Putin sets partial military call-up, accuses West of ‘nuclear blackmail’
Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a partial mobilization of reservists in Russia on Wednesday.
It’s the first call-up in Russia since World War II and is sure to further fuel tensions with the Western backers of Ukraine, according to AP.
The Russian leader, in a seven-minute televised address to the nation aired Wednesday morning, also warned the West that he isn’t bluffing over using all the means at his disposal to protect Russia’s territory, in what appeared to be a veiled reference to Russia’s nuclear capability. Putin has previously warned the West not to back Russia against the wall and has rebuked NATO countries for supplying weapons to help Ukraine.
The total number of reservists to be called up could be as high as 300,000, officials said.
Shortly after Putin’s address, Russian media reported a sharp spike in demand for plane tickets abroad amid an apparent scramble to leave despite exorbitant prices for flights.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov argued that Russia is effectively fighting against NATO because the alliance’s members have been supplying weapons to Kyiv.
The partial mobilization order came a day after Russian-controlled regions in eastern and southern Ukraine announced plans to hold votes on becoming integral parts of Russia. The referendums will start Friday in the Luhansk, Kherson and partly Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk regions.
The U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Bridget Brink, tweeted that the mobilization is a sign “of weakness, of Russian failure.” British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace echoed that assessment, describing Putin’s move as an admission that his operation is failing.
Putin's speech was a worrying escalation and the threats he made must be taken seriously, British foreign office minister Gillian Keegan told Sky News.
China's Foreign Ministry urged all parties to engage in dialogue and consultation and find a way to address the security concerns of all parties after Putin warned the West over what he described as "nuclear blackmail", according to Reuters.
Russia's mobilization was a predictable step that will prove extremely unpopular and underscores that the war is not going according to Moscow's plan, Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said.
Podolyak said in a text message to Reuters that Putin was trying to shift the blame for starting an "unprovoked war" and Russia's worsening economic situation onto the West.
Malaria spreading fast in flood-hit Pakistan: Officials
Malaria cases are rampant in Pakistan's flood-ravaged regions, with the death toll from diseases reaching 324, authorities said on Wednesday, adding that the situation may get out of control if required aid does not arrive soon.
Hundreds of thousands of people displaced by the floods are living in the open, and the stagnant floodwaters – spread over hundreds of kilometres which may take two to six months to recede – have led to widespread cases of skin and eyes infections, diarrhoea, malaria, typhoid and dengue fever.
The displaced families are exposed to swarms of mosquitoes and other hazards, such as snake and dogs bites.
They are in dire need of food supplies, shelter, medical assistance and medicines, which many complain have not been reaching them despite the efforts of the government and local and foreign relief organisations.
With Pakistan's already weak health system and lack of support, displaced families have complained of being forced to drink and cook with unsafe water.
Pakistan's Finance Ministry said it had approved 10 billion rupees ($42 million) for the disaster management agency to use for procuring flood relief supplies and other logistics.
The Sindh provincial government on Wednesday said makeshift health facilities and mobile camps in the flooded areas had treated more than 78,000 patients in the last 24 hours, and more than 2 million since July 1. Six of them died, it said.
Deaths from disease are not counted among the 1,569 people who were killed in flash floods, including 555 children and 320 women, the country's disaster management agency said on Wednesday.
Nearly 1m people face starvation in hunger hotspots: U.N. agencies
Nearly one million people in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Somalia, and Yemen are starving or will face starvation this year in the absence of aid, as the global food crisis worsens, United Nations agencies warned on Wednesday.
Local conflict and weather extremes remain the primary drivers of acute hunger, aggravated this year by economic instability linked to the ripple effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine war, Reuters reported.
"The severe drought in the Horn of Africa has pushed people to the brink of starvation. Acute food insecurity is rising fast and spreading across the world. Without a massively scaled up humanitarian response, the situation will likely worsen in the coming months," said the head of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).
Although global agricultural commodity prices have come off record highs in recent months, local food prices in several countries remain high and risk heading back up if a U.N.-brokered deal to boost Russian and Ukrainian grain and fertiliser shipments collapses.
Ukraine is the world's fourth largest grain exporter, while Russia ranks third for grain and first for fertiliser exports.
According to the FAO's quarterly 'hunger hotspots' report, co-authored by the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP), high prices for food, fuel and fertiliser have forced advanced economies to tighten monetary policy. This has increased the cost of credit for low-income countries, constraining their imports and forcing them to introduce austerity measures.
China willing to make effort for peaceful 'reunification' with Taiwan
China is willing to make the utmost effort to strive for a peaceful "reunification" with Taiwan, a Chinese government spokesperson said on Wednesday amid heightened tensions between the two sides following a visit by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
China claims Taiwan as its own territory. Taiwan's government rejects China's sovereignty claims and says only the island's people can decide their future, according to Reuters.
China has been carrying out drills near Taiwan since early last month, after Pelosi visited Taipei, including firing missiles into waters near the island.
Ma Xiaoguang, a spokesperson for China's Taiwan Affairs Office, told a news conference in Beijing ahead of next month's once-in-five-years Communist Party congress that China was willing to make the greatest efforts to achieve peaceful "reunification".
"The motherland must be reunified and will inevitably be reunified," Ma said.
China's determination to safeguard its territory is unwavering, he added.
China has proposed a "one country, two systems" model for Taiwan, similar to the formula under which the former British colony of Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
Ma said Taiwan could have a "social system different from the mainland" that ensured their way of life was respected, including religious freedoms, but that was "under the precondition of ensuring national sovereignty, security, and development interests".
China has never renounced the use of force to bring Taiwan under its control, and in 2005 passed a law giving the country the legal basis for military action against Taiwan if it secedes or seems about to.
China has refused to talk to Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen since she first took office in 2016, believing she is a separatist.
World leaders pledge more support for nature
World leaders on Tuesday stepped up financial support and conservation commitments to combat the global biodiversity crisis that threatens more than one million plant and animal species with extinction.
On the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York, Germany pledged 1.5 billion euros per year in international biodiversity funding — more than doubling its current commitments, Reuters reported.
Nations will soon gather in Montreal, Canada, for a critical U.N. biodiversity summit (COP15) to finalise and adopt a framework to protect and conserve nature.
Over half of the world's GDP depends heavily on the natural world, according to a 2020 report by the World Economic Forum.
The December conference "needs to be a turning point for our conservation efforts", said German Chancellor Olaf Scholz as he announced the new funding. "With this contribution, we want to send a strong signal for an ambitious outcome of the biodiversity COP15."
World leaders have so far struggled to agree a new global framework.
Economists say that to reverse the decline in biodiversity by 2030, the world needs to be spending as much as $967 billion annually, giving a current gap of more than $800 billion a year.
While Germany has pledged the most funding out of any industrialised country, others announced new strategies, including a plan for financing biodiversity backed by Ecuador, Gabon and the United Kingdom, among others.
The plan "defines what we expect from governments, financial institutions, the private sector, philanthropists and civil society, to face the challenge of increasing and mobilizing resources for biodiversity," said Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso.
Those who attended the high-level side event, including Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, reiterated their commitment to protect and conserve at least 30% of their land and ocean territory by 2030.
"Canada is making historic progress to reach our commitment," Trudeau said. "We will continue to mobilize global support to reach this target and protect biodiversity around the planet."