Borrell Says EU Members Agree on Suspension of Visa Deal for Russians

The European Union’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, says the bloc’s 27 members have agreed to suspend an agreement with Russia, which had made it easier for Russians to obtain tourist visas, as a sanction for Moscow’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

Borrell announced the decision, which falls short of the total ban on visa issuance some countries sought, on Tuesday after the second day of a meeting of EU foreign ministers in the Czech capital.

A 2007 visa agreement to ease EU entry requirements for Russians was partially suspended in late February, targeting people close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, such as Russia’s official delegations and holders of diplomatic passports. But it left so-called “ordinary Russians” untouched, allowing them to continue to enjoy EU visa-facilitation benefits, such as reduced waiting times and costs and the need to present fewer documents when applying.

Countries that share borders with Russia — the Baltic states, Poland, and Finland — have led the drive for more restrictive bans on visas for Russian tourists. With air service barred by the EU on flights from Russia, most travelers are using their land borders to travel on to other EU countries.

Borrell said the agreement is aimed at stopping Russians from “visa shopping” by applying for their travel documents with countries in the bloc where the rules are not as strict. Once granted a visa to an EU country, the holder of the document can then travel freely within the EU’s Schengen Area.

The suspension of the pact makes the EU visa process more complicated, more expensive, and more bureaucratic, as well as increasing waiting times for approval, according to European Commission guidelines.

Germany and France have led the other side of the debate, saying the limiting of visas to Russians would be counterproductive as the EU tries to fight for the “hearts and minds” of those Russians who don’t support Moscow’s aggression against Ukraine.

Kyiv has called for the bloc to ban issuing visas to all Russians except political dissidents.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told RFE/RL in an interview on August 30 that “calling this war a ‘Putin problem’ and not the problem of the Russian society that mostly supports its president is self-deception.”

All 27 EU members had to agree to any measure adopted that would limit the issuance of visas throughout the bloc.

Fans of Princess Diana Gather to Mark Her Death 25 Years Ago

Fans of the late Princess Diana placed tributes outside the gates of her Kensington Palace home on Wednesday, marking the 25th anniversary of her death in a Paris car accident.

An arrangement of white chrysanthemums spelling out “Princess Diana” sat among dozens of photos and messages left by admirers, some of whom said they make annual pilgrimages to the spot to remember the tragedy.

“We just come here, do the memorial and, you know, we just chat about things that she used to do, you know, to … let people know that we will never forget the princess, we will never forget what she’s done,’’ said Julie Cain, 59, who traveled 300 miles (480 kilometers) from Newcastle in northern England. “We just want her legacy kept, like, going as long as possible.”

Diana died on Aug. 31, 1997, at the age of 36, stunning people around the world who felt they knew the princess after seeing her successes and struggles play out on TV screens and newspaper front pages for 17 years. The tributes left outside Kensington Palace on Wednesday were a small reminder of the mountains of flowers piled there in the days after Diana’s death.

Diana was the focus of constant media attention from the moment she was engaged to marry Prince Charles until the night she died. Her fairytale wedding, ugly divorce and efforts to build a new life all made headlines.

The public watched as she blossomed from a shy teenager into an international style icon who befriended AIDS patients, charmed Nelson Mandela and walked through a minefield to promote the drive to eradicate landmines. Along the way, she showed the royal family, particularly her sons William and Harry, how to connect with people and be relevant in the 21st century.

On Wednesday morning, Cain and her friend Maria Scott, 51, paid their respects to Diana as dawn broke over the palace, just as they do every year.

“There was just something about that girl that really stood out. And of course, I watched the wedding, the fairy-tale princess,’’ Scott said. “And, you know, you see, she was like part of your life because you were seeing that every day on the television. She was in newspapers, magazines. She was all over. And you felt like she was part of your life.” 

 

Global Tributes Pour in Following Death of Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev

Condolences and tributes are pouring in from around the world following Tuesday’s death of the former president of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev. VOA’s Michael Brown reports on some of the early reactions.

India and China to Take Part in Joint Military Drills with Russia

India and China are among several countries taking part in Russia’s weeklong joint military drills scheduled to get underway on Thursday in the east of the country, according to Russia’s state-owned news agency Tass. 

While India has previously taken part in multinational military drills in Russia — an Indian contingent was part of Zapad military exercises held in September 2021 — analysts say its participation in the “Vostok-2022” military exercises in the midst of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine reaffirms New Delhi’s friendly ties with Moscow despite a tightening strategic partnership with the United States. 

“India’s participation in exercises in Russia is not unusual, but this time, they are also making a political point,” said Manoj Joshi, distinguished fellow at the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi. “New Delhi is emphasizing that it will adhere to the independent position that it has taken in the wake of the Ukraine crisis and continue to remain neutral between the U.S. and Russia.”   

India has refrained from condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and has not joined Western sanctions against Moscow. Its oil imports from Moscow have risen sharply this year as it takes advantage of deep discounts. 

India has defended its oil purchases as necessary for what it says is an energy deficient, developing country like India. “We have been very honest about our interests,” India’s Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said earlier this month in Bangkok. “I have a country with a per capita income of $2,000. These aren’t people who can afford higher energy prices.”

Although India is currently purchasing weapons from other countries, including Israel and the United States, much of its existing weaponry is of Russian origin.

Analysts point out that India is unlikely to turn away from Russia anytime soon.

“India has an important relationship with Moscow with regard to defense and it has really no direct stake in the Ukraine crisis,” said Joshi. “If our national interest is served by maintaining ties with Russia, we will do so — that is India’s position.”  

For the time being, Washington appears to have accepted India’s position. Questioned about India’s participation in the Vostok military exercises earlier this month, State Department spokesman, Ned Price, said that the U.S. recognizes that reorienting a country’s foreign policy is a long-term challenge. 

“At the same time, we also recognize that there are countries around the world that have longstanding relationships, including security relationships, with countries like Russia, for example,” he told reporters at a press briefing. “Reorienting a country’s foreign policy or a country’s security establishment or defense procurement practices away from a country like Russia is not something that we can do overnight.” 

However, there are questions about how long India can continue to walk the middle ground between the United States and Russia amid the deepening tensions between the two countries. 

Analysts in Washington say that the U.S. appears to be taking a long view, with an eye toward trying to convince New Delhi that a long-term security partnership with Moscow is untenable. 

“Washington certainly worries about New Delhi’s enduring security partnership with Moscow,” said Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia program at the Wilson Center. “In the coming months, we can expect Washington to make the case to New Delhi that eventually Russia, sanctioned and cash-strapped, will no longer have the capacity to keep manufacturing and exporting weaponry to India.”

India for its part has maintained a low profile about the Russian drills — there has been no official word on its participation but sources in the Defense Ministry have confirmed that a contingent from India will take part. 

India’s military partnership with the United States is growing rapidly amid mutual worries over China. In mid-October, India and the U.S. will hold a joint military exercise as part of an annual military exercise known as “Yudh Abhyas” or “War Practice.” The location of the exercises — which according to reports will be 100 kilometers from the disputed India China border — is significant. 

For New Delhi, striking a balance between Russia and its partners in the Quad grouping that consists of India, U.S., Japan and Australia is also challenging. According to a report in the Deccan Herald newspaper, India will not take part in naval drills in the Sea of Japan that are part of the military exercises. New Delhi has close ties with Tokyo, which along with the U.S. and Australia is an important partner in efforts to counter China’s expansionism in the Indo-Pacific.

The strengthening Russia-China relationship could also emerge as a concern for New Delhi as tensions between India and Beijing over their border disputes show no signs of abating. While Beijing has joined drills with Moscow earlier, its participation in the Vostok military exercises reflects growing defense ties between the two countries amid tensions with the West, analysts say. 

“It is the first time the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) has sent its Army, Navy and Air Force at the same time to a joint drill with Russia,” points out Bonnie S. Glaser, director with the Asia Program at the German Marshall Fund of the United States. “With the alignment between Moscow and Beijing growing closer, it can be expected that bilateral military ties will also likely increase.”

From Russia’s point of view, the participation of both India and China, who have tense bilateral ties with each other, underscores the country’s efforts to strengthen ties with both the large Asian economies.

Jagannath Panda, head of the Stockholm Center for South Asian and Indo-Pacific Affairs said Moscow is hoping to ensure “Eurasian unity” against the West, “owing to its traditional partnership with India and the ideological friendship with China.

“Such a role has served Moscow well amidst Ukraine, as both countries have refrained from condemning Russian actions,” Panda said. 

UN Team Heads to Assess Ukrainian Nuclear Power Plant 

A team of inspectors from the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog headed Wednesday to Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant to assess safety and security issues at the Russian-controlled site.

International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Rafael Grossi said the team he is leading will spend several days at the plant and said their mission is a “very complex operation.”

“We are going to a war zone. We are going to occupied territory. This requires the explicit guarantees from not only from the Russian Federation but also from the Republic of Ukraine. And we have been able to secure that,” Grossi told reporters in Kyiv.

He also said inspectors would be talking to personnel at the nuclear plant, which despite Russian control is being run by Ukrainian engineers.

“Of course, that is one of the most important things I want to do, and I will do it,” Grossi said.

Both Russia and Ukraine allege the other has continued to shell territory near the facility, with world leaders expressing fears that a nuclear disaster is possible.

The IAEA met Tuesday with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy who called for the “immediate demilitarization of the plant” and its transfer to “full Ukrainian control.”

According to The New York Times, the plant showed signs of being hit by artillery fire and is blanketed in smoke from nearby wildfires.

The IAEA said the mission will focus on assessing physical damage at the plant, determining the functionality of safety and security systems, evaluating staff conditions and performing “urgent safeguards activities.”

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

Global Reaction to Death of Mikhail Gorbachev

Mikhail Gorbachev, who ended the Cold War without bloodshed but failed to prevent the collapse of the Soviet Union, died on Tuesday at the age of 91, hospital officials in Moscow said.

Below are some reactions from around the world:

Russian President Vladimir Putin: He expressed “his deepest condolences,” his spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Interfax news agency. “Tomorrow he will send a telegram of condolences to his family and friends.”

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres: “I was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Mikhail Gorbachev, a one-of-a kind statesman who changed the course of history. He did more than any other individual to bring about the peaceful end of the Cold War.

“On behalf of the United Nations, I extend my heartfelt condolences to Mikhail Gorbachev’s family and to the people and government of the Russian Federation.

“The world has lost a towering global leader, committed multilateralist, and tireless advocate for peace.”

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen: “Mikhail Gorbachev was a trusted and respected leader. He played a crucial role to end the Cold War and bring down the Iron Curtain. It opened the way for a free Europe. … This legacy is one we will not forget.”

Former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker III: “History will remember Mikhail Gorbachev as a giant who steered his great nation towards democracy. He played the critical role in a peaceful conclusion of the Cold War by his decision against using force to hold the empire together. … The free world misses him greatly.”

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson: “I always admired the courage & integrity he showed in bringing the Cold War to a peaceful conclusion. … In a time of Putin’s aggression in Ukraine, his tireless commitment to opening up Soviet society remains an example to us all.”

The Reagan Foundation and Institute: “The Reagan Foundation and Institute mourns the loss of former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, a man who once was a political adversary of Ronald Reagan’s who ended up becoming a friend. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Gorbachev family and the people of Russia.”

Mikhail Gorbachev, Last Soviet Leader, Dies at 91

Mikhail Gorbachev, who presided over the demise of the Soviet Union and helped end decades of Cold War fear, earning a Nobel Peace Prize and the lasting enmity of millions of Russians bitter about the chaos unleashed by the collapse of the world’s largest country, has died at age 91.

The Central Clinical Hospital on the outskirts of Moscow told the state news agency Tass that Gorbachev died Tuesday night “after a serious and prolonged illness.”

Born in a rural corner of Russia less than 15 years after the Bolshevik Revolution to parents whose families had been peasants, Gorbachev became one of the most influential figures of the 20th century, gathering global accolades for his role in reducing the threat of a nuclear apocalypse and in freeing millions of people from Soviet oppression in his country and beyond.

Just as notably, he was a target of the scorn of millions of Soviets who blamed him for the life-changing economic and social upheaval that accompanied the country’s collapse and for the loss of a mighty empire that spanned 11 time zones.

This was Gorbachev’s paradox: loved and loathed for a process that he set in motion and whose ultimate result was foreseen by few. It was a result that Russian President Vladimir Putin, who rose to power less than a decade after Gorbachev resigned and remains in the Kremlin today, once called the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the 20th century.

Gorbachev made clear he never meant to bring down the country, repeating almost as a mantra that “the union could have been preserved.”

But despite occasional reversals, he ultimately sided with the forces of change that he helped unleash. And in retrospect, a dozen years after the Soviet Union was done, Gorbachev insisted that those momentous changes were the result of a conscious and very personal decision.

“Other people could have [come into office] and they might have done nothing to put the country on the road to humane, free and democratic development,” he said in an interview with RFE/RL in 2003.

Humble beginnings

In any case, Gorbachev will rank alongside such towering 20th-century figures as Winston Churchill, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Josef Stalin and Mao Zedong — leaders who changed the fate of nations and had a profound impact on the lives of millions of people.

Born on March 2, 1931, into a poor family in Privolnoye, a village in southern Russia’s Stavropol region, Gorbachev grew up amid the immense upheavals that roiled the Soviet Union in the first two decades of his life: collectivization, Stalin’s “Great Terror,” and the Great Patriotic War, as World War II is best known within Russia.

At about age 21, he joined the Communist Party while studying law at Moscow State University in 1952.

After marrying classmate Raisa Titorenko, Gorbachev returned to southern Russia, where he began to climb the ladder of the regional Communist bureaucracy, specializing in agriculture.

By 1970, he had risen to the top of the party hierarchy in Stavropol.

‘The state is there to serve the people’

In 1980, Gorbachev was appointed a full member of the Communist Party’s Politburo in Moscow.

To the surprise of many Kremlin watchers and Soviet citizens, he almost immediately began calling for reform, espousing twin doctrines that would become bywords for his time: “glasnost” (openness) and “perestroika” (restructuring).

“The state is there to serve the people,” he said. “The people are not there to serve the state.”

That, according to Gorbachev, would be the new guiding principle.

Gorbachev and Raisa brought new style to the Kremlin, traveling around the USSR and abroad, plunging into crowds and leading impromptu discussions on the street.

A relaxation of economic regulations brought the rebirth of small businesses, cafes and restaurants for the first time since Lenin’s New Economic Policy in the 1920s. A partial lifting of censorship led to a renaissance in cultural life. Literary journals published previously banned authors, and theaters staged ever-more daring productions.

The disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine in 1986 forced a reluctant leadership to allow even greater freedom of expression and information. The government began to release political prisoners, most famously Andrei Sakharov, the physicist who designed nuclear weapons and later campaigned against them, resulting in his internal exile from 1980 to 1986.

Gorbachev called for an end to the arms race, and he improved relations with Washington, helping remove thousands of warheads that threatened Europe with destruction by signing the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty with U.S. President Ronald Reagan in 1987. In 1989, he ended the Soviet war in Afghanistan, begun 10 years earlier under Leonid Brezhnev.

End of an empire

But all was not well in the empire. By 1989, what had begun as an effort to reform the Soviet Union’s economy and foreign policy had precipitated a crisis in industry and encouraged cries for self-determination that would soon engulf the entire region.

Gorbachev vastly underestimated the degree of economic decay. Shortages of basic household goods and foodstuffs were growing, and conservatives within the Communist Party grew ever-more strident in their criticism of his leadership.

He had also not counted on the fact that greater freedom would fan the forces of nationalism.

In October 1989, during a visit to East Berlin to mark the 40th anniversary of the establishment of the German Democratic Republic, Gorbachev signaled that Moscow would not try to turn back the clock.

A month later, the Berlin Wall fell.

“We have given up pretending to have a monopoly on truth,” Gorbachev said a few weeks after that, in a speech in Rome a day before a historic meeting with Pope John Paul II. “We no longer think that those who don’t agree with us are enemies.”

‘Freedom of choice’

In 1990, Gorbachev was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his contribution to reducing East-West tensions, but he had precious little time to reflect on his achievement. While feted across Europe and the rest of the world, he continued to confront growing unrest at home.

On August 4, 1991, Gorbachev left with his family for his annual vacation in Crimea on the Black Sea, intending to complete a new version of a union treaty aimed to keep the USSR together as centrifugal force was pulling it apart.

On August 18, his chief of staff, accompanied by a group of senior government officials, arrived at the presidential dacha at Foros. They demanded that Gorbachev sign a decree declaring a state of emergency or resign. Gorbachev refused to do either. The officials confiscated the codes needed to launch the Soviet Union’s nuclear weapons. Gorbachev and his family were, in effect, under house arrest.

State television announced the imposition of a state of emergency “starting at 1600 Moscow time, on August 19, 1991,” claiming it was in response “to demands by broad sections of the population for the most decisive measures to prevent society from sliding toward a national catastrophe.”

Three days later, the coup collapsed, thanks to the incompetence of the plotters and the resistance demonstrated by Russia’s nascent political leader, Boris Yeltsin, and crowds of citizens who came out into the streets to oppose the attempted takeover.

‘A different direction’

In the months that followed, more republics declared independence from Moscow. On December 8, Yeltsin, along with the leaders of Belarus and Ukraine, signed accords proclaiming the Soviet Union’s end and announcing the creation of a new entity called the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

Gorbachev stayed on in the Kremlin for a few more weeks, but power had slipped from his hands. On December 25, he resigned — stepping down as the leader of a country that had effectively ceased to exist.

In 1991, he founded The Gorbachev Foundation in an effort to maintain a voice in Russian affairs. In 1996, he ran for president but came in a distant seventh in a field of 10, with 0.5% of the vote. Later, he became a sometime critic of Putin, to whom Yeltsin handed the presidency on the last day of 1999.

Gorbachev was an approving voice for some of Putin’s most controversial actions on the international stage, including Moscow’s 2014 seizure of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula. Suggesting he viewed the annexation in terms of Russia’s national interests, he told the media he would have acted “the same way” had he had the choice.

However, he continued to criticize many of Putin’s repressive domestic policies and opposed Putin’s decision to return to the presidency in 2012, when Dmitry Medvedev turned out to have been a placeholder after four years of hinting at reform. In 2013, Gorbachev commented that “politics is increasingly turning into imitation democracy.”

Gorbachev was also harshly critical of the United States, largely blaming Washington for poor ties by charging that it failed to develop good relations with Russia after the Soviet collapse.

In positions echoed by or echoing Putin’s, he accused the United States of relishing its status as the world’s sole superpower and lambasted the eastward expansion of NATO. He opposed NATO’s bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999 and the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. He criticized U.S. President Donald Trump’s 2018 decision to withdraw from the INF Treaty, which he had negotiated and signed with Reagan in 1987, as “not the work of a great mind.”

The ailing Gorbachev, who turned 91 a week after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, had made few public comments, about the war in Ukraine or anything else.

RFE/RL’s Jeremy Bransten contributed to this report.

Russian Media: Ex-Soviet Leader Mikhail Gorbachev Is Dead at 91

Mikhail Gorbachev, who as the last leader of the Soviet Union waged a losing battle to salvage a crumbling empire but produced extraordinary reforms that led to the end of the Cold War, has died at 91, Russian media reported Tuesday.

News organizations quoted a statement from the Central Clinical Hospital as saying he died after a long illness. No other details were given.

Though in power less than seven years, Gorbachev unleashed a breathtaking series of changes. But they quickly overtook him and resulted in the collapse of the authoritarian Soviet state, the freeing of Eastern European nations from Russian domination and the end of decades of East-West nuclear confrontation.

His decline was humiliating. His power hopelessly sapped by an attempted coup against him in August 1991, he spent his last months in office watching republic after republic declare independence until he resigned on December 25, 1991. The Soviet Union wrote itself into oblivion a day later.

A quarter-century after the collapse, Gorbachev told The Associated Press that he had not considered using widespread force to try to keep the USSR together because he feared chaos in a nuclear country.

“The country was loaded to the brim with weapons. And it would have immediately pushed the country into a civil war,” he said.

Many of the changes, including the Soviet breakup, bore no resemblance to the transformation that Gorbachev had envisioned when he became the Soviet leader in March 1985.

By the end of his rule, he was powerless to halt the whirlwind he had sown. Yet Gorbachev may have had a greater impact on the second half of the 20th century than any other political figure.

“I see myself as a man who started the reforms that were necessary for the country and for Europe and the world,” Gorbachev told The AP in a 1992 interview shortly after he left office.

“I am often asked, would I have started it all again if I had to repeat it? Yes, indeed. And with more persistence and determination,” he said.

Gorbachev won the 1990 Nobel Peace Prize for his role in ending the Cold War and spent his later years collecting accolades and awards from all corners of the world. Yet he was widely despised at home.

Russians blamed him for the 1991 implosion of the Soviet Union — a once-fearsome superpower whose territory fractured into 15 separate nations. His former allies deserted him and made him a scapegoat for the country’s troubles.

The official news agency Tass reported that Gorbachev will be buried at Moscow’s Novodevichy cemetery next to his wife.

Ukraine Lawmaker Questions Kyiv’s Strategic Partnership With Beijing

While China’s strategic partnership with Russia “without limits” has been widely reported since the start of the war in Ukraine, much less known is the strategic partnership Ukraine and China forged in 2011. Now, that partnership is being questioned by a key lawmaker in Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy earlier this month sounded a soft tone on China, casting Beijing’s role in the conflict as “neutral” and inviting Chinese government and business to play an active role in his country’s rebuilding.

Back in June 2011, then-Chinese President Hu Jintao visited Ukraine after stopping in Moscow. China and Ukraine agreed to boost cooperation in energy, technology, agriculture and trade. The two sides also upgraded their ties to a “strategic partnership.”

China is now Ukraine’s number one trading partner. While Ukraine figures less prominently in China’s overall trading, Beijing has been acquiring items of importance from Ukraine, including military equipment and critical minerals, such as those produced only in Mariupol and Odesa.

But a key lawmaker in Kyiv says the bilateral relationship should not be based only on those factors, given China’s officially declared “strategic partnership with Russia with no limit,” while Moscow has engaged in an all-out war on Ukraine.

Beijing “has failed this partnership,” Oleksandr Merezhko told VOA in a written interview from Kyiv. 

“In my personal view, Ukraine should seriously reconsider [its] strategic partnership with [the People’s Republic of China],” he said. “In fact, it’s totally absurd to have a strategic partnership with a country which: 1) has strategic partnership without limits with Russia (aggressor state committing genocide against Ukrainian nation); 2) amplifies Russian propaganda; 3) helps Russia to circumvent Western sanctions; 4) holds joint military drills with Russia,” Merezhko wrote.

“I don’t think that strategic partner of the aggressor state can be simultaneously our strategic partner. It makes no sense,” he added. 

Zelenskyy sounded a more conciliatory note toward Beijing during a recent online town hall with college students from Australia and during an on-camera interview with the South China Morning Post, published in Hong Kong but owned since 2016 by the mainland-based Alibaba Group.

China, Zelenskyy said, on both occasions, has shown “neutrality” in his country’s conflict with Russia. Zelenskyy underscored that “I really wanted the relationship with China be reinforced and developed every year” in a video clip put out by the South China Morning Post on August 3. He also highlighted China’s role in Ukraine’s reconstruction. 

“I would like China to participate in the rebuilding of all Ukraine,” he said, noting Ukraine’s rebuilding is going to be a huge undertaking. “I would like China and the Chinese business to join in the rebuilding process, and the [Chinese] state to join this,” Zelenskyy said in the video clip.

The largest international conference on Ukraine’s rebuilding to date has been the Lugano Conference held in July in Switzerland. China was not seen in the official “family photo” taken at the conference, which featured top officials from more than 20 democratic nations that have provided large amounts of aid to Ukraine.

Asked to comment on Zelenskyy’s recently published remarks, Merezhko said: “In democratic society, members of parliament might have a different point of view on some issues of parliamentary diplomacy than executive power.”

“I also believe that in economic matters, Ukraine should more rely upon Western business rather than Chinese business,” he added. 

According to recent reports, China’s purchases of Russian oil and gas products have almost doubled from a year ago; Chinese spending on Russian energy in July alone reached $7.2 billion, while China’s economy is showing significant signs of slowing.

Commenting on social media, Merezhko wrote that “Russia’s allies bear moral and political responsibility for its crimes against peace and global security” and “the West should introduce secondary sanctions against those Russia’s allies.”

Trade and economics weren’t the only factors Merezhko had in mind when he called into question his country’s decade-old “strategic partnership” with Beijing. Following recently published investigative reports that Chinese authorities have been putting dissidents in psychiatric hospitals and subjecting them to torture, Merezhko said such practices bring to mind “the same cruel totalitarian practices which were used by the Soviet repressive regime.”

“I don’t think such a country can be a strategic partner of any democratic country, including Ukraine,” he concluded.

Recently, Merezhko and more than a dozen fellow parliamentarians from three Ukrainian political parties formed a Taiwan friendship group. “Democracies should support each other to survive and win,” he wrote on Twitter.

Vatican Seeks to Clarify Pope’s Stance on Ukraine

The Vatican sought on Tuesday to clarify the pope’s position on Ukraine, after the pontiff’s comment on the death of a Russian ultranationalist’s daughter ruffled feathers in Kyiv.

“The Holy Father’s words on this dramatic issue are to be read as a voice raised in defense of human life and the values associated with it, and not as political positions,” the Vatican said in a statement.

It stressed that the war in Ukraine had been “initiated by the Russian Federation” and that Pope Francis had been “clear and unequivocal in condemning it as morally unjust, unacceptable, barbaric, senseless, repugnant and sacrilegious.”

Speaking on Ukraine’s Independence Day on August 24, the pope had said of the conflict: “So many innocents… are paying for madness.”

He cited as one example Daria Dugina — the daughter of a Russian ultranationalist ally of President Vladimir Putin’s — who was killed when a bomb exploded under her car.

Ukraine’s ambassador to the Holy See, Andriy Yurash, responded that the pope should not have put “aggressor and victim” in the same category and the Vatican’s envoy to Kyiv was summoned to the foreign ministry to explain.

Pope Francis, who has repeatedly condemned the conflict, has, on several occasions, been criticized in some quarters for not painting the war in black and white terms, and for leaving the door open to discussions with Moscow.

“Someone may say to me at this point: but you are pro Putin! No, I am not,” the pope stressed in an interview published in June by Jesuit journal Civilta Cattolica.

“I am simply against reducing complexity to… good guys and bad guys, without reasoning about roots and interests, which are very complex.”

In July, the head of the Roman Catholic Church repeated his wish to visit Ukraine.

The 85-year-old pontiff is due to attend a congress of religious leaders in Kazakhstan in mid-September.

Patriarch Kirill, the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church and a fervent supporter of both Putin and his war in Ukraine, had been due to attend the congress but has now said he will not be going.