Daily: 09/03/2023

Erdogan Pushes Back Against Quake Response Criticism as Elections Loom

Rights groups are warning that independent Turkish media face fines and arrests over critical reporting of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s handling of February’s deadly earthquakes. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul.

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Russia Raises Doubts About Grain Deal as Deadline Looms

Russia said on Thursday that a landmark deal to ensure the safe export of grain from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports was only being half-implemented, raising doubts about whether it would allow an extension of the agreement set to expire next week.

The Black Sea Grain Initiative, brokered by the United Nations and Turkey last July, aimed to prevent a global food crisis by allowing Ukrainian grain blockaded by Russia’s invasion to be safely exported from three Ukrainian ports.

The deal was extended for 120 days in November and will renew on March 18 if no party objects. However, Moscow has signaled it will only agree to an extension if restrictions affecting its own exports are lifted.

Russia’s agricultural exports have not been explicitly targeted by the West, but Moscow says sanctions on its payments, logistics and insurance industries are a barrier to it being able to export its own grains and fertilizers.

“There are still a lot of questions about the final recipients, questions about where most of the grain is going. And of course, questions about the second part of the agreements are well known to all,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

Russia has complained that Ukrainian grain exported under the deal is going to wealthy countries. The “second part” refers to a memorandum of understanding with the U.N. that facilitates Russian food and fertilizer exports.

‘It has to be extended’

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s chief of staff said the grain deal was part of the country’s plan to end the war and should be extended indefinitely.

Andriy Yermak, quoted by Interfax Ukraine news agency, said any suggestion of ending the grain initiative amounted to “pressure on its intermediaries — Turkey and the U.N.”

“At the very least, it has to be extended by the same term as before,” Yermak was quoted as telling reporters.

Zelenskyy and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres held talks in Kyiv on Wednesday on extending the deal, which Guterres said was of “critical importance.”

There are no plans for direct talks between Guterres and Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Kremlin said.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told a news conference on Thursday that what he called the “two parts” of the deal, ensuring safe exports of Ukrainian grain and removing barriers to Russian exports, were “inextricably linked.”

“The first part is being implemented, and we are fulfilling all our obligations in this regard together with our Turkish colleagues,” Lavrov said. “The second part is not being implemented at all.”

“If we’re talking about a deal, it’s a package deal. You can only extend what is already being implemented, and if the package is half-implemented, then the issue of extension becomes quite complicated,” Lavrov said.

Top U.N. trade official Rebeca Grynspan is set to discuss the grain deal with senior Russian officials in Geneva next week.

Ukraine has so far exported more than 23 million metric tons of mainly corn and wheat under the initiative, according to the United Nations. The top primary destinations for shipments have been China, Spain, Turkey, Italy and the Netherlands.

“Exports of Ukrainian, as well as Russian, food and fertilizers are essential to global food security and food prices,” Guterres told reporters on Wednesday.

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У Тбілісі третій день триває протест – вимагають звільнення затриманих

Учасники акції вимагають звільнення громадян, які були затримані 7–8 березня

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«Нікчемна угода» – в МЗС України прокоментували «співпрацю» Вітебської області Білорусі з окупованим Кримом

Посольству України в Мінську доручено направити ноту протесту в МЗС Білорусі

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Туреччина блокує транзит санкційних вантажів до Росії ­– ЗМІ

Учасники ринку повʼязують зупинку транзиту санкційних вантажів із недавнім візитом до Туреччини держсекретаря США Ентоні Блінкена

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У Чехії вступив на посаду новий президент Петр Павел

Урочиста церемонія інавгурації відбулася у Владиславській залі Празького Граду на засіданні обох палат парламенту – Сенату й палати депутатів

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War, Coups, Rollbacks of Civil Liberties Test Democracies, Media Worldwide

Is the fight for democracy at a turning point? Freedom House documents a global decline for the 17th consecutive year. One of the biggest concerns: media freedom. VOA’s Veronica Balderas Iglesias explains. VOA footage by Saqib Ul Islam.

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China Criticizes Dutch Plan to Curb Access to Chip Tools 

China’s government on Thursday criticized the Netherlands for joining Washington in blocking Chinese access to technology to manufacture advanced processor chips on security and human rights grounds.

A Dutch minister told lawmakers Wednesday that exports of equipment that uses ultraviolet light to etch circuits on chips would be restricted on security grounds. ASML of the Netherlands is the only global supplier. Industry experts say a lack of access to ASML’s most advanced technology is a serious handicap for China’s efforts to develop its own chip industry.

Washington in October blocked Chinese access to U.S. tools to make advanced chips that it said might be used in weapons or in equipment for the ruling Communist Party’s surveillance apparatus. The Biden administration is lobbying European and Asian allies to tighten their own controls.

A Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman complained that “an individual country,” a reference to the United States, was trying to “safeguard its own hegemony” by abusing national security as an excuse to “deprive China of its right to development.”

“We firmly oppose the Netherlands’s interference and restriction with administrative means of normal economic and trade exchanges between Chinese and Dutch enterprises,” said the spokeswoman, Mao Ning. “We have made complaints to the Dutch side.”

Mao appealed to the Netherlands to “safeguard the stability of the international industrial and supply chain.”

ASML’s extreme-ultraviolet, or EUV, equipment uses light to etch microscopically precise circuits into silicon, allowing them to be packed more closely together. That increases their speed and reduces power demand.

The Dutch government has prohibited ASML from exporting its most advanced machines to China since 2019, but the company is allowed to supply lower-quality systems.

Chinese manufacturers can produce low-end chips used in autos and most consumer electronics but not those used in smartphones, servers and other high-end products.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and U.S. President Joe Biden held talks in January on ASML’s chip machines.

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Загарбницька війна Росії призвела до нищівних порушень прав людини в Україні – Freedom House

Росія у звіті названа «невільною» країною, чий лідер Путін став «причиною загибелі та поранень тисяч українських мирних жителів»

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У Росії через вибух в житловому будинку є постраждалі, завали розбирають

Під зруйнованими конструкціями можуть залишатися люди

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Russian Missile Strikes Kill at Least 5 in Ukraine

Ukrainian officials reported Russian missile strikes Thursday in multiple parts of the country, killing at least five people. 

Ukraine’s military said it shot down 34 of 81 missiles that Russia fired, and that it downed four Iranian-made drones used by Russian forces. 

The governor of the western Lviv region said four people were killed there when a missile hit a residential area. 

In the Dnipropetrovsk, officials said the Russian attacks killed one person and injured two others.   

The governor of the Odesa region, Maksym Marchenko, said Russian missiles struck energy infrastructure and that power cuts were in place. Marchenko also said the strikes damaged residential buildings, but that no casualties had been reported.    

In Kharkiv, the regional governor, Oleh Synehubov, said 15 Russian strikes hit the city and surrounding region, with targets that included critical infrastructure facilities. 

Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, was also struck. 

US outreach    

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy invited the top U.S. House lawmaker to visit Kyiv to see “what’s happening here” in an interview broadcast Wednesday on TV news channel CNN.      

“Mr. [Kevin] McCarthy, he has to come here to see how we work, what’s happening here, what war caused us, which people are fighting now, who are fighting now. And then after that, make your assumptions,” Zelenskyy told the news outlet through an interpreter.   

Responding to CNN, House Speaker McCarthy said, “I don’t have to go to Ukraine or Kyiv” to understand it. He said he received information in briefings and other ways.      

Since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24 of last year, the United States has sent nearly $100 billion in military, economic and relief aid to Ukraine. That aid was sent when the Democratic Party controlled both chambers in Congress.

The Republican Party took control of the U.S. House after the midterm elections, and some Republican have expressed opposition to sending additional arms and financial aid to Ukraine.      

McCarthy has said he supports Ukraine but that House Republicans will not provide “a blank check” for additional U.S. assistance to Kyiv without closer scrutiny of how it is being spent.      

In the CNN interview, Zelenskyy said, “I think that Speaker McCarthy, he never visited Kyiv or Ukraine, and I think it would help him with his position.”      

Many U.S. lawmakers and officials and world leaders have visited Zelenskyy in Kyiv as a show of solidarity, including President Joe Biden and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.      

Guterres visit      

Earlier Wednesday, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres assailed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as a violation of international law as he arrived in Kyiv for talks with Zelenskyy.      

The two were to discuss extending grain shipments from the war-torn country and securing the safety of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.       

“The sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of Ukraine must be upheld, within its internationally recognized borders,” Guterres said ahead of talks with Zelenskyy.         

“Our ultimate objective is equally clear: a just peace based on the U.N. Charter, international law and the recent General Assembly resolution marking one year since the start of the war,” he said.     

But with fighting raging and no peace talks on the horizon, Guterres said the U.N. is trying “to mitigate the impacts of the conflict, which has caused enormous suffering for the Ukrainian people — with profound global implications.”        

He called for the continuation of Ukrainian grain shipments through the Black Sea with Russian acquiescence. Since July 2022, he said 23 million tons of grain have been exported from Ukrainian ports, much of it shipped to impoverished countries. Absent a new agreement, the program is set to expire March 18.         

Guterres said the grain exports have “contributed to lowering the global cost of food” and offered “critical relief to people, who are also paying a high price for this war, particularly in the developing world. Indeed, the Food and Agriculture Organization’s Food Price Index has fallen by almost 20% over the last year.”         

“Exports of Ukrainian — as well as Russian — food and fertilizers are essential to global food security and food prices,” he said.     

Guterres also called for “full demilitarization” of the region around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, Europe’s largest, where nearby fighting has periodically shut down the facility and raised fears of a catastrophic nuclear meltdown.         

Attempts for months to end fighting in the region have failed, but Guterres said that safety and security near the power plant are vital so that the facility can return to normal operations.         

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

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«Окупанти можуть лише тероризувати мирних людей» – Зеленський про масований удар РФ

Зеленський подякував вартовим неба і всім, хто допомагає долати наслідки атак

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Georgia Drops Foreign Agent Legislation

Georgia’s ruling party announced Thursday it is withdrawing a proposed foreign agent law after the legislation sparked two days of massive protests. 

The measure would have required media and nongovernmental organizations receiving more than 20% of their funding from foreign sources to register as “agents of foreign influence.” 

Opponents of the bill compared it to a 2012 Russian law that has been used to suppress or shut down organizations critical of the Russian government. 

The ruling Georgian Dream party said Thursday the bill was presented in a negative way and that a portion of the public was misled. 

Georgia’s President Salome Zurabishvili had said she would veto the bill if it reached her desk, while other opponents expressed concerns that the measure would affect Georgia’s hopes of joining the European Union. 

Tens of thousands of people protested against the proposal outside the parliament on Tuesday and Wednesday. 

Some demonstrators threw objects at police, while officers dispersed crowds with tear gas, stun grenades and water cannons. 

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

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Російські війська контролюють щонайменше 50% Бахмута – ISW

Російські війська навряд чи швидко здійснять прорив за межі Бахмута, якщо захоплять місто, вважають американські аналітики

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Пентагон блокує передачу доказів злочинів Росії до суду в Гаазі – ЗМІ

Представники Пентагону, Державного департаменту, Міністерства юстиції та офісу директора національної розвідки відмовилися від коментарів

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Суд у США видав ордер на арешт літака компанії «Роснефть»

Востаннє Boeing «Роснефти» прилітав до Сполучених Штатів у 2014 році. Тепер він може бути затриманий у багатьох країнах на запит США

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Netherlands Responds to US China Policy With Plan to Curb Semiconductor Tech Exports

The Netherlands’ government on Wednesday said it planned new restrictions on exports of semiconductor technology to protect national security, joining the United States’ effort to curb chip exports to China. 

The U.S. in October imposed sweeping export restrictions on shipments of American chipmaking tools to China, but for the restrictions to be effective, they need other key suppliers in the Netherlands and Japan, who also oversee key chipmaking technology, to agree. The allied countries have been in talks on the matter for months. 

Dutch Trade Minister Liesje Schreinemacher announced the decision in a letter to parliament, saying the restrictions would be introduced before the summer. 

Her letter did not name China, a key Dutch trading partner, nor did it name ASML Holding NV, Europe’s largest tech firm and a major supplier to semiconductor manufacturers, but both will be affected. It specified one technology that would be affected: “DUV” lithography, the second-most advanced machines that ASML sells to computer chip manufacturers. 

“Because the Netherlands considers it necessary on national security grounds to get this technology into oversight with the greatest of speed, the Cabinet will introduce a national control list,” the letter said. 

ASML said in a response it expected to have to apply for licenses to export the most advanced segment among its DUV machines, but that would not affect its 2023 financial guidance. 

ASML dominates the market for lithography systems, multimillion-dollar machines that use powerful lasers to create the minute circuitry of computer chips. The company expects sales in China to remain about flat at $2.3 billion in 2023 – implying relative shrinkage as the company expects overall sales to grow by 25%. Major ASML customers such as Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. and Intel are engaged in capacity expansion. 

ASML has never sold its most advanced “EUV” machines to customers in China, and the bulk of its DUV sales in China go to relatively less advanced chipmakers. Its biggest South Korean customers, Samsung and SK Hynix, both have significant manufacturing capacity in China. 

The Dutch announcement leaves major questions unanswered, including whether ASML will be able to service the more than $8 billion worth of DUV machines it has sold to customers in China since 2014. 

Schreinemacher said the Dutch government had decided on measures “as carefully and precisely as possible … to avoid unnecessary disruption of value chains.” 

“It is for companies of importance to know what they are facing and to have time to adjust to new rules,” she wrote.  

Japan is expected to issue an update on its chip equipment export policies as soon as this week.

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Russian Military Unlikely to Make ‘Major Gains in Ukraine,’ Say Top US Intel Officials

More than a year after he sent troops into Ukraine, Russian leader Vladimir Putin is beginning to accept his military’s shortcomings and adapt his strategies in hopes of eventually toppling Kyiv, according to top U.S. intelligence officials.

Testifying Wednesday at the Senate Intelligence Committee’s annual Worldwide Threats hearing, the country’s top intelligence officials said Russia’s military has been battered in what has become a grinding war of attrition with Ukraine and is being forced to focus “on more modest objectives.”

“The Russians are making incremental progress in Bakhmut, which is not a particularly strategic objective, but are otherwise facing considerable constraints, including personnel and ammunition shortages,” U.S. Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines told lawmakers.

“If Russia does not institute a mandatory mobilization and identify substantial third-party ammunition supplies, it will be increasingly challenging for them to sustain even the current level of offensive operations,” Haines said. “We don’t see the Russian military recovering enough this year to make major territorial gains. … They may fully shift to holding and defending the territory they currently occupy.”

Various estimates by the U.S. and its allies contend about 200,000 Russian soldiers have been killed or are missing as a result of the now yearlong war in Ukraine.

And the U.S. National Security Council said last month that even Russia’s preeminent paramilitary force, the Wagner Group, has been hit hard with about 30,000 casualties, including 9,000 deaths.

A weakened Russia

Haines, the top U.S. intelligence official, said only that Russia is suffering from “high casualty rates” on the battlefield, adding U.S. intelligence analysts “don’t see the Russian military recovering enough this year to make major territorial gains.”

The declassified intelligence report, released as Haines and other officials testified, further portrayed Russia’s military as weakened, and in some ways, more dangerous.

Russia’s military “will require years of rebuilding and leave them less capable of posing a conventional military threat to European security and operating as assertively in Eurasia and on the global stage,” it said.

As a result, the report warned, “Moscow will become even more reliant on nuclear, cyber, and space capabilities as it deals with the extensive damage to Russia’s ground forces.”

Additionally, Putin may be increasingly tempted to make use of those capabilities.

The new U.S. intelligence assessment cautions that Russia’s military failures are increasingly difficult to hide, hurting Putin’s standing.

In turn, Putin could “trigger additional escalatory actions … in an effort to win back public support,” the report said.

But in the context of the war in Ukraine, Haines described Putin’s use of Russia’s nuclear posture as saber rattling, “intended to deter the West from providing additional support” to Kyiv, as he plays for time.

“He probably will still remain confident that Russia can eventually militarily defeat Ukraine and wants to prevent Western support from tipping the balance and forcing a conflict with NATO,” Haines told lawmakers.

Russia’s long game

“Putin most likely calculates the time works in his favor and that prolonging the war, including with potential pauses in the fighting, may be his best remaining pathway to eventually securing Russia’s strategic interests in Ukraine, even if it takes years,” she said.

Haines and other U.S. intelligence leaders also warned that Russia is leaning more heavily on China, assessing that the relationship between the two countries “continues to deepen” with some help coming already from Beijing.

“We do see them providing assistance to Russia in the context of the conflict,” Haines said, declining to share details in a public setting, though she noted the type of assistance is making Chinese officials “increasingly uncomfortable.”

“There are some limitations on where we see they would go in the partnership,” she added. “We don’t see them becoming allies the way we are with allies in NATO.”

U.S. intelligence agencies also see signs of Russia and China working, though not necessarily together, to weaken democracies across the globe.

Officials warn that both Moscow and Beijing are providing support specifically for would-be autocrats as they rise to power.

Threat from China

But between Russia and China, it is Beijing that U.S. intelligence sees as the unparalleled priority.

“[The] Chinese Communist Party, or CCP, under President Xi Jinping will continue efforts to achieve Xi’s vision of making China the preeminent power in east Asia and a major power on the world stage,” Haines said. “However, the CCP is increasingly convinced that it can only do so at the expense of U.S. power and influence.”

According to the U.S. threat assessment, China will likely try to drive wedges between Washington and its allies and push for authoritarian norms that favor its interests.

Yet despite the increasingly harsh rhetoric coming from Chinese officials in recent weeks, and a growing pessimism inside Chinese political leadership about relations with Washington, U.S. intelligence agencies think China will try to tread carefully.

“We assess that Beijing believes it benefits most from preventing a spiraling of tensions and by preserving stability in its relationship with the United States,” Haines said.

President Xi “wants a period of relative calm to give China the time and stability it needs to address growing domestic difficulties,” she said, noting “China’s long-term economic growth will continue to decelerate because China’s era of rapid, catch-up growth is ending.”

Rubio lashes out at TikTok

Lawmakers echoed concerns about Beijing’s tactics, voicing concerns that a combination of U.S. government policies and corporate attitudes are putting the U.S. at a disadvantage.

“This is an ongoing challenge,” said Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner, a Democrat. “Too many in our corporate world still believe that these collaborations inside of China are benign, even though when they turn a blind eye to the literally unprecedented amounts of intellectual property theft, too often because they’re making way too much money.”

The committee’s top Republican, Marco Rubio, also lashed out at China’s use of technology companies, focusing on ByteDance, the Chinese company behind the popular social media app, TikTok.

“It’s probably one of the most valuable surveillance tools on the planet,” Rubio said during an exchange with FBI Director Christopher Wray. “I don’t understand why this company is allowed to operate.”

“If we went out and decided to build something like this of our own to influence or spy in another society, I’m not sure we could build something like this, or even better,” Rubio warned. “And we’ve invited them in and protected by our laws.”

“It’s really a question of data collection,” Wray said, after additional questioning about TikTok. “It’s the control of the software, which allows them to then have access to millions of devices.”

‘Dangerous dependency’

Other lawmakers voiced concerns about Beijing’s attempts to dominate the world’s supply chains, ranging from lithium-ion batteries to pharmaceutical ingredients.

“It suggests to me that this issue of dependency is something that really has to have some serious policy examination,” said Senator Angus King, warning of the “dangerous dependency” the U.S. has developed when it comes to materials that come from or pass through China.

“That goes also about their actions in Africa and in South America where they’re trying to corner the market, if you will, on various commodities,” he noted.

“It’s not just simply about China trying to create indigenous supply chains but actually to control global supply chains,” Haines, the intelligence director, said, warning Beijing has been tinkering with their export and import policies to pressure and shape global markets.

A push to reauthorize surveillance

U.S. intelligence officials also pushed lawmakers Wednesday to reauthorize Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

The program allows the FBI and the National Security Agency to gather electronic data of non-Americans without first obtaining a warrant

Those efforts have proved to be controversial since there have been multiple occasions when such surveillance activity has resulted in the incidental collection of messages and data from U.S. citizens.

But the intelligence chiefs told lawmakers those concerns are being addressed and that stripping the agencies of the existing authority would damage national security.

“If you think about what we’ve been able to do with this authority since 2008 … provide and shine a light on what our adversaries are doing,” said the NSA director, General Paul Nakasone. “What’s Iran doing? What’s China doing? What’s Russia doing? What’s North Korea doing? In all parts of the world.”

Intelligence officials have previously said intelligence gained under FISA Section 702 helped the U.S. launch the strike that killed al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.

And CIA Director William Burns said Wednesday that the surveillance authority is also helping close to home in the fight against drug cartels sending fentanyl into the U.S.

FISA Section 702 “has helped us in some successful actions recently, with which foreign intelligence collected by CIA has contributed to both recent successes that our Mexican partners have had against the Sinaloa cartel and also recent successes against fentanyl production and processing equipment in Mexico and in the United States,” Burns said.

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.

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Are Americans Ready for More Drone Deliveries?

Drones are routinely used in warfare, law enforcement and agriculture. Now more and more U.S. businesses are using them to deliver cookies and coffee right to your front door. VOA’s Julie Taboh has more. Camera: Adam Greenbaum, Chad Baugh 

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