Zelensky meets with G7 leaders as Ukraine wins access to F-16s

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Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky (L) meets France's President Emmanuel Macron on the sidelines of the G7 Leaders' Summit in Hiroshima on May 20, 2023. (AFP)
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Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky’s presence at the Group of Seven summit in a city that was the first to suffer a nuclear attack cast into sharp relief western governments’ concerns over the nuclear threat posed by Russia. (AFP)
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Updated 22 May 2023
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Zelensky meets with G7 leaders as Ukraine wins access to F-16s

  • The Hiroshima summit comes as G7 members are faced with the immense challenges
  • Zelensky said summit would bring ‘increased cooperation for our victory,’ declared ‘today, peace will be closer’

HIROSHIMA: President Volodymyr Zelensky made a landmark visit to Hiroshima for talks with G7 leaders Saturday, after securing long-sought access to advanced US fighter jets for Ukraine’s war effort.
Zelensky’s surprise summit appearance — he had been expected to appear by video call — is his furthest foray from Kyiv since Russia’s invasion began 15 months ago.
He arrived significantly buoyed by what he called a “historic” White House decision to allow Ukraine access to F-16 jets, among the most sophisticated materiel yet supplied by the West.
The group of seven rich democracies were huddled in Japan to discuss issues including the need for “constructive and stable” relations with China, which the bloc accused Saturday of “economic coercion.”
But it was Zelensky’s arrival, and debate about the future of the war in Ukraine, that has dominated the summit.
On landing, Zelensky said the summit would bring “increased cooperation for our victory,” and he declared that “today, peace will be closer.”

After a bloody winter of fighting that saw Russian gains in the eastern city of Bakhmut, Ukraine’s forces have regrouped for a counteroffensive but they remain dependent on the flow of Western weaponry.
Military experts say the aircraft would be a significant upgrade from Ukraine’s aging Soviet-era fleet, offering greater ability to eventually strike targets in the air or on the ground.
They are also a potent symbol of Western support for Ukraine, forestalling any talk of waning interest as the conflict grinds on.
Mick Ryan, a strategist and retired Australian major general, called the decision “very significant.”
“F-16s have the sensors and weapon systems that are either equal to, or overmatch, Russian fighters,” he told AFP, saying the jets would make life “more difficult” for Russian missile-launching aircraft operating in and around Ukraine.
Until now, US President Joe Biden had effectively vetoed the transfer of US-made F-16s, with officials citing long pilot training times and the risk of escalating the conflict with Russia.
US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan insisted there had been no about-turn in US policy, and the decision was based on the “exigencies of the conflict.”
“We’ve reached a moment where it’s time to look down the road and to say, ‘What is Ukraine going to need... to be able to deter and defend against Russian aggression?’“
He added that Ukraine had committed to not using US military equipment to hit targets inside Russia.
“We are going to do everything we can to support Ukraine in its defense of its sovereignty and territorial integrity, and we are also going to proceed in a way that avoids World War III,” he said.
With the US veto lifted, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak quickly announced that Britain would “work together with the USA and the Netherlands, Belgium and Denmark to get Ukraine the combat air capability it needs.”
Zelensky’s trip offers a chance to confer with allies, but perhaps more importantly to woo key unaligned powers also joining the summit, including India and Brazil.
Photos posted online by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s staff showed the pair shaking hands and holding their first meeting since the invasion, which India has declined to condemn.
“There is an opportunity for Zelensky to engage with these non-Western actors, to try to bolster support, or at least weaken what may be seen as ambivalence toward the conflict,” Ian Lesser, vice president of the German Marshall Fund think-tank, told AFP.
“And they do matter. They matter especially in terms of sanctions, of course,” he added.
Zelensky also met separately with the Italian and British prime ministers, and talks with the French and US presidents are expected.
Ahead of Zelensky’s arrival, G7 leaders issued a joint statement Saturday denouncing efforts to “weaponize” trade and supply chains, saying they would “fail and face consequences” — a thinly veiled warning to China.
The bloc said it would also address vulnerabilities in supply chains for “critical goods” like minerals, semiconductors and batteries.
“What we have done over 20 years with China, encouraging development, was right, but maybe we should have been more careful on critical material, supply chains and those elements,” an EU official said.
The grouping also warned China against its “militarization” in the South China Sea and urged Beijing to press Russia to end its invasion of Ukraine.
The bloc insisted however it still seeks “constructive and stable relations” with China.


US ‘incredibly’ concerned by Putin threat to send N.Korea weapons

Updated 4 sec ago
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US ‘incredibly’ concerned by Putin threat to send N.Korea weapons

  • The threat “is incredibly concerning,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters

WASHINGTON: The United States expressed deep concern Thursday over Russian President Vladimir Putin’s threat to supply North Korea with weapons, warning such a move would “destabilize” the Korean peninsula.
Putin, during a rare visit to Pyongyang, signed a mutual defense pact on Wednesday with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who pledged his country’s “full support” for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Speaking on Thursday in Vietnam, Putin said Moscow would not rule out sending weapons to Pyongyang, calling it repercussions for the West supplying Ukraine.
The threat “is incredibly concerning,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters.
“It would destabilize the Korean peninsula, potentially, depending on the type of weapons, and might violate UN Security Council resolutions that Russia itself has supported,” Miller said.
Washington and its allies have previously accused North Korea of supplying Russia with missiles and artillery that it has used to attack Ukraine.
Putin warned Seoul on Thursday not to supply Ukraine with weapons, after South Korea said it was reconsidering its current ban.
Seoul has a longstanding policy that bars it from selling weapons into active conflict zones, which it has stuck to despite calls from Washington and Kyiv to reconsider.
Miller said such a decision was “for every country to make in terms of whether they’re going to supply weapons to Ukraine.”
“We welcome any support for Ukraine in its fight against Russian aggression,” he added.
 

 


Death of Indian laborer highlights plight of farm workers in Italy

Young Sikh migrant workers walk on a street in the Agro Pontino area, south of Rome. Picture taken May 19, 2019 (REUTERS)
Updated 42 sec ago
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Death of Indian laborer highlights plight of farm workers in Italy

  • “These are inhumane acts that do not belong to the Italian people, and I hope that this barbarity will be punished harshly,” Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said, in comments relayed by her office

ROME: The death of an Indian farm laborer in a gruesome accident in which his right arm was severed by machinery has put a spotlight the conditions of migrant agricultural workers in Italy, whom trade unions say are often employed illegally and exploited.
Satnam Singh, 31, died in a hospital in Rome on Wednesday, two days after being injured while working in a melon greenhouse in the Agro Pontino, a rural area south of the capital.
According to media reports, Singh was left outside his home after suffering injuries to his arm and legs, with his severed limb placed in a fruit crate.
“We heard shouting outside, the guy’s wife threw herself at me saying, ‘call an ambulance, call an ambulance’,” a neighbor told RAI public television.
Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni deplored the tragedy as she chaired a cabinet meeting on Thursday.
“These are inhumane acts that do not belong to the Italian people, and I hope that this barbarity will be punished harshly,” she said, in comments relayed by her office.
The owner of the farm, Renzo Lovato, expressed his sorrow over the accident, but said Singh had been warned not to get close to the machine that injured him.
“The worker did it his own way. It was carelessness, unfortunately,” Lovato told RAI.
An investigation into Lovato’s son, who allegedly left Singh outside his home, has been opened over potential charges of manslaughter and failure to assist a person in danger, the lead prosecutor in the case, Giuseppe De Falco, said in an email.
“He spontaneously went to the judicial police an hour after the events, as any decent person would do,” Lovato’s family lawyer told Reuters. He added that his client was waiting for the charges to be formalized to defend himself.
Responding to the allegation that Singh had been abandoned without calling an ambulance, the lawyer, Valerio Righi, said: “You will see during the proceedings that maybe help was called sooner than people think.”
Some politicians and trade unions said the tragedy highlighted the broader issue of “caporalato,” the illegal gangmaster system of hiring migrant workers common in the Agro Pontino and other parts of Italy.
Righi declined to comment on reports that Singh and his wife were employed illegally. Other details of the conditions in which he worked were unclear.
Maria Grazia Gabrielli, from Italy’s largest trade union Cgil, decried an “event of unprecedented brutality,” linking it to what she said were slave-like conditions endured by many farm hands.
“Exploitation in the fields very often results in starvation wages, unsafe and inhuman working rhythms and conditions, psychological and physical violence,” she said in a statement.
According to 2021 data from national statistics office Istat, about 11 percent of Italian workers were employed illegally, rising to more than 23 percent in agriculture.
The Lazio region, which includes the Agro Pontino, offered to cover Singh’s funeral costs.
Agriculture Minister Francesco Lollobrigida, responding to the furor over Singh’s death, said the government was “first in line on all fronts to counter any form of exploitation at work.” 

 


Russia fires deputy defense minister jailed on bribery charges and extends his arrest

Updated 29 min 32 sec ago
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Russia fires deputy defense minister jailed on bribery charges and extends his arrest

  • Timur Ivanov, 48, is one of several senior military officers arrested on corruption charges in recent months
  • Ivanov, arrested in April, was charged with taking an especially large bribe

MOSCOW: Russian authorities have formally dismissed a deputy defense minister jailed on bribery charges and accused by Kremlin critics of living a lavish lifestyle, Russian media reported Thursday. A court ordered that his pre-trial detention be extended for three more months.
Timur Ivanov, 48, is one of several senior military officers arrested on corruption charges in recent months. He was a close associate of Sergei Shoigu, whom President Vladimir Putin replaced as defense minister last month.
Ivanov, arrested in April, was charged with taking an especially large bribe. His lawyers said he maintains his innocence. The Basmanny District Court in Moscow on Thursday extended his detention pending investigation and trial until at least Sept. 23. If convicted, he faces up to 15 years in prison.
Russian media, citing an online registry of government officials, said Thursday that Ivanov was dismissed from his post. His lawyer Denis Baluyev confirmed the dismissal in comments to Russian business news site RBK. It wasn’t immediately clear from the reports when exactly Ivanov was fired.
Other top military officials arrested in recent months include deputy chief of the Russian military general staff Lt. Gen. Vadim Shamarin; Gen. Ivan Popov, a former top commander in Russia’s offensive in Ukraine; and Lt. Gen. Yury Kuznetsov, head of the Defense Ministry’s personnel directorate. All three have been accused of bribery.
According to the Defense Ministry’s website, Ivanov was appointed in 2016 by a presidential decree. He oversaw property management, housing and medical support for the military, as well as construction projects.
Ivanov’s arrest came nearly a month after Putin called on the Federal Security Service to “keep up a systemic anti-corruption effort” and pay special attention to state defense procurement.
Russian media reported that Ivanov oversaw some of the construction in Mariupol — a Ukrainian port city that was devastated by bombardment and occupied by Russian forces early in the war. Ivanov has been sanctioned by both the United States and European Union.
Zvezda, the official TV channel of the Russian military, reported in summer 2022 that the ministry was building an entire residential block in Mariupol and showed Ivanov inspecting construction sites and newly erected residential buildings.
That same year, the team of the late Alexei Navalny, Russia’s most prominent opposition leader and anti-corruption campaigner, alleged Ivanov and his family had been enjoying luxurious trips abroad, lavish parties and owning elite real estate.
The activists also alleged that Ivanov’s wife, Svetlana, divorced him in 2022 to avoid sanctions and continued living a lavish lifestyle.


Italian coast guard recovers 12 more bodies of shipwreck victims in the Ionian Sea

Updated 20 June 2024
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Italian coast guard recovers 12 more bodies of shipwreck victims in the Ionian Sea

  • The deaths bring to more than 800 people who have died or went missing and are presumed dead crossing the central Mediterranean so far this year

MILAN: The Italian coast guard on Thursday recovered 12 more bodies from a weekend shipwreck in the Ionian Sea off the southern Italian coastline, bringing to 20 the number of known victims from the sinking. Dozens more are missing and presumed dead.
The bodies, including women and children, were being transferred to a port in Calabria. Two more coast guard ships were on their way to join the air-and-sea search, some 190 kilometers (120 miles) from shore.
Survivors reported that the boat motor had caught fire, causing it to capsize off the Italian coast overnight Sunday about eight days after departing from Turkiye with about 75 people from Iran, Syria and Iraq on board, according to the UN refugee agency and other UN organizations. Eleven survivors were being treated on shore.
The deaths bring to more than 800 people who have died or went missing and are presumed dead crossing the central Mediterranean so far this year, an average of five dead a day, the UN agencies said.
Humanitarian groups have decried the deaths as evidence of the failure of European migration policy.


Zelensky calls for measures to preserve Ukraine’s energy system

Updated 20 June 2024
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Zelensky calls for measures to preserve Ukraine’s energy system

  • “Life in Ukraine must be preserved and that includes in particular energy security,” Zelensky said
  • Drone and missile strikes have knocked out half of energy generating capacity since March

KYIV: President Volodymyr Zelensky announced on Thursday a set of measures to protect Ukraine’s energy system, including protection for plants coming under Russian fire and the development of alternative renewable energy sources.
“Life in Ukraine must be preserved and that includes in particular energy security,” Zelensky said in his nightly video address.
Russia pounded Ukraine’s energy system in the first winter of the war, launched in February 2022, and renewed its assault on energy targets last March as Ukraine was running low on stocks of Western air defense missiles.
Drone and missile strikes have knocked out half of energy generating capacity since March, according to official accounts.
Attacks overnight on Thursday hit four regions and cut power to more than 218,000 consumers, the Energy Ministry said.
Zelensky outlined plans to minimize the effects of such attacks, including a program of developing solar energy and energy storage facilities and a schedule for critical infrastructure sites to come up with alternative energy sources.
The work, he said, must be completed before winter and the increased energy demand associated with the change in seasons.
Zelensky said the government would “continue to work on creating new energy generation and new decentralized energy capacities.” Also planned was “the construction of new balanced and manoeuvrable capacities for energy.”
“This process is quite challenging in wartime conditions, but we must implement it just as we have already implemented many difficulty projects,” he said.
And work was proceeding, Zelensky said, on measures to protect existing energy sites.
Russia says energy infrastructure is a legitimate military target and denies targeting civilians or civilian infrastructure.