With its new pact with North Korea, Russia raises the stakes with the West over Ukraine

In this photo provided by the North Korean government, Russia's President Vladimir Putin, right, drives a car with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un sitting in front passenger seat at a garden of the Kumsusan State Guest House in Pyongyang, North Korea Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (AP)
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Updated 24 June 2024
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With its new pact with North Korea, Russia raises the stakes with the West over Ukraine

  • The new agreement with Pyongyang marked the strongest link between Moscow and Pyongyang since the end of the Cold War

MOSCOW: Behind the smiles, the balloons and the red-carpet pageantry of President Vladimir Putin’s visit to North Korea last week, a strong signal came through: In the spiraling confrontation with the US and its allies over Ukraine, the Russian leader is willing to challenge Western interests like never before.
The pact that he signed with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un envisions mutual military assistance between Moscow and Pyongyang if either is attacked. Putin also announced for the first time that Russia could provide weapons to the isolated country, a move that could destabilize the Korean Peninsula and reverberate far beyond.
He described the potential arms shipments as a response to NATO allies providing Ukraine with longer-range weapons to attack Russia. He bluntly declared that Moscow has nothing to lose and is prepared to go “to the end” to achieve its goals in Ukraine.
Putin’s moves added to concerns in Washington and Seoul about what they see as an alliance in which North Korea provides Moscow with badly needed munitions for its war in Ukraine in exchange for economic assistance and technology transfers that would enhance the threat posed by Kim’s nuclear weapons and missile program.
A landmark pact
The new agreement with Pyongyang marked the strongest link between Moscow and Pyongyang since the end of the Cold War.
Kim said it raised bilateral relations to the level of an alliance, while Putin was more cautious, noting the pledge of mutual military assistance mirrored a 1961 treaty between the Soviet Union and North Korea. That agreement was discarded after the Soviet collapse and replaced with a weaker one in 2000 when Putin first visited Pyongyang.
Stephen Sestanovich, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations noted that when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev signed the deal with Pyongyang in 1961, he also tested the world’s biggest nuclear bomb, built the Berlin Wall and probably started thinking about moves that led to the Cuban missile crisis in 1962.
“The question for Western policymakers now is whether Putin is becoming comparably reckless,” Sestanovich said in a commentary. “His language in North Korea — where he denounced the United States as a ‘worldwide neocolonialist dictatorship’ — might make you think so.”
South Korea responded by declaring it would consider sending arms to Ukraine in a major policy change for Seoul, which so far only has sent humanitarian assistance to Kyiv under a longstanding policy of not supplying weapons to countries engaged in conflict.
Putin insisted Seoul has nothing to worry about, since the new pact only envisions military assistance in case of aggression and should act as a deterrent to prevent a conflict. He strongly warned South Korea against providing lethal weapons to Ukraine, saying it would be a “very big mistake.”
“If that happens, then we will also make corresponding decisions that will hardly please the current leadership of South Korea,” he said.
Asked whether North Korean troops could fight alongside Russian forces in Ukraine under the pact, Putin said there was no need for that.
Potential weapons for Pyongyang
Last month, Putin warned that Russia could provide long-range weapons to others to hit Western targets in response to NATO allies allowing Ukraine to use its allies’ arms to make limited attacks inside Russian territory.
He followed up on that warning Thursday with an explicit threat to provide weapons to North Korea.
“I wouldn’t exclude that in view of our agreements with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” Putin said, adding that Moscow could mirror the arguments by NATO allies that it’s up to Ukraine to decide how to use Western weapons.
“We can similarly say that we supply something to somebody but have no control over what happens afterward,” Putin said. “Let them think about it.”
Sue Mi Terry, senior fellow for Korea studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, warned that Moscow could share weapons technologies with Pyongyang to help improve its ballistic missile capabilities, noting there is evidence of this happening already, with Russia possibly providing help to North Korea with its successful satellite launch in November, two months after Kim last met Putin.
“This is deeply concerning because of the substantial overlap between the technologies used for space launches and intercontinental ballistic missiles,” Terry said in a commentary. “Russia can also provide North Korea with critical help in areas where its capabilities are still nascent, such as submarine-launched ballistic missiles.”
While raising the prospect of arms supplies to Pyongyang that would violate UN sanctions, Putin also said Russia would take efforts at the world body to ease the restrictions — an apparent signal that Moscow may try to keep arms supplies to Pyongyang under the radar and maintain a degree of deniability to avoid accusations of breaching the sanctions.
Russia and North Korea have rejected assertions by the US and its allies that Pyongyang has given Moscow ballistic missiles and millions of artillery shells for use in Ukraine.
Going ‘to the end’ in a confrontation with the West
By explicitly linking prospective arms shipments to Pyongyang to Western moves on Ukraine, Putin warned Kyiv’s allies to back off as he pushes his goals in the war — or face a new round of confrontation.
“They are escalating the situation, apparently expecting that we will get scared at some point, and at the same time, they say that they want to inflict a strategic defeat on Russia on the battlefield,” Putin said. “For Russia, it will mean an end to its statehood, an end to the millennium-long history of the Russian state. And a question arises: Why should we be afraid? Isn’t it better, then, to go to the end?”
Alexander Gabuev, director of the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center in Berlin, said Putin’s statement reflected an attempt to discourage the US and its allies from ramping up support for Kyiv as Russia pushes new offensives in several sectors of the front line.
“The situation is becoming increasingly dangerous, and Russia believes that it should quickly rap the West over its knuckles to show that its deeper engagement in the war will have a price,” he said in remarks carried by Dozhd, an independent Russian broadcaster.
He noted that Putin’s statement that Moscow wouldn’t know where its arms end up if sent to Pyongyang could have been a hint at North Korea’s role as an arms exporter.
Treading cautiously with China
Putin’s visits to North Korea handed a new challenge to Pyongyang’s top ally, China, potentially allowing Kim to hedge his bets and reduce his excessive reliance on Beijing.
China so far has avoided comment on the new pact, but many experts argue that Beijing won’t like losing sway over its neighbor.
Ever since Putin invaded Ukraine, Russia has come to increasingly depend on China as the main market for its energy exports and the source of high-tech technologies in the face of Western sanctions. While forging a revamped relationship with Pyongyang, the Kremlin will likely tread cautiously to avoid angering Beijing.
“Whether this upgraded Russia–North Korea relationship will be without limits depends upon China,” which will watch events closely, said Edward Howell of Chatham House in a commentary. “Beijing will have taken stern note of Kim Jong Un’s claim that Russia is North Korea’s ‘most honest friend.’ Despite the likely increase in cooperation in advanced military technology between Moscow and Pyongyang, China remains North Korea’s largest economic partner.”

 


Humanity suffering from ‘extreme heat epidemic,’ UN chief warns

Updated 15 sec ago
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Humanity suffering from ‘extreme heat epidemic,’ UN chief warns

  • UN chief repeats call for humanity to fight “addiction” to fossil fuels amid global warming 
  • UN estimates economic losses from heat stress at work will reach $2.4 trillion by 2030

United Nations, United States: Humanity is suffering from an “extreme heat epidemic,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned Thursday, calling for action to limit the impacts of heat waves intensified by climate change.
“Billions of people are facing an extreme heat epidemic — wilting under increasingly deadly heat waves, with temperatures topping 50 degrees Celsius around the world,” he said. “That’s 122 degrees Fahrenheit. And halfway to boiling.”
According to the European Copernicus network, July 21, 22 and 23 were the three hottest days ever recorded worldwide, with July 22 holding the absolute record of 17.16 degrees Celsius (62.9 degrees Fahrenheit).
Guterres repeated his call for humanity to fight its “addiction” to fossil fuels.
“Today, our focus is on the impact of extreme heat. But let’s not forget that there are many other devastating symptoms of the climate crisis: ever-more fierce hurricanes. Floods. Droughts. Wildfires. Rising sea levels. And the list goes on,” he said.
“To tackle all these symptoms, we need to fight the disease. And the disease is the madness of incinerating our only home. The disease is the addiction to fossil fuels. The disease is climate inaction,” he stressed, calling in particular on G20 countries to take action.
While 2023 was the hottest year on record, and 2024 could set a new record, temperatures well above 40C (104F) are increasingly common.
In the space of a year, the 50C threshold has even been exceeded in at least 10 places, from Death Valley in the United States (53.9C on July 7) to Agadir in Morocco, and also in China and India.
The intense heat, often less visible than other devastating impacts of climate change such as storms or floods, is nonetheless more deadly.
This “silent killer” is responsible for around 489,000 deaths per year between 2000 and 2019, compared with 16,000 deaths per year from cyclones, according to the UN’s “Call to Action” document published on Thursday.
Extremely high temperatures also have an economic impact, with the UN estimating economic losses from heat stress at work will reach $2.4 trillion in 2030.
According to a report by the International Labor Organization published on Thursday, more than 70 percent of workers were exposed to excessive heat in 2020, 8.8 percent more than in 2000.
“The good news is that we can save lives and we can limit its impact,” Guterres said Thursday.
The UN has called for the world community to first act to protect “the most vulnerable” — including young children, the elderly and also humanity’s poorest.
In this context, early warning systems should include extreme heat, warning populations of the arrival of heat waves and informing them of the precautions to take, the document says.
The call to action also recommends an “increase (to) equitable access to and scale up (of) low-carbon cooling.”
This would involve investing in passive cooling systems — which include climate-sensitive urban design measures, reflective surfaces and natural cooling systems — and the phase-out of climate-warming gases that are used in many cooling systems.
 


UK Afghanistan war crimes probe lifts jail threat on former minister

Updated 48 min 58 sec ago
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UK Afghanistan war crimes probe lifts jail threat on former minister

  • Johnny Mercer said “multiple officers” told him about alleged murders and subsequent cover-up during Afghan conflict

LONDON: Britain’s former minister for veterans has “provided further information” to a public inquiry into claims of war crimes by special forces in Afghanistan, a spokeswoman said Thursday, after he was threatened with jail.
Johnny Mercer has said that “multiple officers” told him about alleged murders and a subsequent cover-up during the Afghan conflict, but he refused to divulge their identities.
The Independent Inquiry Relating to Afghanistan, which is examining the claims, gave him until 4:00 p.m. (1500 GMT) on Thursday to provide the names, insisting the information would be in confidence.
The judge-led inquiry had previously issued Mercer with an order under Britain’s Inquiries Act 2005 warning him he could be fined, imprisoned or both if he did not comply.
“Mr Mercer has provided further information in response to the Section 21 notice and agreed to assist the inquiry further,” an inquiry spokeswoman said.
“The inquiry team will be taking this forward. For the time being, the chair will not be taking further action in relation to the Section 21 notice or making further comment.”
Mercer, a former British Army officer who served three tours of Afghanistan, repeatedly refused to disclose the names when he gave evidence at the inquiry in February.
The inquiry is examining claims that between 2010 and 2013 a British special forces unit executed Afghan males of “fighting age” who posed no threat.
The former minister, who lost his seat at this month’s general election, said in response to the latest development: “My position remains unchanged from the beginning of the year.”
“I will always do all I can to assist this important inquiry. I will not betray those I served who have confided in me, whatever the cost,” he wrote on social media.


UN demands action on extreme heat as world registers warmest day

Updated 52 min 26 sec ago
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UN demands action on extreme heat as world registers warmest day

  • “Extreme heat is the new abnormal,” Guterres said
  • “The world must rise to the challenge of rising temperatures”

LONDON: UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres called on Thursday for countries to address the urgency of the extreme heat epidemic, fueled by climate change — days after the world registered its hottest day on record.
“Extreme heat is the new abnormal,” Guterres said. “The world must rise to the challenge of rising temperatures,” he said.
Climate change is making heatwaves more frequent, more intense and longer lasting across the world.
Already this year, scorching conditions have killed 1,300 Hajj pilgrims, closed schools for some 80 million children in Africa and Asia, and led to a spike in hospitalizations and deaths in the Sahel.
Every month since June 2023 has now ranked as the planet’s warmest since records began in 1940, compared with the corresponding month in previous years, according the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service.
The UN called on governments to not only tamp down fossil fuel emissions — the driver of climate change — but to bolster protections for the most vulnerable, including the elderly, pregnant women and children, and step up safeguards for workers.
Over 70 percent of the global workforce — 2.4 billion people — are now at high risk of extreme heat, according to a report from the International Labour Organization (ILO) published Thursday.
In Africa, nearly 93 percent of the workforce is exposed to excessive heat, and 84 percent of the Arab States’ workforce, the ILO report found.
Excessive heat has been blamed for causing almost 23 million workplace injuries worldwide, and some 19,000 deaths annually.
“We need measures to protect workers, grounded in human rights,” Guterres said.
He also called for governments to “heatproof” their economies, critical sectors such as health care, and the built environment.
Cities are warming at twice the worldwide average rate due to rapid urbanization and the urban heat island effect.
By 2050, some researchers estimate a 700 percent global increase in the number of urban poor living in extreme heat conditions.
This is the first time the UN has put out a global call for action on extreme heat.
“We need a policy signal and this is it,” said Kathy Baughman Mcleod, CEO of Climate Resilience for All, a nonprofit focused on extreme heat.
“It’s recognition of how big it is and how urgent it is. It’s also recognition that everybody doesn’t feel in the same way and pay the same price for it.”


Israel warns France of Iranian threats at Olympics Games

Updated 25 July 2024
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Israel warns France of Iranian threats at Olympics Games

  • “There are those who seek to harm the festivities of this joyous event,” Foreign Minister Israel Katz told his French counterpart
  • “We currently have assessments of potential threats from Iranian terror affiliates“

JERUSALEM: Israel warned France on Thursday of potential threats from Iran-backed groups against Israeli athletes and tourists in Paris during the Olympic Games.
“There are those who seek to harm the festivities of this joyous event,” Foreign Minister Israel Katz told his French counterpart in a letter, copies of which were released to the media.
“We currently have assessments of potential threats from Iranian terror affiliates and other terrorist organizations aiming to carry out terror attacks against members of the Israeli delegation and Israeli tourists during the Olympics.”
France has mounted a vast security operation to ensure the Olympics are safe. Around 18,000 French troops have been deployed to secure the Games in addition to regular police.
All Israeli athletes at the Paris Games, which start officially on Friday, will have round-the-clock personal security provided by elite French police, both inside the Olympic village and every time they leave the compound in northern Paris.
In an address to the US Congress on Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for a global alliance against the Iranian “axis of terror.”
He argued that the United States and Israel “must stand together” against Iran and its proxies.
Iran had hailed the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel but said it was not involved in it.
Tensions have soared during the war sparked by the attack, drawing in Iran-backed armed groups in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen.
Yemen’s Houthis, along with the Hezbollah group in Lebanon and former Iran-backed paramilitaries in the Iraqi armed forces, are part of a Tehran-aligned “axis of resistance” that supports Hamas against Israel and its allies.
Iran has reiterated support for the groups but insisted they are independent in their decision-making and actions.
On April 13-14, Iran carried out an unprecedented drone and missile attack on Israel, days after an air strike widely attributed to Israel levelled Iran’s consulate in Damascus and killed seven Revolutionary Guards, two of them generals.


UK uses Rwanda flights for Vietnam, East Timor deportations

Updated 25 July 2024
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UK uses Rwanda flights for Vietnam, East Timor deportations

  • Home Secretary Yvette Cooper: ‘Today’s flight shows the government is taking quick and decisive action to secure our borders and return those with no right to be here’
  • Cooper called the Rwanda scheme, intended to deter migrants making the Channel crossing in small boats from northern France, ‘the most shocking waste of taxpayers’ money’ she had seen

LONDON: Britain’s new Labour government on Thursday said it had deported 46 people to Vietnam and East Timor, after ditching the previous Conservative administration’s plan to send migrants to Rwanda.
Home Secretary Yvette Cooper this week said flights initially intended to fly undocumented migrants to the east African nation would instead be used to deport foreign criminals and immigration offenders.
The chartered return flight, which took off on Wednesday and arrived on Thursday, is the first ever to East Timor and the first to Vietnam since 2022, her department said.
“Today’s flight shows the government is taking quick and decisive action to secure our borders and return those with no right to be here,” added Cooper.
Labour, elected in a landslide election win this month, has scrapped the Tories’ Rwanda plan, which had been deemed illegal under international law by the UK Supreme Court.
Former prime minister Rishi Sunak had aimed for the first flights to take off this month, after legislating to designate the African nation a safe third country.
Cooper this week called the Rwanda scheme, intended to deter migrants making the Channel crossing in small boats from northern France, “the most shocking waste of taxpayers’ money” she had seen.
The Tories had spent £700 million ($900 million) on the scheme but only four migrants had relocated to Rwanda — and they went voluntarily.
She also told parliament Sunak’s government planned to spend more than £10 billion on the scheme in total.
Labour’s approach is to prioritize returns of failed asylum seekers to designated safe countries to ease a huge backlog in the claims system.
It also wants closer cooperation with European partners to “smash” the people-smuggling gangs behind the Channel crossings, which so far this year have seen nearly 16,000 people brought ashore.
Vietnamese nationals accounted for 20 percent of undocumented migrants intercepted making the journey between January and March this year, Oxford University’s Migration Observatory said.
In March this year, Sunak’s government launched a global social media campaign, aimed at Vietnam in particular, to deter people from using the route.
On Wednesday, a gang of British people-smugglers were jailed after trying to hide two Vietnamese migrants in a hidden compartment of their campervan as they traveled between France and the UK.
Eleven people have been convicted in the UK in connection with the deaths of 39 Vietnamese migrants who were found in the back of a lorry in 2019 after being smuggled from northern Europe.