US Whistleblower Snowden Gets Russian Passport, TASS Reports

Former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, who exposed the scale of secret surveillance by the National Security Agency (NSA), has sworn an oath of allegiance to Russia and received a Russian passport, TASS reported Friday. 

“Yes, he got [a passport], he took the oath,” Anatoly Kucherena, Snowden’s lawyer, told the state news agency TASS.  

Snowden, 39, did not immediately reply to a message seeking comment on the report. 

President Vladimir Putin in September granted Russian citizenship to Snowden, who fled the United States after leaking secret files that revealed the extensive eavesdropping activities of the United States and its allies. 

Defenders of Snowden hail him as a modern-day dissident for exposing the extent of U.S. spying. Opponents say he is a traitor who endangered lives by exposing the secret methods that Western spies use to listen in on hostile states and militants. 

 

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Russian Leaders Could Be Prosecuted for Crime of Aggression

A special court could be set up to prosecute Russian President Vladimir Putin, his ministers and top generals for the crime of aggression, following the invasion of Ukraine. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

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Zelenskyy: ‘Ukrainian Rules Will Prevail’

The British Defense Ministry’s intelligence update Friday on Ukraine said, “Russia’s withdrawal from the west bank of the Dnipro River last month has provided the Ukrainian Armed Forces with opportunities to strike additional Russian logistics nodes and lines of communication.”

“This threat has highly likely prompted Russian logisticians to relocate supply nodes, including rail transfer points, further south and east,” according to the report posted on Twitter. “Russian logistics units will need to conduct extra labor-intensive loading and unloading from rail to road transport. Road moves will subsequently still be vulnerable to Ukrainian artillery as they move on to supply Russian forward defensive positions.”

The ministry said, “Russia’s shortage of munitions (exacerbated bv these logistics challenges) is likely one of the main factors currently limiting Russia’s potential to restart effective, large scale offensive ground operations.”

In his daily address Thursday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy recalled a referendum held 31 years ago on Dec. 1 ”that united the entire territory of our state … Everyone expressed their support.”

“People confirmed the Act of Proclamation of Independence of Ukraine — freely and legally. It was a real referendum … an honest referendum, and that is why it was recognized by the world … Ukrainian rules will prevail,” the president said in a swipe at the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The president also said in his speech that he wants to ensure Ukraine’s spiritual independence, in a likely reference to a recent raid on Ukraine’s Russian-affiliated Monastery of the Caves, a 1,000-year-old Eastern Orthodox monastery in Kyiv, where security forces were looking to flush out spies housed among the clerics.

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Ukrainian Engineers Scramble to Keep Mobile Phones Working

With Ukraine scrambling to keep communication lines open during the war, an army of engineers from the country’s phone companies has mobilized to help the public and policymakers stay in touch during repeated Russian missile and drone strikes.

The engineers, who typically go unseen and unsung in peacetime, often work around the clock to maintain or restore phone service, sometimes braving minefields to do so. After Russian strikes took out the electricity that cellphone towers usually run on, they revved up generators to keep the towers on.

“I know our guys – my colleagues – are very exhausted, but they’re motivated by the fact that we are doing an important thing,” Yuriy Dugnist, an engineer with Ukrainian telecommunications company Kyivstar, said after crunching through 15 centimeters of fresh snow to reach a fenced-in mobile phone tower on the western fringe of Kyiv, the capital.

Dugrist and his coworkers offered a glimpse of their new daily routines, which involve using an app on their own phones to monitor which of the scores of phone towers in the capital area were receiving electricity, either during breaks from the controlled blackouts being used to conserve energy or from the generators that kick in to provide backup power.

One entry ominously read, in English, “Low Fuel.”

Stopping off at a service station before their rounds, the team members filled up eight 20-liter jerrycans with diesel fuel for a vast tank under a generator that relays power up a 50-meter cell tower in a suburban village that has had no electricity for days.

It’s one of many Ukrainian towns that have had intermittent power, or none at all, in the wake of multiple rounds of devastating Russian strikes in recent weeks targeting the country’s infrastructure – power plants in particular.

Kyivstar is the largest of Ukraine’s three main mobile phone companies, with some 26 million customers – or the equivalent of about two-thirds of the country’s population before Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion drove millions of people abroad, even if many have since returned.

The diesel generators were installed at the foot of the cell phone towers since long before the invasion, but they were rarely needed. Many Western countries have offered up similar generators and transformers to help Ukraine keep electricity running as well as possible after Russia’s blitz.

After emergency blackouts prompted by a round of Russian strikes on Nov. 23, Kyivstar deployed 15 teams of engineers simultaneously and called in “all our reserves” to troubleshoot the 2,500 mobile stations in their service area, Dugrist said.

He recalled rushing to the site of a destroyed cell tower when Russian forces pulled out of Irpin, a suburb northwest of Kyiv, earlier this year and getting there before Ukrainian minesweepers had arrived to give the all-clear signal.

The strain the war is putting on Ukraine’s mobile phone networks has reportedly driven up prices for satellite phone alternatives like Elon Musk’s Starlink system, which Ukraine’s military has used during the conflict, now in its 10th month.

After widespread infrastructure strikes last week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy convened top officials to discuss the restoration work and supplies needed to safeguard the country’s energy and communication systems.

“Special attention is paid to the communication system,” he said, adding that no matter what the Russia has in mind, “we must maintain communication.”

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Biden and Macron Say Russia Must Leave Ukraine for War to End 

US President Joe Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron agreed that they would never pressure Ukraine to negotiate an end to the war with Russia, saying the US and France stand as united as ever with their NATO allies against Moscow’s invasion. VOA’s senior diplomatic correspondent Cindy Saine reports.

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Rights Group Alleges Russia Supplied Weapons Used in Airstrike on Myanmar School

Russian-made helicopters and weapons were used in an airstrike in September that left 12 people dead — half of them children — at a Myanmar school, according to a human rights group that monitors violations in the Southeast Asian country.

Russia, which has diplomatic ties with Myanmar, denies the accusation.

The group, Myanmar Witness, made its allegations in a recent report detailing what it says happened at the Let Yet Kone school located on the compound of a Buddhist monastery in Let Yet Kone village in Tabayin township. The report says Mi-35 and Mi-17 helicopters were used in the attack that lasted several hours, along with Russian-made S-5 rockets.

“The remnants allegedly found at the location in Tabayin were confirmed to be S-5 rockets by our arms team,” Myanmar Witness said in an email to VOA.

According to Zaw Min Tun, a spokesperson for the military junta, the troops were flown to the village after the government received word that fighters from the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and a local anti-coup group known as the People’s Defense Forces were moving weapons into the village.

The junta accuses the KIA of supporting groups that oppose the military government. The KIA is seeking autonomy for the Kachin ethnic group.

There has been no response from the KIA or the People’s Defense Forces.

VOA spoke to villagers who say no weapons were in the area.

Children were victims

One of the children killed was 14-year-old Zin Ko Oo. In an interview with VOA, his father said the teenager did not want to go to school “because it was unsafe for students at school, and he feared soldiers would come to the school and shoot them.”

The father declined to be named for fear of retribution.

The school had an enrollment of around 300 elementary and middle school students. Locals told VOA that parents and volunteer teachers set up the school in secret after a February 2021 coup saw the overthrow of the democratically elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. The coup triggered a civil disobedience movement, known as CDM, around the country.

On September 16, the day the two army helicopters attacked the school, Zin Ko Oo was attending class. When the helicopter gunships opened fire with machine guns and heavy weapons, he ran to a classroom where his niece and nephew sought shelter, his father told VOA.

“He helped to hide them under a wooden cot and covered them with his body and hands, but he was hit on the back of his head and legs by the bullets that came through the school’s roof.”

The grieving father said four small children were also struck in the hail of bullets and their bodies shredded. The father said he was told the four youngsters died on the spot, but Zin Ko Oo was brought to Ye-U hospital, 11 kilometers away from the village, where he later died.

The soldiers put the remains of the four children in garbage bags and took the bodies to their military post, Zin Ko Oo’s father said. From there, he said, the bodies were taken to a hospital for cremation.

“The military also did not allow the parents to see the bodies or have their children’s ashes back after the Ye-U hospital cremated them,” the father said. The father also said he was told the parents did not know the bodies would be cremated.

Zin Ko Oo’s father also told VOA he was the only parent who had a chance to view his son’s body at the hospital. The father said he was able to do so only because he begged a military officer on duty to let him see his son one last time. Zin Ko Oo had already died by the time his father saw him.

“I asked a doctor to allow me to take my son’s body, but they refused because they were afraid of the army,” Zin Ko Oo’s father said, adding, “They finally gave me his ashes.”

Zin Ko Oo’s father said no one from the People’s Defense Forces had been in their village or the school as the regime’s spokesperson, Zaw Min Tun, alleged at a press briefing in the Myanmar capital, Naypyidaw, on September 20. The military spokesperson also accused the government’s opponents of using the villagers as human shields.

Running scared

“We have never ever seen this kind of brutal attack targeting a school and us. We were civilians and did not have any weapons. We were so terrified and running as much as we could,” Zin Ko Oo’s father said, in describing the attack.

After the helicopters fired rockets and machine guns, the junta soldiers who were inside the helicopters raided the village.

Zin Ko Oo’s father told VOA his house and truck were burned by the soldiers. He said he lived five houses away from the west side of the monastery, where classes were in session. He said soldiers set fire to some of the motorcycles in a repair shop he owns.

Myanmar Witness stated, “The attack on Let Yet Kone school is part of an emerging trend that shows the Myanmar military’s pattern of increasing recklessness towards the safety of children, especially around schools.”

The Let Yet Kone school is in Sagaing, one of seven regions in the country.

There are thought to be 27 community schools, 4,000 students and 380 CDM teachers in Sagaing region, according to Myanmar Witness. The junta has outlawed such schools, arresting teachers as well as support staff.

“Another spot report was done on a school where a teacher was beheaded and fingers [were] mutilated so that one was definitely a killing with a message against CDM/NUG supported schools,” Myanmar Witness wrote in its email to VOA. The NUG refers to members of Myanmar’s exiled National Unity Government. It was established in opposition to the junta.

Separately, a group established in 2018 by the U.N. Human Rights Council said the school attack in Let Yet Kone village might be considered a war crime, with commanders criminally liable.

According to a September 27 statement by the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar (IIMM), “Armed attacks that target civilians are prohibited by international laws of war and can be punished as war crimes or crimes against humanity.”

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