US reveals grim Russian toll. Plan for PNG soldiers to join Australian forces. Coronation of Charles III. By Jonathan Pearlman.

Refugee crisis unfolds as fighting continues in Sudan

A Royal Saudi Naval Forces sailor carries a child as evacuees arrive at King Faisal Navy Base in Jeddah
A Royal Saudi Naval Forces sailor carries a child as evacuees arrive at King Faisal Navy Base in Jeddah, following a rescue operation from Sudan.
Credit: Amer Hilabi / AFP

Great power rivalry

Ukraine: A Russian offensive in eastern Ukraine since December has failed to make significant territorial gains but has left 100,000 Russian fighters dead or wounded, including about 10,000 members of the Wagner mercenary group who were killed, according to a United States intelligence assessment.

This grim toll was revealed this week by a White House spokesperson, John Kirby, who said that US intelligence had concluded that many of the mercenaries were being sent to the front lines without proper training or leadership. He said most of the troops were killed in brutal trench warfare for the small eastern city of Bakhmut, which has seen some of the heaviest fighting of the war.

“This attempted effort, particularly in Bakhmut, has come at a terribly, terribly high cost,” Kirby told reporters.

“Russia has been unable to seize any really strategically significant territory.”

The Kremlin said the US figures – which included 20,000 Russians dead and 80,000 wounded – were “plucked from thin air”. The US did not release its estimate of Ukrainian casualties.

Ukraine is now believed to be preparing for a major counteroffensive, saying on Tuesday it had formed eight new brigades, consisting of 40,000 troops, which will require several weeks of training before being deployed.

On Wednesday, Russia accused Ukraine of attempting to kill Vladimir Putin in a drone attack on the Kremlin, vowing to retaliate.

Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, denied involvement, saying he would leave punishment of Putin to an international tribunal. “We fight only on our own territory,” he said.

Russia and Ukraine have both been blamed for increasing attacks on residential areas and civilian infrastructure in recent days. Pro-Ukrainian groups were believed to be behind explosions that derailed two freight trains in Russia, near the Belarus border. Russian missiles and drone strikes have hit several Ukrainian cities and towns, including an attack on Friday of last week that hit a block of apartments in Uman, killing 23 people.

“There’s no military object here,” a 35-year-old resident of the block told BBC News. “It happened at 4 o’clock in the morning, as people were sleeping.” 

The neighbourhood

Papua New Guinea: The government of Papua New Guinea this week endorsed a proposal to embed Pacific Islanders in the Australian military, which faces a looming shortage of personnel.

Australia’s Defence minister, Richard Marles, said on Tuesday he wanted to expand existing exchange programs involving defence forces from friendly countries. The move follows the government’s release last month of the Defence Strategic Review, which warned that the military is experiencing significant workforce challenges and must adopt “creative and flexible” solutions.

The Australian Defence Force wants to recruit an additional 18,500 personnel by 2040 yet increased its numbers by 3200 – from 56,100 to 59,300 – in the past nine years.

Several analysts have called for Australia to recruit from Pacific nations. Fijian soldiers already serve in the British Army and have traditionally been a major source of United Nations peacekeeping personnel.

Justin Tkatchenko, Papua New Guinea’s foreign affairs minister, said this week that he supported proposals to embed troops in the Australian Defence Force. He told The Australian that rotating soldiers through the ADF for extended periods would help “to train and to build up the professionalism of our forces”.

“I think it’s a great idea to have our soldiers participate and get experience and knowledge by being part of the Australian Defence Force and working together as one,” he said.

Australia typically allows only Australian citizens to join the ADF. New Zealand’s military accepts citizens of Britain, Australia, the US and Canada. France’s Foreign Legion has admitted foreign nationals since 1831.

Democracy in retreat

Sudan: The United Nations this week warned that more than 800,000 people could flee Sudan as the country’s two warring generals repeatedly defied a ceasefire.

Fighting between the national military, led by Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and the Rapid Support Forces, an official but separate force led by Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, has left millions of residents trapped in their homes without electricity, water and food. As of Tuesday, at least 528 people had been killed and 4600 wounded. More than 100,000 people have fled the country, including 40,000 who crossed into Egypt and 21,000 into Chad.

The UN Refugee Agency said on Tuesday it was planning for more than 800,000 people to flee to neighbouring countries, including 200,000 South Sudanese refugees who have been forced to return despite the risk of violence.

Violence continued across Sudan this week, even as the two sides agreed on Tuesday to a new seven-day ceasefire. The two generals were originally supposed to jointly oversee a transition to democracy but instead seized power in a coup in 2021 and then failed to agree on a plan to merge their forces. Much of the fighting has been in Khartoum, the capital, where medics this week reported seeing bodies piling up on the streets.

Foreign countries have evacuated thousands of diplomats and foreign nationals. On Wednesday, an Australian air force plane evacuated 36 Australians and their families, along with nationals from six other countries, to Cyprus.

The UN’s emergency relief co-ordinator, Martin Griffiths, arrived in the region this week to discuss plans for providing immediate aid.

“The situation unfolding there since April 15 is catastrophic,” he said in a tweet.

Spotlight: Coronation of King Charles III

England: On Saturday, King Charles III and Queen Camilla will be crowned at Westminster Abbey, London, where British coronations have been held since William the Conqueror was crowned in 1066.

The coronation will be Britain’s first since 1953, when Queen Elizabeth II ascended to the throne at age 25. Charles, who is 73 years old, has opted for a relatively low-key affair, though the ceremony will still include 2000 guests (Queen Elizabeth II had 8000), an array of maces, swords, crowns and coaches, and an anointment with holy oil by the Archbishop of Canterbury – a sacred part of the service that will not be televised. The coronation will be attended by foreign royals from Japan, Denmark and Jordan, as well as by New Zealand’s Māori king, and the leaders of France, Australia, Canada and Pakistan. The US will be represented by Jill Biden, the First Lady. Britain’s Prince Harry is attending – his wife Meghan is not.

Polls show support for the monarchy in Britain has been steadily declining. A survey released last week by the National Centre for Social Research found 45 per cent of Britons said the monarchy should be abolished or was not important, up from 35 per cent in 2022.

Still, a mild sort of public affection for Charles has developed in recent years.

Matthew d’Ancona, a British columnist, observed in The Washington Post this week: “The frustrated, prickly middle-aged prince has morphed into a twinkly grandfather of the nation.”

A poll published in the Daily Mail found that King Charles had a respectable approval rating of 54 per cent. But he lagged behind the late Princess Diana, on 63 per cent, his son Prince William, on 64 per cent, and the late Queen, on 76 per cent.

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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 6, 2023 as "Refugee crisis unfolds as fighting continues in Sudan".

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