Macron: France Pulling Ambassador, Troops From Niger After Coup

French President Emmanuel Macron said Sunday, France is imminently to withdraw its ambassador from Niger, followed by the French military contingent in the next months, in the wake of the coup in the west African country that ousted the pro-Paris president.

Macron’s announcement appeared to end two months of French defiance over the coup, which had seen Paris keep its ambassador in place in Niamey despite him being ordered by the coup leaders to go.

“France has decided to withdraw its ambassador. In the next hours our ambassador and several diplomats will return to France,” Macron told French television in an interview, without giving details over how this would be organized.  

Niger’s military rulers have banned “French aircraft” from flying over the country’s airspace, according to the Agency for the Safety of Air Navigation in Africa and Madagascar (ASECNA) website. It was not clear if this would affect the ambassador being flown out.

Macron added that military cooperation was “over,” and French troops would withdraw in “the months and weeks to come” with a full pullout “by the end of the year.”

“In the weeks and months to come, we will consult with the putschists, because we want this to be done peacefully,” he added.

France keeps about 1,500 soldiers in Niger as part of an anti-jihadis deployment in the Sahel region. Macron said the post-coup authorities “no longer wanted to fight against terrorism.”  

Niger’s military leaders told French ambassador Sylvain Itte he had to leave the country after they overthrew President Mohamed Bazoum on July 26.  

But a 48-hour ultimatum for him to leave, issued in August, passed with him still in place as the French government refused to comply, or to recognize the military regime as legitimate.

Earlier this month, Macron said the ambassador and his staff were “literally being held hostage” in the mission eating military rations with no food deliveries taking place.  

Macron in the interview reaffirmed France’s position that Bazoum was being held “hostage” and remained the “sole legitimate authority” in the country.

“He was targeted by this coup d’état because he was carrying out courageous reforms and because there was a largely ethnic settling of scores and a lot of political cowardice,” he argued.

The coup against Bazoum was the third such putsch in the region in as many years, following similar actions in Mali and Burkina Faso in 2021 and 2022 that also forced the pullouts of French troops.

But the Niger coup is particularly bruising for Macron after he sought to make a special ally of Niamey, and a hub for France’s presence in the region following the Mali coup. The U.S. also has over 1,000 troops in the country.

Macron regularly speaks by phone to Bazoum who remains under house arrest in the presidential residence.

The French president has repeatedly spoken of making a historic change to France’s post-colonial imprint in Africa, but analysts say Paris is losing influence across the continent especially in the face of a growing Chinese, Turkish and Russian presence.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) threatened military action to restore Bazoum but so far, its threats, which were strongly supported by France, have not transferred into action.

“We are not here to be hostages of the putschists,” said Macron. “The putschists are the allies of disorder,” he added.

Macron said that jihadi attacks were causing “dozens of deaths every day in Mali” after its coup and that now such assaults had resumed in Niger.  

“I am very worried about this region,” he said.

“France, sometimes alone, has taken all its responsibilities and I am proud of our military. But we are not responsible for the political life of these countries, and we draw all the consequences.”

Ukrainian Train Is Lifeline Connecting Kyiv With the Front Line

Among the hundreds of trains crisscrossing Ukraine’s elaborate railway network every day, the Kyiv-Kramatorsk train stands apart, shrouded in solemn silence as passengers anticipate their destination.

Every day, around seven in the morning, passengers of this route leave the relative safety of the capital and head east to front-line areas where battles between Ukrainian forces and Russian troops rage and Russian strikes are frequent with imprecise missiles that slam into residential areas.

The passengers are a mix of men and women that offer up a slice of Ukrainian society these days. They include soldiers returning to the front after a brief leave, women making the trip to reunite for a few days with husbands and boyfriends serving on the battlefields, and residents returning to check on homes in the Donetsk region.

They are all lost in thought and rarely converse with each other.

Nineteen-year-old Marta Banakh anxiously awaits the train’s next brief stop at one of its nine intermediate stations on the way to Kramatorsk. She disembarks at the station for a quick cigarette break, shifting her weight back and forth from one foot to the other. Her family doesn’t know she has made this journey from western Ukraine, crossing the entire country to meet her boyfriend, who has been serving in the infantry since the onset of Russia’s full-fledged invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. He rarely gets a break, and Banakh has decided to surprise him with a visit.

“I worry that every day could be his last, and we may never see each other again,” she said wearing her hair down, crowned with a pearl-studded headband.

It’s the only high-speed daily train that drives to Kramatorsk. The city is about 30 kilometers (less than 20 miles) from the front line, which makes it susceptible to Russian strikes. And just a few kilometers away from the city, battles near the Russian-held city of Bakhmut rage for the second year.

The war has become an integral part of the lives of millions of Ukrainians, and the country’s vast railway system has remained operational despite the war. Night trains that rattle across the country still welcome customers with hot tea and clean sheets in the sleeping compartments. The trains also carry cargo, aid and gear.

The popularity of the Kyiv-Kramatorsk route highlights the reality of war.

Around 126,000 passengers used this route during the summer months this year, according to national railway operator Ukrzaliznytsia. It holds the fourth position for passenger volume among all intercity high-speed trains and maintains one of the highest occupancy rates — 94% — among all Ukrainian trains.

The connection was suspended for six months early in the war. The halt in April last year followed a Russian missile strike on the Kramatorsk railway station while passengers were waiting for evacuation. The strike killed 53 people and wounded 135 others in one of the deadliest Russian attacks.

Alla Makieieva, 49, used to regularly travel on this route even before the war. Returning from a business trip to the capital and back to Dobropillia, a town not far from Kramatorsk, she reflects on the changes between then and now.

“People have changed, now they seem more somber,” she says. “We’ve already learned to live with these missiles. We’ve become friends,” she joked. “In Kyiv, the atmosphere is completely different; people smile more often.”

Kyiv is regularly attacked by Russian missiles and drones. But unlike Kramatorsk in the Donetsk region, the capital has powerful air defense protection, which gives residents an illusion of safety.

As the morning light gradually gives way to the midday sun, it fills the spacious train carriages in warm radiance. The train shelves are mostly filled with military backpacks and small bags. Occasionally, a waiter breaks the silence in the aisle, offering coffee, tea, and snacks. Along the way, one can order dishes like bolognese pasta or a cappuccino.

The high-speed train ride from Kyiv to Kramatorsk costs approximately $14. In nearly seven hours, passengers cover a distance of around 700 kilometers (400 miles).

Twenty-six-year-old Oleksandr Kyrylenko sits in the train’s lobby with a coffee in hand, gazing thoughtfully out of the window as the landscapes change rapidly.

It’s his first time heading to the front line, and he admits he didn’t expect to travel to the epicenter of the grinding war with such comfort.

He had been working as a warehouse manager in Poland when Russia invaded Ukraine. “I helped as much as I could,” he said. “Then I decided I needed to go myself.”

“There is no fear. I simply want it to end sooner,” he says of the war, dressed in military attire.

His parents were not thrilled about this idea, but this summer the young man returned to Ukraine and immediately went to the military enlistment office.

“It even feels lighter on my conscience,” he said, adding that this decision came naturally to him. “Human resources are running out. Something needs to be done about it.”

The train arrives at its destination on time, and the platform quickly fills with people.

Some, wearing military-colored backpacks slung over their shoulders, stride forward swiftly, while others linger on the platform in long-awaited embraces.

Twenty-year-old Sofiia Sidorchuk embraces her boyfriend, who has been serving since the beginning of the full-scale invasion. The 20-year-old soldier refrains from disclosing his name for security reasons.

He holds Sidorchuk tightly, as if trying to make up for all the lost time during their longest separation in seven years of the relationship. “We missed each other,”  

Sidorchuk explains her decision to come from the northwestern Rivne region to Kramatorsk.

“It’s love,” added her partner, wearing military fatigues.

His commander granted him a few days alone with his beloved to recharge. In five days, he will embark on a new assault mission.

Armenian PM Says Armenians May Flee Karabakh and Blames Russia

Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said on Sunday the likelihood was rising that ethnic Armenians would flee the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh and blamed Russia for failing to ensure Armenian security.

If 120,000 people go down the Lachin corridor to Armenia, the small South Caucasian country could face both a humanitarian and political crisis.

“If proper conditions are not created for the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh to live in their homes and there are no effective protection mechanisms against ethnic cleansing, the likelihood is rising that the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh will see exile from their homeland as the only way to save their lives and identity,” Pashinyan said in address to the nation.

“Responsibility for such a development of events will fall entirely on Azerbaijan, which adopted a policy of ethnic cleansing, and on the Russian peacekeeping contingent in Nagorno-Karabakh,” he said, according to a government transcript.

He added that the Armenian-Russian strategic partnership was “not enough to ensure the external security of Armenia.”

Last week, Azerbaijan scored a victory over ethnic Armenians who have controlled the Karabakh region since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. An adviser to the leader of the Karabakh Armenians told Reuters earlier on Sunday that the population would leave because they feel unsafe under Azerbaijani rule.

Russia had acted as guarantor for a peace deal that ended a 44-day war in Karabakh three years ago, and many Armenians blame Moscow for failing to protect the region.

Russian officials say Pashinyan is to blame for his own mishandling of the crisis, and have repeatedly said that Armenia, which borders Turkey, Iran, Azerbaijan and Georgia, has few other friends in the region.

“The government will accept our brothers and sisters from Nagorno-Karabakh with full care,” Pashinyan said.

Pashinyan has warned that some unidentified forces were seeking to stoke a coup against him and has accused Russian media of engaging in an information war against him.

“Some of our partners are increasingly making efforts to expose our security vulnerabilities, putting at risk not only our external, but also internal security and stability, while violating all norms of etiquette and correctness in diplomatic and interstate relations, including obligations assumed under treaties,” Pashinyan said in his Sunday address.

“In this context, it is necessary to transform, complement and enrich the external and internal security instruments of the Republic of Armenia,” he said. 

Holocaust Revisionist Is Top Mayor Candidate in One German City 

A populist far-right politician is the front-runner in a mayoral race Sunday in the German city of Nordhausen, best known as the location of the Nazi concentration camp Mittelbau-Dora.

Joerg Prophet of the Alternative for Germany party, won 42.1% of the vote in the first round of the election earlier this month. His opponent, independent incumbent candidate Kai Buchmann, had just 23.7%.

The prospect of a far-right mayor holding a revisionist version of Germany’s Holocaust past has not gone unnoticed by Holocaust survivors and people who work in Germany to combat discrimination.

Jens-Christian Wagner, director of the Buchenwald and Mittelbau-Dora Memorials Foundation, told AFP that an AfD mayor would not be welcome at commemorative events.

Agence France-Presse reports that Prophet posted in a blog in 2020 that the Allied forces liberated Mittelbau-Dora because they were interested only in the site’s rocket and missile technology.

“Everything I hear,” Wagner said, “suggests that Prophet will be elected not despite such historical revisionist positions, but precisely because of such positions.”

The AfD party’s popularity has been growing, especially as thousands of migrants have sought asylum in Germany recently. Migration is AfD’s signature issue.

AfD’s growing popularity has presented a dilemma for other political parties that must decide whether or how to cooperate with the controversial party.

Information for this report came from The Associated Press and Agence France-Presse.

6 Young Portuguese Activists Head to Court in Climate Fight

Sofia Oliveira was 12 years old when catastrophic wildfires in central Portugal killed more than 100 people in 2017. She “felt it was now or never to raise our voices” as her country appeared to be in the grip of deadly human-caused climate change.

Now a university student, Sofia and five other Portuguese young adults and children between 11 and 24 years of age are due on Wednesday at the European Court of Human Rights, where they are accusing 32 European governments of violating their human rights for what they say is a failure to adequately address climate change. It’s the first climate change case filed with the court and could compel action to significantly slash emissions and build cleaner infrastructure.

Victory for them in Strasbourg would be a powerful instance of young people taking a legal route to force their governments to adopt a radical recalibration of their climate measures.

The court’s rulings are legally binding on member countries, and failure to comply makes authorities liable for hefty fines decided by the court.

The courts are increasingly seen by activists as a way of sidestepping politics and holding governments to account. Last month, in a case brought by young environmental activists, a judge in the U.S. state of Montana ruled that state agencies were violating their constitutional right to a clean and healthful environment by allowing fossil fuel development.

When the Portuguese group decided in 2017 they would pursue legal action, Sofia wore braces on her teeth, stood taller than her younger brother André and was starting seventh grade at school. The braces are long gone and André, who is now 15, is taller than her by a few centimeters.

The past six years, André noted in an interview with The Associated Press, represent almost half of his life.

What has kept them going through the piles of legal documents gathered by the nonprofit group supporting them and through lockdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic is what they call the pressing evidence all around them that the climate crisis is getting worse.

The Praia do Norte beach at Costa da Caparica near where Sofia and André live, just south of the Portuguese capital Lisbon, was about 1 kilometer long when his father was his age, André says. Now, amid coastal erosion, it measures less than 300 meters. Evidence like that led him to attend climate demonstrations even before he became a teen.

The other four members of the Portuguese group — Catarina, Cláudia, Martim and Mariana — are siblings and cousins who live in the region of Leiria in central Portugal where summer wildfires are common.

Scientists say the climate of the Sahara is jumping across the Mediterranean Sea to southern European countries like Portugal, where average temperatures are climbing and rainfall is declining. Portugal’s hottest year on record was 1997, followed by 2017. The four driest years on record in the country of 10.3 million people have all occurred since 2003.

It’s a similar story across Europe, and the legal arguments of the six Portuguese are backed by science. The Earth sweltered through its hottest Northern Hemisphere summer ever measured, with a record warm August capping a season of brutal and deadly temperatures, according to the World Meteorological Organization.

The world is far off its pledge to curb global warming, scientists say, by cutting emissions in line with the requirements of the 2015 Paris climate accord. Estimates say global average temperatures could rise by 2 to 4 degrees Celsius since pre-industrial times by 2100 at current trajectories of warming and emissions reductions plans.

Among the specific impacts listed by the young Portuguese are being unable to sleep, concentrate, play outside or exercise during heat waves. One of their schools was closed temporarily when the air became unbreathable due to wildfire smoke. Some of the children have health conditions such as asthma that makes them more vulnerable to heat and air pollution.

They are being assisted by the Global Legal Action Network, an international nonprofit organization that challenges human rights violations. A crowdfunding campaign has drawn support from around the world, with messages of support coming from as far away as Japan, India and Brazil.

Gerry Liston, a GLAN legal officer, says the 32 governments have “trivialized” the case. “The governments have resisted every aspect of our case … all our arguments,” he said.

André describes the governments as “condescending.” Sofia adds: “They don’t see climate as a priority.”

Portugal’s government, for example, agrees the state of the environment and human rights are connected but insists the government’s “actions seek to meet its international obligations in this area” and cannot be faulted.

At the same time, some governments in Europe are backsliding on commitments already made.

Poland last month filed legal challenges aimed at annulling three of the European Union’s main climate change policies. Last week, the British government announced it is delaying by five years a ban on new gas and diesel cars that had been due to take effect in 2030. The Swedish government’s state budget proposal last week, meanwhile, cut taxes on gas and diesel and reduced funding for climate and environmental measures.

Amid those developments, the courts are seen by activists as a recourse.

The London School of Economics says that globally, the cumulative number of climate change-related cases has more than doubled since 2015 to more than 2,000. Around one-fourth were launched between 2020 and 2022, it says.

The Portuguese activists, who are not seeking any financial compensation, will likely have to wait some more. The verdict in their case could take up to 18 months, though they see the court’s decision in 2020 to fast-track the proceedings as an encouraging sign.

A precedent is also giving the activists heart. The Urgenda Foundation, a Dutch organization that promotes sustainability and innovation, brought against the Dutch Government the first case in the world in which citizens argued that their government has a legal obligation to prevent dangerous climate change.

In 2019, the Dutch Supreme Court found in Urgenda’s favor, ruling that the emissions reduction target set by the government was unlawfully low. It ordered authorities to further reduce emissions.

The government consequently decided to shut down coal-fired power plants by 2030 and adopted billion-euro packages to reduce energy use and develop renewable energy, among other measures.

Dennis van Berkel, Urgenda’s legal counsel, accused governments of choosing climate change targets that are “politically convenient” instead of listening to climate scientists. Judges can compel them to justify that what they are doing on climate issues is enough, he said.

“Currently there is no such scrutiny at any level,” he told the AP. “That is something incredibly important that the courts can contribute.”

As World’s Problems Grow More Challenging, United Nations Head Gets Bleaker

At the annual meeting of world leaders last year, the U.N. chief sounded a global alarm about the survival of humanity and the planet. This year, the alarm rang louder and more ominously, and the message was even more pressing: Wake up and take action — right now.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ assessment, delivered in his no-nonsense style, aimed to shock. We are becoming “unhinged,” he said. We are inching closer to “a great fracture.” Conflicts, coups and chaos are surging. The climate crisis is growing. Divides are deepening between military and economic powers, the richer North and poorer South, East and West. “A new Rubicon” has been crossed in artificial intelligence.

Guterres has spoken often on all these issues. But this year, which he called “a time of chaotic transition,” his address to leaders was tougher and even more urgent. And looking at his previous state-of-the-world speeches, it seems clear he has been headed in this direction for quite some time.

In his first address to world leaders in 2017 after taking the helm of the 193-member United Nations, Guterres cited “nuclear peril” as the leading global threat. Two years later, he was warning of the world splitting in two, with the United States and China creating rival internets, currency, trade, financial rules “and their own zero-sum geopolitical and military strategies.” He urged vigorous action “to avert the great fracture.”

Then came the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020. The global response Guterres called for never happened; richer countries got vaccines and poorer ones were left waiting. At last year’s leaders’ gathering, his message was almost as dire as this week’s: “Our world is in peril and paralyzed,” Guterres said. “We are gridlocked in colossal global dysfunction.”

This year, his message to the presidents and prime ministers, monarchs and ministers gathered in the vast General Assembly hall was unambiguous and stark.

“We seem incapable,” Guterres said, “of coming together to respond.”

The world’s future, and the UN’s

At the heart of Guterres’ many speeches this week is the very future of the United Nations, an institution formed immediately after World War II to bring nations together and save future generations from war. But in a 21st-century world that is far more interconnected and also more bitterly divided, can it remain relevant?

For Guterres, the answer is clear: It must.

The Cold War featured two superpowers — the capitalist United States and the communist Soviet Union. When it ended, there was a brief period of U.S.-dominated unipolarity after the breakup of the Soviet Union and its dissolution into a dominant Russia and smaller former republics. Now it is moving to a more chaotic “multipolar world” — and creating, Guterres says, new opportunities for different countries to lead.

But Guterres’ key argument is rooted in history. He says it teaches that a world with many power centers and small groups of nations can’t solve the challenges that affect all countries. That’s why strong global institutions are needed, he told leaders on Thursday, and “the United Nations is the only forum where this can happen.”

The big question, upon which Guterres is now laser-focused, is whether an institution born in 1945 — a time when the tools to address chaos and fragmentation were more rudimentary — can be retooled and updated to tackle today’s challenges.

“I have no illusions,” he said. “Reforms are a question of power. I know there are many competing interests and agendas. But the alternative to reform is not the status quo. The alternative to reform is further fragmentation. It’s reform or rupture.”

That is the conundrum sitting in the U.N. chief’s lap: Can 193 nations with competing agendas undertake major reforms?

To meet the challenge, Guterres has called on world leaders to attend a “Summit of the Future” at next September’s U.N. global gathering, and in the coming, year to negotiate a “Pact for the Future.” At a meeting Thursday to prepare, he told ministers that the pact “represents your pledge to use all the tools at your disposal at the global level to solve problems – before those problems overwhelm us.”

The secretary-general said he knows reaching agreement will be difficult. “But,” he said, “it is possible.”

A sense that things are ‘fundamentally broken’

Time, Guterres says, is against the United Nations and countries that support the return of united global action. Perhaps that is why his words grow more dire each year.

He points to new conflicts like Ukraine, more intense geopolitical tensions, signs of “climate breakdown,” a cost-of-living crisis and the debt distress and default that is bedeviling more countries than ever.

“We cannot inch towards agreement while the world races towards a precipice,” Guterres said. “We must bring a new urgency to our efforts, and a shared sense of common purpose.”

That’s easier said than done, as this week’s high-level meetings — and the priorities and problems they raise — make clear.

Can all the U.N.’s far-flung nations unite behind a common purpose? Whether that happens in the next 12 months remains to be seen. Certainly there is support. Consider Bahamas Foreign Minister Frederick Audley Mitchell, addressing the global gathering Friday night. “Now, more than ever, we need the United Nations,” he said.

Richard Gowan, the U.N. director for the International Crisis Group, said Guterres’ state-of-the-world speech spoke “truth to power” and was an especially blunt and bleak assessment.

“He really seems to think that the multilateral system is fundamentally broken,” Gowan said. The secretary-general seems frustrated after years of difficult dealings with the divided U.N. Security Council, Gowan said, alluding to the United States and its Western allies increasingly clashing with Russia and China.

“Sometimes it feels like Guterres no longer believes in the institution he leads,” Gowan said.

For Guterres, then, the Summit of the Future presents an opportunity but also a possible demarcation point — between a brighter future and a more desolate one, between a chance at progress and the prospect of a closing door. To Gowan, it will be “a last chance for U.N. members to get their act together and rethink how the multilateral system could work.”

And that could present a potentially insurmountable peak for the world’s most senior diplomat to scale. Mark Malloch-Brown, president of the Open Society Foundations and a former U.N. deputy secretary-general, pronounced Guterres’ keynote speech to world leaders “a brave and frank admission that the U.N. is broken — no longer fit for purpose.”

“The problem is that precisely because of that, nobody may hear him,” Malloch-Brown said. “He may be speaking to an empty room.”

Illegal Migration to Greece Surges, Sparking Measures to Shield Borders

Thousands of migrants have made their way illegally into Greece from Turkey, using rickety rafts to cross the Aegean, the narrow waterway between the two countries.

United Nations data in September shows sea arrivals have already more than doubled the roughly 12,000 migrants who were caught trying to illegally enter Greece last year. Illegal entries along the land border and the massive Evros River that snakes along the rugged frontiers of the two countries in the northeast also count record increases of more than 65 percent in the last two months alone, police said.

“Much of this has to do with favorable weather conditions, and the receding levels of the Evros River that makes crossings easier,” said Dimitris Petrovic, Deputy Regional Governor of Evros, Greece.

Many of the migrants are spotted and rounded up by soldiers and border police, but police officials such as Alexandros Sfeliniotis said human traffickers have become increasingly ruthless.

“They have even begun recruiting minors, paying them tiny sums of money to lead caravans of migrants through illegal crossings,” he said. “They know that minors can get off the hook easier than adult smugglers.”

Illegal migration has always been a thorn in relations between Greece and Turkey. In the past, the government of Kyriakos Mitsotakis went as far as accusing Turkey and its leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan of instrumentalizing migration — pushing migrants to Europe in a bid to win more concessions and aid from the European Union.

But as tensions between the two NATO members have eased in recent months, a meeting between the two leaders on the sidelines of the recent U.N. General Assembly showed strong willingness by the long-standing rivals to work together to stem illegal migration.

“We have to join forces and work together if we are going to crack down on smugglers,” said Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

For Greece, this has meant an increased deployment of forces along the Evros River, as well as beefed up patrols across the Aegean Sea. Greek and Turkish coast guards that once refused to cooperate are now in contact again, and migration ministers on both sides are talking.

The endgame, senior government officials tell VOA, is to revise a key deal that the EU stitched together with Turkey in 2016, allowing for the return of the tens of thousands of illegal migrants to Turkey in exchange for more financial aid and visa-free entry of its Turkish travelers to Europe.

With relations between Greece and Turkey frequently see-sawing, the outcome remains uncertain.

Both sides have ordered teams of senior officials to hash out a deal that could be signed by early December, when Mitsotakis and Erdogan meet for a summit in Greece.

Ukraine War Pushes NATO to Bolster Drone-Tackling Expertise

A small drone flits over opened earth, and an explosion appears on the video feed.

The drone has just dropped a grenade into a trench in Ukraine. The images were being projected on a giant screen in the Netherlands, in front of NATO military officers and defense company executives.

These drones being used against Ukrainian forces are “small, fast” and finding a way to defend against them is “complex,” says Willem Koedam, a former Dutch air force officer turned expert for NATO’s C-UAS unit, which looks at anti-drone defenses.

The solution may be complex, but it’s not impossible.

Representatives from 57 companies visited a military base in the Dutch town of Vredepeel to present their systems to the NATO brass.

The systems they offer are designed to counter threats ranging from off-the-shelf drones available to the public to the Iranian Shahed drones used by Russia’s forces.

Using nets

“The best way to kill a Shahed is a jet” — meaning a jet-propelled drone — said Ludwig Fruhauf, head of DDTS, a German firm specializing in anti-drone defenses.

A jet-powered drone flying at 500 kph would be able to intercept a propellor-driven Shahed-136 travelling at 180 kph, he explained. And jet devices are cheaper than the rocket-type defenses usually employed.

But threats persist from much smaller drones, which can be deadly or destructive for critical infrastructure such as power stations, said Matt Roper of the NATO Communications and Information (NCI) Agency, the alliance’s tech and cyber hub.

In some cases, the best method is not to blow a drone out of the sky, which could cause collateral damage, but to catch or redirect it.

Argus Interception, another German company, has developed a sort of “fishing net” to be used against enemy devices.

The target first has to be detected by radar, camera or by monitoring frequencies used to guide it.

Once located, an interceptor drone is launched that fires the net over the hostile drone, allowing it to be captured. It is especially useful in protecting airports, Argus Interception boss Christian Schoening said.

For Romanian Air Force Captain Ionut-Vlad Cozmuta, however, that method may not be best against drones deployed by the Russian military close to Romanian airspace. Debris from some of them has been found in Romanian territory in recent weeks.

Romania, a NATO member, is keen to find ways to protect itself against possible drone attacks, and Cozmuta was carefully following the drone-defense exercises at the Vredepeel base.

He said signal “jamming” would be a solution, sending the device off-course rather than capturing it.

Big benefits

More aggressive than jamming is technology to seize control of an enemy drone and guide it to a new target or another destination.

But for that, NATO needs to establish a common standard allowing different anti-drone defense systems to speak to each other. That looks to now be in place with the adoption of a British system called Sapient.

Its use will bring “big benefits” to the alliance, a senior NATO officer in the NCI Agency, General Hans Folmer, told reporters.

No Ukrainian officer was present for the anti-drone exercises.

But NATO has “ongoing discussions” with the besieged country on these issues, said Claudio Palestini, a NATO science expert.

And the Ukrainians themselves “innovate on the ground all the time,” he said. 

 VOA Immigration Weekly Recap, Sept. 17–23

Editor’s note: Here is a look at immigration-related news around the U.S. this week. Questions? Tips? Comments? Email the VOA immigration team:

Texas City Sees Jump in Irregular Migrant Crossings

U.S. immigration authorities reported a significant uptick in unauthorized border crossings at the U.S.-Mexico border Thursday, particularly in areas such as Eagle Pass, Texas, where the mayor has issued a state of emergency. U.S. Border Patrol officers apprehended about 9,000 migrants along the entire border in a 24-hour period, according to media reports on Wednesday. VOA asked the Border Patrol to confirm the number of apprehensions, but an official, who spoke on background, said they were waiting to release monthly migrant encounter numbers. VOA’s immigration reporter Aline Barros has the story.

New York Mayor Urges UN Leaders to Act on Migration Crisis

New York City is hosting world leaders at the United Nations this week. But it is also facing a crisis because border states such as Texas are sending hundreds of migrants to the city each day. Jorge Agobian has the story in this report narrated by Aline Barros.

Biden Grants Protection to Hundreds of Thousands of Venezuelans

The Biden administration said Wednesday that it was granting temporary legal status to hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans who are already in the country as it grapples with growing numbers of people fleeing the South American country and elsewhere to arrive at the U.S. border with Mexico. The Associated Press reports. Watch the VOA60 American story.

VOA in Photos:

Migrants seeking asylum in the United States cross a razor-wire fence near a border wall on the banks of the Rio Bravo, as it’s known in Mexico, on the border between the U.S. and Mexico, as seen from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Sept. 18, 2023.

Immigration around the world

VOA60 Africa – UNHCR said over 1,200 children have died in Sudanese refugee camps since May

More than 1,200 children have died in refugee camps since May, while thousands of newborns are likely to die across the war-torn country by year’s end, the United Nations said Tuesday.

Rights Groups, Refugees Wary of Thailand’s New Asylum Program

Days before Thailand launches a new protection program for foreign asylum-seekers, rights groups and refugees are expressing concern that many worthy hopefuls will be turned down or feel too frightened of arrest and deportation to even apply. Story by Zsombor Peter.

Migrants Burst Into Southern Mexico Asylum Office Demanding Papers

Migrants, mostly from Haiti, burst into an asylum office in southern Mexico on Monday, demanding papers. Throngs of migrants knocked over metal barricades and rushed into the office in the city of Tapachula, pushing past National Guard officers and police stationed at the office. Some of the migrants were trampled in the rush.

Italy Toughens Asylum Laws Amid Surge in Migrant Arrivals

Italy’s government Monday passed measures to build new migrant detention centers and allow for the rapid deportation of failed asylum-seekers. Italy is facing another surge in migrant arrivals on the small island of Lampedusa. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Protesters Urge Compassion for Migrants Left in Limbo in Australia

Campaigners are urging Australia to allow thousands of migrants whose asylum claims were rejected under a controversial policy to stay. A weeklong protest starts Monday outside the offices of Australian Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil over the cases of up to 12,000 asylum-seekers who have spent more than a decade on temporary bridging visas but face the threat of deportation. Produced by Phil Mercer.

European Leaders Visit Lampedusa

European Union Commission President Ursula von de Leyen and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni toured a migrant center Sunday on the small Italian island of Lampedusa. The center was recently overwhelmed with almost 7,000 migrants in a 24-hour period, a total that is nearly equivalent to the number of people who live on the island. VOA News reports.

News brief

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced the extension and redesignation of Afghanistan for temporary protected status for 18 months, from November 21 to May 20, 2025, because of  continuing armed conflict and extraordinary and temporary conditions in Afghanistan that prevent individuals from safely returning.

Ukraine’s Peace Plan, Grain Deal ‘Not Realistic,’ Lavrov Says

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov castigated Ukraine’s proposed 10-point peace plan and spurned a revival of the Black Sea Grain Initiative, calling both “not realistic.”

Lavrov addressed the United Nations General Assembly on Saturday at the annual gathering of world leaders at U.N. headquarters in New York. In a week of global diplomacy, Ukraine and its Western allies sought to rally support for Kyiv on its defensive war against Russian aggression.

“It is completely not feasible,” Lavrov said of the peace plan initiated by Kyiv. “It is not possible to implement this. It’s not realistic and everybody understands this, but at the same time, they say this is the only basis for negotiations.”

Lavrov said the conflict would be resolved on the battlefield if Kyiv and the West persisted in that position.

Lavrov also said Moscow left the Black Sea Grain Initiative, which was allowing for safe passage of Ukrainian agricultural exports, because promises made to Russia had not been fulfilled.

He said the latest U.N. proposals to revive that export corridor also were “simply not realistic.”

Ukraine attacks Sevastopol

Meanwhile, Ukraine targeted the Crimean-occupied city of Sevastopol on Saturday morning, leaving the city of 500,000 under an air alert for about an hour after debris from intercepted missiles fell near a pier, the Russian-installed regional governor Mikhail Razvozhayev wrote on the messaging app Telegram.

It was the second missile assault in as many days after Friday’s Ukrainian strike on the headquarters of Russia’s navy in Crimea that reportedly left dozens dead and wounded, including senior fleet commanders.

In an interview Friday with VOA’s Ukrainian Service, Ukraine’s intelligence chief, Kyrylo Budanov, said at least nine people were killed and 16 were injured, among them, were Russian generals.

“Among the wounded is the commander of the group, Colonel-General [Alexander] Romanchuk, in a very serious condition. The chief of staff, Lieutenant General [Oleg] Tsekov, is comatose,” he said.

Alexander Romanchuk is the commander of a group of Russian forces in the Zaporizhzhia region and was promoted to the rank of colonel-general in 2023. Lieutenant-General Oleg Tsekov is the commander of the 200 OMSBR Coastal Forces of the Northern Fleet of the Russian Navy.

Budanov did not confirm reports about the alleged death of the commander of the Black Sea Fleet of the Russian Federation, Admiral Viktor Sokolov.

Budanov’s claims could not be independently verified.

Counteroffensive makes gains, says think tank

Ukraine has increasingly targeted naval facilities in Crimea in recent weeks, while its counteroffensive makes slow gains in the east and south of Ukraine, the Institute for the Study of War said Thursday.

Military experts say it is essential for Ukraine to maintain its attacks on targets in Crimea to degrade Russian morale and weaken its military.

The attack came a day after Russia pounded cities across Ukraine with missiles and artillery strikes, killing at least five people.

Russia’s most prestigious airborne regiments experience “extreme attrition and high turnover” rates in Russia’s deployed military, including its senior ranks, the British Defense Ministry said Saturday in its daily intelligence update on the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Three successive commanders of the 247th Guards Air Assault Landing Regiment have either resigned or been killed, it said. First, Colonel Konstantin Zizevsky, a unit commander, was killed near the beginning of the Russian invasion. Then, Colonel Vasily Popov was “likely killed” in the “heavily contested Orikhiv sector,” early this month, according to the intelligence report.

Colonel Pytor Popov “likely resigned” his command of the 247th in August, the report said, after protesting the military’s failure to recover the bodies of Russian casualties.

‘We keep giving them hell’

Meanwhile, Ukrainian commanders told Reuters on Saturday that their use of heavy weapons provided by the West in the fierce battle raging on the outskirts of Bakhmut is inflicting significant damage on enemy lines.

Ukrainian troops said the Western-supplied 155-millimeter howitzers were key to capturing the village of Klishchiivka last week.

Unit commander Oleksandr said Ukrainian armed forces “very much rely” on heavy artillery, including the Polish-made Krab gun and the U.S.-made M109 self-propelled howitzer.

“Even one gun can completely turn the situation around. An attack can be stopped with one such gun,” he said.

“They [the Russians] hate our hardware. That’s what we gather from our intercepts. We hear that we keep giving them hell and they keep wondering how much ammunition we have left,” he said.

Ukrainian commanders have described the gains by Ukrainian forces of the villages of Klischiivka and nearby Andriivka as steppingstones to taking back Bakhmut, which fell to the Russians after months of some of the war’s heaviest fighting.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and senior officials have praised the advances and defied Western commentary that the counteroffensive is progressing too slowly.

Ostap Yarish of VOA’s Ukrainian Service contributed to this story. Some information for this report was provided by The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.

Former FBI Agent Pleads Guilty to Concealing Loan From Former Intelligence Officer

Former FBI official Charles McGonigal pleaded guilty on Friday to accepting $225,000 from Albanian-American Agron Nezaj, a former Albanian intelligence officer who McGonigal admitted was helping him foster relationships in Albania to help lay the groundwork for future business opportunities in the country.

According to court documents, Nezaj became an informant for the FBI’s investigation into McGonigal’s contacts in Albania.

In Washington, McGonigal faced a nine-count indictment charging him with failing to report cash payments, contacts with foreign officials and trips to Europe he took with Nezaj in 2017 and 2018 that neither he nor the FBI paid for.

The guilty plea was entered in U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia in Washington, based on a deal between prosecutors and McGonigal’s lawyers. He pleaded guilty to one count of the indictment — concealing material evidence — and prosecutors dropped the other eight counts.

The settlement means the case will not go to trial.

McGonigal apologized to the court for his actions.

“Before I left the FBI in September 2018, I was planning to launch a security consulting business with a friend. I knew that my government contacts and international relationships might be useful to me when I later launched the business,” he told U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly.

“I did not disclose an approximately $225,000 loan I received from my friend and prospective business partner in the U.S. for several meetings I attended with foreign nationals. These meetings were an effort to develop potential business relationships for my future consulting business. And the loan was intended to help start the business,” McGonigal said.

Those contacts included several meetings in 2017 and 2018 with Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama in the presence of Nezaj and an adviser to the prime minister, who had business interests in arranging the meetings.

In one instance, McGonigal opened a criminal investigation in New York into a U.S. lobbyist who was working for an Albanian opposition party. According to the indictment, he received this information from the Albanian prime minister’s office. The indictment does not identify the American lobbyist nor the Albanian party.

But on November 14, 2017, lobbyist Nick Muzin — an ex-Trump aide — filed on the lobbying activity on behalf of the Albanian Democratic Party, the main opposition party, with the Department of Justice. While lobbying for a foreign political force is not illegal for a registered lobbyist, Muzin had filed that activity months after an initial filing that was not complete.

The payment he received eventually became the subject of an investigation in Albania over the suspect origin of the money.

McGonigal told the court he had an ongoing relationship with the prime minister.

Rama has denied any wrongdoing.

McGonigal’s lawyer Seth DuCharme said after the hearing that his client takes full responsibility for his actions and looks forward to putting the case behind him.

“While he may have had or did have, I think, some pretty legitimate interests that aligned with the United States in keeping up those relationships, he also clearly had a personal interest,” DuCharme said.

McGonigal led the FBI’s counterintelligence division in New York before retiring in 2018.

In a separate case in New York, McGonigal pleaded guilty in August to a conspiracy charge, admitting that after leaving the FBI he agreed to work for Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska. McGonigal went to work for Deripaska, whom McGonigal had once investigated, to dig up dirt on the oligarch’s wealthy rival in violation of U.S. sanctions on Russia. He faces up to five years in prison when he is sentenced in mid-December.

The District of Columbia court charge carries a maximum of five years in prison, but prosecutors will likely seek a more lenient sentence as part of the plea agreement.

The judge said McGonigal will be sentenced in February and said he will not be able to appeal it.

Some information for this report was provided by Reuters and The Associated Press.

Germany’s Scholz Asks Poland to Clarify Cash-for-Visas Affair

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz called on the Polish government Saturday to clarify allegations about a cash-for-visas deal for migrants that has roiled Polish politics, as a debate about immigration heats up in Germany.

The demand from Scholz marks stepped-up rhetoric from Poland’s powerful western neighbor, coming just days after sources said Germany summoned the Polish ambassador and Interior Minister Nancy Faeser spoke to her Polish counterpart on the topic.

Since earlier this month, the Polish government has been facing accusations by opposition parties that it was complicit in a system in which migrants received Polish visas at an accelerated pace without proper checks after paying intermediaries.

Arrivals to Poland could easily cross into other European Union countries given that borders are open.

Poland’s government has written to the European Union’s security commissioner to say that the scandal was an exaggerated “media fact” timed to discredit the ruling nationalists in a tough battle for re-election next month.

“The visa scandal that is taking place in Poland needs to be clarified,” Scholz said on Saturday at an event. “I don’t want people from Poland to simply be waved through.”

Scholz hinted that Germany could take steps to control the border with Poland.

In recent years, Germany has already coped with floods of migrants and asylum seekers from Syria and Ukraine.

In a letter to Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau, EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson demanded full clarification of the scandal of up to 350,000 purchased work visas for the EU-Schengen area, BILD reported this week.

In the letter made available to BILD, the commissioner points out that the behavior of the Polish authorities could mean “a violation of EU law and in particular of the EU Visa Code.”

Swedish Sinkhole Opens After Landslide

At least three people were injured early Saturday after a landslide in western Sweden resulted in the opening of a massive sinkhole.

Cars and at least one bus skidded off the E6 highway near the small Swedish town of Stenungsund.

The highway has been closed in both directions.

 Pope Says Migrants at Sea ‘Must Be Rescued’

“People who are at risk of drowning when abandoned on the waves must be rescued,” Pope Francis said Friday in Marseille, France, at a memorial dedicated to sailors and migrants. Francis described efforts to stop the migrants from being rescued as “gestures of hate.”

Migrants from Africa and the Middle East often board rickety watercraft to Europe in hopes of a better life there or elsewhere.

The first stop for many of them is often the Italian island of Lampedusa. Recently, the island has been overwhelmed with thousands of migrants.

Often the migrant boats are abandoned at sea by their smugglers.

Rescue groups are sometimes prohibited by some European countries from rescuing the migrants or are delayed in their rescue missions.

“And so this beautiful sea has become a huge cemetery, where many brothers and sisters are deprived even of the right to a grave,” Francis said Friday of the Mediterranean Sea, where tens of thousands of migrants have died.

The leader of the Roman Catholic Church thanked the humanitarian groups that rescue migrants.

On Saturday, Francis will preside over the closing session in Marseille of a meeting of bishops and young people from around the Mediterranean region.

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press.