Blinken visits Kyiv amid challenging Ukrainian counteroffensive

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken pays the first trip to Kyiv by a top US official since the Ukrainian counteroffensive began. (File/AFP)
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Updated 06 September 2023
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Blinken visits Kyiv amid challenging Ukrainian counteroffensive

  • Blinken likely to announce new package of US assistance worth more than $1 billion
  • Ukraine is in fourth month of counteroffensive

KYIV: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Kyiv on Wednesday in a gesture of support for Ukraine as its three-month-old counteroffensive against Russian forces grinds on with only small gains.
During his two-day visit, Blinken is likely to announce a new package of US wartime assistance worth more than $1 billion, a senior State Department official told reporters on the trip.
Blinken, the first top US official to visit Kyiv since the counteroffensive began in early June, began talks with Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and was due to meet President Volodymyr Zelensky, the official said.
“We want to make sure that Ukraine has what it needs, not only to succeed in the counteroffensive, but has what it needs for the long term, to make sure that it has a strong deterrent,” Blinken said standing alongside Kuleba.
“We’re also determined to continue to work with our partners as they build and rebuild a strong economy, strong democracy.”
Media reports have cited unidentified US officials as saying the Ukrainian counteroffensive has been too slow and hindered by poor tactics — criticism that angered Ukrainian officials and prompted Kuleba to tell critics to “shut up.”
Ukraine has retaken more than a dozen villages and small settlements in its offensive. But its push into Russian-held territory has been slowed by minefields and trenches, and Russian air strikes have continued across Ukraine, with Kyiv coming under attack only hours before Blinken’s arrival.
US officials have not publicly criticized Ukraine’s military tactics, and last week said they had seen notable Ukrainian progress in the previous 72 hours of its push in the southeast.
The State Department official said Washington wanted to discuss how the counteroffensive was going and assess battlefield needs as well as any steps that might be required to shore up Ukraine’s energy security before winter.
“I think what’s most important is that we get a real assessment from the Ukrainians themselves,” the official said. “We want to see, hear how they intend to push forward in the coming weeks.”
Asked about Blinken’s visit, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow believed Washington planned to continue funding Ukraine’s military “to wage this war to the last Ukrainian.” He said US aid to Kyiv would not affect the course of Russia’s ‘special military operation’.

RISING OPPOSITION TO UKRAINE AID
Blinken’s visit follows the dismissal this week of Oleksii Reznikov who, as Ukraine’s defense minister, had lobbied Washington and its allies for arms to fight the Russian invaders. Parliament was expected to confirm former lawmaker Rustem Umerov as his successor.
During his train ride to Kyiv, Blinken also held talks with Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen — coincidentally visiting the same day. Blinken thanked Frederiksen for “Denmark’s leadership in the F-16 coalition of partner nations to train Ukrainian pilots, and for its decision to donate F-16 jets to Ukraine,” State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said.
Denmark and the Netherlands announced last month they would supply more than 60 US-made F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine as soon as pilots are trained to fly them, the first countries to offer the jets after winning US approval to send them.
Despite staunch US support for Ukraine so far since Russia’s invasion in February last year, several Republican presidential hopefuls have questioned US aid, fueling concerns over whether Washington will still back Ukraine at the same level once the US 2024 election campaign intensifies.
The US government has so far provided more than $43 billion in weaponry and other military aid to Ukraine. A new package of security assistance is set to be announced this week, Reuters reported on Friday.
US President Joe Biden asked Congress in August to approve about $40 billion in additional spending, including $24 billion for Ukraine and other international needs.
The request could face opposition in Congress, where some far-right Republicans — especially those with close ties to former President Donald Trump — want to pare back the billions in assistance Washington has sent to Ukraine.


Campaigners urge UN rights chief to act on China Xinjiang abuse report

Police officers patrol the square in front of Id Kah Mosque in Kashgar, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, China, May 3, 2021.
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Campaigners urge UN rights chief to act on China Xinjiang abuse report

  • The August 2022 report, produced under the leadership of the last commissioner, Michelle Bachelet, said the extent of arbitrary and discriminatory detention of Uyghurs and other Muslims in Xinjiang may be an international crime

GENEVA: Campaign groups called on the United Nations human rights chief on Thursday to take more action over what they said were documented abuses against Uyghurs and other Muslims in China’s Xinjiang region.
The groups, including the World Uyghur Congress and Amnesty International said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk had not followed up on a 2022 report by his own predecessor that found China may have committed crimes against humanity.
China defended its record and dismissed the groups’ statement given at a meeting in the Geneva headquarters of the UN Human Rights Council.
Volker did not attend the meeting and his office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. After taking office in October 2022, the Austrian former lawyer said he stood by the report and wanted to engage China over the findings.
The August 2022 report, produced under the leadership of the last commissioner, Michelle Bachelet, said the extent of arbitrary and discriminatory detention of Uyghurs and other Muslims in Xinjiang may be an international crime.
China has repeatedly denied accusations of abuses in its northwest Xinjiang region.
Just before Turk took office, mostly non-Western members of the Rights Council voted down a motion brought by the US, Britain and other mostly Western powers to hold a debate about the report — a result that was seen as a diplomatic victory for Beijing.
“To date there has been no action, no meaningful action,” Zumretay Arkin, a spokesperson for the World Uyghur Congress, told Thursday’s meeting. “We are here to remind everyone ... that impunity cannot be the solution.”
The campaign groups, also including Human Rights Watch and the International Service for Human Rights, translated the 2022 report into five languages, published them and called for Turk to give an update on how his office and China had responded to the report’s recommendations.
China’s attache at its mission in Geneva, Zhu Kexing, told the session: “In order to discredit China and hinder China’s development, a small number of NGOs and Western countries do not hesitate to act as liars and rumor-makers to serve their anti-China separatist plots.”
Several countries including the United States and Australia also voiced concerns about the lack of follow-up on the 2022 report but stopped short of giving specific recommendations on how Turk’s office should react.

 


US bans Russia’s Kaspersky anti-virus software

Updated 7 min 46 sec ago
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US bans Russia’s Kaspersky anti-virus software

WASHINGTON: The United States on Thursday banned Russia-based cybersecurity firm Kaspersky from providing its popular anti-virus products in the country, the US Commerce Department announced.
“Kaspersky will generally no longer be able to, among other activities, sell its software within the United States or provide updates to software already in use,” the Commerce Department said in a statement announcing the action, which it said is the first of its kind.
 

 


Russians report some outages on bank apps after cyberattack, says Kommersant daily

Updated 15 min 35 sec ago
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Russians report some outages on bank apps after cyberattack, says Kommersant daily

MOSCOW: Russians on Thursday reported some problems with processing payments at major banks after a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack on Russian banks, Russia’s Kommersant newspaper reported.
At least one Russian bank was telling clients that it was having trouble sending messages containing codes to confirm payments, a Reuters reporter said.
The Kommersant newspaper said Russians had reported problems using the websites of major banks, as well as with the Telegram messaging app and with major mobile phone networks.
It cited Russia’s payments cards operator as saying that the disruption had been short-lived and that the fast payments system was now working as usual.
The IT army of Ukraine, a group of volunteers committed to disrupting Russian digital communications, later issued a statement saying it was responsible the Russian bank outages.


US philanthropist Melinda French Gates endorses Biden

Updated 25 min 14 sec ago
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US philanthropist Melinda French Gates endorses Biden

  • French Gates announced in May that she would be using her $12.5 billion fortune to help “women and families,” making a first payment of $1 billion

WASHINGTON: American philanthropist Melinda French Gates, the ex-wife of Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, endorsed President Joe Biden on Thursday for November’s US election, arguing that he is the best candidate for women.
“I’ve never endorsed a presidential candidate before. But this year’s election stands to be so enormously consequential for women and families that, this time, I can’t stay quiet,” she said on X.
“Women deserve a leader who cares about the issues they face and is committed to protecting their safety, their health, their economic power, their reproductive rights, and their ability to freely and fully participate in a functioning democracy.”
French Gates, who recently stepped down as president of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, said the contrast between Biden and his Republican opponent Donald Trump “couldn’t be greater, and the stakes couldn’t be higher.”
“I will be voting for President Biden,” she concluded.
Reproductive rights have been an effective political cudgel for Democrats in the two years since the conservative-leaning Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that made abortion a constitutionally protected right.
A comfortable majority of Americans think abortion should be legal in most cases, according to extensive polling, and around half of states have measures in place to protect access.
The issue has been a major theme of the election campaign, with Biden supporting women’s right to choose and Trump failing to stake out a clear-cut position beyond pride in appointing three of the justices who struck down Roe v Wade.
French Gates announced in May that she would be using her $12.5 billion fortune to help “women and families,” making a first payment of $1 billion.
She said the Supreme Court ruling on abortion had prompted her to devote herself to defending women’s rights.


Mystery sonic boom rattles Mediterranean resorts

Updated 50 min 55 sec ago
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Mystery sonic boom rattles Mediterranean resorts

  • The Corriere della Sera daily quoted an unnamed person from Italy’s civil protection agency saying “the impact would have been registered by seismographs

ROME: A sonic boom heard in Tuscany and on the French island of Corsica, initially mistaken by holidaymakers, locals and officials for an earthquake, may have been a meteorite, experts said Thursday.
The town of Campo nell’Elba, on the Italian tourist island of Elba, said on its Facebook page that a nearby tracking station had “captured a seismic, acoustic event felt by everyone” at 4:30pm (1430gmt).
Corsican media reports said it was also felt on the island.
Tuscany regional government president Eugenio Giani initially said it was an earthquake, before backtracking after Italy’s National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology (INGV) ruled one out.
The Italian Air Force told Giani it had nothing to do with the sonic boom.
“The type of event which caused the tremor, felt by many as an earthquake over the entire coast of Tuscany and in some inland areas, is currently unconfirmed,” Giani wrote on social media.
The region’s Geophysics Institute and the University of Florence said in a joint statement that whatever caused the boom was traveling at 400 miles per second.
“A meteorite entering the atmosphere seems the most likely and in line with the data registered.”
The Corriere della Sera daily quoted an unnamed person from Italy’s civil protection agency saying “the impact would have been registered by seismographs. The most likely hypothesis is still an airplane.”
It is not the first time mysterious sonic booms have been registered on Elba, the Corriere della Sera said. Similar events in 2012, 2016 and 2023 have yet to be explained, it said.