EU launches ‘historic’ membership talks with Ukraine, Moldova

EU launches ‘historic’ membership talks with Ukraine, Moldova
Olga Stefanishyna, Deputy Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration of Ukraine, talks to the press during a General Affairs council before an Intergovernmental Conference focus on the accession of Ukraine to the European Union at the EU Council building in Luxembourg on June 25, 2024. (AFP)
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Updated 26 June 2024
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EU launches ‘historic’ membership talks with Ukraine, Moldova

EU launches ‘historic’ membership talks with Ukraine, Moldova
  • Ukraine’s lead negotiator, Deputy Prime Minister Olga Stefanishyna, vowed that Kyiv “will be able to complete everything before 2030” to join the bloc

LUXEMBOURG: The European Union on Tuesday kicked off accession negotiations with Ukraine and Moldova, setting the fragile ex-Soviet states on a long path toward membership that Russia has tried to block.
The landmark move signals in particular a vote of confidence in Kyiv’s future at a time when Moscow has momentum on the battlefield almost two and a half years into the Kremlin’s invasion.
“Dear friends, today marks the beginning of a new chapter in the relationship between Ukraine and the European Union,” Ukraine’s Prime Minister Denys Shmygal said via videolink at the start of the talks.
President Volodymyr Zelensky called it a “historic day” as officials from Kyiv and the EU’s 27 member states met in Luxembourg.
“We will never be derailed from our path to a united Europe and to our common home of all European nations,” the Ukrainian leader wrote on social media.
Ukraine and later Moldova lodged their bids to join the EU in the aftermath of Russia’s assault in February 2022.
The opening of the talks marks just the beginning of a protracted process of reforms in Ukraine that is strewn with political obstacles and will likely take many years — and may never lead to membership.
Standing in the way along that journey will be not just Russia’s efforts at destabilization but reticence from doubters inside the EU, most notably Hungary.
But European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen called the opening of talks “very good news for the people of Ukraine, Moldova, and the entire European Union.”
“The path ahead will be challenging but full of opportunities,” she wrote on X on Tuesday.
So far, Ukraine has won plaudits for kickstarting a raft of reforms on curbing graft and political interference, even as war rages.
Ukraine’s lead negotiator, Deputy Prime Minister Olga Stefanishyna, vowed that Kyiv “will be able to complete everything before 2030” to join the bloc.
Russia’s war in Ukraine has reinvigorated a push in the EU to take on new members, after years in which countries particularly in the Western Balkans made little progress on their hopes to join.
The EU in December 2023 also granted candidate status to Georgia, another of Russia’s former Soviet neighbors.
It likewise approved accession negotiations with Bosnia and has talks ongoing with Serbia, Montenegro, Albania and North Macedonia.
The meetings with Ukraine and Moldova on Tuesday will set off a process of screening of how far laws in the countries already comply with EU standards and how much more work lies ahead.
Once that is done the EU then has to begin laying out conditions for negotiations on 35 subjects, ranging from taxation to environmental policy.
Stefanishyna said the next step should come in early 2025.
EU countries pushed to start the talks now before Hungary — the friendliest country to Russia in the bloc — takes over the EU’s rotating presidency next month.
Budapest has been opposed to pressing ahead with Kyiv’s membership bid, arguing that Ukraine was unfairly moving ahead for political reasons.
“From what I see here as we speak, they are very far from meeting the accession criteria,” Hungary’s Europe minister Janos Boka said on Tuesday.
Accepting Ukraine — a war-ravaged country of some 40 million people — would be a major step for the EU, and there are calls for the bloc to carry out reforms to streamline how it works before accepting new members.
The start of the talks resonates powerfully in Ukraine, as it was a desire for closer ties with the EU that sparked protests back in 2014 that eventually spiralled into the full-blown crisis with Russia.
The negotiations also come at a tense time in Moldova after the United States, Britain and Canada warned of a Russian “plot” to influence the country’s presidential elections in October.
Wedged between Ukraine and EU member Romania, Moldova’s pro-Western authorities frequently accuse the Kremlin of interfering in its internal affairs.
President Maia Sandu has accused Moscow, which has troops stationed in a breakaway region of the country, of aiming to destabilize Moldova ahead of the vote.
“Our future is within the European family,” Sandu wrote on X. “We are stronger together.”


Kremlin says French failure to accredit some Russian journalists for Paris Games is unacceptable

Kremlin says French failure to accredit some Russian journalists for Paris Games is unacceptable
Updated 5 sec ago
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Kremlin says French failure to accredit some Russian journalists for Paris Games is unacceptable

Kremlin says French failure to accredit some Russian journalists for Paris Games is unacceptable
  • France’s caretaker interior minister says that security services had rejected more than 4,000 applications for Olympics accreditations
MOSCOW: The Kremlin said on Monday that a decision by France to refuse to accredit some Russian journalists for the Paris 2024 Olympics over security fears was unacceptable and accused the French authorities of undermining media freedom.
France’s caretaker interior minister said on Sunday that French security services had rejected more than 4,000 applications for Olympics accreditations, including over espionage and cyberattack concerns.
Gerald Darmanin, who said close to one hundred applications had been rejected over espionage fears, said some of those turned down were from Russia and Belarus, a staunch ally of Moscow’s.
When asked about the refusal to accredit some Russian journalists for the Olympics, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call:
“We consider such decisions unacceptable. We believe such decisions undermine the freedom of the media. And they certainly violate all of France’s commitments to the OSCE (The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) and to other organizations,” he said.
“And of course we would like to see a reaction to such decisions from relevant human rights organizations, from organizations focused on ensuring all the foundations and rules of media freedom.”
The West on Friday accused Russia of riding roughshod over media freedom after a court found US reporter Evan Gershkovich guilty of espionage and sentenced him to 16 years in a maximum security penal colony.
His employer, the Wall Street Journal, called the ruling “a disgraceful sham conviction.” saying he had merely been doing his job as a reporter accredited by the Foreign Ministry to work in Russia.
The Kremlin said the case and the trial arrangements were a matter for the court, but stated before the verdict and without publishing evidence that Gershkovich had been caught spying “red-handed.”
Relations between Russia and France have sharply deteriorated over the war in Ukraine.
France has supplied military equipment to Kyiv and President Emmanuel Macron had called President Vladimir Putin’s Russia an adversary, warning that Europe’s credibility would be reduced to zero if Moscow won the war.

India court suspends order to restaurants to display owners’ names after anti-Muslim bias concerns

India court suspends order to restaurants to display owners’ names after anti-Muslim bias concerns
Updated 24 min 22 sec ago
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India court suspends order to restaurants to display owners’ names after anti-Muslim bias concerns

India court suspends order to restaurants to display owners’ names after anti-Muslim bias concerns

NEW DELHI: India’s top court ruled on Monday that restaurants cannot be forced to display the names of their owners, suspending police orders in two northern states that critics had said could foment discrimination against Muslims.
Police in the two states, both ruled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu-nationalist party, gave oral orders in at least two districts requiring restaurants to put the names of their owners on display boards.
Police said this would help avoid disputes for thousands of Hindu pilgrims who travel on foot to sacred sites during a holy month, many of whom follow dietary restrictions, such as eating no meat during their journey.
But a Supreme Court bench ruled on Monday that while restaurants could be expected to state the type of food they serve, including whether it is vegetarian, they “must not be forced” to display the name and identities of owners.
The court suspended orders by police in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand states and issued a notice to them seeking their response on petitions challenging the move.
More than a third of India’s 1.4 billion people are estimated to be vegetarian — the world’s largest percentage of people who don’t eat meat or eggs — as they follow diets promoted by groups within Hinduism and other religions.
Some vegetarians choose not to eat in restaurants that also serve meat and don’t rent out houses to meat-eating tenants.
A few allies of Modi and leaders of opposition parties had criticized the police orders, saying they feared they would deepen the communal divide and lead to Hindus avoiding restaurants employing Muslims.
Political foes accuse Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of targeting India’s roughly 200 million minority Muslims for electoral gains, which Modi and the BJP both deny.
“Such orders are social crimes, which want to spoil the peaceful atmosphere of harmony,” opposition Samajwadi Party Chief Akhilesh Yadav had said in a post on X, criticizing the police moves.


China and the Philippines announce deal aimed at stopping clashes at fiercely disputed shoal

China and the Philippines announce deal aimed at stopping clashes at fiercely disputed shoal
Updated 44 min 6 sec ago
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China and the Philippines announce deal aimed at stopping clashes at fiercely disputed shoal

China and the Philippines announce deal aimed at stopping clashes at fiercely disputed shoal
  • Crucial deal reached after a series of meetings between Philippine and Chinese diplomats in Manila
  • Beijing has disputes with several governments over land and sea borders, many of them in the South China Sea

MANILA: China and the Philippines reached a deal they hope will end confrontations at the most fiercely disputed shoal in the South China Sea, the Philippine government said Sunday.
The Philippines occupies Second Thomas Shoal but China also claims it, and increasingly hostile clashes at sea have sparked fears of larger conflicts that could involve the United States.
The crucial deal was reached Sunday, after a series of meetings between Philippine and Chinese diplomats in Manila and exchanges of diplomatic notes that aimed to establish a mutually acceptable arrangement at the shoal, which Filipinos call Ayungin and the Chinese call Ren’ai Jiao, without conceding either side’s territorial claims.
Two Philippine officials, who had knowledge of the negotiations, confirmed the deal to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity and the government later issued a brief statement announcing the deal without providing details.
“Both sides continue to recognize the need to deescalate the situation in the South China Sea and manage differences through dialogue and consultation and agree that the agreement will not prejudice each other’s positions in the South China Sea,” the Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila said.
China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced shortly after midnight Sunday that they discussed with the Philippines “managing the situation at Ren’ai Jiao and reached provisional arrangement with the Philippines on humanitarian resupply of living necessities.”
Neither side released the text of the agreement.
China has disputes with several governments over land and sea borders, many of them in the South China Sea. The rare deal with the Philippines could spark hope that similar arrangements could be forged by Beijing with other countries to avoid clashes while thorny territorial issues remain unresolved. It remains to be seen, however, if the deal could be implemented successfully and how long it will last.
Chinese coast guard and other forces have used powerful water cannons and dangerous blocking maneuvers to prevent food and other supplies from reaching Filipino navy personnel at Manila’s outpost at the shoal, on a long-grounded and rusting warship, the BRP Sierra Madre.
The yearslong territorial standoff has flared repeatedly since last year.
In the worst confrontation, Chinese forces on motorboats repeatedly rammed and then boarded two Philippine navy boats on June 17 to prevent Filipino personnel from transferring food and other supplies including firearms to the ship outpost in the shallows of the shoal, according to the Philippine government.
The Chinese seized the Philippine navy boats and damaged them with machetes and improvised spears. They also seized seven M4 rifles, which were packed in cases, and other supplies. The violent faceoff wounded several Filipino navy personnel, including one who lost his thumb, in a chaotic skirmish that was captured in video and photos that were later made public by Philippine officials.
China and the Philippines blamed each other for the confrontation and each asserted their own sovereign rights over the shoal.
The United States and its key Asian and Western allies, including Japan and Australia, condemned the Chinese acts at the shoal and called for the rule of law and freedom of navigation to be upheld in the South China Sea, a key global trade route with rich fishing areas and undersea gas deposits.
In addition to China and the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have been locked in separate but increasingly tense territorial disputes in the waterway, which is regarded as a potential flashpoint and a delicate fault line in the US-China regional rivalry. The US military has deployed Navy ships and fighter jets for decades in what it calls freedom of navigation and overflight patrols, which China has opposed and regards as a threat to regional stability.
Washington has no territorial claims in the disputed waters but has repeatedly warned that it is obligated to defend the Philippines, its oldest treaty ally in Asia, if Filipino forces, ships and aircraft come under an armed attack, including in the South China Sea.
One of the two Philippine officials said the June 17 confrontation prompted Beijing and Manila to hasten on-and-off talks on an arrangement that would prevent confrontations at Second Thomas Shoal.
During final meetings in the last four days, two Chinese demands that had been key sticking points were removed from the draft deal.
China had previously said it would allow food, water and other basic supplies to be transported by the Philippines to its forces at the shoal if Manila agreed not to bring construction materials to fortify the crumbling ship and to give China advance notice and the right to inspect the ships for those materials, the officials said.
The Philippines rejected those conditions, and the final deal did not include them, according to the Philippine officials.


France says Israeli athletes ‘welcome’ at Olympics

France says Israeli athletes ‘welcome’ at Olympics
Updated 50 min 3 sec ago
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France says Israeli athletes ‘welcome’ at Olympics

France says Israeli athletes ‘welcome’ at Olympics

PARIS: Israeli athletes are welcome at the Paris Olympics, French Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne said Monday, after a hard-left member of the French parliament sparked outrage by urging them to stay away.
“The Israeli delegation is welcome in France,” Sejourne said in Brussels ahead of talks with his Israeli counterpart, adding that the call by France Unbowed (LFI) lawmaker Thomas Portes for the country’s exclusion had been “irresponsible and dangerous.”
“We will ensure the security of the delegation,” Sejourne added.
Portes drew ire from French Jewish groups and both political opponents and allies for saying Israeli athletes were “not welcome” and calling for “mobilization” around the Olympics, during a demonstration in support of Palestinians.
He later told the Parisien newspaper that “France’s diplomats should pressure the International Olympic Committee to bar the Israeli flag and anthem, as is done for Russia” over its invasion of Ukraine.
Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said the comments had “hints of anti-Semitism” while the head of the Crif Jewish organization Yonathan Arfi said he was “putting a target on the backs” of Israeli athletes.
Portes’ remarks were condemned at the weekend by some allies from the more moderate Socialists, but backed by others in LFI.


Taiwan starts annual war games, aiming to closely mimic actual combat

Taiwan starts annual war games, aiming to closely mimic actual combat
Updated 22 July 2024
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Taiwan starts annual war games, aiming to closely mimic actual combat

Taiwan starts annual war games, aiming to closely mimic actual combat
  • The five-day war games will be happening in conjunction with the Wan’an civil defense drills
  • China has never renounced the use of force to bring Taiwan under its control
TAMSUI/TAOYUAN, Taiwan: Taiwan carried out anti-landing drills on a strategic river on Monday at the start of the annual Han Kuang war games, which this year aim to be as close as possible to actual combat with no script and simulating how to repel a Chinese attack.
China, which views democratically governed Taiwan as its territory, has been staging regular exercises around the island for four years to pressure Taipei to accept Beijing’s claim of sovereignty, despite Taiwan’s strong objections.
Taiwan’s drills this year have canceled elements that were mostly for show, like scripted firepower displays, while there will be intensified nighttime exercises and practicing how to operate with severed command lines.
Kicking off the first day of exercises in Tamsui at the mouth of a major river leading to Taipei, soldiers practiced laying mines and nets to stymie the landing of enemy forces, part of a series of drills designed to prevent the capital being seized.
“We are trying our best to slow them down as much as possible,” military office Chang Chih-pin told reporters, referring to a scenario where the enemy was trying to make landfall by sending rubber boats into the Tamsui River.
“The slower they move, the better for us,” he added.
Earlier on Monday in nearby Taoyuan, outside of Taipei and home to Taiwan’s main international airport, reservists gathered to get their orders as they would during a war, and civilian vans were pressed into service to carry supplies.
On Thursday, Taoyuan airport will close for an hour in the morning for the drills, though a typhoon is expected to be impacting the island that day meaning that the exercise could be delayed.
Taiwan’s defense ministry also published video of air force fighter jets at the Hualien air base on the island’s east coast, which has hangars cut out of the side of a mountain to protect aircraft from aerial attack.
Live fire drills will only take place on Taiwan’s outlying islands, including Kinmen and Matsu which sit nestled next to the Chinese coast and were the scene of on-off clashes during the height of the Cold War.
The five-day war games will be happening in conjunction with the Wan’an civil defense drills, where the streets of major cities are evacuated for half an hour during a simulated Chinese missile attack, and test warning alarms will sound on mobile phones.
The drill scenarios this week include setting up contingency command lines after existing hubs are destroyed and dispersing Chinese forces trying to land on Taiwan’s western coastline facing China, a defense official involved in the planning said.
China held two days of its own war games around the island shortly after President Lai Ching-te took office in May, saying it was “punishment” for his inauguration speech, which Beijing denounced as being full of separatist content.
But China has also been using grey zone warfare against Taiwan, wielding irregular tactics to exhaust a foe by keeping them continually on alert without resorting to open combat. This includes almost daily air force missions into the skies near Taiwan.
China has never renounced the use of force to bring Taiwan under its control. Lai, who says only the Taiwanese people can decide their future, has repeatedly offered talks but been rebuffed.