Putin vows to press attack on Ukraine; courts India, China

Putin vows to press attack on Ukraine; courts India, China
Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi prepare for their talks in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, on Sept. 16, 2022. (Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via Reuters)
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Updated 17 September 2022

Putin vows to press attack on Ukraine; courts India, China

Putin vows to press attack on Ukraine; courts India, China
  • Putin said the “liberation” of Ukraine’s entire eastern Donbas region remained Russia’s main military goal
  • Says Moscow wants to see a quick end to the fighting but Ukrainian officials refuse to negotiate

SAMARKAND, Uzbekistan: Russian President Vladimir Putin vowed Friday to press his attack on Ukraine despite Kyiv’s latest counteroffensive and warned that Moscow could ramp up its strikes on the country’s vital infrastructure if Ukrainian forces target facilities in Russia.
Speaking to reporters Friday after attending a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Uzbekistan, Putin said the “liberation” of Ukraine’s entire eastern Donbas region remained Russia’s main military goal and that he sees no need to revise it.
“We aren’t in a rush,” the Russian leader said, adding that Moscow has only deployed volunteer soldiers to fight in Ukraine. Some hard-line politicians and military bloggers have urged the Kremlin to follow Ukraine’s example and order a broad mobilization to beef up the ranks, lamenting Russia’s manpower shortage.
Russia was forced to pull back its forces from large swaths of northeastern Ukraine last week after a swift Ukrainian counteroffensive. Ukraine’s move to reclaim control of several Russian-occupied cities and villages marked the largest military setback for Moscow since its forces had to retreat from areas near the capital early in the war.

In his first comment on the Ukrainian counteroffensive, Putin said: “Let’s see how it develops and how it ends.”
He noted that Ukraine has tried to strike civilian infrastructure in Russia and “we so far have responded with restraint, but just yet.”
“If the situation develops this way, our response will be more serious,” Putin said.
“Just recently, the Russian armed forces have delivered a couple of impactful strikes,” he said in an apparent reference to Russian attacks earlier this week on power plants in northern Ukraine and a dam in the south. ”Let’s consider those as warning strikes.”
He alleged, without offering specifics, that Ukraine has attempted to launch attacks “near our nuclear facilities, nuclear power plants,” adding that “we will retaliate if they fail to understand that such methods are unacceptable.”
Russia has reported numerous explosions and fires at civilian infrastructure in areas near Ukraine, as well munitions depots and other facilities. Ukraine has claimed responsibility for some of the attacks and refrained from commenting on others.
Putin also sought Friday to assuage India’s concern about the conflict in Ukraine, telling Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi that Moscow wants to see a quick end to the fighting and alleging that Ukrainian officials won’t negotiate.
“I know your stand on the conflict in Ukraine and the concerns that you have repeatedly voiced,” the Russian leader told Modi. “We will do all we can to end that as quickly as possible. Regrettably, the other side, the leadership of Ukraine, has rejected the negotiations process and stated that it wants to achieve its goals by military means, on the battlefield.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says it’s Russia that allegedly doesn’t want to negotiate in earnest. He also has insisted on the withdrawal of Russian troops from occupied areas of Ukraine as a precondition for talks.
Putin’s remarks during the talks with Modi echoed comments the Russian leader made during Thursday’s meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping when Putin thanked him for his government’s “balanced position” on the Ukraine war, while adding that he was ready to discuss China’s unspecified “concerns” about Ukraine.
Speaking to reporters Friday, Putin said he and Xi “discussed what we should do in the current conditions to efficiently counter unlawful restrictions” imposed by the West. The European Union, the United States and other Western nations have put sanctions on Russian energy due to the war in Ukraine.
Xi, in a statement released by his government, expressed support for Russia’s “core interests” but also interest in working together to “inject stability” into world affairs. China’s relations with Washington, Europe, Japan and India have been strained by disputes about technology, security, human rights and territory.
Zhang Lihua, an international relations expert at Tsinghua University, said the reference to stability “is mainly related to China-US relations,” adding that “the United States has been using all means to suppress China, which forced China to seek cooperation with Russia.”
China and India have refused to join Western sanctions against Russia over its war in Ukraine while increasing their purchases of Russian oil and gas, helping Moscow offset the financial restrictions imposed by the US and its allies.
Putin also met Friday with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to discuss bolstering economic cooperation and regional issues, including a July deal brokered by Turkey and the United Nations that allowed Ukrainian grain exports to resume from the country’s Black Sea ports.
Speaking at the Uzbekistan summit on Friday, Xi warned his Central Asian neighbors not to allow outsiders to destabilize them. The warning reflects Beijing’s anxiety that Western support for democracy and human rights activists is a plot to undermine Xi’s ruling Communist Party and other authoritarian governments.
“We should prevent external forces from instigating a color revolution,” Xi said in a speech to the leaders of Shanghai Cooperation Organization member nations, referring to protests that toppled unpopular regimes in the former Soviet Union and the Middle East.
Xi offered to train 2,000 police officers, to set up a regional counterterrorism training center and to “strengthen law enforcement capacity building.” He did not elaborate.
His comments echoed longtime Russian grievances about the color-coded democratic uprisings in several ex-Soviet nations that the Kremlin viewed as instigated by the US and its allies.
Xi is promoting a “Global Security Initiative” announced in April following the formation of the Quad by the US, Japan, Australia and India in response to Beijing’s more assertive foreign policy. US officials complain it echoes Russian arguments in support of Moscow’s actions in Ukraine.
Central Asia is part of China’s multibillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative to expand trade by building ports, railways and other infrastructure across an arc of dozens of countries from the South Pacific through Asia to the Middle East, Europe and Africa.
The Shanghai Cooperation Organization was formed by Russia and China as a counterweight to US influence. The group also includes India, Pakistan and the four ex-Soviet Central Asian nations of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Iran is on track to receive full membership.


Biden says US is ‘going to take care of’ Chinese balloon

Biden says US is ‘going to take care of’ Chinese balloon
Updated 54 min ago

Biden says US is ‘going to take care of’ Chinese balloon

Biden says US is ‘going to take care of’ Chinese balloon
  • Biden made his remark in response to a question about whether the United States would shoot down the high-altitude surveillance balloon

SYRACUSE, United States: President Joe Biden said on Saturday that the United States is “going to take care of” a suspected Chinese spy balloon that has been tracked flying across the United States.
Biden made his remark in response to a question about whether the United States would shoot down the high-altitude surveillance balloon, which has been flying across the country in what Washington calls a “clear violation” of US sovereignty.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken postponed a visit to China that had been expected to start on Friday because of the balloon.
The president did not elaborate on what was planned. Military leaders considered shooting down the high-altitude surveillance balloon this week but eventually recommended against this because of the risk of falling debris, officials said.
China expressed regret that an “airship” used for civilian meteorological and other scientific purposes had strayed into US airspace.
The Pentagon said on Friday that another Chinese balloon was observed over Latin America, without saying where exactly.


Austrian avalanches leave three dead

Austrian avalanches leave three dead
Updated 04 February 2023

Austrian avalanches leave three dead

Austrian avalanches leave three dead
  • "One winter sports enthusiast was killed in an avalanche in Kaltenbach on Saturday," said a police spokesman
  • A 32-year-old Chinese man, also said to be skiing away from the designated routes, died in an avalanche in the resort of Soelden

VIENNA: A series of avalanches in Austria has left three people dead since Friday, as the ski season gets into full swing, with authorities warning of the risks posed by a particularly unstable snow cover.
“One winter sports enthusiast was killed in an avalanche in Kaltenbach on Saturday,” a police spokesman told AFP, declining to give any information about the circumstances of the accident in the small Alpine village.
According to the Austrian news agency APA, the victim was a 17-year-old New Zealander who was skiing off-piste.
On Friday, a 32-year-old Chinese man, also said to be skiing away from the designated routes, died in an avalanche in the resort of Soelden.
A third victim was found dead Saturday after being reported missing the previous day.
APA reported that the man was 50 years old and died in the Kleinwalsertal valley on the border with Germany.
Over the past two days, intensive snowfall and wind have increased the avalanche danger in the Alpine Tyrol and Vorarlberg regions.
Warnings have been issued in both these popular ski resort regions, urging winter sports enthusiasts to exercise caution.
However an alert level four, on a scale of five, has not prevented many holidaymakers from venturing off the marked slopes, authorities said.
The avalanche situation also led to numerous rescue operations on Saturday, made hazardous by the weather conditions.
The February school holidays have begun in Vienna and resorts have filled up, after a gloomy start to the season, marked by the absence of snow at low and medium altitudes.
In recent years, in Austria, a leading winter sports destination, there have been an annual average of 20 deaths on the slopes.


Ukraine, Russia swap prisoners; bodies of British volunteers returned

Ukraine, Russia swap prisoners; bodies of British volunteers returned
Updated 04 February 2023

Ukraine, Russia swap prisoners; bodies of British volunteers returned

Ukraine, Russia swap prisoners; bodies of British volunteers returned
  • The Ukrainian president's chief of staff said 116 Ukrainians had been returned
  • Russian news agencies cited Moscow's defence ministry saying 63 Russian POWs had been freed

DUBAI: Ukraine and Russia traded almost 200 prisoners of war in a swap announced separately by both sides on Saturday, with the bodies of two British volunteers also being sent back to Ukraine.
The Ukrainian president’s chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, said 116 Ukrainians had been returned, while Russian news agencies cited Moscow’s defense ministry saying 63 Russian POWs had been freed.
“We managed to return 116 of our people, defenders of Mariupol, partisans from Kherson, snipers from the Bakhmut (front) and other heroes of ours,” Yermak wrote on Telegram.
Yermak also said the bodies of British volunteer aid workers Andrew Bagshaw and Chris Parry had been sent back to Ukraine.
Bagshaw and Parry were killed during an attempted humanitarian evacuation in eastern Ukraine in January, Parry’s family has previously said.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said the released Russian servicemen included “sensitive category” persons.


Islamophobia ‘every bit as big an issue as racism,’ says Jemima Khan

Islamophobia ‘every bit as big an issue as racism,’ says Jemima Khan
Updated 04 February 2023

Islamophobia ‘every bit as big an issue as racism,’ says Jemima Khan

Islamophobia ‘every bit as big an issue as racism,’ says Jemima Khan
  • ‘It’s hard to make a film where Muslims are the good guys in America,’ says screenwriter ahead of new release
  • ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It?’ also explores pros, cons of dating, arranged marriage

LONDON: Islamophobia is “every bit as big an issue as racism,” UK screenwriter Jemima Khan has told Sky News ahead of the release of her new film “What’s Love Got To Do With It?”

The ex-wife of former Pakistani cricketer and Prime Minister Imran Khan spoke to the channel about the rom-com — inspired by her own life — which explores Islamophobia as well as the “pros and cons of both styles” of dating and arranged marriage, “whether it’s too much choice with apps” or “too little choice with arranged marriage.”

The main character of “What’s Love Got To Do With It,” Zoe, is a filmmaker. The release explores narratives surrounding Islamophobia on screen, as well as the subject of arranged marriage.

“It’s always the Pakistani who’s the terrorist or the suicide bomber or the fanatic. There’s that particular line (in the film) ... ‘We’ve got to leave the airport … We have to leave early because I need to leave time to be randomly selected’,” Jemima said.

“I’m aware from experience of traveling with my kids, particularly to America where we have to leave extra time in between any flight connections because they have Pakistani names that are not Anglicized — Sulaiman and Kasim Khan — they do get taken off and questioned in a way that I don’t.

“It’s hard to make a film where Muslims are the good guys in America … where they’re much more familiar with Muslims playing the baddies. Islamophobia I think is a real issue. I think it’s every bit as big an issue as racism.”

The late Princess Diana’s marriage to then-Prince Charles was “essentially arranged,” Jemima said, discussing the film’s other topic.

She added that arranged marriages are a cross-cultural phenomenon, discussing the high-profile marriage of Princess Diana — whom she enjoyed a close friendship with — and Charles.

“Their marriage was essentially arranged. It used to happen here, even with our royal family. I know it can often seem like a really alien concept, but most marriages even in the world today are arranged if you look at the global population,” Jemima said.

“It wasn’t so long ago that it was kind of the norm even in the UK. There’s a real issue where arranged marriage keeps getting conflated with forced marriage.

“As I get older, I think, if I had parents who could have agreed — and were functional and good at these things — I definitely could have benefited from being introduced to suitable candidates.”

Her relocation to Pakistan aged 21 dispelled some of her beliefs surrounding arranged marriage, she told Sky News, adding that she had “quite a standard, fairly negative idea about arranged marriage and how it fits into the modern world.”

She saw “very successful and happy arranged marriages,” but noticed that they failed to be represented in mass media.

“What’s Love Got To Do With It?” releases on Feb. 24 in the UK.


UK Muslim groups linked to extremism face funding cuts, increased monitoring

UK Muslim groups linked to extremism face funding cuts, increased monitoring
Updated 04 February 2023

UK Muslim groups linked to extremism face funding cuts, increased monitoring

UK Muslim groups linked to extremism face funding cuts, increased monitoring
  • Anti-extremism Prevent program facing overhaul ahead of inquiry release

LONDON: Muslim groups in the UK linked to the promotion of extremism are set to face funding cuts and greater monitoring under plans presented by UK Home Secretary Suella Braverman, The Times newspaper has reported.

The plans to overhaul Britain’s anti-extremism program — Prevent — comes ahead of the expected release next week of the long-awaited results of the Shawcross review of the program.

Sources told The Times that the review will criticize Prevent for failing to clamp down on, and in some cases financially supporting, Muslim groups linked to extremism.

Some such groups received funding from Prevent’s $48 million reserves allocated to support community groups tackling extremism, the report will claim.

Reviews of the charity statuses of Muslim organizations, which could lead to a loss of tax breaks, are also likely to follow.

Seven of the 13 terrorist attacks carried out in Britain in the past six years were undertaken by people known to the Prevent program, leading to criticism over the scheme’s ability to deter violence, and a surge in Prevent referrals — including 2,127 schoolboys — has led to concerns that the program is failing to stop those classed as “vulnerable” from turning to terror.

Right-wing radicals made up the second largest group of referrals to Prevent for the second year running, with 1,309.

The Shawcross report is expected to argue that Prevent has focused too heavily on right-wing extremism, ignoring the threat of radical Islamism.

One key reform that will apparently be included in the report is a requirement that every Prevent case review panel include at least one individual with experience in law enforcement, including police, intelligence and counter-terrorism.

The report — which has faced significant delays following internal disputes — will also argue that Britain’s domestic intelligence service, MI5, as well as counterterrorism authorities, should be given greater access to the inner workings of the Prevent program in an effort to roll back the transformation of the scheme into an “extension of social services.”

As part of that proposal, local authorities and community organizations will also have less influence in deciding whether at-risk individuals should be targeted by Prevent.

Braverman will review the proposals and is expected to move forward with reforms later this year.

-ENDS-