European Union leaders are to meet Thursday for a summit dominated by migration, the economy and, not surprisingly, Ukraine. Reports suggest Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy — who arrived in London on Wednesday — may attend the Brussels summit in person. 

The EU’s two-day summit comes ahead of the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — and days after top EU officials held a summit with Zelenskyy in Kyiv.

Besides Western Europe, Ukraine’s leader is known to have left his homeland only once since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine; that trip was to Washington in December, where he met with United States President Joe Biden and addressed the U.S. Congress.

Zelenskyy wants several things from the Europeans, including to speed up Ukraine’s bid to join the EU, more weapons ahead of an expected Russian offensive, and more sanctions against Moscow.

Brussels is unlikely to fast-track Kyiv’s membership application. But in Kyiv last week, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen praised Zelenskyy’s commitment to join the bloc.

“I must say I am deeply impressed, and I want to commend you for the preciseness, the quality and the speed at which you deliver,” she said. “This is phenomenal.”

Europeans already have committed billions of dollars in defense and humanitarian aid to Ukraine. Brussels is also expected to unveil a 10th sanctions package against Moscow later this month.

zeleMigration is also set to dominate the summit amid a sharp uptick in economic migrants and asylum seekers arriving in Europe this past year. That’s on top of the millions of Ukrainian war refugees.

Today, some EU member states are calling for tougher policies — and fences — against what they call “irregular” migration. Using EU funds for border fences is especially divisive.

“I think migration and asylum policy remains a very tricky issue within the EU — with the EU witnessing its biggest migration and asylum crisis since World War II,” said Pauline Veron, a policy advisor at the European Centre for Development Policy Management, a Netherlands-based think-tank.

Veron said that, even as many Europeans continue welcoming Ukrainian refugees, they are feeling rising angst about migration from Africa and elsewhere.

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Twitter became inaccessible on major Turkish mobile providers on Wednesday as online criticism mounted of the government’s response to this week’s deadly earthquake.

AFP reporters were unable to access the social media network in Turkey. It was still accessible using VPN services that disguise a user’s location.

The social media monitor said Twitter was being restricted “on multiple internet providers in Turkey”.

“Turkey has an extensive history of social media restrictions during national emergencies and safety incidents,” the monitor added.

Turkish police have detained more than a dozen people since Monday’s earthquake over social media posts that criticized how President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government has been dealing with the disaster.

Monday’s 7.8-magnitude tremor and its aftershocks killed at least 11,200 people in southeastern Turkey and parts of Syria.

Turkish social media have been filled with posts by people complaining about a lack of search and rescue efforts in their provinces.

The Twitter outage came as Erdogan toured two of the hardest-hit Turkish provinces.

Turkish officials released no immediate statements about the service disruption.

But they had issued repeated warnings about spreading misinformation in advance of a crucial May 14 election in which Erdogan will try to extend his two-decade rule.

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Rescue crews in Turkey and Syria raced against time and the cold Wednesday to find survivors buried in the rubble of buildings toppled by powerful earthquakes that struck the region Monday and left more than 11,000 people dead.

The rescue effort in Turkey involved 96,000 personnel, the country’s emergency management agency said Wednesday.

Search sites have been the scenes of some celebrations as people are found alive and taken away for medical care. But uncovering the rubble has also meant frequent increases in the number of casualties.

Officials in Turkey said at least 6,957 people were killed and more than 38,000 others were injured. In Syria, there were at least 2,470 deaths, according to figures from the Damascus government and rescue groups.

The earthquake is now the world’s deadliest seismic event since a 2011 earthquake and tsunami that killed nearly 20,000 people in Japan.

The epicenter of Monday’s pre-dawn earthquake was in Pazarcik, near the city of Gaziantep, close to the Turkey-Syria border. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited the area Wednesday, including a stop at a tent city in Kahramanmaras that the emergency management agency set up for people affected by the earthquake. 

Erdogan declared seven days of national mourning and a three-month state of emergency in 10 provinces directly affected by the quake.

Erdogan described the earthquake as “unique in the world,” and he thanked Qatar for offering 10,000 container homes for people left homeless.

Search teams and emergency aid from throughout the world poured into Turkey and Syria as rescue workers dug through the rubble in a desperate search for survivors. Some voices that had been crying out for help fell silent.

“We could hear their voices, they were calling for help,” said Ali Silo, whose two relatives could not be saved in the Turkish town of Nurdagi.

More than 8,000 people have been pulled from the debris in Turkey alone, Vice President Fuat Oktay said, and some 380,000 have taken refuge in government shelters or hotels. They huddled in shopping malls, stadiums, mosques and community centers, while others spent the night outside wrapped in blankets gathering around fires.

Awale Ahmed Darfa, a Somali student in Gaziantep at the epicenter, described his first sensation of the earthquake in an interview with VOA Somali.

“The situation turned critical very quickly,” he said. “We heard screams, cries and people running. The buildings were shaking as if they were shaken by jinn [evil spirits]. Everyone ran to wherever they felt they would be safe.”

“We are now outside since we left our homes around 4 a.m.,” he added. “There is a problem being outside — it is rainy, cold, windy, and we are not wearing protective clothing. Outside, everyone is wearing what they were wearing [while] asleep. Some people do not have shoes. They told us we could not go back to the buildings because of the fear [of aftershocks]. That is the disaster here.”

The earthquake struck a region enveloped on both sides of the border by more than a decade of civil war in Syria. On the Syrian side, the swath affected is divided between government-held territory and the country’s last opposition-held enclave, which is surrounded by Russian-backed government forces. Turkey, meanwhile, is home to millions of refugees from the conflict.

The opposition-held regions in Syria are packed with about 4 million people displaced from other parts of the country by the fighting. Many of them live in buildings that are already damaged from past bombardments.

The opposition emergency organization, the White Helmets, has experience pulling people from buildings collapsed by airstrikes. But with calls for help coming from more than 700 places, Mounir al-Mostafa, deputy head of the White Helmets, said they are overwhelmed. They can realistically help in 30 places.

Residents in Turkey’s western city of Izmir organized a clothing donation campaign to help the victims.

Emre Demirpolat told VOA’s Turkish Service, “We brought blankets and heaters. We need to be united. … In such bad times, we must support each other. While we can’t stay outside for 10 minutes in this cold, people there shudder to think about the loss of their homes and when they will get to go to a warm place.”

In other parts of Turkey, residents struggled to find transportation to travel to the earthquake-stricken area to see their relatives and loved ones.

Serdar Özdemir, an Ankara resident, told VOA’s Turkish service he was finally able to get a bus ticket to go to the city of Malatya, after not being able to find a car rental.

“I can’t rent a car. There’s no way to go. I have been looking for a car here for hours.”

Turkey is in one of the world’s most active earthquake zones.

In 1999, more than 17,000 people were killed when a 7.4 magnitude earthquake — the worst to hit Turkey in decades — struck near Duzce, in the northwest of the country.

Last October, a magnitude 7.0 quake hit the Aegean Sea, killing 116 people and injuring more than 1,000. All but two of the victims were in Izmir.

VOA’s Turkish and Somali services contributed to this report.

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

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French farmers drove hundreds of tractors into Paris on Wednesday to protest against pesticide restrictions and other environmental regulations they say are threatening farm production in the European Union’s largest agricultural power.

The action follows an EU court ruling last month that overturned a French policy allowing sugar beet growers to use an insecticide banned by the EU, raising concern of a further decline in beet plantings and of sugar factory closures.

The sugar beet decision has sharpened discontent among farmers over what they see as excessive pesticide curbs that go against government calls to boost food security in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and war in Ukraine.

“Our means of production keep being undermined by prohibitions without solutions,” Jerome Despey, secretary general of the FNSEA, France’s main farming union, told Reuters.

“Enough is enough”

The FNSEA and other groups organizing the protest were expecting 500 tractors and 2,000 farmers from the Paris region to participate.

A long procession of tractors, bearing banners saying “Macron is liquidating agriculture” – in reference to French President Emmanuel Macron – or “Save your farmer,” rolled through central Paris to join a gathering at the Invalides monument, near France’s agriculture ministry.

Environmental activists say pesticide residues damage soils and wildlife and they have welcomed the EU ruling against the use of sugar beet seeds treated with neonicotinoid insecticides that can harm bees.

“Biodiversity, indispensable for life on earth and farming, must not be sacrificed,” anti-pesticide group Generations Futures said in a statement supporting the neonicotinoid ban.

Farmers argue that sugar beet plants do not attract bees and that the ban leaves them exposed to crop disease virus yellows, raising the prospect of lower production and more imports from countries that allow neonicotinoids.

French Agriculture Minister Marc Fesneau will present a plan to representatives of the sugar beet sector on Thursday, the agriculture ministry said in a statement after Fesneau met farm unions on Wednesday morning.

Sugar beet growers group CGB said the minister had agreed that sugar beet growers would be compensated fully for yield losses this year if there was a severe attack of virus yellows.

“We can’t be satisfied but for now this should let farmers plant and allow other solutions to be found for 2024 and 2025,” Franck Sander, the CGB’s president, told Reuters at the protest. 

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«Ворог посилює свою військову присутність на лінії фронту – це по Куп’янському, Дворічанському напрямку, в напрямку Кремінної»

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The Justice Department is putting associates of Russian oligarchs on notice.    

In the latest case of its kind, U.S. prosecutors have charged an associate of Russian billionaire Viktor Vekselberg with sanctions violation and money laundering in connection with helping to maintain Vekselberg’s U.S. properties, according to a five-count indictment unsealed on Tuesday.    

Vladimir Voronchenko, a Russian citizen and U.S. permanent resident who fled to Russia last May, is accused of facilitating more than $4 million in payments for the maintenance of four properties owned by Vekselberg.  

The properties — an apartment on New York’s Park Avenue, an estate in the seaside community of Southampton, New York, an apartment and a penthouse apartment on Fisher Island, Florida — are worth about $75 million, according to the indictment. Voronchenko is accused of unsuccessfully trying to sell the New York and Southampton properties in violation of sanctions imposed on Vekselberg in 2018.    

This is the third indictment of a Vekselberg associate in recent weeks. Last month, the Justice Department charged two businessmen — one British and one Russian — in separate indictments in connection with the operation of a $90 million, 255-foot luxury yacht owned by Vekselberg. The yacht had been seized by Spanish authorities at the request of the United States.  

The Justice Department’s Task Force Kleptocapture, created in March 2022 following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, has been leading the fight against corrupt Russian oligarchs. The task force has recently focused on targeting the oligarchs’ enablers.    

“Shell companies, straw men, and professional money launderers did not shield Voronchenko or the illicit transactions charged today from the investigative persistence of [Homeland Security investigations], FBI, and the attorneys of the Southern District of New York,” Andrew Adams, director of the task force, said in a statement.    

“Today’s indictment is yet another reminder of the priority that the Department of Justice places on uncovering the proceeds of kleptocracy and sanctions evasion and on prosecuting those who would take a paycheck in exchange for facilitating money laundering and sanctions evasion.”   

Voronchenko, 70, who lived in three of Vekselberg’s U.S. properties, held himself out as a successful businessman, art collector and art dealer, and as a close friend and business associate of Vekselberg, according to the indictment.  

He is charged with two counts related to sanctions violation, and two counts related to money laundering and one count of contempt of court for fleeing the United States seven days after being served with a subpoena to produce documents and appear before a grand jury, according to the Justice Department.  

Vekselberg, whose fortune is estimated by Forbes magazine at more than $5 billion, was first sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department in 2018 for operating in Russia’s energy sector and again last March following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.  

He bought the four U.S. properties between 2008 and 2017, using a string of shell companies to mask his ownership from public view, according to court documents. 

A New York lawyer retained by Voronchenko helped purchase the properties on behalf of Vekselberg and later managed their finances using his “interest on lawyer’s trust account,” or IOLTA, to receive payments from shell companies.    

The American Bar Association describes IOLTA as “a method of raising money for charitable purposes, primarily the provision of civil legal services to indigent persons.”  

Vekselberg’s purchase of the U.S. properties was hidden behind multiple corporate veils.  

Take his 2017 purchase of the Fisher Island penthouse. 

The $31.2 million purchase was made by Voxi Management Corp., a Bahamian company owned by Medallion Inc., a Panamanian-registered company. 

According to the indictment, Medallion was owned by another Panamanian company, identified as Company 1, which, in turn, was owned by a Panamanian foundation, identified as Foundation 1. 

“The first and exclusive beneficiary of Foundation 1 was a British Virgin Islands company (“Company 2”), of which Vekselberg was the sole owner,” the document says. 

As of the date of the indictment, Vekselberg remained the ultimate “beneficial owner” of Voxi and Medallion, which in turn owned the U.S. properties.   

The indictment includes a notice of U.S. intent to forfeit Vekselberg’s U.S. properties.  

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A global ransomware outbreak has scrambled servers belonging to the U.S. state of Florida’s Supreme Court and several universities in the United States and Central Europe, according to a Reuters analysis of ransom notes posted online to stricken servers.

Those organizations are among more than 3,800 victims of a fast-spreading digital extortion campaign that locked up thousands of servers in Europe over the weekend, according to figures tallied by Ransomwhere, a crowdsourced platform that tracks digital extortion attempts and online ransom payments and whose figures are drawn from internet scans.

Ransomware is among the internet’s most potent scourges. Although this extortion campaign was not sophisticated, it drew warnings from national cyber watchdogs in part because of the speed of its spread.

Ransomwhere did not name individual victims, but Reuters was able to identify some by looking up internet protocol address data tied to the affected servers via widely used internet scanning tools such as Shodan.

The extent of the disruption to the affected organizations, if any, was not clear.

Florida Supreme Court spokesperson Paul Flemming told Reuters that the affected infrastructure had been used to administer other elements of the Florida state court system, and that it was segregated from the Supreme Court’s main network.

“Florida Supreme Court’s network and data are secure,” he said, adding that the rest of the state court system’s integrity also was not affected.

A dozen universities contacted by Reuters, including the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, Rice University in Houston, and institutions of higher learning in Hungary and Slovakia, did not immediately return messages seeking comment.

Reuters also contacted the hackers via an account advertised on their ransom notes but only received a payment demand in return. They did not respond to additional questions.

Ransomwhere said the cybercriminals appear to have extorted only $88,000, a modest haul by the standard of multimillion-dollar ransoms regularly demanded by some hacking gangs.

One cybersecurity expert said the outbreak, thought to have exploited a 2-year-old vulnerability in VMWare software, was typical of automated attacks on servers and databases that have been carried out by hackers for years.

VMWare has urged customers to upgrade to the latest versions of its software.

“This is nothing unusual,” said Patrice Auffret, founder of French internet scanning company Onyphe. “The difference is the scale.”

Also uncommon is the highly visible nature of the outbreak, which began earlier this month. Because internet-facing servers were affected, researchers and tracking services like Ransomwhere or Onyphe could easily follow the criminals’ trail.

Digital safety officials in Italy said Monday that there was no evidence pointing to “aggression by a state or hostile state-like entity.”

Samuli Kononen, an information security specialist at the Finnish National Cyber Security Centre, said the attack was likely carried out by a criminal gang, although he added that it was not particularly sophisticated as many victims had managed to salvage their data without paying a ransom.

“More experienced ransomware groups usually don’t make that kind of mistake,” he said.

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Крилаті ракети Х-22 призначені для ударів по кораблях, проте російська армія регулярно використовує їх із іншою метою. Саме такі ракети влучили по житловому будинку в Дніпрі 14 січня

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Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Tuesday vowed that Russia will continue helping Mali improve its military capabilities in a joint press conference aired live on state television.

Standing alongside his Malian counterpart, Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop, Russia top diplomat touted the August 2021 delivery of several fighter jets and helicopters, adding that more military support is assured.

“We have delivered very important aircraft,” he said, “and this has considerably increased the capacity of Malian armed forces to eradicate the terrorist threat.”

Russian support for the West African nation’s efforts to sustain a decade-long battle against al-Qaida and Islamic-State-linked militants has increased since France’s withdrawal from the country last year.

The French army intervened in Mali in 2013 after the north of the country was taken over by Islamist militants but withdrew last year on concerns about Mali’s military government working with Kremlin-backed Wagner Group mercenaries

The growing partnership between Moscow and Bamako has prompted Western concern. Mali has been under international scrutiny for cooperating with Russian Wagner mercenaries since last year, with the U.N. and several international human rights organizations calling for investigations of massacres committed by the mercenaries working with the Malian army.

Lavrov and Diop both referenced efforts by the United Nations to investigate human rights abuses in Mali. Both ministers described those efforts as “neocolonial,” with Diop claiming they are an effort to “destabilize” Mali.

Rights groups and journalists reported human rights abuse allegations committed by Russian mercenaries several times last year. Following one investigation, French broadcasts were banned from the country.

Last week U.N. experts called for an investigation into “international crimes” committed by the Wagner Group in Mali.

Following testimony at a U.N. Security Council meeting on January 27, Mali’s military government expelled the chief of the U.N. mission to Mali’s human rights division for “destabilizing and subversive” actions against the Malian government.

Violence has continued to spread south in recent years, with several attacks in recent months near Bamako attributed to Islamist militants. In July of last year, Mali’s main military base in Kati, 15 kilometers from Bamako, was attacked by Islamist militants.

Lavrov’s visit comes as Moscow seeks to shore up relations with its allies amid Western isolation because of its invasion of Ukraine.

Russian news agency RIA quoted Lavrov as saying that Moscow hoped to start delivering wheat, fertilizers and oil products to Mali soon.

Lavrov has visited a series of African countries recently as Moscow, hit by Western sanctions over its war in Ukraine, seeks to strengthen ties and strategic partnerships elsewhere.

Some information in this report came from Reuters.

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З початку російського вторгнення в Україну Латвія активно підтримує Київ у гуманітарній та військовій сферах, а також закликає до цього інші країни Європи

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Structural engineers, soldiers, paramedics and handlers with trained search dogs are heading to Turkey and Syria to help locate and rescue survivors of Monday’s earthquake. Here’s a glance at the assistance that’s being provided:

The European Union has mobilized search and rescue teams to help Turkey, while the bloc's Copernicus satellite system has been activated to provide emergency mapping services. At least 13 member countries have offered assistance.
The United States is coordinating immediate assistance to Turkey, including teams to support search and rescue efforts. In California, nearly 100 Los Angeles County firefighters and structural engineers, along with six specially trained dogs, were being sent to Turkey.
Russian rescue teams from the Emergencies Ministry were sent to Syria, where Russian military deployed in that country already has sent 10 units comprising 300 people to help clear debris and search for survivors. The Russian military has set up points to distribute humanitarian assistance. Russia also has offered help to Turkey, which has been accepted.

War-ravaged Syria called for the United Nations and its members to help with rescue efforts, health services, shelter and food aid. Both government-held territory and the last opposition-held enclave were damaged by the earthquake.
The Israeli army is sending a search and rescue team of 150 engineers, medical personnel and other aid workers to render lifesaving aid in Turkey. The two countries are mending ties after years of tensions. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he has also approved a request for humanitarian aid for Syria. Israel and Syria do not have diplomatic relations.

Neighbor and historic rival Greece is sending Turkey a team of 21 rescuers, two rescue dogs and a special rescue vehicle, together with a structural engineer, five doctors and seismic planning experts in a military transport plane.
South Korea will dispatch a 60-person search and rescue team and send medical supplies to Turkey. The government also says it is providing an initial $5 million in humanitarian support, and the Gyeonggi provincial government plans to provide $1 million in humanitarian assistance.
Pakistan has sent one flight of relief supplies and another carrying a 50-member search and rescue team. The government says daily aid flights to Syria and Turkey will start Wednesday.

Britain is sending 76 search-and-rescue specialists with equipment and dogs, as well as an emergency medical team, to Turkey. The U.K. also says it's in contact with the U.N. about getting support to victims in Syria.
India is sending 100 search and rescue personnel from its Natural Disaster Response Force to Turkey, as well as specially trained dog squads and equipment for relief efforts. Medical teams with trained doctors, paramedics and essential medicines are also ready, the Ministry of External Affairs said in a statement.
Taiwan is sending 130 rescue squad members, five search dogs and 13 tons of equipment to Turkey. Interior Minister Lin Yu-chang said the first group left for Turkey late Monday and another was sent Tuesday. Taiwan earlier said it would donate $200,000 to Turkey.
Swiss rescue dog service REDOG is sending 22 rescuers with 14 dogs to Turkey. The government said it would also send 80 search and rescue specialists to the country, including army disaster experts.
The Czech Republic is sending Turkey a team of 68 rescuers, including firefighters, doctors, structural engineers and also experts with sniffer dogs.
Japan is sending a group of about 75 rescue workers to Turkey.
Lebanon's cash-strapped government is sending soldiers, Red Cross and Civil Defense first responders, and firefighters to Turkey to help with its rescue efforts.
Germany is readying deliveries of emergency generators, tents, blankets and water treatment equipment. It also has offered to send teams from the THW civil protection agency to Turkey. The group International Search and Rescue Germany was also preparing to fly dozens of doctors and rescue experts to Turkey late Monday.

Austria has offered to send 84 soldiers from a military disaster relief unit to Turkey.
Spain was preparing to send two Urban Search and Rescue teams to Turkey with 85 personnel, and a contingent of volunteer firefighters.
Poland is sending Turkey 76 firefighters and eight trained dogs, with equipment.
Romania is sending specialized personnel and material to Turkey on two military aircraft.

Croatia is sending 40 personnel and 10 dogs, rescue equipment and vans to Turkey.
Serbia is sending 21 rescuers and three liaison officers to Turkey.

Montenegro is sending at least 24 firefighters to Turkey.
Moldova's president says 55 rescue workers have been sent to Turkey.
France is dispatching rescue teams to Turkey.
Jordan is sending emergency aid to Syria and Turkey on the orders of King Abdullah II.
Mexico's foreign affairs secretary said the country will send equipment and rescue specialists to Turkey.

Egypt has pledged urgent humanitarian aid to Turkey.
Italy's Civil Protection Agency has offered assistance to Turkey. A firefighting team was preparing to leave from Pisa, and the Italian military says transport flights will carry equipment as well as health and other personnel.
New Zealand is providing $632,000 to the Turkish Red Crescent and $316,000 to the Syrian Arab Red Crescent to deliver items such as food, tents and blankets, as well as provide medical assistance and psychological support.
China's Red Cross Society is providing the Turkish Red Crescent and the Syrian Red Crescent with $200,000 each in humanitarian assistance.

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