The Kremlin puts Baltic leaders on ‘wanted’ list for challenging its worldview

The Kremlin placed Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas and other Baltic officials on a list of wanted criminals on Monday in a move aimed at preserving Russia’s view of its glorious past from present-day challenges. The Kremlin said Kallas was put on the list for her efforts to remove WWII-era monuments to Soviet soldiers, moves seen by Moscow as unlawful and “an insult to history”.

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Russia has a track record of putting foreign officials on wanted lists, but this latest move makes Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas the first foreign head of government to be sought by Russian police. Estonian Secretary of State Taimar Peterkop and Lithuanian Culture Minister Simonas Kairys are also on the list, along with dozens of other Baltic and Polish politicians.

Kallas and Peterkop made the list because of their efforts to remove monuments to Soviet soldiers who served in World War II, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova confirmed. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was blunt, saying the move was a response to those who have taken “hostile action toward historic memory and our country”.

A Russian security source told the TASS state news agency that the Kremlin is seeking to prosecute Kallas and Peterkop for the “destruction and defacement of monuments [honouring] Soviet soldiers” along with the Lithuanian minister of culture, Simonas Kairys.

“These wanted notices are Russia’s way of saying: ‘You come under Russian legislation and we consider you still, more or less, part of the Russian Empire,’” says historian Cécile Vaissié, professor of Russian and Soviet studies at Rennes-ll University.

“It’s simply provocation and an insult to an independent, autonomous country.”

Moscow has issued such wanted notices in the past, for instance, against exiled writer Boris Akunin over his condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Akunin was accused of “terrorism” and placed on the Kremlin’s list of “foreign agents”.

The Kremlin’s list is long indeed.

Meta spokesman and Ukrainian farmer on the list

More than 96,000 people – including over 31,000 Russians and nearly 4,000 Ukrainians – are on a Russian wanted list, according to the independent Russian news outlet Mediazona, which published a compilation of various Russian interior ministry databases on Monday.

The range of people targeted is wide. The list includes Andy Stone, spokesman for Meta (parent company of Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram), accused of “supporting terrorism”. The Polish president of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Piotr Hofmanski, is also on the list. His name was added after the ICC issued an arrest warrant for Vladimir Putin in March 2023 for the Russian president’s role in the deportation of Ukrainian children.

Given the war in Ukraine, it’s no surprise that the majority of foreigners targeted by Russian law enforcement agencies are Ukrainians. Mediazona has identified at least 176 people “prosecuted in absentia” for various reasons: participation in the war, links with Ukrainian authorities, public statements. The list includes the former commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian army, Valery Zaluzhny, and even a Ukrainian farmer who supported Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky and made unflattering remarks about Putin.

Some 59 Latvian MPs – two-thirds of the parliament – are also under investigation after voting in May 2022 to withdraw from an agreement with Russia on the preservation of Soviet memorials. The parliamentary vote, taken a few months after the start of the war in Ukraine, was followed by the demolition of a Soviet-era monument in the capital, Riga.

“All these wanted notices give the impression of a catch-all approach, a hodge-podge of people supposedly hostile to Russia and against whom it is taking action,” notes Marie Dumoulin, programme director at the European Council for International Relations think tank.

Only one version of history

For Dumoulin, there is “no doubt that Russian prosecutors can support their contentions for each of these people”. But she has reservations about Kaja Kallas: “The case of the Estonian prime minister seems to me to be legally a little shaky: to single out foreign public figures on the basis of their discourse on history, that’s quite a reach.”

The prime minister, a fierce critic of Russia who has supported the removal of Soviet monuments in recent years, doesn’t seem to be fazed by her new status in Russia, dismissing the move as a “familiar scare tactic” by Moscow.

Posting on X, formerly Twitter, she said: “The Kremlin now hopes this move will help to silence me and others – but it won’t. The opposite.”

The threats of prosecution are largely symbolic, since they have little chance of leading to an arrest. But they are representative of Moscow’s continuing battle with the former Soviet countries of Eastern Europe over the historical narrative.

Above all, Vaissié explains, Moscow “aims to reaffirm the existence of a ‘Russian world’ (a concept born after the collapse of the Soviet Union to encompass the entire Russian-speaking diaspora outside Russia) and of a Russia at the centre of an empire and overseeing the lives of its citizens”.

“Since the 1990s, the Kremlin has maintained a deliberate confusion between Russian speakers, Russians, Russian citizens, former citizens of the USSR and former citizens of the Empire,” she said.

Dumoulin cited Moscow’s “long-standing hard line with the Baltic States on the question of memory”, adding that tensions ratcheted up a notch after the 2020 reform of Russia’s constitution.

“The historical memory of the Russian state was then enshrined in the constitution,” she said. “And from that moment on, there was a stiffening of internal attitudes, notably with the dissolution of the NGO Memorial (which, among other things, was the guardian of the memory of the Gulag).”

“It’s an approach in which there is only one possible historical discourse,” she said. “It’s not good to be a historian in Russia today.”

This article is a translation of the original in French.

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Former United States Secretary of State Henry Kissinger dies at 100

Henry Kissinger, a controversial Nobel Peace Prize winner and diplomatic powerhouse whose service under two presidents left an indelible mark on US foreign policy, died on Wednesday at age 100, Kissinger Associates Inc said in a statement. He died at his home in Connecticut.

Kissinger had been active past his centenary, attending meetings in the White House, publishing a book on leadership styles, and testifying before a Senate committee about the nuclear threat posed by North Korea. In July 2023 he made a surprise visit to Beijing to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping.

In the 1970s, he had a hand in many of the epoch-changing global events of the decade while serving as secretary of state under Republican President Richard Nixon. The German-born Jewish refugee’s efforts led to the diplomatic opening of China, landmark US-Soviet arms control talks, expanded ties between Israel and its Arab neighbours, and the Paris Peace Accords with North Vietnam.

Kissinger’s reign as the prime architect of US foreign policy waned with Nixon’s resignation in 1974. Still, he continued to be a diplomatic force under President Gerald Ford and to offer strong opinions throughout the rest of his life.

While many hailed Kissinger for his brilliance and broad experience, others branded him a war criminal for his support for anti-communist dictatorships, especially in Latin America. In his latter years, his travels were circumscribed by efforts by other nations to arrest or question him about past US foreign policy.

His 1973 Peace Prize – awarded jointly to North Vietnam’s Le Duc Tho, who would decline it – was one of the most controversial ever. Two members of the Nobel committee resigned over the selection and questions arose about the US secret bombing of Cambodia.

Ford called Kissinger a “super secretary of state” but also noted his prickliness and self assurance, which critics were more likely to call paranoia and egotism. Even Ford said, “Henry in his mind never made a mistake.”

“He had the thinnest skin of any public figure I ever knew,” Ford said in an interview shortly before his death in 2006.

With his dour expression and gravelly, German-accented voice, Kissinger was hardly a rock star but had an image as a ladies’ man, squiring starlets around Washington and New York in his bachelor days. Power, he said, was the ultimate aphrodisiac.

Voluble on policy, Kissinger was reticent on personal matters, although he once told a journalist he saw himself as a cowboy hero, riding off alone.

Harvard faculty

Heinz Alfred Kissinger was born in Furth, Germany, on May 27, 1923, and moved to the United States with his family in 1938 before the Nazi campaign to exterminate European Jews.

Anglicising his name to Henry, Kissinger became a naturalised US citizen in 1943, served in the Army in Europe in World War Two, and went to Harvard University on scholarship, earning a master’s degree in 1952 and a doctorate in 1954. He was on Harvard’s faculty for the next 17 years.

During much of that time, Kissinger served as a consultant to government agencies, including in 1967 when he acted as an intermediary for the State Department in Vietnam. He used his connections with President Lyndon Johnson’s administration to pass on information about peace negotiations to the Nixon camp.

When Nixon’s pledge to end the Vietnam War won him the 1968 presidential election, he brought Kissinger to the White House as national security adviser.

But the process of “Vietnamization” – shifting the burden of the war from the half-million US forces to the South Vietnamese – was long and bloody, punctuated by massive US bombing of North Vietnam, the mining of the North’s harbors, and the bombing of Cambodia.

Kissinger declared in 1972 that “peace is at hand” in Vietnam but the Paris Peace Accords reached in January 1973 were little more than a prelude to the final Communist takeover of the South two years later.

In 1973, in addition to his role as national security adviser, Kissinger was named secretary of state – giving him unchallenged authority in foreign affairs.

An intensifying Arab-Israeli conflict launched Kissinger on his first so-called “shuttle” mission, a brand of highly personal, high-pressure diplomacy for which he became famous.

Thirty-two days spent shuttling between Jerusalem and Damascus helped Kissinger forge a long-lasting disengagement agreement between Israel and Syria in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

In an effort to diminish Soviet influence, Kissinger reached out to its chief communist rival, China, and made two trips there, including a secret one to meet with Premier Zhou Enlai. The result was Nixon’s historic summit in Beijing with Chairman Mao Zedong and the eventual formalisation of relations between the two countries.

Strategic arms accord 

The Watergate scandal that forced Nixon to resign barely grazed Kissinger, who was not connected to the cover-up and continued as secretary of state when Ford took office in the summer of 1974. But Ford did replace him as national security adviser in an effort to hear more voices on foreign policy.

Later that year Kissinger went with Ford to Vladivostok in the Soviet Union, where the president met Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and agreed to a basic framework for a strategic arms pact. The agreement capped Kissinger’s pioneering efforts at detente that led to a relaxing of US-Soviet tensions.

But Kissinger’s diplomatic skills had their limits. In 1975, he was faulted for failing to persuade Israel and Egypt to agree to a second-stage disengagement in the Sinai.

And in the India-Pakistan War of 1971, Nixon and Kissinger were heavily criticized for tilting toward Pakistan. Kissinger was heard calling the Indians “bastards” – a remark he later said he regretted.

Like Nixon, he feared the spread of left-wing ideas in the Western hemisphere, and his actions in response were to cause deep suspicion of Washington from many Latin Americans for years to come.

In 1970 he plotted with the CIA on how best to destabilize and overthrow the Marxist but democratically elected Chilean President Salvador Allende, while he said in a memo in the wake of Argentina’s bloody coup in 1976 that the military dictators should be encouraged.

When Ford lost to Jimmy Carter, a Democrat, in 1976, Kissinger’s days in the suites of government power were largely over. The next Republican in the White House, Ronald Reagan, distanced himself from Kissinger, who he viewed as out of step with his conservative constituency.

After leaving government, Kissinger set up a high-priced, high-powered consulting firm in New York, which offered advice to the world’s corporate elite. He served on company boards and various foreign policy and security forums, wrote books, and became a regular media commentator on international affairs.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, President George W. Bush picked Kissinger to head an investigative committee. But outcry from Democrats who saw a conflict of interest with many of his consulting firm’s clients forced Kissinger to step down from the post.

Divorced from his first wife, Ann Fleischer, in 1964, he married Nancy Maginnes, an aide to New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, in 1974. He had two children by his first wife.


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The ultimate short guide on living (and surviving) under Putin

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

Leave, and if you haven’t yet, make plans to do so. In Russia, all of the previously eroded freedoms are now completely gone, Aleksandar Đokić writes.


During the Stalinist era, when millions suffered under an arbitrary, totalitarian rule, there were only two useful bits of advice one had to give to those with ties to the Soviet empire. 

One, if you’ve managed to escape the clutches of the Soviet communists, never return. Two, if you’re still trapped there, find a way to make a break for it. 

The machinery of repression, put in place by Vladimir Lenin and greatly expanded by his unsolicited successor Joseph Stalin, protected nobody from its potential grasp. 

Its totalitarian nature was embodied in an overbearing state apparatus that wanted to meddle in almost every aspect of human existence. In other words, it attempted to nationalise even the private aspects of life.

There was no protection of the law and no such thing as independent institutions. Everything was just a paper-mâché scenery for the state-organised terror campaign which did not come to a halt even during World War II. 

Top-down prescribed social behaviour, which would all you an individual citizen to remain out of danger, didn’t exist during this period, either. 

One could be a member of the working class or a peasant, without a clear interest in politics, without being involved in any kind of organised struggle against the regime, and still end up in the Gulag. 

One could be atheist, agnostic, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, or Buddhist, and still find themselves imprisoned. 

One could even be a fervent communist — a card-carrying member of the Party ever since the 1917 October Revolution and the subsequent Civil War — and still lose all his privileges and status.

Echoes of traumas past

Today, if you were to befriend a person living in Russia or of Russian roots, most of them would have stories of repressed family members they could share with you — illustrating the sheer scale of this unique, ever-present and widespread transgenerational social trauma. 

Just a year and a half ago, it seemed that this kind of nightmare would not take hold in Russia again, despite the fact that the oppressive tendencies of the Kremlin never truly went away. 

The root of this belief was found in the fact that even the communist leaders who came after Stalin did not attempt to emulate the totalitarianism of his era. A new one-sided social contract doled out from the top gave way to the gulag after his death: stay out of politics and politics won’t bother you. 

While no state official asked the citizens how free the society they wanted to live in should be, it was certainly a relief compared to the previous system of sheer terror. In some ways, it signified a type of progress, despite the Soviet Union and, later, Russia being light years away from a full-fledged democracy.

What has Putin done to his own country?

Many Russia watchers believed the same type of social contract was set in place in the Putin era prior to February 2022.

With Putin, however, there was never any pretense of a social contract to speak of. It would be more fair to call it a dictate, stipulating unwritten desirable social norms or what the state wanted to see from its citizens. 

Putin’s arrival at the top of Russian politics created a mirage of a free market — as it would later become painfully clear, concepts are seldom really fully implemented in Russia — some free press, a bit of free thought and even free elections, albeit only locally. 

Ambivalence towards dictates is no surprise in modern Russian society. The last time the Russian nation actually chose sides on a massive scale was when the central provinces picked the Bolsheviks over the Whites in a civil war waged some hundred years ago. 

Back then, the biggest part of the Russian nation — other nations and ethnic groups of the empire were unwillingly caught in the whirlwind of war and destruction — opted for what they were promised by Lenin: bread, land and peace. 


The Bolsheviks didn’t deliver on any of these promises — there were recurring famines that lasted for decades, the land was collectivised, and the rule of terror turned into an eternal war against the population. 

Nonetheless, the Russian nation still believed it had a partial contract with the state — one of justice and equality against feudal autocracy — even though the contract was never completely fulfilled by the Kremlin.

Stalin’s spectre haunting today’s Russia?

In all instances that followed Lenin’s rule, the Russian nation was further made to accept a fait accompli. 

And for the average person, given the history of state-organised violence and repression that marked Russia’s history through many of its iterations, Putin’s dictate didn’t seem all that bad altogether. 

Whether we go by the maxim “power tends to corrupt, absolute power corrupts absolutely” and conclude that Putin and his confidants changed somewhere along the way, or if we pick the hypothesis of the “strategic plan” — the great conflict was always in Putin’s sights, he simply needed decades to prepare for it — the fact remains that the pre-2022 Russia and the one we have today are fundamentally different in nature. 


Putin’s Russia prior to the full-scale invasion of Ukraine was authoritarian and more so as the years went by. The Russia of today, however, is on the totalitarian path. 

The level and various methods and ways of repression cannot be compared to Stalin’s, but their arbitrary nature is once again haunting the citizens of Russia.

Leave or make plans to do so

The guide about how to survive under the later stages of Putinism would be identical to the one explaining how to make it under Stalin: leave, and if you haven’t yet, make plans to do so. In Russia, all of the previously eroded freedoms are now completely gone anyway. 

Kirill Martynov, the editor-in-chief of the Novaya Gazeta Europe, summed up the current state of Russian political system in one sentence in his comment on the upcoming presidential elections: “Anyone who suggests that the opposition should unite and nominate their own candidate, must keep in mind that such a person is actually being called upon to sacrifice himself.” 

Today, even those with no political ties to any opposition group can still be charged for a random comment left online years ago — the censorship laws in Russia are retroactive. 


Giving up on any kind of individual social initiative is not enough to not be indicted for treason, “discrediting the army” or being a supporter of “Nazism”. 

Protest, even in its smallest or banal forms, can get you sent to a remote penitentiary, where you’d be forced to serve your time in inhumane conditions together with the worst criminals in the country.

A suitcase and a ticket out are still a much more appealing option.

Aleksandar Đokić is a Serbian political scientist and analyst with bylines in Novaya Gazeta. Formerly, he was a lecturer at RUDN University in Moscow.

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

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Losing my religion: More people across Europe have little or no belief

In Italy, the cradle of Catholicism, new research suggests that only 19% of citizens attend services at least weekly, while 31% never attend at all – and it’s a trend already growing in some European nations.


They’re called the “nones” and are growing in numbers every day.

It’s a term for those increasingly rejecting organised religion, even in countries in which faith is typically at the core of their very identity.

Scandinavian countries and north west Europe – think France and the United Kingdom – have been well known for their widespread secularism for years.

But now, even in Italy – the long-standing home of Catholicism – things are changing too.

Vatican City – home to the Pope and many of the world’s most influential religious figures – is right in the centre of Rome, the capital.

Unsurprisingly, then, most people retain at least a nominal affiliation to the church, taking part in their many and varied traditions but, increasingly, with little adherence to doctrine or practice.

According to recent findings from the Pew Research Centre survey, 78% of Italians still profess to be of the Catholic faith.

So far, so believable.

Dig a little deeper though and you’ll see a very different picture.

The Italian statistics agency, ISTAT, says only 19% attend services at least weekly – while 31% never attend at all.

Experts say that the COVID-19 pandemic significantly accelerated a disengagement with Catholicism in Italy which started at least a generation ago.

It’s a trend that’s become ever more concerning for those within the church.

“‘I don’t have time, I don’t feel like it’ – there isn’t a real reason. That’s what’s scary”, the Reverend Giovanni Mandozzi, a parish priest in the central mountain village of Isola, tells AP.

Despite his attempts to persuade his parishioners to return to services – “I tell them, ‘I do Mass in under 40 minutes, you can leave your pasta sauce on the stove, and it won’t even stick to the bottom of the pot” – attendance is at an all time low.

Mandozzi is forced to preach in a former butchers shop after two earthquakes in the Abruzzo region have caused significant damage to Isola’s church since 2009.

In the shop, he told the Mass congregation, made up of fewer than two dozen local pensioners, “the sign of the cross isn’t a quick fly-swatting gesture”.

It’s a sight totally alien to the elderly audience who would have been used to a packed church.

Next door, though, the atmosphere can best be described as buzzy. The venue? A bar – packed with young families.


“Everything has changed,” the bar owner, Natascia Di Stefano tells AP.

“Sunday used to be church with your family. Now youths don’t even want to hear about it, like an ancient thing that’s useless”, the mother of two teens expands.

At another bar nearby – which, a little ironically, faces a mediaeval chapel – a group of friends in their 20s enjoy a drink.

They explain that they grew up attending Mass and catechism – only to bring their relationship with the church to an abrupt halt after being confirmed.

Traditionally a central practice to those of the Catholic faith, confirmation is a commitment to witness their faith through the gifts of the Holy Spirit.


Today, though, it’s because little more than a last rite that people feel obligated by family tradition to partake in.

“It would have become just a routine,” 24-year-old student Agostino Tatulli tells AP, adding. “I’d say I’m spiritual. I don’t know if God exists.”

The reasons for this increasing lack of belief are numerous but Dr Nadia Beider, a Sociology of Religion research fellow at University College London tells Euronews that the research suggests that a decline in religious engagement often leads to a lack of affiliation and date somewhere down the road thanks, in part, due to the “level of effort required to sustain regular religious behaviour such as church attendance”.

“The process accelerates over time as people disaffiliate from the religion in which they were raised and an increasing proportion are raised without religion”, Beider adds.

Spirituality and tradition do, though, still seem to be at the core of many young Italians’ beliefs today.


Saints days and blessings from priests are particularly important – even if organised religion is proving less attractive for increasing numbers.

Hundreds of bikers go to churches for an annual blessing, as do thousands of teenagers in the early spring for a ‘blessing of the pens’ before they take their final exams.

Catholicism is still a central part of another rite of passage for many – wedding ceremonies.

They remain the choice of about 60% of Italians marrying for the first time.

Catholic funerals, too, are still said to be favoured by 70% of Italians, although some funeral directors are opting to build ‘neutral’ wake rooms in their establishments to appeal to those keen not to focus on God at the end of their lives.


While lay people still cling on to some aspect of Catholicism from the cradle to the grave, there are logistical hurdles to overcome for church leaders too.

They’re already struggling with a significant drop in vocations that leaves many with barely the time to celebrate Masses in multiple villages under their care.

A wider European picture

It will come as little surprise that a continent as diverse and vast as Europe sees huge variations in religious affiliation across its 45 nations.

According to 2018 research from the Pew Research Centre – the latest on offer – Central and Eastern Europeans tend to be more likely than Western Europeans to be ‘highly religious’.


To qualify as ‘highly religious’, respondents had to tick at least two boxes out of the following criteria: attending religious services at least monthly, praying at least daily, believing in God with absolute certainty or saying that religion is very important to them.

In Greece, for example, roughly half of adults fall under that category whereas, in countries like Denmark, Sweden and the UK, that number falls to just one in 10.

That statistic doesn’t mean, though, that all countries in Western Europe have low levels of religious commitment – and also that not all countries in Central and Eastern Europe are at the higher end of the index.

Portugal, for example, has some 37% of its adult population fall into the highly religious category. At the other side of the continent, countries including the Czech Republic and Estonia have religiosity levels similar to Denmark – noticeably lower than those in most other Central and Eastern European countries.

These statistics, if they are to follow the trend of Italy, are likely to change – and fast.


In research undertaken by the World Economic Forum, also in 2018, it was discovered that young people – aged 16 to 29 at the time of the survey – are far less religious than their older countrymen. 

That poll found that young people in the Czech Republic are the least religious in all Europe.

Some 91% of 16 to 29 year olds say they have no religion, followed by Estonia’s youths (80%), Sweden (75%) and the UK, where 70% have no religion – and just 7% call themselves Anglican.

Across 12 out of 22 countries studied by the Forum, over half of young adults claim not to identify with any particular religion or denomination.

In many Central and Eastern European countries, that trend is very much bucked – and it’s down, in part, to the fall of the Iron Curtain.


More than 30 years on since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Pew Research found that religion has reasserted itself as an important part of individual and national identity in many of the countries where communist regimes once repressed religious worship and promoted atheism.

Now, religion and national identity are often closely entwined. In former communist states, such as the Russian Federation and Poland, many say that being Orthodox or Catholic is important to being “truly Russian” or “truly Polish”.

Interestingly, Catholicism in Central and Eastern Europe does not measure up to the levels in upsurge as Orthodox Christianity.

That seems to be down to the fact that much of the population in countries such as Poland and Hungary retained a Catholic identity during the communist era, therefore leaving less of a religious vacuum to be filled when the USSR fell.

There could be a relatively straightforward explanation for this trend.


“It seems that the more universal explanations of the link between religious decline and modernity such as the shift towards secular, rational modes of thinking, individualisation, and greater emphasis on self-actualization values, notably in societies whose citizens feel generally safe and secure, less so in countries suffering from conflict, dislocation and economic precarity help explain why secularisation takes place”, Dr Nadia Beider tells Euronews.

Regardless of the status of conflict in a particular nation or, indeed, a person’s chosen denomination, it will be interesting to see when – not if – these more religious nations follow Italy’s lead.

Pietro di Bartolomeo, who hails from the city of Teramo, north of Rome, is fearful about the increasing secularisation of Italy and the wider continent, saying the decline in both numbers of priests and regular churchgoers is a real worry.

He’s proof, too, that questioning organised religion is nothing new.

As a teenager, he was bullied because of his family’s strong faith – so much so that he came to see “God as a loser.”


Now 45 and a father of five, he runs a Bible group for teens, trying to keep them connected to their faith after the critical juncture of their confirmation.

Speaking to AP, he emphasises that the church must increase their evangelising practice – or risk irrelevance.

“The old ladies sooner or later will go to the Creator, and that’s where the cycle stops”, di Bartolomeo says.

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Nagorno-Karabakh evacuations begin as Armenia warns of ‘ethnic cleansing’

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KORNIDZOR, Armenia — The first convoys of civilians have left Nagorno-Karabakh for Armenia following an Azerbaijani military offensive amid growing warnings that a mass exodus could be on the cards.

On Sunday, humanitarian organizations and the Armenian government said that dozens of people had been evacuated after Azerbaijan agreed to open the Lachin Corridor that links the breakaway territory to the country. According to the Ministry of Health, the Red Cross escorted 23 ambulances carrying “seriously and very seriously wounded citizens of Nagorno-Karabakh.”

Meanwhile, other civilians say they had begged the Russian peacekeepers to take them across, after Karabakh Armenian leaders on Tuesday accepted a surrender agreement following just 24 hours of fierce fighting and shelling.

At a checkpoint near the village of Kornidzor, on the border with Azerbaijan, a steady stream of civilian cars is now crossing over — many laden down with bags or filled with loose bedding and other possessions.

At the border, POLITICO spoke to Artur, a Karabakh Armenian who had been stranded by the 9-month-long effective blockade of the region. Awaiting news of his relatives after Azerbaijani forces launched their offensive, he received a call from his sister to say she had been evacuated with the Russian peacekeepers.

After an hour of waiting anxiously, he was reunited with 27-year-old Rima. Sitting in the back of an SUV, she cried as her two children — aged three and one — unwrapped bars of chocolate, a luxury they have done without amid severe shortages of food and other essentials. “We’ve arrived,” she said.

Marut Vanyan, a local blogger, said many others were planning to follow suit. “People right now say everyone is leaving. In Stepanakert, there is no second opinion, everyone is trying to find a few liters of petrol and be ready any time, any second, for when we are going,” Vanyan said, speaking after being able to charge his telephone at a Red Cross station in Stepanakert, Nagorno-Karabakh’s de facto capital.

At a Red Cross emergency aid point, one elderly man asked the camera crews and journalists why they had only taken an interest once the situation reached crisis point. “Where were you when we were in Karabakh? You want to film? Here are my legs,” he said angrily, raising the ends of his trousers to reveal bandaged, bruised shins.

At a Red Cross emergency aid point, one elderly man asked the camera crews and journalists why they had only taken an interest once the situation reached crisis point | Gabriel Gavin/POLITICO

Meanwhile, Armenia’s prime minister warned that, despite assurances from Russia, “the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh still face the danger of ethnic cleansing.”

“If the needs of the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh are not met [so that they are able to stay] in their homes, and effective mechanisms of protection against ethnic cleansing not put in place, then the likelihood is increasing that the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh will see expulsion from their homeland as the only way out,” Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan predicted.

At the same time, Pashinyan said Armenia would welcome its “brothers” from the exclave — inside Azerbaijan’s internationally recognized borders but held by Nagorno-Karabakh’s ethnic Armenian population since a war that followed the fall of the Soviet Union.

The prime minister’s stark warning comes just two days after Pashinyan said he “assumed” Russia had taken responsibility for the fate of the population, after Karabakh Armenian leaders accepted a Moscow-brokered surrender agreement following almost 24 hours of fierce fighting with Azerbaijani forces. The embattled prime minister, however, said he believed there was a genuine hope that locals would be able to continue living in Nagorno-Karabakh.

A steady stream of civilian cars is now crossing over — many laden down with bags or filled with loose bedding and other possessions | Gabriel Gavin/POLITICO

Shortly after Pashinyan’s address, the official information center for the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic issued a statement saying “the families of those left homeless as a result of recent military action and who expressed a desire to leave the republic will be transferred to Armenia accompanied by Russian peacekeepers.” Officials will provide information “about the relocation of other population groups in the near future,” according to the statement.

According to Azerbaijan’s foreign policy adviser, Hikmet Hajiyev, the government will “also respect the individual choices of residents.”

“It once again shows that allegations as if Azerbaijan blocked the roads for passage are not true,” Hajiyev told POLITICO. “They are enabled to use their private vehicles.”

Dozens of trucks carrying 150 tons of humanitarian aid, organized by the The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Russian Red Cross, gained rare access to the region via a road controlled by Azerbaijani troops on Saturday. Speaking to POLITICO, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s foreign policy adviser, Hikmet Hajiyev, said the guarantee for humanitarian aid access “once again shows the good intentions and seriousness of the Azerbaijan government to meet the needs and requirements of Armenian residents and also to ensure a safe and decent reintegration process.”

“People right now say everyone is leaving. In Stepanakert, there is no second opinion, everyone is trying to find a few liters of petrol and be ready any time, any second, for when we are going” | Gabriel Gavin/POLITICO

Azerbaijan has said the Karabakh Armenians can continue to live in the region if they lay down their weapons and accept being governed as part of the country.

However, in an interview with Reuters on Sunday, David Babayan, an adviser to the Karabakh Armenian leadership, said that “our people do not want to live as part of Azerbaijan. 99.9% [would] prefer to leave our historic lands.”

Accusing the international community of abandoning the estimated 100,000 residents of the besieged territory, Babayan declared that “the fate of our poor people will go down in history as a disgrace and a shame for the Armenian people and for the whole civilized world. Those responsible for our fate will one day have to answer before God for their sins,” he said.

Pashinyan has accused citizens with close ties to the Nagorno-Karabakh leadership of fomenting unrest in the country, with protesters clashing with police in the capital of Yerevan as criticism of his handling of the crisis grows.

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Moldova ramps up EU membership push amid fears of Russia-backed coup

CHIȘINĂU, Moldova — Tens of thousands of Moldovans descended on the central square of the capital on Sunday, waving flags and homemade placards in support of the country’s push to join the EU and make a historic break with Moscow.

With Russia’s war raging just across the border in Ukraine, the government of this tiny Eastern European nation called the rally in an effort to overcome internal divisions and put pressure on Brussels to begin accession talks, almost a year after Moldova was granted EU candidate status.

“Joining the EU is the best way to protect our democracy and our institutions,” Moldova’s President Maia Sandu told POLITICO at Chișinău’s presidential palace, as a column of her supporters marched past outside. “I call on the EU to take a decision on beginning accession negotiations by the end of the year. We think we have enough support to move forward.”

Speaking alongside Sandu at what was billed as a “national assembly,” European Parliament President Roberta Metsola declared that “Europe is Moldova. Moldova is Europe!” The crowd, many holding Ukrainian flags and the gold-and-blue starred banner of the EU, let out a cheer. An orchestra on stage played the bloc’s anthem, Ode to Joy.

“In recent years, you have taken decisive steps and now you have the responsibility to see it through, even with this war on your border,” Metsola said. “The Republic of Moldova is ready for integration into the single European market.”

However, the jubilant rally comes amid warnings that Moscow is doing everything it can to keep the former Soviet republic within its self-declared sphere of influence.

In February, the president of neighboring Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, warned that his country’s security forces had disrupted a plot to overthrow Moldova’s pro-Western government. Officials in Chișinău later said the Russian-backed effort could have involved sabotage, attacks on government buildings and hostage-taking. Moscow officially denies the claims.

“Despite previous efforts to stay neutral, Moldova is finding itself in the Kremlin’s crosshairs — whether they want to be or not, they’re party of this broader conflict in Ukraine,” said Arnold Dupuy, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council think tank in Washington.

“There’s an effort by the Kremlin to turn the country into a ‘southern Kaliningrad,’ putting in place a friendly regime that allows them to attack the Ukrainians’ flanks,” Dupuy said. “But this hasn’t been as effective as the Kremlin hoped and they’ve actually strengthened the government’s hand to look to the EU and NATO for protection.”

Responding to the alleged coup attempt, Brussels last month announced it would deploy a civilian mission to Moldova to combat growing threats from Russia. According to Josep Borrell, the EU’s top diplomat, the deployment under the terms of the Common Security and Defense Policy, will provide “support to Moldova [to] protect its security, territorial integrity and sovereignty.”

Bumps on the road to Brussels

Last week, Sandu again called on Brussels to begin accession talks “as soon as possible” in order to protect Moldova from what she said were growing threats from Russia. “Nothing compares to what is happening in Ukraine, but we see the risks and we do believe that we can save our democracy only as part of the EU,” she said. A group of influential MEPs from across all of the main parties in the European Parliament have tabled a motion calling for the European Commission to start the negotiations by the end of the year.

But, after decades as one of Russia’s closest allies, Moldova knows its path to EU membership isn’t without obstacles.

“The challenge is huge,” said Tom de Waal, a senior fellow at Carnegie Europe. “They will need to overcome this oligarchic culture that has operated for 30 years where everything is informal, institutions are very weak and large parts of the bureaucracy are made viable by vested interests.”

At the same time, a frozen conflict over the breakaway region of Transnistria, in the east of Moldova, could complicate matters still further. The stretch of land along the border with Ukraine, home to almost half a million people, has been governed since the fall of the Soviet Union by pro-Moscow separatists, and around 1,500 Russian troops are stationed there despite Chișinău demanding they leave. It’s also home to one of the Continent’s largest weapons stockpiles, with a reported 20,000 tons of Soviet-era ammunition.

“Moldova cannot become a member of the EU with Russian troops on its territory against the will of the Republic of Moldova itself, so we will need to solve this before membership,” Romanian MEP Siegfried Mureșan, chair of the European Parliament’s delegation to the country, told POLITICO.

“We do not know now what a solution could look like, but the fact that we do not have an answer to this very specific element should not prevent us from advancing Moldova’s European integration in all other areas where we can,” Mureșan said.

While she denied that Brussels had sent any official signals that Moldova’s accession would depend on Russian troops leaving the country, Sandu said that “we do believe that in the next months and years there may be a geopolitical opportunity to resolve this conflict.”

Ties that bind

Even outside of Transnistria, Moscow maintains significant influence in Moldova. While Romanian is the country’s official language, Russian is widely used in daily life while the Kremlin’s state media helps shape public opinion — and in recent months has turned up the dial on its attacks on Sandu’s government.

A study by Chișinău-based pollster CBS Research in February found that while almost 54 percent of Moldovans say they would vote in favor of EU membership, close to a quarter say they would prefer closer alignment with Russia. Meanwhile, citizens were split on who to blame for the war in Ukraine, with 25 percent naming Russian President Vladimir Putin and 18 percent saying the U.S.

“Putin is not a fool,” said one elderly man who declined to give his name, shouting at passersby on the streets of the capital. “I hate Ukrainians.”

Outside of the capital, the pro-Russian ȘOR Party has held counter-protests in several regional cities.

Almost entirely dependent on Moscow for its energy needs, Moldova has seen Russia send the cost of gas skyrocketing in what many see as an attempt at blackmail. Along with an influx of Ukrainian refugees, the World Bank reported that Moldova’s GDP “contracted by 5.9 percent and inflation reached an average of 28.7 percent in 2022.”

“We will buy energy sources from democratic countries, and we will not support Russian aggression in exchange for cheap gas,” Sandu told POLITICO.

The Moldovan president, a former World Bank economist who was elected in 2020 on a wave of anti-corruption sentiment, faces a potentially contentious election battle next year. With the process of EU membership set to take years, or even decades, it remains to be seen whether the country will stay the course in the face of pressure from the Kremlin.

For Aurelia, a 40-year-old Moldovan who tied blue and yellow ribbons into her hair for Sunday’s rally, the choice is obvious. “We’ve been a part of the Russian world my whole life. Now we want to live well, and we want to live free.”

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View Q&A: Lithuania led the way in struggle for freedom from Moscow

Amidst Russia’s continued full-scale invasion of Ukraine, many might have forgotten that the small Baltic country of Lithuania was the first to pay in blood for its independence from Moscow more than three decades ago.

In fact, Lithuania was the first former republic to break away from the Soviet Union, proclaiming the restoration of its pre-World War II independence in March 1990 and sparking a tumultuous period culminating in the January Events of 1991.

Following threats of violence by Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev, a three-day Soviet Army invasion ended with 14 Lithuanian civilians dead and some 140 injured. 

Yet they did not relent, and their resistance sparked a chain reaction across the Soviet bloc that saw the rest of the Baltics, Moldova, Ukraine, Belarus, as well as states in the Caucasus and Central Asia, follow suit until the USSR’s final demise in late December 1991.

Since then, Lithuania has grown into a full-fledged democracy, becoming a member of the EU and NATO in the process. 

Together with the other Baltic states, it is now one of the most fervent supporters of Ukraine as it continues to endure a bloody war and the Kremlin’s aggression.

Euronews View spoke to Saulius Saul Anuzis, a Lithuanian-American political expert and former Michigan Republican Party chairman, and a witness to the struggle for Lithuanian independence in the late 1980s and early 1990s about what it took for the former Soviet states to distance themselves from Moscow and what can be learnt from their experience as Russia’s war against Ukraine rages on.

Euronews View: When did you first go to Lithuania, and what was the situation in the then-Soviet state like at the time?

Saul Anuzis: My parents immigrated from Lithuania. My sister was born there. My other sister was born in Germany during the war, and then my brother and I were born here in the US, but we were basically raised in a kind of immigrant neighbourhood in metro Detroit.

I didn’t learn to speak English until I was seven years old. Our neighbours were Lithuanian. We went to Lithuanian church, Lithuanian preschool and all that kind of stuff. So, we were culturally pretty engaged in Lithuanian activities, and that’s really how I got involved in politics.

My first trip would have been in ’89. I went 32 times between 1989 and 1991. Obviously, it was at the end of the Soviet era, and it was still under Soviet control. 

The last General Secretary of the Communist Party was still in charge, the Lithuanian Communist Party was still the dominant party, and Sajudis had just started kind of brewing. 

It was a very tenuous time for people there. They were all afraid, not sure exactly what was going to happen, how things were gonna work.

This was a unique situation. But it was kind of coming to a boiling point. People wanted to see change. And I think they just had a couple of good leaders that combined with others around the old Soviet block that kind of engaged and helped start the downfall of the Soviet Union.

Euronews View: How did this group of people come together? What was the profile of the people who were leading this change, and what is it that motivated them at the time?

Saul Anuzis: The guy who gave the first speech was a guy named Arvydas Juozaitis, the Olympic swimmer who won a bronze medal for the Soviets in the breaststroke. They brought him to the border expecting to get him out because he started this whole thing calling for Lithuania’s Independence.

Juozaitis, Vytautas Landsbergis — he became the first president of Lithuania — and Romualdas Ozolas, the three of them were kind of the start of Sąjūdis, or at least the leaders of Sąjūdis, who organised a lot of the initial activities. 

And there were a couple of Lithuanian Americans who had gone over there to help, and obviously, the immigrant community of Lithuanians all over the world were engaged in helping in any way they could, which was primarily through getting information out.

At the time, I was the chief of staff to the Senate majority leader in Michigan, and we were politically engaged. We try to help them in any way we could with various introductions and conferences. 

Actually, the first two governments that were there came over and met at Hillsdale College to hear what Western values are and how you run a democracy.

I gave a speech at the medical society there, and one of the doctors asked you what the most important thing they could do, and I said it was figuring out how to kind of cleanse that Soviet mindset over a freedom-based mindset where you were no longer stealing from the government, stealing from Moscow.

That was now taking from your own people. Not only did they have to do the logistical stuff of figuring out how to run their own country. 

They had to change the way they thought where the government now was of the people, and they were trying to create a new free independent country. And I think that was just as much of a challenge as anything else.

Euronews View: Lithuania is a small country, especially compared to the rest of the Soviet Union and Russia. How do you feel about the fact that the people outside of Lithuania and even in its immediate neighbourhood have somewhat forgotten how much courage and energy it took for Lithuania and the rest of the three Baltic states to be where they are today?

Saul Anuzis: It’s just part of history, and people just moved on. I mean, there are other crises at hand. 

But I do think that a lot of people, especially those who are involved in the kind of captive nations mindset of understanding those who are trying to break away from the Soviet bloc, know that Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia still led the way. They were the early ones who walked out on the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union.

You had the Baltic Way, when the Lithuanians, Latvians and Estonians stood up and down that highway and held hands to show the citizens’ interest in having their own independence. It became a mass movement.

You’re seeing a different scenario happening in Ukraine, but at the same time, you’ve got countries like Poland who are very supportive and reacting because they also lived under the yoke of the Soviets dominating their country, and they don’t want to see that happen again. 

I think those are some of the reasons you see the Baltics being supportive of Ukraine, you see Poland being supportive of Ukraine and others. 

Because they’ve experienced both living under Soviet rule and influence and the benefits and values of freedom and the Eastern European countries, especially those former Soviet satellite states, have had a very positive impact both on NATO and the world as a whole.

Euronews View: Do you think that the rest of Europe, and the West in particular, have listened to Lithuanians enough when they, together with others, warned us of Moscow’s malign intentions?

Saul Anuzis: I would say people listened to them; I just don’t know necessarily how they reacted. I mean, there was a tremendous amount of interest in finding out how things worked. 

Very quickly, NATO, as well as other intelligence services, were in Lithuania and the Baltics, learning from their experiences of how the process was set up, what people did, and what people didn’t do. 

Obviously, early on, there were a lot of people in leadership that were part of the Communist Party part of the security infrastructure of the Soviets. And so there was some very valuable intelligence and information that was shared with regards to process, tactics, strategy and what they did in Moscow. 

I think that helped the West prepare for the continuing barrage of propaganda — how they manipulated governments or tried to manipulate governments and how they engaged in different types of activities.

There were institutes and foundations that were set up to share what happened during the Soviet occupation, and all that stuff was very valuable because it was like the first-hand experience of all the things that we suspected were going on in the Soviet Union and didn’t quite have all the best information and necessarily the full information of it.

Also, the KGB archives opened up. It was a very interesting time because a lot of people pulled all kinds of documents and records. 

They knew who was talking to who and what they were talking about. I used to go and stay at the hotel down at Vilnius Park, and later they showed us the listening rooms where every room had recording devices. 

They found the office where somebody sat there, you know and reported to the intelligence service. You had somebody sitting on every floor watching who walked in the rooms and kept track of who people were and all that kind of stuff.

It was very real and something that I think most people in the West had no idea how restrictive and how invasive it was in people’s lives.

Euronews View: As you said, Lithuania, the Baltics and other neighbouring countries are extremely supportive of Ukraine, another country that liberated itself of the Soviet Union. Is there something from your experience in Lithuania and in general that could maybe help shed more light on the interest Vladimir Putin and his associates have in waging a war against Ukraine?

Saul Anuzis: One of the big lessons is the fact that states like the Baltics, Ukraine, and Poland threaten the Russian system. 

Because people realise that there’s an alternative to having a strong dictator leader and a system that basically “takes care of you” because you can’t somehow take care of yourself. There’s an alternative that’s the danger for the Russians.

Just walk through the Soviet republics and take a look at these people experiencing free markets, free minds, education, western values coming in, westerners coming in, finding out they’re not all enemies.

They’re not all enemies of the state. They’re not trying to take you over from a different way, but they’re actually trying to institute a degree of democracy and freedom and freedom of choice.

That then translates and kind of spreads into Russia, which is a big danger to their ruling system. The oligarchs and their clique of intelligence services and former party members still run much of the infrastructure throughout Russia. 

It’s a cleptocracy that operates knowingly, acceptingly, even amongst the people. There’s almost an acceptance of the way Russia works, and what’s going to change that is the experiences of Ukraine, Poland, and other former Soviet bloc states that have moved forward and created systems of education and universities and freedom of the press. 

And they’re not all perfect, and they’re not all there yet. 

But they’re all working towards that, and eventually, as democracy takes place, as people engage in this, they realise that that is a better system than what the Soviets had and what the Russians currently use. I think that’s the danger.

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