Huge U.S. aid package for Ukraine | Daily News

Huge U.S. aid package for Ukraine

Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr triumphs in Philippines Presidential Election
Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr triumphs in Philippines Presidential Election

The US House of Representatives has approved a fresh US$ 40 billion Ukraine aid package on Tuesday, as lawmakers beefed up President Joe Biden's initial request of US$ 33 billion, signaling a magnified, bipartisan commitment to thwart Russia's invasion.

The move came as Ukraine claimed its forces were gradually pushing Russian troops away from the city of Kharkiv.

The US has warned that there is no end in sight for the conflict in Ukraine, even as Russian Forces have been pushed back from the city of Kharkiv.

“The next few months could see us moving along a more unpredictable and potentially escalatory trajectory,” said US Director of National Intelligence, Avril Haines, on Tuesday.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky welcomed the Ukrainian success in Kharkiv but also warned against “excessive emotions” in a video address on Tuesday evening. “We should not create an atmosphere of excessive moral pressure, where victories are expected weekly”, he said.

The US$ 40bn is expected to be approved by the US Senate in a few weeks.

Russia - Victory Day

President Vladimir Putin’s address at the Victory Day celebrations in Moscow on May 9, centred on the ongoing war in Ukraine. He said the invasion was the “only right decision” with a claim that the West was “preparing for invasion of Russia.”

Russia marked the 77th anniversary of victory over Nazi Germany on Monday.

“NATO was creating tensions at the borders. They did not want to listen to Russia, they had other plans,” said Putin. He claimed Russia was fighting for “the Motherland” in Donbas, “so that no one forgets the lessons of World War II.”

Putin also promised support for the families of fallen soldiers. “The death of every soldier and officer is painful for us,” he said. “The State will do everything to take care of these families.”

There had been speculation in the West that Putin would announce an escalation of military action in Ukraine. However, there was no mention of a general or partial mobilization of soldiers.

In Russia, “Victory Day,” as it is referred to in the post-Soviet era, was for decades a day of sorrowful remembrance. The Soviet Union lost millions of its citizens during World War II, and May 9 was a day to reflect upon that loss.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Monday Russia had “forgotten everything that was important to the victors of World War II.” “Evil has returned, in a different uniform, under different slogans, but for the same purpose,” he warned.

Western Allies celebrate Germany's capitulation on May 8. The formal surrender in 1945 was intentionally timed to take place late on May 8 West of Moscow and at the stroke of midnight in Russia, granting the then-Soviet Union its own day of commemoration.

The parade came as fighting in Ukraine continues on multiple fronts, but Russia is closest to victory in the port city of Mariupol. The last remaining Ukrainian fighters making a last stand in a steel mill have rejected deadlines to lay down their arms.

Full control of Mariupol would allow Moscow to create a land bridge between the Crimean peninsula, which it annexed in 2014, and Eastern regions run by pro-Russian separatists.

Philippines - A new Marcos

Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr, the son of a former Philippines’ dictator, has asked to be judged on his actions not his ancestors, as he emerges winner in the country’s Presidential Election.

With more than 98% of an initial count completed, the 64-year-old senator has a seemingly unassailable lead with double the votes of his nearest rival. His victory would seal a remarkable return to power for the Marcos family, who fled into exile 36 years ago. Mr. Marcos’ father led the country from 1965 until 1986, imposing martial law and presiding over a period of widespread human rights abuses, corruption and poverty.

A mass uprising in 1986 saw millions of people take to the streets and the Marcos family - including a 28-year-old Bongbong - fled the country for Hawaii.

The long-time politician, who returned to the Philippines in 1991, has sought to paint his father's presidency as a golden age and polls suggest he is popular among the young.

“Judge me not by my ancestors, but by my actions,” Mr. Marcos said in a statement on Tuesday. “It is [my] promise to be a President for all Filipinos,” he added.

Opinion polls in the run-up to the election put Mr. Marcos Jr ahead of his nearest rival, Leni Robredo, by dozens of percentage points.

Critics say this was the result of Mr. Marcos Jr consistently painting his father's rule as a prosperous time, whitewashing a period of rampant corruption and widespread poverty.

Ferdinand Marcos Sr, who died in 1989, and his wife Imelda stole an estimated US$ 10bn (£8.1bn) from the Philippines’ coffers, becoming infamous examples of public graft.

After narrowly losing the vice presidential race to Leni Robredo in the 2016 election, he was determined their rematch in the presidential contest would end differently.

Vowing to unify the country, Marcos Jr made sweeping promises on the campaign trail to boost jobs and tackle rising prices as part of a pathway out of the pandemic.

He served as vice governor and twice as governor of the family's Northern stronghold of Ilocos Norte Province, and also had stints in the House of Representatives and the Senate.

His 92-year-old mother, Imelda, said she had dreamed of him becoming the country's leader. While he consulted her about running for President, Marcos Jr told CNN Philippines the decision was his.

His campaign was bolstered by teaming up with Vice Presidential candidate Sara Duterte, the daughter of President Rodrigo Duterte, a lawyer and politician, and had the backing of other elite families who wield enormous influence in the feudal and corrupt democracy.

Marcos Jr and Duterte's shared history as the offspring of authoritarian leaders has alarmed rights groups and Catholic priests, who fear they will use their victory to entrench themselves in power.

NATO: Finland and Sweden

Finland and Sweden could apply for NATO membership within days - a monumental shift for two nations with a long history of wartime neutrality and staying out of military alliances.

Russia strongly opposes the two states joining and uses the expansion of the West's defensive military alliance as a pretext for its war in Ukraine.

If they do, it will end over 200 years of Swedish non-alignment. Finland adopted neutrality following a bitter defeat by the Soviet Union during World War Two.

Finnish public support for joining NATO was for years at around 20-25%. But since Russia's invasion of Ukraine, 57% of the population wants to join, again far higher than before the war.

Finnish President Sauli Niinisto will set out his position on NATO on Thursday, and the ruling parties of both countries will say what they think over the weekend.

If it is a yes, both Parliaments will have clear majorities in favour of membership, and the application process can begin.

The final decision will be announced by the two Prime Ministers: Magdalena Andersson of Sweden and Finland's Sanna Marin.

While the Finnish Social Democrats are likely to be in favour, Sweden's Social Democrats have been split on the issue, and are currently holding an internal consultation. However, party NATO-sceptics appears to be leaning towards joining. “Everything appears to be going in that direction,” says ex-Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom.

The US says it is confident it can address any security concerns either country might have in the period between applying and formally becoming members. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson visits both countries on Wednesday and will discuss their “broader security issues”.

Russia’s Vladimir Putin's actions have shattered a long-standing sense of stability in Northern Europe, leaving Sweden and Finland feeling vulnerable. Finnish ex-Prime Minister Alexander Stubb says joining the alliance was a “done deal” for his country as soon as Russian troops invaded Ukraine on February 24.

Swedish Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist describes that day as the moment the Russian leader proved he was “unpredictable, unreliable and prepared to wage a cruel, bloody and brutal war”. After promising Sweden would never join NATO last November, he now talks of the Nordic region's defences being strengthened if both countries sign up.

Ultimately, many Finns and Swedes are looking to NATO in the belief it will keep them safe in an uncertain Europe.

For Finns, events in Ukraine bring a haunting sense of familiarity. The Soviets invaded Finland in late 1939. For more than three months, the Finnish Army put up fierce resistance, despite being heavily outnumbered.

They avoided occupation, but ended up losing 10% of their territory.

Sweden has also felt endangered in recent years, with several reported airspace violations by Russian military aircraft.

President Putin has frequently used the prospect of NATO expanding to Ukraine to justify his invasion. So Sweden and Finland joining the alliance would be perceived as a provocation.

Russia's Foreign Ministry says both countries have been warned of the “consequences” of such a move. Dmitry Medvedev, a close ally of the Russian leader, has warned that NATO accession may prompt Moscow to deploy nuclear weapons in Kaliningrad, the Russian exclave between Poland and Lithuania.

Energy Supply: Europe and Russia

Energy Supply - both oil and gas - is becoming a major issue facing both Europe and Russia as the war in Ukraine continues, and shows signs of major changes in the global systems of energy in the years ahead.

Ukraine will suspend some of the Russian gas exports to Europe that flow in pipelines through the country due to interruptions at key transit points, the country's gas transmission system operator (GSTOU) said in a statement Tuesday.

Amid Russia's invasion, Ukraine has continued its operations transporting Russian gas through the country. But GSTOU said it's currently “impossible to fulfill obligations” to European partners due to “the interference of the occupying forces.” It said Russia's interference, including the unauthorized gas offtakes, had “endangered the stability and safety” of the Ukrainian gas transportation system.

As a result, it had decided to suspend operations from 7 a.m. local time on Wednesday at the entry point gas measuring stations through which almost a third of gas from Russia to Europe — up to 32.6 million cubic metres per day — is transited.

However, Russia's State Energy Company Gazprom said it was “technologically impossible” to switch gas transfers to Ukraine to a new entry point. The European Union plans to ban all purchases of Russian oil by the end of the year. But there is no consensus yet among EU members on stopping imports of Russian gas.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has announced that EU countries have been banned from buying Russian oil after the end of 2022.

EU members Hungary and Slovakia will be able to continue buying Russian crude oil until the end of 2023.

In March, the EU committed to reducing gas imports by two-thirds within a year. Negotiations are ongoing over a further phase out.

The US has declared a complete ban on Russian oil, gas and coal imports, and the UK is to phase out Russian oil by the end of the year.

Russia has warned that banning its oil would lead to “catastrophic consequences for the global market”.

Despite sanctions, Russia has almost doubled its monthly earnings from selling fossil fuels to the EU, according to the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air.

The EU has imported about €22bn ($23bn) of fossil fuels per month from Russia since the start of the war as oil and gas prices have soared, compared with an average of about €12bn ($12.5bn) a month in 2021.

Russian oil exports

Russia is the world's third biggest producer, after the US and Saudi Arabia. About half of Russia's crude oil exports went to Europe, before sanctions were announced.

In 2020, the Netherlands and Germany imported the most Russian oil per day. The biggest importers of Russian oil (in barrels) in Europe were: Netherlands - 549,400, Germany - 526,400, Poland - 328,400, Finland - 184,100, Slovakia - 111,000, Italy - 103,000, Lithuania - 100,200, Hungary - 76,700

Slovakia and Hungary - who will be given an extra year to find alternative suppliers - received 96% and 58% of their oil imports respectively from Russia last year, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Russia accounted for just 8% of UK oil imports in 2020 and 3% of US oil imports last year.

At the end of March, US President Joe Biden ordered a major release of oil from America's reserves in an effort to bring down high fuel costs.

The US also wants Saudi Arabia to increase its oil production and is looking at relaxing sanctions on Venezuela's oil.

Russian actions on fuel

Despite the invasion of Ukraine, Russia has continued to supply a large amount of gas to many European countries.

However, after Western powers placed financial sanctions on Russia, President Putin announced that “unfriendly” countries would have to pay for gas in the Russian currency.

The Russian State-owned energy company Gazprom cut off supplies to Poland and Bulgaria and says it will not restart these until payments are made in roubles.

The EU has said it considers Russia's action to be a form of blackmail.

Many other EU countries are set to face the same issue around mid-May when payments are due.

Payments in rubles would shore up the Russian currency and benefit its economy.

The EU’s Ms Von der Leyen warned that complying with Russian demands would breach EU sanctions and would be “high risk” for companies that did so.

EU countries are split on how soon they wind down dependence on Russian energy supplies. Gas companies in some EU countries, including Germany, Hungary and Slovakia, have agreed to pay for gas in euros through Russian bank Gazprombank, which will then convert the payments into rubles. It is reported that gas companies in Austria and Italy are also planning to open accounts with Gazprombank.

India - Sedition Law questions

The Indian Supreme Court has restrained the Centre and States from registering First Information Reports (FIRs), continuing any investigations or taking any coercive measures under the sedition law.

The order came after the Centre, represented by the Solicitor General, Tushar Mehta, acknowledged that the Sedition law was not in tune with current times, was being misused and required re-examination.

The government has urged the court to pause its hearing of a batch of petitions challenging Section 124A until the government completed its ‘reconsideration process’ of the sedition provision in the Indian Penal Code.

The Bench, however, did not give a deadline for reconsideration of the law, probably on the consideration that it would involve a lengthy process.

“The court is seized by two considerations, the security of the State and the civil liberties of citizens. There is a request to balance both considerations, which is a difficult exercise,” Chief Justice Ramana said, and that the case of the petitioners was that the provisions dated back to 1898 and even pre-dated the Indian Constitution itself.

The Court referred to Attorney General Venugopal’s submissions referring to certain “glaring instances of abuse of Section 124A” like the recent booking of persons under sedition for chanting the Hanuman Chalisa.

“Therefore, we expect the re-examination of the provision to be completed and governments to not use the provisions meanwhile,” the court observed.

The Supreme Court Bench said it had to freeze the use of Section 124A while the reconsideration process was on, in the interest of justice.

A three-judge Bench led by Chief Justice N. V. Ramana directed that in case any fresh case was registered under the provision of this law, the accused was free to approach the court concerned, which would provide relief taking into account the order of the Supreme Court to freeze the use of Section 124A, as well as the clear stand taken by the Union to reconsider the law due to glaring abuse of the law by authorities.

Australia - Coming Polls

When Australia - long considered a climate policy laggard - heads to the polls on May 21, the outcome could be significant for the planet's future, say many poll analysts.

Still reliant on coal for most of its electricity, it is one of the dirtiest countries per capita - making up just over 1% of global emissions, but only 0.3% of the world's population.

It's a massive global supplier of fossil fuels, and once that is factored in, it accounts for 3.6% of the world's emissions.

But it's also one of the nation’s most at risk from Climate Change.

In recent years, Australia has suffered severe drought, historic bushfires, successive years of record-breaking floods, and six mass bleaching events on the Great Barrier Reef.

And it's racing towards a future full of similar disasters, the latest UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report warns.

The current government has angered allies with its short-term emissions reductions target - which is half what the IPCC says is needed if the world has any chance of limiting warming to 1.5C.

Once emissions saved by a drastic reduction in land clearing are excluded, Australia's carbon footprint has actually increased “significantly” since 2005, he notes. PM Morrison's plan to bring it down has been criticized for hanging on technologies that do not exist yet.

The opposition Labor party's 2030 emissions reduction target of 43% is “far more ambitious”, say many analysts.

“If you're looking at the difference between those goals, it's like taking every car off the road.”

If global leaders set targets similar to the coalition's, the world would be heading towards “potentially terrifying” warming of more than 3C, they say.

Labor's target is more consistent with warming of about 1.6C or 1.7C.

While it is still short of the IPCC recommendation, Labor Leader Anthony Albanese has defended it as in line with key trading partners like Canada (40-45%), South Korea (40%) and Japan (46%).

Labor has stressed its policy will not leave “emissions intensive” industries - like mining - at a disadvantage to their global competitors.

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