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Putin’s Victory Day speech leaves no clue on future escalation

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6/6

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A Russian Il-78 military transport aircraft flies during a rehearsal for a flypast, part of a military parade marking the anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two, in central Moscow, Russia May 7, 2022. REUTERS/Maxim Sheme

2/6

By Pavel Polityuk and Jonathan Landay

KYIV/KHARKIV, Ukraine (Reuters) -Vladimir Putin exhorted Russians to battle in a defiant Victory Day speech on Monday, but was silent about plans for any escalation in Ukraine, despite Western warnings he might use his Red Square address to order a national mobilisation.

In Ukraine, there was no let-up in fighting, with Kyiv describing a stepped-up Russian offensive in the east and a renewed push to defeat the last Ukrainian troops holding out in a steelworks in ruined Mariupol.

Monday’s annual parade in Moscow – with the usual ballistic missiles and tanks rumbling across the cobblestones – was easily the most closely watched since the 1945 defeat of the Nazis that it celebrates.

Western capitals had openly speculated for weeks that Putin was driving his forces to achieve enough progress by the symbolic date to declare victory – but with few gains made so far, might instead announce a national call-up for war.

In the end, he did neither, but repeated his assertions that Russian forces in Ukraine were again fighting Nazis.

“You are fighting for the Motherland, for its future, so that no one forgets the lessons of World War Two. So that there is no place in the world for executioners, castigators and Nazis,” Putin said from the tribune outside the Kremlin walls.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, in his own speech, promised Ukrainians they would defeat the invasion.

“On the Day of Victory over Nazism, we are fighting for a new victory. The road to it is difficult, but we have no doubt that we will win,” said Zelenskiy, in plain army garb with his shirt sleeves rolled-up.

In a clear reference to Putin, Zelenskiy added: “The one who is repeating the horrific crimes of Hitler’s regime today, following Nazi philosophy, copying everything they did – he is doomed.”

Putin’s war has killed thousands of civilians, sent millions fleeing and reduced cities to rubble. Russia has little to show for it beyond a strip of territory in the south and marginal gains in the east.

Sheltering in a metro station in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s mainly Russian-speaking second city, which has been bombed relentlessly since the war’s first days, World War Two survivor Vira Mykhailivna, 90, buried her tear-stained cheeks in her palms.

“I didn’t think this could ever happen to us,” she said. “This day was once a great celebration.”

Kateryna Grigoriyevna, 79, a retired bank manager who has spent 10 weeks underground in the cavernous station, sat eating an ice cream she had ventured out to buy for Victory Day.

“We hate Putin,” she said, glancing around the platform where some 200 people cluster in tents and on thin mattresses.

“I would kill him myself if I could.”

‘ONLY DISHONOUR, AND SURELY DEFEAT’

The Soviet victory in World War Two has acquired almost religious status in Russia under Putin, who has invoked the memory of the “Great Patriotic War” throughout what he calls a “special military operation” in Ukraine. Western countries consider that a false analogy to justify unprovoked aggression.

“There can be no victory day, only dishonour and surely defeat in Ukraine,” said British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace. “He must come to terms with how he’s lost in the long run, and he’s absolutely lost.”

After an assault on Kyiv was defeated in March by strong Ukrainian resistance, Russia poured more troops in for a huge offensive in the east last month. But Russian gains have been slow at best, and Western arms are flooding into Ukraine for an expected counter-attack.

Western military experts – many of whom initially predicted a quick Russian victory – now say Moscow could be running out of fresh troops. A full declaration of war would let Putin activate reservists and send conscripts.

“What rhetoric Putin used in his speech is immaterial. If he didn’t declare war, or a general mobilisation, that’s what (is) important,” tweeted Phillips O’Brien, a professor of strategic studies at Britain’s University of St Andrews.

“Without concrete steps to build a new force, Russia can’t fight a long war, and the clock starts ticking on the failure of their army in Ukraine.”

The war still seems to enjoy strong public support in Russia, where independent journalism is effectively banned and state television says Russia is defending itself from NATO. Conscription would test that support.

Olga, participating in St Petersburg’s “immortal regiment” commemoration march, said she feared for her student son.

“I’m really worried about him. Really. I know many mothers whose sons are now of conscription age … They’re trying to find any way to save their children from going to this war.”

‘STORMING OPERATIONS’

Ukraine’s defence ministry said Russian forces backed by tanks and artillery were conducting “storming operations” at the Azovstal plant in Mariupol, where hundreds of Ukrainian defenders have held out through months of siege. Civilians sheltering there have been evacuated in recent days.

“Today, the Russians focused on blowing up the bridge over which the evacuation takes place, trying to cut off our defenders from the possibility of exit,” Mariupol mayoral aide Petro Andryuschenko said.

On the main eastern front, Ukraine’s military command said in its nightly Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) briefing that Russian forces were continuing attempts to take control of the Luhansk region town of Rubizhne in order to create favourable conditions for a further assault on the towns of Lyman and Sievierodonetsk.

Just before the Red Square parade was broadcast, Moscow satellite television menus were briefly altered to show viewers messages condemning the Ukraine war.

“The TV and the authorities are lying. No to war,” the messages said.

World

U.S. Justice Dept requests Jan 6 committee transcripts -panel chair

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A mob of supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump fight with members of law enforcement at a door they broke open as they storm the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, U.S., January 6, 2021. REUTERS/Leah Millis

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Department of Justice asked the House of Representatives committee investigating last year’s attack on the U.S. Capitol to turn over some transcripts from interviews conducted as part of its probe, the panel’s chairman said on Tuesday.

Democratic Representative Bennie Thompson told reporters that the department had asked for the transcripts but the panel had not agreed to turn them over.

“It’s our work product. It’s the committee’s work product,” Thompson said, when asked about the request, first reported by the New York Times.

“We’re in the midst of our work. If they want to come and talk, just like we’ve had other agencies to come and talk, we’d be happy to talk to them, but we can’t give them access to our work product at this point,” he said.

Thompson said the committee planned to turn over the transcripts when it completed its investigation.

On Jan. 6, 2021, supporters of Donald Trump stormed the Capitol building, after the Republican then-president gave a fiery speech urging them to protest congressional certification of his defeat by Democrat Joe Biden in the November 2020 election.

The committee has conducted hundreds of interviews, including many with close Trump associates and former White House aides, about the Capitol riot and events leading up to it.

It plans to hold public hearings next month.

Earlier on Tuesday, Thompson said the panel had not yet decided to call Trump himself to testify.

The Jan. 6 committee last week sent subpoenas to five House Republicans, including Representative Kevin McCarthy, the party’s leader in the House, demanding that they sit for interviews.

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Pollution killing 9 million people a year, Africa hardest hit – study

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5/5

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A boy swims in the polluted water of the Makoko community in Lagos, Nigeria March 9, 2020. REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja/File Photo

2/5

By Gloria Dickie

(Reuters) – Worsening outdoor air pollution and toxic lead poisoning have kept global deaths from environmental contamination at an estimated 9 million per year since 2015 – countering modest progress made in tackling pollution elsewhere, a team of scientists reported Tuesday.

Air pollution from industry processes along with urbanization drove a 7% increase in pollution-related deaths from 2015 to 2019, according to the scientists’ analysis of data on global mortality and pollution levels.

“We’re sitting in the stew pot and slowly burning,” said Richard Fuller, a study co-author and head of the global nonprofit Pure Earth. But unlike climate change, malaria, or HIV, “we haven’t given (environmental pollution) much focus.”

An earlier version of the work published in 2017 also estimated the death toll from pollution at roughly 9 million per year — or about one of every six deaths worldwide — and the cost to the global economy at up to $4.6 trillion per year. That puts pollution on par with smoking in terms of global deaths. COVID-19, by comparison, has killed about 6.7 million people globally since the pandemic began.

For their most recent study, published in the online journal Lancet Planetary Health, the authors analyzed 2019 data from the Global Burden of Disease, an ongoing study by the University of Washington that assesses overall pollution exposure and calculates mortality risk.

The new analysis looks more specifically at the causes of pollution – separating traditional contaminants such as indoor smoke or sewage from more modern pollutants, like industrial air pollution and toxic chemicals. Here are some of the key takeaways:

WATER AND INDOOR AIR

Deaths from traditional pollutants are declining globally. But they remain a major problem in Africa and some other developing countries. Tainted water and soil and dirty indoor air put Chad, the Central African Republic and Niger as the three countries with the most pollution-related deaths, according to data adjusted for population.

State programs to cut indoor air pollution and improvements in sanitation have helped to curb death tolls in some places. In Ethiopia and Nigeria, these efforts brought related deaths to drop by two-thirds between 2000 and 2019. Meanwhile, the Indian government in 2016 began offering to replace wood-burning stoves with gas stove connections.

MODERN POLLUTANTS

Deaths caused by exposure to modern pollutants such as heavy metals, agrochemicals and fossil fuel emissions are “just skyrocketing”, rising 66% since 2000, said co-author Rachael Kupka, executive director of the New York-based Global Alliance on Health and Pollution.

When it comes to outdoor air pollution, some major capital cities have seen some success, including in Bangkok, China, and Mexico City, the authors said. But in smaller cities, pollution levels continue to climb.

HIGHEST POLLUTION-RELATED DEATHS

The study offered a list of the 10 countries most affected by pollution-related deaths, based on their findings on mortality adjusted for population.

1. Chad; 2. Central African Republic; 3. Niger; 4. Solomon Islands; 5. Somalia; 6. South Africa; 7. North Korea; 8. Lesotho; 9. Bulgaria; 10. Burkina Faso

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N.Korean leader Kim slams officials’ ‘immature’ response amid COVID outbreak

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: People wearing protective face masks walk amid concerns over the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in front of Pyongyang Station in Pyongyang, North Korea April 27, 2020, in this photo released by Kyodo.

SEOUL (Reuters) -North Korean leader Kim Jong Un slammed his country’s response to its first officially confirmed COVID-19 outbreak as “immature,” accusing government officials of inadequacies and inertia as fever cases swept the country, state media reported on Wednesday.

North Korea reported 232,880 more people with fever symptoms, and six more deaths after the country’s first admission of the COVID outbreak last week. It did not say how many people had tested positive for COVID-19.

Presiding over a politburo meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party on Tuesday, Kim said the “immaturity in the state capacity for coping with the crisis” increased the “complexity and hardships” in fighting the pandemic when “time is the life”, according to the KCNA.

Since its first acknowledgement of the COVID-19 outbreak, the North has reported 1.72 million patients with fever symptoms, including 62 deaths as of Tuesday evening.

Amid concerns over the isolated country’s lack of vaccines and adequate medical infrastructure, the KCNA said health officials have developed a COVID-19 treatment guide aimed at preventing drug overdoses and other mistreatments that have led to many of the reported deaths.

The guide includes treatments individualised for different types of patients, but state media did not elaborate on which drugs are involved in the treatment plans.

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