Putin denounces sanctions on Russia during his speech for a South Africa economic summit

Putin denounces sanctions on Russia during his speech for a South Africa economic summit
Russian President Vladimir Putin addresses leaders from the BRICS group of emerging economies at the start of a three-day summit in Johannesburg, South Africa (AP)
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Updated 23 August 2023
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Putin denounces sanctions on Russia during his speech for a South Africa economic summit

Putin denounces sanctions on Russia during his speech for a South Africa economic summit
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin has taken multiple shots at the West on the opening day of an economic summit in South Africa
  • He used a 17-minute prerecorded speech that was aired Tuesday on giant screens to rail at what he called “illegitimate sanctions”

JOHANNESBURG: Russian President Vladimir Putin took multiple shots at the West on the opening day of an economic summit in South Africa, using a prerecorded speech that was aired on giant screens Tuesday to rail at what he called “illegitimate sanctions” on his country and threaten to cut off Ukraine’s grain exports permanently.
Putin, the subject of an International Criminal Court arrest warrant related to the war in Ukraine, did not travel to Johannesburg for the summit of the BRICS group of emerging economies. Instead, he plans to participate remotely in the three-day meeting of the bloc that encompasses Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
His 17-minute speech recorded in advance centered on the war in Ukraine and Russia’s relationship with the West — even though South African officials had said East-West frictions should not dominate the first in-person BRICS summit since before the COVID-19 pandemic and hoped to guide the conversation away from the deteriorating geopolitical climate.
Sitting at a desk with a white notebook in front of him and a Russian flag behind, Putin said a wartime deal to facilitate Ukrainian grain shipments that is critical for the world’s food supply would not resume until his conditions — the easing of restrictions on Russian food and agricultural products — are met.
The West’s attempts to punish and isolate Russia financially for sending troops into Ukraine are an “illegitimate sanctions practice and illegal freezing of assets of sovereign states, which essentially amounts to them trampling upon all the basic norms and rules of free trade,” the Russian leader asserted.
Moscow pulled out of the Black Sea Grain Initiative in July and stepped up drone and missile attacks on the city of Odesa in southern Ukraine, home to one of the ports the controlled passage agreement covered.
The initiative was credited with helping reduce soaring prices of wheat, vegetable oil and other global food commodities. Putin maintained that even with Russian exports of grain and fertilizer being “deliberately obstructed,” his country has “the capacity to replace Ukraine in grain, both commercially and in free aid to needy countries,” according to an official translation of his speech at the summit.
The United States and other Western nations have not directly targeted Russian agricultural exports, but moves to restrict Russia’s access to international financial payment systems under some sanctions have made it difficult for the country to get food, fertilizer and other products to market.
“With these facts in mind, since July 18 we have refused to extend the so-called deal,” Putin said. “We will be ready to get back to it, but only if all the obligations to the Russian side are truly fulfilled.”
Chinese President Xi Jinping also brought an air of confrontation to the Johannesburg summit, saying in a speech read on his behalf by a Chinese government minister minutes after Putin’s address that “some country, obsessed with maintaining its hegemony, has gone out of its way to cripple the emerging markets and developing countries.”
“Whoever is developing fast becomes its target of containment. Whoever is catching up, becomes its target of obstructions,” Chinese Commerce Minister Wang Wentao said while delivering Xi’s speech.
It was a clear reference to the United States and the growing economic friction between the US and China.
Xi is in South Africa for the summit and met with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa earlier Tuesday. He didn’t attend the opening-day business forum where the other three BRICS leaders gave their addresses in person and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov represented his country. No reason was given for the Chinese leader’s absence.
However, Xi, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Ramaphosa were all expected to meet over dinner at a luxury estate in suburban Johannesburg. Putin also planned to take part virtually, officials said.
The leaders were expected to discuss the top agenda point for the three-day summit, a possible expansion of BRICS. They are scheduled to reconvene for the summit’s main day of talks on Wednesday.
The five BRICS countries are already home to 40 percent of the world’s population and responsible for more than 30 percent of global economic output, and more than 20 nations have applied to join, according to South African officials, including Saudi Arabia, Iran and the United Arab Emirates.
Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan, and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi planned to attend the summit.
The five current member countries will have to agree on the criteria for new members before any countries are admitted, but a bigger BRICS is seen as a policy favored by China and Russia amid those deteriorating relations with the West.
Brazil, Russia, India and China formed the bloc in 2009. South Africa was added in 2010.
“I am glad to note that over 20 countries are knocking on the door of BRICS. China hopes to see more joining the BRICS cooperation mechanism,” Wang said while giving Xi’s speech.
Overall, around 1,200 delegates from the five BRICS nations and dozens of other developing countries are in South Africa’s biggest city, and more than 40 heads of state were expected to take part in some of the summit meetings, according to Ramaphosa.
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres also was expected to attend.
While summit host South Africa has pushed back at characterizations that BRICS is taking more of an anti-West turn under Russian and Chinese influence, it’s clearly a forum for growing discontent in the developing world with global institutions.
That unhappiness has been directed at bodies seen as Western-led, including the UN, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, which many countries in the Global South feel do not serve their interests.
While in South Africa’s capital, Pretoria, earlier Tuesday for his meeting with Xi, Ramaphosa said he was seeking “Chinese support for South Africa and Africa’s call for the reform of global governance institutions, notably the United Nations Security Council.”
Africa and South America have no permanent representatives on the Security Council despite being home to nearly 2 billion people.
The US and EU will be closely monitoring events in Johannesburg, with the long list of countries lining up to join BRICS suggesting that the bloc’s calls for a reorganization of the global governance structure might be hitting home with many.


Thousands ordered to flee while they can as bushfire burns in Australia’s south

Thousands ordered to flee while they can as bushfire burns in Australia’s south
Updated 22 February 2024
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Thousands ordered to flee while they can as bushfire burns in Australia’s south

Thousands ordered to flee while they can as bushfire burns in Australia’s south
  • Roughly 50 square kilometers is ablaze northwest of Ballarat
  • A similar area is also burning out of control further to the west

SYDNEY: More than two thousand people have been ordered to evacuate from towns in the west of Australia’s Victoria state due to a bushfire burning out of control on Thursday.
The state emergency service urged residents in the towns of Raglan and Beaufort, home to around two thousand people, and those in surrounding areas to leave while it was still safe and head east to the nearby regional hub of Ballarat, 95 kilometers west of Melbourne.
Roughly 50 square kilometers is ablaze northwest of Ballarat. A similar area is also burning out of control further to the west.
State Premier Jacinta Allan said more than 1,000 firefighters were on the ground, supported by 24 aircraft and more than 100 vehicles. More are set to join the fight soon.
“Leaving immediately is the safest option for those communities,” she said at a news conference. “If you are located in these areas, please heed this advice, please act now to save your own life.”
Officials said no property damage had been reported but it was too soon for an accurate picture.
Large swathes of the state are on high alert for fires and the Bureau of Meteorology on Thursday issued extreme fire danger warnings for several districts due to hot, dry winds and the potential for thunderstorms.
The fires west of Ballarat are expected to worsen throughout the evening until around midnight, when the winds will begin to slow, Jason Heffernan, chief officer of the Country Fire Authority, told the news conference.
Temperatures were above 40° Celsius (104° Fahrenheit) in the northwest of the state at 3.00 p.m. (0400 GMT).


In Michigan, Arab American voters vow to ‘punish’ Biden

In Michigan, Arab American voters vow to ‘punish’ Biden
Updated 22 February 2024
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In Michigan, Arab American voters vow to ‘punish’ Biden

In Michigan, Arab American voters vow to ‘punish’ Biden
  • As Gaza Strip death toll climbs, residents once firmly in the Democratic fold — are turning against the president in a crucial swing state he won by just 150,000 votes in 2020.

Dearborn: It’s common to hear residents chatting in Arabic just as often as English in this Detroit suburb’s stores or mosques, those buildings themselves often sporting bilingual signage out front.
But no matter the language, residents in this Arab American and Muslim stronghold in the Midwestern state of Michigan are convinced President Joe Biden, as he steadfastly stands by Israel in its war in Gaza, is not listening to them.
“Vote for Palestine. No Biden,” political organizer Samra’a Luqman says in English, passing out fliers outside a mosque after prayers.
“Don’t vote for Biden,” the activist with Yemeni origins adds in Arabic.
“Of course,” respond many passersby.
As the Gaza Strip death toll climbs, residents here — once firmly in the Democratic fold — are turning against the president in a crucial swing state he won by just 150,000 votes in 2020.
Some are hoping to pressure Biden to back off from his Israel support and call for a ceasefire. Others, like Luqman, say they would never vote for him.
“He’s committing the genocide. He’s funding it,” Luqman, a campaign leader with a group called Abandon Biden, tells AFP.
A campaign is underway by Luqman and others urging voters to vote “uncommitted,” or write in “Free Palestine” on their ballots in the state’s primary next week — a symbolic gesture, since Biden faces no serious challengers for the Democratic nomination.
“This is a campaign about pressuring our current president who can do something about the mass killing of children,” says Abbas Alawieh, a former Democratic chief of staff on Capitol Hill and member of the Listen to Michigan campaign group.
“In this community there are a lot of people who are directly harmed by war,” the Lebanese-born Alawieh tells AFP.
Biden, he says, “is threatening to lose this community. Not just in November, but perhaps for a generation to come.”
The war started when Hamas launched its attack on October 7, resulting in the deaths of about 1,160 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of official Israeli figures.
But concern has mounted amid the high civilian toll in Israel’s retaliatory campaign, now at 29,313 people dead, according to the health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza.
Listen to Michigan began as a pressure campaign, but some voters say their frustration with the president is permanent.
Voting for Biden was the “worst mistake of my life,” says Mohamed Alemara, a 23-year-old medical student of Iraqi descent.
“You don’t kill 30,000 of our people and expect us to vote for you.”
Arab Americans’ vows to ditch Biden often baffle liberal political pundits.
What will Muslims and Arabs do, the thinking goes — vote for Donald Trump, the Republican behind the “Muslim ban” immigration policy, whose supporters flirt with ideas like “Christian nationalism“?
“We’re not a stupid community,” says Luqman. “I’ve survived a Muslim ban, but those kids in Gaza have not survived Joe Biden.”
“My intention is not to vote in an Islamophobe, another genocidal maniac,” she adds. Yet she tells AFP, “the only way I would vote for Biden is if he resurrected” the Gaza dead.
In America’s two-party system, where voters often hold their nose to pick candidates they don’t back 100 percent, 27-year-old nurse Fatima Elzaghir says that “at this point, the lesser evil is Trump.”
Others, like Alawieh, reject the premise of the question.
“How dare you come to me and say, ‘Oh, but later, Trump will be your fault,’” he says.
“Call your representative. Tell them you want a ceasefire.... Once we stop the bloodshed, then we can talk about the political consequences.”
Biden will also have to deal with Michigan’s unions — where some are defecting from the labor-friendly president’s camp.
Many union and workingclass voters already support Republicans, drawn in by their conservative social policies.
But for Merwan Beydoun, a steel mill worker and member of the United Autoworkers Union, Gaza was the breaking point.
“Furious” at Biden, whom the UAW endorsed, Beydoun stopped his contributions to the union’s political arm.
Beydoun says he still believes “in a lot of Democratic policies” and would rather not say how he’ll vote in November. But to earn Beydoun’s vote, the president “needs to wake up” and “change his ways.”
The Biden administration has tried to assuage Arab and Muslim voters’ concerns in part by portraying the president as frustrated with Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.
But US weapons have flowed to Israel since October 7, while Washington’s efforts to broker a second pause in fighting have failed, and on Tuesday the US blocked a UN Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire.
“My intention is to punish Biden for what he’s doing now,” says Luqman. “For the betrayal that he’s done to me and all the community members that have voted for him.”


Philippine coast guard says Chinese claim of intrusion ‘inaccurate’

Philippine coast guard says Chinese claim of intrusion ‘inaccurate’
Updated 22 February 2024
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Philippine coast guard says Chinese claim of intrusion ‘inaccurate’

Philippine coast guard says Chinese claim of intrusion ‘inaccurate’
  • Located within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, the Scarborough Shoal is also claimed by China

MANILA/BEIJING: A Philippine coast guard official on Thursday described as “inaccurate” its Chinese counterpart’s claim that a fisheries vessel “illegally intruded” into Beijing’s waters.
The Chinese coast guard said earlier on Thursday it drove away a vessel of the Philippines’ Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) and accused them of “illegally intruding” into its waters near Scarborough Shoal.
“This statement is inaccurate. The BFAR vessel, BRP Datu Sanday, continues to patrol the waters of Bajo De Masinloc. Currently, the BFAR vessel is actively ensuring the security of Filipino fishermen in that area,” Commodore Jay Tarriela, the coast guard’s spokesperson on South China Sea issues told reporters.
Located within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ), the Scarborough Shoal is also claimed by China, making it one of Asia’s most contested maritime features and a flashpoint for flare-ups.
China claims almost the entire South China Sea, a conduit for more than $3 trillion in annual ship commerce. Its territorial claims overlap with those of the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.
In 2016, an international arbitration tribunal in the Hague said China’s claims had no legal basis, a decision Beijing has rejected.


Ukraine leader downplays loss of Avdiivka, seeks faster support

Ukraine leader downplays loss of Avdiivka, seeks faster support
Updated 22 February 2024
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Ukraine leader downplays loss of Avdiivka, seeks faster support

Ukraine leader downplays loss of Avdiivka, seeks faster support
  • Russian troops took control of Avdiivka last week in Moscow’s biggest battlefield gain since its forces captured Bakhmut last May
  • Zelensky pointed to earlier gains made by Ukraine forces, particularly in the northeastern Kharkiv region and destruction of Russian ships

KYIV: President Volodymyr Zelensky downplayed Ukraine’s loss of the eastern town of Avdiivka to Russian forces and called for faster support from allies as the war against Russia neared the two-year mark, in comments broadcast on Wednesday.

Russian troops took control of Avdiivka last week in Moscow’s biggest battlefield gain since its forces captured Bakhmut last May. Kremlin leader Vladimir Putin says Russia will press on with its drive through eastern Ukraine.
Zelensky, in excerpts from an interview with Fox News to be aired on Thursday, acknowledged that last year had been “complicated” for Ukraine, particularly as 2023 came to a close.
But, speaking in English, he pointed to earlier gains, particularly in the northeastern Kharkiv region, where the Fox interview took place.
“During these two years we got (back) part of the Kharkiv region. Now we are in this region ... and we unblocked the Black Sea. There are grain routes and we destroyed a lot of their ships of the Russian fleet,” Zelensky said.
“That is what we did over two years. And what they could do? Only this one place. But what for?“
Avdiivka lies 15 km (nine miles) northwest of the Russian-held main town of Donetsk region, also named Donetsk.
Russian analysts say its capture will keep Donetsk safe from Ukrainian shelling as Moscow considers how to pursue its drive to capture all of Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
In his comments, Zelensky expressed new discontent with the slowdown in Western aid for Ukraine’s war effort, without singling out the United States.
US President Joe Biden’s request to extend a big aid package has been held up by wrangling in the US Congress.
“We have to be more quick. That means to lose all the bureaucracy. Otherwise we will not have any chance,” he said.
The president acknowledged that finding an alternative to US support would not be easy.
“Of course, we will find. We will not stay in the same place. We have to survive. We have to find some parallel steps,” he said in the interview, conducted in part on a hospital ward.
“You understand that this help is crucial. So without it, sorry, we will have more and more such heroic guys who will be in the hospitals. If you don’t have a real defending shield and similar powerful artillery with rounds, of course you will lose people.”
The US Senate has passed a $95 billion aid package that includes funds for Ukraine, but House of Representatives Speaker Mike Johnson has declined to bring it up for a vote on the floor of the House.


Kremlin says ‘shameful’ for Biden to call Putin ‘SOB’

Kremlin says ‘shameful’ for Biden to call Putin ‘SOB’
Updated 58 min 15 sec ago
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Kremlin says ‘shameful’ for Biden to call Putin ‘SOB’

Kremlin says ‘shameful’ for Biden to call Putin ‘SOB’
  • He had earlier said there is no doubt that the death of Russian opposition leader Alexei Nalvany "was a consequence of something that Putin and his thugs did”
  • Biden tends to go off script during election fundraisers and in recent months has dug into China, the Republican Party, and Israel for its war on Gaza

SAN FRANCISCO/MOSCOW: The Kremlin on Thursday said it was a “huge shame” that US President Joe Biden had called Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin a “crazy SOB.”

Biden made the comments at a speech in San Francisco attended by a small group of reporters, in which he contrasted the risk posed by Putin to the threat of climate change.

“This is a huge shame for the country itself... for the US. If a president uses that kind of language, it’s shameful,” Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

“It is clear that Mr. Biden is demonstrating Hollywood cowboy style behavior to serve domestic political interests,” he continued.

Biden has a history of similar hot-mic comments and has been strongly critical of Putin before, announcing in 2022 that the Kremlin chief “cannot remain in power.”

His remarks come as relations with the Kremlin linger at historic lows over the conflict in Ukraine and the death of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny in jail.

The US President has promised to introduce tough new sanctions against Moscow over Navalny’s death, which the White House has blamed on the Kremlin.

“This is the last existential threat. It is climate. We have a crazy SOB like that guy Putin and others and we always have to worry about nuclear conflict, but the existential threat to humanity is climate,” Biden told a small group of donors.

Biden has previously cursed “son of a bitch” at others. In January 2022, he was caught on the hot mic using the same term of abuse against a Fox News White House reporter.

Biden tends to go off script during election fundraisers and in recent months has dug into the Chinese government, the Republican Party, and US ally Israel for its bombing of the Gaza Strip.

Biden’s verbal attacks against Putin have also sharply intensified at the White House and on the campaign trail.

Biden and Putin remain deeply at odds over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine two years ago, over which Russia has been sanctioned by the United States and other Western nations. Biden’s reactions have put a further chill into already bitter US-Russian relations.

Biden’s expected Republican opponent in November, former President Donald Trump, has expressed admiration for Putin both during his 2017-2021 White House tenure and afterward. However, he also recently compared himself to Navalny, implying that they both had faced politically motivated prosecutions.

“I don’t know where the hell this comes from,” Biden said on Wednesday reacting to Trump comparing himself to Navalny.