Abortion Rights Rollback in US Could Ripple Across Globe

The right of American women to have an abortion will be severely restricted if the Supreme Court reverses its 1973 decision to legalize the procedure. VOA’s Veronica Balderas Iglesias spoke to activists on three continents and found grave concern about what impact a U.S. ruling overturning Roe v. Wade could have around the world. Videographer/Video editor: Veronica Balderas Iglesias …

Biden Supports Sweden, Finland’s Bids to Join NATO

President Joe Biden on Thursday enthusiastically welcomed Sweden and Finland’s bids to join the NATO security alliance — a move that would bring two of Europe’s most modern militaries right to Russia’s northwest border.  Speaking from the Rose Garden, flanked by Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson of Sweden and President Sauli Niinistö of Finland, Biden said he would send their membership applications to the U.S. Congress, where he hopes for a swift approval.  “Sweden and Finland have strong democratic institutions, strong militaries, and strong and transparent economies,” Biden said. “And a strong moral sense of what is right. They meet every NATO requirement, and then some.” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg made the announcement about Sweden and Finland on Wednesday at the alliance headquarters in Brussels. The 29 other NATO members will have to agree by consensus to admit the two nations—a process that normally takes up to a year but is expected to be faster in this case. Finland’s and Sweden’s applications mark a significant departure from their decades-long neutrality, dating from the Cold War. Moscow’s decision to invade neighboring Ukraine on February 24 raised fears in both countries, especially in Finland, which shares a border with Russia of more than 1,300 kilometers. At a Wednesday meeting at the Pentagon, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told his Swedish counterpart, Peter Hultqvist, “We look forward to your contributions to the NATO alliance.” “This is a time when the democracies of Europe and North America must stand together against Russia’s naked aggression,” Hultqvist said. Only NATO ally Turkey has expressed reservations about the Baltic neighbors joining the alliance, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accusing them of giving a haven to “terrorists” and imposing sanctions on Turkey. “We asked for 30 terrorists to be extradited, but [Sweden] said they wouldn’t,” he said this week. “You will not hand over terrorists to us, but you will ask us to allow you to join NATO. NATO is a security entity. It is a security agency. Therefore, we cannot say ‘yes’ to depriving this security organization of security.” Ankara says Sweden and Finland have harbored people it says are linked to groups it deems terrorists, namely Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants and followers of U.S.-based Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara accuses of orchestrating a 2016 coup attempt. Erdogan has also said Turkey would oppose NATO bids from those who imposed sanctions on Ankara. Sweden and Finland had … Continue reading “Biden Supports Sweden, Finland’s Bids to Join NATO”

Russia: 1,730 Ukrainian Troops Have Surrendered in Mariupol

Russia’s Defense Ministry said Thursday hundreds more Ukrainian soldiers had surrendered at the besieged Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, bringing the total this week to 1,730.  The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said in a statement it was registering fighters who left Azovstal, an operation that began Tuesday and was continuing Thursday.  “The ICRC is not transporting POWs to the places where they are held,” the aid group said. “The registration process that the ICRC facilitated involves the individual filling out a form with personal details like name, date of birth and closest relative. This information allows the ICRC to track those who have been captured and help them keep in touch with their families.” Ukrainian officials have not confirmed the Russian account of the number of Ukrainian fighters who have surrendered at the last holdout in Mariupol. Ukraine has expressed hopes that the soldiers can be part of a prisoner swap with Russia, while Russia’s main investigative body said it intends to interrogate them and determine if any were involved in crimes against civilians.  The capture of Mariupol, a prewar city of 430,000 people along the north coast of the Sea of Azov, would be Moscow’s biggest success in its nearly three-month offensive against Ukraine.  With Russian forces focusing efforts on the eastern Donbas region, Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy who was involved in several rounds of talks with Russia, said Thursday that agreeing to a cease-fire with Russia “is impossible without total Russian troop withdrawal.” “Until Russia is ready to fully liberate occupied territories, our negotiating team is weapons, sanctions and money,” Podolyak said in a Twitter post. A senior U.S. Defense Department official said Thursday there have been no major gains by either Russia or Ukraine in the last day, although Ukrainian forces “continue to claw back territory” north and northeast of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second biggest city. The official did not dispute a British intelligence assessment that top Russian military commanders have been fired. “We have seen indications where Russian commanders at various levels have been relieved of their duties,” the U.S. official said, adding that the U.S. had nothing to share about “senior, senior levels” of the Russian command. Russian logistical and troop morale issues are continuing, the official said.  Ukraine on Thursday welcomed the confirmation of a new U.S. ambassador. The U.S. Senate gave its approval to Bridget Brink, a … Continue reading “Russia: 1,730 Ukrainian Troops Have Surrendered in Mariupol”

Grand Jury Indicts Suspect in Buffalo Shooting

The 18-year-old suspect in the Buffalo, New York, grocery store mass shooting last weekend was formally charged with first-degree murder during a brief court appearance Thursday. Payton Gendron was escorted into the courtroom flanked by police officers, wearing an orange jumpsuit and a white face mask. He was handcuffed and shackled. He remained silent throughout the one-minute proceeding attended by some relatives of the victims. Assistant District Attorney Gary Hackbush presented the indictment, which was handed down on Wednesday. In New York, prosecutors can charge a defendant with first-degree murder only under special circumstances, including when multiple people are killed in a single incident, like in the Buffalo shooting. The single count against Gendron covers all 10 deaths at the supermarket. Gendron was ordered held in custody without bail for further action from a grand jury and is next expected in court on June 9. Gendron’s attorney, Brian Parker, had no comment. As he was led from the courtroom, someone in the audience shouted “Payton, you’re a coward!”  Gendron is charged with killing 10 people and wounding three others last Saturday at a grocery store in a predominantly Black neighborhood. Eleven of the victims who were shot were Black.  The FBI is investigating the attack as a hate crime. U.S. President Joe Biden visited the scene on Tuesday.  Investigators are studying a racist 180-page document, purportedly written by Gendron, that said the assault was intended to terrorize all non-white, non-Christian people and get them to leave the United States.   Some information in this report was provided by The Associated Press and Reuters. …

US Spy Agencies Urged to Fix Open Secret: A Lack of Diversity

The peril National Security Agency staff wanted to discuss with their director didn’t involve terrorists or enemy nations. It was something closer to home: the racism and cultural misunderstandings inside America’s largest intelligence service. The NSA and other intelligence agencies held calls for their staff shortly after the death of George Floyd. As Gen. Paul Nakasone listened, one person described how they would try to speak up in meetings only to have the rest of the group keep talking over them. Another person, a Black man, spoke about how he had been counseled that his voice was too loud and intimidated coworkers. A third described how a coworker addressed them with a racist slur. The national reckoning over racial inequality sparked by Floyd’s murder two years ago has gone on behind closed doors inside America’s intelligence agencies. Publicly available data, published studies of its diversity programs, and interviews with retired officers indicate spy agencies have not lived up to years of commitments made by their top leaders, who often say diversity is a national security imperative. People of color remain underrepresented across the intelligence community and are less likely to be promoted. Retired officers who spoke to The Associated Press described examples of explicit and implicit bias. People who had served on promotion boards noted non-native English speakers applying for new jobs would sometimes be criticized for being hard to understand — what one person called the “accent card.” Some say they believe minorities are funneled into working on countries or regions based on their ethnicity. Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, the first woman to serve in her role, has appointed diversity officials who say they need to collect better data to study longstanding questions, from whether the process for obtaining a security clearance disadvantages people of color to the reasons for disparities in advancement. Agencies are also implementing reforms they say will promote diversity. “It’s going to be incremental,” said Stephanie La Rue, who was appointed this year to lead the intelligence community’s efforts on diversity, equity and inclusion. “We’re not going to see immediate change overnight. It’s going to take us a while to get to where we need to go.” The NSA call following Floyd’s death was described by a participant who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private discussion. The person credited Nakasone for listening to employees and making public and private commitments … Continue reading “US Spy Agencies Urged to Fix Open Secret: A Lack of Diversity”

North Korea Looms as Biden Makes First Asia Trip

Although U.S. foreign policy during the first part of Joe Biden’s presidency has focused more on issues such as a rising China and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Biden this week will be confronted by another nagging foreign policy issue, a nuclear-armed North Korea. Biden, who departs Friday for his first trip to Asia as president, may be welcomed by a major North Korean weapons test, according to U.S. and South Korean officials. U.S. intelligence reflects the “genuine possibility” that North Korea will conduct either a long-range missile launch or a nuclear test, or possibly both, in the days surrounding or during Biden’s Asia trip, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Wednesday. “We are preparing for all contingencies, including the possibility that such a provocation would occur while we are in Korea or in Japan,” Sullivan said in a briefing. Much of Biden’s five-day trip is expected to focus on China, where he will work to reassure allies who have questioned long-term U.S. commitment to the region. During the trip, Biden is expected to launch the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, a long-awaited economic initiative meant to increase U.S. involvement in Asia. In Tokyo, Biden will hold a meeting of the Quad, a four-country grouping made up of the United States, Japan, India, and Australia – democracies that have a strong interest in containing China’s rise. In Seoul, Biden will meet South Korea’s newly inaugurated president, Yoon Suk Yeol, who has vowed to take a tougher stance on China and who wants to expand cooperation with Washington on other global issues. However, South Korean officials have warned for days that a major North Korean test may upend Biden’s agenda. South Korean and U.S. officials have come up with a “Plan B,” which may include altering Biden’s existing schedule in the event of a North Korean provocation, according to Kim Tae-hyo, South Korea’s first deputy national security adviser. North Korea has often conducted major launches on or around visits to the region by U.S. presidents. Some analysts say such moves may be meant to attract U.S. diplomatic attention or increase North Korean leverage in potential nuclear negotiations. North Korea has conducted a dizzying number of missile launches this year. In March, the North launched its first intercontinental ballistic missile in almost five years. South Korea’s National Intelligence Service believes North Korea has also completed preparations for what would be its seventh nuclear … Continue reading “North Korea Looms as Biden Makes First Asia Trip”

Monkeypox Spreads in Europe; US Reports Its First Case

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health on Wednesday said it had confirmed a single case of monkeypox virus infection in a man who had recently traveled to Canada. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said its labs confirmed the infection to be monkeypox on Wednesday afternoon. The state agency said it was working with CDC and relevant local boards of health to carry out contact tracing, adding that “the case poses no risk to the public, and the individual is hospitalized and in good condition.” The Public Health Agency of Canada late on Wednesday issued a statement saying it is aware of the monkeypox cases in Europe and is closely monitoring the current situation, adding no cases have been reported at this time. Monkeypox, which mostly occurs in west and central Africa, is a rare viral infection similar to human smallpox, though milder. It was first recorded in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the 1970s. The number of cases in West Africa has increased in the last decade. Symptoms include fever, headaches and skin rashes starting on the face and spreading to the rest of the body. The Massachusetts agency said the virus does not spread easily between people, but transmission can occur through contact with body fluids, monkeypox sores, items such as bedding or clothing that have been contaminated with fluids or sores, or through respiratory droplets following prolonged face-to-face contact. It said no monkeypox cases had previously been identified in the United States this year. Texas and Maryland each reported a case in 2021 in people with recent travel to Nigeria. The CDC also said it is tracking multiple clusters of monkeypox reported in several countries including Portugal, Spain, and the United Kingdom, within the past two weeks. A handful of cases of monkeypox have recently been reported or are suspected in the United Kingdom, Portugal and Spain. Earlier on Wednesday, Portuguese authorities said they had identified five cases of the infection and Spain’s health services said they were testing 23 potential cases after Britain put Europe on alert for the virus. European health authorities are monitoring any outbreak of the disease since Britain reported its first case on May 7 and has found six more in the country since then. …

US Senate to Vote on Ukraine Aid

The U.S. Senate is set to vote Thursday on a $40 billion aid package for Ukraine. The measure includes money for military equipment, training and weapons for Ukraine, replenishing stocks of U.S. equipment sent to Ukraine and financing to help other countries that aid Ukraine. It also includes billions of dollars in humanitarian aid, including helping money to address global food shortages caused by the conflict. The House of Representatives overwhelmingly gave its approval to the package last week. If the Senate approves the measure, it will go to President Joe Biden for his signature.  …

Latest Developments in Ukraine: May 19

For full coverage of the crisis in Ukraine, visit Flashpoint Ukraine. The latest developments in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. All times EDT: 12:50 a.m.: RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty shares an interview with the mother of a Ukrainian National Guardsman based in Mariupol.  During the May 11 interview in Kyiv, Inna Zatoloka shares some of the texts her 20-year-old son sent her since Russia invaded Ukraine. “Mother, I’m alive,” he once texted. “Love you.”  Mark Zatoloka was one of hundreds of soldiers defending civilians sheltering in the Azovstal steel plant while Russia attacked. Inna does not know whether he made it out alive.    12:30 a.m.: The U.S. Senate is set to vote Thursday on a $40 billion aid package for Ukraine. The measure includes money for military equipment, training and weapons for Ukraine, replenishing stocks of U.S. equipment sent to Ukraine and financing to help other countries that aid Ukraine. It also includes billions of dollars in humanitarian aid, including helping to address global food shortages caused by the conflict. The House of Representatives overwhelmingly gave its approval to the package last week. If the Senate approves the measure, it would go to President Joe Biden for his signature. …

US Warns North Korea Could Greet Biden With Nuclear, Missile Tests

U.S. intelligence shows there could be a North Korean nuclear test, or a long-range missile test, or both, before, during or after President Joe Biden’s trip to South Korea and Japan starting this week, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Wednesday. The White House said Biden would not visit the Demilitarized Zone that divides North and South Korea during his visit to South Korea, which begins Friday, having said last week he was considering such a trip. “Our intelligence does reflect a genuine possibility that there will be either a further missile test, including long-range missile test, or a nuclear test, or frankly both, in the days leading into, on or after the president’s trip to the region,” Sullivan told a White House briefing. “We are preparing for all contingencies,” he said. Sullivan said that the United States was coordinating closely with South Korea and Japan and that he had also discussed North Korea with a senior Chinese diplomat in a phone call Wednesday. Biden’s trip, which is to run through Tuesday, will be his first to Asia as president. It will include his first summit with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, who took office May 10 and has vowed to take a harder line against North Korean “provocations.” Sullivan said the United States was prepared to make both short- and longer-term adjustments to its military posture as necessary “to ensure that we are providing both defense and deterrence to our allies in the region and that we’re responding to any North Korean provocation.” Earlier, U.S. and South Korean officials said North Korea appeared to be preparing to test an intercontinental ballistic missile ahead of Biden’s trip to South Korea, even as it battled a big COVID-19 outbreak. South Korean deputy national security adviser Kim Tae-hyo said such a test appeared imminent and a U.S. official said it could happen as soon as Thursday or Friday. Kim Tae-hyo said a “Plan B” had been prepared in the event of a small or large North Korean “provocation,” which could involve altering the summit schedule. A weapons test could overshadow Biden’s broader trip focus on China, trade and other regional issues, and underscore the lack of progress in denuclearization talks with North Korea, despite his administration’s vow to break the stalemate with practical approaches. North Korea has conducted repeated missile tests since Biden took office last year and this … Continue reading “US Warns North Korea Could Greet Biden With Nuclear, Missile Tests”

Biden Invokes Defense Production Act for Infant Formula Shortage

President Joe Biden on Wednesday invoked the Defense Production Act to speed production of infant formula and authorized flights to import supply from overseas, as he faces mounting political pressure over a domestic shortage caused by the safety-related closure of the country’s largest formula manufacturing plant. The Defense Production Act order requires suppliers of formula manufacturers to fulfill orders from those companies before other customers, in an effort to eliminate production bottlenecks. Biden is also authorizing the Defense Department to use commercial aircraft to fly formula supplies that meet federal standards from overseas to the U.S., in what the White House is calling “Operation Fly Formula.” Supplies of baby formula across the country have been severely curtailed in recent weeks after a February recall by Abbott Nutrition exacerbated ongoing supply chain disruptions among formula makers, leaving fewer options on store shelves and increasingly anxious parents struggling to find nutrition for their children. “I know parents across the country are worried about finding enough formula to feed their babies,” Biden said in a video statement released by the White House. “As a parent and as a grandparent, I know just how stressful that is.” The announcement comes two days after the Food and Drug Administration said it was streamlining its review process to make it easier for foreign manufacturers to begin shipping more formula into the U.S. In a letter Wednesday to the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture, Biden directed the agencies to work with the Pentagon to identify overseas supplies of formula that meet U.S. standards over the next week, so that chartered Defense Department flights can swiftly fly it to the U.S. “Imports of baby formula will serve as a bridge to this ramped-up production,” Biden wrote. Regulators said Monday that they’d reached a deal to allow Abbott Nutrition to restart its Sturgis, Michigan, plant, the nation’s largest formula plant, which has been closed since February because of contamination issues. The company must overhaul its safety protocols and procedures before resuming production. After getting the FDA’s approval, Abbott said it will take eight to 10 weeks before new products begin arriving in stores. The company didn’t set a timeline to restart manufacturing. “I’ve directed my team to do everything possible to ensure there’s enough safe baby formula and that it is quickly reaching families that need it the most,” Biden said in the … Continue reading “Biden Invokes Defense Production Act for Infant Formula Shortage”

Americans Shed COVID Precautions Despite New Surge

The number of U.S. counties considered to be at high risk of spreading COVID has almost tripled in the last two weeks, according to the CDC. In New York City, the COVID alert level has risen to high, and the number of cases has doubled in the last month. Despite this, a new poll suggests many Americans have stopped wearing facemasks and social distancing. Aron Ranen has the story. Camera: Aron Ranen and Igor Tsikhanenka. …

Jailing of Georgian Media Owner Sends ‘Bad Message’

The jailing of a politician turned media owner sends a “bad message” from Georgia about the country’s commitment to press freedom and Western ideals, international bodies and rights groups say. Nika Gvaramia, director of the opposition station Mtavari TV, appeared in court in the capital, Tbilisi, on Monday accused of harming the financial interests of a media outlet that he previously ran. The court convicted Gvaramia of abuse of power related to his time as general manager and director of the independent TV station Rustavi 2. He was sentenced to three years and six months in prison. His lawyer, Dimitri Sadzaglishvili, told local media they plan to appeal. Gvaramia left Rustavi in 2019 after the European Court of Human Rights upheld a ruling by Georgia’s Supreme Court that the station should be returned to one of its former owners. In response to the takeover, Gvaramia accused the government of using the judiciary system to give ownership to Kibar Khalvashi, a businessman seen as loyal to the ruling Georgian Dream party. Both Gvaramia and other figures in Georgia’s opposition media have said they believe the ruling party is attempting to silence critical media. In response to VOA’s request for comment, a spokesperson in Georgia’s Embassy in Washington said that the embassy “will refrain from commenting” on the case. As well as working in media, Gvaramia was previously involved in politics, holding the posts of Minister of Justice and Minister of Education and Science under former President Mikheil Saakashvili in 2007 and 2008. He is also one of the lawyers representing Saakashvili, who was imprisoned in October 2021 upon returning to Georgia after eight years in exile. A court convicted the former leader in absentia of misuse of power. International reaction The arrest of a prominent media figure sparked international condemnation, with analysts and rights groups calling the case politically motivated. David Kramer, managing director for global policy at the George W. Bush Institute, told VOA’s Georgian Service he believes the sentencing “is the latest evidence of the government abusing the judicial system to go after the political opponents.” “It is not the first time; I fear it won’t be the last time,” said Kramer, who under President George W. Bush was the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. The U.S embassy in Georgia said the case brings into question Georgia’s commitment to Western orientation. “From its … Continue reading “Jailing of Georgian Media Owner Sends ‘Bad Message’”

New US ‘Disinformation’ Board Paused Amid Free Speech Questions

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security on Wednesday paused a new and controversial board’s work on disinformation and accepted the resignation of its leader, capping weeks of concerns about impinging on free speech rights and at times frenzied conspiracy theories about the board itself. What remains to be seen is whether the debate over the board will damage ongoing U.S. efforts to counter disinformation used as a weapon by Russia and other adversaries. Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas acknowledged the board had become a distraction to the department’s other work, which includes safeguarding U.S. elections, two officials familiar with his decision said. The Disinformation Governance Board’s director, Nina Jankowicz, wrote Wednesday that the board’s future was uncertain, according to a resignation letter obtained by The Associated Press. While the board has not formally been shuttered, it will be reviewed by members of a DHS advisory council that’s expected to make recommendations in 75 days. The Washington Post first reported the board’s pause. Federal and state agencies treat disinformation as a national security threat. In a statement announcing its launch, DHS said the new initiative would coordinate efforts around threats of Russian disinformation campaigns aimed at the U.S. and false claims that encourage migrants to travel to the U.S.-Mexico border. But the new board was hampered from the start by questions about its purpose, funding and work with an uneven rollout that further confused its mission. Mayorkas struggled to answer questions about the board’s work in front of lawmakers on Capitol Hill earlier this month. Mayorkas made the decision to pause the board in response to the cumulative negative reaction and growing concerns that it was distracting from the department’s other work on disinformation, according to two department officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. “The Board has been grossly and intentionally mischaracterized: It was never about censorship or policing speech in any manner,” the department said in a statement. “It was designed to ensure we fulfill our mission to protect the homeland, while protecting core Constitutional rights.” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre noted the board had never met and neither the department nor Jankowicz had any power to censor or remove content labeled as disinformation. DHS officials had tried to quell concerns about how the board would impact issues of free speech and online privacy by describing it as an internal working group intended to study definitions … Continue reading “New US ‘Disinformation’ Board Paused Amid Free Speech Questions”

US Stocks Fall Sharply on Renewed Inflation Fears

Stocks closed sharply lower Wednesday on Wall Street as dismal results from Target renewed fears that inflation is battering U.S. companies. The S&P 500, the benchmark for many index funds, fell 4%. Target lost a quarter of its value, dragging other retailers down with it, after saying its profit fell by half in the latest quarter as costs for freight and transportation spiked. That comes a day after Walmart cited inflation for its own weak results. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 1,164 points, or 3.6% and the tech-heavy Nasdaq pulled back 4.7%. Treasury yields fell as investors sought safer ground. “A lot of people are trying to guess the bottom,” said Sam Stovall, chief investment strategist at CFRA. “Bottoms occur when there’s nobody left to sell.” Retailers were among the biggest decliners after Target plunged following a grim quarterly earnings report. The weak reports stoked concerns that persistently rising inflation is putting a tighter squeeze on a wide range of businesses and could cut deeper into their profits. Technology stocks, which led the market rally a day earlier, were the biggest drag on the S&P 500. Apple lost 5.9%. All told, more than 95% of stocks in the S&P 500 were down. Utilities also weighed down the index, though not nearly as much as the other 10 sectors, as investors shifted money to investments that are considered less risky. The disappointing report from Target comes a day after the market cheered an encouraging report from the Commerce Department that showed retail sales rose in April, driven by higher sales of cars, electronics and more spending at restaurants. Stocks have been struggling to pull out of a slump over the last six weeks as concerns pile up for investors. Trading has been choppy on a daily basis and any data on retailers and consumers is being closely monitored by investors as they try to determine the impact from inflation and whether it will prompt a slowdown in spending. A bigger-than-expected hit to spending could signal more sluggish economic growth ahead. The Federal Reserve is trying to temper the impact from the highest inflation in four decades by raising interest rates. On Tuesday, Fed Chair Jerome Powell told a Wall Street Journal conference that the U.S. central bank will “have to consider moving more aggressively” if inflation fails to ease after earlier rate hikes. Investors are concerned that the central bank … Continue reading “US Stocks Fall Sharply on Renewed Inflation Fears”

Chinese Officials, American Accused in Scheme to Silence Dissent Against Beijing

A U.S. citizen and four officials from China’s State Security Ministry have been accused of conspiracy and espionage in a scheme to silence dissent against Beijing, the U.S. Justice Department announced. In an indictment unsealed in federal court Tuesday in New York, the U.S. alleged that Shujun Wang of New York, a naturalized American citizen, acted as a covert Chinese intelligence asset in his own community by “spying on and reporting sensitive information on prominent pro-democracy activists and organizations” in the United States. The indictment alleged that the 73-year-old Wang filed reports with the four Chinese State Security officials — Feng He, Jie Ji, Ming Li, and Keqing Lu — who Justice Department officials say were Wang’s handlers. Wang was arrested March 16, but the other four remain at large, the Justice Department said. U.S. Attorney Breon Peace in New York said the indictment “exposes and disrupts an operation by (China) that threatens the safety and freedom of Chinese nationals residing in the United States on account of their pro-democracy beliefs and speech.” The indictment described Wang as “a well-known academic and author who helped start a pro-democracy organization” in New York that opposes the current communist regime in China. But the U.S. alleged that at least since 2011, Wang used his stature within the Chinese diaspora and dissident communities to covertly collect information about prominent activists and human rights leaders and then send it to the State Security Ministry via encrypted messaging applications or disclose it during face-to-face meetings in China.  The indictment said that U.S. law enforcement authorities found 163 “diary” entries in Wang’s residence that he had sent to his four Chinese handlers. …

Russian Soldier Pleads Guilty to Killing Ukrainian Civilian

A 21-year-old Russian soldier pleaded guilty Wednesday to killing an unarmed Ukrainian civilian in the first war crimes case Kyiv has brought since the Russian invasion three months ago. Sergeant Vadim Shishimarin could be sentenced to life in prison for shooting a 62-year-old Ukrainian man in the head through an open car window four days after Russia launched the invasion in late February.  Ukrainian Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova previously has said her office is preparing war crimes cases against 41 Russian soldiers for offenses that included bombing civilian infrastructure, killing civilians, rape and looting. It is not clear how many of the Russians are in Ukrainian custody or how many might be tried in absentia. In Shishimarin’s case heard in a Kyiv court, Venediktova alleged that he was among a group of Russian soldiers that fled Ukrainian forces on February 28, driving to Chupakhivka, a village about 320 kilometers east of the capital, Kyiv. The prosecutor-general said that on the way the Russian soldiers saw a man riding his bicycle and talking on his phone. Shishimarin, according to Venediktova, was ordered to kill the man so he wouldn’t be able to report them to Ukrainian military authorities but did not say who gave the order. Shishimarin fired his Kalashnikov rifle through the open window and hit the victim in the head, Venediktova wrote in a Facebook account. “The man died on the spot just a few dozen meters from his house,” she said. In a brief video account of the incident produced by the Ukrainian Security Service, Shishimarin said, “I was ordered to shoot. I shot one (round) at him. He falls. And we kept on going.”  Venediktova’s office has said it is investigating more than 10,700 potential war crimes involving more than 600 suspects, including Russian soldiers and government officials. International authorities are also investigating possible Russian war crimes, while Moscow is believed to be working on crimes cases against Ukrainian troops. Russia has denied targeting civilians and accused Ukraine of staging atrocities. Ukraine says thousands of its civilians have been killed. Some material in this report came from The Associated Press. …