Putin hopes that Russia could avoid new lockdown

Putin hopes that Russia could avoid new lockdown
Russian president Vladimir Putin. (File/AFP)
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Updated 30 June 2021

Putin hopes that Russia could avoid new lockdown

Putin hopes that Russia could avoid new lockdown
  • Russia has been registering over 20,000 new coronavirus cases and around 600 deaths every day
  • Call-in shows are intended to cast Putin as a strong leader caring about people’s daily needs

MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin voiced hope Wednesday that the country could avoid a nationwide lockdown amid a surge of new infections.

Speaking in a live call-in show, Putin said that decisions by local authorities in a number of regions who made vaccination mandatory for some workers should help contain the new wave of infections and avoid a lockdown.

The “actions of our colleagues in certain regions are aimed at avoiding the need for a lockdown, when entire enterprises shut down and people are left without their jobs, without their salaries,” Putin said.

He also revealed that he chose Sputnik V — the domestically developed coronavirus vaccine Russia hailed as the first in the world to be authorized for use — for his vaccination. Putin got his first coronavirus shot in late March out of the public eye, and has remained tight-lipped about which vaccine out of three domestically developed ones available at the time he chose.

“I’ve been indeed asked not to tell which vaccine I took in order not to create competitive advantages for one or the other,” Putin said during the Wednesday’s call-in show. “But I see that there are lots of questions.”

The Russian president said he wasn’t consulting with his doctors about this, but rather looked at choices his acquaintances made, and went for Sputnik V, as it provided the longest protection against the virus, Putin said.

Russia gave Spuntik V regulatory approval last August and faced criticism both at home and abroad, as the shot had only been tested on a few dozen people at the time. However, the criticism has been blunted by a report in the

prestigious British medical journal The Lancet this year that said large-scale testing showed it to be safe, with an efficacy rate of 91 percent against the virus.

Russia has struggled to cope with a surge in infections and deaths in recent weeks that comes amid rather slow vaccination rates. Coronavirus deaths in Russia hit a new daily record Wednesday, with the authorities reporting 669 new deaths.

Russia has been registering over 20,000 new coronavirus cases and around 600 deaths every day since last Thursday. On Wednesday, 21,042 new infects were recorded.

Russian officials have blamed the surge, which started in early June, on Russians’ lax attitude toward taking necessary precautions, the growing prevalence of more infectious variants and laggard vaccination rates. Although

Russia was among the first countries to announce and deploy a coronavirus vaccine, just over 15 percent of the population has received at least one shot.

Russia’s coronavirus task force has reported more than 5.5 million confirmed coronavirus cases in the pandemic and 135,214 deaths.

Amid the surge, 18 Russian regions — from Moscow and St. Petersburg to the remote far-eastern region of Sakhalin — have made vaccinations mandatory this month for employees in certain sectors, such as government offices, retail, health care, education, restaurants and other service industries.

While reaffirming his position that vaccination should be voluntary, Putin emphasized that the decisions by local authorities were based on law and necessary to prevent tougher measures.

Along with his annual marathon news conference, carefully choreographed call-in shows are intended to cast Putin as a strong leader caring about people’s daily needs and attentive to their problems.

More than 2 million questions sent to the show’s hotline.


Four people stabbed in south-east Norway, police say

Four people stabbed in south-east Norway, police say
Four people stabbed in south-east Norway, police say. (Shutterstock)
Updated 20 May 2022

Four people stabbed in south-east Norway, police say

Four people stabbed in south-east Norway, police say
  • Four people stabbed in south-east Norway, police say

OSLO: At least four people have been stabbed and injured in random attacks in Numedal in south-east Norway, local police said on Friday.
One of the victims was in critical condition.
A suspect was later apprehended, officials said.
“I can confirm we have the offender under control,” a police spokesperson told Reuters.


Russian troops likely to redeploy from Mariupol: Britain

Russian troops likely to redeploy from Mariupol: Britain
More than 1,700 defenders of the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol have surrendered since Monday. (File/AFP)
Updated 20 May 2022

Russian troops likely to redeploy from Mariupol: Britain

Russian troops likely to redeploy from Mariupol: Britain
  • Russia will likely use troops from the city to reinforce operations elsewhere in the eastern industrial Donbas region, Britain’s Defense Ministry said

KYIV: With the number of defenders left holed up in a Mariupol steel factory dwindling, Russian commanders will be coming under increasing pressure to reallocate troops from the strategic southern port city to bolster their offensive in eastern Ukraine, Britain’s Defense Ministry said Friday.
More than 1,700 defenders of the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol have surrendered since Monday, Russian authorities said, in what appeared to be the final stage in the nearly three-month siege of the now-pulverized port city.
An unknown number of defenders remain in the sprawling complex, which is the last bastion of Ukrainian resistance in the city — a target from the start of the invasion that has been under effective Russian control for some time.
If the factory falls, Russia will likely use troops from the city to reinforce operations elsewhere in the eastern industrial Donbas region, but the duration of the stiff resistance will complicate or prolong that maneuver, Britain’s Ministry of Defense said in a daily intelligence report.
“Staunch Ukrainian resistance in Mariupol since the start of the war means Russian forces in the area must be re-equipped and refurbished before they can be redeployed effectively,” the ministry wrote on Twitter.
“Russian commanders, however, are under pressure to demonstrably achieve operational objectives. That means that Russia will probably redistribute their forces swiftly without adequate preparation, which risks further force attrition.”
Analysts have said it is likely that most of the Russian forces that were tied down by the battle there have already left.
How long the remaining troops in the Azovstal factory can still hold out, however, is not clear.
In a brief video message Thursday, the deputy commander of the Azov Regiment, which led the defense of the steel mill, said he and other fighters were still inside.
“An operation is underway, the details of which I will not announce,” Svyatoslav Palamar said.
Ukrainian troops, bolstered by Western weapons, thwarted Russia’s initial goal of storming the capital, Kyiv, and have put up stiff resistance against Moscow’s forces in the Donbas, which President Vladimir Putin now has set his sights on capturing.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said Thursday that it had gathered personal information from hundreds of the soldiers who had surrendered — name, date of birth, closest relative — and registered them as prisoners as part of its role in ensuring the humane treatment of POWs under the Geneva Conventions.
Amnesty International said in a tweet that the POW status means that the soldiers “must not be subjected to any form of torture or ill-treatment.”
At least some of the fighters were taken by the Russians to a former penal colony in territory controlled by Moscow-backed separatists. Others were hospitalized, according to a separatist official.
While Ukraine expressed hope for a prisoner exchange, Russian authorities have threatened to investigate some of the Azovstal fighters for war crimes and put them on trial, branding them “Nazis” and criminals.
The Azov Regiment’s far-right origins have been seized on by the Kremlin as part of an effort to cast Russia’s invasion as a battle against Nazi influence in Ukraine.


Police: 1 dead, 4 wounded in Chicago shooting

Police: 1 dead, 4 wounded in Chicago shooting
Updated 20 May 2022

Police: 1 dead, 4 wounded in Chicago shooting

Police: 1 dead, 4 wounded in Chicago shooting
  • An investigation is ongoing

CHICAGO: One person was killed and another four people were shot in Chicago on Thursday, authorities said.
Police spokesperson Tom Ahern said the shooting occurred at about 10:40 p.m. on the Near North Side.
One person died and the other four were taken to local hospitals in conditions ranging from serious to critical, Chicago Sun-Times reported. Police did not release their names or ages.
No additional details about the circumstances behind the shooting or any suspects has been released. An investigation is ongoing.


Biden leaves for Asia under Ukraine, N.Korea nuclear shadows

Biden leaves for Asia under Ukraine, N.Korea nuclear shadows
Updated 20 May 2022

Biden leaves for Asia under Ukraine, N.Korea nuclear shadows

Biden leaves for Asia under Ukraine, N.Korea nuclear shadows

ABOARD AIR FORCE ONE: President Joe Biden left Thursday for South Korea and Japan to cement US leadership in Asia at a time when the White House’s attention has been pulled back to Russia and Europe — and amid fears of a North Korean nuclear test during his trip.
Biden wants the trip to build on recent moves accelerating a years-long US pivot to Asia, where rising Chinese commercial and military power is undercutting Washington’s dominance.
But highlighting competing demands from Europe, Biden met right before his departure with the leaders of Finland and Sweden to celebrate their applications for joining NATO — a seismic development sparked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
In another sign of growing US involvement in the conflict, the White House said Biden would put his signature while in Asia on a massive, $40 billion Ukraine weapons and aid package passed Thursday by Congress.
Signing the bill “expeditiously” will ensure no gap in the funding flow, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters aboard Air Force One en route to Seoul.
A separate crisis awaits Biden on arrival, however — jitters that North Korea’s unpredictable leadership will choose his trip as the moment to test a nuclear capable missile or even a test nuclear explosion.
Despite a spiraling Covid outbreak, Pyongyang’s “preparations for a nuclear test have been completed and they are only looking for the right time,” South Korean lawmaker Ha Tae-keung said after being briefed by Seoul’s spy agency.
Sullivan said there was “real risk of some kind of provocation while we’re in the region, whether in South Korea or Japan.”
“We know what we will do to respond to them. We have communicated with not just our allies, but also with China,” he said.
Biden heads to Japan from South Korea on Sunday. He will hold talks with the leaders of both countries, as well as joining a regional summit of the Quad — a grouping of Australia, India, Japan and the United States — while in Tokyo.
During the first leg, he will visit US and South Korean troops, but will not make the traditional presidential trek to the fortified frontier known as the DMZ between South and North Korea, the White House said.
Hours ahead of Biden arriving, South Korea’s newly elected, strongly pro-US President Yoon Suk-yeol signaled a warm welcome, tweeting: “A mountain shows its way to the summit to those who seek it. I am confident the ROK-US alliance that seeks to uphold the values of democracy and human rights shall only elevate in the future.”

'Wind at our back'

Sullivan said ahead of the trip that Biden is bound for Asia with “the wind at our back” after successful US leadership in the Western response to President Vladimir Putin’s now almost three-month-long invasion of Ukraine.
The high military, diplomatic and economic cost imposed on Russia is seen in Washington as a cautionary tale for China, given Beijing’s stated ambitions to gain control over democratic-ruled Taiwan, even if that means going to war.
Earlier this month, CIA Director William Burns said Beijing is watching “carefully.”
“I think they’ve been struck by the way in which particularly the transatlantic alliance has come together to impose economic costs on Russia as a result of that aggression,” he said.
Sullivan said the administration wants not so much to confront China on the trip as to use Biden’s diplomacy to show that the West and its Asian partners will not be divided and weakened.
He pointed to cooperation from South Korea and Japan, among others, in the sanctions regime against Russia led by European powers and the United States. He also referred to Britain’s role in the recently created security partnership AUKUS.
This “powerful message” will be “heard in Beijing,” Sullivan said, “but it’s not a negative message and it’s not targeted at any one country.”

Sullivan said the United States is braced for North Korea to again defy UN sanctions by conducting a nuclear test.
If that happens, the US response will be coordinated with South Korea and Japan, Sullivan said, adding that Washington had been in touch with Beijing as well.
This could include trigger “adjustments to the way that our military is postured in the region,” Sullivan said.
But he denied that a North Korean nuclear test would be seen as a setback for Biden’s diplomacy.
“It would underscore one of the main messages that we are sending on this trip, which is that the United States is here for our allies and partners.”
 


Crisis-hit Sri Lanka runs out of fuel

Crisis-hit Sri Lanka runs out of fuel
Updated 19 May 2022

Crisis-hit Sri Lanka runs out of fuel

Crisis-hit Sri Lanka runs out of fuel
  • Island nation defaults on foreign debt after missing Wednesday repayment deadline
  • Budget deficit soars to $6.8bn, or 13 percent of national GDP, as financial woes worsen

COLOMBO: Most Colombo residents stayed home on Thursday, unable to reach work or drive their children to school, as crisis-hit Sri Lanka ran out of fuel.  

The island nation of 22 million people has defaulted on its debt as it struggles with its worst financial crisis in more than 70 years. The country’s grace period to repay $78 million of unpaid interest payments expired on Wednesday.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who took office last week, said on Monday that Sri Lanka’s foreign reserves had fallen to almost nothing and the country urgently needed $75 million in foreign exchange to pay for essential imports.

With no money coming, fuel ships remained anchored offshore, their cargoes out of reach.

Gas pumps have since gone dry, leaving many queuing in the hope of refueling their vehicles.

“When you have no choice, what to do?” said Chamin Tilakkumara, whose three-wheeler has been parked in a queue on Flower Road in an affluent part of Colombo for two days.  

“I have six mouths to feed back at home, so if I don’t do this how will we manage?”

Milani Perera, another Colombo resident, told Arab News that she struggled to return home after much of the city’s public transport came to a halt.

“I stood for over an hour in the rain with two small children and no way to go home,” she said. “I was weeping when a complete stranger decided to give us a ride near my home. I was so thankful, but I don’t want to go out again.”

Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekera told Parliament on Thursday that fuel will not be available for at least another few days.

The Education Ministry has since suspended schools.

Sri Lanka is facing a shortage not only of fuel, but also food and medicines, as its budget deficit climbs to $6.8 billion, or 13 percent of gross domestic product.

The crisis has triggered widespread demonstrations across the country since March, with protesters demanding the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his family.

Mahinda Rajapaksa, the president’s elder brother, quit as prime minister last week, after clashes between government supporters and protesters left nine people dead and almost 300 injured.