Ukrainian attacks kill six in Russia’s Belgorod region, officials say

Ukrainian attacks kill six in Russia’s Belgorod region, officials say
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Rescuers remove debris following the collapse of a section of a multi-story apartment block that was hit by a Ukrainian missile strike in the town of Shebekino in the Belgorod region, Russia, on June 14, 2024. (Russian Emergencies Ministry/Handout via REUTERS)
Ukrainian attacks kill six in Russia’s Belgorod region, officials say
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A view shows the scene of a collapsed multi-story apartment block hit in a Ukrainian missile strike in Shebekino, Belgorod region, Russia, in this picture posted on June 14, 2024 by Belgorod Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov in the Telegram platform. (Handout via REUTERS)
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Updated 15 June 2024
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Ukrainian attacks kill six in Russia’s Belgorod region, officials say

Ukrainian attacks kill six in Russia’s Belgorod region, officials say
  • On the Ukrainian side of the border, military officials in Sumy region said a Russian air strike on Friday killed one person in the town of Shostka

KYIV: Ukrainian attacks on southern Russia’s Belgorod region killed six people on Friday, officials said.
Russia’s Emergencies Ministry said four bodies had been pulled from the rubble of a multi-floor apartment building hit by Ukrainian shelling in the border town of Shebekino.
A ministry statement posted after midnight said 50 percent of the rubble from the site had been cleared. Pictures on the ministry’s Telegram channel showed a crane clearing debris and the building’s facade shattered, with one stairwell collapsed.
Regional Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said a Ukrainian drone had struck a car in a village near Shebekino, killing the driver. He said a woman was killed in her home when it was struck by rocket fire in the village of Oktyabrsky, further west.
Ukraine has staged frequent attacks on Belgorod and other Russian border regions in recent months.
President Vladimir Putin cited attacks on Belgorod as grounds for a cross-border incursion last month into Ukraine’s Kharkiv region.
The Russian military said its troops seized about a dozen settlements, while Ukrainian officials say the advance has been contained.
On the Ukrainian side of the border, military officials in Sumy region said a Russian air strike on Friday killed one person in the town of Shostka, about 45 km (28 miles) inside Ukrainian territory.
Towns and villages in Sumy region, west of Belgorod, are subject to daily Russian attacks.


Biden vows to ‘keep working for end to war in Gaza’

Biden vows to ‘keep working for end to war in Gaza’
Updated 5 min 48 sec ago
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Biden vows to ‘keep working for end to war in Gaza’

Biden vows to ‘keep working for end to war in Gaza’
  • Joe Biden: “I’ll be working very closely with the Israelis and with the Palestinians to try to work out how we can get the Gaza war to end"

WASHINGTON: US President Joe Biden vowed Monday to continue working to end the war in Gaza during his final months in office, after he bowed out of his reelection bid.
“I’ll be working very closely with the Israelis and with the Palestinians to try to work out how we can get the Gaza war to end, and Middle East peace, and get all those hostages home,” Biden said in a public call into his campaign headquarters, which has transitioned to supporting Vice President Kamala Harris.
 

 


US-Russian journalist convicted in a rapid, secret trial, gets 6 1/2 years in prison, court says

US-Russian journalist convicted in a rapid, secret trial, gets 6 1/2 years in prison, court says
Updated 4 min 24 sec ago
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US-Russian journalist convicted in a rapid, secret trial, gets 6 1/2 years in prison, court says

US-Russian journalist convicted in a rapid, secret trial, gets 6 1/2 years in prison, court says
  • The swift and secretive trials of Kurmasheva and Gershkovich in Russia’s highly politicized legal system raised hopes for a possible prisoner swap between Moscow and Washington

A court has convicted Alsu Kurmasheva, a Russian-American journalist for the US government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, of spreading false information about the Russian army and sentenced her to 6½ years in prison after a secret trial, court records and officials said Monday.
Kurmasheva’s family, her employer and the US government have rejected the charges against her and have called for her release.
The conviction in Kazan, the capital of Russia’s central region of Tatarstan, came on Friday, the same day a court in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg convicted Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich of espionage and sentenced him to 16 years in prison in a case that the US called politically motivated.
Kurmasheva, a 47-year-old editor for RFE/RL’s Tatar-Bashkir language service, was convicted of “spreading false information” about the military after a trial that lasted just two days, according to the website of the Supreme Court of Tatarstan. Court spokesperson Natalya Loseva confirmed Kurmasheva’s conviction and revealed the sentence to The Associated Press by phone in the case classified as secret.
Kurmasheva was ordered to serve the sentence in a medium-security penal colony, Loseva said.
“My daughters and I know Alsu has done nothing wrong. And the world knows it too. We need her home,” Kurmasheva’s husband, Pavel Butorin, said in a post Monday on X.
He had said last year the charges stemmed from a book the Tatar-Bashkir service released in 2022 called “No to War” — “a collection of short stories of Russians who don’t want their country to be at war with Ukraine.” Butorin had said the book doesn’t contain any “false information.”
Matthew Miller, the US State Department spokesman, said Kurmasheva is being “targeted by Russian authorities for her uncompromising commitment to speaking the truth and her principled reporting.”
“We continue to make very clear that she should be released,” Miller added.
Asked about the case, RFE/RL President and CEO Stephen Capus denounced the trial and conviction of Kurmasheva as “a mockery of justice.” “The only just outcome is for Alsu to be immediately released from prison by her Russian captors,” he said in a statement to the AP.
“It’s beyond time for this American citizen, our dear colleague, to be reunited with her loving family,” Capus said.
Kurmasheva, who holds US and Russian citizenship and lives in Prague with her husband and two daughters, was taken into custody in October 2023 and charged with failing to register as a foreign agent while collecting information about the Russian military.
Later, she was also charged with spreading “false information” about the Russian military under legislation that effectively criminalized any public expression about the war in Ukraine that deviates from the Kremlin line. The legislation was adopted in March 2022, just days after the Kremlin sent troops into Ukraine, and has since been used to target Kremlin critics at home and abroad, implicating scores of people in criminal cases and sending dozens to prison.
Kurmasheva was initially stopped in June 2023 at Kazan International Airport after traveling to Russia the previous month to visit her ailing elderly mother. Officials confiscated her US and Russian passports and fined her for failing to register her US passport. She was waiting for her passports to be returned when she was arrested on new charges in October that year. RFE/RL has repeatedly called for her release.
RFE/RL was told by Russian authorities in 2017 to register as a foreign agent, but it has challenged Moscow’s use of foreign agent laws in the European Court of Human Rights. The organization has been fined millions of dollars by Russia.
The organization Reporters Without Borders said Kurmasheva’s conviction “illustrates the unprecedented level of despotism permeating a Russian judiciary that takes orders from the Kremlin.”
It called for Kurmasheva’s immediate release and said the purpose of the sentence was to dissuade journalists from traveling to Russia and put pressure on the United States.
In February, RFE/RL was outlawed in Russia as an undesirable organization. Its Tatar-Bashkir service is the only major international news provider reporting in those languages, in addition to Russian, to audiences in the multi-ethnic, Muslim-majority Volga-Urals region.
The swift and secretive trials of Kurmasheva and Gershkovich in Russia’s highly politicized legal system raised hopes for a possible prisoner swap between Moscow and Washington. Russia has previously signaled a possible exchange involving Gershkovich, but said a verdict in his case must come first.
Arrests of Americans are increasingly common in Russia, with nine US citizens known to be detained there as tensions between the two countries have escalated over fighting in Ukraine.
Gershkovich, 32, was arrested March 29, 2023, while on a reporting trip to the Ural Mountains city of Yekaterinburg. Authorities claimed, without offering any evidence, that he was gathering secret information for the US
He has been behind bars since his arrest, time that will be counted as part of his sentence. Most of that was in Moscow’s notorious Lefortovo Prison — a czarist-era lockup used during Josef Stalin’s purges, when executions were carried out in its basement. He was transferred to Yekaterinburg for the trial.
Gershkovich was the first US journalist arrested on espionage charges since Nicholas Daniloff in 1986, at the height of the Cold War. Foreign journalists in Russia were shocked by Gershkovich’s arrest, even though the country has enacted increasingly repressive laws on freedom of speech after sending troops into Ukraine.
US President Joe Biden said after his conviction that Gershkovich “was targeted by the Russian government because he is a journalist and an American.”
US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield accused Moscow last week of treating “human beings as bargaining chips.” She singled out Gershkovich and ex-Marine Paul Whelan, 53, a corporate security director from Michigan, who is serving a 16-year sentence after being convicted on spying charges that he and the US denied.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Friday that when it comes to Gershkovich, Whelan and other Americans wrongfully detained in Russia and elsewhere, the US is working on the cases “quite literally every day.”
Sam Greene of the Center for European Policy Analysis said the conviction and sentencing of Kurmasheva and Gershkovich on the same day “suggests — but does not prove — that the Kremlin is preparing a deal. More likely, they are preparing to offer up a negotiating table that Washington will find it difficult to ignore.”
In a series of posts on X, Greene stressed that “the availability of a negotiating table shouldn’t be confused with the availability of a deal,” and that Moscow has no interest in releasing its prisoners — but it is likely to “seek the highest possible price for its bargaining chips, and to seek additional concessions along the way just to keep the talks going.”
Washington “should obviously do what it can” to get Gershkovich, Kurmasheva, imprisoned opposition politician Vladimir Kara-Murza and other political prisoners out, he said, adding: “But if Moscow demands what it really wants — the abandonment of Ukraine — what then?”


Iraq eyes drawdown of US-led forces starting September, sources say

Iraq eyes drawdown of US-led forces starting September, sources say
Updated 17 min 58 sec ago
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Iraq eyes drawdown of US-led forces starting September, sources say

Iraq eyes drawdown of US-led forces starting September, sources say
  • The US currently has around 2,500 troops in Iraq at the head of a more than 80-member coalition that was formed in 2014 to repel Daesh as it rampaged across Iraq and Syria
  • Washington and Baghdad initiated talks on the future of the coalition in January amid tit-for-tat attacks between Iran-backed Shiite Muslim armed groups and US forces that were sparked by the Israel-Hamas war

BAGHDAD: Iraq wants troops from a US-led military coalition to begin withdrawing in September and to formally end the coalition’s work by September 2025, four Iraqi sources said, with some US forces likely to remain in a newly negotiated advisory capacity.
The Iraqi position is being discussed with US officials in Washington this week at a security summit and there is no formal agreement on ending the coalition or any associated timetable yet, the Iraqi sources and US officials said.
US State Department spokesperson Mathew Miller told a news briefing that both sides were meeting in Washington this week to determine how to transition the US-led coalition’s mission based on the threat posed by Daesh, adding he had no further details.
US-led forces invaded Iraq in 2003, toppled former leader Saddam Hussein and then withdrew in 2011, only to return in 2014 to fight Daesh at the head of the coalition.
The US currently has around 2,500 troops in Iraq at the head of a more than 80-member coalition that was formed in 2014 to repel Daesh as it rampaged across Iraq and Syria.
They are housed at three main bases, one in Baghdad, one in western Anbar province and another in the northern Kurdistan region.
It is unclear how many troops would leave under a deal, with Iraqi sources saying they expected most to eventually depart but US officials saying many may remain under a newly negotiated advise and assist mission.
US officials are keen to have some military footprint in Iraq on a bilateral basis, in part to help support its presence across the border in Syria, where it has around 900 troops.
The issue is highly politicized, with mainly Iran-aligned Iraqi political factions looking to show that they are pushing out the country’s one-time occupier again, while US officials want to avoid giving Iran and its allies a win.
There are also concerns about Daesh’s ability to regroup.
The jihadist group was declared territorially defeated in Iraq in 2017 and in Syria in 2019 but still carries out attacks in both countries and is on track to double its attacks in Syria this year compared to 2023, the US military said.
The group and its affiliates have also in recent months carried out attacks in Iran and Russia, as well as in Oman last week for the first time.
While the coalition’s mission is to advise and assist Iraqi forces in the fight against the Daesh, Western officials say the US and its allies also see its presence in Iraq as a check on Iranian influence.
Washington and Baghdad initiated talks on the future of the coalition in January amid tit-for-tat attacks between Iran-backed Shiite Muslim armed groups and US forces that were sparked by the Israel-Hamas war.
An agreement to draw down the coalition could be a political win for Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani, who has been under pressure from Iran-aligned factions to push out US forces but has sought to do so in a way that balances Iraq’s delicate position as an ally of both Washington and Tehran.

 

 


Israel strikes on Yemen port: what is the damage?

Israel strikes on Yemen port: what is the damage?
Updated 46 min 47 sec ago
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Israel strikes on Yemen port: what is the damage?

Israel strikes on Yemen port: what is the damage?
  • The attack destroyed most of the port’s fuel storage capacity of 150,000 tons, leaving the Hodeida governorate with an overall capacity of 50,000, the US-based Navanti Group said, citing merchants
  • The ship “remains operational,” but “all 780,000 liters of fuel stock was likely destroyed,” said Pierre Honnorat, WFP’s Yemen country director, adding that all the agency’s staff were safe and accounted for

DUBAI: Israeli strikes on Saturday hit a power plant and fuel storage facilities in Hodeida, the main port under the control of Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels.
Here is what we know about the damage caused by the attack, which set oil tanks ablaze for days and came a day after the first fatal strike by the Houthis in Israel.

Saturday’s long-distance strike, the first by Israel on the Arabian Peninsula’s poorest country, hit the Hodeida harbor, a key gateway for fuel and international aid into Houthi-held parts of Yemen.

A satellite image shows a closer view of burning oil tanks after an Israeli air strike on Houthi military targets in Hodeidah, Yemen, July 21, 2024. (REUTERS)

The Houthis, who control swathes of the country including much of its Red Sea coast, said the attack struck fuel storage facilities at the harbor, killing six people, all of them port employees of the Yemen Petroleum Company.
A nearby power plant was also targeted, according to the rebels.
AFPTV images showed huge flames and black smoke spiralling into the sky from burning oil tanks at the port. Debris covered the dock where equipment was damaged.
High-resolution satellite images taken by Maxar Technologies showed flames consuming a heavily damaged fuel storage area, which still appeared to be burning on Monday, according to an AFP correspondent.

Debris litters a loading dock a day after Israeli strikes on the port of Yemen's Huthi-held city of Hodeida on July 21, 2024. (AFP)

A Hodeida port employee who was at the harbor the day of the attack said several tanks exploded sequentially.
But “the port, with its dock, containers, and ships, is intact,” said the employee who spoke on condition of anonymity over security concerns.
Analysis of satellite imagery from Planet by Dutch peace organization PAX showed at least 33 destroyed oil storage tanks, said Wim Zwijnenburg, a project leader with the organization.
“We expect (to find) more damage, as not all storage tanks are visible because of heavy smoke” from the fire and burning fuel, Zwijnenburg told AFP.

According to Zwijnenburg, the bombing has resulted in tens of thousands of liters of oil burning.
“Localized coastal pollution is expected from wastewater and leaking fuel,” said the expert, who specializes in the environmental impacts of war.
Maritime security firm Ambrey said satellite imagery following the strikes showed “extensive damage to the oil products storage facilities,” clarifying, however, that “the bulk terminal storage facilities appeared to be unaffected.”
The attack destroyed most of the port’s fuel storage capacity of 150,000 tons, leaving the Hodeida governorate with an overall capacity of 50,000, the US-based Navanti Group said, citing merchants.
The Israeli army on Sunday published a video showing them hitting two container yard cranes at the harbor.
The Navanti Group said five cranes are now “most likely non-operational.”
Ambrey said two merchant vessels were alongside the yard at the time the cranes were hit, but it did not specify if they were damaged.
The British agency had earlier observed four merchant vessels in the port at the time of the strikes and another eight in the anchorage.
“No vessel arrivals or departures have occurred since the Israeli attack on Hodeida,” Ambrey reported on Monday.

The World Food Programme on Monday told AFP that there had been “minor” damage to a crane on one of its aid vessels in the port and that its fuel storage facility was impacted.
The ship “remains operational,” but “all 780,000 liters of fuel stock was likely destroyed,” said Pierre Honnorat, WFP’s Yemen country director, adding that all the agency’s staff were safe and accounted for.
“WFP will source enough fuel supplies to ensure this loss has no significant effect on our operations,” he said.
Yemeni port authorities have said Hodeida “is operating at its full capacity,” according to the rebels’ Saba news agency.
“We are working around the clock to receive all ships and there is no concern about the supply chain and supplies of food, medicine, and oil derivatives,” port official Nasr Al-Nusairi was quoted by Saba as saying on Sunday.
A Houthi transport official on Monday said “work is underway to receive and unload food and fuel shipments within 24 hours.”
While firefighting teams were still struggling to contain the blaze at the harbor, a fire that erupted at a nearby power plant was nearly under control on Monday, according to Mohammed Albasha, the Navanti Group’s senior Middle East analyst.
“Repairs have started” as electricity gradually returns to the city following outages over the weekend, the analyst said.
 

 


Ukraine reaches preliminary deal with bondholder group on $20-billion debt restructure

Ukraine reaches preliminary deal with bondholder group on $20-billion debt restructure
Updated 23 July 2024
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Ukraine reaches preliminary deal with bondholder group on $20-billion debt restructure

Ukraine reaches preliminary deal with bondholder group on $20-billion debt restructure
  • Ukraine’s finances are precarious as its 28-month war with Russia drags on. Russia’s 2022 invasion decimated its economy, leaving it heavily reliant on money – and military aid – from international partners

LONDON: Ukraine said on Monday it had reached an agreement in principle with a group of creditors to restructure $20 billion of international bonds, bringing the war-torn country closer to an unprecedented debt rework.
Ukraine’s announcement comes just over a week before a two-year debt suspension agreement struck in 2022 is due to run out and marks the first time a country has embarked on a debt restructuring during a full-scale war.
“After months of engagement and hard work with our private bondholders, the IMF and our bilateral partners, we have reached an agreement in principle with the Ad Hoc Creditor Committee on the comprehensive restructuring of our public external debt,” Finance Minister Serhiy Marchenko said in a statement.
This was an important step to ensure Ukraine maintained the budget stability and cash resources needed to continue financing its defense, he added.
Ukraine’s finances are precarious as its 28-month war with Russia drags on. Russia’s 2022 invasion decimated its economy, leaving it heavily reliant on money – and military aid – from international partners.
The US presidential election in November and the risk of wavering commitment to maintain support for Ukraine under a potential Donald Trump presidency increased pressure for a debt restructuring, sources close to the talks and analysts said.
The proposal would see a 37 percent nominal haircut on Ukraine’s outstanding international bonds, saving Kyiv $11.4 billion in payments over the next three years — the duration of the country’s program with the International Monetary Fund set to expire in 2027, according to government statements.
The government said the IMF had confirmed that the deal was compatible with the parameters of its $122 billion support package, and that the country’s official lenders, the Group of Creditors of Ukraine (GCU), had also signed off on it.
A spokesperson for the Paris Club of creditor nations, which usually handles communications for the GCU, confirmed the group was comfortable with the proposal.
The IMF welcomed the agreement and confirmed it is consistent with the current program, adding that it will be “essential to bring Ukraine’s debt burdens to sustainable levels, thereby ensuring room for critical spending and supporting growth.”
Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said in a message on the Telegram app that the deal would free up resources for urgent needs, including defense, social protection and recovery.
A source at the Germany finance ministry welcomed the draft agreement and said it was a key step to preserve the Ukraine government’s ability to act and plan ahead.
The Ad Hoc Creditor Committee, which holds 22 percent of the country’s sovereign bonds, called the agreement “swift and constructive.”
“We are pleased to be able to provide significant debt relief to Ukraine, assist its efforts to regain its access to international capital markets, and support the future reconstruction,” it said in a statement.
RACING TO THE FINISH
Under the proposal, some of the new bonds issued would start paying a 1.75 percent coupon from next year, with payments stepping up to as much as 7.75 percent from 2034 onwards. Bondholders are also in line to receive a consent fee.
Interest payments had been a sticky issue in the talks. Bondholders sought financial inducement to agree to a rework, while Ukraine’s international partners such as Group of Seven nations and the IMF objected to large amounts of money being funnelled to private lenders and away from strained government finances.
Payments to bondholders under the deal would amount to less than $200 million through to end-2025.
While the bonds have a face value of $19.7 billion, Ukraine owes around $23 billion with past due interest.
The international bonds soared more than 5 cents after the announcement, with most maturities trading around the 35 cents mark and at their strongest in about two years.
Ukraine’s $2.6 billion GDP warrants — fixed-income instruments with payouts linked to the strength of economic growth — were not part of the restructuring, though the government said it would “ensure the fair and equitable treatment of holders of the Warrants.”
Bondholders will vote on the proposal in coming weeks. If enough sign off, the government will issue new bonds.
A first payment in the wake of the two year moratorium is due on Aug. 1, but Ukraine last week passed a law allowing it to miss payments — and enter debt default, even temporarily — while the agreement is finalized.
The debt deal would be Ukraine’s second in a decade triggered by its neighbor: Ukraine restructured in 2015 following Moscow’s annexation of Crimea.
“Once completed, this restructuring will also pave the way for Ukraine’s market re-entry as soon as possible when the security situation stabilizes to fund our country’s swift recovery and reconstruction,” Marchenko said in the statement.