Ukraine Says Wants Spot ‘Reserved’ In EU

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky gestures as he speaks during a press conference following his talks with President of the European Council in Kyiv on April 20, 2022.
Sergei SUPINSKY / AFP

 

 

 

Ukraine wants a spot reserved in the European Union, even if obtaining full membership could take time, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Thursday in Berlin. 

“It is not about the fastest possible membership for Ukraine in the EU. But what is very important for us is for this spot to be reserved for Ukraine,” he told German broadcaster ARD.

“We hear often that Ukraine belongs in Europe, belongs in the European family, and now it’s about reserving this place,” he added.

French President Emmanuel Macron warned early this week that it would take “decades” for a candidate like Ukraine to join the EU.

Macron suggested instead that a broader European political community could be created to include members like Ukraine or post-Brexit Britain.

Kuleba said he did not have sufficient details to weigh up Macron’s suggestion for a wider European club.

But he said that “as far as we understand, the French proposal doesn’t contradict granting Ukraine EU candidacy status”.

The contrary would go against public statements made by EU leaders on how Ukraine is part of the European family, he warned.

“I can tell you right away that no alternative to European integration of Ukraine will be acceptable,” Kuleba added, speaking to journalists after he met leaders of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democrats.

Kuleba, who is in Berlin to meet political leaders of Europe’s biggest economy before heading to Weissenhaus to attend talks with counterparts from the G7 most industrialised nations, also took pains to smooth over any remaining tensions with German leaders.

He noted that Germany was now stepping up in the response against Russia over the invasion of Ukraine.

“We see that Germany has currently taken the leading role,” he said.

Kuleba said he will discuss further sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

Another key topic, the minister said, is the battle against global food shortages sparked by the war.

UK Defence Minister Takes A Swipe At Putin, Says He Has ‘Gone Full Tonto’

A handout picture released by the British Ministry of Defence (MOD) shows Britain’s Defence Secretary Ben Wallace (C) hosting a meeting of the Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF) Defence Ministers meeting at at Belvoir Castle near Grantham, central England on February 22, 2022. (Photo by Sgt Jimmy Wise / MOD / AFP)

 

Russian President Vladimir Putin has “gone full tonto” by ordering his troops into two rebel-held areas of eastern Ukraine, Britain’s defence secretary said Wednesday in unguarded comments to military officials.

Ben Wallace made the candid comments suggesting Putin had lost his mind while also comparing the Russian leader to Tsar Nicholas I, who struggled for allies during the Crimean War in the mid-19th century.

“We’ve got a busy adversary now in Putin, who has gone full tonto,” Wallace — a former army officer — told serving personnel in a government building in Westminster, Britain’s Press Association news agency reported.

“Tsar Nicholas I made the same mistake Putin did… he had no friends, no alliances.

“The Scots Guards kicked the backside of Tsar Nicholas I in 1853 in Crimea — we can always do it again,” Wallace, who served in the same regiment, was overheard saying.

READ ALSO: Germany Can Do Without Russian Gas, Minister Says

The minister’s unvarnished assessment came after Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday said Putin was in an “illogical and irrational frame of mind”.

Asked about Wallace’s reported assessment, Johnson’s official spokesman told reporters: “The defence secretary is more astute to make that judgment than I.”

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss meanwhile said Putin was “highly likely” to launch a full-scale invasion of Ukraine and attack Kyiv.

Britain and the US have repeatedly cited intelligence as indicating that Moscow is planning such a move.

However, Truss noted London does not yet have “the full evidence” that Russian troops have crossed into Ukrainian territory, including rebel-held areas, calling the current situation “ambiguous”.

– ‘Defensive weapons’ –

Meanwhile in parliament, Johnson confirmed Britain would send further military supplies to Ukraine “in light of the increasingly threatening behaviour” from Russia.

“This will include lethal aid in the form of defensive weapons and non-lethal aid,” he told MPs.

The UK last month deployed some 2,000 anti-tank weapons to Kyiv along with military trainers — who have since left the country — as Western nations stepped up their support for Ukraine.

London is ready to guarantee up to $500 million (£368 million) in loans to Kyiv to promote economic stability and reforms, the foreign office said ahead of Johnson’s comments.

READ ALSO: Gas Prices ‘In God’s Hands’, Producers Warn As Ukraine Crisis Sparks Surge

In December, it increased the amount of financial support available to Ukraine to £3.5 billion and signed a treaty on modernising its navy.

Earlier this month it also announced £100 million in extra assistance to be provided over three years to help the ex-Soviet country boost the economy and reduce dependency on energy imports.

The latest commitments come a day after Britain slapped sanctions on five Russian banks and three billionaires, in what Johnson branded “the first barrage” of measures in response to the Kremlin’s actions.

However, he faced criticism from numerous lawmakers, including from within his ruling Conservatives, that the measures were woefully insufficient.

He and his ministers have insisted tougher measures are set to follow but depend on Moscow’s actions.

Johnson also announced Wednesday that his culture minister had asked media regulator Ofcom to review the UK broadcasting licence of Kremlin-backed television channel RT.

In a leaked letter to Ofcom, Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries urged the agency to take “timely and transparent” action against RT, which she warned seeks to spread “harmful disinformation”.

An Ofcom spokesperson confirmed receipt of the letter to AFP, adding: “All licensees must observe Ofcom’s rules, including due accuracy and due impartiality.

READ ALSO: Pope Warns Of ‘Increasingly Alarming Scenarios’ In Ukraine

“If broadcasters break those rules, we will not hesitate to step in. Given the seriousness of the Ukraine crisis, we will examine complaints about any broadcaster’s news coverage of this issue as a priority.”

Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova hit back on Telegram saying “If Britain turns its threat towards Russian media into a reality, retaliatory measures will not take long to come.

“British journalists can ask their German colleagues what this looks like,” she said.

German broadcaster Deutsche Welle closed its Moscow bureau at the start of this month after Russia shut the outlet’s local operations to punish Germany for banning a service of a Russian state TV network.

EU Warns Of Economic Uncertainty After Russia’s Ukraine Moves

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Russia’s recognition of breakaway regions of Ukraine will “strongly increase” economic uncertainty for the EU, the bloc’s economy commissioner Paolo Gentiloni said on Tuesday.

“Uncertainty remains around us. And the violation of international law through Russian recognition of two separatist territories in Ukraine will strongly increase this uncertainty,” Gentiloni told a Brussels conference.

Gentiloni was speaking as EU ambassadors met to agree on sanctions against Russia for its recognition a day before of two separatist regions in Ukraine that have been militarily supported by Moscow for the past eight years.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered troops into those separatist regions, breaking international agreements he had signed on to. He portrayed the incursion as a “peacekeeping” mission.

The European Union was expected to unveil limited and targeted economic punishment, both to keep its sanctions powder dry should Russia push further into Ukraine and because of the pain it would feel too from sectoral sanctions.

READ ALSO: US Announces First Sanctions After Russia Recognizes Ukraine Separatists

Russia supplies more than a third of the EU’s natural gas supplies, and energy prices are already spiking to uncomfortable levels for European consumers and governments.

Gentiloni, speaking at an EU conference on the bloc’s economic situation, noted that the growth forecasts for this year had already been revised down earlier this month to 4.0 percent, and up to 2.8 percent for next year.

Conflict or tough sanctions on Russia that blowback into Europe could add to the downward pressure on the Covid-hit economy.

AFP

Russian Navy Launches Major Black Sea Drills

One of three Russian ships, an Ivan Gren class large landing ship the “Pyotr Morgunov” sails through the Bosphorus Strait en route to the Black Sea past the city Istanbul on February 9, 2022.
PHOTO: Ozan KOSE / AFP

 

Russia’s navy on Saturday launched large-scale exercises in the Black Sea even as Moscow dismissed as “hysteria” a US warning that a Russian attack on Ukraine could begin within days.

“Over 30 vessels from the Black Sea fleet took to the sea from Sebastopol and Novorossiysk in accordance with the exercise plan,” the Russian defence ministry said Saturday morning.

“The aim of the exercise is to defend the coast of the Crimea peninsula, the bases of the forces of the Black Sea fleet as well as the country’s economic sector … from possible military threats,” the ministry added.

The move comes after the US on Friday gave its starkest warning yet of a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine, saying that it could take place “any day now.”

READ ALSO: Russia All Set For Military Move On Ukraine, Says Norway

White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters that such an attack would likely begin with airstrikes and missile attacks and urged Americans in Ukraine to leave the country “as soon as possible.”

A number of EU countries have also urged their nationals to leave Ukraine.

Moscow poured scorn on the US warnings.

“The White House’s hysteria is more revealing than ever. The Anglo-Saxons need a war. At all cost. The provocations, disinformation and the threats are their favourite method for resolving their own problems,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova wrote on Telegram.

Russia’s ambassador to the US Anatoly Antonov told Newsweek magazine that the US warnings were “alarmist” and repeated that his country was “not going to attack anyone.”

Russia has massed tens of thousands of troops along Ukraine’s borders in recent months, raising fears that it is planning to invade its former Soviet neighbour, eight years after it seized the Crimea peninsula from Ukraine.

Russia has denied any such plans while making a series of demands of the West, including a ban on Ukraine joining the Western defence alliance NATO.

In the midst of the furore, Russia last month announced a series of naval exercises in the Atlantic Ocean, the Arctic Ocean, the Pacific Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea as well as in “waters and seas adjacent to Russian territory.”

The exercises involve over 140 warships and support vessels, over 60 aircraft, 1,000 pieces of military hardware and over 10,000 troops in total, the defence ministry said Saturday.

Tensions have been running high in the Black Sea in recent years, with Moscow accusing Ukraine’s pro-Western government and Western powers of threatening its security in waters off Crimea.

In June last year, Russian forces fired warning shots at a British destroyer that it accused of entering its waters, claims denied by Britain.

As well as the naval exercises, large-scale Russian military drills are underway with the country’s authoritarian ally Belarus, which lies just north of Ukraine and which also borders the European Union.

AFP

EU Leaders Vow Unity As Macron Sees Path On Easing Russia Tensions

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European leaders on Tuesday pledged unity in their goal of averting war on the continent, as France’s President Emmanuel Macron said he saw a path forward on easing tensions with Russia over Ukraine after an urgent round of shuttle diplomacy.

Arriving in Berlin after two days of talks in Kyiv and Moscow, Macron urged continued “firm dialogue” with Russia as the only way to defuse fears Russia could invade its ex-Soviet neighbour.

The French leader, who on Monday had a five-hour meeting with Vladimir Putin, said the Russian president had told him that Russia “would not be the source of an escalation”, despite amassing more than 100,000 troops and military hardware on Ukraine’s border.

Macron said he now saw the “possibility” for talks involving Moscow and Kyiv over the festering conflict in eastern Ukraine to move forward, and “concrete, practical solutions” to lower tensions between Russia and the West.

“We must find ways and means together to engage in a firm dialogue with Russia,” he said in Berlin, where he was to debrief German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Polish leader Andrzej Duda on his Kremlin meeting and his talks with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv.

Standing alongside Macron and Duda, Scholz stressed the trio “are united by the goal of maintaining peace in Europe through diplomacy and clear messages and the shared will to act in unison”.

The Polish leader said he believed war could still be averted.

“We have to find a solution to avoid war,” said Duda. “I believe that we will achieve it. In my opinion what’s most important today is unity and solidarity.”

EU diplomatic chief Josep Borrell was cautiously optimistic, saying Macron’s visit to Moscow brought “an element of detente” but “has not produced a miracle”.

“As far as people are willing to sit at the table and talk I think that there is a hope for not going into military confrontation,” he told reporters at the end of a visit to Washington.

– ‘Compromises’ –

The focus will now turn to separate talks involving high-ranking officials in Berlin on Thursday that Zelensky said could pave the way for a summit with the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany aimed at reviving the stalled peace plan for Kyiv’s conflict with Moscow-backed separatists.

Putin, who has demanded sweeping security guarantees from NATO and the United States, said after his talks with Macron that Moscow would “do everything to find compromises that suit everyone”.

He said several proposals put forward by Macron could “form a basis for further steps” on easing the crisis over Ukraine, but did not give any details.

At the same time as sending its military hardware to Ukraine’s borders, Putin has issued demands the West says are unacceptable, including barring Ukraine from joining NATO and rolling back alliance forces in eastern Europe.

The French presidency said Macron’s counterproposals included an engagement from both sides not to take any new military action, the launching of a strategic dialogue and efforts to revive the peace process for Ukraine’s conflict.

It also said an agreement would ensure the withdrawal of some 30,000 Russian soldiers from Belarus at the end of joint military exercises later this month.

The Kremlin insisted it never intended to leave the troops permanently on Belarusian territory.

The West faces a tough task trying to convince a wary Zelensky to accept any compromises.

Kyiv has laid out three “red lines” it says it will not cross to find a solution — no compromise over Ukraine’s territorial integrity, no direct talks with the separatists and no interference in its foreign policy.

Moscow is pressuring Ukraine to offer concessions to the Russian-backed rebels who have been fighting Kyiv since 2014 in a conflict that has claimed more than 13,000 lives.

Ukraine says the Kremlin wants to use the two breakaway eastern regions Russia supports as leverage to keep the country under Moscow’s sway.

– Russia sends warships –

Russia has denied it is planning an invasion — but the United States warns it has massed 70 percent of the forces it would need for a large-scale incursion.

Moscow kept bolstering its forces around Ukraine on Tuesday as it announced six warships were heading to the Black Sea from the Mediterranean as part of previously planned global maritime manoeuvres.

Ukraine’s Defence Minister Oleksiy Reznikov told local television that Kyiv was planning to hold its own exercises involving Western-supplied anti-tank missiles and Turkish combat drones in response to the Russian-Belarusian drills.

On Monday, US President Joe Biden ramped up the pressure on Moscow by warning he would “end” the controversial new Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Europe if tanks rolled into Ukraine.

Biden’s declaration was the bluntest so far on the fate of the massive pipeline, which is complete but has yet to begin funnelling natural gas.

Compulsory Vaccination Rules Come Into Force In Austria

Medical staff, with protective clothing, stands at an entrance where patients are filtered at Kaiser-Franz-Josef-Spital (KFJ) hospital in Vienna. PHOTO: GEORG HOCHMUTH /APA /AFP.

 

From Saturday, Austrians over the age of 18 must be vaccinated against COVID-19 or face the possibility of a heavy fine, an unprecedented measure in the European Union.

The new measure, adopted on January 20 by Parliament, was signed into law by President Alexander Van der Bellen on Friday, the culmination of a process that began in November in the face of the rapid spread of the Omicron variant.

The government decided to pursue its new tougher approach despite criticism within the country.

READ ALSO: Canada Protests Against COVID-19 Measures Set To Increase

“No other country in Europe is following us on compulsory vaccines,” said Manuel Krautgartner, who has campaigned against the new approach.

In neighbouring Germany, a similar law championed by the new Social Democrat Chancellor Olaf Scholz was debated last month in the Bundestag, or lower house of parliament, but has not made progress yet due to divisions within the political class.

 

– Checks from mid-March –

Despite the threat of such a drastic measure, the vaccination rate in Austria has still failed to take off, languishing below the levels seen in France or Spain.

Vienna vaccination centres remain relatively quiet.

“We are far from reaching maximum capacity, things are completely stagnating,” Stefanie Kurzweil, of the humanitarian association, Arbeiter Samariter Bund, which oversees one of these sites, told AFP a few days ago.

Melanie, a 23-year-old waitress who preferred not to give her second name at the centre to get her booster jab, said she was mainly there to avoid ending up “locked up at home”.

Non-vaccinated people are currently excluded from restaurants, sports and cultural venues.

But from now on they will also be subject to fines, which Melanie said was “unhealthy”.

The law applies to all adult residents with the exception of pregnant women, those who have contracted the virus within the past 180 days and those with medical exemptions.

Checks will begin from mid-March, with sanctions ranging from 600 to 3,600 euros ($690-$4,100).

They will, however, be lifted if the person fined gets vaccinated within two weeks.

 

– Protect against new variants –

Waiting in the queue, others say they are in favour of vaccination for all.

“We would have finished a long time ago (with the pandemic) if everyone had been vaccinated”, said legal worker, Angelika Altmann.

More than 60 per cent of Austrians support the measure, according to a recent survey, but large swathes of the population remain strongly opposed.

For several weeks after the announcement of the new law, tens of thousands of people took to the streets to protest against what they regard as a radical and draconian policy.

Critics have also questioned the need for compulsion given the far milder nature of the Omicron variant.

Conservative Chancellor Karl Nehammer, who leads the Alpine country with the environmentalist Greens, also announced at the same time a relaxation of earlier Covid-19 restrictions.

But for Health Minister Wolfgang Mueckstein, compulsory vaccination is aimed at both protecting the country against new waves and fighting new variants.

Vaccination passes are now a reality in an increasing number of countries for certain professions or activities.

In Ecuador, it is compulsory, including for children over the age of five, a world first.

Before that, two authoritarian states in Central Asia — Tajikistan and Turkmenistan — mandated vaccination, as did Indonesia, even if less than half the population is actually vaccinated.

AFP

EU Sanctions Russian Mercenary Outfit, Warns Against Invasion Of Ukraine

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European foreign ministers slapped sanctions on Russian mercenary outfit Wagner on Monday and touted what they warned would be an unprecedented economic response to any military assault on Ukraine.

Following a meeting of G7 ministers in Liverpool at the weekend, where the US and major allies warned the Kremlin of “massive” consequences if it invades, the 27 EU ministers met Monday in Brussels.

They first approved a list of eight names and three companies associated with Russia’s private military company Wagner to be added immediately to existing sanctions regimes.

Next, they signalled their readiness to impose huge new measures targeting Russia’s economy if a troop build-up near the Ukrainian border leads to direct military action.

“Allow me to say, once again, firmly that the European Union is standing united in support of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Borrell told reporters after the talks.

“The ministers — all of them — have been very clear today that any aggression against Ukraine will come with political consequences and with a high economic cost for Russia.

“We are globally coordinating with our transatlantic and like minded partners,” he added,

Before the talks Lithuania’s Gabrielius Landsbergis stressed that the sanctions threat was a deterrent but that, if they proved necessary, they would have to be on an “unprecedented scale”.

The meeting on Monday was the first EU foreign affairs council for Germany’s new foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, a Green politician who came to office last week in Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s new coalition.

Pipeline warning

Berlin holds one of the most important cards in the sanctions deck, if it decides that President Vladimir Putin’s actions warrant blocking the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany.

Asked about the threat to Ukraine before heading to Brussels, Baerbock told ZDF television that “in the event of further escalation, this gas pipeline could not come into service.”

After the Brussels meeting, Baerbock insisted that Germany’s position on the pipeline had been made clear, without repeating it, and said “any action by Russia would have severe diplomatic consequences.”

Separately, in a sign of Brussels’ determination to address what it sees as the Kremlin’s efforts to “destabilise” Ukraine, Syria, Libya and several African countries, sanctions were slapped on Wagner.

Wagner is said to be financed by 60-year-old Saint Petersburg businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, who has already been hit with EU and US sanctions for destabilising Libya and meddling in US elections.

In addition to the Wagner firm and three linked companies, the sanctions list targeted eight individuals, including the group’s alleged commander.

Those sanctioned included:

Dmitry Utkin, a 51-year-old former lieutenant colonel in Russian military intelligence, once decorated by Putin and now said to be Wagner’s commander and responsible for mercenary operations in Ukraine.

Utkin is accused of extrajudicial killings, including allegedly ordering a Syrian deserter to be tortured to death and filmed.

Alexander Kuzentsov, a 44-year-old Russian said to lead Wagner’s 1st Attack and Reconnaissance Company under the call sign “Ratibor”, accused of threatening the peace and security of Libya.

Retired colonel Andrei Roshev, 68, a founding executive director of Wagner now commanding mercenary troops in Syria in support of Bashar al-Assad’s regime under the call sign “Siedoy”.

United front

The talks on Monday will also help prepare for the EU leaders’ meeting with the “Eastern Partnership” — Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, Armenia and Azerbaijan — on Wednesday.

Belarus left the group after the EU accused strongman Alexander Lukashenko of rigging his re-election, but opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya is in Brussels.

The EU wants to present its eastern neighbours with a united front against what it sees as Russia’s destabilising meddling in the region, a senior European diplomat told AFP.

But on the question of China — accused of persecuting the Uyghur minority, threatening Taiwan and cracking down on freedoms in Hong Kong — there is less agreement between EU capitals.

The United States and some of Washington’s allies have announced that they will not send diplomats or top officials to the Winter Olympics in Beijing, in protest against China’s actions.

But Europe is divided — with France dismissing talk of a diplomatic boycott as a small and useless measure — and in the end the ministers did not find time to address the issue.

Time To ‘Think About Mandatory Vaccination’, Says EU Chief

President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen reacts as she attends a meeting with chairman of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s tripartite presidency Zeljko Komsic (unseen) and member of the presidency Sefik Dzaferovic (unseen), in Sarajevo, on September 30, 2021. (Photo by ELVIS BARUKCIC / AFP)

 

It is time for the European Union to “think about mandatory vaccination” against Covid, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said Wednesday, while stressing member state governments would decide.

“My personal position is… I think it is understandable and appropriate to lead this discussion now,” she told a media conference, underlining that a third of the EU population of 450 million was still unvaccinated.

“How we can encourage and potentially think about mandatory vaccination within the European Union? This needs discussion. This needs a common approach. But it is a discussion that I think has to be led,” she said.

Several EU countries have already taken steps in that direction.

Austria has announced compulsory Covid-19 vaccinations from February 1 next year and Germany is mulling following suit.

READ ALSO: International Migration Rose Despite COVID-19 Curbs, Says UN

Greece on Tuesday said jabs would be mandatory for over-60s, while France has said Covid passes would be deactivated for all adults who have not had booster shots six months after their last jab, starting January 15.

Von der Leyen also said that the EU’s main Covid vaccine provider, BioNTech/Pfizer, would have jabs available for children in the bloc in two weeks’ time.

She said she had spoken with the German-US joint venture about the issue the day before, and they said “they are able to accelerate — in other words children’s vaccines will be available as of December 13.”

She noted that “if you look at the numbers we have now, 77 percent of the adults in the European Union vaccinated, or if you take the whole population, it’s 66 percent — and this means one-third of the European population is not vaccinated, these are 150 million people”.

The EU’s vaccination drive is very uneven across the 27-nation bloc.

Portugal, Malta, Spain, Italy, Ireland, France and Belgium have all vaccinated more than three-quarters of their populations, while eastern member states Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia and Croatia all have jabbed less than half.

“We have the vaccines, the life-saving vaccines, but they are not being used adequately everywhere,” von der Leyen said.

While the European Commission pre-purchased Covid vaccines for use in the EU, von der Leyen emphasised that the individual countries had the responsibility on how their vaccination programmes were done.

Poland Detains 100 Migrants At Border

Migrants aiming to cross into Poland camp near the Bruzgi-Kuznica border crossing on the Belarusian-Polish border on November 17, 2021. PHOTO: Maxim GUCHEK / BELTA / AFP

 

The Polish army on Thursday said it had detained a group of about 100 migrants who crossed the Belarus border during the night, accusing Belarusian forces of leading the operation.

The incident came as Belarus, which has said it wants to defuse the crisis, prepared a first repatriation flight for migrants to Iraq that will have between 200 and 300 people on board.

Thousands of migrants, mainly from the Middle East, are camped out or staying close to the Poland-Belarus border in dire conditions aiming to cross into the European Union, in a crisis that began over the summer.

The EU says Belarus engineered the crisis in retaliation for sanctions on the ex-Soviet country. Minsk and its main ally Russia have rejected the charges and have criticised the EU for not taking in the migrants seeking to cross over.

In the latest border incident, the Polish defence ministry said that Belarusian forces had first carried out reconnaissance and “most likely” damaged the barbed wire fence along the border.

READ ALSO: 15 Shot Dead In Crackdown On Sudan Anti-Coup Protests

“Then the Belarusians forced the migrants to throw stones at Polish soldiers to distract them. The attempt to cross the border took place several hundred metres away,” it said.

“A group of about 100 migrants was detained,” it said, adding that the incident happened near the village of Dubicze Cerkiewne.

“Belarusian special forces led yesterday’s attack,” it said.

Video footage released by the defence ministry appeared to show Polish soldiers surrounding a large group of migrants crouched down in a wooded area at night next to some barbed wire.

– EU-Belarus ‘technical talks’ –

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who has ruled with an iron fist for nearly three decades, has spoken to German Chancellor Angela Merkel on the crisis twice in recent days.

Lukashenko’s press service on Wednesday said the Belarus leader and Merkel “agreed that the problem as a whole will be brought up to the level of Belarus and the EU.

Migrants aiming to cross into Poland camp near the Bruzgi-Kuznica border crossing on the Belarusian-Polish border on November 18, 2021. PHOTO: Maxim GUCHEK / BELTA / AFP

 

“Relevant officials, to be determined from both sides, will immediately start negotiations to resolve the existing problems,” it said.

Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert said the German leader had “underlined the need to provide humanitarian care and return options for the affected people”.

An EU spokesman said there were “technical talks” and urged Minsk to grant humanitarian access to the border area.

Aid groups say at least 11 migrants have died since the crisis began in the summer.

They have called for a de-escalation and a humanitarian response to the problem.

 

– Repatriation flight –

Poland estimates there are between 3,000 and 4,000 migrants along the entire border, with the largest group staying close to the shut down Bruzgi-Kuznica border crossing.

The Belarusian Red Cross says around 1,000 migrants are staying in a warehouse near that crossing and 800 more are camped nearby.

Belarus said it was preparing a voluntary repatriation flight that is planned to take off from Minsk at around 1045 GMT on Thursday and will fly first to Erbil and then to Baghdad.

Several airlines have also said they are trying to stop would-be migrants from travelling to Belarus in the first place.

But officials have warned that the crisis may take time to defuse.

Polish Defence Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said Wednesday: “We have to prepare for the fact that the situation on the Polish-Belarusian border will not be resolved quickly.

“We have to prepare for months or even years,” he told Poland’s Radio Jedynka.

In an interview with AFP, Fabrice Leggeri, the head of the EU border agency Frontex, also said that the EU should prepare for more “hybrid” migrant crises engineered for political ends.

“We have to prepare ourselves for situations like this which can arise quite quickly,” he said, comparing the current standoff to one on the Greece-Turkey border last year.

AFP

EU Leaders To Discuss Rising Energy Prices At Next Summit

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EU leaders will get together in three weeks to discuss soaring energy prices and how to mitigate their impact on European consumers, European Council President Charles Michel’s office said on Thursday.

The “important topic” has been added to the agenda of a summit taking place on October 21 and 22, said Michel’s spokesman, Barend Leyts.

While the short-term impact being felt by households and businesses is primarily for individual EU countries to tackle, “we need to discuss how the EU can help,” Leyts said in a statement.

A surge in energy prices across Europe, driven largely by a three-fold jump in wholesale gas prices, is exacerbating fears of high inflation as the EU’s economy bounces back strongly from the Covid-19 pandemic.

It also threatens to undermine an EU push towards a low-carbon future that entails a profound transformation of many sectors — and with it, bigger costs for Europeans.

EU envoys and representatives have already been addressing the issue, which they deem “critical”, and the European Commission has also taken it up.

Some lawmakers in the European Parliament accuse Russia, which accounts for much of the gas imported into the EU, of manipulating prices in an effort to get Germany to activate the newly completed Nord Stream 2 pipeline across the Baltic, bypassing Ukraine.

Russia’s gas giant Gazprom denies that but has allowed its gas tanks in Europe to drop to nearly empty.

The EU is considering short-term measures such as cutting value-added tax and excises on energy, in a bid to protect its medium- and long-term plans for more renewable energy sources and better energy efficiency.

AFP

EU Looks To Tighten Visa Restrictions On Belarus

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The EU on Wednesday announced it plans to tighten visa requirements for Belarus officials in retaliation for Minsk “instrumentalising” irregular migration flows and putting pressure on the bloc’s external borders.

“We’re addressing a new worrisome form of smuggling, which is the increasing role of state actors in artificially creating and facilitating irregular migration using people as tools for political purposes,” European Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas told a media conference.

“The latest tactics by the Belarus regime against the EU and our member states require a united response,” he said.

The proposed restrictions would add to sanctions the European Union already imposes on Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko and 165 of his closest aides, which include banning them from travelling into the EU’s 27 member countries.

Brussels is increasingly pressuring Lukashenko and his regime over its crackdown on protests sparked by his proclaimed victory in last year’s election, deemed fraudulent by the West.

Further sanctions were imposed when Minsk forced a Ryanair jet flying through Belarusian airspace to land in May to arrest a dissident journalist on board.

Belarus has responded by encouraging a flow of thousands of migrants — particularly from Iraq and Afghanistan, but also from Cameroon and Bangladesh — to the borders of neighbouring EU countries Lithuania, Poland and Latvia.

The latest EU restrictions would partly suspend an EU-Belarus visa facilitation agreement where it comes to national and regional Belarusian officials, making EU visas more expensive and requiring more documentary proof to support applications.

The EU’s home affairs commissioner, Ylva Johansson, said the step was to curb “this new phenomenon of state-sponsored smuggling”.

Lukashenko, she said, “is trying to destabilise the European Union, by bringing in migrants and facilitating them and pushing them into the European Union”.

He “is desperate — he is really hurt by the economic sanctions and the sanctions that Europeans are putting on him,” Johansson said.

EU pressure has halted flights carrying migrants from Iraq to Belarus, but Johansson told reporters that Lukashenko was likely turning to other countries for his tactic.

AFP

EU Ties Climate Goals To Trade With Developing Nations

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The EU on Wednesday updated its conditions for poorer nations to win privileged access to the European market with a demand they fall in line with the bloc’s green ambitions.

The changes are part of the European Commission’s update to a scheme dating from 1971, known as the Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP), that offers easier access to the EU market for goods exported from developing countries.

The EU executive will now make sticking to environmental safeguards a condition for countries to keep enjoying the smoother GSP access for selling goods into Europe.

Under the GSP, the EU can put pressure on developing countries that veer away from internationally set standards on human rights, labour norms and other issues.

Last year, for example, the EU restored tariffs on goods imported from Cambodia over perceived human rights violations.

“There is no need to overhaul the scheme, as we did 10 years ago. But we have done some fine-tuning… to bring the scheme closer in line with our trade sustainability principles,” said Valdis Dombrovskis, the EU trade commissioner.

In addition, the scheme, which is broken down into several categories of countries, will add six more conventions to the current 27 that countries must comply with to receive the trade advantages.

The EU will also replace the Kyoto Protocol with the Paris agreement on climate change.

AFP