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NATO Signs Accession Protocols for Finland, Sweden

NATO members on Tuesday signed the accession protocols for Finland and Sweden to join the military alliance. 

Both countries submitted their applications in May, breaking longstanding non-aligned stances in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

“This is a good day for Finland and Sweden, and a good day for NATO. With 32 nations around the table, we will be even stronger and our people will be even safer as we face the biggest security crisis in decades,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said. 

He added that “NATO’s door remains open to European democracies who are ready to and willing to contribute to our shared security.” 

With the accession protocols signed, each of NATO’s 30 member countries now have to ratify them according to their individual national procedures. 

Both Finland and Sweden have a history of working with NATO as partner countries, including attending NATO meetings and participating in military exercises. 

“As a future member of the alliance, Sweden will contribute to the security of all allies,” Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde said at the start of Tuesday’s meeting. 

Finland’s Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said his country looks forward to working with NATO allies to safeguard a “secure and prosperous Euro-Atlantic region.” 

“Together we are stronger in defending the rules-based international order and the principles of democratic freedom and rule of law,” Haavisto said.

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

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Euro Slumps to Two-Decade Low as Recession Fears Bite 

The euro slumped to a two-decade low on Tuesday as the latest surge in European gas prices added to the region’s recession worries and a rebound in U.S. Treasury yields sent the dollar on another tear.

Many currencies were under pressure. The euro’s 1.2% drop EUR=EBS took it to its weakest since the end of 2002. Japan’s yen JPY=EBS was near 24-year lows again, while Norway’s crown tumbled 1.2% as gas workers there went on strike.

Economists said the risks of Europe backsliding into a recession were clearly growing after another big 17% jump in natural gas prices in both Europe and in Britain looked set to push inflation even higher.

Concerns about how the European Central Bank will react were gnawing at sentiment after German Bundesbank chief Joachim Nagel had hit out at the ECB’s plans to try and shield highly indebted countries from surging borrowing rates.

“It will continue to be very difficult for the euro to rally in any meaningful way with the energy picture worsening and risks to economic growth increasing notably,” said MUFG’s head of global markets research Derek Halpenny.

Frontline traders who spoke to Reuters said there had also been a major dollar order in early trading, perhaps as U.S. markets had been closed on Monday for the July 4th holiday.

One said that coupled with the energy price angst it caused a chain reaction, spilling into equity markets and bond markets as then speeding the euro’s fall as it broke through its 2017 low of $1.0340.

The heavy volatility also saw the shared currency drop to the lowest against the Swiss franc EURCHF= since the Swiss National Bank abandoned its currency cap in 2015. It fell against sterling too, although the pound’s GBP=EBS own economic and political worries had left it below $1.20 again.

Even the Australian dollar stumbled badly despite the country’s first back-to-back 50 basis point interest rate hike in recent memory overnight, which also cemented the fastest run up in rates there since 1994.

The Aussie AUD=D3 swooped 1% lower to $0.6787, after trading as high as $0.6895 earlier in the day. It is now down nearly 7% this year.

“We have had so many central banks hiking in these big increments that you are now getting talk of reverse currency wars,” said Rabobank FX strategist Jane Foley, referring to where central banks need to hike rates just to stop their currencies from falling.

“It could get concerning” for a number of currencies, she added, especially if the U.S. Federal Reserve pushes ahead with large rate hikes in the coming months as expected.

The dollar’s strength, meanwhile, nudged the yen back down toward a 24-year low. It was last at 135.79 per dollar.

Eastern Europe was also feeling the heat as its countries are some of the most dependent on Russian gas. MSCI’s main EM FX index hit its lowest since November 2020 with Euro-linked currencies such as the Hungarian forint HUF=, Polish zloty PLN= and Romanian leu RON= down 1.6-2.3% against the dollar.

“The fear of recession is once again becoming stronger,” said Stuart Cole, head macro economist at Equiti Capital.

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Russia Turns Focus to Ukraine’s Donetsk Province

Britain’s defense ministry said Tuesday it expects Russia to use the same tactics it employed to seize virtually all of eastern Ukraine’s Luhansk province as it pushes to control Donetsk province and reach its stated goal of holding the entire Donbas region.

“The battle for the Donbas has been characterized by slow rates of advance and Russia’s massed employment of artillery, levelling towns and cities in the process,” the ministry said in a statement. “The fighting in Donetsk Oblast will almost certainly continue in this manner.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin declared victory Monday in Luhansk province as Ukrainian troops retreated from their last stronghold in the city of Lysychansk.

Ukraine said Russian forces are now trying to advance on Siversk, Fedorivka and Bakhmut in the Donetsk region, about half of which is controlled by Russia.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu reported to Putin in a televised meeting Monday that Russian forces had taken control of Luhansk. In turn, Putin said that the military units “that took part in active hostilities and achieved success, victory” in Luhansk, “should rest, increase their combat capabilities.”

Ukraine’s Luhansk governor, Serhiy Haidai, told the Associated Press on Monday that Ukrainian forces had retreated from Lysychansk to avoid being surrounded.

“There was a risk of Lysychansk encirclement,” Haidai said, explaining that Ukrainian troops could have remained a while longer but would have potentially sustained too many casualties.

“We managed to do centralized withdrawal and evacuate all injured,” Haidai said. “We took back all the equipment, so from this point, withdrawal was organized well.”

Haidai told the Reuters news agency that there was nothing critical in losing Lysychansk, and that Ukraine needed to win the overall war, not the fight for the city.

“It hurts a lot, but it’s not losing the war,” he said Monday.

The Ukrainian General Staff said that Russian forces, aside from pushing toward Siversk, Fedorivka and Bakhmut, are also shelling the key Ukrainian strongholds of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk, deeper in Donetsk.

Ukrainian authorities said that on Sunday, six people, including a 9-year-old girl, were killed in the Russian attack on Sloviansk, and another 19 people were wounded. Kramatorsk was also shelled Sunday.

The British Defense Ministry intelligence briefing Monday called the conflict in Donbas “grinding and attritional” and said it is unlikely to change in the coming weeks.

The Russian army has a massive advantage in firepower, military analysts say, but not any significant superiority in the number of troops. Ukraine is hoping to counter the Russian onslaught in Donbas with the ongoing resupply of munitions from Western nations, including the United States.

Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address Monday that his country needs economic aid to start rebuilding, even as fighting continues.

“The restoration of Ukraine is not only about what needs to be done later after our victory, but also about what needs to be done right now. And we must do this together with our partners, with the entire democratic world,” he said.

Earlier Monday, Zelenskyy spoke via video at a conference in Lugano, Switzerland, focusing on what it will take to rebuild Ukraine.

“Reconstruction of Ukraine is not a local task of a single nation,” he said. “It is a common task of the whole democratic world.”

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal told the two-day conference, which began Monday, that Ukraine’s recovery was “already estimated at $750 billion.”

The conference brings together leaders from dozens of countries as well as international organizations and the private sector.

Also Monday, Zelenskyy met with International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach, who traveled to Kiev to show support for Ukraine.

Bach vowed that the Ukrainian flag would “fly high” at the 2024 Games in Paris and said the IOC would triple its funding for Ukrainian athletes to ensure they could compete.

Zelenskyy said 89 athletes and coaches have died in the war with Russia.

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

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Splintered Ukrainian City Braces for New Battle With Russia

A group of young off-duty Ukrainian soldiers gathered at a military distribution center to enjoy a rare respite from the fighting that has again engulfed their fractured home in eastern Ukraine.

As they shared jokes and a pizza, artillery explosions could be heard a few kilometers away — a reminder of the looming battle that threatens to unfold here in the city of Slovyansk, which was occupied by Russian proxy fighters in 2014.

“Everyone knows that there will be a huge battle in Slovyansk,” said one of the soldiers, who could not be named for security reasons.

Now, eight years after their city was last occupied, the war has returned. Slovyansk could become the next major target in Moscow’s campaign to take the Donbas region, Ukraine’s predominantly Russian-speaking industrial heartland.

Russia’s defense minister said Russian army forces and a separatist militia on Sunday captured the city of Lysychansk and now control all of eastern Ukraine’s Luhansk province.

Slovyansk, located 70 kilometers (43 miles) to the west in Donetsk province, came under rocket attacks Sunday that killed an unspecified number of people, Mayor Vadym Lyakh said.

Another soldier interviewed earlier by The Associated Press, a 23-year-old accountant who joined up when the invasion began, said Ukrainian forces simply do not have the weapons to fight off the superior arsenal of the approaching Russian army.

“We know what’s coming,” he said with a sad smile.

These soldiers were still teenagers when pro-Russian separatists captured and held the town for three months. The brief occupation in 2014 terrorized Slovyansk, where dozens of officials and journalists were taken hostage, and several killings took place.

Fierce fighting and shelling broke out when the Ukrainian army laid siege to the city to recapture it.

“Actually, the war never left Slovyansk. It didn’t leave people’s heads,” said Tetiana Khimion, a 43-year-old dance choreographer who converted a fishing store into a hub for local military units.

“On the one hand, it is easier for us because we know what it’s like. On the other hand, it is more difficult for us since we’ve been living like this for eight years in a suspended condition.”

Slovyansk is a city of splintered loyalties. With a large retired population, it is not uncommon to hear older residents express sympathy toward Russia or nostalgia for their Soviet past. There is also distrust of the Ukrainian army and government.

After a recent shelling of his apartment block, one resident named Sergei said he believed that the strike was launched by Ukraine.

“I’m not pro-Russian, I’m not pro-Ukrainian. I am somewhere in between,” he said. “Both Russians and Ukrainians kill civilians — everyone should understand that.”

On Thursday, a group of elderly residents couldn’t hide their frustration after a bomb blast slashed open their roofs and shattered their windows.

Ukraine “says they are protecting us, but what kind of protection is this?” asked one man, who did not provide his name.

After 2014, Khimion said, it became easier to know “who is who” in Slovyansk. “Now you can easily see: These people are for Ukraine, and these people are for Russia.”

She said not enough was done after 2014 to punish people who collaborated with Russian proxies to prevent a repeat of the situation.

“That is why we cannot negotiate, we need to win. Otherwise it will be a never-ending process. It will keep repeating,” she said.

The mayor of Slovyansk reflects the city’s new trajectory. Taking his cues from Ukraine’s wartime leader, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Vadym Lyakh has decorated his office with Ukrainian flags, anti-Russian symbols, portraits of national poets — even a biography of Winston Churchill.

But before 2014, Lyakh was part of a political party that sought closer ties with Russia. He said while pro-Moscow sentiment in the city has faded — in part because of the horrors witnessed in 2014 — there are still “people who are waiting for the return of the Russian troops.”

As the front line moves closer, attacks on the city intensify. Three-quarters of its pre-war population has fled, but the mayor said too many residents are still in Slovyansk, including many children. He encouraged them to evacuate while he spends his days coordinating humanitarian aid and strengthening the city’s defenses.

Lyakh said he cannot allow himself to relax, even for a few minutes.

“It is emotionally difficult. You see how people are dying and being harmed. But nevertheless, I understand that this is my job.”

More and more, Lyakh is among the first responders at the scene of bombardments. Associated Press journalists following the mayor recently witnessed what authorities described as a cluster bomb attack on a residential area. One person was killed and several others wounded.

The mayor says that shelling now occurs at least four or five times a day, and the use of cluster munitions increased in the past week. Although he remains optimistic that Ukrainian forces can keep the enemy at bay, he is also clear-sighted about his options.

“Nobody wants to be captured. When there is an imminent danger of the enemy troops entering the city, I will have to go,” he said.

One morning last week, Lyakh paid a visit to an apartment building that was shelled overnight. Most of the windows were blown out, doors were broken wide open, and a power line was severed.

The same building was bombed in 2014, leaving a gaping hole on the sixth floor, and many residents suffered broken bones.

Andrey, a 37-year-old factory worker who has lived in the building for 20 years, recalled the bombing and occupation. He said separatist forces “did and took what they liked.”

People in his circle have different opinions about Russia.

“Those who have suffered understand what this ‘Russia world’ means: It means broken houses, stolen cars and violence,” he explains. “There are those who miss the Soviet Union, who think we are all one people, and they do not accept what they see with their own eyes.”

In the eight years since the separatists retreated, he said, life markedly improved in Slovyansk.

The statue of Vladimir Lenin that once stood in the central square has been removed. Water and power supplies were renovated. New parks, squares and medical facilities were built.

“Civilization was returned to us,” Andrey said.

At a military distribution hub where they go to unwind, the young soldiers talk wistfully about their lives before the invasion.

“I had a great car, a good job. I was able to travel abroad three times a year,” said the former accountant, who plans to stay in Slovyansk with the others to defend the city. “How can we let someone just come and take our lives away from us?”

Khimion’s husband is on the front lines, and she put her teenage daughter on a train to Switzerland as soon as the invasion began.

“I have been deprived of everything — a home, husband, child — what should I do now?” she asks. “We are doing everything we can to stop (the offensive), to keep it to a minimum … But to be afraid is to abandon this place.”

At the entrance to the city, a monument bearing Slovyansk’s name is riddled with bullet holes from 2014. It has been painted over several times. It now bears the national colors of Ukraine, and a local artist has painted red flowers around each perforation.

Residents of Slovyansk wonder — some with hope, many in fear — if the sign will soon be painted yet again, in the red, white and blue of the Russia flag.

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Putin Declares Victory in Ukraine’s Luhansk Province

Russian President Vladimir Putin declared victory Monday in Ukraine’s eastern Luhansk province as Ukrainian troops retreated from their last stronghold in the city of Lysychansk.  

Moscow’s forces immediately turned their attention to fighting in the adjoining Donetsk province. It is part of the industrialized Donbas region Putin has sought to take control of during his invasion of Ukraine, now in its fifth month, after failing earlier to topple the government of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy or capture the capital, Kyiv.   

Ukraine said Russian forces are now trying to advance on Siversk, Fedorivka and Bakhmut in the Donetsk region, about half of which is controlled by Russia.  

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu reported to Putin in a televised meeting Monday that Russian forces had taken control of Luhansk. In turn, Putin, said that the military units “that took part in active hostilities and achieved success, victory” in Luhansk, “should rest, increase their combat capabilities.”  

Ukraine’s Luhansk governor, Serhiy Haidai, told the Associated Press Monday that Ukrainian forces had retreated from Lysychansk to avoid being surrounded.  

“There was a risk of Lysychansk encirclement,” Haidai said, saying that Ukrainian troops could have remained a while longer but would have potentially sustained too many casualties.

“We managed to do centralized withdrawal and evacuate all injured,” Haidai said. “We took back all the equipment, so from this point withdrawal was organized well.”

The Ukrainian General Staff said that Russian forces, aside from pushing toward Siversk, Fedorivka and Bakhmut, are also shelling of the key Ukrainian strongholds of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk, deeper in Donetsk.

Ukrainian authorities said that on Sunday, six people, including a 9-year-old girl, were killed in the Russian attack on Sloviansk and another 19 people were wounded. Kramatorsk was also shelled Sunday.

The British Defense Ministry intelligence briefing Monday called the conflict in Donbas “grinding and attritional,” and said it is unlikely to change in the coming weeks.

Military analysts said the Russian army has a massive advantage in firepower, but not any significant superiority in the number of troops. Ukraine is hoping to counter the Russian onslaught in Donbas with the ongoing resupply of munitions from Western nations, including the United States.  

Zelenskyy acknowledged the Ukrainian withdrawal from Lysychansk during his nightly video address late Sunday but vowed that the country’s forces will fight their way back.

 

“If the command of our army withdraws people from certain points of the front where the enemy has the greatest fire superiority, in particular this applies to Lysychansk, it means only one thing: We will return thanks to our tactics, thanks to the increase in the supply of modern weapons,” Zelenskyy said.  

“The fact that we protect the lives of our soldiers, our people, plays an equally important role. We will rebuild the walls, we will win back the land, and people must be protected above all else,” Zelenskyy said.    

Luhansk Governor Haidai told the Reuters news agency there was nothing critical in losing Lysychansk, and that Ukraine needed to win the overall war, not the fight for the city.   

“It hurts a lot, but it’s not losing the war,” he said Monday.   

Recovery plan  

Switzerland is hosting a conference Monday and Tuesday focusing on what it will take to rebuild Ukraine.  

The meeting in Lugano brings together leaders from dozens of countries as well as international organizations and the private sector.  

Ukraine’s ambassador to Switzerland, Artem Rybchenko, said the conference would help produce a roadmap for his country’s recovery.  

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

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Pope Denies Resignation Rumors, Hopes to Visit Kyiv, Moscow

Pope Francis has dismissed rumors he plans to resign anytime soon, and says that he hopes to visit Moscow and Kyiv after traveling to Canada later this month.

Francis also told Reuters in an interview published Monday that the idea “never entered my mind” to announce a planned retirement at the end of the summer, though he repeated he might step down some day as Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI did in 2013.

He revealed that his knee trouble, which has caused him to use a wheelchair for over a month, was caused by a “small fracture” that occurred when he stepped awkwardly while the knee ligament was inflamed.

He said it is “slowly getting better” with laser and magnet therapy.

Francis was due to have visited Congo and South Sudan this week but had to cancel the trip because doctors said he needed more therapy. He said he was on board to travel to Canada July 24-30 and said he hoped to visit Russia and Ukraine sometime thereafter. 

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Ukrainian Filmmaker Joins Ranks of Ukraine’s Armed Forces

Since the start of the war, many well-known Ukrainians have joined their less well-known comrades to protect their land against Russian aggression. VOA’s Russian Service spoke to film director Alisa Kovalenko about her work, and fight for Ukraine.

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Amid War, Ukraine High Schools Hold Improvised Graduations

All around the world students are celebrating their graduations, even in Ukraine. But as Lesia Bakalets reports, with the country in the middle of a war, the events look and feel different. Anna Rice narrates. VOA footage by Andrey Degtyarev.

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Zelenskyy Vows to Regain Territory After Russia Captures Lysychansk

 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy vowed to win back territory with the help of advanced weapons after his forces withdrew from Lysychansk, the last remaining Ukrainian-held territory in the eastern Luhansk province. 

In his nightly address Sunday, Zelenskyy said Russia was focusing its firepower on the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine, and that Ukrainian forces would respond with long-range weapons supplied by Western allies such as the U High Mobility Artillery Rocket System from the United States. 

“The fact that we protect the lives of our soldiers, our people, plays an equally important role. We will rebuild the walls, we will win back the land, and people must be protected above all else,” Zelenskiyy said. 

Ukraine’s military said Sunday it decided to withdraw its remaining fighters from Lysychansk because continuing defense efforts in the face of superior Russian troop numbers and equipment “would lead to fatal consequences.” 

Ukrainian officials have repeatedly urged allies to help bolster its arsenal with more advanced weapons to help them match up against Russia’s military. 

Since failing early in its four-month invasion of Ukraine to topple Zelenskyy or capture the capital, Kyiv, Russia has focused on taking control of the Donbas region, which includes Luhansk and Donetsk provinces. Ukraine retains control of several cities in Donetsk. 

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu informed President Vladimir Putin that the Luhansk People’s Republic — as the pro-Russian separatist government that claims control over Luhansk calls itself — has been “liberated,” Russia’s Defense Ministry said on Telegram. “As Army General Sergei Shoigu reported, as a result of successful combat operations, the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, together with units of the People’s Militia of the Lugansk People’s Republic, have established full control over the city of Lisichansk and a number of nearby settlements, the largest of which are Belogorovka, Novodruzhesk, Maloryazantsevo and Belaya Gora,” the ministry said in its post, using the Russian spelling of Lysychansk. 

Meanwhile, Russian officials said blasts Sunday in a Russian city bordering Ukraine killed at least three people. 

Dozens of residential buildings were damaged in the explosions in Belgorod. Russian lawmaker Andrei Klishas has called for a military response. 

“The death of civilians and the destruction of civilian infrastructure in Belgorod,” Klishas posted on Telegram, “are a direct act of aggression on the part of Ukraine and require the most severe — including a military — response.” 

Ukrainian officials did not immediately comment on the Russian claims about the Belgorod explosions. 

Recovery plan 

Switzerland is hosting a conference Monday and Tuesday focusing on what it will take to rebuild Ukraine. 

The meeting in Lugano brings together leaders from dozens of countries as well as international organizations and the private sector. 

Ukrainian Ambassador to Switzerland Artem Rybchenko said the conference would help produce a roadmap for his country’s recovery. 

Zelenskyy is expected to address the gathering by video, while Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal made a rare trip outside of Ukraine to attend in person. 

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

 

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Uzbekistan reports casualties in unrest, opposition says at least 5 killed

Uzbekistan’s President Shavkat Mirziyoyev said on Sunday there were casualties among civilians and law enforcement officers after rare protests in the Central Asian country, and an exiled opposition politician said at least five people had been killed. 

Separately, a local government official told an Uzbek news website that thousands of people have been hospitalized. 

In a statement posted online, Mirziyoyev said rioters had carried out “destructive actions” in the city of Nukus, capital of the northwestern Karakalpakstan region, by throwing stones, starting fires and attacking police. 

“Unfortunately there are victims among civilians and law enforcement officers,” he said. The statement did not specify the number and nature of the casualties. 

Sultanbek Ziyayev, the head of the Ministry of Health of the Republic of Karakalpakstan, told news website Daryo.uz that hospitals in Nukus were full of patients who had been wounded when protesters clashed with security forces. 

“Thousands of wounded have been hospitalized and are being treated,” he said, according to the website. 

Photographs from Nukus published on Sunday by another news website, Kun.uz, showed street barricades, burned trucks and a heavy military presence including armored personnel carriers. 

Videos shared on social media showed at least two severely wounded people being carried by their arms and legs. One was bleeding from the abdomen, while the other was screaming. 

Another showed a young man crouching by an apparently lifeless body in the street, screaming “A man is dying” and then running for cover as shots rang out. Reuters could not immediately verify the authenticity of the videos. 

An exiled opposition politician, Pulat Ahunov, told Reuters that, based on contacts with local sources and video evidence, at least five people had been killed. He said there were unconfirmed reports of dozens more dead. 

Ahunov said people were unable to move around and obtain more information because of a state of emergency imposed by the authorities. 

Uzbekistan is a tightly controlled former Soviet republic where the government clamps down hard on any form of dissent. 

It was the second outbreak of unrest in Central Asia this year, after Kazakhstan crushed mass protests in January and Russia and other former Soviet republics sent in troops to help the authorities restore order. 

The protests in Uzbekistan were prompted by planned constitutional changes that would have stripped Karakalpakstan of its autonomous status. In an about-turn, the president dropped those plans on Saturday. 

Ahunov, chairman of the opposition Berlik party, told Reuters from Sweden that he condemned the use of lethal force. 

“The authorities, from the start, should have opted for dialogue and negotiations,” he said. 

He said he feared the potential for the situation to escalate into an ethnic conflict between Uzbeks and Karakalpaks, a minority group with their own language. Authorities had called a public meeting for Tuesday to discuss the situation, he added. 

Kazakhstan said it was concerned by the events in Uzbekistan and welcomed moves by the authorities to stabilize the situation. 

Steve Swerdlow, Associate Professor of Human Rights at the University of Southern California and an expert on the region, said Uzbekistan should engage as transparently as possible in declaring casualties and the use of force and over the longer term look at what concerns were at the heart of the protests. 

(Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov in Almaty and Mark Trevelyan in London, Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky, Alexandra Hudson)

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Pub Numbers in England, Wales Hit Record Lows, Study Shows

The number of pubs in England and Wales has plunged to its lowest ever level, according to analysis published on Monday which blames the coronavirus pandemic and soaring costs.

In the first half of this year, pub numbers dropped below 40,000 — a fall of more than 7,000 since 10 years ago.

A total of 200 pubs called “last orders” for good from the end of December to the end of last month, real estate advisers Altus Group said.

Pubs, which have been central to British communities for centuries, have either been demolished or converted into homes and offices, it added.

The analysis comes after the pub trade and wider hospitality sector suffered a slump in business due to the series of coronavirus lockdowns and social distancing restrictions.

Throughout the public health crisis, industry bodies urged the government for more financial support to prop up affected businesses and prevent many from going to the wall.

But with inflation now at 40-year highs, pubs have been confronted with a new challenge.

“Whilst pubs proved remarkably resilient during the pandemic, they’re now facing new headwinds grappling with the cost of doing business crisis through soaring energy costs, inflationary pressures and tax rises,” Altus Group UK president Robert Hayton said.

Separate research from industry bodies the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA), UKHospitality and the British Institute of Innkeeping suggests only about one-third (37%) of hospitality businesses are in profit.

Rising costs of energy, goods and labor were blamed.

BBPA chief executive Emma McClarkin said: “When pubs are forced to close it’s a huge loss to the local community, and these numbers paint a devastating picture of how pubs are being lost in villages, towns and cities across the country.”

She called on the government to act or risk losing more pubs every year.

Britain is facing the prospect of a wave of public sector strikes over pay and conditions, as the cost of living rises.

Pub owners have said a series of walkouts by railway workers have also hit trade.

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Germany, Ireland Tell UK: No Justification for Breaking Brexit Deal

Germany and Ireland on Sunday told Britain there was no legal or political justification for Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s plan to override parts of the Brexit deal governing trade with Northern Ireland.

The British parliament is considering a new law which would unilaterally change customs arrangements between Britain and Northern Ireland that were initially agreed as part of its exit deal from the European Union.

Britain says the changes are necessary to ease the overly burdensome requirements of the divorce deal, designed to prevent goods flowing into EU member Ireland via British province Northern Ireland. Johnson says the checks are creating tensions that threaten the region’s 1998 peace deal.

But, writing in the Observer newspaper, foreign ministers from Germany and Ireland rejected that argument.

“There is no legal or political justification for unilaterally breaking an international agreement entered into only two years ago,” Germany’s Annalena Baerbock and Ireland’s Simon Coveney said.

“The tabling of legislation will not fix the challenges around the protocol. Instead, it will create a new set of uncertainties and make it more challenging to find durable solutions.”

Johnson’s government says its preference remains to find a negotiated solution with the EU, but that Brussels needs to be more flexible to make that possible. The EU says it has put forward a range of possible solutions.

“We urge the British government to step back from their unilateral approach and show the same pragmatism and readiness to compromise the EU has shown,” Baerbock and Coveney said.

The legislation, known as the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, passed its first parliamentary hurdle last week, but is expected to face stiffer tests before it becomes law with many parliamentarians opposed to breaking a treaty obligation.

It is next due to be debated in parliament on July 13.

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Several People Dead in Copenhagen Shopping Mall Shooting

A gunman opened fire in a Copenhagen shopping mall, one of the largest of its kind in Scandinavia, killing an unspecified number of people and wounding several others Sunday, police said.

The suspected gunman, who is in custody, is a 22-year-old Danish man who was detained near the Fields shopping mall on the southern outskirts of the capital, said police inspector Søren Thomassen, head of the Copenhagen police operations unit.

“We know that there are several dead” and “several injured,” Thomassen told a news conference, adding that terrorism can’t be ruled out. “We do not have information that others are involved. This is what we know now.”

He didn’t provide any further details on the victims or suspect or say how many people were killed or wounded. The shopping center is on the outskirts of Copenhagen just across from a subway line that connects the city center with the international airport. A major highway also runs adjacent to Fields, which opened in 2004.

Images from the scene showed people running out of the mall, and Denmark’s TV2 broadcaster posted a photo of a man being put on a stretcher. Witnesses said people were crying and hid in shops.

Laurits Hermansen told Danish broadcaster DR that he was in a clothing store at the shopping center with his family when he heard “three-four bangs. Really loud bangs. It sounded like the shots were being fired just next to the store.”

Copenhagen Mayor Sophie H. Andersen tweeted: “Terrible reports of shooting in Fields. We do not yet know for sure how many were injured or dead, but it is very serious.”

Police said they were first alerted to the shooting at 5:36 p.m. (1536 GMT; 11:36 a.m. EDT). A huge presence of heavily-armed police officers arrived at the scene, with several fire department vehicles also parked outside the mall.

“One person has been arrested in connection with the shooting at Fields. We currently are not able to say more about the person concerned,” Copenhagen police tweeted. “We have a massive presence at Fields and are working on getting an overview.”

A concert by former One Direction band member Harry Styles was scheduled to be held at 8 p.m. (1800 GMT; 2 p.m. EDT) at the nearby Royal Arena. It was unclear whether the concert would go ahead.

On Snapchat, Styles wrote “My team and I pray for everyone involved in the Copenhagen shopping mall shooting. I am shocked. Love H.”

Shortly after the shooting, the royal palace said a reception with Crown Prince Frederik connected to the Tour de France cycling race had been canceled. The first three stages of the race were held in Denmark this year, the palace said in a statement. The reception was due to be held on the royal yacht that is moored in Sonderborg, the town where the third stage ended.

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Scottish Voters Remain Split Over Independence After Fresh Referendum Bid 

Voters in Scotland remain evenly split over supporting independence from the rest of Britain, a poll published by the Sunday Times showed, days after the Scottish government set out plans for a referendum on the subject next year.

Last week, Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon announced plans for a second independence referendum to be held in October 2023 and vowed to take legal action if the British government blocks it.

The Panelbase survey showed 48% of respondents were in favor of independence, 47% were opposed and 5% did not know. A previous online Panelbase poll in April had 47% in favor and 49% against.

The latest results were based on a sample size of 1,010 people.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his ruling Conservative Party strongly oppose a referendum, saying the issue was settled in 2014 when Scots voted against independence by 55% to 45%.

Other polls in 2022 vary, with some showing a similar split to the 2014 result, and others showing the gap narrowing.

 

 

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Russia Says Blasts in Russian Border City Kill 3 

Blasts Sunday in a Russian city bordering Ukraine have killed at least three people, Russian officials said.

Dozens of residential buildings were damaged in the explosions in Belgorod. Russian lawmaker Andrei Klishas has called for a military response to the blasts.

“The death of civilians and the destruction of civilian infrastructure in Belgorod,” Klishas posted on Telegram, “are a direct act of aggression on the part of Ukraine and require the most severe — including a military — response.”

Ukrainian officials have traditionally said very little about attacks on Russia.

Meanwhile, the mayor of the occupied Ukraine city of Melitopol, Ivan Fedorov, said on Telegram that Ukraine had hit one of four Russian military bases in the occupied territory.

Heavy fighting raged in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region Saturday as Russian forces increased their bombardment of the city of Lysychansk. Russia is targeting the area as its military looks to push deeper into the industrial region, which has become the focus of its latest offensive since failing to capture Kyiv after its Feb. 24 invasion.

Ukrainian separatists backed by Russia said they had encircled the city.

“Today the Lugansk popular militia and Russian forces occupied the last strategic heights, which allows us to confirm that Lysychansk is completely encircled,” Andrei Marotchko, a representative for the separatist forces, told Tass.

Hours after that statement, the Ukrainian army denied Lysychansk had been surrounded, but said heavy fighting was ongoing on the outskirts of the city.

“Now there are fierce battles near Lysychansk, however, fortunately, the city is not surrounded and is under the control of the Ukrainian army,” Ukraine National Guard representative Ruslan Muzychuk told Ukrainian national television, according to Reuters.

“Definitely they are trying to demoralize us,” a Ukrainian soldier returning from Lysychansk told Reuters. “Maybe some people are affected by that, but for us it only brings more hatred and determination.”

Russian forces seized Lysychansk’s sister city, Sievierodonetsk, last month, after some of the heaviest fighting of the war.

In his nightly television address on Saturday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged Ukrainians to maintain their resolve and inflict losses on the “aggressor … so that every Russian remembers that Ukraine cannot be broken.”

“In many areas from the front, there is a sense of easing up, but the war is not over,” he said. “Unfortunately, it is intensifying in different places, and we mustn’t forget that. We must help the army, the volunteers, help those who are left on their own at this time.”

Along with the Lysychansk and Bakhmut areas, the Kharkiv region is seeing some of the front line’s worst fighting. Four people were killed, and three others were wounded in shelling in Izium and Chuguiv, two districts of the northeastern Kharkiv region, according to Oleg Synegubov, Kharkiv chief of district. Russian rockets also struck residential properties in Sloviansk, killing a woman in her garden and wounding her husband, according to a neighbor who spoke with Agence France-Presse.

In Kharkiv, missiles hit some railway infrastructure, but no casualties were reported. The strike damaged railroad tracks and knocked down high voltage power lines.

“After Russian rockets hit at 4 in the morning, the power grid and three high-voltage lines powering traffic lights and [a] substation are damaged,” Pavlo Svistelnikov, manager of the regional power grid, told Reuters. Russian forces have been pounding the city for over a week, killing civilians and hitting apartment buildings and schools, regional authorities said.

The mayor of the southern region of Mykolaiv, which borders the vital Black Sea port of Odesa, reported powerful explosions in the city.

Russia later said it had hit army command posts in the area, but Reuters could not independently verify that report.

After a missile struck an apartment building in Odesa on Friday, Zelenskyy accused Russia of state terror.

“I emphasize, this is an act of deliberate, purposeful Russian terror and not some kind of mistake or an accidental missile strike,” Zelenskyy said. The death toll in that Odesa strike has risen to 21.

Ukrainian military officials said at least 50 civilians have been killed by Russian rocket and missile attacks this week, including 19 killed Monday in a mall in Kremenchuk.

Zelenskyy’s comments came as Ukrainian authorities released video Saturday of Russian fighter jets bombing Snake Island a day after Russia said it had retreated from the island on humanitarian grounds.

Russia also launched new bus service from Crimea to newly seized cities in the eastern sections of Ukraine.

As the war continues the United States announced details of $820 million in additional military aid for Ukraine, including new surface-to-air missile systems and counter-artillery radar.

The 14th U.S. package of military aid includes two air defense systems, known as NASAMS, which can help Ukrainian forces defend against cruise missiles and aircraft.

The latest aid package is designed to help Ukraine counter Russia’s use of long-range missiles and follows calls by Ukrainian officials for Western countries to send more advanced weapons systems that can better match Moscow’s equipment.

A senior U.S. official said the systems are NATO-standard defense systems and are part of an effort to update Ukraine’s air defenses from a Soviet-era system to a modern one.

Among other things, the latest military aid package provides Ukrainians with medium-range rocket systems the United States provided Ukraine in June.

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

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Report: Dozens of Russian Weapons Tycoons Have Faced No Western Sanctions

As Russia’s military continues to pound Ukraine with missiles and other lethal weapons, Western nations have responded in part by targeting Russia’s defense industry with sanctions. The latest round came on Tuesday, when the United States issued new sanctions on some arms makers and executives at the heart of what it dubbed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “war machine.”

But a Reuters examination of companies, executives and investors underpinning Russia’s defense sector shows a sizable number of players have yet to pay a price: Nearly three dozen leaders of Russian weapons firms and at least 14 defense companies have not been sanctioned by the United States, the European Union or the United Kingdom. In addition, sanctions on Russia’s arms makers and tycoons have been applied inconsistently by these NATO allies, with some governments levying penalties and others not, the Reuters review showed.

Among the weapons moguls who have not been sanctioned by any of those three authorities is Alan Lushnikov, the largest shareholder of Kalashnikov Concern JSC, the original manufacturer of the well-known AK-47 assault rifle. Lushnikov owns a 75% stake in the firm, according to the most recent business records reviewed by Reuters.

The company itself was sanctioned by the United States in 2014, the year Russia invaded and annexed the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea. The EU and UK leveled their own sanctions against Kalashnikov Concern this year.

The company accounts for 95% of Russia’s production of machine guns, sniper rifles, pistols and other handheld firearms, and 98% of its handheld military machine guns, according to its website and most recent annual report. Its weapons include the AK-12 assault rifle, an updated version of the AK-47, some of which have been captured from Russian forces by Ukrainian soldiers. The Kalashnikov Concern also produces missiles that can be fired from aircraft or on land.

A former Russian deputy transport minister, Lushnikov once worked for commodities tycoon Gennady Timchenko, a longtime friend of Putin. The United States sanctioned Timchenko in 2014 following Russia’s invasion of Crimea, naming him as a member of the Kremlin’s “inner circle.”

Neither Lushnikov, Timchenko or the Kalashnikov Concern responded to requests for comment.

It’s the same pattern with Almaz-Antey Concern, a Moscow-based defense company specializing in missiles and anti-aircraft systems. The company has been sanctioned by the United States, EU and UK, but CEO Yan Novikov has not been punished.

Almaz-Antey’s website displays the motto “Peaceful Sky is Our Profession.” The company makes Kalibr missiles, which Russia’s Ministry of Defense has credited with destroying Ukrainian military installations. In a statement last month, the ministry said Russia had fired long-range Kalibr missiles at a Ukrainian command post near the village of Shyroka Dacha in eastern Ukraine, killing what the ministry claimed were more than 50 generals and officers of the Ukrainian military.

Reuters was unable to independently verify that claim.

Neither Almaz-Antey nor CEO Novikov responded to requests for comment.

In response to a list of questions submitted by Reuters about Western sanctions aimed at Russia, a Kremlin spokesperson said “the consistency and logic of imposing sanctions, as well as the legality of imposing such restrictions, is a question that should be put directly to the countries that introduced them.”

The Reuters findings come as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said that current Western sanctions against Russia “are not enough” as Russian troops make gains in their assault on Ukraine’s eastern regions of Luhansk and Donetsk.

The Ukrainian military has been outgunned by Russian artillery in places such as the industrial city of Sievierodonetsk, which it ceded to Russian forces last week after weeks of intense fighting.

Putin has portrayed his military’s assault on Ukraine as a “special military operation” aimed at demilitarizing and “denazifying” its democratic neighbor. On Tuesday, Russia’s Foreign Ministry announced it would bar Jill Biden and Ashley Biden, the wife and daughter of U.S. President Joe Biden, from entering Russia indefinitely in what it said was a response to “constantly expanding U.S. sanctions against Russian politicians and public figures.”

U.S. National Security advisor Jake Sullivan said on Tuesday that Russia’s action was not surprising because “the Russian capacity for these kinds of cynical moves is basically bottomless.”

The Russian invasion has killed thousands of Ukrainian soldiers and civilians, but the exact number is unknown. The United Nations human rights office said, as of Monday, that 4,731 civilians had been killed in Ukraine since Russia’s invasion began on Feb. 24, including more than 300 children, with another 5,900 civilians injured in the conflict. The agency said most of the casualties were caused by the use of “explosive weapons with a wide impact area, including shelling from heavy artillery and multiple launch rocket systems, and missile and air strikes,” and that the actual number of dead and wounded was likely far higher.

The West has levied sanctions on a swath of Russia’s economy to punish Moscow, an effort that so far has done little to deter the Russian offensive. Like the bans on other Russian firms, sanctions on weapons companies are meant to hamper their ability to sell to foreign customers. These penalties limit their access to imported components and generally make it more costly and time-consuming to produce weaponry. Levying sanctions on the people behind those firms goes a step further to make the pain personal. It allows Western nations to go after any mansions, yachts and other offshore wealth of those who supply Russia’s military, and it limits where they can travel abroad.

“You’re demonstrating that being a regime collaborator comes with a cost,” said Max Bergmann, a former State Department official during the Obama administration who worked on U.S. arms transfers and safeguarding U.S. military technology. “They feel it very personally. You’re creating a disgruntled class of people that are tied to the Kremlin,” said Bergmann, now director of the Europe program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based national security think tank.

Ammunition makers unscathed

Other companies in Russia’s defense industry identified by Reuters that have not been sanctioned by the United States, EU or UK include the V.A. Degtyarev PlantZDEGI.MM, a facility 165 miles northeast of Moscow that makes machine guns, anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons that are sold to the Russian military. Its weapons include the Kalashnikov PKM and PKTM machine guns, as well as Kord rifles and machine guns, some of which are mounted on armored vehicles.

The Degtyarev Plant did not respond to a request for comment.

Also not sanctioned is the Klimovsk Specialized Ammunition Plant, south of Moscow, where “world-famous cartridges” for pistols and Kalashnikov assault rifles are produced, according to an archived version of its website. Neither is the Novosibirsk Cartridge Plant, an ammunition manufacturer that calls itself “one of the leading engineering enterprises of the military-industrial complex of Russia.”

Neither ammunition plant responded to requests for comment.

Last month, Reuters sought comments from sanctions officials in the UK, EU and United States regarding the news agency’s findings that they had failed to punish a raft of Russian defense firms and tycoons fueling Putin’s war effort. As part of that process, Reuters provided those Western authorities with a detailed list of more than 20 companies and more than three-dozen people that had escaped sanctions.

The UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, which levies sanctions for Britain, said it could not comment on future sanctions. It added that London and its allies had levied “the largest and most severe economic sanctions that Russia has ever faced, to help cripple Putin’s war machine.” The European Commission and the U.S. Treasury Department, which handle sanctions for Brussels and Washington respectively, declined to comment on the specifics of Reuters’ findings. Elizabeth Rosenberg, assistant secretary for terrorist financing and financial crimes at the Treasury Department, said in a statement that sanctions have “made it harder for Russia to obtain what it needs to procure and produce weapons.”

On Tuesday, in conjunction with a meeting of leaders of the G7 nations in the German Alps, the Treasury Department released a new round of defense-related sanctions that included eight of the weapons firms and two of the executives on the list provided earlier by Reuters.

One of those newly sanctioned executives, Vladimir Artyakov, has played key roles in Russia’s weapons industry for decades, and serves as the No. 2 executive at Rostec, a military-industrial giant with hundreds of subsidiaries employing more than half a million people, according to its website and annual reports. Artyakov is also the chairman of at least five Russian weapons firms, among them Russian Helicopters JSC, which builds several lines of military helicopters including the Ka-52 “Alligator,” some of which have been shot down and documented in Ukraine.

He has not been sanctioned by the EU or UK.

Artyakov and Russian Helicopters did not respond to requests for comment.

Rostec has been sanctioned by Washington since 2014. On Tuesday the United States targeted the company again, levying sanctions on more than 40 Rostec subsidiaries and affiliates. Among those hit was Avtomatika Concern, a company linked to cyber warfare. It was on the list of Russian defense firms that Reuters had submitted to the Treasury Department last month seeking an explanation as to why the companies had not been sanctioned.

Rostec and Avtomatika Concern did not respond to requests for comment.

Other firms on Reuters’ list that were sanctioned just this week by the Treasury Department include PJSC Tupolev, a maker of fighter jets such as the Tu-22M3 bomber. The Ukrainian military said Tu-22M3 bombers were responsible for a missile strike at a crowded shopping center in the central Ukrainian city of Kremenchuk on Monday, which killed at least 18 people and injured about 60.

PJSC Tupolev and another firm on Reuters’ list, JSC VNII Signal, have not been sanctioned by the EU or UK. JSC VNII Signal is a producer of mechanical and navigational systems that power Russian military tanks and some of the country’s most advanced missile systems.

PJSC Tupolev and JSC VNII Signal did not respond to requests for comment.

Top brass untouched

Executives at a host of Russian weapons firms, meanwhile, have largely escaped sanctions from Western authorities.

Nearly three months after a Tochka-U ballistic missile hit a train station in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kramatorsk on April 8, Russian weapons executives linked to the company that makes those missiles have yet to pay a price. The strike killed more than 50 people, including children, and injured more than 100 others.

The Russian firm JSC Research and Production Corporation Konstruktorskoye Byuro Mashynostroyeniya, known as KBM, has been the primary manufacturer of Tochka-U missiles, according to a U.S. Army database of worldwide military equipment. Neither Washington, Brussels or London have sanctioned Sergey Pitikov, KBM’s chief executive.

The three Western allies have likewise spared Alexander Denisov, the CEO of NPO High Precision Systems, KBM’s parent company. High Precision Systems oversees production of a wide range of missiles, artillery, grenade launchers and machine guns used by Russian troops and outfitted on military helicopters, aircraft, tanks and warships.

Sanctions on Russia’s arms companies and tycoons have been applied inconsistently by the Western allies. The United States and EU have sanctioned High Precision Systems, for example, while the UK has not. The United States has sanctioned KBM, but the EU and UK have not.

High Precision Systems, Pitikov and Denisov did not respond to requests for comment. KBM confirmed that Pitikov is its chief executive, but did not respond to additional questions submitted by Reuters.

Europe and the United States have failed to coordinate sanctions even on makers of banned weapons.

Since the outset of Russia’s invasion in late February, Western governments and human rights groups have decried its use of cluster munitions: small bombs delivered by missiles or rockets, which scatter and explode over an area as large as a city block. A 2008 international treaty bans their use or production under any circumstances because of the devastating effects on civilians.

Russia used a Uragan – which translates to “Hurricane” – rocket launcher system to fire cluster bombs in Kharkiv on March 24, killing eight civilians and injuring 15 others, according to the U.N. human rights office and Ukrainian officials.

The Uragan is made by JSC Scientific and Production Association Splav, a Russian firm whose systems have been sold abroad to countries including India. The company has been sanctioned by the United States, but not by the UK or EU. Its CEO, Alexander Smirnov, has escaped sanctions altogether.

Splav and Smirnov did not respond to requests for comment.

It’s much the same for Splav’s parent company, NPK Techmash. The United States and the EU have sanctioned the firm, but the UK has not. Techmash CEO Alexander Kochkin has not been targeted by American or European authorities.

Techmash and Kochkin did not respond to requests for comment.

In a June 10 statement, the European Commission said there is an effort to align sanctions lists “as much as legally possible” among allies to achieve “the maximum cumulative effect of the sanctions with all our like-minded partners.” In cases where the lists do not align, the Commission statement said, people and companies not currently on the EU’s sanctions list could be added later if there is sufficient evidence.

“Nothing is off the table,” the statement said.

Western connections

One of the highest-profile Russian firms to escape Western sanctions is VSMPO-Avisma CorpVSMO.MM, which is the world’s largest titanium supplier and 25% owned by Rostec. It supplies Russia’s defense industry, but also counts major Western aerospace companies among its clients.

Based in Verkhnyaya Salda, in central Russia, VSMPO-Avisma has subsidiaries with facilities in the United States, Switzerland and the UK, as well as sales and distribution staff in the United States, Europe and Asia, according to its website and annual reports. That’s no doubt a factor that has allowed the company to escape punishment, according to three sanctions and Russian defense experts who spoke with Reuters.

VSMPO-Avisma’s vice chairman and majority shareholder, Russian billionaire Mikhail Shelkov, ranked by Forbes this year as Russia’s 59th-richest person, likewise has not been sanctioned.

According to past press releases, VSMPO-Avisma has long-term contracts to supply titanium to United Aircraft Corp, a Rostec subsidiary that oversees production of Russian fighter jets such as the Su-34 that have been shot down in Ukraine. United Aircraft has been sanctioned by the United States, EU and UK.

VSMPO-Avisma also sells to Europe’s AirbusAIR.PA, and it supplied U.S. aerospace behemoth Boeing CoBA.N up until March, when the Arlington, Virginia-based company said it stopped purchasing titanium from Russia. Boeing had announced just months earlier, in November 2021, that VSMPO-Avisma would be its largest titanium supplier “for current and future Boeing commercial airplanes.”

VSMPO-Avisma and shareholder Shelkov declined to comment. Boeing said in a statement that it has worked since 2014 to diversify its sources of titanium around the world, and that its current inventory and sources “provide sufficient supply for airplane production.”

Airbus did not answer specific questions about its relationship with VSMPO-Avisma. But in an emailed statement it said potential sanctions on Russian titanium “would massively damage the entire aerospace industry in Europe” while doing little to harm Russia because those sales are but a small portion of that nation’s overall exports.

In 2020, foreign sales accounted for about two-thirds of VSMPO-Avisma’s $1.25 billion in revenue, according to the company’s most recent annual report.

That puts Western officials in a tough spot, said Richard Connolly, director of Eastern Advisory Group, a UK consultancy that advises governments and businesses on the Russian economy and its defense industry. Slapping sanctions on VSMPO-Avisma would curtail its lucrative export trade, but it would also force major players in global aviation to switch suppliers or risk sanctions themselves.

“That’s the classic sanctions conundrum: If you want to hurt somebody, you’re going to hurt yourself,” Connolly said.

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Congressional Candidate: US Hasn’t Done Enough to Prevent War in Ukraine

Ukrainian-born Karina Lipsman is running for a seat in the US House. VOA’s Yurii Mamon has the story, narrated by Anna Rice.
Camera: Kostiantyn Golubchyk

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Norwegian Anti-Islam Extremist in Car Crash After Burning Quran

The leader of an extremist Norwegian anti-Islamic group was in a spectacular car chase and collision Saturday, minutes after burning a Quran on the outskirts of Oslo.

Norwegian police said they arrested two people, including the driver of a car accused of deliberately ramming the SUV of Lars Thorsen, leader of the radical group “Stop the Islamization of Norway” (SIAN).

The five passengers in the SUV were slightly injured, with one requiring hospital treatment, police said.

A video posted on Facebook showed Thorsen and other activists first drove to Mortensrud, a suburb of Oslo with a large Muslim community.

The handful of activists then placed a burning Quran in the middle of a small intersection, initially managing to push back local people who tried to put out the flames.

An angry crowd gathered, including one woman who grabbed the charred book before climbing into a gray Mercedes.

The SUV of the anti-Islam activists, painted in camouflage livery, then left the scene. But seconds later, it was overtaken by the Mercedes, which first hit it lightly and eventually hit it at speed, overturning the vehicle.

The whole episode was filmed by someone following the car.

The incident came a week after a gunman killed two people and wounded 21 others in central Oslo.

Norway’s domestic intelligence service has described the attack as “an act of Islamist terrorism.”

Scandinavian far-right anti-Islam activists have made a specialty of burning Qurans in neighborhoods with large Muslim populations in recent years.

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Foreign Firefighters Arrive in Greece for Summer Wildfire Season

Several dozen Romanian and Bulgarian firefighters took up their posts in Greece on Saturday, the first members of a European force being deployed to the country to provide backup in case of major wildfires during the summer.  

More than 200 firefighters and equipment from Bulgaria, France, Germany, Romania, Norway and Finland will be on standby during the hottest months of July and August in Greece, where a spate of wildfires caused devastation last summer. A group of 28 Romanian firefighters with eight vehicles, and 16 firefighters from Bulgaria with four vehicles, were the first to arrive for the two-month mission, financed and coordinated  under the European Union’s civil protection mechanism.

“We thank you very much for coming to help us during a difficult summer for our country, and for proving that European solidarity is not just theoretical, it’s real,” Greek Civil Protection Minister Christos Stylianides said Saturday as he welcomed the members of the Romanian mission in Athens.

“When things get tough, you will be side by side with our Greek firefighters so we can save lives and property.”

The Bulgarian firefighters have been stationed in Larissa, in central Greece.

Last summer’s wildfires ravaged about 121,000 hectares of forest and bushland in different parts of Greece as the country experienced its worst heatwave in 30 years.

Following sharp criticism of its response to the fires, the Greek government set up a new civil protection ministry and promised to boost firefighting capacities.

In Greece’s worst wildfire disaster, 102 people were killed when a blaze tore through the seaside town of Mati and nearby areas close to Athens during the summer of 2018.

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The Bitcoin Boom: Rural Texas Town Welcomes Bitcoin Mining

A rural town in central Texas is home to the largest bitcoin mining facility in North America, bringing jobs and welcomed vitality into the community. But critics warn the operations are part of a volatile new industry. Deana Mitchell has the story.

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