US Whistleblower Snowden Gets Russian Passport, TASS Reports

Former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, who exposed the scale of secret surveillance by the National Security Agency (NSA), has sworn an oath of allegiance to Russia and received a Russian passport, TASS reported Friday. 

“Yes, he got [a passport], he took the oath,” Anatoly Kucherena, Snowden’s lawyer, told the state news agency TASS.  

Snowden, 39, did not immediately reply to a message seeking comment on the report. 

President Vladimir Putin in September granted Russian citizenship to Snowden, who fled the United States after leaking secret files that revealed the extensive eavesdropping activities of the United States and its allies. 

Defenders of Snowden hail him as a modern-day dissident for exposing the extent of U.S. spying. Opponents say he is a traitor who endangered lives by exposing the secret methods that Western spies use to listen in on hostile states and militants. 

 

your ad here

Zelenskyy: ‘Ukrainian Rules Will Prevail’

The British Defense Ministry’s intelligence update Friday on Ukraine said, “Russia’s withdrawal from the west bank of the Dnipro River last month has provided the Ukrainian Armed Forces with opportunities to strike additional Russian logistics nodes and lines of communication.”

“This threat has highly likely prompted Russian logisticians to relocate supply nodes, including rail transfer points, further south and east,” according to the report posted on Twitter. “Russian logistics units will need to conduct extra labor-intensive loading and unloading from rail to road transport. Road moves will subsequently still be vulnerable to Ukrainian artillery as they move on to supply Russian forward defensive positions.”

The ministry said, “Russia’s shortage of munitions (exacerbated bv these logistics challenges) is likely one of the main factors currently limiting Russia’s potential to restart effective, large scale offensive ground operations.”

In his daily address Thursday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy recalled a referendum held 31 years ago on Dec. 1 ”that united the entire territory of our state … Everyone expressed their support.”

“People confirmed the Act of Proclamation of Independence of Ukraine — freely and legally. It was a real referendum … an honest referendum, and that is why it was recognized by the world … Ukrainian rules will prevail,” the president said in a swipe at the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The president also said in his speech that he wants to ensure Ukraine’s spiritual independence, in a likely reference to a recent raid on Ukraine’s Russian-affiliated Monastery of the Caves, a 1,000-year-old Eastern Orthodox monastery in Kyiv, where security forces were looking to flush out spies housed among the clerics.

your ad here

Ukrainian Engineers Scramble to Keep Mobile Phones Working

With Ukraine scrambling to keep communication lines open during the war, an army of engineers from the country’s phone companies has mobilized to help the public and policymakers stay in touch during repeated Russian missile and drone strikes.

The engineers, who typically go unseen and unsung in peacetime, often work around the clock to maintain or restore phone service, sometimes braving minefields to do so. After Russian strikes took out the electricity that cellphone towers usually run on, they revved up generators to keep the towers on.

“I know our guys – my colleagues – are very exhausted, but they’re motivated by the fact that we are doing an important thing,” Yuriy Dugnist, an engineer with Ukrainian telecommunications company Kyivstar, said after crunching through 15 centimeters of fresh snow to reach a fenced-in mobile phone tower on the western fringe of Kyiv, the capital.

Dugrist and his coworkers offered a glimpse of their new daily routines, which involve using an app on their own phones to monitor which of the scores of phone towers in the capital area were receiving electricity, either during breaks from the controlled blackouts being used to conserve energy or from the generators that kick in to provide backup power.

One entry ominously read, in English, “Low Fuel.”

Stopping off at a service station before their rounds, the team members filled up eight 20-liter jerrycans with diesel fuel for a vast tank under a generator that relays power up a 50-meter cell tower in a suburban village that has had no electricity for days.

It’s one of many Ukrainian towns that have had intermittent power, or none at all, in the wake of multiple rounds of devastating Russian strikes in recent weeks targeting the country’s infrastructure – power plants in particular.

Kyivstar is the largest of Ukraine’s three main mobile phone companies, with some 26 million customers – or the equivalent of about two-thirds of the country’s population before Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion drove millions of people abroad, even if many have since returned.

The diesel generators were installed at the foot of the cell phone towers since long before the invasion, but they were rarely needed. Many Western countries have offered up similar generators and transformers to help Ukraine keep electricity running as well as possible after Russia’s blitz.

After emergency blackouts prompted by a round of Russian strikes on Nov. 23, Kyivstar deployed 15 teams of engineers simultaneously and called in “all our reserves” to troubleshoot the 2,500 mobile stations in their service area, Dugrist said.

He recalled rushing to the site of a destroyed cell tower when Russian forces pulled out of Irpin, a suburb northwest of Kyiv, earlier this year and getting there before Ukrainian minesweepers had arrived to give the all-clear signal.

The strain the war is putting on Ukraine’s mobile phone networks has reportedly driven up prices for satellite phone alternatives like Elon Musk’s Starlink system, which Ukraine’s military has used during the conflict, now in its 10th month.

After widespread infrastructure strikes last week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy convened top officials to discuss the restoration work and supplies needed to safeguard the country’s energy and communication systems.

“Special attention is paid to the communication system,” he said, adding that no matter what the Russia has in mind, “we must maintain communication.”

your ad here

Biden and Macron Say Russia Must Leave Ukraine for War to End 

US President Joe Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron agreed that they would never pressure Ukraine to negotiate an end to the war with Russia, saying the US and France stand as united as ever with their NATO allies against Moscow’s invasion. VOA’s senior diplomatic correspondent Cindy Saine reports.

your ad here

EU Calls for Special Russia Aggression Tribunal May Be Tough to Realize

A new European Union proposal for an international tribunal to try Russian aggression in Ukraine has received mixed reviews — prompting a thumbs up from Kyiv and rights advocates but doubts from experts about its feasibility and whether it will receive broad-based acceptance.

“Russia must pay for its horrific crimes, including for its crime of aggression against a sovereign state,” said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen Wednesday, laying out arguments for establishing a new, United Nations-backed court. “We are ready to start working with the international community to get the broadest international support possible for this specialized court.”

The United Nations-backed International Criminal Court — also known as the ICC — in the Netherlands is already looking into alleged Russian war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine, as well as possible Ukrainian atrocities. Russia has denied committing war crimes and accused the international community of ignoring abuses by Ukrainian forces.

Special U.N.-backed tribunals aren’t new. The body proposed by von der Leyen, if ever realized, would focus on Russian aggression in Ukraine.  

First lady points to thousands of crimes

The Ukrainian government has been quick to support the idea. Visiting a London exhibition this week on alleged Russian war crimes, Ukraine’s first lady Olena Zelenska called for justice.

She said more than 40,000 Russian crimes had been registered in Ukraine. Look at the photos at the exhibition, she told her audience, and abstract ideas of war in Ukraine will become real.

Moscow has dismissed the idea of a new war crimes tribunal as having no legitimacy. Experts suggest it would be challenging to establish one.

“My reading of what Ursula von der Leyen said is that the EU doesn’t take for granted that there would be overwhelming international support — and that it recognizes there has to be a sort of campaign to win support for the idea,” said Anthony Dworkin, a policy fellow specializing in human rights and justice at the European Council on Foreign Relations, a think tank.

Proposal needs support from developing nations

Brussels will especially need backing from developing countries in Africa and elsewhere, said Dworkin.

“I think it’s very important that that should be done, rather than European countries kind of short-circuiting the attempt to win international legitimacy for the idea by just setting it up themselves,” he said.

Even if it’s up and running, such a tribunal could face obstacles if, for example, Russian President Vladimir Putin or other Russian officials face war crimes charges yet are still welcome to visit some nations. That was the case with Sudan’s former leader, Omar al-Bashir, who traveled to multiple countries despite ICC arrest warrants.

Charges against high-level Russian officials may also complicate any future Western efforts to end the war in Ukraine.

“A court is supposed to be politically independent,” said Dworkin. “And therefore, you wouldn’t for instance expect — if there is a kind of negotiation at the end of the conflict — that the charges would be somehow dropped as part of the negotiation. The charges will persist.”

your ad here

Spain Investigating Letter Bombs Sent to Prime Minister, Ukraine Embassy

Ukraine’s foreign minister said Thursday a letter bomb sent to the Ukrainian embassy in Madrid was act of terror and pledged to ensure that those responsible receive the maximum punishment.

Authorities in Spain say the bomb was one of several that went to various addresses around the Spanish capital, including that of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, and intercepted. The one that arrived at the Ukrainian embassy exploded Wednesday, injuring an employee.

Speaking on the sidelines of a NATO meeting in Romania, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said the letter bomb was a very serious matter, and they were carefully following it.

He said, “This is an attack against the diplomatic establishment that is defended by international law,” and he had ordered all foreign diplomatic Ukrainian establishments to immediately increase security measures.   

Kuleba pledged to “defend each Ukrainian not only in Ukraine, but also abroad with all available means.”  

Spanish officials said packages also arrived Thursday at Spain’s defense ministry and the Torrejon de Ardoz air base. Another package arrived Wednesday at Instalaza, a company that makes grenade launchers Spain has sent to Ukraine.

The investigation into who sent the packages is continuing.

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.

your ad here

China, Ukraine Top Agenda as Biden Hosts Macron

U.S. President Joe Biden is set to host French leader Emmanuel Macron for talks Thursday at the White House that are expected to cover a range of topics including Russia’s war in Ukraine and China’s influence in the Indo-Pacific region. 

U.S. and French officials said Iran’s nuclear program and security in the Sahel region of Africa would also be on the agenda. 

Macron is the first world leader Biden is hosting on a state visit since becoming president. 

“If you look at what’s going on in Ukraine, look at what’s going on in the Indo-Pacific and the tensions with China, France is really at the center of all those things,” White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said ahead of Macron’s visit. “And so the president felt that this was exactly the right and the most appropriate country to start with for state visits.” 

Biden and his wife, Jill, had dinner with Macron and his wife, Brigitte, at a Washington restaurant Wednesday. 

Earlier Wednesday, Macron brought up one source of tensions between his country and the United States and he spoke in a meeting with U.S. lawmakers about Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act. 

Macron cited provisions in the legislation that provide subsidies for U.S.-made products, saying the measure was “super aggressive” toward European companies. 

“I don’t want to become a market to sell American products because I have exactly the same products as you,” Macron said. 

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters 

your ad here

US Concerned Over American Jailed in Russia and Not Heard From

The United States is deeply concerned about American Paul Whelan, who is in a Russian jail, White House national security spokesman John Kirby said on Wednesday after Whelan’s family said they had not heard from him for a week.

U.S. diplomats have been trying to get more information about Whelan’s condition and his whereabouts, Kirby said.

“As we speak this morning, regrettably, we do not have an update specifically about where he is or what condition he’s in,” Kirby told reporters in a telephone briefing. “That deeply concerns us, and we certainly share the anxiety and the concern of the land and family.”

Kirby addressed the issue after Whelan’s brother, David Whelan, said the family had become concerned about his whereabouts.

David Whelan said in an e-mail on November 29 that it was unusual that the family did not know the whereabouts of the former U.S. Marine and corporate security executive, who is serving 16 years in the Russian region of Mordovia on charges of espionage, which he denies.

The U.S. State Department has said it has been negotiating with Russia on a potential prisoner swap that would involve Whelan and U.S. women’s basketball star Brittney Griner, who is serving nine years in Russia after being convicted on drug charges.

The negotiations appear to be stalled as the Russian side has not provided a “serious response” to any of the U.S. proposals on a prisoner swap, a senior U.S. diplomat said on November 28.

The penal colony’s staff said Paul Whelan was moved to the prison hospital on November 17, a day after a visit by U.S. and Irish diplomats, David Whelan said in the e-mail.

Paul had spoken to his parents every day from the 17th to the 23rd and did not mention the move and had appeared healthy and well to the diplomats, David Whelan said in the e-mail.

“Paul has always mentioned when he’s been transferred to the prison hospital,” said David Whelan, adding that the transfers usually have occurred without his request or need for medical attention.

“And he spoke to our parents a number of times after the [penal colony] staff say he was moved, at least as recently as November 23, and never mentioned it,” David Whelan said, questioning why his brother has been prohibited from making calls if he is at the prison hospital.

“Is he unable to make calls? Or is he really still at [prison colony] IK-17 but he’s been put in solitary and the prison is hiding that fact?” David Whelan asked.

David Whelan added that it was highly unusual that the family did not hear from him on November 24, the U.S. Thanksgiving Day holiday.

Some information for this report came from by Reuters.

your ad here

Australia Shocks Denmark 1-0 to Move Into World Cup Last 16

Australia upset Denmark 1-0 on Wednesday to qualify for the World Cup knockout phase for the first time in 16 years thanks to a fine solo goal from Mathew Leckie.

Australia contained Denmark at the Al Janoub Stadium before stinging the Scandinavians on a counter-attack in the 60th minute when Leckie burst into space, wrong-footed defender Joakim Maehle and fired low past goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel.

Denmark coach Kasper Hjulmand brought on all the attacking firepower he could muster as he desperately sought the goals that have eluded his side in Qatar.

But Australia held on to claim second place in Group D, behind France but ahead of Tunisia who were leading the French 1-0 in the dying stages of Wednesday’s other game. Denmark finished bottom with one point.

Tunisa 1, France 0

French-born Wahbi Khazri scored the only goal of the game as Tunisia upset World Cup holder France 1-0 at the Education City Stadium on Wednesday, but the shock victory was not enough for them to join the defending champions in the last 16 of the tournament.

Khazri steered home a 58th-minute winner amid a cluster of defenders for only a third victory at six World Cup tournaments for Tunisia but they were still eliminated.

France, which made nine changes for this match from the team that beat Denmark and had already booked their place in the knockout stages, finished top of Group D on goal difference from runners-up Australia.

your ad here

Ukraine Ramps Up Security at Diplomatic Missions After Blast at Embassy in Spain

Ukraine on Wednesday ramped up security at its embassies abroad after Spanish police and government said an employee at the Ukrainian embassy in Madrid was injured opening a letter bomb. 

The staff member suffered light injuries and went to hospital under his own steam, police said in a statement. 

Ukraine’s Foreign Affairs Minister Dmytro Kuleba has ordered all Ukrainian embassies abroad to “urgently” strengthen their security, according to a statement from Ukraine’s foreign ministry. 

The minister also urged his Spanish counterparts to “take urgent measures to investigate the attack,” the statement said, adding that whoever was behind the attack “will not succeed in intimidating Ukrainian diplomats or stopping their daily work on strengthening Ukraine and countering Russian aggression.” 

The letter, which arrived by ordinary mail and was not scanned, caused “a very small wound on the ring finger of the right hand” of the employee, Mercedes Gonzalez, the Spanish government’s representative in Madrid, told broadcaster Telemadrid. 

Detectives are investigating the incident, aided by forensic and intelligence investigators, Spanish police said. Spain’s High Court will lead the investigation. 

An officer at Ukraine’s embassy to Spain declined to comment. 

The residential area surrounding the embassy in northwestern Madrid has been cordoned off and a bomb disposal unit is deployed at the scene, state broadcaster TVE reported. 

 

your ad here

EU Seeks Special Court for Russian Crimes Against Ukraine

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called Wednesday for a special court to prosecute Russian crimes against Ukraine. 

Von der Leyen proposed a court backed by the United Nations “to investigate and prosecute Russia’s crime of aggression.” 

She also said Russia and Russian oligarchs need to pay for costs to rebuild Ukraine from the damage done by Russian forces since they invaded Ukraine in February. 

“Russia’s horrific crimes will not go unpunished,” von der Leyen said. 

She spoke as NATO foreign ministers met in Romania on the final day of meetings that include discussing the conflict and support for Ukraine. 

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said Tuesday Ukraine would one day join the Western military alliance in direct defiance of Russian President Vladimir Putin.  

  

“NATO’s door is open,” Stoltenberg said, renewing a commitment for Ukraine membership first made in 2008 but stalled since then. He noted that North Macedonia and Montenegro recently joined the West’s chief post-World War II military alliance, and that Sweden and Finland also will do so soon.  

  

“Russia does not have a veto” on countries joining, Stoltenberg said. “We stand by that, too, on membership for Ukraine.”  

  

“President Putin cannot deny sovereign nations to make their own sovereign decisions that are not a threat to Russia,” the former Norwegian prime minister said. “I think what he’s afraid of is democracy and freedom, and that’s the main challenge for him.”  

  

But Ukraine will not soon join NATO, which under terms of the alliance’s charter, would likely push the armed forces of the 30-member nations directly onto the battlefield fighting Russian troops. It would be a commitment far beyond the billions of dollars in military and humanitarian assistance the United States and its allies have already sent to the Kyiv government to help Ukrainian fighters defend their country.  

  

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that the United States is sending Kyiv another $53 million to support the purchase of critical electricity grid equipment in the face of weeks-long Russian airstrikes targeting Ukrainian infrastructure to knock out power and water systems as winter weather takes hold in the country.  

  

The top U.S. diplomat said the equipment would be sent to Ukraine on an emergency basis and include distribution transformers, circuit breakers, surge arresters, disconnectors, vehicles and other key equipment.  

   

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters 

your ad here

With Media Under Fire, Organizations Rally to Offer Support

From the evacuation of Ukrainian journalists in occupied cities to legal support for independent reporters from Russia, a community of organizations is working to keep media safe.

In Ukraine, the February 24 invasion led to an unprecedented level of requests for assistance from the country’s National Union of Journalists of Ukraine.

Before then, the union had “hot spots” with journalists covering conflict in Donbas. But now, says union chair Sergiy Tomilenko, “every media worker in our country [has become] a front-line journalist. And it’s clear that we weren’t ready for that.”

In the past year, the union has worked with journalists, including on evacuations for those in cities occupied by Russian forces and by providing support for those close to the front lines.

The union is also tracking deaths. As of November, the war has killed 43 journalists in Ukraine, including eight who were on assignment. The other journalists lost their lives in shelling or after signing up to the armed forces.

“Of course, we divide those who continue to work as journalists and those who went to war, but we still count our military colleagues who died on the battlefield among these victims, since the only cause of their death is Russian aggression,” Tomilenko told VOA.

“If there had been no Russian invasion, the famous cameraman Viktor Dedov—one of the best, originally from Mariupol— would have been alive. But he died as a civilian under the bombing in his city. And Oleksandr Makhov and other journalists who died defending the country at the front would also be alive,” Tomilenko said.

The union head said that Russian forces tried to intimidate and recruit Ukrainian journalists in occupied cities. They had lists of local journalists, and from the start “a campaign of individual pressure on independent journalists began,” he said.

In some cases, Tomilenko said, troops asked local media to become propagandists, broadcasting pro-Russian material. But, he said, “the vast majority” refused.

The arrival of the troops in occupied regions made life dangerous even for those journalists who had planned to stay. It was simply too “deadly to remain,” Tomilenko said.

But supporting media affected by Putin’s war involves outside help.

The union has been working with the London-based Justice for Journalists Foundation, or JFJ, and other groups to monitor attacks and to offer training.

When it comes to security workshops for reporting in combat zones, the requests “are nonstop,” Maria Ordzhonikidze, director of the JFJ told VOA.

But, she said, “We also help Russian journalists.”

In fact, attacks on Russian media are what led to the creation of the JFJ. It was founded after the killing in 2018 of three Russian journalists who were investigating mercenaries in the Central African Republic.

“In Russia, free journalism has ended, a lot of people tried to leave, many left. And here the role of our foundation is to continue to provide support,” Ordzhonikidze said.

For those journalists, that support often comes in the form of legal training, she said.

Community support

Lana Estemirova, who works with the JFJ, told VOA the foundation’s work supporting media and tackling impunity in attacks has opened up awareness of the scale of the problem.

A lack of justice is close to Estemirova’s heart. Her mother, Natalya Estemirova, a prominent Chechen human rights activist, was abducted and killed in 2009. Natalya Estemirova worked for the Russian human rights organization Memorial, which was banned by the Kremlin and was one of the recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize this year.

The European Court of Human Rights in 2021 ruled Russia had failed to properly investigate the murder. Work on a new podcast made Lana Estemirova more aware of the global spread of impunity.

“We began to look for interesting journalists from Belarus, Africa, South America to compare situations and find out what unites us all,” said Lana Estemirova. In doing so, she learned of the high rate of attacks on journalists in Mexico, where nearly all cases go unresolved.

More than 15 journalists have been killed in Mexico in 2022, making the country the most deadly place for media outside a war zone.

“When you start talking to journalists from other continents, you realize that there is no border to this problem,” she said

Estemirova believes that those who work in an atmosphere of risk should do so in the knowledge they will have the help and solidarity of their colleagues.

“They believe that they have a mission: the search for truth. It is very important that journalists who are walking along this road – and this is a rather lonely road – have support.”

One way to do that is to publicize the work of journalists persecuted for their investigations.

 

Natalya Zubkova is a journalist in the small Russian town in the Kuzbass region, and she founded the website “News of Kiselyovsk” in 2017.

Zubkova covered issues including education, the environment, authorities and crime. But she also received death threats and was physically attacked.

After four years, the news website closed and Zubkova fled the country.

But her work caught the attention of filmmaker Alina Simone.

New York-based Simone applied for a JFJ grant to make a documentary, “Black Snow,” about how Zubkova tried to tell the world about life in a city of seven coal mines and 90,000 people.

It is a place where mining activity often turns the snow black and where citizen journalism requires remarkable courage.

“Natalya tried to protect the interests of ordinary people with her journalism, and was forced to leave Russia in the end,” said Simone.

She was so impressed by the videos that Zubkova posted on YouTube that she decided to make a story about her Russian colleague.

“I had a very strong sense of camaraderie toward her. When I arrived in Kiselyovsk and Kemerovo, the atmosphere there frankly shocked me,” Simone said. “Everything looked much worse in terms of the attitude toward journalists, activists, and also foreigners. We were under constant surveillance. Our car was followed all the time … Already in August 2019, it was clear to me where everything was going.”

Simone said the community of Russian journalists is under threat.

“These people are deprived of their profession, they are pressured. Often their lives are destroyed. It is very difficult to explain to the West what it means to be a citizen journalist in a region whose governor, Sergei Tsivilyov, has family ties to Vladimir Putin,” Simone said.

But organizations such as the JFJ are working to provide support and assistance to those on the front lines in Ukraine or under threat in Russia.

This article originated in VOA’s Russian service.

your ad here

Azerbaijan Stands Up to Iran, with Turkey’s Support

 As anti-government protests continue in Iran, Tehran is escalating tensions with its neighbors, accusing them of interfering in its domestic affairs. One of those neighbors, Azerbaijan, has Turkey’s support and is pushing back.

Iran has recently carried out military exercises on Azerbaijan’s border and warned Baku not to incite Iran’s significant Azeri minority.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard has carried out numerous drone strikes against Kurdish groups based in Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdistan region, which it accuses of inciting Iran’s Kurdish minority.

Zaur Gasimov, an expert in the region at Bonn University, said the exercises and attacks are part of a systematic policy by Tehran. 

“Iran tries to shift the attention of the Iranian population towards foreign policy, towards conflicts on the border, and towards a polemic with its neighbor countries,” Gasimov said. “The military drills were conducted not only on the border with the Republic of Azerbaijan in the north but also with Iraq and Turkey. So, they are like messages to the region, but they are addressed much more to the local audience.”

But Baku is pushing back against Tehran, carrying out its own military exercises on Iran’s border. Meanwhile, Azerbaijani security forces this month have detained 19 people and accused them of working for Iranian intelligence.

Huseyin Bagci, head of the Ankara-based Foreign Policy Institute, said Baku is emboldened by its support from Turkey, some of which is enshrined in a common defense agreement.

“Turkey and Azerbaijan [are] brothers, friends,” Bagci said. “And they have this Shusha agreement, which is not binding but important. If Azerbaijan is under attack or in danger, Turkey will come unconditionally to the help of Azerbaijan. Iran is trying to extend its influence, but Turkey is like a barrier stopping Iran’s influence in Azerbaijan.”

Turkish military support was vital to Azerbaijan in 2020, when it decisively defeated Armenian-backed forces in a conflict over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh enclave.

This month, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev condemned Tehran for its military exercises, pledging to defend his country’s secular state and ethnic Azeris both in Azerbaijan and Iran. Analyst Gasimov said Aliyev’s increasingly assertive stance toward Tehran is a significant change for the region.

“The last three decades, Baku was very cautious in its relationship to the very large Azeri-speaking community in northern Iran,” Gasimov said. “But we have seen the conduct of the military drills on the border to Iran as the reaction to the Iranian military drills by the Azeri side. [At] the same time, new discourse in Baku about the Azeri speakers in Iran were two gestures addressed to the Iranian political class, saying that something has changed in the region.”

In a move analysts say will further anger Tehran, Baku opened an embassy in Israel. The two countries already have close military ties, despite Tehran’s warnings. For now, Ankara has refrained from commenting on the turmoil in Iran, but some analysts warn that silence will be tested if Tehran ratchets up tensions with Baku.

your ad here

Russia Donates 260,000 Tons of Fertilizer to Africa

Russia has donated 260,000 metric tons of fertilizer it produced that was sitting in European ports and warehouses for use by farmers in Africa, the United Nations said Tuesday.

“This will serve to alleviate humanitarian needs and prevent catastrophic crop loss in Africa, where it is currently planting season,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters, welcoming the announcement.

He said a ship chartered by the World Food Program left the Netherlands on Tuesday carrying 20,000 tons of the fertilizer destined for the southeastern African nation of Malawi. Dujarric said it would take about a month to reach Beira, in Mozambique, and then would be transported overland to Malawi, which is a landlocked country.

“It will be the first of a series of shipments of fertilizer destined for a number of other countries on the African continent in the coming months,” Dujarric added.

Fertilizer crunch

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, world fertilizer prices, which were already inflated due to the COVID-19 pandemic, surged further, in part due to quotas Moscow imposed on its fertilizer exports, saying it wanted enough for its own farmers.

The U.N. said fertilizer prices have risen a staggering 250% since before the pandemic in 2019.

Russia is a top global fertilizer exporter. The disruptions, shortages and price increases that its quotas have contributed to have made fertilizer unaffordable for some smaller farmers. This could dramatically decrease their harvests, which could potentially lead to food shortages next year.

The World Food Program’s chief economist told VOA that developed and developing countries are dependent on fertilizer for half of their food production.

“Right now, with all that is happening, we are looking at essentially a shortfall of about 66 million tons of staple foods because of shortage of or unaffordability of fertilizer,” Arif Husain said. “I am talking about crops like wheat, corn, rice. Now, that 66 million tons of food, that is enough to feed 3.6 billion people for one month.”

Watch related video by Margaret Besheer:

Russia has complained that Western sanctions are to blame for its decrease in fertilizer exports. But Western nations repeatedly stress that they do not sanction food or fertilizer products from Russia.

But some shippers, banks, insurers and other companies involved in the transport or purchase of Russian grain and fertilizer have been reluctant to do business with Moscow, fearing they could run afoul of the sanctions.

Diplomacy continues

A package deal signed in Istanbul on July 22 has made it possible for more than 12 million metric tons of Ukrainian grain to get to market from three of its Black Sea ports, while working to build confidence with the private sector in order to return to pre-invasion export levels of Russian fertilizers and grain.

“The U.N. is continuing intense diplomatic efforts with all parties to ensure the unimpeded exports of critical food and fertilizers from both the Russian Federation and Ukraine, that are exempt from sanction regimes, to the world markets,” Dujarric told reporters.

The deal, known as the Black Sea Grain Initiative, was renewed on November 17 for an additional four months.

your ad here

Despite Odds, Italian and Turkish Leaders Find Common Ground

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Italy’s newly elected far-right Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni appear to be finding unlikely common ground on issues relating to Africa and migration. The relationship with Meloni is the latest in a list of strong partnerships that Erdogan has been working to build with European far-right leaders. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul.

your ad here

NATO to Discuss Beefing Up Defenses Across Europe

NATO foreign ministers are to meet for two days in Romania’s capital, Bucharest, starting Tuesday to pledge their continuing support of Ukraine against Russia’s invasion.    

At a news conference Monday, after a meeting with Romania’s President Klaus Iohannis, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg asked the alliance to step up its support in the region. 

“Investing in our defense is essential as we face our greatest security crisis in a generation,” he said.   

In response to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, he said, NATO is reinforcing its presence from the Baltics to the Black Sea region.    

The head of the alliance also said new battlegroups have been set, including one led by France in Romania, while fighter jets from Canada are helping to “keep our skies safe,” and U.S. Patriot missiles are boosting NATO defenses. “We will do what is necessary to protect the defense of all our allies,” he added.    

Stoltenberg also highlighted the support of other partners facing Russian pressure, such as Bosnia Herzegovina, Georgia and Moldova.  

Romanian President Klaus Iohannis said the decision reached at the Madrid summit to boost NATO troops and military equipment on the alliance’s eastern flank needs to come into force as soon as possible.    

Stoltenberg reiterated NATO’s commitment to approve membership for Sweden and Finland, which would expand NATO’s eastern flank.    

Stoltenberg said Russia is weaponizing winter by striking Ukraine’s critical power infrastructure and leaving civilians without power, heat or water in freezing temperatures.     

“We cannot let Putin win,” Stoltenberg said. “This would show authoritarian leaders around the world that they can achieve their goals by using military force — and make the world a more dangerous place for all of us. So, it is in our own security interests to support Ukraine.  

“We need to be prepared for more attacks,” the NATO chief added. “That is why NATO has stepped up its support to Ukraine with additional air defense systems, such as … drones as well as cruise and ballistic missiles.”  

Meanwhile, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba welcomed his Nordic and Baltic counterparts from Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway and Sweden in Kyiv.   

“The strongest message from this visit is: Ukraine needs to win this war and therefore … Western support should be stronger; more heavy weaponry without any political caveats, also including long-distance missiles,” Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu told Reuters.  

Reinsalu pledged to provide electric generators, warm clothes and food to help Ukrainians cope with the winter. 

The seven Baltic and Nordic nations were the largest delegation to visit Ukraine since Russia launched its full-scale war.  

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned that Russian troops are preparing new strikes and met with senior government officials to discuss what actions to take.  

Ukraine said Monday it had been forced to impose regular emergency blackouts in areas across the country after a setback in its race to repair energy infrastructure hit by Russian missile strikes.     

Power units at several power stations had to conduct emergency shutdowns and the demand for electricity has been rising as snowy winter weather takes hold in the capital and elsewhere, national grid operator Ukrenergo said in a statement.  

“Once the causes of the emergency shutdowns are eliminated, the units will return to operation, which will reduce the deficit in the power system and reduce the amount of restrictions for consumers,” it said.  

DTEK, Ukraine’s biggest private electricity producer, said it would reduce the electricity supply by 60% for its consumers in Kyiv, where temperatures are hovering around zero degrees Celsius (32°F).    

“We are doing everything possible to provide power to every customer for 2-3 hours twice a day,” DTEK’s Kyiv branch wrote on Facebook.  

In his nightly video address Monday, Zelenskyy said Russia shelled Kherson and other communities in the region. In one week, Zelenskyy said, Russia “fired 258 times on 30 settlements of our Kherson region.”  

He also said that Russian forces damaged the pumping station that supplied water to Mykolaiv.  

Zelenskyy said the only thing Russian forces are capable of is inflicting devastation on civilians and civilian infrastructure.  

“That is all they leave behind,” he said. Russians “take revenge for the fact that Ukrainians defended themselves from them.”  

Some material for this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.  

your ad here

Six Years After Bombings, Belgium Readies for Biggest Trial

Belgium’s worst peacetime massacre left 32 dead and hundreds marked for life. Now, six and a half years later, Brussels will host its biggest ever criminal trial. 

Jury selection begins on Wednesday ahead of hearings into the charges against the nine alleged jihadists accused of taking part in the March 2016 suicide bombings. 

The case will be heard in the former headquarters of the NATO military alliance, temporarily converted into a huge high-security court complex. 

Hundreds of witnesses and victims will testify in the months to come, some still hopeful that telling their story will offer them a measure of closure. 

The case will not be the first for 33-year-old Salah Abdeslam, who was convicted in France as a ringleader in the November 13, 2015, Paris attacks that left 130 dead. 

He is serving life without parole in France but faces further charges in Belgium. 

Both sets of attacks were claimed by the Islamic State group and investigators believe they were carried out by the same Belgium-based cell, including Abdeslam.  

The group was planning more violence, allegedly including attacks on the Euro 2016 football cup in France but acted quickly after Abdeslam was arrested on March 18. 

Four days later on March 22, two bombers blew themselves up in Brussels airport and another in a city center metro station near the headquarters of the European Union. 

Alongside those killed, hundreds of travelers and transport staff were maimed and six years on, many victims, relatives and rescuers remain traumatized. 

Five of the nine defendants to appear in the dock have already been convicted in the French trial. A 10th will be tried in absentia because he is believed to have been killed in Syria. 

According to the federal prosecutor’s office, more than 1,000 people have registered as civil plaintiffs to receive a hearing as alleged victims of the crime.   

This makes this trial, scheduled until June 2023 at the former NATO headquarters, the largest ever organized before a Belgian court of assizes.    

“I don’t really expect a lot of answers,” said Sandrine Couturier, who was on the Maelbeek metro platform and plans to come to face the defendants.   

“But I want to confront myself with what human beings are capable of doing. I have to accept that not everyone is good,” the survivor, who suffers from PTSD, told AFP.    

Like many of those who have spoken to reporters, she suffers from memory loss and concentration problems. Many have sought treatment for depression.  

Sebastien Bellin, a former professional basketball player who was due to fly to New York on the morning of March 22, lost the use of a leg in the attack.    

He says today that he feels no hatred. “It would suck the energy I need to rebuild myself,” he says.   

Jury selection in the case is expected to be arduous.  

The court has summoned 1,000 citizens in order to choose among them 12 main jurors with 24 understudies on standby and able to follow daily evidence hearings for months.   

The trial should have begun in October, but there was controversy over the dock, in which the accused were to have been held in individual glass-walled boxes.   

The defendants’ areas were rebuilt as a single, shared space and after Wednesday’s one-day hearing for jury selection, testimony will begin on December 5.   

your ad here

UK Says 50 Recently Arrived Migrants Found with Diphtheria

British health authorities have recorded 50 cases of diphtheria this year among recently arrived asylum seekers, including one man who died after falling sick at a crowded migrant center.

The U.K. Health Protection Agency said Monday that the infected people likely caught the disease in their countries of origin or during their journeys to the U.K. It said a similar increase had been seen elsewhere in Europe.

In 2021 there were 11 cases in the U.K., where most people are vaccinated against diphtheria in childhood. The infection affects the nose, throat and sometimes skin and can be fatal if not treated quickly.

The outbreak comes amid criticism of the government over accommodation conditions for people who arrive in the U.K. across the English Channel in small boats. Many have been held for days or weeks at Manston, a disused airport in southeast England serving as a processing center. At one point last month more than 4,000 people were staying at the facility, designed to hold a maximum of 1,600.

Earlier this month a man staying at Manston became sick and later died in hospital. A PCR test for diphtheria was positive, though immigration minister Robert Jenrick said authorities were awaiting post-mortem results to determine the cause of death.

Thousands of migrants from around the world travel to northern France each year in hopes of crossing the Channel to Britain. There has been a sharp increase in the number of people attempting the journey in dinghies and other small craft as authorities have clamped down on other routes such as stowing away on buses or trucks.

More than 40,000 people have arrived so far this year in Britain after making the hazardous Channel trip, up from 28,000 in all of 2021 and 8,500 in 2020.

In an attempt to deter the crossings, Britain’s government has announced a controversial plan to put people who arrive in small boats on a one-way flight to Rwanda in a bid to break the business model of smuggling gangs.

Critics say the plan is immoral and impractical. It is being challenged in the courts.

your ad here

NATO Beefing Up Defenses Across Europe

NATO foreign ministers are to meet for two days in Romania’s capital Bucharest starting Tuesday to pledge their continuing support of Ukraine against Russia’s invasion.

At a news conference Monday, after a meeting with Romania’s President Klaus Iohannis, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg asked the alliance to step up its support in the region. “Investing in our defense,” he said, “is essential as we face our greatest security crisis in a generation.”

In response to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, he said, NATO is reinforcing its presence from the Baltics to the Black Sea region.

The head of the alliance also said new battlegroups have been set, including one led by France in Romania, while fighter jets from Canada are helping to “keep our skies safe,” and U.S. Patriot missiles are boosting NATO defenses. “We will do what is necessary to protect the defense of all our allies,” he added.

Stoltenberg also highlighted the support of other partners facing Russian pressure, such as Bosnia Herzegovina, Georgia, and Moldova.

Romanian President Klaus Iohannis said the decision reached at the Madrid summit to boost NATO troops and military equipment on the alliance’s eastern flank needs to come into force as soon as possible.

Stoltenberg reiterated NATO’s commitment to approve membership for Sweden and Finland, which would expand NATO’s eastern flank.

Stoltenberg said Russia is weaponizing winter by striking Ukraine’s critical power infrastructure and leaving civilians without power, heat or water in freezing temperatures.

“We cannot let Putin win,” Stoltenberg said. “This would show authoritarian leaders around the world that they can achieve their goals by using military force — and make the world a more dangerous place for all of us. So, it is in our own security interests to support Ukraine.

“We need to be prepared for more attacks,” the NATO chief added. “That is why NATO has stepped up its support to Ukraine with additional air defense systems, such as … drones as well as cruise and ballistic missiles.”

Meanwhile, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba welcomed his Nordic and Baltic counterparts from Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway and Sweden in Kyiv.

“The strongest message from this visit is: Ukraine needs to win this war and therefore … Western support should be stronger; more heavy weaponry without any political caveats, also including long-distance missiles,” Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu told Reuters in an interview.

Ukraine said Monday it had been forced to impose regular emergency blackouts in areas across the country after a setback in its race to repair energy infrastructure hit by Russian missile strikes.

Power units at several power stations had to conduct emergency shutdowns and the demand for electricity has been rising as snowy winter weather takes hold in the capital and elsewhere, national grid operator Ukrenergo said in a statement.

“Once the causes of the emergency shutdowns are eliminated, the units will return to operation, which will reduce the deficit in the power system and reduce the amount of restrictions for consumers,” it said.

DTEK, Ukraine’s biggest private electricity producer, said it would reduce the electricity supply by 60% for its consumers in Kyiv, where temperatures are hovering around zero degrees Celsius (32°F).

“We are doing everything possible to provide power to every customer for 2-3 hours twice a day,” DTEK’s Kyiv branch wrote on Facebook.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said late Sunday the coming week could be as difficult as the past week when Russian missile strikes caused widespread damage to the country’s electrical grid.

“We understand that the terrorists are planning new strikes. We know this for a fact,” Zelenskyy said. “And as long as they have missiles, they, unfortunately, will not calm down.”

Russian airstrikes have repeatedly struck key infrastructure targets in Ukraine, knocking out important services as the winter season looms. Russian officials have denied targeting civilians with such strikes.

Continued US support

Newly empowered U.S. Republican lawmakers set to take leadership roles in the House of Representatives in January promised Sunday that Congress would continue to support Ukraine militarily in its fight against Russia but said there would be more scrutiny of the aid before it is shipped to Kyiv’s forces.

Congressmen Michael McCaul of Texas and Mike Turner of Ohio told ABC’s “This Week” program there would be continued bipartisan Republican and Democratic support for Ukraine as Republicans assume a narrow House majority, even though some opposition from both parties has emerged.

Turner, likely the new chairperson of the House Intelligence Committee, said, “We’re going to make sure they get what they need. We will have bipartisan support.”

McCaul, the likely head of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said, “If we give them what they need, they win.”

But McCaul said there would be a difference in considering Ukraine aid from the outgoing Democratic control of the House when Republicans take over.

“The fact is, we are going to provide more oversight, transparency and accountability,” he said. “We’re not going to write a blank check.”

Some material for this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.

your ad here