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Russia accuses Ukraine of killing 65 of its own PoWs by shooting down plane

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(Last Updated On: January 25, 2024)

Russia accused Ukraine on Wednesday of deliberately shooting down a Russian military transport plane carrying 65 captured Ukrainian soldiers to a prisoner exchange in what it called a barbaric act of terrorism that had killed a total of 74 people, Reuters reported.

Ukraine called for full clarification of the circumstances of the incident and did not directly confirm it had shot down the plane.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, in his evening address said: “It is clear that the Russians are playing with the lives of Ukrainian prisoners, the feelings of their loved ones and the emotions of our society.”

The Russian defence ministry said six Russian crew members and three Russian soldiers had been on the Ilyushin Il-76 military transport plane shot down near the Russian city of Belgorod near the Ukrainian border.

After a long pause, the Ukrainian military said it would continue to destroy Russian military transport aircraft it believed were carrying missiles with which to strike Ukraine, read the report.

It said it had noticed more Russian military transport aircraft landing in Belgorod, something it linked to Russian missile strikes on Kharkiv and other Ukrainian cities.

Air Force Commander Mykola Oleshchuk accused Russia of trying to undermine international support for Ukraine.

“Ukraine has the right to defend itself and destroy the means of the aggressors’ aerial attack,” he said.

The Russian defence ministry said the exchange was to have taken place on Wednesday afternoon at the Kolotilovka border checkpoint and Ukraine knew a transport plane carrying captured Ukrainian soldiers was expected at the Belgorod airfield.

“By committing this terrorist act, the Ukrainian leadership has showed its true face. It disregarded the lives of its own citizens,” the ministry said in a statement.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called for a meeting of the U.N. Security Council and said Russia sought to establish “the reasons behind the Ukrainian criminal act”.

A French spokesperson at the U.N. said the meeting would be held at 5 p.m. (2200 GMT) on Thursday, Reuters reported.

Ukraine’s GUR military intelligence agency said Ukraine had not been asked to ensure airspace security around Belgorod unlike previous swaps and had not been informed about what means of transport would be used and which routes.

“On this basis, we may be talking about planned and deliberate actions by Russia to destabilise the situation in Ukraine and weaken international support for our state,” GUR said in a statement on Telegram.

Russia’s defence ministry said radar operators had detected the launch of two Ukrainian missiles at the time of the crash.

If the details are confirmed, it would be the deadliest incident of its kind inside Russia’s internationally recognised borders during the almost two-year-old war.

UKRAINE SAYS PRISONER SWAP WAS SCHEDULED

Ukraine’s intelligence agency confirmed a prisoner swap had been planned for Wednesday and said the captured Russian servicemen had been delivered to the agreed exchange point on time and were safe.

“Landing a transport plane in a 30-km combat zone cannot be safe and in any case must be discussed by both sides, because otherwise it jeopardises the entire exchange process,” it said.

It had no reliable information about who was on the downed plane, it added.

Video footage posted on Telegram by Baza, a channel linked to Russian security services, and verified by Reuters, showed a large aircraft falling to the ground near the village of Yablonovo in Belgorod region and exploding in a fireball.

Andrei Kartapolov, a member of Russia’s parliament and a retired general, told the SHOT news outlet it was impossible for operators of Ukrainian surface-to-air missile systems to mistake transport planes for military planes or helicopters as targets.

“It was done deliberately to sabotage the prisoner exchange,” said Kartapolov, saying a second Russian Il-76 transport plane carrying around 80 Ukrainian soldiers to the exchange had managed to turn around.

Kartapolov, who has close links to the Russian defence ministry, said the plane had been downed by three missiles of either U.S. or German manufacture.

Reuters could not immediately verify details of who was on board the downed plane, but Moscow and Kyiv have regularly swapped prisoners since Russia began what it calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine in February 2022.

The Belgorod region, which borders Ukraine, has come under frequent attack from Ukraine in recent months, including a December missile strike which killed 25 people.

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US, British forces carry out more strikes against Houthis in Yemen

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(Last Updated On: February 25, 2024)

U.S. and British forces carried out strikes against more than a dozen Houthi targets in Yemen on Saturday, officials said, the latest round of military action against the Iran-linked group that continues to attack shipping in the region.

The United States has carried out near daily strikes against the Houthis, who control the most populous parts of Yemen and have said their attacks on shipping are in solidarity with Palestinians as Israel strikes Gaza, Reuters reported.

The strikes have so far failed to halt the Houthis’ attacks, which have upset global trade and raised shipping rates.

A joint statement from countries that either took part in the strikes or provided support, said the military action was against 18 Houthi targets across eight locations in Yemen including underground weapons and missile storage facilities, air defense systems, radars and a helicopter.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the strikes were meant “to further disrupt and degrade the capabilities of the Iranian-backed Houthi militia.”

“We will continue to make clear to the Houthis that they will bear the consequences if they do not stop their illegal attacks, which harm Middle Eastern economies, cause environmental damage and disrupt the delivery of humanitarian aid to Yemen and other countries,” Austin said.

The strikes were supported by Australia, Bahrain, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands and New Zealand.

Al Masirah TV, the main television news outlet run by the Houthi movement, said on Saturday that U.S. and UK forces carried out a series of strikes in the capital, Sanaa.

It quoted an unnamed Houthi military source as saying the renewed raids were “a miserable attempt to prevent Yemen from providing support operations to the Palestinian people in Gaza.”

Earlier this week the Houthis claimed responsibility for an attack on a UK-owned cargo ship and a drone assault on a U.S. destroyer, and they targeted Israel’s port and resort city of Eilat with ballistic missiles and drones.

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15 dead, 44 injured in residential building fire in China’s Nanjing city

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(Last Updated On: February 24, 2024)

At least 15 people were killed and 44 injured in a fire at a residential building in eastern China’s Nanjing city, local authorities said.

The fire broke out early Friday morning, officials said at a press conference, with a preliminary investigation suggesting the blaze started on the building’s first floor, where electric bikes had been placed, The Guardian reported. 

The building is located in the Yuhuatai district of Nanjing, a city of more than 8 million about 260km north-west of Shanghai.

By 6am (2200 GMT) the fire had been extinguished, and a search-and-rescue operation ended about 2pm Friday, authorities said.

The 44 injured people were sent to hospital for treatment, they added.

China has seen a spate of deadly fires in recent months, prompting calls from President Xi Jinping last month for “deep reflection” and greater efforts to “curb the frequent occurrence of safety accidents”.

In January dozens died after a fire broke out at a store in the central city of Xinyu, with state news agency Xinhua reporting the blaze had been caused by the use of fire by workers in the store’s basement.

That fire came just days after a late-evening blaze at a school in central China’s Henan province killed 13 schoolchildren as they slept in a dormitory.

A teacher at the school told the state-run Hebei Daily that all the victims were from the same third-grade class of nine- and 10-year-olds.

Domestic media reports suggested the fire was caused by an electric heating device.

In November, 26 people were killed and dozens sent to hospital after a fire at a coal company office in northern China’s Shanxi province.

The month before, an explosion at a barbecue restaurant in the north-west of the country left 31 dead and prompted official pledges of a nationwide campaign to promote workplace safety.

In April, a hospital fire in Beijing killed 29 people and forced desperate survivors to jump out of windows to escape.

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US targets Russia with hundreds of sanctions over Ukraine war, Navalny death

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(Last Updated On: February 24, 2024)

The United States on Friday imposed extensive sanctions against Russia, targeting more than 500 people and entities to mark the second anniversary of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine and retaliate for the death of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

President Joe Biden said the measures aim to ensure Russian President Vladimir Putin “pays an even steeper price for his aggression abroad and repression at home,” Reuters reported.

The sanctions targeted Russia’s Mir payment system, financial institutions and its military industrial base, sanctions evasion, future energy production and other areas. They also hit prison officials the U.S. says are linked to Navalny’s death.

“Doesn’t Washington realize that sanctions won’t take us down?” Russia’s ambassador to Washington, Anatoly Antonov, was quoted as saying on his embassy’s channel on the Telegram messaging app.

The United States later on Friday also imposed sanctions on Russia’s leading tanker group, Sovcomflot, accusing it of being involved in violating the G7’s price cap on Russian oil. Also targeted were 14 crude oil tankers in which it has an interest.

“Sovcomflot as a whole, as a parent company, has been implicated in price cap violations in addition to deceptive activity,” a senior Treasury official said.

The Biden administration is seeking to continue supporting Ukraine as the country faces acute shortages of ammunition, with the approval of more U.S. military aid delayed for months in the U.S. Congress. The European Union, Britain and Canada also took action against Russia on Friday.

The U.S. Treasury Department targeted nearly 300 people and entities, while the State Department hit over 250 people and entities and the Commerce Department added over 90 companies to the Entity List.

The United States and its allies have imposed sanctions on thousands of Russian targets since Russia invaded neighboring Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022. The war has seen tens of thousands killed and cities destroyed.

However, Russia’s export-focused $2.2-trillion economy has proved more resilient to two years of unprecedented sanctions than either Moscow or the West anticipated.

“We must sustain our support for Ukraine even as we weaken Russia’s war machine. It’s critical that Congress steps up to join our allies around the world in giving Ukraine the means to defend itself,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a statement.

Brian O’Toole, a former Treasury official, said the action, while involving a lot of names, was short on impact, because the majority of the entities targeted are Russian rather than foreign firms, and are easily replaceable as Moscow seeks to skirt sanctions.

But former senior Treasury official Ben Harris said the magnitude of the sanctions imposed by the United States alone was formidable.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Friday’s move was Washington’s largest number of designations in a single Russia action.

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