Russians ‘fully occupy’ Severodonetsk, focus shifts to Lysychansk

Smoke billows over the oil refinery outside the town of Lysychansk on June 23, 2022, amid Russia's military invasion launched on Ukraine. (AFP)
Smoke billows over the oil refinery outside the town of Lysychansk on June 23, 2022, amid Russia's military invasion launched on Ukraine. (AFP)
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Updated 26 June 2022

Russians ‘fully occupy’ Severodonetsk, focus shifts to Lysychansk

Smoke billows over the oil refinery outside the town of Lysychansk, amid Russia's military invasion launched on Ukraine. (AFP)
  • Millions of Ukrainians have fled their homes and their country since the invasion, most to neighboring Poland
  • Russia has intensified its offensive in the northern city of Kharkiv in recent days

KYIV/POKROVSK, Ukraine: Russian forces fully occupied the eastern Ukrainian city of Sievierodonetsk on Saturday, both sides said, confirming Kyiv’s biggest battlefield setback for more than a month following weeks of some of the war’s bloodiest fighting.
Ukraine called its retreat from the city a “tactical withdrawal” to fight from higher ground in Lysychansk on the opposite bank of the Siverskyi Donets river. Pro-Russian separatists said Moscow’s forces were now attacking Lysychansk.
The fall of Sievierodonetsk — once home to more than 100,000 people but now a wasteland — was Russia’s biggest victory since capturing the port of Mariupol last month. It transforms the battlefield in the east after weeks in which Moscow’s huge advantage in firepower had yielded only slow gains.




Ukrainian police officers help Elena from Lysychansk to board a train to Dnipro and Lviv during an evacuation of civilians from war-affected areas of eastern Ukraine, amid Russia's invasion of the country, in Pokrovsk, Donetsk region, Ukraine, June 25, 2022. (REUTERS)

Russia will now seek to press on and seize more ground on the opposite bank, while Ukraine will hope that the price Moscow paid to capture the ruins of the small city will leave Russia’s forces vulnerable to counterattack.
President Volodymyr Zelensky vowed in a video address that Ukraine would win back the cities it lost, including Sievierodonetsk. But acknowledging the war’s emotional toll, he said: “We don’t have a sense of how long it will last, how many more blows, losses and efforts will be needed before we see victory is on the horizon.”

HIGHLIGHTS

• Capture of Sievierodonetsk big gain for Russia

• Ukraine says it carries out 'tactical withdrawal'

• Dozens of missiles hit Ukrainian military bases

“The city is now under the full occupation of Russia,” Sievierodonetsk Mayor Oleksandr Stryuk said on national television. “They are trying to establish their own order, as far as I know they have appointed some kind of commandant.”
Kyrylo Budanov, Ukraine’s military intelligence chief, told Reuters that Ukraine was carrying out “a tactical regrouping” by pulling its forces out of Sievierodonetsk.




A Ukrainian serviceman walks through the rubbles of a building of the Polytechnic Sports Complex of the Kharkiv National Technical University after it was hit by Russian missile in Kharkiv on June 24, 2022, amid Russian invasion of Ukraine. (AFP)

“Russia is using the tactic ... it used in Mariupol: wiping the city from the face of the earth,” he said. “Given the conditions, holding the defense in the ruins and open fields is no longer possible. So the Ukrainian forces are leaving for higher ground to continue the defense operations.”
Russia’s defense ministry said “as a result of successful offensive operations” Russian forces had established full control over Sievierodonetsk and the nearby town of Borivske.
Not long after that, however, Ukrainian shelling from outside Sievierodonetsk forced Russian troops to suspend evacuation of people from a chemical plant there, Russia’s Tass news agency quoted local police working with Russian separatist authorities as saying.
Oleksiy Arestovych, senior adviser to Zelensky, said some Ukrainian special forces were still in Sievierodonetsk directing artillery fire against the Russians. But he made no mention of those forces putting up any direct resistance.




Ukrainian service members fire a BM-21 Grad multiple rocket launch system, near the town of Lysychansk, Luhansk region, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine June 12, 2022. (REUTERS)

Russia’s Interfax news agency cited a representative of pro-Russian separatist fighters saying Russian and pro-Russian forces had entered Lysychansk across the river and were fighting in urban areas there.
Russia also launched missile strikes across Ukraine on Saturday. At least three people were killed and others may have been buried in rubble in the town of Sarny, some 185 miles (300 km) west of Kyiv, after rockets hit a carwash and a car repair facility, said the head of the local regional military administration.
Russia denies targeting civilians. Kyiv and the West say Russian forces have committed war crimes against civilians.
Seeking to further tighten the screws on Russia, US President Joe Biden and other Group of Seven leaders attending a summit in Germany starting on Sunday will agree on an import ban on new gold from Russia, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters.
’IT WAS HORROR’
In the Ukrainian-held Donbas town of Pokrovsk, Elena, an elderly woman in a wheelchair from Lysychansk, was among dozens of evacuees who arrived by bus from frontline areas.
“Lysychansk, it was a horror, the last week. Yesterday we could not take it any more,” she said. “I already told my husband if I die, please bury me behind the house.”




This picture shows destroyed shopping pavilions at a bus station in the town of Chuhuiv, Kharkiv region, on June 24, 2022, as Russia has intensified its offensive in the area in the past few days. (AFP)

As Europe’s biggest land conflict since World War Two entered its fifth month, Russian missiles also rained down on western, northern and southern parts of the country.
Russian President Vladimir Putin sent tens of thousands of troops over the border on Feb. 24, unleashing a conflict that has killed thousands and uprooted millions. It has also stoked an energy and food crisis which is shaking the global economy.
Since Russia’s forces were defeated in an assault on the capital Kyiv in March, it has shifted focus to the Donbas, an eastern territory made up of Luhansk and Donetsk provinces. Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk were the last major Ukrainian bastions in Luhansk.
The Russians crossed the river in force in recent days and have been advancing toward Lysychansk, threatening to encircle Ukrainians in the area.
The capture of Sievierodonetsk is likely to seen by Russia as vindication for its switch from its early, failed attempt at “lightning warfare” to a relentless, grinding offensive using massive artillery in the east.
Moscow says Luhansk and Donetsk, where it has backed uprisings since 2014, are independent countries. It demands Ukraine cede the entire territory of the two provinces to separatist administrations.
Ukrainian officials had never held out much hope of holding Sievierodonetsk but have sought to exact a high enough price to exhaust the Russian army.
Ukraine’s top general Valeriy Zaluzhnyi wrote on the Telegram app that newly arrived, US-supplied advanced HIMARS rocket systems were now deployed and hitting targets in Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine.
Asked about a potential counterattack in the south, Budanov, the Ukrainian military intelligence chief, told Reuters that Ukraine should begin to see results “from August.”
Russian missiles also struck elsewhere overnight. “48 cruise missiles. At night. Throughout whole Ukraine,” Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said on Twitter. “Russia is still trying to intimidate Ukraine, cause panic.”
The governor of Lviv region in western Ukraine said six missiles were fired from the Black Sea at a base near the border with Poland. Four hit the target but two were destroyed.
The war has had a huge impact on the global economy and European security, driving up gas, oil and food prices, pushing the European Union to reduce reliance on Russian energy and prompting Finland and Sweden to seek NATO membership.


Seoul offers Pyongyang ‘audacious’ economic benefits for denuclearization

Seoul offers Pyongyang ‘audacious’ economic benefits for denuclearization
Updated 6 sec ago

Seoul offers Pyongyang ‘audacious’ economic benefits for denuclearization

Seoul offers Pyongyang ‘audacious’ economic benefits for denuclearization
  • North Korea has a history of dialing up pressure on the South when it doesn’t get what it wants from the US
SEOUL: South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol on Monday offered “audacious” economic assistance to North Korea if it abandons its nuclear weapons program while avoiding harsh criticism of the North days after it threatened “deadly” retaliation over the COVID-19 outbreak it blames on the South.
In a speech celebrating the end of Japan’s colonization of the Korean Peninsula, Yoon also called for better ties with Japan, calling the two countries partners in navigating challenges to freedom and saying their shared values will help them overcome historical grievances linked to Japan’s brutal colonial rule before the end of World War II.
Yoon’s televised speech on the liberation holiday came days after North Korea claimed a widely disputed victory over COVID-19 but also blamed Seoul for the outbreak. The North insists leaflets and other objects flown across the border by activists spread the virus, an unscientific claim Seoul describes as “ridiculous.”
North Korea has a history of dialing up pressure on the South when it doesn’t get what it wants from the United States, and there are concerns that North Korea’s threat portends a provocation, which could possibly be a nuclear or major missile test or even border skirmishes. Some experts say the North may stir up tensions around joint military exercises the United States and South Korea start next week.
Yoon, a conservative who took office in May, said North Korea’s denuclearization would be key for peace in the region and the world. If North Korea halts its nuclear weapons development and genuinely commits to a process of denuclearization, the South will respond with huge economic rewards that would be provided in phases, Yoon said.
Yoon’s proposal wasn’t meaningfully different from previous South Korean offers that have already been rejected by North Korea, which has been accelerating its efforts to expand its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles program leader Kim Jong Un sees as his strongest guarantee of survival.
“We will implement a large-scale program to provide food, providing assistance for establishing infrastructure for the production, transmission and distribution of electrical power, and carry out projects to modernize ports and airports to facilitate trade,” Yoon said.
“We will also help improve North Korea’s agricultural production, provide assistance to modernize its hospitals and medical infrastructure, and carry out initiatives to allow for international investment and financial support,” he added, insisting that such programs would “significantly” improve North Korean lives.
Inter-Korean ties have deteriorated amid a stalemate in larger nuclear negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang, which derailed in early 2019 over disagreements in exchanging a release of crippling US-led sanctions against the North and the North’s disarmament steps.
North Korea has ramped up its testing activity in 2022, launching more than 30 ballistic missiles so far, including its first demonstrations of intercontinental ballistic missiles since 2017.
Experts say Kim is intent on exploiting a favorable environment to push forward his weapons program, with the UN Security Council divided and effectively paralyzed over Russia’s war on Ukraine.
North Korea’s unusually fast pace in weapons demonstrations also underscore brinkmanship aimed at forcing Washington to accept the idea of North Korea as a nuclear power and negotiating badly economic benefits and security concessions from a position of strength, experts say.
The US and South Korean governments have also said the North is gearing up to conduct its first nuclear test since September 2017, when it claimed to have detonated a nuclear warhead designed for its ICBMs.

Fumio Kishida: Japan vows ‘never to repeat tragedy of war’

Fumio Kishida: Japan vows ‘never to repeat tragedy of war’
Updated 17 min 40 sec ago

Fumio Kishida: Japan vows ‘never to repeat tragedy of war’

Fumio Kishida: Japan vows ‘never to repeat tragedy of war’
  • Country marks the 77th anniversary of its World War II defeat

TOKYO: Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida renewed Japan’s no-war pledge at a somber ceremony Monday as his country marked the 77th anniversary of its World War II defeat, but he did not mention Japanese wartime aggression.
In his first address as prime minister since taking office in October, Kishida said Japan will “stick to our resolve to never repeat the tragedy of the war.”
Kishida did not mention Japanese aggression across Asia in the first half of the 20th century or the victims in the region. The omission was a precedent set by the assassinated former leader Shinzo Abe, who had pushed to whitewash Japan’s wartime brutality.
Kishida largely focused on the damages Japan suffered on its turf — the US atomic bombings on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, massive firebombings across Japan and the bloody ground battle on Okinawa. He said the peace and prosperity that the country enjoys today is built on the suffering and sacrifices of those who died in the war.
Beginning in 2013, Abe stopped acknowledging Japan’s wartime hostilities or apologizing in his Aug. 15 speeches, scrapping the tradition that began in 1995.
Emperor Naruhito repeated his “deep remorse” over Japan’s wartime actions in a nuanced phrase in his speech, like his father, Emperor Emeritus Akihito, who devoted his career to making amends for a war fought in the name of the wartime emperor, Hirohito, the current emperor’s grandfather.
Some 900 participants observed a minute of silence at noon during the ceremony held at the Budokan arena. The crowd was reduced from about 5,000 before the pandemic, participants were asked to wear masks, and there was no singing of the national anthem.
While Kishida on Monday stayed away from praying at the Yasukuni Shrine and sent a religious ornament instead, three of his Cabinet members visited — Economic Security Minister Sanae Takaichi and Disaster Reconstruction Minister Kenya Akiba earlier Monday and Trade and Industry Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura on Saturday.
“I paid respects to the spirits of those who sacrificed their lives for the national policy,” Takaichi told reporters, adding that she also prayed so that there will be no more war dead in Ukraine.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno defended their Yasukuni visits by saying that “In any country, it is natural to pay respects to those who sacrificed their lives to their nation,” but that they decided to pray as “private citizens.”
“There is no change to Japan’s policy of strengthening its ties with its neighbors China and South Korea,” Matsuno said.
Victims of Japanese actions during the first half of the 20th century, especially China and the Koreas, see the shrine as a symbol of Japanese militarism because it honors convicted war criminals among about 2.5 million war dead.
The visits sparked criticisms from China and South Korea.
South Korea’s Foreign Ministry expressed “deep disappointment and regret” over the Yasukuni visits which it said beautifies Japan’s past invasions. The ministry urged Japanese officials to “look squarely” at history and demonstrate their “sincere” remorse with action.
China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin, on Sunday after Nishimura’s visit, criticized it as “Japanese government’s erroneous attitude toward historical issues.” Wang also urged Japan to “deeply reflect” on its wartime aggression and act responsibly to gain trust of its Asian neighbors and the larger international community.


‘Shadow government’ scandal roils Australian politics

‘Shadow government’ scandal roils Australian politics
Updated 56 min 51 sec ago

‘Shadow government’ scandal roils Australian politics

‘Shadow government’ scandal roils Australian politics
  • Prime Minister Anthony Albanese accuses Scott Morrison of ‘tin-pot activity’
  • Scandal has shone a light on the opaque nature of decision-making inside Australia’s government

SYDNEY: Revelations that Australia’s ex-prime minister secretly appointed himself to several ministerial posts during the pandemic sparked a political firestorm Monday, with his successor promising a rapid investigation.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese accused Scott Morrison of “tin-pot activity” after it emerged the former leader had made himself minister of health, finance and resources, among other positions, without informing colleagues, parliament or voters.
Describing Morrison’s actions as “extraordinary and unprecedented,” Albanese said Monday he had sought legal advice from the solicitor-general and would be briefed later today.
“This is a sort of tin-pot activity that we would ridicule if it was in a non-democratic country,” Albanese said. “Scott Morrison was running a shadow government.“
In some cases, Morrison made himself a co-minister without telling the cabinet members he had already appointed to those positions.
The scandal has shone a light on the opaque nature of decision-making inside Australia’s government — and raised questions about whether more stringent democratic safeguards are needed.
It is still not clear how many posts Morrison held, but local media reported that he took on the resources portfolio and used his power to axe a significant gas project off Sydney’s coast.
Morrison’s conservative coalition lost power in May elections, ending nearly a decade of center-right rule in the country.
In Australia, elected politicians are selected by the prime minister before being sworn in by the governor-general in a formal ceremony that is usually publicly recorded.
Constitutional law expert Anne Twomey described the allegations as “bizarre” and said it raised possible legal challenges to some of the former government’s decisions.
“The secrecy involved in this is just simply bizarre. I mean, you know, you just wonder what’s wrong with these people, if they have to do everything in secret,” she said.
“It’s just utterly inappropriate. We live in a democracy, which requires transparency.”


Philippines in talks to buy US helicopters after dropping Russia deal

Philippines in talks to buy US helicopters after dropping Russia deal
Updated 15 August 2022

Philippines in talks to buy US helicopters after dropping Russia deal

Philippines in talks to buy US helicopters after dropping Russia deal
  • Cancelation of contract was precipitated mainly by the war in Ukraine
  • The Philippines at the tail-end of a five-year modernization of its outdated military hardware

MANILA: The Philippines is looking to buy heavy-lift Chinook helicopters from the United States, after scrapping a deal with Russia worth 12.7 billion pesos ($227.35 million) in order to avoid sanctions, Manila’s ambassador to Washington said on Monday.
In June, days before President Rodrigo Duterte ended his six-year term, the Philippines scrapped a deal to buy 16 Mi-17 Russian military transport helicopters because of fears of US sanctions linked to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“This cancelation of this contract is precipitated mainly by the war in Ukraine. While there are sanctions expected to come our way, from the United States and western countries, obviously it is not in our interest to continue and pursue this contract,” ambassador Jose Manuel Romualdez told journalists in a virtual forum.
Moscow says it is conducting a “special military operation” in Ukraine.
Romualdez said the Chinooks would replace existing hardware used for the movement of troops and in disaster preparedness in the Southeast Asian country.
The United States is willing to strike a deal for the amount the Philippines was set to spend on the Russian helicopters, Romualdez said, adding the deal with Washington will likely include maintenance, service and parts.
The Philippines is pursuing discussions with Russia to recover its $38 million down payment for the helicopters, the delivery of which was supposed to start in November next year, or 24 months after the contract was signed.
The Philippines is at the tail-end of a five-year, 300 billion-pesos modernization of its outdated military hardware that includes warships from World War Two and helicopters used by the United States in the Vietnam War.
Aside from military deals, the Philippines, under new President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., also wants increased economic exchanges with the United States including in fields of manufacturing, digital infrastructure and clean energy, including modular nuclear power, Romualdez said.


Malaysia’s former leader Najib Razak begins final bid to toss out graft conviction

Malaysia’s former leader Najib Razak begins final bid to toss out graft conviction
Updated 15 August 2022

Malaysia’s former leader Najib Razak begins final bid to toss out graft conviction

Malaysia’s former leader Najib Razak begins final bid to toss out graft conviction
  • He would become Malaysia’s first former prime minister to be imprisoned if his case fails
  • The Court of Appeal described the case as a ‘national embarrassment’

PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia: Malaysia’s top court Monday began hearing a final appeal by former Prime Minister Najib Razak to toss out his graft conviction linked to the massive looting of the 1MDB state fund.
He would become Malaysia’s first former prime minister to be imprisoned if his case fails. Najib, 69, has reiterated his innocence and has been out on bail pending his appeals.
He was sentenced to 12 years in jail by a high court in July 2020 after being found guilty of abuse of power, criminal breach of trust and money laundering for illegally receiving $9.4 million (42 million ringgit) from SRC International, a former unit of 1MDB.
The Court of Appeal upheld the conviction and sentence in December, describing the case as a “national embarrassment.” His last avenue, the Federal Court, is scheduled to hear the case until Aug. 26.
Najib has changed to a new team of lawyers for his final appeal. His defense team is attempting to introduce new evidence that would spark a retrial, citing conflict of interest by the high court judge who convicted Najib.
1MDB was a development fund Najib set up shortly after taking power in 2009. Investigators allege at least $4.5 billion was stolen from the fund and laundered by Najib’s associates.
The scandal sparked investigations in the US and several other countries and caused the downfall of Najib’s government in 2018 elections. Najib faces a total of 42 charges in five separate trials linked to 1MDB, and his wife is also on trial for corruption.
Despite his graft conviction, Najib remains politically influential. His United Malays National Organization leads the current government after defections of lawmakers caused the collapse of the reformist government that won the 2018 polls.
Najib is still a lawmaker pending his appeal but he cannot contest if an early general election is called. National polls are not due until the second half of 2023, but there have been strong calls from UMNO leaders for early elections.