Category: EU

Bosnia’s Serb Region Moves to Criminalize Defamation Despite Protests

Bosnia’s autonomous Serb Republic has moved towards criminalizing acts of defamation and insult despite international criticism and protests by journalists who see the new law as a crackdown on free speech.

The regional parliament on Thursday passed draft amendments to the criminal code introducing fines of 3,000 to 60,000 euros ($3,200-$65,000) for damaging a person’s honor or reputation and for publishing damaging videos, photos or documents without consent.

The legislation has prompted a public outcry since it was announced in early March, with journalists, civil society activists and diplomats saying it aimed to silence independent media.

The United Nations, the European Union and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe have all called on the Serb Republic to drop the criminal code changes and ensure the full protection of media freedom as a necessary precondition for Bosnia to progress on the EU path.

Bosnia was the first country in the Western Balkans region that de-criminalized defamation in 2001. Under provisions of the 1995 U.S.-brokered Daytron peace deal that ended a war there, Bosnia is split into the Bosniak-Croat Federation and the Serb Republic.

“News reporting will become a mission impossible, investigative journalism will cease to exist and all citizens will feel effects on their own skin,” Sinisa Vukelic, the president of the Banja Luka Journalists Club, said last week at a protest during which reporters symbolically taped their mouths.

The law was proposed by the ruling Alliance of Independent Social Democrats headed by Serb secessionist leader Milorad Dodik, the Serb Republic president, and agreed by their coalition partners with whom they form a parliamentary majority.

After some journalists criticized the draft law as repressive over the past week, Dodik publicly lashed out at them. Following his remarks, the cars belonging to two journalists who publicly criticized the law were damaged in Banja Luka.

Dodik this week dismissed criticism that journalists will be targets under the planned legislation, saying a draft law may be improved during a public discussion that will follow before it comes into effect.

He said a prison term for offenders was not introduced in the law even though those who cannot pay the fine will have to serve a jail term.

West ‘Regains Unity and Purpose’ Following Russia’s War on Ukraine, Poll Shows

A poll of global attitudes regarding Russia’s war on Ukraine suggests the West has regained its unity and sense of purpose following the invasion. The survey — conducted across 15 countries in December and January — shows markedly different attitudes in non-Western nations, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Russia’s War in Ukraine Has ‘Severely Dislocated the Russian Military’s Training System’

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has “severely dislocated the Russian military’s training system – instructors have largely been deployed in Ukraine,” according to Britain’s Defense Ministry.

In a Twitter post Friday, the ministry said Russia has “likely redeployed at least 1,000 troops who had been training at the Obuz-Lesnovsky training ground in south-western Belarus.”

Russia has likely not dismantled the tented training camp, the British intelligence update said, suggesting that Russia “is considering continuing the training programme” under the “much less-experienced Belarusian army.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says the military is set to launch a counteroffensive against Russian troops, but needs help from their European neighbors.

“If Europe waits,” Zelenskyy warned European leaders Thursday, “the evil may have time to regroup and prepare for years of war.”

In the video address, delivered from a train, Zelenskyy urged the leaders to expand and hasten their deliveries of weapons and ammunition to Ukraine to use in its campaign to beat back the Russian invasion.

The European leaders signed a $2 billion deal Thursday, endorsed earlier this week by EU foreign and defense ministers, calling for both sending ammunition from existing stocks and for EU countries to work together to place new orders for more rounds.

With Russia’s attempt to capture Bakhmut stalled, the long-awaited counteroffensive will begin “very soon,” Ukraine’s top ground forces commander said Thursday.

Ukrainian Colonel-General Oleksandr Syrskyi said on the Telegram social media site that Russia’s Wagner Group mercenaries, often convicts recruited out of prisons, “are losing considerable strength and are running out of steam” in trying to take control of Bakhmut. After considering a pullout in the eastern city, Ukraine kept its troops in place, while also sending in reinforcements.

“Very soon, we will take advantage of this opportunity, as we did in the past near Kyiv, Kharkiv, Balakliya and Kupiansk,” he said, naming cities Ukraine has defended or captured from Russian control.

Syrskyi was one of the top commanders behind Ukraine’s strategy last year in the first weeks of the war that repelled Russia’s assault on Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, and turned back Moscow’s forces through the second half of 2022.

On Wednesday, Britain’s Defense Ministry said Ukrainian forces had launched a local counterattack west of Bakhmut that was likely to relieve pressure on the main route used to supply Kyiv’s forces inside the city.

The ministry said there was still a threat that Ukrainian forces in Bakhmut could be surrounded, but there was “a realistic possibility the Russian assault on the town is losing the limited momentum it had obtained.”

The front lines of the war in eastern Ukraine have largely stalemated in recent months, with neither side able to capture significant new territory, even as they both sustain huge numbers of casualties.

Moscow has not commented on Ukrainian claims that it is losing momentum in Bakhmut, but Yevgeny Prigozhin, the Wagner Group mercenary boss, in recent days has pessimistically warned of a Ukrainian counterassault.

Earlier this week, Prigozhin published a letter to Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, warning that Ukraine is trying to cut off Wagner’s forces from Russia’s regular troops and demanding Shoigu act to prevent this. Prigozhin said there would be “negative consequences” if he failed.

On Thursday, Zelenskyy continued his tour of frontline provinces, visiting the Kherson region in the south a day after meeting troops near Bakhmut. A video showed him meeting residents in Posad Pokrovske, a bombed-out village on the former Kherson frontline recaptured in Ukraine’s last big advance last year.

“We will restore everything; we will rebuild everything. Just like with every city and village that suffered because of the occupiers,” he wrote.

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

Elderly Ukrainian Helicopters Pummel Russians From Afar

Skimming the treetops, three Soviet-era attack helicopters bank and swoop down on a field after an early-morning mission to the front lines in the fight against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Each day, they might fly three or four sorties, says the commander, whose two-crew Mi-24 helicopter, built about 40 years ago, is older than he is.

“We are carrying out combat tasks to destroy enemy vehicles, enemy personnel, we are working with pitch-up attacks from a distance from where the enemy can’t get us with their air defense system,” said the commander, who spoke on condition of anonymity for operational security reasons, in line with military regulations.

The conflict in Ukraine is largely an artillery war, with territory being fought for inch by inch under a barrage of shells and missiles. But Ukraine’s aviation capabilities play a significant role in the fight, the pilot said.

“The importance of the helicopters is huge,” said the commander, who is part of Ukraine’s 12th Army Aviation Brigade.

Footage from a camera attached to the helicopter during a recent combat mission shows it flying over fields pockmarked with craters from artillery bombing, and firing missiles at Russian trenches that cut through the landscape.

“We are shooting from the big distance and hit the target clearly, like there’s a cross on the target and (the missiles) go by themselves where they should go,” the commander said.

He would, however, like to fly a newer model.

“We need to master something new, something from abroad,” the commander said. “It has better characteristics. You can maneuver more on it, there are more rockets on it and the weapons are more powerful. We can do more tasks with better quality and with less risk for us.”

Several countries, including the United States and Britain, have pledged to send, or have already sent, helicopters to Ukraine as part of military aid since the start of the war sparked by Russia’s invasion in Feb 2022.

Massive Protests, Strikes Continue as Opposition Digs In Against French Pension Reform

Adeline Lefebvre was scrunched up next to a newsstand as a swelling crowd of demonstrators pushed past her at the Place de la Bastille — the iconic Paris square that earned its fame from French Revolution days.

Rock music blared and the gigantic balloons of the leftist CGT trade union bobbed in the air on this ninth day of nationwide strikes and protests against French President Emmanuel Macron’s unpopular pension reform.

Lefebvre, 58, a secretary who began working at 17, has been at every one.

“Macron needs to understand things aren’t working out,” she said of the widespread opposition to his plans to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64. “We need to start over. But he’s in total denial.”

A day after Macron defiantly defended his reform on public TV — after his government narrowly survived a no-confidence vote in the national assembly — public anger shows no sign of abating.

Hundreds of thousands of people marched in the capital and elsewhere in the country. Unions calculated roughly 3.5 million nationwide; France’s Interior Ministry put the number at just over 1 million.

Hundreds were arrested after clashes with police.

“Macron doesn’t listen, he acts like a king,” protesters in Lyon chanted.

‘I’m prepared to be unpopular’

In Paris, people brandished posters reading “Macron the scornful of the Republic” — a play on words in French referring to his presidency.

“Maybe we have a chance to stop this law” by protesting, said Manon Chauvigny, who works with disabled people.

“Otherwise,” her partner warned, “it’s the revolution.”

Interviewed Wednesday by two top news stations, Macron said he hoped the reform would become law by year’s end.

“This reform is necessary. It does not make me happy. I would have preferred not to do it,” he said, arguing that the pension system would go bankrupt if nothing was done. “I’m prepared to be unpopular.”

Instead of calming an angry nation, his remarks appear to have further incensed it. A poll published Thursday on France’s BFMTV channel found seven in 10 respondents found his arguments unconvincing. More than 60% believe Macron’s remarks will spark even greater anger on the streets.

“There’s money in France” to pay for the pension reform, said retired insurance worker Jean-Francois Vilain, who joined the Paris protest sporting the CGT union logo. “Only it’s not in the hands of working people. We see financial companies making billions in profits, and they share very little of it.”

Sporting a bright red vest, construction worker Djcounda Traore joined colleagues to march in the capital.

“Working until 64 years isn’t easy in our profession,” he said. “Maybe if everyone protests, we’ll win.”

But protester Lefebvre was less optimistic.

“I’d like to say we’ll win,” she said. “But I’m afraid that we won’t.”

Garbage sits on sidewalks

Trains and metros were seriously disrupted Thursday. Fuel refinery blockages in some parts of the country have left gas stations dry and sparked fears of potential shortages at Paris airports.

While some garbage service has resumed in the French capital, rolling strikes leave many bags festering on sidewalks.

Reports also suggest the unrest in France may disrupt the upcoming visit of Britain’s King Charles to France in his first foreign trip as monarch.

French union leaders and political opponents have slammed Macron’s response, describing him as disdainful and failing to listen to the streets.

The president’s remarks Wednesday show “scorn toward the millions of people who have protested,” said CGT union leader Philippe Martinez.

Macron “reacts as if the crisis was already behind him,” France’s influential Le Monde newspaper wrote in an editorial Wednesday.

“For the country to advance, a president of the Republic needs to know how to cobble a consensus,” it added. “Right now, we’re nowhere near there.”

UN’s Guterres Brings Climate Warning to EU Summit

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres brought an urgent climate message to the European Union summit Thursday in Brussels, encouraging leaders of the bloc’s 27 member nations to take dramatic action.

Speaking to reporters alongside European Council President Charles Michel at EU headquarters, Guterres cited a report issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change earlier this week. 

That report called on nations to cut carbon emissions in half in the next 10 to 15 years if they want a chance at slowing global warming.

Guterres said dramatic action is needed because, “We are close to the tipping point that will make 1.5 degrees [Celsius] impossible to achieve,” referring to a target goal of limiting the global temperature increase established by the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate.

On the subject of climate, the EU’s ban on internal combustion engines by 2035 — initially approved last month by the European Parliament — was being discussed by leaders as they arrived at the summit. Germany has asked EU officials for an exception to the ban, allowing combustion engines that run on carbon-neutral synthetic “E” fuels.

Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer said he supports the German proposal and would like to see the issue on the agenda at the summit. Luxembourg’s prime minister, Xavier Bettel, on the other hand, said the issue was not intended to be discussed at this week’s meetings. 

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz told the Reuters news agency his country and EU officials are in discussions on the issue and “everything is on the right track” to resolving it.

Guterres — a guest at the summit — is also expected to discuss renewal of the deal brokered by the U.N. and Turkey to allow grain shipments out of Ukraine ports otherwise sealed by a Russian blockade.

The EU leaders are also expected to get updates on the war in Ukraine from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy via video link. EU leaders are expected to endorse a deal aimed at sending one million rounds of artillery shells to Ukraine within the next 12 months.

Some information for this report was provided by the Associated Press, Reuters and AFP.

Kenyan Economists Say Newly-Arrived Ukrainian Wheat Could Ease Hunger

Kenyan economists say newly-arrived wheat imports from Ukraine could help ease hunger in drought-stricken areas and bring down high food prices. Thirty thousand tons of wheat arrived in Kenya Monday under the U.N.-brokered Black Sea Grain Initiative, in which Russia agreed not to block Ukrainian grain shipments. But Russian President Vladimir Putin warned this week that Moscow could end the deal within 60 days.

The increased cost of cereal commodities such as wheat has left bakers like Harrison Kiai in the grip of higher wheat flour prices. Kiai said these days, his profits are insignificant.

“Prices of the baking items like flour, sugar, when you compare [them] to the last maybe two years, the cost was a bit down,” he said. “So, the challenges that we have right now to increase the cost, which maybe the customer is not comfortable with because when you go to the market, the things have shot up.”

Harrison believes that recent wheat imports from Ukraine will help ease soaring flour prices. 

The consignment, which is part of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s “Grain from Ukraine” humanitarian program, was shipped under the U.N.-brokered Black Sea Grain Initiative. 

“Our commitment to food security is in the fact, the ship is coming and it is not the first ship coming into Africa and not even the second,” said Andriy Pravednky Ukraine’s ambassador Kenya. “And we are planning more ships to come by the end of this year to deliver 5 million tons of grain to exclusively African countries. But we should realize that as result of Russian invasion, the crop in Ukraine went down.”

Ukrainian agricultural production and exports were severely disrupted by Russia’s invasion, and many African countries that rely heavily on Ukrainian grain and wheat have struggled with shortages of key goods and high food prices ever since.

The Black Sea Grain Initiative, agreed to last year, is meant to allow Ukrainian food exports to reach foreign markets. However, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned this week that Russia could withdraw from the agreement unless exports of its own agricultural products are facilitated. 

Prior to the invasion, Kenya imported 2.4 million tons of wheat from Ukraine each year.

Although the grain that arrived in Kenya could help ease hunger in drought-hit areas, economists say African governments must develop ways to reduce the reliance on such imports, like increasing local production.

Without that, says economist Silas Omenda, countries like Kenya are at the mercy of outside events. 

“We can do all these other things, but when it comes to our energy costs which is now a catalyst to value addition, it’s a nightmare,” said Omenda. “And also the reliance on fertilizer importation, it has also exposed us to adverse effects of inflation in the global market meaning that we don’t have control of what happens in Ukraine and Russia.”

The U.N. World Food Program says the disruption in food shipments from Ukraine and Russia has left some 345 million people facing food insecurity.

Nationwide Protests in France after Macron Doubles Down On Pension Bill

French workers angry with a rise in the pension age blocked access to a terminal at Paris’ Roissy-Charles De Gaulle airport on Thursday as part of a nationwide day of protests, forcing some travelers to get there on foot.

Train services were disrupted and some schools shut while garbage piled up on the streets, and electricity output was cut as unions raised pressure on the government to withdraw the law which delays retirement by two years to 64.

Plumes of smoke were seen rising from burning piles of debris blocking traffic on a highway near Toulouse, in southwestern France, and wildcat strikes briefly blocked roads in other cities as well.

The spontaneous protest near Roissy’s terminal one would not impact flights, a spokesperson for Aeroports de Paris said.

Protest rallies were scheduled across the country later in the day, while protests also targeted oil depots and blocked an LNG terminal in the northern city of Dunkirk.

President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday said the legislation – which his government pushed through parliament without a vote last week – would come into force by year-end despite escalating anger across the country.

“The best response we can give the president is that there are millions of people on strike and in the streets,” said Philippe Martinez, who leads the hardline CGT union. 

Protests of the the policy changes, which also accelerate a planned increase of the number of years one must work to draw a full pension, have drawn huge crowds in rallies organized by unions since January.


Most protests have been peaceful, but anger has mounted since the government pushed the bill through parliament without a vote last week.

The past seven nights have seen spontaneous demonstrations in Paris and other cities with rubbish bins set ablaze and scuffles with police.

Laurent Berger, the head of France’s biggest union, the moderate CFDT, told BFM TV the government must withdraw the pension law. Macron’s comments “increased the anger,” he said.

The latest wave of protests represents the most serious challenge to the president’s authority since the “Yellow Vest” revolt four years ago. Polls show a wide majority of French opposed to the pension legislation as well as the government’s decision to push it through parliament without a vote.

“It’s a good thing that people are still mobilizing, and that people stand up for their beliefs,” 26-year-old engineer Jean Walter said at the Paris Saint-Lazare train station, where many trains were cancelled.

“I’m supporting the strike, even if it will take more time to go to work today.”

Labour Minister Olivier Dussopt said the government was not in denial about the tensions but wanted to move on.

“There is a disagreement that will persist on the retirement age. On the other hand, there are many subjects which make it possible to renew a dialogue,” he said, including how companies share their profits with workers.

“Things will be done gradually,” he said.

EU Leaders Expected to Approve Ukraine Ammunition Plan

European Union leaders are expected to give their approval Thursday for a plan to speed ammunition deliveries to Ukrainian forces fighting a Russian invasion.

The $2 billion plan was endorsed earlier this week by EU foreign and defense ministers. It calls for both sending ammunition from existing stocks and for EU countries to work together to place new orders for more rounds.

Ukrainian leaders have told Western allies that Ukraine’s military has an urgent need for more ammunition, especially 155-millimeter shells.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is due to join the EU leaders for a lunch meeting Thursday, with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy scheduled to give a later video address.

Thursday’s session comes a day after Ukrainian authorities said new Russian drone and missile attacks killed at least seven people in two cities.

EU foreign policy chief Joseph Borrell used a Thursday tweet to highlight Russian President Vladimir Putin’s expression of support for a Chinese-drafted peace plan in Ukraine, placing Putin’s hosting of Chinese President Xi Jinping this week alongside the Russian attacks.

“Ukraine has been attacked again by Russia with Iranian drones, targeting educational facilities & a missile attack on a residential building in Zaporizhzhia,” Borrell said. “Just when Putin expressed need for ‘peaceful settlement’ to President Xi, Russian again commits war crimes.”


Putin on Tuesday praised Xi’s peace plan to end the Ukraine war, although it does not call for withdrawal of Russian troops as Zelenskyy has demanded before peace talks can start.

The United States, Ukraine’s chief arms supplier, has rejected China’s peace plan because it would leave Russian territorial gains in eastern Ukraine in place.

“A cease-fire right now, freezing the lines where they are, basically gives [Putin] the time and space he needs to try to re-equip, to re-man, to make up for that resource expenditure,” White House national security spokesman John Kirby said.

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

Russian Women Flock to Argentina to Give Birth

According to Argentina’s migration data, some 11,000 Russian women have arrived in the country since the start of 2022. Many of them were pregnant and gave birth to children in the South American country. Karina Bafradzhian tells us why. Video: David Gogokhia 

What Made Beethoven Sick? DNA From His Hair Offers Clues

Nearly 200 years after Ludwig van Beethoven’s death, researchers pulled DNA from strands of his hair, searching for clues about the health problems and hearing loss that plagued him.

They weren’t able to crack the case of the German composer’s deafness or severe stomach ailments. But they did find a genetic risk for liver disease, plus a liver-damaging hepatitis B infection in the last months of his life.

These factors, along with his chronic drinking, were probably enough to cause the liver failure that is widely believed to have killed him, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal Current Biology.

This Sunday marks the 196th anniversary of Beethoven’s death in Vienna on March 26, 1827, at the age of 56. The composer himself wrote that he wanted doctors to study his health problems after he died.

“With Beethoven in particular, it is the case that illnesses sometimes very much limited his creative work,” said study author Axel Schmidt, a geneticist at University Hospital Bonn in Germany. “And for physicians, it has always been a mystery what was really behind it.”

Since his death, scientists have long tried to piece together Beethoven’s medical history and have offered a variety of possible explanations for his many maladies.

Now, with advances in ancient DNA technology, researchers have been able to pull genetic clues from locks of Beethoven’s hair that had been snipped off and preserved as keepsakes. They focused on five locks that are “almost certainly authentic,” coming from the same European male, according to the study.

They also looked at three other historical locks but weren’t able to confirm those were actually Beethoven’s. Previous tests on one of those locks suggested Beethoven had lead poisoning, but researchers concluded that sample was actually from a woman.

Scientists dissolved the pieces into a solution and fished out chunks of DNA, said study author Tristan James Alexander Begg, a biological anthropologist at the University of Cambridge.

Getting genes out was a challenge, since DNA in hair gets chopped up into tiny fragments, explained author Johannes Krause, a paleogeneticist at Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.

But eventually, after using up almost 3 meters of Beethoven’s hair, they were able to piece together a genome that they could study for signs of genetic disease, Krause said.

While researchers didn’t find any clear genetic signs of what caused Beethoven’s gastrointestinal issues, they found that celiac disease and lactose intolerance were unlikely causes. In the future, the genome may offer more clues as we learn more about how genes influence health, Begg said.

The research also led to a surprising discovery: When they tested DNA from living members of the extended Beethoven family, scientists found a discrepancy in the Y chromosomes that get passed down on the father’s side. The Y chromosomes from the five men matched each other — but they didn’t match the composer’s.

This suggests there was an “extra-pair paternity event” somewhere in the generations before Beethoven was born, Begg said. In other words, a child born from an extramarital relationship in the composer’s family tree.

The key question of what caused Beethoven’s hearing loss is still unanswered, said Ohio State University’s Dr. Avraham Z. Cooper, who was not involved in the study. And it may be a difficult one to figure out, because genetics can only show us half of the “nature and nurture” equation that makes up our health.

But he added that the mystery is part of what makes Beethoven so captivating: “I think the fact that we can’t know is OK,” Cooper said.

Latvia’s Russian Minority Struggles with a Changing World

Latvia is the European Union country with the largest Russian minority, with ethnic Russians making up approximately 25% of its population. For them, the war in Ukraine has been a political and social earthquake. Marcus Harton narrates this report from Ricardo Marquina in the Latvian capital, Riga.

Camera: Ricardo Marquina

Macron Says Unpopular Pension Reform Necessary, Will Enter Into Force by Year-End 

President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday said a deeply unpopular new law that raises the retirement age was necessary and would enter into force by the end of the year.

“Do you think I enjoy doing this reform? No,” Macron said in a rare TV interview. “But there is not a hundred ways to balance the accounts … this reform is necessary.”

Until the government pushed the pension bill through without a vote, the protests against a bill that will push the retirement age by two years to 64 had gathered huge, peaceful crowds in rallies organized by unions.

But since the government’s decision to skip a vote in parliament last week, spontaneous protests in Paris and elsewhere have seen rubbish bins and barricades set ablaze every night amid scuffles with police.

Protesters on Wednesday also blocked train stations in the southern cities of Nice and Toulouse.

This, alongside with rolling strikes that affect oil depots, public transport and garbage collection, represent the most serious challenge to the centrist president’s authority since the “Yellow Vest” revolt four years ago.

Macron said what he called “extreme violence” was not acceptable.

Neither a government reshuffle nor snap elections are on the cards, but rather an attempt to regain the initiative with measures to better involve citizens and unions in decision-making, political leaders in Macron’s camp said ahead of the interview.

Polls show a wide majority of French are opposed to the pension legislation, as well as the government’s decision to push the bill through parliament last week without a vote.

Labor unions have announced another nationwide day of strikes and demonstrations on Thursday.

“I don’t expect much from Macron’s speech,” pensioner Jacques Borensztejn said at a rally on Tuesday in Paris. “We don’t want this law and we’ll fight until it is withdrawn.”

Ukraine Says Russian Drone Attack Kills 3 in Kyiv Region

Ukrainian authorities said Wednesday an overnight Russian drone attack killed at least three people in the Kyiv region. 

The state emergency service said the strike hit a school facility in Rzhyshchiv, about 60 kilometers south of the capital, damaging two student residences and an educational building. 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy tweeted Wednesday that Russia’s overnight attacks included “20 Iranian murderous drones, plus missiles, numerous shelling occasions.” 

“Every time someone tries to hear the word ‘peace’ in Moscow, another order is given there for such criminal strikes,” Zelenskyy said. 

The Ukrainian leader said the success of his forces “brings peace closer” as he called for global unity and compliance with sanctions targeting Russia. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday praised a Chinese-drafted peace plan as he hosted Chinese leader Xi Jinping, while reiterating his stance that Ukraine and its Western partners are unwilling to engage in peace talks. 

Zelenskyy has said peace talks can only occur once Russia has withdrawn all its troops from Ukrainian territory. 

Kishida visit 

Zelenskyy hosted Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida for talks Tuesday in Kyiv in the latest show of support from a world leader making a wartime stop in Ukraine. 

“Paid a visit to Ukraine to show firm resolution of G-7 as Chair and saw the situation with my own eyes,” Kishida tweeted Wednesday. “Having in-depth discussions with President Zelenskyy, I renewed commitment to take the lead in the efforts to uphold the international order based on the rule of law.” 

Japan is due to host a G-7 summit of the leaders of some of the world’s largest economies in Kishida’s hometown of Hiroshima in May. Tokyo has continually voiced support for Ukraine and joined rounds of sanctions against Russia. Kishida has said that the summit should demonstrate a strong will against Russia’s invasion and to uphold international order and rule of law.    

Kishida’s trip was kept secret until the last minute for security reasons. It is rare for a Japanese leader to make an unannounced visit to another country.   

Zelenskyy posted footage of him greeting Kishida, whom Zelenskyy called “a truly powerful defender of the international order and a longtime friend of Ukraine.”    

Kishida also toured the town of Bucha, where Ukraine says more than 400 civilians were killed last year by Russian forces, and which has since become synonymous with the brutality of Moscow’s troops.    

He laid a wreath outside a church before observing a moment of silence and bowing. 

The world was astonished to see innocent civilians in Bucha killed one year ago. I really feel great anger at the atrocity upon visiting that very place here,” Kishida said.  

“I would like to give condolences to all the victims and the wounded on behalf of the Japanese nationals,” he added. “Japan will keep aiding Ukraine with the greatest effort to regain peace.”     

In an apparent response to Kishida’s trip, Russia’s defense ministry said Tuesday that two of its strategic bomber planes flew over the Sea of Japan for more than seven hours.     

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

Ukrainian Refugees in Israel Stuck in Legal Limbo

While Europe and the United States have welcomed large numbers of Ukrainian refugees, many of them are in Israel, living in legal limbo without official refugee status. Linda Gradstein reports from the Israeli port city of Haifa, where a group is offering the refugees help.

Putin-Xi Meeting Won’t End Ukraine War, Says White House

As Xi Jinping wraps up his three-day visit to Moscow, the White House expressed pessimism that the Chinese leader’s talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin will pave the way to end the war in Ukraine. White House bureau chief Patsy Widakuswara reports.

Analysts Say Sentencing of Belarus Journalists is Retaliation for Coverage

The verdicts handed down last week to two senior members of the independent Belarusian news website were condemned by media as retaliation for truthful reporting.

In a closed hearing in Minsk on Friday, a court convicted the website’s editor-in-chief, Maryna Zolatava, of incitement and distributing material aimed at harming national security. The site’s director, Lyudmila Chekina, was convicted of tax evasion, incitement and organizing the distribution of material aimed at harming national security.

The journalists, who have both spent nearly two years in pre-trial detention, were each sentenced to 12 years in prison.

Three other journalists from the website also faced trial but had left the country earlier.

The news website reported extensively on the contested 2020 presidential election when President Alexander Lukashenko claimed victory and opposition candidates were detained or forced to flee.

Since 2020, and its staff have been harassed, the newsroom raided, and access to its website blocked as part of what analysts say is Lukashenko’s wider crackdown on opposition voices. Authorities labeled the site an “extremist organization” and many of its journalists have gone into exile.

The Belarus Embassy in Washington referred VOA to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Belarus. The ministry did not respond to VOA’s email requesting comment.

Lukashenko has said in interviews that reports on media jailings in Belarus are “misinformed.” He told The Associated Press in 2022, “the law is one and it must be observed. 

Media condemn verdict was one of the most popular independent news websites in Belarus.

“It really was the largest media in the country, covering up to 70% of the internet audience,” the site’s co-founder Kirill Voloshin told VOA. “It was a real power, a real potential tool of influence and a real threat to Belarusian authorities.”

In general, Voloshin said, “The courts [in Belarus] treat journalists very harshly and are doubly harsh toward journalists and TUT.BY managers.”

Voloshin is among the estimated 400 Belarusian journalists who have left the country since 2020. Many now live or work from Lithuania and Poland.

The co-founder said he believes Friday’s hearing was conducted behind closed doors “because none of the allegations are true.”

He said he doesn’t believe his colleagues will be released any time soon, adding, “The number of political prisoners will soon exceed 1,500, or has already exceeded. There is even a Nobel laureate there, there are well-known human rights activists.”

Barys Haretski, the deputy chair of the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), said he believes the verdict is retaliation for’s journalism.

“Dictators are always afraid of the light, and when some events take place in the country, and journalists cover them honestly, dictators really don’t like it,” he told VOA.

Haretski said that many journalists had dreamed of working for before it was forced out.

“Lukashenko is fighting any dissent, especially with such large and influential media as,” he said.

Persecution spreads

Zolatava and Chekina are among dozens of journalists to be detained in Belarus since 2020.

The BAJ at the start of 2023 estimated that more than 30 journalists remained imprisoned for their work inside Belarus. 

Political analyst Alexander Klaskovsky described the sentences as “cruel” even when compared to the wider situation for Belarus media.

“Under Lukashenko, the independent press was simply denied the right to exist,” the political observer said.

Lukashenko and his government “considers the uncontrolled media as one of its main enemies … and therefore there is no mercy here,” Klaskovsky said. “There is also a cold calculation in this, because the authorities are methodically clearing the field of independent media.”

He noted the harassment of the few remaining publications. In March, at least seven journalists have been detained, and authorities have raided reporters’ homes as well as the office of a local newspaper, Infa-Kurjer.

Media analyst Galina Sidorova said that Lukashenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin are both involved in the persecution of independent journalists and the suppression of freedom of speech.

Sidorova is the co-founder of 19-29 Foundation, a community of investigative journalists.

“We must not forget that the Putin regime is waging an aggressive war, and the intensified repressions against journalists in Russia are connected precisely with this,” she told VOA.

She also believes the harsh response to is linked to its popularity, especially during the contested 2020 presidential election in Belarus.

The website had millions of visits, Sidorova said, adding that it “was among the first media outlets that the authorities wanted to crack down on.”

She dismissed the charges against the website’s journalists, saying, “The reason for all these accusations was the same: their highly professional journalistic activity.”

Despite a difficult environment, Sidorova noted that journalists still report, adding that the media community is “looking for ways to somehow work and convey independent information to our audience in this terrible and unbearable situation.”

This story originated in VOA’s Russian Service 

Putin, Xi Call for Ukraine Peace Talks as Russian Leader Says West Not Ready

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping on Tuesday signed a new strategic partnership between their countries and called for a diplomatic solution to Moscow’s war against Ukraine, but Putin said he sees no indication that the Kyiv government and its Western allies are ready for peace talks.

After two days of talks with Xi at the Kremlin, Putin accused the United States and Western countries of fighting “to the last Ukrainian,” but praised what he said was China’s “neutral position” on the war.

China’s foreign ministry said in a statement that Beijing and Moscow believe that the United Nations Charter “must be observed and international law must be respected,” but made no demand that Russia withdraw its troops from Ukraine or honor Ukraine’s internationally recognized borders.

Putin called his talks with Xi “open and friendly,” discussions aimed at cementing their “no limits” partnership agreed to in early 2022, less than three weeks before Russia invaded Ukraine.

China recently proposed a 12-point plan calling for a de-escalation and eventual cease-fire in Ukraine, which the West has rejected because it would lock in place Russian territorial gains its illegal annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and more land seized by Russia in eastern Ukraine during its 13-month invasion.

Putin said, “We believe that many of the provisions of the peace plan put forward by China are consonant with Russian approaches and can be taken as the basis for a peaceful settlement when they are ready for that in the West and in Kyiv. However, so far, we see no such readiness from their side.”

Kyiv has welcomed Beijing’s diplomatic overture but says that Russia must first withdraw its troops from Ukraine. Fighting has mostly stalemated in eastern Ukraine along the main battlefront line.

The series of documents Putin and Xi signed called for “strategic cooperation” between the two countries, including a planned pipeline shipping Russian natural gas to China.

“I am convinced that our multi-faceted cooperation will continue to develop for the good of the peoples of our countries,” Putin said in televised remarks. He said Moscow was ready to help Chinese businesses replace Western firms that have left Russia in protest over the invasion of Ukraine.

Xi said he invited Putin to visit China later this year.

In opening remarks before their closed-door talks Monday, Putin said Russia was “slightly envious” of the rapid development of China in recent decades that has boosted it to become the world’s second-largest economy behind the United States.

Russian news agencies later reported that the two leaders talked for nearly four-and-a-half hours before breaking for dinner, where Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov had said Putin would likely give Xi a “detailed explanation” of Moscow’s actions in Ukraine.

The Chinese leader’s three-day visit to Moscow gives both Xi and Putin a public show of partnership in opposing what both see as American domination of global affairs. Their growing alliance also facilitates economic deals, such as shipment of Russian oil and natural gas to China at a time when the U.S. and its Western allies have imposed widespread sanctions to curb Russia’s foreign business transactions in retaliation for the invasion of Ukraine.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters in Washington Monday that any proposal for Ukraine that allows Russian forces to remain in the country would merely let Moscow regain its strength to continue its offensive.

“Calling for a cease-fire that does not include the removal of Russian forces from Ukrainian territory would effectively be supporting the ratification of Russian conquest,” he said.

White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby called on Xi “to press President Putin directly on the need to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

Some material in this report came from Reuters.