Russia: US to provide written responses on Ukraine next week

Russia: US to provide written responses on Ukraine next week
This handout photograph taken and released on January 21, 2022 by the Russian Foreign Ministry shows Russian Foreign. (File/AFP)
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Updated 21 January 2022

Russia: US to provide written responses on Ukraine next week

Russia: US to provide written responses on Ukraine next week

GENEVA: The United States and Russia tried Friday to avert another devastating conflict in Europe, but the two powers’ top diplomats warned no breakthrough was imminent as fears rise that Moscow is planning to invade Ukraine.

Armed with seemingly intractable and diametrically opposed demands, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met in Geneva at what the American said was a “critical moment.” The talks are shaping up as a possible last-ditch effort at dialogue and a negotiated agreement.

With an estimated 100,000 Russian troops massed near Ukraine, many fear Moscow is preparing an invasion although Russia denies that. The US and its allies are scrambling to present a united front to prevent that or coordinate a tough response if they can’t.

After the meeting, Lavrov said that the US agreed to provide written responses to Russian demands on Ukraine and NATO next week. That could at least delay any imminent aggression for a few days.

But ahead of the meeting, they remained far apart.

“We don’t expect to resolve our differences here today. But I do hope and expect that we can test whether the path of diplomacy or dialogue remains open,” Blinken told Lavrov before their spoke privately. “This is a critical moment.”

Lavrov, meanwhile, said he did not “expect a breakthrough at these negotiations either. What we expect is concrete answers to our concrete proposals.”

But ahead of the meeting, they remained far apart.

“We don’t expect to resolve our differences here today. But I do hope and expect that we can test whether the path of diplomacy or dialogue remains open,” Blinken told Lavrov before their spoke privately. “This is a critical moment.”

Lavrov, meanwhile, said he did not “expect a breakthrough at these negotiations either. What we expect is concrete answers to our concrete proposals.”

Washington and its allies have repeatedly promised “severe” consequences such as biting economic sanctions — though not military action — against Russia if an invasion goes ahead.

Blinken repeated that warning Friday. He said the US and its allies were committed to diplomacy, but also committed “if that proves impossible, and Russia decides to pursue aggression against Ukraine, to a united, swift and severe response.”

But he said he also wanted to use the opportunity to share directly with Lavrov some “concrete ideas to address some of the concerns that you have raised, as well as the deep concerns that many of us have about Russia’s actions.”

Ukraine is already beset by conflict. Russia’s Putin seized control of Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula in 2014 and backed a separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine, part of a simmering but largely stalemated conflict with Ukrainian forces that has taken more than 14,000 lives. He faced limited international consequences for those moves, but the West says a new invasion would be different.


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.


Kangaroo sightings put spotlight on India’s unregulated exotic wildlife trade

Kangaroo sightings put spotlight on India’s unregulated exotic wildlife trade
Updated 19 May 2022

Kangaroo sightings put spotlight on India’s unregulated exotic wildlife trade

Kangaroo sightings put spotlight on India’s unregulated exotic wildlife trade
  • India has stringent laws to protect wildlife, but no rules covering exotic species
  • Lawmakers currently drafting legislation to close loopholes in legal protection

NEW DELHI: Villagers in West Bengal have since March reported seeing large animals with big feet leaping through forests. The locals say they have never spotted the creatures before.

The sightings drew national attention when wildlife officials in the Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri districts of the northeastern Indian state last month rescued three of the animals — that turned out to be kangaroos.

“We have initiated further investigation for ascertaining the whereabouts of these kangaroos — by whom and how they were brought into the forest along with finding the cause behind bringing them,” Belakoba forest range officer Sanjay Dutta told reporters at the time.

While the sightings are being probed, Wasim Akram, executive director of Wildlife SOS, a non-governmental organization rescuing and rehabilitating wildlife in India, said it was most likely the animals had been smuggled into the country. The marsupials are indigenous to Australia and New Guinea and have never lived in South Asia, except for zoos.

“We still don’t have conditions to be breeding this kind of species in India. The higher chances would be of trafficking because that is how we have been seeing it happening in the past,” he told Arab News.

But it is unclear if the kangaroos came from Oceania, as wildlife smuggling networks may span several continents.

“Earlier, we used to see a lot of cases of reptiles being trafficked into India but that would never be from the port of exit to the port of entry, there would be multiple entry points, so it would be very difficult to track the source of origin,” Akram added.

“It happens that a species may be native of Africa. They end up trafficking it first to a place like Indonesia, and from there they send it to India.”

Indian law provides little accountability for those who own exotic pets or are involved in their trade.

Although the South Asian nation has some of the world’s most stringent legislations to protect wildlife and habitats, it does not have any rules or penalties for trading and owning of non-native species, endangered or not.

“Indian law does not have provision for domestic transfer or breeding of exotic animals,” Debadityo Sinha from the Vidhi Center for Legal Policy, told Arab News. “There is a legal vacuum.”

An amnesty announced by the Ministry of Environment in 2020 showed how common such pets were in the country, when tens of thousands of Indians came forward to confess ownership of species from tortoises and pythons to lemurs and gibbons.

“As of May 26, 2021, a total of 43,693 applications for amnesty had been made under this advisory,” Sinha said.

Abhijit Sarkhel, a wildlife activist from New Delhi, said the sighting of exotic species was nothing new, adding that kangaroos only drew attention because they were big and very visible.

“Lots of people keep smaller mammals as pets and it’s an unregulated area,” he said. “If a person cannot handle the pet and release them in the forest then it’s the responsibility of forest departments.”

The lack of responsibility for exotic pets and their sighting in places where they do not belong is just the tip of the iceberg of conservation problems. “It’s certainly an extreme form of cruelty,” Akram said, adding that non-native species may struggle to survive in a different climate.

One of the kangaroos intercepted by wildlife officials in Bengal last month died from dehydration and malnutrition the day after it was rescued.

“When you introduce a species which is not native to that area, it can be a threat to the native species,” Akram added. “You can end up introducing a new virus, new infection.”

Despite being a signatory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora agreement since 1976, India is still to extend legal protection to many species listed in its appendices.

But works are in progress as last year Indian lawmakers began to draft legislation to amend the 1972 Wildlife (Protection) Act and close its loopholes.

“They are trying to regularize and regulate this particular field,” Akram said. “I won’t be surprised if a formal declaration is made very soon.”


Karachi blast suspect received orders from Iran-based commander, says Pakistan

Karachi blast suspect received orders from Iran-based commander, says Pakistan
Updated 19 May 2022

Karachi blast suspect received orders from Iran-based commander, says Pakistan

Karachi blast suspect received orders from Iran-based commander, says Pakistan
  • Allah Dino, killed by police in a gun battle on Wednesday, was trained in Iran, says Counterterrorism Department
  • Iran and Pakistan regularly accuse each other of harboring militants that launch attacks on the neighboring country

KARACHI: Counterterrorism authorities in Pakistan said on Thursday that a suspect in an attack in the port city of Karachi last week had been trained in Iran and was receiving instructions from the Iran-based commander of a Pakistani separatist group.

One person was killed and several were injured in a bomb blast late on May 12 in the Saddar neighbourhood of Karachi. The assault was claimed by the little-known Sindhudesh Revolutionary Army (SRA), a dissident faction fighting for independence in the province of Sindh.

The attack came two weeks after a female suicide bomber killed four people, including three Chinese nationals, in an attack on a minibus carrying staff from a Beijing cultural program at Karachi University.

In a press release on Thursday, the Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) for Sindh said special investigation teams formed in the wake of the latest spate of attacks were able to identify a number of suspects through intelligence sources and the use of technology.

Police used intelligence gathered from the investigation teams to trace three suspects from the Saddar attack on Wednesday as they traveled by motorcycle to transport explosives in Karachi on the instructions of what the CTD said was an Iran-based SRA commander called Asghar Shah.

In a gun battle with the three suspects, two identified as Allah Dino and Nawab Ali were killed while a third suspect fled the scene.

“The accused (Allah Dino) had been taking instructions from Asghar Shah, who operates his group (of the SRA) from Iran,” Syed Khurram Ali Shah, a senior CTD official, told reporters on Thursday.

“The eliminated terrorist Allah Dino was a master of bomb-making and he got his military training from neighbouring country Iran,” the CTD press release said.

Iran and Pakistan regularly accuse each other of harboring militants that launch attacks on the neighboring country. Both nations deny state complicity in such attacks.

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Biden cheers Finland, Sweden NATO plans as Turkey balks

Biden cheers Finland, Sweden NATO plans as Turkey balks
Updated 19 May 2022

Biden cheers Finland, Sweden NATO plans as Turkey balks

Biden cheers Finland, Sweden NATO plans as Turkey balks
  • "Finland and Sweden make NATO stronger," Biden said
  • Turkey has expressed strong opposition to the Nordic countries' ascension

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden met with the leaders of Finland and Sweden at the White House on Thursday to offer robust US support for their applications to join NATO.
Meanwhile Turkey threatened to block the Nordic nations from becoming members of the alliance.
Biden, who has rallied the West to stand up to Russia after its invasion of Ukraine, joined Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and Finnish President Sauli Niinistö in a sunny White House Rose Garden bedecked with their countries’ flags in a show of unity and support.
“Finland and Sweden make NATO stronger,” Biden said. “They’re strong, strong democracies, and a strong, united NATO is the foundation of America’s security.”
Biden said his administration was submitting paperwork to the US Congress for speedy approval once NATO members gave the two countries a green light.
“They meet every NATO requirement and then some,” the president said. “Having two new NATO members in the high north will enhance the security of our alliance and deepen our security cooperation across the board.”
Turkey has expressed strong opposition to the Nordic countries’ ascension, pressing Sweden to halt support for Kurdish militants it considers part of a terrorist group and both to lift their bans on some arms sales to Turkey.
All 30 NATO members need to approve any new entrant. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said in a video posted on Twitter on Thursday that Turkey had told allies it will reject Sweden and Finland’s membership.
The Finnish president said at the White House that his country was open to discussing all Turkey’s concerns, and pledged to “commit to Turkey’s security just as Turkey will commit to our security” as a NATO ally.
“We take terrorism seriously,” Niinistö said.
Sweden and Finland have for decades stood outside the Cold War era military alliance designed to deter threats from the Soviet Union, but Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has heightened security concerns.
The situation in Ukraine “reminds us of the darkest days of European history,” Andersson said. “During dark times it is great to be among close friends.”
Conversations between Sweden, Finland and Turkey have taken place to address Ankara’s concerns, with the United States involved in the effort. US national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters on Wednesday that US officials were confident Turkey’s concerns can be addressed, and Biden told reporters “I think we’re going to be okay” on the issue.
Biden’s unabashed support put a firm, deliberate US stamp of approval on Finland and Sweden’s applications. He squeezed in the meeting just before departing to Asia and gave both leaders speaking time in the Rose Garden, underscoring that support.
Biden’s remarks also sent a signal to Russian President Vladimir Putin. On Monday Putin said there was no threat to Russia if Sweden and Finland joined NATO but cautioned that Moscow would respond if the alliance bolstered military infrastructure in the new Nordic members.
Biden said on Thursday that new members joining NATO is not a threat to any nation. “It never has been,” he said.


Germany strips Schroeder of official perks over Russia ties

Germany strips Schroeder of official perks over Russia ties
Updated 19 May 2022

Germany strips Schroeder of official perks over Russia ties

Germany strips Schroeder of official perks over Russia ties
  • The parliament's decision to strip Schroeder of an office and paid staff follows a lengthy effort to get him to turn his back on President Vladimir Putin
  • EU lawmakers separately called in a non-binding resolution on the bloc to slap sanctions on Schroeder

BERLIN: Germany on Thursday removed perks accorded to former chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, assessing that he has failed to uphold the obligations of his office by refusing to sever ties with Russian energy giants.
The parliament’s decision to strip Schroeder of an office and paid staff follows a lengthy effort to get him to turn his back on President Vladimir Putin, which spiked after Russia invaded Ukraine.
EU lawmakers separately called in a non-binding resolution on the bloc to slap sanctions on Schroeder and other Europeans who refuse to give up lucrative board seats at Russian companies.
“The coalition parliamentary groups have drawn consequences from the behavior of former chancellor and lobbyist Gerhard Schroeder in view of the Russian invasion of Ukraine,” the parliament decided.
“The office of the former chancellor shall be suspended,” it said, noting that Schroeder “no longer upholds the continuing obligations of his office.”
German media have put the annual cost of Schroeder’s office and employees paid for by taxpayers at around 400,000 euros ($421,000).
Schroeder, Germany’s chancellor from 1998 to 2005, has been under fire for refusing to quit his posts with Russian energy giants Rosneft and Gazprom following Moscow’s war in Ukraine.
He condemned the invasion as unjustified but said that dialogue must continue with Moscow.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who like Schroeder is from the Social Democratic Party, has also repeatedly and publicly urged the former leader to give up his Russian jobs, but to no avail.
Schroeder, 78, is chairman of the board of directors of Russian oil giant Rosneft, and also due to join the supervisory board of gas giant Gazprom in June.
The gas group is behind the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia, which has been halted by Scholz in one of the West’s first responses to the war in Ukraine.
Schroeder himself signed off on the first Nord Stream in his final weeks in office.
In fact, he took a job with Gazprom as chairman of the shareholder’s committee at its subsidiary Nord Stream in 2005, just days after leaving office and parliament in 2005.
Schroeder has always cut a controversial figure.
Schroeder was born on April 7, 1944 in Mossenberg, western Germany but lost his father in the war in Romania six months later.
Recalling his childhood, he said they “really didn’t have a cent — that is something that marks you for life.”
He joined the SPD at 19 and worked a variety of jobs to fund night classes to earn his high school diploma at age 22.
Schroeder qualified as a lawyer before becoming a radical left-wing activist, only later developing a taste for cigars, bespoke Italian suits and Mercedes cars.
His rise through the official ranks began in 1990 when he became premier of the state of Lower Saxony at his second attempt, before taking Germany’s top job in a coalition with the Greens in 1998.
Germany was the “sick man of Europe” with high joblessness. Schroeder is credited for his so-called Agenda 2010 reforms which restored the country’s economic competitiveness and turned it into an export giant.
But many in his blue-collar party saw the painful cuts as a betrayal of their ideals, and reviled him for pushing through the plans that widened the country’s wealth gap and left it with millions of working poor.
He became the first postwar leader to back Germany’s economic muscle with military might when he deployed combat troops abroad for the first time since World War II: to Kosovo and Afghanistan.
However, despite pressure from US president George W. Bush, he declined to commit German troops to Iraq, causing a rift between Berlin and Washington.
The “bromance” with the Kremlin chief would mark his post-chancellorship years, as Putin made headlines as a prominent guest at Schroeder’s 70th birthday party.
When the Russian leader held his inauguration in 2018, Schroeder was in the front row.
Asked in 2004 if Putin was a “flawless democrat,” Schroeder said he was “convinced that he is.”