Category: Europe

news from Europe

Greece Says It’s Open to Talks with Turkey Once Provocations End

Greece wants to have a constructive dialogue with Turkey based on international law but its Aegean neighbor must halt its unprecedented escalation of provocations, the Greek foreign minister said Sunday.

The two countries — North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies but historic foes — have been at odds for decades over a range of issues, including where their continental shelves start and end, overflights in the Aegean Sea and a divided Cyprus.

“It is up to Turkey to choose if it will come to such a dialogue or not, but the basic ingredient must be a de-escalation,” Nikos Dendias told the Proto Thema newspaper in an interview.

Last month, the European Union voiced concern over statements by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan accusing Greece, an EU member, of occupying demilitarized islands in the Aegean and saying Turkey was ready to “do what is necessary” when the time came.

“The one responsible for a de-escalation is the one causing the escalation, which is Turkey,” Dendias said.

He blamed Ankara for increased provocations with a rhetoric of false and legally baseless claims, “even personal insults.”

Turkey has sharply increased its overflights and violations of Greek airspace, Dendias told the paper, adding that its behavior seems to be serving a “revisionist narrative” that it promotes consistently.

He said Turkish claims that Greece cannot be an equal interlocutor diplomatically, politically and militarily violates the basic rule of foreign relations – the principle of equality among nations.

“It is an insulting approach that ranks various countries as more or less equal,” Dendias said.

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Pope Calls on Putin to Stop ‘Spiral of Violence’ in Ukraine 

Pope Francis has called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to stop “this spiral of violence and death” over the war in Ukraine.

Francis’s remarks, made on Sunday in his weekly public prayer on St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, were some of the strongest he has made since the February 24 invasion.

“My appeal is addressed first of all to the president of the Russian Federation, begging him to stop, also for the love of his people, this spiral of violence and death,” Francis said.

“On the other hand, saddened by the immense suffering of the Ukrainian population following the aggression suffered, I direct an equally confident appeal to the president of Ukraine to be open to serious peace proposals,” he said.

The Roman Catholic leader also decried the growing risk of nuclear war, calling it “absurd.”

“I deeply regret the serious situation that has arisen in recent days, with further actions contrary to the principles of international law,” he said. “In fact, it increases the risk of a nuclear escalation, to the point of fearing uncontrollable and catastrophic consequences worldwide.”

The pope’s comments came two days after Putin gave a fiery Kremlin speech in which he announced Russia was annexing four regions of Ukraine that are partially occupied by Russian forces.

In the September 30 speech, Putin also made veiled threats about using nuclear weapons in the conflict, echoing earlier remarks in which he warned the West “this is not a bluff.”

The Kremlin had no immediate reaction to the pope’s comments.

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Latvia Prime Minister Wins Election

The center-right New Unity party of Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins won Saturday’s election, according to provisional results, with its 19% of the vote putting him in a position to head another coalition government.

The results — with 91% of districts counted — mean Latvia should remain a leading voice alongside its Baltic neighbors Lithuania and Estonia in pushing the European Union for a decisive stance against Russia.

Karins’ party was again the party with the most support following the election. Members of the current coalition were on track to receive 42 seats in the 100-seat parliament, so Karins needs to draft additional allies to stay as a prime minister.

As many as nine parties won sufficient votes to gain seats in parliament.

After a campaign dominated by security concerns following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Karins told Reuters he will be working to craft a coalition of like-minded parties.

“I am convinced that we will be able find such a solution,” he said early Sunday.

“First and foremost on everyone’s minds is how we all get through the winter, not only in Latvia but throughout the EU, and that we all remain united behind Ukraine, and do not waiver in the face of difficulties for us,” said Karins.

The first Latvian head of government to serve through a full four-year term, Karins, a 57-year-old dual U.S. and Latvian citizen, has benefited from his Moscow policy, which included restricting the entry of Russian citizens traveling from Russia and Belarus.

“I see no chance that any government in Latvia will stop supporting Ukraine — this is not a view of a small group of politicians, this is the view of our society,” said Karins.

But his victory could widen a rift between the country’s Latvian majority and its Russian-speaking minority over their place in society, amid widespread national anger over Moscow’s actions in Ukraine.

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Bosnia Heads to Polls as Ethnic Tensions Dominate Vote

Bosnians headed to the polls Sunday to vote in general elections following a campaign season marked by threats of secession, political infighting, and fears of future turmoil as ethnic tensions in the country grow.

Voters are casting ballots in a dizzying number of contests, including for the three members of Bosnia’s tripartite presidency, the deputies of the central parliament and a string of local races.

Polls opened at 7 a.m. local time (5:00 GMT).

Nearly three decades after war ravaged the Balkan country, Bosnia continues to be burdened by its ethnic divisions.

The Balkan state has been governed by a dysfunctional administrative system created by the 1995 Dayton Agreement that succeeded in ending the conflict in the 1990s, but largely failed in providing a framework for the country’s political development.

Bosnia remains partitioned between a Serb entity — the Republika Srpska (RS) — and a Muslim-Croat federation connected by a weak central government.

In the war’s wake, ethnic political parties have long exploited the country’s divisions in a bid to maintain power.

“I hope for nothing. I vote because that is the only thing I can do as an individual,” said Amra Besic, a 57-year-old economist, as she cast her ballot in Sarajevo.

Coalition clash

In the run-up to Sunday’s vote, the country has been torn between secessionist Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croats demanding greater autonomy and electoral reforms.

The country’s Muslim Bosniaks will also face a choice of voting for a disparate, 11-party coalition that is trying to unseat the rule of the mainstream SDA.

The SDA is led by Bakir Izetbegovic — the son of the first president of independent Bosnia — and has largely dominated the political scene in the country for decades.

Many voters say that the lack of young candidates offering fresh ideas has left them largely uninspired on the eve of the elections.

“Most of the candidates that are running are the ones we have been watching for the last twenty years,” said Sara Djogic, a 21-year-old philosophy student in the capital, Sarajevo.

“There are not many who offer something new,” she added.

With little to no polling data available, analysts say incumbents and nationalist parties that have dominated the post-war political scene are likely to win many of the races.

The leader of Bosnia’s Serbs, Milorad Dodik, is seeking his third term as the president of the RS, after completing a stint in the tripartite presidency.

For the past year, Dodik has been stoking tensions with his frequent calls for Bosnia’s Serbs to separate even further from the country’s central institutions, earning him fresh sanctions from the U.S. in January.

Dodik’s primary challenger Jelena Trivic has vowed to crack down on corruption in the RS if elected.

“Our revenge will be the law,” Trivic said ahead of the polls.

Fears of turmoil

For the country’s Catholic Croats, political turmoil has also been brewing.

Ahead of the election, many Croats have been demanding electoral reforms with the leading nationalist party HDZ threatening to boycott the contest.

Their grievances are steeped in the vast numerical advantage held by Bosniaks in the Muslim-Croat federation, which has allowed Muslim voters to hold de-facto control over who can be elected to lead the Croats at the presidential level.

HDZ and other Croat parties have been calling for the creation of a new mechanism to allow the community to choose their own representatives to the presidency and upper house.

The move, however, has been fiercely opposed by the federation’s ruling Bosniak party.

With threats of fresh boycotts, fears are growing of potential turmoil after the polls if the incumbent Croat co-president Zeljko Komsic — who is widely reviled by all Croat parties that view him as a Bosniak proxy — is reelected.

The ever-present threats and vitriol have led some to skip the polling booth Sunday.

“I do not expect anything new after these elections. Everything will be the same,” said Mira Sladojevic, a pensioner in her 70s in Sarajevo.

“I haven’t voted for a long time,” she added.

The first wave of preliminary results is expected several hours after the polls close at 7 p.m. (19:00 GMT).

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EU Leaders to Discuss Infrastructure Following Incidents on Russian Pipelines

European Union leaders will discuss the security of crucial infrastructure when they meet in Prague next week following damage to the Nord Stream pipelines that many in the West have said was caused by sabotage.

“Sabotage of Nord Stream pipelines is a threat to the EU,” Charles Michel, who chairs meetings of EU leaders, said in a tweet Saturday after talks with Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen in Brussels.

“We are determined to secure our critical infrastructure. Leaders will address this at the upcoming summit in Prague,” he wrote.

The leaders of EU member states leaders are scheduled to meet in the Czech capital on Friday.

Meanwhile, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg also met with Frederiksen in Brussels “to address the sabotage” on the pipelines, he said on Twitter.

“NATO allies will continue our close cooperation on resilience [and the] protection of critical infrastructure,” Stoltenberg wrote.

NATO earlier voiced “deep concern” over the damage sustained by the Nord Stream pipelines in the Baltic Sea, calling the incidents “deliberate, reckless, and irresponsible acts of sabotage.”

Three leaks — two in the Danish zone and one in the Swedish zone — were discovered last week in the two major Russian underwater pipelines designed to ship natural gas to Germany, while Sweden on Thursday said its coast guard had found a fourth leak.

On Saturday, a Nord Stream 2 pipeline spokesperson told Agence France-Presse the pipeline is no longer leaking under the Baltic Sea because an equilibrium has been reached between the gas and water pressure. Information on the status of the Nord Stream 1 pipeline leak, which was significantly larger, was not immediately available, AFP reported.

The incidents come amid rising tensions between Europe and Russia over the war in Ukraine.

While both NATO and the European Union say the leaks were caused by sabotage, they have so far refrained from directly pinning the blame on Russia.

Some material for this article came from Reuters, Agence France-Presse and dpa. 

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Danes: Nord Stream 2 Pipeline Seems to Have Stopped Leaking

The Danish Energy Agency says one of two ruptured natural gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea appears to have stopped leaking natural gas.

The agency said on Twitter on Saturday that it had been informed by the company operating the Nord Stream 2 pipeline that pressure appears to have stabilized in the pipeline, which runs from Russia to Germany.

“This indicates that the leaking of gas in this pipeline has ceased,” the Danish Energy Agency said.

Undersea blasts that damaged the Nord Stream I and 2 pipelines this week have led to huge methane leaks. Nordic investigators said the blasts have involved several hundred pounds of explosives.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday accused the West of sabotaging the Russia-built pipelines, a charge vehemently denied by the United States and its allies.

The U.S.-Russia clashes continued later at an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council in New York called by Russia on the pipelines attacks and as Norwegian researchers published a map projecting that a huge plume of methane from the damaged pipelines will travel over large swaths of the Nordic region.

Speaking Friday in Moscow, Putin claimed that “Anglo-Saxons” in the West have turned from imposing sanctions on Russia to “terror attacks,” sabotaging the pipelines in what he described as an attempt to “destroy the European energy infrastructure.”

In Washington, U.S. President Joe Biden dismissed Putin’s pipeline claims as outlandish.

“It was a deliberate act of sabotage. And now the Russians are pumping out disinformation and lies. We will work with our allies to get to the bottom (of) precisely what happened,” Biden promised. “Just don’t listen to what Putin’s saying. What he’s saying we know is not true.”

U.S. officials said the Putin claim was trying to shift attention from his annexation Friday of parts of Ukraine.

“We’re not going to let Russia’s disinformation distract us or the world from its transparently fraudulent attempt to annex sovereign Ukrainian territory,” White House National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said Friday.

European nations, which have been reeling under soaring energy prices caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, have noted that it is Russia, not Europe, that benefits from chaos in the energy markets and spiking prices for energy.

The U.S. has long opposed to the two pipelines and had repeatedly urged Germany to halt them, saying they increased Europe’s energy dependence on Russia and decreased its security. Since the war in Ukraine began in February, Russia has cut back supplies of natural gas sent to Europe to heat homes, generate electricity and run factories. European leaders have accused Putin of using “energy blackmail” to divide them in their strong support for Ukraine.

The attacks on the pipelines have prompted energy companies and European governments to beef up security around energy infrastructure.

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Bosnia Goes to the Polls as Ethnic Divisions Grow

With ethnic divisions growing deeper, Bosnia will hold general elections Sunday amid secession threats and fears of fresh political turmoil nearly three decades after war ravaged the Balkan nation. 

The country is torn between secessionist Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croats demanding greater autonomy, while Muslim Bosniaks calling for a more egalitarian state appear to be chasing little more than a pipedream.  

For more than two decades, the impoverished Balkan state has been governed by a dysfunctional administrative system born out of the 1995 Dayton Agreement.

And while the accords may have succeeded in ending the war in the 1990s, the country has withered amid political paralysis ever since.

Analysts have warned that Bosnia is sinking ever deeper into troubled waters with divisions along ethnic lines appearing to grow even further on the eve of elections. 

“Bosnia-Herzegovina is experiencing the most serious political crisis since the signing of the peace agreement,” Ranko Mavrak, a Sarajevo-based political analyst, told AFP. 

“The ethnic divisions are so deep that they are now a real danger to Bosnia’s survival and its integrity,” he added.

Bosnia is divided between a Serb entity — the Republika Srpska (RS) — and a Muslim-Croat federation linked by a weak central government.

With Bosnia’s three main groups rarely mixing in the wake of the war, ethnic political parties have long exploited the country’s fault lines in a bid to maintain power, driving hundreds of thousands abroad in search of better opportunities. 

“It’s a beautiful, rich country and we could move forward with even a minimum of understanding,” said Salko Hasanefendic, 70, a business owner from Sarajevo. 

“If we raise our children today in such a nationalist context, we can only expect to have new nationalists in 40 years,” he told AFP.

Amid the gloom, voters will cast ballots in a dizzying array of contests Sunday, including for the three members of Bosnia’s tripartite presidency, the deputies of the central parliament and a raft of local races in the two separate entities. 

With little to no polling data to rely on, analysts say incumbents and nationalist parties are likely to dominate many of the contests, including longtime Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik, who is running for the presidency of the RS.

For months, Dodik has been stoking tensions amid frequent calls for Bosnia’s Serbs to separate even further from the country’s central institutions.  

“This situation is like two brothers who don’t like each other,” Rajko, a retiree and Dodik supporter who did disclose his surname, told AFP before a recent campaign rally.

“It is better that they do not live together,” he added, echoing a common refrain said by Dodik.

Amid the calls for secession, there are many who appear happy to see their Serb countrymen leave.

“Dodik and those like him can go to another country that they find more beautiful,” said Bosnia’s former co-president Bakir Izetbegovic during a recent rally.

Izetbegovic— the son of the first president of independent Bosnia—is running for a third term as the country’s Bosniak president but is facing stiff competition from 46-year-old history professor Denis Becirovic.  

Backed by 11 opposition parties, Becirovic is vowing to fight for a “pro-European and united” Bosnia.

To add to the growing divide, many of the country’s Catholic Croats have been pleading for greater autonomy or electoral reforms during the run-up to the polls, with the leading nationalist party HDZ threatening to boycott the contest for months.

Thanks to their vast numerical advantage in the Muslim-Croat federation, Bosniaks hold de facto control over who can be elected to lead the Croats at the presidential level.

HDZ and other Croat parties have been calling for a mechanism to allow the community to appoint their own representatives to the presidency and upper house — a move fiercely opposed by the federation’s ruling Bosniak party.

Fears are growing of potential turmoil after the polls if the incumbent Croat co-president Zeljko Komsic — who is widely reviled by all Croat parties — is reelected following repeated threats by nationalists, who say they are prepared to widen boycotts at government institutions.

“At the moment, there is no sign the situation will stabilize in Bosnia,” said Mavrak, the analyst. “There is no indication at the moment that it is possible to reach a compromise.” 

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Latvian PM’s New Unity Party Ahead in Vote, Exit Poll Shows

The center-right New Unity party of Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins was set to win Saturday’s national election, an exit poll showed, after a campaign dominated by security concerns following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

If confirmed, the result should mean Latvia remains a leading voice alongside its Baltic neighbors Lithuania and Estonia in pushing the European Union for a decisive stance against Russia.

But it could widen a rift between the country’s Latvian majority and its Russian-speaking minority over their place in society, amid widespread national anger over Moscow’s actions in Ukraine.

The first Latvian head of government to serve through a full four-year term, Karins, a 57-year-old dual U.S. and Latvian citizen, has benefited from his Moscow policy, which included restricting the entry of Russian citizens traveling from Russia and Belarus.

“We have known Russia’s politics for years, we had been trying to warn our neighbors for years before the war started,” Karins told reporters after exit polls were published.

“We will continue to invest in our own defense … to ensure that Latvia and the Baltic region remains as secure in the future as it is today.” 

A LETA/LSM exit poll showed New Unity at 22.5%, twice the number of votes as its nearest competitor, the United List of smaller parties. 

The Greens and Farmers Union, a coalition of conservative groups closely knit around Aivars Lembergs, the long-term mayor of Ventspils who was put on a U.S. sanctions list for alleged corruption in 2019, was in third place with 10.9%. 

Exit polls showed falling support for parties popular with Latvia’s Russian-speaking minority, which makes up about a quarter of the country’s population of 1.9 million. 

The left-leaning Harmony party saw its support decline to single digits, with observers saying this was driven in part by ethnic Latvian voters turning away. Some Russian speakers were also disappointed by the party leadership criticizing the Kremlin over Ukraine.  

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How Displaced Ukrainians in Poland Find Work While Benefiting Its Economy

Poland, far from being overwhelmed by the hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians seeking refuge from Russia’s invasion of their country, is seeing its economy grow, according to economists.

The latest available figures from early August show about half of the working-age people who fled Ukraine for Poland are now employed.

In an interview with VOA, World Bank economist Reena Badiani-Magnusson, who specializes in the region, called the employment statistics for the temporarily displaced people, or TDPs, released by the Polish government “impressive.”

Badiani-Magnusson quotes a National Bank of Poland study that found between 2013 and 2018, during the first wave of Ukrainian migration, the presence of Ukrainian migrants in the country had a .5% positive impact on growth.

“On top of that, we’ve done some analysis of the current crisis, and we find that should 500,000 Ukrainian displaced people be integrated into the labor market successfully, we anticipate a medium-term impact on the growth of 1.5%,” she said.

Experts interviewed by VOA said there are three main reasons why the “refugee crisis” quickly filled the Polish market with needed labor. First, Ukrainians who arrived in Poland, including many mothers with children, had high professional qualifications and wanted to work. Second, Polish authorities quickly removed most barriers to Ukrainian TDP employment. And third, the sizeable Ukrainian diaspora facilitated the adjustment and labor engagement of the newly arrived compatriots fleeing the war.

Ukrainians working below their qualifications

For many newly arrived Ukrainian women, says Ludmila Dymitrow, a coordinator at the Information Center for Foreigners in Krakow, low-skilled work is only the first step.

“We explain that even if you had a good job and a high status in your homeland, you could find it here, too, but start with something simpler. A good start can begin in different ways, even from the checkout in a store. Learn the language, and life will give you other opportunities.”

One of many Ukrainian TDPs in Krakow, Olena Kurta, a mother of two, cleans hotel rooms. She used to teach law in the city of Horlivka, in the Russia-supported so-called Donetsk People’s Republic in 2014, and later opened and ran a daycare in Kryvyi Rih.

“I want to learn the language and find another job. I haven’t decided what I want to do. I have to start everything from the beginning,” said Kurta.

Tatyana Potapova, another Ukrainian woman, came to Krakow from the village of Lyptsi near Kharkiv, captured by Russians in the early days of the invasion. In her 60s and a chemist by education and employment, she enrolled in Polish-language classes as soon as she arrived.

“I imagine that I can work as a concierge in some institution. It is my dream. I am willing even to work in a store, but preferably not in a grocery store,” said Potapova in an interview with VOA.

Polish authorities provide immediate job assistance

On March 12, 2022, the Polish parliament passed a law on assistance to Ukrainian citizens, which gave the TDPs from Ukraine the right to stay legally in Poland for 18 months and access its health care system, education, social services and labor market.

The government and local authorities assist Ukrainian TDPs in finding employment. For example, the provincial Employment Administration helps connect job seekers with employers. It also began some programs, available only to Polish citizens and Ukrainian TDPs, that included financing 85% of the cost of job training, said its director. 

The administration sent their representative to the Center for Foreigners, located in the Krakow shopping mall, to help job seekers find opportunities and apply for vacancies.

Badiani-Magnusson points to a comprehensive approach to facilitating access of Ukrainian women to the labor market.

“The Polish government and society need to be recognized and commended for their generous and open-armed support to the populations arriving, the speed and rapidity at which populations that wanted to work were able to have registered temporary protection” that provided services that allowed to integrate them into the labor market, said the economist.

Ukrainian diaspora helps new arrivals find jobs

Maciej Bukowski, president of the Warsaw-based research institute Wise-Europa, draws attention to another aspect – before the arrival of a new wave of TDPs after February 24, Ukrainians were already in Poland, arriving especially after 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea, and instigated and supported aggression in Donbas.

The presence of Ukrainians helped absorb the sudden and significant wave of new refugees from Ukraine.

Barriers for Ukrainians in the Polish labor market

Still, obstacles to the employment of the Ukrainian TDPs remain. The language barrier is one of them. Even though Ukrainian and Polish are linguistically close, it still takes time and effort to be able to speak Polish fluently.

The Zustricz Foundation, an organization of Ukrainians in Krakow, offers classes for Polish-language learners, one of the popular ways to assist Ukrainian TDPs.

A second barrier is the need to care for children. Almost half of those who arrived from Ukraine after February 24 and remained in Poland (600,000) are children.

Badiani-Magnusson of the World Bank points to the need to find employment that matches the qualifications of the Ukrainian job seekers. Zustricz Foundation founder Aleksandra Zapolska agrees – there is still a need to connect employers and job seekers, especially among the most qualified.

“In the medical field, there is a great need for nurses and doctors; for example, there is a shortage of psychiatrists. On the other hand, doctors do not fully know where to turn because not every hospital is interested at that moment; there is no such path for them to meet,” she explained.

The World Bank also says that Ukrainian entrepreneurs need help with adaptation to Polish legislation and access to finance. “You can imagine that you can have a very successful business in Ukraine, and you’d like to be able to bring those same skills into the Polish labor market,” says Badiani-Magnusson.

An uncertain outcome

Zapolska points to another problem – uncertainty about the future.

Will these people return to Ukraine? Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said Ukrainians will return with the liberation of Ukrainian territories; the critical moment here will be the liberation of Kherson. That is why, he said, it is essential to end the war in such a way that Russia cannot continue posing a threat to Ukrainian territories.

“Many Ukrainians do not know whether they will return, and their decision often changes,” said Zapolska.

According to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), more than 7 million Ukrainian TDPs remain in European countries – 1.3 million in Poland. Since the start of the full-scale offensive, more than 6 million people have crossed the border from Ukraine to Poland.

VOA’s Georgian Service contributed to this report.

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Latvia’s General Election Tests Loyalties of Ethnic-Russian Voters

Neighboring Russia’s attack on Ukraine helped shape the general election held Saturday in Latvia, where divisions among the Baltic country’s sizable ethnic-Russian minority are likely to influence the makeup of parliament and war-induced energy concerns will preoccupy the next government.

Several polls showed the center-right New Unity party of Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins emerging as the top vote-getter, with up to 20% support.

Karins, who became head of Latvia’s government in January 2019, currently leads a four-party minority coalition that along with New Unity includes the center-right National Alliance, the centrist Development/For!, and the Conservatives.

A total of 19 parties have over 1,800 candidates running in the election, but only around eight parties are expected to break through the 5% threshold required to secure a place in the 100-seat Saeima legislature.

Karins, a 57-year-old dual Latvian-U.S. citizen born in Wilmington, Delaware, told Latvian media outlets that it would be easiest to continue with the same coalition government if New Unity wins. He has excluded any cooperation with pro-Kremlin parties.

Support for parties catering to the ethnic-Russian minority that makes up over 25% of Latvia’s 1.9 million population is expected to be mixed; a share of loyal voters have abandoned them – for various reasons – since Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine.

The election is likely to be the death knell for the opposition Harmony party, the popularity of which has steadily declined.

The Moscow-friendly party traditionally served as an umbrella for most of Latvia’s Russian-speaking voters, including Belarusians and Ukrainians. In the 2018 election, Harmony received almost 20% of the vote, the most of any single party, but was excluded by other parties from entering the government.

However, Harmony’s immediate and staunch opposition to the Russian invasion of Ukraine caused many voters who still back Russian President Vladimir Putin to desert it. Those opposed to the war, meanwhile, have tended to move toward Latvia’s mainstream parties, all of which also took positions against the invasion.

A recent poll by Latvian public broadcaster LSM showed Harmony trailing in fifth place with 5.1% support.

“I think the Russophonic part of the population is very fragmented,” Pauls Raudseps, a columnist at Latvian news magazine IR, told The Associated Press. “You can’t say it’s unified on anything. Some part is pro-Putin. But what we’ve seen is that the war in general has changed attitudes. And it has happened fairly rapidly.”

Long lines were reported outside polling stations in several places in the country Saturday, including the capital, Riga. Many said Russia’s aggression in Ukraine affected voter attitudes.

“I think that people are getting more active, and as you see, there is a queue already. So, hopefully some of the pro-Russians have switched to the more European parties now … We can’t really say war is a positive thing,” IT engineer Ratios Shovels, 38, said at a Riga district polling place.

Elena Dadukina, a 43-year-old lawyer said, said she wasn’t sure if the healthy turnout was “due to the war or whether people want greater responsibility in choosing their candidates because of how they will influence our domestic politics.”

Since Russia’s war on Ukraine started in February, Latvian officials have banned Russians from entering the country with tourist visas and dismantled a prominent Soviet monument in Riga.

This week, the government announced a state of emergency at certain Latvian border areas as a precaution following Russia’s partial military mobilization. Like Baltic neighbors Estonia and Lithuania, Latvia is refusing to grant political asylum to Russian military reservists escaping conscription.

Latvia, which joined the European Union and NATO in 2004, also plans to reintroduce military conscription next year after a hiatus of over 15 years.

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Turkey Rejects Russia’s Annexation of Ukrainian Territory

Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said on Saturday it rejects Russia’s annexation of four regions in Ukraine, adding the decision is a “grave violation” of international law.

Turkey, a NATO member, has conducted a diplomatic balancing act since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. Ankara opposes Western sanctions on Russia and has close ties with both Moscow and Kyiv, its Black Sea neighbors. It has also criticized.

Russia’s invasion and sent armed drones to Ukraine.

The Turkish ministry said on Saturday it had not recognized Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, adding that it rejects Russia’s decision to annex the four regions, Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia.

“This decision, which constitutes a grave violation of the established principles of international law, cannot be accepted,” the ministry said.

“We reiterate our support to the resolution of this war, the severity of which keeps growing, based on a just peace that will be reached through negotiations,” it added.

Russian President Vladimir Putin proclaimed the annexation of the regions on Friday, promising Moscow would triumph in its “special military operation” even as he faced a potentially serious new military reversal.

His proclamation came after Russia held what it called referendums in occupied areas of Ukraine. Western governments and Kyiv said the votes breached international law and were coercive and non-representative.

The United States, Britain and Canada announced new sanctions in response.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Friday his country had submitted a fast-track application to join the NATO military alliance and that he would not hold peace talks with Russia while Putin was still president.

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Russia Accused of ‘Kidnapping’ Head of Ukraine Nuclear Plant

Ukraine’s nuclear power provider accused Russia on Saturday of “kidnapping” the head of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, a facility now occupied by Russian troops.

Russian forces seized the director-general of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, Ihor Murashov, around 4 p.m. Friday, Ukrainian state nuclear company Energoatom said.

Energoatom said Russian troops stopped Murashov’s car, blindfolded him and then took him to an undisclosed location.

“His detention by (Russia) jeopardizes the safety of Ukraine and Europe’s largest nuclear power plant,” said Energoatom President Petro Kotin said.

Kotin demanded Russia immediately release Murashov.

Russia did not immediately acknowledge seizing the plant director.

The Zaporizhzhia plant repeatedly has been caught in the crossfire of the war in Ukraine. Ukrainian technicians continued running it after Russian troops seized the power station. The plant’s last reactor was shut down in September amid ongoing shelling near the facility.

The International Atomic Energy Agency, which has staff at the plant, did not immediately acknowledge Energoatom’s claim of Murashov’s capture by the Russians.

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At UN, Russia, US Trade Barbs Over Nord Stream Damage

The United States and Russia traded barbs and accusations at a U.N. Security Council meeting Friday about the apparent sabotage to a major gas pipeline that Russia uses to supply Europe.

Between Sept. 26 and 29, explosions caused four leaks in the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines that run along the floor of the Baltic Sea.

The United States, European Union, NATO and Russia all agree the damage and gas leaks point to sabotage, but they disagree about who is the likely perpetrator.

Russia requested the Security Council meeting to discuss the pipeline incident.

“It’s quite clear to us that carrying out of sabotage of such complexity and scale is beyond the power of ordinary terrorists,” Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said at the meeting. “We consider the actions to damage the gas pipelines to be deliberate sabotage against a crucial element of the Russian Federation’s energy infrastructure.”

He reiterated Kremlin talking points, saying that it could not have happened without the involvement of a state or state-controlled actors, and that Moscow would “certainly identify” the perpetrators.

“I hope, colleagues, that everyone in this room is aware of the dangerous brink to which those who committed this sabotage are leading us,” he said.

Assessing blame

Nebenzia implied that the United States had the most to gain by damaging the pipeline, and directly asked his U.S. counterpart if he could confirm that Washington was not involved.

“Let me be clear: The United States categorically denies any involvement in this incident, and we reject any assertions saying the contrary,” U.S. envoy Richard Mills responded.

Mills accused Russia of using the Security Council as a platform to launch conspiracy theories and disinformation. He noted that since Russia invaded Ukraine seven months ago, it has repeatedly damaged and destroyed civilian infrastructure there.

“If there is any country, perhaps, that has a record of doing what we are discussing here today, it’s not the United States,” Mills noted.

Some European officials and energy experts have suggested that Russia likely carried out the attacks to benefit from higher energy prices and to create more economic chaos in Europe for its support of Ukraine in fending off Russia’s war. But other officials urged caution in assessing blame until investigators determine what happened.

The damage to the pipelines happened off the shores of Sweden and Denmark. Ahead of Friday’s meeting, their ambassadors sent a joint letter to the Security Council president. They said at least two underwater detonations occurred on Sept. 26, damaging pipelines on Nord Stream 1 and 2 and causing “major leaks” of natural gas several hundred meters wide.

The cause was likely two massive explosions, “probably corresponding to an explosive load of several hundred kilos,” which were “the result of a deliberate act.” The blasts were so powerful, they said, that they measured 2.3 and 2.1 on the Richter scale, which is used to gauge earthquakes.

They warned that the gas plumes pose a risk to both sea and air traffic, and they instituted a navigation warning to ships to maintain a distance of at least 5 nautical miles, or 10 kilometers, from the leaks.

Danish, Swedish and German authorities are carrying out a joint investigation. Russia’s ambassador said Moscow would only accept the results of an independent investigation that included Russian experts.

NATO

On Thursday, NATO vowed retaliation for attacks on the critical infrastructure of its 30 member states.

“Any deliberate attack against allies’ critical infrastructure would be met with a united and determined response,” NATO ambassadors said in a statement.

The bloc said the four ruptures in the Nord Stream pipelines were of “deep concern” and agreed that current information pointed to “deliberate, reckless and irresponsible acts of sabotage.”

Two of the leaks are on the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, where the flow of gas was recently halted, while the other two are on Nord Stream 2, which has never been opened.

Although they were not in operation, both pipelines were filled with methane gas, which has escaped and is bubbling to the surface.

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US Slaps Fresh Sanctions on Russia for Its Annexation

The Biden administration Friday imposed fresh sanctions and export controls on entities and individuals inside and outside Russia that provide support to President Vladimir Putin’s government, following his annexation of four regions of Ukraine. White House Bureau Chief Patsy Widakuswara reports.

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UN Weekly Roundup: September 24-30, 2022 

Editor’s note: Here is a fast take on what the international community has been up to this past week, as seen from the United Nations perch. 

Ukraine’s Zelenskyy briefs Security Council

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told the U.N. Security Council Tuesday that Russia must be completely isolated internationally for its sham referendums in his country. In a video briefing to the council, he warned such a move would destroy the possibility of any peace talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Zelenskyy to UN: Isolate Russia

On Friday, President Putin held a ceremony in Moscow to officially annex the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk in Ukraine’s east and Kherson and Zaporizhzhia in its south. Later in the day, Russia used its veto at the U.N. Security Council to block a resolution brought by the United States and Albania condemning the sham referendums and Russia’s illegal attempt to annex Ukrainian territory. Brazil, China, Gabon and India abstained in the vote.

As this article was published Friday afternoon, the Security Council was about to be briefed on leaks that appeared earlier this week in the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines that carry gas from Russia to Europe. Russia requested the briefing. Ahead of the meeting, the U.N. ambassadors of Sweden and Denmark sent a joint letter to the U.N. Security Council president. They said two massive explosions “probably corresponding to an explosive load of several hundred kilos” caused the leaks. They assess “that those explosions are the result of a deliberate act.” The two countries are investigating.

More on the leaks from the Nord Stream pipeline here:

Mystery Leaks from Pipelines Bubble Up in Baltic Sea

Human rights office calls for release of Russian anti-draft protesters

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military call-up last week has sent tens of thousands of Russian men fleeing the country. Thousands of Russians have also taken to the streets in several cities to protest the mobilization of 300,000 men to fight in Ukraine. As of Wednesday, nearly 2,400 protesters had reportedly been arrested. The U.N. human rights office is calling for their release.

UN Calls for Release of Russian Draft Protesters

Secretary-General calls for prompt investigation into death of Iranian woman

Secretary-General Antonio-Guterres called Tuesday for a “prompt, impartial and effective” investigation into the death of Mahsa Amini. The 22-year-old woman died in Iranian police custody after she was detained for not covering her hair properly. Massive street protests have erupted in more than a dozen Iranian cities and around the globe following her death, to which security forces have reacted with force. Guterres’ office said he stressed to Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi during a meeting on September 22 the need to respect human rights, including freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association. The U.N. human rights office also condemned the unnecessary and disproportionate use of force against the protesters.

UN Rights Officials Condemn Violent Crackdown on Protesters in Iran

Security Council considering new sanctions on Haitian gang leaders

Mexico and the United States are working on a draft resolution to sanction the criminal gangs who have been seeking to exploit a political vacuum since the assassination of President Jovenel Moise at his home in the capital on July 7, 2021. Haiti’s foreign minister welcomed the action at a council meeting on Monday. The gangs have paralyzed the Caribbean nation, terrorizing civilians, blocking main roads and looting aid warehouses.

UN Security Council Considering Sanctions on Haitian Gang Leaders

In brief 

— Secretary-General Guterres deplored a powerful suicide bombing Friday that ripped through a packed classroom in Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, killing and injuring more than 60 mostly female students of the Hazara Shia minority. Guterres said the Taliban must “protect the rights of all Afghans — regardless of ethnicity or gender — to access education safely and securely.” UNICEF said in a statement that schools must be “havens of peace” and the U.N. mission in Afghanistan said “education must be prejudice and violence-free.” There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack.

— The U.N. chief also condemned Monday’s deadly attack on a convoy carrying vital supplies to the town of Djibo, in Burkina Faso. The attack happened near Gaskinde, in Burkina’s Sahel region. Eleven troops, who were among those escorting the aid convoy, were killed and dozens of civilians are missing. Armed groups affiliated with al-Qaida and Islamic State terror groups operate in the area. Burkina Faso is in dire humanitarian condition, with nearly a fifth of the population in need of assistance. As of June, 1.5 million people were displaced from increasing insecurity in the country.

— The General Assembly on Tuesday approved U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi for another 2.5-year term. Grandi served his first five-year term from January 2016-2020. When the secretary-general wanted to recommend his reappointment for a second five-year term, Grandi suggested a shorter one, but has since agreed to extend to the full five years. His tenure will now continue through December 31, 2025.

— The World Health Organization said Tuesday that cases and fatalities are rising quickly from a highly contagious strain of the Ebola virus in Uganda. On September 20, WHO declared an outbreak from the Sudan virus (SUDV) in the country. It is the first time in 10 years that strain has been detected in Uganda. As of September 25, WHO recorded 36 confirmed and probable cases in three districts. There have been 23 deaths.

— Thursday was the International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste. The U.N. Environment Program says more than 930 million tons of food waste were generated in 2019 — about 20% of available food. The waste levels are similar in rich and poor countries alike. Food waste has serious implications for global hunger, but also for climate change. The U.N. says the food waste is responsible for 8-10% of total global greenhouse gas emissions.

Good news

On Tuesday, Ukraine surpassed the 5 million metric ton milestone via the Black Sea Grain Initiative, which has helped to start moving 20 million metric tons of grain that had been stuck for months in silos and on ships due to Russia’s blockade. By Friday, that number had reached 5.5 million metric tons. The grain and other food stuffs have been credited with gradually easing international food prices.

Quote of Note

“It flouts the purposes and principles of the United Nations. It is a dangerous escalation. It has no place in the modern world. It must not be accepted.”

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Thursday condemning Russia’s announced intention to officially annex the Ukrainian regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia. The Kremlin went ahead and did it on Friday anyway.

What we are watching next week

The U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva is expected to vote on a resolution presented by the United States condemning China’s human rights violations against Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang province. The move follows a report released by former High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet in the final minutes of her term, which concluded that there were “credible” allegations of widespread and serious abuses of the Uyghurs. China has been very vocal in saying the allegations are false.

Have you seen …

The giant mural brightening up the U.N. Dag Hammarskjold Library building? Renowned Brazilian street artist Eduardo Kobra completed it just ahead of the General Assembly high-level week. It is a gift of Brazil to the U.N. as part of the country’s 200-year independence commemorations. The mural of a man and a little girl holding a greened earth is about sustainable development. It will be on display till the end of the year.

 

your ad here

UN Weekly Roundup: September 24-30, 2022 

Editor’s note: Here is a fast take on what the international community has been up to this past week, as seen from the United Nations perch. 

Ukraine’s Zelenskyy briefs Security Council

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told the U.N. Security Council Tuesday that Russia must be completely isolated internationally for its sham referendums in his country. In a video briefing to the council, he warned such a move would destroy the possibility of any peace talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Zelenskyy to UN: Isolate Russia

On Friday, President Putin held a ceremony in Moscow to officially annex the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk in Ukraine’s east and Kherson and Zaporizhzhia in its south. Later in the day, Russia used its veto at the U.N. Security Council to block a resolution brought by the United States and Albania condemning the sham referendums and Russia’s illegal attempt to annex Ukrainian territory. Brazil, China, Gabon and India abstained in the vote.

As this article was published Friday afternoon, the Security Council was about to be briefed on leaks that appeared earlier this week in the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines that carry gas from Russia to Europe. Russia requested the briefing. Ahead of the meeting, the U.N. ambassadors of Sweden and Denmark sent a joint letter to the U.N. Security Council president. They said two massive explosions “probably corresponding to an explosive load of several hundred kilos” caused the leaks. They assess “that those explosions are the result of a deliberate act.” The two countries are investigating.

More on the leaks from the Nord Stream pipeline here:

Mystery Leaks from Pipelines Bubble Up in Baltic Sea

Human rights office calls for release of Russian anti-draft protesters

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military call-up last week has sent tens of thousands of Russian men fleeing the country. Thousands of Russians have also taken to the streets in several cities to protest the mobilization of 300,000 men to fight in Ukraine. As of Wednesday, nearly 2,400 protesters had reportedly been arrested. The U.N. human rights office is calling for their release.

UN Calls for Release of Russian Draft Protesters

Secretary-General calls for prompt investigation into death of Iranian woman

Secretary-General Antonio-Guterres called Tuesday for a “prompt, impartial and effective” investigation into the death of Mahsa Amini. The 22-year-old woman died in Iranian police custody after she was detained for not covering her hair properly. Massive street protests have erupted in more than a dozen Iranian cities and around the globe following her death, to which security forces have reacted with force. Guterres’ office said he stressed to Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi during a meeting on September 22 the need to respect human rights, including freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association. The U.N. human rights office also condemned the unnecessary and disproportionate use of force against the protesters.

UN Rights Officials Condemn Violent Crackdown on Protesters in Iran

Security Council considering new sanctions on Haitian gang leaders

Mexico and the United States are working on a draft resolution to sanction the criminal gangs who have been seeking to exploit a political vacuum since the assassination of President Jovenel Moise at his home in the capital on July 7, 2021. Haiti’s foreign minister welcomed the action at a council meeting on Monday. The gangs have paralyzed the Caribbean nation, terrorizing civilians, blocking main roads and looting aid warehouses.

UN Security Council Considering Sanctions on Haitian Gang Leaders

In brief 

— Secretary-General Guterres deplored a powerful suicide bombing Friday that ripped through a packed classroom in Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, killing and injuring more than 60 mostly female students of the Hazara Shia minority. Guterres said the Taliban must “protect the rights of all Afghans — regardless of ethnicity or gender — to access education safely and securely.” UNICEF said in a statement that schools must be “havens of peace” and the U.N. mission in Afghanistan said “education must be prejudice and violence-free.” There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack.

— The U.N. chief also condemned Monday’s deadly attack on a convoy carrying vital supplies to the town of Djibo, in Burkina Faso. The attack happened near Gaskinde, in Burkina’s Sahel region. Eleven troops, who were among those escorting the aid convoy, were killed and dozens of civilians are missing. Armed groups affiliated with al-Qaida and Islamic State terror groups operate in the area. Burkina Faso is in dire humanitarian condition, with nearly a fifth of the population in need of assistance. As of June, 1.5 million people were displaced from increasing insecurity in the country.

— The General Assembly on Tuesday approved U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi for another 2.5-year term. Grandi served his first five-year term from January 2016-2020. When the secretary-general wanted to recommend his reappointment for a second five-year term, Grandi suggested a shorter one, but has since agreed to extend to the full five years. His tenure will now continue through December 31, 2025.

— The World Health Organization said Tuesday that cases and fatalities are rising quickly from a highly contagious strain of the Ebola virus in Uganda. On September 20, WHO declared an outbreak from the Sudan virus (SUDV) in the country. It is the first time in 10 years that strain has been detected in Uganda. As of September 25, WHO recorded 36 confirmed and probable cases in three districts. There have been 23 deaths.

— Thursday was the International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste. The U.N. Environment Program says more than 930 million tons of food waste were generated in 2019 — about 20% of available food. The waste levels are similar in rich and poor countries alike. Food waste has serious implications for global hunger, but also for climate change. The U.N. says the food waste is responsible for 8-10% of total global greenhouse gas emissions.

Good news

On Tuesday, Ukraine surpassed the 5 million metric ton milestone via the Black Sea Grain Initiative, which has helped to start moving 20 million metric tons of grain that had been stuck for months in silos and on ships due to Russia’s blockade. By Friday, that number had reached 5.5 million metric tons. The grain and other food stuffs have been credited with gradually easing international food prices.

Quote of Note

“It flouts the purposes and principles of the United Nations. It is a dangerous escalation. It has no place in the modern world. It must not be accepted.”

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Thursday condemning Russia’s announced intention to officially annex the Ukrainian regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia. The Kremlin went ahead and did it on Friday anyway.

What we are watching next week

The U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva is expected to vote on a resolution presented by the United States condemning China’s human rights violations against Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang province. The move follows a report released by former High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet in the final minutes of her term, which concluded that there were “credible” allegations of widespread and serious abuses of the Uyghurs. China has been very vocal in saying the allegations are false.

Have you seen …

The giant mural brightening up the U.N. Dag Hammarskjold Library building? Renowned Brazilian street artist Eduardo Kobra completed it just ahead of the General Assembly high-level week. It is a gift of Brazil to the U.N. as part of the country’s 200-year independence commemorations. The mural of a man and a little girl holding a greened earth is about sustainable development. It will be on display till the end of the year.

 

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