Mercenary chief Prigozhin starts exile in Belarus, Putin praises Russian troops

Founder of Wagner private mercenary group Yevgeny Prigozhin. (REUTERS)
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Founder of Wagner private mercenary group Yevgeny Prigozhin. (REUTERS)
Mercenary chief Prigozhin starts exile in Belarus, Putin praises Russian troops
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This video grab taken from handout footage posted late on June 24, 2023 on the Telegram channel @rstv01 shows a military vehicle of Wagner Group waiting for Yevgeny Prigozhin to leave the headquarters of the Russian southern military district in Rostov. (AFP)
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Updated 28 June 2023
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Mercenary chief Prigozhin starts exile in Belarus, Putin praises Russian troops

Founder of Wagner private mercenary group Yevgeny Prigozhin. (REUTERS)
  • Lukashenko hailed Prigozhin as a "heroic guy" who had been shaken by the deaths of many of his men in Ukraine
  • "He was pressured and influenced by those who led the assault squads (in Ukraine) and saw these deaths," Lukashenko said

MOSCOW: Russian mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin flew into exile in Belarus on Tuesday under a deal that ended a brief mutiny by his fighters, as President Vladimir Putin praised his armed forces for averting a civil war.
A plane linked to Prigozhin was shown on a flight tracking service taking off from the southern Russian city of Rostov early on Tuesday and landing in Belarus.
“I see Prigozhin is already flying in on this plane,” state news agency BELTA quoted Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko as saying. “Yes, indeed, he is in Belarus today.”
In Moscow, Putin sought to reassert his authority after the mutiny led by Prigozhin in protest against the Russian military’s handling of the conflict in Ukraine.
Russian authorities also dropped a criminal case against his Wagner Group mercenary force, state news agency RIA reported, apparently fulfilling another condition of the deal brokered by Lukashenko late on Saturday that defused the crisis.
Prigozhin, a former Putin ally and ex-convict whose mercenaries have fought the bloodiest battles of the Ukraine war and taken heavy casualties, had earlier said he would go to neighboring Belarus at the invitation of Lukashenko, a close ally of Putin and an acquaintance of the Wagner chief.
Ukraine hopes the chaos caused by the mutiny attempt will undermine Russian defenses as Ukraine presses a counteroffensive to recapture occupied territory in the south and east.
There was little news about progress on the battlefield on Tuesday, but two Russian missiles struck a restaurant in the eastern city of Kramatorsk in the Donetsk region. Andriy Yermak, head of President Volodymyr Zelensky’s administration, said on Telegram that four people were killed and 42 injured, including a child.
The building was reduced to a twisted web of metal beams. “None of the glass, windows or doors are left. All I see is destruction, fear and horror,” Valentyna, 64, said.
Russia has repeatedly denied targeting civilians since launching what it terms a “special military operation” in Ukraine in February 2022.

’YOU HAVE STOPPED CIVIL WAR’
Early on Tuesday, flight tracking service Flightradar24’s website showed an Embraer Legacy 600 jet, bearing identification codes that match a plane linked to Prigozhin in US sanctions documents, descending near the Belarus capital Minsk.
It first appeared on the tracking site above Rostov, the southern Russian city that Prigozhin’s fighters captured during the mutiny.
Prigozhin was seen on Saturday night smiling and high-fiving bystanders as he rode out of Rostov in the back of an SUV after ordering his men to stand down. He has not yet been seen in public in Belarus.
Putin meanwhile told some 2,500 Russian security personnel at a ceremony on a square in the Kremlin complex in Moscow that the people and the armed forces stood together in opposition to the rebel mercenaries.
“You have saved our motherland from upheaval. In fact, you have stopped a civil war,” he said.
Putin was joined by Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, whose dismissal had been one of the mutineers’ main demands.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told a news briefing on Tuesday the deal ending the mutiny was being implemented.
Russian leaders have tried to convey that the situation is returning to normal. Peskov dismissed the idea that Putin’s grip on power had been shaken by the mutiny, calling such thoughts “hysteria.”

DEMONSTRATION OF PROTEST
Prigozhin, 62, said he launched the mutiny to save his group after being ordered to place it under command of the defense ministry, which he has cast as ineffectual in the war in Ukraine.
His fighters halted their campaign on Saturday to avert bloodshed after nearly reaching Moscow, he said. “We went as a demonstration of protest, not to overthrow the government of the country,” Prigozhin said in an audio message on Monday.
Lukashenko said on Tuesday that his country offered Wagner fighters an abandoned military base. “Please — we have a fence, we have everything — put up your tents,” Lukashenko said, according to BELTA.
The prospect of Wagner establishing a base in Belarus was greeted with alarm by some of its neighbors. Latvia and Lithuania called for NATO to strengthen its eastern borders in response, and Polish President Andrzej Duda described the move a “negative signal.”
Lithuania’s President Gitanas Nauseda said deployment of Wagner fighters in Belarus would destabilize neighboring countries.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters after a meeting with leaders of seven NATO countries in the Hague that the alliance “sent a clear message to Moscow and Minsk that NATO is there to protect every ally, every inch of NATO territory.”
Washington, which has given Ukraine more than $10 billion in military assistance, announced $500 million in new aid including vehicles and munitions, according to a Pentagon statement.

 


US to sanction over 500 targets involved in Russia ‘war machine’: Treasury

US to sanction over 500 targets involved in Russia ‘war machine’: Treasury
Updated 13 sec ago
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US to sanction over 500 targets involved in Russia ‘war machine’: Treasury

US to sanction over 500 targets involved in Russia ‘war machine’: Treasury

WASHINGTON: The United States plans to impose sanctions on more than 500 targets involved in Russia’s war in Ukraine, as fighting continues to rage two years after Moscow’s invasion, the Treasury Department said Thursday.

The action to be rolled out on Friday will hit “Russia, its enablers, and its war machine,” a Treasury spokesperson told AFP.


Four men charged in US with transporting suspected Iranian-made weapons

Four men charged in US with transporting suspected Iranian-made weapons
Updated 23 February 2024
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Four men charged in US with transporting suspected Iranian-made weapons

Four men charged in US with transporting suspected Iranian-made weapons

WASHINGTON: Four men have been charged after the US Navy interdicted a vessel in the Arabian Sea last month that was transporting suspected Iranian-made weapons, the US Justice Department said on Thursday.

Two US Navy Seals died during the interdiction, which happened in international waters near the coast of Somalia.

In a statement following the seizure of the vessel, the US Central Command said the seized contraband consisted of both "Iranian-made ballistic missile and cruise missiles components."

"Seized items include propulsion, guidance, and warheads for Houthi medium range ballistic missiles (MRBMs) and anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs), as well as air defense associated components,"  CENTCOM said.

"Initial analysis indicates these same weapons have been employed by the Houthis to threaten and attack innocent mariners on international merchant ships transiting in the Red Sea," it said.

The weapons parts were seized from a dhow — a traditional masted sailing vessel — which was deemed unsafe and sunk. Fourteen crewmembers were taken into custody.

The seizure of the weapons came after US and British forces hit scores of rebel targets across Yemen, a move triggered by the rebels' repeated attacks on shipping.

Attacks by and against the Huthis, part of the "axis of resistance" of Iran-aligned groups, have raised concerns about violence spreading in the region from the Gaza war.

The Houthis say their attacks on Red Sea shipping are in solidarity with Gaza, where Iran-backed Hamas militants have been at war with Israel for more than three months.


France expels “radical” Tunisian imam — interior minister

France expels “radical” Tunisian imam — interior minister
Updated 23 February 2024
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France expels “radical” Tunisian imam — interior minister

France expels “radical” Tunisian imam — interior minister
  • “The radical Imam Mahjoub Mahjoubi has just been expelled from the national territory,” Darmanin said

PARIS: France has expelled a Tunisian imam for “radicalism” and “unacceptable remarks,” Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said in a statement on X.
“The radical Imam Mahjoub Mahjoubi has just been expelled from the national territory, less than 12 hours after his arrest. We will not let people get away with anything,” Darmanin said in a statement on X.


Navalny mother says being pressured into ‘secret’ burial

Navalny mother says being pressured into ‘secret’ burial
Updated 22 February 2024
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Navalny mother says being pressured into ‘secret’ burial

Navalny mother says being pressured into ‘secret’ burial
  • The Navalny case remained in the international spotlight with US President Joe Biden meeting the Russian politician’s widow and daughter, Yulia and Dasha Navalnaya, in San Francisco
  • Lyudmila Navalnaya, mother of President Vladimir Putin’s most outspoken critic, said she had been shown his body in a morgue in Salekhard

MOSCOW: The mother of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who died in an Arctic prison last week, said Thursday officials were pressuring her to agree to a “secret” burial for her son.
The Navalny case remained in the international spotlight with US President Joe Biden meeting the Russian politician’s widow and daughter, Yulia and Dasha Navalnaya, in San Francisco on Thursday.
Lyudmila Navalnaya, mother of President Vladimir Putin’s most outspoken critic, said she had been shown his body in a morgue in Salekhard, the nearest town to the remote prison, after several days of being refused access.
“Yesterday evening they secretly took me to the morgue where they showed me Alexei,” she said in a video released on social media by Navalny’s team.
But she said investigators wanted her son, who was 47, to be buried “secretly, without a chance to say goodbye.
“They are blackmailing me, they put conditions for where, when and how Alexei should be buried. This is illegal,” she said.
Navalny, whose death was announced last Friday, galvanized mass protests against Putin, winning popularity with a series of investigations into state corruption.
He was poisoned with a Soviet-era nerve agent in 2020, then jailed in 2021 after returning to Russia following a period of treatment in Germany.
He was sentenced to 19 years in prison on extremism charges and sent to IK-3, a harsh penal colony beyond the Arctic Circle known as “Polar Wolf.”
Western governments and Russian opposition figures have accused the Kremlin of being responsible for Navalny’s death on February 16.
Biden met privately with the Navalny’s widow and daughter “to express his heartfelt condolences for their terrible loss,” the White House said.
The White House also backed the mother’s campaign to retrieve Navalny’s body.
“The Russians need to give her back her son,” US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters.
Personal tensions between Biden and Putin increased after the US leader called his Russian counterpart a “crazy SOB” an election campaign event late Wednesday.
Putin responded with his sarcasm, referring to his recent remark that he would prefer the more “predictable” Biden over Donald Trump in the White House.
“He can’t of course say to me: Volodya, well done, thank you (for the endorsement), you’ve helped me a lot?” Putin said.
Hundreds of people have been detained in Russia in recent days at events to pay tribute to Navalny and his widow has vowed to continue his work.
Lyudmila Navalnaya traveled to Russia’s Far North the morning after Navalny’s death was announced, hoping to be able to see and retrieve her son’s body.
“They want to take me to the edge of a cemetery to a fresh grave and say: Here is where your son lies. I am against that.
“I want that for those of you for whom Alexei is dear, for everyone for whom his death became a personal tragedy, to have the possibility to say goodbye to him.”
She said she recorded the video because investigators were “threatening” her.
“Looking me in the eye, they said that if I do not agree to a secret funeral they’ll do something with my son’s body... I ask for my son’s body to be given to me immediately,” she said.
Navalny’s mother also said that investigators had told her they knew the cause of death but did not say what it was.
The Kremlin has refused to say when the body will be handed over and has branded Western accusations as “hysterical.”
Putin has remained silent on the death of his main political opponent.
Navalny’s spokesman Kira Yarmysh said that a medical report on the death shown to Lyudmila Navalnaya “stated that the cause of death was natural.”


Albanian parliament ratifies migration centers deal with Italy

Albanian parliament ratifies migration centers deal with Italy
Updated 22 February 2024
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Albanian parliament ratifies migration centers deal with Italy

Albanian parliament ratifies migration centers deal with Italy
  • First example of a non-European Union country accepting migrants on behalf of an EU nation
  • Accord has drawn comparisons with Britain’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda

TIRANA: Albanian lawmakers on Thursday ratified a migration deal with Italy under which Rome will build processing centers for migrants that it will send on to its Balkan neighbor across the Adriatic Sea.
It is the first example of a non-European Union country accepting migrants on behalf of an EU nation, and is part of an EU-wide campaign to clamp down on irregular immigration that has fueled a rise in the popularity of the far right.
The accord has drawn comparisons with Britain’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda in East Africa as a deterrent to further migrant journeys in small boats across the Channel from France organized by human traffickers.
Seventy-seven deputies in the 140-seat parliament voted in favor of the deal, announced in November, under which Italy will open two camps in EU-candidate Albania, one of Europe’s poorest and least developed countries.
“Albania is standing together with Italy by choosing to act like an EU member state,” Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama wrote on social media platform X following parliament’s vote.
“No country can solve such a challenge alone. Only a stronger, braver and more sovereign Europe loyal to itself can.”
Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni replied on X, thanking Rama, Albania’s institutions and people “for their friendship and collaboration.”
One of the camps Italy plans to set up on the Albanian coast would screen sea migrants on arrival, and a second nearby would hold them while asylum applications are processed. Migrants would then either be allowed to enter Italy or be repatriated.
An Italian government source said Rome aimed to have the centers in Albania operational by this spring.
The deal has drawn international criticism from human rights advocates, and domestically from those who fear its impact on Albania’s security and on its financially vital tourist industry.
“This (tourist area) will not be the same again once the migrant processing centers are built,” said Arilda Lleshi, an activist who protested in front of parliament during the vote.
“We have reasons to believe that these (migrant centers) will be a security problem for the whole area.”
The agreement was challenged before Albania’s Constitutional Court by the main opposition Democratic Party, which argued that it broke the constitution by ceding sovereignty over Albanian soil to another country.
The Constitutional Court rejected the claims and gave a green light last month. While UN officials have criticized the Italy-Albania deal, the European Commission has said it does not appear to breach EU law as it falls outside its jurisdiction.
Rights experts warn it might be hard for Italian courts to promptly process asylum requests or appeals against detention orders from people hosted in another country, and lengthy procedures could put an unjustified burden on migrants.