Category: Europe

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Life in Donbas: ‘We Would Like to Live a Little Bit Longer’

The prolonged roar of Grad rockets can be heard as locals in the east Ukrainian town of Siversk crowd around a van selling essentials such as bread, sausages and gas for camp stoves.

“Everyone is suffering. All of us here are trying to survive,” said Nina, a 64-year-old retiree, pushing a bicycle.

“There’s no water, no gas, no electricity. … We have been living for three months now under shelling. It’s like we’re in the Stone Ages,” she said.

The small town of mainly village-style single-story houses on dusty roads has become a new frontier in the war between Russia and Ukraine.

Ukrainian troops have given up defending the ravaged city of Sievierodonetsk and now face a battle with Russians seeking to encircle neighboring Lysychansk.

Siversk is the last major town en route to Lysychansk, albeit along roads that are severely damaged and under shelling and has Russian forces encroaching from the north and south.

Local people, many of them retirees, complain they feel abandoned by Kyiv.

“The town has really died. And we would like to live a little bit longer,” said Marina, 63, a retired factory worker.

“They’re just basically killing us. It’s dangerous everywhere,” Nina said. “No one needs us, there’s no help from the government. Ukraine has forgotten about us.”

‘Batteries are trending’

Military vehicles including U.S. Humvees and latest-generation U.S. and Soviet-style howitzers, tanks, aid trucks and ambulances constantly pass back and forth through Siversk.

“All day they’ve been coming,” said a policeman at a nearby checkpoint, adding that three vehicles carrying evacuees have gone through “with mainly old people, women and children — there is movement today.”

Driving onto higher ground, dirty smoke rises from a fresh Ukrainian missile launch.

The street van in Siversk is a commercial operation, bringing goods including Polish food from the city of Dnipro, some 300 kilometers away, locals say.

“It’s expensive, of course,” Nina said.

There are also deliveries of humanitarian aid. AFP journalists saw three Red Cross trucks drive up to municipal offices and unload boxes of food including sunflower oil, tea and buckwheat, as well as hygiene items such as razors.

Municipal official Svitlana Severin asked the Red Cross staff to bring more candles, matches and flashlights.

“Batteries are trending,” she said. Flashlights “need power and we don’t know when we’ll get electricity.”

The boxes are put in a storage room. Severin says that in order to minimize crowds, they stagger their handouts, with specific days each month for each social group.

An older woman comes up to the vans indignantly asking why she cannot access the aid and asking for heart medicine.

‘Candles needed’

There are also local initiatives.

Social worker Svetlana Meloshchenko says she and her helpers go round distributing water in milk containers and have given out candles and washing liquids outside the local shop.

“Candles are needed — people spend nights in their cellar,” she said.

“There are a lot of small children, old people, disabled people,” she added, as well as “a lot of people with diabetes.”

“Medicines are supplied to hospitals, but not enough for all,” she said.

Russian troops are firing artillery on the area around Siversk, according to Ukraine’s General Staff.

Nearby, a group of Ukrainian soldiers sprawl in a disused petrol station, eating bread and sausage, their semiautomatic rifles beside them. They say they are going back and forth to the front, without giving details.

“Our cause is the right one,” insisted one young soldier, while another older, bearded man said: “We don’t look at the news.”

“When there’s really good news, we’ll definitely hear about it,” he said, smiling. 

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Suspected Terror-Linked Shooting In Oslo Kills 2, Wounds 14

An overnight shooting in the Norwegian capital, Oslo, that killed two people and wounded more than a dozen is being investigated as a possible terrorist attack, Norwegian police said Saturday.

In a news conference Saturday, police officials said the man arrested after the shooting was a Norwegian citizen of Iranian origin who was previously known to police but not for major crimes.

They said they had seized two firearms in connection with the attack: a handgun and an automatic weapon.

The events occurred outside the London Pub, a bar popular with the city’s LGBTQ community, hours before Oslo’s Pride parade was due to take place. Organizers canceled all Pride events planned for Saturday on the advice of police.

“Oslo Pride therefore urges everyone who planned to participate or watch the parade to not show up. All events in connection with Oslo Prides are canceled,” organizers said on the official Facebook page of the event.

Police spokesperson Tore Barstad said 14 people were receiving medical treatment, eight of whom have been hospitalized.

Olav Roenneberg, a journalist from Norwegian public broadcaster NRK, said he witnessed the shooting.

“I saw a man arrive at the site with a bag. He picked up a weapon and started shooting,” Roenneberg told NRK. “First I thought it was an air gun. Then the glass of the bar next door was shattered and I understood I had to run for cover.”

Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere said in a Facebook post that “the shooting outside London Pub in Oslo tonight was a cruel and deeply shocking attack on innocent people.”

He said that while the motive was unclear, the shooting had caused fear and grief in the LGBTQ community.

“We all stand by you,” Gahr Stoere wrote.

Christian Bredeli, who was at the bar, told Norwegian newspaper VG that he hid on the fourth floor with a group of about 10 people until he was told it was safe to come out.

“Many were fearing for their lives,” he said. “On our way out we saw several injured people, so we understood that something serious had happened.”

Norwegian broadcaster TV2 showed footage of people running down Oslo streets in panic as shots rang out in the background.

Norway is a relatively safe country but has experienced violent attacks by right-wing extremists, including one of the worst mass shootings in Europe in 2011, when a gunman killed 69 people on the island of Utoya after setting off a bomb in Oslo that left eight dead.

In 2019, another right-wing extremist killed his stepsister and then opened fire in a mosque but was overpowered before anyone there was injured.

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Romanian Port Struggles to Handle Flow of Ukrainian Grain

With Ukraine’s seaports blockaded or captured by Russian forces, neighboring Romania’s Black Sea port of Constanta has emerged as a main conduit for the war-torn country’s grain exports amid a growing world food crisis.

It’s Romania’s biggest port, home to Europe’s fastest-loading grain terminal, and has processed nearly a million tons of grain from Ukraine — one of the world’s biggest exporters of wheat and corn — since the Feb. 24 invasion.

But port operators say that maintaining, let alone increasing, the volume they handle could soon be impossible without concerted European Union support and investment.

“If we want to keep helping Ukrainian farmers, we need help to increase our handling capacities,” said Dan Dolghin, director of cereal operations at the Black Sea port’s main Comvex operator.

“No single operator can invest in infrastructure that will become redundant once the war ends,” he added.

Comvex can process up to 72,000 metric tons of cereals per day. That and Constanta’s proximity by land to Ukraine, and by sea to the Suez Canal, make it the best current route for Ukrainian agricultural exports. Other alternatives include road and rail shipments across Ukraine’s western border into Poland and its Baltic Sea ports.

Just days into the Russian invasion, Comvex invested in a new unloading facility, anticipating that the neighboring country would have to reroute its agricultural exports.

This enabled the port over the past four months to ship close to a million tons of Ukrainian grain, most of it arriving by barge down the Danube River. But with 20 times that amount still blocked in Ukraine and the summer harvest season fast approaching in Romania itself and other countries that use Constanta for their exports, Dolghin said it’s likely the pace of Ukrainian grain shipping through his port will slow.

“As the summer harvest in Romania gathers momentum, all port operators will turn to Romanian cereals,” he warned.

Ukraine’s deputy agricultural minister, Markian Dmytrasevych, is also worried.

In an address to the European Parliament earlier this month, Dmytrasevych said that when Constanta operators turn to European grain suppliers in the summer “it will further complicate the export of Ukrainian products.”

Romanian and other EU officials have also voiced concern, lining up in recent weeks to pledge support.

On a recent visit to Kyiv with the leaders of France, Germany and Italy, Romanian president Klaus Iohannis said his country was seeking possible ways of overcoming the “weaponization of grain exports by Russia.”

“As a relevant part of the solution to the food insecurity generated by Russia, Romania is actively involved in facilitating the transit of Ukraine exports and in serving as a hub for grain,” to reach traditional markets in the Middle East, North Africa and parts of Asia, he said.

The solutions discussed in Kyiv, Iohannis said, included speeding up Danube barge shipments, increasing the speed of their unloading at Romanian ports, new border crossings for trucks with Ukrainian grain and reopening a decommissioned railway linking Romania with Ukraine and Moldova.

A Romanian analyst said finding alternative routes for Ukraine’s grain exports goes beyond private logistics companies or any single country, echoing Iohannis’s call in Kyiv for an international “coalition of the willing” to tackle the problem.

“The situation in Ukraine will not be solved soon; the conflict may end tomorrow but tensions will last. … That is why new transport routes must be considered and consolidated,” said George Vulcanescu.

He said that in that sense there are just three financially viable routes for Ukrainian exports — via Romania, Poland or the Baltic states.

However, he added, “port operators need financial support from Romanian authorities, but the funding should come from the European Union.”

Vulcanescu said a combination of fast and “minimal, not maximal” investment is needed.

“Big investment cannot be done quickly — we need to look for fast solutions for expanding the (existing) storage and handling capacities of Romanian ports,” he added. “If we want to help Ukraine now, we need to look for smaller investment to improve the infrastructure we already have.”

Comvex’s Dolghin said the operator wants to help as much as possible, but added: “We hope to see concrete action, not only statements in support of the port operators.”

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18 Migrants Died in Mass Crossing into Spanish Enclave, Morocco Says

Morocco said 18 migrants died trying to cross into Spain’s North African enclave of Melilla on Friday, after a violent two-hour skirmish between migrants and border officers that also led to scores of injuries.

About 2,000 migrants stormed a high fence that seals off the enclave. This led to clashes with security forces as more than 100 migrants managed to cross from Morocco into Melilla, Moroccan and Spanish authorities said.

Morocco’s Interior Ministry initially said five migrants had died in the border raid, some after falling from the fence surrounding Melilla and others in a crush, and that 76 migrants were injured. It later said an additional 13 had died.

Some 140 members of Moroccan security forces were also injured, it added, five seriously, though none of them died.

Over the past decade, Melilla and Ceuta, a second Spanish enclave also on Africa’s northern coast, have become magnets for mostly sub-Saharan migrants trying to get into Europe.

Friday’s attempt began about 6:40 a.m. in the face of resistance from Moroccan security forces.

Two hours later, more than 500 migrants began to enter Melilla, jumping over the roof of a border checkpoint after cutting through fencing with a bolt cutter, the Madrid government’s representative body there said in a statement.

Most were forced back, but about 130 men managed to reach the enclave and were being processed at its reception center for immigrants, it added.

Footage posted on social media showed large groups of African youths walking along roads around the border, celebrating entering Melilla, and the firing of what appeared to be tear gas by the authorities.

Spanish authorities said the border incursion led to 57 migrants and 49 Spanish police sustaining injuries.

‘Human trafficking mafias’

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez paid tribute to officers on both sides of the border for fighting off “a well-organized, violent assault” which he suggested was organized by “human trafficking mafias.”

He underscored the improvement in relations between Madrid and Rabat. In March, Spain recognized the position of Morocco toward the Western Sahara, a territory the North African nation claims as its own but where an Algeria-backed independence movement is demanding establishment of an autonomous state.

“I would like to thank the extraordinary cooperation we are having with the Kingdom of Morocco which demonstrates the need to have the best of relations,” he said.

AMDH Nador, a Moroccan human rights group, said the incursion came a day after migrants clashed with Moroccan security personnel attempting to clear camps they had set up in a forest near Melilla.

The watchdog’s head, Omar Naji, told Reuters that clash was part of an “intense crackdown” on migrants since Spanish and Moroccan forces resumed joint patrols and reinforced security measures in the area around the enclave.

The incursion was the first significant one since Spain adopted its more pro-Rabat stance over Western Sahara.

In the weeks of 2022 prior to that shift, migrant entries into the two enclaves had more than tripled compared with the same period of 2021.

In mid-2021, as many as 8,000 people swam into Ceuta or clambered over its fence over a couple of days, taking advantage of the apparent lifting of a security net on the Moroccan side of the border following a bilateral diplomatic spat.

 

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Vatican Praises US Court Decision on Abortion, Saying It Challenges World

The Vatican’s Academy for Life on Friday praised the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on abortion, saying it challenged the whole world to reflect on life issues. 

The Vatican department also said in a statement that the defense of human life could not be confined to individual rights because life is a matter of “broad social significance.” 

The U.S. Supreme Court took the dramatic step Friday of overturning the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that recognized a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion and legalized it nationwide. 

“The fact that a large country with a long democratic tradition has changed its position on this issue also challenges the whole world,” the Academy said in a statement. 

U.S. President Joe Biden, a lifelong Catholic, condemned the ruling, calling it a “sad day” for America and labeling the court’s conservatives “extreme.” 

Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, who heads the Pontifical Academy for Life, said the Court’s decision was a “powerful invitation to reflect” on the issue at a time when “Western society is losing passion for life. 

“By choosing life, our responsibility for the future of humanity is at stake,” Paglia said. 

 

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Ukraine, Moldova Hail EU Candidacy; Balkan States, Georgia Told to Wait 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy hailed the European Union’s decision to grant his country candidate status Friday, a key milestone in joining the bloc. Moldova was also granted accession candidate status.

EU officials described the move as historic but cautioned that both countries will have to make tough reforms before they become full members.

Historic

In a joint televised message to the Ukrainian people, Zelenskyy, flanked by the prime minister and the speaker of parliament, compared the EU decision to other historic moments in Ukraine’s history and said the process was irreversible.

“Today, Ukraine is fighting for its freedom and this war began just when Ukraine declared its right to freedom, to choosing its own future,” Zelenskyy said. “We saw [that future] in the European Union.”

Speaker of the Ukrainian parliament Ruslan Stefanchuk called the decision a powerful political message. “It will be heard by soldiers in the trenches, every family that was forced to flee the war abroad, everyone who helps bring our victory closer,” he said.

Reforms

EU leaders cautioned that the road to full membership for Ukraine and Moldova would not be easy.

“The countries all have to do homework before moving to the next stage of the accession process,” said EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen after the decision, referring to political and governmental reforms required before continuing the process.

On Thursday, von der Leyen expressed confidence that Ukraine and Moldova would “move as swiftly as possible and work as hard as possible to implement the necessary reforms, not just because they are required to move ahead in the European accession path, but, first and foremost, because these reforms are good for the countries.”

Those reforms will be difficult and will take time, says analyst Andi Hoxhaj, a fellow in European Union law at Britain’s University of Warwick.

“It’s about strengthening the rule of law and the judicial system. In addition, they would like to see a track record of applying an anti-oligarch law, meaning that they want to root out corruption as well as strengthen independent institutions,” Hoxhaj told VOA. “That will be a really challenging aspect.”

Border uncertainty

For now, Ukraine is focused on repelling Russia’s invasion in the east. The outcome of war will likely also determine the EU’s verdict on Ukrainian membership.

“Will they be able to allow for a big country like Ukraine in, which still would have a lot of problems when it comes to its borders?” Hoxhaj said.

Dashed hopes

Other former Soviet states are eyeing EU membership. Georgia’s hopes of joining Ukraine and Moldova were dashed as the EU demanded further reforms before granting the country candidacy status. Instead, the bloc said it formally recognized Georgia’s “European perspective.”

Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili nevertheless said it was an incredibly historic step. “We’re ready to work with determination over the next months to reach the candidate status,” Zourabichvili said.

North Macedonia has been a candidate for 17 years but its progress is being blocked by Bulgaria in a dispute over ethnicity and language. The feud is also blocking Albania’s hopes of progressing toward EU accession.

Bulgarian lawmakers voted Friday to end its veto, but with certain conditions attached, which could yet be rejected by North Macedonia or the EU.

EU ‘short-sighted’

Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo also want to join the EU, but political crises have prevented Brussels from offering candidacy. Arton Demhasaj, the head of Kosovo’s Wake Up anti-corruption watchdog, said the EU’s position is short-sighted.

“If countries who aspire to join EU face delays, they will re-orientate their policies and then we will have an increase of Russian and Chinese influence in the western Balkans and this will create problems within the E.U. itself,” Demhasaj told Reuters.

Hoxhaj of Warick University agrees.

“Bosnia should have been offered a candidate status a long time ago, as well as Kosovo, because it’s preventing them from moving forward,” Hoxhaj said. “But it’s also allowing Russia to have a kind of influence in the Western Balkans, especially in Serbia as well as in Bosnia.”

Kremlin reaction

Russia said Ukraine’s EU candidacy would not pose a threat but Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov accused the West of seeking war.

“When World War II was about to start, Hitler gathered most of the European countries under his banner. Now the EU and NATO are also gathering the same modern coalition for the fight and, by and large, for war with the Russian Federation,” Lavrov said Friday during a visit to Azerbaijan.

NATO and the EU say they do not seek war with Russia and accuse Moscow of upending decades of peace in Europe with its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

 

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UN Chief Says World Faces ‘Real Risk’ of Multiple Famines This Year

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told an international conference on food security Friday that the world is facing the “real risk” of multiple famines this year and that 2023 could be even worse.

“The war in Ukraine has compounded problems that have been brewing for years: climate disruption; the COVID-19 pandemic; the deeply unequal recovery,” Guterres said by video message to the Uniting for Global Food Security ministerial conference in Berlin.

He said rising fuel and fertilizer prices are dramatically affecting the world’s farmers.

“All harvests will be hit, including rice and corn – affecting billions of people across Asia, Africa and the Americas,” Guterres said. “This year’s food access issues could become next year’s global food shortage.”

He warned that no country would be immune to the social and economic fallout.

Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine has led to availability and supply chain disruptions. The United Nations says more than 36 countries get half or more of their grain supply from the Black Sea region.

In addition to destroying and stealing some Ukrainian grain, Russia’s military has blockaded the country’s key southern port of Odesa, preventing more than 20 million tons of Ukrainian grain from being exported. The Kremlin has also held back some of its own grain and fertilizer production from global markets, claiming Western sanctions are obstructing their export.

“Nothing – nothing — is preventing food and fertilizer from leaving Russia,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said of the sanctions. “And only one country is blocking food and fertilizer from leaving Ukraine and that is Russia.”

Japan’s foreign minister noted that Russia’s own statistics show its wheat exports had doubled this May over last year.

“Despite this, Russia is spreading disinformation to the contrary,” Yoshimasa Hayashi said.

Ending the blockade

Guterres has been conducting intense, private diplomacy with Russia and Ukraine, as well as Turkey, which could soon host grain talks between the warring parties, and key actors the United States and European Union. His goal is a package deal that would let Ukraine export its grain, not only by land but also through the Black Sea, and would bring Russian food and fertilizer to world markets.

Getting the port of Odesa open and safely functioning again is a top priority.

“We have got to get the port of Odesa open right now,” World Food Program chief David Beasley told the conference. “Failure to do so is a declaration of war on global food security — it is that simple.”

The grain in the silos must be exported before it begins to rot. It also needs to be moved to make way for the next grain harvest that will begin in September.

In the meantime, neighbor Romania has been stepping up to help Kyiv get its grain out.

“We are receiving Ukrainian grain by road, rail, sea and the Danube River,” Romanian Foreign Minister Bogdan Aurescu told the meeting. “Since the start of the invasion, the Romanian Black Sea port of Constanta, which is the largest port on the Black Sea, has become the main gateway for Ukrainian grain shipments to the outside world.”

He said Romania is working to make Constanta a European food hub and increase its processing capacity. In 2021, he said more than 25 million tons of grain were exported through Constanta.

The African continent has been badly hit by the impacts of the grain and fertilizer shortages, as many of those nations receive large quantities of these imports from the Black Sea region.

“My country, the Democratic Republic of Congo, it had to lift value added tax on basic foods, had to subsidize products such as fuel, in order to avoid uprisings as a consequence of the general price increases,” said Minister of Planning Christian Mwando Nsimba Kabulo. “Of course, this has enormous consequences for the national budget of my country, and it makes the efforts for greater resilience more difficult.”

“There is a straight line between the actions in the war in Ukraine and the suffering we see in the [global] South,” U.N. humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths said.

Action and announcements of assistance for the most vulnerable nations are expected in the coming days, as members of the world’s largest economies meet in Germany for the G-7 summit.

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Saudi Prince Visit to Turkey Touted as Reset But Mistrust Remains

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan welcomed Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman on Wednesday with a military band and an equestrian escort.

Turkish officials presented the visit as ushering in a new era in bilateral relations after years of bitter rivalry between Erdogan with the crown prince. The Turkish president led the international outcry in 2018 over the murder of prominent Saudi journalist and government critic Jamal Khashoggi, which took place in Riyadh’s Istanbul consulate.

Timothy Ash of Bluejay Asset Management says Erdogan’s diplomatic reversal is driven by economic necessity.

“He’s got elections coming up by June next year,” Ash said. “The macro-economic situation in Turkey is pretty challenging. He always seems to be on the cusp of a balancing of payments crisis, big trade and current accounts deficits, limited reserves. The lira continues to weaken; you know they have limited foreign exchange reserves. So really, he needs money; he needs foreign currency to help him defend the currency to provide a bit of stability in the run-up to those elections.”

While a joint statement released by the two countries said the visit was carried out “in an atmosphere of sincerity and brotherhood,” there was no announcement of any Saudi financial support.

Analysts warn that despite Erdogan’s warm reception for the Saudi crown prince, like in many other countries in the region, trust remains an issue, said Mehmet Ogutcu, chairman of the London-based Energy Club.

“There is a criticism leveled at Turkey in the region as an assertive power,” Ogutcu said. “Therefore, there is suspicion, of course; this suspicion is mutual. Turkey does not fully trust these countries in the region, and neither do they trust.”

But security and defense issues are seen as offering crucial common ground. During the visit, the Saudi crown prince reportedly discussed purchasing Turkish military drones, which the Ukrainian army is using effectively against Russian forces.

Shared concerns over Iran are also seen as offering a basis for cooperation, said analyst Ogutcu.

“On the Saudi side, they need Turkey as a counterweight to Iran; they also realize that the United States will not be there to stay long because the U.S. priority is to contain China,” Ogutcu said. “Therefore, the U.S. engagement will not be that strong in the Middle East and Gulf, except for the security of Israel. So, therefore, Turkey is not a country they can ignore. But this will be give and take. So there are real economic, political, and security interests involved.”

With Erdogan facing reelection by June 2023 and lagging in the polls as the country’s economic woes grow, analysts suggest the crown prince may be reluctant to extend a financial lifeline to the Turkish president, who until recently has been a bitter rival.

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Why NATO’s China Focus May Endure

When the top leaders of NATO countries meet next week in Spain, the discussion will be dominated by the Ukraine war and how to deter further Russian aggression in Europe.

But in the latest sign the Western military alliance is trying to expand its focus eastward, the NATO summit will also deal with the challenges posed by China, perhaps in a more direct way than any of its previous meetings.

For the first time, the NATO summit will include the top leaders of four Asian countries: Japan, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand. None are NATO members, but each is wary of China’s growing influence and coercion.

Since 2020, NATO has stepped up cooperation with the four Asian democracies, which it refers to as “Asia-Pacific partners.”

The engagement underscores a profound shift in the scope and priorities of NATO, which was meant to focus on the collective defense of its North American and European member states.

But China’s growing global presence, as well as its expanding military cooperation with Russia, has made it much harder for NATO to ignore.

While there is no talk of NATO accepting Asian countries as members, the alliance’s new Asia focus will likely endure, according to many observers.

“I do not expect that NATO will now expand into the Indo-Pacific and create a new Asian NATO kind of organization,” said Zsuzsa Anna Ferenczy, a former political adviser in the European Parliament.

“I do expect, though, that cooperation with [Asian] countries that face the growing threat of China’s economic coercion and aggressive behavior … will converge more and more with European democracies as well as the United States,” said Ferenczy, assistant professor at National Dong Hwa University in Taiwan.

Europe sours on China

NATO’s eastward shift reflects not only an intensified U.S.-China rivalry, but also changing European attitudes toward Beijing.

For decades, Europe prioritized stable ties with China, which in 2020 overtook the United States as the European Union’s biggest trading partner.

But European views of China have soured under the leadership of Chinese Communist Party chief Xi Jinping, whose government has become more authoritarian at home and more aggressive abroad.

Under Xi, China has obliterated democratic opposition in Hong Kong, increased military threats against democratically ruled Taiwan, and been accused of genocide against Uighur Muslims.

Xi has also steadily expanded China’s military presence beyond its shores, most notably in the South China Sea, where it has created military outposts over the objections of its neighbors, which have overlapping territorial claims with China.

As part of its new “wolf warrior” approach to diplomacy, China has made clear it will retaliate against countries that criticize Beijing or enact policies that go against its wishes.

After Lithuania opened a de facto embassy in Taiwan, which Beijing views as its own territory, China downgraded diplomatic ties and imposed what some say amounts to a trade boycott. The unannounced embargo affected not only Lithuanian products, but also other European countries’ goods that incorporated Lithuanian components.

The pandemic has also helped worsen Europe-China relations. China has been accused of not cooperating sufficiently with a World Health Organization investigation into the origins of the coronavirus, which first appeared in central China. Instead, Chinese government-controlled media have suggested the virus originated elsewhere, such as the United States or Italy.

Changing NATO approach

Europe’s growing skepticism of China can also be observed in NATO’s recent history.

In 2019, China was included for the first time in a NATO statement – but only in a single sentence saying Beijing “presents both opportunities and challenges.”

By 2021, NATO’s tone had shifted. A joint communique issued in Brussels said China presents “systemic challenges to the rules-based international order.”

The statement also slammed China’s “coercive” policies, “opaque” military modernization, use of “disinformation,” and military exercises with Russia in the Euro-Atlantic area.

A major reason for NATO’s more combative tone is the Ukraine war, which coincided with Beijing and Moscow declaring a “no limits” partnership.

Just weeks before Russia invaded Ukraine, Xi and Russian President Vladimir Putin met in Beijing, where they announced a broad plan to counter Western influence around the world.

Since Russia’s invasion, China has attempted to portray itself as a neutral party. But many European observers are not convinced, noting China has consistently defended Russia from global criticism and instead blamed Washington for engaging in a “Cold War mindset” that provoked Moscow.

Pierre Morcos, a visiting fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the Ukraine conflict has “confirmed the growing strategic rapprochement between China and Russia.”

“The war in Ukraine has also demonstrated that the Euro-Atlantic area and the Indo-Pacific region are deeply inter-connected. A crisis in a region can have deep impacts on the other one,” he said.

That explains why like-minded Asian countries are eager to play an active role in supporting Ukraine and pushing back against Russia, Morcos said.

“I think that we will see growing coordination and consultations between NATO and these countries in the future notably to discuss the aftershocks of the war in Ukraine but also exchange about China’s capacities and activities,” he added.

Speaking at a forum earlier this week, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg insisted the alliance does not regard China as an adversary. However, he suggested the coming summit would result in a statement acknowledging “China poses some challenges to our values, to our interests, [and] to our security.”

China has responded angrily to NATO’s eastward focus. At a Chinese Foreign Affairs Ministry briefing Thursday, spokesperson Wang Wenbin accused NATO of engaging in a “highly dangerous” effort to create hostile blocs in Asia.

“NATO has already disrupted stability in Europe,” he said. “It should not try to do the same to the Asia-Pacific and the whole world.”

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VOA Interview: NSC Spokesperson John Kirby

John Kirby, the former Pentagon spokesperson, told VOA’s Ukrainian service on Thursday the United States is “focused on making sure that Ukraine can continue to defend itself and its sovereignty.”

Kirby, who recently became the coordinator for strategic communications at the National Security Council, said since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, the United States has provided nearly $6 billion worth of assistance, including military equipment, such as HIMARS, high mobility artillery rocket systems.

Ukraine determines “what operations they’re going to conduct. And that’s their right to the material that they get from the United States. [It is] now theirs. It’s Ukrainian property, and they get to determine how they’re going to use it,” Kirby said.

Here is the interview, edited for brevity and clarity.

VOA: We know that American HIMARS [High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems] arrived today in Ukraine. What impact do we expect them to make on a battlefield at this stage?

National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby: The big difference that these HIMARS, which stands for High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, can make is distance, its range. It’s giving the Ukrainians the benefit of farther standoff from Russian forces as they continue to fight them every single day which is now a much more concentrated geographic area.

VOA: The United States is providing Ukraine unprecedented levels of military assistance. Still, some in Kyiv and Washington are saying it’s not enough, it’s not fast enough. Do you think the administration is providing enough weapons to Ukraine to make a difference on the battlefield?

Kirby: All these systems are making a difference. Even today, they’re making a difference. And the Ukrainians will tell you that, and it’s not just the big systems. It’s the small arms and ammunition, which they’re using literally every day in this fight with the Russians. So it’s already making an impact. And we’re obviously the largest donor of security assistance to Ukraine or any other nation around the world … almost $6 billion since the beginning of the invasion. So it’s a lot of material that’s going in and the president has made clear that we’re committed to continuing that assistance going forward.

VOA: Should we expect more HIMARS to be sent to Ukraine? And what is the absolute maximum amount that United States can provide HIMARS and MLRS [multiple launch rocket systems], given its own stocks?

Kirby: I do think you’ll continue to see systems like HIMARS going in in future deliveries. I think that that’s very likely. I don’t want to get ahead of specific announcements here. But again, the president was very clear with [Ukrainian] President [Volodymyr] Zelenskyy. So once again, we’re going to help them as much as we can as fast as we can. And I’ll tell you, the material is going in at record speed. … It’s just unprecedented the speed with which security assistance is actually reaching the front lines in Ukraine. There’s literally shipments going in every single day. And it’s not just from the United States, we are the biggest donor. But more than 40 other nations around the world are also contributing security assistance in some type of form to Ukraine. [U.S. Defense] Secretary [Lloyd] Austin just held the most recent Ukraine contact group in Brussels last week, almost 50 nations showed up, not just from Europe, but from around the world, to look at ways they can continue to continue to support Ukraine and their ability to defend themselves.

VOA: Can you clarify what weapons the administration is providing to Ukraine to defend themselves and to push Russia outside Ukraine?

Kirby: We are really focused on making sure that Ukraine can continue to defend itself and its sovereignty, its people, its territorial integrity. And, obviously, the Ukrainians are in this fight. They determine what operations they’re going to conduct. And that’s their right. The material that they get from the United States is now theirs. It’s Ukrainian property, and they get to determine how they’re going to use it. Now, obviously, we want to see Ukraine’s sovereignty fully respected, we want to see Ukraine’s territorial integrity fully restored. But how that gets determined, and it should be determined by Mr. [Russian President Vladimir] Putin ending this war. But Mr. Zelenskyy is going to get to determine what victory looks like.

VOA: If Ukrainians determined that they want to win this war, push Russians back to the February 23 lines, would you also support that and for them to use the provided weapons to conduct counteroffensives?

Kirby: Well, Ukrainians are already conducting counteroffensives in their own country. I mean, look at what they’ve been doing in the south, look at Khakiv in the north, where the Russians almost had the city completely encircled [and] Ukrainians pushed them away, pushed them back toward the border. Mr. Zelinskyy is the commander in chief of his armed forces. We respect that. He gets to determine how he’s going to use those forces and how he’s going to define victory. Our job is to make sure that he has the tools available to him to do that in the most efficient, effective way.

VOA: Is the administration preparing for this war to become a protracted war? We hear [NATO Secretary-General Jens] Stoltenberg say that we should expect this war to last for a long time. What is the expectation on American side?

Kirby: Once Mr. Putin decided to concentrate on the Donbas, you heard American officials say almost from the very beginning, that this was the potential. That there could be a prolonged fight here in the Donbas region. We have to remember, this is a part of Ukraine that the Russians and Ukrainians have been fighting over literally since 2014. We tend to think of Feb. 24 as a watershed moment, and it was, but Ukrainian soldiers were dying, fighting and dying for their country years before that. So this is a part of the country that both armies know well, and both are digging in. The Russians are making incremental but not consistent progress. Ukrainians are pushing back. And it certainly could end up being a prolonged conflict.

VOA: July 9 will mark 60 days since [U.S.] President [Joe] Biden signed into law the Lend-Lease Act [which would expedite the process of sending military aid to Ukraine]. When is the United States planning to use this mechanism, and would weapons the United States would be sending through this mechanism be any different from what the United States is sending right now?

Kirby: We certainly welcome the support that Congress gave with additional authorities to help Ukraine defend itself. We’re still working our way through that particular act and, sort of, what authorities and capabilities might help us provide Ukraine. In the meantime, we’re already continuing to flow a lot of material through drawdown authority, just pulling it from our own stocks. We have the authorities to do that. The president’s not been bashful about using that. And you’re going to continue to see those flow going forward. We got a supplemental request of some $40 million from Congress just a few weeks ago, not all of it for security assistance, but a lot of it is. And we also have authorities through the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative. This is authorities, and we just used some last week, where the Department of Defense can go contract for items that go directly to Ukraine. So there’s an awful lot of tools available in the toolbox. And we’re open-minded about using all of them.

VOA: There are some reports indicating that American intelligence agencies have less information than they would like about Ukrainian operations, personnel and equipment losses. Does this administration see this as an issue in the context of providing military aid for Ukraine?

Kirby: I’d rather not talk about intelligence matters here, in an interview. I would just tell you that the relationship with the Ukrainian armed forces is very, very strong. And we’re talking to them literally almost every single day, at various levels, all the way up to the secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff down to working staff levels, including military-to-military contact. And the idea of those conversations is to help give us a better idea of what Ukraine needs in the fight. One of the things we didn’t talk about was, when we talked about aid and how much they’re getting and how fast you’re getting it is, we’re doing this in parcels, so that deliberately so that we can continue to give them assistance in ways that are relevant to the fight that they’re in. And the Ukrainians have been very honest and open with us about the fight that they’re in and what they need. And they’ve been honest with the rest of the world. And so those conversations are going to continue. And that’s what really matters.

VOA: We heard from Secretary Austin and [U.S.] Secretary [of State Antony] Blinken that they want to see Ukraine win, that they want to see Ukraine prevail. Is it still the position of the administration?

Kirby: Of course, we want Ukraine to succeed on the battlefield, and we want them to succeed at the negotiating table, if and when it comes to that. Now, obviously, we’re not at that stage right now. But we believe that President Zelenskyy is the one who gets to determine what victory looks like. I mean, it’s his country. He’s the commander in chief, and we respect him. Unlike the Russians, we respect the decision by the Ukrainian voters to elect him into office. And we respect his leadership and his responsibilities.

VOA: What results is President Biden expecting from his visit to Europe – G-7 (Group of Seven) summit, NATO summit. What is the major expectation?

Kirby: This is a very exciting trip. A year ago, when President Biden was at the G-7, and he’s now attended several NATO summits, the theme in the past has been, look, America is back, American leadership is back. And now I think, without getting into specific deliverables ahead of these meetings, I can tell you that we’re very much looking forward to a theme of, now it’s American leadership delivering, delivering for our allies and partners, delivering for the American people, producing results that will actually improve our national security, help with energy security at home and around the world, and also continue to impose costs and consequences on Mr. Putin for this unprovoked war.

VOA: Russia’s envoy in Afghanistan said Moscow can recognize the Taliban government, regardless of the American position. Do you think this kind of move by Russia could further worsen the relationship between Moscow and Washington?

Kirby: I think there’s enough tension between the United States and Russia right now that that we need to continue to focus on what Mr. Putin has done for security across the European continent and, quite frankly, across the globe. Russia can speak for themselves in terms of what governments they intend to recognize or not, we are not at a stage where we’re willing to do that with respect to the Taliban. What we would ask of any nation in the world, certainly any nation bordering Afghanistan is to not make decisions that are going to make it less stable and less secure than it is right now for the Afghan people.

VOA: The White House says Biden’s upcoming meeting with [Saudi] King Salman and Prince [Mohammed] bin Salman will advance national security interests. What’s the rationale for where the White House decides that national interests trump objections to authoritarian leaders? And do you see that anytime in the foreseeable future where the White House might decide it’s in national interest to sit down even with Putin?

Kirby: Well, the president has spoken to Vladimir Putin, spoke to him before the invasion. The president will speak, he will meet, he will discuss with any leader around the world things that he believes are in the national security interests of the American people. That’s his job as commander in chief and he takes that responsibility seriously. And I would, you know, go back on some of the critics here, I mean, the fact that an adherence to values and human rights and civil rights is somehow at odds with a pragmatic foreign policy is just foolishness. They go hand in hand, they have to go hand in hand. And the president has been very clear that our foreign policy is going to be rooted in values and he’s never bashful about espousing and advancing those values as he meets with leaders around the world. The two go hand in hand they have to. 

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Biden Heads to European Summits With Ambitious Agenda

President Joe Biden heads to Europe for two major summits with challenges that include how Western democracies can continue to support Ukraine, how they can counter China’s growing influence, and how the world’s most liberal nations can weather these uncertain times. VOA’s Anita Powell reports.

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Russia Could Cut Off Gas Supply to Europe, Warns IEA

The International Energy Agency has warned that Russia could cut gas supplies to Europe entirely in order to boost its political leverage following its invasion of Ukraine. As Henry Ridgwell reports, Europe is scrambling to avoid an energy crisis this winter.
Videographer: Henry Ridgwell

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Poland Struggles to Assist Millions of Ukrainian Refugees

Poles have generously welcomed refugees from the war in neighboring Ukraine in the past few months. But absorbing more than 3 million refugees is a big challenge for Poland, which has a population of about 38 million. As Greg Flakus reports from Warsaw, other European nations are providing help, but the burden could become untenable for Poles if the war continues much longer.

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Bosnian Experts: Ukraine Faces Years of War Crime Probes, Searches for Missing

Investigators and researchers of war crimes committed during the 1992-95 Bosnian war say their experience holds valuable lessons for those seeking justice for atrocities committed by Russian forces during the invasion of Ukraine.

And while the first Ukrainian verdicts have already been rendered barely four months into that war, the experts from Bosnia and Herzegovina warn that the Ukrainians still face an arduous job that will take years.

People VOA interviewed said that in the case of Ukraine, investigators have one significant advantage over their Bosnian counterparts in that evidence of war crimes and mass graves is much harder to hide today. The main reason is the availability of modern technologies, from smartphones to satellite images.

“I think that in a coordinated action of different authorities – from Ukrainian prosecutors to the International Criminal Court, to various other sources that can help to get this evidence – there is already enough evidence to draw a very clear line between crimes, victims, perpetrators and principals,” said Refik Hodzic, a consultant of the European Institute for Peace who lives in Prijedor, Bosnia, and The Hague, Netherlands.

Prijedor is one of the cities that suffered the most during the Bosnian war. After the Bosnian Serbs took power in late April 1992, non-Serbs were ordered to mark their homes and wear white ribbons around their arms if they moved around the city. Residents were arrested, tortured and imprisoned in camps; more than 3,000 civilians were killed or are still missing, including 102 children.

“Such a small town cannot recover from such crimes,” said Hodzic, who has been working for more than 25 years in the field of transitional justice, which deals with the legacy of human rights abuses. He added that the events in Ukraine remind him of the wars in the former Yugoslavia and Syria.

He said the similarities include “preparation dominated by dehumanization of target groups in order to decrease as much as possible any empathy among those who are in some way involved in committing crimes, as well as with the public, which might be able to react and, so to speak, call to political responsibility those who order these crimes.”

What seems obvious must be proven in court

According to the United Nations, more than 4,000 civilians have been killed in Ukraine since the beginning of the Russian invasion, but it is feared that the number is much higher because the scale of crimes and the number of victims from places like Mariupol are not yet known. More than 6 million people have fled the country, while more than 8 million people have been displaced internally.

In less than four years of war in Bosnia, which ended with the Dayton Peace Accords in December 1995, more than 100,000 people were killed. Hundreds of thousands were permanently displaced, within the country and abroad. Bosnia today is divided into two entities – the Serb-dominated Republika Srpska and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, where Croats and Bosniaks are in the majority.

Amor Masovic is a Bosnian legislator who for years headed the Bosnian Institute for Missing Persons. He said that more than 25,000 missing persons were found, identified and buried in Bosnia after the war. Twenty-six years later, he said, more than 7,000 persons are still listed as missing.

“It is very important to establish as soon as possible whether people are alive or not, whether they are in captivity, whether they were killed and buried, individually or in mass graves. It is important to collect and systemize this information, to create a database that will enable an accelerated search for the missing in the post-war period, as well as locating mass gravesites and exhuming victims,” Masovic advises Ukrainians.

Ukrainian investigators confirmed to VOA in recent interviews that the knowledge gained from previous wars, including in Bosnia, helps them in their work.

In July 1995, Emir Suljagic worked as a translator for U.N. forces in the Srebrenica area, which saved him from the fate of many of his fellow citizens. Although Srebrenica had the status of a U.N. safe zone, the Republika Srpska Army captured it on July 11. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague (ICTY) described the crimes committed by Serb forces in Srebrenica as a genocide in which more than 8,000 men were killed.

Suljagic is now director of the Srebrenica Memorial Center, an institution whose mission is remembrance for the victims of the genocide. He told VOA that the passage of time is one of the key factors influencing the collection of evidence about war crimes, especially if locations are not immediately available.

“Another obstacle may be the probably planned and deliberate steps the Russians are taking to cover up the crimes they have committed. Another one – witnesses. We don’t know if there are any witnesses. Testimonies become more and more unreliable over time; it’s easier to dissuade or to discredit people,” said Suljagic.

“What seems obvious to all of us must be proven in court,” added Suljagic. “Everything else comes later – memorialization, remembrance, culture of remembrance.

Bosnian victims do not feel justice is satisfied

After the withdrawal of Russian troops from the vicinity of Kyiv, mass graves were discovered, people were found dead on the streets, some with their hands tied, some with traces of torture. Ukrainian authorities said they have found more than 400 bodies in Bucha alone.

Since the invasion began on February 24, 2022, Russia has denied targeting civilians. The Associated Press quoted Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying that scenes from the Kyiv area were “stage-managed anti-Russian provocation.”

Masovic said such rhetoric sounds familiar: “In the end, there will be – and we are already witnessing that – the denial of any crimes. In Bosnia, the individuals who support war criminals have gone a step further, and that probably awaits Ukraine, that at some point Russia will even glorify its criminals and the crimes it has committed.”

The ICTY indicted a total of 161 people during its 1993-2017 mandate for genocide, crimes against humanity, violations of the laws and customs of war, and violations of the Geneva Conventions on the treatment of civilians and prisoners of war. A total of 93 people were convicted, among them Radovan Karadzic, the former president of Republika Srpska, and Ratko Mladic, the former commander of the Republika Srpska Army, including for crimes in Srebrenica and Prijedor. Both were sentenced to life in prison.

Hodzic, who has spent part of his career working at the ICTY, said a great opportunity was missed by Bosnia to use this institution, whose work was not even blocked by Russia, to make impunity for crimes impossible and to accept the truth about what happened. As problems, he cites the denial of crimes and hatred spread by politicians, including in Prijedor, where authorities recently banned a memory walk for the victims, but also the fact that in neighboring Serbia, war crimes convicts receive decorations and appear as TV analysts.

“If you live in a society that admits a crime has been committed against you, respects what you have gone through and bows its head before your suffering, then punishment for perpetrators makes sense, then you as a member of that society can feel that justice is in some way achievable during your lifetime,” said Hodzic.

“In societies where this is not the case, such as our society, or in situations where perpetrators openly deny or celebrate crimes, as it is now the case with Russia in Ukraine, it is difficult to expect victims to feel that justice has been satisfied, regardless of court cases.”

Suljagic said Ukraine should not rely too much on international justice. Instead, it should file charges and prosecute the perpetrators itself.

“I am quite convinced that people will be held accountable because they were captured, arrested or indicted by Ukrainians.”

Ukraine’s top prosecutor, Iryna Venediktova, said recently that Ukraine has identified more than 600 Russians suspected of war crimes, while criminal prosecutions have already started for 80 of the suspects.

Veronica Balderas Iglesias and the “Friends of Srebrenica” group contributed to this report.

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EU Watchdog Backs Valneva’s COVID Shot as Contract Talks Go On

Valneva’s VLS.PA COVID-19 vaccine was endorsed by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) on Thursday, although the French company’s contract with the European Commission to supply the dose hangs in the balance.  

Valneva has been trying to salvage the deal with the European Commission after its vaccine program was hit by delays in its marketing application due to requests from the EMA for more information.  

The original deal was for up to 60 million doses. But due to application delays and countries in Europe already having excess supply, the Commission has signalled that it wants to amend the agreement for a much smaller number of doses, Valneva said earlier this month.   

But, according to Valneva CEO Thomas Lingelbach, if those volumes are confirmed, that would not be enough to sustain the company’s vaccine program.  

A Valneva spokesperson said on Wednesday the contract continues to be discussed by the Commission and member states.  

Valneva’s vaccine is the sixth shot to be recommended by the EMA for COVID-19. A final decision on the vaccine’s approval is expected shortly by the Commission.  

Valneva’s Paris-listed shares jumped around 22% on Thursday.   

Britain cancelled its Valneva vaccine contract in 2021, although the company has secured approvals in Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.

Valneva’s vaccine uses technology already employed for decades in shots against polio, influenza and hepatitis. The company has bet it will win over people who had refused COVID vaccines that used mRNA and other new technologies.  

But demand for a new crop of COVID vaccines remains uncertain. U.S.-based Novavax’s NVAX.O shot uses a traditional technology like Valneva’s but has had limited take up in Europe, with about 220,000 doses administered out of 12.6 million distributed in the region.  

Some vaccine makers, such as AstraZeneca AZN.L and Johnson & Johnson JNJ.N, have warned of a global COVID vaccine glut.

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EU Watchdog Backs Valneva’s COVID Shot as Contract Talks Go On

Valneva’s VLS.PA COVID-19 vaccine was endorsed by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) on Thursday, although the French company’s contract with the European Commission to supply the dose hangs in the balance.  

Valneva has been trying to salvage the deal with the European Commission after its vaccine program was hit by delays in its marketing application due to requests from the EMA for more information.  

The original deal was for up to 60 million doses. But due to application delays and countries in Europe already having excess supply, the Commission has signalled that it wants to amend the agreement for a much smaller number of doses, Valneva said earlier this month.   

But, according to Valneva CEO Thomas Lingelbach, if those volumes are confirmed, that would not be enough to sustain the company’s vaccine program.  

A Valneva spokesperson said on Wednesday the contract continues to be discussed by the Commission and member states.  

Valneva’s vaccine is the sixth shot to be recommended by the EMA for COVID-19. A final decision on the vaccine’s approval is expected shortly by the Commission.  

Valneva’s Paris-listed shares jumped around 22% on Thursday.   

Britain cancelled its Valneva vaccine contract in 2021, although the company has secured approvals in Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.

Valneva’s vaccine uses technology already employed for decades in shots against polio, influenza and hepatitis. The company has bet it will win over people who had refused COVID vaccines that used mRNA and other new technologies.  

But demand for a new crop of COVID vaccines remains uncertain. U.S.-based Novavax’s NVAX.O shot uses a traditional technology like Valneva’s but has had limited take up in Europe, with about 220,000 doses administered out of 12.6 million distributed in the region.  

Some vaccine makers, such as AstraZeneca AZN.L and Johnson & Johnson JNJ.N, have warned of a global COVID vaccine glut.

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