Russia calls Navalny US ‘agent’ after extremism ruling
A Moscow court ruled to designate Navalny’s regional offices and his Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) as “extremist”
Updated 10 June 2021
MOSCOW: Russia on Thursday suggested that Washington was quick to condemn the designation of Alexei Navalny’s groups as extremist because the jailed Kremlin critic was in fact working for the United States.
A Moscow court late on Wednesday ruled to designate Navalny’s regional offices and his Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) as “extremist,” barring them from working in Russia.
The US State Department called the action “particularly disturbing” and said it was part of a pattern of restricting fundamental rights in Russia.
In a radio interview on Thursday morning, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the response showed the extent of US interference in Russia’s affairs.
“Can you imagine seeing such an instant reaction from the State Department to a domestic or some other internal decision in another country?” she said in the interview broadcast on YouTube and state radio.
“Then in a few hours they make a special statement. This means that they are politically involved in the story,” she said, adding that Washington was thus exposing its “agents.”
“They show such political zeal because it touches those whom they supervised, those whom they supported politically and in other ways,” Zakharova said.
Prosecutors in April had requested that Navalny’s organizations be hit with the “extremist” label, saying the group was plotting an uprising with support from the West.
Navalny’s network of regional offices had helped organize a smart voting strategy that urged voters to cast ballots for those most likely to defeat Kremlin-linked candidates.
Ahead of parliamentary elections in September — in which the deeply unpopular ruling United Russia party is expected to struggle — lawmakers passed legislation that bans members and sponsors of “extremist” groups from running in the polls.
US to open Vanuatu embassy in latest move to counter China in Pacific
The US and its regional allies have held concerns that China has ambitions to build a naval base in the region since the Solomon Islands struck a security pact with Beijing last year
Updated 18 sec ago
WASHINGTON: The United States plans to open an embassy in the South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu, the State Department said on Friday, in Washington’s latest move to boost its diplomatic presence in the Pacific to counter China’s growing influence.
“Consistent with the US Indo-Pacific strategy, a permanent diplomatic presence in Vanuatu would allow the US Government to deepen relationships with Ni-Vanuatu officials and society,” the department said in a statement.
“Establishing US Embassy Port Vila would facilitate areas of potential bilateral cooperation and development assistance, including efforts to tackle the climate crisis,” it said.
The US has diplomatic relations with Vanuatu, which has a population of 319,000 spread across 80 islands, but is currently represented by diplomats based in New Guinea.
The US reopened its embassy in the Solomon Islands this year after a 30-year absence and the latest State Department announcement follows a visit this month to the region, including Vanuatu, by US Indo-Pacific coordinator Kurt Campbell.
Other US embassies are planned in the Pacific island nations of Kiribati and Tonga.
Despite the diplomatic push, the Solomon Islands announced this month it had awarded a multi-million-dollar contract to a Chinese state company to upgrade an international port in Honiara.
The United States and its regional allies have held concerns that China has ambitions to build a naval base in the region since the Solomon Islands struck a security pact with Beijing last year.
Washington has also been working to renew agreements with the Marshall Islands, Palau and the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) under which it retains responsibility for the islands’ defense and gains exclusive access to huge swaths of the Pacific.
The Biden administration is seeking more than $7 billion over the next two decades for economic assistance to the three countries, the State Department said last week, funds seen as key to insulating them from growing Chinese influence.
UN food chief: Billions needed to stave of unrest, mass migration and starvation
David Beasley says an estimated 350 million people in 49 countries desperately need food
Urges China, Gulf nations, billionaires and other countries “to step up big time”
Updated 50 min 1 sec ago
UNITED NATIONS: Without billions of dollars more to feed millions of hungry people, the world will see mass migration, destabilized countries, and starving children and adults in the next 12 to 18 months, the head of the UN World Food Program warned Friday.
David Beasley praised increased funding from the United States and Germany last year, and urged China, Gulf nations, billionaires and other countries “to step up big time.”
In an interview before he hands the reins of the world’s largest humanitarian organization to US ambassador Cindy McCain next week, the former South Carolina governor said he’s “extremely worried” that WFP won’t raise about $23 billion it needs this year to help an estimated 350 million people in 49 countries who desperately need food.
“Right at this stage, I’ll be surprised if we get 40 percent of it, quite frankly,” he said.
WFP was in a similar crisis last year, he said, but fortunately he was able to convince the United States to increase its funding from about $3.5 billion to $7.4 billion and Germany to raise its contribution from $350 million a few years ago to $1.7 billion, but he doesn’t think they’ll do it again this year.
Other countries need to step up now, he said, starting with China, the world’s second-largest economy which gave WFP just $11 million last year.
With $400 trillion worth of wealth on the planet, there’s no reason for any child to die of starvation.
David Beasley, WFP chief
Beasley applauded China for its success in substantially reducing hunger and poverty at home, but said it gave less than one cent per person last year compared to the United States, the world’s leading economy, which gave about $22 per person.
China needs “to engage in the multilateral world” and be willing to provide help that is critical, he said. “They have a moral obligation to do so.”
Beasley said they’ve done “an incredible job of feeding their people,” and “now we need their help in other parts of the world” on how they did it, particularly in poorer countries including in Africa.
With high oil prices Gulf countries can also do more, especially Muslim nations that have relations with countries in east Africa, the Sahara and elsewhere in the Middle East, he said, expressing hope they will increase contributions.
Beasley said the wealthiest billionaires made unprecedented profits during the COVID-19 pandemic, and “it’s not too much to ask some of the multibillionaires to step up and help us in the short-term crisis,” even though charity isn’t a long-term solution to the food crisis.
In the long-term, he said what he’d really like to see is billionaires using their experience and success to engage “in the world’s greatest need – and that is food on the planet to feed 8 billion people.”
“The world has to understand that the next 12 to 18 months is critical, and if we back off the funding, you will have mass migration, and you will have destabilization nations and that will all be on top of starvation among children and people around the world,” he warned.
Beasley said WFP was just forced to cut rations by 50 percent to 4 million people in Afghanistan, and “these are people who are knocking on famine’s door now.”
“We don’t have enough money just to reach the most vulnerable people now,” he said. “So we are in a crisis over the cliff stage right now, where we literally could have hell on earth if we’re not very careful.”
Beasley said he’s been telling leaders in the West and Europe that while they’re focusing everything on Ukraine and Russia, “you better well not forget about what’s south and southeast of you because I can assure you it is coming your way if you don’t pay attention and get on top of it.”
With $400 trillion worth of wealth on the planet, he said, there’s no reason for any child to die of starvation.
The WFP executive director said leaders have to prioritize the humanitarian needs that are going to have the greatest impact on stability in societies around the world.
He singled out several priority places — Africa’s Sahel region as well as the east including Somalia, northern Kenya, South Sudan and Ethiopia; Syria which is having an impact on Jordan and Lebanon; and Central and South America where the number of people migrating to the United States is now five times what it was a year-and-a-half ago.
Trump to appear in court on Tuesday to answer criminal charges
Trump is due in court on Tuesday in Manhattan
He is first former US president to face criminal charges
Updated 17 min 24 sec ago
NEW YORK: Donald Trump is due to be fingerprinted and photographed in a New York courthouse next week as he becomes the first former US president to face criminal charges in a case involving a 2016 hush money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels.
Trump’s expected appearance before a judge in Manhattan on Tuesday, as the Republican mounts a bid to regain the presidency, could further inflame divisions in the United States. A New York judge in a document unsealed on Friday authorized Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, a Democrat, to disclose that Trump had been indicted, but it was not clear when the specific charges would be made public.
Trump plans to fly to New York on Monday from his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida and spend the night at Trump Tower before appearing in court early on Tuesday, according to a person familiar with the matter. Trump plans to return to Florida afterward, the source said.
Susan Necheles, a Trump attorney, told Reuters he will plead not guilty. Necheles said she did not expect the charges to be unsealed until Tuesday.
“I am not afraid of what’s to come,” Trump said in a fundraising email on Friday.
For nearly two weeks, Trump has been using the various legal troubles he faces to rally supporters and raise money as he seeks his party’s nomination to challenge Democratic President Joe Biden next year in a rematch of the 2020 election. His campaign said Trump raised more than $4 million in the 24 hours following the news of his indictment by a Manhattan grand jury.
The first American president to try to overthrow an election defeat, inspiring the deadly 2021 assault on the US Capitol, has signaled he will continue to run despite the charges.
Biden on Friday kept his thoughts on the charges against his political rival to himself, telling reporters: “I’m not going to talk about Trump’s indictment.”
After word surfaced on Thursday about the indictment, Trump called himself “completely innocent” and a victim of political persecution.
On Friday, Trump lashed out at Justice Juan Merchan, the judge expected to oversee the case. Trump wrote on social media that Merchan, who also presided over last year’s trial in which his real estate company was convicted of tax fraud, “HATES ME” and treated the Trump Organization “VICIOUSLY.” Trump was not charged in that case, which also was handled by Bragg’s office.
The specific charges in the new indictment are not yet known, though CNN reported that Trump faced more than 30 counts related to business fraud and the Associated Press reported the former president faced at least one felony charge.
Another Trump lawyer, Joseph Tacopina, said Trump will not have to wear handcuffs at his court appearance and will likely be released without having to post bail.
“He’s ready to fight. He’s gearing up,” Tacopina said in a phone interview.
Any potential trial is still at least more than a year away, legal experts said, meaning it could occur during or after the presidential campaign.
Trump, 76, has accused Bragg of trying to damage his electoral chances. Trump’s claims have been echoed by many of his fellow Republicans and his potential rivals in the race for the party’s presidential nomination.
Mike Pence, Trump’s former vice president and a possible 2024 candidate, said the charges send a “terrible message” to the world about US justice.
“I’m very troubled by it,” Pence said at a forum in Washington.
Ahead of the indictment, the grand jury heard evidence about a $130,000 payment to Daniels in the waning days of the 2016 presidential campaign. Daniels has said she was paid to keep silent about a sexual encounter she had with Trump in 2006.
“It’s vindication,” Daniels told the Times of London. “He’s done so much worse that he should have been taken down (for) before.”
Senior House of Representatives Republicans have vowed to investigate Bragg and demanded he hand over documents and other confidential material from the investigation. Bragg said Congress does not have authority to interfere with a New York legal proceeding and accused the lawmakers of escalating political tensions. Bragg’s office has been the target of bomb threats in recent weeks.
“You and many of your colleagues have chosen to collaborate with Mr. Trump’s efforts to vilify and denigrate the integrity of elected state prosecutors and trial judges,” Bragg wrote in a letter to Republican lawmakers.
Aside from this case, Trump faces two federal criminal investigations into his efforts to overturn his 2020 election defeat and his handling of classified documents after leaving office. Trump also faces a separate Georgia investigation into his efforts to overturn his 2020 loss in that state.
Officials have stepped up security around the courthouse in New York since Trump on March 18 called on his supporters to protest any arrest. A law enforcement source said police would close streets around the courthouse ahead of Tuesday’s expected appearance.
On Friday, media outlets were set up outside the courthouse but there was no sign of unrest or protests related to the case.
Trump appealed this month for nationwide protests, recalling his charged rhetoric ahead of the Jan. 6, 2021, US Capitol attack, and warned last week of potential “death & destruction” if he were charged.
Outside Mar-a-Lago, about a dozen people waved Trump flags and cheered as cars passed by.
Sonja Simpson, 62, said the payment to Daniels was not a public concern.
“If there were a thing, that’s between him, that woman and his wife. Period. Let them work it out,” Simpson said.
Merchandise vendor Ronald Solomon said sales of Trump-themed hats and t-shirts were up sharply after the charges were announced.
Some 44 percent of Republicans said Trump should drop out of the race if he is indicted, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released last week.
The former president’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen has said he coordinated with Trump on the payments to Daniels and to a second woman, former Playboy model Karen McDougal. Trump has denied having had sexual relationships with either woman, but has acknowledged reimbursing Cohen.
Cohen pleaded guilty to a campaign-finance violation in 2018 and served more than a year in prison. Federal prosecutors said he acted at Trump’s direction.
Ukraine marks grim Bucha anniversary, calls for justice
Updated 01 April 2023
BUCHA, Ukraine: Ukrainians marked the anniversary of the liberation of Bucha Friday with calls for remembrance and justice after a brutal Russian occupation that left hundreds of civilians dead in the streets and in mass graves, establishing the town near Kyiv as an epicenter of the war’s atrocities.
“We will not let it be forgotten,” President Volodymyr Zelensky said at a ceremony in Bucha, vowing to punish those who committed outrages there that are still raw. “Human dignity will not let it be forgotten. On the streets of Bucha, the world has seen Russian evil. Evil unmasked.”
Bucha’s name has come to evoke savagery by Moscow’s military since its full-scale invasion of Ukraine began in February 2022. Ukrainian troops who retook the town found the bodies of men, women and children on the streets, in yards and homes, and in mass graves. Some showed signs of torture.
Elsewhere in Ukraine, fighting continued Friday: Russia used its long-range arsenal to bombard several areas, killing at least two civilians and damaging homes.
And the Kremlin-allied president of neighboring Belarus raised the stakes when he said Russian strategic nuclear weapons might be deployed in his country, along with part of Moscow’s tactical nuclear arsenal. Moscow said earlier this week that it planned to place in Belarus tactical nuclear weapons, which are comparatively short-range and low-yield. Strategic nuclear weapons, such as missile-borne warheads, would bring a greater threat.
At the official commemoration in Bucha, Zelensky was joined by Moldova’s president and the prime ministers of Croatia, Slovakia and Slovenia.
Russian troops occupied Bucha weeks after they invaded Ukraine and stayed for about a month. When Ukrainian forces retook the town, they encountered horrific scenes. Over weeks and months, hundreds of bodies were uncovered, including of children.
Russian soldiers, on intercepted phone conversations, called it “zachistka” — cleansing, according to an investigation by The Associated Press and the PBS series “Frontline.”
Such organized cruelty, which Russian troops also employed in other conflicts such as Chechnya, was later repeated in Russia-occupied territories across Ukraine.
Zelensky handed out medals to soldiers, police officers, doctors, teachers and emergency workers in Bucha, as well as to the families of two soldiers killed during the defense of the Kyiv region.
“Ukrainian people, you have stopped the biggest anti-human force of our times,” he said. “You have stopped the force which has no respect and wants to destroy everything that gives meaning to human life.”
Ukrainian authorities documented more than 1,400 civilian deaths, including 37 children, in the Bucha district, and more than 175 people were found in mass graves and alleged torture chambers, Zelensky said. Ukraine and other countries, including the US, have demanded that Russia answer for war crimes.
Among the civilians killed was 69-year-old Valerii Kyzylov, whose wife survived but for whom the horrors inflicted on Bucha, her home town, are still raw.
“I remember everything like it was yesterday,” she said, twisting a handkerchief in her hands as she stood at a candle-lit vigil on Friday evening. “A year has passed but I still see it before my eyes.”
She cried as she recounted the horror she endured a year ago. Of Russian troops shooting her husband dead and leaving the body lying in the street for days. Of the Russian soldiers taking over her house, where she was forced to live in the basement. They would bring other civilians to the basement, she said, some with bags over their heads, and they would decide there whom to execute and whom to allow to live.
“I lived with my husband for 47 years. We have two children. We had such a nice family,” she said, weeping. “This pain is so great. He was so beautiful. He was killed for nothing.”
Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin alleged Friday that many of the dead civilians were tortured. Almost 100 Russian soldiers are suspected of war crimes, he said on his Telegram channel, and indictments have been issued for 35 of them.
A Ukrainian court has sentenced two Russian servicemen to 12 years in prison for illegally depriving civilians of liberty, and for looting.
“I am convinced that all these crimes are not a coincidence. This is part of Russia’s planned strategy aimed at destroying Ukraine as a state and Ukrainians as a nation,” Kostin said.
In Geneva, the UN human rights chief said his office has verified the deaths of more than 8,400 civilians in Ukraine since Russia’s invasion — a count believed to be far short of the true toll. Volker Türk told the UN Human Rights Council that “severe violations of human rights and international humanitarian law have become shockingly routine” during Russia’s invasion.
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Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, along with announcing the possibility of the deployment of Russian strategic nuclear weapons in his country, called for a cease-fire in Ukraine. A truce, he said in his state-of-the-nation address in Minsk, must be announced without any preconditions, and all movement of troops and weapons must be halted.
“It’s necessary to stop now, before an escalation begins,” Lukashenko said, adding that an anticipated Ukrainian counteroffensive using Western-supplied weapons would bring “an irreversible escalation of the conflict.”
But Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov responded that Russia has to keep fighting, again claiming that Ukraine has rejected any talks under pressure from its Western allies.
Peskov also dismissed remarks by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán that the European Union was mulling the deployment of peacekeeping troops to Ukraine, calling that “extremely dangerous.”
Russia has maintained its bombardment of Ukraine, with the war already in its second year. Along with the two civilians killed Friday, 14 others were wounded as Russia launched missiles, shells, exploding drones and gliding bombs, the Ukraine presidential office said.
Two Russian missiles hit the eastern city of Kramatorsk, damaging eight residential buildings, the office said. Nine missiles struck Kharkiv, damaging residential buildings, roads, gas stations and a prison, while Russian forces shelled the southern city and region of Kherson. A barrage at Zaporizhzhia and its outskirts caused major fires.
In the battered front-line town of Avdiivka in eastern Ukraine, a baby and adult were killed in Russian shelling, according to the presidential office. Before the Russian invasion, about 25,000 people lived in Avdiivka. About 2,000 civilians remain.
Ukrainian soldiers in Kharkiv have a clear vision of danger and glory alike
Local commander appreciates weapons donations, says troops lack technical skills and expertise to operate them
Loss of homes and livelihoods proved too much to bear for those who remained during Russian control
Updated 01 April 2023
KHARKIV: In Kostyantynivka, an industrial city in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, just 20 kilometers southwest of the Bakhmut front line, local and foreign recruits train under the watchful eye of Oleksandr, commander of the Aidar Battalion, an assault unit of the Ukrainian Ground Forces.
Oleksandr, a handsome man in his 30s, has been a soldier since 2014, joining up shortly after his girlfriend’s father was taken captive by Russian-backed forces that same year. Since then, his prowess as a leader on the battlefield has seen him promoted to the rank of commander.
“I know how the enemy operates by now; their strategy is to create confusion and chaos. We run ours by critical thinking, by going over our mistakes and learning from them to do better in the next battle,” he told Arab News at the unit’s local barracks.
“We have been successful in most if not all of our battles, but we need more. We need more weapons, we need more drones, we need more support. We have been trying to produce our own weapons but it is not enough.”
Bakhmut has been the site of some of the bloodiest fighting since Russia launched what it called a “special military operation” on Feb. 24, 2022.
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has verified a total of 8,317 civilian deaths during the invasion of Ukraine as of March 19. Furthermore, 13,892 people were reported to have been injured. However, the numbers could be higher.
According to recent estimates, the conflict has wounded or killed 180,000 Russian soldiers and 100,000 Ukrainian troops. Other Western sources estimate the war has caused 150,000 casualties on each side.
Russian armed forces and the Wagner Group — a private military contractor which has recruited from Russia’s jails — sent a massive land force to capture the region, stretching Ukrainian ammunition to the limit.
“We see the Russian soldiers trying to emulate our strategy,” said Oleksandr. “The Wagner soldiers consist of former convicts and drug addicts. They are running low on recruit numbers and have been relying on prisons to fill in their ranks.”
In their attempt to punch through Ukrainian lines, Russian forces have been using a technique known as the “fox den” strategy, in which a grenade is attached to a drone and dropped into Ukrainian trenches from above.
Nevertheless, Russian losses on this stretch of the battlefield have been high, with an attrition rate more severe than that of the Ukrainian defenders. “We do not underestimate our enemy, but they keep making the same mistakes. I have a feeling they do not learn,” said Oleksandr.
“Russian walkie talkies have fallen into our possession. What we heard shows they’re stubborn. Their generals don’t care how — the command is to get the job done no matter what, no matter the cannon fodder.”
NATO’s member states have been supplying Ukraine with modern battle tanks and other high-tech weaponry, supplementing the old Soviet-era technology that has long been the mainstay of Ukraine’s war effort.
Oleksandr says he appreciates the weapons donations, but says his troops still lack the technical skills and expertise to operate, maintain and repair the new gear. “Regardless, we will never surrender,” he said.
The Aidar Battalion came to prominence in recent months thanks to its social media activity, clocking up some 4.5 million subscribers on its TikTok account.
Known as the “dancing soldiers,” short videos of its personnel performing traditional dances in full battle dress have become a source of inspiration and a morale boost for the wider Ukrainian armed forces and the public at large.
“You need to find a way to have fun, or else you won’t survive,” said Oleksandr. “I also make videos for my daughter, so she can see what her father is doing.”
Further to the northwest, in the Kharkiv region, the Kharkiv Territorial Defense Battalion is dug in along the barren landscape, with deep trenches and sandbags piled high to protect its personnel from enemy fire.
Most of the region was retaken from Russian forces in September 2022 during a massive Ukrainian counteroffensive, in what was viewed at the time as a significant turning point in the war. However, this momentum has since been lost, resulting in a bitter stalemate.
The months of fighting across this wide front left unfathomable carnage in its wake, with homes and businesses reduced to rubble and farmland churned up and left fallow.
“The Russians destroyed everything,” Yuriy, a local man in his 40s, told Arab News at his now-disused farm in Kharkiv. “We let our animals free from our barn to give them the chance to survive. Some I believe are still alive near the river.”
Many local families have chosen to leave the area for the comparative safety of western Ukraine and neighboring countries. For those who remained during the months of Russian control, the loss of homes and livelihoods proved too much to bear.
“The building housed my parents, myself and my brother,” said Yuriy, pointing to his family’s damaged farmhouse.
“My father died of a heart attack. The conditions the Russians put us under didn’t aid his ailment. He couldn’t withstand it. He passed away. My mother and brother have relocated. I still return here from time to time.
“I don’t know where to start to rebuild. I think this will be the last time I am here.”
Despite their stalled progress, the Ukrainian armed forces stationed here remain in high spirits, but ever vigilant, their weapons trained on the horizon for signs of enemy activity.
“We are here to protect the border,” one soldier, who went by the nom de guerre “The Director,” told Arab News from his underground bunker.
“The shelling is the hardest to get used to, but we are here to protect our motherland. The shift keeps rotating and we are always on the lookout. There is no way back from here. We have enough food and warm clothes but we need more weapons. The Russians are not welcome here and we will not stop till we defeat them.”
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Several of the men serving in The Director’s battalion had little or no combat experience prior to their deployment, working as lawyers, teachers and civil servants, yet all have quickly adapted to their new realities. Few have seen their families in months.
“I took my children and wife to safety, but this is my town,” Ihor Reznik, commander of the Kharkiv Territorial Brigade, told Arab News. “We made it through hard battles. Now there is random shelling and we try to respond adequately. We need drones for survey and we need proper armored vehicles.”
Reznik’s daughter Anna, aged 25, serves in the Kharkiv Territorial Defense Battalion’s 127th Brigade. Before the war, she studied mathematics and computer science at a university in France.
Although she was close to graduation, she chose to quit her studies in order to join her father’s brigade, where she now serves as a military photographer for its press department.
“It’s always been a hobby, but now it is my way of serving in this war,” she told Arab News. “At the beginning, my parents were against it, but came to understand it was my decision. I need to document what is happening.”
And although she has frequently found herself in life-threatening situations while working in the field, she believes her commitment to the cause of documenting the conflict helps her to remain calm while under fire.
“When one has not been faced with such situations, one doesn’t know how to react. But I remain calm,” she said. “The camera is my weapon. No matter how difficult it gets, I never regret my decision. I know I am in the right place at the right time.”