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Ukraine Round-up: Long-range Rockets and Kherson Torture Claims

Cassandra Sherman

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Image source, US Military

Russia has accused the US of intentionally prolonging the war in Ukraine after President Joe Biden announced that his administration would supply Kyiv with new long-range missiles in the coming weeks.

Writing in the New York Times, Mr Biden said the lethal aid would strengthen Ukraine’s negotiating position against Russia and make a diplomatic solution more likely.

But Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov accused the US of aiming to “fight Russia to the last Ukrainian” and said the move discouraged officials in Kyiv from seeking a compromise to end the conflict.

President Biden said the weapons, which Ukraine has long asked for, are to help strike enemy forces within Ukraine more precisely and from a longer distance.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Ukraine had promised not to use the new missiles to strike inside Russia, and warned of a long conflict ahead.

The intervention comes as fighting intensifies in the eastern Donbas region, where Russia has been accused of “madness” by President Volodymyr Zelensky after striking a chemical factory in the city.

Kidnapped and beaten

Image source, Olexander Guz

More graphic accounts of torture have emerged from Ukraine at the hands of Russian soldiers – this time from Kherson in the south of the country.

An unnamed doctor describes signs of “body mutilation” providing a list that includes cuts and burns, electrocution, binding and strangulation.

One man, Olexander, says a bag was put on his head and rope was tied around his neck and wrists. He says he was then beaten and threatened.

The BBC’s Caroline Davies has heard multiple first-hand testimonies saying that people began to disappear when Russian troops took control of Kherson.

Your questions about the war answered

Earlier, three of our correspondents spent some time answering questions sent in by members of the public about the war.

Life away from the front line can seem relatively normal, says BBC Eastern Europe Correspondent Sarah Rainsford. But she describes the whole of Ukraine as sitting on “a fear spectrum” with some civilians being scared into leaving the country.

Image source, Reuters

Peace talks aren’t a likely option right now, says the BBC’s Russia editor, Steve Rosenberg. He told a reader talking is over between both sides and each blame each other – and developments on the battlefield will dictate what happens next with negotiations. Turkey offered to be a mediator, but the offer hasn’t been accepted yet.

Investigators look into alleged Russian war crimes

Since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine on 24 February, nearly 15,000 allegations of war crimes have been made against Moscow’s forces by Ukrainian civilians and troops.

War crimes include the use of weapons that cause indiscriminate or appalling suffering, genocide and the abuse of the rights of prisoners of war.

Kyiv’s top prosecutor, Iryna Venediktova, says the pace of new allegations has intensified, with 200 to 300 cases being reported every day.

Now, in the bombed-out apartment blocks of Ukraine’s second city, Kharkiv, investigators are searching for evidence that could help them prosecute Russia’s war criminals.

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Football chants for good

Image source, Reuters

Football chants aren’t usually done to show support for the opposition. But at tonight’s World Cup play-off, Scottish fans were asked to join in singing the Ukrainian anthem in solidarity with the war-torn country.

Flyers containing a phonetic version of the song were handed out to spectators at Hampden Park in Glasgow.

The match is Ukraine’s first competitive game since the start of the Russian invasion back in February.

Scotland’s national pipers have also been learning the Ukrainian national anthem to make the thousands of visiting fans feel welcome.

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Original Post: bbc.co.uk

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Kaliningrad Row: ‘Sanctions Have Brought My Factory to a Standstill’

Cassandra Sherman

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Igor Pleshkov gives me a tour of his concrete business in Kaliningrad.

Not that he’s doing much business right now.

Igor’s factory has pretty much come to a standstill.

“We produce commercial concrete, iron concrete and paving stones. We first experienced a shortage of cement back in March, after Europe imposed sanctions on Russian banks.

“Trains with cement were being turned back at the Lithuanian border, because the rolling stock was owned by leasing companies who were under sanctions.

“As of June, we haven’t produced a single cubic metre.”

Kaliningrad is a unique part of Russia. This region is cut off from the rest of the country – the Russian mainland is 300 miles (480km) to the east.

It was the Red Army that seized Kaliningrad (or Königsberg as it was known) from Germany at the end of World War Two. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Kaliningrad suddenly found itself a Russian exclave in the heart of Europe. It’s sandwiched between Lithuania and Poland, both members of the European Union and Nato.

For supplies Kaliningrad has been heavily reliant on transit routes through Lithuania. But this month Lithuania began implementing EU sanctions on certain Russian goods – including construction materials. It won’t allow them to transit through Lithuanian territory to Kaliningrad.

This makes Igor’s challenge to turn the business around as tough as concrete.

“These sanctions aren’t only affecting our business, they affect everyone,” Igor explains. “We aren’t making anything, so builders can’t build anything. There’s a chain reaction. We have nothing to pay contractors, taxes or wages.”

Image source, Reuters

The authorities in Kaliningrad say there’s nothing to panic about and they plan to bring in more goods by sea. But expect logistical difficulties and higher costs.

Back in Moscow, Russian officials are furious. They’ve been taking aim at Lithuania, the EU, Nato and the West in general.

This week Nikolai Patrushev, head of Russia’s powerful Security Council and one of President Vladimir Putin’s closest allies, flew to Kaliningrad for meetings. There he warned Russia’s response – whatever form it takes – would have “a serious negative impact” on the Lithuanian people.

Russia accuses Lithuania of imposing a blockade on Kaliningrad. That’s something Lithuanian officials fiercely deny. After all, there is no ban on Russian passengers transiting through Lithuanian territory, or on Russian goods that are not on the EU sanctions list.

On Kaliningrad’s Victory Square, most of the people I speak to have only positive things to say about Europe.

“I hope we can reach an agreement with the Lithuanians on transit, because they’re not bad people,” Svetlana tells me.

“They’re not evil! The Poles aren’t bad, either. We don’t share a border with Russia, but with Poland and Lithuania. They’re like family to us. We need to restore relations.”

War in Ukraine: More coverage

12 March 2015

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Article: bbc.co.uk

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EU Leaders to Back Ukraine As Candidate at Brussels Summit

Cassandra Sherman

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Image source, Reuters

Ukraine is set to be approved as an EU candidate at a Brussels summit on Thursday, after the European Commission gave the green light.

Ukraine applied days after the Russian invasion in February, and the process has since moved at a record speed.

Its ambassador to the EU told the BBC it would be a psychological boost for Ukrainians.

But Vsevolod Chentsov admitted “real integration” could only start when the war was over.

Candidate status is the first official step towards EU membership and France said this week there was “total consensus” on Ukraine. But it can take many years to join and there’s no guarantee of success.

The Western Balkan countries of Albania, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia have been candidate countries for years; in some cases for over a decade. Bosnia and Herzegovina applied for candidacy in 2016 but has still not succeeded.

EU leaders also meet their Western Balkan counterparts on Thursday morning, ahead of the main summit, to “build on the existing close ties”, but discussions are expected to be difficult.

Some members states are pushing for Bosnia to be given candidate status, although that is not expected to happen. However, there are hopes North Macedonia and Albania may make progress.

‘Why should we wait?’

“We do not accept the idea of the queue,” Ukraine’s envoy told the BBC, arguing Kyiv’s eagerness could set an example to other states.

“Every state has its road map, has its path. And if there is political will, if there is support of society [and] business operators to move forward to implement reform in a bold and fast way, why we should wait?”

BBC
The real integration process will start when the war is over…. Definitely it will take some time and we are talking about months, not years to get to the next stage

Vsevolod Chentsov
Ukrainian envoy to EU

Moldova’s application is also recommended for conditional approval while Georgia is set to be turned down, although the European Commission said the country could belong to the EU in “due time”. More than 100,000 people attended a rally on Monday night in the Georgian capital appealing for candidate status.

Several EU states have agreed to back Ukraine’s candidacy, provided conditions are attached before accession negotiations can begin, including judicial and anti-corruption reforms.

Mr Chentsov has insisted some reforms can take place, even while the country is at war and not in control of its whole territory.

Image source, EPA

“We are not starting from scratch,” he insists, pointing to work carried out since the EU and Ukraine signed an association agreement in 2014. But it would be “logical” to carry out bigger reforms once the situation on the ground became more stable, he added.

Some EU diplomats have previously voiced concerns that giving candidate status could offer Ukraine false hope.

French President Emmanuel Macron said in May that the prospect of membership was decades away and the Nato secretary general has warned the conflict could last years.

But Mr Chentsov said no-one had a crystal ball and he felt there was a will “to help Ukraine to get there”.

Macron plan for broader EU community

As well as deciding on which countries should be given candidate status, EU leaders will also discuss food security in light of Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian ports, condemned by the EU’s foreign policy chief this week as a war crime. And they will assess President Macron’s proposal for a wider “European Political Community”.

According to draft summit conclusions seen by the BBC, the aim would be “to foster political dialogue and co-operation to address issues of common interest so as to strengthen the security, stability and prosperity of the European continent”.

The French leader has suggested the community could include countries waiting to join the EU such as Ukraine and the Western Balkan states, or even those that have left, which would currently just include the UK. However, a number of EU diplomats have rejected the idea as half-baked. The UK left the European Union in 2020.

The Ukrainian ambassador did not dismiss the idea out of hand, saying: “Probably it will be something to consider for the EU, for the UK to join and we can sit at the same table together with the EU, Ukraine and UK.”

UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has said her preference would be to build on existing structures such as the G7 and Nato.

War in Ukraine: More coverage

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Afghanistan Quake: Taliban Appeal for International Aid

Cassandra Sherman

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The Taliban in Afghanistan have appealed for international support, as the country deals with the aftermath of a devastating 6.1 magnitude earthquake.

More than 1,000 people have been killed and at least 1,500 injured. Unknown numbers are buried in the rubble of ruined, often mud-built homes.

South eastern Paktika province has been worst-hit and the UN is scrambling to provide emergency shelter and food aid.

Rescue efforts are being hampered by heavy rain and lack of resources.

Survivors and rescuers have told the BBC of villages completely destroyed near the epicentre of the quake, of ruined roads and mobile phone towers – and of their fears that the death toll will rise further.

The deadliest earthquake to strike the country in two decades is a major challenge for the Taliban, the Islamist movement which regained power last year after the Western-backed government collapsed.

The earthquake struck about 44km (27 miles) from the city of Khost and tremors were felt as far away as Pakistan and India.

Afghanistan is in the midst of a humanitarian and economic crisis, and Abdul Qahar Balkhi, a senior Taliban official, said the government was “financially unable to assist the people to the extent that is needed”.

Aid agencies, neighbouring countries and world powers were helping, he said, but added: “The assistance needs to be scaled up to a very large extent because this is a devastating earthquake which hasn’t been experienced in decades.”

In remote areas, helicopters have been ferrying victims to hospitals. International partners have been deploying medical teams and providing medical supplies.

Afghanistan: The basics

The Taliban run the country: The hardline Islamists took over Afghanistan last year, almost 20 years after being ousted by a US-led military coalitionThere’s a food crisis: More than a third of people can’t meet basic needs and the economy is struggling, as foreign aid and cash dried up when the Taliban took powerWomen’s rights are restricted: They have been ordered to cover their faces in public and teenage girls have not been allowed to go to school

Image source, Getty Images

Most of the casualties so far have been in the Gayan and Barmal districts of Paktika. A whole village in Gayan has reportedly been destroyed.

“There was a rumbling and my bed began to shake”, one survivor, Shabir, told the BBC.

“The ceiling fell down. I was trapped, but I could see the sky. My shoulder was dislocated, my head was hurt but I got out. I am sure that seven or nine people from my family, who were in the same room as me, are dead”.

A doctor in Paktika said medical workers were among the victims.

“We didn’t have enough people and facilities before the earthquake, and now the earthquake has ruined the little we had,” the medic said. “I don’t know how many of our colleagues are still alive.”

Communication following the quake is difficult because of damage to mobile phone towers and the death toll could rise further still, a local journalist in the area told the BBC.

“Many people are not aware of the well-being of their relatives because their phones are not working,” he said. “My brother and his family died, and I just learned it after many hours. Many villages have been destroyed.”

Image source, Getty Images

Afghanistan is prone to quakes, as it is located in a tectonically active region, over a number of fault lines including the Chaman fault, the Hari Rud fault, the Central Badakhshan fault and the Darvaz fault.

Over the past decade more than 7,000 people have been killed in earthquakes in the country, the UN’s Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports. There are an average of 560 deaths a year from earthquakes.

Most recently, back-to-back earthquakes in the country’s west in January killed more than 20 people and destroyed hundreds of houses.

Even before the Taliban takeover, Afghanistan’s emergency services were stretched to deal with natural disasters – with few aircraft and helicopters available to rescuers.

But more recently, the country has experienced a shortage of medical supplies.

According to the UN, 93% of households in Afghanistan suffer food insecurity. Lucien Christen, from the Red Cross, said Afghanistan’s “dire economic situation” meant “they’re [Afghan families] not able to put food on the table”.

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Original Article: bbc.co.uk

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