Top general’s dismissal reveals new crack in Russian military leadership

In this photo released by Russian Defense Ministry Press Service Jun. 8, 2023, Maj. Gen. Ivan Popov, the commander of the 58th Army, is seen in a photo at an undisclosed location. (AP)
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Updated 13 July 2023
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Top general’s dismissal reveals new crack in Russian military leadership

  • Popov said the military leadership was angered by his frank talk about challenges faced by his forces, particularly the shortage of radars tracking enemy artillery
  • Many military bloggers argued that Popov’s dismissal eroded troop morale at a time of relentless Ukrainian attacks

MOSCOW: A Russian general in charge of forces fighting in southern Ukraine has been relieved of his duties after speaking out about problems faced by his troops, a move that reflected new fissures in the military command following a brief rebellion by mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin.
Maj. Gen. Ivan Popov, the commander of the 58th army in the Zaporizhzhia region, which is a focal point in Ukraine’s counteroffensive, said in an audio statement to his troops released Wednesday night that he was dismissed after a meeting with the military brass in what he described as a “treacherous” stab in the back to Russian forces in Ukraine.
Popov said the military leadership was angered by his frank talk about challenges faced by his forces, particularly the shortage of radars tracking enemy artillery, which resulted in massive Russian casualties.
“The top officers apparently saw me as a source of threat and rapidly issued an order to get rid of me, which was signed by the defense minister in just one day,” he said. “The Ukrainian military has failed to break through our army’s defenses, but the top commander hit us in the rear, treacherously and cowardly beheading the army at this most difficult moment.”
Popov, who uses the call name “Spartacus,” addressed his troops as “my gladiators” in the audio message released by retired Gen. Andrei Gurulev, who commanded the 58th army in the past and currently serves as a lawmaker. The 58th army consists of several divisions and smaller units.
The 48-year-old Popov, who has risen from platoon commander to lead a large group of forces, has encouraged his soldiers to come directly to him with any problems — an easygoing approach that contrasted sharply with the stiff formal style of command common in the Russian military. Russian military bloggers say he’s widely known for avoiding unnecessary losses — unlike many other commanders who were eager to sacrifice their soldiers to report successes.
“I faced a difficult situation with the top leadership when I had to either keep silent and act like a coward, saying what they wanted to hear, or call things by their names,” Popov said. “I didn’t have the right to lie for the sake of you and our fallen comrades.”
Many military bloggers argued that Popov’s dismissal eroded troop morale at a time of relentless Ukrainian attacks. One blogger, Vladislav Shurygin, said it has dealt a “terrible blow to the entire army,” while another, Roman Saponkov, described it as a “monstrous terror attack against the army’s morale.”
In a sign that many in Russian officialdom share Popov’s criticism of the military leadership, Andrei Turchak, the first deputy speaker of the upper house of parliament and head of the main Kremlin party United Russia, strongly backed the general, saying that “the Motherland can be proud of such commanders.”
Andrei Kartapolov, a retired general who heads the defense affairs committee in the lower house, also said the Defense Ministry should deal with the issues raised by Popov.
News of Popov’s dismissal added to the blow that Russian troops received when another senior officer, Lt. Gen. Oleg Tsokov, was killed Tuesday by a Ukrainian missile strike.
Popov’s remarks about the need to rotate his exhausted troops that have been fighting the Ukrainian counteroffensive since early June, reportedly angered General Staff chief Gen. Valery Gerasimov, who shrugged them off as panicky and promptly ordered his dismissal.
Gerasimov was shown meeting with military officers Monday in a video released by the Defense Ministry, the first time he was seen since last month’s abortive rebellion by Prigozhin, who had demanded his ouster. The uproar fueled by Popov’s dismissal could further erode the position of Gerasimov, who has faced broad criticism for his conduct of the fighting in Ukraine.
Pro-Kremlin political analyst Sergei Markov noted that Popov’s statement echoed criticism of the top brass by Prigozhin. However, he added that the general’s statement wasn’t a rebellion, but instead a call for intervention by President Vladimir Putin.
“Such public disputes at the top of the Russian army isn’t a show of force,” he said.
During the June 24 revolt that lasted less than 24 hours, mercenaries from Prigozhin’s Wagner Group quickly swept through the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don and captured the military headquarters there without firing a shot before driving to within about 200 kilometers (125 miles) of Moscow.
Prigozhin called his mercenaries back to their camps after striking a deal to end the rebellion in exchange for an amnesty for him and his mercenaries and permission to move to Belarus.
The rebellion represented the biggest threat to Putin in his more than two decades in power and badly dented his authority, even though Prigozhin said the uprising wasn’t aimed against the president but intended to force the ouster of Gerasimov and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. The Wagner chief was harshly critical of their conduct of how they have conducted the action in Ukraine.
On Monday, the Kremlin confirmed Prigozhin and 34 of his top officers met with Putin on June 29, a startling announcement that raised new questions about the terms of the deal with Wagner. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Wagner’s commanders pledged loyalty to Putin and said they were ready “to continue to fight for the Motherland.”
Putin has said Wagner troops had to choose whether to sign contracts with the Defense Ministry, move to Belarus or retire from service. While details of the deal remain murky, uncertainty also has surrounded the fate of Gen. Sergei Surovikin, the deputy commander of the Russian group of forces fighting in Ukraine who reportedly had been detained for questioning about his ties to Prigozhin.
The Defense Ministry said Wednesday that mercenaries of the Wagner Group were completing the handover of their weapons to the Russian military, part of the Kremlin’s efforts to defuse the threat it posed.


Halt Gaza war now, Trump tells Netanyahu

Updated 7 sec ago
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Halt Gaza war now, Trump tells Netanyahu

JEDDAH: Israeli forces killed at least 30 more Palestinians in Gaza on Thursday as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held talks in Washington with the US president and vice president.

In Florida on Friday Netanyahu will meet Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who used a TV interview on Thursday to urge the Israeli leader to halt the war. “You have to end this fast. It can’t continue to go on like this. It’s too long. It’s too much,” Trump said.

Netanyahu took part in separate meetings at the White House with Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, the overwhelming favorite to be the Democratic nominee in November’s presidential election.

Biden has offered Netanyahu almost unlimited financial and military support in his war on Gaza, but the president has also been increasingly critical of Israel over the Palestinian death toll, and denounced restrictions on the amount of aid getting through to the enclave, much of which has been reduced to rubble.
In Gaza on Thursday at least 30 Palestinians were killed in airstrikes and shelling as Israeli forces pushed deeper into towns on the eastern side of Khan Younis and tanks advanced in central Rafah.

Fighting has centred on the eastern towns of Bani Suaila, Al-Zanna and Al-Karara. Strikes there killed 14 Palestinians, several were wounded by tank and aerial shelling, and an airstrike east of Khan Younis killed four people.
Israeli bombardment intensified in several areas in Rafah near the Egypt border as tanks operated north, west and in the town center. Deir Al-Balah, where tanks have not yet invaded, is currently crowded with hundreds of thousands of Palestinians displaced from other areas of the enclave.


Trump discusses US wiping Iran ‘off the face of the Earth’

Updated 16 min ago
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Trump discusses US wiping Iran ‘off the face of the Earth’

  • US media reported last week that the US Secret Service had increased security for Trump weeks ago after authorities learned of an Iranian plot to kill him

WASHINGTON: Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump on Thursday invoked the annihilation of US adversary Iran in a social media post reminiscent of his most incendiary outbursts while in the White House.
“If they do ‘assassinate President Trump,’ which is always a possibility, I hope that America obliterates Iran, wipes it off the face of the Earth — If that does not happen, American Leaders will be considered ‘gutless’ cowards!” he wrote on his social media platform, Truth Social.
Trump made the remarks alongside a brief video of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu bringing up alleged Iranian plots against Trump in his address to the US Congress on Wednesday.
US media reported last week that the US Secret Service had increased security for Trump weeks ago after authorities learned of an Iranian plot to kill him, although it was not linked to the recent attempt on his life in which a 20-year-old American fired shots during a campaign rally.
CNN reported that US authorities received intelligence from a “human source” on a plan by Tehran targeting the former president, causing protection to be boosted for Trump. Other US outlets also reported the plot.
But it was not connected to the campaign shooting in Butler, Pennsylvania, in which gunman Thomas Matthew Crooks opened fire, lightly wounding Trump and killing a rally attendee, they said.
Relations between Washington and Iran have long been strained and reached a breaking point as Tehran sought revenge for the 2020 killing of Revolutionary Guards commander Qasem Soleimani, ordered by Trump when he was president.
The US National Security Council said it had been “tracking Iranian threats against former Trump administration officials for years.”
Trump’s post recalled a controversial episode in 2019 when, as president, he threatened the “obliteration” of Iran if the country carried out an attack on “anything American.”
That confrontation came after Iranian officials said the path to diplomacy between the two nations was permanently closed after Trump’s new round of sanctions Monday.
As president, he also threatened North Korea with “fire and fury like the world has never seen,” although he later became friends with the isolated country’s dictator, Kim Jong Un, and often referred to their “love.”


Migrants and homeless people are cleared out of Paris during the Olympics

Updated 24 min 14 sec ago
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Migrants and homeless people are cleared out of Paris during the Olympics

  • Group of largely African migrants headed for the fringes of the city in buses paid for by the French government and into temporary lodging until at least the end of the Games
  • Activist groups and migrants have called the practice – long used in other Olympic host cities like Rio de Janeiro in 2016 – a form of ‘social cleansing’

PARIS: Carrying backpacks and small children, hundreds of people sleeping on the streets of Paris climbed aboard buses surrounded by armed police Thursday, the latest group of migrants and homeless people to be driven out of the city ahead of the opening ceremony of the 2024 Olympics.
The group of largely African migrants headed for the fringes of the city in buses paid for by the French government and into temporary lodging until at least the end of the Games. While some living on the streets were happy to have a roof over their head for the night, few knew what laid ahead once the world’s eyes were off Paris.
“It’s like poker. I don’t know where I will go, or how much time I will stay,” said Nikki, a 47-year-old homeless Parisian who asked that her last name not be used to protect her privacy.
French authorities have been clearing out migrant and homeless encampments for months leading up to the massive global sports event, which is an important moment for President Emmanuel Macron at a time of political turmoil. But the Games also have faced criticism as Parisians have complained about everything from elevated public transit fees to government spending on cleaning up the Seine River for swimming instead of investing in the social safety net.
Authorities also have been sharply criticized as they have bused camping migrants from the city center where the Olympics are taking place to the fringes of Paris or other areas. Activist groups and migrants have called the practice – long used in other Olympic host cities like Rio de Janeiro in 2016 – a form of “social cleansing.”
“They want to clean the city for the Olympic Games, for the tourists,” said Nathan Lequeux, an organizer for the activist group Utopia 56. “As treatment of migrants is becoming more horrible and infamous, people are being chased off the streets. ... Since the Olympics, this aggressiveness, this policy of hunting has become more pronounced.”
Christophe Noël Du Payrat, chief of staff of the regional government of Île-de-France that surrounds Paris, firmly denied those accusations and said the government has relocated migrants from the city for years.
“We are taking care of them,” he said. ”We don’t really understand the criticism because we are very much determined to offer places for these people.”
He spoke as dozens of police rounded up migrants, blocking them from walking on the streets and putting up caution tape. When asked why there were so many armed police officers for a group largely made up of families, Noël Du Payrat said it was to maintain “peace and calm.”
The buses Thursday came after three days of protest by hundreds of migrants and other homeless people like Nikki, who slept in front of a local government office as athletes and tourists flooded into Paris. They railed against authorities breaking up homeless encampments and demanded better access to temporary housing.
Among them was Natacha Louise Gbetie, a 36-year-old migrant from Burkina Faso, and her 1-year-old son she carried on her back. Gbetie, who once worked as an accountant in her country, migrated to the southern French city of Montpellier with family members five years ago.
Many of the families relocated by French authorities are like Gbetie — from African countries once colonized by the French, including Burkina Faso, Guinea, Ivory Coast and Senegal.
After an abusive situation, she moved to Paris. She was able to make ends meet working as a baby-sitter and sleeping in public housing. That ended during the lead up to the Olympics, when she said access to social housing was slashed and prices of lodging in hostels soared. She said most employers in France don’t want to hire her because she’s an immigrant without legal status and has felt rejected as an anti-immigrant far-right party has gained greater power in France.
“I think France is saturated. They’re tired of migrants, they want us to leave their country,” Gbetie said.
The protest group agreed that families would board buses to a province near Paris and families would remain together in shelters.
Despite the agreement, protest leaders expressed concern that the move would isolate migrants and said it was still unclear what would happen to the city’s homeless people.
Others like Gbetie worried for the future of her 1-year-old son, Richard. Despite being born in France, Gbetie said he was among those who had been forgotten.
“We have children who are French,” she said. “They will be the future engineers and executives of this country. Think of them first and, for now, forget about the Olympics.”


Humanity suffering from ‘extreme heat epidemic,’ UN chief warns

Updated 25 July 2024
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Humanity suffering from ‘extreme heat epidemic,’ UN chief warns

  • UN chief repeats call for humanity to fight “addiction” to fossil fuels amid global warming 
  • UN estimates economic losses from heat stress at work will reach $2.4 trillion by 2030

United Nations, United States: Humanity is suffering from an “extreme heat epidemic,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned Thursday, calling for action to limit the impacts of heat waves intensified by climate change.
“Billions of people are facing an extreme heat epidemic — wilting under increasingly deadly heat waves, with temperatures topping 50 degrees Celsius around the world,” he said. “That’s 122 degrees Fahrenheit. And halfway to boiling.”
According to the European Copernicus network, July 21, 22 and 23 were the three hottest days ever recorded worldwide, with July 22 holding the absolute record of 17.16 degrees Celsius (62.9 degrees Fahrenheit).
Guterres repeated his call for humanity to fight its “addiction” to fossil fuels.
“Today, our focus is on the impact of extreme heat. But let’s not forget that there are many other devastating symptoms of the climate crisis: ever-more fierce hurricanes. Floods. Droughts. Wildfires. Rising sea levels. And the list goes on,” he said.
“To tackle all these symptoms, we need to fight the disease. And the disease is the madness of incinerating our only home. The disease is the addiction to fossil fuels. The disease is climate inaction,” he stressed, calling in particular on G20 countries to take action.
While 2023 was the hottest year on record, and 2024 could set a new record, temperatures well above 40C (104F) are increasingly common.
In the space of a year, the 50C threshold has even been exceeded in at least 10 places, from Death Valley in the United States (53.9C on July 7) to Agadir in Morocco, and also in China and India.
The intense heat, often less visible than other devastating impacts of climate change such as storms or floods, is nonetheless more deadly.
This “silent killer” is responsible for around 489,000 deaths per year between 2000 and 2019, compared with 16,000 deaths per year from cyclones, according to the UN’s “Call to Action” document published on Thursday.
Extremely high temperatures also have an economic impact, with the UN estimating economic losses from heat stress at work will reach $2.4 trillion in 2030.
According to a report by the International Labor Organization published on Thursday, more than 70 percent of workers were exposed to excessive heat in 2020, 8.8 percent more than in 2000.
“The good news is that we can save lives and we can limit its impact,” Guterres said Thursday.
The UN has called for the world community to first act to protect “the most vulnerable” — including young children, the elderly and also humanity’s poorest.
In this context, early warning systems should include extreme heat, warning populations of the arrival of heat waves and informing them of the precautions to take, the document says.
The call to action also recommends an “increase (to) equitable access to and scale up (of) low-carbon cooling.”
This would involve investing in passive cooling systems — which include climate-sensitive urban design measures, reflective surfaces and natural cooling systems — and the phase-out of climate-warming gases that are used in many cooling systems.
 


UK Afghanistan war crimes probe lifts jail threat on former minister

Updated 25 July 2024
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UK Afghanistan war crimes probe lifts jail threat on former minister

  • Johnny Mercer said “multiple officers” told him about alleged murders and subsequent cover-up during Afghan conflict

LONDON: Britain’s former minister for veterans has “provided further information” to a public inquiry into claims of war crimes by special forces in Afghanistan, a spokeswoman said Thursday, after he was threatened with jail.
Johnny Mercer has said that “multiple officers” told him about alleged murders and a subsequent cover-up during the Afghan conflict, but he refused to divulge their identities.
The Independent Inquiry Relating to Afghanistan, which is examining the claims, gave him until 4:00 p.m. (1500 GMT) on Thursday to provide the names, insisting the information would be in confidence.
The judge-led inquiry had previously issued Mercer with an order under Britain’s Inquiries Act 2005 warning him he could be fined, imprisoned or both if he did not comply.
“Mr Mercer has provided further information in response to the Section 21 notice and agreed to assist the inquiry further,” an inquiry spokeswoman said.
“The inquiry team will be taking this forward. For the time being, the chair will not be taking further action in relation to the Section 21 notice or making further comment.”
Mercer, a former British Army officer who served three tours of Afghanistan, repeatedly refused to disclose the names when he gave evidence at the inquiry in February.
The inquiry is examining claims that between 2010 and 2013 a British special forces unit executed Afghan males of “fighting age” who posed no threat.
The former minister, who lost his seat at this month’s general election, said in response to the latest development: “My position remains unchanged from the beginning of the year.”
“I will always do all I can to assist this important inquiry. I will not betray those I served who have confided in me, whatever the cost,” he wrote on social media.