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U.S. limits use of firearms while DPRK develops nuclear weapons

24-6-2022 |

Fresh - freshly squeezed news from the international press. We prepare it 3 times a week.

The Guardian: Why the west risks condemning Ukraine to slow strangulation

Speaking at a private dinner in London recently, a senior serving British military officer argued the west had no choice but to see Ukraine as just one phase in a decade-long battle with Russia.

“If Ukraine wins, Russia will never accept that. If Russia wins, it will go further,” he warned.

Yet in Whitehall they fear the “F word” – fatigue – and worry that the west with its TikTok-attention span and bias towards instant gratification does not have the resolve for the years-long sacrifice required to defeat Russia, or even stem the military tide in the villages of eastern Ukraine.

That anxiety is shared by Volodymyr Zelenskiy, the Ukrainian president, who in a speech to marketing professionals in Cannes this week pleaded with them to use their creative ingenuity to keep the world focused on his country’s struggle:

“Don’t let the world switch to something else,” Zelenskiy said.

So the succession of summits over the next week – European Council, the G7 and Nato – come at a pivotal moment in the four-month war, not just on the battlefield, but in the equally important parallel contests to maintain domestic support, damage the Russian economy and build geostrategic alliances.

Every effort at the summits will be made to show unity and resolve, but there is little disguising this is a dark point.

Inflation across the eurozone rose above 8% last month. A gallon of petrol has risen above $5 (€4.75) in the US.

Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, the weaponiser of everything, is turning off gas supplies to Europe and and sub-Saharan Africa’s grain. US security assistance to Ukraine since the invasion began on 24 February is valued at $5.6bn, but it is estimated that the country needs $5bn-$7bn a month to function.

Western leaders are already feeling the political heat

The US president, Joe Biden, stares at defeat in the November midterms, and Donald Trump is now the bookies favourite to win the White House in 2024. The French president, Emmanuel Macron, appears paralysed after losing his parliamentary majority and seeing the French electorate hand nearly 90 seats to the “Putin-ist” Marine Le Pen. Germany’s chancellor, Olaf Scholz, has already lost elections in two states and struggles to convince that his turning point on defence represents a change of German mindset.

In Italy, the prime minister, Mario Draghi, one of the steadiest European voices on Ukraine, is under pressure over arm sales to Kyiv and has seen his foreign minister, Luigi di Maio, quit the 5-Star Movement to form another parliamentary group to back him. The British prime minister, Boris Johnson, has survived a no-confidence vote within the Tory party, but now seems to see populist domestic dividing lines, not Ukraine, as his route to salvation. The socialist-led government in Spain, which host hosts next week’s Nato summit, has just seen itself obliterated in provincial elections in Andalusia – previously the bastion of socialism and where 20% of Spanish voters reside.

Bulgaria’s six-month old governing coalition, which had been the leading anti-Russian government in the Balkans, fell in a confidence vote on Wednesday, a situation that could lead to a new Russian ally in the EU.

Not all these crises can be attributed directly to Ukraine, or any voter sympathy for Putin, but the growing economic spillover from the war hardly make incumbents popular.

The old adage “foreign policy is not important until suddenly it is very important” has never been more true.

Jarosław Kaczyński, the leader of Poland’s governing party, sounded a warning, saying: “The delivery of heavy weapons, here and now, not in a few months may decide the outcome of the war.”

The Estonian prime minister, Kaja Kallas, told the Guardian “War fatigue is kicking in. Russia is playing on us getting tired. We must not fall into the trap. Ukraine’s position is deteriorating and Russia is more aggressive than ever because they want to show the victories back home, so it is getting more and more difficult.”

Gustav Gressel, a security expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations thinktank, said Ukraine’s own defence industry had been destroyed, and its stocks of old Russian weaponry exhausted, leaving its military dependent on western life-support.

“If we always discuss the crisis, once it occurs and start the delivery programme only once the situation in Ukraine is urgent, we will always give the Russians the edge in the war, and they will use it,” said Gressel, adding that part of the problem was Germany continuing to insist Nato policy was not to supply tanks, even though no such policy exists.

But the longer Germany debates its role and the longer the war is prolonged, the greater the risk of spillover as the combatants spread the theatre of conflict.

Lithuania has cut off a rail route to the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, home to Russia’s Baltic fleet. Ukraine has fired weapons at the Russian navy in the Black Sea. An oil refinery in southern Russia was hit by a drone, causing wide-scale damage. Biden’s aides are carefully watching how Ukraine uses its powerful new Himars launchers – it has promised not to target Russian soil because he does not want the war to spread.

The second theatre of war has been the economy

The EU rule has been that in its six round of sanctions nothing would be implemented that would hurt the west more than it hurt Russia. Putin claimed in his recent St Petersburg speech the sanctions blitzkrieg has not worked, but instead backfired, pointing to the rouble’s recovery to pre-invasion levels.

That is not to say sanctions are ineffectual. The head of Russia’s Sberbank said it may take Russia a decade to return to its pre-invasion performance. Half the country’s imports and exports were sanctions-affected.

Inflation in Russia is at 17% and rising, while national output is expected to fall by anything from 8% to 30% this year. But there is no guarantee sanctions will bring Moscow to its knees.

But it is the third theatre of war – the influence war - where the west is faring unexpectedly poorly

There is a growing awareness that the west’s narrative that Putin is fighting a colonial war and is responsible for its ripple effects is meeting indifference and even resistance in the global south.

One of the key organisers of the G7 summit in Germany, Wolfgang Schmidt, said: “When you talk to leaders outside Europe and the alliance at the moment then you will realise their perception of the [ Ukraine] war is completely different from ours. They might say: ‘Yes, we are not OK with a country invading another.’ But and then comes the big but: ‘It is your sanctions that drive up food prices, energy prices and have a devastating effect on our population.’”

The Austrian foreign minister, Alexander Schallenberg, said in his recent travels in India and the Middle East he discovered that although the EU may have won the information war on Ukraine in Europe, “a very different narrative” existed elsewhere.

Outside Europe “we are the culprits. We are the reason for oil, seeds, grain and energy not being on the market or overpriced,” he said.

Samantha Power, the head of USAID, argued this week that it was absolutely critical not just for Ukraine, but for democracy to regain the upper hand in the information war, especially on the issue of why Ukrainian and Russian food was not reaching the global south.

Doubts and disagreements in the world do not mean that Putin has won at all. He has done himself irreparable damage. But if the West delays making vital decisions now, precious time will be lost for Ukraine.

AP: N. Korea approves new frontline army duties amid tensions

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un doubled down on his nuclear arms buildup to overwhelm “hostile forces” at a key meeting where military leaders approved unspecified new operational duties for frontline army units.


North Korea hasn’t specified the new operational duties for frontline army units, but analysts say the country could be planning to deploy battlefield nuclear weapons targeting rival South Korea along their tense border.

While North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear-capable ballistic missiles that could reach the U.S. mainland gets much of the international attention, it is also developing a variety of nuclear-capable, short-range missiles that can target South Korea.

Experts say its rhetoric around those missiles communicates a threat to proactively use them in warfare to blunt the stronger conventional forces of South Korea and the United States. About 28,500 U.S. troops are stationed in the South to deter aggression from the North.

Kim during the military commission’s three-day meeting that ended Thursday called for his entire army to “go all out” in carrying out the plans to bolster the nation’s military muscle and consolidate “powerful self-defense capabilities for overwhelming any hostile forces and thus reliably protect the dignity of the great country.”

While North Korean reports of the meeting didn’t mention plans for a nuclear test, a South Korean government spokesperson said Seoul is keeping a close watch for related developments.

South Korea has been spending heavily to expand its conventional arms in recent years, but some analysts say the country has no clear way to counter the threat posed by Kim’s growing arsenal of nuclear weapons and missiles.

North Korea’s apparent push to deploy battlefield nuclear weapons at frontline units had been predicted since April, when Kim supervised a test of a new short-range missile that state media said would “drastically” improve the firepower of frontline artillery units and “enhance the efficiency in the operation of tactical nukes.”

Experts say North Korea’s unusually fast pace in testing activity this year underscores Kim’s dual intent to advance his arsenal and pressure Washington over long-stalled nuclear diplomacy. Talks have stalled since early 2019 over disagreements in exchanging the release of crippling U.S.-led sanctions against the North and the North’s disarmament steps.

Kim has shown no intentions to fully give away an arsenal he sees as his strongest guarantee of survival. His pressure campaign is aimed at forcing the United States to accept the idea of the North as a nuclear power and negotiating economic and security concessions from a position of strength, experts say.

Reuters: Pressure mounts on UK PM Johnson after crushing election defeats

Boris Johnson's Conservatives lost two parliamentary seats on Friday, a crushing blow to the governing party that prompted the resignation of its chairman and intensified doubts about the future of Britain's prime minister.

Fears that Johnson could have become an electoral liability may prompt lawmakers to move against him again after months of scandal over COVID-19 lockdown parties at a time when millions are struggling with rising food and fuel prices.

Photo: Leon Neal/Getty

Johnson has so far resisted pressure to resign after he was fined for breaking lockdown rules at his Downing Street office.

This month, he survived a vote of confidence by Conservative lawmakers, though 41% of his parliamentary colleagues voted to oust him, and he is under investigation by a committee over whether he intentionally misled parliament.

"I think as a government I’ve got to listen to what people are saying," Johnson told broadcasters in Kigali after the results. "We’ve got to recognise there is more we’ve got to do ... we will keep going addressing the concerns of people until we get through this patch."

Following the losses in Tiverton and Honiton in southwest England, and Wakefield in the north, Conservative Party Chairman Oliver Dowden resigned in a carefully worded letter that hinted he believed Johnson should take responsibility for the defeats.

"We cannot carry on with business as usual," he said. "Somebody must take responsibility and I have concluded that, in these circumstances, it would not be right for me to remain in office," added Dowden, a long-time ally of Johnson.

Johnson responded by saying he understood his disappointment but "this government was elected with an historic mandate just over two years ago" and he would continue to work to that end.

A Conservative party source said Johnson was not concerned about further resignations from his cabinet team of top ministers and took a swipe at the media for what they called "misreporting" of lockdown parties.

The explanations offered by Johnson and his team may do little to ease frustration in the Conservative Party.

Several Conservative lawmakers tweeted support for Dowden, saying he was not to blame for the results in messages that suggested resurgent dissent against Johnson's leadership.

Although under his party's rules Johnson cannot face another confidence motion for a year, lawmakers fearing for their own futures may try to force a change to bring about a second vote.

A wave of cabinet resignations could also be another route to force Johnson out before the next national election, expected in 2024.

Johnson led the Conservatives to their biggest majority in three decades at the 2019 national election, winning in traditionally Labour-voting areas in north and central England.

But the loss of Wakefield could indicate that his ability to repeat that trick has been compromised.

BBC: US Senate passes first gun control bill in decades

The US Senate has passed a gun control bill - the most significant firearms legislation in nearly 30 years.

Fifteen Republicans joined Democrats in the upper chamber of Congress to approve the measure by 65 votes to 33.

It follows mass shootings last month at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, and a primary school in Uvalde, Texas, that left 31 people dead.

The bill will now have to pass in the House of Representatives before President Biden can sign it into law.

In a statement released after the vote, the president called on members of the House to "promptly vote on this bipartisan bill and send it to my desk".

"Tonight, after 28 years of inaction, bipartisan members of Congress came together to heed the call of families across the country and passed legislation to address the scourge of gun violence in our communities," Mr Biden said.

"Families in Uvalde and Buffalo — and too many tragic shootings before — have demanded action. And tonight, we acted."

Speaker Nancy Pelosi has vowed to take the bill through the House quickly, despite Republican leader Kevin McCarthy urging his members to vote against the bill.

"First thing tomorrow morning, the Rules Committee will meet to advance this life-saving legislation to the floor," Ms Pelosi said after the vote.

The bill is also significant because it is the first time in decades that proposed reforms have received this level of support from both Democrats and Republicans. Historically, efforts to strengthen US gun laws have been blocked by the Republican party.

All 50 Democrats, including the party's most conservative members, Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, were joined by deal-making Republicans, including the party's Senate Leader Mitch McConnell and close Trump ally Lindsey Graham.

A host of traditionally conservative-leaning advocacy organisations, including the Fraternal Order of Police and the International Association of Chiefs of Police, also backed the bill.

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said: "This is not a cure-all for the ways gun violence affects our nation, but it is a long overdue step in the right direction."

However, two-thirds of Republicans opposed the legislation, and all of those who backed it, except for Alaska's Lisa Murkowski and Indiana's Todd Young, will not face voters this year or have announced their intention not to seek re-election.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who is widely tipped to seek the Republican presidential nomination in 2024, condemned the bill as an attempt to "to try to disarm law-abiding citizens rather than take serious measures to protect our children".

The National Rifle Association (NRA) has opposed the bill, and argued that it will not stop the violence.

Meantime president Biden has pushed for bigger reforms - including a ban on assault weapons, which were used in the Texas and Buffalo mass shootings last month - or at least an increase in the age at which they can be purchased. The gunman in the Texas shooting is believed to have purchased two semi-automatic rifles days after turning 18.

The US has the highest rate of firearms deaths among the world's wealthy nations - more than 20,900 people have been killed in gun violence in the US this year, including through homicide and suicide, according to the Gun Violence Archive, a non-profit research group.

But it is also a country where many cherish gun rights that are protected by the Constitution's Second Amendment to "keep and bear arms".

The last significant federal gun control legislation was passed in 1994, banning the manufacture for civilian use of assault rifles and large capacity magazines - but it expired a decade later.

Picked and squeezed for you: Irina Iakovleva