Zelensky visits Donbas near ‘difficult’ Ukraine front

Zelensky visits Donbas near ‘difficult’ Ukraine front
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky posing for a selfie picture with a Ukrainian soldier as he visits the Donetsk region, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine on Tuesday. (AFP)
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Updated 06 December 2022

Zelensky visits Donbas near ‘difficult’ Ukraine front

Zelensky visits Donbas near ‘difficult’ Ukraine front
  • The focus of fighting in Ukraine has shifted to Donbas after Kyiv's forces recaptured the southern city of Kherson
  • Zelensky appeared in a video wearing a heavy winter coat, standing next to a large sign in Ukraine's blue and yellow colours bearing the city name Sloviansk

KYIV: President Volodymyr Zelensky on Tuesday visited the frontline region of Donetsk in east Ukraine, describing fighting in the area as “difficult” with Russian forces pushing to capture the industrial city of Bakhmut.
The visit came as Russian President Vladimir Putin convened his security council in the wake of the latest spate of drone attacks on military-linked facilities inside Russian territory.
The focus of fighting in Ukraine has shifted to Donbas after Kyiv’s forces recaptured the southern city of Kherson last month following a Russian retreat from the regional capital.
Zelensky appeared in a video wearing a heavy winter coat, standing next to a large sign in Ukraine’s blue and yellow colors bearing the city name Sloviansk and calling for a moment of silence to commemorate killed Ukrainian soldiers.
“The east of Ukraine today is the most difficult front. And I am honored to be here now with our defending troops in Donbas. I believe that next time we will meet in our Ukrainian Donetsk and Lugansk and in Crimea as well,” Zelensky said.
Russian forces and their proxies have controlled parts of Donetsk and Lugansk since 2014, when fighting with separatists broke out and the Kremlin annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine.
“From the bottom of my heart, I congratulate you on this great holiday, the Day of the Armed Forces,” said Zelensky, who was later shown meeting soldiers and distributing awards.
In the nearby Russian-controlled city of Donetsk, its Moscow-appointed mayor said that Ukrainian shelling had killed six civilians and injured others.
The Ukrainian leader has visited several frontline regions after more than nine months of fighting, including Kherson in the south recently recaptured by Ukrainian forces, calling its recapture “the beginning of the end of the war.”
Sloviansk, which was among regions in Donetsk briefly held by Russian-backed separatists, lies some 45 kilometers (28 miles) north of Bakhmut, which has become the center of fighting since Kherson’s fall.
The Kremlin said Putin met senior officials to discuss issues related to the country’s “domestic security” and that Russia was taking “necessary” measures to fend off more of what it said were Ukrainian attacks.
Officials in Russia’s Kursk region near the border with Ukraine said earlier Tuesday that a drone attack near an airfield had caused a fire at an oil storage unit.
That attack came after the defense ministry said a day earlier that Ukraine had tried to attack another airfield in Ryazan region and also the key Engels airfield in the Saratov region.
Engels is a base for the country’s strategic aircraft that Kyiv says have been used to strike Ukraine, and both sites are hundreds of kilometers away from Ukraine’s border.
The British defense ministry said that if Russia deems Ukraine to have been responsible then Moscow will “probably consider them as some of the most strategically significant failures of force protection since its invasion of Ukraine.”
The drone attacks come on the back of weeks of systematic Russian attacks that have crippled Ukrainian critical infrastructure like water, electricity and heating ahead of winter.
Russia on Monday fired another barrage of dozens of missiles that knocked out power and water in cities across Ukraine, the latest wave of attacks that Moscow has said Kyiv was responsible for because it refused Russian demands.
Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu on Tuesday said that Russian forces were using long-range, precision weapons to target military-linked facilities and “crush the military potential of Ukraine.”
The defense ministry also announced Tuesday it had received back from Ukraine captivity 60 Russian servicemen in their most recent exchange.
Russia’s invasion and its decision to conscript hundreds of thousands of men has set off an exodus of Russians from the country, including critical politicians and journalists.
However, neighboring Latvia announced Tuesday it was revoking the license for exiled independent TV channel Dozhd for multiple violations that included showing the Crimea peninsula annexed from Ukraine as part of Russia.
“The laws of Latvia must be respected by everyone,” Ivars Abolins, head of the Latvian National Electronic Mass Media Council, said on Twitter.


Senior US general warns of possible looming war with China

Senior US general warns of possible looming war with China
Updated 54 min 46 sec ago

Senior US general warns of possible looming war with China

Senior US general warns of possible looming war with China
  • “I hope I am wrong. My gut tells me we will fight in 2025,” says US Air Mobility Command chief
  • Says Taiwan’s presidential elections next year would offer China an excuse for military aggression

WASHINGTON: A four-star US Air Force general has warned of a conflict with China as early as 2025 — most likely over Taiwan — and urged his commanders to push their units to achieve maximum operational battle readiness this year.
In an internal memorandum that first emerged on social media on Friday, and was later confirmed as genuine by the Pentagon, the head of the Air Mobility Command, General Mike Minihan, said the main goal should be to deter “and, if required, defeat” China.
“I hope I am wrong. My gut tells me we will fight in 2025,” Minihan said.
Laying out his reasoning, Minihan said Taiwan’s presidential elections next year would offer Chinese President Xi Jinping an excuse for military aggression, while the United States would be distracted by its own contest for the White House.
“Xi’s team, reason, and opportunity are all aligned for 2025,” he added.
The memorandum also calls on all Mobile Command personnel to go to the firing range, “fire a clip” into a target and “aim for the head.”
A Pentagon spokesperson responded to an AFP email query about the memo saying, “Yes, it’s factual that he sent that out.”
Senior US officials have said in recent months that China appears to be speeding up its timeframe to seize control of Taiwan, a self-governing democracy claimed by Beijing.
China staged major military exercises in August last year, seen as a trial run for an invasion after a defiant visit of solidarity to Taipei by then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who at the time was second in line to the White House.
The United States switched recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979 but sells weapons to Taiwan for its self-defense.
A growing number of US lawmakers have called for ramping up assistance, including sending direct military aid to Taiwan, saying that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine underscores the need for early preparation.
 


Biden names former Covid aide as new White House chief of staff

Biden names former Covid aide as new White House chief of staff
Updated 28 January 2023

Biden names former Covid aide as new White House chief of staff

Biden names former Covid aide as new White House chief of staff
  • Biden has not yet declared he is running again but is widely expected to do so, potentially pitting him again against Trump in 2024

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden on Friday named his former top Covid-19 aide Jeff Zients to White House chief of staff — one of the most crucial positions in an administration gearing up for a likely re-election campaign.
Zients replaces Ron Klain, who saw Biden through the first two years of his term in the post, arguably the most powerful behind-the-scenes job in any US administration. The swap will take place on February 8, a day after Biden delivers his State of the Union address to Congress.
The departure of Klain, who has worked with Biden throughout his decades-long Washington career — from senator to vice president, then victor over Donald Trump in 2020 — will deprive the 80-year-old president of an especially close, trusted aide.
Chiefs of staff do everything from managing access to the president, setting his agenda, communicating with political power brokers and acting as a constant crisis manager and sounding board for ideas.
“During the last 36 years, Ron and I have been through some real battles together. And when you’re in the trenches with somebody for as long as I have been with Ron, you really get to know the person. You see what they’re made of,” Biden said in a statement.
Klain is credited with masterminding the intricate, behind-the-scenes negotiations between the White House and lawmakers in Congress that has seen Biden get a string of landmark bills passed, often against expectations in the last two years.
Until November’s midterm elections, Democrats held a razor-thin majority in both houses of Congress and Klain was instrumental in preventing the various party factions from splitting at key moments.
On Twitter, Biden described Klain as a “once in a generation talent with fierce intellect and heart.”

Zients, who oversaw the vast Covid-19 pandemic response when Biden took office, is considered a skilled technocrat, who does not have the deep political connections of Klain but will aim to make sure that the earlier legislative victories are followed through.
“A big task ahead is now implementing the laws we’ve gotten passed efficiently and fairly,” Biden said.
“When I ran for office, I promised to make government work for the American people. That’s what Jeff does,” Biden said. “I’m confident that Jeff will continue Ron’s example of smart, steady leadership.”
Biden has not yet declared he is running again but is widely expected to do so, potentially pitting him again against Trump in 2024.
Zients will also be taking over just as Republicans flex their muscles in the House of Representatives, where they won their own tiny majority in November. With the hard-right of the party in the ascendant, Biden is due to face a series of aggressive investigations into his policies and the business activities of his son Hunter.
Biden is also currently embroiled in a Justice Department probe after the discovery of a small number of classified documents in his house and at a former office. The White House says the documents were accidentally mislaid after Biden’s time as vice president to Barack Obama.
Trump is also under investigation for handling secret documents, although in his case they number in the hundreds and the Republican repeatedly refused to cooperate with authorities on the matter.

 


Murder of Filipina worker in Kuwait sends shockwave through Philippines

Murder of Filipina worker in Kuwait sends shockwave through Philippines
Updated 28 January 2023

Murder of Filipina worker in Kuwait sends shockwave through Philippines

Murder of Filipina worker in Kuwait sends shockwave through Philippines
  • Jullebee Ranara’s charred remains were discovered in a desert in Kuwait on Sunday
  • In 2018 and 2020, the Philippines banned worker deployment to Kuwait after murder cases

MANILA: The murder of a Filipina worker whose body was found in a desert in Kuwait has sent a shockwave through the Philippines, where a two-week vigil will begin after her remains return to the country on Friday.

Jullebee Ranara, 35, was one of more than 268,000 overseas Filipino workers — mostly women employed as domestic helpers — living in Kuwait.

Her charred remains were discovered in a desert on Sunday. Kuwaiti media reported that she was pregnant and had been subjected to blunt-force trauma. The 17-year-old son of her employer has been arrested by Kuwaiti police on murder charges.

Migrant Workers Secretary Susan Ople declined to comment on the causes of Ranara’s death until after the National Bureau of Investigation has conducted an autopsy.  

“There are many speculations as to the cause of death and motives behind it. The family has requested for an autopsy,” she said in a media briefing on Friday.

“What is important is the police acted quickly. The primary suspect is under the custody of the Kuwaiti police, and we are closely monitoring the case.”

A vigil for Ranara is going to begin after her remains are repatriated on Friday evening.

“We are hopeful that her wake will start by Sunday,” Ople told reporters.

“According to the husband, they would like the wake scheduled for two weeks to give time for relatives and friends who are in the province to pay their respect.”

The news of her death was “dreadful” for former OFWs like Maria Nida Dizon.

“What they did to her is inhuman. She went to Kuwait to work, carrying in her suitcase every hope for a better life, only to meet a gruesome death,” she told Arab News.     

FASTFACT

In 2018 and 2020, the Philippines banned worker deployment to Kuwait after murder cases.

“Based on my own experience, protection for OFWs, especially when it comes to our rights, is hardly felt by migrant workers. There is no guarantee that justice will be given to them when they get abused.”

Dizon, who used to work in the UAE, did not think that Ranara’s case would deter Philippine workers from seeking employment abroad, where they can earn much more than at home.

“Many cases of abuse have been reported, but our countrymen still want to try (to work abroad), especially women, mothers mostly,” she said.

“They think that they can help the family more if they work outside.”

While the migrant workers secretary said Philippine authorities would work with Kuwait to introduce better screening and accreditation mechanisms for employers, Rick Hernandez, a local administration worker in Manila, was now sure he would prevent his family members from working as domestic helpers abroad.

“A lot of Filipinos, especially our women, are willing to brave harsh climes and abusive employers just to provide for their loved ones,” he said.

“As a father and husband, I would rather starve here rather than send my daughter or wife to toil as menials in a faraway country.”   

Kuwait’s Ambassador to the Philippines Musaed Saleh Al-Thwaikh said on Friday that Kuwaiti society was also “shocked and saddened” by the incident.

“Our justice system will not lose sight in ensuring justice for Mrs. Ranara,” he wrote in a letter addressed to Ople.

“We assure you that such an incident is an isolated case.”

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

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

In May 2019, Filipina maid Constancia Lago Dayag was killed in Kuwait, and a few months later, another one, Jeanelyn Villavende, was tortured by her employer to death.   

The Philippines again imposed a worker deployment ban in January 2020, which was lifted when Kuwaiti authorities charged Villavende’s employer with murder and sentenced her to hanging.

 


Denmark in talks with Israel to replace howitzers donated to Ukraine

Defense Minister Jakob Ellemann-Jensen. (Wikipedia)
Defense Minister Jakob Ellemann-Jensen. (Wikipedia)
Updated 28 January 2023

Denmark in talks with Israel to replace howitzers donated to Ukraine

Defense Minister Jakob Ellemann-Jensen. (Wikipedia)

COPENHAGEN: After pledging all 19 of its French-made Caesar howitzers to Ukraine, Denmark is in talks with Israeli arms maker Elbit Systems for new mobile artillery to plug a “critical gap.”
The Defense Ministry said that negotiations were on “with the manufacturer Elbit Systems for the delivery of ATMOS artillery pieces and PULS rocket launcher systems as soon as possible.”
The equipment could be delivered this year, the government said.
“The rocket launchers complement the new artillery systems,” the ministry said.

BACKGROUND

Denmark had ordered 15 mobile long-range howitzers from French company Nexter in 2017, and four more in 2019.

Denmark had ordered 15 mobile long-range howitzers from French company Nexter in 2017, and four more in 2019.
But deliveries have been delayed and only a few have arrived. All of them have been pledged to Ukraine.
The system can carry 36 155 mm shells and reach targets at distances of up to 40 km.
ATMOS can fire six shots per minute and can be mounted on most off-road 8X8 trucks.
The next acquisitions are “important for Denmark’s defense and for Denmark to be able to meet its NATO commitments,” Defense Minister Jakob Ellemann-Jensen said.
“The donation to Ukraine leaves a critical capability gap in defense,” he said.
According to Danish media, Nexter advised Denmark against changing suppliers, saying it could provide new artillery.
“Caesar has proven itself on the battlefield in Ukraine, Danish soldiers can use them and the parts are compatible with Danish military IT systems,” a spokesman for the group said.

 


Lavrov shores up Eritrean support for Russia over Ukraine conflict

Lavrov shores up Eritrean support for Russia over Ukraine conflict
Updated 28 January 2023

Lavrov shores up Eritrean support for Russia over Ukraine conflict

Lavrov shores up Eritrean support for Russia over Ukraine conflict

NAIROBI: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki on a tour of Africa to shore up support for Russia, focusing on the “dynamics of the war in Ukraine,” Eritrea’s information minister said.
Lavrov has been on a week-long charm offensive on the continent, starting in South Africa, which is planning joint military drills with Russia and China, and finishing off with a surprise trip to the reclusive Horn of Africa nation of Eritrea.
South Africa is one of Russia’s most important allies on a continent divided over the invasion and Western attempts to isolate Moscow because of its military actions.
Eritrea is one of the few African countries that voted against a UN resolution condemning Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine although many abstained.

BACKGROUND

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has been on a week-long charm offensive on the African continent, starting in South Africa.

“We are thankful to Eritrean friends for their consistent support of Russian initiatives in the UN,” Lavrov was quoted as saying by Russian state news agency TASS.
He said Asmara had taken a “principled and balanced position on issues regarding the events in Ukraine and around it,” TASS reported, adding that he also invited his Eritrean counterpart, Osman Saleh, to visit Moscow soon.
The talks in Eritrea also explored ways of enhancing ties in energy, mining, information technology, education and health, Information Minister Yemane Meskel said on Twitter.
Both sides will conduct a joint study to establish the logistical and transit opportunities presented by the Red Sea port of Massawa and its airport, TASS said.
“I would like to mention the possibility of using the logistical potential of the Massawa port and the city’s airport. The airport of Massawa looks interesting from the point of view of its transit possibilities,” Lavrov said.
Lavrov’s visit to Africa coincides with others by senior US officials, who are crisscrossing the continent to shore up ties with US allies there.
Speaking when he met Lavrov’s delegation on Thursday, Foreign Minister Osman blamed the crisis in Ukraine on what he described as the US’ “reckless policy of hegemony and containment” over a number of decades.
“The sad fact is that Ukraine is both a pretext and victim of this policy,” Osman said during the speech delivered in Massawa.
There was no mention of the conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, where Eritrean troops fought alongside their Ethiopian federal counterparts against rebellious Tigrayan forces.
A deal to end the fighting was signed last November but Eritrea was not party to the truce. Eritrean troops have started to leave some parts of Tigray, witnesses said.