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G7 ministers present united front against Russia over Ukraine crisis

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The world's wealthiest democracies on Saturday sought to present a united front against Russian aggression toward Ukraine as Britain hosted a meeting of foreign ministers in the northern English city of Liverpool.

The G7 meeting, attended in person by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his counterparts from France, Italy, Germany, Japan and Canada, comes amid international concern that Russia could invade Ukraine. Russia denies planning any attack.

British foreign minister Liz Truss met Blinken on Friday night where they expressed deep concern about the build-up of Russian troops on Ukraine's border, the foreign office in London said in a statement.

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Any incursion by Russia “would be a strategic mistake for which there would be serious consequences,” it said.

“We need to defend ourselves against the growing threats from hostile actors and we need to come together strongly to stand up to aggressors who are seeking to limit the bounds of freedom and democracy,” Truss told foreign ministers at the start of the meeting. “To do this, we need to have a stronger united voice”

Ukraine is at the center of a crisis in East-West relations as it accuses Russia of massing tens of thousands of troops in preparation for a possible large-scale military offensive.

Russia accuses Ukraine and the US of destabilizing behavior, and has said it needs security guarantees for its own protection.

Washington is sending its top diplomat for Europe, Assistant Secretary Karen Donfried, to Ukraine and Russia on December 13-15 to meet with senior government officials.

“Assistant Secretary Donfried will emphasize that we can make diplomatic progress on ending the conflict in the Donbas through implementation of the Minsk agreements in support of the Normandy Format,” the US State Department said in a statement.

Age of introspection

Ministers arrived at the Museum of Liverpool to a brass band playing Christmas carols, before convening the first formal meeting session which will look at geopolitical issues including nuclear talks with Iran and the military buildup in Iran.

The G7 meeting “is about a show of unity between like-minded major economies, that we are going to absolutely be strong in our stance against aggression, against aggression with respect to Ukraine,” Truss told reporters ahead of the talks.

Britain, as current chair of the G7, is calling for its members to be more strident in their defense of what it calls “the free world”.

Earlier this week, Truss said the “age of introspection” for the West was over and it needed to wake up to the dangers of rival ideologies. She has highlighted the economic risks of Europe's dependence on Russian gas and the wider security threat posed by Chinese technology as examples.

The G7 meeting is also expected to result in a joint call for Iran to moderate its nuclear program and grasp the opportunity of ongoing talks in Vienna to revive a multilateral agreement on its nuclear development.

Both Truss and Blinken stressed the need for Iran to engage in the talks, according to the foreign office statement.

Germany, which takes over the rotating G7 leadership from Britain next year, is expected to set out its program for 2022 at the meeting.

Ministers from the European Union, Australia, South Korea and India will take part in some sessions as guests of the G7, along with representatives from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

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Russian and UK defense ministers to meet over Ukraine

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Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has accepted an invitation to meet his British counterpart Ben Wallace to discuss the crisis on the Russia-Ukraine border, a senior UK defense source said Saturday.

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“The Defense Secretary is glad that Russia has accepted the invitation to talk with his counterpart,” the source said.

“Given the last defense bilateral between our two countries took place in London in 2013, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has offered to meet in Moscow instead,” added the source.

“The Secretary of State has been clear that he will explore all avenues to achieve stability and a resolution to the Ukraine crisis.”

Tens of thousands of Russian troops are massed on Ukraine’s border, along with an arsenal of tanks, fighting vehicles, artillery and missiles.

Russia has denied it plans to invade but the White House believes an attack could now come “at any point.”

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss warned on Friday that Moscow risks becoming embroiled in a “terrible quagmire” if it invades.

In a speech in Australia, the UK’s top diplomat issued a blunt and personal warning to Russian President Vladimir Putin that he is on the brink of making a major strategic blunder.

He “has not learned the lessons of history,” Truss told Sydney’s Lowy Institute.

“The Ukrainians will fight this, it could be a quagmire” she said.

Britain is among a handful of Western nations rushing weapons such as anti-tank missiles to Ukraine.

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At least six killed in blast in western Afghan city of Herat

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A blast ripped through a minivan in the western Afghan city of Herat on Saturday, killing at least six people, according to officials.

Herat commander Mawlawi Ansari told Reuters that nine people had been injured. The cause of the blast was not clear.

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A health official in Herat, who asked not to be named, said an explosion hit a small van used for public transport just after 1800 local time and that three of the injured were in serious condition.

Since the Taliban took over in August, a series of blasts and attacks, some claimed by Islamic State, have taken place across Afghanistan.

The attacks have heightened the new administration’s security challenges as the country spirals into an economic crisis.

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Arab League delays annual summit as COVID-19 bites again

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The Arab League has announced it is delaying its annual summit scheduled for March 22 in Algiers because of COVID-19 after two years of cancellations due to the pandemic.

“Every year, the summit is held in March, but this year, there has been a delay,” the pan-Arab organization’s assistant secretary general, Hossam Zaki, said in televised remarks Friday, a week after returning to Cairo from a visit to Algiers.

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The last Arab League summit was held in Tunis in March 2019. The past two years’ gatherings have been cancelled due to the pandemic.

Zaki added that Algeria “preferred the option” of delaying the summit, noting that the critical mass of Arab leaders and high-ranking officials needed for the summit could not be guaranteed due to the public health situation.

Arab foreign ministers are expected to announce a new date for the summit during their scheduled meeting on March 9, Zaki said.

Zaki said that there were “no political reasons” behind the delay, but the time could be used to “improve political climates” in the region.

The summit is important for Algeria, which has been seeking to expand its political sphere of influence, against the backdrop of heightened tensions with Morocco.

No agenda has been announced for this year’s summit, but the Arab world remains plagued with multiple conflicts and crises.

These extend from the war in Yemen, which has killed nearly 400,000 people since 2015, to the 2021 coup in Sudan that resulted in its suspension from the African Union, as well as protracted crises in Libya, Lebanon and beyond.

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