Russia to recruit 16,000 fighters from Middle East for Ukraine war

Russia to recruit 16,000 fighters from Middle East for Ukraine war
Syrian regime forces in an area south of the town of Al-Bab, in the northern province of Aleppo on January 14, 2016. (AFP/File)
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Updated 12 March 2022

Russia to recruit 16,000 fighters from Middle East for Ukraine war

Russia to recruit 16,000 fighters from Middle East for Ukraine war
  • Let’s bring them to the combat zone, Putin says
  • Ukraine president slams ‘thugs from Syria’

MOSCOW, KYIV: Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday approved plans to recruit 16,000 fighters from the Middle East to take part in the war in Ukraine.
Dozens of men in camouflage uniforms, holding Kalashnikov assault rifles and waving pro-Russian banners, appeared in video footage that Russia’s Defense Ministry said was a gathering of soldiers in Syria ready to join the Ukraine conflict.
“If you see that there are people who want of their own accord — not for money — to come to help … then we need to give them what they want and help them get to the conflict zone,” Putin told Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu at a security council meeting in Moscow.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said his country was battling an enemy “who collects reservists and conscripts from all over Russia to throw them into the hell of war, who came up with the idea of bringing in mercenaries against our people, thugs from Syria.”
Presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said the move was a sign of the Russian army’s weakness. “Where’s the powerful Russian army if they can’t get by without Syrians?” he said. “If they want us also to kill 16,000 Syrians, let them come.”
On the ground in Ukraine, Russian forces bearing down on Kyiv were regrouping northwest of the capital, a Russian airstrike hit a psychiatric hospital near the eastern town of Izyum, and four people died in an attack on an airfield in the city of Lutsk — Russia’s first strike in western Ukraine.
Russia has been pounding Ukraine’s cities while its main attack force north of Kyiv has been stalled on roads since the invasion began on Feb. 24, having failed in what military analysts say was an initial plan for a lightning assault.
Satellite images showed Russian armored vehicle units maneuvering in and through towns close to an airport on Kyiv’s northwest outskirts.
Other elements had repositioned near the settlement of Lubyanka just to the north, with artillery howitzers being towed into firing positions.
“Russia is probably seeking to reset and re-posture its forces for renewed offensive activity in the coming days,” Britain’s Ministry of Defense said. “This will probably include operations against Kyiv.” It said Russian ground forces were still making only limited progress, hampered by logistical issues and Ukrainian resistance.
Zelensky said Ukraine had “already reached a strategic turning point” in the conflict. “It is impossible to say how many days we still have to free Ukrainian land. But we can say we will do it,” he said.


Thousands more flee as Sydney floods track north

Thousands more flee as Sydney floods track north
Updated 15 sec ago

Thousands more flee as Sydney floods track north

Thousands more flee as Sydney floods track north
  • New South Wales authorities issued fresh flood alerts north of Australia’s largest city
  • 85,000 people have been told to leave their homes immediately or be ready to depart imminentl
SYDNEY: Thousands of people on Australia’s east coast fled their homes Wednesday as torrential rains tracked north after unleashing floods in Sydney that submerged communities, roads and bridges under mud-brown water.
New South Wales authorities issued fresh flood alerts north of Australia’s largest city and warned that rising, rain-swollen rivers still posed a danger in parts of Sydney despite easing rainfall in the city.
“This event is far from over,” the state’s Premier Dominic Perrottet said.
Since the floods began over the weekend, emergency services have issued more than 100 evacuation orders.
A total 85,000 people have been told to leave their homes immediately or be ready to depart imminently so they will not be stranded by rising floodwaters.
Across Sydney’s western fringe, rivers broke their banks and large areas have been transformed into inland lakes, with mud-brown waters invading homes while cutting off roads and bridges.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese visited the affected area Wednesday, promising to look for “long-term solutions” after multiple flooding disasters across Australia’s east coast in the past 18 months.
Albanese said that while “Australia has always been subject of floods, of bushfires,” scientists have warned climate change would make such events more frequent and intense.
“What we are seeing, unfortunately, is that play out,” he said.
There were 21 flood rescues across New South Wales overnight, and on Wednesday more than 1,000 emergency service workers were in the field.
The federal government has declared a natural disaster in 23 flooded parts of the state, unlocking relief payments to stricken residents.
Many people affected have lived through successive east coast floods that struck in 2021 and then again in March this year when more than 20 people were killed.
Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology said the weather system was expected to move off coast later this week.
Andrew Hall, chief executive of the Insurance Council of Australia, said he expected the Sydney floods would be declared a “catastrophe” by the insurance industry.
He said 2,700 insurance claims have been lodged by Tuesday from Sydney alone, and more were anticipated as people were able to return to their homes.
Hall said there had been Aus$5 billion ($3.4 billion) in catastrophe claims made in Australia this year.
It was “untenable” for homes that had flooded four times in the past 18 months to remain in the insurance pool, Hall said, adding: “We’ve got to stand back and ask the question, ‘Have we built homes in the wrong spot?’”

Kyiv asks Turkey to probe three more Russian ships it alleges transported stolen grain

Russian-flagged bulk carrier Mikhail Nenashev is unloaded at the MMK Port in Dortyol near the Mediterranean town of Iskenderun
Russian-flagged bulk carrier Mikhail Nenashev is unloaded at the MMK Port in Dortyol near the Mediterranean town of Iskenderun
Updated 06 July 2022

Kyiv asks Turkey to probe three more Russian ships it alleges transported stolen grain

Russian-flagged bulk carrier Mikhail Nenashev is unloaded at the MMK Port in Dortyol near the Mediterranean town of Iskenderun
  • The conflict in Ukraine has heightened concerns about food security both in Ukraine and around the globe, driving up world food prices to record levels this year
  • NATO member Turkey, which has good ties with both Moscow and Kyiv, has criticized the invasion but also rejected Western sanctions on Russia

ISTANBUL: Ukraine has asked Turkey to help investigate three Russian-flagged ships as part of Kyiv’s efforts to probe what it alleges is the theft of grain from Russian-occupied territory, according to official documents.
In a June 13 letter, which hasn’t previously been reported, the Ukrainian prosecutor general’s office asked Turkey’s justice ministry to investigate and provide evidence on the three named ships it suspects have been involved in transporting grain allegedly stolen from recently occupied Ukrainian territories, such as Kherson.
The letter, which Reuters reviewed, said the ships traveled from Crimea’s main grain terminal in Sevastopol in April and May and pressed Ankara to obtain documentation about their cargo and arrival at Turkish ports. Russia annexed Crimea in 2014.

Smoke rises in the sky after shelling near a winter wheat field, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, near the town of Bakhmut, in Donetsk region, Ukraine. (REUTERS)

All three large dry bulk carriers — Mikhail Nenashev, Matros Pozynich and Matros Koshka — are owned by a subsidiary of a Western-sanctioned Russian state-owned company called United Shipbuilding Corporation, according to Equasis, a shipping database. The Russian company didn’t respond to a request for comment.
If it is established that United Shipbuilding Corporation transported grain from recently-occupied Ukrainian territory, it would add to emerging evidence of the involvement by Russian-state owned entities in exporting what Kyiv alleges is stolen goods. Ukraine has publicly accused Moscow of stealing grain since the February invasion; Russia has repeatedly denied it has stolen any Ukrainian grain.
The conflict in Ukraine has heightened concerns about food security both in Ukraine and around the globe, driving up world food prices to record levels this year. Ukraine is one of the world’s largest grain exporters but has struggled to export goods with war raging along its southern coast and many of its ports blocked. Grain accounts for nearly a fifth of all the country’s exports, according to official data.
Reuters was unable to determine the origin or end destination of the grain in the ships named by Kyiv in the letter.
The Kremlin didn’t respond to requests for comment. Kirill Stremousov, deputy head of the Russian-installed administration in Kherson, said grain from the region was going to Crimea and that local farmers were responsible for transporting it there. He said he had no knowledge of any shipments to Turkey or the Middle East.
Reuters on Friday reported that Kyiv in a separate letter, dated June 30, asked Turkey’s justice ministry to detain and arrest another Russian-flagged ship carrying what it said was Ukrainian grain from the occupied port of Berdyansk. On Monday, a senior Turkish official said Turkey had halted the cargo ship and is investigating Ukraine’s claim.
NATO member Turkey, which has good ties with both Moscow and Kyiv, has criticized the invasion but also rejected Western sanctions on Russia. Ankara has agreed with Ukraine to block commercial shipments between Crimea and Turkey since 2014.
At the same time, Turkey has played a key role in discussions between the United Nations, Russia and Ukraine on a potential Black Sea corridor to export grain from Ukraine.
Turkey’s justice ministry declined to comment on Kyiv’s two letters and referred to recent comments by the Turkish foreign ministry that it had investigated Ukraine’s public claims that grain stolen by Russia had made its way to Turkey and determined there was no issue.
“We saw that the ships’ port of departure and the origin of the goods is Russia on the records,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters on June 23, without identifying which ships. “We are against Ukrainian grains or other goods being taken by Russia … and we will not allow these goods to come to us.” The foreign ministry did not respond to requests for comment on the ship from Berdyansk that arrived in Turkey late last week.
A Turkish diplomatic source added that Kyiv had shared with Ankara its claims about allegedly stolen grain being brought to Turkey via Russian ships and that cooperation with Ukrainian officials was ongoing.
The Ukrainian prosecutor general’s office didn’t respond to requests for comment. Taras Vysotskiy, the first deputy to Ukraine’s agriculture minister, told Reuters that Kyiv estimates about 400,000 tons of stolen grain has been exported. Ukraine’s ambassador to Turkey, Vasyl Bodnar, told Reuters Ukraine believes most of that has gone to Turkey and Kyiv has sent what it considered to be evidence on the involvement of 13 ships to Turkish authorities.
The June 13 letter said at least two of the ships switched off tracking systems that openly broadcast before entering Sevastopol port.
It also said Kyiv suspected grain was being taken from recently occupied territory, particularly Kherson, where it said there were several grain elevators that the owners don’t have access to due to the occupation. It didn’t identify the owners. Kyiv, in the letter, added that it is investigating criminal violations of Ukraine’s rules and customs of war, without naming individuals.
Ukraine’s embassy in Beirut told Reuters that at least seven companies who own storage units in newly-occupied territory have registered criminal cases with Ukrainian authorities alleging Russia stole their wheat. Two of the companies, Ukrlandfarming and State Food and Grain Corporation of Ukraine, confirmed to Reuters they had submitted a document to Ukrainian authorities but declined to provide details. The others didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Ukraine has also said Russia has sent its ally Syria wheat allegedly stolen from Ukraine since invading in February. Ukraine’s embassy in Beirut told Reuters that at least 150,000 tons of what it said was “stolen” wheat have made it to Syria since February, mostly on Russian ships, without specifying how it knew.
Neither Syria’s port authority, which is part of the transport ministry, nor the Syrian information ministry responded to requests for comment.

TURKISH TRIPS
One of the vessels Kyiv named in the June 13 letter, the 169-meter long Mikhail Nenashev, was at Sevastopol’s Avlita grain terminal from June 14 to 16, according to satellite imagery captured by Planet Labs PBC, a private satellite operator, which show the ship docked beside grain silos with cranes towering above.
The vessel arrived eight days later at Iskenderun, Turkey, according to Refinitiv Eikon ship-tracking data. Photos and videos supplied by Yoruk Isik, an Istanbul-based geopolitical analyst and head of the Bosphorus Observer consultancy, show port cranes lifting what appears from the images to be a golden, grain-like cargo from the Mikhail Nenashev into trucks on June 27 at nearby Dortyol port.
Since March, the Mikhail Nenashev has visited the Sevastopol grain terminal on at least three other occasions before arriving in Turkey between 5 and 15 days later, according to satellite imagery and ship-tracking data.
In one instance, it unloaded 27,000 tons of wheat in the Turkish seaport of Derince on April 22, according to data from Refinitiv Eikon, which shows the cargo was loaded in Sevastopol, Crimea. Ukraine, in its June 13 letter, said the Mikhail Nenashev loaded 27,500 tons of grain at Sevastopol’s Avlita grain terminal in April, without specifying which day.
Dortyol Port did not respond to Reuters’ queries about the shipments or precautions taken in light of Ukrainian claims. Derince Port confirmed it received “Russian ships carrying grains” but did not comment on screening processes. There was no answer at Avlita’s head office and a person at the Sevastopol office who answered the phone denied all knowledge of Ukrainian grain at the port and put down the phone.
Another one of the ships, the Matros Pozynich, docked in Syria on at least three occasions within a week or two of visiting Sevastopol’s Avlita grain terminal, according to satellite imagery and ship-tracking data. The third ship, Matros Koshka, has on at least three occasions left Sevastopol’s grain terminal before turning off ship transponders, according to satellite imagery and tracking data. On one of those occasions, it docked in Syria 10 days later, according to a Planet Labs satellite image.
All three ships are owned and managed by Russian-based company Crane Marine Contractor LLC and were purchased in either December or February, according to ownership records from Equasis. The company is a subsidiary of United Shipbuilding Corporation (USC), according to a copy of Crane Marine’s charter currently on its website. USC’s website also lists Crane Marine as one of its companies. Russian company records show Crane Marine is owned by Caspian Energy group, which is part of USC, according to USC company press releases dated in 2018.
Crane Marine didn’t respond to a request for comment.
The United States sanctioned USC in 2014 in response to Russia’s efforts “to destabilize eastern Ukraine” saying the state-owned defense technology firm manufactured arms and built ships for the Russian navy. In April, Washington renewed and expanded its sanctions relating to the company. Britain sanctioned USC in February.


UK PM Johnson names Zahawi as new finance minister

UK PM Johnson names Zahawi as new finance minister
Updated 06 July 2022

UK PM Johnson names Zahawi as new finance minister

UK PM Johnson names Zahawi as new finance minister
  • The 55-year-old co-founded the prominent polling company YouGo
  • Won widespread praise for overseeing Britain’s pandemic vaccines rollout.

LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson late Tuesday named his Iraqi-born education secretary, Nadhim Zahawi, as finance minister after the shock resignation of Rishi Sunak.
Downing Street said Queen Elizabeth II had approved the appointment of Zahawi, who came to Britain as a child with his Kurdish family not speaking any English, before forging a lucrative business career.
The 55-year-old co-founded the prominent polling company YouGov and was active in local Conservative politics in London, before becoming an MP in 2010.
He won widespread praise for overseeing Britain’s pandemic vaccines rollout.
But like Sunak, his private wealth has drawn adverse attention, including when he claimed parliamentary expenses for heating his horse stables in 2013.
Zahawi refused to comment to reporters as he left a meeting in 10 Downing Street, including on whether he will uphold Sunak’s pleas for fiscal discipline against Johnson’s free-spending instincts.
The prime minister named another loyalist, Michelle Donelan, to take Zahawi’s place at the education ministry.


Sri Lanka aims to stop money printing as inflation nears 60%

Sri Lanka aims to stop money printing as inflation nears 60%
Updated 05 July 2022

Sri Lanka aims to stop money printing as inflation nears 60%

Sri Lanka aims to stop money printing as inflation nears 60%
  • Government is working on debt-restructuring plan for IMF bailout

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka will stop printing money completely to control a rapid increase in the prices of commodities, its prime minister said on Tuesday, with inflation expected to reach 60 percent this year.

The cash-strapped country of 22 million people is battling its worst economic crisis in decades and has been unable to pay for essential imports for months because of a severe dollar crunch caused by economic mismanagement and the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic on its tourism-dependent economy.

Extreme shortages of petrol, food and medicines have led to the closure of many services, and triggered mass protests that have been ongoing since March. The island nation has been forced to shut schools and stop providing fuel to all but essential services.

Consumer prices rose 54.6 percent in June from a year earlier, with transport surging 128 percent from the previous month and food 80 percent.

“Our plan is to control inflation. By the end of this year, inflation will rise to 60 percent,” Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe told parliamentarians.

“In 2023, we will have to print money with restrictions on several occasions. But by the end of 2024, it is our intention to stop printing money completely.”

Wickremesinghe announced the planned measures after last week’s complicated bailout talks with the International Monetary Fund.

The premier, who took office in May and is also the finance minister, said the plan was aimed at reducing the inflation rate to reach between 4 and 6 percent by 2025.

Sri Lanka is facing negotiations with the IMF as “a bankrupt country,” Wickremesinghe said, as he outlined a roadmap to get out of the crisis. The government is planning to submit its debt-restructuring plan for the IMF’s approval by the end of August.

Stopping the printing of money is in line with the fund’s expectations.

“The IMF will not like printing of money; if they have to abide by the IMF, (the) printing of new notes will have to be avoided,” Murtaza Jafferjee, economist and chairman of the Colombo-based think tank Advocata Institute, told Arab News.

“Printing money means the central bank is funding the government; under the IMF agreement we will have to enact the new monetary law act which will restrict funding the government so it will automatically stop.”

The inflation rate, he said, could be even higher than projected.

“It can get worse if we have further supply chain blocks or fuel prices will increase further.”

One solution that could bring quicker relief than the IMF bailout loan — which may take months — could be tourism, a key source of Sri Lanka’s foreign exchange reserves.

In 2019, the South Asian country welcomed over 1.9 million tourists. As COVID-19 restrictions upended the hospitality industry, the number dropped to less than 200,000 last year. But it is slowly picking up again, as 380,000 tourists have already arrived in the country in the first half of 2022, according to the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority.

“We have to ensure that tourism makes a strong recovery in the second half of the year,” Jafferjee said.


Muhammad tops boys’ name rankings in UK

Photo/Shutterstock
Photo/Shutterstock
Updated 05 July 2022

Muhammad tops boys’ name rankings in UK

Photo/Shutterstock
  • Other Muslim names in top 100 lists for boys and girls include Ali, Yusuf, Fatima and Aisha

LONDON: Muhammad is the most popular baby name for boys in the UK this year, a list compiled by online media company BabyCentre has revealed.

Muslim names account for about 10 percent of all names in the top 100 rankings for both males and females, which were published in full by the Daily Mail.

In addition to Muhammad, the top boys’ names also include Ali in 31st position, Yusuf (53rd), Ayaan (61st), Ahmad (63rd), Omar (72nd), Abdullah (77th), Abdul (84th), Ibrahim (92nd) and Syed (94th).

Among the top girls’ names, Layla is the most popular Muslim name, in 24th place. It is followed by Fatima (27th), Nur (29th), Maryam (33rd), Aisha (37th), Aaliyah (60th), Raya (92nd), Nora (95th) and Anaya (98th).

Across the rest of the list, recent events appear to have strongly influenced the popularity of some common names in the UK. For example, the name Amber fell in the rankings following the recent high-profile court case between US film stars Johnny Depp and Amber Heard.

Meanwhile a new name topped the girls’ list for the first time since 2015, with Lily overtaking Olivia.