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At G20 Meeting, Western Ministers Criticize Russia Over Ukraine

RIO DE JANEIRO — Western foreign ministers from the G20 group of nations meeting in Brazil on Wednesday attacked Russia for its invasion of Ukraine as Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov listened, diplomats said.

“Russia must be made to pay for its aggression,” British Foreign Minister David Cameron told the closed session, according to his office.

The top diplomats from the United States, Australia, Canada, Germany, Italy, France and Norway made similar remarks on the first day of a two-day meeting.

Norwegian Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide told reporters that Lavrov calmly replied to Cameron’s remarks with “a set of alternative facts” about events in Ukraine.

Lavrov did not speak to reporters. Russia’s justification of its “special military operation” in Ukraine, which began two years ago, initially was to “de-Nazify” Ukraine. More recently, Moscow has emphasized that it needs to defend against Western aggression.

The meeting was set to prepare the agenda for a G20 summit in November. At a summit in September, G20 leaders adopted a declaration that avoided condemning Russia for the war in Ukraine but called on all states not to use force to grab territory.

Cameron also noted the death of dissident Alexey Navalny in a Russian prison last week.

Eide said the G20 session in Rio focused mainly on conflicts in Gaza and Ukraine. “We have to support Ukraine until it emerges as a free and independent sovereign country without another army on its soil,” the Norwegian minister said he told the meeting.

Eide said the ministers who spoke at the meeting agreed with the need for a two-state solution in the Middle East but there was no consensus on how to achieve it.

Brazil, this year’s president of the G20, opened the foreign ministers’ meeting by blaming the United Nations and other multinational bodies for failing to stop conflicts that are killing innocent people.

Foreign Minister Mauro Vieira called for “profound reform” of global governance as Brazil’s top priority this year.

“Multilateral institutions are not adequately equipped to deal with current challenges, as demonstrated by the Security Council’s unacceptable paralysis in relation to ongoing conflicts,” Vieira said at the meeting.

“This state of inaction results in the loss of innocent lives,” he said.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Brazilian President Luiz Ignacio Lula da Silva in Brasilia on his way to the Rio meeting and expressed U.S. support for Brazil’s agenda to make global governance more effective.

The top U.S. diplomat discussed Israel’s war in Gaza with Lula amid a diplomatic spat after the Brazilian leader likened Israel’s war to the Nazi genocide during World War Two, a U.S. spokesperson told reporters.

Lula’s accusations last week of atrocities by Israel in Gaza triggered a diplomatic crisis with an Israeli reprimand and Brazil recalling its ambassador.

Russia Takes Center Stage in US Political Battle

The death of Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny has put Russia in the center of American political discourse and has increased pressure on congressional Republicans to support Ukraine. Meanwhile, President Joe Biden and his main challenger, former President Donald Trump, take opposing views heading into the November U.S. election. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Washington.

Russia Takes Center Stage in US Political Battle

washington — Russia has taken center stage in American political discourse after the death of a prominent opposition figure there, putting congressional Republicans under increased pressure to support Ukraine.

U.S. President Joe Biden has highlighted in his recent statements one of the differences between him and his challenger, former U.S. President Donald Trump.

At a recent rally, Trump said that if he were president and a NATO member fell short of its financial commitments to the security bloc, he would not protect that ally. “In fact, I would encourage them” — meaning Russia — “to do whatever the hell they want,” Trump said.

“Every president since Truman has been a rock-solid supporter of NATO, except for Donald Trump,” a stentorian male voice intones in an ad released this week by the Biden campaign. “Trump wants to walk away from NATO. He’s even given Putin and Russia the green light to attack America’s allies. … No president has ever said anything like it. It’s shameful. It’s weak. It’s dangerous. It’s un-American.”

The divide was further compounded by the death last week of opposition leader Alexey Navalny in a Russian prison.

Biden has been quick to lay blame and threaten stiff sanctions over the 47-year-old’s death in an Arctic penal colony, which Russian officials say was caused by “sudden death syndrome.”

“The fact of the matter is, Putin is responsible,” Biden said. “Whether he ordered it, he’s responsible for the circumstances they put that man in. And it’s a reflection of who he is. It just cannot be tolerated. I said there will be a price to pay.”

The Kremlin said Biden’s allegation is “unfounded” and “insolent,” but authorities have denied Navalny’s mother access to his body.

A different line

Trump and his Republican Party have taken a different line, with Trump saying he would not support NATO as strongly as Biden has. And, in a recent event with Fox News, he cast himself as a victim of political persecution, like Navalny.

“It’s a horrible thing, but it’s happening in our country, too,” Trump said Tuesday night. “We are turning into a communist country in many ways. And if you look at it, I’m the leading candidate. I get … I never heard of being indicted before. … I got indicted four times, I have eight or nine trials, all because of the fact that — and you know this — all because of the fact that I’m in politics.”

Trump was vague on how he’d end the war, instead saying that if he were president, Putin would never have invaded Ukraine.

Republicans have grown more vocal in questioning why they should fund the conflict. Russian forces recently captured a key Ukrainian city, Avdiivka, which the White House points to as proof that Ukrainian forces need urgent help.

In urging members of Congress to pass a $60 billion aid package for Ukraine, national security adviser Jake Sullivan argued it is “in our cold-blooded, national security interest to help Ukraine stand up to Putin’s vicious and brutal invasion.”

“We know from history that when dictators aren’t stopped, they keep going,” Sullivan told reporters this week in a briefing. “The cost for America rises, and the consequences get more and more severe for our NATO allies and elsewhere in the world.”

Some Republicans are confident that they will pass the stalled $95 billion aid package, most of which is for Ukraine.

“I think the slow response from Europe and the United States, of course, that hurts Ukraine,” Republican Representative Brian Fitzpatrick said on a recent visit to Ukraine. “And that’s why we can’t let this happen, why we’re going to get something done.”

War’s symbolism grows

Meanwhile, as Ukraine nears the second anniversary of the invasion and U.S. aid hangs in the balance, the war has taken on greater symbolic meaning.

“This has become about America,” journalist and author Peter Pomerantsev told VOA’s Russian Service via Skype. He is also a senior fellow at the SNF Agora Institute at Johns Hopkins University. “Will America continue to play the role of a power that keeps its promises, that respects its alliances and that is capable of projecting strength?

“Or is America over as a serious power? That’s the question now,” he said. “It’s no longer about Russia or Ukraine. Now all eyes of the world are on America, and the way America decides will have epic consequences.”

VOA’s Rafael R. Saakyan contributed to this report from Washington.

After Navalny’s Death, Family of Jailed Azerbaijani Activist Fears for His Life

Baku, Azerbaijan  — The prison death last week of Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny has elevated fears for the welfare of politically active prisoners in neighboring Azerbaijan, including economist Gubad Ibadoglu.

“As his family, we are worried that my brother may be physically destroyed in the conditions of the detention center,” Ibadoglu’s brother, Qalib Toghrul, told VOA.

Toghrul said he last saw Ibadoglu on February 17 and that his health had significantly deteriorated.

“Now, I am unequivocally convinced that they are carrying out the process of purposefully destroying my brother’s body, part by part,” Toghrul said. “Of course, after Navalny’s death, we are under great tension and anxiety that the level of danger, the risk of danger to my brother’s life, has increased even more.”

Ibadoglu, chairman of the Democracy and Prosperity Party, has been in pretrial detention since July 2023, charged with the acquisition or sale of counterfeit money or foreign currency by an organized group and the preparation, storage, or distribution of religious extremist materials.

Ibadoglu denies the accusations and says his arrest is a political order related to his political activism.

Bahruz Maharramov, a member of the Azerbaijani Parliament, told VOA that neither Ibadoglu nor any other person is subjected to any illegal or unnecessary procedural coercive measures.

“In this sense, it should be noted once again that the arrest of Ibadoglu is not a political issue,” he said. “A criminal prosecution has been initiated on specific facts, and the main goal of the state structures during the investigation is to ensure the implementation of this process on the basis of equality of rights before the law and the court in the criminal process.”

According to Toghrul, Ibadoglu suffers from several health issues. Ibadoglu receives IV treatment at the medical unit of the Baku Pre-Trial Detention Center, “but after the IV is done, they immediately take him to his cell without allowing him to lie down and rest for even a minute,” said Toghrul.

He said that though the Penitentiary Service has a specialized treatment facility for IV therapy and “other complex inpatient treatments,” authorities refuse to transfer Ibadoglu there.

VOA sought comment from the Penitentiary Service, the Office of the Ombudsman, the Baku Detention Center and the investigative body conducting the criminal case but have yet to receive a response.

Opposition leader’s family concerned

The family of opposition leader Tofiq Yagublu is also voicing concern about his deteriorating health.

“We are very worried about his weight loss. Now, he is being examined at the initiative of the Penitentiary Service,” his daughter, Nigar Hezi, told VOA.

Hezi believes the deaths of Navalny and other political prisoners in Russia and neighboring countries warrant extra attention to be paid to political prisoners in Azerbaijan.

“Navalny’s death in Russia has created a trend in the post-Soviet countries,” she said. “After Navalny, a journalist died in Belarus. All this is cause for concern.”

Yagublu has been arrested numerous times and is being held in pretrial detention on charges of “massive fraud.”

International organizations have recognized him as a prisoner of conscience.

International calls

“If [President Ilham] Aliyev attends, other leaders must press him to release Gubad Ibadoglu from illegal detention,” former U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan Richard Kauzlarich wrote on X, before the Munich Security Conference. “Otherwise, like Navalny, Gubad may die in prison.”

A number of countries and international organizations, including the U.S. State Department and U.S. senators and representatives, have called for Ibadoglu’s release.

U.S. Representative David Rouzer introduced a resolution in the U.S. House of Representatives last week condemning Ibadoglu’s treatment.

The resolution also urges the secretary of state to “continue prioritizing Dr. Ibadoglu’s well-being and release in all engagements with the Government of Azerbaijan.”

On February 15, Ibadoglu’s pretrial detention was extended by three months.

This story originated in VOA’s Azerbaijani Service.

Q&A: US Ambassador in Ukraine Reaffirms American Support as War Drags On

Kyiv — U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Bridget Brink is reassuring Ukrainians that Washington intends to help them finish the job as the country enters another year of war against Russian invaders. Since the onset of Russia’s full-scale assault on Feb. 24, 2022, Brink said the U.S. has earmarked billions of dollars to Ukraine’s war effort, all under what she says is strict oversight.

In an interview with VOA Eastern Europe Bureau Chief Myroslava Gongadze, the U.S. diplomat reaffirmed that the U.S. remains committed to supporting Ukraine, despite the growing debate in Washington and in European capitals about the future of funding for military aid to the country.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

VOA: You arrived in Ukraine as a U.S. ambassador a few months after the full-scale invasion of Ukraine. How did you find Ukraine back then? And how do you find Ukraine now?

U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Bridget Brink: I found Ukraine and Ukrainians tough and resilient. And I find it exactly the same today. And I’m really proud we have supported Ukraine. We just have to help you finish the job.

VOA: Today, Ukraine is in dire need of military support. There are delays in Congress for this support. How are you explaining to Ukrainians why it’s taken so long for the U.S. to decide when and how they will support Ukraine?

Brink: Well, what I’ve been explaining to Ukrainians is that there’s bipartisan support for Ukraine in America and in our Congress. I have been doing and the president and everyone in the administration has been doing everything possible to communicate to Congress and also to the American people why it’s important to support Ukraine. And we will continue to do that.

VOA: Despite Congressional inaction to send much needed support, Pew Research Institute had research [showing] 73% of Americans supporting Ukraine as a national security interest for the United States. There is bipartisan, as you said, support in Congress as well. Is Ukraine winning in the U.S. national interest

Brink: Absolutely, yes. As President [Joe] Biden said, we support Ukraine winning this war, making sure that it’s a strategic defeat for [Russian President Vladimir] Putin. And I think there’s broad support for that in the Congress and among the American people.

VOA: Conservative voices in [the U.S.] Congress are asking about accountability on U.S. aid for Ukraine. U.S. inspectors recently visited Kyiv. Can you give us some insight [into how their audits went]? How [does] the accountability process work here in Ukraine?

Brink: I can tell you we’re watching like a hawk from the Embassy. About a third of my team is devoted to oversight. We also have three inspectors general who are at the Embassy, as well. And they have a staff of 400 people around the world. So, there is oversight happening, both with the Ukrainians, with us at the Embassy, and also just generally.

VOA: Do they have access to the facilities where those weapons and other ammunition are held?

Brink: They have access to every place that we can get to physically, and to places where they can’t have access, for example, on the front lines, we have developed some alternative means to account for things like weapons.

VOA: What are [those] alternative means?

Brink: I probably can’t say specifically, but we have found ways that we can adhere to the policies and the law, without putting people at risk.

VOA: In the last two years, the United States helped Ukraine a lot militarily, but a lot of money actually stays in the United States. In the rural [communities] that produce those weapons. Do you have some insights into how the money is spent?

Brink: Actually, the money that we are allocating to Ukraine is spent in 31 states across the nation, and that includes Patriot missiles in Arizona. It includes artillery in Pennsylvania. It includes even vehicles from my home state of Michigan. So, this is actually also very important to Americans and American jobs while it also supports Ukraine.

VOA: [The] Ukrainian economy, despite the war and significant downturn, [has] survived. The U.S. helped a lot. What is the outlook for the next year for [the] Ukrainian economy, from your perspective? And what new mechanism are you planning to use to help Ukraine to survive economically?

Brink: This is actually, maybe, one of the biggest successes that Ukraine has had outside of the military sphere. Your economy, the Ukrainian economy, has grown by 5% in the last year. It’s phenomenal. [A] big part of that is Ukrainian ability to continue exports. And that was done even though Russia pulled out of the Black Sea grain initiative. Through incredibly brave and creative efforts, a new corridor was created out of the Black Sea ports. And now 760 ships and over 23 million metric tons of goods have set sail safely. And that’s important to the world because it’s getting grain and other supplies out, but also very important to Ukraine’s economy.

VOA: I talked to Ukrainian business, and they are really appreciative of, especially, [the] insurance mechanism the Western financial institutions are using. Are you planning to expand that effort?

Brink: Yes. We’re working together with Ukrainian government as well as other partners to support in every way we can. Increasing exports out of the Black Sea ports, out of the Danube ports, and also improving border crossings and other things to facilitate these exports and ultimately bring money back into state coffers. This is a big part of our assistance, and it’s supporting Ukraine’s ability to sustain itself.

VOA: What is your outlook for the next year, for Ukraine, and for the region?

Brink: It’s the same as when I started. Ukraine must win. The United States, together with partners and allies, are going to continue to support Ukrainians in this objective. And what that means is to reclaim their territories, to move closer to Europe, to the EU and ultimately to NATO; to move toward what Ukrainians want, which is a sovereign, independent, prosperous country that’s integrated into Euro-Atlantic institutions, that will be a strong and important partner for the United States. And that’s what we support.

Anna Chernikova contributed to this report.

Czech Republic Extradites Suspect in Iran-Backed Murder Plot to US

PRAGUE — The Czech Republic on Wednesday extradited a man facing charges in the United States for plotting the murder of a prominent critic of Iran’s government, the Czech Justice Ministry said. 

The ministry said Polad Omarov was handed to representatives of U.S. authorities at the Prague Vaclav Havel Airport on Wednesday morning after the suspect had exhausted all options of appeal. 

Omarov was arrested in the Czech Republic in January 2023. The ministry said the justice minister had ruled in July last year in favor of extradition, but the action was delayed by the suspect’s complaint with the constitutional court, which was rejected. 

Omarov, along with Rafat Amirov and Khalid Mehdiyev, were charged with murder-for-hire and money laundering for their roles in the thwarted Tehran-backed assassination attempt of a critic of Iran’s government who is a U.S. citizen and lives in Brooklyn, New York. 

The U.S. did not name the alleged victim when it detailed charges in January 2023, but Mehdiyev was arrested in 2022 in New York for having a rifle outside the Brooklyn home of journalist Masih Alinejad. A longtime critic of Iran’s head-covering laws has promoted videos of women violating those laws to her millions of social media followers. 

U.S. prosecutors in 2021 also charged four Iranians alleged to be intelligence operatives for Tehran with plotting to kidnap a New York-based journalist and activist. While the target of that plot was not named, Reuters confirmed it was Alinejad. 

U.S. prosecutors have said Omarov was a resident of the Czech Republic and Slovenia. The Czech Justice Ministry said on Wednesday he was a citizen of Georgia.  

Medics Set Up Blood Transfusion Station Near Donbas Front Line

When Ukrainian soldiers are wounded during combat, they are taken to what is called a stabilization point, where combat medics take care of them. Now, thanks to overseas donors, medics at one of the stabilization points in Ukraine’s Donbas region can perform blood transfusions. Anna Kosstutschenko has the story. VOA footage by Pavel Suhodolskiy.

Isolated in Europe, Hungary’s Prime Minister Hopes for Return of Trump

Budapest, Hungary — Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has been in power for almost 14 years, making him the European Union’s longest-serving head of state. Critics at home and abroad say the 52-year-old has systematically tightened his grip on power by eroding democratic institutions and has long been a thorn in the side of European and NATO unity, threatening to block support for Ukraine and European Union sanctions on Russia.

Despite EU efforts to curb Hungary’s behavior, Orban believes that he will soon have new allies in the West. In a recent speech, he said there are “great opportunities ahead” for Hungary as both the EU and the United States hold crucial elections later this year.

“Electoral autocracy”

Orban’s opponents in Hungary portray a political landscape dominated by the prime minister’s Fidesz party.

For 35-year-old Marton Tompos, an opposition lawmaker with the Momentum Party, Viktor Orban has been in power almost all his adult life. “Hungarian politics is a show. Officially you can have a vote. In practice, the election system is so rigged that there is a very slim chance that any change can happen,” he said.

Critics say the prime minister has amassed power and wealth by co-opting state institutions.

“Mr. Orban’s party is so intertwined with all the institutions, all the authorities, all levels of the Hungarian state, that it’s not really, I would say, a complete democracy anymore, but a hybrid regime, a ‘spin’ dictatorship,” Tompos told VOA.

In 2022, the European Parliament passed a resolution decrying the state of democracy in Hungary, stating that it had become a “hybrid regime of electoral autocracy.”

Orban amended the Hungarian constitution in 2011 and has since changed hundreds of laws critics say favor his party by means that include the redrawing of electoral districts. Fidesz loyalists are also in charge of key institutions, among them the chief prosecutor and the head of the media authority.

Press freedom

Recent estimates suggest Orban and his Fidesz party own or control up to 90% of Hungarian media.

One of the few remaining independent news outlets is Direkt36, co-founded by Andras Petho after his previous employer, Origo, was bought by Fidesz loyalists in 2015.

“I had to quit that job because of political pressure. And we faced the choice, with my colleagues, that if you want to do independent journalism, then we have to set up our own organization,” Petho told VOA.

“It’s increasingly more difficult to get information from official sources. We also face a lot of mostly propagandistic attacks from certain mostly pro-government propaganda machineries.” Petho said two journalists working for Direkt36 were put under government surveillance using the Israeli-made “Pegasus” spy software on their mobile phones.

Soon after Orban came to power in 2010, publicly owned media channels were put under government control.

“They became like a mouthpiece for the government,” Petho said. “And now what they broadcast is almost purely propaganda, pro-government propaganda – often pro-Russian narratives, pro-Russian propaganda. And once they were done with that takeover, they moved onto private media companies.”

“This is not about having a few newspapers or TV stations or radio channels that are kind of sympathetic to the government. We are talking about hundreds of outlets — digital, print, TV, radio, local, national. Everything. They cover the whole spectrum. It’s a whole media ecosystem that serves only one purpose, which is to spread the government’s messages. It’s not journalism. They spread lies intentionally,” Petho said.

Anti-EU campaign

Those messages are increasingly targeted at the European Union. The bloc accuses Hungary of breaching the fundamental rule of law and has frozen billions of dollars in EU funds. In return, Orban has launched a propaganda campaign against the EU, with billboards across the country denouncing European policies and declaring that Hungary “won’t dance to Brussels’ tune.”

The Fidesz rhetoric employs familiar slogans that feed an intensifying culture war in the country, said Peter Kreko, executive director of the Political Capital research group in Budapest.

“It’s about immigration, it’s about anti-LBGTQ, it’s about anti-woke, anti-gender. It’s about ‘Make the country great again.’ It’s about our country first, other countries are second. And it’s increasingly about a notion that the Western liberal democratic order is about to collapse.”

 

Polish loss

Orban lost a key ally in his fight with Brussels in October. Poland’s right-wing Law and Justice party, a close former ally of Fidesz, was voted out of office in national elections, to be replaced by a coalition led by Donald Tusk, a former president of the European Council.

The same fate is unlikely to befall Orban, said Barbara Grabowska-Moroz, director of the Rule of Law Clinic at the Central European University’s Democracy Institute in Budapest.

“Comparing with Hungary, there are still quite a lot of independent media outlets in Poland,” she said. “So, there were still sources of information about what is happening with public spending by the government. People were able [to know] what were the wrongdoings of the government.

“That source of information is an absolutely crucial element here. So, I guess this kind of depth of process of changing the state and capturing it, is just way more advanced here in Hungary” compared to Poland, Grabowska-Moroz told VOA.

Despite the loss of his Polish ally, Orban’s position is secure, said journalist Andras Petho of Direkt36.

“Orban has a much tighter control over the country. He’s been working to achieve this for three decades. He had a lot of time. That’s one thing,” Petho said. “And the other thing is that the opposition is in a really bad shape in Hungary. You just have to look at the polls. Even after years of really high inflation and all kinds of economic troubles, they just couldn’t take advantage of that.”

Government response

Orban’s official spokesperson, along with Hungarian government ministries and the Fidesz party, did not respond to repeated VOA requests for comment. The prime minister has previously denied that democracy and press freedom are under threat in Hungary and denied putting journalists under surveillance.

Despite the growing chorus of criticism from Hungary’s Western allies over the state of democracy in the country, Orban shows no intention of changing course.

 

Trump hopes

European Parliamentary elections in June look set to deliver strong results for right-wing populist parties across the bloc, potentially bolstering Hungary’s position within the EU.

Meanwhile, November’s presidential election in the United States looks like it will be a tight race between incumbent Joe Biden and Donald Trump.

Orban believes political momentum is on his side. “There are great opportunities ahead of us. The world political scene at the end of the year will have a completely different picture than it is at the beginning of the year,” Orban predicted in his annual televised address February 17.

“We can’t get involved in another country’s elections, but we would really like President Donald Trump to return to the presidency and make peace here in the eastern half of Europe,” Orban said.

French WWII Resistance Hero Inducted into Panthéon

PARIS — While France hosts grandiose ceremonies commemorating D-Day, Missak Manouchian and his Resistance fighters’ heroic role in World War II are often overlooked.

French President Emmanuel Macron is seeking to change that by inducting Manouchian into the Panthéon national monument on Wednesday. 

A poet who took refuge in France after surviving the Armenian genocide, Manouchian was executed in 1944 for leading the resistance to Nazi occupation. Macron is to lead a Paris ceremony in homage to Manouchian at the Panthéon, the resting place of France’s most revered figures, in the presence of Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.

The tribute will also include members of his Resistance group.

“With them, it’s all foreign Resistance fighters who enter into the Panthéon,” said historian Denis Peschanski, who led efforts to honor Manouchian’s memory.

The move comes as France gets ready to celebrate the 80th anniversary of D-Day this year in the presence of heads of states and World War II veterans.

Manouchian’s coffin, covered with the French flag, will be carried in the street in front of the Panthéon by soldiers of the Foreign Legion.

On Tuesday, a homage was held at Mont Valérien, where Manouchian and his group members were shot by the Nazis. The site has become a memorial to French WWII fighters. The Holocaust Memorial in Paris was also holding an exhibit in his honor.

“Missak Manouchian chose France twice, first as a young Armenian who loved Baudelaire and Victor Hugo, and then through the blood he shed for our country,” the French presidency said in a statement last year announcing the Panthéon homage.

Born in 1906 in the then-Ottoman empire, Manouchian lost both his parents during the genocide of 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman Turks in 2015-2016.

He was sent to an orphanage in Lebanon, then a French protectorate, where he discovered French language and culture.

He came to France in 1924. Living in Paris, he wrote poetry and took literature and philosophy classes at the Sorbonne University — while working in factories and doing other odd jobs.

He joined the communist party in the early 1930s within the MOI (Immigrant Workforce Movement) group and became editor-in-chief of a newspaper for the Armenian community. 

During World War II, he joined the French Resistance as a political activist with the then-underground MOI group.

In 1943, he became a military chief in the armed organization of the communist party, the FTP-MOI group of about 60 Resistance fighters that gathered many foreigners from Armenia, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Italy and Spain, including many Jewish people.

Manouchian is the first foreign and first communist Resistance fighter to be inducted into the Panthéon, Peschanski noted.

His group led dozens of anti-Nazi attacks and sabotage operations in and around Paris between August and November 1943, including the assassination of a top German colonel. 

Tracked down by the French police of the Vichy regime that collaborated with Nazi Germany, Manouchian was arrested on Nov. 16, 1943, along with most of the group’s members. He was sentenced to death in February 1944.

Nazi propaganda officers ordered a poster to be made with the photos and names of 10 Resistance fighters, including Manouchian, displayed in Paris and other French cities. 

The so-called Red Poster sought to discredit them as Jews, foreigners and criminals, and Manouchian was “obviously the first target,” Peschanski said. Yet the campaign didn’t convince the French population, he said: The poster, while “aiming at presenting them as assassins, made them heroes.”

In his last letter to his wife, Mélinée, Manouchian wrote: “At the moment of death, I proclaim that I have no hatred for the German people … The German people, and all other people will leave in peace and brotherhood after the war.”

French poet Louis Aragon wrote a poem in 1955 inspired by the letter that singer Léo Ferré set to music under the title “L’Affiche Rouge” (“The Red Poster”), keeping the memory alive and making the song a French standard.

Mélinée, also a member of the Resistance who survived the war, will be buried alongside her husband at the Panthéon. A commemorative plaque will pay tribute to the other members of the Manouchian group.

Recent research about Manouchian also brought to light the fact that dozens of the 185 foreigners shot to death by the Nazis at Mont Valérien had not been officially declared “Morts pour la France” (“Dead for France”) — “mostly because they were foreigners,” Peschanski noted. The French presidency said the issue was addressed last year to give them the honor.

The Panthéon is the resting place of 83 people — 76 men and seven women — including Manouchian and his wife.

Most recently, Josephine Baker — the U.S.-born entertainer, anti-Nazi spy and civil rights activist became the first Black woman to receive France’s highest honor, in 2021.

Farmers Paralyze Greek Capital with Massive Protest

ATHENS — Farmers in Greece have stepped up their protests, storming the country’s capital with tractors and farming equipment, gathering outside the nation’s parliament.

In the largest agricultural demonstration in recent memory, thousands of farmers drove colorful tractors through the streets of Athens, paralyzing traffic and then parking outside Parliament.

They are complaining of rising production costs, but the government says it has no money to spare to meet their financial demands.

Many chanted slogans and lit flares, others waved black flags, dragged out coffins and hung funeral wreaths on their vehicles, showcasing, as they put it, the plight of their dying trade.

One farmer said he drove 14 hours to be at the protest. He said the cost of production is rising and while farmers sell their products at low prices, they end up in the supermarket basket three and four times over that base price.

Police said at least 6,000 farmers and about 200 tractors stormed the Greek capital.

Their anger and frustration over rising costs echo similar concerns by farmers staging rolling strikes across the 27-nation European Union for the past few months.

 

In Greece, though, farmers are furious about the compensation they have yet to receive after losing livestock and crops to ferocious floods that hit the country’s farming land last year.

The center-right government of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has acknowledged the plight of the farmers, granting some concessions, including substantial discounts on electricity and petrol bills.

But beyond that, the government says, budgetary constraints do not allow for more funding, aggravating an already heated showdown with the farmers.

One young cotton producer said he felt duped and cheated by the government. He said farmers will not let up. They are determined to stay until their demands are met.

Isolated in Europe, Hungarian Prime Minister Hopes for Trump’s Return

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban is the European Union’s longest-serving head of state – and his critics say he has tightened his grip on power by eroding democracy. He has long been a thorn in the side of European and NATO unity, threatening to block support for Ukraine and EU sanctions on Russia. But as Henry Ridgwell reports from Budapest, Orban believes that he will soon have new allies in the West. Camera: Ancsin Gábor

Ex-FBI Informant Charged With Lying About Bidens Had Russian Intelligence Contacts, Prosecutors Say

Las Vegas — A former FBI informant charged with making up a multimillion-dollar bribery scheme involving President Joe Biden, his son Hunter and a Ukrainian energy company had contacts with officials affiliated with Russian intelligence, prosecutors said in a court paper Tuesday.

Prosecutors revealed the alleged contact as they urged a judge to keep Alexander Smirnov behind bars while he awaits trial. He’s charged with falsely reporting to the FBI in June 2020 that executives associated with the Ukrainian energy company Burisma paid Hunter and Joe Biden $5 million each in 2015 or 2016. The claim has been central to the Republican impeachment inquiry in Congress.

Smirnov is due in court later Tuesday in Las Vegas. He has been in custody at a facility in rural Pahrump, about an hour drive west of Las Vegas, since his arrest last week at the airport while returning from overseas.

Defense attorneys David Chesnoff and Richard Schonfeld said in a statement ahead of the hearing that they were asking for Smirnov’s release while he awaits trial “so he can effectively fight the power of the government.”

Prosecutors said that during an interview before his arrest last week, Smirnov admitted that “officials associated with Russian intelligence were involved in passing a story” about Hunter Biden. They said Smirnov’s contacts with Russian officials were recent and extensive, and said Smirnov had planned to meet with one official during an upcoming overseas trip.

They said Smirnov has had numerous contacts with a person he described as the “son of a former high-ranking government official” and “someone with ties to a particular Russian intelligence service.” They said there is a serious risk that Smirnov could flee overseas to avoid facing trial.

The White House didn’t immediately comment on the claims in Tuesday’s court filing.

Prosecutors say Smirnov, who holds dual U.S.-Israeli citizenship, falsely reported to the FBI in June 2020 that executives associated with the Ukrainian energy company Burisma paid Hunter and Joe Biden $5 million each in 2015 or 2016.

Smirnov in fact had only routine business dealings with the company starting in 2017 and made the bribery allegations after he “expressed bias” against Joe Biden while he was a presidential candidate, prosecutors said in court documents. He is charged with making a false statement and creating a false and fictitious record. The charges were filed in Los Angeles, where he lived for 16 years before relocating to Las Vegas two years ago.

Smirnov’s claims have been central to the Republican effort in Congress to investigate the president and his family, and helped spark what is now a House impeachment inquiry into Biden. Democrats called for an end to the probe after the indictment came down last week, while Republicans distanced the inquiry from Smirnov’s claims and said they would continue to “follow the facts.”

Hunter Biden is expected to give a deposition next week.

The Burisma allegations became a flashpoint in Congress as Republicans pursuing investigations of President Biden and his family demanded the FBI release the unredacted form documenting the allegations. They acknowledged they couldn’t confirm if the allegations were true.

Russia Labels RFE/RL ‘Undesirable Organization’

WASHINGTON — The Russian government on Tuesday labeled VOA’s sister outlet Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty as an “undesirable organization” in a move that underscores the Kremlin’s harsh repression of media.

The new designation opens RFE/RL staffers, donors and sources to criminal charges, the Prague-based outlet reported.

The outlet was added to a registry of “undesirable organizations” maintained by Russia’s Ministry of Justice, becoming the 142nd organization to be labeled that way.

RFE/RL President Stephen Capus said the designation “is just the latest example of how the Russian government views truthful reporting as an existential threat.”

“Millions of Russians have relied on us for decades — including record-breaking audiences over the past few days since the death of Aleksei Navalny — and this attempt to stifle us will only make RFE/RL work harder to bring free and independent journalism to the Russian people,” Capus said in a statement.

Russia’s Washington embassy did not immediately reply to a VOA email requesting comment.

Russia’s “undesirable organization” law was adopted in 2015. Dozens of media organizations have been labeled as “undesirable” since 2021, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Among them are Meduza, Novaya Gazeta Europe and Bellingcat.

Moscow has targeted RFE/RL for years.

In 2017, Russian authorities labeled the outlet a so-called “foreign agent.” Since then, RFE/RL has refused to pay multiple fines totaling more than $14 million for not complying with the law.

The foreign agent law came into effect in 2012, and since then it has been used to target groups and individuals critical of the Kremlin. Russia has declared VOA a “foreign agent” as well.

More than 30 RFE/RL employees have also been listed as “foreign agents.”

RFE/RL journalist Alsu Kurmasheva has been jailed in Russia since October 2023 on charges of failing to register as a so-called “foreign agent.”

A dual U.S.-Russian national, Kurmasheva traveled to Russia in May 2023 for a family emergency. When she tried to leave the country in June, her passports were confiscated. She was detained while waiting for them to be returned.

In addition to the foreign agent charge, Kurmasheva is also facing accusations of spreading false information about the Russian army. If convicted, she faces a combined sentence of up to 15 years in prison.

Kurmasheva and her employer reject the charges against her.

Here’s Why Farmers Are Protesting in Europe

PARIS — Farmers are protesting across the European Union, saying they are facing rising costs and taxes, red tape, excessive environmental rules and competition from cheap food imports.

Demonstrations have been taking place for weeks in countries that include France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Italy and Greece.

While many issues are country-specific, others are Europewide. Here is a detailed look at the problems that have prompted the protest movement across the bloc and in individual nations.

Imports

Demonstrations in eastern Europe have focused on what farmers say is unfair competition from large amounts of imports from Ukraine, for which the EU has waived quotas and duties since Russia’s invasion.

Polish farmers have been blocking traffic at the border with Ukraine, which Kyiv says is affecting its defense capability and helping Russia’s aims.

Meanwhile, Czech farmers have driven their tractors into downtown Prague, disrupting traffic outside the farm ministry.

The farmers resent the imports because they say they put pressure on European prices while not meeting environmental standards imposed on EU farmers.

Renewed negotiations to conclude a trade deal between the EU and South American bloc Mercosur have also fanned discontent about unfair competition in sugar, grain and meat.

Rules and bureaucracy

Farmers take issue with excessive regulation, mainly at EU level. Center stage are new EU subsidy rules, such as a requirement to leave 4% of farmland fallow, which means not using it for a period of time.

They also denounce bureaucracy, which French farmers say their government compounds by overcomplicating implementation.

In Spain, farmers have complained of “suffocating bureaucracy” drawn up in Brussels that erodes the profitability of crops.

In Greece, farmers demand higher subsidies and faster compensation for crop damage and livestock lost in 2023 floods.

Rising diesel fuel costs

In Germany and France, the EU’s biggest agricultural producers, farmers have railed against plans to end subsidies or tax breaks on agricultural diesel. Greek farmers want a tax on diesel to be reduced.

In Romania, protests in mid-January were mainly against the high cost of diesel.

Income

In France, many producers say a government drive to bring down food inflation has left them unable to cover high costs for energy, fertilizer and transport.

What are governments doing?

The European Commission late last month proposed to limit agricultural imports from Ukraine by introducing an “emergency brake” for the most sensitive products — poultry, eggs and sugar — but producers say the volume would still be too high.

The commission has also exempted EU farmers for 2024 from the requirement to keep some of their land fallow while still receiving EU farm support payments, but they would need to instead grow crops without applying pesticides.

French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal announced measures that include controls to ensure imported foods do not have traces of pesticides banned in France or the EU and talks to get farmers higher prices and loosen bureaucracy and regulation.

Paris and Berlin have both relented to the pressure and rowed back on plans to end subsidies or tax breaks on agricultural diesel. In Romania, the government has acted to increase diesel subsidies, address insurance rates and expedite subsidy payments.

In Portugal, the caretaker government has announced an emergency aid package worth 500 million euros ($541 million), including 200 million euros ($217 million) to mitigate the impact of a long-running drought.

Why farmers are protesting, by country:

FRANCE

EU red tape
Diesel prices
Need more support to shore up incomes
Access to irrigation
Criticism over animal welfare and use of pesticides

POLAND

Cheap imports from Ukraine
EU regulation

CZECH REPUBLIC

Bureaucracy
Cheap imports
EU farm policy

SPAIN

"Suffocating bureaucracy" drawn up in Brussels that they say erodes the profitability of crops
Trade deals that they say open the door to cheap imports

PORTUGAL

Insufficient state aid, subsidy cuts
Red tape

ROMANIA

Cost of diesel
Insurance rates
EU environmental regulations
Cheap imports from Ukraine

BELGIUM

EU requirement to leave 4% of land fallow
Cheap imports
Subsidies favoring larger farms

GREECE

Demands for higher subsidies and faster compensation for crop damage and livestock lost in 2023 floods
Diesel tax and surging electricity bills
Falling state and EU subsidies 

EU Welcomes New Polish Government’s Plan to ‘Restore Rule of Law’

Warsaw — The European Union on Tuesday welcomed Poland’s plan to “restore the rule of law” and dismantle policies by the former nationalist government which led to the freezing of billions of euros in EU funds due to concerns over judicial independence.

Poland’s Law and Justice (PiS) party, which ruled for eight years, carried out a deep overhaul of the judiciary which the EU said damaged democratic checks and balances and brought courts under political influence.

As a result, the European Commission held back billions of euros in funds earmarked for Poland.

EU commissioners said the plan by the new pro-EU government, in power since last December, and which involves several bills rolling back PiS reforms, was well received.

“This was very impressive for the Commission to listen to so many positive comments around the table… the reactions are very positive,” European Union Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders told reporters.

The deputy head of the European Commission, Vera Jourova, called the action plan “realistic”.

Poland’s new prime minister, Donald Tusk, has vowed to restore judicial independence and get the funds released. But he faces resistance from PiS supporters and allies, who include President Andrzej Duda and some high-profile judges.

“I think that the very positive reaction from the member states is also associated with a certain level of trust that we will do it in a way that is predictable and consistent with the rule of law,” Polish Justice Minister Adam Bodnar said after presenting the plan in Brussels.

Bodnar said earlier the plan includes changes to the National Council of the Judiciary (NCJ), which appoints judges, and the Constitutional Tribunal which critics say has been politicized under PiS.

In a sign that the government is committed to implementing the changes soon, Tusk’s cabinet approved on Tuesday a bill on the NCJ proposed by Bodnar, which will now go to parliament.

The bill assumes members of the Council would be chosen by judges, not politicians as they were under changes introduced under PiS. The European Court of Human Rights and Court of Justice of the EU had pointed to irregularities in the procedure.

“On the day of announcing the results of the new election to the NCJ, those judges in the Council who were elected in an unconstitutional manner by the (parliament), on the basis of provisions adopted in December 2017, will cease to function in the Council,” the government said.