US, South Korea, Japan Raise Concerns over Russia-North Korea Military Cooperation

A handout photo made available by South Korean Foreign Ministry shows (L-R) US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Japanese Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa, and South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin posing for a photo during a meeting in New York, USA 22 September 2023. (EPA/South Korean Foreign Ministry)
A handout photo made available by South Korean Foreign Ministry shows (L-R) US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Japanese Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa, and South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin posing for a photo during a meeting in New York, USA 22 September 2023. (EPA/South Korean Foreign Ministry)
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US, South Korea, Japan Raise Concerns over Russia-North Korea Military Cooperation

A handout photo made available by South Korean Foreign Ministry shows (L-R) US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Japanese Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa, and South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin posing for a photo during a meeting in New York, USA 22 September 2023. (EPA/South Korean Foreign Ministry)
A handout photo made available by South Korean Foreign Ministry shows (L-R) US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Japanese Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa, and South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin posing for a photo during a meeting in New York, USA 22 September 2023. (EPA/South Korean Foreign Ministry)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and South Korean, Japanese counterparts expressed "serious concern" over the discussion of military cooperation between Russia and North Korea, including possible arms trade, South Korea's Foreign Ministry said on Saturday.

Blinken, South Korea's Foreign Minister Park Jin and Japan's Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa agreed to respond firmly to any acts that threaten regional security in violation of UN Security Council resolution in a brief meeting on Friday, the ministry said in a statement.

North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un made a weeklong visit to Russia last week and discussed military cooperation with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

US and South Korean officials have expressed concern that the summit was aimed at allowing Russia to acquire ammunition from the North to supplement its dwindling stocks for its war in Ukraine.

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol said on Wednesday that if Russia helped North Korea enhance its weapons programs in return for assistance for its war in Ukraine, it would be "a direct provocation" and Seoul and its allies would not stand idly by.



Türkiye Expresses Continued Support for Somalia, With Emphasis on Defense

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met on Saturday with his Somalian counterpart Hassan Sheikh Mohamud (Turkish presidency)
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met on Saturday with his Somalian counterpart Hassan Sheikh Mohamud (Turkish presidency)
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Türkiye Expresses Continued Support for Somalia, With Emphasis on Defense

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met on Saturday with his Somalian counterpart Hassan Sheikh Mohamud (Turkish presidency)
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met on Saturday with his Somalian counterpart Hassan Sheikh Mohamud (Turkish presidency)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday affirmed his country’s ongoing commitment to supporting Somalia across various domains, with a specific emphasis on defense.
During talks with his Somalian counterpart Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, Erdogan also expressed Türkiye's readiness to engage in any mediation efforts to address the tensions between Somalia and Ethiopia.
The two presidents met on the sidelines of the Antalya Diplomacy Forum.
The meeting addressed Türkiye-Somalia relations, Israel's massacres in the Palestinian territory as well as humanitarian aid, the fight against terrorism, and regional and global issues, the country’s Communications Directorate said on X.
The meeting was attended by Türkiye’s National Defense Minister Yasar Guler, the country’s National Intelligence Organization’s head Ibrahim Kalin, and the president’s chief advisor Akif Cagatay Kilic.
On February 8, the two countries signed the Defense and Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement, which involved cooperation in the fight against terrorism as well as military-financial cooperation. The deal was signed between Turkish Defense Minister Yasar Guler and his Somali counterpart, Abdulkadir Mohamed Nur, in Ankara.
The ten-year agreement will see Ankara train and provide equipment to the Somali Navy, and will also support economic infrastructure construction, marine resource protection, counterterrorism efforts, and prevention of all illegal activities along Somalia's coastline.
In a televised address on the day of the signing, the Somali President noted that the deal is not aimed at confronting Ethiopia or invading any other country.
Under the deal, Türkiye will protect Somalia’s 3,000-kilometer coastline, bordering Kenya and Ethiopia to the west and Djibouti to the northwest.
It is still unclear whether such protection will include the Gulf of Aden and the Somaliland, which declared its independence in 1991 but is still recognized internationally as part of Somalia.
Though Ankara does not officially recognize Somaliland, it maintains a good relationship with the small state on the coast of the Gulf of Aden.
In an opinion published last month, Somalian Defense Minister Abdulkadir Mohamed Nur said the agreement signed with Türkiye proclaims “our shared commitment to collaboration, our deep-seated trust in each other, and our collective affirmation of the significance of global security.”
He noted that the strategic implications of this agreement are poised to safeguard the interests of the wider international community.
“As evidenced by the situation in Yemen, Somalia's strategic geopolitical location and the surrounding political dynamics are crucial to global welfare and peace,” Nur added.
Strategic experts, including former Turkish ambassador to Chad and Senegal Ahmet Kavas, say the agreement between Türkiye and Somalia has significant repercussions in the Horn of Africa.
Kavas said Yemen, Djibouti, and Somalia are located on both sides of the Gulf of Aden. He explained that Britain, France, the US, and Israel have great influence in the Horn of Africa where they built military bases in Ethiopia, Somalia, and Djibouti.
“Now, Türkiye will have a military presence in Somalia and therefore, it is possible that Ankara will start to protect the coastal waters in the Gulf of Aden using its warships. Of course, this will lead to a change of power balances,” he explained.
 


Pakistan's Shehbaz Sharif Set to Take Oath as Prime Minister for Second Term

 Pakistan's former Prime Minister and leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party Shehbaz Sharif speaks during a press conference in Lahore on February 13, 2024. (Photo by Arif ALI / AFP)
Pakistan's former Prime Minister and leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party Shehbaz Sharif speaks during a press conference in Lahore on February 13, 2024. (Photo by Arif ALI / AFP)
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Pakistan's Shehbaz Sharif Set to Take Oath as Prime Minister for Second Term

 Pakistan's former Prime Minister and leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party Shehbaz Sharif speaks during a press conference in Lahore on February 13, 2024. (Photo by Arif ALI / AFP)
Pakistan's former Prime Minister and leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party Shehbaz Sharif speaks during a press conference in Lahore on February 13, 2024. (Photo by Arif ALI / AFP)

Pakistani politician Shehbaz Sharif was set on Sunday to become prime minister for the second time in a vote by the country's newly formed parliament, three weeks after uncertain national elections led to the formation of a coalition government.
Pakistan went to the polls on Feb. 8 in a vote marred by a mobile internet shutdown on election day; arrests and violence in its build-up; and unusually delayed results, leading to accusations that the vote was rigged, Reuters said.
Sharif will return to the role he held until August when parliament was dissolved ahead of the elections and a caretaker government took charge.
The vote in the country's parliament, which first met on Thursday, will take place amidst tight security as candidates backed by former jailed premier Imran Khan have protested against the election result and called for his release.
Sharif, 72, is the younger brother of three-time Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who spearheaded their Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party's election campaign.
Candidates backed by Khan gained the most seats but the PML-N and the Pakistan Peoples Party agreed to form a coalition government, which enabled Shehbaz Sharif to be elected as prime minister as his brother stepped aside.
In his previous term, Sharif's government was able to negotiate a critical International Monetary Fund (IMF) deal but the process was mired in challenges and measures required by the agreement - which expires in April - have contributed to rising prices and added pressure on poor and middle class households.
The new government will have to immediately start talks with the IMF for the next agreement to shore up the country's economy whilst also dealing with the growing discontent over deepening poverty.


Norway's King Gets Pacemaker in Malaysia after Falling Ill During Vacation

FILE PHOTO: Norway's King Harald during a press conference on the royal yacht Norge in Aarhus, Denmark June 16, 2023. Ritzau Scanpix/Bo Amstrup via REUTERS
FILE PHOTO: Norway's King Harald during a press conference on the royal yacht Norge in Aarhus, Denmark June 16, 2023. Ritzau Scanpix/Bo Amstrup via REUTERS
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Norway's King Gets Pacemaker in Malaysia after Falling Ill During Vacation

FILE PHOTO: Norway's King Harald during a press conference on the royal yacht Norge in Aarhus, Denmark June 16, 2023. Ritzau Scanpix/Bo Amstrup via REUTERS
FILE PHOTO: Norway's King Harald during a press conference on the royal yacht Norge in Aarhus, Denmark June 16, 2023. Ritzau Scanpix/Bo Amstrup via REUTERS

King Harald of Norway was implanted with a temporary pacemaker Saturday at a hospital in Malaysia’s resort island of Langkawi, where Europe’s oldest monarch was being treated for an infection during a vacation this week, the Norwegian royal house said.
“The pacemaker was implanted due to a low heart rate,” the Royal House of Norway said in a brief statement, adding that the procedure was successful.
Following the operation, Harald, 87, would likely be transported back to Norway “within the next couple of days,” The Associated Press quoted the statement as saying.
“His Majesty is doing well under the circumstances but still requires rest. The procedure will make the return back home safer, according to His Majesty The King’s personal physician, Bjørn Bendz,” the palace in Oslo said.
The royal house said on Tuesday that Harald, Europe’s oldest reigning monarch, was hospitalized after he fell ill during a private vacation in Langkawi. Norwegian media outlets said Harald traveled to the Malaysian resort island to celebrate his 87th birthday.


Navalny's Mother Brings Flowers to his Grave Day After Moscow Funeral

People come to the grave of Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny the day after his funeral at the Borisovskoye cemetery in Moscow, Russia, March 2, 2024. REUTERS/Stringer
People come to the grave of Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny the day after his funeral at the Borisovskoye cemetery in Moscow, Russia, March 2, 2024. REUTERS/Stringer
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Navalny's Mother Brings Flowers to his Grave Day After Moscow Funeral

People come to the grave of Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny the day after his funeral at the Borisovskoye cemetery in Moscow, Russia, March 2, 2024. REUTERS/Stringer
People come to the grave of Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny the day after his funeral at the Borisovskoye cemetery in Moscow, Russia, March 2, 2024. REUTERS/Stringer

The mother and mother-in-law of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny were among mourners who brought flowers to his grave in Moscow on Saturday, a day after thousands attended his funeral.
Police kept a heavy presence at the cemetery but the situation was calm, Russian independent TV channel Dozhd (Rain) reported.
“The police let those wishing to bid farewell to the politician pass through and do not rush anyone,” the outlet wrote on the Telegram messaging app, quoting one of its readers on the scene.
Dozhd also reported that “spontaneous memorials” to Navalny had been destroyed in several Russian cities. Flowers were removed in cities including St. Petersburg and Voronezh, it said.
Under a heavy police watch, thousands bid farewell Friday to Navalny after his still-unexplained death two weeks ago in an Arctic penal colony. The crowds who thronged to honor Navalny outside a church and cemetery in a snowy southeastern suburb of the capital chanted slogans for him and against Russian President Vladimir Putin and the war in Ukraine.
Police did not act against them, but at least 106 people were detained at events across Russia in Navalny’s memory, said OVD-Info, a rights group that tracks political arrests. It said most were stopped while trying to lay flowers at monuments dedicated to victims of Soviet repression.
Navalny was buried after a short Russian Orthodox ceremony, with vast crowds waiting outside the church and then streaming to the fresh grave with flowers.
Navalny’s widow, Yulia, was not seen at the funeral. She has vowed to continue his work, lovingly thanked him for “26 years of absolute happiness.”


Improvised Explosive Device Found Attached to Bottom of Car Entering Crimea From North

Russian soldiers near the tombs of fellow soldiers who died in the war in Crimea (Reuters)
Russian soldiers near the tombs of fellow soldiers who died in the war in Crimea (Reuters)
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Improvised Explosive Device Found Attached to Bottom of Car Entering Crimea From North

Russian soldiers near the tombs of fellow soldiers who died in the war in Crimea (Reuters)
Russian soldiers near the tombs of fellow soldiers who died in the war in Crimea (Reuters)

An improvised explosive device made of foreign-made components has been found attached to the bottom of a car at the entrance to Crimea at the Dzhankoi checkpoint, a spokesperson for regional law enforcement agencies have told Sputnik, adding that the device has been defused.

The Dzhankoi checkpoint is located in the north of Crimea and borders the Kherson Region.

"At the Dzhankoi checkpoint, in the course of inspection measures on a car traveling to the territory of the Republic of Crimea, employees of the Federal Security Service of Russia have found an object similar to an explosive device attached to the bottom of a car under the driver's seat driven by a law enforcement officer of the Kherson region," the spokesperson said.

The car was immediately moved to a safe distance, where specialists who arrived at the scene neutralized the explosive device.


5 Killed by Russian Drone Attack on Ukraine's Odesa

Rescuers work at the site of an apartment building heavily damaged by a Russian drone strike, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Odesa, Ukraine March 2, 2024. REUTERS/Stringer
Rescuers work at the site of an apartment building heavily damaged by a Russian drone strike, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Odesa, Ukraine March 2, 2024. REUTERS/Stringer
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5 Killed by Russian Drone Attack on Ukraine's Odesa

Rescuers work at the site of an apartment building heavily damaged by a Russian drone strike, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Odesa, Ukraine March 2, 2024. REUTERS/Stringer
Rescuers work at the site of an apartment building heavily damaged by a Russian drone strike, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Odesa, Ukraine March 2, 2024. REUTERS/Stringer

At least five people including a three-year-old child were killed and others feared still trapped under rubble when a Russian drone hit an apartment block in the southern Ukrainian port city of Odesa on Saturday, authorities said.
At the scene, smoke poured from rubble strewn across the ground where the drone had ripped a chunk several stories high out of the building.
"My husband quickly ran out to help people ... then I saw people running out and I understood people had died in there," said Svitlana Tkachenko, who lives in a neighboring building.
Clothes and furniture were scattered in the ruined mass of concrete and steel hanging off the side of the apartment block, Reuters said.
"Russia continues to fight civilians ... One of the enemy drones hit a residential building in Odesa. Eighteen apartments were destroyed," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a Telegram post.
Ukraine's State Emergencies Service posted photos including of a dead toddler being placed in a body bag by rescuers.
"This is impossible to forget! This is impossible to forgive," it wrote. It said five people including a child had been rescued alive.
Odesa region governor Oleh Kiper said eight people were wounded, and rescuers were still looking for more people under the debris.
According to Zelenskiy, the drone was a Shahed supplied by Iran. 


Iranians Vote for ‘Inconsequential’ Parliament

Iranian women cast their votes at a polling center in southern Tehran on Friday (AFP)
Iranian women cast their votes at a polling center in southern Tehran on Friday (AFP)
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Iranians Vote for ‘Inconsequential’ Parliament

Iranian women cast their votes at a polling center in southern Tehran on Friday (AFP)
Iranian women cast their votes at a polling center in southern Tehran on Friday (AFP)

Iranians headed to polls on Friday to choose a new parliament, but the outcome isn’t expected to change foreign policy or ease tensions with the West over the nation’s nuclear program.

These elections are seen as a test of the religious establishment’s popularity in Iran, following protests triggered by the death of Mahsa Amini in police custody a year and a half ago.

According to the semi-official news agency in Iran associated with the Revolutionary Guard, polling stations opened Friday morning for the twelfth parliamentary elections, alongside the selection of the Assembly of Experts, which oversees Iran’s Supreme Leader.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, calling voting a “religious duty,” was among the first to cast their ballot. Government officials echoed his message, urging Iranians to vote.

“Vote as soon as possible... Make our friends happy and disappoint our enemies,” said Khamenei.

On his part, Chief Justice Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Eje'i remarked: “Voting brings joy to people and sadness to the enemy.”

Meanwhile, Mohammad Reza Aref, a member of the Expediency Discernment Council, thanked God for making enemies “foolish.”

Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi voted at the Interior Ministry’s polling station, calling the elections a “national celebration” symbolizing “unity and solidarity.”

“In our elections, both candidates and voters act out of duty,” said Raisi.

Esmail Qaani, who commands the Revolutionary Guard’s foreign arm, affirmed that enthusiastic participation ensures security, likening it to “fighting a battle against enemies trying to weaken morale.”

Turnout in the 2022 parliamentary elections dropped to 42.5%, a significant decline from around 62% in 2016.

Over 15,000 candidates are vying for the 290 parliamentary seats, with the term set to begin in April for four years.

It goes without saying that it is difficult to confirm the actual voter turnout without independent monitoring. Media relies on official Iranian sources for information.

Polling stations were supposed to close at 6 p.m. local time on Friday (15:00 GMT), but authorities extended the voting time, which could suggest lower turnout.


Impunity Endemic In S. Sudan Ahead of Planned Elections: UN Body

FILE - Military trainees parade during the visit of the defense minister to a military training center in Owiny Ki-Bul, Eastern Equatoria, South Sudan on June 27, 2020. (AP Photo/Maura Ajak, File) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)
FILE - Military trainees parade during the visit of the defense minister to a military training center in Owiny Ki-Bul, Eastern Equatoria, South Sudan on June 27, 2020. (AP Photo/Maura Ajak, File) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)
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Impunity Endemic In S. Sudan Ahead of Planned Elections: UN Body

FILE - Military trainees parade during the visit of the defense minister to a military training center in Owiny Ki-Bul, Eastern Equatoria, South Sudan on June 27, 2020. (AP Photo/Maura Ajak, File) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)
FILE - Military trainees parade during the visit of the defense minister to a military training center in Owiny Ki-Bul, Eastern Equatoria, South Sudan on June 27, 2020. (AP Photo/Maura Ajak, File) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Armed conflict, violence and entrenched impunity persist in South Sudan as it prepares to hold its first elections, the UN commission investigating human rights in the country said Friday.

The world's newest nation has struggled to find its footing since gaining independence from Sudan in 2011, battling violence, endemic poverty and natural disasters.

"As South Sudan prepares to end its fragile political transition and to hold its first elections in December 2024, armed conflict and gross human rights violations persist," the commission said in its annual report to the UN Human Rights Council.

"Millions of people have been displaced, deprived, traumatised, and continue to live in fear," said the report covering events in 2023, AFP reported.

As South Sudan's transition neared completion, the risk of further mass violence and accompanying gross human rights violations remained ever-present.

"Patterns of violence, violations and entrenched impunity continue to blight the lives of an extremely vulnerable population. The already-dire humanitarian situation will deteriorate further," the report concluded.

The commission, established by the Rights Council in 2016, is charged with gathering evidence on alleged gross rights violations and related crimes, with a view to ending impunity.

One of the poorest countries on the planet despite large oil reserves, South Sudan has spent almost half of its life as a nation at war, and has also endured persistent natural disasters, hunger, economic meltdown and communal conflict.

The commission saw a risk of further gross violations if the factors behind the conflict were not addressed.

Unchecked mass violence and ongoing repression threaten the prospects of durable peace, and must be urgently addressed, the report said.

"Our investigations again found an absolutely unacceptable situation in South Sudan, whereby families and communities are devastated by human rights violations and abuses by armed forces, militias and state institutions acting with impunity," said commission chair Yasmin Sooka.

"South Sudan's immediate and long-term future hinges on political leaders finally making good on their commitments to bring peace, and reverse cyclical human rights violations."

The report said the country's first elections face severe political and logistical challenges.

It warned that while the vote could be moment of great opportunity, it could also bring danger, as electoral grievances may trigger new violence, or compound existing conflicts.

South Sudan's Justice Minister Ruben Madol Arol told the council the report was "deplorable".

It contains "unverified and unrealistic alleged human rights violations which include discrimination against women, inequality, sexual slavery and displacement of millions", he said.

"This description of events does not match the current improvement of the security situation in the country."


Nicaragua Files Case at World Court Against Germany for Aiding Israel

A Palestinian stands at the site of an Israeli strike on a house, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, March 1, 2024. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa
A Palestinian stands at the site of an Israeli strike on a house, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, March 1, 2024. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa
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Nicaragua Files Case at World Court Against Germany for Aiding Israel

A Palestinian stands at the site of an Israeli strike on a house, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, March 1, 2024. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa
A Palestinian stands at the site of an Israeli strike on a house, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, March 1, 2024. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

Nicaragua has filed a case at the International Court of Justice against Germany for giving financial and military aid to Israel and for defunding the UN Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA), the UN's top court said on Friday.
Nicaragua asked the ICJ, also known as the World Court, to issue emergency measures requiring Berlin to stop its military aid to Israel and reverse its decision to stop funding UNRWA.
The German Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment. The court usually sets a date for a hearing on any requested emergency measures within weeks of a case being filed.
According to Nicaragua's claim, Germany is violating the 1948 Genocide Convention and the 1949 Geneva Conventions on the laws of war in the occupied Palestinian territories.
"By sending military equipment and now defunding UNRWA which provides essential support to the civilian population, Germany is facilitating the commission of genocide," Nicaragua said in its legal filings.
Major donors to UNRWA, including the United States and Germany, suspended funding after allegations that around 12 of its tens of thousands of Palestinian employees were suspected of involvement in the Oct. 7 attacks in Israel by Hamas.
Nicaragua's filing adds that emergency measures were needed because of Berlin's "participation in the ongoing plausible genocide and serious breaches of international humanitarian law" in the Gaza Strip.
This claim builds on the case South Africa brought against Israel for allegedly committing genocide against Palestinians in Gaza.
Last month the ICJ said South Africa's claims that Israel violated the genocide convention were not implausible and ordered emergency measures, including a call for Israel to halt any potential acts of genocide in Gaza.


Netherlands’ Rutte Signs Security Deal in Ukraine, Promising Artillery Funding

 In this photo provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, right, and Prime Minister of the Netherlands Mark Rutte, talk at apartment houses damage in the Russian missile attacks in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Friday, March 1, 2024. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)
In this photo provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, right, and Prime Minister of the Netherlands Mark Rutte, talk at apartment houses damage in the Russian missile attacks in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Friday, March 1, 2024. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)
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Netherlands’ Rutte Signs Security Deal in Ukraine, Promising Artillery Funding

 In this photo provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, right, and Prime Minister of the Netherlands Mark Rutte, talk at apartment houses damage in the Russian missile attacks in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Friday, March 1, 2024. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)
In this photo provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, right, and Prime Minister of the Netherlands Mark Rutte, talk at apartment houses damage in the Russian missile attacks in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Friday, March 1, 2024. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte signed a security deal with Ukraine in the northeastern city of Kharkiv on Friday and said the Netherlands would help fund the supply of 800,000 artillery shells to hold back Russian forces.

Rutte met President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on a surprise visit to Kharkiv, just 40 km (26 miles) from the Russian border, and became the seventh Western leader to sign a 10-year security agreement with Ukraine in the last two months.

"The Netherlands will contribute to the Czech Republic's initiative to purchase 800,000 artillery shells, he told a news conference, saying they would arrive within weeks.

Ukraine is critically short of artillery rounds as its troops try to hold back Russian forces who are again on the offensive in the east, two years after Moscow launched its full-scale invasion.

The Czech Republic said last month it had sourced 500,000 rounds of 155 mm shells and 300,000 122 mm rounds from third countries, which could be delivered to Ukraine in weeks if funding was secured.

The shells would plug a big hole in Ukraine's stockpiles with a vital package of US military assistance stuck in Congress facing months of Republican opposition.

Rutte said the Netherlands would donate 150 million euros ($162 million) to the Czech initiative, taking the total raised so far to 250 million euros.

The security agreement he signed with Ukraine included 2 billion euros ($2.2 billion) in military aid from the Netherlands this year, as well as other defense assistance over the next 10 years, Zelenskiy said.

The visit to Kharkiv was a rare one by a senior Western politician as the city is regularly attacked by Russian air strikes and is much closer to the Russian border than Kyiv.

The two leaders visited an underground classroom established to allow schoolchildren to attend classes in person, safe from missile strikes.

Rutte praised the courage and determination of the children and teachers as "a true beacon of hope that inspires Ukrainians to keep fighting and allies to keep supporting Ukraine".

"The task facing Ukrainian allies is clear – do whatever you can to provide what is needed, as long as it takes," he said.

Zelenskiy described Rutte's visit as "symbolic" in a "city that has survived a lot".

"Here in Kharkiv, it's 100% obvious that Russia is waging a criminal war, its objective is only destruction."

In a statement on Telegram, Zelenskiy said that more than 20,000 buildings - schools, universities, churches, kindergartens and residential houses - had been destroyed in Kharkiv in the last two years.

Canada, Italy, Germany, France, Denmark and Britain have all signed bilateral security deals over the past two months that are meant to tide Ukraine over until it can reach its aim of joining the Western military alliance, NATO.

Andriy Yermak, head of Zelenskiy's office, said agreements were also being discussed with other countries.