Zelensky discredits Russian referendums, thanks Saudi Crown Prince for prisoner swap’s ‘brilliant result’

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Updated 04 October 2022

Zelensky discredits Russian referendums, thanks Saudi Crown Prince for prisoner swap’s ‘brilliant result’

Zelensky discredits Russian referendums, thanks Saudi Crown Prince for prisoner swap’s ‘brilliant result’
  • Nuclear threats by Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov ‘should not be taken seriously,’ says Ukrainian president
  • Iran slammed for lying and continuing to send kamikaze drones for use against Ukraine
  • Arab countries and business welcome to invest and contribute to rebuilding Ukrainian cities and sectors 

RIYADH: Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, has called Russian President Vladimir Putin’s referendums and accords formally recognizing the annexation of territories in eastern Ukraine a “bloody PR-(stunt) based on human victims.”

“I’m not sure what kind of referendums they had. We don’t have any such referendums in Ukraine. We don’t have any law even for that purpose,” Zelensky told Frankly Speaking host Katie Jensen in an exclusive interview via Zoom video link from Kyiv.

Referendums across Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson saw an overwhelming majority voting to join the Russian Federation, in a process that many international observers believe was rigged.

Zelensky also rebuffed Putin’s recent claims of major victories on the battlefield. Just last week, Ukrainian forces retook the strategic eastern town of Lyman located in one of the four regions annexed by Russia, prompting Moscow to announce the “withdrawal” of its troops to “more favorable lines.”

“What they declare is clearly different from what they can do. They said they will occupy our territory, our nation. But in eight months of the war, I can tell you that we won back yet another city, the city of Lyman in Donetsk Oblast, exactly the one that Russia declared as fully occupied a couple of days ago,” said Zelensky.

“I can assure Russia and the Russian people that, unlike Russia, we are not interested in Russian territories. We are interested in our territory, in our borders based on the international recognition from 1991.”




Zelensky speaking to Frankly Speaking host Katie Jensen in an exclusive interview via Zoom video link from Kyiv. (Screenshot/AN Photo)

The war in Ukraine has shaken the region and the global geopolitical and economic order due to shifts in the trade of energy, the rising cost of oil and gas, and the reconfiguration of supply chains.

More than six million Ukrainians fled to nearby countries. Meanwhile, diplomatic tensions have mounted as nations are pressed to choose a side. There is also growing concern for global food security.

News of Putin’s annexation of four Ukrainian regions has put world leaders on edge once more, as there appears to be no clear end to the war in sight. 

For Zelensky, there are three components that will contribute to Ukraine’s eventual success.

“I think it’s a great victory for any nation worldwide when its people are united and people are able to leave some minor squabbles and historical discrepancies. This is very important,” he said.

“Another important step is that we are advancing against the world’s second biggest army, and we are able to show that the true strength is in unity, not in armaments.

“The third victory is, we have been able to unite Europe and the whole world. You know, before it was much more like everyone stands for him or herself. Now we see this unification and we see that there will be many more challenges also internationally, and there will be more of them.”

Despite Zelensky’s note of optimism, Moscow has vowed to never give up its newly annexed areas and to defend them with all means available. Ramzan Kadyrov, leader of the Chechen Republic, has even gone so far as to suggest the use of low-grade nuclear weapons in Ukraine.

Zelensky dismissed these threats, branding Kadyrov a “terrorist who was not even elected by his own people.”

“This is not serious. Come on. In (the) modern world, how can someone threaten others with nuclear weapons? Yeah, we have lots of terrorists worldwide. We have killers, but I cannot condescend to talk to a terrorist like that,” he said.

Since the annexations, Zelensky has signed a request asking for the acceleration of the process of Ukraine joining NATO. However, many skeptics view this as a futile request, especially given the response from Washington did not signal any immediate action.

On Saturday, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the US believes Ukraine’s NATO application “should be taken up at a different time.”

“Right now, our view is that the best way for us to support Ukraine is through practical, on-the-ground support in Ukraine and that the process in Brussels should be taken up at a different time,” said Sullivan.

In spite of this, Zelensky said countries should “pay attention just to the facts, not just to the words.”




Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during a meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s Special Envoy Rustem Umerov in September. (SPA)

“We had statements from 10 allies, NATO members, with full support for Ukraine,” he said. The country should join NATO “as soon as possible.”

“I would rather say not when, in terms of time, but in terms of geography. I think it might happen when we will be standing at our borders.”

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian actor-turned-wartime leader also repeated his rejection of Putin’s offer to negotiate, firmly reiterating that he will only negotiate with a different president.

“We did warn them, if you want to launch these fake referendums, there will be no further talks with the president of the Russian Federation, for if the Russian president cannot respect the law, international law, the constitution, and by the way, not just our constitution, but that of his own country, he should not be violating our territorial integrity if this happens,” Zelensky said.

“Am I in a position to talk to him? He’s not a president.”

However, there does seem to be room for mediation and initiatives that could help to solve different pressing issues such as prisoner swaps and the release of Black Sea grain from Ukraine’s southern ports.  

Just last month, Saudi Arabia brokered a prisoner swap between Russia and Ukraine, playing an important diplomatic role between the warring nations.




Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman last month held successful mediation sessions to release ten prisoners from various countries from Russia. (SPA)

“I’d like to thank Saudi Arabia for the effort,” said Zelensky. “Given the ties that the crown prince has with Russia, probably it was, you know, a good chance of success, and I’m very much thankful to him for this brilliant result.”

The deal saw almost 300 people, including 10 foreigners, returned to their homelands, the first of very few breakthroughs since the war began.

The Saudi Foreign Ministry said at the time that the initiative was based on the support of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and in continuation of his efforts to adopt humanitarian initiatives toward the Russia-Ukraine crisis.

“We are open to any proposals when it is about the results to be achieved, the results of such efforts,” said Zelensky. 

While Saudi Arabia has been trying to mediate, Iran has been accused of lying to top Ukrainian officials and selling drones to Russia.

Ukrainian forces shot down Iranian kamikaze drones sold to Russia in an effort to target civilians, which led Zelensky to dismiss Iranian diplomats from the country.

“It is sad that we have to recognize that the Iranian government is lying, as the Russian Federation government is, because we had contact with Iran’s leaders at the topmost level. We talked to the embassy, we had the ambassadors called up to the Ministry of External Affairs, and we were assured that nothing was sold to Russia, it wasn’t their drones, and nothing of the kind,” he said.




During his interview, Zelensky rebuffed Putin’s recent claims of major victories on the battlefield. (AN Photo/Screenshot)

“We have a number of these downed Iranian drones, and these have been sold to Russia to kill our people, and they are — you’re right — they are being used against civilian infrastructure and civilians, peaceful civilians. Because of that, we sent Iranian diplomats away from the country. We have nothing to talk with them about.”

While the war rages on, Zelensky has also been looking to the future and insists there are big opportunities for Arab nations to invest in the rebuilding of Ukraine.

“We would really love to see Arab businesses, and (for) Arab countries to be present, working in our country. We are ready to offer wonderful terms and conditions for businesses, fiscal, and so on. And there is also one ambitious aim for every country willing to come to Ukraine with an idea of recovery.”

“There will be a possibility for private companies, for Arab countries as well, because it is about rebuilding — recovering the whole of the state, of the nation.”

However, a recent Arab News/YouGov study conducted in May showed that a majority (66 percent) of Arabs felt indifferent toward the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Furthermore, a majority of respondents from the Arab world expressed a view that the blame for the war lies not with Russia but with US President Joe Biden and with NATO for not allowing Ukraine to join years ago — a finding Zelensky challenged. 

“Truly, this war was started by Russia, and Russia is the only one to blame. What else could the united West do to avoid it? Maybe they could do more, but to blame the US, that they, the war is because of them, this is not just, this is not true. Only Russia is guilty of that,” he said.

Among countries in the GCC, Levant and North Africa, although NATO is perceived more often as the party responsible for the conflict, the apportioning of blame is more balanced. People in the Gulf states, for example, blame NATO (23 percent) only marginally more than they do Russia (19 percent).

Despite opting to condemn Russian aggression during a UN vote last March, major Arab countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE, have remained largely neutral, and expressed a desire to mediate between Moscow and Kyiv. 

Arab News Disclaimer

* It is important to note that since the beginning of this war, Arab News has reached out numerous times to various Russian officials for comment. Most recently the newspaper also reached out to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs official spokesperson, Maria Zakharova, to appear on Frankly Speaking.

To date, all of our interview requests have fallen on deaf ears. However, Arab News wishes to reiterate that in our adherence to our professional duty, Ms. Zakharova’s invitation to appear on Frankly Speaking remains open, and the program looks forward to having her on this show whenever she accepts.

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Russia’s Lavrov vows aid for West Africa’s extremist fight

Russia’s Lavrov vows aid for West Africa’s extremist fight
Updated 07 February 2023

Russia’s Lavrov vows aid for West Africa’s extremist fight

Russia’s Lavrov vows aid for West Africa’s extremist fight
  • Lavrov made the remarks at a press conference during a visit to Bamako that the Russian envoy described as a ‘historic’ first
  • Lavrov promised Mali further military support and declared Russia’s wider backing for Africa in the face of what he described as the West’s ‘neo-colonial approach’

BAMAKO: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday promised the Kremlin’s help for states in West Africa’s Sahel and the Gulf of Guinea which are facing a ruthless extremist insurgency.
“The fight against terrorism is of course an issue for the other countries in the region,” Lavrov said during a visit to Mali, which Russia is already helping militarily.
“We are going to provide our assistance to them to overcome these difficulties. This concerns Guinea, Burkina Faso and Chad and the Sahel region generally and even the coastal states on the Gulf of Guinea,” he said.
Lavrov made the remarks at a press conference during a visit to Bamako that the Russian envoy described as a “historic” first.
Since seizing power in 2020, Mali’s ruling junta has brought in Russian planes, helicopters and paramilitaries to strengthen its fight against extremist militants.
The closer ties with the Kremlin have coincided with the departure of France, the country’s former colony and traditional ally, which says the Russian operatives are Wagner mercenaries.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the UN have implicated Wagner and the Malian army in an alleged massacre at Moura in central Mali last March in which several hundred people were rounded up and killed.
The landlocked state is the epicenter of an extremist insurgency that began in northern Mali in 2012 and spread to neighboring Niger and Burkina Faso in 2015.
Thousands of civilians have died across the three countries, and millions have fled their homes.
Discontent within the military in Mali and Burkina has spurred two coups in both countries.
Sporadic cross-border attacks have also taken place in Togo, Benin and Ivory Coast in recent years, spurring fears that the extremists are seeking to push southwards to the Gulf of Guinea.
France wound down its long-running military presence in Mali in the face of mounting hostility with the junta and pulled out its last troops in 2022.
Similar tensions have recently broken out between France and Burkina Faso. The French military contingent there, a unit of special forces numbering around 400 men, is to be withdrawn this month.
Lavrov promised Mali further military support and declared Russia’s wider backing for Africa in the face of what he described as the West’s “neo-colonial approach.”
“We are going to provide our support for resolving problems on the African continent,” he said.
“We always start from the basis that African problems must be resolved by African solutions.”


German court rejects climate lawsuit against automaker BMW

German court rejects climate lawsuit against automaker BMW
Updated 07 February 2023

German court rejects climate lawsuit against automaker BMW

German court rejects climate lawsuit against automaker BMW
  • The group Environmental Action Germany argued that manufacturers such as BMW pose a threat to people's right to property, health and life if they continue making vehicles that produce greenhouse gas emissions

BERLIN: A German court on Tuesday rejected a lawsuit by environmental campaigners seeking to force automaker BMW to stop selling vehicles with combustion engine by 2030.
The group Environmental Action Germany, also known by its German acronym DUH, argued that manufacturers such as BMW pose a threat to people’s right to property, health and life if they continue making vehicles that produce greenhouse gas emissions.
The Munich regional court ruled Tuesday that while the plaintiffs’ arguments couldn’t be dismissed from the outset, “at present there is no threat of illegal encroachment” of their rights.
Judges noted that German and European lawmakers, spurred partly by a 2021 ruling by Germany’s top court, have taken numerous measures to achieve the goals of the 2015 Paris climate accord. As such there was no absence of laws that would warrant civil action against BMW “at last not at this time,” they said.
The Munich-based automaker welcomed the ruling, saying efforts to cut emissions should be determined by democratically elected parliaments, not in the courts.
DUH said it was satisfied the court had recognized the permissibility of their lawsuit in principle. It plans to appeal the ruling.
The group said vehicles sold by BMW in 2021 were responsible for more emissions of planet-heating carbon dioxide than countries such as Finland or Portugal produce in a year.
A similar lawsuit against Mercedes-Benz was rejected by a German court last year and the appeal is pending.
A third lawsuit, against energy company Wintershall Dea, is scheduled to be heard in August.


Calls mount on Philippine government to review labor agreements with Kuwait 

Calls mount on Philippine government to review labor agreements with Kuwait 
Updated 07 February 2023

Calls mount on Philippine government to review labor agreements with Kuwait 

Calls mount on Philippine government to review labor agreements with Kuwait 
  • In 2018 and 2020, the Philippines banned worker deployment to Kuwait after murder cases
  • Over 268,000 Filipino workers, mostly women employed as domestic helpers, live in Kuwait 

MANILA: Philippine lawmakers are calling on the government to review labor agreements with Kuwait after increasing reports of abuse, including a brutal murder, of Filipino migrant workers. 

The murder of 35-year-old maid Jullebee Ranara, whose charred body was found abandoned in a desert in late January, had sent shockwaves across the Philippines. She was one of over 268,000 Filipino workers living in Kuwait, a group of mostly women employed as domestic helpers. 

After Ranara’s murder, Philippine authorities tightened rules for recruitment agencies in Kuwait. In another case that emerged in the media recently, a Filipina worker in Kuwait was reportedly paralyzed after trying to escape her abusive employer. 

“There is growing clamor for a review of all labor agreements entered by the Philippines with countries of destination to determine specific guidelines and mechanisms needed for the protection of their human rights,” lawmaker Marissa Magsino said in a resolution introduced in the House of Representatives on Monday. 

The agreements, Magsino said, must not only ensure the welfare of overseas Filipino workers and guarantee their access to legal support but also “provide for serious consequences” in cases of abuse. 

She told Arab News on Tuesday that such bilateral labor agreements are very important, “especially with Kuwait,” where about 100 overseas Filipino workers were now at a shelter, waiting for repatriation. 

“They are those who were maltreated, abused, and then they ran away (from their employer),” the lawmaker, who is also a member of the House’s Overseas Workers Affairs committee, said. 

“The only reason why they are in the shelter is that it’s the last recourse for them to seek refuge, to be able to run away from their abusive employers.” 

Ranara’s murder was not the first such incident in Kuwait, where the 2018 killing of a Filipina domestic helper, Joanna Daniela Demafelis, whose body was found in a freezer at an abandoned apartment, led to the Philippines imposing a worker deployment ban to the Gulf country. 

The ban was partially lifted that same year after the two countries signed a protection agreement for workers. 

But it was again introduced in January 2020, after the 2019 killings of Filipina maid Constancia Lago Dayag and Jeanelyn Villavende, who was tortured by her employer to death. 

The ban was lifted when Kuwaiti authorities charged Villavende’s employer with murder and sentenced her to hanging. 

According to Sen. Rafael Tulfo, another ban might be needed following the latest incidents. He has also called for a “tighter screening process on foreign employers to avoid abuse and maltreatment of (Overseas Filipino Workers),” his office said in a statement on Monday. 

“The senator,” the statement said, “maintained that his proposed deployment ban to Kuwait can be used as a leverage when the Philippine government sits down with Kuwait for bilateral talks.” 


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 07 February 2023

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 07 February 2023

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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