Moscow says more Mariupol fighters surrender; Kyiv silent on their fate

Service members of Ukrainian forces who have surrendered are searched by the pro-Russian military in Mariupol, Ukraine. (Reuters)
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Updated 18 May 2022

Moscow says more Mariupol fighters surrender; Kyiv silent on their fate

  • The Swedish and Finnish ambassadors handed over their NATO membership application letters
  • Turkey has said in recent days it will block the Nordic members’ accession unless they do more to crack down on Kurdish militants on their territory

KYIV/MARIUPOL, Ukraine: Russia said on Wednesday nearly 700 more Ukrainian fighters had surrendered in Mariupol but Kyiv was silent about their fate, while a pro-Russian separatist leader said commanders were still holed up in tunnels beneath the Azovstal steelworks.
More than a day after Kyiv announced it had ordered its garrison in Mariupol to stand down, the ultimate outcome of Europe’s bloodiest battle for decades remained unresolved. Ukrainian officials halted all public discussion of the fate of fighters who had made their last stand there.
“The state is making utmost efforts to carry out the rescue of our servicemen. Let’s wait. Currently, the most important thing is to save the lives of our heroes,” military spokesman Oleksandr Motuzaynik told a news conference. “Any information to the public could endanger that process.”
Russia said 694 more fighters had surrendered overnight, bringing the total number of people who had laid down arms to 959. The leader of pro-Russian separatists in control of the area, Denis Pushilin, was quoted by a local news agency DNA as saying the main commanders were still inside the plant.
Ukrainian officials had confirmed the surrender of more than 250 fighters on Tuesday but they did not say how many more were inside or what might become of them.
“Unfortunately, the subject is very sensitive and there is a very fragile set of talks going on today, therefore I cannot say anything more,” said Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boichenko. He said President Volodymyr Zelensky, the Red Cross and the United Nations were involved in talks but gave no details.
Negotiations over Mariupol’s surrender came as Finland and Sweden formally applied to join NATO, bringing about the very expansion that Russian President Vladimir Putin has long cited as one of his main reasons for launching the “special military operation” in February.
The final surrender would bring a close to a near three-month siege of the port city of more than 400,000 people, where Ukraine says tens of thousands of civilians died under Russian bombardment.
Ukrainian officials have spoken of arranging a prisoner swap for Mariupol defenders. Moscow says no such deal was made for the fighters, many from a unit with far-right origins which it calls Nazi.
Russia says more than 50 wounded fighters have been brought for treatment to a hospital, and others have been taken to a prison, both in towns held by pro-Russian separatists.
Russia’s defense ministry posted videos of what it said were Ukrainian fighters receiving hospital treatment after surrendering at Azovstal.
One man shown lying on bed said he had access to food and doctors, while a second said he had been bandaged and had no complaints about his treatment. It was not possible to establish if the men were speaking freely.
The Kremlin says Putin has personally guaranteed the humane treatment of those who surrender. Other Russian politicians have called for them to be kept captive and even for their execution.

Finland and Sweden apply to NATO
The Swedish and Finnish ambassadors handed over their NATO membership application letters in a ceremony at the alliance’s headquarters in Brussels.
“This is a historic moment which we must seize,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said.
US President Joe Biden said Washington would work with Finland and Sweden to stay vigilant against any threats while their membership was being considered.
Turkey has said in recent days it will block the Nordic members’ accession unless they do more to crack down on Kurdish militants on their territory. Stoltenberg said he thought the issue could be overcome and Washington has also said it expects it to be resolved.
Finland, which shares a 1,300-km (810-mile) border with Russia, and Sweden were both militarily non-aligned throughout the Cold War.
Although Russia had threatened retaliation against the plans, Putin said on Monday their NATO membership would not be an issue unless the alliance sent more troops or weapons there.
Despite war and sanctions, Russia has remained the main source of energy for Europe.
The EU’s executive European Commission announced a 210 billion euro plan for Europe to end its reliance on Russian oil, gas and coal by 2027, including plans to more than double EU renewable energy capacity by 2030.
In a further sign of Moscow’s isolation, Google became the latest big Western company to pull out of Russia, saying its Russian unit had filed for bankruptcy and was forced to shut operations after its bank accounts were seized.

Victory
The steelworks surrender in Mariupol would let Putin claim a rare victory in a campaign which has otherwise faltered. Recent weeks have seen Russian forces abandon the area around Ukraine’s second largest city Kharkiv after being driven from the north and the environs of the capital Kyiv at the end of March.
Nevertheless, Moscow has continued to press on with its main offensive, trying to capture more territory in the Donbas region of southeastern Ukraine which it claims on behalf of separatists it has supported since 2014.
Mariupol, the main port for the Donbas, is the biggest city Russia has captured so far, and gives Moscow full control of the Sea of Azov and an unbroken swathe of territory across Ukraine’s east and south. The siege was Europe’s deadliest battle at least since wars in Chechnya and the Balkans of the 1990s.
The city’s near total destruction demonstrated Russia’s tactic of raining down fire on population centers.
Human Rights Watch said it had documented further cases of apparent war crimes by Russian troops in the Kyiv and Chernihiv regions from late February through March, including summary executions, torture and other grave abuses.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov and Russia’s defense ministry did not respond to requests for comment on the report. Moscow denies targeting civilians and says, without evidence, that signs of atrocities were staged to discredit its troops.


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 quits as UK prime minister - but not straight away

Updated 4 min 29 sec ago

Boris Johnson quits as UK prime minister - but not straight away

  • ‘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: Scandal-ridden Boris Johnson announced on Thursday he would quit as British prime minister after he was abandoned by ministers and most of his Conservative lawmakers.

Bowing to the inevitable as more than 50 ministers quit and lawmakers said he must go, an isolated and powerless Johnson spoke outside his Downing Street to confirm he would resign.

“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,” Johnson said.

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

“His resignation was inevitable,” Justin Tomlinson, deputy chairman of the Conservative Party, said on Twitter. “As a party we must quickly unite and focus on what matters. These are serious times on many fronts.”

The Conservatives will now have to elect a new leader, a process which could take weeks or months.

A snap YouGov poll found that defense minister Ben Wallace was the favorite among Conservative Party members to replace Johnson, followed by junior trade minister Penny Mordaunt and former finance minister Rishi Sunak.

Many said he should leave immediately and hand over to his deputy, Dominic Raab, saying he had lost the trust of his party.

Keir Starmer, leader of the main opposition Labour Party, said he would call a parliamentary confidence vote if the Conservatives did not remove Johnson at once.

“If they don’t get rid of him, then Labour will step up in the national interest and bring a vote of no confidence because we can’t go on with this prime minister clinging on for months and months to come,” he said.

The crisis comes as Britons are facing the tightest squeeze on their finances in decades, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, with soaring inflation, and the economy forecast to be the weakest among major nations in 2023 apart from Russia.

It also follows years of internal division sparked by the narrow 2016 vote to leave the European Union, and threats to the make-up of the United Kingdom itself with demands for another Scottish independence referendum, the second in a decade.

Support for Johnson had evaporated during one of the most turbulent 24 hours in recent British political history, epitomised by finance minister, Nadhim Zahawi, who was only appointed to his post on Tuesday, calling on his boss to resign.

Zahawi and other cabinet ministers had gone to Downing Street on Wednesday evening, along with a senior representative of those lawmakers not in government, to tell Johnson the game was up.

Initially, Johnson refused to go and seemed set to dig in, sacking Michael Gove — a member of his top ministerial team who was one of the first to tell him he needed to resign — in a bid to reassert his authority.

One ally had told the Sun newspaper that party rebels would “have to dip their hands in blood” to get rid of Johnson.

But by Thursday morning as a slew of resignations poured in, it became clear his position was untenable.

“This is not sustainable and it will only get worse: for you, for the Conservative Party and most importantly of all the country,” Zahawi said on Twitter. “You must do the right thing and go now.”

Some of those that remained in post, including defense minister Ben Wallace, said they were only doing so because they had an obligation to keep the country safe.

There had been so many ministerial resignations that the government had been facing paralysis. Despite his impending departure, Johnson began appointing ministers to vacant posts.

“It is our duty now to make sure the people of this country have a functioning government,” Michael Ellis, a minister in the Cabinet Office department which oversees the running of government, told parliament.

The ebullient Johnson came to power nearly three years ago, promising to deliver Brexit and rescue it from the bitter wrangling that followed the 2016 referendum.

Since then, some Conservatives had enthusiastically backed the former journalist and London mayor while others, despite reservations, supported him because he was able to appeal to parts of the electorate that usually rejected their party.

That was borne out in the December 2019 election. But his administration’s combative and often chaotic approach to governing and a series of scandals exhausted the goodwill of many of his lawmakers while opinion polls show he is no longer popular with the public at large.

The recent crisis erupted after lawmaker Chris Pincher, who held a government role involved in pastoral care, was forced to quit over accusations he groped men in a private member’s club.

Johnson had to apologize after it emerged that he was briefed that Pincher had been the subject of previous sexual misconduct complaints before he appointed him. The prime minister said he had forgotten.

This followed months of scandals and missteps, including a damning report into boozy parties at his Downing Street residence and office that broke COVID-19 lockdown rules and saw him fined by police over a gathering for his 56th birthday.

There have also been policy U-turns, an ill-fated defense of a lawmaker who broke lobbying rules, and criticism that he has not done enough to tackle inflation, with many Britons struggling to cope with rising fuel and food prices.

“It should have happened long ago,” Labour’s Starmer said. “He was always unfit for office. He has been responsible for lies, scandal and fraud on an industrial scale.”