Angry Russia refuses to speak at UN meeting on its attacks on Ukraine’s key port city of Odesa

A man works on the rubble of an apartment building destroyed in Russian missile attacks in Odesa, Ukraine, Sunday, July 23, 2023. (AP)
Short Url
Updated 27 July 2023
Follow

Angry Russia refuses to speak at UN meeting on its attacks on Ukraine’s key port city of Odesa

  • The confrontation began at the start of a council session called by Russia on the divided Orthodox Church in Ukraine

UNITED NATIONS: In an escalation of Russia’s anger at Ukraine and its Western backers, Russia refused to speak at a UN Security Council meeting called to discuss Moscow’s recent devastating attacks on the key port of Odesa immediately following its refusal to extend the Black Sea grain deal.
The confrontation began at the start of a council session called by Russia on the divided Orthodox Church in Ukraine. Russia’s deputy UN ambassador, Dmitry Polyansky, protested that Britain, which holds the council presidency, was allowing only two briefers and Moscow wanted a third — Archbishop Gideon of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
The Ukrainian government has cracked down on the Ukrainian Orthodox Church over its historic ties to the Russian Orthodox Church, whose leader, Patriarch Kirill, supported Russian President Vladimir Putin over the invasion of Ukraine.
Polyansky accused the UK of bias, censorship and obstruction for limiting the number of briefers.
Deputy British ambassador James Kariuki responded that because of a tight time schedule to fit in two council meetings, the UK had offered a compromise to allow a third Russian briefer to submit a statement to the council, which he said was “not unreasonable.”
Polyansky was not satisfied, and Kariuki then put Russia’s proposal to have the archbishop speak to a vote. Russia got support only from China and Brazil, with the 12 other council members abstaining.
Polyansky called the council’s refusal to allow the archbishop to speak an “egregious” example of double standards on human rights and freedom of religion.
As “a sign of protest,” he said, Russia wouldn’t speak in the Ukraine-backed council session called by Ukraine to take up the Odesa attacks.
The meeting on the Orthodox Church then went ahead. The director of the UN Alliance of Civilizations, Nihal Saad, told the council that the division between Ukraine’s Orthodox bodies “has existed for decades.” But she said it has been exacerbated since the February 2022 Russian invasion and has “reverberated worldwide as Orthodox churches have struggled with how and whether to take sides.”
Saad said the “heartbreaking” damage to Odesa’s historic church, the Transfiguration Cathedral, caused by a Russian missile strike Sunday was condemned by many, including the UN secretary-general. The cathedral is in Odesa’s historic city center that is a UNESCO world heritage site and had been largely spared since the beginning of the war.
Saad lamented that it was one of 116 religious sites damaged since the invasion, according to a preliminary assessment by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
In her briefing, Saad cited restrictions to freedom of religion by both Russia and Ukraine since the invasion, saying “the politicization of religion in the war in Ukraine fuels intercommunal tensions, stokes fear and triggers violence.”
Polyansky called the devastation to the cathedral “a horrible tragedy” and reiterated Russia’s claim that the cathedral was damaged by a piece from Ukraine’s anti-air defenses — not a Russian missile. If a Russian missile targeted the cathedral, he said, “then there would be nothing left of the cathedral at all.”
The Russian deputy ambassador left the council chamber at the end of the session.
The council meeting that followed on the Russian attacks on Odesa came days after President Vladimir Putin pulled Russia out of the Black Sea Grain Initiative, a wartime deal that enabled Ukraine to export more than 32,000 tons of foodstuff to many countries facing the threat of hunger.
In addition to severely damaging the cathedral, the Russian attacks crippled significant parts of export facilities in Odesa and nearby Chornomorsk, and destroyed 60,000 tons of grain, according to Ukraine’s Agriculture Ministry.
The council heard from 14 members, almost all condemning the damage to Odesa.
US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said that “Russia is hell-bent on preventing Ukrainian grain from reaching global markets” and that “the world is paying the price for Russia’s barbaric attacks.”
She accused Russia of “weaponizing grain” and cynically using Russian-produced grain as leverage to win the support of other countries.
Ukrainian Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya, the last speaker, told the council that Russian missiles, including anti-ship missiles, hit 29 historical and cultural landmarks in Odesa.
He said Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian ports, destruction of their infrastructure, obstruction of grain exports, and intimidation of foreign merchant vessels should be considered an attack on freedom of navigation.
“These actions also aim at eliminating a market competitor, deliberately raising world food prices and making a profit at the expense of the millions of people around the world who will suffer,” Kyslytsya said.
A junior Russian diplomat sat in Russia’s chair during the Odesa session and left the chamber when it ended — never having uttered a word.


Five migrants die as boat capsizes during rescue off Malta

Updated 58 min 39 sec ago
Follow

Five migrants die as boat capsizes during rescue off Malta

  • Some 21 migrants were rescued and taken to a migrant center
  • They are believed to be from Syria, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Egypt

VALLETTA, Malta: Five migrants, including a woman, died when their boat capsized as they were being rescued off Malta on Friday, the island’s armed forces said.
Another eight were injured and taken to hospital, including two who swallowed a considerable amount of seawater and fuel.
Armed Forces of Malta deputy commander Col. Edric Zahra told reporters that the incident happened at about midday when the eight-meter (26-ft) boat was four miles (6.5 km) south of Malta.
Some 21 migrants were rescued and taken to a migrant center. They are believed to be from Syria, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Egypt.
Mediterranean sea crossings from North Africa to Italy or Malta are among the most dangerous migration routes in the world. Last year almost 2,500 migrants died or went missing on those routes, the International Organization for Migration says.
The vast majority of migrants head for Italy. Malta’s armed forces rescued 380 migrants at sea last year, Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri said in parliament in January.


Russia says its forces push further west after taking Ukraine’s Avdiivka

Updated 23 February 2024
Follow

Russia says its forces push further west after taking Ukraine’s Avdiivka

  • Russian forces had also destroyed a number of Western-provided Ukrainian weapons
  • The frontlines in the war had not shifted substantially since late 2022 before the taking of Avdiivka

MOSCOW: Russian forces have advanced further to the west after taking control of the Ukrainian town of Avdiivka, the defense ministry said on Friday.
It said Russian forces had also destroyed a number of Western-provided Ukrainian weapons in the past week including seven British-supplied Storm Shadow cruise missiles, a US Patriot anti-aircraft guided missile and launch vehicle, and 42 HIMARS rockets fired by multiple launch systems.
Reuters could not independently verify battlefield reports.
The frontlines in the war, which started two years ago on Saturday, had not shifted substantially since late 2022 before the taking of Avdiivka, and Russia still controls just under a fifth of Ukrainian territory.
The capture of Avdiivka, following months of fighting with heavy casualties on both sides, was Russia’s first significant gain since taking the city of Bakhmut last May.
After taking Avdiivka, units of the “Center” group of Russian forces “continued advancing in a westerly direction,” the defense ministry statement said.
“In cooperation with aviation and artillery, they defeated accumulations of manpower and equipment of the Ukrainian Armed Forces” in six nearby settlements, it said.


UK, EU border agency sign migration pact

Updated 23 February 2024
Follow

UK, EU border agency sign migration pact

  • Friday’s agreement provides for the exchange of intelligence between Frontex and the UK Border Force
  • It also agrees to collaborate on the development of new technologies, such as the use of drones to protect borders, the Home Office added

LONDON: The United Kingdom on Friday signed an agreement with the EU border agency Frontex to jointly crack down on irregular immigration, the government in London said.
Conservative Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has made stopping migrants from crossing the Channel on boats from France a priority before a general election due this year.
Friday’s agreement provides for the exchange of intelligence between Frontex and the UK Border Force to help disrupt people-smuggling gangs, Britain’s interior ministry said in a statement.
It also agrees to collaborate on the development of new technologies, such as the use of drones to protect borders, the Home Office added.
UK Border Force director general Phil Douglas and Frontex executive director Hans Leijtens signed the arrangement in London, witnessed by UK interior minister James Cleverly and the European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson.
“Organized immigration crime and people smuggling are global challenges that require shared solutions and ambitions,” Cleverly said.
“Our landmark working arrangement between the UK and Frontex is another crucial step in tackling illegal migration, securing our borders and stopping the boats.”
The UK government says the number of migrants arriving on England’s south coast in rudimentary vessels fell by a third last year from a record high of 45,000 migrants in 2022.
The UK government called the deal “the latest step” in its “plan to tackle illegal migration and criminal gangs,” with the issue set to feature prominently in the general election campaign.


New Delhi calls on Moscow to release Indians on Russian front line

Updated 23 February 2024
Follow

New Delhi calls on Moscow to release Indians on Russian front line

  • Testimonies of Indians in Russian army sent shockwaves across the media this week
  • Government urges Indian nationals to ‘stay away’ from Russia’s conflict

New Delhi: India's Ministry of External Affairs said on Friday it was in contact with Moscow regarding the release of Indian nationals, who according to media reports have been deployed in Russia’s war on Ukraine.
Testimonies of Indian men hired as “army security helpers” for Russian troops, their families and an agent involved in their employment sent shockwaves across the Indian media after The Hindu daily broke the news earlier this week.
A few Indians are known to have volunteered to join the International Legion of Territorial Defense of Ukraine created to counter Russia’s invasion since February 2022, but until The Hindu’s report, there was no indication of Indian nationals fighting on the Russian side.
Those who spoke to the newspaper said they had been given basic army training and expected to continue as kitchen helpers, but later were sent to the front instead.
Most of the men came from Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Punjab, and Jammu and Kashmir, and said they had been told they would not be sent to the battlefield.
The Indian government was “aware that a few Indian nationals have signed up for support jobs with the Russian army,” Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Randhir Jaiswal said in a statement.
“The Indian Embassy has regularly taken up this matter with the relevant Russian authorities for their early discharge. We urge all Indian nationals to exercise due caution and stay away from this conflict.”
The issue has been flagged on social media by lawmaker Asaduddin Owaisi, who had been approached by some of the men’s relatives.
On Wednesday, Owaisi made a plea to Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar in an X post, which has since gone viral.
“Kindly use your good offices to bring these men back home,” he said. “Their lives are at risk & their families are justifiably worried.”


Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh in talks to engage workers in Kingdom’s green initiatives

Updated 23 February 2024
Follow

Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh in talks to engage workers in Kingdom’s green initiatives

  • Saudi Arabia ‘open’ to cooperation, Riyadh’s envoy tells Bangladesh’s new FM
  • They also discuss preparations for the upcoming Hajj pilgrimage season

DHAKA: Saudi Arabia is open to engaging Bangladeshi workers in its green initiatives, Riyadh’s envoy has said following talks with Dhaka’s new top diplomat.

Nearly 3 million Bangladeshis live and work in Saudi Arabia. They are the largest expat group in the Kingdom and also the biggest Bangladeshi community outside Bangladesh.

Under the Kingdom’s Vision 2030, even more of them are likely to find employment in Saudi Arabia, especially if they are skilled professionals or their jobs are related to the vision’s projects.

Riyadh’s Ambassador to Dhaka Essa Al-Duhailan discussed the possibilities during his first meeting with Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister Hasan Mahmud, who recently assumed office following last month’s general election.

The foreign minister is a renowned ecologist and academic specializing in environmental sciences.

“We talked about the Saudi Green Initiative and Middle East Green Initiative to have some farmers and experts from Bangladesh participate … in planting more than 50 billion trees in the region,” Al-Duhailan told Arab News after the meeting on Thursday.

He said the Saudi side was “open to any suggestion and cooperation.”

The green initiatives launched by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman in 2021 are focused on combating climate change and safeguarding the environment for future generations in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East through emissions reduction, afforestation, and land and sea protection.

The planting of 50 billion trees across the Middle East is the equivalent of restoring 200 million hectares of degraded land. A fifth of the trees will be planted within the Kingdom’s borders, with the remaining 40 billion set to be planted across the broader region in the coming decades.

The Saudi ambassador said he also discussed with the foreign minister the Kingdom’s plans to streamline the employment of Bangladeshis in order to “ease the procedures for the workers,” as well as preparations for the upcoming Hajj season.

“We will, inshallah, implement the Makkah Route initiative this year, for the fourth (time),” he added.

The Makkah Route initiative is a flagship program launched by Saudi Arabia in 2019, allowing pilgrims to fulfill all visa, customs and health requirements at the airport of origin, saving long hours of waiting. Upon arrival, pilgrims can enter Saudi Arabia without waiting, having already gone through visa and customs processes back home.