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Finland, Sweden on Path to NATO Membership as Turkey Drops Veto

NATO ally Turkey lifted its veto over Finland and Sweden’s bid to join the Western alliance on Tuesday after the three nations agreed to protect each other’s security, ending a weeks-long drama that tested allied unity against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The breakthrough came after four hours of talks just before a NATO summit began in Madrid, averting an embarrassing impasse at the gathering of 30 leaders that aims to show resolve against Russia, now seen by the U.S.-led alliance as a direct security threat rather than a possible adversary.

It means Helsinki and Stockholm can proceed with their application to join the nuclear-armed alliance, cementing what is set to be the biggest shift in European security in decades, as the two, long neutral Nordic countries seek NATO protection.

“Our foreign ministers signed a trilateral memorandum which confirms that Turkey will … support the invitation of Finland and Sweden to become members of NATO,” Finnish President Sauli Niinisto said in a statement.

“The concrete steps of our accession to NATO will be agreed by the NATO allies during the next two days, but that decision is now imminent,” Niinisto said.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and Turkey’s presidency confirmed the accord in separate statements, after talks between the NATO chief, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and Niinisto.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted, “Fantastic news as we kick off the NATO summit. Sweden and Finland’s membership will make our brilliant alliance stronger and safer.”

Stoltenberg said NATO’s 30 leaders would now invite Finland, which shares a 1,300 km border with Russia, and Sweden to join NATO, and that they would become official “invitees.”

“The door is open. The joining of Finland and Sweden into NATO will take place,” Stoltenberg said.

However, even with a formal invitation granted, NATO’s 30 allied parliaments must ratify the decision by leaders, a process that could take up to a year.

Terms of the deal

Turkey’s main demands, which came as a surprise to NATO allies in May, were for the Nordic countries to stop supporting Kurdish militant groups present on their territory and to lift their bans on some sales of arms to Turkey.

Stoltenberg said the terms of the deal involved Sweden intensifying work on Turkish extradition requests of suspected militants and amending Swedish and Finnish law to toughen their approach to them.

Stoltenberg said Sweden and Finland would lift their restrictions on selling weapons to Turkey.

Turkey has raised serious concerns that Sweden has been harboring what it says are militants from the banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which took up arms against the Turkish state in 1984. Stockholm denies the accusation.

The Turkish presidency statement said the four-way agreement reached on Tuesday meant “full cooperation with Turkey in the fight against the PKK and its affiliates.”

It also said Sweden and Finland were “demonstrating solidarity with Turkey in the fight against terrorism in all its forms and manifestations.”

U.S. President Joe Biden, who arrived in Madrid before a dinner with his fellow NATO leaders, did not directly address the issue in his public comments with Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and King Felipe of Spain.

But he stressed the unity of the alliance, saying NATO was “as galvanized as I believe it’s ever been.”

Biden is to have a meeting with Erdogan during the NATO summit. Erdogan said before leaving for Madrid that he would push Biden on an F-16 fighter jet purchase.

He said he would discuss with Biden the issue of Ankara’s procurement of S-400 air defense systems from Russia which led to U.S. sanctions as well as modernization kits from Washington and other bilateral issues.

The resolution of the deadlock marked a triumph for intense diplomacy as NATO allies try to seal the Nordic accession in record time as a way of solidifying their response to Russia — particularly in the Baltic Sea, where Finnish and Swedish membership would give the alliance military superiority.

In the wider Nordic region, Norway, Denmark and the three Baltic states are already NATO members. Russia’s war in Ukraine, which Moscow calls a “special military operation,” helped overturn decades of Swedish opposition to joining NATO.

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US Accuses 5 Firms in China of Supporting Russia’s Military

President Joe Biden’s administration added five companies in China to a trade blacklist on Tuesday for allegedly supporting Russia’s military and defense industrial base, flexing its muscle to enforce sanctions against Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine.

The Commerce Department, which oversees the trade blacklist, said the targeted companies had supplied items to Russian “entities of concern” before the February 24 invasion, adding that they “continue to contract to supply Russian entity listed and sanctioned parties.”

The agency also added an additional 31 entities to the blacklist from countries including Russia, UAE, Lithuania, Pakistan, Singapore, the United Kingdom, Uzbekistan and Vietnam, according to the Federal Register entry. However, of the 36 total companies added, 25 had China-based operations.

“Today’s action sends a powerful message to entities and individuals across the globe that if they seek to support Russia, the United States will cut them off as well,” Undersecretary of Commerce for Industry and Security Alan Estevez said in a statement.

The Chinese embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Three of the companies in China accused of aiding the Russian military, Connec Electronic Ltd., Hong Kong-based World Jetta, and Logistics Limited, could not be reached for comment. The other two, King Pai Technology Co., Ltd and Winninc Electronic did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Hong Kong is considered part of China for purposes of U.S. export controls since Beijing’s crackdown on the city’s autonomy.

Blacklisting of firms means their U.S. suppliers need a Commerce Department license before they can ship to them.

The United States has set out with allies to punish Russian President Vladimir Putin for the invasion, which Moscow calls a “special operation,” by sanctioning a raft of Russian companies and oligarchs and adding others to a trade blacklist. 

While U.S. officials had previously said that China was generally complying with the restrictions, Washington has vowed to closely monitor compliance and rigorously enforce the regulations.

“We will not hesitate to act, regardless of where a party is located, if they are violating U.S. law,” Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Export Administration Thea Rozman Kendler said in the same statement.

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NATO Leaders Arrive in Madrid For Crucial Summit On Countering Russia, China

NATO leaders began arriving in Madrid Tuesday for a crucial summit on the alliance’s future – dominated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the threat Moscow poses to the West. Henry Ridgwell reports from the Spanish capital.

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As Key French Terror Trial Ends, Europe Faces New Security Landscape 

One of France’s most high-profile trials in history wraps up this week amid a sharply changing security landscape across Europe, where the war in Ukraine and far-right violence have reshaped threat perceptions once dominated by Islamist extremism.

Verdicts are expected Wednesday in Paris, where 20 men stand accused of being involved in the November 2015 Islamic State attacks around the French capital in which 130 people were killed and hundreds more wounded.

Top defendant Salah Abdeslam, considered the lone surviving attacker, has captured news headlines throughout the months-long trial. He risks life without parole, France’s toughest sentence.

Since opening last September, the trial has revived memories of Islamist violence that spiraled across Europe and the Middle East a few years ago, when IS controlled a swath of Iraq and Syria, and French and other fighters were recruited to join its ranks and sow chaos at home.

But today, the IS caliphate has collapsed. Jihadi violence has dispersed, transformed and migrated to sub-Saharan Africa. Meanwhile, other security threats are on the rise in Europe, with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine marking the newest and possibly most significant change, analysts say.

“After the war on terror that has dominated the last 20 years, there is a return to the politics of great power rivalries, to the more traditional nature of international relations,” said Thomas Renard, director of the International Center for Counter-Terrorism, referring not only to a rising Russia but also China.

“That doesn’t mean terrorism is going to magically disappear,” Renard added, “but it’s going to be a lesser priority, certainly at the international level.”

Across Europe and other Western countries, terrorist attacks declined by more than two-thirds in 2021 from their peak in 2018, according to the Global Terrorism Index that was published in March by the Institute for Economics and Peace. Meanwhile, Africa’s Sahel has become the world’s latest terror hotspot, the index said.

In Europe, politically motivated attacks — driven by far-left and far-right ideologies —have eclipsed Islamist and other religiously driven attacks that once controlled the region’s terrorism landscape, the index found.

“Terrorism is becoming more centered in conflict zones, underpinned by weak governments and political instability,” IEP Executive Chairman Steve Killelea said, adding, “as [the] conflict in Ukraine dominates global attention, it is crucial that the global fight against terrorism is not sidelined.”

Bodies, haunted survivors

A few years ago, there was little chance that terrorism would be sidelined. In January 2015, Paris saw a pair of radicalized brothers and a fellow assailant gun down more than a dozen people in separate attacks targeting the satirical Charlie Hebdo newspaper and a kosher supermarket.

In November of that year, Paris experienced far worse: a bloody bombing and shooting rampage by a French-Belgian IS cell on a balmy Friday night. The extremists targeted young people packing the city’s bars, restaurants, soccer stadium and the Bataclan concert hall, leaving a trail of hundreds of bodies and haunted survivors in its wake.

With police barricading streets around Paris’ main courthouse during the lengthy trial, Abdeslam has been variously contemptuous, defiant and seemingly contrite.

He has apologized to victims, yet maintained allegiance to IS. Abdeslam claimed he chose not to detonate his explosive belt to avoid more carnage. Prosecutors argued instead that the belt malfunctioned.

Many of the 19 remaining defendants also face life sentences for playing key roles in assisting the killers in November 2015. Several have been tried in absentia.

After 2015, Europe experienced dozens of other deadly attacks. The following year saw bombings in Brussels and an attack on a Christmas market in Germany. Terrorists also mowed down pedestrians in the French Riviera city of Nice in July 2016 and on the London Bridge a year later. Among the most horrific incidents was the beheading of a French schoolteacher in a Paris suburb, in October 2020.

Today, experts and state security services worry not only about the potential threat posed by Islamists who have recently been released from European prisons or soon will be, but also other challenges.

“The threat has become more diffuse and more diverse,” Renard said. “We’re no longer confronted with a clear terrorist organization with a clear network of trained individuals. Rather, we’re dealing with a lot of loose individuals, loners, either linked to jihadi or to far-right ideology.”

Russia’s influence in Africa

Russia’s war in Ukraine is also reshaping European security priorities both at home —where the European Union has designated billions of dollars in military aid for Ukraine, and where Baltic states fear they may be next in Moscow’s crosshairs — and in Africa.

In Mali, Russia’s Wagner Group, with its reportedly close ties to the Kremlin, has edged out France and the European Union as the ruling junta’s key partner in its war on terror. Along with fighting the country’s myriad armed groups, Wagner mercenaries are allegedly waging a disinformation war against France and are blamed by rights groups for civilian atrocities.

Russia’s influence and interests extend well beyond Mali, analysts say, with Wagner a potent force in the Central African Republic, and Moscow’s influence expanding in other Sahel countries.

“The EU increasingly understands that its contest with Russia — sparked by [Russian] President Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine — is spreading to different theaters, including those in Africa,” European Council on Foreign Relations analysts Andrew Lebovich and Theodore Murphy wrote in a recent commentary.

Their warning — also signaled by France in recent months — is being echoed in other European capitals, including Madrid, ahead of this week’s NATO summit in Spain.

Meanwhile, the war in Ukraine could spin off other security threats, Renard said, pointing to the influx of foreign volunteers joining Ukraine’s side against Russia.

“If this conflict continues over time and loses international attention, you could see some of these battalions splinter and reorganize along more ideological narratives. And that could become another form of terrorist organization,” Renard said.

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Supreme Court Cases That Have Shaped American Life

Since the U.S. Supreme Court first assembled in 1790, it has ruled on tens of thousands of cases. The court’s decisions have defined the country’s legal framework and shaped countless aspects of U.S. society. Here are some cases that had a large impact on American life.

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Zelenskyy Calls for Missile Defense System Ahead of NATO Talks

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Tuesday he stressed the need for a “powerful missile defense system for Ukraine to prevent Russian terrorist attacks” in talks with NATO’s leader. 

The phone call with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg came ahead of the start of a summit of NATO leaders in Madrid where Ukraine is expected to be among the major topics of discussion. 

“At our NATO summit we will step up support for our close partner Ukraine, now and for the longer term,” Stoltenberg tweeted after speaking with Zelenskyy. “NATO allies stand with you.” 

Stoltenberg said Monday that the Western military alliance is declaring a sevenfold increase in the number of its troops on standby alert — from 40,000 to more than 300,000. 

Rescue crews in central Ukraine worked Tuesday to search for survivors at a shopping center where Russian forces carried out a missile strike on Monday, killing at least 18 people. 

Zelenskyy said there were more than 1,000 civilians inside the mall in the city of Kremenchuk at the time of the attack, which he called “calculated.” 

“This is not an accidental hit, this is a calculated Russian strike exactly onto this shopping center,” Zelenskyy said Monday in his nightly video address. He added that the strike “is one of the most daring terrorist attacks in European history.” 

Zelenskyy had said earlier on Telegram that the number of casualties is “impossible to even imagine” and said the shopping center, in a city 300 kilometers southeast of the capital, Kyiv, was “no danger to the Russian army, no strategic value.” 

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken tweeted, “The world is horrified by Russia’s missile strike today, which hit a crowded Ukrainian shopping mall — the latest in a string of atrocities. We will continue to support our Ukrainian partners and hold Russia, including those responsible for atrocities, to account.” 

U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric called the attack “deplorable” and said the U.N. Security Council would meet Tuesday at Ukraine’s request following the strike. 

Group of Seven 

The missile strike took place as the Group of Seven leading industrialized economies met in Germany’s Bavarian Alps and pledged continued support for Ukraine. 

Leaders from the group called Monday’s missile strike “abominable” and said in a joint statement, “We stand united with Ukraine in mourning the innocent victims of this brutal attack.” 

The United States and the other members of the G-7 on Monday imposed new sanctions against Russia for its four-month invasion of Ukraine. 

These include measures to cut off Moscow from materials and services needed by its industrial and technology sectors. 

The White House said the United States will commit $7.5 billion as part of a G-7 effort to help Ukraine cover its short-term budget needs, and that the governments are making “an unprecedented, long-term security commitment to providing Ukraine with financial, humanitarian, military and diplomatic support as long as it takes.” 

In a joint communique, the G-7 said, “We remain appalled by and continue to condemn the brutal, unprovoked, unjustifiable and illegal war of aggression against Ukraine by Russia and aided by Belarus. We condemn and will not recognize Russia’s continued attempts to redraw borders by force.” 

Zelenskyy addressed the conference by video link earlier Monday and requested more weapons as well as help exporting grain past Russian blockades. 

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.

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At Least 46 People Found Dead in Truck in Texas

Authorities in the southern U.S. state of Texas found 46 migrants dead inside a tractor-trailer truck Monday.

San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood told reporters another 16 people were taken to the hospital for treatment of heat-related injuries, including four children.

The truck was found next to railroad tracks in a remote area on the southern outskirts of San Antonio. High temperatures in the city topped 39 degrees Celsius (103 degrees Fahrenheit) Monday with high humidity.

San Antonio police said they could not yet say where the people inside the truck were from. Federal authorities were in charge of the investigation.

Mexican Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard tweeted that, according to the Mexican consul who went to the area, there were two Guatemalans among those taken to the hospital.

Ebrard said the trailer had U.S. license plates, and that the incident was highly likely the work of human traffickers.

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg called the situation “nothing short of a horrific human tragedy.”

“It’s tragic,” Nirenberg told reporters. “There are, that we know of, 46 individuals who are no longer with us who had families, who were likely trying to find a better life.”

In 2017, 10 migrants died after being trapped in a tractor-trailer that San Antonio police discovered in a Walmart parking lot. The driver of that truck was sentenced to life in prison for his role in the smuggling operation.

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.

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G-7 Assures Aid to Ukraine, Pain to Russia, as Russia Strikes Ukrainian Targets

Giving aid to Ukraine and pain to Vladimir Putin – those are the measures leaders of the world’s wealthiest liberal democracies zeroed in on Monday as they listened to Ukraine’s president plea for more help. VOA White House correspondent Anita Powell reports from Telfs, Austria.

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Russia Edges Toward Debt Payment Default

Russia moved closer Sunday to defaulting on international debt payments for the first time in a century. 

Interest payments totaling $100 million on two bonds were originally due May 27, but carried a 30-day grace period. 

Russia has struggled to make such payments due to restrictions on its financial activities and sanctions imposed in response to its invasion of Ukraine in February. 

Russia’s attack on Ukraine continued on Sunday, when Russian forces launched new missile attacks on Ukraine’s two biggest cities, the capital of Kyiv and Kharkiv. 

Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said at least two apartment buildings in the city were hit, leaving at least one person dead, and four others injured. 

Russia ramped up its use of cruise missiles, striking targets across northwestern Ukraine. Air raid sirens blared in several cities. 

“It’s more of their barbarism,” U.S. President Joe Biden said of the Russian strike on Kyiv as he appeared at a G-7 welcoming ceremony with Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany. 

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a key focus of the summit. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is due to address the meeting Monday. 

Biden said that the United States and the other G-7 economies will ban the import of Russian gold, the latest sanction imposed on Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine, now in its fifth month. 

The leaders of the G-7 nations — Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States — are trying to maintain unity against Russia, even with the war’s growing toll on the global economy, including in the U.S., which is confronting a four-decade high surge in consumer prices. 

The new attack on Kyiv came a day after the withdrawal of Ukrainian troops from the eastern city of Sievierodonetsk, a major victory for Russia after weeks of fierce fighting. 

Russia now controls virtually all of the Luhansk province, part of the eastern Donbas region that Moscow is trying to take over, one of its major war aims. 

Ukraine said Russian forces had fully occupied Lysychansk, a neighboring city of Sievierodonetsk, in the eastern Luhansk region. Moscow claimed it had encircled about 2,000 Ukrainian troops in the area. 

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.

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US Supreme Court Overturns 100-Year-Old Decision on New York City Gun Law

The Supreme Court recently struck down a 100-year-old law that restricted the carrying of concealed weapons in New York City. The decision eliminates the previous requirement that the gun owner must prove the need for having a concealed weapon in public for self-defense. Aron Ranen asked ordinary New Yorkers and law enforcement professionals what they think of the recent changes in the law and how will they affect public safety in America.
Produced by: Aron Ranen

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Turkey Maintains Threat to Veto Sweden, Finland from Joining NATO

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan heads to this week’s NATO summit in Madrid, threatening to veto Finland’s and Sweden’s bid to join the Atlantic alliance.

Ankara is warning it’s not ready to lift its veto threat of their NATO membership bid ahead of the alliance’s summit in Madrid on Tuesday.  

Erdogan’s chief adviser Ibrahim Kalin, speaking on Turkish TV Sunday, said Turkish demands had not been met. 

Kalin said Turkey has brought negotiations to a certain point and it is not possible for Turkish leaders to take a step back. He said Turkish diplomats told this to their counterparts and made it clear the next step is up to them.  

Erdogan wants Sweden and Finland to end their support of the Syrian Kurdish fighters of the YPG, which is linked to the PKK group that has been fighting the Turkish forces for decades, and which the Turkish government considers a terrorist organization.  

Finland and Sweden support the YPG, as do some NATO members, including the United States, in the war against the Islamic State group.  

Ankara also accuses Stockholm of giving sanctuary to people it says were responsible for the 2016 coup attempt in Turkey. Local Turkish media reported Monday the Turkish government has submitted a list of people it wants extradited from Sweden and Finland.  

Turkey’s growing list of demands is a sign that Ankara has a broader agenda, said Asli Aydintasbas, a senior fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations. 

“Turkey wanted clearly a more expanded big grand bargain with NATO. It’s not getting that,” Aydintasbas said. “Instead, it’s getting a more bilateral conversation (among) Sweden and Finland (and) Turkey, and this has been a source of frustration. Erdogan wanted President (Joe) Biden himself to come into this conversation and put some incentives on the table. This hasn’t happened.” 

Aaron Stein of the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia said despite Turkey’s potential veto, Sweden’s and Finland’s security will still be assured from any Russian threat. 

“Turkey can hold back, but they are not going to hold back the alliance. Things will move forward,” Stein said. “And let’s be clear here: The most important NATO member country is the United States. It’s the country that guarantees the security of them all. So, If the U.S. gives security to these two countries — which Joe Biden has effectively done — well, we’ve reassured in terms of what the U.S. will do: It will be to increase allied presence in Finland and Sweden.” 

Erdogan is due to hold a series of meetings at the Madrid summit aimed at resolving the impasse.  

Analyst Aydintasbas said a deal can still be reached.   

“It can drag on, or it can be resolved at the NATO summit. Depends on how (much) bigger reward NATO member states and NATO itself wants to put on the table,” Aydintasbas said. “Also depends on how much pressure there will be on Turkey. I think what Erdogan is seeking is at least visibility with NATO leaders, that he can present to the Turkish public as the global leader that has brought a big diplomatic victory for Turkey.” 

Analysts say Erdogan is falling behind in the polls and needs a boost as he faces reelection a year from now. They also say the president knows that standing up to NATO plays well with his voting base and he may want to retain leverage over his alliance partners beyond the Madrid summit.  


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US, Chinese Leaders Expected to Talk in Coming Weeks    

U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping will “engage over the course of the next few weeks” but not immediately after the G-7 summit, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Monday.    

Meanwhile, chief diplomats from the United States and China are planning meetings on the sidelines of next month’s G-20 ministerial in Bali, Indonesia, according to diplomatic sources.    

Sullivan told reporters that there is an “urgent need” for consultation among G-7 and NATO members to address challenges that China poses, while seeking “alignment among the world’s leading market democracies to deal with some of those challenges. In particular, China’s nonmarket economic practices, its approach to debt and its approach to human rights.” 

Leaders from NATO countries will meet in Madrid later this week. U.S. officials and analysts say discussing approaches to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is high on the agenda, as NATO is expected this year to certify its new Strategic Concept, the organization’s most important working document after the North Atlantic Treaty of 1949. The last Strategic Concept was agreed to in 2010.   

The NATO Strategic Concept “will speak in ways that are unprecedented about the challenge that China poses,” Sullivan said Monday, adding that the competition between the U.S. and China “does not mean confrontation or conflict,” a notion that China has rejected.     

“China firmly opposes the definition of China-U.S. relations by competition,” top Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi said during his latest meeting with Sullivan in Luxembourg June 13. Yang reiterated that China has been seeking a bilateral relationship with the U.S. based on “mutual respect, peaceful coexistence and win-win cooperation.”  

The planned in-person meeting between U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi next month during the G-20 ministerial would come as Russia ramps up its offensive in Ukraine.   

Senior U.S. officials have questioned China’s alleged “neutrality” after Russia invaded Ukraine.   

In May, China imported about 8.42 million tons of crude oil from Russia, according to Chinese customs data — a 55% increase from a year ago. Russia has overtaken Saudi Arabia to become China’s top oil provider, as the U.S. and other western countries continue to sanction Moscow’s energy exports.   

“There’s disappointment that the rhetoric from Beijing hasn’t been what one would have hoped. But I also don’t know that we’ve seen the type of material support that would actually bolster the physical effort by the Russian government to crush Ukraine,” U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan told VOA last week. 


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WNBA Star Brittney Griner Ordered to Trial Friday in Russia

Shackled and looking wary, WNBA star Brittney Griner was ordered to stand trial Friday by a court near Moscow on cannabis possession charges, about 4 1/2 months after her arrest at an airport while returning to play for a Russian team. 

The Phoenix Mercury center and two-time U.S. Olympic gold medalist also was ordered to remain in custody for the duration of her criminal trial. Griner could face 10 years in prison if convicted on charges of large-scale transportation of drugs. Fewer than 1% of defendants in Russian criminal cases are acquitted, and unlike in the U.S., acquittals can be overturned. 

At Monday’s closed-door preliminary hearing at the court in the Moscow suburb of Khimki, Griner’s detention was extended for another six months. Photos obtained by The Associated Press showed the 31-year-old in handcuffs and looking straight ahead, unlike a previous court appearance where she kept her head down and covered with a hood. 

Her detention and trial come at an extraordinarily low point in Moscow-Washington relations. She was arrested at Sheremetyevo Airport less than a week before Russia sent troops into Ukraine, which aggravated already-high tensions with sweeping sanctions by the United States and Russia’s denunciation of U.S. weapon supplies to Ukraine. 

Amid the tensions, Griner’s supporters had taken a low profile in hopes of a quiet resolution, until May, when the State Department reclassified her as wrongfully detained and shifted oversight of her case to its special presidential envoy for hostage affairs — effectively the U.S. government’s chief negotiator. 

Griner’s wife, Cherelle, urged President Joe Biden in May to secure her release, calling her “a political pawn.” 

Her supporters have encouraged a prisoner swap like the one in April that brought home Marine veteran Trevor Reed in exchange for a Russian pilot convicted of drug trafficking conspiracy. 

Russian news media have repeatedly raised speculation that she could be swapped for Russian arms trader Viktor Bout, nicknamed “The Merchant of Death,” who is serving a 25-year sentence on conviction of conspiracy to kill U.S. citizens and providing aid to a terrorist organization. 

Russia has agitated for Bout’s release for years. But the discrepancy between Griner’s case — she allegedly was found in possession of vape cartridges containing cannabis oil — and Bout’s global dealings in deadly weapons could make such a swap unpalatable to the U.S. 

Others have suggested that she could be traded in tandem with Paul Whelan, a former Marine and security director serving a 16-year sentence on an espionage conviction that the United States has repeatedly described as a set-up. 

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, asked Sunday on CNN whether a joint swap of Griner and Whelan for Bout was being considered, sidestepped the question. 

“As a general proposition … I have got no higher priority than making sure that Americans who are being illegally detained in one way or another around the world come home,” he said. But “I can’t comment in any detail on what we’re doing, except to say this is an absolute priority.” 

Any swap would apparently require Griner to first be convicted and sentenced, then apply for a presidential pardon, Maria Yarmush, a lawyer specializing in international civil affairs, told Kremlin-funded TV channel RT. 

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Avalanche Defeat Lightning to Win Stanley Cup

The Colorado Avalanche defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-1 Sunday night to win the National Hockey League’s Stanley Cup. 

The Avalanche won the best-of-7 series four games to two, denying the Lighting in their quest to become the first team to win three consecutive NHL championships since the New York Islanders in the early 1980s. 

Tampa Bay star Steven Stamkos gave the lightning an early 1-0 lead with a first period goal. 

But the Avalanche responded in the second period, with center Nathan MacKinnon evening the game 1-1 less than two minutes into the period. 

Colorado winger Artturi Lehkonen put the Avalanche ahead 2-1 midway through period, the score that would hold as they defeated Tampa Bay on their home ice. 

Colorado defenseman Cale Makar won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player during the playoffs.

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Action Needed on Austin Tice, Says Family of US Journalist Missing in Syria

American journalist Austin Tice has been missing in Syria for 10 years. His family from Texas advocates tirelessly to bring him home. VOA’s Sirwan Kajjo has more.

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G-7 Heightening Russia Sanctions for Ukraine War

The United States announced Monday new sanctions it and other G-7 countries are enacting against Russia in response to its war in Ukraine, including measures to cut off Russia from materials and services needed by Russia’s industrial and technology sectors. 

The White House said the United States will commit $7.5 billion as part of a G-7 effort to help Ukraine cover its short-term budget needs, and that the governments are making “an unprecedented, long-term security commitment to providing Ukraine with financial, humanitarian, military and diplomatic support as long as it takes.” 

The announcement came as G-7 leaders met in Germany where they awaited an address by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. 

Additional specific U.S. sanctions include blocks on Russian state-owned defense enterprises and defense research organizations, limiting Russia’s ability to replenish equipment it has lost in the war, and prohibitions on gold imports into the United States. 

Russian troops carried out shelling in the eastern city of Lysychansk on Monday, working to try to capture the last remaining Ukrainian stronghold in Luhansk province after seizing control of neighboring Sievierodonetsk. 

Luhansk Governor Serhiy Haidai said the damage to Lysychansk has be “catastrophic.” 

Haidai urged the remaining civilians to evacuate the city that was home to 100,000 people before Russia launched its invasion in late February. 

Russia now controls virtually all of Luhansk province, part of the eastern Donbas region that Moscow is trying to take over, one of its major war aims. 

Russian forces on Sunday launched new missile attacks against Ukraine’s two biggest cities, the capital of Kyiv and Kharkiv. 

Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said at least two apartment buildings in the city were hit, leaving at least one person dead, and four others injured. 

Russia ramped up its use of cruise missiles, striking targets across northwestern Ukraine. Air raid sirens blared in several cities. 

“It’s more of their barbarism,” U.S. President Joe Biden said of the Russian strike on Kyiv. 


Russia moved closer Sunday to defaulting on international debt payments for the first time in a century. 

Interest payments totaling $100 million on two bonds were originally due May 27, but carried a 30-day grace period. 

Russia has struggled to make such payments due to restrictions on its financial activities related to sanctions imposed in response to its invasion of Ukraine that began in late February. 

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.

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Ukraine War Could Boost Illegal Drug Production, says UN

The war in Ukraine could allow illegal drug production to flourish, while the opium market’s future hinges on the fate of crisis-wracked Afghanistan, the United Nations warned Monday. 

Previous experience from the Middle East and Southeast Asia suggests conflict zones can act as a “magnet” for making synthetic drugs, which can be manufactured anywhere, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said in its annual report. “This effect may be greater when the conflict area is near large consumer markets.” 

The UNODC said the number of dismantled amphetamine laboratories in Ukraine rose from 17 in 2019 to 79 in 2020, the highest number of seized laboratories reported in any country in 2020. 

Ukraine’s capacity to produce synthetic drugs could grow as the war continues, it added. 

“You don’t have police going around and stopping laboratories” in conflict zones, UNODC expert Angela Me told AFP. 

The report also noted that conflict could shift and disrupt drug trafficking routes, with suggestions that trafficking in Ukraine has fallen since early 2022. 

The situation in Afghanistan — which produced 86% of the world’s opium in 2021 — will shape the development of the opiate market, the U.N. report added. 

It said the country’s humanitarian crisis could incentivize illegal opium poppy cultivation, even after the Taliban authorities banned the practice in April. 

“Changes in opium production in Afghanistan will have implications for opiate markets in virtually all regions of the world,” the U.N. said. 

An estimated 284 million people used a drug in 2021, or one in every 18 people worldwide aged between 15 and 64, the report found. 

The figure was 26% higher than in 2010, with population growth only partially accounting for the change. 

Cocaine production climbed to a new record in 2020 at 1,982 tons. 

Although most drug consumers were men, Me said women heavily used amphetamine type stimulants and were under-represented in treatment. 

“For them, it’s a double stigma. Going there is also to expose themselves,” she told AFP. “We have put a recommendation on safety and how to ensure that the centers have the possibility to welcome children.” 

The UNODC report was based on information gathered from member states, its own sources, and analyzing institutional reports, the media and open-source material.

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Erdogan to Meet With Leaders of Sweden, Finland Before NATO Summit in 4-Way Talks

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan will attend a round of talks with the leaders of Sweden and Finland, as well as NATO on Tuesday ahead of the summit in Madrid, Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said Sunday.

Finland and Sweden applied for NATO membership in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But the bids have faced opposition from Turkey, which has been angered by what it says is Helsinki and Stockholm’s support for Kurdish militants and arms embargoes on Ankara.

Speaking to broadcaster Haberturk, Kalin said he and Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Onal would also attend a round of talks with Swedish and Finnish delegations in Brussels on Monday.

“There will be a four-way summit in Madrid at the leader level in Madrid upon the request of the NATO secretary-general with the attendance of our president,” he said.

Kalin said Erdogan attending the talks with Sweden, Finland and NATO on Tuesday “does not mean we will take a step back from our position.”

“We have brought negotiations to a certain point. It is not possible for us to take a step back here,” he also said of the upcoming talks.

Kalin said Turkey and the Nordic countries had largely agreed on issues and would be in a better position in Madrid— if they could agree on them during talks Monday.

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G-7 Summit to Address Global Threats

U.S. President Joe Biden comes to the Group of Seven summit with the war in Ukraine showing no signs of stopping and China’s ambition spreading. The White House says they are committed to countering these issues. VOA White House correspondent Anita Powell reports from Telfs, Austria.