Fall of Bakhmut would not mean Russia has turned tide of war – Pentagon chief

The founder of the Wagner mercenary force leading the assault on the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut has said his troops are being deprived of ammunition by Moscow. Above, Ukrainian soldiers fire a self-propelled howitzer toward Russian positions. (AP)
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Updated 06 March 2023
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Fall of Bakhmut would not mean Russia has turned tide of war – Pentagon chief

  • US defense secretary Lloyd Austin: ‘I think it is more of a symbolic value than it is strategic and operational value’
  • Russian artillery have been pounding the last routes out of the city, aiming to complete its encirclement

AMMAN: US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Monday that the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut was of more symbolic than operational importance, and its fall would not necessarily mean that Moscow had regained the initiative in the war.
The battle for Bakhmut has raged for seven months. A Russian victory in the city, which had a pre-war population of about 70,000 but has now been blasted to ruins, would give Moscow the first major prize in a costly winter offensive.
“I think it is more of a symbolic value than it is strategic and operational value,” Austin told reporters while visiting Jordan.
“The fall of Bakhmut won’t necessarily mean that the Russians have changed the tide of this fight,” he said, adding that he would not predict whether or when Bakhmut might fall.
Russian artillery have been pounding the last routes out of the city, aiming to complete its encirclement, but the founder of the Wagner mercenary force leading the assault has said his troops are being deprived of ammunition by Moscow.
Austin said that if Ukrainian forces decided to reposition west of Bakhmut, he would not view that as a strategic setback.
Wagner often appears to operate autonomously from the regular army, or even in competition with it — and in a video published over the weekend, Prigozhin complained that the ammunition that Moscow had promised it had not been delivered.
Prigozhin regularly criticizes the military hierarchy and last month accused Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and others of “treason” for withholding munitions.
Austin alluded to differences between Wagner and the military, saying: “I think the fissures are there ...
“I would say the Wagner forces have been a bit more effective than the Russian forces ... Having said that, we have not seen exemplary performance from Russian forces.”


Blinken will be the latest top US official to visit China in a bid to keep ties on an even keel

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Blinken will be the latest top US official to visit China in a bid to keep ties on an even keel

The United States and China also are battling over trade and commerce issues, with President Joe Biden announcing new tariffs on imports of Chinese steel this past week
Talks between Blinken and Chinese President Xi Jinping are expected, although neither side will confirm such a meeting is happening until shortly before it takes place

WASHINGTON: Secretary of State Antony Blinken will travel to China this coming week as Washington and Beijing try to keep ties on an even keel despite major differences on issues from the path to peace in the Middle East to the supply of synthetic opioids that have heightened fears over global stability.
The rivals are at odds on numerous fronts, including Russia’s war in Ukraine, Taiwan and the South China Sea, North Korea, Hong Kong, human rights and the detention of American citizens. The United States and China also are battling over trade and commerce issues, with President Joe Biden announcing new tariffs on imports of Chinese steel this past week.
The State Department said Saturday that Blinken, on his second visit to China in less than a year, will travel to Shanghai and Beijing starting Wednesday for three days of meetings with senior Chinese officials, including Foreign Minister Wang Yi. Talks between Blinken and Chinese President Xi Jinping are expected, although neither side will confirm such a meeting is happening until shortly before it takes place.
The department said in a statement that Blinken would “discuss a range of bilateral, regional, and global issues,” including the Middle East, the war in Ukraine, the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait.
He will also talk about progress made in “resuming counternarcotics cooperation, military-to-military communication, artificial intelligence, and strengthening people-to-people ties” and will reaffirm how important it is for the US and China to be “responsibly managing competition, even in areas where our two countries disagree,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said.
The trip follows a phone call this month between Biden and Xi in which they pledged to keep high-level contacts open, something they had agreed to last year at a face-to-face summit in California. Since that call, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has visited China and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has spoken by phone with his Chinese counterpart. Meetings at lower levels also have taken place.
Despite those encounters, relations are rocky. The US has recently become more vocal in its calls for China to stop supporting Russia’s military-industrial sector, which Washington says has allowed Moscow to boost weapons production to support the war against Ukraine.
“We see China sharing machine tools, semiconductors, other dual-use items that have helped Russia rebuild the defense industrial base that sanctions and export controls had done so much to degrade,” Blinken said Friday. “Now, if China purports on the one hand to want good relations with Europe and other countries, it can’t on the other hand be fueling what is the biggest threat to European security since the end of the Cold War.”
Blinken also has pushed for China to take a more active stance in pressing Iran not to escalate tensions in the Middle East. He has spoken to his Chinese counterpart several times since the Israel-Hamas war began six months ago as he has sought China’s help in getting Iran to restrain proxy groups it has supported, armed and funded in the region.
That topic has taken on new urgency since direct back-and-forth attacks by Iran and Israel on each other’s soil in the past week.
Also high on the agenda for Blinken will be Taiwan and the South China Sea.
The US has strongly condemned Chinese military exercises threatening Taiwan, which Beijing regards as a renegade province and vowed to reunify with the mainland by force if necessary. Successive US administrations have steadily ramped up military support and sales for Taipei, much to the anger of Chinese officials.
In the South China Sea, the US and others have become increasingly concerned by provocative Chinese actions in and around disputed areas. In particular, the US has voiced objections to what it says are Chinese attempts to thwart legitimate activities by others in the waterway, notably the Philippines and Vietnam.
That was a major topic of concern earlier this month when Biden held a three-way summit with the prime minister of Japan and the president of the Philippines.

London police apologize after threatening to arrest ‘openly Jewish’ man near pro-Palestinian protest

Updated 20 April 2024
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London police apologize after threatening to arrest ‘openly Jewish’ man near pro-Palestinian protest

  • London’s Metropolitan Police Service on Friday afternoon apologized for the language the officer used in describing Falter’s appearance
  • “In an effort to make a point about the policing of protest we caused further offense,” the force said

LONDON: London’s police force has been forced to issue two apologies after officers threatened to arrest an “openly Jewish” man if he refused to leave the area around a pro-Palestinian march because his presence risked provoking the demonstrators.
Gideon Falter, chief executive of the Campaign Against Antisemitism, was wearing a traditional Jewish skullcap when he was stopped by police while trying to cross a street in central London as demonstrators filed past on April 13.
One officer told Falter he was worried that the man’s “quite openly Jewish” appearance could provoke a reaction from the protesters, according to video posted by the campaign group. A second officer then told Falter he would be arrested if he refused to be escorted out of the area because he was “causing a breach of the peace.”
London’s Metropolitan Police Service on Friday afternoon apologized for the language the officer used in describing Falter’s appearance, but said counter demonstrators had to be aware “that their presence is provocative.”
The Met later deleted that apology from its social media accounts and issued a second statement.


“In an effort to make a point about the policing of protest we caused further offense,” the force said. “This was never our intention. We have removed that statement and we apologize.”
“Being Jewish is not a provocation. Jewish Londoners must be able to feel safe in the city.”
The episode highlights the challenges London police face amid the boiling tensions surrounding the war in Gaza, with some Jewish residents saying they feel threatened by repeated pro-Palestinian marches through the streets of the British capital.
While the marches have been largely peaceful, many demonstrators accuse Israel of genocide and a small number have shown support for Hamas, the group that led the Oct. 7 attack on Israel and which has been banned by the British government as a terrorist organization.
The Met has deployed thousands of officers during each of the dozen major marches as it sought to protect the rights of the pro-Palestinian protesters and prevent clashes with counter-demonstrators and Jewish residents.
Following Falter’s confrontation with police, the Campaign Against Antisemitism issued a call for Londoners to exercise their right to walk wherever they choose on April 27, when another pro-Palestinian march is scheduled.
In response, the Met emailed Falter about what it described as his intention to “protest” next week and offered to meet with him to discuss ways to “ensure we can police the event as safely as possible,” according an exchange of correspondence released by the campaign group.
Falter rejected the idea that he was staging a protest, saying he was planning to go for a walk as a “private individual” and others might choose to join him.
“Unfortunately @MetPoliceUK is missing the point,” he said on the social media site X. “This is not a protest or counterprotest. Anyone who wishes to walk around London on Saturday 27th April … is free to do so. Even if they are ‘quite openly Jewish.’”


Man arrested after Denmark’s Billund Airport evacuated over bomb threat

Updated 20 April 2024
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Man arrested after Denmark’s Billund Airport evacuated over bomb threat

  • Investigations into the incident are continuing, the police said

COPENHAGEN: A man was arrested in Denmark on Saturday in connection with a bomb threat at Billund Airport, the country’s second largest aviation hub, police said in a statement.
The airport, in central western Denmark, was evacuated and remains shut following the threat.
“The evacuation has proceeded calmly and as expected, with travelers following our instructions,” police inspector Michael Weiss said in a statement.
Investigations into the incident are continuing, the police said, adding it was not clear when the airport would reopen.


Indonesia on highest alert as Sulawesi volcano continues to erupt

Updated 20 April 2024
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Indonesia on highest alert as Sulawesi volcano continues to erupt

  • Over 7,500 people living near the volcano have so far been evacuated
  • Volcanic activity is common in Indonesia, which lies on the Pacific ‘Ring of Fire’

JAKARTA: Indonesian authorities were on the highest alert on Saturday as a volcano in North Sulawesi continued to erupt. Thousands living nearby have been forced to leave their homes.

Mount Ruang, located on the northern side of Sulawesi Island, had at least eight eruptions since April 16, including a major one on Wednesday evening, which prompted Indonesia’s volcanology agency to issue its highest alert, which indicates an active eruption.

The center recorded at least two eruptions on Saturday, with the crater emitting white-gray smoke more than 1,200 meters above its peak after midnight, followed by another eruption at noon that released an ash column of about 250 meters.

“Based on visual observations, as of April 20, 2024, at 12:15 p.m., there is still high volcanic activity in Mt. Ruang,” Muhammad Wafid, head of the geology department at the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources, said in a statement.

“The potential danger is an explosive eruption that may cause the mountain to spew volcanic rocks in different directions, followed by clouds, as well as effusive eruption, or lava flow.”

With authorities having established a six-kilometer exclusion zone around the volcano, around 7,500 people have so far been evacuated, including more than 1,500 residents who live on the smaller island where Mount Ruang stands, and around 6,000 people living on neighboring Tagulandang island, northeast of the volcano, according to the latest data from Indonesia’s National Disaster Mitigation Agency. Thousands more are still at risk.

The international airport in Manado city, less than 100 kilometers away from Mount Ruang, is closed until at least Sunday because of volcanic ash.

“There are still concerns, because tremors and volcanic earthquakes are still being recorded by our devices, indicating magmatic fluid supply is still moving from the depth to the surface,” Hendra Gunawan, who heads Indonesia’s volcanology agency, told Arab News.

“There’s still potential for more eruptions … And a tsunami may occur if there is a large flow of volcanic material into the sea.”

Indonesia, a vast archipelago nation, has around 120 active volcanoes. The country experiences frequent seismic and volcanic activity due to its location on the arc of volcanoes and fault lines in the Pacific Basin known as the “Ring of Fire.”


Moscow says 50 Ukrainian drones shot down as attacks spark fires at Russian power stations

Updated 20 April 2024
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Moscow says 50 Ukrainian drones shot down as attacks spark fires at Russian power stations

  • Fifty drones were shot down by air defenses over eight Russian regions, including 26 over the country’s western Belgorod region
  • Russia’s Defense Ministry said that it had shot down a Ukrainian Sukhoi Su-25 fighter jet

KYIV: Ukraine launched a barrage of drones across Russia overnight, the Defense Ministry in Moscow said Saturday, in attacks that appeared to target the country’s energy infrastructure.
Fifty drones were shot down by air defenses over eight Russian regions, including 26 over the country’s western Belgorod region close to the Ukrainian border. Two people — a woman with a broken leg and the man caring for her — died during the overnight barrage, after explosions sparked a blaze that set their home alight, Belgorod Gov. Vyacheslav Gladkov wrote on social media. A pregnant woman and her unborn child were also killed in shelling later Saturday, he said.
Drones were also reportedly destroyed over the Bryansk, Kursk, Tula, Smolensk, Ryazan, Kaluga regions across Russia’s west and south, as well as in the Moscow region.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said that it had shot down a Ukrainian Sukhoi Su-25 fighter jet. It provided no details and the claims could not be independently verified.
Ukrainian officials normally decline to comment about attacks on Russian soil. However, many of the drone strikes appeared to be directed toward Russia’s energy infrastructure.
The head of the Kaluga region, Vladislav Shapsha, said Saturday that a drone strike had sparked a blaze at an electrical substation, while Bryansk Gov. Alexander Bogomaz and Smolensk Gov. Vasily Anokhin also reported fires at fuel and energy complexes.
In recent months, Russian refineries and oil terminals have become priority targets of Ukrainian drone attacks, part of stepped-up assaults on Russian territory.
Ukrainian drone developers have been extending the weapons’ range for months, as Kyiv attempts to compensate for its battlefield disadvantage in weapons and troops. The unmanned aerial vehicles are also an affordable option while Ukraine waits for more US military aid.
Moscow also said Friday evening that an American citizen known to have fought with Kremlin-backed separatists in Ukraine between 2014 and 2017 had died in the Russian-occupied Donetsk region.
Russell Bentley, 64, was no longer involved in military operations and previously worked for state-owned Russian news agency Sputnik. His death was confirmed by his former battalion and by Margarita Simonyan, head of the state-funded television channel RT, who described him as “a real American.” He used the call-sign “Texas” and had spent time in prison on charges of drug smuggling before leaving the United States.
No information has been released as to the cause of Bentley’s death, but local police had previously reported the American as missing on April 8.
Meanwhile, Russia attacked Ukraine overnight with seven missiles, and air defenses downed two missiles and three reconnaissance drones, the Ukrainian air force said Saturday.
Gov. Oleh Kiper, head of Ukraine’s Odesa region, said that ballistic missiles had damaged infrastructure overnight, but did not provide further details. Previous attacks on the Black Sea city on Friday damaged port infrastructure, including two food export terminals, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said.
Russian shelling also killed two men, including an 81-year-old pensioner in the city of Vovchansk, said Gov. Oleh Syniehubov, head of Ukraine’s Kharkiv region.
A 60-year-old woman was also injured after shelling struck a nine-story apartment block, he said.