EU hopes fresh talks, not sanctions, will avert Ukraine war

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen holds a press conference after an European Union Summit in Brussels,early on Dec. 17, 2021. (AFP/Pool)
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European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen holds a press conference after an European Union Summit in Brussels,early on Dec. 17, 2021. (AFP/Pool)
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, right, and French President Emmanuel Macron address a media conference at the conclusion of an EU Summit in Brussels on Dec. 17, 2021.  (John Thys, Pool Photo via AP)
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German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, right, and French President Emmanuel Macron address a media conference at the conclusion of an EU Summit in Brussels on Dec. 17, 2021. (John Thys, Pool Photo via AP)
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Updated 17 December 2021

EU hopes fresh talks, not sanctions, will avert Ukraine war

EU hopes fresh talks, not sanctions, will avert Ukraine war
  • Leaders reiterate warning of sanctions with ‘massive cost’ if Russia invades Ukraine
  • Countries on the EU’s eastern flank closer to Russia believe sanctions would work best as a deterrent and should be imposed immediately

BRUSSELS: European Union leaders on Thursday pressed Russia to return to peace talks with Ukraine and renewed their threat to impose unprecedented sanctions on Moscow in tandem with the United States and Britain should Russian armed forces cross the border.

“Let there be no doubt. If Russia were to move against Ukraine, the Union will be in a position to take sanctions that could extract a massive cost. We have done our work in that respect,” European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen  told a news conference following a summit of EU leaders in Brussels.
The EU’s call for a return to the negotiating table came as Russia said it had submitted draft documents to the United States outlining security arrangements that it wants to negotiate with Washington and its allies in the NATO military alliance. NATO is suggesting it might be willing to discuss them.
US intelligence officials say Russia has moved 70,000 troops and is preparing for a possible invasion early next year. Moscow denies it has any plans to attack, as it did in 2014 when it annexed the Crimean Peninsula, but says it wants guarantees that Ukraine will never join NATO.
In a statement in Brussels, the EU leaders underlined “the urgent need for Russia to de-escalate tensions caused by the military buildup along its border with Ukraine and aggressive rhetoric.” They pledged their “full support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
They said the EU “encourages diplomatic efforts and supports the Normandy format in achieving the full implementation of the Minsk Agreements,” in reference to French and German brokered talks between the two sides aimed at enforcing a 2015 peace deal.
The leaders repeated a message sent from the US, Britain and the Group of Seven industrial nations in recent weeks that “any further military aggression against Ukraine will have massive consequences and severe cost in response, including restrictive measures coordinated with partners.”
The EU is divided over when to hit Moscow with sanctions. France and Germany want to hold fire, expressing concern that such action could bring on an attack and believing that a diplomatic solution can be found.
Both countries’ leaders underlined Thursday the importance of reviving the Normandy talks, which have made little headway this year.
“We have a very good format, the Normandy format, that we want to reactivate, re-energize,” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz told reporters. “It won’t be easy, we should not be naïve, and we should be very clear when it comes to the integrity of borders.”
France and Germany’s peace efforts in 2015 helped end large-scale hostilities in eastern Ukraine, where Ukrainian forces have been fighting Russia-backed separatists since 2014. But the conflict, which has left 14,000 dead, has simmered.
In contrast, countries on the EU’s eastern flank closer to Russia believe sanctions would work best as a deterrent and should be imposed immediately. Ukraine’s president wants more sanctions to be imposed before — instead of after — any possible incursion, but his plea has fallen on deaf ears.
Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda, whose country borders Russia, said the EU should not underestimate the threat the troop buildup poses. He warned that Moscow’s actions are creating one of the worst security situations since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
“I’m talking not only about Ukraine,” Nauseda said, stressing that the entire Baltic region and Poland should be concerned.
EU lawmakers said in a resolution that “any new sanctions package should include the Russian officer corps and flag officers involved in the planning of a possible invasion, as well as the immediate circle and oligarchs ‘in the orbit of the Russian President and their families.’”
They said it should involve “the freezing of financial and physical assets in the EU, travel bans, the exclusion of Russia from the SWIFT payment system” for international financial transfers, target key economic sectors and disrupt the financing of the intelligence services and the armed forces.
The lawmakers have no decision-making powers on sanctions, but their experts often have detailed knowledge of what member countries are thinking on joint foreign policy initiatives.
Meanwhile, the Kremlin again prodded Western leaders to provide legally binding guarantees that Ukraine would never join NATO or that its members weapons would ever be deployed there, calling such moves a “red line” for Moscow.
The US and its allies have refused to make such a pledge, but Putin and US President Joe Biden agreed last week on further talks to discuss Russian concerns.


Gunmen kill 2 policemen escorting polio workers in Pakistan

Gunmen kill 2 policemen escorting polio workers in Pakistan
Updated 10 sec ago

Gunmen kill 2 policemen escorting polio workers in Pakistan

Gunmen kill 2 policemen escorting polio workers in Pakistan
PESHAWAR, Pakistan: Gunmen riding on motorcycles opened fire on Tuesday on police escorting a team of polio workers in northwestern Pakistan, killing two policemen, authorities said.
None of the polio workers were harmed, said Mohammad Imran, a local police official. The four polio workers and their police escort were all traveling on motorcycles.
The assailants fled the scene and no one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack in the town of Gomal, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province bordering Afghanistan.
The attack came on the second day of Pakistan’s latest anti-polio campaign in the province. Pakistan has registered 14 new polio cases since April, all from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
The outbreak has been a blow to the Islamic nation’s efforts to eradicate the disease, which can cause severe paralysis in children.
Pakistan’s anti-polio campaigns are regularly marked by violence as Islamic militants often target polio teams and police protecting them, falsely claiming that the vaccination campaigns are a Western conspiracy to sterilize children.
Pakistan and Afghanistan are the only countries in the world where polio remains endemic. In 2021, Pakistan reported only one case, raising hopes it was close to eradicating polio.

Russian leader Vladimir Putin lashes out at US over Ukraine, Taiwan

Russian leader Vladimir Putin lashes out at US over Ukraine, Taiwan
Updated 28 min 19 sec ago

Russian leader Vladimir Putin lashes out at US over Ukraine, Taiwan

Russian leader Vladimir Putin lashes out at US over Ukraine, Taiwan
  • ‘The situation in Ukraine shows that the US is trying to prolong this conflict’
  • ‘We see this as a carefully planned provocation’

MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday accused Washington of seeking to prolong the conflict in Ukraine and of fueling conflicts elsewhere in the world, including with the visit of US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan.
“The situation in Ukraine shows that the US is trying to prolong this conflict. And they act in exactly the same way, fueling the potential for conflict in Asia, Africa and Latin America,” Putin said in televised remarks, addressing the opening ceremony of a security conference in Moscow via videolink.
“The American adventure in relation to Taiwan is not just a trip of an individual irresponsible politician, but part of a purposeful, conscious US strategy to destabilize and make chaotic the situation in the region and the world,” he added.
He said the visit was a “brazen demonstration of disrespect for the sovereignty of other countries and for its (Washington’s) international obligations.”
“We see this as a carefully planned provocation,” Putin said.
Relations between Moscow and Washington have been in tatters since Russia in late February launched a military intervention in pro-Western Ukraine.
Pummeled by a barrage of unprecedented Western sanctions, Putin has sought to bolster ties with countries in Africa and Asia, especially with China.
Moscow was in full solidarity with key ally Beijing during Pelosi’s August visit to self-ruled, democratic Taiwan, which China considers its territory.


Iran says Swedish citizen detained for espionage might face other charges

Iran says Swedish citizen detained for espionage might face other charges
Updated 16 August 2022

Iran says Swedish citizen detained for espionage might face other charges

Iran says Swedish citizen detained for espionage might face other charges

DUBAI: A Swedish citizen detained in Iran on suspicion of espionage might face other charges, Iranian judiciary spokesperson Masoud Setayeshi said on Tuesday in a televised news conference.
The suspect, who remains unnamed, had been under surveillance by the intelligence ministry during several previous trips to Iran because of “suspicious behavior,” the official IRNA news agency reported in July.


Bus rams into fuel truck in eastern Pakistan, killing 20

Bus rams into fuel truck in eastern Pakistan, killing 20
Updated 16 August 2022

Bus rams into fuel truck in eastern Pakistan, killing 20

Bus rams into fuel truck in eastern Pakistan, killing 20
  • The bus was traveling from the eastern city of Lahore to the southern port city of Karachi
  • Deadly traffic accidents are common in Pakistan due to poor road infrastructure and disregard for traffic laws

MULTAN, Pakistan: A passenger bus rammed into a fuel truck on a highway in eastern Pakistan before dawn on Tuesday, igniting a fire that killed at least 20 people, police and rescue officials said.
According to the officials, the accident happened near the town of Jalalpur Peerwala in Punjab province. The bus was traveling from the eastern city of Lahore to the southern port city of Karachi.
Tahir Wattoo, a local government official in Multan, the nearest district, said early indications were that the bus driver’s negligence had caused the collision. The driver, who was also killed, slammed into the back of the fuel truck, according to photographs from the scene.
The injured were taken to hospital and at least six passengers were reported in critical condition, he added.
Some of the bodies were burned beyond recognition and DNA tests will be conducted to identify the remains before the bodies are handed over to the families, Wattoo also said.
Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif offered his condolences in a statement and asked health authorities to provide the best possible treatment to the injured.
Deadly traffic accidents are common in Pakistan due to poor road infrastructure and disregard for traffic laws.


Armenian blast death toll rises to 16

Armenian blast death toll rises to 16
Updated 16 August 2022

Armenian blast death toll rises to 16

Armenian blast death toll rises to 16
  • Sunday’s blast at the Surmalu wholesale market also injured 60 people
  • Local authorities have excluded the possibility that it was a terror attack

YEREVAN: The death toll from an explosion at a bustling market in the Armenian capital Yerevan rose to 16, Armenia’s emergency situations ministry said on Tuesday.
Sunday’s blast at the Surmalu wholesale market also injured 60 people after it caused a fire and the collapse of a building.
“Sixteen bodies were found during search and rescue efforts,” the ministry said in a statement, adding that 18 people were still missing.
Officials said more than 350 rescuers are at work on the ground.
The cause has not yet been established, but local news reports, citing witnesses, said the explosion went off at a place that stored fireworks.
Local authorities have excluded the possibility that it was a terror attack and prosecutors have already launched a probe into violations “on stocking inflammable goods,” breaches in fire safety standards and the death of people “due to negligence.”
The disaster comes as the country of three million people is still recovering from a 2020 war with Azerbaijan, which ended in a heavy defeat and sparked a political crisis.
Shortly after Sunday’s blast, officials evacuated people from Yerevan metro stations after a bomb threat, but authorities found no explosive device.