Cracks in Western support for Ukraine. Clashes in Papua leave five dead. Canada–India rift grows. By Jonathan Pearlman.

Judge gags Trump as fraud trial puts empire on shaky ground

Donald Trump in a courthouse and flanked by two police officers.
Former US president Donald Trump attends the start of a civil fraud trial in New York City this week.
Credit: Michael M. Santiago / Getty Images

Great power rivalry

Ukraine: United States President Joe Biden and European leaders sought to assure Ukraine of their support this week as cracks emerged in the Western effort to resist Russia’s invasion.

Concerns arose about the US’s commitment to Ukraine after Congress dropped a plan to provide additional military and economic aid. The move was demanded by hardline Republicans, who insisted the spending be excluded from a deal on a funding package last weekend to avoid a government shutdown. On Tuesday, the hardliners succeeded in ousting Kevin McCarthy as speaker of the House of Representatives, claiming he had made a secret deal with the White House to continue funding for Ukraine.

Biden contacted US allies and partners this week to assure them Ukraine had bipartisan support and “the United States will continue to meet our commitments”. “A lapse in support will make Putin believe he can wait us out, and that he can continue the conflict,” Biden told them, according to a spokesperson.

Meanwhile, in Slovakia, a populist pro-Russia party is seeking to form government after winning 42 seats in the 150-member parliament, more than any other party. Robert Fico, a former prime minister and leader of the Smer party, campaigned on providing humanitarian but not military aid to Ukraine and on blocking Ukraine’s bid to join NATO.

“Slovakia has bigger problems than Ukraine,” Fico said after the elections last weekend.

Slovakia has so far been a staunch supporter of Ukraine and was the first country to provide it with fighter jets. Fico, if he forms a ruling coalition, will join the leaders of Hungary and Serbia as European backers of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.

Elsewhere, tensions erupted between Poland and Ukraine over concerns Ukrainian grain exports could hurt Polish farmers.

To demonstrate support for Ukraine, European Union foreign ministers this week met in Kyiv, marking their first summit outside an EU country.

Josep Borrell, the EU’s chief diplomat, told reporters: “This meeting should be understood as a clear commitment of the European Union to Ukraine.”

The neighbourhood

Indonesia: A clash between Indonesian security forces and independence fighters in Indonesia’s Papua region left five Papuans dead as tensions remained high following the kidnapping in February of a New Zealand pilot.

Indonesia’s joint police and military force on Monday said the rebels were killed during a battle in Papua Highland province last weekend and that authorities seized guns, arrows, cash, ammunition and a “morning star” flag – a symbol of the separatists.

Sebby Sambom, a spokesperson for the West Papua National Liberation Army, the armed wing of the Free Papua Movement, confirmed the Indonesian account, telling Associated Press the losses “would not make us surrender”.

Separatists in Papua have conducted an insurgency in the region for decades, following an independence vote in 1969 that is widely seen as a sham.

In February, rebels kidnapped New Zealand pilot Phillip Mehrtens and then staged an ambush in April against Indonesian forces searching for him, killing at least six soldiers.

According to official data published this week in The Jakarta Post, the poverty rate in Papua and West Papua is 26 per cent and 20 per cent, compared with a national average of 9 per cent.

Democracy in retreat

India: Canada was ordered to withdraw 41 diplomats from India this week amid a deepening rift over India’s alleged assassination of a Sikh separatist leader near Vancouver.

India ordered the removal of the diplomats by this coming Tuesday and threatened to revoke their diplomatic immunity if they remained, according to a report in the Financial Times.

The move followed Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s claim that Indian agents had been linked to the murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, who was shot by two masked gunmen outside a Sikh temple in June. Nijjar, who moved to Canada in the 1990s, had been labelled a terrorist by India over his alleged links to militants who support the creation of an independent state in northern India. New Delhi said the claim was “absurd”.

Following Trudeau’s accusation, both sides expelled diplomats. India’s ministry of external affairs then said it believed there should be “parity” in the number of diplomats in each country. Canada has a large diplomatic presence in India to deal with consular issues related to Canada’s large Indian-ancestry population.

Asked whether Canada would respond by removing more Indian diplomats, Trudeau told reporters on Tuesday he was not
planning to escalate tensions at “this extremely difficult time”.

India has long expressed anger over the presence of Sikh separatists in Canada and has urged authorities in Canada to constrain their activities.

In the past year, several other prominent Sikh separatists around the world have been killed in violent or mysterious circumstances.

The family of Avtar Singh Khanda, a 35-year-old who died suddenly in Birmingham in June, reportedly from blood cancer, this week asked the chief coroner for England and Wales to conduct a formal inquest. Police in England said they had reviewed the death and found “no suspicious circumstances”.

Spotlight: Trump empire at risk

United States: Donald Trump was back in court this week.

Aside from his four looming criminal trials on charges involving election interference, mishandling secret documents and making illegal hush payments, the former president and his family face a civil trial that could result in fines worth more than US$250 million and determine the fate of his real estate empire.

Trump is accused of inflating the value of his assets – including properties at Trump Tower and Mar-a-Lago, his Florida resort – by as much as US$2.2 billion to secure cheaper loans and premiums from lenders and insurers. In 2015, for instance, he claimed his apartment at Trump Tower was worth US$327 million, even though, at the time, only one apartment in New York had ever sold for more than US$100 million.

The judge hearing the case, Arthur Engoron, has already ruled in a pretrial judgement that Trump committed fraud and presented valuations that were from “a fantasy world, not the real world”. But the court is yet to rule on further claims and to determine the amount of any fines.

Trump risks being barred from doing business in New York and could be forced to sell assets to pay any penalties. He usually avoids appearing at hearings in his civil cases but turned up at court in New York this week. Before entering, he described the judge as a “rogue” who had a vendetta against him and the New York attorney-general, Letitia James, who is Black, as a corrupt “racist”.

“This is a continuation of the single greatest witch-hunt of all time,” he told reporters.

On Tuesday, the judge imposed a gag order on Trump after the former president made disparaging remarks on social media about a court clerk.

During the hearings, Kevin Wallace, a counsel for the attorney-general, told the court: “It may be one thing to exaggerate for a publication, and a television audience. But you can’t do it while conducting business in the state of New York.”

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on October 7, 2023 as "Judge gags Trump as fraud trial puts empire on shaky ground ".

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