Several senior Ukrainian officials, including front-line governors, were fired Tuesday because of a corruption scandal plaguing President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s government as it deals with Russia’s nearly 11-month invasion.
Ukraine’s biggest government reshuffle since the war began came as US officials said Washington was ready to approve supplying Kyiv with M1 Abrams tanks, with international opposition to sending tanks to the battlefront against the Russians eroding.
In a country long gripped by graft, Zelenskyy was elected in 2019 on an anti-establishment and anti-corruption platform, and the new allegations come as Western allies channel billions of dollars to help Kyiv fight Moscow.
Given Ukraine’s rampant corruption, officials in several countries, including the United States, have demanded greater accountability for the aid. While Zelenskyy and his aides portray the resignations and firings as evidence of their efforts to crack down, the wartime scandal may factor into Moscow’s political attacks on Kyiv’s leadership.
Serhii Bochkarev, a 28-year-old translator, welcomed the changes on the capital’s streets.
“Corruption during the war is completely unacceptable because people are dying to fight Russians and defend the motherland,” he said.
The upheaval even reached Zelenskyy’s office. Its deputy head, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, known for his frequent battlefield updates, resigned as the president promised to address graft allegations, including some involving military spending, that had embarrassed authorities and could stymie Ukraine’s efforts to join the European Union and NATO.
Tymoshenko requested that he be relieved of his responsibilities. He didn’t explain.
Ukraine Deputy Defense Minister Resigns
According to local media, Deputy Defense Minister Viacheslav Shapovalov resigned in connection with a food procurement scandal for Ukraine’s armed forces. Oleksiy Symonenko, Deputy Prosecutor General, also resigned.
The country’s cabinet secretary announced the departure of four deputy ministers and five governors of front-line provinces on the Telegram messaging app.
Authorities made no criminal charges public. There was no obvious explanation.
The departures trimmed government ranks that had already been thinned by the deaths in a helicopter crash last week of the interior minister, who oversaw Ukraine’s police and emergency services, and others in the ministry’s leadership.
Tymoshenko was appointed president in 2019 after working on Zelenskyy’s media strategy during his campaign. He was being investigated for his personal use of luxury cars and was one of the officials linked in September to the embezzlement of more than $7 million in humanitarian aid earmarked for the southern Zaporizhzhia region. He has denied the charges.
The Deputy Infrastructure Minister Fired
Vasyl Lozynsky, a deputy infrastructure minister, was fired on Sunday for allegedly participating in a network embezzling budget funds.
According to Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov, he was detained by Ukraine’s anti-corruption agency while receiving a $400,000 bribe for assisting in the repair of facilities damaged by Russian missile strikes. He was placed under house arrest, ordered to surrender his passport, required to wear a monitoring device, and instructed not to communicate with witnesses.
“Any internal problems that hinder the state are being cleaned up and will be cleaned up,” Zelenskyy said in a video address Tuesday. It is just, it is necessary for our defense, and it aids our reconciliation with European institutions.”
According to analysts, his message was that corruption would not be tolerated.
“It’s very difficult to save the country when there’s a lot of corruption,” said Andrii Borovyk, executive director of Transparency International Ukraine, a nonprofit organization that fights corruption.
According to Ukrainian political analyst Volodymyr Fesenko, the reshuffle was “intended to remind officials across the entire (power) vertical that the authorities intend to continue fighting corruption in Ukraine, especially during the war, when everything in the country is in short supply.”
According to Fesenko, the head of the independent think tank Penta Center in Kyiv, Ukrainian authorities and Western officials cannot “turn a blind eye to the latest scandals.” According to him, the corruption involved army supplies, so the shake-up was “intended to calm Western partners and demonstrate to Brussels and Washington that their aid is being used effectively.”
Corruption in Ukraine
Transparency International ranked Ukraine 122 out of 180 countries in its 2021 report on global corruption, with 180 being the most corrupt. Russia came in at 136th place.
Due to entrenched corruption, foreign investors and governments have long been wary of doing business with Ukraine. According to a U.S. State Department 2020 country report, allegations of corruption at high levels of government, in courts, and business have persisted under Zelenskyy, despite a proliferation of anti-corruption panels and measures.
A major corruption scandal could jeopardize the tens of billions of dollars the United States and its allies are pouring into Ukraine to keep fighters armed, civil servants paid, and the lights on. It may jeopardize the United States’ bipartisan popular and political support for Ukraine.
“We applaud President Zelenskyy’s prompt action in this case, as well as the effective action of Ukraine’s anti-corruption institutions, civil society, and media in ensuring effective monitoring and accountability of public procurement and holding those in positions of public trust accountable,” the White House National Security Council said in a statement.
Last June, the EU agreed to put Ukraine on the path to EU membership. Countries must meet economic and political criteria, including adherence to the rule of law and other democratic principles, to join.
Ukraine has also applied for membership in NATO, but the military alliance is unlikely to extend an invitation due to the country’s contested borders, defense establishment shortcomings, and, in part, corruption issues.
Meanwhile, in a surprising turn of events, US officials said the Biden administration plans to send M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine. The decision could be announced as soon as Wednesday, though the tanks could take months or years to arrive.
German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine
According to one official, the US announcement will be coordinated with Germany’s announcement that it will approve Poland’s request to transfer German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine. Because the decision has not yet been made public, the officials spoke on the condition of anonymity.
German officials refused to comment on the reported agreement. Without citing a source, the Newsweek Der Spiegel reported on Tuesday that Germany would provide Ukraine with at least one company of Leopard 2 tanks from its own army’s stock.
In his video address on Tuesday, Zelenskyy expressed concern that the number of tanks to be sent would be insufficient. “It’s not about five, ten, or fifteen tanks. “There is a greater need,” he stated.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is scheduled to address lawmakers on Wednesday, many of whom have urged the government to join allies in providing the tanks.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said Tuesday that the Poles and other Western allies he did not name are already training Ukrainian soldiers on the Leopards in Poland.
Also on Tuesday, Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto suggested that if Turkey blocks their joint bid to join NATO, Finland may consider joining without neighboring Sweden. Although he later retracted his remarks, he was the first senior official in either Nordic country to express reservations about joining NATO at a time when the alliance attempted to present a united front in response to Russia’s invasion.
Following Moscow’s invasion, Sweden and Finland rushed to join NATO, abandoning their long-standing nonalignment policy. Their membership in NATO requires the approval of all NATO members, including Turkey, which has vetoed the expansion, claiming that Sweden must crack down on exiled Kurdish militants and their sympathizers. Several top Ukrainian officials have been implicated in a corruption scandal.
Norway Looks To Donate $7.3 Billion In Aid To Ukraine
COPENHAGEN, Denmark – The Norwegian government announced Monday that it plans to donate 75 billion kroner ($7.3 billion) to Kyiv as part of a five-year aid package, making the Scandinavian country one of the world’s largest donors to war-torn Ukraine.
Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Stre said the money would be divided evenly between military and humanitarian aid over five years, each year receiving 15 billion kroner ($1.5 billion). Parliament will vote on the proposed aid package.
Last week, the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said that the European Union has given Ukraine nearly 50 billion euros in economic, humanitarian, and military aid. The EU said earlier this month that on the 24th anniversary of the war, it would release its tenth set of sanctions against Russia. It will, among other things, target Russian military technology.
Norway Has Provided Ukraine With 10 Billion Kroner
Norway, which is not a member of the EU, provided Ukraine with more than 10 billion kroner ($1 billion) in civilian and military assistance last year.
“It will result in increased use of oil money,” Gahr Stre said, adding that he hopes the aid package will be approved by a “large majority” of the Norwegian parliament. The proposal is expected to be approved by a parliamentary majority.
“Supporting Ukraine means supporting a people in conflict, but supporting our fundamental security,” Gahr Stre said at a press conference.
“We are showing the Ukrainians that we will support them for a long time,” he said, adding that it would allow “better planning so that the money is used where the needs are greatest.”
Gahr Sre discussed a new Iron Curtain dividing east and west earlier Monday in Oslo.
Norway Says Oil Money Should Be Used To Support Ukraine
“The implications for Europe are difficult to overstate. A Russia in self-imposed exile is bad news for all of us.” He also stated, “Ukraine’s needs are enormous.”
The Norwegian government also proposed increasing aid to Ukraine-affected countries by 5 billion kroner ($490 million), with the money going toward humanitarian aid and food.
Last week, the Norwegian government said that oil money should be used to help Ukraine more.
Norway is one of the biggest fossil fuel exporters in Europe, and Ukraine’s conflict has increased its gas sales. However, Norway has refuted accusations of profiting from the Ukraine conflict.
Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine nearly a year ago, European countries rushed to secure alternative energy sources, dramatically increasing demand — and price — for Norway’s oil and gas.
SOURCE – (AP)
China Accuses US Of Indiscriminate Use Of Force Over Balloon
BEIJING, China — China said on Monday that the U.S. used indiscriminate force when it shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon. It said that the incident “seriously affected and hurt both sides’ efforts and progress in stabilizing Sino-US relations.”
The balloon was shot down off the coast of Carolina after passing over sensitive military sites across North America. China maintained that the flyover was an accident involving a civilian plane.
On Sunday, Vice Foreign Minister Xie Feng said that he filed a formal complaint with the U.S. Embassy regarding the “U.S. military attack on a Chinese civilian unmanned airship.”
“However, the U.S. turned a deaf ear and insisted on indiscriminate use of force against the civilian airship about to leave U.S. airspace, clearly overreacted, and seriously violated the spirit of international law and international practice,” Xie said.
The presence of the balloon in the skies above the United States dealt a severe blow to already strained US-Chinese relations, which have been declining for years. It prompted Secretary of State Antony Blinken to cancel an important trip to Beijing aimed at defusing tensions.
Xie reiterated China’s claim that the balloon was a Chinese civil unmanned airship that erroneously entered U.S. airspace, calling it an “accidental incident caused by force majeure.”
U.S. Officials Shoot DownThe Balloon Over The Ocean
China will “resolutely safeguard Chinese companies’ legitimate rights and interests, resolutely safeguard China’s interests and dignity and reserve the right to make further necessary responses,” he said.
According to U.S. officials, U.S. President Joe Biden issued the shootdown order after being advised that the best time for the operation would be over water. Military officials determined that bringing the balloon down over land from a height of 60,000 feet (18,000 meters) would endanger people on the ground.
“What the United States has done has seriously impacted and harmed both sides’ efforts and progress in stabilizing Sino-US relations since the Bali meeting,” Xie said, referring to a recent meeting in Indonesia between Biden and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, that many hoped would create positive momentum for improving ties that have fallen to their lowest level in years.
On Monday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Mao Ning provided no new information, reiterating China’s insistence that the object was a civilian balloon intended for meteorological research, needed more ability to steer and entered U.S. airspace, accidentally diverging from its course. She also didn’t say what other steps China planned to take in response to Washington’s handling of the issue and the cancellation of Blinken’s trip, which would have made him the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
“We have stated that this is a completely isolated and accidental incident caused by force majeure, but the U.S. deliberately hyped up the incident and even used force to attack,” Mao said during a daily briefing. “This is a reckless and unacceptable action.”
Balloons Spotted Over Latin America And Japan
From Latin America to Japan, balloons thought to be Chinese have been spotted. Yoshihiko Isozaki, Japan’s Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary, told reporters on Monday that a flying object similar to the one shot down by the U.S. had been spotted twice over northern Japan since 2020.
“We’re still looking into them about the latest case in the United States,” he said.
Mao confirmed the identity of a Chinese balloon recently spotted over Latin America, describing it as a civilian airship used for flight tests.
“Due to weather and its limited self-control ability, the airship deviated significantly from its planned route and accidentally entered the space of Latin America and the Caribbean,” Mao explained.
Washington and Beijing disagree on things like trade and human rights, but China is especially upset about what it says are violations of its sovereignty and territorial integrity by the US and others.
Beijing is very against the U.S. selling weapons to Taiwan and against foreign politicians visiting the island, which it claims as Chinese territory and plans to take back by force if it has to.
Bejing Halted Talks With The U.S. Over The Balloon
It reacted to then-U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the island in 2022 by firing missiles over it and staging threatening military drills seen as a practice for an invasion or blockade. Beijing also halted talks with the U.S. on issues unrelated to military tensions, such as climate change.
Last week, Mao warned Pelosi’s successor, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, not to visit Taiwan, implying that China would respond in kind.
“China will tenaciously defend its sovereignty, security, and development interests,” Mao declared. McCarthy claimed that China had no right to tell him where and when he could travel.
China also doesn’t like it when foreign military surveillance planes fly in international airspace near its coast or when U.S. and other foreign warships pass through the Taiwan Strait, which it says is a deliberate act of provocation.
A US Navy plane conducting routine surveillance near the Chinese coast collided with a Chinese fighter plane in 2001, killing the Chinese fighter pilot and damaging the American plane, forcing it to make an emergency landing at a Chinese naval airbase on the southern Chinese island province of Hainan. China detained the 24-member U.S. Navy aircrew for ten days until the U.S. expressed regret for the death of the Chinese pilot and for landing without permission at the base.
South China Sea Continues To Hold Tension
Another major source of contention is the South China Sea. China claims virtually the entire strategically important sea and protests when U.S. Navy ships sail past Chinese military installations there.
“The presence of this surveillance balloon over the United States in our skies is a clear violation of our sovereignty, a clear violation of international law, and unacceptable,” Blinken said at a news conference with his South Korean counterpart on Friday. And we’ve made that clear to China.”
“I believe that any country that has its airspace violated in this manner would respond similarly, and I can only imagine what the reaction would be in China if they were on the other end,” Blinken said.
According to Oriana Skylar Mastro, a Stanford University expert on Chinese military affairs and foreign policy, China’s weather balloon explanation should be rejected outright.
China May Have Lost Control Over The Balloon
“This is something that countries frequently say about surveillance assets,” Mastro said.
China may have made a mistake and lost control of the balloon, but Mastro believes it was unlikely to be a deliberate attempt to disrupt Blinken’s visit.
The decision by the U.S. administration to go public and then shoot down the balloon represents a departure from its usual approach of dealing with Beijing on such matters privately, possibly in the hope of changing China’s future behavior.
However, Mastro believes that Beijing will respond negatively.
“They’re probably going to dismiss that and continue as things have been. So I don’t see a clear path to improved relations shortly.”
SOURCE – (AP)
Powerful Quake Rocks Turkey And Syria, Kills More Than 5,000
ADANA, Turkey: On Monday, a powerful 7.8 magnitude earthquake shook wide swaths of Turkey and neighboring Syria, killing over 5,000 people and injuring thousands more as it toppled thousands of buildings and trapped residents beneath mounds of rubble.
Authorities were worried that the number of deaths would go up as rescuers searched through twisted metal and concrete for survivors in a region already struggling with Syria’s 12-year civil war and a refugee crisis.
Residents startled awake by the pre-dawn quake rushed outside in the rain and snow to avoid falling debris while those trapped cried out for help. Throughout the day, major aftershocks shook the area, including one nearly as powerful as the initial quake. Workers were still sawing away slabs and pulling bodies after nightfall as desperate families awaited word on trapped loved ones.
“My grandson is one and a half years old. Please, please assist them. We haven’t been able to hear or communicate with them since the morning. Please, they were on the 12th floor,” Imran Bahur sobbed outside her destroyed apartment building in Adana, Turkey. Her daughter and family have yet to be found.
Tens of thousands of people who were left homeless in Turkey and Syria had to spend the night outside in the cold. People in Gaziantep, Turkey, a provincial capital about 33 kilometers (20 miles) from the epicenter, took shelter in shopping malls, stadiums, and community centers. Mosques were opened throughout the region to provide shelter.
The Quake Prompted Seven days Or National Mourning.
Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s president, declared seven days of national mourning.
The earthquake, centered in Turkey’s southeastern province of Kahramanmaras, sent residents of Damascus and Beirut fleeing into the streets and was felt as far away as Cairo.
The quake added to the misery in a region that has suffered greatly over the last decade. On the Syrian side, the area is split between government-held land and the country’s last opposition stronghold, which is surrounded by government forces with help from Russia. Meanwhile, Turkey is home to millions of civil war refugees.
According to the White Helmets, an opposition emergency organization, hundreds of families remained trapped in rubble in the rebel-held enclave. The area is densely populated, with approximately 4 million people displaced from other parts of the country due to the war. Many of them live in buildings that previous bombardments have already destroyed.
According to rescue workers, strained health facilities quickly filled with injured. According to the SAMS medical organization, others, including a maternity hospital, had to be emptied.
According to Orhan Tatar, a disaster management official in Turkey, over 6,400 people were rescued across ten provinces.
Earth Quakes Frequently shake Up the Area.
The area is situated on major fault lines and is frequently shaken by earthquakes. In 1999, similar powerful earthquakes struck northwest Turkey, killing 18,000 people.
The US Geological Survey assigned a magnitude of 7.8 to Monday’s quake, which occurred at a depth of 18 kilometers (11 miles). A 7.5 magnitude earthquake struck more than 100 kilometers (60 miles) away hours later.
The second jolt in the afternoon caused a multistory apartment building in the Turkish city of Sanliurfa to topple face-forward onto the street. According to a video of the scene, the structure disintegrated into rubble and created a cloud of dust as bystanders screamed.
There were reports that thousands of buildings had fallen down in a large area that went from Aleppo and Hama in Syria to Diyarbakir in Turkey quake, which is more than 330 kilometers (200 miles) to the northeast.
Authorities reported that over 5,600 buildings were destroyed in Turkey alone. Hospitals in the Turkish city of Iskenderun were damaged, and one collapsed.
Dr. Steven Godby, an expert on natural disasters at Nottingham Trent University, thinks that the rescuers may have less time to save trapped people if it is very cold. He said that working in war-torn civil areas would complicate rescue efforts even more.
Countries Around The World Are Offering Their Assistance
Hundreds of countries, the European Union, and NATO all offered help, like search-and-rescue teams, money, and medical supplies. Most of them were going to Turkey. Russia and even Israel had promised to help the Syrian government, but it was not clear if any would make it to the rebel-held pocket in the northwest, which was in ruins.
Syrian Civil Defense, which is part of the opposition, has said that the situation in the enclave is “disastrous.”
The government and Russia have been bombing the area held by the opposition in Idlib province for years. Everything the territory needs, from food to medicine, comes from neighboring Turkey.
Osama Abdel Hamid told a hospital in Idlib that most of his neighbors died. He claimed their four-story shared building collapsed as he, his wife, and three children ran for the exit. A wooden door fell on them, serving as a shield.
“God gave me a fresh start,” he said.
The bodies of several dead children, wrapped in blankets, were brought to a hospital in the small Syrian rebel-held town of Azmarin in the mountains near the Turkish border.
Four or five TV screens in Turkey showed live coverage of rescue efforts in the provinces that were hit the hardest.
Rescuers pulled two children alive from the rubble in Kahramanmaras, and one could be seen lying on a stretcher on the snowy ground. CNN Turk says that a rescue dog found a woman who was still alive and brought her to safety in Gaziantep.
Over 12.000 Injured In Ten Different Turkish Provinces
In Adana, about 20 people, some wearing emergency rescue jackets, used power saws to saw out space for survivors to climb out or be rescued from a collapsed building’s cement mountain.
“I don’t have the strength anymore,” one survivor could be heard saying from beneath the rubble of another building in Adana earlier in the day as rescue workers tried to reach him, according to a resident, Muhammet Fatih Yavuz, a journalism student.
Hundreds of rescue workers and civilians formed lines across a mountain of wreckage in Diyarbakir. They passed down pieces of broken concrete, household items, and other debris as they looked for people who were trapped under the wreckage.
According to Turkish authorities, at least 1,762 people were killed, and over 12,000 were injured in ten Turkish provinces. According to the Health Ministry, the death toll in government-held areas of Syria has risen to 593, with 1,400 injured. At least 450 people have died and hundreds have been hurt, according to groups that work in the rebel-held northwest of the country.
Huseyin Yayman, a legislator from Turkey’s Hatay province, said several family members were trapped beneath the rubble of their collapsed homes.
“There are so many other people trapped,” he told Haber Turk television over the phone. “So many buildings have been damaged. There are people on the streets. It’s winter; it’s raining.”
SOURCE – (AP)
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