NATO Leaders Gather for Madrid Summit

NATO leaders are gathering in Madrid, Spain, for a summit that will include discussion of support for Ukraine and how the alliance will adapt to face current and future challenges.

The leaders are expected to agree to boost support for Ukraine as it defends itself from a Russian invasion.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters the gathering will be a “historic and transformative summit for our alliance,” adding that it comes amid “the most serious security crisis we have faced since the second world war.”

Russia’s attack is also influencing NATO’s own long-term plans, with a new strategic concept that includes what the alliance has called its “changed security environment.” The guiding agreement will also address other challenges, including China.

In the short term, NATO is strengthening its readiness to respond to outside threats, including boosting the number of troops under direct NATO command and pre-positioning more heavy weapons and logistical resources.

As NATO members consider the applications for Sweden and Finland to join the alliance, the summit is also set to include talks about reinforcing partnerships with non-NATO countries. Participating in the summit are leaders from Australia, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand.

Other areas of discussion include terrorism, cyberattacks and climate change.

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German Court Gives 101-year-old Ex-Nazi Guard Five Years in Jail

A German court on Tuesday handed a five-year jail sentence to a 101-year-old former Nazi concentration camp guard, the oldest person to go on trial for complicity in war crimes during the Holocaust. 

Josef Schuetz was found guilty of being an accessory to murder in at least 3,500 cases while working as a prison guard at the Sachsenhausen camp in Oranienburg, north of Berlin, from 1942 to 1945. 

Given his age, Schuetz is highly unlikely to be put behind bars.

The pensioner, who now lives in Brandenburg state, had pleaded innocent, saying he did “absolutely nothing” and had not even worked at the camp. 

“I don’t know why I am here,” he said at the close of his trial Monday. 

But presiding judge Udo Lechtermann said he was convinced Schuetz had worked at Sachsenhausen and had “supported” the atrocities committed there. 

“For three years, you watched prisoners being tortured and killed before your eyes,” Lechtermann said. 

“Due to your position on the watchtower of the concentration camp, you constantly had the smoke of the crematorium in your nose,” he said. “Anyone who tried to escape from the camp was shot. So every guard was actively involved in these murders.” 

More than 200,000 people, including Jews, Roma, gays and regime opponents, were detained at the Sachsenhausen camp from 1936 to 1945. 

Tens of thousands of inmates died from forced labor, murder, medical experiments, hunger or disease before the camp was liberated by Soviet troops, according to the Sachsenhausen Memorial and Museum. 

Contradictory statements 

Schuetz, who was 21 when he began working at the camp, remained blank-faced as the court announced his sentence. 

“I am ready,” said Sc

huetz when he, dressed in a gray shirt and striped trousers, entered the courtroom in a wheelchair.

Schuetz was not detained during the trial, which began in 2021 but was postponed several times because of his health. 

His lawyer, Stefan Waterkamp, told AFP he would appeal, meaning the sentence will not be enforced until 2023 at the earliest. 

Thomas Walther, the lawyer who represented 11 of the 16 civil parties in the trial, said the sentencing had met their expectations and “justice has been served.” 

But Antoine Grumbach, 80, whose father died in Sachsenhausen, said he could “never forgive” Schuetz as “any human being facing atrocities has a duty to oppose them.” 

During the trial, Schuetz had made several inconsistent statements about his past, complaining that his head was getting “mixed up.” 

At one point, the centenarian said he had worked as an agricultural laborer in Germany for most of World War II, a claim contradicted by several historical documents bearing his name, date and place of birth. 

‘Warning to perpetrators’ 

After the war, Schuetz was transferred to a prison camp in Russia before returning to Germany, where he worked as a farmer and a locksmith. 

More than seven decades after World War II, German prosecutors are racing to bring the last surviving Nazi perpetrators to justice. 

The 2011 conviction of former guard John Demjanjuk on the basis that he served as part of Hitler’s killing machine, set a legal precedent and paved the way for several of these justice cases. 

Since then, courts have handed down several guilty verdicts on those grounds rather than for murders or atrocities directly linked to the individual accused. 

Among those brought to late justice were Oskar Groening, an accountant at Auschwitz, and Reinhold Hanning, a former SS guard at Auschwitz. 

Both were convicted at the age of 94 of complicity in mass murder but died before they could be imprisoned. 

However, Schuetz’s five-year sentence is the longest handed to a defendant in such a case. 

Guillaume Mouralis, a research professor at France’s National Centre for Scientific Research, told AFP the verdict was “a warning to the perpetrators of mass crimes: whatever their level of responsibility, there is still legal liability.”

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Finland, Sweden on Path to NATO Membership as Turkey Drops Veto

NATO ally Turkey lifted its veto over Finland and Sweden’s bid to join the Western alliance on Tuesday after the three nations agreed to protect each other’s security, ending a weeks-long drama that tested allied unity against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The breakthrough came after four hours of talks just before a NATO summit began in Madrid, averting an embarrassing impasse at the gathering of 30 leaders that aims to show resolve against Russia, now seen by the U.S.-led alliance as a direct security threat rather than a possible adversary.

It means Helsinki and Stockholm can proceed with their application to join the nuclear-armed alliance, cementing what is set to be the biggest shift in European security in decades, as the two, long neutral Nordic countries seek NATO protection.

“Our foreign ministers signed a trilateral memorandum which confirms that Turkey will … support the invitation of Finland and Sweden to become members of NATO,” Finnish President Sauli Niinisto said in a statement.

“The concrete steps of our accession to NATO will be agreed by the NATO allies during the next two days, but that decision is now imminent,” Niinisto said.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and Turkey’s presidency confirmed the accord in separate statements, after talks between the NATO chief, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and Niinisto.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted, “Fantastic news as we kick off the NATO summit. Sweden and Finland’s membership will make our brilliant alliance stronger and safer.”

Stoltenberg said NATO’s 30 leaders would now invite Finland, which shares a 1,300 km border with Russia, and Sweden to join NATO, and that they would become official “invitees.”

“The door is open. The joining of Finland and Sweden into NATO will take place,” Stoltenberg said.

However, even with a formal invitation granted, NATO’s 30 allied parliaments must ratify the decision by leaders, a process that could take up to a year.

Terms of the deal

Turkey’s main demands, which came as a surprise to NATO allies in May, were for the Nordic countries to stop supporting Kurdish militant groups present on their territory and to lift their bans on some sales of arms to Turkey.

Stoltenberg said the terms of the deal involved Sweden intensifying work on Turkish extradition requests of suspected militants and amending Swedish and Finnish law to toughen their approach to them.

Stoltenberg said Sweden and Finland would lift their restrictions on selling weapons to Turkey.

Turkey has raised serious concerns that Sweden has been harboring what it says are militants from the banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which took up arms against the Turkish state in 1984. Stockholm denies the accusation.

The Turkish presidency statement said the four-way agreement reached on Tuesday meant “full cooperation with Turkey in the fight against the PKK and its affiliates.”

It also said Sweden and Finland were “demonstrating solidarity with Turkey in the fight against terrorism in all its forms and manifestations.”

U.S. President Joe Biden, who arrived in Madrid before a dinner with his fellow NATO leaders, did not directly address the issue in his public comments with Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and King Felipe of Spain.

But he stressed the unity of the alliance, saying NATO was “as galvanized as I believe it’s ever been.”

Biden is to have a meeting with Erdogan during the NATO summit. Erdogan said before leaving for Madrid that he would push Biden on an F-16 fighter jet purchase.

He said he would discuss with Biden the issue of Ankara’s procurement of S-400 air defense systems from Russia which led to U.S. sanctions as well as modernization kits from Washington and other bilateral issues.

The resolution of the deadlock marked a triumph for intense diplomacy as NATO allies try to seal the Nordic accession in record time as a way of solidifying their response to Russia — particularly in the Baltic Sea, where Finnish and Swedish membership would give the alliance military superiority.

In the wider Nordic region, Norway, Denmark and the three Baltic states are already NATO members. Russia’s war in Ukraine, which Moscow calls a “special military operation,” helped overturn decades of Swedish opposition to joining NATO.

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US Accuses 5 Firms in China of Supporting Russia’s Military

President Joe Biden’s administration added five companies in China to a trade blacklist on Tuesday for allegedly supporting Russia’s military and defense industrial base, flexing its muscle to enforce sanctions against Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine.

The Commerce Department, which oversees the trade blacklist, said the targeted companies had supplied items to Russian “entities of concern” before the February 24 invasion, adding that they “continue to contract to supply Russian entity listed and sanctioned parties.”

The agency also added an additional 31 entities to the blacklist from countries including Russia, UAE, Lithuania, Pakistan, Singapore, the United Kingdom, Uzbekistan and Vietnam, according to the Federal Register entry. However, of the 36 total companies added, 25 had China-based operations.

“Today’s action sends a powerful message to entities and individuals across the globe that if they seek to support Russia, the United States will cut them off as well,” Undersecretary of Commerce for Industry and Security Alan Estevez said in a statement.

The Chinese embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Three of the companies in China accused of aiding the Russian military, Connec Electronic Ltd., Hong Kong-based World Jetta, and Logistics Limited, could not be reached for comment. The other two, King Pai Technology Co., Ltd and Winninc Electronic did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Hong Kong is considered part of China for purposes of U.S. export controls since Beijing’s crackdown on the city’s autonomy.

Blacklisting of firms means their U.S. suppliers need a Commerce Department license before they can ship to them.

The United States has set out with allies to punish Russian President Vladimir Putin for the invasion, which Moscow calls a “special operation,” by sanctioning a raft of Russian companies and oligarchs and adding others to a trade blacklist. 

While U.S. officials had previously said that China was generally complying with the restrictions, Washington has vowed to closely monitor compliance and rigorously enforce the regulations.

“We will not hesitate to act, regardless of where a party is located, if they are violating U.S. law,” Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Export Administration Thea Rozman Kendler said in the same statement.

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NATO Leaders Arrive in Madrid For Crucial Summit On Countering Russia, China

NATO leaders began arriving in Madrid Tuesday for a crucial summit on the alliance’s future – dominated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the threat Moscow poses to the West. Henry Ridgwell reports from the Spanish capital.

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As Key French Terror Trial Ends, Europe Faces New Security Landscape 

One of France’s most high-profile trials in history wraps up this week amid a sharply changing security landscape across Europe, where the war in Ukraine and far-right violence have reshaped threat perceptions once dominated by Islamist extremism.

Verdicts are expected Wednesday in Paris, where 20 men stand accused of being involved in the November 2015 Islamic State attacks around the French capital in which 130 people were killed and hundreds more wounded.

Top defendant Salah Abdeslam, considered the lone surviving attacker, has captured news headlines throughout the months-long trial. He risks life without parole, France’s toughest sentence.

Since opening last September, the trial has revived memories of Islamist violence that spiraled across Europe and the Middle East a few years ago, when IS controlled a swath of Iraq and Syria, and French and other fighters were recruited to join its ranks and sow chaos at home.

But today, the IS caliphate has collapsed. Jihadi violence has dispersed, transformed and migrated to sub-Saharan Africa. Meanwhile, other security threats are on the rise in Europe, with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine marking the newest and possibly most significant change, analysts say.

“After the war on terror that has dominated the last 20 years, there is a return to the politics of great power rivalries, to the more traditional nature of international relations,” said Thomas Renard, director of the International Center for Counter-Terrorism, referring not only to a rising Russia but also China.

“That doesn’t mean terrorism is going to magically disappear,” Renard added, “but it’s going to be a lesser priority, certainly at the international level.”

Across Europe and other Western countries, terrorist attacks declined by more than two-thirds in 2021 from their peak in 2018, according to the Global Terrorism Index that was published in March by the Institute for Economics and Peace. Meanwhile, Africa’s Sahel has become the world’s latest terror hotspot, the index said.

In Europe, politically motivated attacks — driven by far-left and far-right ideologies —have eclipsed Islamist and other religiously driven attacks that once controlled the region’s terrorism landscape, the index found.

“Terrorism is becoming more centered in conflict zones, underpinned by weak governments and political instability,” IEP Executive Chairman Steve Killelea said, adding, “as [the] conflict in Ukraine dominates global attention, it is crucial that the global fight against terrorism is not sidelined.”

Bodies, haunted survivors

A few years ago, there was little chance that terrorism would be sidelined. In January 2015, Paris saw a pair of radicalized brothers and a fellow assailant gun down more than a dozen people in separate attacks targeting the satirical Charlie Hebdo newspaper and a kosher supermarket.

In November of that year, Paris experienced far worse: a bloody bombing and shooting rampage by a French-Belgian IS cell on a balmy Friday night. The extremists targeted young people packing the city’s bars, restaurants, soccer stadium and the Bataclan concert hall, leaving a trail of hundreds of bodies and haunted survivors in its wake.

With police barricading streets around Paris’ main courthouse during the lengthy trial, Abdeslam has been variously contemptuous, defiant and seemingly contrite.

He has apologized to victims, yet maintained allegiance to IS. Abdeslam claimed he chose not to detonate his explosive belt to avoid more carnage. Prosecutors argued instead that the belt malfunctioned.

Many of the 19 remaining defendants also face life sentences for playing key roles in assisting the killers in November 2015. Several have been tried in absentia.

After 2015, Europe experienced dozens of other deadly attacks. The following year saw bombings in Brussels and an attack on a Christmas market in Germany. Terrorists also mowed down pedestrians in the French Riviera city of Nice in July 2016 and on the London Bridge a year later. Among the most horrific incidents was the beheading of a French schoolteacher in a Paris suburb, in October 2020.

Today, experts and state security services worry not only about the potential threat posed by Islamists who have recently been released from European prisons or soon will be, but also other challenges.

“The threat has become more diffuse and more diverse,” Renard said. “We’re no longer confronted with a clear terrorist organization with a clear network of trained individuals. Rather, we’re dealing with a lot of loose individuals, loners, either linked to jihadi or to far-right ideology.”

Russia’s influence in Africa

Russia’s war in Ukraine is also reshaping European security priorities both at home —where the European Union has designated billions of dollars in military aid for Ukraine, and where Baltic states fear they may be next in Moscow’s crosshairs — and in Africa.

In Mali, Russia’s Wagner Group, with its reportedly close ties to the Kremlin, has edged out France and the European Union as the ruling junta’s key partner in its war on terror. Along with fighting the country’s myriad armed groups, Wagner mercenaries are allegedly waging a disinformation war against France and are blamed by rights groups for civilian atrocities.

Russia’s influence and interests extend well beyond Mali, analysts say, with Wagner a potent force in the Central African Republic, and Moscow’s influence expanding in other Sahel countries.

“The EU increasingly understands that its contest with Russia — sparked by [Russian] President Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine — is spreading to different theaters, including those in Africa,” European Council on Foreign Relations analysts Andrew Lebovich and Theodore Murphy wrote in a recent commentary.

Their warning — also signaled by France in recent months — is being echoed in other European capitals, including Madrid, ahead of this week’s NATO summit in Spain.

Meanwhile, the war in Ukraine could spin off other security threats, Renard said, pointing to the influx of foreign volunteers joining Ukraine’s side against Russia.

“If this conflict continues over time and loses international attention, you could see some of these battalions splinter and reorganize along more ideological narratives. And that could become another form of terrorist organization,” Renard said.

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