Taipei replica in remote Chinese province fans Taiwan invasion fears

Satellite images verified by FRANCE 24 reveal that China has built a replica of Taipei’s presidential district in remote Inner Mongolia, fuelling speculation that Beijing intends to use the site as a training ground to prepare for a future invasion of Taiwan.

 

The satellite images show a detailed replica of the heart of Taipei – albeit surrounded by the arid landscape of Inner Mongolia instead of Taiwan’s lush vegetation.  

First posted on social media by a Taiwanese data analyst, on March 26, they were later picked up by the website Taiwan News, under the ominous headline: “China creates Taipei mockup to train for invasion”. 

FRANCE 24 was able to verify the existence of the mockup, located some 1,200 kilometres west of Beijing.

Sim Tack, an analyst at intelligence firm Force Analysis, which monitors conflict zones and has access to satellite imagery, said construction of the replica began in March 2021 and lasted approximately one year. 

He said the site features buildings and façades “that are inspired by what you can see in Taipei, without having exactly the same size or shape”.

An area of interest 

The satellite images reveal a layout of streets strongly resembling the Bo’ai Special Zone, a restricted area in Taipei’s Zhongzheng District that houses Taiwan’s most important state buildings, including the presidential palace, the supreme court, the ministry of justice and the central bank of Taiwan.  

The Bo’ai Special Zone is subject to specific regulations, including a strict ban on overflight. 

When quizzed about the images last week, Taiwan’s Defence Minister Chiu Juo-cheng appeared to play down their significance.  

“It is inevitable that the Chinese army produces this type of imitation,” he told reporters, adding that Taiwan was also capable of replicating foreign sites for military training purposes. 

The minister’s response was surprisingly measured, “considering that in recent months we have seen China multiply its hostile acts towards Taiwan”, noted Marc Lanteigne, a China expert at Norway’s Arctic University. 

Beijing considers Taiwan a part of its territory and has not ruled out the use of force to assert control over the island. Under President Xi Jinping, it has stepped up its pressure on the self-governing island, mounting a series of incursions by fighter jets into Taiwan’s airspace in autumn 2023. 


The existence of a training site to rehearse a potential attack on the presidential palace in Taipei is a stark reminder of the geopolitical tensions in the region, and of the threat weighing on Taiwan.  

Propaganda tool 

Experts note that Taiwan has faced this type of intimidation before, most notably in 2015, when the Chinese military produced an almost exact replica of the presidential palace in Taipei, at a separate site in Inner Mongolia. 

At the time, Beijing chose to showcase the mockup, said Lewis Eves, a Chinese security expert at the University of Sheffield. 

“We found this out because the video of a simulated assault on the building was broadcast on Chinese television and the army website published images of a training exercise in the grounds around the palace,” he explained.  

Eves said he was not suprised to see the Chinese army produce a similar replica almost a decade later, pointing to “similarities between the current geopolitical context in the region and the one that prevailed in 2015”.  

Back then, Taiwan was gearing up for a high-stakes presidential context in 2016, just like the recent vote that took place in January of this year. Tensions between China and regional rival Japan over disputed islands in the South China Sea were also at a high in 2015 – much as they are today.  

Now as then, “Beijing has deemed it necessary to stage a show of force aimed both at Taiwan and its own public opinion, in order to whip up nationalist sentiment”, said Eves.  

At a time of heightened international tensions, China is “seeking to rally public opinion behind the CCP [Chinese Communist Party] by playing the nationalist card”, said the security expert. And restating its claim over Taiwan in the interests of Chinese “national unity” is part of this effort, he added. 

‘Psychological warfare’ 

In addition to serving propaganda purposes, the construction of Taipei replicas allows Chinese authorities to wage a form of “psychological warfare”, said China expert Ho Ting (Bosco) Hung, a geopolitical analyst at The International Team for the Study of Security (ITSS) Verona.  

“It’s clearly a way of telling Taiwan that if the island’s authorities refuse to bend to China’s demands, Beijing is preparing military options,” he explained.  

Read more‘People don’t want to talk about war’: Taiwan civil defence battles invasion risk denial

Analysts say China is unlikely to go to such lengths merely to send a signal to Taiwan and its own population. Unlike in 2015, they note, the latest release of satellite images from Inner Mongolia is not Beijing’s own doing. In fact, the Chinese military has been considerably more discreet this time.  

Back in 2015, the replica presidential palace was nestled in the heart of the Zhurihe training compound, described by Chinese officials as the “largest in Asia”. Satellite images of the facility even show a building that bears a striking resemblance to the Eiffel Tower in Paris.  

The new constructions, on the other hand, are located several hundred kilometres away, in a region that is “probably less closely monitored by Western satellites than the Zhurihe base”, noted Lanteigne.  

It is possible that “the Chinese authorities were waiting for the right time to go public about the new site, but were beaten to it,” he added.  

And while the replica of the Bo’ai Special Zone “may indeed serve propaganda purposes”, Hung argued, the most likely explanation is that “its primary purpose is military”. 

Invasion scenarios 

The new Taipei mockup is far more detailed than the one produced in 2015, meaning it could be used for two distinct military scenarios, the first of which involves an aerial bombardment of the Bo’ai area – or what the Taiwan News website described as a “decapitation strike on Taipei”.  

Such an operation would be extremely complex to mount given “the high quality of Taiwan’s air defences”, Hung cautioned, though adding that “an aerial attack remains the most rapid option to invade the island”. 

The other scenario involves a land invasion of the island, located roughly 100 miles (160 kilometres) off the coast of southeastern China. 

“If it were only contemplating a bombardment of the area, China would probably not have gone through the trouble of replicating an entire neighbourhood of Taipei,” argued Lanteigne. “Urban warfare is the hardest of all, so it’s only natural that Beijing should try to get ready for it.”  

In this respect, Taiwan may not be the only target on Beijing’s mind.  

“Xi Jinping is pushing to reform and modernise his army, and knowing how to fight in an urban environment is an essential aspect of training,” Lanteigne added. “It is possible the army has chosen to recreate Taipei’s presidential district because that is one likely setting where it may have to intervene.”  

This article is a translation of the original in French.



Source link

#Taipei #replica #remote #Chinese #province #fans #Taiwan #invasion #fears

A Ukrainian soldier in France speaks about writing and recovery

Ahead of the second anniversary of Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine, Ukrainian soldier and author Oleksandr “Teren” Budko spoke to FRANCE 24 about his path to recovery after losing both legs, his approach to writing and his patriotism.

On a recent evening at the Ukrainian Cultural Institute in France, Oleksandr “Teren” Budko stood with his interpreter before a large audience of Ukrainians and other nationalities. Blond and with a boyish face, the 27-year-old Ukrainian soldier was on the French leg of his European book tour for “Story of a Stubborn Man”. The autobiography interspersed with memories from the front lines recounts his road from civilian to soldier and then to battle-scarred veteran.

Budko began writing the book in October 2022, just two months after losing both legs after a shell landed near him in a trench during the counteroffensive for the city of Kharkiv. “I found inspiration for my writing on the front lines,” he said. Even before the injury, he had been publishing short texts accompanied by pictures of him and his buddies in combat gear as they worked to repel the Russian enemy.

Athletically built and wearing a quilted blue shirt and shorts that showed his prosthetics, Budko was as comfortable as a stand-up comedian in front of a crowd. “There is no truth in the leg,” he said, repeating a Ukrainian proverb that suggests a person who has walked a lot cannot tell the truth because they are tired.

Appreciation for a war hero

Yet he wanted to get as close to the truth as possible while writing his book. He wanted to capture the voices of his comrades and the sights and the sounds of what he experienced in eastern Ukraine. He would try to write, but then get stuck with month-long bouts of writer’s block. A trip to Florida, where he went to get fitted with sports prosthetics so he could participate in the Invictus Games, finally changed something in him. “I was there under the sun, I swam in the sea in Miami, I ate at McDonald’s – and this gave me the perfect circumstances to write this book,” he said.

Thousands of miles away from Ukraine, he revisited his prior experience as a Ukrainian soldier. His days were filled with rehabilitation but, at night, he would write. Like plunging into the nearly clear waters off the Atlantic coast, he immersed himself in his memories of fighting the war and typed them up on a computer.

“Some of the people I wrote about in the book are dead, and that’s why it was so hard to write the text,” said Budko. Luckily, many people in the book did survive, “including my comrade Artem”, he said, nodding toward a young man in a wheelchair sitting in the front row. The audience responded with lengthy applause in appreciation of the two young men for their sacrifice – and for coming home alive.

Memories from the war

Budko agreed to an interview the next day to talk about what led him to fight in the war and his memories from that time. After a visit to Paris‘s Carnavalet Museum, with its elaborate displays dedicated to the French Revolution and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, the young man in a black hoodie settled at a kebab restaurant on the Rue des Rosiers, an eclectic street in the Marais neighbourhood of central Paris. He was accompanied by his editor and a lively group of young Ukrainians who, judging by their level of excitement, appeared to be visiting the French capital for the first time.

Sitting with his back against the wall, a bit apart from the group, Budko suddenly seemed less like a comedian and more like a wise old man. “I wrote this book for civilians and for people who had never seen war, so they could understand what happens on the front lines,” he said. 

Through his interpreter, Budko said he was in Kyiv when the war began on February 24, 2022. “I signed up as a volunteer because I wanted to defend my country from the enemy and help it gain independence,” he said.

Although he had never held a weapon before in his life, he joined the Carpathian Sich 49th Infantry Battalion, a battalion of the Ukrainian Ground Forces established in May 2022. After some training and taking part in the defence of the capital Kyiv, Budko was deployed to northeastern Ukraine near Izium.

Most people in the battalion were volunteers who accepted the consequences of their choice, remembered Budko. “Of course Bakhmut and Avdiivka exist (two besieged cities known for scenes of the most ferocious violence of the war), but the life of a soldier is not only about fighting,” he added.

Budko recalled one moment when he ate a slice of foie gras for breakfast: “For me, it was a sign I was still alive,” he said. Despite being trained as killing machines, Budko said he and his fellow volunteers continued civilian life to the best of their ability, preparing traditional meals like borscht, a red beetroot soup, and taking the time to enjoy them with each other. This also meant saving abandoned cats and dogs and evacuating elderly people from zones that had become too perilous for them to stay.

An invincible optimism

From the trenches, the soldiers watched Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s speeches and followed news reports on military support from abroad. “We were interested in how the war was going to end, but of course the weapons situation was important too, because without weapons it was going to be impossible to end the war,” said Budko. “Despite the many weapons given, it was never enough.”

Writing the book also allowed Budko to relive some of the moments from “one of the best times of my life”, he said. The adventure, the camaraderie and the moments of peace, such as when he would lie down on the ground with a book, seem to have left Budko with a sense of nostalgia devoid of any bitterness. But today he preferred not to talk about the day he suffered the injury that caused him to lose both legs: “There is no trauma, but I’ve told the story too many times.”

Budko said he has always been endowed with an invincible optimism. He said what changed after the injury is that he “became braver and more open to people”.

Thinking back to his time in the service, the young man recalled the discovery of a small kobzar (a Ukrainian bard) figurine he made one day while digging trenches in the Kharkiv region. The statue was more confirmation that the lands were Ukrainian, he said, because kobzars never existed in Russia. It further convinced him of his role in preserving Ukrainian territorial integrity.

Ahead of the second anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, Budko likened the war to a “David against Goliath” struggle and voiced a warning about the existential nature of the threat: “The less support Ukraine gets, the closer the enemy gets to other European countries.”

With this in mind, his goal today is to “contribute to the Western population’s understanding of the war, and encourage them to support us so that they can help obtain a Ukrainian victory as soon as possible”.

Source link

#Ukrainian #soldier #France #speaks #writing #recovery

Two years after Russia’s invasion, Ukraine reorients its strategy to focus on defence

Two years after Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022, the lack of troops and ammunition and the depth of Russia’s field fortifications are forcing Kyiv to adopt a more defensive strategy. As it waits for more Western support, the Ukrainian army is holding out for better days.

Is “defend now, attack better later” Ukraine’s best shot? Two years after Russian forces invaded its territory, Ukraine has officially adopted a new strategy focused on defence. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky admitted that the situation on the front lines was “extremely difficult” in his daily address on February 19.

Since the failure of Kyiv’s summer counteroffensive, which cost Valerii Zaluzhnyi his position as commander-in-chief of Ukraine’s armed forces, it is no longer time for major manoeuvres aimed at finding a breech in the Russian strategy, according to high-ranking Ukrainian sources. “We changed from an offensive to a defensive operation,” admitted the country’s new army chief, General Oleksandr Syrsky, in an interview with German channel ZDF broadcast on February 13.

Read moreZelensky’s A-team: Who is who among Ukraine’s new army commanders

It is hard to imagine any other option for the Ukrainian army. For months it has been up against an imposing Russian defensive line of trenches, concrete cones and minefields stretching 15 to 20km deep, preventing any armoured vehicle from piercing through.

“After regaining some of the territories that had been captured by the Russians, the summer of 2023 marked a turning point in the conflict. The deep Russian defensive lines exhausted the Ukrainian counteroffensive. The Russians still have gaps and command problems, but they learn quickly and their ability to adapt should never be underestimated,” says Guillaume Lasconjarias, a military historian and lecturer at France’s Sorbonne University.

In the Ukrainian battlefield, the massive use of drones is also having a serious impact on offensive operations. . With these “eyes” positioned all along the front line by both sides, the battlefield has now become “transparent”, rendering obsolete the element of surprise so dear to military strategists.

“To concentrate efforts in one point is less and less possible. Instead, we are now seeing strategies based on multiple ‘stabbing’ motions. But in the end, this leads to exhaustion,” says Lasconjarias.

Ammo crisis

As a result, the front line is deadlocked and neither side seems able to bend their opponent. “As in World War I, we have reached such a technological level that we find ourselves at a dead end,” Zaluzhnyi admitted back in November 2023 in an interview published in British weekly The Economist.

“We must also take into account the recent change of leadership within the Ukrainian armed forces. A change of leadership requires the armed forces to take a moment to reorganise and reorient their structure and actions so they can be in line with the plans of the new chief of staff. Returning to a more defensive strategy in the short term may help to achieve this reorganisation,” says Nicolo Fasola, a specialist in Russian military issues at the University of Bologna.

The alarming shortage of ammunition is also forcing Kyiv to adopt a more cautious stance. In this static warfare, hundreds of thousands of shells are fired by each army every month. However, the blocking of aid by the US Congress and the delays in deliveries promised by Europe are severely handicapping Ukraine’s capacities.

According to military experts, the “fire ratio” – which measures the difference in the rate of artillery fire between enemies – is currently one to ten in favour of Russia.

“Even if it seemed to even out last summer, the volume of fire has always been in favour of the Russians. In the Russian-Soviet military tradition, artillery is an extremely important factor in shaping the battlefield. Faced with this large and diversified artillery, the Ukrainians have more precise cannons, such as the French Caesar or the American M777. But they have two problems: they have to move more often to avoid destruction, and they can fire back only when they know they are going to hit the target because of their lack of ammunition,” explains Guillaume Lasconjarias.

“Ukraine’s resources are becoming more limited,” adds Fasola. “It should also be stressed that most of the sophisticated equipment supplied to Kyiv has not been used effectively. It is illusory to think that the Ukrainian armed forces, which could not be trained in an in-depth way, could use these resources as efficiently as a Western army.”

Preserving Ukrainian national unity

The recent withdrawal from the eastern town of Avdiivka illustrates Kyiv’s new defensive posture. After months of fierce fighting, the Ukrainian General Staff made the difficult choice of a tactical withdrawal. If it offered a symbolic victory to the Kremlin, this decision also preserved the lives of thousands of Ukrainian soldiers. This decision is in stark contrast to the all-out tactics seen during the bloody battle of Bakhmut, a town in the Donbas region that fell into Russian hands in May 2023.

Along with flagging stocks of ammunition, dwindling manpower is another of the Ukrainian army’s major problems. According to a declassified document sent to the US Congress, Kyiv has suffered losses estimated at 70,000 dead and 120,000 wounded in two years. Russian losses are estimated at 315,000 dead or wounded.

In addition to the losses, the exhaustion of Ukrainian soldiers, some of whom have been deployed since the start of hostilities, means that rotations will also be necessary over the coming months.

“The real challenge for 2024 is for Ukraine to be able to regain some of the flexibility of its deployed brigades, which are now exhausted. It will also be necessary in order to mobilise newcomers, train them, equip them and take them to the front. This raises the question of the public’s ongoing acceptance of the conflict,” says Lasconjarias.

Watch moreIn Spain, Ukrainian civilians prepare for battle at a training centre near Madrid

A draft law wants to solve this problem. The controversial bill aimed at facilitating mobilisation was given the thumbs-up by the Ukrainian parliament on its first reading in early February. But the text has also triggered a lively public debate at a time when the stalemate in the war, the stagnation of the front and the uncertainty hanging over Western support have naturally affected the morale of both the troops and the population. Zelensky will have to work his way out of this down phase to preserve the national unity, which has so often been praised by his Western partners.

“From a military point of view, it seems impossible to avoid some form of conscription extension, but its political cost will be high,” says Fasola. “It also raises the problem of troop management, because if people are recruited by force or against their will, there are two possibilities: either you treat your troops as Russia does, meaning with no regard for their dignity and free will, or you end up with people who don’t want to fight or follow orders, which is very problematic for military strategy and effectiveness.”

‘War of attrition slowly but steadily in Russia’s favour’

While waiting to rebuild its offensive potential, the Ukrainian army will be trying over the coming months to inflict as many losses as possible on its Russian enemy while conserving its troops and ammunition. Beyond just holding out in a defensive posture, Ukraine is likely to continue its in-depth attacks against logistical infrastructures, particularly in the Russian border regions of Bryansk and Belgorod and in the annexed Crimean Peninsula in the hope of weakening Russia’s military system.

Kyiv’s official objective remains unchanged: to reconquer the territories annexed or occupied by Russia since 2014, which represents 18 percent of Ukraine’s territory.

Read moreMaidan Revolution protesters lament enduring corruption in Ukraine, 10 years on

According to analysts, only increased Western support could enable General Syrsky’s troops to move forward again. Such a scenario is far from certain, especially from the US: Democrats and Republicans are tearing each other apart in Congress over the question, and former president Donald Trump, who is hostile to continued US aid, is leading polls ahead of November’s US presidential election.

Moscow and Kyiv are “racing to rebuild their offensive capacities. If further Western funds are not released, if Russia gains the upper hand in one way or another, Moscow will have the opportunity to make further progress,” Andrea Kendall-Taylor, a researcher at the Washington-based Center for New American Security, told AFP. “The dynamic has changed,” says the analyst, stressing that “from Putin’s point of view, 2024 is a crucial year”.

According to the experts interviewed by FRANCE 24, Russia should be able to continue supplying the front line with troops and equipment throughout the year, but to no gain or advantage, at least in the short term. “The front line is not likely to change radically. Over the next few months, Russia will continue to gradually erode Ukrainian control of the front line, which will nevertheless be very costly for Moscow,” predicts Fasola. “I expect the war to continue in the same way as it is today, as a war of attrition that is unfolding slightly, slowly, but steadily in Russia’s favour.”

This story has been adapted from its original in French.


© France Médias Monde graphic studio

Source link

#years #Russias #invasion #Ukraine #reorients #strategy #focus #defence

France under pressure to suspend military sales to Israel as war in Gaza grinds on

NGOs and leftist members of the opposition have increased the pressure on France’s government to reconsider arms sales to Israel in the wake of the war in Gaza and follow in the footsteps of other European nations that made moves to suspend military exports over concerns about the humanitarian situation on the ground. 

It was Ramadan, and another war was raging in Gaza.

In July 2014, 8-year-old Afnan Shuheibar, her 16-year-old brother Oday, and her three cousins Basel, Jihad and Wassim – ages 8 to 11 – went up to the roof of the Shuheibar home in Gaza City to feed the pigeons when they were struck by a missile.

It was fired by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF), but what helped guide it to the Shuheibars’ home was a small black position sensor around 2 centimetres long lodged deep inside the missile. On it were three words, with some letters partially erased: “EUROFARAD PARIS FRANCE”.  

Wassim and Jihad were killed instantly, and Afnan died in her father’s arms on the way to the hospital.

In 2016, the Shuheibar family filed a legal suit against Eurofarad. The company has since been bought by Exxelia Technologies, which is now facing charges of complicity in war crimes in France. (Exxelia itself was recently bought by the US group HEICO but is still headquartered in Paris.)

The first complaint was dismissed, but the family lodged another in 2018. A specialised department looking at crimes against humanity opened an investigation on suspicion of “complicity with war crimes” at a Paris court, and last summer several members of the Shuheibar family were heard.

The court will hear Exxelia’s side next, the family’s lawyer, Joseph Breham, said in a telephone interview on Monday.

His law firm is in touch with the Shuheibar family on a near-weekly basis. Several of them – in addition to investigators working on the case – have been wounded since the Israel-Hamas war started in early October, “to the extent that we wondered at one point whether or not the [Israeli] army was targeting them specifically”, Breham told FRANCE 24. 

The Shuheibar case is not unique. Other French defence companies – including Dassault, Thalès and MBDA – are facing charges of “complicity in war crimes” over weapons sales reportedly made to the UAE and Saudi Arabia, which has spearheaded a regional coalition to fight the Houthi rebels in Yemen.

But in the context of the current war in Gaza, and following the provisional measures issued by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) last month and the pending ruling – which could have profound repercussions for international jurisprudence – the Shuheibar case raises some lingering questions. 

Grilling in parliament

It remains unclear whether French companies continue to export weapons or any “dual-use” equipment to Israel that can be used in a military context, or whether French companies have reviewed any export licenses that were authorised before the latest war began.

The head of Amnesty International in France, Jean-Claude Samouiller, published an open letter this week addressed to French President Emmanuel Macron, urging the suspension of all weapons sales and military equipment to Israel.

MPs from the far-left France Unbowed (La France Insoumise or LFI) party have repeatedly grilled members of the government over continuing French military exports to Israel.

These calls have intensified over the past week. Mathilde Panot, the president of the LFI parliamentary group, asked Foreign Minister Stéphane Séjourné during a February 15 session in parliament whether France was arming Israel and called for a suspension of any such sales. “Has France continued providing weapons to [Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu? Mister minister, can you say with certainty that no French military component is being used in Gaza in any war crime that is being committed? When will you declare an arms embargo?” she asked, adding: “[Charles] de Gaulle did it [in 1967]. Emmanuel Macron must do it.”

She also urged him to provide a list of weapons and other equipment provided to Israel. “Concerning weapons, I will revert back to you to give you a number, because I don’t have it here,” Séjourné replied.

It was then French Defence Minister Sébastien Lecornu’s turn to be questioned. In a written response to a question submitted by LFI MP Aurélien Saintoul, Lecornu said that France does not export “weapons, strictly speaking, but rather elementary components”.

Saintoul sits on the parliamentary defence commission. He repeatedly asked to question Lecornu, to no avail, prior to submitting his questions in writing.

When weapons are authorised for export, Lecornu said, they “are intended purely for defensive purposes”, citing the example of a type of missile used by Israel’s Iron Dome air defence system.

Lecornu went on to say that the respect for human rights and international humanitarian law exhibited by the destination country “are fully taken into account” when reviewing arms exports. Current assessments “have not led to a full suspension of the flow of military exports since 7 October 2023”, referring to the launch of the Israeli army response to the Hamas attack in southern Israel.

In an emailed response to FRANCE 24, the defence ministry stressed that all requests for military equipment exports were subjected to “robust checks”. The foreign affairs ministry did not respond to requests for specific comment on military exports to Israel.

Thomas Portes, another MP from LFI, last week launched a petition calling for transparency on the issue and urging the authorities to stop exporting military equipment to Israel. The government’s responses are “never precise, they never include any numbers … and so there is a kind of omerta surrounding this arms issue”, Portes said in a telephone interview on Monday.

“At the very least, I want there to be a public debate in France on whether today we accept, yes or no – as MPs, but beyond this, do citizens accept that France delivers weapons to the Israeli state in light of what the Israeli army is committing in the Gaza Strip?”

“I wouldn’t want us to be the last European country to commit itself to not supplying arms to Israel,” he said. France, Germany and the UK continue to supply Israel whereas Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Belgium have moved to suspend arms sales.

Transparency

But obtaining transparency and establishing whether or not French companies are still exporting any weapons or dual-use equipment to the state of Israel is not an easy question to resolve.

Any export of military equipment by a French or France-based company must be vetted by the Inter-ministerial commission for war materials exports (CIEEMG).

Exxelia said in emailed responses sent on Wednesday that the “passive electronic components” it produces usually constitute a tiny part of far larger products, and can, for instance, be used to manufacture a “(Magnetic resonance imaging) machine, a 5G antenna or a radar”.

“Exxelia complies strictly with the laws in all the countries where it operates. Sales of dual-use equipment are subjected to strict regulations that the company applies scrupulously,” it added.

But as the Shuheibars’ lawyer Breham pointed out, decisions issued by the CIEEMG are protected by what is known as the “défense secret ” – meaning they are confidential – and, by law, the CIEEMG is not required to provide any explanation for its decisions.

Every year, the government must under French law release a report to the parliament detailing any such exports. The French authorities must also report annually to the secretary-general of the international Arms Trade Treaty.

But Breham dismissed these reports as “a load of hogwash … intended to play to the gallery”.

“The categories are extremely lax … for example, if you say you exported a specific kind of artillery shell, it is not the same thing if these shells end up in a CAESAR cannon, which is extremely precise, or if they end up in ordinary cannons,” he said. Moreover, since the parliamentary report does not specify the destination country for each piece of equipment, Brehem dismissed it as “absolutely useless”.

In the latest report submitted to the French parliament, one number does, however, stand out: €207.6 million in equipment sold to Israel over the past 10 years.

Breham dismissed the idea of declaring an arms embargo, advocated by LFI, arguing that it is the remit of the United Nations Security Council. But there is still room for the French authorities to take action, he argues.

“At the very least, I think it would be a good thing if France were to strongly declare that, number one, it is in favour of a total freeze on weapons exports to Israel and number two, that it is in favour of very tight restrictions on exports to Israel of double-use equipment, taking into consideration the fact that it is very easy to circumvent [these restrictions].”

As often, though, the devil is in the details. Military equipment export contracts take years to be put into place, he said. If in that time, concerns arise about international humanitarian law violations, then under article 7 of the Arms Trade Treaty, the exporting country must review its export authorisations.

“But that’s the theory,” he said.

Whether or not the Shuheibar family could ever win their case is uncertain. According to international law expert Pierre-Emmanuel Dupont, there is no such legal precedent in France.

In a phone interview on Wednesday, he evoked the case against Dassault, Thalès and MBDA – which is still pending.

He also cited the case against French cement company Lafarge, which is facing charges of complicity in crimes against humanity over alleged payoffs made to the Islamic State group and other jihadists to keep its factory running during the Syrian civil war.

Bringing the Lafarge case set a kind of precedent, Dupont said, although that case is also still awaiting a verdict.



Source link

#France #pressure #suspend #military #sales #Israel #war #Gaza #grinds

The ‘Philadelphi Corridor’: A goal for Netanyahu, a red line for Egypt

A narrow buffer zone between Egypt and the Gaza Strip, the “Philadelphia Corridor” has come under increasing scrutiny as Israel plans a full-scale military offensive on Rafah, Gaza’s crammed, southernmost city near the border. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has repeatedly declared his country’s intention to take control of the strategic sliver of land. That has Egypt worried amid fears of a breakdown of the decades-old Egypt-Israel peace accords.

Truce talks in Cairo this week have focused attention on the pressure Egypt is facing during the Israel-Hamas war and a little-known sliver of land rather inaccurately called “the Philadelphi Corridor”, sometimes translated as the Philadelphia Corridor.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has repeatedly declared his country’s intention to control this narrow buffer zone along the Egypt-Gaza border since the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) launched its war against Hamas following the October 7 attacks.

With Israel now threatening a full-scale ground offensive in Rafah – despite international warnings of a humanitarian catastrophe in a city crammed with around 1.5 million forcibly displaced Gazans – Egypt is warily eyeing its northeastern border with Israel.

A day before the CIA and Mossad chiefs held talks in Cairo this week with regional negotiators desperate for a ceasefire, Netanyahu was rattling Egyptian nerves again.  

In an interview with US TV channel ABC News, Netanyahu said Israel would provide “safe passage for the civilian population to leave” Rafah, which he described as Hamas’s “last stronghold”.

The Israeli prime minister did not say exactly where the desperate, already displaced Gazans could take refuge. Netanyahu did however mention areas north of Rafah that could be used as safe zones for civilians.

The UN though is not convinced of Israel’s plans for Gaza’s civilians. A spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters on Tuesday that the UN “will not be party to the forced displacement of people” since “there is no place currently safe” in Gaza.

That increased the spotlight on the Philadelphi Corridor, a route that runs along Gaza’s southern frontier with Egypt, from the Mediterranean coast to the Kerem Shalom crossing, where the borders of Egypt, Israel and the Gaza Strip meet.

The Philadephi Corridor © Studio Graphique France Médias Monde

Fearing a massive influx of refugees and its possible consequences, Egypt has deployed around 40 tanks and armored personnel carriers in northeastern Sinai over the past few weeks. This deployment is part of a series of measures aimed at reinforcing security on the border with Gaza, two Egyptian security sources told Reuters.

Through the corridors of power

Named “Philadelphi” after a randomly chosen Israeli military code name for what is also called the “Saladin Axis”, the strategic corridor is a 14 kilometre-long and 100 metre-wide buffer zone. It was set up in accordance with the terms of the 1978 Camp David Accords between Egypt and Israel.

The aim of the Philadelphi Corridor is to prevent armed incursions, control the movement of Palestinians in both directions, and prevent smuggling and arms trafficking between the Egyptian Sinai and the Gaza Strip.

Marked by barbed wire fences and concrete blocks, the Philadelphi Corridor was under Israeli control until the IDF’s unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005.

The 2005 Philadelphi Accord between Egypt and Israel authorised Cairo to deploy a contingent of 750 Egyptian border guards along the Egyptian side of the buffer zone. These border guards were the first Egyptian soldiers to patrol the zone since the 1967 war, when the Gaza Strip was conquered by Israel along with the Sinai Peninsula, which was later returned to Egypt under the Camp David Accords.

The 2005 Egypt-Israel agreement very precisely defined the Egyptian military equipment deployment in this buffer zone: eight helicopters, 30 light armored vehicles and four coastal patrol ships.

Their mission was to guard the corridor on the Egyptian side – the only Gaza border outside the direct control of the Israeli army – to combat terrorism and prevent smuggling and infiltrations.

On the other side of the corridor, Palestinian Authority (PA) security forces took over from the Israelis. But just two years later, the PA lost control of the corridor when it was pushed out of Gaza following the 2007 conflict between its Fatah and rival Hamas fighters.

In response, Israel imposed a land, air and sea blockade, as well as an embargo on the Palestinian enclave now under Hamas control. These restrictions encouraged the development of a system of smuggling tunnels, passing under the no-man’s-land between Gaza and Egypt, enabling goods and people to cross the border, which was documented by Israel as early as 1983.

Since then, the Egyptian-controlled Rafah terminal, through which people, goods and humanitarian aid transit, has only been opened intermittently. Israel sees this zone as a vital supply area for Hamas.

 

A buffer zone where the borders of Israel, Egypt and the Gaza Strip meet.
A buffer zone where the borders of Israel, Egypt and the Gaza Strip meet. © Studio Graphique France Médias Monde

In December 2007, Israel’s then foreign minister Tzipi Livni criticised Egypt for doing a “poor” job of stopping arms smuggling through the Philadelphi Corridor.

As far back as 2008-2009 Gaza war, also known as Operation Cast Lead, Israeli military plans called for the occupation of the Philadelphi Corridor in order to destroy the underground smuggling tunnels. This would have de facto encircled the Gaza Strip.

Following the 2013 military coup which ousted Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, Cairo became hostile to Hamas, which it saw as a Palestinian extension of the Brotherhood.

The Egyptian army set about destroying hundreds of smuggling tunnels dug under the border with the Gaza Strip. This was in retaliation against Hamas, which Cairo accused of destabilising the Sinai while the Egyptian military waged a counterterrorism operation against a branch of the Islamic State (IS) group. To destroy this underground system, Egypt deliberately flooded the border area in 2015.

The land that ‘must be in our hands’

After the October 7 attacks on Israeli soil, which was unprecedented in scale and human toll, attention in Israel once again turned to the Philadelphi Corridor, which was perceived more than ever as a strategic area for Hamas.

As the year ended – and the Gaza war headed to its third month – Netanyahu unambiguously stated Israel’s strategic intentions at a news conference on December 30.  

“The Philadelphi Corridor – or to put it more correctly, the southern stoppage point [of Gaza] – must be in our hands. It must be shut. It is clear that any other arrangement would not ensure the demilitarisation that we seek,” he said.

Netanyahu has frequently repeated this threat, compelling Cairo to take the Israeli leader’s rhetoric very seriously.

The risk of desperate Gazans fleeing into Egypt due to the Israeli assault is of great concern to Egyptian authorities, according to Salah Gomaa, deputy editor of Egyptian state-owned radio station Al-Sharq Al Awsat.

Since the start of the latest Gaza war, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who acts as mediator between Hamas and the Israeli government, has opposed the idea of allowing Gazans fleeing the war and crowded together at the Egyptian border to enter his territory. In a November address, Sisi reiterated his country’s rejection of the forced displacement of Gazans to Egypt, calling it a “red line”.

“Any bombardment or attack at Rafah now will certainly lead the refugees to flee to Sinai,” said Gomaa. “If Egypt allows this to happen, it will mean that it accepts the liquidation of the Palestinian issue while hardline Israeli ministers openly advocate the resettlement of Gaza and the ‘transfer‘ of Gazans to neighbouring Egypt.”

A diplomatic crisis looms

In addition to a likely humanitarian catastrophe, Netanyahu also runs the risk of triggering an open diplomatic crisis with Egypt if he orders an Israeli takeover of the Philadelphi Corridor.

In mid-January, Israel informed Egypt of its intention to carry out a military operation along the Gaza side of the border, according to a Wall Street Journal report citing Israeli and Egyptian sources.

Days later, Diaa Rashwan, head of the Egypt’s official public relations office, the State Information Service (SIS), issued a stern warning that any “occupation” of the Philadelphi Corridor by Israeli forces would be a violation of the 1978 peace treaty between the two neighbouring nations.

“Many Israeli politicians have stated that the very purpose of taking control of the corridor is to enable the Palestinians, under the pressure of bombardment, to migrate towards Sinai, and this is the crux of the problem with the announcement of an imminent assault on Rafah,” explained Gomaa, “This is why the SIS chief issued a firm warning and this is why Egypt considers the reoccupation of this axis to be a red line.”

Egypt, an ally of the US, has used Washington to underscore the importance of its message, according to Gomaa. “Egypt has informed Israel through diplomatic channels and has informed Israel through the United States that this option will never be allowed by Egypt.”

This article has been translated from the original in French.

Source link

#Philadelphi #Corridor #goal #Netanyahu #red #line #Egypt

House speaker rejects Ukraine aid package as senators grind through votes

House Speaker Mike Johnson late Monday sharply criticised a $95.3 billion aid package for Ukraine, Israel and other countries, casting serious doubts about the future of the package just as Senate leaders were slowly muscling it ahead in hopes of sending a message that the US remains committed to its allies.

 

The Republican speaker said the package lacked border security provisions, calling it “silent on the most pressing issue facing our country.” It was the latest — and potentially most consequential — sign of opposition to the Ukraine aid from conservatives who have for months demanded that border security policy be included in the package, only to last week reject a bipartisan proposal intended to curb the number of illegal crossings at the US-Mexico border

“Now, in the absence of having received any single border policy change from the Senate, the House will have to continue to work its own will on these important matters,” Johnson said. “America deserves better than the Senate’s status quo.”

A determined group of Republican senators was also trying Monday with a marathon set of speeches to slow the Senate from passing the package. The mounting opposition was just the latest example of how the Republican Party’s stance on foreign affairs is being transformed under the influence of Donald Trump, the likely Republican presidential nominee.

Even if the package passes the Senate, as is expected, it faces an uncertain future in the House, where Republicans are more firmly aligned with Trump and deeply skeptical of continuing to aid Ukraine in its war against Russia.

As Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and 17 other GOP senators have provided the votes to ensure the foreign aid package stays on track to clearing the Senate, Johnson has shown no sign he will put the package up for a vote.

Support for sending military aid to Ukraine has waned among Republicans, but lawmakers have cast the aid as a direct investment in American interests to ensure global stability. The package would allot roughly $60 billion to Ukraine, and about a third of that would be spent replenishing the US military with the weapons and equipment that are sent to Kyiv.

“These are the enormously high stakes of the supplemental package: our security, our values, our democracy,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer as he opened the chamber. “It is a down payment for the survival of Western democracy and the survival of American values.”

Schumer worked closely with McConnell for months searching for a way to win favor in the House for tens of billions of dollars in aid for Ukraine. But after the carefully negotiated Senate compromise that included border policy collapsed last week, Republicans have been deeply divided on the legislation.

Sen. JD Vance, an Ohio Republican, argued that the US should step back from the conflict and help broker an end to the conflict with Russian President Vladimir Putin. He questioned the wisdom of continuing to fuel Ukraine’s defense when Putin appears committed to continuing the conflict for years.

“I think it deals with the reality that we’re living in, which is they’re a more powerful country, and it’s their region of the world,” he said.

Vance, along with Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and other opponents, spent several hours on the floor railing against the aid and complaining about Senate process. They dug in to delay a final vote.

“Wish us stamina. We fight for you. We stand with America,” Paul posted on social media as he and other senators prepared to occupy the floor as long as they could.

Paul defended his delays, saying “the American people need to know there was opposition to this.”

But bowing to Russia is a prospect some Republicans warned would be a dangerous move that puts Americans at risk. In an unusually raw back-and-forth, GOP senators who support the aid challenged some of the opponents directly on the floor.

North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis angrily rebutted some of their arguments, noting that the money would only help Ukraine for less than a year and that much of it would go to replenishing US military stocks.

“Why am I so focused on this vote?” Tillis said. “Because I don’t want to be on the pages of history that we will regret if we walk away. You will see the alliance that is supporting Ukraine crumble. You will ultimately see China become emboldened. And I am not going to be on that page of history.”

Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., became emotional as he talked about the drudgery of the Senate and spending time away from his family to get little done. “But every so often there are issues that come before us that seem to be the ones that explain why we are here,” he said, his voice cracking.

Moran conceded that the cost of the package was heavy for him, but pointed out that if Putin were to attack a NATO member in Europe, the US would be bound by treaty to become directly involved in the conflict.

Trump, speaking at a rally Saturday, said that he had once told a NATO ally he would encourage Russia “to do whatever the hell they want” to members that are “delinquent” in their financial and military commitments to the alliance. The former president has led his party away from the foreign policy doctrines of aggressive American involvement overseas and toward an “America First” isolationism.

Evoking the slogan, Moran said, “I believe in America first, but unfortunately America first means we have to engage in the world.”

Senate supporters of the package have been heartened by the fact that many House Republicans still adamantly want to fund Ukraine’s defense.

Rep. Abigail Spanberger, a Virginia Democrat, traveled to Kyiv last week with a bipartisan group that included Reps. Mike Turner, an Ohio Republican who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, as well as French Hill, R-Ark., Jason Crow, D-Colo. and Zach Nunn, R-Iowa.

Spanberger said the trip underscored to her how Ukraine is still in a fight for its very existence. As the group traveled through Kyiv in armored vehicles, they witnessed signs of an active war, from sandbagged shelters to burned-out cars and memorials to those killed. During a meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the US lawmakers tried to offer assurances the American people still stood with his country.

“He was clear that our continued support is critical to their ability to win the war,” Spanberger said. “It’s critical to their own freedom. And importantly, it’s critical to US national security interests.”

The bipartisan group discussed how rarely used procedures could be used to advance the legislation through the House, even without the speaker’s support. But Spanberger called it a “tragedy” that the legislation could still stall despite a majority of lawmakers standing ready to support it.

“The fact that the only thing standing in the way is one person who does or doesn’t choose to bring it to the floor,” she said. “The procedure standing in the way of defeating Russia — that’s the part that for me is just untenable.”

(AP)

Source link

#House #speaker #rejects #Ukraine #aid #package #senators #grind #votes

The ‘generals’ elections’ that turned against Pakistan’s military

Pakistan’s 2024 general elections were dubbed the “most rigged” in the country’s history, with the popular Imran Khan barred from running and the military seen as backing former prime minister Nawaz Sharif. That was before results showed Khan-backed independent candidates leading the race. The stage appears to be set for a turbulent period after an irate electorate reacted to the military’s perceived meddling in politics – again.

Voters in the 2024 Pakistani general elections manoeuvred sheaves of ballot papers offering a profusion of symbols including tables, chairs, apples, airplanes, calculators and kitchen appliances. But there was no cricket bat on the ballot. 

With former cricket star and prime minister Imran Khan behind bars, his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party was banned from using its signature icon in a country where symbols are important tools for the electorate because of high illiteracy rates. This forced PTI-backed candidates to run as independents, each using different symbols that stretched ballot papers and the national imagination.

The country’s real power-wielder, however, was not on the ballot paper, and Pakistanis were never given a symbol or say on the issue.

The 2024 general election was dubbed the most rigged in Pakistan’s history, with wags on social media calling it the “generals’ election”, referring to the all-powerful military in the nuclear-armed South Asian nation.

The consensus ahead of the vote was that regardless of who forms a government, the army would continue to rule the roost. The newly elected civilian administration would simply have to follow the rules of the Pakistani power game to survive.

In the course of its 76-year history, Pakistan has developed a system that some scholars call a “hybrid regime” featuring a mix of civilian politics and military interference in electoral democracy. The tacit agreement sees the generals controlling defence and foreign policies, leaving domestic socioeconomic issues to the politicians.

But the hybrid model has been changing in recent years, putting Pakistan in dangerous terrain. And the man widely believed to be calling the shots in the military has done little to inspire national confidence.

Prospect of a ‘chatterbox’ parliament

With Khan losing military support, and his party stymied at the poll, the military’s chosen candidate, veteran politician Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) party was expected to snag an outright win.

An outright Sharif win would see the dynastic Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) – led by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, son of assassinated premier Benazir Bhutto – going into opposition. It would see the two establishment parties once again dominating Pakistani politics.

But after a surprisingly strong showing by PTI-backed independent candidates, who led the national election results, Sharif changed tack on Friday, declaring he would form a coalition government.

“We don’t have enough of a majority to form a government without the support of others and we invite allies to join the coalition so we can make joint efforts to pull Pakistan out of its problems,” he said.

Nawaz Sharif, center, addresses supporters in Lahore, Pakistan, February 9, 2024. © K.M. Chaudary, AP

Under Pakistan’s electoral rules, victorious independent candidates can join any party in the 336-seat National Assembly. With the imprisoned Khan facing nearly 200 legal charges ranging from corruption to leaking state secrets, experts predict the popular former cricketer-politician is likely to remain behind bars for several years.

The results of Thursday’s vote point to fractious political period ahead, warns Ayesha Siddiqa, senior fellow at King’s College, London, and author of “Military Inc.: Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy”. “If there are many independents in parliament, it will make the house a chatterbox,” she noted. “It will be an unruly, funny kind of parliament with everyone going for each other’s jugulars.”

Khan’s fall from military grace

Overseeing the political turbulence is the man at the helm of the military, Pakistani army chief General Asim Munir. This comes as the country faces major economic and security crises.

Khan may be behind bars, but he remains a political force. The former cricketer-politician maintains that the myriad legal charges against him are politically motivated. Most Pakistanis, including Khan’s opponents, do not disagree. A weak judiciary means Pakistan is ranked 130th out of 142 countries on the World Justice Project’s Rule of Law index.

A poster of Imran Khan on display at his party office in Islamabad, February 9, 2024.
A poster of Imran Khan on display at his party office in Islamabad, February 9, 2024. © Anjum Naveed, AP

Since General Munir was appointed army chief in November 2022, Khan’s legal woes have multiplied. At times, they have taken an absurdly personal turn.

Relations between the two men have been acrimonious since Khan was elected prime minister in 2018 and replaced Munir as chief of Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) spy agency with a loyalist, according to Pakistani media reports.

Read morePakistan army chief’s deepening rift with Imran Khan

On February 3, just days before the election, a Pakistani court sentenced Khan and his wife Bushra Bibi to seven years in jail in a case related to their marriage, which it declared “un-Islamic”.

The verdict was widely criticised by legal experts as a “disgrace” and a “damning blot” on Pakistan’s judiciary.

Sharif rises again

When he stood for elections in 2018, Khan was widely seen as the military’s candidate, “handpicked, groomed and installed” by the generals. But that was until Khan fell out with the army in a fate shared by Sharif, the politician widely tipped to be Pakistan’s new prime minister.

Khan and Sharif’s reversal of fortunes reflects the dramatic shift in Pakistani politics, which has been likened to a “Game of Thrones”. In 2017, Sharif was ousted as prime minister when he attempted to institute civilian oversight of the military. After he was hit with a slew of corruption charges, Sharif went into self-imposed exile abroad to avoid serving sentences. Khan at that time was viewed as the army’s favourite son.

But as the country spiralled into political turmoil last year, with Khan’s supporters storming army residences and bases in unprecedented displays of disaffection with the military, Sharif was back in the generals’ favour.

After four years of exile, Sharif returned to Pakistan last October.  Within weeks of his return, his convictions were overturned, leaving him free to seek a fourth term in office.

A businessman and former chief minister of Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous and prosperous province, Sharif has a record of pursuing economic growth and development. During his previous stints as prime minister, the billionaire politician sought closer trade ties with India, Pakistan’s giant neighbour and arch-foe.

Sharif’s return to Pakistan was widely viewed as a sign that the military was seeking a safe pair of hands to handle the country’s crippling economic crisis. But over the past few months, the military has been increasingly encroaching on the economic turf.

Army takes top seat on economic council

More than seven decades after independence, Pakistan is facing its worst economic crisis. Inflation has hovered around 30 percent, sending the currency, the rupee, into freefall. Last year, the impoverished South Asian nation narrowly escaped a sovereign debt default when the IMF approved a $3 billion bailout package.

While it was provided a band-aid from the brink, Pakistan still has to tackle major structural problems since it is seeking a new IMF bailout programme after the current arrangement expires in three weeks.

As the crisis deepened last year, Pakistan established an apex economic body, the Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC), to coordinate economic and fiscal policies. 

The formation of the SIFC was touted as a key move to raise international investor confidence and uphold democratic governance. But then the army secured a top seat at the economic policy table, raising eyebrows in fiscal circles with the announcement that the co-chair of the new SIFC was none other than army Chief General Munir.

When ‘dangerous duffers’ call the shots

The 2024 vote saw the army playing an exceptionally heavy card, even by Pakistani standards. The tactic appeared to have failed, with voters overcoming the odds to elect PTI-backed candidates. But this could spell a period of further turbulence, analysts warn.

“Assuming most of the independent candidates are PTI, if [Sharif’s] PML-N has to form a government, it will have to form a coalition,” said Siddiqa. “The weaker the coalition, the stronger [the] military.”

The military’s meddling in politics has long earned the wrath of Pakistani democratic rights defenders. Nearly 15 years ago, one of the country’s leading human rights lawyers, the late Asma Jehangir, created a stir when she called the country’s military leaders “duffers” on a live TV show.

Jehangir subsequently modified her monicker to “dangerous duffers”, noting that the term implied the military top brass was “not only incompetent, but incapable of learning”. 

The latest election has shown that Jehangir’s verdict still holds, according to Siddiqa.    

“They haven’t changed that much, they’re still dangerous duffers because they think they have a role in governance,” she said. “But the military is a strong pole, and so are the political parties. With this election, the political parties are back in play. It now depends on how they conduct themselves.”

In the past, Pakistan’s political parties have formed common cause with the army in a bid to unseat rivals. The lack of civilian unity to relegate the military to the barracks has enabled the generals to periodically meddle with the ballots. Following Thursday’s vote, social media sites were awash with messages by Pakistanis calling for dialogue and national unity. If their calls are ignored, it will not be for the first time in Pakistan’s troubled history.

Source link

#generals #elections #turned #Pakistans #military

Ukraine lets slip the cats of war

Wars are fought by soldiers using bullets, shells and missiles, but also with ideas and propaganda — which explains why cats have become the latest battlefront in Ukraine.

Ukraine’s social media are full of felines, showing how they help soldiers as emotional support animals, attract donations to the military with their fluffy cuteness, and also fight invaders — in this case mice.

Russia is fighting back by humanizing its invading soldiers — often used in “meat wave” attacks against Ukrainian positions and accused of atrocities against civilians — by showing them with their own cats.

Cats usually arrive at Ukrainian army positions from nearby villages or towns destroyed by war. Abandoned by their owners, the pets seek human protection from the constant shelling, drone strikes and minefields.

“When this scared little creature comes to you, seeking protection, how could you say no? We are strong, so we protect weaker beings, who got into the same awful circumstances as we did, just because Russians showed up on our land,” explained Oleksandr Yabchanka, a Ukrainian army combat medic.

Cats and other animals bring comfort to Ukrainian soldiers. “Some adopt them and take them home, others prefer to keep them in the trenches and even pass them on to other units during rotation,” said Oleksandr Shtupun, a Ukrainian army spokesperson.  

The adopted felines also fight their own battles against the mice that infest the trenches and chew Starlink satellite comms cables and car wiring, destroy food supplies and military gear, and even nip the fingers of sleeping soldiers.

“If cats live in our trenches, mice will almost always stay away,” Yabchanka said.

Syrsky the cat

Ukrainian Army Land Forces Commander Oleksandr Syrsky is known as one of the country’s most effective combat leaders; he is less famous for having a feline namesake with a lethal reputation. Roman Sinicyn, a Ukrainian army officer and the human of Syrsky the Cat, claims the naming was coincidental.

“He got the name because he likes cheese [syr in Ukrainian]. Of course, a cat with the same name as our general has already become a military joke,” Sinicyn said.

Even General Syrsky found it funny … to Sinicyn’s infinite relief. The officer met Syrsky the cat on a combat mission in a frontline village where, for a month, soldiers had been living in an abandoned house infested with mice.

“Most of the locals evacuated, so the cats took over. We caught Syrsky and food-persuaded him to stay with us. He helped to solve our mouse problem,” Sinicyn said.

Roman Sinicyn, a Ukrainian army officer and the human of Syrsky the Cat | Roman Sinicyn

“The mice run over you while you sleep, they get into your stuff. They chew everything. We had to throw out two boxes of our packed rations because of mice,” Sinicyn explained.

Once Syrsky was installed, the soldiers would listen to his nightly patrols against rodents. 

“I took him home when we left that position. Now he lives with my family in Kyiv, but he continues to help the army. We used his social media popularity to collect €147,000 for Mini Shark UAV complexes for adjusting artillery,” Sinicyn said.

Shaybyk the lover

Oleksandr Liashuk, from the Odesa region in southwest Ukraine, gave a purr-out to Shaybyk — one of four stray kittens living with his unit on the southern front in 2022.

“Shaybyk had the biggest charisma. It was getting cold, so I took him with me one night into my sleeping bag. And that’s when I fell in love with that cat,” said Liashuk, 26. “He’s not just my best friend, he’s my son.”

Since then, Shaybyk has moved to different positions with Liashuk, with the pair becoming a viral sensation for their joint patrol videos.

Shaybyk has moved to different positions with Liashuk, with the pair becoming a viral sensation for their joint patrol videos | Oleksandr Liashuk

Liashuk describes his cat as the perfect hunter. “Once we were at the position in the forest and he caught 11 mice in one day. Sometimes [he] brings mice to my sleeping bag,” he boasted.

Despite their bond, Shaybyk remains a free cat, but he has always returned to Liashuk. In June he disappeared for 18 long days until he was found by Ukrainian soldiers at a position several kilometers away, chilling with the local felines. “He just needed some love. I call it a vacation,” Liashuk said.

Shaybyk and Liashuk also collect donations for the Ukrainian army, with Shaybyk receiving a special award in September for helping to raise money to buy seven cars and other supplies.

Karolina the mother

Yabchanka says he was never a cat person.

That changed two years ago, the day he met Karolina — a sassy stray who showed up at his unit’s position in the village of Serebrianka, Donetsk region.

“One day Karolina jumped on our sleeping spot, even though she was not allowed to. We started swearing. In response, she started giving birth. That is how we got ourselves a family of six cats,” Yabchanka said.

During a rotation, Karolina and her kittens moved with Yabchanka’s unit until they grew old enough to be adopted | Oleksandr Yabchanka

During a rotation, Karolina and her kittens moved with Yabchanka’s unit until they grew old enough to be adopted.

“We quickly found them their homes. But Karolina and her white kitten Honor stayed with me. I took them to Lviv, my home town. My mother was so happy she got two frontline cats,” Yabchanka laughed.  

A year later a small dog, Shabrys, whom Yabchanka picked up near Kupiansk in Kharkiv region, joined the Lviv cat gang.

“Now we’re never bored at home,” he said, showing dog-cat fight videos. “You can’t abandon poor creatures who chose you as their last hope.”

Herych the high-bred

Unlike frontline strays, Herald, known as Herych, is a cat aristocrat. As soon as Russia invaded, Herych, a Scottish Fold, joined his human, Kyrylo Liukov, a military coordinator for the Serhiy Prytula Volunteer Foundation, which delivers supplies to frontline units.

Herych, who lives with Liukov in Kramatorsk, a city in Donetsk region, traveled to the front more than 20 times.

Unlike other frontline animals, Herych remains calm during Russian shelling | Kyrylo Liukov

“Every time he was the star of a show, with so many fighters running to us to pet him and take a picture with him,” Liukov said. “Herych was patient — though a little shocked.”

Unlike other frontline animals, Herych remains calm during Russian shelling. “At most he just turns his head to the sound and that’s all,” Liukov said.

Like Syrsky, Herych uses his online popularity to help Ukraine’s army, fronting a campaign that raised several million hryvnias (a million hryvnia is about €25,000) to purchase cars for the military.

The enemy’s cats

Russian propaganda has jumped on the story of Ukraine’s “mobilizing cats” as a sign of its desperation.

Meanwhile, regional outlets have published scores of similar stories about cats on the Russian side of the frontline, presumably in order to humanize the military in the wake of ongoing independent reports about Russian war crimes in Bucha and other places in Ukraine.

Late last year, the regional department of the Emergency Situations Ministry in western Russia’s Oryol, about 300 km from the Ukraine border, reported sending a cat named Marusya to the front to help fight mice.

“She will help boost soldiers’ morale and protect their sleep, defend food supplies,” the ministry said in a statement. “We’re sure that Marusya will do well and will soon return home!”

The Russian stories, however, tend to feature cats taken in by Russian soldiers after they were allegedly abandoned by their Ukrainian owners. 

“It’s hard to imagine life without him,” the local VN.ru outlet based in Siberia’s Novosibirsk wrote of a black cat nicknamed Copter. “Together with the soldiers he discusses tactical plans, samples dishes and stands guard.” 

Moscow tabloid Moskovsky Komsomolets ran a story about a cat named Bullet who protected the commander of a motorized rifle unit by climbing onto his head to warn him of mines and enemy fire.  

Another outlet in Samara published a video of a soldier stroking a cat described as the unit’s “therapist.”

“Their purring has a soothing effect and makes you feel at home,” the soldier said. 

It wouldn’t be the first time Russia has weaponized cats for propaganda. 

Following the 2014 annexation of Crimea and the construction of a bridge across the Kerch Strait separating the peninsula from the Russian mainland, a ginger-and-white cat called Mostik — Russian for “Little Bridge” — won nationwide fame as the bridge’s mascot.

He was even given an Instagram account, lending a cuddly veneer to what the West had condemned as a flagrant violation of international law.  

CORRECTION: This article has been updated to correct the name of Shabyk’s human; it is Oleksandr Liashuk.



Source link

#Ukraine #lets #slip #cats #war

Sweden’s call for population to prepare for war sparks panic and criticism

It’s been described as a bombshell moment. The upper echelons of Sweden’s government and defence forces last week shocked the nation by explicitly warning that war might come to Sweden, and that each and every Swede should prepare themselves. While some have taken the warning seriously and flocked to the stores to stock up on fuel and survival kits, others have accused the country’s leaders of fear-mongering.

Gustav Wallbom, a 37-year-old entrepreneur and farmer who was conscripted into Sweden’s compulsory military service before it was put on hold between 2010 and 2017, was not the least bit surprised by the call for Swedes to ready themselves for war.

“The fact that Russia, which is very near Sweden, is unreliable is not something new, and all the cases of espionage lately and Russia’s attempts to influence [public opinion] just add to that,” he said.

Heeding the call from officials, Wallbom, like many other Swedes, immediately headed to the hardware store to stock up on equipment for his and his family’s “crisis kit”.

“I bought fuel, lamp oil, matches and water tanks,” said Wallbom, who is a military reservist and who, as late as last week, received a letter announcing his new posting in the case of war.

Gustav Wallbom, a Swedish military reservist, was not the least surprised by the officials’ warnings of the dangers of Russia. © Gustav Wallbom, private

“I’m more surprised that some feel that the dangers have been exaggerated,” he said. “To me, that’s like burying your head in the sand.”

Wallbom was referring to what had happened at an annual security conference in Sälen in western Sweden a week ago.

Carl-Oscar Bohlin, the minister for civil defence, had told a stunned audience that “war could come to Sweden”, and that the tiny Nordic nation of 10.4 million needs to gear up. Fast.

Further fuel was added to the fire when Sweden’s commander-in-chief, Micael Bydén, then warned the same gathering that “Russia’s war against Ukraine is just a step, not an end game”. In a follow-up interview with national broadcaster TV4, he said that that all Swedes needed to prepare for war.

“We need to realise how serious the situation really is, and that everyone, individually, need to prepare themselves mentally,” he said.

Where are the bomb shelters?

Although this was not the first time the country’s officials had warned against the dangers of their increasingly aggressive neighbour Russia, it was the first time they explicitly said Sweden could potentially become its target – and a warzone.

Elin Bohman, a spokeswoman at the Swedish civil contingencies agency (MSB), which specialises in crisis management, said the comments had prompted a 3,500 percent increase in visits to the agency’s web-based map of bomb shelters, and a 900 percent increase in downloads of its information booklet “If crisis or war comes”.

“We haven’t experienced such demand since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine,” she said.

Sweden's information booklet 'If crisis or war comes' is distributed to all Swedish households and can also be downloaded.
The information booklet ‘If crisis or war comes’ was issued for the first time during World War II. After Russia’s annexation of Crimea it was revived again. © Thomas Henrikson, Handout MSB

The booklet was first issued during World War II and was distributed to all Swedish households in waves throughout the Cold War until 1961. In 2018, it was revised and re-issued again on the back of Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.

“[The illegal annexation] was an awakening for the Swedish preparedness system,” Bohman explained. “All of a sudden the global situation changed, meaning we went from focusing only on peacetime crises to also include total defence planning in a bid to strengthen our total defence system. And a part of that was to ensure that we have a well-informed and prepared population.”

In 2022, when Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the booklet was sent out again. It contains information on how to prepare for and act in a crisis situation, ranging from everything from power cuts and forest fires to cyber attacks and war.  

At the same time, MSB also encouraged Swedes to prepare “crisis kits” at home, containing necessities like a radio, food, water, a sleeping bag and a camping stove.

The Swedish 'If crisis or war comes' booklet contains information on how to best prepare for a crisis or a war situation.
The booklet contains information on how to prepare for a crisis, including war. © Thomas Henrikson, Handout MSB

Some companies have since capitalised on this new “crisis kit” market, offering ready-made food kits that can last up to 25 years.

Multiple arrests, cyber-attacks and GPS-jamming

Since 2022, and in particular after Sweden defied Russian threats and launched a bid to join the NATO military alliance, the situation in the country has grown more and more tense. Prior to its NATO application, Sweden had not been aligned militarily for 200 years. Neither Turkey nor Hungary have green-lit the application yet, but the Turkish decision is now only a parliament vote away.

In the past year alone, Swedish police have arrested several people suspected of spying or carrying out information-gathering for Russia. Swedish authorities have also seen a surge in cyber-attacks, and in December, a large area over the Baltic Sea was subject to a number of GPS-jamming incidents, causing several airplanes to lose their satellite-derived navigation signals. In the same period, Russia carried out a military exercise in the area with the aim of “undermining enemy navigation and radio communications”.

Some threats have intensified, [as has] the pure military threat, the threat of an armed attack, and the fact that we might be drawn into an escalation of the war in Ukraine. We’re seeing that very clearly when we study Russia,” Thomas Nilsson, the head of Sweden’s military intelligence and security service MUST told Swedish Radio in an interview on the sidelines of the security conference.

The TikTok backlash

But although last week’s comments may have been intended to place the Swedes on guard more than anything else, they also generated many negative reactions. Especially after making it onto the social media platform TikTok, whose main audience largely consists of children and teenagers.

“My children saw the TikTok and asked us about it,” said one Swedish mother of two who did not want to be named. “It’s hard for kids to focus and watch full clips, so what they basically see is just the headline: “War could come to Sweden”.

The child of one of her colleagues had seen the clip and come home in tears, she said. 

Swedish child protection group BRIS said its hotline had been saturated with calls from worried children after the blunt comments on war had spread online, prompting its secretary general Magnus Jagerskog to plead with media to take more care in how they relay news to children.

“For many children who are easily anxious or who are already worried about war, it became [even more] difficult when they were faced with social media posts and adults talking on the news about war,” he wrote in a statement. 

But the comments have also resulted in a political backlash. While the right-wing government has been accused of trying to win over supporters from the far right, the army has been accused of fear-mongering in a bid to up the annual defence spending budget.  

“Playing with the threat of war as part of the political opinion campaign is immoral but who is surprised?” Carl Tham, a former minister and a member of the Social Democrat opposition, wrote in an opinion piece in daily tabloid Aftonbladet.

Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson, whose right-wing party is in a government coalition with the far-right Sweden Democrat party, has defended the hardened war rhetoric.

“A government should of course speak clearly, anything else would be irresponsible,” he told Radio Sweden in an interview on Thursday, but noted that “there is nothing that suggests that war is at the door”.  

Source link

#Swedens #call #population #prepare #war #sparks #panic #criticism

9 killed as Pakistan launches retaliatory airstrikes in Iran

 Pakistan on Thursday used killer drones and rockets to carry out “precision military strikes” against what it called “terrorist hideouts” in Iran’s Siestan-Balochistan province, killing 9 people, a day after Islamabad recalled its ambassador from Tehran in the wake of Iranian missile and drone strikes in Balochistan.

“This morning Pakistan undertook a series of highly coordinated and specifically targeted precision military strikes against terrorist hideouts in Siestan-o-Baluchistan province of Iran,” the Foreign Office said in a statement on Thursday morning.

ALSO READ | Why did Iran carry out strikes in three countries?

It said a number of terrorists were killed during the intelligence-based operation — codenamed Marg Bar Sarmachar (Death to Sarmachar). In Persian, marg bar means “death to” while Sarmachar means guerrilla in the Baloch language.

The precision strikes were carried out using killer drones, rockets, loitering munitions and stand-off weapons, according to a statement issued by the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the Pakistan military’s media wing.

It said that “hideouts used by terrorist organisations namely Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) and Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF) were successfully struck.” The two groups have carried out several deadly attacks in Pakistan in the past.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kan’ani condemned the attack and said that the Pakistani chargé d’affaires was summoned by the Ministry to convey Tehran’s protest to Islamabad and provide an explanation about the attack, Iran’s state-run Press TV reported.

Quoting Deputy Governor of the Province Alireza Marhamati, official news agency IRNA said that nine non-Iranian nationals — two men, three women and four children — were killed in the attack, which is being investigated by the Iranian security officials.

There was also an explosion near Saravan city, 347 km southeast of the provincial capital Zahedan, where there were no casualties, he added.

Iranian Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi confirmed the figures later in the day.

The strikes came two days after Iran launched unprecedented missile and drone attacks on what it said were directed at the bases of the Sunni Baloch militant group ‘Jaish al-Adl’ in the restive Balochistan province, prompting Pakistan to recall its ambassador to Iran and suspended all planned high-level bilateral visits.

Foreign Office spokesperson Mumtaz Baloch on Wednesday said the Iranian envoy to Pakistan who is currently visiting Iran may not return to Islamabad for the time being.

Rising tensions

The tit-for-tat attacks within two days have raised tensions in the volatile region, already roiled by Israel’s war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip and the targeting of the merchant ships in the Red Sea by Yemen’s Houthis.

In its statement on Thursday, the Foreign Office said Islamabad has consistently shared its serious concerns with Tehran about the safe havens and sanctuaries enjoyed by Pakistani origin terrorists calling themselves Sarmachars inside Iran.


Also read | Pakistan-Iran attacks LIVE Updates

“However, because of lack of action on our serious concerns, these so-called Sarmachars continued to spill the blood of innocent Pakistanis with impunity. This morning’s action was taken in light of credible intelligence of impending large-scale terrorist activities by these so-called Sarmachars,” it added.

“This action is a manifestation of Pakistan’s unflinching resolve to protect and defend its national security against all threats,” it said, adding that Pakistan will continue to take all necessary steps to preserve the safety and security of its people which is “sacrosanct, inviolable and sacred.” The Pakistan Stock Exchange (PSX) lost more than 1,000 points after Thursday’s strikes, boiling up tension between the two neighbours.

ALSO READ | Regional turmoil: On the West Asia situation

According to the PSX website, the KSE-100 index lost around 1038 points at 10:08 am. At 10:31am, the index lost 770.12 points cumulatively to reach 62,797.21, down 1.21 per cent from the previous close of 63,567.33.

Pakistani President Arif Alvi said that the two neighbours were brotherly countries and should resolve issues through dialogue and mutual consultation.

He, however, said Pakistan would not compromise on its national security and territorial integrity and would take “all necessary measures to defend its soil”.

Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaarul-Haq-Kakar, who is in Davos to attend the World Economic Forum, cut his trip short to return home. Foreign Minister Jalil Abbas Jilani is also returning back from a trip to Uganda.

On Wednesday, Mr. Jilani had told his Iranian counterpart Hossein Amir Abdollahian in a telephonic conversation that the attack by Iran seriously damaged the ties between the two nations and Pakistan reserved the right to respond to this “provocative act”.

‘Precision airstrikes’

Sources in Pakistan said that shortly before 6 a.m. (local time), the Joint Staff Headquarters of the Pakistan Armed Forces ordered lethal counterinsurgency-specific precision airstrikes inside Iran, pre-authorised by the Government of Pakistan, to preemptively target and eliminate imminent terrorist threats to Pakistan.

“These strikes were conducted successfully using Pakistan Air Force fighter jets using stand-off extended range munitions, while they remained inside Pakistani airspace,” a source said.

The target locations, seven in total, were tagged for a strike after the presence of multiple high-value terrorist targets was confirmed following extensive aerial reconnaissance via unmanned aircraft.

The Pakistan Air Force’s aircraft today after the break of dawn, engaged seven targets inside Iran with precision-guided air-to-ground munitions, where the Balochistan-centric terrorist organisation Balochistan Liberation Force was based. These targets were over 80 kilometres inside Iranian territory, sources said.

No Iranian civilians or military personnel were targeted, they added.

Source link

#killed #Pakistan #launches #retaliatory #airstrikes #Iran