NATO says Russian buildup in Belarus is biggest in 30 years

NATO says Russian buildup in Belarus is biggest in 30 years
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks during a joint news conference with North Macedonian Prime Minister Dimitar Kovacevski in Belgium on Thursday. (Reuters)
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Updated 03 February 2022

NATO says Russian buildup in Belarus is biggest in 30 years

NATO says Russian buildup in Belarus is biggest in 30 years
  • More high-level diplomacy unfolded in Moscow and Kyiv amid deep uncertainty about Russia’s intentions
  • “This is the biggest Russian deployment there since the Cold War,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters

BRUSSELS: NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg expressed concern Thursday that Russia is continuing its military buildup around Ukraine, and that it has now deployed more troops and military equipment to Belarus than at any time in 30 years.
Meanwhile, more high-level diplomacy unfolded in Moscow and Kyiv amid deep uncertainty about Russia’s intentions. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy hosted Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for talks in the Ukrainian capital. Russian President Vladimir Putin was to meet with his Argentine counterpart, Alberto Fernandez, in Moscow.
Russia now has more than 100,000 troops stationed near Ukraine’s northern and eastern borders, raising concern that Moscow might invade again, as it did in 2014, and destabilize the Ukrainian economy. Russian officials deny that an invasion is planned.
“Over the last days, we have seen a significant movement of Russian military forces into Belarus. This is the biggest Russian deployment there since the Cold War,” Stoltenberg told reporters at NATO headquarters in Brussels.
He said Russian troop numbers in Belarus are likely to climb to 30,000, with the backing of special forces, advanced fighter jets, Iskander short-range ballistic missiles and S-400 ground-to-air missile defense systems.
“So we speak about a wide range of modern military capabilities. All this will be combined with Russia’s annual nuclear forces exercise, expected to take place this month,” Stoltenberg said.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu was in Minsk to check on preparations for major Russia-Belarus war games scheduled for Feb. 10 to Feb. 20. Shoigu met with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. Speaking about the drills, Lukashenko said the goal was “to reinforce the border with Ukraine.”
At the same time, Belarus’ defense ministry accused Ukraine of violating the country’s airspace with a drone last month. The ministry summoned Ukraine’s defense attaché and handed him a note of protest over “frequent violations of the state border” with Belarus.
Kyiv rejected the allegation and accused Belarus of working with Russia to try to further unsettle Ukraine. “We call on Minsk to refrain from playing along with Russia’s destabilizing activities,” foreign ministry spokesman Oleg Nikolenko said on Twitter.
Ukraine’s defense minister sought again to project calm, saying the probability of an invasion was “low,” and he welcomed a change by US officials, who have stopped using the term “imminent” when describing the risk of a Russian attack.
Oleksii Reznikov said “the threat exists, the risks exist, but they have existed since 2014, ever since Russia has become an aggressor.” He said “there are no grounds for panic, fear, flight or the packing of bags.” The minister put the number of Russian troops near Ukraine at 115,000.
Still, Stoltenberg renewed his call for Russia to “de-escalate,” and repeated warnings from the West that “any further Russian aggression would have severe consequences and carry a heavy price.”
NATO has no intention of deploying troops to Ukraine should Russia invade, but it has begun to reinforce the defenses of nearby member countries — notably Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. The 30-nation military alliance also plans to beef up its defenses in the Black Sea region near Bulgaria and Romania.
Stoltenberg also embraced President Joe Biden’s decision on Wednesday to send 2,000 US-based troops to Poland and Germany and to shift 1,000 more from Germany to Romania, demonstrating to both allies and foes Washington’s commitment to NATO’s eastern flank.
“We are committed to finding a political solution to the crisis, but we have to be prepared for the worst,” Stoltenberg said, and he appreciated other recent offers of troops and equipment from several allies. Russia objects to the troop move and has described it as “destructive.”
Erdogan, a prominent NATO ally in the Black Sea region, is positioning himself as a possible mediator. Speaking before departing for Kyiv, he reiterated Turkey’s support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity and said Ankara was ready to do what it can to reduce tensions.
“We are closely following the challenges that Ukraine is faced with as well as the tension in the region,” he said. “We express on every platform that we support the territorial integrity and sovereignty of our strategic partner and neighbor Ukraine.”
“As a Black Sea nation, we invite all sides to exercise restraint and dialogue in order to bring peace to the region,” Erdogan said.


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.