U.S. President Joe Biden warned Thursday warned Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy there is a “distinct possibility” that Russia could invade Ukraine next month, according to a White House statement.

“President Biden said that there is a distinct possibility that the Russians could invade Ukraine in February,” Emily Horne, the White House National Security Council spokesperson said. “He has said this publicly, and we have been warning about this for months.”

Russia said Thursday there was “little ground for optimism” that tensions would ease in Eastern Europe after the United States rejected its demand that Ukraine be banned from NATO membership and that the West pull back its troop deployment and weaponry from countries bordering Russia.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the U.S. reply to its demands “contains no positive response,” but that some elements of it could lead to “the start of a serious talk on secondary issues.” The U.S. and its European allies have rejected the key Moscow demands as nonstarters.

The top Kremlin diplomat said officials will submit proposals to President Vladimir Putin. His spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, said the Russian reaction would come soon, adding that “there always are prospects for continuing a dialogue. It’s in the interests of both us and the Americans.”

Biden talked Thursday with President Zelenskiy to reassure him of U.S. and allied support during the mounting tension. Afterward, the Ukrainian leader tweeted that he and Biden had also talked about additional financial support for Ukraine.


Officials from Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany held talks Wednesday in Paris and agreed to another round of talks in Berlin in the second week of February. The sides agreed to maintain an official cease-fire in eastern Ukraine, according to Dmitry Kozak, the Kremlin’s envoy.

“We need a supplementary pause. We hope that this process will have results in two weeks,” he said.

The February talks will take place at the same diplomatic level as the Paris talks. Not on the agenda is a summit with heads of state.

“Nothing has changed, this is the bad news,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said. “The good news is that advisers agreed to meet in Berlin in two weeks, which means that Russia for the next two weeks is likely to remain on the diplomatic track.”

The U.S. has called for a meeting Monday of the United Nations Security Council on Ukraine.

“More than 100,000 Russian troops are deployed on the Ukrainian border and Russia is engaging in other destabilizing acts aimed at Ukraine, posing a clear threat to international peace and security and the U.N. Charter,” U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield said Thursday in a statement. “This is not a moment to wait and see. The Council’s full attention is needed now, and we look forward to direct and purposeful discussion on Monday.”

Russia is one of the five permanent members of the Security Council and therefore has veto power over any resolution.

The meeting, Thomas-Greenfield said, will be about exposing Russia for its actions and isolating the Kremlin for its aggressive posture regarding Ukraine, according to Agence France-Presse.


The U.S. and its European allies, fearing an imminent Russian invasion of Ukraine, continue to protest Russia’s massing of more than 100,000 troops along its border with the onetime Soviet republic, although Moscow says it has no intention of attacking.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the document the U.S. handed Russia “includes concerns of the United States and our allies and partners about Russia’s actions that undermine security — a principled and pragmatic evaluation of the concerns that Russia has raised, and our own proposals for areas where we may be able to find common ground.”

Biden, while ruling out sending U.S. troops to Ukraine, repeatedly has warned Russia that the West will impose crippling economic sanctions against it if it crosses the border and attacks Ukraine.

While Russia and the U.S. and its allies trade demands, both sides have ramped up military preparations. Russia has launched military drills involving motorized infantry and artillery units in southwestern Russia, warplanes in Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea, dozens of warships in the Black Sea and the Arctic, and Russian fighter jets and paratroopers in Belarus.

NATO said it was boosting its presence in the Baltic Sea region, and the U.S. has put 8,500 troops on heightened alert for deployment to Europe as part of a NATO operation.

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said American forces currently in Europe, some already on heightened alert, could likewise be mobilized “to also bolster our NATO allies if they need that.

Kuleba said Ukraine is not planning any offensive actions, and he expects diplomatic efforts to address the crisis along the Russia-Ukraine border to continue.

“We are committed to [a] diplomatic track, and we are ready to engage with Russia at different levels in order to find [a] diplomatic solution to the conflict,” Kuleba said at a news conference. “However, if Russia decides to fight, we will fight back. This is our country, and we will defend it.”

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Deutsche Welle, Agence France-Presse, and France 24.  


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Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says the U.S. has failed to address Moscow’s main security concerns over Ukraine in the written document delivered Wednesday, but he left the door open for more talks to ease simmering tensions. VOA’s Senior Diplomatic Correspondent Cindy Saine reports. 

Produced by:  Bakhtiyar Zamano

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Reports that Russia is connected to this week’s coup in Burkina Faso have made their way to the Pentagon, though U.S. defense officials decline to say whether the allegations have merit. 

Burkinabe soldiers went on national television late Monday, announcing they had deposed President Roch Kabore due to “the continuous deterioration of the security situation which threatens the very foundations of our nation.” 

A day later, Alexander Ivanov, the official representative of Russian military trainers in the Central African Republic, issued a statement offering training to the Burkinabe military. The CAR has been employing mercenaries with Russia’s Wagner Group to help with security since 2017. 

“The Department of Defense is aware of the allegations that the Russian-backed Wagner Group may have been a force behind the military takeover in Burkina Faso,” Cindi King, a Defense Department spokesperson, told VOA Thursday. 

But the Pentagon stopped short of saying whether the allegations are true. 

“We cannot speak to these reports or any potential factors that led to this event,” King said of Monday’s coup.

“We support the State Department’s call for the Burkinabe armed forces to respect Burkina Faso’s constitution and civilian leadership,” she said. “We encourage the restoration of safety and security for the Burkinabe people and for legitimate, constitutional rule in Burkina Faso.” 

Questions emailed to the Russian Embassy in Washington and the Burkinabe Embassy in Washington seeking comment have not been answered. 

The Daily Beast first reported the allegations that Wagner was tied to the coup in Burkina Faso earlier this week, citing sources close to the deposed president as saying his final acts in office were to oppose requests by the Burkinabe military to hire Wagner. 

“The president quickly rejected the idea,” one official told The Daily Beast. “Kabore didn’t want to run into any problems with the West for aligning with Russia.” 

U.S. military and intelligence officials have been increasingly wary of the presence of mercenaries with Russia’s Wagner Group in Africa, which was initially limited to the CAR and Libya. 

The head of U.S. Africa Command confirmed to VOA last week allegations by France and other European nations that Wagner personnel are now in Mali, brought in by that country’s military junta despite multiple pleas and warnings from the U.S. and others.

“Wagner [Group] is in Mali. They are there, we think, numbering several hundred now,” said General Stephen Townsend, the commander of U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM). “Russian air force airplanes are delivering them.”

Whether Wagner mercenaries are destined for Burkina Faso, U.S. officials are wary. 

“We’ve been watching this for years,” said Major General Andrew Rohling, the commander of the U.S. Army Southern European Task Force, Africa, during an online seminar late Wednesday.

“It is a way that Russia of course is able to influence [a] military without actually putting a Russian flag on it,” he said, calling the situation in Burkina Faso “a little bit of an unknown right now.” 

As in Mali, though, where demonstrators have repeatedly voiced support for Russian assistance, there seems to be at least some support among Burkinabes for turning to Moscow. 

Speakers at a rally of about 1,000 people earlier this week in Ouagadougou, the capital, repeatedly called for Russian military intervention. 

U.S. forces have been supporting Burkinabe forces through several initiatives over the past several years as the country has battled extremists aligned both with al-Qaida and the Islamic State terror group. 

Earlier this week, the Pentagon said it was reviewing the situation in Burkina Faso and the impact on relations with the U.S. military going forward. 

Separately, U.S. Ambassador to Burkina Faso Sandra Clark told VOA that should the Burkinabe military install its own leader, Washington could cut support to the country. 

VOA’s Henry Wilkins contributed to this report.

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Cuban sailors working on luxury cruises are reduced to “ ‘slaves’ who only get paid 20% of their wages while the rest of their salaries go to the Cuban government,” according to a report by human rights groups. 

MSC Cruises, one of the world’s biggest cruise line companies, was named in the report released Wednesday by Prisoners Defenders and accused of keeping the passports of Cuban sailors.

Both the cruise line and the Cuban government deny any wrongdoing.

Sailors, along with doctors, engineers, architects and musicians, are among about 100,000 Cuban professionals who work abroad as part of an international outreach program launched by Cuba in the 1960s. The program’s aim is to expand the communist government’s influence in the world, and in recent years it has become an important source of revenue for the Cuban regime. 

Prisoners Defenders, a Spain-based human rights group linked to the Cuban opposition, Human Rights Watch and lawmakers from the European Parliament accuse the Cuban government of exploiting its own citizens by taking an 80% cut from their wages.

Doctors contend they have been sexually abused, posted to dangerous places and face an eight-year ban from Cuba if they decide to leave the government service.

These international missions are a lucrative source of income for the Cuban government, bringing Havana $8.5 billion every year, according to the Prisoners Defenders report, compared with tourism, which brings in $2.9 billion in annual income.

About 41% of Cubans working abroad say they have suffered sexual assault during their posts, the report said.

In a complaint to the International Criminal Court and the United Nations, human rights groups allege that Cuba breaches the basic rights of the professionals who form part of Cuba’s international missions.

The Cuban government has defended its record on its foreign health workers.

The Cuban Embassy in Madrid did not reply to requests by VOA for comment on the report. 

‘Slave plantation’

A spokesperson for MSC Cruises said in a statement that any shipping company employing Cuban staff had to deal with the Selecmar state agency in Havana and added that storing crew members’ passports centrally on board was standard practice.

However, Jordi Canas, a European lawmaker from the Spanish centrist Citizens party and part of the Euro Latin American Parliamentary Assembly, which is linked to the European Parliament, said at a press conference Wednesday: “Cuba is more like a slave plantation than a free country. Free Cuba treats its people like slaves to generate money.” 

Dayami Gonzalez, a Cuban doctor who has worked in Ecuador for eight years, said she received threats after she said she wanted to leave the Cuban government mission. 

An estimated 30,000 Cuban doctors work in 60 countries around the world, mainly in Latin America and Africa, and the Cuban authorities draw up strict rules to stop them from defecting once they are abroad.

Medics and other Cubans working abroad who refuse to continue to work for the international mission can be barred from seeing their families back home for years, according to Cuban government laws. 

Prisoners Defenders has taken testimony from 1,111 Cuban professionals who have been working abroad and says it has evidence of systematic human rights violations.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday called for a federal task force to deal with human trafficking in Cuba, North Korea and other countries.

“Our commitment to combat #HumanTrafficking is backed by action and engagement from across the federal government,” he tweeted.


Cuban officials reacted angrily.

“The deceitful allegations by US Secretary of State linking Cuba to trafficking in persons seek to tarnish the fraternal effort of Cuba’s medical cooperation that saves lives, whose unquestionable merits have received international recognition,” Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez tweeted.

In 2019, Prisoners Defenders issued a report saying Cuban doctors suffered abuses when they were sent abroad. Its latest report has broadened the scope of this complaint to include Cuban sailors and other professionals.

The latest allegations came as Cuba rejected accusations by rights groups and diplomats that its courts system had unfairly jailed protesters following widespread protests in July on the island. 

In the largest protests in decades, thousands took to the streets to voice their anger over shortages of food, medicine and electricity when COVID-19 cases soared.

The Cuban state prosecutor said it had charged 710 people with crimes including vandalism, assault and “grave public disorder.”

Human rights groups, the U.S. government and the European Union have condemned the trials of the protesters, saying they lacked transparency.

However, the Cuban state prosecutor’s office said these accusations were “manipulations of public opinion” and it had “verified compliance with the rights and constitutional guarantees of due process” under Cuban law. 

Some information for this report came from Reuters. 

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Russian officials have said they don’t need peace at any cost, but what price are they prepared to pay for war?

The answer to that question would help Western policymakers determine what they must do to deter Russian leader Vladimir Putin as he seeks to remake Europe’s post-Cold War security order to his liking. 

Western leaders say the Russian leader is prepared to invade Ukraine if he fails to secure the concessions he wants from the United States and NATO that in effect would carve out for Russia a Soviet-era-like sphere of influence across eastern Europe. Russian officials deny they have any intentions to invade their neighbor, despite an unprecedented massive military buildup along the borders of Ukraine. 

Dmitri Trenin, a longtime Kremlin-watcher and director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, a think tank, worries the lack so far of a diplomatic solution “will logically lead to a further escalation of the crisis, and increase the chances the only way out of it will be through the use of what Russian officials call military-technical means.” 

Washington consistently has rejected Putin’s demand that Ukraine never to be allowed to join NATO, as well as his insistence the Western alliance remove any military presence in other former Soviet bloc nations which are now NATO members.

Trenin doubts a full-scale war between Russia and Ukraine is likely, though he concedes in a commentary the situation remains volatile and unpredictable. By escalating tensions with the West to a boiling point, Moscow may consider it already has achieved some wins, including forcing the U.S. to discuss European strategic issues for the first time since the end of the Cold War, he says. Trenin also contends Putin most likely has squelched any chance of NATO admitting Ukraine as a member.

Others, though, are reading the geopolitical confrontation differently. Timothy Ash, a risk analyst at Bluebay Asset Management in London, fears Putin is a gambler who may have gone too far to back down. He agrees the Russian leader already has notched up some accomplishments.

“Putin has enhanced his image as the guy who calls the shots and the poker player with all the cards. More than ever, he is seen as a leader who everyone has to contend with if they want solutions to the geopolitical problems that he typically creates himself,” Ash says.

But Ash cautions: “If the Russian leader does not proceed with some form of military action in the weeks ahead, his bluff will have been called” and he would risk “emerging from the current crisis as a net loser unless he proceeds further. Does he see it the same way? If so, will he escalate from here? At this point, he may feel that he has little choice.”


Putin appears to relish courting, calculating and taking risks. In 2019, the editors of Britain’s Financial Times newspaper conducted a 90-minute interview with the Russian leader. They noted: “Just before midnight, Vladimir Putin perks up at the mention of the word ‘risk.’ It encapsulates the man and his 20 years in power.” 

His interviewers talked with him near a bronze statue of Russia’s legendary and expansionist Tsar Peter the Great, one of Putin’s heroes who carved out a Russian empire in the 18th century. They tried to explore whether the Russian president is a rash gambler or a calculating, and more cautious, risk-taker. But he was elusive and teasing.

They asked him if his appetite for risk-taking had increased with each passing year. He responded: “It did not increase or decrease. Risk must always be well-justified.” But then Putin cited a popular Russian phrase: “He who doesn’t take risks, never drinks champagne.” 

Some risks, Putin clearly thinks, are beneath leaders of great powers to fret over. Asked about the attempted assassination in 2018 in England of the former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal, which the British government has blamed on the Kremlin, Putin bristled. “Listen, all this fuss about spies and counterspies, it is not worth serious interstate relations. This spy story, as we say, is not worth five kopecks.” A kopeck is worth a hundredth of a ruble.

Invading Ukraine would cost Russia a lot more, and the risks would be massive in terms of loss of life (Russian, as well as Ukrainian) along with treasure. Putin and his aides have made no secret that a key domestic goal is to upgrade and modernize Russia’s economy. In his Financial Times interview, Putin highlighted that, saying, “The most important task we need to achieve is to change the structure of the economy and secure a substantial growth of labor productivity through modern technologies.” One of his aides emphasized that in an interview, too, with VOA a few months earlier.

War’s downsides

War in Ukraine possibly may be too big of a risk for Putin to take, reckon some longtime Putin-watchers. Economically for Russia, it likely would result in capital flight, with many foreign investors fleeing the country or reducing their investments and would mean much slower economic growth.

All of that would lead to declining living standards of ordinary Russians, which in turn could trigger the kind of major social unrest that rocked Kazakhstan this month and which the Kremlin always fears. Russians already are complaining about feeling an economic pinch and Putin’s popularity and trust ratings in opinion polls have been slumping for months. 

Modernization of the economy would be set back by years and possibly decades by a further wave of tough sanctions — especially if Washington includes in them, as it has threatened to do, novel export controls that would bar the export to Russia of products that are fitted with electronic components and software designed and/or manufactured in the United States. 

The export controls would disrupt strategic Russian industries, including artificial intelligence and quantum computing and civilian aerospace sectors, Biden administration officials say. They note there is hardly a semiconductor on the planet that is not made with American tools or designed with American software.

“Despite being described as reckless, Putin is anything but,” notes Eugene Rumer, a former national intelligence officer for Russia and Eurasia at the U.S. National Intelligence Council. Now an analyst at the Carnegie Endowment, a Washington-based think tank. “Putin surely is not blind to the risks of war,” he has argued. 

Cost of war

Some Western diplomats tell VOA that Putin will stay his hand this time and continue with hybrid warfare and cycles of escalation and de-escalation, which present him with more opportunities to roil and divide Western allies. They note the foreign risks he’s courted to date have been limited. His military foray in Libya has been disguised by using mercenaries, and in Syria he mainly restricted Russian intervention to airstrikes, deploying ground forces sparingly, thereby minimizing Russian casualties. 

Other diplomats worry Putin may see this as his best chance to rectify what he sees as historical slights by the West and to restore Russia’s dominant role in central and eastern Europe. It will all come down to whether he is a rash gambler, who wants to wager on one big win, or a calculated risk-taker prepared to notch up incremental wins, they say. 

Western leaders are trying to increase the price of war for Russia — economically and in terms of Russian casualties. Some of Washington’s European NATO partners are joining in supplying Ukraine with more lethal weaponry that could be used in an insurgency, if Russia invades.

Putin was in his 30s and 40s when Russia waged a costly and ultimately unsuccessful nine-year counter-insurgency war in Afghanistan in the 1990s, seen by many scholars as a contributing factor to the dissolution of the Soviet Union. This week, Britain’s Boris Johnson cited what befell Russia in Afghanistan, warning publicly that an invasion of Ukraine would be “disastrous” for Russia.

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Nations throughout Europe on Thursday marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day, a global event to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust.

The annual commemoration was established by the U.N. General Assembly in November 2005.January 27 was chosen because it was the day in 1945 that the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Poland was liberated by Soviet troops.  

French Prime Minister Jean Castex was among those taking part in ceremonies at the former World War II German Nazi concentration camp remembering the 1.1 million Jewish people the Nazis put to death there.

In Berlin, the speaker of Israel’s parliament or Knesset, Mickey Levy, joined German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier in laying wreaths at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.  

Later, Levy addressed the lower house of Germany’s parliament, the Bundestag, during ceremonies there.  

He broke down in tears while reciting the Jewish mourner’s prayer from a prayer book that belonged to a German Jewish boy who celebrated his bar mitzvah on the eve of Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass), when German Nazi paramilitary forces attacked Jewish people and property on the nights of November 9-10, 1938. Shortly after, some 30,000 Jewish men were rounded up and sent to concentration camps.

Levy said Israel and Germany experienced “an exceptional journey on the way to reconciliation and establishing relations and brave friendship.”

Speaking during the same ceremony, Bundestag President Baerbel Bas noted the recent rise of anti-Semitism that she says has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Her comments echoed a report issued this week by the Israeli government that said many of the people protesting COVID-19 measures have likened themselves to Jews under Nazi persecution, which the study said distorts and trivializes the Holocaust.

The authors of the study say such trivializations show that factual knowledge of the genocide is fading and can put Jews today in actual danger. They urged world leaders and educators to be proactive in combating this behavior.

About 6 million European Jews and millions of other people were killed by the Nazis and their collaborators during the Holocaust.

Some information for this story came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.

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«Враховуючи те, що за будь-які дії – як хороші, так і нехороші – несе відповідальність командир, я висловив бажання і написав рапорт міністру внутрішніх справ і клопотання президенту про відставку»

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A member of Ukraine’s National Guard on Thursday opened fire on his fellow soldiers, killing five people and wounding five more, Ukraine’s Interior Ministry said. The serviceman was detained by police but his motives remain unclear.

The incident occurred in the city of Dnipro, 500 kilometers (310 miles) southeast of Kyiv on Thursday morning. The soldier, identified by the authorities as Artemiy Ryabchuk, 20, was on guard duty at a military factory and opened fire on his colleagues, fleeing the scene immediately after.

Four soldiers and one civilian died, and five more people sustained injuries. Police detained Ryabchuk shortly after the shooting. It wasn’t immediately clear what prompted him to open fire.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy demanded the authorities thoroughly investigate and analyze the incident.

“I expect law enforcement to fully inform the public about all the circumstances of the crime. Motives of the killer, how [the shooting] became possible — everything should be analyzed as thoroughly as possible,” Zelenskiy said in an online statement, adding that conclusions should be drawn from the incident about personnel in the National Guard.

The shooting took place against the backdrop of soaring tensions between Russia and Ukraine. Moscow has massed an estimated 100,000 troops near its borders with Ukraine, stoking fears that such a buildup might indicate plans to invade its ex-Soviet neighbor.

The Kremlin denied harboring such plans, but demanded security guarantees from the West, including a clause precluding NATO from accepting Ukraine and other former Soviet states as members — a demand the U.S. and NATO have rejected as a nonstarter.

Ukraine’s officials have acknowledged the threat of an invasion, but insisted it was not imminent and accused Russia of fomenting tensions and fear among Ukrainians in order to destabilize the country from within. 

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