In a partial victory for Iran, judges at the International Court of Justice on Thursday ruled that Washington had illegally allowed courts to freeze assets of some Iranian companies and ordered the United States to pay compensation, the amount of which will be determined later.
However, in a blow for Tehran, the World Court said it did not have jurisdiction over $1.75 billion in frozen assets from Iran’s central bank.
Acting Legal Adviser Rich Visek of the U.S. State Department said in a written statement that the ruling rejected the “vast majority of Iran’s case,” notably where it concerned the assets of the central bank.
“This is a major victory for the United States and victims of Iran’s state-sponsored terrorism,” Visek added.
In a reaction shared by Iran’s foreign ministry on its Telegram channel, it hailed the decision as “highlighting the legitimacy” of its positions and “expressing the wrongful behavior of the United States.”
The ruling came amid heightened tensions between the United States and Iran after tit-for-tat strikes between Iran-backed forces and U.S. personnel in Syria last week.
Relations have been strained after attempts to revive a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and major world powers stalled, and as Iranian drones are being used by Russia against Ukraine.
Case brought in 2016
The case before the court was initially brought by Tehran against Washington in 2016 for allegedly breaching a 1955 friendship treaty by allowing U.S. courts to freeze assets of Iranian companies. The money was to be given in compensation to victims of terrorist attacks.
The Islamic Republic denies supporting international terrorism.
The 1950s friendship treaty was signed long before Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, which toppled the U.S.-backed shah, and the subsequent severing of U.S.-Iranian relations.
Washington finally withdrew from the treaty in 2018. Nonetheless, the court ruled that it was in place at the time of the freezing of the assets of Iranian commercial companies and entities.
“The court has concluded the United States violated its obligations under (…) the treaty of amity,” presiding judge Kirill Gevorgian said. He added that Iran was entitled to compensation and the parties had 24 months to agree on a figure; if that does not work, the court will start new proceedings to determine the amount to be paid.
The judges also explained the court had no jurisdiction over the $1.75 billion in assets from Iran’s central bank held by the U.S. because that bank was not a commercial enterprise, and thus not protected by the treaty.
The rulings of the court are binding, but it has no means of enforcing them. The United States and Iran are among a handful of countries to have disregarded its decisions in the past.
New data is suggesting at least some U.S. adversaries are taking advantage of the hugely popular TikTok video-sharing app for influence operations.
A report Thursday by the Alliance for Securing Democracy (ASD) finds Russia “has been using the app to push its own narrative” in its effort to undermine Western support for Ukraine.
“Based on our analysis, some users are engaging more with Russian state media than other, more reputable independent news outlets on the platform,” according to the report by the U.S.-based election security advocate that tracks official state actors and state-backed media.
“More TikTok users follow RT than The New York Times,” it said.
The ASD report found that as of March 22, there were 78 Russian-funded news outlets on TikTok with a total of more than 14 million followers.
It also found that despite a commitment from TikTok to label the accounts as belonging to state-controlled media, 31 of the accounts were not labeled.
Yet even labeling the accounts seemed to have little impact on their ability to gain an audience.
“By some measures, including the performance of top posts, labeled Russian state media accounts are reaching larger audiences on TikTok than other platforms,” the report said. “RIA Novosti’s top TikTok post so far in 2023 has more than 5.6 million views. On Twitter, its top post has fewer than 20,000 views.”
The report on Russian state media’s use of TikTok comes as U.S. officials are again voicing concern about the potential for TikTok to be used for disinformation campaigns and foreign influence operations.
“Just a tremendous number of people in the United States use TikTok,” John Plumb, the principal cyber adviser to the U.S. secretary of defense, told members of a House Armed Services subcommittee, warning of “the control China may have to direct information through it” and use it as a “misinformation platform.”
“This provides a foreign nation a platform for information operations,” U.S. Cyber Command’s General Paul Nakasone added, noting that TikTok has 150 million users in the United States.
“One-third of the adult population receives their news from this app,” he said. “One-sixth of our children are saying they’re constantly on this app.”
TikTok, owned by China-based ByteDance, has sought to push back against the concerns.
“Let me state this unequivocally: ByteDance is not an agent of China or any other country,” TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew told U.S. lawmakers during a hearing last week.
“We do not promote or remove content at the request of the Chinese government,” he said, trying to downplay fears about the company’s data collection practices and Chinese laws that would require the company to share that information with the Chinese government if asked.U.S. lawmakers, intelligence and security officials, however, have their doubts.
The top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Marco Rubio, earlier this month warned that TikTok is “probably one of the most valuable surveillance tools on the planet.”
A day later, Cyber Command’s Nakasone told members of the House Intelligence Committee that TikTok is like a “loaded gun,” while FBI Director Christopher Wray warned that TikTok’s recommendation algorithm “could be used to conduct influence operations.”
“That’s not something that would be easily detected,” he added.your ad here
An open letter signed by Elon Musk, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and other prominent high-tech experts and industry leaders is calling on the artificial intelligence industry to take a six-month pause for the development of safety protocols regarding the technology.
The letter — which as of early Thursday had been signed by nearly 1,400 people — was drafted by the Future of Life Institute, a nonprofit group dedicated to “steering transformative technologies away from extreme, large-scale risks and towards benefiting life.”
In the letter, the group notes the rapidly developing capabilities of AI technology and how it has surpassed human performance in many areas. The group uses the example of how AI used to create new drug treatments could easily be used to create deadly pathogens.
Perhaps most significantly, the letter points to the recent introduction of GPT-4, a program developed by San Francisco-based company OpenAI, as a standard for concern.
GPT stands for Generative Pre-trained Transformer, a type of language model that uses deep learning to generate human-like conversational text.
The company has said GPT-4, its latest version, is more accurate and human-like and has the ability to analyze and respond to images. The firm says the program has passed a simulated bar exam, the test that allows someone to become a licensed attorney.
In its letter, the group maintains that such powerful AI systems should be developed “only once we are confident that their effects will be positive and their risks will be manageable.”
Noting the potential a program such as GPT-4 could have to create disinformation and propaganda, the letter calls on “all AI labs to immediately pause for at least 6 months the training of AI systems more powerful than GPT-4.”
The letter says AI labs and independent experts should use the pause “to jointly develop and implement a set of shared safety protocols for advanced AI design and development that will ensure they are safe beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Meanwhile, another group has taken its concerns about the negative potential for GPT-4 a step further.
The nonprofit Center for AI and Digital Policy filed a complaint with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission on Thursday calling on the agency to suspend further deployment of the system and launch an investigation.
In its complaint, the group said the technical description of the GPT-4 system provided by its own makers describes almost a dozen major risks posed by its use, including “disinformation and influence operations, proliferation of conventional and unconventional weapons,” and “cybersecurity.”
Some information for this report was provided by The Associated Press and Reuters.
Authorities in Montenegro say the United States and South Korea have asked the Balkan nation to extradite South Korean Terraform Lab founder Do Kwon, who is suspected in those countries of cryptocurrency fraud amounting to more than $40 billion.
“Two Koreans wanted by South Korea, Do Kwon and the company’s chief financial officer, Han Chang-joon, were detained when they attempted to cross the state border with passports that are reasonably suspected of being forged,” said Montenegrin Justice Minister Marko Kovač at a news conference Wednesday, stating that the United States also requested the extradition of Do Kwon from Montenegro.
Through diplomatic channels
Kovač said that “a meeting was held with the diplomatic representatives of the Republic of Korea at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Justice of Montenegro, after which a petition for the extradition of these two persons was handed over by the Republic of Korea, while the extradition of Do Kwon was also requested by the U.S.”
“The U.S. requested the extradition of Do Kwon through diplomatic channels, in the same way that a temporary arrest was requested,” said Kovač, adding that both countries also requested the equipment found with the detained.
After their detention at the Podgorica airport, the District Prosecutor’s Office launched an investigation of the criminal offense of falsification of documents, after which they were detained for 72 hours, and ordered to spend 30 days in custody.
Montenegro to decide extradition hearing date
“The High Court in Podgorica will decide when these persons will have a hearing in the extradition proceedings,” Kovač said.
He added that in the event of multiple requests for extradition from several different countries, the seriousness of the crime, the locality where the crime was committed, the order of receiving the requests for extradition as well as other circumstances will be considered.
Kovač said that if the suspects are convicted of falsifying identification documents, it is expected that only after they have served their prison sentence will they be extradited.
According to Montenegro’s criminal code, falsifying personal documents is punishable by up to five years in prison.
This story originated in the VOA Serbian service.
The first Western tanks began arriving in Ukraine this week, prompting speculation that Ukraine may soon launch a counteroffensive against invading Russian forces and whether the more advanced weapons will turn the tide of the war in Kyiv’s favor.
Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov posted a video on Twitter this week showing him on board a British Challenger 2 main battle tank, or MBT at an unidentified location in Ukraine.
“It was a pleasure to take the first Ukrainian Challenger 2 MBT for a spin,” Reznikov wrote in his March 28 Twitter post. “Such tanks, supplied by the United Kingdom, have recently arrived in our country. These fantastic machines will soon begin their combat missions.”
A total of 14 Challenger 2 tanks are being sent to Ukraine. British Defense Minister Ben Wallace said Wednesday he could not speculate on any upcoming Ukrainian offensive.
“But I think it is no secret Ukraine is keen to start the process of rolling back Russian forces in the conflict. Obviously, the Russian forces are making almost no progress whatsoever,” Wallace told reporters.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz confirmed Monday that Germany had already delivered 18 of its advanced Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, among the most highly regarded MBTs in the world. Canada and Norway have also dispatched several of their Leopard 2 tanks. Poland, Spain, Finland and the Netherlands have also pledged to send Leopard tanks, although the total numbers have not been confirmed
European commanders say it could tip the balance in favor of the Ukrainian forces.
“Now, [the Ukrainian forces] are in a kind of defensive position against more than 300,000 Russian combatants. Maybe not the best trained or best equipped combatants, but they are facing this kind of tsunami of soldiers, so they are holding the front line,” Vice Admiral Herve Blejean, commander of the European Union training mission for Ukrainian forces, told the Reuters news agency earlier in March.
“When they will be able to involve better tanks like the Leopard, they will be able to breach through and to look at counterattacking. At the present time, they are fighting for Bakhmut. They are doing a fine job, but the balance of forces is not in their favor,” Blejean added.
It’s unlikely Ukraine has enough Western tanks to launch a major counteroffensive imminently, said Patrick Bury, a military analyst at Britain’s University of Bath.
“How many are there now? Maybe between 30 or 40, given the numbers that were pledged. At the moment, it’s probably not enough, would be my hunch. But it’s still fairly significant,” Bury told VOA in an interview March 30.
“A battalion or two can form a spearhead. If they’re all used together, you wouldn’t want to be an infantry solider in a foxhole facing 40 of these tanks if they’re used correctly,” Bury said.
In an interview with the Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun this week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said his forces need more Western weapons before launching any counteroffensive.
“We are waiting for ammunition to arrive from our partners,” Zelenskyy said. “We can’t start yet. We can’t send our brave soldiers to the front line without tanks, artillery and long-range rockets.”
Bury said it’s crucial that the new weapons are deployed in a coordinated way.
“The question is, can Ukraine protect, use and concentrate the Western weapons to such an effect that they can break through better-prepared Russian lines? It’s not just about tanks. It’s about the armored infantry fighting vehicles. They accompany the tanks. It’s also about the artillery pieces — the rounds that they need for their own guns, and the new artillery pieces that are coming in, as well.
“So, it’s how you put the whole package together to achieve the combined arms breakthrough if that’s what you’re going to do,” Bury said.
Ground conditions are changing rapidly along the front line. The spring thaw will turn frozen fields into quagmires.
“It just makes movements and maneuver more difficult. And therefore, that favors a sort of stagnation or a lack of offensive action in the open— big maneuvers around cities. The urban fights, of course, can go on,” Bury said.
Western nations have pledged dozens more tanks and other heavy weapons in the coming months. The United States is sending 31 Abrams MBTs, though these aren’t expected to arrive in Ukraine until the end of the year.
Slovakia this week sent Ukraine four Soviet-era MiG-29 fighter jets, with nine more to follow. Poland also plans to send several MiG-29s. Ukrainian demands for U.S.-made F-16 fighter jets remain unanswered.
British intelligence reported Thursday that Moscow is poised to launch another recruitment drive to sign up an additional 400,000 troops.
With both sides preparing for a long war, any breakthroughs on the battlefield will likely be limited, Bury said.
“How prepared are [the Russians] going to be? They’re going to be much more prepared than they were in Kharkiv last year, when the Ukrainians had a massive breakthrough,” he said.
“One thing to look for, though, is morale and cohesion, because you still have to have the will to fight if you’re going to get bombarded in your lines. And that is something where there is a question mark over the Russians. There definitely isn’t that question mark over the Ukrainians. And that could prove decisive,” Bury said.
The Vatican on Thursday formally repudiated the colonial-era “doctrine of discovery”, used centuries ago to justify European conquests of Africa and the Americas, saying “it is not part of Catholic Church teaching.”
The Vatican acknowledged in a statement from its culture and human development departments that papal documents from the 15th century were used by colonial powers to give legitimacy to their actions, which included slavery.
The departments specifically mentioned the papal bulls Dum Diversas (Until Different) from 1452, Romanus Pontifex (The Roman Pontiff) from 1455, and Inter Caetera (Among Other Things) from 1493.
“Historical research clearly demonstrates that the papal documents in question, written in a specific historical period and linked to political questions, have never been considered expressions of the Catholic faith,” the departments said.
They said they “were manipulated for political purposes by competing colonial powers in order to justify immoral acts against indigenous peoples that were carried out, at times, without opposition from ecclesiastical authorities.”
The Vatican departments admitted that the bulls, which gave political cover to Spanish and Portuguese conquests in Africa and the Americas, “did not adequately reflect the equal dignity and rights of indigenous peoples.”
“It is only just to recognize these errors, acknowledge the terrible effects of the assimilation policies and the pain experienced by indigenous peoples, and ask for pardon,” they said.
The Roman Catholic Church has long faced accusations of being complicit with colonial abuses committed by Western invaders and their descendants claiming to be spreading the Christian faith.
Argentine-born Pope Francis, the first pontiff from the Americas, has made several outreach gestures towards indigenous people. Last year, he travelled to Canada’s Arctic region to apologize for the oppression of the Inuit people.
In 2007, Francis’ predecessor, Benedict XVI, published a book that condemned rich countries for having mercilessly “plundered and sacked” Africa and other poor regions, and for exporting to them the “cynicism of a world without God.”
Russia on Thursday charged an American correspondent for The Wall Street Journal with spying, in a case certain to escalate Moscow’s diplomatic feud with Washington over the war in Ukraine and likely to further isolate Russia.
The newspaper denied the allegations and demanded the immediate release of “trusted and dedicated reporter” Evan Gershkovich. There was no immediate response from Washington.
Gershkovich, a 31-year-old who has worked in Russia as a journalist for six years, is the highest-profile American arrested there since basketball star Brittney Griner, who was freed in December after 10 months in jail on drugs charges.
The FSB said it arrested Gershkovich in the Urals industrial city of Yekaterinburg, “suspected of spying in the interests of the American government” by collecting information on “one of the enterprises of Russia’s military-industrial complex,” which it did not identify.
He was brought to Moscow, where a court at a closed hearing ordered him held in pre-trial detention until May 29. The TASS state news agency said he pleaded not guilty. The authorities released no evidence publicly, and TASS said the case had been marked “top secret.”
Daniil Berman, a lawyer representing the reporter, was not permitted inside the courtroom or allowed to see the charges, Berman told reporters outside. He believed Gershkovich would be taken to Lefortovo, the 19th century central Moscow jail notorious in Soviet times for holding political prisoners.
“The Wall Street Journal vehemently denies the allegations from the FSB and seeks the immediate release of our trusted and dedicated reporter, Evan Gershkovich. We stand in solidarity with Evan and his family,” the newspaper said.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he believed Gershkovich had been “caught red-handed.” Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said it was too early to talk of any possible prisoner swap with the United States, saying that such deals are typically arranged only after a prisoner is convicted.
The U.S. State Department’s travel guidance, last updated in February this year, advises U.S. citizens not to go to Russia because of the danger of arbitrary arrest, and says those living or traveling there should depart immediately.
In addition to escalating Moscow’s diplomatic conflict with the United States, the case could further isolate Russia by frightening away more of the few foreign journalists still working there.
The arrest was “a frontal attack on all foreign correspondents who still work in Russia. And it means that the FSB is off the leash,” wrote Andrei Soldatov, a Russian journalist outside the country who specializes in the security services.
Moscow has effectively outlawed all independent Russian news outlets since the start of the war but has continued to accredit some foreign reporters. Journalism has become sharply limited by laws that impose long sentences for any public criticism of the war, which Russia refers to as a “special military operation.”
Russia’s FSB security service said on Thursday that a reporter with the U.S. newspaper The Wall Street Journal, Evan Gershkovich, had been detained in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg on suspicion of espionage, the Interfax news agency reported.
In a statement quoted by Interfax, the FSB said it had “stopped the illegal activities of U.S. citizen Gershkovich Evan, born in 1991, a correspondent of the Moscow bureau of the American newspaper The Wall Street Journal, accredited at the Russian Foreign Ministry, who is suspected of spying in the interests of the American government.”
No comment was immediately available from the newspaper.
The statement said Gershkovich had been tasked “by the American side” with gathering information on “the activities of one of the enterprises of the military-defense complex.” It provided no evidence.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine more than a year ago, the United States has earmarked about $113 billion in military and humanitarian aid for Ukraine – making it one of the largest ever assistance packages approved by the US government. Investigators assured lawmakers Wednesday the money is being strictly monitored to ensure it is being used as Congress intended. VOA’s congressional correspondent Katherine Gypson spoke with members of Congress about their concerns.
Camera: Saqib Ui Islam and Kateryna Lisunova
Poland’s agriculture minister promised financial support from the government and the European Union and easier rules for constructing grain storage as he met Wednesday with farmers angered by falling grain prices.
Farmers in Poland blame the drop in prices on an inflow of huge amounts of Ukrainian grain that was supposed to go to Africa and the Middle East. Bulgarian farmers also staged a border protest Wednesday over the issue.
Poland and other countries in the region have offered to help transit Ukraine grain to third-country markets after Russia blocked traditional routes when it invaded Ukraine 13 months ago. The European Union, which borders Ukraine, has waived customs duties and import quotas to facilitate the transport — also through Romania and Bulgaria — to markets that had counted on the deliveries.
But farmers in transit countries say the promised out-channels are not working as planned. As a result, they argue, the grain stays, flooding their markets and bringing prices down — to their great loss — while fertilizer and energy costs are skyrocketing.
After a round of talks with farmer organizations, Poland’s Agriculture Minister Henryk Kowalczyk said they agreed on more than $277 million in compensation to farmers and traders who suffered financial losses and subsidies for companies transporting the grain to ports, to be shipped out of Poland.
The ministry also agreed to waive permission requirements for building small-sized grain storage facilities. But the farmers are expecting more talks and more support.
In Bulgaria, hundreds of farmers on Wednesday began a three-day blockade of the main checkpoints on the border with Romania to protest tariff-free imports of Ukrainian grain. They say about 40% of their crop from last year remains unsold amid huge supply, and there is no storage room just a few months ahead of the coming harvest.
They displayed banners reading: “Stop the genocide of agriculture” and “We want to be competitive farmers.”
Last week, Brussels offered a total of $61 million in compensation to affected farmers, of which Bulgaria would receive about $18 million and Poland about $32.5 million euros — amounts that protesters and some governments say are insufficient.
Daniela Dimitrova, regional leader of Bulgaria’s grain producers’ union, said Ukrainian imports make Bulgarian farmers noncompetitive.
“We stand in solidarity with Europe and its support for Ukraine, but the European Commission should look at each individual member state and make farmers competitive,” she said.
Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said grain from Ukraine was “destabilizing our market” and steps should be taken to urgently export it while reducing imports from Ukraine. He said the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, had regulations at its disposal to get the situation under control, as it was having negative effects also on other countries in the region.
“We do not agree for this grain to come to Poland’s and Romania’s markets in huge amounts and destabilize our markets,” Morawiecki told a news conference, while stressing that “transit is most welcome.”
At the start of the talks with farmers and grain exporters, Kowalczyk, the agriculture minister, blamed falling grain prices on a world-wide trend. He said that while more compensation funds could be expected from Brussels the main goal was to increase grain export and free space in silos ahead of this summer’s Polish harvest. He admitted that the original plan to transit grain through Poland did not go exactly as expected.
An Azerbaijani student studying in Germany has disappeared after traveling to Iran to meet his girlfriend, according to his family.
Farid Safarli’s mother, who is currently in Iran searching for him, told VOA that Iranian law enforcement agencies have not given her any information about him.
“There was no information about Farid in the system of law enforcement agencies. Some agencies even refused to check the system,” Dilara Asgarova told VOA.
“They said that if Farid had committed a misdemeanor, there would have been information about him in the system. But information about felonies does not appear in the system. I asked what constitutes a felony? And they said espionage and other crimes. So, we have not been able to get any information about Farid so far.”
Asgarova said she has hired a lawyer in Iran to help her search.
According to the press service of Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the ministry was notified on March 9 that Farid Safarli, a citizen of Azerbaijan and a student at Friedrich Schiller University Jena in Germany, went to Iran on February 20 but his family has not heard from him since March 4.
Safarli’s mother said she knows her son’s phone was active on March 6 and 10.
“Farid’s phone was turned on at one point in time. His Telegram account showed that he was active. I called immediately, but no one picked up,” Asgarova told VOA.
Safarli met his girlfriend, who is an Iranian citizen, in Jena, Germany, where she was participating in a medical training program at a local university. She left for Iran after her training ended, his mother told VOA.
“After the training, she returned to Iran. Nevertheless, they maintained connection via phone calls. They decided to meet in Istanbul. Farid went to Istanbul, but she could not get her visa at the time. So, Farid went to Iran from Istanbul,” she said.
Asgarova, who earlier had traveled to Germany in her search for her son, said German police were able to get access to the information on Safarli’s laptop that she found in his apartment.
“They recovered phone numbers, photos, names, part of [the girlfriend’s] surname, workplace, just a lot of information about Farid’s girlfriend,” she said.
German police also confirmed with Pegasus Airlines that Safarli had not flown anywhere since arriving in Tehran last month.
“The police said that they received information from the airline company that Farid Safarli had not taken any flights out of Tehran. They sent a letter to the Iranian Embassy in Germany, inquiring about Farid. But the Iranian Embassy has not yet responded to the police.”
Asgarova, who then left for Iran, said she has received conflicting information from the staff of the hospital in Iran, where her son’s girlfriend was said to be working as an intern.
“First when I called them, they told me she had taken leave and had not gone to work for 20 days. Those 20 days coincide with the time my son went missing. But when I got to the hospital, the situation changed. They said she never worked there,” Asgarova told VOA.
The spokesperson of the Foreign Ministry of Azerbaijan, Aykhan Hajizada, told VOA that the ministry has sent a diplomatic note to the Iranian Embassy requesting information about the matter. But the embassy has not responded yet.
“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has sent a note to the Iranian Embassy in our country in order to clarify the mentioned information and is currently waiting for a response from the other side,” he said.
Asgarova said she has appealed to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan, asking them to take more measures to ensure that İran responds to their diplomatic note.
“Maybe they can use the mediation of other countries. They should apply to international organizations. What if Iran stays silent forever? Are we going to sit and wait for their answer forever?” she asked.
“As a mother, I am very worried about the fate of my son. I am extremely worried. Maybe my son is in prison here in Tehran, a hundred meters away from me. But I can’t get any information from him. No one is giving me any information.”
International human rights groups for years have cataloged the Iranian government’s systematic use of enforced disappearances against thousands of people, often women, ethnic and religious minorities and others seen as a threat by the state. Some are freed after years of detention but others have been executed following sham trials.
This story originated in VOA’s Azerbaijani Service, with Parvana Bayramova contributing.
Belgian authorities have charged seven people over “possible terrorist attacks,” federal prosecutors said on Wednesday.
The announcement came the day after prosecutors said they had detained eight people following raids on suspicion of planning an Islamist attack in Belgium.
In their latest statement, the prosecutors said four people had been charged with taking part in the activities of a terrorist group, preparing a terrorist offense, attempted assassination and intending to spread a message to incite the commission of a terrorist offense.
The four — three Belgians and one Turk — were all linked to a case in the city of Antwerp, the prosecutors said. They would appear before a court there on April 3, the statement said.
A further three people — two Belgians and one Bulgarian — were charged in a case in Brussels.
Two of them have been charged with taking part in the activities of a terrorist group.
The third person has been charged with taking part in the activities of a terrorist group, preparing a terrorist offense and spreading a message with the intention of inciting the commission of a terrorist offense, prosecutors said.
All three people charged in the Brussels case will appear before a court in the Belgian capital on April 3.
In their previous statement, prosecutors said police carried out raids late on Monday at five addresses in Brussels, Antwerp and in Eupen, a city near the German border, and detained five men, at least two of them suspected of planning an attack.
In a separate but linked investigation, police raided three other addresses in and near Brussels and detained three people, also on suspicion of planning an attack.
Belgium was the home to a number of the perpetrators of the 2015 Paris attacks that killed 130 people, and Brussels was itself the target of twin bomb attacks at its airport and on its metro in March 2016, when 32 people were killed.
Brussels is home to European Union institutions and NATO.
The French ship the Plastic Odyssey is on a world tour to show how billions of tons of plastic waste is affecting the ocean. Allison Fernandes has this story from the Port of Dakar in Senegal. Salem Solomon narrates.
On board a Boeing 737 medevac plane, Poland, March 29, 2023 (AFP) –
You can see the pain held just in check in the faces of Ukraine’s war wounded as they are evacuated in a flying hospital.
“It’s the first time I’ve taken a plane,” says 22-year-old Mykola Fedirko, who was hit by a shell holding off Russian troops in a trench in the Donetsk region.
“I would have loved to be going to Denmark for a holiday and not to hospital because of my wound,” says the 22-year-old salesman-turned-soldier, whose lower leg is held in place by metal pins.
Fedirko is one of around 2,000 wounded who have been evacuated from Ukraine to hospitals across Europe since the war started more than a year ago.
Most have been injured in fighting, but some are critically ill civilians.
AFP is the first international media outlet allowed on one of the medical evacuation (medevac) flights carried out by Norway in collaboration with the European Union in a specially adapted Boeing 737.
“We established this scheme at the request of Ukraine… to alleviate the burden on the Ukrainian hospitals,” says Juan Escalante of the EU’s Emergency Response Coordination Centre.
The project is “unprecedented at the continental level” and was set up “in record time”, he adds.
Some 859 health facilities in Ukraine have been attacked since the Russian invasion, according to the World Health Organization.
Bombings of hospitals, maternity wards and medical storage units mean almost half a million people a month are deprived of medical care, the Norwegian authorities estimate.
Wounded and weapons cross
The flying hospital, a transformed passenger plane owned by Scandinavian carrier SAS, lands at Rzeszow airport in southeastern Poland, 70 kilometers from the Ukrainian border, to pick up the injured before flying them over two days to Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Berlin, Cologne and Oslo.
A hub for delivering arms to Ukraine, Rzeszow airport has dozens of anti-air missiles and several large cargo aircraft unloading pallets of ammunition just a few feet away from where the war wounded are loaded onto the medevac plane.
The crew of the medevac flight are civilians, but the medical staff are from the Norwegian military.
In an odd semblance of normality, a stewardess hands out pizzas, snacks and soft drinks.
Oleksiy Radzyvil, 28, who has injuries to both legs, devours his Margherita pizza and washes it down with a Coke.
With his wild mane and perpetual smile, Radyzvil sticks out in the grim surroundings.
He was even smiling in December when he regained consciousness after a Russian shell destroyed his vehicle, sending him several meters into the air in Bakhmut, the epicenter of fighting in eastern Ukraine.
“I smiled because I was alive,” he recalls.
Since then, he’s been treated in six hospitals in Ukraine.
“I hope that I will get better… that European doctors in the Netherlands will help.”
‘Fight against Putin’
In Europe, the patient transfers are seen as a way of helping the war effort.
They are “another way to fight against Putin”, Spanish Defense Minister Margarita Robles said as she visited a military hospital in Zaragoza last year.
The modified Boeing is equipped with 20 hospital beds, monitors, ventilators, blood transfusion equipment and countless vials of antibiotics.
It’s “like a small intensive care unit in the air”, says Hakon Asak, a lieutenant-colonel from the Norwegian military’s medical service.
“We’ve had no deaths onboard so far. Thank God for that,” he adds, a blue-and-yellow “Free Ukraine” bracelet looped around his wrist.
Most of the patients may look well, he says, “but they are still in severe condition, and we know that some who have been medevacked to different countries have not survived.”
In the cockpit of the plane is Arve Thomassen, a seasoned veteran.
In his previous career at the twilight of the Cold War, Thomassen was a fighter pilot intercepting Soviet planes in the Arctic.
Now aged 60, this larger-than-life Norwegian says he was happy to wrap up his career with a good cause.
“When you fly passengers down to the Mediterranean for sunbathing that’s normal business. I wouldn’t say boring but it’s very common,” he says.
But with these flights, “we take pride in doing this and we do it with a very humble attitude,” he adds.
They will never forget some of the people they’ve transported: the severe burn victims; the man so disfigured he looked like he’d come from the World War I trenches, or the three-year-old suffering from leukemia.
“It’s one thing to have wounded soldiers but children who suffer… that always makes a strong impression on people,” Thomassen tells AFP.
For some passengers, a nap provides a few minutes of respite from the pain.
But Vladyslav Shakhov can’t sleep.
The 24-year-old was hit by shrapnel in the back of the neck and now suffers from quadriparesis — muscle weakness in all four limbs.
“I’m not happy about leaving my country,” says entrepreneur-turned-armored car driver, who is heading to Germany.
“I hope they will get me back on my feet quickly so I can get back.”
U.S. officials said Tuesday they will await the findings of three independent European investigations into the September blasts that damaged the Nord Stream gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea.
White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told reporters President Joe Biden is confident the probes will be as thorough as possible, and that they should provide a better sense of what happened.
Kirby said last week the United States believes the blasts were an act of sabotage and that the U.S. was not involved in any way.
A Russian resolution at the U.N. Security Council calling for an international investigation into the blasts failed to win support, earning three votes in favor, short of the nine needed for approval.
Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said the United States and its allies had done everything possible to thwart an investigation, while U.S. envoy Robert Wood said it is Russia that is not interested in an impartial investigation.
Between September 26 and 29, 2022, explosions caused four leaks in the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines, which run along the floor of the Baltic Sea, and which Russia uses to supply Europe with gas.
VOA United Nations correspondent Margaret Besheer and VOA White House correspondent Paris Huang contributed to this report.
At a March 23 product launch in Shanghai, Chinese tech giant Huawei unveiled its signature P60 series of smartphones with high-end cameras and its Mate X3 series mobile phones equipped with folding screens.
There were demonstrations. There were speeches. But something was missing from the Huawei offerings: 5G, which gives phones the speedy internet access wanted by many consumers in North America, Europe and Asia.
The smartphones also lack access to Google’s Android operating system and popular Western apps such as Google Maps.
The launch quieted “rumors that it is considering selling off its handset business, thus showcasing the company’s resilience amid U.S. government restrictions,” according to the government-affiliated China Daily.
Yu Chengdong, CEO of Huawei’s device business group, said at the event, “We have experienced four years of winter under sanctions. Now, the spring has come, and we are excited about the future.”
In 2020, Huawei briefly surpassed Apple and Samsung to become the world’s largest smartphone seller when its market share peaked at 18%, according to market tracker Canalys.
Then the Trump administration imposed successive rounds of U.S. export controls.
By 2022, Huawei had a 2% share of the global smartphone market, with most of its sales in China.
Now the Biden administration is considering banning all technology exports to Huawei.
And its smartphone business today shows how the Shenzhen-based company, a major supplier of equipment used in 5G telecommunications networks, still relies on American technology for some key components.
According to a December 2022 report by Counterpoint, a Hong Kong-based analyst firm, Huawei used up its stockpile of homegrown advanced chips for smartphones, leaving it with a market share of zero for the final three quarters of the year.
“They suffered a steep drop in profits. They have a lot of damage to the brand,” James Lewis, senior vice president, Pritzker chair and director of the Strategic Technologies Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told VOA Mandarin. “I think it’s a mixed bag that Huawei was never going to give up. The Chinese government was never going to let Huawei go out of business, so they’ve found ways to keep selling things. Most of what they sell is 4G or earlier.”
Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei said in a February 24 speech that the Chinese tech giant has survived U.S. sanctions by substituting components locally.
He said, “We completed a process of redesigning over 4,000 circuit boards as well as finding local suppliers for more than 13,000 components the company needs for our products within three years.”
Paul Triolo, senior vice president for China and technology policy lead at Albright Stone Group, a business consulting firm, said the risks of using Cold War era tools such as export controls can have unintended consequences.
In an email, Triolo told VOA Mandarin, “If the result of the ‘small yard, high fence’ policy over the next decade is to significantly slow technology innovation and massively incentivize the development of a large rival technology ecosystem, then the US approach will be judged to have failed, with many losers. Any short-term national security gain will be very hard if not impossible to measure while the short-term pain, particularly for US technology companies, will be substantial, as will the long-term consequences to global innovation systems.”
After Huawei was caught stealing trade secrets, evading U.S. bans on transferring technology to Iran and was suspected — though never proved — to be an arm of the Chinese intelligence services, the U.S. began imposing a series of controls. Since 2019, these have cut off Huawei’s supply of chips from U.S. companies and its access to U.S. technology tools to design its own chips and have them manufactured by its partners.
The Biden administration is considering tightening export control measures against Huawei and completely banning all business dealings with the company, including banning exports to Huawei’s suppliers and middlemen.
For now, vendors selling less-desirable technologies such as 4G phones can still apply to the U.S. Department of Commerce for a license to do business with Huawei. The Commerce Department has approved billions of dollars in such sales from U.S. suppliers, including Intel Corp., which sells chips used in Huawei laptops, and Qualcomm Inc., which supplies chips for 4G smartphones.
Ren said in the speech last month that Huawei invested $23.8 billion in research and development in 2022. “As our profitability improves, we will continue to increase research and development expenditures.”
He added that the company has established its own enterprise resource planning system called MetaERP. Set to launch in April, it will help run its core business functions including finance, supply chain and manufacturing operations.
Lewis said Huawei had been able to circumvent some U.S. controls.
“They have a plan on how to recover, and they’re actually making it work. It doesn’t work in a lot of countries, but it works in Latin America. It works in Africa.”
This means the U.S. will need to refine its strategy on Huawei, Lewis said.
“It has to look at how does it match Huawei, how does it match China in the Southern Hemisphere,” he said. “So the Latin Americans are buying from China and from Huawei. Huawei has Africa pretty much sewn up. So, it’s really a question of how you undo that. And the answer is, you need to do it through development aid, and I don’t know if Western countries are willing to spend.”
In response to reports of military actions against civilians during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Pilecki Institute in Warsaw, Poland, has established a center that collects and preserves evidence of potential war crimes and crimes against humanity. Lesia Bakalets has a story from Warsaw.
President Joe Biden said Tuesday that Republicans’ ideas for cutting the budget could undermine U.S. manufacturing and help China dominate the world economy.
Speaking at a semiconductor maker in North Carolina to highlight his own policies, Biden is trying to shape public sentiment as he faces off with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., about raising the federal government’s legal borrowing capacity.
McCarthy sent a letter to Biden on Tuesday saying that talks should start about possible spending cuts in return for the debt limit increase.
Biden has said Republicans need to put forth their own budget plan before negotiations start. Without an agreement, the federal government could default on its financial obligations.
The president tried to ratchet up pressure on Tuesday by saying that the GOP demands on the budget would only empower China, the country’s key geopolitical rival.
Being tough on China has been a core part of the identity of former President Donald Trump, who is seeking to return to the White House in 2024, and his Make America Great Again movement. The Democratic president said Republican objections to his policies would instead strengthen China.
“It would mean ceding the future of innovation and technology to China,” Biden told the crowd. “I’ve got news for you and for MAGA Republicans in Congress: not on my watch. We’re not going to let them undo all the progress we made.”
Biden’s trip to Wolfspeed follows the Durham-based company announcing plans last September to build a $5 billion manufacturing facility in Chatham County that is expected to create 1,800 new jobs. The company is the world’s leading producer of silicon carbide chips. Biden had won passage last July of a $280 billion legislative package known as the CHIPS Act, which was intended to boost the U.S. semiconductor industry and scientific research.
It’s nothing new for the Biden administration to highlight the CHIPS Act, the $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill, the $1 trillion infrastructure legislation and a roughly $375 billion climate bill — major legislation that the Democratic administration steered into law before Democrats lost control of the House.
But now, just weeks after Biden unveiled his own budget — it includes $2.6 trillion in new spending — his administration is looking for chances to lean into its battle with Republicans over spending priorities and who has the better ideas to steward the U.S. economy in the years to come.
Republicans have rejected Biden’s budget but have yet to unveil their own counteroffer to the Democrats’ blueprint, which is built around tax increases on the wealthy and a vision statement of sorts for Biden’s yet-to-be-declared campaign for reelection in 2024.
His trip is part of a larger effort to draw attention to his policies, which have been overshadowed by high inflation.
Besides Biden’s visit to Wolfspeed, Vice President Kamala Harris, first lady Jill Biden and other senior administration officials will fan out to 20 states over the next three weeks to highlight the impact of Biden’s economic agenda, according to the White House.
Biden has said he intends to run for a second term but has yet to formally launch his reelection campaign.
His effort to highlight legislative victories could also give him an opportunity to present voters with images of an administration focused on governing as Trump braces for a possible indictment over alleged hush money payments made during his 2016 campaign.
Trump narrowly won North Carolina in 2020. Among the other states that Biden and administration officials will be visiting in the weeks ahead are Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Nevada and Wisconsin — crucial battlegrounds that Biden won in 2020 and states expected to be competitive again in 2024.
More than a year after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a Justice Department task force set up to enforce U.S. sanctions on Russia continues to seize and forfeit assets owned by Russian oligarchs.
To date, the effort has resulted in roughly $1 billion worth of assets that have been seized and are subject to forfeiture.
But in the longer term, said Task Force KleptoCapture director Andrew Adams, the “more impactful” cases would target third-party actors involved in helping Russia dodge sanctions: money laundering facilitators, professional sanctions evaders and export control evasion networks.
In an interview with VOA’s Ukrainian Service, Adams, who is also acting deputy assistant attorney general in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, discusses his team’s major accomplishments, as well as efforts to use proceeds of seized Russian assets for Ukrainian reconstruction, using newly granted congressional authority.
The following transcript has been edited for clarity and length.
VOA: In March of last year, Attorney General Merrick Garland launched KleptoCapture and appointed you as the director of this task force. Could you talk about your goals and achievements during this first year?
Andrew Adams, Task Force KleptoCapture director: The task force kicked off immediately after the full-scale invasion. By early March we had set up a group of attorneys, prosecutors, agents, analysts, specialists from around the U.S. government to focus on two key priorities. The first was a short-term rush for seizure and the beginning of forfeiture proceedings aimed at large expensive and movable assets, the yachts, the airplanes and the like.
At the same time, we knew that over the long term, the more impactful cases would ultimately be aimed at money laundering facilitators, professional sanctions evaders and export control, evasion networks.
VOA: In December when talking to VOA, you addressed the total approximate amount of foreign seized funds, both domestically and internationally. It was up to $40 billion. What portion of that is attributable to KleptoCapture?
Adams: So, to focus on what the Department of Justice brings to the table here, which is seizure and forfeiture pursuant to judicial warrants, pursuant to forfeiture actions in court, that number is roughly $1 billion worth of assets. There are warrants that are executed on airplanes. We’re talking about the yachts that have been seized. We’re talking about real property in the form of condos and luxury property around the United States, as well as bank accounts, securities holdings and the like.
Beyond that, you are getting into the realm of what our Treasury Department, our State Department, our Commerce Department and our foreign partners can do with their blocking powers, which can go significantly beyond what the Department of Justice can seize and forfeit.
VOA: In February, a New York judge ruled that U.S. prosecutors may forfeit $5.4 million belonging to sanctioned Russian oligarch Konstantin Malofeyev, and these funds may be used to help rebuild Ukraine. But recently, a U.S.-based Russian lawyer filed a claim against these funds. Do you expect the transfer to go through despite the legal challenges?
Adams: The funds that are now authorized to be transferred are $5.4 million. The period for putting in a claim passed without incident. And now those are free and clear to be given to the Department of State following the period for an appeal to pass. We fully expect that it will occur. And at that point the Department of State, working with our friends in Ukraine, will determine the best place for those funds to go. It is an example, I think, of a real success story from the last year, although $5.4 million is a drop in the bucket of the amount of harm that this war has caused Ukraine and the Ukrainian people. It’s a symbol of what can be done through judicial processes that respect due process, that respect third-party rights, that are in full conformity with our Constitution, and with international law.
VOA: And how many cases are close to adjudication?
Adams: The number of investigations that we have going at any given point is in the dozens. The way that we approach all of those is to think about the forfeiture possibilities. At this point, we have filed the Malofeyev action, which is essentially finished — it’s on appeal. There are roughly a half dozen different criminal cases that we filed in the late part of last year, as well as a civil forfeiture action against a set of real property, targeting about $75 million worth of property tied to Viktor Vekselberg.
VOA: Could you shed light on the role of international cooperation?
Adams: In terms of international cooperation, we operate in almost every case with significant international support. We’ve executed arrests in Estonia and Latvia, in Germany, in Italy, in Spain and elsewhere. We’ve made seizures in a number of countries around the world, including in some jurisdictions that are not traditionally viewed as the closest allies of the United States.
VOA: In December, Congress passed legislation giving the DOJ authority to direct the forfeited funds to the State Department for the purpose of providing aid to Ukraine. Could you talk about the importance of that decision?
Adams: It’s an incredibly important piece of legislation. As a legal matter it paves the way for us to make these transfers in a way that we can’t do very easily without this new authority. So, that was critically important – that the driving motivation for all of these cases at the end of the day is to give assistance to Ukraine. As a symbolic matter, it demonstrates both at home but also to our partners in Europe and elsewhere that there are means and mechanisms for providing exactly this kind of assistance to Ukraine through forfeiture.
VOA: The task force and broader international sanctions regime imposed a certain level of discomfort for some Kremlin-aligned oligarchs. Do you believe those sanctioned oligarchs’ voices matter to the Kremlin?
Adams: In addition to some public outcry even from people formerly close to the Kremlin, there are effects that go far beyond the specific oligarchs that come from the sanctions regimes and come from vigorous enforcement of the sanctions regimes. The effect that this has on financial institutions, on insurance companies, on aviation or maritime companies — in a way that has a material effect on the Russian war machine and the Kremlin’s ability to fund this war.
Ford Motor Company’s plan to create batteries for the rapidly expanding electric vehicle (EV) market could encounter congressional speed bumps because of the carmaker’s plan to use technology created by a Chinese company with ties to the communist government.
Ford executive chairman William Clay Ford Jr. announced in February that the company would spend $3.5 billion to build a new battery plant in Michigan and employ U.S. workers to promote U.S. “independence” in the EV market.
“Right now, many [U.S.] automakers import most of their batteries from abroad,” Ford said at that time. “This is a slow process that makes us vulnerable to supply chain disruptions.”
He added that the U.S.-produced batteries would “charge faster” and be “more affordable” and “incredibly durable.”
But the news did not sit well with some lawmakers, including Republican Senator Marco Rubio, who opposed President Joe Biden’s 2022 Inflation Reduction Act, which included tax credits to encourage domestic EV production.
Earlier this month, Rubio introduced legislation blocking tax credits for producing EV batteries using Chinese technology and called on the Biden administration to review Ford’s partnership with the company, Contemporary Amperex Technology Co. Ltd. (CATL).
“Nine billion to help people buy tax credits,” Rubio said. “By the way, with a Chinese battery in it. … I imagine we’ll spend a bunch more money to buy solar panels which are also made in China.”
In a Skype interview last week with VOA, China expert Jonathan Ward said “the White House has already called for a supply chain review that would cover essentially next generation batteries, critical minerals and rare earths, pharma and other biotechs.”
“We’re in the midst of this competition for supply chain security and industrial capacity where relying on our primary geopolitical adversary is really untenable in the long run,” he said.
Ward has authored two books outlining China’s economic, military and political goals. He said decades of outsourcing technology and manufacturing has left the United States with little choice but to work with Chinese companies like CATL to advance domestic EV development.
“Essentially 60% of the battery market is made up of Chinese corporations,” he said. “CATL, the battery maker in question here, is already 34% of global market share. The other companies are Japanese and South Korean, but they are smaller than the aggregate Chinese battery makers. So, we have this contest that we are going to have to deal with.”
Sarah Bauerle Danzman, an associate professor in international studies at Indiana University Bloomington, said since the U.S. currently “doesn’t have the capability” to produce EV batteries, “what is the theory of change that helps us get to that capacity?”
“Then the question becomes, are we becoming overly reliant or staying reliant on technology that ultimately the Chinese government controls rather than the U.S.?” she said.
From 2019 to 2020, Danzman was a policy adviser and case analyst with the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) at the State Department’s Office of Investment Affairs. She led the unit that reviews foreign investment transactions for possible national security concerns.
Rubio wants CFIUS to review Ford and CATL’s licensing agreement.
“Rubio is really focused on this idea that we don’t want to be dependent on Chinese technology,” she explained to VOA last week via a Skype interview. “The U.S. government coming in and changing those structures is a big imposition on the private sector, so there really does need to be a strong argument for why it needs to do so.”
“I think a lot of companies are going to find themselves in situations like this where Chinese partnerships [are] coming back to haunt us here,” said Ward. “I think our companies that have been entangled in the China market all have to reassess what they are doing.”
In its response to Rubio’s proposed legislation, Ford said its own subsidiary will build and operate the new battery plant in Michigan, and that “no other entity will get U.S. tax dollars for this project.”
During February’s announcement, Ford CEO Jim Farley said the proposed BlueOval Battery Park Michigan meets goals outlined by the Biden administration.
“We’re growing production of batteries here at home, reflecting the central purpose of the Inflation Reduction Act — that’s why it was passed, for this project,” Farley said.
Ford’s plans for the new Michigan facility come as the auto manufacturer reported more than $2 billion in operating losses in EV-related business in 2022.