Ukraine reacted with skepticism to Russia’s promise in negotiations to scale down military operations around Kyiv and another city as some Western countries expected Moscow to intensify its offensive in other parts of the country.
Talks took place in an Istanbul palace more than a month into the largest attack on a European nation since World War Two that has killed or injured thousands, forced nearly 4 million to flee abroad and pummelled Russia’s economy with sanctions.
The invasion has been halted on most fronts by stiff resistance from Ukrainian forces who have recaptured territory even as civilians are trapped in besieged cities.
“In order to increase mutual trust and create the necessary conditions for further negotiations and achieving the ultimate goal of agreeing and signing (an) agreement, a decision was made to radically, by a large margin, reduce military activity in the Kyiv and Chernihiv directions,” Russian Deputy Defence Minister Alexander Fomin told reporters.
He made no mention of other areas that have seen heavy fighting, including around Mariupol in the southeast, Sumy and Kharkiv in the east and Kherson and Mykolaiv in the south.
“Ukrainians are not naive people,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said late on Tuesday.
“Ukrainians have already learned during these 34 days of invasion, and over the past eight years of the war in Donbass, that the only thing they can trust is a concrete result.”
The general staff of the Ukrainian armed forces said that Russia’s promise to curtail military operations in some areas was “probably a rotation of individual units and aims to mislead.”
The Russian military accused Ukrainian forces in cities under attack of using ceasefires to restore their combat readiness and set up firing points in hospitals and schools, Interfax news agency said.
Russia has started moving very small numbers of troops away from positions around Kyiv in a move that is more of a repositioning than a retreat or a withdrawal from the war, the Pentagon said on Tuesday.
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“We all should be prepared to watch for a major offensive against other areas of Ukraine,” spokesman John Kirby told a news briefing. “It does not mean that the threat to Kyiv is over.”
Britain’s Ministry of Defence in an intelligence update said: “It is highly likely that Russia will seek to divert combat power from the north to their offensive in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in the east.”
Reuters could not immediately verify the claims made by either side.
The Moscow-backed self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic in eastern Ukraine may consider joining Russia once it controls all of Ukraine’s Donetsk region, its leader was quoted as saying. Kyiv has said any such move would have no legal basis.
Russia calls its assault a “special operation” to disarm and “denazify” Ukraine. The West says it launched an unprovoked invasion.
Some analysts noted that Russia’s promise to reduce fighting mostly covered areas where it has been losing ground.
U.S. troops in Poland are “liaising” with Ukrainian forces as they hand over weapons to them and a total of 10 F-18 aircraft and more than 200 troops are being deployed to NATO member and Russian neighbour, Lithuania, said Kirby.
Ukrainian negotiators said that under their proposals, Kyiv would agree not to join alliances or host bases of foreign troops, but would have security guaranteed in terms similar to “Article 5”, the collective defence clause of the transatlantic NATO military alliance.
They named Israel and NATO members Canada, Poland and Turkey as countries that may give such guarantees. Russia, the United States, Britain, Germany and Italy could also be involved.
The proposals, which would require a referendum in Ukraine, mentioned a 15-year consultation period on the status of Crimea, annexed by Russia in 2014.
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The fate of the southeastern Donbass region, which Russia demands Ukraine cede to separatists, would be discussed by the Ukrainian and Russian leaders.
Kyiv’s proposals also included one that Moscow would not oppose Ukraine joining the European Union, Russia’s lead negotiator Vladimir Medinsky said. Russia has previously opposed Ukrainian membership of the EU and especially of NATO.
Medinsky said Russia’s delegation would study and present the proposals to President Vladimir Putin.
To prepare a peace agreement, Medinsky later told the TASS news agency, “We still have a long way to go”.
U.S. President Joe Biden discussed with allies more financial aid of up to $500 million for Ukraine, a source familiar with the situation told Reuters.
MARIUPOL DEATH TOLL
On the ground, reports of attacks continued.
A shell hit a temporary Russian military camp near the border with Ukraine late on Tuesday, Tass news agency said and cited a source as saying preliminary data showed it had been fired from the Ukrainian side.
Tass issued the report shortly after a senior local official reported a series of explosions outside the Russian city of Belgorod, close to the border with Ukraine. Reuters could not immediately verify the details.
In Ukraine’s besieged seaport Mariupol, thousands of civilians may have died, the head of the United Nations human rights mission in the country told Reuters on Tuesday.
Those who remain are suffering.
“We are eight people. We have two buckets of potatoes, one bucket of onions,” said Irina, an engineer, in her apartment where windows had been blasted out.
Elsewhere, Ukrainian forces have made advances, recapturing territory from Russian troops on the outskirts of Kyiv, in the northeast and in the south.
In the southern city of Mykolaiv, a missile blasted a hole through the main administrative building. Authorities said at least 12 people were killed and 33 injured.
23 years old Nigerian accused of raping Australian tourist in Indonesia
A 23-year-old Nigerian tourist risks 12 years in prison after an alleged sexual crime against a 31-year-old tourist in Kuta, Indonesia.
A report by Daily Mail revealed that the woman, who is an Australian, was raped after she met up with the Nigerian man on Friday, December 2.
The report also noted that the duo met on a dating app on December 1 and agreed to meet at a bar in Kuta the following day.
Although the Indonesian police are still searching for the Nigerian man, they alleged that he hurriedly took the woman to his hotel after drinking at the bar.
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The woman was sexually abused at the hotel and had cuts and bruises to her arms, hands and waist.
Witnesses said they saw the Australian staggering after drinking at the bar in Kuta.
FIJ gathered online that the Indonesian law provides a maximum of 12-year sentence for anyone convicted of physical sexual abuse.
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.
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