks
Updated 30 July 2021

India reports most new COVID cases in three weeks

India reports most new COVID cases in three weeks
  • The nationwide tally of infections has reached 31.57 million, according to health ministry data

NEW DELHI: India reported 44,230 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, the most in three weeks, the latest evidence of a worrying trend of rising cases that has forced one state to lock down amid fears of another wave of infections.
India was battered by the Delta variant of the virus in April and May but the rate of spread of infections later eased off. It has again been rising, with higher numbers in seven of the past eight days.
The nationwide tally of infections has reached 31.57 million, according to health ministry data. Deaths rose by 555 overnight, taking the overall toll to 423,217.
Medical experts polled by Reuters in late June said a third wave of coronavirus infections was likely to hit India by October, though it would be better controlled than the devastating April-May outbreak.
Health experts have called for faster vaccinations to stave off another big surge.
The government estimates that 67.6% of the 1.35 billion population already have antibodies against the coronavirus, with nearly 38% of the adult population of about 944 million people having received at least one vaccine dose.
The disease's estimated reproduction rate, or R value, has also inched up in the past week,
The R value hit 1 on July 24 - meaning on average, every 10 people infected will infect 10 other people - for the first time since May when daily infections were near a peak of 400,000.
The southern state of Kerala announced a new lockdown on Thursday while movement restrictions are in place in some northeastern states reporting a rise in infection rates.
Other places, including the capital New Delhi, have recently reopened most economic activities.


Philippine leader recalls decision to void US security pact

Philippine leader recalls decision to void US security pact
Updated 30 July 2021

Philippine leader recalls decision to void US security pact

Philippine leader recalls decision to void US security pact
  • The 1998 agreement allows the entry of large numbers of American forces for joint combat training with Philippine troops
  • Duterte notified the US government in February 2020 that the Philippines intended to abrogate the agreement

MANILA: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte reversed his termination of a key defense pact with the United States that allows large-scale combat exercises between US and Philippine forces.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana announced Duterte’s decision at a joint meeting with reporters Friday with his visiting US counterpart, Lloyd Austin, in Manila.
Another Philippine official earlier told The Associated Press that Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. would hand over a document to Austin about Duterte’s decision to keep the Visiting Forces Agreement in a separate meeting later Friday.
“The president decided to recall or retract the termination letter for the VFA,” Lorenzana said. “We are back on track.”
Austin welcomed Duterte’s decision, which he said would help bolster defense relations between the longtime allies.
Duterte notified the US government in February 2020 that the Philippines intended to abrogate the 1998 agreement, which allows the entry of large numbers of American forces for joint combat training with Philippine troops and sets legal terms for their temporary stay.
The maneuvers involved thousands of American and Philippine military personnel in land, sea and air drills that often included live-fire exercises in pre-pandemic times and sparked China’s concerns when they were held in the periphery of seas Beijing claims as its own.
The pact’s termination would have taken effect after 180 days, but Duterte has repeatedly delayed the effectivity of his decision.
The US military presence in the region has been seen as a counterbalance to China, which has aggressively asserted claims to vast areas of the disputed South China Sea despite a 2016 international arbitration ruling that invalidated their historic basis. China, the Philippines, Vietnam and three other governments have been locked in the territorial standoff for decades.


Malaysian PM digs in after royal rebuke sparks calls to quit

Malaysian PM digs in after royal rebuke sparks calls to quit
Updated 30 July 2021

Malaysian PM digs in after royal rebuke sparks calls to quit

Malaysian PM digs in after royal rebuke sparks calls to quit
  • It is unusual for Malaysia’s constitutional monarch, who is widely revered in the Muslim-majority country, to speak out so forcefully against the government

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s embattled leader defended his actions Thursday as he faced calls to quit after rare criticism from the king, who accused his government of misleading parliament over coronavirus laws.
Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin leads a scandal-plagued coalition that seized power last year without an election, but his government is on the verge of collapse after allies withdrew support.
Parliament convened this week after a months-long suspension under a state of emergency — ostensibly to fight the virus, but which critics said was a gambit by Muhyiddin to cling to power.
On Monday, the law minister told the legislature the emergency would end on August 1 and that several regulations enacted under it were being canceled.
But angry rival MPs claimed Muhyiddin was just seeking to dodge a vote that could test his support — and it was not clear the monarch had agreed to revoke the laws, as required under the constitution.
On Thursday the royal palace confirmed the king, Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, had not given his consent, and said that he expressed his “great disappointment.”
The announcement about canceling the regulations was “inaccurate and confused the members of parliament,” said a statement from the palace.
It “did not just fail to respect the principles of the sovereignty of the law.... but it undermined the functions and powers of his majesty as head of state,” it said.
It is unusual for Malaysia’s constitutional monarch, who is widely revered in the Muslim-majority country, to speak out so forcefully against the government.
Muhyiddin was accused of treason and faced calls from the opposition and some members of his own coalition to quit.
But his office released a statement outlining discussions between the government and the monarch over the regulations, and insisted there had been no need for a parliamentary vote on the laws.
“The government is of the view that all these actions taken are in order and in accordance with the provisions of the law and the federal constitution,” it said, adding people should “remain calm.”
A key ally of Muhyiddin, Deputy Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yakoob, also said the government still enjoyed the support of more than 110 MPs in the 222-seat lower house.
Muhyiddin has faced mounting pressure in recent weeks with the biggest party in his coalition, the United Malays National Organization, withdrawing support.
The regulations enacted under the emergency give authorities extra powers to punish virus rule breakers, as well as some other tools to fight the pandemic.
Even when the emergency ends, the country will remain under a strict lockdown as it faces a worsening outbreak.


International Space Station thrown out of control by misfire of Russian module — NASA

International Space Station thrown out of control by misfire of Russian module — NASA
Updated 30 July 2021

International Space Station thrown out of control by misfire of Russian module — NASA

International Space Station thrown out of control by misfire of Russian module — NASA

LOS ANGELES/MOSCOW: The International Space Station (ISS) was thrown briefly out of control on Thursday when jet thrusters of a newly arrived Russian research module inadvertently fired a few hours after it was docked to the orbiting outpost, NASA officials said.
The seven crew members aboard — two Russian cosmonauts, three NASA astronauts, a Japanese astronaut and a European space agency astronaut from France — were never in any immediate danger, according to NASA and Russian state-owned news agency RIA.
But the malfunction prompted NASA to postpone until at least Aug. 3 its planned launch of Boeing's new CST-100 Starliner capsule on an uncrewed test flight to the space station. The Starliner had been set to blast off atop an Atlas V rocket on Friday from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Thursday's mishap began about three hours after the multipurpose Nauka module had latched onto the space station. The module's jets inexplicably restarted, causing the entire station to pitch out of its normal flight position some 250 miles above the Earth, US space agency officials said.
The "loss of attitudinal control" lasted for a little more than 45 minutes, until flight teams on the ground managed to restore the space station's orientation by activating thrusters on another module of the orbiting platform, according to Joel Montalbano, manager of NASA's space station program.
In its broadcast coverage of the incident, RIA cited NASA specialists at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, as describing the struggle to regain control of the space station as a "tug of war" between the two modules.
At the height of the incident, the station was pitching out of alignment at the rate of about a half a degree per second, Montalbano said hours later in a NASA conference call with reporters.
The Nauka engines were ultimately switched off, the space station was stabilized and its orientation was restored to where it had begun, NASA said.
Communication with the crew was lost briefly twice during the disruption, but "there was no immediate danger at any time to the crew," Montalbano said.
A drift in the space station's normal orientation was first detected by automatic sensors on the ground, and "the crew really didn't feel any movement," he said.
What caused the malfunction of the thrusters on the Nauka module, delivered by the Russian space agency Roscosmos, has yet to be determined, NASA officials said.
Montalbano said there was no immediate sign of any damage to the space station. The flight correction maneuvers used up more propellant reserves than desired, "but nothing I would worry about," he said.
After its launch last week from Kazakhstan's Baikonur Cosmodrome, the module experienced a series of glitches that raised concern about whether the docking procedure would go smoothly.
Roscosmos attributed Thursday's post-docking issue to Nauka's engines having to work with residual fuel in the craft, TASS news agency reported.
"The process of transferring the Nauka module from flight mode to 'docked with ISS' mode is underway. Work is being carried out on the remaining fuel in the module," Roscosmos was cited by TASS as saying.
The Nauka module is designed to serve as a research lab, storage unit and airlock that will upgrade Russia's capabilities aboard the ISS.
A live broadcast showed the module, named after the Russian word for "science," docking with the space station a few minutes later than scheduled.
"According to telemetry data and reports from the ISS crew, the onboard systems of the station and the Nauka module are operating normally," Roscosmos said in a statement.
"There is contact!!!" Dmitry Rogozin, the head of Roscosmos, wrote on Twitter moments after the docking.