Russia Questions Whether Ukraine Talks Are Worth Renewing

One of Russia’s top diplomats says he can see no reason to renew talks with the U.S. and NATO about Russian troops massed at the border with Ukraine anytime soon, and he accused Western powers Thursday of being concerned only about their own security needs while ignoring Moscow’s. Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said military specialists are giving Russian President Vladimir Putin options about how to respond, if tensions worsen over Ukraine. He did not close the door entirely on continuing discussions, though, saying, “Hope springs eternal. But he added that “talking only on the terms and issues more suitable for the West is not an option for Moscow.” The U.S. and the European rejoinder to Russian proposals will determine if further security talks are held, he added. During the interview, Ryabkov said he could not exclude the possibility of a Russian military deployment to Cuba and Venezuela if tensions mount. Ryabkov’s hard-edged remarks to Russian television came as a meeting in Vienna of the Permanent Council of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe wrapped up. The OSCE meeting was the latest high-level gathering in a frantic week of east-west diplomacy, which has seen no breakthroughs in trying to defuse a growing confrontation over Ukraine, along whose borders Russia has deployed 100,000 troops. On the eve of the OSCE meeting, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg warned Moscow that the 30-member alliance is ready to send troop reinforcements to Central Europe if Russia invades Ukraine. Stoltenberg said there is “a real risk of a new armed conflict in Europe” after NATO allies unanimously rejected the Kremlin’s demands for a guarantee that Ukraine would never be admitted to the alliance. Throughout all the stages of the bilateral and multilateral talks that have taken place this week, the chasm dividing Russia from …

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Queen Elizabeth Strips Prince Andrew of Military Titles, Charities

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth has stripped her son, Prince Andrew, of his military affiliations and royal patronages as the controversy over allegations he had sex with an underage girl continued to swirl. “The Duke of York will continue not to undertake any public duties and is defending this case as a private citizen,” Buckingham Palace said in a statement Thursday. “With The Queen’s approval and agreement, The Duke of York’s military affiliations and Royal patronages have been returned to The Queen,” the statement said. Earlier this week, a New York judge ruled a civil suit against Andrew by the accuser, Virginia Giuffre, could move forward. Giuffre says she was forced to perform sexual acts with Andrew at the behest of convicted sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein and his companion, Ghislaine Maxwell. Andrew denies the charges. In 2019, Epstein was found dead in a Manhattan jail while he awaited another trial for sex trafficking. His death was ruled a suicide. Maxwell was recently convicted of sex trafficking. …

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German Court Convicts Former Syrian Intelligence Officer of Crimes Against Humanity

In a landmark ruling, a German Court Thursday convicted a former Syrian intelligence officer of crimes against humanity for his role in state-sponsored torture and murder under Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government. The regional court in the western city of Koblenz found 58-year-old Anwar Raslan guilty of overseeing the murder of 27 people at the al-Khatib detention center in Damascus, also known as “Branch 251”, in 2011 and 2012. Raslan has denied all charges. Raslan and another defendant, junior officer Eyad al-Gharib, were put on trial in April 2020. Gharib was accused of helping to arrest protesters and deliver them to the detention center. He was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison last year. Their trials were the first to address state-led torture during Syria’s civil war, which began in 2011.  Efforts by the U.N. Security Council to refer Raslan’s and other cases from Syria to the Hague-based International Criminal Court have been blocked by Syria’s main allies, Russia and China. The German court tried the two men under the principle of universal jurisdiction for serious crimes. Human rights activists hope the trial will set a new precedent. Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth told the French news agency, AFP, the verdict was historic, and expressed his hope the trials will allow nations around the world to try suspects for war crimes, and mass atrocities in their own countries. Some information for this report was provided by the Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse. …

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EU Drug Regulator Warns Against Overuse of COVID Booster Shots

The European Union’s drug regulator is warning that too many doses of COVID-19 vaccines could eventually weaken the body’s immune system, rendering the extra shots ineffective. Marco Cavaleri, the head of vaccine strategy for the European Medicines Agency, said earlier this week that booster shots can be administered “once, or maybe twice, but it’s not something that we think should be repeated constantly.” Cavaleri said instead that boosters should be administered just like an annual flu vaccination.  Cavaleri is the latest health expert to urge against offering a fourth shot of a two-dose COVID-19 vaccine in an effort to provide extra protection against emerging variants of the coronavirus. Britain’s Health Security Agency said last week there was “no immediate need” for people to get a fourth shot, as the current booster regimens are providing good levels of protection. The World Health Organization has repeatedly said that providing first doses to poorer nations is a higher priority than richer nations offering boosters. In China, authorities in the central city of Xi’an have ordered two hospitals to temporarily shut down amid reports they denied treatment for critical patients in two incidents. A pregnant woman suffered a miscarriage after personnel at Gaoxin Hospital refused to admit her because she did not have a valid COVID-19 test. Meanwhile, a woman posted on social media that her father died of a heart ailment after he was refused treatment at Xi’an International Medical Center. The city of 13 million people, home of the world-famous Terracotta Warrior sculptures, has been under strict lockdown protocols since December, sparked by a wave of COVID-19 infections driven by the delta variant of the coronavirus. Residents have not been allowed to leave their homes unless they have essential jobs or are undergoing testing, which has led to a massive backlash.  At …

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Дослідження в США показало, що при зараженні «омікроном» ризик шпиталізації є нижчим

Аналіз проводився на основі даних із лікарняної системи Каліфорнії в період з 30 листопада по 1 січня, коли циркулювали обидва штами коронавірусу: «дельта» і «омікрон» …

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Turkish Court Hands Life Sentence to Award-Winning Journalist

When a gunfight erupted during clashes in Diyarbakir in October 2014, video journalist Rojhat Dogru was at the center of the action. At one point, a little too close. Hit by a bullet, Dogru was rushed to a hospital, where he uploaded footage to the Iraq-based Gali Kurdistan TV while being treated. The coverage won Dogru an award but now, seven years after the clashes, the video journalist is fighting a life sentence. A court in Diyarbakir last week issued the sentence after convicting Dogru of “disrupting the unity and integrity of the state.” It further sentenced him to 10 years and 10 months for “attempted deliberate killing,” and a year and three months for “propagandizing for a terrorist organization.” The verdict has appalled press freedom advocates. “This is the heaviest punishment I’ve seen recently. There is no murder, no bombing, but it is just news coverage,” Veysel Ok, co-director of Turkey’s Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA), told VOA. Violent clashes As a Kurdish journalist, Dogru covered events in Diyarbakir and the region for Gali Kurdistan TV, including footage on what is known as the Kobani protests in 2014. That coverage earned him a Southeastern Journalists Association award. Protests broke out that year after pro-Kurdish groups claimed Ankara was reluctant to help Kurds in Kobani, a city in neighboring Syria besieged by the Islamic State militants. Police were called in as the protests turned violent, with clashes between supporters of the Free Cause Party, an offshoot of a violent Kurdish Islamist militant group, and PKK supporters. The PKK is designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. and Turkey. Official figures put the death toll at 37, and an indictment in the mass court case lists hundreds wounded as well as schools and public buildings damaged and over 1,700 homes …

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Russia-Ukraine Tensions on Agenda for OSCE Talks

Efforts to de-escalate tensions along the Russia-Ukraine border shift Thursday to Vienna and a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Permanent Council. The session follows a bilateral meeting between Russia and the United States in Geneva on Monday and talks Wednesday in Brussels between Russia and NATO. U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters that after Thursday’s meeting, the parties involved would reflect on the discussions and “determine appropriate next steps.” Price said Wednesday the United States expects the Russian delegations to the three sets of meetings will “have to report back to [Russian] President [Vladimir] Putin, who we all hope will choose peace and security, and knowing that we are sincere, and that we are steadfast when we say we prefer the course of diplomacy and dialogue.” The United States and its NATO allies have urged Russia to de-escalate tensions and for the situation to be resolved diplomatically, and on Wednesday offered ideas for reciprocal actions to reduce risks, improve transparency and communication and arms control. U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, who led the U.S. delegation in Brussels, said the NATO-Russia meeting ended with “a sober challenge” for Moscow to reduce tensions and “choose the path of diplomacy, to continue to engage in honest and reciprocal dialogue so that together we can identify solutions that enhance the security of all,” during a press conference. After the nearly four-hour meeting on Wednesday, Sherman said, “there was no commitment to de-escalate, nor was there a statement that there would not be.” She added Russia heard loudly and clearly it is very hard to have diplomacy when 100,000 of its troops are massed along the Ukrainian border, and as live fire exercises are being conducted.   NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said he has proposed the …

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Europeans Feel Excluded From US-Russia Security Talks 

As the United States and Russia met for talks in Geneva this week, the future security of Europe was at stake. But absent from the negotiating table was the European Union, to the clear frustration of the bloc’s officials. “On this dialogue, there are not two actors alone. It’s not just U.S. and Russia. If you want to talk about security in Europe, Europeans have to be part of the table,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told reporters January 5. Borrell made the comments following a visit to the front lines of the conflict in eastern Ukraine, where Russian-backed rebels continue to fight Ukrainian forces nearly seven years after Moscow’s forceful annexation of Crimea. Latecomers The EU is late to the table, says analyst Liana Fix, a resident fellow at the German Marshall Fund in Washington. “The problem here is that the European Union has not been involved formally in talks in 2014 when the Ukraine crisis started. Back then we had Germany and France in the Normandy format [talks] and no official EU representative,” Fix told VOA. “On the other side, the European Union should make it clear what it can contribute to the discussion,” she said. “Within the European Union, the question is: Who is more powerful — the member states or the EU as an institution itself? And on the other hand, in Moscow, the EU is not taken seriously.” There are fears the smoldering war in eastern Ukraine could be about to reignite. In recent months, Russia has massed over 100,000 troops close to the Ukrainian border, prompting Western fears of an imminent invasion. Meanwhile, Moscow complains of a NATO military buildup in Eastern Europe and has warned of the dangers of confrontation. Those tensions came to a diplomatic head this week. But neither the …

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Kazakh Unrest Seen Boosting Russia at US Expense

Kazakhstan’s political turmoil erupted at precisely the moment the U.S. and Russia began to negotiate deep disagreements over Ukraine, NATO and European security. The deployment of 2,500 “peacekeepers” by the Kremlin-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) struck many Washington experts as a shift in Kazakhstan’s foreign policy that strengthens Russia’s hand.  But on January 11, Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, who leads a country that has long claimed to pursue a balanced “multivector” foreign approach, announced that CSTO forces would begin departing as early as this week and should be completely gone by the end of January. Still, argued the Atlantic Council’s John Herbst, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine and Uzbekistan, “President Vladimir Putin’s goal of restoring Russian influence in the post-Soviet space is not limited to Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova; Tokayev’s invitation gives Moscow the chance to do just that in Central Asia’s richest country.” Herbst adds that Tokayev had another option for external support — the China-backed Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO — which also includes Russia, but chose the CSTO, showcasing the tilt toward Moscow. Despite growing cooperation in opposing U.S. policies globally, China and Russia, he says, are “competitors” in Central Asia. Jennifer Murtazashvili, of the University of Pittsburgh and the Carnegie Endowment, says the early departure of the Russian troops changes little “because Tokayev needed Russia to help him win an internal battle” that he claims was an attempted coup. With or without boots on the ground, “the effects of Russian intervention will likely last for a long time.” “Kazakhstan is beholden to Russia in a way that it wasn’t before, limiting the scope of Kazakhstan’s multi-vectored foreign policy. So, it is not the length of the Russian deployment, but the fact that Kazakhstan’s leadership needed to call upon outsiders to protect the country that makes …

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Sex Abuse Case Against Prince Andrew to Move Forward 

A civil lawsuit filed in a U.S. court by a woman who says she was sexually abused by Britain’s Prince Andrew when she was 17 will move forward, following a judge’s ruling Wednesday. U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan said lawyers for Prince Andrew failed to challenge the constitutionality of the case brought by Virginia Giuffre in August. Andrew’s lawyers also had argued the allegations were vague. Kaplan wrote “Giuffre’s complaint is neither ‘unintelligible’ nor ‘vague’ nor ‘ambiguous.’ It alleges discrete incidents of sexual abuse in particular circumstances at three identifiable locations. It identifies to whom it attributes that sexual abuse.” Andrew’s lawyers had also tried to dismiss the suit, arguing it violated a confidential settlement Giuffre reached with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein in 2009. Earlier this month, the agreement was unsealed and it revealed Epstein paid Giuffre $500,000 in return for dropping the case without him having to admit fault. In the settlement, she also agreed to “remise, release, acquit, satisfy and forever discharge” parties and “any other person or entity who could have been included as a potential defendant.” Andrew was not specifically mentioned. Giuffre asserts she was trafficked by Epstein and his longtime companion Ghislaine Maxwell, who was recently convicted of sex trafficking. Giuffre says the two forced her to perform sexual acts with Andrew. Andrew denies the charges. In 2019, Epstein was found dead in a Manhattan jail while he awaited another trial for sex trafficking. His death was ruled a suicide. Neither lawyers for Andrew nor Buckingham Palace have commented on the Wednesday ruling. Some information in this report comes from The Associated Press. …

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Aside from Kyiv, No One in Rush for Ukraine to Join NATO

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy tweeted during a NATO summit he attended in June that Western leaders had confirmed his country “will become a member of the Alliance.”  The Ukrainian leader’s tweet, seen by some Western diplomats as ill-timed and intended to goad Russia, drew a predictably furious response from Kremlin officials. They have long warned that the accession of Ukraine to NATO is unacceptable to Moscow, the crossing of a red line which would be met by retaliatory measures.  Despite — or because of — Kremlin threats, and a Russian military buildup along the borders of Ukraine, President Zelenskiy has continued to press for Ukraine to be admitted into NATO as soon as possible, saying it is the only way to deter further Russia aggression. Others, including some Western leaders, fear it would do the reverse — invite more Russian aggression.  At the June summit, Zelenskiy did not get an admission date. And U.S. President Joe Biden, who has been a strong champion in the past for Ukraine to join the Atlantic alliance, scotched talk of an impending admission. “School’s out on that question. It remains to be seen,” he said when reporters asked him about Ukraine joining.  “In the meantime, we will do all we can to put Ukraine in a position to be able to continue to resist Russian physical aggression,” he said. Russian President Vladimir Putin has issued a series of increasingly insistent demands for guarantees that Ukraine will never be allowed to join NATO. Some observers question whether what they see as a tamping down by Biden, and senior U.S. and European officials, of Ukraine’s NATO ambitions, is evidence that Russia may already have achieved one of its key goals — namely, to prevent Ukraine from joining the Western alliance. At best, the White House and …

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UK’s Johnson Apologizes for Attending Lockdown Party

Prime Minister Boris Johnson apologized Wednesday for attending a garden party during Britain’s coronavirus lockdown in 2020, saying there are things his government “did not get right.” Johnson is facing a tide of anger from public and politicians over claims he and his staff flouted pandemic restrictions by socializing when it was banned. Some members of his Conservative Party say he should resign if he can’t quell the furor. Johnson acknowledged for the first time Wednesday that he went to the May 2020 garden party at his Downing Street office, though he said that he had considered it a work event to thank staff for their efforts during the pandemic. “I want to apologize. … With hindsight, I should have sent everyone back inside,” Johnson told lawmakers in the House of Commons. Opponents and allies alike have been demanding Johnson come clean about the “bring your own booze” party, held when Britain was under a strict lockdown imposed by Johnson to curb the spread of the coronavirus. An invitation to the “socially distanced drinks” gathering was emailed to about 100 people by a senior prime ministerial aide. At the time, people in Britain were barred by law from meeting more than one person outside their household. Johnson’s lunchtime appearance at the weekly Prime Minister’s Questions session in the House of Commons was his first public appearance since details of the party emerged.  The prime minister struck a tone of contrition, but urged people to await the conclusions of an investigation by senior civil servant Sue Gray into several alleged parties by government staff. Opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer said Johnson’s statement was “the pathetic spectacle of a man who has run out of road. “His defence … that he didn’t realize he was at a party is so ridiculous that it’s actually offensive to the British public,” …

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