Former Australian PM says subs ‘worst deal in all history’
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General, Rafael Grossi, addresses a news conference during an IAEA Board of Governors meeting in Vienna, Austria, Monday, Feb. 6, 2023. The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency is set for another four-year term at the helm of the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog as it grapples with monitoring Iran’s nuclear activities and tries to shore up the safety of power plants in Ukraine. (AP Photo/Heinz-Peter Bader, file)
SYDNEY (AP) — Former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating on Wednesday launched a blistering attack on his nation’s plan to buy nuclear-powered submarines from the United States to modernize its fleet, saying “it must be the worst deal in all history.”
Speaking at a National Press Club event, Keating said the submarines wouldn’t serve a useful military purpose.
The condemnation came as China intensified complaints that the sub deal threatens global accords against nuclear non-proliferation, and as the head of the international nuclear watchdog organization was in Washington to consult with the White House on the deal.
“The only way the Chinese could threaten Australia or attack it is on land. That is, they bring an armada of troop ships with a massive army to occupy us,” Keating said. “This is not possible for the Chinese to do.”
He added that Australia would sink any such Chinese armada with planes and missiles.
“The idea that we need American submarines to protect us,” Keating said. “If we buy eight, three are at sea. Three are going to protect us from the might of China. Really? I mean, the rubbish of it. The rubbish.”
Australia’s deal — announced Monday in San Diego by U.S. President Joe Biden, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak — came amid growing concern about China’s military buildup and influence in the Indo-Pacific. Biden emphasized that the submarines wouldn’t carry nuclear weapons of any kind.
Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles said the deal was necessary to counter the biggest conventional military buildup in the region since World War II.
“We have to take the step of developing the capability to operate a nuclear-powered submarine so that we can hand over a much more self-reliant nation to our children and to our grandchildren,” Marles said.
China said Tuesday the U.S., Australia and the United Kingdom were traveling “further down the wrong and dangerous path for their own geopolitical self-interest” in inking the deal, which has been given the acronym AUKUS.
China renewed its objections at length on Wednesday, accusing the three countries of “coercing” the International Atomic Energy Agency into endorsing the deal. All member states of the IAEA should work to find a solution to the “safeguards issues” and “maintain international peace and security,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said at a daily briefing.
Arms control experts in the West also have expressed concern, saying the U.S., Australian and British sub deal could open the door for other nuclear-armed countries to pursue nuclear transfers to third-party countries, and could set a precedent that would make it harder for international regulators to guard against the illegal trafficking and use of nuclear material.
Rafael Grossi, director general of IAEA, rejected China’s accusation. “Nobody coerces me. Nobody coerces the IAEA,” he told reporters Wednesday in Washington, where he was due to meet with senior National Security Council members on the nuclear-powered sub deal.
Grossi insisted his agency would hold the AUKUS allies and any other nation that attempts a similar nuclear transfer to tough and lasting standards of design, monitoring, inspection and transparency to try to make sure nuclear non-proliferation accords were being observed.
As part of the effort to ensure the nuclear material in the sub engines doesn’t go astray after it leaves U.S. control, the power units are to be welded shut. It’s a first for the IAEA to deal with, and inspectors will insist on guaranteeing that ships return to ports with as much nuclear material in the welded units as they left with, Grossi told reporters.
“We are going to put together a solid system to try to have all the guarantees” that there is no risk that the transfer of nuclear-powered submarines violates international barriers against more countries acquiring nuclear weapons capability, he said. “If we cannot do that, we would never agree.”
Keating served as prime minister for more than four years in the 1990s. He was from the Labor Party, the same party as Albanese.
Keating said the submarine deal was the worst international decision by the Labor Party in more than 100 years, when it unsuccessfully tried to introduce conscription during World War I.
He also mocked the cost of the deal, which Australian officials have estimated at between 268 billion and 368 billion Australian dollars ($178-$245 billion) over three decades. Australian officials say the deal will create 20,000 jobs.
“For $360 billion, we’re going to get eight submarines,” Keating said. “It must be the worst deal in all history.”
At the Press Club event, Keating was questioned about whether his own ties to China had influenced his views.
He said he had no commercial interests in China and had stopped serving on a bank board five years ago.
“I was on the China Development Bank board for 13 years, and 10 years as chairman,” Keating said, adding that his fee, or honorarium, was $5,000 a year.
Keating also lashed out at some journalists at the event, telling one reporter her question “is so dumb, it’s hardly worth an answer” and another that “you should hang your head in shame” over his newspaper’s recent coverage of China’s perceived threat to Australia.
“For the record, Mr. Keating, we’re very proud of our journalism and we think that it has made an important contribution to the national debate,” responded the second journalist, Matthew Knott from The Sydney Morning Herald.
Ellen Knickmeyer contributed from Washington.
Canada to send more weapons to Ukraine, Trudeau says on trip to Kyiv
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy pose with joint declaration adopted by Canada and Ukraine during a press conference in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Saturday, June 10, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
By Bill Graveland in Kyiv
Canada will spend $500 million to help Ukraine’s military fight Russia’s invasion, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Saturday on an unannounced visit to Kyiv, including more weapons and fighter-pilot training.
“Canada will continue to stand with Ukraine with whatever it takes as long as it takes,” Trudeau said in a press conference while standing beside Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
“You’re fighting for your country and for values like democracy, freedom, respect, and dignity. And in fighting for Ukraine, you’re also fighting for the future of us all,” Trudeau told Zelenskyy.
The visit, which is happening at the invitation of Ukraine, comes amid signs a long-awaited spring counteroffensive against Russia could be underway.
It is also happening as there have been wildfires across Canada, with smoke reducing air quality, and after Friday’s resignation of the special rapporteur Trudeau had assigned to probe foreign interference.
“Canada will be part of the multinational efforts to train fighter pilots and to help maintain Ukraine’s fighter-jet program, leveraging Canadian expertise in these areas,” Trudeau said during the news conference, adding that Canada will join a team of countries helping to maintain tanks, while providing hundreds more missiles and additional rounds of ammunition.
That includes 288 more AIM-7 missiles for warding off Russian airstrikes, and reallocating existing funds for 10,000 rounds of 105-millimetre ammunition, Trudeau said.
The prime minister also announced existing aid for Ukraine will be used to support those coping with a worsening humanitarian situation in southern Ukraine after the collapse of a hydroelectric dam this week.
Trudeau also announced more sanctions on 24 individuals and 17 entities for alleged support of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
He also said the federal government would try to seize a massive Russian-registered Antonov 124 cargo plane that Canada grounded after it landed at Toronto Pearson International Airport in February 2022.
The prime minister said Canada will try to forfeit the plane to Ukraine, so it can’t be used to support Russia’s war effort. Ottawa has legislation to forfeit assets of people sanctioned by Canada, but as of a month ago it had not filed any court application despite promising last December to seize assets held by oligarch Roman Abramovich.
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland joined Trudeau on the trip, which began with the laying of a wreath at the Wall of Remembrance at St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery. Freeland also placed some flowers at the wall, which features photos of Ukrainians who have died while defending their homeland. Both met Ukrainian soldiers there for the event.
On his way to the wall, Trudeau at one point crouched down low to look inside one of the frames of burnt-out Russian tanks and military vehicles that fill a public square. Not long before Trudeau and Freeland arrived, there was sombre music and an honour guard for a casket carried into the cathedral for a funeral.
This is the second time that Trudeau has made an unannounced visit to the embattled country since Russia began its large-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
Trudeau last travelled to Ukraine just over a year ago, where he reopened the Canadian Embassy in Kyiv and met Zelenskyy in person for the first time since the war began.
Some media outlets, including The Canadian Press, were made aware of this new trip ahead of time on the condition that it not be reported until it was made public, for security reasons.
Trudeau met Zelenskyy in the building housing the Office of the President on Saturday. Trudeau and Freeland then both took part in an expanded bilateral meeting with Zelenskyy and some of his officials, and he thanked Canada for taking in thousands of Ukrainians fleeing the conflict.
“We need more friends like Canada,” Zelenskyy said.
The visit coincides with Ukraine’s gradual ramping up of military activity. Moscow has claimed that Ukraine’s long-promised spring counteroffensive is already happening. Ukraine’s General Staff said Saturday that “heavy battles” were underway. It gave no details but said Russian forces were “defending themselves” and launching air and artillery strikes in Ukraine’s southern Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions.
Meanwhile, Britain’s defence ministry reported on Saturday there has been “significant Ukrainian operations” in the country’s east and south since Thursday morning, with gains in some areas.
The ministry reported mixed results from the Russian army, with some units holding ground “while others have pulled back in some disorder, amid increased reports of Russian casualties as they withdraw through their own minefields.”
The ministry also noted “unusually active” Russian airstrikes in southern Ukraine, where it is easier for Moscow to fly planes.
On Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Moscow will deploy some of its tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus next month, a move that the Belarusian opposition described as an attempt to blackmail the West ahead of a July meeting of the NATO military alliance.
Russia has used the territory of Belarus, its ally, to send its troops into Ukraine since the invasion began. It has kept forces and weapons there too.
Earlier this week, a hydroelectric dam on the Dnieper River ruptured, flooding a large part of the front line in southern Ukraine and worsening the humanitarian situation — including the need for drinking water — in an area that was already undergoing shelling.
It remains unclear how the dam collapse happened. Kyiv has accused Russia of blowing up the dam and its hydropower plant, which Russian forces controlled. Moscow said Ukraine did it.
Trudeau and Zelenskyy also spent some time together just last month on the margins of the G7 summit in Hiroshima, Japan, where the Ukrainian president continued his campaign to shore up support among western allies for the defence of his country.
Canada has joined other countries in condemning Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime for the incursion, including through economic sanctions.
Ottawa has also contributed more than $8 billion to efforts related to the war in Ukraine since last year.
That included launching a special immigration program to allow Ukrainians to come to Canada quickly with a temporary work and study permit, instead of going through the usual refugee system.
It also gave some $1 billion in military support, including the donation of eight Leopard 2 main battle tanks to support the Armed Forces of Ukraine.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal visited Toronto in April, when he thanked Canada for its support but also stressed the need for more.
Last month, Defence Minister Anita Anand announced a team of Canadian Armed Forces medical trainers helping instruct Ukrainian personnel in Poland would increase from seven to 12, and that Ottawa would donate 43 short-range missiles to Ukraine.
Canada has also recently joined Latvia in delivering training to Ukrainian soldiers being promoted to junior military officers, building on a program that focuses on teaching battlefield tactics.
During the G7 summit last month, Trudeau stressed that countries pushing for a negotiated ceasefire must recognize Russia is to blame for the conflict and could end things by stopping its invasion.
“It is not a ceasefire that is needed. It is peace. And that peace can only be achieved if Russia decides to stop its ongoing invasion of a sovereign neighbour,” the prime minister said.
The House of Commons foreign-affairs committee took a similar view after its February visit to the region.
“The strategic consequences of allowing Russia to benefit from its aggression would far exceed the monetary costs associated with supporting Ukraine,” reads the committee’s April report.
“A frozen conflict would leave Ukraine facing constant threats and blackmail.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 10, 2023.
— with files from The Associated Press.
Collapse of major dam in southern Ukraine triggers emergency as Moscow and Kyiv blame each other
By Vasilisa Stepanenko And Susie Blann in Kherson
KHERSON, Ukraine (AP) — A major dam in southern Ukraine collapsed Tuesday, triggering floods, endangering crops in the country’s breadbasket and threatening drinking water supplies as both sides in the war scrambled to evacuate residents and blamed each other for the destruction.
Ukraine accused Russian forces of blowing up the Kakhovka dam and hydroelectric power station on the Dnieper River in an area that Moscow has controlled for over a year, while Russian officials blamed Ukrainian bombardment in the contested area. It was not possible to verify the claims.
The environmental and social consequences quickly became clear as homes, streets and businesses flooded downstream and emergency crews began evacuations; officials monitored cooling systems at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant; and authorities expressed concern about supplies of drinking water to the south in Crimea, which Russia illegally annexed in 2014.
In the downstream city of Kherson, a woman who gave her name only as Tetyana waded through thigh-deep water to reach her flooded house and rescue her dogs. They were standing on any dry surface they could find but one pregnant dog was missing. “It’s a nightmare,” she kept repeating, declining to give her full name.
Both Russian and Ukrainian authorities brought in trains and buses for residents. About 22,000 people live in areas at risk of flooding in Russian-controlled areas, while 16,000 live in the most critical zone in Ukrainian-held territory, according to official tallies. Neither side reported any deaths or injuries.
A satellite photo Tuesday morning by Planet Labs PBC analyzed by The Associated Press showed a large portion of the dam’s wall, more than 600 meters (over 1,900 feet), missing.
The dam break added a stunning new dimension to Russia’s war, now in its 16th month. Ukrainian forces were widely seen to be moving forward with a long-anticipated counteroffensive in patches along more than 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) of front line in the east and south.
It was not immediately clear whether either side benefits from the dam’s collapse, since both Russian-controlled and Ukrainian-held lands are at risk. The damage could also hinder Ukraine’s counteroffensive in the south and distract its government, while Russia depends on the dam to supply water to Crimea.
Although Kyiv officials claimed Russia blew it up to hinder the counteroffensive, observers note that crossing the broad Dnieper would be extremely challenging for the Ukrainian military. Other sectors of the front line are more likely avenues of attack, analysts say.
Even so, Nigel Gould-Davies, a senior fellow for Russia and Eurasia at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said the alleged Russian destruction of the dam “betrays a lack of confidence, a profoundly defensive measure, the lack of confidence in Russia’s longer-term prospects” in the war.
Experts have previously said the dam was in disrepair, which could also have led to the breach. David Helms, a retired American scientist who has monitored the reservoir since the war began, said in an email that it wasn’t clear if the damage was deliberate or simple neglect from Russian forces occupying the facility.
But Helms also noted a Russian history of attacking dams.
Underscoring the global repercussions, wheat prices jumped 3% after the collapse. It’s unclear whether the surge in wheat prices was due to a real threat of floodwaters destroying crops. Ukraine and Russia are key global suppliers of wheat, barley, sunflower oil and other food to Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia.
Authorities, experts and residents have expressed concern for months about water flowing through — and over — the Kakhovka dam. After heavy rains and snow melt last month, water levels rose beyond normal, flooding nearby villages. Satellite images showed water washing over damaged sluice gates.
Amid official outrage, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy convened an urgent meeting of the National Security Council. He alleged Russian forces set off a blast inside the dam structure at 2:50 a.m. (2350 GMT Monday, 7:50 p.m. EDT Monday) and said about 80 settlements were in danger. Zelenskyy said in October that Russia had mined the dam and power plant.
But Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called it “a deliberate act of sabotage by the Ukrainian side … aimed at cutting water supplies to Crimea.”
White House officials were trying to assess potential impacts of the dam collapse and were looking to see what humanitarian assistance can be provided to Ukrainians who are being displaced, according to a U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity and was not authorized to comment publicly.
Both sides warned of a looming environmental disaster. Ukraine’s Presidential Office said some 150 metric tons of oil escaped from the dam machinery and that another 300 metric tons could still leak out.
Andriy Yermak, the head of Ukraine’s President’s Office, posted video showing the flooded streets of Russian-occupied Nova Kakhovka, a city in the Kherson region where about 45,000 people lived before the war.
Ukraine’s Interior Ministry urged residents of 10 villages on the Dnieper’s right bank and parts of the city of Kherson to gather essential documents and pets, turn off appliances, and leave, while cautioning against possible disinformation.
The Russian-installed mayor of occupied Nova Kakhovka, Vladimir Leontyev, said it was being evacuated as water poured in.
Ukraine’s nuclear operator Energoatom said via Telegram that the damage to the dam “could have negative consequences” for the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, which is Europe’s biggest, but wrote that for now the situation is “controllable.”
The U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency said there was “no immediate risk to the safety of the plant,” which has been shut down for months but still needs water for its cooling system. It said that IAEA staff on site have been told the dam level is falling by 5 centimeters (2 inches) an hour. At that rate, the supply from the reservoir should last a few days, it said.
The plant also has alternative sources of water, including a large cooling pond than can provide water “for some months,” the statement said.
Ukrainian authorities have previously warned that the dam’s failure could unleash 18 million cubic meters (4.8 billion gallons) of water and flood Kherson and dozens of other areas where thousands live.
The World Data Center for Geoinformatics and Sustainable Development, a Ukrainian nongovernmental organization, estimated that nearly 100 villages and towns would be flooded. It also reckoned that the water level would start dropping only after 5-7 days.
A total collapse in the dam would wash away much of the broad river’s left bank, according to the Ukraine War Environmental Consequences Working Group, an organization of environmental activists and experts documenting the war’s environmental effects.
Mykhailo Podolyak, a senior adviser to Zelenskyy, said that “a global ecological disaster is playing out now, online, and thousands of animals and ecosystems will be destroyed in the next few hours.”
Video posted online showed floodwaters inundating a long roadway; another showed a beaver scurrying for high ground.
The incident also drew international condemnation, including from German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, who said the “outrageous act … demonstrates once again the brutality of Russia’s war in Ukraine.”
Ukraine controls five of the six dams along the Dnieper, which runs from its northern border with Belarus down to the Black Sea and is crucial for the country’s drinking water and power supply.
Ukraine’s state hydro power generating company said the dam’s power station “cannot be restored.” Ukrhydroenergo also claimed Russia blew up the station from inside the engine room.
Ukraine and Russia have previously accused each other of attacking the dam.
Blann reported from Kyiv. Associated Press writer Danica Kirka in London contributed.
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