Russia and North Korea sign partnership deal that appears to be the strongest since Cold War

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, center right, and Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, attend a welcoming ceremony at Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang on June 19, 2024. (Sputnik/AFP)
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Updated 19 June 2024
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Russia and North Korea sign partnership deal that appears to be the strongest since Cold War

  • Russian leader hails ‘close friendship’ between the two countries based on ‘equality and respect of mutual interests’
  • North Korean state media described the meeting between the leaders as a historic event

SEOUL: Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un signed a new partnership that includes a vow of mutual aid if either country is attacked, during a Wednesday summit that came as both face escalating standoffs with the West.
It could mark the strongest connection between Moscow and Pyongyang since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.
Putin’s visited North Korea for the first time in 24 years, as the US and its allies express growing concerns over an arms arrangement in which the country provides Moscow with badly needed munitions for its war in Ukraine in exchange for economic assistance and technology transfers that could enhance the threat posed by Kim’s nuclear weapons and missile program.
The details of the partnership deal were not immediately clear, but both leaders described it as a major upgrade of their ties.
Kim said that the deal was the “strongest ever treaty” between the two nations, putting the relationship at the level of an alliance, and vowed full support for Russia’s war in Ukraine. Putin said that it was a “breakthough document” reflecting shared desire to move relations to a higher level.
Putin said that security and international issues took up a large part of the talks with Kim, according to Russian state media. He was also quoted to say that Russia would not rule out developing military-technical cooperation with North Korea under the deal.
Kim was quoted as saying that the agreement was of a peaceful and defensive nature. “I have no doubt it will become a driving force accelerating the creation of a new multipolar world,” he was quoted to say.
Russia and North Korea also signed agreements on cooperation in the fields of health care, medical education, and science, Russian state media reported, citing the Kremlin’s website.
Putin was met upon his nighttime arrival by Kim, who shook his hands, hugged him twice and rode with him from the airport in a limousine in a huge motorcade that rolled through the capital’s brightly illuminated streets, where buildings were decorated with giant Russian flags and portraits of Putin.
After spending the rest of the night at a state guest house, Putin attended a lavish welcoming ceremony at the city’s main square, where he and Kim saluted an honor guard and walked across a red carpet. Kim then introduced key members of his leadership including Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui; top aide and ruling party secretary Jo Yong Won; and the leader’s powerful sister, Kim Yo Jong.
The square was filled with what appeared to be tens of thousands of spectators, including children holding balloons and people wearing coordinated t-shirts in the red, white and blue of the Russian and North Korean flags. Huge crowds lined up on the streets to greet Putin’s motorcade, chanting “Welcome Putin” and waving flowers and North Korean and Russian flags.
As the talks began, Putin thanked Kim for North Korea’s support for his war in Ukraine, part of what he said was a “fight against the imperialist hegemonistic policies of the US and its satellites against the Russian Federation.”
Putin hailed ties that he traced back to the Soviet army fighting the Japanese military on the Korean Peninsula in the closing moments of World War II, and Moscow’s support for Pyongyang during the Korean War.
Kim said Moscow and Pyongyang’s “fiery friendship” is now even closer than during Soviet times, and promised “full support and solidarity to the Russian government, army and people in carrying out the special military operation in Ukraine to protect sovereignty, security interests and territorial integrity.”
Kim has used similar language in the past, consistently saying North Korea supports what he describes as a just action to protect Russia’s interests and blaming the crisis on the US-led West’s “hegemonic policy.” It wasn’t immediately clear what that support might look like.
North Korea is under heavy UN Security Council sanctions over its weapons program, while Russia also faces sanctions by the United States and its Western partners over its aggression in Ukraine.
US and South Korean officials accuse the North of providing Russia with artillery, missiles and other military equipment for use in Ukraine, possibly in return for key military technologies and aid. Both Pyongyang and Moscow deny accusations about North Korean weapons transfers, which would violate multiple UN Security Council sanctions that Russia previously endorsed.
Along with China, Russia has provided political cover for Kim’s continuing efforts to advance his nuclear arsenal, repeatedly blocking US-led efforts to impose fresh UN sanctions on the North over its weapons tests.
In March, a Russian veto at the United Nations ended monitoring of UN sanctions against North Korea over its nuclear program, prompting Western accusations that Moscow is seeking to avoid scrutiny as it buys weapons from Pyongyang for use in Ukraine.
Putin’s foreign affairs adviser Yuri Ushakov told reporters in Pyongyang that the two leaders exchanged gifts after the talks. Putin presented Kim with a Russian-made Aurus limo and other gifts, including a tea set and a naval officer’s dagger. Ushakov said that Kim’s presents to Putin included artworks depicting the Russian leader.
Russia media said earlier that Kim will host a reception, and Putin is expected to leave Wednesday evening for Vietnam.
In Washington, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Putin’s visit to North Korea illustrates how Russia tries, “in desperation, to develop and to strengthen relations with countries that can provide it with what it needs to continue the war of aggression that it started against Ukraine.”
The North may also seek to increase labor exports to Russia and other illicit activities to gain foreign currency in defiance of UN Security Council sanctions, according to a recent report by the Institute for National Security Strategy, a think tank run by South Korea’s main spy agency. There will likely be talks about expanding cooperation in agriculture, fisheries and mining and further promoting Russian tourism to North Korea, the institute said.
Tensions on the Korean Peninsula are at their highest point in years, with the pace of both Kim’s weapons tests and combined military exercises involving the United States, South Korea and Japan intensifying in a tit-for-tat cycle.
The Koreas also have engaged in Cold War-style psychological warfare that involved North Korea dropping tons of trash on the South with balloons, and the South broadcasting anti-North Korean propaganda with its loudspeakers.


Five killed in nursing home shooting in Croatia

Updated 14 sec ago
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Five killed in nursing home shooting in Croatia

  • Unidentified gunman entered a nursing home in Daruvar — some 130 kilometers east of Zagreb — and began shooting
  • Croatian newspaper Jutarnji list described the alleged shooter as a ‘retired military police officer’
DARUVAR, Croatia: A gunman opened fire in a nursing home in Croatia on Monday, killing at least five people, according to officials and state media, in a rare instance of gun violence in the Balkan country.
State broadcaster HRT said an unidentified gunman entered a nursing home in Daruvar — some 130 kilometers east of Zagreb — and began shooting.
At least five were killed and several others wounded during the incident, HRT said.
Police said they were informed of the incident at 10:10 a.m. local time (0810 GMT), and confirmed the suspect had entered the nursing home and used a firearm.
“The person linked to the perpetration of the crime is under police custody,” police said in a statement.
The number of dead was later confirmed by Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, who called for a thorough investigation by relevant officials.
“We are appalled by the murder of five people at the home for elderly in Daruvar,” Plenkovic said on social media.
The head of a regional emergency care facility, Nenad Mrzlecki, told local media that medical teams found four dead at the scene and four others wounded, who were immediately taken to local hospitals.
Mrzlecki did not provide information about the fifth victim.
“Our teams are still on the ground and the priority is to provide everyone with the necessary help, after that is done we will know the exact data on the number of victims,” he said.
Croatian newspaper Jutarnji list described the alleged shooter as a “retired military police officer” who killed his mother along with other residents and staff.
Daruvar, a town of some 7,000, has long been a popular spa destination thanks to the area’s thermal springs.
Shootings in the Balkan country are rare.
Last year in neighboring Serbia, the country was rocked by back-to-back mass shootings, including a massacre at a school in the capital in Belgrade in which 10 people were killed.

Ukraine’s top diplomat to visit China this week to talk peace, Kyiv says

Updated 21 min 33 sec ago
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Ukraine’s top diplomat to visit China this week to talk peace, Kyiv says

  • Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba will discuss bilateral ties at talks with Chinese counterpart Wang Yi during a trip from July 23 to 25
  • The trip is unusual as China is widely seen as close to the Kremlin

KYIV/BEIJING: Ukraine’s top diplomat will visit China on Tuesday at the invitation of Beijing for talks that Kyiv said would focus on how to end Russia’s war in Ukraine and on a possible Chinese role in reaching a settlement.
Nearly 29 months since Russia’s full-scale invasion, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba will discuss bilateral ties at talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi during a trip to China from July 23 to 25, the Ukrainian foreign ministry said.
“The main topic of discussion will be the search for ways to stop Russia’s aggression and China’s possible role in achieving a stable and just peace,” the Ukrainian ministry said in a statement on its website.
The Chinese statement said Kuleba’s visit would run from July 23 to 26 and provided less detail.
The trip is unusual as China is widely seen as close to the Kremlin, with which Beijing declared a “no limits” partnership in 2022 just days before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Though the world’s second largest economy has not condemned the Russian invasion and helped keep Russia’s war economy afloat, Kyiv has been cautious in its criticism of Beijing.
China meanwhile says its ties with Russia are built on the basis of non-alliance and do not target any third party.
Various peace initiatives have emerged in recent months as the fighting has dragged on ahead of a US election in November that could see the return to power of ex-president Donald Trump who has threatened to cut vital aid flows to Ukraine.
Kyiv held an international summit without Russian representation in Switzerland in June to promote its vision of peace and now says it hopes to be ready to hold another one in November that would feature Russian representation.
China, which did not attend the Swiss summit, together with Brazil published a separate six-point peace plan on May 23, saying they supported an international peace conference being held that would be recognized by both sides in the war.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said that only the world’s powerful countries would be able to successfully bring an end to the war, singling out China as well as Kyiv’s close US ally as two possibilities.
The Ukrainian leader has said that China should play a serious role in helping to resolve the war.


India court suspends order to restaurants to display owners’ names after anti-Muslim bias concerns

Updated 22 July 2024
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India court suspends order to restaurants to display owners’ names after anti-Muslim bias concerns

NEW DELHI: India’s top court ruled on Monday that restaurants cannot be forced to display the names of their owners, suspending police orders in two northern states that critics had said could foment discrimination against Muslims.
Police in the two states, both ruled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu-nationalist party, gave oral orders in at least two districts requiring restaurants to put the names of their owners on display boards.
Police said this would help avoid disputes for thousands of Hindu pilgrims who travel on foot to sacred sites during a holy month, many of whom follow dietary restrictions, such as eating no meat during their journey.
But a Supreme Court bench ruled on Monday that while restaurants could be expected to state the type of food they serve, including whether it is vegetarian, they “must not be forced” to display the name and identities of owners.
The court suspended orders by police in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand states and issued a notice to them seeking their response on petitions challenging the move.
More than a third of India’s 1.4 billion people are estimated to be vegetarian — the world’s largest percentage of people who don’t eat meat or eggs — as they follow diets promoted by groups within Hinduism and other religions.
Some vegetarians choose not to eat in restaurants that also serve meat and don’t rent out houses to meat-eating tenants.
A few allies of Modi and leaders of opposition parties had criticized the police orders, saying they feared they would deepen the communal divide and lead to Hindus avoiding restaurants employing Muslims.
Political foes accuse Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of targeting India’s roughly 200 million minority Muslims for electoral gains, which Modi and the BJP both deny.
“Such orders are social crimes, which want to spoil the peaceful atmosphere of harmony,” opposition Samajwadi Party Chief Akhilesh Yadav had said in a post on X, criticizing the police moves.


China and the Philippines announce deal aimed at stopping clashes at fiercely disputed shoal

Updated 22 July 2024
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China and the Philippines announce deal aimed at stopping clashes at fiercely disputed shoal

  • Crucial deal reached after a series of meetings between Philippine and Chinese diplomats in Manila
  • Beijing has disputes with several governments over land and sea borders, many of them in the South China Sea

MANILA: China and the Philippines reached a deal they hope will end confrontations at the most fiercely disputed shoal in the South China Sea, the Philippine government said Sunday.
The Philippines occupies Second Thomas Shoal but China also claims it, and increasingly hostile clashes at sea have sparked fears of larger conflicts that could involve the United States.
The crucial deal was reached Sunday, after a series of meetings between Philippine and Chinese diplomats in Manila and exchanges of diplomatic notes that aimed to establish a mutually acceptable arrangement at the shoal, which Filipinos call Ayungin and the Chinese call Ren’ai Jiao, without conceding either side’s territorial claims.
Two Philippine officials, who had knowledge of the negotiations, confirmed the deal to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity and the government later issued a brief statement announcing the deal without providing details.
“Both sides continue to recognize the need to deescalate the situation in the South China Sea and manage differences through dialogue and consultation and agree that the agreement will not prejudice each other’s positions in the South China Sea,” the Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila said.
China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced shortly after midnight Sunday that they discussed with the Philippines “managing the situation at Ren’ai Jiao and reached provisional arrangement with the Philippines on humanitarian resupply of living necessities.”
Neither side released the text of the agreement.
China has disputes with several governments over land and sea borders, many of them in the South China Sea. The rare deal with the Philippines could spark hope that similar arrangements could be forged by Beijing with other countries to avoid clashes while thorny territorial issues remain unresolved. It remains to be seen, however, if the deal could be implemented successfully and how long it will last.
Chinese coast guard and other forces have used powerful water cannons and dangerous blocking maneuvers to prevent food and other supplies from reaching Filipino navy personnel at Manila’s outpost at the shoal, on a long-grounded and rusting warship, the BRP Sierra Madre.
The yearslong territorial standoff has flared repeatedly since last year.
In the worst confrontation, Chinese forces on motorboats repeatedly rammed and then boarded two Philippine navy boats on June 17 to prevent Filipino personnel from transferring food and other supplies including firearms to the ship outpost in the shallows of the shoal, according to the Philippine government.
The Chinese seized the Philippine navy boats and damaged them with machetes and improvised spears. They also seized seven M4 rifles, which were packed in cases, and other supplies. The violent faceoff wounded several Filipino navy personnel, including one who lost his thumb, in a chaotic skirmish that was captured in video and photos that were later made public by Philippine officials.
China and the Philippines blamed each other for the confrontation and each asserted their own sovereign rights over the shoal.
The United States and its key Asian and Western allies, including Japan and Australia, condemned the Chinese acts at the shoal and called for the rule of law and freedom of navigation to be upheld in the South China Sea, a key global trade route with rich fishing areas and undersea gas deposits.
In addition to China and the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have been locked in separate but increasingly tense territorial disputes in the waterway, which is regarded as a potential flashpoint and a delicate fault line in the US-China regional rivalry. The US military has deployed Navy ships and fighter jets for decades in what it calls freedom of navigation and overflight patrols, which China has opposed and regards as a threat to regional stability.
Washington has no territorial claims in the disputed waters but has repeatedly warned that it is obligated to defend the Philippines, its oldest treaty ally in Asia, if Filipino forces, ships and aircraft come under an armed attack, including in the South China Sea.
One of the two Philippine officials said the June 17 confrontation prompted Beijing and Manila to hasten on-and-off talks on an arrangement that would prevent confrontations at Second Thomas Shoal.
During final meetings in the last four days, two Chinese demands that had been key sticking points were removed from the draft deal.
China had previously said it would allow food, water and other basic supplies to be transported by the Philippines to its forces at the shoal if Manila agreed not to bring construction materials to fortify the crumbling ship and to give China advance notice and the right to inspect the ships for those materials, the officials said.
The Philippines rejected those conditions, and the final deal did not include them, according to the Philippine officials.


France says Israeli athletes ‘welcome’ at Olympics

Updated 22 July 2024
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France says Israeli athletes ‘welcome’ at Olympics

PARIS: Israeli athletes are welcome at the Paris Olympics, French Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne said Monday, after a hard-left member of the French parliament sparked outrage by urging them to stay away.
“The Israeli delegation is welcome in France,” Sejourne said in Brussels ahead of talks with his Israeli counterpart, adding that the call by France Unbowed (LFI) lawmaker Thomas Portes for the country’s exclusion had been “irresponsible and dangerous.”
“We will ensure the security of the delegation,” Sejourne added.
Portes drew ire from French Jewish groups and both political opponents and allies for saying Israeli athletes were “not welcome” and calling for “mobilization” around the Olympics, during a demonstration in support of Palestinians.
He later told the Parisien newspaper that “France’s diplomats should pressure the International Olympic Committee to bar the Israeli flag and anthem, as is done for Russia” over its invasion of Ukraine.
Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said the comments had “hints of anti-Semitism” while the head of the Crif Jewish organization Yonathan Arfi said he was “putting a target on the backs” of Israeli athletes.
Portes’ remarks were condemned at the weekend by some allies from the more moderate Socialists, but backed by others in LFI.