German Foreign Minister Discusses Prisoners With Iranian Counterpart

Germany’s Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock discussed the fate of Germans held in Iran Friday with her Iranian counterpart Hossein Amirabdollahian, her ministry said. 

The two ministers held a telephone call with a “particular focus… on German consular cases,” the ministry wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter. 

Jamshid Sharmahd, a German citizen of Iranian descent, was abducted in late July 2020 by the Iranian authorities and sentenced earlier this year to be hanged for “corruption on earth.” 

Iran’s Supreme Court in April confirmed the death penalty. 

German-Iranian Nahid Taghavi, in her late 60s, was sentenced to 10 years and eight months in jail in August 2021 after being arrested at her Tehran apartment in October 2020.  

Taghavi was convicted on national security charges. 

Germany came under pressure over its Iran policy last week after a prominent women’s rights campaigner stormed out of a government meeting and accused officials of helping Tehran “silence dissidents.” 

Iranian-American activist Masih Alinejad said she had walked out of the meeting at the German foreign ministry after she was told the talks had to be “kept secret.” 

Sharmahd’s daughter, Gazelle Sharmahd, wrote a post on X in support of Alinejad. 

The families of German prisoners in Iran have been told by the German government for three years that “talks behind closed doors are better because publicity endangers the hostages,” she wrote. 

“But what has this public silence and confidential dialogue brought us?” 

A spokesperson for the foreign ministry responded that Germany’s “stance toward the Iranian regime is very clear and we condemn where it violates human rights.” 

Baerbock and Amirabdollahian on Friday also discussed “their different perspectives on regional issues,” the foreign ministry said. 

Baerbock “called on Iran to contribute to de-escalation,” it added. 

Ukraine’s Energy Infrastructure Crumbling Under Russian Attacks

Russian airstrikes, shelling and bad weather have damaged Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, leaving 500 settlements in intermittent energy blackouts.

Ukraine’s grid operator Ukrenergo reported that energy consumption hovered near record highs on Friday, straining the already fragile power grid.

For a second winter, Russia is targeting the country’s electric infrastructure, sending dozens of drones on an almost nightly basis to hit power-generating facilities and distribution networks across the country.

Ukrenergo said a thermal power plant in the east had again been damaged by systematic and prolonged shelling, and elsewhere a power facility had been shut down for emergency repairs.

Meanwhile Ukrenergo urged residents to economize on the use of electricity in the face of continued Russian attacks.

“This morning Ukrenergo again recorded a high level of consumption, which is almost equal to yesterday’s record,” the grid operator said in a statement, adding that consumption was at its highest levels so far this heating season.

Ukraine, an energy exporter before Russia’s invasion in February 2022, has been forced to turn to emergency power imports from neighboring Romania and Poland this week to meet demand, Ukrenergo said.

“The power system remains in a difficult situation. For now, there is no free capacity at power plants,” it said.

EU aid debate

The European Union will find ways to provide financial aid to Ukraine despite Hungary’s threat to veto EU assistance, a senior official said Friday. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has threatened to block the EU’s 50-billion-euro ($53 billion) budget proposal to assist Kyiv through 2027.

A senior EU official who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity said if Hungary does veto the aid package, the EU could allocate a smaller amount of money to Ukraine for a shorter time, or the other 26 EU countries could extend their national contributions bilaterally to Kyiv.

“We know how existential it is. European leaders are responsible people — at least 26,” said the official, who is involved in an EU summit scheduled for next week.

Ukraine depends on economic aid from the West to keep its defensive war against Russia going.

A senior EU diplomat, also speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, expressed hope that a compromise might be reached like last year when Orban objected to the EU’s $18 billion financial package aid to Ukraine but ultimately approved it after securing concessions from the EU for his country.

Hungary is also planning on blocking EU membership talks for Ukraine at next week’s summit.

The EU is due to consider a legal proposal on Tuesday allowing the use of sanctioned Russian frozen assets to help Ukraine. However, EU officials say Ukraine might not see the money any time soon because EU members are bickering over the amounts pledged for Ukraine.

The EU executive says some 28 billion euros worth of private Russian assets and a further 207 billion euros of the Russian central bank’s funds have been confiscated.

Some 125 billion euros of the latter sum is held by Belgian company Euroclear. Belgium estimated it would collect 2.3 billion euros in taxes on that in 2023-24. It said it would use those proceeds for Ukraine.

Putin presidency 2024

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced on Friday his candidacy in the presidential election next March, after a Kremlin award ceremony during which war veterans and others pleaded with him to seek reelection in what Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called “spontaneous” remarks.

Putin, who was handed the presidency by Boris Yeltsin on the last day of 1999, has already served as president for longer than any other ruler of Russia since Josef Stalin.

For Putin, 71, the election is a formality: With the support of the state, the state-run media and almost no mainstream public dissent, he is certain to win. He has no discernible successor.

About 80% of Russians approve of Putin’s performance, according to the independent pollster Levada Center. But it is not clear if that support is genuine or the result of Putin’s oppressive regime, which cracks down on any opposition.

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

США заблокували вимогу Радбезу ООН про гуманітарне припинення вогню в Газі

«Ми не підтримуємо заклик цієї резолюції до нестійкого припинення вогню, який лише покладе початок наступній війні», – сказав заступник посла США в ООН

«Це не змиє кров на їхніх руках» – глави МЗС Литви та Естонії засудили рішення МОК щодо російських спортсменів

Раніше міністр закордонних справ України Дмитро Кулеба закликав усіх партнерів рішуче засудити рішення МОК

Central Asian Trade Corridor Gains Interest Amid Regional Tensions

The emergence of a Middle Corridor — a transit network linking Asia with European markets by way of Central Asia, the Caspian Sea and the Caucasus — is rapidly gaining momentum as an alternative to Russia-controlled routes.

While the Trans-Caspian routes, also sometimes referred to as the China-Central Asia-West Asia Corridor, have come into their own over the past 30 years, Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine has prompted a significant increase in traffic over the routes.

Gaidar Abdikerimov, who heads the Trans-Caspian International Transport Route (TITR) association, reports that his network now comprises 25 transport and logistics companies including ports, vessels, railways and terminals. Its members also include 11 countries: Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Turkey, Ukraine, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Lithuania, China and Singapore.

“This all means that there is a high interest in our route,” Abdikerimov said in a recent forum at the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute (CACI) in Washington. He told the audience that over the past 10 months, more than 2.256 million tons of cargo have been transported over the route.

Abdikerimov’s office is based in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan. The oil-rich republic stretches from China’s northwestern frontier to the Caspian Sea, where cargo can be offloaded onto ships and carried to Azerbaijan in the Caucasus.

“We have decreased the estimated delivery time of transit container trains from 38 days to 19 days,” he said.

The World Bank stressed the “catalyzing potential” of the Middle Corridor in a November 27 report that focused on its beneficial impact on Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Georgia – Azerbaijan’s western neighbor providing access to the Black Sea.

“There was indeed a spike in the volume of traffic in 2022,” said Charles Kunaka, a lead transport specialist at the World Bank. “We see the Middle Corridor as adding to the resilience of the transport networks across the region, and especially connectivity between Europe, Central Asia, and East Asia.”

The World Bank foresees two major types of commerce flowing through the Middle Corridor, the first being trade between China and Europe.

“We see this type of trade as being relatively elastic. And we saw this in the immediate aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, that most of this trade initially switched to the Middle Corridor,” Kunaka said in a presentation to the CACI forum.

“But after some time, because of the constraints that still affect the performance of the Middle Corridor, we see some of this trade switching to maritime transport, for instance.”

The second flow is within the region itself, which the World Bank sees as a “more solid foundation for the development of the Middle Corridor.” Much of the traffic in this category involves fertilizers, minerals and grains.

Kunaka underscored the importance of collaboration among governments, the private sector, development banks and other relevant institutions if the route is to overcome several obstacles to its continued growth, including logistical and bureaucratic bottlenecks.

Grievances expressed by stakeholders in the project include high costs, unreliability, bottlenecks, poor service quality and a lack of transparency and traceability, he said.

Digitalization and the use of electronic documents by both the railways and on the Caspian Sea would ease the process, Kanaka suggested.

“A combination of investments and efficiency measures can reduce travel times along the corridor by half and triple trade flows by 2030,” said the World Bank report. “A fully functioning corridor would help to shield China-Europe trade and supply chains from shocks.”

Abdikerimov agreed, stressing that the Trans-Caspian routes must also connect with the Black Sea ports.

“Speed, quality service, sustainability and safety. We are systematically going towards these goals,” he said at the CACI forum.

Brenda Shaffer of the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, believes the World Bank study is an indication that “the Middle Corridor is increasingly of interest to multiple stakeholders.”

Speaking on the same virtual panel as Abdikerimov, Shaffer described an emerging alliance among Turkey, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, pointing to a growing convergence in the messaging of these countries’ diplomats in Washington and other capitals.

She thinks the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine “created a security threat to the region, especially to those that border Russia, such as Kazakhstan.”

For Shaffer, Turkey is a unique player, steadily boosting its role in the Caspian region.

By backing Azerbaijan during its invasion to reconquer the unrecognized republic of Nagorno-Karabakh, which had been under the de facto control of ethnic Armenians since the early 1990s, Ankara demonstrated “that cooperation with Turkey can have meaningful security benefits.”

She also expects Turkmenistan’s gas exports — currently directed mainly toward China — to shift westward.

“Increasing volumes of oil are going across the Caspian in various forms of small tankers,” she said, adding that all sides find it in their interests to increase those volumes significantly.

“Turkmenistan is dealing with potential demand destruction or lack of reliability of demand from China, surprisingly, for gas. As Russia increases its gas exports to China, they’re cheaper,” Shaffer said.

CACI’s Mamuka Tsereteli urges the U.S. government to focus on the value of increasing connectivity across the Black and Caspian seas through Central Asia and beyond.

“For Central and Eastern European states with a decades-long dependency on Russian resources in Russia-linked infrastructure, South Caucasus and Central Asia are major potential alternatives,” Tsereteli said.

Tsereteli hopes the United States and the EU will help in the development of the Middle Corridor, pointing out that Central Asia is also a large market for Western goods and services.

Kazakhstan’s Abdikerimov underlined that “Russia is definitely not fond of this Middle Corridor,” even though the goal has never been to avoid or exclude it. He said the Trans-Caspian transport network he oversees has always had its eyes on Turkey, North Africa and Southern Europe.

Україна відреагувала на рішення МОК про допуск спортсменів з РФ і Білорусі до Олімпіади у нейтральному статусі

«Що ще має зробити Росія, кого ще має вбити, щоб Міжнародний олімпійський комітет нарешті зняв рожеві окуляри щодо країни-терористки?»

Kremlin Propaganda on Uptick in Latin America

Javier Vrox, the host of a political program on a YouTube channel in Chile who constantly monitors social networks in his country, recently noticed an uptick in pro-Russian political messaging, which had already been common in the country.

“They copy and paste the same messages on social media — that [Ukrainian President Volodymyr] Zelenskyy is an actor, that he is a funny president; they copy those videos of Zelensky’s past TV series, making the point that he is an actor and a liar.”

According to Vrox, such reports aim to convince Chileans that Ukrainians only pretend to be victims of Russian aggression but are themselves a regional threat, and that NATO and the United States, by that logic, are its partners and equally hostile to Chile while Russia is a reliable ally.

“I think they’re doing a great job of tagging influencers, people from Twitter, now X, to share video messages and posts … to create the idea that if you’re a friend of the U.S., you’re an enemy to Chile,” said Vrox, who added that some posts referred to Ukrainian leaders as “Nazis,” even though Zelenskyy himself is Jewish.

These sentiments are not shared by Chilean President Gabriel Boric, who has publicly condemned Russian President Vladimir Putin for invading Ukraine and met with Zelenskyy in September 2023 during the U.N. General Assembly in New York to discuss a possible Ukraine-Latin America summit.

“Chileans don’t really support Ukraine; they think that Ukrainians are trying to manipulate the media to look like victims,” said Vrox. But “Boric supports Zelenskyy’s government, so a weird situation has developed.”

Well-funded network

James Rubin, the U.S. State Department’s Global Engagement Center special envoy and coordinator, agreed in an interview with VOA last month that Russia is “covertly co-opting local media and influencers to spread disinformation and propaganda” in Latin America.

In a public statement issued on November 7, the State Department said Russia “is currently financing an ongoing, well-funded disinformation campaign across Latin America,” spanning at least 13 countries, from Argentina and Chile in the south all the way to Mexico in the north.

“A cultivated group of editorial staff would be organized in a Latin American country, most likely in Chile, with several local individuals and representatives — journalists and public opinion leaders — of various countries in the region,” the statement said.

“A team in Russia would then create content and send the material to the editorial staff in Latin America for review, editing, and ultimately publication in local mass media.”

Christopher Hernandez-Roy of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, or CSIS, said Russia has a “legacy of propaganda” in the region going back to the Cold War.

Hernandez-Roy is a CSIS Americas Program deputy director and senior fellow.

The Soviets, he said, were “supporting revolutionary movements throughout the region, including military support in the case of Cuba, Nicaragua and other places, Central America in general, in the 70s and 80s.”

The annexation of Crimea in 2014, he said, became the starting point of a new wave of disinformation in the region.

“It’s around then that you start to see maybe an uptick in Russia’s influence or trying to influence narratives in the Western Hemisphere,” he told VOA. “In those three years — 2014, 2015 and 2016 — you start to see, for instance, ‘Russia Today’ coming online in Chile and Mexico, and I think in Argentina, as well.”

According to an October report by the United States Institute of Peace, Actualidad RT (Russia Today in Spanish) and Sputnik Mundo are the key purveyors of Russian state media in the region. Hernandez-Roy said these two media organizations have about 32 million regular listeners in Latin America, which has 667 million inhabitants.

“So, [even] 30 million is quite significant, and those are [merely] the overt ways,” he said. “Russia has a much more sophisticated apparatus than just simply its visible media outlets, [such as] using social media, sympathetic journalists, sympathetic influencers and Russian automated bots on social media. It can amplify its messages, which then are picked up by other sympathetic mechanisms.”

“We know [Actualidad RT] have offices in Havana, Buenos Aires and Caracas,” said Armando Daniel Armas, a Venezuelan opposition politician currently living in Europe. “We know that [Actualidad RT] have over 200 Spanish-speaking, let’s say, journalists working in Moscow … who allocate resources to find professional people, good people with content” to perpetuate Russian narratives on the ground in Latin American.

The object, according to U.S. officials, is to have Russian public relations and internet companies recruit and cultivate Latin American journalists, influencers and public opinion leaders to seed their publications and broadcasts with content favorable to Moscow while hiding any links to the Kremlin.

“They’ve been somewhat successful in using RT and Sputnik in Latin America,” Rubin told VOA in November. “The difference here is they’re trying to operate surreptitiously. They’re trying to create content in Russia and launder it through Latin American journalists. They are covertly co-opting local media and influencers to spread disinformation and propaganda.”

U.S. officials said it is unclear how many of the journalists and opinion leaders are aware they are being fed Russian disinformation, although a senior State Department official told VOA, “There are definitely some willing participants.”

Others involved in the network may be sympathetic to the Russian viewpoints but unaware that the directions are coming from Moscow.

Russia’s ultimate objective, said Hernandez-Roy, is to convince people in Latin America that Moscow is not the only one to blame — that there’s blame on both sides in a war caused by the U.S. and NATO.

“Essentially, what they’re trying to do is to make sure that the region is neutral,” said Hernandez-Roy. “We’re not talking about Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela, which, of course, are completely on the Russian side.”

Soft diplomacy

Yuriy Polyukhovych, Ukraine’s ambassador to Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, points to another asset utilized to influence opinions in Latin American that Moscow has used since Soviet times: its diplomatic corps.

“Russian ambassadors, Russian embassies here are a part of Russia’s propaganda machine,” he told VOA. “They’ve been doing their work for many years. These are not embassies of four or five persons. These embassies have 60, 70, 80 people each. Imagine what can be done with such a group of people! According to our information, some work for the intelligence service.”

At the same time, said Ukrainian Ambassador to Argentina Yuriy Klymenko, the Russian war against Ukraine at least somewhat undermined Russia’s standing in Latin America, presenting a diplomatic opportunity for the United States and its allies.

“From my experience, it is now considered bad manners to invite representatives of Russia to diplomatic or other public events,” he told VOA.

Yuriy Polyukhovych once called Latin America a region of “contact diplomacy,” emphasizing the need to work directly with local populations to counteract Russian influence. Hernandez-Roy suggested the U.S. project more soft power in the region.

“The U.S. used to project much more soft power decades ago than today,” he said. “Soft power means people-to-people exchanges, more high-level visits, cultural interchanges.”

Kyiv, he said, should allocate more resources to the region and conduct active diplomacy with high-level visits and ambassadors to counter Russian narratives.

This story originated in VOA’s Ukrainian Service. VOA National Security Correspondent Jeff Seldin contributed reporting.

Росія заблокувала процес обміну військовополоненими – Лубінець

За його словами, нині почастішали дзвінки із Російської Федерації рідним військовополонених, у яких їх намагаються переконати, що Україна відмовляється забирати своїх громадян з полону

Міжнародна морська організація направить місію в Україну: Кубраков назвав причину

«Асамблея схвально відзначила зусилля України з розблокування вільного судноплавства у Чорному морі та створення українського коридору для цивільних суден»

The Geopolitics of the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict

Німеччина передала Україні новий пакет військової допомоги

До нового пакету допомоги увійшли снаряди, безпілотники та автівки, кажуть у німецькому уряді

Білий дім: коштів для допомоги Україні вистачає на кілька тижнів

«Республіканці в Конгресі готові зробити Путіну подарунок», заявила речниця Карін Жан-П’єр

Країни-члени ЄС зможуть блокувати імпорт газу з РФ – Financial Times

Хоча Євросоюз поступово скоротив свою залежність від російських енергоносіїв, він, як і раніше, отримує близько десятої частини постачання газу з РФ

Japan Pledges $4.5 Billion to Ukraine

Japan has pledged $4.5 billion to Ukraine for its war against Russia, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced Thursday, $1 billion of which is designated for humanitarian aid.

“Japan is consistent and very principled in its support of our country and our people, and I am grateful for this assistance,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his daily address Thursday.  He said Japan’s decision to support Ukraine was “very timely and much-needed.”

A Russian drone attack killed one person and damaged port infrastructure in Ukraine’s Odesa region, the regional governor said Thursday.

Oleh Kiper said Odesa was under attack for two hours, and that while air defenses shot down most of the Russian drones involved, some of them made it through.

He identified the victim as a truck driver, and said the drone attack damaged a warehouse, elevator and trucks near the Danube River.

Ukraine’s military said Russia’s aerial attack involved a total of 18 drones targeting Odesa in southern Ukraine and the Khmelnytskyi region in the western part of the country.

Ukrainian air defenses shot down 15 of the 18 drones, the military said.

U.S. aid

Republican lawmakers in the U.S. Senate on Wednesday blocked $110 billion in aid for Ukraine and Israel, as well as some security measures for the U.S. southern border.

U.S. President Joe Biden had asked Congress for almost $106 billion to fund the wars and border needs.

The vote Wednesday was 49 votes in favor and 51 against, leaving the measure short of the 60 votes needed in order to proceed.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who supports Ukraine aid, told his party members to reject the aid package because it did not include policy changes, something lawmakers have fought over for years.

Earlier Wednesday, Biden implored Congress to approve more arms aid for Ukraine, saying that failing to pass the assistance would be the “greatest gift” the United States could hand Russian President Vladimir Putin in Putin’s nearly two-year war against the neighboring country.

At the same time, the U.S. Defense Department announced new security assistance for Ukraine that is the Biden administration’s 52nd allotment of equipment for Ukraine since August 2021. It contains air defense capabilities, artillery ammunition, anti-tank weapons and other equipment.

The $175 million military aid package includes guided missiles for the High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS, anti-armor systems, and high-speed anti-radiation missiles, according to the Pentagon and State Department.

Speaking briefly at the White House, the U.S. leader said that if Putin defeats Ukraine, “it won’t stop there,” and Moscow would invade neighboring NATO countries the U.S. is legally bound to defend.

“If NATO is attacked,” Biden said, “We’ll have American troops fighting Russian troops. We can’t let Putin win.”

With the new tranche of aid, Biden emphasized in a statement that “security assistance for Ukraine is a smart investment in our national security. It helps to prevent a larger war in the region and deter potential aggression elsewhere.”

Some Republican lawmakers in both the Senate and House of Representatives say they will not approve the additional Ukraine assistance without adopting much stricter U.S.-Mexico border controls, such as blocking all illegal migration.

Biden said, “I support real solutions at the border … to fix the broken immigration system,” but called for a compromise with opposition Republicans, not blanket acceptance of shutting the border, one of the demands of some Republicans.

The president said Republicans “have to decide whether they want a political solution or a real solution. This has to be a compromise.”

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

In Paris Exile, Family Becomes Proud ‘Voice’ of Jailed Iran Nobel Winner

The address on the invitation to the winner of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize says it all. “Ms. Narges Mohammadi, c/o Evin Prison, Tehran province, Iran.”

Mohammadi, 51, awarded the prize in October in recognition of two decades of work defending human rights in Iran, in defiance of constant persecution by the Islamic republic, remains in prison in Iran with no hope of release, let alone attending the glitzy event in Oslo on Sunday.

Instead, it will be her twin children Ali and Kiana, 17, who will attend the awards ceremony and deliver her speech, sharing the message of a mother of whom they are fiercely proud but who they have not seen for almost nine years and not even spoken to by phone for 20 months.

They now live in Paris with their father and Mohammadi’s husband, Taghi Rahmani. The awards she has won weigh the bookshelves of their apartment, which is marked by the spirit of the rights campaigner, even as she remains in jail thousands of kilometers away.

“We are not nervous. We are very proud to be able to be the voice of our mother and do our best to move things forward. The prize will reinforce our determination to go to the end,” Ali said.

He emphasized that the prize was not just for her mother but all Iranian women and men who rose up against Iran’s clerical authorities in the protest movement that started in September 2022.

His twin sister, Kiana, proudly showed the dress she bought for the ceremony but insisted “even if I went in my pajamas, what counts is the message, what counts is the speech.”

‘Release almost impossible’

Mohammadi wrote the speech from prison, and it was safely received by her family. But they said they will only read it at the last moment in order to discover its message with everyone else.

Amid all the excitement of the trip to Oslo, the family knows that the prize, whose award to Mohammadi was rapidly denounced by the Iranian authorities, will do little to help her find a way out of Evin prison in Tehran.

“They have a hatred without end for her. And as she won the Nobel Prize her release will be almost impossible. I prefer to anticipate and not be disappointed,” Kiana said.

Narges Mohammadi’s most recent stint in jail began with her arrest in November 2021 and she is embroiled in numerous cases supporters say are linked to her activism.

Prison has marked the life of this family, who struggle to produce any picture showing the four of them together. Taghi Rahmani is also a veteran activist repeatedly jailed in Iran before coming to France a decade ago.

“When we were 4 years old, our dad went to prison. From then on it was either him or our mother in prison. We got used to living without one or the other,” Ali said.

Taghi Rahmani said that the awarding of the prize to Mohammadi had created “many problems” for his wife inside Evin, with the latest restriction a complete cutting off of her right to make phone calls that has yet to be restored.

Mohammadi is prohibited from calling her husband or children in France. But she has been allowed until recently to speak to family inside Iran, crucial communications for staying in touch with the world.

But Rahmani emphasized she was “first of all very happy with the prize as her voice can be heard even more loudly in the world.”

‘Victory not easy but certain’

The years of incarceration have taken a toll on the family, with Ali recalling that their last conversation dates back to just before her most recent jailing.

“She said ‘I am going back to prison, look after your sister and father well and stay strong. Stay strong for me.’ I told her the same thing. ‘We are very proud of you, don’t be worried for us. We support you 100%.'”

He said he believed his mother would be released “when our goal is reached, freedom and democracy is reached.”

“It will be very complicated. But I have a lot of hope to be able to see my mother and a free Iran. My mother has an important saying ‘Victory is not easy but it is certain.'”

In her teenage bedroom full of stuffed animals, makeup and photos, Kiana has a framed photo of Narges Mohammadi with her two children.

“I forgot the sound of her voice, her height, what she looks like in person,” she said. “I accepted this life. It’s a horrible pain to live without your mother, but we don’t complain.”

White House and Republicans Stuck in Ukraine Funding Impasse

The Biden administration is running out of time to secure a deal on tens of billions of dollars in wartime aid for Ukraine and Israel that Senate Republicans blocked Wednesday. President Joe Biden has signaled he is willing to compromise on Republicans’ demands on border security to get the package through. But his aides accuse Republicans of ignoring Biden’s proposal. White House Bureau Chief Patsy Widakuswara reports. Camera: Oleksii Osyka. Contributors: Tatiana Vorozhko, Katherine Gypson.

Німецькі дослідники констатують різке скорочення міжнародної допомоги Україні

Подальша відстрочка у допомозі Україні «однозначно зміцнить позиції Путіна», вважають дослідники

Припинення допомоги Україні було б «різдвяним подарунком» для лідерів РФ і Китаю – голова МЗС Британії

«Ми повинні передати ці гроші українцям, ми повинні їх підтримати і переконатися, що Путін програє»

US Lawmakers Running Out of Time to Pass Ukraine Aid, Border Security Funding

With just four working days left before its holiday recess, the U.S. Congress is no closer to passing the White House’s $60 billion request for aid to Ukraine.

Lawmakers are running out of time to negotiate a deal on border security that Republicans say must be included to overcome their concerns about funding foreign conflicts while leaving domestic priorities unaddressed.

“This is about securing our border so we can then help our allies,” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham told reporters Thursday.

Graham called on President Joe Biden to enforce existing immigration laws, saying he would not return to his home state of South Carolina to “try to explain why I helped Ukraine, Taiwan and Israel and did nothing to secure our own border. I will help all of our allies, but we have got to help ourselves first.”

The Ukraine aid request is part of a larger $106 billion emergency supplemental request that includes military assistance to Israel and Indo-Pacific partners as well as Democratic priorities for border security funding.

“Republicans in Congress are willing to give Putin a gift, the greatest gift that Putin could … hope for,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Thursday.

Senators resumed negotiations Thursday after failing to open debate on the supplemental request by a 49-51 vote late Wednesday.

“I think the vote yesterday convinced them [Democrats] that we are serious about it, and something needs to be done,” Senator Jim Risch, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told VOA. “And I’m convinced that we’ll get there. That’s just democracy.”

Democrats object to Republicans’ proposals to change asylum rules at the U.S. border and argue the White House request must be considered all together as part of a broader national security strategy.

“It was Republicans who threw an unnecessary wrench into Ukraine funding by tying it to the extraneous issue of the border,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on the Senate floor Thursday.

“We all agree that border security is important,” he said. “President Biden included strong border provisions in the proposal he sent us. But we also know it’s a complicated issue — very complex — that’s escaped bipartisan solution for years.”

Earlier this week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy had been expected to address a classified briefing for U.S. senators via videoconference but canceled unexpectedly. The meeting ultimately grew tense as Republicans accused Democrats and Biden administration briefers of not addressing their concerns about the border.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a strong supporter of aid to Ukraine, emphasized Thursday that Republican border security proposals must be included to win Republican votes.

“It is profoundly unserious to pretend that national security priorities don’t include securing our nation’s borders,” McConnell said on the Senate floor Thursday.

“To warn about borders in jeopardy and not start with the one that’s being overrun here at home,” he said. “To invoke threats facing sovereign nations without a clear plan to uphold America’s own sovereignty.”

Brigadier General Pat Ryder, the Pentagon press secretary, said Tuesday that there is $1.1 billion left to replenish U.S. military stockpiles for weapons and equipment sent to Ukraine.

The White House also warned earlier this week that the United States has about $4.8 billion left to supply Ukraine with aid, an amount that would run out by the end of this year.

Any compromise passed in the Democratic-majority Senate would also need to pass the Republican-majority House of Representatives, where support for Ukraine has diminished this year.

House Speaker Mike Johnson has indicated he does not plan to extend the House schedule past its last scheduled day in session on December 14. Earlier this week, he told reporters several key questions about accountability and the longer-term strategy for victory in Ukraine remain.

Many Republicans recognize that aid to Ukraine is important for deterrence but argue for more oversight.

Republican Representative Michelle Steel told VOA on Thursday, “We’ve been spending so much — billions and billions of dollars. We have to see transparency, that exactly where these monies are going and how they’re spending it.”

According to the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, aid commitments to Ukraine are at their lowest since the beginning of the war in February 2022.

“Between August and October 2023 saw a stark drop in the amount of newly committed aid, with the value of new packages totaling just EUR 2.11 billion,” the report said.

Biden has worked to shore up the support of allies amid uncertainty over passage of the funding on Capitol Hill.

“Great Britain and the European countries will keep on supporting Ukraine,” David Cameron, British foreign secretary and former prime minister, told VOA.

“But clearly America is an essential partner in this,” he said. “They are the world’s biggest economy, the biggest defense player, absolutely vital. So, let’s keep going on making the argument about what a difference the resources will make.”

US, UK Act Against Russian Hacker Group

The U.S. government on Thursday unveiled measures to combat Russian hackers accused of targeting U.S-based entities and individuals and meddling in a British election.

The cyber actors targeted include the Callisto group, also known as Star Blizzard or COLDRIVER, which engaged in espionage and is connected to Russia’s Federal Security Service, or FSB, according to a statement released by U.S. State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller.

Also, the Department of Justice unsealed an indictment against two Russian hackers, Andrey Stanislavovich Korinets and Ruslan Aleksandrovich Peretyatko, in connection with what the State Department called “a criminal hacking conspiracy that targeted U.S.-based entities and individuals, including U.S. Department of Energy facilities’ employees.”

Financial sanctions

In addition to the indictment, the U.S. Treasury announced it has imposed financial sanctions on Peretyatko and Korinets for their roles in malicious cyber-enabled activity.

Under the Rewards For Justice program, or RFJ, the U.S. offered unspecified rewards for information on the whereabouts of Peretyatko and Korinets.

A notice on the RFJ website says awards of up to $10 million can go to anyone who has information “leading to the identification or location of any person who, while acting at the direction or under the control of a foreign government, engages in certain malicious cyber activities against U.S. critical infrastructure.”

Hackers also targeted individuals

The hackers, who the U.S. says worked in the Callisto Group, also targeted individuals based in the United Kingdom.

The U.S. noted concern about the hackers’ targeting of the U.K., which London described as a failed attempt to interfere with politics from Russian agents.

The U.K. sanctioned the two hackers in connection with the cyberattacks and summoned the Russian ambassador.

“I can confirm today that the Russian Federal Security Services, the FSB, is behind a sustained effort to interfere in our democratic processes,” British Junior Foreign Minister Leo Docherty said in a statement to lawmakers.

The hacking group has been known for years to target and attempt to hack personal emails from high-profile victims.

ЗМІ: російське ГРУ заволоділо даними іноземців, запрошених до РФ фондом із орбіти партії покійного Жириновського

Російський фонд миру, який очолює лідер ЛДПР Леонід Слуцький, передавав Головному розвідувальному управлінню Генштабу ЗС РФ дані іноземців, які приїжджали до Росії на запрошення організації. Про це пише видання The Insider із посиланням на дані службового листування співробітників 1-го «європейського» управління ГРУ.

В електронних листах співробітників ГРУ журналісти виявили файли зі скріншотами десятків паспортів науковців, викладачів університетів, громадських та релігійних діячів з-за кордону.

1-ше управління ГРУ займається шпигунством за кордоном і вербує агентів, у тому числі в Європі – в Австрії, Швейцарії, Франції, Італії, Німеччині та Чехії, зазначає видання.

Найбільше даних від фонду Слуцького військова розвідка отримала про представників Франції, пише The Insider. Також у досліджених журналістами файлах була інформація про громадян США, Канади, Бельгії, Іспанії, Італії, Словенії, Індії, Бразилії, Ізраїлю та країн Африки. Що саме ГРУ робило із цими даними, у тексті не уточнюється.

Російський фонд миру – правонаступник заснованого понад 60 років тому Радянського фонду миру. Він позиціонує себе як громадська організація, яка здійснює «миротворчу та гуманітарну діяльність з надання допомоги соціально вразливим верствам населення, ветеранам війни, дітям-сиротам та інвалідам».

Згадані у статті іноземці, як і Слуцький, не прокоментували розслідування журналістів.

Леонід Слуцький є наступником Володимира Жириновського і став лідером партії ЛДПР після смерті останнього у квітні 2022 року. Слуцький активно підтримує зовнішню політику Володимира Путіна, зокрема війну в Україні та конфлікт із країнами Заходу. У вересні він отримав від командування 24-ї окремої бригади спецпризначення ГРУ пам’ятний знак. Ця бригада воювала у Сирії та Україні.


У МЗС РФ назвали Тихановську «шахрайкою». В офісі білоруської опозиціонерки відреагували

Офіційна представниця МЗС Росії Марія Захарова назвала білоруську опозиціонерку Світлану Тихановську «вільнюською шахрайкою». Так представниця російського зовнішньополітичного відомства відреагувала на візит Тихановської до США і її зустрічі в Конгресі, передає білоруська служба Радіо Свобода.

За словами Захарової, Білорусь на заходах високого рівня мають представляти офіційні особи або «представники громадянського суспільства», тоді як, на її думку, Тихановська є «самозванкою», і говорила переважно про РФ, бо їй буцімто «за це платять».

У відповідь головний радник Тихановської  Франак Вячорка заявив: «Якщо Захарову «бомбить», значить, ми все робимо правильно».

З 4 по 8 грудня лідерка білоруської опозиції Світлана Тихоновська перебуває у США.

5 грудня в Палаті представників Конгресу США відбулися слухання «Майбутнє свободи та демократії в Білорусі» з її участю. Під час слухань йшлося про політику США щодо Білорусі, санкції проти режиму Олександра Лукашенка та допомогу громадянському суспільству. 6-8 грудня у Вашингтоні проходить перший американо-білоруський стратегічний діалог, де американську сторону представляють урядовці, а білоруську – демократичні сили, опозиційні фактичному керівництву Білорусі.


Europe Fears Surge in African Migration as Niger Repeals Trafficking Law

The European Union has voiced concerns of a surge in migrants from Africa, after the ruling military junta in Niger repealed a law that had previously criminalized the transport of migrants in the country.

Known as Law 2015-36, the legislation was drafted in 2015 in coordination with the EU and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. At the time, Europe was facing a migrant crisis, as more than a million people entered the continent from Turkey and North Africa. The law was implemented the following year.

As part of the 2015 deal, the European Union pledged over $5 billion in aid to stabilize economies and governments in the Sahel region to stem the flow of migrants.

“These projects had a number of objectives, including combating illegal migration, improving public infrastructure, improving border capacity — but also assisting displaced populations,” explained Alia Fakhry, an expert on EU-Africa migration policy at the German Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin.

“One of these projects was the project that supported the Niger state to build its border capacity and to draft this new law that would criminalize irregular migration and its facilitation — the work of smugglers, basically. And it’s this law that’s now been revoked by the military junta,” Fakhry told VOA.

The EU said in September that 876 suspected people traffickers were prosecuted under the law from 2017 to 2023.

However, on July 26, Niger’s military ousted democratically elected President Mohamed Bazoum in a coup. Junta leader General Abdourahamane Tchiani announced in November that the government was repealing the 2015 migrant law and said that all convictions under the legislation would be quashed.

Tchiani did not give a reason for the move, although observers say he is likely seeking to gain local support and retaliate against the EU’s decision to suspend aid payments following the coup.

Speaking to reporters in Brussels on November 28, Ylva Johansson, European commissioner for home affairs, voiced fears of a new influx of migrants.

“There is a huge risk that this will cause new deaths in the desert. That’s the most concerning thing, but it would also probably mean more people coming to Libya, for example, and then maybe also trying to cross the Mediterranean today to the EU,” she said.

In a discussion paper published in September, the Council of the European Union had already expressed concerns over cooperation with the Nigerien military junta following the July 26 coup.

“Given Niger’s role as a transit country, primarily through the Central Mediterranean route, as well as its status as a host country, it is crucial to direct our focus towards the aftermath of the events of 26 July,” the paper said.

“The risk of the instrumentalization of migration exists in theory — although there is no evidence for this right now — or of a halt to cooperation on migration and border management with the EU. Various scenarios are now possible regarding the evolution of migratory flows transiting through Niger. Besides, close attention must be paid to other countries of the area, such as Mauritania, in which there could be migratory consequences of the coup in Niger,” the paper said.

Critics say the 2015 law forced migrants to divert to more dangerous routes through the Sahara desert to try to reach Europe and exposed the migrants to abuses by the Nigerien security forces.

Local media report that the repeal of the law has been welcomed in Niger and that migrant traffickers are planning to resume operations. Its implementation in 2016 had devastated the local economy in migrant hubs such as Agadez, Fakhry said.

“A number of people simply went out of a job in the region,” said Fakhry. “So, smugglers, of course. People who were facilitating the travel and journey of migrants. But also, a bunch of people who benefited directly or indirectly from the presence of migrants. These are people who were preparing and selling food, people who were selling water, offering accommodation, any other kind of service to migrants.”

Before the law’s implementation, the Nigerien army had often accompanied migrant convoys through the desert and demanded their own cut of the profits.

“There might be an objective to return to the pre-2015 situation where migrant smuggling created revenues for the military and for the state,” Fakhry said.

Analysts say several factors will determine how quickly the migrant flows could resume, including the situation in the migrants’ countries of origin and in transit countries north of Niger. The EU and individual European states have struck deals with Tunisia and Libya to clamp down on irregular migration across the Mediterranean Sea.

Leaders of Turkey and Greece Agree to Increase Cooperation

Greece and Turkey made significant progress toward mending relations Thursday, as leaders of the neighboring countries agreed to several cooperative measures after years of tension.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited the Greek capital of Athens, where he met with Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis. The two reached agreements focusing on pursuing good neighborly relations, opening communication, lessening tension through military confidence-building, increasing trade and working to resolve issues in the Aegean Sea, where the two countries share a border.

“There is no issue between us that is unsolvable. So long as we focus on the big picture and don’t end up being like those who cross the sea and drown in the river,” Erdogan said. “We want to turn the Aegean into a sea of peace. Through the joint steps we will take as Turkey and Greece, we want to be an example to the world.”

Disputes between the two countries include maritime boundaries and rights to explore for resources in the Aegean Sea and eastern Mediterranean Sea. Tension has risen nearly to the point of war three times in the last 50 years.

Most recently, in 2020, warships from the two countries shadowed each other in the eastern Mediterranean.

Erdogan said as recently as last year that he had no interest in meeting with Mitsotakis. But the two have now met three times this year, with Thursday’s meeting showing a stark departure from the usual rhetoric used between the two leaders.

Mitsotakis praised the mending relationship and set a “realistic goal” to double trade between the two from $5.4 billion to $10.8 billion over the next five years.

The Greek leader also said he would back holiday visas for any Turks visiting Greece and would support Turkey’s request for a loosening of travel restrictions for Turks traveling to European Union countries.

An increased relationship with Greece is also a step toward Turkey improving relations with the EU, which the country has been attempting to join for two decades. Erdogan has made it a priority to increase cooperation with Western allies since being reelected in May.

Some information in this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.

Президент Євроради про переговори в Пекіні: повторили важливість допомоги Китаю у запобіганні обходу РФ санкцій

«Ми знову наполягали на тому, щоб Китай не постачав Росії військове обладнання. Повторили, наскільки важливо, щоб Китай допоміг запобігти обходу РФ санкцій»

«Росія продовжує депортувати дітей»: Лубінець розповів, скільки дітей вивезли в РФ і яку нову тактику застосовує Москва

Надходять відомості, що фактично кожного дня, складаються нові і нові списки дітей, яких треба вивезти на територію РФ, каже омбудсман