NATO offers arms talks to Russia | Daily News

NATO offers arms talks to Russia

The situation in Ukraine, with a massive Russian troop buildup on its borders, remains a major threat to peace, as the US and its Western allies seek to prevent any Russian invasion of Ukraine. NATO is not willing to prevent Ukraine from joining it, the key demand of Russia.

At the talks in Brussels this week, NATO has said it was willing to talk to Russia about arms control and missile deployments to avert the risk of war in Europe, but Moscow said the situation was “very dangerous” and the way forward was unclear.

The gulf between Russia’s position and that of the United States and its allies appeared as stark as ever after four hours of talks in Brussels, the second attempt this week to defuse a crisis provoked by the massing of Russian troops near Ukraine.

US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman has warned Russia that it must choose either diplomacy or confrontation with the West. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko said NATO could not cherry-pick Moscow’s demands. The list of demands includes Ukraine never joining NATO.

Some 100,000 Russian troops have reportedly amassed near the Ukrainian border, prompting fears of an invasion. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance was willing to hold arms talks but would not allow Moscow to veto Ukraine’s ambition to join NATO one day – a core demand on which Russia says it will not yield.

“There is a real risk for new armed conflict in Europe,” Stoltenberg told a news conference. “There are significant differences between NATO allies and Russia,” he said. “Our differences will not be easy to bridge.”

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko said Moscow was ready to talk about weapons deployment and verification measures, but would not allow its proposals to be cherry-picked.

At a lengthy news conference, Grushko said Russia could not take seriously NATO’s claim to be a defensive alliance that posed no threat to it, and said it would respond symmetrically to any attempt to contain or intimidate it.

“If there is a search for vulnerabilities in the Russian defence system, then there will also be a search for vulnerabilities in NATO,” he said.

“This is not our choice, but there will be no other path if we fail to reverse the current very dangerous course of events.”

Grushko later said Moscow would use military means to neutralize security threats if diplomacy proved insufficient. This week’s talks – beginning with a Russia-U.S. meeting in Geneva on Monday and in Vienna come at one of the most fraught moments in East-West relations since the Cold War.

Russia denies planning to invade Ukraine but says it needs a series of guarantees for its own security, including a halt to further NATO expansion and a withdrawal of alliance forces from central and eastern European nations that joined it after 1997.

US sanctions on North Korea

Following the second missile launch by North Korea in one week, the US has imposed its first sanctions over North Korea’s weapons programmes following a series of North Korean missile launches, including two since last week.

The sanctions targeted six North Koreans, one Russian and a Russian firm Washington said were responsible for procuring goods for the programmes from Russia and China.

North Korea’s latest weapons test involved a hypersonic missile, state media reported Wednesday, saying the second such launch by the nuclear-armed nation in less than a week had been successful. The test was overseen by leader Kim Jong Un, with the missile carrying a “hypersonic glide vehicle” that hit “the set target in waters 1,000 km off,” the official Korea Central News Agency (KCNA) said.

“The superior manoeuverability of the hypersonic glide vehicle was more strikingly verified through the final test-fire,” the report said.

The US also proposed that five of those individuals should also be blacklisted by the UN Security Council, which would need consensus agreement by the body’s 15-member North Korea sanctions committee.

The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden has sought unsuccessfully to engage Pyongyang in dialogue to persuade it to give up its nuclear bombs and missiles since taking office in January last year.

Tuesday’s test came hours after the U.S. mission to the United Nations, joined by Albania, France, Ireland, Japan and the United Kingdom, condemned last week’s launch and called on U.N. states to fulfill sanctions obligations. U.N. resolutions ban North Korean ballistic missile and nuclear tests and impose sanctions.

UN seeks aid for Afghanistan

The United Nations has said it needed $5 billion in aid for Afghanistan in 2022 to avert a humanitarian catastrophe and offer the ravaged country a future after 40 years of suffering. In its biggest-ever single-country appeal, the UN said $4.4 billion was needed within Afghanistan, while a further $623 million was required to support the millions of Afghans sheltering beyond its borders.

The UN said 22 million people inside Afghanistan and a further 5.7 million displaced Afghans in five neighbouring countries needed vital relief this year.

“A full-blown humanitarian catastrophe looms. My message is urgent: don’t shut the door on the people of Afghanistan,” said UN Aid Chief Martin Griffiths. “Help us scale up and stave off wide-spread hunger, disease, malnutrition and ultimately death.”

Since the Taliban hardline Islamist movement seized control of Afghanistan in mid-August, the country has plunged into financial chaos, with inflation and unemployment surging.

Washington has frozen billions of dollars of the country’s assets, while aid supplies have been heavily disrupted.

Afghanistan also suffered its worst drought in decades in 2021.

The appeal for aid, if funded, would help aid agencies ramp up the delivery of food and agriculture support, health services, malnutrition treatment, emergency shelters, access to water and sanitation, protection and education. An estimated 4.7 million people will suffer from acute malnutrition in 2022, including 1.1 million children with severe acute malnutrition.

Griffiths said that without humanitarian aid, distress, deaths, hunger and further mass displacement would follow, “robbing the people of Afghanistan of the hope that their country will be their home and support, now and in the near term”.

However, if international donors come forward, “we will see the opportunity for an Afghanistan which may finally see the fruits of some kind of security.”

Around eight million children could miss out on their education because teachers largely have not been paid since August.

The aid package seeks to stabilize the situation within Afghanistan, including for internally displaced people, thereby preventing a further flood of migrants fleeing across the country’s borders.

Kazakhstan protests

Kazakh authorities have detained more than 13,000 more people over their alleged participation in last week’s violent unrest.

Officials in Almaty -- the country’s largest city that was hit the hardest by protests -- announced new arrests on Wednesday.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, right, looks at the monitors alongside military leaders as a test launch of a missile is carried out on January 11, 2022 in North Korea.

In total, more than 13,000 have now been detained, while more than 300 criminal investigations have been launched for mass unrest and assaults on police officers. The violence that rocked the former Soviet country was the worst since Kazakhstan gained Independence in 1991. Protests over soaring fuel prices erupted on January 2 and quickly spread across the country amid wider discontent with the country’s authoritarian government.

Kazakh authorities attempted to quell the protests by announcing a six-month cap on fuel prices, but dozens of civilians and law enforcement officers were killed in the clashes.

President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has blamed the unrest on foreign-backed “terrorists” and had requested support from a Russia-led military alliance. Around 2,500 troops led by Russians have started withdrawing from the country on Thursday, in a stabilized situation in the country.

Tokayev visited Almaty on Wednesday for the first time since the deadly riots and promised to repair the damage.

“The task now is to rebuild the city in the shortest possible time ... I have no doubt that the city will be restored,” he said at a government meeting.

According to local media, the Kazakh President also met with relatives of law enforcement officers killed during the riots and visited injured people receiving treatment in hospital.

Almaty’s airport -- which was briefly seized during the unrest -- has resumed service for domestic and international flights, according to Kazakhstan’s Civil Aviation Committee.

Mali - sanctions

Mali’s military leader Assimi Goïta has said he remains open to dialogue with the ECOWAS regional bloc after it imposed sanctions on Mali over delayed elections.

In a sharp escalation after months of simmering diplomatic tensions, leaders from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) on Sunday agreed to shutter borders with the Sahel state and impose a trade embargo.

That decision was backed on Monday by France, Mali’s former colonial power, at the UN Security Council.

The West African bloc also agreed to cut financial aid, freeze Mali’s assets at the Central Bank of West African States, and to recall their ambassadors from the country.

“Even if we regret the illegitimate, illegal and inhumane nature of certain decisions, Mali remains open to dialogue with the Economic Community of West African States to find a consensus,” Goïta said on state TV. Goïta did not detail how his regime would respond to the stringent sanctions.

The coordinated action against Mali followed a proposal by its army-dominated government last month to stay in power for up to five years before staging elections -- despite international demands that it respect a promise to hold elections in February.

ECOWAS also rejected a revised proposal the regime, led by Goïta who took power in a military coup in August 2020, submitted to the bloc on the eve of the weekend summit.

At a UN Security Council meeting on West Africa Monday, the French ambassador to the United Nations, Nicolas de Riviere, voiced his country’s “full support for ECOWAS’s efforts”. Relations between Mali and France, its former colonial master which has thousands of troops in the country, have deteriorated since the 2020 coup that ousted elected President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.

US ambassador Richard Mills urged Bamako “to return to democracy in a timely fashion”, but stopped short of taking a stand on the ECOWAS sanctions, which it is reviewing.

After an earlier wave of sanctions from ECOWAS following the 2020 coup, Goïta had promised to restore civilian rule in February 2022 presidential and legislative elections.

But he staged a second coup in May 2021, forcing out an interim civilian government, disrupting the reform timetable, and provoking widespread international condemnation.

As ECOWAS continued to insist on elections in February, the military regime argued that rampant insecurity posed a problem and that peaceful elections took priority over speed.

Mali has struggled to quell a brutal jihadist insurgency that started in 2012 before spreading to Burkina Faso and Niger. Swathes of its vast territory lie outside government control.

Russia called for the junta’s efforts to restore order in the country to be supported.

Moscow said it “understood the difficulties” in organising new elections when a lack of security might undermine the outcome.

Western politicians have condemned what they say is Moscow’s growing influence in Mali, some alleging that the military regime has hired mercenaries from Russia’s controversial Wagner group.

Mali’s junta has also announced the recall of its ambassadors in ECOWAS states and the closure of its borders in response to the sanctions, vowing to take “all necessary measures to retaliate”.

But the military junta in Guinea said in a statement read out on state television there that it would keep its links with Mali open, saying it had nothing to do with the sanctions agreed at the weekend ECOWAS summit.

ECOWAS has suspended Guinea from the bloc and imposed some sanctions in retaliation for the September 5 coup that deposed President Alpha Condé.

Mali’s junta has said that the new ECOWAS sanctions will “affect populations already severely affected by the security crisis and the health crisis”. Malians have voiced concern on social media about the risk of future shortages because of the trade embargo.

The National Union of Workers of Mali (UNTM) issued a statement Monday condemning the ECOWAS sanctions “inflicted on the people of Mali”.

A landlocked nation of 19 million people, Mali is one of the poorest countries in the world.

Aung San Suu Kyi

A court in Myanmar has sentenced ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi to four more years in prison, in the latest of a series of trials.

She was convicted for the illegal possession and import of walkie-talkies and breaking COVID-19 rules.

Suu Kyi was first convicted in December, and given a reduced jail sentence of two years.

She has been detained since a military coup last February and faces about a dozen charges, all of which she denies.

Her trials have been widely condemned as unfair.

The charges in the latest case stem from when soldiers searched her house on the day of the coup by forces led by Army Chief General Min Aung Hlaing. The devices they say they discovered are presumed to have been used by her security guards, resulting in a conviction widely viewed as no more than a tactic to justify detaining her.

Monday’s trial in the capital, Nay Pyi Taw, was closed to the media and Suu Kyi’s lawyers have been barred from communicating with the media and public.

Last month the Nobel laureate was found guilty of incitement of dissent and breaking COVID-19 rules, in what was condemned as a “sham trial” by UN Human Rights Chief Michelle Bachelet.

In response to Monday’s sentencing, Human Rights Watch called the legal proceedings a “courtroom circus of secret proceedings on bogus charges... so that (Aung San Suu Kyi) will remain in prison indefinitely”.

The statement by the group’s deputy Asia director Phil Robertson also accused the military of securing convictions “in a kangaroo court on the flimsiest, politically motivated charges”, and said it was “running roughshod over the human rights of everyone, ranging from Suu Kyi... to the Civil Disobedience Movements activists on the street”.

The military’s seizure of power in Myanmar (also called Burma) last February came months after Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) won November 2020 general elections by a landslide.

The military alleged voter fraud in the victory, however independent election observers have said the elections were largely free and fair.

The coup triggered widespread demonstrations and Myanmar’s military has cracked down on pro-democracy protesters, activists and journalists. Suu Kyi is one of more than 10,600 people to have been arrested by the junta since February, with at least 1,303 others killed in the demonstrations, according to the monitoring group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

The latest sentence brings her total prison term so far to six years, but if convicted of all the charges she faces, she could spend the rest of her life in detention.

The 76-year-old, who has not been seen in public since her house arrest, still faces several more serious charges - of corruption, election fraud and breaking the official secrets act. The ruling junta still faces widespread opposition; parts of the country are now engulfed in armed conflict, and the economy is near collapse.

Neighbouring countries are seeking a negotiated end to the conflict. So far they have made little progress, but if they do, it is likely such talks would at some point have to involve Aung San Suu Kyi, who remains very popular. Aung San Suu Kyi spent nearly 15 years in detention at the hands of the military between 1989 and 2010, and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her work to bring democracy to Myanmar.

Her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD) won a landslide victory in 2015, but she was prevented from becoming president herself by rules excluding those with foreign national children from holding that office. She was widely regarded as the de facto ruler of the country.

However her reputation abroad was severely damaged by the way she handled the Rohingya crisis, which started in 2017. In 2019 Suu Kyi appeared at the UN International Court of Justice (ICJ) to defend her country against accusations of genocide.

UK - Calls for Johnson to resign

Boris Johnson is facing calls from senior Tories to resign after he admitted attending a drinks party during lockdown.

The Prime Minister apologized for the way he handled an event in the Downing Street garden in May 2020 and said he understood the public’s “rage” over it.

While Cabinet members including deputy PM Dominic Raab rallied round Johnson, Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross and MPs William Wragg, Caroline Nokes and Roger urged him to go. Ross, an MP and a Member of the Scottish Parliament, said he would write to the 1922 Committee, which organises Conservative leadership contests, to register his lack of confidence in the Prime Minister.

“He is the Prime Minister. It is his government that put these rules in place, and he has to be held to account for his actions,” Ross said. A minimum of 54 Conservative MPs must send letters to the committee in order to trigger a leadership challenge.

The drinks gathering, held on May 20, 2020 and described in the invitation as “socially distanced”, was attended by around 30 people, who were invited to bring their own alcohol. Food, including sausage rolls and crisps, was reportedly laid out on trestle tables, Johnson admitted at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday that he had joined colleagues at the event for around 25 minutes to “thank groups of staff” for their hard work during the pandemic, but had “believed implicitly that this was a work event”.

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