US to Sanction Russia’s Wagner Paramilitary Group

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced Thursday a series of sanctions targeting individuals associated with Russia’s paramilitary Wagner Group, including its leader and associated front companies, for waging war in Ukraine, including battlefield activities and the targeting of civilians.

In a statement, Blinken said the sanctions will target five entities and one individual linked to the Wagner Group and its head, Yevgeniy Prigozhin, as well as several other individuals and entities, for their status as government officials and for being part of Russia’s military industrial complex.

Blinken’s statement said the State Department also is designating three individuals for their roles as heads of the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service, which has been reported to facilitate the recruitment of Russian prisoners into the Wagner Group, and subsequently sent to the front lines to fight in the conflict in Ukraine.

Additionally, the top U.S. diplomat said the U.S. Treasury Department is designating the Wagner Group a “significant transnational criminal organization” for actions taken in Africa.

The statement said the “group’s pattern of serious criminal behavior includes violent harassment of journalists, aid workers, and members of minority groups and harassment, obstruction, and intimidation of U.N. peacekeepers in the Central African Republic, as well as rape and killings in Mali.”

In the statement Thursday, Blinken noted, “The United States is steadfast in our resolve against Russia’s aggression and other destabilizing behavior worldwide. [Thursday’s] designations will further impede the Kremlin’s ability to arm its war-machine that is engaged in a war of aggression against Ukraine, and which has caused unconscionable death and destruction.”

your ad here

Burkina Faso Protesters Call for Russians to Help Fight Islamist Militants

After a recent military pullout, only about 400 French troops remain in Burkina Faso to help the government fight Islamist militants linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State. But now many in the country want Russia to help and the government has ordered all French troops to leave within the month. Reporter Kader Traore has more from Ouagadougou in this report narrated by Vincent Makori.

your ad here

Air Raid Alert in Ukraine as Zelenskyy Calls for Aircraft, Missiles

Ukraine declared an air raid alert over most of the country early Thursday as authorities in Kyiv warned of a possible Russian missile attack while heavy fighting continued unabated in the east, where Moscow’s forces have been increasing pressure on Ukrainian defenders.

Andriy Yermak, the head of Ukraine’s presidential administration, wrote on Telegram, “the first Russian missiles have already been shot down,” without specifying the locations.

Authorities asked citizens not to ignore the danger signal and to remain in shelters.

Electricity firm DTEK said it was performing emergency power shutdowns in Kyiv and the region around the capital as well as in the regions of Odesa and Dnipropetrovsk due to the danger of missile attack.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, speaking just hours after Germany and the United States pledged to provide Kyiv with advanced battle tanks, called on Kyiv’s Western allies to deliver long-range missiles and military aircraft to beef up Ukraine’s air defense.

Zelenskyy said in his regular nightly video address Wednesday that it is now necessary to “go ahead with the supply of aircraft for Ukraine.”

On the battlefield, Ukrainian forces continued to sustain incessant pressure from Russian attacks in the east, mainly in Bakhmut and Avdiyivka in Donetsk region and Chervopopyivka in Luhansk, Ukraine’s General Staff said in its daily report Thursday.

Ukrainian forces destroyed 24 drones, including 15 over Kyiv, that Russia launched in overnight attacks, it said, warning about the danger of more Russian air raids.

“Despite suffering numerous losses, the enemy did not halt its offensive actions,” the General Staff said, adding that Ukrainian defenders also repelled attacks in Lyman, Kupyansk, Zaporizhzhya, and Kherson.

Russia has been “intensifying” its offensive near Bakhmut, where it deployed a “superior number of soldiers and weapons” in what has become a hot spot in the 11-month-old invasion, Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar said Wednesda, adding that “the enemy is intensifying pressure in the Bakhmut and Vuhledar sectors” of the front.

Ukrainian officials on Wednesday also acknowledged their loss to Russian forces of the Donetsk-region salt-mining town of Soledar as many military experts are forecasting a Russian spring offensive in the area.

Berlin and Washington agreed to provide the tanks following months of intense debate among NATO allies in the hope of helping stem the expected push by Russia.

Zelenskyy praised the allies’ commitment to deliver advanced tanks and urged them to provide large numbers of tanks quickly.

“The key now is speed and volumes. Speed in training our forces, speed in supplying tanks to Ukraine. The numbers in tank support,” he said. “We have to form such a ‘tank fist,’ such a ‘fist of freedom.'”

“It is very important that there is progress in other aspects of our defense cooperation as well,” Zelenskyy said.

“We must also open the supply of long-range missiles to Ukraine. It is important — we must also expand our cooperation in artillery, we must enter into the supply of aircraft for Ukraine. And this is a dream. And this is the task.”

President Joe Biden on Wednesday said the United States will send 31 of its highly advanced Abrams tanks in a move he said was not a threat to Russia.

Moscow has warned that it regards the Western supply of advanced battle tanks to Ukraine a dangerous provocation.

Speaking from the White House, Biden said the NATO tanks for Ukraine would help “improve their ability to maneuver in open terrain.”

He praised Berlin’s similar announcement as evidence that “Germany has really stepped up.”

Chancellor Olaf Scholz said hours earlier that Germany will supply 14 Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine and will also allow third countries to reexport their own German-made Leopards.

Scholz said the decision, approved Wednesday, was “the right principle” in the face of Russia’s unprovoked invasion of its neighbor.

German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius added that the first Leopard tanks could be in Ukraine within three months.

With reporting by Reuters, The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and dpa.

your ad here

Experts: Arming Ukraine Via US Could Worsen South Korea’s Ties with Russia

South Korea, with a world-class arms industry, is facing mounting pressure to find a way to get needed arms and munitions to Ukraine without unduly angering Russia, which has hinted that it could resume military cooperation with North Korea.

Experts interviewed by VOA say the most likely solution under consideration in Seoul is for the nation’s commercial arms manufacturers to make private sales to the United States, allowing the U.S to ship more of its own armaments to Ukraine without depleting its stockpiles.

A spokesperson for the South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs told VOA Korean Service on Wednesday that the administration in Seoul “has been providing humanitarian support to the people of Ukraine” but “there has not been a change” in its position that it “will not send lethal weapons to Ukraine.”

Depleted stockpiles

Since the Russian invasion, Washington’s military aid to Kyiv has depleted U.S. weapons stockpiles.

The Ukraine Defense Contact Group, a U.S.-led coalition of about 50 countries, has been sending Kyiv weaponry ranging from High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) to howitzers. The U.S. and Germany announced Wednesday that they will send 31 M1 Abrams tanks and 14 Leopard 2 tanks, respectively. Additional tanks have been promised by other NATO countries.

Ukraine is using about 90,000 artillery rounds per month while the U.S. and European countries are producing only half that amount among them, according to The New York Times, citing U.S. and Western officials.

The U.S. has asked the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) to route some of its equipment stockpiled in South Korea to Ukraine, USFK spokesperson Isaac Taylor told the VOA Korean Service on Jan. 19.

And Washington “has been in discussion about potential sales of ammunition” from South Korea’s “non-government industrial defense base,” said Pentagon spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Martin Meiners to the VOA Korean Service on Jan. 18.

“The Republic of Korea has a world-class defense industry which regularly sells to allies and partners, including the United States,” Meiners added. South Korea’s official name is the Republic of Korea (ROK).

South Korea’s arms sales

Experts said arms sales from South Korea’s private defense companies to the U.S. could elevate South Korea’s standing as “a global pivotal state,” a stated foreign policy aspiration of President Yoon Suk Yeol since he took office in May.

Yoon said in August that South Korea’s goal is to become one of the top four global arms sellers. He reiterated the goal of boosting weapons sales in November.

South Korea was the world’s eighth-largest exporter of weapons in 2017-21 according to a 2022 report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) which said the United States, Russia, France, China and Germany are the top five sellers.

“President Yoon has called South Korea a global pivotal state,” David Maxwell, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said. “… Providing support to Ukraine directly or indirectly is an example of that.”

Putin’s warning

Experts said that by allowing the private arms sales to proceed, South Korea could shore up its alliances with Western powers and help to demonstrate to authoritarian neighbors like China and North Korea that the kind of aggression launched by Russia in Ukraine will not succeed.

But the move will likely come at the cost of further deterioration in Seoul’s relations with Moscow, which are already fraying over South Korea’s support of the sanctions the U.S. imposed on Russia after it invaded Ukraine.

“South Korea has the same interest about peace, stability, territorial sovereignty, protecting [against] states that are invading through outright aggression,” said Terence Roehrig, a professor of national security and Korea expert at the U.S. Naval War College.

“It is about South Korea making the decision that it needs to stand with the West on those issues with some degree of hedging by being reluctant to send direct military assistance to Ukraine,” he added.

“You will not see South Korea directly contributing arms to Ukraine. It will only be about backfilling other states who might be doing that.” That, he said, is because of concerns that Russia could “play a role on North Korea” through potential technology transfers and weapons development.

In October, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned South Korea that sending ammunition to Ukraine would ruin their relations.

“We have learned that the Republic of Korea has made a decision to supply weapons and ammunition to Ukraine. This will destroy our relations,” said Putin as reported by Russian state-owned Tass. “How would the Republic of Korea react if we resumed cooperation with North Korea in that sphere?”

Until it collapsed in 1991, the Soviet Union provided military support to North Korea. The Ukraine war has drawn Russia and North Korea closer together. On Friday, the U.S. released a photo of what it said was evidence of North Korea sending weapons to the Wagner Group, a Russian private military organization, via trains to Russia.

VOA Korea contacted the Russian embassy in Washington and Foreign Ministry in Moscow for comment, but they did not respond.

Andrew Yeo, the SK-Korea Foundation chair at Brookings Institution, said the proposed private weapons sales to the U.S. “would suggest greater support for the Ukrainian cause and further sour relations with Moscow, although Moscow has already placed Seoul on its list of hostile countries.”

In March, Russia placed South Korea on a list of countries that commit “unfriendly actions,” according to Tass. According to the Tass report, countries on the list imposed or joined the sanctions imposed on Russia after it invaded Ukraine.

“Seoul is eager to preserve a workable relationship with Moscow, so in some way drawing down U.S. weapons in [its bases in South] Korea is more palatable than selling them directly,” said Patrick Cronin, the Asia-Pacific security chair at Hudson Institute.

“But South Korea also has an abiding interest in ensuring that Russian aggression in Ukraine cannot prevail,” he added. “That would be a bad precedent for South Korea’s neighbors.”

your ad here

  Biden Approves 31 Battle Tanks for Ukraine

President Joe Biden announced the U.S. will send 31 Abrams battle tanks to Ukraine just hours after Germany said it will send 14 Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine. The moves are part of a united effort to help Kyiv defend itself against invading Russian forces. VOA’s Senior Diplomatic Correspondent Cindy Saine reports.

your ad here

Russia, Pakistan Discuss ‘Practical Engagement’ With Afghan Taliban

Russia and Pakistan emphasized in bilateral talks Wednesday the need for “practical engagement” with Afghanistan’s Taliban but ruled out formal recognition of the Islamist rulers until they address international concerns over women’s rights and inclusive governance.

The Russian presidential envoy for Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, led his delegation in the talks with Pakistani officials in Islamabad and briefed them on his meetings earlier this month with the Taliban in Kabul.

 

Kabulov said Moscow was continuing to engage with the Taliban but was not considering granting legitimacy to the de facto Afghan rulers “for the time being,” official Pakistani sources privy to Wednesday’s meetings told VOA.

The sources quoted the Russian envoy as saying he “advised” the Islamist Taliban to move toward creating a politically inclusive government and easing curbs on women, saying that otherwise there can be no movement forward on the issue of their legitimacy, nor can Afghanistan get any substantial support from the world.

A brief Pakistani statement posted on Twitter after Kabulov’s meeting with Deputy Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar said the two sides “emphasized [the] need for practical engagement with the interim Afghan government.”

The Pakistani side also reiterated that Islamabad was not considering giving the Taliban formal recognition and would do so only collectively with the international community, the sources said.

The foreign ministry in a formal statement issued later offered few details of the meeting and did not mention the issue of recognition of the de facto Afghan authorities.

The statement quoted Khar as urging the international community “to continue extending assistance and support, in order to address urgent humanitarian needs and to provide a sustainable pathway for Afghanistan’s prosperity and development.”

The Taliban reclaimed power in Afghanistan in August 2021 following the end of almost 20 years of U.S.-led foreign military intervention in the conflict-torn South Asian nation.

The world has not yet formally recognized the male-only Taliban government, mainly over human rights concerns and curbs it has placed on women’s access to work and education.

While the United States and Western nations at large shifted their Afghan diplomatic missions to Qatar after the Taliban captured Kabul, several countries, including Pakistan, Russia, China, Turkey and Iran, have kept their embassies open and maintain close contacts with the hard-line rulers.

Chinese support

Last week, newly appointed Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang spoke with his Taliban counterpart, Amir Khan Muttaqi, and reaffirmed Beijing’s support for the group to establish what he called “a broad and inclusive political structure” in Kabul.

Afghan women have been excluded from most areas of the workforce and have been banned from using parks, gyms and public bath houses. The Taliban have refused to reopen secondary schools for girls beyond grade six since returning to power.

The hard-line Taliban reject criticism of their administration, saying the government represents all ethnic and political groups in Afghanistan. They also strongly defend restrictions on women, saying the policies are in line with Afghan culture and Islamic law, or Shariah.

Last month, the Taliban authorities closed universities to female students until further notice, and they forbade women from working for national and international nongovernmental organizations.

The Taliban’s curbs on Afghan female aid workers have forced major international charity groups to halt some of their programs in a country where 97% of the estimated population of 40 million lives below the poverty line and nearly half of them need humanitarian assistance.

your ad here

France to Pull Troops From Burkina Faso Within a Month: Ministry

France has received a request from junta-ruled Burkina Faso to withdraw its troops from the Sahel country and will do so within a month, the foreign ministry said Wednesday.

“On Tuesday … we formally received notice from the Burkinabe government of the termination of the 2018 agreement on the status of French armed forces present in the country,” a ministry spokeswoman said.

“According to the terms of the accord, the termination takes effect a month after reception of written notification. We will respect the terms of the agreement by honoring this request.”

About 400 French special forces are currently based in Burkina Faso in a deployment dubbed “Sabre,” part of a broader military presence to fight jihadists across the Sahel region.

But the country has followed a similar course to neighboring Mali, falling out with Paris after a military coup brought a junta to power and the French presence became increasingly unpopular among the public.

The Burkinabe government has assured Paris it will not follow Mali by turning to Russia’s Wagner to back up its army—although a liaison team from the mercenary group has already visited.

A source familiar with French military plans told AFP that while the troops would be gone by the end of February, their equipment would be picked up by late April.

Paris asked for clarification from Ouagadougou’s transitional president Ibrahim Traore on Monday after the government had said it was asking French forces to leave.

“This does not mean the end of diplomatic relations between Burkina Faso and France,” government spokesman Jean-Emmanuel Ouedraogo told broadcaster RTV following the announcement.

In addition, the government has requested that Paris replace its ambassador after incumbent Luc Hallade commented publicly on the worsening security situation in the country.

The landlocked state, a former French colony, is one of the poorest and most volatile in Africa.

Thousands of troops, police and civilians have been killed and about 2 million people have fled their homes since jihadists launched an insurgency from neighboring Mali in 2015.

More than a third of the country lies beyond the control of the government, and frustration within the army at the mounting toll triggered two coups last year.

your ad here

UK Reviews Rules After Row Over Wagner Lawsuit Against Journalist

The U.K. said Wednesday it was reviewing how sanctioned individuals are permitted to use the country’s legal services, after reports the government helped the head of Russian mercenary group Wagner sue a British journalist.

The finance ministry currently grants licenses allowing sanctioned people to circumvent restrictions so as to hire U.K. lawyers and pay their fees for lawsuits filed in British courts.

It reportedly allowed Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin — who was sanctioned by Britain and others in 2020 — to launch a libel suit against Eliot Higgins, a journalist for investigative outlet Bellingcat.

The Netherlands-based site had reported extensively on Wagner’s previously shadowy operations, which have been on more public display in the war in Ukraine.

U.K.-based investigative website openDemocracy reported this week that the ministry’s Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation (OFSI) had granted licenses for a U.K. law firm to work on the case.

The office also approved those lawyers flying business class to Russia to meet Prigozhin’s legal representatives there face-to-face and allowed payments from him by wire transfer into U.K. bank accounts, openDemocracy said.

The revelations are based on a cache of hacked emails and documents from one of Russia’s biggest law firms. Although the lawsuit eventually failed, the revelations have sparked an outcry in Britain.

Government ‘complacent’

Responding to an urgent question on the case in parliament, junior finance minister James Cartlidge refused to comment on the specific case. But he did say OFSI processes were now under review.

“The Treasury is now considering whether this approach is the right one and if changes can be made without the Treasury assuming unacceptable legal risk and ensuring that we adhere to the rule of law,” he told lawmakers.

Such decisions had been taken by officials, rather than ministers, using a pre-established framework, said Cartlidge. “The issuance of licenses for legal fees are not and should not be political,” he added.

The main opposition Labour party, which has persistently criticized the ruling Conservatives for failing to deliver on promises to curb illicit Russian money entering the U.K., called the government “complacent.”

“The government appears to have granted a waiver for a warlord that enabled him to launch a legal attack on a British journalist,” Labour’s foreign affairs spokesman David Lammy said.

Prigozhin’s libel suit, which collapsed last year after Russia invaded Ukraine, was the “perfect example” of trying “to silence critics through financial intimidation,” he said.

The government last year promised a “crackdown on corrupt elites” abusing the U.K. legal system, which would target so-called “Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs).” SLAPP suits are aimed at intimidating and silencing critics with burdensome legal action.

But the government has not yet introduced any legislation reforming the legal system.

Asked when a draft law could be expected, Cartlidge told lawmakers that was “above my paygrade.”

your ad here

Pope Francis: Homosexuality Not a Crime 

Pope Francis criticized laws that criminalize homosexuality as “unjust,” saying God loves all his children just as they are and called on Catholic bishops who support the laws to welcome LGBTQ people into the church.

“Being homosexual isn’t a crime,” Francis said during an interview Tuesday with The Associated Press.

Francis acknowledged that Catholic bishops in some parts of the world support laws that criminalize homosexuality or discriminate against the LGBTQ community, and he himself referred to the issue in terms of “sin.” But he attributed such attitudes to cultural backgrounds, and said bishops in particular need to undergo a process of change to recognize the dignity of everyone.

“These bishops have to have a process of conversion,” he said, adding that they should apply “tenderness, please, as God has for each one of us.”

Some 67 countries or jurisdictions worldwide criminalize consensual same-sex sexual activity, 11 of which can or do impose the death penalty, according to The Human Dignity Trust, which works to end such laws. Experts say even where the laws are not enforced, they contribute to harassment, stigmatization and violence against LGBTQ people.

In the U.S., more than a dozen states still have anti-sodomy laws on the books, despite a 2003 Supreme Court ruling declaring them unconstitutional. Gay rights advocates say the antiquated laws are used to harass homosexuals, and point to new legislation, such as the “Don’t say gay” law in Florida, which forbids instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade, as evidence of continued efforts to marginalize LGBTQ people.

The United Nations has repeatedly called for an end to laws criminalizing homosexuality outright, saying they violate rights to privacy and freedom from discrimination and are a breach of countries’ obligations under international law to protect the human rights of all people, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Declaring such laws “unjust,” Francis said the Catholic Church can and should work to put an end to them. “It must do this. It must do this,” he said.

Francis quoted the Catechism of the Catholic Church in saying gay people must be welcomed and respected, and should not be marginalized or discriminated against.

“We are all children of God, and God loves us as we are and for the strength that each of us fights for our dignity,” Francis said, speaking to the AP in the Vatican hotel where he lives.

Such laws are common in Africa and the Middle East and date from British colonial times or are inspired by Islamic law. Some Catholic bishops have strongly upheld them as consistent with Vatican teaching that considers homosexual activity “intrinsically disordered,” while others have called for them to be overturned as a violation of basic human dignity.

In 2019, Francis had been expected to issue a statement opposing criminalization of homosexuality during a meeting with human rights groups that conducted research into the effects of such laws and so-called “conversion therapies.”

In the end, the pope did not meet with the groups, which instead met with the Vatican No. 2, who reaffirmed “the dignity of every human person and against every form of violence.”

On Tuesday, Francis said there needed to be a distinction between a crime and a sin with regard to homosexuality.

“Being homosexual is not a crime,” he said. “It’s not a crime. Yes, but it’s a sin. Fine, but first let’s distinguish between a sin and a crime.”

“It’s also a sin to lack charity with one another,” he added.

Catholic teaching holds that while gay people must be treated with respect, homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered.” Francis has not changed that teaching, but he has made reaching out to the LGBTQ community a hallmark of his papacy.

Starting with his famous 2013 declaration, “Who am I to judge?” when he was asked about a purportedly gay priest, Francis has gone on to minister repeatedly and publicly to the gay and trans community. As archbishop of Buenos Aires, he favored granting legal protections to same-sex couples as an alternative to endorsing gay marriage, which Catholic doctrine forbids.

Despite such outreach, Francis was criticized by the Catholic LGBTQ community for a 2021 decree from the Vatican’s doctrine office that the church cannot bless same-sex unions “because God cannot bless sin.”

The Vatican in 2008 declined to sign onto a U.N. declaration that called for the decriminalization of homosexuality, complaining the text went beyond the original scope and also included language about “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” it found problematic. In a statement at the time, the Vatican urged countries to avoid “unjust discrimination” against gay people and end penalties against them.

your ad here

US-Made Tanks Likely Headed to Ukraine; Timing Uncertain

Pleas by Ukrainian officials for more tanks, and more advanced tanks, to use in their fight against Russia have begun to resonate in Washington with the United States now preparing to send Kyiv dozens of its top-of-the-line battle tank.

A U.S. official familiar with the deliberations told VOA on Tuesday that the White House is working to finalize a plan to get Ukraine the coveted M1 Abrams tanks, though it could be some time before Ukraine would be able to take delivery and insert them onto the battlefield.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the plans, said the tanks would likely be provided through the Pentagon’s Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative (USAI). The fund allows the Defense Department to purchase weapons and systems either from defense manufacturers or from other sources, rather than draw them directly from U.S. stocks.

In this case, the official said the U.S. might seek to purchase the M1 Abrams tanks from other countries and refurbish them before sending them to Ukraine.

The decision to send the M1 Abrams to Ukraine, as part of a diplomatic understanding with Germany regarding provision of some of its tanks to Ukraine, was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

The move to provide Kyiv with the tanks would represent an about-face for U.S. officials, many of whom have dismissed the idea of sending Abrams tanks to Ukraine, warning that while Abrams tanks are very capable, they are difficult to maintain and require more fuel than Kyiv can spare.

“We should not be providing the Ukrainians systems they can’t repair, they can’t sustain, and that they, over the long term, can’t afford, because it’s not helpful,” Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl told reporters last week.

Pentagon press secretary Brigadier General Patrick Ryder echoed those concerns Tuesday.

“Our focus has been on providing Ukraine with capabilities it can employ right now on the battlefield,” he said. “The M1 [Abrams tank] is a complex weapon system that is challenging to maintain. … That was true yesterday. It is true today. It will be true in the future.”

The shift in the U.S. position on sending Ukraine the M1 Abrams tanks came as multiple German news outlets reported that Germany had decided to send some of its Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine in addition to clearing the way for other countries to send their German-made Leopard tanks to Kyiv.

Earlier, following a meeting in Berlin, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg welcomed Germany’s decision to allow allies, led by Poland, to send Ukraine the coveted German-made tanks.

“At this pivotal moment in the war, we must provide heavier and more advanced systems to Ukraine, and we must do it faster,” Stoltenberg said.

He added that providing battle tanks to Ukrainian forces is important in order to both repel Russian advances and to help Ukraine retake its territory.

Ukrainian officials have said Western battle tanks, like the Leopard and the Abrams, will allow their forces to maneuver more effectively, with greater firepower and protection, as they seek to push back Russian forces occupying their country.

“A few hundred tanks for our tank crews — the best tank crews in the world. This is what is going to become a real punching fist of democracy against the autocracy from the bog,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, wrote on Telegram Tuesday.

In the meantime, the U.S. signaled that despite an initial reluctance to provide Ukraine with some weapon systems, it remains willing to shift gears as conditions on the ground change.

“We have not taken capabilities off the table,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters Tuesday. “This is a conversation based on what our Ukrainian partners need, where they need it, when they need it.”

Ukraine corruption

Several senior Ukrainian officials announced their resignations Tuesday amid what Zelenskyy said would be some personnel changes in his government.

Deputy Defense Minister Viacheslav Shapovalov, who was in charge of logistical support for Ukraine’s forces, stepped down from his post, citing allegations about a food procurement scandal that he denies.

Deputy Prosecutor General Oleksiy Symonenko and the deputy head of Zelenskyy’s office, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, also resigned without giving reasons for their departures.

“There are already personnel decisions — some today, some tomorrow — regarding officials at various levels in ministries and other central government structures, as well as in the regions and in law enforcement,” Zelenskyy said in his evening address Monday.

U.S. officials on Tuesday said there appear to be no indications that the corruption issues have affected U.S. security assistance to Ukraine.

“We’re not aware of any type of widespread issues regarding corruption that would negatively impact the fight,” said the Pentagon’s Ryder.

Nike Ching, Cindy Saine and Patsy Widakuswara contributed to this report. Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.

your ad here

Hundreds Attend Funeral for Zambian Killed Fighting for Russia in Ukraine

Hundreds of people attended a memorial service in Lusaka on Tuesday for a Zambian student who died fighting for Russia in Ukraine as Tanzania confirmed the death of another student who was also recruited in a Russian jail.

Family members broke down as they filed past the coffin of Lemekani Nyirenda at Lusaka Baptist Church, where the 23-year-old was a regular worshipper before moving to Russia to study nuclear engineering.

Nyirenda was recruited by Russia’s mercenary Wagner Group last year while serving a nine-and-a-half year jail term for a drug offense and sent to fight in Ukraine.

His death in September sparked a diplomatic spat, with Zambia demanding an urgent explanation from the Kremlin.

Meanwhile, Tanzania on Tuesday confirmed that another student, Nemes Tarimo, had been killed after also being recruited in jail by Wagner.

“When Tarimo was serving jail, he was given an opportunity to join the Russian army group called Wagner for payment and the promise that he would be freed after the war,” Tanzanian Foreign Minister Stergomena Tax said.

“Tarimo agreed, and he was taken to Ukraine where he was killed on October 24.”

In recent months, men have been recruited from Russian prisons to fight on the front lines in Ukraine with the promise of reduced sentences and attractive fees.

Tarimo, who had been studying in Russia since 2020, was arrested in March 2022 and sentenced to a seven-year jail term for undisclosed reasons.

“It’s illegal for a Tanzanian national to join any foreign army,” added the foreign minister.

On Tuesday, Nyirenda’s father paid tribute to his son, saying he was a hard worker who helped set up a beehive business for the family.

Edwin Nyirenda told mourners his son had sought a part-time job and “started working as a courier” after posting an advertisement online when he got into trouble.

The two were last in touch at the end of August when Nyirenda told his father he would return home after going to fight in Ukraine.

Nyirenda’s body was repatriated in December and will be laid to rest in a private ceremony in Rufunsa, east of Lusaka, on Wednesday.

Funerals were delayed after some family members raised concerns that the remains might not belong to the student.

But doubts were dispelled by a DNA test, said family spokesman Ian Banda.

“There may be some parts missing but by and large, we have the remains of Lemekhani,” Banda told journalists after the service.

your ad here

UK Says 200 Asylum-Seeking Children Missing

Two hundred asylum-seeking children, including some younger than 16, are missing from temporary hotel accommodation in Britain, the government said on Tuesday, raising new questions about ministers’ handling of migrant arrivals.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s government is under pressure on two fronts over immigration: from those who say he is failing to protect Britain’s borders from migrants arriving in small boats and others who say the government is not treating those who arrive properly.

Immigration minister Robert Jenrick was called to parliament on Tuesday by a member of the Green Party to explain media reports of missing children.

Jenrick said 13 of the 200 missing children were younger than 16 and one was a girl, with around 88% of all those missing coming from Albania. He said the government was fulfilling its obligations to protect the children.

“The movements of under-18s in and out of hotels are monitored and reported and they’re accompanied by social workers when attending organized activities,” Jenrick told parliament.

“We have no power to detain unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in these settings,” he said.

The number of people arriving in England across the Channel has more than doubled in the last two years, with government figures showing Albanians account for the highest number of people arriving by this route.

Last year ministers came under pressure over poor living conditions and overcrowding at a migrant holding facility and faced threats of legal action from rights groups and a public sector workers’ union.

The site was subsequently cleared of migrants.

In response to Jenrick, Green Party lawmaker Caroline Lucas said the children were at risk of being snatched, abducted and coerced by criminals.

“This is horrific,” Lucas said. “Vulnerable children are being dumped by the Home Office. Scores of them are going missing … we are asking the Home Office to apply some basic safeguarding so we can keep them safe.”

your ad here

Body of Tanzanian Killed in Russia’s War on Ukraine Heads Home for Burial

The body of 33-year-old Tanzanian Nemes Tarimo, who was killed fighting for Russia in Ukraine, is returning home for burial.

Tanzania says Tarimo agreed to fight for the Wagner Group in exchange for being released from a Russian prison, the second African known to have died that way.

During a press briefing, Tanzanian Foreign Minister Stergomena Tax said Tarimo’s body was on its way home early Tuesday from Russia.

The minister confirmed Tarimo was serving a seven-year sentence in Russia before he joined the Wagner Group of mercenaries.  

She said the group promised Tarimo, who was sentenced in March of last year, that he would be released and paid after fighting for Russia in Ukraine.  

Tax said it should be noted that according to the country’s laws, no Tanzanian is allowed to join the army of any country except the Tanzanian Army. She said all Tanzanians should ensure they comply with the laws of their country and the rules and procedures provided.

Tax said Tarimo went to Russia in 2020 to pursue a master’s degree at the Russian Technological University in Moscow.  

Tanzanian media report he was arrested on drug-related charges, sentenced, and then offered his freedom if he went to war.  

Tarimo’s family say his friends in Russia, where he was studying before his arrest, confirmed his death in late December.  

Speaking to VOA Tuesday, his mother Luoida Sambulika said family members were waiting for the body of her son because they were told it would arrive soon. Sambulika said he will not be home until his body arrives.  

Tarimo’s death in Ukraine mirrored that of Zambian national Lemekhani Nyirenda, who was also a student in Russia arrested on drugs charges, then promised freedom if he fought for the Wagner Group.  

News of Tarimo’s death circulated on social media last week with a video showing Russian men in military outfits holding candles around what was purportedly his casket.  

In the video, a picture of Tarimo, two medals, and a certificate are placed on the casket, which is draped with a flag of the Wagner Group.

The group has been accused of rights abuses from Syria to Ukraine to the Central African Republic.

your ad here

Finland’s Top Diplomat Hints at Joining NATO Without Sweden

Finland’s foreign minister suggested Tuesday that the country may consider joining NATO without neighboring Sweden if Turkey continues to block their joint bid to enter the military alliance.

Pekka Haavisto later backpedaled, but his comments were the first time a leading government official in either Nordic country appeared to raise doubts about becoming NATO members together at a time when the alliance is seeking to present a united front in the face of Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Sweden and Finland rushed to apply for NATO membership following Moscow’s invasion, abandoning their long-standing non-alignment policy. Their accession needs the approval of all existing NATO members, including Turkey, which has so far blocked the expansion, saying Sweden in particular needs to crack down on exiled Kurdish militants and their sympathizers.

On Monday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned Sweden again not to expect support for its application following weekend protests in Stockholm by an anti-Islam activist and pro-Kurdish groups.

Asked a day later whether it still made sense for Finland to proceed together with the Swedes, Haavisto told broadcaster YLE that his country would have to “evaluate the situation if it turns out that Sweden’s application is stalling for a long time to come.”

Haavisto later told reporters in Parliament that his comment was “imprecise” and that Finland’s ambition to enter NATO jointly with Sweden remained unchanged.

He said he had spoken with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, who had stressed to Haavisto that the military bloc would like to see the two nations join simultaneously.

“But of course there have been raised concerns within NATO on how the (recent) incidents in Sweden will affect the schedule,” Haavisto said.

Until now, Sweden and Finland had been committed to joining the alliance together.

“This is the first crack in the so far rather impressive unity between Sweden and Finland,” said Paul Levin, director of the Institute for Turkish Studies at Stockholm University. “Finland is currently somewhat of an innocent victim of the continued provocations by Swedish groups critical of NATO accession, protected by the very liberal Swedish freedom of speech laws. If Turkey persists in blocking accession, I suspect that Finland will at some point have to go it alone.”

Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billström said Stockholm was “in contact with Finland to find out what is really meant.” In a statement to The Associated Press, he said Sweden respects the “agreement between Sweden, Finland and Turkey regarding our NATO membership.”

In a memorandum of understanding signed by the three countries at a NATO summit last year, Sweden and Finland committed not to support Kurdish militant groups and to lift arms embargos on Turkey imposed after its incursion into northern Syria in 2019.

Pro-Kurdish and anti-Turkish demonstrations in Stockholm have complicated the process. On Saturday, a far-right activist from Denmark staged a protest outside the Turkish Embassy in Stockholm where he burned the Quran, Islam’s holy book. A separate pro-Kurdish demonstration was held later Saturday in the Swedish capital.

The Swedish government has tried to distance itself from the demonstrations, while insisting that such protests are protected by freedom of speech.

Turkey responded angrily to the protests, canceling a planned visit to Ankara by the Swedish defense minister. Protests were held outside Swedish diplomatic missions in Ankara and Istanbul.

Erdogan slammed Swedish authorities for allowing the Quran-burning demonstration.

“It is clear that those who allowed such vileness to take place in front of our embassy can no longer expect any charity from us regarding their NATO membership application,” he said.

He also criticized the pro-Kurdish demonstration, accusing Sweden of letting “terror organizations run wild on your avenues and streets.” He said that if Sweden won’t show respect to Turkey or Muslims, then “they won’t see any support from us on the NATO issue.”

your ad here

your ad here

Turkey’s President Says No Support for Sweden’s NATO Bid

Turkey’s president cast serious doubt on NATO’s expansion Monday after warning Sweden not to expect support for its bid for membership into the military alliance following weekend protests in Stockholm by an anti-Islam activist and pro-Kurdish groups. 

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan slammed Rasmus Paludan’s Quran-burning protest on Saturday, saying it was an insult to everyone, especially to Muslims. He was particularly incensed at Swedish authorities for allowing the demonstration to take place outside the Turkish Embassy in Stockholm under “the protection” of security forces. 

“It is clear that those who allowed such vileness to take place in front of our embassy can no longer expect any charity from us regarding their NATO membership application,” Erdogan said in his first comments regarding the weekend protests, saying Sweden must have calculated the consequences of permitting Paludan’s demonstration. 

The burning of Islam’s holy book angered people across the political spectrum in Turkey, just as Sweden and Finland appeared on the cusp of NATO membership after dropping their longstanding policies of military nonalignment following Russia’s war on Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin now stands to benefit as the potential enlargement of the world’s most powerful military alliance appears to be stymied. 

Erdogan also criticized Sweden for allowing pro-Kurdish protests where demonstrators waved flags of various Kurdish groups, including the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which has waged a decades-long insurgency against Turkey. The PKK is considered a terrorist group in Turkey, the European Union and the United States, but its symbols aren’t banned in Sweden. 

“So you will let terror organizations run wild on your avenues and streets and then expect our support for getting into NATO. That’s not happening,” Erdogan said, referring to Sweden and Finland’s accession bids for the military alliance. He said if Sweden won’t show respect to NATO-member Turkey or Muslims, then “they won’t see any support from us on the NATO issue.” 

A joint memorandum signed by Turkey, Sweden and Finland in June averted a Turkish veto of their membership bid at NATO’s Madrid summit where they confirmed the PKK as a terror group and committed to prevent its activities. Continued protests are infuriating Ankara who has said Sweden must address Turkey’s security concerns and demands for the Turkish parliament to ratify their NATO request. 

“If they love terror organization members and enemies of Islam so much, we recommend that they refer their countries’ security to them,” he added. Several hundred pro-Kurdish protesters walked over a photo of Erdogan on Saturday and an Erdogan effigy was hung from a lamppost in a previous protest. Turkish officials canceled bilateral meetings in response. 

Swedish officials have stressed that freedom of expression is guaranteed by the Swedish Constitution and gives people extensive rights to express their views publicly, though incitement to violence or hate speech isn’t allowed. Demonstrators must apply to police for a permit for a public gathering. Police can deny such permits only on exceptional grounds, such as risks to public safety. Top Swedish officials have said freedom of expression is crucial to democracy while criticizing Paludan’s actions as disrespectful and ones they disagree with. 

Anti-Islam activist Paludan, who holds both Danish and Swedish citizenship, established far-right parties in both countries that have failed to win any seats in national, regional or municipal elections. In last year’s parliamentary election in Sweden, his party received just 156 votes nationwide. His burning of the Quran sparked counterprotests in Turkey over the weekend, where demonstrators burned his photograph and a Swedish flag. 

your ad here

EU Slaps New Sanctions on Iran, Mulls More Against Russia

European Union foreign ministers slapped a fourth round of sanctions against Iran, discussed a possible 10th sanctions package against Russia, and agreed to more than $540 million in new military spending for Ukraine.

The new military funding for Ukraine brings to nearly $12 billion the total European Union and member state military spending for Kyiv since the country’s war began nearly a year ago.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell also said EU oil sanctions against Moscow are working.

“Russia needs 70 percent in order to balance its budget — so it’s losing $40 per barrel,” Borrell said. “It is a big hit on Russian financial stability.”

But European foreign ministers meeting in Brussels failed to make progress on one key sticking point: getting Germany to formally greenlight EU member states’ sending its Leopard tanks to Ukraine, which Kyiv says are vital to its war effort.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock has suggested Germany will not oppose countries like Poland sending the tanks — but there has been no announcement beyond that.

Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau said his country will send Kyiv the tanks anyway.

“Certainly, we are going to send these tanks,” Rau said. “We will be [in] touch with the German government about it. But regardless of the decision of other countries, we are more than determined, as we have promised the Ukrainian side to send the tanks.”

The EU is discussing another round of sanctions against Moscow, but Hungary, whose leader has had close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, signaled its opposition.

The bloc also agreed to a fourth round of sanctions against Iran over its widespread crackdown against anti-government protests. EU travel bans and asset freezes target 37 entities and individuals, including members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.

But the Europeans stopped short of sanctioning the Revolutionary Guard as a whole — for now. Britain and the United States have also agreed to new sanctions against Iran.

your ad here

Former FBI Agent Arrested on Russia Sanctions Violations

A former senior FBI agent who once investigated Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska has been arrested for receiving secret payments from the Russian billionaire in return for investigating a rival, the Justice Department announced Monday. 

Charles F. McGonigal, who headed counterintelligence for the FBI’s New York field office, and Sergey Shestakov, a former Soviet diplomat and an associate of Deripaska, were arrested Saturday on sanctions violations and money laundering charges.

According to court documents, McGonigal and Shestakov in 2021 investigated an unnamed rival Russian oligarch in return for concealed payments from Deripaska, violating U.S. sanctions imposed on Deripaska in 2018. 

In an earlier scheme in 2019, McGonigal and Shestakov allegedly unsuccessfully tried to have the sanctions against Deripaska lifted, according to court documents.

Before retiring from the FBI in 2018, McGonigal, a veteran special agent, led and participated in investigations of Russian oligarchs, including Deripaska, according to the Justice Department. 

Shestakov was a Soviet and Russian diplomat before becoming a U.S. citizen and a Russian interpreter for U.S. courts and government offices, according to the Justice Department.

According to court documents, the duo tried to conceal Deripaska’s involvement in the investigation of his rival by using shell companies, not naming the businessman in communications and forging signatures.

In September, Deripaska, an aluminum magnate with suspected ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and three associates were indicted on charges of evading U.S. sanctions and obstruction of justice. 

Deripaska remains at large. 

your ad here