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Ukraine War: Biden Sees ‘real Problems’ for Russia After Kherson Retreat Order

Cassandra Sherman

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Image source, EPA

US President Joe Biden has said Russia’s decision to withdraw from the Ukrainian city of Kherson shows its military has “some real problems”.

Mr Biden said he had been expecting the move for “some time” and that it would allow both sides to “recalibrate their positions” over the winter.

Kherson is the only major Ukrainian city to fall to Russian forces.

But earlier on Wednesday, Russia’s commander in Ukraine said it was no longer possible to supply the city.

Gen Sergei Surovikin, who was given command just weeks ago, made the announcement accompanied by the military top brass on Russian state TV. He confirmed Russian troops would withdraw entirely from the western bank of the River Dnipro.

It is a significant blow to Russia’s military ambitions as it faces a Ukrainian counter-offensive.

Mr Biden was speaking from the White House after midterm elections in which his Democratic Party looked likely to lose control of the House of Representatives to the opposition Republican Party.

The president’s political rivals previously vowed to review US military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine, and Mr Biden observed that it was “interesting” that Moscow had “waited until after the election” to announce the withdrawal.

But he said he hoped the “bipartisan approach of confronting Russia’s aggression in Ukraine” would continue.

The decision to pull back across the Dnipro was treated with caution by Ukraine.

President Volodymyr Zelensky said Kyiv was moving “very carefully” after the announcement.

“The enemy does not give us gifts, does not make ‘goodwill gestures’, we win it all,” he told Ukrainians in his nightly address.

After Russia’s announcement, civilians inside Kherson said Chechen troops from the Russian military were in the city, in cafes, and moving around the streets.

And at a Ukrainian position on the perimeter around the city, soldiers said the enemy might be trying to draw them into a trap and were proceeding cautiously.

A city about to change hands?

By Paul Adams, BBC International affairs correspondent

Since October, some Kherson residents loyal to Kyiv have felt change in the air.

With Russian-appointed officials starting to evacuate civilians, the city’s liberation seemed to be getting closer.

One of the most symbolic – and perhaps telling – moments came when a Russian team arrived at the city’s 18th Century Cathedral of St Catherine to remove the bones of Prince Grigory Potemkin, the man responsible for colonising southern Ukraine on behalf of his lover, Catherine the Great.

But there has been a mounting sense of dread too. If Russian forces were compelled to withdraw, what would they do as they left?

Rumours are rife: that Russia is planning to blow up the nearby Nova Kakhovka dam; that Russian troops have donned civilian clothing and are hiding in private homes; or that Russian artillery will simply try to level the city from across the Dnipro, after troops finally leave.

Whatever happens, this feels like a critical moment. A city seen as a jewel in the crown of Russia’s occupation may be about to change hands.

President Vladimir Putin did not take part in the announcement of the withdrawal.

But two of his major allies – previously critical of Russia’s war effort – welcomed the move.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder of the Wagner mercenary group and a long-time Putin associate, said that while the decision was “not a victorious step” it was important “not to agonise, not to get paranoidal, but to draw conclusions and work on mistakes”.

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov – who Mr Putin picked to rule the autonomous republic in 2007 – said Gen Surovikin had acted “like a real military general, not afraid of criticism”.

Although the Ukrainian advance had slowed in recent weeks, Russia’s supply lines across the Dnipro had become increasingly difficult after the few bridges across were destroyed by Ukrainian missiles.

Before the withdrawal, Russia moved thousands of civilians out of the city by boat, in what Ukraine described as a deportation.

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Source: bbc.co.uk

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Three Women Among Dozen Publicly Flogged in Afghanistan – Taliban Official

Cassandra Sherman

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Image source, Reuters

Twelve people, including three women, have been flogged in front of thousands of onlookers at a football stadium in Afghanistan.

The group were guilty of “moral crimes” including adultery, robbery and gay sex, a Taliban official told the BBC.

This is thought to be the second time in a month the Islamist group has carried out public lashings.

The move could signal a return to the hard-line practices seen in the previous Taliban rule in the 1990s.

Omar Mansoor Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman for Logar region in eastern Afghanistan, where the lashings happened, said that all three women were freed after they were punished. Some of the men were jailed, he said, but it is not clear how many.

The men and women received between 21 and 39 lashes each. The maximum number a person can receive is 39, another Taliban official said.

Nineteen people were also punished last week in a similar flogging in Takhar province in northern Afghanistan, reports say.

The flogging in Logar province comes a week after the Taliban’s supreme leader, Hibatullah Akhundzada, ordered judges to enforce punishments for certain crimes in line with the group’s strict reading of Islamic Sharia law.

This interpretation of Islamic law includes public executions, public amputations and stoning – although exact crimes and corresponding punishments have not been officially defined by the Taliban.

The supreme leader’s order is the latest sign that the Taliban is taking a tougher stance on rights and freedoms; after promising to rule more moderately when they took power last year.

During their rule from 1996-2001, the Taliban were condemned for regularly carrying out punishments in public, including floggings and executions at the national stadium in Kabul.

The government also vowed that they would not repeat the brutal repression of women; but since the group’s return to rule women’s freedoms have been severely curbed and a number of women have been beaten for demanding rights.

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Ukraine War: Zelensky Denounces Russian ‘terror’ in UN Address

Cassandra Sherman

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Image source, Getty Images

President Volodymyr Zelensky has accused Russia of “crimes against humanity” after a bombardment caused blackouts across Ukraine.

At least six civilians were killed in the barrage, and officials were forced to shut down three nuclear reactors due to power outages.

Neighbouring Moldova also experienced blackouts, but it was not directly hit.

With winter setting in, Moscow has stepped up strikes on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure.

Officials say Russia’s missile strikes on energy stations has caused “colossal” damage and left more than half of the country’s power grid in need of repair.

Addressing an urgent meeting of the UN Security Council in New York, Mr Zelensky said the latest strikes had forced “millions of people to stay without energy supplies, without heating, without water” as temperatures started to drop below zero.

“That’s the Russian formula of terror,” he told delegates in New York via video link.

On Wednesday, an air-raid alert was issued across Ukraine, followed by reports of explosions in a number of locations – including in the capital Kyiv and in the Western city Lviv.

In the southern Zaporizhzhia region, a newborn baby was killed when a missile hit a maternity unit, emergency services said.

General Valeriy Zaluzhniy – the commander of Ukraine’s armed forces – said 67 cruise missiles were launched by Moscow, with air defences successfully intercepting 51 projectiles.

But the attack has caused significant damage to infrastructure across the country.

In Kyiv, parts of the city were left without water and completely without power. By nightfall Mayor Vitali Klitschko said at least 80% of residents remained without power or water.

Most thermal and hydro-electric power plants were forced to shut down as well, Ukraine’s energy ministry said.

Shortly before the fresh reports from Kyiv and Lviv, officials said southern Ukraine had come under renewed assault.

The governor of the Mykolaiv region warned of “many rockets” arriving from the south and east.

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Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov did not comment on the attacks during a visit to the Armenian capital Yerevan, but he pledged that the “future and the success of the special operation (Moscow’s term for its war in Ukraine) are beyond doubt”.

Moscow has said that attacking Ukraine’s power grid could weaken its ability to fight and drive its leaders to the negotiating table.

But French President Emmanuel Macron wrote on Twitter that such strikes against “civilian infrastructure” constituted a war crime, following similar comments from the US.

Blackouts in Moldova

More than half of Moldova was left without electricity, deputy prime minister Andrei Spinu wrote on Twitter. He said the attack on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure has caused a “massive blackout”.

Within a few hours power was restored in much of the capital, Chisinau, where a third of the Moldovan population lives.

Moldova also experienced widespread power cuts as a result of strikes on Ukraine on 15 November, Mr Spinu said. Mobile networks were also badly affected.

Energy policy analyst Sergiu Tofilat said that because Moldova and Ukraine were connected to the European grid in March, one of the connection points on the power line between Moldova and neighbouring Romania shut down automatically if Ukraine was hit to protect the system: “We reconnect once Ukraine has assessed the damage.”

In response to the outages, Moldovan President Maia Sandu said Russia had “left Moldova in the dark”.

“Russia’s war in Ukraine kills people, destroys residential blocks and energy infrastructure with missiles…” she wrote on Facebook. “But the electricity supply can be restored. We will solve the technical problems and we will have light again. All state institutions are working in this direction.”

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G20: Xi Accuses Trudeau of Leaks to Media About China-Canada Relations

Cassandra Sherman

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China’s Xi Jinping has been filmed accusing Justin Trudeau of leaking meeting details, days after they held talks at the G20 summit in Bali.

President Xi told the Canadian PM, via a translator, this was inappropriate and accused him of lacking “sincerity”.

He was likely referring to reports that Mr Trudeau discussed alleged Chinese espionage and interference in Canadian elections at the sit down.

The talks, which happened behind closed doors, were the pair’s first in years.

In the footage, filmed by journalists at the now finished gathering of world leaders, President Xi and Mr Trudeau can be seen standing close to each other and conversing via a translator.

“Everything we discussed has been leaked to the papers and that is not appropriate,” the Chinese leader told Mr Trudeau in Mandarin.

It captures a rare candid moment of President Xi, whose image is normally carefully curated by Chinese state media.

After smiling and nodding his head, the Canadian PM responded by saying “in Canada we believe in free and open and frank dialogue and that is what we will continue to have”.

“We will continue to look to work constructively together but there will be things we disagree on,” he added.

Before Mr Trudeau could finish, President Xi cut his counterpart off and asked that he first “create the conditions” – eventually shaking Trudeau’s hand and walking away.

The short but revealing exchange highlighted tensions between China and Canada, running high since the detention of Huawei Technologies executive Meng Wanzhou in 2018 and Beijing’s subsequent arrest of two Canadians on spying charges. All three were later released.

But tensions recently resurged following the arrest of Yuesheng Wang, a public utility worker at Hydro-Quebec, who was charged with espionage.

Mr Wang “obtained trade secrets to benefit the People’s Republic of China, to the detriment of Canada’s economic interests,” Canadian police said in a statement.

At the time, Mr Trudeau and President Xi were at the G20 summit on the Indonesian island of Bali.

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Source: bbc.co.uk

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