Ukraine Says Russian Missile Attacks Target Kyiv

Ukraine’s military said Monday that Russia attacked Kyiv with eight ballistic missiles overnight in the latest wave of aerial assaults targeting the Ukrainian capital.

The Ukrainian air force said air defenses shot down all eight of the missiles.

Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said four people received medical treatment after debris from one of the downed missiles fell in the eastern part of the city.  He also reported missile debris being found at a warehouse, but said there was no damage at the site.

The Ukrainian military said Russia also launched 18 drones from Russia-occupied Crimea, and that Ukrainian air defense shot down all 18 of them over parts of southern Ukraine.

U.S. President Joe Biden will host Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy at the White House Tuesday as the U.S. administration pushes for Congress to approve additional aid to Ukraine.

The visit is intended “to underscore the United States’ unshakeable commitment to supporting the people of Ukraine as they defend themselves against Russia’s brutal invasion,” the White House said in a statement Sunday.

Zelenskyy’s office confirmed that he had accepted Biden’s invitation. He also has been invited to speak to a meeting of all senators.

Biden has asked Congress for a $110 billion package of wartime funding for Ukraine ($61.4 billion) and Israel, along with other national security priorities. But on Wednesday, Republicans in the U.S. Senate blocked the legislation, saying major U.S. border security changes were needed.

Some Republicans are asking for the immediate deportation of illegal migrants, stripping them of a chance to seek U.S. asylum. They have also called for greatly scaling back Biden administration programs that have allowed hundreds of thousands of migrants to enter the U.S. lawfully. 

With U.S. Congress about to go on holiday recess in less than a week, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has expressed grave concern about U.S. aid not reaching Ukraine in time as winter looms.

Speaking Sunday on ABC’s “This Week,” Blinken said the United States is running out of money for Ukraine’s war against Russia. He called on Congress to act on supplemental funding for Ukraine. 

“We need to see the supplemental budget request go through as quickly as possible,” Blinken said in the interview. He stressed that Ukraine has done an “extraordinary job” fighting Russian aggression, taking 50% of its territory back over the past year. 

Blinken also pointed out that 90% of the money that goes to Ukraine’s assistance is invested in the U.S. “In terms of the production of materials and munitions and weapons that go to the Ukrainians, it’s right here, in America,” he said. 

Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Sunday that the West was trying to exhaust Russia in Ukraine and that any peace talks would have to be initiated by Kyiv. 

“It is up to the Ukrainians to recognize how deep they are in the hole where the Americans put them,” Lavrov said of the war. 

When asked what the chances were of diplomacy bringing about a cease-fire or peace, he said, “You’ll have to call Mr. Zelenskyy because a year-and-a-half ago he signed a decree prohibiting any negotiations with [Russian President Vladimir] Putin.”

Hungarian blockade 

Meanwhile, Hungarian truckers planned to block Hungary’s main border crossing with Ukraine on Monday in protest of Ukrainian carriers bringing cheaper products into the European Union country and hurting local trade. 

Truckers from Ukraine have been exempted from permits for crossing into the EU since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Haulers across eastern Europe have demanded restrictions on the number of Ukrainian trucks entering the bloc. 

“We have asked the EU … to review its agreement signed with Ukraine and consider the interests of EU carriers, among them those [of] Hungary,” Tivadar Arvay, general secretary of the Hungarian Road Transport Association, told state news agency MTI.

Polish trucks at the Polish-Ukrainian border have been backed up for kilometers (miles) as Polish truckers block roads to three border crossings. 

Ukraine has managed to bypass the Polish truckers’ blockade by transporting the first batch of buses to Poland by rail, Ukrainian state railways Ukrzaliznytsia said Sunday. 

Ukrainian authorities say about 3,500 trucks were blocked on the Polish side of the Polish-Ukrainian border as of Sunday morning. So far, authorities have not been able to reach an agreement with the protesters, who, like their Hungarian counterparts, are also seeking to stop Ukrainian truckers from having permit-free access to the European Union.

Some information for this article was provided by The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.  


Ukraine’s Zelenskyy Visits Argentina in Bid to Win Support From Global South

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy witnessed the swearing-in on Sunday of Argentina’s new president, Javier Milei. 

It was the Ukrainian leader’s first official trip to Latin America as Kyiv continues to court support among developing nations for its 21-month-old fight against Russia’s invading forces. 

During Zelenskyy’s visit to Buenos Aires, his office and the White House announced he would travel to Washington to meet with President Joe Biden on Tuesday. 

Biden has asked Congress for a $110 billion package of wartime funding for Ukraine and Israel, along with other national security priorities. But the request is caught up in a debate over U.S. immigration policy and border security. 

The visit to Washington would focus on “ensuring the unity of the U.S., Europe and the world” in supporting Ukraine in the war against Russia, Zelenskyy’s office said. 

In Argentina, Milei welcomed Zelenskyy at the presidential palace after his inauguration. The two shared an extended hug, exchanged words and then Milei, who has said he intends to convert to Judaism, presented his Ukrainian counterpart with a menorah as a gift. They were expected to have a longer one-on-one meeting later on Sunday. 

A political outsider who has railed against what he calls entrenched official corruption in Argentina and promised to uproot the political establishment, Milei ran on a pro-Western foreign policy platform, repeatedly expressing distrust of Moscow and Beijing. 

Zelenskyy phoned Milei shortly after the Argentine’s electoral victory last month, thanking him for his “clear support for Ukraine.” In its readout of the call, Milei’s office said he had offered to host a summit between Ukraine and Latin American states, a potential boon to Kyiv’s monthslong effort to strengthen its relationships with countries of the global south. 

Zelenskyy and other senior Ukrainian officials have repeatedly presented Ukraine’s war against Russia as resistance against colonial aggression, hoping to win support from Asian, African and Latin American states that in the past struggled to free themselves from foreign domination, sometimes turning to Moscow for support against Western powers. 

Zelenskyy used the trip to Argentina to meet leaders of several developing countries. He met the prime minister of the West African country of Cape Verde, Ulisses Correia e Silva, on his way to Buenos Aires. Once in Argentina, Zelenskyy met separately with the presidents of Paraguay, Ecuador and Uruguay, his office said. 

“The support and strong united voice of Latin American countries that stand with the people of Ukraine in the war for our freedom and democracy is very important for us,” Zelenskyy said in a statement. 

He also had a phone conversation with French President Emmanuel Macron, discussing “the details of the next defense package from the French Republic, which will significantly enhance Ukraine’s firepower, and the current needs of our country in armaments,” Zelenskyy’s office said.

Hungarian Truckers to Protest at Ukraine Border Crossing Monday

Hungarian truckers plan to protest near Hungary’s main border crossing with Ukraine on Monday, aiming to slow the movement of trucks as they demand restrictions on Ukrainian haulers working in the European Union, police said Sunday. 

Police have given permission for the protest in which about a dozen trucks will partially block the main road leading to the Zahony crossing, police said in a reply to emailed questions from Reuters. 

Police did not say how long the protest would last, but website reported the plan was to partially block the road leading to the border until the end of December. 

Truckers from Ukraine have been exempted from seeking permits to cross into the European Union since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Haulers across eastern Europe have sought to win restrictions on the number of Ukrainian trucks entering the EU. 

“We have asked the EU … to review its agreement signed with Ukraine and consider the interests of haulers in EU members, among them Hungary,” Tivadar Arvay, general secretary of the Association of Hungarian Road Haulers told state news agency MTI. 

In the past weeks trucks at the Poland-Ukraine crossing were backed up for miles as Polish truckers blocked roads to three border crossings.

Thousands Demonstrate Against Antisemitism in Berlin as Germany Grapples With Rise in Incidents 

Several thousand people demonstrated against antisemitism in Berlin on Sunday as Germany grapples with a large increase in anti-Jewish incidents following Hamas’ attack on Israel two months ago. 

Police estimated that around 3,200 people gathered in the rain in the German capital, while organizers put the figure at 10,000, German news agency dpa reported. Participants in the protest, titled “Never again is now,” marched to the Brandenburg Gate. 

A group tracking antisemitism in Germany said in late November that it had documented a drastic increase in antisemitic incidents in the month after Hamas’ attack — a total of 994, an increase of 320% compared with the same period a year earlier. 

Germany’s main Jewish leader, Josef Schuster, said that “antisemitism is common practice in Germany in the middle of society,” and called for solidarity with Israel and with Jewish life in Germany. 

Germany’s labor minister, Hubertus Heil, said that many decent people are too quiet on the issue. “We don’t need a decent, silent majority — we need a clear and loud majority that stands up now, and not later,” he said. 

The event had wide support, with the speaker of the German parliament and Berlin’s mayor also among its backers. 

Israel Helped Foil Iranian-Ordered Attack on Israelis in Cyprus 

Israel helped Cyprus foil an Iranian-ordered attack against Israelis and Jews on the island, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said Sunday, saying such plots were on the rise since the Gaza war erupted.

Netanyahu’s office gave no details of the planned attack but said in the statement on behalf of the Mossad intelligence service that Israel was “troubled” by what it saw as Iranian use of Turkish-controlled northern Cyprus “both for terrorism objectives and as an operational and transit area.”

The breakaway Turkish Cypriot state in northern Cyprus is recognized only by Turkey, which is sharply critical of Israel’s actions in Gaza since Oct. 7.

The internationally recognized government in the south of Cyprus has close relations with Israel.

Turkish Cypriot officials were not immediately available for comment. The Iranian embassy in Nicosia was closed.

Earlier Sunday, a Greek Cypriot newspaper in Cyprus’s government-controlled south reported authorities had detained two Iranians for questioning over suspected planning of attacks on Israeli citizens living in Cyprus.

The two individuals were believed to be in the early stages of gathering intelligence on potential Israeli targets, the Kathimerini Cyprus newspaper said without citing sources. Those individuals had crossed from the north, it said.

Reuters was unable to verify the details in the newspaper report.

A senior Cyprus official declined to comment, citing policy on issues concerning national security.

It is not the first time that Israel has warned of planned attacks on its citizens in Cyprus.

Netanyahu said in June that an Iranian attack against Israeli targets in Cyprus had been thwarted. Tehran denied being behind any alleged plot to attack Israelis in Cyprus.

Cyprus was split in a Turkish invasion in 1974 triggered by a brief Greek-inspired coup.

Access between the north and south of Cyprus can be done through a number of crossing points straddling a United Nations-controlled ‘buffer zone”. But the 180km (115 mile) line is also known to be porous, with unauthorized crossings over poorly guarded terrain.

Barely a 40-minute flight from Israel, both sides of Cyprus are a popular holiday and investment destination for thousands of Israelis.

Britain Says Russian Missile Launch in Ukraine Failed 

The British Defense Ministry said Sunday in its daily intelligence update on Ukraine that Russia has “almost certainly been stockpiling” air-launched cruise missiles or ALCMs for use in its winter campaign against Ukraine.

The missiles were used on December 7, the ministry said, in a “major wave of strikes” aimed at Kyiv and central Ukraine.

While the British ministry says the December launch of the missiles was “probably” designed to degrade Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, initial reports indicate that Ukraine successfully intercepted most of them.

The damage from the ALCMs was apparently minimal, according to the British report, but one civilian was killed in the strikes.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is making his first trip to Latin America. He is set to attend the swearing-in Sunday of Javier Milei, Argentina’s new president.

A Look at History of Crimean Tatars in Ukraine

The September 2023 appointment of Rustem Umerov as Ukraine’s defense minister was well received at home and abroad.  

Noted for his youth and corruption-free record, the 41-year-old has been a top negotiator in talks with Russia. But what has drawn the most notice is Umerov’s ethnic background as a Crimean Tatar, representing an often-overlooked part of Ukraine’s Indigenous history. 

Crimea has a long history of human habitation, having been settled by the Tauri and Scythian people before becoming a Greek and later Roman colony.  

During the medieval period, the peninsula saw rule by the Khazar Empire, Byzantium, the Kyivan Rus, and the Republic of Genoa, as well as invasions and settlements by Goths, Huns, Bulgars, Jews, Turks, Armenians, and more. With the arrival of the Mongol Golden Horde and the adoption of Islam in the 14th century, most of these diverse populations assimilated to the Turkic-speaking Cuman-Kipchak majority, forming the Crimean Tatar identity. 

By the 15th century, the Tatars had cast off Mongol rule and allied with the Ottoman Empire.  

Palaces and ports

The quasi-independent Crimean Khanate was one of the most powerful and wealthy states in Eastern Europe, with splendid palaces and thriving port cities. But much of the Khanate’s wealth was built on supplying slaves to the markets of the Middle East, and their periodic raids to take captives led to conflict with the neighboring Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and Russian Empire. 

It was amidst these clashes that the Cossacks, an early incarnation of the Ukrainian state, would form in the contested territories, at times fighting against the Tatars and at times allying with them against the other powers. However, with the gradual decline of the Ottoman Empire in the 18th century and Russia’s victory in the Russo-Turkish War, the Khanate was left unprotected. In 1783, Catherine II annexed the entire peninsula as the Taurida Oblast of the Russian Empire, violating Russia’s treaty guaranteeing Crimean independence. 

Russian rule was not kind to the Tatars. The tsarist governments considered them a disloyal population, and over the next century, each new war in the region brought fresh waves of persecution.  

Hundreds of thousands of Tatars were expelled or pressured to leave, with their lands confiscated and Russians resettled in their stead, while Tatar language and culture were suppressed. Nevertheless, at the end of the nineteenth century, Tatars still made up over one-third of Crimea’s population and had begun to form a national movement like many others in Europe.  

Starvation, deportation, and violence

Amidst the Russian Empire’s collapse in World War I, the Crimean People’s Republic — the first democratic republic in the Muslim world — was proclaimed in December 1917 and recognized by the Central Rada of the Ukrainian People’s Republic before both ultimately fell to the Bolshevik army. 

In Crimea’s first decade of Soviet rule as an autonomous republic within Russia, Tatars faced starvation, deportation, and violence along with Ukrainians and other populations, as the famines of the early 1920s were followed by man-made famines resulting from Stalin’s forced collectivization.  

When Nazi Germany invaded the peninsula in 1941, thousands of Tatars were killed, displaced, or sent to prison camps. But their worst ordeal was yet to come. By holding out the promise of liberation from Soviet rule, the German occupiers managed to recruit a minority of Tatar collaborators into volunteer battalions, as they had done with many other nationalities — including Russians themselves. Most Tatars had resisted the Nazis and many had fought alongside the partisans and the Red Army, with six earning the highest honor of Hero of the Soviet Union.  

Stalin declares Tatars traitors

Yet upon the peninsula’s reconquest in 1944, Stalin declared the Tatars traitors and ordered the entire population deported — a national trauma known in the Tatar language as the Sürgün, or exile. 

Within 10 days of the order, virtually every Tatar was loaded onto overcrowded, unsanitary cattle trains and transported to remote regions of Uzbekistan and Russia. Of the over 191,000 deported, nearly 8,000 died in transit. Survivors faced not only deadly working conditions with little food or medical care, but were categorized as “special settlers,” prohibited from leaving their place of deportation.  

Crimea was stripped of its autonomous status and subject to mass resettlement by Russians, who moved into the Tatars’ abandoned homes. 

Although their “special settler” status was lifted after Soviet leader Nikita Khruschev’s repudiation of Stalin in 1956, the deportees still could not return to the peninsula, which was by then transferred to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic.  

Unlike other deported populations, the Crimean Tatar identity had been officially erased and its people grouped with the Central Asian Tatars whose homeland was Russia’s region of Tatarstan. Those who did return to Crimea found it difficult to obtain residency permits or find housing.  

It was only after the rise of an organized Crimean Tatar movement and several high-profile self-immolations protesting the ongoing injustice that the Soviet government officially allowed the Crimean Tatars’ return in 1989, shortly before its collapse. 

By 1991, about 150,000 Tatars had come home. Over the decades, the Tatar movement had forged strong links with other dissidents and national movements and, given their history under Russian rule, overwhelmingly decided their future lies with Ukraine.  

When Crimea voted with the rest of Ukraine’s regions in the 1991 independence referendum, the Tatar vote was instrumental in attaining a narrow pro-independence majority. More Crimean Tatars returned over the next two decades, raising the population to more than a quarter million. And though they faced bureaucratic obstacles, discrimination by Russian-speaking locals, and government dysfunction, they began to rebuild their communities and institutions like the Mejlis council, officially recognized by the Ukranian government as the Crimean Tatars’ representative body in 1999. 

Russian occupation stops progress

Russia’s illegal annexation in 2014 has put a sharp brake on this cultural revival. Under the occupation, the Mejlis has been outlawed, mosques and schools have been shuttered, and public gatherings are banned.  

Tatar citizens face arbitrary detention, surveillance, and killing at the hands of Russian authorities, as well as conscription into the Russian armed forces. Thousands have fled to unoccupied parts of Ukraine. In 2014, the Ukrainian Parliament recognized Crimean Tatars as an Indigenous people of Crimea commemorates the Sürgün as a genocide. 

Thousands have fled to unoccupied parts of Ukraine, whose government now recognizes the Tatars’ Indigenous status and commemorates the Sürgün as a genocide. 

And while the majority of Crimean Tatars remain in the occupied peninsula where their culture is suppressed, the presence of two national minorities among Ukraine’s top military leadership is a reminder of the diverse heritage now threatened by Russia’s unprovoked invasion. 

Russia Puts Prominent Russian-American Journalist on Wanted List

Russian police have put prominent Russian American journalist and author Masha Gessen on a wanted list after opening a criminal case against them on charges of spreading false information about the Russian army.

It is the latest step in an unrelenting crackdown against dissent in Russia that has intensified since the Kremlin invaded Ukraine more than 21 months ago, on Feb. 24, 2022.

The independent Russian news outlet Mediazona was the first to report Friday that Gessen’s profile has appeared on the online wanted list of Russia’s Interior Ministry, and The Associated Press was able to confirm that it was. It wasn’t clear from the profile when exactly Gessen was added to the list.

Russian media reported last month that a criminal case against Gessen, an award-winning author and an outspoken critic of President Vladimir Putin, was launched over an interview they did with the prominent Russian journalist Yury Dud. 

In the interview, which was released on YouTube in September 2022 and has since been viewed more than 6.5 million times, the two among other things discussed atrocities by Russian armed forces in Bucha, a Ukrainian town near Kyiv that was briefly occupied by the Russian forces.

After Ukrainian troops retook it, they found the bodies of men, women and children on the streets, in yards and homes, and in mass graves, with some showing signs of torture. Russian officials have vehemently denied their forces were responsible and have prosecuted a number of Russian public figures for speaking out about Bucha, handing some lengthy prison terms.

Those prosecutions were carried out under a new law Moscow adopted days after sending troops to Ukraine that effectively criminalized any public expression about the war deviating from the official narrative. The Kremlin has insisted on calling it a “special military operation” and maintains that its troops in Ukraine only strike military targets, not civilians.

Between late February 2022 and early this month, 19,844 people have been detained for speaking out or protesting against the war while 776 people have been implicated in criminal cases over their anti-war stance, according to the OVD-Info rights group, which tracks political arrests and provides legal aid.

Gessen, who holds dual Russian and American citizenships and lives in the U.S., is unlikely to be arrested, unless they travel to a country with an extradition treaty with Russia. But Russian court could still try them in absentia and hand them a prison sentence of up to 10 years.

Pressure is also mounting on dissidents imprisoned in Russia. On Friday, supporters of Alexei Gorinov, a former member of a Moscow municipal council sentenced to seven years in prison for speaking out against the war, reported that his health significantly deteriorated in prison, and he is not being given the treatment he needs.

Gorinov was sentenced last year and is currently serving time at a penal colony in the Vladimir region east of Moscow. In a post on the messaging app Telegram, his supporters said his lawyer visited him on Friday and said Gorinov “doesn’t have the strength to sit up on a chair or even speak.” He told the lawyer that he has bronchitis and fever, but prison doctors claim he doesn’t need treatment, the post said.

The 62-year-old Gorinov has a chronic lung condition, and several years ago had part of a lung removed, the post said.

Allies of imprisoned opposition leader Alexey Navalny were also concerned about his well-being on Friday.

Navalny is serving a 19-year prison term on the charges of extremism in the same region as Gorinov, and for the last three days his lawyers have not allowed to visit him, the politician’s spokesperson Kira Yarmysh said on X, formerly known as Twitter. Yarmysh said that letters to Navalny were also not being delivered to him.

“The fact that we can’t find Alexey is particularly concerning because last week he felt unwell in the cell: he felt dizzy and lay down on the floor. Prison officials rushed to him, unfolded the bed, put Alexey on it and gave him an IV drip. We don’t know what caused it, but given that he’s being deprived of food, kept in a cell without ventilation and has been offered minimal outdoor time, it looks like fainting out of hunger,” Yarmysh wrote.

She added that the lawyers visited him after the incident, and he looked “more or less fine.”

Navalny is due to be transferred to a “special security” penal colony, a facility with the highest security level in the Russian penitentiary system. Russian prison transfers are notorious for taking a long time, sometimes weeks, during which there’s no access to prisoners, and information about their whereabouts is limited, or unavailable at all.

Navalny, 47, has been behind bars since January 2021. As President Vladimir Putin’s fiercest foe, he campaigned against official corruption and organized major anti-Kremlin protests. His 2021 arrest came upon his return to Moscow from Germany, where he recuperated from nerve agent poisoning that he blamed on the Kremlin.

Navalny has since been handed three prison terms and spent months in isolation in prison for alleged minor infractions. He has rejected all charges against him as politically motivated.

US-Russian Dual National Detained for ‘Rehabilitating Nazism’

A man with dual U.S.-Russian nationality has been placed in pre-trial custody in St. Petersburg for “rehabilitating Nazism” in posts on social media, the city’s court service said Saturday. 

Yuri Malev was charged over posts in which he was alleged to have denigrated the St. George’s ribbon, a symbol of Russian military valor. One contained obscene language and the other showed a picture of a corpse wearing the ribbon. 

The court service said this showed disrespect for society and insulted the memory of the Great Patriotic War, as Russians refer to World War II. 

The U.S. State Department said it was aware of the reported detention but had no further comment on the case. Representatives for Malev could not be immediately reached. 

‘Partially admitted guilt’

The court service statement said Malev, who was detained in St. Petersburg on Friday, had “partially admitted guilt,” but did not elaborate. He was placed in custody until February 7. 

Several Americans and dual citizens are being held in Russia, including former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan and Wall Street Journal journalist Evan Gershkovich. Earlier this week, the State Department said Russia had rejected a substantial proposal to release both men, who have been charged with spying, an allegation the United States has denied. 

Last week, a Russian court extended the pre-trial detention of Russian-American journalist Alsu Kurmasheva, charged with failing to register as a “foreign agent,” an offense that carries up to five years in prison. 

Iran Starts Trial of Swedish EU Employee Detained in 2022

An Iranian court has begun the trial of a Swedish national employed by the European Union who was detained last year, Sweden’s foreign minister said Saturday. 

“I have been informed that the trial of Johan Floderus has begun in Tehran,” Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom told Swedish news agency TT. 

“The Swedish charge d’affaires was at the court but was refused the right to participate in the trial. Sweden has … requested the right to be present when the trial resumes.” 

Floderus was detained in April 2022 while on holiday in Iran for what his family said was alleged spying. Billstrom did not specify what Floderus had been charged with.  


Floderus’ family has said he was detained “without any justifiable cause or due process.” 

Rights groups and Western governments have accused the Islamic Republic of trying to extract political concessions from other countries through arrests on security charges that may have been trumped up. Tehran says such arrests are based on its criminal code and denies holding people for political reasons. 

Relations between Sweden and Iran have been tense since 2019, when Sweden arrested a former Iranian official for his part in the mass execution and torture of political prisoners in the 1980s. Hamid Noury was sentenced to life in prison last year, prompting Iran to recall its envoy to Sweden in protest. 

In May, Iran executed a Swedish-Iranian dissident convicted of leading an Arab separatist group Tehran blames for a number of attacks including one on a military parade in 2018 that killed 25 people. 

Ukraine Condemns Planned Russian Presidential Election in Occupied Territory

Ukraine on Saturday strongly condemned Russia’s plans to hold presidential elections on occupied Ukrainian territory in the spring.

Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry called the planned elections “null and void” and pledged that any international observers sent to monitor them would “face criminal responsibility.”

Lawmakers in Russia on Thursday set the country’s 2024 presidential election for March 17.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday moved to prolong his repressive and unyielding grip on Russia for at least another six years, announcing his candidacy in the election. He is all but certain to win.

Russian authorities plan to arrange voting in Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson — territories Moscow illegally annexed from Ukraine in September last year but does not fully control — together with the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia illegally annexed in 2014.

The announcement of the presidential election follows local elections for Russian-installed legislatures in occupied parts of Ukraine in September. The votes were denounced as a sham by Kyiv and the West.

“We call on the international community to resolutely condemn Russia’s intention to hold presidential elections in the occupied Ukrainian territories, and to impose sanctions on those involved in their organization and conduct,” Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry said.

Belarus Opposition Planning to Issue Passports for Exiles  

Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya says she and her cabinet are planning to issue passports next year that could ease travel hurdles for many Belarusians forced to live in exile.

The political activist, who was declared the winner in the 2020 presidential election by outside observers but was forced into exile after incumbent Alexander Lukashenko seized power, told VOA in an interview in Washington on Thursday that issuing passports would be an unprecedented initiative for her exile government. Lukashenko has banned the country’s embassies from renewing passports for citizens who live abroad.

“I understand the fear [that some might have] about this project, but unconventional times need unconventional decisions. It is necessary to show dictators they cannot own people. They cannot make people return home and detain them,” Tsikhanouskaya said.

Tsikhanouskaya lives with her two children in Vilnius, Lithuania. Her husband, popular video blogger Siarhei Tsikhanouski, 43, was arrested shortly after announcing his candidacy for the 2020 presidential vote. Later, he was sentenced to 18 years in prison by the Lukashenko regime.

Tsikhanouskaya came to the U.S. capital with members of her cabinet to participate in the Strategic Dialogue, a bilateral forum between U.S. officials and the Belarusian Democratic Forces.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

VOA: I know you came to Washington this time to take part in this initiative called the Strategic Dialogue. Can you tell us more about it?

Belarus opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya: Strategic Dialogue is a new level of relationship between the USA and the democratic forces of Belarus. I hope that at the beginning of the strategic dialogue, working groups between the U.S. government and democratic forces will be launched on different topics.

We need a consistent focus on problems such as political prisoners in our country, threats to our independence, accountability for representatives of the regime who committed crimes against people, who became complicit in the war and abduction of Ukrainian children.

Of course, one important issue is commitment to the future because we all understand that sooner or later there will be negotiations between Russia and Ukraine, because of this war, and Belarus should be a part of that. Belarus shouldn’t be given as a consolation prize for [Russian President Vladimir] Putin during these negotiations.

VOA: In September, Lukashenko issued a decree basically banning the Belarusian embassies from issuing passports overseas to Belarusian citizens. Why do you think he has done that?

Tsikhanouskaya: Of course it’s revenge on all those people who are opposing the regime. And he can’t reach them because they live at the moment in peaceful countries, but they are not giving up the fight against Lukashenko’s regime. So that’s why he wants to make life more difficult for people, and of course, it’s a huge challenge for us because Belarusians can’t live illegally in different countries.

But when you can’t renew your passports, you can’t register your newborn children or you can’t get any documents, so it’s rather difficult. So that’s why we are working of course on this issue with our other credit partners, and we are proposing a short-term solution to this issue and a long-term solution.

As a short-term solution, we are asking to give passports of foreigners to Belarusian people and here in the USA to provide temporary protection status to Belarusians because of this extraordinary situation.

But what is more important for us is to issue our own passports – passports of new Belarus to Belarusians. It’s rather unprecedented. No one has done this before, but it will be the more systematic approach.

VOA: Who will be the issuing authority for these passports?

Tsikhanouskaya: It will be the united transitional cabinet that was launched last year, the government of the democratic forces [of Belarus].

VOA: When are you expecting to issue the first batch of passports?

Tsikhanouskaya: So the first specimen supposedly will be produced the beginning of next year. We will send the specimens to Brussels for them to evaluate and to capitals of different countries to see what can be done.

VOA: Are you in discussions with the U.S. government, with the EU, with other countries’ governments? Will they be accepting those passports, and what will be the standard for them?

Tsikhanouskaya: Actually, this project is [perceived] rather cautiously because nobody has done this before, and everything new is scary, usually. We haven’t heard any negative feedback on this project. But of course, you know, people have to take this into their hands, send it to [government] ministries for them to believe in the possibility of recognition.

But I know that it’s necessary for us, so that’s why we insist. We’ll explain why it’s necessary to do; we’ll give pros and cons of this. I understand some fear about this project. But I am simply sure that nonconventional times need nonconventional decisions, and it’s necessary to show dictators they can’t own people. They can make people return home and detain them, but to give opportunity to people to be inventive, to be creative, just support us.

[The U.S. State Department did not reply to VOA’s request for a comment about the passport initiative before publication.]

VOA: There was some controversy regarding what to actually call it. Is it like just an ID card? Is it a travel permit? Or is it a full-fledged national alternative Belarusian passport? What are they?

Tsikhanouskaya: It’s a good question, because I think that passport can play different roles. For sure, it’s an identification document – it will be given on the basis of your old passport – but for sure you will need visas in order to travel. It [also] will be a document to help apply for residence permits in different countries.

VOA: You call Moscow’s actions and dominance in Belarus “cultural and identity genocide” toward the Belarusian people. Can you please elaborate on what you mean by that?

Tsikhanouskaya: What’s happening in Belarus now with the allowance of illegitimate Lukashenko is a silent war. It’s not visible from abroad. Nobody pays attention that there is a process of Russification in Belarus. They take our joint Belarusian and European heroes, monuments from museums, and put “Russian” instead. They change road signs from Belarusian language to Russian. We see how they influence Belarusian media and education, in the military sphere, in the economic sphere. It’s a creeping occupation of our country. And it goes on without any attention from democratic countries. Our independence is at stake at the moment, and we need powerful countries who will help us protect it.

VOA: Why do you think Lukashenko is allowing this to happen? Because it looks like he may completely lose autonomy, and if things go south, he can be replaced by Moscow. No?

Tsikhanouskaya: Lukashenko has never valued everything Belarusian. He never speaks the Belarusian language. [Lukashenko has publicly spoken in Belarusian on just a few occasions.]

When he came to power, he changed our national symbols to pro-Soviet ones, and he’s the most pro-Soviet Union person or pro-Russian person in Belarus. He’s ready to sacrifice our serenity in exchange to stay in power. Moreover, I suppose that he dreams to be president of the whole Russian empire, to replace Putin instead.

German Foreign Minister Discusses Prisoners With Iranian Counterpart

Germany’s Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock discussed the fate of Germans held in Iran Friday with her Iranian counterpart Hossein Amirabdollahian, her ministry said. 

The two ministers held a telephone call with a “particular focus… on German consular cases,” the ministry wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter. 

Jamshid Sharmahd, a German citizen of Iranian descent, was abducted in late July 2020 by the Iranian authorities and sentenced earlier this year to be hanged for “corruption on earth.” 

Iran’s Supreme Court in April confirmed the death penalty. 

German-Iranian Nahid Taghavi, in her late 60s, was sentenced to 10 years and eight months in jail in August 2021 after being arrested at her Tehran apartment in October 2020.  

Taghavi was convicted on national security charges. 

Germany came under pressure over its Iran policy last week after a prominent women’s rights campaigner stormed out of a government meeting and accused officials of helping Tehran “silence dissidents.” 

Iranian-American activist Masih Alinejad said she had walked out of the meeting at the German foreign ministry after she was told the talks had to be “kept secret.” 

Sharmahd’s daughter, Gazelle Sharmahd, wrote a post on X in support of Alinejad. 

The families of German prisoners in Iran have been told by the German government for three years that “talks behind closed doors are better because publicity endangers the hostages,” she wrote. 

“But what has this public silence and confidential dialogue brought us?” 

A spokesperson for the foreign ministry responded that Germany’s “stance toward the Iranian regime is very clear and we condemn where it violates human rights.” 

Baerbock and Amirabdollahian on Friday also discussed “their different perspectives on regional issues,” the foreign ministry said. 

Baerbock “called on Iran to contribute to de-escalation,” it added. 

Ukraine’s Energy Infrastructure Crumbling Under Russian Attacks

Russian airstrikes, shelling and bad weather have damaged Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, leaving 500 settlements in intermittent energy blackouts.

Ukraine’s grid operator Ukrenergo reported that energy consumption hovered near record highs on Friday, straining the already fragile power grid.

For a second winter, Russia is targeting the country’s electric infrastructure, sending dozens of drones on an almost nightly basis to hit power-generating facilities and distribution networks across the country.

Ukrenergo said a thermal power plant in the east had again been damaged by systematic and prolonged shelling, and elsewhere a power facility had been shut down for emergency repairs.

Meanwhile Ukrenergo urged residents to economize on the use of electricity in the face of continued Russian attacks.

“This morning Ukrenergo again recorded a high level of consumption, which is almost equal to yesterday’s record,” the grid operator said in a statement, adding that consumption was at its highest levels so far this heating season.

Ukraine, an energy exporter before Russia’s invasion in February 2022, has been forced to turn to emergency power imports from neighboring Romania and Poland this week to meet demand, Ukrenergo said.

“The power system remains in a difficult situation. For now, there is no free capacity at power plants,” it said.

EU aid debate

The European Union will find ways to provide financial aid to Ukraine despite Hungary’s threat to veto EU assistance, a senior official said Friday. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has threatened to block the EU’s 50-billion-euro ($53 billion) budget proposal to assist Kyiv through 2027.

A senior EU official who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity said if Hungary does veto the aid package, the EU could allocate a smaller amount of money to Ukraine for a shorter time, or the other 26 EU countries could extend their national contributions bilaterally to Kyiv.

“We know how existential it is. European leaders are responsible people — at least 26,” said the official, who is involved in an EU summit scheduled for next week.

Ukraine depends on economic aid from the West to keep its defensive war against Russia going.

A senior EU diplomat, also speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, expressed hope that a compromise might be reached like last year when Orban objected to the EU’s $18 billion financial package aid to Ukraine but ultimately approved it after securing concessions from the EU for his country.

Hungary is also planning on blocking EU membership talks for Ukraine at next week’s summit.

The EU is due to consider a legal proposal on Tuesday allowing the use of sanctioned Russian frozen assets to help Ukraine. However, EU officials say Ukraine might not see the money any time soon because EU members are bickering over the amounts pledged for Ukraine.

The EU executive says some 28 billion euros worth of private Russian assets and a further 207 billion euros of the Russian central bank’s funds have been confiscated.

Some 125 billion euros of the latter sum is held by Belgian company Euroclear. Belgium estimated it would collect 2.3 billion euros in taxes on that in 2023-24. It said it would use those proceeds for Ukraine.

Putin presidency 2024

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced on Friday his candidacy in the presidential election next March, after a Kremlin award ceremony during which war veterans and others pleaded with him to seek reelection in what Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called “spontaneous” remarks.

Putin, who was handed the presidency by Boris Yeltsin on the last day of 1999, has already served as president for longer than any other ruler of Russia since Josef Stalin.

For Putin, 71, the election is a formality: With the support of the state, the state-run media and almost no mainstream public dissent, he is certain to win. He has no discernible successor.

About 80% of Russians approve of Putin’s performance, according to the independent pollster Levada Center. But it is not clear if that support is genuine or the result of Putin’s oppressive regime, which cracks down on any opposition.

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

Kremlin Propaganda on Uptick in Latin America

Javier Vrox, the host of a political program on a YouTube channel in Chile who constantly monitors social networks in his country, recently noticed an uptick in pro-Russian political messaging, which had already been common in the country.

“They copy and paste the same messages on social media — that [Ukrainian President Volodymyr] Zelenskyy is an actor, that he is a funny president; they copy those videos of Zelensky’s past TV series, making the point that he is an actor and a liar.”

According to Vrox, such reports aim to convince Chileans that Ukrainians only pretend to be victims of Russian aggression but are themselves a regional threat, and that NATO and the United States, by that logic, are its partners and equally hostile to Chile while Russia is a reliable ally.

“I think they’re doing a great job of tagging influencers, people from Twitter, now X, to share video messages and posts … to create the idea that if you’re a friend of the U.S., you’re an enemy to Chile,” said Vrox, who added that some posts referred to Ukrainian leaders as “Nazis,” even though Zelenskyy himself is Jewish.

These sentiments are not shared by Chilean President Gabriel Boric, who has publicly condemned Russian President Vladimir Putin for invading Ukraine and met with Zelenskyy in September 2023 during the U.N. General Assembly in New York to discuss a possible Ukraine-Latin America summit.

“Chileans don’t really support Ukraine; they think that Ukrainians are trying to manipulate the media to look like victims,” said Vrox. But “Boric supports Zelenskyy’s government, so a weird situation has developed.”

Well-funded network

James Rubin, the U.S. State Department’s Global Engagement Center special envoy and coordinator, agreed in an interview with VOA last month that Russia is “covertly co-opting local media and influencers to spread disinformation and propaganda” in Latin America.

In a public statement issued on November 7, the State Department said Russia “is currently financing an ongoing, well-funded disinformation campaign across Latin America,” spanning at least 13 countries, from Argentina and Chile in the south all the way to Mexico in the north.

“A cultivated group of editorial staff would be organized in a Latin American country, most likely in Chile, with several local individuals and representatives — journalists and public opinion leaders — of various countries in the region,” the statement said.

“A team in Russia would then create content and send the material to the editorial staff in Latin America for review, editing, and ultimately publication in local mass media.”

Christopher Hernandez-Roy of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, or CSIS, said Russia has a “legacy of propaganda” in the region going back to the Cold War.

Hernandez-Roy is a CSIS Americas Program deputy director and senior fellow.

The Soviets, he said, were “supporting revolutionary movements throughout the region, including military support in the case of Cuba, Nicaragua and other places, Central America in general, in the 70s and 80s.”

The annexation of Crimea in 2014, he said, became the starting point of a new wave of disinformation in the region.

“It’s around then that you start to see maybe an uptick in Russia’s influence or trying to influence narratives in the Western Hemisphere,” he told VOA. “In those three years — 2014, 2015 and 2016 — you start to see, for instance, ‘Russia Today’ coming online in Chile and Mexico, and I think in Argentina, as well.”

According to an October report by the United States Institute of Peace, Actualidad RT (Russia Today in Spanish) and Sputnik Mundo are the key purveyors of Russian state media in the region. Hernandez-Roy said these two media organizations have about 32 million regular listeners in Latin America, which has 667 million inhabitants.

“So, [even] 30 million is quite significant, and those are [merely] the overt ways,” he said. “Russia has a much more sophisticated apparatus than just simply its visible media outlets, [such as] using social media, sympathetic journalists, sympathetic influencers and Russian automated bots on social media. It can amplify its messages, which then are picked up by other sympathetic mechanisms.”

“We know [Actualidad RT] have offices in Havana, Buenos Aires and Caracas,” said Armando Daniel Armas, a Venezuelan opposition politician currently living in Europe. “We know that [Actualidad RT] have over 200 Spanish-speaking, let’s say, journalists working in Moscow … who allocate resources to find professional people, good people with content” to perpetuate Russian narratives on the ground in Latin American.

The object, according to U.S. officials, is to have Russian public relations and internet companies recruit and cultivate Latin American journalists, influencers and public opinion leaders to seed their publications and broadcasts with content favorable to Moscow while hiding any links to the Kremlin.

“They’ve been somewhat successful in using RT and Sputnik in Latin America,” Rubin told VOA in November. “The difference here is they’re trying to operate surreptitiously. They’re trying to create content in Russia and launder it through Latin American journalists. They are covertly co-opting local media and influencers to spread disinformation and propaganda.”

U.S. officials said it is unclear how many of the journalists and opinion leaders are aware they are being fed Russian disinformation, although a senior State Department official told VOA, “There are definitely some willing participants.”

Others involved in the network may be sympathetic to the Russian viewpoints but unaware that the directions are coming from Moscow.

Russia’s ultimate objective, said Hernandez-Roy, is to convince people in Latin America that Moscow is not the only one to blame — that there’s blame on both sides in a war caused by the U.S. and NATO.

“Essentially, what they’re trying to do is to make sure that the region is neutral,” said Hernandez-Roy. “We’re not talking about Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela, which, of course, are completely on the Russian side.”

Soft diplomacy

Yuriy Polyukhovych, Ukraine’s ambassador to Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, points to another asset utilized to influence opinions in Latin American that Moscow has used since Soviet times: its diplomatic corps.

“Russian ambassadors, Russian embassies here are a part of Russia’s propaganda machine,” he told VOA. “They’ve been doing their work for many years. These are not embassies of four or five persons. These embassies have 60, 70, 80 people each. Imagine what can be done with such a group of people! According to our information, some work for the intelligence service.”

At the same time, said Ukrainian Ambassador to Argentina Yuriy Klymenko, the Russian war against Ukraine at least somewhat undermined Russia’s standing in Latin America, presenting a diplomatic opportunity for the United States and its allies.

“From my experience, it is now considered bad manners to invite representatives of Russia to diplomatic or other public events,” he told VOA.

Yuriy Polyukhovych once called Latin America a region of “contact diplomacy,” emphasizing the need to work directly with local populations to counteract Russian influence. Hernandez-Roy suggested the U.S. project more soft power in the region.

“The U.S. used to project much more soft power decades ago than today,” he said. “Soft power means people-to-people exchanges, more high-level visits, cultural interchanges.”

Kyiv, he said, should allocate more resources to the region and conduct active diplomacy with high-level visits and ambassadors to counter Russian narratives.

This story originated in VOA’s Ukrainian Service. VOA National Security Correspondent Jeff Seldin contributed reporting.

Central Asian Trade Corridor Gains Interest Amid Regional Tensions

The emergence of a Middle Corridor — a transit network linking Asia with European markets by way of Central Asia, the Caspian Sea and the Caucasus — is rapidly gaining momentum as an alternative to Russia-controlled routes.

While the Trans-Caspian routes, also sometimes referred to as the China-Central Asia-West Asia Corridor, have come into their own over the past 30 years, Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine has prompted a significant increase in traffic over the routes.

Gaidar Abdikerimov, who heads the Trans-Caspian International Transport Route (TITR) association, reports that his network now comprises 25 transport and logistics companies including ports, vessels, railways and terminals. Its members also include 11 countries: Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Turkey, Ukraine, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Lithuania, China and Singapore.

“This all means that there is a high interest in our route,” Abdikerimov said in a recent forum at the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute (CACI) in Washington. He told the audience that over the past 10 months, more than 2.256 million tons of cargo have been transported over the route.

Abdikerimov’s office is based in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan. The oil-rich republic stretches from China’s northwestern frontier to the Caspian Sea, where cargo can be offloaded onto ships and carried to Azerbaijan in the Caucasus.

“We have decreased the estimated delivery time of transit container trains from 38 days to 19 days,” he said.

The World Bank stressed the “catalyzing potential” of the Middle Corridor in a November 27 report that focused on its beneficial impact on Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Georgia – Azerbaijan’s western neighbor providing access to the Black Sea.

“There was indeed a spike in the volume of traffic in 2022,” said Charles Kunaka, a lead transport specialist at the World Bank. “We see the Middle Corridor as adding to the resilience of the transport networks across the region, and especially connectivity between Europe, Central Asia, and East Asia.”

The World Bank foresees two major types of commerce flowing through the Middle Corridor, the first being trade between China and Europe.

“We see this type of trade as being relatively elastic. And we saw this in the immediate aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, that most of this trade initially switched to the Middle Corridor,” Kunaka said in a presentation to the CACI forum.

“But after some time, because of the constraints that still affect the performance of the Middle Corridor, we see some of this trade switching to maritime transport, for instance.”

The second flow is within the region itself, which the World Bank sees as a “more solid foundation for the development of the Middle Corridor.” Much of the traffic in this category involves fertilizers, minerals and grains.

Kunaka underscored the importance of collaboration among governments, the private sector, development banks and other relevant institutions if the route is to overcome several obstacles to its continued growth, including logistical and bureaucratic bottlenecks.

Grievances expressed by stakeholders in the project include high costs, unreliability, bottlenecks, poor service quality and a lack of transparency and traceability, he said.

Digitalization and the use of electronic documents by both the railways and on the Caspian Sea would ease the process, Kanaka suggested.

“A combination of investments and efficiency measures can reduce travel times along the corridor by half and triple trade flows by 2030,” said the World Bank report. “A fully functioning corridor would help to shield China-Europe trade and supply chains from shocks.”

Abdikerimov agreed, stressing that the Trans-Caspian routes must also connect with the Black Sea ports.

“Speed, quality service, sustainability and safety. We are systematically going towards these goals,” he said at the CACI forum.

Brenda Shaffer of the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, believes the World Bank study is an indication that “the Middle Corridor is increasingly of interest to multiple stakeholders.”

Speaking on the same virtual panel as Abdikerimov, Shaffer described an emerging alliance among Turkey, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, pointing to a growing convergence in the messaging of these countries’ diplomats in Washington and other capitals.

She thinks the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine “created a security threat to the region, especially to those that border Russia, such as Kazakhstan.”

For Shaffer, Turkey is a unique player, steadily boosting its role in the Caspian region.

By backing Azerbaijan during its invasion to reconquer the unrecognized republic of Nagorno-Karabakh, which had been under the de facto control of ethnic Armenians since the early 1990s, Ankara demonstrated “that cooperation with Turkey can have meaningful security benefits.”

She also expects Turkmenistan’s gas exports — currently directed mainly toward China — to shift westward.

“Increasing volumes of oil are going across the Caspian in various forms of small tankers,” she said, adding that all sides find it in their interests to increase those volumes significantly.

“Turkmenistan is dealing with potential demand destruction or lack of reliability of demand from China, surprisingly, for gas. As Russia increases its gas exports to China, they’re cheaper,” Shaffer said.

CACI’s Mamuka Tsereteli urges the U.S. government to focus on the value of increasing connectivity across the Black and Caspian seas through Central Asia and beyond.

“For Central and Eastern European states with a decades-long dependency on Russian resources in Russia-linked infrastructure, South Caucasus and Central Asia are major potential alternatives,” Tsereteli said.

Tsereteli hopes the United States and the EU will help in the development of the Middle Corridor, pointing out that Central Asia is also a large market for Western goods and services.

Kazakhstan’s Abdikerimov underlined that “Russia is definitely not fond of this Middle Corridor,” even though the goal has never been to avoid or exclude it. He said the Trans-Caspian transport network he oversees has always had its eyes on Turkey, North Africa and Southern Europe.

Rights Group Claims Company Intimidates Communities Along Tanzania-Uganda Oil Pipeline

The French oil company TotalEnergies coerces and intimidates communities affected by the $5 billion East African Crude Oil Pipeline project in Tanzania and Uganda, a human rights organization said this week.

Residents along the 1,443-kilometer (870-mile) pipeline route are forced to accept inadequate compensation for their land, according to Global Witness, a human rights and environmental organization.

Global Witness accused TotalEnergies of collaborating with Tanzanian and Ugandan authorities to suppress efforts by communities seeking accurate compensation for land taken for the oil pipeline.

The pipeline route stretches from Tanzania’s port city of Tanga to Lake Albert in Uganda.

TotalEnergies has denied the allegations.

Neither country has commented on the report, but previous criticism, including that from Human Rights Watch and court cases against the displacement and abuses, has not stopped or affected the project.

The Global Witness report

Hanna Hindstrom, a senior investigator in the Global Witness land and environmental defender campaign, told VOA that TotalEnergies is directly involved in human rights violations.

“We found evidence suggesting that TotalEnergies, through its subsidiary, its contractors and partners, has been party to intimidation and bullying of community members affected by the project,” Hindstrom said. “Many people we spoke to say they were pressured into accepting compensation for their land and their property that they felt was too low as a result of a climate of fear in both countries.”

She said the company benefits from the authoritarian political environment in Tanzania and Uganda in which environmental defenders find it “all but impossible to speak up against fossil fuel development.”

Global Witness said it spoke to activists, experts, journalists and more than 200 people affected by the multibillion-dollar project.

Farmer Jealousy Mugisha, 51, is one of many people who said they are losing their land to pave the way for the pipeline.

The father of seven told VOA he lost his land twice. First, in 2017, when more than a dozen hectares were taken for a processing plant used as an oil collection point. Then, in 2019, he lost 2½ hectares in the pipeline route.

He refused any compensation offered to him, saying it was not enough.

“Our target is not that we want to sabotage a government program or oil project program,” Mugisha said, “but … we need them to respect our rights. … [People’s] land was taken, and now they are suffering.”

He said, “We need to get fair compensation, adequate compensation and promotive compensation. That is the only thing we are claiming.”

Land use and compensation

According to the East African Crude Oil Pipeline project, in the first phase of land acquisition, landowners could continue to use their land. The landowners said they were allowed to plant seasonal agricultural produce such as corn and sweet potatoes.

Further into the project, compensation to the evicted owners was calculated with a “disturbance allowance” and an increase to reflect the time elapsed since original surveys of the land, according to project documents.

Some landowners filed cases challenging the evictions and low compensation in a local court and a French court.

TotalEnergies has denied allegations they have intimidated anyone affected by the project. The oil firm says it has instituted numerous support mechanisms to ensure that those affected sign agreements only of their own free will.

The company also said it treats the people’s concerns with the utmost seriousness.

Harassment and intimidation reported

Maxwell Atuhura, head of Tasha Research Institute in Uganda and an environmental activist, said he came under attack for challenging the pipeline project.

“My field office was closed … and [I was] given two hours to leave the place, to leave my own district, my own area,” he said. “The security man working for an oil company is telling me that ‘I’m giving you a few hours to leave the district.’ Where do you want me to go?”

Atuhura said he also has been harassed.

“Since then, they started trailing me, and my phone is surveilled,” he said. “I started seeing the experience of my house being broken into.”

About 80% of the project will be in Tanzania, with the rest in Uganda. Global Witness said the oil pipeline, for which construction began this year after years of delay, will cut across wildlife habitats, protected areas and Indigenous land.

The pipeline project said that Tanzania and Uganda regulators have approved the environmental and societal impacts, and that the project seeks to avoid populated and environmentally sensitive areas.

Global Witness has called for an official investigation of the alleged rights abuses.

White House and Republicans Stuck in Ukraine Funding Impasse

The Biden administration is running out of time to secure a deal on tens of billions of dollars in wartime aid for Ukraine and Israel that Senate Republicans blocked Wednesday. President Joe Biden has signaled he is willing to compromise on Republicans’ demands on border security to get the package through. But his aides accuse Republicans of ignoring Biden’s proposal. White House Bureau Chief Patsy Widakuswara reports. Camera: Oleksii Osyka. Contributors: Tatiana Vorozhko, Katherine Gypson.

Japan Pledges $4.5 Billion to Ukraine

Japan has pledged $4.5 billion to Ukraine for its war against Russia, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced Thursday, $1 billion of which is designated for humanitarian aid.

“Japan is consistent and very principled in its support of our country and our people, and I am grateful for this assistance,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his daily address Thursday.  He said Japan’s decision to support Ukraine was “very timely and much-needed.”

A Russian drone attack killed one person and damaged port infrastructure in Ukraine’s Odesa region, the regional governor said Thursday.

Oleh Kiper said Odesa was under attack for two hours, and that while air defenses shot down most of the Russian drones involved, some of them made it through.

He identified the victim as a truck driver, and said the drone attack damaged a warehouse, elevator and trucks near the Danube River.

Ukraine’s military said Russia’s aerial attack involved a total of 18 drones targeting Odesa in southern Ukraine and the Khmelnytskyi region in the western part of the country.

Ukrainian air defenses shot down 15 of the 18 drones, the military said.

U.S. aid

Republican lawmakers in the U.S. Senate on Wednesday blocked $110 billion in aid for Ukraine and Israel, as well as some security measures for the U.S. southern border.

U.S. President Joe Biden had asked Congress for almost $106 billion to fund the wars and border needs.

The vote Wednesday was 49 votes in favor and 51 against, leaving the measure short of the 60 votes needed in order to proceed.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who supports Ukraine aid, told his party members to reject the aid package because it did not include policy changes, something lawmakers have fought over for years.

Earlier Wednesday, Biden implored Congress to approve more arms aid for Ukraine, saying that failing to pass the assistance would be the “greatest gift” the United States could hand Russian President Vladimir Putin in Putin’s nearly two-year war against the neighboring country.

At the same time, the U.S. Defense Department announced new security assistance for Ukraine that is the Biden administration’s 52nd allotment of equipment for Ukraine since August 2021. It contains air defense capabilities, artillery ammunition, anti-tank weapons and other equipment.

The $175 million military aid package includes guided missiles for the High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS, anti-armor systems, and high-speed anti-radiation missiles, according to the Pentagon and State Department.

Speaking briefly at the White House, the U.S. leader said that if Putin defeats Ukraine, “it won’t stop there,” and Moscow would invade neighboring NATO countries the U.S. is legally bound to defend.

“If NATO is attacked,” Biden said, “We’ll have American troops fighting Russian troops. We can’t let Putin win.”

With the new tranche of aid, Biden emphasized in a statement that “security assistance for Ukraine is a smart investment in our national security. It helps to prevent a larger war in the region and deter potential aggression elsewhere.”

Some Republican lawmakers in both the Senate and House of Representatives say they will not approve the additional Ukraine assistance without adopting much stricter U.S.-Mexico border controls, such as blocking all illegal migration.

Biden said, “I support real solutions at the border … to fix the broken immigration system,” but called for a compromise with opposition Republicans, not blanket acceptance of shutting the border, one of the demands of some Republicans.

The president said Republicans “have to decide whether they want a political solution or a real solution. This has to be a compromise.”

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