US to Russia: No Change on NATO, Ukraine

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken says the ball is now in Russia’s court after the U.S. hand delivered its written response to Moscow’s stated security concerns over NATO and Ukraine. As VOA’s Senior Diplomatic Correspondent Cindy Saine reports, Blinken made clear there will be no change to NATO’s open-door policy to new members, as Russia had demanded. Producer: Kimberlyn Weeks …

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State Department Recap: January 20-26, 2022 

Here’s a look at what U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other top diplomats have been doing this week: US, Russia, Ukraine Following consultations with various European partners as well as Ukraine, the United States and NATO provided written responses to Moscow addressing Russia’s renewed security demands — the latest moves in diplomatic maneuvering aimed at heading off armed conflict. U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan delivered the document in person Wednesday to Russia’s Foreign Ministry. Separately, NATO transmitted to Russia its own responses regarding European security in a document described by officials as a few pages in length. US Responds to Russia’s Security Demands, Renewing Call for Diplomacy  Meanwhile, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman assessed that China’s hosting of the Winter Olympics early next month was a factor in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s calculation of military actions against Ukraine. “We all are aware that the Beijing Olympics begin on February 4 — the opening ceremony — and Putin is expected to be there,” Sherman said. “I think that probably President Xi Jinping would not be ecstatic if Putin chose that moment to invade Ukraine. So, that may affect his timing and his thinking.” On Sunday, the State Department ordered the departure of eligible family members from the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv and authorized the voluntary departure of U.S. direct-hire employees amid the continued threat of Russian military action against Ukraine. The State Department also asked U.S. citizens in Ukraine to consider departing the country via commercial or other privately available transportation options. US Orders Departure of Family Members of Ukraine Embassy Staff ​ Burkina Faso The State Department said it was watching closely “the fluid situation” in Burkina Faso, where a military junta ousted President Roch Marc Christian Kabore. But the U.S. said it was “too soon” to officially characterize the events in …

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Ex-Irish Soldier Justified Jihad Before Joining IS, Witness Says

A former Irish army soldier justified jihad suicide bombings while attending a mosque in Ireland before she joined the Islamic State group in Syria, a Dublin court was told Wednesday. Lisa Smith, 39, is on trial accused of being a member of the Islamist extremists after traveling to war-ravaged Syria in 2015. She has pleaded not guilty to membership of an unlawful terrorist group between October 28, 2015, and December 1, 2019. She has also denied funding terrorism by sending $900 to aid medical treatment for a Syrian man in Turkey. But Carol Karimah Duffy, who introduced Smith to a mosque in Dundalk before she left for Syria, said she made attendees there uncomfortable. “There was a lot of talk about justifying why the suicide bombs were happening,” Duffy told the Special Criminal Court of Smith’s conversations with others at the mosque. “That we were being attacked so we were attacking back. It was us and them,” Duffy said. “Then there was talk of jihad and it was her version of jihad, which would have been the holy war jihad.” Duffy added that Smith also said she wanted to find a husband who would be willing to die as a Muslim martyr. Smith moved to IS-controlled territory in October 2015 after buying a one-way ticket from Dublin to Turkey, and from there crossing the border to Syria. The court was told on Tuesday that she lived in Raqqa, the capital of IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s self-styled caliphate, and unsuccessfully attempted to get her husband to join her. He refused and she divorced him in 2016. Some months later, she married a U.K. national who had moved to Syria and been involved in patrols on the Iraq border. When Raqqa fell to allied forces in 2018, she moved to Baghouz, …

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UK Police Arrest 2 More in Texas Synagogue Attack

British police said Wednesday they were holding two more men in connection with an armed hostage-taking at a Texas synagogue by a man from northwest England.  Malik Faisal Akram took four people, including a rabbi, hostage on January 15 at the synagogue in the small town of Colleyville. He was shot dead by the FBI after a 10-hour siege during which he demanded the release of a female al-Qaida supporter imprisoned for attempted murder.  His hostages escaped unharmed.  In Texas, authorities have arrested the man suspected of selling Akram the semi-automatic handgun used in the attack.  In Britain, the Counter Terrorism Policing force for northwest England said it had arrested two men in the city of Manchester.  “They remain in custody for questioning,” the force said in a statement.  The arrests bring to six the number of people held by British police over the hostage-taking, which renewed concern over an increase in anti-Semitic attacks on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.  Three men are being questioned by police in Manchester, and another in the central English city of Birmingham.  Akram had planned the attack for at least two years. It was staged in an apparent bid to win the release of Pakistani woman Aafia Siddiqui, who has been jailed in Texas for the attempted murder of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan.  Akram was reportedly investigated in 2020 by Britain’s domestic security agency MI5 after he spent six months in Pakistan.  But the probe was ended after just more than a month and he was able to travel to the United States without being flagged as a risk. Meanwhile, authorities in Texas announced the arrest of a man who they said sold Akram a semi-automatic Taurus G2C pistol two days before the synagogue attack.  The FBI said they had linked Henry “Michael” …

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US Responds to Russia’s Security Demands, Renewing Call for Diplomacy

The United States and NATO have provided written responses to Moscow, addressing Russia’s renewed security demands, following consultations with various European partners as well as Ukraine — the latest moves in diplomatic maneuvering aimed at heading off armed conflict. U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan delivered the document in person Wednesday to Russia’s Foreign Ministry. NATO transmitted to Russia its own responses regarding European security, described by officials as a few pages in length, separately. Officials portrayed the responses as a way to address the Kremlin’s concerns while also giving all sides a chance to further pursue diplomacy. “The document we’ve delivered includes concerns of the United States and our allies and partners about Russia’s actions that undermine security — a principled and pragmatic evaluation of the concerns that Russia has raised, and our own proposals for areas where we may be able to find common ground,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters during a press conference. “We’ve addressed the possibility of reciprocal transparency measures regarding force posture in Ukraine, as well as measures to increase confidence regarding military exercises and maneuvers in Europe,” Blinken said. “We are acting with equal focus and force to bolster Ukraine’s defenses and prepare a swift united response to further Russian aggression.”  U.S. officials declined to elaborate on specifics, though they expressed hope Washington and Moscow still could find consensus and even make progress on issues such as arms control related to missiles in Europe. Moscow’s security demands include a pause of NATO’s eastward expansion, especially in Ukraine and Georgia, as well as a rollback of NATO troops in Eastern Europe.  The U.S. has dismissed those demands as nonstarters, demanding Russia pull back its forces from the border with Ukraine and instead offering dialogue with Moscow on issues including military exercises and …

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Ukraine: Keep Calm, Don’t Panic

Russia doesn’t have enough troops in place to mount a “full-scale invasion,” according to Ukraine’s foreign minister.   Dmytro Kuleba told reporters, “The number of Russian troops massed along the border of Ukraine and occupied territories of Ukraine is large, it poses a threat to Ukraine, a direct threat to Ukraine; however, at the moment, as we speak, this number is insufficient for a full-scale offensive against Ukraine along the entire Ukrainian border.” Russia has denied it is preparing to launch a major assault, but U.S. President Joe Biden and his aides say Moscow could “attack at very short notice” with the more than 100,000 troops it has deployed along Ukraine’s borders.  Kuleba’s statement came just hours after Ukraine’s President, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, urged Ukrainians during a nationwide broadcast to remain calm, but have no “childish illusions” about the magnitude of the Russian threat. “Protect your body from viruses, your brain from lies, your heart from panic,” he urged. The Ukrainian leader took issue with this week’s evacuation by the United States, Britain, Canada and Australia of some personnel from their embassies, telling Ukrainians the evacuation doesn’t mean escalation is inevitable. Ukrainian officials expressed frustration earlier this week with the departure of some Western diplomats and their families, saying it was premature.  One official told VOA the evacuations undermined efforts to calm the fears of ordinary Ukrainians. The United States and Britain also have told their nationals to leave. “Given that the president has said military action by Russia could come at any time, the U.S. government will not be in a position to evacuate U.S. citizens,” a State Department spokesperson said earlier this week. According to Ukrainian officials, Zelenskiy broached the issue of evacuations during U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to Kyiv last week, saying to withdraw staff now …

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Russia Rejects Biden Warning of ‘Severe’ Actions if it Invades Ukraine

Russia on Wednesday rejected the prospect of U.S. sanctions against President Vladimir Putin, one of several proposed responses if Russian forces were to invade neighboring Ukraine. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that such sanctions would not be politically painful, but would be “destructive.” U.S. President Joe Biden on Tuesday warned of “severe” and “enormous” consequences for Putin — including personal sanctions against Putin himself — if the Russian leader mobilizes the estimated 127,000 troops who stand ready to strike along the Ukrainian border.   “I have made it clear early on to President Putin that if he were to move into Ukraine, that there would be severe consequences, including significant economic sanctions as well as I’d feel obliged to beef up our presence, NATO’s presence, on the eastern front, Poland, Romania, etc,” Biden said, adding: “If he were to move in with all those forces, it would be the largest invasion since World War II. It would change the world.” He also stressed that none of the 8,500 U.S. troops put on high alert this week would be moved into Ukrainian territory, and they would be deployed as part of a NATO operation, not a sole U.S. operation. He did not say when he might decide to order those troops into theater. Biden said the United States has a “sacred obligation” to come to the aid of NATO allies that face threats. Ukraine is not a member of NATO — though it wants to be. However, neighboring Russia sees possible NATO membership as a threat and has demanded that the security alliance bar Ukraine from membership. Putin has said he has no intention to invade Ukraine but sees NATO’s eastward expansion as a threat. “And I’ve spoken with every one of our NATO allies … virtually, and we’re all …

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Russian, Ukrainian Officials Take Part in Paris Talks Amid Tensions

Officials from Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France are holding talks Wednesday in Paris amid tensions at the Russia-Ukraine border. Western nations have expressed concern about the deployment of more than 100,000 Russian troops in the area and the prospect of a Russian invasion of Ukraine. Russia denies it has such plans and has sought guarantees that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization will not expand in Russia’s direction. Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Wednesday that he hopes from the Paris talks “a good, open conversation will take place with the maximum possible result.” Andriy Yermak, chief of staff to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, tweeted Wednesday that he hopes for a “constructive dialogue” in Ukraine’s interests. The meeting follows several rounds of talks last week involving Russia, the United States, NATO and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Russia is awaiting written responses to some of its demands. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told lawmakers Wednesday that Russia would take “necessary retaliatory measures” if the West continues what he called an “aggressive course.” Wednesday’s talks come as Russia said it was sending more troops and equipment to Belarus as those two countries prepare to hold military drills next month. Peskov also said applying sanctions against Russian President Vladimir Putin would be counterproductive. “Politically, it’s not painful, it’s destructive,” he told reporters Wednesday. U.S. President Joe Biden said Tuesday that Russia would face “severe consequences” if it invades Ukraine, including economic sanctions that could include Putin himself. Some information for this report came from the Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters. …

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