Category Archives: World

politics news

Zelenskyy Hosting UN Chief, Turkey’s President in Lviv 

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan are set to meet Thursday with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv with an agenda expected to include a global food crisis, threats to a nuclear power plant, and finding a political solution to the war launched by Russia. 

Efforts to ease the food crisis are ongoing, with ships carrying Ukrainian exports now able to depart under an agreement the U.N. and Turkey brokered in late July with Russia and Ukraine. 

Guterres is scheduled to travel Friday to visit a port in Odesa, then on Saturday to Istanbul to see the Joint Coordination Center that is monitoring the export system, including inspections of inbound and outbound ships demanded by Russia.  

The center said it expects inspections teams to conduct checks Thursday on four ships that departed Ukraine this week.    

Those include the Osprey S, which is carrying corn to Turkey, the Ramus and its cargo of wheat bound for Turkey, the Brave Commander carrying wheat to Djibouti, and the Bonita carrying corn to South Korea. 

Four other ships are set to be inspected on their way to Ukraine. Russia has sought to ensure that inbound vessels are not bringing weapons for Ukrainian forces. 

Three more ships departed Ukraine’s Black Sea ports on Wednesday.  The coordination center said the Sara, carrying 8,000 metric tons of corn, and the Efe, carrying 7,250 metric tons of sunflower oil, left the Odesa port bound for Turkey.     

The Petrel S, loaded with 18,500 metric tons of sunflower meal, left the Chornomorsk port and was headed to Amsterdam, the coordination center said.  

Since exports began August 1, 24 vessels have left Ukraine.   

Crimea blasts 

A series of explosions during the past week in Russian-occupied Crimea are part of a new strategy being deployed by Ukrainian forces in the war, a Ukraine official said Wednesday.    

A week ago, an attack at a Russian air base in Crimea destroyed nine warplanes. On Tuesday, a series of explosions rocked an ammunitions storage facility at a Russian base.  

Russia called the latest attacks “sabotage.”  

Ukrainian officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told The Washington Post that Ukraine special forces were responsible for the attacks in Crimea.  

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov told the Post that the Ukrainian government’s official position is that it can neither confirm nor deny Ukrainian involvement in the Crimea attacks.   

However, Reznikov also told the Post that striking targets behind Russian lines is part of Ukraine’s current military strategy. He added that Ukraine lacks weapons with the range to reach targets in Crimea from Ukrainian-controlled territory.  

In 2014, Russia seized the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine. Ukrainian authorities have vowed to recapture Crimea and other territories now occupied by Russia after Moscow’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine.  

In a speech following the August 9 attack, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the war “began with Crimea and must end with Crimea – its liberation.”   

Elsewhere, Russian shelling of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, killed seven people and injured 16, the Ukrainian Emergencies Service said Wednesday. 

Kharkiv has often been targeted, and Zelenskyy called Wednesday’s attack “a devious and cynical strike on civilians with no justification” in a Telegram post.  

Also on Wednesday, Ukraine held disaster response drills after repeated shelling of the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the largest of its kind in Europe.   

Ukrainian Energy Minister Herman Halushchenko told Reuters his government was very concerned about the safety of the plant in Enerhodar in the southeast of the country.     

Both sides have accused the other of attacks near the facility in recent days and engaging in what they call “nuclear terrorism,” Reuters reported.       

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

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Two More Baltic Countries Quit China-Led Forum Amid Ukraine War

Estonia and Latvia say they are pulling out of a decade-old mechanism established by China to deepen its influence in Europe, following their Baltic neighbor Lithuania, which left the group last year.

Sixteen nations joined the China and Central and Eastern European Cooperation (China-CEEC) Forum when it was established in April 2012, with an inaugural summit held in Poland. The 16+1, as it was known, appeared to be gaining influence when Greece joined in 2019.

But Lithuania quit the group in 2021 over security concerns and frustrations with growing authoritarianism in Beijing, leading lawmakers from Lithuania told VOA earlier this year. The country also said it wanted to end the practice of dealing with major powers on a subregional group basis, preferring a united European Union approach.

Lithuania’s two Baltic neighbors announced last week that they, too, would no longer participate in the grouping’s activities. China’s close ties with Russia factored in their country’s decision, a statement issued by the Latvian foreign ministry said.

Both countries said they want to continue to work toward constructive and pragmatic relations with China but would like to do so within the framework of EU-China relations, and “in line with rules-based international order and values such as human rights.”

On sidelines since early 2021

The last summit held under the China-CEEC mechanism was in February 2021, when Chinese leader Xi Jinping hosted top officials in a virtual meeting. “Since then, Estonia has not participated or kept track of the events,” Aari Lemmik, counselor for press and cultural affairs at the Estonian Embassy in Washington, told VOA.

Latvia, meanwhile, stated that in the current geopolitical setting, its continued participation in the 16+1 format is no longer in line with its strategic objectives.

“China-Russia relations are growing closer. China has repeatedly confirmed its strategic partnership with Russia even after the latter embarked upon wide-scale military aggression in Ukraine, for which China is putting the blame on the West,” read a statement provided to VOA by the Latvian Embassy in Washington.

“Since 16+1 is a format for international dialogue, and not an international organization, no formal withdrawal procedures are applicable. Latvia simply will no longer participate in the activities of this framework,” the statement said.

A Romanian-based expert who has been following China and Central and Eastern Europe described the 16+1 exercise as “an initiative that failed to turn into a ‘fan club’ of China partners.”

“For the time being, at least in the short and medium term, I think [China’s] expansion reached its limits,” said Horia Ciurtin, an expert at the New Strategy Center, a think tank headquartered in Bucharest, in written answers to questions from VOA. “It hit a ceiling and it will slowly ossify and withdraw. And this is not only the case of Central/Eastern Europe, but throughout the scattered map.”

Ciurtin thinks that the conflict in Ukraine and China’s ties with Russia have made it more difficult for China to market itself as a benign investor or trading partner. In addition, he sees the decisions made by Latvia and Estonia as a form of Baltic solidarity.

The war in Ukraine “presented a good opportunity for Latvia and Estonia to follow Lithuania’s path,” he said.

Lithuania punished

Lithuania has been the target of Chinese political and economic punitive measures since its decision last year to leave the China-CEEC forum and expand trade ties with democratic Taiwan, which Beijing sees as a renegade province. Beijing’s effort has been widely seen as designed to scare off other countries that may want to follow suit.

Following an online meeting between the Chinese and Estonian foreign ministers in January, Chinese state media hailed Estonia as an “example” of how European nations handle their relations with Beijing, “in sharp contrast to Lithuania.”

But following last week’s announcement, Beijing’s Global Times published an article casting Estonia’s and Latvia’s decisions as “shortsighted” and the result of bowing to U.S. pressure. The newspaper added that their role within the China-CEEC forum had been “marginal,” and that the forum would continue regardless.

Global Times also said that neither the U.S. nor the EU can be counted on to deliver the kind of economic help China delivers.

Asked to respond, a State Department spokesperson said the United States “will continue to closely support [Estonia’s and Latvia’s] efforts to make the Baltics a more resilient and prosperous region.

“Estonia and Latvia are valued NATO allies and key U.S. partners across a range of issues, including through our strong defense and economic ties, and on the promotion of democracy and human rights,” the spokesperson said.

“Beyond our commitment to the same values, our free, democratic countries produce prosperity that helps our economies thrive,” the spokesperson added.

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Russian Police Search Homes of Journalists Contributing to RFE/RL Programs

Russian police have searched the homes of several journalists contributing to programs of RFE/RL’s Russian Service and Idel.Realities, an online project that covers news and events in the Volga-Urals region.

On August 17, police in the capital of Russia’s Tatarstan region, Kazan, searched the home of sociologist Iskander Yasaveyev, who is a columnist for the Idel.Realities online project.

Yasaveyev’s lawyer, Rim Sabirov, said police took his client to the Investigative Committee for questioning. According to Sabirov, the law enforcement officers confiscated all the mobile phones belonging to Yasaveyev’s family members.

At this point it remains unclear why exactly Yasaveyev, who is known for his open stance against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, was detained for questioning.

Meanwhile, pro-Kremlin website Tatar-Inform reported on August 17 that police searched the homes of seven other local journalists who work as freelancers or contribute to RFE/RL’s Russian and Tatar-Bashkir services, as well as to Idel.Realities.

Only one of the journalists targeted was identified: Marina Yudkevich, who is also a columnist for Idel.Realities.

According to Tatar-Inform, the searches were linked to the journalists’ articles covering Russia’s ongoing aggression against Ukraine.

President Vladimir Putin in March signed a law that calls for lengthy prison terms for distributing “deliberately false information” about Russian military operations as the Kremlin seeks to control the narrative about its war in Ukraine.

The law carries sentences of up to 10 years in prison for individuals convicted of an offense, while the penalty for the distribution of “deliberately false information” about the Russian military that leads to “serious consequences” is 15 years in prison.

It also makes it illegal “to make calls against the use of Russian troops to protect the interests of Russia” or “for discrediting such use” with a penalty possible of up to three years in prison. The same provision applies to calls for sanctions against Russia.

Multiple websites of RFE/RL, the BBC and other independent media outlets have been blocked over what Russian regulators claim is erroneous reporting.

Separately, on August 17, a contributor in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg to RFE/RL’s Russian Service and several other independent media outlets, Yelena Shukayeva, was sentenced to 14 days in jail on charges of propaganda and public demonstration of extremist groups’ symbols.

Shutayeva’s lawyer, Roman Kachanov, said the charges against his client stemmed from her reposting materials prepared by jailed opposition politician Aleksei Navalny’s team.

Russia last year declared Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation “extremist” and banned the use of any symbols tied to the group as part of a widening crackdown on the opposition.

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NATO Says It Is Ready to Step Up Forces if Serbia-Kosovo Tensions Escalate

NATO will increase its peacekeeping force in Kosovo if there is an escalation of tensions with neighboring Serbia, the alliance’s chief said on Wednesday on the eve of EU-facilitated talks between the estranged western Balkan neighbors.

“We have now a significant mission, a military presence in Kosovo close to 4,000 troops,” Jens Stoltenberg told a news conference after talks with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic in Brussels, who stood alongside him.

“If needed, we will move forces, deploy them where needed and increase our presence. We have already increased the presence in the north. We are ready to do more.”

Tensions between Serbia and Kosovo flared this month when Pristina said it would oblige Serbs living in the north, who are backed by Belgrade and do not recognize Kosovo institutions, to start using car license plates issued in Pristina.

The situation calmed after Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti, under U.S. and European Union pressure, agreed to postpone the number plates rule until Sept. 1 and NATO peacekeepers oversaw the removal of roadblocks set up by Serbs.

However, Vucic told the news conference at NATO that talks with Kurti on Thursday, which will be facilitated by the EU, would be difficult because the two sides disagree on almost everything.

Kosovo won independence from Serbia in 2008, almost a decade after a guerrilla uprising against repressive Belgrade rule.

Serbia legally still considers Kosovo an integral part of its territory. It denies whipping up tensions and conflict there, and accuses Pristina of trampling on the rights of minority Serbs. Ethnic Serbs account for 5% of Kosovo’s 1.8 million population, which is 90% ethnic Albanian.

Vucic said Serbia wanted to avoid any escalation of the situation, but it was important to understand that there is “a new generation of young men” who see Kosovo as Serbian territory and will no longer “put up with the terror.”

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Turkey, Israel to Re-Appoint Ambassadors after Four-Year Chill

Turkey and Israel said on Wednesday they will re-appoint respective ambassadors more than four years after they were called back, marking another milestone after months of steady improvement in relations.

The two regional powers had expelled ambassadors in 2018 over the killing of 60 Palestinians by Israeli forces during protests on the Gaza border against the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem.

But they have been working to mend long-strained ties with energy emerging as a key area for potential cooperation.

Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s office said on Wednesday the two countries decided to restore full diplomatic ties.

“It was decided to once again upgrade the level of the relations between the two countries to that of full diplomatic ties and to return ambassadors and consuls general,” Lapid’s office said in a statement following a conversation between the prime minister and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan.

“Upgrading relations will contribute to deepening ties between the two peoples, expanding economic, trade, and cultural ties, and strengthening regional stability,” it added.

Avisit to Turkey by Israeli President Isaac Herzog in March, followed by visits by both foreign ministers, helped warm relations after more than a decade of tensions.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the appointment of ambassadors was one of the steps in the normalization of ties.

“Such a positive step came from Israel as a result of these efforts, and as Turkey, we also decided to appoint an ambassador to Israel, to Tel Aviv,” Cavusoglu said at a news conference in Ankara, adding Turkey was selecting someone.

The move, which comes as Israel has sought to improve ties with regional powers, was agreed two years after the so-called Abraham Accords which saw relations normalized between Israel, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Morocco.

Turkey also launched a charm offensive in 2020 to repair ties with estranged rivals, making overtures to Egypt, the UAE, Israel and Saudi Arabia. Efforts with Cairo have so far yielded little progress, but officials have said normalization work with Riyadh and Abu Dhabi are going well.

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Scholz ‘Disgusted’ by Abbas Comments on Holocaust

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Wednesday rejected what he said were comments by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that diminished the Holocaust.

Abbas was asked during a visit to Berlin on Tuesday about the upcoming 50th anniversary of an attack by Palestinian militants against Israelis at the Munich Olympics.

Abbas spoke about incidents in which Israelis killed Palestinians since 1947, saying, “Israel has committed 50 massacres in Palestinian villages and cities, in Deir Yassin, Tantura, Kafr Qasim and many others, 50 massacres, 50 Holocausts.”

Scholz, who was with Abbas when he made the comments at a joint news conference, used a Twitter post Wednesday to say he was “disgusted” by the remarks.

“For us Germans in particular, any relativization of the singularity of the Holocaust is intolerable and unacceptable. I condemn any attempt to deny the crimes of the Holocaust,” Scholz posted.

Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said Abbas’ comments were “not only a moral disgrace, but a monstrous lie.”

“Six million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust, including one and a half million Jewish children. History will never forgive him,” Lapid tweeted.

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

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Ukraine Tells Civilians to Avoid Russian Ammo Depots After Blast

Following massive explosions at a military depot in the Russian-occupied Crimean Peninsula, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told people there and in other parts of southern Ukraine to “be very careful” and avoid areas where Russian forces store ammunition and equipment. 

“The reasons for the explosions in the occupied territory can be different, very different, in particular, I quote the definition of the occupiers themselves, ‘bungling,’” Zelenskyy said in his latest address. “But they all have the same meaning: the destruction of the occupiers’ logistics, their ammunition, military and other equipment, command posts saves the lives of our people.” 

The large-scale blasts Tuesday occurred at an ammunition storage facility in Mayskoye, the second time in a week that explosions have occurred at Russian outposts in the territory it seized in 2014.  

Russia, without pinpointing the perpetrators, called the latest explosions an “act of sabotage.” They followed last week’s attack at the Saki air base that destroyed nine Russian warplanes.  

Ukraine did not claim responsibility for the Mayskoye incident, but Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhaylo Podolyak tweeted: “Crimea occupied by Russians is about warehouses, explosions and high risk of death for invaders and thieves. Demilitarization in action.”  

Russian officials said the fires at the depot caused damage to a power plant, power lines, rail tracks and some apartment buildings, but that there were no serious injuries.  

The fight for control of Crimea remains contentious, with Moscow demanding that Ukraine recognize it as part of Russia and Ukraine calling for its return to the Kyiv government before any eventual end to the war can be negotiated.  

The military depot where the blasts occurred is in the north of the peninsula, about 50 kilometers from the Russian-controlled region of Kherson in southern Ukraine.  

The Russian military blamed last week’s blasts at the Saki air base on an accidental detonation of munitions there, but more likely it appeared to be the result of a Ukrainian attack, with U.S. news outlets quoting unnamed Ukrainian military sources as saying their forces carried it out.    

Guterres visit 

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is due to visit Ukraine on Thursday for a meeting with Zelenskyy and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. 

Guterres spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters that the U.N. chief would then travel Friday to the southern city of Odesa to visit a port being used as part of an initiative to restart Ukrainian grain exports. The United Nations and Turkey helped broker the agreement with Russia and Ukraine amid a global food crisis, and several ships have already departed Ukraine. 

Guterres is also due to travel to Istanbul on Saturday to visit the Joint Coordination Center that is monitoring the export system, including inspections of the exports demanded by Russia. 

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced late Monday $68 million to help with “procurement, transport, and storage of up to 150,000 metric tons of Ukrainian wheat to address acute food insecurity.” 

“While the resumption of exports from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports is a positive step in addressing the needs of food insecure countries, these shipments must continue so that the millions of tons of food trapped in the country can reach markets and help feed the world’s most vulnerable,” Blinken said in a statement.     

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New Scottish Law Makes Period Products Free for All

A law has taken effect in Scotland to ensure period products are available free of charge to anyone who needs them.

The Scottish government said it became the first in the world to legally protect the right to access free period products when its Period Products Act came into force Monday.

Under the new law, schools, colleges and universities as well as local government bodies must make a range of period products such as tampons and sanitary pads available for free in their bathrooms. The Scottish government already invested millions of pounds since 2017 to fund free period products in educational institutions, but the law makes it a legal requirement.

A mobile phone app also helps people find the nearest place — such as the local library or community center — where they can pick up period products.

“Providing access to free period products is fundamental to equality and dignity, and removes the financial barriers to accessing them,” Scottish Social Justice Secretary Shona Robison said.

“This is more important than ever at a time when people are making difficult choices due to the cost-of-living crisis and we never want anyone to be in a position where they cannot access period products,” she added.

The bill, which was passed unanimously in 2020, was introduced by Scottish Parliament lawmaker Monica Lennon, who had campaigned against “period poverty” — when someone who needs sanitary products can’t afford them.

“Proud of what we have achieved in Scotland,” Lennon tweeted Monday. “We are the first but won’t be the last.”

The Scottish government said its move was world-leading, with countries including South Korea and New Zealand taking similar approaches.

Last year New Zealand’s government said all schools in the country were to offer free period products as part of a drive to help students from poorer families who were missing school because of period poverty.

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Wolfgang Petersen, Blockbuster Filmmaker of ‘Das Boot,’ Dies

Wolfgang Petersen, the German filmmaker whose World War II submarine epic “Das Boot” propelled him into a blockbuster Hollywood career that included the films “In the Line of Fire,” “Air Force One” and “The Perfect Storm,” has died. He was 81.

Petersen died Friday at his home in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Brentwood after a battle with pancreatic cancer, said representative Michelle Bega.

Petersen, born in the north German port city of Emden, made two features before his 1982 breakthrough, “Das Boot,” then the most expensive movie in German film history. The 149-minute film (the original cut ran 210 minutes) chronicled the intense claustrophobia of life aboard a doomed German U-boat during the Battle of the Atlantic, with Jürgen Prochnow as the submarine’s commander.

Heralded as an antiwar masterpiece, “Das Boot” was nominated for six Oscars, including for Petersen’s direction and his adaptation of Lothar-Günther Buchheim’s best-selling 1973 novel.

Petersen, born in 1941, recalled as a child running alongside American ships as they threw down food. In the confusion of postwar Germany, Petersen — who started out in theater before attending Berlin’s Film and Television Academy in the late 1960s — gravitated toward Hollywood films with clear clashes of good and evil. John Ford was a major influence.

“In school, they never talked about the time of Hitler. They just blocked it out of their minds and concentrated on rebuilding Germany,” Petersen told the Los Angeles Times in 1993. “We kids were looking for more glamorous dreams than rebuilding a destroyed country, though, so we were really ready for it when American pop culture came to Germany. We all lived for American movies, and by the time I was 11, I’d decided I wanted to be a filmmaker.”

“Das Boot” launched Petersen as a filmmaker in Hollywood, where he became one of the top makers of cataclysmic action adventures in films spanning war (2004’s “Troy,” with Brad Pitt), pandemic (the 1995 ebola virus-inspired “Outbreak”) and other ocean-set disasters (2000’s “The Perfect Storm” and 2006’s “Poseidon,” a remake of “The Poseidon Adventure,” about the capsizing of an ocean liner).

But Petersen’s first foray in American moviemaking was child fantasy: the enchanting 1984 film “The NeverEnding Story.”

Arguably Petersen’s finest Hollywood film came almost a decade later in 1993’s “In the Line of Fire,” starring Clint Eastwood as a Secret Service agent protecting the president of the United States from John Malkovich’s assassin. In it, Petersen marshaled his substantial skill in building suspense for a more open-air but just as taut thriller that careened across rooftops and past Washington, D.C., monuments.

“In the Line of Fire” was a major hit, grossing $177 million worldwide and landing three Oscar nominations.

“You sometimes have seven-year cycles. You look at other directors; they don’t have the big successes all the time. Up to ‘NeverEnding Story,’ my career was one success after another,” Petersen told The Associated Press in 1993. “Then I came into the stormy international scene. I needed time to get a feeling for this work — it’s not Germany anymore.”

After “Outbreak,” with Dustin Hoffman, Rene Russo and Morgan Freeman, Petersen returned to the presidency in 1997’s “Air Force One.” Harrison Ford starred as a president forced into a fight with terrorists who hijack Air Force One.

“Air Force One,” with $315 million in global box office, was a hit, too, but Petersen went for something even bigger in 2000’s “The Perfect Storm,” the true-life tale of a Massachusetts fishing boat lost at sea. The cast included George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg, but its main attraction was a 100-foot computer-generated wave. With a budget of $120 million, “The Perfect Storm” made $328.7 million.

For Peterson, who grew up on the northern coast of Germany, the sea long held his fascination.

“The power of water is unbelievable,” he said in a 2009 interview. “I was always impressed as a kid how strong it is, all the damage the water could do when it just turned within a couple of hours and smashed against the shore.”

Petersen followed “The Perfect Storm” with “Troy,” a sprawling epic based on Homer’s The Iliad that found less favor among critics but still made nearly $500 million worldwide. The big-budget “Poseidon,” a high-priced flop for Warner Bros., was Petersen’s last Hollywood film. His final film was 2016’s “Four Against the Bank,” a German film that remade Petersen’s own 1976 German TV movie.

Petersen was first married to German actress Ursula Sieg. When they divorced in 1978, he married Maria-Antoinette Borgel, a German script supervisor and assistant director. He’s survived by Borgel, son Daniel Petersen and two grandchildren.

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