Russia’s war in Ukraine has been knocking on your door, too

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

Two years on, we know that if Russia succeeds, we will find ourselves in a world that will be dangerous for everyone without exception, Oleksandra Matviichuk writes.


I don’t know what historians in the future will call this historical period. But we happen to live in rather challenging times. 

The world order, based on the Charter of the UN and international law, is collapsing before our eyes. 

The international peace and security system established after World War II provided unjustified indulgences for certain countries. It did not cope well with global challenges before, but now it is stalling and reproducing ritualistic movements. 

The work of the UN Security Council is paralyzed. We have entered a highly volatile period in history, and now fires will occur more and more frequently in different parts of the world because the world’s wiring is faulty and sparks are everywhere.

A conflict of what makes us human

Samuel Huntington predicted that new global conflicts would arise between different civilizations. 

I live in Kyiv, and my native city, like thousands of other Ukrainian cities, is being shelled not only by Russian missiles but also by Iranian drones. 

China is helping Russia circumvent sanctions and import technologies critical to warfare. North Korea sent Russia more than a million artillery shells. Syria votes at the UN General Assembly in support of Russia. 

We are dealing with the formation of an entire authoritarian bloc. As much as Russia, Iran, China, Syria, and North Korea are “different civilizations”, according to Huntington’s views, they pose a crucial common feature. 

All these regimes that have taken power in their countries have the same idea of what a human being is. That is why this is not a conflict of civilizations. This is a conflict of what makes us human.

Authoritarian leaders consider people as objects of control and deny them rights and freedoms. 

Democracies consider people, their rights and freedoms to be of the highest value. There is no way to negotiate this. 

The existence of the free world always threatens dictatorships with the loss of power. That’s because human beings inherently have a desire for freedom.

Therefore, when we talk about Russia’s war against Ukraine, we are not talking about a war between two states. This is a war between two systems — authoritarianism and democracy. 

If Russia succeeds, we’ll live in a world dangerous for everyone

Russia wants to convince the entire world that freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law are fake values because they do not protect anyone in times of war. 

Russia wants to convince that a state with a powerful military potential and nuclear weapons can break the world order, dictate its rules to the international community and even forcibly change internationally recognized borders.

If Russia succeeds, it will encourage authoritarian leaders in various parts of the world to do the same. The international system of peace and security does not protect people any more. 

Democratic governments will be forced to invest money not in education, health care, culture or business development, not in solving global problems such as climate change or social inequality, but in weapons. 

We will witness an increase in the number of nuclear states, the emergence of robotic armies and new weapons of mass destruction. 


If Russia succeeds and this scenario comes true, we will find ourselves in a world that will be dangerous for everyone without exception.

It’s not post-truth, it’s post-knowledge

Public intellectuals say that we live in an era of post-truth. As for me, we live in an era of post-knowledge. 

People with access to Google, who can get the formula for aspirin in a second, forget that this does not make them chemists. People around the world are demanding quick and simple solutions. 

Perhaps in more peaceful times, we could afford it. You can treat a runny nose with squats, and at least it will not harm the body. However, if we are already dealing with cancer, the price of such simple solutions and actual therapy delays will be high.

The problem is not only that the space for freedom in authoritarian countries has narrowed to the size of a prison cell. The problem is that even in developed democracies, forces calling into question the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are gaining strength.


There are reasons for this. The coming generations replaced those ones that survived World War II. They have inherited democracy from their parents. 

They began to take rights and freedoms for granted. They have become consumers of values. They perceive freedom as choosing between cheeses in the supermarket. 

In essence, they are ready to exchange freedom for economic benefits, promises of security or personal comfort.

Yet, the truth is that freedom is very fragile. Human rights are not attained once and forever. We make our own choices every day.

The war has come home a long time ago

In such times of turbulence, responsibility-driven leadership is required. Global challenges cannot be resolved individually or on your own. 


The efforts of those who worked to build a shared European project were aimed at overcoming the history of wars. But stable growth and peace in the region are impossible while a part of Europe is bleeding. 

People only begin to understand that the war is going on when the bombs are falling on their heads, but the war has dimensions other than the military one: it is an economic war, an information war, a war of values. 

Whether we are brave enough to admit it or not, this war has long since crossed the borders of the European Union.

Because we live in a very interconnected world. And only the advancement of freedom makes this world safer.

Oleksandra Matviichuk is a Ukrainian human rights lawyer and Nobel Peace Prize winner.


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France’s fast-fashion ‘kill bill’: Green move or penalty for the poor?

In a bid to combat the “fast-fashion” and “ultra-fast-fashion” brands that have taken France by storm, a young lawmaker from the conservative Les Républicains party has proposed slapping an extra €5 on every fast-fashion purchase in the name of the environment and the French textile industry. But criticism of the bill has been fierce, especially on social media, where some have slammed the draft bill as unfair, saying it will only serve to punish the poor.  

“So gorgeous, so classy!,” 31-year-old conservative lawmaker Antoine Vermorel-Marques exclaims as he films himself pulling out a pair of shoes from a box purportedly ordered from the hugely popular Chinese fast-fashion online giant Shein. “Treated with phthalate, a substance which is an endocrine disruptor that can make us sterile,” he adds as an ironic kicker.

In the parody-like video posted on TikTok in mid-February, Vermorel-Marques unpacks and shows off his great “hauls” in much the same way many of the platform’s fashion and beauty influencers do to promote new products they have purchased or been “gifted” by the brand.

But Vermorel-Marques’s video is hardly meant to promote Shein’s products. It is intended to accompany his draft of a fast-fashion “kill bill” he recently proposed to the National Assembly.

@antoinevermorel42 🛑 Les vêtements à 2€ qui arrivent en avion, contiennent des substances nocives pour la santé et finissent sur les plages en Afrique, c’est non ! Je dépose à l’Assemblée nationale une proposition de loi pour instaurer un bonus-malus afin de pénaliser les marques et pour encourager les démarches plus vertueuses ♻️ #shein#sheinhaul#ecologie#fastfashion#stopshein#pourtoi#fyp @lookbookaly @menezangel_ @loufitlove @lila_drila @cilia.ghass @tifanywallemacq @veronika_cln @lia__toutcourt @iamm_mae.e@IAMM_MAE.E ♬ son original – antoinevermorel

The bill is expected to be debated in the lower house of parliament in the next few months and was drafted to support France’s ailing textile industry which has been hard hit by the country’s growing fast fashion consumption. The bill calls for a €5 penalty for any fast-fashion purchase.

Fast fashion, or the high-speed, low-cost production of the latest trends, has grown so strong in France in recent years that it is threatening the future of many traditional and domestic fashion manufacturers. The average price tag for a piece of Shein clothing is estimated at just €7. Oxfam France describes fast fashion as “disposable”, warning on its website that it has “disastrous social and environmental consequences”.

Although a host of brands fall under the fast-fashion category, Vermorel-Marques is particularly targeting the “ultra-fast-fashion” online retailer Shein. The China-founded but Singapore-based company is estimated to add between 6,000 and 11,000 new offerings to its catalogue every single day. The brand has frequently come under fire for the environmental and social consequences of its throw-away business model, and according to Vermorel-Marques, for “destroying France’s textile industry”.

But it did not take long for the draft bill to whip up a storm, with some likening the €5 penalty to yet another tax primarily penalising the poor as well as restricting their access to affordable and trendy clothes.

‘Another step towards injustice’

Shein, and peers like Temu and Boohoo, have found an appreciative audience among consumers who rarely have to spend more than €10 to fill their wardrobes with the latest trending skirts, tops, trousers or accessories.

“In France, there’s a gap between our convictions, the awareness that we need to make an effort, and acceptance of the measures to combat these issues,” said Cécile Désaunay, director of studies at Futuribles, a consultancy firm that analyses transformative societal, lifestyle and consumption trends.

Désaunay said that this €5 penalty is particularly sensitive “because it touches on what is considered the freedom to consume”.

However, she emphasised that the law is not just meant to punish but also to reward, and would work as a bonus-penalty system that would make sustainable fashion more accessible to everyone.

In an interview with the quarterly narrative journalism publication Usbek&Rica, Vermorel-Marques explained how the system is meant to work: While a fast-fashion shopper would be slapped with a €5 penalty for every purchase, a person buying an environmentally friendly and domestically-produced piece of clothing would instead receive a €5 bonus.

“What is key here is that it’s not another tax,” he said. “We’re not here to take money from you. We’re just saying: ‘If you pollute, you pay. And if you don’t pollute, you win’. It’s a win-win for both the consumer and the planet.”

A supporter of the bill took to the social media platform X to expand on the lawmaker’s argument:

“This isn’t a ‘tax’. Shein, Ali[Express], etc. are already taxed, but what we’re talking about here is a penalty punishing those who participate in fast fashion, and by extension, in the exploitation of people and the increase in waste.”

A worker makes clothes at a garment factory that supplies fast fashion e-commerce company Shein in Guangzhou, China, on July 18, 2022. © Jade Gao, AFP

Désaunay noted it was not the first time the bonus-penalty system has been used to draw up new legislation to encourage more responsible and sustainable consumption behaviour, pointing to, among other things, the bonus offered to French car buyers who opt for less-polluting vehicles, and Sweden’s initiative to reduce the value-added tax on used item repairs.

Although Désaunay said she completely understands peoples’ need to dress themselves, many, and especially younger shoppers, now over-consume thanks to low-cost brands like Shein.

‘I’m poor, but I have values’

“Before, the norm was to have fewer clothes, but that lasted longer. We paid more for them, but we made them last,” Désaunay explained. “Today, we’ve moved away from that mentality. We have clothes that are not as strong, that don’t last as long, and we’re getting used to always having more of them because they cost less.”

On social media, the draft bill has divided users. “Fast fashion for some, the only way to dress for others,” one user wrote, while another stated: “I’m poor, but I have values, I don’t order from these sites! You can be poor and have values!”

Désaunay said that many get trapped in the mindset “that in order to dress cheaply, you have to buy clothes ‘Made in China’, as if there are no other alternatives”. One sustainable alternative, she noted, is simply to turn to second-hand shopping.

“The challenge for the textile industry is that charities and other recycling centres are bursting at the seams with [used] clothes,” she said. “Given the amount of clothes already on this planet, we could still dress humanity for another 100 years even if we stopped making them.”

But despite the many positives related to second-hand shopping, Désaunay said it is still often frowned upon “and even rejected by the poorest in society”, due to the stigma attached to wearing “hand-me-downs”.

According to a report by shopping application Joko, Shein had a 13 percent French market share in value terms at the end of 2023, making it France’s second-favourite online fashion brand. The No. 1 spot, however, was claimed by Vinted, a rapidly growing second-hand clothing platform.

“The fast-fashion mentality is coming to an end,” Désaunay said.

Although the proposed bill has not even been debated yet, she said it will serve as a “pretext to rethink the value of the items we buy”: “If it’s not expensive, it’s because there’s a trade-off. In this case, an environmental trade-off.”  

The fast fashion industry has regularly been shamed for how its business model damages the environment (the cheap and toxic chemical pollutants used in the dyes, as well as the consumption of water and fossil fuels), negatively impacts climate change (CO2 emissions) and how it exploits human rights (forced labour). In a recent report, the French chapter of the environmental grassroots network Friends of the Earth (FoE) estimated that Shein alone produces some 1 million garments per day, which corresponds to between 15,000 and 20,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions.

But, the group pointed out, brick-and-mortar fast-fashion retailers such as Zara, H&M, Primark and Uniqlo are hardly better. “[What they] don’t do in terms of quantity of new offerings, they make up for in quantity produced, as well disrespect of human rights,” FoE said, noting that these brands have all been accused of either profiting from, or having profited from, forced labour by China’s Uighur population.

In 2022, Shein recorded roughly $23 billion in sales, according to the Wall Street Journal. For 2023, its sales are estimated at nearly $32 billion.

This article was adapted from the original in French.

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West mounts pressure on Russia after Navalny’s death in prison

Western nations Saturday mounted pressure on Russia, blaming its leader and the government for the death of leading Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny in an Arctic prison in opaque circumstances.

Navalny’s death was announced on Friday after three years in detention and a poisoning that he blamed on the Kremlin

It deprives Russia‘s opposition of its figurehead just a month before an election poised to extend President Vladimir Putin‘s hold on power and comes at a time of intense repression and as Moscow’s campaign in Ukraine nears its two-year anniversary.

The West blamed Putin and his government for the 47-year-old’s death which followed months of deteriorating health in harsh detention conditions.

Australia’s Foreign Minister Penny Wong on Saturday said Navalny’s “heroic opposition to Putin’s repressive and unjust regime inspired the world”.

“We hold the Russian Government solely responsible for his treatment and death in prison,” Wong said in a post on X, formerly Twitter.

US President Joe Biden was equally blunt, saying: “Make no mistake, Putin is responsible for Navalny’s death”.

Russian Nobel Peace Prize winner Dmitry Muratov added: “Alexei Navalny was tortured and tormented for three years… Murder was added to Alexei Navalny‘s sentence”.

The death was announced by Russia‘s federal penitentiary service, which said Navalny “felt bad after a walk, almost immediately losing consciousness”.

Russian news agencies reported that medics from a local hospital arrived within minutes and spent more than “half an hour” trying to resuscitate him.

Navalny’s wife, Yulia Navalnaya, said she held Putin personally responsible and called on the international community to “unite and defeat this evil, terrifying regime”.

Navalny was Russia’s most prominent opposition leader and won a huge following as he campaigned against corruption under Putin. 

Putin – who famously never referred to Navalny by name – was on a visit to the Urals on Friday and made no mention of the death.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov accused Western leaders of “absolutely unacceptable” and “hysterical” reactions to Navalny’s death.

Moscow authorities also warned the public against taking part in any protests as videos shared online showed dozens of Russians laying flowers at monuments to victims of political repression in different Russian cities.

At least one person was detained for holding up a placard that appeared to say “murderers” in a video posted by the independent Sota Telegram channel.

Russia’s OVD-Info rights group said police on Saturday detained over 100 people gathered at spontaneous memorials for Navalny across the country.

As of February 17, “more than 101 people have already been detained in 10 cities” including 11 in the capital Moscow, OVD-Info said on its website.

‘Brutally murdered’ 

One of Navalny’s lawyers, Leonid Solovyov, told Novaya Gazeta newspaper that he was “normal” when another lawyer saw him on Wednesday.

In footage of a court hearing from his prison colony on Thursday, Navalny was seen smiling and joking as he addressed the judge by video link. State media reported he raised no health complaints during the session.

Speaking at the Munich Security Conference hours after news of her husband’s death, Yulia Navalnaya said Putin and his entourage “will be punished for everything they have done to our country, to my family and to my husband”.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Navalny had “paid for his courage with his life”.

Britain’s Foreign Office said it had summoned the Russian embassy “to make clear that we hold the Russian authorities fully responsible” for Navalny’s death.

French Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne said his death “reminds us of the reality of Putin’s regime” and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Navalny had been “killed by Putin”. 

UN chief Antonio Guterres called for “a full, credible and transparent investigation”.

The Russian foreign ministry hit back, saying the way Western leaders blamed Russia for his death showed their hypocrisy.

“There is no forensic examination yet, but the West already has conclusions ready,” spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said, according to state news agency TASS.

‘I’m not afraid’ 

Navalny, who led street protests for more than a decade, became a household name through his anti-corruption campaigning.

His exposes of official corruption, posted on his YouTube channel, racked up millions of views and brought tens of thousands of Russians to the streets, despite harsh anti-protest laws.

He was jailed in early 2021 after returning to Russia from Germany, where he was recovering from a near-fatal poisoning attack with Novichok, a Soviet-era nerve agent.

In a string of cases, he was sentenced to 19 years in prison on charges widely condemned by rights groups and in the West as retribution for his opposition to the Kremlin.

His return to Russia despite knowing he would face jail brought him admiration. 

“I’m not afraid and I call on you not to be afraid,” he said in an appeal to supporters as he landed in Moscow, moments before being detained on charges linked to an old fraud conviction.

His 2021 arrest spurred some of the largest demonstrations Russia had seen in decades, and thousands were detained at rallies nationwide calling for his release.

From behind bars he was a staunch opponent of Moscow’s full-scale military offensive against Ukraine, and watched on, helplessly, as the Kremlin dismantled his organisation and locked up his allies.

Dozens of his top supporters fled into exile and continued to campaign against the offensive on Ukraine and repression inside Russia.

‘Don’t do nothing’ 

Late last year, Navalny was moved to a remote Arctic prison colony in Russia’s Yamalo-Nenets region in northern Siberia.

He said in January that his daily routine included prison walks in freezing temperatures.

Since being jailed in 2021, he spent more than 300 days in solitary confinement, where prison authorities kept him over alleged minor infringements of prison rules.

The last post on Navalny’s Telegram channel, which he managed through his lawyers and team in exile, was a tribute to his wife posted on Valentine’s Day.

In a documentary filmed before he returned to Russia, Navalny was asked what message he wanted to leave to the Russian people should he die or be killed.

“Don’t give up. You mustn’t, you can’t give up,” he said.

“All it takes for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing. Therefore, don’t do nothing.”


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Venezuela’s highest court upholds ban on opposition presidential candidate Machado

The prospect of a free presidential election in Venezuela was dealt a heavy blow Friday when the country’s highest court upheld a ban on the candidacy of María Corina Machado, a longtime government foe and winner of the primary held by the opposition faction backed by the United States.

The ruling came months after President Nicolás Maduro and the U.S.-backed opposition reached an agreement aimed at leveling the playing field ahead of the election later this year. The deal led Washington to ease economic sanctions on Maduro’s government.

Machado, a former lawmaker, won the opposition’s independently run presidential primary in October with more than 90% of the votes. Her victory came despite the government announcing a 15-year ban on her running for office just days after she formally entered the race in June. 

She was able to participate in the primary election because the effort was organized by a commission independent of Venezuela’s electoral authorities. She insisted throughout the campaign that she never received an official notification of the ban, and said that voters, not ruling-party loyalists, are the rightful decision-makers of her candidacy.

After the court issued its ruling, Machado tweeted that her campaign’s “fight to conquer democracy through free and fair elections” is not over. 

“Maduro and his criminal system chose the worst path for them: fraudulent elections,” she wrote. “That’s not gonna happen.”

She did not offer any details of her next steps, and her campaign declined to comment.

Machado had filed a claim with Venezuela‘s Supreme Tribunal of Justice in December arguing the ban was null and void and seeking an injunction to protect her political rights.

Watch moreVenezuela opposition leader Machado: ‘The Maduro regime is in its weakest position ever’


Instead, the court upheld the ban, which alleges fraud and tax violations and accuses her of seeking the economic sanctions the U.S. imposed on Venezuela last decade. 

The U.S. eased some of the sanctions on Venezuela’s oil, gas and mining industries in October after Maduro’s government and the opposition group known as the Unitary Platform signed the agreement addressing electoral conditions. The accord also led to a swap of prisoners between Washington and Caracas in December. 

The deal signed on the Caribbean island of Barbados narrowed the scheduling of the presidential election to the second half of 2024 and called on both sides to “promote the authorization of all presidential candidates and political parties” to participate as long as they comply with the law. The latter provision prompted the government to allow candidates to appeal their bans.

The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden has threatened to reverse some of the sanctions relief if Maduro’s government fails to lift bans preventing Machado and others from running for office, and if it fails to release political prisoners.

The U.S. State Department did not immediately comment on the court’s action.

Geoff Ramsey, senior analyst on Venezuela at the Atlantic Council think tank, said Maduro’s government was never going to let Machado be a presidential candidate because “her popularity makes her too much of a threat.”

“The timing of this will make it almost impossible for the U.S. government to ignore,” he said. “The problem for Washington is that it’s essentially run out of ways to pressure Maduro. How do you threaten a regime that’s already endured multiple coup attempts and years of crippling sanctions?”

The harshest sanctions were imposed after Venezuela’s last presidential election, which was widely considered a sham and cost Maduro international recognition as the country’s legitimate leader. 

The U.S.-backed opposition stunned its allies and adversaries when more than 2.4 million people voted in the primary, including in neighborhoods long considered strongholds of the governing party. The high turnout came amid Venezuela’s continuing economic struggles and despite government efforts to discourage participation.

After the vote, Maduro and his allies called the opposition’s primary fraudulent. Attorney General Tarek William Saab opened criminal investigations against some of the organizers and later issued arrest warrants for some of Machado’s collaborators.

Over the past two weeks, Maduro, Saab and Jorge Rodriguez, the leader of the National Assembly and the government’s chief negotiator, have linked opposition supporters and people close to Machado to a number of alleged conspiracies they claim were devised to assassinate the president and his inner circle.

Rodríguez, without mentioning Machado, tweeted Friday that “despite the serious threats from far-right sectors against the peace of the Republic,” referring to the alleged conspiracies, “the mechanism established within the framework of the Barbados Agreements has been met.”

Rodríguez vowed to hold the presidential election this year. Maduro will be seeking to add six more years to his decade-long presidency marked in its entirety by political, social and economic crisis. Under Maduro’s watch, millions of Venezuelans have fallen into poverty and more than 7.4 million have migrated.

A U.N.-backed panel investigating human rights abuses in Venezuela in September determined that Maduro’s government has intensified efforts to curtail democratic freedoms ahead of the 2024 election. That includes subjecting some politicians, human rights defenders and other opponents to detention, surveillance, threats, defamatory campaigns and arbitrary criminal proceedings.

Election campaigns in Venezuela typically involve handouts of free food, home appliances and other goods on behalf of governing party candidates, who also get favorable state media coverage. Opposition candidates and their supporters struggle to find places to gather without harassment from government activists and to get fuel to travel across the country. 

A common government practice for sidelining adversaries is to ban them from public office, and it is not limited to presidential contests. 

Such a ban was used retroactively in 2021 to remove gubernatorial candidate Freddy Superlano when he was ahead of a sibling of the late President Hugo Chávez but had not yet been declared the winner. Superlano’s substitute was also kept off the ballot via a ban. 

The court on Friday also upheld a ban on former governor and two-time presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, who dropped out of the primary race before the vote.

“What they will never be able to ban is the Venezuelans’ desire for CHANGE,” Capriles tweeted. “… Today more than ever, let nothing and no one take us off the electoral route.”


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‘Freedom is paid for in blood’: In the occupied West Bank, families long to bury their dead

An Israeli strike killed six Palestinians in the occupied West Bank on Sunday, four of whom were brothers. The attack took place in the city of Jenin and left a total of seven dead, including an Israeli police officer. As the family of the brothers buried their “martyrs”, others are still waiting for the remains of relatives held by the Israeli army to be returned. 

She doesn’t cry. She doesn’t speak. Ibtesam Darwish simply looks stunned. “I wasn’t just their mother, I was their friend,” she says. “We were so close.”

Sitting in her neighbour’s courtyard in Qabatiya, a city in the northern occupied West Bank, she waits for the remains of her sons. 

Twenty-two-year-old Rami, 24-year-old Ahamed, 27-year-old Hazaa and 29-year-old Alaa were killed along with two others in an Israeli airstrike near the entrance to Jenin at 6am on Sunday in an area called Martyr’s Triangle. A seventh person died of their wounds later that day.   

Ibtesam Darwish (pink hijab) awaits the remains of her four sons in Qabatia on January 7, 2024. © Assiya Hamza, FRANCE 24

The Israeli military said the strike targeted “Palestinian gunmen” who had lobbed explosives at troops, according to The Times of Israel. But eyewitnesses at the scene said the young people who gathered were unarmed and were trying to keep warm by a fire when the strike took place. They added that the attack happened as Israeli forces were withdrawing after a night of violent clashes with the Jenin Brigade, an armed wing of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement, and that a soldier had been killed.  

Finding out on social media

Ibtesam knew her boys weren’t at home. They wanted to watch the Israeli military raid on the Jenin refugee camp. 

“Early in the morning, I saw that there had been a drone attack and that four members of the same family had been killed,” she says softly. “I called them immediately but nobody picked up. I left them a voice message asking them to call me back straight away,” she continues.

“It was on social media that I found out they had been killed.”  

The first thing she did was to go to the local hospital. In a video posted on X, she is seen walking into a ward asking: “Have they all gone? Is there anyone left?” With the support of one of her other children, she lifts an emergency blanket and finds horror. One of her sons lies lifeless, his body mangled from the explosion. Ibtesam lets out a muffled scream.  

A few hours later, it’s time to say goodbye. The crowd in the Qabatiya courtyard begins to swell. Dozens of women wait in silence as the men congregate outside. The sound of cars arriving, halting, then driving off is incessant. Residents of Jenin and Qabatiya come in waves to attend the funeral or to give their condolences to Ibtesam. The boys’ father, who works in Jordan, is not present. In Islam, funerals are typically conducted within 24 hours of the deceased’s passing. If the death took place in the morning, the funeral must be held before sunset. If it took place at night, the funeral happens the following morning.  

As the sun burns warmer, the atmosphere becomes suffocating. Only the clicking of cameras can be heard. Ibtesam, the mother of seven boys and two girls, explains how death is a part of everyday life in the occupied West Bank.

“That’s life for us Palestinians. We go out in the morning without knowing if we’ll be back in the evening,” she says in a matter-of-fact tone. “I have three sons left. If they kill them, we’ll make more. We will continue to resist.”  

Suddenly, the silence is broken by gunshots. The funeral procession draws nearer. Men’s voices are heard shouting the Takbir – “Allahu akbar!” (“God is greatest” in Arabic) – followed by a “la ilaha illa Allah!” (“There is no God truly worthy of worship except Allah”). More shots are fired, this time in rapid succession, almost deafening. 

The bodies of Hazaa, Rami, Ahamed and Alaa are all wrapped in the green flag of Hamas. A Palestinian keffiyeh covers their heads. Then, one by one, they are laid on the ground. A dense crowd surrounds the four “martyrs”, a widely used term to describe Palestinians killed by Israeli soldiers, whether they were militants or not.  

More shots are fired, over and over again, to commemorate the dead. Men dressed in black, their faces hidden behind balaclavas, hold M-16s and other assault rifles. Among the crowds are militants from various brigades of the Jenin refugee camp. A sea of flags is waving, some clenched in the hands of young children. White for the Jenin Brigade, green for Hamas, yellow for Fatah – the party that heads the Palestinian Authority – and the red, black, green and white of the Palestinian flag.  

Time seems to stand still. As prayers and gunshots continue to fill the air, the four bodies are lifted up and carried by the men in the crowd. Ibtesam groans in pain, watching the procession walk away with her sons. She will not be going to the cemetery. According to Muslim tradition, women do not attend the burial of the deceased. The women who had come to support her flock towards her and weep. But Ibtesam does not. She was able to say goodbye to her children.  

Withholding remains, a form of ‘collective punishment’

Jamal Zubeidi was not. His son Mohammed, or “Hammoudi” as he called him, is yet to be buried. He was killed on November 29 by Israeli forces during a raid on the Jenin refugee camp. Considered a senior Palestinian Islamic Jihad operative by Israeli intelligence service Shin Bet, the remains of the 27-year-old were taken away by soldiers. 

Shin Bet claims that Mohammed Zubeidi was involved in the planning of a terrorist attack that killed one person close to the Hermesh settlement in May last year, as well as another in June that killed one civilian and wounded four soldiers.   

Jamal Zubeidi holds the portrait of his son Mohammed, killed by the Israeli army in the Jenin refugee camp on November 29, 2023.
Jamal Zubeidi holds the portrait of his son Mohammed, killed by the Israeli army in the Jenin refugee camp on November 29, 2023. © Assiya Hamza, FRANCE 24

Israel has a long history of withholding the remains of Palestinians suspected of or having committed terrorist attacks. “The bodies of terrorists are detained in accordance with orders given by political authorities,” explains an army spokesperson contacted by FRANCE 24.  

“Twenty years ago, it was kind of an undeclared policy. But now it’s official,” says Jessica Montell, director of the Israeli human rights organisation HaMoked. “We represent several families who are waiting.”  

The practice was authorised by Israel’s Supreme Court in 2019 and is also used by Hamas or Hezbollah in Lebanon for the remains of Israeli soldiers.

“It’s a bargaining chip for future negotiations,” says Dror Sadot, a spokesperson for B’Tselem, the Israeli information centre for human rights in the occupied territories. “There were periods when the policy was used and others when it wasn’t. The number of bodies concerned is also very vague.”  

Between 1991 and 2008, Israel agreed to hand over 405 bodies in return for the bodies of deceased soldiers, according to data collected by B’Tselem. The National Campaign for Retrieval of the Bodies of Martyrs launched by the Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Center (JLAC) estimates that the remains of 450 bodies are being kept in Israeli cemeteries and mortuaries, 47 of which were killed since October 7. According to JLAC, 2023 was a record year with 101 bodies detained, only 22 of which were returned. The Gaza Strip is not included in these figures due to lack of access.  

For both B’Tselem and HaMoked, withholding Palestinian remains is a form of “collective punishment”. Zubeidi feels the same. “It’s a punishment to make us suffer even more,” he says from the Jenin refugee camp still marked by the scars of the nighttime raid. “They think it will deter the militants.”  

A stretcher used to transport the remains, which are then buried in a shroud without a coffin, at the Jenin cemetery on January 7, 2024.
A stretcher used to transport the remains, which are then buried in a shroud without a coffin, at the Jenin cemetery on January 7, 2024. © Assiya Hamza, FRANCE 24

Hopes of a swap

Denying families the right to bury their loved ones is a source of undeniable anguish. Whether Palestinian or Israeli, religious or secular, funeral rites allow people to mourn. But without a body, that becomes impossible.  

“His grave has been dug. It’s waiting for him,” says the father of nine. Two of his sons have been killed by Israeli forces and another is currently in administrative detention. “I want to bury him, and visit him, but I have no body. I have no proof. How do you expect me to accept that he’s dead? I hope he isn’t. We need to see him to believe it.”  

Graves dug in Jenin's new cemetery on January 7, 2024.
Graves dug in Jenin’s new cemetery on January 7, 2024. © Assiya Hamza, FRANCE 24

Zubeidi hopes he will be able to retrieve Mohammed’s remains thanks to a potential exchange between Hamas and the Israeli government. Negotiations to free hostages held in the Gaza Strip since October 7 could see Palestinian detainees released and remains returned on both sides.

Hints of sadness and fatigue cover the 60-year-old’s face. Zubeidi himself has also spent time in Israeli prisons.

“We’re like all families, we’re scared for our children all the time,” he laments. “We’re sad because he’s dead, but we’re proud that he died a martyr. Freedom is paid for in blood.”  

This article is a translated version of the original in French

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Perpetrators of sexual violence in the DRC must be held to account

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

Historically, we know that conviction rates for these crimes are shockingly low. How can we expect or encourage survivors to come forward when so few cases ever succeed, Nadine Tunasi writes.


Sexual violence is a crime against humanity. It is brutal, deliberate and intended to punish and humiliate people and their communities. 

And more and more, we’re seeing sexual violence being used as tactics of war, torture and terrorism in conflicts across the globe. 

The recent reports coming out of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), my home, are deeply alarming. The DRC has become a very dangerous place to be a woman, let alone a little girl.

Victims of conflict-related sexual violence suffer from physical and psychological trauma, long-term injuries, and HIV infection, and some have died. 

Women are forced to deal with unwanted pregnancies, mothers bear the brunt of being excluded by their own families and communities, and men and boys face health and legal barriers because of stigma.

The impact of sexual violence is pervasive and destructive. And the sheer number of people affected by sexual violence shows just how many families and communities are impacted and destroyed.

The repetition of sexual violence keeps survivors living in constant fear and feeling vulnerable to further attacks. 

No faith in the system, no trust in the authorities

When you live in a country where there is no rule of law, and where those who perpetrate serious crimes get away with impunity, you can only worry. It’s impossible to feel safe.

The available statistics on survivors of global conflict-related sexual violence are unhelpful because we know that, where they have been done, studies in national contexts show that in peacetime around 90% of rape survivors never report what’s happened to them. In conflict settings the barriers to reporting only increase. 

There’s a multitude of reasons why survivors don’t go to the police — because they have no faith in the justice system or little trust in the authorities, or they might have grave concerns about how they could be treated, and they fear for their safety. 

Historically, we know that conviction rate for these crimes is shockingly low. How can we expect, or encourage, survivors to come forward when so few cases ever succeed?

Currently, it’s civil society and survivor-led organisations who are leading the charge when it comes to raising awareness of conflict-related sexual violence. 

And although many survivors are grateful for the ongoing conversation on this issue, we face a real challenge now of converting global awareness into tangible support that gives those affected the chance to rebuild their lives. 

Right now, not enough survivors are being given the assistance they need.

All survivors deserve the same compassion and care

Many survivors want to see their own countries taking concrete steps towards preventing, stopping, and responding appropriately to conflict-related sexual violence.

We need to see those in charge taking control so that we can all feel safe and enjoy our fundamental human rights. 

Laws need to be promoted that condemn stigma in all its forms and treat survivors with dignity and care. And importantly, all survivors must be treated with the same compassion and care regardless of their gender, ethnicity, age, or sexual orientation.

Survivor participation is essential in this fight. It’s such an important tool for how we can strengthen support, services and justice pathways in a survivor-centred way. 


When I became Survivor Champion, along with my colleague Kolbassia Hauossou, I knew that part of my role was to make space and create a platform so that more survivors can take part in the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative. 

Through my work, I’ve had the opportunity to meet many survivors from different countries and I am always inspired by their determination and resilience.

Human rights are ‘all or nothing’

But it’s not just up to survivors. 

The international community has an imperative part to play in the response to conflict related to sexual violence. But it urgently needs to overcome a shameful history of double standards. 

All too often we see the international community quickly condemn some aggressors but turn a blind eye to others. 


All perpetrators must be condemned and held to account no matter what their geographical positioning or political importance may be. No matter where they come from, survivors suffer greatly, and they should not be left to suffer in silence just because of the country they are in. 

The response we saw following the invasion of Ukraine was impressive, but there are many more survivors in other countries, like Iran, Sudan, Guatemala, and the DRC who have been effectively ignored. 

It’s so important that there is a consistent international response — there cannot be avenues for accountability for international crimes in some countries and a total absence in others. We either all have human rights, or none of us do.

The DRC government must be called to account

I now live in the UK and have been able to rebuild my life, but what is happening in my home country is devastating. 

The international community must call on the DRC government to take a stand on what’s been going on. 


They have a responsibility to start a national conversation, about conflict-related sexual violence, and to take concrete steps to prevent it.

The aggressors are getting away with appalling sexual crimes, while their international allies appear content to look the other way. 

I’m calling on the international community to stop the double standards and respond effectively to what is happening. 

My people are suffering, and the war has been going on far too long. It’s time for the perpetrators of sexual violence to be condemned and held to account, and for survivors to be given support, care and access to justice.

Nadine Tunasi is a member of Survivors Speak OUT, a torture survivor-led activist network at Freedom from Torture.


At Euronews, we believe all views matter. Contact us at [email protected] to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.

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Zelenskyy: Russia stepping up attacks amid heavy fighting in east

The latest developments from the Ukraine war.

Russians stepping up attacks in eastern Ukraine, warns Zelenskyy


The Ukrainian army is facing an “increase in the number of attacks” from Russia in the east of the country, particularly around the disputed town of Avdiivka, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Tuesday.

Moscow’s forces have been trying for a month to encircle the industrial town, which has become one of the hotspots of the conflict.

“The army has reported an increase in the number of enemy attacks,” the Ukrainian president said on his Telegram channel, citing the areas of Avdiivka, Kupiansk and Donetsk in the east.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy stated that his soldiers were ‘holding their positions’ and were also carrying out ‘offensives’.

Putin pardons accomplice in Russian journalist murder

Sergei Khadzhikurbanov, a former Russian police officer sentenced to 20 years in prison for his role in the 2006 murder of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, has been pardoned by Vladimir Putin for joining Russian forces in Ukraine, his lawyer told AFP on Tuesday.

“I have just heard from his family that from the beginning of the special military operation (…) he was offered a contract to take part. He did so and when the contract expired he was pardoned by presidential decree,” said lawyer Alexei Mikhaltchik, using the euphemism common in Russia for the offensive launched against Ukraine in February 2022.

According to him, his client was due to serve his sentence until 2030, but was offered a contract in exchange for a pardon because of his past experience in a Russian special forces unit.

Tens of thousands of Russian prisoners have signed such contracts with the army or paramilitary formations such as Wagner’s.

Ukrainian MP detained after alleged treason

A court in Kyiv has remanded in custody Oleksandr Dubinsky, a Ukrainian MP accused of high treason on behalf of Russia, the Ukrainian State Bureau of Investigation (DBR) announced on Tuesday.

The hearing began on Monday evening and was held behind closed doors at the request of prosecutors.

The detention was ordered in the middle of the night, according to Ukrainian media.

Dubinsky, 42, confirmed on Telegram that he will remain in detention for at least two months and believes he is a victim of persecution because of his opinions. “A new year in prison for criticising the government,” he said.

The DBR accuses the highly controversial MP of being part of a “criminal group” acting “on the orders of the Russian special services” with the aim of “discrediting Ukraine’s image on the international stage”.

According to a DBR press release, Russia spent “at least 9.3 million euros to finance this group, whose mission was specifically to ‘deteriorate’ Kyiv’s relations with its ally Washington and to ‘slow down’ the country’s plans to join the European Union and NATO.

The role of the MP, a former journalist who had been accused of corruption in the past, was to organise a media campaign to this end, the DBR said.

Ukrainians face winter in damaged homes, under threat of air raids

Millions of civilians in Ukraine are facing an increasingly uncertain and dangerous future as winter conditions set in, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) has warned. 

“Once-thriving communities are at risk of disintegrating under an increasingly protracted conflict” that has lasted more than 600 days, it added. 

The NGO said “an unyielding barrage of shelling” had left an estimated 1.4 million homes in ruin or disrepair across east and south Ukraine. 


Thousands of families have been forced to flee or left to shelter in damaged buildings lacking basic services, it continued. 

As temperatures drop and public services come under increasing pressure, NRC estimated that at least 2.5 million people need vital humanitarian assistance to support them through winter. It said millions remain out of reach of aid in Russian-controlled areas. 

“Millions of families are facing a growing winter nightmare here,” explained Jan Egeland, NRC Secretary General, on a visit to Ukraine this week. “The physical impact of aerial bombardment can be seen right across the towns and cities I have visited. And the mental impact on those who remain under this ever-present threat is just as striking. People have told me about the horror of watching their communities transformed into sites of destruction or battlegrounds.

“While glimpses of stability emerge in pockets of the country, the humanitarian landscape in the east and south remains bleak and is defined by relentless hostilities and fighting along the frontlines. We are deeply concerned for the future of those millions who are already dependent on support, given that winter has barely begun.”

Heavy fighting around Avdiivka, says Ukraine

The ruined eastern Ukrainian city Avdiivka was experiencing intense fighting as Moscow tried to press its forces forward, Ukraine’s army said on Monday. 


Russia has suffered heavy losses around the city and is ramping up its air bombardment, they added. 

Ukrainian forces repelled Russian attacks in other areas of the 1,000km front line, Ukraine’s army also claimed. 

With Ukraine making only incremental gains in the east and south, Moscow launched an assault on Avdiivka – some 20 km from Russian-occupied Donetsk – in October. 

Earlier this month, the Institute for the Study of War said Russian forces are likely preparing for another wave of highly attritional infantry-led ground assaults on Ukrainian positions in the area.

Russian UN envoys shoot back at Western criticism of  Ukraine war

Western countries on Monday repeatedly called on Moscow to end its war in Ukraine and domestic repression of dissident voices, as Russia came under a regular review at the UN’s top rights body.


A delegation from Moscow, led by State Secretary and Deputy Justice Minister Andrei Loginov, defended Russia’s “special military operation” in Ukraine, saying it had “no relation to the subject matter” at issue in the review.

He also said Russia had a right to ensure law and order by restricting some forms of protest or voices that might threaten domestic security.

Monday’s hearing in Geneva was part of an exercise known as the universal periodic review (UPR), which all UN member states face around every five years with the Human Rights Council.

Western countries during Monday’s session denounced the deportation of Ukrainian children, Russia’s crackdown on civil society and the arrest of rights defenders, including Alexei Navalny and Vladimir Kara-Murza. They also condemned Russia for curbing the rights of LGBTQI people and those protesting against the war.

“Where does one start? Since the last UPR, Russia’s repression at home has intensified, enabling its oppression overseas — not least the continuing atrocities in Ukraine,” said Britain’s ambassador in Geneva.


Ukrainian pilots trained on F-16s next year

The Ukrainian army will be able to train its pilots to operate F-16 fighter jets from early 2024 in Romania, where a training centre was inaugurated on Monday.

The programme will “most likely” begin at the beginning of next year, according to a spokesperson for the Dutch army, which is supplying the planes. 

Ukraine – desperately wanting to use the jets on the front against Russia – welcomed the opening of the centre in its neighbour.  

“This is a concrete and significant contribution to the air coalition,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy commented on X. 

According to an agreement between NATO allies the Netherlands and Romania, the first five planes arrived last week. In total, 12 to 18 F-16s will be delivered.


With the support of the United States – which makes the military jet – Denmark and the Netherlands vowed in August to provide up to 61 aircraft once Ukrainian pilots were trained.

Romanian pilots will also be trained at the facility, with US defence giant Lockheed Martin supporting training and plane maintenance.  

Amid almost daily Russian strikes across its entire territory, Kyiv has asked Western allies for several months to strengthen its air defences.

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‘We are failing again’: UN, US resignations highlight splits over Israel’s Gaza assault

While many Western leaders and officials were quick to express their support for Israel in its war against Hamas, there have been signs of dissent in senior US and UN circles over the West’s unwavering backing of Israel’s massive retaliatory bombardments on Gaza. Some have even quit their posts.

When Craig Mokhiber, director of the New York office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, quit his job in protest over Israel’s bombardment of Gaza, his resignation letter citing the West’s “complicity” in a “genocide unfolding before our eyes” immediately went viral on social media sites.

Mokhiber’s resignation followed that of US State Department official Josh Paul, who was the director of congressional and public affairs for the State Department’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs for more than 11 years.

In his October 28 letter to Volker Türk, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mokhiber explained that he was stepping down in protest over the “genocide unfolding before our eyes” in Gaza.

“The current wholesale slaughter of the Palestinian people, rooted in an ethno-nationalist settler colonial ideology, in continuation of decades of their systematic persecution and purging […], coupled with explicit statements of intent by leaders in the Israeli government and military, leaves no room for doubt or debate,” wrote Mokhiber, a US human rights lawyer who joined the UN in 1992 and has served in several conflict zones, including the Palestinian Territories, Afghanistan and Sudan.

Read moreExperts say Hamas and Israel are breaking international law, but what does that mean?

Citing the UN‘s failure to prevent “genocides against the Tutsis, Bosnian Muslims, the Yazidi and the Rohingya“, Mokhiber added a stark warning to the UN’s top human rights official. “High Commissioner, we are failing again,” he said in a letter that did not mention the October 7 Hamas attack that marked the start of the latest cycle of violence.

At least 1,400 people, the majority of them civilians, were killed in the Hamas attacks, while Israeli bombardments have claimed almost 10,000 lives in Gaza, most of them civilians, according to health authorities in the Hamas-run Palestinian enclave. 

Mokhiber also mentioned the “complicity” of Western governments in Israel’s offensive in Gaza.

“Not only are these governments refusing to meet their treaty obligations ‘to ensure respect’ for the Geneva Conventions, but they are in fact actively arming the assault, providing economic and intelligence support, and giving political and diplomatic cover for Israel’s atrocities,” he said.

Distancing himself from the UN

Mokhiber is a human rights lawyer who lived in Gaza in the 1990s. He has been frequently criticised by pro-Israeli groups, particularly for his support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and for denouncing Israel’s policies in the Palestinian Territories.

When contacted by the Guardian, the UN distanced itself from the content of Mokhiber’s resignation letter. “The views in his letter made public today are his personal views […]. The position of the office on the grave situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Israel is reflected in our reports and public statements”, said a UN statement sent to the Guardian.  

Read moreIsrael-Hamas war tests Western unity as Global South slams ‘double standards’

Mokhiber’s resignation reveals the deep divisions within the international community, which became more apparent after Israel launched air strikes on the Gaza Strip in response to the terrorist acts perpetrated by Hamas on Israeli soil.

Since the bombardments began, protesters have been taking to the streets across the Arab world, as well as in London, New York, Washington, Paris and Berlin, in support of the people of Gaza. Demonstrators have been protesting against the “double standards” of the West, which was quick to condemn Russian war crimes committed in Ukraine but is hesitant, in their view, to do so when Israel bombards Palestinian civilian infrastructure.

A matter of conscience

Mokhiber has not been the only senior official to throw in the towel since the start of the war between Israel and Hamas. A top US State Department official in the bureau that oversees arms transfers resigned last month, citing concerns over the consequences of arms deliveries for Palestinian civilians and the prospects for peace in the Middle East.

“I am leaving today because I believe that in our current course with regards to the continued – indeed, expanded and expedited – provision of lethal weapons to Israel, I have reached the end of that bargain,” wrote Paul in a public letter of resignation. 

Since his resignation, Paul has been speaking with various news outlets to explain why he made this decision after working for 11 years in the State Department’s military bureau.

Read moreFrom 1947 to 2023: Retracing the complex, tragic Israeli-Palestinian conflict

“This isn’t the first time we’ve been confronted with complex moral issues […]. In Ukraine’s case, for example, a debate was held about sending cluster bombs […]. In Israel’s case, we just had to respond to requests,” said Paul during an interview with Radio-Canada, Canada’s French-language national public broadcaster. 

In the past, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has pushed other Western officials to resign from their posts, citing their conscience. In early August 2014, Sayeeda Warsi, the UK’s first female Muslim secretary of state, announced her resignation, saying she could no longer “support the government’s policy” under Prime Minister David Cameron.

A month earlier, Israel had launched Operation Protective Edge on Gaza, its third major offensive against Hamas since it took power in the Palestinian enclave in 2007. In the space of a month-and-a-half, more than 2,000 Palestinians, mainly civilians, were killed, according to local health services. In Israel, 67 soldiers and six civilians were killed during this operation. 

This article has been translated from the original in French

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Armenians find themselves pushed aside yet again

Jamie Dettmer is opinion editor at POLITICO Europe. 

Last week, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres warned that the world is “inching ever closer to a great fracture in economic and financial systems and trade relations.”

That may be so, but not when it comes to Azerbaijan.

A country a third of the size of Britain and with a population of about 10 million, Azerbaijan has faced few problems in bridging geopolitical divisions. And recently, Baku has been offering a masterclass in how to exploit geography and geology to considerable advantage.

From Washington to Brussels, Moscow to Beijing, seemingly no one wants to fall out with Azerbaijan; everyone wants to be a friend. Even now, as Armenia has turned to the world for help, accusing Baku of attempted ethnic cleansing in disputed Nagorno-Karabakh — the land-locked and long-contested Armenian enclave in Azerbaijan.

Warning signs had been mounting in recent weeks that Baku might be planning a major offensive, which it dubbed an “anti-terrorist operation,” and Armenia had been sending up distress flares. But not only were these largely overlooked, Baku has since faced muted criticism for its assault as well.

Western reaction could change, though, if Azerbaijan were to now engage in mass ethnic cleansing — but Baku is canny enough to know that.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine, Azerbaijan has been courted by all sides, becoming one of the war’s beneficiaries.

On a visit to Baku last year, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen had only warm words for the country’s autocratic leader Ilham Aliyev, saying she saw him as a reliable and trustworthy energy partner for the European Union.

Then, just a few weeks later, Alexander Lukashenko — Russian President Vladimir Putin’s satrap in Belarus — had no hesitation in describing Aliyev as “absolutely our man.”

Is there any other national leader who can be a pal of von der Leyen and Lukashenko at the same time?

Aliyev is also a friend of Turkey; Baku and Beijing count each other as strategic partners, with Azerbaijan participating in China’s Belt and Road Initiative; and the country has been working on expanding military cooperation with Israel as well. In 2020 — during the last big flare-up in this intractable conflict — Israel had supplied Azerbaijan with drones, alongside Turkey.

That’s an impressive list of mutually exclusive friends and suitors — and location and energy explain much.

Upon her arrival in Azerbaijan’s capital last year, von der Leyen wasn’t shy about highlighting Europe’s need to “diversify away from Russia” for its energy needs, announcing a deal with Baku to increase supplies from the southern gas corridor — the 3,500-kilometer pipeline bringing gas from the Caspian Sea to Europe.

She also noted that Azerbaijan “has a tremendous potential in renewable energy” in offshore wind and green hydrogen, enthusing that “gradually, Azerbaijan will evolve from being a fossil fuel supplier to becoming a very reliable and prominent renewable energy partner to the European Union.”

There was no mention of Azerbaijan’s poor human rights record, rampant corruption or any call for the scores of political prisoners to be released.

Azerbaijan uses oil and gas “to silence the EU on fundamental rights issues,” Philippe Dam of Human Rights Watch complained at the time. “The EU should not say a country is reliable when it is restricting the activities of civil society groups and crushing political dissent,” he added.

Eve Geddie, director of Amnesty International’s Brussels office, warned: “Ukraine serves as a reminder that repressive and unaccountable regimes are rarely reliable partners and that privileging short-term objectives at the expense of human rights is a recipe for disaster.”

But von der Leyen isn’t the first top EU official to speak of Azerbaijan as such a partner. In 2019, then EU Council President Donald Tusk also praised Azerbaijan for its reliability.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine, however, the EU’s courting has become even more determined — and, of course, the bloc isn’t alone. Rich in oil and gas and located between Russia, Iran, Armenia, Georgia and the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan is a strategic prize, sitting “on the crossroads of former major empires, civilizations and regional and global powerhouses,” according to Fariz Ismailzade of ADA University in Baku.

And Azerbaijan’s growing importance in the latest great game in Central Asia is reflected in the increase in foreign diplomatic missions located in its capital — in 2005 there were just two dozen, now there are 85.

For Ankara, and Beijing — eager to expand their influence across Central Asia — Azerbaijan is a key player in regional energy projects, as well as the development of new regional railways and planned infrastructure and connectivity projects.

Thanks to strong linguistic, religious and cultural ties, Turkey has been Azerbaijan’s main regional ally since it gained independence. But Baku has been adept at making sure it keeps in with all its suitors. It realizes they all offer opportunities but could also be dangerous, should relations take a dive.

And this holds for all the key players in the region, whether it be the EU, Turkey, China or Russia. The reason Baku can get on with a highly diverse set of nations — and why there likely won’t be many serious repercussions for Baku with this latest military foray — is that no one wants to give geopolitical rivals an edge and upset the fragile equilibrium in Central Asia. That includes its traditional foe Iran – Baku and Tehran have in recent months been trying to build a détente after years of hostility.

For the Armenians, so often finding themselves wronged by history, this is highly unfortunate. They might have been better advised to follow Azerbaijan’s example and try to be everyone’s friend, instead of initially depending on Russia, then pivoting West — a pirouette that’s lost them any sympathy in Moscow.

But then again, Armenia hasn’t been blessed with proven reserves of oil or natural gas like its neighbor.

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The women of Iran deserve a tough EU line

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

Mahsa Amini’s example continues to challenge us, in Sweden, in Europe and beyond to dare to tell the truth and stand up for what is right, which is why I nominated her for this year’s Sakharov Prize, MEP David Lega writes.

One year ago Jina Mahsa Amini dared to defy the Iranian regime by showing her hair in public. For this they murdered her. 


But she was not so easily disappeared, and her death was not mourned in silence. The world remains captivated and inspired by her courage.

The mass protests which followed Mahsa Amini’s murder showed not only the brutality but insecurity of a regime born in violence and marked, ever since, by an embrace of repression and regional unrest. 

A regime which uses its morality police to enforce political submission at home. Which supports Hezbollah, Hamas and other terrorist organizations abroad. 

Which seeks “death to Israel”, stakes its future on the Chinese Communist Party and aligns itself with Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong-Un, Bashar al-Assad and Nicolás Maduro. 

And which now sends its death machines to Russia for the indiscriminate killing of Ukrainians.

Iranians are the ones who have suffered the most

To combat the atrocities sponsored by this regime is why, last autumn, our KD party and I were the first in the Riksdag and in the European Parliament to push for calling a spade a spade and finally labelling the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) a terrorist organization. 

It’s why, in January, I championed the European Parliament’s resolution stating the clear fact that the terrible human rights abuses being carried out in Iran put at risk ongoing efforts to revive the nuclear agreement with the EU and EU partners — and why I then voted to suspend these talks. 

We can never accept the Iranian regime’s ability to wield a nuclear weapon; but nor has that regime earned the sanctions relief a nuclear deal would inevitably bring.

It is of course Iranians who have suffered the most. Those in Iran who tell the truth about this, who push back, risk imprisonment and worse. 

We have seen recurring mass protests: against oppression, corruption and poor governance — and in response, recurring crackdowns. 

Last year, more than 500 protesters inspired by Mahsa Amini were killed. Her uncle and father have been inexplicably detained. The regime is frightened more people will take to the streets.


This is why I nominated Mahsa Amini for the Sakharov Prize

“Women, Life, and Freedom”: this was the message inspired by Mahsa Amini. It is a universal message of dignity and opportunity, fullness and fairness — for women everywhere, and indeed for all people: since to silence and immure women is to stagnate, and ultimately die, as a society. 

And yet it is a message of hope Iran’s sclerotic leadership simply cannot abide, much less deliver.

Mahsa Amini’s example continues to challenge us, in Sweden, in Europe and beyond: to dare to tell the truth, stand up for what is right — and keep alive, always, our hope and drive for a better tomorrow. To fight injustice.

It’s why I nominated her — in our Swedish press and in the European People’s Party (EPP), the Christian Democratic group in the European Parliament — for the European Parliament’s 2023 Sakharov Prize, an honour given to an extraordinary defender of human dignity and human rights. 

It’s why I called for a debate in last week’s plenary session, to commemorate Mahsa Amini at the one-year mark of her murder — and why I am so determined now, following our EPP Group’s official endorsement, to carry her nomination forward to the entire European Parliament: to show our active and ongoing support for “Women, Life and Freedom” in Iran.


Engaging with Tehran means betraying all those still fighting for freedom

And it’s why, finally, I believe neither my country of Sweden nor the EU should engage the Iranian regime further on any outstanding issues, including revived nuclear talks — until all European citizens unjustly detained in Iran are returned safely home. 

Why should the brutal treatment and even execution of innocent victims be rewarded with face time or face-saving measures? 

This would betray the cause of Mahsa Amini and all those women and men still fighting for life and freedom.

Unfortunately, we have seen the Belgian government — and now (again), it seems, the US administration — making prisoner swaps. 

Of course, I welcome, and celebrate together with their families, the safe return of all those held hostage in Iran. 


But will such ad hoc exchanges, sometimes bought at great cost, protect our citizens in the long run? Will they deter more malign actions on the part of the regime? Even more fundamentally, what has happened to the principle “no negotiations with terrorists”? 

I believe such deals are the wrong approach, for I fear they only encourage more hostage-taking down the road.

A tough, united stance to keep the authoritarian regime in check

The EU should rather use all the tools we have to pressure the Iranian regime to change: by labelling the IRGC as terrorists, by raising the costs of human rights abuses with more EU sanctions — and by refusing to return to the table until all wrongly held EU citizens are freed. 

More than this, we in the European Union need a tough, coordinated, united stance vis-a-vis Iran together with the United States, United Kingdom and all our global partners. The bad behaviour of this authoritarian regime must be checked.

The struggle for women, for life and for freedom continues in Iran and around the world. The spark of Mahsa Amini’s vision for a better future, fanned by her extraordinary courage, continues to burn bright. 

Let’s honour her memory and the memory of all those who have suffered so much in taking up her cause. Let’s dare to follow her lead.

MEP David Lega (Kristdemokraterna/Sweden), is the Standing Rapporteur for Iran in the European People’s Party (EPP) Group in the European Parliament.

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