Fear, a decisive force in these European elections

As the European Parliament elections approach, a growing sense of fear stemming from multiple — yet mutually reinforcing — sources seems to be the decisive force shaping electoral behaviour. Citizens of the EU experience uncertainty in the face of broad economic and cultural changes occurring at an unprecedented pace, coupled by unforeseen crises, such as Covid and the climate crisis, and the re-emergence of war conflicts, on a continent accustomed to peace for over half a century.

The survey

Last month, more than 10,800 European voters took a stand on the pressing issues and running challenges of the EU, as part of a large-scale comparative survey conducted by Kapa Research across 10 member countries (Bulgaria, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Romania, and Spain) between May 4 and 24, 2024.

This survey goes beyond domestic dilemmas or voting intentions. Taking a closer look at emerging and established trends within European societies between 2019 and 2024, it examines what shapes the bloc’s social agenda today, citizen concerns about European and international issues, leadership expectations, and opinions about leading global figures. On question after question, responses reveal a strong undercurrent of fear impacting voting behaviour just days before June’s European elections, emanating from four critical realities.

Rising cost of living is the foremost concern for Europeans heading to the polls.

Fear cause No.1: Economic uncertainty

Rising cost of living is the foremost concern for Europeans heading to the polls. Inflation shocks that have stunned European economies during the post-pandemic period established a deep-rooted unease about people’s ability to make ends meet. Asked about issues that worry them most when thinking of today’s Europe, respondents, at an average of 47 percent , place “rising cost of living” as their top concern. The issue has become remarkably salient in countries like France (58 percent), Greece (55 percent), Romania (54 percent), Spain (49 percent), and Bulgaria (44 percent), yet, still, in the rest of the surveyed member countries the cost of living ends up among the top three causes of concern. This wide sense of economic uncertainty is further spurred by a lingering feeling of unfairness when it comes to the distribution of wealth: M ore than eight out of 10 (81 percent overall) sense that “in Europe, the rich are getting richer, and the poor are getting poorer”.

via Kapa Research

Anxiety transforms into fear when one realizes that the main political conflict has little to do with competing economic solutions to high living costs. Instead, it is more of a clash between systemic forces and extremists, primarily centred on the field of immigration and the perceived threat to the European way of life.

Fear cause No.2: Immigration

On the cultural front, since 2015, immigration in Europe has been a complex and multifaceted issue, with humanitarian and political implications. In our survey, immigration appears to be the second most important citizen concern with 37 percent (on average), while, at the same time, on the question of which areas should Europe focus on the next five years, calls for “stricter immigration control” are prevalent, with 36 percent of respondents across all surveyed countries ranking it as a top priority. This is notably evident in Germany (56 percent), in spite of its reputation as a welcoming country early in the migration crisis, and in Italy (40 percent), a hub-country into Europe for migrants and refugees. More importantly, the perception of immigration as a “threat to public order” is widespread, with 68 percent of respondents holding this view, compared to only 23 percent who see it as an “opportunity for a new workforce”.

via Kapa Research

Fear cause No.3: War on our doorstep

The return of war to Europe has reignited fears about security; conflicts in Ukraine and, more recently, in Gaza come into play as new factors impacting this year’s EU elections. In this survey, “the Russia-Ukraine war” is the third most pressing concern for 35 percent of respondents, only two percentage points below “immigration ”. Here geographical proximity is crucial as the issue is especially prominent in Estonia (52 percent), Hungary (50 percent), Poland (50 percent), and Romania (43 percent), all neighbouring countries to either Russia or Ukraine. Additionally, demand for immediate ceasefire on both fronts is prevalent: 65 percent believe that hostilities in Gaza “must stop immediately ”, while the same view is supported by 60 percent for the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

To this end, as the feeling of danger from wars and terrorism grows stronger, EU-UK relations become indirectly connected to the issue of security: 56% of respondents wish for a (re)alignment between Great Britain and the EU. At the same time, and compared to current leaders, former UK PM Tony Blair enjoys strong popularity ratings.

Fear cause No.4: The unknown reality of AI

Over time, technological advancement has been widely welcomed as a positive development for humanity, as a means of improving living conditions, and as a growth accelerator. The rapid rise of a rtificial i ntelligence in citizens’ day-to-day lives seems to be disrupting this tradition. Among the member countries surveyed, an average majority of 51 percent considers AI more as a “threat to humanity” rather than as an “opportunity” (31 percent ). Along the same vein, scepticism is reflected in the reluctance to embrace AI as a strategic goal for the EU in the next five years, with 54 percent opposing such a move.

via Kapa Research

Mixing all four of the above ingredients produces an explosive cocktail of fear within European societies.

Key takeaway

Mixing all four of the above ingredients produces an explosive cocktail of fear within European societies. While combined with the prevalent EU technocracy and the weak institutions-to-citizens communication, it is reasonable to expect mounted distrust and electoral consequences. Voters will use their ballot to send painful messages. However, our survey shows that the great majority still favo r strengthening the European acquis — security, freedom, democracy, growth, and social cohesion — and seek a competent leadership that can defend it.

via Kapa Research

See full survey report by Kapa Research here.



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A weak, Kremlin-influenced Libya is a threat to NATO and EU security

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

Russia’s pursuit of a naval presence in Libya’s eastern region, likely to culminate into a base for its nuclear submarines, provides Moscow with more than just a strategic outpost looking towards the entire EU, Hafed Al-Ghwell writes.

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With the gaze of much of the world fixed on the wars unfolding in Gaza and Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to expand his country’s reach in Africa.

He is now using Libya as a stepping stone to position Russian submarines in the central Mediterranean and place nuclear weapons on Europe’s southern flank.

Enrico Borghi, a centrist MP and member of the Italian parliament’s intelligence committee, recently warned that Russia’s interest in Tobruk in Libya is no mystery, which could be a preamble for sending its nuclear submarines there, much like the Soviet Union sent its missiles to Cuba in 1962.

It is clear that having submarines a few hundred kilometres from NATO states would not be good for security. 

In light of this, Washington’s move to reopen an embassy in Libya a decade after suspending its operations in the country is significant. 

Not only is a strong Russian presence in Libya, a security threat to NATO and Europe — Libya’s geographic location, linking Niger, Chad and Sudan to North Africa and Europe, makes it of vital strategic importance.

Russian footprints all over

The Russian footprint in Libya has grown substantially, alongside an evolving military presence evidenced by a recent delivery of military supplies to the port of Tobruk. 

This strategic eastern city saw the arrival of armoured vehicles, weapons, and equipment — the fifth such shipment within a brief span, indicative of a systematic build-up. 

The supplies, presumed to have been dispatched from Russia’s naval facility in Tartus, Syria were transported by vessels of its Northern Fleet, reflecting an unyielding commitment to Moscow’s Mediterranean gambit that has survived the impacts of the war in Ukraine.

The shipment and what it entails are not an isolated development but part of a broader Russian pattern to establish a perpetual military presence akin to its nearly decade-long posture in Syria. 

Such an expansion is a direct challenge to NATO’s southern flank. 

The introduction of advanced air defence systems by Russian operators in Libya that threaten Western “over-the-horizon” counter-threat operations across North Africa and the Sahel shifts the regional balance of control in the air, while also threatening freedom of navigation since the delivery of anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) capabilities will negate NATO’s operational reach in its own backyard.

How prepared is the West for Lybia’s further decline?

The entrenchment in Libya also serves as a gateway for deeper inroads into Africa where Moscow is astutely exploiting a partnership void, offering African regimes military and economic collaboration devoid of the conditionalised engagements favoured by Western patrons. 

Furthermore, Russia’s pursuit of a naval presence in Libya’s eastern region, likely to culminate into a base for its nuclear submarines, provides Moscow with more than just a strategic outpost looking towards the entire EU. 

It adds a frustrating layer of complexity to NATO’s security calculus now weighing steady Russian gains in Ukraine, and the long-term impacts of the US pullout from Niger and potentially Chad.

Simply put, Moscow’s playbook in Libya is changing from the usual fusion of military engagement with political influence in Libya, partly facilitated by the alignment with regional strongman Khalifa Haftar. 

By supplanting Western influence, Russia’s opportunism and leveraging of geopolitical fault lines have helped enhance its stature even at the height of a needless war in Ukraine. 

The cascading impact of Moscow’s manoeuvring raises serious questions about the West’s preparedness for the declining prospects of a stable, secure and sovereign Libya.

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This is why Washington’s decision to reestablish a diplomatic presence in Libya is a strategic bid aimed at countering Russia’s growing presence, while simultaneously bolstering the United Nations Support Mission. 

The US is back in town, however

The move comes after a palpable hiatus pointing to recalibrated approaches in Washington’s Libya file to embody a strategic calculus that transcends traditional diplomacy, for a re-engagement that can effectively counteract Russia’s growing inroads into Africa.

It is the clearest reflection yet of the interplay between geopolitical rivalry and the urgency of stabilising a paralysed country on Europe’s southern periphery. 

By re-establishing a physical diplomatic footprint in Libya, the US is taking a rare proactive stance that carries profound implications for Russia’s ascent. The planned facility in Tripoli will facilitate closer monitoring and the ability to challenge Russian narratives and influence on the ground.

Re-introducing US diplomats to Libya is not merely a symbolic act. It will allow for persistent engagement with Libyan actors to maintain key relationships and develop a firm grasp on local dynamics that often elude remote diplomacy. 

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It also represents a tangible commitment to supporting UN-led mediation efforts and laying the groundwork for pivotal elections. A secure and stable Libya is deeply intertwined with broader interests that, when carefully managed, will help immunise the country from a rising tide of instability that could undermine its transition to a post-paralysis era.

The September 2012 attack on the US diplomatic mission in Benghazi cast a shadow over a US return to Libya, stifling any optimism for re-establishing a diplomatic presence.

The memory of the Benghazi attacks also galvanised an evolution in US diplomacy regarding Libya that is predicated on security and sustainability. 

This includes cultivating ongoing on-the-ground engagement with Libyan actors and establishing robust channels for dialogue to address issues before escalations. 

It is a welcome pivot towards pre-empting potential risks, intervening diplomatically to avert crises, and ensuring the Libyan polity is insulated from worsening regional vulnerabilities.

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There’s no time to waste

Libya’s protracted state of fragmentation poses challenges in Brussels’ push to confront migrant surges, as any turmoil between Sub-Saharan Africa and the Maghreb acts as a catalyst for the mass movement of people towards Europe, with implications for security, political cohesion, and safety net systems within the EU. 

Furthermore, the power vacuum in Libya could become a breeding ground for extremism that would be difficult to counteract given the enduring presence of mercenaries and foreign fighters, alongside deeply entrenched local militias across a very complicated security landscape.

To achieve sustainable peace, the US and Europe will have to leverage diplomatic pressure and develop effective strategies to uproot the political economies of Libya’s hybrid actors that are key to their longevity. 

In addition, Western involvement is critical for supporting the UN-brokered political settlement among Libyan actors, by providing an environment conducive to transparent electoral processes and equitable resource distribution. 

Strategic engagement includes recognising Libyan sovereignty and facilitating national reconciliation through initiatives that reflect the “Libyan-owned and Libyan-led” principles, foundational to the UN’s approach and stressed by Libyans themselves.

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Moreover, efforts to establish inclusive national mechanisms for the transparent and equitable management of Libya’s wealth and resources must run parallel with political mediation. 

Failure to do so risks undermining reconciliation efforts and the building of a stable, secure future by addressing long-term economic and political marginalisation, particularly in Libya’s south. 

Therefore, focused efforts on economic integration, accountability, and the rehabilitation of Libya’s tattered social fabric, backed by Western support, will be crucial in restoring stability in Libya.

Hafed Al-Ghwell is the Executive Director of the North Africa Initiative (NAI) and Senior Fellow at the SAIS Foreign Policy Institute (FPI), Johns Hopkins University.

Contact us at [email protected] to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.

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How 17-year-old Ukrainian Valeriia escaped a Russian re-education camp

17-year-old Ukrainian Valeriia was abducted to a Russian re-education camp in Crimea. She tells Euronews how she made it back to Ukraine on her own.

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Before the full-scale invasion, 17-year-old Valeriia lived an ordinary life as a 10th-grade student, preparing for exams and taking part in activities, including dancing and aerial gymnastics. She lived with a family member since the age of 13 following the death of her parents.

Everything changed with the Russian full-scale invasion

Valeriia had a bright future ahead of herself – everything was supposed to work out the way she wanted. When she heard about the full-scale invasion on the news, it felt surreal to her. Everything changed rapidly, and she struggled to fully understand the situation.

Russian troops soon arrived and occupied the southern Ukrainian city of Nova Kakhovka, also her hometown. During a particularly intense period of shelling, she was forced to live without food after Ukrainian supplies ran out, but the situation stabilised after supply trucks from occupied Crimea started arriving. Back then, Russian military police gradually appeared in the city, located in the Kherson Oblast. It was a quiet period – explosions didn’t shatter the air.

In October 2022, Russian troops announced an “evacuation” of children from Nova Kakhovka to occupied Crimea. Valeriia, along with other kids, had to gather in the main square surrounded by armed military. Buses took them to the Crimean border. Upon arrival, they confiscated the children’s passports and documents.

“Russia will give you everything”

After Valeriia arrived in a Crimean camp called ‘Luchystiy,’ paediatricians examined the children for lice and COVID-19. She remembers the camp resembling a retirement home, but devoid of child-centric amenities. Plus the facility was surrounded by armed police officers, constantly guarding the children. A regimented daily routine included singing the Russian National Anthem – which she refused. Authorities promoted Russian universities and lifestyles, promising them that “Russia will give you everything”.

For Valeriia, the coerced environment raised concerns about her freedom and future, but the daily schedule was unpredictable, therefore making it difficult to plan. “The camps were re-education camps”, she added. In her opinion, they served the purpose of ensuring the majority of children ended up going to Russia. The classes could therefore only be described as propaganda, she remembered, adding that learning Ukrainian at the school was not an option.

The programme at these camps is called ‘University Shift‘ and operates with the support of the Russian Ministry of Education of Russia and the Ministry of Education and Science. It aims to (re-)educate children aged 12-17 from temporarily occupied Ukrainian territories into Russian culture and history.

“The forceful deportation of Ukrainian children is a part of genocidal policy”

According to Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, human rights lawyer and Center for Civil Liberties-leader, Oleksandra Matviichuk, these camps and their aim to russify Ukrainian children is not just a war crime, but part of a broader picture. “This war has a genocidal character”, she said, “Putin openly said that Ukrainians don’t exist, that we are the same as Russians. We see these words implemented into horrible practice on the ground since 2014.” 

Just like Valeriia, she also mentioned the deliberate ban on the Ukrainian language and history. “For ten years, we’ve been documenting how Russians deliberately exterminate acting locals, such as mayors, journalists, civil society actors, priests and artists, for example.”

In this regard, the forceful deportation of Ukrainian children is part of a genocide policy, because some of them are put in re-education camps where they’re told they’re Russian and Russia is their motherland, she told me. “Later, some of them are subjected to forceful adoption into Russian families to be brought up as Russians,” Matviichuk continued.

As a lawyer, she knows how difficult it is to prove this crime, especially according to the current standards. “Even if you’re not a lawyer, it’s easy to understand that if you want to partially or destroy a national group, you have several strategies, such as killing them or forcefully changing their identity,” she added.

“Forceful abduction of Ukrainian children is a part of this broader genocidal policy of the Russian state against Ukraine.” The Genocide Convention’s Article II defines genocide as the deliberate act of destroying a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group, either wholly or partially. It excludes, however, political groups and what is referred to as ‘cultural genocide’.

Valeriia decides to pursue her dream of studying medicine

In the camp, poor-quality food frequently caused stomach issues, with limited access to medical care. Very small children suffered greatly due to inadequate care and harsh conditions, remembered Valeriia. With their parents or guardians absent, they roamed unsupervised, enduring cold weather without proper clothing. Many fell ill with bronchitis. Outbreaks of diseases like chickenpox and lice were common.

Though the children were allowed to use their phones, there was hardly ever any service. Valeriia just about managed to contact a member of her family, asking to be picked up.

Ukrainians living in the occupied territories are considered “New Russians” by the Russian authorities

According to the Crimean Centre of Civil Education, Alemenda, these kinds of camps restrict the children’s return citing parental political stance. Instances of forced relocation and psychological pressure have been reported, with family members facing obstacles to reuniting with their children, especially when they are pro-Ukraine. When these children express a desire for their parents to visit them, the family members are encouraged to relocate to Russian-controlled territories. Ukrainians living in temporarily occupied territories are seen as “New Russians” by the authorities.

Her family member was therefore able to pick her up, since they lived in occupied territory. After having stayed in the camp for a total of two months, she went to occupied Henichesk in southern Ukraine.

Valeriia travels on her own to Ukraine

Having experienced this dire medical situation in the camp, Valeriia decided to pursue her childhood dream of becoming a doctor. As an orphan from an occupied territory, she leveraged her circumstances in university admissions, and had both Russian and Ukrainian passports. While staying in temporary-occupied Henichesk, she chose a university in Odesa and applied online, as she didn’t want to stay in Russian-controlled and occupied territories.

From occupied Henichesk, Valeriia started her journey by herself on a bus. Passing through various occupied Ukrainian cities, such as the destroyed Melitopol and Mariupol, then crossing into Rostov in Russia.

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With a Russian passport, crossing the border was smooth. In the temporary-occupied territories, possession of a Russian passport is essential for proving property ownership and retaining access to healthcare and retirement benefits. Failure to obtain the forced new passport by July 1, as mandated by a new Russian law in occupied territories, may lead to imprisonment as a ‘foreign citizen’, risking custody loss, imprisonment, or worse.

The last border crossing

Continuing through Belgorod and the Sumy region, the journey, facilitated by efficient border crossings, took her a day to complete. At the final border in Sumy, which is still open for pedestrians but entails strict filtering by the Russian guards, Valeriia kept her Ukrainian passport hidden and used her Russian passport to pass the border. Checks were organised in groups from a bus, with passports being collected and Valeriia being questioned about travelling alone underage without a guardian.

Aware of potential risks, she strategically explained her journey, emphasising passing through Ukraine without any intent to stay. Valeriia informed the guards that her sole intention was to traverse Ukraine to pick up her aunt from Europe and bring her back to Russia. She remembered the importance of telling the officials what they needed to hear. At the border, amidst their apprehension, they scrutinised her documents and phone, such as her photos, Telegram messages and E-Mails.

Despite Valeriia’s prior composure, the situation at the border crossing was very overwhelming. Since she had hidden her Ukrainian passport, she wasn’t forced to undergo a lie detector test, and because she was a minor, she couldn’t legally sign any documents. As soldiers with machine guns deliberated among themselves, one guard proposed letting her cross. From the Russian checkpoint, she had to walk through fields to reach Ukrainian territory – and when she did and heard Ukrainian, she was overcome with emotions.

Change of plans?

Her initial plan was to go to Odesa to study medicine, but things didn’t quite go according to plan. Upon her arrival in Sumy, she was given the option to move to Kyiv due to the constant shelling in Odesa at the time. She stayed in Sumy for approximately half a week, during which she underwent thorough medical screenings and tests to ensure her well-being having survived the re-education camp and occupation. 

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“Throughout my stay, I was closely monitored by the juvenile police and representatives from Kyiv. Afterwards, accompanied by the juvenile police, I travelled to Kyiv, where I immediately visited the ombudsman’s office”, she told me.

She currently lives in Kyiv, initially staying in a hostel before enrolling in Kyiv Medical College. To maintain a sense of normality, she engages in several activities and attends frequent therapy sessions. “I enjoy learning about medicine and exploring the city of Kyiv. I am grateful to speak Ukrainian and the support of my guardian, Olha, who has become like a parent to me”. 

She met Olha through meetings with a psychotherapist and established a strong bond.

“In her presence, I can embrace my youth and momentarily forget about the responsibilities of adulthood. I appreciate the psychological support I’ve received,” Valeriia added. She is receiving free therapy consultations provided by Voices of Children, which is helping her deal with the things she’s gone through.

What psychological effects do children go through after living in occupation?

Upon returning to Ukraine, the mental state of children is deeply influenced by their experiences during the occupation, says Yulya Tukalenko, a psychologist at the Voices of Children charity foundation. 

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“Factors such as the duration of their stay, living conditions, age, and the hardships they endured play significant roles”, she added. Deprivation, particularly in terms of limited social interaction and restricted movement, is a common challenge faced by children. Prolonged exposure to dangerous conditions where speaking Ukrainian or showing support could result in harm, fosters mistrust in others.

According to Tukalenko, the aftermath of such experiences often manifests in various symptoms across behavioural, emotional, and physical domains. These include emotional outbursts, sadness, self-harm, sleep disturbances, and digestive issues. Left untreated, these symptoms can evolve into more serious conditions like depression, anxiety disorders, and impaired social functioning. Therefore, a timely intervention by trained professionals is crucial to address and mitigate the long-term effects of occupation on children’s mental health.

Out of nearly 20,000 abducted and displaced children, only 400 have been returned

Since Russia’s 2022 full-scale invasion of Ukraine, both Ukrainian and international organisations have documented grave human rights violations against children. Reports detail children forcibly deported or displaced by Russian forces, subjected to re-education and forced adoption. 

The Children of War initiative reports that over 19,500 children have been deported or displaced, with fewer than 400 returned. In response, the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for President Vladimir Putin and the Children’s Rights Commissioner for the President of the Russian Federation, Maria Lvova-Belova, for child deportation.

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“After 2014 and the full-scale invasion on February 24, 2022, we lost from 15 to 20% of our child population,” said Mykola Kuleba of Save Ukraine, a charitable organisation aiding families and children affected by war. These children encompass those who lost parents to Russian shelling, along with those residing in institutions or under foster care, such as Valeriia, who is an orphan. Russia alleges that these children lack parental care. 

An investigation by the AP reveals Russian officials deported Ukrainian children without consent, convincing them their parents don’t want them any more, exploiting them for propaganda, and placing them with Russian families granting them citizenship.

This process is simplified if the children are already native-Russian speakers. “To resolve the issue of acquisition of Russian citizenship by Ukrainian children, they granted the right to submit a relevant application on behalf of the child to guardians, and heads of institutions for children, including educational and medical ones. The child’s opinion, of course, is not taken into account. Therefore, it is enough to enrol a Ukrainian child in an educational institution or put them in treatment, and the director or the chief doctor has the right to apply for the acquisition of Russian citizenship for the child under a simplified procedure”, explained Kuleba.

“Being in a Ukrainian city feels like a reward, and I deeply appreciate it”

Living in Kyiv means still living under frequent air-raid alerts. There were no air raid alarms, as the shelling was constant when she lived under occupation. “No one bothered to turn on the air-raid warning signal to the Ukrainians under occupation. However, there are still moments of uncertainty in Kyiv. Despite the risks, you have to continue living your life in those moments”, said Valeriia.

For the 17-year-old, a lot has changed in the past couple of years. She added she’s not in contact with any of the kids in her camp who chose Russia – even her former girlfriends and classmates. For her, “being in a Ukrainian city feels like a reward, and I deeply appreciate it.”

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Putin says ‘radical Islamists’ behind Moscow concert hall attack

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Monday that the gunmen who carried out the concert hall attack that killed over 130 people in a Moscow suburb last week were “radical Islamists.” 

Speaking in a meeting with government officials, Putin said the killings were carried out by extremists “whose ideology the Islamic world has been fighting for centuries.”

Putin, who said over the weekend the four attackers were arrested while trying to escape to Ukraine, didn’t mention the affiliate of the Islamic State group that claimed responsibility for the attack. He again refrained from mentioning IS in his remarks Monday.

He also stopped short of saying who ordered the attack but said it was necessary to find out “why the terrorists after committing their crime tried to flee to Ukraine and who was waiting for them there.”

After the IS affiliate claimed responsibility, U.S. intelligence backed up their claims. French President Emmanuel Macron said France has intelligence pointing to “an IS entity” as responsible for the Moscow attack.

Earlier Monday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov refused to assign blame, urging reporters to wait for the results of the investigation in Russia. He also refused to comment on reports that the U.S. warned authorities in Moscow on March 7 about a possible terrorist attack, saying any such intelligence is confidential.

As Putin spoke, calls mounted in Russia to harshly punish those behind the attack.

Four men were charged by a Moscow court Sunday night with carrying out a terrorist attack. At their court appearance, they showed signs of being severely beaten. Civil liberties groups cited this as sign that Russia’s poor record on human rights under Putin was bound to worsen.

Russia’s Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin said the investigation is still ongoing but vowed that “the perpetrators will be punished, they do not deserve mercy.”

Former President Dmitry Medvedev, now deputy head of Russia’s Security Council, urged authorities to “kill them all.”

The attack Friday night on Crocus City Hall on the western outskirts of Moscow left 137 people dead and over 180 injured, proving to be the deadliest in Russia in years. A total of 97 people remained hospitalized, officials said.

As they mowed down concertgoers with gunfire, the attackers set fire to the vast concert hall, and the resulting blaze caused the roof to collapse.

The search operation will continue until at least Tuesday afternoon, officials said. A Russian Orthodox priest conducted a service at the site Monday, blessing a makeshift memorial with incense. 

The four suspects were identified in the Russian media as Tajik nationals. At least two of the suspects admitted culpability, court officials said, although their conditions raised questions about whether their statements were coerced.

The men were identified as Dalerdzhon Mirzoyev, 32; Saidakrami Rachabalizoda, 30; Shamsidin Fariduni, 25; and Mukhammadsobir Faizov, 19. The charges carry a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. 

Russia’s Federal Security Service said seven other suspects have been detained. Three of them appeared in court Monday, with no signs of injuries, and they were placed in pre-trial detention on terrorism charges. The fate of others remained unclear.

Russian media had reported the four were tortured during interrogation. Mirzoyev, Rachabalizoda and Fariduni showed signs of heavy bruising, including swollen faces. Mirzoyev had a plastic bag still hanging over his neck; Rachabalizoda had a heavily bandaged ear. Russian media reported Saturday that one suspect had his ear cut off during interrogation. The Associated Press couldn’t verify the report or videos purporting to show this.

Faizov, wearing a hospital gown, appeared in court in a wheelchair, accompanied by medical personnel, and sat with his eyes closed throughout. He appeared to have multiple cuts.

Peskov refused to comment on the suspects’ treatment.

Medvedev, Russia’s president in 2008-12, had especially harsh comments about them.

“They have been caught. Kudos to all who were chasing them. Should they be killed? They should. And it will happen,” he wrote on his Telegram page. “But it is more important to kill everyone involved. Everyone. Those who paid, those who sympathized, those who helped. Kill them all.”

Margarita Simonyan, head of the state-funded television channel RT, shared photos of the four men’s bruised and swollen faces on X, formerly Twitter.

She said that even the death penalty — currently banned in Russia — would be “too easy” a punishment.

Instead, she said they should face “lifelong hard labor somewhere underground, living there too, without the opportunity to ever see light, on bread and water, with a ban on conversations and with a not very humane escort.”

Russian human rights advocates condemned the violence against the men. 

Team Against Torture, a prominent group that advocates against police brutality, said in a statement that the culprits must face stern punishment, but “savagery should not be the answer to savagery.” 

It said the value of any testimony obtained by torture was “critically low,” and “if the government allows for torture of terrorism suspects, it may allow unlawful violence toward other citizens, too.”

Net Freedoms, another Russian group that focuses on freedom of speech cases, said Medvedev’s remarks, as well as Putin’s recent call on security services to “punish traitors without a statute of limitation no matter where they are,” made against the backdrop of “demonstrative torture of the detained … effectively authorize extrajudicial killings and give instructions to security forces on how to treat enemies.”

“We’re seeing the possible beginning of the new Great Terror,” Net Freedoms said, referring to mass repressions by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin. The group foresees more police brutality against suspects in terrorist-related cases and a spike in violent crimes against migrants.

Abuse of suspects by law enforcement and security services isn’t new, said Sergei Davidis of the Memorial human rights group.

“We know about torture of Ukrainian prisoners of war, we know about mass torture of those charged with terrorism, high treason and other crimes, especially those investigated by the Federal Security Service. Here, it was for the first time made public,” Davidis said.

Parading beaten suspects could reflect a desire by authorities to show a muscular response to try to defuse any criticism of their inability to prevent the attack, he said. 

It was a major embarrassment for Putin and came less than a week after he cemented his grip on Russia for another six years in a vote that followed the harshest crackdown on dissent since Soviet times.

Many on Russian social media questioned how authorities and their vast security apparatus that actively surveils, pressures and prosecutes critics failed to prevent the attack despite the U.S. warning.

Citing the treatment of the suspects, Davidis told AP that “we can suppose it was deliberately made public in order to show the severity of response of the state.”

“People are not satisfied with this situation when such a huge number of law enforcement officers didn’t manage to prevent such an attack, and they demonstrate the severe reaction in order to stop these accusations against them,” he said.

The fact that the security forces did not conceal their methods was “a bad sign,” he said.

IS, which fought Russian forces that intervened in the Syrian civil war, has long targeted the country. In a statement posted by the group’s Aamaq news agency, the IS Afghanistan affiliate said it carried out an attack in Krasnogorsk, the suburb of Moscow where the concert hall is located.

In October 2015, a bomb planted by IS downed a Russian passenger plane over Sinai, killing all 224 people aboard, most of them Russian vacationers returning from Egypt.

The group, which operates mainly in Syria and Iraq but also in Afghanistan and Africa, has claimed responsibility for several attacks in Russia’s volatile Caucasus and other regions in past years. It recruited fighters from Russia and other parts of the former Soviet Union.

(AP) 

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‘Massive’ Russian air attack hits Western Ukraine, Kyiv; Poland says its airspace violated

Ukraine’s capital Kyiv and the western region of Lviv came under a “massive” Russian air attack early Sunday, officials said, and Polish forces were also placed on heightened readiness.

Russia and Ukraine have been engaged in a series of deadly aerial attacks, with Sunday’s strikes also coming a day after the Russian military said it had seized the Ukrainian village of Ivanivske west of Bakhmut.

A militant attack on a Moscow concert hall on Friday that killed at least 133 people also became a new flashpoint between the two arch-rivals.

“Explosions in the capital. Air defence is working. Do not leave shelters,” Kyiv mayor Vitali Klitschko posted on Telegram on Sunday.

Lviv regional governor Maksym Kozytskyi said Stryi district, south of the city of Lviv, near the Polish border, was also attacked.



© France 24

Ukraine was earlier placed under a nationwide air alert that warned of cruise missiles being launched from Russian Tu-95MS strategic bombers. The alert was lifted about two hours later.

Sergiy Popko, head of the Kyiv city military administration, said the missiles were fired at the capital “in groups” in the third pre-dawn attack in four days.

Preliminary reports suggested there were no casualties or damage, he said, and the city’s air defences had hit “about a dozen” missiles.

“The enemy continues massive missile terror against Ukraine,” Popko said on Telegram. “It does not give up its goal of destroying Kyiv at any cost.”

US Ambassador to Ukraine Bridget Brink also noted the increased frequency of recent attacks.


“Russia continues to indiscriminately launch drones and missiles with no regard for millions of civilians, violating international law,” Brink wrote on social media platform X.

In Lviv, Mayor Andriy Sadovy said about 20 missiles and seven Iranian-made Shahed drones were fired at the region.

“They targeted critical infrastructure facilities,” Sadovy said.

Poland to demand explanation from Moscow

Poland’s foreign ministry on Sunday said it would demand an explanation from Moscow over this “new violation of airspace” after one of the Russian cruise missiles fired at western Ukraine breached Polish airspace overnight.

“Above all, we ask the Russian Federation to end its terrorist airstrikes against the population and territory of Ukraine, to end the war and to focus on the country’s own internal problems,” ministry spokesman Pawel Wronski said in a statement.

Following a “massive attack” on Ukraine by Russia, Poland activated “all air defence systems, all air force systems”, the country’s Defence Minister Wladyslaw Kosiniak-Kamysz said.

He said that the missile would have been shot down “had there been any indication it was heading for a target on Polish territory”.

The army said the missile, which was travelling at almost 800 kilometres per hour (500 mph) around 400 metres (1,300 feet) above the ground, had crossed about two kilometres over the border into Poland.

“Polish airspace was breached by one of the cruise missiles fired in the night by the air forces… of the Russian Federation,” the army wrote on X.

“The object flew through Polish airspace above the village of Oserdow (Lublin province) and stayed for 39 seconds,” the statement said, adding that it was tracked by military radar throughout its flight.

 “The Polish army is constantly monitoring the situation on Ukrainian territory and remains on permanent alert to ensure the security of Polish airspace,” the army said.

Kyiv says it hit two Russian ships in Crimea strikes

Russia and Ukraine have increased their air attacks in recent weeks.

Kyiv, which has struggled to find weapons and soldiers after more than two years of war, has promised to retaliate by taking the fighting to Russian soil.

Multiple air attacks Saturday on the Russian border region of Belgorod adjoining Ukraine killed two people and injured at least seven, the regional governor said.

Further east, a drone attack on the Samara region caused a fire at a major oil refinery, the latest in a series of strikes against Russia’s energy industry. 

Belgorod governor Vyacheslav Gladkov wrote on Telegram that two districts in his region, as well as the regional capital, Belgorod, had been hit in drone and air attacks.

A man was killed when three balconies on an apartment building collapsed, Gladkov said. 

Russia said later Saturday that it had repulsed a barrage of more than 10 Ukrainian missiles fired at the city of Sevastopol in Crimea, which it annexed in 2014.

Sevastopol’s governor Mikhail Razvozhayev said rocket fragments had killed a 65-year-old resident and four other people had been wounded.

“It was the biggest attack in recent times,” he said.

Ukraine said early on Sunday that it had hit two large Russian landing ships, a communications centre and other infrastructure used by the Russian navy in the Black Sea during its strikes on the annexed Crimean peninsula.

Its statement did not say how it hit the targets. “The defence forces of Ukraine successfully hit the Azov and Yamal large landing ships, a communications centre and also several infrastructure facilities of the Russian Black Sea Fleet in temporarily occupied Crimea,” said Ukraine’s military.

Territorial gains by Russia

Moscow has escalated its own strikes, firing dozens of missiles on Friday and launching dozens of explosive drones to destroy Ukraine’s energy infrastructure.

Russian forces have also taken control of a string of frontline settlements in recent weeks. 

The capture last month of Adviivka, near the Russian-held stronghold of Donetsk, was the first major territorial gain made by Russia since the devastated city of Bakhmut was seized 10 months ago.

Russian President Vladimir Putin hailed that success as a sign that Russian forces are back on the offensive.

Putin has also sought to tie Kyiv to the Moscow concert hall attack, saying four “perpetrators” were detained while travelling towards Ukraine.

Kyiv has strongly denied any involvement, saying that Russia was looking for excuses to step up the war.

The United States has said it has seen no sign of Ukrainian involvement in the Crocus City Hall attack.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, Reuters)



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Islamic State group claims responsibility for deadly Moscow concert hall attack

Gunmen who opened fire at a Moscow concert hall killed more than 90 people and wounded over 100 while sparking an inferno, authorities said Saturday, with the Islamic State group claiming responsibility.

Attackers dressed in camouflage uniforms entered the building on Friday, opened fire and threw a grenade or incendiary bomb, according to a journalist for the RIA Novosti news agency at the scene.

Fire quickly spread through the Crocus City concert hall in Moscow‘s northern Krasnogorsk suburb, as smoke filled the building and screaming visitors rushed to emergency exits.

Alexei, a music producer, was about to settle into his seat before the start of a concert by Soviet-era rock band Piknik when he heard gunfire and “a lot of screams”.

Read moreIn pictures: Gunmen open fire in deadly attack on Moscow concert hall

“I realised right away that it was automatic gunfire and understood that most likely it’s the worst: a terrorist attack,” said Alexei, who would not give his last name.

As people ran towards emergency exits, “there was a terrible crush” with concert-goers climbing on one another’s heads to get out, he added. 

Russia‘s Investigative Committee said Saturday that 93 people had been killed, raising an earlier toll of 60, according to Russian news agencies. 

Russia’s Health Minister Mikhail Murashko said 115 people were hospitalised, including five children, one of whom was in grave condition. Of the 110 adult patients, 60 were in serious condition.

The head of the FSB security service has informed Putin “about the detention of 11 people, including all four terrorists directly involved in carrying out the attack,” Russian state news agencies cited the Kremlin as saying in a statement.

Furthermore, Russian authorities said a “terrorist” investigation had been started and President Vladimir Putin was receiving “constant” updates, his spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian news agencies.

The Islamic State group said its fighters attacked “a large gathering” on Moscow’s outskirts and “retreated to their bases safely”.

Fire contained 

Telegram news channels Baza and Mash, which are close to security forces, showed video images of flames and black smoke pouring from the hall.

Other images also showed concert-goers hiding behind seats or trying to escape.

Security services quoted by Interfax said between two and five people “wearing tactical uniforms and carrying automatic weapons” opened fire on guards at the entrance and then started shooting at the audience.

A witness told AFP it was a few minutes before the start of the concert when automatic gunfire rang out.

About 100 people escaped through the theatre basement, while others were sheltering on the roof, the emergency services ministry said on its Telegram channel.

Three helicopters were involved in efforts to put out the fire, dumping water on the giant concert venue that can hold several thousand people and has hosted top international artists.

Shortly after midnight, the emergencies ministry said the fire had been contained. Andrey Vorobyov, the Moscow region governor, later said the flames had been “mostly eliminated”, and rescuers had been able to enter the auditorium.

Putin — who was informed of the attack “within the first minutes”, according to the Kremlin — wished a speedy recovery to the wounded victims, Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies.

Putin has not commented publicly on the attack.

‘Odious crime’ 

Outside the burning building, heartbroken relatives of those at the concert spoke of hopelessness as they frantically tried to contact loved ones.

Semyon, 33, whose wife was at the venue, said “nobody knows” where she is. “I’ve called five hospitals, all busy,” he said. “I’m in a complete panic, my whole body hurts.”

Russia’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said it had been a “bloody terrorist attack”.


“The whole international community must condemn this odious crime,” she said on Telegram.

The US presidency called the attack “terrible” and said there was no immediate sign of any link to the conflict in Ukraine.

Ukraine’s presidency said Kyiv had “nothing to do” with the attack, while its military intelligence called the incident a Russian “provocation” and charged that Moscow special services were behind it.

The Freedom of Russia Legion, a pro-Ukrainian militia responsible for attacks on Russia’s border regions, also denied any role.

Former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev vowed on Telegram that Ukraine’s top officials “must be found and ruthlessly destroyed as terrorists” if they were linked to the attack.

The United Nations, European Union, France, Spain, Italy and several other countries also condemned the attack.

The White House said its “thoughts are with the victims of this terrible shooting attack”, while French President Emmanuel Macron also expressed “solidarity with the victims, their loved ones and all the Russian people”.

Chinese President Xi Jinping sent his “condolences” to his Russian counterpart, saying he “firmly supports the Russian government’s efforts to safeguard its national security and stability”, according to state-run news agency Xinhua.

Orthodox church leader Patriarch Kirill was “praying for peace for the souls of the dead”, said his spokesman Vladimir Legoyda.

Previous warnings 

Moscow and other Russian cities have been the targets of previous attacks by Islamist groups but there have also been incidents without any clear political motive. 

Earlier this month, the US embassy in Russia said it was monitoring reports that “extremists” were planning “to target large gatherings in Moscow”, including concerts.

The White House said Friday that the United States warned Russian authorities earlier in March about a “planned terrorist attack” possibly targeting “large gatherings” in Moscow.

Washington had “shared this information with Russian authorities”, National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said.

In 2002, Chechen separatist fighters took 912 people hostage in a Moscow theatre, the Dubrovka, demanding the withdrawal of Russian troops from the region.

Special forces attacked the theatre to end the hostage-taking and 130 people were killed, nearly all suffocated by a gas used by security forces to knock out the gunmen.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)



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‘Shpilkin method’: Statistical tool gauges voter fraud in Putin landslide

As many as half of all the votes reported for Vladimir Putin in Russia’s presidential election last week were fraudulent, according to Russian independent media reports using a statistical method devised by analyst Sergey Shpilkin to estimate the extent of voter manipulation.

Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed a landslide victory on Sunday that will keep him in power until at least 2030, following a three-day presidential election that Western critics dismissed as neither free nor fair.

The criticism is shared by Russia’s remaining independent media outlets, which have published their estimates of the extent of voter manipulation during the March 15-17 election that saw Putin clinch a fifth term in office with a record 87% of ballots cast.

Massive fraud

“Around 22 million ballots officially in favour of Vladimir Putin were falsified,” said the Russian investigative journalism website Meduza, which interviewed Russian electoral analyst Ivan Shukshin.

Important Stories, another investigative news website, gave a similar number, estimating that 21.9 million false votes were cast for the incumbent president.

The opposition media outlet Novaya Gazeta Europe came up with an even bigger number, claiming that 31.6 million ballots were falsified in Putin’s favour.

That figure “corresponds to almost 50 percent of all the votes cast in the president’s favour, according to the Central Election Commission [Putin received 64.7 million votes]”, said Jeff Hawn, a Russia expert at the London School of Economics.

All three estimates suggest that “fraud on a scale unprecedented in Russian electoral history” was committed, added Matthew Wyman, a specialist in Russian politics at Keele University in the UK.

The three news outlets all used the same algorithmic method to estimate the extent of voter fraud. It is named after Russian statistician Sergey Shpilkin, who developed it a decade ago.

Shpilkin’s work analysing Russian elections has won him several prestigious independent awards in Russia, including the PolitProsvet prize for electoral research awarded in 2012 by the Liberal Mission Foundation.

However, he has also made some powerful enemies by denouncing electoral fraud. In February 2023, Shpilkin was added to Russia’s list of “foreign agents”.

Shady turnout figures

The Shpilkin method “offers a simple way of quantitatively assessing electoral fraud in Russia, whereas most other approaches focus on detecting whether or not fraud has been committed”, said Dmitry Kogan, an Estonia-based statistician who has worked with Shpilkin and others to develop tools for analysing election results. 

This approach – used by Meduza, Important Stories and Novaya Gazeta – is based “on the turnout at each polling station”, said Kogan.

The aim is to identify polling stations where turnout does not appear to be abnormally high, and then use them as benchmarks to get an idea of the actual vote distribution between the various candidates.

In theory, the share of votes in favour of each candidate does not change – or does so only marginally –according to turnout rate.

In other words, the Shpilkin method has been able to determine that in Russia, candidate A always has an average X percent of the vote and candidate B around Y percent, whether there are 100, 200 or more voters in an “honest” polling station.

In polling stations with high voter turnout, “we realised that this proportional change in vote distribution completely disappears, and that Vladimir Putin is the main beneficiary of the additional votes cast”, said Alexander Shen, a mathematician and statistician at the French National Centre for Scientific Research’s Laboratory of Computer Science, Robotics and Microelectronics in Montpellier. .

To quantify the fraud, Putin’s score is compared with what the result would have been if the distribution of votes had been the same as at an “honest” polling station. The resulting discrepancy with his official score gives an idea of the extent to which the results were manipulated in his favour.

The Shpilkin method makes it possible to put a figure on the “ballot box stuffing and accounting tricks to add votes for Vladimir Putin”, said Shen.

Limitations of the Shpilkin method

However, “this procedure would be useless if the authorities used more subtle methods to rig the results”, Kogan cautioned. 

For instance, if the “fraudsters” took votes away from one of the candidates and attributed them to Putin, the Shpilkin method would no longer work, he explained.

“The fact that the authorities seem to be continuously using the most basic methods shows that it doesn’t bother them that people are aware of the manipulation,” Kogan added.

Another problem with the Shpilkin method is that it requires “at least a few polling stations where you can be reasonably sure that no fraud has occurred”, said Kogan, for whom that condition was not easy to be sure about in last week’s presidential election.

“I’m not sure we can really reconstruct a realistic distribution of votes between the candidates, because I don’t know if there is enough usable data,” added Shen.

Does this negate the validity of the estimates put forward by independent Russian media?

Kogan said he stopped trying to quantify electoral fraud in Russia in 2021. He explained: “At the time, I estimated that nearly 20 million votes in the Duma [lower house] election had been falsified. Then I said to myself, ‘what’s the point in going to all this trouble if the ballots were completely rigged?’”

Nevertheless, he said it is important to have estimates based on the Shpilkin method because even if it is difficult to get a precise idea, “the order of magnitude is probably right”. 

These rough estimates are also “an important political weapon”, said Wyman, stressing the need to “undermine the narrative of the Russian authorities, who claim that the high turnout and the vote in favour of Putin demonstrate that the country is united”.

It is also an important message to the international community, added Hawn.

“The stereotype is that Russians naturally vote for authoritarian figures,” he said. “By showing how inflated the figures are, this is a way of proving that the reality is far more nuanced.”

This article has been translated from the original in French

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Russia says it has captured frontline village of Orlivka in eastern Ukraine

Russia said on Tuesday that its forces had taken control of the eastern Ukrainian village of Orlivka, situated about four kilometres (2.5 miles) west of the town of Avdiivka, which Moscow’s forces captured last month after one of the bloodiest battles of the war. Earlier, Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin said the United States “will not let Ukraine fail” as he attended a meeting of Kyiv’s Western allies in Germany.

  • Russian spy chief says French military in Ukraine would be priority target for Russia

Sergei Naryshkin, chief of Russia‘s foreign intelligence service, said on Tuesday that any French military sent to Ukraine to help fight Russia would be a priority target for Russian troops, the TASS news agency reported.

“It (a French contingent) will become a priority and legitimate target for attacks by the Russian Armed Forces. This means that the fate of all Frenchmen who have ever come to the territory of the Russian world with a sword would await it,” Naryshkin said.

French President Emmanuel Macron in late February opened the door to European nations sending troops to Ukraine.

  • German defence minister announces €500 million aid for Ukraine

German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius announced on Tuesday a €500 million ($542 billion) aid package for Ukraine which includes 10,000 rounds of ammunition and said the United States was still a reliable partner.

“We have once again put together an aid package worth almost half a billion euros,” Pistorius told reporters on the sidelines of talks with the United States and other allies at Ramstein Air Base.

He also said he had nothing to add to Germany’s position that there would be no boots on the ground in Ukraine.

  • Washington will not let Ukraine fail, US defence chief vows

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin promised on Tuesday that the United States will not let Ukraine fail in fighting off Russia, even as further aid remains stalled in Congress and Kyiv’s forces face shortages of munitions.

The Republican-led House of Representatives has been blocking $60 billion in assistance for Ukraine and the United States has warned that a recent $300 million package would only last a few weeks.

The “United States will not let Ukraine fail”, Austin said at the opening of a meeting in Germany of Ukraine’s international supporters, at which he is seeking to secure further assistance for Kyiv.

“We remain determined to provide Ukraine with the resources that it needs to resist the Kremlin‘s aggression,” he said.

Washington announced $300 million in assistance for Ukraine last week, but Austin said it was only possible due to savings on recent purchases.

“We were only able to support this much-needed package by identifying some unanticipated contract savings”, Austin said.

  • French army says it is prepared for ‘toughest’ engagements

French land forces are ready to respond to any threat as they prepare for even “the toughest engagements”, their commander said in remarks published on Tuesday.

The statement from ground army chief of staff General Pierre Schill comes after President Emmanuel Macron said he would not rule out dispatching ground troops to help Ukraine fight Russia.

The French army “is ready”, Schill wrote in an op-ed piece in the French daily Le Monde.

“However the international situation may evolve, French people can be certain that their soldiers stand ready to respond,” he said.

Schill said a display of French military capabilities would help to “deter any attack on France“.

“To protect itself from any attack and to defend its interests, the French army is preparing for even the toughest engagements,” he said.

  • Russia says it has captured frontline village in eastern Ukraine

Russia said on Tuesday that its forces had taken control of Orlivka, a frontline village situated about four kilometres (2.5 miles) west of Avdiivka in eastern Ukraine.

Moscow has made a number of gains in recent months, pressing its advantage on the battlefield as Kyiv struggles with shortages of ammunition and troops.

“On the Avdiivka front, units of the ‘Centre’ grouping of troops liberated the village of Orlivka,” the defence ministry said.

The reported capture comes a little over a month after Russian forces seized the nearby town of Avdiivka following one of the bloodiest battles in the conflict.


  • Putin tells FSB security agency to punish ‘scum’ pro-Ukraine Russian fighters

President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday called on the FSB security service to identify and punish pro-Ukrainian Russian fighters who have taken part in an increasing number of deadly attacks on border regions.

“About these traitors… we must not forget who they are, we must identify them by name. We will punish them without statute of limitations, wherever they are,” Putin said, calling Russians fighting against their country “scum”.

  • Russian region bordering Ukraine to evacuate 9,000 children amid attacks

Russia‘s Belgorod region bordering Ukraine plans to evacuate 9,000 children following an uptick in deadly Ukrainian shelling, the region’s governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said Tuesday.

Kyiv’s attacks on the territory have killed 16 people since last week, with shelling intensifying in the run up to elections poised to keep President Vladimir Putin in power until 2030, authorities say.

“We are evacuating a large number of villages, and now we are planning to evacuate about 9,000 children because of the shelling by the Ukrainian armed forces,” Gladkov told a meeting of ruling party members.

“I am proud that the residents of the region did not succumb to the difficult situation and that many more people came to the polling stations than ever before,” he said.

  • Russia appoints acting head of navy to replace incumbent

The new head of Russia’s Navy was formally presented in his new role for the first time on Tuesday at a pomp-filled ceremony, the state RIA news agency reported, confirming the appointment of Admiral Alexander Moiseev as acting head of the Navy.

His appointment follows a series of sustained Ukrainian attacks on Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, which is traditionally based in Crimea, which Moscow took from Kyiv in 2014.

Moiseev replaces Nikolai Yevmenov, the previous head of the Navy.

RIA showed video of a ceremony at the port of Kronstadt near St Petersburg where it said Moiseev was presented as acting head of the Navy.

He served on nuclear submarines for more than 29 years and has been decorated as a Hero of Russia, the country’s top military award.

He was appointed acting commander and then commander of the Black Sea Fleet in 2018 and then appointed commander of the Northern Fleet in 2019 before taking up his current role.


© France Médias Monde graphic studio

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP & Reuters)

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Navalny widow joins protest against Putin in Berlin on final day of voting

Yulia Navalnaya, the widow of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, took part in a noon protest against President Vladimir Putin on Sunday in Berlin on the final day of the country’s elections. Thousands of people also turned up at polling stations across Russia to take part in what the anti-Kremlin opposition said was a peaceful but symbolic political protest against Putin’s re-election. 

Navalny spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh posted pictures on X of Navalnaya standing in line in Berlin where Russians queued up to vote. Activists said that some people chanted “Yulia, Yulia”, and clapped.

Queues of people were also seen forming outside polling stations in Moscow and Saint Petersburg at noon, when Russia‘s opposition called for people to collectively spoil their ballots or vote against Putin.

Others had vowed to scrawl the name of late opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who died last month in an Arctic prison, on their ballot paper.

More than 74 people have been detained in thirteen Russian cities in connection to the presidential election taking place, the OVD-Info protest-monitoring group said.

The three-day vote had already been marred by a surge in fatal Ukrainian bombardmentincursions into Russian territory by pro-Kyiv sabotage groups and vandalism at polling stations.

Ukrainian drones attacked at least eight Russian regions overnight and on Sunday morning, with some reaching as far as the Moscow region, the defence ministry said.

Three airports serving the capital briefly suspended operations following the barrage, while a drone attack in the south sparked a fire at an oil refinery.

In the Russian-controlled part of Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia region, where voting is also taking place, “kamikaze drones” set a polling station ablaze, according to Moscow-installed authorities.

The defence ministry said it had “intercepted and destroyed 35 unmanned aerial vehicles” across the country.

The turnout at Russia’s presidential election hit 67.54% on Sunday, surpassing 2018 levels several hours before the end of polling, according to the TASS news agency. The 2018 turnout was 67.5%.

Last ‘legal’ protest

There were repeated acts of protest in the first days of polling, with a spate of arrests of Russians accused of pouring dye into ballot boxes or arson attacks.

Read more‘Noon against Putin’: Navalny’s last wish and an act of Russian opposition

Before his death in an Arctic prison last month, opposition leader Alexei Navalny urged Russians to collectively vote at noon in a protest the opposition dubbed “Midday Against Putin”.

AFP reporters saw an increase in people queuing outside polling stations at midday (09:00 GMT) in Moscow and Saint Petersburg.

“This is the last kind of protest action through which you can legally express yourself. It’s safe,” 29-year-old IT worker Alexander told AFP.

He voted around noon at a polling station in Maryino, a district of Moscow where Navalny used to cast his ballot.

“If I didn’t do it, I’d feel like a coward,” he said.

Elena, 52, who also voted around noon, doubted the demonstration would have much of an impact. 

“Honestly, I don’t think it will show anything,” she told AFP.

Any public dissent in Russia has been harshly punished since the start of Moscow’s offensive in Ukraine on February 24, 2022 and there have been repeated warnings from the authorities against election protests.

‘Difficult period’

The 71-year-old Putin, a former KGB agent, has been in power since the last day of 1999 and is set to extend his grip over the country until at least 2030.

If he completes another Kremlin term, he will have stayed in power longer than any Russian leader since Catherine the Great in the 18th century.

He is running without any real opponents, having barred two candidates who opposed the conflict in Ukraine.

Read moreRussia’s presidential election: Three Putin challengers but little suspense

The Kremlin has cast the election as an opportunity for Russians to show they are behind the assault on Ukraine, where voting is also being staged in Russian-held areas.

In a pre-election address on Thursday, Putin said Russia was going through a “difficult period”.

“We need to continue to be united and self-confident,” he said, describing the election as a way for Russians to demonstrate their “patriotic feelings”.

The voting will wrap up in Kaliningrad, Russia’s western-most time zone, at 18:00 GMT and an exit poll is expected to be announced shortly after that.

A concert on Red Square is being staged on Monday to mark 10 years since Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula – an event that is also expected to serve as a victory celebration for Putin.

‘No validity’

Ukraine has repeatedly denounced the elections as illegitimate and a “farce”, and urged Western allies not to recognise the result.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, as well as more than 50 member states, have slammed Moscow for holding the vote in parts of Ukraine.

Guterres said the “attempted illegal annexation” of those regions has “no validity” under international law.

Ahead of the election, Russian state media have played up recent gains on the front and portrayed the conflict as a fight for survival against attacks from the West.

Moscow has also sought to press its advantage on the front line as divisions over Western military support for Ukraine have led to ammunition shortages, although Kyiv says it has managed to stop the Russian advance for now. 

In Ukraine, a Russian missile strike on the Black Sea port city of Odesa on Friday killed 21 people including rescue workers responding to an initial hit – an attack President Volodymyr Zelensky described as “vile”.

In Russia’s border city of Belgorod, Ukrainian shelling killed a 16-year-old girl and wounded her father, the region’s governor said Sunday.

The governor has ordered the closure of shopping centres and schools in Belgorod and the surrounding area for two days because of the strikes.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)

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‘A fight for your way of life’: Lithuania’s culture minister on Ukraine and Russian disinformation

Lithuania’s Minister of Culture Simonas Kairys spoke to FRANCE 24 about Lithuania’s fight against Russian disinformation and why the Baltic nation feels so bound to Ukraine.

Issued on:

5 min

In March 1990, Lithuania became the first nation to declare its independence as the Soviet Union collapsed, setting an example for other states that had been under the Kremlin’s influence for half a century. As a nascent democracy emerging from Soviet control, Lithuania was free to rediscover its own history and culture.

But Vilnius has once again become a target for Moscow. Russian President Vladimir Putin has long considered the demise of the Soviet Union as a historical tragedy in which Russians were innocent victims. As part of efforts to justify the February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, Russia has launched a disinformation campaign aimed at Kyiv’s allies in the West.

In addition to putting pressure on Ukraine’s supporters, the Kremlin has attempted to intimidate them. Russian authorities placed Lithuanian Culture Minister Simonas Kairys, Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas and others on a wanted list in February along with other Baltic officials for allowing municipalities to dismantle WWII-era monuments to Soviet soldiers, moves seen by Moscow as “an insult to history”. 

Upon being informed his name was listed, Culture Minister Kairys was insouciant. “I’m glad that my work in dismantling the ruins of Sovietisation has not gone unnoticed,” he said.

Read moreThe Kremlin puts Baltic leaders on ‘wanted’ list

FRANCE 24 spoke to Kairys on why it is vital to fight Russian propaganda, and why the Baltic state feels so invested in what is happening in Ukraine.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity. 

What historical narratives has Russia tried to distort when it comes to Lithuanian independence?

Simonas Kairys: Russia is still in “imperialism” mode. The way they inscribed me onto their wanted list shows that they think and act upon the belief that countries that were formerly part of the Soviet Union – sovereign and independent countries such as Lithuania – are still part of Russia.

Russia has its own law system, which – from their point of view – is [the law even] in free countries (in the Russian criminal code, “destroying monuments to Soviet soldiers” is an act punishable by a five-year prison term). It’s absurd and unbelievable how they interpret the current situation in the world. If they say, for example, that they are “protecting” objects of Soviet heritage in a foreign country like Lithuania, they are spreading their belief that it is not a free country. But we are not slaves, and we are taking this opportunity to be outspoken and say Russia is promoting a fake version of history.

Why is combating Russian disinformation essential for Lithuanian national security?

It is not important for Lithuania – it is important for the EU, for Europe and for the entire free world. The war in Ukraine is happening very near to the EU; it is happening only a few hours away from France. Culture, heritage [and] historical memory are also fields of combat. Adding me to their wanted list is just one example of this. When we see how Russia is falsifying not only history but all information, it’s important to speak about it very loudly. Lithuania has achieved a lot in this domain, along with Ukraine and France. 

When France had the [rotating, six-month] presidency of the EU [in early 2022], we made several joint declarations. The result was that we signed a sixth package of sanctions against Russia and we designated six Russian television channels to be blocked in the EU – this was the first step in considering information as a [weapon]. In other words, information is being used by Russia to convince their society and sway public opinion in other European countries. Now we have a situation in which we are blocking Russian television channels in EU territory.  

Our foreign partners often ask us upon which criteria Russian information can be considered as disinformation. These days, it’s very important to stress that any information – from television shows to news to other television productions – coming from Russia is automatically disinformation, propaganda and fake news. We must understand that there is no truth in what Russia tries to say.

This fight against disinformation is crucial because we are in a phase of big developments in technology and artificial intelligence. We have to ensure that our societies will be prepared, be capable of critical thinking, and understand what is happening in the world right now.


Olympic and world champion Ruta Meilutyte swims across a pond colored red to signify blood, in front of the Russian embassy in Vilnius, Lithuania, Wednesday, April 6, 2022. © Andrius Repsys, AP

To borrow a term from Czech writer Milan Kundera, would you say that Lithuania was “kidnapped from the West” when it was annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940?

During the Middle Ages, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania spanned from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea. We were the same country as Poland, Ukraine and Belarus. We were oriented to the West and not the East. In much older times, during the Kievan Rus period, Moscow didn’t even exist; there were just swamps and nothing more. But with [growing] imperialism from the Russian side, they began portraying history in a different way. Yet our memory is like our DNA, our freedom and orientation are ingrained. The eastern flank of the EU is currently talking about the values of Western civilisation much more emphatically than in the past.

[During the Cold War] not only was our freedom taken but [Russia] tried to delete history and paint a picture only from the time when this imperialism entered our territory. But we remembered what happened in the Middle Ages; we remember how modern Lithuanian statehood arose after World War I and how we regained our freedom in 1990. It’s impossible to delete this memory and name Lithuania as a country that isn’t free. Once you take a breath of freedom, you never forget it. This is the reason why we understand Ukrainians and why we are so active to not only defend the territory of Ukraine, but also the values of Western civilisation as well.   

How has the war in Ukraine influenced Lithuanian life and culture?

The main thing is to think about freedom; we have to do a lot because of that freedom, we have to fight for freedom … we understand more and more that culture plays a big role in this war, because it is based on culture and history. You can see what Putin is declaring and it is truly evident that culture, heritage and historical memory are used as the basis for an explanation of why Russia is waging war in Ukraine right now. (To justify the invasion of Ukraine, Putin has insisted that Russians and Ukrainians are one people and uniting them is a historical inevitability.) 

There are important collaborations taking place with Ukrainian culture and artists. It’s important to give them a platform – for everyone to see that Ukraine is not defeated, that Ukraine is still fighting, that Ukraine will win, that we will help them. 

The best response to an aggressor is to live your daily life, with all your traditions, habits and cultural legacy. This fight is also for your way of life. The situation is not one where you must stop and only think about guns and systems of defence – you have to live, work, create, and keep up your business and cultural life. 

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