Russia close to encircling Ukraine’s Bakhmut after months of fighting

This photograph taken on March 3, 2023, shows a view of a machine gun and ammunition cartridges in Bakhmut, in the Donetsk region on March 3, 2023. (AFP)
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This photograph taken on March 3, 2023, shows a view of a machine gun and ammunition cartridges in Bakhmut, in the Donetsk region on March 3, 2023. (AFP)
Russia close to encircling Ukraine’s Bakhmut after months of fighting
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A Ukrainian serviceman gestures as he rides a tank on a road towards the frontline town of Bakhmut amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Chasiv Yar, Donetsk region, Ukraine March 2, 2023. (REUTERS)
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Updated 04 March 2023

Russia close to encircling Ukraine’s Bakhmut after months of fighting

Russia close to encircling Ukraine’s Bakhmut after months of fighting
  • Russia's RIA state news agency released a video clip showing what it said were Wagner fighters walking by a damaged industrial facility

CHASIV YAR, Ukraine: Russian troops and mercenaries rained artillery on the last access routes to the besieged Ukrainian city of Bakhmut on Friday, bringing Moscow closer to its first major victory in half a year after the bloodiest fighting of the war.
The head of Russia's Wagner private army said the city, which has been blasted to ruins in Russia's more than seven month onslaught, was almost completely surrounded with only one road still open for Ukraine's troops.
Reuters observed intense Russian shelling of routes leading west out of Bakhmut, an apparent attempt to block Ukrainian forces' access in and out of the city. A bridge in the adjacent town of Khromove was damaged by Russian tank shelling.
Ukrainian soldiers were working to repair damaged roads and more troops were heading towards the frontline in a sign that Ukraine was not yet ready to give up the city. To the west, Ukrainians were digging new trenches for defensive positions.
Russia's RIA state news agency released a video clip showing what it said were Wagner fighters walking by a damaged industrial facility. One fighter is heard saying Ukraine's army is destroying infrastructure in settlements near Bakhmut to prevent the Russian encirclement.
The commander of Ukraine's ground forces, Oleksandr Syrskyi, visited Bakhmut on Friday for briefings with local commanders on how to boost the defence capacity of frontline forces.
A Russian victory in Bakhmut, with a pre-war population of about 70,000, would give it the first major prize of a costly winter offensive, after it called up hundreds of thousands of reservists last year. Russia says it would be a stepping stone to capturing the surrounding Donbas industrial region, an important war aim.
Before the war Bakhmut was known for salt and gypsum mines and Ukraine says the city has little strategic value but that huge losses of troops there could shape the course of the conflict.

'PINCERS ARE CLOSING'
"Units of the private military company Wagner have practically surrounded Bakhmut," Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin said in a video that Reuters determined was filmed on a rooftop in a village some 7 km (4 miles) north of the city centre.
"Only one route (out) is left," he said. "The pincers are closing."
He called on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to order a retreat from Bakhmut to save his soldiers' lives. The camera panned to show three captured Ukrainians - a grey-bearded older man and two boys - asking to be allowed to go home.
The commander of a Ukrainian drone unit active in Bakhmut, Robert Brovdi who goes by the name "Madyar", said in a video posted on social media that his unit had been ordered by the military to withdraw immediately. He said he had been fighting there for 110 days.
Volodymyr Nazarenko, a deputy commander in the National Guard of Ukraine, told Ukrainian NV Radio the situation was "critical", with fighting going on "round the clock".
"They take no account of their losses in trying to take the city by assault. The task of our forces in Bakhmut is to inflict as many losses on the enemy as possible. Every metre of Ukrainian land costs hundreds of lives to the enemy," he said.
"There are many more Russians here than we have ammunition to destroy them."

MORE U.S. ARMS
The past few days have seen alarm in Russia at its own potential vulnerabilities after Moscow reported a number of drone attacks on targets deep within Russia, followed by what it said was an armed cross-border raid on Thursday.
President Vladimir Putin told his Security Council on Friday to step up "anti-terrorism measures".
Zelenskiy, for his part, visited wounded soldiers at a military hospital in Lviv. One, shaking the president's hand from bed, apologised that he could not stand up. "That's OK," Zelenskiy said. "The time will come and you will rise."
Zelenskiy gave no details of the fighting in Bakhmut during an evening video address in which he thanked troops for "firmly and bravely" defending the city.
Oleh Zhdanov, an expert on Ukraine's military, said he expected commanders would soon decide to withdraw from Bakhmut and cited unofficial reports that some units were already pulling out.
"There is a threat of being encircled," he said in a YouTube commentary posted late on Friday.
In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced another round of military aid for Ukraine, a package of ammunition and other support valued at $400 million.
The United States has provided nearly $32 billion in aid to Ukraine since Russia's invasion on Feb. 24, 2022.
At the White House, U.S. President Joe Biden thanked visiting German Chancellor Olaf Scholz for "profound" support on Ukraine and Scholz said it was important to send the message that backing Ukraine will continue "as long as it takes and as long as is necessary."
Germany makes the Leopard tanks promised in January and expected to be the core of a new Ukrainian armoured force.
Scholz has been criticised by some Western allies for taking a cautious public stance towards arming Ukraine, although he has overseen a big shift in policy from a country that was Russia's biggest energy customer on the eve of the war.
Kyiv's ambassador in Berlin, Oleksii Makeiev, said Germany was now taking more of a leadership role in arming Ukraine.
Moscow, which says it has annexed nearly a fifth of Ukraine, accuses pro-Western Kyiv of posing a security threat. Ukraine and its allies say the invasion was an unprovoked war of conquest.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, pointing to U.S. military interventions around the globe, accused the United States of hypocrisy on Friday after Blinken said Moscow cannot be allowed to wage war in Ukraine with impunity. The two men met briefly on the sidelines of a G20 foreign ministers meeting in India.

 


India, Japan discuss stronger cooperation to foster peace in Indo-Pacific region

India, Japan discuss stronger cooperation to foster peace in Indo-Pacific region
Updated 53 min 13 sec ago

India, Japan discuss stronger cooperation to foster peace in Indo-Pacific region

India, Japan discuss stronger cooperation to foster peace in Indo-Pacific region
  • New Delhi, Tokyo hold respective presidencies of G20, G7 groupings this year
  • India ‘indispensable partner’ to achieve Japan’s vision of free, open Indo-Pacific

NEW DELHI: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Japanese counterpart Fumio Kishida met on Monday for wide-ranging bilateral talks and discussed ways to strengthen cooperation for peace in the Indo-Pacific region.

Kishida, who is on a two-day trip to India and this year chairs the Group of Seven industrialized nations, invited Modi to participate in the G7 Summit in May, which will be held in the western Japanese city of Hiroshima.

The two PMs addressed issues ranging from security to climate and energy during their meeting and discussed ways to converge priorities of India’s presidency of the Group of 20 biggest economies and Japan’s G7 leadership.

“The India-Japan special strategic and global partnership is based on our shared democratic values and international rule of law. To strengthen this cooperation is important not only for both countries but also this will enhance peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region,” Modi said.

“One of the pillars of the G20 presidency is to give voice to the global south. We believe in carrying everyone together,” he added.

Modi said Kishida’s visit was important “to keep the momentum going” for India-Japan cooperation.

The Japanese premier noted that India was an “indispensable partner” to achieve its new plan of a free and open Indo-Pacific, as he pledged $75 billion to the region as part of the expansive new vision.

“I believe that Japan and India are in an extremely unique position in the current international relations and furthermore in the history of the world,” Kishida said at a lecture hosted by the Indian Council of World Affairs.

“Japan and India have a great responsibility for maintaining and strengthening a free and open international order based on the rule of law.”

The two nations, along with the US and Australia, make up the Indo-Pacific alliance known as the Quad that has sought to counter China’s rising influence in Asia.

“This year, as Japan holds the G7 presidency and India holds the G20 presidency, my hope is that through working together with ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) and other many countries we will bring about peace and prosperity to the international community which faces a time of challenges.”

India is not a G7 member but has been participating at its summits as a partner country. Japan, on the other hand, is a member of the two major groupings.

The two Asian nations are strong economic partners with bilateral trade valued at around $20.6 billion in the fiscal year 2021 to 2022. Japan has been supporting infrastructure development in India, which includes a high-speed rail project, and Tokyo’s investment in the South Asian nation reached $32 billion between 2000 and 2019.

Harsh V. Pant, head of strategic studies at the New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation, told Arab News that both countries were increasingly looking at the Indo-Pacific through similar lenses.

“Though the two nations are on different tracks when it comes to the Ukraine crisis, certainly both feel the G7 and G20 have to work together if the global governance agenda is to be changed,” Pant said.

India has not condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, while Japan has imposed financial sanctions to isolate Russia.

“India is pivotal to Japan’s Indo-Pacific outlook and strategy,” he said.

“Japan wants G7 and India wants G20 to work for the developing world, to resolve global governance problems and to ensure that the leadership void that the world is feeling at the moment is filled with the leadership of countries like India and Japan.”


UK opens probe after Afghans in hiding told to receive Taliban-stamped papers for relocation

UK opens probe after Afghans in hiding told to receive Taliban-stamped papers for relocation
Updated 20 March 2023

UK opens probe after Afghans in hiding told to receive Taliban-stamped papers for relocation

UK opens probe after Afghans in hiding told to receive Taliban-stamped papers for relocation
  • Ministry of Defence apologizes ‘unreservedly’ over claims published by The Independent

LONDON: The UK’s Ministry of Defence has opened an investigation in the wake of a report by The Independent that revealed Afghan refugees had been asked to provide Taliban-approved documents for relocation to Britain.

The 37 applicants to the UK’s Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy — launched after the Taliban takeover in 2021 — were told by authorities that they needed to show documents that could only be signed by government ministries in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.

The MoD’s demand was “asking them (the refugees) to sign their own death warrant,” one MP said, with charities warning that Afghans had been put in danger as a result of the request.

As a result of the newspaper’s report, the ministry apologized “unreservedly” for the error after initially denying that the demands had been made to the 37 applicants.

A ministry spokesperson also told The Independent that it would now carry out an investigation, saying: “Last month, we were notified of an error in recent communications with a group of ARAP applicants, instructing them to verify documents with local authorities.

“The 37 affected applicants were notified of the error and have since responded to the correct instructions and confirmed they are currently safe.

“The MoD is now conducting a review to identify any further remedial actions needed to strengthen policies and processes.”

The newspaper’s investigation found several instances of Afghans in hiding who had been told to request documents from various Afghan ministries.

One former interpreter for British forces was told by the MoD that his marriage certificate, as well as the birth certificates of his children, needed to be validated by Afghanistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

He visited the Ministry of Justice to receive validation of his marriage certificate, but due to living in hiding, has been unable to communicate with the Foreign Ministry, meaning his ARAP application is unlikely to be approved by UK authorities under the current circumstances.

The MoD told another applicant regarding his children’s birth certificates: “These documents are an essential requirement and really need to be provided. They should be in English and bear the (Afghan) Ministry of Foreign Affairs seal and other necessary department stamps.”

About 4,600 Afghans still in the country are eligible for relocation to the UK under ARAP, including family members.

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said last week that the UK takes its obligations to former interpreters and contractors to British forces “extremely seriously.”


Tear gas, arrests as Kenya opposition stages protests

Tear gas, arrests as Kenya opposition stages protests
Updated 20 March 2023

Tear gas, arrests as Kenya opposition stages protests

Tear gas, arrests as Kenya opposition stages protests
  • Kenyans are suffering from surging prices for basic necessities, as well as a sharp drop in the shilling against the US dollar
  • Many businesses in Nairobi were shut ahead of the demonstrations, with some employers telling their staff to work from home

NAIROBI: Kenyan riot police fired tear gas and water cannon Monday against demonstrators joining a day of action called by the opposition to protest a punishing cost-of-living crisis.
Running battles erupted between stone-throwing demonstrators and police in parts of Nairobi and at least one other city, in the first major unrest since President William Ruto became president last year, correspondents said.
Ruto’s government has vowed to take a tough stance over the protests, which opposition leader Raila Odinga insisted would go ahead despite not receiving police authorization.
“I want Kenyans to come out in large numbers and show the displeasure of what is happening in our country,” Odinga, who narrowly lost last year’s election to Ruto, told supporters on Sunday.
Police used tear gas against protesters gathered at a site near government offices in the heart of the capital Nairobi, where the major rally was scheduled to take place, and several other areas of the city.
“We came here peacefully but they tear gassed us,” said Charles Oduor, 21, who joined the large crowds in downtown Nairobi.
“They lie to us everyday. Where is the cheap maize flour they promised? Where are the jobs for the youth they promised? All they do is hire their friends.”
Kenyans are suffering from surging prices for basic necessities, as well as a sharp drop in the shilling against the US dollar and a record drought that has left millions hungry.
Odinga said he had called the rallies to protest the “skyrocketing” cost of living but also the “stolen” election last August.
In Nairobi’s biggest slum Kibera, a bastion of Odinga support, people also set tires ablaze while police used water cannon to disperse protesters.
Demonstrators and police also clashed in the lakeside city of Kisumu in western Kenya, another Odinga stronghold.
“Our victory was stolen and we are determined to get it back, we can’t sit back and watch as life becomes more difficult by the day. We want Raila in State House,” said Kevin Ojwang in Kisumu.
Nairobi police chief Adamson Bungei said on Sunday that police received requests to hold two demonstrations only late Saturday and early Sunday, when normally three days’ notice is required.
“For public safety, neither has been granted,” he said.
Interior Minister Kithure Kindiki warned on Sunday that anyone inciting public disorder or disturbing the peace would be prosecuted.
Many businesses in Nairobi were shut ahead of the demonstrations, with some employers telling their staff to work from home.
“We are here trying to fight for our rights. Life is so hard. If you see, these young men and women, we don’t have jobs, people are losing their jobs. So that’s why we’re talking about our rights,” said shoeshiner Henry Juma, 26.
Odinga, the leader of the Azimio la Umoja party, who described Monday as a “day of destiny,” continues to claim that Ruto’s August election win was fraudulent and denounces his government as illegitimate.
According to official results, Odinga — who was making his fifth bid for the presidency — lost to Ruto by around 233,000 votes, one of the slenderest margins in Kenya’s history.
The Supreme Court dismissed his appeals, with its judges giving a unanimous ruling in favor of Ruto, finding there was no evidence for Odinga’s accusations.
Ruto has declared that he would not be intimidated by the demonstrations, saying: “You are not going to threaten us with ultimatums and chaos and impunity.”
“We will not allow that,” he said, calling on Odinga to act in a “legal and constitutional manner.”


Putin welcomes China’s Xi to Kremlin amid Ukraine war

China's President Xi Jinping, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin shake hands during their meeting in Moscow.
China's President Xi Jinping, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin shake hands during their meeting in Moscow.
Updated 7 min 7 sec ago

Putin welcomes China’s Xi to Kremlin amid Ukraine war

China's President Xi Jinping, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin shake hands during their meeting in Moscow.
  • As he greeted Xi, Putin also said he welcomed his plan for “settlement of the acute crisis in Ukraine”
  • Xi’s visit showed off Beijing’s new diplomatic swagger

MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin welcomed Chinese leader Xi Jinping to the Kremlin on Monday, in a visit that sent a powerful message to Western leaders allied with Ukraine that their efforts to isolate Moscow have fallen short.
As he greeted Xi, Putin also said he welcomed his plan for “settlement of the acute crisis in Ukraine.”
Xi’s visit showed off Beijing’s new diplomatic swagger and gave a political lift to Putin just days after an international arrest warrant was issued for the Kremlin leader on war crimes charges related to Ukraine.
The two major powers have described Xi’s three-day trip as an opportunity to deepen their “no-limits friendship.” China looks to Russia as a source of oil and gas for its energy-hungry economy, and as a partner in standing up to what both see as US domination of global affairs. The two countries, which are among the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, also have held joint military drills.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that over dinner on Monday, Putin and Xi will likely include a “detailed explanation” of Moscow’s actions in Ukraine.
Broader talks involving officials from both countries on a range of subjects are scheduled for Tuesday, Peskov said.
For Putin, Xi’s presence is a prestigious, diplomatic triumph amid Western efforts to isolate Russia after its invasion of Ukraine.
In an article published in the Chinese People’s Daily newspaper, Putin described Xi’s visit as a “landmark event” that “reaffirms the special nature of the Russia-China partnership.”
Putin also specifically said the meeting sent a message to Washington that the two countries aren’t prepared to accept attempts to weaken them.
“The US policy of simultaneously deterring Russia and China, as well as all those who do not bend to the American diktat, is getting ever fiercer and more aggressive,” he wrote.
Xi’s trip came after the International Criminal Court in The Hague announced Friday it wants to put Putin on trial for the abductions of thousands of children from Ukraine.
China portrays Xi’s visit as part of normal diplomatic exchanges and has offered little detail about what the trip aims to accomplish, though the nearly 13 months of war in Ukraine cast a long shadow on the talks.
At a daily briefing in Beijing on Monday, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said Xi’s trip was a “journey of friendship, cooperation and peace.”
On the war, Wang said: “China will uphold its objective and fair position on the Ukrainian crisis and play a constructive role in promoting peace talks.”
Beijing’s leap into Ukraine issues follows its recent success in brokering talks between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which agreed to restore their diplomatic ties after years of tensions.
Following that success, Xi called for China to play a bigger role in managing global affairs.
“President Xi will have an in-depth exchange of views with President Putin on bilateral relations and major international and regional issues of common concern,” Wang said.
He added that Xi aims to “promote strategic coordination and practical cooperation between the two countries and inject new impetus into the development of bilateral relations.”
Although they boast of a “no-limits” partnership, Beijing has conducted a China First policy. It has shrunk from supplying Russia’s war machine — a move that could worsen relations with Washington and turn important European trade partners against Beijing. On the other hand, it has refused to condemn Moscow’s aggression and has censured Western sanctions against Moscow, while accusing NATO and the United States of provoking Putin’s military action.
China last month called for a cease-fire and peace talks between Kyiv and Moscow. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky cautiously welcomed Beijing’s involvement, but the overture fizzled.
The Kremlin has welcomed China’s peace plan and said Putin and Xi would discuss it.
Washington strongly rejected Beijing’s call for a cease-fire as the effective ratification of the Kremlin’s battlefield gains.
Kyiv officials say they won’t bend in their terms for a peace accord.
“The first and main point is the capitulation or withdrawal of the Russian occupation troops from the territory of Ukraine in accordance with the norms of international law and the UN Charter,” Oleksiy Danilov, the secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, tweeted on Monday.
That means restoring “sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity,” he wrote.
The Kremlin doesn’t recognize the authority of the International Criminal Court and has rejected its move against Putin as “legally null and void.” China, the US and Ukraine also don’t recognize the ICC, but the court’s announcement tarnished Putin’s international standing.
China’s Foreign Ministry called on the ICC to “respect the jurisdictional immunity” of a head of state and “avoid politicization and double standards.”
Dmitry Medvedev, deputy head of Russia’s Security Council, said the ICC’s move will have “monstrous consequences” for international law.
“A gloomy sunset of the entire system of international relations is coming, trust is exhausted,” Medvedev wrote on his messaging app channel. He argued that in the past, the ICC has destroyed its credibility by failing to prosecute what he called US war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq.
He also cautioned that the court in The Hague could be a target for a Russian missile strike. Medvedev has in the past made bombastic statements and claims.
Russia’s Investigative Committee said Monday it is opening a criminal case against a prosecutor and three judges of the ICC over the arrest warrants they issued for Putin and his commissioner for children’s rights, Maria Lvova-Belova. The committee called the ICC’s prosecution “unlawful” because it was, among other things, a “criminal prosecution of a knowingly innocent person.”

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Kremlin tells officials to stop using iPhones – Kommersant newspaper

Kremlin tells officials to stop using iPhones – Kommersant newspaper
Updated 20 March 2023

Kremlin tells officials to stop using iPhones – Kommersant newspaper

Kremlin tells officials to stop using iPhones – Kommersant newspaper
  • ‘It’s all over for the iPhone: either throw it away or give it to the children’
  • The Kremlin may provide other devices with different operating systems to replace the iPhones

MOSCOW: Russia’s presidential administration has told officials to stop using Apple iPhones because of concerns the devices are vulnerable to Western intelligence agencies, the Kommersant newspaper reported on Monday.
At a Kremlin-organized seminar for officials involved in domestic politics, Sergei Kiriyenko, first deputy head of the presidential administration, told officials to change their phones by April 1, Kommersant said, citing unidentified sources.
“It’s all over for the iPhone: either throw it away or give it to the children,” Kommersant quoted one of the participants of the meeting as saying. “Everyone will have to do it in March.”
The Kremlin may provide other devices with different operating systems to replace the iPhones, Kommersant said.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he could not confirm the report, but that smartphones could not be used for official purposes anyway.
Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
President Vladimir Putin has always said he has no smartphone, though Peskov has said Putin does use the Internet from time to time.
Shortly after Russia sent its troops into Ukraine last year, US and British spies claimed a scoop by uncovering — and going public with — intelligence that Putin was planning to invade. It is unclear how the spies obtained such intelligence.