Russia warns of WWIII after top US officials visit Kyiv
Russia has warned the Ukraine conflict risked escalating into a third world war. Speaking to Russian news agencies, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused Kyiv of playing at peace talks – a day after visiting US officials said Ukrainian forces could beat back Moscow’s invasion. He criticised Kyiv’s approach to floundering peace talks, saying the risk of a World War III “is serious”. While he said talks with Kyiv would continue, Lavrov accused President Zelensky of “pretending” to negotiate, adding: “You’ll find a thousand contradictions.” For months, Zelensky has been asking Ukraine’s western allies for heavy weapons – including artillery and fighter jets – vowing his forces could turn the tide of the war with more firepower. US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will host allies at Germany’s Ramstein Air Base to discuss Ukraine’s security needs. The US military expects more than 40 countries to attend today’s talks focused on arming Ukraine. A host of NATO countries pledged to provide a range of heavy weapons and equipment, despite protests from Moscow. Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov announced on Facebook the launch of a fundraising campaign for Ukraine and was the first to donate a month’s salary, inviting his fellow citizens to follow his example. In his latest video speech, Zelensky said it is in Ukraine that “the fate of Europe, the fate of global security, the fate of the democratic system are decided”.
Fighting continues across Ukraine
The highly sensitive US trip by two of President Joe Biden’s top cabinet members came as fighting continued across Ukraine. Following a weekend full of fighting, at least five people were killed and another 18 injured yesterday after a Russia rocket attack targeted railway infrastructure in the central Ukraine region of Vinnytsia. The governor of Belgorod, a Russian region bordering Ukraine, has also accused Kyiv of bombing one of its villages, injuring two civilians and damaging several houses. Russia in recent weeks has accused Ukrainian forces of striking targets on Russian soil, including two villages in Belgorod and another in the region of Bryansk. The governor of the Kursk region near Ukraine also said Russian forces had shot down two Ukrainian drones in the early hours of the morning.
UK to give Ukraine armoured vehicles
UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace announced yesterday that Britain would send Ukraine armoured vehicles able to fire missiles against Russian warplanes. “These Stormer vehicles will give Ukraine forces enhanced short-range anti-air capabilities both day and night,” he said. The United States has been a leading donor of finance and weaponry to Ukraine, and a key sponsor of sanctions targeting Russia. “Many countries are going to come forward and provide additional munitions and Howitzers. So we’re going to push as hard as we can, as quickly as we can, to get them what they need,” Austin said. Blinken and Austin also announced $700 million in additional military aid.
Dire civilian situation at Mariupol
Russia yesterday accused Kyiv of preventing civilians trapped with Ukrainian soldiers in Mariupol’s Azovstal steelworks from leaving the besieged industrial centre despite a ceasefire announcement. The defence ministry had said it would allow a civilian evacuation from Mariupol’s sprawling steel plant, which has been sheltering the remaining Ukrainian resistance in the southeastern port city. But the Russian army yesterday evening said no one used the proposed humanitarian corridor. A video posted by the far-right Azov Regiment, whose fighters are based in Azovstal, showed war-weary women and children sheltering in the plant’s underground bunkers, pleading for relief. “There are 600 people here. No water, no food. What are we going to do here? How long will we stay here?” asked one woman. Mariupol, which the Kremlin claims to have “liberated”, is pivotal to Russia’s war plans to forge a land bridge to Russian-occupied Crimea – and possibly beyond, as far as Moldova.
In other developments…
- Finland and Sweden will together express their wish to join NATO in May, tabloid newspapers ‘Iltalehti’ in Finland and ‘Expressen’ in Sweden reported. Despite tightening cooperation with the military alliance since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, the Nordic countries had both opted to stay out. But now, the leaders of Finland and Sweden plan to meet in the week of May 16 and after that publicly announce their plans to apply to join the alliance.
- Ukraine’s State Security Service (SBU) has denied having any plans to kill Russian television host Vladimir Solovyev. It issued the denial after President Putin said the main successor to the Soviet-era KGB, the Federal Security Service, had prevented a murder attempt by a “terrorist group” on a journalist later named by state media as Solovyev.
- Forty German diplomats will be heading home from Russia after Moscow announced their expulsion, following Berlin’s decision to kick out 40 Russian diplomats earlier this month.
- From The Hague, the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor is to join an EU investigations team to probe “alleged core international crimes committed in Ukraine”, officials said.
- Russia’s air force targeted 82 Ukrainian military sites, including four command posts and two fuel depots, and the army fired high-precision missiles at 27 targets in their latest attacks, the Russian defence ministry said yesterday.
- The Ukrainian defence ministry said Russia was continuing to hit infrastructure and supply lines bringing military assistance from Ukraine’s partners.
- Ukraine’s second city Kharkiv remains partially surrounded and Moscow’s forces are regrouping in the south, but a Russian attempt to break through towards Zaporizhzhia in the east failed, the ministry added.
Beijing COVID-19 spike prompts mass testing, panic buying
Fears of a hard COVID lockdown has sparked panic buying in Beijing, as long queues for compulsory mass testing formed in a large central district of the Chinese capital. China is already trying to contain a wave of infections in its largest city Shanghai, which has been almost entirely locked down for weeks and reported 51 new COVID deaths Monday. Shanghai has struggled to provide fresh food to those confined at home, while patients have reported trouble accessing non-COVID medical care – and the rising cases in the capital triggered fears of a similar lockdown.
Musk seals US$44b deal for Twitter
Elon Musk clinched a deal to buy Twitter Inc for US$44 billion cash on Monday in a transaction that will shift control of the social media platform populated by millions of users and global leaders to the world’s richest person. It is a seminal moment for the 16-year-old company that emerged as one of the world’s most influential public squares and now faces a string of challenges. Musk has criticised Twitter’s moderation, calling himself a free speech absolutist.
Commons Speaker orders editor to explain ‘Basic Instinct’ slur
The editor of The Mail on Sunday, the newspaper that published misogynistic claims about Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner has been summoned by the Speaker of the Commons to explain his actions. David Dillon will discuss with Sir Lindsay Hoyle the publication of claims from unnamed Conservative MPs that Rayner crossed and uncrossed her legs during prime minister’s questions to distract Boris Johnson. Comparing Rayner to Sharon Stone in the 1992 film ‘Basic Instinct’, an MP was quoted as saying: “She knows she can’t compete with Boris’s Oxford Union debating training, but she has other skills, which he lacks. She has admitted as much when enjoying drinks with us on the [Commons] terrace.” Sir Lindsay told MPs that the story was “demeaning” and “offensive to women in parliament”, adding that it “can only deter women who might be considering standing for election to the detriment of us all”. Speaking in Wales after Sir Linday’s announcement, Mr Johnson promised: “If we get to the bottom of this, of course, we’ll make sure whoever is responsible for this nonsense gets their comeuppance.”