Daily: 23/01/2023

Президент Туреччини заявив про відмову підтримати вступ Швеції до НАТО

«Якщо Швеція така прихильна до членів терористичної організації та ворогів ісламу, ми радимо їй довірити їм захист своєї країни», – заявив Реджеп Таїп Ердоган

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Former FBI Agent Arrested on Russia Sanctions Violations

A former senior FBI agent who once investigated Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska has been arrested for receiving secret payments from the Russian billionaire in return for investigating a rival, the Justice Department announced Monday. 

Charles F. McGonigal, who headed counterintelligence for the FBI’s New York field office, and Sergey Shestakov, a former Soviet diplomat and an associate of Deripaska, were arrested Saturday on sanctions violations and money laundering charges.

According to court documents, McGonigal and Shestakov in 2021 investigated an unnamed rival Russian oligarch in return for concealed payments from Deripaska, violating U.S. sanctions imposed on Deripaska in 2018. 

In an earlier scheme in 2019, McGonigal and Shestakov allegedly unsuccessfully tried to have the sanctions against Deripaska lifted, according to court documents.

Before retiring from the FBI in 2018, McGonigal, a veteran special agent, led and participated in investigations of Russian oligarchs, including Deripaska, according to the Justice Department. 

Shestakov was a Soviet and Russian diplomat before becoming a U.S. citizen and a Russian interpreter for U.S. courts and government offices, according to the Justice Department.

According to court documents, the duo tried to conceal Deripaska’s involvement in the investigation of his rival by using shell companies, not naming the businessman in communications and forging signatures.

In September, Deripaska, an aluminum magnate with suspected ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and three associates were indicted on charges of evading U.S. sanctions and obstruction of justice. 

Deripaska remains at large. 

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France’s Baguette Becomes Another Ukraine War Casualty

The fallout of the war in Ukraine is hitting even France’s iconic baguette, which was recently added to UNESCO’s World Heritage list. On Monday, French bakers took to the streets of Paris to protest soaring energy and other prices they say are imperiling their trade.

Denis Durand begins his workdays at 3:30 a.m. to bake the crusty baguettes and croissants that are the staple of French breakfasts. His organic boulangerie, or bakery, in eastern Paris has been a family business for six decades. But today, it’s getting harder and harder to make ends meet.

He says bakers like himself — known as “boulangers” in France — are seeing their profits disappearing. They get a lot of promises from the government, he says — but nothing concrete.

Like many others, Durand is feeling the effects of soaring prices since the war in Ukraine, and the European Union’s embargo on Russian energy. 

He says his monthly energy costs have doubled — other bakers have seen their energy bills rise fivefold or more. Prices of flour, sugar, eggs and the packaging for his breads and pastries are also sharply up. 

Authorities have announced support for the country’s 33,000 artisanal bakeries and other small and medium-sized businesses. 

Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire also called on energy providers to renegotiate contracts for boulangers in cases where energy prices have exploded.

But many of these artisanal bakers say it’s not enough. And on Monday, Durand joined fellow boulangers in Paris to demonstrate against the soaring costs. 

The protest was organized by the Collective for the Survival of Boulangers and Artisans. Nice-based boulanger Frederic Roy, who co-founded the group, says the government warns if the government doesn’t do more to reduce their costs, many risk going out of business.

But not all baker’s groups are on board. Some unions did not join Monday’s protest.

Franck Thomasse, who heads a Paris-area bakers’ syndicate, says negotiating with the government for more support is more effective than protesting.

But baker Durand disagrees. He’s trying to cut corners — but says it’s not enough. Boulangers like himself are the lifeblood of France, he says — but today, they feel like they’re the last ones served.  


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Президентом ПАРЄ знову обрали Кокса

Окрім Тіні Кокса, на посаду президента ПАРЄ також претендував представник України Олександр Мережко

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Міністри ЄС схвалили наступний пакет допомоги Україні. Угорщина відмовилася від блокування

Минулого тижня повідомлялося, що Угорщина блокує транш у розмірі 500 мільйонів євро

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СБУ передала до суду матеріали за обвинуваченням 55 депутатів Держдуми РФ за підтримку «Л/ДНР»

Посадовцям загрожує покарання до 15 років ув’язнення або довічне позбавлення волі з конфіскацією майна

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Кулеба попросив ЄС про нові санкції проти РФ та прискорення переговорів про вступ України

Десятий санкційний пакет ЄС має бути ухвалений якнайшвидше та підвищити тиск на РФ, вважає Дмитро Кулеба

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Why Macron, French Unions at Odds Over Pensions 

The French government is presenting a bill on Monday that foresees broad changes to the pension system that will notably push back the legal retirement age from 62 to 64.

Unions aren’t happy, and more than 1 million people took to the streets last week to reject the measure. More strikes and protest action are planned Jan. 31, and probably beyond.

What does President Emmanuel Macron’s government want to change and why, and what does it mean for workers, and why are so many people opposed?

The pension system

All French retirees receive a state pension. The system’s funding is based on the redistribution of a specific tax from those who are working to those who are retired.

The system is projected to dive into deficit in the coming decade amid France’s aging population.

The average French pension this year stands at 1,400 euros per month ($1,500 per month) once taxes are deducted.

The system is complex, with differences depending on professions, and the private and public sectors. Some are allowed to take early retirement, including the military, police officers and people with physically demanding jobs.

The government plan

The government says the changes will make the system financially sustainable.

Workers who were born in 1961 and were supposed to retire this year will need to work three additional months. Those born in 1968 and after will need to be at least 64 and have worked for 43 years to be entitled to a full pension.

Those who don’t fulfill the conditions, like many women who interrupted their careers to raise children or those who undertook a long period of study and started working late, will have to wait until the age of 67 to get a full pension — unchanged from the current system.

Those who started working from the age of 14 to 19 will be allowed to get early retirement, as will people with major health issues.

The government argues that the changes will also allow for the increase of the minimum pension by 100 euros, to reach about 1,200 euros for a full career.

Opposition to the planned changes 

Opinion polls show a majority of French are opposed to the measure. Thursday’s protests, the first public show of resistance toward the measures, gathered larger crowds than in past years.

France’s eight main workers’ unions are calling on the government to abandon the age measure altogether. It is the first time since 2010 that all the unions joined forces against a planned reform.

Opponents argue that there are other ways to get financing for the pensions — for instance via a tax on the wealthy or an increase in payroll contributions paid by employers.

Most opposition parties, including the hard-left France Unbowed, the Greens and the Socialist party, as well as the far-right National Rally, vowed to wage a harsh battle against the bill at parliament.

What’s next?

The changes are included in a budget amendment bill to be formally presented at a Cabinet meeting on Monday. They will start being debated at parliament on Feb. 6.

Macron’s centrist alliance lost its parliamentary majority last year, yet still has the most important group at the National Assembly, where it has hopes of being able to join up with the conservative The Republicans party to pass the measure.

Otherwise, the government may use a special power to force the law through parliament without a vote — but such a move will come at the price of heavy criticism.

The bill will then need to be voted on by the Senate, where The Republicans have the majority.

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Pavel Leads Ahead of Czech Vote; Opponent Plays on War Fears 

Retired general and former NATO official Petr Pavel led billionaire ex-prime minister Andrej Babis by a nearly 18-point margin ahead of a Czech presidential election run-off vote, according to the final Ipsos agency poll published on Monday.

Czech presidents do not wield much daily powers but they appoint prime ministers, central bank governors, and have a limited role in foreign policy. They also shape public debate and can pressure governments on policies.

Pavel was polling at 58.8% to 41.2% for Babis in the survey conducted on Jan. 20-22. The two candidates meet in the second round of the election on Jan. 27-28.

Pavel, an independent backed by the center-right government, has projected a clear pro-Western policy stance and support for Ukraine in its defense against Russian aggression.

Babis, 68, has tried to label Pavel as a threat to peace, and presented himself over the past week since the first election round as a force against war.

His campaign posters declare “I will not drag Czechia into a war” and “I am a diplomat. Not a soldier”.

Pavel has dismissed the suggestions as nonsense.

Czech media reported widespread anti-Pavel messaging on disinformation websites and chain emails.

Babis, who heads the largest opposition political party, won the backing of retiring President Milos Zeman as well as figures from the extreme fringes of the political scene, including the pro-Russian former ruling Communist Party. Zeman had favored closer ties with China and Russia, until Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine last year.

In a television debate on Sunday night, Babis caused a stir by saying he would refuse to send troops to defend NATO allies Poland and the Baltics in case they were attacked.

He later backtracked on those comments, saying he would respect NATO’s mutual defense commitments.

The Ipsos poll confirmed a message in two surveys over the weekend where Pavel also led by a wide margin.

Pavel, 61, was a soldier since the communist era, but rose in the ranks after the 1989 democratic “Velvet Revolution”. He served in special forces and military diplomacy roles and led the army general staff in 2012-2015.

In the subsequent three years, he headed NATO’s military committee of national army chiefs, the principal military advisory body to the alliance’s secretary-general.

Monday was the deadline for polling ahead of a blackout period. One more poll was expected on Monday afternoon.

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Біля резиденції Путіна у Новгородській області РФ встановили комплекс ППО – ЗМІ

У селі Ящерове в Новгородській області РФ, за шість кілометрів від валдайської резиденції президента Росії Володимира Путіна, встановили, ймовірно, зенітний ракетно-гарматний комплекс «Панцир-С1», повідомляє «Агентство».

Фотографію комплексу ППО до редакції надіслав житель Валдая. За його словами, розмістили комплекс «кілька тижнів тому». Інформацію «Агентству» підтвердили жителі Ящерова та сусідніх сіл. За словами одного з них, комплекс перебуває на бойовому чергуванні, щонайменше троє військовослужбовців постійно перебувають поруч, антена РЛС обертається.

Видання вказує, що Ящерове – одне з двох найближчих сіл до президентської резиденції. У районі немає критичної інфраструктури, стратегічних об’єктів, великих підприємств чи великих скупчень військової техніки та особового складу.

Минулого тижня стало відомо, що комплекс «Панцир-С1» встановили на даху будівлі Міністерства оборони РФ. Ще один із зенітних комплексів був помічений на офісній будівлі в Тетеринському провулку в Таганському районі.

Знімки ЗРПК «Панцир-С1», ймовірно, зроблені всього за 10 кілометрів від резиденції Путіна в Ново-Огарьові, опублікувало 20 січня видання «Сирена». Кадри датуються початком січня. Ще декілька систем ППО виявили приблизно за два кілометри від аеродрому Остаф’єво, який належить російському Міноборони.

На початку грудня минулого року військові аеродроми в Рязанській та Саратовській областях Росії були атаковані безпілотниками. Внаслідок цих атак загинули кілька російських військовослужбовців. Удари по аеродромах, з яких злітають російські військові літаки, що завдають ударів по цивільній інфраструктурі України, російське Міноборони назвало терактами. Також у відомстві заявили, що атаки вчинили українські безпілотники. Українська влада офіційно причетність до подій не підтверджувала.

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Естонія оголосила про передачу Україні нового пакету військової допомоги. РФ «понижує відносини» з Таллінном

«Ми віддаємо всі наші 155-мм гаубиці Україні. І хочемо таким чином створити прецедент, щоб інші країни не мали жодних виправдань, чому вони не можуть надати Україні необхідне озброєння для перемоги у війні»

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«Відірваний від реальності» – британська розвідка про те, яким вважають командувача військ РФ в Україні

11 січня командувачем Об’єднаного угруповання російських військ, які ведуть війну в Україні, став начальник Генштабу Збройних сил РФ Валерій Герасимов

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NYT: в організації розсилок «поштових бомб» в Іспанії підозрюють ГРУ Росії

Торік невідомі розіслали «поштові бомби» на низку адрес в Іспанії, зокрема, міністерства оборони країни, американської та української дипмісій. Вибухнула лише посилка, яка була надіслана на ім’я посла України

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Erdogan: Turkey Elections to Be Held May 14

Turkey’s president has announced May 14 as the date for the country’s next parliamentary and presidential elections.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who plans to seek reelection, made the announcement during a Saturday youth conference in northwestern Bursa province. A video of the event was released Sunday.

“I thank God that we are destined to share our path with you, our valued youth, who will vote for the first time in the elections that will be held on May 14,” said Erdogan, who had hinted at the date last week.

He said in Bursa he would make the formal call on March 10, after which Turkey’s Supreme Election Council would prepare for the elections.

If no candidate secures more than 50% of the vote, a second round of voting would be held May 28.

Erdogan, who has been in office since 2003 — first as prime minister and as president since 2014 — faces his most difficult election yet as Turkey’s troubled economy struggles with soaring inflation.

A six-party opposition alliance has yet to put forth a presidential candidate. A pro-Kurdish party that is the third largest in parliament has so far been excluded from the alliance and said it might field its own candidate.

Erdogan, 68, introduced a system of governance in 2018 that abolished the office of the prime minister and concentrated most powers in the hands of the president. The office of the president was largely a ceremonial post before then. Under the new system, presidential and parliamentary elections are held on the same day.

The opposition has blamed Turkey’s economic downturn and an erosion of civil rights and freedoms on Erdogan, saying the revised government system amounts to “one-man rule.” The presidential system was narrowly approved in a 2017 referendum and took effect after the 2018 elections.

This year’s elections were supposed to take place in June, but ruling party members said that month would coincide with summer and religious holidays, prompting an earlier date.

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Pressure Mounting on Germany to Deliver Leopard 2 Tanks to Ukraine

Germany’s foreign minister said Sunday that Berlin wouldn’t object if Poland decides to send German-made tanks to Ukraine to aid it in its fight against Russian invaders.

Annalena Baerbock told French TV channel LCI that, while Poland has not requested permission to export its Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, she said if the request were made, “we would not stand in the way.”

Ukraine has long sought heavy tanks to combat Russian forces using more modern tanks than those in Ukraine’s arsenal.  Until Baerbock’s comments Sunday, Germany has been reticent to send its own Leopard 2s to Ukraine or approve their transfer by countries who purchased the tanks from Germany.

Earlier Sunday, French and German officials held a summit in France to discuss additional weapons for Ukraine.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz did not say whether Germany would agree to provide Ukraine with a delivery of battle tanks, but the Reuters news agency cited him as saying such decisions would be made in coordination with allies including the United States.

French President Emmanuel Macron said he does not rule out the possibility of sending Leclerc tanks to Ukraine. He cautioned, however, that sending tanks must not endanger France’s security or escalate the war between Ukraine and Russia.

British Foreign Minister James Cleverly said Sunday in an interview with Sky News he would like to see the Ukrainians “equipped with things like the Leopard 2.” U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, the newly installed Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told ABC’s “This Week” that the United States should offer its heavy Abrams battle tanks to Ukraine to encourage Germany to send its Leopard 2s as well.

“Just one Abrams tank would be enough to prompt allies, notably Germany, to unlock their own tank inventories for the fight against Russia,” he said.

US also urged to provide tanks

Democratic Senator Chris Coons also told ABC that it was time to set aside U.S. concerns about delivering the Abrams.

“I respect that our military leaders think the Abrams is too sophisticated, too expensive a platform to be as useful as the Leopards, but we need to continue to work with our close allies and move forward in lock step.”

Their comments Sunday echoed reactions of European officials Saturday against Germany’s indecision about sending its heavy tanks to Ukraine. Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics called on Berlin to “provide Leopard tanks to Ukraine now.”

Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas called for “many more” weapons to be sent to Ukraine and faster. Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau urged “action now.”

“Ukrainian blood is shed for real,” he wrote on Twitter. “This is the price of hesitation over Leopard deliveries,” he said.

Mykhailo Podolyak, a senior adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Saturday expressed frustration with the slow pace of the military support the country’s allies are providing. “Every day of delay is the death of Ukrainians. Think faster.”

Meanwhile, Ukrainian troops will start training to use Leopard 2 battle tanks on Polish soil, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov told VOA’s Ukrainian service Friday. Reznikov described the development as a breakthrough.

“I am optimistic regarding this because the first step has been made. We will start training programs for our tank crews on Leopard 2s,” Reznikov said.

Ukrainian corruption

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy promised Sunday he would continue to root out corruption in Ukraine’s government, Reuters reported.

The pledge came amid allegations of senior-level corruption, including a report of dubious practices in military procurement despite officials promoting national unity to confront the invasion, Reuters said.

“I want this to be clear: there will be no return to what used to be in the past, to the way various people close to state institutions or those who spent their entire lives chasing a chair used to live,” Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address.

Transparency International in 2021 ranked Ukraine’s corruption at 122 out of 180 countries.

Russia claims new advances

Russia’s defense ministry said for the second straight day Sunday that its forces were improving their positions in Ukraine’s southern Zaporizhzhia region.

“During offensive operations in the direction of Zaporizhzhia, units of the Eastern Military District took up more advantageous ground and positions,” the defense ministry said.

It claimed to have inflicted casualties and destroyed equipment including Ukrainian fighting vehicles, howitzers and two U.S.-made HIMARS rockets. The Reuters news agency was not able to independently verify Russia’s battlefield accounts. Ukraine Saturday said Russia’s claims of progress in Zaporizhzhia were exaggerated.

Return of bodies

Saturday, the Wagner Group, the private Russian paramilitary group, announced through its RIA FAN website that it plans to send the bodies of Ukrainian soldiers killed during fighting in the captured town of Soledar to Ukraine-held territory.

The RIA FAN website, part of Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin’s media holdings, quoted a Wagner commander as saying the mercenary company would send the bodies from Soledar to Ukrainian-held territory in four or five convoys totaling about 20 trucks.

Saturday’s report did not say how many bodies would be returned to Ukrainian authorities but claimed Ukraine’s forces had suffered heavy losses in Soledar.

It said Prigozhin had made clear that soldiers’ bodies should be returned to Ukraine in a “dignified” way but did not provide further details.

The White House has imposed new sanctions on Prigozhin’s paramilitary organization.

In a separate letter addressed to National Security Council coordinator John Kirby, Prigozhin’s press service asked, “Dear Mr. Kirby, could you please clarify what crime was committed by PMC Wagner?”

Kirby called Wagner “a criminal organization that is committing widespread atrocities and human rights abuses.”

VOA’s Ruslan Petrychka contributed to this story. Some information came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.

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Євросоюз планує запровадити десятий пакет санкцій проти Росії до 24 лютого

«Санкції проти Білорусі можуть бути запроваджені ще раніше»

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Бербок: Німеччина не проти, щоб Польща передала танки Leopard 2 Україні

«Це питання ще не ставилося, але якщо воно буде задане, ми не стоятимемо на шляху»

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France, Germany Renew Alliance Strained Amid War in Ukraine 

France and Germany are seeking to overcome differences laid bare by Russia’s war in Ukraine while celebrating their decadeslong friendship with a day of ceremonies and talks Sunday on Europe’s security, energy and other challenges.

Germany’s entire Cabinet is in Paris for joint meetings, and 300 lawmakers from both countries are coming together at the Sorbonne University to mark 60 years since a landmark treaty sealed a bond between the longtime enemies that underpins today’s European Union.

French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz will oversee two rounds of talks at the Elysee Palace, focusing first on energy and economic policy, and then on defense.

“Let us use our inseparable friendship … to shape the present and future of our continent, together with our European partners,” Scholz said at the ceremony at the Sorbonne.

After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year, the European peace project is at a “turning point,” he said.

“[Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s imperialism will not win. … We will not allow Europe to revert to a time when violence replaced politics and our continent was torn apart by hatred and national rivalries.”

Macron added: “Our unfailing support for the Ukrainian people will continue in every field.”

Both countries have contributed significant weaponry to Ukraine, but Ukraine is asking for tanks and more powerful arms as Russia’s war drags on.

The war has exposed differences in strategy between the two countries, notably in European talks on how to deal with the resulting energy crisis and punishing inflation, as well as over future military investments.

Macron called for “a new energy model” in the EU based on diversifying supplies and encouraging carbon-free energy production.

Aside from Ukraine, a top priority for the meeting is working out Europe’s response to the subsidies for U.S. electric carmakers and other businesses in the Biden administration’s Inflation Reduction Act, according to senior French and German officials.

France wants Europe to counter what it considers an unfair move by Washington. Paris is pushing for the EU to relax rules on state subsidies in order to accelerate their allocation, simplify the bloc’s support for investments and create an EU sovereign fund to boost green industries. Berlin, however, warns against protectionism.

French-German government meetings are usually held at least once a year to coordinate policies. The last one was held in May 2021 via videoconference due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sunday’s gathering is the first in-person meeting since 2019. It was originally scheduled for October, but was delayed amid divergences on issues including energy, defense and the economy.

The officials are marking the 60th anniversary of the Elysee Treaty signed by French President and wartime anti-Nazi resistance leader Charles de Gaulle and West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer on Jan. 22, 1963.

Berlin and Paris have a decadeslong history of bilateral irritants and European disputes that coexist with the countries’ friendship and cooperation.

France and Germany have been described as the “engine” of the EU. They have always found compromises even in difficult terrain since they co-founded, with four other countries, the forerunner of the EU in 1957.

“The Franco-German engine is a compromise machine: well-oiled, but also loud at times and marked by hard work,” Scholz said.

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