Ukraine’s president sacks spy chief. Indonesian separatists claim responsibility for killings. More Sri Lankans flee as conditions worsen. By Jonathan Pearlman.

Europe swelters as UN calls for end to climate ‘blame game’

A member of the Queen’s Guard is given a drink of water outside Buckingham Palace this week, as temperatures in London soared.
A member of the Queen’s Guard is given a drink of water outside Buckingham Palace this week, as temperatures in London soared.
Credit: Reuters / John Sibley

Great power rivalry 

Ukraine: Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s president, this week dismissed his domestic spy chief, Ivan Bakanov, who was a lifelong friend, over concerns about widespread treason, collaborations and defections in the country’s security agencies.

Bakanov was removed as head of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) on Monday, two days after a senior official in the SBU was arrested on suspicion of treason. The state prosecutor, Iryna Venediktova, who has led efforts to investigate Russian war crimes, was also suspended. 

Bakanov and Venediktova were not accused of treason. But Zelensky said 60 officials employed by the SBU and the prosecutor’s office were currently in Russian-occupied territory and operating against the state. He said authorities have opened 651 collaboration and treason cases against Ukrainian officials.

Anti-corruption groups in Ukraine raised concerns about the dismissals, saying Zelensky was using his wartime authority to extend his control over the country’s leading law enforcement agencies. 

But some analysts said Ukraine’s military operations were being undermined by the failure to address treason in its agencies, particularly the SBU, which has long been known to be filled with Russian spies. Amanda Paul, from the European Policy Centre, told Politico: “All secret services are infiltrated to some degree or another but in Ukraine’s case, the infiltration is particularly bad.”

Russia has made little progress in its advance across eastern Ukraine in the past two weeks but has fortified its positions and is believed to be planning a further offensive. The White House said on Tuesday that Russian President Vladimir Putin plans to seize additional territory and then annex it after staging fake referenda.

Putin made a rare overseas visit this week, travelling to Tehran to meet with the leaders of Iran and Turkey. The trio discussed the conflict in Syria as well as efforts to resume exports of Ukrainian grain. Russia has blockaded Ukrainian ports, and both nations have planted sea mines that have interrupted shipping. About 9 per cent of the world’s supply of wheat and 44 per cent of the sunflower oil supply have been prevented from reaching global food markets.

The neighbourhood 

Indonesia: Separatists in the Indonesian region of Papua have claimed responsibility for an attack that killed at least 10 people, saying the victims were Indonesian spies disguised as workers. The attack, the deadliest in years, occurred in a village in the remote highland area of Nduga last weekend and was conducted by about 20 gunmen who shot at a truck being used by traders. Police said the victims were civilians. 

The West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB) claimed responsibility, warning that “Indonesian immigrants” should leave Papua or face further attacks.

“We shot 11 [Indonesian] people, and a Papuan because he took our pictures and fought back when the TPNPB questioned him,” a spokesperson, Egianus Kogoya, said in a statement, according to AFP.

The attack follows the passage of a controversial new law by the Indonesian parliament that will divide the region, which is currently split into Papua and West Papua, into five provinces. 

The government says the additional provinces will assist with development. But critics, including Indigenous groups and human rights organisations, say the move will lead to an increase in Indonesian security forces and a further influx of non-Indigenous migrants from other parts of Indonesia. This would further set back the push for self-determination in the region, which was incorporated into Indonesia in 1969 after a widely condemned referendum in which only about 1000 people were allowed to participate.

Democracy in retreat 

Sri Lanka: Growing numbers of residents in Sri Lanka have been seeking to leave the bankrupt country as shortages of food, medicines and fuel continue to worsen. 

Authorities said there had been a threefold rise in passport applications in the first 10 days of June, though applications have since increased. Unemployment is soaring, and the annual inflation rate has exceeded 50 per cent. 

On Wednesday, a special session of parliament appointed a new president, Ranil Wickremesinghe, following the resignation of the former leader, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who fled to Singapore after protesters occupied the presidential palace.

Protesters also burnt the home of Wickremesinghe, the former prime minister, and occupied his office. He has blamed Rajapaksa for concealing the nation’s looming economic collapse.

But protesters say the new president, a member of the ruling party, has close links to the Rajapaksa family, whose financial mismanagement and corruption left the country with massive debts that it could not repay. Sri Lanka is effectively bankrupt and is negotiating a bailout package with the International Monetary Fund. The country owes $US51 billion and has just $US25 million in foreign reserves.

W. M. S. Kumara, a farmer who joined a demonstration against Wickremesinghe this week in Colombo, the capital, told the Financial Times: “We have no fertiliser, no electricity and no food, so I came here to tell the politicians about our fate.”

Wickremesinghe is due to serve out Rajapaksa’s term, which ends in November 2024.

Spotlight: Heatwave in Europe

At 4pm on Tuesday, the temperature in Britain reached 40.3 degrees, the highest since recording began in the 1850s. “Britain’s burning,” declared the front page of The Daily Mirror. “Hellfire,” said The Sun.

But the records were not contained to Britain. Sixty-four areas of France recorded highs, and temperatures in Paris reached 40 degrees for only the third time. Germany recorded its hottest day of the year, and Portugal last week reached 47 degrees, a record for July. The heatwave across Europe has caused bushfires in France, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece. In south-west France, 37,000 people were evacuated as fires burnt more than 20,300 hectares across Gironde, a popular tourist region. In Spain, dozens of fires razed 60,000 hectares and left at least two people dead. 

“Evidently, climate change kills,” Spain’s prime minister, Pedro Sanchez, told reporters. “It kills people, kills our ecosystem, the biodiversity.”

The World Meteorological Organization this week warned that climate change will lead to more extreme weather events at least until the 2060s, even if global warming is eventually contained. “The increase in the frequency, duration and intensity of these events over recent decades is clearly linked to the observed warming of the planet and can be attributed to human activity,” it said. 

“The chances of seeing 40°C days in the UK could be as much as 10 times more likely in the current climate than under a natural climate unaffected by human influence.”

The United Nations secretary-general, António Guterres, said countries have continued to reduce their climate targets, even though the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees was already on “life support”.

“Nations continue to play the blame game instead of taking responsibility for our collective future,” he said. 

In Britain, the frontrunner to replace Boris Johnson as prime minister is Rishi Sunak. According to TheyWorkForYou, a website that monitors voting patterns by MPs, Sunak has “almost always voted against measures to prevent climate change”.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on July 23, 2022 as "Europe swelters as UN calls for end to climate ‘blame game’".

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