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.”

UAE invests heavily in unmanned weapons after drone attacks

ABU DHABI: The United Arab Emirates is plowing money into drones, robots and other unmanned weaponry as autonomous warfare becomes more and more widespread — including in attacks on the Gulf country by Yemeni rebels.

Large, black drones with the orange logo of EDGE, the UAE’s arms consortium, were on display at the Unmanned Systems Exhibition (UMEX), along with remote-controlled machineguns and other “smart” weapons.

The exhibition comes at a time of growing unmanned attacks around the region, including the Jan 17 drone-and-missile assault by Yemen rebels that killed three oil workers in Abu Dhabi, the first in a series of similar incidents.

EDGE, an Abu Dhabi-based defense consortium that groups 25 Emirati firms, was formed three years ago but reached an estimated $4.8 billion in arms sales in 2020 — nearly all of them to the UAE government.

The group was ranked 23rd among the 100 top arms-producing and military services around the globe in 2020, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

The UAE is part of the Saudi-led coalition that has been fighting Yemen’s Houthi rebels since 2015. Although it withdrew ground troops in 2019, it remains a key player in the grinding conflict.

EDGE’s most lucrative deals have included maintenance of military jets, worth almost $4 billion, as well as providing guided munitions at $880 million.

On Tuesday, it unveiled a vehicle-mounted remote-controlled assault rifle that can swivel 360 degrees and has thermal imaging and a laser range finder accurate to 50 centimeters for targets more than two kilometers away.

On Monday, the UAE defense ministry signed three deals with domestic and international companies with a total value of more than $178.2m), including a sale of drone systems to UAE-based International Golden Group.

Ahmed Al Mazrouei, the owner of an Emirati company that mainly develops four-wheel-drive vehicles and personnel carriers, said the UAE defense industry was ready to “step up” following the attacks on Abu Dhabi.

“The challenges are important because they push us to develop ourselves in order to meet those challenges,” he said.

“Our goal is to have more systems and more tech” in the next 10 years, Mazrouei added. “This is an Emirati-made production… and we want to compete globally.”

EDGE has signed multiple deals with foreign partners, including US firms Lockheed Martin and Raytheon, and Brazil’s Embraer, Khalid Al Breiki, who heads one of EDGE’s five clusters, said at last year’s Dubai Airshow.

The establishment of diplomatic relations with Israel in 2020 has also opened up new opportunities.

The fifth edition of UMEX is the first to include Israel, one of seven newcomers among the 26 countries taking part.

The use of drones and other unmanned weapons is increasingly common.

UN experts urge India to stop victimizing Muslim journalist Rana Ayyub

UNITED NATIONS: UN rights experts urged India on Tuesday to “end relentless misogynistic attacks” on a Muslim journalist as Indian Muslims protested across the United States against the hijab ban in their country.

Rana Ayyub, an independent journalist and defender of women’s human rights, “continues to be the target of intensifying online harassment by far-right Hindu nationalist groups,” the UN experts said in a statement issued in New York.

They noted Ms. Ayyub’s reports on issues affecting minority Muslims in her country and criticized the Indian government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. In her latest statement, Ms. Ayyub also criticized a recent ban on hijabs at schools and colleges in Karnataka state.

“In response to Ms. Ayyub’s efforts to shine a light on public interest issues and hold power to account through her reporting, she has been maliciously targeted with anonymous death and rape threats by organised groups online,” the experts said.

Protests held in US against ‘Islamophobic and unconstitutional ban on students wearing hijabs’ in Karnataka

The statement noted that Indian authorities have targeted Ms Ayyub with various forms of harassment over a number of years.

On February 11, for the second time in six months, her bank account and other assets were frozen on “seemingly baseless allegations” of money laundering and tax fraud related to her crowd-funding campaigns to provide assistance to those affected by the pandemic, the experts said.

“The lack of condemnation and proper investigation by the government, coupled with the legal harassment it has itself inflicted on Ms Ayyub, has only served to falsely legitimize the attacks and attackers and further endangered her safety,” they added.

Genocide in India

Also, during the long weekend, which ended on Monday, hundreds of Indian Americans held protests at multiple places across the United States against “Islamophobic and unconstitutional ban on students wearing hijabs in schools by the Hindu nationalist government in India’s Karnataka state,” said a statement issued by the Alliance to Stop Genocide in India.

The protests were held in Orlando, Florida; South Brunswick, Teaneck, and Paramus, New Jersey; as well as Plano, Irving, and Valley Ranch, Texas. A coalition of Indian American and US-based civil rights organizations and activists also supported the protests.

Protests were also held in New York, Massachusetts, Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, California, and Washington state.

Protesters held placards saying “my body, my choice,” “revoke hijab ban,” “stop telling women what to do”, “hijab is my right,” and “hijab ban in India is apartheid.”

Protesters gathered outside public offices, parks, and places of worship, urging Americans not to remain silent on the atrocities committed against Muslims in India.

“It’s my choice, keep your hands off my hijab,” read one of the placards held at a protest in New York.

Joe Biden, Vladimir Putin signals bigger confrontation ahead over Ukraine

The East-West faceoff over Ukraine escalated dramatically on Tuesday, with Russian lawmakers authorizing President Vladimir Putin to use military force outside his country and US President Joe Biden and European leaders responding by slapping sanctions on Russian oligarchs and banks.

Both leaders signaled that an even bigger confrontation could lie ahead. Putin has yet to unleash the force of the 150,000 troops massed on three sides of Ukraine, while Biden held back on even tougher sanctions that could cause economic turmoil for Russia but said they would go ahead if there is further aggression.

The measures, accompanied by the repositioning of additional US troops to the Baltic nations on Nato’s eastern flank bordering Russia, came as Russian forces rolled into rebel-held areas in eastern Ukraine after Putin said he was recognising the independence of the separatist regions in defiance of US and European demands.

Speaking at the White House, Biden said the Kremlin had flagrantly violated international law in what he called the “beginning of a Russian invasion of Ukraine”. He warned of more sanctions if Putin went further.

“We are united in our support of Ukraine,” Biden said. “We are united in our opposition to Russian aggression.” When it comes to Russian claims of a justification or pretext for an invasion, Biden said, “None of us should be fooled. None of us will be fooled. There is no justification.”

Hopes for a diplomatic resolution to the threat of invasion, which US officials have for weeks portrayed as all but inevitable, appeared to evaporate. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken canceled plans for a Thursday meeting in Geneva with his Russian counterpart, saying it would not be productive and that Russia’s actions indicated Moscow was not serious about a peaceful path to resolving the crisis.

Western nations sought to present a united front, with more than two dozen European Union members unanimously agreeing to levy their own initial set of sanctions against Russian officials. Germany also said it was halting the process of certifying the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia — a lucrative deal long sought by Moscow but criticised by the US for increasing Europe’s reliance on Russian energy.

The US, meanwhile, moved to cut off Russia’s government from Western finance, sanctioning two of its banks and blocking it from trading in its debt on American and European markets. The administration’s actions hit civilian leaders in Russia’s leadership hierarchy and two Russian banks considered especially close to the Kremlin and Russia’s military, with more than $80 billion in assets. That includes freezing all of those banks’ assets under US jurisdictions.

Biden, though, did hold back some of the broadest and toughest of the financial penalties contemplated by the US, including sanctions that would reinforce the hold that Germany put on any startup of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline; an export ban that would deny Russia US high tech for its industries and military; and sweeping bans that could cripple Russia’s ability to do business with the rest of the world.

Biden said he was moving additional US troops to the Baltics, though he described the deployments as purely “defensive”, asserting, “We have no intention of fighting Russia.” The US is sending about 800 infantry troops and 40 attack aircraft to Nato’s eastern flank from other locations within Europe, according to a senior defense official. In addition, a contingent of F-35 strike fighters and AH-64 Apache attack helicopters will also be relocated.

Three conditions to end crisis

Earlier on Tuesday, members of Russia’s upper house, the Federation Council, voted unanimously to allow Putin to use military force outside the country — effectively formalizing a Russian military deployment to the rebel regions, where an eight-year conflict has killed nearly 14,000 people.

Shortly afterward, Putin laid out three conditions to end the crisis that has threatened to plunge Europe back into war, raising the specter of massive casualties, energy shortages across the continent, and global economic chaos.

Putin said the crisis could be resolved if Kyiv recognizes Russia’s sovereignty over Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula that Moscow annexed after seizing it from Ukraine in 2014, renounces its bid to join Nato and partially demilitarises. The West has decried the annexation of Crimea as a violation of international law and has previously flatly rejected permanently barring Ukraine from Nato.

Asked whether he has sent any Russian troops into Ukraine and how far they could go, Putin responded: “I haven’t said that the troops will go there right now.” He added that “it’s impossible to forecast a specific pattern of action — it will depend on a concrete situation as it takes shape on the ground.”

West hits back with sanctions

The EU announced initial sanctions aimed at the 351 Russian lawmakers who voted for recognizing the two separatist regions in Ukraine, as well as 27 other Russian officials and institutions from the defense and banking sectors. They also sought to limit Moscow’s access to EU capital and financial markets.

With tensions rising and a broader conflict looking more likely, the White House began referring to the Russian deployments in the region known as the Donbas as an “invasion” after initially hesitating to use the term — a red line that Biden had said would result in severe sanctions.

“We think this is, yes, the beginning of an invasion, Russia’s latest invasion into Ukraine,” Jon Finer, principal deputy national security adviser, said on CNN. “An invasion is an invasion, and that is what is underway.”

The White House announced limited sanctions targeting the rebel regions on Monday evening soon after Putin said he was sending in troops. A senior Biden administration official, who briefed reporters about those sanctions, noted “that Russia has occupied these regions since 2014” and that “Russian troops moving into Donbas would not itself be a new step.”

Western leaders have long warned Moscow would look for cover to invade — and just such a pretext appeared to come on Monday when Putin recognized the independence of the Donetsk and Luhansk separatist regions. The Kremlin then raised the stakes further by saying that recognition extends even to the large parts of those two regions now held by Ukrainian forces, including the major Azov Sea port of Mariupol. He added, however, that the rebels should eventually negotiate with Ukraine.

Condemnation from around the world was quick. In Washington, lawmakers from both parties in Congress vowed continued US support for Ukraine, even as some pushed for swifter and even more severe sanctions on Russia. Senators had been considering a sanctions package but held off as the White House pursued its strategy.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he would consider breaking diplomatic ties with Russia, and Kyiv recalled its ambassador in Moscow.

If Putin pushes farther into Ukraine, Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg insisted the West would move in lockstep. “If Russia decides once again to use force against Ukraine, there will be even stronger sanctions, even a higher price to pay,” he said.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the UK would slap sanctions on five Russian banks and three wealthy individuals. He warned a full-scale offensive would bring “further powerful sanctions”.

Zelinsky said he was calling up some of the country’s military reservists but added there was no need for full military mobilization.

In an address to the nation, Zelenskyy said his decree applied only to those assigned to the so-called operational reserve, which is typically activated during ongoing hostilities and covers “a special period of time”, without clarifying what that means.

“Today there is no need for a full mobilization. We need to quickly add additional staff to the Ukrainian army and other military formations,” he said. The head of the National Security and Defence Council, Oleksii Danilov, said earlier this year that Ukraine can call up to 2.5 million people.

Putin says Russia’s interests ‘non-negotiable’

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that Moscow was ready to look for “diplomatic solutions” amid raging tensions with the West over Ukraine but stressed that the country’s interests were non-negotiable.

“Our country is always open for direct and honest dialogue, for the search for diplomatic solutions to the most complex problems,” Putin said in a video address to mark the Defender of the Fatherland Day, a public holiday in Russia.

But he added: “The interests of Russia, the security of our citizens, are non-negotiable for us.”

In the video address, Putin congratulated the country’s men and said he was certain of the “professionalism” of the Russian military and that they will stand up for the country’s national interests.

He praised the battle-readiness of the Russian army and said the country would continue to develop state-of-the-art weapons.

“We will continue to develop advanced weapon systems, including hypersonic and those based on new physical principles, and expand the use of advanced digital technologies and elements of artificial intelligence,” the Kremlin strongman added.

“Such complexes are truly the weapons of the future, which significantly increase the combat potential of our armed forces.”