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Ukraine pushes Russian troops back in counter-offensive near Kharkiv

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A hotel complex destroyed by a Russian missile during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is pictured in Odesa, Ukraine, May 8, 2022. REUTERS/Igor Tkachenko/File Photo

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By Jonathan Landay

KHARKIV, Ukraine (Reuters) -Ukraine said on Tuesday its forces had recaptured villages from Russian troops, pressing a major counter-offensive in the northeast of the country that could signal a shift in the war’s momentum and jeopardise Russia’s main advance.

Tetiana Apatchenko, press officer for the 92nd Separate Mechanized Brigade, the main Ukrainian force near Kharkiv, confirmed that Ukrainian troops had recaptured the settlements of Cherkaski Tyshky, Ruski Tyshki, Borshchova and Slobozhanske, in a pocket north of Kharkiv in recent days.

Yuriy Saks, an adviser to Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov, said the successes were pushing Russian artillery out of range of parts of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, which has been under bombardment since the war’s earliest days.

“The military operations of the Ukrainian armed forces around Kharkiv, especially north and northeast of Kharkiv, are sort of a success story,” Saks told Reuters.

“The Ukrainian army was able to push these war criminals to a line beyond the reach of their artillery.”

The counterattack could signal a new phase in the war, with Ukraine now going on the offensive after weeks in which Russia mounted a massive assault that Ukrainian troops mostly held off.

By pushing back Russian forces who had occupied the outskirts of Kharkiv since the early days of the war, the Ukrainians are moving into striking distance of the rear supply lines sustaining the main Russian attack force further south.

“They’re trying to cut in and behind the Russians to cut off the supply lines, because that’s really one of their (the Russians’) main weaknesses,” said Neil Melvin of the RUSI think-tank in London.

“Ukrainians are getting close to the Russian border. So all the gains that the Russians made in the early days in the northeast of Ukraine are increasingly slipping away.”

POUNDING AZOVSTAL

The setbacks near Kharkiv deal a blow to Moscow’s war plans at precisely the moment when Western capitals believed President Vladimir Putin had been hoping to present a major victory for a holiday marking the end of World War Two.

On Monday, Putin presided over a huge Red Square military parade for the Victory Day holiday. Western countries had worried that, in the absence of major battlefield success to announce, he might instead order a nationwide mobilisation. But in the event, he did neither – exhorting Russians to keep fighting but giving no indications about his further strategy.

Since Russia was forced to abandon its assault on the capital Kyiv at the end of March, its main attack force has been trying to encircle Ukrainian troops in the eastern region known as the Donbas. The Ukrainian forces have been holding out against intensive assaults from three directions.

By pushing in north of Kharkiv, Ukraine could now try to turn the tables, and force Moscow to switch to trying to defend its own long supply lines, which stretch from the Russian border to the city of Izyum south of Kharkiv.

In the south, Russian forces were again pummelling the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol on Tuesday, trying to capture the last bastion of Ukrainian resistance in the ruined city where Ukraine says tens of thousands of people have died under two months of Russian siege and bombardment.

Scores of civilians have been evacuated from the steelworks in recent days, but an aide to Mariupol’s mayor, Petro Andryushchenko, said at least 100 still remained inside.

Ukraine’s Azov Regiment, holding out in Azovstal, said on the Telegram messaging app that in the past 24 hours, 34 Russian aircraft had flown over the plant including 8 sorties by strategic bombers. It said the plant had come under fire from the Russian navy and from tanks, artillery fire and rockets.

Reuters was unable to verify the situation at the plant. Russia did not immediately comment on his remarks and has denied targeting civilians.

Germany’s Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock visited Ukraine on Tuesday and toured Bucha, the suburb north of Kyiv where Russian forces left behind hundreds of corpses of killed civilians when they withdrew at the start of April. She said the killers must be punished.

“That is what we owe to the victims,” she said. “And these victims, you can feel that here very intensely, these victims could have been us.”

Baerbock was the first German cabinet minister to visit Ukraine since the start of the war, days or weeks after visits by senior officials from other Western countries. A visit from Germany had been controversial because Kyiv had openly rebuked the government in Berlin for being slow to disavow years of close economic ties with Russia.

In addition to the heavy battles near the front, Russia is still using missiles to strike targets deep inside Ukraine.

Firefighters battled blazes in Odesa until early hours on Tuesday after Russian missiles struck the Black Sea port. One person was killed and five people were injured when seven missiles hit a shopping centre and a depot, Ukraine’s armed forces said on Facebook (NASDAQ:FB).

Rescue workers combed through piles of rubble. Ukrainian emergency services said all the fires set off by the strikes were extinguished early on Tuesday.

European Council President Charles Michel visited Odesa on Monday, and his meeting with Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal was interrupted by the missile attack. Their talks continued in a bomb shelter, according to Shmyhal’s official Twitter (NYSE:TWTR) account.

The number of Ukrainians who have fled their country since Russia’s invasion on Feb. 24 was approaching 6 million, according to the United Nations, which says the refugee crisis is the fastest growing since World War Two.

U.S. President Joe Biden said on Monday he was worried Putin “doesn’t have a way out right now, and I’m trying to figure out what we do about that”.

(Additional reporting Tom Balmforth in KyivWriting by Peter GraffEditing by Tomasz Janowski)

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Analysis-Australian women unleash new political force on climate, integrity

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Voters line up outside a Marrickville suburb polling station to cast their ballots on the day of the national election in Sydney, Australia, May 21, 2022. REUTERS/Jaimi Joy/File Photo

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By Kirsty Needham

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Professional women and voters concerned about climate change unleashed a third force in Australia’s election, taking a swath of seats that ended nine years of conservative rule even as votes for the winning Labor Party fell.

Women who left successful careers in business, medicine and media to enter politics as independents were on track to win five seats from Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s Liberal party in its affluent urban heartland in Saturday’s general election, as moderate voters abandoned the government.

Independents or the minor Greens party looked set to win at least 15 of the 151 lower house seats, ABC election analysts said. Labor remained five seats short of the 76 seats it needs to form a government as counting continued on Sunday.

Personifying the disruptive change were centrists, mostly women, dubbed “teal” candidates because of teal-coloured marketing material used as they targeted seats held by Morrison’s conservative party.

“You seldom see this in Australian politics – a campaign that springs up and catches fire,” said Simon Jackman, a University of Sydney professor, referring to teal community campaigns run by women volunteers.

The election showed women’s anger at Morrison and at inaction on climate change, underpinned by “a fierce desire to get accountability back into Australian politics”, said Chris Wallace, a professor at the University of Canberra.

“There was a large overlap between women outraged by the government and voters overall who wanted action on climate policy,” she told Reuters. 

This “mobilised women in never before seen numbers – including the affluent, middle-class professional women who donned teal T-shirts and took several safe seats off the coalition,” Wallace said.

Independent Sophie Scamps, a doctor who won a Sydney seat held by the Liberals for 70 years, told Sky News, “There were so many people in Mackellar saying, ‘I have voted Liberal my entire life and they no longer represent me.'”

‘AUSTRALIA HAS MOVED ON’

Monique Ryan, a paediatric neurologist who defeated Treasurer Josh Frydenberg in Melbourne, cited the gender pay gap and violence against women as key issues on Sunday.

Climate change struck the biggest chord with voters, said Jackman, who worked on polling data with Climate 200, a group funded by a former Liberal donor that gave money to around 20 independents.

Highly educated voters were also angry at the government on integrity issues, including the handling of gender and sexual assault claims in parliament that would not have been tolerated in most Australian workplaces, he said.

“Women were powerfully motivated,” Jackman said, while their male partners were also coming to believe “that the Liberals are the past. Australia has moved on, we’ve moved on on climate, we’ve moved on on gender equality.”

Former Liberal finance minister Simon Birmingham said the Morrison government should have embraced a more ambitious 2030 emission reduction target, and the election showed the Liberal Party needed to be more inclusive.

“Especially Australian women who are much more highly educated today,” he told ABC television. “It’s a cohort that we have clearly failed to have represented in sufficient numbers.”

Jackman said businesswoman Allegra Spender, who won the Liberal Sydney seat of Wentworth as an independent, should have been Liberal party royalty. Her father was a Liberal lawmaker for a decade and her grandfather negotiated Australia’s pillar ANZUS security treaty with the United States as foreign minister.

Instead, he said, Wentworth became a case study in how sophisticated moderate Liberal voters who understood climate science, and entrepreneurs who wanted to invest in greener technology had abandoned the party.

Greens appeared to have won two seats in the Queensland city of Brisbane that were badly hit by floods, and were leading in the flood-affected Brisbane electorate.

Greens leader Adam Bandt said Liberals and Labor both lost vote as a record number of people voted for the Greens. “This result is a mandate for action on climate and equality.”

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In Japan, Biden to launch economic plan for region sceptical on benefits

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© Reuters. U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks with Hyundai Motor Group Chairman Euisun Chung (not pictured) on the automaker’s decision to build a new electric vehicle and battery manufacturing facility in Savannah, Georgia, as Biden ends his visit to Seoul

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By Trevor Hunnicutt and Yoshifumi Takemoto

TOKYO (Reuters) – President Joe Biden headed to Japan on Sunday to launch a plan for greater U.S. economic engagement with the Indo-Pacific, facing criticism even before the programme is announced that it will offer scant benefit to countries in the region.

On the second leg of his first Asia trip as president, Biden is to meet with leaders of Japan, India and Australia, the “Quad,” another cornerstone of his strategy to push back against China’s expanding influence.

In Tokyo on Monday, Biden will call on Emperor Naruhito before talks with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. He and Kishida are expected to discuss Japan’s plans to expand its military capabilities and reach in response to China’s growing might.

Tokyo will also see the launch on Monday of Biden’s long-awaited Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF), a programme intended to bind regional countries more closely via common standards in areas including supply-chain resilience, clean energy, infrastructure and digital trade.

Washington has lacked an economic pillar to its Indo-Pacific engagement since former President Donald Trump quit a multinational trade agreement now known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, leaving the field open to China to expand its influence.

But the IPEF is unlikely to include binding commitments, and Asian countries and trade experts have given a decidedly lukewarm response to a programme limited by Biden’s reluctance to risk American jobs by offering the increased market access the region craves.

The White House had wanted it the IPEF announcement to represent a formal start of negotiations with a core group of like-minded countries, but Japan wanted to ensure broader participation to include as many Southeast Asian countries as possible, trade and diplomatic sources said.

Given this, Monday’s ceremony will likely signal an agreement to start discussions on IPEF rather than actual negotiations, the sources said.

“Japan wanted as many participants as possible … and also wanted the U.S. to conduct an inclusive process of dialogue after the launch,” a person familiar with the discussions said.

This source said the launch was expected to be attended in person by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Biden and Kishida, and by other leaders virtually.

LACK OF INCENTIVES

A Japanese Finance Ministry official said many Southeast Asian countries would not join IPEF because of the lack of practical incentives like tariff reductions.

“It’s not a cold decision but a practical one, probably because it doesn’t really have significant contents,” the official said.

However, an Asian diplomat said a least half the 10 nations of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) could join the launch ceremony.

“It seems the White House has decided to make the IPEF launch more like a party with an open bar that all are invited to, with the real work to start on Monday morning,” said Matthew Goodman, a trade expert at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“Eventually the administration is going to have to offer more tangible benefits if it wants to keep countries on board.”

On Tuesday in Tokyo, Biden will join the second in-person meeting of the Quad group of countries.

All share concerns about China, but the Quad as a group has avoided expressing an overtly anti-China agenda, largely due to Indian sensibilities.

India’s strong security ties with Russia and refusal to condemn its invasion of Ukraine will likely prevent any strong joint statement on that issue, analysts said.

However, at their last summit in March, Quad leaders agreed that what has happened to Ukraine should not be allowed to happen in the Indo-Pacific – a reference to the threat posed to self-governed Taiwan by China, though Beijing was not mentioned by name.

Chinese envoy for Korean affairs Liu Xiaoming said on Twitter (NYSE:TWTR) that Washington was “putting together a closed & exclusive ‘clique’.”

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Biden says ‘everybody’ should be concerned about monkeypox outbreak

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Joe Biden pauses while speaking during a briefing from senior officials on efforts to prepare for and respond to future hurricanes, at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, U.S., May 18, 2022. REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz

SEOUL (Reuters) – The monkeypox outbreak is something “everybody should be concerned about,” U.S. President Joe Biden said on Sunday, adding that U.S. health officials are looking into possible treatments and vaccines.

“We’re working on it hard to figure out what we do,” Biden told reporters at an air base in South Korea before departing on Air Force One for Japan.

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