Despite concerns, US to send 31 Abrams tanks to Ukraine

Despite concerns, US to send 31 Abrams tanks to Ukraine
US President Joe Biden announced on January 25, 2023, the US will send 31 Abrams tanks to Ukraine. (AFP)
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Updated 26 January 2023

Despite concerns, US to send 31 Abrams tanks to Ukraine

Despite concerns, US to send 31 Abrams tanks to Ukraine
  • The US decision came on the heels of Germany agreeing to send 14 Leopard 2 A6 tanks from its own stocks
  • The $400 million package announced Wednesday also includes eight M88 recovery vehicles

WASHINGTON: The US will send 31 M1 Abrams battle tanks to Ukraine, senior administration officials said Wednesday, reversing months of persistent arguments by the Biden administration that the tanks were too difficult for Ukrainian troops to operate and maintain.
The US decision came on the heels of Germany agreeing to send 14 Leopard 2 A6 tanks from its own stocks. Germany had said the Leopards would not be sent unless the US put its Abrams on the table, not wanting to incur Russia’s wrath without the US similarly committing its own tanks.
Since then, both sides had participated in “good diplomatic conversations” that had made the difference and were part of the “extraordinary shift in Germany’s security policy” over providing weapons to Ukraine since Russia invaded 11 months ago, said a senior administration official, who briefed reporters Wednesday on the condition of anonymity to describe the new tank package in advance of the announcement.
The $400 million package announced Wednesday also includes eight M88 recovery vehicles — tank-like tracked vehicles that can tow the Abrams if it gets stuck.
Altogether, France, the UK, the US, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden will send hundreds of tanks and heavy armored vehicles to fortify Ukraine as it enters a new phase of the war and attempts to break through entrenched Russian lines.
But there were few answers about what US tanks would be sent — whether they would be pulled from the existing stockpile of more than 4,000 Abrams and retrofitted, or whether the US would use the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative to buy new systems to possibly backfill allies who send their own or buy new systems outright for Ukraine.
Either way, using the assistance initiative funding route means that while Abrams have now been promised to Ukraine, it will likely be many months before the tanks are actually on the battlefield, and not in time for Russia’s anticipated Spring offensive.
Russian Ambassador to Germany Sergey Nechayev on Wednesday called Berlin’s decision to send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine “extremely dangerous.”
Nechayev said in an online statement that the move “shifts the conflict to a new level of confrontation and contradicts the statements of German politicians about their reluctance to get involved in it.”
“We’re seeing yet again that Germany, as well as its closest allies, is not interested in a diplomatic resolution of the Ukraine crisis, it is determined to permanently escalate it and to indefinitely pump the Kyiv regime full of new lethal weapons,” the statement read.
Until now, the US has resisted providing its own M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, citing extensive and complex maintenance and logistical challenges with the high-tech vehicles. Washington believes it would be more productive to send German Leopards since many allies have them and Ukrainian troops would need less training than on the more difficult Abrams.
Just last week, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl told reporters that the Abrams is a complicated, expensive, difficult to maintain and hard to train on piece of equipment. One thing Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has been very focused on, he said, “is that we should not be providing the Ukrainians systems they can’t repair, they can’t sustain, and that they, over the long term, can’t afford, because it’s not helpful.”
For the Abrams to be effective in Ukraine, its forces will require extensive training on combined arms manuevuer — how the tanks operate together on the battlefield, and on how to maintain and support the complex, 70-ton weapon. The Abrams tanks use a turbine jet engine to propel themselves that burns through at least two gallons a mile regardless of whether they are moving or idling, which means that a network of fuel trucks is needed to keep the line moving.


China balloon, polls scramble script for Biden speech to Congress

China balloon, polls scramble script for Biden speech to Congress
Updated 29 min 17 sec ago

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.

 


Saudi king, crown prince offer condolences to Erdogan after Turkiye quake

Saudi king, crown prince offer condolences to Erdogan after Turkiye quake
Updated 07 February 2023

Saudi king, crown prince offer condolences to Erdogan after Turkiye quake

Saudi king, crown prince offer condolences to Erdogan after Turkiye quake
  • Prince Mohammed also offered his condolences to the families of victims and wished the injured a speedy recovery
  • Major earthquake struck Turkey and Syria, killing more than 2,600 people on Monday

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman offered their condolences to Turkiye’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and people after an earthquake rocked the country on Monday.

“We send to you, the families of the victims, and the Turkish people our sincere condolences and sympathy,” King Salman said. “We reiterate our stand with you in this painful event.” He wished the injured a speedy recovery and the missing a safe return.

The major earthquake struck Turkey and Syria, killing more than 2,600 people and flattening thousands of buildings as rescuers dug frantically for survivors.

Prince Mohammed also offered his condolences to the families of victims and wished the injured a speedy recovery.

He added that the Kingdom stands with and supports Turkiye in the face of the natural disaster.

Erdogan thanked the crown prince and said he appreciates the Kingdom’s support in these difficult circumstances.

Multi-storey apartment buildings full of residents were among the 3,400 structures reduced to rubble in Turkey, while Syria announced dozens of collapses, as well as damage to archaeological sites in Aleppo.


At least 20 escape Syria prison holding Daesh inmates after quake

At least 20 escape Syria prison holding Daesh inmates after quake
Updated 07 February 2023

At least 20 escape Syria prison holding Daesh inmates after quake

At least 20 escape Syria prison holding Daesh inmates after quake
  • The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said it could not verify whether prisoners had escaped, but confirmed there was a mutiny

AZAZ: Prisoners mutinied in a northwestern Syria prison Monday following a deadly earthquake, with at least 20 escaping the jail holding mostly Daesh group members, a source at the facility told AFP.
The military police prison in the town of Rajo near the Turkish border holds about 2,000 inmates, with about 1,300 of them suspected to be Daesh fighters, said the source.
The prison also holds fighters from Kurdish-led forces.
“After the earthquake struck, Rajo was affected and inmates started to mutiny and took control of parts of the prison,” said the official at Rajo jail, which is controlled by pro-Turkish factions.
“About 20 prisoners fled... who are believed to be Daesh militants.”
The 7.8-magnitude quake — which was followed by dozens of aftershocks in the region — caused damage to the prison, with walls and doors cracking, the source added.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said it could not verify whether prisoners had escaped, but confirmed there was a mutiny.
At least 1,444 people died Monday across Syria after the devastating earthquake that had its epicenter in southwestern Turkiye, the government and rescuers said.
In rebel-held parts of the country’s northwest, at least 733 people were killed and more than 2,100 injured, according to the White Helmets rescue group.
The incident in Rajo comes on the heels of an Daesh attack in December on a security complex in their former de facto Syrian capital of Raqqa, which aimed to free fellow terrorists from a prison there.
Six members of the Kurdish-led security forces that control the area were killed in the foiled assault.
The conflict in Syria started in 2011 with the brutal repression of peaceful protests and escalated to pull in foreign powers and global jihadists.
Nearly half a million people have been killed, and the conflict has forced around half of the country’s pre-war population from their homes, with many seeking refuge in Turkiye.

 


How Manchester City came to face Premier League charges

How Manchester City came to face Premier League charges
Updated 07 February 2023

How Manchester City came to face Premier League charges

How Manchester City came to face Premier League charges
  • The Premier League rule book — signed off by member clubs like Man City — gives its disciplinary commissions sweeping powers to punish teams if charges are proven

GENEVA: The English Premier League vs. Manchester City: A legal fixture for the ages.

Soccer’s richest and most watched club competition challenged its defending champion on Monday with more than 100 charges of alleged financial wrongdoing and failures to cooperate with an investigation that took more than four years.

Dozens of charges allege breaches of the league’s financial monitoring rules dating from 2009, or the first full season Man City was owned by the ruling family of Abu Dhabi. Thirty more charges relate to Man City’s lack of cooperation in the past five seasons with a Premier League investigation that opened after leaked, and likely hacked, club internal communications were published in 2018.

That leaked evidence led UEFA investigators to examine likely breaches of financial rules designed to create stability in an often-volatile European soccer industry. UEFA-appointed judges imposed a two-year ban from the Champions League in 2020, which the club overturned on appeal at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Man City seem more at risk from the English case, which does not involve a statute of limitations on evidence that was a problem for UEFA lawyers.

The Premier League rule book — signed off by member clubs like Man City — gives its disciplinary commissions sweeping powers to punish teams if charges are proven. That could range from imposing a fine to taking away a title or even ejecting Man City from England’s top division.

Here’s a closer look at the case:

WHAT ARE THE FINANCIAL RULES?

Known as Financial Fair Play, the regulations are aimed at preventing clubs from spending more than they earn. FFP was established in the aftermath of the 2008 global financial crisis, which deepened worries in European soccer that clubs could go out of business if the cost of player transfers and wages kept rising.

Critics believed they would favor storied clubs with established global appeal, such as Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and Manchester United. They said FFP would be used to thwart emerging clubs who had wealthy owners ready to spend heavily and accelerate growth.

At the same time, historically underachieving Manchester City were bought in September 2008 with sovereign wealth from the UAE. When UEFA in 2011 began monitoring finances of clubs who qualified for European competition, City had made progress by big spending on players.

The first round of FFP judgments in 2014 saw the heaviest penalties for Man City and Paris Saint-Germain — each lost 20 million euros ($21.4 million) in Champions League prize money.

Both were suspected of booking inflated revenue in their accounts through sponsor deals at above market rates with companies from Abu Dhabi and Qatar.

“If clubs use unrealistic deals as a way to get around Financial Fair Play,” Arsène Wenger had warned in 2012 when coach at Arsenal, “it will make a mockery of the rules.”

The English Premier League later adopted a version of UEFA FFP rules.

WHAT WAS THE LEAKED EVIDENCE?

In November 2018, Man City was the Premier League champion with three titles in the first decade of its Abu Dhabi era, and a lavishly talented squad coached by Pep Guardiola.

Yet skepticism remained about the club’s commercial results.

German magazine Der Spiegel then published the “Football Leaks” series of articles based on the club’s internal documents and communications.

They suggested Man City had broken FFP rules in financial relationships with “related-party” sponsors from Abu Dhabi, its use of image rights payments to players and the contract of Roberto Mancini, who was manager from 2009-13. He allegedly doubled his base salary for advising a club in Abu Dhabi.

Man City did not deny the documents were authentic but said they were illegally obtained by a Portuguese man, Rui Pinto. He later went on trial in Lisbon. A verdict is scheduled in April.

WHAT HAPPENED WITH THE UEFA CASE?

After the Football Leaks publication, UEFA’s club investigators revisited their case and asked the judging chamber to ban Man City from European competitions.

In February 2020, those judges banned Man City for two seasons for “serious breaches” of rules from 2012-16, including overstating sponsor revenue and failing to cooperate with investigators.

Three CAS judges overturned the ban in July 2020, ruling that some UEFA charged were not proven and other evidence was excluded as time-barred. The court “strongly condemned” Man City for obstructing UEFA’s investigation, though a €10 million ($10.7 million) fine was one-third of the original punishment.

Allowed to play in the next Champions League, Man City reached the final and earned €119 million ($128 million) in prize money.

WHAT IS THE PREMIER LEAGUE CASE?

The English case against Man City continued separately from the UEFA process in Switzerland.

The Premier League announced charges Monday. A lawyer who chairs the league’s judicial panel will appoint a disciplinary commission of three judges.

A hearing will be held in secret, with no timetable yet for a verdict. Any subsequent legal challenge should go to the Premier League’s Appeal Board.

Man City said it was surprised by the charges and “we look forward to this matter being put to rest once and for all.”


Frenchman held in Iran starts new hunger strike: sister

Frenchman held in Iran starts new hunger strike: sister
Updated 07 February 2023

Frenchman held in Iran starts new hunger strike: sister

Frenchman held in Iran starts new hunger strike: sister
  • Philippe Valent, Briere’s France-based lawyer, called the espionage charges against him “fiction” and his trial “a parody staged by the Revolutionary Guards,” the branch of the Iranian security forces entrusted with the preservation of the regime

PARIS: Benjamin Briere, a French national held in Iran, has gone on hunger strike for the second time since his incarceration in May 2020, his sister and his lawyer said Monday.
Briere, who was sentenced to eight years in jail for espionage, is one of seven French and more than two dozen foreign nationals who campaigners say Iran has jailed in a strategy of hostage-taking to extract concessions from the West.
Held in the prison of Vakilabad in the eastern city of Mashhad, he had already gone on hunger strike once before, at the end of December 2021.
“It’s the only weapon he has,” his sister Blandine Briere said in a statement.
He stopped eating on January 28, she said.
Philippe Valent, Briere’s France-based lawyer, called the espionage charges against him “fiction” and his trial “a parody staged by the Revolutionary Guards,” the branch of the Iranian security forces entrusted with the preservation of the regime.
Briere, the lawyer said, is “mentally and physically exhausted” in the “gloomy” prison which he said was known for frequent “extra-judicial executions” of inmates.
Majidreza Rahnavard, 23, the second of four people executed over the protests, was held in Mashhad and hanged in public in the city on December 12.
The conditions of Briere’s incarceration were “exceptionally harsh,” and he was being denied his rights, Valent said.
Iran needed to be held accountable for the danger to Briere’s “physical and mental wellbeing,” the lawyer said.
Another detainee in Iran, 64-year-old Franco-Irish citizen Bernard Phelan held since October 1, last month suspended a hunger strike that included refusing water, at the request of his family who feared for his life.
Phelan, a Paris-based travel consultant was arrested while traveling and is being held in Mashhad in northeastern Iran.
Iran accuses him of anti-government propaganda, a charge he has denied.