New British PM Makes First Visit To Kyiv
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has made his first visit to Kyiv since taking office, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said. "Since the first days of the war, Ukraine and the U.K. have been the strongest of allies," Zelensky said in a Facebook post on November 19. "During today's meeting, we discussed the most important issues both for our countries and for global security."
G7 Leaders Hold Virtual Summit On Anniversary Of Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine
Leaders of the Group of Seven (G7) vowed on February 24 to support Ukraine for as long as needed in its war against Russia and said they would look for ways to make Moscow pay for the damage inflicted by its invasion.
The G7 leaders held a videoconference with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to mark the second anniversary of the Russian invasion.
"As Ukraine enters the third year of this relentless war, its government and its people can count on the G7’s support for as long as it takes," the G7 leaders' statement said.
Zelenskiy told the leaders of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United States that they "know very well" what Ukraine needs to protect its skies and strengthen its army on the ground.
"You know everything we need to support and continue our success at sea. And you well understand that we need all this in time. We are counting on you," Zelenskiy said, calling on the leaders to remember "that imperial ambitions and revanchism disappear only with the defeat of those who are infected by them."
This is historically what clears the way for real security and the development of democracy, he added.
"We hear at this time 'History is watching,' and this is absolutely true," he said, referring to the words of U.S. President Joe Biden in recent speeches imploring the House of Representatives to pass a bill that includes $61 billion in aid to Ukraine.
The first G7 summit in 2024 took place exactly two years after Russia launched its full-scale invasion on February 24, 2022.
"I thank you for these two years together. That terrible day of February 24 and all the horror brought by Russia still did not deprive Ukraine of a normal future," Zelenskiy told the G7 leaders.
Zelenskiy signed security agreements earlier on February 24 with Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who were in Kyiv along with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo to mark the war's two-year anniversary.
"The message I want to send today to...all the Ukrainian people is that they are not alone," Meloni said as she signed a 10-year defense pact with Zelenskiy.
Trudeau signed a similar accord and pledged some $2.25 billion in financial and military support this year.
"Every day since Russia’s invasion began, the G7 has stood with Ukraine. And today, together, we reaffirmed that support. We are united. We are unwavering. And we are not going to let Putin win," Trudeau said.
Zelenskiy also met with Swedish Defense Minister Pal Jonson to discuss the potential for joint arms production and future negotiations on signing a bilateral security agreement.
With reporting by Reuters
March In Belgrade To Mark War Anniversary Calls For Continued Support For Ukraine
People gathered in the center of Belgrade on February 24 and marched to Republic Square, where they lit candles and held a minute of silence for the victims of Russia’s war in Ukraine.
The Support Ukraine march event, held at the invitation of the Ukrainian Embassy to mark the second anniversary since the start of the war, drew people into the streets waving the flags of Ukraine and the European Union and displaying messages in support of peace.
Ukrainian Ambassador to Serbia Volodymyr Tolkach took part in the march along with the head of the delegation of the European Union, Emanuele Giofre, and the ambassadors of Sweden and Britain.
Tolkach said Ukraine is grateful to the international coalition that has helped the country survive over the past two years.
“Russia is ready for long and arduous war that will exhaust Ukraine, and if we want to fight against dictatorship and totalitarianism, we need to improve our efficiency. We should not let Ukraine to lose this war,” Tolkach said.
Giofre repeated the EU’s determination to stand by Ukraine.
"We are here to first of all pay respect to the many Ukrainians who have lost their lives, their loved ones in this horrible war, but also to pay respect to the resilience of the Ukrainian people that are standing tall in these difficult times, and to express our commitment to stand by them in the months and moments to come," Giofre said.
Elsewhere in Serbia, the anniversary was marked in Novi Sad by a march and the laying of flowers at memorials to victims of the war. A walk for peace in Ukraine and a free Russia organized by the Russian Democratic Society was also held in Belgrade. The group is made up of critics of Russian President Vladimir Putin and opponents of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Since the start of the war, Russian and Ukrainian anti-war activists in Serbia have organized a series of protests against it, but there also have been rallies in support of Russia organized by ultra-right groups, and Belgrade has expelled or banned several anti-war activists who fled Russia after the invasion.
Serbia joined the United Nations resolutions condemning Russia's invasion of Ukraine and has said it respects Ukraine's territorial integrity, but it has also resisted EU pressure to join Western sanctions to punish Moscow for the war.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic told TASS on February 20 that Belgrade is under great pressure from the West to impose sanctions Russia.
"We will try to defend our position as long as possible. We have been doing this for two years and I hope we will be able to continue,” Vucic said.
Bulgarian Sanctioned By U.S., Britain For Corruption Elected To Leadership Role In Major Bulgarian Party
A Bulgarian lawmaker who has been sanctioned by the United States and Britain for alleged corruption, has been elected a co-president of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms at the party’s national convention in Sofia.
Delyan Peevski, a veteran member of parliament, was elected co-president of the party with Djevdet Chakarov, another veteran member of parliament and environment minister from 2005-09 when the Movement for Rights and Freedoms was in the governing coalition.
Peevski initially was the only candidate for president, but some members objected, prompting founder and honorary chairman of the party Ahmed Dogan to suggest Chakarov as co-president to please ethnic Turks. But it is clear to observers that Peevski is the party's main leader.
The move makes Peevski the first ethnic Bulgarian to lead the party, which has traditionally represented Bulgarian Turks and other Muslim communities in the country.
The Movement for Rights and Freedoms was founded in 1990 after the Bulgarian Communist party changed the names of Bulgarian Turks and expelled thousands of them to Turkey. It has consistently held seats in Bulgaria's parliament and over the years has been in and out of the government.
Though it is not in the current governing coalition formed by Continue the Change-Democratic Bulgaria and GERB, it supports its pro-Western course and Peevski attends government majority meetings in parliament.
Nikolay Denkov’s government survived a no-confidence vote in October that was sought by three opposition parties, including the pro-Russian party Vazrazhdane, over plans for a transition to cleaner energy and other energy policies.
Movement for Rights and Freedoms joined members of former Prime Minister Boyko Borisov’s GERB party and We Continue The Change – Democratic Bulgaria in support of the government, which Denkov's formed in July after five general elections within two years.
Denkov on February 24 issued a statement on the two-year anniversary of the war in Ukraine, assuring Kyiv of Bulgaria’s continued support.
"Two years ago, the Kremlin reminded us that we must fight for peace and defend our values," the statement said. Bulgaria is defending these values by continuing to support Ukraine, Denkov said, while Russia is fighting against "the right to a free, happy and full life" for everyone in Europe.
Peevski, whose opponents describe as an oligarch with influence in politics, the judiciary, and the media, and Borisov dominated Bulgarian politics for much of the past 14 years.
Peevski, who is believed to be one of Bulgaria's richest men, was sanctioned for corruption in 2021 under the U.S. Magnitskiy Act, and Britain followed suit one year later.
With reporting by dpa
Ukrainians Honor Fallen Soldiers With Exhibition, Religious Service
An ecumenical prayer service was held in Zaporizhzhya on February 24. Locals joined church dignitaries near an outdoor exhibition that features photos and names of soldiers killed in the defense of Ukraine. When Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine two years ago, the eastern city of Zaporizhzhya was near the front line. Russia controls a nearby nuclear power plant to this day.
Ukraine Signs Bilateral Security Agreement With Canada, Zelenskiy Says
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on February 24 said he signed a bilateral security agreement with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Kyiv. The 10-year agreement "strengthens the position of our people, particularly our soldiers," Zelenskiy said on X. Canada joins Italy, Britain, Germany, France, and Denmark in concluding security agreements intended to shore up Ukraine's security until it can reach its aim of becoming a member of NATO. Zelenskiy said signing the agreement was "a strong and timely decision that will significantly strengthen our resilience."
Ukraine And Italy Sign Bilateral Security Agreement, Zelenskiy Says
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on February 24 signed a bilateral security agreement with Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni. Italy joined Britain, Germany, France, and Denmark in concluding a 10-year security deal with Kyiv -- agreements intended to shore up Ukraine's security until it can reach its aim of becoming a member of NATO. Meloni is on a visit to Kyiv to underline continued support as Ukraine marks the second anniversary of the start of Russia's full-scale invasion in February 2022.
Zelenskiy Aide Downplays Prospect Of Early Peace Talks, Swiss Say Russia Unlikely At Start
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's senior aide Mykhaylo Podolyak said on February 24 that it's impossible to predict when the war might end and suggested Zelenskiy's office is not currently in favor of peace talks with Russia as it would mean the "gradual death of Ukraine."
Podolyak acknowledged a need to audit available resources and weaponry but said "there are no other options to end the war besides the collapse of the front line and tactical defeats of Russia. Everything else is fiction."
The remarks come as Kyiv and its backers seek to send a defiant message to Moscow on the second anniversary of the unprovoked full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Swiss President Viola Amherd was quoted by Neue Zuercher Zeitung on February 24 as saying Russia was unlikely to participate at the start of a senior-level peace conference that neutral Switzerland hopes to host in the next few months.
The remarks followed Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis telling the United Nations that the idea was broached in January and Bern hoped for such a conference "by this summer."
With additional reporting by Reuters
Imprisoned Nobel Laureate Mohammadi Urges Boycott, Sanctions, Condemnation Of Iran Elections
Imprisoned Iranian human rights lawyer and Nobel Peace Prize winner Narges Mohammadi has urged a boycott alongside "national sanctions and global condemnation" of next month's legislative elections there, calling the moves "a political necessity and a moral duty."
"Sanctioning elections under a despotic religious regime is not just a political move but also a moral obligation for freedom-loving and justice-seeking Iranians," Mohammadi said on social media on February 24.
Mohammadi has previously described the clerically led Iranian leadership "criminal" and has long been a vocal critic of conditions for political and other prisoners in Iran.
She pledged that "I, alongside the informed and proud people from all over Iran, from Sistan and Baluchestan to Kurdistan, from Khuzestan to Azerbaijan, will stand to declare the illegitimacy of the Islamic Republic and the divide within the oppressive regime and its people through the sanctioning of sham elections."
In January, an Iranian court extended the 51-year-old Mohammadi's prison sentence by 15 months for “spreading propaganda” against the Islamic republic while in jail. It was her fifth conviction since March 2021 and the third for activities from prison, where she was sent for alleged actions against national security and propaganda against the state.
In her February 24 post, she criticized Iranian authorities' "ruthless and brutal suppression, the killing of young people on the streets, the executions, and the imprisonment and torture of men and women."
A number of prominent Iranians outside the country and some political and civil activists in Iran have already called for a boycott of the March 1 voting.
Officials routinely vet to exclude large numbers of candidates who are critical of the regime from elections to fill seats at all nearly all levels of government.
"Transition from the despotic religious regime is a national demand and the only way for the survival of Iran, Iranians, and our humanity," Mohammadi said.
Mustafa Tajzadeh, a jailed former reform-minded politician, said in a letter he published on February 29 from Tehran's Evin Prison that the leadership's strategic mistakes are "making elections meaningless and making elected institutions ineffective...especially the parliament."
Elections for the parliament, the Majlis, are scheduled for March 1 along with voting to fill the Assembly of Experts, with a majority of would-be candidates already disqualified.
Some government polls also indicate that there is waning interest in the votes.
The Iranian Students' Opinion Center (ISPA) said research in February suggested only 36 percent of Iranians were aware of the upcoming elections.
A brutal crackdown on dissent followed widespread protests and unrest that broke out after the death in custody in September 2022 of 22-year-old student Mahsa Amini after she was detained for a dress-code violation and, according to eyewitnesses, beaten by the morality police.
Iranian officials this week officially outlawed the use of tools such as virtual private networks (VPNs) designed to bypass Internet censorship following a directive from the country's Supreme Council of Cyberspace that was endorsed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Pakistani Police Detain Dozens At Postelection Protest In Karachi
Pakistani police on February 24 detained dozens of political workers in Karachi who staged protests outside the provincial assembly in the southern Sindh Province against alleged fraud in February's general elections.
Protesters had gathered in front of the assembly building ahead of the swearing-in of newly elected members.
The police also baton-charged the protesters.
Out of 168 members of the Sindh provincial assembly, 148 took their oath.
The Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA), Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F), Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), PTI and Muhajir Qaumi Movement (MQM-Haqiqi) had announced plans for a joint protest outside the Sindh assembly.
Sindh's provincial government on February 23 invoked Section 144 of the criminal code in anticipation of the protest, citing concerns about security and order. That section prohibits gatherings of five or more people and bans public assemblies, gatherings, protests, processions, or demonstrations.
The Sindh showdown comes against a backdrop of national political tension following a power-sharing agreement to allow rivals of imprisoned former Prime Minister Imran Khan to pick a candidate for prime minister, Shehbaz Sharif, and president.
The Pakistan Muslim League, the Pakistan People’s Party, and smaller parties after the February 8 vote announced on February 20 that they had secured a majority to support a coalition government.
Ex-President Medvedev Says Moscow Will Seek 'Revenge' For Western Sanctions
Russia's ex-President Dmitry Medvedev, a leading hawk on the Ukraine offensive, said on February 24 that Moscow will seek "revenge" for massive Western sanctions. A day earlier, the United States and the European Union unveiled fresh sanctions on the eve of the second anniversary of Moscow's full-scale invasion of Ukraine and after the death in prison of opposition leader Aleksei Navalny. "The reason [behind the sanctions] is clear: The worse it is for Russian citizens, the better it is for the Western world," Medvedev said on social media. "We all just need to remember this and take revenge on them wherever possible. They are our enemies."
Daughter Of Assassinated Kremlin Foe Nemtsov Says Putin Fears 'Dead Navalny No Less Than Living Navalny'
The exiled daughter of assassinated Kremlin political foe Boris Nemtsov has called the treatment of the body of recently deceased opposition leader Aleksei Navalny by Russian officials "absolutely terrifying, surreal" and a "monstrous, inhumane story" that demonstrates just how deeply President Vladimir Putin fears Navalny's legacy of dissent.
"Vladimir Putin is afraid of the dead Navalny no less than he was afraid of the living Navalny," Zhenna Nemtsova told Current Time in a televised interview a week after Russian authorities said Navalny died after collapsing at an Arctic prison.
Nemtsova's father was a popular post-Soviet politician who became a vocal Putin critic who, like Navalny, produced in-depth reports of corruption before his death.
Boris Nemtsov was shot dead on a bridge near the Kremlin in Moscow in February 2015, weeks after publicly expressing fears that Putin might have him killed.
Nemtsova said Russian state TV initially "covered my father very favorably but everything changed...when there was a funeral march" that demonstrated her father's popularity with tens of thousands of Russians taking to the streets even for "a political corpse."
Russian authorities subsequently discouraged expressions of mourning or looked the other way as ultranationalists bullied the slain sympathizers.
"They understand that the same thing will happen with Aleksei Navalny" if public memorials are allowed, Nemtsova said.
She told Current Time she is "absolutely convinced that millions of people in Russia and outside Russia are deeply concerned and mourning the murder of [Navalny] in prison." She predicted hundreds of thousands would attend if a funeral were held for him even amid the current repression.
Russia has doubled down on tools like "foreign agent" and "undesirable" designations in addition to brutal beatings and detentions to minimize public dissent since the full-scale invasion of Ukraine began two years ago.
Still, police detained hundreds across the country in the days after Navalny's death and quickly eliminated makeshift memorials that sprung up in dozens of cities.
Navalny's widow and his mother have accused Putin of responsibility for his death, as have U.S. President Joe Biden and some other Western officials.
Russian officials deny foul play but have not released the remains and reportedly demanded a private memorial before they would hand over his body to Navalny's mother.
"I believe that Aleksei was killed on Putin's orders, and they are afraid that in the run-up to the elections, hundreds of thousands of people will come to say goodbye to Aleksei," Nemtsova said.
Putin is seeking to win a fifth presidential term in a carefully controlled March 15-17 vote in which election officials have already disqualified the only seemingly authentic anti-war aspirant.
Nemtsova said Putin's administration is trying to "dehumanize" in a similar way to what followed the annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and her father's assassination a year later, including through accusations that Kremlin critics are "traitors."
"[B]ecause you must first dehumanize, and then you deal with your enemy, and people don’t feel sorry for the person they consider a traitor," she said. "The same thing has been tried for years."
U.K. Pledges 245 Million Pounds To Boost Ukraine Artillery Reserves
Britain announced on February 24 a new 245 million-pound ($311 million) defense package to help boost the production of "urgently needed artillery ammunition" for Ukraine, two years after full-scale war broke out with Russia. Defense Secretary Grant Shapps said Ukraine's armed forces "against all odds" had recaptured large parts of the land seized by Russia in its 2022 invasion. "But they cannot win this fight without the support of the international community -- and that's why we continue to do what it takes to ensure Ukraine can continue to fight toward victory," he added.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Challenges U.S. Buzz On Possible Nuclear Space Weapon
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov says the United States has not shown any evidence for accusations that Moscow wants to put nuclear weapons in space, following U.S. media reports and official hints of concern at emerging Russian capabilities in space-based weapons.
The White House said on February 15 that Russia has obtained a "troubling" emerging anti-satellite "capability" but said it has not yet been deployed and posed no immediate threat.
In his statement carried by Russian state news agency RIA and quoted by Reuters, Ryabkov said contacts with U.S. officials had been "completely unproductive."
Reuters reported recently that U.S. intelligence thinks Russia's military might be working on nuclear-powered technology "to blind, jam, or fry the electronics inside satellites."
"I can confirm that it is related to an anti-satellite capability that Russia has developed," White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said of the concerns. Kirby said that while Russia’s "pursuit of this particular capability is troubling, there is no immediate threat to anyone's safety."
The White House confirmation came a day after the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Representative Mike Turner (Republican-Ohio), urged the Biden administration to declassify information about what he called a serious national security threat.
Kirby suggested the timing of Turner's statement "regrettable" as reviewing and declassification processes were ongoing.
Moscow called the claims a tactic to encourage U.S. Congress to back aid for Ukraine.
Turner said he was asking Biden to declassify "all information relating to this threat so that Congress, the Administration, and our allies can openly discuss the actions necessary to respond."
Sullivan said it is Biden's decision whether or not to declassify any information.
The New York Times said the intelligence Turner referred to was related to Russia’s attempts to develop a space-based anti-satellite nuclear weapon. This would potentially violate an international space treaty, to which more than 130 countries have signed onto, including Russia.
With reporting by Reuters
U.S. Sanctions Russia's Largest Shipper As It Says Oil Price Cap Enforcement Bearing Fruit
WASHINGTON -- The United States said on February 23 that it is targeting Russia’s largest state-owned shipping company and fleet operator for sanctions, saying at the same time that a price cap on Russian sea-borne oil imposed in December 2022 is serving its "twin goals" of limiting Kremlin profits from the sale of oil while promoting stable energy markets.
Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo said in a news release that the targeting of Sovcomflot was the "next step" after the price cap.
"We are entering the next phase of increasing Russia’s costs in a responsible manner to mitigate risks," Adeyemo said, adding that in addition to the designation of Sovcomflot, the treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has identified 14 crude oil tankers as property in which Sovcomflot has an interest.
OFAC said it issued a general license authorizing the offloading of crude oil or other cargo from these 14 vessels for a period of 45 days. In addition, OFAC is issuing a general license authorizing transactions with all other Sovcomflot-owned vessels at this time. Nothing in these general licenses changes any of the restrictions imposed by the price cap sanctions regime.
The Treasury Department earlier on February 23 released an analysis showing that Russia is selling its oil at a steeper discount to global prices since Western governments in October stepped up enforcement of its sanctions regime.
Russia sold its oil at an average discount of $19 last month compared with $12-$13 in October, the U.S. Treasury Department said in a February 23 statement. The Treasury Department oversees U.S. sanctions enforcement.
The United States and the European Union in December 2022 imposed a $60-per-barrel price cap on Russian oil shipped with the use of Western service providers -- such as transportation and insurance firms -- to curtail the Kremlin’s ability to finance its war.
Chris Weafer, the founder of Macro-Advisory, a consulting firm focusing on the countries of the former Soviet Union, said the oil price cap is hard to enforce because the shadow Russian tankers change their names, registrations, and ownership to avoid detection by the United States and EU.
"It is a cat-and-mouse game with the mouse sailing rings around the cat," he said, adding there are dozens or hundreds of small companies owning these shadow tankers.
Russia is the world’s second-largest oil exporter, and foreign sales of the fossil fuel account for more than a third of its federal budget. Most of its sea-borne oil exports used Western service providers prior to the sanctions. The wider discount means Russia is losing out on tens of millions of dollars a day in revenue.
The price cap initially had an immediate effect, driving down the price of Russian oil. However, in the ensuing months, as traders and buyers adjusted to the sanctions regime and as Russia scooped up its own shipping vessels, the discount shrank and Russia’s average selling price surpassed $60.
In response, the United States and Europe in October announced they were stepping up enforcement to curtail cheating. Experts said that market participants were artificially inflating the cost of shipping to hide the fact that Russia’s net price was above the cap. Russia had also purchased hundreds of vessels to avoid using Western service providers.
That month the United States slapped sanctions on two entities and put a freeze on two vessels for violating the Russian oil price cap, a move seen as a warning to other participants.
In January, it sanctioned a United Arab Emirates-based shipping company with 18 vessels that repeatedly made calls to Russian ports.
In its statement, the Treasury Department said the market for Russian oil continues to be highly opaque. It said it will continue to implement "creative solutions" to combat Russia's continuous attempts to avoid the price cap.
U.S. Senators Promise To Pressure House Speaker To Bring Aid Bill Up For Vote During Visit To Ukraine
A U.S. Senate delegation visiting Ukraine led by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer promised to pressure the leader of the House of Representatives to bring a bill that includes military aid up for a vote.
"We are going to do everything we can to tell him [Speaker Mike Johnson] what we have learned and openly pressure him to make the right decision," said Schumer after a meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
Schumer, who was part of a delegation of five senators that held talks with Zelenskiy in Lviv, said Johnson (Republican-Louisiana) should "do the right thing," adding that he and the other senators are confident it will pass.
Schumer (Democrat-New York) also said Zelenskiy told the delegation that without the aid Ukraine will lose the war.
The Senate last week passed a military aid package that includes $61 billion for Ukraine. President Joe Biden has urged the House to approve it, but Johnson sent members home for a two-week recess without bringing the measure up for a vote.
Johnson, an ally of Republican former President Donald Trump, voted against bills to provide assistance to Ukraine before he became speaker.
Schumer said that if Ukrainian forces during the defense of Avdiyivka had had more weapons and ammunition, the result would have been different. Ukrainian forces last week withdrew from the Donetsk city after months of heavy fighting.
"If Ukraine does not receive help, Putin may be right on the Polish border sooner or later," Schumer said, adding that the delegation had been told by almost everyone during its visit -- representatives of the military, politicians, diplomats -- that if Ukraine gets help, it will win the war.
Another member of the delegation, Senator Jack Reed (Democrat-Rhode Island), said that the United States must make a decision to help Ukraine in order to avoid having to send its own troops.
"As Senator Schumer beautifully said to Speaker Johnson: If you come to Ukraine, you will see the cemetery that we saw today, if you go to the wall in Kyiv, which I visited to lay flowers there, you will see people of all ages who died in support of democracy,” Reed said.
“You will have no choice, America has no choice. Pay now by supplying arms to the brave warriors who bleed and die, or our young men and women will bleed and die on the battlefields of Europe.”
Reed pledged to work for additional support, including military aid, for Ukraine.
With reporting by Reuters
French Defense Chief Visits Armenia, Signs Defense Deals Amid Deepening Ties
France will provide more weapons and other military assistance to Armenia to help the South Caucasus country defend its territory, French Defense Minister Sebastien Lecornu said during his first visit to Yerevan on February 23.
"Threats hanging over Armenia force us to move forward faster," Lecornu told Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian. "It is very important for us to react and take necessary steps quickly."
Speaking after talks with Armenian Defense Minister Suren Papikian earlier in the day, Lecornu confirmed that Armenia took delivery the previous night of the first batch of French night-vision devices commissioned last year. The Armenian military will also soon receive air-defense radar systems and more armored personnel carriers from French manufacturers, he said.
The French defense group Thales signed with the Armenian Defense Ministry a contract for the supply of three GM200 radars during Papikian’s visit to Paris last October. Papikian and Lecornu signed at the time a letter of intent on Armenia’s future acquisition of short-range surface-to-air missiles manufactured by another French company.
Lecornu expressed France’s readiness to also sell more long-range systems to Armenia and announced that a French military adviser specializing in air defense will be deployed in Armenia to help it neutralize "possible strikes by potential aggressors."
"Nobody can reproach the Armenian Army for boosting its defense capacity," Lecornu told a joint news conference with Papikian, clearly alluding to Azerbaijan’s strong criticism of French-Armenian military cooperation.
The Armenian minister emphasized that Yerevan is acquiring these and other weapons for solely defensive purposes. In an apparent reference to Azerbaijan, he spoke of a "visible threat" to Armenia’s territorial integrity.
Neither minister shed light on a number of documents that they signed after their talks. AFP reported that the Armenian side also signed a supply contract with the French company PGM, maker of sniper rifles. It said no details of the deal were made public.
The defense cooperation is part of a deepening of French-Armenian relations cemented by the existence of an influential Armenian community in France. It comes amid mounting tensions with Russia, Armenia’s longtime ally, and as neighboring Iran signals unease over the pro-Western tilt in Armenia’s foreign policy.
"Our Iranian partners respect our cooperation with other partners, and I think our Russian and other partners should do the same because Armenia has no taboos when it comes to cooperation to the benefit of Armenia," Papikian said.
Armenia is "turning to partners that are truly providers of security," Lecornu said when asked to comment on the tensions between Yerevan and Moscow.
With reporting by Astghik Bedevian
At Invasion's Two-Year Mark, Kyiv And West Pledge Ongoing Resistance To Russian Aggression
EU and other Western leaders and dignitaries arrived in Kyiv early on February 24 eager to send a defiant message on the second anniversary of Russia's launch of its all-out invasion of Ukraine, while Moscow sought to capitalize on its recent gains by announcing a visit by Russia's defense minister to occupied Ukrainian territory.
Meanwhile, Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zeleinskiy told his countrymen in a recorded video address from a Kyiv-area airport that was a scene of intense fighting early in the invasion that two years of bitter fighting means "we are 730 days closer to victory."
"Two years ago, we met an enemy landing force here with fire," Zelenskiy said, before adding in a reference to the array of foreign leaders in Ukraine and at Hostomel Airport to mark the anniversary that "two years later, we meet here our friends, our partners."
He added that it was important that the war end "on our terms."
European Commission President Von der Leyen reportedly traveled to the Ukrainian capital from Poland by train along with Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, whose country currently holds the rotating EU Presidency.
Meloni is scheduled to host a videoconference involving Group of Seven (G7) democracy leaders during which Zelenskiy is expected to encourage ongoing support to beat back Europe's first full-scale military invasion since World War II.
On her arrival, von der Leyen said alongside a photo of herself on a train platform in Kyiv that she was there to mark the grim anniversary "and to celebrate the extraordinary resistance of the Ukrainian people."
"More than ever, we stand firmly by Ukraine," she said, "Financially, economically, militarily, morally...[u]ntil the country is finally free."
Before arriving in Ukraine, Trudeau shared his Foreign Minister Melanie Joly's sentiment via X, formerly Twitter, that Canada and its allies were "sending a clear message to [Russia]: Ukraine will not be defeated in the face of Putin’s illegal war."
Words of support have been pouring in from Western leaders.
U.S. President Joe Biden praised the determination of Ukrainians and said "the unprecedented 50-nation global coalition in support of Ukraine, led by the United States, remains committed to providing critical assistance to Ukraine and holding Russia accountable for its aggression."
"The American people and people around the world understand that the stakes of this fight extend far beyond Ukraine," he said.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz urged Germans and all Europeans to "do even more -- so that we can defend ourselves effectively."
Scholz said that Germany was completely fulfilling its NATO target of 2 percent investment of total economic output into its military for the first time in decades.
Recently installed Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk cited "Two years of Ukrainian heroism. Two years of Russian barbarism. Two years of disgrace of those who remain indifferent."
Maia Sandu, the president of Ukraine's neighbor Moldova, where concerns are high and a long-standing contingent of Russian troops has refused to depart, thanked "Ukrainians for their tireless fight for freedom and for protecting peace in Moldova too."
"In these two years, the free world has shown unprecedented solidarity, yet the war persists; our support must endure fiercely," she said on X.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said "We must renew our determination…on this grim anniversary. This is the moment to show that tyranny will never triumph and to say once again that we will stand with Ukraine today and tomorrow."
The anniversary falls one day after the United States and European Union announced new rounds of hundreds of sanctions targeting Russia and officials responsible for the war, but with Ukrainian officials desperately pleading with the international community to avoid cutoffs in support or a "depletion of empathy."
Ukrainians have battled fiercely since a Russian invasion of hundreds of thousands of troops began on February 24, 2022, after Russian President Vladimir Putin tried to cast doubt on Ukrainian nationhood and eventually said Moscow's goal was the "denazification" and demilitarization of Ukraine's government.
It was a new phase in a land grab that had begun eight years earlier in 2014, when Russia covertly invaded and then annexed Crimea from Ukraine and began intensive support of armed Ukrainian separatists in eastern Ukraine.
The United Nations has overwhelmingly voted to back Ukrainian territorial integrity and sovereignty.
WATCH: Current Time correspondents Borys Sachalko, Andriy Kuzakov, and Oleksiy Prodayvod reflect on their wartime experiences together with the cameramen and drivers who form a critical part of their reporting teams.
But a massive assistance package proposed by U.S. President Joe Biden's administration has been blocked primarily by Republicans in Congress.
The European Union managed to pass its own $54 billion aid package for Ukraine earlier this month despite reluctance from member Hungary and talk of Ukraine fatigue.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in a recorded statement for the anniversary that "the situation on the battlefield remains extremely serious" and "President Putin's aim to dominate Ukraine has not changed, and there are no indications that he is preparing for peace. But we must not lose heart."
Earlier this week, Stoltenberg told RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service that the alliance was an advantage that neither Russia nor China could match.
At the UN General Assembly on February 23, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said "Russia's aim is to destroy Ukraine and they are quite outspoken about it," adding that "The only reason for this war has been and remains Russia's denial of Ukraine's right to exist and its continued colonial conquest."
Russian forces last week captured the mostly destroyed eastern city of Avdiyivka as remaining Ukrainian troops withdrew amid reported ammunition shortages to hand Moscow its first significant gain of territory in nearly a year.
The Russian military said on February 24 that Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu visited troops in occupied Ukraine in a clear effort to send a message to Ukraine and its defenders, as well as to a Russian public subjected to heavy censorship and punishments for anti-war dissenters as the "special military operation" has ground on.
"Today, in terms of the ratio of forces, the advantage is on our side," officials quoted Shoigu as telling troops at a Russian command center.
The Russian military further said its troops were on the offensive after having taken Avdiyivka, in the Donetsk region.
Zelenskiy used an interview on the conservative Fox News channel this week to urge the U.S. Congress to pass a $60 billion aid package to help his country defend itself, saying it is cheaper than the consequences of a Russian victory.
Zelenskiy echoed warnings among Russia's other neighbors that Putin will push further into Eastern Europe if he conquers Ukraine.
"Will Ukraine survive without Congress's support? Of course. But not all of us," Zelenskiy said.
On February 24, senior Zelenskiy aide Mykhaylo Podolyak said Ukraine was auditing its "available resources" and said it's impossible to predict when the war might end without a good idea of the amount of weapons and ammunition Kyiv will have at its disposal.
He also suggested the Ukrainian president's office is not currently in favor of peace talks with Russia as it would mean the "gradual death of Ukraine."
Separately, Swiss President Viola Amherd was quoted as telling the Neue Zuercher Zeitung newspaper that Russia was unlikely to participate at the start of a senior-level peace conference that neutral Switzerland hopes to host in the next few months.
The remarks followed Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis telling the United Nations that the idea was broached in January and Bern hoped for such a conference "by this summer."
Russia currently is thought to control around one-fifth of Ukraine's territory.
The Ukrainian military said it had destroyed a Russian A-50 surveillance aircraft after a new round of Russian drone and missile strikes on several Ukrainian regions on February 23, which if confirmed would mark the loss of the second A-50 in just over a month.
The general appointed recently by Zelenskiy as commander in chief of Ukraine's armed forces, Oleksandr Syrskiy, said on February 24 that he is "convinced that unity is our victory."
"And it will definitely happen," he said, "because light always conquers darkness!"
Noting the two-year mark in the invasion, Ukraine's General Staff asserted that Russia had suffered troop casualties of around 409,000 since February 24, 2022.
Both sides classify casualty figures, and RFE/RL cannot confirm the accuracy of accounts by either side of battlefield developments in areas of heavy fighting or of casualty claims.
With reporting by dpa, AFP, and Reuters
Head Of UN Atomic Watchdog Calls For 'Restraint' After Blasts Near Ukrainian Nuclear Plant
UN atomic watchdog chief Rafael Grossi called on February 23 for "maximum military restraint" after a string of powerful explosions occurred near Ukraine's Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhya nuclear plant this week.
Experts with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) stationed at the Zaporizhzhya plant reported hearing explosions every day over the past week, including one on February 16 that appeared to occur close to the plant itself, Grossi said in a statement released by the Vienna-based organization.
“There were also several explosions yesterday (February 22). One of them was unusually loud, indicating very close proximity to the site,” the statement said.
The large explosion on February 22 was part of “field training,” plant officials said. The plant itself was not damaged and there were no injuries. It was not possible to conclusively determine the origin or direction of the other blasts, which Gross said “shook windows” at the plant.
In addition, the IAEA was told that a mine exploded outside the site perimeter on February 22 but it did not cause any damage or injury.
The Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant was captured by Russian forces in March 2022 and has been shut down but requires electrical power to run coolant and other safety systems. IAEA experts have been at the site to monitor its functions since September 2022. During the course of the war both Moscow and Kyiv have accused each other of compromising its safety.
Grossi has warned numerous times about the dangers posed by the risk of the plant being caught in the cross fire.
"I remain deeply concerned about the nuclear safety and security situation at Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, located on the frontline of the war,” Grossi said. “The reports of our experts indicate possible combat action not far away from the site.”
He also urged the restoration “as soon as possible" of the plant's back-up power line for off-site power.
The plant is still receiving the electricity it needs for reactor cooling and other safety functions, but it currently has no back-up options available for off-site power, Grossi said.
With reporting by AFP
Families Demand Release Of 39 Afghans Detained In Turkey
The families of 39 Afghan citizens detained in Turkey after they reportedly tried to reach Europe on a migrant route have called for the release and the safe return of their relatives.
The Afghan migrants were hiding inside a truck carrying boxes of tissue when they were arrested in the Çilimli district of the northwestern Duzce Province, Turkey's state-run news agency reported on February 22.
All 39 Afghans were taken to the Immigration Department, and the truck driver was also arrested on charges of human trafficking, Anadolu reported.
Their relatives said they were attempting to reach Europe via Turkey to seek better opportunities.
The father of one of the Afghans detained in Turkey told Radio Azadi that he told his son he didn't have money for the journey, but he left anyway and reached Turkey after staying in Iran for a month.
The man, who identified himself as Sediqullah, a resident of Nangarhar, said he now has sent his 18-year-old son money so he can return to Afghanistan.
His son is among a wave of migrants who are fleeing Taliban persecution and a country that is reeling from one of the world’s largest humanitarian crises.
Some Afghans who have been detained by the Turkish police in the past claim that they were tortured by the security forces during their detention.
“They electrocuted, tortured, and brutalized the Afghans,” said 23-year-old Rahman Heydari, an Afghan who was recently deported from Turkey.
Earlier this month, Abdul Rahman Rashid, the Taliban's deputy minister of refugees, said some 1,600 Afghans currently languish in Turkish prisons. He said that Ankara has released more than 600 Afghans, who returned to their country.
Last year the number of Afghans deported by Turkey was in the thousands. In November alone the number was 4,000. The number of Afghans expelled by Turkey was even higher in 2022 when Ankara deported 50,000 back to their country.
According to the UN refugee agency, the UNHCR, Turkey hosts one of the largest refugee communities worldwide, with some 3.6 million Syrians and more than 300,000 people from other countries, the majority of whom are Afghan.
In a 2022 report, global rights watchdog Human Rights Watch criticized Ankara for routinely pushing tens of thousands of Afghans -- many of whom are undocumented -- back to its border with Iran or deporting them directly to Afghanistan “with little or no examination of their claims for international protection.”
Neighboring Iran and Pakistan forced more than 1 million Afghans to return to their country in the past year.
Ecuador Calls Off Arms Exchange With U.S. Over Plan To Send Weapons To Ukraine
Ecuador has canceled a plan to trade outdated Soviet weapons for new arms from the United States, President Daniel Noboa said on February 23 after learning that the old weapons would have been sent to Ukraine. Noboa, who is grappling with a sharply deteriorated security situation in the South American country, said in January that Washington would give his country $200 million of new weaponry in exchange for "junk" arms. But he told CNN that Ecuador “can't go ahead with it" after learning that the weapons would go to “the armed conflict in Ukraine, in which we do not want to take part."
Residents Of Russia's Ingushetia Mark 80th Anniversary Of Deportation To Central Asia
Residents of Russia's North Caucasus region of Ingushetia have been marking the 80th anniversary of the deportation of Ingush and Chechens from the North Caucasus to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.
Hundreds of people, including the region's leader, Makhmud-Ali Kalimatov, lawmakers, government members, public organizations, and youth groups gathered near the Memorial of Memory and Glory in Ingushetia's largest city, Nazran, on February 23, where a mass prayer was performed to honor the victims of the deportation.
Kalimatov issued a statement on his official website, calling the February 1944 deportation "a terrible crime."
"The years of repressions failed to liquidate or diminish the beauty of our people's soul; the peculiar, beautiful Ingush culture is alive. And the years spent in alien lands proved again the capability of our people to unite, to have an unbreakable faith and strong national culture," Kalimatov’s statement said.
For the second year in a row, Kalimatov did not directly accuse Soviet dictator Josef Stalin and his regime of carrying out the deportation.
From February 23, 1944, to March 9, 1944, Soviet authorities deported almost all Ingush and Chechens -- an estimated 650,000 people -- to Central Asia, mostly to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, claiming they were collaborating with Nazi Germany.
As many as half of the deportees died either on the journey or due to the harsh conditions they were forced to endure.
Soviet authorities liquidated the Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic at the time, distributing the ethnic republic’s territories among neighboring administrative units and republics.
In 1957, four years after Stalin's death, the republic was re-installed, and survivors were allowed to return to the North Caucasus.
In neighboring Chechnya, February 23 was not officially marked with any public event.
In 2012, the Moscow-backed authoritarian leader of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, moved the Day of Grief and Remembrance from February 23 to May 10, the anniversary of the burial of his father, Akhmat Kadyrov, who was killed in a bomb attack in Grozny in 2004.
With reporting by Ingushetia
Poland Opts Not To Meet Ukrainian Delegation Sent To Border To Discuss Farmers' Blockade
Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said a meeting with Polish government officials on the border between the countries did not take place on February 23 as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy had requested.
Ukrainian government officials, including the deputy prime minister and the interior minister, went to the border to meet with Polish officials, but “unfortunately, such a meeting…did not take place today," Shmyhal said on Facebook, posting a photo showing himself and 10 other government officials standing in front of one of the checkpoints at the Ukrainian-Polish border.
"We understand the difficulties faced by the Polish government. And we are ready to help in solving this situation,” Shmyhal said, predicting that a meeting eventually will take place to negotiate a compromise to resolve tension over Polish farmers' protests over an increase in Ukrainian food imports since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion.
The farmers in recent weeks have blocked Ukrainian transport vehicles on the Polish side of the border, complaining that the increase in food and other goods from Ukraine is impacting prices for their own produce.
The situation escalated this week when a freight train was stopped at the Medyka-Shehyniy border crossing and its grain was spilled onto the tracks. Ukrainian Border Service spokesman Andriy Demchenko told RFE/RL at the time that six of the nine border crossings for trucks between the two countries remained blocked.
Shmyhal said Ukraine wants a resolution to the blockade that for the past six months has affected the Ukrainian economy and its ability to defend itself against the war.
Earlier on February 23, Zelenskiy said that a delegation of the Ukrainian government would arrive at the border ready to negotiate. However, he said he did not know whether any representatives of the Polish government would be there.
Zelenskiy appealed earlier to Poland and the European Commission regarding the situation at the border and asked Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk "to come to the border as well."
Tusk responded by saying that Polish and Ukrainian government members would hold talks in Warsaw on March 28.
Zelenskiy wants the matter to be treated more urgently, saying in his nightly video address on February 22 that it is a matter of national security which should be addressed in the coming days.
Tusk this week said that border crossing points with Ukraine will be considered critically important infrastructure "to ensure a 100 percent guarantee that military and humanitarian aid will reach the Ukrainian side without any delays."
In addition to demanding a ban on the import of agricultural products from Ukraine, the Polish protesters oppose a European Union agricultural policy that aims to implement a so-called "green system" that includes a number of environmental and climate requirements.
Poland Extradites Ukrainian Citizen Accused Of Drug-Related Crime To Kazakhstan
Kazakh authorities said on February 23 that Poland extradited a Ukrainian citizen, whose identity was not disclosed, to the Kazakh capital, Astana, where he is wanted for allegedly organizing the illegal production and distribution of psychotropic drugs. According to the Kazakh Prosecutor-General's Office, investigators confiscated illegal drugs that were worth $3.3 million and weighed more than one ton. They were allegedly produced by the suspect's group, which was established in Kazakhstan in 2022. If convicted, the Ukrainian citizen faces up to 20 years in prison. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, click here.
Latvia's Hockey Federation Suspends Licenses Of 7 Who Took Part In Tournament In Russia
Latvia's Hockey Federation said on February 22 that it had suspended the licenses of several ice hockey players who took part in the Games of the Future tournament, which was officially opened by Russian President Vladimir Putin on February 21 in Russia's Republic of Tatarstan. Seven Latvian athletes -- Ervins Mustukovs, Kirils Tambijevs, Pavels Goroskovs, Martins Lavrovs, Aleksejs Popovs, Alisers Mubaraksins, Nikita Zantmans, and Artems Kuvsinovs -- took part in the hockey event as members of the Baltic Select team. Latvian sports federations decided earlier to boycott sports events in Russia over Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Idel.Realities, click here.
Romanian Presidency Tight-Lipped On Reports Of Iohannis Aiming For NATO Top Job
The Romanian presidency has refused to comment on media reports that Bucharest has proposed President Klaus Iohannis for the post of NATO Secretary-General. Quoting NATO diplomats, Bloomberg and Politico reported on February 22 that Romania had notified the alliance that Iohannis, who ends his term in December, was interested in the position, which incumbent Jens Stoltenberg is leaving in October. Asked for comment by RFE/RL, the Romanian presidency said it "does not comment on rumors." The United States, Britain, Germany, and France back outgoing Dutch premier Mark Rutte for the job. However, Rutte is viewed with skepticisim by eastern members like Romania and Bulgaria. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Romanian Service, click here.
Ukraine Has No Navy. But It's Hammering Russia In The Black Sea.2
Best Way To Honor Navalny, NATO Chief Says, Is Ensuring Russia's Defeat In Ukraine3
Putin Fears Navalny Funeral Could Trigger Mass Demonstrations, Khodorkovsky Says4
Some 60 Russian Troops Reportedly Killed By Strike While Waiting In Formation5
Blogger Who Revealed Russian Military Losses In Avdiyivka Reportedly Commits Suicide6
In Video Message, Navalny's Mother Pleads With Putin To Return Her Son's Body7
Erdogan Urges Azerbaijani Leader To Avoid Armenia Tensions8
Why Were Lindsay Lohan And Dolph Lundgren Calling For Moldova's President To Step Down?9
Interview: Latvia's President Says Ukraine Is Not Only Fighting For Us But 'Fighting Instead Of Us'10
Russia Declares RFE/RL An 'Undesirable Organization'