Ukraine seeks urgent G7, NATO help for battered air defenses

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Foreign ministers of the Group of Seven (G7) nations gather on the second day of their meeting on Capri island, Italy, on April 18, 2024. (REUTERS/Pool)
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Foreign ministers of the Group of Seven (G7) nations gather on the second day of their meeting on Capri island, Italy, on April 18, 2024. (REUTERS/Pool)
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Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky (L) meets with Germany's Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck in Kyiv on April 18, 2024. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Service handout photo/ AFP)
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Ukraine's Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal, left, is welcomed by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., on April 18, 2024, as the US Congress moved to advance an emergency aid package for Ukraine Israel and Taiwan. (AP Photo)
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Updated 19 April 2024
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Ukraine seeks urgent G7, NATO help for battered air defenses

  • NATO chief says working on a solution
  • UK seeks ‘creative’ deal on seized Russian assets

CAPRI, Italy: Ukraine warned foreign ministers from the Group of Seven (G7) major powers on Thursday they had to change strategy if they wanted Kyiv to withstand increasingly destructive Russian air assaults.

The G7 ministers meeting on the island of Capri acknowledged the need to get more air defense systems to Ukraine and applauded Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba as he joined them on the second day of their three-day gathering.
The G7, comprising Italy, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Britain, the United States and European Union representatives, has been fiercely critical of Russia’s two-year long invasion of Ukraine.
However, military aid to Kyiv has slowed in recent months, with European partners apparently running low on ammunition and vital US funding blocked by Republicans in Congress.
Speaking to reporters as he arrived in Capri, Kuleba bemoaned the fact that while US, British and French forces had intervened on Saturday to help prevent Iranian missiles from hitting Israel, his own country lacked vital defenses.
“The strategy of our partners in Israel seems to be in preventing damage and death. ... In the last months, the strategy of our partners in Ukraine seems to be in helping (us) to recover from damage,” he said.
“So our job today is to find a way where our partners will design a mechanism, a way that will allow us also to avoid death and destruction in Ukraine.”
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg also took part in Thursday’s G7 meetings, telling reporters beforehand that the military alliance was actively seeking to send more air defense systems as quickly as possible.
“We are working at the possibility of (dispatching) more Patriot batteries to Ukraine. We are in dialogue with some specific countries,” he said.
In Washington, Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal told reporters that Ukraine had asked for additional air defense equipment and another Patriot missile battery, adding that Kyiv was looking for a minimum of seven Patriot systems.
Shmyhal declined to say how many Patriot systems Ukraine had currently, saying that was classified information.
He said US and White House officials had assured the Ukrainian delegation that weapons would be supplied in a matter of weeks, not months, once a $60.8 billion US aid package for Ukraine was approved by Congress.
“We hope it will take days, but not more than weeks,” he said.
Domestic political wrangling has delayed delivery of the US aid, but the US House of Representatives might finally get to vote on the package this weekend, bringing some hope to G7 ministers.

Looking to Washington
Germany has already said it would hand over one Patriot system. European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell urged other EU nations to do likewise to help stave off concerted Russian attacks on vital Ukrainian infrastructure.
“Otherwise the electricity system of Ukraine will be destroyed. And no country can fight without having electricity at home, in the factories, online, for everything,” he told reporters in Capri.
“In these turbulent times, it is a hopeful sign that there are now signals from the Republicans in the US that support for Ukraine can be continued intensively,” German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock told a news conference.
Another key issue under review is how to use profits from some $300 billion of sovereign Russian assets held in the West to help Ukraine, as European Union member states hesitate over concerns about the legality of such a move.
“It’s important we try and get agreement. ... That’s what we’re discussing here. I’m in no doubt we will find a way, but we’re going to have to be creative. We’ll have to be flexible,” said British Foreign Secretary David Cameron.
Shmyhal told reporters in Washington that he had detailed discussions with US and G7 officials about how to use the frozen Russian assets, and he expected some results on that front this year.
Kuleba said he hoped to get immediate pledges this week on the delivery of more Patriot and SAMP/T air defense systems and also new Western sanctions targeting Iran’s production of armed drones, which are being exported to Russia.
Hours later, the United States and Britain announced they would introduce new sanctions on Iran targeting its drone program in retaliation for the April 13 strike on Israel.
But some G7 ministers also urged Israel not to exacerbate an already tense situation with a major retaliation of its own.
“Our appeal is always for prudence and de-escalation,” said Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani. “We hope that Israel’s response, which will probably come, will be a targeted response and not something that provokes escalation.”


Russian attack kills two in Ukraine’s Kharkiv, governor says

Updated 3 sec ago
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Russian attack kills two in Ukraine’s Kharkiv, governor says

Russian forces hit residential quarters with guided bombs

KYIV: A Russian attack on the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv killed two civilians and injured at least two others on Saturday, regional governor Oleh Syniehubov said.
He said Russian forces hit residential quarters with guided bombs. Rescue workers were working at the site, he wrote on the Telegram messaging app.

Bangladesh says it won’t let in any more Rohingya fleeing Myanmar fighting

Updated 10 min 52 sec ago
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Bangladesh says it won’t let in any more Rohingya fleeing Myanmar fighting

  • Clashes between Myanmar junta and insurgents started in October 2023
  • Deadly fighting engulfs Rohingya-inhabited border areas

DHAKA: Bangladesh will not take in any more Rohingya fleeing violence in neighboring Myanmar, Mizanur Rahman, Bangladesh’s refugee relief and repatriation commissioner, said on Saturday, amid reports that people from the areas affected by fighting have been gathering on the border.

Concerns that a war between Myanmar’s junta and the opposition ethnic-minority Arakan Army would trigger a new wave of refugees seeking safety in Bangladesh have been on the rise over the past few months.

Clashes between Myanmar’s military-controlled government forces and insurgents in Rakhine and Chin States started in late October 2023 with a multi-pronged offensive against the junta, which has been in control of the country since early 2021.

Most of the Rohingya — hundreds of thousands of whom fled to Bangladesh following a brutal military crackdown and persecution in 2017 — come from Rakhine. One of the most heavily Rohingya-populated areas in the state, Maungdaw, has been under the control of the Arakan Army, which last week warned it was expecting the junta to attempt to recapture it.

“On the other side of the border in Myanmar, a fierce gunbattle is happening and, every day, people are dying. Maungdaw town is a predominantly Rohingya-inhabited area,” Rahman told Arab News.

“We have heard that (some) Rohingyas have tried to enter Bangladesh ... (they) have gathered on the border on the Myanmar side, mainly near the Teknaf subdistrict under Cox’s Bazar.”

More than a million Rohingya Muslims currently live in squalid camps in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar, turning the coastal district into the world’s largest refugee settlement.

Rahman said Bangladesh cannot receive more refugees and will not allow any more Rohingya to enter the country from Myanmar.

“The Rohingyas living in Cox’s Bazar camps are very anxious about the safety and fate of their relatives living in Maungdaw and the surrounding area,” he said. “(But) we can’t receive any more Rohingyas, as Bangladesh is already overburdened with more than 1 million. Our stand is that not a single more Rohingya will enter our land.”

The UN estimates that 95 percent of Rohingya refugees are dependent on humanitarian assistance, which has been dropping since 2020, despite urgent pleas for donations by the World Food Program and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

The protracted humanitarian crisis has started to affect the host community, which, despite not being a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, has been supporting the Rohingya by providing not only land, but also water, electricity, healthcare and a huge law-enforcement presence.

The Bangladeshi Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief estimates the government has spent around $2 billion since the beginning of the crisis on maintaining infrastructure for refugees.


Agricultural fire that killed 12 in southeast Turkey under control, media says

Updated 15 min 19 sec ago
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Agricultural fire that killed 12 in southeast Turkey under control, media says

ANKARA: Turkish authorities have brought under control an agricultural fire that killed 12 people and wounded 78 others in a region near the Turkish border with Syria and Iraq, local media reported on Saturday.
The fire had started late on Thursday due to the burning of straw and spread because of strong winds, the local governor's office said. Authorities have launched an investigation into the cause of the fire, Justice Minister Yilmaz Tunc said in a post on X on Friday.
Broadcaster NTV and others said the fire was now under control and authorities were working to cool the scorched areas. NTV said many animals trapped in the fire were also killed.
Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said late on Friday that the treatment of the wounded was still underway, with some in critical condition.
"We are continuing the treatment and monitoring of five of our wounded. Three of our five wounded receiving treatment in Diyarbakir are intubated," Koca said on X.
Burning straw is a common practice by farmers and villagers in central Anatolia following harvest periods. 


Mauritanian president calls on West African states to ally against jihadism

Updated 25 min 50 sec ago
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Mauritanian president calls on West African states to ally against jihadism

  • Former army chief and defense minister is tipped for a second term as head of the country of 4.5 million

ATAR, Mauritania: Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Cheikh El Ghazouani called on West African countries to come together in the face of jihadism, in an interview with AFP ahead of the country’s presidential vote.
“The region must generate a common political will to be able to fight against insecurity,” Ghazouani said on Friday, on the campaign trail ahead of an election on June 29.
“I am not one of those who think today that countries can face a threat like terrorism individually.”
The 67-year-old former army chief and defense minister is tipped for a second term as head of the country of 4.5 million that lies strategically between north and sub-Saharan Africa.
He said that the “security situation in the sub-region is not at all good” and has become “worse.”
The military has seized power by force in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger in recent years, heightening uncertainty in the region. Ghazouni’s huge desert nation has a frontier of more than 2,000 kilometers (1,250 miles) with Mali.
While jihadism has spread in the Sahel, particularly in Mali, Mauritania has not seen an attack since 2011.
“We need to form a coalition,” Ghazouani said, urging the countries of the region to “come together.”
He spoke to AFP in Atar, some 450 kilometers northeast of the capital Nouakchott, where he launched his re-election campaign last week.
Ghazouani called for a possible replacement to the G5 Sahel alliance, which was created in 2014 by Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Chad, with the support of Western countries, to confront jihadism.
The military leaders in Mali, Burkina and Niger have all withdrawn from the G5 alliance in recent years.
“If the G5 Sahel is not the right one, we must find another G-something,” he said.
The three countries, which have broken militarily and politically with the former French colonial power, have pivoted closer to Russia under their new military rulers.
They have also pulled out of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and created their own alliance of Sahel states. Ghazouni said he Mauritania did not seek any role in the internal affairs of the other Sahel countries.
“We respect their sovereignty in their decisions. We want these countries to move as fast as possible toward elections,” he said.
Mauritania, which is rich in natural resources but still has a low gross domestic product, was hit by a series of coups from 1978 to 2008, before the 2019 election marked the first transition between two elected presidents.
The president said that stability has been maintained by being aware of the militant threat as well as “enormous efforts” made in education and health provision.
Ghazouani has pledged to “step up” his social welfare policy for the poor if re-elected, claiming more than 1.5 million people had benefited already from housing and financial help during his first term.


Nigel Farage, leader of Reform UK, criticized for saying West provoked Putin to invade Ukraine

Updated 28 min 50 sec ago
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Nigel Farage, leader of Reform UK, criticized for saying West provoked Putin to invade Ukraine

  • Claiming that he warned of a potential war in Ukraine in 2014, when he was a member of the European Parliament, Farage said “we provoked this war”
  • “It was obvious to me that the ever-eastward expansion of NATO and the European Union was giving this man a reason to his Russian people to say”

LONDON: Nigel Farage, leader of the far-right Reform U.K party, is facing wide-ranging criticism across the political spectrum over his claim that the West provoked Russian President Vladimir Putin to invade Ukraine, including of being an appeaser.
In a BBC television interview broadcast Friday evening, Farage, who is seeking to woo voters away from Britain’s governing Conservatives at the July 4 general election, drew a link between the expansion of NATO and the European Union eastwards over the past few decades and the invasion.
Claiming that he warned of a potential war in Ukraine in 2014, when he was a member of the European Parliament, Farage said “we provoked this war.” It’s unclear whether his warning came before or after Russia had annexed the Crimea peninsula from Ukraine in February 2014.
“It was obvious to me that the ever-eastward expansion of NATO and the European Union was giving this man a reason to his Russian people to say, ‘They’re coming for us again’ and to go to war,” Farage said. “It’s, you know, of course it’s his fault — he’s used what we’ve done as an excuse.”
Farage’s critics from across the political spectrum slammed his statement, with many describing him as a Putin apologist.
In perhaps his sharpest criticism of Farage, Conservative Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said it was “completely wrong” to say the West provoked Putin into launching a full invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
“This is a man who deployed nerve agents on the streets of Britain, who’s doing deals with countries like North Korea,” Sunak said. “And this kind of appeasement is dangerous for Britain’s security, the security of our allies that rely on us and only emboldens Putin further.”
Many Conservatives, including Sunak, have largely held back from overly criticizing Farage, who though not a lawmaker in the UK Parliament, was hugely influential in Britain’s vote to leave the EU in 2016.
The worry among many Conservatives is that attacking him too much will further alienate many Conservative voters, who sympathize with his tough rhetoric on issues like immigration and Brexit. In many constituencies around the country, Conservatives have argued that a vote for Reform would see the main opposition Labour Party come through the middle and win.
“I think Nigel Farage is a bit like that pub bore we have all met at the end of the bar who often says if ‘I was running the country’ and presents very simplistic answers to actually, I am afraid in the 21st century, complex problems,” Ben Wallace, the former Conservative defense secretary who has stood down as a lawmaker, told BBC radio.
This is the first general election that Reform UK is contesting and it has enjoyed a lift in the polls after Farage said in early June he would lead the party and contest the seat in Clacton in southeast England. Though the party is not expected to secure many seats, Farage is currently favorite to win his contest and finally enter Parliament after seven attempts.
Keir Starmer, leader of the left-of-center Labour Party who is widely expected to become prime minister after the election, labelled Farage’s comments as “disgraceful.”
“Anyone who is standing for Parliament ought to be really clear that Russia is the aggressor,” he said.