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Ukraine insists on territorial integrity as talks loom

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(Last Updated On: March 28, 2022)

With peace talks between Russia and Ukraine set to take place in Turkey this week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy insisted on the territorial integrity of his country after earlier suggesting he was ready for a compromise.

Zelenskiy said in his video address to the Ukrainian people late on Sunday that in talks due to take place in Istanbul his government would prioritise the “territorial integrity” of Ukraine.

But in comments made to Russian journalists earlier in the day Zelenskiy adopted a different tone, saying Ukraine was willing to assume neutral status and compromise over the status of the eastern Donbas region as part of a peace deal.

In the video call that the Kremlin pre-emptively warned Russian media not to report, Zelenskiy said any agreement must be guaranteed by third parties and put to a referendum.

“Security guarantees and neutrality, non-nuclear status of our state. We are ready to go for it,” he added, speaking in Russian.

Even with talks looming, Ukraine’s head of military intelligence, Kyrylo Budanov, said Russian President Vladimir Putin was aiming to seize the eastern part of Ukraine.

“In fact, it is an attempt to create North and South Korea in Ukraine,” he said, referring to the division of Korea after World War Two. Zelenskiy has urged the West to give Ukraine tanks, planes and missiles to help fend off Russian forces.

In a call with Putin on Sunday, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan agreed to host the talks and called for a ceasefire and better humanitarian conditions, his office said. Ukrainian and Russian negotiators confirmed that in-person talks would take place.

Top American officials sought on Sunday to clarify that the United States does not have a policy of regime change in Russia, after President Joe Biden said at the end of a speech in Poland on Saturday that Putin “cannot remain in power”.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Biden had simply meant Putin could not be “empowered to wage war” against Ukraine or anywhere else.

After more than four weeks of conflict, Russia has failed to seize any major Ukrainian city and signalled on Friday it was scaling back its ambitions to focus on securing the Donbas region, where Russian-backed separatists have been fighting the Ukrainian army for the past eight years.

A local leader in the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic said on Sunday the region could soon hold a referendum on joining Russia, just as happened in Crimea after Russia seized the Ukrainian peninsula in 2014.

Crimeans voted overwhelmingly to break with Ukraine and join Russia – a vote that much of the world refused to recognise.

Budanov predicted Ukraine’s army would repel Russian forces by launching a guerrilla warfare offensive.

“Then there will be one relevant scenario left for the Russians, how to survive,” he said.

Ukraine’s foreign ministry spokesperson also dismissed talk of any referendum in eastern Ukraine.

“All fake referendums in the temporarily occupied territories are null and void and will have no legal validity,” Oleg Nikolenko told Reuters.

‘CRUEL AND SENSELESS’

Moscow says the goals for what Putin calls a “special military operation” include demilitarising and “denazifying” its neighbour. Ukraine and its Western allies call this a pretext for unprovoked invasion.

Ukraine has described previous negotiations, some of which have taken place in Russian ally Belarus, as “very difficult”.

The invasion has devastated several Ukrainian cities, caused a major humanitarian crisis and displaced an estimated 10 million people, nearly a quarter of Ukraine’s population.

Tatyana Manyek, who crossed the Danube by ferry into Romania on Sunday with other refugees, said people in her home city of Odesa were “very afraid” but she would have stayed were it not for her daughter.

“It would be very difficult to provide the child with basic living conditions. That’s why we decided to leave,” she said, clutching a pet dog.

In his Sunday blessing, Pope Francis called for an end to the “cruel and senseless” conflict.

HUMANITARIAN CORRIDORS

Russia has continued to move additional military units to the Ukraine border and is launching missile and air strikes on Ukrainian forces and military infrastructure, including in the city of Kharkiv, the Ukrainian military said on Sunday night.

Ukraine also raised concerns about the safety of the Russian-occupied defunct nuclear power plant at Chernobyl, the site of the world’s worst civil nuclear accident in 1986.

Russian forces have created a risk of damaging the containment vessel constructed around the station’s wrecked fourth reactor, said Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk. She urged the United Nations to dispatch a mission to assess the risks.

Ukrainian Interior Ministry adviser Vadym Denysenko said Russia had started destroying Ukrainian fuel and food storage centres. Appearing to confirm that, Russia said its missiles had wrecked a fuel deposit on Saturday as well as a military repair plant near the western city of Lviv.

The mayor of Slavutych, the town created and built to house the plant’s staff in the aftermath of the 1986 accident, said early on Monday that Russian forces that took over the town at the weekend had now left.

Yuri Fomichev said in an online video post that the troops “completed the work they had set out to do” and were gone. He originally said three people had been killed in clashes.

The United Nations has confirmed 1,119 civilian deaths and 1,790 injuries across Ukraine but says the real toll is likely to be higher. Ukraine said on Sunday 139 children had been killed and more than 205 wounded so far in the conflict.

Vereshchuk said 1,100 people were evacuated from frontline areas, including the southern city of Mariupol, after Ukraine and Russia agreed to set up two “humanitarian corridors.”

The encircled port, located between Crimea and eastern areas held by Russian-backed separatists, has been devastated by weeks of heavy bombardment. Thousands of residents are sheltering in basements with scarce water, food, medicine or power.

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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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