Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday praised Saint Petersburg’s “unbroken” spirit as Russia marked the 75th anniversary of the end of the World War II siege of Leningrad, which claimed more than 800,000 lives.
Earlier in the day tanks and air-defence missile systems rolled through the heart of Saint Petersburg, formerly known as Leningrad, as crowds watched the performance in falling snow.
The parade in Russia’s second city was the first time war-era and modern heavy weaponry, including the famed T-34 battle tank and multiple-launch rocket systems, had trundled past the Hermitage Museum to mark the end of the siege of Leningrad.
Plans to hold the ceremony have provoked an outcry, including among some survivors who criticised it as “militarism.”
Putin, a native of Saint Petersburg, skipped the show of force in the snow-covered Palace Square, instead visiting a memorial outside the city and laying flowers at a cemetery.
‘Crime against humanity’
Putin said that the Nazis, who had tried to starve “an impregnable city” to death and subjected residents of Leningrad to “horrendous suffering”, would never be forgiven.
“According to the enemy’s plans, Leningrad should have disappeared from the face of the Earth,” Putin said at a memorial concert later in the day.
“This is what is called a crime against humanity.”
Clutching red roses, Putin earlier visited the famed Piskaryovskoe cemetery, where some Russians wished him good health.
Putin, at 66, was born in Leningrad after the war. But his older brother died in childhood during the devastating siege and is buried in a mass grave at Piskaryovskoe.
Russian President Vladimir Putin places flowers at the Piskaryovskoye Cemetery [Mikhail Klimentyev via AP Photo]
The Russian leader’s mother nearly succumbed to hunger during the siege, while his father fought in the war and was wounded near Leningrad.
More than 2,500 servicemen in modern and period uniforms including sheepskin coats and felt boots took part in the parade, which also included a military flyover.
A moment of silence was observed to the ticking of a metronome, which was used to warn residents about air raids during the siege.
Parade divides opinion
Opinion over the appropriateness of the parade was divided.
While some people criticised the authorities for holding a parade they denounced as misplaced sabre-rattling and militaristic propaganda, others praised it.
Natalya Gerashchenko brought her 12-year-old son to see the parade.
“A military parade is very beautiful,” the 35-year-old said. “The lifting of the siege is very important for everyone.”
Ivan Kolokoltsev, a 45-year-old manager, said: “We have to remember, we have to commemorate it so that people remember.”
Others said one of the most horrific chapters of World War II should be remembered differently.
“I am against militarism,” Yakov Gilinsky, an 84-year-old siege survivor, said ahead of the parade.
People pose for photographs at the exhibition dedicated to the 75th anniversary since the lifting of the Leningrad siege [Anton Vaganov/Reuters]
Political commentator Anton Orekh suggested that the money spent on the parade should have been given to survivors instead.
“Old people would buy some medicine and new clothes and for a time forget they have to count pennies,” he wrote.
But a defence ministry official insisted the event was not celebratory in nature, describing it as a “soldierly ritual”.
Germany earmarks funds
The city of around three million people was encircled by the Nazi troops for 872 days between 1941 and 1944.
With supplies to the city cut, bread rations plunged to 250 grammes (about half a pound) for manual workers and 125 grammes for other civilians.
More than 800,000 people died from hunger, disease, or the shelling. Many historians say the true figure is even higher.
Germany and Russia announced on Sunday Berlin had earmarked 12 million euros ($13.7 million) to help Russian war veterans and siege survivors as a “voluntary humanitarian gesture”.
But Moscow also stressed that Berlin should pay individual compensations to all victims of the blockade.
Later Sunday authorities were set to hold a music and light show as well as a gun salute in memory of the gun fire that marked the end of the ordeal in 1944.
The trauma from the war is deeply ingrained in the collective psyche of the city.
Russia’s former imperial capital is home to some 108,000 war veterans and siege survivors.
People place flowers to the Motherland monument at the Piskaryovskoye Cemetery [Dmitri Lovetsky/AP Photo]
UK spy chief warns China, Russia racing to master AI
MI6 chief Richard Moore says Beijing and Moscow ‘pouring money’ into technological advances that will reshape espionage and geopolitics.The chief of the United Kingdom’s foreign spy service is to warn that China and Russia are racing to master artificial intelligence in a way that could revolutionise geopolitics over the next 10 years. Richard Moore, who…
MI6 chief Richard Moore says Beijing and Moscow ‘pouring money’
into technological advances that will reshape espionage and geopolitics.The chief of the United Kingdom’s foreign spy service is to warn that China and Russia are racing to master artificial intelligence in a way that could revolutionise geopolitics over the next 10 years.
Richard Moore, who heads the Secret Intelligence Service, known as MI6, is due to make his first public speech since becoming chief of the organisation on Tuesday.
In extracts of the speech released in advance by the British government he will say quantum engineering, engineered biology, vast troves of data and advances in computer power pose a threat that needs to be addressed by democratic powers.
“Our adversaries are pouring money and ambition into mastering artificial intelligence, quantum computing and synthetic biology, because they know that mastering these technologies will give them leverage,” Moore, who rarely makes public speeches, will say when he sets out his view of current threats.
The world’s spies are trying to grapple with seismic advances in technology that are challenging traditional human-led spying operations, which have dominated espionage for thousands of years.
Moore, a former diplomat, became MI6 chief in October 2020.
Speaking at the Institute for International and Strategic Studies think tank, he will stress that technological progress over the next decade could outstrip all the tech advances made over the past century.
“As a society, we have yet to internalise this stark fact and its potential impact on global geopolitics. But it is a white-hot focus for MI6,” he will say.
Of particular concern to the spies in the world’s liberal democracies are Russian and Chinese intelligence agencies, which have rushed to harness the power of a range of sophisticated technologies, sometimes at a faster pace than in the West.
Western intelligence agencies fear Beijing could dominate all key emerging technologies within decades, particularly artificial intelligence, synthetic biology and genetics.
China’s economic and military rise over the past 40 years is considered one of the most significant geopolitical events of recent times, alongside the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union, which ended the Cold War.
MI6, depicted by novelists as the employer of some of the most memorable fictional spies from John le Carré’s George Smiley to Ian Fleming’s James Bond, operates overseas and is tasked with defending the UK and its interests.
Moore says the service will have to give up some of its deep-rooted secrecy and work with technology firms to combat the rapidly developing threats.
MI6 and western intelligence agencies will have to “become more open to stay secret” in a world of destabilising technological change, he will say.
“We cannot hope to replicate the global tech industry, so we must tap into it.”
The agency has become more open in recent years, even allowing publication of an authorised history although it only covers the period up until 1949.
MI6 began publicly naming its chief, who uses the code name C and is the only publicly identifiable member of the organisation, in the 1990s.
Pentagon to review deadly 2019 US bombings in Syria
US will look into whether procedures were followed after NY Times reported dozens of civilians were killed in bombings.United States Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has ordered a review into US military bombings in Syria in March 2019 that the New York Times recently reported killed dozens of civilians during the battle for the final…
US will look into whether procedures were followed after NY Times reported dozens of civilians were killed in bombings.United States Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has ordered a review into US military bombings in Syria in March 2019 that the New York Times recently reported killed dozens of civilians during the battle for the final stronghold of ISIL (ISIS).
Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby announced the probe on Monday, saying it would be led by General Michael Garrett, the head of US Army Forces Command.
Earlier this month, the US military acknowledged that civilians may have been killed in the bombings in Baghouz, near the Iraqi border in 2019. At the time, the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) were leading the fight on the ground with American air support.
“Likely a majority of those killed were also combatants at the time of the strike. However, it is also highly likely that there were additional civilian casualties,” Bill Urban, a US military spokesman, said in a statement on November 14.
He added that “investigations were unable to conclusively characterize the status of more than 60 other casualties that resulted from these strikes”.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ordered the review into the 2019 US military bombings, the Pentagon spokesman announced [File: Patrick Semansky/AP Photo]Urban’s statement came a day after the New York Times, citing anonymous sources and classified documents, published a report that accused the US military of concealing the bombings.
The newspaper reported that the bombing struck a “crowd of women and children”, killing 64 people.
“Without warning, an American F-15E attack jet streaked across the drone’s high-definition field of vision and dropped a 500-pound bomb on the crowd, swallowing it in a shuddering blast. As the smoke cleared, a few people stumbled away in search of cover. Then a jet tracking them dropped one 2,000-pound bomb, then another, killing most of the survivors,” the Times wrote.
On Monday, Kirby said the review would look into “record keeping and reporting procedures” and “whether mitigation measures identified in previous investigations into the incident were in fact implemented effectively”.
The probe, which is due in 90 days, will also assess whether “accountability measures” will be appropriate, Kirby added.
The US-led coalition started a bombing campaign against the ISIL (ISIS) group in Syria and Iraq in 2014, and the American military maintains troops in both countries with the stated goal of preventing the group’s resurgence.
Former US President Donald Trump touted the territorial defeat of ISIL (ISIS) as a major policy achievement in his failed 2020 re-election bid.
Rights groups previously accused the US-led coalition of killing civilians during their bombing campaign. A 2019 investigation by Amnesty International, for instance, found that the coalition had killed 1,600 civilians in Raqqa, the ISIL (ISIS) group’s former de-facto capital.
The Associated Press news agency reported on Monday that after the New York Times story was published, Austin received a briefing on the Syria bombings from General Frank McKenzie, the head of US Central Command.
AP reported that McKenzie’s command said “an initial investigation concluded that the strike constituted legitimate self-defence in support of Syrian partner forces under fire from ISIL”.
The probe into the Syria bombings comes after the Pentagon admitted in September that a US drone attack previously described as “righteous” by a top general had killed 10 civilians, including children, in Kabul during the chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan.
But a subsequent internal review by the Pentagon concluded that the bombing did not violate the laws of war or amount to criminal conduct or negligence, prompting outrage.
Arab Coalition carries out 15 strikes against Houthi militants in Marib
JEDDAH: An influential watchdog body of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation has called for an end to Israel’s occupation of Palestine as the only way to stop ongoing human rights abuses against Palestinians. The OIC’s Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission made its appeal on Monday to coincide with the UN-run International Day of Solidarity with…
JEDDAH: An influential watchdog body of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation has called for an end to Israel’s occupation of Palestine as the only way to stop ongoing human rights abuses against Palestinians.
The OIC’s Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission made its appeal on Monday to coincide with the UN-run International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People 2021.
In a statement, the IPHRC pointed out that the solidarity day highlighted the urgent need for the global community to recognize the inalienable right to self-determination of Palestinian people.
“Today is not only an opportunity for the international community to remember that the question of Palestine remains unresolved, but it is also an opportunity to focus attention on the increasing suffering of the Palestinian people, under the Israeli occupation, and to unify all efforts for assisting them to attain their fundamental rights, including the right to self-determination and the right to return for Palestinian refugees to their homes and property, from which they have been displaced,” the commission said.
It also expressed grave concerns over the increasing, “range of violations committed by Israel … particularly the recent draconian measures against Palestinian prisoners and detainees as well as the harassment of Sheikh Jarrah (neighborhood of East Jerusalem) families who remain under the threat of eviction from their houses under baseless and illegal arguments.”
The IPHRC statement urged all human rights groups to raise awareness of what it described as “egregious human rights violations” aimed at “separating Al-Quds (Jerusalem) from its original inhabitants, which is yet another vicious attack on the right to self-determination of the Palestinian people.”
In addition, commission members condemned the recent Israeli designation of six Palestinian human rights and civil society groups as terrorist organizations, a move the IPHRC claimed represented Israel’s misuse of counterterrorism and security legislation to silence opponents and innocent Palestinians.
Israel’s demolition of Palestinian homes and forced evictions of residents in Jerusalem and other areas was also slammed by the commission.
It added that there was a “need to investigate these abuses by relevant international mechanisms with a view to holding Israel, the occupying power, accountable for violating international human rights and humanitarian laws.”