Russia accuses Ukraine of killing 65 of its own POWs by shooting down plane

Update Russia accuses Ukraine of killing 65 of its own POWs by shooting down plane
Russia says a military transport plane that was carrying 65 Ukrainian prisoners of war has crashed in a Russian region near Ukraine. (Validated UGC video via AP)
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Updated 25 January 2024
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Russia accuses Ukraine of killing 65 of its own POWs by shooting down plane

Russia accuses Ukraine of killing 65 of its own POWs by shooting down plane
  • Ukrainian president: Russia “playing with the lives” of POWs
  • Russia says 74 killed after military plane shot down

MOSCOW: Russia accused Ukraine on Wednesday of deliberately shooting down a Russian military transport plane carrying 65 captured Ukrainian soldiers to a prisoner exchange in what it called a barbaric act of terrorism that had killed a total of 74 people.
Ukraine called for full clarification of the circumstances of the incident and did not directly confirm it had shot down the plane.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in his evening address said: “It is clear that the Russians are playing with the lives of Ukrainian prisoners, the feelings of their loved ones and the emotions of our society.”
The Russian defense ministry said six Russian crew members and three Russian soldiers had been on the Ilyushin Il-76 military transport plane shot down near the Russian city of Belgorod near the Ukrainian border.
After a long pause, the Ukrainian military said it would continue to destroy Russian military transport aircraft it believed were carrying missiles with which to strike Ukraine.
It said it had noticed more Russian military transport aircraft landing in Belgorod, something it linked to Russian missile strikes on Kharkiv and other Ukrainian cities.
Air Force Commander Mykola Oleshchuk accused Russia of trying to undermine international support for Ukraine.
“Ukraine has the right to defend itself and destroy the means of the aggressors’ aerial attack,” he said.
The Russian defense ministry said the exchange was to have taken place on Wednesday afternoon at the Kolotilovka border checkpoint and Ukraine knew a transport plane carrying captured Ukrainian soldiers was expected at the Belgorod airfield.
“By committing this terrorist act, the Ukrainian leadership has showed its true face. It disregarded the lives of its own citizens,” the ministry said in a statement.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called for a meeting of the UN Security Council and said Russia sought to establish “the reasons behind the Ukrainian criminal act.”
A French spokesperson at the UN said the meeting would be held at 5 p.m. (2200 GMT) on Thursday.
Ukraine’s GUR military intelligence agency said Ukraine had not been asked to ensure airspace security around Belgorod unlike previous swaps and had not been informed about what means of transport would be used and which routes.
“On this basis, we may be talking about planned and deliberate actions by Russia to destabilize the situation in Ukraine and weaken international support for our state,” GUR said in a statement on Telegram.
Russia’s defense ministry said radar operators had detected the launch of two Ukrainian missiles at the time of the crash.
If the details are confirmed, it would be the deadliest incident of its kind inside Russia’s internationally recognized borders during the almost two-year-old war.
Ukraine’s intelligence agency confirmed a prisoner swap had been planned for Wednesday and said the captured Russian servicemen had been delivered to the agreed exchange point on time and were safe.
“Landing a transport plane in a 30-km combat zone cannot be safe and in any case must be discussed by both sides, because otherwise it jeopardizes the entire exchange process,” it said.
It had no reliable information about who was on the downed plane, it added.
Video footage posted on Telegram by Baza, a channel linked to Russian security services, and verified by Reuters, showed a large aircraft falling to the ground near the village of Yablonovo in Belgorod region and exploding in a fireball.
Andrei Kartapolov, a member of Russia’s parliament and a retired general, told the SHOT news outlet it was impossible for operators of Ukrainian surface-to-air missile systems to mistake transport planes for military planes or helicopters as targets.
“It was done deliberately to sabotage the prisoner exchange,” said Kartapolov, saying a second Russian Il-76 transport plane carrying around 80 Ukrainian soldiers to the exchange had managed to turn around.
Kartapolov, who has close links to the Russian defense ministry, said the plane had been downed by three missiles of either US or German manufacture.
Reuters could not immediately verify details of who was on board the downed plane, but Moscow and Kyiv have regularly swapped prisoners since Russia began what it calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine in February 2022.
The Belgorod region, which borders Ukraine, has come under frequent attack from Ukraine in recent months, including a December missile strike which killed 25 people.


Major arrests at NYU campus as Gaza protests spread

Major arrests at NYU campus as Gaza protests spread
Updated 4 sec ago
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Major arrests at NYU campus as Gaza protests spread

Major arrests at NYU campus as Gaza protests spread
NEW YORK: More than 130 people were arrested overnight during pro-Palestinian protests at the New York University campus, as student demonstrations gather pace in the United States over the Israel-Hamas war.
Some of America’s most prestigious universities have been rocked by protests in recent weeks as students and other agitators take over quads and disrupt campus activities.
The demonstrations come amid sweeping debates over Israel’s assault on Gaza, following Hamas’s deadly invasion on October 7.
Such bastions of higher education — Harvard, Yale, Columbia and others — are grappling for a balance between students demanding free speech rights and others who argue that campuses are encouraging intimidation and hate speech.
On Tuesday, the New York Police Department told AFP that 133 people had been arrested at NYU and released after being issued with court summons, as protests also intensify at Yale, Columbia University and other campuses.
As the holiday of Passover began Monday night, police began detaining demonstrators at an encampment at NYU who had earlier refused orders to disperse.
A New York University spokesman said the decision to call police came after additional protesters, many of whom were not thought to be affiliated with NYU, suddenly breached the barriers erected around the encampment.
This “dramatically changed” the situation, the spokesman said in a statement on the school’s website Monday, citing “disorderly, disruptive and antagonizing behavior” along with “intimidated chants and several antisemitic incidents.”
“Given the foregoing and the safety issues raised by the breach, we asked for assistance from the NYPD. The police urged those on the plaza to leave peacefully, but ultimately made a number of arrests.”
The spokesman said the school continues to support freedom of expression and the safety of students.
But protests have grown large and disruptive enough — New York Police Department spokesmen have spoken of their officers facing violence when confronting protesters at NYU — to draw the attention of President Joe Biden and his administration.
“Anti-Semitic hate on college campuses is unacceptable,” US Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona posted on X on Tuesday, expressing concern about the unrest.
The protests began last week at Columbia University, also in New York, with a large group of demonstrators establishing a so-called “Gaza Solidarity Encampment” on school grounds.
But more than 100 protesters were arrested after university authorities called the police onto Columbia’s campus Thursday, a move that seemingly escalated tensions and sparked a greater turnout over the weekend.
Social media images late Monday appeared to show pro-Palestinian Jewish students holding traditional seder meals inside the protest areas on campuses including at Columbia.
There were also demonstrations at MIT, the University of Michigan, UC Berkeley and Yale, where at least 47 people were arrested Monday after refusing requests to disperse.

France arrests eight in PKK financing probe

France arrests eight in PKK financing probe
Updated 20 min 33 sec ago
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France arrests eight in PKK financing probe

France arrests eight in PKK financing probe
  • The arrests took place in the Paris region and in southern France, the PNAT anti-terror unit said
  • French prosecutors suspect the eight of preparing and financing terrorist acts

PARIS: French police arrested eight men on Tuesday as part of an investigation into the finances of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), banned as a terror organization by Turkiye and its Western allies, anti-terrorism prosecutors told AFP.
The arrests took place in the Paris region and in southern France, the PNAT anti-terror unit said.
The PKK has been designated a terrorist organization by Turkiye, the United States and the European Union.
French prosecutors suspect the eight of preparing and financing terrorist acts, and of conspiring to extort, or attempt to extort, funds to finance a terrorist organistion between 2020 and 2024, the PNAT said.
Investigators believe the eight to be connected to a campaign to collect funds from Kurdish business people and other Kurds in France, a source close to the case added.
Police can hold the suspects for up to 96 hours for questioning, the source said.
Another source said the funds were destined for use in Belgium, where police on Monday raided Kurdish-run media as part of a probe undertaken at the request of a French anti-terror judge, the PNAT said.
The PKK has waged a decades-long insurgency for greater autonomy for the Kurdish minority of Turkiye in the southeast of the country, in a standoff with the Ankara government that remains unresolved to this day.


Dutch intelligence sees the wars in Gaza and Ukraine as triggers for terrorist threats

Dutch intelligence sees the wars in Gaza and Ukraine as triggers for terrorist threats
Updated 23 April 2024
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Dutch intelligence sees the wars in Gaza and Ukraine as triggers for terrorist threats

Dutch intelligence sees the wars in Gaza and Ukraine as triggers for terrorist threats
  • The Israel-Hamas war in Gaza and the destruction of a Qur’an outside parliament last year are “trigger events” for extremists
  • “The terrorist threat is serious at this moment,” the agency’s director-general, Erik Akerboom, told AP

ZOETERMEER, Netherlands: The Dutch national intelligence agency said Tuesday that threats targeting the Netherlands are increasingly connected to worldwide turmoil, including the wars in Gaza and Ukraine.
Although the number of terror attacks across Europe has been down in recent years, the General Intelligence and Security Service in its annual report said the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza and the destruction of a Qur’an outside parliament last year are “trigger events” for extremists.
“The terrorist threat is serious at this moment,” the agency’s director-general, Erik Akerboom, told The Associated Press.
Akerboom said he is particularly concerned about big events, noting that the agency is working closely with French authorities to prevent incidents during the Paris Olympics this summer.
In December, the Dutch counterterrorism agency increased the country’s threat alert to its second-highest level because of concerns about the Daesh group’s Khorasan affiliates, Akerboom said. IS-K, a Central Asian affiliate, was responsible for the attack at a suburban Moscow concert hall that killed at least 133 people in March.
According to the new report, “global jihadism has been the greatest terrorist threat for years in the Netherlands.” Incidents such as the one last April, when an anti-Islam activist tore pages from the Qur’an in front of the Dutch parliament building, put the Netherlands on the map of targets.
About a dozen terror attacks were thwarted by authorities in Europe last year and in four cases, suspects were arrested in the Netherlands, the report said. None of those attacks was focused on the Netherlands, according to Akerboom.
The Dutch also see threats from China, in particular cyberattacks, as a major concern. Akerboom said China is producing more hackers to break into Dutch systems than the Dutch can produce to defend them. The security service has cited China as the biggest threat to the country’s economic security.
Russia also continues to pose a risk to the Netherlands amid Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. So-called peace protests in Amsterdam which call for the Dutch to stop sending arms to Ukraine have included demonstrators paid by Russian sources to attend and given prefabricated slogans, the security service has asserted.
The Netherlands is of particular interest to Moscow in part because of the international institutions housed here, including the International Criminal Court. The Hague-based court is investigating crimes in Ukraine and has issued arrest warrants for President Vladimir Putin and other Russians.


Sunak says UK to raise defense spending amid global threats

Sunak says UK to raise defense spending amid global threats
Updated 23 April 2024
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Sunak says UK to raise defense spending amid global threats

Sunak says UK to raise defense spending amid global threats
  • “In a world that is the most dangerous it has been since the end of the Cold War, we cannot be complacent,” Sunak told reporters
  • The increase in spending from 2.3 percent will see the UK become one of the highest spenders on defense in the 32-member defense alliance

WARSAW: Britain will raise defense spending to 2.5 percent of GDP by 2030 in a “most dangerous” world, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said Tuesday during a visit to Poland.
The commitment came as NATO countries face pressure to raise defense spending in the face of global threats, particularly from Russia.
“In a world that is the most dangerous it has been since the end of the Cold War, we cannot be complacent,” Sunak told reporters in Warsaw, where he held a press conference with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.
The increase in spending from 2.3 percent will see the UK become one of the highest spenders on defense in the 32-member defense alliance after the United States, the British government said.
It means the UK is expected to spend £87 billion on defense in 2030-31, an increase of £23 billion over current levels.
“I believe we must do more to defend our country, our interests, and our values,” Sunak said, announcing “the biggest strengthening of national defense for a generation.”
Western nations are under pressure to boost defense funding following Moscow’s invasion of its neighbor Ukraine as well as the threat of escalation in the Middle East.
EU chief Ursula von der Leyen recently called for a “European awakening on defense and security.”
Brussels is set to come up with more proposals for financing the defense push by a summit of EU leaders in June.
Sunak has also faced calls from his Conservative Party to boost defense spending, with some calling for a level of three percent of GDP.
On Tuesday, Sunak also announced £500 million additional funding for Ukraine’s war effort against Russia.


A Russian strike on Kharkiv’s TV tower is part of an intimidation campaign, Ukraine’s Zelensky says

A Russian strike on Kharkiv’s TV tower is part of an intimidation campaign, Ukraine’s Zelensky says
Updated 23 April 2024
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A Russian strike on Kharkiv’s TV tower is part of an intimidation campaign, Ukraine’s Zelensky says

A Russian strike on Kharkiv’s TV tower is part of an intimidation campaign, Ukraine’s Zelensky says
  • Kharkiv region straddles the approximately 1,000-kilometer front line where Ukrainian and Russian forces have been locked in battle for more than two years
  • “Four priorities are key: defense of the sky, modern artillery, long-range capacity, and to ensure that packages of American aid arrive as soon as possible,” Zelensky said

KYIV: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said a Russian missile strike that smashed a prominent skyline television tower in Kharkiv was part of the Kremlin’s effort to intimidate Ukraine’s second-largest city, which in recent weeks has come under increasingly frequent attack.
The strike sought to “make the terror visible to the whole city and to try to limit Kharkiv’s connection and access to information,” Zelensky said in a Monday evening address.
The northeastern Kharkiv region straddles the approximately 1,000-kilometer (600-mile) front line where Ukrainian and Russian forces have been locked in battle for more than two years since Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The front line has changed little during a war of attrition, focused mostly on artillery, drones and trenches.
Since late March, Russia has stepped up the pressure on Kharkiv, apparently aiming to exploit Ukraine’s shortage of air defense systems. It has pounded the local power grid and hit apartment blocks.
On Monday, a Russian Kh-59 missile struck Kharkiv’s 250-meter (820-foot) -high TV tower, breaking it roughly in half and halting transmissions.
A Washington think tank said Russia may be eyeing a ground assault on Kharkiv.
“The Kremlin is conducting a concerted air and information operation to destroy Kharkiv City, convince Ukrainians to flee, and internally displace millions of Ukrainians ahead of a possible future Russian offensive operation against the city or elsewhere in Ukraine,” the Institute for the Study of War said in an assessment.
The expected arrival in Ukraine in coming weeks of new military aid from its Western partners possibly has prompted Russia to escalate its attacks before the help arrives, the ISW said, adding that trying to capture Kharkiv would be “a significant challenge” for the Kremlin’s forces.
Instead, the Russian military command “may attempt to destroy Kharkiv City with air, missile, and drone strikes and prompt a large-scale internal displacement of Ukrainian civilians,” it said.
The US Senate was returning to Washington on Tuesday to vote on $61 billion in war aid to Ukraine after months of delays. Zelensky said US President Joe Biden assured him the aid would include long-range and artillery capabilities.
“Four priorities are key: defense of the sky, modern artillery, long-range capacity, and to ensure that packages of American aid arrive as soon as possible,” Zelensky said.
Also Tuesday, Britain pledged 500 million pounds ($620 million, 580 million euros) in new military supplies for Ukraine, including 400 vehicles, 60 boats, 1,600 munitions and 4 million rounds of ammunition.
The shipment will also include British Storm Shadow long-range missiles, which have a range of about 150 miles (240 kilometers) and have proven effective at hitting Russian targets, the British government said.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak spoke with Zelensky on Tuesday morning to confirm the new assistance. He was due to announce the aid later Tuesday during a visit to Warsaw where he was meeting with Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
Less cheering news came from the European Union, however. EU countries that have Patriot air defense systems gave no clear sign Monday that they might be willing to send them to Ukraine, which is desperately seeking at least seven of the missile batteries.
Ukraine’s army is also heavily outnumbered in the fight, and expanding the country’s mobilization has been a delicate issue.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on Tuesday signaled that authorities plan to clamp down on young men of conscription age who have moved abroad, with details of the specific measures to be made public soon.
“Staying abroad does not relieve a citizen of his or her duties to the homeland,” Kuleba said on the social media platform X.
Meanwhile, Russia launched 16 Shahed drones and two Iskander-M ballistic missiles over Ukraine’s southern and central regions, the Ukrainian air force said Tuesday morning. It said all but one of the drones were intercepted.
In Odesa, an overnight attack injured nine people, regional Gov. Oleh Kiper said. Among those injured were two infants and two children aged nine and 12, Kiper said. City mayor Hennadii Trukhanov said 58 apartments in 22 buildings were damaged.
In other developments:
A Russian missile strike near Dnipro, Ukraine’s fourth-largest city, injured four people who were admitted to hospital, regional Gov. Serhii Lysak said.
Russian forces dropped a guided aerial bomb in Kostiantynivka, a city in the eastern Donetsk region, injuring five people who were riding in a car, police said. Two of them were in critical conditions.