Remembering Havel, Czechs Feel Moral Responsibility to Help Ukraine

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has driven home the importance of NATO and the European Union for many of their newest members, according to Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavsky, who was in Washington this week for the funeral of Czech emigre and former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. “The reason we joined these two organizations is that it won’t happen to us,” Lipavsky, said at an event hosted by the Atlantic Council. The fact that Ukraine did not manage to enter the two Western institutions “created a gray zone” that Russian President Vladimir Putin exploited, said Lipavsky, who had discussed the challenge facing Ukraine, among other topics, in an interview with VOA earlier in the day. The people of Ukraine “want to be part of the Western society, they …

Ukraine Slows Russian Advance in East, South as Talks in Doubt

The continuation of negotiations to end Russia’s war against Ukraine is in doubt, with Ukraine’s president saying it is hard to discuss peace amid public anger over alleged atrocities carried out by Russian troops, while Russia’s foreign minister said Western sanctions and arms shipments were impeding the talks, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported.     Ukrainian forces fought Saturday to counter a Russian advance in their country’s south and east, where the Kremlin is seeking to capture the industrial Donbas region. Western military analysts said Moscow’s offensive was going much slower than planned. While Russia claimed on Saturday to have struck more than 380 targets overnight as it sought to take full control of the territories of Luhansk and Donetsk in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, the General Staff of Ukraine’s …

Serbia Shows Off New Chinese Missiles in Display of Military Power

Serbia on Saturday showed off its new Chinese-made surface-to-air missiles and other military hardware purchased from both Russia and the West, as the country seeks to perform a delicate balancing act over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. Members of the public and the media were invited to the display at the Batajnica military airfield near Belgrade, where Chinese and French missiles were lined up beside European Airbus helicopters, Chinese-armed drones and Russian MIG-29 jets. Serbia is striving to balance its partnership with NATO and aspirations to join the European Union with its centuries-old religious, ethnic and political alliance with Russia. The Chinese FK-3 surface-to-air defense system, similar to Russia’s S-300 or the U.S. Patriot system, was purchased by Belgrade in 2019 and delivered earlier this month. Serbia is the only European …

In Scandinavia, Wooden Buildings Reach New Heights

A sandy-colored tower glints in the sunlight and dominates the skyline of the Swedish town of Skelleftea as Scandinavia harnesses its wood resources to lead a global trend towards erecting eco-friendly high-rises. The Sara Cultural Center is one of the world’s tallest timber buildings, made primarily from spruce and towering 75 meters over rows of snow-dusted houses and surrounding forest. The 20-story timber structure, which houses a hotel, a library, an exhibition hall and theater stages, opened at the end of 2021 in the northern town of 35,000 people. Forests cover much of Sweden’s northern regions, most of it spruce, and building timber homes is a longstanding tradition. Swedish architects now want to spearhead a revolution and steer the industry towards more sustainable construction methods as large wooden buildings sprout …

Zelenskyy’s Invite to G20 Not Enough for Biden

Indonesian President Joko Widodo, who holds this year’s G-20 presidency, has invited Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to the group’s summit in Bali later this year, despite Russian President Vladimir Putin’s plans to attend. However, Zelenskyy’s invitation may not be enough to secure the attendance of U.S. and other Western leaders keen on isolating Moscow. White House Bureau Chief Patsy Widakuswara has this report. …

Chilling Calls, Legal Action as Russia Seeks to Silence Dissent

First came a court summons alleging Mikhail Samin had discredited the Russian army. Then came the threatening calls. Samin, a 22-year-old from Moscow who has been posting commentary about the war in Ukraine on social media, shared details of those chilling calls with VOA. In one expletive-laden call, a man warned that Samin had 24 hours to delete his posts, saying that only then, “you may sleep peacefully.” When Samin tried to reason with the caller, saying that people, children, were dying in Ukraine, the caller replied, “If you don’t stop being stupid, we will throw you off the balcony.” The legal action and threats are becoming the new normal for those in Russia who defy the strict censorship around the war in Ukraine. Moscow in March passed a law …

Media Watchdog RSF Puts French News Sites Back Online in Mali

Press freedom group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has put the websites of two major French broadcasters back online in Mali, after the country’s military government pulled the broadcasters off the air in March and officially banned them from the Malian airwaves this week. RSF put the sites back online Thursday, creating mirrors of the sites that can be accessed in Mali and are updated in real time. Using a virtual private network had previously been the only way to access those websites in Mali since the military government blocked them and took their corresponding TV and radio stations off the air March 17.  Arnaud Froger, head of the RSF Africa desk, said that the action is part of the organization’s work toward media freedom. He said RSF has been getting …

Thousands of Refugees, Migrants Died in 2021 on Sea Crossings to Europe

The U.N. refugee agency said Friday that refugee and migrant deaths are increasing at an alarming rate.  More than 3,000 people died or went missing in the Mediterranean or Atlantic last year on attempts to reach Europe. In comparison, 1,439 people died or went missing on those routes in 2019, and about 1,800 in 2020. Since the beginning of this year, the U.N. refugee agency reports an additional 553 people also have died or gone missing while attempting to reach Europe. UNHCR spokeswoman Shabia Mantoo said desperation is driving more people to make perilous sea journeys in search of protection and a better life.      “Most of the sea crossings took place in packed, unseaworthy, inflatable boats—many of which capsized or were deflated leading to the loss of life,” …

Russia Makes Last-Gasp Dollar Bond Payments in Bid to Avoid Default

Russia made what appeared to be a late u-turn to avoid a default on Friday, as it made a number of already-overdue international debt payments in dollars despite previously vowing they would only be paid in rubles. Whether the money would make it to the United States and other Western countries that sanctioned Russia was still not clear, but it represented another major twist in the game of financial chicken that has developed about a possible default. Russia’s finance ministry said it had managed to pay $564.8 million on a 2022 Eurobond and $84.4 million on a 2042 bond in dollars – the currency specified on the bonds. The ministry said it had channeled the required funds to the London branch of Citibank, one of the so-called paying agents of …

New Gas Pipeline Boosts Europe’s Bid to Ease Russian Supply

Mountainous and remote, the Greek-Bulgaria border once formed the southern corner of the Iron Curtain. Today, it’s where the European Union is redrawing the region’s energy map to ease its heavy reliance on Russian natural gas. A new pipeline — built during the COVID-19 pandemic, tested and due to start commercial operation in June — would ensure that large volumes of gas flow between the two countries in both directions to generate electricity, fuel industry and heat homes. The energy link takes on greater importance following Moscow’s decision this week to cut off natural gas supplies to Poland and Bulgaria over a demand for payments in rubles stemming from Western sanctions over the war of Ukraine. The 180-kilometer (110-mile) pipeline project is the first of several planned gas interconnectors that …

Bloomberg Reporters in Turkey Acquitted Over 2018 Currency Crisis Article

A Turkish court on Friday acquitted 33 people, including two Bloomberg reporters and other journalists from local media, of spreading false information about the economy in an article and tweets at the height of a currency crisis in 2018. The case followed a criminal complaint filed in August 2018 by the BDDK banking watchdog over an article by Bloomberg about the effects of a sharp decline in the lira and how authorities and banks were responding. Fercan Yalinkilic and Kerim Karakaya were on trial over the article, while other defendants in the case, including journalists Sedef Kabas and Merdan Yanardag, as well as economist Mustafa Sonmez, were tried for their tweets about the economy. Turkey’s lira plummeted in 2018 on concerns over President Tayyip Erdogan’s influence on monetary policy and …

Ukraine Slams Kyiv Attack Amid New Mariupol Rescue Effort

Ukraine’s leader accused Russia of trying to humiliate the United Nations by raining missiles on Kyiv during a visit by Secretary-General António Guterres, an attack that shattered the capital’s tentative return to normality as the focus of the war moved east. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Ukraine’s forces were holding off Russia’s attempted advance in the south and east, as efforts continued to secure safe passage for residents trapped in Mariupol, which has been largely reduced to rubble in a 2-month-long siege. Russia pounded targets all over Ukraine on Thursday, including the attack on Kyiv that struck a residential high-rise and another building. U.S.-funded broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty said its journalist Vira Hyrych, who lives in one of the buildings hit, died. Her body was found in the rubble on …

RFE/RL Journalist Dies in Russian Air Strikes on Kyiv

RFE/RL journalist Vira Hyrych has died in Kyiv after a Russian air strike hit the residential building where she lived in the Ukrainian capital. Hyrych’s body was found early in the morning on April 29 amid the wreckage of the building, which was hit by a Russian missile the night before, RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service said. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was visiting Kyiv on April 28 as air strikes hit the capital, including the apartment block. Videos and pictures from the site showed the lower floors of the building heavily damaged. Cars in the area had their windows blown out. Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov claimed “long-range, high-precision” missiles had hit factory buildings in Kyiv of Ukrainian rocket manufacturer Artem on April 28. Ukrainian officials have not commented on whether …

US: No Sign Russia-Ukraine Negotiations Will Bear Fruit

The United States has not seen many signs that Russia-Ukraine negotiations are “proving fruitful” as Moscow’s war on the country enters its third month, said a senior State Department official. “The Russians don’t seem to be willing to negotiate in a particularly meaningful way,” State Department Counselor Derek Chollet told VOA in an interview Thursday. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres arrived in Ukraine on Thursday after a stop Tuesday in Moscow, where he met for nearly two hours with President Vladimir Putin. Chollet said that U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke to Guterres before his trip to Moscow and Kyiv, and that the U.S. looks forward to hearing from the U.N. chief to see whether there is a way forward toward peace. In Congress, proposed legislation scrutinizing China’s support for …

US Seeks Authority to Give Seized Russian Assets to Ukraine

The Biden administration is asking Congress for additional legal authority to make it easier for the U.S. government to seize Russian government and oligarch assets and transfer the proceeds to Ukraine. The White House released the package of legislative changes Thursday as President Joe Biden asked Congress for $33 billion in additional aid for Ukraine as it seeks to fend off a devastating Russian invasion, now in its third month. If enacted, the proposed measures would “establish new authorities for the forfeiture of property linked to Russian kleptocracy, allow the government to link the proceeds to support Ukraine, and further strengthen related law enforcement tools,” the White House said in a statement. U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland urged Congress to quickly enact the changes. “The proposals the president announced today …

US, EU Warn Against Giving In to Russian ‘Gas Blackmail’

The United States and the European Union have warned against giving in to what they called Russian “blackmail” over gas supplies to Europe. Russia, which supplies about 40% of Europe’s gas needs, had demanded that what it called “unfriendly” European countries pay their gas bills in rubles — seen as a way to prop up the currency in the face of Western sanctions on Russian banks, including its central bank. Some EU states have set up Russian bank accounts to try to work around the sanctions. President Joe Biden said Thursday that the U.S. was helping its European allies to diversify gas supplies. “We will not let Russia intimidate or blackmail their way out of these sanctions. We will not allow them to use their oil and gas to avoid …

Scholz Says Germany Seeks Closer Ties With Indo-Pacific

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said in Tokyo on Thursday that his country wanted to strengthen ties with countries in the Indo-Pacific region that have the same values, and to work together to end Russia’s aggression in Ukraine.  “My trip is a clear political signal that Germany and the European Union will continue and intensify their engagement with the Indo-Pacific region,” Scholz said after meeting Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.  Kishida said he and Scholz agreed that as members of the Group of Seven industrialized nations they share a responsibility to work together to end Russian aggression and restore peace, stability and international order as quickly as possible.  “The Ukraine crisis shakes the foundation of the international order not only in Europe but also in Asia. Any attempts to change the status …

Greece Blocks Turkey From NATO Air Drill 

It was billed as a promising breakthrough — Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan meeting last month and agreeing to try to resolve their countries’ age-old differences, keeping, at least, a lid on tensions as the conflict in Ukraine rages. But on Thursday, as armed Turkish jets streamed into Greek airspace, conducting more than 125 unauthorized flights within 24 hours, Athens retaliated. Greece revoked Turkey’s planned participation in a May 9, Greece-hosted NATO air drill known as “Tiger Meet,” saying Turkey was “neither an ally, nor a friend.” Greece also suspended confidence-building negotiations due to begin between Greek and Turkish diplomats next month. The snub came as the Greek Foreign Ministry summoned Ankara’s top envoy late Wednesday to protest the record number of violations over …