Navalny’s Family Holds Funeral for Russian Opposition Leader

Україна підписала безпекові угоди вже із шістьма країнами – Зеленський

За словами президента, «кожна така угода наближає нашу державу до більших можливостей, до більшої взаємодії зі світом, до більшої сили»

У Міноборони кажуть, що затвердили план заходів у межах співробітництва Україна-НАТО на 2024 рік

Пріоритетом плану стане реформа сектору безпеки й оборони України, зауважили у Міністерстві оборони

Україна пройшла зиму на газі власного видобутку – голова «Нафтогазу»

«Плануємо підтримувати тенденцію енергонезалежності України й надалі» – Чернишов

ISW проаналізував заяви Путіна про загрозу ядерної війни

«Кремль не вдався до будь-якої значну ескалації у відповідь на надання Україні нових західних систем, і ISW продовжує вважати, що використання Росією ядерної зброї в Україні й за її межами – вкрай малоймовірне»

США: Палата представників ухвалила короткострокове рішення для уникнення шатдауну

Проєкт забезпечує фінансування деяких урядових агенцій до 8 березня, інших – до 22 березня

For China, North Korea Is ‘Card to Play’ in Competition With US, Experts Say

washington — Beijing is unlikely to help Washington disrupt military cooperation between North Korea and Russia because China sees that move as undermining itself while bolstering U.S. goals in Europe and Asia, analysts said.

“Given U.S. policy in Asia and Washington’s ongoing effort to contain Chinese power in the region, Beijing has no reason to assist the U.S., even indirectly, on one of its most top foreign policy priorities – a Russian defeat in Ukraine,” said Daniel DePetris, a fellow at Defense Priorities.

“For China, North Korea is not a problem to be solved but rather a card to play in its competition with Washington,” continued DePetris in an email to VOA on Tuesday.

The U.S. has turned to China to help rein in North Korea’s threatening missile activities that have now extended beyond East Asia into Europe, where Russia’s war in Ukraine rages on for the third year.

North Korean missiles have killed and injured civilians in the Ukrainian cities of Zaporizhzhia, Kyiv, Donetsk and Kharkiv since December, the Security Service of Ukraine said on February 22.

The following day, the State Department announced that its senior official for North Korea, Jung Pak, held talks with China’s special representative on Korean Peninsula affairs, Liu Xiaoming.

The two discussed North Korea’s “increasing destabilizing and escalatory behavior and its deepening military cooperation with Russia” on February 21 via videoconferencing, said the U.S. statement.

The U.S. said North Korea has sent more than 10,000 containers of weapons to Russia since September as it announced a sanctions package targeting Moscow on February 23.

The Pak-Xiaoming talks followed Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s discussion of North Korea with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference on February 16.

In response to last week’s talks, Liu Pengyu, a spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, told VOA on Wednesday via email that “China has no intention to interfere with the cooperation between two sovereign countries” of North Korea and Russia. He called the two nations “China’s friendly neighbors.”

Pengyu continued, “We hope the U.S. will play a positive and constructive role in maintaining peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula.”

North Korea seemingly has been accelerating arms transfers to replenish weapons that Russia needs to fight Ukraine since its leader Kim Jong Un visited Russia and met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in September. Kim, in return, was seeking Russia’s technology to enhance his weapons.

Susan Thornton, a senior fellow at Yale University’s Paul Tsai China Center who served as acting assistant secretary for East Asia and Pacific Affairs during the Trump administration, said Beijing might be willing to persuade Moscow to break its ties with Pyongyang once the war in Ukraine is over.

But even then, “China will not be eager to help” if its “relations with the U.S. are still deteriorating,” she said via email on Tuesday.

China views North Korea, which straddles its border, as a buffer zone countering the U.S. and its military bases with 28,500 troops in South Korea. Beijing prefers that Pyongyang maintain stability to continue serving that role.

China has been providing economic aid to sustain heavily sanctioned and isolated North Korea since the 1990s.

Although Beijing is “very uncomfortable” losing leverage over Pyongyang as Moscow now provides alternative sources of food and fuel, that apparent loss is offset by benefits Beijing gains from Moscow’s reliance on China’s economy, said Robert Manning, a senior fellow at the Stimson Center’s Reimagining U.S. Grand Strategy Project.

Russia has faced heavy sanctions since it invaded Ukraine in February 2022.

“China has been an economic life raft for Russia, boosting its energy ties, filling Russian markets with its autos and consumer goods,” said Manning. Beijing will not change its stance on Pyongyang-Moscow ties as it generally continues “to coordinate much of its foreign policy with Russia where it opposes U.S. policy,” he said via email on Wednesday.

However, Michael Swaine, senior research fellow at Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, said, “Working strenuously with Moscow and Pyongyang to oppose the U.S. poses certain risks for Beijing.”

Swaine said via email on Wednesday that “Right now, it wants to maintain workable relations with Washington, not worsen them. Beijing faces serious domestic problems that demand a relatively stable external environment.”

France to Enshrine Abortion Right in Constitution

France is poised to become the first country to inscribe the freedom for women to have abortions in its constitution. Lawmakers from the Senate and lower house will meet at Versailles Palace on March 4 for a final vote on the measure. Lisa Bryant reports.

Freedom House: Civil Liberties Decline Globally for 18th Year

washington — Civil liberties declined globally for the 18th consecutive year in 2023, with conflict and flawed elections the biggest factors, a new report has found.  

Political rights and civil liberties deteriorated for more than one-fifth of the population, the non-profit group Freedom House found. And only one-fifth of the 210 countries and territories the research group analyzed was found to be “free.” 

Released on Thursday, the Freedom in the World report assesses political rights and civil liberties, then ranks countries or territories as “free,” “partly free,” or “not free.”  

Researchers looked at issues including how effectively governments work, political pluralism, freedom of expression, religious freedom, and whether marginalized groups are given full rights.  

Much of the decline in 2023 is attributed to cases of election manipulation, according to report co-author Cathryn Grothe. The report found electoral issues in almost half of the countries designated as being in decline.  

“While the findings of the report are certainly grim, they are coming at an especially important moment in time,” said Grothe, noting 2024 will be a critical year with national elections scheduled in about 40 countries.  

Report finds manipulation, intimidation

Grothe told VOA her group’s research found widespread election manipulation and intimidation before, during and after elections.  

She noted that “billions of people around the world are going to be heading to the polls.”  

The report highlighted Cambodia, Guatemala, Poland, Turkey and Zimbabwe as places that experienced attempts to control, hinder or interfere with elections. 

And in Ecuador, Nigeria, and Taiwan, elections were disrupted by either violence or interference by foreign regimes.  

In Guatemala, however, attempts to block a peaceful transfer of power failed. Bernardo Arevalo assumed office in early 2024 after the country’s Supreme Court ruled that Congress must accept his inauguration, despite its previous refusal to acknowledge elected members.  

Group watches US races

The United States — which Freedom House ranks as free — is among the countries holding significant elections.  

Grothe said that Freedom House is paying attention to issues in the U.S., including congressional dysfunction such as delayed appropriations bills and internal disputes over the speakership of the House of Representatives.  

Freedom House is also watching closely for intimidation and threats of violence as tools of political influence in the U.S, especially during the last few months before the election.  

Reports of threats against elected officials and local election administrators have “proliferated “in recent years, Grothe said. 

“When a democracy such as the U.S., those with kind of large influence on the world stage grow weaker internally, it makes it a lot more difficult to counter this kind of global authoritarianism,” said Grothe. “It makes it very imperative that we at home in the United States need to address our own domestic shortcomings.” 

The Freedom House report includes several recommendations, including calls for governments and other actors in civil society to “immediately” and “publicly” condemn manipulation efforts, coups and refusals to honor electoral outcomes.

“Democracies need to commit to free and fair elections, both at home and need to stand up for the same abroad,” said Grothe. 

The biggest decline in freedom was registered in Nagorno-Karabakh, a disputed territory which sparked conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia. 

The region saw an overall 40-point reduction. The decline follows a mass displacement of over 100,000 ethnic Armenians amid fighting in September 2023. 

The second-largest point reduction came in Niger, where military forces ousted the government in July 2023.  

Conflict resulted in major declines in other areas too. Russia’s war in Ukraine continues to affect basic rights for those in occupied parts of Ukraine and brings a rise in repression inside Russia. The report also notes the effect on civilians of the Israel-Hamas conflict and Myanmar military rule. 

Other countries saw improvements. Fiji gained seven points due to a “smooth” transfer of power after elections in 2022. And Nepal is recognized in the report for amendments to its Citizenship Act, which allowed 400,000 stateless people born in the country to receive citizenship.  

While the past year faced obstacles, Grothe said there are “beacons of hope” in the countries pushing back against those declines.  

“It’s important to remember that people in every sort of political environment, from the most-free countries to the most repressive, are continuing to fight to uphold their rights, their dignity and this offers some kind of level of hope even in these very kind of discouraging times.” 

She added that the report should serve as a reminder of the stakes for democracy and as a call to reverse the decline of global freedoms.  

Мінінфраструктури: Україна та Туреччина подовжили дію лібералізації вантажних перевезень

«Транспортний безвіз» включає двосторонні вантажні перевезення та перевезення транзитом», заявляє міністерство

Туск після зустрічі з фермерами: Польща працюватиме над ембарго на агропродукцію з Росії й Білорусі

Прем’єр Польщі заявив, що обговорював закриття кордону зі Шмигалем, хоча раніше в українському уряді заперечували такі переговори

Turkey, Italy Eye Cooperation in Bid for Influence in Africa

Turkey and Italy are seeking to expand their influence in Africa, economically and diplomatically. Analysts say both nations see opportunities as French influence on the continent declines, creating common ground for cooperation between Rome and Ankara. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul.

Artificial Intelligence Is Game Changer for Election Interference, FBI Warns

WASHINGTON — U.S. security officials are bracing for an onslaught of fast-paced influence operations, from a wide range of adversaries, aimed at impacting the country’s coming presidential election.

FBI Director Christopher Wray issued the latest warning about attempts to meddle with American voters as they decide whom to support when they go to the polls come November, telling a meeting of security professional Thursday that technologies such as artificial intelligence are already altering the threat landscape.

“This election cycle, the U.S. will face more adversaries moving at a faster pace and enabled by new technology,” Wray said.

“Advances in generative AI [artificial intelligence], for instance, are lowering the barrier to entry, making it easier for both more and less sophisticated foreign adversaries to engage in malign influence while making foreign influence efforts by players both old and new, more realistic and more difficult to detect,” he said.

The warning echoes concerns raised earlier in the week by a top lawmaker and by the White House, both singling out Russia.

“I worry that we are less prepared for foreign intervention in our elections in 2024 than we were in 2020,” said Mark Warner, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, during a cybersecurity conference on Tuesday.

On Sunday, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told NBC’s “Meet the Press” there is “plenty of reason to be concerned.”

“There is a history here in presidential elections by the Russian Federation, by its intelligence services,” Sullivan said.

U.S. intelligence agencies concluded Russia sought to interfere in both the 2016 and 2020 elections.

But Russia has not been alone.

A declassified intelligence assessment looking at the 2022 midterm elections concluded with high to moderate confidence that Russia was joined by China and Iran in seeking to sway the outcome.

“China tacitly approved efforts to try to influence a handful of midterm races involving members of both U.S. political parties,” the report said.

“Tehran relied primarily on its intelligence services and Iran-based online influencers to conduct its covert operations,” it said. “Iran’s influence activities reflected its intent to exploit perceived social divisions and undermine confidence in U.S. democratic institutions during this election cycle.”

The United States has also alleged other adversaries, such as Cuba, Venezuela and Lebanese Hezbollah, have sought to influence elections, as have allies, such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

The warnings from Wray and others are encountering pushback from some lawmakers and conservative commentators who view such statements as an attempt to resurrect what they call the “Russia hoax” — saying the narrative that Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election to help former President Donald Trump win is without merit.

Warner, however, dismissed that view in response to a question from VOA on the sidelines of Tuesday’s security conference. “Anyone who doesn’t think the Russian intel services have and will continue to interfere in our elections … I wonder where they’re getting their information to start with,” he said.

Wray on Thursday suggested the list of countries and other foreign groups seeking to influence U.S. voters is set to expand. “AI is most useful for what I would call kind of mediocre bad guys and making them kind of like intermediate,” he said.

“The really sophisticated adversaries are using AI more just to increase the speed and scale of their efforts,” he said. “But we are coming towards a day very soon where what I would call the experts, the most sophisticated adversaries, are going to find ways to use AI to be even more elite.”

Some private cybersecurity firms also see the danger growing.

This past September, Microsoft warned that Beijing has developed a new artificial intelligence capability that can produce “eye-catching content” more likely to go viral compared to previous Chinese influence operations.

Others agree.

“Whether it’s robocalls, whether it’s fake videos — all those things really even back to 2022, weren’t as prevalent,” Trellix CEO Bryan Palma told VOA. “You weren’t going to get any high-quality type of deepfake video.

“I think you’re going to see more and more of that as we get closer to the election,” he said.

Україна стурбована, що наступ РФ може набрати значних обертів до літа – Bloomberg

За оцінками української розвідки, президент Росії Володимир Путін не відмовився від своєї початкової мети захопити великі міста, включаючи столицю Київ і Одесу

«Це не буде довготривалий процес»: генпрокурор Костін про спецтрибунал щодо Росії

За його словами, коли трибунал буде запущений, то це може тривати кілька років, не більше

1 Dead, 5 Injured in Norway Helicopter Crash

OSLO, Norway — One person died and five were injured when a helicopter crash-landed in the ocean off western Norway, police said on Thursday, leading to a temporary halt in transport to and from the country’s offshore oil and gas platforms.

The Sikorsky S-92 aircraft operated by Bristow Norway was on a search and rescue training mission on Wednesday when the accident occurred, officials have said.

The six crew members were all hoisted from the sea by rescue workers, but one was later declared dead in hospital, police said in a statement.

One of the surviving crew members was in a critical condition on Thursday and one was severely injured while the remaining three suffered lighter injuries, the hospital treating them said in an update on social media platform X.

The cause of the accident was not immediately known.

“We have sent crash inspectors to Stavanger and Bergen to investigate the accident,” Norwegian Safety Investigation Authority head William Bertheussen told Reuters.

The two cities are the busiest hubs for Norway’s extensive oil and gas industry, which produces around 4 million barrels of oil equivalent per day.

Bristow Group said in a statement it was fully cooperating with authorities responding to the incident and that the company was collecting relevant information.

Lockheed Martin company Sikorsky, which manufactured the helicopter, said on Wednesday that safety was its top priority and that it stood ready to support the investigation.

Energy group Equinor said the helicopter was a search and rescue aircraft normally serving platforms at the company’s Oseberg oil and gas field in the North Sea.

“We have confidence both in the type of helicopter and in the operators,” Equinor CEO Anders Opedal told public broadcaster NRK.

Still, Equinor halted all regular helicopter flights to its oil and gas platforms in Norway out of consideration for those affected and to get an overview of the situation.

“The company aims to get the helicopters back to normal operation quickly and is now making the necessary preparations to achieve this safely,” the company said in a statement.

EU Moves to End Standoff With Poland Over Anti-EU Policies, Begins to Release Billions in Funds

BRUSSELS — The European Union took a major step in ending its standoff with member state Poland on Thursday by announcing it will begin releasing billions of euros to it that were frozen over the previous government’s policies that the bloc said amounted to widespread backsliding on fundamental democratic principles.

The move is an important reward for Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, who has sought relentlessly since taking office in December to overturn measures imposed by the previous conservative government. Beyond its political significance, it opens the way for up to 135 billion euros ($145 billion) in EU aid to go to Poland over the coming few years.

The decision cements a sea change in relations. Both sides had openly clashed after the stridently nationalist Law and Justice party came to power in 2015 and implemented reforms that critics said placed Poland’s judiciary under political control. The EU threatened to suspend Poland’s EU voting rights and also blocked its access to EU funds.

“Today is a landmark day for Poland,” said EU Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis. “Thanks to its efforts to restore the rule of law, we are now able to unlock access” to a slew of funds that help EU nations recover from the COVID-19 crisis and help their economies rise to the standards of wealthier member nations.

Under complicated EU bookkeeping rules, Poland could receive over the next weeks the first 600 million euros ($650 million) in real cash from a 75 billion euro ($80 billion) aid pot that had been blocked. More funds will be transferred once Poland sends in outstanding paperwork from projects. A 6.3 billion euro ($6.8 billion) disbursement from a 60 billion euro ($65 billion) program to boost the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic downturn should also be released soon.

Tusk’s election victory last October was essential in achieving the change. The Commission has now acknowledged that sufficient efforts to resolve the issues have been made for it to start releasing the funds. If there is no full follow-through by Poland, restrictive measures could be reimposed.

EU Vice President Vera Jourova showed confidence in Tusk’s policies, saying, “Today we turn a page on the rule of law issues with Poland as we recognize the important strides made by the government.”

Poland’s pro-European coalition of three center-left parties led by Tusk won parliamentary elections on Oct. 15 and took over in December, succeeding the Law and Justice party that had ruled for eight years and introduced changes to the justice system, reproductive rights and the media that put Poland increasingly on a collision course with the EU.

The breakthrough in the standoff came after Polish Justice Minister Adam Bodnar presented an “action plan” to European officials which outlined draft legislation. EU officials also stressed that some of the proposals in the Polish plan can’t become law without the approval of President Andrzej Duda, who is a staunch ally of the Law and Justice party. His term runs until 2025.

Despite such domestic political challenges, the EU decided there was enough positive legal thrust to start releasing the funds.

The money will be coming from the EU’s Next Generation fund meant to help the bloc’s members recover from the COVID-19 pandemic downturn and also from a cohesion fund that supports infrastructure development.

Стефанчук: «Попри загальну підтримку України, виникають певні питання. І ми їх ставимо»

У Празі триває парламентський саміт Вишеградської четвірки, на який також запросили і спікера українського парламенту, оскільки однією з тем обговорення є питання війни в Україні

Премʼєрка Естонії підтримала Макрона – надсилання військ в Україну не є неможливим

26 лютого президент Франції Емманюель Макрон заявив на конференції в Парижі, що європейські країни можуть надіслати війська в Україну

Media, Spy Agencies Await UK Court’s WikiLeaks Ruling

The eyes of free press advocates and U.S. intelligence officials are on London, where the High Court is set to rule on the fate of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Washington wants him extradited to face 18 charges tied to the hacking and theft of classified material. VOA’s Jeff Seldin reports.

Zelenskyy Says Russian Loss in Ukraine ‘Critical for All Free Nations’ 

Pro-Russian Narratives Rise Among Latin American X Users, Research Shows

Мецола розповіла, як вибори в ЄС можуть вплинути на підтримку України

«Зараз я подорожую із однієї країни ЄС до іншої, і громадяни цих країн постійно кажуть, що вони щасливі відкрити свої домівки та серця для українців»

Кубраков: Київ не веде з Варшавою переговори про закриття кордонів

За його словами, рішення про закриття кордонів нікому не буде вигідним, окрім «нашого спільного ворога».

Польща може повністю закрити кордон з Україною для торгівлі – Туск

Це питання Туск обіцяє обговорити з польськими фермерами завтра під час сільськогосподарського саміту у Варшаві

Navalny Funeral Set for Friday in Moscow