EU defies Russia gas ‘blackmail’ as UN chief arrives in Ukraine

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres leaves a joint news conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow, Russsia. (FILE/AFP)
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Updated 28 April 2022

EU defies Russia gas ‘blackmail’ as UN chief arrives in Ukraine

  • Russia cut off natural gas to NATO members Poland and Bulgaria and threatened to do the same to other countries
  • Guterres repeated calls for both Russia and Ukraine to work together to set up "safe and effective" humanitarian corridors in war-torn Ukraine

LONDON: The European Union warned Russia on Wednesday it would not bend to “blackmail” over its support for Kyiv, after the Kremlin cut off gas supplies to Bulgaria and Poland.
Russia cut off natural gas to NATO members Poland and Bulgaria on Wednesday and threatened to do the same to other countries, using its most essential export in what was seen as a bid to punish and divide the West over its support for Ukraine.
The move, condemned by European leaders as “blackmail,” marked a dramatic escalation in the economic war of sanctions and counter sanctions that has unfolded in parallel to the fighting on the battlefield.
The EU warning came as UN chief Antonio Guterres arrived in Kyiv to meet Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky following talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow to expand humanitarian support and secure civilian evacuations.
“I have arrived in Ukraine after visiting Moscow,” he wrote on his official Twitter account as he landed ahead of talks with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky.
“We will continue our work to expand humanitarian support and secure the evacuation of civilians from conflict zones. The sooner this war ends, the better — for the sake of Ukraine, Russia, and the world,” Guterres tweeted.

 


At the Moscow talks on Tuesday, Guterres repeated calls for both Russia and Ukraine to work together to set up “safe and effective” humanitarian corridors in war-torn Ukraine.
In turn, Putin told him he hoped that negotiations could end the conflict which saw Russian troops invading Ukraine on February 24.
“Despite the fact that the military operation is ongoing, we still hope that we will be able to reach agreements on the diplomatic track,” the Russian leader said in televised remarks.
However, Putin also issued his own warning on Wednesday, saying that if Western forces intervene in Ukraine, they will face a “lightning-fast” military response.
“We have all the tools for this, that no one else can boast of having,” the Russian leader told lawmakers, implicitly referring to Moscow’s ballistic missiles and nuclear arsenal.
“We won’t boast about it: we’ll use them, if needed. And I want everyone to know that,” he said. “We have already taken all the decisions on this.”
The dire threats came as Moscow claimed to have carried out a missile strike in southern Ukraine to destroy a “large batch” of Western-supplied weapons.
As the war, which has already claimed thousands of lives, entered its third month, Kyiv conceded that Russian forces had made gains in the east.
Russia’s military offensive saw it capture a string of villages in the Donbas region, now the immediate target of its invasion force.
And in its economic standoff with the West, Moscow cut off gas supplies to Bulgaria and Poland, two EU and NATO members backing Ukraine in the conflict.
However later Wednesday In Brussels, Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, said Poland and Bulgaria are now receiving gas from their EU neighbors.

 

 


She described the announcement by Russia’s state energy giant Gazprom as “another provocation from the Kremlin” that would be countered.
“It comes as no surprise that the Kremlin uses fossil fuels to try to blackmail us,” she said. “Today, the Kremlin failed once again in his attempt to sow division among member states. The era of Russian fossil fuel in Europe is coming to an end.”
“Both Poland and Bulgaria are now receiving gas from their EU neighbors,” she said. “The era of Russian fossil fuels in Europe will come to an end.”
EU officials said energy ministers from across the bloc will meet on Monday to discuss the situation.
European powers have imposed massive sanctions on Russia since Putin’s decision to invade his neighbor, while shipping weapons to Ukraine’s defenders.
But they have moved slowly on hitting Moscow’s vast gas exports, with many EU members — notably industrial giant Germany — reliant on Russian energy to keep their lights on.
Putin has attempted to turn up the pressure by insisting that Russia will only accept payments for gas in rubles — hoping to force his foes to prop up his currency.
Gazprom announced the halt of gas to both Poland and highly dependent Bulgaria, saying it had not received payment in rubles from the two EU members.
But von der Leyen said that “about 97 percent” of all EU contracts explicitly stipulate payments in euros or dollars — and warned importing firms off paying in rubles.
“This would be a breach of the sanctions,” she told reporters.
The European Commission on Wednesday sought to lend Kyiv economic support by proposing a suspension of import duties on Ukrainian goods, but the idea still needs to be approved in a vote by the bloc’s 27 members.
The first phase of Russia’s invasion failed to reach Kyiv and to overthrow President Zelensky’s government after encountering stiff Ukrainian resistance reinforced with Western weapons.
The campaign has refocused on seizing the east and south of the country, while increased the use of long-range missile strikes against west and central Ukraine to counter the Western response.

 

 


Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov predicted “extremely difficult weeks” for the country amid “destruction and painful casualties” during the offensive.
Russia’s defense ministry said its forces had destroyed a “large batch” of weapons and ammunition supplied by the United States and European countries.
Russia hit hangars at an aluminum plant near the Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia with “high-precision long-range sea-based Kalibr missiles,” the ministry said.
It also accused Ukraine of preparing to stage a fake civilian massacre in Lysychansk by disguising the bodies of dead Ukrainian soldiers in civilian clothing and taking them to the city’s central market.
On Tuesday, at a summit in Germany of 40 Western allies to discuss arming Ukraine, Washington pledged to move “heaven and earth” to enable Kyiv to emerge victorious from the war.
Tensions are also rising in a breakaway region of Moldova bordering southwestern Ukraine.
In the region, Transnistria, pro-Russian separatists claimed shots were fired across the border toward a village housing a Russian arms depot, after drones flew over from Ukraine.
Britain was set Wednesday to urge Kyiv’s allies to “ramp up” military production including tanks and planes to help Ukraine, with Foreign Secretary Liz Truss set to call for a “new approach” to confront Putin.
Fighting continues to rage across Ukraine’s east, Kyiv’s defense ministry said, as it confirmed Russian forces had seized several villages in their renewed bid to “liberate” the Donbas region.
The ministry said a pair of villages in the north-eastern Kharkiv region and two in the Donetsk region had fallen.
Meanwhile, three people died and 15 others were injured in bombings around the eastern city of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second city, regional governor Oleg Synegubov said.
Moscow aims to create a land bridge between territory held by pro-Russian separatists in parts of the Donbas and the Russian-annexed Black Sea peninsula of Crimea.
Separately, Moscow also said it was expelling eight Japanese diplomats in a tit-for-tat response to expulsions by Tokyo over the conflict in Ukraine.
The UN tourism body added to Russia’s isolation on the international scene as most of its 159 members on Wednesday voted to suspend it from the agency.
(With AFP and AP)

 


British PM Boris Johnson resigns amid Conservative Party revolt

Updated 07 July 2022

British PM Boris Johnson resigns amid Conservative Party revolt

  • Eight ministers, two secretaries of state resigned a few hours earlier
  • Conservatives will now have to elect a new leader, which could take two months

ISLAMABAD: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced he was resigning from office on Thursday, after a revolt within the Conservative Party and desertion from ministers who said he is no longer fit to remain in office.  

With eight ministers, including two secretaries of state, resigning in the last two hours, an isolated and powerless Johnson was set to bow to the inevitable and declare his resignation.  

After days of battling for his job, Johnson had been abandoned by all but a handful of allies after the latest in a series of scandals broke their willingness to support him. 

In June 2020, he was fined for breaking lockdown rules by attending a gathering on his birthday. During the first lockdown in the UK, he also apologized for going to a “bring your booze” party in the Downing Street garden.  

However, his botched handling of a British MP who was accused of groping two men in a drunken state is what triggered resignations from government ministers and allies.  

“I am sad to be giving up the best job in the world,” Johnson said in a press statement from 10 Downing Street in London. 

The Conservatives will now have to elect a new leader, a process that could take about two months. The British prime minister said he would give as much support as he can to his successor. 

“To that new leader, I say I will give you as much support as I can,” said Johnson.  

Johnson was seen as a contemporary British politician, much opposed to the conventional Conservatives. His achievements include winning two terms as mayor of London, normally a Labour stronghold, and helped convince millions to back Brexit in the 2016 EU referendum. 

He became prime minister in July 2019 without winning an election but went on to register a landslide victory four months later.  


Finland amends law to bolster Russia border fence

Updated 07 July 2022

Finland amends law to bolster Russia border fence

  • Finland reversed decades of military non-alignment by seeking membership in NATO in May
  • As it stands, Finland’s borders are secured primarily with light wooden fences

HELSINKI: Finnish parliament passed legislation Thursday to build stronger fences on its border with Russia, as the country seeks to join NATO following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
Finland reversed decades of military non-alignment by seeking membership in the military alliance in May, formally starting the process to join this week.
Fearing that Moscow could use migrants to exert political pressure, the new amendments to Border Guard Act facilitate the construction of sturdier fences on the Nordic country’s 1,300-kilometer (800-mile) eastern border with Russia.
The aim of the law is to “improve the operational capacity of the border guard in responding to the hybrid threats,” Anne Ihanus, a senior adviser at the interior ministry, said.
“The war in Ukraine has contributed to the urgency of the matter,” she added.
As it stands, Finland’s borders are secured primarily with light wooden fences, mainly designed to stop livestock from wandering to the wrong side.
“What we are aiming to build now is a sturdy fence with a real barrier effect,” Sanna Palo, director of the Finnish border guards’ legal division, said.
“In all likelihood, the fence will not cover the entire eastern border, but will be targeted at locations considered to be the most important,” Palo said.
The new law makes it also possible to close border crossings and concentrate asylum seekers at specific points, in the event of large-scale crossover attempt.
Helsinki also passed amendments to Emergency Powers Act to make the definition of “emergency” better take account of various hybrid threats.


Minneapolis police officer convicted in George Floyd’s death awaits federal sentencing

Updated 07 July 2022

Minneapolis police officer convicted in George Floyd’s death awaits federal sentencing

  • Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pleaded guilty to the federal civil rights charges in December

Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin is due to be sentenced in federal court on Thursday for violating the civil rights of George Floyd, a year after a state court sent him to prison for more than two decades for murdering Floyd in an arrest.
Chauvin pleaded guilty to the federal civil rights charges in December in the US District Court in St. Paul, Minnesota, a decision that averted a second trial but almost certainly extended his time behind bars.
Chauvin, who is white, admitted he violated Floyd’s right not to face “unreasonable seizure” by kneeling on the handcuffed Black man’s neck for more than 9 minutes in a murder captured on cellphone video that horrified people around the world.
A state court has already sentenced Chauvin to 22-1/2 years in prison for intentional second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. People sentenced to prison for felonies in Minnesota are usually released on parole after serving two-thirds of their sentence.
Chauvin’s guilty plea to the federal charges came as part of an agreement with prosecutors that said he would face between 20 and 25 years in federal prison.
In that agreement he admitted for the first time that he was to blame for Floyd’s death.
Floyd could be seen in videos pleading for his life before falling still on the road beneath Chauvin’s knee. A medical examiner ruled the police restraint stopped Floyd from being able to breathe.
Federal prosecutors have asked Judge Paul Magnuson to sentence Chauvin to 25 years, a sentence that would run concurrently with the state one.
Floyd’s murder sparked one of the biggest protest movements seen in the United States, with daily marches to decry racism and brutality in US policing. Chauvin was helping three colleagues to arrest Floyd in May 2020 on suspicion Floyd had used a fake $20 bill when buying cigarettes.
The three other former police officers who worked to arrest Floyd — Tou Thao, J. Alexander Keung and Thomas Lane — were found guilty in the same federal court in February of violating Floyd’s rights. They are yet to receive a sentencing date.


Russian defense ministry says warplane hit Ukrainian troops on Snake Island

Updated 07 July 2022

Russian defense ministry says warplane hit Ukrainian troops on Snake Island

  • Russian forces withdrew from Snake Island in the Black Sea on June 30

Russia’s defense ministry said on Thursday that a Russian warplane struck Ukraine’s Snake Island in the Black Sea overnight, shortly after Ukrainian troops claimed to have raised their flag over the island.
Andriy Yermak, the Ukrainian President’s chief of staff, posted a video on Telegram on Thursday of three soldiers raising a large Ukrainian flag on the island, from which Russian forces withdrew on June 30.


Boris Johnson steps down as Conservative leader, says ‘will of party clear’

Updated 53 min 23 sec ago

Boris Johnson steps down as Conservative leader, says ‘will of party clear’

  • ‘The process of choosing that new leader should begin now. And today I have appointed a cabinet to serve, as I will until a new leader is in place’

LONDON: Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced his resignation as Conservative Party leader Thursday amid a mass revolt by top members of his government, marking an end to three tumultuous years in power in which he brazenly bent and sometimes broke the rules of British politics.
Months of defiance ended almost with a shrug as Johnson stood in 10 Downing Street and conceded that his party wanted him gone.
“Them’s the breaks,” he said.
The brash, 58-year-old politician who took Britain out of the European Union and steered it through COVID-19 and the war in Ukraine was brought down by one scandal too many — this one involving his appointment of a politician who had been accused of sexual misconduct.
The messiest of prime ministers did not leave cleanly. Johnson stepped down immediately as party leader but said he would remain in office as prime minister until the party chooses his successor. But many in the party want him gone before then, and his government has been shredded by scores of resignations.
Among the possible candidates to succeed him: former Health Secretary Sajid Javid, former Treasury chief Rishi Sunak, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and Defense Secretary Ben Wallace.
Johnson had clung to power for two days, defiantly telling lawmakers on Wednesday that he had a “colossal mandate” from voters and intended to get on with the business of government.
But he was forced to concede defeat Thursday morning after one of his closest allies, newly appointed Treasury chief Nadhim Zahawi, publicly told him to resign for the good of the country.
“In the last few days, I tried to persuade my colleagues that it would be eccentric to change governments when we’re delivering so much and when we have such a vast mandate," Johnson said outside his office. “I regret not to have been successful in those arguments, and of course it’s painful not to be able to see through so many ideas and projects myself.’’
The timetable for choosing a new prime minister will be announced next week, Johnson said.
“It is clearly now the will of the parliamentary Conservative Party that there should be a new leader of that party and therefore a new prime minister,” he said.
Zahawi, who was promoted earlier this week as Johnson tried to shore up his Cabinet, said he and a group of colleagues had privately expressed their concerns to the prime minister on Wednesday and he decided to go public after Johnson ignored the advice to resign.
“I am heartbroken that he hasn’t listened and that he is now undermining the incredible achievements of this government,” Zahawi said in a letter posted on Twitter. “But the country deserves a government that is not only stable but which acts with integrity.”
Thursday morning’s resignations meant that 50 Cabinet secretaries, ministers and lower-level officials had quit the government over two days, often castigating the prime minister for his lack of integrity.
With more than 20 positions unfilled, the crisis had stalled the business of some parliamentary committees because there were no ministers available to speak on the government’s behalf.
It is a humiliating defeat for Johnson, who not only pulled off Brexit but was credited with rolling out one of the world’s most successful mass vaccination campaigns to combat COVID-19.
But the perpetually rumpled leader known for greeting critics with bombast and bluster was also dogged by criticism that he acted as if the rules did not apply to him.
He managed to remain in power for almost three years, despite allegations that he was too close to party donors, that he protected supporters from bullying and corruption allegations, and that he misled Parliament about government office parties that broke pandemic lockdown rules. He was fined by police and survived a no-confidence vote in Parliament.
Recent disclosures that Johnson knew about sexual misconduct allegations against a Conservative lawmaker before he promoted him to a senior position in government proved to be one scandal too many.
The crisis began when Chris Pincher resigned as deputy chief whip amid allegations that he had groped two men at a private club. That triggered a series of reports about past allegations leveled against Pincher.
Johnson tried to deflect criticism with shifting explanations about what he knew and when he knew it, but that just highlighted concerns that the prime minister couldn’t be trusted.
Javid and Sunak resigned within minutes of each other Tuesday night, triggering a wave of departures among their Cabinet colleagues and lower-level officials.
Javid captured the mood of many lawmakers when he said Johnson’s actions threatened to undermine the integrity of the Conservative Party and the British government.
“At some point we have to conclude that enough is enough,” he said Wednesday in the House of Commons. “I believe that point is now.”
Bernard Jenkin, a senior Conservative Party lawmaker, told the BBC he met with Johnson later in the day and advised him to step down.
“I just said to him, ‘Look, it’s just when you go now, and it’s how you go. You can go with some dignity or you can be forced out like Donald Trump clinging to power and pretending he’s won the election when he’s lost,'" Jenkin said.