The banner hanging near Red Square was triumphant. It read: “Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia, Kherson, Russia! Together for ever!” On Friday Vladimir Putin formally announced the annexation of these Ukrainian territories and celebrated with a victory concert in Moscow. Russia’s president addressed a cheering crowd waving white blue and red tricolours. “Welcome home,” he said. “Russia! Russia!” they replied.
For ever turned out to mean less than 24 hours. As workmen dismantled the stage, put up on the cobbled square outside the Kremlin, Ukrainian troops marched into the eastern city of Lyman, from where Putin’s army had just made an inglorious retreat. At one point Lyman’s liberators even performed a victory dance, hopping cheerfully from side to side along a sandy forest path.
They were, according to the Kremlin’s version of reality, encroaching on Russia’s sovereign territory. In his angry west-bashing speech on Friday, delivered before Russia’s supine government, Putin had declared that Donetsk province which includes Lyman would be officially incorporated into the Russian federation. It was, he suggested, a restoration of historical Russian lands.
Since his full-scale invasion in February Putin has managed to seize a large swathe of the south and east of Ukraine. It amounts to about 15 per cent of the country. His expectation was that absorbing these territories would be relatively straightforward and similar to Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, an operation carried out by undercover special forces officers dubbed “little green men”.
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This turned out to be untrue. Residents in Kherson and Zaporizhzhia showed little enthusiasm for their new Russian masters. Many fled to Ukrainian government-controlled areas. Even in the east only a small minority in freshly occupied towns and cities supported Russia. Faced with a distinct lack of popular consent the presidential administration in Moscow put on hold plans to carry out “referendums” – fake ones, according to the international community.
The plans were hastily revived as it became increasingly clear that Russia was losing the war. Over the summer Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskiy gave his commanders orders to recapture the southern city of Kherson, lost in the first days of the conflict. He promised a major counter-offensive. The Kremlin responded by hurrying troops to the right bank of the Dnipro river, as Kyiv had intended.
The offensive happened but the real blow fell elsewhere – on weakly defended Russian positions in the north-east, on the other side of the country. In a few stunning days in September, Ukrainian forces liberated the cities of Izium, Balakliia and Kupiansk and an area half the size of Wales. They found mass graves, torture chambers, and Russian armoured vehicles, abandoned as their crews ran away in panic, donning civilian clothes.
Since then Ukrainian forces have continued their push. By Friday they had effectively surrounded Lyman and cut off the 5,000 or so Russian troops marooned inside. According to Serhiy Haidai, Luhansk’s regional governor, the occupying soldiers requested permission from their superiors to retreat. It was refused. For some the decision turned out to be a death sentence. Footage suggests Ukrainian artillery and drones picked off convoys trying to escape.
It shows burnt-out tanks next to the side of a muddy road. Lying on the verge are the bodies of several soldiers. Other videos suggest dozens and possibly hundreds of Russian servicemen were taken prisoner – a bedraggled and vanquished force, seemingly left to their fate by a callous and incompetent military command back in Moscow.
Across a significant chunk of northern Donetsk flags were being raised on Saturday – Ukrainian ones. Ukrainian forces liberated several settlements around Lyman including Yampil, Novoselivka, Shandrigolovo and Drobysheve. In Shandrigolovo Ukrainian soldiers pulled down the Russian tricolour. They threw it to the ground and stomped on it. In Lyman they ripped down the Russian sign outside the city’s police station.
These images, of course, will not be broadcast on Russian state television. But they pile further pressure on Putin whose decision last month to mobilise up to one million new soldiers has seen support for his war effort dip. There have been protests in some regions including Dagestan in the North Caucasus. And long queues at the international borders with Georgia and Finland. Young men have sought to dodge the draft, and to avoid the fate of Lyman’s luckless Russian defenders.
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Russian nationalist bloggers expressed fury on Saturday at the way Moscow’s “special military operation” is being prosecuted. And Ramzan Kadyrov, Chechnya’s thuggish president, suggested the moment was right for Moscow to deploy a low-yield nuclear bomb in Ukraine, if it wished to avoid further military disasters. In his speech on Friday Putin hinted he would be prepared to use “all means” to defend Russian land, though how far he is prepared to go is unclear.
Kadryov pointed the finger of blame at Russia’s cerebral chief of general staff Valery Gerasimov. He also attacked the commanding officer who presided over the Lyman defeat, accusing him of idiocy, and of running the campaign remotely, from 150kms away. The upshot is this: that Russia’s military establishment is bitterly divided, and unhappy, as the war in Ukraine goes from bad to worse.
By signing “accession treaties” formalising Russia’s illegal annexation of the four occupied regions, Putin has dramatically raised the stakes. He had bound his political fortunes after 22 years in power with the successful outcome of his invasion. There were cheers and clapping on Friday, from Russia’s political elite gathered inside the Kremlin. But the euphoria was short-lived.
In a defiant response to Putin’s ceremony in Moscow, Zelenskiy, announced that his country was formally applying for fast-track membership of the Nato alliance, adding that Ukraine would not hold any peace talks with Russia as long as Putin was president. The Biden administration, meanwhile, announced a $12.4bn (£11.1bn) package of further aid, some of it military.
Meanwhile Zelenskiy’s senior advisers poked fun at Putin. Writing on Twitter Mykhailo Podolyak observed: “Twenty hours ago on Red Square, Russia’s leadership chanted ‘hooray’ for the annexation of new territories. ‘Russian Federation borders have no ending.’ Now Russian troops are leaving another strategic city and propagandists are looking for culprits. Reality can hurt if you live in a fantasy world.”
What happens next will be decided on the battlefield, not on a gilded table where Putin signed his annexation document. Ukraine’s defence ministry on Saturday tweeted a photo of the Ukrainian flag being raised with the words: “Ukrainian air assault forces are entering Lyman.” The army, it added, “will always have the decisive vote in today’s and any future ‘referendums’”.
Comoros ex-president Sambi jailed for life for ‘high treason’
A court in the Comoros on Monday handed down a life sentence for high treason to ex-president Ahmed Abdallah Sambi, who was convicted of selling passports to stateless people living in the Gulf.
Sambi, 64, an arch-rival of President Azali Assoumani, was sentenced by the State Security Court, a special judicial body whose rulings cannot be appealed.
“He betrayed the mission entrusted to him by the Comorians,” public prosecutor Ali Mohamed Djounaid told the court last week as he requested a life sentence.
Sambi, who led the small Indian Ocean archipelago between 2006 and 2011, pushed through a law in 2008 allowing the sale of passports for high fees.
The scheme aimed at the so-called bidoon — an Arab minority numbering in the tens of thousands who cannot obtain citizenship.
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The former president was accused of embezzling millions of dollars under the scheme.
The prosecution said the cost was more than $1.8 billion — more than the impoverished nation’s GDP.
“They gave thugs the right to sell Comorian nationality as if they were selling peanuts,” said Eric Emmanuel Sossa, a lawyer for civilian plaintiffs.
But Sambi’s French lawyer Jean-Gilles Halimi said “no evidence” of missing money or bank accounts had been put forward to suggest a crime.
Sambi refused to attend the trial after a brief appearance at the first hearing, as his lawyers said there were no guarantees he would be judged fairly.
He was originally prosecuted for corruption, but the charges were reclassified as high treason, a crime that “does not exist in Comorian law,” Halimi said.
Sambi had already spent four years behind bars before he faced trial, far exceeding the maximum eight months. He was originally placed under house arrest for disturbing public order.
UK university workers begin strike over ‘falling pay, brutal workloads’
Thousands of university and college staff in the United Kingdom, including lecturers, librarians and researchers, have declared a strike to demand pay increase and improved working conditions.
The University and College Union (UCU), the UK trade union for university staff, said the strike, referred to as the biggest in decades, is to improve quality in the education sector.
The UCU “represents over 120,000 academics, lecturers, trainers, instructors, researchers, managers, administrators, computer staff, librarians, technicians, professional staff and postgraduates in universities, colleges, prisons, adult education and training organisations across the UK”.
“This is the biggest week in our history. Every single university takes strike action on Thursday and Friday. We need every member, student and supporter on our picket lines on Thursday to show the employers that this time is different,” the union said in a statement.
Announcing the strike on Wednesday, Jo Grady, UCU’s general secretary, warned of a “bigger action” unless employers improved their offers.
“Staff are burnt out but they are fighting back and they will bring the whole sector to a standstill,” she said.
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“Vice-chancellors only have themselves to blame. Their woeful leadership has led to the biggest vote for strike action ever in our sector. Students are standing with staff because they know this can’t go on.”
The strike, which began on Thursday, will also hold on November 25 and November 30.
Commenting on the development on Thursday, Grady expressed satisfaction with the turnout of university staff.
“Today’s picket lines are huge. 70,000 university staff have turned out like never before, defying bullying tactics from management to show they will no longer accept falling pay, pension cuts, brutal workloads and gig-economy working conditions,” she was quoted as saying, according to UCL.
“If vice-chancellors doubted the determination of university staff to save our sector, then today has been a rude awakening for them.”
The strike has affected over 2.5 million students, some of who are standing in solidarity with their lecturers.
Lawyers, nurses, postal workers and many others have also protested to seek pay rises that match the soaring inflation in the country.
The latest protests come after the UK’s National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers announced on Tuesday that more than 40,000 rail workers will stage strikes in December and January, disrupting travel for scores of people during the festive season.
The union said members will have demonstrations for four days from December 13 and in the first week of January.
The UK has been battling difficult economic situations due to surging energy costs arising from the Russia-Ukraine war.
Earlier in August, the Bank of England warned that inflation would climb to just over 13 percent in 2022.
It also projected that the country would enter a recession from the fourth quarter of 2022 until late 2023.
In November, the country’s inflation rate jumped in the last 12 months to 11.1 percent in October — up by one percent from August’s inflation rate.
Gunman kills 10 in US Walmart store
A gunman has killed up to 10 people in a Walmart superstore in Chesapeake, in the US state of Virginia, police say.
Reports say the man, a store manager, opened fire then turned the gun on himself and is now dead.
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The City of Chesapeake tweeted “police confirm an active shooter incident with fatalities at the Walmart”.
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