NATO Vows Retaliation for Attacks on Infrastructure, Blames Sabotage for Pipe Blasts 

NATO vowed retaliation Thursday for attacks on the critical infrastructure of its 30 member nations, while strongly suggesting the rupture of two Baltic Sea pipelines meant to send natural gas from Russia to Germany was the direct result of sabotage. Ambassadors to NATO, the West’s key military alliance, said in a statement, “Any deliberate attack against allies’ critical infrastructure would be met with a united and determined response.” They said four ruptures in the pipelines were of “deep concern.” NATO did not accuse anyone of damaging the pipelines but said that “all currently available information indicates that this is the result of deliberate, reckless, and irresponsible acts of sabotage. These leaks are causing risks to shipping and substantial environmental damage.” In Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Thursday that the ruptures in the Nord Stream pipelines would not have been possible without a state actor’s involvement. “It looks like a terror attack, probably conducted on a state level,” Peskov told reporters.  Russian President Vladimir Putin later told Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that “international terrorism” was to blame. “Judging by the amount of destruction of the Nord Stream, it’s hard to imagine that such action could have been taken without a state involvement,” Peskov said. “It’s a very dangerous situation that requires a quick investigation.” Some European officials and energy experts have suggested that Russia likely carried out the attacks, to benefit from higher energy prices and to create more economic chaos in Europe for its support of Ukraine in fending off Russia’s seven-month invasion. But other officials urged caution in assessing blame until investigators determine what happened. Peskov characterized media reports about Russian warships being spotted in the area of the damaged pipelines as “stupid and biased,” adding that “many more aircraft and vessels belonging to NATO countries have …

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Finland Bars Russian Tourists After Thousands Enter Country

The Finnish government announced it is closing its borders to Russians with European tourist visas effective at midnight Thursday night, after thousands of people streamed over their shared border with Russia in recent days. At a news conference in Helsinki Thursday, Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto told reporters the government is taking the action because the current situation “endangers Finland’s international relations.” He said Finland had discussed the plan with Ukraine and other nations before making a decision. Since last week’s announcement Russian President Vladimir Putin was seeking to “mobilize” 300,000 reservists for his war in Ukraine, nations sharing borders with Russia have seen thousands of Russian citizens entering their countries. Reuters news service reports Finland saw an 80 percent increase in border crossings. Finland shares a 1,340-kilometer land border with Russia, and Haavisto said the mobilization announcement “had a significant impact” on the decision. He said Russia’s “illegal” annexation referendums in eastern Ukraine and the alleged sabotage of the Nord Stream gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea were also considerations. But Haavisto says the measure was under discussion in Finland even before Putin’s order due to the significant visits of Russian tourists during the summer, which caused controversy in Finland. He said exceptions will be made for family visits, health, work or studies and humanitarian reasons. The foreign minister said Finland will continue to work with the European Union on solutions to the border issues, adding it is important to strive for a more “unified line with Russia’s Schengen and EU border neighbors.” Some information for this report was provided by the Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse. …

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Vatican Sanctions Nobel Laureate After Timor Accusations

The Vatican said Thursday it had imposed disciplinary sanctions on Nobel Peace Prize-winning Bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo in the past two years, following allegations that he sexually abused boys in East Timor during the 1990s. The Vatican admission came a day after a Dutch magazine, De Groene Amsterdammer, exposed the claims against the revered East Timor independence hero, citing two of Belo’s alleged victims and reporting there were others who hadn’t come forward in East Timor, where the Catholic Church wields enormous influence. Spokesman Matteo Bruni said the Vatican office that handles sex abuse cases received allegations “concerning the bishop’s behavior” in 2019 and within a year had imposed the restrictions. They included limitations on Belo’s movements and his exercise of ministry, and prohibited him from having voluntary contact with minors or contact with East Timor. In a statement, Bruni said the sanctions were “modified and reinforced” in November 2021 and that Belo had formally accepted the punishment on both occasions. The Vatican provided no explanation for why Belo resigned as head of the Roman Catholic church in East Timor two decades early in 2002, and was sent to Mozambique, where he was allowed to work with children. News of Belo’s behavior sent shock waves through the heavily Catholic, impoverished Southeast Asian nation, where he is a regarded as a hero for fighting to win East Timor’s independence from Indonesian rule. “We are here also in shock to hear this news,” an official at the archdiocese of Dili in East Timor said Thursday, speaking to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity. Neither the Nobel Committee nor the United Nations immediately responded to requests for comment. De Groene Amsterdammer said two alleged victims, identified only as Paulo and Roberto, reported being abused by Belo and said other boys were also …

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Report Calls Switzerland, US, Sweden World’s Most Innovative Economies

The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) cites top-ranked Switzerland, followed by the United States and Sweden, as the world’s most innovative economies.  WIPO uses some 80 indicators to rank the innovative performance of 132 economies. These include measures on the political environment, education, infrastructure, business sophistication and knowledge creation of each economy. The latest annual report shows some interesting moves in the rankings and the emergence of new powerhouses. Switzerland, once again, comes out on top. The United States moves up one position in the rankings to second place, followed by Sweden, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. A co-editor of the Global Index, Sacha Wunsch-Vincent, said 11th-ranked China is the only middle-income country to have made it this far. He said other emerging economies, such as Turkey and India, have put in strong performances, and countries in Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa have made some significant upward moves. “Several developing countries are performing above expectations relative to their level of development,” Wunsch-Vincent said. “So, these are, of course, countries which have GDP capita which are lower. Eight of [the] innovation over-performers, and that is good news, are from sub-Saharan Africa, with Kenya, Rwanda and Mozambique in the lead.” The Global Index also focuses on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on innovation. The report shows that research and development, as well as other investments that drive worldwide innovative activity, continued to boom in 2021. This despite the pandemic. WIPO Director General Daren Tang said this result defied expectations. He noted that after the dot-com bust in 2001, the 2008 global financial crisis, the matrix for innovation dropped, but that was not the case for the last two years. “In fact, the report shows that investments in global research and development in 2020, two years ago, grew at a rate …

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Russia Plans Annexation Ceremony as Ukrainian Allies Ready Sanctions

The Kremlin said Russia will hold a ceremony Friday to officially incorporate four areas of Ukraine into Russia, a process that Ukraine and its allies have dismissed as illegitimate while promising retaliation in the form of new sanctions. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Thursday the ceremony will include Russian President Vladimir Putin along with the Russian-appointed heads of the four regions where Russia orchestrated referendums that ended earlier this week. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz tweeted Thursday that he assured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy that Germany will never recognize the “so-called results.” “The sham referendums carried out by Putin in the illegally occupied areas of Ukraine are worthless,” Scholz said. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Wednesday that the United States expected Russian “to use these sham referenda as a false pretext to try to annex Ukrainian territory in flagrant violation of international law and the United Nations Charter.” Jean-Pierre said that no matter what Russia claims, the areas remain Ukrainian territory. “In response, we will work with our allies and partners to impose additional economic costs on Russia and individuals and entities inside and outside of Russia that provide support to this action,” she said. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Wednesday the EU is planning to respond with “sweeping new import bans on Russian products” and to expand its export ban “to deprive the Kremlin’s military complex of key technologies.” “This will keep Russian products out of the European market and deprive Russia of an additional 7 billion euros in revenue,” von der Leyen told reporters in Brussels. The EU’s 27 member countries would have to approve the sanctions for them to take effect and the bloc has had difficulty in reaching agreement on some previous sanctions. “We are determined to make the Kremlin …

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Pentagon Announces $1.1 Billion More in Military Aid for Ukraine

The Pentagon is providing an additional $1.1 billion in aid to Ukraine, bringing the total U.S. military assistance to nearly $17 billion since the Biden administration took office. The latest package includes funding for 18 more High-Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS, and their ammunition, weapons that U.S. defense officials say have proven highly effective in helping Ukraine defend its territory since Russia invaded the country in February.  The U.S. has already provided Ukraine with 16 HIMARS, and a senior defense official  told reporters Wednesday that the Biden administration was starting the procurement process for the next 18 because they would take “years” to procure, build and deliver. The latest package funds the procurement of weapons and equipment under the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, which funds contracts focused on Ukraine’s long-term defense and security needs. Other weapons and equipment in the $1.1 billion package will take anywhere from two months to two years to deliver to Ukraine, according to the senior defense official. Those include systems to counter drones that Russia has been using against Ukrainian troops, 22 radars, about 150 Humvees, about 150 tactical vehicles for towing weapons, dozens of trucks and trailers, body armor, and equipment for communications, surveillance, and explosives disposal. Maintenance and training are also funded in this package. Russian forces have used Iranian-made drones to target Ukrainian forces, according to the Pentagon, prompting a need to counter these weapons. The Pentagon has used its presidential drawdown authority to provide weapons more rapidly, and officials say another announcement for Defense Department aid is expected soon. Also Wednesday, a senior military official] said the U.S. has seen “small numbers” of the first reservists from Russia’s latest mobilization move into Ukraine. Russia has announced plans to call up about 300,000 men to fight in Ukraine amid heavy battlefield …

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Armenia, Azerbaijan Accuse Each Other of Violating Cease-Fire

Armenia and Azerbaijan accused each other on Wednesday of violating a cease-fire agreement that ended two days of warfare this month – the second such violation in five days. Azerbaijan’s defense ministry said that at about 6 p.m. (1400 GMT), Armenian units had started firing at Azerbaijani positions in the Kalbajar region, wounding one serviceman, and that Azerbaijani forces had taken “retaliatory measures.” The Armenian defense ministry gave an opposite account, tweeting that Azerbaijani forces had fired towards Armenian positions near the common border using mortars and large-caliber weapons, and that the Armenian side had retaliated. After border clashes two weeks ago that killed almost 200 soldiers, the worst bout of fighting since a six-week war between the two ex-Soviet countries in late 2020, the two sides agreed to a cease-fire deal brokered by Russia. Armenia said then that Azerbaijan had attacked its territory and seized settlements inside its borders; Azerbaijan said it was responding to “provocations” from the Armenian side. Last Friday, both sides accused each other of breaching the truce by firing across the border. The fighting is linked to decades-old hostilities over control of the mountainous Nagorno-Karabakh region, internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan but until 2020 largely controlled by the majority ethnic Armenian population. …

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Ukrainians in South Africa Slam ANC Youth League for Endorsing Russian Referendums

The youth league of South Africa’s ruling ANC party has endorsed Russia’s referendums in occupied parts of Ukraine, which are designed to pave the way for Moscow to annex the territories. The endorsement came after members of the group accepted invitations from Moscow to act as international observers of the Kremlin-orchestrated votes. The Ukrainian Association of South Africa says it is disappointed in the youth league’s stance while the ANC itself is remaining silent on the issue. The head of the ANC Youth League’s Subcommittee on International Relations, Khulekani Skosana, has commended Russian President Vladimir Putin on Twitter. Skosana posted a clip of his interview with the South African Broadcasting Corporation. “We stand in solidarity with all the oppressed people of the world,” Skosana said. “It’s not just Donbas, we stand with people of Palestine, Western Sahara. We will always stand with those who are oppressed and those who don’t have anyone to defend them. The revolution will not be televised, that’s why we went to see for ourselves as young people of the liberation movement of President Nelson Mandela.” The president of the Ukrainian Association of South Africa, Dzvinka Kachur, said the youth league members are simply being used by Russia to try to legitimize a process that falls far, far short of international laws on referendums. Moscow has released vote tallies showing support in all four regions where the referendums were held for five days beginning September 23. But Kachur said that was a lie because Russia doesn’t control all of these areas. “Yes, they may be controlling almost completely the territory of one region, of Luhansk but they don’t control Donetsk, they don’t control Zaporizhzhia and they definitely don’t control Kherson,” she said. Kachur said they’ve heard the international media reports of Russian soldiers going door-to-door to …

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Russia ‘Tentatively’ Approves Oil, Grain Exports for Afghanistan

Russia has approved a provisional agreement with the Taliban government to supply oil products, gas and wheat to war-torn Afghanistan, both sides said Wednesday.  The Russian Sputnik news agency quoted Zamir Kabulov, the special presidential envoy for Afghanistan, as confirming the deal hours after Taliban authorities reported details of the document.  “Yes, [the deal is tentatively approved],” Kabulov told the state-owned media outlet in Moscow but shared no details. A spokesman for the Taliban-led Afghan ministry of commerce and industry, Akhundzada Abdul Salam, said its top officials had traveled to the Russian capital last month, where they negotiated and signed the import agreement. Kabul “hopes and is waiting for Russia to implement it soon,” Salam told VOA.  Minister of Commerce and Industry Nooruddin Azizi, who led the negotiations, said the pact would allow Kabul to annually buy 1 million metric tons of gasoline, 1 million tons of diesel, 500,000 tons of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and 2 million tons of wheat from Russia.  Azizi said Moscow had offered the Taliban a discount to average global commodity prices that would be delivered to Afghanistan by road and rail. He did not elaborate on the pricing or payment methods.  The Afghan minister, during his Moscow visit, had said his “priority is to import these Russian goods on a barter basis.” Aziz said at the time, though, that Afghanistan could pay to buy the oil and grain from Russia “if the barter plan does not work.” No foreign government has yet granted legitimacy to the Taliban, who waged a 20-year insurgency against the United States and NATO troops defending Afghan government security forces. The insurgents eventually seized power from the U.S.-backed Kabul administration in August 2021 as foreign troops withdrew from the country. The Taliban’s curbs on women’s rights to work, education and …

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Vultures, Nature’s Cleanup Crew, Get New Lease on Life in Cyprus

Cyprus released griffon vultures into the wild on Wednesday in the latest attempt to boost a once thriving population now critically endangered by poisoning.  The island’s largest bird of prey has seen its population fall dramatically to the smallest in Europe in recent decades, either from accidental poisoning or changing farming techniques leaving them short of food.  Earlier this year, the population suffered a massive loss from poisoning, reducing numbers to just 8, conservationists say.  They will be joined by eight vultures from Spain, home to Europe’s largest population of griffon vultures, which were released on Wednesday in the mountains north of the coastal city of Limassol. They form a group of 15 brought to the island last year, with seven released in mid-September.  Another 15 are expected from Spain in November. In the past decade, Cyprus had also brought griffon vultures from Crete.  “We were only left with eight birds because of the poison baits placed in the countryside mainly to kill foxes and dogs,” said Melpo Apostolidou, project coodinator at BirdLife Cyprus, one of the partners in the part EU-funded Life with Vultures project.  The birds with names like “Pablo” and “Zenonas” have been fitted with satellite trackers to monitor their movements.  Big, gangly and smelly, griffon vultures play a vital role as nature’s cleanup crew, feeding off dead carcass and reducing the spread of disease. But the use of banned poisons to kill perceived pests which the scavenging bird will then feed on has a knock-on effect.  Nicos Kassinis, a senior officer with Cyprus’s Game and Fauna Service, said authorities were operating several feeding stations and had set up dog units trained to detect poison bait. “It is a serious problem,” he said.  Conservationists say only when the use of poison is effectively addressed can the bird …

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In St. Petersburg, Russia’s Anti-War Movement Gains Its Voice

As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine stalls, tensions have been unleashed throughout Russian society. Voices of protest are emerging, despite the government crackdown on dissent. The city of St. Petersburg, a center of opposition to the war, is again at the forefront of citizen unrest. Henry Ridgwell narrates this report by VOA’s Moscow bureau. …

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Turkish Banks Cut Russia Banking Ties Under US Pressure

Russia has received another financial blow, with the last Turkish banks ending their support of the Russian Mir payment scheme, as the West steps up its efforts to isolate Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine.  The decision of three Turkish state banks to pull out of the Russian Mir payment system follows two private Turkish banks suspending Mir transactions earlier this month.  Moscow uses Mir to circumvent Russian exclusion from international credit cards as part of western sanctions over its Ukrainian invasion.   Maria Shagina, a specialist on international sanctions at the Institute for Strategic Studies, said Washington is stepping up its efforts to tighten sanctions against Russia.  “For the West, it’s important that the enforcement of the existing sanctions is as watertight as possible,” she said. “So, any tolerance vis-a-vis those countries helped to bust sanctions. This is where the West can change its policy towards Ankara and consider imposing sanctions threat.”   The Kremlin condemned Washington on Wednesday, accusing it of putting unprecedented pressure on Turkish banks to withdraw from Mir.   The U.S. Treasury last week warned that Turkish banks working with the Mir payment system “risk supporting Russia’s efforts to evade U.S. sanctions.”   Evading U.S. sanctions could potentially open Turkish banks to secondary sanctions, which include being banned from using U.S. dollars.   Atilla Yesilada of Global Source Partners said even the threat of such sanctions could have severe consequences for Turkish banks, which depend on borrowing dollars from international lenders.  “Turkish banks have a very heavy schedule ahead in the next months, rolling over probably, something like $40 billion. And I think the reputation damage there could be tremendous,” Yesilada said. “I’m not accusing any Turkish bank of being a party to sanctions violation. But I think the general attitude of any compliance officer …

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Ukraine Calls for Isolation of Russia, More Military Aid for Ukrainian Forces  

Ukraine urged its backers Wednesday to make clear to Russia that “its attempts of annexation, blackmail and ultimatums” will only bring more support to the Ukrainian side in the conflict that began with the February invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces. “Ukraine calls on the EU, NATO and the Group of Seven to immediately and significantly increase pressure on Russia, including by imposing new tough sanctions, and significantly increase their military aid to Ukraine, including by providing us with tanks, combat aircraft, armored vehicles, long-range artillery, anti-aircraft and missile defense equipment,” the Ukrainian foreign ministry said in a statement. The appeal came as the Russia-installed leaders in Luhansk and Kherson appealed Wednesday to Russian President Vladimir Putin to annex those territories based on what they said was the support of residents. Russia-installed officials said 93% of ballots cast during the five days of voting in Zaporizhzhia supported annexation, along with with 87% in Kherson, 98% in Luhansk and 99% in Donetsk. Together, the regions make up about 15% of Ukraine’s territory. Ukraine, the United States and other Western countries have denounced the referendums as illegal. International recognition is highly unlikely. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday that Russia must be isolated internationally for its sham referendums in his country. “There is only one way to stop this all,” he said by video. “First, it is the complete isolation of Russia in response to everything it does.” More sanctions should be imposed on Moscow, he said, and it should be deprived of its veto at the U.N. Security Council and suspended from all international institutions. “The annexation of the captured territories … is the most brutal violation of the U.N. Charter,” the Ukrainian president said. “This is an attempt to steal the territory of another state. …

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Pipeline Leaks Appear to Be Result of Deliberate Act      

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Wednesday that all indications are that leaks from two Nord Stream natural gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea “are the result of a deliberate act.”  “We will support any investigation aimed at getting full clarity on what happened and why, and will take further steps to increase our resilience in energy security,” Borrell said in a statement. “Any deliberate disruption of European energy infrastructure is utterly unacceptable and will be met with a robust and united response.”  The U.S. State Department said late Tuesday that Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed the situation with Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod and that the United States “remains united with our allies and partners in our commitment to promoting European energy security.”   U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan tweeted that the U.S. is supporting efforts to investigate the apparent sabotage. Denmark’s defense minister Morten Bodskov is due to discuss the matter with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in Brussels on Wednesday. “I’m not going to speculate on the cause” of the leaks, replied White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre to questions about the incident Tuesday, adding that she had nothing to report on whether the United States had been requested by European officials to help determine the cause of the ruptures. “An act of sabotage” The 1,222-kilometer-long Nord Stream 1 pipeline has been, until recently, a major source of gas for Germany. Nord Stream 2, which is 1,234 kilometers in length, has yet to go into commercial operation. “We have established a report and the crime classification is gross sabotage,” the Swedish national police said Tuesday, announcing a preliminary investigation into possible sabotage of Nord Stream 1. “There are three leaks, and therefore it is difficult to imagine that it could be accidental,” said Danish …

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Russia: Ukrainians Widely Support Annexation in Four Regions; West Calls Vote ‘Sham’    

Russia claimed Tuesday that early vote counting in what Western allies say are sham referendums showed Ukrainians in four regions overwhelmingly supporting joining Russia.  State news agency RIA Novosti said that with about a fifth of the vote counted from the five days of balloting in Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson, more than 97% of the voters in all four regions favored annexation. Together, the regions comprise about 15% of Ukraine’s territory.  The referendums have been widely denounced by Ukraine, the U.S. and other Western countries as an illegal exercise. No matter the outcome announced by Moscow, it is not expected to be accepted globally.  But the balloting, and the widely expected outcome purportedly favoring annexation, would give Russian President Vladimir Putin a pretext to unilaterally change the Russian-Ukraine border and annex the four regions. That, in turn, could portray any attack on them by Kyiv’s forces as an attack on Russia itself.  He said last week that he was willing to use nuclear weapons to defend the “territorial integrity” of Russia, a threat widely denounced by Ukraine, the U.S. and other Western countries that have sent billions of dollars to the Kyiv government to fend off Russia’s seven-month invasion.  Ukraine has also repeatedly warned that Russian annexation of additional land would destroy any chance of peace talks.  Some Ukrainians reported they were forced at gunpoint by Russian fighters to leave their homes to vote. Voting is ending Tuesday, with the U.S. saying in advance it will not recognize any outcome that Russia announces.  “We stand with our partners around the world in rejecting whatever fabricated outcomes Russia announces,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Monday.    “As far as what we are doing, we are prepared to impose additional swift and severe economic costs on Russia, along with …

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