Russian journalist’s Nobel Peace Prize fetches record $103.5 mln at auction to aid Ukraine children

June 21 (Reuters) – Dmitry Muratov, the co-winner of the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize and the editor of one of Russia’s last major independent newspapers, auctioned off his Nobel medal for a record $103.5 million to aid children displaced by the war in Ukraine.

All proceeds from the auction, which coincided with the World Refugee Day on Monday, will benefit UNICEF’s humanitarian response for Ukraine’s displaced children, Heritage Auctions, which conducted the sale in New York, said in a statement

Muratov’s Novaya Gazeta newspaper, fiercely critical of President Vladimir Putin and his government, suspended operations in Russia in March after warnings from the state over its coverage of the war in Ukraine.

Pressure against liberal Russian media outlets has been continuous under Putin, Russia’s paramount leader since 1999, but it has mounted after Moscow sent troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24. Muratov was attacked with red paint in April

Russia’s mainstream media and state-controlled organisations follow closely the language used by the Kremlin to describe the conflict with Ukraine, which Moscow calls a “special operation” to ensure Russian security and denazify its neighbour. Kyiv and its Western allies say it is an unprovoked war of aggression.

According to U.S. media reports, the auction of Muratov’s prize shattered the record for any Nobel medal that has been auctioned off, with reports saying that the previous highest sale fetched just under $5 million.

“This award is unlike any other auction offering to present,” Heritage Auctions said in a statement before the sale.

“Mr. Muratov, with the full support of his staff at Novaya Gazeta, is allowing us to auction his medal not as a collectible but as an event that he hopes will positively impact the lives of millions of Ukrainian refugees.”

Muratov, who co-founded Novaya Gazeta in 1991, won the 2021 the Nobel Peace Prize with Maria Ressa of the Philippines for what the Nobel Prize committee said were “their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace”.

Muratov, who pledged to donate about $500,000 of that prize money to charities, dedicated his Nobel to the six Novaya Gazeta journalists who have been murdered since 2000.

That list included the journalist Anna Politkovskaya, a critic of Russia’s war in Chechnya, who was killed in 2006 in the elevator of her Moscow apartment building.

Ukraine braces for Russian ‘storm’ in east in run-up to EU meeting

KYIV, June 21 (Reuters) – Ukraine acknowledged on Tuesday difficulties in fighting in its east as Russian forces regrouped after stepping up pressure and making advances on two cities ahead of an EU summit this week expected to welcome Kyiv’s bid to join the bloc.

The governor of the Luhansk region, scene of the heaviest Russian onslaughts in recent weeks, said Russian forces had launched a massive attack and gained some territory on Monday though it was relatively quiet overnight.

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“It’s a calm before the storm,” the governor, Serhiy Gaidai, said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy had predicted Russia would step up attacks ahead of the EU summit on Thursday and Friday. He was defiant in a late Monday address to the nation, though referring to “difficult” fighting in Luhansk for Sievierodonetsk and its sister city, Lysychansk.

“We are defending Lysychansk, Sievierodonetsk, this whole area, the most difficult one. We have the most difficult fighting there,” he said. “But we have our strong guys and girls there.”

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Gaidai said Russian forces controlled most of Sievierodonetsk, apart from the Azot chemical plant, where more than 500 civilians, including 38 children, have been sheltering for weeks. The road connecting Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk to the city of Bakhmut was under constant shell fire, he said.

Rodion Miroshnik, ambassador to Russia of the self-styled Luhansk People’s Republic, said its forces were “moving from the south towards Lysychansk” with firefights erupting in a number of towns.

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“The hours to come should bring considerable changes to the balance of forces in the area,” he said on Telegram.

ATTRITIONAL PHASE

Russia sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24 in what it called a “special operation” to degrade its military capabilities and root out what it calls dangerous nationalists.

It has also introduced a law making the spread of “knowingly fake” information or reporting that could discredit the Russian military an offence.

Dmitry Muratov, the co-winner of the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize and editor of an independent Russian newspaper, auctioned off his Nobel medal for a record $103.5 million to aid children displaced by the war. His paper, fiercely critical of President Vladimir Putin, suspended operations in Russia in March after warnings over its coverage of the war. read more

The war has entered a brutal attritional phase in recent weeks, with Russian forces concentrating on Ukrainian-controlled parts of the Donbas, which Russia claims on behalf of separatists.

In Odesa, Ukraine’s biggest Black Sea port, which is blockaded by the Russian navy, a Russian missile destroyed a food warehouse on Monday, Ukraine’s military said.

The United States and its European allies have provided weapons and financial assistance to Ukraine but avoided direct involvement in the conflict.

Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, in Kharkiv region
A view shows a damaged residential building in Donetsk
Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, in Kharkiv region

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A man stands outside a damaged residential building located in Panfilova street following recent shelling in the course of Ukraine-Russia conflict in Donetsk, Ukraine June 20, 2022. REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko

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British military intelligence said Ukraine forces claimed their first successful use of Western-donated Harpoon anti-ship missiles, destroying a tug delivering weapons and personnel to a Russian held island in the Black Sea. read more

“Ukrainian coastal defence capability has largely neutralised Russia’s ability to establish sea control and project maritime force in the north-western Black Sea,” it said.

CAPTURED AMERICANS

Some foreign citizens have volunteered to fight for Ukraine.

On Monday, the Kremlin said two Americans detained in Ukraine were mercenaries not covered by the Geneva convention who should face responsibility for their actions. read more

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov’s comments were the first formal acknowledgment that the two, identified in U.S. reports as Andy Huynh, 27, and Alexander Drueke, 39, were being held.

A U.S. State Department spokesperson said they had been in touch with Russian authorities regarding any U.S. citizens who may have been captured and called on Russia and its proxies “to live up to their international obligations” in their treatment of any captive.

This month, a separatist court sentenced two Britons and a Moroccan to death after they were caught fighting for Ukraine.

International concern has focused on trying to restore Ukrainian exports of food, now shut by a de facto Russian blockade. Ukraine is one of the world’s main sources of grain and food oils, leading to fears of global shortages.

Russia blames the food crisis on Western sanctions.

The war has also disrupted energy markets, including Russian shipments of oil and gas to Europe, still the continent’s main source of energy and Russia’s primary income source. Russia says EU sanctions prevented it from restoring pipeline equipment.

Russia threatened to retaliate against EU member Lithuania for banning transport of coal, metals, construction materials and advanced technology to Kaliningrad, a Russian outpost on the Baltic Sea surrounded by EU territory.

Russia’s foreign ministry summoned Lithuania’s top diplomat and demanded it reverse the “openly hostile” move or Russia “reserves the right to take actions to protect its national interests.” Lithuania said EU sanctions obliged it to enforce the ban.

Pakistani rupee storms past 211 barrier against US dollar in interbank trade

KARACHI: The US dollar on Tuesday continued its flight against the rupee amid a delay in the revival of International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) loan programme and soared to the all-time high of Rs211 as of 11:15am in the interbank trade.

The Pakistani rupee remained highly volatile and continued its losing streak against the US dollar today despite Finance Minister Miftah Ismail claiming that the IMF programme will be revived within the next two days.

According to the Tresmark, the dollar was trading at Rs211, after appreciating nearly Rs1.10 against Monday’s record high of Rs209.96. It also stormed past 212-mark during intra-day trade.

The rupee continues its downtrend, which has also been attributed to the quarter-end payments due to the country’s rising import bill, widening current account deficit and depleting foreign exchange reserves other than the delay in the revival of the IMF programme.

The latest fall since the start of the week in the rupee’s value against the greenback comes after traders resorted to panic buying on reports that some commercial banks had run out of foreign currency.

Businessmen have urged the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) to play its due role in controlling the free-fall of the rupee. However, the central bank seems helpless to control the situation as it cannot supply dollars in the market to support the rupee since its own stock of dollars also stands at a depleted level.

Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves (held by the SBP) have depleted to a critical level and the country has less than six weeks of import cover remaining. The reserves are currently below $9 billion.

The country is fulfilling the prerequisite conditions to revive the IMF loan programme to avoid default on international payments.

“The currency will continue to fall until Pakistan manages to strike a staff-level agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF),” AA Commodities Director Adnan Agar said earlier while speaking to Geo.tv.

The analyst was of the view that the investors’ confidence is completely shattered which can only be strengthened by positive development on the IMF front.

Agar also mentioned that depleting foreign exchange reserves have triggered panic buying, giving speculators a chance to play with the demand and supply of the greenback.

Since the beginning of this fiscal year (July 1, 2021) to date, the rupee has collectively dropped by over 30% (or over Rs52) compared to the previous fiscal year’s close at Rs157.54.

SBP tightens restrictions

In an attempt to ease dollar shortages and conserve eroding foreign exchange reserves amid IMF loan uncertainty, commercial banks have been asked to seek the central bank’s permission before initiating import transactions worth $100,000.

“Earlier, banks were needed to inform the SBP if they wanted to start processing the trade documents such as a letter of credits (LCs), other papers and making payments for the imports of certain goods worth $500,000,” a banking source familiar with the development told The News.

“It seems the central bank wants to discourage imports to save cash as banks are facing a dearth of dollars following a sharp depletion in the foreign currency reserves,” the source added.

The reserves held by the central bank fell by $241 million or 2.6% to $8.98 billion as of June 10 — a cover for 1.32 months’ of imports. The SBP, however, said it had not stopped banks from making import payments.