Ukraine says ‘fierce’ fighting inside symbolic frontline town

A view shows residential buildings heavily damaged by permanent Russian military strikes in the front line town of Avdiivka in Donetsk region on Nov. 8, 2023. (Reuters/File)
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Updated 17 February 2024
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Ukraine says ‘fierce’ fighting inside symbolic frontline town

  • “Fierce battles are taking place within the city,” Oleksandr Tarnavskiy, the Ukrainian general commanding the zone, said
  • “Unfortunately, during one of these sorties, several of our soldiers were captured”

KYIV: Ukraine said Friday that some of its soldiers were captured in fierce fighting in the beleaguered frontline city of Avdiivka that has become a main Russian target ahead of the second anniversary of its invasion.
As President Volodymyr Zelensky traveled to Berlin and Paris in a new bid to secure desperately needed military aid, Ukrainian generals said there was bitter fighting inside Avdiivka, which is surrounded by Russian forces on three sides. “Fierce battles are taking place within the city,” Oleksandr Tarnavskiy, the Ukrainian general commanding the zone, said on social media.
“Where necessary” Ukrainian forces were taking up “new positions,” Tarnavsky posted on Telegram. “Unfortunately, during one of these sorties, several of our soldiers were captured.”
The Ukrainian military said on its social media that Ukrainian troops were being reinforced and were “standing their ground.”
Russia has been trying to capture Avdiivka for months. Its fall would be a significant symbolic victory for Russia ahead of the February 24 anniversary of the start of the invasion, and its most significant territorial gain since it seized Bakhmut last May.
A Ukrainian army spokesman said the “complicated” operation of bringing in supplies and evacuating the few hundred civilians who remained had started.
“Avdiivka is at risk of falling into Russian control,” US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters in Washington, citing Ukrainian reports.
Zelensky said Kyiv was sending as much support as possible to the region.
“We are doing everything we can to ensure that our warriors have enough managerial and technological capabilities to save as many Ukrainian lives as possible,” Zelensky said during his evening address.
The battle for the industrial hub, less than 10 kilometers (6 miles) north of the city of Donetsk, has been one of the bloodiest of the two-year war.
Many compare it to the battle for Bakhmut, in which tens of thousands of soldiers were killed.
Ukrainian leaders have highlighted the increasingly difficult situation on eastern frontlines because of ammunition shortages and fresh Russian attacks.
Zelensky late Friday signed a security pact with France, after earlier in the day securing a similar deal with Germany. Both accords include military assistance and security arrangements.
Meanwhile, Republicans in the US House of Representatives are blocking authorizing $60 billion in new military aid for Ukraine.
A research institute that monitors assistance estimated Friday that the European Union will have to double its military support to Ukraine to fill a gap left by the United States.
“It is highly uncertain whether the US will send further military aid in 2024,” the Germany-based Kiel Institute said in a report.
According to its data up to January 15, 2024, the United States sent 42.2 billion euros ($45.4 billion) in military aid to Ukraine between February 2022 and December 2023, at a rate of around two billion euros a month.
The European Union and its 27 members have promised 49.7 billion euros of military aid since the start of the war, but have delivered or earmarked just 35.2 billion euros.


NATO defense ministers thrash out new security aid and training support plan for Ukraine

Updated 3 sec ago
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NATO defense ministers thrash out new security aid and training support plan for Ukraine

  • NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg says Ukraine’s beleaguered armed forces need longer-term predictability about the kinds of weapons
BRUSSELS: NATO defense ministers gathered Thursday hoping to agree on a new plan to provide long-term security assistance and military training to Ukraine, after Hungary promised not to veto the scheme as long as it’s not forced to take part.
The ministers are meeting over two days at NATO headquarters in Brussels in the last high-level talks before a summit hosted by US President Joe Biden in Washington on July 9-11, where the military organization’s leaders are expected to announce financial support for Ukraine.
Ukraine’s Western allies are trying to bolster their military support as Russian troops launch attacks along the more than 1,000-kilometer (620-mile) front line, taking advantage of a lengthy delay in US military aid. European Union money was also held up by political infighting.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, who is chairing Thursday’s meeting, said that Ukraine’s beleaguered armed forces need longer-term predictability about the kinds of weapons, ammunition and funds they can expect to receive.
“The whole idea is to minimize the risk for gaps and delays as we saw earlier this year,” Stoltenberg told reporters. The hold-up, he said, “is one of the reasons why the Russians are now able to push and to actually occupy more land in Ukraine.”
Since Russia’s full-fledged invasion in February 2022, Ukraine’s Western backers have routinely met as part of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, run by the Pentagon, to drum up weapons and ammunition for Kyiv. A fresh meeting was held at NATO headquarters on Thursday.
While those meetings have resulted in significant battlefield support, they have been of an ad-hoc and unpredictable nature. Stoltenberg has spearheaded an effort to have NATO take up some of the slack.
The idea is for the 32-nation military alliance to coordinate the security assistance and training process, partly by using NATO’s command structure and drawing on funds from its common budget.
Stoltenberg said he hopes Biden and his counterparts will agree in Washington to maintain the funding level for military support they have provided Ukraine since Russia launched its full-fledged invasion in February 2022.
He estimates this at around 40 billion euros ($43 billion) worth of equipment each year.
On Wednesday, Hungary announced that it would not veto the plan as long as it’s not forced to take part.
“I asked the Secretary-General to make it clear that all military action outside NATO territory can only be voluntary in nature, according to NATO rules and our traditions,” Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said. “Hungary has received the guarantees we need.”
The world’s biggest security alliance does not send weapons or ammunition to Ukraine as an organization, and has no plans to put troops on the ground. But many of its members give help on a bilateral basis, and jointly provide more than 90 percent of the country’s military support.
The other 31 allies see Russia’s war on Ukraine as an existential security threat to Europe, but most of them, including Biden, have been extremely cautious to ensure that NATO is not drawn into a wider conflict with Russia.
NATO operates on the basis that an attack on any single ally will be met with a response from them all.

G7 leaders seek deal to use interest from Russian assets for Ukraine

Updated 4 min 21 sec ago
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G7 leaders seek deal to use interest from Russian assets for Ukraine

  • The Middle East, migration and artificial intelligence are also on the packed agenda
  • For a second year running, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will attend the summit, taking part in talks on Thursday

BARI: Group of Seven leaders will aim to boost funding for Ukraine in its war with Russia and offer a united face in confronting China’s political and economic ambitions at their annual summit in southern Italy on Thursday.
For a second year running, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will attend the summit, taking part in talks on Thursday, and he is due to sign a new, long-term security accord with US President Joe Biden.
The G7 leaders look likely to announce they have agreed at least in principle on plans to issue $50 billion of loans for Ukraine using interest from Russian sovereign assets frozen after its invasion of Ukraine to back the multi-year debt package.
“I think we will have the major tentpoles of this decided, but some of the specifics left to be worked through by experts on a defined timetable,” White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said of the discussions.
“I think we are on the verge of a good outcome here,” he added.
Officials acknowledge the plan is complex, with legal experts still having to thrash out the details that will need the backing of European nations, particularly Belgium, which is not in the G7.

Packed Agenda
With the Middle East, migration and artificial intelligence also on a packed agenda, the June 13-15 summit in the southern Italian region of Puglia would be taxing for leaders at the best of times, but most of them are also bowed down by their own domestic woes.
Only the host, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, is riding high after triumphing in Italy’s European election last weekend, but achieving meaningful results in the luxury Borgo Egnazia hotel resort will be a tall order.
Biden’s goal at the G7 was to reinforce the idea that the United States is best served if it is closely aligned with its democratic allies and partners, Sullivan said, when asked about the prospects of it being the president’s last summit given he faces a re-election battle in November.
Underscoring US determination to punish Moscow for its 2022 invasion of Ukraine, Washington on Wednesday dramatically broadened sanctions on Moscow, including by targeting China-based companies selling semiconductors to Moscow.
By announcing new restrictions on Chinese firms on the eve of the G7 meeting, Biden is no doubt hoping to persuade Western allies to show greater resolve in confronting Beijing over its support for Russia and its industrial over-capacity.
Speaking ahead of the start of the summit, Sullivan said that China was a significant creditor to many heavily indebted countries.
“The G7 communique is not singling out or focusing on a single country,” he said, but added that China needed to play a constructive role in dealing with the debt burden.


Eight EU countries call for restricting Russian diplomats’ movement

Updated 15 min 44 sec ago
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Eight EU countries call for restricting Russian diplomats’ movement

PRAGUE: Eight European Union foreign ministers called on the EU to ban Russian diplomats from moving freely around the bloc and restrict them to countries where they are accredited, in a letter to EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell.
“Free movement of holders of Russian diplomatic and service passports, accredited in one host state, across the whole Schengen area is easing malign activities,” according to the letter, dated June 11, seen by Reuters.
The ministers said that intelligence, propaganda “or even preparation of sabotage acts are the main workload for a large number of Russian ‘diplomats’ in the EU,” and while expulsions were important, the threat remained.
“We believe the EU should strictly follow the reciprocity principle and restrict the movement of members of Russian diplomatic missions and their family members to territory of a state of their accreditation only,” they said.
“This measure will significantly narrow operational space for Russian agents,” added the letter, which was signed by ministers from the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland and Romania.


French citizen Louis Arnaud held in Iran arrives in Paris

Updated 13 June 2024
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French citizen Louis Arnaud held in Iran arrives in Paris

  • Arnaud, a 36-year-old consultant, set off in July 2022 on a round-the-world trip that led him to Iran

PARIS: French citizen Louis Arnaud returned to Paris Thursday after being held in Iran since September 2022 and sentenced last year to five years in jail on national security charges.
Emerging from a small plane at Le Bourget airport outside Paris, a visibly tired but smiling Arnaud shook hands with Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne before embracing his parents, according to images aired on television.
Arnaud linked arms with his relatives as they entered a private room at the airport out of view of the cameras.
“I am very glad to welcome one of our hostages who was indeed held arbitrarily in Iran,” Sejourne said.
“Our diplomatic service is still at work” to free three other French citizens: Jacques Paris, Cecile Koller and a man named only as Olivier held in Iranian jails, he added.
Arnaud, a 36-year-old consultant, set off in July 2022 on a round-the-world trip that led him to Iran.
It was “a country he had long dreamed of visiting for the richness of its history and its welcoming people,” his mother Sylvie said several months ago.
But he was arrested in September 2022 with other Europeans accused of joining demonstrations over the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurd who died after her arrest by the morality police in Tehran for allegedly breaching the Islamic republic’s strict dress code for women.
While Arnaud’s traveling companions were soon released, he was kept in prison before his November sentencing for propaganda and harming Iranian state security.
Frenchman Benjamin Briere and French-Irish dual national Bernard Phelan were freed by Iran in May 2023 for “humanitarian reasons.”
Both had been severely weakened by a hunger strike.
Tehran, which holds around a dozen Western citizens, is accused by their supporters and rights groups of using the prisoners as bargaining chip in international negotiations.


UN refugee agency says record 117 mln people forcibly displaced in 2023

Updated 13 June 2024
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UN refugee agency says record 117 mln people forcibly displaced in 2023

  • UNHCR report stated that there had been a yearly increase in the number of people forcibly displaced over the last 12 years

GENEVA: The United Nations refugee agency on Thursday said the number of people forcibly displaced stood at a record 117.3 million as of the end of last year, warning that this figure could rise further without major global political changes.

“These are refugees, asylum seekers, internally displaced people, people being forced away by conflict, by persecution, by different and increasingly complex forms of violence,” said Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

“Conflict remains a very, very deep driver of displacement.” In its report on global trends in forced displacement, UNHCR said that there had been a yearly increase in the number of people forcibly displaced over the last 12 years.

UNHCR estimates that forced displacement has continued to increase in the first four months of 2024, and that the number of those displaced is likely to have exceeded 120 million by the end of April. “Unless there is a shift in international geopolitics, unfortunately, I actually see that figure continuing to go up,” Grandi said, referring to the risk of new conflicts.

The conflicts that have driven displacement include the war in Sudan, which Grandi described as “one of the most catastrophic ones” despite garnering less attention that other crises.

More that 9 million people have been internally displaced and another 2 million have fled to neighboring countries including Chad, Egypt and South Sudan, Grandi said. “People are arriving in the hundreds every day,” he said, referring to the influx of people seeking safety in Chad. In Gaza, Israel’s bombardment and ground campaign have caused around 1.7 million people – nearly 80 percent of the Palestinian enclave’s population – to become internally displaced, many of them multiple times.

Grandi warned that the possible crossings of Gazans into Egypt from the southern border town of Rafah to escape Israel’s military offensive would be catastrophic. “Another refugee crisis outside Gaza would be catastrophic on all levels, including because we have no guarantee that the people will be able to return to Gaza one day,” Grandi said.