EU, US Pledge Additional Support to Ukraine

EU, US Pledge Additional Support to Ukraine

European Union officials pledged their unwavering support Friday to help Ukraine rebuild its infrastructure against Russia’s ongoing war, while the U.S. announced a fresh round of security assistance worth more than $2 billion.

Charles Michel, president of the European Council, and Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv for the 24th EU-Ukraine Summit. The EU officials said the union will support Ukraine “for as long as it takes.”

In a joint statement Friday, the officials promised to help rebuild Ukraine’s devastated critical infrastructure, providing energy support and services for the country “to get through the winter,” and beyond. They said that so far, the EU and its member states have provided assistance worth $570 million in the area of energy and reconstruction, and another $525 million for humanitarian efforts.

The officials underscored their commitment to promote Ukraine’s integration in the European Union, but they said there was no promise of fast-track membership.

Kyiv applied to become an EU member shortly after Russia’s invasion and wants to start formal accession talks as soon as possible.

“There are no rigid timelines, but there are goals that you have to reach,” von der Leyen told the news conference in response to a question about Ukraine’s accession drive. One of the conditions for Ukraine’s EU integration is its fight against corruption. The EU Commission president praised Kyiv for its expanded efforts to clamp down on graft.

Michel and von der Leyen condemned Russia’s escalating war against Ukraine and its citizens as “a manifest violation of international law, including the principles of the U.N. Charter.”

They emphasized the need to establish a Special Tribunal at The Hague for the investigation and prosecution of war crimes against Ukraine.

They also emphasized that the EU will never recognize as lawful any illegal annexation of Ukraine by Russia.

In addition, the EU officials unveiled a new package of sanctions, the 10th, against Russia. It will target the trade and technology that supports its war against Ukraine, von der Leyen said.

“With our partners, we must deny Russia the means to kill Ukrainian civilians and destroy homes and offices,” she said in a tweet.

US defense assistance

The United States announced Friday it would provide an additional $2.175 billion worth of military aid for Ukraine, including conventional and long-range rockets for U.S.-provided HIMARs, as well as other munitions and weapons. According to a U.S. official, the longer-range precision-guided rockets would double Ukraine’s strike range for the first time since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Brigadier General Patrick Ryder told a news briefing Friday the package includes “critical air defense capabilities to help Ukraine defend its people, as well as armored infantry vehicles and more equipment that Ukraine is using so effectively, including Javelin anti-tank missiles, artillery ammunition.”

Ryder added that “as part of the USAI [Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative] package, we will be providing Ground Launched Small Diameter Bombs to Ukraine.”

Friday’s aid package opens the door to many more deliveries of Ground Launched Small Diameter Bombs, which have a range of 94 miles, according to a document reviewed by Reuters.

USAI is an authority under which the United States procures capabilities from industry rather than delivering equipment that is drawn down from Defense Department stocks. This announcement represents the beginning of a contracting process to provide additional capabilities to Ukraine’s Armed Forces as part of U.S. efforts to strengthen Ukraine’s military over the near and long-term.

In total, the United States has now supplied nearly $30 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since the beginning of the Biden administration, the Defense Department reports. Since 2014, the United States has committed more than $32 billion in security assistance to Ukraine, and more than $29.3 billion since the beginning of Russia’s unprovoked, full-scale invasion on February 24, 2022.

Wagner Group recruitment

Meanwhile, Britain’s Defense Ministry said Friday the Wagner Group’s recruitment of convicts has dropped significantly. The ministry said the Russian Federal Penal Service experienced a decrease of 6,000 inmates since November. In comparison, the penal service had reported a drop of 23,000 inmates from September to November 2022.

“Wagner recruitment was likely a major contributing factor to this drop,” the British ministry said.  

The Ukrainian presidential office said overall in the last day, Russian shelling in Ukraine had killed at least eight civilians and wounded 29 others. 

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

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Iran Blamed for Hack of French Magazine Charlie Hebdo

An Iranian government-backed hacking team allegedly stole and leaked private customer data belonging to French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, security researchers at Microsoft said Friday.

The magazine was hacked in early January after it published a series of cartoons that negatively depicted Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. The caricatures were part of a media campaign that Charlie Hebdo said was intended to support anti-government protests in the Islamic nation.

Representatives for the Iranian and French governments did not immediately respond to requests for comment. A press officer for Charlie Hebdo said the magazine had no comment on the matter “for the moment.”

Iran publicly vowed an “effective response” to the “insulting” cartoons, and summoned the French envoy in Tehran, while also ending activities of the French Institute of Research in Iran and saying it was re-evaluating France’s cultural activities in the country.

Hack part of larger operation

The hack-and-leak targeting Charlie Hebdo was part of a wider digital influence operation with techniques matching previously identified activity linked to Iranian state-backed hacking teams, Microsoft researchers said in a report. The group responsible is the same one that U.S. Department of Justice officials earlier identified as having conducted a “multi-faceted campaign” to interfere in the 2020 U.S. presidential election, Microsoft said. Iran denied the claims at the time.

Amid Iran’s criticism of the Khamenei cartoons, a group of hackers calling itself “Holy Souls” posted on an online forum that they had access to the names and contact details of more than 200,000 Charlie Hebdo subscribers. In their post, they said they would sell the information for 20 bitcoins (approximately $470,000 USD).

A sample of the leaked data was later released and verified as authentic by the French newspaper Le Monde.

“This information, obtained by the Iranian actor, could put the magazine’s subscribers at risk for online or physical targeting by extremist organizations,” the Microsoft researchers said.

Twitter used to amplify reach

To amplify their operation, the Iranian hackers used Twitter accounts with fake or stolen identities to criticize the Khamenei cartoons. Two accounts impersonating a Charlie Hebdo editor and a technology executive also posted the leaked data before Twitter banned them, Microsoft said.

Twitter’s press team did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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US May Lift Protections for Yellowstone, Glacier Grizzlies

The Biden administration took a first step Friday toward ending federal protections for grizzly bears in the northern Rocky Mountains, which would open the door to future hunting in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said state officials provided “substantial” information that grizzlies have recovered from the threat of extinction in the regions surrounding Yellowstone and Glacier national parks.

But federal officials rejected claims by Idaho that protections should be lifted beyond those areas, and they raised concerns about new laws from the Republican-led states that could potentially harm grizzly populations.

“We will fully evaluate these and other potential threats,” said Martha Williams, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Friday’s move kicks off at least a year of further study before final decisions about the Yellowstone and Glacier regions.

State officials have insisted any future hunts would be limited and not endanger the overall population.

However, Republican lawmakers in the region in recent years also adopted more aggressive policies against gray wolves, including loosened trapping rules that could lead to grizzlies being inadvertently killed.

As many as 50,000 grizzlies once roamed the western half of the U.S. They were exterminated in most of the country early last century by overhunting and trapping, and the last hunts in the northern Rockies occurred decades ago. There are now more than 2,000 bears in the Lower 48 states and much larger populations in Alaska, where hunting is allowed.

The species’ expansion in the Glacier and Yellowstone areas has led to conflicts between humans and bears, including periodic attacks on livestock and sometimes fatal maulings of humans.

Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte welcomed the administration’s announcement and said it could lead to the state reclaiming management of a species that’s been under federal protections since 1975. He said the grizzly’s recovery “represents a conservation success.”

The federal government removed protections for the Yellowstone ecosystem’s grizzlies in 2017. Wyoming and Idaho were set to allow grizzlies to be hunted when a judge restored those protections in 2018, siding with environmental groups that said delisting wasn’t based on sound science. Those groups want protections kept in place so bears can continue moving into new areas.

“We should not be ready to trust those states,” said attorney Andrea Zaccardi, of the Center for Biological Diversity.

U.S. government scientists have said the region’s grizzlies are biologically recovered but in 2021 decided that protections were still needed because of human-caused bear deaths and other pressures. Bears considered problematic are regularly killed by wildlife officials.

A decision on the states’ petitions was long overdue. Idaho Gov. Brad Little on Thursday had filed notice he intended to sue over the delay. Idaho’s petition was broader than the ones filed by Montana and sought to lift protections nationwide.

That would have included small populations of bears in portions of Idaho, Montana and Washington state, where biologists say the animals have not yet recovered to sustainable levels. It also could have prevented the return of bears to other areas such as the North Cascades region.

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Cherokee People Demand US Fulfill 200-Year-Old Promise

Nearly 200 years ago, the U.S. government promised the Cherokee people a seat in Congress in exchange for their homelands. So far, it has not delivered. Today, the Cherokee people are calling for Congress to fulfill that promise, but there is disagreement over which of three Cherokee tribes should get the delegate seat. Maxim Moskalkov has the story. Camera: Dana Preobrazhenskaya

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Українсько-білоруський кордон: війна нервів і дронів (фоторепортаж)

Українські підрозділи використовують безпілотники для моніторингу великої ділянки боліт і лісів у прикордонні з Білоруссю, щоб запобігти раптовому нападу

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VOA Firsthand Look: US Troops Defend NATO’s Edge in Romania

In response to Russia’s war in Ukraine, the US and NATO drastically ramped up defenses across eastern Europe. In Romania, for example, US troop numbers tripled, from approximately 1,000 troops in January of last year to about 3,000 today. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb joined up with some of those soldiers for a first-hand look at how the closest US troops to the war in Ukraine are holding the line with NATO allies.

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Two-Century-Old Mystery of Waterloo’s Skeletal Remains

More than 200 years after Napoleon met defeat at Waterloo, the bones of soldiers killed on that famous battlefield continue to intrigue Belgian researchers and experts, who use them to peer back to that moment in history.

“So many bones — it’s really unique!” exclaimed one such historian, Bernard Wilkin, as he stood in front of a forensic pathologist’s table holding two skulls, three femurs and hip bones.

He was in an autopsy room in the Forensic Medicine Institute in Liege, eastern Belgium, where tests are being carried out on the skeletal remains to determine from which regions the four soldiers they belong to came from.

That in itself is a challenge.

Half a dozen European nationalities were represented in the military ranks at the Battle of Waterloo, located 20 kilometers (12 miles) south of Brussels.

That armed clash of June 18, 1815 ended Napoleon Bonaparte’s ambitions of conquering Europe to build a great empire, and resulted in the deaths of around 20,000 soldiers.

The battle has since been pored over by historians, and — with advances in the genetic, medical and scanning fields — researchers can now piece together pages of the past from the remains buried in the ground.

Some of those remains have been recovered through archeological digs, such as one last year that allowed the reconstitution of a skeleton found not far from a field hospital the British Duke of Wellington had set up.

But the remains examined by Wilkin surfaced through another route.

‘Prussians in my attic’

The historian, who works for the Belgian government’s historical archives, said he gave a conference late last year and “this middle-aged man came to see afterwards and told me, ‘Mr Wilkin, I have some Prussians in my attic'”.

Wilkin, smiling, said the man “showed me photos on his phone and told me someone had given him these bones so he can put them on exhibit… which he refused to do on ethical grounds”.

The remains stayed hidden away until the man met Wilkin, who he believed could analyze them and give them a decent resting place.

A key item of interest in the collection is a right foot with nearly all its toes — that of a “Prussian soldier” according to the middle-aged man.

“To see a foot so well preserved is pretty rare, because usually the small bones on the extremities disappear into the ground,” noted Mathilde Daumas, an anthropologist at the Universite Libre de Bruxelles who is part of the research work.

As for the attributed “Prussian” provenance, the experts are cautious.

The place it was discovered was the village of Plancenoit, where troops on the Prussian and Napoleonic sides bitterly fought, Wilkin said, holding out the possibility the remains might be those of French soldiers.

Scraps of boots and metal buckles found among the remains do point to uniforms worn by soldiers from the Germanic side arrayed against the French.

But “we know that soldiers stripped the dead for their own gear,” the historian said.

Clothes and accessories are not reliable indicators of the nationality of skeletons found on the Waterloo battlefield, he stressed.

DNA testing

More dependable, these days, are DNA tests.

Dr Philippe Boxho, a forensic pathologist working on the remains, said there were still parts of the bones that should yield DNA results, and he believed another two months of analyses should yield answers.

“As long as the subject matter is dry we can do something. Our biggest enemy is humidity, which makes everything disintegrate,” he explained.

The teeth in particular, with traces of strontium, a naturally occurring chemical element that accumulates in human bones, can point to specific regions through their geology, he said.

Wilkin said an “ideal scenario” for the research would be to find that the remains of the “three to five” soldiers examined came from both the French and Germanic sides.

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Italian Mafia Killer Arrested in France at Pizza Parlor

The downfall of a convicted mafia killer, on the run since 2006, came about in a French pizza parlor.

Edgardo Greco was so confident in his alias as Paolo Dimitrio that he felt free to do an interview with a local Saint-Etienne newspaper in 2021 and even allowed the paper to take and publish a photograph of him.

Greco’s interview about the wonderful Italian cooking at his restaurant in the French newspaper was the beginning of the end for him. The 63-year-old mobster, alleged to be a member of the infamous ‘Ndrangheta organized crime mob, was convicted in an Italian court of the 1991 murders of two brothers whose bodies were never found and the attempted murder of another man.

Italian and French authorities worked together with Interpol, and Greco was identified and arrested.

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US Adds 517,000 Jobs Despite Interest Rate Hikes

America’s employers added a robust 517,000 jobs in January, a surprisingly strong gain in the face of the Federal Reserve’s aggressive drive to slow growth and tame inflation with higher interest rates.

The unemployment rate dipped to 3.4%, a new half-century low.

Friday’s government report added to the picture of a resilient labor market, with low unemployment, relatively few layoffs and many job openings even as most economists foresee a recession nearing. Though good for workers, employers’ steady demand for labor has also helped accelerate wage growth and contributed to high inflation.

January’s job growth, which far exceeded December’s 269,000 gain, could raise doubts about whether inflation pressures will ease further in the months ahead. The Fed has raised its key rate eight times since March to try to contain inflation, which hit a four-decade high last year but has slowed since then.

Companies are still seeking more workers and are hanging tightly onto the ones they have. Putting aside some high-profile layoffs at big tech companies like Microsoft, Google, Amazon and others, most workers are enjoying an unusual level of job security even at a time when many economists foresee a recession approaching.

For all of 2022, the economy had added a sizzling average of 375,000 jobs a month. That was a pace vigorous enough to have contributed to the painful inflation Americans have endured, the worst such bout in 40 years. A tight job market tends to put upward pressure on wages, which, in turn, feed into inflation.

The Fed, hoping to cool the job market and the economy — and, as a consequence, inflation — has steadily raised borrowing rates, most recently on Wednesday. Year-over-year measures of consumer inflation have steadily eased since peaking at 9.1% in June. But at 6.5% in December, inflation remains far above the Fed’s 2% target, which is why the central bank’s policymakers have reiterated their intent to keep raising borrowing rates for at least a few more months.

The Fed is aiming to achieve a “soft landing” — a pullback in the economy that is just enough to tame high inflation without triggering a recession. The policymakers hope that employers can slow wage increases and inflationary pressures by reducing job openings but not necessarily by laying off many employees.

But the job market’s resilience isn’t making that hoped-for outcome any easier. On Wednesday, the Labor Department reported that employers posted 11 million job openings in December, an unexpected jump from 10.4 million in November and the largest number since July. There are now about two job vacancies, on average, for every unemployed American.

The Labor Department’s monthly count of layoffs has amounted to fewer than 1.5 million for 21 straight months. Until 2021, that figure had never dropped so low in records dating back two decades.

Yet another sign that workers are benefiting from unusual job security is the weekly number of people who apply for unemployment benefits. That figure is a proxy for layoffs, one that economists monitor for clues about where the job market might be headed. The government said Thursday that the number of jobless claims fell last week to its lowest level since April.

The pace of applications for unemployment aid has remained rock-bottom despite a steady stream of headline-making layoff announcements. Facebook parent Meta is cutting 11,000 jobs, Amazon 18,000, Microsoft 10,000, Google 12,000. Some economists suspect that many laid-off workers might not be showing up at the unemployment line because they can still find new jobs easily.

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US Experiencing Artic Blast

The northeastern region of the U.S. is experiencing an Artic blast and the frigid temperatures are expected to last into Saturday.  

The National Weather Service said numerous low temperature records could be set in the New England area.  

Weather forecasters predict the temperature Saturday in the city of Worcester, Massachusetts, could get as low as 23 degrees below zero Celsius, which would set a new low record for the date.  

Meteorologists are predicting 21 degrees below zero Celsius for Boston, which would also set a low record for the date.

The NWS said wind chill warnings and advisories are already in effect for all of the New England region.  

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Полтавський ГЗК заперечує вручення підозри топменеджеру підприємства

2 лютого Служба безпеки України та Бюро економічної безпеки заявили про повідомлення підозри топменеджеру Полтавського гірничо-збагачувального комбінату

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NATO Urges Russia to Comply With Last US Nuclear Treaty

NATO on Friday expressed concern that Russia was failing to comply with its last remaining nuclear arms control treaty with the United States. 

As tensions soar over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, leading NATO power the United States has accused Moscow of not meeting its commitments under the decade-old New START pact. 

On Tuesday, Washington slammed Russia for suspending inspections under the treaty and cancelling talks but did not accuse its Cold War rival of expanding its nuclear warhead arsenal beyond agreed limits.

“NATO allies agree the New START treaty contributes to international stability by constraining Russian and US strategic nuclear forces,” the 30-strong alliance said in a statement. 

“Therefore, we note with concern that Russia has failed to comply with legally binding obligations under the New START treaty.”

NATO member states said they “call on Russia to fulfil its obligations” by allowing inspections and returning to talks. 

Russia has hit back at Washington by accusing it of destroying weapons control agreements between the two countries. 

Diplomacy between the two powers has ground to a bare minimum over the past year as the United States leads a drive to sanction Russia and arm Ukraine with billions of dollars in weapons. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin has issued thinly veiled threats to use nuclear weapons, reviving Cold War era fears.

Moscow announced in early August that it was suspending U.S. inspections of its military sites under New START. It said it was responding to American obstruction of inspections by Russia, a charge denied by Washington.

The Kremlin then indefinitely postponed talks under New START that had been due to start on November 29 in Cairo, accusing the United States of “toxicity and animosity.” 

New START, signed by then President Barack Obama in 2010 when relations were warmer, restricted Russia and the United States to a maximum of 1,550 deployed strategic nuclear warheads each — a reduction of nearly 30 percent from the previous limit set in 2002. 

It also limits the number of launchers and heavy bombers to 800, still easily enough to destroy human life on Earth.

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