A plan for competitive, green and resilient industries

We, Renew Europe, want our Union to fulfil its promise of prosperity and opportunities for our fellow Europeans. We have championed initiatives to make our continent freer, fairer and greener, but much more remains to be done.

We are convinced that Europe has what it takes to become the global industrial leader, especially in green and digital technologies. Yet it is faced with higher energy prices and lower levels of investment, which creates a double risk of internal and external fragmentation.

The Russian aggression against Ukraine has shown us that our European way of life cannot be taken for granted. While we stand unwaveringly at the side of our Ukrainian friends and commit to the rebuilding of their homeland, we also need to protect our freedom and prosperity.

That is why Europe needs an urgent and ambitious plan for a competitive, productive and innovative industry ‘made in Europe’. Our proposals below would translate into many more jobs, a faster green transition and increased geopolitical influence.

We must improve the conditions for companies, big and small, to innovate, to grow and to thrive globally.

1. Reforms to kick start the European economy: A European Clean Tech, Competitiveness and Innovation Act

While the EU can be proud of its single market, we must improve the conditions for companies, big and small, to innovate, to grow and to thrive globally.

  • In addition to the acceleration of the deployment of sustainable energy, we call on the Commission to propose a European Clean Tech, Competitiveness and Innovation Act, which would:
  • While the EU can be proud of its single market, we must improve the conditions for companies, big and small, to innovate, to grow and to thrive globally.
  • In addition to the acceleration of the deployment of sustainable energy, we call on the Commission to propose a European Clean Tech, Competitiveness and Innovation Act, which would:
  • Cut red tape and administrative burden, focusing on delivering solutions to our companies, particularly for SMEs and startups.
  • Adapt state aid rules for companies producing clean technologies and energies.
  • Introduce fast-track permitting for clean and renewable energies and for industrial projects of general European interest.
  • Streamline the process for important Projects of Common European Interest, with adequate administrative resources.
  • Guarantee EU-wide access to affordable energy for our industries.
  • Strengthen the existing instruments for a just transition of carbon-intensive industries, as they are key to fighting climate change.
  • Facilitate private financing by completing the Capital Markets Union to allow our SMEs and startups to scale up.
  • Set the right conditions to increase Europe’s global share of research and development spending and reach our own target at 3 percent of our GDP.
  • Build up the European Innovation Council to develop breakthrough technologies.
  • Deliver a highly skilled workforce for our industry.
  • Deepen the single market by fully enforcing existing legislation and further harmonization of standards in the EU as well as with third countries.

We need to reduce more rapidly our economic dependencies from third countries, which make our companies and our economies vulnerable.

2. Investments supporting our industry to thrive: A European Sovereignty Fund and Reform Act

While the EU addresses, with unity, all the consequences of the war in Ukraine, we need to reduce more rapidly our economic dependencies from third countries, which make our companies and our economies vulnerable.

In addition to the new framework for raw materials, we call on the Commission to:

  • Create a European Sovereignty Fund, by revising the MFF and mobilizing private investments, to increase European strategic investments across the Union, such as the production on our soil of critical inputs, technologies and goods, which are key to the green and digital transitions.
  • Carry out a sovereignty test to screen European legislation and funds, both existing and upcoming, to demonstrate that they neither harm the EU’s capacity to act autonomously, nor create new dependencies.
  • Modernize the Stability and Growth Pact to incentivize structural reforms and national investments with real added value for our open strategic autonomy, in areas like infrastructure, resources and technologies.

While the EU has to resist protectionist measures, we will always want to promote an open economy with fair competition.

3. Initiatives creating a global level playing field:

A New Generation of Partnerships in the World Act

While the EU has to resist protectionist measures, we will always want to promote an open economy with fair competition.

  • In addition to all the existing reforms made during this mandate, notably on public procurement and foreign subsidies, we call on the Commission to:
  • Make full use of the EU’s economic and political power regarding current trade partners to ensure we get the most for our industry exports and imports, while promoting our values and standards, not least human rights and the Green Deal.
  • Promote new economic partnerships with democratic countries so we can face climate change and all the consequences of the Russian aggression together.
  • Ensure the diversification of supply chains to Europe, particularly regarding critical technologies and raw materials, based on a detailed assessment of current dependencies and alternative sources.
  • Use all our trade policy instruments to promote our prosperity and preserve the single market from distortions from third countries.
  • Take recourse to dispute settlement mechanisms available at WTO level whenever necessary to promote rules-based trade.
  • Adopt a plan to increase our continent’s attractiveness for business projects.
  • Create a truly European screening of the most sensitive foreign investments.
  • We, Renew Europe, believe that taken together these initiatives will foster the development of a competitive and innovative European industry fit for the 21st century. It will pave the way for a better future for Europeans that is more prosperous and more sustainable.



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Why Cristiano Ronaldo’s move to Saudi Arabia means so much for the Gulf monarchy’s sporting ambitions | CNN

Editor’s Note: A version of this story appears in today’s Meanwhile in the Middle East newsletter, CNN’s three-times-a-week look inside the region’s biggest stories. Sign up here.


Abu Dhabi, UAE
CNN
— 

It’s a partnership that’s been hailed as “history in the making.”

One of the world’s most famous soccer stars landed in the Saudi capital Riyadh on Tuesday, where Cristiano Ronaldo was received in an extravagant ceremony, with excited children sporting his new club’s yellow and blue jerseys.

Oil-rich Saudi Arabia’s success in luring the five-time Ballon d’Or winner on a two-year contract with the kingdom’s Al Nassr FC is the Gulf monarchy’s latest step in realizing its sporting ambitions – seemingly at any cost.

According to Saudi state-owned media, Ronaldo will earn an estimated $200 million a year with Al Nassr, making him the world’s highest-paid soccer player.

Shortly after the 37-year-old’s signing with Al Nassr, the club’s Instagram page gained over 5.3 million new followers. Its official website was inaccessible after exceeding its bandwidth limit due to the sudden surge in traffic, and the hashtag #HalaRonaldo – Hello, Ronaldo in Arabic – was trending for days across the Middle East on Twitter.

Analysts say that his recruitment in Saudi Arabia is part of a wider effort by the kingdom to diversify its sources of revenue and become a serious player in the international sporting scene.

It is also seen as a move by the kingdom to shore up its image after it was tarnished by the 2018 dismemberment and killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi at the hands of Saudi agents, and a devastating war it started in Yemen in 2015.

Critics have decried the kingdom for “sportswashing,” an attempt to burnish one’s reputation through sport.

“I think Saudi Arabia has recognized a couple of years ago that to be a powerful nation internationally, you cannot just rely on hard power,” Danyel Reiche, a visiting research fellow and associate professor at Georgetown University Qatar, told CNN.

“You also need to invest in soft power, and the case of Qatar shows that this can work pretty well,” he said, adding that Saudi Arabia is following in the Qatari approach with sport, but with a delay of around 25 years.

Neighboring Qatar has also faced immense criticism since it won the bid to hosting last year’s FIFA World Cup in 2010.

Despite the smaller Gulf state facing similar accusations of “sportswashing,” the tournament has largely been viewed as a success, not least in exposing the world to a different view of the Middle East, thanks in part to Morocco’s success in reaching the semifinals and Saudi Arabia beating eventual World Cup champion Argentina in their opening group game.

Gulf nations engage in fierce competition to become the region’s premier entertainment and sporting hubs. The UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain, in close proximity to each other, each have their own Formula One racing event. But their competition hasn’t been confined to the region. Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have also bought trophy European soccer teams.

Riyadh is playing catchup with neighbors who have long realized the importance of investing in sports, said Simon Chadwick, professor of sport and geopolitical economy at SKEMA Business School in Lille, France, especially as its main source of income – oil – is being gradually shunned.

“This is part of an ongoing attempt to create more resilient economies that are more broadly based upon industries other than those that are derived from oil and gas,” Chadwick told CNN.

Ronaldo’s new club Al Nassr is backed by Qiddiya Investment Company (QIC), a subsidiary of the kingdom’s wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund (PIF), which has played a pivotal role in Saudi Arabia’s diversification plans.

“It is also a sign of interconnectedness, of globalization and of opening up to the rest of the world,” said Georgetown University’s Reiche.

The move is part of “several recent high profile moves in the sports world, including hosting the Andy Ruiz Jr. and Anthony Joshua world heavywight boxing championship bout in 2019, and launching the LIV Golf championship,” said Omar Al-Ubaydli, director of research at the Bahrain-based Derasat think tank. “It is a significant piece of a large puzzle that represents their economic restructuring.”

The kingdom has been on a path to not only diversify its economy, but also shift its image amid a barrage of criticism over its human rights record and treatment of women. Saudi Arabia is today hosting everything from desert raves to teaming up with renowned soccer players. Argentina’s Lionel Messi last year signed a lucrative promotional deal with the kingdom.

Hailed as the world’s greatest player, 35-year-old Messi ended this year’s World Cup tournament in Qatar with his team’s win over France, making his ambassadorship of even greater value to the kingdom.

The acquisition of such key global figures will also help combat the monarchy’s decades-long reputation of being “secretive” and “ultra-conservative,” James Dorsey, a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore and an expert on soccer in the Middle East, told CNN’s Eleni Giokos on Wednesday.

Al-Ubaydli said that the kingdom wants to use high profile international sports “as a vehicle for advertising to the world its openness.”

Saudi Arabia bought the English Premier league club Newcastle United in 2021 through a three-party consortium, with PIF being the largest stakeholder. The move proved controversial, as Amnesty International and other human rights defenders worried it would overshadow the kingdom’s human rights violations.

Ronaldo’s work with Saudi Arabia is already being criticized by rights groups who are urging the soccer player to “draw attention to human rights issues” in Saudi Arabia.

“Saudi Arabia has an image problem,” especially since Khashoggi’s killing, says Reiche. But the kingdom’s recent investments in sports and entertainment are “not about sportswashing but about developing the country, social change and opening up to the world.”

Saudi Arabia is reportedly weighing a 2030 World Cup bid with Egypt and Greece, but the kingdom’s tourism ministry noted in November that it has not yet submitted an official bid. Chadwick believes that Ronaldo’s deal with Al Nassr, however, may help boost the kingdom’s bid should it choose it pursue it.

Another way Saudi Arabia may benefit from Ronaldo’s acquisition is that it will be able to improve commercial performance, says Chadwick, especially if this collaboration attracts further international talent.

“It is important to see Ronaldo not just as a geopolitical instrument,” said Chadwick, “There is still a commercial component to him and to the purpose he is expected to serve in Saudi Arabia.”

What Ronaldo’s move to Saudi Arabia shows is that the kingdom aspires “to be seen as being the best” and that it wants to be perceived as a “contender and a legitimate member of the international football community,” said Chadwick.

UAE FM meets Syria’s Assad in Damascus in further sign of thawing ties

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad received the United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed in Damascus on Wednesday in the latest sign of thawing relations between Assad and the Gulf state. The meeting addressed developments in Syria and the wider Middle East, according to UAE state news agency WAM.

  • Background: It was Abdullah bin Zayed’s first visit since a November 2021 meeting with Assad that led to the resumption of relations. Months later, in March 2022, Assad visited the UAE, his first visit to an Arab state since the start of Syria’s civil war.
  • Why it matters: A number of Assad’s former foes have been trying to mend fences with his regime. Last week, talks between the Syrian and Turkish defense ministers were held in Moscow in the highest-level encounter reported between the estranged sides since the war in Syria began. The regional rapprochement is yet to improve the lives of average Syrians. Syria is still under Western sanctions.

Turkish President Erdogan says he could meet with Assad

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a speech on Thursday that he could meet the Syrian leader “to establish peace.”

  • Background: Erdogan’s comments came after the Moscow talks between the two nations’ defense ministers and intelligence chiefs. “Following this meeting… we will bring our foreign ministers together. And after that, as leaders, we will come together,” Erdogan said on Thursday.
  • Why it matters: The meeting would mark a dramatic shift in Turkey’s decade-long stance on Syria, where Ankara was the prime supporter of political and armed factions fighting to topple Assad. The Turkish military maintains a presence across the Syrian border and within northern Syria, where it backs Syrian opposition forces. Erdogan has also pledged to launch yet another incursion into northern Syria, aiming at creating a 30-km (20-mile) deep “safe zone” that would be emptied of Kurdish fighters.

Iran shuts down French cultural center over Charlie Hebdo’s Khamenei cartoons

Iran announced on Thursday it had ended the activities of a Tehran-based French research institute, in reaction to cartoons mocking Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and fellow Shia Muslim clerics published by French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo this week.

  • Background: Iran summoned the French ambassador to Tehran on Wednesday to protest cartoons published by satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. More than 30 cartoons poking fun at Iran’s supreme leader were published by the magazine on Wednesday, in a show of support for the Iranian people who have been protesting the Islamic Republic’s government and its policies.
  • Why it matters: French-Iranian relations have deteriorated significantly since protests broke out in Iran late last year. Paris has publicly supported the protests and spoken out against Iran’s response to them. French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna criticized Iran’s freedom of press and judicial independence on Thursday, saying “press freedom exists, contrary to what is going on in Iran and… it is exercised under the supervision of a judge in an independent judiciary – and there too it’s something that Iran knows little of.”

The prized legacy of iconic Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum re-emerged this year when Rolling Stone magazine featured her in its “200 Greatest Singers of All Time.”

Ranking 61st, Umm Kulthum was the only Arab artist to make it to the list, with the magazine saying that she “has no real equivalent among singers in the West.”

Born in a small village northeast of the Egyptian capital Cairo, Umm Kulthum rose to unmatched fame as she came to represent “the soul of the pan-Arab world,” the music magazine said.

“Her potent contralto, which could blur gender in its lower register, conveyed breathtaking emotional range in complex songs that, across theme and wildly-ornamented variations, could easily last an hour, as she worked crowds like a fiery preacher,” it wrote.

Nicknamed “the lady of Arab singing,” her music featured both classical Arabic poetry as well as colloquial songs still adored by younger generations. Her most famous pieces include “Inta Uumri” (you are my life), “Alf Leila Weileila” (a thousand and one nights), “Amal Hayati” (hope of my life) and “Daret al-Ayyam” (the days have come around). Some of her songs have been remixed to modern beats that have made their way to Middle Eastern nightclubs.

The singer remains an unmatched voice across the Arab World and her music can still be heard in many traditional coffee shops in Old Cairo’s neighborhoods and other parts of the Arab world.

Umm Kulthum’s death in 1975 brought millions of mourners to the streets of Cairo.

By Nadeen Ebrahim

Women athletes aim their air rifles while competing in a local shooting championship in Yemen's Houthi rebel-held capital Sanaa on January 3.



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Ukraine war: Investigators probe 58,000 possible Russian war crimes

Ten months into Russia’s latest invasion of Ukraine, overwhelming evidence shows the Kremlin’s troops have waged total war, with disregard for international laws governing the treatment of civilians and conduct on the battlefield.

Ukraine is investigating more than 58,000 potential Russian war crimes — killings, kidnappings, indiscriminate bombings and sexual assaults. Reporting by The Associated Press and US television channel PBS, recorded in a public database, has independently verified more than 600 incidents that appear to violate the laws of war. Some of those attacks were massacres that killed dozens or hundreds of civilians and as a totality it could account for thousands of individual war crimes.

As Karim Khan, chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, told the AP, “Ukraine is a crime scene.”

That extensive documentation has run smack into a hard reality, however. While authorities have amassed a staggering amount of evidence — the conflict is among the most documented in human history — they are unlikely to arrest most of those who pulled the trigger or gave the beatings anytime soon, let alone the commanders who gave the orders and political leaders who sanctioned the attacks.

The reasons are manifold, experts say. Ukrainian authorities face serious challenges in gathering air-tight evidence in a war zone. And the vast majority of alleged war criminals have evaded capture and are safely behind Russian lines.

Even in successful prosecutions, the limits of justice so far are glaring. Take the case of Vadim Shishimarin, a baby-faced 21-year-old tank commander who was the first Russian tried on war crimes charges. He surrendered in March and pleaded guilty in a Kyiv courtroom in May to shooting a 62-year-old Ukrainian civilian in the head.

The desire for some combination of justice and vengeance was palpable in that courtroom. “Do you consider yourself a murderer?” a woman shouted at the Russian as he stood bent forward with his head resting against the glass of the cage he was locked in.

“What about the man in the coffin?” came another, sharper voice. A third demanded the defense lawyer explain how he could fight for the Russian’s freedom.

The young soldier was first sentenced to life in prison, which was reduced to 15 years on appeal. Critics said the initial penalty was unduly harsh, given that he confessed to the crime, said he was following orders and expressed remorse.

Ukrainian prosecutors, however, have not yet been able to charge Shishimarin’s commanders or those who oversaw him. Since March, Ukraine has named more than 600 Russians, many of them high-ranking political and military officials, as suspects, including Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu. But, so far, the most powerful have not fallen into Ukrainian custody.

“It would be terrible to find a scenario in which, in the end, you convict a few people of war crimes and crimes against humanity who are low-grade or mid-grade military types or paramilitary types, but the top table gets off scot-free,” said Philippe Sands, a prominent British human rights lawyer.

Throughout the war Russian leaders have denied accusations of brutality.

Moscow’s UN ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, said no civilians were tortured and killed in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha despite the meticulous documentation of the atrocities by AP, other journalists, and war crimes investigators there.

“Not a single local person has suffered from any violent action,” he said, calling the photos and video of bodies in the streets “a crude forgery” staged by the Ukrainians.

Such statements have been easily rebutted by Ukrainian and international authorities, human rights groups and journalists who have meticulously documented Russian barbarity since the Kremlin ordered the unprovoked invasion in February.

Part of that effort, the AP and PBS Frontline database called War Crimes Watch Ukraine, offers a contemporaneous catalog of the horrors of war. It is not a comprehensive accounting. AP and Frontline only included incidents that could be verified by photos, videos or firsthand witness accounts. There are hundreds of reported incidents of potential war crimes for which there was not enough publicly available evidence to independently confirm what happened.

Still, the resulting database details 10 months of attacks that appear to violate the laws of war, including 93 attacks on schools, 36 where children were killed, and more than 200 direct attacks on civilians, including torture, the kidnapping and killing of civilians, and the desecration of dead bodies. Among Russia’s targets: churches, cultural centers, hospitals, food facilities and electrical infrastructure. The database catalogs how Russia utilized cluster bombs and other indiscriminate weapons in residential neighborhoods and to attack buildings housing civilians.

An AP investigation revealed that Russia’s bombing of a theatre in Mariupol, which was being used as a civilian shelter, likely killed more than 600 people. Another showed that in the first 30 days after the invasion, Russian forces struck and damaged 34 medical facilities, suggesting a pattern and intent.

“That’s a crime against the laws of war,’ said Stephen Rapp, a former US Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes. “Once somebody’s injured, they’re entitled to medical care. You can’t attack a hospital. That’s the oldest rule we have in international law.”

Experts say Russia under President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly ignored the rules established by the Geneva Conventions, a series of treaties that dictate how warring countries should treat each other’s citizens, and the Rome Statute, which established the International Criminal Court and defined specific war crimes and crimes against humanity.

“These abuses are not the acts of rogue units; rather, they are part of a deeply disturbing pattern of abuse consistent with what we have seen from Russia’s prior military engagements — in Chechnya, Syria, and Georgia,” said Beth Van Schaack, the US Ambassador at Large for Global Criminal Justice, speaking earlier this month at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands.

Short of a regime-toppling revolution in Moscow, however, it is unlikely Putin and other high-ranking Russians end up in court, whether in Ukraine or the Hague, experts say.

And even as a chorus of global leaders have joined Ukrainians in calling for legal action against the architects of this war, there is disagreement about the best way to do it.

The International Criminal Court has been investigating potential war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine. But it cannot prosecute the most basic offense, the crime of aggression — the unjust use of military force against another nation — because the Russian Federation, like the United States, never gave it authority to do so.

Efforts to plug that loophole by creating a special international tribunal for the crime of aggression in Ukraine have been gaining momentum. Last month, the European Union threw its support behind the idea.

Some human rights advocates say a special tribunal would be the smartest way to proceed. Sands, the British human rights lawyer, said prosecuting Russia before such a tribunal would be a “slam dunk.”

“You’d need to prove that that war is manifestly in violation of international law,” he added. “That’s pretty straightforward because Mr Putin has set out the reasons for that war, and it’s blindingly obvious that they don’t meet the requirements of international law.”

But Khan, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, has opposed the creation of a special tribunal, calling it a “vanity project.”

”We are an international court,” Khan told AP and Frontline in July. “We’ve been accepted, of course, by the Security Councilors as legitimate. They’ve used this court in terms of referrals. And I think we should focus on using this court effectively.”

Whatever happens on the international stage, the vast majority of cases will be heard within Ukraine itself.

The daunting task of turning Ukraine’s beleaguered prosecutorial service into a bureaucracy capable of building sophisticated war crimes cases falls on Yurii Bielousov.

When he was offered the job of leading the war crimes department in the prosecutor general’s office, Bielousov knew it would be tough. Just how tough became clear after Russians pulled out of Bucha last spring, leaving behind a crime scene strewn with the decomposing bodies of more than 450 men, women and children.

Bucha was the first complex case picked up by Bielousov’s prosecutors, and it quickly became one of the most important. No one in Ukraine had ever dealt with something of that scale before.

“The system was not in collapse, but the system was shocked,” Bielousov said. “OK, OK, let’s go everyone, and just try to do our best.”

Ukraine has five different investigative agencies, each assigned legal responsibility for different kinds of crimes. The crimes in Bucha cut across all those categories, tangling the bureaucracy. That has only made building tough cases even harder.

Despite the setbacks and hurdles, Bielousov says his prosecutors remain focused on gathering evidence that will stand up in domestic and international courts. He says he is also focused on another goal — compiling an incontrovertible record of Russia’s savagery that the world cannot ignore.

Yulia Truba wants the same thing. Her husband was one of the first men Russian soldiers tortured and killed in Bucha. She said she wants to establish a single, shared truth about what happened to her husband

“Russia won’t recognise this as a crime,” Truba said. “I just want as many people as possible to recognize it was a real murder and he was tortured. For me, this would be justice.”



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Ukraine hunts collaborators in its divided church

KYIV — “He consecrated their tanks — blessed military equipment!”

Kyiv’s regional police chief Andrii Nebytov doesn’t hide his disgust as he describes how Father Mykola Yevtushenko, a priest of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church Moscow Patriarchate, collaborated with the Russians, offering benedictions and urging his parishioners to welcome the invading forces.

The 75-year-old cleric, whose trial is underway in Kyiv, is accused not only of trying to stamp an ecclesiastical imprimatur on the invasion, but also of identifying locals most likely to resist Russia’s savage 33-day occupation of Bucha, the suburban town just northwest of Kyiv that has become a byword for war crimes.

Yevtushenko is far from being the only clergyman in the sights of the Ukrainian authorities over accusations of collaboration. More than 30 priests are under investigation, and the intelligence services mounted a series of raids in monasteries and churches across the country to root out pro-Russian clerics.

The investigations cut to the heart of a profound and highly political schism that divides the churches of this predominantly Orthodox nation. The growing tensions raise significant questions over how far President Volodymyr Zelenskyy can go in ratcheting up pressure on what is ostensibly a religious institution over fears that it is a hotbed of dangerous fifth columnists.

Ukraine’s church splintered in 2018 into two bodies with unhelpfully similar names. In the teeth of opposition from the Kremlin, the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) was granted ecclesiastical independence by the Patriarchate of Constantinople in 2019. In a sign of the political fault lines underpinning the feud, OCU churches had offered support to the Maidan protesters of 2014, who toppled Viktor Yanukovych, Moscow’s satrap in Ukraine.

This left the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC), which was still loyal to Moscow and is the church to which Yevtushenko and the other investigated clergy belong. The UOC has more land and buildings but the OCU claims at least double the number of worshippers. Although the UOC claimed in May to have ended its subordination to Moscow’s Metropolitan Kirill, a vociferous supporter of Russian President Vladimir Putin, few believe the split is sincere. Kirill casts the invasion as a religious war, an apocalyptic battle against evil forces determined to shatter the God-given unity of Holy Mother Russia, and Ukrainian lawmakers and other critics accuse the UOC of faking its rupture with his authority.

Butchery in Bucha

The army that Yevtushenko blessed in Bucha committed atrocities.

As they withdrew, they left behind 458 bodies, mostly civilians, including those of children. All were victims of a reign of rape and murder, that saw an old man shot dead in his garden and a family machine-gunned to death in their car as they tried to flee to safety. After the Russians withdrew, the town was littered with bodies, some buried and others not. Eighteen mutilated corpses of men, women and children were found in a basement — and on a roadside under a blanket, three naked women, whom Russian soldiers had attempted to incinerate before retreating.

The bestiality didn’t deter Yevtushenko.

As the rampage unfolded, he persisted in supporting the Russians, singling out local officials, Ukrainian army veterans and the “houses where wealthy people live, which were later robbed by the occupiers,” according to investigators.

The priest’s defense is that he was forced into his actions, but the police chief has little sympathy.

“He doesn’t accept his guilt and says the Russians threatened to kill him, or something like that,” Nebytov said, with a shake of his head.

Among the other 30 priests under investigation is Oleksandr Boyko from the village of Deptivka in Sumy Oblast, detained on suspicion of having “propagated hostile ideology, justified the actions of the aggressor country in Ukraine and supported the occupation,” according to prosecutors. Locals have told Ukrainian media that Boyko accompanied the Russians in his car around the village, delivering a pro-Moscow sermon: “We must love Russia. Without Russia, we are nothing.”

Ukrainian prosecutors announced Wednesday that a priest from the Luhansk region had been convicted of collaborating with the Russians and sentenced to 12 years. He was found guilty of supplying the Russians with intelligence on Ukrainian forces.

“A priest from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate in Luhansk region has been sentenced to twelve years in prison for informing the enemy about Ukrainian defense positions. The prosecutors proved in court that the priest from Lysychansk-based church assisted the Russian armed groups during hostilities against the Ukrainian army,” the Prosecutor General’s Office said on its Telegram channel.

As more evidence emerges about treacherous priests, public clamor is swelling for a ban on the UOC. A public petition last week calling for the UOC to be shuttered rapidly attracted the required 25,000 signatures for it to be referred formally to President Zelenskyy.

To ban or not ban

Even before the petition reached Zelenskyy’s desk, more than 30 Ukrainian lawmakers led by Kniazhytskyi and drawn from a variety of political parties, sponsored legislation that would ban the church and transfer its property to the OCU.

In the past, Zelenskyy’s government has been wary of acting against Moscow’s church in Ukraine, not wanting to cross any lines on the freedom of religious belief, or fall foul of the European Union or international norms in protecting worship. It has wanted to avoid offending the church’s adherents, acutely aware that within the ranks of its priests and worshippers are plenty of patriotic Ukrainians, some fighting on the frontlines against the Russians.

But evidence that church leaders have acted to varying degrees as cheerleaders for the enemy has prompted a change of heart.

In one of his nightly addresses, Zelenskyy announced his government was working on legislation to protect the country’s “spiritual independence” and to make it impossible for “religious organizations affiliated with centers of influence” in Russia to function in Ukraine. He has called for the naming and shaming of leading church figures and priests who have aided Russia.

The Ukrainian leader has also ordered a probe into the management of the UOC and its canonical relationship with the Moscow Patriarchate, to be completed within two months.

Talk of banning the UOC has prompted fury from the Kremlin. Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov has accused Kyiv of mounting a “war on the Russian Orthodox Church” — an odd turn of phrase considering the UOC’s claims to be no longer affiliated with its mother church in Moscow.

Moscow Patriarchate spokesman Vladimir Legoyda has dubbed the proposed moves as an “act of intimidation” and the latest round in the persecution of Orthodox faithful that he claims began in 2014 after Yanukovych’s ouster. He offered no examples of persecution. The Moscow Patriarchate and Putin and his aides cited Kyiv’s oppression of the UOC as justification for military moves into Ukraine’s Donbass region after 2014.

Russian world

Among the institutions targeted by Ukraine’s security service was the 11th-century Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, also known as the Monastery of the Caves, a preeminent center of Orthodox Christianity. In western Ukraine, agents raided the Koretsky Convent and the Volyn monastery of the icon of the Mother of God.

In a statement, Ukraine’s security agency (SBU) said it needed to conduct inspections to check for weapons and to ensure saboteurs or collaborators wanted by the police weren’t being sheltered in church buildings. “These activities are being carried out to prevent the use of religious communities as cells of the ‘Russian world’ and to protect the population from provocations and terrorist acts, among other things,” the SBU said. Ukrainian officials say material was found during the raids that indicated the UOC had maintained links to the Russian Orthodox Church throughout the war. (The phrase “Russian world,” or Russkiy mir, is a concept Putin evoked to justify his annexation of Crimea and has cited as his reason for invading Ukraine.)

Speaking to POLITICO, Metropolitan Klyment, the UOC’s spokesman, initially made light of the raids, saying “the security service was more looking into health measures in terms of COVID.” But then added: “It is political manipulation — they want to accuse the Lavra of wrongdoing, but in the end, they didn’t find anything incriminating, weapons or saboteurs or anything like that.”

Weapons maybe not, but the SBU has charged several clergymen from the Lavra with “glorifying Russia” during church services, leading hymns and songs about a Russian awakening and offering justification for the invasion of Ukraine. “Those who wait for the ‘awakening of Mother Rus’ during the full-scale war that Russia is waging against Ukraine need to understand that this harms the interests and the security of Ukraine and its citizens,” SBU head Vasily Malyuk said. “We will not allow such expressions.”

Pro-Kremlin pamphlets, books and newspapers such as the “Russian Messenger” were found during the raids, say SBU officials.

Since the 2014 Maidan uprising, there have been episodic calls for the Russian-linked church to be banned, with detractors accusing it of being a Trojan Horse. Around 600 parishes defected to the OCU from 2014 to early 2022. After the invasion, that turned into a torrent with another thousand parishes switching affiliation.

With criticism mounting — and in a bid apparently to try to stem defections — the church announced in May that it had rewritten its charter, ending its subordination to the Russian Orthodox Church and Metropolitan Kirill. But the UOC has failed to publish its new constitution and continues to hold services where priests pray for Russia and promulgate a vision of the Russian world.

Still loyal to Moscow

The rewriting of the charter “is just a game,” Archbishop Yevstratiy of the breakaway OCU told POLITICO. “It is cosmetic and just rhetoric; it is not a real decision to break with Moscow. They said they changed the laws of the church to omit their ties with the Russian Orthodox Church. But that was more than six months ago and they have still not published the new version,” Yevstratiy said.

He says a ban is justified. “Ukraine resists Russian aggression not only on the battlefield but across different spheres. Ukraine prohibits the activity of Russian banks, of Russian media, and Ukraine has banned pro-Russian political parties, and I think there should be a law that prohibits a church tied to Russia, which Moscow uses as a tool of ideological aggression. That doesn’t mean people can’t believe what they want and pray how they want, but we can’t have Ukrainian religious entities controlled by Moscow,” he said.

The archbishop highlighted the origins of the Moscow Patriarchy and its establishment in 1943 by communist dictator Joseph Stalin as the governing body to run Orthodox religious affairs in the Soviet Union. “The Moscow Patriarchy is a Russian state agency,” Yevstratiy said.

That is also the view of the late KGB archivist Vasili Mitrokhin, who defected in the early 1990s to Britain. In a subsequent book, Mitrokhin revealed that the Patriarchy was set up as a front organization of the Russian intelligence services, with its priests used as “agents of influence” and even for “active measures” and spying missions.

Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, not much has changed, say some Western analysts and Ukrainian lawmakers, including Kniazhytskyi, who has long campaigned for a ban on the UOC.

Kniazhytskyi told POLITICO the Russian Orthodox Church and UOC are one and the same — “part of the Russian state” used by the Kremlin in Ukraine and elsewhere in subversive hybrid warfare and as a tool of foreign policy as well as an agency for Russia’s intelligence services.

Kniazhytskyi and others say the use of the church for state purposes predates Stalin — orthodoxy was used by Russian leaders, including Catherine the Great and Czar Nicholas I, as an ideological justification for the expansion of the Russian empire in the 18th and 19th centuries.

“The church is not religious in nature; it implements the state policy of the Russian Federation,” he said.



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Defiant Iranians protest violent crackdown and killings of youths



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Iranians took to the streets around the country again on Friday to protest against the killings of youths in a widely documented crackdown on demonstrations sparked by Mahsa Amini’s death.

The clerical state has been gripped by six weeks of protests that erupted when Amini, 22, died in custody after her arrest for an alleged breach of Iran’s strict dress rules for women.

Security forces have struggled to contain the women-led protests, that have evolved into a broader campaign to end the Islamic republic founded in 1979.

Videos widely shared online showed people rallying Friday across Iran, including in Mahabad, the flashpoint western city where a rights group said security forces had killed at least four people in the past two days.

The demonstrations came despite a crackdown that the Oslo-based Iran Human Rights group said Friday had killed at least 160 protesters, an increase of 19 since its last toll on Tuesday, and including more than two dozen children.

IHR called for “diplomatic pressure” on Iran to be stepped up, with its head Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam warning of a “serious risk of mass killings of protesters which the UN is obligated to prevent”.

At least another 93 people were killed during separate protests that erupted on September 30 in the southeastern city of Zahedan over the reported rape of a teenage girl by a police commander, IHR says.

Automatic gunfire

Violence erupted in Zahedan again on Friday “when unknown people opened fire” killing one person and wounding 14 others, including security forces, the official IRNA news agency reported.

IHR said security forces opened fire at protesters in the southeastern city, with deaths reported “including a 12-year-old boy”.

The Norway-based Hengaw organisation added that two more people were killed Thursday in Baneh, another city near Iran’s western border with Iraq.

The bloodshed in Mahabad came as mourners paying tribute to Ismail Mauludi, a 35-year-old protester killed on Wednesday night, made their way from his funeral towards the governor’s office, Hengaw said.

“Death to the dictator,” protesters yelled, using a slogan aimed at Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as the governor’s office burned, in an online video verified by AFP.

Other verified footage showed clashes outside the western city of Khorramabad near the grave of Nika Shahkarami, a 16-year-old killed by security forces, where dozens of people were marking the end of the traditional 40-day mourning period.

“I’ll kill, I’ll kill, whoever killed my sister,” they were heard chanting, in a video posted online by the US-based Human Rights Activist News Agency (HRANA).

Dozens of men were seen hurling projectiles under fire as they drove back security forces.

At least 20 security personnel have been killed in the Amini protests, rights groups say, and at least another eight in Zahedan, according to an AFP tally based on official reports.

Local media meanwhile quoted a joint statement from Iran’s intelligence ministry and the Revolutionary Guards accusing the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency of plotting against the Islamic republic.

The CIA was conspiring with spy agencies in Israel, Britain and Saudi Arabia, “to spark riots” in Iran, the statement said.

>> ‘People of Iran need Europe’, former Iranian TV host Ehsan Karami says

‘More killing would encourage protesters’

The latest Amini protests were held in defiance of warnings from Khamenei and ultra-conservative President Ebrahim Raisi, who appeared to try to link protests to a mass shooting Wednesday at a key Shiite Muslim shrine in the southern city of Shiraz after prayers, that state media said killed at least 15 worshippers.

But the protests triggered by Amini’s death on September 16 show no signs of dwindling, inflamed by public outrage over the crackdown that has cost the lives of many other young women and girls.

The Iranian authorities have had to quell the protests through various tactics, possibly in a bid to avoid fuelling yet more anger among the public.

They staged rallies on Friday in Tehran and other cities to denounce the Shiraz attack, which was claimed by the Islamic State group.

“I doubt that the security forces have ruled out conducting a larger-scale violent crackdown,” said Henry Rome, an Iran expert at the Washington Institute.

For now, they “appear to be trying other techniques” including “arrests and intimidation, calibrated internet shutdowns, killing some protesters, and fuelling uncertainty”, Rome said.

“They may be making the calculation that more killing would encourage, rather than deter, protesters — if that judgement shifts, then the situation would likely become even more violent,” he added.

An official Iranian medical report concluded Amini’s death was caused by illness, due to “surgery for a brain tumour at the age of eight”, and not police brutality.

Lawyers acting for her family have rejected the findings and called for a re-examination of her death.

(AFP)



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