UK Honors COVID Scientists and Medics, Bond Actor Daniel Craig 

Britain recognized the scientists and medical chiefs at the forefront of the battle against COVID-19 in Queen Elizabeth’s annual New Year’s honors list, while James Bond actor Daniel Craig was given the same award as his famous onscreen character.  Craig, who bowed out from playing the fictional British spy after five outings following the release of “No Time to Die” this year, was made a Companion in The Order of St. Michael and St. George (CMG) in recognition of his outstanding contribution to film.  Bond was also a CMG, so the honor means Craig has now matched all his titles, having been made an honorary Commander in the Royal Navy in September.  There were also major honors for the high-profile officials and others involved in tackling the coronavirus pandemic.  The …

Biden, Ukraine President to Speak Sunday Amid Tensions with Russia 

President Joe Biden plans to speak Sunday with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, a White house official said Friday, a day after Biden spoke with Russian leader Vladimir Putin on how to reduce tensions on the Ukraine-Russia border.  Biden will reaffirm support for Ukraine, discuss Russia’s military build-up on its borders and review preparations for diplomatic efforts to calm the situation in the region, the official said Friday.  The U.S. and Russian leaders exchanged warnings over Ukraine in Thursday’s call, but their countries voiced some optimism afterwards about planned security talks in January to address Russian military actions that drew the threat of sanctions from Washington and its allies.  The leaders’ exchange set the stage for lower-level engagement between the countries that includes the U.S.-Russia security meeting on January 9-10, followed …

Biden Affirms Sanctions Threat; Putin Says That Would Be ‘Colossal Mistake’

Presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin spoke frankly for nearly an hour late Thursday amid growing alarm over Russia’s troop buildup near Ukraine, a simmering crisis that’s recently deepened as the Kremlin has stiffened its demands for increased security guarantees and test-fired hypersonic missiles to underscore its demands.  Putin’s foreign affairs adviser said Biden reaffirmed the U.S. threat of new sanctions against Russia in case of an escalation or invasion, to which Putin responded with a warning of his own: that such a U.S. move could lead to a complete rupture of ties.  “It would be a colossal mistake that would entail grave consequences,” said Yuri Ushakov. He added that Putin told Biden that Russia would act as the U.S. would if offensive weapons were deployed near American borders.  Putin …

Russia’s ‘Gas Pivot’ to China Poses Challenge for Europe

Gazprom, Russia’s giant state-owned energy company, is slated to finalize an agreement in 2022 for a second huge natural gas pipeline running from Siberia to China, marking yet another stage in what energy analysts and Western diplomats say is a fast-evolving gas pivot to Asia by Moscow. They see the pivot as a geopolitical project and one that could mean trouble for Europe. Known as Power of Siberia 2, the mega-pipeline traversing Mongolia will be able to deliver 50 billion cubic meters of Russian gas to China annually. It was given the go-ahead in March by Russian President Vladimir Putin, and when finished it will complement another massive pipeline, Power of Siberia 1, that transports gas from Russia’s Chayandinskoye field to northern China. Power of Siberia 2 will supply gas …

Cold War Resentment Has Been Building for Decades in Kremlin

A few days after Vladimir Putin was reelected his country’s president in 2018, a former top Kremlin official outlined to VOA how perilous relations had become between the West and Russia. In a wide-ranging conversation, almost foretelling the high-stakes clash developing now between the Kremlin and NATO over Ukraine, he said Putin believed the fracture between Russia and Western powers was irreparable.  And he identified NATO’s eastward expansion as the key reason. The final blow came for Putin, he said, with the 2013-14 popular Maidan uprising in Ukraine that led to the ouster of his ally, then Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovych. The Kremlin insider, who occupied a senior position in former Russian President Boris Yeltsin’s government and went on to become a core member of Putin’s team, blamed the West …

Biden, Putin to Hold Call Over Stepped Up Security Demands

President Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin will speak Thursday as the Russian leader has stepped up his demands for security guarantees in Eastern Europe. The two leaders will discuss “a range of topics, including upcoming diplomatic engagements,” National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne said in a statement announcing the call. The talks come as the U.S. and Western allies have watched the buildup of Russian troops near the border of Ukraine, growing to an estimated 100,000 and fueling fears that Moscow is preparing to invade Ukraine. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke on Wednesday with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. State Department spokesman Ned Price said Blinken “reiterated the United States’ unwavering support for Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity in the face of Russia’s military buildup on Ukraine’s borders.” Price …

World Struggles With Rising COVID-19 Infections

The United States recorded more than 512,000 daily new coronavirus cases Tuesday – the single highest one-day number of cases recorded since the beginning of the pandemic, according to data released by the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center The one-day record coincides with a New York Times database showing the seven-day average of cases in the U.S. rose above 267,000 on Tuesday. The recent surge is driven by a record number of children infected and hospitalized with COVID-19. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, however, lowered its previous estimate of new coronavirus cases driven by the rapidly spreading omicron variant. The federal health agency said Tuesday that omicron accounted for roughly 59 percent of all variants, far lower than the 73 percent figure it announced last week. The surge of new infections in the United States has forced …

9 Serbs Indicted for Killing Around 100 Muslims During Bosnian War 

A Bosnian war crimes prosecutor has indicted nine Bosnian Serbs for the killing of around 100 Muslim Bosniaks, including seven entire families, early in the 1992-95 war, the prosecutor’s office said in a statement on Wednesday.  Twenty-six years after the end of its devastating war between Orthodox Serbs, Catholic Croats and Muslim Bosniaks in which about 100,000 people had died, Bosnia is still searching for people who went missing and seeking justice against the suspected perpetrators.  At the same time, the Balkan country is going through its worst post-war political crisis, with Bosnian Serb leaders’ threat of pulling out of Bosnia’s national institutions, including the joint armed forces, raising fears of a new conflict.  The nine men, the former members and commanders of the Bosnian Serb wartime army, are accused …

In Russia, State Is Waging Hybrid War Against Media, Nobel Laureate Says

In his Nobel speech, Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov described journalism as the “antidote to tyranny.”  The editor-in-chief of Novaya Gazeta and his staff face frequent threats because of the independent paper’s investigative, hard-hitting coverage. Several of its journalists and contributors have been killed, including Anna Politkovskaya, who reported on human rights abuses in Chechnya. A memorial to Politkovskaya was vandalized in December, just a few days after Muratov and Philippine journalist Maria Ressa were handed the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo. In an exclusive interview with VOA’s Russian Service, Muratov spoke about the struggle to defend and uphold media freedom in Russia and how the threat of violence and legal action affects reporting. This interview has been translated from Russian and edited for length and clarity.  Question: In your …

Andrew’s Lawyers Say Accuser Can’t Sue Because She Doesn’t Live in US

In a court filing Tuesday, lawyers for Prince Andrew say a lawsuit by an American who claims he sexually abused her when she was 17 might have to be thrown out because she no longer lives in the United States.  Attorneys Andrew Brettler and Melissa Lerner said they recently discovered that Virginia Giuffre has lived in Australia all but two of the last 19 years and cannot claim she’s a resident of Colorado, where she hasn’t lived since at least 2019.  In an August lawsuit filed in federal court in New York, Giuffre claimed the prince abused her on multiple occasions in 2001.  The prince’s lawyers in October asked Judge Lewis A. Kaplan to throw out the lawsuit, saying the prince “never sexually abused or assaulted” Giuffre. The lawyers acknowledged …

US, Russia to Discuss Ukraine During January Talks

The United States and Russia will hold talks in January about nuclear arms control and tensions along the Russia-Ukraine border.  A spokesperson for the White House National Security Council told reporters the two sides would meet January 10, followed by Russia-NATO talks on January 12. In addition, Russia, the United States and other members of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which includes Ukraine, will participate in a meeting January 13.  “When we sit down to talk, Russia can put its concerns on the table, and we will put our concerns on the table with Russia’s activities as well,” the spokesperson said. “There will be areas where we can make progress and areas where we will disagree. That’s what diplomacy is about.”  Western governments have been alarmed by …

State Department Calls for Release of Two Americans Held in Russia

The U.S. State Department called Tuesday for Russia to release Paul Whelan, who was detained by Russian authorities three years ago.  Whelan, 51, was in Russia as a tourist and was arrested at a Moscow hotel. He was convicted of espionage charges and is currently serving a 16-year sentence of hard labor at a prison camp in Mordovia. The former U.S. Marine and former security executive denies the charges, which the U.S. State Department called “false.”  The State Department also called for the release of Trevor Reed, who is serving a nine-year sentence for allegedly assaulting Russian police officers after a night of drinking in Moscow in 2019. Reed, also a former Marine, said he does not remember the incident and pleaded not guilty.  Reed’s lawyers were critical about the …

Mali’s Military Government: Russia Sends Trainers, Not Mercenaries

Mali’s military government has denied hiring Russian mercenaries from the controversial Wagner Group, which has been sanctioned by the European Union for rights abuses. France and 15 other Western nations last week condemned what they said was Russia’s deployment of Wagner fighters to Mali. Mali’s transitional government says it is only engaged with official Russian military trainers. Analysts weigh in on Russia’s military involvement in Mali as French troops are drawing down. Mali’s transitional government this month denied what it called “baseless allegations” that it hired the controversial Russian security firm the Wagner Group to help fight Islamist insurgents.   Western governments and U.N. experts have accused Wagner of rights abuses, including killing civilians, in the Central African Republic and Libya.   The response came Friday after Western nations made the accusations, …

Historians Lament Dissolution of Russia’s Memorial Historical Rights Group 

Prominent historians and human rights activists were shocked by a Russian Supreme Court ruling Tuesday to close Memorial International, which chronicled historical abuses of the former Soviet Union and identified victims of former Soviet dictator Josef Stalin’s purges.    The human rights group, which has long drawn the ire of Russian officials, was found guilty of breaking a law requiring nongovernmental organizations and other groups to register as foreign agents if they receive foreign donations. Kremlin critics said the organization was targeted for political reasons.    Memorial International’s sister organization, the Memorial Human Rights Center, which campaigns on behalf of political prisoners in modern-day Russia, is also under legal threat. Prosecutors in Moscow Wednesday will call for its closure on claims it has been justifying terrorism and condoning extremism in …

BBC Journalist Says he has Left Russia for British Exile

An investigative journalist for the BBC’s Russian-language service in Moscow said in a video released on Monday that he had felt compelled to leave Russia for self-imposed exile in Britain due to what he called unprecedented surveillance. Russian authorities designated Andrei Zakharov a “foreign agent” in October, a decision the British broadcaster said at the time it strongly rejected and would try to overturn. The designation was the latest twist in a crackdown on media outlets that the authorities in Moscow see as hostile and foreign-backed. Separately, BBC journalist Sarah Rainsford left Russia in August after Moscow refused to extend her permission to work in what it said was a tit-for-tat row with Britain over the treatment of foreign media. The foreign agent designation has Cold War-era connotations and requires …

Russian Gas Supplies to Europe Under Scrutiny 

With the arrival of winter in Europe and energy prices soaring, tensions are running high over the provision of gas from Russia — especially through the Yamal-Europe pipeline that runs through Poland and Belarus.  But the Yamal pipeline is just one part of a complex gas infrastructure network shaped not only by energy needs but also wider economic interests and politics, including strife between Russia and Ukraine.  The pipeline, opened in 1994, runs over 2,000 kilometers (1,242 miles) to Germany from the city of Torjok in central Russia, transiting through Belarus and Poland.  It delivers 30 billion cubic meters of gas to Europe each year, making it one of the most important vehicles for the provision of Russian gas to the continent.  Russia sells Germany gas at a cheaper rate than …

Russian Court Orders Prominent Rights Group to Shut Down 

Russia’s Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that Memorial, the country’s most prominent human rights organizations, must shut down.  Prosecutors had accused Memorial of failing to properly mark its publications under its designation as a foreign agent.They also said the group denigrated the former Soviet Union and rehabilitated “Nazi criminals.”  Memorial rejected the accusations as being politically motivated, and its leaders have pledged to continue their work.  The group rose to prominence through work to document crimes during the time of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, and more recently spoke out against efforts to repress critics of Russian leader Vladimir Putin.  Some information for this report came from the Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters. …

The Euro: How It Started 20 Years Ago

As Europe rang in the New Year 20 years ago, 12 of its nations said goodbye to their deutschmarks, French francs, liras and pesetas as they welcomed the euro single currency.  On January 1, 2002, euro notes and coins became a reality for some 300 million people from Athens to Dublin, three years after the currency was formally launched in “virtual” form.  Here is a recap of the event, drawn from AFP reporting at the time:  In a far cry from the austere New Year’s celebrations imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic 20 years later, fireworks, music and lights blazed at midnight into the early morning of January 1, 2002, to mark the biggest monetary switch in history.  AFP reported that many people passed on their traditional New Year’s Eve parties, …

US, Russia to Hold Security Talks in January 

The United States and Russia will hold talks in January about nuclear arms control and tensions along the Russia-Ukraine border.  A spokesperson for the White House National Security Council told reporters the two sides would meet January 10, followed by Russia-NATO talks on January 12 and a meeting on January 13 with Russia, the United States and other members of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.  “When we sit down to talk, Russia can put its concerns on the table, and we will put our concerns on the table with Russia’s activities as well,” the spokesperson said.”There will be areas where we can make progress, and areas where we will disagree. That’s what diplomacy is about.”  Western governments have been alarmed by the buildup of Russian troops along …