Ramadan without Food or Joy in Northwestern Syria

A housewife cooks food over a fire in a shelter in the city of Jisr al-Shughour. (Asharq Al-Awsat)
A housewife cooks food over a fire in a shelter in the city of Jisr al-Shughour. (Asharq Al-Awsat)
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Ramadan without Food or Joy in Northwestern Syria

A housewife cooks food over a fire in a shelter in the city of Jisr al-Shughour. (Asharq Al-Awsat)
A housewife cooks food over a fire in a shelter in the city of Jisr al-Shughour. (Asharq Al-Awsat)

More than three million in northwestern Syria will be observing this year’s Ramadan, Islam’s holy month of fasting, while living in rundown tents and shelters after having endured protracted displacement, years of war, and a devastating earthquake.

“We’re living the toughest days of our lives... How will we rejoice in Ramadan’s advent when many of our loved ones will be missing from our Iftar tables?” said Khaled, 33, a west Idlib local who lost 13 relatives, including a mother and a brother, in the February 6 quake.

Khaled noted that, this year, his family did not perform the usual preparations for Ramadan because they were still mourning their loss.

Umm Muhammad, 41, whose family was afflicted by the earthquake, took refuge in a shelter near the city of Jandaris.

“This year’s Ramadan is coming and I’m living in unprecedented instability,” she said, recounting how she had lost her kitchen and house in the earthquake.

Umm Muhammad now lives in a tent with a few cooking utensils. Moreover, she does not have stable access to cooking gas, which is why she prepares her meals over a fire she sets after gathering wood from nearby farms.

Considering her family’s limited financial means and her husband's inability to work because of the earthquake, this Ramadan, Umm Muhammad will only be serving simple foods, such as bulgur, rice, vegetables, and tomato molasses.

Making matters worse, a heavy rainstorm recently hit northwestern Syria, impacting hundreds of displaced families. Torrential rains swept their tents, and everything inside was damaged, including the supplies that families worked to prepare for Ramadan.

An official in the “Adwan refugee camp,” which houses more than 400 displaced families in the western countryside of Idlib, confirmed that they no longer have anything suitable for food, after the devastating rainstorm.



Ukrainian Dam Breach: What Is Happening and What’s at Stake 

Streets are flooded in Kherson, Ukraine, Wednesday, June 7, 2023 after the walls of the Kakhovka dam collapsed. (AP)
Streets are flooded in Kherson, Ukraine, Wednesday, June 7, 2023 after the walls of the Kakhovka dam collapsed. (AP)
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Ukrainian Dam Breach: What Is Happening and What’s at Stake 

Streets are flooded in Kherson, Ukraine, Wednesday, June 7, 2023 after the walls of the Kakhovka dam collapsed. (AP)
Streets are flooded in Kherson, Ukraine, Wednesday, June 7, 2023 after the walls of the Kakhovka dam collapsed. (AP)

The fallout from the breach of a river dam along a frontline of Russia's war in Ukraine continued to wreak havoc on lives, livelihoods and the environment on Wednesday.

The dramatic rupture of the Kakhovka dam that upheld Ukraine's largest reservoir began releasing a torrent of water a day earlier in areas where tens of thousands of people live along the Dnieper River. The river's southernmost portion has become a makeshift dividing line between the fighting sides.

It's not clear what caused the breach on the dam, which was already damaged in the war. Ukraine accused Russian forces of blowing up the facility, while Russian officials blamed Ukrainian military strikes.

What are the latest developments?

Authorities and rescue workers on both sides stepped up efforts Wednesday to pull beleaguered residents to higher and drier ground, a day after torrential flooding from the dam breach inundated their homes, villages and cities.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy wrote on Telegram that hundreds of thousands of people were without normal access to drinking water.

The Russia-appointed mayor of the occupied city of Nova Kakhovka, Vladimir Leontyev, said seven people were missing. The city sits near the dam.

In Ukrainian-controlled areas on the western side, Oleksandr Prokudin, the head of Kherson Regional Military administration, said water levels were expected to rise by another meter (about 3 feet) over the next 20 hours.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Tuesday that at least 16,000 people have already lost their homes, and the UN’s humanitarian aid coordinator said efforts are underway to provide water, money, and legal and emotional support to those affected.

The head of the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Mariano Grossi, tweeted about “concerning developments” in the wake of the dam breach and said he will travel next week to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which sits upstream. IAEA said Tuesday there was “no immediate risk" to the safety of the plant,” whose six reactors have been shut down for months but still need water for cooling.

Why is the dam important?

The 30-meter-high (98-foot-high) dam and associated hydroelectric power station are located about 70 kilometers (44 miles) east of the city of Kherson — a flashpoint of the conflict in a region that Russia has claimed to have annexed but does not fully control.

Together with the power station, the dam helps provide electricity, irrigation and drinking water to a wide swath of southern Ukraine, including the Crimean Peninsula, which was illegally annexed by Russia in 2014.

Ukraine's vast agricultural heartland, which is partially fed by the Dnieper river, is crucial to worldwide supplies of grain, sunflower oil and other foodstuffs. Global wheat and corn prices rose Tuesday on concerns that production might be disrupted.

The dam — one of the world's biggest in terms of reservoir capacity — retained a volume of water nearly equivalent to that of the Great Salt Lake in the United States.

What has happened to the dam during the war?

Russia has controlled the dam since the early days of the war, and Moscow and Kyiv have accused each other of shelling it. Ukraine said the troops occupying it detonated explosives last fall that damaged three sluice gates, which help regulate water levels. Signs of damage to the gates were evident in late May.

Even before the devastation wrought by Tuesday’s breach, hydropower generation was at a fraction of peak levels. Ukrainian officials and independent experts say Russian forces have failed to maintain the dam — built in the 1950s — either deliberately or through neglect.

Earlier this year, water levels in the reservoir were so low that many across Ukraine and beyond feared a meltdown at the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. Since mid-February, the water level has steadily increased, according to data from Theia, a French provider of geospatial analysis.

The Ukrainian company that manages the dam and power plant estimates that it will take about four days for the reservoir to reach equilibrium and stop discharging massive amounts of water.

Who and what is at risk?

As floodwaters swelled, both Russian and Ukrainian authorities ordered evacuations from among at least 80 towns and villages at risk on both sides of the river, though neither side reported any deaths.

Officials said about 22,000 people live in areas at risk of flooding in Russian-controlled areas, while 16,000 live in the most critical zone in Ukrainian-held territory.

Ukraine’s Energy Ministry said there is a risk of flooding at energy facilities in the Kherson region. Nearly 12,000 customers in the city of Kherson have already been left without electricity, and water supplies are also at risk.

Experts warned about the possibility of an environmental disaster for wildlife and ecosystems — in Ukraine and beyond.

The biggest impact of the breach is likely to be upstream, said Mark Mulligan, a professor of physical and environmental geography at King’s College London and co-leader of the Global Dam Watch, a project that monitors dams and reservoirs.

“This huge reservoir is going to drain down and the shallows upstream are going to dry out,” causing ecological damage to aquatic vegetation and wildlife that have relied on the water for seven decades, he said. The rapid flow of freshwater into the Black Sea could also damage fisheries and the wider ecology of the northwest part of the sea.

What does it mean for the war?

Ukrainian officials said the Russians destroyed the dam to prevent Ukraine from launching a counteroffensive in the area, while Russian officials claimed that Ukraine destroyed the dam to prevent a potential Russian attack on the western bank.

Either way, the destruction of the dam severs a key crossing of the country's most important river. The dam served as a bridge, enabling vehicles to pass over; its destruction also unleashed torrents of water, making it harder to cross the river by other means.

Since last fall, the lower portion of the Dnieper has made up an important part of the front line that stretches more than 1,000 kilometers (620 miles).

The crossing repeatedly came under rocket fire as Ukrainian forces led a successful counteroffensive in November that drove Russian forces back across the Dnieper.

Ukraine's military has used groups of scouts to try to gain control of small islands near the Russia-controlled eastern bank and areas in the river’s delta. But experts say a broader offensive would involve major risks and logistical challenges.

Crossing the wide river was always seen as a daunting task for the Ukrainian military. Most observers expected it to launch a counteroffensive elsewhere.

Ukrainian military analyst Oleh Zhdanov said that the flooding would make crossing the river even more difficult, noting that it would impact the minefields on the Russia-controlled eastern bank. “Minefields were flooded, mines will be washed off and no one knows where they will surface,” he said.


Aoun’s Visit to Assad Won’t Impact Shiite Duo’s Support for Franjieh’s Bid for Lebanese Presidency

This handout picture released by the Syrian Presidency shows Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (R) welcoming Lebanese former President Michel Aoun (2nd L) in Damascus on June 6, 2023. (Syrian Presidency / AFP)
This handout picture released by the Syrian Presidency shows Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (R) welcoming Lebanese former President Michel Aoun (2nd L) in Damascus on June 6, 2023. (Syrian Presidency / AFP)
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Aoun’s Visit to Assad Won’t Impact Shiite Duo’s Support for Franjieh’s Bid for Lebanese Presidency

This handout picture released by the Syrian Presidency shows Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (R) welcoming Lebanese former President Michel Aoun (2nd L) in Damascus on June 6, 2023. (Syrian Presidency / AFP)
This handout picture released by the Syrian Presidency shows Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (R) welcoming Lebanese former President Michel Aoun (2nd L) in Damascus on June 6, 2023. (Syrian Presidency / AFP)

Lebanese former President Michel Aoun paid a visit to Damascus on Tuesday for talks with President Bashar al-Assad. The timing of the visit is significant given the ongoing presidential vacuum in Lebanon. Aoun had last visited Damascus in 2009. 

Tensions are high in Lebanon over the presidency with Aoun’s son-in-law and head of the Free Patriotic Movement MP Gebran Bassil endorsing the opposition’s presidential candidate, Jiahd Azour. 

Azour would face off against the candidate of the Shiite duo of Hezbollah and Amal, Marada movement leader Suleiman Franjieh, who enjoys close ties with Assad. 

Bassil is opposed to Franjieh’s run. 

Aoun’s visit was only announced by the media after he had crossed the Lebanese-Syrian border. He was accomapnied by former minister Pierre Raffoul. 

Sources have doubted that Aoun’s talks with Assad will achieve a breakthrough in the presidential impasse. 

Informed sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that Hezbollah and Amal are unlikely to back down from supporting Franjieh if Aoun was actually seeking Assad’s mediation with the duo, who are allied with Damascus. 

The duo has made up its mind about nominating Franjieh, they stressed. 

Assad will not pressure Hezbollah or Amal movement leader parliament Speaker Nabih Berri to change their stance, they added. 

The presidency is a strictly Lebanese affairs and the duo’s allies believe that the issue should be tackled by Lebanon alone, without forign interference or dictates, they went on to say. 

Moreover, they noted that Hezbollah’s allies have repeatedly said that they are not interfering in Lebanon’s internal affairs. 

Bassil’s siding with the opposition has deepened his rift with Hezbollah, an ally of the FPM. Relations between them have frayed in recent months over their diverging stances on the presidency and other political issues. 

Hezbollah MPs have said Azour is unlikely to be elected president. The party, Amal and their allies, who back Franjieh, are weighing a number of options if they sense that the balance is starting to tip in Azour’s favor. 

They may resort to boycotting the second round of elections, sources close to the duo told Asharq Al-Awsat. 

Berri had called on parliament to convene on June 14 to elect a president. The elections are held over two rounds, with the candidate who garners two-thirds of the votes of the 128-member legislature moving on to the second round. 

Franjieh has long boasted of his good relations with Damascus. He had previously said he prioritizes Lebanon’s interests above Syria’s, even though he is “strategically” aligned with Damascus. 

Aoun was famously an opponent of Damascus for several years. His stance shifted when Syria withdrew its troops from Lebanon in 2005 and he returned from exile in Paris. 

The shift was crowned by his visit to the Syrian capital in 2009.  

The conflict in Syria would erupt in 2011 and Aoun did not visit Damascus after his election as president in 2016. He restricted his contact with Assad to telephone talks on certain occasions. 


What Is the Kakhovka Dam in Ukraine - and What Happened? 

This screen grab from a video posted on Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s Twitter account on June 6, 2023 shows an aerial view of the dam of the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Station after it was partially destroyed.(AFP Photo /Twitter / Account of Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy @ZelneskyyUa)
This screen grab from a video posted on Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s Twitter account on June 6, 2023 shows an aerial view of the dam of the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Station after it was partially destroyed.(AFP Photo /Twitter / Account of Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy @ZelneskyyUa)
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What Is the Kakhovka Dam in Ukraine - and What Happened? 

This screen grab from a video posted on Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s Twitter account on June 6, 2023 shows an aerial view of the dam of the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Station after it was partially destroyed.(AFP Photo /Twitter / Account of Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy @ZelneskyyUa)
This screen grab from a video posted on Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s Twitter account on June 6, 2023 shows an aerial view of the dam of the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Station after it was partially destroyed.(AFP Photo /Twitter / Account of Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy @ZelneskyyUa)

A huge Soviet-era dam on the Dnipro River that separates Russian and Ukrainian forces in southern Ukraine was breached on Tuesday, unleashing floodwaters across the war zone.

Ukraine said Russia had destroyed it, while Russia said Ukraine sabotaged it to cut off water supplies to Crimea and distract attention from a "faltering" counter-offensive.

What is the dam, what happened - and what do we not know?

The Kakhovka dam

The dam, part of the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant, is 30 meters (98 feet) tall and 3.2 km (2 miles) long. Construction was started under Soviet leader Josef Stalin and finished under Nikita Khrushchev.

The dam bridged the Dnipro river, which forms the front line between Russian and Ukrainian forces in the south of Ukraine.

Creation of the 2,155 sq km (832 sq mile) Kakhovka reservoir in Soviet times forced around 37,000 people to be moved from their homes.

The reservoir holds 18 cubic kilometers (4.3 cubic miles) of water - a volume roughly equal to the Great Salt Lake in the US state of Utah.

The reservoir also supplies water to the Crimean peninsula, which Russia annexed in 2014, and to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, which is also under Russian control.

What happened?

Ukraine, which commented first, said Russia was responsible.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy accused Russian forces of blowing up the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Station from inside the facility, and said Russia must be held to account for a "terrorist attack".

"At 02:50, Russian terrorists carried out an internal detonation of the structures of the Kakhovskaya HPP. About 80 settlements are in the zone of flooding," Zelenskiy said after an emergency meeting of senior officials.

A Ukrainian military spokesperson said Russia's aim was to prevent Ukrainian troops crossing the Dnipro River to attack Russian occupying forces.

Russia said Ukraine sabotaged the dam to cut off water supplies to Crimea and to distract attention from its faltering counteroffensive.

"We can state unequivocally that we are talking about deliberate sabotage by the Ukrainian side," Kremlin Spokesman Peskov told reporters.

Earlier some Russian-installed officials said no attack had taken place. Vladimir Rogov, a Russian installed official in Zaporizhzhia, said the dam collapsed due to earlier damage and the pressure of the water. Russia's state news agency TASS carried a report to the same effect.

What is the human impact?

With water levels surging higher, many thousands of people are likely to be affected. Evacuations of civilians began on both sides of the front line.

Some 22,000 people living across 14 settlements in Ukraine's southern Kherson region are at risk of flooding, Russian installed officials said. They told people to be ready to evacuate.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said that up to 80 settlements were at risk of flooding.

Crimea

The destruction of the dam risks lowering the water level of the Soviet-era North Crimean Canal, which has traditionally supplied Crimea with 85% of its water needs.

Most of that water is used for agriculture, some for the Black Sea peninsula's industries, and around one fifth for drinking water and other public needs.

Nuclear plant

The Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, Europe's largest, gets its cooling water from the reservoir. It is located on the southern side, now under Russian control.

"Our current assessment is that there is no immediate risk to the safety of the plant," International Atomic Energy Agency chief Rafael Grossi said.

He said it was essential that a cooling pond be left intact as it supplied enough water for the cooling of the shut-down reactors.

"Nothing must be done to potentially undermine its integrity," Grossi said.


Wheat Fields Promise Abundant Harvest in NE Syria

A Syrian farmer in a wheat field in Afrin on Wednesday. (Getty Images)
A Syrian farmer in a wheat field in Afrin on Wednesday. (Getty Images)
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Wheat Fields Promise Abundant Harvest in NE Syria

A Syrian farmer in a wheat field in Afrin on Wednesday. (Getty Images)
A Syrian farmer in a wheat field in Afrin on Wednesday. (Getty Images)

Stretching as far as the eye can see in the town of Darbasiyah, nestled within the province of Al-Hasakah in northeastern Syria, are expansive fields of wheat.

Alongside these golden swaths of grain, promising a season of abundant yield, stand sprawling barley fields, their presence serving as a hopeful testament to the recovery from years of devastating drought that had plagued the region.

Renowned for its cultivation of superior wheat and premium-grade barley, this territory has already entered the harvest season.

“The majority of farmers and peasants have incurred debts to cover the cost of seeds and production expenses, hoping that this season will surpass the previous years,” said Dara Suleiman, a farmer hailing from the village of Salam Aleik in the eastern part of Darbasiyah.

Suleiman, who owns approximately 80 hectares of land cultivated with irrigated wheat using underground wells, mentioned that farmers are selling their agricultural produce to the authorities of Kurdish Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, which offers competitive prices compared to the Syrian government.

“The pricing set by the Damascus government was shocking, as it did not cover a significant portion of the production costs. The pricing offered by the Administration was superior to it,” Suleiman told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Suleiman shares his plight with thousands of farmers from the region who rely on wheat fields as a vital part of their livelihoods, along with the cultivation of barley and yellow corn.

The cultivated areas in the countryside of Darbasiyah stretch approximately 280,000 irrigated dunums, while unirrigated yielding lands stretch 110,000 dunums, according to the agriculture authority affiliated with the Administration.

Farmer Ashraf Abdi, who is from the village of Karbshak in western Darbasiyah, asserted that the wheat pricing set by Damascus for this year (2,800 Syrian pounds, equivalent to 30 US cents) will not cover the initial production costs and expenses.

The cost of irrigating a single dunum of land alone exceeds $150.

Standing by his wheat field, covered in golden yellow stalks that promised a bountiful harvest, he said the current price per kilogram, if sold at less than half a dollar (equivalent to 4,200 Syrian pounds) “would not compensate for the effort and sweat he spent for an entire year.”

“Even the pricing by the Administration is unfair, and I would rather store the crop than sell it at a loss,” he told Asharq Al-Awsat.

The Administration and its military forces control the province of Al-Hasakah and its countryside, the cities of Raqqa, Kobani and Manbij, the town of Tabqa, the eastern countryside of Deir Ezzor and eastern countryside of the Aleppo province.

The areas serve as Syria’s wheat reservoir and its food basket. The cultivated areas for wheat and barley this year amount to approximately 1.9 million hectares, including 300,000 hectares of irrigated wheat using underground wells.

It goes without saying that the Administration attaches great importance to the strategic wheat crop, setting the purchase price for a kilogram of wheat this season at 43 US cents.

Administration Authorities, as well as some local experts, anticipate a production exceeding one million tons this season.

The Kurdish authorities prohibit farmers and traders from selling their wheat crop to the Syrian government, as the Administration provides sufficient fuel quantities for agriculture at competitive prices. Additionally, they distribute sterilized seeds at lower prices than those set by the government.

In turn, the government in Damascus has set the purchase price for wheat for the current season at 2,800 Syrian pounds (approximately 30 US cents) per kilogram, while the pricing for barley has been set at 2,200 pounds (25 cents).

These prices, compared to production costs, shipping expenses, and agricultural inputs, appear to be “shocking,” as described by farmers and cultivators.

Residents of northeastern Syria, like their compatriots across the country, have had to grapple with a sharp rise in prices in recent months, following a sharp depreciation of the pound against foreign currencies. The price hikes have affected sugar, food items, fuel derivatives, electricity and gas.

A packet of bread is sold from private bakeries for 2,500 pounds, while a loaf of traditional stone bread (in the eastern part of the country) is sold for 1,000 Syrian pounds.

Farmers in the region fear further deterioration in the value of their currency, which would result in significant losses during the wheat season that has already cost them a great deal of money and effort.

“We have sacrificed our blood and heart for it (the harvest season),” said farmers Suleiman and Abdi in conclusion to their conversation with Asharq Al-Awsat.


Sudan FM to Asharq Al-Awsat: New US Sanctions Won’t Affect Warring Parties

Smoke billows behind buildings in Khartoum on June 2, 2023, as fighting between Sudan's warring generals intensified. (AFP)
Smoke billows behind buildings in Khartoum on June 2, 2023, as fighting between Sudan's warring generals intensified. (AFP)
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Sudan FM to Asharq Al-Awsat: New US Sanctions Won’t Affect Warring Parties

Smoke billows behind buildings in Khartoum on June 2, 2023, as fighting between Sudan's warring generals intensified. (AFP)
Smoke billows behind buildings in Khartoum on June 2, 2023, as fighting between Sudan's warring generals intensified. (AFP)

The Sudanese army and Rapid Support Forces (RSF) were not surprised with Washington’s announcement on Thursday that it was imposing new sanctions on them due to their role in the ongoing conflict in the country.

Sudanese political parties dismissed the impact the sanctions will have on the army and RSF, but acting Foreign Minister Ali Sadiq told Asharq Al-Awsat that the people will bear the brunt of them.

Sudan’s Ambassador to the US Mohamed Abdalla Idris announced that his government rejects the sanctions, saying such an approach had been used before and it had led to the destruction of peoples in the Arab and Islamic worlds.

Moreover, he noted that the US was a mediator in attempting to resolve the conflict, so how could it possibly impose sanctions on the parties it is talking to.

He added that the sanctions have been imposed on companies owned by the people, meaning Washington was collectively punishing them.

Furthermore, he revealed that the army will resume its participation in the ceasefire negotiations once the other party commits to its pledges.

Half-step

US Senator Jim Risch was scathing of the Biden administration for imposing the new sanctions.

“Thursday’s actions do not even represent a half-step in what needs to happen. The sanctions designations, while positive in their own right, do not openly hold accountable the top Sudanese individuals responsible for the catastrophic situation in Sudan,” he said in a statement.

“The people most responsible for destabilizing the region and ongoing brutality against the Sudanese people remain untouched by US sanctions.”

“Not unlike its policy response to the civil war in northern Ethiopia, the administration once again has avoided holding accountable top-level officials of the warring parties in Sudan,” he stressed.

“We can't let another African conflict of this magnitude persist without taking more transparent and direct action against those responsible for the fighting, which has killed hundreds, injured thousands, and displaced millions. These actions once again come short of real accountability,” he stressed.

Limited impact

Development and rights expert in Geneva Abdulbaqi Jibril told Asharq Al-Awsat that the US sanctions will not have a major impact on the current situation in Sudan.

He cited Sudan’s past experience in dealing with sanctions. Washington had imposed unilateral economic sanctions for two decades on the former regime. They were introduced during the term of former President Bill Clinton in 1997 and lifted in 2017 under then President Donald Trump.

The impact of sanctions is “limited at best” and very few vital sectors are affected by them, remarked Jibril.

The previous sanctions played a major role in impoverishing the people, he noted. They played a direct role in deepening unprecedented economic corruption.

He explained that the American measures at the time forced Sudan out of the world’s banking and financial system, compelling the former regime to use complicated means to meet basic needs.

The former government managed to mitigate the impact of the sanctions and trade embargo by resorting to financing outside the global banking system. This in turn limited the state institutions’ ability to control the movement of funds in the country.

International relations professor in Sudan Salaheddine al-Doma told Asharq Al-Awsat that the sanctions are “very effective.”

The warring parties are well aware that the US is serious about achieving the people’s aspirations in civilian rule because it accomplishes its interests.

If developments go against US wishes, then Russia and China will be able to impose their influence in Sudan, he noted.

Moreover, Washington’s failure to achieve civilian rule in Sudan will have an impact on President Joe Biden’s reelection bid next year, he added.


Sudanese Orphans Face Death by Starvation, Uncertainty in Khartoum

The Mygoma Orphanage in Khartoum, Sudan (AP)
The Mygoma Orphanage in Khartoum, Sudan (AP)
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Sudanese Orphans Face Death by Starvation, Uncertainty in Khartoum

The Mygoma Orphanage in Khartoum, Sudan (AP)
The Mygoma Orphanage in Khartoum, Sudan (AP)

Siddig Frini, the general manager of Khartoum state’s ministry of social development, became visibly emotional during his interview with Asharq Al-Awsat as he described the distressing conditions endured by 340 children, ranging in age from one day to four years, at the Mygoma Orphanage.

Heartbreakingly, newborns have met untimely deaths as a result of power outages and the catastrophic impact of war in Sudan.

Tragic deaths have struck the orphanage in Khartoum, where dozens of children lost their lives amid fierce military confrontations between the army and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF).

Compounding the devastation, a neighboring building was hit by a shell.

Furthermore, the children have been deprived of crucial nourishment as most of the orphanage’s staff members have been unable to access the facility, leaving them without essential meals and milk throughout the day.

Frini underscored difficulties experienced by Mygoma, revealing that one child is dying each day.

He acknowledged that, due to the ongoing power outages, a reduction in the number of deaths at the orphanage cannot be assured.

However, Frini expressed his openness to hearing any suggestions that could help improve the children’s situation and protect their lives.

He emphasized the significance of child welfare experts and community support in securing a brighter future for the children.

Moreover, Frini firmly rejected the notion of children being casualties of the conflict between warring factions.

“I am willing to purchase an electrical generator on credit because I currently do not have enough money to buy it outright,” Frini told Asharq Al-Awsat.

“The orphanage continues to receive children from all states of Sudan. Mygoma recently welcomed seven children in a single day,” he added.

Frini announced his willingness to approach proposals advocating for the transfer of residents, including the children of Mygoma, outside Khartoum.

However, he emphasized that the top priority is to prevent any further loss of lives at the orphanage. This can be achieved by providing an electrical generator, fuel, or restoring the electricity supply to Mygoma.

Additionally, Frini revealed that Khartoum Governor Ahmed Osman is in contact with relevant parties, including UNICEF, to stabilize the situation at Mygoma and other similar facilities.

Frini pointed out that among the proposals is the transfer of 80 newborn infants to Port Sudan and relocating others to Wad Madani city.

“We will not turn our backs on the organizations that have shouldered the greatest burden in managing the facilities during this period,” Frini told Asharq Al-Awsat.

According to Mygoma’s Director Zainab Jouda, 35 children, mostly newborns, have sadly died at the state-run facility since the armed clashes started on April 15.

Within a span of two days, 14 children passed away due to fever.

Before the war, the orphanage had 450 attending mothers taking care of over 400 children in four shifts.

However, after the war, the number decreased to 15 mothers responsible for the care of 200 newborn infants.

Noting the shortage of mothers, she recognized the adverse effects on the children's nutrition and care. As a result, the orphanage administration has appealed for volunteers to step in and assist in caring for the children at the facility.

Regarding the bombardment of Mygoma with heavy weapons, Jouda said: “A shell struck the neighboring building, causing shrapnel to damage a portion of the orphanage's roof.”

“The children were moved to the ground floor, and some of the bullets penetrated through several offices,” she added.

Established in 1961, Mygoma spans an area of 5,000 square meters. It used to receive between 40 and 45 children monthly prior to the outbreak of the war.


Who Are the Candidates Running in the 2024 US Presidential Election 

Former US President Donald Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speak at midterm election rallies, in Dayton, Ohio, US November 7, 2022, and Tampa, Florida, US, November 8, 2022, in a combination of file photos. (Reuters)
Former US President Donald Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speak at midterm election rallies, in Dayton, Ohio, US November 7, 2022, and Tampa, Florida, US, November 8, 2022, in a combination of file photos. (Reuters)
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Who Are the Candidates Running in the 2024 US Presidential Election 

Former US President Donald Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speak at midterm election rallies, in Dayton, Ohio, US November 7, 2022, and Tampa, Florida, US, November 8, 2022, in a combination of file photos. (Reuters)
Former US President Donald Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speak at midterm election rallies, in Dayton, Ohio, US November 7, 2022, and Tampa, Florida, US, November 8, 2022, in a combination of file photos. (Reuters)

Former Vice President Mike Pence and former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie plan to announce next week they are running for president, joining former President Donald Trump in a growing list of Republicans seeking to unseat Democratic President Joe Biden.

Here is a list of 2024 hopefuls in both the Democratic and Republican parties.

REPUBLICAN PARTY

DONALD TRUMP Trump, 76, announced his election campaign last November as he faced some of the loudest criticism yet from within his Republican Party over his support for far-right candidates who were defeated in the midterm elections. Like Biden, he remains unpopular with great swaths of the electorate. But he has retained a firm grip on his base and strengthened his standing in polls after he was indicted by New York prosecutors in connection with an alleged hush money payment to a porn star. Trump is the front-runner in the Republican race.

RON DESANTIS After the glitch-filled launch of his campaign on Twitter, DeSantis has moved to further position himself to the right of Trump on a number of key issues. DeSantis, 44, who ranks second to Trump in most polls, has already signed bills imposing new restrictions on abortion and further loosening gun laws, positions that may help him in the Republican primaries but would likely hurt him among independent and more moderate voters in the general election. His battle with Walt Disney Co over its Florida theme park has unnerved some donors, as has his mixed messaging on continued US support for Ukraine.

TIM SCOTT The only Black Republican US senator has low name recognition outside his home state of South Carolina, but his optimism and focus on unifying his divided party have helped him draw a contrast with the more aggressive approach by Trump and DeSantis. Scott supporters, however, acknowledge that while his sunny demeanor is a selling point it may not be enough to win. Scott, 57, has only 1% of support among registered Republicans, according to Reuters/Ipsos polling. He launched his campaign on May 22.

NIKKI HALEY A former governor of South Carolina and Trump's ambassador to the United Nations, Haley, 51, has emphasized her relative youth compared to Biden and Trump as well as her background as the daughter of two Indian immigrants. Haley has gained a reputation in the Republican Party as a solid conservative who has the ability to address issues of gender and race in a more credible fashion than many of her peers. She has also pitched herself as a stalwart defender of American interests abroad. She attracts about 4% support among Republican voters.

VIVEK RAMASWAMY A former biotechnology investor and executive, Ramaswamy, 37, launched a firm in 2022 to pressure companies to abandon environmental, social and corporate governance initiatives. He announced in February he was running for the Republican nomination. The political outsider has excited a lot of grassroots chatter as a potential alternative to Trump, but he remains a longshot candidate.

MIKE PENCE Trump's vice president has broken with his former boss over the 2021 attack by Trump supporters on the US Capitol, while Pence was inside the building. Pence, 63, says "history will hold Trump accountable" for his role in the attack. However, Pence, like other Republican White House hopefuls, came to Trump's defense after New York prosecutors charged him in the hush money case, underscoring the fear of alienating Trump's supporters in the primaries. Pence, a staunch conservative, is appealing directly to the evangelical Christian community. He will launch his campaign in Iowa on June 7.

CHRIS CHRISTIE Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, 60, who advised Trump's White House campaign in 2016 only to become a vocal critic of the former president, enters the race as a decided underdog. Only 1% of Republicans said he would be their preferred 2024 nominee in a Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted May 9-15. He plans to launch his bid on June 6.

ASA HUTCHINSON The former Arkansas governor launched his bid for the White House in April with a call for Trump to step aside to deal with his indictment. Hutchinson, 72, has touted his experience leading the deeply conservative state as proof he can deliver on policies Republican voters care about, citing tax cuts and job creation initiatives as particular sources of pride. Still, his name recognition remains limited outside Arkansas.

DOUG BURGUM Burgum, who is serving his second term as North Dakota's governor, plans to launch his campaign on June 7. Burgum, 66, built a successful software business before selling it to Microsoft Corp in 2001. A proponent of low taxes and fewer regulations, he will likely seek to portray himself as a traditional conservative who will focus on the economy and national security.

DEMOCRATIC PARTY

JOE BIDEN Biden, 80, already the oldest US president ever, will have to convince voters he has the stamina for another four years in the White House, amid voter concerns about his age and his poor approval ratings. Biden allies say he is running because he feels he is the only Democratic candidate who can defeat Trump. In announcing his candidacy, he declared it was his job to defend American democracy. He does not face a serious threat from a Democratic challenger.

MARIANNE WILLIAMSON The best-selling author and self-help guru has launched her second, longshot bid for the White House. She ran as a Democrat in the 2020 presidential primary but dropped out of the race before any votes had been cast. She launched her latest campaign on March 23.

ROBERT KENNEDY JR. An anti-vaccine activist, Kennedy, 69, is making a longshot bid to challenge Biden for the Democratic nomination. He is the son of US Senator Robert F. Kennedy, who was assassinated in 1968 during his own presidential bid. Kennedy has been banned from YouTube and Instagram for spreading misinformation about vaccines and the COVID-19 pandemic.


Families of Illegal Migrants Look for Loved Ones in Libya’s Prisons, Detention Centers

Families of Egyptian migrants detained and missing in Libya (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Families of Egyptian migrants detained and missing in Libya (Asharq Al-Awsat)
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Families of Illegal Migrants Look for Loved Ones in Libya’s Prisons, Detention Centers

Families of Egyptian migrants detained and missing in Libya (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Families of Egyptian migrants detained and missing in Libya (Asharq Al-Awsat)

Whenever there is news of a boat carrying undocumented migrants capsizing in the Mediterranean Sea or those onboard being sent back to Libyan ports, it affects many countries, like Egypt, Sudan, and Syria.

This journey comes at a high price, with mothers selling their jewelry and fathers offering what little livestock they have left.

Like the hopes of migrant families coming together for a better life, they now face shared fears and suffer the painful sorrow of losing their children. Some have tragically drowned at sea, while others have mysteriously vanished in prison without any known whereabouts.

Asharq Al-Awsat has investigated what has happened to hundreds of migrants who have gone missing or been imprisoned in Libya by gathering information from families who shared their testimonies and from lists obtained from prisons, detention centers, and undisclosed locations.

Additionally, stories of individuals who have been released and others who have tried multiple times but failed to escape by sea to Europe have been documented.

Leaked lists from Libyan prisons and detention centers contain the names of migrants and underage children from Egypt and various African countries.

These individuals are held in official prisons as well as in accommodation centers overseen by the unauthorized migration agency affiliated with the temporary National Unity government in the Libyan capital, Tripoli.

Local human traffickers control the fate of detainees in unofficial accommodation centers and secret facilities, which are also affiliated with militias and organized crime groups.

Each prisoner’s freedom is contingent upon their family paying a ransom for their release, saving them from the torment that includes starvation, branding with fire, and being sold to others, according to a report by the National Committee for Human Rights in Libya.

Through the help of a security official from the Rabiana security directorate in Libya, a Chadian migrant named A.S shared his harrowing experience.

He revealed that he, along with 40 other migrants, including many children and minors, were held captive by a human trafficking gang for more than six months in a dimly lit warehouse near Rabiana.

A.S bravely disclosed to Asharq Al-Awsat that they endured starvation, sexual assault, branding with fire, and were even filmed to blackmail their families for money.

Interestingly, the Chadian migrant stated that a gang, consisting of three individuals, released over 20 detainees after receiving $5,000 from each hostage’s family.

In June 2022, the remains of 20 Chadian and Libyan individuals were discovered in the Libyan desert near the town of Al-Kufra, which lies on the border between the two countries.

It is important to mention that the “Missing Migrants Project,” operated by the International Organization for Migration, has recorded more than 5,600 cases of people dying or going missing while crossing the Sahara Desert since 2014.

Tarek Lamloum, the director of “Baladi Foundation for Human Rights,” considered the treatment of detained migrants in Libya as a form of slavery, as he explained in his interview with Asharq Al-Awsat.

Lamloum regarded the sexual violations and forced labor imposed on migrants in exchange for necessities like food, water, and access to sanitary facilities as criminal.

However, those who were admitted to institutions under the supervision of official immigration authorities have a relatively better situation than those held in secret facilities controlled by armed groups.

Libya’s immigration department stated that the large number of migrants being detained in prisons and accommodation centers compels them to increase efforts for “voluntary return” to their home countries or another host nation.

However, the number of migrants entering Libya and being crowded into its prisons continues to be higher.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, in a report published on October 11, 2022, argued that migrants are forced into voluntary return to escape arbitrary detention, threats of torture, mistreatment, sexual violence, as well as enforced disappearance and extortion.

One of those who escaped the darkness of prison, according to the evacuation operations supervised by the International Organization for Migration and the Egyptian Embassy in Tripoli, is Amr Atef Mohammed.

Asharq Al-Awsat interviewed Mohammed, aged 15, in the city of Mashtoul El Souq in the Sharqia Governorate in Egypt's Delta region after his return in December 2022, having survived long imprisonment in Libya.

Mohammed, like others, went to Libya with the intention of escaping to Europe.

“The Libyan Coast Guard caught us and returned us to the Ain Zara shelter on Abu Salim Street,” recalled Mohammed.

According to a report released by the International Organization for Human Rights in mid-April 2023, there are approximately 695,000 irregular migrants in 100 Libyan municipalities, representing more than 42 nationalities.

People living in coastal cities in Libya are used to seeing waves bring ashore bodies of migrants who drowned while trying to reach Europe.

It has become so common that residents of the coastal Libyan city of Qasr al-Akhiyar had to leave their homes and farms last summer because of the strong smell coming from the bodies scattered on the beach.

The Libyan Red Crescent has always rushed teams to retrieve the bodies of migrants after local and judicial authorities are notified.

Toufik Al-Shakri, the Media and Communication Officer at the humanitarian movement, informed Asharq Al-Awsat about the efforts of relief teams in response to the increasing number of capsized migrant boats and how they are dealing with this phenomenon.

According to the International Organization for Migration, at least 2,300 people have died or gone missing in the Mediterranean Sea since the beginning of 2022 while attempting to cross on overcrowded and dilapidated boats departing from North Africa, particularly from Libya and Tunisia.

Italian police stated that the highest rate of migration flow in 2022 came from Libya, with over 53,000 irregular migrants, followed by Tunisia with more than 32,000 migrants.

Families who have lost loved ones in Libya and are waiting for their return are deeply frightened by the tragedies that happen to migrant groups there.

One such tragedy occurred on the beach of Sabratha in western Libya, where a deadly dispute among human traffickers resulted in shots being fired at a boat carrying many migrants.

This horrific crime, which occurred on October 10, claimed the lives of 15 migrants, with 11 of them being found burnt.

Osama Abdel Tawab believes that his brother, Adham, was among the victims of this boat.

Adham had arrived in Libya in August 2022, hoping to find a way to migrate to Europe, but his family lost contact with him after his last conversation with his brother in Italy.

Sabratha serves as a major hub for non-regular migrants seeking to reach Europe, alongside other coastal cities in both the western and eastern regions. It is a hotspot for smuggling activities, operating discreetly beyond the reach of security authorities.

Abdel Tawab’s desperation to find his brother drives him to constantly search for him.

“We have reached out to every possible source and contacted numerous officials, but we have been unable to trace Adham's whereabouts,” he told Asharq Al-Awsat.

“Even the smuggler who facilitated his travel has disappeared. Our current objective is to conduct a DNA analysis to determine whether Adham's remains are among the charred bodies or not,” added Abdel Tawab.

According to Abdel Tawab, the people of Abnoub city recently laid to rest the body of an individual named Haitham, who was aboard the boat with his brother.


Inside Sudan’s War, ‘There’s Another War for Art’

Dahlia Abdelilah Baasher, a Sudanese artist, painting at her new home in Cairo. Dozens of artists and gallery owners have fled Sudan and don’t know the fate of their artworks. Credit: Heba Khamis for The New York Times
Dahlia Abdelilah Baasher, a Sudanese artist, painting at her new home in Cairo. Dozens of artists and gallery owners have fled Sudan and don’t know the fate of their artworks. Credit: Heba Khamis for The New York Times
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Inside Sudan’s War, ‘There’s Another War for Art’

Dahlia Abdelilah Baasher, a Sudanese artist, painting at her new home in Cairo. Dozens of artists and gallery owners have fled Sudan and don’t know the fate of their artworks. Credit: Heba Khamis for The New York Times
Dahlia Abdelilah Baasher, a Sudanese artist, painting at her new home in Cairo. Dozens of artists and gallery owners have fled Sudan and don’t know the fate of their artworks. Credit: Heba Khamis for The New York Times

By: Abdi Latif Dahir

Dozens of Sudanese artists and curators have fled their studios and galleries in the capital, jeopardizing thousands of artworks and imperiling an art scene central to the 2019 revolution.

On the morning Sudan’s rival military forces began fighting, Yasir Algrai was in his studio in the center of the country’s capital, prepping for another day of work surrounded by paint colors and canvases.

That was on April 15 — and in the three days that followed, Mr. Algrai remained trapped in his studio, starving and dehydrated as battles raged outside his door on the streets of Khartoum.

For hours every day, he cowered in terror as bullets pierced the windows of the building and the walls shook from errant shelling. When a small period of quiet to escape materialized, Mr. Algrai was eager to seize it — albeit with a heavy heart.

“I could not carry any of my art or personal belongings,” said Mr. Algrai, 29, who got out, but left behind his favorite guitar and more than 300 paintings of different sizes. “This conflict has robbed us of our art and our peace, and we are now left trying to stay sane in the midst of displacement and death.”

Mr. Algrai is among dozens of Sudanese artists and curators who have fled their studios and galleries as two warring generals lay waste to one of Africa’s largest and most geopolitically important nations.

The conflict, pitting the Sudanese Army controlled by Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces led by Lt. Gen. Mohamed Hamdan, has killed hundreds, displaced over a million people and left more than half the country’s population in need of urgent humanitarian assistance.

Amid the freewheeling violence, many fear that the war will devastate the city’s burgeoning art scene, propelled primarily by young artists who emerged from the 2019 pro-democracy revolution and who were beginning to gain regional and global attention.

New artwork by Dahlia Abdelilah Baasher. Photo credit: Heba Khamis for The New York Times

A dozen Sudanese artists and curators in Sudan, Egypt and Kenya told The New York Times that they had no idea about the fate of their homes, studios or gallery spaces, which cumulatively housed artworks worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“The artistic, creative ecosystem is going to be broken for a while,” said Azza Satti, a Sudanese art curator and filmmaker. Artists, she said, “saw the people’s need to express themselves, to feel alive, to feel recognized,” adding that the war was gradually leading to “the erasure of that voice, that identity.”

Some of the fiercest fighting in the capital has unfolded in neighborhoods like Khartoum 2, where the city’s newest art galleries are based, or bustling districts like Souk al-Arabi, where Mr. Algrai kept his studio. Robberies and looting are rampant in those areas, with residents blaming the paramilitary forces who have steadily tightened their grip on the capital.

With museums and historical buildings attacked and damaged in the fighting, many are also concerned about the pillaging of the country’s artistic riches and archaeological sites.

The Sudan Natural History Museum and archives at the Omdurman Ahlia University have both suffered significant damage or looting, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization said in a statement.

Inside the war, the physical war, there’s another war for art,” said Eltayeb Dawelbait, a veteran Sudanese artist who is based in Nairobi. Mr. Dawelbait has several pieces in Sudanese galleries and said he feared Sudan’s artistic and cultural institutions would be pilfered much like what happened in Iraq two decades ago.

“The artwork needs to be protected,” he said.

After the country’s 1956 independence, Sudan had a bustling art scene that produced renowned artists, including Ahmed Shibrain, Ibrahim El-Salahi and Kamala Ibrahim Ishag. But in the three decades that the dictator Omar Hassan al-Bashir held power, he used censorship, religious decrees and imprisonment to limit creative expression, forcing many artists and musicians to flee the country.

That began to shift during the 2019 revolution, when young artists poured into the streets to paint murals on walls and roads and call for democratic rule. When Mr. al-Bashir was eventually removed from power in April of that year, artists reveled in their newfound freedoms and began painting and sculpting to capture life in post-revolution Sudan.

Among them was Dahlia Abdelilah Baasher, a 32-year-old self-taught artist who quit her job as an art teacher after the revolution in order to work full-time on her art. Ms. Baasher’s figurative paintings examine the repression that women face in Sudanese society, and over the years, her pieces have attracted the attention of curators and art custodians from Sudan, Egypt, Kenya and the United States.

Days before Sudan’s war broke out in April, she and her family went to Egypt for the last days of the holy month of Ramadan and the following Eid holiday. Ms. Baasher packed several small paintings for the trip with the hope of selling them, but left more than two dozen large canvases at home.

“I cannot put into words or onto a canvas how I feel about this war,” Ms. Baasher said in a video interview from Cairo. With her apartment building and neighborhood in Khartoum deserted, she said she didn’t know the fate of any of her belongings.

“We are all just shocked and traumatized,” she said. “We never imagined this would happen and that we would lose the art movement we have been building.”

Her pain was shared by Rahiem Shadad, who in the heady, post-revolution days co-founded The Downtown Gallery in Khartoum.

Mr. Shadad, 27, works with more than 60 artists across Sudan, and was planning a solo show in Khartoum for Waleed Mohamed, a 23-year-old painter. Mr. Shadad had also just finished curating and shipping artworks for an exhibition scheduled to travel abroad titled “Disturbance in The Nile.” The show, which starts in late June, will tour Lisbon, Madrid and Paris and feature Sudanese artists from various generations.

But since the fighting broke out, Mr. Shadad has focused solely on ensuring the safety of the artists and their artwork.

Hundreds of paintings and framed artworks are stuck in the Downtown Gallery located in Khartoum 2. The conflict has also drained the savings of many artists and denied them a regular income, which largely stemmed from sales to foreign nationals and embassy officials who have now been evacuated.

To help artists and their families, Mr. Shadad, along with Sudanese curators like Ms. Satti, started a crowdfunding campaign this month. They are also mulling over how to transport artists’ works to safety once relative calm takes hold in Khartoum. Despite a seven-day cease-fire scheduled to expire on Monday, Mr. Shadad said he had been told about robberies and harassment of civilians who venture back to the area near his gallery.

“The hub of the art scene in Sudan is under a serious attack,” Mr. Shadad, crying, said in a phone interview from Cairo. “It is extremely emotional thinking that the hard work that we have done will just be lost.”

For many artists, the conflict has also denied them access to their source of inspiration.

Khalid Abdel Rahman, whose work depicts landscapes of Khartoum neighborhoods and Sufi tombs, fled his studio in Khartoum 3 without his paintings and says he’s been thinking about how the conflict will affect his vision and future creations.

“I can’t figure it out now,” he said. “I’m really sad about this.”

But amid the death and displacement that has enveloped Sudan, artists say this is another period in the nation’s history that they will have to document one way or another.

“This is an era that we must carefully study so that we can pass it on to future generations and introduce them to what happened to the country,” Mr. Algrai, who is staying in a village east of Khartoum, said.

“The passion will never die.”

The New York Times


As Drone War Comes to Russia, Muscovites Shrug Their Shoulders and Carry On

A specialist inspects the damaged facade of a multi-storey apartment building after a reported drone attack in Moscow on May 30, 2023. (AFP)
A specialist inspects the damaged facade of a multi-storey apartment building after a reported drone attack in Moscow on May 30, 2023. (AFP)
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As Drone War Comes to Russia, Muscovites Shrug Their Shoulders and Carry On

A specialist inspects the damaged facade of a multi-storey apartment building after a reported drone attack in Moscow on May 30, 2023. (AFP)
A specialist inspects the damaged facade of a multi-storey apartment building after a reported drone attack in Moscow on May 30, 2023. (AFP)

After the biggest ever drone strike on Moscow brought the Ukraine war to the Russian capital, Muscovites carried on with their lives with the fatalism for which they are famous.

On a warm spring day in the city center, residents could be seen taking selfies in front of the Bolshoi Theater while others relaxed in cafes and shopped in the well-stocked luxury stores of Moscow.

Very few expressed concern at the news. Most shrugged their shoulders and many expressed sadness that the conflict appeared to be escalating.

"The Kyiv regime is already crossing all the lines," Natalia, 59, told Reuters, referring to the Ukrainian government which Russia said was behind the drone attack on Moscow.

"This is very sad, especially since they are directing these drones at residential buildings, at the city, at civilians, where there are no military facilities."

Though civilian targets in Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities have, since the earliest days of the war, been struck repeatedly by Russian drones and missiles, Tuesday marked only the second time the Russian capital had come under direct fire, after an apparent drone strike on the Kremlin earlier this month.

The Russian Defense Ministry said that all the drones had been downed, though three collided with residential buildings in south Moscow and the town of Moskovskiy, on the capital's outskirts. Two people were injured.

The Kremlin said it was obvious that Ukraine was behind the attack and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said the drones had been directed against civilian targets. Ukraine denied it was directly involved in targeting Moscow but forecast more attacks would follow.

War comes to Moscow

Some residents who spoke to Reuters suggested that the conflict in Ukraine was always likely to make itself felt at home, sooner or later.

Olga, who said she lived near to the site of one of the drone collisions on Profsoyuznaya Street, called the strikes "logical, to be expected ... what else were we waiting for?"

"Of course, I am glad it didn't fall on our house, just nearby", Olga added. "I'm thinking about moving to a safer place."

Drone debris hit some of Moscow most prestigious areas including Leninsky Prospekt, a grand avenue crafted under Josef Stalin, and the area of western Moscow where the Russian elite - including President Vladimir Putin - have their residences.

Residents in southwestern Moscow said they heard loud bangs at around 0200 to 0300 GMT, followed by the smell of petrol. Some filmed a drone being shot down and a plume of smoke rising over the Moscow skyline.

The Kremlin praised Moscow's air defenses and the military while Russian lawmakers suggested Russia needed to get tougher at rooting out traitors and saboteurs within Russia.

Exactly how the Russian population views the war is unclear as few trust pollsters enough to tell them the truth and even then, emigre opponents of Putin say, any negative polls would never be published.

Criticism of what the Kremlin calls the "special military operation" in Ukraine has been punishable by law since the start of the conflict, and public criticism of Putin is rare.

"You need to understand cause and effect, why everything is happening," one middle-aged man, who declined to give his name, told Reuters in central Moscow. "I think that these attacks are due to only one thing: the fact that our ruler began waging a war.

"All of this is because of our ruler," said the man. "It's no surprise it's bounced back to here."