China and Russia reaffirm their close ties as Moscow presses its offensive in Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping on May 16 reaffirmed their “no-limits” partnership that has deepened as both countries face rising tensions with the West, and they criticized U.S. military alliances in Asia and the Pacific region.

At their summit in Beijing, Mr. Putin thanked Mr. Xi for China’s proposals for ending the war in Ukraine, which have been rejected by Ukraine and its Western supporters as largely following the Kremlin’s line.

Mr. Putin’s two-day state visit to one of his strongest allies and trading partners comes as Russian forces are pressing an offensive in northeastern Ukraine’s Kharkiv region in the most significant border incursion since the full-scale invasion began on February 24, 2022.

China claims to take a neutral position in the conflict, but it has backed the Kremlin’s contentions that Russia was provoked into attacking Ukraine by the West, and it continues to supply key components needed by Moscow for weapons production.

China, which hasn’t criticised the invasion, proposed a broadly worded peace plan in 2023, calling for a cease-fire and for direct talks between Moscow and Kyiv. The plan was rejected by both Ukraine and the West for failing to call for Russia to leave occupied parts of Ukraine.

China also gave a rhetorical nod to Russia’s narrative about Nazism in Ukraine, with a joint statement Thursday that said Moscow and Beijing should defend the post-World War II order and “severely condemn the glorification of or even attempts to revive Nazism and militarism”. Mr. Putin has cited the “denazification” of Ukraine as a main goal of the military action, falsely describing the government of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who is Jewish and lost relatives in the Holocaust, as neo-Nazis.

The largely symbolic and ceremonial visit stressed partnership between two countries who both face challenges in their relationship with the U.S. and Europe.

“Both sides want to show that despite what is happening globally, despite the pressure that both sides are facing from the U.S., both sides are not about to turn their backs on each other anytime soon,” said Hoo Tiang Boon, who researches Chinese foreign policy at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University.

While Mr. Putin and Mr. Xi said they were seeking an end to the war, they offered no new proposals in their public remarks.

“China hopes for the early return of Europe to peace and stability and will continue to play a constructive role toward this,” Mr. Xi said in prepared remarks to media in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People. His words echoed what China said when it offered a broad plan for peace.

Earlier, Mr. Putin was welcomed in Tiananmen Square with military pomp. After a day in Beijing, the Russian leader arrived in Harbin, where he was expected to attend a number of events on May 17.

On the eve of his visit, Mr. Putin said China’s proposal could “lay the groundwork for a political and diplomatic process that would take into account Russia’s security concerns and contribute to achieving a long-term and sustainable peace”. Mr. Zelenskyy has said any negotiations must include a restoration of Ukraine’s territorial integrity, the withdrawal of Russian troops, the release of all prisoners, a tribunal for those responsible for the aggression and security guarantees for Ukraine.

After Russia’s latest offensive in Ukraine last week, the war is in a critical stage as Ukraine’s depleted military waits for new supplies of anti-aircraft missiles and artillery shells from the United States after months of delay.

The joint statement from China and Russia also criticised U.S. foreign policy at length, hitting out at U.S.-formed alliances, which the statement called having a “Cold War mentality.” China and Russia also accused the U.S. of deploying land-based intermediate range missile systems in the Asia-Pacific under the pretext of joint exercises with allies. They said that the U.S. actions in Asia were “changing the balance of power” and “endangering the security of all countries in the region.” The joint statement demonstrated China’s support to Russia.

China is “falling over themselves to give Russia face and respect without saying anything specific, and without committing themselves to anything”, said Susan Thornton, a former diplomat and a senior fellow at the Paul Tsai China Center at Yale Law School.

The meeting was yet another affirmation of the friendly “no-limits” relationship China and Russia signed in 2022, just before Moscow invaded Ukraine.

Since then, Russia has become increasingly dependent economically on China as Western sanctions cut its access to much of the international trading system. China’s increased trade with Russia, totalling $240 billion last year, has helped the country mitigate some of the worst blowback from sanctions.

Moscow has diverted the bulk of its energy exports to China and relied on Chinese companies for importing high-tech components for Russian military industries to circumvent Western sanctions.

“I and President Putin agree we should actively look for convergence points of the interests of both countries, to develop each’s advantages, and deepen integration of interests, realizing each others’ achievements,” Mr. Xi said.

U.S. State Department deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel said that China can’t “have its cake and eat it too”.

“You cannot want to have deepened relations with Europe … while simultaneously continuing to fuel the biggest threat to European security in a long time,” Mr. Patel said.

Mr. Xi congratulated Mr. Putin on starting his fifth term in office and celebrated the 75th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the former Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China, which was established following a civil war in 1949. Mr. Putin has eliminated all major political opponents and faced no real challenge in the March election.

“In a famous song of that time, 75 years ago — it is still performed today — there is a phrase that has become a catchphrase: Russians and Chinese are brothers forever,’” Mr. Putin said.

Russia-China military ties have strengthened during the war. They have held a series of joint war games in recent years.

China remains a major market for Russian military, while also massively expanding its domestic defensive industries, including building aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines.

Mr. Putin has previously said that Russia has been sharing highly sensitive military technologies with China that helped significantly bolster its defence capability.

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A perfume shop owner and military supplier on the war in Ukraine

Dima runs a perfume shop in Odesa that has now doubled up as a place where volunteers can restock supplies. He told Euronews about how it is to be in close contact with those fighting on the frontline whilst trying to keep hope.

A hidden gem in Odesa

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Walking down the gorgeous pastel lined shops of Odesa, you could be forgiven for almost forgetting you’re in a war zone. Restaurants and bars throng with those defiant enough to try to forget the war. No one is wearing ballistic vests. But then you turn a corner and suddenly there it is again. Piles of sandbags stacked next to the Opera House. Or anti-tank traps lurking menacingly in the background.

Many of the city’s residents declare that Odesa is the pearl of Ukraine and that Russia wants to have it. It is a gorgeous city. A bit like Paris, but on the sea. And like Paris, Odesa also has lovely little boutiques lining the streets. But one is no ordinary boutique.

Dima has been a collector of perfumes for around 30 years. In the downstairs basement of a shop, more soldiers than customers come and go. This shop is special, because not only can you buy a limited-edition Chanel perfume from the 60s, but military volunteers can also go there to replenish supplies and pick up aid for the eastern border.

It’s a curious sight in this shop. Soldiers being fitted out for ballistic vests and helmets, in between 20-something girls perusing the shelves, spritzing samples on their wrists, both searching for something to calm them during these terrible times.

But Dima doesn’t just sell perfumes and supply volunteers with military equipment, he also builds sculptures out of smashed perfume bottles and the remnants of bombs and shrapnel that kill his people. Back in 2022, he acquired part of a bomb that killed several civilians in Mykolaiv over Easter and will use this for a sculpture. One of his perfumes is sitting in none other than former UK Prime Minister Boris Johnsons’ home in London.

“There were actual fragments from the rocket, small pieces. And I incorporated them into the composition, which, as it turned out, reached Boris Johnson. So, my perfume is there at Boris Johnson’s house, it’s cool,” Dima says over a Zoom interview. He arches his pointy eyebrows and pauses for a second.

“Both the perfume and the scent that went into it are quite unpleasant in their nature. It’s a leather, woody kind of scent, not from the category of everyday wear, so to speak,” he adds.

When I first met Dima during the first few months of Russia’s full-scale invasion, there was a worldwide shortage of ballistic vests. Colleagues of mine who work for several of the best news agencies in the world scrambled to try to buy them so they could report from inside Ukraine. One had a friend of his buy one of the last vests in Madrid and fly to Poland to drive to the border to deliver it, so scarce was the supply in Europe. Military supply shops across Europe, including Berlin, Prague and Warsaw had sold out long before. It was impossible to get a vest remotely close to Ukraine.

“We made these body armours without plates initially. Then we made the plates ourselves, and we produced them from field work tools because there were no body armours available. The demand was very high,” Dima says, although he no longer produces the plates since the EU has stepped up deliveries into Ukraine. He also tells us the vests have saved three lives.

“People sent me photos of their bulletproof vests that took hits, and no one got killed.”

Whilst Dima physically isn’t on the front lines himself, he funds the production of soft stretchers and blankets, bags, drones, ammunition. The stretchers, Dima says, can hold up to 250kg, which is essential for the volunteers on the frontlines themselves.

“[Ukrainian] Stormtroopers are unlikely to take me because I have leg problems, but I can perform some functions in the rear, for example, or there, on the second line of defence. Maybe I’d introduce drones, I don’t know,” Dima says, when we ask what he would do if called to fight.

Many of the volunteers who pass through the glass doors of the Odesa perfumery were forced down alternative career paths when the war broke out, including Dima’s son, who now sews fabric used for body armour.

“He was initially far from any kind of production, especially ammunition, let alone sewing. He worked as a carpenter, specifically in the workshop that made sculptures, and that was his main occupation.”

Perfume collector to volunteer

Dima’s shop also helps facilitate evacuations of civilians from cities including Kharkiv and helps other volunteers deliver aid to the countryside surrounding Odesa. Some of the people living there are entirely reliant on Telegram groups, which other volunteer groups use to coordinate deliveries, for essential items including nappies and canned foods. These places are surrounded by trenches and military checkpoints and have no public transport.

I accompanied a couple of these missions back in 2022. Each time, we drove out of the city for two hours with limited fuel, the sun beating down on fields of sunflowers on a backdrop of blue sky as far as the eye could see, surely the inspiration for the Ukrainian flag. Many of the people who were living in these remote villages were internal refugees, who had fled to the west for safety. Many were single mothers with several children, and both their men and cars were fighting on the frontlines in the east of the country. Without a car, there is no access to supermarkets for them. The volunteers who tirelessly deliver the aid do this alongside other jobs. Dima supplies these volunteers out of his own pocket with ballistic vests and helmets just in case of Russian strikes. One volunteer group already lost a driver and a bus to a fighter jet.

How is the mood amongst the military volunteers, who tirelessly defend the borders in the east of the country and carry out these aid deliveries? It’s mixed, Dima says, “because if we stop, we’ll essentially lose not just the word ‘Ukraine’ or our homes; we’ll have to flee somewhere, primarily as volunteers, because we will be the first to face torture, abuse, and death.”

Dima says that things have changed since the start of the war. “In the early days, people were so affected by it, not to say they went insane, but, let’s say, the war absolutely boosted the spirit of the Ukrainian people by 100%.”

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It brought people together, with everyone pitching in during those first few months. He says in every Odesa neighbourhood, there were people on the streets making Molotov cocktails, ready to defend their city against invaders.

“But those first hours, those initial moments were, of course, terrifying because the feeling that, here it is, war has come. It is the thing that I feared the most in my life. War is the worst thing that can happen, like some deadly disease. And war, unlike other challenges in life, can’t be overcome with money or other friends,” he adds melancholically. Dima’s eyes close when he begins to talk about the first moments of the war. His eyes open when he comes back to the present, as if he’s peering directly at reality.

Dima describes the first missile strike that hit Odesa as “a horror that lives in my heart until now. It now occupies a part of my life. It’s like the first love, you know, impossible to forget. And this is approximately the same, only it’s not a positive emotion, but an extremely negative one. The horror survived. No, it has grown. A part of my heart.”

Family torn apart

The missile strikes, asides from being physically terrifying have also had a more emotional effect on those in Odesa. Dima’s family has been completely ripped apart because of it. He is no longer on speaking terms with relatives who live in Russia.

“Many of us haven’t spoken since February 20th (2022). I tried to tell them about how terrible it is and urged them to protest. They say, ‘Why should we protest? We have everything we need, everything is fine.’ And they blame you for the fact that [the Russian army] came to you.” It’s horrifying just to hear.

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“We stopped communicating a week after the full-scale invasion,” he adds. “Our relationship, to put it mildly, is strained. At least with my cousin, she probably doesn’t distinguish between the words ‘Nazi’ and ‘patriot.’ But the difference between a patriot and a Nazi is very significant. A patriot loves their homeland, while a Nazi is someone who believes that their nation is significantly better than others, much better than everyone else.

Dima blames Russian TV propaganda for this.

“We are, for them, monkeys with a hand grenade. We are anything but humans. That’s it. Hence the hatred and a large number of crimes against humanity, where people, not only are they simply killed, but it has become a habit to bombard us with a thousand rockets.”

He has asked himself many times over the past three years why civilians are being targeted for what Russia calls its “special military operation.”

A difficult relationship with the Russian language

“Russia’s actions have led to the fact that now we all want to speak only in Ukrainian, and we do. For example, I communicate with people on Facebook exclusively in Ukrainian.” He says he started learning Ukrainian because of the invasion after the 2014 annexation of Crimea.

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Dima’s relationship with Russia is complicated. He was born in Odesa, but like Ukrainian leader Zelenskyy, he is a native Russian speaker. He says many of the soldiers on the front lines speak Russian.

Dima believes Putin is seeking to annex Ukraine to the Russian Federation.

“As far as I understand, the ‘Russian world’ implies the absence of recognition of nationality, including national languages, cultures, and so on. They are levelled in favour of Russian culture, primarily. There are numerous national conflicts happening within Russia itself, but they are kept under control where authorities prevent the expression of opinions about them.”

Dima mentions Tatarstan, “where individuals advocating for their native language, culture, and environmental preservation have faced legal consequences.” He is talking about Fail Alsynov, the ex-leader of a banned Bashqort group, who promoted the Bashkir language and culture. Alsynov was sentenced to four years in prison, and claims the charges were politically motivated.

Dima sees similarities with Ukrainian culture.

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“For us, anyone who seeks to take over our state is an enemy, plain and simple. I don’t want to receive any lessons from people who, at some point, were close to me but now are considered enemies. Those who take up arms against me, even metaphorically speaking, including relatives who have remained in significant numbers, are enemies,” he says.

Dima says he doesn’t understand the desire to belong to Russia.

“The motivation behind someone desiring the Russian world is unclear to me. People can at least look at what happened to Donetsk and Luhansk under Russia.” He has heard from volunteers that return from the east that much of the male population in Donetsk is depleted because they are either dead or shipped off to war.

“It’s some kind of archaic thinking, probably associated with phantom pains regarding the loss of the Soviet Union. There was the Soviet Union, and supposedly everyone lived happily, peacefully, and joyfully there, but if you delve into history and turn to various sources, for many, including my parents, everything was far from cloudless and far from joyful.” Dima remembers his father, who managed 12 farms. Although that sounds like it would generate a decent income, the reality was very far from that. Dima recounts celebrating the occasion of buying sneakers, because it was out of the ordinary for the family. He only had a single pair.

A sanctioned Russia is like North Korea

Dima says that in Russian territories “there is no development at all. Everything is under sanctions. Essentially, people who strive for the Russian world understand that Russia is under sanctions as well. In essence, they are striving for a country that is also under sanctions. Well, I don’t know how to compare it. It’s unlikely that anyone is trying to get to North Korea now. Well, its approximately like that.” It paints a bleak picture.

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“The point is that a person who expects that moving to Russia will bring them happiness is deeply mistaken because it doesn’t matter where you live. If you are unhappy in Ukraine, you will be unhappy in Russia, Europe, or anywhere else. It doesn’t matter. Somehow, people think that someone is interested in their personal fate and that Russia, in particular, will help them. In a thousand stories, people living in the Russian world, literally waiting for it, received it, and ultimately suffered from it,” he laments.

He doesn’t know what the solution is. “Here, you are essentially facing death, which will come if you surrender, or you have to run somewhere where it’s unclear whether they welcome you or not. And as practice shows, many seem to have just grown tired of us, Ukrainians.”

The choice is impossible for many Ukrainians. Either they stay and wait for bombs to destroy their homes, dropped by a country they considered themselves to be related to, like siblings, or they flee to another country, where they must learn a new language, and often begin their studies again from the ground up, because some governments don’t recognise Ukrainian qualifications.

“Simply because if it’s written in his passport that he’s Ukrainian, the Russians will simply destroy him just because he is Ukrainian. That is fascism,” he says.

We ask him what he fears the most and he describes waking in the middle of the night, jolted awake by the sounds of civilian homes being targeted by bombs.

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“The centre of the city of Odesa is definitely not a military object. How can they send [bombs] here, to the city centre that is protected by UNESCO?”

The day times are often punctuated by the wails of the air-raid sirens. If you’ve not experienced it yourself, it sounds exactly like it does in films or second world war museum exhibitions. Your skin prickles with goosebumps, but the eeriest thing about it is not the crying sound, but the fact that many people don’t even react. They have grown so used to it in Odesa that they don’t scuttle away. Sometimes during the night, between the sirens you can hear pops and small explosions. You hope it’s the sound of air defence keeping the city and its residence safe.

“These rockets hit our energy infrastructure or even some other critical targets. Let them be military objects, but there are people there too. Okay, it’s war; roughly speaking, it’s supposed to happen. There should be a goal to destroy, for example, some military object—that’s a norm, so to speak. But when the energy infrastructure is destroyed, and when the city is left without water, without heat, without anything…”

For months each year when there are massive power outages, many civilians flock to the shop, where Dima has installed generators. Residents cluster together, their faces illuminated by smart phones charging at hubs of power sockets.

“People just came to have some connection with the world.” Dima also installed a Starlink at his own cost.

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We ask Dima what he will do when the war ends, but like many of those who live in Ukraine or have close ties to the country, he struggles to answer and he looks vulnerable, as if he might start to cry.

“It’s like asking, ‘is there life on Mars?’ Right now, it sounds something like that. I’ll cry, I promise,” he says, making a joke, perhaps to stop the tears in their tracks.

Dima says he thinks Russia won’t stop with Ukraine: “What is victory? To stop at the border? Is it the left bank of Ukraine? Or go further into Poland or further into Germany? Why not? If they go through Ukraine, do you think they won’t go to Europe? Yes, they will definitely go. They will start saying, ‘We’ve been to Berlin, why not visit there again one more time,’” he says.

He mentions the news channels in Russia who often broadcast blasé nuclear threats, including to Europe. Dima says the topic is discussed at least every two weeks.

The future

But Dima is hopeful about the future. Although he alludes to the corruption that has marred Ukraine’s history, he says joining the EU is not the only solution. “We should not rely only on some subsequent assistance from Europe, simply because we are intelligent and capable enough people to lift our country ourselves,” he says, but he does think Ukraine needs to be reformed in some respects.

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“Many are ready to work and live honestly, believe me. A lot of people, at least those I’m currently communicating with say that we are ready. Just give us transparent laws, make it work, not just declaratively living in a legal state. But sometimes there are such options. I’m even taking a risk talking about it right now because tomorrow, something might happen.”

On the subject of the Ukrainian government, he says he respects President Zelenskyy as a leader: “he did not take advantage of all the opportunities to leave the country, hide somewhere in a safe place; he stayed right in Kyiv. He remained in the place where he directly performs his duties, and he didn’t abandon the people. He did everything to protect his people.” I’m sure it’s a thought that has crossed the mind of most people following the invasion, where you wonder if your own president would stand up against a world superpower in case of invasion.

Dima also applauds the work of the army, which he says many didn’t believe in, but has now proved itself over the past two years. He is also proud of himself, as he says he saved 28 people and has spent $3 million [Euronews was unable to independently verify this] during the course of the war. I saw him donate vests, helmets and supplies to volunteers during the time I spent in the shop.

And in his spare time, Dima is an avid photographer, taking photos of Odesa’s beauty. From striking red sunsets to micro photography of surrounding nature to creative shots of the sea and portraits of people. For him, it’s an outlet, a way to boost both his and the subjects’ morale.

“We help with medicine and all kinds of evacuation means. It’s all sad; it all gets heavy. People say your photos are just a bit of a break from this reality for us,” he says.

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“Every day, every hour, if there’s an opportunity, we do something, but again, something to make people smile, something to make people, well, at least, feel not in a war,” he adds melancholily. Even taking photos, is another way for Dima to care for others.

From the photos to the sculptures pieced together from smashed perfume bottles and left over bombs and shrapnel, Dima is all about trying to create something gorgeous, something pleasant, even against the backdrop of the horror of his country being invaded. A true artist.

He shares an anecdote that I still think of today: “In the first days of the war, when the Russians came to Melitopol, a woman came out and approached a soldier to talk to him. There was an armoured personnel carrier (BTR) there. She approached the soldier and said, ‘put some sunflower seeds in your pocket. When you die sunflowers will sprout and we’ll extract oil from you.’”

Afterwards, many Ukrainians started wearing t-shirts with the sunflower seeds motto printed on it.

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The Hindu Morning Digest – May 8, 2024

Police and paramilitary personnel stand guard at the polling station during the third phase of Lok Sabha Polls, in Etah on May 7, 2024.
| Photo Credit: ANI

Three Independent MLAs withdraw support to BJP government in Haryana

Three Independent MLAs supporting the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) government in Haryana on May 7 announced the withdrawal of their support to the government, even as the Congress party demanded the holding of Assembly election under the President’s rule in the State, as the government has been reduced to a “minority”.

Karnataka BJP post on Muslim quota | Election Commission tells X to immediately take down post

The Election Commission of India (ECI) ordered X, formerly Twitter, to take down an animated video posted by BJP Karnataka. The video features caricatures of Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi and Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, advancing the party’s recent messaging that the Congress is diverting funds and resources away from SC/ST/OBC Hindus towards Muslims. As of May 7 evening, the post had garnered over 90 lakh views, and had not yet been taken down. 

CBI arrests four for pushing Indians into Russia-Ukraine war

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has so far arrested four accused in a case related to trafficking of Indian nationals for combat role in the Russian Army. Arun and Yesudas Junior, both residents of Kerala’s Thiruvananthapuram, were held on Tuesday in the case registered on March 6. The other two accused, Nijil Jobi Bensam from Kanyakumari and Anthony Michael Elangovan from Mumbai, were earlier arrested on April 24 and are in judicial custody.

Reject proponents of lies, hatred for a brighter future, Sonia Gandhi urges voters

Sonia Gandhi on Tuesday alleged that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s niti (policy) and niyat (intentions)have led to unemployment, crimes against women and discrimination against Dalits, Adivasis and minorities.

SC to think about giving bail to Kejriwal for campaigning; ED calls it a luxury a ‘real aam aadmi’ cannot afford

The Supreme Court on May 7 decided to mull over the question of granting interim bail to Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal to enable him to campaign as an Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader for the ongoing Lok Sabha election.

Advertisers to submit self-declarations before promoting products in media, SC orders

The Supreme Court on Tuesday directed that advertisers should submit self-declarations that they are not misrepresenting or making false claims about products before promoting them in the media.

Gujarat sees 55% turnout; Modi, Shah cast their votes

Over 55% voting turnout was registered till 5 p.m. in the 25 parliamentary constituencies of Gujarat where polling was held in the third phase of the Lok Sabha election on Tuesday. There are 265 candidates in the fray, including three Cabinet ministers Amit Shah, Mansukh Mandaviya and Parshottam Rupala and a Minister of State Devusinh Chauhan.

Fact-check | Misleading posts cast doubt over the credibility of EVMs

Even as the third phase of polling for the Lok Sabha election draws to a close, some on social media have been casting aspersions on the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs), the device used to electronically record and count votes cast in elections.

U.K. court rejects fifth bail plea of PNB scam accused Nirav Modi

The fifth bail application of diamantaire Nirav Modi, who is one of the prime accused in the ₹13,578-crore Punjab National Bank (PNB) scam, has been turned down by a United Kingdom court. In April 2021, the Secretary of State of U.K.’s Home Department had ordered his extradition to India, but it has not been implemented so far.

Interpol issues Blue Corner Notice against Prajwal Revanna 

Interpol issued on Tuesday (May 7) a Blue Corner Notice against “absconding” Hassan JD(S) MP Prajwal Revanna, accused of multiple instances of sexual abuse. This will help the Special Investigation Team probing the case to locate Prajwal Revanna. He flew to Germany from Bengaluru on April 27 using his diplomatic passport. His whereabouts are currently not known, amid reports that he later flew to Dubai or Hungary.

Foreign Secretary to visit Bangladesh, talks may feature China

China’s planned project along the Teesta in Bangladesh is expected to feature during Foreign Secretary Vinay Mohan Kwatra’s upcoming visit to Bangladesh, a prominent daily in Dhaka has reported.

Want 400 seats to prevent Congress from bringing back Article 370 and locking Ram Temple: PM Modi

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on May 7 said he needed 400 seats in the Lok Sabha election to prevent the Congress from “bringing back Article 370 [in Kashmir] and putting a lock on Ayodhya Ram Temple”, drawing parallels to the Rajiv Gandhi government overturning the Supreme Court ruling in 1985 in the Shah Bano case, which he characterised as appeasement politics.

Polling ends in Karnataka; month-long, nail-biting wait begins

As the curtains came down on the hard-fought and high-pitched Lok Sabha elections amid the sweltering heat in Karnataka on Tuesday, it will be nearly a month-long tense wait for the electoral fortunes to be known. The counting of votes across the country will take place on June 4.

U.K. court rejects fifth bail plea of PNB scam accused Nirav Modi

The fifth bail application of diamantaire Nirav Modi, who is one of the prime accused in the ₹13,578-crore Punjab National Bank (PNB) scam, has been turned down by a United Kingdom court. In April 2021, the Secretary of State of U.K.’s Home Department had ordered his extradition to India, but it has not been implemented so far.

Supreme Court provides relief to nearly 24,000 Bengal teachers

The Supreme Court on May 7 gave relief to the West Bengal government by protecting nearly 24,000 teaching and non-teaching staff members from immediate termination from their jobs in schools across the State.

Militant commander Basit Dar, wanted in 18 cases, among two killed in Kulgam operation: J&K police

Two militants, including a ‘commander’ of The Resistance Front (TRF), were killed in a two-day anti-militancy operation in south Kashmir’s Kulgam on Tuesday. 

More than 63% polling in third phase, sporadic violence in West Bengal

At least 63.27% of the electorate in 93 constituencies cast their votes on May 7 in the third phase of the Lok Sabha election, which has now crossed the halfway mark, with voting complete in 282 out of 543 seats. Apart from sporadic incidents of violence in West Bengal, the voting was largely peaceful. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah were among the voters in this phase, with the latter also in the fray.

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Vladimir Putin | Reign of the patriarch

There was no surprise. When Russia’s election authorities announced results of the presidential election, Vladimir Putin, who has been in power for nearly a quarter century, was elected for another term. He won 87% of votes, extending his reign for six more years, while his closest rival, Nikolay Kharitonov of the Communist Party of Russian Federation, won 4.31% vote. There was no meaningful challenge to Mr. Putin in the election. Candidates who were critical of his policies, including the Ukraine war, were barred from contesting. State-controlled media hardly allowed any voices of dissent. And Mr. Putin’s approval rating has stayed high, according to Levada Centre, an independent Russian NGO, and he faces no visible or credible challenge to his authority among Russia’s elites.

If he completes his term, Mr. Putin, now 71, would surpass Joseph Stalin as the longest serving leader of modern Russia and the longest serving Russian leader since Catherine the Great, the 18th century Empress, who captured Crimea from the Ottomans and annexed it in 1783.


ALSO READ | It’s ‘Ra-Ra-Ras-Putin’ in the Russian election 

In many ways, Mr. Putin’s rise to power is intertwined with Russia’s own comeback from the forced retreat of the 1990s, which many Russians call the “decade of humiliation”. He has witnessed the peak years of the Cold War, the collapse of the state, which he called a “catastrophe” and the years of chaos. If in the late 1990s, he was seen as the man who could fix Russia’s problems, now he is the face of the state that’s at war in Ukraine “with the collective West” and has built a water-tight authoritarian system at home that allows no dissent.

Rise to power

Born in 1952 in Stalin’s Russia, Mr. Putin graduated in 1975 from Leningrad State University (now Saint Petersburg State University). He served 15 years as a foreign intelligence officer for the KGB (Committee for State Security), of which six years were in Dresden, East Germany. In 1990, a year before the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Mr. Putin retired with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. In the new Russia, he started his political career in St. Petersburg, the former capital of the Tsars. In 1994, he became the first Deputy Mayor of the city. Two years later, Mr. Putin moved to Moscow where he joined the Kremlin as an administrator. He captured the world’s attention in 1998 when President Boris Yeltsin appointed him as director of the Federal Security Service (FSB), the successor of the KGB. He never had to turn back.

Russia was in a bad shape. Its economy was in shambles. It was not in a position to challenge NATO, which had revived talks of expanding to Eastern Europe. In Chechnya, a separatist war was raging. Yeltsin, the vodka-drinking, aloof leader who was struggling to deal with the many challenges his big but weak country was facing, started looking at Mr. Putin, the young spymaster, as his successor. In 1999, he appointed Mr. Putin as Prime Minister. When Mr. Yeltsin stepped down, Mr. Putin became acting President. And in 2000, he began his first term after the presidential elections.

Great power rivalry

During the early years of Mr. Putin’s presidency, Russia’s ties with the West were relatively cordial. Russia was taken into the G7 industrialised economies in 1997. Mr. Putin supported the U.S.’s war on terror after the September 11 terrorist attack. In 2001, President George W. Bush said Mr. Putin was “very straightforward and trustworthy”. “We had a very good dialogue. I was able to get a sense of his soul; a man deeply committed to his country and the best interests of his country,” Mr. Bush said. But the larger factors of great power rivalry would soon take over the post-Soviet tendencies of bonhomie. When the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003, Russia took a strong position against it. This was also a period when Russia, under Mr. Putin’s leadership, was rebuilding its economy and military might. A year after the Iraq invasion, NATO expanded further to the east, this time taking the three Baltic countries — Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, all sharing borders with Russia — and four others in Eastern Europe into its fold.

Watch | Two years of Russia-Ukraine war: How Russia and the world are changing

Mr. Putin’s later remarks would show how he looked at the U.S.-led global order. In a February 2007 speech given at the Munich Security Conference (a speech which is still seen by many as Mr. Putin’s foreign policy blueprint), the Russian leader slammed what he called the U.S.’s “monopolistic dominance” over the global order. “One single centre of power. One single centre of force. One single centre of decision making. This is the world of one master, one sovereign…. Primarily the United States has overstepped its national borders, and in every area,” he said.

Having silently accepted NATO’s expansion in the past, a more confident and militaristic Russia appeared to have drawn a red line on Georgia and Ukraine, both Black Sea basin countries that share borders with Russia. In 2008, the year Georgia and Ukraine were offered membership by NATO at its Bucharest summit, Mr. Putin sent troops to Georgia in the name of defending the two breakaway republics — South Ossetia and Abkhazia — which practically ended Tbilisi’s NATO dream. In 2014, immediately after the elected Ukrainian government of President Viktor Yanukovych was toppled by West-backed protests, Russia annexed Crimea, the peninsula that hosts Russia’s Black Sea fleet. Mr. Putin also offered military and financial aid to separatists in the Russian-speaking territories of Eastern Ukraine, which rose against the post-Yanukovych regime in Kyiv.

The conflict that began in 2014 snowballed into a full-scale war between Russia and Ukraine on February 24, 2022, when Mr. Putin ordered his “special military operation”. The war placed Russia on course with prolonged conflict with the West. But Mr. Putin looked at it differently. “He has three advisers,” Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told an oligarch after the war began, according to an FT report. “Ivan the Terrible. Peter the Great. And Catherine the Great.”

Tight grip

Domestically, Mr. Putin has tightened his control on the Russian state over the years. He stepped down as President in 2008 as he was constitutionally barred from a third consecutive term but became Prime Minister under President Dmitry Medvedev. Four years later, Mr. Putin returned as President. This time, he got the Constitution amended that allowed him to stand in Presidential elections again. Alexei Navalny, his most vocal opposition leader who survived an assassination attempt in August 2020, died in a prison in February. Boris Nemtsov, another opposition politician, was shot dead in Moscow in February 2015. The Kremlin-tolerated opposition parties, including the Communist Party, do not pose any organisational or ideological challenge to Mr. Putin’s hold on power.


EDITORIAL | Death of dissent: On Putin’s Russia today

In the state he rebuilt, Orthodox Christianity holds a prominent place. He is fighting not just a military conflict with the West, but also a culture war between “civilisations”. He is the new patriarch of “mother Russia”, not just the President of a modern republic. This mix of populism, civilisational nationalism, cultural roots and militarism kept him popular in Russia. According to Levada Centre, Mr. Putin’s approval rating stayed at 86% in February 2024, while 12% disapproved of his performance. Levada’s polls show that Mr. Putin’s popularity has never dipped below 59% since he became President. He has mastered a complex model, with regular elections, that allowed him to retain total dominance on Russian politics, while keeping dissent and political opposition under check, something which British historian Perry Anderson calls ‘a managed democracy’. At the same time, he constantly pushed to expand Russian influence abroad, challenging the West.

This model of dominance at home and counterbalance abroad faces a tough test when Mr. Putin is assuming another term. The Ukraine war is grinding on in its third year with no end in sight. Russia, which suffered some setbacks in the early stage of the war, seems to have captured battlefield momentum, for now. But the country is also paying a big price. It lost tens of thousands of soldiers. It is struggling to offset the impact of the sanctions the West has imposed. Its ties with Europe, which Mr. Putin rebuilt painstakingly in his early years of power, lies in tatters, forcing the country to pivot to Asia. NATO further expanded towards Russia’s border after the war began, with Sweden and Finland being the latest members.

At home, there are signs that his regime is ageing, which were evident in the rebellion of Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of private military company Wagner, or silent protests in Russia, including on the election day. But Mr. Putin seems confident and unfazed. In his victory speech on Sunday, Mr. Putin declared that he will stay the course. “We have many tasks ahead. But when we are consolidated — no matter who wants to intimidate us, suppress us — nobody has ever succeeded in history, they have not succeeded now, and they will not succeed ever in the future,” said the Russian leader to cheering supporters, who chanted “Putin, Putin… Russia, Russia”.

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Germany’s Olaf Scholz has become a major problem for Ukraine

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

Between leaked recordings, loose-lipped press conferences and confused policy, the German chancellor is in serious trouble.

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After months of what appeared to be an effective stalemate, a new narrative of the Ukrainian conflict is setting in: unless the West both expands and speeds up its support for the Ukrainian military, Russia could soon have a major window of opportunity.

And with the US House of Representatives still yet to clear a new package of American military aid, European NATO allies are moving to ramp up their contributions to the war effort. But not all of them are on the same page – and the continent’s largest economy is suddenly looking like a major political and strategic problem for both Ukraine and NATO as a whole.

Germany has been on a long journey since the Russian invasion in February 2022. The then-relatively new government led by Chancellor Olaf Scholz oversaw a major change in German defence policy by announcing the country would provide Ukraine with military hardware, a move that helped prove how seriously the West as a whole was taking the conflict.

Since then, however, the Germans’ part in the war has been somewhat muddled. On the one hand, German Euros and materiel have been reaching Ukraine, albeit on a stop-start basis. The country’s defence ministry clearly acknowledges the seriousness of the conflict: it has increasingly urged Europe to anticipate a larger Russian threat to countries beyond Ukraine, and is deploying combat-ready battalions to Lithuania, meaning German troops will be stationed just 100km away from the Russian border.

But on the other hand, Scholz’s government has lately been resisting pressure to share one of its most powerful military assets with the Ukrainians just when they need it most. 

The item in question is the Taurus missile, a stealth missile with a 500km range – twice the range of the British Storm Shadow and French Scalp missiles, both of which have been used by Ukraine to hit major Russian military targets.

The Ukrainians have been asking for the Taurus system for months, but Scholz has so far refused. The chancellor has claimed that the missiles cannot be sent to Ukraine because it would entail putting German troops on the ground to programme them, a move that he claimed could threaten a dangerous escalation.

Scholz made a major diplomatic misstep at a recent summit when he implied that French and British forces are operating cruise missiles that are ostensibly under Ukrainian control – something neither country admits is happening. The head of the UK House of Commons’s Foreign Affairs Committee called the remarks “wrong, irresponsible and a slap in the face to allies”. 

But worse than Scholz’s refusal to send Tauruses to Ukraine was the recent leak of a recording in which German air force officers could be heard directly contradicting Scholz’s argument, instead confirming that the missile would not in fact require the deployment of German manpower inside Ukraine.

The recording was revealed in Russian media, with Moscow threatening “dire consequences” for Germany if Taurus is deployed in Ukraine.

Former president Dmitry Medvedev, who has voiced some of the Kremlin’s most extreme rhetoric since the invasion, responded with a pair of nationalistic tirades in response via the messaging app Telegram, sharing a Second World War-era poem entitled “Kill Him!” and writing, “The call of the Great Patriotic War has become relevant again: “DEATH TO THE GERMAN-NAZI OCCUPIERS!”

Caught out

That such a sensitive conversation could be recorded and leaked at all, not least by the Russians, has horrified many in Germany and NATO more widely. But the revelation that Scholz’s public pretext for withholding the Taurus is baseless has caused deep anger.

According to Benjamin Tallis, Senior Fellow at the German Council on Foreign Relations, the recording shows that the chancellor is not truly committed to a Ukrainian victory.

“Holding back like this risks a Ukrainian defeat, which would put all of Europe at great risk” he told Euronews. “Scholz’s arguments have been dismantled one by one and revealed to be excuses. Allies have sent similar weapons and faced no retaliation. All Scholz is doing is projecting weakness and making Germany more of a target.

“Following the Taurus leak, it seems that what Scholz is really afraid of is the weapon’s effectiveness. This betrays his position of not wanting Ukraine to win – and it’s an approach that lets down all Europeans by making us less safe.”

The saga of the Taurus missile and the leaked recording comes at an extremely inopportune moment in the Ukrainian conflict.

Recent Russian advances in the east of the country have owed a lot to a shortage of ammunition on the Ukrainian side, which Kyiv and some of its allies have attributed to certain Western countries’ slowness to resupply the war effort.

Aside from continuing to inflict major casualties on the Russian military – which Kyiv claims has lost well over 400,000 troops since February 2022 – the Ukrainian Armed Forces are currently focusing on destroying high-value military assets that the Russians will struggle to replace, among them a high-tech Russian patrol ship that was hit by a sea drone on 4 March.

These strikes have multiple benefits: aside from costing nothing in Ukrainian lives, they both undermine Russia’s tactical abilities and challenge the idea that its enormous resources offer anything like a guarantee of victory. The same goes for missile and drone strikes within Russian territory, particularly in the border region of Belgorod, which Ukraine has targeted multiple times.

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But without enough Western hardware to continue these efforts, and with ever more reports of troops retreating from positions with depleted ammunition, Ukraine will struggle to keep its closest allies’ hopes alive.



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Alcohol sales from Baltics to Russia surge despite Ukraine war

Latvia and Lithuania are accused of acting as middlemen between Western producers of booze and Russia.

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Latvia was the biggest exporter of whiskey to Russia in 2023, according to data published by the Russian state-owned news agency Ria Novosti. 

That’s despite high tensions between the two countries following Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine and Western sanctions.

Ria Novosti wrote that Russia imported almost €244 million worth of whiskey between January and September 2023, almost four times more than in the same period the year before. 

Most of it came from neighbouring Latvia, which Ria Novosti said shipped products worth €177.4 million, followed by Baltic neighbour, Lithuania with €26.9 million.

Latvia’s exports to Russia were worth more than €1.1 billion in 2023, according to data from the country’s government cited by German news agency DW. More than half of all of Latvian exports to Russia were drinks, spirits and vinegar. 

The Baltic state exported more wine (€73 million) than even Italy (€68 million), a much bigger producer than Latvia, to Russia last year. 

“Latvia has been a vocal supporter of Ukraine and joined in pushing for EU sanctions against Russia following the invasion. At the same time, Latvia continues to serve as Russia’s primary source of whiskey, accounting for more than 70% of all Russian whiskey imports during 2023,” John Wright of the Moral Rating Agency (MRA) – an organisation set up to evaluate whether Western companies carried out their promise to pull out of Russia following the invasion of Ukraine – told Euronews. 

“The continuance of Latvia’s export business to Russia is both shameful and contrary to Latvia’s own values. Internally, we at the Moral Rating Agency refer to Latvia’s whiskey trade as ‘Whiskeygate’, both because it is scandalous and because Latvia is serving as a gateway for Western spirits companies into the Russian market.”

Middleman for Western companies

Latvia, according to local experts, is acting as a go-between in a process that involves Western companies unwilling to show they’re still selling their products to Russia amid the deadly war in Ukraine.

Matiss Mirosnikovs, an economist at the Bank of Latvia, told Euronews that while the country has long been a middleman for Western companies, it saw the number of re-exports of Western goods ramp up after Moscow’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine. 

“If we look at where these goods are manufactured, what type of alcoholic drinks they are, we mostly see that those are of foreign origin, they’re not produced locally here,” he told Euronews.

“What I think is happening is that Western companies are trying to kind of shift attention away from their role as sellers [to Russia] and blame other distributors, while the names of the larger parent companies don’t show up in these trades, it doesn’t show that they’re directly linked with Russia,” Mirosnikovs suggested.

“We’re not to be blamed,” he added. “We’re on the border and you’ll have some Western exporters who are using this opportunity.” Latvia’s exports are not in violation of sanctions imposed against Russia for the invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022.

Davis Vitols, Managing Director of the Latvian Alcohol Industry Association (LANA), agreed.

“Before Russia started the war in Ukraine, Latvia was one of the main hubs, if not the main hub, for many big alcohol companies’ reexports to Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and Kazakhstan,” Vitols told Euronews.

“According to the EU sanctions, alcohol exports to Russia and Belarus are still allowed, except bottles that cost more than €300, so, because Latvia does not produce whisky, these are reexported from other countries, where in Latvia, these bottles are being stamped according to exporting country laws,” he added.

Wright told Euronews that Latvia is “clearly serving as a ‘back door’ into the Russian market for Western spirits companies.” According to Wright, Latvia ranks as the sixth largest importer of Scotch in the world, “even though its population is smaller than that of Idaho,” he said. 

“Our calculations suggest that, if the Latvian population actually consumed all of the alcohol that the country is importing, then every Latvian man, woman, and child would be inebriated for the majority of each day. But this is not what is happening. Instead, the data shows that Latvia continues to redistribute about 5 bottles of whiskey to Russia for every 1 bottle of whiskey it consumes at home. “

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Russian sources agreed with Latvian experts. 

“If previously, according to documents, imports went to Russia simply in transit through Latvia or Lithuania, now the final point is the Baltic States, and from there the delivery goes to the Russian Federation,” Veniamin Grabar, President of Russia’s alcohol company Ladoga, told Ria Novosti.

“The logistics chain has not changed, it has changed a little paperwork. The reason is that often foreign suppliers do not want to take risks and indicate Russia as the final delivery point.”

Mirosnikov told Euronewss the proportion of exports to Russia has actually dropped “dramatically” since 2014. 

Ten years ago Russia was Latvia’s second largest export partner, taking 14 per cent of total goods exported, now it’s lower than 6 per cent. 

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“It’s still quite high, but its role has diminished over the years,” he continued.

‘Vital’ for Western businesses to stop

For Wright, it’s “vital for the Western business community to stand united and to continue to send a clear signal to Russia that its military aggression will result in economic ostracism from the Western world,” he said. 

“What kind of message does it send to Russian elites that certain Western countries and companies are willing to bend over backwards to continue providing Western luxury goods to Russia? And what kind of message does it send to the rest of Europe when even the Baltics are supporting Russia? Any country that is tempted to cut corners, either to enrich itself or to curry favour with Putin, should recall President John F. Kennedy’s admonition ‘that, in the past, those who foolishly sought power by riding the back of the tiger ended up inside’.”

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Ukrainian comedian Dima Watermelon explains why Putin is not a joke

Ukrainian comedian Dima Watermelon would love nothing more than to be able to stop making jokes about Putin. But as long as the war in Ukraine goes on, he feels he has to address “the elephant in the room”.

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Some believe that humour always helps but not on the 24 February 2022,when the Russian invasion of Ukraine left nothing to laugh about. Ukrainian comic Dima Watermelon said:  “I don’t think any Ukrainians will ever forget the moment where they were. It’s like asking Americans about 9/11.” 

Except for Ukrainians this time their whole existence as a sovereign state was under threat. Dima remembers exactly where he was that day. In Munich getting ready to fly to South Africa where his wife comes from. Dima had been living in Berlin for several years after moving from Finland as a student. 

How does one switch from IT to stand-up comedy?

After finishing his studies in Berlin and starting to work in IT, Dima began doing live stand-up performances. That’s when Dima became a full time comedian and a regular in the lively Berlin stand-up comedy scene. That’s where having a surname like Watermelon helps. It is his Ukrainian surname Kabyh translated into English. We met Dima before a live show in a well-known comedy venue in Neukölln, in West Berlin. 

Joking about the war is like addressing “the elephant in the room”

Originally political jokes weren’t really Dima’s thing. But circumstances, even in the world of laughter force you to adapt.

“I never wanted to be a political comedian. But because of the war I need to address it, it’s like addressing the elephant in the room. So of course I end up writing more jokes about war and about Russia and about Putin. Humour is important because this is one thing people always have. You know, you can laugh and you can feel better when you laugh.“

And some of his jokes aged better than he would have hoped for. When he first started as a comedian back in 2018, he joked that if someone asked him about his nationality, as he is from Ukraine, he first had to check the news:

During his live set, one member of the audience asks him why he’s here and not there. Dima asks the man for a one-to-one after the show to talk further about this issue. He must continue, the house is full and people have paid for the show – they want to be entertained. 

We asked Dima a similar question before his comedy hour “Culturally Inappropriate aka Ukrainian Dream” began. Dima thinks it is a difficult question but says if he was conscripted and there wasn´t any other option yes, of course, he would go. He´s not sure what he really has to offer. He feels certain groups of people aren´t really fit for the army and artists fall under this category, but he did receive basic military training as a radio operator for air space systems.

Dima’s hometown is Irpin, now sadly known because of the war

And of course his comedy is in a foreign language – English. He has  never really done stand-up in his native language. Although he was brought up bilingually in Ukraine, his mother spoke Ukrainian, his father Russian, he has always spoke Ukrainian.

 Dima is from the eastern suburbs of Kyiv a place called Irpin which is now known as one of the places where the Russian push in Ukrainian was halted in the first months of the war.  Dima didn’t even used to say he was from Irpin to people, because it was unknown, he just said Kyiv. Now it’s on the map, like so many others places in Ukraine that nobody really knew before the war. Dima hasn’t been back to Irpin since the war begun. 

That was really heart breaking, I would like to, to keep those places nice in my head, in my memory. I’m not sure what the right thing to do is.“

“Take the war seriously and supply Ukraine with more weapons”

One thing Dima is sure of is that people in the West and western Europe don’t take the whole situation seriously enough.

“I just listened to Putin and Russia. They’re not playing and they’re serious. And this idea that they will stop in Ukraine and they will take Crimea and Donbas and they will stop, it’s just not true because as I said, Russia was consistent over 20 years of grabbing, of restoring, like Russian Empire, the former Soviet Union.”

According to Dima the West needs to be much more involved and realise the seriousness of the situation. “I hope, the Western world will take this war more seriously and to actually supply Ukraine with more weapons and not just supply leftovers.”

The Ukrainian community is more closely knitted than ever before

Dima feels very pessimistic about the future for Ukraine and for Europe too. He feels things can only get much worse. His hopes are that  he, his family and friends will survive this ongoing nightmare.

“One thing that has changed is that Ukrainians have become much closer as a nation of people.” 

 Other big changes have also taken place in his life. Dima´s mother for example arrived in Berlin as a refugee. They too have become much closer than they were before the invasion. 

Dima says the stereotype about people wanting to come to Germany for financial benefits is not really true. People especially older people like his mother do not want to be here. There’s no joy living in a city where it’s very difficult to find accommodation as a refugee, where the bureaucratic hurdles are so difficult many would rather return home.

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He jokes that she would rather hear sirens than face German bureaucracy every day. “

Putin only has war to offer, nothing else

Dima adds that Putin can only offer Russians war and nothing else. He has no way back, no way out, even if he was offered a peace deal in his opinion. He adds ”Putin is serious about the Baltic countries.” Dima thinks they are also on Putin’s invasion list. “He hates Poland. We need to take it seriously.“ 

And in one of his sets he jokes, that as he is an Ukrainian comedian, the public in Western Europe and the public in Eastern Europe have very different expectations, when it comes to his material and to his jokes about Russia.

Dima knows that with inflation and the costs of living crisis, the daily quality of life has deteriorated for most, even in Western Europe: “But at least people here are not dying. 

“I hope it will sort itself out magically. But yeah, let’s take it seriously, guys.“

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‘If I die it’s my choice’: Finnish soldiers on Ukraine’s front line

This is the story of Hobbit and Mariachi, two Finns who volunteered to fight in Ukraine, where the brutal Russian invasion strikes a chord close to home.

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It’s March 2022. 

Russian forces have besieged the Ukrainian city of Mariupol, shelling it from warships in the Azov Sea. Kremlin troops are still dangerously close to the capital Kyiv, while the first horrific accounts of mass killings are starting to emerge from Bucha. 

As the war unfolded around him, Hobbit arrived in Ukraine. 

“In the beginning, it was all new to me, and I was very nervous. And I was sure after one or two months there wouldn’t be a government left.”

Hobbit – who only uses his callsign not his real name for operational security reasons – is one of the estimated hundred Finns, among hundreds of other foreign fighters, who put their lives on hold to take up arms against the Russian invaders. 

For many people in Finland, the war in Ukraine has echoes of their own country’s not-so-distant past, when a Soviet false-flag operation in November 1939 saw Stalin’s forces shell a border post and blame it on the Finns as a pretext to launch a ground offensive.

Russia’s famed composer Dmitri Shostakovich was commissioned to write new music, which would be played as victorious Soviet troops marched through the streets of Helsinki to install a puppet government – a tale that chimes with reports from the current war that Russian forces had been told to pack their dress uniforms for a victory parade in Kyiv.

At the end of the short 105-day Winter War, Finland had inflicted heavy casualties on the Soviets but was ultimately forced to give up territory and pay reparations. The outcome, and the tens of thousands of internally displaced people who moved from annexed Karelia into Finland proper, makes the modern-day situation in Ukraine seem chillingly familiar to many Finns.  

“To be honest I don’t know how it happened exactly but I was watching the war, and then I started to feel that maybe I should do something, and I was sitting at home enjoying the little things in life like cinnamon buns and IPA beer,” Hobbit tells Euronews. 

“I thought why am I staying at home and enjoying this without any care in the world when 18-year-olds in Ukraine have to go to war without much training: This is the rifle, this is how you shoot, you are good to go. But I have training.” 

Like most Finnish men, Hobbit had served his conscription in the military although he says he didn’t much enjoy it at the time, with too many rules and restrictions.

Whether nine months of basic training really prepared him for war is a different question.

“No training can be the same as war of course. But I had an advantage because the Finnish army has always trained for combat against Russia, so I was taught how to survive. That is also one of the reasons why I felt I should come because we have knowledge to share.”

Hobbit’s family was less sure he should volunteer in Ukraine. “They didn’t like it at all. But in the end we discussed, and I expressed my views. I will be disappointed in myself if I do not go. It’s my life. If I die it’s my choice.” 

It’s September 2022. 

Russia illegally annexes Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporizhizhia as Vladimir Putin announces a “partial mobilisation” of 300,000 troops to fight in Ukraine. It’s a further sign that things are not going the way the Kremlin planned, and the call-up triggers a mass exodus of military-age Russian men trying to escape conscription. 

Hobbit is on the front line of fighting in the small town of Petropavlivka, near Kupiansk.

Along with another Finnish volunteer, he’s assigned to fire support. 

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“I had a heavy machine gun stolen from a Russian tank, and my job was to move and cover the advance through the town,” he recalls.  

The pair moved into position near a crossroads, where advancing Ukrainian forces would be exposed in an open area. Hobbit had just put his gun down into a makeshift firing position when they spotted a Russian BMP-2M – an infantry fighting vehicle – a few hundred metres away. 

“I thought there was a slight chance to hit some critical system, to disable the BMP. Or if I hit it from the side, rounds might actually go through, so I started blasting the BMP and managed to empty three belts of ammunition into the vehicle and the dismounting infantry.” 

Hobbit was firing the third belt when the bullets zinged through the air. He’d been so focused on the main target that he didn’t notice the Russian sniper. One shot hit him low in the calf, embedding deep into his foot, shattering bones and severing tendons. 

Video from a body-worn camera shows the action in real time that day, and captures the moment when Hobbit is hit. He screams in agony, and swears in Finnish, a language well suited to profanities. His battle buddy calls for a medevac and soon another foreign fighter shows up in an SUV. Hobbit is unceremoniously bundled into the back, his foot bandaged, as he’s driven away. 

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After a month in a Ukrainian hospital, he is transferred to Finland where his family visits him for the first time since he was injured. 

“They were shocked. There was not many words spoken, but many tears.” 

If Hobbit was one of the first Finnish volunteers to show up in Ukraine, then Mariachi is one of the newest. He’s only been in the country a few months.

The nickname, he says, is a nod to his Latin American heritage. 

Studying abroad, the 22-year-old was helping out with pro-Ukraine events on campus but knew he wanted to do more to help – a lot more. 

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“It was my second year at university and I could not focus on anything. I was in school, but in my head, I was browsing the news about what was happening at the front. It was the beginning of last summer I decided I wanted to go. That’s why it took me a long time to get here, I had to prepare.” 

He first floated the idea of going to Ukraine with his dad five months before finally moving. 

“I told him what was on my mind, but he didn’t take it that well. I told my friends about one month before. They tried to stop me, and persuade me not to go. That’s a sign you have good friends. Nobody told me it was a good idea but I wouldn’t be here if I had listened to them,” Mariachi says from his base outside Kyiv, where he’s training with a reconnaissance platoon. 

Unlike the initial waves of foreign volunteers who arrived haphazardly and either served with the International Brigade or operated more independently, Mariachi is serving directly with a Ukrainian unit.

“Ukrainian commanders want good international soldiers in their units, and my commander has been actively recruiting Finnish soldiers here and reservists back in Finland.”

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The advantages are that Ukrainian units get new soldiers who already have more training than Ukrainian recruits have time for. “These guys are battle-hardened, they know how to function out there in the trenches, but they’re civilians who became soldiers out of necessity, they’re not trained army men. The average Ukrainian soldier doesn’t get much training time.” 

One thing Mariachi and the other Finnish fighters in Ukraine have come to rely on is the enviable network put in place back home to support them. 

Kasper Kannosto from the Your Finnish Friends charity explains they’ve bought more than €350,000 of supplies since 2022, and received material donations like cars and equipment worth €100,000. 

On the shopping list has been defensive equipment, night vision goggles, cold weather clothing, socks, generators, pick-up trucks, vans and tools. 

“We include Finnish chocolate and coffee in the packages,” he adds. 

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Mariachi is waiting on a particular brand of boots he likes, which should soon arrive via the Helsinki-Kyiv supply pipeline, and describes the service as “crucial” in providing Finnish fighters with the equipment they need.  

“I’m serving in a recon platoon and if you don’t have night vision goggles you’re fucked. That’s the reality here. And even a good, cheaper pair of night vision headsets can cost €4,500 or €5,000 which is three to four months of active pay,” he says. 

It’s March 2023. 

Bitter fighting rages in the eastern city of Bakhmut, with casualties so high it earns the grim nickname of ‘meat grinder’. Ukraine gets its first delivery of Western heavy tanks: Challengers from Britain and Leopards from Germany, as Vladimir Putin says he plans to move tactical nuclear weapons into Belarus. 

Hobbit is back in Ukraine as well, although his foot is still not healed so he needs a stick to walk around, which confines him to a desk job in logistics for months at a time while he rehabs his injury to get back in fighting shape. 

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It takes him another six months before he’s running again, and when he can do 5km he’s deployed near Bakhmut – a ruined city where ‘success’ is measured house by house and village by village. Tiny incremental gains that do little but sap morale and increase the body count on both sides.

It’s October 2023.

On this mission, Hobbit is the squad leader of a machinegun team, assaulting south of Bakhmut. They’re in the treeline, advancing towards enemy positions when Russian artillery hones in on them. 

“Our whole assault element got hit by artillery, just me and a couple of others were uninjured,” he recalls flatly. 

“The assault was cancelled and we spent the next six or seven hours evacuating the wounded. When we went back for the last wounded guy we picked him up on the stretcher and artillery hit next to us.” 

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Hobbit was injured for the second time, shrapnel in his shoulder and arm. They couldn’t move to safety, or move the last badly injured soldier, because of the incoming Russian artillery fire. Stuck in a foxhole, they waited for hours until they were finally able to get out. 

After a month in hospital, Hobbit requested a transfer to a Ukrainian unit but was assigned as temporary platoon leader in the meantime. “I lasted only three weeks in that role, not a great job. There was very little sleep and a lot of stress and responsibility at least with regards to the Bakhmut fighting.”

“I ended up just crying on my last day, that I can’t do it any more. Luckily I got some time off.”

It’s February 2024. 

The conflict has largely ground to a halt, with Russian and Ukrainian forces digging into entrenched positions. The war has reached increasingly beyond Ukraine’s borders, with Russian oil refineries targeted by Kyiv’s drones, while Western countries hesitate to send more military aid which is badly needed by soldiers on the front lines. 

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“I feel the impact of diminishing support in the last couple of months. Germany is holding back its Taurus cruise missiles, and Europe is not giving as much aid as they should,” says Hobbit. 

“In the beginning, we were so outnumbered by the Russians that when we saw observation posts and called in artillery, we didn’t have shit.” 

“The Kharkiv offensive changed all that, we came level with the Russians. But in the last month it’s back the other way again, Russians hitting us with more artillery,” he says. 

So how long does he plan to stay in Ukraine, risking his life for a foreign country, swerving away from death each time it approaches head-on?

“I hope I won’t be here forever. But definitely until victory.” 

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“The whole idea of a normal life seems impossible now. It’s hard to imagine a life after this.”

“The only thing I can imagine is a party on the day when we win. But what comes after I don’t know. It’s just a cloud.”

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Will Zelenskyy’s four-star general become his main political opponent?

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

The Zelenskyy-Zaluzhnyi beef is a reminder that the essence of politics lies in disagreement or divergence of group interests — especially when those interests involve the survival of the nation and its people, Aleksandar Đokić writes.

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As the war in Ukraine nears the two-year mark, global attention has radically shifted away from Russia’s ongoing act of aggression. Battlefield reports have become scarce, and the continued humanitarian crisis affecting tens of millions of Ukrainians barely makes the news any more.

Yet, the most recent bombshell out of Kyiv alleging a behind-the-scenes dispute between President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and army commander-in-chief Valerii Zaluzhnyi brought Ukraine to the headlines of the media around the world once more. 

Rumours of Zaluzhnyi’s imminent dismissal as a consequence of an ever-widening rift between two key figures in wartime Ukraine of today are said to be tied to the fact that Zaluzhnyi — seen by many as a level-headed realist — has become increasingly more popular among Ukrainians than Zelenskyy himself.

While the Ukrainian president dismissed this as “not true”, fears over Zaluzhnyi’s rise in popularity in domestic politics would serve to prove that, while a nation’s unity in times of war might be strong, concord in politics tends to be very short-lived.

And if anything, the Zelenskyy-Zaluzhnyi beef is a reminder that the essence of politics lies in disagreement or divergence of group interests — especially when those interests involve the survival of the nation and its people.

What unites a country?

In fact, history has shown that the unity of the people and various political options is an unnatural state in the realm of politics. 

This coming together of an entire society is usually either a product of tyranny from within — where unity represents merely a false image of itself, as in the case of Vladimir Putin’s Russia — or forced from the outside by aggressive foreign powers threatening the sole existence of a nation. 

Going a mere decade back, Ukrainian society was, like any other, divided between conflicting interests of various groups, represented by political parties, with a meddling oligarchic element to boot. 

However, Ukrainians already had a unifying incentive, that many societies luckily don’t have — an increasingly aggressive and revanchist great power at its doorstep, attempting to capture Ukraine’s territory and reconfigure its national identity. 

The Ukrainian political class didn’t only face the cumbersome task of building democratic institutions and curbing oligarchic influence over the political sphere. It also had to do so while dealing with the military aggression of its now resurgent former imperial master. 

Enter Zelenskyy

Fast forward to the last presidential electoral cycle in Ukraine in 2019: the current president of the country, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, achieved a unifying effect never seen before in contemporary Ukrainian politics. 

In the runoff, he got both the west and the east of the country to support him, while replacing a string of oligarchs who preceded him, including Petro Poroshenko and Viktor Yanukovich.

Russia’s total war against Ukraine in 2022 changed the political landscape of both countries. 

Moscow slid into totalitarianism, while in Ukraine, the vast majority of the nation rallied around President Zelenskyy, a political figure only a few considered to be as resilient as he turned out to be. 

Zelenskyy, a man of charisma and a politician who understood how to appropriately communicate with a wide audience, helped the Ukrainian people beat back the main onslaught of Russian troops. 

Western aid, in terms of armaments and finances, came later. It was Zelenskyy’s voice, his presence, that instilled hope in the hearts of Ukrainians around the world. 

Even those who mocked him and thought he was incapable of holding the highest political office, came to respect his actions when they were needed the most, and Zelenskyy went on to become a globally recognised leader of a nation embroiled in a David vs Goliath-esque contest.

The nature of politics inevitably rears its head

However, after nearly two years of bloody war, the frontlines barely moving, and new wars and crises arising elsewhere, Ukraine lost its leading place in the world news reports. Zelenskyy’s aplomb just wasn’t enough any more. 

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Internally, the nature of politics began to show itself. By mid-2023, it was already clear that Zelenskyy would be facing renewed opposition. 

His controversial former advisor Oleksiy Arestovych immediately presented himself as a promising potential leader of the “stalemate” or “sober” party — claiming to be the actual realist in the room. 

He alone, nonetheless, didn’t stand much chance against Zelenskyy, having switched too many political camps in his career, and it became evident that not many of those who were a part of the pre-war opposition would back him. 

With Zelenskyy at the helm of the determined resistance strain of Ukrainian politics, then who could be the face of the stalemate party, without him or her being labelled a defeatist or, even worse, Putin’s agent? 

The answer to that question was clear to the opposition veterans from the start — four-star general Valerii Zaluzhnyi definitely fits the bill. 

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Will the four-star general stand and be counted?

The general, already a war hero, is surely a strong-willed and determined individual, marked by the makings of a Macarthurian type of character. And more importantly, he has the overwhelming trust of the Ukrainian people on his side.

A December 2023 poll by the Kyiv Institute of Sociology showed that 88% of Ukrainians supported Zaluzhnyi, while Zelenskyy’s approval rating hovered at around 62%.

The same poll demonstrated that while the absolute majority of Ukrainians also do not favour the option of peace in lieu of giving up a part of their country’s territory — 74% are against it — a growing number of people now see the stalemate as a possibility, with 19% ready to accept it (up from 14% in October and 10% in May).

Zaluzhnyi’s words in a now-infamous interview in November 2023, where he expressed his reservation that Ukraine might be stuck in a long and costly war, have stung the ever-persistent Zelenskyy just as much as they have made the possible pact with the devil seem slightly more acceptable than the continued devastation of Ukraine.

At the same time, his outspoken and direct takes also piqued the interest of the nearly-inert Ukrainian opposition, already significantly weakened after the 2019 elections and following February 2022, when it lost almost all of its appeal. 

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Yet, the passage of time and lack of progress on the battlefield has made them once again engage in a political match against Zelenskyy, as can be gleaned from those from the Verkhovna Rada issuing accusatory statements aimed at him while supporting Zaluzhnyi to the Western press these days. 

All they need now is a respectable leader to stand and be counted.

Aleksandar Đokić is a Serbian political scientist and analyst with bylines in Novaya Gazeta. He was formerly a lecturer at RUDN University in Moscow.

At Euronews, we believe all views matter. Contact us at [email protected] to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.

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ICJ partially rejects Ukraine ‘terror’ case against Russia

All the latest developments on the war in Ukraine.

Russia and Ukraine swap scores of POWs despite tensions over a plane crash last week

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Russia and Ukraine have exchanged about 200 prisoners of war each, the countries said Wednesday, despite tensions stemming from last week’s crash of a military transport plane that Moscow claimed was carrying Ukrainian POWs and was shot down by Kyiv’s forces.

After the 24 January crash of the Il-76 plane in Russia’s Belgorod region near the border with Ukraine, some Russian officials had publicly questioned the possibility of future POW swaps.

Russia’s Defence Ministry said the countries exchanged 195 POWs each. After the statement was released, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said 207 Ukrainians were freed. There was no immediate explanation for the different figures.

“We remember each Ukrainian in captivity. Both warriors and civilians. We must bring all of them back. We are working on it,” Zelenskyy said on X, formerly Twitter.

Dmytro Lubinets, Ukraine’s ombudsman for human rights, said on social media that it was the 50th such exchange since the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion nearly two years ago, with a total of 3,035 POWs repatriated.

Among the Ukrainians released were members of the armed forces, National Guard, Border Service and national police, said Andrii Yermak, head of Ukraine’s Presidential Office. He added that some of them had been captured while defending Mariupol, Azovstal, and Snake Island.

The Russian military said, without providing details or evidence, that the Russian POWs who were swapped Wednesday “faced deadly danger in captivity” and will be flown to Moscow for treatment and rehabilitation.

Moscow had said 65 Ukrainian POWs had been aboard the military transport that crashed 24 January. Ukrainian officials confirmed that a swap was due to take place that day and was called off, but said it has seen no evidence the plane was carrying the POWs.

Meeting with his campaign staff in Moscow as he ramps up his run for reelection, President Vladimir Putin said Russian investigators concluded that Ukraine used US-supplied Patriot air defence systems to shoot down the transport plane. Ukrainian officials didn’t deny the plane’s downing but didn’t take responsibility and called for an international investigation.

Putin said Russia wouldn’t just welcome but would “insist” on an international inquiry on what he described as a “crime” by Ukraine.

ICJ judges largely reject Ukraine’s “terror” case against Russia

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) rejected on Wednesday almost all of Ukraine’s claims on Russia violating the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism.

The United Nations’ top court rejected large parts of the case filed by Ukraine, alleging that Russia bankrolled separatist rebels in the country’s east a decade ago and discriminated against Crimea’s multi-ethnic community, the International Court of Justice ruled Wednesday that Moscow violated articles of two treaties.

Russia has not fulfilled its obligations only on one provision of the convention, said ICJ President Joan Donoghue while reading out the decision in The Hague.

“Russia failed to fulfill its obligations to conduct investigations against individuals who allegedly could finance terrorism in Ukraine,” she said.

Most of Ukraine’s claims under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination were also found to be ungrounded.

“The Court rejects all other claims of Ukraine in relation to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination,” the order read.

However, it added that Russia had violated its obligations under Articles 2 and 5 of the convention through its implementation of its educational system in Crimea after 2014 with regard to schooling in the Ukrainian language.

Even though it rejected far more of Kyiv’s claims under the treaties, Anton Korynevych, a lawyer representing Ukraine at the ICJ, said it was a “really important day” because the court had still ruled that Russia had “violated international law.”

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Ukraine sued Russia for violating both conventions in 2017, and labeled breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk “terrorist organisations financed by Russia.”

Kyiv also insisted that Russia was allegedly conducting a targeted campaign of racial discrimination against Crimean Tatars and Ukrainians in Crimea.

The court also rejected Ukraine’s request for Moscow to pay reparations for attacks in eastern Ukraine blamed on pro-Russia Ukrainian rebels, including the 17 July 2014, downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 that killed all 298 passengers and crew.

Azov Brigade uses a howitzer to fire at Russian positions in eastern Ukraine

An artillery unit of the Azov Brigade in eastern Ukraine has used a howitzer to fire at Russian positions, as Ukraine’s forces continue to grapple with ammunition shortages.

The unit, embedded in the forest near Lyman, said Russian forces were attempting to advance and their work was crucial to hold them back.

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The situation in the Kreminna direction is tense with Russians making assaults every day, the soldiers say.

“As on the entire frontline, it is quite tense here because there are active assaults that we are fighting back and this requires a lot of ammunition,” said “Vyarag”, an Azov Brigade howitzer calculation commander.

The brigade is facing a lack of ammunition and parts to repair the American howitzers they received last September.

For now, they have only 10% of the total number they need to fight Russians said one of the commanders of the artillery division.

The brigade said that they are constantly inventing new fighting strategies to deter the Russians, but to go on a counterattack to win, more ammunition is needed.

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Even with a shortage of ammunition, soldiers are not lacking motivation.

Putin holds meeting on development of occupied Ukrainian territories

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday chaired a meeting on the economic development of occupied Ukrainian territories.

Moscow spent almost two trillion rubles on a “comprehensive” development programme of Russia-held parts of Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions last year, Putin said.

Over two million local residents there are already receiving social security payments, he added.

“The economy is gradually recovering, including industry. More than one-and-a-half hundred enterprises in mechanical engineering, metallurgy, mining, and other important industries in all these regions have resumed work.

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Support for farmers has been established, banks and shops are operating,” Putin claimed.

He urged Russian banks to start working in the occupied territories.

“Everything that was feared before – sanctions – has already happened. What is there to be afraid of? You need to enter these territories and work more actively there,” Putin said.

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