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Philippines cancels chopper deal with Russia

Andolong said the Department’s contract review committee will “undertake the appropriate processes and exercise due diligence in formalizing the termination of the project’s contract”….reports Asian Lite News

The Philippines is officially cancelling a 12.7-billion-peso ($227 million) contract to purchase 16 Russian military transport helicopters, the government said on Wednesday.

“The Department of National Defence is formalizing the termination of the contract with SOVTECHNOEXPORT LLC of Russia for the procurement of 16 units of Mi-17 heavy-lift helicopters for the Philippine air force,” dpa news agency quoted Arsenio Andolong, the Department’s spokesman, as saying.

Andolong said the Department’s contract review committee will “undertake the appropriate processes and exercise due diligence in formalizing the termination of the project’s contract”.

“We are also preparing to initiate a diplomatic dialogue with the Russian side regarding matters arising from the project’s cancellation,” he added in a statement.

Former Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the decision to cancel the contract was made in the last days of administration of former President Rodrigo Duterte due to fears of US sanctions amid the Russia-Ukraine war.

He said the decision was made after the Philippine ambassador to the US Jose Manuel Romualdez warned that “the disadvantage that (the Philippines) will get is more than (the advantage) if we get the choppers”.

Lorenza said he was not certain if the government would still be able to recover a 2-billion-peso down payment made for the contract.

Meanwhile, with Chinese extensive military deployment around Taiwan rattling the region, the Philippines is eager to strengthen defence cooperation with the US. The US, which already has troops in bases on Filipino territory, has assured the south-east Asian nation of protection in case of an armed attack.

In the Philippines on Saturday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the Philippines is an “irreplaceable ally” while the Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. reflecting on the Taiwan Strait tensions said: “…the visit of your House Speaker Nancy Pelosi coming here… I did not think it raised the intensity; it just demonstrated how the intensity of the conflict has been…”.

China’s aggressive posturing towards Taiwan, in the wake of US Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taipei, has shaken up the region. Countries in south-east Asia are worried as Beijing has territorial conflicts with many in the South China Sea (SCS).

In Blinken’s visit, the highest-ranking US official to visit Manila after Ferdinand Marcos Jr became President this June, the two nations reaffirmed their decades-old defence alliance. They are governed by the Mutual Defence Treaty (MDT)–an agreement signed on 30 August 1951 that states that if either of the allies faces an armed attack, the other would come to its defence.

Emphasising that the US would defend its allies in south-east Asia, Blinken told journalists: “An armed attack on Philippine armed forces, public vessels, and aircraft will invoke US mutual defense commitments under that treaty. The Philippines is an irreplaceable friend, partner, and ally to the United States.”

US and the Philippines relations had come under strain under previous President Rodrigo Duterte, who was opposed to the continued presence of US troops on Filipino soil. Duterte had tried to move closer to China at the cost of bilateral relations with the US. That scenario changed as Beijing began to assert itself in the region.

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Russian casualties in Ukraine up to 80,000: Pentagon

Kahl also said Russian forces have also lost “3,000 to 4,000” armoured vehicles, and could be running low on available precision-guided missiles…reports Asian Lite News

As many as 80,000 Russians have been killed or wounded in Ukraine since the war began in late February, according to a senior official from the US Department of Defence.

“The Russians have probably taken 70 or 80,000 casualties in less than six months,” reports quoted Under Secretary of Defense Colin Kahl as saying.

Kahl also said Russian forces have also lost “3,000 to 4,000” armoured vehicles, and could be running low on available precision-guided missiles, including air and sea-launched cruise missiles, after firing a large number on Ukraine targets since the launch of the war.

Meanwhile, concerns grew for the safety of the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant which has witnessed repeated shelling in recent days.

An accident at the Ukrainian nuclear plant in Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhya would be far worse than the Chernobyl or Fukushima disasters, dpa news agency quoted Yevheny Zymbalyuk, Kiev’s envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), as saying in Vienna on Monday.

He warned of severe consequences not only for Ukraine, but all of Europe.

Russia targets Ukraine’s main port of Odesa hours after grain export deal agreed

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres also warned of the danger of the current situation, saying that “any attack on a nuclear plant is a “suicidal thing”.

“What will happen in a radius of 40 or 50 km of the station, that is absolutely not comparable to Chernobyl or Fukushima,” Zymbalyuk added.

Analysts however say compared to the plants at Chernobyl and Fukushima, Zaporizhzhya is better protected thanks to a separate cooling circuit and a special protective layer, although it would probably be unable to withstand a targeted military attack.

Zymbalyuk again demanded monitors from the IAEA to be sent to Zaporizhzhya along with unarmed international military observers.

He said IAEA representatives should be on the ground by the end of the month.

The IAEA has long complained that it is waiting to access to the plant and said that any deployment would require the support of both Moscow and Kiev.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov urged the West to put pressure on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky as Moscow accuses Ukraine of shelling the nuclear plant.

“We expect that the countries that have absolute influence over the Ukrainian leadership will use this to prevent further shelling,” Peskov said.

He spoke of a “highly dangerous activity” with, in the worst case, catastrophic consequences for all of Europe.

In Washington, White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre on Monday said the US continues to “closely monitor the activity as the Department of Energy and the National Nuclear Security Administration report that the radiation sensors are continuing to provide data, and thankfully we have seen no indications of increased or abnormal radiation levels”.

“And we continue to call on Russia to cease all military operations at or near Ukrainian nuclear facilities and return full control to Ukraine,” she added.

ALSO READ: Russia halts inspections of its facilities under New START treaty

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Russia halts inspections of its facilities under New START treaty

The Ministry added that both sides must “abandon counterproductive attempts aimed at artificially speeding up the resumption of inspection activities” and focus on eliminating all existing problems in this area…reports Asian Lite News

Russia has temporarily withdrawn its facilities from inspections under the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), the country’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

“Russia officially informed the United States … that our country was temporarily withdrawing its facilities subject to inspections under this treaty from inspection activities,” the Ministry added on Monday.

Moscow was forced to suspend inspections “as a result of Washington’s persistent attempts to restart inspection activities” under unfair conditions, which created advantages for the US side, while simultaneously making it impossible for Russia to carry out inspections in the US.

Anti-Russian restrictions, imposed by Washington, have disrupted air travel between Russia and the US, making it impossible for Russian inspection teams to reach necessary destinations, the Ministry said.

The Ministry added that both sides must “abandon counterproductive attempts aimed at artificially speeding up the resumption of inspection activities” and focus on eliminating all existing problems in this area.

It said that the measures were temporary, and would be cancelled if all existing issues were eliminated.

In 2010, Washington and Moscow signed the New START, which stipulates limits to the number of deployed nuclear warheads and strategic delivery systems by both.

The New START, the last remaining nuclear arms control treaty in force between the two nuclear superpowers, can be extended by a maximum of five years with the consent of the two countries. Russia and the US officially extended the treaty by five years on February 3, 2021.

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Ukraine, Russia trade charges over N-plant strike

The city said Ukrainian troops launched a strike against the plant using the 220-mm Uragan multiple launch rocket system on Saturday night. The storage facility for spent nuclear fuel was in the affected area…reports Asian Lite News

Ukraine and Russia exchanged accusations over a fresh strike on the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine.

Zaporizhzhia is one of the largest atomic power complexes in Europe and generates a quarter of Ukraine’s total electricity. It has been under the control of Russian forces since March and has been the scene of military strikes in recent days.

Ukraine’s state-run nuclear energy operator Energoatom on Sunday accused Russian forces of shelling the power plant, saying the latest rocket attacks on Saturday hit the area next to the plant’s dry storage facility, where 174 containers with spent nuclear fuel were stored in the open air.

Energoatom said it is impossible to properly monitor the radiation situation at the site because three radiation monitoring detectors around the facility were damaged.

On Sunday, the TASS news agency reported that the administration of Energodar city, which is home to the nuclear power plant, blamed the Ukrainian army for the overnight attacks.

The city said Ukrainian troops launched a strike against the plant using the 220-mm Uragan multiple launch rocket system on Saturday night. The storage facility for spent nuclear fuel was in the affected area.

It added that the submunitions and the rocket engine fell within 400 meters of the operating power unit.

Second caravan of Ukrainian grain ships inspected

Efforts to bring Ukrainian grain to international markets via the Black Sea have gone into a higher gear as the inspections of the second caravan of ships off Istanbul were concluded on Sunday.

A team of representatives of the Joint Coordination Center (JCC) inspected the three newly arrived ships carrying a total of 58,000 tons of grain.

The Malta-flagged vessel Rojen passed through the Bosphorus Strait for Britain on Sunday after it had received the clearance to go. The passages of the Turkish-flagged Polarnet to a Turkey’s north-western port and the Panama-flagged Navistar to Ireland are expected to be held later.

Also on Sunday, four more ships were given the authorisation to leave the Ukrainian ports of Chornomorsk and Odesa, announced the JCC, the organisation responsible for the whole shipment process.

The vessel named Star Helena is heading to China, Mustafa Necati is sailing to Italy, while Glory and Riva Wind are on the way to Turkey. The inspections of these vessels will be performed by JCC upon their arrival at the Black Sea entrance of the Bosphorus Strait.

With over 26,000 tons of load, the first grain-laden ship Razoni passed through Istanbul’s Bosphorus Strait on August 3 for Lebanon, marking the first export of Ukrainian grain to international markets after Turkey, Russia, and Ukraine signed a landmark UN-backed deal on July 22.

Ukraine still has some 20 million tons of grain in silos waiting for shipment, according to Turkish state-run Anadolu agency.

In order to make room for the new harvests and avoid the possibility of grain rotting, the sides have been working to increase the transfer volume to greater levels.

Experts are hoping that the soaring food inflation around the globe might lose some of its momenta if the shipments continue successfully.

ALSO READ-Four more ships with grain depart Ukraine port

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Russia uncertain about new arms control treaty with US

Russia’s deputy envoy said that there is still enough time to reach a new agreement, but this requires political will and real intent, reports Asian Lite News

It is hard to predict whether Russia will be able to reach an agreement with the United States on a treaty that would replace the New START before the latter’s expiration in 2026, Russia’s deputy envoy to the United Nations Andrei Belousov said at the Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).

“As for reaching an agreement by 2026, it is impossible to make predictions here, because the dynamics of international relations, the military-political situation in the world is changing very quickly. And it’s hard to speculate about this,” Belousov, who is the deputy head of the Russian delegation at the 10th NPT review conference, told journalists.

 He added that there is still enough time to reach a new agreement, but this requires political will and real intent.

US President Joe Biden said on Monday, ahead of the NPT conference, that his administration was ready to promptly negotiate a new arms control framework to replace the New START treaty with Russia when it expires in 2026, provided that Moscow demonstrates readiness to resume work on nuclear arms control with the United States.

Belousov stressed that Moscow will not accept any preconditions from Washington. (ANI/Sputnik)

ALSO READ: EU winter gas plan to enter into force next week

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EU winter gas plan to enter into force next week

An emergency mechanism to trigger a bloc-wide alert in the event of widespread gas shortages is also included to make the gas-savings targets mandatory, reports Asian Lite Newsdesk

An emergency European Union (EU) gas conservation plan, prompted by fears of a cut-off of Russian gas supplies, will enter into force at the start of next week after the bloc’s member states completed a final procedural step, the Czech EU Presidency announced.

The plan provides for a voluntary 15 per cent reduction in EU member states’ gas consumption between August 1, 2022 and March 31, 2023, compared to the average consumption in the same period over the past five years, reports dpa news agency.

An emergency mechanism to trigger a bloc-wide alert in the event of widespread gas shortages is also included to make the gas-savings targets mandatory.

The aim of the consumption cuts is to ensure emergency transfers of gas to member states who face shortages if supplies fall to critical levels, in a move to reduce Russia’s leverage over the EU.

EU member states agreed the plan in July as Russia cut gas deliveries to the bloc, citing maintenance and technical issues linked to Western sanctions imposed on Moscow for invading Ukraine.

Picture shows Nord Stream pipeline equipments before the opening ceremony of the North Stream second gas link in Portovaya bay, near the town of Vyborg in northwestern Russia. (Xinhua_IANS)

The EU regards the decision as retaliation for the punitive measures and politically motivated.

Germany in particular is under pressure to save gas amid severely restricted Russian supplies.

Based on European Commission data, dpa has calculated that Germany needs to reduce its gas consumption by more than any other EU state in order to achieve the bloc’s agreed savings target of 15 per cent.

In order to reach the EU target, Germany must save 10 billion cubic metres of natural gas between the beginning of August and March next year, the equivalent to the average annual gas consumption of 5 million four-person households.

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Will there be a new West-driven offensive against Russia?

Deep fault lines are emerging in Ukraine’s political and military elite. In fact, President Zelensky is waging his war on two fronts simultaneously-one of course is against Russia and the other is supposedly against so-called “internal enemies”, writes Sergei Strokan

A big statement by Ukraine’s President Vladimir Zelensky about his determination to recover the lost territories of Donbas in the next three to six weeks has raised eyebrows across the globe.

Zelensky’s assertion of launching a massive counteroffensive in the south, has been carefully timed. The Ukrainian President chose June 28 – the eve of the Day of Ukrainian Statehood, when nationalistic fervour runs high–for his major declaration.

But what is the real backstory that is persuading Zelensky to announce that he was now set to radically change the course of the six-month military campaign with Russia, which began in late February this year?

Is Zelensky making his move because Ukraine has already lost control over 20 per cent of its territory, which not only includes a large part of the unrecognised republics of Donbass, but also the Kherson and Zaporozhye regions. As a result of his military setbacks, does he think that his political survival is now at stake?

In fact, Ukraine has lost the strategically important southeast, where one of the largest nuclear power plants in Europe is located.

This is also a region that opens the way to the Black Sea, which is inscribed in the new NATO strategy as a priority zone on the southern and eastern flanks of the North Atlantic Alliance.

It is here that Zelensky, who recently received American HIMARIS and other weapons and is waiting for new arrivals, plans to “kick Russia in the teeth”. He is also trying to assemble a one million strong army, mobilising people as old as 60.

Therefore, has a point of inflection, a now or never situation for the Ukrainian President, been reached in the Ukrainian conflict?

In all likelihood, Zelensky is feeling the heat from the West. Having invested so much money and weapons and putting its international prestige on line, the West badly wants Kiev to record a decisive victory over Russia, instead of staring at defeat.

Unsurprisingly, in his major address in the last week of July to raise national morale, Zelensky called for a unified response to stand up to Russia.

Ironically, the events of the last weeks and days show that internal cohesion may be falling apart in Ukraine.

Deep fault lines are emerging in Ukraine’s political and military elite. In fact, President Zelensky is waging his war on two fronts simultaneously-one of course is against Russia and the other is supposedly against so-called “internal enemies”.

Zelensky has therefore launched mega-purge that is targeting the pillars of the Ukrainian state–security forces, law enforcement officers, oligarchs who have huge resources and capabilities to build a phalanx against Russia. Many in the firing line today have been, until recently, part of President Zelensky’s inner circle.

The first two heads to roll a fortnight ago were that of Ivan Bakanov (a former bosom friend of the president) the head of the Security Service of Ukraine. The other to fall from grace was Prosecutor General Irina Venediktova. Both were fired in a single day. The duo was charged with high treason and collaborationist activities.

On the same day the State Bureau of Investigation (GBR) of Ukraine announced the arrest also of the former head of the Security Service of Ukraine in Crimea Oleg Kulinich, who had worked as an assistant to Ivan Bakanov before his detention.

Oleg Kulinich was charged under three articles of the Criminal Code of Ukraine – high treason, leadership of a criminal organisation or participation in it, aiding in the transfer of data that is a state secret to another country.

According to leaks in the Ukrainian media, Kulinich and former Deputy Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine Vladimir Sivkovich are suspected of “surrendering the south of Ukraine to Russian troops.”

According to the newspaper Observer, “it was Kulinich,who played a big role for ensuring the rapid occupation of the southern regions of Ukraine by concealing counterintelligence information about the Russian offensive from Crimea “from the leadership of the Security Service of Ukraine.”

Following the dismissal of Ivan Bakanov, decrees on the change of the leadership of the Security Service of Ukraine immediately followed in five key regions of the country – Kharkiv, Sumy, Poltava, Transcarpathian, Dnipropetrovsk regions.

The cascading purge coincides with the failure of the Main Intelligence Directorate (GUR) of Ukraine’s Ministry of Defence, which unsuccessfully tried to recruit Russian pilots and persuade them to hijack combat aircraft of the Russian aerospace forces. The operation of the Main Intelligence Directorate of Ukraine was stopped by the Federal Security Service (FSB) of Russia.

Russian pilots, who refused to be financially seduced, were offered $ 1 million and citizenship in one of the European countries if they were ready to hijack combat aircraft, the pride of the Russian military space forces.

However, paradoxically, the head of the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defence of Ukraine, 36-year-old Kirill Budanov, not only was not fired, but got a promotion.

“I made important personnel decisions. In particular, the head of the Main Intelligence Directorate, Kirill Budanov, will also head the intelligence committee under the President of Ukraine,” President Zelensky said this Monday in a video message published on his Telegram channel.

This week, the Prosecutor General of Ukraine charged former Foreign Minister Konstantin Grishchenko and ex-Justice Minister Alexander Lavrinovich with treason, allegedly acting in “preliminary collusion” with former President Yanukovych and former Prime Minister Mykola Azarov.

And finally, the icing on the cake is the deprivation of Ukrainian citizenship of the powerful Ukrainian oligarch and uber nationalist Igor Kolomoisky. Back in 2014, Igor Kolomoisky used his own money to create Ukrainian volunteer battalions in the Donbass to fight the separatist republics.

After that, it was he who played a decisive role in the sensational victory in the 2019 presidential election of Vladimir Zelensky, who at that time was a comedian and had no political experience.

Against the backdrop of the torrential purge, there appears to be a massive competition with the Ukrainian elite to curry favour with the West.

The names include Petro Poroshenko, a former President, who has his own channels of communication with the United States and Europe. But he is not the only one in the leadership fray. Many of Zelensky’s rivals have not come out of the shadows, waiting for the decisive moment to deliver a fatal blow to Zelensky, today’s protege of the West. Will a flawed Ukrainian offensive provide that decisive moment when the knives are really out for Zelensky?

(Sergei Strokan is a veteran journalist, writer and columnist of the Kommersant publishing house based in Moscow. The views expressed are personal and exclusive to India Narrative)

(The content is being carried under an arrangement with indianarrative.com)

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No Pak-Russia FMs meeting at SCO raises eyebrows

Pakistan’s relationship with Russia was more often talked about at the time when former Prime Minister Imran khan was removed from power in April…reports Asian Lite News

No bilateral meeting with Russia during the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in Tashkent on Friday, have raised an eyebrow over the Shahbaz Sharif-led Pakistan government as Islamabad relations with Moscow have been discussed several times during Imran Khan’s regime.

Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari held bilateral meetings with foreign ministers of all member states of SCO yesterday.

 In an earlier statement, Pakistan Foreign Office announced that Bilawal would be holding bilateral meetings with foreign ministers of China, Russia and other SCO members, The Express Tribune reported, adding that however, there was no meeting between Bilawal and Lavrov at the forum.

Pakistan’s relationship with Russia was more often talked about at the time when former Prime Minister Imran khan was removed from power in April.

Khan has maintained that he was removed from power through a US conspiracy since he wanted to pursue an independent foreign policy, particularly one that deepens ties with Russia.

In May, Pakistan had said that it is open to importing oil and food products from Russia amid the ongoing backlash against the country for actions in Ukraine.

Russia had launched a “special military operation” in Ukraine on February 24, the day when former Imran Khan decided to visit Moscow to push for the construction of a long-delayed, multi-billion-dollar gas pipeline to be built in collaboration with Russian companies.

Imran Khan, who was ousted from power, has claimed the new Shahbaz Sharif government had dropped plans to acquire cheap Russian oil that his government managed to secure.

Meanwhile, Bilawal following his meeting with the Chinese Foreign Minister on Thursday held bilateral meetings with foreign ministers of Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan. He separately held a meeting with Acting Afghan Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi, discussing the current Afghan situation and reaffirming Pakistan’s commitment for a stable and prosperous Afghanistan, as per The Express Tribune.

The 20th Meeting of SCO Council of Heads of Government (CHG) was held on November 25, 2021, in Nur-Sultan through video conference under the Chairmanship of Kazakhstan and Jaishankar represented India in the meeting, according to the statement released by the Ministry of External Affairs.

PTI hits out at Bilawal

Hitting out at Foreign Minister Bilawal, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leader Fawad Chaudhry said that was on an “internship” and that no one knows him.

During a press conference in Islamabad on Saturday, the PTI leader also said that his Bilawal’s Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov refused to meet him, The News International reported.

 While the former human rights minister Shireen Mazari in a Tweet that FM Bilawal’s meeting with all foreign ministers at the SCO except those from India and Russia.

“Bilawal meets all SCO foreign ministers except Indian FM – which was proper given Modi’s fascism in IIOJK – & Russian FM. Why would he not meet Lavrov except out of fear of US! Shameful how subservience before US prevents Imported govt’s FM from even mtg Russian FM bilaterally!” she tweeted.

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US finds it’s hard to shun Russia

U.S. officials say Russia is trying to shore up the few alliances it has left — some of which are American adversaries like Iran…reports Asian Lite News

The Biden administration likes to say Russia has become isolated internationally because of its invasion of Ukraine. Yet Moscow’s top officials have hardly been cloistered in the Kremlin. And now, even the U.S. Is talking to them.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has been meeting with world leaders, including Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose country is a NATO member. Meanwhile, his top diplomat, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, is jetting around the world, smiling, shaking hands and posing for photos with foreign leaders — including some friends of the U.S.

And on Friday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov about American detainees and Ukraine.

Blinken would not discuss the specific details of the call but said he had pressed Lavrov to accept a “substantial proposal” the U.S. has made for the release of jailed Americans Paul Whelan and Brittany Griner. The Russian Foreign Ministry said Lavrov “strongly suggested” to Blinken “returning to a professional dialogue in the mode of quiet diplomacy” on any efforts at American detainees ’ release.

The phone call and the handshakes cast doubt on a core part of the U.S. strategy aimed at ending the Ukraine war: that diplomatic and economic isolation, along with battlefield setbacks, would ultimately force Russia to send its troops home.

Even as he announced plans for the call two days earlier, Blinken continued to insist Russia is indeed isolated. He argued the travel of its top officials is purely damage control and a reaction to international criticism Moscow is facing for the Ukraine war.

U.S. officials say Russia is trying to shore up the few alliances it has left — some of which are American adversaries like Iran. But countries that are ostensibly U.S. partners, like Egypt and Uganda, are also warmly welcoming top Russians.

And after making the case since February that there’s no point in talking to Russia because Russia is not serious about diplomacy and cannot be trusted, the U.S. has conceded it needs to engage with Moscow as well.

The public outreach to Lavrov combined with the announcement of a “substantial proposal” to Russia to win the release of Whelan and Griner took many by surprise.

The Blinken-Lavrov conversation was the highest-level contact between the U.S. and Russia since Feb. 15, before the Russian invasion, and could set the stage for possible in-person discussions, although administration officials say there are no plans for that.

The Kremlin presumably reveled in the fact that the U.S. is now seeking engagement and will likely delay the process of arranging a call to gain maximum advantage.

“They are going to drag this out and try to humiliate us as much as they can,” said Ian Kelly, a retired career diplomat who served as U.S. ambassador to Georgia in the Obama and Trump administrations. “I don’t think it goes along with (the administration’s) overall policy.”

Kelly saw Blinken’s interest in the call as “counterproductive to our broader effort to isolate Russia.”

“Other countries will look at this and say, ’Why shouldn’t we deal with Lavrov or the Russians more broadly?’” he said.

Already, Western appeals to convince Asian, African and Middle Eastern nations to shun Russia appear to have been ignored as Lavrov travels around the world.

Still, on Wednesday, Blinken played down the importance of Lavrov’s globetrotting. He said it was a response to the cold reception Russia has gotten to Ukraine-related wheat and grain shortages now plaguing large portions of the developing world, particularly as a United Nations-backed agreement to free up those supplies has yet to be implemented.

“What I see is a desperate game of defense to try somehow to justify to the world the actions that Russia has taken,” Blinken said. “Somehow trying to justify what’s unjustifiable.”

U.S. and European officials point out that Russia has come under heavy criticism for the Ukraine invasion and the food and energy security shortages that have resulted.

Biden administration officials, including Blinken, have noted with satisfaction that Lavrov chose to leave a recent meeting of G-20 foreign ministers in Indonesia after listening to a litany of complaints from counterparts about the global impact of the war.

Despite that, there is no sign Russia will be excluded from major international events such as the ASEAN Regional Forum next week, the United Nations General Assembly in September or a trio of leaders’ summits in Asia to be held in November.

Russia continues to maintain close ties with China, India and numerous developing countries throughout Asia and Africa. Many depend on Russia for energy and other exports, though they also rely on Ukraine for grain.

India hasn’t shunned Russia despite its membership in the so-called Quad with the U.S., Australia and Japan. With a longstanding close relationship with Russia, India has boosted energy imports from Russia despite pressure from the U.S. and Europe, which is moving away from Russian gas and oil.

India, for example, has used nearly 60 million barrels of Russian oil in 2022 so far, compared with only 12 million barrels in all of 2021, according to commodity data firm Kpler.

On the other side of the coin, the Philippines, a U.S. treaty ally, this week scrapped a deal to purchase 16 Russian military transport helicopters due to fears of possible U.S. sanctions.

The Russian foreign ministry has gleefully countered the assertions of Russia’s isolation by tweeting photographs of Lavrov in various world capitals.

Among the photos: Lavrov at the the G-20 meeting in Bali with the Chinese, Indian and Indonesian foreign ministers; in Uganda with President Yoweri Museveni, a longtime U.S. partner; and in Egypt with President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, also a U.S. partner, whose country every year receives billions in dollars in American aid.

ALSO READ: US rules out Blinken-Lavrov meet in Cambodia

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US rules out Blinken-Lavrov meet in Cambodia

Russian Foreign Minister called for return to “silent diplomacy” on the issue of prisoner exchange, without speculation and stuffing, reports Asian Lite News

The United States has no plans for a meeting between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov during their visit to Cambodia for meetings with ASEAN, State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters.

“We have no plans to meet with Foreign Minister Lavrov when they are in Cambodia,” Price said during a press briefing on Friday.

Meanwhile during a phone conversation with Blinken, Foreign Minister Lavrov called for return to “silent diplomacy” on the issue of prisoner exchange, without speculation and stuffing, the Russian Foreign Ministry said following the conversation.

“Regarding the possible exchange of imprisoned Russian citizens, the United States has been urged by the Russian side to return to a professional dialogue in the ‘silent diplomacy’ mode, without speculative media stuffing,” the ministry said.

 Negotiations on the exchange of prisoners between Russia and the United States are being conducted, but there is no concrete result yet, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said earlier, commenting on a US statement about a possible exchange of Russian Viktor Bout for Americans Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan. (ANI/Sputnik)

ALSO READ: Blinken, Lavrov discuss Ukraine on phone