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Russia’s passport ploy is yet another assault on Ukrainian sovereignty | World News

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Novoshakhtinsk is a nondescript former mining city on Russia’s border with Ukraine. It is not the place for a day-trip.  

But six days a week, two or three buses pull up to the local community centre and passengers pile out clutching documents.

They are all residents of the separatist republics of Eastern Ukraine and they have come to Novoshakhtinsk for a passport far more powerful than the ones they carry, from the self-proclaimed Donetsk or Luhansk People’s Republics.

More powerful too, they feel, than their Ukrainian passports.

People wait to be called forward to enter a police station to get a Russian passport
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People wait to be called forward to get a Russian passport

They are the beneficiaries of the Russian president’s passport largesse. They will all return to their homes in Donbas, Eastern Ukraine, as dual citizens.

“I have Russian roots, my parents are Russian and I was raised in the Soviet Union,” says Ludmila Sobol.

“I am a patriot and I’m Russian. That’s why the time has come for me to be a real Russian, with Russian citizenship.”

Minutes later she’s brandishing her new burgundy passport.

“I feel relieved,” her husband Alexander says. “Everything has come full circle.”

Ludmila Sobol with her husband waiting to get Russian passports
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Ludmila Sobol with her husband Alexander wait to get Russian passports

Since 2019, Russia has handed out more than half a million passports to residents of the separatist republics.

Ukraine refuses to recognise them and has expressed frustration that the EU has not levied sanctions on Russian officials involved in issuing them.

At the end of May, Ukraine’s President Volodomyr Zelensky described it as the first step towards the full annexation of Donbas.

Russia’s policy of “passportisation” is consistent across the disputed territories which percolate the former Soviet republics – in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, technically still Georgian; in Moldova’s Transnistria too and, of course, in occupied Crimea.

It’s a way of ensuring their residents stay looking East not West, attuned to Russian interests, the Russian job market and possible migration to Russia – a way of ensuring the regions they live in stay irreconcilably conflicted with their actual national governments.

Men proudly clutch their new passports
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Two men proudly clutch their new passports

Most of the younger members of the group want to move to Russia.

“The quality of life and salaries are much better,” one girl tells me. “Everyone knows that.”

I ask her if she thinks Donbas will one day be a part of Russia.

“Probably, I would hope so,” she says. “People in general are waiting for this.”

Drive north along the border from Novoshakhtinsk and you reach a town called Donetsk.

Its more famous namesake is the most important city of the separatist republics and still the centre of Eastern Ukraine’s struggling coal industry.

Novoshakhtinsk

In this Donetsk, on the edge of the Donbas coal basin, most of the mines closed down decades ago.

There is a factory that produces towels and work for people in local shops, but a lot of the residents do shift work in Moscow or elsewhere across Russia.

Victor and Victoria are eating sandwiches in the sunshine. They don’t want to give their surnames.

They think the other Donetsk will soon be a part of Russia too.

“Probably in the near future especially if they come here to get passports in such large numbers,” Victoria says.

“That’s why I think soon everything will be united.”

But it hardly needs to be.

Crimea was one thing – a full blown annexation of the far larger, war-weary territory of Donbas would be quite another.

The Russian city of Donetsk
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The Russian city of Donetsk

Russians are far more ambivalent about Donbas than they were about Crimea, which the majority – many of whom have holidayed there throughout the pandemic – feel was always rightfully theirs.

Annexing Donbas from the perspective of the Kremlin, (which denies being anything other than a concerned observer to the conflict), would be over-reach.

Naturalising the residents of Donbas while continuing to back the separatists militarily means any solution to the Ukrainian conflict remains as remote as ever.

That’s just the way Russia wants it. At once a demographic boon for Russia and yet another assault on Ukrainian sovereignty.

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Tokyo Olympics: Opening ceremony was ‘respectful, hopeful but sombre night’ | World News

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Olympic opening ceremonies are something of a unique art form. Playing to a global audience but with the host nation wanting to make the night their own.

Japan chose sombre. It was a respectful, hopeful but above all sombre night. They didn’t want to show off when everyone has lived through such hardship – and while so many people continue to do so.

Their display using 1,824 flying drones combining like a swarm of giant worker bees to create a giant globe stood out.

Naomi Osaka of Japan holds the Olympic torch after lighting the Olympic cauldron
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Naomi Osaka of Japan holds the Olympic torch after lighting the cauldron

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There were no Team GB fans at the 2021 summer olympic opening ceremony in Tokyo due to COVID-19 but Japan put on a stunning visual show regardless

So too Japanese tennis superstar Naomi Osaka who was given the honour of firing up the hydrogen-fuelled Olympic cauldron.

But it was their courteous bow towards the pain of the pandemic that defined the evening.

Video montages of empty cities during lockdowns, and athletes cobbling together training regimes in their back gardens – it all made for an understated opening ceremony.

Outside, the protests in the streets continued among those still vehemently against the Games taking place while Tokyo remains in a state of COVID emergency.

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There were also people outside who just felt drawn to the Olympic stadium – to come and wave to the very select numbers of VIPs and media going inside. It was as close as they could get to the Games that they had waited almost a decade for.

While these Olympics will feel unusual there were reminders too of the magic they can create.

There was a towering Tongan taekwondo player who strode into the stadium with his bare oiled chest puffed out as he carried his island nation’s flag like a warrior on a mission.

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Protests held outside Olympic stadium

The Olympics can still produce special moments like that and there will be plenty more over the coming weeks.

There will be more COVID-19 disruption too but the Games of 2020 are finally open, just one year late.

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Business leaders have ‘obligation to speak up’, ex-Unilever boss says amid Ben & Jerry’s row | Business News

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Unilever’s ex-boss has said business leaders have an “obligation to speak up” after his former company became embroiled in a row with Israel over its Ben & Jerry’s business.

Paul Polman mounted a defence of the need to “fight for what is right” in remarks to Sky News after the ice cream brand said it would stop selling its products in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Ben & Jerry’s is owned by consumer goods giant Unilever – whose array of brands ranges from Marmite spread to Dove soap – but has an independent board to take such decisions.

Alan Jope, Unilever chief executive
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Current boss Alan Jope has spoken to Israel’s prime minister about the matter

Its announcement is one of the strongest steps taken by a well-known company over Israel’s settlements, which are widely seen as illegal by the international community.

The move drew condemnation from the Israeli government, whose new prime minister Naftali Bennett said this week that Israel would “use the tools at its disposal – including legal – on this issue” and that those taking such action “need to know that there will be a price to pay”.

Mr Polman, speaking to Sky’s Ian King Live, said it would be inappropriate to say how he would have handled the issue had he still been in charge of Unilever.

But he added: “What is very important is if we want humanity to function for the long term we need to be sure that we fight for the basic values, the basic values of dignity, respect, equity, compassion.

“If we see these values being violated anywhere in the world I think we have an obligation to speak up.

“What we’ve seen in the US in the last few years – too few people, also from the business side, spoke up against things that then bit by bit moved the boundaries and put us in a very difficult situation.

Naftali Bennett will serve as prime minister for two years
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Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett said there would be a “price to pay”

“So, fight for what is right and one of the few things we should fight for always is, these basic human rights.”

Mr Polman was speaking a day after current Unilever boss Alan Jope, in a conference call to discuss latest results, said the company remains “fully committed” to doing business in Israel but gave no indication that Unilever would press Ben & Jerry’s to reverse the decision.

Mr Jope, who has spoken to Mr Bennett on the phone to discuss the matter, said that it was a “complex and sensitive matter”.

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Tokyo Olympics 2020: Algerian judoka Fethi Nourine withdraws to avoid facing Israeli competitor Tohar Butbul | World News

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An Algerian judo competitor has withdrawn from the Tokyo Olympics after learning he could have faced an Israeli opponent.

Fethi Nourine said his political support for the Palestinian cause made it impossible to compete against Tohar Butbul.

He told Algerian TV he would not “get his hands dirty” and his “decision was final”.

“We worked a lot to reach the Olympics, and the news came as a shock, a thunder”, he added.

Tohar Butbul of Israel
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Tohar Butbul of Israel

The 30-year-old was drawn against Sudan’s Mohamed Asdalrasool on Monday for his first match in the men’s 73kg class. If he had won that match, he would have faced Butbul, who has a first-round bye, in the next round.

Nourine also withdrew from the world championships in 2019 for the same reason.

At the time, his coach Amar Ben Yaklif was quoted in Algerian media saying: “We were unlucky with the draw. We got an Israeli opponent and that’s why we had to retire. We made the right decision.”

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Tensions between Israel and Palestinians flared in Jerusalem earlier this year causing the worst violence in the region since 2014.

Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Judo - Training Sessions - Nippon Budokan, Tokyo, Japan - July 22, 2021. Technicians work on the mat in Nippon Budokan Arena, during training sessions. REUTERS/Sergio Perez
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Judo training sessions take place at the Tokyo Games

The conflict between the two sides has been going on for decades and has seen athletes from Iran and Egypt also previously refuse to compete against Israeli opponents.

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The opening ceremony for this year’s Olympic games took place on Friday, with fans not allowed in the national stadium for the event due to COVID-19 concerns.

Instead, around 1,000 dignitaries and members of the media were allowed the witness the spectacular event.

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