Russian forces fall back in northeast Ukraine, McDonald’s retreats from Moscow

Russian forces fall back in northeast Ukraine, McDonald’s retreats from Moscow
Ukrainian servicemen take rest in a recently retaken village north of Kharkiv, east Ukraine, Sunday, May 15, 2022. (AP)
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Updated 16 May 2022

Russian forces fall back in northeast Ukraine, McDonald’s retreats from Moscow

Russian forces fall back in northeast Ukraine, McDonald’s retreats from Moscow
  • McDonald’s Corp, the world’s largest fast food chain, said it was pulling out of Russia because of the conflict
  • On battlefields near Kharkiv, an interior ministry adviser said Ukrainian troops were mounting a counter-offensive

RUSKA LOZOVA: Ukrainian troops have pushed Russian forces back from the northeastern city of Kharkiv and some have advanced as far as the border with Russia, Ukrainian officials said on Monday.
The developments, if confirmed, would signal a further shift in momentum in favor of Ukraine nearly three months into a conflict that began when Russia sent tens of thousands of troops over the border into Ukraine on Feb. 24.
Sweden meanwhile was expected to take a formal decision on Monday to apply to join NATO following a similar move by Finland — a change in the Nordic countries’ long-standing policy of neutrality brought on by the Russian invasion and concern about President Vladimir Putin’s wider ambitions.
“Europe, Sweden and the Swedish people are living now in a new and dangerous reality,” Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said during a debate in parliament in Stockholm.
Moscow warned of “far-reaching consequences” should they should go ahead.
And in another setback for Putin, McDonald’s Corp, the world’s largest fast food chain, said it was pulling out of Russia because of the conflict.
In Brussels, the European Union was working on a package of further economic sanctions on Russia to step up international pressure on Putin.
Counter-offensive
On the battlefields near Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, interior ministry adviser Vadym Denisenko said Ukrainian troops were mounting a counter-offensive.
“It can no longer be stopped... Thanks to this, we can go to the rear of the Russian group of forces,” he said.
Kharkiv, lying about 30 miles (50 km) from the border with Russia, had endured weeks of heavy Russian bombardments. The Russian retreat from the city follows their failure to capture the capital Kyiv in the early stages of the war.
But thousands of people, including many civilians, have been killed across the country, cities have been blasted into ruins, and more than six million people have fled their homes to seek refuge in neighboring states in scenes not seen in Europe since the Balkan wars of the 1990s. Russia denies targeting civilians.
Ukraine’s defense ministry said on Monday the 227th Battalion of the 127th Brigade of Ukraine’s Territorial Defense Forces had reached the border with Russia.
Kharkiv region governor Oleh Sinegubov said the troops had restored a sign on the border.
“We thank everyone who, risking their lives, liberates Ukraine from Russian invaders,” Sinegubov said.
Reuters could not verify Ukraine’s account and it was not clear how many troops had reached the Russian border or where.
If confirmed, it would suggest the northeastern counter-offensive is having increasing success after Western military agencies said Moscow’s offensive in two eastern provinces known as the Donbas had stalled.
Konrad Muzyka, director of the Poland-based Rochan consultancy, said he was not surprised at the Ukrainian gains.
“The Ukrainians have been in the border regions for a few days already,” he told Reuters. “It’s symbolic and it definitely has PR value, but this was to be expected.
“Don’t get me wrong, the Russians still enjoy overall artillery superiority in terms of numbers, but I’m not sure if the same goes for the quality now.”
The governor of the Luhansk region in Donbas, Serhiy Gaidai, said the situation “remains difficult,” with Russian forces trying to capture the town of Sieverodonetsk.
He said leaders of the Lugansk People’s Republic, the territory in Luhansk controlled by Russian-backed separatists, declared a general mobilization, adding it was “either fight or get shot, there is no other choice.”
In the south, fighting was raging around the city of Kherson and Russian missiles struck residential areas of Mykolayiv, the presidential office in Kyiv said. Reuters was unable to verify the reports.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Sunday Ukraine could win the war, an outcome few military analysts predicted when Russia invaded Ukraine.

Expanding NATO
In a blow for Russia, which has long opposed NATO expansion, Finland and Sweden moved ahead with plans to join the alliance.
But Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, said on Monday that Finland and Sweden were making a mistake that would have far-reaching consequences.
“They should have no illusions that we will simply put up with it,” Ryabkov said, quoted by the Interfax news agency.
Moscow calls its invasion of Ukraine a “special military operation” to rid the country of fascists, an assertion Kyiv and its Western allies say is a baseless pretext for an unprovoked war.
The most intense fighting appeared to be around the eastern Russian-held city of Izium, where Russia said it had struck Ukrainian positions with missiles.
Russia continued to target civilian areas along the entire frontline in Luhansk and Donetsk, firing at 23 villages and towns, Ukraine’s military task force said.
Ukraine’s military also acknowledged setbacks, saying Russian forces “continue to advance” in several areas in the Donbas region.
There was also no letup on Sunday in Russia’s bombardment of the steelworks in the southern port of Mariupol, where a few hundred Ukrainian fighters are holding out weeks after the city fell into Russian hands, the Ukrainian military said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said “very difficult and delicate negotiations” were going on to save Ukrainians in Mariupol and Azovstal.

Farewell to Big Macs 
McDonald’s said it had started the process of selling its restaurants in Russia, following many other Western companies who are getting rid of their Russian assets to comply with international sanctions.
The decision to close its 847 restaurants in Russia marked the retreat of a Western brand whose presence there had been emblematic of the end of the Cold War.
“The humanitarian crisis caused by the war in Ukraine, and the precipitating unpredictable operating environment, have led McDonald’s to conclude that continued ownership of the business in Russia is no longer tenable,” McDonald’s said.
French car-maker Renault also announced it will sell its majority stake in carmaker Avtovaz to a Russian science institute.


Widespread relief for Shanghai’s restaurant sector as dine-in resumes

Widespread relief for Shanghai’s restaurant sector as dine-in resumes
Updated 5 sec ago

Widespread relief for Shanghai’s restaurant sector as dine-in resumes

Widespread relief for Shanghai’s restaurant sector as dine-in resumes
  • Many restaurants in Shanghai were forced to suspend dine-in services as early as mid-March when the number of COVID-19 cases began rising
SHANGHAI: Restaurants and eateries in China’s largest city Shanghai begun reopening their doors to diners on Wednesday, bringing widespread relief to an industry that was badly hit by the city’s two month COVID-19 lockdown.
Large chains such as hot pot brand Haidilao, fine dining establishments and family owned eateries had started scrubbing tableware and getting uniforms laundered since Saturday when authorities announced the curbs were lifting, a month after the city’s lockdown eased on June 1.
“It’s a very good feeling,” said Oli Liu, co-owner of tapas restaurant chain Brownstone as he prepared to open his five outlets for indoor dining on Wednesday.
“With indoor dining we can make money...Until now we could do takeaway and delivery but the commissions we have to pay (to delivery platforms) means we can’t make money from that.”
Many restaurants in the city of 25 million were forced to suspend dine-in services as early as mid-March when the number of COVID-19 cases in Shanghai began rising. While some were able to resume food deliveries in the midst of the lockdown, others remained shut throughout.
The reopening, however, is far from straightforward. Some owners said they had not yet received the green light from their districts and are required to cap customer numbers at 50 percent as well as a limit each session to 90 minutes.
All restaurant staff will also be required to undergo daily COVID-19 testing, while diners have to show proof of a PCR test taken within three days to enter.
Local media reports have also suggested dining parties should nominate a “leader” who will be responsible for their table, though it’s unclear what might happen if guests later test positive.
Complying with such onerous rules will not be easy, and many eateries already have or are expected to call it quits, said Stefan Stiller, chef-owner of fine dining restaurant Taian Table, who added that he expects restrictions to be in place in some form for the rest of the year.
For his three-star Michelin restaurant that only seats 30 at capacity and specializes in 10 to 12 course tasting menus that typically take several hours to complete, meeting the criteria is “not so easy ... but we will manage somehow,” he said.
But many diners are eager to get back into restaurants after months of mostly eating at home.
One of the first customers through the door at Brownstone’s Lujiazui location at lunchtime on Wednesday was a Shanghai resident surnamed He.
“Normally at home I don’t cook... I have especially missed eating out,” he said. “For so long I missed eating many things — crayfish, barbecue, drinking beer.”

NATO chief says alliance facing ‘biggest challenge’

NATO chief says alliance facing ‘biggest challenge’
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg says the military alliance faces its “biggest challenge” since World War II. (AFP)
Updated 11 min 3 sec ago

NATO chief says alliance facing ‘biggest challenge’

NATO chief says alliance facing ‘biggest challenge’
  • Stoltenberg said at the start of the NATO summit in Madrid that the allies are meeting “in the midst of the most serious security crisis we have faced”

MADRID: Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance was meeting in Madrid “in the midst of the most serious security crisis we have faced since the Second World War.”
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has shattered Europe’s peace and driven NATO to pour troops and weapons into eastern Europe on a scale not seen since the Cold War.
Members of the alliance have also sent billions in military and civilian aid to Ukraine. The 30 NATO leaders will hear directly from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who is likely to ask them to do even more when he addresses the gathering by video link.
Money could be a sensitive issue — just nine of NATO’s 30 members currently meet the organization’s target of spending 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense.
The war has already triggered a big increase in NATO’s forces in the east, and allies are expected to agree at the summit to increase the strength of the alliance’s rapid reaction force nearly eightfold, from 40,000 to 300,000 troops by next year. The troops will be based in their home nations, but dedicated to specific countries on NATO’s eastern flank, where the alliance plans to build up stocks of equipment and ammunition.
Stoltenberg said NATO was undertaking “the biggest overhaul of our collective defense since the end of the Cold War.”
The leaders are also set to publish NATO’s new Strategic Concept, its once-a-decade set of priorities and goals.
Russia is set to be declared the alliance’s number one threat, but the document will also set out NATO’s approach on issues from cybersecurity to climate change — and the growing economic and military reach of China. For the first time, the leaders of Japan, Australia, South Korea and New Zealand are attending the summit as guests, a reflection of the growing importance of the Indo-Pacific region.
The summit opened with one problem solved, after Turkey agreed Tuesday to lift its opposition to Sweden and Finland joining NATO. In response to the invasion, the two Nordic nations abandoned their long-held nonaligned status and applied to join NATO as protection against an increasingly aggressive and unpredictable Russia — which shares a long border with Finland.
Stoltenberg said leaders of the 30-nation alliance will issue a formal invitation Wednesday to the two countries to join. The decision has to be ratified by all individual nations, but he said he was “absolutely confident” Finland and Sweden would become members.
Stoltenberg said he expected the process to be finished “rather quickly,” but did not set a time on it.


Northern California wildfire threatens 500 buildings

Northern California wildfire threatens 500 buildings
Updated 29 June 2022

Northern California wildfire threatens 500 buildings

Northern California wildfire threatens 500 buildings
  • The Rices Fire erupted at around 2 p.m. near the Yuba River in Nevada County and had spread to more than 202 hectares by nightfall

BRIDGEPORT, California: A wildfire that erupted in Northern California forced evacuations as it threatened about 500 homes and other buildings Tuesday, authorities said.
The Rices Fire erupted at around 2 p.m. near the Yuba River in Nevada County and had spread to more than 202 hectares by nightfall, said Unit Chief Brian Estes of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
The flames also threatened power lines, water delivery systems and a state park, Estes said.
The rural area is in the Sierra Nevada, northeast of Sacramento and about halfway between the state Capitol and the Nevada border.
Authorities earlier said the fire began with a burning building and the flames spread to nearby dry vegetation.
At an evening news conference, however, Estes said he couldn’t confirm reports that some buildings had been destroyed.
About 350 buildings homes and other buildings were under evacuation orders, county Sheriff Shannan Moon said.
Firefighters fought the blaze on the ground and in the air, with aircraft making dozens of drops of water and fire retardant.
The fire was one of several in Northern California that flared Tuesday as the state sweltered under summer heat, with temperatures in the Rices Fire area hitting as high as 98 F (36.6 C) with low humidity.
A blaze that erupted Tuesday morning in San Luis Obispo County burned through grass and brush. It threatened about 50 buildings but no damage or injuries were reported and the blaze was 25 percent contained, fire officials said.
In Glenn County, a fire that charred more than 121 hectares was 65 percent contained.
Another fire near Davis, west of Sacramento, was contained without building damage or injuries after burning 202 hectares, authorities said.


German court gives 101-year-old ex Nazi guard five years in jail

The accused Josef S. covers his face as he sits at the court room in Brandenburg, Germany, Tuesday, June 28, 2022. (AP)
The accused Josef S. covers his face as he sits at the court room in Brandenburg, Germany, Tuesday, June 28, 2022. (AP)
Updated 29 June 2022

German court gives 101-year-old ex Nazi guard five years in jail

The accused Josef S. covers his face as he sits at the court room in Brandenburg, Germany, Tuesday, June 28, 2022. (AP)
  • The pensioner, who now lives in Brandenburg state, had pleaded innocent, saying he did “absolutely nothing” and had not even worked at the camp

BRANDENBURG AN DER HAVEL, Germany: A German court on Tuesday handed a five-year jail sentence to a 101-year-old former Nazi concentration camp guard, the oldest person so far to go on trial for complicity in war crimes during the Holocaust.
Josef Schuetz was found guilty of being an accessory to murder in at least 3,500 cases while working as a prison guard at the Sachsenhausen camp in Oranienburg, north of Berlin, between 1942 and 1945.
He is highly unlikely to be put behind bars given his age.
The pensioner, who now lives in Brandenburg state, had pleaded innocent, saying he did “absolutely nothing” and had not even worked at the camp.
“I don’t know why I am here,” he said at the close of his trial on Monday.
But presiding judge Udo Lechtermann said he was convinced Schuetz had worked at Sachsenhausen and had “supported” the atrocities committed there.

This undated file photo shows a roll call, in the early morning or late evening hours, on the roll call square in front of the camp gate of the Nazi concentration camp Sachsenhausen in Oranienburg on the outskirts of Berlin, Germany. (AP)

“For three years, you watched prisoners being tortured and killed before your eyes,” Lechtermann said.
“Due to your position on the watchtower of the concentration camp, you constantly had the smoke of the crematorium in your nose,” he said.
“Anyone who tried to escape from the camp was shot. So every guard was actively involved in these murders.”
More than 200,000 people, including Jews, Roma, regime opponents and gay people, were detained at the Sachsenhausen camp between 1936 and 1945.
Tens of thousands of inmates died from forced labor, murder, medical experiments, hunger or disease before the camp was liberated by Soviet troops, according to the Sachsenhausen Memorial and Museum.

Schuetz, who was 21 when he began working at the camp, remained blank-faced as the court announced his sentence.
“I am ready,” he said when he entered the courtroom earlier in a wheelchair, dressed in a grey shirt and striped trousers.
Schuetz was not detained during the trial, which began in 2021 but was postponed several times because of his health.
His lawyer, Stefan Waterkamp, told AFP he would appeal — meaning the sentence will not be enforced until 2023 at the earliest.
Thomas Walther, the lawyer who represented 11 of the 16 civil parties in the trial, said the sentencing had met their expectations and “justice has been served.”
But Antoine Grumbach, 80, whose father died in Sachsenhausen, said he could “never forgive” Schuetz as “any human being facing atrocities has a duty to oppose them.”
During the trial, Schuetz had made several inconsistent statements about his past, complaining that his head was getting “mixed up.”
At one point, the centenarian said he had worked as an agricultural laborer in Germany for most of World War II, a claim contradicted by several historical documents bearing his name, date and place of birth.

After the war, Schuetz was transferred to a prison camp in Russia before returning to Germany, where he worked as a farmer and a locksmith.
More than seven decades after World War II, German prosecutors are racing to bring the last surviving Nazi perpetrators to justice.
The 2011 conviction of former guard John Demjanjuk, on the basis that he served as part of Hitler’s killing machine, set a legal precedent and paved the way for several of these justice cases.
Since then, courts have handed down several guilty verdicts on those grounds rather than for murders or atrocities directly linked to the individual accused.
Among those brought to late justice were Oskar Groening, an accountant at Auschwitz, and Reinhold Hanning, a former SS guard at Auschwitz.
Both were convicted at the age of 94 of complicity in mass murder but died before they could be imprisoned.
However, Schuetz’s five-year sentence is the longest so far handed to a defendant in such a case.
Guillaume Mouralis, a research professor at France’s National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), told AFP the verdict was “a warning to the perpetrators of mass crimes: whatever their level of responsibility, there is still legal liability.”


American who joined Daesh gets prison term reduced

In this file photo provided by the US District Court, Alexandria, Va., Mohamad Khweis, 32, of Alexandria, Va., is seen. (AP)
In this file photo provided by the US District Court, Alexandria, Va., Mohamad Khweis, 32, of Alexandria, Va., is seen. (AP)
Updated 29 June 2022

American who joined Daesh gets prison term reduced

In this file photo provided by the US District Court, Alexandria, Va., Mohamad Khweis, 32, of Alexandria, Va., is seen. (AP)
  • Prosecutors urged Judge Liam O’Grady at Tuesday’s hearing to again sentence Khweis to 20 years

ALEXANDRIA, Virginia: The first American to be convicted in a US jury trial of joining the Daesh had his prison term reduced Tuesday from 20 years to 14 years after an appeals court ordered a new sentencing hearing.
Mohamad Khweis was convicted back in 2017 of providing material support to terrorists, as well as a weapons charge. He traveled to Daesh-controlled territory in Iraq and Syria in December 2015, even obtaining an official IS membership card. But he left after a few months and surrendered in northern Iraq to Kurdish forces.
In 2020, the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals tossed out the weapons charge — many defendants had similar charges tossed out in accordance with a Supreme Court ruling — and ordered a new sentencing hearing.
Prosecutors urged Judge Liam O’Grady at Tuesday’s hearing to again sentence Khweis to 20 years. They cited the need for deterrence in a high-profile terrorism case and reminded O’Grady of the significance of Khweis’ conduct.
While there is no evidence that he fought for the Daesh, there was evidence at his trial that he volunteered to be a suicide bomber and that he cared for injured fighters at safe houses.
He also admitted at trial that he burned his laptop and multiple phones, and deleted contact info from another, before he fled the Daesh. He testified at trial that he was worried the laptop contained financial data like his credit score, which the judge said was implausible.
Khweis, 32, has been in custody in one form or another since March 2016, and on Tuesday again renounced his allegiance to the Daesh and apologized for his conduct.
“It’s still mid-boggling to me that I made this terrible decision,” said Khweis, who grew up in northern Virginia and had worked as a Metro Access bus driver for disabled passengers before departing to the Daesh.
Khweis’ attorney, Jessica Carmichael, highlighted his exemplary behavior in the Bureau of Prisons after his conviction and said he’s done all he can to show he’s matured.
“We do want to send a message” with this sentence, she told the judge. And she said the audience paying the most attention is “the people he left behind in prison. We want to encourage others to engage in this type of rehabilitation, to not wallow in self-pity.”
In a statement after Tuesday’s hearing, Carmichael said, “Mohamad worked exceptionally hard for years while incarcerated to show that he was taking this seriously ... and was more than the poor decisions he made six-and-a-half years ago. I am proud of him for that, and hope that others in custody can receive an opportunity to show the same.”
Still, while the reduction to 14 years is significant, it is far less than Khweis’ request that he be released with time served.
O’Grady said Tuesday that Khweis deserved credit for his good conduct in custody, but that he struggled with how to evaluate Khweis, given how quickly he became radicalized and how easily he lied about his actions on the witness stand at his 2017 trial.
“I don’t know what your inner thoughts are,” O’Grady said.