In a first, two Hindus rise to Lt-Colonel rank

KARACHI: For the first time in the country’s history, the Pakistan Army has promoted two officers belonging to the Hindu community in Sindh to the rank of lieutenant colonel on Friday..

Both the officers belong to the Army Medical Corps.

Born in 1981, Major Dr. Kelash Kumar hails from the Tharparkar district. He got commission in the army in 2008.

Major Dr. Aneel Kumar, born in 1982, hails from the Badin district. He got commission in the army in 2007.

The Pakistan Hindu Council (PHC) has expressed its pleasure over the officers’ promotion to the rank of lieutenant colonel. PHC patron-in-chief MNA Dr. Ramesh Kumar Vankwani has tweeted his heartiest congratulations to them.

EU imposes ‘severe’ sanctions on Russia

LONDON: Even as EU leaders wrapped up an emergency summit on Friday with an agreement to punish Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine by imposing “severe” sanctions targeting its financial, energy, and transport sectors, Britain and nine other European defense allies agreed that further sanctions were needed on Russia.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the so-called Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF) bloc — which includes Baltic and Scandinavian states — that the crisis “was a defining moment in European history”.

“The leaders agreed that more sanctions were needed, including focusing on (Russian) President (Vladimir) Putin’s inner circle, building on the measures that had already been agreed,” his Downing Street office said following the call.

The JEF, set up in 2012, is made up of Nato members Denmark, Estonia, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, and the United Kingdom, and non-members Finland and Sweden. It is focused on security in the “High North” region around the Arctic, the North Atlantic, and the Baltic Sea area.

The warnings about targeted sanctions on Kremlin leaders came as the EU agreed to freeze European assets linked to Putin and his Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, officials and a European diplomat said.

Chinese president talks to Russian leader, says crisis should be resolved peacefully

It also followed the bloc, Britain, and the United States unveiled a range of sanctions on Thursday, further targeting Russia’s banking sector and its oligarchs.

After the EU summit, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen told a media conference that the measures agreed “will have maximum impact on the Russian economy and the political elite”.

The summit started on Thursday night. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed the gathering by video link, telling European presidents and prime ministers that “he does not know if he will be able to speak with us another time,” Luxembourg’s leader Xavier Bettel recalled as he left.

Von der Leyen said the package of sanctions — the second adopted this week by the EU — is “targeting 70 percent of the Russian banking market, but also key state-owned companies including the field of defense”.

She did not go into details, but a list drawn up by her commission proposed adding two Russian private banks — Alfa Bank and Bank Otkritie — to entities sanctioned by the EU.

It also called for Russians to be prohibited from putting deposits over 100,000 euros in EU banks or from purchasing euro-denominated securities.

The measures included an export ban on equipment and technology Russia needs to upgrade its oil refineries. An export ban on aircraft and plane parts to Russian airlines would also “degrade a key sector of Russia’s economy and the country’s connectivity,” von der Leyen said.

“The fourth point is we are limiting Russia’s access to crucial technology — we will hit Russia’s access to important technologies it needs to build a prosperous future such as semiconductors or cutting edge technologies,” she said.

“And finally, on visas, diplomats and related groups and business people will no longer have privileged access to the European Union.”

Presidents of China, Turkey

China’s President Xi Jinping said he supported solving the Ukraine crisis through talks in a call with Russian President Vladimir Putin, state media said on Friday.

In a readout of the call on state broadcaster CCTV, Xi pointed out that the “situation in eastern Ukraine has undergone rapid changes… (and) China supports Russia and Ukraine to resolve the issue through negotiation”.

For his part, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Nato and the European Union of failing to take a “determined stance” on the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“Nato should have taken a more decisive step,” Erdogan, whose country is a member of the military alliance, told reporters.

“The EU and other pro-Western (bodies) have failed to take a serious and determined stance at the moment. They are all providing Ukraine with plenty of advice.” Turkey has friendly ties with Russia and Ukraine and positioned itself as a neutral mediator for a resolution to the crisis.

Pope visits Russian embassy

Pope Francis went to the Russian embassy at the Holy See “to express his concern for the war” following the invasion of Ukraine, the Vatican press office said.

Francis, head of the Roman Catholic Church, stayed for just over half an hour at the embassy in Rome, the press office said, without providing a read-out of the meeting or stating who was present.

Francis’s unannounced visit comes one day after the Vatican’s secretary of state insisted there was “still time for goodwill… still room for negotiation”.

Russia presses invasion to outskirts of Ukrainian capital as the US imposes new sanctions

Russia pressed its invasion of Ukraine to the outskirts of the capital on Friday after unleashing airstrikes on cities and military bases and sending in troops and tanks from three sides in an attack that could rewrite the global post-Cold War security order.

Explosions sounded before dawn in Kyiv as Western leaders scheduled an emergency meeting and Ukraine’s president pleaded for international help.

The nature of the explosions was not immediately clear, but the blasts came amid signs that the capital and largest Ukrainian city was increasingly threatened following a day of fighting that left more than 100 Ukrainians dead.

Source: AP
Source: AP

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the government had information that “subversive groups” were encroaching on the city, and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Kyiv “could well be under siege” in what US officials believe is a brazen attempt by Russian President Vladimir Putin to dismantle the government and replace it with his own regime.

US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin told lawmakers on a phone call on Thursday evening that Russian mechanised forces that entered from Belarus were about 20 miles from Kyiv, according to a person familiar with the call.

The assault, anticipated for weeks by the US and Western allies and undertaken by Putin in the face of international condemnation and cascading sanctions, amounts to the largest ground war in Europe since World War II.

Russian missiles bombarded cities and military bases on the first day of the attack, and Ukraine officials said they had lost control of the decommissioned Chernobyl nuclear power plant, the scene of the world’s worst nuclear disaster.

Civilians piled into trains and cars to flee and patrons of a hotel were directed into a shelter as explosions sounded in Kyiv.

“Russia has embarked on a path of evil, but Ukraine is defending itself and won’t give up its freedom,” Zelenskyy tweeted. His grasp on power increasingly tenuous, he called Thursday for even more severe sanctions than the ones imposed by Western allies and ordered a full military mobilisation that would last 90 days.

Ukraine’s president vows to stay put

Zelenskyy said in a video address that 137 “heroes”, including 10 military officers, had been killed and 316 people wounded. The dead included border guards on the Zmiinyi Island in the Odesa region, which was taken over by Russians.

Zelenskiy vowed to stay in Kyiv as his troops battled Russian invaders advancing toward the capital.

“(The) enemy has marked me down as the number one target,” Zelenskiy warned in a video message as heavy fighting was reported on multiple fronts. “My family is the number two target. They want to destroy Ukraine politically by destroying the head of state.”

“I will stay in the capital. My family is also in Ukraine.”

He concluded an emotional speech by saying that “the fate of the country depends fully on our army, security forces, all of our defenders.” He also said the country had heard from Moscow that ”they want to talk about Ukraine’s neutral status.”

US imposes new sanctions

Biden was to meet on Friday morning with fellow leaders of Nato governments in what the White House described as an “extraordinary virtual summit” to discuss Ukraine.

US President Joe Biden announced new sanctions against Russia, saying Putin “chose this war” and had exhibited a “sinister” view of the world in which nations take what they want by force. Other nations also announced sanctions, or said they would shortly.

“It was always about naked aggression, about Putin’s desire for empire by any means necessary — by bullying Russia’s neighbours through coercion and corruption, by changing borders by force, and, ultimately, by choosing a war without a cause,” Biden said.

Blinken said in television interviews that he was convinced that Russia was intent on overthrowing the Ukrainian government, telling CBS that Putin wants to “reconstitute the Soviet empire” and that Kyiv was already “under threat, and it could well be under siege.”

The US sanctions will target Russian banks, oligarchs, state-controlled companies and high-tech sectors, Biden said, but they were designed not to disrupt global energy markets. Russian oil and natural gas exports are vital energy sources for Europe.

Zelenskyy urged the US and West to go further and cut the Russians from the SWIFT system, a key financial network that connects thousands of banks around the world. The White House has been reluctant to immediately cut Russia from SWIFT, worried it could cause enormous economic problems in Europe and elsewhere in the West.

A woman walks past the debris in the aftermath of Russian shelling, in Mariupol, Ukraine, Thursday. — AP
A woman walks past the debris in the aftermath of Russian shelling, in Mariupol, Ukraine, Thursday. — AP

Fearing a Russian attack on the capital city, thousands of people went deep underground as night fell, jamming Kyiv’s subway stations.

At times it felt almost cheerful. Families ate dinner. Children played. Adults chatted. People brought sleeping bags or dogs or crossword puzzles — anything to alleviate the waiting and the long night ahead.

But the exhaustion was clear on many faces. And the worries.

“Nobody believed that this war would start and that they would take Kyiv directly,” said Anton Mironov, waiting out the night in one of the old Soviet metro stations. “I feel mostly fatigue. None of it feels real.”

Svyatoslav, six, plays with his tablet in a public basement used as a bomb shelter in Kyiv, Ukraine on Thursday. — AP
Svyatoslav, six, plays with his tablet in a public basement used as a bomb shelter in Kyiv, Ukraine on Thursday. — AP

The invasion began early Thursday with a series of missile strikes, many on key government and military installations, quickly followed by a three-pronged ground assault.

Ukrainian and US officials said Russian forces were attacking from the east toward Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city; from the southern region of Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014; and from Belarus to the north.

Zelenskyy, who had earlier cut diplomatic ties with Moscow and declared martial law, appealed to global leaders, saying that “if you don’t help us now, if you fail to offer a powerful assistance to Ukraine, tomorrow the war will knock on your door.”

Though Biden said he had no plans to speak with Putin, the Russian leader did have what the Kremlin described as a “serious and frank exchange” with French President Emmanuel Macron.

Both sides claimed to have destroyed some of the other’s aircraft and military hardware, though little of that could be confirmed.

Chernobyl takeover

Hours after the invasion began, Russian forces seized control of the now-unused Chernobyl plant and its surrounding exclusion zone after a fierce battle, presidential adviser Myhailo Podolyak told The Associated Press.

The Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency said it was told by Ukraine of the takeover, adding that there had been “no casualties or destruction at the industrial site.”

The 1986 disaster occurred when a nuclear reactor at the plant 80 miles north of Kyiv exploded, sending a radioactive cloud across Europe. The damaged reactor was later covered by a protective shell to prevent leaks.

People try to get onto buses to leave Kyiv, Ukraine on Thursday. — AP
People try to get onto buses to leave Kyiv, Ukraine on Thursday. — AP

Adviser to the commander of Ukraine’s ground forces, Alyona Shevtsova, wrote on Facebook that staff members at the Chernobyl plant had been “taken hostage”. The White House said it was “outraged” by reports of the detentions.

The Ukrainian Ministry of Defence issued an update saying that though the plant was “likely captured”, the country’s forces had halted Russia’s advance toward Chernihiv and that it was unlikely that Russia had achieved its planned Day One military objectives.

While some nervous Europeans speculated about a possible new world war, the US and its Nato partners have shown no indication they would send troops into Ukraine, fearing a larger conflict.

Nato reinforced its members in Eastern Europe as a precaution, and Biden said the US was deploying additional forces to Germany to bolster Nato.

European authorities declared the country’s airspace an active conflict zone.

After weeks of denying plans to invade, Putin launched the operation on a country the size of Texas that has increasingly tilted toward the democratic West and away from Moscow’s sway.

The autocratic leader made clear earlier this week that he sees no reason for Ukraine to exist, raising fears of possible broader conflict in the vast space that the Soviet Union once ruled. Putin denied plans to occupy Ukraine, but his ultimate goals remain hazy.

Ukrainians were urged to shelter in place and not to panic.

“Until the very last moment, I didn’t believe it would happen. I just pushed away these thoughts,” said a terrified Anna Dovnya in Kyiv, watching soldiers and police remove shrapnel from an exploded shell. “We have lost all faith.”

With social media amplifying a torrent of military claims and counter-claims, it was difficult to determine exactly what was happening on the ground.

Russia and Ukraine made competing claims about the damage they had inflicted. Russia’s Defence Ministry said it had destroyed scores of Ukrainian air bases, military facilities and drones.

It confirmed the loss of one of its Su-25 attack jets, blaming “pilot error,” and said an An-26 transport plane had crashed because of technical failure, killing the entire crew. It did not say how many were aboard.

Russia said it was not targeting cities, but journalists saw the destruction in many civilian areas.

Pakistan working on evacuating citizens

A number of countries including Pakistan moved to ensure the safety of their citizens in the war-ravaged country. Pakistan’s ambassador to Ukraine, Dr Noel Israel Khokhar, said the government was working on the safe evacuation of all Pakistan nationals stranded in the country.

According to a report by[Radio Pakistan], the ambassador confirmed that overall 1,500 Pakistanis, including 500 students, were present in Ukraine who had been asked to move to safer locations.

On the other hand, Pakistan’s Embassy in Ukraine said in a tweet that “the airspace of Ukraine is closed and the Embassy is in touch with the Pakistani students, who could not leave earlier according to the advice given to them.”

China accuses the US of raising tensions on the Ukraine issue

China on Wednesday accused the United States of “raising tensions” and “creating panic” over the Ukraine crisis, shortly after Washington announced sanctions against Moscow and said it would continue to supply weapons to Ukraine against a Russian invasion.

Beijing has trod a cautious line on Ukraine as Moscow has massed thousands of troops on the borders and criticized the West for new sanctions after Russia ordered troops into two breakaway Ukrainian regions it now recognizes as an independent.

US President Joe Biden earlier stressed that the penalties were only a “first tranche”, adding that more sanctions would come if Russian President Vladimir Putin extended his country’s military grip beyond the two territories in the eastern Donbas region.

China lashed out at Washington over the sanctions on Wednesday and said it was raising tensions by sending weapons to Ukraine.

The US actions were “raising tensions, creating panic, and even playing up the schedule of war”, foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters.

“If someone is adding fuel to the fire while blaming others … then that behavior is irresponsible and immoral,” she added, turning the spotlight on the United States in response to a question on China’s role in resolving the situation.

She said China had “called on all parties to respect and attach importance to each other’s legitimate security concerns, strive to resolve issues through negotiation and consultation, and jointly maintain regional peace and stability.”

Asked if China would impose sanctions on Russia, Hua added that Beijing believes “sanctions have never been a fundamental and effective way to solve problems”.

Apart from the United States, Britain, the European Union, Japan, and Australia also announced penalties following Putin’s decision to send soldiers into Donetsk and Lugansk.

On Tuesday, Biden said Washington would continue to supply “defensive” weapons to Ukraine against a Russian invasion and deploy US troops to reinforce Nato allies in Eastern Europe.

“Let me be clear, these are totally defensive moves on our part,” Biden said in a televised speech at the White House

Operation Raddul Fasaad ensures country’s transition to ‘peace’: Army chief

RAWALPINDI: Chief of the Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa has said that operation Raddul Fasaad (RuF) is continuing successfully and ensuring the country’s transition from “uncertainty to peace”.

“We salute the supreme sacrifices of our martyrs and spirit of our great nation,” Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Director General Major General Babar Iftikhar said in a tweet on Tuesday, quoting the army chief’s statement that was issued upon completion of five years of the operation.

In the statement, Gen Bajwa said: “Operations continue successfully as the country has transitioned from uncertainty to peace. The achievements of RuF have only been possible due to the blood of martyrs and resilience of our people.”

Operation RuF was aimed at consolidating gains of the two-decade-long war on terror and eliminating the remnants of terrorists across the country, Gen Iftikhar tweeted, adding “RuF placed the security of people of Pakistan as a core objective.”