From The Alpha and the Omega - Chapter Eight
by Jim A. Cornwell, Copyright © 1995, all rights reserved
"KING OF THE NORTH 2022 JANUARY-MARCH"

    This file is attached to http://www.mazzaroth.com/ChapterEight/BeastThatCameOutOfTheSea.htm from “Beast That Came Out Of The Sea” - Chapter Eight by Jim A. Cornwell, Copyright © 1995, all rights reserved.
Or return to the Astronomical Events To Appear Between 2014 Through 2017 A.D. or continue to King Of The North in 2022 April-June

WTO REGION 6 IN 1995 CENTRAL ASIA - RUSSIA, ARMENIA, GEORGIA, AZERBIJIAN, CUBA

WTO REGION 5 IN 1995 WESTERN ASIA/EASTERN EUROPE – BALKAN STATES, POLAND, ROMANIA, HUNGARY, BULGARIA, CZECHO-SLOVAKIA, YUGOSLAVIA, ALBANIA, ESTONIA, LATVIA, LITHUANIA.

    So as 2021 has passed do we know who the "King of the North" is?
    "Some of the wise will stumble, so that they may be refined, purified and made spotless until the time of the end, for it will still come at the appointed time.    The king will do as he pleases.    He will exalt and magnify himself above every god and will say unheard-of things against the God of gods.    He will be successful until the time of wrath is completed, for what has been determined must take place." (Daniel 11:35,36).
    The king of the north mentioned in verses Daniel 11:36-45 is the same King from the North (also known as the stern-faced king or the horn power) that was introduced in Daniel 8.    Notice how this point is demonstrated.
    Verse 35 points to the appointed time of the end, and verse 36 describes a king who will be successful until the time of wrath is completed.
Rev. 17:11 The Eighth Head: The Seventh Head (revived Roman Empire) will grow an Eighth Head in verse 11 (Some claim this to be "The scarlet animal that is to be destroyed).
    Rev. 17:11 And the beast that was, and is not, even he is the eighth (‘Ogdoos’ eighth is connected to ‘Okta’ eight; here the vision shows that the seventh head will briefly sprout another as an eighth head or an outgrowth which will be destroyed; “the eighth” king, his “wound being healed,” Rev. 13:3, Antichrist manifested in the fullest and most intense opposition to God.    He is “the little horn” with eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking great things, before whom three of the ten horns were plucked up by the roots, and to whom the whole ten “give their power and strength,” in Rev. 12:13, 17.), and is of the seven (originally came from the seven heads; The eighth is not one of the seven restored, but a new power or person proceeding out of the seven, and at the same time embodying all the God opposed features of the previous seven.    For this reason there are not eight heads, but only seven, for the eighth is the embodiment of all the seven.),
and goeth into perdition (‘Apoleia’ indicating loss of well-being, not of being, is used of the Beast, the final head of the revived Roman Empire; In the birth-pangs which prepare the “regeneration” there are wars, earthquakes, and disturbances, at which Antichrist takes his rise, from the sea, Rev. 13:1; Mark 13:8; Luke 21:9-11.).
(Paraphrased: “The scarlet animal that died is the eighth king, having reigned before as one of the seven; after his second reign, he too, will go to his doom.”).
    [No one can really narrow down who or what this new entity came from, but the following is food for thought.    I ran across a news article dated 6/9/2018 on my “KingOfTheWest2018.htm" file and I discovered the following statement, was made in it and was titled "Russia joined the G-7 in the late 1990s almost a decade after the fall of the Soviet Union, making the group the G-8."    And as it is seen above in prophecy the seventh head will briefly sprout another as an eighth head, which was Russia, the eighth as one of the seven.    So as it says above "in his second reign," which was in 2018, "he too, will go to his doom.]
    Most likely this king is the Russian president Vladimir Putin because of his continued push to be in the scene and his interfacing into other areas.
    The end of the year was filled with all the connection of Russia with Turkey, China, North Korea, Ukraine and Syria.     When Trump pulled our troops out of Syria and whether the prophecy below represents the beginning of the events happening in late October 2019 is still to be determined if Daniel 11:40-45 claims it represents the Northern King’s Conquests     Ezekiel 38:1 and 18 or Ezekiel 39:1-8 which states about the entwining of Russia the King of the North and the Mideast Nations and the King of the South into the prophecy above in the very near future as the King of the West has pulled out of this mess which I think Trump made the right call probably due to God's influence.
    The following image below is seen at http://www.mazzaroth.com/ChapterSix/Psalm83.htm so you can tell by the verses above who are the countries today.
    Well, lets see what happens in 2022 with the world in an issue of Russia attacking Ukraine who was ready for a war and the rest of the world attempting to defuse the tensions.


2022 JANUARY-MARCH

1/2/2022 Dutch Police Disperse Thousands Protesting Against Lockdown Measures
Opponents of restrictions imposed in the Netherlands to contain the spread of COVID-19 protest despite
a ban by local authorities, in Amsterdam, Netherlands, January 2, 2022. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw
    AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – Riot police with batons and shields tried to break up a crowd of several thousand who had gathered in the Dutch capital on Sunday to protest against COVID-19 lockdown measures and vaccinations.
    Amsterdam mayor Femke Halsema issued an emergency ordinance, empowering police to clear the central Museum Square, after the protesters violated a ban on holding public gatherings during the latest wave of coronavirus infections.
    The protesters, who mostly did not wear masks and broke social distancing rules, also ignored an order not to hold a march and walked along a main thoroughfare, playing music and holding yellow umbrellas in a sign of opposition to the government measures.
    The Netherlands went into a sudden lockdown on Dec. 19, with the government ordering the closure of all but essential stores, as well as restaurants, hairdressers, gyms, museums and other public places until at least Jan. 14.
    Public gatherings of more than two people are prohibited under the current set of restrictions.
    Like other European countries, the Netherlands imposed the measures in an effort to prevent a fresh wave of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus that could overwhelm an already strained healthcare system.
(Reporting by Hilde Verweij Writing by Anthony Deutsch Editing by Mark Potter)

1/3/2022 Russia, China, Britain, U.S. And France Say No One Can Win Nuclear War
Flags are seen in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) headquarters, amid the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Vienna, Austria May 23, 2021. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – China, Russia, Britain, the United States and France have agreed that a further spread of nuclear arms and a nuclear war should be avoided, according to a joint statement by the five nuclear powers published by the Kremlin on Monday.
    It said that the five countries – who are the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council – consider it their primary responsibility to avoid war between the nuclear states and to reduce strategic risks, while aiming to work with all countries to create an atmosphere of security.
    “We declare there could be no winners in a nuclear war, it should never be started,” the Russian-language version of the statement read.
    “As the use of nuclear arms would have far-reaching consequences, we also confirm that nuclear arms – as long as they exist – should serve defensive aims, deterrence against aggression and prevention of war.”
    France also released the statement, underscoring that the five powers reiterated their determination for nuclear arms control and disarmament.    They would continue bilateral and multilateral approaches to nuclear arms control, it said.
    The statement comes amid increased geopolitical tensions between Moscow and Western nations over concerns about Russia’s military build-up near neighbouring Ukraine.    Moscow says it can move its army around its own territory as it deems necessary.
    Last Thursday U.S. President Joe Biden told his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin that a possible move on Ukraine will draw sanctions and an increased U.S. presence in Europe, where tensions are high after Russia’s military buildup at the border.
(Reporting by Andrey Ostroukh; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Angus MacSwan)

1/3/2022 Dutch To Reopen Schools Despite High Infection Rates
Pupils sitting behind partition boards made of plexiglass attend a class at a primary school, during the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Den Bosch, Netherlands, May 8, 2020. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw
    THE HAGUE (Reuters) – The Netherlands, under a strict COVID-19 lockdown for the past two weeks, will reopen primary and secondary schools on Jan. 10 despite coronavirus infections remaining high, the government announced on Monday.
    The government stressed that hospital admissions were down considerably since the country went into a lockdown in December, which included schools closing a week earlier than planned for winter holidays.
    “This is good news for students and it’s important for their development and their mental well-being that they can go to school,” Education Minister Arie Slob said at a press conference.
    Vocational schools and universities will not reopen, but instead have online classes until at least January 17.
    Last week the Dutch health authorities said Omicron has become the dominant variant in the country. Infections have dropped somewhat from record levels seen in November but remain high with more than 14,000 new cases recorded in the past 24 hours.
    “Unfortunately, despite our strict measures we are seeing a rise in infections and that means we are concerned about what will happen in the weeks ahead,” Health Minister Hugo de Jonge said.
    On December 19 the Netherlands closed all but essential shops as well as restaurants, hairdressers, gyms, museums and other public places. A ban remains in place on gatherings outside of more than two people.    The measures will be reassessed on January 14.
    More than 85% of Dutch adults are vaccinated, but the country’s booster campaign was slow to ramp up.    As of Wednesday just over 24% of adults have had a booster, though De Jonge said the percentage may double by the end of this week.
(Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg; Editing by Peter Graff)

1/4/2022 Russia, China, Britain, U.S. And France Say No One Can Win Nuclear War
FILE PHOTO: National flags of United Kingdom, United States of America, France and Russia hang in front of the Steigenberger
Belvedere hotel in the Swiss mountain resort of Davos, Switzerland, January 11, 2018 REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann
    MOSCOW/WASHINGTON (Reuters) -China, Russia, Britain, the United States and France have agreed that a further spread of nuclear arms and a nuclear war should be avoided, according to a joint statement by the five nuclear powers published by the Kremlin on Monday.
    It said that the five countries – which are the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council – consider it their primary responsibility to avoid war between the nuclear states and to reduce strategic risks, while aiming to work with all countries to create an atmosphere of security.
    “We affirm that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought,” the English-language version of the statement read.
    “As nuclear use would have far-reaching consequences, we also affirm that nuclear weapons — for as long as they continue to exist — should serve defensive purposes, deter aggression, and prevent war.”
    Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Ma Zhaoxu said the joint statement could help increase mutual trust and “replace competition among major powers with coordination and cooperation,” adding that China has a “no first use” policy on nuclear weapons, state news agency Xinhua reported.
    France also released the statement, underscoring that the five powers reiterated their determination for nuclear arms control and disarmament.    They would continue bilateral and multilateral approaches to nuclear arms control, it said.
    The statement from the so-called P5 group comes as bilateral relations between the United States and Moscow have fallen to their lowest point since the end of the Cold War, while relations between Washington and China are also at a low over a range of disagreements.
    The Pentagon in November sharply increased https://www.reuters.com/world/pentagon-sharply-raises-its-estimate-chinese-nuclear-warheads-2021-11-03 its estimate of China’s projected nuclear weapons arsenal over the coming years, saying Beijing could have 700 warheads by 2027 and possibly 1,000 by 2030.
    Washington has repeatedly urged China to join it and Russia in a new arms control treaty.
    Geopolitical tensions between Moscow and Western countries have increased over concerns about Russia’s military buildup near neighbouring Ukraine.    Moscow says it can move its army around its own territory as it deems necessary.
    Last Thursday U.S. President Joe Biden told https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/biden-speak-with-ukraine-president-sunday-white-house-2021-12-31 his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, that a possible move on Ukraine would draw sanctions and an increased U.S. presence in Europe.
    U.S. and Russian officials will hold security talks https://www.reuters.com/world/us-russian-officials-set-security-talks-jan-10-us-official-2021-12-28 on Jan. 10 to discuss concerns about their respective military activity and confront rising tensions over Ukraine, the two countries said.
    A conference on a major nuclear treaty that was set to begin on Tuesday at the United Nations has been postponed until August due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
(Reporting by Andrey Ostroukh in Moscow, Daphne Psaledakis and Jonathan Landay in Washington; Additional reporting by Yew Lun Tian in Beijing; Editing by Kevin Liffey, Angus MacSwan, Jonathan Oatis and Leslie Adler)

1/4/2022 In Snowy Trenches, Ukrainian Soldiers Vow To Stand Firm Against Russia by Maks Levin
Service members of the Ukrainian armed forces stand guard at combat positions on the line of separation from Russian-backed rebels
outside the settlement of Krymske in the Luhansk region, Ukraine, January 4, 2022. REUTERS/Maksim Levin
    KRYMSKE, Ukraine (Reuters) – A soldier peers over the top of a wooden trench as snow falls thickly on the surrounding fields near the village of Krymske in eastern Ukraine.
    Inside the trench, another soldier stands in front of a small Christmas tree, with messages and drawings from well-wishers pinned on the wall behind him.
    This is the frontline of Ukraine’s eight-year war against Russian-backed forces in the Donbass region https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/how-rebel-held-regions-eastern-ukraine-have-grown-closer-russia-2021-12-15.
    Russian troop movements near Ukraine’s borders https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/why-is-russias-putin-so-focused-ukraine-2021-12-15 have alarmed Kyiv and its Western allies in recent weeks. The soldiers say they are ready for any escalation from Russia.
    “We are determined to stand firm, we will not give up our country.    We fought for independence for a long time,” said one serviceman, who gave his nom-de-guerre as Martin.
    “At home, my parents and wife are worrying,” he said.
    “I don’t plan to stay here forever.    I plan to repel (a Russian attack) and come back home so that my daughter will later say: ‘Wow, father, you managed to stop superpower with your own hands.’
    U.S. officials have said Russia might launch a new attack against Ukraine as early as the second half of January.
    Russia denies it is planning an offensive and accuses Kyiv of building up its own forces in the east of the country.    But Moscow has demanded security guarantees it wants from the West in order to defuse the current crisis.
    Another serviceman, who gave his name as Oleh, played down the prospect of a major escalation.
    “If they show off their muscles and rattle their sabres, then it is unlikely they will attack. If someone wants to attack, he does it covertly,” he said.
(Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Alison Williams)

1/5/2022 Kazakhstan Government Resigns After Violent Protests Over Fuel Price
Kazakh law enforcement officers are seen on a barricade during a protest triggered
by fuel price increase in Almaty, Kazakhstan January 5, 2022. REUTERS/Pavel Mikheyev
    ALMATY (Reuters) - Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev accepted the government’s resignation on Wednesday, his office said, after a fuel price increase in the oil-rich Central Asian country triggered protests in which nearly 100 police were injured.
    Police used tear gas and stun grenades late on Tuesday to drive hundreds of protesters out of the main square in Almaty, the former Soviet republic’s biggest city, and clashes resumed on Wednesday.
    The protests shook the former Soviet republic’s image as a politically stable and tightly controlled country, which it has used to attract hundreds of billions of dollars of foreign investment in its oil and metals industries over three decades of independence.
    Speaking to acting cabinet members, Tokayev ordered them and provincial governors to reinstate LPG price controls and broaden them to gasoline, diesel and other “socially important” consumer goods.
    He also ordered the government to develop a personal bankruptcy law and consider freezing utilities’ prices and subsidising rent payments for poor families.
    He said the situation was improving in protest-hit cities and towns after the state of emergency was declared which included a curfew and movement restrictions.
    In addition to replacing the prime minister, Tokayev also appointed a new first deputy head of the National Security Committee who replaced Samat Abish, a nephew of powerful ex-president Nursultan Nazarbayev.
    Nazarbayev, 81, had run the country for almost 30 years before resigning abruptly in 2019 and backing Tokayev as a successor.    Nazarbayev retains sweeping powers as the chairman of the security council; he has not convened the council or commented on this week’s violence.
    The protests began in the oil-producing western province of Mangistau on Sunday following the lifting of price caps on liquefied petroleum gas, a popular car fuel, a day earlier, after which its price more than doubled.
    Tokayev declared the emergency in Almaty and Mangistau and has said that domestic and foreign provocateurs were behind the violence.
    Separately, the interior ministry said that in addition to Almaty, government buildings were attacked in the southern cities of Shymkent and Taraz overnight, with 95 police officers wounded in clashes. Police have detained more than 200 people.
    Almaty mayor Bakytzhan Sagintayev said in an address to residents that the situation in the city was under control and security forces were detaining “provocateurs and extremists.”
    A Reuters correspondent saw security forces deploy tear gas again on Wednesday as they tried to stop a group of protesters from marching towards the city centre.
(Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Robert Birsel and Michael Perry)

1/5/2022 Kazakhstan Declares State Of Emergency In Protest-Hit City, Province
FILE PHOTO: Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev attends a session of the Council of the Collective Security
Treaty Organization (CSTO) in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan November 28, 2019. Sputnik/Alexei Nikolsky/Kremlin via REUTERS
    ALMATY (Reuters) -Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has declared a two-week state of emergency in the Central Asian nation’s biggest city Almaty and in the western Mangistau province where protests turned violent, his office said early on Wednesday.
    The move includes an 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. curfew, movement restrictions, and a ban on mass gatherings, according to documents published on the president’s website.
    “Calls to attack government and military offices are absolutely illegal,” Tokayev said in a video address a few hours earlier.    “The government will not fall, but we want mutual trust and dialogue rather than conflict.”
    As he spoke, police in Almaty used tear gas and stun grenades to stop hundreds of protesters from storming the mayor’s office, a Reuters correspondent reported from the scene.
    The oil-rich country’s government announced late on Tuesday it was restoring some price caps on liquefied petroleum gas, after the rare protests reached Almaty following a sharp rise in the price of the fuel at the start of the year.
    Many Kazakhs have converted their cars to run on LPG, which is far cheaper than gasoline as a vehicle fuel in Kazakhstan because of price caps. But the government argued that the low price was unsustainable and lifted the caps on Jan. 1.
PRICE SPIKE
    After the price of the fuel spiked, rallies involving thousands of people erupted on Jan. 2 in the town of Zhanaozen, an oil hub and site of deadly clashes between protesters and police a decade ago.
    Demonstrations spread to other parts of surrounding Mangistau province and western Kazakhstan, including provincial centre Aktau and a worker camp used by sub-contractors of Kazakhstan’s biggest oil producer, Tengizchevroil.    The Chevron-led venture said output had not been affected.
    In Almaty, police appeared to have taken control of the main square shortly after deploying flashbang grenades, according to online video streams from the area.    But explosions were heard for hours on nearby streets and in other parts of the city.
    Videos published online showed torched police cars in the city, as well as armoured vehicles moving through one of its main thoroughfares.
    On Tuesday evening, the government announced it was restoring the price cap of 50 tenge (11 cents) per litre, or less than half the market price, in Mangistau province.
    Public protests are illegal in the country of 19 million unless their organisers file a notice in advance.
    Tokayev, the hand-picked successor of Soviet-era Communist boss Nursultan Nazarbayev who stepped down in 2019, faces no political opposition in parliament.
    The president said on Twitter on Tuesday that he would hold a government meeting the following day to discuss the protesters’ demands. He urged protesters to behave responsibly.
(Reporting by Pavel Mikheyev, Mariya Gordeyeva and Olzhas Auyezov; dditional reporting by Tamara Vaal in Nur-Sultan; Editing by Timothy Heritage, Peter Graff, Alex Richardson and Marguerita Choy)

1/5/2022 Kazakh President Fails To Quell Protests, Ex-Soviet States Offer Help by Olzhas Auyezov
Military trucks are seen near the mayor's office during protests triggered
by fuel price increase in Almaty, Kazakhstan January 5, 2022. REUTERS/Stringer
    ALMATY (Reuters) -A Russia-led security alliance of ex-Soviet states will send peacekeeping forces to Kazakhstan, Armenia’s prime minister said on Thursday, after the Kazakh president appealed for their help in quelling violent and deadly protests.
    Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said on Facebook that an unspecified number of peacekeepers would go to Kazakhstan for a limited period to stabilise the situation after state buildings were torched and the Almaty international airport was seized.
    Eight police and national guard troops were killed in the unrest on Tuesday and Wednesday, Russia’s state-owned Sputnik agency quoted the Kazakh interior ministry as saying on Wednesday.    Russian news agencies, quoting Kazakh media, later said two soldiers had also been killed in what they described as an anti-terrorist operation at Almaty airport.
    Initially sparked by anger at a fuel price rise https://www.reuters.com/markets/commodities/why-niche-fuel-market-reform-triggered-major-kazakh-protests-2022-01-05, the protests have quickly spread to take in wider opposition to President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s predecessor Nursultan Nazarbayev https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/powerful-ex-leader-nazarbayev-is-main-target-kazakhs-anger-2022-01-05, who retained significant power despite quitting in 2019 after a nearly three-decade rule.
    Nazarbayev, 81, has been widely seen as the main political force in Nur-Sultan, the purpose-built capital which bears his name.    His family is believed to control much of the economy, the largest in Central Asia.    He has not been seen or heard from since the protests began.
    The Central Asian nation’s reputation for stability under Nazarbayev helped attract hundreds of billions of dollars of foreign investment in its oil and metals industries.
    But a younger generation is demanding the liberalisation seen in other former satellite states of the Soviet Union.    The protests are the worst in Kazakhstan https://www.reuters.com/markets/commodities/key-facts-about-kazakhstan-2022-01-05 – a country five times the size of France with a population of nearly 19 million people – in over a decade.
    Apparently seeking to appease public ire, Tokayev sacked Nazarbayev as head of the powerful Security Council on Wednesday, and took it over himself.    He also appointed a new head of the State Security Committee, successor to the Soviet-era KGB, and removed Nazarbayev’s nephew from the No. 2 position on the committee.
    Tokayev’s Cabinet also resigned.
    But protests continued, with demonstrators taking control of the airport in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s biggest city, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters. Flights were cancelled.
Interfax quoted an official as saying the airport had subsequently been cleared of protesters. Reuters was not able to independently confirm the report.
    Earlier, riot police used teargas and flash grenades against protesters in Almaty but then appeared to withdraw.
A SECOND TOKAYEV TV APPEARANCE
    In the early hours of Thursday, in his second televised speech within hours, Tokayev said that he had appealed for help to the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a military alliance of Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan.
    He said foreign-trained “terrorist” gangs were seizing buildings, infrastructure and weapons, and had taken five aircraft, including foreign ones, at Almaty airport.
    “It is an undermining of the integrity of the state and most importantly it is an attack on our citizens who are asking me… to help them urgently,” Tokayev said.
    “Almaty was attacked, destroyed, vandalised, the residents of Almaty became victims of attacks by terrorists, bandits.    Therefore it is our duty… to take all possible actions to protect our state.”
    Russian news agencies quoted Dmitry Rogozin, head of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, as saying security had been strengthened around key installations at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, which Russia uses for space launches.
‘COMPLETE ANARCHY’
    A resident of Almaty who mingled with the protesters on Wednesday said most of those he met appeared to come from the city’s impoverished outskirts or nearby villages.
    At the main square, vodka was being distributed and some people were discussing whether to head towards the city bazaar or a wealthy area for possible looting, the resident said.
    “There is complete anarchy in the street,” he said.
    Footage posted on the internet showed protesters chanting below a giant bronze statue of Nazarbayev, strung with ropes in an apparent attempt to pull it down.    A woman who posted it said it was filmed in the eastern city of Taldykorgan.
    Early on Wednesday, Reuters journalists had seen thousands of protesters pressing towards Almaty city centre, while in the city of Aqtobe, protesters gathered shouting: “Old Man, go away!” A video online showed police using water cannon and stun grenades near the mayor’s office.
States of emergency were declared in Nur-Sultan, Almaty, and westerly Mangistau province.    The internet was shut down.
    After accepting the Cabinet’s resignation, Tokayev ordered acting ministers to reverse the fuel price rise, which doubled the cost of liquefied petroleum gas widely used for vehicles in Kazakhstan.
    The Kremlin has said it expected Kazakhstan, a close ally, to quickly resolve its internal problems, warning other countries against interfering.    White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Russian accusations that the United States had instigated the unrest were false.
(Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov, Pavel Mikheyev, Maria Gordeyeva, Tamara Vaal and Karin Strohecker; Writing by Mark Trevelyan, Andrew Cawthorne and Rosalba O’Brien; Editing by Howard Goller)

1/5/2022 Cuba Tightens Border Controls As Coronavirus Infections Rebound
FILE PHOTO: People walk under a Cuban flag at a commercial area amid concerns about the spread of the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19), in Havana, Cuba, August 3, 2021. Picture taken August 3, 2021. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini
    HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuba tightened border controls on Wednesday as the Caribbean island nation moved to tamp down a growing wave of coronavirus infections while keeping doors open for its economically vital tourism industry.
    The country will now require both a negative PCR within 72 hours and proof of vaccination of all visitors, though authorities have said they will continue to welcome tourists and keep children in school.
    Cuba had previously required only the vaccination card for most travelers.
    Daily cases on Tuesday hit 967, up more than tenfold since the weeks before Christmas, when new infections hovered at fewer than 100 per day, or just 1% of their pandemic peak on Aug. 22.    Deaths from the virus, however, have not increased.
    Cuba detected its first case of the fast-spreading Omicron variant in early December and numbers have ticked up since.
    At a high-level government meeting late on Tuesday, health officials said they expected cases to increase but not deaths, thanks to the country’s unusually high vaccination rate.
    The poor, communist-run nation is among the world’s most vaccinated. More than 92% of its population has received at least one shot of its home-grown inoculations, and upwards of 85% with a full course, according to “Our World in Data.”
    Cuba has already begun a booster campaign and said last week it hoped to cover the entire country with the additional shot by the end of January.
    Health officials appealed to Cubans to recover from non-severe cases of the virus by isolating themselves in their homes, noting that schools and hotels, which were previously used to temporarily care for the sick, would not be available this time around.
    On the streets of Havana, tourism workers said they were happy to see visitors return to the island but worried about the new strains.
    “We are very afraid that everything will close as before,” said Denis Rosel, a doorman at a private bar in Havana.
    “This is a Caribbean country where there is a lot of tourism every year and so we hope…that it can go back to the way it was,” he said.
(Reporting by Dave Sherwood and Reuters TV; Editing by David Gregorio)

1/5/2022 Explainer-Why A Niche Fuel Market Reform Triggered Major Kazakh Protests
FILE PHOTO: A view shows a burning police car during a protest against LPG cost rise following the Kazakh authorities'
decision to lift price caps on liquefied petroleum gas in Almaty, Kazakhstan January 5, 2022. REUTERS/Pavel Mikheyev
    (Reuters) – Kazakhstan’s slow-burning government reform of a niche market for car fuels brutally backfired this week, triggering the biggest public protests in years as demonstrators accused authorities of stealing from the poor.
    Kazakhstan declared emergencies in the capital and elsewhere on Wednesday after demonstrators stormed and torched public buildings.
    The protests were sparked by a fuel market reform first broached in 2015 that came into effect at the start of the month that sought to remove state price caps for butane and propane – often referred to as ‘road fuels for the poor’ due to their low cost – while making sure the local market was well supplied.
    Previous subsidies had created a situation when Kazakhstan, a major oil producer, regularly faced shortages of butane and propane.    Producers – including ventures of U.S. companies Chevron and Exxon – preferred to export to get a better price.
    When prices were fully liberalised on Jan. 1 the government expectations were that supplies to the domestic market would rise and help address the chronic shortages.
    But the measure backfired, as prices nearly doubled overnight to 120 tenge ($0.30) per litre.    Regions such as oil-rich Mangistau, where protests started, rely on butane and propane for refuelling as many as 90% of vehicles.
    Alternative motor fuels such as gasoline and diesel are more costly at 180-240 tenge ($0.40-0.55) per litre.
    Popular anger was already running high because of rising inflation which was closing in on 9% year-on-year – the highest in more than five years – leading the central bank to raise interest rates to 9.75%.
    The resource-rich country of 19 million is estimated to have a million people living below the poverty line while also counting several dollar billionaires on the Forbes list.
    The protests have yet to have an impact on Kazakhstan’s oil production.    President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has ordered his acting Cabinet to reverse the fuel price rise.
(Reporting by Alla Afanasyeva and Dmitry Zhdannikov, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

1/5/2022 EU’s Top Diplomat Visits East Ukraine Front To Show Support Against Moscow by Pavel Polityuk and Matthias Williams
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and High Representative of the European Union for
Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell board a helicopter to depart to eastern Luhansk region, at the
airport in Kharkiv, Ukraine January 5, 2022. Ukrainian Foreign Ministry/Handout via REUTERS
    KYIV (Reuters) - The European Union’s top diplomat visited the frontline of Ukraine’s war with Moscow-backed forces on Wednesday, promising “massive consequences and severe costs” for Russia if it launched a new military offensive against its neighbour.
    Josep Borrell flew by helicopter to the easterly Luhansk region, the first EU High Representative to do so since the outbreak of the conflict in 2014, as part of a Western diplomatic push in support of Ukraine.
    Kyiv and its allies have sounded the alarm over the build-up of tens of thousands of Russian troops and military equipment near Ukraine’s borders in recent weeks, raising fears of an open war between the two ex-Soviet neighbours.
    TV footage showed Borrell walking through a snowy landscape, meeting soldiers and civilians at one of the checkpoints that divides government-controlled Ukraine from the separatist-held territories.    The roofs of nearby houses were destroyed and had bullet holes in the walls.
    “The conflict on the borders is on the verge of getting deeper and tensions have been building up with respect to the European security as a whole,” Borrell told reporters.
    The EU has a firm stance and a strong commitment “that any military aggression against Ukraine will have massive consequences and severe costs,” he added.
    The Kremlin did not immediately issue a public response to Borrell’s visit.    Moscow has previously denied planning a new military offensive against Ukraine and accuses Kyiv of building up its own forces in the east of the country.
    Russia has pressed the United States for security guarantees that NATO will halt its eastward expansion.    The two sides will meet for talks in Geneva on January 9-10.
    Ukraine has long sought assurances that no decisions about its future, including its right to eventually join the EU and the NATO military alliance, would be made without its involvement.
    Borrell too insisted that the security of Ukraine affected the security of Europe as a whole, and that the EU had to be involved in discussions with Russia.
    “There is no security in Europe without the security of Ukraine.    And it is clear that any discussion on European security must include the European Union and Ukraine,” Borrell said.
    Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, who accompanied Borrell, welcomed the trip as “a very timely visit against the background of Russian blackmail, escalation and threats.”
    Relations between Kyiv and Moscow collapsed after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and Moscow-backed forces seized territory in eastern Ukraine that Kyiv wants back.
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk, Natalia Zinets and Matthias Williams; editing by John Stonestreet and Frank Jack Daniel)

1/5/2022 U.S. Imposes New Sanctions On Bosnian Serb Leader Dodik by Daphne Psaledakis and Daria Sito-Sucic
Milorad Dodik, Serb member of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, speaks during an interview
in his office in Banja Luka, Bosnia and Herzegovina November 11, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic
    WASHINGTON/SARAJEVO (Reuters) - The United States on Wednesday imposed fresh sanctions on Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik and current and former officials as Washington warned of further action against those linked to destabilization or corruption.
    The U.S. Treasury Department in a statement accused Dodik, already subject to U.S. sanctions under a different authority, of corruption and threatening the stability and territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
    The Treasury also slapped sanctions on Banja Luka-based media outlet Alternativna Television (ATV), accusing Dodik of acquiring it to further his own agenda and exerting personal control over it.
    ATV strongly condemned the U.S. sanctions as a direct strike on media freedoms and democracy and its management dismissed allegations about ties with Dodik as “senseless.”
    “We are surprised with such a decision and regard as extremely trivial that a great state should take individual insinuations about ties between our media house and politicians as credible sources,” ATV said in a statement sent to Reuters.
    The Treasury designations, which freeze any of Dodik and ATV’s U.S. assets and bar Americans from dealing with them, are the first use of an executive order issued in June allowing the United States to target those threatening peace or stability in the Western Balkans.
    The U.S. State Department also barred current and former Bosnia and Herzegovina officials from entering the United States, targeting Milan Tegeltija, a former president of the high judicial council, and Mirsad Kukic, a lawmaker and president of the Movement for Democratic Action.
    Tegeltija said in a tweet that the sanctions were not based on court proceedings so he did not feel he should defend himself, but were a “result of the politics which contains a brutal political pressure.”
    U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a separate statement warned of further action: “Other leaders and entities linked to corrupt or destabilizing actors may also be subject to future actions by the U.S. Government.”
    Bosnia is experiencing its gravest political crisis since the end of the war in the 1990s, reviving fears of a breakup after Bosnian Serbs blocked the work of the central government and Serb lawmakers voted to start pulling the autonomous Serb Republic out of state institutions.
    Dodik, who serves as the Serb member of Bosnia’s tripartite inter-ethnic presidency, wants to roll back all reforms made after the war and return to the 1995 constitution under which the state was represented by basic institutions only while all powers had belonged to the regions.
    “Milorad Dodik’s destabilizing corrupt activities and attempts to dismantle the Dayton Peace Accords, motivated by his own self-interest, threaten the stability of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the entire region,” Brian Nelson, Treasury’s under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said in the statement.
    The U.S.-brokered Dayton peace agreement in 1995 ended 3-1/2 years of ethnic warfare in Bosnia. Some 100,000 people were killed in the conflict and 2 million forced from their homes.
    Dodik said he was again being punished but did not know for what, telling Bosnian Serb news agency Srna the United States was accusing him of corruption despite the absence of any criminal proceeding against him.    He added he has not brought into question constitutional order in Bosnia or its stability in any way.
    “If they think they will discipline me in this way, they are very wrong.    I have now only got a motive to fight for the rights that have been taken away from us for 26 years,” he said.
    The international high representative in Bosnia, Christian Schmidt, said that the U.S. decision to impose sanctions on Dodik is “a logical consequence of the destructive and dangerous attitude in reference to his failure to meet the basic requirements of responsible leadership.”
(Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis in Washington and Daria Sito-Sucic in SarajevoAdditional reporting by David Ljunggren in OttawaEditing by Paul Simao, Richard Chang and Matthew Lewis)

1/5/2022 Eight Police And National Guard Troops Dead, 317 Injured During Unrest In Kazakhstan – Sputnik
Kazakh law enforcement officers block a street during a protest triggered by fuel price
increase in Almaty, Kazakhstan January 5, 2022. REUTERS/Pavel Mikheyev TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Eight police and national guard troops have been killed and 317 were injured during unrest in several regions of Kazakhstan, Sputnik news agency reported on Wednesday, quoting the interior ministry.
    Earlier Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said he had taken over as head of the country’s Security Council and promised to act with “maximum toughness” amid the worst unrest for more than a decade in the Central Asian republic.
(Reporting by Maxim Rodionov; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

1/5/2022 Bulgaria Tightens Arrival Conditions As COVID Infections Surge
FILE PHOTO: A woman awaits to receive a dose of vaccine against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) by a medical personnel
from a mobile unit in the village of Krushovitsa, Bulgaria, October 10, 2021. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov/File Photo
    SOFIA (Reuters) – Bulgaria will require almost all travellers from the European Union to have a negative PCR coronavirus test prior to entry along with a valid COVID certificate, starting on Friday, the Health Ministry said on Wednesday.
    The measure is aimed at limiting the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant, the ministry said.
    The Balkan country recorded its first 12 Omicron cases since the New Year.    On Wednesday it reported a sharp rise in new infections to over 6,200 from about 1,900 a day earlier.
    Under the updated rules, travellers from the EU countries that on Bulgaria’s red zone list, need to produce a negative PCR test taken 72 hours prior to arrival.    The rule also applies to travellers from the United Kingdom.
    On Bulgaria’s red zone list are countries that have reported over 500 coronavirus infections per 100,000 inhabitants in the past 14 days or have reported a spread of coronavirus variant that raises concerns.
    Beginning on Friday, Bulgaria will add the United States, Canada and Australia to its red zone list, effectively banning arrivals of foreigners from these countries.
    Austria, Hungary, Luxembourg and Romania are the only EU member states that are not on Bulgaria’s red zone list at present.
(Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova in Sofia; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

1/6/2022 Russia Sends Paratroopers To Kazakhstan To Quell Deadly Unrest by Olzhas Auyezov
A view shows a burning police car during a protest against LPG cost rise following the Kazakh authorities' decision to
lift price caps on liquefied petroleum gas in Almaty, Kazakhstan January 5, 2022. REUTERS/Pavel Mikheyev
    ALMATY (Reuters) – Russia has sent paratroopers into Kazakhstan as part of an international peacekeeping force to quell deadly unrest in the central Asian country, a military alliance of former Soviet states said on Thursday.
    Earlier, Kazakh police said forces had “eliminated” tens of rioters in the largest city of Almaty as the unrest sparked by rising fuel prices boiled over into the biggest protests since independence in 1991.
    Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev had appealed for the intervention of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a military alliance of Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, blaming foreign-trained “terrorist” gangs for the violent protests.
    Several armoured personnel carriers and scores of troops entered the main square of Almaty on Thursday morning where hundreds of people were protesting against the government for the third day, Reuters correspondents reported from the scene.
    Gunshots were heard as troops approached the crowd, according to Reuters witnesses, but the situation in the square had calmed down since then.    Unverified video on social media showed troops patrolling Almaty’s foggy streets overnight, firing weapons, as well as widespread looting in the city.
    State television on Thursday showed video of a pile of weapons on the street, with people walking up and taking them.
    TASS news agency quoted the Kazakh health ministry as saying more than 1,000 people had been injured during the protests, and more than 400 of them were in hospital.
    The unrest began as protests against the rising price of liquefied petroleum gas, a fuel used by the poor to power their cars, but has since turned into anti-government riots feeding off deep-seated resentment over three decades of rule by former president Nursultan Nazarbayev and his hand-picked successor.
    Nazarbayev, 81, stepped down in 2019 but remains a political force and his family is believed to control much of the economy, the largest in Central Asia.    He has not been seen or heard from since the protests began.     Nazarbayev’s successor Tokayev said gangs were seizing buildings, infrastructure and weapons.
    “It is an undermining of the integrity of the state and most importantly it is an attack on our citizens who are asking me… to help them urgently,” he said.
    He also ordered government protection for foreign embassies and businesses owned by foreign companies.    The nation’s reputation for stability had helped attract hundreds of billions of dollars of foreign investment in oil and metals industries.
    State TV also said the National Bank of Kazakhstan had decided to suspend work of banks in the country for the safety of their workers.    The Internet in the country is mostly down.
    Eight police and national guard troops were killed in the unrest on Tuesday and Wednesday, Russia’s state-owned Sputnik agency said on Wednesday, quoting the Kazakh interior ministry.    Russian news agencies, quoting Kazakh media, later said two soldiers had also been killed in what they described as an anti-terrorist operation at Almaty airport.
(Reporting by Mariya Gordeyeva, Pavel Mikheyev, Olzhas Auyezov and Polina Devitt; Writing by Mark Bendeich; Editing by Christian Schmollinger, Michael Perry and Mark Trevelyan)

1/6/2022 Fresh Violence In Kazakhstan After Russia Sends Troops To Put Down Uprising by Olzhas Auyezov
A vehicle that was burned during the protests triggered by fuel price increase is
seen on a road in Almaty, Kazakhstan January 6, 2022. REUTERS/Pavel Mikheyev
    ALMATY (Reuters) - Fresh violence erupted in Kazakhstan’s main city on Thursday after Russia rushed in paratroopers overnight to put down a countrywide uprising in one of Moscow’s closest former Soviet allies.
    Police in the main city Almaty said they had killed dozens of rioters overnight.    The authorities said at least 18 members of the security forces had died, including two found decapitated.    More than 2,000 people had been arrested.
    After a night of running confrontations between protesters and troops on the streets, a presidential residence in the city and its mayor’s office were both ablaze, and burnt out cars littered the city, Reuters journalists said.
    Military personnel regained control of the main airport, seized earlier by protesters.    Thursday evening saw renewed battles in Almaty’s main square, occupied alternately by troops and hundreds of protesters throughout much of the day.
    The Russian deployment was a gamble by the Kremlin that rapid military force could secure its interests in the oil and uranium-producing Central Asian nation, by swiftly putting down the worst violence in Kazakhstan’s 30 years of independence.
    Reuters reporters heard explosions and gunfire as military vehicles and scores of soldiers advanced, although the shooting stopped again after nightfall.    TASS news agency quoted witnesses as saying people had been killed and wounded in the new gunfire.
    Oil production at Kazakhstan’s top field Tengiz was reduced on Thursday, its operator Chevron said, as some contractors disrupted train lines in support of the protests.
    The internet was shut down across the country, making it impossible to gauge the extent of the unrest.    But the violence was unprecedented in a state ruled firmly since Soviet times by leader Nursultan Nazarbayev https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/powerful-ex-leader-nazarbayev-is-main-target-kazakhs-anger-2022-01-05, 81, who held on to the reins despite stepping down three years ago as president.
ATTACK ON OUR CITIZENS
    Nazarbayev’s hand-picked successor, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/amid-uprising-kazakh-president-ditches-diplomacy-tough-talk-2022-01-06, called in the Russian forces overnight as part of a Moscow-led military alliance of ex-Soviet states.    He blamed the unrest on foreign-trained terrorists who he said had seized buildings and weapons.
    “It is an undermining of the integrity of the state and most importantly it is an attack on our citizens who are asking me… to help them urgently,” he said.
    Moscow said it would consult with Kazakhstan and allies on steps to support the Kazakh “counter-terrorist operation” and repeated Tokayev’s assertion that the uprising was foreign-inspired.    Neither Kazakhstan nor Russia provided evidence to support that.
    Moscow did not disclose how many troops it was sending or what role they were playing, and it was not possible to determine the extent to which Russians may have been involved in Thursday’s unrest.
    The uprising, which began as protests against a New Year’s Day fuel price hike, swelled on Wednesday, when protesters chanting slogans against Nazarbayev stormed and torched public buildings in Almaty and other cities.
    Tokayev initially responded by dismissing his cabinet, reversing the fuel price rise and distancing himself from his predecessor, including by taking over a powerful security post Nazarbayev had retained.    But those moves failed to mollify crowds who accuse Nazarbayev’s family and allies of amassing vast wealth while the nation of 19 million remained poor.
    Nazarbayev stepped aside from the presidency in 2019 as the last Soviet-era Communist Party boss still ruling a former Soviet state. But he and his family kept posts overseeing security forces and the political apparatus in Nur-Sultan, the purpose-built capital bearing his name. He has not been seen or heard from since the unrest began.
LOOTERS CAME IN
    The swift arrival of Russian troops demonstrated the Kremlin’s willingness to safeguard its influence in the ex-Soviet Union with force.    Since late 2020, Moscow has shored up the leader of Belarus against a popular uprising, intervened to halt a war between Azerbaijan and Armenia, and, to the West’s alarm, massed troops again near Ukraine, which Russia invaded eight years ago.
    Deployment in Kazakhstan carries risk: by exposing the Kazakh authorities as dependent on Russian muscle, Moscow could further inflame the protesters.
    “They are Kazakhs and Tokayev will try putting them down with Russian troops.    That will not look great for Moscow,” tweeted economist Tim Ash, who specialises in the region.
    But it is difficult to say how broad support might be for protests in a country with little organised opposition, especially if demonstrators are blamed for violence.
    “Thank God, the military has arrived, finally,” Ali, a manager at Holiday Inn hotel near Almaty’s main square, told Reuters by phone.    “Looters came in last night, smashing car windows near us.”
    The West has so far mainly limited its response to calls for calm. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke to his Kazakh counterpart “and advocated for a peaceful, rights-respecting resolution to the crisis,” spokesperson Ned Price said.
    EU top diplomat Josep Borrell said Russia’s military intervention brought “memories of situations to be avoided.”
    Kazakhstan’s long-dated dollar-denominated sovereign bonds have plunged, losing around 7 cents since the start of the week.
    Kazakhstan is the top global producer of uranium, which jumped in price by 8% after the unrest.
    The country is also the world’s second-largest miner of bitcoin.    Bitcoin’s “hashrate” – the computing power of machines in its network – dropped by over 10% on Wednesday after Kazakhstan’s internet was shut off, according to crypto mining firm BTC.com.
(Reporting by Mariya Gordeyeva, Pavel Mikheyev, Olzhas Auyezov and Polina DevittWriting by Mark Bendeich, Peter Graff Editing by Angus MacSwan, Frank Jack Daniel and Andrew Heavens)

1/6/2022 ‘We Don’t Know How To Leave,’ Says Young Tourist Caught Up In Kazakhstan Violence by Gabriela Baczynska
Passengers are seen on the ramp of an Air Astana plane to Moscow, that couldn't take off
from the Almaty airport due to the anti-government protests, in Almaty, Kazakhstan, in this
picture obtained by Reuters on January 6, 2022. Passengers, including Melaniya Pavlova, were forced
to stay on board overnight during the curfew. Courtesy of Melaniya Pavlova/Handout via REUTERS
    (Reuters) – Melaniya Pavlova, a 21-year-old Russian-American dual citizen, was visiting Almaty, Kazakhstan, with some friends this week to say goodbye to a friend who was planning a trip to Australia.
    But then protests rocked the country, grounding her plane back to Moscow.    After spending a night onboard the plane, Pavlova and her friends had little choice but to remain in Almaty, the largest city of the former Soviet republic.
    Speaking by phone from her Almaty hotel, Pavlova told Reuters she was worried by the clearly audible gunshots and looting going on around her.
    On Thursday, as the violent protests showed little sign of subsiding, Russia rushed in paratroopers https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/troops-protesters-clash-almaty-main-square-kazakhstan-shots-heard-2022-01-06 and police in Almaty said they had killed dozens of rioters overnight.
    “We don’t know how to leave this country now,” said Pavlova.    Commercial flights were cancelled as protesters briefly took over the airport.
    Some trains were also cancelled, and she worried that mode of travel might be unsafe.
    “It’s very scary that there is this looting going on. We wanted to go to Bishkek (in Kyrgyzstan) and then back to Moscow but it’s dangerous out there and we don’t really want to take the risk.”
    Pavlova arrived in Almaty last Sunday after spending the New Year’s holidays with her family in Moscow.
    After the protests erupted, her friends – including the one who was supposed to be travelling to Australia – booked a Wednesday evening flight back to Moscow.
    But “just as we checked our luggage in, the whole system broke down because the internet was cut off,” she said.
    After queuing for two hours, they were given handwritten tickets and boarded the plane.
    “But then the protesters took over ground control and the pilots didn’t want the responsibility of taking off.    So, together with other planes to Turkey, Tbilisi and Bishkek, we got stuck.”
    They were kept on the plane through the night, given food loaded earlier for the flight, but told they could not leave until the curfew ended the next morning.    A firetruck delivered more food, she said.
    The pilot woke everyone up around 2 a.m. to say people could leave, but only five went, with most passengers unsure where they could go during a curfew.
    The Russian consulate was shut due to the New Year holidays, which traditionally run until Jan. 10, while she said staff at the American one told the group to stay on the plane away from the windows and asked if they had food.
    The group and their pet dog are now staying in a hotel being paid for by the French consulate – contacted by one of her friends who is a French national, said Pavlova.
    “We went out to walk the dog at some point.    We very clearly heard shots,” she said on Thursday afternoon.
(Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

1/6/2022 Ukraine Opposition Blasts President As Court Freezes Predecessor’s Assets by Pavel Polityuk and Natalia Zinets
FILE PHOTO: Ukraine's former President and leader of the European Solidarity party Petro Poroshenko speaks
at a polling station during a parliamentary election in Kiev, Ukraine July 21, 2019. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
    KYIV (Reuters) - Ukraine’s pro-Western opposition accused President Volodymyr Zelenskiy of autocratic behaviour on Thursday after a court froze the assets of Zelenskiy’s predecessor Petro Poroshenko and two television channels that once belonged to him.
    The asset seizures were part of a formal investigation into whether Poroshenko committed high treason by financing Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine while in office in 2014-2015.
    He has denied the allegations. Poroshenko’s European Solidarity party called the ruling by Kyiv’s Pechersk court “illegal, unjust” and designed to silence opposition to Zelenskiy’s rule.
    Zelenskiy has not commented on the court’s decisions but previously denied wanting to wield influence over state prosecutors or the judiciary.
    “The current statements from Mr. Poroshenko’s party are not surprising,” Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser in Zelenskiy’s office, said in written comments to Reuters.
    “They need to say something loud to distract attention and not explain Poroshenko’s de facto flight abroad from investigative actions,” he said.    “The status of ex-president does not give the privilege to ignore investigative actions and court hearings.”
    The court also froze the assets of two television channels, Channel 5 and Priamyi kanal, which Poroshenko owned until November before putting them into a holding company.
    “I’m not a lawyer, but as far as I understand, arrest does not mean closure.    The channels continue to operate,” Zelenskiy’s spokesman Sergii Nykyforov said.    “Freedom of speech has not suffered,” he said in written comments.
    The row hit as Ukraine is scrambling to secure international support in its standoff with Moscow, after sounding the alarm about a build-up of tens of thousands of Russian troops near its borders.
    Russian President Vladimir Putin’s administration denies planning a major military offensive against Ukraine but has demanded security guarantees from the West, including a halt to NATO’s eastward expansion.    U.S. and Russian officials meet for talks next week.
    “…the government, instead of consolidating Ukrainian society to oppose Putin, is fuelling internal confrontation.    Thus it recklessly and irresponsibly weakens the front against Russian aggression,” said a statement by Poroshenko’s party.
    “Zelenskiy, like other autocrats, is mistaken in believing that the seizure of assets and accounts will create insurmountable obstacles to the activities of the opposition.”
    Last month, prosecutors asked a Ukrainian court to arrest Poroshenko with the possibility of bail set at 1 billion hryvnia ($37 million).
    Poroshenko has been outside Ukraine since late December and has not yet commented on the ruling.    He has said that he plans to come back to Ukraine on Jan. 17.
    “The court decided to seize the suspect’s property, which belongs to him on the right of ownership,” the Prosecutor General’s office said in a statement.
    A confectionary tycoon and one of Ukraine’s richest citizens, Poroshenko was elected as head of a pro-Western government after the 2014 Maidan street protests ousted his Russian-backed predecessor.
    Zelenskiy beat Poroshenko in a landslide election in 2019 on a ticket to tackle corruption and curb the influence of oligarchs in the ex-Soviet country.
    Zelenskiy’s party passed a law last year, banning oligarchs from financing political parties or owning television stations.    Opposition parties said the law concentrated too much power in Zelenskiy’s hands.
    Poroshenko said in November he had been forced to sell the TV channels due to the new law.    Both TV stations on Thursday published comments from Poroshenko’s allies that criticised the court decision.
(Reporting by Natalia Zinets and Pavel Polityuk; Writing by Pavel Polityuk and Matthias Williams; Editing by Jon Boyle, Emelia Sithole-Matarise and David Gregorio)
[EVERYONE SHOULD REMEMBER POROSHENKO HE WAS FORMER PRESIDENT THAT JOE BIDEN TOLD HIM IF HE DID NOT FIRE THE PROSECUTOR OF THE COMPANY THAT HUNTER WAS IN THAT THEY WOULD NOT GET THE BILLION DOLLARS WHICH IS ON VIDEO STILL AND JOE DENIES THAT AS HE IS STILL LYING TO AMERICANS EVEN TODAY .].

1/6/2022 U.S. To Open Special Operations Forces Base In Albania
Albania's Prime Minister Edi Rama delivers his speech during a press conference of the Open Balkan
summit at the Palace of Brigades in Tirana, Albania December 21, 2021. REUTERS/Florion Goga
    TIRANA (Reuters) – The United States Special Operations Command Europe (SOCEUR) will open a forward-based headquarters in Albania on a rotational basis, Albania’s Prime Minister Edi Rama said on Thursday.
    SOCEUR, based in Stuttgart, Germany, said on its website that the base in Albania would provide increased coordination with Albanian allies, important access to transportation hubs in the Balkans and greater logistical flexibility.
    “This is a fantastic news … it is an expression of a very high credibility and a very close cooperation,” Rama said in a video message in which he read out the SOCEUR announcement.
    Albania became a member of the NATO military alliance in 2009.
    Highly trained and equipped with advanced communications equipment and weapons, special forces are often used in counterterrorism or reconnaissance operations.    They can infiltrate enemy lines to tie down much larger numbers of opposition troops.
    It was not clear what the role of these U.S. forces in Albania would be.
    SOCEUR said its role is to “rapidly respond to emerging threats and if necessary, defeat aggression” together with its allies.
    In the decade after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks U.S. special forces numbers more than doubled, their budget tripled and their deployments quadrupled.
    The United States already has 600 troops based in Serbia’s former province of Kosovo to maintain the fragile peace more than two decades after the end of the Kosovo War in 1999.
(Reporting by Fatos Bytyci and Florion Goga; Editing by Daria Sito-Sucic and Grant McCool)

1/6/2022 From Stability To Turmoil – What’s Going On In Kazakhstan
A man walks past a car that was burned during the protests triggered
by fuel price increase in Almaty, Kazakhstan January 6, 2022. REUTERS/Pavel Mikheyev
    (Reuters) – Soldiers shot at protesters https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/troops-protesters-clash-almaty-main-square-kazakhstan-shots-heard-2022-01-06 in Kazakhstan’s biggest city Almaty on Thursday after days of violent unrest that prompted the government to declare a state of emergency and appeal for help from its ally Russia and other ex-Soviet republics.
    As Russian paratroopers arrived in Kazakhstan, an oil-rich state long viewed as a bastion of stability in volatile Central Asia, police in Almaty said they had killed dozens of rioters while struggling to restore order.
    Here is a snapshot of Kazakhstan, its economy and political system.
WHERE IS KAZAKHSTAN AND WHY DOES IT MATTER?
    Kazakhstan, located between Russia and China and also sharing borders with three other ex-Soviet republics, is the largest economy in Central Asia, with rich hydrocarbon and metal deposits.    It has attracted hundreds of billions of dollars in foreign investment since becoming independent in 1991.
    Strategically, it links the large and fast-growing markets of China and South Asia with those of Russia and Europe by road, rail, and a port on the Caspian Sea.    It has described itself as the buckle in China’s huge ‘Belt and Road’ trade project.
    Kazakhstan is the top global producer of uranium https://www.reuters.com/markets/europe/worlds-biggest-uranium-miner-says-unaffected-by-kazakh-turmoil-2022-01-06 and this week’s unrest prompted an 8% jump in the price of the metal that fuels nuclear power plants.    It is the world’s ninth biggest oil exporter, producing some 85.7 million tonnes in 2021, and its 10th largest producer of coal.
    It is also the world’s second largest miner of bitcoin https://www.reuters.com/markets/europe/bitcoin-network-power-slumps-kazakhstan-crackdown-hits-crypto-miners-2022-01-06 after the United States.    Bitcoin’s “hashrate” – the measure of computing power of machines plugged into its network – dropped by over 10% on Wednesday after Kazakhstan’s internet was shut off, according to crypto mining firm BTC.com.
WHY ARE PEOPLE ANGRY?
    The uprising began as protests in oil-rich western regions against the removal of state price caps on New Year’s Day for butane and propane, which are often referred to as ‘road fuels for the poor’ due to their low cost.,br>     The reform, aimed at easing oil shortages, quickly backfired as prices more than doubled. The protests spread, tapping into a wider sense of discontent over endemic state corruption, income inequality and economic hardships that have all been compounded by the coronavirus pandemic.
    Although the richest of the Central Asian republics in per capita income, half of the population in Kazakhstan – the world’s ninth largest country by territory – live in rural, often isolated communities with poor access to public services.
    While the country’s vast natural resources have made a small elite incredibly wealthy, many ordinary Kazakhs feel left behind.    About a million people out of a total population of 19 million are estimated to live below the poverty line.
    Annual inflation is running at close to 9%, the highest in more than five years, prompting the central bank to hike interest rates to 9.75%.
WHO IS IN CHARGE?
    Career diplomat Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, 68, was elected president in 2019 on promises to continue the broadly pro-business policies of his long-serving predecessor, Nursultan Nazarbayev.    But Nazarbayev, a former Soviet Politburo member who led Kazakhstan for nearly three decades, was widely seen as the real power behind the throne.
    Tokayev has used the protests – which have sometimes targeted symbols of the Nazarbayev era including statues – to fire the 81-year-old former president from his post as chief of the powerful Security Council.
    Nazarbayev has made no public comments or appearances since the protests erupted and it remains unclear to what extent the uprising will weaken the considerable influence he and his family have continued to wield in politics and business.
    Tokayev also sacked Nazarbayev’s nephew, Samat Abish, as second-in-command of the security police.    Nazarbayev’s eldest daughter Dariga, a former speaker of the Senate and still a lawmaker, has been spoken of in the past as a possible future president.
ECONOMIC PROSPECTS
    Kazakhstan’s per capita gross domestic product in 2020 was $9,122, World Bank data show, slightly above that of Turkey and Mexico but below its annual peak of nearly $14,000 in 2013.
    Tokayev’s government introduced a stimulus package worth 6% of national output to help smaller and medium-sized businesses weather the COVID-19 pandemic.
    The World Bank has forecast economic growth of 3.5% in 2021, rising to 3.7% this year and 4.8% in 2023.    It has urged Kazakhstan to boost competition and limit the role of large state-owned enterprises in the economy, tackle social inequality and create a more level economic playing field.
HUMAN RIGHTS AND FREEDOMS
    Western countries and rights groups have long criticised Kazakhstan for its authoritarian political system, its intolerance of dissent, curbs on media freedoms and lack of free and fair elections, though it has also been viewed as less repressive and volatile than its ex-Soviet neighbours.
    Amnesty International said this week’s protests were a result of the authorities’ “widespread repression of basic human rights” and it called for the release of all those arbitrarily detained and for investigations of past state abuses.
    “For years, the government has relentlessly persecuted peaceful dissent, leaving the Kazakhstani people in a state of agitation and despair,” Marie Struthers, Amnesty’s Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, said.
(Compiled by Gareth Jones; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

1/7/2022 Kazakh President Says Constitutional Order Mostly Restored by Olzhas Auyezov
A car, which was damaged during the protests triggered by fuel price increase, is seen
on a road in central Almaty, Kazakhstan January 7, 2022. REUTERS/Pavel Mikheyev
    ALMATY (Reuters) – Security forces appeared to be in control of the streets of Kazakhstan’s main city Almaty on Friday morning and the president said constitutional order had mostly been restored, a day after Russia sent troops to put down a countrywide uprising.
    However, fresh gunshots could be heard in the morning near the city’s central square, where troops and protesters had battled through much of the previous day.
    Dozens of people have been killed in clashes on the streets and protesters have torched and ransacked public buildings in several cities in the worst violence in the Central Asian state’s 30 years of independence.
    Russia’s defence ministry, cited by Interfax, said more than 70 planes were flying round the clock to bring Russian troops into Kazakhstan, and they were now helping control Almaty’s main airport, recaptured on Thursday from protesters.
    Demonstrations that began as a response to a fuel price hike have swelled into a broad movement against the government and ex-leader Nursultan Nazarbayev, 81, the longest-serving ruler of any former Soviet state.
    He stepped down as president three years ago but his family is widely believed to have retained power in Nur-Sultan, the purpose-built capital that bears his name.
    Nazarbayev’s hand-picked successor, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, called in Russian paratroopers on Thursday as part of a force from former Soviet states to help put down the uprising, which he has described as a revolt by foreign-trained militants.
    “An anti-terrorist operation has been launched.    The forces of law and order are working hard.    Constitutional order has largely been restored in all regions of the country,” Tokayev said in a statement.
    “Local authorities are in control of the situation.    But terrorists are still using weapons and damaging the property of citizens.    Therefore, counter-terrorist actions should be continued until the militants are completely eliminated.”
TROOPS IN ALMATY
    The interior ministry said 26 “armed criminals” had been “liquidated” and more than 3,000 detained, while 18 police and national guard servicemembers had been killed since the start of the protests.
    On Friday morning, Reuters correspondents saw armoured personal carriers and troops in the main square of Almaty.
    A few hundred metres away, a dead body lay in a heavily damaged civilian car. In another part of the city, an ammunition shop had been ransacked. Military vehicles and about 100 people in military uniforms had also taken positions at another square in Almaty.
    Widespread unrest has been reported in a number of other cities across the vast country of 19 million people.    The internet has been shut off since Wednesday, making it difficult to determine the full extent of the violence.
    Moscow’s swift deployment demonstrated the Kremlin’s readiness to use force to maintain its influence in the former Soviet Union.    The Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization said its peacekeeping force from former Soviet states would number about 2,500 and would stay in Kazakhstan for a few days or weeks.
    Moscow was “standing up for Kazakhstan and doing as allies should,” said Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko.
    Tokayev’s administration said the force was still arriving and had not been engaged in combat or the “elimination of militants.”
    The violence has been unprecedented in a country ruled firmly for decades by Nazarbayev, who was the last Soviet-era Communist Party boss still in power in an ex-Soviet state when he passed the presidency on to Tokayev in 2019.
    Nazarbayev has not been seen or heard from since the protests began.    Tokayev has sought to distance himself from his predecessor, removing Nazarbayev and his nephew from security posts since the protests began.
    Tokayev’s administration said the identity of the detained militants was being established, and the possibility of them belonging to an extremist organisation was being investigated.
    The president will address the nation on Friday, his administration said, asking people in Almaty to limit their travelling around the city while the “search for the remaining hiding bandits is under way.”
    Kazakhstan is a major oil producer and the world’s top producer of uranium.
    Oil output at its top field, Tengiz, was reduced on Thursday, the field’s operator Chevron said, as some contractors disrupted train lines in support of the protests.    Global oil prices have risen and the price of uranium has jumped sharply since the clashes began.
    The country also accounts for close to a fifth of global bitcoin “mining,” the electricity-intensive process of recording cryptocurrency transactions, and Kazakhstan’s internet shutdown has curtailed the computing power of bitcoin’s global network.
(Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov, Tamara Vaal, Mariya Gordeyeva and Pavel Mikheyev; Writing by Peter Graff and Polina Devitt; Editing by Kim Coghill, Michael Perry and John Stonestreet)

1/7/2022 Swedish Defence Strategy In Tatters If Russian Demands Met – Military Chief
FILE PHOTO: NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg walks with Sweden's Supreme Commander Micael Byden during military exercise
'SWENEX', at the Naval Base in Berga, Sweden October 27, 2021. TT News Agency/Fredrik Sandberg via REUTERS
    STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – Sweden’s security strategy would be entirely undermined if NATO agreed to refrain from expanding further and curb some of its activity in Europe, as Russia has demanded, Sweden’s top military commander told a newspaper.
    Russia has amassed troops near its border with Ukraine, alarming the West. While denying claims from Washington that it is preparing an invasion, Moscow wants a string of security guarantees, including a halt to the Atlantic military alliance’s eastward expansion.
    The Russian demands have unnerved European non-NATO members, including Sweden, which has strengthened ties with the alliance and does not want its relationship circumscribed, even if it has no plans to join at present.
    “The proposals for a new security order would destroy the foundations of our security policy structure,” General Micael Byden told daily Dagens Nyheter.
    “We aim to become a stronger defence power in all categories and develop overall defence. But that hinges on developed international cooperation.”
    Sweden’s government has stepped up diplomatic activity, with Foreign Minister Ann Linde meeting U.S. officials and Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson due to hold talks with NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg on Friday.
    Andersson said after talks with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto on Thursday that Europe’s security order was non-negotiable.    “In Sweden, we ourselves decide over our foreign and security policy and who we cooperate with.”
(Reporting by Niklas Pollard; editing by John Stonestreet)

1/7/2022 Kazakh President Says He Has Given Orders To Shoot To Kill “Terrorists”
Kazakh service members stand guard at a checkpoint following the protests triggered
by fuel price increase in Almaty, Kazakhstan January 7, 2022. REUTERS/Mariya Gordeyeva
    ALMATY (Reuters) – Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said on Friday he had given shoot-to-kill orders to deal with further disturbances from those he called bandits and terrorists, adding that those who failed to surrender would be “destroyed.”
    Up to 20,000 “bandits” had attacked the biggest city Almaty and had been destroying state property, Tokayev said in a televised address after a week when protests over fuel prices exploded into a countrywide wave of unrest.
    He said as part of the “counter-terrorist” operation, he had ordered law enforcement agencies and the army “to shoot to kill without warning.”
    “The militants have not laid down their arms, they continue to commit crimes or are preparing for them.    The fight against them must be pursued to the end. Whoever does not surrender will be destroyed,” Tokayev said on state television.
    He dismissed calls to hold talks with protesters.
    “What stupidity. What kind of talks can we hold with criminal and murderers?” he said.
    “We had to deal with armed and well-prepared bandits, local as well as foreign.    More precisely, with terrorists.    So we have to destroy them, this will be done soon
    Tokayev thanked Russian President Vladimir Putin and the leaders of China, Uzbekistan and Turkey for their assistance.
    He said peacekeeping forces sent from Russia and neighbouring states had arrived on Kazakhstan’s request and were in the country on a temporary basis to ensure security.
    It was critically important to understand why the state had “slept through the underground preparation of terrorist attacks, of militant sleeper cells,” Tokayev added.
(Reporting by Anastasia Lyrchikova, Mark Trevelyan and Alex Marrow; Writing by Sujata Rao)

1/7/2022 Poland Defiant As EU Fines Loom Over Disciplining Judges by Gabriela Baczynska and Joanna Plucinska
FILE PHOTO: The flags of Poland and European Union are tied together during a rally in support of Poland's
membership in the European Union after the country's Constitutional Tribunal ruled
on the primacy of the constitution over EU law, undermining a key tenet of European
integration, in Rzeszow, Poland, October 10, 2021. Patryk Ogorzalek/Agencja Gazeta via REUTERS
    BRUSSELS/WARSAW (Reuters) – A Polish minister has accused the European Union of making “illegal demands” on his country ahead of a Jan.11 deadline by which Warsaw is meant to inform Brussels of how and when exactly it plans to dismantle a disciplinary system for judges.
    Failure to act would mean Poland having to pay at least 70 million euros in fines, further delay in accessing billions of euros to support its economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, and the possible loss of additional development funds.
    The case is among many bitter rows between the EU and Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, which came to power in 2015 and has since faced accusations of eroding the freedom of courts, the media, women, gays and migrants, among others.
    The Jan.11 deadline relates to an order last October by the top EU court fining Warsaw for failing to immediately halt the work of the Polish Supreme Court’s Disciplinary Chamber pending a final verdict on the scheme.
    Asked about the deadline to dismantle the chamber, which has powers to punish judges over their rulings, or get ready to pay the fines, Poland’s Deputy Justice Minister Sebastian Kaleta said the emergency measures ordered by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) “breached competences Poland vested in the EU.”
    “These are illegal demands,” Kaleta, a member of a hardline eurosceptic coalition partner of PiS, told Reuters, adding Poland would not bow to “blackmail by EU institutions.”
    A Polish government spokesman did not reply to requests for further comment on the standoff.
COSTLY STANDOFF
    PiS, a populist, nationalist party, introduced the new policing system for judges in 2017, part of a sweeping overhaul of the courts it says was needed to rid them of lingering communist-era influence.
    But the EU, the United States, rights groups and democracy watchdogs accused Warsaw of undermining the principle of judicial independence through political meddling.
    The ECJ is expected to make its final ruling on the matter this year.    The ECJ usually follows the opinion of its adviser, who last May said it should strike down the Polish disciplinary regime for judges as being in violation of EU law.
    Fines in this case amount to 1 million euros a day and will add up to 70 million euros as of Monday.
    If Warsaw sticks by its refusal to pay, the EU executive European Commission would add interest and could eventually deduct the total from development funds otherwise earmarked for Poland under the shared EU budget for 2021-27.
    EU countries have always paid ECJ fines in the past, said a Commission official.
    “Once the final ECJ ruling is in, the interim measures expire.    At the same time, what is already due is due.    But we’ve never been in such a situation,” the official said.
(Writing by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Gareth Jones)

1/7/2022 NATO Wary Of Russian Security Demands Ahead Of Next Week’s Talks by Robin Emmott
FILE PHOTO: Service members of the Ukrainian armed forces walk at combat positions near the line of separation from
Russian-backed rebels outside the town of Popasna in Luhansk Region, Ukraine January 6, 2022. REUTERS/Maksim Levin
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) -NATO foreign ministers said on Friday they remained united against any possible Russian military action in Ukraine and signalled that many security demands made by the Kremlin were unacceptable.
    The 30 ministers held a video call ahead of U.S.-Russia negotiations in Geneva on Monday, which will be followed by a NATO-Russia meeting in Brussels and broader talks in Vienna, prompted by Moscow’s demand for security guarantees.
    “Foreign ministers of all NATO countries reaffirmed our unity in response to Russian aggression against Ukraine at today’s extraordinary session,” the U.S. mission to the Atlantic alliance said.
    Russia has deployed large numbers of troops near its border with Ukraine and wants legally binding guarantees that NATO will halt its eastward expansion and end military cooperation with the former Soviet republics of Ukraine and Georgia.
    Moscow denies U.S. suggestions that it is planning to invade Ukraine and instead accuses Kyiv of building up its forces in the east of the country.
    NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, who chaired the call with the foreign ministers, welcomed the prospect of talks with Moscow next week after months of both sides accusing the other of jeopardising peace and stability in Europe.
    But speaking at a news conference at NATO’s headquarters in Brussels, Stoltenberg added: “The idea that Ukraine is a threat to Russia is to put the whole thing upside down.”
    “Ukraine is not a threat to Russia. I think if anything, it is the idea of a democratic stable Ukraine which is a challenge for them,” he said.
    In Washington, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States and its allies were willing to hear Russia’s legitimate concerns and try to address them “if the Kremlin is prepared to reciprocate regarding its own dangerous and destabilising behaviour.”
    Blinken also pushed back on what he called a “false narrative” driven by Moscow that it was NATO and Ukraine who were provoking tensions with Russia.
OPEN DOOR
    There is no prospect of either Ukraine and Georgia – which both have territorial disputes with Moscow – joining NATO any time soon.    But Stoltenberg said the admission of North Macedonia and Montenegro showed that “NATO’s door remains open.”
    Stoltenberg added that it would be unacceptable to grant Russia a veto over which countries could join the U.S.-led alliance in the future.
    “We can’t end up in a situation where we have second-class NATO members, where NATO as an alliance is not allowed to protect them,” he said.
    On Twitter, the foreign ministers of Latvia, Estonia, Belgium and Slovakia shared that sentiment, saying that NATO could not dilute its key principles or values.
    NATO wants Moscow to re-engage with a peace process in eastern Ukraine, where some 15,000 people have been killed in a seven-year conflict between Ukrainian government troops and Russian-backed separatists.
(Reporting by Robin Emmott; Additional reporting by John Chalmers and Simon Lewis;Editing by Gareth Jones and Grant McCool)

1/7/2022 Kazakh President Gives Shoot-To-Kill Order To Quell Protests by Olzhas Auyezov
A car, which was damaged during the protests triggered by fuel price increase, is seen
on a road in central Almaty, Kazakhstan January 7, 2022. REUTERS/Pavel Mikheyev
    ALMATY (Reuters) – Security forces appeared to have reclaimed the streets of Kazakhstan’s main city on Friday after days of violence, and the Russian-backed president said he had ordered his troops to shoot to kill to put down a countrywide uprising.
    A day after Moscow sent paratroopers to help crush the insurrection, police were patrolling the debris-strewn streets of Almaty, although some gunfire could still be heard.
    Dozens have died and public buildings across Kazakhstan have been ransacked and torched in the worst violence the ex-Soviet republic has experienced in 30 years of independence.
    Moscow said more than 70 planes were ferrying Russian troops into Kazakhstan, and that these were now helping control Almaty’s main airport, recaptured on Thursday from protesters.
    The uprising has prompted a military intervention by Moscow at a time of high tension in East-West relations as Russia and the United States gear up for talks next week on the Ukraine crisis.     Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev blamed foreign-trained terrorists for the unrest, without providing evidence.
    “The militants have not laid down their arms, they continue to commit crimes or are preparing for them,” Tokayev, 68, said in a televised address.
    “Whoever does not surrender will be destroyed.    I have given the order to law enforcement agencies and the army to shoot to kill, without warning.”
    The demonstrations began as a response to a fuel price hike but swelled into a broad movement against Tokayev’s government and former President Nursultan Nazarbayev.
    Nazarbayev, 81, was the longest-serving ruler of any ex-Soviet state until he turned over the presidency to Tokayev in 2019.    His family is widely believed to have retained influence in Nur-Sultan, the purpose-built capital that bears his name.
    Russian President Vladimir Putin has discussed the situation with Tokayev in several phone calls during the crisis, the Kremlin said on Friday.
SCARED
    The protesters in Almaty appeared mainly to come from the city’s poor outskirts or surrounding towns and villages.    The violence has come as a shock to urban Kazakhs, used to comparing their country favourably to more repressive and volatile ex-Soviet Central Asian neighbours.
    “At night when we hear explosions, I am scared,” a woman named Kuralai told Reuters.    “It hurts to know that young people are dying.    This has clearly been planned … probably our government has relaxed somewhat.”
    In a state where scant political opposition is tolerated, no high-profile leaders of the protest movement have emerged to issue any formal demands.
    One man who attended the first night of protests and who did not want to be identified said most of those who initially turned up wanted to “express solidarity spontaneously,” before 100-200 “aggressive youths” started hurling rocks at police.
    The Interior Ministry said 26 “armed criminals” had been “liquidated,” while 18 police and national guard members had been killed.    Those figures appeared not to have been updated since Thursday.
    State TV reported more than 3,800 arrests.
    Fresh gunfire could be heard on Friday near the main square in Almaty, where troops had fought protesters on Thursday.    Armoured personnel carriers and troops occupied the square.
    Unrest has been reported in other cities, but the internet has been shut off since Wednesday, making it difficult to determine the extent of the violence.
    In Aktau, a city on the Caspian Sea in western Kazakhstan, some 500 protesters gathered peacefully on Friday in front of a government building to call for Tokayev’s resignation, a witness told Reuters.
RUSSIAN INFLUENCE
    Moscow’s swift deployment demonstrated Putin’s readiness to use force to maintain influence in the former Soviet Union, at a time when he has also alarmed the West by massing troops near Ukraine, whose Crimean peninsula Russia seized in 2014.
    The mission falls under the umbrella of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, comprising Russia and five ex-Soviet allies.    Moscow said its force would number about 2,500.     U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday reiterated Washington’s concerns about the situation in Kazakhstan and the involvement of Russian-led forces.
    “It would seem to me that the Kazakh authorities and government certainly have the capacity to deal appropriately with protests … so it’s not clear why they feel the need for any outside assistance,” he told reporters.
    Tokayev’s administration said the Russians had not been engaged in combat or the “elimination of militants.”
    Mukhtar Ablyazov, an exiled ex-banker and cabinet minister turned opponent of the government, told Reuters the West must counter Russia’s moves, or watch Putin rebuild “a structure like the Soviet Union.”
    Kazakhstan’s other major neighbour, China, has backed Tokayev.    State television said President Xi Jinping had told him Beijing opposed any use of force to destabilise Kazakhstan.
    Nazarbayev has not been seen or heard since the protests began, though Belarus’s state news agency said President Alexander Lukashenko, another close Putin ally, spoke by phone with the former Kazakh leader on Friday.
    Tokayev removed Nazarbayev and his nephew from security posts on Wednesday.
    Kazakhstan is a major oil producer and the world’s top miner of uranium. Global oil prices rose on Friday, fuelled by supply worries. [MKTS/GLOB]
(Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov, Tamara Vaal, Mariya Gordeyeva and Pavel Mikheyev; Writing by Peter Graff, Polina Devitt and Gareth Jones; Editing by Kim Coghill, Michael Perry, John Stonestreet, Kevin Liffey, Frances Kerry and Daniel Wallis)

1/7/2022 Belarus Leader Lukashenko Spoke To Kazakhstan’s Nazarbayev – Report
FILE PHOTO: Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko and Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev
pose for a photo during a meeting of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) heads
of state in Minsk, Belarus November 30, 2017. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Belarus’s state news agency said President Alexander Lukashenko had spoken by phone on Friday with Nursultan Nazarbayev, the former leader of Kazahstan who was the target of popular anger this week in mass protests that swept the Central Asian country.
    It was the first public mention since the start of the unrest of any official contact involving Nazarbayev, who stepped back from the presidency in 2019 but continued to wield power behind the scenes as head of Kazakhstan’s Security Council.
    President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev removed him from that position on Wednesday after the protests spread across the vast steppe nation, which is located between Russia, China and three other ex-Soviet republics.
    The Belta news agency said Lukashenko and Nazarbayev “discussed in detail the state of affairs in Kazakhstan,” but provided no further information.
    Security forces appeared to have reclaimed the streets of Kazakhstan’s main city, Almaty, on Friday, a day after Russian paratroopers began to arrive to help restore order after days of violence in which dozens were killed and public buildings torched.
    Lukashenko also faced mass street protests last year against his rule following a disputed election, and had to turn to Russia for financial and military support to stay in power.
    Nazarbayev’s whereabouts remain unclear, amid speculation and conflicting reports that he may seek to leave the country or may already have left.
    The 81-year-old former Communist Party boss ruled Kazakhstan unchallenged for nearly three decades after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union and he and his family amassed substantial wealth.
    This week’s unrest began with fuel price protests but quickly exploded into a wider surge of anger directed against Nazarbayev, with crowds chanting “Old man, go away!
(Reporting by Mark Trevelyan; Editing by Gareth Jones)

1/7/2022 Smash And Shout: Dutch Find New Ways To Vent COVID-19 Frustrations by Esther Verkaik
Twin brothers Steven and Brian Krijger use hammers to scrap a car to express their frustration as the
Netherlands undergoes another lockdown in Vijfhuizen, Netherlands January 5, 2022. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw
    AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – One swinging a sledgehammer and the other a crowbar, twin brothers Steven and Brian Krijger grin as they take turns pulverising a Peugeot 106 spray-painted with the words “F*** COVID.”
    They are participants in “CarSmash,” a Dutch project aimed at providing locked-down locals with ways of releasing anger and frustration built up during a pandemic now entering its third year.
    Dutch bars, restaurants and most stores have been closed since mid-December, when curbs took effect that the government – battling to contain record numbers of coronavirus cases – is not due to review until Jan. 14.
    “There is nothing to do these days,” said Brian.    “We can’t work because, we own a bar and we are closed.    So we thought we’d let some of that frustration go and smash a car.”
    Merlijn Boshuizen, who runs “CarSmash” from a breakers’ yard in Vijfhuizen near Amsterdam, says clients begin by spray-painting “what’s present in their lives” onto their chosen vehicle.
    “The minute that they start wrecking the car, we ask them to close their eyes, to feel their feet on the floor, feel the power, every vein in your body, feel what you are doing, and in that way to try to get it out of your life.”
    A few miles to the south in the Hague, vocal coach Julie Scott runs “Screech at the Beach,” a scheme with similar aims that she developed while looking for “something physical and something to release some of the tension” built up by not being able to work indoors.
    Facing into the wind side by side with Julie as it whipped off the sea, client Rozemarijn Kardijk jumped up and down yelling until she ran of breath while trying to suppress a laugh.
    “You can just – Whaa! Let yourself go,” said Rozemarijn, a management secretary hoping to learn to speak with more confidence in her professional life.
    “You don’t have to think about other things, it’s the wideness of the beach and the sea … Your voice goes over the sea and it doesn’t return to you.    It’s a sense of freedom.”
(Reporting by Esther Verkaik; Writing by Toby Sterling; editing by John Stonestreet)

1/8/2022 Kazakhstan Detains Former National Security Chief On Suspicion Of Treason
Karim Massimov, chairman of the National Security Council of Kazakhstan meets with Chinese Vice President
Wang Qishan at Zhongnanhai in Beijing, China April 8, 2019. Kenzaburo Fukuhara/Pool via REUTERS
    ALMATY (Reuters) – Authorities in Kazakhstan have detained Karim Massimov, the former head of the national security committee, on suspicion of treason, the security committee said on Saturday.
    Massimov, who was fired this week as protests raged across the Central Asian country, was detained along with several other officials, the National Security Committee said in a statement.    It did not name them or provide further details.
    Reuters was unable immediately to contact Massimov.
    Dozens have died and public buildings across Kazakhstan have been ransacked and torched in the worst violence experienced by the former Soviet republic in 30 years of independence.
    After several days of violence, security forces appeared to have reclaimed the streets of Kazakhstan’s main city by Friday. The Russian-backed president, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, said he had ordered his troops to shoot to kill to put down a countrywide uprising.
    At Tokayev’s invitation, a Russia-led military alliance has been deployed at a time of high tension in East-West relations.    Russia and the United States are gearing up for talks next week on the Ukraine crisis.
    Massimov is widely viewed as a close ally of former president Nursultan Nazarbayev.    He has twice been prime minister and has also served as head of the presidential administration under Nazarbayev.
    Nazarbayev, 81, was the longest-serving ruler of an ex-Soviet state until he turned over the presidency to Tokayev in 2019.    His family is widely believed to have retained influence in Nur-Sultan, the purpose-built capital that bears his name.
(Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov; Writing by Andrey Ostroukh and Robin Paxton; Editing by Lincoln Feast and William Mallard)

1/8/2022 U.S. Approves Voluntary Departure Of Some Consulate Staff From Kazakhstan
A car, which was damaged during the protests triggered by fuel price increase, is seen
on a road in central Almaty, Kazakhstan January 7, 2022. REUTERS/Pavel Mikheyev
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States said on Friday it had approved the voluntary departure of non-emergency U.S. government employees and family members from the consulate general in the Kazakh city of Almaty, amid an ongoing state of emergency in the country.
    “U.S. citizens in Kazakhstan should be aware that violent protests may severely impact the U.S. Embassy’s ability to provide consular services, including assistance to U.S. citizens departing Kazakhstan,” the State Department said.
(Reporting by Eric Beech in Washington; writing by Costas Pitas; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)

1/8/2022 Ex-Security Chief Arrested As Kazakhstan Presses Crackdown On Unrest by Mariya Gordeyeva and Tamara Vaal
FILE PHOTO: Karim Massimov, chairman of the National Security Council of Kazakhstan meets with Chinese Vice President
Wang Qishan at Zhongnanhai in Beijing, China April 8, 2019. Kenzaburo Fukuhara/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    ALMATY (Reuters) – Kazakhstan’s former intelligence chief has been arrested on suspicion of treason, the state security agency said on Saturday, as the former Soviet republic cracks down on a wave of unrest and starts to assign blame.
    The detention of Karim Massimov was announced by the National Security Committee which he headed until he was fired by President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev on Wednesday after violent protests swept across the Central Asian nation.
    Tokayev’s office said he had told Russian President Vladimir Putin in a phone call that the situation was stabilising.
    “At the same time, hotbeds of terrorist attacks persist. Therefore, the fight against terrorism will continue with full determination,” it quoted him as saying.
    The Kremlin said Putin backed Tokayev’s idea to convene a video call of leaders from the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), under whose umbrella Russia and four other former Soviet republics have sent troops into Kazakhstan to help restore order.    It was not clear when this would take place.
    Dozens of people have been killed, thousands have been detained and public buildings across Kazakhstan have been torched over the past week in the worst violence experienced in the oil and uranium producer since it became independent in the early 1990s as the Soviet Union collapsed.
    Tokayev has ordered his troops to shoot to kill to end what he has called attacks by bandits and terrorists.
    He said on Friday the state had “slept through” instigators’ preparations to launch attacks on the biggest city, Almaty, and across the country. Massimov’s arrest indicated moves were under way against those deemed responsible.
    Apart from heading the intelligence agency that replaced the Soviet-era KGB, Massimov was twice prime minister and worked closely with former President Nursultan Nazarbayev, the country’s ruler for three decades until he turned over the presidency to Tokayev in 2019.
    There were no details of the treason allegations.    The security service said other officials were also detained, but did not name them.
    On Friday, a pro-government politician said on television he had information that the security forces had been ordered to abandon Almaty airport so protesters could take it over.    He said they had left a security building in the city undefended, enabling people to seize weapons.
    It was not immediately possible to verify this account.    The airport remains closed but is now under the control of Kazakh security personnel and Russian troops, according to Russia’s defence ministry.
SPORADIC GUNSHOTS
    The demonstrations began as a response to a fuel price hike but swelled into a broad movement against Tokayev’s Russian-backed government and 81-year-old Nazarbayev.
    Tokayev removed Nazarbayev on Wednesday as head of the country’s Security Council, a role in which he had continued to wield significant influence.    Interfax news agency reported on Saturday that the council’s deputy head had also been fired.
    In Almaty, where security forces have reclaimed control of the streets since Friday, a Reuters reporter said occasional gunshots were heard on Saturday.
    Some businesses began to reopen in the city as people ventured out to buy supplies, and queues formed at petrol stations.
    Security forces patrolled the streets and set up checkpoints.    The deputy mayor was quoted by Russia’s RIA news agency as saying operations to purge the city of “terrorists and bandit groups” were still under way and citizens were advised to stay at home.
    Zhumadin Patov, the deputy head of a public market in Almaty, said the checkpoints and petrol station closures had complicated food distribution in the city of about 2 million people.
    “There is enough food in warehouses, but it cannot be delivered because of the checkpoints and lack of fuel,” he said.
    In the capital Nur-Sultan, Reuters filmed police stopping drivers at a checkpoint with armed soldiers nearby.
    The interior ministry said more than 4,400 people had been detained since the start of the unrest.    Tokayev announced a national day of mourning for Monday to commemorate those killed.
    Access to the internet, which was been largely shut down in Kazakhstan for days, was still heavily disrupted on Saturday.
    The deployment of the Russia-led CSTO military alliance at Tokayev’s invitation comes at a time of high tension in East-West relations as Russia and the United States prepare for talks next week on the Ukraine crisis.
    Moscow has deployed large numbers of troops near its border with Ukraine but denies U.S. suggestions it is planning an invasion, saying it wants guarantees that NATO will halt its eastward expansion.
    Washington has challenged the justification for sending Russian troops to Kazakhstan and questioned whether what has been billed as a mission of days or weeks could turn into a much longer presence.
    “One lesson of recent history is that once Russians are in your house, it’s sometimes very difficult to get them to leave,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Friday.
    Russia’s foreign ministry called the remark offensive and said Blinken should reflect on the U.S. track record of military interventions in countries such as Vietnam and Iraq.
(Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov and Mariya Gordeyeva in Almaty and Tamara Vaal in Nur-Sultan; Additional reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber in Moscow; Writing by Mark Trevelyan; Editing by Pravin Char, Timothy Heritage and Helen Popper)

1/8/2022 Russia Reacts Furiously To Blinken Jibe Over Troops In Kazakhstan
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks in the briefing room of the State
Department in Washington, U.S. January 7, 2022. Andrew Harnik/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia responded angrily on Saturday to a comment by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken that Kazakhstan might have a hard time getting rid of Russian troops, saying he should reflect instead on U.S. military meddling around the world.
    Blinken on Friday challenged Russia’s justification for sending forces into Kazakhstan https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/kazakhstan-detains-ex-security-chief-crisis-convulses-nation-2022-01-08 after days of violent unrest in the Central Asian country.
    “One lesson of recent history is that once Russians are in your house, it’s sometimes very difficult to get them to leave,” Blinken said.
    Russia’s foreign ministry called Blinken’s remark “typically offensive” and accused him of joking about tragic events in Kazakhstan.    It said Washington should analyse its own track record of interventions in countries such as Vietnam and Iraq.
    “If Antony Blinken loves history lessons so much, then he should take the following into account: when Americans are in your house, it can be difficult to stay alive and not be robbed or raped,” the ministry said on its Telegram social media channel.
    “We are taught this not only by the recent past but by all 300 years of American statehood.”
    The ministry said the deployment in Kazakhstan was a legitimate response to Kazakhstan’s request for support from the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, an alliance of ex-Soviet states that includes Russia.
    The Kazakh intervention comes at a time of high tension in Moscow’s relations with Washington as the two countries prepare for talks on the Ukraine crisis starting on Monday.
    Moscow has deployed large numbers of troops near its border with Ukraine but denies Western suggestions it plans to invade.
(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Mark Trevelyan and Timothy Heritage)

1/8/2022 Albanian Police Fire Tear Gas As Protesters Storm Party Offices
Police officers walk past a person as protesters demonstrate outside the headquarters
of the Democratic Party in Tirana, Albania, January 8, 2022. REUTERS/Florion Goga
    TIRANA (Reuters) – Police fired tear gas and water cannon in Tirana on Saturday as stone-throwing protesters stormed into the headquarters of Albania’s opposition Democratic Party in a deepening power struggle between party rivals.
    At least one police officer and one protester were injured and dozens of protesters were arrested, police said.    The protests were dispersed in the afternoon.
    The protesters were supporters of former president and prime minister Sali Berisha, who was thrown out of the party last year after Washington banned him from entering the United States over alleged corruption.
    Berisha, who denies wrongdoing, has since mounted a leadership challenge against party leader Lulzim Basha. Last month, Bersha called a party assembly and announced himself as leader.
    During Saturday’s unrest, Berisha supporters used hammers to smash open newly installed metal security doors at the offices and threw up ladders in a bid to reach the second floor.
    Police said in a statement they were forced to intervene after “a group of lawmakers inside the Democratic Party requested police help because lives were in danger
    Local media said people inside the building had sought to keep the protesters out by spraying fire extinguishers before police arrived.
    “The battle will continue … we consider the party building as our home and we will liberate our home,” said Berisha, speaking just after he was stopped from approaching the building again by police using paper spray against him and his supporters.
    The EU office in Tirana called for calm and restraint: “There must be no room for violence in politics,” it said.
    The U.S. ambassador in Albania, Yuri Kim, said Washington was deeply concerned about recent tension surrounding the Democratic Party.
    “Those inciting violence or undermining the rule of law will be held accountable,” Kim said in a tweet.
(Reporting by Fatos Bytyci in Pristina and Florion Goga in Tirana; Editing by Daria Sito-Sucic and Helen Popper)

1/8/2022 Swedish Crown Princess Contracts COVID-19 Amid Surging Infections
FILE PHOTO: Sweden's Crown Princess Victoria speaks at the Confederation of Danish Industry Summit 2019 in
the Concert Hall in Copenhagen, Denmark September 17, 2019. Ritzau Scanpix/Ida Marie Odgaard via REUTERS
    STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Swedish Crown Princess Victoria has tested positive for COVID-19 and is experiencing mild symptoms, the Royal Court said on Saturday, adding that the heir to the throne was fully vaccinated.
    Earlier this week her parents, the king and queen of Sweden, both also tested positive amid a mounting fourth wave of the virus, driven by the highly contagious Omicron variant, that has seen the country repeatedly report record daily case numbers.
    The Royal Court said in a statement that the crown princess, who is 44 and has contracted the virus once before, was isolating at home with her family.
    “The crown princess, who is fully vaccinated, is experiencing cold symptoms but is otherwise feeling well,” the court said.    “Contact tracing has begun.”
    While COVID infections have soared, hospitalisations have also risen sharply and put pressure on the healthcare system, but remain well below the peaks encountered in previous waves.    Death have so far remained comparatively low.
(Reporting by Niklas Pollard; Editing by Toby Chopra and Clelia Oziel)

1/8/2022 Austrian Chancellor Says He Has No COVID Symptoms And ‘Doing Well’
FILE PHOTO: Austria's Chancellor Karl Nehammer speaks to the press as he arrives for an European Union Summit at the
European Council building in Brussels, Belgium December 16, 2021. Kenzo Tribouillard/Pool via REUTERS
    (Reuters) – Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer said on Saturday he was well and had no COVID-19 symptoms after testing positive for the coronavirus this week, vowing to do everything possible to prevent another nationwide lockdown.
    Nehammer, a conservative who has received three vaccine shots, has been conducting official business from home via video and telephone conferences since he tested positive https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/austrias-chancellor-nehammer-tests-positive-coronavirus-2022-01-07. [L8N2TN3J1]
    “Thanks to the vaccine, thank goodness, I’m doing well,” he told Austrian radio in an interview.    “I don’t have any symptoms.”
    “The studies verify that with the Omicron variant, three vaccination doses give particular protection.    That’s been my experience too,” said Nehammer, who will not attend any public appointments in the next few days.
    He was apparently infected on Wednesday following contact with a member of his security team who tested positive on Thursday, the chancellery said on Friday.
    Nehammer, 49, announced new measures this week to curb the spread of the coronavirus and pressed on with plans to make vaccination mandatory from next month.
    “The priority now is using the strongest possible protection measures for everyone to try to prevent a new lockdown.    Because a lockdown is very burdensome for people,” he said on Saturday.
    Austria’s interior ministry registered 7,405 new coronavirus cases on Saturday. Since the start of the pandemic, 13,844 people have died in the country after contracting the virus.
(Reporting by John Revill in Zurich; Editing by Helen Popper)

1/8/2022 Explainer: From Stability To Turmoil – What’s Going On In Kazakhstan
FILE PHOTO: A view shows a burnt car following the protests triggered by fuel price increase outside
the city administration headquarters in Almaty, Kazakhstan January 7, 2022. REUTERS/Stringer
    (Reuters) – Dozens of people have died and thousands have been detained in Kazakhstan over the past week during the worst violence seen in the Central Asian nation since it became independent in the early 1990s.     Security forces appeared to have reclaimed the streets of the country’s main city on Friday, a day after Russian paratroopers arrived to help quash the uprising.     Here is a snapshot of Kazakhstan, its economy and political system.
WHERE IS KAZAKHSTAN AND WHY DOES IT MATTER?
    Kazakhstan, located between Russia and China and also sharing borders with three other ex-Soviet republics, is the largest economy in Central Asia, with rich hydrocarbon and metal deposits.    It has attracted hundreds of billions of dollars in foreign investment since becoming independent in 1991.     Strategically, it links the large and fast-growing markets of China and South Asia with those of Russia and Europe by road, rail, and a port on the Caspian Sea.    It has described itself as the buckle in China’s huge ‘Belt and Road’ trade project.
    Kazakhstan is the top global producer of uranium and this week’s unrest prompted an 8% jump in the price of the metal that fuels nuclear power plants.    It is the world’s ninth biggest oil exporter, producing some 85.7 million tonnes in 2021, and its 10th largest producer of coal.
    It is also the world’s second largest miner of bitcoin after the United States.    Bitcoin’s “hashrate” – the measure of computing power of machines plugged into its network – dropped by over 10% on Wednesday after Kazakhstan’s internet was shut off, according to crypto mining firm BTC.com.

WHY ARE PEOPLE ANGRY?
    The uprising began as protests in oil-rich western regions against the removal of state price caps on New Year’s Day for butane and propane, which are often referred to as ‘road fuels for the poor’ due to their low cost.
    The reform, aimed at easing oil shortages, quickly backfired as prices more than doubled.    The protests spread, tapping into a wider sense of discontent over endemic state corruption, income inequality and economic hardships that have all been compounded by the coronavirus pandemic.
    Although the richest of the Central Asian republics in per capita income, half of the population in Kazakhstan – the world’s ninth largest country by territory – live in rural, often isolated communities with poor access to public services.
    While the country’s vast natural resources have made a small elite incredibly wealthy, many ordinary Kazakhs feel left behind.    About a million people out of a total population of 19 million are estimated to live below the poverty line.
    Annual inflation is running at close to 9%, the highest in more than five years, prompting the central bank to hike interest rates to 9.75%.
WHO IS IN CHARGE?
    Career diplomat Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, 68, was elected president in 2019 on promises to continue the broadly pro-business policies of his long-serving predecessor, Nursultan Nazarbayev.    But Nazarbayev, a former Soviet Politburo member who led Kazakhstan for nearly three decades, was widely seen as the real power behind the throne.
    Tokayev has used the protests – which have sometimes targeted symbols of the Nazarbayev era including statues – to fire the 81-year-old former president from his post as chief of the powerful Security Council.     Nazarbayev has made no public comments or appearances since the protests erupted and it remains unclear to what extent the uprising will weaken the considerable influence he and his family have continued to wield in politics and business.
    Tokayev also sacked Nazarbayev’s nephew, Samat Abish, as second-in-command of the security police.    Nazarbayev’s eldest daughter Dariga, a former speaker of the Senate and still a lawmaker, has been spoken of in the past as a possible future president.
ECONOMIC PROSPECTS
    Kazakhstan’s per capita gross domestic product in 2020 was $9,122, World Bank data show, slightly above that of Turkey and Mexico but below its annual peak of nearly $14,000 in 2013.
    Tokayev’s government introduced a stimulus package worth 6% of national output to help smaller and medium-sized businesses weather the COVID-19 pandemic.
    The World Bank has forecast economic growth of 3.5% in 2021, rising to 3.7% this year and 4.8% in 2023.    It has urged Kazakhstan to boost competition and limit the role of large state-owned enterprises in the economy, tackle social inequality and create a more level economic playing field.
HUMAN RIGHTS AND FREEDOMS
    Western countries and rights groups have long criticised Kazakhstan for its authoritarian political system, its intolerance of dissent, curbs on media freedoms and lack of free and fair elections, though it has also been viewed as less repressive and volatile than its ex-Soviet neighbours.
    Amnesty International said this week’s protests were a result of the authorities’ “widespread repression of basic human rights” and it called for the release of all those arbitrarily detained and for investigations of past state abuses.
    “For years, the government has relentlessly persecuted peaceful dissent, leaving the Kazakhstani people in a state of agitation and despair,” said Marie Struthers, Amnesty’s Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
(Compiled by Gareth Jones; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

1/8/2022 Poland’s PM To Announce Anti-Inflationary Measures Tuesday, Gov’t Spokesperson Says
FILE PHOTO: Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki visits Orlen Lietuva
oil refinery in Mazeikiai, Lithuania, June 3, 2018. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki is expected to announce more additions to the country’s anti-inflationary package on Tuesday, government spokesperson Piotr Muller said on Saturday.
    The measures in the whole package could be extended if inflation continues to surge, Muller told private radio RMF FM.
    On Friday Morawiecki highlighted a previously announced VAT tax cut on petrol.
    The tax cuts are aimed at countering the impact of surging inflation in Poland, which has reached a more than two-decade high.
    Poland’s central bank hiked its main interest rate by 50 basis points to 2.25% on Tuesday and signalled there was more tightening to come.    Data on Friday showed the consumer price index hit 8.6% in December.
(Reporting by Joanna Plucinska; Editing by Frances Kerry)

1/9/2022 Kazakhstan Says ‘Strategic Facilities’ Under Guard After Unrest
A Kazakh law enforcement officer stands guard near a burnt truck while checking vehicles in a street following
mass protests triggered by fuel price increase in Almaty, Kazakhstan January 8, 2022. REUTERS/Pavel Mikheyev
    ALMATY (Reuters) – A number of “strategic facilities” in Kazakhstan are under the guard of a Russia-led military alliance invited to restore order, the presidential office said on Sunday, amid the deadliest outbreak of violence in the country’s 30 years of independence.
    Dozens of people have been killed, thousands detained and public buildings have been torched across the Central Asia country in the past week, prompting President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev to issue shoot-to-kill orders to end unrest he has blamed on what he terms bandits and terrorists.
    At Tokayev’s invitation, the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) sent troops to restore order, an intervention that comes at a time of high tension in Russia-U.S. relations ahead of new talks on the Ukraine crisis.
    “A number of strategic facilities have been transferred under the protection of the united peacekeeping contingent of the CSTO member states,” the presidential office said in a statement detailing a security briefing chaired by Tokayev.
    It did not identify the facilities.
    The administration said 5,800 people had been arrested in connection with the unrest, including a “significant number” of foreign citizens.    It said the situation had stabilised in all regions.
    The demonstrations in Kazakhstan began as a response to a fuel price hike before spiralling into a broad movement against Tokayev’s government and the man he replaced as president of the resource-rich former Soviet republic, Nursultan Nazarbayev.
    Nazarbayev, 81, was the longest-serving ruler of any former Soviet state until he turned over the presidency to Tokayev in 2019. His family is widely believed to have retained influence in Nur-Sultan, the purpose-built capital that bears his name.
    Tokayev removed Nazarbayev on Wednesday as head of the country’s Security Council, a role in which he had continued to wield significant influence.
    Kazakhstan’s former intelligence chief and two-time prime minister Karim Massimov has been arrested on suspicion of treason.
(Reporting by Gabrielle Tetrault-Farber; Writing by Robin Paxton; Editing by Frances Kerry)

1/9/2022 Russia Says It’s ‘Disappointed’ By U.S. Signals Before Geneva Talks
FILE PHOTO: Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov speaks during a newsz
conference in Moscow, Russia February 7, 2019. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov//File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia said on Sunday it was “disappointed” by signals from Washington and Brussels on the eve of talks in Geneva and that the United States was insisting on unilateral Russian concessions, the Interfax and RIA news agencies reported.
    Talks between U.S. and Russian diplomats begin in Geneva on Monday after a weeks-long standoff over Russian troop deployments near its border with Ukraine, with veteran envoys on each side trying to avert a crisis.
    Interfax quoted Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov as saying Moscow was not optimistic going into the talks.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by William Mallard)

1/9/2022 No Concessions, No Breakthroughs: Russia, U.S. Cast Pall On Ukraine Talks by Tom Balmforth, Doina Chiacu and Mark Trevelyan
FILE PHOTO: Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov speaks during a news
conference in Moscow, Russia February 7, 2019. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov//File Photo
    MOSCOW/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Russia said on Sunday it would not make concessions under U.S. pressure and warned that this week’s talks on the Ukraine crisis might end early, while Washington said no breakthroughs were expected and progress depended on de-escalation from Moscow.
    The hard line from Moscow underscored the fragile prospects for negotiations that Washington hopes will avert the danger of a new Russian invasion of Ukraine, at the tensest point in U.S.-Russia relations since the Cold War ended three decades ago.
    Talks begin on Monday in Geneva before moving to Brussels and Vienna, but the state-owned RIA news agency quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov as saying it was entirely possible the diplomacy could end after a single meeting.
    “I can’t rule out anything, this is an entirely possible scenario and the Americans … should have no illusions about this,” he was quoted as saying.
    “Naturally, we will not make any concessions under pressure” or amid constant threats from participants in the talks, said Ryabkov, who will lead the Russian delegation in Geneva.
    Moscow was not optimistic going into the talks, Interfax news agency quoted Ryabkov as saying.
    The U.S. prognosis was similarly gloomy.
    “I don’t think we’re going to see any breakthroughs in the coming week,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a CNN interview.
    In response to Russian demands for Western security guarantees, the United States and allies have said they are prepared to discuss the possibility of each side restricting military exercises and missile deployments in the region.
    Both sides will put proposals on the table and then see if there are grounds for moving forward, Blinken said.
    “To make actual progress, it’s very hard to see that happening when there’s an ongoing escalation, when Russia has a gun to the head of Ukraine with 100,000 troops near its borders,” Blinken said in an interview with ABC News.
    Tens of thousands of Russian troops are gathered within reach of the border with Ukraine in preparation for what Washington and Kyiv say could be an invasion, eight years after Russia seized the Crimea peninsula from Ukraine.
    The comments from Russia’s Ryabkov, who has compared the situation to the 1962 Cuban missile crisis when the world stood on the brink of nuclear war, were consistent with the uncompromising line Russia has been signalling for weeks.
    Russia denies invasion plans and said it is responding to what it calls aggressive and provocative behavior from the NATO military alliance and Ukraine, which has tilted toward the West and aspires to join NATO.
    Further complicating the picture, Russia sent troops into neighboring Kazakhstan last week after the oil-producing former Soviet republic was hit by a wave of unrest. Russia’s foreign ministry reacted furiously https://www.reuters.com/world/russia-reacts-furiously-blinken-jibe-over-troops-kazakhstan-2022-01-08 on     Saturday to a jibe by Blinken that “once Russians are in your house, it’s sometimes very difficult to get them to leave.”
RED LINES
    Last month, Russia presented a sweeping set of demands including for a ban on further NATO expansion and an end to the alliance’s activity in central and eastern European countries that joined it after 1997.
    The United States and NATO have dismissed large parts of the Russian proposals as non-starters.
    The United States was not willing to discuss pulling some U.S. troops out of eastern Europe or rule out expanding NATO to include Ukraine, Blinken said.
    To abandon its demands for a more-limited agenda would be a major climb-down that Russia seems unlikely to make, especially after weeks of troop movements near Ukraine and a series of tough statements from President Vladimir Putin.
    The Kremlin leader has said that after successive waves of NATO expansion it is time for Russia to enforce its “red lines” and ensure the alliance does not admit Ukraine or station weapons systems there that would target Russia.
    Ukraine won a NATO promise back in 2008 that it would be allowed to join one day, but diplomats say there is no question of that happening any time soon.
    NATO said it is a defensive alliance and Moscow has nothing to fear from it.    That is far from Putin’s world view, which sees Russia as under threat from hostile Western powers he says have repeatedly broken promises given as the Cold War ended not to expand toward its borders.    The United States and its allies dispute such pledges were given.
    In two conversations over the past five weeks, U.S. President Joe Biden warned Putin that Russia would face unprecedented economic sanctions in the event of further aggression against Ukraine.    The Group of Seven nations and the European Union have joined in threatening “massive consequences.”
    Putin said that would be a colossal mistake that would lead to a complete rupture of relations.
    Russia’s foreign ministry said the team led by Ryabkov had arrived in Geneva. Russia is also due to hold negotiations with NATO in Brussels on Wednesday and at the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe in Vienna on Thursday.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth in Moscow, Mark Trevelyan in London and Doina Chiacu in Washington; writing by Mark Trevelyan and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Mary Milliken, Frank Jack Daniel, Andrew Heavens and Bill Berkrot)

1/9/2022 Kazakh President Steps Up Purge Of Security Agency After Mass Unrest by Olzhas Auyezov and Tamara Vaal
A Kazakh law enforcement officer stands guard near a burnt truck while checking vehicles in a street following
mass protests triggered by fuel price increase in Almaty, Kazakhstan January 8, 2022. REUTERS/Pavel Mikheyev
    ALMATY (Reuters) – Kazakhstan’s president fired two more top security officials on Sunday after the worst unrest in three decades of post-Soviet independence and authorities said the situation was stabilising, with Russian-led troops guarding key facilities.
    The sacked officials were deputies to former intelligence chief Karim Massimov, who was arrested on suspicion of treason after violent protests swept the oil- and uranium-producing Central Asian republic that borders Russia and China.
    Thousands of people have been detained and public buildings torched during mass anti-government protests in the past week. President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev issued shoot-to-kill orders to end unrest he has blamed on bandits and terrorists.
    Russian and state media reported 164 people were killed during the clashes, citing a government social media post.    But health and police authorities did not confirm the figure, and the social media post was then deleted.
    The internet has been restricted and telecoms patchy, making it difficult to check figures and confirm statements.
    No single group has emerged to speak for the protesters. Demonstrations against a fuel price rise began a week ago before erupting into a wider protest against Tokayev’s government and the man he replaced as veteran president, 81-year-old Nursultan Nazarbayev.
    At Tokayev’s invitation, a Russia-led alliance of ex-Soviet states – the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) – sent troops to restore order, an intervention that comes at a time of high tension in Russia-U.S. relations ahead of this week on the Ukraine crisis.
    Tokayev’s spokesman said on Sunday he thought the forces would not be in Kazakhstan for long, and possibly no more than a week or even less.
    Russian President Vladimir Putin and other leaders of CSTO countries will hold a video conference on Monday to discuss the crisis in Kazakhstan, the Kremlin said.
    The violence has spurred speculation of a rift in the ruling elite, with Tokayev fighting to consolidate his authority after firing key officials and removing Nazarbayev from a powerful role as head of the Security Council.
    The president’s website announced the sackings of Marat Osipov and Daulet Ergozhin as deputy heads of the National Security Committee.    It gave no explanation in a terse statement late on Sunday.
    Their arrested former boss, Massimov, a two-time prime minister, was seen as close to Nazarbayev. Authorities have not disclosed any details of the allegations against him.    He and his lawyer could not be reached for comment.
    In a statement meant to quash talk of a rift, Nazarbayev’s spokesman said Nazarbayev had been in the capital Nur-Sultan throughout the crisis and chose himself to give up his security council post to Tokayev to help ease the crisis.
    “(He) and the head of state have always been ‘on the same side of the barricades’… In these difficult days they have demonstrated the monolithic nature of state power for all of us,” the statement said, calling for people to rally around Tokayev.
    Tokayev is likely to name new government members when he addresses parliament on Tuesday, his spokesman said.
    He awarded prizes for bravery to 16 police and army officers killed in the violence.
IMAGE SETBACK
    “The situation has been stabilised in all regions of the country,” the presidential office said, adding law enforcement agencies had seized back control of administrative buildings.
    “The counter-terrorist operation … will be continued until the complete elimination of the terrorists,” Deputy Defence Minister Sultan Gamaletdinov said.
    The violence has dealt a blow to Kazakhstan’s image as a tightly controlled and stable country, which it has used to attract hundreds of billions of dollars of Western investment in its oil and minerals industries.
    Police said 6,044 people had been arrested in connection with the unrest.
    Russian paratrooper commander Andrey Serdyukov said the CSTO force had finished deploying to Kazakhstan and would remain there until the situation stabilised completely.
    “A number of strategic facilities have been transferred under the protection of the united peacekeeping contingent of the CSTO member states,” the presidential office said.
    Serdyukov said the troops were guarding important military, state and socially-important sites in the city of Almaty and nearby areas.    He did not identify the facilities.
    The deployments signal resolute Kremlin backing for the Kazakh authorities in a region Moscow sees as vital to its security along its southern flank.
    U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington was seeking answers from Kazakhstan as to why it needed to call in Russian-led forces to resolve domestic unrest.    He also denounced the government’s shoot-to-kill order.
CASH MACHINES GUTTED
    In Almaty, the biggest city where much of the violence was concentrated, normal life appeared to be returning on Sunday.
    Security forces have set up checkpoints around the city.    Smashed windows, gutted cash machines and torched buildings bore witness to the destruction.
    The main Republic Square remained sealed off.
    Reuters saw two military vehicles with mounted machine guns driving towards the square.    Most of dozens of civilian and police cars torched during the unrest had been removed.
    Supermarket chain Magnum said 15 of its 68 stores in Almaty had been looted.
    A shopping mall’s staff told Reuters that video cameras showed looters attacking an ATM, changing into stolen clothes at the stores and walking out wearing two or three coats.
    Yerkin Zhumabekov, a mall manager, said: “They arrived in cars with no number plates at night, they destroyed everything.    They took everything they could, shoes, clothes, cosmetics.”
(Reporting by Olzhas Auzeyov, Tamara Vaal, Mariya Gordeeva Robin Paxton; Writing by Mark Trevelyan and Tom Balmforth; Editing by Louise Heavens, Frank Jack Daniel, Andrew Heavens and Frances Kerry)

1/9/2022 U.S. Seeks Answers From Kazakhstan On Need For Russian-Led Troops by Doina Chiacu and Katharine Jackson
FILE PHOTO: Troops are seen at the main square where hundreds of people were protesting
against the government, after authorities' decision to lift price caps on
liquefied petroleum gas, in Almaty, Kazakhstan January 6, 2022. REUTERS/Mariya Gordeyeva
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Sunday that Washington was seeking answers from Kazakhstan officials on why they needed to call in Russian-led security forces to resolve domestic unrest, and he denounced the government’s shoot-to-kill order.
    “We have real questions about why they felt compelled to call this organization that Russia dominates,” Blinken said in an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union” broadcast, adding that Kazakhstan should be able to deal with the protests peacefully.    “We’re asking for clarification on that.”
    Kazakhstan authorities said on Sunday they had stabilised the situation across the country after the deadliest outbreak of violence in 30 years of independence, and troops from the Russian-led military alliance were guarding “strategic facilities.”
    Russia sent in troops last week and Kazakhstan’s government authorized the use of deadly force to quell the unrest.
    “The shoot-to-kill order, to the extent it exists, is wrong and should be rescinded,” Blinken said on Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”
    Blinken said on Friday that Kazakhstan might have a hard time getting rid of Russian troops, prompting an angry response from Russia.
    “One lesson of recent history is that once Russians are in your house, it’s sometimes very difficult to get them to leave,” Blinken said.
    Russia responded angrily on Saturday, saying the United States should reflect on its own interventions in countries such as Vietnam and Iraq.
    “If Antony Blinken loves history lessons so much, then he should take the following into account: when Americans are in your house, it can be difficult to stay alive and not be robbed or raped,” Russia’s foreign ministry said on its Telegram social media channel.
    The ministry said the deployment in Kazakhstan was a legitimate response to Kazakhstan’s request for support from the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, an alliance of ex-Soviet states that includes Russia.
(Reporting by Doina Chiacu and Katharine Jackson; Editing by Mary Milliken and Lisa Shumaker)

1/9/2022 Russia Says Initial Talks With U.S. In Geneva ‘Complex But Businesslike’
FILE PHOTO: Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov speaks during a news
conference in Moscow, Russia February 7, 2019. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov//File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told reporters that preliminary talks with a top U.S. diplomat in Geneva late on Sunday on the eve of a crucial meeting had been “complex but businesslike,” Russian news agencies reported.
    Russian and U.S. diplomats are due to meet for talks in the Swiss city on Monday amid fears over a Russian troop buildup near Ukraine.    Moscow is hoping to extract security guarantees from the West.
    “The conversation was complex, it couldn’t be easy.    It was businesslike in principle.    I don’t think we’ll waste time in vain tomorrow,” Interfax quoted Ryabkov as saying after his first contact with U.S.
    Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman before the formal meeting on Monday.
    He used the word “amazing” to describe their conversation, but it was not clear if the veteran diplomat, whose rhetoric in recent weeks has been consistently hawkish, was speaking ironically.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth; editing by Mark Trevelyan)

1/9/2022 Bosnian Serbs Celebrate Statehood Day Defying Bans, Sanctions
People hold Serbian and Republika Srpska flags during parade celebrations to mark their autonomous Serb Republic's
national holiday, in Banja Luka, Bosnia and Herzegovina, January 9, 2022. REUTERS/Antonio Bronic
    BANJA LUKA, Bosnia (Reuters) – Bosnian Serbs held public celebrations to mark their autonomous Serb Republic’s national holiday with armed police forces parade on Sunday, defying a top court’s ban of the commemoration and U.S. sanctions slapped this week on their leader Milorad Dodik.
    Jan. 9 marks the date in 1992 when Bosnian Serbs declared independence, triggering a war in which 100,000 were killed.    It also coincides with Serbian Orthodox Christian holiday.
    It was this religious component that led Bosnia’s Constitutional Court to declare the holiday illegal as it discriminated against the region’s Catholic Croat and Muslim Bosniak communities.
    Taking part in the parade were more than 800 armed police officers, including members of anti-terrorist units, gendarmerie and cavalry, who marched alongside students, war veterans and athletes through the streets of the region’s largest city Banja Luka.
    Crowds of onlookers and those marching waved Serb red, blue and white flags.    The members of a special police unit sang songs referring to the Serb Republic as the state of Christian heritage.
    There was no sign of the Serb regiment of Bosnia’s joint armed forces, which had been deployed to the parade in previous years.    Instead the focus was on the militarised police force, which led the parade with specially-designed combat vehicles as helicopters hovered above.
    “There is no freedom for the Serb people without the state,” Dodik, who is currently serving as the Serb member in Bosnia’s tripartite inter-ethnic presidency, said in an address to the crowd watching the parade.
    Dodik, a pro-Russian nationalist, has repeatedly threatened to pull out the Serb representatives from Bosnia’s armed forces, tax system and judiciary and create Serb separate institutions.
    Last Wednesday, he was freshly sanctioned by the United States for corruption and threatening the stability and territorial integrity of Bosnia.
    The U.S.-brokered Dayton peace agreement in 1995 ended 3-1/2 years of ethnic warfare in Bosnia, dividing the Balkan country into two autonomous regions – the Serb Republic and the Federation dominated by Bosniaks and Croats.
    Dodik’s secessionist rhetoric of recent months has encouraged Serb nationalists who in recent days provoked incidents across the Serb Republic, firing in air near the mosques during prayers, publicly praising convicted war criminals and threatening their Muslim neighbours.
(Reporting by Antionio Bronic, writing by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

1/10/2022 Kazakhstan Says Islamist Radicals Played Role In Attacks by Tamara Vaal
FILE PHOTO: Troops are seen at the main square where hundreds of people were protesting
against the government, after authorities' decision to lift price caps on
liquefied petroleum gas, in Almaty, Kazakhstan January 6, 2022. REUTERS/Mariya Gordeyeva
    NUR-SULTAN (Reuters) -Kazakhstan said on Monday that foreign-trained Islamist radicals were among those who had attacked government buildings and security forces last week and that police had now detained almost 8,000 people to bring the situation under control.
    Government buildings in several cities were briefly captured or torched last week as initially peaceful protests against fuel price increases became violent in the worst bout of violence in the Central Asian nation’s post-Soviet history.
    President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev sacked his cabinet, issued shoot-to-kill orders and declared a state of emergency in the oil-rich nation of 19 million. He also asked a Russian-led military bloc to send in troops, who the government says have since been deployed to guard strategic objects.
    Tokayev was due to take part in a video conference of the bloc’s leaders at 0700 GMT on Monday.
    Authorities on Monday for the first time linked the violence to what they said were members of Islamist groups.
    “As the events in Almaty and several other regions of the country have shown, Kazakhstan has been subjected to armed aggression by well-coordinated terrorist groups trained abroad,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.
    “According to preliminary data, the attackers include individuals who have military combat zone experience in the ranks of radical Islamist groups.”
    It did not name any specific groups.
    The National Security Committee said on Monday, an official day of mourning, that the situation had stabilised and that security forces had restored control.
    Karim Masimov, the committee’s former head, was detained on suspicion of treason last week, days after Tokayev dismissed him.
    Russian and state media, citing a government social media post, have reported that 164 people had been killed.    Health and police authorities did not confirm that figure, and the original social media post has been deleted.
    “I think there was some kind of a conspiracy involving domestic and certain foreign destructive forces,” Secretary of State Yerlan Karin told state television on Monday, without naming any suspects.
    A former Kazakh prime minister told Reuters on Sunday that Tokayev must move fast to consolidate his grip after appearing to break with Nursultan Nazarbayev, his powerful predecessor.
(Reporting by Tamara Vaal; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

1/10/2022 Stop Secessionist Rhetoric Or Face Sanctions, EU Tells Bosnian Serb Leaders
FILE PHOTO: EU flags flutter in front of the European Commission headquarters
in Brussels, Belgium October 2, 2019. REUTERS/Yves Herman/File Photo
    (Reuters) – The Bosnian Serb leadership risks sanctions and a loss of aid should it continue to incite tensions among Bosnian communities with inflammatory rhetoric as used during the celebrations of its statehood day on Sunday, the EU said on Monday.
    Jan. 9 marks the date in 1992 when Bosnian Serbs declared independence, triggering a war in which 100,000 were killed. It also coincides with the Serbian Orthodox Christian holiday.
    It was this religious component that led Bosnia’s Constitutional Court to declare the holiday illegal as it discriminated against the region’s Catholic Croat and Muslim Bosniak communities.
    “The EU firmly condemns the negative, divisive and inflammatory rhetoric used by Republika Srpska leaders during the celebrations of 9th of January this Sunday,” a spokesperson for the EU Commission said in a statement.
    Such behaviour is in complete contradiction with efforts to join the European Union, a perspective that can only be based on a single, united Bosnia, according to the spokesperson.
    “Should the situation further deteriorate, the EU disposes of a wide toolbox, including the existing EU sanctions framework, and a review of the overall EU assistance,” the statement added.
    Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik, a pro-Russian nationalist, has repeatedly threatened to pull out the Serb representatives from Bosnia’s armed forces, tax system and judiciary and create separate Serb institutions.
    His secessionist rhetoric has encouraged Serb nationalists who in recent days provoked incidents across the Serb Republic, firing in the air near mosques during prayers, publicly praising convicted war criminals and threatening their Muslim neighbours.
    Last Wednesday, the United States imposed new sanctions on Dodik for corruption and threatening the stability and territorial integrity of Bosnia.
    The U.S.-brokered Dayton peace agreement in 1995 ended 3-1/2 years of ethnic warfare in Bosnia, dividing the Balkan country into two autonomous regions – the Serb Republic and the Federation dominated by Bosniaks and Croats.
(Reporting by Sabine Siebold; editing by Grant McCool)

1/10/2022 Omicron Takes Over As Czech Republic’s Dominant Coronavirus Variant
FILE PHOTO: Medial personnel attend a patient suffering from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in the Intensive
Care Unit (ICU) of Liberec Hospital, in Liberec, Czech Republic, December 8, 2021. REUTERS/Jiri Skacel
    PRAGUE (Reuters) – The Omicron variant of the COVID-19 coronavirus has become the dominant strain in the Czech Republic, the country’s National Institute of Public Health (SZU) said on Monday.
    The central European country of 10.7 million expects the Omicron wave to culminate in late January, with about 50,000 daily cases detected, but that may not be a complete picture because of the expected strain on testing capacity, the government and independent experts have said.
    The SZU said that Omicron had accounted for more than 50% of positive tests as of Jan. 8, with samples from mainly big cities on Jan. 9 showing 79% of COVID-19 cases were the Omicron variant.
    In an effort to reduce the impact of rising numbers having to self-isolate, the government has been planning to allow people in critical professions, including the emergency services and workers in the health and energy sectors, to continue to work work even after a positive lateral flow test.
    It has also cut the length of quarantine and isolation to five days for people without symptoms.
    So far the pick-up in Omicron cases has not raised daily infection numbers significantly and the number of hospitalised people continues to decline as the previous wave of infections recedes.    There were 2,229 people in hospital on Sunday, down form more than 7,000 in early December.
    The country has suffered among the world’s worst death tolls per capita during the pandemic, with 36,624 deaths as of Sunday.
(Reporting by Jan Lopatka; Editing by David Goodman)

1/10/2022 New Dutch Government Sworn In 10 Months After Last Election
Outgoing Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte reacts to the exit polls in the Netherlands' general
election in The Hague, Netherlands, March 17, 2021. REUTERS/Piroschka Van De Wouw/Pool
    THE HAGUE (Reuters) – Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s fourth government was sworn in on Monday, a record 299 days after the last election and a year after his previous administration was forced to resign, with the coronavirus crisis https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/netherlands-registers-record-number-coronavirus-cases-24-hours-2022-01-05 looming over a big spending push.
    The new coalition has promised generous spending on sustainable energy, housing, childcare and education, but will first have to deal with the health crisis as the Omicron variant has pushed coronavirus infections to record levels.
    The government will need to decide by Friday if a broad lockdown that has closed most public places since mid-December can be eased despite the wave of new coronavirus cases.
    Although the coalition consists of the same four parties that have been in charge since 2017, it took almost 10 months to bring them back together after the inconclusive election on March 17, 2020, increased parties’ reluctance to compromise.
    The parties finally agreed on a government pact last month, in which they left behind years of austerity with a raft of spending plans https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/frugal-no-more-new-dutch-government-promises-ramp-up-spending-2021-12-16 fuelled by ultra low interest rates.
    Those investments will need to win over a largely sceptical public.    Opinion polls have shown that, after a year of political infighting and what are widely seen as wavering coronavirus policies, confidence in Rutte as prime minister and in politics as a whole has fallen to new lows.
    In recent months, some anti-government demonstrations have ended in violent riots and several ministers have reported receiving death threats.
    Last week, a man carrying a burning torch was arrested at the house of Sigrid Kaag, the incoming finance minister.
    Rutte, who was appointed prime minister in 2010, and Hungary’s Viktor Orban are the longest-serving government leaders in the European Union.    Rutte is on course to become the longest-serving prime minister in Dutch history by August.
(Reporting by Bart Meijer, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

1/10/2022 Ukraine Says Arrests Russian Agent Planning Attacks In Odessa
A man who, according to the State Security Service of Ukraine, is a Russian military intelligence agent and was planning
attacks on the country's largest Black Sea port of Odessa, is detained in an unknown location in Ukraine,
in this image released January 10, 2022. Press service of State Security Service of Ukraine/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS
- THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. PICTURE WATERMARKED AT SOURCE. FACE BLURRED AT SOURCE.
    KYIV (Reuters) – Ukraine’s SBU security service said on Monday it had detained a Russian military intelligence agent who was planning attacks on the country’s largest Black Sea port of Odessa.
    “(His) main task was to shake up the political situation in the Odessa region through sabotage and terrorist acts,” SBU said.    The agent was detained while trying to recruit someone to carry out attacks, it added.
    Officials at Russia’s foreign and defence ministries did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the Ukrainian statement, which did not go into details.
    Kyiv, Washington and Western capitals have raised concerns about a Russian troop buildup near Ukraine and the possibility of an invasion. U.S. and Russian officials began talks https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/prospects-dim-us-russia-start-tense-talks-over-ukraine-crisis-2022-01-10 in Geneva on Monday to try to deescalate the crisis.
    Moscow has denied planning an attack and accused Ukraine and NATO of fomenting tensions, demanding that the US-led alliance guarantees it will not grant Kiev membership.
    Russia said last month that someone had thrown a Molotov cocktail at the Russian consulate in the Ukrainian city of Lviv https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/russia-says-molotov-cocktail-thrown-consulate-ukraine-protests-ukraine-2021-12-24 and that it had formally protested over the attack, which it called “an act of terrorism
    Ukraine’s ties with Russia collapsed in 2014 after Russia’s annexation of Crimea and Moscow-backed forces seized territory in eastern Ukraine that Kyiv wants back.    Kyiv says some 15,000 people have been killed in fighting since then.
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

1/10/2022 Bulgaria Wants Results To Let Skopje Start EU Accession Talks
Bulgaria's President Rumen Radev attends an EU Summit at the European Council
building in Brussels, Belgium, December 16, 2021. REUTERS/Johanna Geron/Pool
    SOFIA (Reuters) – The lifting of Bulgaria’s veto on the start of North Macedonia’s talks to join the European Union must be linked to tangible results and not to any timeline, Bulgarian President Rumen Radev said on Monday.
    Bulgaria has blocked the opening of formal EU membership talks with North Macedonia due to a dispute over history and language.    It has since been under pressure from its Western allies in the EU and NATO to break the diplomatic deadlock.
    President Rumen Radev spoke after a seven-hour meeting of a consultative national security council, which includes all leading political parties and other senior officials, on Bulgaria’s position towards its smaller western neighbour.
    Radev said the council agreed that the new Bulgarian government should work for a breakthrough, but not at the expense of national interests or the rights of Bulgarians in North Macedonia.
    Radev said Bulgarian nationals there have long been subject to discrimination, which has recently escalated in public backlash on those who have openly declared their Bulgarian origin.
    “Giving consent to begin the EU accession negotiations with North Macedonia should not be bound to any timeline, but to achieving tangible results, especially concerning the rights of the Bulgarian nationals in the country,” Radev said.
    The council met ahead of a planned visit by Bulgaria’s new prime minister Kiril Petkov to Skopje on Jan. 18.
    Petkov, who leads a four-party coalition government that took office last month, plans to expand the debate with Skopje to economic and infrastructure development between the two countries that could make solving other problems easier.
    Petkov has said progress that could allow Bulgaria to revisit its position could come in six months.
    Bringing North Macedonia into the EU fold will help boost living standards and offset growing Russian and Chinese influence in the Western Balkans, supporters say.
    But many in Bulgaria believe that Skopje must first resolve its disputes before advancing to the EU.
(Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

1/11/2022 Kazakhstan Detains Almost 10,000 Over Deadly Unrest
A view shows the city administration headquarters, which was set on fire during recent protests
triggered by fuel price increase, in Almaty, Kazakhstan January 11, 2022. REUTERS/Pavel Mikheyev
    NUR-SULTAN (Reuters) - Security forces in Kazakhstan have detained 9,900 people regarding last week’s unrest, the interior ministry of the central Asian nation said on Tuesday.
    The news comes as President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, who called the violence a coup attempt, is set to nominate a new prime minister in an address to parliament later in the day.
    The oil-rich former Soviet republic says government buildings were attacked in several major cities after initially peaceful protests against hikes in the price of car fuel turned violent.
    Tokayev has said Islamist militants from regional nations and Afghanistan, as well as the Middle East, were among the attackers.
    He dismissed his cabinet amid the unrest, along with a number of security officials and detained on suspicion of treason the most senior among them, Karim Masimov, a former head of the national security committee.
(Reporting by Tamara Vaal;Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

1/11/2022 U.S. And Russia Still Far Apart On Ukraine After Geneva Talks by Emma Farge
FILE PHOTO: Russian and U.S. state flags fly near a factory in Vsevolozhsk,
Leningrad Region, Russia March 27, 2019. REUTERS/Anton Vaganov/File Photo
    GENEVA (Reuters) - Russia and the United States gave no sign of narrowing their differences on Ukraine and wider European security in talks in Geneva on Monday, as Moscow repeated demands that Washington says it cannot accept.
    Russia has massed troops near Ukraine’s border and demanded the U.S.-led NATO alliance rule out admitting the former Soviet state or expanding further into what Moscow sees as its back yard.
    “Unfortunately we have a great disparity in our principled approaches to this.    The U.S. and Russia in some ways have opposite views on what needs to be done,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told a news conference.
    “We were firm … in pushing back on security proposals that are simply non-starters to the United States,” U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said in a separate telephone briefing after nearly eight hours of talks with Ryabkov.
    However, Sherman also hinted at the possibility of mutual compromises, saying Washington was open to discussing missile deployments in Europe as well as limiting the size and scope of military exercises.
    Washington and Kyiv say 100,000 Russian troops moved to within striking distance of Ukraine could be preparing a new invasion, eight years after Russia seized the Crimean peninsula from its neighbour.
    Russia denies any such plans and says it is responding to what it calls aggressive behaviour from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and Ukraine, which has tilted toward the West and aspires to join the alliance.
    Ryabkov repeated a set of sweeping demands including a ban on further NATO expansion and an end to its activity in the central and eastern European countries that joined after 1997.
    “For us it’s absolutely mandatory to make sure that Ukraine never, never, ever becomes a member of NATO,” he said.    “We do not trust the other side.”
    “We need iron-clad, waterproof, bulletproof, legally binding guarantees. Not assurances, not safeguards, guarantees with all the words ‘shall, must’, everything that should be put in, ‘never ever becoming a member of NATO’.    It’s a matter of Russia’s national security,” he added.
    “We will not allow anyone to slam closed NATO’s open-door policy,” Sherman told reporters, saying the United States “will not make decisions about Ukraine without Ukraine, about Europe without Europe, or about NATO without NATO.”
RUSSIAN URGENCY
    The build-up of troops near Ukraine, has raised U.S.-Russia tensions to their highest levels since the end of the Cold War.
    Both sides said Russia had stated that it did not intend to invade, something Ryabkov said could never happen, but Sherman said she did not know if Russia was willing to de-escalate, which she defined as Russian troops returning to their barracks.
    The Russian complained that the U.S. side did not show an understanding of the urgency of the situation.    While there was no deadline, Russia was not prepared to wait weeks or months, he said.
    Ryabkov said Russia needed to see movement by NATO, and failure to provide that would be a mistake that would damage NATO’s own security.
    Russia would respond in a “military-technical” way if talks broke down, he said – a possible reference to redeploying intermediate-range nuclear (INF) missiles in Europe, which he said last month could happen if the West declined to respond.
    Sherman said if Russia walked away from the talks, it would be clear it was never serious about diplomacy.
    She also said Washington was open to discussing a possible deal on INF missiles along the lines of the now-defunct INF treaty between the U.S. and Russia and Russia’s proposal to set limits on the size and scope of military exercises.
    The United States formally withdrew from the landmark 1987 INF pact with Russia in August 2019 after determining that Moscow was violating the treaty, an accusation the Kremlin has denied.
    The treaty banned land-based missiles with a range of between 310 and 3,400 miles (500 and 5,500 km).
    Despite the lack of obvious progress, the atmosphere between the two sides appeared cordial.
    Sherman called it a frank and forthright discussion, while Ryabkov said it was difficult but professional and that the U.S. had approached the Russian proposals seriously.
    He said Russia would decide on the prospects for progress after further meetings with NATO members in Brussels on Wednesday and with the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe in Vienna on Thursday.
    U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said he did not expect a breakthrough in either meeting but Washington and Moscow would touch base after them to explore the way forward.
(Additional reporting by Denis Balibouse in Geneva; Robin Emmott and Sabine Siebold in Brussels; Serhiy Takhmazov and Pavel Polityuk in Kyiv; Tom Balmforth, Andrey Ostroukh and Andrew Osborn in Moscow; Doina Chiacu, Simon Lewis, Arshad Mohammed, Daphne Psaledakis and Caitlin Webber in Washington; Writing by Mark Trevelyan and Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Grant McCool)

1/11/2022 Russia Holds Tank Drills Near Ukraine, Sounds Downbeat On Talks by Dmitry Antonov and Tom Balmforth
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov attend
security talks at the United States Mission in Geneva, Switzerland January 10, 2022. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
    MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia staged live-fire exercises with troops and tanks near the Ukrainian border on Tuesday while sounding a downbeat note over the prospects for talks with the United States that Washington hopes will remove the possible threat of an invasion of Ukraine.
    A day after the U.S. side urged Russia at talks in Geneva to pull back an estimated 100,000 troops from near the border, the defence ministry said about 3,000 servicemen had started combat training including mock battles in four regions of southwestern Russia.
    The drills suggested that the Kremlin has no intention of easing the military pressure that has brought the United States to the negotiating table, where Moscow has presented demands for sweeping security guarantees from the West.
    Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said it was positive that Monday’s talks had been held in an open, substantive and direct manner, but that there was no real cause for optimism.
    Russia wants quick results, he said.    “There are no clear deadlines here, no one is setting them – there is just the Russian position that we will not be satisfied with the endless dragging out of this process.”
    Peskov said the situation would be clearer after two further rounds of talks that Russia is due to hold this week – with NATO in Brussels on Wednesday and at the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Vienna on Thursday.
DEMANDS
    Russia has repeatedly said it has no intention of attacking Ukraine but that it has the right to deploy its forces as it deems fit on its own territory.
    Moscow insists that the United States and its allies rule out the possibility that Ukraine could ever join NATO, which promised as far back as 2008 to admit Kyiv one day.    It also wants NATO to remove forces and weaponry from ex-communist countries that have joined it since the end of the Cold War.
    Washington has said it cannot accept these demands, although it is willing to engage on other aspects of Russia’s proposals by discussing missile deployments or limits on the size of military exercises.
    Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said after the Geneva talks on Monday that the two sides had “in some ways opposite views.”    He told reporters: “For us it’s absolutely mandatory to make sure that Ukraine never, never, ever becomes a member of NATO.”
    U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said: “We were firm … in pushing back on security proposals that are simply non-starters to the United States.”
    NATO has no immediate plans to admit Ukraine, but says Russia cannot dictate its relations with other sovereign states – a stance reaffirmed by Ukraine’s foreign minister on Tuesday.
    “Russia does not have the right to vote on Ukraine’s NATO membership.    This is a red line that neither Ukraine nor our partners will cross,” Dmytro Kuleba told the RBK-Ukraine media outlet.
    He added: “No matter how many times Russian diplomats go around in circles, the starting line for discussing security guarantees in the Euro-Atlantic space should begin with Russia’s de-escalation of the security situation near the Ukrainian border and Russia’s withdrawal from Donbass and Crimea.”
    Moscow seized the Crimea peninsula from Ukraine in 2014, and Russian-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian troops in the easterly Donbass region since then in a war that has killed some 15,000 people.
    Ukraine was under Moscow’s rule for centuries, including as part of the Soviet Union, and President Vladimir Putin has said the prospect of NATO admitting it as a member, or stationing weapons there that could strike Russia, is a “red line.”
    U.S. President Joe Biden warned Putin in two conversations last month that any new Russian aggression would trigger severe economic costs in the form of unprecedented sanctions.    Putin responded that such moves would be a colossal mistake and lead to a complete rupture in relations.
(Additional reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber in Moscow and Pavel Polityuk in Kyiv; Writing by Mark Trevelyan; Editing by Gareth Jones)

1/11/2022 Russian Troops To Quit Kazakhstan, Says President, Taking Aim At The Elite by Tamara Vaal
A view shows the city administration headquarters, which was set on fire during recent protests
triggered by fuel price increase, in Almaty, Kazakhstan January 11, 2022. REUTERS/Pavel Mikheyev
    NUR-SULTAN (Reuters) - Russian-led forces will begin withdrawing from Kazakhstan in two days’ time after stabilising the Central Asian nation following serious unrest, the president said on Tuesday, in a speech that took aim at wealthy associates of his predecessor.
    In a video call with parliament after putting down what he has called an attempted coup, Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev appointed a new government headed by career public servant Alikhan Smailov.
    In what looked like his latest attempt to distance himself from his predecessor, Tokayev said that public discontent over income inequality was justified and that he wanted associates of Nursultan Nazarbayev, the former president, to share their wealth.
    Many Central Asia analysts believe intra-clan infighting among the elite may have played a major role in what was the deadliest violence in the former Soviet republic’s 30 years of independence from Moscow.
    As protesters torched buildings in the biggest city Almaty last week, Tokayev said former leader Nazarbayev was leaving his post as head of the powerful Security Council – where he had continued to pull the strings despite handing over the presidency in 2019.
    Nazarbayev, 81, who ran the country for almost three decades and backed Tokayev as his successor, has not made a public appearance since.
    Thanks to Nazarbayev, “a group of very profitable companies emerged in the country as well as a group of people wealthy even by international standards,” Tokayev told parliament.
    “I think it is time they pay their dues to the people of Kazakhstan and help them on a systemic and regular basis.”
    He gave no names, but the list of Kazakhstan’s richest people includes several members of Nazarbayev’s extended family, including his daughter Dinara with her husband, and a father-in-law of the former president’s late grandson.
    Tokayev said the financial system was dominated by large business groups “based on the principle ‘everything for friends, and laws for everyone else'.”
    He spoke of initiatives to narrow the wealth gap, raise taxes on the mining sector, and eliminate irregularities in state procurement and areas where associates of Nazarbayev have business interests.
    Tokayev also rounded on security officials, accusing them of abandoning their posts and letting protesters capture weapons and sensitive documents.
    He has blamed the violence on foreign-trained Islamist radicals and “terrorists.”
    He said on Tuesday that the National Security Committee, the Kazakh successor to the Soviet KGB, had not only missed the looming threat, but had failed to act properly during the unrest.    In some cities its officials had abandoned buildings and left behind firearms and classified documents, he said.
    The fact that Russian-led forces that Tokayev called in to help stabilise the situation were first deployed to the capital, Nur-Sultan, prompted speculation at the time that their mission was to protect the government and Tokayev himself at a time when he could not fully trust his own security forces.
    Tokayev sacked Karim Masimov, then head of the National Security Committee (NSC), on Jan. 5. Masimov was then detained on suspicion of treason.
‘QUIET TERROR’
    Tokayev, 68, last week asked the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) to send in troops at the peak of what he later said was an attempted coup d’etat whose unnamed instigators had plunged half of the oil-rich nation’s territory into violence.
    A day earlier, he said that the CSTO mission, whose legitimacy and duration were questioned by Washington, prompting an angry response from Moscow, numbered 2,030 troops and 250 pieces of military hardware.
    On Tuesday he said the CSTO’s main mission had been successfully completed.    It would start a phased withdrawal in two days and pull out altogether within 10.
    U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters Washington welcomed the announcement that the forces have completed their mission and called on them to “uphold their commitment to promptly depart Kazakhstan, as the government has requested.”
    Russian President Vladimir Putin has claimed victory in defending Kazakhstan from what he described as a foreign-backed terrorist uprising.
    Kazakh authorities say order has been largely restored in the nation of 19 million and that almost 10,000 people have been detained over the unrest, with a hunt for others ongoing.
    “Right now in the country there is a quiet terror.    Everyone is frightened,” said Botagoz Issayeva, a Kazakh rights activist in Sweden who is in contact with civil society groups inside the country.
    She said among those arrested were about 50 activists taken from their homes and not heard of since.
    “We don’t even know where they’ve been taken and what state they’re in,” said Issayeva, who represents a civil society coalition that has lobbied the European Parliament and U.S. Congress to crack down on corruption in Kazakhstan.
    She said the reported death toll of 164 appeared too low, especially since Tokayev announced last week he had given shoot-to-kill orders against what he called bandits and terrorists.
    The authorities say that initially peaceful protests against car fuel price increases were hijacked by groups aiming to overthrow the government.
    The Organisation of Turkic States and Hungary on Tuesday condemned “violence and vandalism” in Kazakhstan, voicing support for Kazakh government operations against “terrorists, radicals, extremists and criminals
(Reporting by Tamara Vaal in Nur-Sultan; Additional reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara, Anita Komuves and Krisztina Than in Budapest, Mark Trevelyan in London, and Daphne Psaledakis in Washington; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov/Andrew Osborn; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Jonathan Oatis)

1/11/2022 Ukraine And U.S. Remain United To Deter Russian Aggression, Kyiv Says
FILE PHOTO: Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba attends a meeting with the US secretary of state
in Stockholm, Sweden December 2, 2021. Jonathan Nackstrand/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    KYIV/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Ukraine and the United States remain united in seeking to defuse a standoff with Moscow through diplomacy and are working closely to deter Russian aggression, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said after speaking to his U.S. counterpart.
    Kuleba spoke to Secretary of State Antony Blinken a day after the United States urged Russia at talks in Geneva to pull back an estimated 100,000 troops from near Ukraine’s borders.
    Russia staged live-fire https://www.reuters.com/world/us/kremlin-says-its-not-optimistic-us-talks-wont-let-them-drag-2022-01-11exercises in areas near Ukraine on Tuesday, casting doubts on Russia’s willingness to ease the tensions as talks continue.
    Members of the NATO alliance will meet with Russian officials in Brussels on Wednesday and more talks are planned at the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Vienna on Thursday.
    “Amid the week of diplomatic contacts with Russia, Ukraine and the U.S. remain united in seeking de-escalation through diplomacy and strength.    We keep working closely together to deter further Russian aggression,” Kuleba tweeted.
    U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Blinken assured Kuleba that no substantive discussions about Ukraine would take place without Ukraine.
    “He reiterated that if Russia chooses the path of further conflict, the United States and our Allies and partners are prepared to impose enormous costs on Russia’s economy, to reinforce NATO’s presence in frontline Allied states, and to increase defensive assistance to Ukraine,” Price said in a statement.
(Reporting by Matthias Williams in Kyiv and Simon Lewis in Washington; Editing by Franklin Paul and Jonathan Oatis)

1/11/2022 U.S. Welcomes Completion Of Russian-Led Mission In Kazakhstan - State Dept
FILE PHOTO: Russian service members disembark from a military aircraft, as part of a
peacekeeping mission of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation amid mass protests in Almaty and other
Kazakh cities, at an airfield in Kazakhstan, in this still image from video released by
Russia's Defence Ministry January 8, 2022. Russian Defence Ministry/Handout via REUTERS
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. State Department on Tuesday welcomed Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s announcement that Russian-led forces had completed their mission in the country following serious unrest.
    Tokayev said that forces from the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) will begin withdrawing from the country in two days’ time after stabilizing the Central Asian nation.
    “Until that process is completed, until the CSTO peacekeeping forces are withdrawn, we will continue to call upon all collective security treaty organization, collective peace-keeping forces to respect international human rights and to uphold their commitment to promptly depart Kazakhstan as the government of Kazakhstan has requested,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters.
(Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis; Writing by Rami Ayyub; Editing by Leslie Adler)

1/11/2022 Ukraine Ready To Take Decisions To End War At New Four-Way Summit - President
FILE PHOTO: Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy speaks during his annual news conference at
the Antonov aircraft plant in Kyiv, Ukraine May 20, 2021. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich/File Photo
    KYIV/PARIS (Reuters) - Ukraine is ready to take the necessary decisions to end the war in its eastern Donbass region at a new summit of the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Tuesday.
    “It is time to agree on an end to the conflict, and we are ready for the necessary decisions during a new summit of the leaders of the four countries,” Zelenskiy said in a statement.
    In the same statement, Zelenskiy’s chief of staff Andriy Yermak said Kyiv wanted to agree on measures such as implementing a ceasefire and more prisoner swaps.
    The four-way Normandy format talks are aimed at helping end the conflict in eastern Ukraine between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian separatists, but stalled in November over differences on how to press ahead. [nL1N2S91MX]
    Since then, Russia has moved nearly 100,000 troops close to its border with Ukraine. It says it is not preparing for an invasion but wants to see the West back off from its support for Ukraine’s government and has demanded guarantees that U.S.-led NATO will not expand further eastwards.
    Senior French and German diplomats were in Moscow last week to see how to revive the Normandy format.    French President Emmanuel Macron’s top diplomat travelled to Kyiv on Monday.
    A French presidential official told reporters on Tuesday that he was hopeful senior advisers could hold a meeting this month after Kyiv had indicated it could make some political gestures to break the deadlock.
    The official said Russia’s chief negotiator, Dmitry Kozak, had given the greenlight for talks to resume as had Zelenskiy and Yermak.
    “The difficulties remain.    We are not under any illusions, but we think we can hold a first meeting of the Normandy format advisers by the end of January,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
    Kyiv’s ties with Moscow collapsed in 2014 after Russia’s annexation of Crimea and Moscow-backed forces seized territory in eastern Ukraine that Kyiv wants back.    Zelenskiy says as many as 15,000 people have been killed in fighting since then.
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk and John Irish; editing by Matthias Williams and Mark Heinrich)

1/11/2022 EU Will Demand Poland Pay Fines For Disciplining Judges by Gabriela Baczynska
FILE PHOTO: People carry flags and signs, as they take part in a rally in support of Poland's membership in the European Union
after the country's Constitutional Tribunal ruled on the primacy of the constitution over EU law, undermining
a key tenet of European integration, in Warsaw, Poland, October 10, 2021. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/File Photo
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union executive is set to demand that Poland pay around 70 million euros ($80 million) of fines in the coming weeks for failing to scrap a contentious system for disciplining judges, sources have told Reuters.
    The dispute is one of many battles pitting Poland against the EU, which accuses the nationalist government in Warsaw of backsliding on democratic standards, including the independence of the judiciary. Warsaw denies the charge.
    “I regret that the situation of the rule of law in Poland shows no signs of improvement and judges continue to be under pressure. We will continue to do our duty to defend the rule of law and judicial independence,” said Vera Jourova, EU Commissioner for Values and Transparency.
    Separately, a spokesman for the Commission told reporters that the Brussels-based executive had received Poland’s latest explanation in the dispute, adding: “The EU has ways to ensure payment of fines due from Poland.”
    January 11 was the deadline for Warsaw to tell the Commission when and how it would dismantle the Disciplinary Chamber of Poland’s Supreme Court, which the EU’s top EU court had ordered suspended, or pay fines worth 1 million euros a day.
    Should Poland’s response fail to satisfy the Commission, which enforces European law, a source in the EU executive said it would send an invoice to Warsaw, with a 45-day deadline to pay.
    By then, the fine would amount to some 70 million euros, said a second Commission source, adding that the call for payment would be sent to Warsaw “very soon.”
    A Polish government spokesman did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.
UNPRECEDENTED
    Asked about the case, a deputy Polish justice minister last week accused the EU of making “illegal demands” and said Warsaw would not give in to “blackmail
    The ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party introduced the new policing system for judges in 2017 amid a sweeping overhaul of the judiciary widely denounced as undermining the independence of courts and judges.
    The Polish judges’ association Iustitia, which accuses PiS of degrading the courts, said the Disciplinary Chamber had suspended six judges so far for challenging government policies, and that two more were awaiting a decision.
    Of the six, two have been suspended for more than one year, their cases reassigned to other judges or started from scratch, including one for the murder of a child, Iustitia said.
    Iustitia has said more than 1,000 judges have been nominated since PiS changed the law to allow judges appointed by government officials – rather than by other judges – to staff judicial panels.
    If Poland continues to refuse to pay for failing to obey the order of the Luxembourg-based European Court of Justice (ECJ) – the decisions of which are binding for all member states – the Commission would eventually deduct the total due from EU funds earmarked for Warsaw.
    However, the timing is unclear as other EU countries have so far either implemented measures prescribed by the ECJ or paid promptly on their own for failing to do so.
    A lack of precedent or clear EU rules invites procedural delays and political haggling over the issue, which has already harmed Poland’s reputation as the posterchild of democratic transition from the communism imposed on it after World War Two.
($1 = 0.8819 euros)
(Additional reporting by Joanna Plucinska and Alan Charlish, Writing by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Kevin Liffey, William Maclean and Gareth Jones)

1/11/2022 Hungary Sets April 3 Election With PM Orban Facing United Opposition by Krisztina Than
FILE PHOTO: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban speaks as he arrives for an EU summit
in Brussels, Belgium December 10, 2020. John Thys/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungary will hold an election on April 3 where nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban, one of Europe’s longest-serving leaders and a foe of immigration, will face a close race against an opposition united against him for the first time.
    The 58-year-old Orban, who rose to power in a 2010 election landslide, has transformed Hungary into a self-styled “illiberal democracy” with tightened controls on media and civil society groups that have put Budapest at loggerheads with European Union headquarters in Brussels.
    Voters will decide whether policies that prioritise national sovereignty, tax cuts for families, traditional Christian values and opposition to immigration and LGBTQ rights should continue, or whether a reset is in order due to what the opposition says has been an erosion of democracy and the rule of law.
    President Janos Ader set the parliamentary election for April 3 with a referendum on LGBTQ issues proposed by Orban’s Fidesz party to be held on the same day, the president’s office said on Tuesday.
    Fidesz and the opposition alliance are now running neck-and-neck in opinion polls in the central European country.
    The six-party opposition bloc encompasses the Democratic Coalition, the Socialists, liberals and the formerly far-right, now centre-right Jobbik.    It is led by Peter Marki-Zay, a Catholic conservative and father of seven, who in 2018 was elected mayor of the town of Hodmezovasarhely, ending 18 years of Fidesz rule.
    On his Facebook page on Tuesday, Marki-Zay launched a countdown to the election in which he said the opposition alliance would oust Orban’s “corrupt and greedy regime.”
    “Oligarchs close to the government have amassed incredible wealth while Fidesz politicians are writing the laws according to their taste,” he said, while millions of ordinary Hungarians were living on “humiliating wages.”
BREAD-AND-BUTTER WORRIES
    With a border fence having relegated immigration to a secondary issue, the opposition has also tapped into Hungarians’ growing preoccupation with bread-and-butter issues rather than identity politics, including soaring pandemic-driven inflation.
    Orban has said Fidesz’s strong mandate earned in previous elections empowered him to rewrite laws, including the constitution. In efforts to shore up Fidesz against the opposition, he has introduced a $2 billion income-tax rebate for families, tax breaks for young people, pension hikes and a 20% rise in the minimum wage this year, swelling the budget deficit.
    “We will be there (on April 3),” Orban posted on Facebook.
    Marki-Zay says he has the skills to forge a broad spectrum of voters whom he describes as desperate for change, but faces the challenge of holding together the disparate six parties comprising his alliance.
    On Election Day the Hungarian people will be asked to vote on four government questions regarding LGBTQ issues, with Orban casting himself as the defender of traditional family values as a central plank of his campaign.
    Voters will be asked whether they support the holding of sexual orientation workshops in schools without parental consent, and whether they believe gender reassignment procedures should be “promoted” among children.    They will also be asked whether media content that could affect sexual orientation should be shown to children without restrictions.
    Orban and Fidesz have said the referendum aims to protect children from homosexual and transgender influences.
    Human rights and LGBTQ advocacy groups issued a joint statement on Tuesday saying the referendum plan damages the dignity of LGBTQ people and would incite anti-LGBTQ hatred and discrimination.    They urged Hungarians to invalidate the referendum by scrawling x’s across ballots.
(Reporting by Krisztina Than and Anita Komuves; Editing by Mark Heinrich)
[AT LEAST THERE ARE A FEW COUNTRIES IN THE EUROPEAN UNION WHO ARE STILL FIGHTING AGAINST THEIR PUSH TO FORCE ANTI-CHRISTIAN VALUES ON THEM AND I THINK THOSE NATIONS SHOULD GET OUT OF THE EU LIKE GREAT BRITAIN DID AND FORM THEIR OWN UNION OF LIKE NATIONS AND SEND A MESSAGE TO THE EU.]

1/11/2022 In Vaccine-Shy Poland, COVID Deaths Top 100,000 by Kacper Pempel
Bird's eye view of the new graves at the cemetery, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
pandemic, in Antoninow, Poland January 11, 2022. Picture taken with a drone. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland’s death toll from coronavirus-related conditions surpassed 100,000 on Tuesday, as vaccine hesitancy and a reluctance to abide by COVID-19 restrictions fuelled a surge in infections, officials and doctors said.
    The number of deaths per one million inhabitants was last week among the highest in the world, according to the Our World in Data project at the University of Oxford, at more than 57 compared to around 35 in the United States and 37 in Russia.
    “Today we can say it is another sad day, but especially so because we have passed the level of 100,000 COVID deaths,” Health Minister Adam Niedzielski told private broadcaster TVN 24.
    With 55.8% of the population fully vaccinated compared to 68.7% for the European Union as a whole, the country has one of the lowest rates of double-jabbed citizens in the bloc.
    Vaccine hesitancy https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/regret-defiance-europes-vaccine-shy-east-covid-19-rages-2021-10-21 has been particularly pronounced in central and eastern Europe, with some experts attributing it to decades of Communist rule that eroded public trust in state institutions and left healthcare systems underdeveloped.
    Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party, meanwhile, has been less willing than some other European countries to introduce strict rules to contain the spread of the virus.
    “Poland is the country with relatively the lowest willingness to get vaccinated in Europe, and this was evident from flu vaccinations,” Niedzielski said.
    Konstanty Szuldrzynski, a doctor and government adviser, told Reuters that low vaccination rates were only a part of the problem, with poor healthcare resources further exacerbating the situation.br>     Existing restrictions were not being implemented strictly enough, he added.
    “We don’t use COVID certificates, and the restrictions that we do have are executed poorly.     People do not cover their mouth and nose, gather in big crowds in public spaces and closed rooms,” he said.
    Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Tuesday that tougher vaccine passport requirements were being discussed.
    The country has been grappling with a consistently high number of daily COVID-19 cases.    Although it has not reported a rise in cases caused by the Omicron variant of the virus, it imposed new restrictions in December.
    As of Monday, the health ministry estimates that the Omicron variant accounted for between 7% and 8% of new daily cases.
    Poland reported around 11,406 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday and 493 deaths related to the disease. It reported 794 COVID-related deaths in one day in late December, while the highest daily toll during the pandemic is 954, in April last year.
(Reporting by Alan Charlish, Joanna Plucinska and Anna Koper; Editing by Christopher Cushing, Kirsten Donovan, Angus MacSwan and Mike Collett-White)

1/11/2022 Surging Infections Force Finland’s Local Authorities To Prioritise by Anne Kauranen
Citizens wear face masks at the Hakaniemi Sunday market, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
outbreak in Helsinki, Finland November 1, 2020. Markku Ulander/Lehtikuva/via REUTERS
    HELSINKI (Reuters) -Surging coronavirus infections are forcing local authorities in Finland to stray from the government’s COVID-19 strategy based on mass testing, tracking and isolation.
    Helsinki and neighbouring cities recommend that people with a mild infection do not get an official test as the waiting time can now be days, city mayors and Helsinki hospital district said in a joint statement on Tuesday.
    “The hospital district and cities have had to prioritise having workforce in hospital care and inoculation,” strategy director Pasi Pohjola from the health ministry told Reuters.
    Finland’s minister in charge of the COVID response, Krista Kiuru, warned https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-finland-long-covid-idUSKBN2JH14W on Friday that long COVID could become Finland’s largest chronic disease and that children were also at risk. [L1N2TN0X3]
    She added she feared returning to school was not safe and called for local authorities to implement strict quarantines at schools in which one pupil’s COVID infection would result in quarantine for the entire exposed class.
    But Sanna Isosomppi, Helsinki’s chief epidemiologist, told Reuters the capital region’s municipalities were not going to follow the minister’s advice.
    “It would be disproportionate to implement large-scale quarantines at schools when they have not been a high-risk environment to begin with,” Isosomppi said.
    “Mandating quarantines is no longer an effective way to control the epidemic,” Isosomppi said.
    For more than a year, the government’s main strategy to counter the pandemic has been to test and trace infections throughout society, but this week local authorities began to openly rebel against the measures.
    “Tracing infections has lost its effectiveness due to delays in testing and in contacting the patients,” they said in a statement.
    Helsinki and 11 other municipalities in the capital region had already said on Monday that they were giving up on mandating quarantines on infected patients in most cases, focusing their efforts only at health care units and elderly care units.
    Instead, authorities recommended anyone with symptoms, including children, to remain at home on voluntary basis.
    Last week, Isosomppi and nine other leading Finnish infection specialists published an open letter against a plan proposed by Kiuru’s ministry to reintroduce school closures and going back to remote learning.
    Finland’s government was not immediately available for comment.
(Reporting by Anne Kauranen; Additional reporting by Essi Lehto; Editing by Alison Williams and Ed Osmond)

1/12/2022 Polish Parliament To Debate Bill To Step Up Govt Control Of Schools
FILE PHOTO: Children take part in a lesson after schools reopened for grades 1-3 amid the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) lockdown in Warsaw, Poland, May 25, 2020. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/File Photo
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Polish lawmakers are expected to debate on Wednesday a nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party bill that critics say could curb access to teaching on LGBT and reproductive rights and give the ruling PiS more control over schools.
    The PiS says changes in the education system are needed to protect children but opponents say it’s part of a wider effort to eliminate liberal values from public life.
    Education Minister Przemyslaw Czarnek has said government-appointed school supervisors should have the right to bloc any programming that would be “a threat to the morality of children,” in particular when it comes to sexual education.
    Czarnek once said gay people were “not equal to normal people” and has called for schools to focus on teaching girls about “feminine virtues” while criticising men who wear tight-fitting trousers.
    PiS introduced a series of education reforms, pointing to the need to defend traditional Christian values and teach children to be proud of Polish history.
    Under the new bill, extracurricular activities run by non-governmental organisations in schools would need to be approved by a supervisor.    The law would also make it easier to fire school principals.
    Critics warn the new regulation would limit the rights of parents to decide on their children’s education.
    “It will certainly have a freezing effect,” said Krzysztof Baszczynski, deputy head of the Polish Teachers’ Union.
    “If you are running a school, taking decisions (…) and you know someone may not like them, then the autonomy of the school, of the principal, the parents’ and teachers’ autonomy become just fiction.”
    Local media have reported that a primary school principal had been suspended last year for organising a meeting with judges who spoke about the constitution.
    Czarnek has also announced plans to introduce a new subject, “history and the present,” which would cut the time spent on civic education to focus on events from 1945 to 2015.
    Students are to be required to discuss “the instability of the euro zone” and explain why the 2010 Smolensk air crash in which president Lech Kaczynski, the twin brother of PiS leader Jaroslaw, died, was “the greatest tragedy in the history of post-war Poland.”
    Ryszard Terlecki, a ruling party parliament speaker, had said in 2020 that school reforms should result in students being better oriented in reality and true to tradition, which would lead them to vote for PiS.
    “Education should result in young Poles being patriots, and if they are, they will certainly vote,” he told private broadcaster TVN24 last week.
(Reporting by Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk; Editing by Michael Perry)

1/12/2022 Russia To Set Out Security Demands At NATO Meeting by Robin Emmott
FILE PHOTO: NATO logos are seen at the Alliance headquarters ahead of a NATO Defence Ministers
meeting, in Brussels, Belgium, October 21, 2021. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol/File Photo
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Russia is set to lay out its demands for security guarantees in Europe to NATO’s 30 allies on Wednesday, following intense talks with the United States in Geneva that showed the two sides have major differences to bridge.
    The NATO-Russia Council at allied headquarters in Brussels is part of a broader effort to defuse the worst East-West tensions since the Cold War, triggered primarily by a confrontation over Ukraine , which the United States says Russia is planning to invade.
    Moscow dismisses such claims, though it is massing troops near the Ukrainian border.     NATO diplomats say the Western alliance is ready to negotiate with Moscow on increasing openness around military drills and to avoid accidental clashes that could spark conflict, as well as arms control regarding missiles in Europe.
    But the NATO allies say that many of Russia’s demands, laid out in two draft treaties in December, are unacceptable, including calls to scale back the alliance’s activities to 1990s era levels and promising not to take in new members.
    “Let’s be clear: Russian actions have precipitated this crisis.    We are committed to using diplomacy to de-escalate the situation,” U.S. envoy to NATO Julianne Smith told reporters on Tuesday evening.
    “We want to see … Russia pulling back its forces,” she said of the 100,000 troops stationed near Ukraine.
    Bridling at NATO’s expansion eastward into its old Soviet sphere of influence, the Kremlin sees the U.S.-led alliance’s deterrents and military modernisation as a threat.
    Russia staged live-fire exercises with troops and tanks near the Ukrainian border on Tuesday while sounding a downbeat note over prospects for more talks with the United States.
    NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg will chair Wednesday’s talks from 0900 GMT with the alliance’s 30 ambassadors and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov.    The allies are expected to voice concerns about what they say are covert and cyber attacks, as well as electoral interference, on the European Union and the United States.
    Russia denies any wrongdoing.
(Reporting by Robin Emmott; editing by John Stonestreet)

1/12/2022 NATO Offers Arms Talks As Russia Warns Of Dangers by Robin Emmott, Sabine Siebold and Gabriela Baczynska
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg chats with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko ahead of NATO-Russia Council
at the Alliance's headquarters in Brussels, Belgium January 12, 2022. Olivier Hoslet/Pool via REUTERS
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) -NATO said on Wednesday it was willing to talk to Russia about arms control and missile deployments to avert the risk of war in Europe, but Moscow said the situation was “very dangerous” and the way forward was unclear.
    The gulf between Russia’s position and that of the United States and its allies appeared as stark as ever after four hours of talks in Brussels, the second attempt this week to defuse a crisis provoked by the massing of Russian troops near Ukraine.
    NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance was willing to hold arms talks but would not allow Moscow to veto Ukraine’s ambition to join NATO one day – a core demand on which Russia says it will not yield.
    “There is a real risk for new armed conflict in Europe,” Stoltenberg told a news conference.     “There are significant differences between NATO allies and Russia,” he said.    “Our differences will not be easy to bridge.”
    Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko said Moscow was ready to talk about weapons deployment and verification measures, but would not allow its proposals to be cherry-picked.
‘VULNERABILITIES’
    At a lengthy news conference, Grushko said Russia could not take seriously NATO’s claim to be a defensive alliance that posed no threat to it, and said it would respond symmetrically to any attempt to contain or intimidate it.
    “If there is a search for vulnerabilities in the Russian defence system, then there will also be a search for vulnerabilities in NATO,” he said.
    “This is not our choice, but there will be no other path if we fail to reverse the current very dangerous course of events.”
    Grushko later said Moscow would use military means to neutralise security threats if diplomacy proved insufficient.
    Interfax news agency quoted Russian Deputy Defence Minister Alexander Fomin as saying NATO’s “ignoring” of Russian security proposals created the risk of “incidents and conflicts.”
    This week’s talks – beginning with a Russia-U.S. meeting in Geneva on Monday and due to continue on Thursday in Vienna at the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe – come at one of the most fraught moments in East-West relations since the Cold War.
    Russia denies planning to invade Ukraine but says it needs a series of guarantees for its own security, including a halt to further NATO expansion and a withdrawal of alliance forces from central and eastern European nations that joined it after 1997.
    U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman reiterated that those demands were “non-starters.”
‘INTIMIDATION?’
    Sherman told reporters it was hard to understand why a nuclear-armed Russia felt threatened by its much smaller neighbour and why it was conducting live-fire exercises near its border with Ukraine.
    “Is this about invasion? Is this about intimidation?    Is this about trying to be subversive?    I don’t know, but it is not conducive to getting to diplomatic solutions,” she said.
    Russia had not given any commitment to de-escalate, she said, but nor had it said it would not do so.
    Despite the gulf in positions, Stoltenberg said it was positive that all 30 NATO allies and Russia had “sat down around the same table and engaged on substantive topics.”
    Grushko said he could not recall such a sharp and frank discussion with NATO.    He said progress was possible, but there were some areas where Russia could not step back.
    He said Moscow wanted written answers from NATO on its proposals and to hear from the alliance how it would implement them or – if not – why it could not do that.
(Additional reporting by Tom Balmforth, Darya Korsunskaya, Andrey Ostroukh and Andrew Osborn in Moscow; writing by Mark Trevelyan; editing by Gareth Jones and Philippa Fletcher)

1/12/2022 Denmark To Offer Fourth Coronavirus Jab While Easing Curbs
FILE PHOTO: Danish Minister of Health and the Elderly Magnus Heunicke attends a news conference on the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in the Mirror Hall in the Prime Minister's Office at Christiansborg,
Copenhagen, Denmark October 23, 2020. Ritzau Scanpix/Mads Claus Rasmussen via REUTERS
    COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - Denmark will offer a fourth coronavirus vaccination to the most vulnerable citizens as it faces record infections from the Omicron variant, the country’s health minister said on Wednesday.
    The move comes as lawmakers agreed to ease restrictions at the end of the week, including reopening cinemas and music venues, as hospitalisation rates and deaths have stabilised despite the surge in cases.
    “The more widespread the infection is in society, the greater the risk that the infection will reach our most vulnerable,” Health Minister Magnus Heunicke said.
    “We are now embarking on a new chapter, namely a decision to offer the fourth jab to the most vulnerable citizens,” he told reporters.
    The European Union’s drug regulator has expressed doubts about the need for a fourth dose and said there was no data to support this approach as it seeks more information on the fast-spreading variant.
    Fellow EU member Hungary has said it is considering deploying a fourth shot.    Chile and Israel have already begun a rollout.
    Denmark saw a surge in daily infections in mid-December, prompting new restrictions.
    However, even as infection rates remain near record levels above 20,000 a day, hospital admissions and deaths have stabilised at levels below those a year ago.
    “We are in a better position than we had anticipated and feared,” said Soren Brostrom, head of the Danish Health Agency.    “We can now say with considerably more certainty that this new virus variant, which is now the predominant, causes less disease.”
    Lawmakers agreed to reopen theatres, cinemas, museums, entertainment parks and botanic gardens, and allow limited spectators at indoor and outdoor sports events.
    Denmark has high support for COVID-19 vaccination, with four out of five having received two jabs and just over half of the population with three jabs.
    The fourth vaccine dose will be rolled out to the country’s most vulnerable citizens later this week.    Health authorities also consider offering a fourth shot to the elderly and to people at elderly homes.
    Data from Denmark’s top infectious disease authority, Statens Serum Institut (SSI), show that unvaccinated people are five to six times more likely to be hospitalised after getting the virus than those vaccinated.
(Reporting by Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen and Nikolaj SkydsgaardEditing by Gareth Jones, Alison Williams and Richard Chang)

1/12/2022 Orban Extends Price Curbs As Inflation Soars Ahead Of Election
FILE PHOTO: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban speaks as he arrives for an
EU summit in Brussels, Belgium December 10, 2020. John Thys/Pool via REUTERS
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungary’s government will cut the price of six basic foods from February, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on Wednesday amid an inflationary surge, extending price caps already in place for energy, fuel and mortgages ahead of an April national election.
    Orban, who faces a tough fight for re-election on April 3, said the prices of flour, sugar, sunflower oil, milk, pork leg and chicken breast must be cut back to mid-October levels from next month.
    “Prices are rising across Europe due to an increase in energy prices,” Orban said in a video after a government meeting.    He said the price cuts must be applied nationwide.
    For the first time since taking power in a 2010 landslide, Orban, 58, and his nationalist ruling Fidesz party will face a united front of opposition parties at the ballot.
    The opposition alliance includes the Democratic Coalition, the Socialists, liberals and the formerly far-right, and now centre-right, Jobbik.    The alliance is led by small-town mayor Peter Marki-Zay, an energetic political outsider.
    Fidesz had a five-point lead over the united opposition in a December survey by pollster Median published late last month.
    However, Hungarian inflation soared to a 14-year-high of 7.4% in November, above expectations. Economists polled by Reuters see December inflation coming in at a still-hefty 7.2%.
    Marki-Zay said Orban’s announcement represented what he called an admission that the economy was in a “tragic state.”
    “An atrocious government that starts tackling prices in the last 12 weeks of its 12-year-long rule with a two-thirds (parliamentary) majority must go,” he said in a Facebook post.
    In November, Orban announced a three-month cap on fuel prices that could be extended after a review in February.
    Orban has also imposed a cap on retail mortgage interest rates until the end of June to shield borrowers from rising loan repayments after surging inflation forced the central bank to hike interest rates much higher than previously expected.
(Reporting by Krisztina Than and Anita Komuves, editing by Mark Heinrich and Gareth Jones)

1/12/2022 Anti-Vaccine Protesters Try To Storm Bulgaria’s Parliament
Protestors scuffle with police as they try to enter the parliament building during a rally organised
by the political party Vazrazhdane (Revival) against the government measures to curb the spread of the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Sofia, Bulgaria, January 12, 2022. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov
    SOFIA (Reuters) – Anti-vaccine protesters tried to storm the Bulgarian parliament on Wednesday and briefly scuffled with police officers during a massive rally against coronavirus restrictions in downtown Sofia.
    Tensions rose an hour after about 3,000 people gathered in front of the parliament building, demanding the lifting of a mandatory health pass which they said trampled on their rights and was a back-door means of forcing people to get vaccinated.
    Protesters, many of whom arrived on buses for the rally, pushed back a police cordon around parliament and reached the front doors of the building.
    They stopped short of breaking in and called on lawmakers to come out and address their demands.    Several people, including police officers, were injured during the brief clashes.
    Waving national flags and flags of the ultra-nationalist Revival party, which organised the rally, they chanted “Freedom” and “Mafia” and decried all measures against the virus.
    “I do not approve of the green certificates.    I do not approve that the children are being stopped from attending classes.    I do not see the logic of these things,” 39-year old engineer     Asparuh Mitov told Reuters at the start of the rally.
    Bulgarians have to wear masks indoors and on public transport and show a health pass, given to people who are vaccinated, recovered or who have tested negative for the virus, to get into restaurants, cafes and shopping malls and gyms.
    The least vaccinated country in the European Union, Bulgaria reported record high nL1N2TS09X daily infections on Wednesday, largely fuelled by the highly contagious Omicron variant.
    Prime Minister Kiril Petkov, who took office last month and pledged to spur vaccinations in the Balkan country, told BTV channel he regretted he could not meet with the protesters, but was ready to do so on Friday, when his quarantine will be over.
    Petkov, President Rumen Radev and senior ministers went into self-isolation nL1N2TR0K6 after a participant at a security meeting they attended on Monday tested positive for the coronavirus.
    He reiterated that the health pass would not be lifted.
    “At this moment, when the cases are surging, and with understanding the link between the number of vaccinated people and the health pass, it cannot be lifted,” Petkov said.
(Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

1/12/2022 OSCE Warns Against Hate Incidents Destabilising Bosnia
FILE PHOTO: Police march during parade celebrations to mark their autonomous Serb Republic's national
holiday in Banja Luka, Bosnia and Herzegovina, January 9, 2022. REUTERS/Antonio Bronic/File Photo
    SARAJEVO (Reuters) – Inflammatory rhetoric is leading to a spread in hate incidents in Bosnia, rights and security watchdog the OSCE said on Wednesday, as unresolved rivalries among its three ethnic groups stoke fears of a new conflict.
    In the days around the Orthodox Christian Christmas and Sunday’s banned national holiday, a spate of security incidents occurred across Bosnia’s Serb Republic, with Serb nationalists encouraged by their leader’s rhetoric provoking their Muslim neighbours.
    Shots were fired near mosques during prayers and nationalist songs glorifying convicted war criminals were sung during street celebrations.
    “The growing use of inflammatory, divisive rhetoric by some officials in Bosnia-Herzegovina, including in recent days in Republika Srpska, is contributing to the proliferation of such incidents,” the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe mission in Bosnia said in a statement.
    “The Mission cautions against any and all acts that carry the potential to incite conflict and lead to the destabilisation of peace and security in Bosnia.”
    Serb nationalist leader Milorad Dodik, who has been pushing for the secession of the Serb Republic from Bosnia and its integration with Serbia, has been using ethnic slurs against Muslim Bosniaks, degrading them to a religious group without ethnic identity and ascribing them the “colonial mentality.”
    Following its devastating war in the 1990s in which 100,000 died, most of them Bosniaks, Bosnia was split into two autonomous regions – the Serb Republic and the Federation dominated by Croats and Muslim Bosniaks, linked by a weak central government.
    Now Bosnia is experiencing its gravest political crisis https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/what-is-causing-political-crisis-bosnia-2021-11-03 since the end of that war, reviving concerns of a new conflict after Bosnian Serbs last summer blocked the work of the central government and begun a process aimed at unravelling state institutions.
    On Sunday, the Bosnian Serbs marked their region’s national holiday, commemorating the date in 1992 when Bosnian Serbs declared independence, triggering the war, with a parade of armed police forces in defiance of a court ban and U.S. sanctions on Dodik.
    The United States has urged Bosnia’s authorities to investigate reports that war criminals were glorified and non-Serbs targeted during the celebrations.
    The European Union has also warned the Bosnian Serb leadership it was risking sanctions and a loss of aid should it continue to incite tensions.
(Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Alison Williams)

1/12/2022 Slovak Government Approves Defence Treaty With United States
Slovakia's Foreign Minister Ivan Korcok speaks with the media as he arrives for an EU foreign ministers
meeting at the European Council building in Brussels, Belgium May 10, 2021. Olivier Matthys/Pool via REUTERS
    PRAGUE (Reuters) – Slovakia’s government has approved a defence agreement with the United States, setting the framework for potential use of its air bases by its NATO partner but not leading to any concrete deployments, ministers said on Wednesday.
    The agreement, which the Slovak government said follows similar treaties by 23 other NATO countries including all those on the alliance’s eastern border, still needs the president’s signature and ratification by the country’s parliament.
    “This is an important sign that the government is acting responsibly in foreign, security and defence policies,” Foreign Minister Ivan Korcok told a news conference.
    Under the agreement, the United States would be able to use facilities at two Slovak airports at Sliac and Malacky, while any concrete plans would be subject to follow-up agreements. Slovakia would qualify for $100 million in U.S. funds.
    Korcok told reporters that the debate about the agreement had been filled with misinformation.    Any future potential presence of any troops would be subject to approval by the government and parliament, he said.
    Slovakia shares its eastern border with Ukraine, at the centre of tensions between NATO and Russia for the last few years.
    Russia seized the Crimea peninsula from Ukraine in 2014, and Russian-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian troops in the eastern Donbass region since then in a war that has killed some 15,000 people.    In recent months, Russia has amassed troops near its border with Ukraine.
    Slovakia’s plans to sign the DCA agreement came under criticism from the country’s opposition, which had earlier participated in preparing the deal when it was in government.    Former Prime Minister Robert Fico said his Smer party would not back it in parliament and wanted a referendum on the issue.
    The country’s prosecutor general has also criticised it, citing legal grounds, but the ministers said that the agreement was in line with existing Slovak law.
(Reporting by Jan Lopatka; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

1/13/2022 Russia-Led Bloc Starts Pulling Troops Out Of Kazakhstan
FILE PHOTO: Russian military vehicles drives upon arrival at Almaty airport, as part of a peacekeeping mission
of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, in Almaty, Kazakhstan, in this still image from video
released by Russia's Defence Ministry January 9, 2022. Russian Defence Ministry/Handout via REUTERS
    ALMATY (Reuters) – A Russia-led military bloc began to pull its troops out of Kazakhstan on Thursday after a week-long deployment which helped the Central Asian nation overcome the worst bout of violent unrest in its post-Soviet history.
    Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev asked for assistance from the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) last week as violence gripped half of the country while he dismissed some of his senior security officials who were later charged with treason.
    This week, the authorities said they had stabilised the situation and completed what they called an “anti-terrorist operation” in most of the country, its biggest city Almaty a notable exception.
    “Thanks to your arrival, Kazakh military and security forces were able to carry out their immediate task of locating and detaining bandits,” Kazakh Deputy Defence Minister Mukhamedzhan Talasov told departing CSTO troops on Thursday.
    The alliance said on Wednesday the peacekeeping contingent would take 10 days to fully withdraw.
    The protests, triggered by a sharp increase in car fuel prices, were initially peaceful, but turned violent in many major cities as some protesters attacked security forces, captured and torched government buildings and looted shops.
    The authorities have detained almost 10,000 people over the unrest and said some of the attackers were foreigners trained by Islamist militants.
(Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov and Mariya Gordeyeva; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

1/13/2022 U.S. Envoy To NATO Calls On Russia To Pull Back Forces At Ukrainian Border by OAN Newsroom
Russian soldiers take part in drills at the Kadamovskiy firing range in the Rostov region in southern Russia,
Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022. Russia has rejected Western complaints about its troop buildup near
Ukraine, saying it deploys them wherever it deems necessary on its own territory. (AP Photo)
    Joe Biden’s envoy to NATO is calling on Russia to move forward with the de-escalation of its forces on the Ukrainian border.    On Tuesday, U.S. Ambassador Julianne Smith said that she expects Russia to pull back their forces positioned at the border and come into compliance with the Minsk agreements.
    The 2014 agreement was aimed at ending fighting in Eastern Ukraine between Russian-backed separatist and the Ukrainian government.    Smith warned that if Russia does not comply and pursues further confrontation then there will be serious consequences.
    Forces that Russia has arrayed around Ukraine are of a type and of a size that indicate a capability for significant military conflict started by Russia,” explained Ivo Daalder, former U.S. Ambassador to NATO.    “A 100,000 troops that can quickly be supplemented by another 75,000 troops…I think we are very close to a military confrontation…one way or the other.”
    Experts believe a military confrontation may still arise.    This comes as Russia and NATO convened this week to discuss resolutions to the ongoing conflict.

1/13/2022 New Czech Centre-Right Government Wins Confidence Vote In Parliament
FILE PHOTO: Petr Fiala leaves the Lany Chateau after being appointed as the new Czech Prime Minister by President Milos Zeman
in the village of Lany near Prague, Czech Republic, November 28, 2021. REUTERS/David W Cerny/File Photo
    PRAGUE (Reuters) - Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala’s new centre-right government won a confidence vote in parliament on Thursday, sealing its authority as it takes over amid a spike in coronavirus cases, rising inflation, a deep fiscal gap and challenges posed by Europe’s green transition.
    The result was expected as the five-party coalition won 108 votes in the 200-seat lower chamber of parliament in an election last October.
    Fiala, 57, a political science professor and leader of the Civic Democrats, has pledged to slash 80 billion crowns ($3.74 billion) of spending this year to bring the budget deficit below 300 billion, which would bring the public sector gap under 4% of gross domestic product.
    “The combination of rising inflation, energy crisis, and COVID epidemic makes this the most difficult year for our citizens since our country came to existence,” Fiala said during the debate on the motion, which stretched overnight from Wednesday and was restarted on Thursday afternoon.
    In his closing speech, Fiala said his main priorities were legislation preventing future governments from “immoderately” raising taxes; pension reform; opening a tender to build a new nuclear power plant; education reform; building 200 km of expressways; and digitalisation of government operations.
    The government’s first measure to achieve savings was a freeze on some public sector salaries.
    Critics including independent economists say a substantial fiscal consolidation will be impossible without raising taxes.    While in opposition before the election, Fiala’s party voted together with the previous centre-left cabinet led by Andrej Babis to approve an annual tax reduction of more than $5 billion.
    The government has pledged to prepare for an exit from coal in 2033, five years earlier than the previous government’s target.    It also plans to boost solar power installations.
    Heavily dependent on car makers and other manufacturing industries, the country of 10.7 million faces a strong impact from energy price growth as well as Europe’s decarbonisation drive.
    The country will take the European Union’s six-month presidency in the second half of the year.     Fiala has also pledged to reinforce the country’s western orientation with NATO and EU partners, raising defence spending to 2% of GDP by 2025.
    Fiala has also shied away from criticising Visegrad Four partners Poland and Hungary who have been at odds with the EU over rule of law issues, although his coalition partners have repeatedly criticised Hungarian leader Viktor Orban.
($1 = 21.3230 Czech crowns)
(Reporting by Jan LopatkaEditing by Chris Reese and Frances Kerry)

1/13/2022 Norway Eases COVID Rules, Allows Some Alcohol Serving To Resume
FILE PHOTO: A general view of the cityscape with the new Munch Museum, also called Lambda, to the left,
in the Bjorvika neighbourhood in Oslo, Norway November 17, 2020. NTB SCANPIX/Cornelius Poppe via REUTERS
    OSLO (Reuters) – The Norwegian government will partly reverse a ban on serving alcohol in bars and restaurants, one of several policy changes as it seeks to relax COVID-19 restrictions, the prime minister said on Thursday.
    “We can ease some restrictions, but not all,” Jonas Gahr Stoere told a news conference.
    Bars and restaurants will be able to serve alcoholic drinks until 11 p.m. local time (2200 GMT), a partial reversal the total ban introduced in December which has hit the Nordic country’s hospitality industry hard.
    An outbreak of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus in late November was traced back to a super spreader event https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/omicron-outbreak-norway-christmas-party-is-biggest-outside-s-africa-authorities-2021-12-03 at a restaurant in central Oslo, which led the Norwegian government to reintroduce some nationwide restrictions https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/norway-tighten-covid-restrictions-pm-says-2021-12-13 to curb the spread.
    But while the number of hospitalisations rose in the Nordic country last month following a surge of COVID-19 infections, it has now fallen for several weeks even as more people tested positive for the virus.
    Children will face fewer restrictions, making it easier to avoid home schooling.    Youth sports activities will also be allowed to resume, although adult sports will still be restricted, the government said.
    Quarantines will in many cases be replaced by a mandatory test regime, it added.
(Reporting by Victoria Klesty, editing by Terje Solsvik)

1/14/2022 Massive Cyberattack Hits Ukrainian Gov’t Websites As West Warns On Russia Conflict by Pavel Polityuk
FILE PHOTO: A computer keyboard lit by a displayed cyber code is seen in this
illustration picture taken on March 1, 2017. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/Illustration
    KYIV (Reuters) - A massive cyberattack warning Ukrainians to “be afraid and expect the worst” hit government websites late on Thursday, leaving some websites inaccessible on Friday morning and prompting Kyiv to open an investigation.
    Ukraine’s foreign ministry spokesperson told Reuters it was too early to say who could be behind the attack but said Russia had been behind similar strikes in the past.
    The cyberattack, which hit the foreign ministry, the cabinet of ministers and the security and defence council among others, comes as Kyiv and its allies have sounded the alarm about a possible new Russian military offensive against Ukraine.
    “It’s too early to draw conclusions, but there is a long record of Russian (cyber) assaults against Ukraine in the past,” the foreign ministry spokesman told Reuters.
    The Russian foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.    Russia has previously denied being behind cyber attacks on Ukraine.
    “Ukrainian!    All your personal data was uploaded to the public network.    All data on the computer is destroyed, it is impossible to restore it,” said a message visible on the hacked government websites, written in Ukrainian, Russian and Polish.
    “All information about you has become public, be afraid and expect the worst.    This is for your past, present and future.”
RISING TENSIONS
    Following a flurry of inconclusive talks this week over security in Europe, the United States warned on Thursday that the threat of a Russian military invasion of Ukraine was high.
    Russia said dialogue was continuing but was hitting a dead end as it tried to persuade the West to bar Ukraine from joining NATO and roll back decades of alliance expansion in Europe – demands that Washington has called “non-starters.”
    Commenting on the cyberattack, a top Ukrainian security official told Reuters: “All subjects of cyber security were aware of such possible provocations by the Russian Federation.    Therefore the response to these incidents is carried out as usual.”
    The government later said it had restored most of the affected sites and that no personal data had been stolen.    A number of other government websites have been suspended to prevent the attack from spreading, it said.
    Relations between Ukraine and Russia collapsed after Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the outbreak of war between Kyiv’s forces and Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine that same year.
    The United States said on Thursday Russia might be trying to create a pretext to launch a new military assault on Ukraine, comparing the situation to the circumstances in 2014.
    Russia warned of possible “catastrophic consequences” if there was no agreement on what the Kremlin has termed security red lines but said Moscow had not given up on diplomacy and would even accelerate it.
    The Russian comments reflect a pattern of Moscow saying it wants to pursue diplomacy but rejecting calls to reverse its troop build-up near Ukraine and warning of unspecified consequences for Western security if its demands go unheeded.
    Ukraine has suffered a series of cyber attacks since 2014, which have knocked out power supplies, frozen supermarket tills, and forced the authorities to prop up the hryvnia currency after banks’ IT systems crashed.
    Ukraine believes the attacks are part of what it calls Russia’s “hybrid war” against Ukraine and its allies.
    In 2017, a virus called NotPetya by some experts, hit Ukraine and spread around the world, paralysing thousands of machines as it spread to dozens of countries.
    The Kremlin denied any involvement, rejecting “unfounded blanket accusations.”
(Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Toby Chopra and Gareth Jones)

1/14/2022 ‘Expect The Worst’: Ukraine Hit By Cyberattack, Russia Moves More Troops by Pavel Polityuk and Tom Balmforth
A laptop screen displays a warning message in Ukrainian, Russian and Polish, that appeared on the
official website of the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry after a massive cyberattack,
in this illustration taken January 14, 2022. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko/Illustration
    KYIV/MOSCOW (Reuters) – Ukraine was hit by a massive cyberattack on Friday warning its citizens to “expect the worst,” and Russia, which has massed more than 100,000 troops on its neighbour’s frontier, released television pictures of more forces deploying in a drill.
    The developments came after no breakthrough was reached at meetings between Russia and Western states, which fear Moscow could launch a new attack on a country it invaded in 2014.
    “The drumbeat of war is sounding loud,” said a senior U.S. diplomat.
    Russia denies plans to attack Ukraine but says it could take unspecified military action unless demands are met, including a promise by the NATO alliance never to admit Kyiv.
    Russia said troops in its far east would practice deploying to far-away military sites for exercises as part of an inspection.    Defence Ministry footage released by RIA news agency showed numerous armoured vehicles and other military hardware being loaded onto trains in the Eastern Military District.
    “This is likely cover for the units being moved towards Ukraine,” said Rob Lee, a military analyst and a fellow at the U.S.-based Foreign Policy Research Institute.
    The movements indicated Russia has no intention of dialling down tensions over Ukraine, having used its troop build-up to force the West to the negotiating table and press sweeping demands for “security guarantees” – key elements of which have been described by the United States as non-starters.
    Ukrainian authorities were investigating a huge cyberattack, which hit government bodies including the ministry of foreign affairs, cabinet of ministers, and security and defence council.
    “Ukrainian!    All your personal data was uploaded to the public network.    All data on the computer is destroyed, it is impossible to restore it,” said a message visible on hacked government websites, written in Ukrainian, Russian and Polish.
    “All information about you has become public, be afraid and expect the worst.    This is for your past, present and future.”
    Ukraine’s foreign ministry spokesperson told Reuters it was too early to say who could be behind the attack but said Russia had been behind similar strikes in the past.
    Russia did not immediately comment but has previously denied being behind cyber attacks on Ukraine.
    The European Union’s top diplomat condemned the attack and said the EU’s political and security committee and cyber units would meet to see how to respond and help Kyiv.
    “We are going to mobilise all our resources to help Ukraine to tackle this cyber attack.    Sadly, we knew it could happen,” Josep Borrell told reporters at an EU foreign ministers meeting in the western French city of Brest.
    “It’s difficult to say (who is behind it).    I can’t blame anybody as I have no proof, but we can imagine.”
    The United States warned on Thursday that the threat of a Russian military invasion was high.    Russia has consistently denied that.
    Moscow said dialogue was continuing but was hitting a dead end as it tried to persuade the West to bar Ukraine from joining NATO and roll back decades of alliance expansion in Europe.
    The United States and NATO have rejected those demands but said they are willing to talk about arms control, missile deployments, confidence-building measures and limits on military exercises.
    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Friday that Moscow was awaiting a point-by-point written response to its proposals.
(Additional reporting by Matthias Williams in Kyiv, Anton Kolodyazhnyy and Andrew Osborn in Moscow, Sabine Siebold and John Irish in Brest, France; Writing by Mark Trevelyan)

1/14/2022 Russia Adds Two Close Navalny Allies To List Of ‘Terrorists And Extremists’ - Ifax
FILE PHOTO: Ivan Zhdanov, director of the Anti-Corruption Foundation, takes part in a press conference at the
Permanent Representation of Lithuania to the EU in Brussels, Belgium, February 22, 2021. REUTERS/Johanna Geron
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia’s state financial monitoring agency on Friday added jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny’s allies Leonid Volkov and Ivan Zhdanov to its list of “terrorists and extremists,” the Interfax news agency reported.
    Both Volkov and Zhdanov are outside Russia.    Moscow banned Navalny’s political network as “extremist” last year during a sweeping crackdown.
(Reporting by Anton Kolodyazhnyy; writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Catherine Evans)

1/14/2022 Sweden Boosts Patrols On Gotland Amid Russia Tensions by Anna Ringstrom
FILE PHOTO: Swedish soldier is seen in Visby, Sweden July 1, 2019. TT News Agency/Henrik Montgomery via REUTERS
    STOCKHOLM (Reuters) -Sweden’s military said on Thursday it was ramping up its visible activities on the Baltic Sea island of Gotland amid increased tensions between NATO and Russia and a recent deployment of Russian landing craft in the Baltic.
    Moscow has spooked the West by massing troops near Ukraine, sparking fears that it is considering invading. Moscow denies any such plans, saying it can deploy forces on its territory however it chooses.
    Gotland, Sweden’s biggest island, is strategically important and lies around 330 kilometres (205 miles) from Kaliningrad, the headquarters of Russia’s Baltic Fleet.    In 2019 Sweden deployed an updated ground-to-air missile defence system on the island.
    Lieutenant General Michael Claesson, Chief of Joint Operations at the Armed Forces, told Reuters that from Thursday troops were patrolling the harbour and airport of Visby, Gotland’s main town.
    Sweden is not a NATO member but has close ties to the Atlantic alliance and has been beefing up its armed forces after decades of neglect amid increased anxiety over Russian sabre-rattling in the Baltic Sea region.
    Claesson said the Gotland move was triggered by Russian landing ships entering the Baltic Sea this week and followed years of deteriorating security conditions, including in Sweden’s immediate geographic vicinity.
    “Recent security developments and tensions at security policy level have not changed that picture but rather reinforce it,” he said, adding that the armed forces had recently noted an expansion of foreign offensive capability near Sweden.
    “… Russian landing ships are an example of such offensive capability,” he said.    “They have passed through (Denmark’s) Great Belt strait and continued into the Baltic Sea.”
    Claesson said the armed forces were also taking action in other parts of Sweden in response to recent Russian moves but declined further comment.
    Sweden’s top military commander said last week that Sweden’s security strategy would be entirely undermined if NATO agreed to refrain from expanding further and to curb some of its activity in Europe, as Russia has demanded.
(Reporting by Helena Soderpalm and Anna RingstromEditing by Gareth Jones)

1/14/2022 Sweden To Withdraw From French-Led Special Forces Mission In Mali – Minister by Ardee Napolitano and John Irish
FILE PHOTO: Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sweden Ann Linde during the Foreign Ministers
statements at the Nordic Council Session 2021, in the Folketing Hall at Christiansborg,
in Copenhagen, Denmark. November 2, 2021. Mads Claus Rasmussen/ Ritzau Scanpix/via REUTERS
    BREST, France (Reuters) -Sweden has decided to withdraw its troops this year from a European special forces mission to the Sahel region, and will review its U.N. contribution after the arrival of private Russian military contractors in Mali, its foreign minister said.
    “We have already decided that this year we will withdraw (from) the force of Takuba,” Ann Linde told reporters on Friday on the sidelines of an EU foreign ministers meeting in western France.
    “The question is what do we do with Minusma,” she said, referring to the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Mali.
    The Swedish parliament approved the deployment of up to 150 soldiers to Takuba in 2020 and it has some 250 military personnel as part of Minusma.
    Takuba was established as a partial successor to Barkhane, France’s counter-terrorism operation in the West African Sahel region that French President Emmanuel Macron has started to reduce from its initial 5,000-strong force.
    It comprises some 14 European countries, which provide special forces, logistical and tactical support to work alongside regional forces for targeted operations against Islamist militants.
    French officials have said it will discuss with its partners how to respond operationally, but have acknowledged that some countries in the mission are particularly uneasy after the arrival in Mali of private military contractors from the Russian Wagner Group, whose members are mostly ex-service personnel.
    Most of Takuba’s operations are in the west African country.
    Mali’s military-led interim government, which wants to extend its mandate for five years, has accused Paris of abandoning it and contracted Wagner, a move France and its allies have said was incompatible with their military presence.
    Linde said the confirmed arrival of the Wagner group and the junta’s efforts to stay in power were unacceptable.
    “We now know (there) is the Wagner group … and if they have a stronger impact then it will not be possible to continue with those large numbers of troops from us,” she said, adding that the Swedish parliament would debate Mali next week.
    “Of course it will have consequences.”
    A French military source said Sweden had always planned to withdraw troops after two years and that its mandate ended in March.    The source said Swedish officers would remain part of the mission.
    The European Union will impose sanctions on Mali in line with measures already taken by the ECOWAS grouping of West African states over the junta’s delay in holding elections following a 2020 coup, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Thursday.
(Writing by John Irish; Editing by Toby Chopra and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

1/14/2022 Russia Says Ukraine Talks Hit ‘Dead End’, Poland Warns Of Risk Of War by Thomas Escritt and Tom Balmforth
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg , Russian Deputy Foreign Minister
Alexander Grushko and Russian Deputy Defence Minister Colonel General Alexander Fomin are seen during NATO-Russia
Council at the Alliance's headquarters in Brussels, Belgium January 12, 2022. Olivier Hoslet/Pool via REUTERS
    VIENNA/MOSCOW (Reuters) - Poland’s foreign minister said on Thursday that Europe was at risk of plunging into war as Russia said it was not yet giving up on diplomacy but that military experts were preparing options in case tensions over Ukraine could not be defused.
    In Washington, the White House said the threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine remained high with some 100,000 Russian troops deployed and the United States would make public within 24 hours intelligence suggesting Russia might seek to invent a pretext to justify one.
    “The drumbeat of war is sounding loud, and the rhetoric has gotten rather shrill,” Michael Carpenter, U.S. Ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), said after talks with Russia in Vienna.
    “The threat of military invasion is high,” White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters.    “There are no dates set for any more talks. We have to consult with allies and partners first.”
    Russia said dialogue was continuing but was hitting a dead end as it tried to persuade the West to bar Ukraine from joining NATO and roll back decades of alliance expansion in Europe – demands that the United States has called “non-starters.”
    “At this stage it is really disappointing,” Russian Ambassador Alexander Lukashevich told reporters after a meeting of the OSCE, the third leg in a series of East-West talks this week.
    He warned of possible “catastrophic consequences” if the two sides could not agree on what Russia has termed security red lines but said Moscow had not given up on diplomacy and would even speed it up.
    The Russian comments reflect a pattern of Moscow saying it wants to pursue diplomacy but rejecting calls to reverse its troop build-up near Ukraine and warning of unspecified consequences for Western security if its demands go unheeded.
    Earlier, Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau told the 57-nation security forum: “It seems that the risk of war in the OSCE area is now greater than ever before in the last 30 years.”
    While overlooking wars during that period in the former Yugoslavia and parts of the former Soviet Union, his comment highlighted the level of European anxiety over Russia’s build-up of some 100,000 troops within reach of its border with Ukraine.
    Russia denies plans to invade Ukraine but its military build-up has forced the United States and its allies to the negotiating table.
    Rau reported no breakthrough at the Vienna meeting, which followed Russia-U.S. talks in Geneva on Monday and a Russia-NATO conference in Brussels on Wednesday.
‘DIFFERENCE OF APPROACHES’
    Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said the earlier meetings had shown there was a “dead end or difference of approaches,” and he saw no reason to sit down again in the coming days to re-start the same discussions.
    He told RTVI television Russian military specialists were providing options to President Vladimir Putin in case the Ukraine situation worsened but diplomacy must be given a chance.
    The Russian rouble fell by more than 2% against the dollar on Ryabkov’s comments, which also prompted a sell-off in government bonds.    A trader at a major Russian bank told Reuters the market had partly reacted to a comment from Ryabkov, in reply to a question, that he would neither confirm nor rule out the possibility that Russia might deploy “military infrastructure” in Cuba and Venezuela.
    Sullivan said U.S intelligence agencies believed Russia may want “the option of fabricating a pretext for an invasion, including through sabotage activities and information operations, by accusing Ukraine of preparing an imminent attack against Russian forces in Eastern Ukraine.”
    Washington would share details “on what we see as this potential laying of a pretext” with the media within 24 hours, he added.
    U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke to his Ukrainian counterpart, Oleksii Reznikov, about the Russian buildup.    The Pentagon estimated two-thirds of the Russian forces near Ukraine were “out-of-garrison,” meaning they had deployed from other parts of Russia.
‘ELIMINATE THREATS’
    Moscow says it is threatened by NATO’s expansion towards its borders by taking in 14 new members from former communist eastern Europe since the Cold War ended.    It wants to draw “red lines” to stop the alliance from admitting Ukraine as a member or basing missiles there.
    Washington has rejected those demands but said it is willing to talk about arms control, missile deployments and confidence-building measures to move on from one of the most fraught moments in East-West relations since the Cold War.
    Ambassador Lukashevich told the OSCE that unless Moscow received a constructive response, “we will be forced to draw appropriate conclusions and take all necessary measures to ensure strategic balance and eliminate unacceptable threats to our national security.”
    He went on: “Russia is a peace-loving country.    But we do not need peace at any cost.    The need to obtain these legally formalised security guarantees for us is unconditional.”
    Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov criticised a sanctions bill unveiled by U.S. Senate Democrats that would target top Russian government and military officials, including Putin, as well as banking institutions, if Russia attacks Ukraine.
    Peskov said imposing sanctions on Putin would be tantamount to severing relations.
    “We view the appearance of such documents and statements extremely negatively against the background of an ongoing series of negotiations, albeit unsuccessful ones,” he said.
(Reporting by Thomas Escritt and Tom Balmforth; Additional reporting by Alexandra Alper, Steve Holland, Trevor Hunnicutt, Simon Lewis and Phil Stewart in Washington; Francois Murphy in Vienna; and Gabrielle Tetrault-Farber, Dmitry Antonov, Polina Devitt, and Alexander Marrow in Moscow; Writing by Mark Trevelyan and Arshad MohammedEditing by Frances Kerry, Philippa Fletcher and Grant McCool)

1/14/2022 Exclusive-Hackers Likely Used Software Administration Rights Of Third Party To Hit Ukrainian Sites, Kyiv Says by Pavel Polityuk
Ukrainian Cyber Police Chief Serhiy Demedyuk speaks during an interview with Reuters in
Kiev, Ukraine November 2, 2017. Picture taken November 2, 2017. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
    KYIV (Reuters) – Hackers who launched strikes against Ukrainian government websites appear to have used the software administration rights of a third party company that developed the sites, a top Ukrainian security official told Reuters on Friday.
    Serhiy Demedyuk, the deputy secretary of the national security and defence council, said Ukraine was working to establish who obtained such access, whether it was done externally or through an insider.
    The comments are the first detailed explanation of how multiple Ukrainian websites were hit by a cyber strike that left a warning to “be afraid and expect the worst,” at a time when Russia has amassed troops near Ukraine’s borders.
    “According to the preliminary conclusions of our experts … today’s attack occurred due to the use by third parties of access to the software administration rights of a company that had an advantage in developing websites for government agencies,” Demedyuk said in written comments.
    “The specified software has been used since 2016 to create websites for government agencies, most of which became victims of today’s incident,” said Demedyuk, who used to be the head of Ukraine’s cyber police.
    He did not name the third party company.
    Ukraine said on Friday the cyberattack hit around 70 internet sites of government bodies including the security and defence council https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/expect-worst-ukraine-hit-by-cyberattack-russia-moves-more-troops-2022-01-14.
    Demedyuk said his statements were preliminary findings.
    “But for the final conclusion, law enforcement agencies need to conduct many examinations of the seized digital evidence, as well as to establish how and who exactly received such privileged administrative access, through outside interference or as a result of the illegal activities of an insider in this company,” he said.
    Demedyuk did not say who might have been behind the attack, though Ukraine’s foreign ministry and its state security service pointed the finger of suspicion towards Russia.
    Russia did not comment, but has previously denied being behind cyberattacks, including against Ukraine.
(Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Howard Goller)

1/14/2022 Netherlands Won’t Send Diplomatic Group To Beijing Olympics
FILE PHOTO: A baking creation of the Olympic rings is on display during breakfast for guests of a hotel ahead
of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, China January 8, 2022. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch/File Photo
    THE HAGUE (Reuters) – The Netherlands will not send an official diplomatic delegation to the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics because of COVID-19 restrictions, a foreign ministry spokesperson said Friday.
    “Because of the COVID-19 measures in place in China there would only be limited opportunities for (…) bilateral contacts with the host country where the Netherlands’ great concern about the human rights situation could be discussed in a meaningful way,” Frits Kemperman told Reuters.
    The Dutch decision comes amid a U.S.-led diplomatic boycott to protest against China’s human rights record, joined by Australia, Britain, Canada and Japan. China denies rights abuses and has condemned the boycott as betraying Olympic principles.
(Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Mark Potter)

1/14/2022 Dutch Announce COVID Lockdown Easing Amid Record Infections by Toby Sterling
FILE PHOTO: A general view of a largely deserted Dutch urban centre is seen as the country enters into its
third day of lockdown, in Den Bosch, Netherlands December 21, 2021. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw
    AMSTERDAM (Reuters) -Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte on Friday announced the reopening of stores, hairdressers and gyms, partially lifting a lockdown despite record numbers of new COVIC-19 cases.
    “We are taking a big step and that also means we’re taking a big risk,” Rutte told a televised press conference.
    Non-essential stores, hairdressers, beauty salons and other service providers will be allowed to reopen under strict conditions until 5 p.m. local time (1600 GMT) for the first time since mid-December.
    Rutte added that the uncertainties meant that bars, restaurants and cultural venues would have to remain closed until at least Jan. 25.
    Earlier on Friday restaurants in one Dutch city reopened on and others said they would open on Saturday regardless of government plans as popular support for the month-long lockdown evaporates despite the strain on hospitals and record new infections.
    “We are taking a calculated risk because we have to.    Lockdowns are very hard on everyone and keeping everything closed is also bad for our health,” Health Minister Ernst Kuipers said.
    Rutte’s government ordered the lockdown in mid-December as a wave of the Delta variant forced the health system to cancel all but the most urgent care and it appeared rising Omicron cases would overwhelm it.
    On Friday the Netherlands Institute for Health (RIVM) announced a record high of more than 35,000 infections in 24 hours.    Infections have continued to rise despite the lockdown, which bans all public gatherings, with a record of more than 200,000 in the week through Jan. 11.
    But hospitalizations declined slightly.
    A poll by Hart van Nederland published on Friday found that 89% of people supported reopening stores and a majority also support reopening restaurants and cultural institutions.
    More than 86% of Dutch adults are fully vaccinated and nearly 50% received a booster shot in a major campaign during the lockdown.
    In the southern city of Valkenburg, restaurants opened on Friday in defiance of the rules and with support from the city’s mayor, and 15 other municipalities said they would follow suit on Saturday.
    Rutte said he viewed the actions as one-off protests and had talked to municipal authorities about enforcing the new rules after this weekend.
    Primary and secondary schools reopened on Jan. 10 after a longer-than-planned winter holiday, but have been plagued by frequent class dismissals due to illness or exposure of teachers or students.
    On Friday the government said universities and vocational schools would also reopen and announced a shorter quarantine period after an exposure and an expansion of the use of masks.
(Reporting by Toby Sterling, Bart Meijer and Stephanie van den Berg; Editing by Janet Lawrence, Mike Collett-White and Jonathan Oatis)

1/14/2022 Croatia Loses Nearly 10% Of People In Past Decade – Census
A man wears a protective mask as he waits for a tram in downtown Zagreb, Croatia, March 15, 2020. REUTERS/Antonio Bronic
    SARAJEVO (Reuters) – Croatia has lost close to 400,000 people or nearly 10% of its population over the past decade due to emigration and a low fertility rate, according to preliminary results of the 2021 census published by the state news agency Hina.
    Croatia’s population totalled 3.9 million as of Aug. 31, 2021, down from 4.3 million in 2011, Hina quoted chief director of the statistics agency Lidija Brkovic as saying.
    The greatest exodus of the population was recorded in eastern Croatia and the lowest in the capital Zagreb, the figures showed.
    The agency did not say where those who had emigrated had gone but it would have become much easier for Croats to live and work in other European Union nations after their country joined the bloc in 2013.
    Brkovic said the census was the first digital census in Croatia, in which 40% of the population took part, and has proven very effective due to restrictions of movement during the coronavirus pandemic.
(Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Gareth Jones)

1/15/2022 No Lights, No Heat, No Money – That’s Life In Ukraine During Cyber Warfare by Christopher Bing and Joseph Menn
FILE PHOTO: A general view shows the headquarters of the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign
Affairs in Kiev, Ukraine March 26, 2018. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko/File Photo
    (Reuters) – Hackers who defaced and interrupted access to numerous Ukrainian government websites https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/exclusive-hackers-likely-used-software-administration-rights-third-party-hit-2022-01-14 on Friday could be setting the stage for more serious cyberattacks that would disrupt the lives of ordinary Ukrainians, experts said.
    “As tensions grow, we can expect more aggressive cyber activity in Ukraine and potentially elsewhere,” said John Hultquist, an intelligence analyst at U.S. cybersecurity company Mandiant, possibly including “destructive attacks that target critical infrastructure.”
    “Organizations need to begin preparing,” Hultquist added.
    Intrusions by hackers on hospitals, power utility companies, and the financial system were until recently rare.    But organized cybercriminals, many of them living in Russia, have gone after institutions aggressively in the past two years with ransomware, freezing data and computerized equipment needed to care for hospital patients.
    In some cases, those extortion attacks have led to patient deaths, according to litigation, media reports and medical professionals.
    Friday’s attack on Ukrainian websites included a warning to “be afraid and expect the worst,” at a time when Russia has amassed about 100,000 troops near Ukraine, raising fears in the West that it is considering an invasion.    Moscow denies it wants to invade.
    Russia has repeatedly rejected hacking allegations leveled by Ukraine and other countries over the years.    While a suspect in the new web defacements, Russia has not been directly accused by Ukraine.
    In 2014 Russian troops went into the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea and annexed it from Ukraine. If Russia invades again, more cyberattacks would occur too, predicted former CrowdStrike cybersecurity executive Dmitri Alperovitch.
    They would most likely be disruptive, not fatal, Alperovitch said.    “It will be a sideshow. The main show will be on the ground.”
    Ukraine has already borne the brunt of some of the largest hacks on infrastructure to date.     In December 2015, a first-of-its-kind cyber attack cut the lights to 225,000 people in western Ukraine, with hackers also sabotaging power distribution equipment, complicating attempts to restore power.
    The average temperature during the winter in Ukraine is bellow freezing and losing heat is potentially lethal.    Outages in the 2015 attack reportedly lasted six hours in some towns.
    In the last two months of 2016, hackers targeted Ukrainian state institutions about 6,500 times, officials said.    The cyberattacks showed Russian security services were waging a cyberwar against Ukraine, the government said.
    An attack on the State Treasury halted its systems for several days, meaning state workers and pensioners had been unable to receive their salaries or payments on time.
    The attacks against Ukraine’s power grid are considered by experts as the first examples of hackers shutting off critical energy systems supplying heat and light to millions of homes.
(Reporting by Christopher Bing and Joseph Menn; editing by Chris Sanders and Grant McCool)

1/15/2022 Kazakhstan Puts Unrest Death Toll At 225
FILE PHOTO: A view shows a burnt vehicle near the mayor's office building following the protests triggered by
fuel price increase, in Almaty, Kazakhstan January 6, 2022. Picture taken January 6, 2022. REUTERS/Mariya Gordeyeva
    ALMATY (Reuters) - The bodies of 225 people killed in unrest in Kazakhstan last week, including 19 members of the security forces, were delivered to morgues throughout the country, the prosecutor general’s office said on Saturday.
    The figure included civilians and armed “bandits” killed by security forces, Serik Shalabayev, the head of criminal prosecution at the prosecutor’s office, told a briefing.
    He did not provide an exact breakdown of the figures and said numbers could be updated later. Violent protests began in the oil-producing Central Asian state this month after a jump in car fuel prices.    The toll provided by Shalabayev confirmed the violence was the deadliest in the country’s post-Soviet history.
    Shalabayev said 50,000 people joined the riots throughout the former Soviet republic at their peak on Jan. 5 when crowds stormed and torched government buildings, cars, banks and shops in several major cities.
    President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev turned to a Russia-led military bloc for help during the unrest and sidelined his former patron and predecessor Nursultan Nazarbayev by taking over the national security council.
    After complaints about beatings and torture of those detained in the aftermath, Tokayev ordered police on Saturday to avoid abuses and told prosecutors to be lenient to those who have not committed grave crimes.
(Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov, Additional reporting by Tamara Vaal in Nur-Sultan, Editing by Mark Heinrich and Timothy Heritage)

1/15/2022 Russia Detains Six More Suspected REvil Group Members
Mikhail Golovachuk, detained on suspicion of the illegal circulation of means of payment as a member
of the REvil ransomware crime group, sits inside a defendants' cage during a court hearing in Moscow,
Russia January 15, 2022. Press Service of Tverskoy District Court of Moscow/Handout via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) - A Moscow court on Saturday remanded in custody for two months six more suspected members of the ransomware crime group REvil over illegal trafficking of funds, a day after Russia claimed it had dismantled the group at the request of the United States.
    The court identified the six men as Mikhail Golovachuk, Ruslan Khansvyarov, Dmitry Korotayev, Alexei Malozemov, Artyom Zayets and Daniil Puzyrevsky.
    In a rare apparent demonstration of U.S.-Russian collaboration at a time of high tensions between the two over Ukraine, Russian authorities detained and charged the REVil group’s members this week.
    A police and FSB domestic intelligence operation searched 25 addresses, detaining 14 people, the FSB said on Friday, listing assets it had seized including $600,000 of computer equipment and 20 luxury cars.     The United States welcomed the arrests.
    The United States said in November it was offering a reward of up to $10 million for information leading to the identification or location of anyone holding a key position in the REvil group.
    A source familiar with the case told Interfax the group’s members with Russian citizenship would not be handed over to the United States.
(Reporting by Andrey Ostroukh and Polina Nikolskaya, editing by Ros Russell)

1/15/2022 Kosovo Bans Serbian Vote On Constitutional Changes On Its Soil
FILE PHOTO: Kosovo's Prime Minister Albin Kurti gives a joint news conference
with European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell (not pictured) at the EEAS building
in Brussels, Belgium April 29, 2021. Kenzo Tribouillard/Pool via REUTERS
    PRISTINA (Reuters) – Kosovo’s parliament on Saturday passed a resolution banning ethnic Serbs from voting on Kosovan soil in Serbia’s national referendum on constitutional amendments.
    Serbia will hold a referendum on Sunday on amendments to the constitution that would change how judges and prosecutors are elected, a move the government says is aimed at securing an independent judiciary, a condition for EU membership.
    Kosovo’s independence backers – the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy and the EU mission – urged Prime Minister Albin Kurti to allow Serbs in Kosovo to vote in the referendum.
    But in an extraordinary session on Saturday afternoon, 76 out of 120 deputies voted in favour of a declaration banning Serbia from opening polling centres in Kosovo.
    Kurti told parliament that establishing polling stations in majority Serb areas of Kosovo would be against the constitution, and that ethnic Serbs could vote by mail or in Belgrade’s government liaison office in Pristina.
    “Kosovo is an independent and sovereign state and should be treated as such,” Kurti said.
    Serbia, which still considers Kosovo part of its territory, has been organising elections for its ethnic kin since the Kosovo War ended in 1999.
    Serbia refuses to recognise Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence but has pledged to normalise relations with its former breakaway province before joining the EU.
    The head of Serbian Office for Cooperation with Kosovo said the ban was aimed at “annulling political and civic rights of Serbs (in Kosovo).”
    “Kurti and his extremists should not think that in the future they will succeed in banning Serbs in Kosovo from voting, notably in April 3 elections,” Petar Petkovic said in a statement.
    Serbia is holding presidential and parliamentary elections on April 3.
    Early on Saturday, Kosovo police confiscated two trucks of the Serbian election commission transporting ballot papers as they crossed the border at Merdare to head towards Serb-majority areas.
    “We call on the Kosovo government to allow Serbs in Kosovo to exercise their right to vote in elections and electoral processes in accordance with this established practice,” Germany, France, Italy, United Kingdom, United States and the EU said in their joint statement on Friday.
(Reporting by Fatos Bytyci;Editing by Ros Russell)

1/15/2022 Thousands Protest In Vienna Against Mandatory Vaccination
FILE PHOTO: Doctor Eva Raunig vaccinates a person with a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine inside a special
container to use for general practitioners, called 'vaccination box' in Vienna, Austria April 26, 2021. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner
    VIENNA (Reuters) – Thousands of people took to the streets of Austria’s capital on Saturday to protest against government plans to introduce mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for all next month.
    “The government must go!” crowds chanted at one rally in central Vienna in what has become a routine Saturday event.
    Parliament is scheduled to vote next week on the issue, which has polarised the country as coronavirus cases surge.
    In November, the government announced a fourth national lockdown and said it would make vaccinations compulsory for all Austrians, the first European Union country to do so.
    A poll for Profil magazine found 51% of those surveyed oppose making jabs mandatory from February, of whom 34% were against compulsory vaccination in general and 17% wanted to wait.    The survey found 45% of Austrians favoured compulsory vaccination starting in February.
    The poll showed Chancellor Karl Nehammer’s conservatives and the opposition Social Democrats in a dead heat for first place at 25%, followed by the right-wing Freedom Party, a strident critic of government policy, at 20%.
    The Greens, junior partner in the coalition, were even with the liberal Neos on 11%, while the vaccine-sceptical MFG party scored 6%.
    Health authorities have reported more than 1.4 million infections and nearly 14,000 deaths from COVID-19 since the pandemic broke out in early 2020.
(Reporting by Michael Shields; editing by David Evans)

1/15/2022 Kazakh Ex-Leader’s In-Laws Leave Key Energy Sector Jobs
FILE PHOTO: Former Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev attends the inauguration of the new president,
Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan, June 12, 2019. REUTERS/Mukhtar Kholdorbekov
    NUR-SULTAN (Reuters) – Two members of former Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev’s extended family have resigned from the leadership of state oil and gas shipping companies, the Central Asian nation’s sovereign fund said on Saturday.
    Nazarbayev, Kazakhstan’s leader for three decades before his resignation in 2019, retained sweeping powers until last week, when his successor Kassym-Jomart Tokayev took over from Nazarbayev as security council chairman amid violent unrest.
    The 81-year-old former leader has not appeared in public since the protests erupted on Jan. 4, and Tokayev’s critical comments about him have prompted suggestions the two had fallen out before Tokayev sidelined his former patron.
    On Saturday, the sovereign fund Samruk-Kazyna said in a statement that Kairat Sharipbayev and Dimash Dossanov had quit as chief executives of state oil pipeline firm KazTransOil and natural gas pipeline operator QazaqGaz respectively.
    Sharipbayev is married to the former president’s eldest daughter Dariga Nazarbayeva, her son has said on social media. Neither Sharipbayev nor Dariga Nazarbayeva have commented on their relationship.
    Dossanov is the husband of Aliya Nazarbayeva, Nazarbayev’s youngest daughter.
    Samruk-Kazyna gave no reasons for their resignations.
    Tokayev said this week he wanted Nazarbayev’s associates to share their wealth with the public by making regular donations to a new charity foundation.
    Last week’s protests in the oil-rich nation were triggered by a jump in the price of car fuel in the western Mangistau province.
    On Saturday, the authorities said they had detained a deputy energy minister and several other officials who they believe were responsible for the “unjustified” price increase.
(Reporting by Tamara Vaal; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Ros Russell)

1/15/2022 Swedish Police Hunt For Drone Seen Flying Over Forsmark Nuclear Plant
FILE PHOTO: A general view of nuclear power plant in Forsmark, Sweden, June 14, 2010. REUTERS/Scanpix/Bertil Ericson
    STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – Police in Sweden deployed patrols and helicopters to the Forsmark nuclear plant to hunt for a large drone seen flying over the site late on Friday, but were unable to catch the unmanned vehicle, they said on Saturday.
    The incident came a day after Sweden’s military started patrolling the main town on the Baltic Sea island of Gotland amid increased tensions between NATO and Russia and a recent deployment of Russian landing craft in the Baltic.
    Forsmark, which is Sweden’s biggest electricity producer, lies on the Baltic coast about 150 km (93 miles) north of the capital, Stockholm.
    Police saw the drone, first spotted by a security guard, moving around the plant before disappearing towards the island of Graso.
    “Police continue to try to locate the drone, even with their own (drones), but without success,” the police force said in an incident report on its website, adding that there were no signs the drone had dropped anything in the area or landed.
    It also cited unconfirmed reports of possible drone sightings at the Ringhals nuclear plant on the country’s west coast.
(Reporting by Anna Ringstrom; Editing by Helen Popper)

1/16/2022 Ukraine Suspects Group Linked To Belarus Intelligence Over Cyberattack by Pavel Polityuk
FILE PHOTO: A laptop screen displays a warning message in Ukrainian, Russian and Polish,
that appeared on the official website of the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry after a massive
cyberattack, in this illustration taken January 14, 2022. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko/Illustration
    KYIV (Reuters) -Kyiv believes a hacker group linked to Belarusian intelligence carried out a cyberattack https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/expect-worst-ukraine-hit-by-cyberattack-russia-moves-more-troops-2022-01-14 that hit Ukrainian government websites this week and used malware similar to that used by a group tied to Russian intelligence, a senior Ukrainian security official said.
    Serhiy Demedyuk, deputy secretary of the national security and defence council, told Reuters that Ukraine blamed Friday’s attack – which defaced government websites with threatening messages – on a group known as UNC1151 and that it was cover for more destructive actions behind the scenes.
    “We believe preliminarily that the group UNC1151 may be involved in this attack,” he said.
    His comments offer the first detailed analysis by Kyiv on the suspected culprits behind the cyberattack on dozens of websites.    Officials on Friday said Russia was probably involved but gave no details. Belarus is a close ally of Russia.
    The cyberattack splashed websites with a warning to “be afraid and expect the worst” at a time when Russia has massed troops https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/ukraine-crisis-what-next-after-week-talks-tension-2022-01-14 near Ukraine’s borders, and Kyiv and Washington fear Moscow is planning a new military assault on Ukraine.
    Russia has dismissed such fears as “unfounded.”
    The office of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko did not immediately respond to a request for comment about Demedyuk’s remarks.
    Russia’s foreign ministry also did not immediately respond to a request for comment on his remarks.    It has previously denied involvement in cyberattacks, including against Ukraine.
    “The defacement of the sites was just a cover for more destructive actions that were taking place behind the scenes and the consequences of which we will feel in the near future,” Demedyuk said in written comments.
    In a reference to UNC1151, he said: “This is a cyber-espionage group affiliated with the special services of the Republic of Belarus.”
‘TRACK RECORD’
    Demedyuk, who used to be the head of Ukraine’s cyber police, said the group had a track record of targeting Lithuania, Latvia, Poland and Ukraine and had spread narratives decrying the NATO alliance’s presence in Europe.
    “The malicious software used to encrypt some government servers is very similar in its characteristics to that used by the ATP-29 group,” he said, referring to a group suspected of involvement in hacking the Democratic National Committee before the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
    “The group specializes in cyber espionage, which is associated with the Russian special services (Foreign Intelligence Service of the Russian Federation) and which, for its attacks, resorts to recruiting or undercover work of its insiders in the right company,” Demedyuk said.
    The messages left on the Ukrainian websites on Friday were in three languages: Ukrainian, Russian and Polish.    They referred to Volhynia and Eastern Galicia, where mass killings were carried out in Nazi German-occupied Poland by the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA).    The episode remains a point of contention between Poland and Ukraine.
    Demedyuk suggested the hackers had used Google Translate for the Polish translation.
    “It is obvious that they did not succeed in misleading anyone with this primitive method, but still this is evidence that the attackers ‘played’ on the Polish-Ukrainian relations (which are only getting stronger every day),” he said.
(Additional reporting by Andrey Ostroukh in Moscow; Writing by Matthias Williams, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

1/16/2022 Protest In Netherlands Against Coronavirus Measures by Piroschka van de Wouw
Demonstrators take part in a protest against the Dutch government's restrictions imposed to contain the spread of
the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Amsterdam, Netherlands, January 16, 2022. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw
    AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – Thousands of protesters packed Amsterdam’s streets on Sunday in opposition to the government-imposed COVID-19 measures and vaccination campaign as virus infections hit a new record.
    Authorities were granted stop and search powers at several locations across the city and scores of riot police vans patrolled neighbourhoods where the demonstrators marched with banners and yellow umbrellas.
    Regular anti-coronavirus protests are held across the country and Sunday’s large gathering was joined by farmers who drove to the capital and parked tractors along the central Museum Square.
    The crowd played music, chanted anti-government slogans and then marched along thoroughfares, blocking traffic.
    The Netherlands had one of Europe’s toughest lockdowns for a month through the end-of-year holidays.
    Amid growing public opposition, Prime Minister Mark Rutte on Friday announced the reopening of stores, hairdressers and gyms, partially lifting a lockdown despite record numbers of new COVIC-19 cases.
    Infections reached another record high above 36,000 on Sunday, data published by the Netherlands Institute for Health (RIVM) showed.    The Netherlands has recorded more than 3.5 million infections and 21,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic.
    Rutte’s government ordered the lockdown in mid-December as a wave of the Delta variant forced the health system to cancel all but the most urgent care and it appeared rising Omicron cases would overwhelm it.
    Non-essential stores, hairdressers, beauty salons and other service providers were allowed to reopen on Saturday under strict conditions.
    Bars, restaurants and cultural venues have been instructed to remain closed until at least Jan. 25 due to uncertainty about how the Omicron wave will impact hospital capacity.
(Reporting by Piroschka van de Wouw, Writing by Anthony Deutsch, Editing by Angus MacSwan)

1/16/2022 Anti-Vaccine Far-Right Rally Attracts Hundreds In Hungary
People demonstrate during a protest against coronavirus disease (COVID-19) measures
and vaccinations, in Budapest, Hungary, January 16, 2022. REUTERS/Marton Monus
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Over a thousand people marched in Budapest protesting against COVID-19 inoculation at a rally organised by the far-right Our Homeland Movement, which has been campaigning on a fierce anti-vaccine and anti-immigration message ahead of April 3 elections.
    “Vaccines should not be mandatory!    We don’t tolerate blackmail,” said the slogan of the rally where people held up banners saying: “I am unvaccinated, not a criminal” and “Enough of COVID dictatorship.”
    Hungary’s nationalist government has made COVID-19 vaccines mandatory only for teachers and healthcare workers.
    With 10 million people and 40,237 people deaths from COVID-19 so far, Hungary has a vaccination rate of just over 60%, which lags western European levels.
    Just over six million Hungarians have received at least two shots, and 3.3 million have also received a third booster.
    New infections have spiked this week due to the Omicron variant but there are hardly any restrictions in place.    The government now offers a fourth jab after a consultation with a doctor and a six-month gap.
    Our Homeland, an offshoot of the former far-right party Jobbik, has allied itself with ultra-radical fringe groups in past years.
    According to a December poll by Zavecz Research, Our Homeland had 3% support, which would be below the 5% threshold for making it into parliament at the April elections.
    The ruling Fidesz had 38% support, while the six-party opposition alliance scored 39% in the poll, indicating that Prime Minister Viktor Orban faces a tough race for re-election after 12 years in power.
(Reporting by Krisztina Than and Marton Monus; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

1/16/2022 Putin To Host Iranian President Next Week For Talks – State TV
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech during an event marking the 300th anniversary of the foundation
of the Russian prosecution service in Moscow, Russia January 12, 2022. Sputnik/Alexey Vitvitsky/Pool via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin will host his Iranian counterpart Ebrahim Raisi for talks in Moscow next week as Russia tries to help salvage a nuclear deal between world powers and Tehran, state television channel Rossiya-1 reported on Sunday.
    Rossiya-1 did not disclose when precisely the meeting between the two leaders would take place, nor the issues they would discuss.
    Russia is taking part in talks to revive a 2015 nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers – the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain, Germany and the European Union – that lifted some sanctions against Tehran in exchange for restrictions on its nuclear programme.
    Donald Trump pulled Washington out of the deal in 2018, a year after he became U.S. president.    Iran later breached many of the deal’s nuclear restrictions and kept pushing beyond them.
    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Friday that progress had been made in the talks to revive the deal.
(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

1/16/2022 Former Ukraine President Defies Arrest Threat In Showdown With Successor by Sergiy Karazy
Ukrainian former President Petro Poroshenko speaks during a news conference in
Warsaw, Poland January 16, 2022. Poroshenko gives a press conference on the eve of his scheduled
departure for Kyiv, where he faces a possible arrest on suspicion of high treason by financing
pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine while in office in 2014-2015. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Former Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko said on Sunday he planned to return to Ukraine on Monday despite the threat of arrest in a treason case he says was trumped up by allies of current President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
    Poroshenko’s return sets up a showdown with Zelenskiy’s government in what critics say is an ill-judged distraction at a time when Ukraine is bracing for a possible Russian military offensive and appealing to Western allies for support.
    Western diplomats have called for political unity in Ukraine ahead of Poroshenko’s arrival.
    Poroshenko is being investigated for alleged treason linked to the financing of Russian-backed separatist fighters through illegal coal sales while in office in 2014-15. His party accused Zelenskiy of a reckless attempt to silence political opposition.
    “If you ask me if I will be arrested, definitely not.    Not because I am so confident but because I have no, absolutely zero reason for tha…I return to Ukraine to fight for Ukraine, not to fight with Zelenskiy,” Poroshenko told reporters in Warsaw.
    Zelenskiy’s administration has distanced itself from the investigation, saying the prosecutors and judiciary are independent and accusing Poroshenko of thinking he was above the law.
    On Friday, Zelenskiy’s chief of staff Andriy Yermak batted away suggestions that Zelenskiy was behaving like the Russian-backed former president Viktor Yanukovich, whose political rival Yulia Tymoshenko was jailed in December 2010.
    Ukraine and its allies have sounded the alarm about tens of thousands of Russian troops massed near its borders.
    After days of diplomacy last week achieved no breakthrough, the United States said on Friday Russia was preparing a pretext for an attack, something the Kremlin dismissed as “unfounded.”
    “At this time more than ever it seems to me that all political leaders in #ukraine need to show unity, avoiding actions that may polarise,” Melinda Simmons, the British ambassador to Ukraine, said in a tweet on Saturday.
    “We are demanding unity of the whole democratic forces to protect Ukraine…I am absolutely optimistic about the possibility of this unity, of democratic, responsible opposition forces,” Poroshenko said.
    Poroshenko’s return to Kyiv from Warsaw on Monday coincides with the whistle-stop visit from the new German foreign minister, who will then head to Moscow for talks on Tuesday.
    A confectionary tycoon and one of Ukraine’s richest citizens, Poroshenko was elected as head of a pro-Western government after the 2014 Maidan street protests ousted Yanukovich.
    Relations between Ukraine and Russia collapsed after Russia’s annexation of Crimea and support for separatist fighters in a war in eastern Ukraine that broke out the same year.
    Zelenskiy trounced Poroshenko in a landslide election in 2019 on a ticket to tackle corruption and curb the influence of oligarchs in the former Soviet republic.
    Prosecutors in December asked a Ukrainian court to arrest Poroshenko, with the possibility of bail set at 1 billion hryvnia ($37 million).
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk, Sergiy Karazy and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; writing by Matthias Williams; editing by Mark Heinrich)
[REMEMBER POROSHENKO WAS THE FORMER PRESIDENT WHO JOE BIDEN TOLD HIM IF HE DID NOT FIRE THE PROSECUTOR OF THE COMPANY THAT BIDEN WORKED AT OR THEY WOULD NOT GET THIS BILLION DOLLARS WHICH IS ALL ON TAPE AND I HAVE IT ON MY CELLPHONE STILL WHICH PROVES HIS CORRUPTION AND I HAVE SHOWN IT TO ALL AND HE WAS NOT PROSECUTED FOR THAT AND TO BE HONEST THAT WAS A MINOR ISSUE COMPARED TO ALL THE OTHER STUFF THE BIG GUY HAS BEEN DOING BEFORE MAKING PRESIDENT.].

1/17/2022 Russian Forces Arrive In Belarus For Joint Military Drills
FILE PHOTO: Russian paratroopers walk before boarding Ilyushin Il-76 transport planes as they take
part in the military exercises "Zapad-2021" staged by the armed forces of Russia and Belarus at
an aerodrome in Kaliningrad Region, Russia, September 13, 2021. REUTERS/Vitaly Nevar/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian military forces and hardware began arriving in ex-Soviet Belarus for joint drills starting in February, Minsk said on Monday, amid soaring tensions between East and West over Ukraine.
    The “Allied Resolve” exercises will be held near Belarus’s western rim, the borders of NATO members Poland and Lithuania, and its southern flank with Ukraine, Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko said.
    “Set an exact date and let us know, so we aren’t blamed for massing some troops here out of the blue, as if we are preparing to go to war,” he told top military officials.
    Troop movements by Russia are being closely scrutinised as a military buildup near Ukraine’s borders and a barrage of threatening rhetoric have stirred Western fears that Russia is planning to invade.
    Moscow denies any such plan, but has used the standoff https://www.reuters.com/world/us-rallies-united-front-against-russia-putin-seeks-cracks-2022-01-14 to campaign for security guarantees from the West, including a halt to NATO expansion and a formal veto on Ukraine https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/exclusive-ukraine-suspects-group-linked-belarus-intelligence-over-cyberattack-2022-01-15, a former Soviet republic, ever joining the military alliance.
    The Belarusian leader, a pariah in the West since a sweeping crackdown in 2020 and last year’s migrant crisis with the European Union, said the drills were needed as Ukraine had built up troops near Belarus.
    He said Poland and the Baltics had more than 30,000 soldiers near Belarus’s borders.
‘NORMAL EXERCISES’
    Lukashenko has led the former Soviet republic that Moscow sees as a buffer state to the West since 1994 and strengthened ties with Moscow during mass protests that erupted in 2020 as the West imposed sanctions.
    “These should be normal exercises to work out a certain plan for confronting these forces: the West, the Baltics and Poland, and the south – Ukraine,” he said in comments circulated by state media.
    The Kremlin said separately that reports that Estonia was prepared to host up to 5,000 NATO troops showed Moscow was right to be worried.
    “It’s exactly things like that which prove we have grounds to be concerned and it proves we’re not the reason for escalating tensions,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
    He was asked on a conference call to comment after a senior Russian official declined to rule out or confirm whether Russia could deploy missiles in Venezuela or Cuba if the West refused to deliver Moscow’s security guarantees.
    “For Latin America – we’re talking about sovereign states there, let’s not forget that. And in the context of the current situation, Russia is thinking how to ensure its own security… We are … reviewing different scenarios,” he said.
    Separately, Russia’s Western Military District said its tank army was holding command-staff training exercises in five regions, involving 800 servicemen and more than 300 pieces of hardware, the Interfax news agency reported.
(Reporting by Maria Kiselyova, Dmitry Antonov and Anton Kolodyazhnyy; writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Andrew Osborn and Timothy Heritage)

1/17/2022 Bulgaria’s Anti-Corruption Chief Resigns As Government Seeks Reforms
FILE PHOTO: Demonstrators take part in an anti-government protest
in Sofia, Bulgaria, July 13, 2020. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov
    SOFIA (Reuters) – The head of Bulgaria’s anti-corruption agency, Sotir Tsatsarov, has tendered his resignation as the new centrist government seeks legislative changes to kick-start the fight against widespread graft, a parliament spokesperson said on Monday.
    The coalition government led by Prime Minister Kiril Petkov, which took office last month pledging zero tolerance for corruption, plans to overhaul the agency as a first step to end a climate of impunity in the Balkan country.
    Bulgaria, ranked as the most corrupt European Union member state by anti-graft group Transparency International, is yet to convict a senior official on graft charges.
    Analysts say high-level corruption is a serious obstacle to Bulgaria’s ambitions of attracting more foreign investment and joining the EU’s Schengen free travel zone and the euro zone.
    Tsatsarov, a former chief prosecutor who took over the anti-corruption agency in 2019, has said he wants to step down from March 1 and will reveal his reasons when lawmakers vote on his resignation.
    Prime Minister Petkov said on Friday the National Security Service had revoked Tsatsarov’s access to classified information following an extensive investigation as part of a control of reliability procedure.
    “The lack of really serious corruption cases against high level officials shows absolutely clearly that the agency has not done the job that all Bulgarians had hoped to be done.    My assessment is strongly negative,” Petkov told private BTV television.
    Tsatsarov said in a statement the revocation was a result of government pressure on the secret services and denied any link with his plans to resign.
    The ruling coalition is holding a meeting later on Monday to discuss legislative changes that will empower the anti-corruption agency to investigate high-level graft and enhance controls over the country’s powerful chief prosecutor.
    Petkov’s PP party as well as the justice minister have called on current Chief Prosecutor Ivan Geshev to resign, an option he has repeatedly refused.
(Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova, editing by Ed Osmond)

1/17/2022 Swedish Security Service Investigates Drones At Three Nuclear Plants
FILE PHOTO: A general view of nuclear power plant in Forsmark, Sweden, June 14, 2010. REUTERS/Scanpix/Bertil Ericson/
    STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – Sweden’s Security Service has taken over an investigation regarding unauthorized drones at three Swedish nuclear power plants on Friday, it said in a statement on Monday.
    Police in Sweden deployed patrols and helicopters to the Forsmark nuclear plant to hunt for a drone seen flying over the site late on Friday, but were unable to catch the unmanned vehicle. [L1N2TV06U]
    Police said the drone was large and able to operate despite high winds at the Forsmark plant.
    The Security Service said on Monday drones had also been sighted at Sweden’s two other nuclear power plants, in Oskarshamn and Ringhals.    Around 30% of Sweden’s total power production comes from the three plants.
    The incidents came a day after Sweden’s military started patrolling the main town on the Baltic Sea island of Gotland amid increased tensions between NATO and Russia and a recent deployment of Russian landing craft in the Baltic.
    “In general, the security threats against Sweden have increased with a broader and more in-depth intelligence threat and a more complex threat picture,” the Security Service said in the statement.
(Reporting by Johan Ahlander; Editing by Alex Richardson)

1/17/2022 Former Ukrainian President Lands In Kyiv To Face Treason Case by Pavel Polityuk and Natalia Zinets
Ukrainian former President Petro Poroshenko is seen on a screen as he addresses his supporters
upon arrival at Zhulyany airport in Kyiv, Ukraine January 17, 2022. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
    KYIV (Reuters) - Ukraine’s former president, Petro Poroshenko, landed in Kyiv on Monday to face treason charges in a case he says was trumped up by allies of his successor, Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
    In a brief stand-off at border control after arriving on a flight from Warsaw, Poroshenko accused border guards of taking away his passport. He later emerged to a crowd of thousands of cheering and flag-waving supporters outside the airport.
    Poroshenko’s return sets up a showdown with President Zelenskiy’s government in what critics say is an ill-judged distraction as Ukraine braces for a possible Russian military offensive and seeks the support of its Western allies.    https://www.reuters.com/world/us-rallies-united-front-against-russia-putin-seeks-cracks-2022-01-14
    Western diplomats called for political unity in Ukraine before the arrival of Poroshenko, who was president from 2014 until 2019.
    Poroshenko, 56, is being investigated for alleged treason linked to the financing of Russian-backed separatist fighters through illegal coal sales in 2014-15. He could face 15 years in prison if convicted.    His party accused Zelenskiy of a reckless attempt to silence political opposition.
    Zelenskiy’s administration says the prosecutors and judiciary are independent and accuses Poroshenko of thinking he is above the law.
    “We are not here to protect Poroshenko, but to unite and protect Ukraine,” Poroshenko told the crowd, before heading to the Pechersk court in central Kyiv for a hearing into his case, as supporters chanted outside the building.
    During a break in the court session, he told the crowd: “i>The authorities are confused, weak, and instead of fighting (Russian President Vladimir) Putin, they are trying to fight us.”
    Tetiana Sapyan, a spokeswoman for the State Bureau of Investigations (DBR), told a separate briefing that the DBR was apolitical.
RUSSIAN TROOP BUILDUP
    On Friday, Zelenskiy’s chief of staff batted away suggestions that Zelenskiy was behaving like Viktor Yanukovich, a former president who was backed by Russia and whose political rival Yulia Tymoshenko was jailed in a case that Western countries widely condemned as politicised.
    The row has raged as Ukraine tries to rally Western support in its standoff with Moscow after sounding the alarm about a build-up of tens of thousands of Russian troops https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/russia-belarus-plan-joint-military-drills-february-lukashenko-2022-01-17 near its borders.
    A confectionary tycoon, Poroshenko was elected as head of a pro-Western government after the Maidan street protests that ousted Yanukovich in 2014.
    Relations between Ukraine and Russia collapsed in 2014 after Russia annexed the Crimea peninsula and backed separatist fighters in a conflict in eastern Ukraine.
    Zelenskiy trounced Poroshenko in an election in 2019.    He ran on a ticket to tackle corruption and curb the influence of oligarchs in the former Soviet republic.
    Prosecutors asked a Ukrainian court in December to arrest Poroshenko, with the possibility of bail set at 1 billion hryvnia ($37 million).
(Reporting by Sergiy Karazy, Pavel Polityuk and Natalia Zinets; Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Alex Richardson and Timothy Heritage)

1/17/2022 Kazakh Ex-Leader’s Nephew Sacked As Deputy State Security Chief
FILE PHOTO: Timur Kulibayev, chairman of Kazakhstan's National Chamber of Entrepreneurs "Atameken", looks
on during a chamber meeting in Almaty, Kazakhstan, February 9, 2016. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov/File Photo
    NUR-SULTAN (Reuters) – Samat Abish, the nephew of former Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev, was sacked as second-in-command at the National Security committee on Monday, the president’s office said, the latest Nazarbayev relative to be pushed out of office.
    Timur Kulibayev, Nazarbayev’s billionaire son-in-law, also resigned on Monday as chairman of the Central Asian nation’s main business lobby group.
    Nazarbayev, 81, who was considered the most powerful politician in the oil-rich country even after stepping down in 2019, has not appeared in public since the beginning of mass protests early this month which evolved into the bloodiest unrest in Kazakhstan’s post-Soviet history.
    President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, who once renamed Kazakhstan’s capital city after Nazarbayev, took over the latter’s role as chairman of the security council during the unrest, putting an end to their de facto ruling tandem.
    He also appointed a new No.2 at the National Security Committee at the time, but did not immediately sack Abish.
    Last week, Tokayev said those who had made fortunes during Nazarbayev’s three-decade rule must now share them with the public.    Kazakhstan’s sovereign fund on Saturday removed two of Nazarbayev’s sons-in-law from senior positions at state oil and gas pipeline companies.
    Kulibayev, who together with his wife owns Kazakhstan’s biggest bank, Halyk, did not explain why he was leaving his job at Atameken, an influential business lobby group.
    At least 225 people were killed in this month’s unrest, which engulfed half of the country and forced Tokayev to turn to a Russia-led military bloc for help.
    The authorities have detained Karim Masimov, the former head of the National Security Committee, and two of his deputies, on charges of treason and said the bout of violence was an attempted coup d’etat.
(Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Gareth Jones)

1/17/2022 US Senators Promise Solidarity And Weapons For Ukraine In Warning To Putin
U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH),
Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Rob Portman (R-OH) and Roger Wicker (R-MS) attend a news briefing following their meeting
with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Kyiv, Ukraine January 17, 2022. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
    KYIV (Reuters) – A bipartisan group of United States senators promised solidarity and weapons on a visit to Kyiv on Monday while warning Russian President Vladimir Putin against launching a new military offensive against Ukraine.
    Kyiv and its Western allies have sounded the alarm after Russia massed tens of thousands of troops near Ukraine’s borders and pressed the United States for security guarantees, including a block on Ukraine joining the NATO alliance.
    Russia denies planning a new military offensive.
    The United States has been Ukraine’s most powerful backer in its standoff with Moscow after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the outbreak of the war in eastern Ukraine.br>     “I think Vladimir Putin has made the biggest mistake of his career in underestimating how courageously the people of Ukraine will fight him if he invades,” Senator Richard Blumenthal told reporters.
    “And we will impose crippling economic sanctions, but more important we will give the people of Ukraine the arms, lethal arms they need to defend their lives and livelihoods,” he said after the delegation met President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
    These weapons could include Javelin anti-tank missiles, Stinger missiles, small arms and boats, he said.
    “And so our message is: there will be consequences if he chooses to violate the sanctity of this democracy,” Senator Amy Klobuchar added.
(Reporting by Sergiy Karazy and Matthias Williams; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

1/18/2022 Czech Republic Sees Biggest Daily Jump In COVID Cases Since Dec 1
FILE PHOTO: A woman walks out of a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) testing
center in Prague, Czech Republic, January 6, 2021. REUTERS/David W Cerny
    PRAGUE (Reuters) – The Czech Republic reported on Tuesday more than 20,000 new cases of COVID-19, the biggest single-day rise since Dec. 1, the Health Ministry said.
    The central European country of 10.7 million is bracing for a new wave of the pandemic as the Omicron variant of the coronavirus begins pushing up cases.
    The government has shortened quarantine and isolation times as part of new measures while also launching mandatory testing of employees at companies, which got underway this week.
    On Monday, the Health Ministry recorded 20,270 new coronavirus infections, up from 7,342 a week earlier.
    Hospitalisations, which peaked above 7,000 in early December in the last wave, stood at 1,660 on Monday, up a touch from Sunday.
(Reporting by Jason Hovet; Editing by Kim Coghill)

1/18/2022 Bulgaria Reports New Peak For Daily Coronavirus Cases
FILE PHOTO: A woman receives a dose of vaccine against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) administered by a medical personnel
from a mobile unit in the village of Krushovitsa, Bulgaria, October 10, 2021. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov
    SOFIA (Reuters) – Bulgaria reported 9,996 COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, setting a new record daily tally following a surge of cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant.
    Health authorities in the European Union’s least vaccinated country said 161 deaths had been reported on Tuesday.
    Bulgaria changed its rules that could prompt new restrictions, linking them to the occupancy of intensive care beds rather than the number of new infections.
    For now, health authorities are not imposing new measures, with 5,223 people in hospitals and 541 in intensive care units.
    The country of 7 million people has reported 830,604 infections since the start of the pandemic and 32,247 COVID-related deaths.
(Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing by Tomasz Janowski)

1/18/2022 Russia, Belarus To Rehearse Repelling External Attack In Joint Drills
FILE PHOTO: Belarusian and Russian national flags fly during "Day of multinational
Russia" event in central Minsk, Belarus June 8, 2019. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia and Belarus will rehearse repelling an external attack when they hold joint military drills in Belarus next month, both sides said on Tuesday, at a time of acute tensions with the West over neighbouring Ukraine.
    Russian military forces and hardware began arriving in ex-Soviet Belarus on Monday for the “Allied Resolve” drills to be held near Belarus’s western border with NATO members Poland and Lithuania, and close to its southern flank with Ukraine.
    The West has voiced fears of a possible invasion https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/germany-says-russia-will-pay-price-if-it-moves-ukraine-2022-01-17 of Ukraine by tens of thousands of Russian troops gathered near its border.    Russia has denied such plans.
    “The goal of the exercise is to fine-tune the tasks of suppressing and repelling external aggression during a defensive operation, countering terrorism and protecting the interests of the Union State (Russia and Belarus),” the Interfax news agency quoted Deputy Russian Defence Minister Alexander Fomin as saying.
    Fomin said 12 Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jets, two units of the S-400 anti-aircraft missile system and a Pantsir missile system would be deployed to Belaus for the drills.
    The Belarusian Defence Ministry said that in the first phrase of the drills, which runs until Feb. 9, both sides will rehearse deploying troops, defending military facilities and assessing their troops’ air defence capabilities.
    In the second phase of the exercises, which will be from Feb. 10-20, Russian and Belarusian troops will go over “destroying illegal armed formations and the enemy’s sabotage and reconnaissance groups,” the ministry said.
    Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko, a pariah in the West since a post-election crackdown in 2020 and last year’s migrant crisis with the European Union, said the drills were needed as Ukraine had built up troops near Belarus.
(Reporting by Maxim Rodionov and Vladimir Soldatkin; Writing by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Catherine Evans and Timothy Heritage)

1/18/2022 Romania Sees Biggest Daily Jump In COVID-19 Cases In Three Months
Valeriu Gheorghita, president of the National Committee for Coordination of Vaccination Activities
against COVID-19, administers a dose of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine to a man during a
vaccination marathon, in Bucharest, Romania, October 24, 2021. Inquam Photos/Georg Calin via REUTERS
    BUCHAREST (Reuters) – Romania reported 16,760 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, more than double on the day and the biggest single-day rise since October, as the Omicron coronavirus variant takes hold.
    Romania is the European Union’s second-least vaccinated state, with just under 41% of the population fully inoculated amid distrust of state institutions and poor vaccine education.
    The number of new infections was approaching a record high of 18,863 daily cases seen in October, official data showed, but hospitalisations were still relatively low. Sixty-five people died of the virus within the last 24 hours.
    Romania has shortened the isolation and quarantine periods for COVID-19 positive people, their direct contacts and untested travellers from high-risk countries to varying lengths depending on whether they are vaccinated.
    The three parties in the ruling coalition have yet to agree on whether to send a new bill to parliament mandating a COVID-19 health pass to boost vaccine uptake.
    At the height of the fourth wave in late October and November, Romania topped global lists of new coronavirus deaths per million.    The pandemic has killed nearly 60,000 people in the country of 20 million people.
(Reporting by Luiza Ilie; Editing by Ed Osmond)

1/18/2022 Russia Says Kyiv Embassy Working Normally After Report On Families Leaving
FILE PHOTO: A general view shows the Russian embassy
in Kiev, Ukraine March 26, 2018. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia said on Tuesday its embassy in Kyiv was operating as usual following a New York Times report that Moscow had begun evacuating the families of staff at its diplomatic missions in Ukraine, the Interfax news agency reported.
    The New York Times cited a senior Ukrainian official as saying that 18 people, mostly family members of Russian diplomats, had left Ukraine on Jan. 5.    It said around 30 others left the embassy in Kyiv and the consulate in Lviv in western Ukraine over the next few days.
    The U.S. newspaper also reported that diplomats at two other Russian consulates had been told to prepare to leave Ukraine.
    The Russian foreign ministry did not comment on its consulates in Ukraine but told Interfax that its embassy in Kyiv was operating normally.    It did not provide further detail.
    The Ukrainian foreign ministry said it had not received any information from Moscow about the evacuation of employees from its diplomatic outposts in Ukraine.    It added that Kyiv had no plans to evacuate Ukrainian diplomats from Russia.
    Troop movements by Russia near its border with Ukraine have prompted Western fears that Moscow is planning to invade.
    Russian authorities deny such a plan but have used the standoff to campaign for security guarantees from the West that would include a stop to NATO’s potential expansion eastward and a formal veto on Ukraine, a former Soviet republic, from ever joining the military alliance.
(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber in Moscow and Matthias Williams in Kyiv; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

1/18/2022 Analysis-Best Supporting Actor? NATO In Secondary Role If Russia Invades Ukraine by Robin Emmott and Sabine Siebold
FILE PHOTO: NATO flag is seen during NATO enhanced Forward Presence battle group military
exercise Silver Arrow in Adazi, Latvia October 5, 2019. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins/File Photo
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – NATO would be likely to reinforce its troop presence in the Black Sea and the Baltics while fending off cyberattacks if Russia were to invade Ukraine, diplomats and former officials said.
    But with the Western military alliance under no treaty obligation to defend Ukraine, which is not a NATO member, some of the toughest decisions could fall on the European Union.
    They include how to hit Moscow with any new economic sanctions, the fallout from any shortage of Russian natural gas to Europe and taking in refugees fleeing war.
    Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov has said that diplomacy last week over legally binding security demands had come to a “dead end.”    Envoys and experts are divided over whether Russia will invade Ukraine.
    The Kremlin has massed 100,000 troops near Ukraine’s borders, a buildup https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/russia-belarus-plan-joint-military-drills-february-lukashenko-2022-01-17 that the West says is preparation for a war to stop Ukraine ever joining NATO. Russia denies planning an invasion.
    NATO is already intensifying the strategy it has employed since Russia annexed the Crimea peninsula from Ukraine in 2014, with more defensive military planning, modernising deterrents, supporting Ukraine with cyberwarfare teams and seeking dialogue with Moscow.
    As there is a risk of any conflict spilling over into NATO territory around the Black Sea, the alliance faces the dilemma of how much more to prepare and how to support Kyiv.
    Even though NATO agreed at a summit in Bucharest in 2008 that Ukraine would one day become a NATO member, the alliance is not bound by its founding treaty to defend Ukraine.
    U.S. President Joe Biden has ruled out sending U.S. troops to Ukraine to fight Russian soldiers.
    NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Nov. 30: “It is important to distinguish between NATO allies and partner Ukraine … Ukraine is a partner, a highly valued partner.”
    Two NATO diplomats said Western steps to support Ukraine could range from more U.S. weaponry and drones for the Ukrainian armed forces to intensified training of Ukrainian forces – especially in ways to react to any Russian missile attacks.    Britain has begun supplying Ukraine with anti-tank weapons.
    Stoltenberg said the Western military alliance would sign an agreement on closer cybersecurity cooperation with Kyiv in the coming days, without giving more details, after cyberattacks https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/exclusive-ukraine-suspects-group-linked-belarus-intelligence-over-cyberattack-2022-01-15 on Ukrainian government websites last week.
NATO’S BALTIC FOCUS
    Hans-Lothar Domroese, a retired German general who led one of the highest NATO commands until 2016, said that if Russia invaded Ukraine, NATO would “raise the alert levels.”
    “NATO might reinforce the eastern front, sending bigger military units to Poland and the Baltic states, something NATO has ruled out so far.    NATO might also base troops in south-eastern Europe,” he told Reuters.
    That would still be in defence of NATO territory, but would send a message of resolve to Russia.
    Since 2014, NATO has prioritised reinforcing the Baltics, and has deployed four multinational battalion-size battlegroups led by Canada, Germany, Britain and the United States in Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Poland.
    Estonia’s prime minister told Reuters last week that the Baltic states were talking to allies about increasing military deployments on their soil, and Stoltenberg has said any Russian attack on Ukraine would spur a decision.
    Denmark agreed last week to send four more F-16 warplanes to Lithuania and a frigate to help patrol the Baltic Sea.
    The troops serve as a “trip wire” for NATO’s 40,000-strong response force to come in quickly and bring more U.S. troops and weapons from across the Atlantic.
POSSIBLE SPILLOVER IN BLACK SEA REGION
    Retired U.S. General Ben Hodges, who commanded U.S. army forces in Europe from 2014 until 2017, said NATO allies should prepare for broader consequences from any Russian invasion of Ukraine.    He warned that the militarised Crimea peninsula has become Russia’s “unsinkable aircraft carrier.”
    “I would expect that if there is a new offensive on a significant scale, there is a chance of a spillover, whether at sea, in the air, in cyber,” Hodges told Reuters.
    “If there is a new offensive, then we have three NATO allies in the Black Sea region: Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey … We should be taking all steps for our collective defence.”
    The two NATO diplomats said allied defence ministers were likely next month to discuss sending more forces to NATO’s multinational division headquarters in Romania.    Although operational since 2017, it remains only a land command, without immediate air, maritime or special forces.
    Hodges said a more substantial operational centre would include more naval and air exercises, intelligence sharing, greater monitoring of Russian submarines and commercial port visits to Crimea, and ultimately better preparation for conflict.
    Romania has pushed for a bigger NATO naval presence on the Black Sea, but its neighbour Bulgaria is wary of provoking Russia.    The involvement of Turkey, a member of NATO but not of the EU, would be crucial.
(Editing by John Chalmers and Timothy Heritage)

1/18/2022 Canada Condemns Russian Troop Movements Near Ukraine, Mulls Weapons Supplies To Kyiv by Pavel Polityuk and Matthias Williams
Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly visits a memorial to Ukrainian soldiers, who were killed in a recent
conflict in the country's eastern regions, in Kyiv, Ukraine January 18, 2022. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
    KYIV (Reuters) – Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly condemned Russia massing troops near Ukraine’s borders on Tuesday and said Ottawa would take a decision at the appropriate time on supplying military hardware to Ukraine.
    Speaking alongside Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba at a briefing during a visit to Kyiv, Joly said any new offensive by Russia would incur serious consequences.
    Ukraine and its NATO allies have sounded the alarm as Russia massed tens of thousands of troops near Ukraine’s borders in recent weeks in preparation for a possible new military offensive.
    Russia has denied such plans but pressed the West for security guarantees, including a block on Ukraine joining the NATO alliance.    Washington described some of Moscow’s demands as non-starters, while Ukraine has sought reassurances from allies that nothing would be decided without its input.
    Canada, with a sizeable and politically influential population of Ukrainian descent, has taken a strong line with Russia since its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.
    “Canada is deeply concerned with the military build-up done by Russia at the Ukrainian borders and we’re extremely concerned also with the destabilising activities in and around Ukraine,” Joly said.
    “We are united in our support to Ukraine and of course any incursion into Ukraine will result in serious consequences including very severe, coordinated sanctions on the part of allies.”
    Asked about the prospect of sending military hardware to Ukraine, she said: “We’ve heard loud and clear the demands on the part of the Ukrainian government.    Many of the officials here have reiterated this demand.    We know that it is important to play our part in the context, and therefore we are looking at options and will take a decision in a timely manner.”
    Ukraine has braced itself for a potential new assault from Russia while pushing for a diplomatic solution.    U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken travels to Kyiv on Wednesday.
    “We have a lot of diplomacy, various visits, many telephone conversations, contacts, the purpose of which is to deter the Russian Federation from implementing its aggressive plans,” Kuleba said.
    “And our conversation today with Melanie confirmed that we act as a united diplomatic front and together mobilize international support for Ukraine in this difficult situation.    The situation is under control.    I ask everyone not to panic.”
    Canada has deployed special forces operators to Ukraine, Canada’s Global News reported, part of an effort by NATO allies to deter Russian aggression and to identify ways to assist the Ukrainian government.
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk, Natalia Zinets and Matthias Williams; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

1/18/2022 Germany Could Halt Pipeline If Russia Attacks Ukraine, Scholz Signals by Sabine Siebold and Alexander Ratz
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz speaks during a news conference alongside NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
after their talks at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, January 18, 2022. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke/Pool
    BERLIN/MOSCOW (Reuters) – Germany may consider halting the Nord Stream 2 pipeline if Russia attacks Ukraine, Chancellor Olaf Scholz signalled on Tuesday, as pressure grew on his government to take a more hawkish stance on the Kremlin.
    Scholz met NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg in Berlin to discuss the next steps after talks between Russia and Western states on the Kremlin’s deployment of troops along Ukraine’s border ended without a breakthrough last week.
    Scholz has previously said Germany is open to sanctions in the event of a Russian attack on Ukraine, with everything on the table – which would include the Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia to Germany which is intended to bring more Russian gas to Western Europe.
    Some observers say he is sending mixed signals by calling the pipeline, which has already been built but not yet approved for operation, a private commercial project that should not be singled out for sanctions.
    His Social Democrats, the senior partner in a three-way government coalition, have historically been closer to Russia than other German parties, and Berlin is under pressure to find a way to fill its energy gap as it withdraws from coal and nuclear power production and becomes more green.
    Opponents of Nord Stream 2, including Ukraine and the United States, say it will make Europe too dependent on Russia for energy supplies.
    Responding to a question on Nord Stream 2, Scholz told reporters it was “clear that there will be a high price to pay and that everything will have to be discussed should there be a military intervention in Ukraine.”
    The fate of the project could ultimately be out of Germany’s hands as it is subject to the approval of European Union regulators.    The EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said last week that approval was tied to any potential conflict with Russia over Ukraine.
MORE NATO-RUSSIA TALKS
    Stoltenberg said he had invited NATO allies and Russia to a further series of meetings at the NATO-Russia Council to discuss ways to improve the security situation, after an inconclusive first round of talks in two years last week.
    “NATO’s allies are prepared to discuss concrete proposals on how to reduce risks and enhance transparency regarding military activities and how to reduce space and cyber threats,” he told a joint news conference with Scholz.
    “We are also prepared to resume the exchange of briefings on exercises and our respective nuclear policies.”
    Russia denies plans to attack Ukraine.    But Moscow says it could take unspecified military action if its demands – including a promise by the NATO alliance never to admit Kyiv – are not met.
    German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said earlier on Tuesday during a visit to see Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow that it was difficult not to assess Russia’s military build-up near Ukraine’s borders as “a threat.”
    Lavrov suggested Nord Stream 2 would add to both German and European energy security, saying Moscow “drew the attention of our German colleagues to the counter-productiveness of attempts to politicise this project.”
(Reporting by Alexander Ratz and Vladimir Soldatkin in Moscow, Zuzanna Szymanska and Sabine Siebold in Berlin, Writing by Sarah Marsh, Editing by Miranda Murray, William Maclean and Timothy Heritage)

1/18/2022 North Macedonia And Bulgaria Agree To Work On Issues Blocking EU Talks
FILE PHOTO: Workers add a new decorative poster saying 'EU with you' on the windows of the offices of
the European Union in Skopje, North Macedonia September 24, 2021. REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski/File Photo
    SKOPJE (Reuters) – The new premiers of Bulgaria and North Macedonia agreed on Tuesday to try to overcome problems that prompted Sofia to block the start of accession talks between the European Union and Skopje.
    Dimitar Kovacevski, who was sworn in as North Macedonia’s prime minister on Monday, said he and Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov had agreed at talks in Skopje to try to improve relations between their countries.
    Petkov, who took office last month, said he was “a big optimist” about the chances of them achieving results.
    Bulgaria refused in 2020 to approve the EU’s membership negotiation framework for North Macedonia because of disputes over history and language, but faces pressure from its Western allies in the EU https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/eu-states-reassert-membership-promise-six-balkan-states-2021-12-14 to be more flexible.
    “I start my first working day as the prime minister with one of the most important issues for North Macedonia, and that is learning about conditions for our speedy progress towards European integration,” Kovacevski said after Tuesday’s talks.
    “With colleague Petkov, we agreed to use this new energy and … improve the relations between the two countries.”
    Bulgaria’s consultative national security council, which includes all leading political parties and other senior officials, has agreed the government should seek a breakthrough but not at the expense of national interests or the rights of Bulgarians in North Macedonia.
    Petkov said new neighbourly relations would be measured on “real, achieved results” based on what is achieved weekly by working groups covering the economy, infrastructure, culture, EU integration and history.
    “Today I am a big optimist for our joint action and I believe that the results you will all see will be coming every week, and I hope that what each of the countries hopes to happen in the end, we will have as a result very soon,” he said.
    Supporters of EU membership for North Macedonia say accession would help boost living standards and offset growing Russian and Chinese influence in the Western Balkans.
    The EU is by far the biggest foreign investor and trade partner of the six countries that emerged from the break-up of Yugoslavia and the ethnic wars of the 1990s.
(Reporting by Fatos Bytyci in Skopje and Tsvetelia Tsolova in Sofia; Additional reporting and writing by Daria Sito-Sucic in Sarajevo; Editing by Timothy Heritage)

1/18/2022 Moscow Mayor Extends Curbs, Says Tough Weeks Ahead With Omicron
FILE PHOTO: Passengers walk along the platform of a metro station, after some of the partial
lockdown measures imposed to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) were lifted by
local authorities, in Moscow, Russia November 8, 2021. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The mayor of Moscow said on Tuesday he was extending COVID-19 home-working rules and guidance to protect elderly people until April 1 as the city braces for a sharp rise in infections with the Omicron variant.
    “Given the rapid and wide spread of Omicron, it is clear that the workload of outpatient clinics will increase sharply,” Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said.
    “For clinics to cope with their increased work load, more doctors have been put on duty… We have a few difficult weeks ahead of us.”
    Moscow imposed rules from late October to the end of February requiring people over 60 to stay at home unless they were vaccinated or had recovered from COVID, and obliging businesses to move at least 30% of staff to remote work.
    Sobyanin said he was extending the restrictions to April 1.
    Omicron has pushed COVID-19 case figures to record highs in parts of western Europe and the United States but the variant has been slower to hit Russia, where daily COVID cases have fallen from a peak of 41,335 registered in early November.
    On Tuesday it reported 31,252 new cases and 688 deaths in the previous 24 hours.
    “As of this morning, there were 1,682 cases of Omicron in Russia, but we understand that there are many more,” Deputy Prime Minister Tatiana Golikova said at a televised meeting of the government coronavirus taskforce.
    Russia’s COVID death toll https://graphics.reuters.com/world-coronavirus-tracker-and-maps/countries-and-territories/russia stands at more than 670,000, the second highest in the world behind the United States, according to Reuters calculations based on official data.    The Kremlin has frequently expressed frustration at the slow uptake of the domestically made Sputnik V vaccine against COVID-19, and called on officials to increase inoculation rates.
(Reporting by Anton Zverev and Anastasia Teterevleva; Writing by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

1/19/2022 Kazakhstan Security Forces On High Alert In Almaty Amid Calls For Fresh Protests
FILE PHOTO: Kazakh service members patrol a street following recent protests triggered
by fuel price increase in Almaty, Kazakhstan January 12, 2022. REUTERS/Pavel Mikheyev
    ALMATY (Reuters) – Security forces blocked several downtown streets and cordoned off one of the squares in Kazakhstan’s biggest city Almaty on Wednesday as an opposition group planned to stage protests, a Reuters correspondent reported from the scene.
    The oil-rich Central Asian nation was shaken this month by the worst bout of violence in its post-Soviet history during which at least 225 people were killed, most of them in Almaty.
    On Wednesday, a group led by Mukhtar Ablyazov, a former Kazakh banker turned government critic in exile, said it would hold protests outside local government buildings in major cities throughout the country of 19 million.
    A Kazakh court has ruled Ablyazov’s political movement, Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan, was extremist.
    Police in Almaty said they were carrying out an “anti-terrorist operation.”
(Reporting by Pavel Mikheyev and Mariya Gordeyeva; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Michael Perry)

1/19/2022 Polish Minister Says Czechs To Drop Turow Complaint If Deal Signed
FILE PHOTO: The Turow open-pit coal mine operated by the company PGE
is seen in Bogatynia, Poland, June 15, 2021. REUTERS/David W Cerny
    WARSAW (Reuters) – If the Czech government agrees to terms for resolving a dispute over the Turow lignite mine, it will withdraw its complaint to the European Union’s top court, a Polish minister said on Wednesday, striking an upbeat note about the latest round of talks.
    The two European Union neighbours have been locked in a dispute over Poland’s extension of mining at Turow, which feeds an adjacent power plant important to Polish energy supply.
    The Czech Republic says mining leads to loss of underground water and causes other pollution, and the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has ordered Poland to pay a daily penalty of 500,000 euros ($566,700.00) to the European Commission for not halting operations at the mine.
    “If the agreement is successfully signed … the Czech side will immediately send information to the court that the dispute has been resolved and withdraw their complaint,” environment Minister Anna Moskwa told public broadcaster Polskie Radio 1.
    Moskwa met newly appointed Czech environment minister Anna Hubackova in Warsaw on Tuesday.    The ministers said that terms which had been discussed now had to be approved by the Czech government.
    “Yesterday’s meeting certainly produced more than the 18 earlier meetings with the previous government, not only in terms of atmosphere… but also in terms of specific arrangements,” Moskwa said.
    She said Poland was willing to sign up to the discussed terms immediately if the Czech government agrees to them.
    Neither side has given any details on what the agreement might look like.
    Warsaw and Prague have been in dispute about the length of the agreement, with Poland suggesting it may be ended after two years, which the Czech side said was unacceptable giving the mine’s planned lifespan of over two decades.
($1 = 0.8823 euros)
(Reporting by Alan Charlish and Pawel Florkiewicz; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Tomasz Janowski)

1/19/2022 Czech Republic Considers Mandatory COVID-19 Shots As Daily Cases Soar
FILE PHOTO: Medical staff member collects a swab from a person at a COVID-19 drive-in testing
station of the Nachod hospital, Czech Republic February 11, 2021. REUTERS/David W Cerny
    PRAGUE (Reuters) - The Czech government will on Wednesday consider making COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for workers in key professions and people over the age of 60 after the daily tally of new coronavirus cases hit a record high.
    Authorities said 28,469 new COVID-19 cases were reported on Tuesday, more than double the 12,371 reported for Tuesday of last week. Omicron is now the dominant coronavirus variant in the central European country of 10.7 million people.
    Prime Minister Petr Fiala’s centre-right government will consider what further steps to take after shortening quarantine and isolation times as part of new measures while also launching mandatory testing of employees at companies from this week.
    Asymptomatic essential healthcare workers and social service personnel who test positive for COVID-19 are allowed to continue working.
    Hospitalisations, which peaked at more than 7,000 in early December, dropped to 1,635 on Tuesday from 1,761 reported for Monday.
(Reporting by Robert Muller; Editing by Jacqueline Wong and Timothy Heritage)

1/19/2022 Bulgaria Posts Record Of More Than 11,000 Daily COVID-19 Cases
FILE PHOTO: A man receives a dose of AstraZeneca's coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine administered by a
medical personnel from a mobile unit in the village of Ognen, Bulgaria, February 25, 2021. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov
    SOFIA (Reuters) – Bulgaria reported a record 11,181 coronavirus infections in a single day on Wednesday, official data showed, dominated by the more contagious Omicron variant.
    The European Union nation, where less than 30% of the population of 7 million has been vaccinated, added 91 deaths.
    Bulgaria’s tally of infections exceeds 840,000, with 32,332 deaths since the pandemic began.
    The new centrist government has repeatedly appealed to vaccine-sceptical Bulgarians to get inoculated, so as to avoid pressure on hospitals that could force tougher curbs.
    About 5,259 people were admitted to hospital on Wednesday, with 554 of them in intensive care.
    A recent jump in the number of children who tested positive for coronavirus has prompted authorities to consider extending the one-day term break to nine, starting from Jan. 29, the education minister has said.
(Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

1/19/2022 Blinken Arrives In Ukraine, Says Russia Could Attack At Short Notice by Simon Lewis
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken delivers year-end remarks for 2021 and answers questions from news media
gathered at the U.S. State Department in Washington, U.S., December 21, 2021. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein/Pool
    KYIV (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Kyiv on Wednesday in a whistle-stop diplomatic push to defuse tensions with Moscow over Ukraine, warning that Russia could launch a new attack at “very short notice.”
    Blinken will meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and then travel to Berlin for talks with allies before going to Geneva to meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov after negotiations last week produced no breakthrough.
    Russia has massed tens of thousands of troops near Ukraine’s borders in what Kyiv and its allies fear could be preparation for a new military offensive against Ukraine.
    Adding to the jitters, Russia moved additional troops into Belarus this week ahead of what Minsk said were planned joint exercises next month. Moscow denies plans to launch an attack but has pressed     Washington for security guarantees, including a block on Ukraine joining the NATO alliance.
    Speaking to diplomats at the U.S. embassy in Kyiv, Blinken said he strongly hopes that Russia can stick to a diplomatic and peaceful path when he meets Lavrov, and warned that Russian President Vladimir Putin could give the order to attack at short notice.
    “As you all know very, very well, we have been engaged in the past couple of months in an intense focus on Ukraine because of the significant buildup we’ve seen of Russian forces we’ve seen near the Ukrainian border,” Blinken said.
    The Russian buildup, he said, was taking place with “no provocation, no reason.”
    “We know that there are plans in place to increase that force even more on very short notice, and that gives President Putin the capacity, also on very short notice, to take further aggressive action against Ukraine,” Blinken said.
    Russia’s actions had attracted the attention of Washington, and also of its allies in Europe and beyond, he said.
    U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration last month approved the provision of an additional $200 million https://www.reuters.com/world/us-approved-200-mln-defense-aid-ukraine-december-state-department-official-2022-01-19 in defensive security assistance to Ukraine and gave more such aid last year than at any point since Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.
U.S. SUPPORT FOR UKRAINE
    State Department spokesman Ned Price said Blinken’s visit was “to reiterate our support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”    Washington has warned Russia of severe consequences if it mounts a new offensive, while promising to beef up its security presence in Europe.
    “Should Russia further invade Ukraine, we will provide additional defensive material to the Ukrainians above and beyond that which we are already in the process of providing,” a State Department official said ahead of Blinken’s arrival.
    Blinken will meet Zelenskiy and Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on Wednesday.
    Then in Berlin he will meet German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and later the Transatlantic Quad, referring to a format that involves the United States, Britain, France and Germany.
    Germany signalled on Tuesday that it could halt the Nord Stream 2 https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/germany-signals-it-could-halt-gas-pipeline-if-russia-invades-ukraine-2022-01-18 pipeline from Russia if Moscow invades Ukraine.br>     Blinken spoke with Lavrov on Tuesday and the two decided in the call that it would be useful to meet in person.
    Lavrov separately said Moscow would welcome U.S. diplomatic efforts and reiterated Russian accusations that Ukraine was “sabotaging” agreements aimed at ending the conflict between Ukrainian troops and Russian-backed forces in eastern Ukraine.
    Despite diplomatic engagements this month, Washington has yet to see Russia de-escalate tensions and Moscow could launch an attack on Ukraine at any time in January or February, a senior U.S. official said earlier.
    “We are now at a stage where Russia could at any point launch an attack on Ukraine,” the official said.
    Kyiv has sought weapons from Western nations to shore up its defence.    On Monday, Britain said it had begun supplying Ukraine with anti-tank weapons to help it defend itself.
(Writing by Matthias Williams)

1/19/2022 Finland’s PM Says NATO Membership Is “Very Unlikely” On Her Watch
Finland's Prime Minister Sanna Marin poses during an interview with Reuters at her
official residence, Kesaranta, in Helsinki, Finland January 19, 2022. REUTERS/Essi Lehto
    HELSINKI (Reuters) – Finland does not plan to join NATO in the near future but is ready to stand with its European allies and United States by imposing tough sanctions on Russia if it attacks Ukraine, Finland’s Prime Minister Sanna Marin said on Wednesday.
    “It would have a very substantial impact and the sanctions would be extremely tough,” Marin told Reuters in an interview on Wednesday.
    Marin said it is “very unlikely” that Finland would apply for a NATO membership during her term of office.
    The Nordic country shares a 1,340 km (833 mile) border and a difficult history with Russia and the Soviet Union, including clashing during World War Two, but has opted to only cooperate with the Western security alliance instead of joining it.
    On Tuesday, U.S. President Joe Biden called Finland’s President Sauli Niinisto to speak with him for a second time in a month to discuss “the importance of Finland’s close defense partnership with the United States and with NATO,” Biden’s office wrote in a statement.
    Marin was tight-lipped about the discussions but said she believed other countries appreciated the fact that Finland had long maintained “functional” relationships with Russia.
    Marin said Finland remained firm on its previous stance that it has the right to join NATO one day if it so decides.
    “Nobody can influence us, not the United States, not Russia, not anyone else,” she added.    Finland in December opted for F-35 https://www.reuters.com/business/aerospace-defense/lockheed-f-35-jet-wins-finnish-fighter-competition-source-2021-12-10 fighter jets in line with its defence forces materials policy that is based on new military equipment being compatible with NATO countries.
    Finland would need to demonstrate substantial public support for joining NATO to be granted membership.
    In a recent poll by Finland’s largest daily Helsingin Sanomat, 28% of respondents wanted Finland to join NATO, 42% were against and the rest were unsure, meaning an 8 percentage point rise in the share of those in favour from the last poll at the end of 2019.
    “All in all, I believe the NATO discussion will increase in the coming years,” Marin said.
(Reporting by Essi Lehto and Anne Kauranen; Editing by Toby Chopra)

1/19/2022 Ukraine’s Ex-President Avoids Detention In Treason Case As Thousands Rally by Natalia Zinets and Simon Lewis
Law enforcement officers cordon off the area as supporters of Ukrainian former President Petro Poroshenko, who is suspected
of high treason by financing pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine while in office in 2014-2015,
attempt to set up tents near a court building before a hearing in Kyiv, Ukraine January 19, 2022. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
    KYIV (Reuters) - Former Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko won a court ruling on Wednesday allowing him to remain at liberty while being investigated for treason in a probe he says was cooked up by allies of his successor, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
    Dressed in a traditional embroidered shirt, Poroshenko appeared in court while thousands of his supporters demonstrated outside, chanting and waving flags and briefly scuffling with police before the hearing.
    Critics say the case is an ill-judged distraction at a time when Ukraine is bracing for a possible military offensive by Russia.
    Poroshenko, 56, is being investigated in connection with the financing of Russian-backed separatist fighters through illegal coal sales in 2014-15.
    He faces up to 15 years in prison if found guilty, and his party accused Zelenskiy of a reckless attempt to silence opposition.
    Zelenskiy’s administration says the prosecutors and judiciary are independent and accuses Poroshenko of putting himself above the law.
    “This is not yet a victory, this is the first step in the right direction,” Poroshenko said.
    A judge rejected the state prosecutor’s request to have Poroshenko detained, although the ex-president was ordered to stay in Kyiv and had to hand over his passport.
    Poroshenko said he had invitations to at least three foreign visits, and would appeal.
    “The seizure of my passport hinders my political activity. Being limited to staying in Kyiv hinders my internal political activity.”
    He sang the national anthem inside the court after the hearing before joining his supporters outside.    A crowd then     began marching towards the president’s office.
    Zelenskiy trounced Poroshenko in an election in 2019, running on a ticket of tackling corruption and curbing the influence of oligarchs in the former Soviet republic.
    U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, meeting Zelenskiy in Kyiv, appealed to Ukrainian leaders to present a united front against Russia.
    “I think one of Moscow’s long-standing goals has been to try to sow divisions, between and within countries, and quite simply we cannot and will not let them do that,” he said.
    Poroshenko also called for unity, saying: “The behaviour of the aggressor requires a national consensus.”
(Reporting by Natalia Zinets, Simon Lewis and Matthias Williams; writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

1/19/2022 Belarus Withheld Information From Ryanair Diversion Probe, U.N. Says by Andrius Sytas
FILE PHOTO: A Ryanair aircraft, which was carrying Belarusian opposition blogger and
activist Roman Protasevich and diverted to Belarus, where authorities detained him,
lands at Vilnius Airport in Vilnius, Lithuania May 23, 2021. REUTERS/Andrius Sytas/File Photo
    VILNIUS (Reuters) – A United Nations report into the forced diversion of a Ryanair jetliner last year has found that a bomb threat that drew the plane to Minsk was “deliberately false” and that Belarus withheld crucial information from its fact-finding team.
    The UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization set up a specialist fact-finding team in May 2021, days after Belarus diverted the Vilnius-bound jet carrying a wanted opponent to Minsk following what it described as a bomb threat.
    Dissident Belarus journalist Roman Protasevich and his Russian girlfriend were detained in Minsk following the diversion, which took place shortly before the jet was due to leave Belarus airspace, prompting international uproar.
    Girlfriend Sofia Sapega has since been charged with inciting social hatred and could face up to 12 years in prison, while Protasevich remains under house arrest.
    The report, sent to ICAO’s 193 member states on Monday, said Belarus authorities did not properly contact Ireland-based Ryanair about the alleged bomb threat, despite regulations urging them to do so, and did not help crew talk to their base.
    The pilots agreed to divert to Minsk after a Belarus air traffic controller declared “code red,” indicating a credible threat to the aircraft necessitating an immediate landing.
    It is improbable Ryanair would have agreed to declare “code red” in the circumstances, said the report, which concluded that the bomb threat was “deliberately false.”    No person or state has been identified as the source of an apparently illegal hoax, it said.
    European Union leaders and human rights groups have accused Belarus of fabricating the bomb threat in order to lure the plane to its territory and enable the arrest of Protasevich.
    Belarus has said it acted legally and in accordance with all international norms, and accused the West of trying to use the episode to try to undermine President Alexander Lukashenko.
    A Belarus presidential spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the ICAO report.
‘RECORD NOT PRESERVED’
    Citing a pilot witness, the report said a search for the alleged bomb inside the cabin on the ground in Minsk was cursory and took just 18 minutes to complete.
    Emergency services were told to stand down before the search was over and before the baggage hold was opened for checks, it said.    Despite the supposed threat, disembarking passengers took 30 minutes and the pilot was allowed to remain onboard, it said.
    ICAO also laid out lapses in co-operation with its mission.
    Its team “was not provided with a satisfactory rationale to explain why records had not been preserved” considering that local criminal and other investigations were under way.
    Belarus also refused to provide access to the controller of the Ryanair flight or to the call records of officials, nor did it provide footage from well-placed airport cameras.
    The investigation was not given a copy of an email containing the bomb threat or email server logs, the report added. It cited data from a Switzerland-registered email provider as showing the email was sent only after the jet had begun its descent towards Minsk.
    Belarus told the investigation it received the email 30 minutes earlier but provided only a screenshot as a proof.
    Ryanair had no immediate comment on the report.
    The report is the first international finding since Belarusian carriers were banned from flying over EU and UK territory.    The EU and Britain have also urged their airlines to avoid Belarusian air space unless in an emergency.
    The EU has imposed travel bans and asset freezes on 86 Belarusian individuals and companies, including transport and defence ministers, in response to the grounding.
(Reporting by Andrius Sytas in Vilnius, Editing by Tim Hepher, William Maclean)

1/19/2022 Blinken Vows ‘Relentless’ Diplomacy To Avert Russian Attack On Ukraine by Simon Lewis
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken delivers year-end remarks for 2021 and answers questions from news media
gathered at the U.S. State Department in Washington, U.S., December 21, 2021. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein/Pool
    KYIV (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/russia-can-attack-ukraine-very-short-notice-blinken-says-visit-kyiv-2022-01-19 said on Wednesday that Russia could launch a new attack on Ukraine at very short notice but Washington would pursue diplomacy as long as it could.
    On a visit to Kyiv to show support for Ukraine, the top U.S. diplomat said Ukrainians should prepare for difficult days.    He said Washington would keep providing defence assistance to Kyiv and renewed a promise of severe sanctions against Russia in the event of a new invasion.
    The Kremlin said tension around Ukraine was increasing and it was still waiting for a written U.S. response to its sweeping demands for security guarantees from the West.
    The pessimistic statements highlighted the gulf between Washington and Moscow as Blinken gears up for a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Friday that a Russian foreign policy analyst called “probably the last stop before the train wreck.”
    Blinken promised “relentless diplomatic efforts to prevent renewed aggression and to promote dialogue and peace.”    He said a Russian build-up of tens of thousands of troops near the Ukrainian border was taking place with “no provocation, no reason.”
    “We know that there are plans in place to increase that force even more on very short notice, and that gives President (Vladimir) Putin the capacity, also on very short notice, to take further aggressive action against Ukraine,” he said.
    He did not spell out how quickly Russia might move. Independent security analysts say they do not believe Moscow has so far assembled the logistics and medical units it would need to launch an immediate attack.
    Russia has also moved troops to Belarus for what it calls joint military exercises, giving it the option of attacking neighbouring Ukraine from the north, east and south.
    It continues to deny any such intention.    Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Western weapons deliveries to Ukraine, military manoeuvres and NATO aircraft flights were to blame for rising tension around Ukraine.
    Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba accused Russia of trying to sow panic in Ukraine. He said diplomacy offered the only way out, and it was an “structible principle” that no decisions about Ukraine could be taken without its involvement.
    “The basic principle is simple: a strong Ukraine is the best instrument to restrain Russia,” he said.
    The United States says Russia is threatening its post-Soviet neighbour and may be poised for a new invasion, eight years after it seized Crimea and backed separatist forces who took control of large parts of eastern Ukraine.
    Russia says it feels menaced by Kyiv’s growing ties with the West.    It wants to impose “red lines” to prevent Ukraine ever joining NATO and to get the alliance to pull back troops and weapons from eastern Europe.    Washington says these demands are “non-starters.”
    Vladimir Frolov, a former Russian diplomat who is now a foreign policy analyst, said Moscow would not be appeased by a U.S. and NATO offer of arms control talks and was pursuing a much more sweeping rearrangement of the European security order.
    “The Lavrov-Blinken meet is probably the last stop before the train wreck. But hopes are dim, the positions are incompatible,” he said.
    Describing Russia’s military deployment in Belarus as a “huge escalation,” Frolov gave a dire assessment of the crisis.
    “I think barring a U.S. surrender and their delivering Ukraine to Russia, some kind of a military option is all but inevitable now.”
    Blinken said he would not be presenting a written response to Lavrov in Geneva on Friday – something that Russia has repeatedly demanded.     He said both sides needed to take stock of a series of diplomatic meetings on the crisis last week.
    Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy told Blinken in Kyiv: “I would like to thank you personally and President Biden and the U.S. administration for military support for Ukraine, for increasing this assistance.”
    President Joe Biden’s administration last month approved the provision of an additional $200 million https://www.reuters.com/world/us-approved-200-mln-defense-aid-ukraine-december-state-department-official-2022-01-19 in defensive security assistance to Ukraine and gave more such aid last year than at any point since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.
    On Monday, Britain said it had begun supplying Ukraine with anti-tank weapons to help it defend itself.
    Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov called on the West on Wednesday to stop supplying Ukraine with weapons and described the situation around European security as “critical,” the Interfax news agency reported.
(Additional reporting by Matthias Williams in Kyiv, Tom Balmforth and Dmitry Antonov in Moscow; Writing by Mark Trevelyan, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

1/19/2022 Dutch Museums, Concert Halls Open Briefly In Protest At COVID-19 Lockdown by Anthony Deutsch
Customers get a haircut in a concert hall as museums and concert halls protest against government rules
allowing gyms and hairdressers to re-open while they have to stay shut due to coronavirus disease
(COVID-19) restrictions in Amsterdam, Netherlands January 19, 2022. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw
    AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – Museums and concert halls in the Netherlands opened briefly on Wednesday to protest at their continued closure under a COVID-19 lockdown, offering yoga sessions in front of paintings by Dutch masters and haircuts to the swell of a live symphony orchestra.
    The Netherlands eased a month-long lockdown last weekend, allowing gyms, hair dressers and shops to reopen.    But cultural venues were ordered to remained closed to the public until at least Jan. 25.
    “I simply don’t understand why the measures are still so strict, preventing cultural events from happening,” said Alexandra Gerny, a life coach who could not resist an invitation to have her hair done on stage while the 130-year-old Concertgebouw Orchestra played.
    “If you look at the rest of Europe, I find myself asking: why so cautious?    I simply don’t get it.    The damage caused by staying closed is so much greater.    It just makes me so angry and that’s not so easy to do!
    She was among 50 visitors welcomed to the “Kapsalon Concertgebouw” haircut performance, held in violation of rules banning concerts for an audience.
    Guests wore masks and socially distanced, while attendants at the entrance checked passes showing proof of vaccination against COVID-19, recovery from the illness, or a negative test.
    Famous museums across the Netherlands, from the Van Gogh in Amsterdam to the Frans Hals in Haarlem, opened their doors at risk of being fined.    Also on offer to visitors were Tai Chi sessions and nail studios.
    Amsterdam Mayor Femke Halsema said she would “enforce” the current lockdown measures but there were no signs of officials doing so.
    In a Twitter post, Junior Culture Minister Gunay Uslu voiced understanding for the protest but urged caution.    “The cultural sector is drawing attention to their situation in a creative way.
    I understand the cry for help and that artists want to show all the beautiful things they have to offer us.    But the opening of society must go step by step.    Culture is high on the agenda
.”
    Prime Minister Mark Rutte last week announced the reopening of shops and resumption of group sports despite record numbers of new COVID-19 cases.
    New infections have been hitting near daily records above 30,000.    The Netherlands has recorded more than 3.5 million infections and 21,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic.    But hospital numbers have been steadily declining.
    “It’s a protest of the cultural sector in the Netherlands,” said Dominik Winterling, the new managing director of the Concertgebouw.    “We want to make sure that the politicians in The Hague understand that we want to open again.”
    After nearly two years of uncertainty, performers and musicians need perspective, he said.
    “We simply don’t know what’s going on.    We cannot open from one day to the next, so we need some time to prepare.    What we really want is to play for an audience because that’s what we’re there for.    We want to inspire people.    That’s what it’s about."
    Winterling said he could not guarantee everyone would get a haircut, but they would all experience a show to remember.
    Gerny, the life coach, planned to ask hair dressers Marga Bon and Lysandro Cicilia for a “little trim as it’s just gotten a bit long,” while enjoying a rehearsal of a symphony by U.S. composer Charles Ives.
(Reporting by Anthony Deutsch; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

1/20/2022 West Stresses Unified Stance On Ukraine After Biden’s ‘Minor Incursion’ Remark by Sabine Siebold and Pavel Polityuk
A satellite image shows equipment deployed at Klimovo Railyard in Klimovo,
Russia January 19, 2022. ©2022 Maxar Technologies/Handout via REUTERS
    BERLIN/KYIV (Reuters) – The United States and Western countries sought to project unity and a tough stance over Ukraine on Thursday, after U.S. President Joe Biden suggested allies were split over how to react to any potential “minor incursion” from Russia.
    Biden rowed back on his comments, made during a Wednesday news conference, saying on Thursday that “I have been absolutely clear with President (Vladimir) Putin, he has no misunderstanding.    If any, any assembled Russian units move across the Ukrainian border that is an invasion.”
    Such an invasion would be met by a “severe and coordinated response, economic response as discussed in details with our allies, as laid out very clearly with President Putin,” Biden told reporters.
    His remarks echoed efforts from other members of the administration earlier on Thursday and late on Wednesday, as the White House sought to scotch any suggestion that a smaller-scale Russian military incursion would meet a weaker U.S. response.
    Russia has massed tens of thousands of troops on its borders with Ukraine, and Western states fear Moscow is planning a new assault on a country it invaded in 2014.    Russia denies it is planning an attack, but says it could take unspecified military action if a list of demands are not met, including a promise from NATO never to admit Ukraine as a member.
    At his Wednesday news conference, Biden said he expected Putin to launch some kind of action, and appeared to suggest Washington and its allies might disagree over the response if Moscow stopped short of a major invasion.
    “It’s one thing if it’s a minor incursion and we end up having to fight about what to do and what to not do, et cetera,” the president said, adding that an invasion would be a “disaster” for Russia.
    Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy responded sharply to that on Thursday, tweeting in English and Ukrainian:
    “We want to remind the great powers that there are no minor incursions and small nations. Just as there are no minor casualties and little grief from the loss of loved ones,” Biden’s remarks on Wednesday sent his administration and allies quickly into damage control mode, with a stress on unity.
    “No matter which path Russia chooses, it will find the United States, Germany, and our allies, united,” said Secretary of State Antony Blinken, speaking at a press conference with German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock during a visit to Berlin to meet ministers from Britain, France and Germany.
    “We urgently demand that Russia takes steps towards deescalation.    Any further aggressive behaviour or aggression would result in serious consequences,” Baerbock told the news conference.
NO GREEN LIGHT FOR INVASION
    NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Biden’s “minor incursion” comment was not a green light to a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine.
    British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “Be in no doubt that if Russia were to make any kind of incursion into Ukraine, or on any scale, whatever, I think that that would be a disaster, not just for Ukraine, but for Russia.”
    Moscow, for its part, said U.S. threats of sanctions were not calming the situation.
    With Western countries having long emphasised their united position in public, some officials privately expressed frustration at Biden’s remarks on Wednesday, although they described them as a gaffe, unlikely to alter Moscow’s calculations.
    “It was not helpful, in fact it was a gift to Putin, but we should not read too much into it.    Biden has not given Moscow the green light for an attack on Ukraine.    It was a slip of his tongue, and the official Western position will prevail,” said one Western security source.
    Moscow presented the West with a list of security demands at talks last week that produced no breakthrough.
    Western countries have imposed repeated rounds of economic sanctions since Russian troops seized and annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in 2014.
    But such moves have had scant impact on Russian policy, with Moscow, Europe’s main energy supplier, calculating that the West would stop short of steps serious enough to interfere with gas exports.
    U.S. and European officials say there are still strong financial measures that have not been tried.    Germany has signalled that it could halt Nord Stream 2, a new gas pipeline from Russia that skirts Ukraine, if Moscow invades.
    But Germany could find itself in a no-win situation if Russia invades Ukraine, pitting Berlin’s main gas supplier against its most important security allies.
    Meanwhile, Turkish diplomatic sources said on Thursday that both Russia and Ukraine are open to the idea of Turkey playing a role to ease tensions between the two countries, as proposed by Ankara in November.
(Reporting by Simon Lewis, Sabine Siebold, Pavel Polityuk, Benoit Van Overstraeten, Marine Strauss, Dmitry Antonov, Tuvan Gumrukcu; Writing by Peter Graff and Frances Kerry; Editing by Timothy Heritage and Toby Chopra)

1/20/2022 Russia To Hold Major Navy Drills Involving All Its Fleets
FILE PHOTO: Marines of the Baltic Fleet forces of the Russian Navy train in the zone of obstacles during military
exercises at the Khmelevka firing ground in the Kaliningrad region, Russia November 24, 2021. REUTERS/Vitaly Nevar
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia announced on Thursday its navy would stage a sweeping set of exercises involving all its fleets this month and next from the Pacific to the Atlantic, the latest show of strength in a surge of military activity during a standoff with the West.
    The drills will take place in the seas directly adjacent to Russia and also feature manoeuvres in the Mediterranean, the North Sea, the Sea of Okhotsk, the northeast Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific, it said.
    They will draw on 140 warships and support vessels, 60 planes, 1,000 units of military hardware and around 10,000 servicemen, the Ministry of Defence said in a statement.
    Russian military moves are being closely scrutinised as a troop build-up near Ukraine and a volley of hawkish rhetoric have rattled the West and sparked fears of a looming war.    Moscow vehemently denies any plan to invade Ukraine.
    In a video posted on Facebook, the ministry showed its Pacific Fleet’s newest diesel-electric submarine test-firing a Kalibr cruise missile at a land-based target from an underwater position in the Sea of Japan.
    The missile struck a coastal target in Russia’s far eastern Khabarovsk region from a range of more than 1,000 km (620 miles), it said.
    Separately, China, Russia and Iran are set to hold joint naval drills on Friday, a public relations official from Iran’s armed forces told the semi-official ISNA news agency.
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

1/21/2022 Top Diplomats For U.S., Russia Meet In Geneva On Soaring Ukraine Tensions by Simon Lewis
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken waves as he arrives at Geneva Airport,
in Geneva, Switzerland January 20, 2022. Alex Brandon/Pool via REUTERS
    GENEVA (Reuters) – The top diplomats of Russia and the United States were to meet in Switzerland on Friday to discuss soaring tensions over Ukraine after a flurry of meetings between officials on both sides in the last week produced no breakthroughs.
    U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Geneva for talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov following a swing through Europe to shore up U.S. allies’ commitments to hit Russia with sanctions if it goes ahead with an invasion of Ukraine.
    Washington’s hopes of building a united front of opposition to Moscow were complicated by U.S. President Joe Biden’s comments at a news conference on Wednesday in which he predicted Russia would “move in” on Ukraine and said Moscow would pay dearly.
    Russia has massed tens of thousands of troops on its borders with Ukraine, and Western states fear Moscow is planning a new assault on a country it invaded in 2014 to annex the Crimean peninsula.    Russia denies it is planning an attack, but says it could take unspecified military action if a list of demands are not met, including a promise from NATO never to admit Ukraine.
    Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, asked about Biden’s comments, said Russia had been receiving similar warnings for at least a month.
    “We believe that they in no way contribute to defusing the tension that has now arisen in Europe and, moreover, can contribute to the destabilization of the situation,” Peskov said.
    In Kyiv on Wednesday Blinken sought to reassure Ukraine of U.S. support.    Blinken, before meeting with German, French and British officials in Berlin on Thursday, said Russian President Vladimir Putin could order an invasion imminently.
    Blinken’s deputy, Wendy Sherman, and Lavrov’s deputy, Sergei Ryabkov, also met in Geneva last week, where both sides set out seemingly irreconcilable positions.
    Russia wants NATO to promise not to admit Ukraine as a member and halt its eastward expansion. The U.S.-led alliance has rejected that.
    U.S. officials have played down hopes of concrete results from Friday’s meeting.
    Blinken, repeatedly calling out what he called Russian “disinformation” aimed at destabilizing Ukraine, said on Thursday the diplomatic efforts this week meant he could represent a shared view of Western nations to Russia on Friday and press Moscow to step back.
    “That unity gives us strength – a strength I might add that Russia does not and cannot match,” Blinken said.    “And it’s why… I’ll be able to represent a shared view, a shared preference, on the part of the United States and our European allies and partners for finding a diplomatic path forward to de-escalate this conflict.”
‘NO MINOR INCURSIONS’
    But that unity appeared to be undermined by comments by Biden, who said on Wednesday that the West’s response may not be unified if Russia only makes a “minor incursion” into Ukraine.    The comments forced administration officials to issue clarifications, but they raised doubts among U.S. allies that Washington was willing to give Putin some leeway to avert a full-scale invasion.
    Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy tweeted an apparent rebuke on Thursday, reminding “the great powers that there are no minor incursions and small nations.    Just as there are no minor casualties and little grief from the loss of loved ones.”
    Orysia Lutsevych, a Ukraine analyst at the Chatham House think-tank in London, said the Geneva meeting would give the United States the chance to clarify Biden’s comments.
    “Hopefully Blinken will be able to straighten out some of this ambiguity, if he has the mandate,” she said. There was a “certain irritation” on the Ukrainian side that the West was not turning rhetorical support into more concrete action.
    But in the separatist stronghold of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, residents interviewed by Reuters said they were confident of Russia’s backing.
    “I believe in Putin, he must help us, he mustn’t abandon us.    We all hope so.    I don’t know this Biden and I don’t want to know him, but I believe in Russia,” said a pensioner who gave her name as Tatyana.
    Another resident, a 28-year-old named Alexander, said there was a small chance of a peaceful outcome.
    “For the future of our younger brothers, sisters and children.    I hope that in their negotiations they will reach the point that all of us and them need, and we will finally return to peace and harmony,” he said.
(Reporting by Simon Lewis; Additional reporting by Alexander Ermochenko in Donetsk and Mark Trevelyan in London; Editing by Mary Milliken and Grant McCool)

1/21/2022 Poland Sees New Daily Record Of 36,665 COVID Cases
FILE PHOTO: Medical staff members treat patients inside the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) ward at the Central Clinical Hospital
of the Ministry of Interior and Administration in Warsaw, Poland, January 11, 2022. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland on Friday will see a record of 36,665 new daily COVID-19 infections, Deputy Health Minister Waldemar Kraska said ahead of the release of official figures.
    He added that cases will continue to be very high in the coming days, climbing over 50,000 next week.
(Reporting by Joanna Plucinska and Pawel Florkiewicz, editing by Mark Heinrich)

1/21/2022 Russia Sends Two S-400 Battalions To Belarus For Drills – Interfax
A radar vehicle of the S-400 Triumph surface-to-air missile system drives along a road
on the way to Belarus to join military drills, in Khabarovsk region, Russia, in this still image
taken from video released January 21, 2022. Russian Defence Ministry/Handout via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia is sending two battalions of S-400 surface-to-air missile systems to Belarus to join military drills there next month, the Interfax news agency said on Friday, at a time of acute tensions with the West over neighbouring Ukraine.
    Russian military forces and hardware began arriving in Belarus this week for the “Allied Resolve” drills https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/belarus-says-joint-drills-with-russia-run-feb-10-20-2022-01-18 to be held near the former Soviet republic’s western border with NATO members Poland and Lithuania, and close to its southern flank with Ukraine.
    Western states fear that Russia, which has massed tens of thousands of troops on its borders with Ukraine https://www.reuters.com/world/blinken-arrives-berlin-ukraine-talks-with-european-allies-2022-01-20, is planning a new assault on a country it invaded in 2014.    Russia has denied such plans. Lithuania has also said the buildup of Russian troops there was a threat to its security.
    Russia’s defence ministry said two S-400 battalions – which typically include eight anti-aircraft missile systems each – have started moving to Belarus from Russia’s Far East by train, Interfax said.
    Moscow has said that 12 Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jets and a Pantsir missile system would also be deployed to Belarus for the drills.
(Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by William Mallard)

1/21/2022 Russian Parliament To Discuss Recognising Rebel-Held East Ukraine As Independent by Andrew Osborn
FILE PHOTO: Russia's State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin is seen before President Vladimir Putin's annual state
of the nation address to the Federal Assembly in Moscow, Russia March 1, 2018. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia’s parliament will hold consultations next week on an idea to appeal to President Vladimir Putin to recognise two pro-Russian breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine as independent states, the chamber’s speaker said on Friday.
    Vyacheslav Volodin, the speaker of the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, made the announcement ahead of talks in Geneva later on Friday between Russia’s top diplomat and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to discuss soaring tensions over Ukraine.
    A Russian troop build-up near Ukraine has stirred worries among Western countries that a war could break out between the former Soviet neighbours, whose ties have been fraught since the annexation of Crimea by Moscow and the start of a Russia-backed insurgency in eastern Ukraine in 2014.
    Formally recognising the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic in Donbass, eastern Ukraine, is seen as one potential step Putin could take if he fails to secure security guarantees he is seeking from the West.
    Volodin, in a statement posted to his account on the Telegram messenger service, said a decision had been taken to further examine a draft parliamentary resolution submitted on Wednesday by 11 lawmakers — including Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov — which said that Russia needed to officially recognise the two regions as independent to safeguard their residents from external threats.
    Volodin said that the ruling pro-Putin United Russia party was worried about the security of Russians living in the two breakaway areas.    Moscow has handed out over 600,000 Russian passports to residents since 2014.br>     “The question submitted for our examination is a very serious and responsible one,” said Volodin.
    He said it would therefore be right for it to be discussed next week among the leaders of the main parties represented in parliament and then by the Duma’s ruling council which decides on the chamber’s timetable and workload.
    “We see that (Ukrainian) President Zelenskiy is ignoring the Minsk (peace) agreements.    NATO wants to occupy Ukraine.    Both things can result in tragedy.    We must not let this happen,” said Volodin.
    Zelenskiy has repeatedly said he is open to talks with Russia, while Western leaders have made clear there is no near-term prospect of Ukraine joining NATO.
(Reporting by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Tom Balmforth)

1/21/2022 Austria Set To Make COVID Shots Compulsory After Bill Clears Parliament by Francois Murphy
FILE PHOTO: A doctor vaccinates a person with a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech
COVID-19 vaccine in Vienna, Austria April 26, 2021. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner
    VIENNA (Reuters) – Austria’s lower house of parliament passed a bill on Thursday making COVID-19 vaccinations compulsory for adults as of Feb. 1, bringing Austria closer to introducing the first such sweeping coronavirus vaccine mandate in the European Union.
    Faced with a stubbornly high number of vaccine holdouts and a surge in infections, the government said in November it was planning the mandate.    Since then it has raised https://www.reuters.com/article/health-coronavirus-austria-idINL8N2TW08U the age as of which the mandate will apply, to 18 from 14.
    The bill must now pass the upper house and be signed by President Alexander Van der Bellen, steps which will be largely formalities.
    Roughly 72% of Austria’s population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, one of the lowest rates in western Europe.    After a fourth national lockdown ended last month, the extremely contagious Omicron variant has pushed infections to record levels but the government wants to avoid another lockdown.
    “Making COVID-19 vaccination compulsory is an emergency exit… out of the constant restrictions on our personal and fundamental rights like the ones we have had to endure in the past two years,” the leader of the opposition Social Democrats, Pamela Rendi-Wagner, who is also a doctor, told parliament.
    Many lawmakers from her party and the liberal Neos backed the bill, joining the government coalition of conservatives and Greens, meaning it cleared its main hurdle easily with 137 votes for to 33 against.
    The bill imposes fines of up to 600 euros ($680) on holdouts once checks begin on March 15.    Those who challenge that initial fine unsuccessfully face a maximum fine of 3,600 euros.
    Italy has made COVID-19 vaccinations compulsory for those aged 50 and older, while Greece has done the same for over-60s, and various European countries have done so for some professions like medical staff.     “This vaccine mandate strips people of their rights.    In one move, millions of Austrians will be downgraded,” said Herbert Kickl, leader of the far-right and anti-vaccine Freedom Party.
    He added that the mandate would make holdouts “second-class citizens” and his party would challenge it in the courts.
($1 = 0.8818 euros)
(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Mark Potter, Alex Richardson, Alexandra Hudson)

1/21/2022 U.S. Calls On Bosnian Leaders To Stop Divisive Rhetoric, Actions
Samantha Power, the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID),
speaks during a press conference in Sarajevo, January 21, 2022. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic
    SARAJEVO (Reuters) – The United States on Friday called on Bosnian rival ethnic leaders to put aside divisive rhetoric that threatens the volatile country’s economy and future, saying Washington was ready to impose more sanctions on those obstructing stability.
    “Talk of war is making it incredibly difficult … to attract investment from the international community … and to build a strong and enduring economy that creates jobs,” Samantha Power, the administrator of the U.S Agency for International Development (USAID), said during a news conference in Sarajevo.
    Bosnia’s political crisis, the country’s worst since its 1992-1995 war, erupted after Bosnian Serbs blocked decision making in national institutions and launched a process to withdraw from the state armed forces, tax system and judiciary.
    “The United States is watching and is very, very concerned about the political crisis, political blockade and obstructionism that occurred,” Power said.
    She is the first U.S. official to visit Bosnia after the United States earlier this month slapped fresh sanctions on Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik, accusing him of corruption and threatening Bosnia’s stability and territorial integrity.
    Power called on Bosnian politicians to put aside divisive rhetoric that brings into question the durability of 26 years of peace.
    “President Dodik particularly has created a climate of tension, one that is vulnerable to miscalculation and the risk of escalation,” she said.    Dodik is the Serb member of the country’s tripartite presidency.
    Power said that pulling the Serb Republic out of the national institutions, as Dodik has threatened to do, would only hurt the region economically.
    The U.S.-brokered Dayton peace agreement in 1995 ended the Bosnian war, splitting the country into two highly autonomous regions, the Orthodox Serb-dominated Serb Republic and a federation dominated by Catholic Croats and Muslim Bosniaks.    The two regions are linked via a weak central government.
    Dodik has long advocated the secession of the Serb Republic and its eventual unification with Serbia, the wartime patron of Bosnian Serbs.
    Power said the United States was considering more sanctions against the officials who were involved in corrupt acts and destabilizing the country.    USAID has invested about $2 billion in Bosnia since the end of its war.
(Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Paul Simao)

1/21/2022 U.S. And Russia Agree To Keep Talking After Meeting On Ukraine by Simon Lewis
A service member of the Ukrainian armed forces walks at combat positions near the
line of separation from Russian-backed rebels near Horlivka in the Donetsk region, Ukraine,
January 20, 2022. Picture taken January 20, 2022. REUTERS/Anna Kudriavtseva
    GENEVA (Reuters) - The top U.S. and Russian diplomats made no major breakthrough at talks on Ukraine on Friday but agreed to keep talking to try to resolve a crisis that has stoked fears of a military conflict.
    After the talks in Geneva, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned of a “swift, severe” response if Russia invades Ukraine after massing troops near its border.    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow was still waiting for a written response to its demands for security guarantees.
    But both said they were open to further dialogue, and Blinken saw grounds to hope that mutual security concerns could be addressed.
    “Based on the conversations we’ve had – the extensive conversations – over the past week and today here in Geneva I think there are grounds for and a means to address some of the mutual concerns that we have about security,” Blinken said.
    He described the talks as “frank and substantive” and said Russia now faced a choice.     “It can choose the path of diplomacy that can lead to peace and security, or the path that will lead only to conflict, severe consequences and international condemnation,” Blinken told reporters, adding that diplomacy would be preferable.
    “We’ve been clear – if any Russian military forces move across Ukraine’s border, that’s a renewed invasion.    It will be met with swift, severe and a united response from the United States and our partners and allies.”
    Lavrov said the ball was in Washington’s court.
    Describing the meeting as open and useful, he said Moscow would understand whether talks were on the right track once it had received a written response to its sweeping security demands from the United States.
    Russia’s demands include a halt to NATO’s eastward expansion and a pledge that Ukraine will never be allowed to join the Western military alliance.
    “I can’t tell you if we’re on the right track or the wrong track.    We’ll understand this when we receive the American response on paper to all the points in our proposal,” Lavrov said.
    Tatiana Stanovaya, head of political analysis firm R.Politik, commented on Telegram: “This is partly a trap, of course, because any such written response will be used to discredit the U.S. negotiating position.”
    Blinken said he expected to share with Russia “our concerns and ideas in more detail and in writing next week” and said he and Lavrov had “agreed to further discussions after that.”
    Russia and the United States could hold another meeting next month to discuss Moscow’s demands for security guarantees, Russia’s RIA news agency quoted a source in the Russian delegation as saying.
‘LET’S NOT GET AHEAD OF OURSELVES’
    Lavrov said Russia had worries of its own, “not about invented threats, but real facts that no one hides – pumping Ukraine with weapons, sending hundreds of western military instructors.”
    Asked about the possibility of a summit between President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Joe Biden, Lavrov was circumspect.
    “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, President Putin is always ready for contacts with President Biden, it’s clear these contacts need to be seriously prepared,” he said.
    Blinken said of another potential meeting between Biden and Putin: “If we conclude, and the Russians conclude, that the best way to resolve things is through a further conversation between them, we’re certainly prepared do that.”
    The two presidents met in Geneva in June last year.
    Washington’s hopes of building a united front of opposition to Moscow were complicated by Biden’s comments at a news conference on Wednesday in which he suggested that allies might be divided on how to respond to a “minor incursion” by Russia into Ukraine.
    Biden and his administration sought to row back on that on Thursday, with the president saying that “if any, any assembled Russian units move across the Ukrainian border that is an invasion.”
    Before Friday’s meeting, Blinken swung through Europe to try to shore up U.S. allies’ commitments to hit Russia with economic sanctions if it goes ahead with an invasion of Ukraine.
    In Kyiv on Wednesday, Blinken assured Ukraine of U.S. support.    Blinken, before meeting German, French and British officials in Berlin on Thursday, said Putin could order an invasion imminently.
    Blinken spoke with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba over the phone on Friday and briefed him on his meetings with European and Russian officials, the State Department said in a statement, reaffirming Washington’s support for Kyiv.
    Blinken’s deputy, Wendy Sherman, and Lavrov’s deputy, Sergei Ryabkov, also met in Geneva last week, without a breakthrough.
(Reporting by Simon LewisAdditional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Alexander Ermochenko in Donetsk, Mark Trevelyan in London, Vladimir Soldatkin and Tom Balmforth in Moscow and Daphne Psaledakis in WashingtonWriting by Paul CarrelEditing by Michael Shields, Mary Milliken, Grant McCool, Timothy Heritage and Frances Kerry)

1/21/2022 Ukraine Crisis: What Next After The Blinken-Lavrov Talks?
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken greets Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov before
their meeting, in Geneva, Switzerland, January 21, 2022. Russian Foreign Ministry/Handout via REUTERS
    (Reuters) – Here is a snapshot of what to look out for next in the Ukraine crisis after the latest U.S.-Russia talks produced – as expected – no breakthrough.
U.S WRITTEN RESPONSE TO RUSSIA’S SECURITY PROPOSALS
    Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. side would respond in writing next week to a set of security proposals that Russia presented in December, including a demand to bar Ukraine from ever joining NATO.    A formal U.S. rejection could provide Russia with a pretext to move ahead with the unspecified military response it has threatened.    Tatiana Stanovaya, head of political analysis firm R.Politik, said Moscow needed a written U.S. reply “as cast-iron proof of a refusal to provide Russia with security guarantees.    This is partly a trap, of course, because any such written response will be used to discredit the U.S. negotiating position.”
    Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said they had agreed to further discussions after the U.S. side delivers its response, with the possibility of a meeting later between presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin.
RUSSIA’S MILITARY BUILD-UP
    Russia has had an estimated 100,000 troops within striking distance of the Ukrainian border since November, while insisting it has no intention to invade. In the past week, it has moved troops and equipment thousands of miles from its far east region to Belarus to take part in what it calls joint exercises until Feb. 20.    As Belarus borders Ukraine, this opens a new front for a potential Russian attack and ensures that diplomacy in the coming weeks will take place against the background of an ongoing show of Russian military force.
CALL FOR RUSSIA TO RECOGNISE EAST UKRAINE ‘INDEPENDENCE’
    Russia’s parliament will hold consultations next week on an idea to appeal to Putin to recognise two pro-Russian breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine as independent states. That would be a major escalation that would kill off diplomatic efforts and could serve as a legal pretext for Putin to send in troops to “protect” Russians there from Ukraine.    Officially the Kremlin has reacted coolly to the parliamentary proposal so far, but it adds to Putin’s available options and keeps the West guessing as to his true intentions.    Tension remains high in and around the breakaway regions, where the United States has said Russia is plotting acts of provocation to create a pretext for invasion.    Russia accuses Ukraine of planning to retake the areas by force, which it denies.
EU AND TURKISH DIPLOMACY
    The United States and its allies have rallied to project unity after President Joe Biden caused consternation in Kyiv by saying an invasion of Ukraine would be a disaster for Moscow but a “minor incursion” could lead to a “fight” between Western allies on how to respond.    The French and German foreign ministers are expected to visit eastern Ukraine in a further show of solidarity with Kyiv.    French President Emmanuel Macron said the European Union, which has been largely sidelined in the crisis, should open its own track of diplomacy with Moscow.    And Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan says he wants to bring together the Ukrainian and Russian presidents and plans to visit Ukraine in early February.    Russia, however, says it wants to move fast and is not prepared to let talks drag on indefinitely.
(Reporting by Mark Trevelyan; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

1/21/2022 EU Agency Seeks Clearer Rules On Balancing Borders, Rights by Andrius Sytas
FILE PHOTO: Frontex' Executive Director Fabrice Leggeri arrives for a meeting with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis
(not pictured) at the Maximos Mansion in Athens, Greece, May 21, 2021. REUTERS/Louiza Vradi
    KURMELIONYS, Lithuania (Reuters) - The European Union needs clearer rules on balancing respect for human rights with the need for border protection, the chief of the EU’s Frontex border and coastguard agency said on Friday.
    Frontex is under growing scrutiny over allegations it violated the human rights of certain people seeking asylum while forcefully returning other migrants to non-EU countries.    The EU ombudsman has also said the agency failed to meet transparency requirements.
    Speaking in Lithuania, Frontex executive director Fabrice Leggeri told reporters that legal clarification was needed to “know what is possible and what is not” in the EU.
    “Clarification (is needed) how to strike the balance between prohibiting illegal crossing while maintaining access to international protection for those who are in need.    These are the key principles to combine,” Leggeri said.
    He was standing near a three-meter high, razor-wire topped fence built by Lithuania at its border with Belarus.
    Lithuania in August began pushing back almost all Middle Eastern migrants who sought to cross from Belarus in what the EU called an orchestrated effort by the authorities in Minsk.
    Frontex has been helping Lithuania handle migration from Belarus, and the agency’s fundamental rights officer has logged at least 20 violations of migrant rights at hands of Lithuanian border guard by October, according to an EUObserver report.
    “We are trained to comply with the fundamental rights, we are aware that there is the right to have international protection, but on the other hand there are illegal behaviours and illegal crossing that are not in line with EU regulation,” Leggeri said.
(Reporting by Andrius Sytas; Editing by William Maclean)

1/21/2022 Bulgaria Says It Decides On Its Defence With NATO Allies
FILE PHOTO: Kiril Petkov, Bulgaria's centrist Prime Minister-designate and leader of the
largest political party "We Continue the Change", speaks to the media in front of the
proposed cabinet members after accepting a mandate from Bulgarian President Rumen Radev to form
a new government, in Sofia, Bulgaria, December 11, 2021. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov
    SOFIA (Reuters) – Bulgaria decides on its defence plans in coordination with its allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Prime Minister Kiril Petkov said on Friday after Russia said its security demands included that NATO forces leave Bulgaria and Romania.
    Concern is running high in the West as Russia has amassed tens of thousands of troops near Ukraine’s border. Russia denies planning an attack, but says it could take unspecified military action if its security demands are not met.
    It wants NATO to promise not to admit Ukraine as a member and has urged the Western military alliance to halt eastward expansion. https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/russia-wants-nato-forces-leave-romania-bulgaria-foreign-ministry-2022-01-21 NATO has rejected the demands.
    “Bulgaria is a sovereign country, which has made its choice long ago by becoming a NATO member.     As such, we alone decide to organise the defence of our country in coordination with our partners,” Petkov told parliament.
    He said the North Atlantic Treaty did not provide for a lower category of members for which collective defence should be applied selectively or to a limited extent.
    Moscow has demanded legally binding guarantees that NATO will stop its expansion and return to its 1997 borders.    Bulgaria, one of Moscow’s closest allies during the Cold War era, joined NATO in 2004.
    Russia and the United States could hold another meeting next month to discuss Moscow’s demands for security guarantees, Russia’s RIA news agency quoted a source in the Russian delegation as saying after talks in Geneva on Friday.
(Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing by Alex Richardson and Barbara Lewis)

1/21/2022 Hungary Opposition Leader Flags Tax Cuts For Poor As Orban’s Party Gains Ground by Gergely Szakacs and Krisztina Than
FILE PHOTO: Opposition candidate for prime minister Peter Marki-Zay looks on during a
joint demonstration organised by opposition parties during the celebrations of the 65th anniversary
of the Hungarian Uprising of 1956, in Budapest, Hungary, October 23, 2021. REUTERS/Marton Monus
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungary’s opposition plans to lower the tax burden on the poor while ensuring fiscal discipline to put the country on track to adopting the euro should a six-party alliance win power at an April 3 election, its leader Peter Marki-Zay told Reuters.
    For the first time since taking power in a 2010 landslide, Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his nationalist Fidesz party will face a united front of opposition parties at the ballot.
    The latest polls published in December and January show a close race, but with Fidesz pulling slightly ahead of the opposition alliance.
    Orban’s government has ramped up spending and broad-based tax breaks that critics say are unsustainable and favour the middle class and wealthy.
    Marki-Zay, 49, an independent local mayor and political outsider whose victory at last year’s primaries stunned even some allies, said the opposition’s focus in government would instead be on improving income for poorer Hungarians.
    “There will be progressive taxation,” Marki-Zay, who is currently at home isolating after a positive COVID-19 result that has interrupted his campaign, said in a interview by Zoom.
    “But we will introduce this not by increasing the upper rate for the richer but by lowering it further for the poor,” he said, and also proposed a targeted reduction in the value-added tax rate on basic food products.
    He also said he would return Hungary to fiscal discipline, adding the country needed to strengthen its forint currency and seek a “very stable” exchange rate to join the ERM-2 system, the entry room for euro adoption, within 2-3 years.
    He pledged a “very responsible budget.”
    An opposition government would contain the budget deficit by cutting back on unnecessary government infrastructure spending and clamping down on corruption, he said, adding that Hungary’s strong GDP growth would also help make up revenue lost with the tax cuts.
    “There is no need for significant measures against the wellbeing of the average Hungarian household,” he added.
    The budget deficit ballooned to 8% of GDP in 2020, as the pandemic shook the economy, and is expected to be at around 7.5% of GDP for 2021, largely due to increased spending in the run-up to the vote.
    With inflation set to average its highest in a decade in 2022, high costs of living, low wages and pensions were among the main concerns of undecided voters based on a January survey by the liberal think tank Republikon.
OPPOSITION DIFFERENCES
    The outcome of the election will decide whether the EU-member state continues on a self-declared “illiberal” path that has challenged the bloc’s rules, or returns to what the opposition says would be a more centrist democracy.
    The same survey by Republikon showed worries about corruption and democratic backsliding, key campaign issues for Marki-Zay and the opposition alliance, ranked lower in the eyes of undecided voters.
    A core issue facing the opposition is how to push through its agenda under a constitution and laws passed by Fidesz that have cemented Orban’s conservative ideology.    Key public posts will be held by Orban loyalists for at least several years to come.
    Marki-Zay said the leftist Democratic Coalition and formerly far-right now centre-right Jobbik agreed in principle about the need to declare some of Orban’s reforms invalid.
    “Others are afraid that if we don’t respect every single law that was made by Fidesz, then we ourselves are destroying the rule of law in Hungary,” he said.    “I disagree with this strongly. There is no rule of law in Hungary.”
    Orban, one of Europe’s longest-serving leaders, says his party’s two-thirds parliamentary majority gave him a mandate to push through reforms.
    Critics say the 58-year-old, who has transformed Hungary into a self-styled “illiberal state,” abused that majority to entrench Fidesz’s power even in case of an electoral defeat.
    Holding together the diverse six-party alliance is another challenge facing Marki-Zay, who criticised some opposition lawmakers he said were “very accustomed to this system” after 12 years under Orban’s rule.
    “We do not have an agreement on many details, but we have an agreement on principles.    It is a very difficult job, but it is possible,” he said.
($1 = 314.92 forints)
(Reporting by Gergely Szakacs and Krisztina Than; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel)

1/21/2022 Blinken Calls For Russia To Release Two U.S. Citizens At Geneva Talks by Simon Lewis
FILE PHOTO: Former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, who was detained and accused of espionage, holds a sign as he stands inside a
defendants' cage during his verdict hearing in Moscow, Russia June 15, 2020. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/File Photo
    GENEVA (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday raised the cases of Paul Whelan and Trevor Reed, two U.S. citizens detained in Russia and repeated Washington’s call for their release during talks with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Geneva.
    The top diplomats of Russia and the United States met in the Swiss city https://www.reuters.com/world/top-diplomats-us-russia-meet-geneva-soaring-ukraine-tensions-2022-01-21 amid soaring tensions over Ukraine, after talks between their deputies last week failed to achieve a breakthrough.
    In opening remarks witnessed by reporters, Blinken told Lavrov that along Russia’s military buildup near its border with Ukraine he would also discuss the two Americans’ cases during the meeting.
    The two “were tourists in Russia, were arrested, were convicted without credible evidence,” Blinken said.    “We again ask Russia to do the right thing and let them come home.”
    Russia convicted Whelan https://www.reuters.com/world/russian-court-consider-transfer-ex-marine-us-sept-27-ifax-2021-09-08 – who holds U.S., British, Canadian and Irish passports – of spying in June 2020 and sentenced him to 16 years in jail.    He denied the charge and said he was set up in a sting operation.
    Reed https://www.reuters.com/world/us/ex-us-marines-parents-urge-biden-push-jailed-sons-freedom-putin-talks-2021-12-06 was sentenced to nine years in jail after being found guilty of endangering the lives of two policemen in Moscow while drunk on a visit in 2019.    He denied the charges and the United States called his trial a “theater of the absurd.”
(Reporting by Simon Lewis; Editing by Tomasz Janowski)
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1/22/2022 First Part Of $200 Million U.S. Defence Aid Arrives In Ukraine
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Ukrainian President
Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Kyiv, Ukraine January 19, 2022. Alex Brandon/Pool via REUTERS
    KYIV (Reuters) – The first shipment of the United States’ $200 million security support package for Ukraine arrived in Kyiv, the U.S. Embassy said on Saturday.
    The delivery followed U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to Kyiv this week amid concerns from Kyiv and its Western allies over tens of thousands of Russian troops amassed at the border with Ukraine.    Russia denies planning a new military offensive.
    Washington approved the $200 million package in December.
    “The United States will continue providing such assistance to support Ukraine’s Armed Forces in their ongoing effort to defend Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity against Russian aggression,” it said on Facebook.
    Ukraine’s defence minister thanked the United States for the aid.
(Reporting by Natalia Zinets, Editing by Louise Heavens)

1/22/2022 Ukraine Bans Austrian Design Firm Working On Crimea Theatre Project
FILE PHOTO: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy speaks during a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State
Antony Blinken at the Bankova, in Kyiv, Ukraine, January 19, 2022. Alex Brandon/Pool via REUTERS
    KYIV (Reuters) – Ukraine imposed sanctions on Saturday on an Austrian architecture and design company working on a project to build new theatre house in Sevastopol, a city in the Russian-controlled Crimean peninsula.
    A decree issued by President Volodymyr Zelenskiy says the company, Coop Himmelb(L)au, is banned from doing business in Ukraine and cannot withdraw capital from the country for five years.
    The decree also prohibits the company’s six board members from entering Ukraine and participating in privatisations, and says their assets in the country will be frozen.
    Kyiv considers Crimea an occupied territory and business there illegal after Russia annexed the peninsula in 2014.
    The firm says on its website that Sevastopol is Russian territory.
    Since the annexation Ukrainian authorities have imposed sanctions against thousands of entities and personalities that were involved in Russia’s actions against Ukraine or continued to conduct business in Crimea despite Kyiv’s restrictions.
    A majority of Ukraine’s Western allies has not recognised Crimea as part of Russia and supports Kyiv’ sanctions.
    The firm has not responded to a Reuters request for comment.
    Russia has amassed tens of thousand of troops on Ukraine’s borders and diplomatic efforts are ongoing to prevent the situation from escalating into war. Russia denies it is planning to invade Ukraine.
(Reporting by Natalia Zinets; editing by Clelia Oziel)

1/22/2022 Political Advisers To Hold Four-Way Talks On Ukraine In Paris
FILE PHOTO: The national flag of Ukraine flies over the town
of Kramatorsk, Ukraine November 25, 2021. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Political advisers from Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany will hold “Normandy format” talks on eastern Ukraine in Paris on Jan. 25, a source in Russian President Vladimir     Putin’s administration said on Saturday.
    Mykhailo Podolyak, adviser to Ukraine’s chief negotiator Andriy Yermak, confirmed that a meeting in Paris was planned but told Reuters a preliminary date had been set for Jan. 26.
    The planned talks come amid elevated tensions between Russia and the West over Ukraine.
    Western countries are concerned by a Russia military build-up on the border and have warned of severe economic consequences if it invades its neighbour.    Russia denies it plans to invade Ukraine but is demanding legally binding security guarantees from the United States and NATO.
    The four-way Normandy format peace talks are aimed at helping end a long-running conflict in eastern Ukraine between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian separatists.
    Relations between Russia and Ukraine collapsed in 2014 after Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine and Moscow-backed forces seized territory in the Donbass region that Kyiv wants back.
    Russia’s chief negotiator, Dmitry Kozak will take part in the talks from the Russian side, the source added.
    Kozak said earlier in January that the meeting would be held by the end of this month.
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin and Natalia Zinets; writing by Polina Devitt; Editing by Catherine Evans)

1/22/2022 Residents Of Ukrainian City Near Russian Border Brace For The Unknown by Vitaliy Gnidy
FILE PHOTO: Reservists of the Ukrainian Territorial Defence Forces listen to instructions during military exercises at a
training ground outside Kharkiv, Ukraine December 11, 2021. REUTERS/Vyacheslav Madiyevskyy/File Photo
    KHARKIV, Ukraine (Reuters) – Residents in Ukraine’s second biggest city Kharkiv said they hoped for the best but would prepare for the worst, as Russia massed tens of thousands of troops near Ukraine’s borders and diplomatic talks failed to produce a breakthrough.
    Kharkiv, an industrial city in eastern Ukraine that is home to tank, aircraft and tractor factories, lies 42 km (26 miles) from the Russian border. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has identified it as a possible target of a Russian attack.
    Russia has denied it plans to attack Ukraine but has pressed the West for security guarantees, including a block on Ukraine joining the NATO alliance.
    Kharkiv’s mayor, Igor Terekhov, has said the city of 1.4 million will be “calm and collected” and he would not allow anybody to take it. Interviewed this week, some residents said they would stay and fight, others might move.
    “I do not have to stay in one place, if anything happens – I can work remotely,” said project manager Daniella Shatokhina.
    “I am trying not to think about it.    I hope everything will be okay, I hope for the best.    It’s better not to panic before time but to decide as it happens, think on my feet.”
    Another resident, assistant brand manager Anya Vergeles, compared the situation to 2014, when Russia seized Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula.
    “Nobody thought that this could happen to Crimea.    Nobody could imagine that.    I do not want to believe it, but we do not know what will happen next,” she said.
    Zelenskiy said in an interview published on Friday that an attack on Kharkiv was “feasible,” though a spokesman later said the president was laying out a hypothetical scenario.
    The top U.S. and Russian diplomats made no major breakthrough at talks on Ukraine on Friday but agreed to keep talking to try to resolve the crisis.
    Sales manager Oleksiy Kormylets said he would not leave Kharkiv whatever happened.
    “Run?    No.    No way!    I was born here.    I grew up here.    I am staying no matter what.    And if I have to join the city defence, I’ll do it,” he said.
    IT programmer Anton Sergeev thought Russia may be just sabre-rattling, and recalled an unsuccessful attempt by Russian-backed separatist forces to capture the city in 2014.
    “They already were ‘welcomed’ here so they have learned it’s better to stay away.    Or they will go back home in zinc coffins.    And their mothers will cry,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Pavel Polityuk; Editing by Matthias Williams and Frances Kerry)

1/23/2022 UK Warns Russia Will Face Severe Sanctions If It Puts ‘Puppet Regime’ In Ukraine by Paul Sandle, Michael Holden and Natalia Zinets
A service member of the Ukrainian armed forces stands guard at combat positions near the line of separation from
Russian-backed rebels near Horlivka in the Donetsk region, Ukraine, January 20, 2022. REUTERS/Anna Kudriavtseva
    LONDON/KIYV (Reuters) – Russia will face severe economic sanctions if it installs a puppet regime in Ukraine, a senior UK minister said on Sunday after Britain accused the Kremlin of seeking to install a pro-Russian leader there.
    Britain made the accusation late on Saturday, also saying Russian intelligence officers had been in contact with a number of former Ukrainian politicians as part of plans for an invasion.
    The Russian Foreign Ministry dismissed the comments as “disinformation,” accusing Britain and NATO of “escalating tensions” over Ukraine.    The British claims came after the top U.S. and Russian diplomats failed on Friday to make a major breakthrough in talks to resolve the crisis over Ukraine, although they agreed to keep talking.
    Mykhailo Podolyak, a Ukrainian adviser to the presidential office, said the allegations should be taken seriously.
    “There’ll be very serious consequences if Russia takes this move to try and invade but also install a puppet regime,” British Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab told Sky News.
    The British accusations, first made in a statement by the foreign ministry, come at a time of high tensions with the West over Russia’s massing of troops near the border with Ukraine.
    Moscow has insisted it has no plans to invade.
    The foreign ministry said it had information the Russian government was considering former Ukrainian lawmaker Yevhen Murayev as a potential candidate to head a pro-Russian leadership.
    Murayev himself poured cold water on the notion that Russia wants to install him as Ukraine’s leader, in comments to British newspapers and in an interview with Reuters.
    “This morning I already read in all the news publications this conspiracy theory: absolutely unproven, absolutely unfounded,” Murayev told Reuters in a video call, adding he was considering legal action.
    He denied having any contact with Russian intelligence officers and dismissed the idea that he could be in league with the Kremlin as “stupid,” given he was placed under Russian sanctions in 2018.
    Although he says he wants Ukraine to be independent from Russia as well as the West, Murayev, 45, has promoted some views that align with the Kremlin’s narratives on Ukraine.
    Also noting he was under sanctions, the Russian Embassy in London mocked the “obvious deterioration” of British expertise on the region.
    The British foreign ministry declined to provide evidence to back its accusations.    A ministry source said it was not usual practice to share intelligence, and the details had only been declassified after careful consideration to deter Russian aggression.
    In a message to Reuters, Ukrainian adviser Podolyak acknowledged there was doubt among Ukrainians as to whether Murayev was “too ridiculous a figure” to be the Kremlin’s pick to lead Ukraine.    But he added that Russia had propped up previously minor figures in leadership positions in annexed Crimea and separatist-held Donbass.
    Therefore “one should take this information as seriously as possible,” he said.
    According to a poll by the Razumkov’s Centre think tank conducted in December 2021, Murayev was ranked seventh among candidates for the 2024 presidential election, with 6.3% support.
‘DEEPLY CONCERNING’
    Russia has made security demands on the United States including a halt to NATO’s eastward expansion and a pledge that Ukraine will never be allowed to join the Western military alliance.
    U.S. National Security Council spokesperson Emily Horne said in a statement: “This kind of plotting is deeply concerning.    The Ukrainian people have the sovereign right to determine their own future, and we stand with our democratically-elected partners in Ukraine.”
    Britain, which this week supplied 2,000 missiles and a team of military trainers to Ukraine, also said it had information that Russian intelligence services were maintaining links with numerous former Ukrainian politicians, including senior figures with links to ex-President Viktor Yanukovich.
Yanukovich fled to Russia in 2014 after three months of protests against his rule and was sentenced in absentia to 13 years in jail on treason charges in 2019.
(Reporting by Michael Holden and Paul Sandle in London, Natalia Zinets in Kyiv; Additional reporting by Matthias Williams in Kyiv, Vladimir Soldatkin in Moscow; Writing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Frances Kerry; Editing by Alexander Smith)

1/23/2022 Armenian President Resigns Saying Constitution Doesn’t Give Him Enough Influence
FILE PHOTO: Armenia's President Armen Sarkissian speaks during the UN Climate Change Conference
(COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland, Britain, November 2, 2021. Adrian Dennis/Pool via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) -Armenian President Armen Sarkissian tendered his resignation on Sunday, saying he believes the country’s constitution does not give him sufficient powers to influence events.
    Sarkissian, president since 2018, was in a standoff with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan last year over a number of issues, including the dismissal of the head of the armed forces.
    The role of prime minister is seen as more powerful than that of president.
    “I have been thinking for a long time, I have decided to resign from the post of the President of the Republic after working actively for about four years,” Sarkissian said in a statement published on the president’s official website.
    “The question may arise as to why the President failed to influence the political events that led us to the current national crisis.    The reason is obvious again – the lack of appropriate tools … – the Constitution.    The roots of some of our potential problems are hidden in the current Basic Law.”
    At a referendum in December 2015, Armenia became a parliamentary republic, while presidential powers were significantly curtailed.
    Sarkissian in his statement did not refer directly to any particular events or issues.
    Armenia agreed a ceasefire with Azerbaijan last November at their border, after Russia urged them to step back from confrontation following the deadliest clash since a six-week war in 2020 when Moscow also brokered a peace deal to end the hostilities.
    Prime Minister Pashinyan has since been under pressure, with regular street protests demanding he step down over the terms of the peace agreement.    Under the 2020 deal brokered by Russia, Azerbaijan regained control of territory it had lost during a war in the early 1990s.
    Armenia seceded from the Soviet Union in 1991 but remains dependent on Russia for aid and investment.    Many Armenians accuse the government of corruption and mishandling an economy that has struggled to overcome the legacy of central planning.
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin;Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Susan Fenton)

1/23/2022 Ukrainian Politician Mocks ‘Stupid’ UK Claims He Could Lead Kremlin Puppet Government by Elena Ostrovskaya and Natalia Zinets
FILE PHOTO: Ukrainian lawmaker Yevhen Murayev attends a session of the Ukrainian
parliament, Verkhovna Rada, in Kyiv, Ukraine November 26, 2018. REUTERS/Vladislav Musienko
    KYIV (Reuters) – Former Ukrainian lawmaker Yevhen Murayev derided British allegations that he could be installed as leader of a Kremlin puppet government in Kyiv, and told Reuters in an interview that he was considering legal action.
    Britain’s foreign ministry said on Sunday that Moscow was considering Murayev as a potential candidate to lead Ukraine if Russia launched an invasion, and said Russian intelligence officers were in contact with several other former Ukrainian politicians about planning an attack.
    Russia blasted the allegations as “disinformation” while a Ukrainian official said it should be looked at seriously.
    “This morning I already read in all the news publications this conspiracy theory: absolutely unproven, absolutely unfounded,” Murayev said on a video call.
    He denied having any contact with Russian intelligence officers and dismissed the idea that he could be in league with the Kremlin as “stupid,” given he was placed under Russian sanctions in 2018.
    “Probably in the UK it was somehow forgotten or missed, or simply not even appreciated,” said Murayev, adding that the allegations made him doubt the quality of UK intelligence work.
    Earlier he had posted on Facebook a picture of himself altered to look like the fictional British spy James Bond.
    Kyiv and its Western allies have sounded the alarm over Russia massing troops near Ukraine’s borders.    Russia denies plans to attack but has pressed for security guarantees, including a block on Ukraine joining the NATO alliance.
‘PEACE, NOT NATO’
    Murayev said he was prepared to defend his “honest name” against the British allegations.    “Lawyers are preparing a mechanism for me,” he added.    “I will defend my honour in court.”
    Born in 1976, he began his political career in his native city of Kharkiv as an ally of the former President Viktor Yanukovich, who fled to Russia after the 2014 Maidan protests brought a pro-Western leadership to power.
    Murayev was a lawmaker from 2014 to 2019. He started in the Opposition Bloc faction, a party formed from fragments of Yanukovich’s Party of Regions.    In June 2016 he founded his own party, For Life, and in 2018 he launched another party, Nashi.
    Though he says he wants Ukraine to be independent from Russia as well as the West, Murayev has promoted some views that align with the Kremlin’s narratives on Ukraine.
    Speaking to Reuters, he called for a change of power in Ukraine and blamed the “collective West” for the war in the eastern Donbass region.    Echoing Russia’s hostility to the alliance, he said:
    “Peace, not NATO, is in our interests, and if the question now is that we will have a war and hundreds of thousands will die because the collective West wants to see us as a launch pad, I think that this goes against our interests.”
    Murayev told Reuters he wanted Ukraine to be politically neutral, like Switzerland. He said he believed Russia put him under sanctions at the behest of a prominent pro-Kremlin politician in Ukraine with whom he fell out.
(Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Pravin Char)

1/23/2022 Sanctioning Russia Now Over Ukraine Would Undercut Deterrence – U.S.’S Blinken
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Swiss President Ignazio Cassis
(not pictured) meet in Geneva, Switzerland, January 21, 2022. Alex Brandon/Pool via REUTERS
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Sunday rebuffed the idea of imposing economic sanctions on Russia now, saying that doing so would undercut the West’s ability to deter potential Russian aggression against Ukraine.
    Russia’s massing of troops near its border with Ukraine has sparked Western concerns that it may invade.    If Russia does make an incursion, the West has threatened sanctions with far-reaching economic effects.    Moscow has said it has no plans to invade.
    “When it comes to sanctions, the purpose of those sanctions is to deter Russian aggression.    And so if they are triggered now, you lose the deterrent effect,” Blinken told CNN’s “State of the Union” program in an interview.
    Blinken said if one more Russian force entered Ukraine in an aggressive manner, that would trigger a significant response.
    Asked if U.S. hands were tied over Ukraine because of its need for Russian support in separate talks on reining Iran’s nuclear program, Blinken, speaking to CBS’s “Face the Nation” program, replied: “Not in the least.”
(Reporting by Susan Heavey and Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Scott Malone and Lisa Shumaker)

1/23/2022 Ukraine Receives Second Batch Of U.S. Weapons In Russian Stand-Off
Airmen and civilians from the 436th Aerial Port Squadron palletize ammunition, weapons and
other equipment bound for Ukraine during a foreign military sales mission at Dover Air Force Base,
in Delaware, U.S. January 21, 2022. U.S. Air Force/Mauricio Campino/Handout via REUTERS
    KYIV (Reuters) – Ukraine’s Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov said on Sunday the country had received a second consignment of weapons from the United States as part of defensive aid totalling $200 million.
    Washington has said it would continue to support Ukraine amid concerns in Kyiv and among its Western allies over tens of thousands of Russian troops amassed on its border.    Russia denies planning a military offensive.
    “The second bird in Kyiv! More than 80 tons of weapons to strengthen Ukraine’s defense capabilities from our friends in the USA!    And this is not the end,” Reznikov wrote on Twitter.
    About 90 tonnes of “lethal security assistance,” including ammunition, from the package approved by the U.S. in December arrived in the Ukrainian capital on Saturday.
(Reporting by Natalia Zinets; Editing by Alexander Smith)

1/23/2022 Belgian Police Fire Water Cannon, Tear Gas During COVID Curbs Protest by Johnny Cotton
Police officers stand guard during a demonstration against the Belgian government's restrictions imposed to contain the
spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Brussels, Belgium, January 23, 2022. REUTERS/Johanna Geron
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of people protested in Brussels on Sunday against COVID-19 restrictions, some clashing with police who fired water cannon and tear gas to disperse them near the European Commission’s headquarters.
    The rally drew about 50,000 people, Belgian police said.
    It was peaceful at first as protesters chanted and filled streets, waving placards and balloons with slogans like: “We want to be free again” and “No Covid slave ticket,” a reference to vaccine passes required for certain activities.
    Trouble flared later, with a building housing the European diplomatic service and a sandwich shop broken into, a Reuters journalist said.    Police said more than 60 people were arrested, with three officers and 12 demonstrators taken to hospital.
    Belgium announced a slight easing of coronavirus restrictions on Friday despite record infections, but also said people must have booster shots after five months to keep passes for bars, cinemas and many other public spaces.
‘ANTI-DICTATOR, NOT ANTI-VAXXER’
    “I’m angry about the blackmail that the government is doing,” said protester Caroline van Landuyt, who had herself been vaccinated.    Her children did not want to be inoculated but had to so as to travel and play sport, she said.
    Sunday’s scenes in the Belgian capital were reminiscent of clashes last November, when around 35,000 protesters took to Brussels’ streets and there was also violence.
    EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell thanked police and condemned “the senseless destruction and violence.” in a tweet that showed him standing in front of a broken pane of glass.
    Some protesters let off fireworks as police advanced into a park.    Riot officers ringed the water cannon.    “I’m not an anti-vaxxer, I’m anti-dictator,” read another placard.
    Belgium is facing a fifth wave of COVID-19 infections, with the peak not expected for at least a couple of weeks.
    Some 89% of Belgian adults are fully vaccinated and 67% have now also received a booster shot.br> (Reporting by Johnny Cotton; Writing by Sabine Siebold; Editing by Alexander Smith and Andrew Cawthorne)

1/24/2022 EU To Leave Diplomats’ Families In Ukraine For Now, Borrell Says
High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell gestures during a joint news
conference with French Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian (not seen) as part of a
European Union Foreign Ministers informal meeting (Gymnich) in Brest, western France, January 14, 2022. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union does not plan to withdraw diplomats’ families from Ukraine at the moment, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Monday after Washington announced such a move, pointing out a military attack by Russia could come at any time.
    The U.S. State Department announced on Sunday it was ordering diplomats’ family members to leave Ukraine, in one of the clearest signs yet that American officials are bracing for an aggressive Russian move in the region.
    “We are not going to do the same thing because we don’t know any specific reasons.    But (U.S.) Secretary (of State Antony) Blinken will inform us,” Borrell told reporters as he arrived for a meeting with his EU counterparts that Blinken is expected to join online at around 1400 GMT.
    Tensions in Ukraine have been increasing for months after the Kremlin massed some 100,000 troops near Ukraine’s borders, a dramatic buildup the West says is preparation for a war to prevent Ukraine from ever joining the NATO security alliance.
    The Kremlin has repeatedly denied planning to invade, but the Russian military already took a chunk of Ukrainian territory when it seized Crimea and backed separatist forces who took control of large parts of eastern Ukraine eight years ago.
    “Negotiations are going on,” Borrell said, adding he saw no reason to leave Ukraine “unless Secretary Blinken gives us an information that justifies a move.”
    The EU’s foreign ministers are expected to issue a warning to Russia over its troop buildup at Ukraine’s border.
(Reporting by Sabine Siebold, Marine Strauss and Robin Emmott; Editing by Ingrid Melander)

1/25/2022 NATO Sends Reinforcements And U.S. Puts Troops On Alert As Ukraine Tensions Rise by Dmitry Antonov and Sabine Siebold
FILE PHOTO: NATO flag is seen during NATO enhanced Forward Presence battle group military
exercise Silver Arrow in Adazi, Latvia October 5, 2019. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins/File Photo
    MOSCOW/BRUSSELS (Reuters) - NATO said on Monday it was putting forces on standby and reinforcing eastern Europe with more ships br>     The U.S. Department of Defense in Washington said about 8,500 American troops were put on heightened alert and were awaiting orders to deploy to the region, should Russia invade Ukraine.
    Tensions are high after Russia massed an estimated 100,000 troops in reach of its neighbour’s border, surrounding Ukraine with forces from the north, east and south.
    Russia denies planning an invasion and Moscow is citing the Western response as evidence that Russia is the target, not the instigator, of aggression.
    President Joe Biden, pushing for transatlantic unity, held an 80-minute secure video call with a number of European leaders on Monday from the White House Situation Room to discuss the Ukraine crisis.
    Biden told reporters “I had a very, very, very good meeting” with the Europeans, which included the leaders of Germany, France, Italy, Britain and Poland.    He said there was “total unanimity.”
    A White House statement said the leaders “discussed their joint efforts to deter further Russian aggression against Ukraine, including preparations to impose massive consequences and severe economic costs on Russia for such actions as well as to reinforce security on NATO’s eastern flank.”
    Welcoming a series of deployments announced by alliance members in recent days, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg earlier said NATO would take “all necessary measures.”
    “We will always respond to any deterioration of our security environment, including through strengthening our collective defence,” Stoltenberg said in a statement.
    He told a news conference that the enhanced presence on NATO’s eastern flank could also include the deployment of battlegroups in the southeast of the alliance.
    So far, NATO has about 4,000 troops in multinational battalions in Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia and Poland, backed by tanks, air defences and intelligence and surveillance units.
    U.S. officials said the Pentagon was finalising efforts to identify specific units that it could deploy to NATO’s eastern flank.
    One of the officials said up to 5,000 could be deployed, while a NATO diplomat said Washington was considering gradually transferring some troops stationed in western Europe to eastern Europe in the coming weeks.
    Denmark, Spain, France and the Netherlands were all planning or considering sending troops, planes or ships to eastern Europe, NATO said.    Ukraine shares borders with four NATO countries: Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania.
    A Polish official said Warsaw would draw the line at sending troops to Ukraine.
GROWING TENSIONS
    As tensions grow, Britain said it was withdrawing some staff and dependents from its embassy in Ukraine, a day after the United States https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/russia-faces-severe-sanctions-if-it-installs-puppet-regime-ukraine-uk-minister-2022-01-23 said it was ordering diplomats’ family members to leave.     U.S. diplomats are being allowed to leave voluntarily.
    Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov accused the West of “hysteria” and putting out information “laced with lies
    “As for specific actions, we see statements by the North Atlantic Alliance about reinforcement, pulling forces and resources to the eastern flank.    All this leads to the fact that tensions are growing,” he said.
    “This is not happening because of what we, Russia, are doing.    This is all happening because of what NATO and the U.S. are doing and due to the information they are spreading.”
    Global stock markets skidded as the prospect of a Russian attack quashed demand for riskier assets such as bitcoin, and bolstered the dollar and oil.    The rouble hit a 14-month low against the dollar, and Russian stocks and bonds tumbled.
    Russia has used its troop build-up to draw the West into discussions after presenting demands to redraw Europe’s security map. It wants https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/why-is-russias-putin-so-focused-ukraine-2021-12-15 NATO never to admit Ukraine and to pull back troops and weapons from former Communist countries in eastern Europe that joined it after the Cold War.
    Washington says those demands are non-starters but it is ready to discuss other ideas on arms control, missile deployments and confidence-building measures.
    Russia is awaiting a written U.S. response this week after talks last Friday – the fourth round this month – produced no breakthrough.
‘PAINFUL, VIOLENT AND BLOODY’
    Asked whether he thought an invasion was imminent, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told broadcasters that intelligence was “pretty gloomy on this point” but that “sense can still prevail.”
    He repeated Western warnings that invading Ukraine would be “a painful, violent and bloody business” for Russia.
    The United States and the European Union, wary of Russia’s intentions since it seized Crimea and backed separatists fighting government forces in eastern Ukraine in 2014, have told Russia it will face crippling penalties if it attacks again.
    EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels warned Russia it would face “massive” consequences, but are divided over how tough to be on Moscow and did not say what the consequences might be.
    Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy told EU President Charles Michel, who was also on the call with Biden, that it was important for Kyiv that the EU showed unity.
    “Ukraine will not fall for provocations, and together with its partners, will remain calm and restrained,” his office said.
    The European Commission, the EU executive body, proposed a 1.2-billion euro ($1.36-billion) financial aid package to help Ukraine mitigate the effects of the conflict.
    A Russian delegation source said political advisers from Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany would meet in Paris on Wednesday for talks on resolving the conflict in eastern Ukraine, in which some 15,000 people have been killed since 2014.    Previous efforts have failed to yield any breakthrough.
(Reporting by Dmitry Antonov and Sabine Siebold, Additional reporting by Andrew Osborn, Darya Korsunskaya, Ekaterina Golubkova, Alexander Marrow and Vladimir Soldatkin in Moscow; Pavel Polityuk in Kyiv; Marine Strauss and Robin Emmott in Brussels; William James and William Schomberg in London; and Phil Stewart, Trevor Hunnicutt and Steve Holland in Washington; writing by Mark Trevelyan and Ingrid Melander, editing by Timothy Heritage and Rosalba O’Brien)

1/25/2022 U.S. Orders Departure Of Ukraine Embassy Staff Family Members by David Shepardson and Costas Pitas
A view shows the U.S. embassy in Kyiv, Ukraine January 24, 2022. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States on Sunday ordered the departure of family members of staff at its embassy in Ukraine, citing the continuing threat of military action from Russia.
    The U.S. State Department also authorized the voluntary departure of U.S. government employees and said Americans should consider departing immediately.
    “We have been in consultation with the Ukrainian government about this step and are coordinating with Allied and partner embassies in Kyiv as they determine their posture,” the U.S. Embassy said.     Russia has massed troops near the border with Ukraine prompting tensions with Western powers. Moscow has insisted it has no plans to invade.
    The U.S. Embassy in Kyiv warned in a statement that “military action by Russia could come at any time and the United States government will not be in a position to evacuate American citizens in such a contingency, so U.S. citizens currently present in Ukraine should plan accordingly.”
    The State Department also said it was authorizing the “voluntary departure of U.S. direct hire employees.”
    The New York Times reported late Sunday that President Joe Biden was considering deploying several thousand U.S. troops to NATO allies in Eastern Europe and the Baltics.
    The Pentagon declined to comment on the New York Times report but noted that Pentagon spokesman John Kirby on Friday said, “we’re going to make sure that we have options ready to reassure our allies, particularly on — on NATO’s Eastern Flank.”
    “If there’s another incursion and if they need that reassurance, if they need the capabilities to be bolstered, we’re going to do that and we’re going to make sure that we’re — that we’re ready to do that,” Kirby said.
    U.S. and Russian diplomats made no major breakthrough at talks on Friday.
    On Sunday, Britain accused the Kremlin of seeking to install a pro-Russian leader in Kyiv.
    The State Department late Sunday also reissued its advisory for Russia warning Americans not to travel, citing “ongoing tension along the border with Ukraine.”    It also added “given the on-going volatility of the situation, U.S. citizens are strongly advised against traveling by land from Russia to Ukraine through this region.”
    State Department officials declined to say how many Americans are currently believed to be in Ukraine.
    The U.S. Embassy in Ukraine said the decision was made “out of an abundance of caution due to continued Russian efforts to destabilize the country and undermine the security of Ukrainian citizens and others visiting or residing in Ukraine.”
    The U.S. Embassy in Kyiv is continuing to operate and its Chargé d’Affaires Kristina Kvien remains in Ukraine, State Department officials said.
(Reporting by David Shepardson in Washington and Costas Pitas in Los Angeles; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Diane Craft)

1/25/2022 Kremlin Says Watching U.S. Actions Over Ukraine With Great Concern
FILE PHOTO: A service member of the Ukrainian armed forces walks at combat positions near the
line of separation from Russian-backed rebels near Horlivka in the Donetsk region, Ukraine,
January 22, 2022. Picture taken January 22, 2022. Picture taken REUTERS/Anna Kudriavtseva
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia said on Tuesday it was watching with great concern after the United States put 8,500 troops on alert to be ready to deploy to Europe in case of an escalation in the Ukraine crisis.
    Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov accused Washington of fuelling tensions over Ukraine – repeating Moscow’s line that the crisis is being driven by U.S. and NATO actions rather than by its own build-up of tens of thousands of troops near the Ukrainian border.
    Western states accuse Russia of planning a new attack on Ukraine, which it invaded in 2014.     Moscow denies any such plan but says it could take unspecified military action unless demands are met, including a NATO promise never to admit Kyiv.
    NATO said on Monday it was putting forces on standby and reinforcing eastern Europe with more ships and fighter jets.    Russia denounced the moves as Western “hysteria.”
    Peskov said President Vladimir Putin would talk this week to his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron, who is also planning to speak with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
    Russia is awaiting a written U.S. response this week to its list of security demands it has presented, some of which Washington has dismissed as non-starters.
    Peskov said the U.S. troop alert did not affect negotiations because the current phase of talks had been completed.
(Reporting by Dmitry Antonov; Writing by Alexander Marrow and Mark Trevelyan; Editing by Peter Graff)

1/25/2022 Your Own CIA Jail? Lithuania To Sell Secret U.S. ‘Rendition’ Site by Andrius Sytas
Aerial view of a building used by CIA to house prisoners in Vilnius, Lithuania,
January 20, 2022, Picture taken on January 20, 2022. REUTERS/Janis Laizans
    ANTAVILIAI, Lithuania (Reuters) – A huge steel barn outside Lithuania’s capital, whose long corridor and windowless rooms with carpets and soundproof doors once served as a CIA detention centre, will soon go on sale.
    Washington’s so-called “rendition programme,” https://www.reuters.com/world/lithuania-pays-compensation-al-qaeda-suspect-cia-jail-it-hosted-2022-01-11 under which suspected Islamist militants from conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq were spirited to jails outside U.S. jurisdiction, remains shrouded in secrecy more than a decade after it ended.
    But the European Court of Human Rights has confirmed that the 10-room building, in snowy pine forest in the village of Antaviliai outside Vilnius, was used by the CIA to hold terrorist suspects from 2005-2006.
    It was known as “Project No. 2” or “Detention Site Violet.”
    “This was a heavily guarded building where one could do whatever you want.    What exactly was going on there, we did not determine,” Arvydas Anusauskas, who led a Lithuanian parliamentary investigation into the site in 2010, told Reuters.
    A former Russian KGB jail in central Vilnius, where 767 people were executed during an anti-Soviet uprising in the 1940s and thousands were tortured, is Lithuania’s top tourist attraction.    But the state has no such plans to turn the former CIA facility into a museum.
    In fact, the government’s real estate fund, which handles assets no longer needed by the state, is preparing to offer the barn to the market at a yet-to-be-decided price.
BLINDFOLDED AND SHACKLED
    The real estate fund took over the site from Lithuania’s intelligence service which used it as a training facility from 2007-2018.
    Previously, CIA inmates were held there in solitary conditions with constant light and high-intensity noise, the European rights court heard in 2018.    They were shaven on arrival and continually blindfolded or hooded, with legs shackled.
    The court ordered Lithuania to pay 100,000 euros ($113,000) compensation to Abu Zubaydah, a high-ranking al Qaeda figure who the court determined was subjected to human rights violations while jailed there.
    Other prisoners said to have been at the Vilnius site included Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, self-professed mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in the United States, the court heard.
    The site was closed in 2006 after Lithuania refused to admit a third known prisoner, Mustafa al-Hawsawi, to hospital.
    All three are now at the U.S. detention centre in Guantanamo Bay.
    At the Lithuanian site, served by its own power generator and water supply, fluorescent lighting and the hum of air conditioning dominate the now-empty rooms.
    “We don’t push any buttons, so as not to turn anything on by accident,” said a representative of the real estate fund, who asked not to be named.
($1 = 0.8841 euros)
(Reporting by Andrius Sytas; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

1/25/2022 Netherlands Expected To Ease COVID Curbs Despite Record Infections
A general view of a largely deserted Dutch urban centre is seen as the country enters into its third
day of lockdown, in Den Bosch, Netherlands December 21, 2021. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw
    THE HAGUE (Reuters) – The Dutch government is expected to announce on Tuesday it will allow restaurants, bars and theatres to re-open despite record numbers of coronavirus infections.
    Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Health Minister Ernst Kuipers are expected to announce the new rules at a news conference at 7 p.m. (1800 GMT).
    Late on Monday, the government released official advice of health experts and local government officials who support the end of a strict lockdown that has been in effect since mid-December.     Despite record infections, the experts said the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, which is now dominant in the Netherlands, “as a less serious clinical picture” than the Delta variant, which caused an earlier wave.
    Foreign studies show hospital admissions with Omicron are between 40% and 60% lower, while intensive care admissions halved, they said.
    Government advisers said bars, restaurants and theatres should be allowed to open until 10 p.m.
    Patrons will have to produce a pass that shows when a person is fully vaccinated or has recovered from an infection, or can show a negative recent test.    Amusements parks, zoos and sports matches are also expected to be allowed to open for crowds.
    On Monday, more than 60,000 new infections were recorded over a 24-hour period.
    The Dutch association of regional public health authorities, GGD GHOR, said it had reached maximum capacity and warned that people would have to wait longer to get tested.
(Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg; Editing by Robert Birsel)

1/25/2022 Power Blackout Hits Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan And Uzbekistan
FILE PHOTO: Pylons of high-tension electricity power lines are seen next to the GRES-1 coal-fired thermal
power plant outside the town of Ekibastuz, Kazakhstan November 7, 2021. REUTERS/Pavel Mikheyev/File Photo
    ALMATY (Reuters) – The central Asian nations of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan suffered electrical power outages in major cities on Tuesday, according to authorities and residents, after a major power line in Kazakhstan was disconnected.
    The grids of the three ex-Soviet republics are interconnected, and via Kazakhstan are linked to the Russian power grid which they can use to cover unexpected shortages.
    But Kazakhstan’s North-South power line, which links densely populated southern Kazakhstan and its two neighbours to major power stations in northern Kazakhstan and the Russian network, was disconnected on     Tuesday morning due to “emergency imbalances” in the Central Asian part of the grid, grid operator KEGOC said.
    The blackout caused chaos across the region for several hours, with subway trains stuck in tunnels and skiers on lifts, airports closing, district heating and tap water pumps going idle and traffic lights switching off.
    Neither of the three countries reported any problems with its power stations that could have caused the imbalances.
    Kazakhstan, which has previously experienced power shortages due to the influx of cryptocurrency miners, has started routinely cutting off their power supply and did so from Jan. 24 until the end of the month, according to a document published online by one of the local miners.
    Outages were reported in Kazakhstan’s largest city Almaty and several major southern cities close to the Uzbek and Kyrgyz borders.    The airport of the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, briefly stopped accepting flights.
    Authorities in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan said they were restarting power plants after emergency shutdowns and would initially remain disconnected from the Central Asian grid.
(Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov; Additional reporting by Mukhammadsharif Mamatkulov in Tashkent and Olga Dzyubenko in Bishkek; Editing by Jason Neely and Mark Potter)

1/25/2022 Cuba Defends Trials Of Protesters As Fair, Rejects Accusations Of Rights Violations by Dave Sherwood
FILE PHOTO: People shout slogans during protests against and in support of the government, amidst the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Havana, Cuba July 11, 2021. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini
    HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuba rejected on Tuesday accusations by rights groups and diplomats that its court system had unfairly jailed protesters following widespread unrest on the island in July, defending recent trials as just and in line with Cuban law.
    The July 11-12 protests – the largest such rallies since Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution – saw thousands take to the streets in towns and cities across the island. Many voiced anger at the communist-run government and shortages of food, medicine and electricity at a time when coronavirus cases had soared.
    The protests were largely peaceful, although state media showed some demonstrators looting and throwing stones at police.
    They were followed by a flurry of arrests.    The Cuban prosecutor’s office said Tuesday it had thus far charged 710 people with crimes including vandalism, assault against people or property, and “grave public disorder.”
    Human rights groups, the U.S. government and the European Union have slammed the trials of the protesters, saying they lack transparency and that long jail sentences were disproportionate with the crimes committed.
    Cuba’s state prosecutor on Tuesday said those accusations were “manipulations of public opinion.”    It said it had “verified compliance with the rights and constitutional guarantees of due process” under Cuban law.
    “The right to defense was guaranteed, lawyers presented evidence and had access to the case files,” the office said in a statement.
    The U.S. Embassy in Havana has for months called on Cuba to increase due process protections in the trials, tagging messages on social media with the hashtag “Prisoners, for what?
    Cuban foreign minister Bruno Rodriguez said on Twitter late on Monday that its northern neighbor and long-time rival was seeking to discredit Cuba.
    “The U.S. is well aware that current legal processes in Cuba are conducted in full compliance with the law and internationally accepted standards,” Rodriguez said.    “It lies to tarnish Cuba’s exemplary work in the protection of its children and justify criminal coercive measures.”
    Nearly 70% of those accused are being held in detention as they await their trials, the prosecutor’s statement said, and 55 of the 710 facing charges are between the ages of 16 and 18.
    Rights groups observing the process and advising those accused say penalties for dozens already sentenced, including for sedition, have ranged from four to 30 years behind bars.
    The Cuban prosecutor said the penalties “correspond with the seriousness of the crimes, the level of participation (of the accused) and the damage caused to society.”
(Reporting by Dave Sherwood, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

1/26/2022 Ukraine Diplomat Sees Little Chance Of War, But Local Conflict Possible
Ukraine's ambassador to Japan Sergiy Korsunsky walks past a map showing Russia and Ukraine as he
arrives at his news conference venue in Tokyo, Japan, January 26, 2022. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Ukraine is committed to seeking a diplomatic solution to the current tension with Russia, its ambassador to Japan, Sergiy Korsunsky, said on Wednesday, adding that he saw little chance of all-out war, although there might be smaller conflicts.
    Korsunsky warned an attack on a country with more than a dozen nuclear reactors would bring about a devastating regional impact on Europe.
    “I believe that full-scale war is very, very, very difficult to expect, but we may see more localised conflict,” Korsunsky told a news conference in the Japanese capital Tokyo.
    “If we come to military terms, let me tell you, we are very much ready, our army is very well prepared.”
    Russia has massed tens of thousands of troops on its borders with Ukraine, and Western states fear Moscow is planning a new assault on a country it invaded in 2014 to annex the Crimean peninsula.
    U.S. President Joe Biden said on Tuesday he would consider personal sanctions on President Vladimir Putin if Russia invades Ukraine, as Western leaders stepped up military preparations and made plans to shield Europe from a potential energy supply shock.
    “If war is going to happen, that will be the first ever in the history of mankind, war against a country which has on its territory 15 nuclear reactors, which has 30,000 km of gas and oil pipelines, full with gas and oil,” said Korsunsky.
    “If all these infrastructure is destroyed, there is no more Ukraine.    But this is just one consequence.    There is no more central Europe and probably western Europe would be affected, too.”
    An accident at the Chernobyl reactor, located in what is now Ukraine, spewed tonnes of nuclear waste into the atmosphere in 1986, spreading radioactivity across swathes of the continent and causing a spike in cancers in the more immediate region.
    Russia’s Ambassador to Australia, Alexey Pavlovsky, said on Wednesday that Russia did not plan to invade Ukraine.
    “We don’t intend to invade at all,” Pavlovsky told Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio.
    “Our troops on the border…These troops are not a threat, they are a warning.    A warning to Ukraine’s rulers not to attempt any reckless military adventure,” he said.
    “As to the sanctions, I think that by now everybody should understand that it is not the language which should be used when talking to Russia.    The sanctions just don’t work.”
(Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka; Additional reporting Editing by Lidia Kelly in Melbourne; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Michael Perry)

1/26/2022 Lithuania Considers Modifying Taiwan Representation Name To Defuse Row With China by Andrius Sytasbr>
FILE PHOTO: Taiwanese and Lithuanian flags are displayed at the Taiwanese Representative
Office in Vilnius, Lithuania January 20, 2022. REUTERS/Janis Laizans/File Photo
    VILNIUS (Reuters) - Lithuanian officials, seeking to defuse a row with China, are discussing whether to ask their Taiwanese counterparts to modify the Chinese translation of the name of Taiwan’s de-facto embassy in Vilnius, two sources told Reuters.
    The self-ruled island that China views as part of its territory has other offices in Europe and the United States but they use the name of the city Taipei, avoiding reference to the island itself.
    The row erupted after the Baltic state allowed the opening of the Taiwanese Representation office in Vilnius.
    China has downgraded its diplomatic relationship with Lithuania and pressed multinationals to sever ties with the country or face exclusion from its market.
    That is an unusually harsh move that has dragged companies into a political dispute and placed Beijing on a collision course with the European Union. [L1N2SU0G7]
    Modifying the Chinese version of the representation name to refer to “Taiwanese people” rather than to Taiwan, was last week proposed by Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis to President Gitanas Nauseda as a way to reduce the tensions with China, sources said.
    The change, which would bring the name in line with those used in Lithuanian and English, would need Taiwan’s agreement.
    The President’s office refused to comment.    The Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not reply to a request for comment.
    It is not possible for any single gesture by Lithuania to change China’s attitude, said Linas Kojala, who heads the Vilnius Eastern European Studies Centre think-tank.
    “The government probably wants to emphasise that the office represents not Taiwan as a political entity, but the Taiwanese people with whom Lithuania wants to establish cultural, economic and other relationships,” he said.
    Chinese tabloid newspaper the Global Times published an article on Saturday saying that “it will take much more than just renaming the office” for Lithuania to mend its relationship with China.
    “Lithuania needs to make substantial adjustments to its overall China policy, rather than completely follow the US’ agenda,” said the article in The Global Times, which is published by the People’s Daily, the official newspaper of China’s ruling Communist Party.
(Reporting by Andrius Sytas in Vilnius, editing by Ed Osmond)

1/26/2022 What Threat? Russian State TV Plays Down Moscow’s Role In Ukraine Crisis by Tom Balmforth
FILE PHOTO: A Russian service member is seen atop a T-72B3 main battle tank during military drills at the
Kadamovsky range in the Rostov region, Russia December 20, 2021. REUTERS/Sergey Pivovarov/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – NATO is scrambling to beef up its eastern flank and Western governments have warned of crippling economic sanctions if Russia invades Ukraine, but watching Russian state TV provides little sense, for now at least, that war may be imminent.
    Russian state TV – vital for the Kremlin’s public messaging over 11 time zones – has often focused in recent days on other issues such as Russian athletes’ hopes for the Beijing Winter Olympics or rising Omicron cases.
    “At the moment, there’s no sense the enemy is at the door and that we’re starting a war soon… That’s not happening at all,” said one Russian media analyst, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
    In their reporting on Ukraine, Russian state media say Western “panic” is fuelling the tensions, along with U.S. troop reinforcements to the region and arm supplies to Kyiv – not the presence of around 100,000 Russian troops near Ukraine’s border.
    “They’ve invented it (the Russian threat)… The Americans have been scaring themselves about a Russian invasion for months,” a reporter for the Vesti news programme told viewers.
WEST TO BLAME
    Such messaging dovetails with the Kremlin’s insistence that it is the West, not Moscow, that poses a threat to regional peace and stability, a view that independent polling data shows is widely believed in Russia.
    “It’s important (for the Kremlin) that it continues to look like the West is inflaming the situation,” Denis     Volkov, director of the independent Moscow-based pollster Levada, said of the Russian news coverage.
    Anti-Americanism and scathing commentary about Ukraine’s pro-Western governments have been staples of Russian state TV since 2014, when Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and backing for a separatist revolt in east Ukraine shattered relations with Kyiv.
    Western diplomats, analysts and others are now scrutinising Russia’s state media coverage of Ukraine for any drum beats of war – and for clues as to whether President Vladimir Putin’s troop deployments are indeed the prelude to a military move or just a huge bluff to extract security concessions from the West.
    Moscow has said it wants written responses this week to its demands, which include never allowing Ukraine to join NATO.
    Andrei Kolesnikov, a Carnegie Moscow Centre analyst, said it would be a mistake to draw any broad conclusions from the current mood of state news coverage.
    “It’s obvious there’s a kind of pause.    No order has come down from on high for state television.    No one knows what decisions will be taken,” he said.
    “When needed, they can switch back to hard propaganda of war any second and to explaining why it’s needed.        Everything depends on the current situation.    This should not be seen as reassuring,” Kolesnikov said.
    According to Levada’s data, around 40% of Russians believe a war is possible.
    “Judging by public opinion, (society) is already ready for war.    I don’t think it needs preparing… It doesn’t want war, it wants detente, but it is convinced that nothing can be done,” said Levada’s Volkov.
    On the streets of Moscow on Tuesday, passers-by said they thought Russia was acting defensively.
    “I don’t think Russia will attack anyone.    But I can believe there will be a huge Western provocation, which is already under way… Russia will defend itself, and it must,” said one woman who gave her name only as Olga.
    Alexei, 33, said: “As for the Russian troops on the border, I’ve heard the U.S. is also massing their troops in Europe.    So the situation is not that simple – do we want to defend ourselves or attack?    In my opinion, it’s unclear.”
(Additional reporting by Alexander Reshetnikov; Editing by Gareth Jones)

1/27/2022 Russia Keeps Door Open After U.S. Rejects Key Security Demands by Dmitry Antonov and Tom Balmforth
A Russian army service member fires a howitzer during drills at the Kuzminsky range
in the southern Rostov region, Russia January 26, 2022. REUTERS/Sergey Pivovarov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia said on Thursday it was clear the United States was not willing to address its main security concerns, but kept the door open for further dialogue in their standoff over Ukraine.
    Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow, which has built up its forces near Ukraine, would not rush to draw conclusions after Washington responded on Wednesday to Russian proposals for a redrawing of post-Cold War security arrangements in Europe.
    Describing tensions https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/us-urges-de-escalation-over-ukraine-offers-russia-diplomatic-path-2022-01-27 in Europe as reminiscent of the Cold War, Peskov said Moscow needed time to review the U.S. written response but U.S. and NATO statements that Russia’s main demands were unacceptable did not leave much room for optimism.
    “Based on what our colleagues said yesterday, it’s absolutely clear that on the main categories outlined in those draft documents… we cannot say that our thoughts have been taken into account or that a willingness has been shown to take our concerns into account,” he said.    “But we won’t rush with our assessments.”
    The nuanced Kremlin reaction made clear that Russia was not rejecting the U.S. and NATO responses out of hand or closing the door to diplomacy.
    The Russian foreign ministry said the best way to reduce tensions was for NATO to withdraw forces from eastern Europe, but also sought to quash fears of a looming invasion.
    “We have already repeatedly stated that our country does not intend to attack anyone.    We consider even the thought of a war between our people to be unacceptable,” said Alexei Zaitsev, a ministry spokesman.
    Russian and Ukrainian dollar bonds, which have been hammered by the crisis, rose after Peskov spoke.    Russia’s dollar-denominated RTS share index rose 4%, and the rouble gained over 1% against the dollar, pulling away from a nearly 15-month low.
    Though it denies planning to invade Ukraine, Russia says it wants to enforce “red lines” to protect its own security.
    It presented demands in December that NATO halt any further enlargement, bar Ukraine from ever joining and pull back forces and weaponry from eastern European countries that joined the alliance after the Cold War ended.
DIPLOMATIC WINDOW
    The written U.S. and NATO responses were not made public, but both had already rejected those demands while expressing willingness to engage on other issues such as arms control, confidence-building measures and limits on the size and scope of military exercises.
    U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington remained committed to upholding NATO’s “open-door” policy and NATO said it would not compromise its core principles.
    Western countries have warned of economic sanctions on Russia if it invades Ukraine, building on measures imposed since 2014, when Moscow annexed Crimea and Russian-backed separatists began fighting government forces in eastern Ukraine.
    Ukrainian, Russian, German and French diplomats discussed the conflict in eastern Ukraine in Paris on Wednesday and agreed more talks should be held in Berlin in two weeks.
    Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy welcomed the meeting and “its constructive nature,” and Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said the agreement on more talks meant Russia was likely to remain on a diplomatic track for at least two weeks.
    He said Russia’s main strategy now was to destabilise Ukraine, including by using cyber attacks, and that “a military operation is something they keep in the pocket, it’s not something they put ahead of other options.”
    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said there was hope of starting serious dialogue with the United States, but only on secondary questions and not on fundamental ones.
    “The most important question is our clear position on the unacceptability of NATO’s further eastward expansion and the deployment of strike weapons that could threaten Russian territory,” Lavrov said in comments published on his ministry’s website. He said Putin would decide Russia’s next move.
    Putin, who has not spoken publicly on the crisis for weeks, has warned of an unspecified “military-technical response” – something defence analysts say could relate to missile deployments – if Russia’s demands are ignored.
NATO REDEPLOYMENTS
    TASS news agency quoted a senior Russian foreign ministry official, Vladimir Ermakov, as saying a nuclear missile crisis between Moscow and Washington was unavoidable without measures to ensure restraint and predictability.
    He said Moscow believed Washington was preparing to deploy short and intermediate range missiles to Europe and the Asia-Pacific region.
    Biden has said he will not send U.S. or allied troops to fight Russia in Ukraine but NATO has said it is putting forces on standby and reinforcing eastern Europe with more ships and fighter jets.
    Four F-16 fighter jets flew to Lithuania from Denmark on Thursday, and six U.S. F-15 jets landed in nearby Estonia on Wednesday as NATO reinforced its eastern flank.
(Additional reporting by Nikolaj Skydsgaard in Copenhagen, Writing by Mark Trevelyan and Timothy Heritage, Editing by Nick Macfie)

1/27/2022 Russian Official Says Missile Crisis Unavoidable Without Arms Curbs
FILE PHOTO: Russian missile air defence systems are seen during the International military-technical forum "Army-2021"
at Patriot Congress and Exhibition Centre in Moscow Region, Russia August 23, 2021. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia said on Thursday that a nuclear missile crisis between Moscow and Washington was unavoidable without measures to ensure restraint and predictability, the TASS news agency reported.
    The remark by foreign ministry official Vladimir Ermakov came a day after the United States and NATO formally responded to Russian security proposals in ways that the Kremlin said failed to address its key concerns but left open the possibility for further dialogue.
    Ermakov said that NATO was capable of rapidly deploying nuclear weapons that would be able to strike strategic targets in Russia.
    “We continue to insist it is a priority to reach a principled understanding that the problems in this area must be urgently addressed.    Otherwise, new ‘missile crises’ are unavoidable,” he was quoted as saying.
    Russia’s security package, presented in December, included a proposal that it and the West should refrain from deploying short or intermediate-range (INF) nuclear missiles that could hit each other’s territories.
    Ermakov said Moscow thought the United States was making preparations to deploy short or intermediate-range missiles to Europe and the Asia-Pacific region.
    “We insist NATO’s ‘joint nuclear missions’ must immediately be stopped, all the American nuclear arms returned to the United States, and the infrastructure that allows it to ensure a rapid deployment liquidated,” Ermakov was quoted as saying.
    Moscow, which has built up tens of thousands of troops near Ukraine, has warned of a possible “military-technical” response if its demands are not taken seriously, a threat some observers think could involve missile deployments.
    The deployment of land-based INF missiles had been banned under a 1987 U.S.-Soviet arms control pact, but Washington exited the treaty in 2019, accusing Moscow of flouting it, an allegation Russia denied.
(Reporting by Maxim Rodionov; writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

1/27/2022 Denmark Pulls Mali Troops Out As Junta Takes Swipe At France by Nikolaj Skydsgaard and John Irish
FILE PHOTO: A soldier is pictured at the headquarters of the new Takuba force in
Gao, Mali August 20, 2021. Picture taken August 20, 2021. REUTERS/Paul Lorgerie/File Photo
    COPENHAGEN/PARIS (Reuters) - Denmark will start pulling its troops out of Mali after the West African country’s transitional junta government this week insisted on an immediate withdrawal, a blow to France as its counter-terrorism operations in the Sahel begins to unravel.
    The decision comes amid tension between Mali and its international partners including regional bodies and the European Union that have sanctioned Mali after the junta failed to organise elections following two military coups.
    Tensions have escalated also over allegations that transitional authorities have deployed private military contractors from the Russia-backed Wagner Group to Mali, which some EU countries have said was incompatible with their mission.
    “We can see that the Malian transitional government, or the coup generals, last night sent out a public statement where they again reiterated that Denmark is not welcome in Mali, and we of course will not put up with that,” Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod told reporters on Thursday.    “So therefore we have decided to withdraw our soldiers home.”
    Denmark had sent 105 military personnel to Mali on Jan. 18 to join a European special forces mission, known as Takuba, that was set up to help Mali tackle Islamist militants.    It said its troops had deployed after a “clear invitation” by Mali.
    But the Malian government said this week it was surprised by the Danish presence, because a decision had yet to be made on a request from Denmark in June to deploy troops.
    Denmark’s withdrawal, which comes after Sweden affirmed earlier this month that it would leave Mali in March, is a headache for France, which had staked so much on “Europeanising” its Sahel intervention, where Paris has thousands of troops operating.
    Relations between France and its former colony have soured and on Wednesday the junta lashed out at Paris telling it to stop interfering and to keep its “colonial reflexes” to itself.
    France and 14 other European countries had urged the junta on Wednesday to allow Danish special forces to remain in Mali, rejecting the junta’s claims their presence was without legal basis. Maiga responded that the Danes needed to withdraw immediately.
    “We invite them (the Danes) to be careful about some partners who sadly have problems getting rid of their colonial reflexes,” Maiga said.
    The junta’s decision to ask Denmark to leave is likely to impact future deployments, with Norway, Hungary, Portugal, Romania and Lithuania set to send troops this year.
    Norway, Portugal and Hungary are still waiting for approval to deploy their special forces, the junta said.
(Additional reporting by Stine Jacobsen and Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen in Copenhagen, Tiemoko Diallo in Bamako and Bate Felix in Dakar; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

1/27/2022 Ukraine’s President Welcomes Talks With Russia As Path To Peace: Statement
FILE PHOTO: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy speaks during a joint statement with Azerbaijan's
President Ilham Aliyev (not seen) in Kyiv, Ukraine January 14, 2022. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich/File Photo
    KYIV (Reuters) – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy welcomed four-way talks with Russia, France and Germany as meaningful and a step towards peace, a statement by his office said on Thursday.
    “The President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskiy positively assesses the fact of the meeting, its constructive nature, as well as the intention to continue meaningful talks for two weeks in Berlin,” it said.
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk and Matthias Williams)

1/27/2022 Kremlin Sees Some Room For Dialogue After U.S. Security Response
FILE PHOTO: Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov attends an annual end-of-year news conference of Russian
President Vladimir Putin, in Moscow, Russia, December 23, 2021. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Kremlin said on Thursday there was room to continue dialogue with the United States, but that it looked clear Russia’s main security demands had not been taken into account by Washington.
    Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow would not rush to draw conclusions after the United States formally responded on Wednesday to its proposals for a redrawing of post-Cold War security arrangements in Europe.
    Describing tensions on the continent as reminiscent of the Cold War, Peskov said it would take time for Moscow to review the U.S. response.
    He said it was in both Moscow and Washington’s interests to continue dialogue, though he said that remarks out of the United States and NATO about Russia’s main demands being unacceptable did not leave a lot of room for optimism.
    “Based on what our colleagues said yesterday it’s absolutely clear that on the main categories outlined in those draft documents… we cannot say that our thoughts have been taken into account or that a willingness has been shown to take our concerns into account,” Peskov said.
    “But we won’t rush with our assessments,” he said.
    In separate comments, Russia’s top diplomat said that there was hope of starting serious dialogue, but only on secondary questions and not on the fundamental ones, Russian news agencies reported.
    President Vladimir Putin will decide on Russia’s next steps with regards to the U.S. and NATO written responses that were handed over on Wednesday, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was quoted as saying.
(Reporting by Dmitry Antonov and Maxim Rodionov; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

1/27/2022 Russia Likely To Stay On Diplomatic Track For Next Two Weeks – Ukraine
FILE PHOTO: Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba meets with U.S. Secretary of State
Antony Blinken (not pictured) in Kyiv, Ukraine, January 19, 2022. Alex Brandon/Pool via REUTERS
    COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - Russia is likely to remain on a diplomatic track with Kyiv and the West for at least two weeks but will continue efforts to destabilise Ukraine, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Thursday.
    Russia has massed troops near Ukraine’s border but says it does not plan to invade its neighbour.
    Speaking after Russia held security talks in Paris on Wednesday with diplomats from Ukraine, France and Germany, Kuleba told a news briefing in Copenhagen: “Nothing has changed, this is the bad news.”
    “The good news is that advisers agreed to meet in Berlin in two weeks, which means that Russia for the next two weeks is likely to remain on the diplomatic track,” he said following a meeting with Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod.
    The so-called “Normandy” talks in Paris were seen as a step towards defusing broader tensions in a separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine.
    “Unfortunately, the biggest demand that Russia has is that Ukraine engages directly in talks with Russian proxies in Donetsk and Luhansk instead of negotiating with Russia.    This will not happen, this is a matter of principle,” Kuleba said.
    Donetsk and Luhansk are self-proclaimed republics in the Donbass in eastern Ukraine.
    Kuleba said Ukraine was preparing itself for all scenarios, but that Russia’s main strategy now was to destabilise Ukraine, including by using hybrid warfare tactics such as cyber attacks and disinformation campaigns.
    “We understand that a military operation is something they keep in the pocket, it’s not something they put ahead of other options,” he said.
    Russia says the crisis is being driven by NATO and U.S. actions and is demanding security guarantees from the West, including a promise by NATO never to admit Ukraine.
    On Wednesday, the U.S. repeated in a written response https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/us-urges-de-escalation-over-ukraine-offers-russia-diplomatic-path-2022-01-27 to Russia’s demands its commitment to upholding NATO’s “open-door” policy while offering a “principled and pragmatic evaluation” of the Kremlin’s concerns.
    Kuleba said he had seen the part of the response which relates to Ukraine and had no objections.
    “I must commend the openness of the Biden administration to consulting with us before they speak with the Russians,” he said, adding that any deals made without the Ukraine would not be accepted.
(Reporting by Nikolaj Skydsgaard, Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen and Stine Jacobsen; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne, Alison Williams and Timothy Heritage)

1/27/2022 Polish Defence Minister Tests Positive For COVID
FILE PHOTO: Polish Minister of National Defence Mariusz Blaszczak attends military exercise
"Silver Arrow" in Adazi, Latvia September 13, 2021. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins/File Photo
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Polish Defence Minister Mariusz Blaszczak tweeted on Thursday that he has tested positive for coronavirus, as the Omicron variant takes hold across the country and tensions mount between Poland’s neighbours Ukraine and Russia.
    “I feel well, I will carry out my duties under isolation,” said Blaszczak, who is 52.
    Poland reported a record 57,659 new daily COVID-19 infections on Thursday.
    Authorities have said the latest wave will drive case numbers to levels not yet seen in Poland, with estimates of the peak ranging from 60,000 to as many as 140,000 daily infections.
    Poland is among those NATO countries taking a more hawkish stance towards Russia after it massed more than 100,000 troops near its borders with Ukraine.    Moscow denies any plans to invade Ukraine, which is not a member of NATO.
(Reporting by Alicja Ptak and Pawel Florkiewicz; Editing by Gareth Jones)

1/28/2022 Brace For Russian Cyber Attacks As Ukraine Crisis Deepens, Britain Says
FILE PHOTO: A Russian flag is seen on the laptop screen in front of a computer screen on which cyber
code is displayed, in this illustration picture taken March 2, 2018. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/Illustration
    LONDON (Reuters) -Britain warned big business on Friday to bolster defences against possible Russian cyber attacks as Western fears deepened that President Vladimir Putin would order his troops to annex another part of Ukraine.
    The United States, the European Union and Britain have repeatedly warned Putin against attacking Ukraine after Russia deployed around 100,000 troops near the border with its former Soviet neighbour.
    Russian officials say the West is gripped by Russophobia and has no right to lecture Moscow on how to act after it expanded the NATO military alliance eastwards after the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union and sowed chaos in Iraq and Syria.
    Britain’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), a part of the GCHQ eavesdropping intelligence agency, warned large organisations to bolster their cyber security resilience amid the deepening tensions over Ukraine.
    Western leaders say the 21st Century will be defined by a struggle between democracies and rivals such as China and Russia who they say are challenging the post-Cold War consensus militarily, technologically and economically.
    “Over several years, we have observed a pattern of malicious Russian behaviour in cyberspace,” said Paul Chichester, NCSC director of operations.
    A cyber attack on Ukraine earlier this month warned Ukrainians to “be afraid and expect the worst.”    Ukraine said Moscow was behind the attack.
    “Incidents in Ukraine bear the hallmarks of similar Russian activity we have observed before,” said Chichester.
    The world’s top cyber offensive powers are the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia and China, according to a 2020 ranking by the Belfer Center at Harvard’s Kennedy School.
    Britain’s spymasters say Russia remains the biggest immediate threat to the West but Communist China’s long-term dominance of technology poses a much bigger problem.
    “UK organisations are being urged to bolster their cyber security resilience in response to the malicious cyber incidents in and around Ukraine,” Britain’s National Cyber Security Centre said.
(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; editing by James Davey and Kate Holton)

1/28/2022 Kazakh President Tokayev Takes Over As Ruling Party Leader
FILE PHOTO: Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev attends a session of the Council of the Collective Security
Treaty Organization (CSTO) in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan November 28, 2019. Sputnik/Alexei Nikolsky/Kremlin via REUTERS
    ALMATY (Reuters) - Kazakhstan’s ruling Nur Otan party elected President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev as its chairman on Friday, his office said in a tweet, finalising the transfer of political power from his predecessor Nursultan Nazarbayev.
    Nazarbayev, who resigned in 2019, had retained sweeping powers until this month as the chairman of the security council and the head of Nur Otan, which dominates parliament.    Tokayev took over the security council position at the peak of violent unrest nL1N2TV0BY in early January.
    Amid widespread talk of a rift between the two politicians – a number of Nazarbayev’s relatives resigned or were sacked nL8N2TX0O7 from senior positions after the unrest – Tokayev struck a conciliatory tone in his Friday speech to the party congress.
    “Let us give due credit to the historic achievements of the first president, focus on his undeniable successes and virtues, and regard the possible mistakes as lessons for the future rulers of our country,” he said.
    Nazarbayev, who had run the oil-rich nation for three decades, briefly spoke to the congress which was held through a video conference, reiterating his proposal to elect Tokayev as chairman.
    At the same congress, the party removed Nazarbayev’s eldest daughter, Dariga, who is a member of parliament, from its political council, along with a number of other members.
    Tokayev said he planned to reform the party but could step down as its chairman as soon as at the end of this year, after rolling out a political reform package that would require the president to maintain an “equidistant status” from all parties.
(Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov, Editing by William Maclean)

1/28/2022 Russia And Cuba Will Keep Developing Technical Military Cooperation – RIA
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with his Cuban counterpart Miguel Diaz-Canel at the
Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, Russia October 29, 2019. Alexander Nemenov/Pool via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia and Cuba will continue developing their cooperation in the technical military sphere, the RIA news agency cited Moscow’s ambassador in Havana as saying on Friday.
    Contact between the two countries has increased this month, with Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Cuban counterpart Miguel Diaz-Canel previously discussing a strategic partnership and agreeing to strengthen bilateral ties.
(Reporting by Anton Kolodyazhnyy; Writing by Alexander Marrow; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

1/28/2022 Russia Does Not Want War With Ukraine, Says Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov
FILE PHOTO: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Swiss President Ignazio Cassis (not pictured)
meet in Geneva, Switzerland, January 21, 2022. Jean-Christophe Bott/Pool via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Friday that Moscow did not want war with Ukraine and spoke positively about security proposals received from the United States.
    The U.S. proposals were better than proposals received from NATO, said Lavrov, who said he expected to meet U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in the next couple of weeks.
    Lavrov said President Vladimir Putin would decide how to respond to the proposals.
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin and Andrew Osborn; Writing by Alexander Marrow; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

1/28/2022 War Only Possible If Belarus Or Russia Attacked, Says Lukashenko
FILE PHOTO: Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko chairs a meeting after inspecting military
facilities outside Luninets, Belarus January 21, 2022. Maxim Guchek/BelTA/Handout via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko said on Friday that Minsk had absolutely no interest in a war and that conflict would only break out if Belarus or its close ally Russia were directly attacked.
    Lukashenko made the remarks in a speech to lawmakers and officials.    Moscow and Minsk are set to hold joint drills in Belarus to the north of Ukraine next month that have put the West on edge amid a wider Russian military buildup.
    The Belarusian leader said the drills would help Minsk understand where it needed to concentrate forces and that Belarus had to protect its southern flank with Ukraine.
(Writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by John Stonestreet)

1/28/2022 Ukrainian Schools Grapple With Hoax Bomb Alerts Amid Russia Tension by Gabriela Baczynska
Students gather near a demining armoured vehicle of Ukraine's State Emergency Service
during bomb threat training at a local school following a recent spate of hoax bomb threats
in public institutions in Kyiv, Ukraine January 27, 2022. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
    KYIV (Reuters) – “How much explosives do you think can fit in this one?” asked a Ukrainian bomb disposal expert, holding up a blue-and-yellow owl mascot in front of astonished pupils attending emergency drills at their school in Kyiv on Thursday.
    Law enforcers organised the training after a series of hoax bomb alerts this year forced the evacuation of schools in the capital Kyiv, and other cities, including Kharkiv, Lviv and Zaporizhzhia.
    Kyiv blames them on Russia already waging a hybrid war against its former Soviet satellite, while also threatening full-blown invasion by amassing more than 100,000 troops near the Ukrainian border.
    “The purpose of Russian special services is obvious – to put additional pressure on Ukraine, sow anxiety and panic among the public,” said Ukraine’s Security Service, adding it had recorded more than 300 bomb threats so far this year, compared to 1,100 for the whole of 2021.
    Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov did not respond to a request for comment.
    Russian officials have blamed Ukraine for a similar series of bomb hoaxes that have forced Russian schools, shopping centres and kindergartens to evacuate tens of thousands of people.    After a pause, the hoax alerts in Russia resumed this month as tensions between Moscow and Kyiv rose.
    In 2014, Moscow annexed Crimea from Kyiv and went on to back rebels fighting government troops in eastern Ukraine, an unresolved conflict that has killed 15,000 people to date.
    The West has now threatened Russia with severe sanctions if it invades again.    NATO – the Western military alliance that goes back to the Cold War and that Ukraine now wants to join – has put its forces on standby.
    As the United States leads international talks https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/russia-sees-some-room-dialogue-after-us-security-response-2022-01-27 with Moscow aimed at defusing the latest escalation of East-West tensions, the risk of an open Russian military intervention may not be the most pressing one for Ukraine.
    Ukraine’s Center of Defense Strategies think-tank said the main threat was “a hybrid invasion,” including more cyber attacks, disinformation, as well as bomb threats at schools, subway systems, administrative offices and elsewhere.
    “It’s always very sensitive when it’s about children.    It creates a lot of tension and stress for the parents, for the whole society,” said Alina Frolova, a deputy head of the think-tank and a former deputy defence minister of Ukraine.
    “It ties up law enforcement services.    It’s easier to make a mistake when the constant tension makes everyone tired.    It is to destabilise and demoralise the population.”
NEITHER WAR NOR PEACE
    That leaves Ukraine relatively calm – but nervous.
    As Ukrainian servicemen in winter camouflage patrol mainly quiet front lines in the east of their country of 41 million people, in many other places life seems to go on as usual.
    In Kyiv, holding emergency bomb drills for pupils serves as a stark reminder of the peculiar state Ukraine is in, neither at war nor at peace.
    The mascot owl can hold a kilogram of explosives, enough to kill anyone within five metres and wound those up to 15 metres away, the Ukrainian policeman, Oleksandr Shcherbin, told the teenagers.
    He showed the class video clips of explosions and scattering shrapnel, artillery and mortar shells, grenades and mines as well as improvised explosive devices resembling a box of chocolates and a mobile phone case.
    “Don’t touch it.    Don’t touch suspicious objects.    Don’t touch objects displayed in an unusual place,” he said.
    His colleague summed up the uneasy 45-minute class: “Children, don’t be afraid.    Don’t panic.    In case of a bomb alarm, follow instructions of your teachers.”
    Then a siren went off at the school, on the left bank of the Dnipro river, and pupils and teachers quickly rose to evacuate.    More than 360 children, from six to 16, lined up in the snow-covered school yard.
    “It’s scary,” said a 13-year-old student who gave her name as Zhenya.
    “It makes you realise this can become our everyday reality,” she said, nervously scratching off dark varnish from her nails.    “I like going to school for lessons and to meet friends.    Not for this.”
(Additional reporting by Natalia Zinets, Andrew Osborn and Margarita Popova; Writing by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Nick Macfie)

1/29/2022 Russian Buildup At Ukraine Border Includes Blood For Wounded, U.S. Officials Say by Phil Stewart, Vladimir Soldatkin and Alexander Marrow
Service members of the 28th Separate Mechanized Brigade of the Ukrainian Armed Forces
take part in coastal defence drills in the Odessa region, Ukraine, in this handout picture
released January 28, 2022. Ukrainian Defence Ministry/Handout via REUTERS
    WASHINGTON/MOSCOW (Reuters) – A Russian troop buildup along its border with Ukraine includes supplies of blood https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/exclusive-russia-moves-blood-supplies-near-ukraine-adding-us-concern-officials-2022-01-28 for the wounded, three U.S. officials told Reuters, a detail reinforcing U.S. comments that Russia “clearly” now has the capability to move on its neighbour.
    The disclosure by the officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, adds to growing U.S. concern that Russia could be preparing for a new invasion of Ukraine as it has amassed more than 100,000 troops near its borders.
    The Russian Defence Ministry did not immediately respond to a written request for comment.
    Russian President Vladimir Putin said the West has not addressed Moscow’s main security demands in the crisis over the former Soviet state – but he said that it was ready to keep talking, offering some hope that an attack is not imminent.
    Putin offered his first reaction to the U.S. and NATO responses to Russia’s demands in a phone call with French President Emmanuel Macron after weeks of personal public silence.
    The Kremlin quoted Putin as telling Macron he would study the responses provided by Washington and NATO this week before deciding on further action.
    Current and former U.S. officials said indicators like the blood supplies were critical in determining whether Moscow would be prepared to carry out an invasion, if Putin decided to do so.
    A French presidency official said Putin, in his call with Macron, had underlined that he did not want the situation to intensify, echoing conciliatory comments by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who said Moscow did not want war.
    “Attention was drawn to the fact that the U.S. and NATO replies did not take into account Russia’s principal concerns,” the Kremlin said of Putin’s conversation with Macron.
    It listed those concerns as avoiding NATO expansion, not deploying offensive weapons near Russia’s borders and returning NATO “military capabilities and infrastructure” to how they were before former Warsaw Pact states in eastern Europe joined.
    “The key question was ignored – how the United States and its allies intend to follow the principle of security integrity … that no one should strengthen their security at the expense of another country’s security,” it said.
    The United States and NATO have said some of Russia’s demands are non-starters but have also left the door open to dialogue.
    NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the Western military alliance was watching closely as Russia moves troops and arms into Belarus for drills.
    He said NATO was ready to increase its troop presence in eastern Europe if Russia took further aggressive actions against Ukraine, and cautioned that a Russian attack could take many forms including a cyber attack, attempted coup or sabotage.
    “From the NATO side we are ready to engage in political dialogue.    But we’re also ready to respond if Russia chooses an armed conflict confrontation,” Stoltenberg said in Brussels.
    U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the United States remained focused on countering Russian disinformation, including anything that could be used as a pretext for attacks on Ukraine.
    “While we don’t believe that President Putin has made a final decision to use these forces against Ukraine, he clearly now has that capability,” Austin told reporters.
    He said “there are multiple options available to (Putin) including the seizure of cities and significant territories, but also coercive acts and provocative political acts like the recognition of breakaway territories.”
    U.S. General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Russia’s deployment was larger than anything in scale and scope since the Cold War and said the United States strongly recommended that Russia stand down.
    If Russia invades, the outcome would be “horrific” and result in significant casualties, Milley said.
ENERGY SUPPLIES
    Lavrov said he expected to meet U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken again in the next couple of weeks.    Their last meeting, in Geneva https://www.reuters.com/world/top-diplomats-us-russia-meet-geneva-soaring-ukraine-tensions-2022-01-21 on Jan. 21, produced no breakthrough.
    “If it depends on Russia, then there will be no war.    We don’t want wars.    But we also won’t allow our interests to be rudely trampled, to be ignored,” Lavrov told Russian radio stations.
    He said, without giving details, that the U.S. counter-proposals were better than NATO’s.
    A senior U.S. administration official said the United States welcomed Lavrov’s comment on Russia not wanting war, but “we need to see it backed up by swift action.”
    A U.N. Security Council meeting on Monday on the build-up of Russian forces on the border with Ukraine will be “an opportunity for Russia to explain what it is doing,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
    The United States and the European Union have warned Russia that it will face economic sanctions if it attacks Ukraine.
    These would build on sanctions imposed on Russia since it annexed Crimea and backed separatists in east Ukraine in 2014, though there are divisions among Western countries over how to respond as Europe is dependent on Russia for energy supplies.
    U.S. President Joe Biden and Ursula von der Leyen, who heads the EU executive, the European Commission, said they had agreed to cooperate on guaranteeing Europe’s energy security https://www.reuters.com/business/energy/biden-eu-pledge-cooperation-energy-security-amid-russia-threat-2022-01-28 but gave no details.
    Washington has been in talks with energy-producing countries and companies around the world over a potential diversion of supplies to Europe if Russia invades Ukraine, a senior Biden administration official told reporters this week.
    EU officials have repeatedly called for unity in the bloc over Ukraine, with some concerned that Germany – worried about energy supplies – has not taken a tougher stance.
    Russia has dismissed calls to withdraw its troops, saying it can deploy them as it sees fit on its own territory.    It has cited the Western response as evidence that Russia is the target, not the instigator, of aggression.
    Ukraine has suggested a Russian attack is not imminent though an economically damaging war is possible.    President Volodymyr Zelenskiy criticised a “feeling abroad” that a war had already started.
    “We don’t need this panic,” Zelenskiy told reporters in Kyiv.
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin and Alexander Marrow; Additional reporting by Reuters bureaux; Writing by Mark Trevelyan, Timothy Heritage and Nick Macfie; Editing by Angus MacSwan, Raissa Kasolowsky and Grant McCool)

1/29/2022 Ukrainian Reservists Gear Up In Case Of Conflict With Russia by Gabriela Baczynska
Reservists of the Ukrainian Territorial Defence Forces take part in military exercises
on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine January 29, 2022. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
    KYIV (Reuters) – From Monday to Friday, Mykhaylo is a lawyer, Alexander is an IT programmer and Konstantin freelances in online advertising.
    On Saturday, the three came together in an abandoned construction site on the outskirts of Kyiv to train as Ukrainian army reservists, ready to be called up in the event of any war breaking out with neighbouring Russia.
    Nervous over the threat of some 120,000 Russian troops massed near the border with Ukraine, Kyiv has launched a new Territorial Defence force this year, which it wants to build up into a corps of up to 130,000 people.
    While they may stand little chance against the much bigger and better-equipped professional Russian army, reservists like them could be tasked with protecting civilian sites in Kyiv amid any conflict.
    Saturday’s training brought together about 70 locals, some in full infantry gear with hunting rifles and with combat experience from back when Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and then backed rebels fighting government troops in eastern Ukraine.
    Others in sneakers and casual sportswear were handed mock wooden rifles.
    “I am worried,” said Konstantin Sevchuk, the 43-year-old freelancer who said he had so far avoided any contact with the military after serving a year in the eastern Donbass region in 2014/15 during Ukraine’s general mobilisation.
    “It doesn’t really fit into my life, I didn’t really want it.    But now the situation is such that it’s needed.”
    While IT programmer Alexander took part in the 2013/14 “Maidan” mass pro-democracy protests in Kyiv, he said he did not feel ready to fight when Moscow reacted to the overthrow of Ukraine’s pro-Russian president by annexing Crimea.
    “Now I’m in my mid-30s and it’s time for me to join,” he said, his face covered with a blue scarf.    “It’s better to join now than when it’s too late.    I want to be prepared.”
    Breathing heavily after getting up and dropping to the snow-covered ground numerous times with his heavy equipment, Mykhaylo, 39, was enthusiastic about going to fight.
    “My inclination towards war craft has been there long before the war.    Now it makes perfect sense to do it,” he said during the showcase exercises.
    While the United States has warned that a military intervention is likely and imminent, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has said that too much “panic” is hurting the economy of 41 million people.
    Russian President Vladimir Putin says the West has not addressed Moscow’s main security demands in the crisis over Ukraine but that he is ready to keep on talking.
    The West meanwhile has threatened Russia with heavy economic sanctions should it invade Ukraine again.
    While Moscow insists it does not want a war, it has also dismissed calls to withdraw its troops, saying it can deploy them as it sees fit on its own territory.    It has cited the Western response as evidence that it is the target, not the instigator, of aggression.
UKRAINE
    The motley crew of reservists – arriving in everything from a small Suzuki to 4×4 vehicles and even an electric Tesla – were sometimes critical of Zelenskiy and had differing views on NATO.
    But they shared a feeling that Ukraine, formerly a Soviet republic, wanted to decide its own fate independently of its old overlord Moscow.
    “I want a peacefully developing Ukraine,” said Konstantin.    “I want it to be a flourishing peaceful country, like Poland, like the Czech Republic, like Germany, like all European countries.”
    Mykhaylo said he wanted his children “to be born and live their lives in a law-abiding and democratic country.    That they know what freedom is and are ready to fight for it.”
    Alexander noted how years of tensions with Russia – over Crimea, the eastern region of Donbass and Ukraine’s aspirations for closer integration with the West, but also over gas supplies and the difficult history the two nations share – had changed his country.
    “We’ve grown up as a nation.    We understand what we want and how to get there.    We’ve only made small steps, but we know that we are Ukrainians.    We’re not the Soviet Union anymore.”
(Writing by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

1/31/2022 Britain Warns Russia Of Sanctions On Oligarchs If Ukraine Is Invaded by Guy Faulconbridge and Dmitry Antonov
FILE PHOTO: A view shows Russian BMP-3 infantry fighting vehicles during drills held by the armed forces of the
Southern Military District at the Kadamovsky range in the Rostov region, Russia January 27, 2022. REUTERS/Sergey Pivovarov
    LONDON/MOSCOW (Reuters) – Britain urged Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday to “step back from the brink” over Ukraine, warning that any incursion would trigger sanctions against companies and people with close links to the Kremlin.
    The United States and Britain are trying to signal to Putin that Russia’s richest men, who have huge assets abroad, will face punishment if he orders troops to invade Ukraine, though Moscow has repeatedly denied that it wants a war with its fellow former Soviet neighbour.
    The United States and its allies have prepared a list of Russian elites in or near Putin’s inner circle to hit with economic sanctions should Russia invade Ukraine, a senior administration official said on Monday.
    Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the threat of such measures would amount to an attack on Russian businesses that would backfire because it would end up hurting British companies and Western shareholders.
    “It’s not often you see or hear such direct threats to attack business,” Peskov said.    “An attack by a given country on Russian business implies retaliatory measures, and these measures will be formulated based on our interests if necessary.”
    Since the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, London has become the pre-eminent global centre for a vast outflow of money from former Soviet republics.
    Opponents of Putin have repeatedly called on the West to get tough How Western economic sanctions might target     Russia on Russian money, though oligarchs and Russian officials continue to flaunt their wealth at Europe’s most luxurious destinations.
    Ukraine welcomed Britain’s tough talk on sanctions, saying it was an important way of deterring rash decisions by Russia’s elite.
    “When Russian dignitaries realize that they are talking about their assets, real estate and money abroad, where they – the patriots of Russia – keep them, the hotheads in the Kremlin will cool down,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said.
    Still, sanctions lists show that Europe’s biggest military powers, Britain and France, continue to take a softer line on Russia’s business elite than the United States.
    In 2014, for example, the United States slapped sanctions on Igor Sechin, CEO of Rosneft, Russia’s largest oil producer.    The EU and Britain have not sanctioned Sechin, one of the most powerful men in Putin’s Russia.
‘STEP BACK’
    British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is grappling with a domestic outcry over Downing Street parties during COVID lockdowns, is due to travel to Ukraine this week and will also speak to Putin by telephone later on Monday.
    “What I will say to President Putin, as I’ve said before, is that I think we really all need to step back from the brink, and I think Russia needs to step back from the brink,” Johnson told reporters.
    The United States, the European Union and Britain have said Russia may try to attack Ukraine after gathering tens of thousands of troops near the border.
    Russia denies any such plan and is demanding security guarantees including a promise by NATO never to let Kyiv join the alliance.    Russian officials say the West is gripped by Russophobia and has no right to lecture Moscow on how to act after NATO’s intake of central and eastern European countries as members, closer to Russia, since the Cold War ended.
    The United States has developed specific sanctions packages for both Russian elites who meet the criteria and their family members, and these efforts are being pursued in coordination with U.S. allies and partners, the senior U.S. official said.
    “The individuals we have identified are in or near the inner circles of the Kremlin and play a role in government decision making or are at a minimum complicit in the Kremlin’s destabilizing behavior,” said the senior administration official, also speaking on condition of anonymity.
    The British government will change sanctions regulations to broaden the scope of measures it can apply to Russia to try to deter aggression towards Ukraine, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said on Sunday.
    She said London should be able to target “any company of interest to the Kremlin and the regime in Russia” and that “there would be nowhere to hide for Putin’s oligarchs.”    Truss will outline her approach later on Monday.
    Britain has imposed sanctions on about 180 people and 48 entities since Russia annexed Crimea form Ukraine in 2014.    https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-uk-sanctions-list     On the sanctions list are six people Britain says are close to Putin: businessmen Yuri Kovalchuk, Arkady Rotenberg and Nikolai Shamalov, former KGB officer Sergei Chemezov, Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev and Federal Security Service (FSB) chief Alexander Bortnikov.
    The sanctions allow Britain to freeze individual assets and ban individual from entering the United Kingdom.
(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge, William James and Dmitry Antonov; editing by Michael Holden, Timothy Heritage and Mark Heinrich)

1/31/2022 U.S. And UK Ready To Punish Putin Associates If Russia Invades Ukraine by Steve Holland, Guy Faulconbridge and Dmitry Antonov
A service member walks near armoured personnel carriers of a mechanized brigade of the Ukrainian Armed
Forces during military exercises outside Kharkiv, Ukraine January 31, 2022. REUTERS/Vyacheslav Madiyevskyy
    WASHINGTON/LONDON/MOSCOW (Reuters) – The United States and its allies have prepared a list of Russian elites in or near President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle to punish with sanctions if Russia sends troops into Ukraine, a senior U.S. official said on Monday.
    Britain urged Putin to “step back from the brink” after the Russian buildup of troops near Ukraine stoked fears of war, and warned any incursion would trigger sanctions against companies and people close to the Kremlin.
    Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said planned legislation will give London new powers to target companies linked to the Russian state, as well as to freeze individuals’ assets and deny them entry to Britain.
    Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov called the British warning “very disturbing,” saying it made Britain less attractive to investors and would hurt British companies.
    “It’s not often you see or hear such direct threats to attack business,” he said.    “An attack by a given country on Russian business implies retaliatory measures, and these measures will be formulated based on our interests if necessary.”
    Since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, London has become the haven of choice for a river of money from Russia and other former Soviet republics.    Transparency advocates have long called on Britain to be tougher about illicit financial flows.
    British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is due to speak to Putin by telephone late on Monday or early Tuesday and travel to Ukraine on Tuesday.
    “What I will say to President Putin, as I’ve said before, is that I think we really all need to step back from the brink, and I think Russia needs to step back from the brink,” Johnson told reporters.
    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is expected to speak by phone with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday, a state department spokesperson said.
    At a meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Monday, requested by Washington, Russia’s U.N ambassador said the West’s assertion that it had amassed 100,000 troops near Ukraine had not been confirmed by the international body and there was no proof it was planning military action.
    He said U.S. talk of war was “provocative,” that Russia frequently deployed troops in its own territory, and that Ukraine’s crisis was a domestic issue.
    China’s ambassador to the United Nations said China did not view Russia’s troops near the border as a threat and urged all parties to not aggravate the situation.
    Although Russia, which seized Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and backs pro-Russian rebels fighting government forces in east Ukraine, denies planning further incursion, it is demanding sweeping security guarantees including a promise NATO never admit Ukraine.
RUSSIAN MONEY ABROAD
    Opponents of Putin have long urged the West to clamp down on Russian money, though oligarchs and Russian officials continue to flaunt wealth at Europe’s most luxurious destinations.
    Both Washington and London declined to name who they planned to target.
    “The individuals we have identified are in or near the inner circles of the Kremlin and play a role in government decision-making or are at a minimum complicit in the Kremlin’s destabilising behaviour,” the U.S. official in Washington said.
    “Putin’s cronies will no longer be able to use their spouses or other family members as proxies to evade sanctions.    Sanctions would cut them off from the international financial system and ensure that they and their family members will no longer able to enjoy the perks of parking their money in the West and attending elite Western universities.”
    Britain has already imposed sanctions on about 180 people and 48 entities since Russia annexed Crimea, including six people it says are close to Putin.    The sanctions allow Britain to bar individuals from entering and to freeze their assets.
    Still, Britain has in the past taken a softer line on Russia’s business elite than the United States – for instance sparing Igor Sechin, one of Russia’s most powerful men as CEO of oil producer Rosneft, whom Washington sanctioned in 2014.
    The European Union, many of whose members are in NATO, has also threatened “strong political consequences and massive economic costs” for Russia over any new incursion into Ukraine.
    Some NATO countries, including the United States and Britain, have sent arms to Ukraine, although they have ruled out sending troops there to fight.
    Poland said it had offered neighbouring Ukraine tens of thousands of munitions, and was awaiting a reply.    The White House on Monday accused Russia of surging troops into Belarus, which is hosting Russian drills and borders both Poland and Ukraine.
    Europe’s dependence on Russian energy supplies weakens the West’s hand.    A top EU official said the future of a key gas pipeline from Russia was on pause.
    The United States has asked top gas producer Qatar and other major exporters to study whether they can supply more to Europe.
(Reporting by Steve Holland in Washington, Guy Faulconbridge in London and Dmitry Antonov in Moscow; Additional reporting by William James in London and Michelle Nichols at the UN; Writing by Kevin Liffey and Frank Jack Daniel, Editing by Toby Chopra and Rosalba O’Brien)

1/31/2022 Cubans Bundle Up Against Cold As Temperatures Plunge, Winds Roar
A boy wearing gloves walks in Sancti Spiritus, Cuba, January 31, 2022. REUTERS/Amanda Perobelli
    HAVANA (Reuters) – Cubans bundled up in heavy jackets, hats and gloves and shuttered their homes on Monday as near-record cold and strong winds slammed the balmy Caribbean island more accustomed to bright sun and sultry trade winds.
    The small town of Bainoa, east of Havana, felt temperatures plunge to just 3 degree Celsius (37.4°F) early Monday morning, following gusty winds that buffeted the island’s palm fringed shores much of the weekend.
    “This is not normal,” said Havana resident Barbara Salgado, wearing a black scarf around her neck to ward off the cold.    “Temperatures here (in winter) are always cool but they are never like this, it’s almost polar.”
    The extreme weather prompted Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel to call on citizens to watch out for one another.
    “Take care especially of our children and elderly,” he said on Twitter on Sunday.
    Police shut down Havana’s shorefront boulevard, the Malecon, on Sunday and early Monday, and many of even the most stalwart fishermen had vacated their posts as towering, foam-topped rollers slammed the seawall, flooding streets and soaking passersby.
    Jorge Sanchez, who strolled the street in a warm jacket, marveled at the cold.
    “It’s truly been a long time since it’s been this cold.    It’s unbelievable,” Sanchez said.
    The same front brought unusual cold to Florida on Sunday morning, triggering a freeze outlook from the U.S. National Weather Service and the coldest temperatures in a decade across large swaths of the state.
    Temperatures in Havana and throughout Cuba are expected to moderate gradually and hover at normal levels by week’s end, local meteorologists said.
(Reporting by Reuters TV and Dave Sherwood; Editing by Richard Chang)

1/31/2022 Russia, U.S. Clash At U.N. Over Russia’s Troop Build-Up Near Ukraine by Michelle Nichols and Jonathan Landay
FILE PHOTO: Chess pieces are seen in front of displayed Russia and Ukraine's flags in this
illustration taken January 25, 2022. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo
    UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Tensions between Russia and the United States over Moscow’s troop build-up near Ukraine spilled into the United Nations Security Council on Monday when diplomats for both countries fiercely outlined their positions.
    Russia failed to stop what it dubbed a “provocative” Security Council meeting on its troop build-up, which the United States and other council members called a threat to international peace and security.
    “The threats of aggression on the border of Ukraine … is provocative.    Our recognition of the facts on the ground is not provocative,” U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield told the 15-member council.
    “The provocation’s from Russia, not from us or other members of this council,” she said.
    Thomas-Greenfield accused Russia of having more than 100,000 troops on Ukraine’s borders with Russia and Belarus preparing “to conduct offensive action into Ukraine.”    She said that Washington has seen evidence that Moscow plans to deploy 30,000 more troops in Belarus by early February.
    Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said there was “no proof” Moscow was planning military action against Ukraine and that Russia had consistently rejected such accusations.
    “Our Western colleagues are talking about the need for de-escalation.    However, first and foremost, they themselves are whipping up tensions and rhetoric and are provoking escalation,” Nebenzia said.
    “The discussions about a threat of war is provocative in and of itself.    You are almost calling for this.    You want it to happen.    You’re waiting for it to happen, as if you want to make your words become a reality,” he added.
    The United States requested Monday’s public discussion in the council and needed at least nine votes to proceed with the meeting after Russia called a procedural vote.    Ten council members voted in favor, Russia and China voted no, while India, Gabon and Kenya abstained.     Nebenzia said Russia was not “scared” to discuss Ukraine, but didn’t understand the reason for the meeting, saying Moscow has never confirmed how many troops it has deployed.
    The discussion centered on whether the build-up of Russian troops on the border with Ukraine is a threat to international peace and security – which the Security Council is charged with maintaining – and whether the situation warranted a public council meeting.
    “What is urgently needed now is quiet diplomacy, not megaphone diplomacy,” China’s U.N. Ambassador Zhang Jun said.
    The Security Council has met dozens of times over the crisis in Ukraine since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014.    It is unable to take any action https://www.reuters.com/world/can-un-do-more-than-just-talk-about-russia-ukraine-crisis-2022-01-31 as Russia is one of the council’s five veto powers, along with the United States, China, France and Britain.
    The United States had described Monday’s meeting as a chance for Russia to explain itself.
    “We didn’t hear much,” Thomas-Greenfield told reporters later.    “We hope that they continue along the route of diplomacy.”
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols, Jonathan Landay, Susan Heavey and Doina Chiacu; editing by Mary Milliken and Grant McCool)

2/1/2021 Ukraine To Get Bigger Army But It Doesn’t Mean War Imminent - President by Natalia Zinets
FILE PHOTO: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky gives a press conference at the end of an EU-Ukraine
Summit at the European Council in Brussels, Belgium, October 6, 2020. Stephanie Lecocq/Pool via REUTERS
    KYIV (Reuters) – President Volodymyr Zelenskiy signed a decree on Tuesday to increase the size of Ukraine’s armed forces by 100,000 troops over three years and raise soldiers’ salaries, but said it did not mean war with Russia was imminent.
    In an address to parliament, he urged lawmakers to stay calm and united, not to sow panic and not to exploit a standoff with Russia for political gain.
    Although Russia has massed tens of thousands of troops near Ukraine’s borders, Zelenskiy has repeatedly pushed back against warnings by the United States and other NATO allies that Russia could attack Ukraine at any moment.
    He was speaking as he prepared to host the prime ministers of Britain, Poland and the Netherlands – all of them NATO member states – as part of efforts to defuse tensions with Russia and shore up international support for Kyiv.
    “This decree (was prepared) not because we will soon have a war… but so that soon and in the future there will be peace in Ukraine,” Zelenskiy said.
    There are currently nearly 250,000 people in Ukraine’s armed forces, which are vastly outnumbered and outgunned by Russia’s.
    “We must be united in domestic politics.    You can be in opposition to the government, but you can’t be in opposition to Ukraine,” Zelenskiy said.
    “You can despise … the government, the president, but you can’t despise your own people, sow panic in order to reap political gains, keep people in a state of alarm.”
    NATO member states have rallied round Ukraine in recent weeks, with the United States, Britain and Poland among countries offering military aid and calling for tough sanctions on Moscow if Russia launches an attack.
    Moscow has denied any plans to invade Ukraine but has demand sweeping security guarantees from the West, including a promise that Kyiv can never join NATO.
    British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will promise to uphold Ukraine’s sovereignty on his visit to Kyiv.
    After Zelenskiy finished speaking, lawmakers gathered in the well of the chamber holding up flags of countries that have shown their support, including Britain and Canada.
(Writing by Matthias Williams, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

2/2/2022 Putin Accuses U.S. Of Trying To Lure Russia Into War by Natalia Zinets and Vladimir Soldatkin
Ukrainian service members of the Air Assault Forces attend military drills in Lviv region, Ukraine, in this
handout picture released February 1, 2022. Press service of the Ukrainian Air Assault Forces/Handout via REUTERS
    KYIV/MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin accused the West on Tuesday of deliberately creating a scenario designed to lure it into war and ignoring Russia’s security concerns over Ukraine.
    In his first direct public comments on the crisis for nearly six weeks, a defiant Putin showed no sign of backing down from security demands that the West has called non-starters and a possible excuse to launch an invasion, which Moscow denies.
    “It’s already clear now … that fundamental Russian concerns were ignored,” Putin said at a news conference with the visiting prime minister of Hungary, one of several NATO leaders trying to intercede with him as the crisis has intensified.
    Putin described a potential future scenario in which Ukraine was admitted to NATO and then attempted to recapture the Crimea peninsula, territory Russia seized in 2014.
    “Let’s imagine Ukraine is a NATO member and starts these military operations.    Are we supposed to go to war with the NATO bloc?    Has anyone given that any thought? Apparently not,” he said.
    Russia has massed more than 100,000 troops on the Ukrainian border and Western countries say they fear Putin may be planning to invade.
    Russia denies this but has said it could take unspecified military action unless its security demands are met.    Western countries say any invasion would bring sanctions on Moscow.
    The Kremlin wants the West to respect a 1999 agreement that no country can strengthen its own security at the expense of others, which it considers at the heart of the crisis, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.
    He raised the charter signed in Istanbul by members of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which includes the United States and Canada, during a call with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
    Lavrov said Blinken accepted the need to discuss the matter further whilst a U.S. account of the call focused on the need for Moscow to pull back.
    “If President Putin truly does not intend war or regime change, the Secretary told Foreign Minister Lavrov then this is the time to pull back troops and heavy weaponry and engage in a serious discussion,” a senior State Department official told reporters.
    The U.S. is willing to discuss giving the Kremlin a way to verify the absence of Tomahawk cruise missiles at NATO bases in Romania and Poland, if Russia shares similar information about missiles on certain Russian bases, Bloomberg reported.
    The White House and State Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment but a source familiar with the situation said the United States has only offered to have talks on a variety of Russia’s concerns, such as arms control issues in the appropriate forums.
‘INSTRUMENT’
    Putin had not spoken publicly about the Ukraine crisis since Dec. 23, leaving ambiguity about his personal position while diplomats from Russia and the West have been engaged in repeated rounds of talks.
    His remarks on Tuesday reflected a world view in which Russia needs to defend itself from an aggressive and hostile United States.    Washington is not primarily concerned with Ukraine’s security, but with containing Russia, Putin said.
    “In this sense, Ukraine itself is just an instrument to achieve this goal,” he said.
    “This can be done in different ways, by drawing us into some kind of armed conflict and, with the help of their allies in Europe, forcing the introduction against us of those harsh sanctions they are talking about now in the U.S.”
    Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has often sparred with Western European leaders over democracy in his own country, said he believed after his talks with Putin that there was room for a compromise.
    “I got convinced today that the existing differences in positions can be bridged and it is possible to sign an agreement that would guarantee peace, guarantee Russia’s security and is acceptable for NATO member states as well,” Orban said.
GUN TO UKRAINE’S HEAD
    As Western countries rush to show solidarity with Ukraine, the U.S. urged Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro to cancel a visit with Putin in Russia, a source told Reuters.
    On Tuesday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson met President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Kyiv and accused Putin of holding a gun to Ukraine’s head to demand changes to the security architecture in Europe.
    “It is vital that Russia steps back and chooses a path of diplomacy,” Johnson said.    “And I believe that is still possible. We are keen to engage in dialogue, of course we are, but we have the sanctions ready, we’re providing military support and we will also intensify our economic cooperation.”
    Johnson said any Russian invasion of Ukraine would lead to a military and humanitarian disaster.
    “There are 200,000 men and women under arms in Ukraine, they will put up a very, very fierce and bloody resistance,” he said.    “I think that parents, mothers in Russia should reflect on that fact and I hope very much that President Putin steps back from the path of conflict and that we engage in dialogue.”
    Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, also visiting Kyiv, said Poland would help Ukraine with gas and arms supplies, as well as humanitarian and economic aid.
    “Living close to a neighbour like Russia, we have the feeling of living at the foot of a volcano,” said Morawiecki.
    Zelenskiy, who has repeatedly played down the prospect of an imminent invasion, signed a decree to boost his armed forces by 100,000 troops over three years.    He urged lawmakers to stay calm and avoid panic.
    The troop increase was because we will soon have a war … but so that soon and in the future there will be peace in Ukraine,” Zelenskiy said.
(Reporting by Natalia Zinets and Vladimir Soldatkin; Additional reporting by Matthias Williams and Gabriela Baczynska in Kyiv, Tom Balmforth and Alexander Tanas in Moscow, Krisztina Than in Budapest, Mark Trevelyan, William James and Guy Faulconbridge in London, Simon Lewis, Steve Holland, Eric Beech and Humeyra Pamuk in Washington, Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru and Gabriel Stargardter in Rio De Janeiro; Writing by Peter Graff and Costas Pitas; Editing by Mark Trevelyan, Mark Heinrich and Grant McCool)

2/3/2022 Erdogan Visits Ukraine Hoping To Play Mediator With Russia by Pavel Polityuk and Orhan Coskun
FILE PHOTO: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan review the honor guard
during a welcoming ceremony at the Mariyinsky Palace in Kiev, Ukraine February 3, 2020. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
    KYIV (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan will discuss tensions between Ukraine and Russia with his counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Kyiv on Thursday, after pitching Turkey as a mediator, and an official said he was not picking any sides in the crisis.
    Erdogan’s visit to Turkey’s fellow Black Sea nation comes after visits to Kyiv by leaders of NATO members Britain, Poland, and the Netherlands amid the standoff.    Turkey has good ties with Kyiv and Moscow but has said it would do what is necessary as a NATO member if Russia invades.
    Russia has denied plans to invade Ukraine amid concern by many Western nations over its build up of more than 100,000 troops near the border, but has demanded sweeping security guarantees from the West and says it could take unspecified military measures if its demands are not met.
    Ankara has previously offered to help defuse the standoff and Turkish diplomatic sources have said both Russia and Ukraine were open to the idea.    Turkey has opposed the sanctions threatened by other NATO members in response to a military incursion by Russia.
    Speaking to reporters before leaving for Ukraine, Erdogan said Turkey was calling on both sides to seek dialogue, adding the crisis must be resolved peacefully on the basis of international law.
    “Today, we will have our meeting with Mr Zelenskiy.    After a visit to China, (Russian President Vladimir) Putin has told us he would travel to Turkey,” he said.    “Without holding these two visits, these talks, it would not be right to think about what we can do.”
    “God willing we will successfully overcome this problematic period between these two countries,” Erdogan said, adding that statements from both Ukraine and Russia had so far played down the prospect of a direct military conflict.
    The talks were due to be start with a bilateral meeting between the presidents at 1000 GMT.
DRONES
    A Turkish official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters that Ankara expects tensions to ease after the talks and that Erdogan will deliver messages that include calling on both sides to exercise restraint.
    Turkey’s “approach is not picking one side or standing against one country in the tensions,” the official said, adding that Ankara wanted continued cooperation with both countries.
    Turkey shares the Black Sea with Ukraine and Russia. Erdogan has said conflict would be unacceptable in the region and warned Russia that an invasion would be unwise.
    While forging cooperation on defence and energy, Turkey has opposed Moscow’s policies in Syria and Libya, as well as its annexation of the Crimean peninsula in 2014.    It has also sold sophisticated drones to Ukraine, angering Russia.
    Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov told a briefing ahead of Erdogan’s visit that Turkey and Ukraine will press ahead with a plan to build drones in Ukraine.    The two countries will also sign a free trade agreement, along with several more deals.
(Reporting by Orhan Coskun, Tuvan Gumrukcu, Ece Toksabay in Ankara; Pavel Polityuk and Matthias Williams in Kyiv; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Frank Jack Daniel)

2/3/2022 Russian Defence Minister In Belarus Ahead Of Joint Drills
FILE PHOTO: Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu delivers a speech during an expanded meeting of the
Defence Ministry Board in Moscow, Russia December 21, 2021. Sputnik/Mikhail Tereshchenko/Pool via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu arrived in Belarus on Thursday to inspect Russian and Belarusian troops’ preparations for joint drills this month, the Interfax news agency reported, amid a tense standoff with the West over neighbouring Ukraine.
    Shoigu will also meet Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, Interfax quoted the ministry as saying.
    Moscow’s military moves are being closely watched by the West at a time when a build-up of Russian troops near the border with Ukraine has sparked fears of an invasion.
    Russia has moved an undisclosed number of troops and military hardware to Belarus, which also borders Ukraine, for the Feb. 10-20 joint drills, saying it will withdraw them afterwards.
    Moscow has denied it plans to launch an attack on Ukraine, while also demanding guarantees from the United States and NATO that Kyiv would not be allowed to join the military alliance.br> (Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov; editing by John Stonestreet)

2/3/2022 Biden Orders Nearly 3,000 U.S. Troops To Eastern Europe To Counter Russia by Phil Stewart and Dmitry Antonov
FILE PHOTO: U.S. army instructor from the Joint Multinational Training Group trains
Ukrainian service members to operate with M141 Bunker Defeat Munition (SMAW-D) grenade launcher,
supplied by the United States, at a shooting range in Lviv Region, Ukraine, in this
handout picture released January 30, 2022. The Ukrainian Ground Forces/Handout via REUTERS
    WASHINGTON/MOSCOW (Reuters) – The United States will send nearly 3,000 extra troops to Poland and Romania to shield Eastern Europe from a potential spillover from the crisis over the massing of Russian troops near Ukraine, U.S. officials said on Wednesday.
    Russia has denied plans to invade Ukraine but signalled it was in no mood for compromise on Wednesday by mocking Britain, calling Prime Minister Boris Johnson “utterly confused” and accusing British politicians of “stupidity and ignorance.”
    Moscow has deployed more than 100,000 troops near Ukraine’s borders and says it could take unspecified military measures if its demands are not met, including a promise by NATO never to admit Kyiv.
    A Stryker squadron of around 1,000 U.S. service members based in Vilseck, Germany would be sent to Romania, the Pentagon said, while around 1,700 service members, mainly from the 82nd Airborne Division, would deploy from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, to Poland.    Three hundred other service members will move from Fort Bragg to Germany.
    U.S. President Joe Biden said the deployment was consistent with what he had told Russian President Vladimir Putin: “As long as he is acting aggressively we’re going to make sure we can reassure our NATO allies and Eastern Europe that we’re there,” he said, according to media reports on Twitter.
    The objective, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said, was to send a “strong signal” to Putin “and frankly, to the world, that NATO matters to the United States and it matters to our allies.”
    “We know that (Putin) also bristles at NATO, about NATO.    He’s made no secret of that.    We are making it clear that we’re going to be prepared to defend our NATO allies if it comes to that.    Hopefully it won’t come to that.”
    Poland’s Defence Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said the U.S. deployment was a strong sign of solidarity.    NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg also welcomed it, saying the alliance’s response to Russia was defensive and proportional.
    Efforts to reach a diplomatic solution continued, despite some Western countries describing Russia’s main demands as non-starters and Moscow showing no sign of withdrawing them.
    Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron discussed coordination of diplomatic efforts and plans to impose economic costs on Moscow should it invade Ukraine, the White House said. Macron said he was planning to talk to Putin soon too.
    Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan is set to visit his counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky in Ukraine on Thursday after pitching Turkey as a mediator to ease tensions with Russia, while German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said he would meet Putin in Moscow soon, without giving a date.
    The Kremlin said Putin told Britain’s Johnson that NATO was not responding adequately to its security concerns.    Johnson’s office said he had told Putin an incursion would be a “tragic miscalculation” and they had agreed to apply a “spirit of dialogue.”
    On Tuesday, Johnson had accused Russia of holding a gun to Ukraine’s head, drawing caustic remarks from Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov before the call with Putin. Johnson had rescheduled the call to answer questions in parliament about accusations his staff violated COVID-19 lockdown rules.
    “Russia and President Putin are open to communicating with everyone,” Peskov said. “Even to someone who is utterly confused.”
    Russia’s Foreign Ministry mocked Johnson’s foreign secretary, Liz Truss, for saying in an interview that Britain was “supplying and offering extra support into our Baltic allies across the Black Sea” – two bodies of water that are on opposite sides of Europe – “as well as supplying Ukrainians with defensive weapons.”    The UK Foreign Office later said she was listing separate geographic areas of support.
    “Mrs Truss, your knowledge of history is nothing compared to your knowledge of geography,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova wrote in a blog post.    “If anyone needs saving from anything, it’s the world, from the stupidity and ignorance of British politicians.”
BEAR VS FOX
    A day earlier, in his first public comments about the Ukraine crisis this year, Putin suggested Russia was being forced to protect itself from U.S. aggression.
    Washington has said it will not send troops to Ukraine itself to shield it from a Russian attack, but would impose financial sanctions on Moscow and send arms to help Ukrainians defend themselves.
    Russia, still Europe’s main energy supplier despite being under U.S. and EU sanctions since annexing Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, brushes off additional sanctions as an empty threat.
    Washington and its allies have rejected Russia’s two main demands – that Ukraine be barred from ever joining NATO and that deployments of troops in eastern European countries that joined the alliance after the end of the Cold War be rolled back.
    Spanish newspaper El Pais released what it said was a leaked copy of a U.S. response to Russian demands, in which Washington offered talks with Moscow on an agreement for both sides to refrain from stationing offensive missiles or troops in Ukraine.
    Washington could also provide reassurance that it had no cruise missiles in Poland or Romania, and discuss steps to prevent dangerous incidents at air or sea, said the document, which appeared to be in line with the public U.S. position.
    “I have seen nothing to suggest these documents are not authentic,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said.
    “What we have conveyed … are proposals for further diplomatic engagement.    This will require engagement in good faith, some concerted fairly technical discussions, if they are going to result in anything,” he said.
(Reporting by Phil Stewart and Dmitry Antonov; Additional reporting by Humeyra Pamuk, Doina Chiacu, Alexander Marrow, Andrew Osborn, Robin Emmott and William James; Writing by Peter Graff, Philippa Fletcher and Lincoln Feast; Editing by Timothy Heritage and Grant McCool)

2/3/2022 NATO Says Russia To Have 30,000 Troops On Drills In Belarus, North Of Ukraine by Pavel Polityuk and Sabine Siebold
Tanks ride during joint exercises of the armed forces of Russia and Belarus as part of an
inspection of the Union State's Response Force, at a firing range in Belarus, in this still image
from a handout video released February 2, 2022. Russian Defence Ministry/Handout via REUTERS
    KYIV/BRUSSELS (Reuters) – NATO said Russia had stepped up deployments to Ukraine’s northern neighbour Belarus in recent days and was expected to have 30,000 troops there for joint military exercises this month.
    The Russia-Belarus exercises, running until Feb. 20, have provided Moscow with cover to further increase forces near Ukraine at a time when the United States and Britain have warned that Moscow may be gearing up for war.
    Ukraine’s defence minister said Russia had currently massed a total of 115,000 troops near Ukraine’s borders.
    Russia denies planning to invade Ukraine and has described the Allied Resolve exercises with Belarus as a rehearsal in repelling external aggression.    It has not disclosed the size of its forces there but says they will withdraw after the drills.
    NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said: “Over the last days, we have seen a significant movement of Russian military forces into Belarus."
    “This is the biggest Russian deployment there since the Cold War, with an expected 30,000 combat troops” as well as Spetsnaz special operations forces, SU-35 fighter jets, S-400 air defence systems and nuclear-capable Iskander missiles, he said.
    Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu arrived in Belarus on Thursday to inspect Russian and Belarusian troops and was due to meet Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko, Interfax news agency said.
    The United States and NATO have rejected Russian demands to bar Ukraine from joining NATO and withdraw allied forces and weapons systems from eastern Europe, while expressing a willingness to talk about arms control and confidence-building measures.
    Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday the West had ignored Russia’s main concerns and accused the United States of trying to lure it into war, but he said Russia was still interested in dialogue.
    On Thursday the Kremlin again accused Washington of inflaming tensions after the United States said it would send nearly 3,000 extra troops to Poland and Romania.    The Pentagon said the aim was to send a “strong signal” to Putin and the world that “NATO matters to the United States and it matters to our allies.”
    Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, who has offered to mediate between Russia and Ukraine in the crisis, was due to visit Kyiv on Thursday.
    Ukraine and Turkey will sign a framework agreement on manufacturing Turkish drones in Ukraine, Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov told reporters, in a move that is certain to annoy Moscow.    Ukraine has already deployed Turkish-made drones in a war with Russian-backed separatists in east of the country.
    Reznikov said the number of ceasefire violations in that conflict had decreased and there had been no combat losses for the past three weeks.
    Ukraine was happy to shift the venue of peace talks on eastern Ukraine to Istanbul or other Turkish cities following a suggestion by Erdogan, but Russia has to agree, he said.
(Writing by Mark Trevelyan; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

2/3/2022 Poland Coal Mine Extension Breached EU Law, EU Court Adviser Says by Kate Abnett
FILE PHOTO: EU flags flutter in front of the European Commission headquarters
in Brussels, Belgium October 2, 2019. REUTERS/Yves Herman/File Photo
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Poland breached European Union law when extending the life of its Turow lignite mine without assessing the environmental impact, an adviser to Europe’s top court said on Thursday, siding with a challenge brought by the Czech government.
    The adviser’s opinion came as leaders of the two EU neighbours were set to meet amid reports they could sign a deal to resolve the long-running dispute over Poland’s extension of mining at Turow, which produces lignite, or brown coal.
    The mine feeds a power plant important to Polish energy supply but the Czech Republic says it is damaging its communities and environment.
    In the non-binding opinion on Thursday, Priit Pikamäe, advocate general at the Luxembourg-based Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), said Poland had breached EU environmental law by extending the life of the mine until 2026 without conducting an environmental impact assessment.
    “A single extension by six years of a mining consent constitutes a project requiring an assessment of its environmental effects,” the court said in a statement.
    Pikamäe also said Poland has breached EU law by being late to notify the Czech Republic and the public that the mine extension had been granted – doing so five months after the extension had been confirmed.
    EU court opinions are non-binding, but the court typically agrees with them in the ruling that follows in the coming months.
    Poland has vowed to keep the disputed coal mine running despite being hit with an order to pay a 500,000 euro ($585,550) daily penalty to the European Commission for defying an earlier ruling to halt operations.
(Reporting by Kate Abnett; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

2/4/2022 U.S. Warns Russia May Stage Video As Pretext To Invade Ukraine by Steve Holland, Dmitry Antonov and Pavel Polityuk
Tanks ride during joint exercises of the armed forces of Russia and Belarus as part of an inspection
of the Union State's Response Force, at a firing range in Belarus, in this still image from
a handout video released February 2, 2022. Russian Defence Ministry/Handout via REUTERS
    WASHINGTON/MOSCOW/KYIV (Reuters) – Russia has formulated several options as an excuse to invade Ukraine, including the potential use of a propaganda video showing a staged attack, the United States said on Thursday, as the Kremlin condemned American troop deployments in the region.
    Russia, which seized Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and backs separatists in the east of the country, is demanding security guarantees including a promise NATO will never admit Kyiv as it has amassed some 100,000 troops near the Ukrainian border.
    The United States has said there is little chance of Ukraine joining NATO soon but that the country should decide its own future as the powers clash over their spheres of influence in post-Cold War Europe.
    U.S. intelligence believes Russia could use a fabricated video showing the graphic aftermath of an explosion, including equipment appearing to belong to Ukraine or allied nations, to justify an incursion.
    It “would involve actors playing mourners for people who are killed in an event that they (Russia) would have created themselves… (and) deployment of corpses to represent bodies purportedly killed,” U.S. Deputy National Security Advisor Jonathan Finer told MSNBC.
    Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed the reports, according to the TASS news agency, saying similar things had been said previously but amounted to nothing.
    Moscow has denied accusations in the past that it is trying to manufacture a conflict and says it is not planning an invasion but that it could take unspecified military action if its security demands are not met.
    The Kremlin accused Washington on Thursday of ignoring its calls to ease the standoff, a day after the United States announced it would send nearly 3,000 extra troops to Poland and Romania.
    “It’s obvious that these are not steps aimed at de-escalating tensions, but on the contrary they are actions that lead to increasing tension,” Peskov said on a conference call on Thursday.
    “We constantly call on our American counterparts to stop aggravating tensions on the European continent.    Unfortunately, the Americans continue to do so,” he said.
    Paratroopers with the U.S. Army boarded aircraft on Thursday to leave for Eastern Europe “in support of assuring our NATO allies and our partners in deterring Russia,” U.S. Army spokesman Matthew Visser said.
    The soldiers were departing from Fort Bragg in North Carolina.    Around 1,700 service members, mainly from the 82nd Airborne Division, were being deployed to Poland, while 300 others will move to Germany, he said.
    Washington and NATO have expresses a readiness to discuss arms control and confidence-building measures.    Russian President Vladimir Putin said earlier in the week that Moscow was still interested in dialogue.
RUSSIAN TROOP MOVEMENTS INTO BELARUS
    In Brussels, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said there had been a significant movement of Russian military forces into Ukraine’s northern neighbor Belarus in recent days.
    The Russia-Belarus joint military drills, running until Feb. 20, have provided Moscow with cover to further increase forces near Ukraine.
    “This is the biggest Russian deployment there since the Cold War,” said Stoltenberg, adding the expected deployment includes 30,000 combat troops, Spetsnaz special operations forces, SU-35 fighter jets, S-400 air defence systems and nuclear-capable Iskander missiles.
    The Kremlin has described the Allied Resolve exercises as a rehearsal for repelling external aggression and says its forces will withdraw after the drills.
    Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu arrived in Belarus on Thursday to inspect the troops.
    The Belarusian defence minister released images from the exercises showing troops parachuting to the ground, fighter jets in the sky, soldiers dismounting from a helicopter holding weapons, and tanks firing and manoeuvring.
    Belarus shares its western border with NATO members Poland, Lithuania and Latvia, while Ukraine lies to its south.
WORLD LEADERS KEEP TALKING
    Support for Russia came from China.
    Their two foreign ministers “coordinated their positions” during a meeting in Beijing on Thursday, the Chinese foreign ministry said.
    China expressed understanding and support for Russia’s position on security regarding Russia’s relationship with the United States and NATO, it said.
    Putin was set to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday before attending the opening ceremony of the Beijing Winter Olympics.
    The U.S. State Department warned Russia that a closer relationship between Moscow and Beijing would not make up for the consequences of an invasion and only make the Russian economy “more brittle.”
    Elsewhere, world leaders continued their efforts to resolve the crisis.
    In Kyiv, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan held talks with his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskiy and offered to host a meeting between Putin and Zelenskiy.
    In a move likely to grate with Moscow, Zelenskiy used the meeting to trumpet a deal enabling Ukrainian factories to produce Turkish drones that have already been deployed in Ukraine’s war against Russia-backed rebels in its eastern Donbass region.
    In Paris, French President Emmanuel Macron said he and Polish President Andrzej Duda had discussed the possibility of a three-way meeting along with Germany’s Olaf Scholz in coming days on the situation in Ukraine.
    European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called for Russia to return to a path of “peace and dialogue” or face sanctions as the EU worked on a joint response to a letter many of its members received from Russia seeking security guarantees.
(Reporting by Steve Holland in Washington, Dmitry Antonov in Moscow and Pavel Polityuk in Kyiv; Additional reporting by Natalia Zinets, Gabriela Baczynska and Matthias Williams in Kyiv, Rami Ayyub and Trevor Hunnicutt in Washington, Tom Balmforth in Moscow, Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru, Orhan Coskun, Tuvan Gumrukcu, and Ece Toksabay in Ankara, Michel Rose in Paris and Yew Lun Tian in Beijing; Writing by Angus MacSwan, Andrew Heavens, Costas Pitas and Michael Perry; Editing by Gareth Jones, Rosalba O’Brien and; Lincoln Feast.)

2/4/2022 Russia Denies Leaking U.S. Security Talks Document To El Pais
FILE PHOTO: Russian and U.S. state flags fly near a factory in Vsevolozhsk, Leningrad Region, Russia March 27, 2019. REUTERS/Anton Vaganov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia on Friday denied leaking the United States’ written response to its security guarantee demands to Spanish newspaper El Pais after U.S. Undersecretary of State Victoria Nuland blamed Moscow for the leak.
    Commenting on Nuland’s allegations made in an interview with Russia’s TASS news agency, Russia’s embassy to the United States called them “bewildering” and said that “instead of focusing on the essence of Russian concerns, the American side is engaging in conspiracy theories.”
    Moscow has demanded guarantees from Washington and NATO that Ukraine will not be allowed to join the military bloc.    Russia has amassed over 100,000 troops close to the Ukrainian borders, but denies planning an invasion.
(Reporting by Anton Kolodyazhnyy; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Kim Coghill)

2/5/2022 Taiwan Condemns ‘Contemptible’ Timing Of China-Russia Partnership
Members of delegations, led by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping,
attend a meeting in Beijing, China February 4, 2022. Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via REUTERS
    TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan on Saturday condemned as “contemptible” the timing of China and Russia’s “no limits” partnership at the start of the Winter Olympics, saying the Chinese government was bringing shame to the spirit of the Games.
    China and Russia, at a meeting of their leaders hours before the Winter Olympics officially opened, backed each other over standoffs on Ukraine and Taiwan with a promise to collaborate more against the West.
    Russia voiced its support for China’s stance that democratically-governed Taiwan is an inalienable part of China, and opposition to any form of independence for the island.
    Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry said China’s continued false claims the island is part of the People’s Republic of China were exactly the same as the country’s habit of spreading fake news.
    “It not only increases the Taiwanese people’s disgust at and loathing for the Chinese government’s arrogance and bullying, it also clearly shows all the world’s countries the sinister face of the Chinese Communist regime’s aggression, expansionism and damaging of peace.”
    At a time when the world’s eyes are focused on the Winter Olympics and cheering on their athletes, the Chinese government has used the Russian summit to engage in the expansion of authoritarianism, the ministry added.
    “This is an insult to the peaceful spirit embodied by the Olympic Rings, and will be spurned by Taiwan’s people and held in contempt by democratic countries.”
    The United States has also criticised the meeting, saying Chinese President Xi Jinping should have used the meeting to push for lowering of tensions in Ukraine.
    The Olympics, to which Taiwan has sent a small team of four athletes to compete, is happening at a time of heightened tensions between Taipei and Beijing, with China regularly sending military ships and aircraft near the island.
    While Russia is a close friend of China’s, both Russia and Taiwan maintain small de facto embassies in each other’s capitals.
    Former Taiwan President Chiang Ching-kuo, who began tentative democratic reforms, spoke Russian and was married to a Russian lady he met while working there in the 1930s.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Kim Coghill)

2/6/2022 Russian Forces At 70% Of Level Needed For Full Ukraine Invasion – U.S. Officials by Phil Stewart and Humeyra Pamuk
Military vehicles are seen during the joint exercises of the armed forces of Russia and Belarus at a
firing range in the Brest Region, Belarus February 3, 2022. Vadim Yakubyonok/BelTA/Handout via REUTERS
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Russia has in place about 70% of the combat power it believes it would need for a full-scale invasion of Ukraine and is sending more battalion tactical groups to the border with its neighbor, two U.S. officials said on Saturday.
    In the last two weeks, the number of battalion tactical groups (BTG) in the border region has risen to 83 from 60 as of Friday and 14 more are in transit, the officials told Reuters on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the information.
    As to the timing of an invasion, the ground is expected to reach peak freeze around Feb. 15, the officials said, allowing for off-road mechanized transit by Russian military units.    Such conditions would continue until the end of March.
    That timeline and the growing number and capability of Russian forces close to Ukraine could suggest the window for diplomacy is shutting.
    The U.S. officials did not provide evidence to back up their estimates of Russia’s forces.
    As Russia masses more than 100,000 troops near the border, it has said it is not planning an invasion but could take unspecified military action if its security demands are not met.    Those include a promise that NATO will never admit Ukraine, a demand Washington and NATO have said is unacceptable.
    Washington believes Russia may choose other options than a full-scale invasion, including a limited incursion, and does not believe President Vladimir Putin had made a final decision, the officials said.
    But they said Putin is putting in place a force that can execute all scenarios.
    If Russia were to invade the capital of Kyiv, it could fall within a couple of days, the U.S. officials said.
    A full-scale invasion would cause major casualties, one of the officials said.
    Ukraine could suffer 5,000 to 25,000 troop casualties, while Russia’s troop casualties could be between 3,000 and 10,000, and civilian casualties could range from 25,000 to 50,000, according to U.S. estimates, the official said.
    A full invasion would also prompt the flight of millions of refugees and internally displaced persons in Europe, Washington believes.
(Reporting by Phil Stewart and Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Mary Milliken and Daniel Wallis)

2/6/2022 Germany Discussing Sending More Troops To Lithuania – Defence Minister
FILE PHOTO: German Defence Minister Christine Lambrecht meets soldiers as she
visits Rukla military base, Lithuania December 19, 2021. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins
    BERLIN (Reuters) – Germany is considering deploying additional troops to Lithuania, Defence Minister Christine Lambrecht said, as tensions remained high over Russia’s military build-up near Ukraine.
    In an interview with the Funke media group to be published online on Sunday and in newspapers on Monday, Lambrecht said Germany was “already making an important contribution in Lithuania” by leading a NATO battlegroup.
    “As a matter of principle, additional troops are available as reinforcement, and we are in talks with Lithuania at the moment to find out what exactly would make sense in this regard,” she said.
    Russia has denied planning to invade Ukraine but has tens of thousands of troops near its neighbour’s borders, prompting the United States to order about 3,000 extra troops to bolster NATO’s eastern flank in Poland and Romania.
    The first of these U.S. troops arrived on Saturday at Rzeszow military base in southeastern Poland.
    NATO has already deployed four multinational combat units with some 5,000 troops in total in Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.    They were sent there in response to Moscow’s annexation of the Crimea region from Ukraine in 2014.
    These so-called NATO battlegroups, led by the United States, Germany, Canada and Britain, are meant to stall an attack in the region and buy time for additional NATO troops to reach the frontline.
    Two U.S. officials said on Saturday that Russia has in place about 70% of the combat power it believes it would need for a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
    Lambrecht again ruled out supplying Kyiv with arms, after Ukraine’s embassy in Germany sent a list with specific requests to the foreign and defence ministries in Berlin.
    The list included missile defence systems, tools for electronic warfare, night vision goggles, digital radios, radar stations and military ambulances – equipment which, in part, is already in short supply within the Germany forces.
(Reporting by Sabine Siebold, additional reporting by Andreas Rinke, editing by Timothy Heritage)

2/7/2022 Russian Attack On Ukraine Possible ‘Any Day’ But Diplomacy Still An Option - White House by Susan Heavey and Arshad Mohammed
A service member of the Ukrainian armed forces walks at combat positions near the line of separation
from Russian-backed rebels in Luhansk Region, Ukraine February 6, 2022. REUTERS/Maksim Levin
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin could order an attack on Ukraine within days or weeks, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan warned on Sunday, as Washington and its European allies continued efforts to offer Putin a diplomatic way out of the crisis.”    We are in the window.    Any day now, Russia could take military action against Ukraine, or it could be a couple of weeks from now, or Russia could choose to take the diplomatic path instead,” Sullivan told the “Fox News Sunday” program.
    Sullivan made the comments in television interviews after two U.S. officials on Saturday said Russia, which seized Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, has in place about 70% of the combat power it believes it would need for a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
    As Russia masses more than 100,000 troops near the border, Moscow has said it is not planning an invasion but could take unspecified military action if its security demands are not met.
    Those include a promise that NATO will never admit Ukraine, a demand the United States and the 30-nation Western security alliance have called unacceptable.
    U.S. President Joe Biden spoke to French President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday, the White House said. That call came ahead of a visit by Macron to Moscow on Monday, the culmination of days of French contacts with Russia and Ukraine to try to de-escalate tensions.
    The 40 minute-long call between Biden and Macron allowed the two leaders to coordinate ahead of the trip, a French Presidency source said.
    If Putin is not deterred by the diplomatic push, possible Russian action could include annexing Ukraine’s Donbass region, where Russian-backed separatists broke away from Ukrainian government control in 2014, cyberattacks or a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Sullivan said.
    “We believe that there is a very distinct possibility that Vladimir Putin will order an attack on Ukraine,” Sullivan told ABC’s “This Week” program.
    “It could happen as soon as tomorrow, or it could take some weeks yet. He has put himself in a position with military deployments to be able to act aggressively against Ukraine at any time now” Sullivan added.
U.S. TROOPS LAND IN POLAND
    Ukraine, while seeking more military aid, has also sought to calm fears of an invasion.    Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on Sunday urged people to ignore “apocalyptic predictions,” saying his country was strong and had unprecedented international support.
    Washington has made clear it would not send U.S. soldiers to defend Ukraine, which is not a member of NATO.
    However, Washington has given Kyiv arms and last week said it would send nearly 3,000 extra troops nL1N2UD16S to Poland and Romania to shield Eastern Europe from potential spillover from the crisis.
    A plane carrying U.S. troops landed in Poland nL8N2UH069 on Sunday, a Reuters witness said.    On Wednesday, the Pentagon said around 1,700 service members, mainly from the 82nd Airborne Division, would deploy from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, to Poland.
    Biden sent a message to the troops as he arrived at the White House after a weekend at his Delaware home.    “We’re thinking of you,” he said, clenching his fist as he spoke to reporters.
    Biden said he would not speculate on whether he might need to send more troops to Europe.    Asked what Putin is weighing as he decides whether to pursue an invasion, Biden said the Russian president was looking for “things he cannot get.”
    German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who will meet Biden at the White House on Monday, signaled on Sunday he was open to deploying more troops to Lithuania to bolster NATO’s eastern flank.
‘DIRECT IMPACT’ OF SANCTIONS
    The United States, with its allies, has threatened extensive economic sanctions against Russia should it invade.    These could include financial sanctions as well as export-control measures.
    U.S. Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo on Sunday said any sanctions would hit Putin and Russian elites hard given their reliance on Europe, which is Russia’s largest trading partner, and the U.S. dollar.
    “By the United States and Europe acting together, we put ourselves in a position where we not only would have an impact on the overall Russian economy but we’d have a direct impact on President Putin, who is tied to the Russian economy,” he told CBS News’ “Face the Nation.”On a daily basis, Russian financial institutions do about $46 billion worth of financial transactions globally with 80% of those in dollars, Adeyemo said.    Russia’s biggest trading partner is Europe, accounting for about 40% of Russian commerce.
    Asked if Russia could instead just turn to China, Adeyemo said the severity of planned U.S. sanctions and Russia’s ties with the West would make that difficult.
    China “does not have access” to critical technologies Russia relies on from the United States and its allies, he told CBS.
    “Russian elites, who would be cut off from the global financial system, are not putting their money in China.    They’re putting their money in Europe and in the United States,” Adeyemo said.
(Reporting by Susan Heavey in Washington and by Arshad Mohammed in Saint Paul, Minn. Additional reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt and Sarah N. Lynch in Washington, by Elizabeth Pineau and Dominique Vidalon in Paris, and by Anna Koper and Kuba Stezycki in Warsaw; Writing by Arshad Mohammed and Simon Lewis; Editing by Chris Reese and Diane Craft)

2/7/2022 Rouble Recovers To 3-Wk High Vs Dollar, Putin-Macron Talks In Focus
FILE PHOTO: A view shows a Russian one rouble coin in this picture illustration
taken October 26, 2018. Picture taken October 26, 2018. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Russian rouble firmed to a more than three-week high against the dollar on Monday, buoyed by rising oil prices but restrained by fears about a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine, plans for which Moscow has repeatedly denied.
    At 0730 GMT, the rouble gained 0.3% to 75.60 against the dollar after touching its strongest level since Jan. 13 of 75.5825.
    Versus the euro, the rouble firmed 0.6% to 86.43.
    The rouble has moved away from a near 15-month low of 80.4125 hit last month when it was battered by concerns that Russia was planning to invade neighbouring Ukraine, prompting the West to voice threats of fresh sanctions against Moscow.
    On Monday, the market will keep an eye on President Vladimir Putin’s meeting with his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron.
    Macron is due to visit Moscow after speaking on Sunday with U.S. President Joe Biden in a “coordination logic” ahead of talks with Putin.
    The market also keeps the central bank in focus.    On Friday, the Bank of Russia is widely expected to raise its key interest rate from 8.5% as it keeps on fighting with stubbornly high inflation.
    Higher rates support the rouble by making investment into rouble-denominated assets more attractive.
    Brent crude oil, a global benchmark for Russia’s main export, was down 0.2% at $93.08 a barrel but traded near its highest levels since 2014 of $94.00 it reached earlier on Monday. [O/R]
    Russian stock indexes were up.
    The dollar-denominated RTS index rose 1.5% to 1,456.5 points.    The rouble-based MOEX Russian index was 0.8% higher at 3,499.3 points.
    Shares in top Russian lender Sberbank rose 0.1% on the day to 256.8 roubles ($3.39) per piece after the bank said its net profit increased by nearly 16% to 100.2 billion roubles in January under the Russian accounting standards.
    For Russian equities guide see
    For Russian treasury bonds see
($1 = 75.6701 roubles)
(Reporting by Andrey Ostroukh; Editing by Toby Chopra)

2/7/2022 France’s Macron Flies To Moscow In High-Risk Diplomatic Mission by Michel Rose
FILE PHOTO: French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (not pictured) hold
joint news conference in Berlin, Germany January 25, 2022. Kay Nietfeld/Pool via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – French President Emmanuel Macron flies to Moscow on Monday in a risky diplomatic move, seeking commitments from Russian President Vladimir Putin to dial down tensions with Ukraine, where Western leaders fear the Kremlin plans an invasion.
    Macron has made a frenetic series of phone calls with Western allies, Putin and the Ukrainian leader over the past week.    He will follow up on Tuesday with a visit to Kyiv, staking a lot of political capital on a mission that could prove embarrassing if he returns empty-handed.
    “We’re heading to Putin’s lair, in many ways it’s a throw of the dice,” one source close to Macron told Reuters.
    Russia has massed some 100,000 troops near Ukraine and demanded NATO and U.S. security guarantees, including that NATO never admit Ukraine as a member.
    Two sources close to Macron said one aim of his visit was to buy time and freeze the situation for several months, at least until a “Super April” of elections in Europe – in Hungary, Slovenia and, crucially for Macron, in France.
    The French leader, who has earned a reputation for highly publicised diplomatic forays since he took power in 2017, has both tried to cajole and confront Putin over the past five years.    His efforts have brought close dialogue with the Russian leader as well as painful setbacks.
    Soon after his election, Macron rolled out the red carpet for Putin at the Palace of Versailles, but also used the visit to publicly decry Russian meddling during the election.    Two years later, the pair met at the French president’s summer residence.
    But Macron’s many overtures did not prevent Russian encroachment into traditional French spheres of influence in Africa, culminating late last year with the arrival of Russian mercenaries in Mali.    French officials think they are supported by the Kremlin.
    Eastern European countries who suffered decades under Soviet rule have criticized Macron’s cooperative stance on Russia, leery of Macron’s talk of negotiating a “new European security order” with Russia.
    To counter critics ahead of the trip and take on the mantle of European leadership in this crisis, Macron has been at pains to consult with other Western leaders this time, including Britain’s Boris Johnson and U.S. President Joe Biden.
    The French president’s visit to Moscow and Ukraine comes less than three months before a presidential election at home.    His political advisers see a potential electoral dividend, although Macron has yet to announce whether he will run.
    “For the president, it’s an opportunity to show his leadership in Europe.    That he is above the fray,” one French government source said.
(Reporting by Michel Rose; Editing by David Gregorio)

2/7/2022 Russia Links U.S. Nuclear Arms Talks To Security Demands – Report
FILE PHOTO: A view shows a screen displaying a flag with the Russian coat of arms during a news briefing,
organized by Russian defence and foreign ministries and dedicated to SSC-8/9M729 cruise
missile system, at Patriot Expocentre near Moscow, Russia January 23, 2019. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The fate of nuclear arms controls talks between Russia and the United States will to a large extent depend on how the negotiations on Moscow’s security demands progress, a senior Russian diplomat was quoted as saying on Monday.
    Having amassed over 100,000 troops near the border with its pro-Western neighbour Ukraine, Russia wants the United States and NATO to pledge that Kyiv will not be allowed to join the military bloc.    Washington has so far refused to provide such guarantees.
    Vladimir Yermakov, head of nuclear non-proliferation and controls at Russia’s foreign ministry, told the RIA news agency that the urgent security guarantees discussions have taken priority over strategic arms controls talks.
    No meetings have been agreed on the latter, and their resumption of now depends largely on resolving the immediate security issues raised by Moscow, he said.
(Reporting by Anton Kolodyazhnyy; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Toby Chopra)

2/7/2022 Lawmakers, National Security Officials Warn Russian Invasion Is Imminent by OAN Newsroom
A local resident throws a Molotov cocktail against a wall during an all-Ukrainian training campaign
“Don’t panic! Get ready!” close to Kyiv, Ukraine, Sunday, Feb. 6, 2022. Russia has denied any plans
of attacking Ukraine, but urged the U.S. and its allies to provide a binding pledge that they
won’t accept Ukraine into NATO, won’t deploy offensive weapons, and will roll back NATO deployments
to Eastern Europe. Washington and NATO have rejected the demands. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
    Washington officials have continued to sound the alarm that a Russian invasion of Ukraine is imminent.    On Sunday, Texas Representative and Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Michael McCaul detailed the key points of a classified meeting between the national security establishment and a select group of lawmakers.
    McCaul alleged the unnamed intelligence reports conclude Russia is more likely to invade than not.    He stressed Joe Biden’s foreign policy failures have made America look weak on the international stage, adding the botched Afghanistan withdrawal was the most devastating to America’s image.
    McCaul also claimed Biden’s lifting of sanctions on Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline emboldened Russian President Vladimir Putin.    He then warned a Russian invasion could cause a domino affect where America’s allies are acting on their ambitions without the threat of consequences.
    “Our adversaries are watching,” stated the Republican lawmaker.    “If Putin could go into Ukraine with no resistance, certainly Xi (Jinping) will take Taiwan, He’s always wanted this and the South China Sea, you know, very tactical.”
    Additionally, Trump-era White House National Security H. R. McMaster echoed calls for an effective deterrence strategy.    McMaster said he’s optimistic NATO will rally behind America’s position and set up an effective resistance to Putin’s alleged aggression.
    “You’re starting to see, I think, deterrence by denial,” he explained.    “Convincing Putin that he can no longer accomplish his objectives with the use of force.    And so, if his objective is to divide NATO what he needs to see is a NATO that comes together with a stronger and high degree of unity.    If he wants to weaken Ukraine and keep it under his thumb, he’s going to see, obviously, a rise nationalist sentiment in Ukraine.”
Flags flutter in the wind outside NATO headquarters in Brussels prior to a visit by Poland’s President
Andrej Duda, Monday, Feb. 7, 2022. International efforts to defuse the standoff over Ukraine intensified Monday, with
French President Emmanuel Macron holding talks in Moscow and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in
Washington to coordinate policies as fears of a Russian invasion mounted. (AP Photo/Olivier Matthys)
    Meanwhile, current National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said the Biden administration believes Russia could invade “at any time.”    Sullivan added, Russia has developed its military forces to carry out a significant military operation in Ukraine.    He also asserted the Biden administration and its allies are prepared for every type of aggression Russia can take.
    “We believe we have strong alignment with our allies, that we are on the same page when it comes to severe economic consequences and the other forms of pressure that we would impose in response to any kind of Russian action that amounts to aggression and escalation against Ukraine,” Sullivan stated.
    In the meantime, McCaul said he’s working with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on a bill to correct Biden’s mistakes and build up an effective deterrence strategy.    The bill would provide lethal aid to Ukraine and impose sanctions on Russia.    McCaul hopes to that law will be introduced to Congress this week.

2/8/2022 Macron Tells Putin He Seeks To Avoid War And Build Trust by Michel Rose and Dmitry Antonov
French President Emmanuel Macron attends a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin
in Moscow, Russia February 7, 2022. Sputnik/Kremlin via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) - French President Emmanuel Macron, the top Western leader to visit Moscow since Russia began massing troops on the border with Ukraine, told Vladimir Putin at the start of talks in the Kremlin on Monday that he aimed to avoid war and build trust.
    Macron, who is expected to seek re-election in April, has positioned himself as a potential mediator on Ukraine, with Paris voicing scepticism about predictions by Washington and other Western capitals that a Russian assault is imminent.
    Macron told the Russian president he was seeking a “useful” response “that of course allows us to avoid war and to build bricks of trust, stability, visibility.”    Putin, for his part, said Russia and France shared “a common concern about what is happening in the security sphere in Europe.”
    “I see how much efforts the current leadership of France and the president personally is applying in order to solve the crisis related to providing equal security in Europe for a serious historical perspective,” Putin said.
    On the eve of his trip, Macron, who is also due in Kyiv on Tuesday, told the Journal du Dimanche newspaper: “The geopolitical objective of Russia today is clearly not Ukraine, but to clarify the rules of cohabitation with NATO and the EU.”
    On his arrival, Macron told reporters: “I’m reasonably optimistic but I don’t believe in spontaneous miracles.”
    Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said ahead of the talks: “The situation is too complex to expect decisive breakthroughs in the course of one meeting.”
    In Washington, U.S. President Joe Biden said as he hosted German Chancellor Olaf Scholz that they were “working in lockstep” to address the crisis.
    Russia has deployed more than 100,000 troops near Ukraine’s borders.    It denies planning an invasion, but says it is ready to take unspecified “military-technical measures” if its demands are not met, including a promise by NATO never to admit Ukraine and to withdraw some troops from Eastern Europe.
    Washington has rejected those demands but says it is willing to talk about arms control and confidence-building steps, which Moscow says are beside the point.
    “In recent days there has been nothing new on the topic of security guarantees for Russia. Our Western interlocutors prefer not to mention this topic,” Peskov said.
    The United States and its allies have ruled out defending Ukraine with military force but say they would respond to any invasion with sanctions, arms shipments and reinforcement of NATO countries nearby.
    Last week Biden ordered nearly 3,000 U.S. troops to deploy in Poland and Romania to better protect NATO’s eastern flank.
    A U.S. general arrived in Poland on Saturday and the bulk of the new forces due there were expected on Monday.
    Germany announced on Monday it would deploy 350 troops to Lithuania to reinforce a NATO battle group there.
    Russian-backed separatist leaders in eastern Ukraine warned that a full-scale war https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/separatist-leader-says-full-scale-war-east-ukraine-could-break-out-any-time-2022-02-07 could break out there and urged Moscow https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/exclusive-senior-separatist-urges-russia-send-30000-troops-east-ukraine-2022-02-07 to send 30,000 soldiers to reinforce rebel forces.    Kyiv says 15,000 people have been killed in fighting between government forces and separatists in the breakaway Donetsk region since 2014.
‘DEFENSIVE ALLIANCE’
    In London, a spokesman for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Russian concerns about potential NATO aggression were “fundamentally unfounded as NATO is a defensive alliance at its heart.”    He said Britain wanted to work with Moscow to provide it with reassurance on that point.
    Russia sees NATO’s addition of 14 new east European members since the Cold War ended three decades ago as an encroachment on its sphere of influence and a threat to its security.
    On her second visit to Kyiv in three weeks, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock promised unequivocal support, stressing that Germany was willing to pay a high economic price to contain Moscow.
    Ukrainian officials have publicly criticised Berlin for refusing to sell defensive weapons to Kyiv and over its perceived reluctance to stop gas flowing through the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia if Moscow launches an attack.
    European countries are heavily reliant on Russian energy, high prices for which are already fuelling inflation.    European Central Bank chief Christine Lagarde warned last week of “geopolitical clouds” https://www.reuters.com/markets/europe/ukraine-clouds-horizon-europes-economy-2022-02-07 over the European economy.
    Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said “a frank conversation” with Baerbock about weapons had found “both common ground and a draft solution” but did not give details.
    Germany has ruled out sending lethal weapons for historical reasons arising from its role in the 20th Century world wars.    Kyiv’s mayor last month derided https://www.reuters.com/article/us-ukraine-crisis-germany-idCAKBN2K01DZ an offer of 5,000 military helmets as “a joke.”
    Biden, a long-time opponent of Nord Stream 2, will make clear in his meeting with Scholz that the pipeline will not move forward if “Russia invades Ukraine in one way or another,” a U.S. official said.
    Secretary of State Antony Blinken said meanwhile the United States and European Union were working to protect European energy supplies against shocks stemming from the crisis.
    Scholz, who took office after 16 years of Angela Merkel’s leadership, has been criticised for showing insufficient leadership in the crisis.
    He told reporters the West would act swiftly, decisively and in unity if Russia invades Ukraine, adding: “There will be a very high price to pay if Ukraine is attacked militarily.”
(Reporting by Reuters bureaux; Writing by Mark Trevelyan, Peter Graff and Catherine Evans; Editing by Alison Williams and Mark Heinrich)

2/9/2022 France’s Macron Calls For Calm To Resolve Ukraine Crisis by Michel Rose and Pavel Polityuk
Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures during a press conference with French
President Emmanuel Macron, in Moscow, Russia, February 7, 2022. Thibault Camus/Pool via REUTERS
    KYIV (Reuters) – French President Emmanuel Macron, the first leader of a major Western power to meet Vladimir Putin since Russia massed troops near Ukraine, said on Tuesday he believed steps can be taken to de-escalate the crisis and called on all sides to stay calm.
    Macron, who in contrast to the U.S. and British leaders, has played down the likelihood that Russia may soon invade its neighbour, shuttled from Moscow to Kyiv on Tuesday in a high-profile bid to act as a mediator.
    The French president had no breakthroughs to announce – his office rowed back on Tuesday after an official said overnight that Putin had promised him Russia would not stage military manoeuvres near Ukraine for the time being.
    But Macron said he thought his talks had helped prevent the crisis from escalating further. Both Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy had told him they were committed to the principles of a 2014 peace agreement, he said, adding that this deal, known as the Minsk accords, offered a path to resolving their ongoing disputes.
    “This shared determination is the only way allowing us to create peace, the only way to create a viable political solution,” Macron told a joint news conference with Zelenskiy.
    “Calm…is essential from all parties in words and in deeds,” Macron said, praising Zelenskiy for “the sangfroid that you are showing, and which the Ukrainian people are showing, in the face of military pressure on your borders and on your country.”
    Zelenskiy, for his part, made clear he was sceptical of any assurances Macron may have received from Putin.    “I do not really trust words, I believe that every politician can be transparent by taking concrete steps,” the Ukrainian leader said.
    Macron flew later to Berlin for a meeting with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.    In a statement alongside Macron before the talks began, Scholz told reporters, “Our common goal is to prevent a war in Europe.”
    Scholz added: “Our appraisal of the situation is united, as is our position on this: any further attack on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine is unacceptable and will draw wide-reaching consequences for Russia – politically, economically and geo-strategically…
    Earlier on Tuesday, Macron defended the outcome of his talks in Moscow on Monday, which brought no major breakthrough, telling reporters he had never expected “for one second” that Putin would make concessions.
WESTERN FEARS OF AN INVASION
    Western countries led by the United States fear Russia is preparing to invade Ukraine.    Moscow says it is planning no invasion but could take unspecified “military-technical measures” unless a number of security demands are met, including a promise from NATO never to admit Kyiv.
    The United States and European Union have threatened Russia with sanctions if it attacks Ukraine.    Moscow, still Europe’s biggest energy supplier despite already being under sanctions since seizing Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014, has largely dismissed new sanctions as an empty threat.
    U.S. President Joe Biden warned on Monday that if Russia invades Ukraine, “there will be no longer Nord Stream 2” https://www.reuters.com/business/energy/if-russia-invades-ukraine-there-will-be-no-nord-stream-2-biden-says-2022-02-07, referring to a newly built, as yet unopened gas pipeline to Germany.    He did not specify how he would halt it.
    While Western countries have stood together to back Ukraine, they disagree about the likelihood of war.
    French officials have suggested they think Washington has overstated the threat, and Kyiv itself has also played down the likelihood of a large-scale invasion.
    Macron, who is expected to stand for re-election in April, said before he left on his trip to Moscow that he believed Russia did not have designs on Ukraine but wanted to renegotiate European security arrangements.
    But whatever Moscow’s true aims, Western countries say they cannot safely assume the crisis will end without war unless Russia pulls back its troops.
    NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg, asked in an interview with CNN how likely is a Russian invasion, said: “There’s no certainty but what we see is a continued military buildup with more and more forces… The warning time is going down and the risk of an attack is going up.”
(Reporting by Reuters bureaux, Writing by Peter Graff, Editing by Timothy Heritage, Catherine Evans and Mark Heinrich)

[THE FOLLOWING ARTICLES WAS A FORE WARNING OF RUSSIA INVADING UKRAINE.]
2/10/2022 Russia Holds Drills In Belarus As West Warns Of ‘Dangerous Moment’ by Robin Emmott, Tom Balmforth and Vladimir Soldatkin
A satellite image shows an overview of Russian deployments at Zyabrovka air base
in Belarus, February 10, 2022. 2022 Maxar Technologies/Handout via REUTERS
    BRUSSELS/MOSCOW (Reuters) - Britain said on Thursday the “most dangerous moment” in the West’s standoff with Moscow appeared imminent, as Russia held military exercises in Belarus and the Black Sea following the buildup of its forces near Ukraine.
    Ukraine also staged war games and the United States urged Americans in the country to leave immediately due to increased threats of Russian military action.    But leaders on all sides signalled they hoped diplomacy could still prevail in what British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called Europe’s biggest security crisis for decades.
    In a new round of talks, Britain’s foreign minister sparred publicly with her Russian counterpart in Moscow,     Johnson visited NATO headquarters in Brussels and Germany’s leader met his Baltic states counterparts in Berlin, where officials from Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France were also holding discussions.     Russia, which has more than 100,000 troops near Ukraine’s borders, denies Western accusations it may be planning to invade its former Soviet neighbour, though it says it could take unspecified “military-technical” action unless demands are met.
    “I honestly don’t think a decision has yet been taken” by Moscow on whether to attack, Johnson told a news conference with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.    “But that doesn’t mean that it is impossible that something absolutely disastrous could happen very soon indeed.”
    “This is probably the most dangerous moment, I would say, in the course of the next few days, in what is the biggest security crisis that Europe has faced for decades.”
    The way forward was diplomacy, Johnson later told reporters in Poland.
    Stoltenberg also said it was a dangerous moment for European security, adding: “The number of Russian forces is going up.    The warning time for a possible attack is going down.”
    In a new point of friction, Ukraine criticised Russian naval exercises that it said were part of a “hybrid war” and had made navigation in the Black Sea and Sea of Azov “virtually impossible.”
    Russia said six warships had arrived at Sevastopol in Crimea, which Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014.    There was no comment from Moscow on Ukraine’s statements.
    Ukraine’s Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov urged the international community to retaliate, including by slapping port restrictions on Russian ships.
‘THINGS COULD GO CRAZY QUICKLY’
    The U.S. State Department urged Americans in Ukraine to leave immediately due to what it called increased threats of Russian military action.
    “American citizens should leave now,” President Joe Biden told NBC News in an interview.    “We’re dealing with one of the largest armies in the world.    It’s a very different situation and things could go crazy quickly.”
    Asked whether there was a scenario that could prompt him to send troops to rescue fleeing Americans, Biden replied: “There’s not.    That’s a world war when Americans and Russia start shooting at one another.    We’re in a very different world than we’ve ever been.”
    Visiting Moscow, British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss was upbraided by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who accused her of refusing to listen.
    “I’m honestly disappointed that what we have is a conversation between a mute person and a deaf person,” the 71-year-old veteran diplomat told a news conference.
    “Our most detailed explanations fell on unprepared soil .. numerous facts that we produced bounced off the British delegation.”
    Truss, who warned of tough Western sanctions if Ukraine was attacked, challenged Lavrov over his assertion that Russia’s build-up of troops and weaponry was not threatening anyone.
    “I can’t see any other reason for having 100,000 troops stationed on the border, apart from to threaten Ukraine.    And if Russia is serious about diplomacy, they need to remove those troops and desist from the threats,” she said.
    Lavrov said Moscow favoured diplomacy to resolve the crisis.
DE-ESCALATION EFFORTS
    Truss’s talks in Moscow follow shuttle diplomacy from French President Emmanuel Macron, who visited Moscow and Kyiv this week.    In contrast to U.S. and British leaders, Macron has played down the likelihood of a Russian invasion soon.
    As part of U.S. efforts to “reduce chances of miscalculation,” the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, spoke on Thursday with his Belarusian counterpart, a Pentagon spokesman said.
    Urging de-escalation, Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Germany and its allies were ready for dialogue with Moscow and wanted peace.
    However further military aggression against Ukraine “would have very serious political, economic and strategic consequences for Russia,” Scholz told reporters in Berlin.
    Moscow has used the tensions to seek security concessions from the West that would include a promise never to admit Ukraine to NATO and halt the military alliance’s expansion.
    The EU said on Thursday it had delivered a single letter in response to Russia’s proposals on European security, NATO and the United States having earlier portrayed Russia’s main demands as non-starters.
    Stoltenberg said last week that Russia was expected to have 30,000 troops in Belarus as well SU-35 fighter jets, S-400 air defence systems and nuclear-capable Iskander missiles.
    Russia held a briefing for military attachés that lasted just eight minutes, and gave notice of an exercise that was already under way, a senior U.S. State Department official said.
    “That’s highly inconsistent with agreements for transparency for large military exercises in Europe.    That’s bad news,” the official said.
    Ukraine launched its own war games on Thursday which, like Russia’s joint drills with Minsk, will run until Feb. 20.
    The Ukrainian forces, whose numbers have not been disclosed, are set to use Bayraktar drones and anti-tank Javelin and NLAW missiles provided by foreign partners.    Kyiv was due to receive a further shipment of U.S. military aid later on Thursday.
    Despite the tension over the war games, the Kremlin’s point man on Ukraine, Dmitry Kozak, was set to meet officials from Ukraine, Germany and France in Berlin.
(Additional reporting by Natalia Zinets in Kyiv, William James in London, John Irish in Paris and Mark Trevelyan in London; Editing by Andrew Osborn, Timothy Heritage, Peter Graff, John Stonestreet and Daniel Wallis)

2/10/2022 U.S. Says Americans In Ukraine Should Depart Immediately
The seal of the United States Department of State is shown in
Washington, U.S., January 26, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
    (Reuters) – The United States has urged Americans in Ukraine to leave immediately due to the “increased threats of Russian military action” against Ukraine.
    “Do not travel to Ukraine due to the increased threats of Russian military action and COVID-19; those in Ukraine should depart now via commercial or private means,” the U.S. State Department said in an advisory.
    Russia denies planning an attack on Ukraine but has amassed tens of thousands of troops on its border with Ukraine.
(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Chris Reese)
[RUSSIA SOUNDS LIKE THE U.S.A. DEMOCRATS WHO SAY DON'T LOOK HERE LOOK OVER THERE, AND BOTH ARE LIARS AND NATO IS SITTING ON ITS SOCIALIST THUMB.].

2/11/2022 Russia And Ukraine Say Berlin Talks Fail To Yield Breakthrough by Andrey Ostroukh, Natalia Zinets and Matthias Williams
FILE PHOTO: Russia's and Ukraine's flags are seen printed on paper in this
illustration taken January 27, 2022. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo
    MOSCOW/KYIV (Reuters) – Russia and Ukraine said they had failed to reach any breakthrough in a day of talks with French and German officials aimed at ending an eight-year separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine.
    The lack of progress marked a setback for efforts to defuse the wider Ukraine crisis in which Russia has massed more than 100,000 soldiers near Ukraine’s borders, raising fears of a war.
    Russian envoy Dmitry Kozak told a late-night briefing after Thursday’s talks in Berlin that it had not been possible to reconcile Russia and Ukraine’s different interpretations of a 2015 agreement aimed at ending fighting between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian government forces.     “We did not manage to overcome this,” he said.
    Ukraine’s envoy Andriy Yermak said there had been no breakthrough but both sides agreed to keep talking.
    “I hope that we will meet again very soon and continue these negotiations.    Everyone is determined to achieve a result,” he said.
    The conflict in the breakaway Donetsk and Luhansk regions, known together as the Donbass, simmers on despite a notional ceasefire.    Observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) record frequent violations, sometimes running into hundreds of incidents daily.
    Ukraine says some 15,000 people have been killed since 2014.
    Representatives of Russia, Ukraine, the OSCE and the two separatist regions signed a 13-point agreement in February 2015 in Minsk, that was also backed by the leaders of France and Germany.
    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused Ukraine on Thursday of trying to rewrite the agreement and cherry-pick only the elements most advantageous to it.
    Ukraine says it is committed to the accord.
    “The Ukrainian side is set on constructive dialogue.    Everyone confirmed today that we have the Minsk agreements and they need to be fulfilled,” Yermak said.
    Ukraine rejects Moscow’s assertion that it has nothing to do with the conflict, saying Russia has forces inside Ukraine fighting alongside the separatists.
    Kyiv refuses to negotiate with the heads of the breakaway regions but President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has proposed direct talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, which the Kremlin has so far rejected.
    Russia denies planning to invade Ukraine but says it wants to enforce “red lines” to make sure that its former Soviet neighbour does not join NATO and that the alliance does not set up bases and missiles there.
(Reporting by Andrey Ostroukh, Natalia Zinets and Matthias Williams; Writing by Mark Trevelyan; Editing by Stephen Coates)

2/11/2022 Finland Set To Sign Deal With U.S. For 64 F-35 Jets -Sources by Mike Stone
FILE PHOTO: A formation of U.S. Air Force F-35 Lightning II fighter jets perform aerial maneuvers during
as part of a combat power exercise over Utah Test and Training Range, Utah, U.S. November 19, 2018.
Picture taken November 19, 2018. U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Cory D. Payne/Handout via REUTERS.
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Finland’s formal purchase agreement for F-35 fighter jets could be signed as soon as Friday, U.S.-based sources familiar with the plan said on Thursday, bringing the stealthy new planes one step closer to deploying in coming years on Russia’s northern flank.
    In December, Finland said it would replace its ageing F/A-18 combat jets with 64 F-35s planes and weapons systems in a deal $9.4 billion dollar deal.    The deal is a foreign military sale through the U.S. government, but Lockheed Martin Corp is the principal contractor for the jets.
    “This is another clear sign of how serious Finland has always been about its national defense,” Finland’s ambassador to the United States, Mikko Hautala, said in a statement.    Hautala said, “it is part of our long-term planning and has nothing to do with the current situation as such.”    He did not comment on any potential deal signing for the jets.
    Russia, which shares a long border with Finland, has continued to mass troops near Ukraine.    The standoff between Ukraine and Russia has prompted NATO to beef up the military presence on its own eastern flank.
    Finland has no plans at present to join NATO, its foreign minister said in January.    Still, Finland is buying NATO-compatible military equipment, which will allow for greater cooperation.
    Finland, which shares a difficult history with Russia after the two clashed during World War Two, has long maintained the door to NATO open, saying it has the right to apply for membership if it so chooses.
    Three people familiar with the situation who spoke on condition of anonymity said that as early as Friday Finland could sign the paperwork formalizing the jet deal and that production can begin.    Finland ran a multi-year competition to replace its fleet of F-18s.
    The U.S. State Department declined to comment.
    Finland will begin to phase in the F-35 jets in 2027, the government has said.
(Reporting by Mike Stone in Washington; Editing by David Gregorio and Sandra Maler)

2/12/2022 Exclusive-U.S. To Send 3,000 Additional Troops To Poland, Officials Say by Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart
FILE PHOTO: U.S. soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division walk near the G2A Arena following their arrival at Rzeszow-Jasionka Airport,
in Jasionka, Poland February 8, 2022. Patryk Ogorzalek/Agencja Wyborcza.pl via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS -
THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. POLAND OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN POLAND./File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States will send 3,000 additional troops to Poland, Poland’s Defence Minister said late on Friday, confirming an earlier Reuters report, as Russia held military exercises in Belarus and the Black Sea following the buildup of its forces near Ukraine.
    The additional troops will be sent to Poland in the coming days, four U.S. officials told Reuters on Friday.
    The deployment comes as Washington steps up warnings that Russia could be poised to invade Ukraine.    Russia denies it plans to invade, saying it is defending its own security against aggression by NATO allies.
    Polish Defence Minister Mariusz Blaszczak wrote on Twitter late on Friday that Poland is ready to welcome the U.S. troops anytime.
    “The U.S. administration will send additional 3,000 troops to Poland due to the tense situation in Ukraine.    I spoke today about this issue with (U.S. Defence Secretary Lloyd) Austin,” he said.    “We are ready at any time to welcome U.S. soldiers to Poland.”
    The officials, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said the U.S. troop deployment will come from the 82nd Airborne Division based at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and not from within U.S. forces in Europe.
    They are expected to be in Poland by next week, they said.
    One of the officials described it as a significant deployment.
    Another official said the deployment order was signed by Austin at the direction of President Joe Biden.
    The soldiers are in addition to the 8,500 troops already on alert to be ready to deploy to Europe if needed and the nearly 3,000 American troops the administration said earlier this month it would deploy to Poland and Romania.
    A spokesperson for Poland’s Defence Ministry did not confirm any additional details about timing or where the troops would be coming from.
    Russia has already massed more than 100,000 troops near Ukraine, and this week it launched joint military exercises in neighboring Belarus and naval drills in the Black Sea.
    While it denies plans to invade Ukraine, Moscow has said it could take unspecified “military-technical” action unless a series of demands are met, including promises from NATO never to admit Ukraine and to withdraw forces from Eastern Europe.
    The United States and Britain have both warned an invasion could come within days.
    The Biden administration has urged American citizens to leave Ukraine now, stressing it will not send U.S. troops into Ukraine to help them flee the country if there is a Russian invasion.
    While the United States does not have any ships in the Black Sea currently, the U.S. Navy has sent four additional destroyers to Europe in recent weeks.
(Reporting by Idrees Ali and Phil StewartAdditional reporting by Alicja Ptak and Joanna Plucinska in WarsawEditing by Rosalba O’Brien and Frances Kerry)

2/12/2022 Thousands March In Kyiv To Show Unity Against Russian Threat by Pavel Polityuk and Valentyn Ogirenko
People take part in the Unity March, which is a procession to demonstrate Ukrainians' patriotic spirit
amid growing tensions with Russia, in Kyiv, Ukraine February 12, 2022. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
    KYIV (Reuters) – Several thousand Ukrainians rallied in Kyiv on Saturday to show unity amid fears of a Russian invasion, as Ukraine’s leader told people not to panic and pushed back against what he said was a glut of bleak war predictions being reported in the media.
    Tension has mounted as Russia has built up more than 100,000 troops near Ukraine and carried out large-scale exercises.    The United States said on Friday an invasion could start at any moment. Russia denies planning to invade.
    Ukrainians filed through the centre of Kyiv in a column, chanting “Glory to Ukraine” and carrying Ukrainian flags and banners that said “Ukrainians will resist” and “Invaders must die.”
    Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who attended police drills in southern Kherson region, said a Russian attack could happen at any time, but pushed back against what he called excessive amounts of information about a major looming war.
    “The best friend of our enemies is panic in our country.    And all this information is just provoking panic and can’t help us,” he said.    “I can’t agree or disagree with what hasn’t happened yet.    So far, there is no full-scale war in Ukraine.”
    The United States and numerous Western governments have urged their citizens to leave Ukraine, and Washington on Saturday said it was ordering most of its Kyiv embassy staff to leave.
    “We have to be ready each day.    It did not begin yesterday.    It began in 2014, so, we are ready and this is why we are here,” Zelenskiy said in a reference to Russia’s annexation of Crimea and backing for an anti-Kyiv separatist insurgency in the east.
    In a separate statement, the head of Ukrainian armed forces Valery Zaluzhny and Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov said the aggressor won’t take Kyiv, Odessa, Kharkiv, or any other Ukraine’s city.
    “We have strengthened the defense of Kyiv.    We have gone through the war and due preparation.    Therefore, we are ready to meet enemies and not with flowers, but with Stingers, Javelins and NLAW. Welcome to hell!,” Zaluzhny said, referring to an array of anti-rocket and anti-aircraft weapons received from the West.
    The military says Ukrainian intelligence and the army have control of the situation on the borders and Kyiv is coordinating its actions with allies.
    “Such a union of leading democracies has not existed for decades,” Zaluzhny and Reznikov said.
    Zelenskiy voiced frustrations just last month with dire assessments of a war. Such warnings have taken their toll on the economic, piling pressure on the national currency.
    U.S. President Joe Biden and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin will speak later on Saturday.
(Editing by Tom Balmforth and Frances Kerry)

2/12/2022 Putin Gave No Indication In Macron Call He’s Preparing Invasion – French Presidency Official
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with French President
Emmanuel Macron in Moscow, Russia February 7, 2022. Sputnik/Kremlin via REUTERS/File Photo
    PARIS (Reuters) - Russian President Vladimir Putin gave no indication in a phone call with French President Emmanuel Macron on Saturday that he was preparing to invade Ukraine, a French presidency official said.
    The two leaders spoke at a time of high tension over Russia’s massing of troops near the Ukrainian border, with Washington saying on Friday that Moscow could invade at any moment.    Russia has denied it plans to invade.
    “We see no indication in what President Putin says that he is going to go on the offensive,” the official told reporters after Macron and Putin spoke on the phone for nearly 90 minutes.
    “We are nevertheless extremely vigilant and alert to the Russian (military) posture in order to avoid the worst.”
    Separately, the Kremlin said that Putin had highlighted during the call with Macron a “lack of a substantive response from the United States and NATO to well-known Russian initiatives.”    This referred to a series of Russian security demands, including that it bar Ukraine from ever joining NATO.
    Putin and Macron also discussed the situation related to “provocative speculations” around an allegedly planned Russian invasion, the Kremlin said.
    The Elysee official said France recommended that French nationals avoid trips to Ukraine and preparations would be made for embassy staff and their families to leave the country if they wanted.
    The French ambassador would review the situation for the some 1,000 French nationals in the country, many of whom hold both French and Ukrainian citizenship, the official said. The United States and many other countries have urged citizens to leave Ukraine amid fears of an invasion.
    Macron visited Moscow earlier this week and then and in their call on Saturday the two discussed ways to move forward on the implementation of the Minsk Agreements on achieving peace in eastern Ukraine, as well conditions for security and stability in Europe, the Elysee said separately in a statement.
    Macron also spoke on Saturday with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz as well as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, and was due to speak with U.S. President Joe Biden.
    In the call with Zelenskiy, Macron restated his support for the Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, the Elysee said.
    Scholz is due to visit Kyiv on Monday followed by Moscow on Tuesday, and the Elysee said the French and German positions were “perfectly aligned.”
(Reporting by Leigh ThomasAdditional reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin in Moscow, Pavel Polityuk in Kyiv and Andreas Rinke in Berlin Editing by Richard Lough, Angus MacSwan and Frances Kerry)

2/12/2022 Putin Told Biden His Security Ideas Do Not Tackle Main Russian Concerns
FILE PHOTO: Russia's President Vladimir Putin looks on during the U.S.-Russia summit with U.S. President Joe Biden
(not pictured) at Villa La Grange in Geneva, Switzerland, June 16, 2021. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian leader Vladimir Putin told U.S. President Joe Biden that Moscow would review ideas he laid out to address Russia’s security demands in a phone call on Saturday, but that they still did not tackle Moscow’s key concerns, the Kremlin said.
    Biden and Putin spoke by phone amid high tension over a Russian military buildup near Ukraine that has fuelled fears of a looming invasion. Russia has repeatedly denied any such plans.
    In a briefing with reporters, Kremlin aide Yuri Ushakov described the call as business-like, but said it had taken place against a backdrop of “hysteria” in the West about a looming Russian invasion that he said was absurd.
    Ushakov said Biden had asked for the call to take place on Saturday as a result of the rising hysteria.
    “Biden predictably mentioned possible tough anti-Russian sanctions in the context of the tense situation around Ukraine, but that was not the focus of his rather lengthy conversation with the Russian leader,” Ushakov said.
    He said Biden laid out a number of considerations to address the array of security demands that Russia made of the West late last year, including a veto on Ukraine ever joining NATO.
    “I will immediately note that the Russian president reacted in the spirit that the Russian side would carefully analyse the considerations expressed by Biden and would undoubtedly take them into account.”     “But unfortunately, and this was said, these considerations do not touch upon the central, key elements of Russian initiatives,” the Kremlin official said.
    Ushakov said Biden’s ideas largely repeated the ideas set out in the U.S. and NATO counter-proposals to Russia’s security demands that were handed over on Jan. 26.
    He said Russia had practically finished drawing up its response to those counterproposals and would announce them soon.
    Putin told Biden he thought the West was not putting enough pressure on Ukraine to implement the Minsk peace agreements on the conflict in east Ukraine, Ushakov said.
(Reporting by Dmitry Antonov; writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Angus MacSwan)

2/14/2022 Ukraine Could Drop NATO Bid To Avoid War, Ambassador Tells BBC
Residents take part in a military exercise for civilians conducted by a far-right radical group, Right
Sector, amid threat of Russian invasion in Kyiv, Ukraine, February 13, 2022. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
    (Reuters) - Ukraine could drop its bid to join NATO to avoid war with Russia, the BBC quoted the country’s ambassador to Britain as saying, in what would amount to a major concession to Moscow in response to the build-up of Russian troops on its borders.
    Ambassador Vadym Prystaiko told the BBC Ukraine was willing to be “flexible” over its goal to join the Atlantic military alliance, a move Russian President Vladimir Putin has said would be a trigger for war.
    “We might – especially being threatened like that, blackmailed by that, and pushed to it,” Prystaiko was quoted as saying when asked if Kyiv could change its position on NATO membership.
    Ukraine is not a NATO member but has a promise dating from 2008 that it will eventually be given the opportunity to join, a step that would bring the U.S.-led alliance to Russia’s border.
    Putin says Ukraine’s growing ties with the alliance could make it a launch pad for NATO missiles targeted at Russia.    He says Russia needs to lay down “red lines https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/why-is-russias-putin-so-focused-ukraine-2021-12-15” to prevent that.
    Russia has moved more than 100,000 troops and heavy weapons to within striking distance of Ukraine in recent weeks, prompting the United States and its NATO allies to warn that an invasion could be imminent.
    Moscow denies it is planning an attack, calling the military manoeuvres exercises, but is has issued written demands that NATO forgo any further expansion eastwards including Ukraine.    NATO members have rejected the demand.
    U.S. President Joe Biden spoke to his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Sunday and agreed to continue diplomatic efforts to try to resolve the crisis, the White House said.
(Reporting by Stephen Coates)

2/14/2022 Russia, Amid Ongoing Drills Near Ukraine, Says Ties With U.S. Are ‘On The Floor’
FILE PHOTO: A helicopter fires during military exercises held by the armed forces of
Russia and Belarus at the Gozhsky training ground in the Grodno region, Belarus, in this
handout photo released February 12, 2022. Leonid Scheglov/BelTA/Handout via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Despite a recent uptick in bilateral dialogue, relations between Moscow and Washington are “lying on the floor,” the Kremlin told Russia’s RIA news agency, amid Western objections to ongoing major Russian military drills near its borders with Ukraine.
    The United States on Sunday said Russia could invade Ukraine at any time and might create a surprise pretext for an attack, as it reaffirmed a pledge to defend “every inch” of NATO territory.
    Russia has more than 100,000 troops massed near Ukraine, has repeatedly denied any plans to invade and has accused the West of “hysteria
    Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said there were certain channels for dialogue, one positive being that President Vladimir Putin and his U.S. counterpart Joe Biden have been in contact – the two spoke by phone on Saturday – but that ties in other areas were strained.
    “The heads of state are in dialogue, there is dialogue on other fronts,” RIA cited Peskov as saying in an interview.    “This is a plus because you know that just a couple of years ago there was zero dialogue, there were no such contacts whatsoever."
    “But on the rest, unfortunately, in bilateral relations one can only talk about negatives.    We are at a very, very low point.    They are actually lying on the floor.”
    Russia is engaged in major joint military drills with Belarus, Ukraine’s northern neighbour.    Sukhoi Su-30 fighter jet crews conducted a joint patrol flight along the border between Russia and Belarus on Monday, Russia’s defence ministry said.
    Russia will also send a detachment of ships armed with cruise and supersonic missiles from its Caspian Flotilla to the Black and Mediterranean Seas, the Izvestia daily cited military sources as saying.
    Russia’s Black Sea fleet on Saturday said more than 30 ships had started training exercises near the Crimean peninsula Moscow annexed in 2014, part of a sweeping set of exercises from the Pacific to the Atlantic involving all its fleets in January and February.
    Meanwhile, over 30 transport and attack helicopters are engaged in tactical exercises in southern Russia, the military said on Monday.
(Reporting by Maria Kiselyova; Writing by Alexander Marrow; Editing by Toby Chopra)

2/15/2022 Ukraine President Calls For ‘Day Of Unity’ For Feb. 16, Day Some Believe Russia Could Invade by Darya Korsunskaya and Natalia Zinets
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy attends a joint news conference with German
Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Kyiv, Ukraine February 14, 2022. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
    MOSCOW/KYIV (Reuters) - Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Monday called on the country’s people to fly flags and sing the national anthem in unison on Feb. 16, a date that some Western media say Russian could invade.
    Ukrainian government officials stressed that Zelenskiy was not predicting an attack on Wednesday, but responding skeptically to the foreign media reports.
    “They tell us Feb. 16 will be the day of the attack. We will make it a day of unity,” Zelenskiy said in a video address to the nation.
    “They are trying to frighten us by yet again naming a date for the start of military action,” Zelenskiy said.    “On that day, we will hang our national flags, wear yellow and blue banners, and show the whole world our unity.”
    Zelenskiy has long said that, while he believes Russia is threatening to attack his country, the likelihood of an imminent invasion has been overstated by Western allies, responding to Moscow’s efforts to intimidate Ukraine and sow panic.
    Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Zelenskiy’s chief of staff, told Reuters the president was responding in part “with irony” to media reports of the potential date of the invasion.
    “It is quite understandable why Ukrainians today are skeptical about various ‘specific dates’ of the so-called ‘start of the invasion’ announced in the media,” he said.    “When the ‘start of the invasion’ becomes some sort of rolling tour date, such media announcements can only be taken with irony.”
    Zelenskiy’s office released a decree calling for all villages and towns in Ukraine to fly the country’s flags on Wednesday, and for the entire nation to sing the national anthem at 10 a.m.    It also called for an increase in salaries of soldiers and border guards.
    U.S. officials said they were not predicting an assault ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin on a specific day, but repeated warnings that it could come at any time.
    “I won’t get into a specific date, I don’t think that would be smart.    I would just tell you that it is entirely possible that he could move with little to no warning,” Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby told reporters.    Earlier, Kirby said Moscow was still adding to its military capabilities on the Ukrainian frontier.
    Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington, which has already sent most of its diplomats home, was moving its remaining diplomatic mission in Ukraine from Kyiv to the western city of Lviv, much further from the Russian border.    He cited a “dramatic acceleration in the buildup of Russian forces.”
    Blinken said Washington was offering Ukraine up to $1 billion in sovereign loan guarantees to calm markets.
    The State Department issued a travel advisory recommending that U.S. citizens leave Belarus, which borders both Russia and Ukraine.
    Russia has more than 100,000 troops massed near the border of Ukraine.    Russian political leaders deny Western accusations that it is planning to invade, but say it could take unspecified “military-technical” action unless a range of demands are met, including barring Kyiv from ever joining the NATO alliance.
    Russia suggested on Monday that it would keep talking to the West to try to defuse the security crisis.
    In a televised exchange, Putin was shown asking his foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, whether there was a chance of an agreement to address Russia’s security concerns, or whether it was just being dragged into tortuous negotiations.
    Lavrov replied: “We have already warned more than once that we will not allow endless negotiations on questions that demand a solution today.”
    But he added: “It seems to me that our possibilities are far from exhausted … At this stage, I would suggest continuing and building them up.”
    Western countries have threatened unprecedented sanctions if Russia invades.    The Group of Seven large economies (G7) warned on Monday of “economic and financial sanctions which will have massive and immediate consequences on the Russian economy.”
    After speaking with the foreign ministers of Russia and Ukraine, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he still believed “from his own analysis, his own hopes” that there would not be a conflict, a U.N. spokesperson said.
    Moscow says Ukraine’s quest to join NATO poses a threat.    While NATO has no immediate plans to admit Ukraine, Western countries say they cannot negotiate over a sovereign country’s right to form alliances.
ECONOMIC DAMAGE
    Ukraine has already suffered economic damage from the standoff.    A surge in the price of 5-year credit default swaps on Ukrainian sovereign bonds suggested that markets gave Kyiv a 42% probability of defaulting.
    Ukraine International Airlines, the nation’s biggest airline, said its insurers had terminated coverage for some of its aircraft.
    German Chancellor Olaf Scholz held talks with Zelenskiy in Kyiv.    Scholz is due to fly to Moscow on Tuesday, following visits by French President Emmanuel Macron and two British ministers went last week.
    Scholz said he saw “no reasonable justification” for Russia’s military activity on Ukraine’s border, and that “we are ready for a serious dialogue with Russia on European security issues.”    He announced a credit of 150 million euros ($170 million) for Ukraine.
($1 = 0.8838 euros)
(Reporting by Darya Korsunskaya in Moscow and Natalia Zinets in Kyiv; additional reporting by Dmitry Antonov and Maria Kiselyova in Moscow, Guy Faulconbridge in London; Thomas Escritt in Berlin; Chen Lin in Singapore; Shreyashi Sanyal, Anisha Sircar and Muviya M in Bengaluru and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Writing by Kevin Liffey and Peter Graff; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien and Stephen Coates)

2/15/2022 Russian Invasion Of Ukraine Could Be Imminent, UK’s Truss Says
FILE PHOTO: Russian servicemen drive tanks during military exercises in the Leningrad Region, Russia,
in this handout picture released February 14, 2022. Russian Defence Ministry/Handout via REUTERS
    LONDON (Reuters) – A Russian invasion of Ukraine is highly likely, could be imminent and would pose a threat to Europe’s wider stability that emboldens aggressors around the world, Britain’s Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said on Tuesday.
    Russia has more than 100,000 troops massed near the border of Ukraine. Russian political leaders deny Western accusations that it is planning to invade, but say it could take unspecified “military-technical” action unless a range of demands are met, including barring Kyiv from ever joining the NATO alliance.
    British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and U.S. President Joe Biden on Monday agreed in a call on Monday that there was a crucial window for diplomacy, but Truss said an invasion could be imminent, and Russian troops could reach Kyiv “very, very quickly.”
    “This is … about the wider stability of Europe,” she told Sky News.    “And it’s about wider global stability, and the message that we give to aggressors and we have to give the message to Vladimir Putin that there can be no reward for aggression.”
    Truss echoed politicians in the United States who have warned that a so-called “false flag” operation could be used by Moscow to trigger a conflict.
    “It is still the case that an invasion could be imminent, and it is highly likely,” she said.
(Reporting by Kylie MacLellan; writing by Kate Holton)

2/15/2022 Images Show New Russian Military Activity Near Ukraine – Satellite Company
A satellite image shows armor and self-propelled artillery loaded in flatcars passing through a rail yard in Yelnya, Russia,
February 13, 2022. Picture taken February 13, 2022. Picture taken February 13, 2022. 2022 Maxar Technologies/Handout via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – New commercial satellite images show a flurry of Russian military activity at several locations near Ukraine, the private U.S. company that released the pictures said, amid fears that Moscow may launch an attack on its ex-Soviet neighbour.
    Russia, which has repeatedly denied plans to invade, is holding large military exercises in ex-Soviet Belarus, part of a dramatic buildup of forces to the north, east and south of Ukraine.
    U.S.-based Maxar Technologies, which has been tracking the buildup of Russian forces for weeks, said on Tuesday that images taken on Sunday and Monday captured significant new activity in Belarus, annexed Crimea and western Russia.
    The images could not be independently verified by Reuters.
    Maxar pointed to the arrival of several large deployments of troops and attack helicopters as well new deployments of ground attack aircraft and fighter-bomber jets to forward locations.
    The images also captured the departure of multiple ground forces units from existing garrisons along with other combat units seen in convoy formation, Maxar said.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth; editing by Andrew Heavens)

2/15/2022 Scholz Flies To Moscow In Bid To Avert War by Sarah Marsh
FILE PHOTO: German Chancellor Olaf Scholz gives a statement before a meeting with the leaders of the three Baltic states,
Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda, Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas and Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins
at the chancellery in Berlin, Germany, February 10, 2022. Christophe Gateau/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    BERLIN (Reuters) – German Chancellor Olaf Scholz heads to Moscow on Tuesday to meet President Vladimir Putin in a high stakes mission to avert war, with Russia’s largest trading partner in Europe warning of far-reaching sanctions if it attacks Ukraine.
    Scholz’s one-day trip, after visiting Kyiv on Monday, is part of frantic Western diplomacy to try to stop a potential attack as more than 100,000 Russian troops mass on Ukraine’s borders.
    The chancellor has said he will hammer home the message from the West that they are open to dialogue about Russia’s security concerns but will impose sanctions if it invades Ukraine.
    “We are ready for very far-reaching and effective sanctions in coordination with our allies,” he said in Kyiv on Monday before returning to Berlin.
    Warnings of sanctions could hit home harder coming from Germany, Russia’s number one trade partner in Europe and the biggest consumer of Russian natural gas – although that could also limit Scholz’s room for manoeuvre.
    He signalled last month “everything will have to be discussed should there be a military intervention” when asked about the Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia to Germany, which is intended to bring more Russian gas to Western Europe, bypassing traditional transit country Ukraine.
    But he has not vowed to end Nord Stream 2 or even named it in connection with sanctions, in contrast to U.S. President Joe Biden who said last Monday the pipeline would be halted if Russia invaded.
    Russia denies planning to invade, accusing the West, which has sent a flurry of officials to Moscow and Kyiv, of hysteria.
COALITION DISAGREEMENTS
    Scholz, who took office in December, has faced criticism for his low profile during the crisis, contrasting with Angela Merkel’s leadership during Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.    French President Emmanuel Macron has taken the lead in Europe, visiting Moscow a week ago and telephoning Putin regularly.
    Merkel and Putin were able to speak in one another’s native tongues.    She became his key interlocutor in Europe during her 16 years in power.    This will be Scholz’s first meeting with Putin as chancellor, although he has met him in previous senior roles.
    “Merkel had this special relationship with Putin – I think he respected her – and they had a long time to build their relationship,” said Jana Puglierin, director of the Berlin office of the European Council of Foreign Relations.    “For Scholz, it will be trickier.”
    Scholz’s government has been accused of giving mixed signals on the crisis, with disagreements among the three parties making up the coalition as well as within his ruling Social Democrats (SPD).
    Junior coalition party the Greens, which holds the foreign ministry, wants to axe Nord Stream 2.    Former SPD Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who took a job at Russian energy giant Gazprom after leaving office in 2005, continues to lobby for it.
    The SPD’s traditional desire for closer engagement with Russia could be an asset in the talks with Putin, said Puglierin.    “But Scholz cannot afford to be the weak link in the Western alliance,” he said.
    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Monday suggested to Putin that Moscow continue along the diplomatic path in its efforts to extract security guarantees from the West.
(Reporting by Sarah Marsh; Editing by Alison Williams)

2/16/2022 Russian Pullout Meets NATO Scepticism, Ukraine Defence Website Still Hacked by Alexander Marrow and Natalia Zinets
A view shows a freight train transporting Russian military vehicles, which leave the Crimean peninsula
towards the Russian mainland along a railway bridge across the Kerch Strait, in this still image
taken from video released February 16, 2022. Russian Defence Ministry/Handout via REUTERS
    MOSCOW/KYIV (Reuters) -Russia said more of its forces surrounding Ukraine were withdrawing on Wednesday but NATO urged Moscow to prove it was pulling back, saying there were signs that more troops were on the way.
    Britain joined the United States in saying it had yet to be convinced the pullout was real, while in Ukraine, the defence ministry said an unprecedented cyber attack was into its second day.    Russia said it had nothing to do with any attack.
    The Russian defence ministry published video that it said showed tanks, infantry fighting vehicles and self-propelled artillery units leaving the Crimean peninsula, which Moscow seized from Ukraine in 2014.
    NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said a pullout would be welcome but that moving troops about did not confirm it.
    “It remains to be seen whether there is a Russian withdrawal … What we see is that they have increased the number of troops, and more troops are on the way,” he told reporters at the start of a two-day meeting of NATO defence ministers at the alliance’s headquarters in Brussels.
    The deployment in the Crimean peninsula was part of a huge build-up of Russian forces to the north, east and south of Ukraine since November that had prompted London and Washington to warn in recent days that a Russian invasion looked imminent.     Russia mocked those warnings as hysterical war propaganda when it announced on Tuesday that some units were starting to return to base after completing exercises.    On Wednesday the Kremlin said NATO was wrong to say there was no evidence of a pullout and that Putin had stressed his desire to negotiate.
    Military analysts say a key indicator of a significant pullback will be whether units from Russia’s far east, which are taking part in huge exercises in Belarus this week, return to their bases thousands of miles away.
    U.S. President Joe Biden said on Tuesday that more than 150,000 Russian troops were still amassed near Ukraine’s borders. He said Washington had not yet verified any pullout.
    “Our analysts indicate that they remain very much in a threatening position,” he said.
    British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace told Times Radio on Wednesday: “We haven’t seen any evidence at the moment of that withdrawal.”
    Speaking separately to the BBC, he said: “Physical observations that we see show the opposite of some of the recent rhetoric coming out the Kremlin.”
HACKING ATTACK
    In Ukraine, people raised national flags and played the country’s anthem to show unity against fears of an invasion.
    The defence ministry said hackers were still bombarding its website and had succeeded in finding vulnerabilities in the programming code.
    Although Kyiv did not name who was behind the incident, a statement suggested it was pointing the finger at Russia.
    “It is not ruled out that the aggressor used tactics of dirty little tricks because its aggressive plans are not working out on a large scale,” said the Ukrainian Centre for Strategic Communications and Information Security, which is part of the culture ministry.
    Russia’s Federal Security Service did not immediately reply to a request for comment from Reuters.
    “If Russia attacks the United States or our allies through asymmetric means like disruptive cyber attacks against our companies or critical infrastructure, we’re prepared to respond,” Biden said in televised remarks from the White House on Tuesday.
    Russia has always denied planning to invade Ukraine but has been pressing for a set of security guarantees from the West including a promise that its neighbour Ukraine will never join NATO.
    The United States and its allies have rejected that, but say they are willing to talk about arms control and confidence-building measures.
    Putin said after meeting German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Tuesday that the West was ignoring Russia’s main demands but Moscow was ready to continue dialogue on security issues.
    European Union Council head Charles Michel urged Russia on Wednesday to take tangible steps to de-escalate.
    “The choice today is a choice between war and tragic sacrifices that would go along with that war or the courage of a political engagement, the courage of a diplomatic negotiation,” he said.
(Reporting by Reuters bureaux; writing by Mark Trevelyan; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

2/16/2022 “We Fear No One:” Ukrainians Raise Flags To Defy Russia Invasion Fear by Aleksandar Vasovic
FILE PHOTO: Ukraine's biggest national flag on the country's highest flagpole and the giant 'Motherland' monument are seen at a
compound of the World War II museum in Kyiv, Ukraine, December 16, 2021. Picture taken with a drone. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
    KYIV (Reuters) - Ukrainians raised national flags and played the country’s anthem on Wednesday to show unity against fears of a Russian invasion that Western powers have said could be imminent.
    The yellow and blue banner fluttered outside schools, hospitals and many shops to mark “Unity Day,” a holiday President Volodymyr Zelenskiy created this week after Russia massed troops near Ukraine’s borders.
    Russia has denied it will invade, but has warned it could take unspecified “military-technical” action if its security demands, including restrictions on NATO, are not met.
    On Kyiv’s main Khreshchatyk boulevard, where flags decorated government offices, it was business as usual for many.
    “Just a normal day, but these flags are here for a purpose, to show we fear no one.    They did not scare us,” said Mykola, who operates a small coffee stand in the capital.
    A loudspeaker at a local government office blared patriotic songs, while television and government Youtube channels broadcast speeches and rousing reminders of Ukraine’s nationhood.
    “Everyone wants to scare us and we are here to stay,” said Ludmila, a pensioner, who wore a tiny Ukrainian flag in the lapel of her coat.
    At Kyiv’s Olympic stadium, dozens of people unfolded a 200 meter-long Ukrainian flag, waving it to the beat of patriotic music.
    In a televised address, Zelenskiy said Ukrainians were united around a common desire “to live in peace, happily, in a family, children with parents.”
    “No one can love our home as we can.    And only we, together, can protect our home,” he said.    Zelenskiy was later due to inspect military drills in Rivne and fly to the eastern Donbass region to meet with serving troops.
    Zelenskiy, himself an active social media user, called on Ukrainians to post pictures and videos of the Ukrainian flag and add hashtags.    On Instagram, users posted under #UnityDay.
    “Today we have proved, that we Ukrainians are a united nation, united people,” said Pavlo Horinov, a official with the state Institute of Family and Youth Policy.
    Zelenskiy has long said that, while he believes Russia is threatening to attack his country, the likelihood of an imminent invasion has been overstated by Western allies, responding to Moscow’s efforts to intimidate Ukraine and sow panic.
    Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Zelenskiy’s chief of staff, said this week the president had chosen Feb. 16 as the patriotic holiday partly ironically, in response to media reports an invasion could happed on Wednesday.
    The Russian defence ministry said it was returning some troops to their bases after exercises. The United States however, said there were signs more troops were on their way.
    U.S. President Joe Biden said on Tuesday that more than 150,000 Russian troops were currently deployed near Ukraine.
    Hours after Moscow’s announcement of a withdrawl, Ukraine said defence ministry online networks and two banks were overwhelmed by a cyber attack.    Hackers were still bombarding the defence ministry websites on Wednesday, the ministry said.
    Although Kyiv did not name who was behind the incident, a statement suggested it was pointing the finger at Russia.
(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel)

2/16/2022 EU Top Court Paves Way To Cut Billions To Poland And Hungary by Gabriela Baczynska
FILE PHOTO: The entrance of the European Court of Justice is pictured in Luxembourg,
January 26, 2017. Picture taken January 26, 2017. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir/File Photo
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union’s top court on Wednesday cleared the way for the bloc to potentially cut billions of euros in handouts to Poland and Hungary where populist rulers stand accused of violating democratic rights and freedoms.
    There is no appeal against the ruling by the Luxembourg-based European Court of Justice, which dismissed challenges by Warsaw and Budapest against an new EU sanction that would halt funding to member countries which break European laws.
    “Today’s judgements confirm that we are on the right track,” said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, announcing the Brussels-based EU executive would set out how it would proceed in the coming weeks.
    At stake are hundreds of billions of euros of funds, the EU’s internal cohesion, and international standing.
    The landmark ruling comes ahead of an April 3 national election in Hungary, the tightest race for Prime Minister Viktor Orban since his landslide victory in 2010.
    Orban’s ruling Fidesz party, campaigning on a platform of anti-immigrant nationalism and economic populism, said the ruling was “political revenge” against Hungary meant to help an opposition alliance.
    Justice Minister Judith Varga said the ruling was an example of Brussels abusing its powers against national member states.
    Poland’s Deputy Justice Minister Sebastian Kaleta said: “We need to defend ourselves against an attack on our sovereignty, Poland has to defend its democracy against blackmail that aims to take away our right to decide about ourselves.”
RIGHTS AND VALUES
    Thirty-six billion euros ($41 billion) in pandemic recovery funds earmarked for Poland, and 7 billion euros for Hungary, are already frozen over their track record on democratic rights and values.
    The so-called “conditionality mechanism” could affect any part of the EU budget, worth 1.8 trillion euros ($2 trillion) for 2021-27.
    Poland has been a top beneficiary of EU funding since joining the bloc in 2004.    EU aid has helped the largest ex-communist member state avoid recession in the global economic crisis and weather the economic fallout of the COVID pandemic.
    Poland is eligible for more than 75 billion euros through 2027, including for climate, digitalisation and the health sector, areas where the country of 38 million people lags its peers.
    “Hungary and Poland have been rapidly backsliding on media freedom, independence of judges, the right to protest, and other fundamental tenets of the rule of law,” said Amnesty International.
    “Instead of trying to oppose EU funds being conditional on respect for the rule of law, they should respect people’s rights and clean up their act.”
    European Parliament head, Roberta Metsola, pushed the Commission to act swiftly, her comments echoed by liberals and greens in the chamber.
    EU officials told Reuters the bloc might move on Hungary first but that more political horse-trading was on the cards.    That means any money would actually be forfeited late this year at the earliest, if at all.
    Poland and Hungary have threatened to retaliate by stalling other EU decisions that require unanimity, including on climate and energy, as well as foreign policy.
($1 = 0.8786 euros)
(Additional reporting by Krisztina Than, Pawel Florkiewicz, Marek Strzelecki and Jan Strupczewski; Editing by David Holmes)

2/17/2022 Russia’s Military Build-Up Near Ukraine Is Growing, Not Shrinking, Warns West by Alexander Marrow and Aleksandar Vasovic
A view shows a freight train transporting Russian military vehicles, which leave the Crimean peninsula
towards the Russian mainland along a railway bridge across the Kerch Strait, in this still image taken
from video released February 16, 2022. Russian Defence Ministry/Handout via REUTERS
    MOSCOW/KYIV (Reuters) – There is a growing Russian military presence at Ukraine’s borders, Western countries warned on Wednesday, as Estonia said battle groups were moving ahead of a likely attack to occupy “key terrain,” contradicting Moscow’s insistence of a pullback.
    More armored vehicles, helicopters and a field hospital have been spotted, Britain’s defense intelligence chief said in rare public comments.
    Up to 7,000 more troops have moved to the border in recent days, including some arriving on Wednesday, a senior official in U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration said, without providing evidence.
    World powers are engaged in one of the deepest crises in East-West relations for decades, jostling over post-Cold War influence and energy supplies as Russia wants to stop Ukraine ever joining the NATO military alliance.
    Western nations have suggested arms control and confidence-building steps to defuse the standoff, which has prompted them to urge their citizens to leave Ukraine because an attack could come at any time.    Russia denies it has any plans to invade.
    “There’s what Russia says.    And then there’s what Russia does.    And we haven’t seen any pullback of its forces,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in an interview on MSNBC.
    “We continue to see critical units moving toward the border, not away from the border.”
    Estonian intelligence is aware of around 10 battle groups of troops moving toward the Ukrainian border, where it estimates about 170,000 soldiers are already deployed, said Mikk Marran, director general of the Estonian Foreign Intelligence Service.
    The attack would include missile bombardment and the occupation of “key terrain,” he added.
    “If Russia is successful in Ukraine, it would encourage it to increase pressure on the Baltics in the coming years,” he said.    “The threat of war has become the main policy tool for Putin.”
    Russia’s defense ministry said its forces were pulling back after exercises in southern and western military districts near Ukraine, and Moscow’s ambassador to Ireland insisted forces in western Russia would be back to their normal positions within three to four weeks.
    It published video that it said showed tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, and self-propelled artillery units leaving the Crimean peninsula, which Moscow seized from Ukraine in 2014.
    But NATO military commanders are drawing up plans for new combat units that diplomats said could be deployed in Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Slovakia.
    Such units – designed to buy time for additional soldiers to reach the front line if needed – already exist in Poland and the Baltic states.
    Britain will double the size of its force in Estonia and send tanks and armored fighting vehicles to the small Baltic republic bordering Russia as part of the NATO deployment.
‘DAY OF UNITY’
    Ukraine also increased the number of border guards on its frontier with Belarus, Russia’s ally, where some 9,000 Russian troops are estimated to be involved in military exercises.
    President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who is criss-crossing the country to help bolster Ukrainians’ morale, observed drills by his armed forces that included Javelin anti-tank missiles.
    Wednesday was designated a patriotic holiday in response to reports Russia could invade on that day.    “No one can love our home as we can.    And only we, together, can protect our home,” he said.
    People raised flags and played the national anthem to show unity against fears of an invasion.
    The government said a cyberattack that hit the defense ministry was the worst of its kind the country had seen, pointing the finger at Russia, which denied involvement.
    U.S. officials were as yet unable to say who was responsible, White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said.
‘MORE TROOPS ON WAY’
    The risk of Russian aggression against Ukraine would remain high for the rest of February and Russia could still attack Ukraine “with essentially no, or little-to-no, warning,” according to a senior Western intelligence official.
    NATO said it could prove Russia’s failure to pull back its soldiers with satellite imagery.    “More troops are on their way,” said Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.
    Moscow has accused the West of hysterical war propaganda after repeated warnings of a possible attack.
    Russia sees Ukraine joining NATO as a threat to its security and has said it is ready to reroute energy exports to other markets if it is hit by sanctions, which Washington and its allies have threatened if it invades.
    Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said sanctions against Russian banks would be “unpleasant” but the state would ensure all bank deposits and transactions were secured.
    Despite the war of words, diplomatic efforts continue.
    Biden and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz underscored the “importance of continued transatlantic coordination” on a call on Wednesday, the White House said.
    Ukraine has asked the U.N. Security Council to discuss on Thursday a bid by Russia’s parliament to recognize self-proclaimed separatists.
    British foreign minister Liz Truss is due to visit Kyiv this week and Blinken will travel to Germany for the Munich Security Conference, which starts on Friday, to coordinate with allies.
    “The door continues to be open to diplomacy,” said Psaki.
(Reporting by Alexander Marrow and Alexander Vasovic; Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu, Nandita Bose and Susan Heavey in Washington, Phil Stewart and Sabine Siebold in Brussels and Andrius Sytas in Riga; Writing by Mark Trevelyan, Philippa Fletcher, Gareth Jones and Costas Pitas; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien and Grant McCool)

2/17/2022 Ukraine Fears ‘Provocation’ As Shelling In Reported In East by Dmitry Antonov and Pavel Polityuk
An interior view shows a kindergarten, which according to Ukraine's military officials was
damaged by shelling, in Stanytsia Luhanska in the Luhansk region, Ukraine, in this handout picture
released February 17, 2022. Press Service of the Joint Forces Operation/Handout via REUTERS
    MOSCOW/KYIV (Reuters) - Russian-backed rebels and Ukrainian forces traded accusations on Thursday of firing shells across the ceasefire line in eastern Ukraine, and Kyiv said the incidents looked like a “provocation” at a time when Russia has troops massed on the frontier.
    Moscow denies Western accusations it is planning to invade its neighbour and said this week it was pulling back some of the more than 100,000 troops it has sent to the area.    The West disputes that there has been a significant withdrawal and the United States said thousands more troops were still arriving.
    Western countries have repeatedly accused Russia of planning either to incite or stage an incident in the rebel-held areas, to justify an attack.    Moscow, for its part, has accused Kyiv of planning an escalation to try to recapture territory by force.
    A senior Ukrainian government source said the shelling at the line of contact with Russian-backed separatist forces went beyond the scale of ceasefire violations routinely reported throughout the conflict.
    “It is not typical.    It looks a lot like a provocation,” the source told Reuters.
    In Moscow, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Russia was “seriously concerned” about the reports of escalation.
    A Reuters photographer in the town of Kadiivka, in Ukraine’s rebel-held Luhansk region, heard the sound of some artillery fire from the direction of the line of contact, but was not able to determine the details of the incident.
    The separatists accused government forces of opening fire on their territory four times in the past 24 hours.
    Kyiv accused the rebels of firing shells at several locations, including some that struck a kindergarten and others that hit a school where pupils had to flee to the cellar.
    Contradicting Russia’s assertions that it has been pulling back, a senior official in U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration said up to 7,000 more troops had moved to the border in recent days, including some arriving on Wednesday.
SATELLITE IMAGES
    Russia’s defence ministry released video it said showed more departing units.    Maxar Technologies, a private U.S. company that has been tracking the build-up, said satellite images showed that, while Russia has pulled back some military equipment from near Ukraine, other hardware has arrived.
    A diplomatic source said a longstanding monitoring mission from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe had recorded multiple shelling incidents along the line of contact in the early hours of Thursday.
    Since a 2015 ceasefire brought an end to major combat in the separatist conflict, the OSCE has typically reported dozens of ceasefire violations each day, often minor incidents of test firing weapons.    Reports of significant shelling or clashes that lead to injuries or death can occur several time a month.
    The self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic, one of two rebel regions, said Ukrainian forces had used mortars, grenade launchers and a machine gun in four separate incidents on Thursday.
    “Armed forces of Ukraine have crudely violated the ceasefire regime, using heavy weapons, which, according to the Minsk agreements, should be withdrawn,” the separatists said in a statement.
    Referring to the rebels, Ukraine’s military said: “With particular cynicism, the Russian occupation troops shelled the village of Stanytsa Lugansk in the Luhansk region. As a result of the use of heavy artillery weapons by terrorists, shells hit the kindergarten building.    According to preliminary data, two civilians received shell shock.”
    Russia denies planning an invasion of Ukraine, but says it could take unspecified “military-technical” action unless a range of demands are met, including a promise never to admit Kyiv into the NATO alliance.
    The West has rejected the main Russian demands but has proposed talks on arms control and other issues.    The United States and Europe have threatened sanctions if Russia invades, which Moscow has largely brushed off.
(Reporting by Reuters bureaux; Writing by Peter Graff and Mark Trevelyan; Editing by Alex Richardson)

2/17/2022 Albania’s Highest Court Revokes Lawmakers’ Decision To Sack President
FILE PHOTO: Albanian President Ilir Meta delivers a speech during a news conference
in Tirana, Albania June 10, 2019. REUTERS/Florion Goga/File Photo
    PRISTINA (Reuters) – Albania’s constitutional court has revoked parliament’s vote to sack President Ilir Meta for allegedly advocating violence and violating the constitution.
    In June, some 104 lawmakers in the 140-seat parliament, mainly from the ruling Socialist Party of Prime Minister Edi Rama, voted to dismiss Meta but according to the law, the Constitutional Court had to have the final say.
    The Socialists Party had accused Meta of fomenting violence by siding with opposition parties in alleging before April’s parliamentary election that it would be rigged.
    One person was killed in a gunfight between supporters of the two main parties days before the election.
    Late on Wednesday, the court said that “the constitution was not violated” and Meta could continue his regular term until July, when parliament will elect a new president.
    Meta, formerly the head of the small opposition Socialist Movement for Integration, has denied any wrongdoing and accused the Socialists of orchestrating a political vendetta.
    There was no reaction from Meta to the court ruling but his spokesperson Tedi Blushi said: “Zero surprise for the presidency.    This issue should not have started.”
    The role of president is largely symbolic, though it has some powers over the judiciary and the military.
    Meta entered politics in 1999, when he was elected prime minister at the age of 30.
(Reporting by Fatos Bytyci; Editing by Alison Williams)

2/17/2022 Georgia Says Joining NATO Only Way To Preserve Country’s Integrity – Report
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Joining NATO is the only way to preserve Georgia’s territorial integrity, the TASS news agency quoted its Defence Minister Juansher Burchuladze as saying on Thursday.
    Burchuladze spoke after meeting NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in Brussels, at a time when Russia has locked horns with the West over the NATO membership aspirations of another one of its neighbours, Ukraine.
(Reporting by Maria Kiselyova; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; editing by John Stonestreet)

2/17/2022 Russia To Reply To U.S. In Security Talks On Thursday – Minister
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov speaks during a meeting with his Italian counterpart
Luigi Di Maio in Moscow, Russia February 17, 2022. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov/Pool
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia will send a reply to the United States on the issue of security guarantees on Thursday, the TASS news agency quoted Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying.
    Moscow will make the letter public, Lavrov said.    Russia has demanded that Ukraine not be allowed to join NATO, something that Washington and Brussels have so far refused to promise.
(Reporting by Maria Kiselyova; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; editing by John Stonestreet)

2/17/2022 Russia Assures Italy It Wants Diplomatic Solution To Ukraine Crisis - Di Maio
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his Italian counterpart Luigi Di Maio enter
a hall during a meeting in Moscow, Russia February 17, 2022. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov/Pool
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said on Thursday that his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, had assured him Moscow wanted to find a diplomatic solution to the Ukraine crisis.
    Speaking at a joint news conference following talks, Di Maio said he welcomed an announcement by Lavrov that Russia would send a reply to the United States later in the day on the issue of security guarantees.
    “I think it’s very good news, a very good signal,” Di Maio said.
(Reporting by Angelo Amante; Editing by Crispian Balmer)

2/17/2022 Russia, Belarus To End Drills As Planned – Officials
FILE PHOTO: Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attends a meeting with OSCE Chairman-in-Office, Poland's
Minister for Foreign Affairs Zbigniew Rau in Moscow, Russia February 15, 2022. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov/Pool
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia and Belarus will end their joint military drills on Feb. 20 as previously planned, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Thursday, addressing Western concerns that Russian troops may stay in Belarus for a longer time.
    Separately, the RIA news agency quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying that the matter of extending Russian troops’ stay in Belarus was not on the agenda.
    The drills in Belarus have added to Western fears of a possible Russian invasion of neighbouring Ukraine. Moscow has denied planning such an attack.
(Reporting by Maria Kiselyova; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; editing by John Stonestreet)

2/17/2022 Kremlin Says Troop Pullback Takes Time, In Rebuff Of U.S. Scepticism
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov attends an annual end-of-year news conference of Russian
President Vladimir Putin, in Moscow, Russia, December 23, 2021. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Kremlin on Thursday rejected what it called “unfounded accusations” by the United States and NATO that it was not withdrawing its forces from near Russia’s border with Ukraine, saying it takes time to wind down military exercises.
    Moscow announced on Tuesday a partial force pullback, easing Western fears of a looming invasion of Ukraine, but the United States and NATO said on Wednesday the Russian military presence there was actually growing, not diminishing.
    Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told a news briefing that Russia’s defence ministry had a clear timetable for the return of units to their permanent bases.
    “It’s clear the grouping for the (military) exercises was built up over many weeks, and it is of course impossible to withdraw it in a single day.    They can’t just take off and fly away… it takes time,” Peskov said.
    “As always unfounded accusations,” he added.
    Russia has repeatedly denied any plan to invade Ukraine, despite massing – according to U.S. estimates – some 150,000 troops near the border.    Russia is also holding huge military exercises in Belarus that are set to run until Sunday.
    Peskov said Moscow was seriously concerned about a flare-up in violence in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian separatists and it was monitoring the situation closely.
    The rebels and Ukrainian forces traded accusations on Thursday that each had fired across the ceasefire line.
    The conflict in the Donbass began in 2014 and has simmered since then despite numerous ceasefires.
    Russia’s military buildup has spurred Western fears that some kind of staged provocation in eastern Ukraine could serve as an excuse for a full-blown offensive.
(Reporting by Dmitry Antonov; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Gareth Jones)

2/20/2022 Russia And Belarus Extend Military Drills; West Worries Invasion Is Imminent by Polina Devitt and Polina Nikolskaya
A helicopter flies over troops during the joint military drills of the armed forces of Russia and Belarus at
a firing range in the Brest Region, Belarus February 19, 2022. Vadim Yakubyonok/Belta/Handout via REUTERS
    MOSCOW/DONETSK, Ukraine (Reuters) – Russia will extend military drills in Belarus that were due to end on Sunday, the Belarusian defence ministry announced, in a step U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said made him more worried about an imminent invasion of Ukraine.
    The defence ministry said the decision was taken because of military activity near the borders of Russia and Belarus as well as the situation in eastern Ukraine’s Donbass region.
    Incidents of shelling across the line dividing Ukrainian government forces and Russian-backed separatists in that region – which were sporadic in the past – increased sharply last week and continued on Sunday.
    Speaking to CNN, Blinken said that while all signs suggested Russia was on the brink of invading, the United States and its allies would use every diplomatic opportunity to dissuade the Kremlin.
    Russian President Vladimir Putin and his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron, discussed the need to step up the search for diplomatic solutions to the escalating crisis in eastern Ukraine in a phone call on Sunday, the Kremlin said in a statement.
    Belarus did not say how long Russian troops in Belarus – estimated by NATO to number 30,000 – might now remain in the country, which borders Ukraine to the north.    Belarus Defence Minister Viktor Khrenin said the focus of the extended exercises was “to ensure an adequate response and de-escalation of military preparations of ill-wishers near our common borders.”
    The Kremlin did not comment on the Belarus drills.    Russia previously said the troops would return to permanent garrisons once the drills were over.
    NATO says Russia could use the troops as part of an invasion force to attack Ukraine.    Moscow denies any such intention.
    Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to the Ukrainian president’s chief of staff, told Reuters the extension of the Belarus exercises underlined that official promises from Moscow should not be taken as binding.
    Russia and its allies say the West is whipping up tensions by sending NATO reinforcements to eastern Europe.     Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the repeated warnings by the West that Russia was about to invade were provocative and could have adverse consequences, without giving details.
SANCTIONS
    Western countries are preparing sanctions they say would be wide-reaching against Russian companies and individuals in case of an invasion.
    British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a BBC interview broadcast on Sunday that such sanctions could include restrictions on Russian businesses’ access to the dollar and the pound.    However, he acknowledged such threats may not deter Moscow, saying Putin may be “thinking illogically.”
    Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said the West should impose some of the sanctions now, rather than waiting for an invasion.
    Blinken said, however, that sanctions were a deterrent that should not be unleashed before an attack.
    The focus of tensions in recent days has been on the swathe of eastern Ukraine that Russian-backed rebels seized in 2014, the same year Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine. More than 14,000 people have been killed in the conflict in the east.
    Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy called on Sunday for an immediate ceasefire in the eastern part of the country.
    On Sunday, a Reuters reporter heard explosions in the centre of Donetsk city in the eastern Donbass region controlled by separatists.    Heavy shelling was heard elsewhere in the region.
    SMS messages sent to residents of Donetsk urged men to report for military duty.
    More than 30,000 people from Donetsk and nearby Luhansk have crossed the Russian border in the past 24 hours, TASS news agency said, quoting authorities in Russia’s Rostov region.    The separatists began evacuating residents on Friday saying that Ukraine was planning to attack – which Kyiv denied.
    Kyiv’s Western allies are concerned Russia might use the escalation as a pretext for wider conflict.
    Local military forces in one of the separatist areas, Luhansk, said on Sunday that two civilians had been killed and five buildings damaged in shelling by the Ukraine military. Russia’s Investigative Committee will investigate the case, the RIA news agency quoted it as saying.
    Two Ukrainian soldiers were reported killed and four wounded on Saturday.
    The International Committee of the Red Cross said water services had been disrupted for more than a million people in the region, and called on all sides to spare civilian infrastructure.
    Ukraine’s foreign minister Kuleba said Ukraine was not planning or carrying out any offensive operations. TROOP BUILD-UP
    The renewed fighting in eastern Ukraine follows a build-up over several weeks of Russia troops to the north, east and south of the country.    The West estimates 150,000 or more Russian troops are currently near Ukraine’s borders.
    Russia, which has demanded NATO prevent Ukraine from ever joining the alliance, calls Western warnings it is planning to invade hysterical and dangerous.
    However, it has warned of unspecified “military-technical” measures if its demands for NATO pullback from Eastern Europe are not met.
    U.S. President Joe Biden was due to convene his top advisers later in the day to discuss the crisis.    Biden said on Saturday he believed Russia could launch an attack “at any time,” despite Kremlin assurances that some troops were returning to their permanent bases after military exercises.
    A Russian diplomat at the U.N. said no-one should tell Russia where or when to conduct exercises.
(Reporting by Natalia Zinets, Polina Nikolskaya and Guy Faulconbridge; Writing by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Mark Trevelyan and Frances Kerry)

2/20/2022 Macron And Putin Agree To Take Action To Preserve Peace — Elysee
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron in Moscow, Russia
February 7, 2022. Sputnik/Kremlin via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY./File Photo
    PARIS (Reuters) – French President Emmanuel Macron and Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin agreed in a call on Sunday on the need to find a diplomatic solution to the Ukraine crisis, Macron’s office said on Sunday.
    The two countries’ foreign ministers will meet in the coming days to that effect and will work on a possible summit at the highest level with Russia, Ukraine and allies to establish a new security order in Europe, the Elysee palace said.
(Reporting by Michel Rose; Editing by David Goodman)

2/20/2022 Ukraine President Calls For Immediate Ceasefire
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy speaks during the annual Munich Security
Conference, in Munich, Germany February 19, 2022. REUTERS/Andreas Gebert
    KYIV (Reuters) – Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Sunday called for an immediate ceasefire in the eastern part of the country, where clashes between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces intensified in recent days.
    He also said Ukraine supports peace talks within the Trilateral Contact Group, where Ukraine participates along with Russia and the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe (OSCE).
    “We stand for intensifying the peace process.    We support the immediate convening of the TCG and the immediate introduction of a regime of silence,” Zelenskiy said on Twitter.
(Reporting by Natalia Zinets and Maria Tsvetkova; Editing by David Goodman)

2/20/2022 Russia’s Foreign Ministry Says Lavrov And France’s Le Drian To Speak On Monday – TASS
FILE PHOTO: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attends a news conference with his Greek
counterpart Nikos Dendias, in Moscow, Russia February 18, 2022. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/Pool
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov and his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian will hold a phone call on Monday, the TASS news agency quoted the Russian foreign ministry as saying on Sunday.
    Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron discussed the need to step up the search for diplomatic solutions to the escalating crisis in eastern Ukraine in a phone call on earlier Sunday.
(Reporting by Polina Devitt; Editing by Toby Chopra)

2/20/2022 Putin And Macron Discuss Need To Step Up Ukraine Diplomacy-Kremlin
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron, attend a joint
press conference, in Moscow, Russia, February 7, 2022. Thibault Camus/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron discussed the need to step up the search for diplomatic solutions to the escalating crisis in eastern Ukraine in a phone call on Sunday, the Kremlin said in a statement.
    “In view of the urgency of the situation, the Presidents acknowledged the need to intensify the search for solutions through diplomatic means via the foreign ministries and political advisers to the leaders of the Normandy format,” the Kremlin said in a statement.
    “These contacts should facilitate the restoration of the ceasefire regime and ensure progress in the settlement of the conflict in Donbass,” the Kremlin added.
    In a separate call earlier on Sunday, Macron and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy discussed possible ways to secure immediate de-escalation.
(Reporting by Darya KorsunskayaWriting by Polina DevittEditing by David Goodman and Toby Chopra)

2/20/2022 Poland To Convene Extraordinary OSCE Meeting On Ukraine
A sign of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is pictured
outside their headquarters in Vienna, Austria February 15, 2022. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland, which currently holds the chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), said on Sunday it would convene an extraordinary session of the group’s Permanent Council on Ukraine.
    Ukraine requested the session to take place on Monday, according to a letter posted on Twitter by Adam Halacinskie, Poland’s permanent representative to the OSCE.
(Reporting by Alan Charlish and Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

2/21/2022 A Ukrainian Reservist Learns Fighting Skills She Hopes Never To Use by Maria Tsvetkova
Alisa, 38, a media relations specialist, poses with a gun for a picture at her home near
Kyiv, Ukraine, February 19, 2022. Picture taken February 19, 2022. REUTERS/Antonio Bronic
    KYIV (Reuters) – Alisa, a 38-year-old Ukrainian with an office job in the capital, had always enjoyed sport shooting and joined a local territorial defence unit more than a year ago to acquire combat skills.
    Now she is worried she might have to use those skills in a real war with Russia.
    “People die, that’s horrible.    Even worse is when you think not just about your life but about the life of a 7-year-old child,” she said in an interview with Reuters in her house outside Kyiv while her son, Timur, watched cartoons.
    “I realise he can be hurt because of silliness of the neighbouring country, not a brother country anymore,” said Alisa, who asked to be identified only by her first name.
    Russia’s build-up of tens of thousands of troops near the borders with Ukraine has stirred fears in Ukraine and Western countries that it is poised to invade, something Moscow denies.
    Alisa joined the territorial defence forces a year and a half ago, earlier than many. In January, as the Russian troops massed, the government said it wanted to build reserve batallions up into a corps of up to 130,000 people.
    Alisa said she has seen dozens of new people joining the training sessions each Saturday.
    She began this weekend as she often does, putting on camouflage fatigues, taking one of her two small-calibre guns she keeps at home and heading to a training ground – a pine forest with sand dunes, an old railway and few abandoned construction sites.
    Along with dozens of other volunteers, mostly men in their late 30s and 40s with civilian jobs, she then spent seven hours either with her weapon on the ground or on guard as a part of a small patrol tasked to protect a concrete building from enemy saboteurs.
    She said the fact she has at least basic training is some comfort.
    “If, God forbid, a war starts … I know how to move from an unsafe point A to a safe point B,” Alisa said.
    “I understand how to do if I’m under fire.    I know how to help Timur, friends, neighbours if they are caught in fire.”
EARLY STARTS
    Alisa, a motorcycle fan, has visited more 50 countries along with her husband, also a biker.    She is a media relations specialist at an organization that works in cyber security.
    She tries not to skip training sessions herself even if she badly needs rest at the end of the working week.
    “If we had peace time I would miss training if I was tired but now I make myself get up early for a session because now it’s needed more than ever,” she said.
    Alisa said she likes gaining new skills that have built her self-confidence and courage, but hopes never to have to use them.
    “I feel anger, hatred and I have my plans cancelled.    It’s all surreal for me and I don’t get how such silly things can happen in a civilized world in the 21st century,” she said.
(Reporting by Maria Tsvetkova; Editing by Frances Kerry)

2/22/2022 Russia Faces New Sanctions After Putin Recognises Breakaway Ukraine Regions by Andrew Osborn and Polina Nikolskaya
United Nations Security Council meets after Russia recognized two breakaway regions in eastern
Ukraine as independent entities, in New York City, U.S. February 21, 2022. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
    MOSCOW/DONETSK (Reuters) -The United States and its European allies are set to announce fresh sanctions against Russia on Tuesday after President Vladimir Putin recognised two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine, deepening Western fears of a new war in Europe.
    The Ukrainian military said two soldiers were killed and 12 wounded in shelling by pro-Russian separatists in the east in the past 24 hours, the most casualties this year, as ceasefire violations increased.
    Putin’s announcement on Monday, and his signing of a decree on the deployment of Russian troops to the two breakaway regions, drew international condemnation and immediate U.S. sanctions, with President Joe Biden signing an executive order to halt U.S. business activity in the breakaway regions.
    Rising fears of war pushed oil prices to a seven-year high on Tuesday, while safe-havens currencies including the yen rallied and global stocks tumbled. [MKTS/GLOB]
    “The United States will impose sanctions on Russia for this clear violation of international law and Ukraine sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told reporters after an emergency meeting of the Security Council late on Monday.
    “We can, will, and must stand united in our calls for Russia to withdraw its forces, return to the diplomatic table and work toward peace.”
    But a senior U.S. official said the deployment of Russian troops to the breakaway regions did not merit the harshest sanctions the United States and its allies had prepared in the event of a full-scale invasion, as Russia already had troops there.
    A senior British government minister said it was clear Putin had chosen confrontation over dialogue and Britain would respond with sanctions.
    “You can conclude that the invasion of Ukraine has begun,” Health Secretary Sajid Javid said.
    He said the situation was as grave as the 1962 Cuban missile crisis when a confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union brought the world to the brink of nuclear war.
    Russia has denied planning to attack its neighbour but it has massed troops on Ukraine’s borders and threatened “military-technical” action unless it receives sweeping security guarantees, including that Ukraine will never join NATO.
    Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the recognition of the two regions did not affect Russia’s readiness for talks with the United States, the Tass news agency reported.
WEST CONSIDERS HOW TO ACT
    Britain said it had drawn up sanctions to target those complicit in the violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity, and those measures would come into force on Tuesday.
    European Union member states’ ambassadors will meet to discuss possible sanctions with limited sanctions a possible option, an EU official said.
    An EU diplomat said separately the meeting would consider how to act on a statement made by EU leaders on Monday that the bloc would “react with sanctions against those involved in this illegal act
    China said it was concerned about the worsening situation and called for all parties to exercise restraint while Japan said it was ready to join international sanctions on Moscow in the event of a full-scale invasion.
    Vassily Nebenzia, Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, warned Western powers to “think twice” and not worsen the situation.
    A Reuters witness saw tanks and other military hardware moving through the separatist-controlled city of Donetsk.    No insignia were visible on the vehicles.
    Ukraine’s military said on its Facebook page it had recorded 84 cases of shelling by separatists who it said had opened fire on about 40 settlements along the front line with heavy artillery, in breach of ceasefire agreements.
    The Interfax news agency cited a separatist official as saying Ukrainian saboteurs detonated a mine on a road killing three civilians.
GRIEVANCES
    Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions – collectively known as the Donbass – broke away from Ukrainian government control in 2014 and proclaimed themselves independent “people’s republics.”
    Russia needed to ratify its friendship treaties with the regions before it could discuss matters like the exact borders of the territories, RIA news agency reported, citing the foreign ministry. Russia’s parliament is expected to review friendship treaties on Tuesday.
    In a lengthy televised address on Monday packed with grievances against the West, a visibly angry Putin said eastern Ukraine was ancient Russian land.
    Putin delved into history as far back as the Ottoman empire and expressed frustration that Russia’s demands for a rewriting of Europe’s security arrangements had been repeatedly rebuffed.
    “I deem it necessary to make a decision that should have been made a long time ago – to immediately recognise the independence and sovereignty of the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Lugansk People’s Republic,” Putin said.
    Putin has for years worked to restore Russia’s influence over nations that emerged after the collapse of the Soviet Union, with Ukraine holding an important place in his ambitions.    Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, and Western countries imposed sanctions on Russia.
    The rouble extended its losses as Putin spoke, at one point sliding beyond 80 per dollar.[RU/RUB] [O/R]     A French presidential official said the speech “mixed various considerations of a rigid and paranoid nature.”
(Reporting by Reuters bureaus; Writing by Stephen Coates; Editing by Robert Birsel, Gerry Doyle and Timothy Heritage)

2/22/2022 Russia’s Lavrov Brushes Off Western Sanctions Over Donbass Recognition
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attends a news conference with his Greek
counterpart Nikos Dendias, in Moscow, Russia February 18, 2022. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/Pool
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov brushed off the threat of sanctions on Tuesday, saying the West would impose them regardless of events and describing the response to Russia’s recognition of two breakaway Ukrainian regions as predictable.
    “Our European, American, British colleagues will not stop and will not calm down until they have exhausted all their possibilities for the so-called ‘punishment of Russia’.    They are already threatening us with all manner of sanctions or, as they say now, ‘the mother of all sanctions’,” Lavrov said.
    “Well, we’re used to it.    We know that sanctions will be imposed anyway, in any case.    With or without reason.”
(Reporting by Anton Kolodyazhnyy; writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Mark Trevelyan)

2/22/2022 Czechs Prepared For Potential Cut Of Russian Supplies, Inflow Of Refugees
FILE PHOTO: Newly appointed Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala speaks to members of the media in front of the
Lany Chateau in the village of Lany near Prague, Czech Republic, November 28, 2021. REUTERS/David W Cerny//File Photo
    PRAGUE (Reuters) – The Czech Republic is prepared for various scenarios including a potential interruption of supplies of energy commodities from Russia and an influx of refugees from Ukraine, Prime Minister Petr Fiala told parliament on Tuesday.
    He said the west must be united and prepared to impose harsh financial and economic sanctions.
(Reporting by Jan Lopatka; Editing by Catherine Evans)

2/22/2022 EU Cautious On Polish Moves To Scrap Disciplinary System For Judges by Gabriela Baczynska
FILE PHOTO: European Union flags are seen outside the EU Commission headquarters
in Brussels, Belgium November 14, 2018. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir/File Photo
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – A top European Union official on Tuesday said the Polish president’s move to dismantle a contentious disciplinary system for judges was a step in the right direction, but warned the row, which has cost Warsaw billions in EU funding, was not over.
    Created by Poland’s ruling nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party, the Disciplinary Chamber has suspended or dismissed several judges critical of the government, compounding Poland’s dispute with the EU over undercutting democratic standards.
    Hoping to unlock EU funds and end the dispute over Poland’s rule of law, Polish President Andrzej Duda in February proposed a new legislation that would scrap the chamber.
    “I hope to hear from Poland today that they remain committed to the basic principles of EU’s legal order,” EU Commissioner for Values and Transparency Vera Jourova told Reuters.
    European affairs ministers meet in Brussels later in the day to discuss their concerns that Warsaw is damaging democratic checks and balances in the largest ex-communist EU member.
    “The fact that there is movement to address and reform the disciplinary regime is a positive step.
    But eventually what will matter is the scope and content of the legislation as finally adopted by the Polish parliament
,” Jourova said.
    Since coming to power in 2015, PiS has also put media and NGOs under more state control, as well as restricting the rights of women, gays and migrants.
    Despite EU criticism that it was violating key democratic tenets, it has refused to change tack.
    The EU recently blocked Poland’s access to 36 billion euros ($41 billion) in pandemic recovery funds over the Disciplinary Chamber, which the bloc’s top court ruled illegal and told Warsaw to dismantle.
    “Despite all the legal complexity the question is simple: will Poland respect the rulings of the European Court of Justice, or not,” said Jourova.
    Poland’s prime minister said after meeting the EU’s chief executive last week that chances of an agreement have “slightly improved.”
    However, the executive European Commission has said that any new law must not allow for political meddling in the judiciary and that judges who have been suspended or dismissed must be reinstated. ($1 = 0.8828 euros)
(This story removes extraneous word from paragraph 3)
(Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

2/23/2022 U.S. And Allies Step Up Sanctions Pressure On Russia Over Ukraine
A military truck drives along a street after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the deployment of
Russian troops to two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine following the recognition of their independence,
in the separatist-controlled city of Donetsk, Ukraine February 22, 2022. REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko
    MOSCOW/DONETSK/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States and its allies sought to step up sanctions pressure on Russia on Wednesday over the deployment of troops in separatist regions of eastern Ukraine, in one of the worst security crises in Europe in decades.
    The Ukrainian military said one soldier had been killed and six wounded in increased shelling by pro-Russian separatists using heavy artillery, mortar bombs and Grad rocket systems in the two breakaway regions over the previous 24 hours.
    Russian President Vladimir Putin has massed more than 150,000 troops near Ukraine’s borders, according to U.S. estimates, and signed a decree on the deployment of troops in the breakaway Donetsk and Luhansk enclaves to “keep the peace” – a justification the United States says is “nonsense.”
    Putin on Monday recognised the separatist enclaves in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine which adjoin Russia, deepening Western fears of a major war in Europe by raising the prospect of a full-scale invasion beyond the breakaway areas.
    The United States, the European Union, Britain, Australia, Canada and Japan responded with plans to target banks and elites while Germany froze a major gas pipeline project from Russia.
    British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, announcing more measures on Wednesday, said Britain would stop Russia selling sovereign debt in London.
    “We’ve been very clear that we’re going to limit Russian access to British markets,” Truss told Sky.    “We’re going to stop the Russian government with raising sovereign debt in the United Kingdom.”
    Britain on Tuesday announced sanctions on three billionaires with close links to Putin, and five small lenders including Promsvyazbank.
    But, like other U.S. allies, it has said more sanctions would come if Russia launched a full invasion of its neighbour.
    “There will be even more tough sanctions on key oligarchs, on key organisations in Russia, limiting Russia’s access to the financial markets, if there is a full scale invasion of Ukraine,” Truss said.
    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov brushed off the threat of sanctions no Tuesday.
    “Our European, American, British colleagues will not stop and will not calm down until they have exhausted all their possibilities for the so-called punishment of Russia,” he said.
    China said it never thought sanctions were the best way to solve problems, a foreign ministry spokeswoman said.    She called for “dialogue and consultation.”
    Moscow is calling for security guarantees, including a promise that Ukraine will never join NATO, while the United States and its allies offer Putin confidence-building and arms control steps to defuse the stand-off.
    Satellite imagery over the past 24 hours shows several new troop and equipment deployments in western Russia and more than 100 vehicles at a small airfield in southern Belarus, which borders Ukraine, according to U.S. firm Maxar.
    Ukraine has started conscripting reservists aged 18-60 following a decree by President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, the armed forces said.
BOLSTERING NATO FLANK
    U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian cancelled separate scheduled meetings with Lavrov on Tuesday as weeks of frantic diplomacy failed to end the crisis.
    Plans announced by U.S. President Joe Biden to bolster Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania include sending 800 infantry soldiers and up to eight F-35 fighter jets to locations along NATO’s eastern flank, a U.S. official said, but are a redistribution, not additions.
    Putin did not watch Biden’s speech and Russia will first look at what the United States has outlined before responding, according to Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov, cited by Russian news agencies.
    Putin said he was always open to finding diplomatic solutions but that “the interests of Russia and the security of our citizens are unconditional for us.”
    Germany said on Tuesday it was halting the $11 billion Nord Stream 2 pipeline owned by Russian state-owned gas giant Gazprom, a move likely to raise gas prices in Europe.
    Built and awaiting German approval, the pipeline had been set to ease the pressure on European consumers facing record energy prices but critics including the United States have long argued it would increase Europe’s energy dependence on Russia.
    German Economy Minister Robert Habeck warned that gas prices in Europe were likely to rise in the short term.    Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s former president and now deputy chairman of its Security Council, suggested prices could double.
    The Kremlin said it hoped the Nord Stream delay was temporary and Putin said Russia “aims to continue uninterrupted supplies” of energy to the world.
    U.S. sanctions target Russian elites and two state-owned banks, excluding them from the U.S. banking system, banning them from trading with Americans, and freezing their U.S. assets.    They also seek to deny the Russian government access to Western financing.
(Reporting by Reuters bureaus; Writing by Costas Pitas and Stephen Coates; Editing by Grant McCool, Robert Birsel and Timothy Heritage)

2/23/2022 Ukraine To Impose State Of Emergency But No Martial Law Yet by Pavel Polityuk and Maria Tsvetkova
FILE PHOTO: Oleksiy Danilov, Secretary of Ukraine's National Security and Defence Council, speaks
with Reuters during an interview in Kyiv, Ukraine December 15, 2021. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
    KYIV (Reuters) -Ukraine will introduce a nationwide state of emergency in which special restrictions will apply in order to keep the country calm and protect its economy amid fears of a Russian invasion, a senior Ukrainian security official said on Wednesday.
    The state of emergency will last for 30 days and can be extended for another 30 days, Oleksiy Danilov told a briefing.    Parliament must now vote to enact the decision.
    Introducing a state of emergency gives powers to the authorities, who can choose which ones to implement.    These could include restrictions on transport, extra protection for critical infrastructure and a ban on strikes.
    Regional authorities can make decisions on whether to introduce curfews and other measures, Danilov said.
    “These are preventive measures to keep calm in the country, so that our economy and our country can work,” Danilov said.
    “Depending on the threats that may arise in certain territories, there will be either a more strengthened or more weakened state of emergency.    We are talking about border areas where we have a border with the Russian Federation, with Belarus,” he said.
    Ukraine has introduced a series of measures including the conscription of reservists as it braces for a possible military offensive from Russia, which sent troops into eastern Ukraine this week to prop up two breakaway regions.
    Danilov reiterated that Ukraine was not introducing general mobilisation yet.
    Some lawmakers have urged the government to impose martial law – a move that could trigger a response from Russia.    Danilov said no such decision had been taken yet.
    “If necessary, this provision will be adopted immediately,” he said.
    Martial law would impose harder restrictions, which could include bans on meetings, movements and political parties.
    The state border guards service said new measures had been introduced regarding the stay of foreigners near the border zone, the use of radios, flights of drones and the filming and photographing of certain people and buildings.
    The state of emergency applies to all of Ukraine except the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, where it has been in place since 2014.
    Russian-backed fighters have controlled parts of Donetsk and Luhansk since 2014.    Russia recognised them as independent states and approved use of its troops abroad this week.
    Danilov also said that President Volodymyr Zelenskiy had not discussed the development of nuclear weapons, something Russian President Vladimir Putin has said posed a strategic threat for Russia.
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk, Maria Tsvetkova and Natalia Zinets; writing by Matthias Williams, Editing by Angus MacSwan)

2/23/2022 Putin Says Russia Is Open To Diplomacy But Won’t Compromise On Its Security
Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a video address to the nation, following the initiative of the
country's lower house of parliament and security council to recognise two Russian-backed breakaway regions in
eastern Ukraine as independent entities, in Moscow, Russia, in a still image taken from video footage
released February 21, 2022. Russian Pool/Reuters TV via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that Russia was always open to diplomacy but put its own national security interests first and would continue to strengthen its military in the face of what he called a difficult international situation.
    Putin, speaking in a video statement released to coincide with the annual Defender of the Fatherland Day, did not mention his standoff with the West over Ukraine which has seen Western sanctions imposed on Russia after he decided to recognise the independence of two breakaway Ukrainian regions.
    But he used the appearance to send a message to the West about his stance over the issue all the same.
    “Our country is always open to a direct and honest dialogue and ready to search for diplomatic solutions to the most complicated issues,” said Putin.
    “But I want to repeat that Russia’s interests and the security of our people are unconditional.    So, we will continue to strengthen and modernise our army and navy.”
    The United States has accused Putin of massing more than 150,000 troops near Ukraine’s borders in preparation for what it fears could be a full-scale invasion.    Russia has repeatedly denied plans for such an attack but says it has a duty to protect people living in the two breakaway regions.
    “We can see the difficult international situation and the threats posed by current challenges, such as the erosion of the arms control system and NATO’s military activities,” said Putin.
    “And yet, Russia’s appeals to build a system based on equal and indivisible security that would reliably defend all countries, remain unanswered.”
(Reporting by Alexander Marrow; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

2/23/2022 Russian-Backed Separatist Leader Says Military Mobilisation Is Accelerating
Head of the separatist self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic Denis Pushilin gestures during
a news conference in Donetsk, Ukraine February 11, 2022. REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko
    DONETSK, Ukraine (Reuters) – A Russian-backed leader in the breakaway Donetsk region of Ukraine said on Wednesday that a military mobilisation was gathering pace to counter Ukrainian “aggression.”
    Denis Pushilin, leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic that was recognised by Russia this week, said the situation had become critical but the separatists would win with support from “big Russia.”
(Reporting by Polina Nikolskaya; Writing by Mark Trevelyan; Editing by Alex Richardson)

2/24/2022 Putin Threatens Unprecedented Consequences For Any Attempt To Interfere With Invasion Of Ukraine by OAN Newsroom
In this handout photo taken from video provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy
addresses the nation in Kyiv, Ukraine, Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022. Zelenskyy declared martial law, saying Russia has targeted Ukraine’s
military infrastructure. He urged Ukrainians to stay home and not to panic. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)
    The president of Ukraine has declared martial law as Russia launches a military operation in the country.    During a public address Thursday.    Volodymyr Zelenskyy confirmed Russia carried out drone strikes against their military infrastructure, border guards and border units.
    Zelenskyy went on to say explosions were heard in many cities.    He urged residents to stay home and remain calm.    His remarks came after Russian President Vladimir Putin declared a special military operation in the sovereign country.    Zelenskyy said Ukraine’s entire security sector is working and is “ready for anything.”the invasion has begun.”
    In the meantime, the Ukrainian president said the U.S. is set to deploy international support.    He also assured another update would be come soon.
    “We are imposing martial law throughout our country,” Zelenskyy stated.    “A moment ago I had a telephone conversation with President Biden, the United States has already started to deploy international support.    What we need from each and every one of you today is calm, please stay home if possible.    We are working, the army is working, the entire security sector of Ukraine is working.”
    U.S. President Joe Biden is set to meet with his counterparts from the Group of Seven allies.    The G7 talks will be held to map out more severe measures against Russia after Putin launched what Biden called a premeditated war against Ukraine.
Smoke rise from an air defence base in the aftermath of an apparent Russian strike in Mariupol, Ukraine,
Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022. Russian troops have launched their anticipated attack on Ukraine. Big explosions were
heard before dawn in Kyiv, Kharkiv and Odesa as world leaders decried the start of Russian invasion that could
cause massive casualties and topple Ukraine’s democratically elected government. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
    The White House said Biden met with the national security council in the situation room to discuss the situation.    The U.S. president is expected to address the nation after his meeting with the G7 allies.    He assured the world will hold Russia accountable.
    Russian President Putin warned NATO and the West at large that any attempt to interfere with his invasion will be met with unprecedented consequences. He issued the warning in a televised address Thursday while simultaneously telling Ukranian service members if they lay down their arms, they would be allowed to return to their families.
    “Whoever would try to stop us and further create threats to our country, to our people, should know that Russia’s response will be immediate and lead you to such consequences that you have never faced in your history,” Putin stated.    “We are ready for any outcome.”
    President Zelenskyy urged all Ukrainians to unite behind their armed forces and for world leaders stand up to Putin who wants to destroy the democratic world.

2/242022 Fighting Rages Around Ukraine As Russia Invades From Three Sides by Natalia Zinets and Aleksandar Vasovic
A resident stands in an apartment that received a shelling in
Kharkiv, Ukraine February 24, 2022. REUTERS/Vyacheslav Madiyevskyy
    KYIV/MARIUPOL, Ukraine (Reuters) – Ukrainian forces battled Russian invaders on three sides on Thursday after Moscow mounted an assault by land, sea and air in the biggest attack on a European state since World War Two.
    After Russian President Vladimir Putin declared war in a pre-dawn televised address, explosions and gunfire were heard throughout the morning in Kyiv, a city of 3 million people.
    Missiles rained down on Ukrainian targets and authorities reported columns of troops pouring across Ukraine’s borders from Russia and Belarus to the north and east, and landing on the southern coasts from the Black Sea and Azov Sea.
    The assault brought a calamitous end to weeks of fruitless diplomatic efforts by Western leaders to avert war.
    After a day of fighting, Putin told business people in Moscow he had no choice but to act, while Western leaders condemned the Russian leader and promised sweeping economic sanctions.
    “This hideous and barbarous venture of Vladimir Putin must end in failure,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told parliament, announcing measures targeting banks, members of Putin’s closest circle and super-rich Russians who enjoy high-rolling London lifestyles.
    President Volodymyr Zelenskiy called on Ukrainians to defend their country and said arms would be given to anyone prepared to fight.
    “What we have heard today are not just missile blasts, fighting and the rumble of aircraft.    This is the sound of a new Iron Curtain, which has come down and is closing Russia off from the civilised world,” Zelenskiy said.
    As night fell, the picture of what was happening on the ground was sketchy.
    Russia’s defence ministry said it had destroyed 83 land-based Ukrainian targets and had achieved all its goals, according to Interfax news agency.
    An adviser to the Ukrainian presidential office said Russian forces had captured the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, just 90 km (60 miles) north of the capital, and Hostomel airport in the Kyiv region, where paratroopers had earlier been landed.
    Fierce fighting was taking place in the regions of Sumy and Kharkiv in the northeast and Kherson and Odessa in the south.
    The highway heading west out of Kyiv was choked with traffic across five lanes as residents fled.
‘DARKEST HOUR’
    In his address, Putin said he had ordered “a special military operation” to protect people, including Russian citizens, subjected to “genocide” in Ukraine – an accusation the West calls baseless propaganda.
    “And for this we will strive for the demilitarisation and denazification of Ukraine,” Putin said.
    U.S. President Joe Biden called the Russian action an “unprovoked and unjustified attack” and EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said: “These are among the darkest hours of Europe since the Second World War.”
    EU leaders meeting later will agree to impose further sanctions on Russia with “massive and severe” consequences for Moscow, according to a draft of their summit conclusions, which was seen by Reuters.
    The Group of Seven leading industrialised nations also met and the White House said Biden would announce “the further consequences the United States and our allies and partners will impose on Russia.”
CONSTANT BLASTS
    A resident of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second biggest city and close to the Russian border, said windows in apartment blocks were shaking from constant blasts.
    Blasts could be heard in the southeasterly port of Mariupol, near a frontline held by Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine. Civilians in Mariupol packed bags; “We are going into hiding,” a woman said.
    Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States said 40 servicemen and dozens of civilians had been reported killed, but the information was not up-to-date.
    Authorities in the southwesterly Odessa region said 18 people had been killed in a missile attack.    At least six people were killed in Brovary, a town near Kyiv, authorities there said.
    Ukraine’s military said it had destroyed four Russian tanks near Kharkiv, killed 50 troops near a town in Luhansk region, and downed six Russian warplanes in the east.
    Russia denied that any of its aircraft or armoured vehicles had been destroyed.    Russian-backed separatists said they had downed two Ukrainian planes.
‘HANG THEM FROM BRIDGES’
    Even with a full-blown invasion under way, Putin’s ultimate aim is obscure.    He said he did not plan a military occupation, only to disarm Ukraine and purge it of nationalists.
    The outright annexation of such a vast, hostile country could be beyond even Russia’s military capabilities.
    A senior U.S. defence official said Washington believed the invasion was intended to “decapitate” Zelenskiy’s government.
    But it is hard to see Ukrainians accepting any new leadership installed by Moscow.
    “I think we must fight all those who invade our country so strongly,” said one man stuck in traffic trying to leave Kyiv.    “I would hang every single one of them from bridges.”
    Biden has ruled out sending U.S. troops to defend Ukraine, but Washington has reinforced its NATO allies in the region with extra troops and planes.
    Russia is one of the world’s biggest energy producers, and both it and Ukraine are among the top exporters of grain.    War and sanctions will disrupt economies around the world already facing a supply crisis as they emerge from the coronavirus pandemic.
    Stocks plunged and bond prices leapt; the dollar and gold soared. Brent oil surged past $100/barrel for the first time since 2014. [MKTS/GLOB] [RU/RUB] [O/R]
‘WE’RE AFRAID’
    A democratic nation of 44 million people, Ukraine is Europe’s biggest country by area after Russia itself.    It voted for independence at the fall of the Soviet Union and aims to join NATO and the European Union, aspirations that infuriate Moscow.
    Putin, who denied for months that he was planning an invasion, has called Ukraine an artificial construct carved from Russia by its enemies – a characterisation Ukrainians see as an attempt to erase their more than 1,000-year-old history.
    While many Ukrainians, particularly in the east, speak Russian as a native language, virtually all identify themselves as Ukrainian.
    In Kyiv, queues of people waited to withdraw money and buy supplies of food and water.    Cars stretched for dozens of kilometres (miles) on the highway leading west towards Poland, where Western countries have prepared to receive hundreds of thousands of refugees.
    “We’re afraid of bombardments,” said Oxana, stuck in her car with her three-year-old daughter on the backseat.    “This is so scary.”
(Reporting by Natalia Zinets and Aleksandar Vasovic; Additional reporting by Reuters bureaus; Writing by Peter Graff and Alex Richardson; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Kevin Liffey)

2/24/2022 Analysis-Putin Launches A War The West Saw Coming But Was Powerless To Stop by Mark Trevelyan
FILE PHOTO: Ukrainian tanks move into the city, after Russian President Vladimir Putin authorized a military
operation in eastern Ukraine, in Mariupol, February 24, 2022. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo
    (Reuters) – It happened in plain sight: a relentless accumulation of troops, tanks and rockets that took place over nearly four months and was captured by ordinary Russians on their cellphones and dashcams, as well as by commercial and spy satellites.
    U.S. President Joe Biden warned as far back as Jan. 19 that Russian President Vladimir Putin would “move in” on Ukraine.    By Feb. 18, he was convinced that Putin had decided to invade within days and attack the capital Kyiv.
    But frantic diplomacy, sanctions threats and unprecedented U.S.-led “information warfare” proved powerless to prevent what finally unfolded in the early hours of Thursday, as Russia’s missiles struck Ukrainian cities and its troops poured across the borders.
    Crucially, Putin knew the United States and NATO would not intervene to fight alongside Ukraine.    Western leaders had publicly ruled that out, on the grounds that Ukraine is not an alliance member.
    “That was the biggest missing piece. The moment you say to Putin that you are not going to fight whatever happens, he has got the upper hand.    He was content to take that (sanctions) risk because to him that risk looked calculable,” said Jonathan Eyal of the RUSI think-tank in London.
    “He didn’t befuddle us, he didn’t bamboozle us – we knew what he was up to.    The only problem was that we were not prepared to take the ultimate risk.”
KREMLIN JOKE
    For weeks, Russia had publicly mocked the increasingly urgent Western warnings that it could invade any time, accusing the United States and its allies of hysteria and war-mongering.
    Putin’s spokesman said the Kremlin leader had joked about media reports naming dates for the planned invasion, asking aides to let him know what time it would start.
    All the time, he was moving closer to pulling the trigger.
    The Russian military build-up from November onwards took place exactly in parallel with what Putin presented as a major diplomatic initiative to enforce Russian “red lines” and obtain legally binding security guarantees from the West.
    In December, Russia presented demands to the United States and NATO that even analysts close to the Kremlin said Moscow knew would be rejected.    They included calls to block Ukraine from ever joining NATO and to remove all military infrastructure the alliance had placed in eastern Europe since 1997.
    It was a trap for the West.    Engagement with Russia, let alone concessions, would appear to reward it for threatening behaviour; outright rejection of Moscow’s demands would be used by Putin as evidence that Russia’s opponents had spurned diplomacy and that he had no choice but to take matters into his own hands – exactly the argument that he used this week.
    As the Russian military build-up intensified, NATO responded by sending thousands more troops to eastern Europe and supplying Ukraine with weapons including anti-tank missiles.    This too was presented by Putin as proof of aggressive Western intent.
RUSSIAN PLAYBOOK
    The United States saw what was coming, even if it was unsure about the size and scale of a looming Russian attack.    Secretary of State Antony Blinken said repeatedly that Russia was following the same military and propaganda “playbook” that it used before seizing Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.
    But threats of massive and unprecedented sanctions proved ineffective against a country that has already lived with sanctions for years, has accumulated $635 billion in gold and foreign exchange reserves and supplies a third of Europe’s gas.
    Even as they ramped up those warnings, Western leaders wondered aloud if they would just bounce off Putin.    British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said sanctions “may not be enough to deter an irrational actor.”
    In a rare and risky move, the United States and Britain released intelligence warnings of “false flag” operations they said Russia planned to conduct. Blinken told the United Nations these could include a real or fake chemical attack for which Russia would pin the blame on Ukraine.
    Eyal praised the U.S. intelligence tactics, which he said had likely come as a surprise to Putin and proved effective in exposing his intentions.    But he said the failure of the sanctions approach lay in placing a quantifiable ceiling on the costs that Putin would face, instead of keeping him guessing.
    “He always had the upper hand in the escalation of this crisis because he knew the maximum he could expect from us.    At no point did we succeed in persuading him that our response would be so uncertain that he should not contemplate the operation.”
FALSE SIGNALS
    All the while, Putin went through the motions of diplomacy, including two phone calls with Biden and long meetings with the leaders of France and Germany in the Kremlin.    French sources said Macron found him a changed man compared with their previous meeting three years earlier, lecturing him over five hours on grievances dating back to the end of the Cold War.
    At a news conference afterwards, Putin said he was willing to keep negotiating. But in one of a series of angry public diatribes, he also evoked the threat of a Russia-NATO conflict if Ukraine joined the alliance, demanding of a French reporter: “Do you want France to go to war with Russia?
    In the last 10 days before the invasion, Putin sent out false signals.    At a made-for-TV moment on Feb. 14, his foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, was shown telling him that diplomatic possibilities were “far from exhausted” and recommending continuing down that track.
    In the following days, the Russian defence ministry published video that it said showed Russian tanks, infantry fighting vehicles and self-propelled artillery units pulling away from areas surrounding Ukraine. Financial markets briefly rallied, until NATO and the United States said Moscow was in fact adding even more units and edging closer to the border.
    The final step for Putin was to put in place a quasi-legal basis for intervention – much as he had with the 2014 seizure of Crimea, which he justified with the staging of a referendum.
    On Monday he recognised the “independence” of two Russian-backed separatist regions in eastern Ukraine which have been fighting Ukrainian government forces for eight years, and signed friendship treaties allowing for the deployment of Russian forces there and the establishment of Russian military bases.
    The signing was preceded by a speech lasting nearly an hour in which Putin argued that Ukraine was an artificial country that “never had a tradition of genuine statehood”. Now, he said, it was a U.S. puppet and a springboard for NATO aggression against Russia.
    “From those who seized and hold power in Kyiv, we demand an immediate cessation of hostilities,” Putin said.    “Otherwise, all responsibility for the possible continuation of the bloodshed will be entirely on the conscience of the regime ruling on the territory of Ukraine.”
    Just over 48 hours later, Russian forces invaded Ukraine by land, air and sea.
(Reporting by Mark Trevelyan; Editing by Gareth Jones)

2/24/2022 Ukraine And Russia: What You Need To Know Right Now
General view of Kyiv after Russian President Vladimir Putin authorized
a military operation in eastern Ukraine, February 24, 2022. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
    (Reuters) – Here’s what you need to know about the Ukraine crisis right now:
HEADLINES * Missiles rained down on Ukrainian targets.    Kyiv reported troops pouring across the borders with Russia and Belarus from the north and east, and landing on the coasts from the Black Sea in the southwest and Azov Sea in the southeast.
* Russian President Vladimir Putin said his aim was to demilitarise and “denazify” Ukraine.
* Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Ukraine was listening to the sound of a new iron curtain falling as Russian troops advanced across his country, and he warned that other European countries may be next.
* U.S. President Joe Biden said the Group of Seven industrialized nations had agreed to move forward on “devastating packages of sanctions and other economic measures to hold Russia to account.”
* NATO will reinforce troops on its eastern flank but has no plans to deploy any in Ukraine, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said.
* European Union leaders will agree to further sanctions on Russia that would have “massive and severe” consequences for Moscow, according to a draft of their summit conclusions.
* Russia would respond with “tit-for-tat” measures, a foreign ministry spokeswoman said.
* The Chernobyl nuclear power plant has been captured by Russian forces, an adviser to the Ukrainian presidential office said.
* European countries began preparing to receive people fleeing Ukraine.
* The mayor of Kyiv imposed a curfew after Russia invaded Ukraine and the capital echoed throughout the day to the sound of gunfire, sirens and explosions.
* Stock markets tumbled.    Russia’s rouble hit an all-time low.[FRX/]
* The global finance sector was struggling to respond to the invasion, with share prices suffering heavy falls.
* Major buyers of Russian oil were struggling with bank guarantees, according to sources.
* Ukraine has shut its ports.
QUOTES
– “I have decided to conduct a special military operation… to protect people who have been subjected to bullying and genocide,” Putin said.    “We will strive for the demilitarisation and denazification of Ukraine.”
– “Russia has embarked on a path of evil, but Ukraine is defending itself & won’t give up its freedom,” Zelenskiy said.
– “Russia is using force to try to rewrite history… We have no plans to send NATO troops in Ukraine.    What we do is defensive,” said Stoltenberg.
– “President Putin has chosen a premeditated war that will bring a catastrophic loss of life and human suffering,” Joe Biden said.
COMING EVENTS
* The U.N. Security Council is likely to vote on Friday on a draft resolution condemning Russia for invading Ukraine and requiring it to unconditionally withdraw, a senior U.S. administration official said.
* EU leaders were discussing further sanctions.
* NATO will hold an emergency summit on Friday.
(Editing by Jon Boyle, John Stonestreet, Hugh Lawson, Alexandra Hudson)

2/24/2022 Chernobyl Power Plant Captured By Russian Forces – Ukrainian Official
FILE PHOTO: An aerial view from a plane shows a New Safe Confinement (NSC) structure over the
old sarcophagus covering the damaged fourth reactor at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant during a tour
to the Chernobyl exclusion zone, Ukraine April 3, 2021. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich/File Photo
    KYIV (Reuters) – The Chernobyl nuclear power plant has been captured by Russian forces, an adviser to the Ukrainian presidential office, Mykhailo Podolyak, said on Thursday.
    “It is impossible to say the Chernobyl nuclear power plant is safe after a totally pointless attack by the Russians,” he said.
    “This is one of the most serious threats in Europe today,” Podolyak said.
(Reporting by Natalia Zinets, writing by Maria Tsvetkova; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

   

2/25/2022 Russian Troops Advance On Kyiv As Ukrainian Leader Pleads For Help by Natalia Zinets
Firefighters work at the site of a damaged residential building, after Russia launched a massive military operation against Ukraine,
in Kyiv, Ukraine, February 25, 2022 in this frame grab of a still image use in a video. Ukrainian Ministry of Emergencies/via Reuters
TV/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES
    KYIV (Reuters) - Missiles pounded the Ukrainian capital on Friday as Russian forces pressed their advance and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy pleaded with the international community to do more, saying sanctions announced so far were not enough.
    Air raid sirens wailed over Kyiv amid unconfirmed reports that a Russian plane had been shot down and crashed into a building a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin launched an invasion that has shocked the world.
    A senior Ukrainian official said Russian forces would enter areas just outside the capital, Kyiv, later on Friday and that Ukrainian troops were defending positions on four fronts despite being outnumbered.
    An estimated 100,000 people fled as explosions and gunfire rocked major cities.    Dozens have been reported killed.    Russian troops seized the Chernobyl former nuclear power plant north of Kyiv as they advanced on the city from Belarus.
    U.S. and Ukrainian officials say Russia aims to capture Kyiv and topple the government, which Putin regards as a puppet of the United States.
    Zelenskiy said he understood Russian troops were coming for him but vowed to stay in Kyiv.
    “(The) enemy has marked me down as the number one target,” Zelenskiy said in a video message.    “My family is the number two target.    They want to destroy Ukraine politically by destroying the head of state.”
    “I will stay in the capital.    My family is also in Ukraine.”
    Russia launched its invasion by land, air and sea on Thursday following a declaration of war by Putin, in the biggest attack on a European state since World War Two.
    Putin says Russia is carrying out “a special military operation” to stop the Ukrainian government from committing genocide against its own people – an accusation the West calls baseless.    He also says Ukraine is an illegitimate state whose lands historically belong to Russia.
    Ukrainian forces downed an enemy aircraft over Kyiv early on Friday, which then crashed into a residential building and set it ablaze, said Anton Herashchenko, an adviser to the interior minister.
    It was unclear whether the aircraft was manned or whether it could be a missile.    Kyiv municipal authorities said at least eight people were injured when the object crashed into an apartment block.
    “Horrific Russian rocket strikes on Kyiv,” Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba wrote on Twitter.    “Last time our capital experienced anything like this was in 1941 when it was attacked by Nazi Germany.”
    Authorities said intense fighting was under way in the city of Sumy in the northeast.
    A border post in the southeastern Zaporizhzhya region had been hit by missiles, causing deaths and injuries among border guards, and air raid sirens sounded over the city of Lviv in the west of the country.
    Asked if he was worried about Zelenskiy’s safety, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told CBS: “To the best of my knowledge, President Zelenskiy remains in Ukraine at his post, and of course we’re concerned for the safety of all of our friends in Ukraine – government officials and others.”
SANCTIONS BUILD
    A democratic nation of 44 million people, Ukraine voted for independence at the fall of the Soviet Union and has recently stepped up efforts to join the NATO military alliance and the European Union, aspirations that infuriate Moscow.
    The United States, Britain, Japan, Canada, Australia and the EU unveiled more sanctions on Moscow on top of penalties earlier this week, including a move by Germany to halt an $11 billion gas pipeline from Russia.
    EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell described the bloc’s measures as “the harshest package of sanctions we have ever implemented.”
    China came under pressure over its refusal to call Russia’s assault an invasion.
    U.S. President Joe Biden, speaking to reporters at the White House, said: “Any nation that countenances Russia’s naked aggression against Ukraine will be stained by association.”    He declined to comment directly on China’s position.
    The U.N. Security Council will vote on Friday on a draft resolution that would condemn Russia’s invasion and require Moscow’s immediate withdrawal.    However, Moscow can veto the measure, and it was unclear how China would vote.
    Russia is one of the world’s biggest energy producers, and both it and Ukraine are among the top exporters of grain.    War and sanctions will disrupt economies https://graphics.reuters.com/RUSSIA-UKRAINE/zgpomzbjmpd/graphic.jpg around the world.
    Oil prices soared as much as $2 per barrel on Friday as markets brace for the impact of trade sanctions on major crude exporter Russia.
    U.S. wheat futures hit their highest in nearly 14 years, corn hovered near an eight-month peak and soybeans rebounded on fears of grain supply disruptions from the key Black Sea region.
    Airlines were also facing disruptions, with Japan Airlines cancelling its Thursday evening flight to Moscow and Britain closing its airspace to Russian carriers.
(Reporting by Natalia Zinets in Kyiv, Aleksandar Vasovic in Mariupol, David Ljunggren in Ottawa and Mark Trevelyan in London; Writing by Stephen Coates; Editing by Robert Birsel)

2/25/2022 Explosions Heard In Kyiv, Official Says Enemy Aircraft Downed
Firefighters work at the site of a damaged residential building, after Russia launched a massive military operation against Ukraine,
in Kyiv, Ukraine, February 25, 2022 in this frame grab of a still image use in a video. Ukrainian Ministry of Emergencies/via Reuters
TV/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES
    KYIV (Reuters) - Ukrainian forces downed an enemy aircraft over Kyiv in the early hours of Friday, which then crashed into a residential building and set it on fire, said Anton Herashchenko, an adviser to the interior minister.
    It was unclear whether the aircraft was manned or whether it could be a missile.    Kyiv municipal authorities said at least eight people were injured when the object crashed into an apartment block.
    Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Kyiv had come under a missile attack.
    “Horrific Russian rocket strikes on Kyiv,” he wrote on Twitter.    “Last time our capital experienced anything like this was in 1941 when it was attacked by Nazi Germany.”
    A series of explosions were heard in Kyiv earlier, which Herashchenko said were the sounds of air defences firing at the aircraft.    Further explosions could be heard just before dawn, a Reuters witness said.
    Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Thursday and Kyiv has reported dozens of casualties and hundreds of wounded.
    Authorities said intense fighting was under way on Friday morning in the city of Sumy in the country’s northeast, while a border post in the southeastern Zaporizhzhya region had been hit by missiles, causing deaths and injuries among border guards.
(Reporting by Natalia Zinets; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman, Kim Coghill and Lincoln Feast.)

2/25/2022 Ukraine’s Zelenskiy Says Russian Actions Show Sanctions Not Enough
A damaged residential building is seen, after Russia launched a massive military
operation against Ukraine, in Kyiv, Ukraine February 25, 2022. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
    KYIV (Reuters) – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Friday that continued Russian aggression against his country showed that sanctions imposed on Moscow by the West were not enough.
    Zelenskiy said the world was continuing to observe what was going on in Ukraine after its capital Kyiv and other parts of the country were struck by Russian missiles in the early hours of Friday.
    Addressing the Russian population in Russian at the end of a televised speech, Zelenskiy said the bombing of Kyiv was reminiscent of Nazi Germany’s attacks during World War Two.
    “This is reminiscent of 1941,” Zelenskiy said.
    “To all the citizens of the Russian Federation who went out to protest, I want to say: we see you.    This means you heard us.    This means you are starting to believe us.    Fight for us, fight against the war.”
    Hundreds were detained across Russian cities on Thursday after taking part in protests after Moscow launched a massive military operation against Ukraine.
    A senior Ukrainian official said Russian forces would enter areas just outside Kyiv later on Friday.
(editing by John Stonestreet)

2/25/2022 ICC Says May Investigate Possible War Crimes After Russian Invasion Of Ukraine
Smoke rises from the territory of the Ukrainian Defence Ministry's unit, after Russian President Vladimir Putin
authorized a military operation in eastern Ukraine, in Kyiv, Ukraine February 24, 2022. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
    AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor Karim Khan on Friday expressed his concern over the Russian invasion of Ukraine and said his court may investigate possible war crimes in the country.
    “I have been closely following recent developments in and around Ukraine with increasing concern,” Khan said in a statement.
    “I remind all sides conducting hostilities on the territory of Ukraine that my office may exercise its jurisdiction and investigate any act of genocide, crime against humanity or war crime committed within Ukraine.”
    Following the Russian annexation of Crimea in March 2014 and the subsequent fighting in eastern Ukraine between pro-Russian rebels and Ukrainian government forces, Ukraine accepted ICC jurisdiction for crimes against humanity and war crimes committed on its territory since February 2014.
    In December 2020, the office of the prosecutor announced it had reason to believe war crimes and other crimes were committed during the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
    The preliminary examination was closed, but a formal request to judges to open a full investigation has not been filed yet.    Judges must agree before an investigation can be opened.
    In December last year, Khan said there was no update on the case when asked about progress of the examination.
    Russia is not a member of the ICC and has opposed the ICC case.
    However, the court can investigate alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed on the territory of Ukraine regardless of the nationality of the alleged perpetrators.
(Reporting by Bart Meijer and Stephanie van den Berg; Editing by Jacqueline Wong and Lincoln Feast)

2/25/2022 Putin Calls For Ukrainian Military To Seize Power From Govt., Zelensky Promises To Defend Country by OAN Newsroom
In this photo provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy
delivers his speech addressing the nation in Kyiv, Ukraine, Friday, Feb. 25, 2022. Russian troops bore down
on Ukraine’s capital Friday, with explosions and gunfire sounding in the city as the invasion of a democratic
country fueled fears of wider war in Europe and triggered new international efforts — including direct
sanctions on President Vladimir Putin — to make Moscow stop. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)
    Russian President Vladimir Putin is calling for a military coup in Ukraine. In a televised speech Friday, Putin told the Ukrainian military to seize power from its government and overthrow democratically-elected President Volodymyr Zelensky.
    Putin said it would be easier to make a deal with military personnel than “a gang of drug addicts and neo-Nazis.”    This comes as Zelensky, who is Jewish, posted a video message to the Ukrainian people in which he stated he’s not leaving the nation’s capital and will defend his country.
    “Our troops are here, citizens are here, all of us are here protecting our independence of our country,” said the Ukrainian president.    “And it will continue to be this way.    Glory to our defenders, glory to Ukraine, glory to heroes.”
    Additionally, Zelenskyy said he spoke with U.S. President Joe Biden for 40-minutes Friday and discussed sanctions, defense assistance and an anti-war coalition.    The U.S. plans to sanction Putin directly, according to reports.
    The Russian president would be the most high-profile target of the U.S.’s campaign to apply punitive measures against Russia.    Other members of Putin’s inner circle are also likely to be targeted.    This follows similar sanctions announced by the European Union and the U.K. against Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
    Meanwhile, China said it supports Russia amid the ongoing invasion of Ukraine.    Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke with President Putin Friday and said while he respects the security concerns of all countries, he supports Russia in resolving the issue through negotiation.
    Putin reportedly told Xi the Kremlin is ready to hold high level talks with Ukraine’s government.    Russia is seeking the full demilitarization of Ukraine and assurances the country will not be joining NATO.
    According to a Kremlin spokesman, Putin is prepared to send a delegation to Minsk for talks, but Ukraine has gone silent on possible negotiations.    This all comes as Russia’s onslaught of the Ukrainian capital of Kiev continues.

2/25/2022 Ukraine’s Zelensky Fully Mobilizes Ukraine’s Reserves, Says All Fighting-Age Men Must Join Army by OAN Newsroom
Ukrainian soldiers load the surviving equipment at a destroyed Ukrainian military facility outside Mariupol, Ukraine,
Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022. Russia has launched a barrage of air and missile strikes on Ukraine early Thursday and Ukrainian
officials said that Russian troops have rolled into the country from the north, east and south. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
    Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky ordered general mobilization amid the Russian invasion.    He signed the decree on Thursday, saying all fighting-age men in Ukraine must show up at recruitment facilities to join the army.
    The order mobilizes Ukraine’s conscripts and reservists across all branches of the military.    Zelensky also created the role of ‘Supreme Commander-in-Chief,’ putting him in control of all Ukrainian armed forces and law enforcement agencies.
    “Dear citizens of Ukraine. what we have heard today are not just missile blasts, fighting and the rumble of aircraft,” stated the Ukraine President.    “This is the sound of a new Iron Curtain, which has come down and is closing Russia off from the civilized world.    Our national task is to make sure this curtain does not fall across our Ukrainian land, but at Russian homes.”
    Despite the devastating assaults, U.K.’s defense secretary expressed hope, saying Russia has failed to achieve their day one goals.    Conflicting reports from Ukraine suggest Russian forces are advancing into Ukraine’s Southeast and are closing in on the capital of Kiev.
    Meanwhile, over 130 Ukrainian nationals have reportedly died on the first day of the Russian invasion and Zelensky said Russia has marked him enemy number one.
    Thousands of Ukrainians have been taking shelter in underground subway stations as Russia continues its invasion.    Families packed their belongings and gathered in metro stations in Kiev and other shelters throughout the country.
    Video inside Kiev’s railway stations show crowds, including children and senior citizens, cramped together with many sleeping on the ground.    Residents were forced to flee their homes as explosions rocked the country.
    “We woke up to an explosion at 4.20 a.m. near our house, an aerial rocket was shot down and a nearby house caught fire,” said Alyona Tkachenko, a Kyiv resident.    “And there were many victims.    And we were waiting until 7.00 a.m. in our apartment, in the corridor, in the bathroom until the end of curfew, so we can come here.”
    Residents were told the subway stations are some of the safest places as they double as bomb shelters.    Meanwhile, western allies reportedly believe the Ukrainian capital may fall to invading Russian forces.    That’s according to multiple sources citing a senior western intelligence official on Thursday.
People lie in the Kyiv subway, using it as a bomb shelter in Kyiv, Ukraine, Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022. Russia has launched
a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, unleashing airstrikes on cities and military bases and sending troops and tanks from
multiple directions in a move that could rewrite the world’s geopolitical landscape. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)
        The country’s air defenses have reportedly been effectively eliminated and Russian ground troops are advancing towards the capital.    Ukraine’s defense ministry said Ukrainian airborne assault troops blew up the Teteriv River Bridge, halting a convoy of Russian tanks 30-miles north of Kiev.
    Ukrainian officials have reportedly told residents to seek shelter and prepare molotov cocktails to throw at advancing Russian forces.    This comes amid speculation Russian President Vladimir Putin is seeking to oust Ukraine’s democratically-elected government and install a pro-Kremlin regime by force.

2/26/2022 Russian Forces Capture Ukrainian City, Interfax Reports, Amid Missile Strikes by Maria Tsvetkova
Smoke and flames rise over during the shelling near Kyiv, as Russia continues
its invasion of Ukraine February 26, 2022. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
    KYIV (Reuters) - Russian forces captured the southeastern Ukrainian city of Melitopol on Saturday, Russia’s Interfax news agency reported, as Moscow launched coordinated cruise missile and artillery strikes on several cities, including the capital Kyiv.
    Ukrainian officials were not immediately available for comment on the fate of Melitopol, a city of about 150,000 people.    If the Interfax report citing the Russian defence ministry is confirmed, it would be the first significant population centre the Russians have seized since their invasion began on Thursday.
    Earlier, Ukrainian officials said Russian forces fired cruise missiles from the Black Sea at Mariupol, also in the southeast, as well as Sumy in the northeast and Poltava in the east.
    Kyiv authorities said a missile hit a residential building, and a Reuters witness said another hit an area near the airport.    There was no immediate word on casualties.    Gunfire erupted near city-centre government buildings at around dawn, a Reuters witness said. The cause was not clear.
    President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, speaking in a video message from outside his Kyiv office, was defiant.
    “We will not put down weapons, we will defend our state,” he said.
    After weeks of warnings from Western leaders, Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded from the north, east and south, an attack that threatens to upend Europe’s post-Cold War order.
    Putin said he had to eliminate what he called a serious threat to his country from its smaller neighbour and he cited the need to “denazify” Ukraine’s leadership, accusing it of genocide against Russian-speakers in eastern Ukraine.
    Kyiv and its Western allies dismiss the accusations as baseless propaganda.
    In a televised meeting with Russia’s Security Council on Friday, Putin appealed to Ukraine’s military to overthrow their “neo-Nazi” leaders.
    “Take power into your own hands,” he said.
‘UNDER CONTROL’
    Western countries have announced a barrage of sanctions on Russia, including blacklisting its banks and banning technology exports.    But they have stopped short of forcing it out of the SWIFT system for international bank payments.
    At the United Nations, Russia vetoed a draft Security Council resolution deploring its invasion, while China abstained, which Western countries took as proof of Russia’s isolation.    The United Arab Emirates and India also abstained while the remaining 11 members voted in favour.
    The White House asked Congress for $6.4 billion in security and humanitarian aid for the crisis, officials said, and Biden instructed the U.S. State Department to release $350 million in military aid.
    Russia’s defence ministry said their forces used air- and ship-based cruise missiles to carry out overnight strikes on military targets in Ukraine, Interfax said.
    It said Russian troops had hit hundreds of military infrastructure targets and destroyed several aircraft and dozens of tanks and armoured and artillery vehicles.
    Ukraine’s air force command earlier said one of its fighters had shot down a Russian transport plane. Reuters could not independently verify the claim.
    Mykhailo Podolyak, adviser to the president’s office, said the situation in Kyiv and its outskirts was under control.
    “There are cases of sabotage and reconnaissance groups working in the city, police and self-defence forces are working efficiently against them,” Podolyak said.
    Ukrainian authorities have urged citizens to help defend Kyiv from the advancing Russians.    Some families took cover in shelters and hundreds of thousands have left their homes to find safety, according to a U.N. aid official.
    Ukraine said more than 1,000 Russian soldiers had been killed. Russia did not release casualty figures.    Zelenskiy said late on Thursday that 137 soldiers and civilians been killed with hundreds wounded.
    Ukrainians voted overwhelmingly for independence at the fall of the Soviet Union and Kyiv hopes to join NATO and the EU – aspirations that infuriate Moscow.
    Putin says Ukraine, a democratic nation of 44 million people, is an illegitimate state carved out of Russia, a view Ukrainians see as aimed at erasing their more than thousand-year history.
‘READY TO TALK’
    The United States imposed sanctions on Putin, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov. The European Union and Britain earlier froze any assets Putin and Lavrov held in their territory.    Canada took similar steps.
    The invasion triggered a flurry of credit rating moves on Friday, with S&P lowering Russia’s rating to “junk” status, Moody’s putting it on review for a downgrade to junk, and S&P and Fitch cutting Ukraine on default worries.
    But even as the fighting grew more intense, the Russian and Ukrainian governments signalled an openness to negotiations, offering the first glimmer of hope for diplomacy since Putin launched the invasion.
    A spokesman for Zelenskiy said Ukraine and Russia would consult in coming hours on a time and place for talks.
    The Kremlin said earlier it offered to meet in the Belarusian capital Minsk after Ukraine expressed a willingness to discuss declaring itself a neutral country, while Ukraine had proposed Warsaw as the venue.    That, according to Russian spokesman Dmitry Peskov, resulted in a “pause” in contacts.
    “Ukraine was and remains ready to talk about a ceasefire and peace,” Zelenskiy spokesman Sergii Nykyforov said in a Facebook post.    “We agreed to the proposal of the President of the Russian Federation.”
    But U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said Russia’s offer was an attempt to conduct diplomacy “at the barrel of a gun” and Putin’s military must stop bombing Ukraine if it was serious about negotiations.
(Reporting by Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic, Natalia Zinets and Maria Tsvetkova in Kyiv, Aleksandar Vasovic in Mariupol, Alan Charlish in Medyka, Poland, Fedja Grulovic in Sighetu Marmatiei, Romania and Reuters bureaus; Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by William Mallard)

2/26/2022 Russia Vetoes U.N. Security Action On Ukraine As China Abstains by Michelle Nichols and Humeyra Pamuk
Russia's Ambassador to the United Nations Vassily Nebenzia attends a United Nations Security Council meeting, on a resolution regarding Russia's
actions toward Ukraine, at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City, U.S., February 25, 2022. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
    UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – Russia vetoed a draft U.N. Security Council resolution on Friday that would have deplored Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, while China abstained from the vote – a move Western countries view as a win for showing Russia’s international isolation.
    The United Arab Emirates and India also abstained from the vote on the U.S.-drafted text.    The remaining 11 council members voted in favor.    The draft resolution is now expected to be taken up by the 193-member U.N. General Assembly.
    “We are united behind Ukraine and its people, despite a reckless, irresponsible permanent member of the Security Council abusing its power to attack its neighbor and subvert the U.N. and our international system,” U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said after Russia cast its veto.
    Russia is a Security Council veto power, along with the United States, China, France and Britain.
    China’s abstention comes just weeks after Beijing and Moscow declared a “no limits” partnership, backing each other over standoffs on Ukraine and Taiwan with a promise to collaborate more against the West.
    Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia thanked the Security Council members who did not support the draft, which he described as anti-Russian.
    “Your draft resolution is nothing other than yet another brutal, inhumane move in this Ukrainian chessboard,” Nebenzia said after the vote.
    There was a rare round of applause in the Security Council chamber after Ukraine’s U.N. Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya held a moment of silence during his statement to remember those killed.
    “I’m not surprised that Russia voted against.    Russia is keen on continuing its Nazi-style course of action,” he said.
‘RUSSIA ISOLATED’
    The U.N. vote was delayed two hours for last minute negotiations by the United States and others to win China’s abstention, diplomats said.
    The council softened the language in its resolution to say it “deplores” Russia’s “aggression against Ukraine” from “condemns,” while a reference to Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, which deals with sanctions and authorization of force, was removed along with a reference to “the president.”
    Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine as the U.N. Security Council met in New York late on Wednesday to try and defuse weeks of mounting tensions.
    “Make no mistake.    Russia is isolated.    It has no support for the invasion of Ukraine,” Britain’s U.N. Ambassador Barbara Woodward told the council after the vote.
    The draft Security Council resolution demanded that Russia “immediately cease its use of force against Ukraine” and “immediately, completely, and unconditionally withdraw  all of  its military forces from the territory of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders.”
    The draft also demanded that Russia reverse its recognition of two separatist states in eastern Ukraine as independent.
    “It is a matter of regret that the path of diplomacy was given up.    We must return to it.    For all these reasons India has chosen to abstain on this resolution,” India’s U.N. Ambassador T.S. Tirumurti told the council.
    UAE Ambassador Lana Nusseibeh said her country supported the draft resolution’s emphasis on abiding by international law and the U.N. Charter and was committed to the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of all U.N. member states.
    Standing outside the Security Council chamber, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said: “We must never give up.”
    “It is important to remember that the U.N. is not just the chamber behind me.    It is tens of thousands of women and men around the world,” he said.    “Standing, delivering, extending a lifeline of hope.”
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols and Humerya Pamuk; Editing by Sam Holmes and Rosalba O’Brien)

Ukrainian Leader Says It Is ‘Crucial Moment’ To Decide On EU Membership
FILE PHOTO: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy speaks at a news briefing in
Kyiv, Ukraine, February 24, 2022. Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Handout via REUTERS
    KYIV (Reuters) – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Saturday it was “a crucial moment” to decide on Ukraine’s membership of the European Union, as Russia continued to invade its neighbour.
    Zelenskiy said in a tweet he had discussed with European Council President Charles Michel “further effective assistance and the heroic struggle of Ukrainians for their free future.”
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Mark Potter)

2/26/2022 Ukraine And Russia: What You Need To Know Right Now
General view of Kyiv after Russian President Vladimir Putin authorized a
military operation in eastern Ukraine, February 24, 2022. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
    (Reuters) – Here’s what you need to know about the Ukraine crisis right now:
HEADLINES
* Russian troops captured the southeastern Ukrainian city of Melitopol, Russia’s Interfax news agency said, as Moscow launched coordinated missile and artillery attacks on several cities including the capital Kyiv.
* Russian President Vladimir Putin urged the Ukrainian military to overthrow the country’s leadership and negotiate peace.
* Ukraine and Russia are discussing a place and time for talks, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s spokesman said on social media.
* Russia vetoed a draft U.N. Security Council resolution on Friday that would have deplored Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, while China abstained from the vote.
* China is in a diplomatic scramble to limit blowback while standing by a partner with which it has grown increasingly close in opposition to the West.
* President Joe Biden instructed the U.S. State Department to release $350 million in military aid to Ukraine, and asked Congress to approve $6.4 billion in aid to address the humanitarian and security crisis.
* The White House said the United States, in a rare move, would impose sanctions on Putin and his foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov.    The European Union and Canada are doing the same.
* Canada, the United States, Britain and the European Union said they could act to exclude Russia from the SWIFT global interbank payments system.
* Ukraine said more than 1,000 Russian soldiers had been killed. Russia did not release casualty figures. The United Nations said 25 civilians had been killed and 102 wounded.
* NATO allies will provide more weapons to Ukraine and deploy more forces to the eastern part of the alliance.
* The conflict could drive up to 5 million people abroad, U.N. agencies said, adding that at least 100,000 people were uprooted and fuel, cash and medical supplies are running low.
QUOTES
– “We will not put down weapons, we will defend our state,” said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, facing the worst European security crisis in decades.
(Editing by Robert Birsel and William Mallard)

2/26/2022 Dozens Wounded, Including Children, In Overnight Fighting In Kyiv – Mayor, No Deaths From Strike On Residential Building In Kyiv – Ukrainian Government Adviser
A view shows an apartment building damaged by recent shelling in Kyiv, Ukraine February 26, 2022. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
    A missile that struck a residential building in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv earlier on Saturday killed no one, an adviser to the interior minister said.
    Anton Herashchenko also said Russia was lying about not shelling civilian infrastructure. According to the adviser, at least 40 such sites had been hit and Russian troops were shelling civilian sites.     KYIV (Reuters) – Dozens of people were wounded in overnight fighting in Kyiv, city mayor Vitali Klitschko said on Saturday morning.     As of 6 a.m. local time (0400 GMT), 35 people, including two children, had been wounded, he said. It is unclear whether he was referring only to civilians.
    Klitschko added there was currently no major Russian military presence in Kyiv, although he said saboteur groups were active.
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk; Writing by Maxim Rodionov; Editing by Mark Potter)

2/26/2022 Ukrainian City Of Melitopol Not In Russian Hands, British Minister Says
FILE PHOTO: Trucks of the Ukrainian Armed Forces transport armoured vehicles in the Kyiv region, Ukraine February 24, 2022. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich/File Photo
    LONDON (Reuters) -Russian forces have not captured the southeastern Ukrainian city of Melitopol and armoured columns advancing on the capital Kyiv have been held up by Ukrainian resistance, British armed forces minister James Heappey said on Saturday.
    Heappey said it was the British assessment that Russia had so far failed to capture any of its day one targets for its invasion of Ukraine, which began on Thursday.
    “Even Melitopol, which the Russians are claiming to have taken but we can’t see anything to substantiate that, are all still in Ukrainian hands,” Heappey told BBC radio.
    “The fighting … reported on the outskirts of Kyiv overnight, we understand to just be Russian special forces and pockets of paratroopers,” he said.
    “The reality is that the armoured columns that were coming down from Belarus and the north that were going to encircle Kyiv are still some way north because they’ve been held up by this incredible Ukrainian resistance,” the minister said.
    Heappey said British defence minister Ben Wallace had chaired a meeting with 25 other countries on Friday which all agreed to provide further military or humanitarian aid to Ukraine.
    He said those nations would work together to see how that could be delivered, but he was confident that they could get more weapons and medical supplies to Ukrainian forces.
    “We’re doing our best to get it to them,” he told Sky News.
(Reporting by Michael Holden; Editing by David Clarke and Catherine Evans)

2/28/2022 Russia’s Isolation Deepens As Ukraine Resists Invasion by Maria Tsvetkova
Ukrainian service members are seen after Russia launched a massive military operation against Ukraine,
at a check point in the city of Zhytomyr, Ukraine February 27, 2022. REUTERS/Viacheslav Ratynskyi
    KYIV/MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia’s political and economic isolation deepened on Monday as its forces met stiff resistance in Ukraine’s capital and other cities in the biggest assault on a European state since World War Two.
    President Vladimir Putin put Russia’s nuclear deterrent on high alert on Sunday in the face of a barrage of Western-led reprisals for his war on Ukraine, which said it had repelled Russian ground forces’ attempts to capture urban centres.
    Blasts were heard before dawn on Monday in the capital of Kyiv and in the major city of Kharkiv, Ukrainian authorities said, while diplomatic manoeuvring continued.
    Ukraine said negotiations with Moscow without preconditions would be held at the Belarusian-Ukrainian border. Russian news agency Tass cited an unidentified source as saying the talks would start on Monday morning.
    U.S. President Joe Biden will host a call with allies and partners on Monday to coordinate a united response, the White House said.
    The United States said Putin was escalating the war with “dangerous rhetoric” about Russia’s nuclear posture, amid signs Russian forces were preparing to besiege major cities in the democratic country of about 44 million people.
    As missiles rained down, nearly 400,000 civilians, mainly women and children, have fled into neighbouring countries, a U.N. relief agency said.
    A senior U.S. defence official said Russia had fired more than 350 missiles at Ukrainian targets so far, some hitting civilian infrastructure.
    “It appears that they are adopting a siege mentality, which any student of military tactics and strategy will tell you, when you adopt siege tactics, it increases the likelihood of collateral damage,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
    Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy told British Prime Minister Boris Johnson by telephone on Sunday that the next 24 hours would be crucial for Ukraine, a Downing Street spokesperson said.
    So far, the Russian offensive cannot claim any major victories.    Russian has not taken any Ukrainian city, does not control Ukraine’s airspace, and its troops remained roughly 30 km (19 miles) from Kyiv’s city centre for a second day, the official said.
    Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a “special operation” that it says is not designed to occupy territory but to destroy its southern neighbour’s military capabilities and capture what it regards as dangerous nationalists.
UNPRECEDENTED SANCTIONS
    Western-led political, strategic, economic and corporate sanctions were unprecedented in their extent and coordination, and there were further pledges of military support for Ukraine’s badly outgunned armed forces.
    The rouble plunged nearly 30% to an all-time low versus the dollar, after Western nations on Saturday unveiled harsh sanctions including blocking some Russian banks from the SWIFT international payments system.
    Japan and South Korea said they would join in the action to block some banks from SWIFT.    South Korea, a major exporter of semiconductors, would also ban exports of strategic items to Russia.
    Singapore, a financial and shipping hub, said it intended to impose sanctions and restrictions on Russia, the Straits Times newspaper reported.
    Japan said was also considering imposing sanctions against some individuals in Belarus, a key staging area for the Russian invasion.
    A referendum in Belarus on Sunday approved a new constitution ditching the country’s non-nuclear status.
    Several European subsidiaries of Sberbank Russia, majority owned by the Russian government, were failing or were likely to fail due to reputational cost of the war in Ukraine, the European Central Bank said.
    Russia’s central bank scrambled to manage the broadening fallout of the sanctions saying it would resume buying gold on the domestic market, launch a repurchase auction with no limits and ease restrictions on banks’ open foreign currency positions.     It also ordered brokers to block attempt by foreigners to sell Russian securities.     That could complicate plans by the sovereign wealth funds of Norway and Australia, which said they planned to wind down their exposure to Russian-listed companies.
    Corporate giants also took action, with British oil major BP BP, the biggest foreign investor in Russia, saying it would abandon its stake in state oil company Rosneft at a cost of up to $25 billion.
    The European Union on Sunday decided for the first time in its history to supply weapons to a country at war, pledging arms including fighter jets to Ukraine.
    Germany, which had already frozen a planned undersea gas pipeline from Russia, said it would increase defence spending massively, casting off decades of reluctance to match its economic power with military clout.
    EU Chief Executive Ursula von der Leyen expressed support for Ukraine’s membership in an interview with Euronews, saying “they are one of us.”
    The EU shut all Russian planes out of its airspace, as did Canada, forcing Russian airline Aeroflot to cancel all flights to European destinations until further notice. The United States and France urged their citizens to consider leaving Russia immediately.
    The EU also banned the Russian media outlets RT and Sputnik.
    In New York, the U.N. Security Council convened a rare emergency meeting of the U.N. General Assembly, or all the United Nations’ 193 member states, for Monday.
    Rolling protests have been held around the world against the invasion, including in Russia, where almost 6,000 people have been detained at anti-war protests since Thursday, the OVD-Info protest monitor said.
    Tens of thousands of people across Europe marched in protest, including more than 100,000 in Berlin.
    Meta Platforms said it had removed a network of about 40 fake accounts, groups and pages across Facebook and Instagram that operated from Russia and Ukraine targeting public figures in Ukraine, for violating its rules against coordinated inauthentic behavior.
    Twitter said it had also suspended more than a dozen accounts and blocked the sharing of several links for violating its rules against platform manipulation and spam.
(Reporting by Maria Tsvetkova, Aleksandar Vasovic in Kyiv; Natalia Zinets and Matthias Williams in Lviv; Alan Charlish in Medyka, Poland; Fedja Grulovic in Sighetu Marmatiei, Romania; and other Reuters bureaux including Moscow; Writing by Humeyra Pamuk, Stephen Coates & Simon Cameron-Moore; Editing by Lincoln Feast)

2/28/2022 Analysis-Russia’s Missiles See Mixed Results In Ukraine War As World Watches by Josh Smith
FILE PHOTO: A police officer inspects the remains of a missile that landed in the street, after Russian President Vladimir Putin
authorized a military operation in eastern Ukraine, in Kyiv, Ukraine February 24, 2022. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko/File Photo
    (Reuters) – Russia has employed hundreds of powerful and precise ballistic missiles in the first days of its Ukraine attack, but analysts and U.S. officials say many Ukrainian defences remain intact – effects that countries around the world are watching closely.
    The use of short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) is likely being watched closely as a real-world case study by China, North Korea, and other countries that have been developing increasingly advanced arsenals of such weapons in recent years.    And Western governments who see Russia as an adversary are eager to gather data on the missiles’ effects in combat.
    Russia had fired more than 320 missiles as of Sunday morning, with the majority of them SRBMs, a U.S. official told reporters.
    According to U.S. estimates, the initial hours of the Russian onslaught last week included more than 100 missiles launched from land and sea, mostly SRBMs but also cruise missiles and surface-to-air missiles.
    That would make it the most intense SRBM bombardment between two territorial contiguous states in a conflict, said Ankit Panda, a senior fellow at the U.S.-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
    “What we’ve seen in Ukraine corresponds to how many military establishments in many countries, including China and North Korea, may think of using precision ballistic missiles in future conflicts,” he said.
ACCURATE MISSILES
    Russia most likely used its only SRBM in active service, the Iskander-M, said Timothy Wright, a research analyst with the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).
    First used in combat in 2008 in Georgia, the Iskander is designed to confound missile defences by flying on a low trajectory and manoeuvring in flight to strike targets as far out as 500km with an accuracy of 2-5 metres, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
    “It is likely to be able to accurately target and destroy what it is being fired at,” Wright said, adding that Russia appears to possess around 150 launchers, which can also fire cruise missiles.
    There also appears to be evidence that Russia has used the OTR-21 Tochka SRBM, which was believed to have been retired, he said.    “If these were in storage, Russia may have decided to put them to use, rather than scrap them.”
    What the missiles targeted and how much damage they caused remains unclear amid the confusion of the developing war, but analysts said there appear to have been some strikes on Ukrainian air bases.
    “We see some damage at airports, and it looks fairly accurate,” said Jeffrey Lewis, a missile researcher at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS).
    Some strikes by unknown weapons at air bases appeared relatively limited in scope, however, and in some instances potentially misplaced, such as hitting stored rather than operational aircraft, said Joseph Dempsey, a defence researcher at IISS.
    Ukraine has the Cold War-era Russian-made S-300v anti-aircraft missile system, which also has anti-ballistic missile capabilities, Wright said.    It is unclear whether any engaged the Russian missiles, and some S-300v vehicles appeared to have been destroyed by strikes, he added.
    The U.S. official said on Sunday that there were indications that some Russian missiles experienced launch failures.
    “It’s not the majority,” the official said.    “But we do believe that some number of their launches have not been successful.”
    Russia has not demonstrated its full air and missile capabilities and will most likely increase its waves of strikes in the coming days to degrade Ukraine’s surviving defences, including anti-aircraft units that have shot down several Russian aircraft, the U.S.-based Institute for the Study of War said in a report.
    “Russia did not successfully ground the Ukrainian air force or cripple the Ukrainian armed forces, enabling several Ukrainian successes,” the report said.    “The Russian failure to comprehensively strike key Ukrainian assets is a surprising break from expected Russian operations and has likely enabled stiffer Ukrainian defence.”
GLOBAL IMPLICATIONS
    As the heir to the former Soviet Union’s substantial missile arsenal, Russia boasts the widest inventory of ballistic and cruise missiles in the world, according to CSIS.
    But other countries are buying or developing their own new missiles, driven by security concerns and a desire to reduce reliance on other suppliers.
    Before the decade is out, Asia in particular will be bristling with conventional missiles that fly farther and faster, hit harder, and are more sophisticated than ever before.
    China is mass producing its DF-26 – a multipurpose weapon with a range of up to 4,000 kilometres – while the United States is developing new weapons aimed at countering Beijing in the Pacific.
    Taiwan and Japan are also boosting their missile capabilities, as well as defence systems designed to counter missile threats.
    South Korea’s defence minister said on Monday the country would accelerate development of various “long-range, ultra-precision, and high-power ballistic missiles… and possess overwhelming striking capabilities against strategic targets” to counter North Korea’s growing arsenal.
    Although it hasn’t tested its longest-range intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) since 2017, North Korea has rolled out a flurry of new SRBMs, including one that appears influenced by the Iskander’s design.
    Like the Iskander, North Korea’s latest missiles – including “hypersonic” weapons tested in January – are designed to be faster and more manoeuvrable than older weapons, enabling them to potentially evade missile defences.
    Analysts say that although such SRBMs can’t reach the United States, they would likely be used in the first wave if a war broke out, striking nearby air defences, air bases, and other targets similar to the way Russia used its missiles in the ongoing invasion.
    “North Korean and (Chinese) militaries are taking copious notes right now,” said Markus Garlauskas, a former U.S. intelligence officer on North Korea.
(Reporting by Josh Smith. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

2/28/2022 Facebook-Owner Meta Says Ukraine’s Military, Politicians Targeted In Hacking Campaign by Elizabeth Culliford
3D-printed images of logos of Facebook parent Meta Platforms and of Facebook are seen on a laptop
keyboard in this illustration taken on November 2, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/Files
    (Reuters) – Meta Platforms said a hacking group used Facebook to target a handful of public figures in Ukraine, including prominent military officials, politicians and a journalist, amid Russia’s ongoing invasion of the country.     Meta said in the last 48 hours it had also separately removed a network of about 40 fake accounts, groups and pages across Facebook and Instagram that operated from Russia and Ukraine targeting people in Ukraine, for violating its rules against coordinated inauthentic behavior.
    A Twitter spokesperson said it had also suspended more than a dozen accounts and blocked the sharing of several links for violating its rules against platform manipulation and spam.    It said its ongoing investigation indicated the accounts originated in Russia and were attempting to disrupt the public conversation around the conflict in Ukraine.
    In a blog post on Monday, Meta attributed the hacking efforts to a group known as Ghostwriter, which it said successfully gained access to the targets’ social media accounts.    Meta said the hackers attempted to post YouTube videos from the accounts portraying Ukrainian troops as weakened, including one video which claimed to show Ukrainian soldiers coming out of a forest and flying a white flag of surrender.
    Ukrainian cybersecurity officials said on Friday that hackers from neighboring Belarus were targeting the private email addresses of Ukrainian military personnel “and related individuals,” blaming group code-named “UNC1151.”    The U.S. cybersecurity firm FireEye has previously connected the group with Ghostwriter activities.
    Meta’s security team said it had taken steps to secure targeted accounts and had blocked the phishing domains used by the hackers.    It declined to give the names of any of the targets but said it had alerted users where possible.
    Meta said the separate influence campaign, which used a number of fictitious personas, claimed to be based in Kyiv and ran a small number of websites masquerading as independent news outlets.    These outlets published claims about the West betraying Ukraine and Ukraine being a failed state.
    The company said it had found links between this influence network and an operation it removed in April 2020, which it had connected to individuals in Russia, the Donbass region in Ukraine and two media outlets based in Crimea – NewsFront and SouthFront, which are now sanctioned by the U.S. government Neither NewsFront or SouthFront immediately responded to requests for comment.
    Meta declined to give a number of impressions or views for the influence campaign’s content but said it had seen a “very low level” of shares, posts or reactions.    It said the campaign had fewer than 4,000 Facebook accounts following one of more of its pages and fewer than 500 accounts following one or more of its Instagram accounts.    It did not say how long the campaigns had been active on its platforms.
    It said the campaign had also used Alphabet Inc’s YouTube, Telegram and Russian social media sites Odnoklassniki and VK.    YouTube, Telegram and VK , which also owns Odnoklassniki, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
    The crisis in Ukraine has seen escalating clashes between Moscow and major tech companies.    On Friday, Russia said it would partially restrict access to Facebook, a move Meta said came after it refused a government request to stop the independent fact-checking of several Russian state media outlets.    On Saturday, Twitter also said its service was being restricted for some Russian users.
    Ukraine’s health ministry said on Sunday that more than 300 children, had been killed since the beginning of the invasion.
    Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a “special operation.”
    Ukraine has been buffeted by digital intrusions and denial-of-service actions both in the run-up to and during the Russian invasion.    Several big tech companies have announced measures to bolster the security and privacy of their users in the country.
    Meta, which has in recent days made changes like removing the ability to view and search the friends lists of Facebook accounts in Ukraine, said on Monday it was also making this change in Russia in response to public reports of civil society and protesters being targeted.
(Reporting by Elizabeth Culliford in New York; Additional reporting by Christopher Bing in Washington, D.C. and Paresh Dave in Oakland, California; Editing by Kenneth Li)
[ANOTHER ARTICLE FROM META TRYING THE SAME OLD TACTICS THAT THEY USED WITH FIREEYE TO PUT OUT FALSE INFORMATION DURING THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION CAME IN AND ANYONE WHO WAS CONNCETED WITH HIM SOON BECAME A NUMBER ONE THREAT TO THE U.S. SO THEY THINK THEY CAN PULL THAT OFF AGAIN SO DONT FALL FOR THIS AGAIN AND WHAT REALLY NEEDS TO BE DONE IS SOMEONE TAKE OUT PUTIN AND CUT OFF THE HEAD OF THE ISSUES AND THEN SEE IF THE OLIGARCHS WANT TO CONTINUE THIS.].

2/28/2022 Neutral Swiss Poised To Freeze Russian Assets – President by Stephanie Nebehay
FILE PHOTO: Swiss President Ignazio Cassis addresses a news conference after a meeting of
the Swiss government Bundesrat in Bern, Switzerland February 24, 2022. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann
    GENEVA (Reuters) -Swiss President Ignazio Cassis said on Sunday that it was “very probable” that neutral Switzerland would follow the European Union (EU) on Monday in sanctioning Russia and freezing Russian assets in the Alpine country.
    Cassis, interviewed on French-language Swiss public television RTS, said that the seven-member Federal Council would meet on Monday and review recommendations by the departments of finance and economy.
    Asked whether Switzerland — a major financial centre and commodities trading hub — would follow the EU in freezing Russian assets, he said: “It is very probable that the government will decide to do so tomorrow, but I cannot anticipate decisions not yet taken.”
    Cassis said that Switzerland’s neutrality must be preserved and it stood ready to offer its good offices for diplomacy if talks between Ukrainian and Russian officials on the Belarusian border do not succeed, for example by reaching an armistice.
    “That does not prevent us from calling a spade a spade,” he said.
    Switzerland has walked a tortuous line between showing solidarity with the West and maintaining its traditional neutrality that the government says could make it a potential mediator.
    But it faces growing pressure to side clearly with the West against Moscow and adopt punitive European Union sanctions.    The government had so far said only that it will not let Switzerland be used as a platform to circumvent EU sanctions.
    In the biggest peace march in decades, around 20,000 people demonstrated in the capital Bern on Saturday to support Ukraine, some booing the government over its cautious policy.
    Cassis said on Sunday that Ukrainians fleeing the conflict would be welcome “for a transitional period, which we hope will be as short a possible.”
    Justice Minister Karin Keller-Sutter said separately that Switzerland was ready to take in those who need protection and also to support the neighbouring countries affected.    “We will not leave people in the lurch,” she said.
    The Swiss government last week amended its watchlist to include 363 individuals and four companies that the EU had put on its sanctions list to punish Moscow.
    Russians held nearly 10.4 billion Swiss francs ($11.24 billion) in Switzerland in 2020, Swiss National Bank data show.
($1 = 0.9252 Swiss francs)
(Additional reporting by Michael Shields; editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise and Diane Craft)

2/28/2022 Stuck For Days In Their Cars, Ukrainians Wait To Flee by Andrew R.C. Marshall
People fleeing Russia's military operation against Ukraine walk toward the Shehyni border crossing to Poland past
cars waiting in line to cross the border, outside Mostyska, Ukraine, February 27, 2022. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
    SHEHYNI, Ukraine (Reuters) – Thousands of people are fleeing war in eastern Ukraine for the relative safety of its western border with Poland, only to find that a punishing new ordeal awaits.
    By Sunday afternoon, an unmoving line of cars, buses and trucks stretched for 35 km (22 miles) from the border crossing at Shehyni, all packed with people and belongings, all waiting their turn to squeeze through the overburdened border checkpoint to Poland.
    Hundreds of other people headed for the border on foot, trudging along the highway’s trash-strewn verge in sub-zero temperatures with children, pets and whatever possessions they had the strength left to carry.
    “Last night we moved 100 metres,” said Anastasia Dymtruk, 31, who had slept in her car for three nights along with her friend’s family, who she was ferrying to safety.
    “It is unimaginable that this is happening to my country, to my people,” said Dymtruk, an English teacher from Lutsk, in northwestern Ukraine.    “It’s a mess.”
    There was a disproportionate number of women and children among the crowds.    Ukrainian men aged 18-60 are forbidden to leave the country in case they are needed for its defence.
    Among those walking towards Poland were Valerie Marenchika and her daughters, aged 9 and 7.    The younger one wept inconsolably.
    It had taken her two days to get here from Kyiv – an eight-hour drive in normal times.    “There’s a lot of bombing there,” she said.    “It wasn’t safe for my family anymore.”
    Marenchika’s husband had remained in Kyiv.    “He stayed to help the people.    And if he has to, he will fight.”
    She planned to stay with her sister in Poland.
‘DIFFICULT TO KEEP QUIET AND CALM’
    By late afternoon the temperature plunged and a hail storm began.    Amid the anxiety and exhaustion there was stoicism and kindness.
    Volunteers had set up stalls to serve up hot soup and tea, or handed out snacks and other supplies.    One woman cut up sausages and bread on a blanket laid on the bonnet of her white Mercedes.
    Other volunteers donned fluorescent vests to direct traffic or stop cars suspected of pushing in, a source of growing agitation for those waiting in line.
    “As the time passes it gets more and more difficult to keep quiet and calm,” said Dymtruk, the English teacher.
    Abdullah Elkobbi, 21, had just arrived in a town near the border after a 26-hour journey from Dnipro, in eastern Ukraine.    He hailed from Marrakesh in Morocco and had studied medicine in Dnipro for three years.
    Elkobbi was travelling with 11 other medical students – all Moroccans – and with his two kittens, Stella and Santa, tucked into his coat.
    He said Ukrainian solders had told him he could not go to the border.    “We’ll stay here tonight and walk to the border in the morning,” he said.
    Elkobbi said he was leaving reluctantly.    “I love this country,” he said.    “I’m so sad that it will be destroyed.”
    Mila Liubchenko, 39, an IT manager, fled Kyiv on Saturday after a rocket fell near her 24th-floor apartment, rattling its windows.
    She took a train from Kyiv and then a bus, which was now lined up with a dozen others about 3 km from the border.
    Liubchenko hoped to make it to Warsaw and then to Paris, for a reunion with her American boyfriend.
    She was gloomy about the prospects for Ukraine.    “Knowing how Putin sees us, we’re in big trouble.    There won”t be real peace in our country for years, maybe decades.”
(Editing by Alison Williams)

2/28/2022 Russian Convoy Of Ground Forces, Tanks Moving Toward Kyiv, Maxar Says
A satellite image shows Russian ground forces northeast of Ivankiv heading in the direction
of Kyiv, Ukraine, February 27, 2022. Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies/Handout via REUTERS
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Satellite imagery taken on Sunday showed a large deployment of Russian ground forces including tanks moving in the direction of the Ukrainian capital Kyiv from approximately 40 miles (64 km) away, a private U.S. company said.
    The images released by Maxar Technologies Inc showed a deployment comprised of hundreds of military vehicles and extending more than 3.25 miles (5 km), Maxar said.
    The convey was situated northeast of the Ukrainian city of Ivankiv and contained fuel, logistics and armored vehicles including tanks, infantry fighting vehicles and self-propelled artillery, it said.
    The satellite images also showed damage caused by recent airstrikes on the Antonov airport in Hostomel, and heavy fighting in and near the airport, Maxar reported.
    Maxar has been tracking the buildup of Russian forces for weeks.    Its images could not be independently verified by Reuters.
(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Will Dunham and Daniel Wallis)

2/28/2022 World Court: Ukraine Has Filed Suit Against Russia, Citing False Genocide Claims
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy makes a statement in Kyiv, Ukraine, February 27, 2022, in this
still image taken from a handout video. Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Handout via REUTERS
    THE HAGUE (Reuters) – The highest U.N. court on Sunday confirmed that Ukraine has filed a suit against Russia, saying Russia’s claim it invaded Ukraine to prevent a genocide is false and asking judges to order “provisional measures” to protect Ukraine.
    Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky had said earlier on Sunday he had filed the suit at the International Court of Justice, also known as the world court.    In a statement, the court confirmed it has received Ukraine’s complaint.    It did not say when the case would be heard.
(Reporting by Toby Sterling; Editing by Alison Williams)

3/1/2022 Fear For Civilians As Huge Russian Column Bears Down On Kyiv
FILE PHOTO: A woman with her two children fleeing the Russian invasion of Ukraine stays at the Primary School
No.14 that has been converted to provide shelter, in Przemysl, Poland, February 28, 2022. REUTERS/Yara Nardi
    KYIV/MOSCOW (Reuters) – A huge Russian armoured column bore down on Kyiv on Tuesday, after the lethal shelling of civilian areas in Ukraine’s second largest city raised fears that frustrated Russian commanders could resort to more devastating tactics.
    Nearly a week since after Moscow launched war on its neighbour it has failed to capture a single major Ukrainian city after running into unexpectedly fierce resistance.
    Western countries fear that Russian commanders could now unleash the tactics they employed in Syria and Chechnya in recent decades, when they pulverised civilian areas, killing thousands, as they sent in their tanks.
    Oil company Shell became the latest Western firm to announce it was pulling out of Russia. International sanctions and global financial isolation have had a sudden and devastating impact on Russia’s economy, with the rouble in freefall and queues outside banks as Russians rush to salvage their savings.
    U.S. satellite company Maxar released pictures showing tanks and fuel trucks snaking along a highway from the north, bearing down on Kyiv along 40 miles (60 km) of highway.
    “For the enemy, Kyiv is the key target,” President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who has remained in the capital rallying Ukrainians with regular video updates, said in his latest message overnight.    “We did not let them break the defence of the capital, and they send saboteurs to us … We will neutralise them all.”
    Ukrainian authorities also reported 70 soldiers killed in a rocket attack in a town between Kyiv and Kharkiv.
    “The Russian advance on Kyiv has made little progress over the past 24 hours probably as a result of continuing logistical difficulties,” the British defence ministry said in a military intelligence update on Tuesday.
    But it also warned of a shift in Russian tactics putting civilians in greater peril: “The use of heavy artillery in densely populated urban areas greatly increases the risk of civilian casualties.”
    The city that bore the brunt of the attack on Monday was Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, with 1.5 million people, located near the Russian border in eastern Ukraine. Officials say dozens of people were killed and injured on Monday by missile strikes that hit civilian areas.
    “Barbaric rocket attacks and MLRS (multiple launch rocket systems) of peaceful cities are evidence that they are no longer able to fight armed Ukrainians,” Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov said on Facebook.
    Human rights groups and Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States accused Russia of using cluster bombs and vacuum bombs, weapons normally banned in civilian areas.    The United States said it had no confirmation of their use.
    Russia has not given a full account of its battlefield losses, but pictures from Ukraine have shown burnt-out Russian tanks and bodies on the road where they have been attacked by Ukrainian defenders.
    Ukraine’s general staff said Russian losses included 5,710 personnel, 29 destroyed and damaged aircraft and 198 tanks, all figures that could not be verified.
    Ceasefire talks held on Monday at the Belarus border failed to reach a breakthrough.    Negotiators have not said when a new round would take place.
    Putin’s Russia faces near total international isolation over his decision to launch what he called a “special military operation” to disarm Ukraine and capture “neo-Nazis and drug addicts” that lead it.
    Most devastating for Russia have been sanctions on its central bank that prevent it from using its $630 billion foreign reserve war chest to prop up the rouble.
TURKEY SHUTS STRAITS TO WARSHIPS
    NATO ally Turkey delivered another blow to Moscow on Monday by warning warring countries not to send warships through its Bosphorus and Dardanelles Straits that separate the Black Sea from the Mediterranean, effectively bottling up Russia’s Black Sea Fleet.
    Public health experts say Ukraine is running low on critical medical supplies and fears of a wider public health crisis are growing as people flee their homes and health services and supplies are interrupted.
    More than 500,000 people have fled Ukraine, according to the United Nations refugee agency, setting off a refugee crisis as thousands await passage at European border crossings.
    Oil companies Shell, BP and Norway’s Equinor have said they would exit positions in Russia, which relies on oil and gas for export earnings.
    Canada said it would ban imports of Russian crude oil, and U.S. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham urged the Biden administration to target the Russian energy sector with sanctions.
    “We’re not using the energy sector as a weapon,” Graham told reporters.    “We’re failing to hit Putin where it hurts the most.”    Leading banks, airlines and automakers ended partnerships, halted shipments and called Russia’s actions unacceptable.
    Mastercard said it had blocked multiple financial institutions from its payment network as a result of sanctions on Russia and Visa said it would take action too.
    Three major studios, Sony, Disney and Warner Bros., said they would pause theatrical releases of upcoming films in Russia while FIFA and the International Olympic Committee moved to bar Russian teams and athletes from competing.
    Putin, who takes pride in athleticism and is passionate about martial arts, had his honorary black belt from World Taekwondo stripped from him over the invasion, the group said.
(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic in Kyiv; Natalia Zinets, Matthias Williams and Pavel Polityuk in Lviv; Kevin Liffey and Mark Trevelyan in London; and other Reuters bureaux including Moscow; Writing by Rami Ayyub and Lincoln Feast; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Michael Perry)

3/1/2022 Around 350,000 Refugees Have Entered Poland From Ukraine, Says Deputy Minister
FILE PHOTO: People who fled the Russian invasion of Ukraine search for mobile phone connection as others wait
for a lift at the border checkpoint in Medyka, Poland, February 28, 2022. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Around 350,000 people have entered Poland from Ukraine since Russia invaded the country, a Polish deputy interior minister said on Tuesday.
    “Over the last 24 hours 100,000 people crossed the Polish-Ukrainian border,” Maciej Wasik told public broadcaster Polskie Radio 1.    “In total, since Thursday, there have already been 350,000 refugees.”
(Reporting by Alan Charlish and Pawel Florkiewicz)

3/1/2022 Ukraine And Russia: What You Need To Know Right Now
People fleeing Russian invasion of Ukraine arrive at a temporary camp
in Przemysl, Poland, February 28, 2022. REUTERS/Yara Nardi
    (Reuters) – Here’s what you need to know about the Ukraine crisis right now:
HEADLINES
* Moscow faced increasing isolation on Tuesday as President Vladimir Putin showed no sign of stopping an invasion of Ukraine, where fierce fighting and Russian bombardment have killed dozens and sparked a refugee crisis.
* The 193-member U.N. General Assembly began meeting on the crisis ahead of a vote this week to isolate Russia.
* Talks on a ceasefire ended without a breakthrough.
* Russian President Putin told France’s President Emmanuel Macron a Ukraine settlement was only possible if Kyiv was neutral, “denazified” and “demilitarised” and Russian control over annexed Crimea was formally recognised, the Kremlin said.
* Ukraine’s Western allies increased weapons transfers in support, and Britain called for such transfers to be expanded.    Finland agreed to ship 2,500 assault rifles and 1,500 anti-tank weapons.    Canada will supply anti-tank weapons and upgraded ammunition, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said.
* Russia’s foreign ministry said those supplying lethal weapons to Ukraine will bear responsibility should they be used during Russia’s military campaign.
* The United Nations said more than 500,000 people had fled Ukraine to neighbouring countries since the start of Russia’s invasion.
* The United States expelled 12 Russian diplomats at the United Nations over national security concerns, U.S. and Russian diplomats said.
MARKETS, SANCTIONS AND OTHER REACTIONS
* The United States imposed sanctions on Russia’s central bank and other sources of wealth, dealing a crushing blow to the country’s economy and further punishing Moscow.
* Europe’s financial market began severing Russia’s ties to its critical plumbing for trading, clearing and settling securities as sanctions on Moscow started to bite.
* Markets paused for breath following days of volatility with Asian shares edging up and gold slipping slightly a day after the Russian rouble fell to a record low. [MKTS/GLOB]
* Russia’s central bank more than doubled its key policy rate.
* Airlines braced for potentially lengthy blockages of key east-west flight corridors after the European Union and Moscow issued tit-for-tat airspace bans.
* Energy giant BP, global bank HSBC and aircraft leasing firm AerCap joined a growing list of companies looking to exit Russia, as Western sanctions tightened the screws on Moscow.
QUOTES
* “I took a train from Kyiv to Lviv to a point where the taxi put us.    I walked the last 50 kilometres,” a Ukrainian woman said on arrival at a border crossing with Poland in snowy, freezing weather.
* “There are bombings, sirens, we have to go (downstairs).    We also receive treatment here, medications we have, but we need more food … basic stuff,” said a tearful Maryna, a mother at a Kyiv children’s hospital where her nine-year-old son was suffering from blood cancer.
COMING UP
* 0200 GMT on Wednesday: Ukraine among the issues U.S. President Joe Biden will address in his State of the Union speech to Congress.
(Editing by Lincoln Feast and Karishma Singh)

3/1/2022 Russia’s Fridman And Aven To Contest ‘Spurious’ EU Sanctions
FILE PHOTO: Russian businessman, co-founder of Alfa-Group Mikhail Fridman attends a conference of the Israeli
foundation Keren Hayesod in Moscow, Russia, September 17, 2019. Pavel Golovkin/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    LONDON (Reuters) – Russian billionaires Mikhail Fridman and Pyotr Aven said they would contest the “spurious and unfounded basis” of European Union sanctions imposed for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
    The EU on Monday sanctioned both Fridman and Aven, along with dozens of other prominent Russians.
    The EU said “Aven is one of Vladimir Putin’s closest oligarchs” and that Fridman had been “referred to as a top Russian financier and enabler of Putin’s inner circle.”
    “Mikhail Fridman and Petr Aven… are profoundly shocked by the demonstrably false allegations made in the EU Regulation purporting to justify the basis on which they have been sanctioned,” the businessmen said.
    “Mr. Fridman and Mr. Aven will contest the spurious and unfounded basis for the imposition of these sanctions – vigorously and through all means available to them – to reverse unwarranted and unnecessary damage to the livelihoods and prosperity of their many employees, customers, partners and stakeholders and the businesses that they and their partners have built up over the past 25 years.”
    Aven said it was wrong of the EU to say that he was an “especially close personal friend” of Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin.    Fridman said it was untrue that he had “cultivated strong ties” to the administration of Vladimir Putin.
    They both said it was untrue to state they “were unofficial emissaries for the Russian government” or that they had supported or benefited from Russian decision makers responsible for the destabilisation of Ukraine.
    “These are malicious and deliberate falsehoods – pure and simple, the product of historical fantasies and conspiracy theories dreamt up by private individuals with their own agendas,” the two businessmen said.
    “Sanctioning them based on disproven and malicious gossip will have no impact on Russia’s actions in Ukraine, because Pyotr and Mikhail have no financial or political relationship with President Putin or the Kremlin.”
(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; editing by James Davey and Kate Holton)

3/1/2022 Kharkiv Official Says Russian Missiles Hit Administration Building, Residential Areas
A view shows the area near the regional administration building, which was hit by a missile
according to city officials, in Kharkiv, Ukraine, in this handout picture released March 1, 2022.
Press service of the Ukrainian State Emergency Service/Handout via REUTERS
    LVIV, Ukraine (Reuters) – Kharkiv region head Oleg Synegubov said on Tuesday that Russian missile attacks hit the centre of Ukraine’s second-largest city, including residential areas and the regional administration building, as Moscow started day six of its invasion.
    Synegubov said Russia launched GRAD and cruise missiles on Kharkiv but that the city defence was holding.    “Such attacks are genocide of the Ukrainian people, a war crime against the civilian population!” he said.
    Wearing a flak jacket and a helmet, Synegubov said in a video posted on social media on Tuesday morning that it was too early to know the number of casualties.
    He shared a video showing Kharkiv regional administration building being hit by a missile and exploding.
    Reuters was not immediately able to verify that video independently.
    Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a “special operation” that it says is not designed to occupy territory but to destroy its southern neighbour’s military capabilities and capture what it regards as dangerous nationalists.
(Reporting by Natalia Zinets, Writing by Gabriela Baczynska, Editing by Andrew Heavens and Edmund Blair)

3/1/2022 Over 70 Ukrainian Troops Killed In Military Base Shelling – Governor
People remove debris at the site of a military base building that, according to the Ukrainian
ground forces, was destroyed by an air strike, in the town of Okhtyrka in the Sumy region, Ukraine
February 28, 2022. Irina Rybakova/Press service of the Ukrainian ground forces/Handout via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – More than 70 Ukrainian servicemen were killed when Russian troops shelled a military base in the town of Okhtyrka in Ukraine’s northeastern Sumy region on Monday, regional governor Dmytro Zhyvytskyy said on Facebook.
(This story corrects day of attack to Monday.)
(Reporting by Moscow bureau; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)

3/2/2022 Russia Says It Controls Ukraine’s Kherson, Biden Closes U.S. Airspace
A civilian trains to throw Molotov cocktails to defend the city, as Russia's invasion
of Ukraine continues, in Zhytomyr, Ukraine March 1, 2022. REUTERS/Viacheslav Ratynskyi
    WASHINGTON/KYIV (Reuters) – A week after launching its invasion of Ukraine, Russia said its forces took control the first sizable city on Wednesday, seizing Kherson, in the south, as fighting raged around the country and Western nations tightened an economic noose around Russia.
    More than half a million Ukrainians have fled the fighting since Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a full-scale invasion of his southern neighbour nearly a week ago.     Russian bombardments of Ukrainian cities continued, with video posted on social media showing heavily damaged buildings around the second city of Kharkiv.     “While he may make gains on the battlefield, he will pay a continuing high price over the long run,” U.S. President Joe Biden said at his State of the Union address. Straying from the prepared text, Biden added “He has no idea what’s coming.” He did not elaborate.     The invaders’ advances have been met with fierce resistance by Ukrainian forces and a miles-long Russian military convoy north of Kyiv has made little progress towards the capital.
    In a video address on Wednesday, Zelenskiy said nearly 6,000 Russians had been killed in the first six days of Moscow’s invasion, and that the Kremlin would not be able to take his country with bombs and air strikes.
    Biden further ratcheted up sanctions on Moscow, joining the European Union and Canada in banning Russian planes from U.S. airspace.
    He also said the Justice Department would seek to seize the yachts, luxury apartments and private jets of wealthy Russians with ties to Putin.
    U.S. lawmakers stood, applauded and roared, many of them waving Ukrainian flags and wearing the country’s blue and yellow colours, as Biden delivered his address to the chamber of the House of Representatives.
    Russian forces have taken control of Kherson, a city of nearly a quarter million people just north of Crimea, the peninsula annexed by Russia in 2014, a Russian defence ministry spokesperson said. Strategically located on the Dniepr river, the provincial capital was the biggest city to fall to Russian forces so far.
    The southeast city of Mariupol had been under intense shelling since late Tuesday and was unable to evacuate wounded, according to its mayor.
    A senior U.S. defense official said on Tuesday the invading force’s advance on Kyiv has stalled due to logistics problems, including shortages of food and fuel, and some units appeared to have low morale.
‘STOP BOMBING PEOPLE’
    On Tuesday, Ukraine’s leader called on Russia to stop bombarding civilians and resume talks.
    “It’s necessary to at least stop bombing people, just stop the bombing and then sit down at the negotiating table,” Zelenskiy told Reuters and CNN in a joint interview in a heavily guarded government compound in Kyiv.
    At least 21 people were killed and 112 wounded in shelling in Kharkiv in the last 24 hours, regional governor Oleg Synegubov said on Wednesday.
    More than 450,000 people have fled Ukraine to Poland, and a further 113,000 to Romania.
    The United Nations General Assembly is set to reprimand Russia on Wednesday and demand that Moscow stop fighting and withdraw its military forces.
    Putin ordered the “special military operation” last Thursday in a bid to disarm Ukraine, capture the “neo-Nazis” he says are running the democratic country of 44 million people and crush its hopes of closer ties to the West.
    West of Kyiv, in the city of Zhytomyr, four people, including a child, were killed on Tuesday by a Russian cruise missile, a Ukrainian official said.
    In Ukraine’s largely Russian-speaking city of Donetsk, in territory controlled by Russian-backed separatists, authorities said three civilians had been killed by Ukrainian shelling.
    Reuters was unable to confirm any of the reports of casualties.
    Vastly outmatched by Russia’s military, in terms of raw numbers and firepower, Ukraine’s own air force is still flying and its air defences are still deemed to be viable – a fact that is baffling military experts.
WEAPONS AND SANCTIONS
    Ukraine, which is not a member of NATO, has called on the U.S.-led military alliance to implement a no-fly zone over Ukraine – a request rejected by Washington, which fears stoking a direct conflict between the world’s two biggest nuclear powers.
    Washington and its allies have instead sent weapons to Kyiv.
    Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov said on Wednesday the country was set to receive Stinger and Javelin missiles from abroad, as well as another shipment of Turkish drones.
    Several dozen Japanese men have answered a Ukrainian call for foreign volunteers to fight Russia’s invasion, according to a media report on Wednesday.    In Taiwan, the president, vice president and prime minister all pledged to donate their salaries to Ukraine relief efforts.
    Isolating Russia diplomatically, the West’s main strategy is shutting off Russia’s economy from the global financial system, pushing international companies to halt sales, cut ties, and dump tens of billions of dollars’ worth of investments.
    Exxon Mobil joined other major Western energy companies including British BP PLC and Shell in announcing it would quit oil-rich Russia over the invasion.
    Apple Inc stopped sales of iPhones and other products in Russia, and was making changes to its Maps app to protect civilians in Ukraine.    Alphabet Inc’s Google dropped Russian state publishers from its news, and Ford Motor suspended operations in the country.
    U.S. airplane manufacturer Boeing said it was suspending parts, maintenance and technical support for Russian airlines.
    Russia on Tuesday placed temporary restrictions on foreigners seeking to exit Russia assets, meaning that billions of dollars’ worth of securities held by foreigners are at risk of being trapped.
    Defying the U.S.-led economic campaign to against Russia, Mexico’s leftist President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said Mexico will not impose sanctions.
(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic in Kyiv, Kevin Liffey in London and other Reuters bureaux including Moscow; Writing by Stephen Coates & Simon Cameron-Moore; Editing by Lincoln Feast)

3/2/2022 Russia Says It Captures Ukrainian City Of Kherson - RIA
FILE PHOTO: Video screengrab shows military vehicles crossing into Ukraine's Kherson Oblast from Crimea through the
Kalanchak border control point, after Russian President Vladimir Putin authorized a military operation in eastern Ukraine,
in a video uploaded Feburary 24, 2022 by the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine/Handout via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia’s defence ministry said on Wednesday Russian armed forces have captured the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson, RIA news agency reported.
(Reporting by Reuters; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

3/2/2022 At Least 21 Killed, 112 Wounded In Shelling Of Kharkiv – Ukrainian Official
A view shows the area near the regional administration building, which city officials said was hit
by a missile attack, in central Kharkiv, Ukraine, March 1, 2022. REUTERS/Vyacheslav Madiyevskyy
    LVIV, Ukraine (Reuters) – At least 21 people were killed and 112 wounded in shelling in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv in the last 24 hours, regional governor Oleg Synegubov said on Wednesday.
    The authorities have said Russian missile attacks hit the centre of Ukraine’s second-largest city, including residential areas and the regional administration building.
(Reporting by Reuters; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)

3/2/2022 Ukraine And Russia: What You Need To Know Right Now
Firefighters walk on debris as a building burns following a Russian strike during Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in Zhytomyr, Ukraine,
March 1, 2022 in this still image taken from video. State Emergency Service of Ukraine/via Reuters TV/Handout via REUTERS
    Here’s what you need to know about the Ukraine crisis right now:
HEADLINES
* U.S. President Joe Biden warned Vladimir Putin that the Russian leader “has no idea what’s coming,” as Western nations tightened an economic noose around Russia, whose invading forces bombarded Ukrainian cities and appeared poised for an advance on Kyiv.
* Russia’s defence ministry urged Kyiv residents to flee and said it would strike unspecified areas used by Ukraine’s security services and communications.    Russia describes its assault on Ukraine as a special operation, not an invasion seeking territory.
* A U.S. official said a miles-long armoured column bearing down on the capital Kyiv had not made any advances in the past 24 hours, frozen in place by logistics problems, short on fuel and food, and perhaps pausing to reassess tactics.
* Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians have fled the fighting. West of Kyiv, in the city of Zhytomyr, four people, including a child, were killed on Tuesday by a Russian cruise missile, a Ukrainian official said.
* Rocket strikes on the centre of Kharkiv killed at least 10 people and wounded 35, Ukrainian Interior Ministry adviser Anton Herashchenko said.    Similar strikes that killed and wounded dozens in the city the previous day involved cluster bombs, experts said.
* Kyiv’s mayor published a video showing the moment when a tall TV antennae in the city was engulfed in flames, apparently hit by a rocket.
* France declared an “all-out economic and financial war” against Russia, saying it would collapse the Russian economy as punishment for the invasion of Ukraine.
* Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy told Reuters Russia must stop bombing Ukrainian cities before meaningful talks on a ceasefire could start, as a first round of negotiations this week had yielded scant progress.
* Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Gennady Gatilov, said his government sees “no desire on the part of Ukraine” to try to find a legitimate and balanced solution to the problems between the two countries.
MARKETS, SANCTIONS AND OTHER REACTIONS
* The United States and other member states of the International Energy Agency (IEA) agreed to release 60 million barrels of oil reserves to compensate for supply disruptions.
* The International Monetary Fund and World Bank said they were racing to provide billions of dollars of additional funding to Ukraine in coming weeks and months.
* The Group of Seven major economies will convene a task force to focus on freezing and seizing assets of key Russian elites, U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said after a meeting of finance chiefs.
* Some of America’s best-known companies including Apple, Boeing, Google, Ford and Exxon Mobil rebuked and rejected Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, under steady pressure from investors and consumers decrying the violence.
* Russia said it was placing temporary restrictions on foreigners seeking to exit Russia assets.    Russian assets went into freefall on Tuesday with London-listed ishares MSCI Russia ETF plunging 33% to hit a fresh record low.
* European Union countries are considering a ban on Russian ships entering their ports, after similar moves by Canada and the United Kingdom.    The world’s biggest shipping lines MSC and Maersk suspended container shipping to and from Russia.
QUOTES
* “Putin’s war was premeditated and unprovoked. He rejected efforts at diplomacy. He thought the West and NATO wouldn’t respond.    And, he thought he could divide us here at home,” Biden said in his State of the Union address.    “Putin was wrong.    We were ready.”
* “Watch what you’re saying, gentlemen!    And don’t forget that in human history, economic wars often turned into real ones.”    Former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev reacting to French comments about economic war.
(Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Lincoln Feast.)

3/2/2022 Ukraine: More Russia Talks Being Considered, Depend On Agenda
FILE PHOTO: Ukraine's presidential advisor Mykhailo Podolyak from the Ukrainian delegation speaks after
the talks in the Gomel region, Belarus February 28, 2022. Sergei Kholodilin/BelTA/Handout via REUTERS
    LVIV, Ukraine (Reuters) – Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak told Reuters on Wednesday that holding more talks with Russia was under discussion and that a “substantial agenda” was needed.
    Asked about the date for a second round of talks since Russia invaded its neighbour last week, Podolyak said: “It’s under discussion for now.    A substantial agenda is needed.”
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk, Writing by Gabriela Baczynska; editing by John Stonestreet)

3/2/2022 Belarus Says It Boosts Security On Southern, Western Borders
FILE PHOTO: Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko attends a meeting with members of the Council of
Ministers and Security Council in Minsk, Belarus March 1, 2022. Nikolai Petrov/BelTA/Handout via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Belarus said on Wednesday it had stepped up security at its western and southern borders as Russia invades neighbouring Ukraine.
    Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko said on Tuesday that his country had no plans to join Russia’s military operation in Ukraine and dismissed Kyiv’s allegations that Russian troops were attacking Ukraine from Belarusian territory.
(Reporting by Reuters; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

3/2/2022 Ukraine To Receive More Missiles And Turkish Drones, Minister Says
FILE PHOTO: Ukraine's Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov attends tactical exercises, which are conducted by the Ukrainian
National Guard, Armed Forces, special operations units and simulate a crisis situation in an urban settlement, in the
abandoned city of Pripyat near the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, Ukraine February 4, 2022. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
    LVIV, Ukraine (Reuters) – Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov said on Wednesday the country was set to receive Stinger and Javelin missiles from abroad, as well as another shipment of Turkish drones.
    Several Western countries have pledged to supply Ukraine with weapons to fend off a Russian invasion.
(Reporting by Reuters; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

3/2/2022 Ukraine’s Mariupol Under Heavy Shelling, Kherson Surrounded – Officials
FILE PHOTO: A view shows a residential building, which locals said was damaged by
recent shelling, in Mariupol, Ukraine February 26, 2022. REUTERS/Nikolay Ryabchenko
    LVIV, Ukraine (Reuters) – Ukraine’s south-eastern port of Mariupol was under constant shelling from Russia and unable to evacuate the injured while Kherson, on the Black Sea to the west, was completely surrounded by invading forces, Ukrainian authorities said on Wednesday.
    “We are fighting, we are not ceasing to defend our motherland,” Mariupol mayor Vadym Boichenko said live on Ukrainian TV.
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk, Writing by Gabriela Baczynska, Editing by Andrew Heavens)

3/2/2022 Russia Aims To Erase Us, Ukraine’s Zelenskiy Says On Day 7 Of War by Natalia Zinets and Pavel Polityuk
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy poses after an interview
with Reuters in Kyiv, Ukraine, March 1, 2022. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
    LVIV, Ukraine (Reuters) -Russia is aiming to erase Ukraine, its history and people, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a video on Wednesday as the seventh day of Moscow’s invasion of its neighbour started with heavy shelling of the Black Sea port of Mariupol.
    Moscow switched to strikes on Ukrainian cities on Tuesday and appeared poised for an advance on Kyiv as the West tightened an economic noose around Russia in retaliation.
    But Zelenskiy, unshaven and wearing a khaki T-shirt, said the West’s response was not enough, calling for more international support, including backing Ukraine’s bid to join the European Union.
    “This is no time to be neutral,” said Zelenskiy, whose defiant and emotional tone in regular video addresses have offered his country support and leadership in the war, which he said killed nearly 6,000 Russian troops so far.
    Referring to the Tuesday shelling in Kyiv next to Babyn Yar – the site of a World War Two massacre of tens of thousands of Jews by German occupation troops and Ukrainian auxiliaries – Zelenskiy said: “This strike proves that for many people in Russia our Kyiv is absolutely foreign.”
    “They don’t know a thing about Kyiv, about our history.    But they all have orders to erase our history, erase our country, erase us all.”
    Ukraine’s south-eastern Azov Sea port of Mariupol was under constant shelling and unable to evacuate the injured while Kherson, on the Black Sea to the west, was completely surrounded by invading Russian forces, local authorities said on Wednesday.
    “We all died again by Babyn Yar.    Although the world has promised again and again that it will never happen again,” said Zelenskiy.
    “Don’t you see what is happening?    That’s why it is very important now that you, millions of Jews around the world, do not stay silent.    Because Nazism is born in silence.    Scream about murdering of civilians, scream about murdering of Ukrainians.”
(Reporting by Natalia Zinets and Pavel Polityuk, Writing by Gabriela Baczynska, Editing by Andrew Heavens and Philippa Fletcher)

3/2/2022 Javelin Guided Missile System Game Changer For Ukraine by OAN Newsroom
Ukrainian servicemen unpack Javelin anti-tank missiles, delivered as part of the United States of America’s security
assistance to Ukraine, at the Boryspil airport, outside Kyiv, Ukraine, Friday, Feb. 11, 2022. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
    The Javelin anti-tank guided missile system is reportedly a game-changer for Ukrainian forces.    The FGM-148 Javelin created by Raytheon and Lockheed Martin is a man-portable, anti-armor guided missile system with a range of more than 8,000 feet.
    The U.S. made weapon uses infrared guidance that allows the user to take cover immediately after firing.    To date, Ukrainian forces have reportedly destroyed more than 200 tanks and nearly 900 armored Russian vehicles using these weapons.
    In 2021 the U.S. supplied Ukraine with 30 Javelin systems and 180 Javelin missiles as part of its annual military aid and bolstered with subsequent munitions shipments.    In recent days the “Saint Javelin of Ukraine” has become a powerful symbol of resistance.

3/3/2022 Russian Troops Enter Strategic Ukrainian Port Of Kherson
Local residents remove debris of a residential building destroyed by shelling, as Russia's invasion
of Ukraine continues, in Zhytomyr, Ukraine March 2, 2022. REUTERS/Viacheslav Ratynskyi
    KYIV/KHARKIV, Ukraine (Reuters) - Russian troops were in the centre of the Ukrainian port of Kherson on Thursday after a day of conflicting claims over whether Moscow had captured a major urban centre for the first time in its eight-day invasion.
    Russia’s defence ministry said it controlled Kherson on Wednesday but an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy responded that Ukrainian forces continued to defend the Black Sea port of about 250,000 people.
    “We are a people who broke the enemy’s plans in a week,” Zelenskiy said in a video address.    “These plans had taken years to write – they are mean, with hatred for our country, for our people.”
    A Ukrainian delegation had left for a second round of talks with Russian officials on a ceasefire, Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak told Reuters.
    Russian forces have yet to overthrow the government in Kyiv but thousands are reported to have died or been injured and more than a million people have fled Ukraine amid the biggest attack on a European state since 1945.
    At Borodyanka, a town 58 km (36 miles) northwest of Kyiv, a resident gave a breathless account of their encounter with the enemy, as Reuters Television footage showed shell damaged building, fires burning in the streets and destroyed military vehicles.
    “They (Russian military) started shooting from their BMP (military vehicle), towards the park in front of the post office in the centre of Borodyanka,” said a Ukrainian man, who did not give his name.
    “Then those bastards started the tank and started shooting into the Fora (supermarket) which was already burned.    It caught fire again.”
BARRAGE OF SANCTIONS
    The capture of Kherson, a strategic southern provincial capital where the Dnipro River flows into the Black Sea, would be the first significant urban centre to fall since Moscow launched its invasion on Feb. 24.
    Mayor Igor Kolykhayev said late on Wednesday that Russian troops were in the streets and had entered the council building.    He called on civilians to walk through the streets only in daylight and in ones and twos.
    “There were armed visitors in the city executive committee today,” he said in a statement.    “I didn’t make any promises to them …     I just asked them not to shoot people.”
    Russia’s attack has led to a barrage of international sanctions that threaten the global economic recovery from the COVID pandemic, and stoked fears of wider conflict as Western countries send arms to help the Ukrainian military.
    The U.S. State Department called on Putin and the Russian government to “immediately cease this bloodshed” and withdraw forces from Ukraine.    It also accused Moscow of launching a “full war on media freedom and the truth” by blocking independent news outlets and social media to prevent Russians from hearing news of the invasion of Ukraine.
    Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a “special operation” that is not designed to occupy territory but to destroy its neighbour’s military capabilities and capture what it regards as dangerous nationalists.
    It denies targeting civilians although there have been widespread reports of civilian casualties and the shelling of residential areas.
    Bombing in Kharkiv, a city of 1.5 million people, has left its centre a wasteland of ruined buildings and debris.
    Russians have shelled the city of Izyum, about 120 km (75 miles) southeast of Kharkiv, killing six adults and two children, Ukraine’s parliament said.    Reuters was unable to verify the casualties.
    The U.N. Human Rights Office has confirmed the deaths of 227 civilians and 525 injuries during the conflict as of midnight on March 1, cautioning that the real toll would be much higher due to reporting delays.
    An explosion also rocked the Kyiv railway station where thousands of women and children were being evacuated.    The blast was caused by wreckage from a downed Russian cruise missile, a Ukrainian interior ministry adviser said, and there were no immediate reports of casualties.
    An investigation into possible war crimes will immediately be opened by the International Criminal Court, following requests by 39 of the court’s member states, an unprecedented number.
INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE
    A U.N. resolution reprimanding Moscow was supported by 141 of the assembly’s 193 members, a symbolic victory for Ukraine that increases Moscow’s international isolation.
    “More is at stake even than the conflict in Ukraine itself.    This is a threat to the security of Europe and the entire rules-based order,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.
    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow still sought Ukraine’s “demilitarisation” and that there should be a list of specified weapons that could never be deployed on Ukrainian territory.    Moscow opposes Kyiv’s bid to join NATO.
    Oil and commodity prices spiralled ever higher on Thursday in a grim omen for global inflation.
    For Russians, the fallout has included queues outside banks, a plunge in the value of the rouble which threatens their living standards, and an exodus of Western firms who refuse to do business in the country.
    Japanese automakers including Toyota were forced to halt production in Russia as sanctions scrambled logistics and cut off supply chains.
    Russia’s central bank, itself under sanctions, has doubled interest rates to 20% and Fitch and Moody’s rating agencies downgraded Russia’s sovereign credit rating to ‘junk’ status. [nL1N2V50QW]
    Forbes reported Germany had seized Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov’s mega yacht in a Hamburg shipyard, while at least five superyachts owned by billionaires were anchored or cruising in Maldives, an Indian Ocean island nation that does not have an extradition treaty with the United States, data showed.
    Russian businessman Roman Abramovich said he would sell London’s Chelsea Football Club and donate money to help victims of the war in Ukraine.
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk, Natalia Zinets and Aleksandar Vasovic in Ukraine, David Ljunggren in Ottawa and other Reuters bureaux; writing by Costas Pitas, Stephen Coates & Simon Cameron-Moore; Editing by Lincoln Feast)

3/3/2022 More Than 139,000 Ukrainians Entered Romania Since Russian Invasion
FILE PHOTO: A woman walks with children after fleeing from Russia's invasion of Ukraine,
at the border crossing in Siret, Romania, March 2, 2022. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov
    BUCHAREST (Reuters) – More than 139,000 Ukrainians have fled to Romania in the first seven days since Russia invaded Ukraine by land, sea and air, border police data showed on Thursday.
    They have entered Romania through its four land border checkpoints with Ukraine, but also through its checkpoints with Moldova, data showed.    Just under 88,000 of them have already driven or flown out of Romania.
(Reporting by Luiza Ilie)

3/3/2022 Ukraine Says 34 Civilians Killed In Kharkiv Region, No Water Or Power In Mariupol City
Firefighters work to extinguish a fire at the Kharkiv National University building, which city officials
said was damaged by recent shelling, in Kharkiv, Ukraine March 2, 2022. REUTERS/Oleksandr Lapshyn
    LVIV, Ukraine (Reuters) – Russian shelling and attacks on civilian populations killed 34 civilians in Ukraine’s eastern Kharkiv region in the past 24 hours between March 2-3, the emergency services said on Thursday.
    Separately, the governor of the Ukraine-controlled eastern Donetsk region said the port city of Mariupol, one of the first targets of the Russian invasion, was without electricity or water supplies.
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk, Natalia Zinets and Matthias Williams; Editing by Alison Williams)

3/3/2022 Hungary Will Not Veto EU Sanctions On Russia – Orban by Gergely Szakacs
FILE PHOTO: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban speaks to the media as he visits the
Ukraine-Hungary border where people cross into the country to flee the Russian massive military
operation against Ukraine, in Beregsurany, Hungary, February 26, 2022. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungary will not veto European Union sanctions against Russia and the unity of the 27-member bloc is paramount given the war in Ukraine, which Hungary condemns unequivocally, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said.
    Orban, who has been strongly criticised by the Hungarian opposition for his friendly ties with Russia, flagged what he called an adjustment in relations because of the war, though adding that should not have an impact on energy deals.
    This week, Hungary joined an initiative by eight EU leaders to start membership talks with neighbouring Ukraine, but NATO-member Hungary has rejected the transport of lethal weapons through its territory to its eastern neighbour.
    “With regard to sanctions, we will not veto them. We will not block the EU from imposing sanctions on Russia. Now the unity of the EU is paramount,” the nationalist Orban told the news website mandiner.hu in an interview published on Thursday.
    Hungary’s ties with Russia had been “balanced and fair” until the very recent past, but this had changed, he said.
    “The start of the war has created a new situation for Hungary too,” Orban said.    “We need to adjust Hungary’s objectives and the Hungarian interests in this new situation.”
    Orban, 58, faces an election in just over four weeks, but his campaign has been complicated by surging inflation, an EU funding freeze due to a row over democratic standards and the fallout from the war in Ukraine.
    “We condemn the Russian attack, as they have launched a war against Ukraine,” Orban said.
    Russia calls its onslaught a “special operation.”
    “The sides should return to the negotiating table as soon as possible,” Orban said.    “All of Europe should be working for peace.”
    On Wednesday, his foreign minister said Hungary had already accepted more than 100,000 refugees fleeing the war.
ENERGY SHIPMENTS
    Orban added, however, that there was no reason to cut energy ties with Russia, including a 12.5 billion euro ($13.87 billion) deal for Russian Rosatom to expand Hungary’s Paks nuclear power plant, which accounts for about half of its electricity output.
    “EU leaders have also declared that the sanctions cannot affect energy shipments from Russia, because that would wreck the European economy,” Orban said.
    “The same applies to the Paks expansion project.    Without Paks, we would have to import even more Russian gas at an even higher cost.”
    Hungary signed a new long-term gas import agreement with Russia last year to import 4.5 billion cubic metres of natural gas per year on routes avoiding Ukraine.
    Last month, Orban visited Russian President Vladimir Putin, seeking an extension of the import deal by 1 billion cubic metres per year in a move strongly criticised by the opposition amid the escalating tension between Russia and Ukraine.
    Orban also said Europe needed a strong military and defence industry as it could no longer rely on the United States alone for its security.
    “The Americans invest a lot more into this than we do.    This must change and we should be able to ensure European security with our own means, while maintaining the alliance with the U.S.,” he said.
    “This challenge entails significantly higher military spending.    That is, while we are reducing the budget deficit and public debt, we should make an exception in defence policy,” he said.
    “The Hungarian stance is in favour of strict fiscal policy, we need the Maastricht criteria, however, we should exclude defence spending from the commonly accepted budget deficit standards.”
($1 = 0.9014 euros)
(Reporting by Gergely Szakacs; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Robert Birsel)

3/3/2022 Deputy Minister: Russia Continues Contacts With U.S. – Ifax
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Moscow is continuing contact with Washington, mostly through embassies, and believes talks with Ukraine in Belarus can produce results, the TASS news agency quoted Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov as saying on Thursday.
    At the same time, Ryabkov said he believed the goals of the Russian military operation in Ukraine would be fully achieved.
(Reporting by Moscow bureau; Editing by Alison Williams)

3/3/2022 Ukraine And Russia: What You Need To Know Right Now
Firefighters walk on debris as a building burns following a Russian strike during Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in Zhytomyr, Ukraine,
March 1, 2022 in this still image taken from video. State Emergency Service of Ukraine/via Reuters TV/Handout via REUTERS
    (Reuters) – Russian troops are in the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson and forced their way into the council building, the mayor said after a day of conflicting claims over whether Moscow had made the first major gain of a city in its eight-day-long invasion.     The invasion was denounced by the United Nations in a historic vote, as global brands exited Russia and the rouble hit record lows.
MORE HEADLINES
* Russia’s advance on the Ukrainian capital has made little progress over the past three days and the cities of Kharkiv, Chernihiv and Mariupol remain in Ukrainian hands, according to British military intelligence.
* Pro-Russian forces may launch targeted strikes on the Ukrainian city of Mariupol unless Ukrainian forces there surrender, the Interfax news agency quoted a Donetsk separatist commander as saying on Thursday.
* The International Criminal Court opened an investigation into possible war crimes committed in Ukraine, following a request to do so by 39 of the court’s member states.
* Top Japanese automakers including Toyota were forced to halt production in Russia as sanctions scrambled logistics and cut supply chains.
* A Ukrainian delegation has departed for a second round of talks with Russia, Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak told Reuters.
* Japan Airlines and ANA said they would cancel all flights to and from Europe on Thursday, citing safety concerns following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
* More than one million people have fled Ukraine since the fighting began, most crossing into Poland and Romania.
* The European Union and United States imposed new sanctions on Belarus for its supporting role in the invasion.
* Russian businessman Roman Abramovich said he would sell London’s Chelsea Football Club and donate money from the sale to help victims of the war.
* A Russian-run online store on Chinese e-commerce platform JD.com thanked Chinese shoppers for their support after it sold out of most items including chocolate and fabric softener, saying it showed the country’s friendship in “difficult” times.
* Commodity markets extended their bull runs, with aluminium, coal and palm oil all hitting new records while crude oil and wheat scaled multi-year highs as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine disrupted global raw material flows.
QUOTES
* “Russia is increasingly an economic island….Nothing is off the table in terms of future sanctions,” U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said.
* “There were armed visitors in the city executive committee today,” Kherson Mayor Igor Kolykhayev said in a statement.    “My team and I are peaceful people – we had no weapons and there was no aggression from our side… I didn’t make any promises to them… I just asked them not to shoot people.”
(Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Lincoln Feast.)

3/4/2022 Ukrainians Put Out Fire At Nuclear Complex After Russian Attack – Officials
Surveillance camera footage shows a flare landing at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant during shelling in Enerhodar, Zaporizhia Oblast,
Ukraine March 4, 2022, in this screengrab from a video obtained from social media. Zaporizhzhya NPP via YouTube/via REUTERS
    LVIV, Ukraine (Reuters) – A fire that broke out in a training building near the largest nuclear power plant in Europe during intense fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces has been extinguished, Ukraine’s state emergency service said on Friday.
    U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said there was no indication of elevated radiation levels at the Zaporizhzhia plant, which provides more than a fifth of total electricity generated in Ukraine.
    Earlier, a video feed from the plant verified by Reuters showed shelling and smoke rising near a five-storey building at the plant compound.
    The footage shot at night showed one building aflame, and a volley of incoming shells, before a large candescent ball lit up the sky, exploding beside a car park and sending smoke billowing across the compound.    It was not immediately clear who was in control of the plant.
    “Europeans, please wake up. Tell your politicians – Russian troops are shooting at a nuclear power plant in Ukraine,” Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a video address.
    Zelenskiy said Russian tanks had shot at the nuclear reactor plants, though there was no evidence cited that they had been hit.
    The mayor of the nearby town of Energodar about 550 km (342 miles) southeast of Kyiv said fierce fighting and “continuous enemy shelling” had caused casualties in the area, without providing details.
    Thousands of people are believed to have been killed or wounded and more than 1 million refugees have fled Ukraine since Russian President Vladimir Putin last Thursday launched the biggest attack on a European state since World War Two.
    Early reports of the incident at the power plant sent financial markets in Asia spiralling, with stocks tumbling and oil prices surging further. [MKTS/GLOB]
    “Markets are worried about nuclear fallout.    The risk is that there is a miscalculation or over-reaction and the war prolongs,” said Vasu Menon, executive director of investment strategy at OCBC Bank.
    Russia has already captured the defunct Chernobyl plant, about 100 km north of Kyiv, which spewed radioactive waste over much of Europe when it melted down in 1986.    The Zaporizhzhia plant is a different and safer type, some analysts said.
    U.S. President Joe Biden and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson both spoke with Zelenskiy to get an update on the situation at the plant.
    “President Biden joined President Zelenskiy in urging Russia to cease its military activities in the area and allow firefighters and emergency responders to access the site,” the White House said.
    Johnson said Russian forces must immediately quit their attack and agreed with Zelenskiy that a ceasefire was crucial.
    “The prime minister said the reckless actions of President Putin could now directly threaten the safety of all of Europe,” Downing Street said.
    Energy Secretary Granholm said on Twitter the reactors at Zaporizhzhia were “protected by robust containment structures” and were being “safely shut down.”
    The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency said he was “deeply concerned” with the situation at the power plant and was in contact with Ukrainian authorities.
FIGHTING RAGES, SANCTIONS MOUNT
    On Thursday, Russia and Ukraine negotiators agreed to the need for humanitarian corridors to help civilians escape and to deliver medicines and food to the areas where fighting was the fiercest.
    Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said a temporary halt to fighting in select locations was also possible.
    The negotiators will meet again next week, the Belarusian state news agency Belta quoted Podolyak as saying.     Only one Ukrainian city, the southern port of Kherson, has fallen to Russian forces since the invasion was launched on Feb. 24, but Russian forces continue to surround and attack other cities.
    Mariupol, the main port on the Sea of Azov, was surrounded and under heavy bombardment.    Water and power was cut off, and officials say they cannot evacuate the wounded.
    Video posted on Twitter from Mariupol, and verified by Reuters, showed parked vehicles burning while non-stop firing reverberated around surrounding apartment blocks.
    The northeastern city of Kharkiv has been under attack since the start of the invasion, but defenders are holding out in the heavily shelled city.
    While no major assault has been launched on Kyiv, the capital has been shelled, and Russian forces unleashed devastating firepower to break resistance in the outlying town of Borodyanka.
    In Washington, a U.S. defense official said Russian troops were still 25 km (16 miles) from Kyiv city centre. Earlier on Thursday, the British Ministry of Defence said a huge Russia convoy rumbling southwards toward Kyiv, was advancing slowly, partly due to resistance, but also due to logistical issues.
    The United States and Britain announced sanctions on more Russian oligarchs on Thursday, following on from EU measures, as they ratcheted up the pressure on the Kremlin.
    More companies including Alphabet Inc’s Google, footwear giant Nike and Swedish home furnishing firm IKEA shut down or reduced operations in Russia as trade restrictions and supply constraints added to political pressure.
    Sanctions have “had a profound impact already,” Biden said.
    Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a “special operation” that is not designed to occupy territory but to topple the democratically elected government, destroy its neighbour’s military capabilities and capture what it regards as dangerous nationalists.    It denies targeting civilians.
    Russian human rights activist and former world chess champion Garry Kasparov called on Western countries to eject Russia from the global police agency Interpol, and impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine.
    “Russia should be thrown back into the Stone Age to make sure that the oil and gas industry and any other sensitive industries that are vital for survival of the regime cannot function without Western technological support,” Kasparov said.
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk, Natalia Zinets, Aleksandar Vasovic in Ukraine, David Ljunggren in Ottawa and other Reuters bureaux; Writing by Costas Pitas and Lincoln Feast; Editing by Stephen Coates & Simon Cameron-Moore)

3/4/2022 Ukraine Says Russian Forces Seize Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Plant
A general view of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station in Ukraine in this June 12, 2008 file photo. REUTERS/Stringer
    KYIV (Reuters) - Russian military forces have seized the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant – Europe’s largest – in Ukraine’s southeast, the regional state administration said on Friday.
    “Operational personnel are monitoring the condition of power units,” it said on social media, quoting the Ukrainian nuclear inspectorate.
    It said efforts sought to ensure the operations were in line with safety requirements.
    Ukraine has said Russian forces attacked the plant in the early hours of Friday, setting an adjacent five-story training facility on fire.
    U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said on Thursday the reactors at Zaporizhzhia power station “are protected by robust containment structures and reactors are being safely shut down.”
    Granholm said on Twitter she had spoken with Ukraine’s energy minister about the situation at the plant.    She said there was no elevated radiation readings near the facility.
    Ukrainian emergency services said one of six nuclear power units was working as of early Friday.
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Christopher Cushing)

3/4/2022 IAEA Says ‘Essential’ Parts Of Ukraine Nuclear Plant Not Affected
Surveillance camera footage shows a flare landing at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant during shelling in Enerhodar, Zaporizhia Oblast,
Ukraine March 4, 2022, in this screengrab from a video obtained from social media. Zaporizhzhya NPP via YouTube/via REUTERS
    LONDON (Reuters) – Essential equipment at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant was unaffected after a fire there, with no change in radiation levels, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said on Friday, citing the country’s regulatory authorities.
    Ukraine had said the plant in its southeast was shelled overnight, the IAEA added.
    “The Ukraine regulatory authority said a fire at the site had not affected ‘essential’ equipment and plant personnel were taking mitigatory actions,” it said.    “There was no reported change in radiation levels at the plant, it said.”
(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

3/4/2022 Russia Curbs Access To BBC Russian Service And Radio Liberty
FILE PHOTO: A view of the newsroom of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) in Moscow, Russia
April 6, 2021. Picture taken April 6, 2021. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina/File Photo/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) -Russia’s communications watchdog has restricted access to the Russian-language websites of the BBC and Radio Liberty for spreading what it cast as false information about the conflict in Ukraine.
    Russia has repeatedly complained that Western media organisations offer a partial – and often anti-Russian – view of the world while failing to hold their own leaders to account for devastating foreign wars such as Iraq and corruption.
    Western leaders have for years raised concerns about the dominance of state media in Russia and say the freedoms won when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 have been rolled back by President Vladimir Putin.
    Russia’s RIA news agency said access to the websites of BBC Russian service as well as Radio Liberty and the Meduza media outlet were being limited, citing the media watchdog’s official register.
    According to an official notice received on March 3, the Russian communications watchdog said Radio Liberty’s Russian service had spread “obviously fake socially significant information about the alleged Russian attack on Ukrainian territory.”
    “Such information is wrong,” Radio Liberty cited the official notice as saying.
    Describing the situation in Ukraine has become a sensitive issue in Moscow.
    President Putin said the “special military operation” was essential to ensure Russian security after the United States enlarged the NATO military alliance to Russia’s borders and supported pro-Western leaders in Kyiv.
    Russian officials do not use the word “invasion” and say Western media have failed to report on what they cast as the “genocide” of Russian-speaking people in Ukraine.
(Reporting by Moscow bureau; editing by Guy Faulconbridge)

3/4/2022 More Than 167,600 Ukrainians Entered Romania Since Russian Invasion
People who fled from Russia's invasion of Ukraine arrive at the border
crossing in Sighetu Marmatiei, Romania, March 3, 2022. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov
    BUCHAREST (Reuters) – More than 167,600 Ukrainians have fled to Romania in the first eight days since Russia invaded Ukraine, border police data showed on Friday.
    They have entered Romania through its four land border checkpoints with Ukraine, but also through its checkpoints with Moldova, data showed.    Of them, 109,687 have already driven or flown out of Romania.
    Romanian authorities said on Friday they would grant aid in the form of ambulances to Ukraine.
(Reporting by Luiza Ilie)

3/4/2022 Hungary PM Orban Says Sanctions Are “Double-Edged Weapon” – Radio
FILE PHOTO: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban speaks during a news conference following talks with Russian
President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, Russia February 1, 2022. Yuri Kochetkov/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungary has supported European Union sanctions against Russia but its own economy will be also inevitably impacted by them, Prime Minister Viktor Orban told state radio on Friday.
    “Sanctions have a price as it is a double-edged weapon, and we will pay this price in the short term,” Orban said in an interview, adding the government had to work to mitigate the direct damage from the measures against Russia.
(Reporting by Krisztina Than; editing by John Stonestreet)

3/4/2022 Ukraine And Russia: What You Need To Know Right Now
Firefighters walk on debris as a building burns following a Russian strike during Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in Zhytomyr, Ukraine,
March 1, 2022 in this still image taken from video. State Emergency Service of Ukraine/via Reuters TV/Handout via REUTERS
    (Reuters) – Russian forces seized Europe’s biggest nuclear power plant in southeastern Ukraine after fierce fighting which set an adjacent training facility on fire, a local authority said.
* No sign of radiation leak
    Essential equipment at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant was unaffected after the fire, with no change in radiation levels, the International Atomic Energy Agency said.
* ‘Europeans, please wake up’ – Zelenskiy
    Ukrainian President Zelenskiy said Russian tanks had shot at the reactor plants, though there was no evidence cited that they had been hit.    “Europeans, please wake up. Tell your politicians – Russian troops are shooting at a nuclear power plant in Ukraine,” he said in a video message.
* Stop fighting around nuclear plant – Biden
    U.S. President Biden and British Prime Minister Johnson spoke separately with Zelenskiy about the fire. The White House said Biden urged Russia to “cease its military activities in the area and allow firefighters and emergency responders to access the site.”
*One million refugees
    More than 1 million refugees have fled Ukraine in just seven days, the United Nations said.
*‘According to plan,’ Putin says “I want to say that the special military operation is proceeding strictly in line with the timetable.    According to plan.    All the tasks that have been set are being successfully resolved,” he said on television.
* Fake news?
    Russia’s communications watchdog restricted access to BBC Russian service as well as Radio Liberty and the Meduza media outlet, the RIA news agency reported.
*Google pulls ads in Russia
    Google said it had stopped selling online advertising in Russia, a ban that covers search, YouTube and outside publishing partners.    Sneaker maker Nike and home furnishings firm IKEA shut down stores in Russia.
*France’s Macron tells Putin: ‘You are lying to yourself’ – French official In a phone call to French President Macron, Putin reiterated that he was seeking the “de-nazification of Ukraine”. According to a French presidential adviser, Macron replied: “You are lying to yourself.”
*MARKETS: Stocks slide, oil jumps
    Asian equities and the euro weakened while oil prices jumped as investors took fright over reports of the fire at the nuclear plant.
(Editing by Stephen Coates)

3/4/2022 More Than 167,600 Ukrainians Entered Romania Since Russian Invasion
People who fled from Russia's invasion of Ukraine arrive at the border
crossing in Sighetu Marmatiei, Romania, March 3, 2022. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov
    BUCHAREST (Reuters) – More than 167,600 Ukrainians have fled to Romania in the first eight days since Russia invaded Ukraine, border police data showed on Friday.
    They have entered Romania through its four land border checkpoints with Ukraine, but also through its checkpoints with Moldova, data showed.    Of them, 109,687 have already driven or flown out of Romania.
Romanian authorities said on Friday they would grant aid in the form of ambulances to Ukraine.
(Reporting by Luiza Ilie)

3/4/2022 ICC Prosecutor: Team Leaves To Investigate War Crimes In Ukraine
An exterior view of the International Criminal Court in the Hague, Netherlands, March 31, 2021. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw
    THE HAGUE (Reuters) – Investigators from the International Criminal Court set off for “the Ukraine region” on Thursday to start looking into possible war crimes, the tribunal’s top prosecutor said in an interview.
    Karim Khan told Reuters his office would see if there was evidence of war crimes, crimes against humanity and acts of genocide – the offences under the court’s jurisdiction – by all parties in the conflict.
    Asked about reports of artillery strikes in Ukraine’s towns and cities, Khan said: “Any side that targets, directly targets, civilians or civilian objects is committing a crime under the Rome Statute and under international humanitarian law,” referring to the statue that created the court.
    Hundreds of Russian soldiers and Ukrainian civilians have been killed since President Vladimir Putin sent his troops over the border on Feb. 24.
    Russia denies targeting civilians and says its aim is to “disarm” Ukraine and arrest leaders it falsely calls neo-Nazis.
    The International Criminal Court (ICC), which has 123 member states, prosecutes individuals responsible for the worst atrocities when a country is unable or unwilling to do so.
    Neither Russia nor Ukraine are members of the ICC and Moscow does not recognise the tribunal, which opened in The Hague in 2002.
    Ukraine signed a declaration in 2014 giving the court jurisdiction over alleged grave crimes committed on its territory from 2014 onwards regardless of the nationality of the perpetrators.
‘LAW OF WAR’
    “The law of war continues to apply and we have clear jurisdiction,” Khan said.    “This is a reminder to all factions, to all parties to the conflict, that they must conduct themselves in compliance with the laws of war.”
    If war crimes are found to have been committed in Ukraine, Khan said, his office would follow the evidence up the chain of command, to the highest levels of political and military office.
    “Anybody involved in conflict needs to realise they don’t have a licence to commit crimes,” he said.
    The initial prosecution team dispatched on Thursday was made up of investigators, lawyers, and people with particular experience in operational planning, he added.
    Prosecutors have said they will also examine possible crimes in the conflict dating back to Russia’s occupation of the Crimea peninsula in 2014 and the activities of pro-Russian separatists in Donbass.    Khan’s office has previously said it had reasonable grounds to believe violations took place in Ukraine.
    The prosecutor’s 2020 annual report based on preliminary investigations cited suspected killings and torture in Crimea and attacks on civilians, torture, murder and rape in eastern Ukraine.
(Reporting by Anthony Deutsch; Editing by William Maclean, Gareth Jones and Andrew Heavens)

3/4/2022 Underground U.S. Groups Funnel Fighters, Medics To Ukraine by Andrew Hay
Members of the Territorial Defence Forces and volunteers place anti-tank obstacles at a checkpoint, as Russia's invasion of Ukraine
continues, at the Independence Square in central Kyiv, Ukraine March 3, 2022. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
    (Reuters) – A former U.S. military linguist is arming volunteers with Russian phrases like “put your weapon down” before they head to Ukraine to fight.    Another U.S. veteran said he was in Ukraine linking volunteers to groups on the ground.
    They are among organizers from three U.S. online networks Reuters spoke to this week that are creating underground pipelines of military, medical and other volunteers for Ukraine.
    The networks are part of organized efforts to mobilize hundreds of North Americans prepared to fight for Ukraine, as well as thousands of other people across the globe.
    “You can learn a few words and phrases that may potentially save your life,” said the former Army linguist, who identified himself as Tex and was compiling terms in Ukrainian and Russian for combat or in the event of capture.
    The linguist’s training group is helping military veterans brush up on skills like first aid or marksmanship.    Most instruction is online. Some units do physical training together, he said.
    The three groups operate behind layers of security, performing background checks and video interviews over concerns Russian elements are trying to infiltrate and sabotage operations.    Members stress they are private individuals who have no links to the U.S. government or U.S. armed services.
    “There’s been a lot of Russians trying to get in,” said an individual representing one of the groups who identified himself as Checker 1 in a Zoom call.    “If something like this were to be exposed, it would be rather harmful.”
    He said his network had partnered with a Kyiv non-governmental organization to get international volunteers into the country.
    “We work all over Ukraine,” said the U.S. veteran who claimed to be in Ukraine, communicating via the Signal messaging app.
    An organizer for another group said it was interviewing candidates, forming units and matching them with groups in Ukraine.
    Messages from potential volunteers in Liberia, South Africa and the Netherlands came into the network’s online group as the organizer chatted.
    “There is a trickle of volunteers arriving daily and reaching their desired volunteer locations,” said the organizer, who asked not to be named.
BABY WIPES, BODY ARMOR
    Speaking on his Telegram page, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Thursday said 16,000 foreigners have volunteered to fight for Ukraine against Russia’s invasion.    Ukraine has formed an “international legion” for the foreign force.
    Several organizers estimated the number of Canadian and U.S. volunteers heading to Ukraine was still in the dozens rather than hundreds.
    Ukrainian forces are seeking international reinforcement after Russian forces on Friday surrounded and bombarded several cities in the second week of an invasion launched by President Vladimir Putin.
    Of the more than one dozen potential volunteers Reuters spoke to in the United States and Canada, only a third said they had military, law enforcement, medical or conflict-zone experience.
    With limited resources, volunteer networks are focused on training and placement of military veterans in combat roles.
    As well as the networks, there are a host of individuals paying for air travel or offering advice.
    Canadian tech entrepreneur Vish Vadlamani considered fighting then decided he could be more useful sponsoring volunteers and using his software programming skills to help refugees.
    He said he and associates have raised about $20,000 in unused airline credit to cover airfares for volunteers.
    An American has created a 32-page Google document with information ranging from how to enlist in the Ukrainian army to an alphabetical packing list that starts with baby wipes and body armor.
    “I do not recommend that anyone who does not speak Ukrainian or Russian and does not have military experience join the Ukrainian military,” said the man in a video call, who asked that his name not be used, and identified himself as Kiwi.
(Reporting by Andrew Hay in New Mexico; Editing by Donna Bryson and Cynthia Osterman)

3/5/2022 Russian Law On ‘Fake News’ Prompts Media To Halt Reporting As Websites Blocked by Pavel Polityuk and Aleksandar Vasovic
Service members of the Ukrainian armed forces are seen atop of a tank at their positions outside the settlement
of Makariv, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine, near Zhytomyr, Ukraine March 4, 2022. REUTERS/Maksim Levin
    LVIV/KYIV, Ukraine (Reuters) – Russia blocked Facebook and some other websites and passed a law that gave Moscow much stronger powers to crack down on independent journalism, prompting the BBC, Bloomberg and other foreign media to suspend reporting in the country.
    War raged in Ukraine for a 10th day on Saturday as Russian troops besieged and bombarded cities in the biggest attack on a European state since World War Two.
    The fighting has created over 1 million refugees, a barrage of sanctions that are increasingly isolating Moscow and fears in the West of a wider global conflict that has been unthought-of for decades.
    Moscow says its invasion is a “special operation” to capture individuals it regards as dangerous nationalists, and has denied targeting civilians.
    Ukraine’s state service of special communications and protection of information says Russian forces have focussed efforts on encircling Kyiv and Kharkiv, the second-biggest city, while aiming to establish a land bridge to Crimea.
    Kyiv, in the path of a Russian armoured column that has been stalled outside the Ukrainian capital for days, came under renewed assault, with explosions audible from the city centre.
    Ukrainian media outlet Suspilne cited authorities in Sumy, about 300 km (190 miles) east of Kyiv, as saying that there is a risk of fighting in the city’s streets, urging residents to stay in shelters.
    Russian forces also have encircled and shelled the southeastern port city of Mariupol – a key prize.    There is no water, heat or electricity and food is running out, according to Mayor Vadym Boychenko.
    “We are simply being destroyed,” he said.
    President Vladimir Putin’s actions have drawn almost universal condemnation, and many countries have imposed heavy sanctions as the West balances punishment with avoiding a widening of the conflict.
    Fighting back in the information war, Russia’s parliament passed a law on Friday imposing a prison term of up to 15 years for spreading intentionally “fake” news about the military.
    “This law will force punishment – and very tough punishment – on those who lied and made statements which discredited our armed forces,” said Vyacheslav Volodin, the chairman of the Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament.
    Russia is blocking Facebook for restricting state-backed channels and the websites of the BBC, Deutsche Welle and Voice of America.
    CNN and CBS News said they would stop broadcasting in Russia, and other outlets removed Russian-based journalists’ bylines as they assessed the situation.
MORE SANCTIONS ON THE WAY?
    Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy is expected to press Washington for more help in a Zoom call with the full U.S. Senate at 9:30 a.m. ET (1430 GMT) on Saturday.
    The United States is weighing cuts to imports of Russian oil and ways to minimise the impact on global supplies and consumers as lawmakers fast-track a bill that would ban Russian energy imports.    Global oil prices surged over 20% this week on fears of supply shortages, posing a risk to global economic growth.
    At a meeting on Friday, NATO allies rejected Ukraine’s appeal for no-fly zones, saying they were increasing support but that stepping in directly could make the situation worse.
    “We have a responsibility … to prevent this war from escalating beyond Ukraine because that would be even more dangerous, more devastating and would cause even more human suffering,” said NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.
    Zelenskiy slammed the summit as “weak” and “confused.”
    “It was clear that not everyone considers the battle for Europe’s freedom to be the number one goal,” he said.
    More EU sanctions were coming, potentially including a ban on Russian-flagged ships in European ports and blocking imports of steel, timber, aluminium or coal, said Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney.
    Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu told U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Friday that talks with Ukraine on peacefully ending the conflict had “not moved from the starting point,” Tass news agency said.
HUMANITARIAN DISASTER
    A humanitarian disaster is unfolding, with more than 1 million people seeking refuge in western Ukraine and in neighbouring countries.
    Thousands of people waited for hours on Friday outside the railway station at the western city of Lviv to board trains heading to Poland.    Families arrived with few belongings.    Some were in wheelchairs, others accompanied by pet dogs and cats, uncertain about their fate.
    “All we took with us is the bare necessities,” said Yana Tebyakina.    “A change of clothes.    That’s it.    All the rest we left behind, all our lives stayed back at home.”
    A Friday attack on the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the largest in Europe, about 140 miles (230 km) west of Mariupol, brought the conflict to a perilous moment, but officials later said the facility was safe.
    The plant and adjacent territory were now being guarded by Russian troops, Moscow’s envoy to the United Nations said.
    The U.S. ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said the world had narrowly averted a nuclear catastrophe.
    The attack reflected a “dangerous new escalation” in Russia’s invasion, she said during an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting, demanding assurances from Moscow that such an assault would not happen again.
    Russian forces have made their biggest advances in the south, where they captured their first sizeable Ukrainian city, Kherson, this week.    Bombing has worsened in recent days in the northeast cities of Kharkiv and Chernihiv.
    Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said an advance had been halted on the southern port of Mykolayiv.    If captured, the city of 500,000 people would be the biggest yet to fall.
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk, Natalia Zinets, Aleksandar Vasovic in Ukraine, John Irish in Paris, Francois Murphy in Vienna, David Ljunggren in Ottawa and other Reuters bureaux; Writing by Peter Graff, Angus MacSwan, Costas Pitas and Kim Coghill; Editing by Frances Kerry, Jon Boyle, Toby Chopra, Daniel Wallis and William Mallard)

3/5/2022 Analysis-Russian Attacks Spur Debate About Nuclear Power As Climate Fix by Timothy Gardner
FILE PHOTO: A general view of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station
in Ukraine in this June 12, 2008 file photo. REUTERS/Stringer
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Russia’s takeover of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant in Ukraine should spur companies and policymakers to be more careful in plans to build reactors to fight climate change, nuclear safety experts said on Friday.
    Russian forces seized the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine on Friday after heavy fighting sparked a huge blaze in a training building at the site.    The fire was extinguished and officials said the facility was safe.
    But the seizure, a week after Russian troops took over Ukraine’s defunct but still radioactive Chernobyl plant, triggered global alarm about vulnerabilities of nuclear energy to wartime attacks that could unleash deadly radiation.
    “You have to take more seriously the need to ensure protection in nuclear plants, not only for natural disasters, but also for manmade ones,” said Edwin Lyman, the director of nuclear power safety at the Union for Concerned scientists.
    Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, told an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Friday that the attack on Zaporizhzhia was “incredibly reckless and dangerous.    And it threatened the safety of civilians across Russia, Ukraine and Europe.”
    The U.S. Embassy in Ukraine called the Russian assault on the plant a “war crime.”
    Henry Sokolski, head of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, a nonprofit group, said the attack struck a blow to the nuclear power industry as a whole:
    “The nuclear reactor in Ukraine didn’t take a hit last night as big as nuclear power will if officials factor in the military vulnerability of these machines,” he said.
RACE TO NUCLEAR
    Plans to develop nuclear power, which generates electricity while emitting virtually no greenhouse gases, have accelerated in recent years as governments pledge to fight global warming.
    There are now 58 reactors under construction and 325 proposed around the globe, according to the World Nuclear Association. Many proposed plants are in Eastern Europe.
    The White House said in November that U.S. company NuScale Power LLC had inked plans with Romania to build a small modular reactor (SMR) plant, adding the agreement positioned “U.S. technology to lead in the global race for SMR deployment.”
    Last month NuScale, majority owned by construction and engineering company Fluor Corp, signed an agreement with Polish company KGHM Polska to build another small modular reactor plant in Poland by 2029 as part of an effort to reduce dependence on coal, which emits large amounts of carbon dioxide and lung-damaging soot when burned.
    NuScale also signed an agreement in December with Kazakhstan Nuclear Power Plants LLP (KNPP) to explore the deployment of the power plants in that country.
    Diane Hughes, a NuScale spokesperson, said the Zaporizhzhia “incident once again highlights the fact that nuclear energy plants have robust, resilient and redundant safety features” and that its technology is even safer.
    And in January, Westinghouse Electric Co signed cooperation agreements with 10 Polish companies for the possible construction of six AP1000 conventional nuclear reactors.    It also signed a memo with Rafako SA on the possibility of developing nuclear plants in Ukraine, Slovenia and the Czech Republic.
    Cathy Mann, a Westinghouse spokesperson, said “nuclear energy is a safe, carbon-free source in Ukraine and around the world.”
    Third Way, a Washington-based think tank that supports nuclear power, said the severity of climate change means the world must rapidly increase nuclear energy in the next few decades despite the risks.
    “No energy source is entirely without risk,” said Josh Freed, the group’s senior vice president for climate and energy.    “If (Russia President Vladimir) Putin wants to kill countless people by blowing up a dam or attacking a nuclear plant, he could do it.    But the fact is … nuclear plants are incredibly safe,” Freed said.
Others disagree.
    Lyman from UCS dismissed as “glib talk” contentions that new nuclear reactors will be “so safe and they can be deployed, essentially anywhere in the world with minimal protection.”
    The Nuclear Energy Institute, the U.S. industry group, told Reuters it believes nuclear reactors are safe and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine only reinforces the need for Europe to expand its nuclear energy capacity.
    Russia is currently a major supplier of natural gas to Europe’s power plants.
    “We expect that the tragic events of the past weeks will only increase interest in working with the United States on next-generation nuclear energy deployment,” said John Kotek, senior vice president of policy development and public affairs at NEI.
(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Additional reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by David Gregorio and William Mallard)

3/5/2022 Russian Law On ‘Fake News’ Prompts Media To Halt Reporting As Websites Blocked by Pavel Polityuk and Aleksandar Vasovic
Firefighters extinguish fire at a warehouse that caught flames, according to local authorities, after shelling, as Russia's invasion
of Ukraine continues, in the village of Chaiky in the Kyiv region, Ukraine March 3, 2022. REUTERS/Serhii Nuzhnenko
    LVIV, Ukraine/KYIV (Reuters) – Russia blocked Facebook and some other websites on Friday and passed a law that gave Moscow much stronger powers to crack down on independent journalism, prompting the BBC, Bloomberg and other foreign media to suspend reporting in the country.
    Moscow’s attack on Ukraine, the biggest on a European state since World War Two, has created over 1 million refugees, a barrage of sanctions and fears of a global economic hit and wider conflict in the West unthought-of for decades.
    Fighting was raging in Ukraine as Russian troops besieged and bombarded cities in the second week of an invasion that has isolated Moscow, which says its attack is a “special operation” to capture individuals it regards as dangerous nationalists.
    Kyiv, in the path of a Russian armoured column that has been stalled outside the Ukrainian capital for days, came under renewed assault, with explosions audible from the city centre.    Europe’s biggest nuclear power plant had also been seized.
    The southeastern port city of Mariupol – a key prize for the Russian forces – has been encircled and shelled.    There is no water, heat or electricity and it is running out of food after five days under attack, according to Mayor Vadym Boychenko.
    “We are simply being destroyed,” he said.
    Putin’s actions have drawn almost universal condemnation and many countries have imposed heavy sanctions as the West balances punishment with avoiding a widening of the conflict.
    Fighting back in the information war, Russia’s parliament passed a law imposing a prison term of up to 15 years for spreading intentionally “fake” news about the military.
    “This law will force punishment – and very tough punishment – on those who lied and made statements which discredited our armed forces,” the chairman of the Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament, Vyacheslav Volodin said.
    Russia is blocking Facebook for restricting state-backed channels and the websites of the BBC, Deutsche Welle and Voice of America.
    The BBC, Bloomberg News and other foreign media said they would temporarily suspend the work of their journalists in Russia while they assessed the situation.
    A glut of global brands have halted operations or exited completely while shipping and supply chain issues have made it difficult to work in Russia.
    French luxury fashion house Chanel said on Friday it is halting all business in Russia while tech giant Microsoft is suspending sales of its products and services.
    Samsung Electronics said it was suspending shipments to Russia and donating $6 million to support humanitarian efforts.
‘DANGEROUS NEW ESCALATION’
    As the battle between Russia and the West escalates on a number of fronts, the United States has warned the conflict in Ukraine is a threat to the rules-based order.     But at a meeting on Friday, NATO allies rejected Ukraine’s appeal for no-fly zones, saying they were increasing support but that stepping in directly could make the situation worse.     “We have a responsibility… to prevent this war from escalating beyond Ukraine because that would be even more dangerous, more devastating and would cause even more human suffering,” said NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.
    Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy slammed the summit as “weak” and “confused.”    “It was clear that not everyone considers the battle for Europe’s freedom to be the number one goal,” he said.
    He will participate in a Zoom call with the U.S. Senate on Saturday.
    A humanitarian disaster is also unfolding, with more than one million people seeking refuge in western Ukraine and in neighbouring countries.
    An attack on the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the largest in Europe, about 140 miles (225 km) west of Mariupol, brought the conflict to a perilous moment.
    As shells hit the area, a training building caught fire – triggering a spasm of alarm around the world before the blaze was extinguished and officials said the facility was safe.
    The U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said the world had narrowly averted a nuclear catastrophe.
    The attack reflected a “dangerous new escalation” in Russia’s invasion, she said during an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting, warning that “imminent danger” persisted and demanding assurances from Moscow that such an assault will not happen again.
    An official at Energoatom, the Ukrainian state nuclear plant operator, told Reuters fighting had ceased and radiation levels were normal.    But his organisation no longer had contact with the plant’s managers or control over its nuclear material, he said.
    International Atomic Energy Agency chief Raphael Grossi said the plant was undamaged from what he believed was a Russian projectile.    Only one of its six reactors was working, at around 60% of capacity.
    Russia’s defence ministry also said the plant was working normally.    It blamed the fire on an attack by Ukrainian saboteurs and said its forces were in control.
    The plant and adjacent territory were now being guarded by Russian troops, Moscow’s envoy to the United Nations said.
DEFENDING KYIV
    Moscow denies targeting civilians in Ukraine and says its aim is to disarm its neighbour, counter what it views as NATO aggression and capture leaders it calls neo-Nazis.
    Ukraine and its Western allies call that a baseless pretext for a war to conquer a country of 44 million people.
    More EU sanctions were coming, potentially including a ban on Russian-flagged ships in European ports and blocking imports of steel, timber, aluminium or coal, said Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney.
    The United States is weighing cuts to imports of Russian oil and ways to minimize the impact on global supplies and consumers as lawmakers fast-track a bill that would ban Russian energy imports entirely.
    In Kyiv’s Borshchahivka neighbourhood, the twisted engine of a cruise missile lay in the street where it had apparently been downed overnight by Ukrainian air defences.
    Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said an advance had been halted on the southern port of Mykolayiv.    If captured, the city of 500,000 people would be the biggest yet to fall.
    Russian forces have made their biggest advances in the south, where they captured their first sizeable Ukrainian city, Kherson, this week.    Bombing has worsened in recent days in the northeast cities of Kharkiv and Chernihiv.
    Ukrainians have been fleeing west, many crowding into Lviv near the Polish border.
    James Elder of the United Nations children’s agency said doctors in Lviv were preparing a system to identify children in case of mass casualties.
    “A green dot means fine over here, a yellow dot means critical support.    They are learning a black dot means the child won’t make it,” he said.
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk, Natalia Zinets, Aleksandar Vasovic in Ukraine, John Irish in Paris, Francois Murphy in Vienna, David Ljunggren in Ottawa and other Reuters bureaux; Writing by Peter Graff, Angus MacSwan and Costas Pitas; Editing by Frances Kerry, Jon Boyle, Toby Chopra and Daniel Wallis)

3/6/2022 More Ukrainians Flee, As U.N. Says Health Centres Hit During Russian Assault by Pavel Polityuk and Aleksandar Vasovic
A child looks on board a bus that will take her and her family to a nearby city, after fleeing from Ukraine to Romania,
following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, at the border crossing in Siret, Romania, March 5, 2022. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne
    LVIV/KYIV, Ukraine (Reuters) -The number of refugees fleeing Ukraine was expected to reach 1.5 million on Sunday as Kyiv pressed the West to toughen sanctions and deliver more weapons to repel Russia’s attack now in its 11th day.
    Ukrainian police said there was relentless Russian shelling and air raids in the northeast Kharkiv region, reporting many casualties, while the U.N. World Health Organization said there had been several attacks on Ukrainian healthcare facilities.
    Moscow and Kyiv have traded blame over Saturday’s failed ceasefire to allow civilians to flee Mariupol and Volnovakha, two southern cities besieged by Russian forces.    Ukraine said more talks were set for Monday, but Russia was less definitive.
    People who have been able escape Ukraine spilled into neighbouring Poland, Romania, Slovakia and elsewhere, Ukrainian Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy called on those in areas occupied by Russian troops to fight.
    “We must go outside and drive this evil out of our cities,” he said in an address on Saturday night.
    British military intelligence said on Sunday that Russian forces were targeting populated areas in Ukraine, comparing the tactics to those Russia used in Chechnya in 1999 and Syria in 2016.    But it said Ukrainian resistance was slowing the advance.
    “The scale and strength of Ukrainian resistance continue to surprise Russia,” British military intelligence said.
    Russia has repeatedly denied targeting civilian areas.
    “Attacks on healthcare facilities or workers breach medical neutrality and are violations of international humanitarian law,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus wrote on Twitter, saying WHO had confirmed attacks on “several” healthcare centres, causing multiple deaths and injuries.
    He made no mention of Russia in his tweet.
    Russian President Vladimir Putin, who launched what he calls a “special military operation” on Feb. 24, reiterated that he wanted a neutral Ukraine that had been “demilitarised” and “denazified.”    He likened Western sanctions “to a declaration of war,” adding: “Thank God it has not come to that.”
    Ukraine and Western countries have decried Putin’s reasons as a baseless pretext for the invasion and have imposed sweeping sanctions aimed at isolating Moscow and crippling its economy.
SANCTIONS AND WEAPONS
    Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, after meeting U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the Ukraine-Poland border, said he expected new sanctions and weapons for Ukraine in coming days.
    The United States has promised to send more weapons and has said it could escalate sanctions.    President Joe Biden has sought $10 billion in emergency funding to respond to the crisis.
    Washington is working with Poland as Warsaw considers whether to provide fighter jets to Ukraine, the White House said.
    Zelenskiy asked for help securing aircraft from European allies in a video call with U.S. lawmakers.    He again called for more lethal aid, a ban on Russian oil, a no-fly zone and an end to Visa Inc and MasterCard Inc privileges in Russia, U.S. media reported.
    Visa and Mastercard later said they would suspend credit card operations in Russia, the latest in a dramatic series of corporate pullbacks over the invasion.
    NATO, which Ukraine wants to join, has resisted Zelenskiy’s appeals to impose a no-fly zone over his country, saying it would escalate the conflict outside Ukraine.
    Seeking to mediate, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met Putin at the Kremlin on Saturday and later spoke to Zelenskiy.
    “We continue dialogue,” Zelenskiy tweeted after the call.
    Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan is expected to talk with Putin on Sunday.    Turkey, a NATO member, shares a maritime border with Ukraine and Russia in the Black Sea.
    Russia told the EU and NATO to stop the “pumping of state-of-the-art weapons systems” into Kyiv, foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said, according to RIA.
    Russian media cited an unidentified source on Sunday as saying Ukraine was close to building a plutonium-based “dirty bomb” nuclear weapon, although the source cited no evidence.
‘SEVERE IMPACT’
    Shortly before the invasion, Putin had said Ukraine was using Soviet know-how to create its own nuclear weapons, and that this was tantamount to preparation for an attack on Russia.
    Ukraine’s government has said it had no plans to rejoin the nuclear club, after giving up its nuclear arms in 1994 following the break-up of the Soviet Union.
    The International Monetary Fund warned the conflict would have a “severe impact” on the global economy, driving up energy and grain prices.    It said it would weigh Kyiv’s request for $1.4 billion in emergency financing as early as this week.
    Ukraine’s military said more than 11,000 Russian troops had been killed so far and 88 Russian aircraft shot down.    Reuters could not corroborate the claim.
    In Mariupol, encircled by Russian forces and shelled for days, the situation was grim, with no power or water.
    “We can’t collect all the bodies on the street,” Deputy Mayor Sergei Orlov told CNN, saying it was impossible to count civilian deaths there.
    Medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres said it was rushing more emergency supplies to Ukraine as hospitals faced shortages.
    More than 350 civilians have been killed, according to the U.N. rights office, with hundreds more injured.
    Heavy shelling was heard in the background as residents of Volnovakha tried to flee.
    “Help us if you can, we all want to live, we have kids, husbands, we are mothers and fathers, we are also people,” said one local, Larisa.    “Where shall I go?
    The mayor of the western city of Lviv said more than 65,000 refugees passed through its train station on Friday alone.
    The U.N. refugee agency estimated the number of refugees could swell to 4 million by July.
    Demonstrations were planned on Sunday in Washington and elsewhere after jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny called for worldwide protests on March 6 against the war. Protests were held in Chile, Paris and Israel on Saturday.
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk, Natalia Zinets, Aleksandar Vasovic in Ukraine, Simon Lewis at the Polish-Ukraine border; Olzhas Auyezov in Almaty, Matthias Williams in Medyka, Guy Faulconbridge and William Schomberg in London, John Irish in Paris, Francois Murphy in Vienna, David Ljunggren in Ottawa, Jarret Renshaw, Idrees Ali and Daphne Psaledakis in Washington and other Reuters bureaus; Writing by Susan Heavey and Kim Coghill; Editing by William Mallard and Edmund Blair)

3/6/2022 “They’re So Young”: Residents Of Ukrainian Orphanage Flee To Safety by Andrew R.C. Marshall
A group of children evacuated from an orphanage in Zaporizhzhia wait to board a bus for their transfer to Poland after
fleeing the ongoing Russian invasion at the main train station in Lviv, Ukraine, March 5, 2022. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach
    LVIV, Ukraine (Reuters) – More than 200 children evacuated from an orphanage in Ukraine’s conflict zone arrived in the western city of Lviv on Saturday after a 24-hour train journey with their carers.
    The 215 children, ranging from toddlers to teenagers, left their orphanage in Zaporizhzhia, in southeast Ukraine, on the day Russian troops attacked a nearby nuclear power station.
    “My heart is being torn apart,” said Olha Kucher, director of the Zaporizhzhia Central Christian Orphanage.    Then she started sobbing.    “I’m sorry . . . I simply lack words.    And I feel so sorry for these children.    They’re so young.”
    As night fell and the temperature plunged, the children waited patiently on a platform at Lviv train station, the older ones looking after the young, while orphanage staff carefully counted them all.     The very young clutched cuddly toys.    None of the children cried or complained.
    Vladimir Kovtun, 16, said he felt safe now.    “It is terrifying to stay in Zaporizhzhia when air raid sirens go off and we must constantly hide in the basement.”
    Wide-eyed and hand in hand, the children were led through a ticket hall mobbed with other Ukrainians.    More than 65,000 refugees passed through the station on Friday alone, according to Lviv mayor Andriy Sadovy.
    Then, as snow began to fall, the children boarded a fleet of buses bound for their new home in neighbouring Poland.
    It would be several hours before they crossed the border.    For Kucher, the orphanage director, the prospect of safety for her children after so fraught a journey unleashed a mix of emotions: sadness, relief and rage.
    “We don’t want to leave Ukraine – we love it,” she said.    “But unfortunately we must leave.”
    As the last of the children climbed on the buses, Kucher added: “Putin is simply killing people . . . I don’t understand why the Russian people can’t believe that we’re being bombarded – that we and our children are being killed.”
(Reporting by Andrew R.C. Marshall; Editing by Kim Coghill)

3/6/2022 Ukraine Says Over 11,000 Russian Troops Killed In War
Ukrainian servicemen walk by a damaged vehicle, at the site of a fighting with Russian troops, after Russia launched
a massive military operation against Ukraine, in Kyiv, Ukraine February 26, 2022. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
    (Reuters) – More than 11,000 Russian troops have been killed since Moscow launched an invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, the Ukrainian armed forces’ general staff said on Sunday.
    A day earlier, it put Russian casualties at over 10,000.    It did not report Ukrainian casualties.
(Reporting by Natalia Zinets;Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)

3/6/2022 Ukraine And Russia: What You Need To Know Right Now
FILE PHOTO: Service members of pro-Russian troops in uniforms without insignia drive tanks during Ukraine-Russia conflict
on the outskirts of the separatist-controlled city of Donetsk, Ukraine March 5, 2022. REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko
    (Reuters) – The number of Ukrainian refugees was expected to reach 1.5 million on Sunday as Russia continued its attack for an 11th day, and President Putin said Western sanctions were akin to a declaration of war.
* Talk of fighter jets for Ukraine
    After Ukrainian President Zelenskiy asked U.S. lawmakers for help securing aircraft from European allies, the White House said Washington was working with Poland as it considers providing fighter jets.    The United States could replenish Poland’s supply, although challenges remain given the contested airspace.
* Russian credit maxes out
    Visa and Mastercard, also following a request from Zelenskiy, said they were suspending operations in Russia and would work with clients and partners to cease all transactions there, the latest in an dramatic series of government sanctions and corporate punishment of Russia.
* Shuttle diplomacyIsraeli
    Prime Minister Bennett, flying to Moscow on the Sabbath, became the first world leader to meet face to face with Putin since he launched the invasion.    He then spoke with Zelenskiy in an attempt to mediate an end to the war in coordination with the United States, France and Germany.
* Basketball star caught up
    Seven-time WNBA All-Star and two-time Olympic gold medallist Brittney Griner was detained in Moscow last month for possession of vape cartridges containing hash oil, TASS news agency said.    Russia said it had detained a U.S. player.    The centre’s team, Phoenix Mercury did not mention the circumstances but said: “We love and support Brittney and at this time our main concern is her safety, physical and mental health, and her safe return home.”
*Escaping the war zone in trains
    Thousands of women and children, many weeping and numb with exhaustion, arrived in Lviv in western Ukraine as the state railway put on more trains to rescue people from fierce Russian attacks on eastern cities.
*"QUOTES”
    "Help us if you can, we all want to live, we have kids, husbands, we are mothers and fathers, we are also people,” said Volnovakha resident Larisa as she tried to flee the fighting.    “Where shall I go?    What’s on me and a bag of things is all I got.    That’s all I have.”
*COMING UP
    Putin is to meet on Sunday with Turkish President Erdogan, whose country, a NATO member, shares a maritime border with Ukraine and Russia.    Ukraine said a third round of ceasefire talks with Russia would go ahead on Monday; Moscow was less definitive.
(Compiled by William Mallard)

3/6/2022 Ukraine’s Mariupol Says Civilian Evacuation Under Ceasefire Will Start At Midday
A view shows a residential building, which locals said was damaged by
recent shelling, in Mariupol, Ukraine February 26, 2022. REUTERS/Nikolay Ryabchenko
    LVIV, Ukraine (Reuters) – The city council of Ukraine’s Mariupol said an evacuation of some of 400,000 residents trapped by encircling Russian forces would start at 12:00 p.m. local time (1000 GMT) on Sunday under a temporary ceasefire that will last till 9:00 p.m.
    A similar plan had to be abandoned on Saturday after the ceasefire was not fully observed, with both sides trading blame.
(Reporting by Natalia Zinets; Writing by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Catherine Evans)

3/7/2022 Ukraine Decries ‘Immoral’ Stunt After Moscow Says It Will Let Civilians Flee – To Russia
A man walks in front of a building damaged by recent shelling during Ukraine-Russia
conflict in Kharkiv, Ukraine March 6, 2022. REUTERS/Oleksandr Lapshyn
    LVIV/KYIV, Ukraine (Reuters) – Russia announced new “humanitarian corridors” on Monday to transport Ukrainians trapped under its bombardment – to Russia itself and its ally Belarus, a move immediately dismissed by Kyiv as an immoral stunt.
    The announcement came after two days of failed ceasefires to let civilians escape the besieged city of Mariupol, where hundreds of thousands of people are trapped without food and water, under relentless bombardment and unable to evacuate their wounded.
    The new “corridors” would be opened at 10 a.m. Moscow time (0700 GMT) from the capital Kyiv and the eastern cities of Kharkiv and Sumy, as well as Mariupol, Russia’s defence ministry said.
    According to maps published by the RIA news agency, the corridor from Kyiv would lead to Belarus, while civilians from Kharkiv would be permitted to go only to Russia.    Russia would also mount an airlift to take Ukrainians from Kyiv to Russia, the ministry said.
    “Attempts by the Ukrainian side to deceive Russia and the whole civilised world … are useless this time,” the ministry said.
    A spokesperson for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy called the move “completely immoral” and said Russia was trying to “use people’s suffering to create a television picture
    “They are citizens of Ukraine, they should have the right to evacuate to the territory of Ukraine,” the spokesperson told Reuters.
    “This is one of the problems that is causing the humanitarian corridors to break down.    They seem to agree to them, but they themselves want to supply humanitarian aid for a picture on TV, and want the corridors to lead in their direction.”
    Russia’s invasion has been condemned around the world, sent more than 1.5 million Ukrainians fleeing abroad, and triggered sweeping sanctions that have isolated Russia in a way never before experienced by such a large economy.
    Russia denies deliberately targeting civilians.    It calls the campaign it launched on Feb. 24 a “special military operation” to disarm Ukraine and arrest leaders it calls neo-Nazis.    Ukraine and its Western allies say this a transparent pretext for an invasion to conquer a nation of 44 million people.
    Oil prices soared to their highest levels since 2008 in Asian trade after the Biden administration said it was exploring banning imports of Russian oil.    Russia provides 7% of global supply and Russian oil accounts for about 8% of U.S. crude imports.
    Japan, which counts Russia as its fifth-biggest supplier of crude oil, is also in discussion with the United States and European countries about possibly banning Russian oil imports, Kyodo News reported on Monday.
    Europe relies on Russia for crude oil and natural gas but has become more open to the idea of banning Russian products, a source familiar with the discussions told Reuters.
    The general staff of Ukraine’s armed forces said Russian forces were “beginning to accumulate resources for the storming of Kyiv,” a city of more than 3 million, after days of slow progress in their main advance south from Belarus.
    While Russia’s advance in the north on Kyiv has been stalled for days with an armoured column stretching for miles along a highway, it has had more success in the south, pushing east and west along the Black and Azov Sea coasts.
    About 200,000 people remained trapped in Mariupol, most sleeping underground to escape more than six days of shelling by Russian forces that has cut off food, water, power and heating, according to the Ukrainian authorities.
    About half of the people in the city were due to be evacuated on Sunday, but that effort was aborted for a second day when a ceasefire plan collapsed as the sides accused each other of failing to stop shooting and shelling.
    Ukrainian authorities said on Monday the southern city of Mykolayiv was being shelled.    Zelenskiy has warned that Russia’s next big target could be Odessa, an historic Black Sea port of 1 million people.
‘NO PEACEFUL PLACE ON THIS EARTH’
    The official U.N. civilian death toll from hostilities across Ukraine is 364, including more than 20 children, though officials acknowledge this probably represents a fraction of the true toll.
    Russia has acknowledged nearly 500 deaths among its soldiers.    Ukraine says the true toll many thousands.    Death tolls cannot be verified, but footage widely filmed across Ukraine shows bombed out wreckage of Russian armoured columns and Ukrainian cities reduced to rubble by Russian strikes.
    U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States had seen credible reports of deliberate attacks on civilians and was documenting them to support a potential war crimes investigation.
    Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy warned Russians who committed atrocities against civilians they would face punishment.
    “For you there will be no peaceful place on this earth, except for the grave,” he said in a televised evening address.
    As anti-war protests took place around the world, Ukraine renewed its appeal to the West to toughen sanctions and also requested more weapons, including Russian-made planes.
    Blinken said the United States was considering how it could backfill aircraft for Poland if it decided to supply its warplanes to Ukraine.
(Reporting by Reuters bureaus; Writing by Humeyra Pamuk, Stephen Coates, Peter Graff; Editing by Lincoln Feast, Robert Birsel, Raju Gopalakrishnan and Tomasz Janowski)

3/7/2022 ‘Putin Will Not Stop In Ukraine’, Lithuanian President Warns Blinken by Simon Lewis
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken attends a meeting with Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda (not pictured) at
the "Presidentura" presidential palace in Vilnius, Lithuania March 7, 2022. Olivier Douliery/Pool via REUTERS
    VILNIUS (Reuters) – Lithuania’s President Gitanas Nauseda on Monday warned Washington’s top diplomat Antony Blinken that a failure to stop Russia’s aggression in Ukraine would lead to a global conflict.
    Addressing the U.S. secretary of state as he began a tour of Baltic states, Nauseda said Russian leader Vladimir Putin “will not stop in Ukraine” and that the world had an obligation to help Ukrainians “by all means available.”
    “I mean indeed all means if we want to avoid the Third World War.    The choice is in our hands,” he said.
    NATO member Lithuania has sent military aid to Ukraine and welcomed small numbers of Ukrainian refugees since Russia’s invasion began on Feb. 24.
    Blinken was set to visit neighboring Latvia and Estonia on Monday and Tuesday.
    Belarus, which borders Lithuania and Latvia, allowed Russia to launch the assault from its territory after it had its troops stationed there for weeks under the guise of joint military exercises.
    Blinken met Nauseda before talks with Lithuania’s foreign minister and prime minister.
    The top U.S. diplomat earlier told staff of the U.S. embassy in Vilnius that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine challenged basic principles designed to keep the peace between nations.
    “It’s important that people understand what’s actually at stake and it goes beyond even Ukraine, beyond even the Baltic countries, beyond even Europe,” Blinken said.
    Some diplomats assigned to the U.S. embassy in Belarus are also in Vilnius after the mission was closed over security concerns last week.
    Belarus last year barred Ambassador Julie Fisher from taking her post and told Washington to cut its embassy staff in response to U.S. sanctions after Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko’s crushing of protests in 2020.
    Introducing Blinken, Fisher said U.S. diplomats in Minsk had welcomed the families of political prisoners into their homes to show U.S. support.
    “Unfortunately, the (Belarusian) regime has been tirelessly writing new chapters of the authoritarian’s playbook,” Fisher said.    She brought up how last year Belarus forced a passenger jet to land so it could arrest a dissident and engineered a refugee crisis on Poland’s border, and its support for Russia’s invasion.
    NATO countries have ramped up their presence in the Baltic nations in recent weeks and more troops and equipment are on the way, policy makers have announced.
(Reporting by Simon Lewis, additional reporting by Andrius Sytas, editing by Terje Solsvik and Tomasz Janowski)

3/7/2022 Ukraine And Russia: What You Need To Know Right Now
FILE PHOTO: A man and a child escape from the town of Irpin, after heavy shelling on the only escape route used by locals, while Russian
troops advance towards the capital of Kyiv, in Irpin, near Kyiv, Ukraine March 6, 2022. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
    (Reuters) – Russia announced new “humanitarian corridors” to transport Ukrainians trapped under its bombardment – to Russia itself and its ally Belarus, a move immediately dismissed by Kyiv as an immoral stunt.
* Russian promise on corridors
    Russian military will cease fire and open six humanitarian corridors in several Ukrainian cities including the capital Kyiv from 10 a.m.    Moscow time (0700 GMT), Russia’s defence ministry said.
    Ukrainian warned that Moscow was trying to manipulate French President Emmanuel Macron and other Western leaders by demanding evacuation routes leading into Russian or Belarusian territory.
* More talks
    A Russian delegation has departed for Belarus where it will meet Ukrainian negotiators for the third round of talks about ending hostilities, the Sputnik Belarus news outlet reported.
* Separatist offensive in Mariupol
    Pro-Russian separatists have carried out an offensive in the southern Ukrainian port city of Mariupol on Sunday and fighting took place mostly in the western part of the city, Russia’s defence ministry said on Monday.
* Blinken in Baltics, Lithuania issues warning
    Lithuania’s President Gitanas Nauseda warned U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken that a failure to stop Russia’s aggression in Ukraine would lead to a global conflict.
    Vladimir Putin “will not stop in Ukraine,” Nauseda told Blinken in Vilnius.
* Russia shuns U.N. court hearing
    Russia on Monday boycotted hearings at the U.N.’s highest court during which Ukraine will argue that Moscow has falsely applied genocide law in justifying its invasion and will seek an emergency order halting hostilities.
* China is a “rock solid” friend
    China’s Red Cross will provide humanitarian aid to Ukraine “as soon as possible,” Foreign Minister Wang Yi said, as he hailed China’s friendship with Russia as “rock solid.”
* Australia presses China
    China must act on its declarations of promoting world peace and join the effort to stop Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Australia’s prime minister said, warning that the world was in danger of being reshaped by an “arc of autocracy.”
* Japan in talks on oil
    Japan, which counts Russia as its fifth-biggest supplier of crude oil, is in discussion with the United States and European countries about possibly banning Russian oil imports, Kyodo News reported.
* Fleeing conflict
    As many as five million Ukrainians are expected to flee from their country if Russia’s bombing of Ukraine continues, the EU’s top diplomat said.
* ’No war’ protests in Russia
    Police detained 5,020 people at Russia-wide protests against President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, according to an independent protest monitoring group.
* Rouble trouble
    Russia’s rouble tumbled to a fresh record low in thin offshore trade with local markets closed for trading until at least Wednesday.
* Sporting rebuke
    Putin and a Russian businessman Arkady Rotenberg have been removed from all positions in the International Judo Federation, the sport’s governing body said, in the latest sporting rebuke following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
* QUOTES
    “In Ukraine rivers of blood and tears are flowing.    This is not only a military operation but a war which is leading to death, destruction and misery,” said Pope Francis, rejecting the term “military operation” that Russia has used to describe its actions.
    “My heart is being torn apart,” said Olha Kucher, director of the Zaporizhzhia Central Christian Orphanage after evacuating more than 200 children from the southwestern city.    “I simply lack words.    And I feel so sorry for these children.    They’re so young.”
(Compiled by Frances Kerry, Daniel Wallis, Lincoln Feast and Tomasz Janowski)

3/7/2022 Russian Delegation Departs For Fresh Talks With Ukraine – Report
FILE PHOTO: Ukrainian and Russian flags are seen on a table before the talks between officials of the
two countries in the Brest region, Belarus March 3, 2022. Maxim Guchek/BelTA/Handout via REUTERS
    (Reuters) – A Russian delegation has departed for Belarus where it will meet Ukrainian negotiators for the third round of talks about ending hostilities, the Sputnik Belarus news outlet reported.
    Last week, the sides agreed to open humanitarian corridors to allow civilians out of some combat zones, but none of them has worked so far, with the sides accusing each other of violating local ceasefire.
(Reporting by Reuters)

3/7/2022 Russian Delegation Arrives In Belarus For Ukraine Talks – RIA
FILE PHOTO: People stand next to a shell crater in front of a house damaged by recent shelling
during Ukraine-Russia conflict in Kharkiv, Ukraine March 6, 2022. REUTERS/Oleksandr Lapshyn
    (Reuters) – A Russian delegation has arrived in the Belarusian city of Brest for talks with Ukrainian negotiators on ending hostilities, the RIA news agency reported on Monday, citing the Flightradar plane tracker.
    The sides have not disclosed the exact location and time of the planned meeting.
(Reporting by Reuters)

3/7/2022 More Than 4,300 Detained At Anti-War Protests In Russia
A person is detained during an anti-war protest, following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in Yekaterinburg, Russia
March 6, 2022. Handout via REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES
    LONDON (Reuters) - Police detained more than 4,300 people on Sunday at Russia-wide protests against President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, according to an independent protest monitoring group.
    Thousands of protesters chanted “No to war!” and “Shame on you!,” according to videos posted on social media by opposition activists and bloggers.
    Dozens of protesters in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg were shown being detained.    One protester there was shown being beaten on the ground by police in riot gear.    A mural in the city showing President Vladimir Putin was defaced.
    Reuters was unable to independently verify the footage and photographs on social media. Russia’s interior ministry said earlier that police had detained around 3,500 people, including 1,700 in Moscow, 750 in St Petersburg and 1,061 in other cities.
    The interior ministry said 5,200 people had taken part in the protests.    The OVD-Info protest monitoring group said it had documented the detention of at least 4,366 people in 56 different cities.
    “The screws are being fully tightened – essentially we are witnessing military censorship,” Maria Kuznetsova, OVD-Info’s spokeswoman, said by telephone from Tbilisi.
    “We are seeing rather big protests today, even in Siberian cities where we only rarely saw such numbers of arrests.”
    The last Russian protests with a similar number of arrests were in January 2021, when thousands demanded the release of opposition leader Alexei Navalny after he was arrested on returning from Germany where he had been recovering from a nerve agent poisoning.
    Some Russian state-controlled media carried short reports about Sunday’s protests but they did not feature high in news bulletins.
    Russia’s RIA news agency said the Manezhnaya Square in Moscow, adjoining the Kremlin, had been “liberated” by police, who had arrested some participants of an unsanctioned protest against the military operation in Ukraine.
CHURCH SUPPORT
    RIA also showed footage of what appeared to be supporters of the Kremlin driving along the embankment in Moscow with Russian flags and displaying the “Z” and “V” markings used by Russian forces on tanks operating in Ukraine.
    Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, said Russian values were being tested by the West, which offered only excessive consumption and the illusion of freedom.
    Putin, Russia’s paramount leader since 1999, calls the invasion, launched on Feb. 24, a “special military operation.”    He says it is aimed at defending Ukraine’s Russian-speaking communities against persecution and preventing the United States from using Ukraine to threaten Russia.
    The West has called his arguments a baseless pretext for war and imposed sanctions that aim to cripple the Russian economy.    The United States, Britain and some other NATO members have supplied arms to Ukraine.
    Navalny had called for protests on Sunday across Russia and the rest of the world against the invasion.
    About 2,000 people attended an anti-war protest in Kazakhstan’s biggest city Almaty, according to videos posted on social media.    Reuters was unable to independently verify the posts.
    The crowd shouted slogans such as “No to war!” and obscenities directed at Putin while waving Ukrainian flags.
    Blue and yellow balloons were placed in the hand of a statue of Lenin towering over the small square where the rally took place.
    The Russian state polling agency VTsIOM said Putin’s approval rating had risen 6 percentage points to 70% in the week to Feb. 27.    FOM, which provides research for the Kremlin, said his rating had risen 7 percentage points to 71% in the same period.
(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Catherine Evans, Frances Kerry, William Maclean and Kevin Liffey)

3/7/2022 Belgian Greens Make U-Turn To Consider Nuclear Plants Extension by Marine Strauss
FILE PHOTO: General view of the Tihange nuclear plant of Electrabel, the Belgian unit of French company
Engie, former GDF Suez, in Tihange, Belgium, December 29, 2015. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir/File Photo
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Belgium should keep an open mind about extending the life-span of its remaining nuclear power plants, the country’s Green energy minister said on Monday, in a shift of position prompted by the conflict in Ukraine.
    After months of debate, Belgium’s seven-party coalition government agreed a compromise in December that the country’s last nuclear power plant would close in 2025 provided it did not lead to energy supply shortages.
    The Greens had said a 2003 law setting out a nuclear exit by 2025 must be respected, while the French-speaking liberals sought to extend the life of the two newest reactors.
    That position has changed.
    “Plan A is ready and feasible, but reassessment is needed with Ukraine,” Tinne Van der Straeten wrote on Twitter.
    “We also need to look objectively at problems and obstacles related to an extension.    The last two reactors represent 3% of our energy.    We need a major breakthrough for 100% of our energy,” she added.
    The invasion of Ukraine by Russia, Europe’s top gas supplier, has also prompted Germany to reasses its planned phase out of nuclear and coal facilities to cut reliance on Russian gas.    Russia calls its campaign launched on Feb. 24 “a special military operation”
    Belgium, which has a total of seven reactors, has not confirmed how it would replace the nuclear plants’ capacity, although one option would have been to build more gas-fuelled power plants.
    Belgium’s two newest nuclear plants are operated by French utility Engie and account for almost half of the country’s electricity production.
    The government said it will decide in mid-March after guidance from electricity grid operator Elia on whether Belgium’s nuclear phase-out would threaten the energy supply.
    The planned nuclear exit is to begin with the closure of one reactor on Oct. 1, 2022. Decommissioning, including the removal of radioactive materials and the demolition of buildings, is to be completed by 2045.
(Reporting by Marine Strauss @StraussMarine; Editing by Kate Abnett and Barbara Lewis)

3/7/2022 Humanitarian Corridors Are Still Not Open – Ukrainian Deputy PM
FILE PHOTO: A child says goodbye to their father through the window of an evacuation train leaving from Kyiv to Lviv,
at Kyiv central train station, amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in Kyiv, Ukraine March 6, 2022. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
    LVIV, Ukraine (Reuters) – Humanitarian corridors to evacuate civilians out of Ukrainian cities are still not up and running, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said on Monday.
    Vereshchuk said there were nearly 300,000 civilians requiring evacuation from the southeastern port city of Mariupol, which is under assault from Russian forces.    U.N. representatives had joined negotiations, she said.
(Reporting by Max Hunder, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

3/8/2022 Russian Offensive Slows, Says Ukraine, As Residents Flee Bombed-Out Cities
    People fleeing the Russian invasion of Ukraine eat next to a bonfire after crossing the border
from Ukraine to Poland, at the border checkpoint in Medyka, Poland, March 7, 2022. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch
    LVIV/IRPIN, Ukraine (Reuters) – Russia’s offensive in Ukraine continued but at a significantly slower pace on Tuesday and a second senior Russian commander had been killed, Ukrainian military and intelligence said, as frightened residents fled bombed-out cities.
    In the city of Irpin, on the northwest edge of Kyiv, residents ran with their young children in strollers, or cradling babies in arms, while others carried pet carriers and plastic bags and suitcases.
    “It’s like a disaster, the city is almost ruined, and the district where I’m living, it’s like there are no houses which were not bombed,” said one young mother, holding a baby beneath a blanket, while her daughter stood by her side.
    “Yesterday was the hardest bombing, and the lights and sound is so scary, and the whole building is shaking.”
    Ukraine’s military intelligence said on Tuesday that Ukrainian forces killed a Russian general near the besieged city of Kharkiv, the second Russian senior commander to die in the invasion.
    Major General Vitaly Gerasimov, first deputy commander of Russia’s 41st army, was killed on Monday, the Chief Directorate of Intelligence of Ukraine’s defence ministry said in a statement.
    Ukraine’s general staff of the armed forces said the Russian offensive continues although at a significantly slower pace.
    Russia’s defence ministry could not be immediately reached for comment and Reuters could not verify the reports.
    Russia’s invasion, the biggest attack on a European state since World War Two, has created 1.7 million refugees, a raft of sanctions on Moscow, and fears of wider conflict as the West pours military aid into Ukraine.
    Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a “special operation” that it says is not designed to occupy territory but to destroy its southern neighbour’s military capabilities and capture what it regards as dangerous nationalists.
    Kyiv has rejected Moscow’s offer of possible humanitarian corridors to Russia and Belarus.
    However, Moscow has since proposed giving the residents of the cities of Sumy and Mariupol the choice of moving elsewhere in Ukraine on