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From tents to tanks; a big year in Ukraine for NATO allies

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From tents to tanks; a big year in Ukraine for NATO allies

The day after Russia invaded Ukraine, the leaders of NATO’s 30 member countries held an emergency summit to address what they described as the gravest threat to Euro-Atlantic security in decades — the launch of what would become the biggest land war in Europe since 1945.

“In this very evolving and difficult situation, it’s hard to predict what will (happen) in the future, but allies are providing support and are very committed to continue,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters. What that support might look like was an open question.

In the months that followed, Ukraine’s supporters at NATO and elsewhere sent fuel, helmets, medical supplies and other non-lethal support. Then, after much hand-wringing, came artillery and air defense systems in the hope that these would not provoke Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.

NATO, as an organization, was wary of being dragged into all-out war with nuclear-armed Russia. Technically it still is, but a year on the Ukraine Contact Defense Group this week held talks at NATO’s Brussels headquarters, where the alliance’s leaders, ministers and envoys usually sit.

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Having just secured a promise of sorely needed battle tanks Ukraine wanted more: fighter jets.

“Ukraine has to win this war,” said Hanno Pevkur, the defense minister of Estonia, a Baltic country that shares a border and a long history with Russia and is extremely wary of Putin’s intentions. The government has stepped up conscription and NATO has boosted its troop presence there.

“We had many questions. Should we send tanks? Now this decision is made,” Pevkur said. “Always, there has been the question before, and then the answer after that. We know that Ukraine needs any kind of help, and that means also jet fighters.”

All that’s missing, it might seem, is the boots of allied troops on the ground. Indeed, the public in Europe and North America could be excused for believing that their taxes funding the world’s most powerful security organization are being spent in a war with Russia.

In the year since the Russians invaded, the U.S. has provided more than $27 billion in military help to Ukraine. Two senior defense officials estimated this week that other allies have stumped up more than $19 billion worth, with over $1 billion each from Britain, Canada, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Poland.

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That’s on top of the tens of billions the West is sending to keep Ukraine’s battered economy afloat.

For the nationalist government of Hungary, a NATO ally, there is no doubt about what this means.

“If you send weapons, if you finance the entire annual budget of one of the belligerents, if you promise more and more weapons, more and more modern weapons, then you can say whatever you want. No matter what you say, you are in the war,” Prime Minister Viktor Orban said last month.

Not so, says Stoltenberg. Even as he exhorted allies and partners this week to give Ukraine more weapons and ammunition, the former Norwegian prime minister insisted, in response to a question from The Associated Press, that NATO is not at war with Russia.

“Neither NATO nor NATO allies are party to the conflict. What we do … is to provide support to Ukraine. Ukraine is defending itself,” he said. “The type of support that we provide to Ukraine has evolved as the war has evolved.”

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Indeed it has, and some of it is tough to find despite the West’s best intentions. Ukraine now fires daily as many artillery shells as a small NATO country orders during a peace-time year, and Europe’s defense industry just can’t keep up.

“This has become a grinding war of attrition, and therefore it’s also a battle of logistics, and this is a huge effort by allies to actually get in the ammunition, the fuel, the spare parts which are needed,” Stoltenberg said.

Perhaps one of the most important changes sparked by the war has been the realization that NATO’s collective defense guarantee — the pledge that an attack on any ally will be met with a response from them all — is no longer an abstract promise.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump undermined confidence in that guarantee by threatening to abandon any ally that he considered was not spending enough on its armed forces.

Early in the war his successor, Joe Biden, vowed that NATO would defend “every inch” of its territory, to dissuade Putin from targeting any member. Finland and Sweden even gave up their traditional stance of non-alignment to apply to join NATO and secure that very protection.

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One year on, some 40,000 troops are under NATO command in eastern Europe, from Estonia down to Bulgaria on the Black Sea. Around 100,000 U.S. troops are stationed in Europe. Some 140 warships ply European waters, aerial surveillance runs round the clock and a total 130 aircraft are on permanent standby.

Those forces are only meant to remain on allied territory but member countries near Russia’s borders, like Lithuania, say they are prepared to go “all the way” in their support for Ukraine. They believe the country should be permitted to join NATO, war or not.

When NATO leaders meet in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius in July they are likely to consider upping the ante with more hi-tech equipment. It’s hard to believe that any ally might ponder sending troops. But 18 months ago not even NATO believed that Putin would invade Ukraine.

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White-led DA party joins ANC in South African unity government

White-led DA party joins ANC in South African unity government

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White-led DA party joins ANC in South African unity government

 The African National Congress and its largest rival, the white-led, pro-business Democratic Alliance, agreed on Friday to work together in South Africa’s new government of national unity, a step change after 30 years of ANC majority rule.

Once unthinkable, the deal between two sharply antagonistic parties is the most momentous political shift in South Africa since Nelson Mandela led the ANC to victory in the 1994 elections that marked the end of apartheid.

“Today, South Africa is a better country than it was yesterday. For the first time since 1994, we’ve embarked on a peaceful and democratic transfer of power to a new government that will be different from the previous one,” DA leader John Steenhuisen said in a televised address.

“From today, the DA will co-govern the Republic of South Africa in a spirit of unity and collaboration,” he said, adding that multi-party government was the “new normal”.

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The ANC lost its majority for the first time in an election on May 29 and has spent two weeks locked in intensive behind-the-scenes talks with other parties, which came down to the wire on Friday morning as the new parliament was convening.

The DA’s entry into national government is a big moment for a country still processing the legacy of the racist colonial and apartheid regimes. The party has struggled to shake off its image as a defender of rich white people and convince a broad spectrum of South Africans that it reflects their aspirations.

Two smaller parties, the socially conservative Inkatha Freedom Party and the right-wing Patriotic Alliance, will also take part in the unity government, they said. 

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Hamas’ armed wing says Israeli airstrike killed two hostages in Rafah

Hamas’ armed wing says Israeli airstrike killed two hostages in Rafah

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Hamas' armed wing says Israeli airstrike killed two hostages in Rafah

Hamas’ armed wing al-Qassam Brigades said on Friday that two Israeli hostages held in Gaza were killed in an Israeli airstrike on Rafah a few days ago.

The group, in a video posted on its Telegram channel, did not release the names of those said to have been killed or provide any evidence.

The Israeli government “does not want your hostages to return, except in coffins,” the al-Qassam Brigades statement said.

Israel rescued four hostages held by Hamas in a hostage-freeing operation in central Gaza’s al-Nuseirat on June 8. The health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza said more than 250 Palestinians were killed in the raid.

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The war in Gaza erupted when Hamas militants stormed southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 people and seizing more than 250 hostages, according to Israeli tallies. 

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US attack sub, Canada navy patrol ship arrive in Cuba on heels of Russian warships

US attack sub, Canada navy patrol ship arrive in Cuba on heels of Russian warships

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US attack sub, Canada navy patrol ship arrive in Cuba on heels of Russian warships

A Canadian navy patrol ship sailed into Havana early on Friday, just hours after the United States announced a fast-attack submarine had docked at its Guantanamo naval base on Cuba, both vessels on the heels of Russian warships that arrived on the island earlier this week.

The confluence of Russian, Canadian and U.S. vessels in Cuba – a Communist-ruled island nation just 160 km (100 miles) from Florida – served up a reminder of old Cold War tensions and of current fraught ties between Russia and Western nations over the Ukraine war.

However, both the U.S. and Cuba have said the Russian warships pose no threat to the region. Russia has also characterized the arrival of its warships in allied Cuba as routine.

The Admiral Gorshkov frigate and the nuclear-powered submarine Kazan, half submerged with its crew on deck, sailed into Havana harbor on Wednesday after conducting “high-precision missile weapons” training in the Atlantic Ocean.

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Canada`s Margaret Brooke patrol vessel began maneuvers early on Friday to enter Havana harbor, part of what the Canadian Joint Operations Command called “a port visit…in recognition of the long-standing bilateral relationship between Canada and Cuba.”

A Canadian diplomat characterized the Margaret Brooke`s arrival as “routine and part of long-standing cooperation between our two countries”, adding it was “unrelated to the presence of the Russian ships.”

Russia and Cuba were close allies under the former Soviet Union and tensions with Washington over Communism in its “backyard” peaked with the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. Moscow, which has maintained ties with Havana, has questioned the apparent nervousness of the West over the warships this week. 

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