BELARUS ‘cannot’ call off the WWII Victory Day parade on 9 May, despite the coronavirus pandemic, because thousands of people are looking forward to the event, including veterans, President Alexander Lukashenko said on Sunday.
‘I must say that we cannot cancel the parade. We simply cannot. I have been thinking about it for a long time. Of course, this is an emotional and deeply ideological thing,’ Lukashenko said, as quoted by the state news agency BelTA.
He noted that Soviet soldiers had sacrificed their lives for the sake of the next generations without fear of dying.
‘We must remember that those people died during WWII perhaps from viruses and other diseases as well.
‘But they did not realise it sometimes and they did not think about it. And they died for us, however high-flown it may sound.
‘Just think what people would say if we cancel the parade. Maybe not immediately, but in a day or two after May 9, they would say that we got scared,’ the president added.
He at the same time stressed that Belarus would understand those people who might abstain from attending the parade due to health concerns, noting that there are ‘thousands and thousands’ of those looking forward to the event.
The veterans of the Great Patriotic War, he said, were the first to demand that they be brought to this event. He noted that veterans are in their 90s and the country should thoroughly think about it, since ‘all these infections cling to the elderly in the first place.’
Earlier in the day, Belarus updated its Covid-19 tally by 877 cases to 16,705. The death toll is standing at 99. The country has refrained from introducing economic lockdown or movement restrictions.
- A video conference of foreign ministers from the Normandy format countries – Russia, Ukraine, France, and Germany – on the Ukrainian crisis settlement will be held on 30 April.
The meeting will focus on assessing the implementation of decisions made at the Normandy format summit in Paris last December, including an ‘all-for-all’ exchange of conflict-related detainees, a ceasefire, and the coordination of new areas for the disengagement of forces. Moreover, the parties are expected to address the coronavirus pandemic.
Russia will be represented by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
The Normandy format was created in 2016 in order to address the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. The civil war in the country has been raging since 2014 when Donetsk and Lugansk declared their independence from Kiev following a violent coup d’etat in the Ukrainian capital.
The latest meeting of the Normandy Four leaders took place on 9 December in Paris after a three-year hiatus. The countries adopted a joint communique that outlined the next steps in the peace process, resulting in a prisoner swap and a ceasefire in the region.
Crimea rejoined Russia in March 2014 as a result of a referendum which saw over 96 per cent of the peninsula’s residents backing the option.
However, the move was opposed by Ukraine and a majority of Western countries, including EU members, with several rounds of sanctions slapped on Moscow.
Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has spoken out in favour of lifting of anti-Russian sanctions imposed by the EU after the reunification of Russia with Crimea, as he underscored that cooperation with the Russian Federation was especially vital in amid the global health and economic crisis spawned by the Covid-19 pandemic.
‘Right now, when we are facing difficult economic times due to the coronavirus crisis, we need more cooperation. That is why senseless sanctions have to go,’ said Schroeder.
When asked in the interview to comment the fact that the sanctions were Europe’s answer to the alleged ‘annexation of Crimea’ that violated international law, Schroeder said: ‘Anyone who thinks that sanctions could be used to force Russia to do something is wrong. No Russian president will ever return Crimea to Ukraine.’
Speaking about the situation in the east of Ukraine, Schroeder noted that ‘peaceful coexistence will only exist if Ukraine becomes a federal state in which the east of the country will gain more autonomy’.
Underscoring the need for countries to join forces in the fight against the common enemy – the Covid-19 virus, Schroeder said: ‘Instead of confrontation, today it is all about understanding, cooperation and solidarity worldwide.’
As he urged the German government to face the lessons of history unflinchingly ahead of the 75th anniversary of the end of WWII, Schroeder emphasised: ‘It was a cruel campaign of extermination with the aim of making Russia disappear from the world political stage. We must never forget that – and German Russia policy must take this into account more than is currently the case.’
The former German Chancellor concluded that despite the past, ‘Russia is willing to work with the new Germany in a spirit of trust cannot be overestimated. It does not fit that we continue to support the sanctions against Russia.’
Relations between the Russian Federation and Western countries deteriorated in March 2014, following Crimea’s reunification with Russia after almost 97 per cent of the peninsula’s residents supported the move in a regional referendum.
The reunification was not recognised by the West, including EU members, despite Moscow repeatedly stressing that Crimea had conducted the referendum in compliance with international law.
That was when the EU first imposed its anti-Russian sanctions, that include asset freezes and travel restrictions. Since then, the EU has extended the sanctions on a bi-annual basis.
Moscow has repeatedly denied all allegations and reacted with countermeasures against the Western nations that targeted it with sanctions.
- In April, US President Donald Trump announced via Twitter that he had given the green light to the American Navy to attack and sink small Iranian military vessels if they start harassing US military ships.
The Iranian news agency Tasnim has quoted the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Navy Commander Admiral Alireza Tangsiri as saying that US actions during last month’s incident in the Gulf rode roughshod over regional security.
‘They, the US ships, entered the area of our naval drills despite the fact that we earlier announced about holding the exercises. They are looking to undermine security with such steps, which is why they were ordered to leave the area’, Tangsiri pointed out.
The statement came after Iranian President Hassan Rouhani warned the US against preparing any military moves in the Persian Gulf, pointing to the historic name of the waterway.
‘Here is always the Persian Gulf and will remain the Persian Gulf forever. The US should know that the name of this gulf is the Persian Gulf and not the New York Gulf and Washington Gulf. They, the United States, should stop hatching plots against Iran’, Rouhani told a cabinet meeting in Tehran last Wednesday.
He also underscored that Iran has successfully protected the waterway for years and will continue to do so.
Rouhani was echoed by Brigadier General Abolfazl Shekarchi, the spokesman of the Iranian armed forces, who cautioned that if US forces engage in any acts of aggression against Iran’s territory or its people, Tehran will provide a harsh response.
The remarks followed US President Donald Trump tweeting in late April that he had ‘instructed the United States Navy to shoot down and destroy any and all Iranian gunboats if they harass our ships at sea’.
A spokesperson for the Iranian Armed Forces responded by advising Washington to focus on saving its own military from the coronavirus outbreak instead.
This followed an incident on 15 April, when the US Central Command said that 11 vessels of the Iranian Revolution Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) had conducted ‘dangerous and provocative’ manoeuvres around US warships in the Gulf for roughly an hour.
The Iranian military denounced the accusations as a ‘Hollywood plot,’ responding, in turn, by referring to an earlier incident in which US vessels carried out two consecutive provocative intercepts of an Iranian warship. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, for his part, tweeted at the time that said the US military should stay out of the Persian Gulf altogether.
The simmering tensions between Washington and Tehran escalated further in early January, when top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani was killed in a US drone strike at Baghdad International Airport, in what was authorised by President Trump. In retaliation, Iran launched dozens of missiles at two US bases in Baghdad on 8 January, with over 100 US troops diagnosed with brain injuries of various severity as a result of the strikes.
The bilateral tensions have been in place since the US’s May 2018 unilateral withdrawal from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), reinstating strict economic sanctions against the Islamic Republic. Exactly a year later, Tehran started suspending some of its JCPOA obligations.