Patriarch Kirill, loyal Kremlin cleric facing sanctions

Patriarch Kirill, loyal Kremlin cleric facing sanctions
Russian Patriarch Kirill celebrates a Christmas service at Christ the Savior cathedral in Moscow, Jan. 6, 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 04 May 2022

Patriarch Kirill, loyal Kremlin cleric facing sanctions

Patriarch Kirill, loyal Kremlin cleric facing sanctions
  • A key pillar of Putin’s ruling apparatus, the 75-year-old Kirill has championed conservative religious values and buttressed the Kremlin’s authoritarian tendencies
  • In recent weeks he has backed Russia’s military campaign in Ukraine, calling on supporters to rally to fight Moscow’s ‘external and internal enemies’

MOSCOW: Patriarch Kirill, the head of Russia’s Orthodox Church now facing European sanctions over Ukraine, is a fervent supporter of President Vladimir Putin who once described his rule as a “miracle.”
A key pillar of Putin’s ruling apparatus, the 75-year-old Kirill has championed conservative religious values and buttressed the Kremlin’s authoritarian tendencies by denouncing opposition protests.
In recent weeks he has backed Russia’s military campaign in Ukraine, calling on supporters to rally to fight Moscow’s “external and internal enemies.”
In February he spoke of a struggle against the “forces of evil” opposed to the historic “unity” between Russia and Ukraine.
His comments have drawn a rebuke from Pope Francis, who told Kirill in a video meeting in March that religious leaders “must not use the language of politics, but the language of Jesus.”
Francis later announced that a meeting of the two men set for Jerusalem in June had been scrapped.
The European Commission has now proposed putting Kirill on a new list of 58 individuals sanctioned over Russia’s military action in Ukraine, according to a document seen by AFP.
Kirill’s support for Putin has been unwavering since he ascended to the country’s holiest office in 2009.
In 2012 Kirill described Putin’s rule as a “miracle of God” that ended the economic turmoil of the 1990s following the disintegration of the Soviet Union.
“You, Vladimir Vladimirovich, personally played a massive role in correcting this crooked twist of our history,” he said using the president’s patronymic.
Kirill, along with Putin and several other prominent figures in the ruling elite, hail from Russia’s former imperial capital Saint Petersburg.
Unlike his grandfather, a priest exiled for three decades to Stalinist labor camps, Kirill, born in 1946, quickly rose through the church ranks, becoming head of external relations and eventually gaining his own television show focusing on religious ideas.
The program had already made Kirill a household name when he took over as patriarch, a role in which he oversees the religious life of more than 110 million followers.
On television, he had proposed an ambitious plan for overhauling the image of the Church, which stagnated during the state-mandated atheism of the Soviet Union, and for expanding its presence in state institutions, such as schools and the army.
As patriarch, he made that vision a reality.
Kirill cemented Orthodox values in everyday life, culminating in a reference to God in a new constitution passed in 2020 — a set of laws that allowed Putin to potentially stay in power until 2036.
He has been a leading voice in support of Russia’s growing conservatism, denouncing the idea of same-sex marriage and declaring homosexuality a sin.
The Church under Kirill has also welcomed moves against religious minorities in Russia. When lawmakers banned the Jehovah’s Witnesses in 2017, a Church spokesman described the group as a “totalitarian sect” that wanted to “destroy the psyche of people, destroy families.”
Kirill’s Christ the Savior Cathedral, decorated with ornate iconography and topped with massive golden onion domes, sits adjacent to the imposing red walls of the Kremlin, forming an axis of church and state power in the center of Moscow.
From here he regularly presides over lavish state functions attended by Putin and Russia’s political elite.
It was also the site, in 2012, of the definitive punk protest led by Pussy Riot, in which the all-female group chided Kirill saying the patriarch “believes” in Putin.
Kirill described the balaclava-clad women’s performance as “blasphemous” and Pussy Riot members have in the years since been repeatedly arrested and jailed.
The patriarch has long been surrounded by rumors of links to the Soviet-era KGB — where Putin also worked — and allegations of a lavish lifestyle.
In 2012 Russian bloggers spotted a photo in which a watch worth more than $30,000 appeared airbrushed off the holy leader’s wrist, but its reflection was visible on the table.


Russian casualties in Ukraine up to 80,000: Pentagon

Russian casualties in Ukraine up to 80,000: Pentagon
Updated 09 August 2022

Russian casualties in Ukraine up to 80,000: Pentagon

Russian casualties in Ukraine up to 80,000: Pentagon
  • Kahl admitted that the Ukraine side also had significant losses of manpower on the battlefield, but gave no figures

WASHINGTON: A senior Pentagon official estimated Monday that as many as 80,000 Russians have been killed or wounded in Ukraine since the war began in late February
“The Russians have probably taken 70 or 80,000 casualties in less than six months,” Under Secretary of Defense Colin Kahl said.
Kahl also said Russian forces have also lost “three or four thousand” armored vehicles, and could be running low on available precision-guided missiles, including air and sea-launched cruise missiles, after firing a large number on Ukraine targets since launching the invasion on February 24.
Those losses are “pretty remarkable considering the Russians have achieved none of Vladimir Putin’s objectives at the beginning of the war,” he told reporters, referring to the Russian president.
He said the slowdown in Russian forces’ use of longer range and precision guided missiles was an indicator that their supplies had fallen close to what Moscow needed to hold in reserve for “other contingencies.”
Kahl admitted that the Ukraine side also had significant losses of manpower on the battlefield, but gave no figures.
“Both sides are taking casualties. The war is the most intense conventional conflict in Europe since the Second World War,” he said.
“But the Ukrainians have a lot of advantages, not the least of which is their will to fight.”

 


Life sentences for Georgia father, son for murder of Black jogger

Life sentences for Georgia father, son for murder of Black jogger
Updated 09 August 2022

Life sentences for Georgia father, son for murder of Black jogger

Life sentences for Georgia father, son for murder of Black jogger
  • Travis McMichael, 36, and his father, Gregory McMichael, 66, are already serving life sentences after being found guilty in a state trial for the 2020 murder of Ahmaud Arbery

WASHINGTON: A Georgia man and his father convicted of federal hate crimes for the murder of a Black man who was shot dead while jogging were sentenced to life in prison on Monday.
Travis McMichael, 36, and his father, Gregory McMichael, 66, are already serving life sentences after being found guilty in a state trial for the 2020 murder of Ahmaud Arbery.
US District Judge Lisa Godbey Wood sentenced both men to life in prison on separate hate crimes charges and denied their requests that they be allowed to serve out their sentences in a federal prison instead of a state facility.
The McMichaels, who are white, chased Arbery in a pickup truck on February 23, 2020 as he jogged through their neighborhood near the town of Brunswick, Georgia.
Travis McMichael confronted the 25-year-old Arbery as he passed by their truck and shot and killed him.
The racially-charged case added fuel to nationwide protests over police killings of African Americans sparked initially by the murder in May 2020 of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
A third man who was involved in the chase, William Bryan, who had a less direct role in the murder and cooperated with investigators, was given life with the possibility of parole on the state charges.
He received a sentence of 35 years in prison on the federal charges.
During the federal hate crimes trial, prosecutors recounted the three men’s alleged use of vulgar racial slurs and history of racism.
“The Justice Department’s prosecution of this case and the court’s sentences today make clear that hate crimes have no place in our country,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement.
“Protecting civil rights and combatting white supremacist violence was a founding purpose of the Justice Department, and one that we will continue to pursue with the urgency it demands.”
FBI director Christopher Wray said that hate crimes strike “at the very heart of our society.”
“This is why combatting hate crimes and protecting civil rights are top priorities for the FBI,” he said in the statement.


FBI searches Trump’s Florida home as part of presidential records probe

FBI searches Trump’s Florida home as part of presidential records probe
Updated 09 August 2022

FBI searches Trump’s Florida home as part of presidential records probe

FBI searches Trump’s Florida home as part of presidential records probe
  • The unprecedented search of a former president’s home would mark a significant escalation into the records investigation, which is one of several probes Trump is facing from his time in office and in private business

Former President Donald Trump said FBI agents raided his Mar-a-Lago estate on Monday and broke into his safe in what his son acknowledged was part of an investigation into Trump’s removal of official presidential records from the White House to his Florida resort.

The unprecedented search of a former president’s home would mark a significant escalation into the records investigation, which is one of several probes Trump is facing from his time in office and in private business.

The US Justice Department declined to comment on the search, which Trump in a statement said involved a “large group of FBI agents.” The FBI’s headquarters in Washington and its field office in Miami both declined comment.

Eric Trump, one of the former president’s adult children, told Fox News the search concerned boxes of documents that Trump brought with him from the White House, and that his father has been cooperating with the National Archives on the matter for months.

A source familiar with the matter also confirmed to Reuters the raid appeared to be tied to Trump’s removal of classified records from the White House.

Trump said the estate “is currently under siege, raided, and occupied.” He did not say why the raid took place.

“After working and cooperating with the relevant Government agencies, this unannounced raid on my home was not necessary or appropriate,” Trump said, adding: “They even broke into my safe!“

Trump was not present at the time as he was in New York on Monday, Fox News Digital reported, publishing a photo of Trump that a Fox reporter said showed him leaving Trump Tower.

Trump, who has made his club in Palm Beach his home since leaving the White House in January 2021, has generally spent summers at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, because Mar-a-Lago typically closes for the summer.

A federal law called the US Presidential Records Act requires the preservation of memos, letters, notes, emails, faxes and other written communications related to a president’s official duties.

Any search of a private residence would have to be approved by a judge, after the investigating law-enforcement agency demonstrated probable cause that a search was justified.

It almost certainly would also be approved by FBI Director Christopher Wray, a Trump appointee, and his boss, Attorney General Merrick Garland, who was appointed by Trump’s successor and political rival, President Joe Biden.

Democratic supporters of Biden have criticized Garland for being overly cautious in investigating Trump over his attempts to overturn his 2020 election loss to Biden.

But Trump supporters in turn have accused the Democrats of weaponizing the federal bureaucracy to target Trump, even as Biden has taken steps to distance himself from the Justice Department.

“Make no mistake, the attorney general had to authorize this,” said Phillip Halpern, a former federal prosecutor who specialized in public corruption cases, adding that Wray and a host of prosecutors would also be involved.

“This is as big a deal as you can have, and ... every single person in the chain would have had to sign off on this,” Halpern said.

In February, Archivist David Ferriero told US House lawmakers that the National Archives and Records Administration had been in communication with Trump throughout 2021 about the return of 15 boxes of records. He eventually returned them in January 2022.

At the time, the National Archives was still conducting an inventory, but noted some of the boxes contained items “marked as classified national security information.”

Trump previously confirmed that he had agreed to return certain records to the Archives, calling it “an ordinary and routine process.” He also claimed the Archives “did not ‘find’ anything.”

The Justice Department launched an early-stage investigation into Trump’s removal of records to the Florida estate, a source familiar with the matter said in April.

Lara Trump, the former president’s daughter-in-law, said he only removed mementos that he was legally authorized to take.

“Look, my father-in-law as anybody knows who’s been around him a lot loves to save things like newspaper clippings, magazine clippings, photographs, documents that he had every authority to take from the White House,” Lara Trump told Fox News.

“And you know, again, he’s been cooperating every single step of the way with the people that have questioned any of this.”

Besides the presidential records case, Trump is under investigation on a number of other fronts, including a congressional probe into the Jan. 6, 2021, assault by Trump supporters on the US Capitol and accusations that Trump tried to influence Georgia’s 2020 election results.

In addition, the US Attorney in Washington, D.C., is probing a scheme by Trump’s allies to submit slates of fake electors in a failed bid to overturn the 2020 presidential election.

In an interview in July with NBC News, Garland was asked whether the Justice Department would indict Trump over the events of Jan. 6 if evidence supported such an action.

Garland replied, “We intend to hold everyone, anyone who was criminally responsible for the events surrounding Jan. 6, for any attempt to interfere with the lawful transfer of power from one administration to another, accountable. That’s what we do. We don’t pay any attention to other issues with respect to that.”


Ukraine, Russia trade blame for nuclear plant shelling amid global alarm

Ukraine, Russia trade blame for nuclear plant shelling amid global alarm
Updated 09 August 2022

Ukraine, Russia trade blame for nuclear plant shelling amid global alarm

Ukraine, Russia trade blame for nuclear plant shelling amid global alarm
  • Ukraine blamed Russia for weekend attacks around the complex, which is still being run by Ukrainian technicians. It said three radiation sensors were damaged and two workers injured by shrapnel

KYIV: Kyiv and Moscow traded blame on Monday for the weekend shelling of Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear complex amid international alarm that their battle for control of the plant could trigger catastrophe.
Calling any attack on a nuclear plant “suicidal,” United Nations chief Antonio Guterres demanded UN nuclear inspectors be given access to Zaporizhzhia, the largest complex of its kind in Europe.
Russia’s invading forces seized the southern Ukrainian region containing Zaporizhzhia in March, when the site was struck without damage to its reactors. The area, including the city of Kherson, is now the target of a Ukrainian counter-offensive.
Ukraine appealed for the area around the complex to be demilitarised and for the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN’s nuclear watchdog, to be let in. Russia said it too favored an IAEA visit, which it accused Ukraine of blocking while trying to “take Europe hostage” by shelling the plant.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Kyiv warns of Chornobyl-style disaster unless area secured

• Both sides say in favour of visit by nuclear inspectors

• UN's Guterres says any attack on a nuclear plant is 'suicidal'

• UK scientist says risk of major nuclear incident is small

Ukraine blamed Russia for weekend attacks around the complex, which is still being run by Ukrainian technicians. It said three radiation sensors were damaged and two workers injured by shrapnel.
As of Monday morning, the plant appeared to still be running, said Petro Kotin, head of Ukraine’s state nuclear power company Energoatom. He said 500 Russian soldiers and 50 pieces of heavy machinery, including tanks, trucks and armored infantry vehicles were at the site.
The Ukrainian staff at the plant had nowhere to shelter, he added.
Reuters could not independently verify either side’s account.
Kotin called for peacekeepers to run the Zaporizhzhia site, flagging the risk of shells hitting its six containers of highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel. In an evening video shared online, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called for new Western sanctions on Russia’s nuclear industry “for creating the threat of a nuclear disaster.”
Dr. Mark Wenman, a nuclear expert at Imperial College London, played down the risk of a major incident, saying the Zaporizhzhia reactors were relatively robust and the spent fuel well protected.
“Although it may seem worrying, and any fighting on a nuclear site would be illegal ...the likelihood of a serious nuclear release is still small,” he said in a statement.

WORKING UNDER ‘RUSSIAN GUNS’
Yevhenii Tsymbaliuk, Ukraine’s ambassador to the IAEA, said Zaporizhzhia staff were “working under the barrels of Russian guns.”
Meanwhile, Russia’s defense ministry said Ukrainian attacks had damaged power lines servicing the plant and forced it to reduce output by two of its six reactors to “prevent disruption.”
The UN’s Guterres said IAEA personnel needed access to “create conditions for stabilization.”
“Any attack (on) a nuclear plant is a suicidal thing,” he told a news conference in Japan, where he attended the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Ceremony on Saturday to commemorate the 77th anniversary of the world’s first atomic bombing.
The world’s worst civil nuclear disaster occurred in 1986 when a reactor at the Chornobyl complex in northwest Ukraine exploded. Soon after this year’s Feb. 24 invasion, Russian troops occupied that site, withdrawing in late March.
Ukraine has said it is planning to conduct a major counter-offensive around Kherson and that it has already retaken dozens of villages.
Its forces are also fighting to retake areas near Kharkiv in the north, where Russian forces launched artillery strikes on Monday, Ukraine’s general staff said.
In Ukraine’s Donetsk region, where pro-Moscow separatists seized territory after the Kremlin annexed Crimea to the south in 2014, Russia was “using all available fire power...to try and inflict maximum losses on Ukrainian units to prevent them from reinforcing other areas,” the general staff added.
Stepping up its fiscal aid and military spending on Ukraine, Washington announced it will send $4.5 billion in budgetary support and $1 billion in weapons, including long-range rocket munitions and armored medical transport vehicles. Overall, the United States has contributed more than $18 billion to Ukraine this year.
Russia’s foreign ministry meanwhile told the United States it was suspending inspection activities under their START nuclear arms control treaty, though it said Moscow remained committed to the treaty’s provisions.

GRAIN EXPORTS PICK UP
Adding weight to a rare diplomatic success since the war began, a deal to unblock Ukraine’s food exports and ease global shortages gathered pace as two grain ships carrying almost 59,000 tons of corn and soybeans sailed out of Ukrainian Black Sea ports.
That raised the total to 12 since the first vessel left a week ago.
The July 22 grain export pact, brokered by Turkey and the United Nations, was further underpinned as the parties issued procedures for merchant ships carrying Ukrainian grain, including a 10-nautical-mile military exclusion zone, according to a document seen by Reuters.
Before the invasion, Russia and Ukraine together accounted for nearly a third of global wheat exports.
Russia says it is waging a “special military operation” in Ukraine to rid it of nationalists and protect Russian-speaking communities. Ukraine and the West describe Russia’s actions as an unprovoked war of aggression.
The conflict has displaced millions, killed thousands of civilians and left cities, towns and villages in ruins.


France tweaks rules to keep nuclear plants running during heatwave

France tweaks rules to keep nuclear plants running during heatwave
Updated 08 August 2022

France tweaks rules to keep nuclear plants running during heatwave

France tweaks rules to keep nuclear plants running during heatwave
  • High river temperatures have in recent weeks threatened to reduce France’s already low nuclear output at a time when nearly half its reactors are offline because of corrosion problems and maintenance

PARIS: France’s nuclear power regulator has extended temporary waivers allowing five power stations to continue discharging hot water into rivers as the country contends with a fourth heat wave of the summer and an energy crisis.

High river temperatures have in recent weeks threatened to reduce France’s already low nuclear output at a time when nearly half its reactors are offline because of corrosion problems and maintenance.

The ASN watchdog said on Monday it had approved a government request for the waivers introduced in mid July to be prolonged at the Bugey, Saint Alban, Tricastin, Blayais and Golfech power plants.

“The government considers that it is a public necessity to ... maintain the production of these five power stations until Sept. 11 despite the exceptional weather conditions,” ASN said in a statement.

Air temperatures are expected to climb into the mid to high 30s Celsius this week across much of France, further warming rivers that nuclear operator EDF uses to cool reactors.

Regulations typically require nuclear production be limited during times of high heat to prevent the hot discharge waters re-entering the rivers from endangering wildlife.

French nuclear availability has been at its lowest in at least four years this summer, forcing France to import power when usually it would be exporting to neighboring countries.

On some of the hottest days, France has bought 8 to 10 gigawatts, equivalent to the output from about 8 nuclear reactors.

EDF late on Sunday said it was lifting output restriction warnings at the Saint Alban and Bugey nuclear plants on the Rhone river.

River temperatures at both are expected to peak on Aug. 14.