Russia Edges Toward Debt Payment Default

Russia moved closer Sunday to defaulting on international debt payments for the first time in a century. 

Interest payments totaling $100 million on two bonds were originally due May 27, but carried a 30-day grace period. 

Russia has struggled to make such payments due to restrictions on its financial activities and sanctions imposed in response to its invasion of Ukraine that began in late February. 

Russian forces launched new missile attacks Sunday on Ukraine’s two biggest cities, the capital of Kyiv and Kharkiv. 

Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said at least two apartment buildings in the city were hit, leaving at least one person dead, and four others injured. 

Russia also ramped up its use of cruise missiles, striking targets across northwestern Ukraine. Air raid sirens blared in several cities. 

“It’s more of their barbarism,” U.S. President Joe Biden said of the Russian strike on Kyiv as he appeared at a G-7 welcoming ceremony with Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany. 

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a key focus of the summit. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is due to address the meeting Monday. 

Biden said that the United States and the other G-7 economies will ban the import of Russian gold, the latest sanction imposed on Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine, now in its fifth month. 

The leaders of the G-7 nations — Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States — are trying to maintain unity against Russia, even with the war’s growing toll on the global economy, including in the U.S., which is confronting a four-decade high surge in consumer prices. 

The new attack on Kyiv came a day after the withdrawal of Ukrainian troops from the eastern city of Sievierodonetsk, a major victory for Russia after weeks of fierce fighting. 

Russia now controls virtually all of the Luhansk province, part of the eastern Donbas region that Moscow is trying to take over, one of its major war aims. 

Ukraine said Russian forces had fully occupied Lysychansk, a neighboring city of Sievierodonetsk, in the eastern Luhansk region. Moscow claimed it had encircled about 2,000 Ukrainian troops in the area. 

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.

your ad here

Erdogan to Meet With Leaders of Sweden, Finland Before NATO Summit in 4-Way Talks

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan will attend a round of talks with the leaders of Sweden and Finland, as well as NATO on Tuesday ahead of the summit in Madrid, Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said Sunday.

Finland and Sweden applied for NATO membership in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But the bids have faced opposition from Turkey, which has been angered by what it says is Helsinki and Stockholm’s support for Kurdish militants and arms embargoes on Ankara.

Speaking to broadcaster Haberturk, Kalin said he and Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Onal would also attend a round of talks with Swedish and Finnish delegations in Brussels on Monday.

“There will be a four-way summit in Madrid at the leader level in Madrid upon the request of the NATO secretary-general with the attendance of our president,” he said.

Kalin said Erdogan attending the talks with Sweden, Finland and NATO on Tuesday “does not mean we will take a step back from our position.”

“We have brought negotiations to a certain point. It is not possible for us to take a step back here,” he also said of the upcoming talks.

Kalin said Turkey and the Nordic countries had largely agreed on issues and would be in a better position in Madrid— if they could agree on them during talks Monday.

your ad here

Ukraine War Could Boost Illegal Drug Production, says UN

The war in Ukraine could allow illegal drug production to flourish, while the opium market’s future hinges on the fate of crisis-wracked Afghanistan, the United Nations warned Monday. 

Previous experience from the Middle East and Southeast Asia suggests conflict zones can act as a “magnet” for making synthetic drugs, which can be manufactured anywhere, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said in its annual report. “This effect may be greater when the conflict area is near large consumer markets.” 

The UNODC said the number of dismantled amphetamine laboratories in Ukraine rose from 17 in 2019 to 79 in 2020, the highest number of seized laboratories reported in any country in 2020. 

Ukraine’s capacity to produce synthetic drugs could grow as the war continues, it added. 

“You don’t have police going around and stopping laboratories” in conflict zones, UNODC expert Angela Me told AFP. 

The report also noted that conflict could shift and disrupt drug trafficking routes, with suggestions that trafficking in Ukraine has fallen since early 2022. 

The situation in Afghanistan — which produced 86% of the world’s opium in 2021 — will shape the development of the opiate market, the U.N. report added. 

It said the country’s humanitarian crisis could incentivize illegal opium poppy cultivation, even after the Taliban authorities banned the practice in April. 

“Changes in opium production in Afghanistan will have implications for opiate markets in virtually all regions of the world,” the U.N. said. 

An estimated 284 million people used a drug in 2021, or one in every 18 people worldwide aged between 15 and 64, the report found. 

The figure was 26% higher than in 2010, with population growth only partially accounting for the change. 

Cocaine production climbed to a new record in 2020 at 1,982 tons. 

Although most drug consumers were men, Me said women heavily used amphetamine type stimulants and were under-represented in treatment. 

“For them, it’s a double stigma. Going there is also to expose themselves,” she told AFP. “We have put a recommendation on safety and how to ensure that the centers have the possibility to welcome children.” 

The UNODC report was based on information gathered from member states, its own sources, and analyzing institutional reports, the media and open-source material.

your ad here

Greece to Triple Length of Border Fence With Turkey

Greece is set to further seal its land frontiers with rival neighbor Turkey, tripling the length of a soaring fence built to block illegal migrants from sneaking in. The plan comes as Greece faces a sudden surge in refugees, both along its land and sea frontiers, as relations with its age-old foe deteriorate.

Greece began extending the security fence along its rugged border with Turkey last year, a decade after Athens initially built a 13-kilometer fence in the region to stem the tide of illegal migration.

But a sudden surge in refugee flows has authorities concerned now.

“There is a clear attempt by Turkey to instrumentalize migrants in creating a crisis with Greece,” said Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi. And the numbes, he added, speak for themselves.

While inflows dropped dramatically from the 1 million mainly Syrians who spilled into the country during the 2015 refugee crisis, an estimated 1,000 migrants make illegal crossings every day.

That’s about 20% higher than last year.

Hundreds of additional border guards have been deployed along the so-called Evros frontier in recent weeks to bolster patrols. But with fears of a bigger migratory push looming, Mitarachi said Greece is wasting no time in moving ahead with plans to add 80 additional kilometers of barbed wire and steel to the existing 40-kilometer fence.

How soon the project will begin remains unclear. But until it gets under way, Greece must deal with heightened migratory flows along its sea borders too… mainly in the massive Aegean waterway that divides Greece and Turkey.

Nikos Spanos, an admiral with the Greek Coast Guard, spelled out the threats posed by this latest surge.

“Let’s not kid ourselves,” he said. “Turkey regulates all migratory flows into Greece and Europe… and if the floodgates open farther, it will be very difficult for us to block these inflows from inundating many Greek islands.”

In June, Migration Ministry officials counted nearly three thousand migrants who tried to illegally cross into Greece from Turkey in a total of 82 attempts made. Only 72 asylum seekers managed to evade interception.

With relations between Greece and longtime foe Turkey sinking to their lowest point in years, authorities here are preparing for the worst: Massive inflows like those seen in 2015 in the biggest migratory push to Europe since World War II.

Although they are NATO members, Greece and Turkey have been competing over air and sea rights in the Aegean for decades. In recent weeks though, Turkey has threatened to challenge Greece’s sovereignty, claiming that more than 100 Aegean islands are its own, not Greece’s.

Ankara is also increasingly accusing Athens of building a military presence on some of them in breach of international treaties, allegations that Greece strongly denies.

Government sources told VOA Greece will raise what it calls Turkey’s provocative stance at a meeting of NATO leaders this week in Spain.

your ad here

Germany to Charge Most Citizens for COVID Rapid Tests

Germany will start charging for rapid COVID-19 tests that were previously free, though vulnerable groups will be exempt from the fee.

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said that starting July 1 the rapid tests widely available at centers across Germany will cost citizens 3 euros ($3.16) each, with the rest subsidized by the government.

The tests will remain free for people who can prove they belong to vulnerable groups, for visitors to care homes and hospitals, and for small children.

The planned end to free tests at the end of June has raised concerns that Germany might experience an undetected rise in coronavirus cases over the coming months as people unwittingly spread the virus.

Lauterbach said the government has calculated that subsidies for the tests will cost some 2.6 billion euros in the second half of the year — about a third of what it paid in the same period of 2021.

Germany on Friday recorded over 108,000 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases in 24 hours, and 90 additional deaths.

your ad here

Russia’s Putin to Make First Foreign Trip Since Launching Ukraine War 

Vladimir Putin will visit two small former Soviet states in Central Asia this week, Russian state television reported Sunday, in what would be the Russian leader’s first known trip abroad since ordering the invasion of Ukraine.

Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion has killed thousands of people, displaced millions more and led to severe financial sanctions from the West, which Putin says are a reason to build stronger trade ties with other powers such as China, India and Iran.

Pavel Zarubin, the Kremlin correspondent of the Rossiya 1 state television station, said Putin would visit Tajikistan and Turkmenistan and then meet Indonesian President Joko Widodo for talks in Moscow.

In Dushanbe, Putin will meet Tajik President Emomali Rahmon, a close Russian ally and the longest-serving ruler of a former Soviet state. In Ashgabat, he will attend a summit of Caspian nations including the leaders of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Iran and Turkmenistan, Zarubin said.

Putin’s last known trip outside Russia was a visit to the Beijing in early February, where he and Chinese President Xi Jinping unveiled a “no limits” friendship treaty hours before both attended the opening ceremony of the Olympic Winter Games.

Russia says it sent troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24 to degrade its neighbor’s military capabilities, keep it from being used by the West to threaten Russia, root out nationalists and defend Russian speakers in eastern regions. Ukraine calls the invasion an imperial-style land grab.

your ad here

Russia Attacks Ukraine’s Two Biggest Cities, Kyiv and Kharkiv 

Russia launched new missile attacks Sunday on Ukraine’s two biggest cities, the capital of Kyiv and Kharkiv, even as leaders of the Group of Seven nations from the world’s leading democracies held talks in the Bavarian Alps to determine new ways to isolate Moscow.

Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said at least two apartment buildings in the city were hit, leaving at least one person dead, and four others injured.

Russia ramped up its use of cruise missiles, striking targets across northwestern Ukraine. Air raid sirens blared in several cities.

“It’s more of their barbarism,” U.S. President Joe Biden said of the Russian strike on Kyiv as he appeared at a G-7 welcoming ceremony with Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a key focus of the summit. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Saturday he will take part in the meeting Monday.

Biden said that the United States and the other G-7 economies will ban the import of Russian gold, the latest sanction imposed on Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine, now in its fifth month.

The leaders of the G-7 nations — Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States — are trying to maintain unity against Russia, even with the war’s growing toll on the global economy, including in the U.S., which is confronting a four-decade high surge in consumer prices.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on CNN’s “State of the Union” show that Western nations cannot succumb to weariness in the fight against Russia and “have to step up to freedom and democracy.”

Johnson called the U.S. “a shining city on the hill and it will continue to be” in the pursuit of Ukrainian freedom. He said it would be “catastrophic” for Russian President Vladimir Putin to prevail in taking over Ukraine.

Russia has made advances in eastern Ukraine even though it failed earlier in the war to topple Zelenskyy’s government or capture Kyiv.

The new attack on Kyiv came a day after the withdrawal of Ukrainian troops from the eastern city of Sievierodonetsk, a major victory for Russia after weeks of fierce fighting, with the ongoing battles resulting in international food and fuel price increases.

Russia now controls virtually all of the Luhansk province, part of the eastern Donbas region that Moscow is trying to take over, one of its major war aims.

Russian rocket attacks across Ukraine on Saturday were reported to be launched from Belarusian airspace, just hours before Putin met with Belarusian President Aleksander Lukashenko in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Zelenskyy said in his daily address Saturday that “Ukraine needs more armed assistance, and that air defense systems — the modern systems that our partners have — should be not in training areas or storage facilities, but in Ukraine, where they are now needed. Needed more than anywhere else in the world.”

Ukraine said Russian forces had fully occupied Lysychansk, a neighboring city of Sievierodonetsk, in the eastern Luhansk region. Moscow claimed it had encircled about 2,000 Ukrainian troops in the area.

To stabilize the situation in Luhansk, Ukraine needs “fire parity” with Russia, Ukraine’s top general told his U.S. counterpart Friday.

“We discussed the operational situation and the delivery flow of international technical assistance,” Ukraine’s General Valeriy Zaluzhnyy wrote on the Telegram app after a phone call with the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley.

Ukraine has said Russia’s artillery advantage on the Donbas front lines is taking a significant toll on Ukrainian troops and has called on its Western partners to supply more weapons to minimize the deficit.

A senior U.S. defense official Friday praised the Ukrainian decision to withdraw from Sievierodonetsk, describing the move as “professional” and “tactical.”

“What they are doing is putting themselves in a position where they can better defend themselves,” the official told reporters on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss intelligence and other sensitive information.

And while the official said Russian forces have been able to gain ground around Sievierodonetsk, the gains have come at considerable cost.

“The Russians have suffered heavy casualties and they also have suffered heavy equipment losses,” the official said. “The Russian forces are showing the signs of wear and tear, and debilitated morale, and it is impacting their ability to move forward swiftly.”

your ad here

Russia Attacks Ukraine Capital

Russia launched an attack on Ukraine’s capital Sunday.

Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said at least one apartment building was hit in the shelling.

The attack Sunday comes on the same day that Group of Seven leaders from the world’s richest democracies are meeting in Germany.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will be a main focus of the summit. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Saturday he will take part in the summit Monday.

Before the opening of the summit, U.S. President Joe Biden said that the U.S. and the other G-7 economies will ban the import of Russian gold, the latest sanction imposed on Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine.

The attack on Ukraine’s capital comes a day after the withdrawal of Ukrainian troops from the eastern city of Sievierodonetsk, a major victory for Russia after weeks of fierce fighting, with the ongoing battles resulting in international food and fuel price hikes.

Meanwhile, Russia launched rocket attacks across Ukraine on Saturday. The attacks were reported to be launched from Belarusian airspace, just hours before Russian President Vladimir Putin was scheduled to meet with Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Zelenskyy said in his daily address Saturday that “Ukraine needs more armed assistance, and that air defense systems — the modern systems that our partners have – should be not in training areas or storage facilities, but in Ukraine, where they are now needed. Needed more than anywhere else in the world.”

Ukraine said Russian forces had fully occupied Lysychansk, a neighboring city of Sievierodonetsk, in the eastern Luhansk region. Moscow claimed it had encircled about 2,000 Ukrainian troops in the area.

The Russian advances appeared to bring the Kremlin closer to taking full control of Luhansk province, one of Moscow’s stated war objectives.

To stabilize the situation in Luhansk, Ukraine needs “fire parity” with Russia, Ukraine’s top general told his U.S. counterpart Friday.

“We discussed the operational situation and the delivery flow of international technical assistance,” Ukraine’s General Valeriy Zaluzhniy wrote on the Telegram app after a phone call with the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley.

Ukraine has said Russia’s artillery advantage on the Donbas front lines is taking a significant toll on Ukrainian troops and has called on its Western partners to supply more weapons to minimize the deficit.

A senior U.S. defense official on Friday praised the Ukrainian decision to withdraw from Sievierodonetsk, describing the move as “professional” and “tactical.”

“What they are doing is putting themselves in a position where they can better defend themselves,” the official told reporters on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss intelligence and other sensitive information.

And while the official said Russian forces have been able to eke out gains around Sievierodonetsk, the gains have come at considerable cost.

“The Russians have suffered heavy casualties and they also have suffered heavy equipment losses,” the official said. “The Russian forces are showing the signs of wear and tear, and debilitated morale, and it is impacting their ability to move forward swiftly.”

your ad here

As Summit Host, Spain Urges NATO to Watch its Southern Flank 

While Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is certain to dominate an upcoming NATO summit in Madrid, Spain and other member nations are quietly pushing the Western alliance to consider how mercenaries aligned with Russian President Vladimir Putin are spreading Moscow’s influence to Africa.

As the host of the summit taking place from Tuesday to Thursday, Spain wants to emphasize its proximity to Africa as it lobbies for a greater focus on Europe’s southern flank in a new document outlining NATO’s vision of its security challenges and tasks.

The Strategic Concept is NATO’s most important working document after the North Atlantic Treaty of 1949, which contained the key provision holding that an attack on one member is viewed as an attack upon all. The security assessment is updated roughly every decade to reset the West’s security agenda.

The current version, approved in Lisbon in 2010, stated the risk of a conventional war on NATO territory was “low.” It did not explicitly mention concerns about instability in Africa. At the time, the alliance viewed apathy as its biggest military threat; U.S. complaints that some European members were not paying their due featured heavily in summit talks.

Fast forward a dozen years, and the view looks very different from NATO headquarters in Brussels. After Russia brought war close to NATO’s eastern borders, the alliance has worked to provide Ukraine with an assortment of more powerful weapons and to avoid the very real risk of getting drawn into the fighting.

But there appears to be a consensus among NATO members heading into the Madrid summit that while Russia remains concern No. 1, the alliance must continue to widen its view globally. Spain’s position for an increased focus on “the South” is shared by Britain, France and Italy.

In their view, the security challenges in Africa arise from a Putin apparently dead-set on restoring the imperial glories of Russia as well as from an expansive China. Russia has gained traction thanks to the presence of its mercenaries in the Sahel region, a semiarid expanse stretching from Senegal to Sudan that suffers from political strife, terrorism and drought.

“Each time I meet with NATO ministers, the support of the allies is total due to the instability that we see on the alliance’s southern frontier and especially the situation in the Sahel region right now,” Spanish Foreign Minister José Albares said.

The Kremlin denies links to the Wagner Group, a mercenary force with an increasing presence in central and North Africa and the Middle East. The private military company, which has also participated in the war in Ukraine, has developed footholds in Libya, Mali, Sudan and Central African Republic.

In Mali, Wagner soldiers are filling a void created by the exit of former colonial power France. In Sudan, Russia’s offer of an economic alliance earned it the promise of a naval base on the Red Sea. In Central African Republic, Wagner fighters protect the country’s gold and diamond mines. In return, Putin gets diplomatic allies and resources.

French President Emmanuel Macron as long called for a “greater involvement” from NATO in the Sahel region. Now that Wagner has moved into Mali, French authorities underlined that Wagner mercenaries were accused of human right abuses in the Central African Republic, Libya and Syria.

Former NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana said that Russia’s brutal military campaign in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during his country’s long civil war left it emboldened.

“Syria gave [the Russians] the sentiment that they could be more active in that part of the world,” Solana told The Associated Press. “They have very good relations with Algeria and they have (…) the Wagner type of people in the Sahel, which is delicate.”

With the Sahel, Morocco and Algeria at risk of worsening instability, “the southern part of NATO, for Portugal, Spain, Greece, etc., they would like to have an eye open to that part of the world,” he said.

Italy is another NATO member attuned to the political climate across the Mediterranean Sea. The country is home to NATO’s Joint Force Command base in Naples, which in 2017 opened a south hub Hub focusing specifically on terrorism, radicalization, migration and other security issues emanating from North Africa and the Middle East.

The Italian ambassador to NATO, Francesco Maria Talo, said in a May interview with Italian news agency ANSA that humanitarian crises in Africa must concern all NATO allies.

“Near us there’s Africa, with a billion inhabitants at risk of poverty, aggravated by food insecurity, terrorism and climate change, all factors that combine to create insecurity,” Talo said. “And Russia is present there, too.”

The importance of the other side of the Mediterranean became painfully evident to Spain over the past year due to a series of diplomatic crises involving Morocco and Algeria and their rivalry over the fate of Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony.

Amid the disputes, reduced border security allowed migrants to enter Spanish territory, and there were perceived threats to energy supplies. Analysts consider both to be tactics of “hybrid warfare” when governments use them against other countries.

Speaking in Madrid last month, British Defense Minister Ben Wallace noted the problems caused last year when Belarus, a Putin ally, allegedly encouraged migrants to cross its borders into Poland and other neighboring countries.

“If the likes of Wagner get the control they have or they’d like to have in places like Libya or indeed what we see they’re already doing in Mali, do not think that Spain will be untouched by that,” Wallace said.

NATO is also expected to include in the new Strategic Document a reference to China’s growing military reach both in and beyond the Pacific theater. Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said last month in Madrid that “China has joined Russia in openly contesting the right of each and every country to choose his own path.”

In May, U.S. Army Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, commander of U.S. Africa Command, warned that China was trying to build a military naval base on Africa’s Atlantic coast. He said that China “has most traction” toward establishing the base in Equatorial Guinea, a tiny oil-rich dictatorship that was once Spain’s only sub-Saharan African colony.

China only operates one acknowledged foreign military base, located in Djibouti in East Africa. But many believe that its People’s Liberation Army is busy establishing an overseas military network, even if it doesn’t use the term “base.”

NATO has invited the leaders of Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand to the summit to demonstrate its interest in the Asian-Pacific.

The foreign minister of Mauritania, a former French colony in West Africa, is also invited to attend a working dinner of fellow foreign ministers at the NATO summit. NATO said the country, which borders Western Sahara, Algeria, Mali and Senegal, was “closely associated with the preparatory work” for the new Strategic Concept.

 

your ad here

G7 Leaders Meet in Germany

Germany welcomes the leaders of the G-7 wealthy democracies Sunday.

The summit for the leaders of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United States is being held in a castle in the Bavarian Alps.

The three-day meeting is being held in the shadow of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.  Political analysts say the G-7 leaders are expected to present unanimous support for Ukraine in its battle with Russia.

“The summit must send not only the message that NATO and the G-7 are more united than ever,” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz told German parliament recently, “but also that the democracies of the world stand together against [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s imperialism just as they do in the fight against hunger and poverty.”

The sanctions placed on Russia have sparked a spike in global food and energy prices.

After the G-7 summit, the world leaders will travel to Madrid for a NATO summit.

Some information for this report came from Reuters and AFP.

your ad here

Biden Arrives in Europe for Summits Focused on Ukraine, Economy

President Joe Biden touched down in Germany on Saturday, where he will attend the G-7 summit with the leaders of key U.S. allies to discuss their united front against Russia and troubling weakness in the world economy. 

Biden flew from Washington to Munich, then boarded the Marine One helicopter for the short flight to the summit location, Schloss Elmau. His first talks during his three-day stay will be with Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany on Sunday. 

The leaders of the seven wealthy democracies, the U.S., Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan, will meet in a luxurious castle in Germany’s Alps. 

Then they all head to Madrid for a NATO summit. 

Both sessions will take place in the shadow of Russia’s Ukraine invasion, but also a global surge in inflation, fears of recession, and the ever-growing challenge of containing China while avoiding open conflict. 

Biden has gained widespread praise for restoring U.S. leadership of its European and Asian alliances. The response to Russia in particular has seen strong transatlantic unity, both for arming the Ukrainians and imposing powerful economic sanctions against Moscow. 

But Biden, like several European leaders, is facing pressure at home over fallout from the sanctions, which have helped drive up fuel prices, imposing a heavy drag on economies exiting the COVID-19 shutdown. 

Biden is also burdened at home by a tense political situation ahead of November midterm elections that could see Republicans take back control of Congress for the next two years. 

A ruling by the Supreme Court on Friday to end decades of federal protections for access to abortion has opened a new battlefield, with Biden calling on voters to make it a key issue in November. 

He returned to the issue on Saturday before departing for Europe, saying the Supreme Court had made a “shocking decision.” 

“I know how painful and devastating the decision is for so many Americans,” he said.

your ad here

Life in Donbas: ‘We Would Like to Live a Little Bit Longer’

The prolonged roar of Grad rockets can be heard as locals in the east Ukrainian town of Siversk crowd around a van selling essentials such as bread, sausages and gas for camp stoves.

“Everyone is suffering. All of us here are trying to survive,” said Nina, a 64-year-old retiree, pushing a bicycle.

“There’s no water, no gas, no electricity. … We have been living for three months now under shelling. It’s like we’re in the Stone Ages,” she said.

The small town of mainly village-style single-story houses on dusty roads has become a new frontier in the war between Russia and Ukraine.

Ukrainian troops have given up defending the ravaged city of Sievierodonetsk and now face a battle with Russians seeking to encircle neighboring Lysychansk.

Siversk is the last major town en route to Lysychansk, albeit along roads that are severely damaged and under shelling and has Russian forces encroaching from the north and south.

Local people, many of them retirees, complain they feel abandoned by Kyiv.

“The town has really died. And we would like to live a little bit longer,” said Marina, 63, a retired factory worker.

“They’re just basically killing us. It’s dangerous everywhere,” Nina said. “No one needs us, there’s no help from the government. Ukraine has forgotten about us.”

‘Batteries are trending’

Military vehicles including U.S. Humvees and latest-generation U.S. and Soviet-style howitzers, tanks, aid trucks and ambulances constantly pass back and forth through Siversk.

“All day they’ve been coming,” said a policeman at a nearby checkpoint, adding that three vehicles carrying evacuees have gone through “with mainly old people, women and children — there is movement today.”

Driving onto higher ground, dirty smoke rises from a fresh Ukrainian missile launch.

The street van in Siversk is a commercial operation, bringing goods including Polish food from the city of Dnipro, some 300 kilometers away, locals say.

“It’s expensive, of course,” Nina said.

There are also deliveries of humanitarian aid. AFP journalists saw three Red Cross trucks drive up to municipal offices and unload boxes of food including sunflower oil, tea and buckwheat, as well as hygiene items such as razors.

Municipal official Svitlana Severin asked the Red Cross staff to bring more candles, matches and flashlights.

“Batteries are trending,” she said. Flashlights “need power and we don’t know when we’ll get electricity.”

The boxes are put in a storage room. Severin says that in order to minimize crowds, they stagger their handouts, with specific days each month for each social group.

An older woman comes up to the vans indignantly asking why she cannot access the aid and asking for heart medicine.

‘Candles needed’

There are also local initiatives.

Social worker Svetlana Meloshchenko says she and her helpers go round distributing water in milk containers and have given out candles and washing liquids outside the local shop.

“Candles are needed — people spend nights in their cellar,” she said.

“There are a lot of small children, old people, disabled people,” she added, as well as “a lot of people with diabetes.”

“Medicines are supplied to hospitals, but not enough for all,” she said.

Russian troops are firing artillery on the area around Siversk, according to Ukraine’s General Staff.

Nearby, a group of Ukrainian soldiers sprawl in a disused petrol station, eating bread and sausage, their semiautomatic rifles beside them. They say they are going back and forth to the front, without giving details.

“Our cause is the right one,” insisted one young soldier, while another older, bearded man said: “We don’t look at the news.”

“When there’s really good news, we’ll definitely hear about it,” he said, smiling. 

your ad here

Romanian Port Struggles to Handle Flow of Ukrainian Grain

With Ukraine’s seaports blockaded or captured by Russian forces, neighboring Romania’s Black Sea port of Constanta has emerged as a main conduit for the war-torn country’s grain exports amid a growing world food crisis.

It’s Romania’s biggest port, home to Europe’s fastest-loading grain terminal, and has processed nearly a million tons of grain from Ukraine — one of the world’s biggest exporters of wheat and corn — since the Feb. 24 invasion.

But port operators say that maintaining, let alone increasing, the volume they handle could soon be impossible without concerted European Union support and investment.

“If we want to keep helping Ukrainian farmers, we need help to increase our handling capacities,” said Dan Dolghin, director of cereal operations at the Black Sea port’s main Comvex operator.

“No single operator can invest in infrastructure that will become redundant once the war ends,” he added.

Comvex can process up to 72,000 metric tons of cereals per day. That and Constanta’s proximity by land to Ukraine, and by sea to the Suez Canal, make it the best current route for Ukrainian agricultural exports. Other alternatives include road and rail shipments across Ukraine’s western border into Poland and its Baltic Sea ports.

Just days into the Russian invasion, Comvex invested in a new unloading facility, anticipating that the neighboring country would have to reroute its agricultural exports.

This enabled the port over the past four months to ship close to a million tons of Ukrainian grain, most of it arriving by barge down the Danube River. But with 20 times that amount still blocked in Ukraine and the summer harvest season fast approaching in Romania itself and other countries that use Constanta for their exports, Dolghin said it’s likely the pace of Ukrainian grain shipping through his port will slow.

“As the summer harvest in Romania gathers momentum, all port operators will turn to Romanian cereals,” he warned.

Ukraine’s deputy agricultural minister, Markian Dmytrasevych, is also worried.

In an address to the European Parliament earlier this month, Dmytrasevych said that when Constanta operators turn to European grain suppliers in the summer “it will further complicate the export of Ukrainian products.”

Romanian and other EU officials have also voiced concern, lining up in recent weeks to pledge support.

On a recent visit to Kyiv with the leaders of France, Germany and Italy, Romanian president Klaus Iohannis said his country was seeking possible ways of overcoming the “weaponization of grain exports by Russia.”

“As a relevant part of the solution to the food insecurity generated by Russia, Romania is actively involved in facilitating the transit of Ukraine exports and in serving as a hub for grain,” to reach traditional markets in the Middle East, North Africa and parts of Asia, he said.

The solutions discussed in Kyiv, Iohannis said, included speeding up Danube barge shipments, increasing the speed of their unloading at Romanian ports, new border crossings for trucks with Ukrainian grain and reopening a decommissioned railway linking Romania with Ukraine and Moldova.

A Romanian analyst said finding alternative routes for Ukraine’s grain exports goes beyond private logistics companies or any single country, echoing Iohannis’s call in Kyiv for an international “coalition of the willing” to tackle the problem.

“The situation in Ukraine will not be solved soon; the conflict may end tomorrow but tensions will last. … That is why new transport routes must be considered and consolidated,” said George Vulcanescu.

He said that in that sense there are just three financially viable routes for Ukrainian exports — via Romania, Poland or the Baltic states.

However, he added, “port operators need financial support from Romanian authorities, but the funding should come from the European Union.”

Vulcanescu said a combination of fast and “minimal, not maximal” investment is needed.

“Big investment cannot be done quickly — we need to look for fast solutions for expanding the (existing) storage and handling capacities of Romanian ports,” he added. “If we want to help Ukraine now, we need to look for smaller investment to improve the infrastructure we already have.”

Comvex’s Dolghin said the operator wants to help as much as possible, but added: “We hope to see concrete action, not only statements in support of the port operators.”

your ad here

Suspected Terror-Linked Shooting In Oslo Kills 2, Wounds 14

An overnight shooting in the Norwegian capital, Oslo, that killed two people and wounded more than a dozen is being investigated as a possible terrorist attack, Norwegian police said Saturday.

In a news conference Saturday, police officials said the man arrested after the shooting was a Norwegian citizen of Iranian origin who was previously known to police but not for major crimes.

They said they had seized two firearms in connection with the attack: a handgun and an automatic weapon.

The events occurred outside the London Pub, a bar popular with the city’s LGBTQ community, hours before Oslo’s Pride parade was due to take place. Organizers canceled all Pride events planned for Saturday on the advice of police.

“Oslo Pride therefore urges everyone who planned to participate or watch the parade to not show up. All events in connection with Oslo Prides are canceled,” organizers said on the official Facebook page of the event.

Police spokesperson Tore Barstad said 14 people were receiving medical treatment, eight of whom have been hospitalized.

Olav Roenneberg, a journalist from Norwegian public broadcaster NRK, said he witnessed the shooting.

“I saw a man arrive at the site with a bag. He picked up a weapon and started shooting,” Roenneberg told NRK. “First I thought it was an air gun. Then the glass of the bar next door was shattered and I understood I had to run for cover.”

Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere said in a Facebook post that “the shooting outside London Pub in Oslo tonight was a cruel and deeply shocking attack on innocent people.”

He said that while the motive was unclear, the shooting had caused fear and grief in the LGBTQ community.

“We all stand by you,” Gahr Stoere wrote.

Christian Bredeli, who was at the bar, told Norwegian newspaper VG that he hid on the fourth floor with a group of about 10 people until he was told it was safe to come out.

“Many were fearing for their lives,” he said. “On our way out we saw several injured people, so we understood that something serious had happened.”

Norwegian broadcaster TV2 showed footage of people running down Oslo streets in panic as shots rang out in the background.

Norway is a relatively safe country but has experienced violent attacks by right-wing extremists, including one of the worst mass shootings in Europe in 2011, when a gunman killed 69 people on the island of Utoya after setting off a bomb in Oslo that left eight dead.

In 2019, another right-wing extremist killed his stepsister and then opened fire in a mosque but was overpowered before anyone there was injured.

your ad here