ODESA, Ukraine: The United Nations-chartered ship MV Brave Commander will depart Ukraine for Africa in coming days after it finishes loading more than 23,0000 tons of wheat in the Ukrainian port of Pivdennyi, a UN official said.
The ship, which arrived in the port near Odesa, will sail to Ethiopia via a grain corridor through the Black Sea brokered by the United Nations and Turkey in late July.
It will be the first humanitarian food aid cargo bound for Africa since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24. under the framework of the Black Sea Grain Initiative.
The cargo was funded with donations from the United Nations World Food Programme, US Agency for International Development and several private donors.
A total 16 ships have now departed from Ukraine following the deal with Russia to allow a resumption of grain exports from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports, after they were stalled for five months due to the war.
The agreement was reached last month amid fears that the loss of Ukrainian grain supplies would lead to severe food shortages and even outbreaks of famine in parts of the world.
Ukraine has some 20 million tons of grain left over from last year’s crop, while this year’s wheat harvest is also estimated at 20 million tons.
So far most of the cargoes under the deal have carried grain for animal feed or for fuel.
As part of the UN deal, all ships are inspected in Istanbul by the Joint Coordination Center, where Russia, Ukrainian, Turkish and UN personnel work.
US Congress averts historic default, approves debt-limit suspension
The Treasury Department had warned it would be unable to pay all its bills on June 5 if Congress failed to act by then
Biden was directly involved in negotiations on the bill with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy
Updated 9 sec ago
WASHINGTON: The US Senate on Thursday passed bipartisan legislation backed by President Joe Biden that lifts the government’s $31.4 trillion debt ceiling, averting what would have been a first-ever default. The Senate voted 63-36 to approve the bill that had been passed on Wednesday by the House of Representatives, as lawmakers raced against the clock following months of partisan bickering between Democrats and Republicans. The Treasury Department had warned it would be unable to pay all its bills on June 5 if Congress failed to act by then. “We are avoiding default tonight,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on Thursday as he steered the legislation through his 100-member chamber. Biden praised Congress’ timely action. “This bipartisan agreement is a big win for our economy and the American people,” the Democratic president said in a statement, adding that he will sign it into law as soon as possible. He said he would make an additional statement on Friday at 7 p.m. EDT (2300 GMT). Biden was directly involved in negotiations on the bill with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. While this bitter battle has ended, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell wasted no time flagging the next budget fight. “In the coming months, Senate Republicans will continue working to provide for the common defense and control Washington Democrats’ reckless spending,” he said in a statement. McConnell was referring to 12 bills Congress will work on over the summer to fund government programs in the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, which will also carry out the broad instructions of the debt limit bill. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, meanwhile, issued some pointed advice saying, “I continue to strongly believe that the full faith and credit of the United States must never be used as a bargaining chip,” as Republicans did over the past several months. Before the final vote, senators tore through nearly a dozen amendments — rejecting all of them during a late-night session in anticipation of Monday’s deadline. With this legislation, the statutory limit on federal borrowing will be suspended until Jan. 1, 2025. Unlike most other developed countries, the United States limits the amount of debt the government can borrow, regardless of any spending allocated by the legislature. “America can breathe a sigh of relief,” Schumer said in remarks to the Senate.
’TIME IS A LUXURY’ Republicans had blocked passage of any debt limit increase until they locked in some wide-ranging spending cuts in a move they said would begin addressing a rapidly escalating national debt. Biden instead pushed for tax increases on the wealthy and corporations to help address the growing debt. Republicans refused to consider any sort of tax hikes. Both parties walled off the sprawling Social Security and Medicare retirement and health care programs from cuts, and McCarthy refused to consider reducing spending on the military or veterans. That left a somewhat narrow band of domestic “discretionary” programs to bear the brunt of spending cuts. In the end, Republicans won about $1.5 trillion in reductions over 10 years, which may or may not be fully realized. Their opening bid was for $4.8 trillion in savings over a decade. Treasury technically hit its limit on borrowing in January. Since then it has been using “extraordinary measures” to patch together the money needed to pay the government’s bills. Biden, Yellen and congressional leaders all acknowledged that triggering a default for lack of funds would have serious ramifications. Those included sending shock waves through global financial markets, possibly triggering job losses and a recession in the United States and raising families’ interest rates on everything from home mortgages to credit card debt. The Republican-controlled House passed the bill on Wednesday evening in a 314-117 vote. Most of those who voted against the bill were Republicans. “Time is a luxury the Senate does not have,” Schumer said on Thursday. “Any needless delay or any last-minute holdups would be an unnecessary and even dangerous risk.” Among the amendments debated were ones to force deeper spending cuts than those contained in the House-passed bill and stopping the speedy final approval of a West Virginia energy pipeline.
COBBLED OVER WEEKS Republican Senator Roger Marshall offered an amendment to impose new border controls as high numbers of immigrants arrive at the US-Mexico border. His measure, he said, would “put an end to the culture of lawlessness at our southern border.” The Senate defeated the amendment, however. Democrats said it would strip away protections for child migrants and rob American farmers of needed workers. Some Republicans also wanted to beef up defense spending beyond the increased levels contained in the House-passed bill. In response, Schumer said the spending caps in this legislation would not constrain Congress in approving additional money for emergencies, including helping Ukraine in its battle against Russia. “This debt ceiling deal does nothing to limit the Senate’s ability to appropriate emergency supplemental funds to ensure our military capabilities are sufficient to deter China, Russia and our other adversaries, and respond to ongoing and growing national security threats, including Russia’s evil ongoing war of aggression against Ukraine,” Schumer said. The bill was cobbled together over weeks of intensive negotiations between senior aides for Biden and McCarthy. The main argument was over spending for the next couple of years on discretionary programs such as housing, environmental protections, education and medical research that Republicans wanted to cut deeply. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated the bill would save $1.5 trillion over 10 years. That is below the $3 trillion in deficit reduction, mainly through new taxes, that Biden proposed. The last time the United States came this close to default was in 2011. That standoff hammered financial markets, led to the first-ever downgrade of the government’s credit rating and pushed up the nation’s borrowing costs. There was less drama this time as it became clear last week that Biden and McCarthy would find a deal with enough bipartisan support to get through Congress.
Girl unable to enter Kyiv shelter killed in Russia attack, Zelensky demands change
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy expressed frustration at the miscue and said if local officials were unable to provide protection, they could be prosecuted
Police opened a criminal investigation into the three deaths near a medical clinic in the Desnyanskyi district of Kyiv
Updated 01 June 2023
KYIV: A nine-year-old Ukrainian girl, her mother and another woman were killed in a Russian missile strike on Kyiv on Thursday after the air raid shelter they rushed to failed to open, witnesses said.
President Volodymyr Zelensky expressed frustration at the miscue and said if local officials were unable to provide protection, they could be prosecuted.
His comments appeared aimed at Kyiv city authorities and Mayor Vitali Klitschko, with whom he has periodically clashed during the war.
Police opened a criminal investigation into the three deaths near a medical clinic in the Desnyanskyi district of Kyiv after the 18th attack on the capital since the start of May.
“Three people, one of them a child, died near the clinic last night,” Klitschko said. “A rocket fragment fell near the entrance to the clinic four minutes after the air alert was announced. And people headed for the shelter.”
Residents said people were unable to enter the shelter because it was closed. It was not clear why.
“The air alert sounded. My wife took our daughter and they ran to the entrance here,” local resident Yaroslav Ryabchuk told Reuters in the Desnyanskyi district.
“The entrance was closed, there were already maybe five to 10 women with children. No one opened up for them.”
The case prompted calls for residents to check shelters and report safety violations. Local media said prosecutors searched city administration offices as part of the investigation.
PRESIDENT CALLS OUT LOCAL GOVERNMENT
Zelensky, in his nightly video message, said shelters “must be kept accessible. Never again should we see a repeat of the situation that occurred last night in Kyiv...”
This was “very clearly” the duty of local authorities “and if this duty is not fulfilled at the local level, it is the direct duty of law enforcement bodies to prosecute.”
In earlier comments to reporters in Moldova, Zelensky said that as well as facing the Russian enemy, “we also have internal ones.” He said the response could be a “knockout” blow, a veiled dig at Klitschko, a former heavyweight boxing champion.
At a makeshift memorial for the girl, another parent woken by the attacks spoke of her terror.
“I grabbed my child and ran into the corridor because I didn’t have any other options. We sat there the whole time, there were a few more explosions,” said Oleksandra, 25, visiting the memorial with her five-year-old son Hryhoriy.
“My child got really scared, he sat in the corner of our corridor. He cried, saying that we’re all gonna die. I was terrified to hear this from him. It was terrible.”
Russia has denied targeting civilians or committing war crimes though its air strikes have caused devastation in cities across Ukraine since the full-scale invasion on Feb. 24, 2022.
Ukraine reported no major damage from Thursday’s attack, saying it had shot down all 10 missiles. But, in a statement on International Children’s Day, UN human rights monitors in Ukraine said 525 children had been killed since the invasion.
Biden, 80, had just shaken hands with a cadet and begun walking back to his seat when he fell
Air Force personnel helped him back up and he did not appear to require further help
Updated 01 June 2023
COLORADO SPRINGS, United States: President Joe Biden took a face-first tumble on Thursday after tripping over an obstacle on stage at the Air Force Academy in Colorado, but he appeared unhurt.
Biden, 80, who had delivered the commencement address to graduates of the military academy, had just shaken hands with a cadet and begun walking back to his seat when he fell.
Air Force personnel helped him back up and he did not appear to require further help.
As he rose, Biden pointed to the object that had apparently caught his foot. It resembled a small black sandbag on the stage.
Biden is the oldest person ever in the presidency and is seeking a second term in the 2024 election. His official doctor’s report this year declared him physically fit and he exercises regularly.
In November 2020, shortly after winning his election against the incumbent Donald Trump, Biden broke his foot while playing with a pet dog.
UK seeks Bulgaria’s help to tackle small boats, illegal immigration
British PM Rishi Sunak to announce security partnership with Bulgaria to boost intelligence sharing
Move will target organized people-smuggling gangs and equipment used to make dinghies
Updated 01 June 2023
LONDON: Britain is seeking a new partnership with Bulgaria in a bid to halt illegal immigration as over a million Syrian and Afghan refugees are expected to head to western Europe from Turkiye. The Times reported on Thursday that British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is set to announce a security partnership with Bulgaria to boost intelligence sharing between the National Crime Agency and Bulgarian police.
The aim is to combat organized crime groups that smuggle migrants and equipment used to manufacture dinghies, mainly in Turkiye.
Sunak’s main goal is tackling the small boats crisis by urging fellow European leaders to treat illegal migration as a top priority.
After this year’s earthquake in February and the resumption of deportations to Afghanistan, over a million refugees of both countries who are currently based in Turkiye are expected to head to western Europe and Britain.
Illegal immigrants travel in dinghies being manufactured in Turkiye, which the UK Border Force says has become a hub for people smugglers ferrying migrants across the English Channel.
While no official cooperation deal is expected soon, the NCA has been commissioned to build “closer links” with Turkish authorities to target smuggling gangs.
Bulgaria has become a major entry point to the EU for gangs bringing in boats’ equipment from Turkiye and for migrants following a crackdown on Aegean Sea crossings into Greece.
The arrangement helps Bulgaria to “destroy the business model” of the criminals, according to Downing Street.
Bulgaria has stopped 11,000 illegal entries across its border with Turkiye since January, a 40 percent increase compared with the same period in 2022.
Sunak said illegal migration posed an “unprecedented” threat to Europe’s borders.
“Europe is facing unprecedented threats at our borders, from (Russian President) Putin’s utter contempt of other countries’ sovereignty to the rise in organized immigration crime. We cannot address these problems without Europe’s governments and institutions working closely together,” he was quoted as saying.
The Home Office said: “Migration is driven by a number of factors, and we will continue to work with international partners to overcome them. We have a close partnership with Turkiye when it comes to the shared problem of illegal migration.”
Meanwhile, the NCA said: “Tackling people smuggling is a top priority, and we work closely with international partners to disrupt the supply of vessels.”
Finland feels safer now it is part of NATO, Minister for Foreign Affairs Pekka Haavisto tells Arab News
Expresses gratitude to Saudi Arabia for providing a platform for Sudanese factions to discuss ceasefire
Offers Helsinki’s support for the circular economy, a model that is also championed by Saudi Arabia
Updated 02 June 2023
HELSINKI: Although Finland has a strong military, including a conscript army and 300,000 male and female reservists, the Nordic nation feels safer now that it is part of NATO, Pekka Haavisto, its minister for foreign affairs, told Arab News.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 set off a chain of events that culminated in Finland becoming the 31st member of the Western military alliance on April 4, more than doubling the length of the Russian Federation’s border with NATO.
“In case we are attacked at any day now, we are safer when we can also get NATO support at any moment,” Haavisto said during an interview in Helsinki, which covered issues ranging from the war in Ukraine to crises in the Horn of Africa and his own country’s prominent role as a champion of sustainable development.
In response to Finland’s move, Russian officials issued thinly veiled threats against the country, which until last year maintained a policy of military nonalignment. The Kremlin called the NATO accession “an encroachment on our security and on Russia’s national interests” that would force Russia to “take countermeasures.”
Haavisto, who last month formally handed Finland’s NATO accession document to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Brussels, called the possibility that Russia would launch an attack on Finland “unpredictable.”
“What we are afraid of, of course, is that Russia can make other miscalculations in Europe, and we don’t want to be part of any miscalculation,” he said.
Haavisto clarified that Finland had had “the NATO option” since 2004, which meant that while the country was outside the organization, any event that caused concern could lead it to apply for membership.
“(But) our estimation of our situation and our security situation changed,” he said, alluding to the Ukraine invasion. “We decided that together with Sweden, we will apply for NATO membership because of our own security.
“We will not threaten anyone. We are not currently threatened. But, of course, when you saw a war in Europe, you could always imagine what an escalation of war could mean in Europe.”
While Finland and Sweden both applied for NATO membership on July 5 last year, their accessions to the alliance were stalled for months. For a country to join NATO, all existing members must ratify the accession, and in the case of Sweden and Finland, Turkiye and Hungary initially refused to do so.
In particular, Turkiye made several demands of Sweden and Finland, including the extradition of several individuals that its claims are terrorists and the lifting of arms embargoes imposed on Ankara after it sent its forces into northern Syria in 2019.
As part of the negotiations, Sweden announced that it would allow arms exports to Turkiye again and pass stronger anti-terrorism laws. Finland followed suit in January.
Although Turkiye eventually ratified Finland’s accession, the Swedish bid is still on the table.
“There are good chances that prior to the NATO summit in July in Vilnius, Sweden will be approved as a NATO member,” Haavisto said.
With Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan winning re-election for another five-year term, Haavisto is closely following several foreign policy issues related to Turkiye in addition to the Swedish application for NATO membership.
He cited the importance of Turkiye-Syria relations, saying that “the fate of Turkey and Syria is very interlinked” and called for “a peaceful path” to a political solution in Syria.
* Finland became NATO’s 31st member on April 4 this year.
* The UN World Happiness Report has ranked Finland No. 1 every year since 2016.
* Saudi Arabia and Finland have had diplomatic relations since 1969.
He also called for a solution to tensions between Greece and Turkiye in the Eastern Mediterranean, citing the territorial dispute that has divided the island since 1974 as an example.
Another file Haavisto is following closely is the crisis unfolding in Sudan. He believes the ongoing conflict must not distract the international community from the goal of transferring political power ultimately to the Sudanese people.
“It’s very important that the future of Sudan is based on the civilian components,” said Haavisto, who previously served as a high-level EU envoy to conflict-prone areas of Africa.
On Monday, representatives of the Sudanese Armed Forces, led by General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, and Rapid Support Forces, led by Mohamed “Hemedti” Dagalo — the two factions locked in combat since April 15 — agreed to a five-day extension of an existing ceasefire and humanitarian arrangements brokered by Saudi Arabia and the US following talks in Jeddah.
“We are very grateful to Saudi Arabia for giving a platform for Al-Burhan and Hemedti’s military representatives to negotiate all these issues. (What is really needed now) are peace initiatives,” Haavisto said.
Having previously supported efforts to end the war in Ethiopia’s Tigray as the EU’s special envoy to that country, Haavisto’s ministry is closely monitoring the Sudan crisis, which has engulfed the capital Khartoum and other states.
An unfortunate fallout of the armed conflict, he said, was that “the perspective that everything was about transforming the power in Sudan from the military to the civilians has been lost. And unfortunately, the (former) prime minister, (Abdalla) Hamdok, was sidelined.”
Hamdok, who was appointed prime minister during Sudan’s transition to a civilian-led government in 2019, was ousted during a military coup in October 2021. Although he was restored as prime minister a month later amid growing public outrage toward the military, he resigned in January 2022.
Haavisto said he was in touch with Hamdok and a number of individuals and civil society groups in Sudan. “We hope, of course, that (the current ceasefire) will be continued until the future, and those who are taking up arms will lay them down as soon as possible,” he said.
During a visit to Riyadh in April 2021 for discussions with Saudi officials while on his way to Ethiopia amid the Tigray war, Haavisto told Arab News it was important that the EU worked with Saudi Arabia in view of the Kingdom’s “good relations with all parties in the whole of Africa.”
“International cooperation … is very important,” he said at the time, citing, presciently, the risks of another conflict in a part of Africa where disputes were rife.
Now, more than a month into the Sudan conflict, Finland wholeheartedly supports Saudi and American efforts to broker a long-lasting ceasefire and peace deal between the feuding factions.
As Haavisto sees it, the war in Sudan is a complex challenge that will require the participation of many actors and the implementation of long-term plans. The strong links between Sudan’s military and economy, especially during the rule of dictator Omar Al-Bashir in the 1990s and 2000s, created serious problems for the country.
“Now I’m seeing that the same problem remains both with Al-Burhan and Hemedti — that economic and military interests are connected. And this, of course, is also something that is an obstacle for Sudan to develop its economy on a free basis, as a free-market economy, in the future. And, unfortunately, (this factor) is probably slowing the economic growth of Sudan as well.”
Concerns about regional and international conflicts have neither stopped nor slowed Finland’s drive to become a global environmental leader. Helsinki is currently hosting the World Circular Economy Forum 2023, which aims to create a new “green” economy and more jobs by taking advantage of circular economy solutions in line with the UN’s 17 sustainable development goals.
“This circular economy meeting that takes place in Helsinki, of course, is part of our policy to support the circular economy, not only in our own country, but worldwide,” said Haavisto, who is a veteran of Finland’s Green League party and a former minister of the environment.
“Recycled materials have huge energy-saving and renewable energy forms … For example, there has been a huge wind power investment now to Finland, and wind power is becoming a more and more important source of energy for us.”
Finland has some of the highest energy consumption per capita in the EU and is one of the only countries in the world that still uses peat as an energy source, so it has plenty of motivation to increase its use of renewables.
So far, the country has made good on a number of its promises: Over the past seven years, the number of operational wind turbines in the country increased from 552 to 1,266, according to the Finnish Wind Power Association. Last year, Finland passed the Climate Change Act, which set 2035 as the target for the country to go carbon neutral, with carbon-negative goals set for 2040.
“We see a lot of potential in both wind and solar power globally,” Haavisto said, adding that Finland was eager to demonstrate new technologies and inventions for energy efficiency at the upcoming UN Climate Change Conference (COP28) in Dubai.
“We can combine economic growth with a good environment, and a safe environment. I think that’s our key message from Finland.”