Biden-Putin meeting discussed as Ukraine war fears loom

Update Biden-Putin meeting discussed as Ukraine war fears loom
White House press secretary Jen Psaki, said the administration has been clear that “we are committed to pursuing diplomacy until the moment an invasion begins.” (File/AFP)
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Updated 21 February 2022

Biden-Putin meeting discussed as Ukraine war fears loom

Biden-Putin meeting discussed as Ukraine war fears loom

MOSCOW: The US and Russian presidents have tentatively agreed to meet in a last-ditch diplomatic effort to stave Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine as heavy shelling continued Monday in a conflict in eastern Ukraine that is feared will spark the Russian offensive.
French President Emmanuel Macron sought to broker a possible meeting between US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin in a series of phone calls that dragged into the night.
Macron’s office said both leaders had both “accepted the principle of such a summit,” to be followed by a broader summit meeting also involving other “relevant stakeholders to discuss security and strategic stability in Europe.” It added that the meetings “can only be held on the condition that Russia does not invade Ukraine.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki, said the administration has been clear that “we are committed to pursuing diplomacy until the moment an invasion begins.” She noted that “currently, Russia appears to be continuing preparations for a full-scale assault on Ukraine very soon.”

 




Satellite image taken on Feb. 15, 2022 shows battle group deployment and troop tents at Valuyki, Russia, 27 km east of the border with Ukraine. (Maxar Technologies via AFP)

Macron’s office said that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov are set to lay the groundwork for the summit when they meet Thursday.
It followed a flurry of calls by Macron to Putin, Biden and also British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
The Kremlin hasn’t yet commented on the announcement of a possible Putin-Biden summit, but it has said all along that Putin is always open for such a meeting.
The prospective meeting offers new hope of averting a Russian invasion that US officials said could begin any moment with an estimated 150,000 Russian troops amassed near Ukraine.
 




Activists rally on Feb. 20, 2022 in Washington urging US President Joe Biden to take a stronger stance on deterring Russia from invading Ukraine. (Getty Images/AFP)

Adding to fears of an imminent invasion, Russia and its ally Belarus announced Sunday that they were extending massive war games on Belarusian territory that offers a convenient bridgehead for an attack on the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, located just 75 kilometers (less than 50 miles) south of the border with Belarus.
Starting Thursday, shelling also spiked along the tense line of contact between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatist rebels in Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland, Donbas, where over 14,000 people have been killed since conflict erupted in 2014 shortly after Moscow’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.
Ukraine and the rebels have traded blame for massive cease-fire violations with hundreds of explosions recorded daily.
On Friday, separatist officials announced the evacuation of civilians and military mobilization in the face of what they described as an imminent Ukrainian offensive on the rebel regions. Ukrainian officials have strongly denied any plans to launch such an attack and described the evacuation order as part of Russian provocations intended to set the stage for an invasion.
 




People are evacuated from the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic arriving to the railway station in the city of Voronezh. (Russian Emergency Situations Ministry " handout via AFP)

The separatist authorities said Monday that at least four civilians were killed by Ukrainian shelling over the past 24 hours and several others were injured. Ukraine’s military said a Ukrainian soldier was wounded, saying that the separatists were “cynically firing from residential areas using civilians as shields” and insisting that the Ukrainian forces weren’t returning fire.
Moscow denies any plans to invade Ukraine, but wants Western guarantees that NATO won’t allow Ukraine and other former Soviet countries to join as members. It also urges the alliance to halt weapons deployments to Ukraine and roll back its forces from Eastern Europe — demands flatly rejected by the West.
Russian officials have shrugged off Western calls to deescalate by pulling back troops, arguing that Moscow is free to deploy troops and conduct drills wherever it likes on its territory. Last week, Western officials dismissed Russian statements about some of the troops returning to their bases, saying that Moscow was actually beefing up its forces around Ukraine.
A US official said Sunday that Biden’s assertion last week that Putin has made the decision to roll Russian forces into Ukraine was based on intelligence that Russian front-line commanders have been given orders to begin final preparations for an attack. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the sensitive intelligence.
Russia also upped the ante Saturday with sweeping nuclear drills that included multiple practice launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles and cruise missiles that Putin personally oversaw.
Ukraine’s president reaffirmed his call for a quick meeting with Putin to help defuse tensions, but there was no response from the Kremlin.
The European Union’s top diplomat, foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, welcomed the prospect of a Biden-Putin summit but said that should diplomacy fail the 27-nation bloc has finalized its package of sanctions for use if Putin orders an invasion.
“The work is done. We are ready,” said Borrell, who is chairing a meeting of EU foreign ministers. He did not say what kind of red line would trigger the measures, but said that he would call an urgent meeting of foreign ministers when it was crossed “and I will present the sanctions at the right moment.”
Borrell was tasked with drawing up a list of people in Russia to be hit with asset freezes and travel bans. He provided no details about who might be targeted.
The European Commission has prepared other sanctions to “limit the access to financial markets for the Russian economy and (impose) export controls that will stop the possibility for Russia to modernize and diversify its economy,” its president, Ursula von der Leyen, said over the weekend.
In the Ukrainian capital, people prayed for peace as war fears loomed.
Katerina Spanchak, who fled the separatist-controlled east, was among worshippers crowded into the capital’s St. Michael’s monastery, smoky with the candles burned by the faithful, to pray that Ukraine be spared.
“We all love life, and we are all united by our love of life,” Spanchak said, pausing to compose herself. “We should appreciate it every day. That’s why I think everything will be fine.”


Antony Blinken visits Rwanda in testing moment for old US ally Paul Kagame

Antony Blinken visits Rwanda in testing moment for old US ally Paul Kagame
Updated 5 sec ago

Antony Blinken visits Rwanda in testing moment for old US ally Paul Kagame

Antony Blinken visits Rwanda in testing moment for old US ally Paul Kagame
  • Regional analysts expect US Secretary of State to privately exert pressure to stop Rwanda’s alleged support for the M23 rebel group
KIGALI: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is on a visit to Kigali less than a week after it emerged United Nations experts had found “solid evidence” Rwanda has been interfering militarily in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
Regional analysts expect Blinken, who arrived on Wednesday evening, to privately exert pressure to stop Rwanda’s alleged support for the M23 rebel group without immediately implementing sanctions or blocking military aid, as the United States did in similar circumstances in 2013.
A confidential report sent to the United Nations Security Council last week said Rwandan troops have been fighting alongside the M23 rebels in Congo, and that Kigali has been providing the group with weapons and support since November.
Rwanda’s government has said the UN findings, based on evidence including witness testimony and drone images, were false, and that the M23 was Congo’s responsibility.
The United States is a longstanding ally of Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame, but Blinken told reporters on Tuesday in Kinshasa he was very concerned about “credible reports” Rwanda has provided support to M23.
Last year the US administration gave Rwanda $147 million in bilateral assistance, and $500,000 for peace and security.
“Rwanda’s most important export is its reputation; that’s what attracts Starbucks, that’s what attracts Bill Gates and that reputation is being battered at the moment,” said Jason Stearns, director of New York University’s Congo Research Group.
Blinken’s visit “will lead to a re-evaluation of what’s happening on the ground,” Stearns told Reuters by telephone.
A statement from Rwanda’s foreign affairs ministry on Blinken’s visit said the country was committed to addressing security challenges in the Great Lakes Region.
Rwanda has earned recognition for its stability, ease of doing business and developmental gains since the 1994 genocide, but Kagame has also drawn criticism for cracking down on opponents at home and abroad.
The US top diplomat has said he would raise the fate of Paul Rusesabagina, a US resident who was sentenced by Kigali court to 25 years in prison on terrorism charges.
Rusesabagina refused to take part in what he called a “sham” trial, saying he had been kidnapped and brought to Kigali against his will.
Rwanda’s foreign affairs ministry said Rusesabagina’s arrest and conviction were lawful under Rwandan and international law.

South Korea, China clash over US missile shield, complicating conciliation

South Korea, China clash over US missile shield, complicating conciliation
Updated 3 min 21 sec ago

South Korea, China clash over US missile shield, complicating conciliation

South Korea, China clash over US missile shield, complicating conciliation
  • Disagreement over the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system emerged after South Korea’s foreign minister China visit this week
SEOUL: China and South Korea clashed on Thursday over a US missile defense shield, threatening to undermine efforts by the new government in Seoul to overcome longstanding security differences.
The disagreement over the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system emerged after an apparently smooth first visit to China by South Korea’s foreign minister this week.
China, contending THAAD’s powerful radar could peer into its airspace, curbed trade and cultural imports after Seoul announced its deployment in 2016, dealing a major blow to relations.
South Korea’s presidential office said on Thursday the system stationed in the country is a means of self-defense, according to a briefing transcript, after Beijing demanded Seoul not deploy additional batteries and limit the use of existing ones.
President Yoon Suk-yeol, seeing the system as key to countering North Korean missiles, has vowed to abandon the previous government’s promises not to increase THAAD deployments, participate in a US-led global missile shield or create a trilateral military alliance involving Japan.
On the campaign trail, the conservative Yoon pledged to buy another THAAD battery, but since taking office in May, his government has focussed on what officials call “normalizing” the operation of the existing, US-owned and operated system.
South Korea’s Foreign Minister Park Jin and his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, meeting on Tuesday, explored ways to reopen denuclearization negotiations with North Korea and resume cultural exports, such as K-pop music and movies, to China.
A Wang spokesman said on Wednesday the two had “agreed to take each other’s legitimate concerns seriously and continue to prudently handle and properly manage this issue to make sure it does not become a stumbling block to the sound and steady growth of bilateral relations.”
The Chinese spokesman told a briefing the THAAD deployment in South Korea “undermines China’s strategic security interest.”
Park, however, told Wang that Seoul would not abide by the 2017 agreement, called the “Three Nos,” as it is not a formal pledge or agreement, South Korea’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
China also insists that South Korea abide by “one restriction” — limiting the use of existing THAAD batteries. Seoul has never acknowledged that element, but on Wednesday, Wang’s spokesman emphasised that China attaches importance to the position of “three Nos and one restriction.”
During Park’s visit to the eastern port city of Qingdao, the Chinese Communist Party-owned Global Times praised Yoon for showing “independent diplomacy and rationality toward China” by not meeting face to face with visiting US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
But the newspaper warned that the THAAD issue is “a major hidden danger that cannot be avoided in China-South Korea ties.”

Taiwan holds military drill after China repeats threats

Taiwan holds military drill after China repeats threats
Updated 57 min 48 sec ago

Taiwan holds military drill after China repeats threats

Taiwan holds military drill after China repeats threats
  • Taiwan accused China of using US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit as an excuse to kickstart drills
  • Military played down Taiwan's exercises’ significance, saying they were not in response to China’s war games

TAIPEI: Taiwan’s army held another live-fire drill Thursday after Beijing ended its largest-ever military exercises around the island and repeated threats to bring the self-ruled democracy under its control.
Beijing has raged at a trip to Taiwan last week by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — the highest-ranking elected American official to visit in decades — staging days of air and sea drills around the island that raised tensions to their highest level in years.
Taiwan has accused China of using the Pelosi visit as an excuse to kickstart drills that would allow it to rehearse for an invasion.
Lou Woei-jye, spokesman for Taiwan’s Eighth Army Corps, told AFP its forces fired howitzers and target flares as part of the defensive drill on Thursday morning.
The exercise in Taiwan’s southernmost county Pingtung began at 0830 am (0030 GMT) and lasted about an hour, he said.
Artillery tucked in from the coast was lined up side by side, with armed soldiers in units firing the howitzers out to sea one after the other, a live stream showed.
Taiwan held a similar drill on Tuesday in Pingtung. Both involved hundreds of troops, the military said.
The military has played down the exercises’ significance, saying they were already scheduled and were not in response to China’s war games.
“We have two goals for the drills, the first is to certify the proper condition of the artillery and their maintenance condition and the second is to confirm the results of last year,” Lou said, referring to annual drills.
The latest exercise came after China’s military indicated its own drills had come to an end Wednesday, saying its forces “successfully completed various tasks” in the Taiwan Strait while vowing to continue patrolling its waters.
But in the same announcement, China added that it would “continue to carry out military training and prepare for war.”
In a separate white paper published Wednesday, China’s Taiwan Affairs Office said Beijing would “not renounce the use of force” against its neighbor and reserved “the option of taking all necessary measures.”
“We are ready to create vast space for peaceful reunification, but we will leave no room for separatist activities in any form,” it said in the paper.
China last issued a white paper on Taiwan in 2000.
Taiwan’s foreign ministry on Thursday joined its top policymaking body on China in rejecting the “one country, two systems” model that Beijing has proposed for the island.
“China’s whole statement absolutely goes against the cross-strait status quo and its reality,” ministry spokesperson Joanne Ou told a press conference.
“China is using US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit as an excuse to destroy the status quo and taking the opportunity to make trouble, attempting to create a new normal to intimidate the Taiwanese people.”
“One country, two systems” refers to the model under which Hong Kong and Macau were promised a degree of autonomy under Chinese rule.
Taiwan routinely stages military drills simulating defense against a Chinese invasion, and last month practiced repelling attacks from the sea in a “joint interception operation” as part of its largest annual exercises.
In response to the Chinese military revealing it was bringing drills to an end Wednesday, Taiwan’s army said it would “adjust how we deploy our forces... without letting our guard down.”
Since the late 1990s, the island has transformed from an autocracy into a vibrant democracy, and a more distinct Taiwanese identity has solidified.
Relations between the two sides have significantly worsened since Tsai Ing-wen became Taiwan’s president in 2016.
Tsai and her Democratic Progressive Party do not consider Taiwan a part of China.
Their platform falls under China’s broad definition of Taiwanese separatism, which includes those who advocate for the island to have an identity separate from the mainland.


Alleged British Daesh ‘Beatle’ charged after arrest in UK: police

Alleged British Daesh ‘Beatle’ charged after arrest in UK: police
Updated 45 min 35 sec ago

Alleged British Daesh ‘Beatle’ charged after arrest in UK: police

Alleged British Daesh ‘Beatle’ charged after arrest in UK: police
  • The man was reported to have been arrested after landing at Luton airport on a flight from Turkey, where he had been serving a prison sentence for terrorism offenses

LONDON: A British man accused of being part of a Daesh kidnap-and-murder cell known as the “Beatles” has been charged with terrorism offenses after returning to the UK, police said Thursday.
“A 38-year-old man has been charged with various terrorism offenses following an investigation by the Met’s Counter Terrorism Command,” police said in a statement.
The Metropolitan Police, which leads anti-terror investigations in the UK, officially named the man as Aine Davis and said he has been remanded in police custody.
They said they arrested Davis after he landed at Luton airport on a flight from Turkey.
The suspect, who does not have a fixed address, was set to appear at a court in central London on Thursday morning.
He was allegedly a member of the Daesh cell, which held dozens of foreign hostages in Syria between 2012 and 2015 and was known to their captives as the “Beatles” because of their British accents.
The four members of the “Beatles” are accused of abducting at least 27 journalists and relief workers from the United States, Britain, Europe, New Zealand, Russia and Japan.
They were all allegedly involved in the murders of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, as well as aid workers Peter Kassig and Kayla Mueller.
The quartet allegedly tortured and killed the four American victims, including by beheading, and Daeshreleased videos of the murders for propaganda purposes.
Alexanda Kotey, a 38-year-old former British national extradited from the UK to the US in 2020 to face charges there, pleaded guilty to his role in the deaths last September and was sentenced to life in prison in April.
El Shafee Elsheikh, 34, another former British national also extradited to the US at the same time, was found guilty of all charges in April, and will be sentenced next week.
The other “Beatles” executioner, Mohamed Emwazi, was killed by a US drone in Syria in 2015.
Elsheikh and Kotey were captured in January 2018 by a Kurdish militia in Syria and turned over to US forces in Iraq before being sent to Britain.
They were eventually flown to Virginia in 2020 to face charges of hostage-taking, conspiracy to murder US citizens and supporting a foreign terrorist organization.
Davis served a seven-and-a-half-year sentence in Turkey for membership in the terrorist group, according to reports.
In 2014, his wife Amal El-Wahabi became the first person in Britain to be convicted of funding Daesh militants after trying to send 20,000 euros — worth $25,000 at the time — to him in Syria.
She was jailed for 28 months and seven days following a trial in which Davis was described as a drug dealer before he went to Syria to fight with Daesh.


Japan provides $3m aid for makeshift clinics in Yemen 

Japan provides $3m aid for makeshift clinics in Yemen 
Updated 11 August 2022

Japan provides $3m aid for makeshift clinics in Yemen 

Japan provides $3m aid for makeshift clinics in Yemen 
  • The clinics will operate in Aden, Lahj, Abyan, Dhale’, Marib, Shabwa, Hadhramout and Mahra, the Ministry of Public Health said

The Japanese government has provided $3m in aid to help set up eight temporary clinics in Yemen.

The cash was provided through the United Nations Office for Project services, the Yemen News Agency (SABA) reported. 

The clinics will operate in Aden, Lahj, Abyan, Dhale’, Marib, Shabwa, Hadhramout and Mahra, the Ministry of Public Health said. 

Every clinic will be equipped with a fully equipped laboratory, ultrasound and x-ray equipment, and an ECG and examination room. 

Meanwhile Yemen’s Minister of Information, Culture and Tourism Muamar Al-Eryani has praised Japan’s humanitarian efforts in Yemen during a meeting with Charge D’Affairs of the Japanese Embassy in Yemen Kazohiro Higashe on Wednesday, according to SABA. 

The two discussed mutual relations between Japan and Yemen, as well as ways to enhance the countries’ bilateral ties. 

Al-Eryani also shared the latest developments in Yemen, including the Houthis’ violations of the UN Truce and the militia’s refusal to end the siege in Taiz, SABA reported. 

For his part, the Japanese diplomat confirmed his country’s support for Yemen’s legitimacy, security, and stability.