Ukraine on the defensive as Russia war enters third year

Ukraine on the defensive as Russia war enters third year
After two years of war, Ukraine’s troops are short of manpower and running low on Western-supplied ammunition for artillery and air defenses, while the Russian aggressors have built up a position of strength thanks to booming war production. (AFP photos)
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Updated 24 February 2024
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Ukraine on the defensive as Russia war enters third year

Ukraine on the defensive as Russia war enters third year
  • While the EU has assured Ukraine of continuing support, the overall picture remains bleak for Kyiv due to the US Congress blocking a vital $60 billion aid package

KYIV: Ukraine on Saturday marked two years since Russia’s invasion, entering a new year of war weakened by a lack of western aid while Russia is emboldened by fresh gains.

When Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a “special military operation” at dawn on February 24, 2022, many expected Moscow’s victory within days, but Ukraine fought back, forcing Russian troops into humiliating retreats.
But Ukraine has suffered setbacks with the failure of its 2023 counteroffensive. The Russian army has in turn built up a position of strength thanks to booming war production, while Ukraine’s troops are short of manpower and running low on Western-supplied ammunition for artillery and air defenses.
President Volodymyr Zelensky said Friday that decisions on arms supplies have to be “the priority.”
Saturday’s anniversary will see visits by Western leaders including EU commission chief Ursula von der Leyen, but the overall picture remains bleak for Kyiv due to the US Congress blocking a vital $60 billion aid package. This has come on top of delays in promised European deliveries.
US President Joe Biden renewed calls for Republican lawmakers to unblock the additional funding, warning that “history is waiting” and “failure to support Ukraine at this critical moment will not be forgotten.”

Russia is attacking hard in the east, with the destroyed town of Maryinka near Donetsk the latest hotspot after it captured the heavily fortified town of Avdiivka on February 17.
Ukraine’s economy has also been hit by a border blockade by Polish farmers that Kyiv says threatens exports and has held up deliveries of weapons.

In Kyiv, the mood was grim but still defiant as people said they had grown accustomed to wartime conditions.
“For women of Ukraine, this is our heartache — for our husbands, for our children, for our fathers,” said nutritionist Olga Byrko in Kyiv.
“I would really like this to end as quickly as possible.”
“Yes of course we have learned to live with it... now the war is our life,” said Yuriy Pasichnyk, a 38-year-old businessman.
“I think we need to have more weapons so that we can drive this evil spirit out of our land and start rebuilding our Ukraine,” said 51-year-old Kostyantyn Gofman.
Ukraine needs almost half a trillion dollars to rebuild towns and cities destroyed by Russia’s invasion, according to the latest estimate by the World Bank, European Union, United Nations and Ukrainian government.
Ukraine has estimated that around 50,000 civilians have been killed.

Neither side has given numbers for military deaths and injured, while both claim to have inflicted huge losses.
In August 2023, The New York Times quoted US officials as putting Ukraine’s military losses at 70,000 dead and 100,000 to 120,000 injured.
Leaked US intelligence in December indicated that 315,000 Russian troops had been killed or wounded.
On the eastern front, morale is low as outnumbered and outgunned Ukrainian troops are ceding ground to Russian forces.
“We are running out of shells and the Russians keep coming. Lots of our comrades are injured — or worse. Everything is getting worse and worse,” said one soldier near Bakhmut, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Moscow has massively ramped up its arms production and received drones from Iran, while Kyiv says it has confirmed Russia’s use of North Korean missiles.
Zelensky said in December the military wanted to draft up to 500,000 more troops. A bill to broaden mobilization has caused wide public fear.
The conflict has thrown Russia into even greater isolation from the West, with the United States and its allies imposing a slew of sanctions.
But Putin has brushed off the fallout and hailed the troops as “true national heroes.”
He has used the war years to rally patriotism and mount an even harsher crackdown on dissent, with few daring to voice opposition to the war.
The death in prison of opposition leader Alexei Navalny has removed Putin’s arch-foe, and he is set to extend his term in office in elections next month.
On the streets of Moscow, most people told AFP they back the soldiers fighting in Ukraine.
“I’m proud of our men,” said 27-year-old Nadezhda, an environmental engineer.
“Of course I am anxious for them, but it’s a pleasant feeling that they are doing great, they are out there fighting for our country.”
One of the few to give an alternative opinion, was Konstantin, a drama teacher working as a waiter, who said: “I’m against any war. Two years have passed and it annoys me that people can’t talk to each other and are still at war.”
 


Heavy rain and flash floods kill 33 in Afghanistan

Heavy rain and flash floods kill 33 in Afghanistan
Updated 14 April 2024
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Heavy rain and flash floods kill 33 in Afghanistan

Heavy rain and flash floods kill 33 in Afghanistan
  • Most casualties were from roof collapses while some 600 houses were damaged or destroyed
  • Some 20 of the nation’s 34 provinces were lashed by heavy rains after an unusually dry winter

KABUL: At least 33 people have been killed over three days of heavy rains and flash flooding in Afghanistan, the government’s disaster management department said Sunday.
“From Friday onward, because of the rains there were flash floods which caused high human and financial losses,” department spokesman Janan Sayeq said.
“The primary information shows that, unfortunately, in the floods, 33 people were martyred and 27 people got injured.”
Most casualties were from roof collapses while some 600 houses were damaged or destroyed, nearly 600 kilometers (370 miles) of road demolished, and around 2,000 acres of farmland “flooded away,” Sayeq said.
Some 20 of the nation’s 34 provinces were lashed by the heavy rains, which have followed an unusually dry winter season which has parched terrain and forced farmers to delay planting.
Since the Taliban returned to power in 2021 the flow of foreign aid into the impoverished country has drastically diminished, hindering relief responses to natural disasters.
At least 25 people were killed in a landslide after massive snowfall in eastern Afghanistan in February, whilst around 60 were killed in a three-week spate of precipitation ending in March.
The United Nations last year warned “Afghanistan is experiencing major swings in extreme weather conditions.”
Scientists say harsh weather patterns are being spurred by climate change and after being ravaged by four decades of war Afghanistan ranks among the nations least prepared to face the phenomenon.


Pope warns against ‘spiral of violence’ after Iran attack

Pope warns against ‘spiral of violence’ after Iran attack
Updated 14 April 2024
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Pope warns against ‘spiral of violence’ after Iran attack

Pope warns against ‘spiral of violence’ after Iran attack
  • The Pope once again repeated earlier calls for a ceasefire in Gaza and negotiation

VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis on Sunday made a “pressing appeal” against a “spiral of violence” after Iran’s unprecedented missile and drone attack on Israel, warning of a potential regional conflagration.
“I make a pressing appeal for an end to any action which could fuel a spiral of violence that risks dragging the Middle East into an even greater conflict,” the Argentinian pontiff declared following his traditional Sunday prayer in Saint Peter’s Square at the Vatican.
“I am praying and following with concern, but also pain, the news that has come in recent hours about the worsening situation in Israel due to Iran’s intervention,” the pope told worshippers.
“No one should threaten the existence of others. All countries must, however, side with peace and help Israelis and Palestinians to live in two states, side by side and in security,” he said.
“That is their right,” Francis insisted as he once again repeated earlier calls for a ceasefire in Gaza and “negotiation.”
The pontiff futhermore demanded the world “help the population facing a humanitarian crisis” in Gaza and urged the “immediate release of the hostages kidnapped months ago” by Hamas, setting in train the latest chapter of violence in the region.


India’s Modi vows to boost social spending, make country into a manufacturing hub ahead of election

India’s Modi vows to boost social spending, make country into a manufacturing hub ahead of election
Updated 14 April 2024
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India’s Modi vows to boost social spending, make country into a manufacturing hub ahead of election

India’s Modi vows to boost social spending, make country into a manufacturing hub ahead of election
  • Modi has been campaigning extensively across the country, promising to expand India’s economy to $5 trillion by 2027 from around $3.7 trillion

NEW DELHI: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday vowed to boost social spending, develop infrastructure and make India into a global manufacturing hub as companies shift away from China, as he unveiled his Hindu nationalist party’s election strategy.
Modi hopes to return to power for a third five-year term. He and other leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party unveiled their promises in the world’s largest democracy days before the start of a multi-phase general election.
Modi promised to expand social programs introduced during his party’s 10-year rule, including millions of free homes for the poor, along with healthcare, cooking gas and free grain. His government has been paying 6,000 rupees ($73) a year to poor farmers.
He said his government’s policies have pulled 250 million people out of poverty since he came to power in 2014. India is the world’s most populous country with over 1.4 billion people. The BJP’s president, J.P. Nadda, said less than 1 percent of Indian people now live in extreme poverty.

HIGHLIGHT

Voting for the country’s parliament will begin on April 19 and run until June 1, and results will be announced on June 4.

India holds its elections on different days in different parts of the country, stretching over weeks. Voting for the country’s parliament will begin on April 19 and run until June 1, and results will be announced on June 4.
Most polls have predicted a victory for Modi and the BJP. But the opposition Congress Party argues that Modi has undermined India’s democracy and favored the interests of the rich.
Modi has been campaigning extensively across the country, promising to expand India’s economy to $5 trillion by 2027 from around $3.7 trillion. He also promises to put India on track to become a developed country by 2047, when the country celebrates 100 years of independence from British colonialists.
On Sunday, he said his party would develop India as a hub for the pharmaceutical, energy, semiconductor and tourism industries. He also said India will modernize its infrastructure, including its railways, airways, and waterways. And he said he will seek to increase jobs for young people and access to cheap loans for young entrepreneurs.
Modi is broadly popular in India, where he’s considered a champion of the country’s Hindu majority and has overseen rapid economic growth.
But critics say another term for the BJP could undermine India’s status as a secular, democratic nation, saying its 10 years in power have brought attacks by Hindu nationalists against the country’s minorities, particularly Muslims, and a shrinking space for dissent and free media.

 


MI5 sued by Manchester Arena bomb survivors

MI5 sued by Manchester Arena bomb survivors
Updated 14 April 2024
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MI5 sued by Manchester Arena bomb survivors

MI5 sued by Manchester Arena bomb survivors
  • Relatives of victims say failure to stop Salman Abedi before attack violated Human Rights Act
  • 22 people were murdered and hundreds injured at Ariana Grande concert in 2017

London: UK intelligence agency MI5 is being sued by hundreds of survivors of the 2017 Manchester Arena bombing.

Twenty-two people were killed at an Ariana Grande concert in May that year when Salman Abedi, 22, detonated a homemade device loaded with nuts and bolts in the venue’s foyer, leaving hundreds more injured.

An inquiry into the attack subsequently found “there was a realistic possibility that actionable intelligence could have been obtained which might have led to actions preventing the attack.”

Sir John Saunders, the presiding judge in the inquiry, added that an MI5 officer had missed a “significant” opportunity to act and that there was a lack of communication between the intelligence agency and counterterrorism police.

A group of 250 survivors and relatives of those who died say MI5 could have prevented the attack, and that negligence in failing to do so breaches the “right to life” enshrined in the UK’s Human Rights Act.

MI5 will be required to present all evidence about how preventable the situation was at a hearing likely to happen in early 2025.

The inquiry found that MI5 had received information on Abedi in the months before the attack, but an official, identified as Witness J, said it had been treated as a criminal matter, and not related to terrorism. On questioning, Saunders found that other MI5 officials had held concerns at the time that this was a mistake, and that in any event, MI5 had kept the information it received about Abedi secret.

Saunders said that had it been treated differently and action taken, Abedi might conceivably have been detained on May 18, 2017 when he arrived at Manchester Airport from Libya with, it is believed, items related to bomb-making.

In 2023 MI5 Director General Ken McCallum issued an apology on behalf of the agency, saying that it was “profoundly sorry” for what had happened.

A spokesperson for three law firms representing the complainants — Hudgell Solicitors, Slater and Gordon and Broudie Jackson Canter — said: “Legal teams representing injured survivors of the Manchester Arena bombing in 2017 can confirm that they have collectively submitted a group claim on behalf of more than 250 clients to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal. As it is an ongoing legal matter, we are unable or provide any further details, or comment further, at this stage.”

A legal source told The Times: “This legal action is not about money or compensation, it’s about holding MI5 to account for failing to prevent 22 people dying and many hundreds more being seriously injured.”

Legal action against intelligence services in the UK, which goes through the Investigatory Powers Tribunal rather than the UK court system, is rare but not unprecedented.

In 2016 Prime Minister Theresa May was forced to issue an apology for the role played by MI6 in the rendition, detention and torture of Abdul Hakim BelHajj by the US in 2004. BelHajj’s wife, who was detained alongside him and was pregnant at the time, received £500,000 ($622,850) in compensation.

Joseph Kotrie-Monson, whose law firm represented a former British intelligence officer suing the UK government over post-traumatic stress resulting from his work, told The Times: “There is always the challenge of proving causation in any case where a public body has been accused of a failure in its duties, particularly when it comes to the security services.

“Disclosure of evidence is also often a terminal problem for any legal action, and typically the domestic courts will err on the side of caution when it comes to government bodies protecting confidential information.

“However, this particular forum, and the human rights claim, may be well suited to dealing with the challenges of a complaint against a clandestine organization like MI5.”


India’s Modi promises jobs, infrastructure if BJP wins third term

India’s Modi promises jobs, infrastructure if BJP wins third term
Updated 14 April 2024
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India’s Modi promises jobs, infrastructure if BJP wins third term

India’s Modi promises jobs, infrastructure if BJP wins third term
  • India’s general election, which begins April 19, will be held in seven stages till June 1
  • Modi is widely tipped to win record-equaling third term on the back of his 10-year record

NEW DELHI: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) promised on Sunday to create jobs, boost infrastructure and expand welfare programs if it wins a third term, seeking to address key voter concerns ahead of next week’s elections.

The general election, which begins on April 19, will be held in seven stages until June 1. Votes are due to be counted on June 4 and results are expected the same day.

Modi, 73, is widely tipped to win a record-equalling third term on the back of his 10-year record, which includes strong economic growth, infrastructure projects, welfare handouts and aggressive Hindu nationalism.

Surveys, however, suggest unemployment, inflation and rural distress remain issues of concern in the world’s most populous country despite its strong economy, and addressing these will be Modi’s biggest challenge.

“Our focus is on dignity of life ... on quality of life, our focus is also on creating jobs through investment,” Modi said after releasing the manifesto, titled Modi’s Guarantee, at the party headquarters in the capital.

Modi said the manifesto is focused on creating jobs in sectors such as infrastructure, aviation, railways, electric vehicles, green energy, semiconductors and pharmaceuticals, among others, in a bid to address discontent at unemployment levels that are rising despite strong economic growth.

“India’s youth will not have even imagined the number of opportunities that will come their way,” he told cheering BJP members, including top federal ministers who sat in the audience wearing stoles featuring the BJP’s lotus symbol.

CONGRESS CLAIMS EMPTY PROMISES

Congress, the main opposition party, which has been struggling to revive its fortunes, said it was not impressed by a manifesto that is filled with “empty promises.”

“Today, people want to ask what happened in the last 10 years,” Congress lawmaker Manish Tewari said. “Unemployment is rampant and inflation has broken the back of common people.

The people of the country will hold him (Modi) to account for what’s happened in the last 10 years.”

Modi also vowed to expand welfare programs, including bringing all Indians above the age of 70 under an existing free health insurance program and pushing piped cooking gas connections to all houses to follow up on a subsidized cooking gas cylinder program launched in 2016.

Other BJP promises include raising the cap on loans for non-farming small and micro borrowers, offering free housing for another 30 million poor and keeping up a free grains program for 800 million Indians until 2029.

The manifesto said the BJP government would continue to focus on a path of low inflation and fiscal prudence to achieve high economic growth.

“The ambition of the 1.4 billion people of the country is Modi’s mission,” Modi said. “I am placing this manifesto before the people to seek their blessings. Please bless us ... to increase our strength ... implement this manifesto and ensure a developed India.”

Unemployment was the primary concern of 27 percent of the 10,000 voters surveyed by Lokniti-CSDS across 19 of India’s 28 states, with rising prices coming second at 23 percent, the Hindu newspaper reported last week.

The unemployment rate rose to 5.4 percent in 2022/23, from 4.9 percent in 2013/14 just before Modi swept to power, and nearly 16 percent of urban youth in the 15-29 years age group remained unemployed in 2022/23 due to poor skills and a lack of quality jobs, official data shows.

“BJP does not even want to discuss the most important issues related to people’s lives,” Congress leader Rahul Gandhi posted on X. 

“This time the youth is not going to fall into Modi’s trap, now they will strengthen the hands of Congress and bring an ‘employment revolution’ in the country.”