Blinken warns Russia could send more troops toward Ukraine soon

Blinken warns Russia could send more troops toward Ukraine soon
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called no Russian president Vladimir called on Putin to choose a “peaceful path”. (Reuters)
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Updated 19 January 2022

Blinken warns Russia could send more troops toward Ukraine soon

Blinken warns Russia could send more troops toward Ukraine soon
  • Top US official calls on Russian leader to choose a ‘peaceful path’
  • Biden administration providing an additional $200 million in defensive military aid to the country

KIEV: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned Wednesday that Russian President Vladimir Putin could be preparing to send more forces toward Ukraine after massing tens of thousands of troops.

“We know that there are plans in place to increase that force even more on very short notice, and that gives President Putin the capacity, also on very short notice, to take further aggressive action against Ukraine,” Blinken said on a visit to Kiev.

Blinken called on Putin to choose a “peaceful path” as the top US diplomat paid a solidarity visit to Ukraine amid invasion fears.

“I strongly, strongly hope that we can keep this on a diplomatic and peaceful path, but ultimately, that’s going to be President Putin’s decision,” Blinken said.

The Biden administration said Wednesday it is providing an additional $200 million in defensive military aid to the country amid soaring fears of a Russian invasion.

A senior US State Department official said the assistance was approved in late December as part of American efforts to help Ukraine protect itself. Until Wednesday, however, the administration had refused to comment on it.

The official was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly before Blinken’s meetings in Kiev and spoke on condition of anonymity.

“We are committed to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and will continue to provide Ukraine the support it needs,” the official said. The official did not detail the contents of the aid package.

After talks last week failed to ease fears, the White House warned Tuesday that Russia was ready to attack Ukraine at “any point.”

It was a marked intensification of its threat assessment ahead of a meeting between Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov expected in Geneva on Friday.

Hoping to show robust support ahead of the talks, the top US diplomat is making a one-day visit to Kiev Wednesday in a show of support for Ukraine.

He was greeted by Ukrainian officials on an icy moonlit tarmac and will later meet President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Blinken heads Thursday to Berlin for four-way talks with Britain, France and Germany to seek Western unity.

“We’re now at a stage where Russia could at any point launch an attack on Ukraine,” the White House’s Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Tuesday.

“No option is off the table,” she said, warning of an “extremely dangerous situation.”

And she said that Russian President Vladimir Putin “has created this crisis.”

Moscow has repeatedly denied that an invasion is planned.

In a call between the US and Russian top diplomats ahead of Blinken’s trip, the Russian foreign ministry said Lavrov had called on Blinken “not to replicate speculation about the allegedly impending ‘Russian aggression’.”

US State Department spokesman Ned Price said that Blinken “stressed the importance of continuing a diplomatic path to de-escalate tensions.”

And a US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Blinken’s goal was to see “if there is a diplomatic off-ramp” and “common ground” where Russia can be persuaded to pull back from Ukraine.

With tens of thousands of Russian troops massing on Ukraine’s borders, efforts have intensified to prevent tensions escalating into a new European war.

However, in a joint press conference with visiting German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock on Tuesday, Lavrov said there would be no further negotiations until the West responds to its demands for sweeping security guarantees.

They include a permanent ban on Ukraine joining NATO.

Washington has rejected the demands.

While the United States and its European allies have no plans to meet a Russian attack against Ukraine with military force, the economic counter-measures would be unlike any used in the past, Washington says.

The US official said it was possible that Russia is not interested in a diplomatic solution.

“I think it’s still too early to tell if the Russian government is genuinely interested in diplomacy, if it is prepared to negotiate seriously in good faith, or whether it will use discussions as a pretext to claim that diplomacy didn’t address Moscow’s interests,” the official said.

Washington meanwhile warned that draft constitutional reforms in Belarus could lead to the deployment of Russian nuclear weapons in the country.

Joint Russia-Belarus military exercises announced Tuesday by Minsk as Russian troops arrived in the country were “beyond normal,” a US official said, and could presage a permanent Russian military presence involving both conventional and nuclear forces.

Kiev has been battling a pro-Moscow insurgency in two breakaway regions bordering Russia since 2014, when the Kremlin annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula.

The conflict in eastern Ukraine has so far left more than 13,000 dead.


UN urges Ukraine grain release, World Bank pledges extra $12 bn

UN urges Ukraine grain release, World Bank pledges extra $12 bn
Updated 8 sec ago

UN urges Ukraine grain release, World Bank pledges extra $12 bn

UN urges Ukraine grain release, World Bank pledges extra $12 bn
  • UN chief says the Russia-Ukraine war “threatens to tip tens of millions of people over the edge into food insecurity”
  • Russia and Ukraine alone produce 30 percent of the global wheat supply

UNITED NATIONS: The UN warned Wednesday that a growing global food crisis could last years if it goes unchecked, as the World Bank announced an additional $12 billion in funding to mitigate its “devastating effects.”
Food insecurity is soaring due to warming temperatures, the coronavirus pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has led to critical shortages of grains and fertilizer.
At a major United Nations meeting in New York on global food security, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the war “threatens to tip tens of millions of people over the edge into food insecurity.”
He said what could follow would be “malnutrition, mass hunger and famine, in a crisis that could last for years,” as he and others urged Russia to release Ukrainian grain exports.
Russia and Ukraine alone produce 30 percent of the global wheat supply.
Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine and international economic sanctions on Russia have disrupted supplies of fertilizer, wheat and other commodities from both countries, pushing up prices for food and fuel, especially in developing nations.
Before the invasion in February, Ukraine was seen as the world’s bread basket, exporting 4.5 million tons of agricultural produce per month through its ports — 12 percent of the planet’s wheat, 15 percent of its corn and half of its sunflower oil.
But with the ports of Odessa, Chornomorsk and others cut off from the world by Russian warships, the supply can only travel on congested land routes that are far less efficient.
“Let’s be clear: there is no effective solution to the food crisis without reintegrating Ukraine’s food production,” Guterres said.
“Russia must permit the safe and secure export of grain stored in Ukrainian ports.”
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who chaired the summit, and World Food Programme head David Beasley echoed the call.
“The world is on fire. We have solutions. We need to act and we need to act now,” implored Beasley.
Russia is the world’s top supplier of key fertilizers and gas.
The fertilizers are not subject to the Western sanctions, but sales have been disrupted by measures taken against the Russian financial system while Moscow has also restricted exports, diplomats say.
Guterres also said Russian food and fertilizers “must have full and unrestricted access to world markets.”

Food insecurity had begun to spike even before Moscow, which was not invited to Wednesday’s UN meet, invaded its neighbor on February 24.
In just two years, the number of severely food insecure people has doubled — from 135 million pre-pandemic to 276 million today, according to the UN.
More than half a million people are living in famine conditions, an increase of more than 500 percent since 2016, the world body says.
The World Bank’s announcement will bring total available funding for projects over the next 15 months to $30 billion.
The new funding will help boost food and fertilizer production, facilitate greater trade and support vulnerable households and producers, the World Bank said.
The bank previously announced $18.7 billion in funding for projects linked to “food and nutrition security issues” for Africa and the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and South Asia.
Washington welcomed the decision, which is part of a joint action plan by multilateral lenders and regional development banks to address the food crisis.
The Treasury Department described Russia’s war as “the latest global shock that is exacerbating the sharp increase in both acute and chronic food insecurity in recent years” as it applauded institutions for working swiftly to address the issues.
India over the weekend banned wheat exports, which sent prices for the grain soaring.
The ban was announced Saturday in the face of falling production caused primarily by an extreme heatwave.
“Countries should make concerted efforts to increase the supply of energy and fertilizer, help farmers increase plantings and crop yields, and remove policies that block exports and imports, divert food to biofuel, or encourage unnecessary storage,” said World Bank President David Malpass.


Tesla’s Musk says he ‘can no longer support’ Democrats, ‘will vote Republican’

Tesla’s Musk says he ‘can no longer support’ Democrats, ‘will vote Republican’
Updated 57 min 25 sec ago

Tesla’s Musk says he ‘can no longer support’ Democrats, ‘will vote Republican’

Tesla’s Musk says he ‘can no longer support’ Democrats, ‘will vote Republican’
  • Musk rejects proposals by Democrats to tax billionaires and give more tax incentives to union-made electric vehicles
  • Electric vehicle maker Tesla, founded and led by Musk, does not have unions at its US factories.

SAN FRANCISCO, US: Tesla Inc. CEO Elon Musk said on Wednesday that while he voted for Democrats in the past, he will now vote for Republicans.
“In the past I voted Democrat, because they were (mostly) the kindness party. But they have become the party of division & hate, so I can no longer support them and will vote Republican,” he tweeted.
“Now, watch their dirty tricks campaign against me unfold,” said Musk, the world’s richest man, who has agreed to buy Twitter Inc.
The 50-year-old billionaire recently said he would reverse Twitter’s ban on former US President Donald Trump, a Republican, when he buys the social media platform. He also said Twitter is far-left-biased because it is headquartered in California, a state known for its progressive politics.
Musk has been a vocal critic of the Biden administration and Democrats for their proposals to tax billionaires and give more tax incentives to union-made electric vehicles. Tesla does not have unions at its US factories.
Last year, Tesla, which counts California as its biggest market in the United States, moved its headquarters from California to the more politically conservative Texas.
Musk moved his personal residence from California to Texas, where there is no state income tax. He has sold about $25 billion worth of Tesla stock since last year in order to pay taxes and finance his proposed acquisition of Twitter. Analysts said the sales helped him cash in on Tesla’s stock rally and diversify his wealth. 


London’s Met Police arrest 13-year-old over terror allegations

London’s Met Police arrest 13-year-old over terror allegations
Updated 18 May 2022

London’s Met Police arrest 13-year-old over terror allegations

London’s Met Police arrest 13-year-old over terror allegations
  • The boy is accused of sharing Islamist extremist material online, a spokesperson said
  • In 2021, a record 11 percent of all terrorism arrests in the UK were of minors under the age of 18

LONDON: A 13-year-old boy has been arrested in the UK over alleged terror offenses, according to London’s Metropolitan Police.
The Independent reported that the teenager, who cannot be named for legal reasons, is one of the youngest people ever detained in Britain in connection with terrorism allegations.
He was arrested in London on May 18 on suspicion of distributing terrorist material and later released on bail.
“The investigation relates to the alleged sharing of extreme Islamist material online,” a Met Police spokesperson said.
“Officers will work closely with partners from safeguarding agencies as the investigation continues.”
In 2021, a record 11 percent of all terrorism arrests in the UK were of minors under the age of 18.
Cmdr. Richard Smith, head of the Met’s Counter Terrorism Command, said: “While it is still very rare for such a young person to be arrested for a terrorism offense, in recent times we have seen a worrying increase in the number of teenagers being drawn into terrorism.
“This particular investigation remains ongoing but, more broadly, we work closely with a whole range of partners to try and protect and divert young, vulnerable people away from extremism and terrorism.”
 


Belarus introduces death penalty for ‘attempted’ terrorism

Belarus introduces death penalty for ‘attempted’ terrorism
Updated 18 May 2022

Belarus introduces death penalty for ‘attempted’ terrorism

Belarus introduces death penalty for ‘attempted’ terrorism
  • Belarus is the only country in Europe that continues to carry out executions despite calls for a moratorium
  • Lukashenko signed a law on the possibility of the death penalty for an attempted terrorist act

MOSCOW: Belarus has introduced the death penalty for attempts to carry out acts of terrorism — charges faced by exiled opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who on Wednesday joined the United States in denouncing the decision.
Belarus — a close ally of Russia that has supported its military offensive in Ukraine — is the only country in Europe that continues to carry out executions despite calls for a moratorium.
“Lukashenko signed a law on the possibility of the death penalty for an attempted terrorist act,” Russia’s state news agency RIA Novosti reported on Wednesday, citing an online government portal for legal information in Belarus.
It said the law would come into force 10 days after its publication.
Two years ago, Belarus faced historic protests against the re-election of strongman leader Alexander Lukashenko, who has ruled the ex-Soviet country with an iron fist for more than two decades.
Thousands of activists were arrested in the crackdown and the key leaders of the opposition movement are now either jailed or in exile.
Among them is Tikhanovskaya, a political novice who ran against Lukashenko in the August 2020 polls in place of her jailed husband.
She now leads the Belarusian opposition from exile in Lithuania, while her husband Sergei Tikhanovsky is serving 18 years in prison on what supporters say are politically motivated charges.
Last March, Belarusian prosecutors charged Tikhanovskaya in absentia with “preparing acts of terrorism as part of an organized group,” according to Belarusian state news agency Belta.
Tikhanovskaya on Wednesday denounced the decision of the “lawless regime” to expand the use of the death penalty, saying it targeted anti-government activists.
“This is a direct threat to activists opposing the dictator and the war,” Tikhanovskaya tweeted.
“I urge the international community to react: sanction lawmakers and consider any tools to prevent the political killings,” she added.
The United States condemned the legislation, calling it a desperate move by Lukashenko to retain power.
“These actions are those of an authoritarian leader desperate to cling to power through fear and intimidation,” said Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Belarus and its leadership are already under a litany of Western sanctions over its handling of the opposition protests and over its support for Moscow’s military campaign in Ukraine.
But many opposition activists remain behind bars in Belarus awaiting trial.
On Wednesday, a Belarusian court in the north-western city of Grodno started a closed-door hearing in the case against 12 activists accused of “preparing acts of terrorism,” according to Belarusian rights group Vyasna.
Among them is veteran activist Nikolai Avtukhovich, who has already served more than seven years in prison. The 59-year-old faces other charges, including treason.
The activists are accused of setting a policeman’s home and car on fire, and burning another policeman’s car in the autumn of 2020.
Capital punishment in Belarus — carried out by shooting — is highly secret and there are no official statistics.
The country’s last known death sentence was carried out against Victor Pavlov, who was arrested in January 2019 on suspicion of murder and larceny, according to the UN Human Rights Committee.
The committee had called for his execution to be halted while it examined his allegations of torture in detention but said in March that his family had been informed it had taken place, without any information about when he was executed.
Pavlov was the 15th person executed in Belarus since 2010 while their case was still pending before the committee, it said.


Kabul mediates between Pakistani Taliban and Islamabad, cease-fire agreed until May 30

Kabul mediates between Pakistani Taliban and Islamabad, cease-fire agreed until May 30
Updated 18 May 2022

Kabul mediates between Pakistani Taliban and Islamabad, cease-fire agreed until May 30

Kabul mediates between Pakistani Taliban and Islamabad, cease-fire agreed until May 30
  • Last truce between militants and government ended in December 2021
  • Pakistani Taliban have fought for years to overthrow government in Islamabad

PESHAWAR: Pakistan’s local Taliban outfit, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, on Wednesday announced a cease-fire agreement with the government until May 30 after Kabul mediated talks, the Afghan Taliban government said.

The TTP,  a separate movement from the Afghan Taliban, have fought for years to overthrow the government in Islamabad and rule with their own brand of Islamic law. In December 2021, the group declared an end to a month-long cease-fire, accusing the government of breaching terms, including a prisoner release agreement and the formation of negotiating committees.

Following the breakdown of talks between the two sides, the Pakistan army resumed operations against the banned outfit early this year, after which the TTP announced the launch of its Al-Badar operation on March 30 to target law enforcement agencies.

There has since been a surge in militant attacks in tribal districts and southern regions of the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, which borders Afghanistan.

“Talks were held in Kabul between the government of Pakistan and the Taliban Movement of Pakistan with the mediation of the Islamic Emirate (Afghan Taliban government),” Afghan Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a tweet on Wednesday, adding that “in addition to making significant progress on related issues during the talks, a temporary cease-fire was also agreed upon.”

In a separate post, Mujahid said the Kabul government “strives for the goodwill of the negotiating process, and wishes both sides tolerance and flexibility.”

Separately, the TTP said in a statement that a 32-member committee of Mehsud tribesmen and another 16-member committee of elders from the Malakand division had held meetings with the TTP’s peace committee on the directives of the Pakistan government.

“Facilitated by the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, talks are being held between the committees of the government of Pakistan and the Tehrik-e-Taliban,” the statement read.

The two committees recommended in the meetings that both sides declare a cease-fire as long as peace talks were taking place.

“Keeping in view their demand, both sides agreed to a cease-fire till May 30,” the banned outfit said.

Hassan Khan, a senior journalist and analyst, told Arab News the modus operandi of latest peace talks was “totally different” from past negotiations due to the involvement of tribal elders and the government’s committee.

“This time there is a lot of pressure on the TTP, both from the Afghan government and the involvement of the tribal jirgas. I think peace talks between Pakistan and the TTP will yield some results this time around if both sides keep following up on their negotiations,” Khan said.

On Tuesday, security forces killed two TTP commanders in a shootout in North Waziristan, a district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

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