Ukraine Ramps Up Security at Diplomatic Missions After Blast at Embassy in Spain

Ukraine on Wednesday ramped up security at its embassies abroad after Spanish police and government said an employee at the Ukrainian embassy in Madrid was injured opening a letter bomb. 

The staff member suffered light injuries and went to hospital under his own steam, police said in a statement. 

Ukraine’s Foreign Affairs Minister Dmytro Kuleba has ordered all Ukrainian embassies abroad to “urgently” strengthen their security, according to a statement from Ukraine’s foreign ministry. 

The minister also urged his Spanish counterparts to “take urgent measures to investigate the attack,” the statement said, adding that whoever was behind the attack “will not succeed in intimidating Ukrainian diplomats or stopping their daily work on strengthening Ukraine and countering Russian aggression.” 

The letter, which arrived by ordinary mail and was not scanned, caused “a very small wound on the ring finger of the right hand” of the employee, Mercedes Gonzalez, the Spanish government’s representative in Madrid, told broadcaster Telemadrid. 

Detectives are investigating the incident, aided by forensic and intelligence investigators, Spanish police said. Spain’s High Court will lead the investigation. 

An officer at Ukraine’s embassy to Spain declined to comment. 

The residential area surrounding the embassy in northwestern Madrid has been cordoned off and a bomb disposal unit is deployed at the scene, state broadcaster TVE reported. 

 

UN Puts Baguette on Cultural Heritage List

The humble baguette — the crunchy ambassador for French baking around the world — is being added to the U.N.’s list of intangible cultural heritage as a cherished tradition to be preserved by humanity.

UNESCO experts gathering in Morocco this week decided that the simple French flute — made only of flour, water, salt, and yeast — deserved U.N. recognition, after France’s culture ministry warned of a “continuous decline” in the number of traditional bakeries, with some 400 closing every year over the past half-century.

The U.N. cultural agency’s chief, Audrey Azoulay, said the decision honors more than just bread; it recognizes the “savoir-faire of artisanal bakers” and “a daily ritual.”

“It is important that these craft knowledge and social practices can continue to exist in the future,” added Azoulay, a former French culture minister.

With the bread’s new status, the French government said it planned to create an artisanal baguette day, called the “Open Bakehouse Day,” to connect the French better with their heritage.

Back in France, bakers seemed proud, if unsurprised.

“Of course, it should be on the list because the baguette symbolizes the world. It’s universal,” said Asma Farhat, baker at Julien’s Bakery near Paris’ Champs-Elysee avenue.

“If there’s no baguette, you cant have a proper meal. In the morning you can toast it, for lunch it’s a sandwich, and then it accompanies dinner.”

Despite the decline in traditional bakery numbers, France’s 67 million people still remain voracious baguette consumers — purchased at a variety sales points, including in supermarkets. The problem is, observers say, that they can often be poor in quality.

“It’s very easy to get bad baguette in France. It’s the traditional baguette from the traditional bakery that’s in danger. It’s about quality not quantity,” said one Paris resident, Marine Fourchier, 52.

In January, French supermarket chain Leclerc was criticized by traditional bakers and farmers for its much publicized 29-cent baguette, accused of sacrificing the quality of the famed 65-centimeter (26-inch) loaf. A baguette normally costs just over 90 euro cents (just over $1), seen by some as an index on the health of the French economy.

The baguette is serious business. France’s “Bread Observatory” — a venerable institution that closely follows the fortunes of the flute — notes that the French munch through 320 baguettes of one form or another every second. That’s an average of half a baguette per person per day, and 10 billion every year.

Although it seems like the quintessential French product, the baguette was said to have been invented by Vienna-born baker August Zang in 1839. Zang put in place France’s steam oven, making it possible to produce bread with a brittle crust yet fluffy interior.

The product’s zenith did not come until the 1920s, with the advent of a French law preventing bakers from working before 4 a.m. The baguette’s long, thin shape meant it could be made more quickly than its stodgy cousins, so it was the only bread that bakers could make in time for breakfast.

The “artisanal know-how and culture of baguette bread” was inscribed at the Morocco meeting among other global cultural heritage items, including Japan’s Furyu-odori ritual dances, and Cuba’s light rum masters.

EU Seeks Special Court for Russian Crimes Against Ukraine

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 

With Media Under Fire, Organizations Rally to Offer Support

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.

Azerbaijan Stands Up to Iran, with Turkey’s Support

 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.

Referendum Shows Slovenian Support for RTV’s Independence, Journalists Say

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.

Despite Odds, Italian and Turkish Leaders Find Common Ground

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.

Six Years After Bombings, Belgium Readies for Biggest Trial

Belgium’s worst peacetime massacre left 32 dead and hundreds marked for life. Now, six and a half years later, Brussels will host its biggest ever criminal trial. 

Jury selection begins on Wednesday ahead of hearings into the charges against the nine alleged jihadists accused of taking part in the March 2016 suicide bombings. 

The case will be heard in the former headquarters of the NATO military alliance, temporarily converted into a huge high-security court complex. 

Hundreds of witnesses and victims will testify in the months to come, some still hopeful that telling their story will offer them a measure of closure. 

The case will not be the first for 33-year-old Salah Abdeslam, who was convicted in France as a ringleader in the November 13, 2015, Paris attacks that left 130 dead. 

He is serving life without parole in France but faces further charges in Belgium. 

Both sets of attacks were claimed by the Islamic State group and investigators believe they were carried out by the same Belgium-based cell, including Abdeslam.  

The group was planning more violence, allegedly including attacks on the Euro 2016 football cup in France but acted quickly after Abdeslam was arrested on March 18. 

Four days later on March 22, two bombers blew themselves up in Brussels airport and another in a city center metro station near the headquarters of the European Union. 

Alongside those killed, hundreds of travelers and transport staff were maimed and six years on, many victims, relatives and rescuers remain traumatized. 

Five of the nine defendants to appear in the dock have already been convicted in the French trial. A 10th will be tried in absentia because he is believed to have been killed in Syria. 

According to the federal prosecutor’s office, more than 1,000 people have registered as civil plaintiffs to receive a hearing as alleged victims of the crime.   

This makes this trial, scheduled until June 2023 at the former NATO headquarters, the largest ever organized before a Belgian court of assizes.    

“I don’t really expect a lot of answers,” said Sandrine Couturier, who was on the Maelbeek metro platform and plans to come to face the defendants.   

“But I want to confront myself with what human beings are capable of doing. I have to accept that not everyone is good,” the survivor, who suffers from PTSD, told AFP.    

Like many of those who have spoken to reporters, she suffers from memory loss and concentration problems. Many have sought treatment for depression.  

Sebastien Bellin, a former professional basketball player who was due to fly to New York on the morning of March 22, lost the use of a leg in the attack.    

He says today that he feels no hatred. “It would suck the energy I need to rebuild myself,” he says.   

Jury selection in the case is expected to be arduous.  

The court has summoned 1,000 citizens in order to choose among them 12 main jurors with 24 understudies on standby and able to follow daily evidence hearings for months.   

The trial should have begun in October, but there was controversy over the dock, in which the accused were to have been held in individual glass-walled boxes.   

The defendants’ areas were rebuilt as a single, shared space and after Wednesday’s one-day hearing for jury selection, testimony will begin on December 5.   

NATO to Discuss Beefing Up Defenses Across Europe

NATO foreign ministers are to meet for two days in Romania’s capital, Bucharest, starting Tuesday to pledge their continuing support of Ukraine against Russia’s invasion.    

At a news conference Monday, after a meeting with Romania’s President Klaus Iohannis, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg asked the alliance to step up its support in the region. 

“Investing in our defense is essential as we face our greatest security crisis in a generation,” he said.   

In response to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, he said, NATO is reinforcing its presence from the Baltics to the Black Sea region.    

The head of the alliance also said new battlegroups have been set, including one led by France in Romania, while fighter jets from Canada are helping to “keep our skies safe,” and U.S. Patriot missiles are boosting NATO defenses. “We will do what is necessary to protect the defense of all our allies,” he added.    

Stoltenberg also highlighted the support of other partners facing Russian pressure, such as Bosnia Herzegovina, Georgia and Moldova.  

Romanian President Klaus Iohannis said the decision reached at the Madrid summit to boost NATO troops and military equipment on the alliance’s eastern flank needs to come into force as soon as possible.    

Stoltenberg reiterated NATO’s commitment to approve membership for Sweden and Finland, which would expand NATO’s eastern flank.    

Stoltenberg said Russia is weaponizing winter by striking Ukraine’s critical power infrastructure and leaving civilians without power, heat or water in freezing temperatures.     

“We cannot let Putin win,” Stoltenberg said. “This would show authoritarian leaders around the world that they can achieve their goals by using military force — and make the world a more dangerous place for all of us. So, it is in our own security interests to support Ukraine.  

“We need to be prepared for more attacks,” the NATO chief added. “That is why NATO has stepped up its support to Ukraine with additional air defense systems, such as … drones as well as cruise and ballistic missiles.”  

Meanwhile, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba welcomed his Nordic and Baltic counterparts from Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway and Sweden in Kyiv.   

“The strongest message from this visit is: Ukraine needs to win this war and therefore … Western support should be stronger; more heavy weaponry without any political caveats, also including long-distance missiles,” Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu told Reuters.  

Reinsalu pledged to provide electric generators, warm clothes and food to help Ukrainians cope with the winter. 

The seven Baltic and Nordic nations were the largest delegation to visit Ukraine since Russia launched its full-scale war.  

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned that Russian troops are preparing new strikes and met with senior government officials to discuss what actions to take.  

Ukraine said Monday it had been forced to impose regular emergency blackouts in areas across the country after a setback in its race to repair energy infrastructure hit by Russian missile strikes.     

Power units at several power stations had to conduct emergency shutdowns and the demand for electricity has been rising as snowy winter weather takes hold in the capital and elsewhere, national grid operator Ukrenergo said in a statement.  

“Once the causes of the emergency shutdowns are eliminated, the units will return to operation, which will reduce the deficit in the power system and reduce the amount of restrictions for consumers,” it said.  

DTEK, Ukraine’s biggest private electricity producer, said it would reduce the electricity supply by 60% for its consumers in Kyiv, where temperatures are hovering around zero degrees Celsius (32°F).    

“We are doing everything possible to provide power to every customer for 2-3 hours twice a day,” DTEK’s Kyiv branch wrote on Facebook.  

In his nightly video address Monday, Zelenskyy said Russia shelled Kherson and other communities in the region. In one week, Zelenskyy said, Russia “fired 258 times on 30 settlements of our Kherson region.”  

He also said that Russian forces damaged the pumping station that supplied water to Mykolaiv.  

Zelenskyy said the only thing Russian forces are capable of is inflicting devastation on civilians and civilian infrastructure.  

“That is all they leave behind,” he said. Russians “take revenge for the fact that Ukrainians defended themselves from them.”  

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

Protester With Rainbow Flag Runs onto Field at World Cup 

A protester ran onto the field Monday carrying a rainbow flag and wearing a blue Superman T-shirt that said, “SAVE UKRAINE” on the front and “RESPECT FOR IRANIAN WOMAN” on the back during a World Cup match between Portugal and Uruguay.

Security officials chased the protester down, and the flag was dropped on the field before the person was escorted off the field. The referee then picked up the flag and left it on the sideline, where it stayed for a few moments before a worker came and collected it.

The spectator was ushered away through a tunnel. It wasn’t immediately clear if the protester faced any charges or had been detained by police.

In the first week of the tournament in Qatar, seven European teams lost the battle to wear multicolored “One Love” armbands during World Cup matches. Fans also complained they weren’t allowed to bring items with rainbow colors, a symbol of LGBTQ rights, into the stadiums of the conservative Islamic emirate.

Qatar’s laws against gay sex and treatment of LGBTQ people were flashpoints in the run-up to the first World Cup to be held in the Middle East. Qatar has said everyone was welcome, including LGBTQ fans, but that visitors should respect the nation’s culture.

The incident occurred during the second half of the game at Lusail Stadium.

UK Says 50 Recently Arrived Migrants Found with Diphtheria

British health authorities have recorded 50 cases of diphtheria this year among recently arrived asylum seekers, including one man who died after falling sick at a crowded migrant center.

The U.K. Health Protection Agency said Monday that the infected people likely caught the disease in their countries of origin or during their journeys to the U.K. It said a similar increase had been seen elsewhere in Europe.

In 2021 there were 11 cases in the U.K., where most people are vaccinated against diphtheria in childhood. The infection affects the nose, throat and sometimes skin and can be fatal if not treated quickly.

The outbreak comes amid criticism of the government over accommodation conditions for people who arrive in the U.K. across the English Channel in small boats. Many have been held for days or weeks at Manston, a disused airport in southeast England serving as a processing center. At one point last month more than 4,000 people were staying at the facility, designed to hold a maximum of 1,600.

Earlier this month a man staying at Manston became sick and later died in hospital. A PCR test for diphtheria was positive, though immigration minister Robert Jenrick said authorities were awaiting post-mortem results to determine the cause of death.

Thousands of migrants from around the world travel to northern France each year in hopes of crossing the Channel to Britain. There has been a sharp increase in the number of people attempting the journey in dinghies and other small craft as authorities have clamped down on other routes such as stowing away on buses or trucks.

More than 40,000 people have arrived so far this year in Britain after making the hazardous Channel trip, up from 28,000 in all of 2021 and 8,500 in 2020.

In an attempt to deter the crossings, Britain’s government has announced a controversial plan to put people who arrive in small boats on a one-way flight to Rwanda in a bid to break the business model of smuggling gangs.

Critics say the plan is immoral and impractical. It is being challenged in the courts.

NATO Beefing Up Defenses Across Europe

NATO foreign ministers are to meet for two days in Romania’s capital Bucharest starting Tuesday to pledge their continuing support of Ukraine against Russia’s invasion.

At a news conference Monday, after a meeting with Romania’s President Klaus Iohannis, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg asked the alliance to step up its support in the region. “Investing in our defense,” he said, “is essential as we face our greatest security crisis in a generation.”

In response to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, he said, NATO is reinforcing its presence from the Baltics to the Black Sea region.

The head of the alliance also said new battlegroups have been set, including one led by France in Romania, while fighter jets from Canada are helping to “keep our skies safe,” and U.S. Patriot missiles are boosting NATO defenses. “We will do what is necessary to protect the defense of all our allies,” he added.

Stoltenberg also highlighted the support of other partners facing Russian pressure, such as Bosnia Herzegovina, Georgia, and Moldova.

Romanian President Klaus Iohannis said the decision reached at the Madrid summit to boost NATO troops and military equipment on the alliance’s eastern flank needs to come into force as soon as possible.

Stoltenberg reiterated NATO’s commitment to approve membership for Sweden and Finland, which would expand NATO’s eastern flank.

Stoltenberg said Russia is weaponizing winter by striking Ukraine’s critical power infrastructure and leaving civilians without power, heat or water in freezing temperatures.

“We cannot let Putin win,” Stoltenberg said. “This would show authoritarian leaders around the world that they can achieve their goals by using military force — and make the world a more dangerous place for all of us. So, it is in our own security interests to support Ukraine.

“We need to be prepared for more attacks,” the NATO chief added. “That is why NATO has stepped up its support to Ukraine with additional air defense systems, such as … drones as well as cruise and ballistic missiles.”

Meanwhile, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba welcomed his Nordic and Baltic counterparts from Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway and Sweden in Kyiv.

“The strongest message from this visit is: Ukraine needs to win this war and therefore … Western support should be stronger; more heavy weaponry without any political caveats, also including long-distance missiles,” Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu told Reuters in an interview.

Ukraine said Monday it had been forced to impose regular emergency blackouts in areas across the country after a setback in its race to repair energy infrastructure hit by Russian missile strikes.

Power units at several power stations had to conduct emergency shutdowns and the demand for electricity has been rising as snowy winter weather takes hold in the capital and elsewhere, national grid operator Ukrenergo said in a statement.

“Once the causes of the emergency shutdowns are eliminated, the units will return to operation, which will reduce the deficit in the power system and reduce the amount of restrictions for consumers,” it said.

DTEK, Ukraine’s biggest private electricity producer, said it would reduce the electricity supply by 60% for its consumers in Kyiv, where temperatures are hovering around zero degrees Celsius (32°F).

“We are doing everything possible to provide power to every customer for 2-3 hours twice a day,” DTEK’s Kyiv branch wrote on Facebook.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said late Sunday the coming week could be as difficult as the past week when Russian missile strikes caused widespread damage to the country’s electrical grid.

“We understand that the terrorists are planning new strikes. We know this for a fact,” Zelenskyy said. “And as long as they have missiles, they, unfortunately, will not calm down.”

Russian airstrikes have repeatedly struck key infrastructure targets in Ukraine, knocking out important services as the winter season looms. Russian officials have denied targeting civilians with such strikes.

Continued US support

Newly empowered U.S. Republican lawmakers set to take leadership roles in the House of Representatives in January promised Sunday that Congress would continue to support Ukraine militarily in its fight against Russia but said there would be more scrutiny of the aid before it is shipped to Kyiv’s forces.

Congressmen Michael McCaul of Texas and Mike Turner of Ohio told ABC’s “This Week” program there would be continued bipartisan Republican and Democratic support for Ukraine as Republicans assume a narrow House majority, even though some opposition from both parties has emerged.

Turner, likely the new chairperson of the House Intelligence Committee, said, “We’re going to make sure they get what they need. We will have bipartisan support.”

McCaul, the likely head of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said, “If we give them what they need, they win.”

But McCaul said there would be a difference in considering Ukraine aid from the outgoing Democratic control of the House when Republicans take over.

“The fact is, we are going to provide more oversight, transparency and accountability,” he said. “We’re not going to write a blank check.”

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

Russia Postpones Cairo Talks With US Under New START Nuclear Treaty

Russia postponed nuclear weapons talks with the United States set to take place this week in Cairo, the U.S. State Department said on Monday, with neither side giving a reason for the postponement.

Officials from the two countries were scheduled to meet in the Egyptian capital from Nov. 29 to Dec. 6 to discuss resuming inspections under the New START nuclear arms reduction treaty, which had been suspended in March 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The Russian side informed the United States that Russia has unilaterally postponed the meeting and stated that it would propose new dates,” a State Department spokesperson said in a statement.

The spokesperson said they could not provide further information, but said Washington is “ready to reschedule at the earliest possible date as resuming inspections is a priority for sustaining the treaty as an instrument of stability.”

In response to a question, the Russian foreign ministry confirmed the talks were postponed.

The New START Treaty, which came into force in 2011, caps the number of strategic nuclear warheads that the United States and Russia can deploy, and the deployment of land- and submarine-based missiles and bombers to deliver them.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov had played down expectations of a breakthrough, although the talks were a sign that both sides at least wanted to maintain dialog, even though relations are at their lowest level since the Cold War.