Dozens killed in PNG election violence. Democracy activists executed in Myanmar. Pope sorry for Canadian ‘evil’. By Jonathan Pearlman.

Zelensky accuses Moscow of energy supply ‘terrorism’

People visit an exhibition of destroyed Russian military vehicles and weapons at Mykhailivska Square in Kyiv.
People visit an exhibition of destroyed Russian military vehicles and weapons at Mykhailivska Square in Kyiv.
Credit: Reuters / Alkis Konstantinidis

Great power rivalry 

Ukraine: The European Union this week accused Moscow of using energy supplies as a “weapon” and announced that it will scale back purchases of Russian gas from August, prompting Russia to retaliate by immediately cutting its flow of gas to the continent.

Despite the imposition of sanctions, Russia’s economy has benefited from the continued sale of oil and gas, whose prices have soared due to its invasion of Ukraine. The International Monetary Fund this week said Russia’s economy was faring better than expected, though it was still facing a serious recession. The organisation’s chief economist, Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas, told AFP that high energy prices were “providing an enormous amount of revenues to the Russian economy”.

On Tuesday, Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, said Europe was being “terrorised” by Moscow over energy supplies and urged Brussels to impose tighter sanctions. “Using [state-owned energy firm] Gazprom, Moscow is doing all it can to make this coming winter as harsh as possible for the European countries,” he said in his nightly video address. 

Russia’s military has continued to launch strikes across eastern Ukraine but has not expanded its ground offensive. Ukrainian forces have been slowly recapturing territory in the southern Kherson region, which they lost in the early stages of the war. 

Ukrainian officials were hopeful this week that they would finally be able to resume grain exports after Kyiv and Moscow reached a deal brokered by the United Nations and Turkey to allow shipments through the Black Sea. Shortly after completing the deal, Russia fired missiles at port infrastructure in Odessa. But officials from both sides said the deal would proceed. About 22 million tonnes of wheat, corn and other grains are trapped in Ukraine, adding to shortages of global food supplies. 

The neighbourhood 

Papua New Guinea: Residents of Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea, were urged to stay indoors this week after violence erupted during vote counting in the national election. An estimated 50 people have been killed in election-related violence, amid accusations of vote-rigging and interference with ballot boxes.

A Commonwealth team of election observers this week expressed concern about the conduct of the ballot, saying it found instances where as many as half of those eligible to vote were not on the register.

“We are concerned that this could have disenfranchised high numbers of eligible voters,” said the team’s chairperson, Baron Waqa, in a statement. “We also witnessed the distribution of money and food to voters during the polling period.”

As footage showed rival groups fighting in Port Moresby, the prime minister, James Marape, denied attempting to rig the election, pointing to results that showed a senior member of his Pangu party had lost his seat. 

Marape became prime minister in 2019 and pledged to combat corruption and to secure a greater share of wealth from resources projects. He has admitted during the campaign that corruption remains widespread. Marape’s main rival is his former coalition ally, Peter O’Neill, who resigned as prime minister after a series of defections – led by Marape – over the handling of a major gas deal.

On Tuesday, the governor-general, Sir Bob Dadae, accepted a recommendation from the electoral commission to delay the return of writs for an additional two weeks. Writs are now due to be returned by August 12.

Democracy in retreat 

Myanmar: Phyo Zeya Thaw, a well-known hip-hop artist who became a pro-democracy activist and MP, has been executed by the military regime in Myanmar. Democracy activist Ko Jimmy and two other figures in the resistance, Hla Myo Aung and Aung Thura Zaw, were also executed this week.

The executions, the first carried out in Myanmar since 1988, drew global condemnation. Myanmar’s military said the four men had committed “terror acts”. The families of the four visited them in prison last week but were not informed it would be their final meeting. 

Myanmar’s military overthrew the elected government in a coup in February last year but has faced fierce opposition from the pro-democracy movement and ethnic minority groups. More than 120 people have been sentenced to death.

The executions were condemned by the United Nations and the United States, which said it was considering further sanctions, including on Myanmar’s gas sector. Cambodia, the chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, issued an unusually strong condemnation, saying it was “extremely troubled” by the executions. 

Phyo Zeya Thaw, who was 41 years old, was close to the ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi and was a member of her National League for Democracy party. In 2012, he met with then prime minister Julia Gillard in Canberra during an AusAID-sponsored trip. He also met with former US president Barack Obama in the White House. 

Australia’s minister for Foreign Affairs, Penny Wong, said on Tuesday the government will consider imposing sanctions against members of the military regime.

“Australia is appalled by the execution of four pro-democracy activists,” she said. 

Min Yan Naing, a close friend of Phyo Zeya Thaw, told the BBC: “Zeya Thaw didn’t give a damn about the death sentence. His belief – for ending military dictatorship – was so strong that he was always ready to face whatever danger he came across. Even though he might feel something inside, he wouldn’t show [the military regime].” 

Spotlight: Pope sorry for Canadian ‘evil’

On Monday, Pope Francis travelled to a field in Alberta, Canada, that had been the site of Ermineskin Indian Residential School, which operated from 1916 to 1975 and was one of the largest of the 139 schools in Canada that separated Indigenous children from their families to try to forcibly assimilate them. 

More than 150,000 children attended the institutions from the late 1800s until 1996. Students were forbidden to speak their languages, and many were physically or sexually abused. An estimated 6000 children died from suicide, disease and maltreatment. In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada said the schools amounted to a “cultural genocide”. About 60 per cent of the schools were operated by the Catholic Church; others were operated by the state.

At a ceremonial site near the Ermineskin grounds, Pope Francis, escorted by four chiefs, issued an apology for the “catastrophic” attempt to destroy the values, language and culture of Canada’s Indigenous peoples. 

“I humbly beg forgiveness for the evil committed by so many Christians against the Indigenous peoples,” the Pope said.

The apology, part of a week-long “penitential pilgrimage”, as the Pope put it, follows increasing moves by the church to recognise, and seek forgiveness for, its past transgressions. But the apology drew a mixed response from those who attended the schools. 

Phil Fontaine, who went to a school in Manitoba, told CBC that accepting the apology would help survivors to “move on”. “If we can’t bring ourselves to forgive, then this matter, this burden that we’ve had to shoulder for years and years, that’ll carry on endlessly,” he said. 

But Vivian Ketchum, who attended a school in Ontario, said the Pope had failed to address the sexual abuse or the harm to later generations of Indigenous peoples. 

“I think the sincerity might have been there, but I don’t think he fully comprehends the whole situation and what was done to us … the loss of language, culture,” she said. “I didn’t see it as a full apology.”

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on July 30, 2022 as "Zelensky accuses Moscow of energy supply ‘terrorism’".

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