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.


US F-35 fighters arrive in South Korea as joint military drills ramp up

US F-35 fighters arrive in South Korea as joint military drills ramp up
Updated 6 sec ago

US F-35 fighters arrive in South Korea as joint military drills ramp up

US F-35 fighters arrive in South Korea as joint military drills ramp up
  • The six F-35As will be in South Korea for 10 days, South Korea’s Ministry of Defense said in a statement
SEOUL: US Air Force F-35A stealth fighters arrived in South Korea on Tuesday on their first publicly announced visit since 2017 as the allies and nuclear-armed North Korean engage in an escalating cycle of displays of weapons.
Joint military drills had been publicly scaled back in recent years, first in 2018 because of efforts to engage diplomatically with North Korea and later because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, who took office in May, has sought to increase public displays of allied military power, including exercises, to counter a record number of missile tests conducted by North Korea this year.
North Korea also appears to be preparing to test a nuclear weapon for the first time since 2017.
The six F-35As will be in South Korea for 10 days, South Korea’s Ministry of Defense said in a statement.
“The purpose of this deployment is to demonstrate the strong deterrent and joint defense posture of the US-ROK alliance while at the same time improving the interoperability between the ROK and US Air Force,” the ministry said, referring to South Korea by the initials of its official name.
The aircraft deployed from Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska, US Forces Korea (USFK) said in a statement.
A USFK spokesperson said it was the first public deployment of the 5th generation fighter aircraft to South Korea since December 2017, but did not elaborate whether there had been unannounced visits.
A former senior US official previously told Reuters that during diplomatic talks many drills had in fact continued but had not been publicized.
South Korea has purchased 40 of its own F-35As from the United States, and is looking to buy another 20. The South Korean air force F-35As will be among the aircraft participating in the joint drills, USFK said.
North Korea has denounced joint exercises as well as South Korea’s weapons purchases as an example of “hostile policies” that prove US offers to negotiate without preconditions are hollow.

NATO launches ratification process for Sweden, Finland membership

NATO launches ratification process for Sweden, Finland membership
Updated 25 min 37 sec ago

NATO launches ratification process for Sweden, Finland membership

NATO launches ratification process for Sweden, Finland membership
  • A NATO summit in Madrid last week endorsed that move by issuing invitations to the two

BRUSSELS: The process to ratify Sweden and Finland as the newest members of NATO was formally launched on Tuesday, the military alliance’s head Jens Stoltenberg said, marking a historic step brought on by Russia’s war in Ukraine.

“This is a good day for Finland and Sweden and a good day for NATO,” Stoltenberg told reporters in a joint press statement with the Swedish and Finnish foreign ministers.

“With 32 nations around the table, we will be even stronger and our people will be even safer as we face the biggest security crisis in decades,” he added.

The NATO secretary general was speaking ahead of a meeting in which the ambassadors from NATO’s 30 member states were expected to sign the accession protocols for the two Nordic countries, opening a months-long period for alliance countries to ratify their membership.

 

“We are tremendously grateful for all the strong support that our accession has received from the allies,” said Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde.

“We are convinced that our membership would strengthen NATO and add to the stability in the Euro Atlantic area,” she added.

In the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, Sweden and Finland in parallel announced their intention to drop their military non-alignment status and become part of NATO.

A NATO summit in Madrid last week endorsed that move by issuing invitations to the two, after Turkey won concessions over concerns it had raised and a US promise it would receive new warplanes.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had accused Sweden and Finland of being havens for Kurdish militants he has sought to crush, and for promoting “terrorism.”

He also demanded they lift arms embargoes imposed for Turkey’s 2019 military incursion into Syria.

But Erdogan has kept the rest of NATO on tenterhooks by saying he could still block Sweden and Finland’s bids if they fail to follow through on their promises, some of which were undisclosed, such as possible extradition agreements.


Monsoon rains lash Pakistan; 6 killed in country’s southwest

Monsoon rains lash Pakistan; 6 killed in country’s southwest
Updated 05 July 2022

Monsoon rains lash Pakistan; 6 killed in country’s southwest

Monsoon rains lash Pakistan; 6 killed in country’s southwest
  • Floods triggered by seasonal monsoon rains wreak havoc in Pakistan every year, killing dozens

QUETTA, Pakistan: At least six people, including women and children, were killed when the roofs of their homes collapsed in heavy rains lashing southwestern Pakistan and other parts of the country, a provincial disaster management agency said Tuesday.
There were fears the death toll could be higher as several people went missing after flash flooding hit southwestern Baluchistan province’s remote areas overnight, according to a statement from the agency.
Authorities say the latest spell of torrential rains, which started on Monday and continued on Tuesday, also damaged dozens of homes in Baluchistan.
Since June, rains have killed 38 people and damaged more than 200 homes across Pakistan, including in Baluchistan, where over the weekend, a passenger bus skidded off a road and fell into a deep ravine amid heavy rain, killing 19 people.
Floods triggered by seasonal monsoon rains wreak havoc in Pakistan every year, killing dozens.


Hacker claims to have stolen 1 billion records of Chinese citizens from police

A 3D printed model of men working on computers are seen in this illustration taken, July 5, 2021. (REUTERS)
A 3D printed model of men working on computers are seen in this illustration taken, July 5, 2021. (REUTERS)
Updated 05 July 2022

Hacker claims to have stolen 1 billion records of Chinese citizens from police

A 3D printed model of men working on computers are seen in this illustration taken, July 5, 2021. (REUTERS)
  • “Databases contain information on 1 Billion Chinese national residents and several billion case records, including: name, address, birthplace, national ID number, mobile number, all crime/case details”

SHANGHAI: A hacker has claimed to have procured a trove of personal information from the Shanghai police on one billion Chinese citizens, which tech experts say, if true, would be one of the biggest data breaches in history.
The anonymous Internet user, identified as “ChinaDan,” posted on hacker forum Breach Forums last week offering to sell the more than 23 terabytes (TB) of data for 10 bitcoin, equivalent to about $200,000.
“In 2022, the Shanghai National Police (SHGA) database was leaked. This database contains many TB of data and information on Billions of Chinese citizen,” the post said.
“Databases contain information on 1 Billion Chinese national residents and several billion case records, including: name, address, birthplace, national ID number, mobile number, all crime/case details.”
Reuters was unable to verify the authenticity of the post.
The Shanghai government and police department did not respond to requests for comment on Monday.
Reuters was also unable to reach the self-proclaimed hacker, ChinaDan, but the post was widely discussed on China’s Weibo and WeChat social media platforms over the weekend with many users worried it could be real.
The hashtag “data leak” was blocked on Weibo by Sunday afternoon.
Kendra Schaefer, head of tech policy research at Beijing-based consultancy Trivium China, said in a post on Twitter it was “hard to parse truth from rumor mill.”
If the material the hacker claimed to have came from the Ministry of Public Security, it would be bad for “a number of reasons,” Schaefer said.
“Most obviously it would be among biggest and worst breaches in history,” she said.
Zhao Changpeng, CEO of Binance, said on Monday the cryptocurrency exchange had stepped up user verification processes after the exchange’s threat intelligence detected the sale of records belonging to 1 billion residents of an Asian country on the dark web.
He said on Twitter that a leak could have happened due to “a bug in an Elastic Search deployment by a (government) agency,” without saying if he was referring to the Shanghai police case. He did not immediately respond to a request for further comment.
The claim of a hack comes as China has vowed to improve protection of online user data privacy, instructing its tech giants to ensure safer storage after public complaints about mismanagement and misuse.
Last year, China passed new laws governing how personal information and data generated within its borders should be handled. (Reporting by Brenda Goh, Sophie Yu, Stella Qiu, Eduardo Baptista and Josh Ye; Editing by Robert Birsel)


Australia floods worsen as thousands more Sydney residents evacuate

An emergency vehicle blocks access to the flooded Windsor Bridge on the outskirts of Sydney, Australia, Monday, July 4, 2022.
An emergency vehicle blocks access to the flooded Windsor Bridge on the outskirts of Sydney, Australia, Monday, July 4, 2022.
Updated 05 July 2022

Australia floods worsen as thousands more Sydney residents evacuate

An emergency vehicle blocks access to the flooded Windsor Bridge on the outskirts of Sydney, Australia, Monday, July 4, 2022.
  • An intense low-pressure system off Australia’s east coast is forecast to bring heavy rain through Monday across New South Wales

SYDNEY: Hundreds of homes have been inundated in and around Australia’s largest city in a flood emergency that was impacting 50,000 people, officials said Tuesday.
Emergency response teams made 100 rescues overnight of people trapped in cars on flooded roads or in inundated homes in the Sydney area, State Emergency Service manager Ashley Sullivan said.
Days of torrential rain have caused dams to overflow and waterways to break their banks, bringing a fourth flood emergency in 16 months to parts of the city of 5 million people.
The New South Wales state government declared a disaster across 23 local government areas overnight, activating federal government financial assistance for flood victims.

A couple walk through flood waters from their semi-submerged car at Richmond on the outskirts of Sydney, Australia, Tuesday, July 5, 2022. (AP)

Evacuation orders and warnings to prepare to abandon homes impacted 50,000 people, up from 32,000 on Monday, New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet said.
“This event is far from over. Please don’t be complacent, wherever you are. Please careful when you’re driving on our roads. There is still substantial risk for flash flooding across our state,” Perrottet said.
Emergency Services Minister Steph Cooke credited the skill and commitment of rescue crews for preventing any death or serious injury by the fourth day of the flooding emergency.
Parts of southern Sydney had been lashed by more than 20 centimeters (nearly 8 inches) of rain in 24 hours, more than 17 percent of the city’s annual average, Bureau of Meteorology meteorologist Jonathan How said.
Severe weather warnings of heavy rain remained in place across Sydney’s eastern suburbs on Tuesday. The warnings also extended north of Sydney along the coast and into the Hunter Valley.
The worst flooding was along the Hawkesbury-Nepean rivers system along Sydney’s northern and western fringes.
“The good news is that by tomorrow afternoon, it is looking to be mostly dry but, of course, we are reminding people that these floodwaters will remain very high well after the rain has stopped,” How said.
“There was plenty of rain fall overnight and that is actually seeing some rivers peak for a second time. So you’ve got to take many days, if not a week, to start to see these floodwaters start to recede,” How added.
The wild weather and mountainous seas along the New South Wales coast thwarted plans to tow a stricken cargo ship with 21 crew members to the safety of open sea.
The ship lost power after leaving port in Wollongong, south of Sydney, on Monday morning and risked being grounded by 8-meter (26-foot) swells and winds blowing at 30 knots (34 mph) against cliffs.
An attempt to tow the ship with tugboats into open ocean ended when a towline snapped in an 11-meter (36-foot) swell late Monday, Port Authority chief executive Philip Holliday said.
The ship was maintaining its position on Tuesday farther from the coast than it had been on Monday with two anchors and the help of two tugboats. The new plan was to tow the ship to Sydney when weather and sea conditions calmed as early as Wednesday, Holliday said. The original plan had been for the ship’s crew to repair their engine at sea.
“We’re in a better position than we were yesterday,” Holliday said. “We’re in relative safety.”
Perrottet described the tugboat crews’ response on Monday to save the ship as “heroic.”
“I want to thank those men and women who were on those crews last night for the heroic work they did in incredibly treacherous conditions. To have an 11-meter (36-foot) swell, to be undergoing and carrying out that work is incredibly impressive,” Perrottet said.