World Inside

Russian forces pound Ukraine's Donetsk region

Publish: 10:07 AM, 15 Aug, 2022


Ukrainian forces reported heavy Russian shelling and attempts to advance on several towns in the eastern region of Donetsk that have become a key focus of the near six-month war, but said they had repelled many of the attacks.

The General Staff of Ukraine's armed forces also reported Russian shelling of more than a dozen towns on the southern front - particularly the Kherson region, mainly controlled by Russian forces, but where Ukrainian troops are steadily capturing territory.

Much attention has been focused on the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in southern Ukraine amid fears of a catastrophe over renewed shelling in recent days that Russia and Ukraine blame on each other.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called for the establishment of a demilitarized zone and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has warned Russian soldiers who shoot at Europe's largest nuclear power station or use it as a base to shoot from that they will become a "special target" of Ukrainian forces.

The Zaporizhzhia plant dominates the south bank of a vast reservoir on the Dnipro River. Ukrainian forces controlling the towns and cities on the opposite bank have come under intense bombardment from the Russian-held side.

The International Atomic Energy Agency, which seeks to inspect the plant, has warned of a nuclear disaster unless the fighting stops. Nuclear experts fear fighting might damage the plant's spent fuel pools or reactors.

Zelenskiy said Ukraine had many times proposed different formats to the Russian leadership for peace talks, without progress.

"So we have to defend ourselves, we have to answer every form of terror, every instance of shelling - the fierce shelling which does not let up for a single day," he said in video remarks late on Sunday.

Fighting in east, south

Kyiv has said for weeks it is planning a counteroffensive to recapture Zaporizhzhia and neighbouring Kherson province, the largest part of the territory Russia seized after its Feb 24 invasion and still holds.

Ukraine's military command said early on Sunday that Russian soldiers had continued unsuccessfully to attack Ukrainian positions near Avdiivka, which, since 2014, has become one of the outposts of Ukrainian forces near Donetsk. 

Ukrainian Military Expert Oleg Zhdanov said the situation was particularly difficult in Avdiivka and nearby towns, such as Pisky.

"We have insufficient artillery power in place and our forces are asking for more support to defend Pisky. But the town is basically under Ukrainian control," he said in a video posted online.

Reuters could not independently verify the battlefield accounts.

Russia calls its invasion of Ukraine a "special military operation" to demilitarize and "denazify" its smaller neighbour. The war has pushed Moscow-Washington relations to a low point, with Russia warning it may sever ties.

While Russia has been largely isolated on the global diplomatic stage, North Korean state media on Monday said Russian President Vladimir Putin told leader Kim Jong Un the two countries would expand "comprehensive and constructive" ties. 

In July, North Korea recognized as independent states the Russian-backed breakaway "people's republics" of Donetsk and Luhansk, and officials raised the prospect of its workers being sent there to help in construction and other labour.

Ukraine immediately severed ties with Pyongyang over the move.

Grain ships

Amid the fighting, more ships carrying Ukrainian grain left or prepared to do so as part of a late July deal to ease a global food crisis.

An Ethiopia-bound cargo, the first since Russia's invasion of Ukraine, was getting ready to leave in the next few days, while sources said the first grain ship to leave Ukraine under a UN deal was nearing Syria. 

"The world needs the food of Ukraine," Marianne Ward, the deputy country director of the World Food Program, told reporters. "This is the beginning of what we hope are normal operations for the hungry people of the world," she added.

The relief agency bought more than 800,000 tons of grain in Ukraine last year.

- Reuters


World Inside

Russia-Middle East-Japan interested trading in Indian Rupee

Publish: 09:23 AM, 27 Sep, 2022


Due to the fear of Western sanctions and the volatility of the US dollar, some non-Western countries including Russia, Iran, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Japan have expressed interest in paying in Indian rupees. India has also opened the door to international trade in rupee through policy reforms to boost bilateral trade.

Prabir Kumar Bhattacharjee, secretary general of India's industry group 'Tea Association of India', told Russian Media Sputnik that importers from countries like Russia and Iran, which are subject to Western sanctions, want to pay the price in rupees for Indian products. In fact, they want to advance trade in this way to avoid economic blockade.

Prabir Bhattacharjee also said that major tea importing countries like UAE, Saudi Arabia, Japan, Sri Lanka and China are also looking to use the opportunity to pay in rupees. Because, in the case of the US dollar, there is a kind of worldwide duty for this.

According to Indian government statistics, India is the world's number one producer and fourth exporter of tea. According to 2021 estimates, about 17.3 percent of India's total tea exports went to Russia, 13.4 percent to Iran and about 8.8 percent to the United Arab Emirates. Imports are expected to increase further this year.

Economic experts say finding an alternative to the US dollar is the need of the hour. According to Ashwani Mahajan, co-convener of Indian economic advocacy group Swadeshi Jagran Manch, India now needs to find alternatives to the dollar to boost foreign trade. He also expressed hope that foreign transactions in rupees will expand in the coming months and years.

Ashwani Mahajan blames sanctions on Iran and Russia for India's retreat from the US dollar. Experts say, India should have encouraged trade in local currency a lot earlier to expand trade.

Indian Rupee  


World Inside

School shooting in Russia: 17 including 11 children dead, 24 wounded

Publish: 08:46 AM, 27 Sep, 2022


A gunman opened fire in a school in central Russia on Monday, killing 17 people and wounding 24 others before shooting himself dead, authorities said.

The shooting took place in School No. 88 in Izhevsk, a city 960 kilometers (600 miles) east of Moscow in the Udmurtia region.

Russia’s Investigative Committee identified the gunman as 34-year-old Artyom Kazantsev, a graduate of the same school, and said he was wearing a black t-shirt bearing “Nazi symbols.” No details about his motives have been released.

The government of Udmurtia said 17 people, including 11 children, were killed in the shooting. According to Russia's Investigative Committee, 24 other people, including 22 children, were wounded in the attack.

The governor of Udmurtia, Alexander Brechalov, said the gunman, who he said was registered as a patient at a psychiatric facility, killed himself after the attack.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov described the shooting as “a terrorist act” and said Russian President Vladimir Putin has given all the necessary orders to the relevant authorities.

“President Putin deeply mourns deaths of people and children in the school, where a terrorist act took place,” Peskov told reporters Monday.

The school educates children between grades one and 11. It has been evacuated and the area around it has been cordoned off, the governor said.

Russia's National Guard said Kazantsev used two non-lethal handguns adapted to fire real bullets. The guns were not registered with the authorities.

A criminal probe into the incident has been launched on charges of multiple murder and illegal possession of firearms.

Izhevsk, a city of 640,000, is located west of the Ural Mountains in central Russia.


Russia   School Shooting  


World Inside

Death toll from sunken Lebanon migrant boat rises to 94

Publish: 11:25 AM, 25 Sep, 2022


The death toll from a migrant boat that sank off the Syrian coast after sailing from Lebanon earlier this week has risen to 94, after more bodies were recovered from Syria's Baniyas coast on the Mediterranean, Syrian state TV said on Saturday.

It is the deadliest such voyage yet from Lebanon, where mounting economic desperation has led many to board often rickety and overcrowded boats in the hope of reaching Europe.

Syrian authorities began finding bodies off the coast of the northern port city of Tartus on Thursday afternoon. The Syrian transport ministry quoted survivors as saying the boat had left from Lebanon's northern Minyeh region on Tuesday with between 120 and 150 people on board, bound for Europe.

- Reuters

Lebanon   Migrant boat sink  


World Inside

Shelling hits southern Ukraine, Russia in UN spotlight over escalation

Publish: 09:19 AM, 25 Sep, 2022


Shelling hit southern Ukraine late on Saturday while Russia sought to defend its seven-month old war at the United Nations even as it moves to escalate the conflict.

Kyiv and Western nations say referendums in territories Russia has seized by force are a sham designed to justify a ramping up of hostilities with newly drafted troops, after battlefield losses in Ukraine in recent weeks.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov addressed the UN General Assembly and the world's press on Saturday, casting opposition to Russia's assault on its neighbor as limited to Washington and countries under its sway. Nearly three-quarters of countries in the assembly voted to reprimand Russia and demand it withdraw its troops shortly after the February 24 invasion.

Kyiv and Moscow traded blame for shelling in Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia region on Saturday.

Regional governor Oleksandr Starukh said on Telegram that Russian forces launched "a massive missile strike" on the region from about 10 planes, wounding at least three people.

Russia's RIA state news agency, citing unnamed sources, said Ukrainian forces shelled a granary and fertiliser warehouses in the region.

Reuters was unable to verify either sides' claims.

Lavrov, in a news conference following his speech to the assembly in New York, said the Ukrainian regions where votes are underway would be under Moscow's "full protection" if they are annexed by Russia, including with nuclear weapons. 

The Group of Seven industrialised economies have said they will not recognize the results of the votes.

Ukraine requested an urgent UN Security Council meeting over the referendums, accusing Russia of violating the UN Charter by attempting to change Ukraine's borders, foreign affairs ministry spokesperson Oleg Nikolenko said on Twitter.

Putin on Wednesday ordered the country's first mobilisation since world war two, an announcement that saw some Russian men headed swiftly to the borders, with traffic at frontier crossings with Finland and Georgia surging and prices for air tickets from Moscow rocketing.

More than 2,000 people have been detained across Russia for protesting the draft, including 798 people detained in 33 towns on Saturday alone, according to independent monitoring group OVD-Info.

Frustration has even spread to pro-Kremlin media, with one editor at the state-run RT news channel complaining that problems like call-up papers being sent to the wrong men were "infuriating people."

When asked on Saturday why so many Russians were leaving the country, Lavrov pointed to the right of freedom of movement.

- Reuters

Ukraine-Russia war   UN  


World Inside

Switzerland to destroy 10 mn doses of Moderna Covid jab

Publish: 09:07 AM, 25 Sep, 2022


Switzerland will need to destroy 10.3 million doses of Moderna's vaccine against Covid-19, after they expired this week, the health ministry said Saturday.

The ministry said it had no choice but to eliminate the jabs after the doses expired last Wednesday, according to Keystone-ATS.

It told the news agency that 2.5 million of the doses were being stored at a Swiss army logistics base and 7.8 million were in an external storage depot in Belgium.

The ministry confirmed an initial report on Swiss news site Beobachter, which estimated that the doses set for destruction were worth around 280 million Swiss francs ($285 million).

The health ministry, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment from AFP, pointed to its early procurement strategy in the race to develop vaccines to counter the global Covid-19 pandemic.

It ordered doses from various manufacturers to avoid becoming reliant on vaccines that might eventually prove ineffective and to guard against any delivery problems.

The fact that vaccines based on mRNA technology, from Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech, turned out to be effective, left Switzerland with a large surplus of doses.

In June, the Swissinfo news site estimated that Switzerland had an excess of some 38 million doses of various Covid vaccines, that would expire before the year-end.

The ministry said that some 3.5 million doses of the new, adapted Moderna vaccine would be available when Switzerland kicks off its next booster campaign next month.

Switzerland, which has counted 13,556 deaths from Covid since the start of the pandemic, has fully vaccinated nearly 70 percent of its population of 8.7 million.


Covid-19   Coronavirus   Covid vaccine   Moderna   Switzerland