Daily: 21/01/2023

У Білому домі пояснили позицію Німеччини щодо постачання Україні танків

Через види бойових дій, які вони ведуть на Донбасі, українці мають реальну потребу у додаткових танках, наголосив Кірбі

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НАБУ затримало заступника міністра Лозинського – Мінінфраструктури

Василь Лозинский буде звільнений із займаної посади

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Russia’s RT France to Close After Accounts Frozen

RT France, the French arm of the Russian state broadcaster, will shut down after its French bank accounts were frozen over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, the channel’s director said Saturday.  

“After five years of harassment, the authorities in power have achieved their goal: the closure of RT France,” Xenia Fedorova said in a Twitter statement.  

She said 123 employees were at risk of not being paid for January and could lose their jobs because of the account freeze — part of the latest European Union sanctions against Russia.   

Moscow had already warned of retaliation for the move by the French finance ministry, first reported by the unions of RT France on Friday.  

“The blocking of RT France accounts will lead to retaliatory measures against the French media in Russia,” the TASS and RIA Novosti news agencies quoted an anonymous foreign ministry source as saying, accusing Paris of “terrorizing Russian journalists.”   

The French finance ministry told AFP that the assets of the chain had been frozen in compliance with the most recent EU sanctions, and not on Paris’s initiative.   

A broadcast ban for Russian media was introduced by the European Union shortly after the Kremlin sent troops to Ukraine in February 2022, and an appeal by RT France was thrown out by the European Court of Justice last July.  

France was the only member state in the bloc to have a registered RT subsidiary, which has continued to produce and distribute programs that are available via VPN internet access.  

Launched in 2005 as “Russia Today”, state-funded RT has expanded with channels and websites in languages including English, French, Spanish and Arabic.  

It has been accused by Western countries of distributing disinformation and Kremlin-friendly propaganda. 

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Понад пів сотні людей постраждали на антиурядових протестах у Перу

Правозахисники звинувачують армію та поліцію у застосуванні вогнепальної зброї. Поліція стверджує, що протестувальники озброєні та використовують саморобну вибухівку

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У розвідці розповіли, чи існує наразі загроза відкритого вторгнення з Білорусі

В інтересах Путіна й Росії максимально нагнітати тему Білорусі, але й Лукашенко вже не дуже в це грає, наголосив Юсов

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Закупівля продуктів для армії: в Раду викликали керівництво Міноборони

Засідання має відбутися у закритому режимі вже найближчим часом

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EU Borders Facing ‘Unprecedented Challenges’ Amid Fears Russia Will Weaponize Migration 

The European Union says it faced “unprecedented challenges” at its borders last year, with a sharp rise in asylum-seekers arriving on Europe’s southern shores and millions of Ukrainians fleeing to Europe to escape Russia’s invasion. As Henry Ridgwell reports, there are fears that Moscow is planning to create a new migrant crisis on the EU’s borders. 


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UN Rights Chief Launches $452 Million Appeal to Protect, Defend Human Rights

The U.N.’s top human rights official, Volker Türk, appealed Friday for $452 million to fund the critical work of the high commissioner’s office in protecting and defending human rights throughout the world this year. 

The high commissioner’s office is the guardian and defender of human rights.  It is the global watchdog of abuse and violence.  As such, it puts the spotlight on violators of human rights to pressure a change in bad behavior.  

In his appeal to donors, human rights chief Volker Türk noted there can be no durable peace nor sustainable development without human rights.  He said it was important to bring human rights to life in every part of the world to achieve stability and attain justice.

“We need to insist on action–globally, regionally, and domestically—so that we address inequalities, that we strengthen social protections, that we eliminate discrimination in whatever form, and other root causes of conflict, and that we address environmental crises and misery,” said Türk.

The high commissioner’s office has a difficult task.  There are many egregious human rights crises that need to be addressed.  They include Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the deadly protests in Iran, the continued internment of more than a million Muslim Uyghurs in so-called reeducation camps in China’s Xinjiang region, and the Islamist insurgency in Africa’s Sahel region.

Türk emphasized protecting human rights is essential in combatting these ills.  He said human rights are at the core of the United Nations charter and guide the world body’s principles and purposes.  

“We know that now more than ever, we need human rights to keep the world stable and provide us a roadmap for a better future as part of the UDHR (Universal Declaration of Human rights) 75 initiative and beyond,” said Türk.

This year is the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or UDHR.  High Commissioner Türk said he plans to use the anniversary to bring the words of that seminal document to life.  

He is urging donors to support his appeal for funding so his office can strengthen its ability to provide a better future for all.

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У США двох бізнесменів звинувачують у спробі вивести з-під санкцій яхту російського олігарха

Віктор Вексельберг перебуває під санкціями США з 2018 року

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У Білорусі вперше визнали «екстремістським формуванням» музичний гурт

Tor Band став популярним гуртом у Білорусі під час хвилі протестів 2020 року

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Ukraine Defense Minister: Troops Will Train on German Tanks in Poland

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov says Ukrainian forces will train to use Leopard 2 battle tanks, despite Western allies’ failure Friday to reach a decision on whether to supply Kyiv with the German-made tanks.

Reznikov told VOA’s Ukrainian Service on Friday that Ukraine’s troops will train on the tanks in Poland and described the development as a breakthrough.

“Countries that already have Leopard tanks can begin training missions for our tank crews. We will start with that, and we will go from there. I hope, Germany will follow their process, conduct their internal consultations, and will arrive at the decision to transfer tanks. I am optimistic regarding this because the first step has been made. We will start training programs for our tank crews on Leopards 2,” Reznikov said.

Earlier Friday, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Army General Mark Milley said no Leopard tanks would be given to Ukraine by Germany at this time. They made the remarks at a briefing at U.S. Ramstein Air Base in Germany following an international conference on Ukraine support.

The meeting was held amid Kyiv’s frustration with the dissent over sending tanks to Ukraine as the full-scale invasion reaches the 11-month mark. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy made direct pleas for tanks at the meeting.

Reznikov said he was pleased with the results, “I consider that the key concepts of this meeting today were unity, timelines of delivering aid, and enhancement of the capabilities of the armed forces of Ukraine to continue counter-offensive operations in order to liberate temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine. All the previously announced [military aid] packages have been confirmed. In addition, some new packages were discussed behind closed doors, but I am not at liberty to announce them just yet. This is inspiring. I am very satisfied.”

Austin denied there is a link between Germany not sending its Leopard tanks and the U.S. not committing its Abrams tanks. Downplaying the immediate importance of tanks, he emphasized that an extensive new U.S. military assistance package to Ukraine — which includes 59 Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles and 90 Stryker armored personnel carriers — would give Ukraine new capabilities in the war.

“What we’re really focused on is making sure that Ukraine has a capability that it needs to be successful right now. So, we have a window of opportunity here — between now and in the spring … whenever they commence their operation, their counteroffensive,” he said.

The new U.S. aid package, worth $2.5 billion, brings American military assistance to Ukraine to almost $27 billion since Russia’s invasion nearly a year ago.

The military package also includes three types of missiles, tens of thousands of artillery and mortar rounds, and additional HIMARS ammunition, with eight Avenger air defense systems. The U.S. already announced it would send a Patriot missile system, while the Netherlands will supply two launching pads for them as well as missiles, Dutch news agency ANP reported.

Austin reaffirmed the allies’ commitment to defending Ukraine.

“It is not only about Ukraine security, it is about European security and about global security,” he said. He expressed confidence the group will remain united and continue to build momentum.

Asked if Germany is a reliable ally, Austin responded, “They are a reliable ally, they’ve been that way for a very, very long time, and I truly believe that they’ll continue to be a reliable ally going forward.”

Milley echoed Austin’s comment and noted this is the most unified he has seen NATO in his 40 years in uniform. He said the U.S. assistance package, along with unified donations from other countries, signify their resolve to defend Ukraine.

“As much as it takes, as long as it takes in order to keep Ukraine free, independent and sovereign,” he said.

However, Milley pointed out that “synchronizing, sending all these armaments and training Ukrainian troops in a short window before spring is challenging; equipment getting married to the people and creating a coherent plan.”

He also said it would be very hard for Ukraine to drive Russia’s invading forces from the country this year, and he stressed the importance of solidifying Ukraine’s defensive front.

Defense ministers from about 50 countries, including all NATO members, met at Ramstein. This was the eighth Ramstein summit since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24.

Regarding tanks, Germany’s new defense minister, Boris Pistorius, suggested the issue was inching forward. Speaking to reporters outside the Ramstein conference hall at midday, Pistorius said, “We will make our decisions as soon as possible.”

In an interview with VOA’s Patsy Widakuswara on Friday, White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said that it is up to Germany to decide the size, scale and scope of military assistance they are comfortable with providing to Ukraine. “We are not there, arm-twisting and pushing and cajoling,” he said.

Kirby said the NATO alliance remains “very, very solidly behind Ukraine.” However, he said NATO allies, as “sovereign nations, they get to decide because they have to have their own national security needs, they have to consider as well, just like we do.”

Earlier Friday, the head of NATO’s Military Committee, Admiral Rob Bauer of the Royal Netherlands Navy, also said Germany and other countries supporting Ukraine will have to decide individually on whether to supply it with tanks but warned that “giving away stuff now costs money but the cost for all of us will be much higher if Russia wins the war in Ukraine. … We need to seriously look at what Ukraine requires, and if possible, give them what they ask for.”

Zelenskyy said in his evening address Friday that Ukraine will have to fight to secure a supply of modern heavy armor.

“Every day we make it more obvious there is no alternative to making the decision on tanks,” he said.

Zelenskyy thanked the U.S., European allies and Canada for military weapons and stressed the significance of their speedy delivery. “The only thing worth emphasizing is the time, the delivery time,” he said. “Each agreement must be implemented as quickly as possible – for our defense.”

Moscow said Friday any additional tanks supplied to Ukraine will have no effect on the course of the conflict.

“We have repeatedly said that such supplies will not fundamentally change anything but will add problems for Ukraine and the Ukrainian people,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters in Moscow.

He said the West will “regret its delusion” that Ukraine can win on the battlefield.

In Kyiv on Friday, U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal, Lindsey Graham and Sheldon Whitehouse met with Zelenskyy and Ukrainian military officials. VOA’s Kyiv correspondent Anna Chernikova reported that during a news conference, the senators asserted the U.S. should provide tanks and long-range weapons to Ukraine to stop Russia’s invasion.

They expressed their conviction that Ukraine needs this help now, because time is not on the side of Ukraine and its allies. They also said that if Russian President Vladimir Putin is not stopped now, NATO countries would be next.

The senators appealed to their voters, asserting that their money is necessary to restore the world order. The main message to Ukrainians was that the U.S. would stay with them for as long as it takes.

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

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US Sanctions Russian Wagner Group, Urges Others to Follow

The White House on Friday announced it will designate the Wagner Group, the Russian private military company supporting Moscow’s war on Ukraine, as a Transnational Criminal Organization, hitting it with sanctions and limiting its ability to do business around the world.

Declaring Wagner a TCO freezes its assets in the U.S. and prohibits Americans from providing funds, goods or services to the group.

“It will give us more flexibility,” John Kirby, the National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications, said in a Friday interview with VOA.

“We were already sanctioning Russia writ large across the board, and some of those sanctions and export controls we know also tangentially had an effect on private military contractors like Wagner, but this is really targeted towards Wagner specifically,” he said of the sanctions that will be put in effect by the U.S. Treasury Department next week.

Kirby said the U.S. is urging other countries to target the group led by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Russian oligarch and confidant of Russian President Vladimir Putin. In recent years the group has significantly increased its footprint not only in Ukraine, but also in Syria, Libya, Sudan, Central African Republic, Mozambique and Mali and has been accused of human rights violations in countries where it operates.

The Biden administration also released newly declassified photos of what it says are Russian rail cars delivering infantry rockets and missiles from North Korea in November for use by Wagner forces. The administration submitted the imagery to the U.N. Security Council panel charged with enforcing North Korea sanctions to push for action on what it says is a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions on arms transfers.

“The North Koreans had just been baldly lying about their support to Russia,” Kirby said, adding the U.S. wants to “lay out demonstrable evidence” of Pyongyang’s support.

40,000 Russian convict fighters

Last month the White House confirmed that Wagner deploys about 50,000 fighters in Ukraine, 40,000 of them recruited from Russian jails.

Olga Romanova, executive director of the civil rights movement Russia Behind Bars, told VOA that prisoners who agree to sign the contract with Wagner are paid about $3,000 a month.

“By the end of 2022, the desire to go serve in Wagner group in Ukraine has diminished significantly among the Russian convicts,” she told VOA, citing extrajudicial executions, unfulfilled promises and extremely high casualties.

Experts who study the group say up to 80% of Russian convicts used by Wagner die in Ukrainian battlefields. Out of thousands of Wagner-recruited convicts, only 106 were pardoned and allowed to go home after the fulfillment of their six-month contracts, Romanova said.

Prisoners are deployed without training, organizational capability, or command and control, Kirby said.

“They’re just throwing them into this meat grinder in the Bakhmut and Soledar areas, and they’re paying a heavy price for it,” he said, referencing two Ukrainian towns that are the focus of recent intense fighting.

Kirby spoke of mounting tensions between Prigozhin and the Kremlin, accusing the Wagner founder of making himself “seem more relevant and more viable than even the Russian military” while “trying to fill his own coffers.”

The Wagner group posted a picture of Prigozhin and his fighters in Soledar, which the Russian Defense Ministry claimed to have captured last week without mention of Wagner’s role.

Foreign terrorist organization

Kirby would not confirm whether the U.S. is aiming next to designate the group as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. In December a bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers introduced the Holding Accountable Russian Mercenaries (HARM) Act, bipartisan legislation that would require the Secretary of State to designate Wagner as an FTO. A similar measure has been introduced in the U.S. Senate.

In November, the European Parliament adopted a resolution urging the European Council to place Wagner on the EU terrorist list.

Designating the group as a terrorist organization would not only freeze its assets, ban recruitment, financing and travel of its members said Méryl Demuynck, research fellow at the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism.

“It would send a very strong message and has a symbolic function, not only to Russia,” she told VOA. “But also to countries that are already resorting to the group or considering resorting to it.”

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AI Tools Can Create New Images, But Who Is the Real Artist?

Countless artists have taken inspiration from “The Starry Night” since Vincent Van Gogh painted the swirling scene in 1889.

Now artificial intelligence systems are doing the same, training themselves on a vast collection of digitized artworks to produce new images you can conjure in seconds from a smartphone app.

The images generated by tools such as DALL-E, Midjourney and Stable Diffusion can be weird and otherworldly but also increasingly realistic and customizable — ask for a “peacock owl in the style of Van Gogh” and they can churn out something that might look similar to what you imagined.

But while Van Gogh and other long-dead master painters aren’t complaining, some living artists and photographers are starting to fight back against the AI software companies creating images derived from their works.

Two new lawsuits —- one this week from the Seattle-based photography giant Getty Images —- take aim at popular image-generating services for allegedly copying and processing millions of copyright-protected images without a license.

Getty said it has begun legal proceedings in the High Court of Justice in London against Stability AI — the maker of Stable Diffusion —- for infringing intellectual property rights to benefit the London-based startup’s commercial interests.

Another lawsuit filed Friday in a U.S. federal court in San Francisco describes AI image-generators as “21st-century collage tools that violate the rights of millions of artists.” The lawsuit, filed by three working artists on behalf of others like them, also names Stability AI as a defendant, along with San Francisco-based image-generator startup Midjourney, and the online gallery DeviantArt.

The lawsuit said AI-generated images “compete in the marketplace with the original images. Until now, when a purchaser seeks a new image ‘in the style’ of a given artist, they must pay to commission or license an original image from that artist.”

Companies that provide image-generating services typically charge users a fee. After a free trial of Midjourney through the chatting app Discord, for instance, users must buy a subscription that starts at $10 per month or up to $600 a year for corporate memberships. The startup OpenAI also charges for use of its DALL-E image generator, and StabilityAI offers a paid service called DreamStudio.

Stability AI said in a statement that “Anyone that believes that this isn’t fair use does not understand the technology and misunderstands the law.”

In a December interview with The Associated Press, before the lawsuits were filed, Midjourney CEO David Holz described his image-making subscription service as “kind of like a search engine” pulling in a wide swath of images from across the internet. He compared copyright concerns about the technology with how such laws have adapted to human creativity.

“Can a person look at somebody else’s picture and learn from it and make a similar picture?” Holz said. “Obviously, it’s allowed for people and if it wasn’t, then it would destroy the whole professional art industry, probably the nonprofessional industry too. To the extent that AIs are learning like people, it’s sort of the same thing and if the images come out differently then it seems like it’s fine.”

The copyright disputes mark the beginning of a backlash against a new generation of impressive tools — some of them introduced just last year — that can generate new images, readable text and computer code on command.

They also raise broader concerns about the propensity of AI tools to amplify misinformation or cause other harm. For AI image generators, that includes the creation of nonconsensual sexual imagery.

Some systems produce photorealistic images that can be impossible to trace, making it difficult to tell the difference between what’s real and what’s AI. And while most have some safeguards in place to block offensive or harmful content, experts say it’s not enough and fear it’s only a matter of time until people utilize these tools to spread disinformation and further erode public trust.

“Once we lose this capability of telling what’s real and what’s fake, everything will suddenly become fake because you lose confidence of anything and everything,” said Wael Abd-Almageed, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Southern California.

As a test, The Associated Press submitted a text prompt on Stable Diffusion featuring the keywords “Ukraine war” and “Getty Images.” The tool created photo-like images of soldiers in combat with warped faces and hands, pointing and carrying guns. Some of the images also featured the Getty watermark, but with garbled text.

AI can also get things wrong, like feet and fingers or details on ears that can sometimes give away that they’re not real, but there’s no set pattern to look out for. And those visual clues can also be edited. On Midjourney, for instance, users often post on the Discord chat asking for advice on how to fix distorted faces and hands.

With some generated images traveling on social networks and potentially going viral, they can be challenging to debunk since they can’t be traced back to a specific tool or data source, according to Chirag Shah, a professor at the Information School at the University of Washington, who uses these tools for research.

“You could make some guesses if you have enough experience working with these tools,” Shah said. “But beyond that, there is no easy or scientific way to really do this.”

But for all the backlash, there are many people who embrace the new AI tools and the creativity they unleash. Searches on Midjourney, for instance, show curious users are using the tool as a hobby to create intricate landscapes, portraits and art.

There’s plenty of room for fear, but “what can else can we do with them?” asked the artist Refik Anadol this week at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where he displayed an exhibit of his AI-generated work.

At the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Anadol designed “Unsupervised,” which draws from artworks in the museum’s prestigious collection — including “The Starry Night” — and feeds them into a massive digital installation generating animations of mesmerizing colors and shapes in the museum lobby.

The installation is “constantly changing, evolving and dreaming 138,000 old artworks at MoMA’s Archive,” Anadol said. “From Van Gogh to Picasso to Kandinsky, incredible, inspiring artists who defined and pioneered different techniques exist in this artwork, in this AI dream world.”

For painters like Erin Hanson, whose impressionist landscapes are so popular and easy to find online that she has seen their influence in AI-produced visuals, she is not worried about her own prolific output, which makes $3 million a year.

She does, however, worry about the art community as a whole.

“The original artist needs to be acknowledged in some way or compensated,” Hanson said. “That’s what copyright laws are all about. And if artists aren’t acknowledged, then it’s going to make it hard for artists to make a living in the future.”

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Болгарія втретє не змогла сформувати уряд, у країні пройдуть нові парламентські вибори

Партіям, які посіли перші місця на попередніх виборах, не вдалося сформувати коаліційний уряд

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Країни, які мають танки Leopard, можуть почати навчати на них українських військових – Резніков

«Маємо прорив – це можливість для країн, які володіють «Леопардами», починати навчальні місії, курси для наших танкових екіпажів»

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Q&A: US Urges Countries to Join Sanctions on Russian Paramilitary Group

The White House announced Friday new sanctions to be put in place by the U.S. Treasury Department next week on the Wagner Group, designating the Russian private military company as a transnational criminal organization.

The Biden administration urged other countries to join the U.S. in targeting the group led by Yevgeny Prigozhin, Russian oligarch and confidant of Russian President Vladimir Putin, which has been playing a key role in Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

The administration also released newly declassified photos taken in November of what it says are Russian rail cars delivering infantry rockets and missiles from North Korea for use by Wagner forces. It submitted the imagery to the U.N. Security Council panel charged with enforcing North Korea sanctions to push for action on what it believes is a violation of Security Council resolutions on arms transfers.

VOA White House Bureau Chief Patsy Widakuswara spoke Friday with John Kirby, National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications, about the significance of the designation and possible further actions concerning the Wagner Group, which the administration says has recruited 40,000 convicts to fight in Ukraine.

This transcript has been edited for clarity and brevity.

VOA: We’ll focus on the Wagner announcement, but briefly, can you clarify the U.S. position on this debate on tanks for Ukraine that’s going on in the donor conference in Germany? Does the U.S. want Germany to send Leopard tanks and allow the transfer of Leopard tanks from other countries? Would the U.S. send Abrams tanks if that’s the only way to get Germany to send their Leopard tanks?

John Kirby, National Security Council spokesman: We believe that it’s important that every nation that can support Ukraine and their defense needs, and right now, President Zelenskyy has talked about this, one of the critical needs for the Ukrainian armed forces this winter and probably into the spring is going to be armor, armor capability, because of the kinds of fighting they’re doing in the Donbas. That can include tanks, and the Ukrainians do have a real need for additional tanks. They’ve been using largely T-72s, which are old Soviet-made tanks and, you know, it’s been almost a year. So we certainly welcome the contributions of other nations, including the U.K., which just in the last week or so agreed to send Challenger tanks. And we know that Germany is working through their own process here with respect to the Leopards. The Leopards are great tanks, very capable, won’t require an exorbitant amount of training for the Ukrainians should Germany want to move in that direction.

It’s Germany’s decision to make. We are not out there arm twisting and pushing and cajoling. We want countries to give what they can, contribute what they can, when and where they can, and on the size and scale and scope that they’re comfortable with. And that’s for Germany to decide. I will add, though, that Germany has increased their contributions – they were already, even early on in the war, one of the world’s leading financial contributors to Ukraine, in terms of just financial aid and assistance, and they have over, certainly, the last several months really … [we’re] aware of their own willingness and ability to provide advanced capabilities. And that’s been deeply appreciated by everybody.

VOA: Is this standoff on tanks an example of the threat to NATO unity that President Biden spoke about in December?

Kirby: I would not describe this as a standoff. I mean, these are ongoing iterative discussions that we have with all our allies and partners about what they can provide and at what scale. And again, these are sovereign nations, they get to decide, because they have their own national security needs they have to consider as well, just like we do. But in just stepping broadly back, the alliance has been just incredibly, solidly behind and supportive of Ukraine, and we don’t see … we don’t see that fracturing at all.

VOA: The U.S. is designating [the Wagner Group] as a transnational criminal organization. As I understand, that primarily means freezing Wagner assets in the U.S. and also prohibiting Americans from providing support. How significant is this move? What size assets are we talking about?

Kirby: It will give us more flexibility. We were already sanctioning Russia writ large across the board, and some of those sanctions and export controls we know also tangentially had an effect on private military contractors like Wagner. But this is really targeted towards Wagner specifically, and I’ll let Treasury talk to this in more detail. They’ll have more to put out on this next week, but you’re right about what that designation does. It blocks and prevents the transfer of monies to Wagner from any U.S. entity. And it might lead to additional measures by other countries now that we’re doing this, so we’ll see where that goes.

VOA: How immediate will the impact be? Will it impact Wagner operations not just in Ukraine but also other countries?

Kirby: Once the designation is in place, we’re executing it. So, there’ll be an immediate effect. And again, we encourage other nations as well to help us in cracking down on Wagner’s ability to literally commit atrocities around the world. It’s not about just cutting off their ability to commit atrocities in Ukraine. It’s about their ability to commit atrocities around the world.

VOA: Why is the U.S. designating the Wagner Group as a transnational criminal organization (TCO) and not as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO)?

Kirby: I think we believe that this move right now is the appropriate move, and it will have an impact on Wagner.

VOA: Is the goal FTO next?

Kirby: I’m not going to get ahead of where we are, but right now we’re deciding that we’re going to designate them as a TCO, and we’re going to continue to try to further squeeze their ability to operate and to fund themselves, and I’m not going to get ahead of where that is.

VOA: The other thing that you underscored today was the sharing of information about the transfer of weapons from North Korea to the Wagner Group that you will share with the Security Council’s North Korea Sanctions Committee —

Kirby: We shared it today.

VOA: You did share it today. So, what is the goal here specifically for North Korea?

Kirby: We believe it’s two things. The most important thing is to try to stop this flow of support from North Korea to Russia. And that’s why what I also said was, “We urge them to stop this immediately.” They are violating existing U.N. Security Council resolutions, and the reason we brought it up today is because we want to see if there’s additional sanctioning flexibility here. We don’t know. That’s one of the reasons why we brought it up to the committee of experts. But we certainly want it to stop.

The second component here, and this isn’t unimportant either, is the North Koreans had just been baldly lying about their support to Russia. They’ve just said they’re not doing it. They’ve claimed they had nothing to do with it. And today, we felt it was important, in keeping in conjunction with our conversations at the U.N., to lay out demonstrable evidence that, in fact, they are supporting Russia with arms and ammunition, and we got the goods on them, and we put it out there.

VOA: You’ve said that they are using 40,000 Russian convicts to fight in Ukraine. Experts who study the group say that the casualty levels are quite massive – 80% to 90% die in battle during their standard contract. Is this something that you can confirm?

Kirby: We can confirm that they certainly are the bulk of their manpower, at least in the Donbas, are convicts. I said today some 50,000 Wagner employees are in Ukraine and 40,000, the vast majority, we believe, are convicts. I mean, they’re going into the jails and they’re opening up the cells and they’re just pulling people out, putting them right into the fight.

VOA: Do you know the casualty levels?

Kirby: The casualty rate, we believe, for the convicts is extraordinarily high. As a matter of fact, what we think is that 90% of their casualties are convicts themselves. They’re just throwing them into the flight. No training, no organizational capability, no command and control. They’re just throwing them into this meat grinder in the Bakhmut and Soledar areas, and they’re paying a heavy price for it.

VOA: But do we have an understanding of the exact number of how many Russian convicts have died in battle?

Kirby: I’m afraid I wouldn’t have that exact number for you.

VOA: At this point, does the U.S. believe that Vladimir Putin should be prosecuted for his use of Russian convicts in Ukraine?

Kirby: We believe that Russia needs to be held properly to account for the atrocities and war crimes that we know Russian soldiers and Wagner contract employees are conducting inside Ukraine, which is why we’re helping the international community document that. We’re going to help provide whatever support to international investigative efforts are ongoing and make sure that the Russian armed forces, and in this case Wagner as well, can be properly held to account.

VOA: Specifically on the use of Russian convicts, does the U.S. believe that this is a violation of human rights?

Kirby: I’ll leave that to the international lawyers to determine. Without a doubt, Wagner employees and Russian soldiers are committing atrocities and war crimes in Ukraine, and that’s as plain as the nose on your face. You can see what they’re doing. We just want to make sure it’s properly documented so proper accountability measures can be held.

VOA: Can you speak more about the tension between Prigozhin and the Russian leadership? What does it tell you about cohesion in the Russian top leadership at this point?

Kirby: We know that the tensions between Prigozhin individually, Wagner institutionally, and the Ministry of Defense are increasing because Mr. Prigozhin wants to take credit for all the work he’s doing in the Donbas region and the progress that he’s making in towns like Bakhmut and Soledar, and that is causing tensions. In addition to that, he has been a very open critic of Russian generals and the way that the Russian military has been prosecuting the war, not just in the Donbas but elsewhere as well. I mean, he’s been very open. And it appears to us that he’s trying to raise his profile with Mr. Putin and make himself seem more relevant and more viable than even the Russian military. When in fact, what he’s also doing is trying to fill his own coffers, and it appears he also has economic gains here at play for what he’s trying to do.

VOA: Is the tension between Prigozhin and the Russian leadership something that the U.S. can take advantage of?

Kirby: We think it’s important for the world to know what we’re seeing in respect to these tensions. We think what should be taken advantage of is the opportunity for Putin to end this war. He could do it today. He could pull the Wagner group out, he can pull all his troops out. That’s the opportunity that needs to be taken advantage of. But we do think it’s important to showcase for the world the utter brutality with which Mr. Putin is willing to keep fighting this war, this unprovoked war against the Ukrainian people. And now, in addition to everything else, the cruise missiles, the drones, hitting apartment buildings in the last couple of days, he has taken people out of jail.

Putin is allowing Prigozhin to just empty out the jails and throw convicts into the fight. No training, no skills, no leadership, to do nothing more than just kill Ukrainian soldiers and innocent Ukrainian civilians. And we believe it’s important for that to be out there publicly so that everybody can see exactly the depravity with which he and his forces are running this war.

VOA: Is there anything else you can share about the Wagner Group? For example, is the flow of convicts to fight in Ukraine lessening? Is there any indication that the Wagner Group is getting fighters from Syria, former ISIS fighters?

Kirby: We know Mr. Prigozhin has tried to recruit for Ukraine in places like Syria. I couldn’t give you the exact numbers of how many he got or whether they’re still in the fight. But it is certainly one of his plays, to go ahead and recruit fighters from outside Russia and other countries, and we know that he’s, as I said, clearing out prisons. Now how many he’s got on any given day, what the throughput is, I don’t believe we have, you know, that specific. But in general, as I said, today, we know that he has, you know, thrown about 50,000 people into Ukraine.

VOA: Do you believe they are a formidable force? How effective are they, the Wagner Group?

Kirby: Without question they have made some incremental progress in Bakhmut and Soledar that are in the Donbas, but at a heavy, heavy price in casualties, as we talked about. It’s a meat grinder. He is throwing — literally throwing — ill equipped, ill prepared, almost no training individuals into this fight with the Ukrainian armed forces, who, while they may not have the same numbers, in terms of advantage, have a huge advantage in skill, organizational alignment, command and control, weapons systems provided by so many countries including the U.S., and they’re just chewing these prisoners up.

Because manpower doesn’t seem to be a problem for Mr. Prigozhin, they have made some incremental progress. But as we’ve also said, and Ukrainians are still fighting over Bakhmut and Soledar, and so that’s not over, we still consider that contested territory. But even if they — the Prigozhin group — end up with Bakhmut and Soledar, there’s no guarantee they’re going to keep it for very long, because the Ukrainians have proven time and time again that even when they lose territory, they’ll go back and retake it. And even if that doesn’t happen, it’s not as if those two towns are going to change the strategic direction of the war. They’re not going to put the Ukrainians on their back feet to a degree that the whole war changes character. These are two mining towns in the Donbas, and the fact that they’re mining towns ought to give you some clues as to why Mr. Prigozhin is so interested in them.

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Uyghur Rights Group Fails in Legal Challenge Against UK Government

A Uyghur rights group’s legal challenge against the British government for not investigating the import of cotton produced in the Chinese region of Xinjiang was dismissed by a London court Friday.

The World Uyghur Congress, an international organization of exiled Uyghur groups, had taken legal action at London’s High Court against Britain’s Home Office, tax authority HMRC and the National Crime Agency.

Judge Ian Dove said in a written ruling that he had dismissed the WUC’s case.

Rights groups accuse Beijing of widespread abuses of Uyghurs, a mainly Muslim ethnic minority that numbers around 10 million in the western region of Xinjiang, including the mass use of forced labor in camps. Beijing vigorously denies any abuses.

Dove said there was “clear and undisputed evidence of instances of cotton being manufactured in the XUAR (Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region) by the use of detained and prison labor as well as by forced labor.”

But he found that the Home Office’s approach to the law on foreign prison-made goods was “legally sound,” and ruled that the view of the tax authority and the National Crime Agency on the law on the proceeds of crime was correct.

The WUC argued in October that the Home Office had wrongly refused to launch a probe into the import of foreign prison-made goods, and that HMRC and the National Crime Agency had failed to investigate whether cotton from Xinjiang amounted to “criminal property.”

Lawyers representing the British government had argued there had to be a clear link between “the alleged criminality and its specific product” to investigate whether goods were made in a foreign prison.

Dolkun Isa, the WUC’s president, said the ruling was “a greatly disappointing outcome for the Uyghur community.”

A British government spokesperson said: “The government is committed to tackling the issue of Uyghur forced labor in supply chains and is taking robust action.

“Over the last year we have introduced new guidance on the risks of doing business in Xinjiang and enhanced export controls. We keep our policy response under constant review and welcome today’s judgment.”

A spokesperson for the National Crime Agency said in a statement that the agency considered information provided by the WUC and “assessed that there is insufficient material from which to commence a criminal investigation at this time.”

The statement added that the agency will “assess any new information received and will review accordingly.”

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«Росатом» міг обходити санкції після лютого 2022 року – The Washington Post

Опитані газетою експерти припускають, що російська влада могла використовувати «Росатом» для обходу санкцій

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