Biden Urges Putin to De-escalate Ukraine Tensions

U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday “urged Russia to de-escalate tensions with Ukraine” in a 50-minute call with his Russian counterpart, the White House said. A senior administration official added that President Vladimir Putin made no concrete promises about the tens of thousands of Russian troops massed along the Ukrainian border.

Biden “made clear that the United States and its allies and partners will respond decisively if Russia further invades Ukraine,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement.

A top Kremlin official told journalists that during the call, Biden again warned Putin that the U.S. and its allies would exert serious economic sanctions if Russia invaded Ukraine. Putin responded with a warning of his own: Such a move could lead to a complete rupture in U.S.-Russia relations.

Psaki added that the two nations would participate in three separate rounds of talks next month: first through bilateral talks scheduled to start January 10, and then through two sets of multiparty talks with the NATO-Russia Council and at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

“President Biden reiterated that substantive progress in these dialogues can occur only in an environment of de-escalation rather than escalation,” she added.

For months now, Putin has built up troops along the Russia-Ukraine border. U.S. intelligence officials have estimated, from looking at satellite photos, that as many as 100,000 troops are in the area. Meanwhile, Ukraine has been building up its own defenses on its side of the border.

For years, the former Soviet state has been seeking entry into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, alongside the U.S. and other Western nations. Russia strongly opposes that move.

Kremlin pleased

Putin foreign policy adviser Yuri Ushakov said the Kremlin was pleased with the talks, but he also said that Putin pushed Biden for concrete results from the upcoming security talks. Russia’s demands include that NATO deny membership to Ukraine and that the security alliance reduce its deployments in Central and Eastern Europe. White House officials have declined to discuss their terms publicly.

This was the second time this month that the two men had held direct talks. According to Leon Aron, an analyst with the American Enterprise Institute, it was the eighth time that the U.S. and Russian leaders have met in one year. That, he said, is “a record in the entire history of U.S.-Russian and U.S.-Soviet relations.”

Biden administration officials said that the two had a “serious and substantive” discussion. But a senior administration official said that Putin made “no declarations as to intentions.” The two presidents will not participate in the high-level talks set for January 10 in Geneva.

Although analysts seem to doubt Putin will invade Ukraine, they worry that tens of thousands of battle-ready troops in the region could accidentally or intentionally spark a war.

“If he is bluffing, then it is a very serious bluff, which entails particular risks to Putin, because he has to make sure that 100,000 troops-plus are occupied and ready – but not taking the initiative themselves before an order is given,” said Will Pomeranz, deputy director of the Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute. ”So I think that it is just simply a situation that is fraught with peril on both sides.”

The White House has said repeatedly that there will be “significant consequences” if Russia invades, including harsh economic sanctions and increased security support for Ukraine. Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, tweeted Wednesday that U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken vowed “full [U.S.] support for [Ukraine] in countering Russian aggression.”

A compromise?

“Both presidents essentially have their backs against the wall,” Aron told VOA. “Putin’s ultimatum is no more expansion of NATO, withdrawal of NATO troops from the Baltics and, most importantly, a promise to never have Ukraine inside NATO. In essence, on all those three, Biden said, ‘No.’ So the question is: Will they arrive at some sort of compromise?” 

And like many analysts, he postulated that Putin is posturing, projecting strength ahead of key elections in two years.

“Putin successfully creates a sense of emergency, if you notice the language is almost the same: He’s about to start a war, he’s about to invade Ukraine,” he said. “And apparently, the White House goes for it. I wouldn’t, because, I wrote, and I also spoke about this, Putin is not going to invade Ukraine at this time. He’s playing to his domestic audience. And all of this is a part of the game that Putin is playing, and I think will continue to play at least until his elections in 2024.”

Some information for this report came from Agence France-Presse.

Biden, Putin Address Ukraine Tensions in High-Stakes Phone Call

For the second time in a month, US President Joe Biden has spoken directly to his Russian counterpart and urged him to de-escalate, as President Vladimir Putin continues to amass soldiers near the border with Ukraine. But administration officials said Putin provided no assurances of his intentions. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Washington.

Russia’s ‘Gas Pivot’ to China Poses Challenge for Europe

Gazprom, Russia’s giant state-owned energy company, is slated to finalize an agreement in 2022 for a second huge natural gas pipeline running from Siberia to China, marking yet another stage in what energy analysts and Western diplomats say is a fast-evolving gas pivot to Asia by Moscow.

They see the pivot as a geopolitical project and one that could mean trouble for Europe.

Known as Power of Siberia 2, the mega-pipeline traversing Mongolia will be able to deliver 50 billion cubic meters of Russian gas to China annually. It was given the go-ahead in March by Russian President Vladimir Putin, and when finished it will complement another massive pipeline, Power of Siberia 1, that transports gas from Russia’s Chayandinskoye field to northern China.

Power of Siberia 2 will supply gas from Siberia’s Yamal Peninsula, the source of the gas exported to Europe. Western officials worry that the project could have serious geopolitical implications for energy-hungry European nations before they embark in earnest on a long transition to renewables and away from fossil fuels.

For months Western leaders and officials have been accusing Russia of worsening an energy crunch that’s hit Europe this year and threatens to deepen during the northern hemisphere winter. Gazprom has shrugged off urgent European requests for more natural gas. In the past few weeks Gazprom has at times even reduced exports, say industry monitors.

The energy giant maintains it has been meeting the volumes of gas it agreed to in contracts, but Gazprom has been accused by the International Energy Agency and European lawmakers of deliberately not doing enough to boost supplies to Europe as the continent struggles with unprecedented price hikes and the increasing risk of power rationing and plant stoppages.

The new Sino-Russian energy project, which Putin discussed with his Chinese counterpart, President Xi Jinping, during a December 18 video conference, will give Moscow even more leverage when price bargaining with Europe and boost China as an alternative market for gas, according to Filip Medunic, an analyst with the European Council on Foreign Relations.

“Russia remains Europe’s main gas supplier, but Europeans urgently need to understand the changes it is currently making to its energy transport infrastructure—as these changes could leave Europe even more at Moscow’s mercy,” he outlined in a study earlier this year.

Speaking after his conference call with Xi Jinping, the Russian president told reporters that the pipeline’s route, length and other parameters have been agreed to, and a feasibility study will be completed in the next several weeks.

The Kremlin has been eager to expand its energy market in China, which will need more gas in coming years to substitute for an eventual phasing down of coal, according to Vita Spivak, an energy analyst at Control Risks, a global consulting firm. Spivak told a discussion forum earlier this month that Kremlin officials are anxious to “exploit the opportunity” especially “considering there is a good working relationship between the two capitals.”

The Power of Siberia 2 pipeline has been championed by Putin, she said.

McKinsey, the strategic management consulting firm, estimates Chinese demand for gas will double by 2035. That will be a godsend for Russia. European governments are already setting out plans on how to transform their energy markets—how they will generate, import and distribute energy and shift to renewables and, in some cases, nuclear power. Russia needs to diversify into Asia to prolong its profits from its vast natural gas resources as Europe slowly weans itself off Gazprom supplies.

But Europe will remain dependent on Russian gas in the near future and Moscow has been busy re-ordering its complex network of pipelines, shaping them for wider economic and political purposes, say energy and national security analysts. Currently it supplies Europe through several pipelines—Nord Stream I, TurkStream and another from Yamal that terminates in Germany after transiting Belarus and Poland.

And it has just completed the controversial Nord Stream 2 underwater pipeline, which connects Russia to Germany via the Baltic Sea, circumventing older land routes through Ukraine. Nord Stream 2 has yet to receive final approval by German authorities.

Washington has long warned of the risk of Nord Stream 2 making the EU in the short term even more dependent for its energy needs on Russia and potentially vulnerable to economic coercion by the Kremlin. The planned Power of Siberia 2 pipeline will be able to pump into China around the same amount that Nord Stream 2 would be able to transport to Europe, giving the Kremlin more options about who gets the gas and at what price.

A senior European diplomat told VOA that Gazprom’s refusal to come up with additional supplies during the current energy crunch already “demonstrates Russia’s questionable motives about how ready it is to use the energy market for purely political purposes.” He added, “As it diversifies to China, it will give the Kremlin more opportunities to turn off and on supplies to Europe but reduce considerably any financial risks for Russia.”

Iran Says Rocket Launch Sent 3 ‘Research Payloads’ Into Space 

Iran has used a satellite launch rocket to send three research devices into space, a Defense Ministry spokesman said on Thursday, as indirect U.S.-Iran talks take place in Austria to try to salvage a 2015 nuclear deal. 

He did not clarify whether the devices had reached orbit. 

Iran, which has one of the biggest missile programs in the Middle East, has suffered several failed satellite launches in the past few years due to technical issues. 

Spokesman Ahmad Hosseini said the Simorgh satellite carrier rocket, whose name translates as “Phoenix”, had launched the three research devices at an altitude of 470 kilometers (290 miles). He did not give further details. 

“The intended research objectives of this launch were achieved,” Hosseini said, in comments broadcast on state television. “This was done as a preliminary launch … God willing, we will have an operational launch soon.” 

Iranian state television showed footage of what it said was the firing of the launch vehicle. 

Thursday’s reported space launch comes as Tehran and Washington hold indirect talks in Vienna in an attempt to salvage a nuclear accord that Iran reached with world powers and that former U.S. president Donald Trump abandoned in 2018. 

The United States imposed sanctions on Iran’s civilian space agency and two research organizations in 2019, claiming they were being used to advance Tehran’s ballistic missile program. 

Tehran denies such activity is a cover for ballistic missile development. 

Iran launched its first satellite Omid (Hope) in 2009 and its Rasad (Observation) satellite was also sent into orbit in June 2011. Tehran said in 2012 that it had successfully put its third domestically-made satellite, Navid (Promise), into orbit. 

In April 2020, Iran said it successfully launched the country’s first military satellite into orbit, following repeated failed launch attempts in the previous months. 

Cold War Resentment Has Been Building for Decades in Kremlin

A few days after Vladimir Putin was reelected his country’s president in 2018, a former top Kremlin official outlined to VOA how perilous relations had become between the West and Russia. In a wide-ranging conversation, almost foretelling the high-stakes clash developing now between the Kremlin and NATO over Ukraine, he said Putin believed the fracture between Russia and Western powers was irreparable. 

And he identified NATO’s eastward expansion as the key reason. The final blow came for Putin, he said, with the 2013-14 popular Maidan uprising in Ukraine that led to the ouster of his ally, then Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovych.

The Kremlin insider, who occupied a senior position in former Russian President Boris Yeltsin’s government and went on to become a core member of Putin’s team, blamed the West for a collapse of trust and the lack of common ground. “Maybe all that can be done is to do smaller things together to try to recreate trust,” he said. “If we can’t do that, maybe we will wake up one day and someone will have launched nuclear missiles.”

Fast forward and Kremlin officials have been openly threatening in recent days to deploy tactical nuclear weapons amid rising fears that Putin is considering a further military incursion into Ukraine. This would be a repeat of Russia’s 2014 annexation of the Crimean Peninsula and its seizure of a large part of the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine, bordering Russia.

“There will be confrontation,” Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said shortly after U.S. President Joe Biden and Putin held a two-hour video conference Dec. 18, aimed at defusing a burgeoning crisis over Russian military movements near Ukraine’s borders and an amassing of around 100,000 troops.

Ryabkov warned that Russia would deploy weapons previously banned under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, an arms control deal struck in 1987 by then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev, which expired in 2019.

Last week, in remarks broadcast by Russian media, Putin said, “If the obviously aggressive line of our Western colleagues continues, we will take adequate, retaliatory military-technical measures [and] react toughly to unfriendly steps.”

For Western leaders and officials, the Kremlin’s grievances and fears over NATO’s expansion are delusional at best, or at worst a pretext to redraft the security architecture of Europe with Putin as the deciding architect.  

Western officials say it is nonsensical for Russia to paint the West as the aggressor, considering the hybrid warfare and hostile acts they accuse the Kremlin of conducting against the West for years. They see these as revanchist steps seeking to turn the clock back to when Russia controlled half of Europe.

Western officials cite cyber-attacks targeting American and European nuclear power plants and other utility infrastructure, a nerve gas assassination on British soil of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal, disinformation campaigns seeking to meddle in Western elections and politics and the funding of disruptive far-right and far-left populist parties as part of an effort to destabilize the European Union.

“Facts are a funny thing and facts make clear that the only aggression we are seeing at the border of Russia and Ukraine is the military build-up by the Russians and the bellicose rhetoric by the leader of Russia,” Jen Psaki, U.S. President Joe Biden’s spokeswoman, told reporters last week.

But for Kremlin officials, the blame rests with the Western powers for their failure to heed the building Russian frustration over NATO’s enlargement since the end of the Cold War. There have been waves of new admissions to the Western military alliance since 1999, bringing in a dozen central European and Baltic states that were once members of the Soviet Union’s Warsaw Pact.

At times as the enlargement proceeded, ugly behind-the-scenes clashes erupted, notably over Western objections to Russia “establishing closer ties” with its former Soviet republics. The issue triggered a face-to-face argument between Putin and then-White House National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice during a meeting in Sochi. Rice maintained that the former Soviet republics were independent states and should determine their future without what she saw as Russian intimidation.

And Kremlin aides have been adamant that the Maidan protests were Western-fomented and not a popular uprising. The blaming of the West for the return of Cold War-like enmity, and the sense of pessimism Russian officials have been displaying about East-West relations, illustrates how difficult it will be to bridge the rift.

Putin’s pent-up resentment spilled out last week at his end-of-the-year press conference in Moscow during which he demanded an immediate answer to his demand that NATO withdraw its forces from central and eastern Europe. The Russian leader said he was running out of patience. “You must provide guarantees. You must do that at once, now, and not keep blathering on about this for talks that will last decades,” he said.

His demands include not only troop withdrawals from former communist states that are members of NATO but a promise that Ukraine will not one day become a member of the Western alliance. In effect, it would mean the West recognizes former Soviet states and ex-communist countries as part of the Kremlin’s sphere of influence.

Nina Khrushcheva, a professor at The New School in New York, remains pessimistic about the prospects for planned talks next month among the United States, NATO and Russia. In a commentary this week, Khrushcheva, a great-granddaughter of former Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, says Russia has a “special-nation” mindset and warns Putin isn’t alone among Russians who “want not to revive the USSR, but rather to preserve their country’s status.”

How that can be done, how Russian Cold War resentment can be soothed, while at the same time not denying the rights of other, smaller sovereign states to decide their own paths, will be the key challenge facing Western negotiators when they hold talks in January.

Biden, Putin to Hold Call Over Stepped Up Security Demands

President Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin will speak Thursday as the Russian leader has stepped up his demands for security guarantees in Eastern Europe.

The two leaders will discuss “a range of topics, including upcoming diplomatic engagements,” National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne said in a statement announcing the call.

The talks come as the U.S. and Western allies have watched the buildup of Russian troops near the border of Ukraine, growing to an estimated 100,000 and fueling fears that Moscow is preparing to invade Ukraine.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke on Wednesday with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said Blinken “reiterated the United States’ unwavering support for Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity in the face of Russia’s military buildup on Ukraine’s borders.”

Price said the two discussed efforts to peacefully resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine and upcoming diplomatic engagements with Russia.

Putin said earlier this week he would ponder a slew of options if the West fails to meet his push for security guarantees precluding NATO’s expansion to Ukraine.

Earlier this month, Moscow submitted draft security documents demanding that NATO deny membership to Ukraine and other former Soviet countries and roll back its military deployments in Central and Eastern Europe.

9 Serbs Indicted for Killing Around 100 Muslims During Bosnian War 

A Bosnian war crimes prosecutor has indicted nine Bosnian Serbs for the killing of around 100 Muslim Bosniaks, including seven entire families, early in the 1992-95 war, the prosecutor’s office said in a statement on Wednesday. 

Twenty-six years after the end of its devastating war between Orthodox Serbs, Catholic Croats and Muslim Bosniaks in which about 100,000 people had died, Bosnia is still searching for people who went missing and seeking justice against the suspected perpetrators. 

At the same time, the Balkan country is going through its worst post-war political crisis, with Bosnian Serb leaders’ threat of pulling out of Bosnia’s national institutions, including the joint armed forces, raising fears of a new conflict. 

The nine men, the former members and commanders of the Bosnian Serb wartime army, are accused of killing the Bosniak civilians from the area around the southeastern Bosnian town of Nevesinje, including dozens of women, elderly people and small children. 

The prosecutor’s office said seven families were among those killed in the summer of 1992. The remains of 49 people have been found while 47 people are still unaccounted for. 

Bosnia’s state court will need to confirm the indictment for the case to proceed. 

In Russia, State Is Waging Hybrid War Against Media, Nobel Laureate Says

In his Nobel speech, Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov described journalism as the “antidote to tyranny.” 

The editor-in-chief of Novaya Gazeta and his staff face frequent threats because of the independent paper’s investigative, hard-hitting coverage. Several of its journalists and contributors have been killed, including Anna Politkovskaya, who reported on human rights abuses in Chechnya.

A memorial to Politkovskaya was vandalized in December, just a few days after Muratov and Philippine journalist Maria Ressa were handed the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo.

In an exclusive interview with VOA’s Russian Service, Muratov spoke about the struggle to defend and uphold media freedom in Russia and how the threat of violence and legal action affects reporting.

This interview has been translated from Russian and edited for length and clarity. 

Question: In your Nobel speech, you called journalism an antidote to tyranny. But in Russia, 15 years of freedom after the end of the Soviet Union have given way to censorship, persecution and killings, and a rollback of civil liberties and democracy. Why is this antidote not working in Russia?

Dmitry Muratov: Society allowed it, the country allowed it, the people allowed it. I reread a book by American researcher Olga Velikanova about the (Soviet) constitution of 1936. This constitution, “Stalin’s constitution,” was unique in its set of freedoms: equal voting rights, no more persecution of “kulaks” (wealthy members of the peasant class). It was considered the most progressive European constitution.

Stalin submitted it (nationwide) for discussion — but hundreds of thousands of letters poured in, saying, “We don’t want your freedoms. We don’t want those put in labor camps to come back. They may claim their property, but now it’s ours. Why do you give voting rights to collective farmers?”

I agree with Velikanova when she says that Stalin (soon) realized that people were ready for nonfreedom, for repression.

It seems to me that in many ways this story is happening again, of people not being ready to take responsibility for themselves. If that’s the case, then they are not ready to resume responsibility for this basic value of freedom of speech.

Question: Do you think that people are deterred from demanding change because of an awareness of what may happen if they do? 

Muratov: I would divide this question into two parts.

In the last century (the Soviet Union and Communism) lost about 100 million people. So how can we judge the country after that? Every family was orphaned in some way, everyone lost someone. Yet the only thing left that people could rely on was the state (even when it was responsible for their loss.) 

The second part of the question is more complicated. There was a moment in the 1990s when it seemed like we had freedom. Where did it all go? 

I don’t have an answer to that question. But for the first time in our history, money became an issue. Under socialism, everyone earned roughly the same, from 114 to 350 rubles. Members of the Politburo received 520.

Now you have to pay the mortgage, otherwise the family can be evicted. Largely, in my country, money did not come to mean personal freedom, the freedom to choose. Rather it meant dependence, dependence on the state. 

I’m not willing to condemn people … for not prioritizing freedom of speech, because for them, the freedom to feed their family is the priority. 

Question: What support do Russian journalists need from colleagues, from human rights activists, or even foreign countries?

Muratov: Readers’ support is very important. Nobody in the parliament represents the people. Only the authorities are represented. Therefore, the media have become a kind of parliament for readers by representing the interests of the people.

Ten years ago, a wonderful slogan was left at Bolotnaya Square (in Moscow). I wish I could give an award to the author of this slogan.

It read “Вы нас даже не представляете,” which translates as “You do not even represent us” or “You are incapable of envisioning who we are.”

(Editor’s note: the Russian word “представляете” has multiple meanings including “represent” and “envision,” which gives the slogan a double meaning.)

The Duma (parliament) still does not represent the people, but the media do. The media are a parliament of readers, and this is the most important thing.

In the past two and a half months alone, more than a hundred people have been declared a “foreign agent.” Let’s not pretend that is not the same as “enemy of the people.” Yes, in the Stalinist connotation — and in Russia it is the Stalinist connotation that is back in circulation right now — a “foreign agent” is an “enemy of the people.”

I am grateful to countries that have taken up the noble mission of taking in our journalists, human rights defenders, leaders of nongovernmental organizations.

Those countries have given us the opportunity to live and work, and to preserve the dignity of our professional journalists. 

Question: Does foreign support increase the risk that a journalist in Russia will be designated as a “foreign agent”? 

Muratov: The current financial monitoring system, which exists not only in our country but also in other countries, can see every penny from a foreign source. The safety of journalists depends on support, but if that support comes in the form of a dollar or a ruble, it certainly increases risks.

Those risks pose a huge threat to journalists, so I think that those countries we call democratic should think about how they can help and do no harm in the process. 

Question: Some people criticized your Nobel speech for not mentioning the Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin and Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, who harassed Novaya Gazeta. Some said that mentions of President Vladimir Putin were not critical enough. What is your response?

Muratov: You know, I don’t follow social media much. I run a professional media outlet. But I understand those people who criticized me, because they were forced to leave their country, otherwise they would have been imprisoned, arrested.

I can have my own opinion about Leonid Volkov (chief of staff for jailed opposition leader Alexey Navalny), but I also understand perfectly well that if he had stayed, he would have been put in jail. How can I judge him, or (Navalny team members and supporters) Lyubov Sobol, for example, or Georgy Alburov? They’ve been pushed out of the country. 

They have a high pain threshold, and they believe that there needs to be a different degree of outrage about what led to Navalny being a hostage in prison for over 300 days. Navalny has become a political prisoner based on false charges.

So at first I thought, “Are you stupid or something, don’t you get it?” and then I thought, “Maybe it’s me who doesn’t get something.”

If someone is disappointed (by my speech), I certainly will not apologize, I have nothing to apologize for. But next time, I promise to consider their feedback. 

Question: What is more dangerous for journalists in Russia: direct violence or repressive laws? 

Muratov: (There is) a hybrid war of the state against the media. It is a hybrid war waged by different people who consider themselves representatives of the state. The nature of hybrid war is such that you can be killed and not even know who did it.

However, if we are talking about which threat is greater for a journalist, the law or violence, the threat of physical violence, as usual, is greater.

(Vandals) desecrated the plaque to Politkovskaya on our building. Before that, they poured toxic liquid everywhere and made it impossible to work for a week. During a parade of Kadyrov’s troops (in Chechnya) they said that Putin should close (Novaya Gazeta) or they’ll take matters into their own hands.

We’ve been sent powders and a severed pig’s head, with an SS Nazi dagger stuck in it. By the way, I still have not found out who tortured the poor pig.

Then they sent us sheep. Ten sheep in a cage, to be exact, delivered near the entrance to the office. We saved the sheep, we gave them to a farm, and they are thriving. They thrive, as do the knuckleheads who wage a hybrid war against us, because they think they captured the state’s frame of mind. 

Question: The Russian Constitution prohibits censorship. Could journalists appeal in court against what they consider censorship and win? 

Muratov: Journalists cannot win in a Russian court. They can win in the European Court of Human Rights; we win all the time. But we always lose in Russian courts. That’s how things are now. We don’t need to pretend otherwise.

We have created a caste state, a corporate state. The ruling caste lives by one set of laws, while the rest of the people live by another. We live by the laws they made for us. Under these laws, we can’t do anything, can’t work, can’t fully perform our duties as journalists. 

This article originated in VOA’s Russian Service.


Andrew’s Lawyers Say Accuser Can’t Sue Because She Doesn’t Live in US

In a court filing Tuesday, lawyers for Prince Andrew say a lawsuit by an American who claims he sexually abused her when she was 17 might have to be thrown out because she no longer lives in the United States. 

Attorneys Andrew Brettler and Melissa Lerner said they recently discovered that Virginia Giuffre has lived in Australia all but two of the last 19 years and cannot claim she’s a resident of Colorado, where she hasn’t lived since at least 2019. 

In an August lawsuit filed in federal court in New York, Giuffre claimed the prince abused her on multiple occasions in 2001. 

The prince’s lawyers in October asked Judge Lewis A. Kaplan to throw out the lawsuit, saying the prince “never sexually abused or assaulted” Giuffre. The lawyers acknowledged that Giuffre may well be a victim of sexual abuse by financier Jeffrey Epstein, who killed himself in 2019 while awaiting a sex trafficking trial. 

A message seeking comment from Giuffre to the latest filing by the prince’s lawyers was sent to a spokesperson for her lawyers. 

Last month, Kaplan said a trial in Giuffre’s lawsuit against the prince could be held between September and December 2022. 

But the prince’s lawyers say the new information about Giuffre’s residence should result in the suspension of any progress in the lawsuit toward trial, including depositions of Andrew and Giuffre, until the issue is settled as to whether her foreign residence disqualifies her from suing the prince in the U.S. 

They asked the judge to order Giuffre to respond to written legal requests about her residency and submit to a two-hour deposition on the issue. 

The lawyers wrote that Giuffre has an Australian driver’s license and was living in a $1.9 million home in Perth, Western Australia, where she has been raising three children with her husband, who is Australian. 

“Even if Ms. Giuffre’s Australian domicile could not be established as early as October 2015, there can be no real dispute that she was permanently living there with an intent to remain there as of 2019 — still two years before she filed this action against Prince Andrew,” the lawyers wrote. 

The Associated Press does not typically identify people who say they are victims of sexual assault unless they choose to come forward publicly, as Giuffre has. 

State Department Calls for Release of Two Americans Held in Russia

The U.S. State Department called Tuesday for Russia to release Paul Whelan, who was detained by Russian authorities three years ago. 

Whelan, 51, was in Russia as a tourist and was arrested at a Moscow hotel. He was convicted of espionage charges and is currently serving a 16-year sentence of hard labor at a prison camp in Mordovia.

The former U.S. Marine and former security executive denies the charges, which the U.S. State Department called “false.” 

The State Department also called for the release of Trevor Reed, who is serving a nine-year sentence for allegedly assaulting Russian police officers after a night of drinking in Moscow in 2019. Reed, also a former Marine, said he does not remember the incident and pleaded not guilty. 

Reed’s lawyers were critical about the harshness of the sentence. 

In November, Reed reportedly went on a weeklong hunger strike to protest repeatedly being put in a “punitive isolation ward,” his lawyers said. 

U.S. officials have said Russia is holding the two as bargaining chips for a possible prisoner swap with the U.S.

“Secretary [of State Antony] Blinken has been very clear about the need for Russia to release U.S. citizens Paul Whelan and Trevor Reed unconditionally and immediately so they can be home with their families,” the State Department said in a news release.