Category: EU

Portugal Powers Into Last Eight With 6-1 Demolition of Switzerland

Goncalo Ramos scored a stunning hat trick as a slick Portugal thrashed Switzerland, 6-1, on Tuesday to storm into the quarterfinals of the World Cup for the first time since 2006. 

Portugal coach Fernando Santos made the brave call to bench Cristiano Ronaldo and was rewarded with an artful display from his side as they set up a last-eight clash with Morocco, who stunned Spain in a penalty shootout earlier on Tuesday. 

Ramos, making his first start at the World Cup, gave Portugal the lead in the 17th minute after latching onto Joao Felix’s pass and smashing the ball past Swiss goalkeeper Yann Sommer at his near post from an acute angle. 

The 21-year-old Benfica striker scored his second, and Portugal’s third, six minutes after the break by getting onto the end of Diogo Dalot’s low cross and he completed his hat trick in the 67th with a delicate dinked finish. 

Pepe had doubled Portugal’s lead with a powerful header from a Bruno Fernandes corner after 33 minutes and Raphael Guerreiro rifled in their fourth in the 55th before Rafael Leao completed the rout in added time with a curled finish. 

Manuel Akanji scored a consolation goal for the Swiss from a corner just before the hour. 

Morocco 3, Spain 0 

Achraf Hakimi calmly converted a penalty to send Morocco through to the World Cup quarterfinals for the first time with a 3-0 shootout win over former champions Spain after a cagey last-16 clash ended goalless on Tuesday. 

Morocco goalkeeper Yassine Bounou saved spot-kicks from Carlos Soler and Sergio Busquets after Pablo Sarabia had hit the post and Spanish-born Hakimi held his nerve to earn his team a quarter-final against either Portugal or Switzerland. 

Morocco became only the fourth African nation to reach the last eight of the tournaments, 12 years after Ghana did so in South Africa. 

After a scrappy match finished deadlocked at 0-0 after extra time with few shots on target, Morocco fed off the raucous support of their red-clad supporters in the shootout as Spain crumbled. 

Spain enjoyed more than 75% of possession and completed almost 800 passes but Morocco caused problems for them on the counterattack and goalkeeper Unai Simon made some good saves. 

It was the fourth time Spain have been knocked out of the World Cup on penalties and the second in a row. 

Brussels Approves Groundbreaking Import Ban on Goods Linked to Deforestation

Companies exporting products like chocolate, timber and palm oil will soon face tough new European Union regulations to ensure these goods aren’t linked to deforestation. The measures are a first for Europe and the world — and may set a global precedent.

Environmentalists are hailing the groundbreaking legislation endorsed by the European Union early Tuesday. It will, however, need to be formally passed by the EU’s parliament and member states, a move likely to occur early next year. 

European Commission spokesman Adalbert Jahnz called the measure a crucial step forward in protecting the environment and Europe’s green commitments. 

The draft law targets imports of goods like coffee, cocoa, meat, palm oil and soy, which are linked to deforestation. Companies will need to show where and when these items were produced, and verify they weren’t grown on land deforested after 2020. 

“I think it can’t be understated how groundbreaking this law is,” Jahnz said. “It’s really the first of its kind in the world.”

“There’ll be a direct impact from it,” said John Hyland, a Brussels-based spokesman for the European Unit of Greenpeace. “It will stop some chainsaws and bulldozers clearing forests and it will stop companies profiting from deforestation in Europe.”

But Hyland also said the legislation has drawbacks. Environmentalists consider its definition of forest degradation to be weak, allowing logging industries, for example, to continue cutting down trees in many places. Green groups say they hope the restrictions will be widened to include other crucial ecosystems like wetlands and savannas. 

Greenpeace said it believes the measure may prompt other countries and companies to adopt similar due-diligence standards. 

“All these companies that want to sell in Europe — which is a huge market — they’ll be forced to collect this information,” said Hyland. “And once they’re collecting this information, other countries — it’s much easier for them to ask for this information too. And companies will want to have their competitors brought up to the same standard they are as well.” 

Deforestation is a massive and alarming problem worldwide — especially in the Amazon and Congo basin where the forests are crucial for fighting climate change.

The United Nations estimates the world has lost 420 million hectares of forest over the past three decades.

Al Jazeera Takes Slain Journalist’s Case to ICC

TV network Al Jazeera submitted the case of slain journalist Shireen Abu Akleh to the International Criminal Court on Tuesday, saying she was killed by Israeli forces.

The Qatar-based channel said it had “unearthed new evidence” on the death of the Palestinian-American, shot while covering an Israel army raid in Jenin in the occupied West Bank on May 11.

Any person or group can file a complaint to the ICC prosecutor for investigation, but The Hague-based court is under no obligation to take on such cases.

Al Jazeera said its submission highlighted “new witness evidence and video footage (that) clearly show that Shireen and her colleagues were directly fired at by the Israeli Occupation Forces.”

“The claim by the Israeli authorities that Shireen was killed by mistake in an exchange of fire is completely unfounded,” the channel said.

An AFP journalist saw a lawyer representing Al Jazeera’s case entering the ICC’s headquarters to hand over their submission.

The ICC last year launched a probe into war crimes in the Palestinian territories, but Israel is not an ICC member and disputes the court’s jurisdiction.

The Israeli army conceded on September 5 that one of its soldiers had likely shot Abu Akleh after mistaking her for a militant. Israel said it would not cooperate with any external probe into Abu Akleh’s death.

“No one will investigate IDF (Israeli military) soldiers, and no one will preach to us about morals in warfare, certainly not Al Jazeera,” Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said in a statement.

‘Complete cover-up’

The veteran reporter, who was a Christian, was wearing a bulletproof vest marked “Press” and a helmet when she was shot in the head in the Jenin refugee camp, a historic flashpoint in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Her niece, Lina Abu Akleh, urged the ICC to investigate the journalist’s death.

“The evidence is overwhelmingly clear; we expect the ICC to take action,” she told a press conference in The Hague, adding that they had asked for a meeting with prosecutor Karim Khan.

“My family still doesn’t know who fired that deadly bullet and who was in the chain of command that killed my aunt.”

Lawyer Rodney Dixon said there had been a “complete cover-up” by Israel over Abu Akleh’s death.

He alleged that her killing was part of a “systematic and widespread campaign” against Al Jazeera by Israel that included the bombing of a Gaza building housing Al Jazeera’s office last year.

“There’s a clear attempt to shut Al Jazeera down and silence it,” Dixon said at the news conference. “We are hopeful that there will now be justice for Shireen.”

Dixon said they had not yet had a formal meeting with the prosecutor’s office but had handed over evidence, including some on memory sticks, to the ICC’s evidence unit.

After receiving complaints from individuals or groups, the ICC prosecutor decides independently what cases to submit to judges at the court.

Judges decide whether to allow a preliminary investigation by the prosecutor, which can then be followed by a formal investigation, and if warranted, charges.

In the majority of cases such complaints do not lead to investigations, according to the ICC.

Belarus Opposition Figure Returned to Prison After Surgery

Maria Kolesnikova, a prominent member of the Belarusian opposition serving an 11-year prison sentence for helping stage anti-government protests, was taken back to prison after undergoing an operation for a perforated ulcer, her father said Monday. 

Alexander Kolesnikov was able to visit his daughter for about 10 minutes and found her weak but “her mood is good and she even tried to smile,” he told The Associated Press. 

Maria Kolesnikova, 40, has been in custody since September 2020 when she tore up her passport at the border to prevent her forced expulsion from Belarus amid massive protests challenging the reelection of the country’s authoritarian president Alexander Lukashenko. 

She was convicted in September 2021 on charges of conspiring to seize power, creating an extremist organization and calling for action that threatened the security of the state. 

Belarus was shaken by massive protests after the disputed August 2020 reelection of Lukashenko, which the opposition and the West denounced as a rigged sham. Authorities responded to the demonstrations with a massive crackdown that saw more than 35,000 people arrested and thousands beaten by police. 

Kolesnikova helped coordinate opposition protests and resisted authorities’ attempts to force her to leave the country. When officers of the Belarusian security agency drove her to the border with Ukraine in September 2020 to forcibly expel her, she ripped up her passport and walked back into Belarus to face arrest. 

 

Pakistan: Russia to Sell ‘Discounted’ Petroleum Products to Islamabad

Pakistan said Monday that Russia had decided to export crude oil, gasoline and diesel to the South Asian nation at discounted prices.

Deputy Minister for Petroleum Musadik Malik shared the details at a news conference in Islamabad after visiting Moscow last week where he met with his Russian counterparts.

“An inter-governmental delegation ed by Russian energy minister will visit Pakistan next month and we will try to firm up all the details I have shared with you so we can sign the agreement to buy crude oil, petrol and diesel at a discounted rate,” Malik said.

He did not share specifics such as the discount offered by Moscow or how soon Islamabad would be able to import Russian petroleum products.

“The discounted rate will be the same as the rate being offered to other countries in the world,” Malik asserted.

The minister said his talks “turned out to be more productive than expected” and they were driven by Pakistan’s “national interest” requiring the government to overcome domestic energy shortages from all possible sources.

Malik said Pakistan was also interested in buying liquefied natural gas, or LNG, but that Russian state-owned companies’ supplies of the product are tight at present.

“Russia is in the process of installing new production units and has invited Pakistan to initiate talks on long-term contracts to buy LNG,” he said. Malik added that Russian officials also arranged his delegation’s talks with private companies in Moscow on importing LNG.

There were no immediate comments from Moscow on possible energy deals with Pakistan.

Pakistan has struggled to meet its LNG supply needs as its gas reserves shrink by as much as 10% a year. The county’s dwindling foreign exchange reserves have constrained its ability to purchase fossil fuels from abroad.

Meanwhile, Malik said neighboring Iran had decided to donate nearly a million kilograms of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) in “humanitarian aid” to Pakistan this winter. “It will reach the country within the next 10 days,” he said. 

 

Brussels Reopens Painful Page With Start of Trial Over 2016 Terror Attacks

Belgium reopened a painful chapter in its recent history Monday, as the trial opened for alleged conspirators in the 2016 terror attacks around Brussels that killed 32 people and wounded hundreds more.

Ten men stand accused of involvement in the March 2016 suicide bombings at the Brussels airport and a metro station — attacks authorities blamed on the Islamic State militant group.

Those on trial allegedly directed or aided the attacks, in which two homemade bombs exploded at the airport and another in a packed subway station.

The three suicide bombers died, along with nearly three dozen victims from a raft of different countries.

Five of the defendants also stood trial in Paris over the 2015 attacks in the French capital that killed 130 people. Among them is Salah Abdeslam, now serving life in prison as one of the Paris assailants.

The Paris and Brussels attacks — which investigators believe were authored by the same Belgium-based terrorist cell — count among the deadliest of a spate of Islamist terrorist assaults around Europe a few years ago.

At the trial’s opening Monday, defendant Mohamed Abrini complained of being humiliated by the security measures that he described as state vengeance. He warned the defendants might remain silent during this trial in response.

Valerie Gerard, a lawyer for Life4Brussels victims association, said the trial stirred up painful memories. She said some association members wanted to assist and even testify at the trial; others want nothing to do with it.

Also grueling, she said, were the tangled procedures for the victims to get compensation for the attacks.

The spate of terror attacks in Europe a few years ago has given way to other crises — including COVIC-19 and now the war in Ukraine. The trial’s hearings may take up to eight months, with a jury deciding on the verdict.

FIFA to Probe Conduct of Serbian Team, Fans at World Cup

World soccer’s governing body, FIFA, has announced a probe into alleged misconduct by Serbian players, team officials, and fans during Serbia’s World Cup loss to Switzerland last week.

The investigation, which was announced on Monday, comes after complaints from the Football Association of Kosovo about offensive chants against two Swiss players who have ethnic Albanian roots and family ties to Kosovo. Serbia was eliminated from the tournament in the 3-2 defeat on December 2.

A statement from FIFA said its disciplinary committee has opened proceedings against the Football Association of Serbia “due to potential breaches of articles 12 (misconduct of players and officials), 13 (discrimination) and 16 (order and security at matches) of the FIFA Disciplinary Code” related to incidents during the match.

It is the second time that FIFA has launched disciplinary proceedings against the Serbian team during the 2022 World Cup. The first occurred after a flag showing Kosovo as part of Serbia allegedly was displayed in the Serbian locker room after the match on November 26 with Brazil.

Serbian team manager Dragan Stojkovic, speaking at a news conference Monday after the national team returned from Qatar, said he had no comment on the latest actions by FIFA.

The Football Association of Kosovo had complained to FIFA about the alleged incidents, judging them to be nationalistic.

“It’s good that FIFA dealt with this and that it took it seriously,” Agim Ademi, the president of the Football Association of Kosovo, told RFE/RL.

The Football Association of Serbia and the Serbian Sports Ministry did not respond to RFE/RL’s request for comment about the disciplinary charges.

The Football Association of Kosovo had demanded a reaction from FIFA, due to “severe insults by the coach of Serbia and racist actions of Serbian fans” during the match against Switzerland, which was captained by Granit Xhaka, and in which Xherdan Shaqiri scored the opening goal. Both players have roots in Kosovo.

Serbia does not recognize Kosovar sovereignty more than a decade after the mostly ethnic Albanian province declared independence. Kosovo has been a member of FIFA and UEFA, soccer’s European governing body, since 2016.

FIFA’s announcement said that “racist calls against Albanians were heard during the entire match” and “slogans with political messages” were also heard.

Several Serbian players also encroached onto the field when the referee didn’t use a video review to study a claim for a penalty kick in the second half.

FIFA gave no timetable for the disciplinary case. Any punishments could apply when Serbia next plays competitive games in March in a European Championship qualifying group.

The Football Association of Kosovo demanded investigation and sanctions against the Football Association of Serbia “so that once and for all fascist chants disappear from football stadiums and events such as the World Cup.”

The association said in a statement that teams and fans “with behavior and a philosophy of hatred should not have a place at such important sports events as the World Cup in Qatar.”

Some information in this report came from The Associated Press.

EU Slaps Oil Embargo on Russia With Price Cap, Uncertain Impact

A European Union embargo against maritime shipments of crude oil from Russia went into effect Monday, along with a price cap agreed to by the Group of Seven leading industrialized economies and Australia. 

Targeting seaborne deliveries that make up two-thirds of the EU’s crude imports from Russia, the embargo counts among a raft of steadily tougher EU sanctions against Moscow for its war in Ukraine. Some analysts call it Europe’s most significant step to date in reducing its dependency on Russian energy — which is helping fund the war.

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen announced the oil embargo in early May, as the weather was becoming warmer, and chances of an energy crunch seemed far away. 

“This sends another important signal to all perpetrators of the Kremlin. We know who you are. We will hold you accountable. You’re not getting away with this. Putin must pay a price — a high price — for his brutal aggression,” she said. 

Now, as winter sets in, European governments are warning of possible energy shortages — especially since Moscow has sharply curbed exports of its all-important gas.

Thierry Bros, an energy expert and professor at Sciences Po University in Paris, summed up the challenge facing Europe: “We have to think about how can we hurt Russia in a way that hurts us less than Russia.”

The EU previously enacted a less significant coal embargo against Moscow. Along with this new oil embargo, Western nations set a $60-a-barrel price cap for Russian crude exports, hoping to enforce it by requiring the mostly Western-based shipping insurers and others in the industry to abide by it.

Bros is among those who have voiced skepticism.  

“Because it’s [oil] a fungible commodity like coal, Russia has the ability to reroute this to Asia and provide it as a discount to India and the Chinese. So, the oil embargo is going to be difficult for us as Europeans, and the oil product embargo is going to be even more difficult,” Bros said.

This coming February, Brussels also enforces a ban against refined Russian oil products such as gas, jet fuel and diesel. Some believe it may prove more effective in hurting Russia’s pocketbook. But Bros points to shortfalls. For example, he said, European vehicles still depend on Russian diesel. Finding alternatives may not be so easy.  

Meanwhile, critics suggest there may be wiggle room for cheaters to flout the new crude oil embargo. The $60 cap for Russia’s crude is also controversial for a mix of reasons. Some believe it’s too high.  

“I’m very worried that we democracies are trying to fiddle free markets. … Once you do this, you’re putting a risk on free markets. I think it’s wrong to do this,” Bros said.  

Russian oil exports to the EU have already fallen sharply this year. Moscow, however, has earned more from its overall oil exports than last year, largely because prices have risen since the start of the war in Ukraine.  

 

With Eye on Qatar, Female Football Players in Spain Savor Freedoms

The World Cup has brought attention to Qatar’s record on women’s rights. While it surpasses that of most Gulf nations, women’s football remains undeveloped – something that has caught the attention of female athletes – including a group of players in Spain. Jonathan Spier narrates this report from Alfonso Beato in Barcelona.

Belgium Starts Trial Into Brussels Bombings

Belgium begins proceedings Monday in its largest ever trial to determine whether 10 men played a part in the Islamist suicide bombings in Brussels in 2016 that killed 32 people and injured over 300.

More than six years after the attacks, presiding judge Laurence Massart will confirm on Monday the identity of all parties to the case, including the defendants and lawyers representing around 1,000 people affected by the attacks claimed by Islamic State.

She will then address the jury, selected from a pool of 1,000 Belgians last week in a process lasting 14 hours.

The Brussels bombings’ trial has clear links to the French trial over the November 2015 Paris attacks. Six of the Brussels accused were sentenced to jail terms of between 10 years and life in France in June, but the Belgian trial will be different in that it will be settled by a jury not judges.

The twin bombings at Brussels Airport and a third bomb on the city’s metro on March 22, 2016 killed 15 men and 17 women – Belgians, Americans, Dutch, Swedish and nationals of Britain China, France, Germany, India, Peru and Poland, many based in Brussels, the home to EU institutions and military alliance NATO.

Nine men are charged with multiple murders and attempted murders in a terrorist context, with potential life sentences, and all 10 with participating in the activities of a terrorist group.

They include Mohamed Abrini, who prosecutors say went to the airport with two suicide bombers, but fled without detonating his suitcase of explosives, and Osama Krayem, a Swedish national accused of planning to be a second bomber on Brussels’ metro.

Salah Abdeslam, the main suspect in the Paris trial, is also an accused, along with others prosecutors say hosted or helped certain attackers. One of the 10, presumed killed in Syria, will be tried in absentia.

In accordance with Belgium court procedure, the defendants have not declared whether they are innocent or guilty.

Prosecutors are expected to start reading from the 486-page indictment on Tuesday before hearings of some 370 experts and witnesses can begin.

The trial in the former headquarters of NATO is expected to last seven months and is estimated to cost at least $36.9 million.

Russia’s War on Ukraine ‘Barbaric,’ Western Powers Say

Western powers have labeled Russia’s ongoing war in neighboring Ukraine as barbaric. With the cold of winter setting in, the Kremlin appears to be increasing attacks on critical Ukrainian infrastructure. Western powers looked to fight back on Russian oil exports, but Moscow has rejected those efforts. VOA’s Arash Arabasadi has more.

France Beat Poland to Reach World Cup Quarter-Finals 

France beat Poland 3-1 in a record-smashing World Cup last-16 clash on Sunday that saw Olivier Giroud become France’s outright all-time top scorer and Kylian Mbappe score a magnificent double.

France were relentless on the attack as they pushed for an opening goal but could not unlock a sturdy Poland until just before the break when Mbappe played a pin-point ball through to Giroud, who hammered it past a diving Wojciech Szczesny to claim his 52nd goal for Les Bleus.

Holders France continued to press after the break, with Giroud almost netting a second when he flicked Jules Kounde’s cross just past the near post. But Mbappe did not miss in the 74th minute, unleashing a missile from just inside the penalty area that shot into the top corner.

Mbappe was not done, adding a second goal in stoppage time with another screamer to seal the win and take his total for the tournament to five.

Poland got a consolation goal from a Robert Lewandowski penalty.

EU Chief Says Bloc Must Act Over US Climate Plan ‘Distortions’

EU chief Ursula von der Leyen said Sunday the bloc must act to address “distortions” created by Washington’s $430-billion plan to spur climate-friendly technologies in the United States.

The European Union must “take action to rebalance the playing field where the IRA [Inflation Reduction Act] or other measures create distortions,” von der Leyen said in a speech at the College of Europe in the Belgian city of Bruges.

EU countries have poured criticism on Washington’s landmark Inflation Reduction Act, seeing it as anti-competitive and a threat to European jobs, especially in the energy and auto sectors.

The act, designed to accelerate the U.S. transition to a low-carbon economy, contains around $370 billion in subsidies for green energy as well as tax cuts for U.S.-made electric cars and batteries.

Von der Leyen said the EU had to work with the U.S. “to address some of the most concerning aspects of the law.”

She said that Brussels must also “adjust” its own rules to facilitate public investment in the environmental transition and “reassess the need for further European funding of the transition.”

French President Emmanuel Macron seized an opportunity on a state visit to Washington for talks with U.S. President Joe Biden last week to air deep grievances over U.S.-EU trade.

The White House touts the IRA as a groundbreaking effort to reignite US manufacturing and promote renewable technologies.

Russian Public Support Dropping for War on Ukraine – British Defense Ministry 

The British Defense Ministry says a recent poll shows Russian public support for the war on Ukraine is dropping.

In its Sunday morning intelligence update the ministry said an independent Russian media outlet has claimed access to data collected by Russia’s Federal Protective Service that indicates 55% of Russians favor peace talks with Ukraine, while only 25% say they support continuing the war. In April 2022 some 80% of Russians were reported as supporting the invasion of Ukraine.

 

The ministry says that, “With Russia unlikely to achieve major battlefield successes in the next several months, maintaining even tacit approval of the war amongst the population is likely to be increasingly difficult for the Kremlin.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said capping the price of Russian seaborne oil at $60 a barrel is not aggressive enough to squeeze the Russian economy that funds its invasion in Ukraine.

The price cap was agreed to by Australia, Britain, Canada, Japan, the United States and the European Union, but the Ukrainian leader called Saturday for a much lower one.

“The logic is obvious,” he said. “If the price limit for Russian oil is $60 instead of, for example, $30, which Poland and the Baltic countries talked about, then the Russian budget will receive about $100 billion a year.”

“This money,” he said, “will go not only to the war and not only to Russia’s further sponsoring of other terrorist regimes and organizations. This money will also be used to further destabilize precisely those countries that are now trying to avoid big decisions.”

The West believes such a significant reduction in price could undercut the cost of Russian oil production.

“We think the number at $60 a barrel is appropriate” to balance limiting Moscow’s ability to profit and ensuring supply meets demand, said John Kirby, U.S. National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications, on Friday, adding that the cap can be adjusted.

The cap proposed by U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen aims to reduce Russia’s oil earnings, which support its military and the invasion of Ukraine.

The price cap takes effect on Monday, which coincides with the European Union’s embargo on most Russian oil shipments. It’s uncertain how all of this will affect oil markets, which are swinging between fears of lost Russian supply and weakening demand caused by the lagging global economy. Russia could retaliate by halting shipments, and Europe may struggle to replace imports of Russian diesel fuel.

OPEC+, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies, meets Sunday to review its production targets. Reuters says four OPEC+ sources have told it there will be no change in planned oil supplies.

For its part, Russia rejected the price cap and threatened to turn off the oil spigot on the coalition of Western countries that endorsed the cap.

“We will not accept this ceiling,” Tass quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying Saturday.

The Russian embassy in Washington said Saturday it will continue to find buyers for its oil, despite what it called “dangerous” attempts by the West to introduce a price cap on its oil exports.

“Steps like these will inevitably result in increasing uncertainty and imposing higher costs for raw materials to consumers,” it said.

Shelling resumes

Russia has resumed shelling the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson. And officials warned of a tough winter as Russian strikes target energy infrastructure.

“Russian invaders shelled Kherson — damaged power grids. The city was left without electricity again,” Governor Yaroslav Yanushevych said on Telegram, adding that technicians were already working to restore power to the recently liberated city on the west bank of the Dnipro River.

Officials in Kherson have announced they will help citizens evacuate parts of Russian-occupied territory on the east bank of the Dnipro River amid concerns of intensified fighting in the area.

Since Russia’s retreat from Kherson, Ukrainian forces could advance south through the fields of the Zaporizhzhia region to recapture occupied territory and repel the invaders, according to The Washington Post.

Their aim would be to control the land bridge that connects Russia to Crimea. Their counteroffensive must wait, though, until the cold sets in and the muddy ground freezes.

Meanwhile, the world should expect “the reduced tempo in fighting in Ukraine to continue in coming months,” U.S. Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines said Saturday at the Reagan National Defense Forum in California, noting she sees no evidence of a reduced will to resist on the part of the Ukrainian forces.

Assessing Putin

In Kyiv Saturday, Victoria Nuland, undersecretary of state for political affairs, said Russian President Vladimir Putin is not serious about peace talks with Ukraine at this time. She commented after meeting with Zelenskyy and other senior Ukrainian officials.

“Whether it’s the energy attacks, whether it’s the rhetoric out of the Kremlin and the general attitude, Putin is not sincere or ready for that,” she said.

Russia and the United States have both said this week they are open to talks in principle, though U.S. President Joe Biden said he would only talk to Putin if he showed true interest in ending the war.

Ukraine says negotiations are possible only if Russia stops attacking and pulls out its troops.

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

 

UK Arrests Wealthy Russian as Police Target Putin Enablers

British authorities have arrested a wealthy Russian businessman on suspicion of money laundering, amid efforts to disrupt potential criminal activity by oligarchs and others linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The National Crime Agency said more than 50 officers from a specialized unit raided the suspect’s multimillion-pound home in London on Thursday, seizing several digital devices and a “significant” amount of cash. The man was not named.

“The NCA’s Combatting Kleptocracy Cell, only established this year, is having significant success investigating potential criminal activity by oligarchs, the professional service providers that support and enable them and those linked to the Russian regime,” agency director general Graeme Biggar said in a statement Saturday. “We will continue to use all the powers and tactics available to us to disrupt this threat.”

The arrest comes as Britain works with the United States, European Union and other countries to choke off the flow of money to Putin’s regime following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The U.K. has imposed sanctions on more than 1,300 individuals and entities, including 120 wealthy business leaders known as oligarchs, with worldwide assets estimated at more than $160 billion, according to the British government.

The businessman targeted in Thursday’s raid was arrested on suspicion of money laundering, conspiracy to commit perjury and conspiracy to defraud the Home Office, the government agency responsible for immigration and law enforcement.

A 35-year-old man who works at the suspect’s residence was also arrested after he was seen leaving the property with a bag containing thousands of dollars in cash, the agency said. A third man, 39, who is the former boyfriend of the businessman’s current partner, was arrested at his home in the Pimlico area of west London on suspicion of offenses including money laundering and conspiracy to defraud.

The NCA said the operation was part of its effort to disrupt the activities of corrupt international business figures and their enablers. Some 100 operations that remove or reduce a criminal threat have been carried out against elites linked to Putin, the agency said.

“The cell has also investigated and taken discreet action against a significant number of elites who impact directly on the U.K., as well as targeting less conventional routes used to disguise movements of significant wealth, such as high-value asset sales via auction houses,” the agency said.

In October, the NCA said it arrested another London-based businessman on suspicion of assisting a sanctioned Russian oligarch conceal his ownership of properties in the U.K.

The agency said that it has worked with law enforcement agencies around the world to “target illicit wealth held abroad,” helping them freeze assets including numerous properties, eight yachts and four aircraft. 

Burkina Faso Government Suspends France’s RFI Radio Broadcasts

Burkina Faso’s military government has suspended the broadcast of France’s RFI radio in the Sahel West African state over what it said were false reports and giving voice to Islamist militants, a statement from the government said Saturday.

The statement said RFI on Saturday broadcast a message from a leader of a militant group in which he threatened the population.

“RFI strongly deplores this decision and protests against the totally unfounded accusations calling into question its professionalism,” State-owned Radio France Internationale, usually referred to as RFI, said in a statement.

It added that the decision to suspend its broadcasting was made without prior notice and without the implementation of the procedures put in place by Burkina Faso’s communications regulator.

RFI Afrique radio, which has one of the largest footprints across French-speaking Africa, added that it will explore ways to restore its broadcasting.

The government said that RFI also repeated a press report — which it denied — that Burkina Faso’s President Captain Ibrahim Traore, who seized power in a coup in September, had said there had been an attempted coup to unseat him.

“In view of all of the above, the government has decided the immediate suspension of the broadcast of all RFI programmes across the national territory,” said the statement signed by government spokesperson Rimtalba Jean Emmanuel Ouedraogo.

Burkina Faso is the second West African nation to suspend RFI’s broadcast. The first is that of the military government in neighboring Mali in March.

The decision comes amid a backdrop of soured relations between France and its former West Africa colonies Burkina Faso and Mali over frustrations that France has not done enough to tackle Islamist insurgents who occupied northern Mali in 2012 and have spread to neighboring states.

The prolonged insecurity led to political instability and military coups in August 2020 and May 2021 in Mali, and in January 2022 and September 2022 in Burkina Faso.

France pulled its troops from Mali as the relations between Paris and the junta in Mali deteriorated over delays in returning to constitutional rule, and Mali’s decision to turn to Russian private military firm Wagner Group to help fight the insurgents.

The French embassy, cultural center and military base in Burkina Faso were targeted by angry mobs on the day of the coup, and on November 18, demanding that France should leave and that the military leaders, should turn to Russia for help, like Mali, to fight the insurgents.

Fighting Slows, Ukrainian Will to Resist Does Not, US Intelligence Chief Says

U.S. intelligence expects the reduced tempo in fighting in Ukraine to continue in the next several months and sees no evidence of a reduced Ukrainian will to resist, despite attacks on its power grid and other critical winter infrastructure, the director of national intelligence said Saturday.

“We’re seeing a kind of a reduced tempo already of the conflict … and we expect that’s likely to be what we see in the coming months,” Avril Haines told the annual Reagan National Defense Forum in California.

She said both the Ukrainian and Russian militaries would be looking to try to refit and resupply to prepare for a counteroffensive in after the winter, but there was a question as to what that would look like, and added:

“We actually have a fair amount of skepticism as to whether or not the Russians will be in fact prepared to do that. I think more optimistically for the Ukrainians in that timeframe.”

Asked about the effects of Russian attacks on Ukraine’s power grid and other civilian infrastructure, Haines said Moscow’s aim was partly to undermine the will of Ukrainians to resist and added: “I think we’re not seeing any evidence of that being undermined right now at this point.”

She said Russia was also looking to affect Ukraine’s capacity to prosecute conflict and added that Kyiv’s economy had been suffering very badly.

“It can over time, obviously, have an impact. How much of an impact will be dependent on how much they go after, what they’re capable of doing, the resilience of that critical infrastructure, our capacity to help them defend it,” she said.

“Ukraine’s economy is suffering very badly. It’s been devastating, and … obviously taking down the grid will have an impact on that as well,” she added.

Haines said she thought Russian President Vladimir Putin had been surprised that his military had not accomplished more.

“I do think he is becoming more informed of the challenges that the military faces in Russia. But it’s still not clear to us that he has a full picture at this stage of just how challenged they are … we see shortages of ammunition, for morale, supply issues, logistics, a whole series of concerns that they’re facing.”

Haines said Putin’s political objectives in Ukraine did not appear to have changed, but U.S. intelligence analysts thought he may be willing to scale back his near-term military objectives “on a temporary basis with the idea that he might then come back at this issue at a later time.”

She said Russia appeared to be using up its military stockpiles “quite quickly.”

“It’s really pretty extraordinary, and our own sense is that they are not capable of indigenously producing what they are expending at this stage,” she said.

“That’s why you see them going to other countries effectively to try to get ammunition … and we’ve indicated that their precision munitions are running out much faster in many respects,” she added.

Haines said the United States had “seen some movement” in supplies of munitions from North Korea, “but it’s not been a lot at this stage.”

She said Iran had supplied Russia with drones and Moscow was looking for other types of precision munitions from Tehran, something that would be “very concerning in terms of their capacity.”

Russia Rejects G7 Oil Price Cap

Russia is rejecting a price cap of $60 a barrel on Russian oil imposed by the Group of Seven and its allies, TASS quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying Saturday. “We will not accept this ceiling.”

Russia threatened to turn off the oil spigot on the coalition of Western countries that endorsed the cap.

Australia, Britain, Canada, Japan, the United States and the 27-nation European Union agreed Friday to set the price for Russian oil at $60-per-barrel. The limit will take effect Monday.

The Russian Embassy in Washington said Saturday it will continue to find buyers for its oil, despite what is called “dangerous” attempts by the West to introduce a price cap on its oil exports.

“Steps like these will inevitably result in increasing uncertainty and imposing higher costs for raw materials to consumers,” it said.

The cap proposed by U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen aims to reduce Russia’s oil earnings that support its military and the invasion of Ukraine. But there are questions about how effective the cap will be.

The Monday start date coincides with the European Union’s embargo on most Russian oil shipments. There’s uncertainty about how all this will affect oil markets, which are swinging between fears of lost Russian supply and weakening demand caused by the lagging global economy. Russia could retaliate by halting shipments, and Europe may struggle to replace imports of Russian diesel fuel.

Ukraine calls for lower price cap

The office of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, meanwhile, called Saturday for an even lower price cap.

“It would be necessary to lower it to $30 [per barrel] in order to destroy the enemy’s economy faster,” Andriy Yermak, the head of Zelenskyy’s office, wrote on Telegram, staking out a position also favored by Poland — a leading critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine.

The West feels that such a reduction in price could undercut the cost of Russian oil production.

“We think the number at $60 a barrel is appropriate” to balance limiting Moscow’s ability to profit and ensuring supply meets demand, John Kirby, U.S. National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications, said Friday, adding that the cap can be adjusted going forward.

Russia has resumed shelling the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson. Officials warned that Ukraine faces a tough winter because of the Russian strikes on its energy infrastructure.

“Russian invaders shelled Kherson — damaged power grids. The city was left without electricity again,” Governor Yaroslav Yanushevych said on Telegram, adding that technicians were already working to restore power to the recently liberated city on the right bank of the Dnipro River.

Officials in Kherson announced they will help citizens evacuate parts of Russian-occupied territory on the east bank of the Dnipro River amid concerns of intensified fighting in the area.

After Russia’s retreat from Kherson, Ukrainian forces may consider advancing south through the fields of the Zaporizhzhia region to recapture occupied territory and repel the invaders, according to The Washington Post.

Their aim would be to control the land bridge that connects Russia to Crimea. Their counteroffensive must wait, though, until the cold sets in and the muddy ground freezes.

A hardened ground would allow their military vehicles to gain more traction. It’s common for some heavy artillery vehicles to get stuck in mud during warmer weather.

Russia prioritizes Bakhmut

Meanwhile, Russia is investing a large amount of its “over all military effort and firepower,” the British Defense Ministry said Saturday, along a “15-kilometer sector of entrenched front line around the Donetsk Oblast town of Bakhmut” in Ukraine.

“Russia has prioritized Bakhmut as its main offensive effort since early August 2022,” the ministry said in its daily update posted on Twitter. “The capture of the town would have limited operational value although it would potentially allow Russia to threaten the larger urban areas of Kramatorsk and Sloviansk,” according to the report.

However, the defense ministry said, “The campaign has been disproportionately costly” and “Bakhmut’s capture has become a symbolic, political objective for Russia.”

Zelenskyy said in his daily address Friday he and his staff have been working all week “at various levels in European capitals in order to gain a critical mass of support for the launch of a special tribunal – a tribunal on Russian aggression … I am sure that there will be a tribunal, there will be justice” for the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The White House said U.S. President Joe Biden has “no intentions” at present of holding negotiations with Russian President Vladimir Putin about ending the war in Ukraine, a day after Biden appeared to make a conditional offer to talk to his Russian counterpart.

“We’re just not at a point now where talks seem to be a fruitful avenue to approach right now,” White House national security spokesperson John Kirby told reporters Friday.

When asked about those comments Friday, Kirby noted that Biden said Putin has yet to show any interest in talking.

“Putin has shown absolutely no inclination to be interested in dialogue of any kind. In fact, quite the contrary,” Kirby said.

“The president wasn’t at all indicating that now is the time for talks,” said Kirby. “In fact, he has been consistent that only [Ukrainian] President Zelenskyy can determine if and when there’s going to be a negotiated settlement and what the circumstances around that settlement would look like.”

The Kremlin said Friday that Putin is ready for negotiations with the West — provided the West recognizes Russia’s “new territories” taken from Ukraine.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters: “The president of the Russian Federation has always been, is and remains open to negotiations in order to ensure our interests.”

Also Friday, Putin spoke on the phone with Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz. Scholz is quoted as telling Putin “there must be a diplomatic solution as quickly as possible, which includes a withdrawal of Russian troops.”

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

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