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Blinken warns Ukraine cease-fire now would result in ‘Potemkin peace,’ legitimizing Russian invasion
By Susie Blann And Matthew Lee in Kyiv
KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Friday that the United States and its allies should not support a cease-fire or peace talks to end the war in Ukraine until Kyiv gains strength and can negotiate on its own terms.
As an anticipated Ukrainian counteroffensive appeared to be taking shape, Blinken said heeding calls from Russia and others, including China, for negotiations now would result in a false “Potemkin peace” that wouldn’t secure Ukraine’s sovereignty or enhance European security.
“We believe the prerequisite for meaningful diplomacy and real peace is a stronger Ukraine, capable of deterring and defending against any future aggression,” Blinken said in a speech in Finland, which recently became NATO’s newest member and shares a long border with Russia.
His use of the term “Potemkin” referred to the brightly painted village fronts that 18th century Russian government minister Grigory Potemkin reportedly used to have built to create an illusion of prosperity for Russia’s empress.
Blinken repeated the U.S. view that “a cease-fire that simply freezes current lines in place” and allows Russian President Vladimir Putin “to consolidate control over the territory he has seized, and rest, rearm, and re-attack — that is not a just and lasting peace.”
Allowing Moscow to keep the one-fifth of Ukrainian territory it’s occupied would send the wrong message to Russia and to “other would-be aggressors around the world,” according to Blinken, implying that a cease-fire shouldn’t be arranged until either Ukraine pushes Russia back or Russia withdraws its troops.
Blinken’s position is similar to that of Ukrainian officials, including his statement that Russia must pay for a share of Ukraine’s reconstruction and be held accountable for the full-scale invasion of its neighbor in February 2022.
After months of battlefield stalemate across a 685-mile (1100-km) front line, Ukrainian officials have given confusing signals about whether a counteroffensive, relying heavily on recently deployed advanced Western weapons and training, is coming or already underway.
Some have suggested the campaign will not be a barrage of simultaneous attacks across the entire front but rather a series of more targeted, limited strikes, first to weaken Russia’s supply lines and infrastructure, then expanded to broader targets with greater intensity.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy weighed in again on Friday.
“This is not a movie,” he told reporters in Kyiv. “It is hard to say how you’ll see the counteroffensive. The main point here is for Russia to see it. And not just see but feel it. Especially, we speak about the troops that have occupied our territories. De-occupation of our territories – this is the result of our counteroffensive. When you see this, you’ll understand that it has started.”
Zelenskyy has said his goal is to drive Russian troops out of the four territories it partially occupies and illegally annexed last fall, as well as from the Crimean Peninsula the Kremlin illegally seized in 2014.
Putin has said two of his goals in invading Ukraine were to improve Russia’s security and prevent Ukraine from joining NATO but the Kyiv government has applied to join the alliance, and Sweden is hoping to be accepted as a member in July. That would surround Russia with NATO countries in the Baltic Sea.
Blinken described the Russian invasion of Ukraine as a catastrophic strategic failure for Moscow that had strengthened NATO, the European Union and Ukraine. Russia has become more isolated, he said, shackled to China as a junior partner in a relationship that Beijing has increasingly come to resent, and no longer able to use energy as a political tool in countries it once counted as its own or satellites.
For its part, Russia wants any talks to address Ukraine’s request to join NATO.
“Naturally, this (issue) will be one of the main irritants and potential problems for many, many years to come,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Friday.
Blinken said Washington was ready to support peace efforts by other countries, including those by China and Brazil but that any peace agreement must uphold the principles of sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence.
China, which says it is neutral and wants to serve as a mediator but has supported Moscow politically, on Friday urged countries to stop sending weapons to Ukraine. The United States is a leading Western ally and supplier of arms to Kyiv.
In Kyiv, in the sixth air attack in as many days, Ukrainian air defenses late Thursday and early Friday intercepted all 15 incoming cruise missiles and 21 attack drones, Ukraine’s chief of staff, Valerii Zaluzhnyi, said.
The Ukrainian capital was simultaneously attacked from different directions by Iranian-made Shahed drones and cruise missiles from the Caspian Sea region, senior Kyiv official Serhii Popko wrote on Telegram.
A 68-year-old man and an 11-year-old child were wounded in the attack, in which falling debris damaged private houses, outbuildings and cars, according to Ukraine’s Prosecutor General’s Office.
Elsewhere, several explosions occurred Friday in the Azov Sea port of Berdyansk in the Russian-occupied part of Ukraine’s southern Zaporizhzhia region, one of the four provinces Russia illegally annexed. Russian-appointed officials blamed Ukrainian rocket attacks and said nine people were wounded. Videos posted on social media appear to show smoke rising in the port area. Ukrainian officials acknowledged their forces were responsible and claimed Russian ships were evacuating the port.
The Moscow-appointed governor of Ukraine’s occupied Donetsk province, Denis Pushilin, claimed Friday that Ukrainian strikes had killed three people and wounded four, including a 3-year-old-girl.
In other developments Friday, border regions of Russia again came under fire. One of the most frequently hit targets of cross-border shelling, Russia’s Belgorod region, was bombarded by artillery shells and drone strikes in multiple villages, Gov. Vyacheslav Gladkov said. At least two women died in a car, multiple people were injured, and apartment buildings, cars, power transmission lines and farm equipment were damaged, he said on Telegram.
The Freedom of Russia Legion, one of the groups that has claimed responsibility for prior attacks on Belgorod, blamed the Russian military for the deaths. The group alleged the Russian army had mistakenly believed the car belonged to the paramilitary group. Thousands of people have been evacuated from the region, and many roads have been closed.
Air defense systems shot down several Ukrainian drones in Russia’s southern Kursk region, Gov. Roman Starovoit reported. In Russia’s Bryansk region, Gov. Alexander Bogomaz said Ukrainian forces shelled two villages, with no reported casualties.
Two drones also attacked energy facilities in Russia’s western Smolensk region, which borders Belarus, officials said.
The U.K. Ministry of Defense said the incursions could be a Ukrainian strategy to disperse Russian forces before a counteroffensive.
“Russian commanders now face an acute dilemma of whether to (strengthen) defenses in Russia’s border regions or reinforce their lines in occupied Ukraine,” the ministry said.
Matthew Lee reported from Oslo, Norway. Karl Ritter contributed from Stockholm and Andrew Katell from New York.
Records detail Jeffrey Epstein’s last days and prison system’s scramble after his suicide
This photo shows one page of more than 4,000 pages of documents that the Associated Press obtained on Thursday, June 1, 2023, related to Jeffrey Epstein’s jail suicide from the federal Bureau of Prisons under the Freedom of Information Act. (Federal Bureau of Prisons via AP)
By Jake Offenhartz And Michael R. Sisak in New York
NEW YORK (AP) — Nearly four years after Jeffrey Epstein’s death, thousands of pages of records obtained by The Associated Press are shedding new light on the financier’s time behind bars and a frantic response by federal corrections officials to his death.
The documents, including emails between jail officials and psychological evaluations, offer a fuller picture of Epstein as he awaited trial on sex trafficking charges at the now-shuttered Metropolitan Correctional Center.
Epstein killed himself at the federal jail in 2019. In the days and weeks that followed, corrections officials struggled to explain how such a high-profile detainee had managed to take his own life.
The records show how he was moved from the jail’s general population to specialized housing and how he was briefly on suicide watch before being downgraded to psychiatric observation — his status when he killed himself.
Here are takeaways from the more than 4,000 pages of documents:
AN AGITATED INMATE
Epstein was anxious and despondent during much of his time in jail, prompting concern from jail guards and psychological experts about his mental state. He complained often about jail life, including poor sleep, constipation, the color of his uniform and his treatment by other detainees. The noise from a broken toilet in his cell left him sitting in the corner with his hands over his ears, according to one psychologist.
But despite his litany of complaints, Epstein insisted that he wouldn’t take his own life. Even after he was discovered on his cell’s floor with a strip of bedsheet around his neck and placed on suicide watch for 31 hours, he denied that he was contemplating suicide, which he said was against his Jewish religion. Plus, he added, he was a “coward” who didn’t like pain.
“He described having a ‘wonderful life,’’” a psychological evaluation stated. “He said ‘it would be crazy’ to take his life. He furthered, ‘I would not do that to myself.’”
A LETTER TO ANOTHER SEX OFFENDER
Among the new revelations was an attempt by Epstein to reach out to another notorious pedophile: Larry Nassar, the USA Gymnastics team doctor convicted of sexually abusing scores of young athletes.
A letter sent by Epstein to Nassar was found returned to sender in the jail’s mail room weeks after Epstein’s death. “It appeared he mailed it out and it was returned back to him,” the investigator who found the letter told a corrections official by email. “I am not sure if I should open it or should we hand it over to anyone?”
The letter itself wasn’t included among the documents turned over to the AP, which also don’t indicate what became of the letter.
FINAL PHONE CALL
Epstein was found dead on the morning of Aug. 10, 2019. He had hanged himself with a bedsheet, according to the medical examiner. Hours earlier, he appears to have successfully deceived jail guards one last time by telling them he wanted to talk on the phone to his mother, who had been dead for 15 years.
A correctional officer escorted Epstein to a shower area at around 7 p.m., where he was permitted to make a 15 minute “social call.” Reports later indicated that he had phoned his 30-year-old girlfriend.
Weeks after his death, a jail warden questioned why an employee had failed to follow policy by allowing Epstein to make an unmonitored call.
The documents shed light on the lurching response by the Bureau of Prisons in the critical hours of Epstein’s death.
In one email, a prosecutor involved in Epstein’s criminal case complained to an agency lawyer that it was “frankly unbelievable” that the agency was issuing public news releases “before telling us basic information so that we can relay it to his attorneys who can relay it to his family.”
In another email, the prosecutor wrote of getting “increasingly frantic calls” from Epstein’s lawyers.
“We need to know as soon as possible the very basic facts, such as time and cause of death at the absolute minimum,” wrote the prosecutor, whose name was redacted. “It has now been hours since this was reported publicly,” the prosecutor wrote, adding that it was “extraordinary frustrating to have to tell them that we have less information than the press.”
As news outlets began reporting details of the agency’s failings, a high-ranking federal prison official made the apparently baseless suggestion to the agency’s director that reporters must have been paying jail employees for information.
Epstein’s death touched off a wave of anger toward the Bureau of Prisons and questions about the operation of the Metropolitan Correctional Center. In an internal memo, officials blamed “seriously reduced staffing levels, improper or lack of training, and follow up and oversight” for the death.
Two guards who were supposed to be watching Epstein on the night of his death were found to have falsified records, admitting to napping and browsing the internet instead of monitoring the high-profile inmate.
The documents show other efforts to implement reforms, such as requiring jail captains to review footage ensuring that guards are completing their rounds every 30 minutes. Jail officials said they would allow psychological experts to play a larger role in determining how housing decisions are made.
In some respects, the officials may have overcorrected. A memo sent to the Bureau of Prisons director shortly after Epstein’s death warned that wardens were “defaulting to leaving inmates on suicide watch longer than the psychologists have advised.”
By 2021, the Metropolitan Correctional Center had closed down. An investigation by the Justice Department’s inspector general is still ongoing.
For more AP coverage of Jeffrey Epstein: https://apnews.com/hub/jeffrey-epstein
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