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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Ukraine’s Zelensky named Time’s 2022 ‘Person of the Year’

Ukraine’s Zelensky named Time’s 2022 ‘Person of the Year’
Updated 58 min 9 sec ago

Ukraine’s Zelensky named Time’s 2022 ‘Person of the Year’

Ukraine’s Zelensky named Time’s 2022 ‘Person of the Year’
  • The former comedian rallied his compatriots in broadcasts from the capital and traveled across his war-torn nation
  • On Tuesday, Zelenskiy visited Ukrainian troops near the front lines in eastern Ukraine

DUBAI: Time magazine named Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky 2022’s “Person of the Year” on Wednesday, saying he inspired Ukrainians and won global accolades for his courage in resisting Russia’s devastating invasion.
Refusing to leave Ukraine’s capital of Kyiv at the outbreak of the war as Russian bombs rained down, the former comedian rallied his compatriots in broadcasts from the capital and traveled across his war-torn nation, the publication noted in bestowing its annual title.
On Tuesday, Zelensky visited Ukrainian troops near the front lines in eastern Ukraine.
“Zelensky’s success as a wartime leader has relied on the fact that courage is contagious. It spread through Ukraine’s political leadership in the first days of the invasion, as everyone realized the president had stuck around,” Time wrote in acknowledging the 44-year-old leader.
Tesla Inc. Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk was named Time’s “Person of the Year” in 2021, a year that saw his electric car company become the most valuable carmaker in the world. Time began this tradition in 1927.


155 lightly injured in train collision near Barcelona

155 lightly injured in train collision near Barcelona
Updated 07 December 2022

155 lightly injured in train collision near Barcelona

155 lightly injured in train collision near Barcelona

MADRID: More than 150 people were lightly injured Wednesday when a train ran into the back of another at a station near Barcelona, the emergency services and Spain’s Renfe rail operator said Wednesday.
A spokeswoman for the SEM regional emergency services said the vast majority of those hurt in the collision which occurred just before 8:00 am (0700 GMT) sustained light injuries, while five were in moderate condition.
“There was a collision between two trains at 7:50 am at the Montcada i Reixac-Manresa station, on the line heading to Barcelona, that’s to say one train ran into the back of another,” a spokesman for the state rail operator told AFP.
Rail traffic along the line was suspended in both directions and Renfe had opened an investigation into what happened, he said.
“There were 155 people affected of which 150 were lightly injured and five who were moderately hurt,” a spokeswoman told AFP.
She said 18 medical units had been deployed to the area, which lies some 10 kilometers (six miles) north of Barcelona.


Germany busts far-right terror cell planning parliament attack

Germany busts far-right terror cell planning parliament attack
Updated 07 December 2022

Germany busts far-right terror cell planning parliament attack

Germany busts far-right terror cell planning parliament attack
  • Raids targeted alleged members of “Citizens of the Reich” (Reichsbuerger) movement
  • Two of the 25 arrests were made abroad

FRANKFURT: German police staged nationwide raids on Wednesday and arrested 25 people suspected of belonging to a far-right “terror cell” plotting to overthrow the government and attack parliament.
Around 3,000 officers including elite anti-terror units took part in the early morning raids and searched more than 130 properties, in what German media described as one of the country’s largest police actions ever against extremists.
The raids targeted alleged members of the “Citizens of the Reich” (Reichsbuerger) movement suspected of “having made concrete preparations to violently force their way into the German parliament with a small armed group,” federal prosecutors said in a statement.
Those arrested are accused of having formed “a terrorist group by the end of November 2021 at the latest, which had set itself the goal of overcoming the existing state order in Germany and replacing it with their own kind of state,” they said.
Two of the 25 arrests were made abroad, in Austria and Italy.
The prosecutors in Karlsruhe said they had identified a further 27 people as suspected members or supporters of the terror network.
The Reichsbuerger movement includes neo-Nazis, conspiracy theorists and gun enthusiasts who reject the legitimacy of the modern German republic.
Long dismissed as malcontents and oddballs, the Reichsbuerger have become increasingly radicalized in recent years and are seen as a growing security threat.
Former soldiers are believed to be among the members of the recently established terror group, federal prosecutors said.
“The accused are united by a deep rejection of state institutions and the free, democratic basic order of the Federal Republic of Germany,” they said.
The suspects were aware that their plan “could only be realized by using military means and violence against state representatives,” they added.
Justice Minister Marco Buschmann praised the dismantling of the “suspected terror cell” on Twitter, saying it showed that Germany was able to defend its democracy.
Reichsbuerger followers generally believe in the continued existence of the pre-war German Reich, or empire, as it stood under the Nazis, and several groups have declared their own states.
They typically deny the authority of police and other state institutions.
According to prosecutors, the terror cell suspects believe in Reichsbuerger and QAnon conspiracy theories and are “strongly convinced” that Germany is run by a “deep state” that needs to be toppled.
They allegedly planned to appoint one of the arrested suspects, Heinrich XIII P.R., as Germany’s new leader after the coup.
He had already sought to make contact with Russian officials to discuss Germany’s “new state order” after the coup, prosecutors said.
There was however “no indication that the contact persons responded positively to his request.”
A Russian woman named as Vitalia B., who was among those arrested on Wednesday, is suspected of having facilitated those contacts, prosecutors added.
As part of the preparations for the coup, members of the alleged terror cell acquired weapons, organized shooting practice and tried to recruit new followers, particularly among the military and police, according to prosecutors.
Germany’s domestic intelligence service estimates that the Reichsbuerger scene consists of around 20,000 people.
Of those, more than 2,000 are deemed potentially violent.
Germany considers far-right terrorism the biggest threat to its security following a spate of attacks in recent years.
In April, police foiled a plot by a far-right group to kidnap the health minister.
The group was affiliated with the Reichsbuerger movement and the so-called “Querdenker” (Lateral Thinkers) group that opposed the government’s coronavirus-related shutdowns.


‘Humanity has become a weapon of mass extinction,’ warns UN chief

‘Humanity has become a weapon of mass extinction,’ warns UN chief
Updated 07 December 2022

‘Humanity has become a weapon of mass extinction,’ warns UN chief

‘Humanity has become a weapon of mass extinction,’ warns UN chief
  • “As you can also see Canada is a place of free expression, where individuals and communities are free to express themselves openly and strongly, and we thank them for sharing their perspectives,” said Trudeau in response

MONTREAL: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Tuesday slammed multinational corporations for turning the world’s ecosystems into “playthings of profit” and warned failure to correct course would lead to catastrophic results.
“With our bottomless appetite for unchecked and unequal economic growth, humanity has become a weapon of mass extinction,” he said, in a speech ahead of biodiversity talks in Montreal.
Since taking office in 2017, Guterres, a former Portuguese prime minister, has made climate change his signature issue.
His fiery denunciations at the ceremonial opening of the conference, known as COP15, revealed the plight of the planet’s endangered plants and animals — an interconnected crisis — are equally close to his heart.
Before he took the dais, a group of around half a dozen Indigenous protesters interrupted a speech by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who is co-hosting the event with China.
They waved a banner that read “Indigenous genocide = Ecocide” and “To save biodiversity stop invading our land,” and chanted for a few minutes before they were escorted out, to a smattering of applause.
“As you can also see Canada is a place of free expression, where individuals and communities are free to express themselves openly and strongly, and we thank them for sharing their perspectives,” said Trudeau in response.
The meeting is not to be confused with another set of UN talks earlier this month, which were on climate and called COP27.

Nearly 200 countries have gathered for the December 7-19 meeting in an effort to hammer out a “Paris moment” for nature.
The challenges are daunting: one million species are at risk of extinction; one-third of all land is severely degraded and fertile soil is being lost; while pollution and climate change are accelerating degradation of the oceans.
Chemicals, plastics and air pollution are choking land, water and air, while planetary heating brought about by burning fossil fuels are causing climate chaos — from heatwaves and forest fires to droughts and floods.
“We are treating nature like a toilet,” Guterres said bluntly.
“And ultimately, we are committing suicide by proxy” he added — with the impacts felt on jobs, hunger, disease and death.
Economic losses from ecosystem degradation, meanwhile, are estimated to stand at $3 trillion annually from 2030.
Ahead of the talks, AFP spoke to Elizabeth Mrema, the head of the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), who said failure was not an option.
“For the Paris agreement to succeed, biodiversity also has to succeed. For climate to succeed, nature has to succeed, and that’s why we have to deal with them together,” she said.
Draft targets for the 10-year framework include a cornerstone pledge to protect 30 percent of the world’s land and seas by 2030, eliminating harmful fishing and agriculture subsidies, tackling invasive species and reducing pesticides.
The new goal will rely heavily on the involvement of Indigenous peoples, who steward land that is home to around 80 percent of Earth’s remaining biodiversity.
Divisions have already emerged on the key issue of financing, with wealthy countries under pressure to funnel more money to developing nations for conservation.
Hopes have already been tempered by the absence of world leaders: Canada’s Trudeau will be the only in attendance.
COP15 is currently chaired by China, but it is not hosting the meeting because of the Covid pandemic.

 


Trump Organization convicted of tax fraud in New York

Trump Organization convicted of tax fraud in New York
Updated 07 December 2022

Trump Organization convicted of tax fraud in New York

Trump Organization convicted of tax fraud in New York
  • Trump and his three eldest children face a trial late next year in a civil lawsuit by New York’s attorney general that accuses them of misstating the value of properties to enrich themselves

NEW YORK: Donald Trump’s family business was found guilty of tax fraud by a New York jury Tuesday, dealing a blow to the ex-president as he eyes the White House again.
The Trump Organization and separate entity the Trump Payroll Corp. were found guilty on all counts, marking the first time the companies had ever been convicted of crimes.
“This was a case about greed and cheating,” said Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who prosecuted the case.
Trump himself was not charged but the fact the sprawling real-estate, hotel and golf business that bears his name is now a convicted felon is likely to inflict damage to his reputation as he seeks the Republican nomination for the presidency in 2024.
The two entities were convicted of running a 13-year-scheme to defraud and evade taxes by falsifying business records. In all, they were found guilty on 17 counts.
Jurors agreed with prosecutors that the Trump Organization — currently run by Trump’s two adult sons, Donald Jr and Eric Trump — hid compensation it paid to top executives between 2005 and 2021.
Longtime CFO Allen Weisselberg, had already pleaded guilty to 15 counts of tax fraud, and testified against his former company as part of a plea bargain. He did not implicate Trump during the trial.
A close friend of the Trump family, the 75-year-old Weisselberg admitted he schemed with the company to receive undeclared benefits such as a rent-free apartment in a posh Manhattan neighborhood, luxury cars for him and his wife and private school tuition for his grandchildren.
According to his plea deal, Weisselberg agreed to pay nearly $2 million in fines and penalties and complete a five-month prison sentence in exchange for testimony during the trial, which started in October.
Trump, posting on his social media platform, said the Trump Organization bore no responsibility for “Weisselberg committing tax fraud on his personal tax returns.”
Under the headline “Manhattan Witch Hunt!” Trump said no benefit accrued to the company from Weisselberg’s actions, and that neither he nor any employees were “allowed to legally view” the CFO’s returns.
Trump said he was “disappointed with the verdict” and will appeal.

Trump’s company faces a fine of around $1.5 million, a paltry sum to the billionaire real estate developer.
It’s symbolic though as he battles a host of legal and congressional probes that will likely complicate his run for a second presidential term, announced in Florida last month.
Trump and his three eldest children face a trial late next year in a civil lawsuit by New York’s attorney general that accuses them of misstating the value of properties to enrich themselves.
Prosecutor Letitia James has requested that Trump pay at least $250 million in penalties — a sum she says he made from the fraud — and that his family be banned from running businesses in the state.
James, a Democrat, hailed Tuesday’s verdict.
“We can have no tolerance for individuals or organizations that violate our laws to line their pockets,” she said.
Trump has been ordered to testify in April 2023 as part of a defamation lawsuit brought by a woman who says he raped her in the 1990s.
He is also facing legal scrutiny for his efforts to overturn the results of the November 2020 election and over the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol by his supporters.