Ukraine army chief says Russia making significant ‘gains’ in east of country

BBC News

Ukraine army chief says Russia making significant ‘gains’ in east of country

Thomas Mackintosh – BBC News – April 13, 2024

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky with Gen Oleksandr Syrskyi at a position near the eastern front line, Donetsk region, Ukraine, 26 June 2023
Gen Oleksandr Syrskyi (L) was appointed as commander of Ukraine’s military by President Zelensky last year [Reuters]

The head of Ukraine’s military has warned the battlefield situation in the east of the country has “significantly worsened” in recent days.

Fierce battles are ongoing in a several villages in the eastern Donbas region.

Gen Oleksandr Syrskyi said Russia was benefitting from warm weather – making terrain more accessible to its tanks – and making tactical gains.

It comes as Germany said it will give Ukraine an extra Patriot missile defence system to fend off air attacks.

In his update posted to social media on Saturday, Gen Syrskyi explained the situation on the eastern front had deteriorated as Russia intensified its armoured assaults.

Battles have raged for control of Bohdanivka – a village west of the devastated city of Bakhmut, he said.

The settlement lies a few kilometres northeast of the town of Chasiv Yar, a Kyiv-controlled stronghold which Russia has been trying to reach after seizing the town of Avdiivka in February to the south.

Ukrainian officials say a slowdown in military assistance from the West – especially the US – has left it more exposed to aerial attacks and heavily outgunned on the battlefield.

Despite repeated assurances that he is dedicated to Ukraine’s defence, US House Speaker Mike Johnson has failed to advance a new military aid bill. The Democratic-controlled Senate passed fresh funding in February which included $60bn in aid for Kyiv, but conservative Republicans in the House objected to the bill as it did not include funds for border security.

Gen Syrskyi said without fresh aid and sophisticated weapons Kyiv would be unable “to seize the strategic initiative” from the numerically superior Russian forces.

Separately on Saturday, Germany vowed to give Ukraine an additional air defence system. Ukraine has made increasingly desperate appeals for supplies of air defence missiles in recent weeks.

On Friday, a major power plant near Kyiv was completely destroyed by Russian strikes. Trypillya power plant was the largest electricity provider for three regions, including Kyiv, officials said.

In response, Berlin has agreed to give Kyiv an additional Patriot missile system. It is capable of intercepting Russia’s most advanced munitions, including Kinzal hypersonic missiles.

Defence Minister Boris Pistorius said Russian strikes against Ukrainian cities and energy infrastructure were causing untold suffering.

President Volodymyr Zelensky thanked Germany for the decision, calling it “a true manifestation of support for Ukraine”.

Since President Vladimir Putin won his stage managed election last month, Moscow has stepped up air attacks on Ukraine.

Russia has, in recent days, unleashed three massive aerial strikes on its energy system, pounding power plants and substations.

Elsewhere, the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) said it has foiled an assassination attempt on the governor of the Kherson region, Oleksandr Prokudin. Officials said two men attempted to strike Mr Prokudin’s car with a Russian-manufactured drone.

“This was not the first attempt, and probably not the last one,” Mr Prokudin said a message posted to Telegram.

SBU officials also said they had detained 11 networks of Russian operatives since the start of 2024. SBU chief Vasyl Malyuk said in another Telegram post that this was in addition to 47 last year.

Map
[BBC]

Ukraine’s military chief warns of ‘significantly’ worsening battlefield situation in the east

Associated Press

Ukraine’s military chief warns of ‘significantly’ worsening battlefield situation in the east

Associated Press – April 13, 2024

In this photo taken from video released by Russian Defense Ministry Press Service on Saturday, April 13, 2024, Russian Army soldiers ride their armoured vehicle to take positions and fire toward Ukrainian positions at an undisclosed location in Ukraine. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine’s military chief on Saturday warned that the battlefield situation in the industrial east has “significantly worsened in recent days,” as warming weather allowed Russian forces to launch a fresh push along several stretches of the more 1,000 km-long (620-mile) front line.

In an update on the Telegram messaging app, Gen. Oleksandr Syrskyy said that Moscow had “significantly” ramped up its assaults since President Vladimir Putin extended his nearly quarter-century rule in a preordained election last month that saw anti-war candidates barred from the ballot and independent voices silenced in a Kremlin-backed media blockade.

According to Syrskyy, Russian forces have been “actively attacking” Ukrainian positions in three areas of the eastern Donetsk region, near the cities of Lyman, Bakhmut and Pokrovsk, and beginning to launch tank assaults as drier, warmer spring weather has made it easier for heavy vehicles to move across previously muddy terrain.

“Despite significant losses, the enemy is intensifying its efforts by using new units (equipped with) armored vehicles, thanks to which it periodically achieves tactical success,” Syrskyy said.

A Russian Defense Ministry spokesman on Saturday confirmed the capture of a village that had been the site of fierce fighting for close to eighteen months. Analysts from Ukraine’s non-governmental Deep State group, which tracks frontline developments, had reported on Russia’s takeover of Pervomaiske, some 45 kilometers (28 miles) southeast of Pokrovsk, in the early hours of Thursday.

On Saturday, the group said in a Telegram update that Moscow’s forces had also taken Bohdanivka, another eastern village close to the city of Bakhmut, where the war’s bloodiest battle raged for nine months until it fell to Russia last May. Ukraine’s Defense Ministry shortly afterwards denied that Bohdanivka had been captured, and said “intense fighting” continued there.

With the war in Ukraine entering its third year and a vital U.S. aid package for Kyiv stuck in Congress, Russian troops are ramping up pressure on exhausted Ukrainian forces on the front line to prepare to grab more land this spring and summer.

Russia has relied on its edge in firepower and personnel to step up attacks across eastern Ukraine. It has increasingly used satellite-guided gliding bombs — which allow planes to drop them from a safe distance — to pummel Ukrainian forces beset by a shortage of troops and ammunition.

Also on Saturday, Germany announced that it will deliver an additional Patriot air defense system to Ukraine, days after Russian missiles and drones on Thursday struck infrastructure and power facilities across several regions, leaving hundreds of thousands of homes without power, in what private energy operator DTEK described as one of the most powerful attacks this year. The German Defense Ministry said it would “begin the handover” of the Patriot system immediately, without providing a precise timeline.

In an update on X, formerly known as Twitter, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said he had discussed the “massive” Russian air attacks on civilian energy infrastructure with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Saturday, and declared that Berlin will “stand unbreakably by Ukraine’s side.”

Putin described the strikes as retribution for Ukrainian attacks on Russia’s energy infrastructure, after a slew of Ukrainian drone strikes over the past few months hit oil refineries deep inside Russia.

Starting last month, Moscow renewed its assault on Ukrainian energy facilities. On Thursday it completely knocked out a plant that was the biggest energy supplier for the region around Kyiv, as well as the nearby Cherkasy and Zhytomyr provinces.

At least 10 of the strikes damaged energy infrastructure in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city. Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said more than 200,000 people in the region were without power and Russia “is trying to destroy Kharkiv’s infrastructure and leave the city in darkness.”

Energy facilities were also hit in the Zaporizhzhia and Lviv regions.

The volume and accuracy of recent attacks have alarmed the country’s defenders, who say Kremlin forces now have better intelligence and fresh tactics in their campaign to annihilate Ukraine’s electrical grid and bring its economy to a halt.

In the winter of 2022-2023, Russia took aim at Ukraine’s power grid in an effort to deny civilians light and heating and chip away at the country’s appetite for war.

In Ukraine’s Russian-occupied south, a local Kremlin-installed official blamed Kyiv for a shelling attack that killed 10 people, including children, in a town in the southern Zaporizhzhia region the previous day.

The Tokmak municipal administration reported on Telegram that the shelling struck three apartment blocks Friday evening. Five people were pulled alive from the rubble and 13 people were hospitalized, according to the Kremlin-installed regional head Yevhen Balitsky. It was not immediately possible to verify his claims.

Ukrainian officials did not immediately acknowledge or comment on the attack.

Meanwhile, in Ukraine, a Russian drone on Saturday dropped explosives on an ambulance that had been called out to a village near the frontline city of Kupiansk, wounding its 58-year-old driver, local Gov. Oleh Syniehubov reported. His claim could not be independently verified.

Iran launched 200 drones and missiles in a retaliatory attack on Israel. How we got here, and what happens next.

Yahoo! News

Iran launched 200 drones and missiles in a retaliatory attack on Israel. How we got here, and what happens next.

Air defense systems intercepted many projectiles; Biden condemns attacks

Caitlin Dickson and Kaitlin Reilly – April 13, 2024

An anti-missile system operates after Iran launched drones and missiles towards Israel, as seen from Ashkelon, Israel April 14, 2024. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
An anti-missile system operated after Iran launched drones and missiles towards Israel, as seen from Ashkelon, Israel. (REUTERS / Reuters)

Iran sent 200 drones and missiles hurtling towards Israel Saturday, escalating tensions across an already fraught Middle East and causing the international community to scramble to formulate a response.

The attacks came in retaliation for the April 1 bombing of Iran’s embassy in Syria. Iran said it now considers that matter “concluded,” but also warned Israel and the U.S. against further reprisals. President Biden, meanwhile, condemned the attacks and said he would convene G7 leaders Sunday for “a united diplomatic response.”

It was unclear how much damage the attacks caused. Many of the projectiles were intercepted by Israel’s air defense system, with assistance from the U.S. and other allies.

U.S. and Israeli officials had been predicting a strike. Biden sought to dissuade Iran Friday with a simple one-word message to Tehran’s leaders: “Don’t.”

That warning went unheeded Saturday. Here’s a look at how we got here, and what could happen next.

What’s happening?

Israel Defense Force spokesperson Daniel Hagari said Iran had launched more than 200 drones, cruise missiles, and ballistic missiles towards Israel Saturday, according to The New York Times. Hagari said one girl had been injured.

The Iranian-run state news agency IRNA said Tehran had fired ballistic missiles at Israeli targets, the Associated Press reported.

President Biden cut his weekend visit to Delaware short, returning to the White House on Saturday to meet with his national security team and later speak with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In a statement, Biden affirmed that the U.S. “commitment to Israel’s security against threats from Iran and its proxies is ironclad.”

Biden also said he had directed U.S. military resources to the region over the past week to support Israel’s defense, and that as a result “we helped Israel take down nearly all of the incoming drones and missiles.”

The background

Tensions have long simmered and flared between Iran and Israel. Iran has been accused of providing funding and support to militant groups like Hamas and Hezbollah to help facilitate attacks on Israel.

But Saturday’s attack came less than two weeks after a suspected Israeli strike on the Iranian embassy in Damascus, Syria. The attack killed seven of Iran’s military advisers, including three senior commanders.

Although the attack took place outside Iran, it may as well have been a direct hit on the country. Diplomatic compounds, including embassies and consulates, are generally considered sovereign territory of the country they represent and are afforded certain protections. However, during times of war or conflict, diplomatic compounds may become targets for attacks by opposing forces. These attacks are usually condemned by the international community, and when they do occur in conflict zones, it often leads to diplomatic tensions — and potential repercussions.

Saturday’s attack came amid the ongoing war between Hamas and Israel, although Iran does not take responsibility for aiding Hamas during its attack on Oct. 7 that killed 1,200 Israelis.

On Friday, Biden had said he expected Iran to attack “sooner than later” and urged Tehran against it. The U.S. also took steps in recent days to protect Americans in Israel and prepare U.S. troops and warships in the region to defend Israel.

What Iran has said

Iran had blamed Israel and the U.S. for the April 1 attack and had been threatening retaliation.

On Saturday, Iran’s mission to the United Nations said in a statement it considered these retaliatory attacks to be a conclusion in the matter of the April 1 embassy bombing. The statement, however, warned Israel that any future reprisals would be met by a “considerably more severe” response and that “the U.S. MUST STAY AWAY!”

Prior to the Saturday attack, Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard also seized an Israeli-affiliated container ship near the Strait of Hormuz in another apparent sign of aggression by Iran.

What Israel has said

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened his war cabinet Saturday night and spoke with President Biden.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is currently speaking with US President Joe Biden, following the deliberations of the Security Cabinet and the War Cabinet. pic.twitter.com/v2oJqMSky4

— Prime Minister of Israel (@IsraeliPM) April 14, 2024

Israel has not publicly taken responsibility for the April 1 embassy attack, though it has not denied carrying it out either.

How are other countries responding?

Many nations quickly came to Israel’s defense.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said he condemns the Iranian regime’s “reckless attack” against Israel. “These strikes risk inflaming tensions and destabilizing the region,” he stated. “Iran has once again demonstrated that it is intent on sowing chaos in its own backyard.”

German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock also “strongly” condemned the attack, which she said “could plunge an entire region into chaos.” She called for Iran and its proxies to “stop this immediately,” adding that “Israel offers our full solidarity at this time.”

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said that “we are following events in the Middle East with the deepest concern,” adding that the country is in “permanent contact” with their embassies in the region, which will “remain open to support Spaniards in the area.”

Colombia’s President Gustavo Petro called the unfolding events “predictable,” declaring it a “prelude to World War III,” when “humanity should rebuild its economy towards the rapid goal of decarbonization.”

What happens next?

International leaders will meet Sunday to coordinate a response.

The United Nations Security Council has scheduled an emergency meeting at 4 p.m. E.T.

President Biden also said he would convene a meeting with the leaders of the G7 countries, which include France, Germany, Canada, Italy, Japan, and the United Kingdom, to discuss a unified diplomatic response.

Israel says Iran launched more than 300 drones and missiles, 99% of which were intercepted

Associated Press

Israel says Iran launched more than 300 drones and missiles, 99% of which were intercepted

Josef Federman and Jon Gambrell – April 13, 2024

JERUSALEM (AP) — Booms and air raid sirens sounded across Israel early Sunday after Iran launched hundreds of drones, ballistic missiles and cruise missiles in an unprecedented revenge mission that pushed the Middle East closer to a regionwide war. A military spokesman said the launches numbered more than 300 but 99% of them were intercepted.

Calling the outcome “a very significant strategic success,” Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said Iran fired 170 drones, more than 30 cruise missiles and more than 120 ballistic missiles. Of those, several ballistic missiles reached Israeli territory, causing minor damage to an air base.

Rescuers said a 7-year-old girl in a Bedouin Arab town was seriously wounded in southern Israel, apparently in a missile strike, though they said police were still investigating the circumstances of her injuries.

In Washington, President Joe Biden said U.S. forces helped Israel down “nearly all” the drones and missiles and pledged to convene allies to develop a unified response.

The Iranian attack, less than two weeks after a suspected Israeli strike in Syria that killed two Iranian generals in an Iranian consular building, marked the first time Iran has launched a direct military assault on Israel, despite decades of enmity dating back to the country’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Condemnation from the United Nations chief and others was swift, with France saying Iran “is risking a potential military escalation,” Britain calling the attack “reckless” and Germany saying Iran and its proxies “must stop it immediately.”

Hagari said the vast majority of the intercepts came outside Israel’s borders, including 10 cruise missiles that were intercepted by warplanes.

“A wide-scale attack by Iran is a major escalation,” he said. Asked whether Israel would respond, Hagari said only that the army “does and will do whatever is required to protect the security of the state of Israel.” He said the incident was not over, and dozens of Israeli warplanes remained in the skies.

Israel’s military said its Arrow system, which shoots down ballistic missiles outside the atmosphere, handled most interceptions and noted that “strategic partners” were involved.

“At my direction, to support the defense of Israel, the U.S. military moved aircraft and ballistic missile defense destroyers to the region over the course of the past week,” Biden said in a statement. “Thanks to these deployments and the extraordinary skill of our service members, we helped Israel take down nearly all of the incoming drones and missiles.”

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a separate statement that U.S. forces “intercepted dozens of missiles and UAVs en route to Israel, launched from Iran, Iraq, Syria and Yemen.”

Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke early Sunday, Israeli time, their governments said. Biden said in his statement that he reaffirmed “America’s ironclad commitment” to Israel’s security — a departure from his growing criticism of Israel’s conduct in its war on Hamas in Gaza.

Iran had vowed revenge since the April 1 airstrike in Syria, which Tehran accused Israel of being responsible for. Israel hasn’t commented on it.

Israel and Iran have been on a collision course throughout Israel’s six-month war against Hamas militants in Gaza. The war erupted after Hamas and Islamic Jihad, two militant groups backed by Iran, carried out a devastating cross-border attack on Oct. 7 that killed 1,200 people in Israel and kidnapped 250 others. An Israeli offensive in Gaza has caused widespread devastation and killed over 33,000 people, according to local health officials.

Almost immediately after the war erupted, Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed militant group in Lebanon, began attacking Israel’s northern border. The two sides have been involved in daily exchanges of fire, while Iranian-backed groups in Iraq, Syria and Yemen have launched rockets and missiles toward Israel.

In a statement carried late Saturday by Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency, the country’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard acknowledged launching “dozens of drones and missiles towards the occupied territories and positions of the Zionist regime.”

In a later statement, the Revolutionary Guard issued a direct warning to the U.S.: “The terrorist U.S. government is warned any support or participation in harming Iran’s interests will be followed by decisive and regretting response by Iran’s armed forces.”

IRNA also quoted an anonymous official saying ballistic missiles were part of the attack. A ballistic missile moves on an arch trajectory, heading up into space before gravity brings the weapon down at a speed several times faster than the speed of sound.

Israel has a multilayered air-defense network that includes systems capable of intercepting a variety of threats including long-range missiles, cruise missiles, drones and short-range rockets. However, in a massive attack involving multiple drones and missiles, the likelihood of a strike making it through is higher.

Iran has a vast arsenal of drones and missiles. Online videos shared by Iranian state television purported to show delta-wing-style drones resembling the Iranian Shahed-136s long used by Russia in its war on Ukraine. The slow-flying drones carry bombs. Ukraine has successfully used both surface-to-air missiles and ground fire to target them.

Some Israelis watched the interceptions light up the night sky.

Air raid sirens were reported in numerous places including northern Israel, southern Israel, the northern West Bank and the Dead Sea near the Jordanian border.

Israel’s army ordered residents in the Golan Heights — near the Syrian and Lebanese borders — as well as the southern towns of Nevatim and Dimona and the Red Sea resort of Eilat into protective spaces. Dimona is home to Israel’s main nuclear facility, and Nevatim has a major air base. Loud booms were heard in Jerusalem and northern and southern Israel.

The army’s Home Front Command canceled school Sunday and limited public gatherings to no more than 1,000 people. Israel and some other countries in the region closed their airspace.

Earlier, Netanyahu warned: “Whoever harms us, we will harm them.”

In Washington, Biden convened a principals meeting of the National Security Council to discuss the attack.

Gen. Erik Kurilla, the head of the U.S. military’s Central Command, was in Israel over the weekend consulting with Israeli defense officials. The Central Command oversees U.S. forces in the Middle East.

Iran’s mission to the United Nations issued a warning to both Israel and the U.S. “Should the Israeli regime make another mistake, Iran’s response will be considerably more severe,” it wrote online. “It is a conflict between Iran and the rogue Israeli regime, from which the U.S. MUST STAY AWAY!”

For days, Iranian officials including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had threatened to “slap” Israel for the Syria strike.

In Iran’s capital, Tehran, witnesses saw long lines at gas stations early Sunday as people appeared worried about what may come next. Dozens of hard-liners demonstrated in support of the attack at Palestine Square.

Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency reported heavy Israeli airstrikes and shelling on multiple locations in south Lebanon following Iran’s launch of drones. The Lebanese militant group Hezbollah said it launched “dozens” of Katyusha rockets at an Israeli military site in the Golan Heights early Sunday. It was not immediately clear if there was any damage.

Iranian missiles or drones were intercepted in the sky above the Jordanian capital, Amman. In Lebanon’s capital, Beirut, and elsewhere in the country, residents reported seeing missiles in the sky and hearing explosions, likely from interceptions. In Syria, explosions were heard in the capital, Damascus, and elsewhere. Britain-based war monitor the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that Syrian air defenses tried to shoot down Israeli attempts to intercept Iranian missiles.

___

Gambrell reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. AP correspondents Nasser Karimi in Tehran, Iran, Michael Balsamo in New York, Krutika Pathi in New Delhi, Stephen Graham in Berlin, Thomas Adamson in Paris, and Zeke Miller and Lolita C. Baldor in Washington contributed to this report.

Biden to close ‘gun-show loophole’ and expand background checks for firearms

Politico

Biden to close ‘gun-show loophole’ and expand background checks for firearms

Myah Ward – April 11, 2024

“This single gap in our federal background check system has caused unimaginable pain and suffering,” Vice President Kamala Harris said on the call. | Alex Wong/Getty Images (Alex Wong via Getty Images)

The Biden administration is moving to expand background checks for gun purchases, fulfilling a key demand of advocates following the deadly shooting at a school in Uvalde, Texas.

The final rule, expected to be submitted Thursday to the Federal Register by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, would eliminate a loophole that has allowed sales of guns without background checks of guns outside of brick-and-mortar stores.

The rule was issued under a provision of the 2022 Bipartisan Safer Communities Act. It requires that anyone who sells guns for profit to have a license and that buyers be subject to a background check, including at firearms shows and flea markets. The administration had been working on the rule since last spring. Once publicized, it will take effect in 30 days.

The so-called gun show loophole has for years allowed unlicensed gun dealers to sell firearms without background checks at gun shows, on the internet and out of their homes. The new rule, the most sweeping expansion of firearms background checks in decades, will apply to more than 20,000 individuals engaged in unlicensed gun dealing and affect “tens and tens of thousands of gun sales” each year, an administration official told reporters during a call previewing the announcement.

“This single gap in our federal background check system has caused unimaginable pain and suffering,” Vice President Kamala Harris said on the call.

The vice president noted the 25th anniversary next week of the mass shooting at Columbine High School, which was carried out with weapons purchased through the gun-show loophole. She also pointed to the 2019 shooting in Midland and Odessa, Texas, where a man killed seven people and wounded dozens of others. A background check stopped the shooter from purchasing a gun at a sporting goods store in 2014, but he later purchased an AR-15 from an unlicensed seller he met online.

“So many communities have been torn apart by acts of violence committed with weapons bought without background checks,” she continued. “So in the memory of all those we have lost today, as the head of the White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention, I am proud to announce that all gun dealers now must conduct background checks no matter where or how they sell their merchandise.”

After Congress passed the gun safety legislation in June 2022 following a shooting in Uvalde, Texas, gun safety groups have pushed the White House to use it to expand background checks by clarifying which entities are considered “engaged in the business” of selling firearms. Doing so would not fulfill the president’s plea for universal background checks, as it would not apply to all sales, including private transfers. But the rule’s publication still marks a step forward in the administration’s more incremental efforts to regulate gun sales through implementation of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act.

“We know this doesn’t get all the way there. And this law can only do so much. And it’s why the president is firm that the Congress needs to finish this job and make sure that we have background checks on all gun sales,” an administration official said.

The final rule comes a year after the president issued an executive order directing Attorney General Merrick Garland to develop and implement a plan to clarify the definition of “engaged in business.” The Department of Justice issued the proposed rule in September. The administration has also made an effort to release previously undisclosed firearms data, offering a fuller picture of the illegal firearms market in the U.S.

An analysis published last week from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives found sales by unlicensed dealers were the most frequently used gun trafficking channel. From 2017 to 2021, the ATF traced more than 68,000 of these illegally tracked firearms to unlicensed dealers.

“Today’s Final Rule is about ensuring compliance with an important area of the existing law where we all know, the data show, and we can clearly see that a whole group of folks are openly flouting that law. That leads to not just unfair but, in this case, dangerous consequences,” said ATF director Steven Dettelbach.

Vietnam handles it’s fraudsters: Is America listening? Vietnam sentences real estate tycoon Truong My Lan to death in its largest-ever fraud case

Associated Press

Vietnam sentences real estate tycoon Truong My Lan to death in its largest-ever fraud case

Aniruddha Ghosal – April 11, 2024

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — Real estate tycoon Truong My Lan was sentenced Thursday to death by a court in Ho Chi Minh City in southern Vietnam in the country’s largest financial fraud case ever, state media Vietnam Net said.

The 67-year-old chair of the real estate company Van Thinh Phat was formally charged with fraud amounting to $12.5 billion — nearly 3% of the country’s 2022 GDP.

Lan illegally controlled Saigon Joint Stock Commercial Bank between 2012 and 2022 and allowed 2,500 loans that resulted in losses of $27 billion to the bank, reported state media VnExpress. The court asked her to compensate the bank $26.9 million.

Despite mitigating circumstances — this was a first-time offense and Lan participated in charity activities — the court attributed its harsh sentence to the seriousness of the case, saying Lan was at the helm of an orchestrated and sophisticated criminal enterprise that had serious consequences with no possibility of the money being recovered, VnExpress said.

Her actions “not only violate the property management rights of individuals and organizations but also push SCB (Saigon Joint Stock Commercial Bank) into a state of special control; eroding people’s trust in the leadership of the Party and State,” VnExpress quoted the judgement as saying.

Her niece, Truong Hue Van, the chief executive of Van Thinh Phat, was sentenced to 17 years in prison for aiding her aunt.

Lan and her family established the Van Thing Phat company in 1992 after Vietnam shed its state-run economy in favor of a more market-oriented approach that was open to foreigners. She had started out helping her mother, a Chinese businesswoman, to sell cosmetics in Ho Chi Minh City’s oldest market, according to state media Tien Phong.

Van Thinh Phat would grow to become one of Vietnam’s richest real estate firms, with projects including luxury residential buildings, offices, hotels and shopping centers. This made her a key player in the country’s financial industry. She orchestrated the 2011 merger of the beleaguered SCB bank with two other lenders in coordination with Vietnam’s central bank.

The court found that she used this approach to tap SCB for cash. She indirectly owned more than 90% of the bank — a charge she denied — and approved thousands of loans to “ghost companies,” according to government documents. These loans then found their way back to her, state media VNExpress reported, citing the court’s findings.

She then bribed officials to cover her tracks, it added.

Former central bank official Do Thi Nhan was also sentenced Thursday to life in prison for accepting $5.2 million in bribes.

Lan’s arrest in October 2022 was among the most high-profile in an ongoing anti-corruption drive in Vietnam that has intensified since 2022. The so-called Blazing Furnace campaign has touched the highest echelons of Vietnamese politics. Former President Vo Van Thuong resigned in March after being implicated in the campaign.

But Lan’s trial shocked the nation. Analysts said the scale of the scam raised questions about whether other banks or businesses had similarly erred, dampening Vietnam’s economic outlook and making foreign investors jittery at a time when Vietnam has been trying to position itself as the ideal home for businesses trying to pivot their supply chains away from China.

The real estate sector in Vietnam has been hit particularly hard. An estimated 1,300 property firms withdrew from the market in 2023, developers have been offering discounts and gold as gifts to attract buyers, and despite rents for mixed-use properties known in Southeast Asia as shophouses falling by a third in Ho Chi Minh City, many in the city center are still empty, according to state media.

In November, Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong, Vietnam’s top politician, said that the anti-corruption fight would “continue for the long term.”

Trump Allies Have a Plan to Hurt Biden’s Chances: Elevate Outsider Candidates

The New York Times

Trump Allies Have a Plan to Hurt Biden’s Chances: Elevate Outsider Candidates

Jonathan Swan, Maggie Haberman, Shane Goldmacher and Rebecca Davis O’Brien – April 10, 2024

Two Skyhorse Publishing titles by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a Democrat running for president, in the office of the company’s founder, Tony Lyons, in New York, Aug. 10, 2023. (Jeenah Moon/The New York Times)
Two Skyhorse Publishing titles by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a Democrat running for president, in the office of the company’s founder, Tony Lyons, in New York, Aug. 10, 2023. (Jeenah Moon/The New York Times)

Allies of former President Donald Trump are discussing ways to elevate third-party candidates in battleground states to divert votes away from President Joe Biden, along with other covert tactics to diminish Democratic votes.

They plan to promote independent candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. as a “champion for choice” to give voters for whom abortion is a top issue — and who also don’t like Biden — another option on the ballot, according to one person who is involved in the effort and who, like several others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the plans.

Trump allies also plan to amplify the progressive environmental records of Kennedy and expected Green Party candidate Jill Stein in key states — contrasting their policies against the record-high oil production under Biden that has disappointed some climate activists.

A third parallel effort in Michigan is meant to diminish Democratic turnout in November by amplifying Muslim voters’ concerns about Biden’s support for Israel’s war in the Gaza Strip. Trump allies are discussing running ads in Dearborn, Michigan, and other parts of the state with large Muslim populations that would thank Biden for standing with Israel, according to three people familiar with the effort, which is expected to be led by an outside group unaffiliated with the Trump campaign.

Many of these third-party-boosting efforts will probably be run out of dark-money entities that are loosely supportive of Trump. Both the Trump campaign and the main super political action committee supporting the former president, MAGA Inc., are already aggressively framing Kennedy as a far-left radical to draw potential Democratic voters away from Biden.

Whatever the mechanism, the Trump team’s view is simple and is backed by public and private polling: The more candidates in the race, the better for Trump. Biden’s team agrees. And in a race that could be decided by tens of thousands of votes — as the last two presidential elections have been — even small shifts in the share of votes could change the result.

“There is no question that in a close presidential race, independent or minor party candidates can have a disproportionately large impact,” said Roger Stone, who is Trump’s longest-serving political adviser and who has worked on third-party campaigns, including advising Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party’s nominee in 2012.

Republican donors are pouring funds into Kennedy’s independent bid for the presidency. He has raised substantially more from donors who previously supported Trump than he has from those who backed Biden. Some are big names in Republican politics who have so far given relatively small amounts, including $3,300 last August from Elizabeth Uihlein, whose family is among the GOP’s biggest contributors.

Timothy Mellon, the largest single donor to Kennedy’s biggest super PAC, is also the largest backer of MAGA Inc. Mellon, a reclusive billionaire from one of America’s wealthiest families, has over the past year given the Kennedy super PAC $20 million and the Trump super PAC $15 million, as of the most recent disclosures that were filed in March. Another prominent Kennedy backer is Patrick Byrne, the former CEO of Overstock.com who worked with Trump on his effort to overturn the 2020 election.

Trump himself is intensely interested in the third-party candidates, according to aides. He is eager to know what their effect is expected to be on the race and how they are polling, although his engagement beyond asking questions of those around him is unclear.

Trump has been worried about the Libertarian Party pulling conservative voters away from him in November. But Richard Grenell, who is the former acting director of national intelligence and who is expected to play a big role in any second Trump administration, has been using his connections with Libertarian activists and donors to try to persuade them to attack Biden more than Trump, according to people familiar with his efforts.

Other Trump supporters are trying to help third-party and independent candidates with the expensive and arduous process of gathering the signatures needed to get on state ballots. Scott Presler, the conservative activist whom Lara Trump said she wanted as an early hire at the Republican National Committee, publicly reached out on social media to Stein and Cornel West, a left-wing academic who is running for president as an independent, to offer his help in collecting signatures to get them on the ballot.

Presler could not be reached for comment.

The moves by Trump allies come as the Democratic Party, alarmed by the potential for third-party candidates to swing the election, has mobilized a team of lawyers to scrutinize outsider candidates, including looking into whether they’ve followed the rules to get on state ballots.

For decades, third-party candidacies have loomed large in U.S. presidential elections. The best known in modern history is Ross Perot, whose run as a billionaire populist independent in 1992 garnered 19% of the vote and helped Bill Clinton win with only 43% of the popular vote. Ralph Nader, a Green Party candidate, siphoned votes away from Vice President Al Gore in the nail-biter 2000 presidential race against George W. Bush.

And in 2016, Stein, as the Green Party candidate, gave a meaningful — and arguably election-deciding — boost to Trump by drawing progressive voters away from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. That year, billionaire businessperson and Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus, a supporter of Trump, helped fund efforts to bolster Stein.

Polling shows that third-party candidates could play an especially large role in 2024. Most Americans are unhappy with the choice between Trump and Biden. Voters are increasingly disillusioned with the two major parties, and trust in American institutions has eroded over the past 30 years. Those trends provide an opening for candidates who style themselves as anti-establishment outsiders willing to blow up the system. Trump took advantage of similar conditions in 2016.

In a Quinnipiac University poll in late March, Biden and Trump both received less than 40% of the vote in a hypothetical five-way race, with Kennedy getting 13%, Stein receiving 4% and West capturing 3%.

In the multicandidate race, Trump led by a single percentage point; Biden led Trump by 3 percentage points in a hypothetical head-to-head race.

“The path to victory here is clearly maximizing the reach of these left-wing alternatives,” said Steve Bannon, the former White House chief strategist who also served as Trump’s campaign chair in 2016.

“No Republican knows that oil production under Biden is higher than ever. But Jill Stein’s people do,” Bannon added. “Stein is furious about the oil drilling. The college kids are furious about it. The more exposure these guys get, the better it is for us.”

Brian Hughes, a spokesperson for Trump, described Kennedy as a “leftist and liberal with a history of supporting an extreme environmental agenda.” He said more broadly of the Democratic push to challenge outsider candidates, “While Joe Biden and his allies claim to defend democracy, they are using financial and legal resources to prevent candidates access to the ballot.”

“President Trump believes any candidate who qualifies for the ballot should be allowed to make their case to America’s voters,” he added.

For months, the Trump team has been privately polling various iterations of third-party tickets in battleground states. It has concluded that candidates floated for the Green Party and No Labels, which recently abandoned its effort to field a presidential candidate, pulled substantially more votes from Biden than from Trump.

A person briefed on other polling by Trump allies said that while it varies by state, Kennedy also pulls more votes from Biden than from Trump. The person cited as an example the Trump team’s recent private polling of voters in Arizona. Trump loses Hispanic voters by a close margin in a head-to-head contest against Biden there, but he wins Hispanic voters on the full ballot in Arizona — an indication that third-party candidates draw more heavily from Biden’s core constituencies than from Trump’s.

Still, Kennedy is seen as more of a potential threat to Trump. He has spent the past few years appearing on conservative news media programs and talking about issues like his fierce opposition to the COVID-19 vaccine. Advisers to Trump say that many Republican voters don’t know anything about Kennedy’s liberal views on gun control and the environment, and the Trump team hopes to bring back some of those voters after framing Kennedy as a liberal Democrat.

Allies of Trump and Biden are in a tug of war to define Kennedy, who has far more support than any other third-party candidate.

Democratic lawyers and operatives, many of whom have privately said that neither Gore nor Hillary Clinton had teams that took third-party candidates seriously enough, are fighting hard to keep Kennedy off the ballot. The Democratic National Committee hired Lis Smith, a veteran communications operative, and tasked her with branding Kennedy as a pro-Trump spoiler candidate.

Kennedy’s campaign and the super PACs backing him have paid an array of lawyers and consultants to secure ballot access. One of the consultants, Rita Palma, was captured in a video detailing a strategy to encourage New York voters to support Kennedy: “The Kennedy voter and the Trump voter, our mutual enemy is Biden.” Palma outlined a hypothetical scenario in which Kennedy would win enough electoral votes to prevent either Trump or Biden from winning 270 electoral votes, pushing the decision to Congress in what is known as a contingent election.

On her account on the social platform X, Palma has expressed support over the years for both Kennedy and Trump. In posts first reported by CNN on Tuesday, she had endorsed Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was stolen and described Sidney Powell, who has pleaded guilty to six misdemeanor counts related to Trump’s efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss in Georgia, as “my person of the decade.”

Stefanie Spear, a spokesperson for the Kennedy campaign, described Palma as “a ballot-access consultant” for upcoming signature collection efforts in New York. Of Palma’s remarks about the hypothetical scenario, Spear said Palma’s statements “in no way reflect the strategy of the Kennedy campaign.”

Spear did not respond to requests for comment about the Trump allies’ efforts to elevate Kennedy, or to inquiries about Palma’s support for Trump’s claims about the 2020 election.

Many conservative news media personalities and influencers recently turned against Kennedy after he decided to run as an independent instead of as a Democrat and it became apparent that he could pull votes from Trump.

Still, one complication with attacking Kennedy is that Trump has made clear that he likes him.

Trump put out a statement on Truth Social, his social media platform, that called Kennedy “a radical-left Democrat,” but he has mostly laid off him otherwise. Trump has called Kennedy a “very smart person” and has even privately floated him as a potential running mate, though his advisers view that prospect as extremely unlikely.

An outside group aligned with Trump asked a question about a Trump-Kennedy ticket in a poll several weeks ago, according to a person with knowledge of the survey. The results were not particularly striking. Trump had told an ally that he believed Kennedy could help him with voters who were upset with him for his support of the COVID-19 vaccine.

“I like Trump-Kennedy. I like the way that sounds,” Trump told another ally recently. “There’s something about that that I like.”

Trump’s Big Lie About Biden Implodes After MAGA Ally Admits Truth

The New Republic – Opinion

Trump’s Big Lie About Biden Implodes After MAGA Ally Admits Truth

Greg Sargent – April 11, 2024

Steve Bannon no doubt thought he was being deviously clever. Speaking with The New York Times this week, he elaborated on a sophisticated plan that Donald Trump’s allies have developed for boosting third-party candidates, so they siphon votes from President Biden.

A key part of this scheme, Bannon noted, entails boosting expected Green Party candidate Jill Stein by highlighting oil production under Biden to pull environmentally concerned voters away from him. As Bannon put it:

No Republican knows that oil production under Biden is higher than ever. But Jill Stein’s people do. … Stein is furious about the oil drilling. The college kids are furious about it. The more exposure these [third-party candidates] get, the better it is for us.

Whoa, that’s some serious 11-dimensional chess, Steve! Except for one thing. If you think for a second about Bannon’s quote—that “oil production under Biden is higher than ever”—it entirely undermines one of Trump’s biggest lies: the claim that Biden’s effort to transition the United States to a decarbonized economy has destroyed the nation’s “energy independence,” leaving us weak and hollow to our very core.

This saga captures something essential about how MAGA-world fights the information wars. You’ll note that Bannon is not even slightly troubled by the idea that telling the truth about Biden’s record to one set of voters—left-leaning, green-minded ones—might contradict one of Trump’s most frequent lies to countless others.

It isn’t just that for Bannon, assertions should be evaluated purely for their instrumental usefulness. It’s also that he apparently has total confidence that voters who really need to hear the truth he uttered—those in the industrial and Appalachian heartlands who are the targets of Trump’s propaganda—never, ever will, even if he admits to it right in the paper of record.

It’s hard to overstate how central Trump’s story about “energy independence” is to his campaign. His basic claim is that under his presidency, we produced record levels of oil, inherently making us strong, whereas under Biden, we’re seeing a “war on American energy” responsible for many ills: deindustrialization, vulnerability to leftist enemies within, dependence on China and other nefarious “globalist” actors, and all-around national decline.

In reality, Biden’s green policies are facilitating billions of dollars in investments in rebuilding the industrial base via green energy manufacturing, which is creating a whole lot of advanced manufacturing jobs for people without college degrees—exactly the targets of Trump’s demagoguery. Those policies are driving a manufacturing boom, ironically in red-leaning communities. Green manufacturing makes us stronger, not weaker—more prepared for a future in which climate change becomes a more pressing threat, not just to the world, but to our own national interests.

Importantly, all this is happening while the U.S., under Biden, is producing more oil and more natural gas than ever before. Incidentally, as Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler details, Trump wasn’t even that responsible for the recent oil boom anyway: It started before his presidency, thanks to new energy technologies.

“The U.S. is now producing more oil and gas than it ever has, and exporting more than ever,” Jesse Jenkins, an energy expert at Princeton University, told me. “We’re a net exporter of all fossil fuels. So we’ve achieved that long-sought goal of physical energy security.”

Now the idea of “energy independence” is confusing to begin with. Even if we export more than ever before, oil is a global commodity, which inevitably makes us vulnerable to international shocks. But the answer to that is to wean ourselves off fossil fuels, not to drill more, as Trump wants. Regardless, by Trump’s own metric—that “energy independence” is good, that net exports of fossil fuel energy make us definitionally strong—we’ve achieved more of this under Biden. And critically, his policies are at the same time transitioning us to a post-carbon economy.

Bannon knows all this. Yet Trump and his allies keep repeating the contrary story. “They obviously know this narrative is a crock of lies,” Jenkins said.

It’s worth stressing that some progressive voters might nonetheless be reasonably upset about oil production under Biden. But the broader story remains that Biden is moving us toward a decarbonized economy by using the levers of government to boost demand and production of renewable energy sources over time.

“What’s important to note is that U.S. greenhouse gas emissions are falling,” Jenkins says. That both this and robust oil production and exports are occurring simultaneously, he notes, would probably be viewed positively by moderate voters, including in Appalachia and the industrial Midwest.

That is, if those voters hear any of this through the fog of MAGA agitprop. Trump’s attacks on Biden’s energy “weakness” are designed to tell a meta story that has little to do with policy details: Trump will protect us from an array of shadowy forces associated with green energy—leftism, China, ill will toward good ol’ American fossil fuel–guzzling SUVs—while Biden is making us vulnerable to them.

You can see how this works in Trump’s proposal for across-the-board tariffs. These would hike prices for American consumers—they would impose a tax—even as Democrats have opted for green policies that move away from the more traditional policy of a carbon tax. Yet as Brian Beutler and Matthew Yglesias explain, Trump can still present his tariffs as a form of protection and Biden’s green agenda as a form of vulnerability, because each of these policies “code” that way for many voters.

Bannon understands all this. Strikingly, he declares that “no Republican knows” that oil production is so high under Biden, which is another way of saying that no Republican voters know that Trump is lying in their faces. Bannon and other MAGA propagandists are making sure of that. They are using their influence over information flows to those voters to ensure that the truth never reaches them. And they’re absolutely confident in their ability to succeed.

Inflation comes in hotter than expected in March

Yahoo! Finance

Inflation comes in hotter than expected in March

Alexandra Canal, Senior Reporter – April 10, 2024

What March inflation data could inform us about Fed ratesScroll back up to restore default view.

US consumer prices came in hotter than expected in March, according to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics released Wednesday morning.

The Consumer Price Index (CPI) rose 0.4% over the previous month and 3.5% over the prior year in March, an acceleration from February’s 3.2% annual gain in prices. The data matched February’s month-over-month increase.

Both measures came in ahead of economist forecasts of a 0.3% monthly increase and a 3.4% annual increase, according to data from Bloomberg.

The hot print complicates the Federal Reserve’s next move on interest rates as the central bank works to bring inflation back down to its 2% target. Fed officials have categorized the path down to 2% as “bumpy.”

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Investors now anticipate two 25 basis point cuts this year, down from the six cuts expected at the start of the year, according to updated Bloomberg data.

Read more: What the Fed rate decision means for bank accounts, CDs, loans, and credit cards

On a “core” basis, which strips out the more volatile costs of food and gas, prices in March climbed 0.4% over the prior month and 3.8% over last year — matching February’s data. Both measures were higher than economist expectations of a 0.3% monthly increase and a 3.7% annual gain.

Markets sank following the data’s release, with the 10-year Treasury yield (^TNX) jumping more than 14 basis points to touch above 4.5% for the first time in 2024.

“Today’s crucial CPI print has likely sealed the fate for the June FOMC meeting with a cut now very unlikely,” Seema Shah, chief global strategist at Principal Asset Management, said in reaction to the print. “This marks the third consecutive strong reading and means that the stalled disinflationary narrative can no longer be called a blip.”

“In fact, even if inflation were to cool next month to a more comfortable reading, there is likely sufficient caution within the Fed now to mean that a July cut may also be a stretch, by which point the US election will begin to intrude with Fed decision making,” Shah added.

Ryan Sweet, chief US economist at Oxford Economics, agreed, adding the hotter data may push more policymakers “into the two-rate cut camp.”

“The Fed has a bias toward cutting interest rates this year, but the strength of the labor market and recent gains in inflation are giving the central bank the wiggle room to be patient,” Sweet said. “If the Fed does not cut interest rates in June, then the window could be closed until September because there is little data released between the June and July meetings that could alter the Fed’s calculus.”

“The odds are rising that the Fed cuts rates less than 75 basis points this year,” he predicted.

Federal Reserve Board Chair Jerome Powell speaks during a news conference the Federal Reserve in Washington, Wednesday, March 20, 2024. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Federal Reserve Board Chair Jerome Powell speaks during a news conference the Federal Reserve in Washington, Wednesday, March 20, 2024. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

But Greg Daco, chief economist at EY, cautioned investors to be patient: “I think we have to be very careful with this idea that it’s a play-by-play process.”

In an interview with Yahoo Finance, he noted that “these types of readings do still point to disinflationary pressures. It’s still moving in the right direction, and it will take time.”

Following the data’s release, markets were pricing in an 80% chance the Federal Reserve holds rates steady at its June meeting, according to data from the CME FedWatch Tool. That’s up from a roughly 40% chance the day prior.

Investors are also putting the probability that the central bank won’t cut rates in July at higher than 50%, with markets now largely anticipating the first cut will come in September.

Shelter, gas prices remain sticky

Notable call-outs from the inflation print include the shelter index, which rose 5.7% on an unadjusted, annual basis and 0.4% month over month, matching February. The shelter index accounted for over 60% of the total 12-month increase in core prices.

Sticky shelter inflation is largely to blame for higher core inflation readings, according to economists.

The index for rent and owners’ equivalent rent (OER) each rose 0.4% on a monthly basis. Owners’ equivalent rent is the hypothetical rent a homeowner would pay for the same property. In February, the index for rent rose 0.5% while OER increased 0.4%.

Energy prices — largely to blame for the increase in headline inflation — continued to rise in March, buoyed by higher gas prices. The index jumped another 1.1% last month after rising 2.3% in February. On a yearly basis, the index climbed 2.1%.

Gas prices increased 1.7% from February to March after rising 3.8% the previous month.

The BLS noted the motor vehicle insurance index rose 2.6% in March, following a 0.9% increase in February. The index for apparel increased 0.7% over the month. Other indexes that rose in March included personal care, education, and household furnishings and operations.

The food index increased 2.2% in March over the last year, with food prices rising 0.1% from February to March. The index for food at home held steady over the month.

However, food away from home ticked up 0.3% month over month after rising 0.1% in February.

Why auto insurance costs are rising at the fastest rate in 47 years

Yahoo! Finance

Why auto insurance costs are rising at the fastest rate in 47 years

Pras Subramanian, Senior Reporter – April 10, 2024

CPI data: Services sector is keeping inflation 'stuck'

As car prices moderate from a pandemic-era surge, insurance has pushed the cost of car ownership to the brink for many Americans.

New data out on Wednesday from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed auto insurance costs last month were 22.2% higher than they were a year ago and increased from February’s 20.6% year-over-year gain. March’s rise in insurance costs is the largest gain since December 1976, when prices rose 22.4% over the prior year.

The sticker shock hitting many American drivers is being driven by a rise in accidents, the severity of accidents, and geographical factors combining to create a perfect storm and push costs higher.

‘Severity’ and bodily injury claims on the rise

The most alarming factor driving insurance costs higher is more severe claims.

“In general, the numbers of crashes, injuries, and fatalities are up, and inflation has made the cost of repairs more expensive,” AAA spokesperson Robert Sinclair told Yahoo Finance.

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Sinclair said motorists developed “bad habits” on the road during pandemic lockdowns, contributing to current behavior. For example, as the New York Times reported earlier this year, researchers in Nevada discovered that during the pandemic, motorists were speeding more (and driving through intersections), seat belt use was down, and intoxicated driving arrests were up to near-historic highs.

Read more: Tips for getting cheap car insurance

Sinclair also pointed to NHTSA data, which found that in 2021, at the height of the pandemic, road fatalities increased by 10.5% to their highest level since 2005, even while most Americans stayed at home. The NHTSA said it was the highest percentage increase it had ever seen. The agency found that fatalities in 2022 only decreased by 0.3% as compared to 2021.

Insurance tech firm Insurify found that auto insurance premium hikes were “largely due to the skyrocketing price of auto parts and the increasing number and severity of claims.” And while increases may moderate, analysts still believe further premium hikes are on the horizon.

“While the magnitude of rate increases is likely to ease somewhat, after several years of double-digit increases, some lingering claim cost inflation and adverse claim severity and frequency will likely lead to a ‘higher for longer’ auto rate environment,” CFRA analyst Cathy Seifert told Yahoo Finance.

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Not surprisingly, severe accidents leave insurance companies with rising loss ratios, or a share of premiums collected that insurers paid out in claims.

“Broadly speaking, severity in [the] auto [business] is running mid- to high-single digits — think closer to mid in the vehicle severity, think closer to high in bodily injury — and so that’s sort of where trends are running today,” Travelers (TRV) personal insurance president Michael Klein said during the insurance giant’s latest earnings call in January.

“We’ve seen a bit of a mix shift towards more bodily injury claims, which is one of the things that has us keeping our severity trend estimates at that sort of elevated level,” Klein added.

In response, Travelers increased premiums, especially for customers renewing their policies. In the fourth quarter, its renewal premium price change was a whopping 16.7% in its auto business, contributing more than $2 billion of additional premium into the segment compared to the same quarter last year.

GEICO, the insurer owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway (BRK-ABRK-B), also felt the effects of those rising severity claims.

The second-largest auto insurer in America behind only State Farm, GEICO was hit by six consecutive quarters of underwriting losses beginning at the height of the pandemic. The company has since responded with more aggressive policy writing, trimmed marketing budgets, and higher premiums.

GEICO eventually earned $3.64 billion before taxes from underwriting in 2023, but the trend of higher severity of claims remains.

OMAHA, NEBRASKA - APRIL 30: Shareholders pose for a picture with a Geico mascot at the Berkshire Hathaway annual shareholder's meeting on April 30, 2022 in Omaha, Nebraska. This is the first time the annual shareholders event has been held since 2019 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Shareholders pose for a picture with a GEICO mascot at the Berkshire Hathaway annual shareholder’s meeting on April 30, 2022, in Omaha, Neb. (Scott Olson/Getty Images) (Scott Olson via Getty Images)

“Average claims severities continued to rise in 2023 due to higher auto repair parts prices, labor costs, and medical inflation,” the insurer said in parent Berkshire Hathaway’s 2023 annual report, despite the frequencyof claims coming down for property and auto claims.

GEICO said, “Average claims severities in 2023 were higher for all coverages, including property damage (14-16% range), collision (4-6% range), and bodily injury (5-7% range).” GEICO also sought rate increases in numerous states in 2022 and 2023 in response to accelerating claims costs.

On the flip side, insurer Progressive (PGR) noted in its latest earnings report that the severity and frequency of claims were coming down, suggesting some relief for the insurer’s bottom line and perhaps consumer wallets.

“Severity seemed to moderate a little bit [in Q4], and so we’re hoping that it’s a little bit benign,” CEO Tricia Griffith said in Progressive’s fourth quarter earnings call. “When you look at last year, we were affected by fixing cars, and that seems to be a little bit calmer.”

Complex repairs, rising labor costs

As bodily injury and property damage costs rise, so too have the incidence of more complex repairs and the need for more expensive mechanics to get them done.

New vehicle prices have risen over 20% since 2019, leading to an increase in the cost of parts. Additionally, newer cars contain more technology, such as sensors and control modules built into bumpers and exterior panels, which makes a simple fender bender a potential several-thousand-dollar repair.

And like almost all industries since the pandemic, the cost of labor has risen dramatically as well.

“Within auto repair, most of our expenses are human beings, and as minimum wage laws come into effect, that pushes the cost of labor up,” a general manager at a major Southern California-based auto dealer told Yahoo Finance.

LOUISVILLE, KY - JANUARY 13: An auto mechanic walks under a vehicle being repaired from a lift at Gates Automotive Service on January 13, 2022 in Louisville, Kentucky. Due to the global supply chain slowdown and labor shortages, many shops around the US are experiencing difficulty ordering parts and fulfilling service requests. (Photo by Jon Cherry/Getty Images)
An auto mechanic walks under a vehicle being repaired from a lift at Gates Automotive Service on Jan. 13, 2022, in Louisville, Ky. (Jon Cherry/Getty Images) (Jon Cherry via Getty Images)

A lack of supply of technicians that handle the most complex repairs has also pushed costs higher. “To give you some perspective, I have transmission technicians and diesel technicians that make $200,000 a year,” the general manager said.

The number of workers employed in the motor vehicles and parts industry fell more than overall employment during the pandemic, dropping almost 40% from peak to trough. And while employment in this industry has since surpassed pre-pandemic levels, it took until August 2022 to recover.

Another issue for dealers and the service business is the rise of electric cars.

While the rate of service for EVs is lower, EVs have a “much higher magnitude” of costs, the general manager said, when it comes to body or structural repairs. EVs also tend to require a more advanced tech solution, requiring even more specialized technicians in an even shorter supply.

Read more: Are electric cars more expensive to insure?

Griffith, Progressive’s CEO, for her part noted that garage labor fees were still rising, saying the company’s auto parts inflation was “nearing zero,” but that auto services inflation was still rising by “mid-single digits.”

Weather catastrophes ‘are not going away’

Where you live also plays a big factor in what you pay to insure your vehicle: Severe weather in states like Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina has drivers paying premium costs that exceed the national average.

In Louisiana, auto insurance costs are the highest in the nation on a per capita basis, with 4.7% of the median household’s income going toward car insurance, Insurify noted.

In Florida, what Insurify called “rampant” insurance fraud, along with natural disasters, pushed premiums up to nearly $3,000 a year on average.

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“The average full-coverage insurance rate in Florida is $243 per month, influenced by severe weather events that strain the state’s insurers,” Insurify’s report said. “In 2022, Hurricane Ian caused $109.5 billion worth of damage in Florida, making it the costliest hurricane in the state’s history, according to NOAA.”

Insurers and policyholders did get a respite in 2023 with a relatively calm hurricane season, but there’s no expectation that a repeat will happen in the years ahead.

“While 2023 results benefited from the lack of a record-breaking catastrophe (such as Hurricane Ian), catastrophes and volatile and outsized weather patterns are not going away,” CFRA’s Seifert said.

This post was originally published on March 16, 2024, and updated to reflect new inflation data.

Pras Subramanian is a reporter for Yahoo Finance.