As Ukraine war ends first month, Putin hits back at sanctions with oil payment changes

A Ukrainian firefighter stands in the ruins of a house destroyed by bombing in Kyiv, Ukraine, Wednesday, March 23, 2022. (AP)
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Updated 24 March 2022
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As Ukraine war ends first month, Putin hits back at sanctions with oil payment changes

  • Chubais was Putin’s boss in the future president’s first Kremlin job
  • He later ran big state businesses under Putin and held political jobs, lately serving as Kremlin special envoy to international organizations

LVIV: Russian forces bombed areas of the Ukrainian capital Kyiv on Wednesday, a month into their assault, while Western leaders gathered in Brussels to plan more measures to pressure Russian President Vladimir Putin to halt his campaign.
Putin, responding to a welter of Western sanctions that have hit Russia’s economy hard and frozen its assets, said Moscow planned to switch its gas sales to “unfriendly” countries to rubles — a move that alarmed international markets.
And in a sign of cracks in Moscow’s ranks, a veteran aide to Putin, Anatoly Chubais, resigned over the Ukraine war and has left Russia with no intention to return, two sources said. He was first senior official to break with the Kremlin since Putin launched his invasion on Feb. 24.
Although the invasion force has stalled in some areas and fierce Ukrainian resistance has thwarted its hopes for a swift victory, Russian artillery and air strikes maintained their bombardments on several cities, while civilians who have been unable or unwilling to flee sheltered underground.
“I have never seen such cruelty before,” said Kateryna Mytkevich, 38, who reached the Polish border transit hub of Przemysl with her child after fleeing the eastern city of Chernihiv. The city was “fully destroyed,” she said.
US President Joe Biden was flying to Europe for an emergency summit on Ukraine with NATO and European leaders at the Western military alliance’s headquarters in Brussels on Thursday.
The leaders are expected to roll out additional sanctions against Russia. They would also agree to bolster forces on the alliance’s eastern flank, NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg told a news conference ahead of the summit.
However, he said NATO would not send troops into Ukraine.
“It is extremely important to provide support to Ukraine and we are stepping up. But at the same time it is also extremely important to prevent this conflict becoming a full-fledged war between NATO and Russia,” he said.

“Unfriendly countries”

Putin’s message was clear: If you want our gas, buy our currency. It remained unclear whether Russia has the power to unilaterally change existing contracts agreed upon in euros.
The ruble briefly leapt after the shock announcement to a three-week high past 95 against the dollar. It pared gains but stayed well below 100, closing at 97.7 against the dollar, down more than 22 percent since Feb. 24.
Some European wholesale gas prices up to 30 percent higher on Wednesday. British and Dutch wholesale gas prices jumped.
Putin’s announcement that Russia would switch certain gas sales to rubles sent European futures soaring on concerns the switch would exacerbate the region’s energy crunch and jam up deals that run to hundreds of millions of dollars every day.
Russian gas accounts for some 40 percent of Europe’s total gas consumption.
Moscow has drawn up a list of “unfriendly” countries, which corresponds to those that imposed sanctions. Deals with companies and individuals from those countries must be approved by a government commission.

The countries include the US, European Union member states, Britain, Japan, Canada, Norway, Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland and Ukraine. Some, including the US and Norway, do not purchase Russian gas.
“Russia will continue, of course, to supply natural gas in accordance with volumes and prices...fixed in previously concluded contracts,” Putin said at a televised meeting with government ministers.
“The changes will only affect the currency of payment, which will be changed to Russian roubles,” he said.
Western sanctions imposed on Russia for its actions have ostracized it from the world economy.
Putin sent his troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24 on what he terms a “special military operation” to demilitarise and “denazify” the country. The West says it is a war of aggression aimed at reasserting Russia’s sway over the former Soviet Republic.
But after a month of bloodshed, Russian forces have failed to capture a single major city.
Although the Kremlin says the operation is going to plan, they have taken heavy losses, been frozen in place on most fronts, and face supply problems and fierce resistance. They have turned to siege tactics and bombardment, causing massive destruction and many civilian deaths.
The conflict has also driven a quarter of Ukraine’s 44 million people from their homes.
Kyiv’s mayor, Vitali Klitschko, told reporters on Wednesday that 264 civilians in the city had been killed by Russian attacks. The noise of bombs falling could be heard in background as he spoke. But Ukrainian forces had retaken the nearby towns of Makariv and Irpin from Russian control, he said.
Klitschko said later that one person was killed and two seriously wounded on Wednesday when shells hit a shopping center parking lot in a northern part of Kyiv. “The enemy continues to fire at the capital,” Klitschko said in an online post.
Russia denies targeting civilians.

Smoke over the water 
Worst hit has been Mariupol, a southern port surrounded by Russian forces, where hundreds of thousands of people have been sheltering since the war’s early days, under constant bombardment and with food, water and heating supplies cut.
Satellite photographs from commercial firm Maxar released overnight showed massive destruction of what was once a city of 400,000 people, with columns of smoke rising from residential apartment buildings in flames.
Despite its losses so far, Russia may still be hoping to make more gains on the battlefield, especially in the east, in territory including Mariupol that Moscow demands Ukraine cede to Russian-backed separatists.
British military intelligence said the entire battlefield across northern Ukraine — which includes armored columns that once threatened Kyiv — was now “static,” with the invaders apparently trying to reorganize.
But in the east, the Russians were trying to link troops at Mariupol with those near Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second city, in the hope of encircling Ukrainian forces. In the southwest they were bypassing the city of Mykolayiv to try to advance on Odesa, Ukraine’s biggest port, the British report said.
Ukrainian officials described sporadic shelling in other cities overnight, with two civilians killed in the Mykolayiv region, a bridge destroyed in the Chernihiv region. Reuters could not immediately verify these incidents.

Economic reformer 
In Moscow, the Kremlin confirmed that Chubais, the senior official had resigned of his own accord.
Chubais was one of the principal architects of Boris Yeltsin’s economic reforms of the 1990s and was Putin’s boss in the future president’s first Kremlin job. He later ran big state businesses under Putin and held political jobs, lately serving as Kremlin special envoy to international organizations.
Chubais hung up the phone when contacted by Reuters. The sources did not say where he was.


Trump claims standard FBI warrant shows Biden wanted him dead

Updated 13 sec ago
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Trump claims standard FBI warrant shows Biden wanted him dead

WASHINGTON: Donald Trump drew disbelief — and some support — Wednesday after suggesting that standard language from an FBI search warrant executed in 2022 on his Florida mansion showed that President Joe Biden wanted armed agents to shoot him.

Trump’s latest incendiary claim was in response to a court filing outlining plans for the FBI search at the Mar-a-Lago club, where he kept classified national security documents after leaving the White House.

The filing included standard FBI wording stating that agents are allowed to use deadly force if someone is in imminent danger.

But Trump, who is running to unseat Biden in November’s election, distorted the statement to say that it showed the Justice Department was ready to shoot him and harm his family.

“It’s just been revealed that Biden’s DOJ was authorized to use DEADLY FORCE for their DESPICABLE raid in Mar-a-Lago. You know they’re just itching to do the unthinkable,” Trump said Tuesday in a fundraising email shared by US media.

“Joe Biden was locked & loaded ready to take me out & put my family in danger. He thinks he can frighten me, intimidate me, and KNOCK ME DOWN!“

The wild remarks add to the pile of false claims made by Trump against Biden, whom he has repeatedly accused without evidence of weaponizing the justice system to target him.

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called for all lawmakers to condemn Trump’s “outlandish and dangerous” remarks in a speech in the upper chamber of Congress.

“We cannot let this man, Donald Trump, or anybody else, throw these kinds of matches to light flames that could burn our democracy,” he said.

David Axelrod, a White House aide under Barack Obama, called Trump’s comments “patently nuts...and dangerously provocative” in a post on X.

But several of Trump’s staunchest allies joined Trump in misrepresenting the court filing.

Georgia congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene posted on X that the Justice Department and the FBI “gave the green light” to assassinate Trump.

On the day of the raid, Trump was not on Florida but at his Bedminster golf club in New Jersey.

The FBI issued a rare statement, saying “there was no departure from the norm in this matter.”

The bureau — which recovered more than 100 classified documents, including some marked top secret — got the go-ahead for the raid from a federal judge after the government tried for months to get the records back.

The billionaire is accused of willfully retaining national defense information and obstructing government efforts to recover it.

He denies 40 felony charges, but the trial has been indefinitely postponed.

In a statement to AFP, the Trump campaign said reporting of the fundraising email was “a sickening attempt to run cover for Joe Biden who is the most corrupt president in history and a threat to our democracy.”


Trump supporters meet representatives of Michigan’s Arab and Muslim communities

Updated 35 min 54 sec ago
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Trump supporters meet representatives of Michigan’s Arab and Muslim communities

  • The aim of the meeting was to secure support for Trump’s presidential bid, amid widespread dissatisfaction with Biden’s stance on Israel during the war in Gaza
  • In 2020 Biden won Michigan by only 154,188 votes out of more than 5.5 million cast — a slender 2.8% margin of victory

CHICAGO: Arab and Muslim supporters of the former US president, Donald Trump, held a meeting in Michigan on Tuesday night to discuss with community leaders his actions while he was in the White House, and attempt to win their support for his bid to regain the presidency. 

It comes after the #AbandonBiden movement claimed a significant degree of success in their efforts during the primary elections process to persuade Muslim voters to protest against President Joe Biden’s actions in support of Israel during the war in Gaza by refusing to endorse him as the Democratic candidate for president. 

Biden comfortably won his party’s nomination in the primaries. However, on his way to victory over Trump in the 2020 presidential election, he won several key swing states by slender margins, and if the Muslim voters who rejected him in the primaries in those states were also to abandon him at the election in November, they might have a significant effect on the outcome. 

Michigan was one of those swing states in 2020; Biden won it by only 154,188 votes out of more than 5.5 million cast — a 2.8 percent margin of victory. 

Since the war in Gaza began, Biden has provided Israel with more than $40 billion in military-funding support and provided political cover for the actions of Israeli authorities during the conflict, which has claimed more than 35,000 lives. Because of this, some Arab American and Muslim American leaders and progressive Democrats have urged the community to protest against his reelection. 

Bishara Bahbah, the national chairperson of Arab Americans for Trump, an independent organization that is separate from the official Trump campaign, told Arab News on Wednesday that he and other supporters of the former president met about 40 “leaders” of the Arab and Muslim community in Michigan on Tuesday to “straighten out the many misconceptions about what Trump has done and seeks to do” in the Middle East. 

“The meeting went very well. A number of the issues were cleared up. There was no ‘Muslim ban’ — the Democrats spun it,” he said, referring to Trump’s controversial policy while president of blocking citizens of certain, predominantly Muslim, countries from entering the US. 

“It was a question of proper vetting (of those) coming either as visitors or as immigrants to the United States,” said Bahbah. “The impact was only on a few countries that were in turmoil, and the people who were qualified to be allowed in were let in. 

“Many Muslims entered the US during that alleged ‘ban.’ All Trump did was implement the laws of entering the country for everyone.” 

He added that the policy had affected only six of 50 predominantly Muslim countries and accused the Democrats and the media of distorting the issue into “something it was not.” 

Bahbah also said the Trump administration’s recognition in 2017 of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, and its decision to move the US embassy to the city on 2018, were also misrepresented by the Democrats. 

“Yes Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel but he did not specify that he would not recognize the Eastern portion of Jerusalem as a capital for Palestine,” said Bahbah. He added that many Arabs, including some of his relatives, worked at the embassy. 

“If that was wrong, why didn’t Biden reverse that? Biden had the opportunity to reverse it but he did not.” 

He accused Biden of being “absolutely deceptive” and added: “The US president should answer to the people of the United States. Under a Trump leadership, there would be an end to the wars in the Middle East, including the war between Israel and Hamas. 

“Once Hamas is out of the picture and once new leadership is elected in both Israel and in the Palestinian authority, there will openly be talk about developing the Palestinian areas. The ultimate solution would be satisfactory to Israelis and Palestinians, and we all know what that means.” 

Bahbah said: “The only person (Israeli Prime Minister Banjamin) Netanyahu fears is President Trump. Netanyahu played political football with Biden but Trump would be forthright.” 

Asked about a survey by the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, the results of which were published last week and suggested both Biden and Trump were performing poorly among Arab Americans, with support in single digits, he said: “I respect ADC but I think there is a difference between a survey and a poll. It may reflect the views of ADC members but not the Arab and Muslim community. 

“Trump has been misunderstood. Trump will muscle peace and he will bring about prosperity to the region and lead to a satisfactory resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict.” 

Oubai Shahbander, a Trump supporter who helped organize Tuesday’s meeting, which took place at a restaurant in Troy, a suburb of Detroit near Dearborn, said Arab and Muslim community leaders were invited to attend and hear “directly from Trump supporters” why they should back the former president’s election bid. 

One of the speakers was Trump’s former director of national intelligence, Richard Grenell. 

“What’s very clear is that Arab Americans in Michigan are not supporting Joe Biden and they never will,” Grenell told Arab News after the meeting. 

“They know his disastrous leadership led to multiple wars and massive death. What’s also true is that the support for Donald Trump has never been higher with Arab Americans, because peace and peace accords and sanctioning Iran are very popular.” 

There was pushback against Grenell from some of the attendees, who criticized Trump for surrendering Jerusalem to Israeli government control, and for promoting peace accords with Arab countries without firmly securing Israeli support for a two-state solution. 

Grenell acknowledged those issues but said Trump can still provide Arabs and Muslims with greater respect and honesty than Biden. He added that Trump continues to support a two-state solution, an option publicly rejected by Netanyahu after becoming Israeli Prime Minister. 

Critics also highlighted comments by Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, at the start of the war in Gaza in which he suggested the beachfront of the territory could be developed by authorities in Israel as a tourist attraction or an upmarket residential area for Israelis. 

Others at the meeting said their party and Trump can deliver peace for the Palestinians, and would deliver on their promises and respect the community, unlike Biden, who they said has repeatedly broken his promises to Arabs and Muslims in the US. 

“The feedback from the community has been incredibly positive,” Massad Boulous, whose son, Michael, is married to Trump’s daughter, Tiffany, told Arab News on Wednesday. 

“We spoke to a diverse set of members of the Arab American community on Tuesday night and the level of support for President Trump’s policy is clearly growing. We made it clear that Arab American support is absolutely crucial in this election and that our interests in the community, and for our families, are best served with Donald Trump back in the White House. 

“I spoke about my personal experience as an Arab immigrant to this great country and the importance of preserving this great country for our children and grandchildren — it’s a message that resonates with Arab Americans in Michigan. Arab Americans just can’t afford another four years of a president that doesn’t care about them or share their values and interests.” 

Bahbah and Shahbander said further meetings between Trump supporters and Arab and Muslim community leaders would be organized “to clarify distortions” from Biden and the mainstream news media, which they accused of favoring Biden over Trump. 

The meeting came less than a week after several Arab American leaders met Biden’s secretary of state, Antony Blinken, to push for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. 

Leaders of the #AbandonBiden movement have said they hope to organize a “national gathering” in the Fall at which Arab, Muslim and other voters can consider alternative presidential candidates.


London art exhibition addresses Arab pasts to ‘envision bright futures,’ says artist

Updated 22 May 2024
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London art exhibition addresses Arab pasts to ‘envision bright futures,’ says artist

  • Born in Los Angeles, Massoud Hayoun draws upon his Tunisian, Moroccan and Egyptian heritage to explore notions of belonging and identity
  • The exhibition is entitled ‘Between Broken Promises, Harissa’

LONDON: An art exhibition “addressing Arab pasts to imagine futures full of solidarity, progress and unity” has debuted at a gallery in London, drawing people from different Arab backgrounds, according to the artist.

Born in Los Angeles, Massoud Hayoun draws upon his Tunisian, Moroccan and Egyptian heritage to explore notions of belonging, identity and systems of power through his work, exhibiting 14 canvases drawn from his critically acclaimed memoir “When We Were Arabs: A Jewish Family’s Forgotten History,” published in 2019 by The New Press in New York.

“His evocative portraits, painted as though they were drawn using a blue-ink ballpoint pen, celebrate the complexity of society at its fullest, featuring convicts, sex workers and migrant laborers while also paying homage to the people who raised him: his Egyptian and Tunisian grandparents,” the London-based Larkin Durey gallery said in a statement.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Larkin Durey (@larkindurey)

The exhibition, entitled “Between Broken Promises, Harissa,” which is set to conclude on Friday, was listed as one of “the coolest things to do in London this week” by British GQ magazine when it opened on May 9.

“I wrote a book on Arab identity in 2019 in which I ask what Arabness is and apply that to the lives of my grandparents, who raised me ... and I felt it was important to share our little political theories with the world,” Hayoun told Arab News.

“Those ideas reflect largely in these works. Our family is of Jewish faith, but like many believers in Arabism of diverse backgrounds, our Arabness is paramount. It supersedes but does not cancel out any simultaneous identity,” he added.

The death of Hayoun’s grandparents, with whom he was especially close, led him to interrogate his Jewish Arab roots as, for the 36-year-old artist, “politics are personal, and the more people benefit from certain oppressive power structures, the less likely they are to notice ... the degree to which all politics are personal.”

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Larkin Durey (@larkindurey)

Similarly, his two poetic novels, “Building 46” and “Last Night in Brighton,” both published by Darf Publishers in London, use the framework of the ghost story to examine body image, migrant laborers, and the North African diaspora.

“As a journalist, Hayoun was drawn to ‘help uplift voices — not just those of analysts and academics, but on many occasions of people who are systematically silenced,’ and personal loss, the pandemic and the example of his grandmother taking up drawing late in life, inspired Hayoun to focus on painting, a language he has always enjoyed as an immediate, visceral way in which to tell stories,” the gallery said.

His portraits are painted as though drawn using a blue ballpoint pen, which Hayoun described as “blue faces with highlights look ethereal and ghostly, and I’m often painting about people who are either passed away or set in the past or distant history.

“But, as with all art and literature, there are no invalid interpretations. Their interpretations will certainly influence my work going forward,” he said.

“The works in this show are about Arabness — not Jewish Arabness or any particular Arab community. With the news as it is, it is radical to envision bright Arab futures,” Hayoun explained.

Having already toured the US and almost concluding his UK exhibition, the artist said he is now in the process of talking to several galleries and museums to show more in Arab and Gulf countries instead of being “in the position of talking about Arabs in the so-called West.”

He said: “I’m just one of very many younger people of Arab origin right now who, for a variety of reasons, are coming together to ask what Arabness was, is, and will be and that’s a pressing and prescient question with current events as they are.

“Above all the more superficial things I’m taking away from London is a community of kindred spirits thinking past the darkness of these times. That’s a hopeful thing that will fuel my practice indefinitely,” he added.


Blinken urges Egypt to ensure aid is flowing into Gaza

Updated 22 May 2024
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Blinken urges Egypt to ensure aid is flowing into Gaza

  • Fighting near the crossing has made providing assistance challenging, but aid could still be getting through, Blinken said
  • “We do strongly urge our Egyptian partners to do everything that they can on their end of things to make sure that assistance is flowing“

WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday urged Egypt to do everything it can to make sure humanitarian aid is flowing into Gaza as food and medicine bound for the strip piles up on the Egyptian side.
Blinken told a hearing in the House of Representatives that the Rafah crossing in southern Gaza remained closed after Israel’s military seized it on May 7.
Fighting near the crossing has made providing assistance challenging, but aid could still be getting through, Blinken said, an apparent reference to the Kerem Shalom crossing near Rafah that has been open.
“So we need to find a way to make sure that the assistance that would go through Rafah can get through safely, but we do strongly urge our Egyptian partners to do everything that they can on their end of things to make sure that assistance is flowing,” Blinken said.
Israel is retaliating against Hamas in Gaza — an enclave of 2.3 million people — over a brutal Oct. 7 attack by the Palestinian militants. Aid access into southern Gaza has been disrupted since Israel stepped up military operations in Rafah, a move that the UN says has forced 900,000 people to flee and has raised tensions with Egypt.
Egyptian security sources said Egypt cannot bring aid in through Rafah as this would mean an acceptance of the Israeli military’s presence at the crossing, which Egypt opposes.
Egypt’s foreign minister said on Monday that the Israeli military presence and combat operations put truck drivers in danger.
Israel’s strategic affairs minister, Ron Dermer, told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” the hold-up was Egypt’s fault.
“Right now, Egypt is withholding 2,000 trucks of humanitarian assistance from going into Gaza because they have a political issue about the Rafah crossing,” Dermer said.


Nepal’s ‘Everest Man’ claims record 30th summit

Updated 22 May 2024
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Nepal’s ‘Everest Man’ claims record 30th summit

KATHMANDU: A 54-year-old Nepali climber known as “Everest Man” reached the peak of the world’s highest mountain for a record 30th time on Wednesday, three decades after his first summit.

Kami Rita Sherpa, who broke his own record after climbing the 8,849-meter peak for the 29th time earlier this month, has previously said that he was “just working” and did not plan on setting records.

“Kami Rita reached the summit this morning. Now he has made a new record with 30 summits of Everest,” Mingma Sherpa of Seven Summit Treks, his expedition organizer, told AFP.

But celebrations were overshadowed after a Romanian mountaineer was confirmed dead, and a British climber and Nepali guide were reported missing — the latest casualties highlighting the risks of the sport.

Sherpa first stood on the top of Mount Everest in 1994 when working for a commercial expedition.

Since then he has climbed Everest almost every year, guiding clients.

“I am glad for the record, but records are eventually broken,” he told AFP after his 29th climb on May 12.

“I am more happy that my climbs help Nepal be recognized in the world.”

Nepal has issued more than 900 permits for its mountains this year, including 419 for Everest, earning more than $5 million in royalties. Around 500 climbers and their guides have already reached the summit of Everest after a rope-fixing team reached the peak last month.

This year, China also reopened the Tibetan route to foreigners for the first time since closing it in 2020 because of the pandemic.

Nepal is home to eight of the world’s 10 highest peaks and welcomes hundreds of adventurers each spring, when temperatures are warm and winds typically calm.

Last year more than 600 climbers made it to the summit of Everest but it was also the deadliest season on the mountain, with 18 fatalities.