Russia’s Vladimir Putin, China’s Xi Jinping hail ‘great power’ ties at talks defying West

Russia’s Vladimir Putin, China’s Xi Jinping hail ‘great power’ ties at talks defying West
It was the first in-person meeting between the two leaders since Vladimir Putin saw Xi Jinping in early February for the Winter Olympic Games in Beijing. (Sputnik via AP)
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Updated 16 September 2022

Russia’s Vladimir Putin, China’s Xi Jinping hail ‘great power’ ties at talks defying West

Russia’s Vladimir Putin, China’s Xi Jinping hail ‘great power’ ties at talks defying West
  • Xi: ‘China is willing to make efforts with Russia to assume the role of great powers’
  • Putin: ‘Attempts to create a unipolar world have recently acquired an absolutely ugly form and are completely unacceptable’

SAMARKAND, Uzbekistan: Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping met for their first face-to-face talks since the start of the conflict in Ukraine on Thursday, hailing their strategic ties in defiance of the West.

Sitting across from each other at two long rounded tables and flanked by aides, the two leaders met on the sidelines of a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in ex-Soviet Uzbekistan.

The meeting was part of Xi’s first trip abroad since the early days of the pandemic. For Putin, it was a chance to show Russia has not been fully isolated despite Western efforts.

“China is willing to make efforts with Russia to assume the role of great powers, and play a guiding role to inject stability and positive energy into a world rocked by social turmoil,” Xi told Putin at the talks.

Chinese state broadcaster CCTV also quoted Xi as saying China was willing to work with Russia to support “each other’s core interests.”

Xi also met his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan met on the sidelines  of the summit on Friday, urging “political mutual trust” between the two sides during a regional security meeting in Central Asia.

Turkey is a dialogue partner of the SCO.

“The two sides should consolidate political mutual trust, respect each other’s core interests and consolidate the political foundation of China-Turkey strategic cooperative relations,” Xi said, according to CCTV.

“We should focus on development cooperation (and) give full play to the role of various cooperation mechanisms and respective strengths between the two countries,” China’s leader was reported as saying.

Putin meanwhile took a clear broadside at the United States, which has been leading efforts to support Ukraine and impose sanctions on Russia.

“Attempts to create a unipolar world have recently acquired an absolutely ugly form and are completely unacceptable,” Putin said.

“We highly appreciate the balanced position of our Chinese friends in connection with the Ukrainian crisis,” Putin told Xi, while reiterating Moscow’s backing for China on Taiwan.

“We adhere to the principle of one China. We condemn the provocation of the US and their satellites in the Taiwan Strait,” Putin said, after a US Senate committee on Wednesday took the first step toward Washington directly providing billions of dollars in military aid to Taiwan.

It was the first in-person meeting between the two leaders since Putin saw Xi in early February for the Winter Olympic Games in Beijing, days before the Russian leader launched the military offensive in Ukraine.

The Kremlin has touted the SCO summit in the ancient Silk Road city of Samarkand as showing there is an “alternative” to Western-dominated international institutions.

The SCO — made up of China, India, Pakistan, Russia and the ex-Soviet Central Asian nations of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan — was set up in 2001 as a political, economic and security organization to rival Western institutions.

Putin met the leaders of Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan earlier Thursday, as well as with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.

With both Raisi and Sharif he said ties were “developing positively,” while the Iranian leader told Putin that US-backed sanctions on both countries would only make their relationship “stronger.”

“The Americans think whichever country they impose sanctions on, it will be stopped. Their perception is a wrong one,” Raisi said.

For Putin, the summit comes at an important time, as his forces face major battlefield setbacks in Ukraine and amid a continued Western push to make Russia an international pariah.

For Xi, it is an opportunity to shore up his credentials as a global statesman ahead of a pivotal congress of the ruling Communist Party in October.

The Chinese leader also met Thursday with Belarus’s strongman leader Alexander Lukashenko, who was quoted by state news agency Belta as thanking Xi for China’s “serious support in these difficult times.”

Lukashenko has been shunned by Western leaders after a fierce crackdown on the opposition two years ago and for backing Russia on Ukraine.

Chinese state media said Xi would also meet Erdogan on Friday.

Formerly Cold War allies with a tempestuous relationship, China and Russia have drawn closer in recent years as part of what they call a “no-limits” relationship acting as a counterweight to the global dominance of the United States.

The two countries have also stepped up military cooperation, with China sending hundreds of troops to take part in military exercises last month in Russia’s far east.

The defense ministry in Moscow said Thursday that Russian and Chinese warships were on a joint patrol in the Pacific and planning a live-fire artillery exercise at sea.

Other global leaders sounded alarm about deepening ties between Moscow and Beijing.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price said China and Russia “share a vision for the world that is starkly at odds with the vision that’s at the center of the international system, the vision that has been at the center of the international system for the past eight decades.”

Taiwan’s foreign ministry said the two countries were inflicting harm on “international peace, stability, democracy and freedom.”

Putin was also set to hold talks Friday with Erdogan and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Security was tight in Samarkand — a city of grand tiled mosques that was one of the hubs of Silk Road trade routes between China and Europe — with a huge police presence on the streets and armored vehicles parked downtown.


India’s new Hajj policy promotes women’s pilgrimage, abolishes VIP quota

Muslim Indian pilgrims wait at Jeddah airport prior to the start of the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Makkah. (File/AFP)
Muslim Indian pilgrims wait at Jeddah airport prior to the start of the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Makkah. (File/AFP)
Updated 13 sec ago

India’s new Hajj policy promotes women’s pilgrimage, abolishes VIP quota

Muslim Indian pilgrims wait at Jeddah airport prior to the start of the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Makkah. (File/AFP)
  • 500 spots in India’s annual Hajj quota previously reserved for VIPs
  • New policy allows women pilgrims to embark on Hajj individually

NEW DELHI: Indian authorities have abolished the VIP quota for pilgrims and allowed single women to apply as well, in a step they said on Tuesday was aimed at making the country’s pilgrimage policy more inclusive.

With more than 200 million Indians professing Islam, the Hindu-majority South Asian nation has the world’s largest Muslim-minority population. Every year, more than 150,000 Indian Muslims embark on Hajj, a spiritual journey and one of the five pillars of Islam.

While some of them need to wait years for their turn, there were 500 reserve spots set aside annually for top government officials — a practice that was stopped on Monday under the new Hajj policy released by the Ministry of Minority Affairs.

The new policy also increased the number of pilgrimage embarkation points from 10 to 25, and waived application fees.

A.P. Abdullakutty, chairman of the Haj Committee of India, a statutory body of the Indian government that organizes Islamic pilgrimages to Saudi Arabia, said: “In front of Allah everyone is the same therefore there is no need to have special quotas.”

The policy also allows women to apply individually.

“So far the policy was that women above 45 can travel in groups of four without a male companion, but this time a single woman can also apply,” Abdullakutty added.

A total of 175,000 pilgrims from India will embark on Hajj this year, with the journey of 80 percent of them being handled by the committee, and the remaining 20 percent by private operators.

S. Muawari Begum, vice chairperson of the Hajj committee, told Arab News the new policy was “people friendly and more inclusive toward women.”

India’s civil society saw the move also as a step for India in becoming more accepting of women’s independence.

“To be independent is a different thing and the society accepting the independence of a woman is a different thing,” Jamila Nishat, a women’s rights activist based in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad, said.

“This is a good step. This is a step to accept the independence of women.”


Former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf buried in Karachi amid tight security measures

Former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf buried in Karachi amid tight security measures
Updated 45 min 47 sec ago

Former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf buried in Karachi amid tight security measures

Former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf buried in Karachi amid tight security measures
  • Top military leadership, former army chiefs and politicians attend the funeral at Malir garrison
  • In 1999, after a military career spanning 38 years, Musharraf took power in Pakistan in a bloodless coup

KARACHI: Top military leaders and politicians attended the funeral prayers of former Pakistani president and army chief, General Pervez Musharraf, at a military garrison in the seaside metropolis of Karachi, before he was laid to rest in an army graveyard.

In 2022, Musharraf’s family said he had been hospitalized due to complications from a rare organ disease called amyloidosis. He died on Sunday at a Dubai hospital, aged 79. 

Musharraf’s body and his family reached Karachi via a special flight from Dubai on Monday night, state-run Radio Pakistan reported. 

Strict security arrangements were made for the funeral which media was not allowed to cover. Army and paramilitary forces were deployed outside Malir cantonment and around the military graveyard to prevent any media or members of the public from entering. 

Dr. Muhammad Amjad, former chairman of the Musharraf’s All Pakistan Muslim League, told Arab News the Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, General Sahir Shamshad, former army chiefs Generals Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and Qamar Javed Bajwa, former governor Moinuddin Haider and other ex-military officers attended the funeral. 

“Leaders of the PMLN, PTI and MQM also attended,” said Amjad, referring to three major political parties in Pakistan. 

In 1998, after a military career spanning 37 years, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the brother of Pakistan’s current prime minister, appointed Musharraf as army chief. The following year, he seized power and toppled Sharif’s government, citing the deteriorating political and economic conditions in Pakistan. 

In 2002, Musharraf was appointed president, a title he held in addition to army chief, after winning more than 90 percent of the vote in a controversial national referendum. He stepped down as army chief in 2007 and as president in 2008. 

Musharraf subsequently lived in London but returned to Pakistan in 2013 aiming to contest elections later that year. However, he instead faced a slew of court cases and was subsequently banned for life from holding public office. 

In 2016, he left Pakistan for medical treatment in Dubai, where he died on Feb. 5. 

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Russian reinforcements pour into eastern Ukraine, says governor

Russian reinforcements pour into eastern Ukraine, says governor
Updated 07 February 2023

Russian reinforcements pour into eastern Ukraine, says governor

Russian reinforcements pour into eastern Ukraine, says governor
  • New Russian offensive possible in 10 days, says governor
  • British intel says Russia does not have forces for offensive

KYIV: Russia was pouring reinforcements into eastern Ukraine ahead of a possible new offensive, said a Ukrainian governor, but British intelligence said on Tuesday it was unlikely that Russia would have enough forces to significantly affect the war within weeks.
Desperate for Western military aid to arrive, Ukraine anticipates a major offensive could be launched by Russia for “symbolic” reasons around the Feb. 24 anniversary of the invasion, which Moscow persists in calling “a special military operation.”
Ukraine is itself planning a spring offensive to recapture lost territory, but it is awaiting delivery of promised longer-range Western missiles and battle tanks, and some analysts say the country was months away from being ready.
“We are seeing more and more (Russian) reserves being deployed in our direction, we are seeing more equipment being brought in...,” said Serhiy Haidai, Ukraine’s governor of the mainly Russian-occupied Luhansk province.
“They bring ammunition that is used differently than before — it is not round-the-clock shelling anymore. They are slowly starting to save, getting ready for a full-scale offensive,” Haidai told Ukrainian television.
“It will most likely take them 10 days to gather reserves. After Feb. 15 we can expect (this offensive) at any time.”
The war is reaching a pivotal point as its first anniversary approaches, with Ukraine no longer making gains as it did in the second half of 2022 and Russia pushing forward with hundreds of thousands of mobilized reserve troops.
Britain’s Defense Intelligence said in its daily report that Russia’s military has likely attempted since early January to restart major offensive operations aimed at capturing Ukraine-held parts of Donetsk.
However, Russian forces have gained little territory as they “lack munitions and maneuver units required for a successful offensive,” it said.
“Russian leaders will likely continue to demand sweeping advances. It remains unlikely that Russia can buiild up the forces needed to substantially affect the outcome of the war within the coming weeks.”
In his Monday evening address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said personnel changes on the border and frontline will bolster Ukraine’s military efforts amid uncertainty over the future of his defense minister, just as Russia advances in the east for the first time in six months.
Zelensky said he wanted to combine military and managerial experience in local and central government but did not directly address confusion about whether his defense minister, Oleksii Reznikov, would be replaced.
On Sunday, David Arakhamia, head of Zelensky’s parliamentary bloc, said Reznikov would be transferred to another ministerial job, but on Monday he wrote that “there will be no personnel changes in the defense sector this week.”
Zelensky says he needs to show that Ukraine was a safe steward of billions of dollars of Western military and other aid, and his government is engaged in the biggest political and administrative shake-up since Russia’s invasion nearly a year ago.
“In a number of regions, particularly those on the border or on the front line, we will appoint leaders with military experience. Those who can show themselves to be the most effective in defending against existing threats,” he said.
The European Union said Zelensky has been invited to take part in a summit of EU leaders, amid reports he could be in Brussels as soon as this week, in what would be only his second known foreign trip since the invasion began.
Zelensky’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
NEW RUSSIAN OFFENSIVE
Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov told Ukrainska Pravda on the weekend that intelligence suggested any new Russian offensive would likely come from the east or south.
“Their dream is to expand the land corridor to Crimea in order to continue supplies. Therefore, of course, the key risks are: the east, the south, and after that the north,” he said. Moscow annexed Crimea in 2014.
Ukrainian defense analyst Oleksandr Kovalenko said a new Russian offensive could come from one of four directions; the eastern Luhansk region, the Donetsk region, the Zaporizhzhia region and the city and port of Mariupol.
“Things are more serious in Donetsk region, particularly around Bakhmut and Avdiivka. And the Russians will be boosting their contingents there as well as equipment and paratroops,” Kovalenko, from the “Information Resistance group” think tanks, told Ukrainian radio NV.
For months Russia’s main target in eastern Ukraine has been Bakhmut, where its state media said the Wagner mercenary group had gained a foothold. Ukraine said on Monday evening that Russian forces had trained tank, mortar and artillery fire there in the past 24 hours.
Kovalenko said Mariupol, captured by Russian forces last May, could be used by the Russians to bring in troops and equipment for a new offensive.
“It could serve as a transport hub for the Russian occupation forces,” he said.
Kovalenko said Ukraine’s counter-offensive would not happen any time soon and Ukrainian forces would be assuming a defensive position, particularly in Donetsk.
“It may be an active defense, but a defensive position nonetheless. The idea will remain to block any Russian advance,” he said.
“Things could change more quickly in other sectors. But this situation could go on for two to two-and-a-half months — that is the time required for providing the tanks for brigades, training and getting everything outfitted.”


North Korea pledges ‘expanded, intensified’ military drills

North Korea pledges ‘expanded, intensified’ military drills
Updated 07 February 2023

North Korea pledges ‘expanded, intensified’ military drills

North Korea pledges ‘expanded, intensified’ military drills
  • Pledge came after South Korea and US staged joint air drills

SEOUL: North Korea’s top army officials have said they will expand and intensify military drills to ensure their readiness for war, state media reported Tuesday, ahead of a massive parade.
The pledge came at a Monday meeting overseen by leader Kim Jong Un and follows last week’s staging of joint air drills by South Korea and the United States.
The agenda was topped by “the issue of constantly expanding and intensifying the operation and combat drills of the (Korean People’s Army) ... strictly perfecting the preparedness for war,” the official Korean Central News Agency said.
The meeting of North Korea’s central military commission comes as commercial satellite imagery suggests “extensive parade preparations” are underway in Pyongyang ahead of key state holidays this month.
North Korea celebrates the founding anniversary of its armed forces on Wednesday and the “Day of the Shining Star” on February 16. The latter is the birthday of Kim Jong Il, son of North Korea’s founder Kim Il Sung and father of Kim Jong Un.
Seoul and Washington have moved to bolster joint military drills following a year of sanctions-busting weapons tests, infuriating Pyongyang, which sees them as rehearsals for invasion.
Last week, the security allies staged joint air drills featuring strategic bombers and stealth fighters, prompting Pyongyang to warn such exercises could “ignite an all-out showdown.”
The joint exercises, their first this year, came a day after US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and his South Korean counterpart vowed to boost security cooperation to counter an increasingly belligerent nuclear-armed North.
North Korea’s foreign minister has said the move to ramp up joint drills crossed “an extreme red line.”
Experts say Monday’s meeting of North Korea’s top brass aimed to highlight the country’s readiness to face down upcoming joint military drills between South Korea and the United States — and also stress it was prepared for an actual war.
“North Korea is hinting about the possibility of military action in the future in the name of operational and combat training and war preparedness,” said Hong Min, researcher at the Korea Institute for National Unification.
Kim recently called for an “exponential” increase in Pyongyang’s nuclear arsenal, including mass-producing tactical nuclear weapons and developing new missiles for nuclear counterstrikes.
Kim has also said his country must “overwhelmingly beef up military muscle” in 2023 in response to what Pyongyang calls US and South Korean hostility.


China balloon, polls scramble script for Biden speech to Congress

China balloon, polls scramble script for Biden speech to Congress
Updated 07 February 2023

China balloon, polls scramble script for Biden speech to Congress

China balloon, polls scramble script for Biden speech to Congress
  • Inflation, which just a few months ago seemed a near existential threat to the Biden presidency, is steadily ticking downward

WASHINGTON: The US economy’s humming and President Joe Biden is optimistic, but brutal polls and the nation’s collective freak-out over a mysterious Chinese balloon will overshadow his State of the Union speech Tuesday.
The Democrat’s speechwriters certainly had their work cut out on the weekend as they huddled with the president at the Camp David retreat in the rural hills of Maryland, before flying back to Washington Monday.
A photo posted by Biden on Twitter showed a binder with the speech, a coffee mug and biscuits. “Getting ready,” he said.
On arrival back at the White House, Biden told reporters: “I want to talk to the American people and let them know the state of affairs — what’s going on, what I’m looking forward to working on.”
But the dramatic downing of a huge Chinese balloon by a US Air Force fighter jet Saturday left the dangerously unstable relationship with the communist superpower literally looming over the Biden administration.
And, as two polls published Sunday and Monday show, well under half of Democrats want 80-year-old Biden to seek a second term in 2024.
In other words, his personal sunniness, embodied by a constant refrain of never having “been more optimistic” about the country, is simply not penetrating.
Just last week, the script for Tuesday’s big set piece event — an address to a joint session of Congress, nearly the entire senior ranks of government, and a vast television audience — had been almost writing itself.
Inflation, which just a few months ago seemed a near existential threat to the Biden presidency, is steadily ticking downward. Hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars are starting to flow out into programs passed under Biden to spur high-tech manufacturing and repair infrastructure.
Then on Friday, new figures showed that a surge in job creation has driven unemployment to its lowest rate in 50 years.
In his own mini-preview of the so-called SOTU speech, Biden told journalists: “Next week, I’ll be reporting on the state of the union. But today, I’m happy to report that the state of the union and the state of our economy is strong.”
Even if Biden has yet to formally announce his 2024 candidacy, the SOTU — followed by two very campaign-like trips Wednesday and Thursday to Wisconsin and Florida — is expected to give him a big shove in that direction.
The question now is whether at his age, with an unenthusiastic party, ferociously aggressive Republican opponents, and increasingly Cold War-like confrontations with Russia and China, Biden can push hard enough.

On his side will be massive advantages: an economy defying multiple predictions of recession and the power of incumbency which means he can spend this year and the next traveling on Air Force One to tout his successes.
But the weekend’s news showed what he is up against, even before taking on whomever the Republicans choose as their candidate — Donald Trump or someone new.
The fighter jet ordered into the sky by Biden efficiently dispatched the Chinese balloon, but the White House faces swirling questions over why the craft — which China claims was studying weather — was first allowed to trace a leisurely path across the entire country, passing directly over ultra-sensitive military bases.
And polls show a very down-to-earth danger for Biden: his own side doesn’t seem to want him anymore.
In an AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll, a paltry 37 percent of respondents said they back Biden running for a second term, which would end when he was 86 years old.
In an ABC News-Washington Post Poll, 58 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents said the party should find someone else for 2024.
Pressed about the disconnect between Biden’s message, the macroeconomic data, and the apparent widespread dissatisfaction among ordinary Americans, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre acknowledged that many voters remain worried about economic insecurity.
“It’s an incredibly complicated time,” Jean-Pierre said, adding that the State of the Union will be an “important moment” in the battle to change Americans’ views.
“I think (at) the State of the Union he’ll have an opportunity to talk directly to the American people, not just Congress, to talk about what we have done,” she added.