Russia says Odessa strikes hit Western arms

Update Russia says Odessa strikes hit Western arms
Firefighters battle a fire on a boat in the port of Odessa after missiles hit the port on July 23, 2022. (Odessa City Council Telegram via AFP)
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Updated 25 July 2022

Russia says Odessa strikes hit Western arms

Russia says Odessa strikes hit Western arms
  • "A docked Ukrainian warship and a warehouse with US-supplied Harpoon anti-ship missiles were destroyed"

KYIV:  Russia said its missile barrage on a Ukrainian port central to a landmark grain export deal had destroyed Western-supplied weapons, after the attack sparked an outcry from Ukraine’s allies.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was embarking on a tour of several countries in Africa and on his first stop in Egypt Sunday sought to reassure Cairo that Russian grain supplies would continue.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky denounced Saturday’s strike on the Odessa port as “Russian barbarism” and said it amounted to desperation after the warring sides struck a deal to release exports from the facility.

“Even the occupiers admit that we will win. We hear it in their conversations — all the time, in what they tell their loved ones when they contact them,” he said Sunday in his nightly address.

Turkey helped broker the accord and said immediately after the double cruise missile hits that it had received assurances from Moscow that Russian forces were not responsible.

But Russia’s defense ministry rolled back on the denial Sunday, saying the strikes had destroyed a Ukrainian military vessel and arms delivered by Washington.

“High-precision, long-range missiles launched from the sea destroyed a docked Ukrainian warship and a stockpile of anti-ship missiles delivered by the United States to the Kyiv regime,” it said.

“A Ukrainian army repair and upgrade plant has also been put out of order.”

The strikes have cast a shadow over the milestone accord — that was hammered out over months of negotiations and signed in Istanbul — to relieve a global food crisis.

United Nations chief Antonio Guterres, who presided over the signing ceremony Friday, “unequivocally” condemned the attack. The United States meanwhile said it “casts serious doubt” over Russia’s commitment to the deal.

Western nations repeated their condemnation of Russia’s military assault on Ukraine after the strikes.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier called the invasion a war against the unity of Europe.

“We must not let ourselves be divided, we must not let the great work of a united Europe that we have begun so promisingly be destroyed,” he said in a speech Sunday.

Cereal prices in Africa — the world’s poorest continent where food supplies are critically tight — surged because of an exports slump.

Lavrov, who will visit Uganda, Ethiopia and Congo-Brazzaville on the tour, told his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry that Russia would meet grain orders.

“We confirmed the commitment of Russian exporters of cereal products to meet their orders in full,” he said in a press conference.

Zelensky said the strikes on Odessa showed Moscow could not be trusted to keep its promises.

Under the deal brokered by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Guterres, Odessa is one of three designated export hubs.

Ukrainian officials said grain was being stored in the port at the time of the strike, but food stocks did not appear to have been hit.

There was no response from Moscow until Sunday, but Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said before that Russia had denied carrying out the attack.

Huge quantities of wheat and other grain have been blocked in Ukrainian ports by Russian warships and the mines Kyiv laid to avert a feared amphibious assault.

Zelensky has said around 20 million tons of produce from last year’s harvest and the current crop would be exported under the agreement, estimating the value of Ukraine’s grain stocks at around $10 billion.

Diplomats expect grain to only start fully flowing by mid-August.

The agreement in Istanbul has brought little reprieve on the battlefield where Russian forces were carrying out bombardments across the sprawling front line over the weekend, Ukraine’s presidency said Sunday.

It said among attacks in the industrial east and south, four Russian cruise missiles Saturday had hit residential areas in the southern city of Mykolaiv, injuring five people, including a teenager.

In a devastated village near Ukraine’s southern front line Stanislav, a 49-year-old who joined Ukraine’s armed forces after Russia’s invasion, said many people were afraid.

“But what can we do, we need to defend our homeland, because if I don’t do it then my children will be forced to do it,” he said.

An official in the nearby Kherson region in the south said a Ukrainian counter-offensive for the territory Russia captured early in the invasion would be over by September.

“We can say that a turning point has occurred on the battlefield. We are switching from defensive to counteroffensive actions,” Sergiy Khlan, an aide to the head of Kherson region, said in an interview with Ukrainian television.


Emirati leader meets with governor of Tokyo

Emirati leader meets with governor of Tokyo
Updated 14 sec ago

Emirati leader meets with governor of Tokyo

Emirati leader meets with governor of Tokyo

DUBAI: Member of Abu Dhabi executive council and chairman of Abu Dhabi executive office, Sheikh Khaled bin Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, met with the governor of Tokyo YURIKO Koike on Sept. 26.

The Emirate political leader was on a visit to the Japanese capital to further enhance the strategic bilateral relations between the two countries.

Several official figures attended the meeting, such as, minister of industry and advanced technology, Sultan bin Ahmed Al Jaber and the UAE ambassador to Japan, Shihab Ahmed Al Faheem; as well as officials from the ministry of foreign affairs and international cooperation.


UAE’s Sheikh Khalid meets Japan PM ahead of finalization of bilateral agreements

UAE’s Sheikh Khalid meets Japan PM ahead of finalization of bilateral agreements
Updated 11 min 46 sec ago

UAE’s Sheikh Khalid meets Japan PM ahead of finalization of bilateral agreements

UAE’s Sheikh Khalid meets Japan PM ahead of finalization of bilateral agreements

TOKYO: Sheikh Khalid bin Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, a member of Abu Dhabi Executive Council and Chairman of Abu Dhabi Executive Office, paid a courtesy call on Japan Prime Minister KISHIDA Fumio on Monday and welcomed the planned signing of the framework document for the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership Initiative that is expected to take place in a matter of days.

Japan’s Foreign Ministry also said the two sides welcomed the Agreement Concerning the Transfer of Defense Equipment and Technology, which is near finalization.

On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Japan and the UAE this year, Sheikh Khalid and Kishida also resolved to strengthen bilateral cooperation over the next 50 years in a wide range of areas, from clean energy and advanced technology to human resource development.

The two sides noted the upcoming resumption of visa-free travel to Japan, which was temporarily suspended due to the spread of the COVID-19, and confirmed the early introduction of full visa waiver measures for UAE nationals possessing valid ordinary passports.

Sheikh Khalid will attend the state funeral of former Prime Minister ABE Shinzo and Kishida expressed his appreciation for this. Sheikh Khalid expressed his heartfelt condolences on the demise of former Prime Minister Abe and stated that UAE President Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan has also entrusted him with his condolence message.

The meeting was also attended by Dr. Sultan bin Ahmed Al Jaber, Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology, and the UAE’s special envoy to Japan.

Originally published in Arab News Japan


Pro-Kremlin businessman confirms he founded Wagner mercenary group

Pro-Kremlin businessman confirms he founded Wagner mercenary group
Updated 26 September 2022

Pro-Kremlin businessman confirms he founded Wagner mercenary group

Pro-Kremlin businessman confirms he founded Wagner mercenary group
  • Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin said that he founded the group to send fighters to Ukraine’s Donbas region in 2014
  • Critics say it is Putin’s ‘shadow army,’ promoting Russian interests by providing fighters, military instructors and advisers

MOSCOW: Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, an ally of President Vladimir Putin, said on Monday he had founded the Wagner mercenary group and confirmed its deployment to countries in Latin America and Africa.
Prigozhin said in a statement from his company, Concord, that he founded the group to send fighters to Ukraine’s Donbas region in 2014.
“From that moment, on May 1, 2014, a group of patriots was born, which later acquired the name BTG Wagner,” he said.
Prigozhin, dubbed “Putin’s chef” because of his Kremlin catering contracts, has previously denied links with Wagner.
“I myself cleaned the old weapons, figured out bulletproof vests and found specialists who could help me with this,” Prigozhin added.
“These guys — heroes who defended the Syrian people, other people of Arab countries, destitute Africans and Latin Americans — have become the pillars of our motherland,” he said.
Prigozhin, 61, has been hit with EU and US sanctions, accused of being behind a “troll factory” that attempted to interfere in the 2016 US presidential election.
For years, the Wagner group has been suspected of playing a role in realizing Moscow’s overseas ambitions, with the Kremlin denying any links.
Its presence has been reported in conflict zones including Syria, Mali, Ukraine and the Central African Republic, where it has been accused of abuses and capturing state power.
Critics say it is Putin’s “shadow army,” promoting Russian interests by providing fighters, military instructors and advisers.
Wagner’s presence was forced into the spotlight in 2018 when independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported that several Russian-speaking men who killed and mutilated a detainee on video in Syria were Wagner fighters.
Earlier this month, a video was shared on social media seeming to show Prigozhin recruiting inmates of a Russian prison to bolster Wagner’s ranks in Ukraine.
The Russian army has faced difficulties in its seven-month-old military intervention, with Putin last week ordering a partial mobilization of reservists to regain momentum after Kyiv’s forces retook swathes of Moscow-controlled territory in a counter-offensive.
Russian media have reported that Prigozhin controls Wagner’s finances, whereas its operations are managed by Dmitry Utkin, a shadowy figure who allegedly served in Russia’s military intelligence.
Utkin was received at the Kremlin in 2016 for a ceremony paying tribute to “heroes” who served in Syria and has been photographed with Putin.


Italy’s Muslim communities confident new government will protect religious freedom

Italy’s Muslim communities confident new government will protect religious freedom
Updated 26 September 2022

Italy’s Muslim communities confident new government will protect religious freedom

Italy’s Muslim communities confident new government will protect religious freedom
  • ‘Every Italian government will respect the Constitution,’ religious leader tells Arab News
  • ‘Italy’s attitude toward the Middle East isn’t going to change,’ politician tells Arab News

ROME: Islamic communities in Italy say they do not expect a negative attitude toward the 3 million-plus Muslims living in the country by the new right-wing government that will be formed after Sunday’s general election, and “look forward” to working with the new Cabinet with regard to the religious freedom guaranteed by the Constitution.

A concrete change in the country’s leadership is now expected. The far right led by Giorgia Meloni, leader of the Brothers of Italy (Fratelli d’Italia) party, traditionally bound to the country’s right, gained a solid majority in both branches of Parliament.

Almost certainly in mid-October, Meloni will be asked by President Sergio Mattarella to form a new government.

She will then be the first woman prime minister in Italy, leading what will be the first far-right government since the Second World War.

The new leadership is expected to be tougher than previous governments on illegal migrants, but nothing is expected to change in the traditionally good attitude of Italy toward the Middle East and the Arab world.

Italian political analysts also point out that the new Cabinet is unlikely to show a tough face toward the Muslim population in the country, especially since the League (Lega), the xenophobic and anti-migrant party led by Matteo Salvini, performed poorly in the election. The League will still be part of the majority, but will hold a much less powerful voice.

“We’re absolutely confident that every Italian government will respect the Constitution, which includes in its founding principles freedom of worship. We expect the new government will be attentive to the rights of Islamic communities,” Yassine Lafram, president of the Union of Islamic Communities of Italy, told Arab News.

Lafram said for Muslims in Italy, “there are still many problems, from Islamic cemeteries to the need for a law regulating the construction of places of worship for all religions.”

He also expressed his wish for a formal agreement between the Italian state and its Islamic communities to be underwritten soon.

“It’s in the interest of the new government that there be a full legal recognition of Islamic communities. It will boost integration,” he said.

“We expect a lot from a government that promises to represent all Italians. Italian Islamic communities can’t be accused of being close to Islamic fundamentalism. We’re all citizens of the Italian Republic who feel they’re an integral part of Italian society,” Lafram added.

Andrea Delmastro from the Brothers of Italy told Arab News right after the election results were declared: “Good citizens have nothing to fear, no matter their religion, as long as they respect the law. And Italy’s attitude toward the Middle East isn’t going to change.”

In her victory speech, Meloni struck a moderate tone, saying: “If we are called to govern this nation, we will do it for everyone, we will do it for all Italians, and we will do it with the aim of uniting the people (of this country).”

During the electoral campaign, the left warned that Meloni could push Italy into Europe’s illiberal bloc alongside Hungary and Poland, fighting against diversity and agitating against Brussels.

They quoted her past remarks, such as a speech from 2017 in which Meloni said mass-scale illegal immigration to Italy was “planned and deliberate,” carried out by unnamed powerful forces to import low-wage labor and drive out Italians.

“It’s called ethnic substitution,” Meloni said at the time, echoing the far-right “great replacement” conspiracy theory.

She also said Italy “cannot think of Islamic cemeteries in a country where there are not civilized cemeteries even for Italians in several parts of the country.”

In more recent times, she often spoke of “good integration” and “mutual respect” in a country where “the law has no religion and must be respected whatever the citizen’s creed is.”

In defense of her rhetoric, those close to Meloni say she has a strict stance on migrant traffickers and encourages integration, so long as those who come to Italy share and respect its national values and laws.

The main points of Meloni’s political manifesto concerning immigration, Delmastro said, involve the “fight against all forms of antisemitism, Islamic fundamentalism and irregular immigration; the orderly management of legal immigration flows along with the promotion of social and labor inclusion of legal immigrants; and the blocking of vessels to prevent human trafficking, in agreement with North African authorities.”

Imam Izzedin Elzir, former president of the Union of Islamic Communities in Italy, stressed that Muslims in Italy “are a non-partisan community, and we want to be an added value for the country.

“We expect attention from the government, which is expected to implement the Constitution, particularly on religious freedom. I believe we can do a good job together. Governing is different from campaigning for votes.”


Finland sees record surge in Russians crossing border

Finland sees record surge in Russians crossing border
Updated 26 September 2022

Finland sees record surge in Russians crossing border

Finland sees record surge in Russians crossing border
  • Nearly 8,600 Russians entered Finland via the land border

HELSINKI: Finland said on Monday it had recorded the year’s busiest weekend in terms of Russians entering the country, after Moscow’s military call-up announcement caused a rush for the border.
“Last weekend was the busiest weekend of the year for traffic on the eastern border,” Mert Sasioglu of the Finnish border guard told AFP.
The border agency said nearly 8,600 Russians entered Finland via the land border on Saturday and nearly 4,200 crossed the other way.
On Sunday, more than 8,300 Russians arrived and nearly 5,100 left.
“The arrival rate is about double what it was a week ago,” Sasioglu said.
“The main reason is the mobilization but it is also partly explained by the fact that both Finland and Russia eased Covid-19 restrictions during the summer.”
The Nordic country announced on September 23 it planned to “significantly restrict the entry of Russian citizens” and would finalize the decision in the “coming days.”
While the restriction is not yet in force, the border guard service said it was ready to apply the new rules “within a day.”
Sasioglu said it was preparing for “difficult developments” as the situation evolved.
“It is possible that when travel is restricted, attempts at illegal border crossings will increase,” he explained.
On Saturday, border guards caught four individuals suspected of crossing the border illegally in the Kuusamo region of eastern Finland. They immediately applied for asylum when detained.