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Archive for: November 2022 - DIGEST UKRAINE

Monthly Archives: November 2022

Зокрема, як повідомив голова ОВА, у Білопільській громаді загарбники обстріляли зі ствольної артилерії (35 «прильотів») міську лікарню. Живицький нагадав, що від обстрілів загинув 15-річний хлопець

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Після завершення праці на Радіо Вільна Європа/Радіо Свобода в Празі повернувся в рідне село Ряшів у Словаччині і продовжив писати для багатьох українських і зарубіжних видань, в тому числі, для Української редакції Радіо Свобода та проєкту Крим.Реалії

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The United States is deeply concerned about American Paul Whelan, who is in a Russian jail, White House national security spokesman John Kirby said on Wednesday after Whelan’s family said they had not heard from him for a week.

U.S. diplomats have been trying to get more information about Whelan’s condition and his whereabouts, Kirby said.

“As we speak this morning, regrettably, we do not have an update specifically about where he is or what condition he’s in,” Kirby told reporters in a telephone briefing. “That deeply concerns us, and we certainly share the anxiety and the concern of the land and family.”

Kirby addressed the issue after Whelan’s brother, David Whelan, said the family had become concerned about his whereabouts.

David Whelan said in an e-mail on November 29 that it was unusual that the family did not know the whereabouts of the former U.S. Marine and corporate security executive, who is serving 16 years in the Russian region of Mordovia on charges of espionage, which he denies.

The U.S. State Department has said it has been negotiating with Russia on a potential prisoner swap that would involve Whelan and U.S. women’s basketball star Brittney Griner, who is serving nine years in Russia after being convicted on drug charges.

The negotiations appear to be stalled as the Russian side has not provided a “serious response” to any of the U.S. proposals on a prisoner swap, a senior U.S. diplomat said on November 28.

The penal colony’s staff said Paul Whelan was moved to the prison hospital on November 17, a day after a visit by U.S. and Irish diplomats, David Whelan said in the e-mail.

Paul had spoken to his parents every day from the 17th to the 23rd and did not mention the move and had appeared healthy and well to the diplomats, David Whelan said in the e-mail.

“Paul has always mentioned when he’s been transferred to the prison hospital,” said David Whelan, adding that the transfers usually have occurred without his request or need for medical attention.

“And he spoke to our parents a number of times after the [penal colony] staff say he was moved, at least as recently as November 23, and never mentioned it,” David Whelan said, questioning why his brother has been prohibited from making calls if he is at the prison hospital.

“Is he unable to make calls? Or is he really still at [prison colony] IK-17 but he’s been put in solitary and the prison is hiding that fact?” David Whelan asked.

David Whelan added that it was highly unusual that the family did not hear from him on November 24, the U.S. Thanksgiving Day holiday.

Some information for this report came from by Reuters.

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Australia upset Denmark 1-0 on Wednesday to qualify for the World Cup knockout phase for the first time in 16 years thanks to a fine solo goal from Mathew Leckie.

Australia contained Denmark at the Al Janoub Stadium before stinging the Scandinavians on a counter-attack in the 60th minute when Leckie burst into space, wrong-footed defender Joakim Maehle and fired low past goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel.

Denmark coach Kasper Hjulmand brought on all the attacking firepower he could muster as he desperately sought the goals that have eluded his side in Qatar.

But Australia held on to claim second place in Group D, behind France but ahead of Tunisia who were leading the French 1-0 in the dying stages of Wednesday’s other game. Denmark finished bottom with one point.

Tunisa 1, France 0

French-born Wahbi Khazri scored the only goal of the game as Tunisia upset World Cup holder France 1-0 at the Education City Stadium on Wednesday, but the shock victory was not enough for them to join the defending champions in the last 16 of the tournament.

Khazri steered home a 58th-minute winner amid a cluster of defenders for only a third victory at six World Cup tournaments for Tunisia but they were still eliminated.

France, which made nine changes for this match from the team that beat Denmark and had already booked their place in the knockout stages, finished top of Group D on goal difference from runners-up Australia.

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За словами Кличка, неподалік ялинки встановлять точки для підзарядки телефонів та гаджетів, але масових розважальних заходів, фудкортів, ярмарків, атракціонів на Софійській площі не буде

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European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called Wednesday for a special court to prosecute Russian crimes against Ukraine. 

Von der Leyen proposed a court backed by the United Nations “to investigate and prosecute Russia’s crime of aggression.” 

She also said Russia and Russian oligarchs need to pay for costs to rebuild Ukraine from the damage done by Russian forces since they invaded Ukraine in February. 

“Russia’s horrific crimes will not go unpunished,” von der Leyen said. 

She spoke as NATO foreign ministers met in Romania on the final day of meetings that include discussing the conflict and support for Ukraine. 

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said Tuesday Ukraine would one day join the Western military alliance in direct defiance of Russian President Vladimir Putin.  


“NATO’s door is open,” Stoltenberg said, renewing a commitment for Ukraine membership first made in 2008 but stalled since then. He noted that North Macedonia and Montenegro recently joined the West’s chief post-World War II military alliance, and that Sweden and Finland also will do so soon.  


“Russia does not have a veto” on countries joining, Stoltenberg said. “We stand by that, too, on membership for Ukraine.”  


“President Putin cannot deny sovereign nations to make their own sovereign decisions that are not a threat to Russia,” the former Norwegian prime minister said. “I think what he’s afraid of is democracy and freedom, and that’s the main challenge for him.”  


But Ukraine will not soon join NATO, which under terms of the alliance’s charter, would likely push the armed forces of the 30-member nations directly onto the battlefield fighting Russian troops. It would be a commitment far beyond the billions of dollars in military and humanitarian assistance the United States and its allies have already sent to the Kyiv government to help Ukrainian fighters defend their country.  


U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that the United States is sending Kyiv another $53 million to support the purchase of critical electricity grid equipment in the face of weeks-long Russian airstrikes targeting Ukrainian infrastructure to knock out power and water systems as winter weather takes hold in the country.  


The top U.S. diplomat said the equipment would be sent to Ukraine on an emergency basis and include distribution transformers, circuit breakers, surge arresters, disconnectors, vehicles and other key equipment.  


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

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Голова Офісу президента України Андрій Єрмак обговорив із радником президента США з питань національної безпеки Джейком Салліваном підтримку України для проходження зимового періоду.

Як повідомляє пресслужба ОП, у ході телефонної розмови Єрмак поінформував співрозмовника про оперативну ситуацію на фронті, а також про можливі кроки Росії, які вона готує з метою продовження терору проти цивільного населення України.

Окремо керівник Офісу президента висловив подяку США за підтримку нещодавно започаткованої гуманітарної програми Grain from Ukraine.

Читайте також «Гуманітарна катастрофа». Де найбільше голодують через війну Росії проти України?

Під час зустрічі міністрів закордонних справ країн НАТО 29 листопада в Бухаресті союзники по НАТО пообіцяли «надалі посилити» підтримку України, зокрема надати обладнання для відновлення енергетичної інфраструктури країни.

Як повідомляла раніше газета The Wall Street Journal, радник президента США з національної безпеки Джейк Салліван 4 листопада на переговорах із президентом України Володимиром Зеленським пропонував йому задуматися про «реалістичні вимоги» для початку переговорів з Росією. 

Президент України Володимир Зеленський 11 листопада заявив, що не виключає мирних переговорів з Росією, але з «іншою» – «з тією, що справді готова до миру. Такою, яка готова визнати, що вони – окупанти». Але, за словами Зеленського, окрім ультиматумів, він «нічого не чув від нинішнього президента РФ».

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From the evacuation of Ukrainian journalists in occupied cities to legal support for independent reporters from Russia, a community of organizations is working to keep media safe.

In Ukraine, the February 24 invasion led to an unprecedented level of requests for assistance from the country’s National Union of Journalists of Ukraine.

Before then, the union had “hot spots” with journalists covering conflict in Donbas. But now, says union chair Sergiy Tomilenko, “every media worker in our country [has become] a front-line journalist. And it’s clear that we weren’t ready for that.”

In the past year, the union has worked with journalists, including on evacuations for those in cities occupied by Russian forces and by providing support for those close to the front lines.

The union is also tracking deaths. As of November, the war has killed 43 journalists in Ukraine, including eight who were on assignment. The other journalists lost their lives in shelling or after signing up to the armed forces.

“Of course, we divide those who continue to work as journalists and those who went to war, but we still count our military colleagues who died on the battlefield among these victims, since the only cause of their death is Russian aggression,” Tomilenko told VOA.

“If there had been no Russian invasion, the famous cameraman Viktor Dedov—one of the best, originally from Mariupol— would have been alive. But he died as a civilian under the bombing in his city. And Oleksandr Makhov and other journalists who died defending the country at the front would also be alive,” Tomilenko said.

The union head said that Russian forces tried to intimidate and recruit Ukrainian journalists in occupied cities. They had lists of local journalists, and from the start “a campaign of individual pressure on independent journalists began,” he said.

In some cases, Tomilenko said, troops asked local media to become propagandists, broadcasting pro-Russian material. But, he said, “the vast majority” refused.

The arrival of the troops in occupied regions made life dangerous even for those journalists who had planned to stay. It was simply too “deadly to remain,” Tomilenko said.

But supporting media affected by Putin’s war involves outside help.

The union has been working with the London-based Justice for Journalists Foundation, or JFJ, and other groups to monitor attacks and to offer training.

When it comes to security workshops for reporting in combat zones, the requests “are nonstop,” Maria Ordzhonikidze, director of the JFJ told VOA.

But, she said, “We also help Russian journalists.”

In fact, attacks on Russian media are what led to the creation of the JFJ. It was founded after the killing in 2018 of three Russian journalists who were investigating mercenaries in the Central African Republic.

“In Russia, free journalism has ended, a lot of people tried to leave, many left. And here the role of our foundation is to continue to provide support,” Ordzhonikidze said.

For those journalists, that support often comes in the form of legal training, she said.

Community support

Lana Estemirova, who works with the JFJ, told VOA the foundation’s work supporting media and tackling impunity in attacks has opened up awareness of the scale of the problem.

A lack of justice is close to Estemirova’s heart. Her mother, Natalya Estemirova, a prominent Chechen human rights activist, was abducted and killed in 2009. Natalya Estemirova worked for the Russian human rights organization Memorial, which was banned by the Kremlin and was one of the recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize this year.

The European Court of Human Rights in 2021 ruled Russia had failed to properly investigate the murder. Work on a new podcast made Lana Estemirova more aware of the global spread of impunity.

“We began to look for interesting journalists from Belarus, Africa, South America to compare situations and find out what unites us all,” said Lana Estemirova. In doing so, she learned of the high rate of attacks on journalists in Mexico, where nearly all cases go unresolved.

More than 15 journalists have been killed in Mexico in 2022, making the country the most deadly place for media outside a war zone.

“When you start talking to journalists from other continents, you realize that there is no border to this problem,” she said

Estemirova believes that those who work in an atmosphere of risk should do so in the knowledge they will have the help and solidarity of their colleagues.

“They believe that they have a mission: the search for truth. It is very important that journalists who are walking along this road – and this is a rather lonely road – have support.”

One way to do that is to publicize the work of journalists persecuted for their investigations.


Natalya Zubkova is a journalist in the small Russian town in the Kuzbass region, and she founded the website “News of Kiselyovsk” in 2017.

Zubkova covered issues including education, the environment, authorities and crime. But she also received death threats and was physically attacked.

After four years, the news website closed and Zubkova fled the country.

But her work caught the attention of filmmaker Alina Simone.

New York-based Simone applied for a JFJ grant to make a documentary, “Black Snow,” about how Zubkova tried to tell the world about life in a city of seven coal mines and 90,000 people.

It is a place where mining activity often turns the snow black and where citizen journalism requires remarkable courage.

“Natalya tried to protect the interests of ordinary people with her journalism, and was forced to leave Russia in the end,” said Simone.

She was so impressed by the videos that Zubkova posted on YouTube that she decided to make a story about her Russian colleague.

“I had a very strong sense of camaraderie toward her. When I arrived in Kiselyovsk and Kemerovo, the atmosphere there frankly shocked me,” Simone said. “Everything looked much worse in terms of the attitude toward journalists, activists, and also foreigners. We were under constant surveillance. Our car was followed all the time … Already in August 2019, it was clear to me where everything was going.”

Simone said the community of Russian journalists is under threat.

“These people are deprived of their profession, they are pressured. Often their lives are destroyed. It is very difficult to explain to the West what it means to be a citizen journalist in a region whose governor, Sergei Tsivilyov, has family ties to Vladimir Putin,” Simone said.

But organizations such as the JFJ are working to provide support and assistance to those on the front lines in Ukraine or under threat in Russia.

This article originated in VOA’s Russian service.

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 As anti-government protests continue in Iran, Tehran is escalating tensions with its neighbors, accusing them of interfering in its domestic affairs. One of those neighbors, Azerbaijan, has Turkey’s support and is pushing back.

Iran has recently carried out military exercises on Azerbaijan’s border and warned Baku not to incite Iran’s significant Azeri minority.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard has carried out numerous drone strikes against Kurdish groups based in Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdistan region, which it accuses of inciting Iran’s Kurdish minority.

Zaur Gasimov, an expert in the region at Bonn University, said the exercises and attacks are part of a systematic policy by Tehran. 

“Iran tries to shift the attention of the Iranian population towards foreign policy, towards conflicts on the border, and towards a polemic with its neighbor countries,” Gasimov said. “The military drills were conducted not only on the border with the Republic of Azerbaijan in the north but also with Iraq and Turkey. So, they are like messages to the region, but they are addressed much more to the local audience.”

But Baku is pushing back against Tehran, carrying out its own military exercises on Iran’s border. Meanwhile, Azerbaijani security forces this month have detained 19 people and accused them of working for Iranian intelligence.

Huseyin Bagci, head of the Ankara-based Foreign Policy Institute, said Baku is emboldened by its support from Turkey, some of which is enshrined in a common defense agreement.

“Turkey and Azerbaijan [are] brothers, friends,” Bagci said. “And they have this Shusha agreement, which is not binding but important. If Azerbaijan is under attack or in danger, Turkey will come unconditionally to the help of Azerbaijan. Iran is trying to extend its influence, but Turkey is like a barrier stopping Iran’s influence in Azerbaijan.”

Turkish military support was vital to Azerbaijan in 2020, when it decisively defeated Armenian-backed forces in a conflict over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh enclave.

This month, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev condemned Tehran for its military exercises, pledging to defend his country’s secular state and ethnic Azeris both in Azerbaijan and Iran. Analyst Gasimov said Aliyev’s increasingly assertive stance toward Tehran is a significant change for the region.

“The last three decades, Baku was very cautious in its relationship to the very large Azeri-speaking community in northern Iran,” Gasimov said. “But we have seen the conduct of the military drills on the border to Iran as the reaction to the Iranian military drills by the Azeri side. [At] the same time, new discourse in Baku about the Azeri speakers in Iran were two gestures addressed to the Iranian political class, saying that something has changed in the region.”

In a move analysts say will further anger Tehran, Baku opened an embassy in Israel. The two countries already have close military ties, despite Tehran’s warnings. For now, Ankara has refrained from commenting on the turmoil in Iran, but some analysts warn that silence will be tested if Tehran ratchets up tensions with Baku.

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Russia has donated 260,000 metric tons of fertilizer it produced that was sitting in European ports and warehouses for use by farmers in Africa, the United Nations said Tuesday.

“This will serve to alleviate humanitarian needs and prevent catastrophic crop loss in Africa, where it is currently planting season,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters, welcoming the announcement.

He said a ship chartered by the World Food Program left the Netherlands on Tuesday carrying 20,000 tons of the fertilizer destined for the southeastern African nation of Malawi. Dujarric said it would take about a month to reach Beira, in Mozambique, and then would be transported overland to Malawi, which is a landlocked country.

“It will be the first of a series of shipments of fertilizer destined for a number of other countries on the African continent in the coming months,” Dujarric added.

Fertilizer crunch

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, world fertilizer prices, which were already inflated due to the COVID-19 pandemic, surged further, in part due to quotas Moscow imposed on its fertilizer exports, saying it wanted enough for its own farmers.

The U.N. said fertilizer prices have risen a staggering 250% since before the pandemic in 2019.

Russia is a top global fertilizer exporter. The disruptions, shortages and price increases that its quotas have contributed to have made fertilizer unaffordable for some smaller farmers. This could dramatically decrease their harvests, which could potentially lead to food shortages next year.

The World Food Program’s chief economist told VOA that developed and developing countries are dependent on fertilizer for half of their food production.

“Right now, with all that is happening, we are looking at essentially a shortfall of about 66 million tons of staple foods because of shortage of or unaffordability of fertilizer,” Arif Husain said. “I am talking about crops like wheat, corn, rice. Now, that 66 million tons of food, that is enough to feed 3.6 billion people for one month.”

Watch related video by Margaret Besheer:

Russia has complained that Western sanctions are to blame for its decrease in fertilizer exports. But Western nations repeatedly stress that they do not sanction food or fertilizer products from Russia.

But some shippers, banks, insurers and other companies involved in the transport or purchase of Russian grain and fertilizer have been reluctant to do business with Moscow, fearing they could run afoul of the sanctions.

Diplomacy continues

A package deal signed in Istanbul on July 22 has made it possible for more than 12 million metric tons of Ukrainian grain to get to market from three of its Black Sea ports, while working to build confidence with the private sector in order to return to pre-invasion export levels of Russian fertilizers and grain.

“The U.N. is continuing intense diplomatic efforts with all parties to ensure the unimpeded exports of critical food and fertilizers from both the Russian Federation and Ukraine, that are exempt from sanction regimes, to the world markets,” Dujarric told reporters.

The deal, known as the Black Sea Grain Initiative, was renewed on November 17 for an additional four months.

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Turkish forces have launched a barrage of airstrikes on suspected militants in northeastern Syria and Iraq in recent days, after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blamed Kurdish groups for last week’s bombing in Istanbul.

Kurdish groups have denied responsibility for that attack and say Turkish military assaults have killed civilians and imperiled the international fight against Islamic State militants operating in the region.

“There is no doubt that Daesh will benefit more than anyone else from this Turkish offensive,” Commander Gen. Mazloum Kobane Abdi of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) told VOA’s Kurdish Service on Monday, using an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State, which is also known as IS or ISIS.

Abdi also discussed SDF relations with some 900 American troops in the region to assist local forces, and why he believes the White House needs to assume a “stronger position” on Turkey’s threat of a ground invasion.

U.S. officials have voiced opposition to the plan.

“The escalation in Syria and along the Turkish-Syrian border in recent days is dangerous and a threat to the safety of civilians and U.S. personnel in Syria,” a White House National Security Council spokesperson told Axios last week.

Turkey views the SDF as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which Ankara has designated a terrorist group. Turkish officials have also said that preparations to launch a ground offensive in northern Syria are already underway.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

VOA: Turkish strikes in recent days have hit several strategic targets in northeast Syria. One of them was very close to a base shared by SDF forces and the U.S.-led coalition in Hasakeh. Another one targeted an energy infrastructure. How do you view the nature of these attacks?

Abdi: This time around these strikes carried messages to more than one side. They have already been targeting us for years. They want to eliminate us. They have been saying this clearly. But the recent strikes had a message for others, especially the [U.S.-led] coalition. They are simply telling the coalition: You must not have any presence here. They’re telling them that [the coalition] presence won’t be an obstacle [for Turkey] to hit these areas. It has no other explanation when they strike a coalition base, areas where coalition forces operate, and even al-Hol camp. That is why these forces must have a response to these actions.

VOA: A coalition base in Shaddadi [in northeast Syria] was also targeted during the attacks. While nobody has claimed responsibility for the Shaddadi attack, news reports said Iranian-backed militias may be behind it, especially since they have attacked U.S. forces in the past. Is this a coincidence or could it be coordinated?

Abdi: This doesn’t need any analysis. Just a few days ago, another round of Astana meetings took place between Iran, Turkey and Russia. These three countries have formally stated that the coalition forces must leave [Syria]. They clearly oppose the presence of U.S. forces here. They have been working actively to achieve that goal. These countries share this objective. That is why there is coordination between them.


VOA: Has the U.S. response to the coordinated efforts between these countries been adequate?

Abdi: The Americans have expressed their concerns. I also believe [the Americans] have talked with them through their channels of communication. But I believe the U.S. should have a stronger position about what has been going on.

VOA: Washington has made it clear that it opposes a Turkish ground offensive into Syria. With regards to those channels of communication, it has been reported that the U.S. has conveyed to you some conditions from Turkey. Is that true?

Abdi: We have seen those reports. But nothing of that nature has happened. However, all institutions of the United States government, including the State Department and the Pentagon, have expressed their concerns about this [potential] offensive. They have said very clearly that they oppose such an offensive. We have also been informed formally that [the Americans] have been talking with Turkey to prevent such an attack. America has always been pushing all sides for dialogue. They have been saying this publicly and privately.

VOA: Do you believe these statements are enough to prevent such an offensive?

Abdi: No, they are not enough. The U.S. position should be stronger. The AKP-led government in Turkey is losing popularity ahead of the country’s elections. They believe that launching a large-scale attack [into Syria] will get them votes from Turkish nationalists. Turkish officials oftentimes say that they don’t listen to others when it comes to Syria. Everyone needs to understand this. That is why we believe the United States should have a stronger position about Turkish threats.

VOA: In 2019, when Turkey invaded parts of northeast Syria following a partial U.S. troop withdrawal, then-candidate Joe Biden tweeted that pullout of U.S. forces from those Syrian Kurdish regions was a “betrayal.” Now Biden is in the White House. Has he made any pledges so that what happened in 2019 will not be repeated?

Abdi: I recently sent a letter to President Biden and reminded him of these things. President Biden should keep the promises he made in the past. We hope he will keep them now. It has been three years since that Turkish offensive. Turkey has since been trying to wage another one, but we know it is the U.S. position that has prevented such an offensive from happening until now. So, the Biden administration has demonstrated a position on this. We just hope that it continues actively.

VOA: What are your views on the positions of the Russian and Syrian regimes?

Abdi: We know that Russia is against this attack, and they have expressed their opposition. But I must say that Russia is also responsible for the recent Turkish bombardment. Had they not opened this region’s airspace for the Turks, they would not have been able to attack. Of course, the Russians and the U.S.-led coalition can stop these attacks. Their position has so far been weak. This has emboldened the Turks to carry on their air campaign. As for a ground operation, they have opposed it.

With regards to the Syrian regime, we criticize them. This is Syrian territory. Syrian territory is being bombarded. Syrian people are being targeted. But the regime has so far been quiet about it. They have not denounced it. They have not taken this case to the U.N. Security Council, even though their own soldiers have been killed in recent Turkish strikes. In fact, the deaths and casualties among them are higher than those among our forces. The regime needs to have a stance because defending this land is not only the responsibility of our forces, but also theirs.

VOA: Some reports said that you had a meeting with the general commander of Russian forces in Syria. Can you confirm it? And if so, what did you discuss?

Abdi: It is true. We met [Monday] morning. We primarily talked about efforts to stop these Turkish attacks. We asked them to stop these attacks because it is their duty. There is the 2019 Sochi agreement between Russia and Turkey, which Turkey has been violating. We asked the Russians to recognize that agreement and prevent Turkey from launching a ground offensive. There was no discussion about any conditions made by Turkey as it was reported in the press.

VOA: Will this conflict affect your war on the Islamic State, which is also known as Daesh, especially since some of Turkey’s strikes hit al-Hol Camp, where thousands of people, including families of IS fighters, are held?

Abdi: We have paused our operations against Daesh, because all of our forces that work with the coalition forces have become a target [for Turkey]. Our counterterrorism units and camp and prison guards have come under Turkish attacks recently. So their movements are limited now. We had no choice but to suspend our anti-Daesh operations. A Turkish ground offensive would have even bigger impact on the resurgence of Daesh. In fact, Daesh prisoners in our custody are already preparing for riots, because they know that if there is an offensive, we won’t be entirely available to guard prisons holding Daesh members. Moreover, we have intelligence about Daesh plans to try to smuggle our people from al-Hol camp, particularly the families of their emirs, and to step up its terror activity in places like Raqqa and Deir al-Zour. So, there is no doubt that Daesh will benefit more than anyone else from this Turkish offensive.

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«Прямо зараз ЗСУ обстрілюють Суджанський район. Усього зафіксовано близько 11 прильотів. Є влучання по об’єкту енергопостачання»

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Italy’s newly elected far-right Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni appear to be finding unlikely common ground on issues relating to Africa and migration. The relationship with Meloni is the latest in a list of strong partnerships that Erdogan has been working to build with European far-right leaders. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul.

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Війська РФ влаштували вже щонайменше сім масованих хвиль ракетних ударів по енергетичній інфраструктурі країни

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Journalists at Slovenia’s public broadcaster RTV have expressed relief at the results of a referendum aimed at protecting them from political interference.

The results show “citizens support us and want a professional, independent and quality public (broadcaster),” Helena Milinkovic, head of the coordination of trade unions of journalists of RTV, told VOA.

Marko Milosavljevic, journalism chair at the University of Ljubljana’s faculty of social sciences, sees the support of the law as a boost for media freedom in Slovenia.

“It enables public RTV to free itself from direct interference of politics and political parties,” Milosavljevic told VOA.

The referendum Sunday centered on reforms proposed by Slovenia’s newly elected government to protect RTV from political interference. More than 62 percent of voters were in favor of the law.

The referendum was requested by the former ruling center-right Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS) after the country’s new government in July endorsed changes that would end the practice of parliament nominating members of the RTV program council.

At present, parliament nominates 21 out of 29 members of the program council, a body that names the broadcaster’s chief executive and endorses production plans.

In challenging the reforms, the SDS said the legal changes would impact RTV’s independence because they were aimed solely at replacing the current management.

“Our media space is strongly leaning to the left and does not allow pluralism. RTV as a public broadcaster, which is paid by all, should show diversity and represent all segments of the Slovenian society,” Alenka Jeraj, a SDS member of parliament, told reporters after the referendum result.

“By manipulative statement that politics will be removed from the RTV, the government politics is in fact entering the RTV through a side door,” Jeraj said, adding that she believes the result shows “we are strongly moving away from democratic media standards.”

But most journalists and academics disagree.

Seven international media freedom groups, including the International Press Institute, the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom, and Reporters Without Borders last week issued a joint statement backing the reform.

“The new system of governance would significantly limit the ability of any government, current or future, to use its parliamentary majority to fill the councils with allies and interfere in the work of public media,” the statement read.

Most analysts say that ruling parties from both sides have pressured the public broadcaster ever since Slovenia’s independence in 1991. But, they say, the interference has never been so intense as when the SDS was in power from 2020 until June this year.

The SDS leadership claimed media bias at the broadcaster, and appointees at RTV made changes that critics say adversely impacted the station’s ability to report.

In 2021, the Program Council appointed Andrej Grah Whatmough as the head of RTV.

A few months later, the director of the broadcaster’s TV branch, Natalija Gorscak, was dismissed and many popular shows, including a weekly political segment, “Studio City,” were cancelled.

In July 2022, Whatmough appointed Uros Urbanija as the new director of the TV branch —a move that sparked protest from staffers and the Association of Journalists of Slovenia.

Urbanija was the director of the government communication office under former Prime Minister Janez Jansa. During that time, his department alleged bias at RTV and temporarily stopped financing for the state news agency STA. [[ 

In October, Whatmough issued letters to 38 staffers, mainly TV journalists, after they entered a studio during a live broadcast to show support for two colleagues they said were under pressure from Urbanija.

In his letter, Whatmough warned that the staff face dismissal if they breach their contract again.

Urbanija and Whatmough have denied any pressure on journalists. Whatmough said in remarks published on RTV that the warnings were issued solely because journalists had violated rules regarding entering the studio.

‘Party politics’

Prime Minister Robert Golob and his ministers welcomed the referendum result.

His center-left government had promised to free RTV of political pressures and adopted the amendments on RTV less than two months after taking power.

“The people clearly showed that they do not want interference of party politics in the managing of RTV Slovenia. Our government had promised (to stop) that, passed the law and this was now confirmed by people,” Minister of Culture Asta Vrecko, who is also in charge of the government’s media policy, told TV Slovenia.

However, Peter Gregorcic, the chair of the RTV’s Program Council, told Radio Slovenia he plans to ask the Constitutional Court to rule on whether the law is in line with the constitution.

He believes it is illegal to replace the management of the broadcaster by amending a law.

Any appeal could further delay the introduction of the law, which is due to come into effect in January.

The management of RTV Slovenia did not directly respond to VOA’s queries regarding the appeal, but referred VOA to a statement that read, “RTV Slovenia will continue to act in line with legislation and in the broadest public interest.” 

Most TV journalists still wary

Most TV Slovenia journalists welcomed the result but are wary of any further delay in implementing the law.

“We are happy and relieved by the referendum result,” Milinkovic, of RTV, told VOA. But, she said, until the legislation takes affect, “We expect pressures on staffers to continue.”

TV Slovenia runs a 24-7 operation and is one of the most popular TV channels in the country. The public broadcaster is financed predominantly by subscriptions that most households in Slovenia are obliged to pay.

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