Baltic nations’ foreign ministers pull out of OSCE meeting over Russian foreign minister attendance

Baltic nations’ foreign ministers pull out of OSCE meeting over Russian foreign minister attendance
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says he plans to travel to NATO member North Macedonia later this week to attend a conference of a top trans-Atlantic security and rights group. (AP/File)
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Updated 28 November 2023
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Baltic nations’ foreign ministers pull out of OSCE meeting over Russian foreign minister attendance

Baltic nations’ foreign ministers pull out of OSCE meeting over Russian foreign minister attendance
  • Lavrov said Monday he planned to travel to Skopje for the OSCE foreign ministers’ meeting
  • “For the past two years we have witnessed how one OSCE participating state has actively and brutally tried to annihilate another,” the Baltic foreign ministers said

SKOPJE: The foreign ministers of the three Baltic states have said they will boycott a meeting by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe being held this week in North Macedonia, in objection to the participation of Russia’s foreign minister.
The foreign ministers of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania issued a joint statement Tuesday saying they “deeply regret the decision enabling the personal participation” of Russia’s Sergey Lavrov. “It will only provide Russia with yet another propaganda opportunity.”
Lavrov said Monday he planned to travel to Skopje for the OSCE foreign ministers’ meeting, a trip which would mark his first visit to a NATO member country since Russia invaded Ukraine. In September, he was in New York to attend the United Nations’ annual gathering of world leaders.
The 57-nation OSCE was set up during the Cold War to help defuse tension between East and West. North Macedonia currently holds the organization’s rotating presidency and its foreign minister invited Lavrov to the two-day meeting starting Thursday.
“For the past two years we have witnessed how one OSCE participating state has actively and brutally tried to annihilate another,” the Baltic foreign ministers said in their statement. “Let us be very clear: Russia’s war of aggression and atrocities against its sovereign and peaceful neighbor Ukraine blatantly violate international law.”
They also accused Russia of “obstructive behavior within the OSCE itself,” citing Russia’s prevention of an OSCE presence in Ukraine and by blocking Estonia’s chairmanship of the organization in 2024. Lavrov’s attendance at the Skopje meeting “risks legitimizing aggressor Russia as a rightful member of our community of free nations, trivializing the atrocious crimes Russia has been committing,” they added.
Speaking to reporters at NATO headquarters in Brussels Tuesday, North Macedonia’s foreign minister, Bujar Osmani, said he believed he would be meeting Lavrov in Skopje.
“Lavrov is not coming to Skopje, in a way. Lavrov is coming to the OSCE just as he went to (the) UN in New York a few months ago,” Osmani said. “I won’t be meeting him as the foreign minister of North Macedonia, but as the OSCE chairman in office.”
Asked what he would say to Lavrov, Osmani said: “I think the Russian Federation has violated (the) commitments of OSCE principles that we have voluntarily subscribed to 50 years ago.”
“We have condemned the aggressor throughout our chairpersonship. And also we have turned (the) OSCE into a platform for political and legal accountability of the Russian Federation for its deeds in Ukraine, and we will continue to do so. And this is what I am going to tell to Mr. Lavrov as well.”
There was no immediate reaction from the Russian Foreign Ministry to the statement by the three Baltic states.


Operations canceled as South Korea doctors’ strike grows

Operations canceled as South Korea doctors’ strike grows
Updated 21 February 2024
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Operations canceled as South Korea doctors’ strike grows

Operations canceled as South Korea doctors’ strike grows
  • More than 8,800 junior doctors – 71 percent of the trainee workforce – have now quit
  • Spiraling protests against government plans to sharply increase medical school admissions

SEOUL: Pregnant women had C-sections canceled and cancer treatments were postponed Wednesday as the number of South Korean trainee doctors to walk off the job over proposed reforms swelled, officials and local reports said.
More than 8,800 junior doctors – 71 percent of the trainee workforce – have now quit, said Seoul’s Second Vice Health Minister Park Min-soo, part of a spiraling protest against government plans to sharply increase medical school admissions.
Seoul says the reforms are essential, citing the country’s low doctor numbers and rapidly aging population, but doctors claim the changes will hurt service provision and education quality.
Critics say doctors are mainly concerned the reform could erode their salaries and social prestige, and the plan enjoys broad public support among South Koreans, many of whom are fed up with long wait times for many medical services.
Park said Wednesday that 7,813 trainee doctors had not shown up for work – an almost five-fold increase from the first day of the action Monday – despite the government ordering many of them to return to their hospitals.
“The basic calling of medical professionals is to protect the health and lives of the people, and any group action that threatens this cannot be justified,” Park said.
The doctors’ walkout was a violation of South Korean law, as medical workers cannot refuse so-called return to work orders “without justifiable grounds,” he said.
South Korea’s general hospitals rely heavily on trainees for emergency operations and surgeries, and local reports said cancer patients and expectant mothers needing C-sections had seen procedures canceled or delayed, with scores of cases causing “damage,” Park said.
“My surgery was canceled on the day of admission due to the doctors’ strike, and I’m still dumbfounded,” wrote @August_holiday on social media platform X.
Another user on South Korea’s Naver web portal said her mother’s long-awaited cerebral aneurysm surgery had been abruptly delayed.
“I’m furious that (the doctors) can act so irresponsibly,” user @488653 wrote.
Junior doctors claim the new medical education reforms are the final straw for many workers in a profession already struggling with tough working conditions, such as in emergency rooms.
“Despite working more than 80 hours a week and receiving compensation at minimum wage level, trainee doctors have been neglected by the government until now,” the Korea Interns and Residents Association said in a statement.
The over-reliance on trainee doctors in the current health care system was not reasonable or fair, they added.
Nurses, who have been left in charge during the strike, urged doctors to return to work, even as they sympathized with their fight against the reform.
“Do not ignore your conscience toward the patients being left behind,” the Korean Young Nurses Association wrote in a social media post.


Gaza, Ukraine loom large as G20 foreign ministers meet

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrives in Brasilia, Brazil, Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024. (AP)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrives in Brasilia, Brazil, Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024. (AP)
Updated 21 February 2024
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Gaza, Ukraine loom large as G20 foreign ministers meet

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrives in Brasilia, Brazil, Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024. (AP)
  • A new UN Security Council resolution on a ceasefire was vetoed Tuesday by the United States, which said the text would endanger ongoing negotiations, including on the release of Hamas-held hostages
  • After Lula on Sunday compared Israel's war on Gaza to Hitler's treatment of Jews, Israel said on Monday that Lula is not welcome

RIO DE JANEIRO: G20 foreign ministers open a two-day meeting Wednesday in Brazil, with the outlook bleak for progress on a thorny agenda of conflicts and crises, from the Gaza and Ukraine wars to growing polarization.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov are both expected in Rio de Janeiro for the first high-level G20 meeting of the year — though not China’s Wang Yi.
In a world torn by conflicts and divisions, Brazil, which took over the rotating G20 presidency from India in December, has voiced hopes for what President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva calls “the forum with the greatest capacity to positively influence the international agenda.”
But Lula’s bid to make the G20 a space for finding common ground suffered Sunday when the veteran leftist ignited a diplomatic firestorm by accusing Israel of “genocide,” comparing its military campaign in the Gaza Strip to the Holocaust.
The comments drew outrage in Israel, which declared him “persona non grata,” and could overshadow any bid to de-escalate the conflict via the G20.
“If Lula imagined he was going to propose peace resolutions on Israel or Ukraine, that just got swept off the table,” international relations specialist Igor Lucena told AFP.
More than four months after the Gaza war started with Hamas fighters’ unprecedented October 7 attack on Israel, which has vowed to wipe out the Islamist group in retaliation, there is little sign of progress toward peace.
A new UN Security Council resolution on a ceasefire was vetoed Tuesday by the United States, which said the text would endanger ongoing negotiations, including on the release of Hamas-held hostages.
The outlook is similarly downbeat on Russia’s war in Ukraine, which also has G20 members divided.
Despite a push from Western countries for the group to condemn President Vladimir Putin’s invasion, the G20’s last summit, held in New Delhi in September, ended with a watered-down statement that denounced the use of force but did not explicitly name Russia, which maintains friendly ties with fellow members like India and Brazil.
Underlining the G20 stalemate, the G7 group of top economies — Ukrainian allies Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States — will hold its own virtual meeting on the war Saturday, the second anniversary of Russia’s invasion.

Held at a marina on the Rio waterfront, the G20 meeting will open with a session on “addressing international tensions.”
The ministers will discuss global governance reform Thursday — a favorite issue for Brazil, which wants a greater voice for the global south at institutions like the UN, IMF and World Bank.
“The number and gravity of conflicts has returned to the level of the Cold War. That brings new urgency to the issue,” said Brazil’s top diplomat for G20 political negotiations, Mauricio Lyrio.
“We need to adapt the international system to prevent new conflicts,” he told journalists Tuesday. “Now, we’re just putting out fires.”
Brazil also wants to use its G20 presidency to push the fights against poverty and climate change.
There will also be space for bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the gathering — though a Blinken-Lavrov encounter looks unlikely, given the exploding tension over Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s death in prison Friday.
Blinken and Lavrov last met in person at a G20 gathering in India in March 2023.

Founded in 1999, the Group of 20 brings together most of the world’s biggest economies.
Originally an economic forum, it has grown increasingly involved in international politics.
But the prospects for major advances via the group are dim in a year when elections will be held in some 50 countries, including key G20 members such as the United States and Russia, said Lucena.
“Reaching big agreements will be difficult,” he said.
“It’s not a favorable environment for resolving conflicts. On the contrary.”
A Brazilian government source said that after recent G20 struggles for consensus, the hosts axed the requirement that every meeting produce a joint statement — with the exception of the annual leaders’ summit, scheduled for November in Rio.
 

 


Trump says Navalny was ‘brave,’ but should not have returned to Russia

Trump says Navalny was ‘brave,’ but should not have returned to Russia
Updated 21 February 2024
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Trump says Navalny was ‘brave,’ but should not have returned to Russia

Trump says Navalny was ‘brave,’ but should not have returned to Russia
  • The Kremlin has denied involvement in Navalny’s death and said that Western claims that Putin was responsible are unacceptable

GREENVILLE, South Carolina: Former US President Donald Trump said on Tuesday that Alexei Navalny was “a very brave man” who “probably” should not have returned to Russia, without assigning any blame for the Russian opposition leader’s unexpected death.
Democratic President Joe Biden and other Western leaders have blamed Russian President Vladimir Putin for Navalny’s death, as has Nikki Haley, who trails far behind Trump as his sole remaining rival for the Republican presidential nomination.
“Navalny is a very sad situation, and he is a very brave, he was a very brave guy because he went back. He could have stayed away,” Trump said during a town hall interview with Fox News host Laura Ingraham in South Carolina.
“And, frankly, probably would have been a lot better off staying away and talking from outside of the country as opposed to having to go back in, because people thought that could happen and it did happen. And it’s a horrible thing,” he said.
The Kremlin has denied involvement in Navalny’s death and said that Western claims that Putin was responsible are unacceptable.
Trump — who has expressed admiration for Putin during his 2017-2021 White House tenure and afterward — also continued to compare himself to Navalny, implying that both men had faced unjust prosecutions due to their political beliefs.
“But it’s happening in our country too,” he said. “We are turning into a communist country in many ways. And if you look at it — I’m the leading candidate. I get indicted.”
On Sunday, Trump wrote in a Truth Social post that Navalny’s death in an Arctic penal colony last week had made him “more aware of what is happening” in the United States. Trump did not elaborate, but he has frequently described the 91 criminal charges against him as politically motivated, a claim prosecutors deny.
During the interview on Tuesday, which was conducted before a live audience in Greenville four days before the state’s primary contest, Trump continued to blast migrants, portraying them as a threat to public safety without offering any evidence to support his claims that they are more violent than native-born Americans.
At several moments, 77-year-old Trump’s answers to questions veered into tangential topics.
While being asked about electric vehicles and Americans’ “freedom of movement,” Trump spoke about the usefulness of tariffs and described his interactions with an unnamed American dishwasher company during his time in office.
Trump praised South Carolina US Senator Tim Scott, who joined Trump on stage for the final part of the interview. The former president has privately asked associates about naming Scott, a one-time rival in the Republican nomination battle, as his running mate, sources familiar with the matter have previously said.
Tying himself to Scott may have short-term electoral benefits for the former president in South Carolina, where voters go to the polls on Saturday to choose who they want as the Republican nominee to take on Biden in the Nov. 5 election.
Trump is leading Haley by more than 30 percentage points in South Carolina according to most polls, and his team is eager to deliver a crushing blow. However, Haley has said there is no way she will drop out and that she plans to keep campaigning into March.


US lawmakers hopeful of pause in Gaza war before Ramadan

Richard Blumenthal (L) and Chris Coons. (Photo/Twitter @SenBlumenthal, @ChrisCoons)
Richard Blumenthal (L) and Chris Coons. (Photo/Twitter @SenBlumenthal, @ChrisCoons)
Updated 21 February 2024
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US lawmakers hopeful of pause in Gaza war before Ramadan

Richard Blumenthal (L) and Chris Coons. (Photo/Twitter @SenBlumenthal, @ChrisCoons)
  • Israel has killed over 29,000 Palestinians, more than 70 percent of them women and children, according to the Gaza Health Ministry

AMMAN: Two senior US lawmakers who held talks with Israeli and Arab leaders said on Tuesday that they were hopeful a deal could be struck allowing a humanitarian pause in the war in Gaza before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
In an interview with Reuters in Amman, Democratic Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Coons — who said they had earlier met Jordan’s King Abdullah and held talks with Israeli leaders in Jerusalem — said there was “broad hope” of a deal soon to release hostages held by Hamas in exchange for a pause in fighting.
“Within a matter of weeks we could see a pause before Ramadan,” Blumenthal, who is on the Senate Armed Services Committee, told Reuters.
Arabs countries led by Jordan have expressed worries that Israel’s continued offensive against Hamas during the holy month of Ramadan could ramp up tensions further in the war.
But Egyptian and Qatari-mediated talks to reach a ceasefire in Gaza and secure the release of over 100 Israeli hostages being held in the Hamas-ruled territory have yet to produce results. A round of inconclusive talks in Cairo ended last week.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that Israel would not pay any price for the return of hostages, saying the way to free them was by ramping up the military pressure on Gaza and defeating Hamas.
Still, Blumenthal said that talks with Israeli leaders suggested that Israel is open to a pause as it wraps up a phase of intense fighting in Gaza and moves to a potential focus on counter-insurgency combat instead.
“Once there is that agreement on a pause it opens the way toward a negotiation that could produce self governance by the Palestinians, a state that gives them control over their own destiny,” Blumenthal said.
But an Israeli offensive in Rafah, the southern Gaza city where hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have sought refuge, would complicate efforts toward a halt in the fighting and the senators warned that Israel had an obligation to protect civilians and allow for relocations before moving on Rafah.
“There is an attempt to balance between supporting Israel and its war against Hamas and supporting the legitimate aspirations of Palestinian people for self governance and end of conflict,” Coons said.
 

 

 


Russia denies US reports Moscow plans to put nuclear weapons in space

Russia denies US reports Moscow plans to put nuclear weapons in space
Updated 21 February 2024
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Russia denies US reports Moscow plans to put nuclear weapons in space

Russia denies US reports Moscow plans to put nuclear weapons in space
  • The 1967 treaty bars signatories – including Russia and the United States – from placing “in orbit around the earth any objects carrying nuclear weapons or any other kinds of weapons of mass destruction”

MOSCOW: President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday that Russia was against the deployment of nuclear weapons in space, and his defense minister flatly denied US claims that Russia was developing a nuclear capability for space.
A source familiar with the matter told Reuters that Washington believes Moscow is developing a space-based anti-satellite nuclear weapon whose detonation could disrupt everything from military communications to phone-based ride services.
“Our position is clear and transparent: We have always been categorically against and are now against the deployment of nuclear weapons in space,” Putin told Sergei Shoigu, his defense minister.
“We urge not only compliance with all agreements that exist in this area, but also offered to strengthen this joint work many times,” Putin said.
He added that Russia’s activities in space did not differ from those of other countries, including the United States.
The clearest public sign that Washington thinks Moscow is working on a space-based anti-satellite nuclear weapon was a White House spokesperson’s comment on Thursday that the system being developed would
violate the Outer Space Treaty.
The 1967 treaty bars signatories – including Russia and the United States – from placing “in orbit around the earth any objects carrying nuclear weapons or any other kinds of weapons of mass destruction.”
The New York Times has reported that the US intelligence was related to Russia’s attempts to develop a space-based anti-satellite nuclear weapon.

’NO SUCH PROJECTS’
Commenting on the US allegation, Shoigu said there were no plans of the kind outlined by the unidentified sources in the United States.
“Firstly, there are no such projects — nuclear weapons in space. Secondly, the United States knows that this does not exist,” Shoigu told Putin.
He accused the White House of trying to scare US lawmakers into allocating more funds for Ukraine as part of Washington’s plan to inflict what he said was a strategic defeat on Russia.
He said the second reason for the leaked information about the alleged Russian weapon was to encourage Russia to engage in a dialogue about strategic stability.
Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 has led to the most serious confrontation between Moscow and the West since the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, and the post-Cold War arms control architecture has crumbled.
Putin said Russia had never been against discussions about strategic stability, but he said it was impossible to divide what he said was the West’s aim to defeat Russia and talks about strategic security.
“If they seek to inflict a strategic defeat on us, then we must think about what strategic stability means for our country,” Putin said.
“Therefore, we do not reject anything, we do not give up anything, but we need to figure out what they want. They usually want to achieve unilateral advantages. That’s not going to happen.”
Putin did not rule out talks at defense and foreign ministry level with the United States on strategic stability.