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Ukraine’s leader seeks Russia sanctions before it’s too late

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged European Union leaders on Wednesday to swiftly impose new sanctions on Russia before it invades his country, and warned that acting after any conflict would be far too late.

Speaking to reporters in Brussels, Zelenskyy said Ukraine stands ready to enter into talks with Russia to ease tensions, but that Russian President Vladimir Putin does not so far appear willing to come to the table.

The EU’s 27 national leaders will weigh how best to prevent a Russian invasion at a summit on Thursday. A statement drafted for their meeting, seen by The Associated Press, warns that “any further military aggression against Ukraine will have massive consequences and severe cost in response.”

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“For us, it is important to have sanctions applied before, rather than after, the conflict would happen, because if they were applied after the conflict would happen, this would basically make them meaningless,” Zelenskyy said.

“We have war going on for eight years. We understand that only if the sanctions are applied prior to the armed conflict would they become a prevention mechanism for any possible escalation,” he said.

US intelligence officials say Russia has moved 70,000 troops toward Ukraine’s border and is preparing for a possible invasion early next year. Moscow denies that it has any plans to attack Ukraine, but did so in 2014 when it annexed the Crimean Peninsula.

Zelenskyy said he and some EU leaders discussed five options for responding to any Russian attack, but he provided no details. European officials argue that it's a better deterrent to keep Putin in the dark about what measures might be used against him.

Earlier, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the EU has a battery of fresh sanctions ready if Moscow sends its troops across the border. Beyond scaling up existing sanctions, she said, the EU can adopt “unprecedented measures with serious consequences for Russia.″

The US and the EU have been coordinating their response to the Russian, but no real details of any sanctions have emerged. EU nations are divided between those in the east that think sanctions should be imposed immediately, and others like France and Germany who fear that could provoke an invasion.

French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz held a special meeting with Zelenskyy focused, at least in part, on how to revive the “Normandy format” involving their two countries plus Russia and Ukraine for talks aimed at ending the conflict.

So far, Moscow has refused pleas to return to the negotiating table.

Zelenskyy said Ukraine is open to negotiations of any kind, but that “what we are lacking is a willingness on the other side, on the Russian side, to engage in any kind of format or negotiations with us.”

France and Germany brokered a peace agreement in 2015 that helped end large-scale hostilities in eastern Ukraine, where Ukrainian forces have been fighting Russia-backed separatists since 2014. Still the conflict that has left 14,000 dead has simmered.

Scholz warned that more talks “must not be misunderstood as a new German ‘Ostpolitik,’” referring to West German Chancellor Willy Brandt’s policy of détente toward the communist Eastern bloc in the early 1970s.

There “can only be a European ‘Ostpolitik’ in a united Europe” that is based on principles of international law and order that Russia committed itself to but violated with the annexation of Crimea, he said.

Compounding the testy relations with Moscow, Germany decided Wednesday to expel two Russian diplomats after a court concluded that Moscow was behind the killing of a Chechen man in Berlin two years ago.

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Security guard killed inside Qatar Embassy in Paris

A security guard was killed in the early hours of Monday inside the Qatar Embassy in Paris in an incident that does not appear to have any links to terrorism, a source close to the investigation said.
The incident took place at around 0630 (0430 GMT), the source said, adding that the suspect had entered the embassy and had a row with the security guard, who died after being punched.

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The Paris prosecutor’s office confirmed the death and said one person had been arrested on the spot.
“I can confirm that an investigation was opened today on the count of murder,” the prosecutor’s office said.

Read more: Iran will ‘avenge’ killing of IRGC colonel: President

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Sandstorm forces closure of Iraqi airports and public buildings

Iraq closed public buildings and temporarily shut airports Monday as another sandstorm — the ninth since mid-April — hit the country, authorities said.

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The capital Baghdad was enveloped in a giant dust cloud that left usually traffic-choked streets largely deserted, an AFP correspondent said.

Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi ordered all work to cease in public institutions, with the exception of health facilities and security agencies.

He cited “poor climatic conditions and the arrival of violent sandstorms” in a statement issued by his office.

Iraq is ranked as one of the five most vulnerable nations to climate change and desertification.

The environment ministry has warned that over the next two decades, Iraq could endure an average of 272 days of sandstorms per year, rising to above 300 by 2050.

Air traffic was suspended Monday at international airports in Baghdad, Erbil and Najaf, according to statements issued by each airport, before authorities announced later in the morning that flights were resuming at Baghdad and Erbil.

The previous two sandstorms killed one person and sent nearly 10,000 people to hospital with respiratory problems.

The Middle East has always been battered by sandstorms, but they have become more frequent and intense in recent years.

The trend has been associated with rising heat and water scarcity, overuse of river water, more dams, overgrazing and deforestation.

Oil-rich Iraq is known in Arabic as the land of the two rivers, in reference to the Tigris and Euphrates.

Iraq’s environment ministry has said the weather phenomenon could be addressed by increasing vegetation cover and planting trees that act as windbreaks.

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Oxfam tells Davos: Time to tax growing billionaire club

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a new billionaire every 30 hours and now one million people could fall into extreme poverty at the same pace, Oxfam said Monday as the Davos summit returns.

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The international charity said it was time to tax the rich to support the less fortunate as the global elite gathered at the Swiss mountain haven for the World Economic Forum after a two-year Covid-induced absence.

Oxfam said it expects 263 million people to sink into extreme poverty this year, at a rate of one million every 33 hours, as soaring inflation has added a cost-of-living crisis on top of COVID-19.

By comparison, 573 people became billionaires during the pandemic, or one every 30 hours.

“Billionaires are arriving in Davos to celebrate an incredible surge in their fortunes,” Oxfam executive director Gabriela Bucher said in a statement.

“The pandemic and now the steep increases in food and energy prices have, simply put, been a bonanza for them,” Bucher said.

“Meanwhile, decades of progress on extreme poverty are now in reverse and millions of people are facing impossible rises in the cost of simply staying alive,” she said.

Oxfam called for a one-off “solidarity tax” on billionaires’ pandemic windfall to support people facing soaring prices as well as fund a “fair and sustainable recovery” from the pandemic.

It also said it was time to “end crisis profiteering” by rolling out a “temporary excess profit tax” of 90 percent on windfall profits of big corporations.

Oxfam added that an annual wealth tax on millionaires of two percent, and five percent for billionaires, could generate $2.52 trillion a year.

Such a wealth tax would help lift 2.3 billion people out of poverty, make enough vaccines for the world and pay for universal health care for people in poorer countries, it said.

Oxfam based its calculations on the Forbes list of billionaires and World Bank data.

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