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G7 demand action from Russia on cybercrimes and chemical weapon use

The Group of Seven (G7) wealthy nations on Sunday demanded Russia take action against those conducting cyberattacks and using ransomware from within its borders.

The rebuke came in a communique issued after a three-day summit of G7 leaders in Britain that also called on Moscow to “stop its destabilising behaviour and malign activities” and conduct an investigation into the use of chemical weapons on Russian soil.

The communique said Russia must “hold to account those within its borders who conduct ransomware attacks, abuse virtual currency to launder ransoms, and other cybercrimes”.

The issue is in the spotlight after a cyber attack on Colonial Pipeline, the largest fuel pipeline in the United States, and another that disrupted the North American and Australian operations of meatpacker JBS USA.

Britain has previously said Russia is a leading proponent of cyberattacks.

The G7 statement called for wider action against ransomware attacks, describing the practice of encrypting victims’ data and demanding payment for its return as an “escalating shared threat”.

“We call on all states to urgently identify and disrupt ransomware criminal networks operating from within their borders, and hold those networks accountable for their actions,” it said.

The call for an investigation into chemical weapon use comes after Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny was treated in Germany for what German doctors said was poisoning with a military-grade nerve agent. He accused Putin of ordering the poisoning, which the Kremlin denies.

“We call on Russia to urgently investigate and credibly explain the use of a chemical weapon on its soil,” the G7 document said.

Europe in vaccination race against COVID-19’s delta variant

Countries across Europe are scrambling to accelerate coronavirus vaccinations and outpace the spread of the more infectious delta variant, in a high-stakes race to prevent hospital wards from filling up again with patients fighting for their lives.

The urgency coincides with Europe’s summer holiday months, with fair weather bringing more social gatherings and governments reluctant to clamp down on them. Social distancing is commonly neglected, especially among the young, and some countries are scrapping the requirement to wear masks outdoors.

Incentives for people to get shots include free groceries, travel and entertainment vouchers, and prize drawings. The president of Cyprus even appealed to a sense of patriotism.

The risk of infection from the delta variant is “high to very high” for partially or unvaccinated communities, according to the European Centre for Disease Control, which monitors 30 countries on the continent. It estimates that by the end of August, the variant will account for 90% of cases in the European Union.

“It is very important to progress with the vaccine rollout at a very high pace,” the ECDC warned.

The World Health Organization is also concerned. The variant makes transmission growth “exponential,” according to Maria Van Kerkhove, its technical lead on COVID-19.

Daily new case numbers are already climbing sharply in countries like the United Kingdom, Portugal and Russia.

In the U.K., cases of the delta variant have increased fourfold in less than a month, with confirmed cases Friday up 46% on the previous week.

Portuguese health authorities this week reported a “vertiginous” rise in the prevalence of the delta variant, which accounted for only 4% of cases in May but almost 56% in June. The country is reporting its highest number of daily cases since February, and the number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals has surpassed 500 for the first time since early April.

Reports of new infections in Russia more than doubled in June, topping 20,000 per day this week, and deaths hit 679 on Friday, the fourth day in a row that the death toll set a daily record.

Still, “no one wants any lockdowns,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov at a briefing, although he admitted that the virus situation in a number of Russian regions is “tense.”

In some countries, the virus is spreading much faster among younger people. In Spain, the national 14-day case notification rate per 100,000 people rose to 152 on Friday. But for the 20-29 age group, it shot up to 449.

Those numbers have triggered alarm across the continent.

The Dutch government is extending its vaccination program to those aged 12-17 to help head off a feared new surge. Greece is offering young adults 150 euros ($177) in credit after their first jab. Rome authorities are mulling the use of vans to vaccinate people at the beach. And Poland last week launched a lottery open only to adults who are fully vaccinated, with new cars among the prizes.

Portuguese authorities have extended the hours of vaccination centers, created new walk-in clinics, called up armed forces personnel to help run operations, and reduced the period between taking the two doses of the

AstraZeneca

vaccine from 12 weeks to eight weeks.

“We’re in a race against the clock,” Cabinet Minister Mariana Vieira da Silva said.

In the fight against vaccine hesitancy across Europe, the appearance of variants has fed public uncertainty about how effective the shots are.

In Madrid this week, Claudia Aguilar, a 58-year-old archaeologist, got her second Pfizer-BioNTech jab at an auditorium that is expanding its working hours overnight.

Nevertheless, she said she is “not sure I’ll really be immune” against future variants.

“I mean, I’m a bit skeptical that this is going to do any good,” Aguilar said.

Bartender Yevgeniya Chernyshkova was lined up Thursday for a shot at Moscow’s GUM department store just off Red Square after the government required vaccinations for workers in some sectors.

“Now, it’s becoming mandatory and we all understand why – because the third wave of the pandemic has started here,” she said.

Fifteen months after WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic, some governments appear more minded to reward public patience while thinking twice about bringing back restrictions.

Some 40,000 fans went to England’s European Championship soccer match against Germany at London’s Wembley Stadium last week. In Portugal, new restrictions have been half-hearted, such as limiting restaurant opening hours on weekend nights.

In Moscow, however, restaurants, bars and cafes on Monday began admitting only customers who have been vaccinated, have recovered from COVID-19 in the past six months or can provide a negative test in the previous 72 hours.

France lifted the last of its major restrictions Wednesday, allowing unlimited crowds in restaurants, at weddings and most cultural events despite fast-rising cases of the delta variant.

Tiago Correia, an associate professor at Lisbon’s Institute of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, detects a mood of public impatience, especially among young people keen to enjoy warm summer nights.

“People want to return to normal more quickly than the vaccination rollout is happening,” he said.

The emerging variants have shone a light on the unprecedented scale of the immunization programs. The ECDC says that in the countries it surveys, 61% of people over 18 have had one shot and 40% are completely vaccinated.

But Dr. Hans Kluge, the head of the WHO’s Europe office, cautioned this week that the delta variant is poised to become dominant by August in the 53-country region his office covers. And he notes that some 63% of people in that region haven’t had a first jab.

“The three conditions for a new wave of excess hospitalizations and deaths before the (fall) are therefore in place: New variants, deficit in vaccine uptake, increased social mixing,” Kluge said.

Announcement on Afghanistan government soon: Taliban

Amid Pakistan Foreign Minister’s Kabul visit Taliban has announced that talks on the formation of a new government with Afghan political leaders are underway and that a new government will be announced in the near future.

“Our political officials met with leaders here in Kabul, their views are important, discussions are moving, there is hope for an announcement on the government soon,” said Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban.

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin and the participants of an emergency session of the CSTO have expressed concern over the events in Afghanistan and potential threats from this country, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Monday. Collective Security Treaty Organisation or CSTO is an Eurasian military alliance comprising Russia, Kazakhstan. Tajikistan, Armenia, Belarus and Kyrgyzstan. Afghanistan is an observer to CSTO. These countries are worried over spillover impact of extremism & narco trade from Afghanistan into this region.

Members of the Taliban’s political office over the weekend met a number of politicians in Kabul including former president Hamid Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah, the head of High Council for National Reconciliation (HCNR), and discussions focused on the overall political situation including the formation of an inclusive government.

The members of the Taliban’s political office who arrived in Kabul on Saturday include Shahabuddin Delawar, Abdul Salam Hanafi, Mullah Khairullah Khairkhaw and Abdul Rahmand Fida.

Abdullah Abdullah in a Facebook post confirmed the meeting with the Taliban leaders, saying that discussions were focused on the political process and the formation of an inclusive government.

Some Afghan political leaders, however, criticized the way the talks are taking place, saying that the political process should be inclusive.

“I don’t see this game as a good one because it looks like a game of inpiduals, everyone tries to promote himself and does not show respect for the Afghans,” local Afghan media reported quoting Sayed Eshaq Gailani, the head of the Nahzat-e-Hambastagi Afghanistan party.

Atta Mohammad Noor, the former governor of Balkh, said that the next government will not be acceptable if it is not inclusive.

“The war has not ended, we have a long way to go, we will test them (the Taliban), we will emerge again … either to resolve it through an inclusive government or war,” said Atta Mohammad Noor, the former governor of Balkh.

India and Russia have emphasised on the necessity for inclusive government in Kabul. Amid this New Delhi and Moscow on Monday held high level discussions in Russia to expand joint defence production.

( Originally published on Aug 23, 2021 )