Ukraine says its troops have retaken ground from Russia in eastern city

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Foreign volunteers fighting with the Ukrainian army take positions as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues in Sievierodonetsk, Luhansk region, on June 2, 2022. (REUTERS)
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Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky honors a wounded soldier at a hospital in Kyiv on the 100th day of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (Handout via AFP)
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Updated 04 June 2022

Ukraine says its troops have retaken ground from Russia in eastern city

  • UN, Russia discuss Ukraine grain exports
  • Putin blames West for grain price surge

SIEVIERODONETSK, Ukraine: Ukraine said it clawed back a chunk of the industrial center of Sievierodonetsk in combat that appeared on Saturday to be stymieing a Russian drive to capture the ruined city, the focus of Moscow’s offensive to take the eastern Donbas region.
Sergiy Gaidai, governor of Luhansk province, told national television that Ukrainian troops had retaken 20 percent of the territory they had lost in Sievierodonetsk.
It was “not realistic” the city would fall in the next two weeks even though Russian reinforcements were being deployed, he said on Friday.
“As soon as we have enough Western long-range weapons, we will push their artillery away from our positions. And then, believe me, the Russian infantry, they will just run,” said Gaidai. Reuters could not immediately verify his claim of Ukrainian advances.
The war that Western governments believed Russian planned to win within a few hours of its February invasion entered its 100th day on Friday. Thousands have died, millions have been uprooted from their homes and the global economy disrupted since Moscow’s forces were driven back from Kyiv in the first months of the conflict.
Russian President Vladimir Putin denied on Friday that Moscow was preventing Ukrainian ports from exporting grains, blaming rising global food prices on the West.
“We are now seeing attempts to shift the responsibility for what is happening on the world food market, the emerging problems in this market onto Russia,” he said on national television.
He said the best solution would be for Western sanctions on Russia’s ally Belarus to be lifted and for Ukraine to export grain through that country.
Ukrainian officials are counting on advanced missile systems that the United States and Britain recently pledged to swing the war in their favor, and Ukrainian troops have already begun training on them.
While Ukraine’s resistance has forced Putin to narrow his immediate goal to conquering the entire Donbas region, Ukrainian officials said he remains intent on subduing the whole country. “Putin’s main goal is the destruction of Ukraine. He is not backing down from his goals, despite the fact that Ukraine won the first stage of this full-scale war,” Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar told national television on Friday.
Moscow has poured troops and materiel into the battle for Sievierodonetsk, which Russia must overrun to take all of Luhansk, one of two provinces that comprise the eastern Donbas region that the Kremlin has stated it intends to capture.
Reuters reached Sievierodonetsk on Thursday and was able to verify that Ukrainians still held part of the city.
Separately, two Reuters journalists were injured and a driver killed on Friday after their vehicle came under fire as they tried to reach Sievierodonetsk from an area controlled by Russian-backed separatists.
Russian soldiers attempted to advance toward Lysychansk, across the Siverskyi Donetsk River from Sievierodonetsk but were stopped, Ukraine’s military general staff said.
In neighboring Donetsk province, Russian troops were just 15 km (9 miles) outside the city of Sloviansk, regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko told Reuters.
Donetsk will not fall quickly, but needs more weapons to keep the attackers at bay, Kyrylenko said.

Moscow says undeterred by Western arms
Moscow says the Western weapons will pour “fuel on the fire,” but will not change the course of what it calls a “special military operation” to disarm Ukraine and rid it of dangerous nationalists.
Russia still controls around a fifth of the country, about half seized in 2014 and half captured since launching its invasion on Feb. 24.
For both sides, the massive Russian assault in the east in recent weeks has been one of the deadliest phases of the war, with Ukraine saying it is losing 60-100 soldiers every day.
Moscow has made slow but steady progress, squeezing Ukrainian forces inside a pocket in Luhansk and Donetsk provinces, but failing to encircle them.
Kyiv, meanwhile, hopes the Russian advance will drain Moscow’s forces enough for Ukraine to recapture territory in months to come.
The war has had a devastating impact on the global economy, especially for poor food-importing countries. Ukraine is one of the world’s leading sources of grain and cooking oil, but those supplies were cut off by the closure of its Black Sea ports, with more than 20 million tons of grain stuck in silos.
UN aid chief Martin Griffiths on Friday ended two days of “frank and constructive discussions” with Russian officials in Moscow on facilitating exports of Ukraine grain from Black Sea ports, a UN spokesman said.
The talks came as UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres tries to broker what he calls a “package deal” to resume both Ukrainian food exports and Russian food and fertilizer exports.
Kyiv and its allies blame Moscow for blockading the ports, which Ukraine has mined to prevent a Russian amphibious assault. Putin blamed Western sanctions.
 


Growth in arms trade stunted by supply issues: report

Updated 05 December 2022

Growth in arms trade stunted by supply issues: report

  • The growth was severely impacted by widespread supply chain issues
  • Companies in the US continue to dominate global arms production

STOCKHOLM: Sales of arms and military services grew in 2021, researchers said Monday, but were limited by worldwide supply issues related to the pandemic, with the war in Ukraine increasing demand while worsening supply difficulties.
The top 100 arms companies sold weapons and related services totalling $592 billion in 2021, 1.9-percent more than the year before, said the latest report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).
However the growth was severely impacted by widespread supply chain issues.
“The lasting impact of the pandemic is really starting to show in arms companies,” Nan Tian, a senior researcher at SIPRI, told AFP.
Disruptions from both labor shortages and difficulties in sourcing raw materials were “slowing down the companies’ ability to produce weapons systems and deliver them on time.
“So what we see really is a potentially slower increase to what many would have expected in arms sales in 2021,” Tian said.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is also expected to worsen supply chain issues, in part “because Russia is a major supplier of raw materials used in arms production,” said the report’s authors.
But the war has at the same time increased demand.
“Definitely demand will increase in the coming years,” Tian said.
By how much was at the same time harder to gauge, Tian said pointing to two factors that would impact demand.
Firstly, countries that have sent weapons to Ukraine to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars will be looking to replenish stockpiles.
Secondly, the worsening security environment means “countries are looking to procure more weapons.”
With the supply crunch expected to worsen, it could hamper these efforts, the authors noted.
Companies in the US continue to dominate global arms production, accounting for over half, $299 billion, of global sales and 40 of the top companies.
At the same time, the region was the only one to see a drop in sales: 0.9 percent down on the 2020 figures.
Among the top five companies — Lockheed Martin, Raytheon Technologies, Boeing, Northrop Grumman and General Dynamics — only Raytheon recorded an increase in sales.
Meanwhile, sales from the eight largest Chinese arms companies rose 6.3 percent to $109 billion in 2021.
European companies took 27 of the spots on the top 100, with combined sales of $123 billion, up 4.2 percent compared to 2020.
The report also noted a trend of private equity firms buying up arms companies, something the authors said had become increasingly apparent over the last three or four years.
This trend threatens to make the arms industry more opaque and therefore harder to track, Tian said, “because private equity firms will buy these companies and then essentially not produce any more financial records.”


US intel chief thinking ‘optimistically’ for Ukraine forces

Updated 04 December 2022

US intel chief thinking ‘optimistically’ for Ukraine forces

  • Russia’s military focus has been on striking Ukrainian infrastructure and pressing an offensive in the east

KYIV: The head of US intelligence says fighting in Russia’s war in Ukraine is running at a “reduced tempo” and suggests Ukrainian forces could have brighter prospects in coming months.
Avril Haines alluded to past allegations by some that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s advisers could be shielding him from bad news — for Russia — about war developments, and said he “is becoming more informed of the challenges that the military faces in Russia.”
“But it’s still not clear to us that he has a full picture of at this stage of just how challenged they are,” the US director of national intelligence said late Saturday at the Reagan National Defense Forum in Simi Valley, California.
Looking ahead, Haines said, “honestly we’re seeing a kind of a reduced tempo already of the conflict” and her team expects that both sides will look to refit, resupply, and reconstitute for a possible Ukrainian counter-offensive in the spring.
“But we actually have a fair amount of skepticism as to whether or not the Russians will be in fact prepared to do that,” she said. “And I think more optimistically for the Ukrainians in that timeframe.”
In recent weeks, Russia’s military focus has been on striking Ukrainian infrastructure and pressing an offensive in the east, near the town of Bakhmut, while shelling sites in the city of Kherson, which Ukrainian forces liberated last month after an 8-month Russian occupation.
In his nightly address on Saturday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky lashed out at Western efforts to crimp Russia’s crucial oil industry, a key source of funds for Putin’s war machine, saying their $60-per-barrel price cap on imports of Russian oil was insufficient.
“It is not a serious decision to set such a limit for Russian prices, which is quite comfortable for the budget of the terrorist state,” Zelensky said, referring to Russia. He said the $60-per-barrel level would still allow Russia to bring in $100 billion in revenues per year.
“This money will go not only to the war and not only to further sponsorship by Russia of other terrorist regimes and organizations. This money will be used for further destabilization of those countries that are now trying to avoid serious decisions,” Zelensky said.
Australia, Britain, Canada, Japan, the United States and the 27-nation European Union agreed Friday to cap what they would pay for Russian oil at $60 per barrel. The limit is set to take effect Monday, along with an EU embargo on Russian oil shipped by sea.
Russian authorities have rejected the price cap and threatened Saturday to stop supplying the nations that endorsed it.
In yet another show of Western support for Ukraine’s efforts to battle back Russian forces and cope with fallout from the war, US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland on Saturday visited the operations of a Ukrainian aid group that provides support for internally displaced people in Ukraine, among her other visits with top Ukrainian officials.
Nuland assembled dolls out of yarn in the blue-and-yellow colors of Ukraine’s flag with youngsters from regions including northeastern Kharkiv, southern Kherson, and eastern Donetsk.
“This is psychological support for them at an absolutely crucial time,” Nuland said.
“As President Putin knows best, this war could stop today, if he chose to stop it and withdrew his forces — and then negotiations can begin,” she added.


Indonesia’s Mt. Semeru unleashes lava river in new eruption

Mount Semeru releases volcanic materials during an eruption on Sunday, Dec. 4, 2022 in Lumajang, East java, Indonesia. (AP)
Updated 05 December 2022

Indonesia’s Mt. Semeru unleashes lava river in new eruption

  • Semeru volcano on Java island spews a column of ash 1.5km into the air
  • Indonesia has the largest population globally living in close range to a volcano

JAKARTA, Indonesia: Indonesia’s highest volcano on its most densely populated island released searing gas clouds and rivers of lava Sunday in its latest eruption.
Monsoon rains eroded and finally collapsed the lava dome atop 3,676-meter (12,060-foot) Mount Semeru, causing the eruption, according to National Disaster Management Agency spokesperson Abdul Muhari.
Several villages were blanketed with falling ash, blocking out the sun, but no casualties have been reported. Several hundred residents, their faces smeared with volcanic dust and rain, fled to temporary shelters or left for other safe areas.
Thick columns of ash were blasted more than 1,500 meters (nearly 5,000 feet) into the sky while searing gas and lava flowed down Semeru’s slopes toward a nearby river.
Increased activities of the volcano on Sunday afternoon prompted authorities to widen the danger zone to 8 kilometers (5 miles) from the crater, said Hendra Gunawan, who heads the Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation Center.
He said scientists raised the volcano’s alert level to the highest and people were advised to keep off the southeastern sector along the Besuk Kobokan River, which is in the path of the lava flow.
Semeru’s last major eruption was in December last year, when it blew up with fury that left 51 people dead in villages that were buried in layers of mud. Several hundred others suffered serious burns and the eruption forced the evacuation of more than 10,000 people. The government moved about 2,970 houses out of the danger zone.
Semeru, also known as Mahameru, has erupted numerous times in the last 200 years. Still, as is the case with many of the 129 active volcanoes in Indonesia, tens of thousands of people continue to live on its fertile slopes.
Indonesia, an archipelago of more than 270 million people, sits along the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” a horseshoe-shaped series of fault lines, and is prone to earthquakes and volcanic activity.

 


Concern as English local authority admits 39 Albanian child migrants missing

Updated 04 December 2022

Concern as English local authority admits 39 Albanian child migrants missing

  • FOI request shows 20 percent of 2022 intake ‘disappeared’ while in Kent County Council care

LONDON: Up to 20 percent of Albanian child migrants relocated to an English council in 2022 have been classified as disappeared after going missing, the BBC reported.

Kent County Council admitted 197 unaccompanied Albanian child migrants up to Oct. 31, but figures show that 39 have gone missing.

Officials said that the council is working closely with the UK Home Office to protect and safeguard vulnerable migrant children.

It comes as figures revealed that almost 12,000 Albanians crossed into the UK this year.

The number is an almost 4,000 percent increase on last year’s figure.

Ecpat UK, a campaign group that aims to protect vulnerable children, described the figures obtained by the BBC through a Freedom of Information request as “concerning.”

Head of policy, advocacy and research Laura Duran said that the 20 percent figure represented a “really high” number of missing children.

“We’re really concerned they are at risk of exploitation or have effectively been trafficked,” she said.

“They could be facing labor exploitation in different industries such as construction or car washes. They could be criminally exploited in drug distribution or in cannabis farms, or they could be sexually exploited.”

In a statement, Kent County Council said: “While all unaccompanied asylum-seeking children are vulnerable to exploitation, research and experience evidences that some nationalities are particularly vulnerable and can go missing from local authority care very quickly.

“Kent County Council has used both established safeguarding protocols, including the National Referral Mechanism, and initiated multi-agency strategies to minimize the risks for these children as much as possible.

“The council continues to take a proactive role in safeguarding all unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in its care.”


Ukraine detains 8 over Banksy mural theft

Updated 03 December 2022

Ukraine detains 8 over Banksy mural theft

  • The stencil image of a person in a nightgown and gas mask holding a fire extinguisher next to the charred remains of a window in the town of Gostomel went missing on Friday
  • The image is in good condition and in the hands of the authorities
KYIV: Ukraine has detained eight people over the theft from a wall in the Kyiv suburbs of a mural painted by elusive British street artist Banksy, the authorities said.
The stencil image of a person in a nightgown and gas mask holding a fire extinguisher next to the charred remains of a window in the town of Gostomel went missing on Friday, they said.
“A group of people tried to steal a Banksy mural. They cut out the work from the wall of a house destroyed by the Russians,” Kyiv governor Oleksiy Kuleba said in a post on Telegram late Friday.
He attached the image of a gaping hole in the wall where the image once stood.
“Several people were detained on the spot,” he said. “The image is in good condition and in the hands of the authorities.”
Other works in the area thought also to be the work of Banksy are under police protection, he said.
Kyiv police chief Andriy Nebitov said “eight people had been identified” as possibly involved, and a preliminary inquiry had been opened into the matter.
“All were aged between 27 and 60 years old. They are residents of Kyiv and Cherkasy” some 200 km (120 miles) southeast of the capital, he said.
Last month, Banksy posted an image of the stencil of a gymnast performing a handstand on the wall of a wrecked building in Borodyanka, another suburb of the capital.
He then posted a video of several more of his artworks, including the person in a gas mask holding the fire extinguisher.
Others included the portraits of a bearded man scrubbing up in a bathtub, and a young boy in a karate outfit slamming his adult opponent to the ground.
Together with towns such as Bucha and Irpin, Borodyanka and Gostomel were severely hit by Russian bombardment after Russia invaded Ukraine in February.