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EU ambassadors flock to Red Square for Putin’s parade

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Most EU states are sending their ambassadors to Russia’s WW2 victory parade on Sunday (9 May) despite tense relations.

The list includes: Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Sweden.

  • French president Emmanuel Macron had planned to go last year (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

The Dutch ambassador is also expected to go, but had not confirmed as of Friday.

Austria, Cyprus, and the EU embassy in Moscow are sending chargé d’affaires.

The three Baltic states and Spain are not sending anyone.

Malta did not reply to EUobserver.

In Cold War times, Western analysts used to study who sat close to the Soviet leader at the annual event to try to understand Moscow’s opaque power structures in a practice called “Kremlinology”.

But the 2021 guest list also gives a snapshot of how EU states feel about Russia relations.

These took a nosedive in 2014 when Russia invaded Ukraine, triggering EU sanctions.

They got worse recently, when the EU imposed sanctions over Russian violence against opposition leader Alexei Navalny and Russia blacklisted the EU Parliament president in revenge.

The Czech Republic and Russia also expelled dozens of each other’s diplomats after revelations that Russian spies blew up a Czech arms depot in 2014, killing two people.

But Berlin, in any case, always sends a VIP to the Red Square on 9 May because of Nazi Germany’s role in WW2, an EU diplomat noted.

The fact the Czech ambassador is going indicates Prague wants to mend ties despite the Russian attack.

Meanwhile, Austria, Cyprus, Spain, and the EU embassy’s decisions not to send top people mean little, because these were due to logistical reasons.

The EU ambassador is not in Moscow on the day, for instance.

But the Baltic states are boycotting the event for political motives, diplomatic sources said.

Lithuania’s ambassador will place flowers on the tombstone of the Unknown Soldier in Moscow on 8 May instead.

And his gesture was meant “to honour the victims of all the nations that fought in WW2, civilian and military,” an EU diplomat noted.

“For a number of countries, this [9 May] is an important date and they appreciate the undeniable role the Soviet Union played in defeating the Nazis,” another EU source said.

“Ambassadors cannot escape from an invitation to attend such an event – it’s a matter of courtesy and actually their duty to come – unless bilateral relations are so bad that they couldn’t care less,” the source added.

Last year, the Austrian, Bulgarian, Croatian, Czech, French, and Italian presidents or prime ministers, as well as the Grand Duke of Luxembourg, were planning to go.

But the parade was cancelled due to the pandemic and, in the end, the Hungarian foreign minister was the only EU politician who went to a mini-event held on 24 June.

Spin?

This year, the Kremlin said it had not invited any big names because the 76th anniversary was less important than the 75th.

“This year is not a [major] anniversary year, so we don’t intend to invite foreign participants,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in April.

But the EU source indicated that this was spin designed to minimise a potential “snub”.

“Presence at the level of an ambassador is always the lowest official representation possible, so this is also a sign,” the source said.

“This is a snub for the Russians. Although they will try to present it as EU member states attending,” he added.

The 2021 parade is to involve 12,000 soldiers, 190 combat vehicles, 53 warplanes, and 23 helicopters, according to Russia’s Tass news agency.

This includes ‘S-400’ anti-aircraft systems, which Russia installed in Crimea after seizing the peninsula from Ukraine.

It also includes nuclear-capable ‘Iskander’ missiles, which Russia recently installed in its Kaliningrad exclave, putting them in range of Warsaw and Berlin.

Iskanders

And for some Western observers, Russian president Vladimir Putin’s parades have come to look more like propaganda for future conflicts than a celebration of post-WW2 peace.

Recalling a 9 May parade shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine, Robert Pszczel, a former Nato spokesman in Moscow, told EUobserver back in 2015: “I don’t have a problem with kids cheering when they watch their country’s tanks go by”.

“But I do have a problem when the biggest cheer, the kind you hear at a hockey match, comes when they see the Iskanders go by,” Pszczel said.

“The West is dealing with a leader [Putin] who is bored by domestic politics, driven by a big but touchy ego, dreaming of his huge role in history, progressively emboldened by the short-term successes of his brinkmanship, and unchained from the restrictions of political, legal, and moral accountability,” Pszczel added in an op-ed for British think-tank Rusi on Saturday.

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Teenager saves baby from shipwreck during Mediterranean crossing | Global development

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The actions of a teenager from Togo have been lauded after video footage was published of him supporting a baby he saved from a shipwreck in the Mediterranean Sea last week in which at least 30 people died.

The 17-year-old, whose identity has not been disclosed, swam to save the child, whom he was holding above water when a rescue team arrived, in footage published by the French media group Brut.

“I am a good swimmer and I went to help people,” the teenager said, according to Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), whose Geo Barents rescue ship arrived at the site of the shipwreck.

A teenager holds a baby above water after a shipwreck in the Mediterranean Sea
The identity of the 17-year-old, who was keeping the baby out of the sea as he clung to the wreckage, has not been disclosed. Photograph: Michael Bunel/Le Pictorium Agency/Zuma/Rex

Michael Bunel, a French photojournalist who was onboard the rescue ship, told Brut that when they arrived they could hear the teenager shouting: “There’s a baby. There’s a baby.”

The crew threw the teenager a flotation device to pull him and another survivor in, and gave urgent treatment to the four-month-old baby, who at first was not breathing. The baby and her mother were evacuated to Malta, according to MSF.

The rubber dinghy was detected only after nine days at sea, said Safa Mselhi, a spokesperson for the UN’s International Organization for Migration. A pregnant woman who could not be resuscitated died onboard the rescue ship.

The Geo Barents rescued 71 people from the shipwreck, some of them with fuel burns, caused when skin comes into contact with petrol that has mixed with seawater.

The survivors on the Geo Barents had to wait almost five days to get to land, only being allowed to disembark at the Italian town of Taranto on Saturday. The ship had been carrying the body of the pregnant woman during this time.

Juan Matías Gil, MSF’s search and rescue representative, said: “This traumatic event is a deadly consequence of the growing inaction and disengagement of European and other border states, including Italy and Malta, in the Mediterranean Sea.

“Tragedies at sea continue to cost thousands of lives, and these people are being lost on Europe’s doorstep, with absolute silence and indifference from EU states.”

Sea rescue charities have repeatedly accused the European Union of failing to save refugees trying to cross the Mediterranean by requesting that Libya’s so-called coastguard intercept any boats attempting the crossing, despite allegations of abuse in Libya’s militia-run detention centres.

According to MSF, at least 8,500 people died or went missing, and 95,000 were returned to Libya, in attempting crossings of the Mediterranean between 2017 and 2021.

On Wednesday morning 306 people disembarked in Sicily from SOS Méditerranée’s rescue ship Ocean Viking. Some of the survivors had been onboard for 12 days. The ship carried out eight rescues in less than two weeks – the most recent, on Monday, of 15 people who had been adrift for two days.



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Environment: Colombia and the new Latin American left | Opinion

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After the victory of president-elect Gustavo Petro and vice-president-elect Francia Márquez in Colombia, many have concluded that we are entering a new leftist wave in Latin America. But simply announcing the rise of a new left is more confusing than it is illuminating. New in what sense? In comparison to what? What distinguishes it from others? Who are its members? Without answers to these questions, Latin America’s political moment cannot be understood, and one risks stating the obvious (that the left is new because it is recent) or randomly grouping together very different movements and governments.

What is new about the new left?” is a question that surfaces from time to time. The last “new left” (which, of course, it is no longer) was the pink wave at the beginning of the century. As I wrote at the time in a book entitled, predictably, The New Latin American Left, it was the wave led by Lula’s Brazil and swelled by other governments that would follow very different paths, from the progressive democracy of Tabaré Vásquez and Pepe Mujica in Uruguay to the authoritarian disaster of Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela, as well as governments as diverse as those of the Kirchners in Argentina, Evo Morales in Bolivia, and Rafael Correa in Ecuador.

I think that what is new and distinctive of the progressivism that won this year in Colombia and Chile is precisely what all those left-wing governments lacked: an environmental agenda and economic policies that understand that fossil fuels and extractive industries are the past. And that there is no future, neither for the left nor for anyone else, on an uninhabitable planet. Despite the profound differences among the leftist governments of the last two decades, all of them shared with right-wing governments the enthusiastic promotion of extractive industries, from oil and coal to mining and agribusiness.

In Brazil, Lula and Dilma Rousseff ended up fulfilling the military dictatorship’s dreams of opening up the Amazon to monumental hydroelectric dams like Belo Monte, to feed energy to mining projects throughout the region. In Bolivia, former vice-president Alvaro García Linera went so far as to publish a defense of extractivism in the Amazon. Rafael Correa was even more explicit: he referred to Indigenous peoples and environmentalists who opposed his policies of aggressive expansion of oil and mining in Ecuador as the “infantile left.” The aberrant case of Venezuela belongs to a different category: “21st century socialism” not only maintained oil dependence, but used it to finance what ended up being a “dictatorship of the 21st century,” as Provea, the well-known Venezuelan NGO, has called it.

The extractivism of the left was due, in part, to reasons of convenience. The pink wave overlapped with a period of record prices for commodities. The resulting hard currency financed exemplary social policies in several countries, such as the Zero Hunger and Bolsa Familia programs in Brazil. In part, however, it was due to sheer conviction. Even today, important sectors of the left, such as the López Obrador government in Mexico, tend to see oil and mining exploitation as indisputable pillars of national development and sovereignty—and environmentalism as a naïve movement, at best, or as an instrument of the rich countries, at worst.

But much has changed in the last twenty years. Today we are living the reality of climate change and know that we have less than a decade left for governments to take urgent action to avoid the most catastrophic scenarios of global warming and the irreversible destruction of vital ecosystems such as the Amazon. We understand that human health and the health of the planet depend on national policies and international agreements to protect biodiversity in at least 30% of the Earth by 2030. Finally, we know that Latin America would suffer disproportionately from the effects of environmental collapse, such as forced migrations, economic and food crises, and social conflicts.

If it is to deserve the label “new,” the left in power would have to rise to this new planetary moment. And follow the momentum of the progressive movements that embody it and that were essential to the electoral outcome in Colombia, as shown by the iconic figure of vice-president-elect Francia Márquez: the Black and Indigenous movements, the urban environmentalism of young people, ecofeminism, the small farmers’ movements.

At a time when the global right seems to bet on the destruction of the planet (Bolsonaro, Modi, Putin, etc.), the left should distinguish itself not only by its social agenda but also by its environmental agenda. Abandoning extractivism and moving towards clean economies is not irresponsible, as critics suggest, but indispensable. This seems to be the view of the environmental progressivism that is emerging in Colombia and Chile. Petro and Márquez’s proposals contemplate a gradual and fair transition to reduce the historic dependence on oil and coal, among other measures. Chilean President Gabriel Boric’s government promised a “just socio-ecological transition” and has just shut down the Ventanas copper smelter, an emblem of mining pollution.

Thus, the first leftist government in Colombia may have regional and global repercussions. An initial sign of this turn was the first conversation between Petro and President Biden, which included a possible alliance on climate change and Amazon conservation. If accompanied by a shift to the left in Brazil (where it remains to be seen whether a possible Lula government would abandon the extractivist tradition) and adequate funding from wealthy countries that have polluted the most, the proposal of Latin American environmental progressivism could contribute not only to the consolidation of a new left, but also to the preservation of life on the planet.

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More than 5,000 people are missing in Balochistan. I want my father back | Sammi Deen Baloch

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I started protesting after my father, Dr Deen Mohammed Baloch, was abducted from his hospital in Khuzdar, Balochistan, on 28 June 2009. I became an activist, raising my voice against the heinous crime of enforced disappearances: more than 5,000 people are missing in Balochistan.

In the 13 years since my father was taken, I have spent most of my time on roads, in front of journalists’ press clubs across Pakistan – with a photograph in my hand, asking a simple question: “Where is my father? What is his crime?”

Enforced disappearances in my home province is a decades-old issue, from when the Balochistan nationalist movement began in the early 2000s.

In 2014, I, along with other relatives of missing people, marched 2,000km (1,200 miles) over 116 days from Quetta to the capital, Islamabad. As a 15-year-old, with my swollen feet, I thought going to the capital would make those in power have some mercy. I was wrong.

My mother does not know whether she is a widow or still married. We deserve to know the truth – whether my father is alive or dead.

If my father is alive, he should be released or brought to a court of law. If he has been killed, we should be given proof.

I have spent 13 years in this struggle to know the truth but I have never been as humiliated, harassed, beaten and verbally abused as I was at our recent peaceful protest in Karachi.

One police man grasped my hand forcefully and another held me by the neck. I felt as if my bones were going to be fractured.

My sister, Mehlab Baloch, was slapped three times. Bakhtawar, a fellow activist who was filming, had her phone snatched by the police. She was dragged along the road. This was all caught on camera and the video widely shared.

Police mocked us after throwing us in their van. We were warned not to protest or else they would “drag and beat us” more.

The police told me: “You think you are a leader and are at the forefront. We will teach you a lesson.”

Our headscarves were removed. The officers threatened us by saying to each other: “Once their shalwars [trousers] are removed, then they will stop protesting.”

Protesters march holding placards. One says: ‘Murder of Karima Baloch is the continuation of Baloch genocide’
A protest at the murder of Karima Baloch, a leading Pakistani human rights activist living in exile in Canada who was found dead in 2020. Photograph: Rahat Dar/EPA

They called us disgraced women, accusing us of protesting to win fame and to appear in the media.

We were released at about 2am.

The state and its security agencies have responded to the separatist movement with a “kill and dump” policy and are forcefully disappearing students, lawyers, doctors, political activists and their sympathisers.

Last year, I, along with other representatives of missing persons’ families, met the former prime minister Imran Khan, who was a critical voice on the issue before coming to power. Khan now seems to be a toothless tiger.

His human rights minister, Shireen Mazari, introduced a bill against enforced disappearances. The irony was that the bill itself went missing.

Now, after losing power, Khan’s party is once again denouncing enforced disappearances.

In the same way, Maryam Nawaz, [vice-president of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, then the main opposition party], visited us last year and criticised Imran Khan for his false promises. She assured us that action would be taken if her party came to power.

Nawaz’s uncle, Shehbaz Nawaz, is prime minister now but they seem helpless before the security agencies.

Women’s organisations in Pakistan do not raise their voices for Baloch women and the violence against us. This is saddening.

We come from respectable families and we are not happy to be demonstrating on the streets. Our men have disappeared – that’s why Baloch women, from a conservative province, are coming out of their homes to protest.

I would rather focus on my career like other young women. But how can one if your father, husband or brother is missing?

In April, there was a female suicide bomber, Shari Baloch. Since then the state has cracked down against activists, students and women, saying that we are all terrorists.

We have nothing to do with such violent activities. We don’t support violence.

I am not demanding anything unlawful – enforced disappearance is unlawful. I just want my father back.

Am I asking for something illegal? The state may portray us as terrorists after Shari’s attack but we are not. We are peaceful protesters. We suffer every moment of every day.

Sammi Deen Baloch is general secretary of the Voice for Baloch Missing Persons (VBMP), a group that formed alongside the separatist movement in Pakistan

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