MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin presented US President Joe Biden with a demand for legally binding security guarantees that would rule out the expansion of NATO, the Kremlin said on Tuesday after virtual talks between the two leaders.
During two hours of talks with Biden on a video call, Putin said NATO was bolstering its military potential near Russia’s borders and “making dangerous attempts to conquer Ukrainian territory,” the Kremlin said in a statement.
“Therefore, Russia is seriously interested in obtaining reliable, legally fixed guarantees that rule out NATO expansion eastward and the deployment of offensive strike weapons systems in states adjacent to Russia,” the Kremlin said.
Russian authorities have said that NATO's growing ties with Ukraine and the possibility of the alliance deploying missiles targeted against Russia there was a “red line” it would not allow to be crossed.
Putin also told his US counterpart he wanted guarantees that offensive strike systems would not be deployed in countries close to Russia, the Kremlin said.
The talks were held as the West voiced concerns that Russia will invade Ukraine and warned of “strong economic and other measures” as punishment should Moscow start a military conflict.
The Kremlin, which said before Tuesday's meeting that it did not expect any breakthroughs, has denied harbouring any intention to attack Ukraine and said that its troop posture is defensive.
Russia presses Donbas attacks as Polish leader praises Kyiv
Zelensky says from 50 to 100 Ukrainian fighters were being killed, apparently each day, in the east
Urges the 27-member EU to expedite his country’s request to join the bloc
Updated 11 sec ago
KYIV, Ukraine: Russia pressed its offensive in eastern Ukraine on Sunday as Poland’s president traveled to Kyiv to support the country’s European Union aspirations, becoming the first foreign leader to address the Ukrainian parliament since the start of the war.
Lawmakers gave a standing ovation to President Andrzej Duda, who thanked them for the honor of speaking where “the heart of a free, independent and democratic Ukraine beats.” Duda said that to end the conflict, Ukraine did not need to submit to conditions given by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Unfortunately, in Europe there have also been disturbing voices in recent times demanding that Ukraine yield to Putin’s demands,” he said. “I want to say clearly: Only Ukraine has the right to decide about its future. Only Ukraine has the right to decide for itself.”
Duda’s visit, his second to Kyiv since April, came as Russian and Ukrainian forces battled along a 551-kilometer (342-mile) wedge of the country’s eastern industrial heartland.
After declaring full control of a sprawling seaside steel plant that was the last defensive holdout in the port city of Mariupol, Russia launched artillery and missile attacks to expand the territory that Moscow-backed separatists have held since 2014 in the region known as the Donbas.
To bolster its defenses, Ukraine’s parliament voted Sunday to extend martial law and the mobilization of armed forces for a third time, until Aug. 23.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has stressed that the 27-member EU should expedite his country’s request to join the bloc. Ukraine’s potential candidacy is set to be discussed at a Brussels summit in late June.
France’s European Affairs minister Clement Beaune on Sunday told Radio J it would be a “long time” before Ukraine gains EU membership, perhaps up to two decades.
“We have to be honest,” he said. “If you say Ukraine is going to join the EU in six months, or a year or two, you’re lying.”
But Poland is ramping up efforts to win over EU members who are more hesitant about accepting Ukraine into the bloc. Zelensky said Duda’s visit represented a “historic union” between Ukraine, which declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, and Poland, which ended communist rule two years earlier.
“This is really a historic opportunity not to lose such strong relations, built through blood, through Russian aggression,” Zelensky said. “All this not to lose our state, not to lose our people.”
Poland has welcomed millions of Ukrainian refugees and become a gateway for Western humanitarian aid and weapons into Ukraine. It is also a transit point for some foreign fighters who have volunteered to fight the Russian forces.
Duda credited the US and President Joe Biden for unifying the West in supporting Ukraine and imposing sanctions against Moscow.
“Kyiv is the place from which one clearly sees that we need more America in Europe, both in the military and in this economic dimension,” said Duda, a right-wing populist leader who clearly preferred former President Donald Trump over Biden in the 2020 election.
On the battlefield, Russia appeared to have made slow, grinding moves forward in the Donbas in recent days. It intensified efforts to capture Sievierodonetsk, the main city under Ukrainian control in Luhansk province, which together with Donetsk province makes up the Donbas. The Ukrainian military said Sunday that Russian forces had mounted an unsuccessful attack on Oleksandrivka, a village outside of Sievierodonetsk.
Sievierodonetsk came under heavy shelling, and Luhansk Gov. Serhii Haidai said the Russians were “simply intentionally trying to destroy the city... engaging in a scorched-earth approach.”
Haidai said Moscow was concentrating forces and weaponry there to try to win control of Luhansk, bringing in forces from Kharkiv to the northwest, Mariupol to the south, and from inside Russia.
The sole working hospital in the city has only three doctors and supplies for 10 days, he said.
Ukrainian officials have said little since the war began about the extent of their country’s casualties, but Zelensky said at a news conference Sunday that 50 to 100 Ukrainian fighters were being killed, apparently each day, in the east.
In a general staff morning report, Russia said it was also preparing to resume its offensive on Slovyansk, a city in Donetsk province that saw fierce fighting last month after Moscow’s troops backed away from Kyiv.
In Enerhodar, a Russian-held city 281 kilometers (174 miles) northwest of Mariupol, an explosion Sunday injured the Moscow-appointed mayor at his residence, Ukrainian and Russian news agencies reported. Ukraine’s Unian news agency said a bomb planted by “local partisans” wounded 48-year-old Andrei Shevchuk, whose lives near the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, Europe’s largest.
With Russia claiming to have taken prisoner nearly 2,500 Ukrainian fighters from the Mariupol steel plant, concerns grew about their fate and that of the remaining residents of the city, now in ruins with more than 20,000 feared dead.
Relatives of the fighters have pleaded for them to be given rights as prisoners of war and eventually returned to Ukraine. Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said Ukraine “will fight for the return” of every one of them.
Denis Pushilin, the pro-Kremlin head of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, vowed that the Ukrainian fighters from the plant would face tribunals.
The complete seizure of the Azovstal steel plant, a symbol of Ukrainian tenacity, gave Putin a badly wanted victory in the war he began nearly three months ago, on Feb. 24. Ukraine’s military had told the fighters their mission was complete and they could come out. It described their extraction as an evacuation, not a mass surrender.
Mariupol Mayor Vadim Boychenko warned that the city faces a health and sanitation “catastrophe” from mass burials in shallow pits and the breakdown of sewage systems. An estimated 100,000 of the 450,000 people who lived in Mariupol before the war remain.
Ukrainian authorities have alleged Russian atrocities there, including the bombings of a maternity hospital and a theater where hundreds of civilians had taken cover.
Meanwhile, a Ukrainian court was expected to reach a verdict Monday for a Russian soldier who was the first to go on trial for an alleged war crime. The 21-year-old sergeant, who has admitted to shooting a Ukrainian man in the head in a village in the northeastern Sumy region on Feb. 28, could get life in prison if convicted.
Ukrainian Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova has said her office was prosecuting war crimes cases against 41 Russian soldiers for offenses that included bombing civilian infrastructure, killing civilians, rape and looting.
In other developments, Ukraine’s first lady, Olena Zelenska, gave a rare interview to national broadcaster ICTV alongside her husband and said she has hardly seen him since the war began.
“Our family, like all Ukrainian families, is now separated,” she said, adding that she speaks to him mostly by phone.
“Unfortunately, we cannot sit together, have dinner with the whole family, talk about everything,” she said.
Zelensky called the interview itself “a date on air,” and the couple, who have two children, joked in front of the journalists.
“We are joking, but we are really waiting, like everyone else, to be reunited, like all families in Ukraine who are separated now, waiting for their relatives and friends who want to be together again,” he said.
More than 100 million people forcibly displaced: UN
The “alarming” figure must shake the world into ending the conflicts forcing record numbers to flee their own homes, the UNHCR said in a statement
Updated 23 May 2022
GENEVA: Russia’s war in Ukraine has pushed the number of forcibly displaced people around the world above 100 million for the first time ever, the United Nations said Monday.
“The number of people forced to flee conflict, violence, human rights violations and persecution has now crossed the staggering milestone of 100 million for the first time on record, propelled by the war in Ukraine and other deadly conflicts,” said UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency.
The “alarming” figure must shake the world into ending the conflicts forcing record numbers to flee their own homes, the UNHCR said in a statement.
UNHCR said the numbers of forcibly displaced people rose toward 90 million by the end of 2021, spurred by violence in Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, Myanmar, Nigeria, Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24 and since then, more than eight million people have been displaced within the country, while more than six million refugees have fled across the borders.
“One hundred million is a stark figure — sobering and alarming in equal measure. It’s a record that should never have been set,” said UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi.
“This must serve as a wake-up call to resolve and prevent destructive conflicts, end persecution, and address the underlying causes that force innocent people to flee their homes.”
The 100 million figure amounts to more than one percent of the global population, while only 13 countries have a bigger population than the number of forcibly displaced people in the world.
The figures combine refugees, asylum-seekers, as well as more than 50 million people displaced inside their own countries.
“The international response to people fleeing war in Ukraine has been overwhelmingly positive,” said Grandi.
“Compassion is alive and we need a similar mobilization for all crises around the world. But ultimately, humanitarian aid is a palliative, not a cure.
“To reverse this trend, the only answer is peace and stability so that innocent people are not forced to gamble between acute danger at home or precarious flight and exile.”
UNHCR will outline the full data on forced displacement in 2021 in its annual Global Trends Report, due for release on June 16.
More than two years on since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, at least 20 countries still deny access to asylum for people fleeing conflict, violence, and persecution based on measures to clamp down on the virus.
Grandi called Friday for those countries to lift any remaining pandemic-related asylum restrictions, saying they contravene a fundamental human right.
“I am worried that measures enacted on the pretext of responding to Covid-19 are being used as cover to exclude and deny asylum to people fleeing violence and persecution,” he said.
A joint report last week by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC) and the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) said around 38 million new internal displacements were reported in 2021. Some of those were by people forced to flee multiple times during the year.
The figure marks the second-highest annual number of new internal displacements in a decade after 2020, which saw record-breaking movement due to a string of natural disasters.
Last year, new internal displacements specifically from conflict surged to 14.4 million — marking a 50-percent jump from 2020, the report showed.
“It has never been as bad as this,” NRC chief Jan Egeland told reporters.
“The world is falling apart.”
Natural disasters continued to account for most new internal displacement, spurring 23.7 million such movements in 2021.
Australia swears in new Labor PM ahead of Quad meeting
Updated 23 May 2022
SYDNEY: Australia’s Labour Party leader Anthony Albanese was sworn in as the country’s 31st prime minister on Monday, promising a “journey of change” as he vowed to tackle climate change, rising living costs and inequality.
Labor returns to power after nine years in opposition as a wave of unprecedented support for the Greens and climate-focussed independents, mostly women, helped end nearly a decade of rule by the conservative coalition in Saturday’s general election.
While votes are still being counted and the makeup of government has yet to be finalized, Albanese was sworn in so he could attend a key meeting of the “Quad” security grouping in Tokyo on Tuesday.
Albanese, raised in public housing by a single mother on a disability pension, was sworn in by Governor-General David Hurley at a ceremony in the national capital, Canberra.
“It’s a big day in my life but a big day for the country, when we change the government,” Albanese told reporters outside his Sydney suburban home ahead of the ceremony.
“I want to channel the opportunity that we have to shape change so that we bring people with us on the journey of change. I want to bring the country together.”
Deputy Labor leader Richard Marles and three key ministers — Penny Wong in foreign affairs, Jim Chalmers as treasurer and Katy Gallagher in finance — were also sworn in, with Wong to join Albanese on the Quad trip.
Albanese said he spoke to US President Joe Biden on Sunday night and was looking forward to meeting him alongside the prime ministers of Japan and India on Tuesday. He will return to Australia on Wednesday.
“This visit aligns with what the Albanese Government sees as the three pillars of Australia’s foreign policy: our alliance with the United States, our engagement with the region, and our support for multilateral forums,” Albanese said in a statement.
Labor’s campaign heavily spotlighted Albanese’s working-class credentials and his image as a pragmatic unifier.
Center-left Labor still remains four seats short of a majority of 76 in the 151 seat lower house with about a dozen races too close to call, according to television channels. Some predicted Labor might get enough seats to govern on their own.
Official results could be several days away, with the counting of a record 2.7 million postal votes underway on Sunday.
First baby formula shipment, enough for thousands of US infants, arrives from Europe
President Joe Biden’s administration is seeking to stock empty shelves with 1.5 million containers of Nestle specialty infant formulas. Biden last week invoked the Cold War-era Defense Production Act to help increase supplies
Updated 23 May 2022
WASHINGTON: A military cargo plane carrying the first shipment of infant formula from Europe to help address a critical shortage in the United States landed in Indianapolis on Sunday and the White House said a second flight had been arranged.
A Feb. 17 recall by top baby formula maker Abbott Laboratories and the closing of its manufacturing plant in Sturgis, Michigan during an investigation by the US Food and Drug Administration has created one of the biggest infant formula shortages in recent history for US families.
“This is an important step, but it is by no means the only step that must take place. We will continue to work as the president has instructed us to look for every opportunity to increase supply,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who greeted the plane on its arrival.
“This particular formula is for a very, very small percentage of children. Roughly 17,000 children in the country basically are the beneficiaries of this particular formula,” he said.
President Joe Biden’s administration is seeking to stock empty shelves with 1.5 million containers of Nestle specialty infant formulas. Biden last week invoked the Cold War-era Defense Production Act to help increase supplies.
The White House said on Sunday a second flight carrying formula would leave from Rammstein Air Force Base in coming days.
Nestle also said more shipments would arrive in the coming days.
Troops used forklifts to unload boxes of the cargo from the plane, which the White House said carried 78,000 pounds (35,000 kg) of specialty infant formula — enough for 500,000 bottles — and onto trucks heading to distribution centers.
Abbott, the biggest US supplier of powder infant formula, closed its Michigan plant following reports of bacterial infections in four infants, worsening a shortage among multiple manufacturers that began with pandemic supply-chain issues.
Chief Executive Robert Ford apologized for the shortage on Sunday and promised to fix it, adding the plant would reopen in the first week of June, and it would take six-to-eight weeks for products to reach store shelves.
“We’re sorry to every family we’ve let down since our voluntary recall exacerbated our nation’s baby formula shortage,” he wrote in a Washington Post column.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams on Sunday declared a state of emergency to prevent price gouging.
“This emergency executive order will help us to crack down on any retailer looking to capitalize on this crisis by jacking up prices on this essential good,” he said in a statement.
Frankly Speaking: WEF sending strong message by not inviting Russia to Davos, says forum’s Borge Brende
WEF president says violations by Iran and Israel are not comparable to those committed in Ukraine
Brende believes current war could end up as Moscow’s “Afghanistan or Vietnam”
Davos summit more timely than ever as ‘global challenges require global solutions’
Updated 23 May 2022
DAVOS, Switzerland: The president of the World Economic Forum has said the Geneva-based organization is sending a strong signal to Moscow by not inviting Russian officials and businesses to this year’s Davos summit while issuing an invitation to the Ukrainian leader to address the gathering.
“When it comes to Russia, we chose not to invite Russian business or Russian officials because there are limits,” Borge Brende told Katie Jensen, the host of Frankly Speaking, the Arab News talk show which features interviews with leading policymakers and business leaders.
“Russia has broken basic humanitarian law and international law. They are not sticking to the UN Charter and we have seen so many atrocities.”
At the same time, Brende said, the WEF will not only have Ukraine President Volodomyr Zelensky “on video” but also several of his ministers.
“From Kyiv we will have two of his deputy prime ministers. We also have the foreign minister in Davos,” he said, adding that some chief executives will be coming together to form a group of CEOs for Ukraine to “secure the rebuilding of the country.”
Defending the WEF’s decision, he said: “The key for unlocking this is with (President Vladimir) Putin and the Kremlin. We need to see that they are taking steps to again rejoin compliance with international law before they will be reinvited to Davos. We have a strong moral obligation to also send this kind of signal in such a situation.”
Brende appeared on “Frankly Speaking” on the eve of the first in-person WEF annual meeting since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is the first time the event, which kicked off on Sunday, is being held in Davos in May.
He denied that for an organization that prides itself on its impartiality and reputation as a bridge builder, the decision not to invite one side amounts to a failure on the WEF’s part to encourage debate.
This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)
Brende said it is true that for the last 50 years the WEF has always tried to bring leaders together, but “there are limits.”
“It’s an ongoing war in Ukraine, where we see that children are being killed in their schools every day. You see women being raped. We see war crimes taking place and there is no willingness for dialogue,” he said.
“Davos is about willingness to find common solutions, and if countries at least are willing to sit down and discuss the future, then it is something else. But today we see no kind of this willingness from Russia’s side. That’s why we’re very sad that we cannot have this dialogue. Hopefully in the future, but not today.”
Brende, a former foreign minister of Norway, dismissed comparisons between the charges of atrocities Israel is accused of committing against Palestinian civilians and those being leveled against Russia in Ukraine. He also denied that this is because Ukraine is seen as closer to home for many Europeans.
“It is unacceptable what is now happening in Ukraine and the war is ongoing,” he reiterated, explaining why inviting Russia to the annual meeting is not the same thing as, say, inviting Israel or Iran.
“When it comes to Israel and the situation in the Palestinian areas, it is at least some willingness to dialogue. We’ve seen it through the Abrahams Accords, but we also see in Davos that we are bringing together business leaders from both Israel and the Palestinian side in an initiative called ‘Breaking the Impasse.’ And they’re sitting there with global politicians, but also politicians from these areas to discuss if there is a way forward for establishing a two-state solution. At least there is a dialogue going on and we hope for future solutions.”
Asked if he thought the recently imposed sanctions on Russia were enough to end the conflict or whether an expanded NATO was the solution, Brende said: “I think Russia is incredibly surprised by the strength of the Ukrainian army. They were supposed to take Kyiv, the capital, in two, three days. Kharkiv, the second largest city, in two, three days. They have seen the resistance among the Ukrainians that, I am sure, has surprised them and that is why they’re pulling back too.”
In the months to come, Brende said, it is likely that Russia will continue with its attacks. “But Ukraine can easily turn into the Vietnam of Russia, or Afghanistan of Russia,” he said.
“When more than 40 million people are fighting back so strongly as the freedom-seeking Ukrainians, Russians will have a huge challenge. It shows that even a very modern and a very strong army cannot kill the freedom-fighting people around the world. I think this is a lesson for many countries to bring with them and reflect over.”
The WEF says its annual meeting in Davos provides “a unique collaborative environment” for public figures and global leaders to “reconnect, share insights, gain fresh perspectives and build problem-solving communities and initiatives.” However, critics say the event has become more of a show featuring politicians sticking to pre-prepared scripts.
Brende countered that this year’s summit would see progress made on many of the most important topics. “We will, for example, have new coalitions when it comes to fighting climate change,” he said.
“We will focus a lot on trade and investments. We know that there will be no real economic recovery without a trade recovery, so that’s why it’s so important that we also have trade ministers, 30 of them together with (World Trade Organization chief Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala), saying that no new tariffs, no more protectionism and no more bans on exporting food.”
“Many of the challenges that we are faced with cannot be sold without business. So, with the 1,400 CEOs and chairs in Davos, I am pretty sure we are going to make progress,” Brende said, adding that “25 percent of the participants are women — it should have been 50, but we are making progress.”
Brende disputed the claim that the WEF summit in Davos has a perception problem, made most recently by the Financial Times newspaper, which said this week that the organization does not project the right image.
“I think we definitely are able to bring together leaders from all walks of life. It’s easy to be critical, but I think the past has also shown that the World Economic Forum has a positive impact,” he said.
“It was in Davos, for example, where the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations (GAVI) was launched (in 2001). It was here where (the anti-apartheid icon) Nelson Mandela came to Europe for the first time and launched the economic plan for South Africa.
“This time around, it is really about how to make sure that the weak recovery does not end in a new recession. It is to make sure that we walk the talk from COP26 in Glasgow. Business leaders, 120 of them, will commit to going net zero by 2050. So, this is really the place where corporate and governmental leaders are coming together, making a difference.”
Watch the full Frankly Speaking episode below:
As 2,500 members of the global elite descend on Davos, Brende said this year’s meeting could not be more timely because “global challenges need global solutions.”
“Unfortunately, because of the polarized world, we don’t see as much collaboration to really solve wars, climate change and also a weakening recovery,” he said. “But we will try in Davos to get leaders together, and at least mobilize the private sector to support in these very critical areas.”
Brende also acknowledged the reality of the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, saying that it is “very important to be preparing for the next one, because we will see new diseases and pandemics unfortunately in the coming decades too.
“We moved much closer to nature. In just the last 10 years, we have lost wilderness across the world the size of the country of Mexico, so animals and human beings are much closer. And then we will also see more diseases like this.
“And we should not forget that we’re not out of the woods yet. China, the second largest economy in the world, is partly locked down now in some of the biggest and largest cities in the country, and this will also have an impact on the global economy because China is growing slower and the demand from China will of course go down.”
Looking to the future, Brende said: “We have to learn from this pandemic, that we have to have medicine, we have to have medical equipment much closer than before. We can’t wait for weeks for this to arrive. We have to be able to step up vaccination fast. We know that we have paid a huge price: 15 million people have lost their lives so far in this pandemic.”