High Alert: NATO Sends Troops, Warplanes East to Counter Russian Threat 

NATO member states are sending thousands of troops, warplanes and ships to allies in eastern Europe as tensions with Russia escalate over Moscow’s deployment of more than 100,000 troops to its border with Ukraine. The West fears an imminent Russian invasion, which the Kremlin denies.

Four Danish F-16 fighter jets landed in Lithuania last week to bolster NATO’s air policing mission in the Baltic. Since Russia’s 2014 forceful annexation of Crimea, NATO has deployed between 4,000 and 5,000 troops in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland in what the alliance terms an “enhanced forward presence.”

US troops 

The United States has put 8,500 troops on standby. “I’ll be moving U.S. troops to eastern Europe and NATO countries in the near term,” U.S. President Joe Biden told reporters Friday. 

The U.S. already has tens of thousands of troops stationed in Europe, mostly in Germany and Britain. One scenario could see some of those personnel gradually shifted to eastern NATO allies. 

NATO allies 

France has announced plans to deploy hundreds of troops to Romania. “As President Macron recalled last week, we have sizably contributed to the security of our European partners in NATO missions in Baltic states and we will continue to do so,” French Defense Minister Florence Parly said during a visit to Bucharest on January 27.

“In the same spirit, he indicated our availability to go further and within the NATO framework to engage in new EFP (enhanced forward presence) missions, particularly in Romania, if NATO decides it,” Parly added. 

Spain, the Netherlands and Germany are also considering sending troops, aircraft and warships to eastern European allies. 

Anti-tank weapons 

Britain has supplied about 2,000 anti-tank weapons to Ukraine and is expected to offer further deployments to NATO allies this week, potentially doubling its current commitment of about 1,150 troops. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is due to visit Ukraine this week and hold talks on the phone with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. 

British Defense Minister Ben Wallace said the deployments are intended to send a message to Moscow. 

“I think it is important when it comes to military deployment that we signal to President Putin that the very thing he fears, which is more NATO closer to Russia, would be the consequence of a strategic error of invading a sovereign country such as Ukraine,” Wallace told reporters Monday following talks with his Hungarian counterpart in Budapest. 

Deterrence 

However, NATO has no plans to deploy combat troops to Ukraine, notes security analyst Julie Norman of University College London. 

“Those NATO troops that are in those border states are really there more for preparedness and for a defensive and deterrence capability, rather than expectation for direct conflict or direct combat.” 

Norman says the NATO deployments could be rapidly strengthened. “If there is indeed a conflict … those border states will be reinforced further than what they currently have. There’s already NATO troops in most of those states, but this would bolster them by about double the amount, to start,” Norman told VOA. 

NATO says it is responding to Russian aggression. Moscow has labelled the Western response “hysteria” and denies it has any plans to invade Ukraine, instead claiming that NATO’s expansion into former Soviet-bloc countries poses a security risk.

Belarus threat 

Russia has about 100,000 troops deployed close to the Ukrainian border. Thousands more arrived in Belarus for joint military exercises this week. 

Evelyn N. Farkas, a former U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, says Western allies had to respond. 

“NATO itself has had to respond to a new threat Russia posed by putting additional forces into Belarus, which of course shares a border with Poland, Latvia and Lithuania, which are NATO allies,” Farkas told a recent panel discussion hosted by London-based Chatham House. 

NATO’s deployments in eastern Europe could ratchet up tensions with Russia’s president, says Norman. 

“Putin’s key demand in all of this is the drawdown of NATO troops and weaponry from those same eastern states. So, the fact that there is more buildup, that is going to be seen not as an act of defense, but an act of offense and provocation by Russia.” 

 

Mali Orders Expulsion of French Ambassador

Mali said it is expelling the French ambassador because of “hostile and outrageous” comments by former colonial power France about Mali’s transitional government.

A statement read on national television Monday said French Ambassador Joel Meyer has been given 72 hours to leave the country. 

“This measure follows the hostile and outrageous comments made recently by the French Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs and the recurrence of such comments by the French authorities with regard to the Malian authorities, despite repeated protests,” the statement said. 

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said last week that Mali’s junta was “illegitimate and takes irresponsible measures.” He also described the junta as “out of control.” 

The French Foreign Ministry said in a statement Monday that it would recall Meyer from Mali. 

Relations between Mali and France deteriorated this month after the junta went back on an agreement to organize elections in February. Instead, the junta has proposed staying in power for up to another five years. 

European nations have also expressed concern that Mali’s interim government has accepted private Russian security contractors. 

France has had troops in Mali since 2013 when it sent forces at the request of Malian leaders to stop Islamist militants who were advancing on the capital. The latest dispute raises questions about whether French troops will remain in the country. 

Last week, Mali’s junta demanded that Denmark withdraw its newly arrived contingent of soldiers to Mali. The junta accused Denmark of deploying without authorization, a charge Copenhagen denied. 

Denmark’s foreign minister said Friday that it supports France in the latest diplomatic dispute. 

“Reports the French Ambassador has been declared Persona Non Grata by Mali transitional authorities are unacceptable. Denmark stands in full solidarity with France,” Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod said in a tweet on Friday. 

Mali’s interim leader Assimi Goita seized power in August 2020 citing widespread popular dissatisfaction toward elected leader Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. However, less than a year later in May 2021, Goita overthrew the transitional government that he helped set up, citing a Cabinet reshuffle that excluded two key military leaders.

Goita claimed the move violated the terms of the new government. French President Emmaneul Macron called the action “a coup within a coup.” 

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

British Prime Minister Apologizes Following Release of ‘Partygate’ Report

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson apologized before Parliament Monday following the release of a report concluding that parties held at the prime minister’s official residence during the country’s COVID-19 lockdown represented “serious failures” to observe the standards set by the government.

The report, conducted by senior civil servant Sue Gray, examined a series of gatherings that had been held at No. 10 Downing St. in 2020 and 2021 when much of Britain was under strict pandemic restrictions.

“The gatherings in question represent a serious failure to observe not just the high standards expected of those working at the heart of government, but also of the standards expected of the entire British population at the time,” Gray said in the report.

She also made note of “excessive consumption of alcohol” at the gatherings, which she said “is not appropriate in a professional workplace at any time.”

Gray said some of the gatherings “should not have been allowed to develop as they did,” and others should not have been held at all. She looked specifically at four gatherings, saying she withheld comment on 12 other events that the metropolitan police were investigating to determine if laws were broken.

In his comments to Parliament, Johnson apologized for “the things we simply didn’t get right” and “for the way that this matter has been handled.” He said he understood people’s anger and accepted Gray’s findings “in full,” as well as “her recommendation that we must learn from these events and act now.”

Johnson had previously said that no rules had been broken. He has dismissed calls from lawmakers — even those in his own party — to resign.

Some information for this report was provided by The Associated Press and Reuters. 

Biden, Qatari Leader Discussing Energy Supply to Europe

U.S. President Joe Biden and Qatar’s Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani are meeting at the White House on Monday, with discussions about Qatar supplying natural gas to Europe in the event of a Russian attack on Ukraine at the forefront of their talks. 

The emir is the first Persian Gulf leader to meet with Biden in Washington during his year-old presidency. 

The meeting’s timing is not coincidental, as the U.S. and Western allies worry that if they impose severe economic sanctions on Moscow in the event it invades its former Soviet republic, Russian President Vladimir Putin could retaliate by cutting off energy supplies to Western European countries.

Russia supplies about a third of Western Europe’s energy needs. Qatar, a country of about 2.9 million people, is the world’s second largest exporter of liquefied natural gas, slightly behind the United States and plays an important role in world energy markets.

With Doha’s already existing energy contracts in place with Asian nations, analysts say it is unclear whether Qatar has the gas-producing capacity to also help supply Europe.

The U.S. and Western allies have been attempting to lay out various contingencies in the event of a Moscow invasion of Ukraine. Russia says it has no plans to attack Ukraine, but also has amassed more than 100,000 troops on Ukraine’s eastern flank, with U.S. officials saying an invasion could occur at any time.

Aside from talks with Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Tamim is also scheduled to meet Monday with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas and key members of Congress.

Biden’s talks with the emir come at a time when the U.S. is searching for a path to deal with the Taliban government in Afghanistan after the U.S. fled the country in August in a chaotic ending after its 20-year war there. Qatar has been the U.S. representative in Kabul since then and initially housed 60,000 Afghan refugees looking to emigrate to the U.S.

Biden and Tamim are also likely to discuss ongoing attempts by the U.S. to rejoin the international treaty to constrain Iran’s nuclear program that former President Donald Trump withdrew from.

In his Washington visit, Tamim is also likely to push the U.S. to approve its request to buy U.S. Predator drones and American F-35 stealth fighters.

Ukraine: What We Know   

The latest developments in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine:       

  • The U.S. plans to confront Russia over its actions along Ukraine’s border at a Monday meeting of the United Nations Security Council.    

  • NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Sunday the Western military alliance has no intention of sending troops to Ukraine if Russia invades its former Soviet republic.    

  • Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told the “Fox News Sunday” show that a Russian invasion “could happen, really, at any time.”  

  • The West is demanding that Russia pull its troops and weapons from the Ukraine border, while Moscow is pushing for NATO to curtail its operations in Eastern and Central Europe. Russia also insists the Western defensive alliance reject Ukraine’s membership bid, a move the United States calls a “non-starter.”   

* According to U.S. and Ukrainian estimates, Russia has amassed about 127,000 troops along its border with Ukraine, including in Belarus and in occupied Crimea.   

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

UN Security Council to Discuss Russia-Ukraine Crisis

The United Nations Security Council is due to discuss the crisis along the Russia-Ukraine border Monday in a session the United States called to address Russia’s deployment of more than 100,000 soldiers in the region and “other destabilizing acts aimed at Ukraine.” 

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said on ABC’s “This Week” show Sunday that the council will press Russia to justify its massing of troops.

“Our voices are unified in calling for the Russians to explain themselves,” she said.  

Russia has dismissed the U.S. move, with its Deputy U.N. Ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy calling the session a public relations “stunt.” 

Russia is one of five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and can use its veto power to block any punitive action by the council against Russia. 

Monday’s meeting is the latest round of talks about the conflict amid efforts to find a diplomatic resolution. The United States has threatened to impose sharp economic sanctions if Russia invades Ukraine, and has ruled out Russian demands that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization withdraw troops from eastern Europe and prevent Ukraine from joining the alliance. 

Russia, which annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014, says it has no plans to invade Ukraine again. But Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Sunday that Russia will ask NATO and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to clarify whether they intend to implement key security commitments.  

“We are sending an official request to our colleagues in (NATO) and the OSCE, urging them to explain how they intend to implement (their) commitment not to strengthen their security at the expense of the security of others,” Lavrov said on state television.  

NATO has ramped up its military presence in member countries bordering Russia, but NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Sunday that NATO has no intention of sending troops to Ukraine if Russia invades the former Soviet republic. 

“We have no plans to deploy NATO combat troops to Ukraine…we are focusing on providing support,” Stoltenberg told the BBC. “There is a difference between being a NATO member and being a strong and highly valued partner as Ukraine.” 

In the United States, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told the “Fox News Sunday” show that a Russian invasion “could happen, really, at any time.” Kirby said Russian President Vladimir Putin “continues to add troops” just across the border from Ukraine.  

Kirby rejected imposing sanctions ahead of a possible Russian invasion or naming which Russian financial institutions the West would target.  

“Once you try that,” Kirby said, “the deterrent effect is gone.”   

Oksana Markarova, Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States, told CBS News’s “Face the Nation” show that Ukraine wants sanctions imposed now against Russia, as well if Moscow invades.  

“We ask both,” Markarova said. “Russia is there. Russia illegally occupied Crimea. Russia illegally occupies together with their controlled people, parts of Donetsk and Luhansk territories, and they didn’t change their behavior during the eight years. So yes, we believe the basis for sanctions is there.”  

“The reason why Putin attacked us (in taking Crimea) is not because he wants Ukraine, or only Ukraine,” Markarova said. “The reason he attacked us is because we have chosen to be a democracy and we have the Euro-Atlantic and European aspirations.”  

Two key lawmakers on the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Democratic chairman Robert Menendez and top Republican James Risch, told CNN’s “State of the Union” show that they are close to reaching a bipartisan agreement on sanctions they said would “crush” Russia’s economy if it attacks Ukraine.  

Several countries, including the U.S., have shipped weapons to the Kyiv government to help it defend itself.  

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is due to visit the region this week and plans to speak to Putin by phone.  

Johnson is considering doubling British troops in the Baltic countries and sending defensive weapons to Estonia, his office said.  

Some information for this report came from Reuters. 

UN Security Council to Meet on Russia-Ukraine Tensions

The United Nations Security Council meets Monday to discuss Russia’s buildup of more than 100,000 troops along Ukraine’s border. Western and Ukrainian officials continue to be on alert for a possible invasion. VOA’s Arash Arabasadi has more.

Manchester United’s Greenwood Held on Suspicion of Rape, Assault

Manchester United player Mason Greenwood was arrested on suspicion of rape and assault on Sunday after a woman posted visual and audio allegations on social media of an incident.

United said the 20-year-old forward “will not return to training or play matches until further notice.”

The police did not name Greenwood but the statement about the investigation was provided after inquiries about the footballer.

“Greater Manchester Police were made aware earlier today of online social media images and videos posted by a woman reporting incidents of physical violence,” the force said in a statement. “An investigation was launched and following enquiries we can confirm a man in his 20s has since been arrested on suspicion of rape and assault.  

“He remains in custody for questioning. Enquiries are ongoing.”  

The allegations were posted early Sunday morning on the Instagram account of a woman who uploaded images of bruising to her body and bleeding from her lip. A voice note purporting to be of an attack was also posted. The posts were all deleted from the social media site but were widely shared.

“Manchester United does not condone violence of any kind,” the club said.

Nike, one of Greenwood’s sponsors, expressed its unease.

“We are deeply concerned by the disturbing allegations and will continue to closely monitor the situation,” the sportswear firm said in a statement.

Greenwood, who progressed through the United academy into the first team, has scored six goals this season. He extended his contract last year through 2025.

Greenwood made his England debut in September 2020 but was sent home from Iceland for a disciplinary breach after the game. He hasn’t played since for Gareth Southgate’s side.

Macron Tells Iran’s Raisi Nuclear Talks Need to Speed Up

French President Emmanuel Macron has told his Iranian counterpart Ebrahim Raisi that a deal lifting sanctions on Iran in return for curbs on its nuclear activities is still possible but talks need to accelerate, Macron’s office said on Sunday.

France, Germany and Britain, known as the E3, and the United States are trying to save the 2015 Vienna agreement with Iran, but Western diplomats have said negotiations, which have been in their eighth round since Dec. 27, were moving too slowly.

Iran has rejected any deadline imposed by Western powers.

“The President of the Republic reiterated his conviction that a diplomatic solution is possible and imperative, and stressed that any agreement will require clear and sufficient commitments from all the parties,” the Elysee palace said in a statement after a telephone call with Raisi on Saturday.

“Several months after the resumption of negotiations in Vienna, he insisted on the need to accelerate in order to quickly achieve tangible progress in this framework,” it added.

“He underlined the need for Iran to demonstrate a constructive approach and return to the full implementation of its obligations,” it said.

Macron also asked for the immediate release of Franco-Iranian academic Fariba Adelkhah, re-imprisoned in January, and French tourist Benjamin Briere, who was sentenced on Tuesday to eight years in prison on spying charges.

‘No justice’: N. Ireland Marks ‘Bloody Sunday’ Amid Brexit Backdrop

The Northern Irish city of Londonderry began commemorations Sunday of one of the darkest days in modern UK history when, 50 years ago, British troops without provocation killed 13 unarmed civil rights protesters. 

The anniversary of “Bloody Sunday” comes with Northern Ireland’s fragile peace destabilized by Brexit, and with families of the victims despondent over whether the soldiers involved will ever face trial. 

Charlie Nash saw his 19-year-old cousin William Nash killed as members of the British Parachute Regiment fired more than 100 high-velocity rounds on January 30, 1972, at the demonstrators in Londonderry, known as Derry to pro-Irish nationalists. 

“We thought there might be rioting, but nothing, nothing like what happened. We thought at first they were rubber bullets,” Nash, now 73, told AFP. 

“But then we saw Hugh Gilmour [one of six 17-year-old victims] lying dead. We couldn’t take it in. Everyone was running,” he said. 

“It’s important for the rest of the world to see what they done to us that day. But will we ever see justice? Never, especially not from Boris Johnson.” 

Amnesty? 

The UK prime minister this week called Bloody Sunday a “tragic day in our history”.

But his government is pushing legislation that critics say amounts to an amnesty for all killings during Northern Ireland’s three decades of sectarian unrest, including by security forces. 

 

Thirteen protesters died on Bloody Sunday, when the paratroopers opened fire through narrow streets and across open wasteland. 

Some of the victims were shot in the back, or while on the ground, or while waving white handkerchiefs. 

At the entrance to the city’s Catholic Bogside area stands a wall that normally proclaims in large writing: “You are now entering Free Derry.” 

This weekend the mural says: “There is no British justice.” 

Several hundred people, including relatives of the victims, on Sunday retraced the fateful 1972 march, walking in somber silence under a leaden grey sky ahead of a late morning memorial service. 

Children bearing white roses and portraits of the victims joined the poignant procession.

“I’m here to honor the people who were murdered by the British state who were trying to achieve their civil rights,” said Michael Roach, 67, a Texan with Irish roots. 

“There will be no justice until the paratroopers are held to justice for murder.” 

‘Unjustifiable’ 

After an initial government report largely exonerated the paratroopers and authorities, a landmark 12-year inquiry running to 5,000 pages found in 2010 that the victims were unarmed and posed no threat, and that the soldiers’ commander on the ground violated his orders. 

“We in the inquiry came to the conclusion that the shootings were unjustified and unjustifiable,” its chairman Mark Saville, a former judge and member of the UK House of Lords, told BBC radio on Saturday. 

“And I do understand, people feel that in those circumstances justice has yet to be done,” he said, while expressing concern that with the surviving soldiers now elderly, the government should have launched any prosecution “a very long time ago”. 

Then as now, Londonderry was a largely Catholic city. But housing, jobs and education were segregated in favor of the pro-British Protestant minority. 

Simmering tensions over the inequality made it the cradle of the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland starting in the late 1960s, which finally ended with the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

‘Reckless’ 

The UK’s divorce from the European Union has unsettled the fragile post-1998 consensus. 

Protestant unionists want Johnson’s government to scrap a protocol governing post-Brexit trade for Northern Ireland, which treats the province differently from the UK mainland (comprising England, Scotland and Wales). 

The government, which is in protracted talks with the EU on the issue, is sympathetic to their demands. 

Heading into regional elections in May, some nationalists hope that Brexit could help achieve what the Irish Republican Army (IRA) never did — a united Ireland, a century after the UK carved out a Protestant statelet in the north. 

Sinn Fein, which was once the political wing of the IRA, is running ahead of the once dominant unionists in opinion polls. 

“Northern Ireland finds itself again in the eye of a political storm where we appear to be collateral damage for a prime minister whose future is hanging in the balance,” said professor Deirdre Heenan, a Londonderry resident who teaches social policy at Ulster University. 

“The government’s behavior around the peace process has been reckless in the extreme,” she added. 

Protestant hardliners have issued their own reminders of where they stand: leading up to the anniversary, Parachute Regiment flags have been flying in one unionist stronghold of Londonderry, to the revulsion of nationalists. 

“How can they do that, this weekend of all weekends?” asked George Ryan, 61, a tour guide and local historian.