IMF Approves $15.6 Billion Ukraine Loan Package

The International Monetary Fund has approved a $15.6 billion support package for Ukraine to assist with the conflict-hit country’s economic recovery, the fund said in a statement Friday.

Russia’s invasion has devastated Ukraine’s economy, causing activity to contract by about 30% last year, destroying much of its capital stock and spreading poverty, according to the IMF.

The outbreak of war has rippled through the global economy, fueling global inflation through rising wheat and oil prices.

The invasion has also highlighted Europe’s dependence on Russian natural gas for its energy security. Many countries were forced to seek out alternative sources of energy after the war began.

The two-step program will look to stabilize the country’s economic situation while the war continues, before turning to “more ambitious structural reforms” after the end of hostilities, IMF deputy managing director Gita Gopinath said in a statement.

The 48-month Extended Fund Facility approved by the fund’s board is worth roughly $15.6 billion.

It forms the IMF’s portion of a $115 billion overall support package comprised of debt relief, grants and loans by multilateral and bilateral institutions, the IMF’s Ukraine mission chief Gavin Gray told reporters on Friday.

“The goal of Ukraine’s new IMF-supported program is to provide an anchor for economic policies — policies that will sustain macroeconomic financial stability and support … economic recovery,” he said.

Of the total amount approved by the IMF, $2.7 billion is being made available to Ukraine immediately, with the rest of the funds due to be released over the next four years.

The program also includes additional guarantees from some IMF members in the event that active combat continues beyond its current estimate of mid-2024.

If the conflict were to extend into 2025, it would raise Ukraine’s financial needs from $115 billion to about $140 billion, Gray said.

“This program has been designed in such a way that it would work even if economic circumstances are considerably worse than … the current baseline,” he said.

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Russia Set to Take Helm of UN Security Council, to Critics’ Dismay

On Saturday, in what some critics say sounds more like an April Fools’ joke than reality, Russia will take over the rotating presidency of the U.N. Security Council for the month, and no one can prevent it.

With Russia’s war in Ukraine entering its 14th month, an arrest warrant being issued by the International Criminal Court for President Vladimir Putin, and Moscow planning to deploy tactical nuclear weapons to neighboring Belarus, critics are questioning how Russia could helm the U.N.’s most powerful organ.

“The question is very clear: Can the war criminal head the U.N. Security Council?” Andrius Kubilius, a Lithuanian member of the European Parliament, asked during a session Wednesday, referring to Putin.

On March 17, The Hague-based ICC issued an arrest warrant for the Russian leader for his alleged role in the abduction and unlawful deportation of thousands of Ukrainian children to Russia.

“I think that people are seeing it the wrong way round. I think that people should understand that this month is more of a headache than an advantage for the Russians,” Richard Gowan, U.N. director for International Crisis Group, told VOA.

“If they try and use the presidency to try to stir up trouble for the Ukrainians, or push their narratives about the war, they will just get an enormous amount of blowback,” he added.

The 15-nation Security Council is the U.N.’s most powerful organ. It can authorize military action, deploy peacekeepers, sanction nations and individuals, and refer possible war crimes cases to the International Criminal Court.

Council members take turns as president according to alphabetical order (by English spellings). The last time Russia came up in the rotation was February 2022. On the 24th day of its presidency, Putin launched his “special military operation” into Ukraine, in a flagrant breach of the U.N. Charter and international law — also in the middle of a council meeting hoping to prevent it.

The only time in recent history when a country missed its presidency was in 1994 in the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide, according to Security Council Report, a think tank that studies the council’s transparency and effectiveness. At the time, Rwanda was a non-permanent council member.

Rwanda’s council seat was vacant for six weeks from mid-July, when Pasteur Bizimungu became Rwanda’s president, until September, when Rwanda should have been council president.

“But clearly the new government had just taken up the seat; they didn’t have time to prepare. They just had experienced the genocide and they had a new government,” Security Council Report told VOA. “So, they skipped Rwanda, and the seat went to Spain, which was next in alphabetical order.”

The council decided that Rwanda would get its chance, once the alphabetical rotation had been completed, and it did sit as president in December 1994.

As for Russia’s presidency, no one can prevent it.

From the White House podium on Thursday, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said that a country that “flagrantly violates the U.N. Charter” and invades its neighbor has no place on the council, but there is “no feasible international legal pathway” around that.

“As unpalatable as it may be to see Russia presiding over the council, the reality is this is a largely ceremonial position which rotates to council members month by month in alphabetical order,” she said, adding that the U.S. encourages Russia to conduct itself professionally so the council can carry out its work.

“Russia is a permanent member,” said one council diplomat. “While they are misbehaving gravely on Ukraine and just tearing the [U.N.] Charter apart, my expectation is they will do this presidency in a professional manner.”

Ukraine is outraged that Russia is on the council, much less chairing it. Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Moscow’s presidency is a “bad joke.”


Kyiv argues that Moscow should have formally applied for U.N. membership after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, and since it has not done so, it does not have the legal right to be on the council, much less a permanent, veto-wielding member.

“Russia’s presence in the U.N. Security Council is the result of the largest diplomatic fraud of the 20th century,” Kuleba said Thursday at a Chatham House discussion of Russia’s war. “We should delegitimize Russia’s presence in the U.N. Security Council first, by exposing the truth to everyone.”

Regardless of optics or opinions, U.N. observers say there is little Russia can do to exploit its position as council president.

“It’s not like the G-20, G-7 or EU presidency where you chair six months or a year and where you inject your own agenda,” the council diplomat said.

“I think the role of the council president is a bit overrated,” Crisis Group’s Gowan said. “Most of it is just chairing meetings and shuffling paper.”

Among Russia’s planned meetings in April will be a ministerial-level debate chaired by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on the defense of the U.N. Charter.

Moscow also plans to hold an informal council meeting early in the month on the issue of Ukrainian children abducted and forcibly deported to Russia, which Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said was planned before the ICC issued its warrant for Putin. The envoy has described the issue of the children as “totally overblown.”

And on April 10, Russia has scheduled a meeting on Western arms transfers to Ukraine. Western nations say they are sending equipment, weapons and ammunition to Ukraine as it is fighting in self-defense. They accuse Moscow of obtaining illegal arms transfers from Iran and North Korea.


There have been some calls for nations to boycott Russia’s presidency, including a nascent online petition campaign. Ironically, the only council member ever to boycott council proceedings was the former Soviet Union.

In 1950, the USSR boycotted council meetings for more than six months over the issue of China’s U.N. representation. Moscow had recognized the Communist People’s Republic of China as the legitimate government and wanted its representative to replace the Nationalist Chinese delegation.

“They did come back into the council on August 1, 1950, which was their presidency,” Security Council Report told VOA. “The reason why they came back was because that was during the Korean War and all these votes on U.N. engagement in Korea were being adopted because they were not there to veto them. So they realized it was disadvantageous to them to not be sitting in the council.”

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100 Wildfires in Northern Spain; Officials Say Arson Behind Most

Officials in the small northern Spanish region of Asturias claimed Friday that unspecified arsonists were behind most of the 100 or so wildfires raging in the heavily wooded and mountainous area.

Unusually high spring temperatures and gusting winds have helped spread the fires over the past two days, with about 400 people needing to be evacuated from villages and small towns and several roads cut off for safety.

Asturias regional President Adrián Barbón said the “full weight of the law” would be applied to what he described as “fire terrorists.” He said the fires were started in an organized way by criminals taking advantage of the adverse weather conditions. He didn’t explain what the alleged arsonists’ motives might be. No arrests have been made.

Firefighters in the region reported early Friday they were dealing with 116 fires in 35 areas. By midafternoon, the number of blazes had dropped to 97.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez contacted Barbón from Beijing on Friday to express his support for the region. Speaking later at a press conference, Sánchez said that if it is proven the fires were started intentionally, the culprits would be punished.

Asturias region rural area councilor Alejandro Calvo told Spanish National Television that while the reason behind the fires is not really known, “evidently it is a wave of provoked fires that has no precedent.”

There were no immediate details on how much land has been affected by the fires.

Some 267,000 hectares burned last year in Spain, making 2022 its worst year of fire destruction since 1994, government statistics say. That was three times the national average for the past decade.

According to the European Union’s Copernicus satellite observation service, Spain accounted for 35% of the burned land in European wildfires in 2022.

Unexpectedly fierce wildfires burned more than 4,600 hectares of forest and led to 1,400 people being evacuated in eastern Spain this week. The blazes in the Castellón province were reported to have diminished considerably Friday. 

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Pope Francis Visits Children in Hospital, Will Be Discharged Saturday

Pope Francis baptized a baby and greeted children in Rome’s Gemelli hospital on Friday as he appeared to make a rapid recovery from a bout of bronchitis that caused him to be hospitalized earlier this week. 

Francis will return home on Saturday, the Vatican said, and is scheduled to take part in a Palm Sunday service the following day to mark the start of Easter Week celebrations. 

“After evaluating the results of the examinations carried out today and the favorable clinical progress, (the medical team) has confirmed the Holy Father’s discharge from the Gemelli Hospital tomorrow,” a Vatican statement said. 

The pope, 86, was taken to hospital two days ago after complaining of breathing difficulties. He was diagnosed with bronchitis and has responded well to an infusion of antibiotics, his medical team has said. 

Highlighting the pope’s improved health, the Vatican released a video showing him standing up and baptizing a baby who was in a hospital cot. In a separate photograph, Francis was shown handing an Easter egg to a young child.  

The Vatican said he stayed about 30 minutes in the children’s cancer and neurosurgery wards before returning to his own room. 

The dean of the college of cardinals, Giovanni Battista Re, has said cardinals will help the pope during Easter celebrations this coming week and take care of altar duties.  

Holy Week, as it is known, includes a busy schedule of rituals and ceremonies that can be physically exhausting, including a Good Friday nighttime procession by Rome’s Colosseum. 

The pope was also forced to follow some of last Easter’s events seated, due to persistent knee pain, with cardinals celebrating some of the Masses in his place. 

Francis, who marked the 10th anniversary of his pontificate earlier this month, has suffered a number of ailments in recent years. He was last hospitalized in July 2021 when he had part of his colon removed in an operation aimed at addressing a painful bowel condition called diverticulitis. 

“When experienced with faith, the trials and difficulties of life serve to purify our hearts, making them humbler and thus more and more open to God,” the pope tweeted on Friday.  

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Indonesia, Russia Sign Extradition Agreement 

Indonesia and Russia signed an extradition agreement Friday to strengthen cooperation against transnational crimes. It is the first extradition agreement Indonesia has reached with a European country.

Indonesian Minister of Law and Human Rights Yasonna Laoly said, “This agreement is a very important step because it will help Indonesia to take legal actions in combating transnational crimes, ranging from cybercrime, money laundering, narcotics, corruption and others.”

He did not elaborate on the details of the agreement or any specific figure that was targeted by Indonesia or Russia. But he added, “Although the mechanism for repatriating the perpetrators of criminal acts can also be carried out through deportation and immigration cooperation, this extradition cooperation will remain the main option because it’s formal and binding [to] us.”

The extradition agreement is a continuation of the mutual legal assistance agreement (MLA) in criminal matters that was signed in Moscow on December 13, 2019.

“After having [the] MLA, and now followed by [the] extradition agreement, it will further strengthen our cooperation,” said Yasonna.

Indonesia has had diplomatic ties with Russia since 1950 and its relations have remained good despite the war in Ukraine.

In a press statement sent by the Russian Embassy in Jakarta to VOA, Russian Justice Minister Konstantin Chuychenko said having the extradition treaty with Indonesia “was an important step for us in fighting transnational crime, protecting crime victims, and restoring justice and security.”

He said the agreement would address “a number of issues in interstate legal cooperation and prospects for cooperation in the legal assistance in civil and commercial matters, the transfers of prisoners and improvement of regulation in nonprofit sectors.”

In his speech, Yasonna referred to Russia’s strategic position as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, the Group of 20 large economies and the Eurasian Economic Union that he hopes “can also help Indonesia in building its reputation and credibility in terms of security and law enforcement, as well as open a wider network of cooperation with countries that have already had cooperation with Russia.”

The signing of this extradition agreement was in line with President Joko Widodo’s directive to make Indonesia a member of the Financial Action Task Force “to assist and maintain the stability and integrity of the financial system and law enforcement, which focuses on eradicating money laundering” as well as the financing of terrorist activity.

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Russia Sends Bombs as Ukraine Marks Grim Bucha Anniversary

Russia used its long-range arsenal to bombard anew several areas of Ukraine on Friday, killing at least two civilians and damaging homes as Ukrainians commemorated the anniversary of the liberation of Bucha from a brutal occupation by the Kremlin’s forces.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that Bucha, a town near Kyiv, stands as a symbol of the atrocities the Russian military has committed since its full-scale invasion of Ukraine began in February 2022.

“We will not let it be forgotten,” Zelenskyy said at a formal ceremony in Bucha, vowing to punish those who committed outrages in the town. “Human dignity will not let it be forgotten. On the streets of Bucha, the world has seen Russian evil. Evil unmasked.”

At the same time as the Bucha commemorations, the Kremlin-allied president of Belarus raised the stakes in the 13-month war when he said that Russian strategic nuclear weapons might be deployed in his country, along with part of Moscow’s tactical nuclear arsenal.

Moscow said earlier this week it planned to place in neighboring Belarus tactical nuclear weapons that are comparatively short-range and low-yield. Strategic nuclear weapons such as missile-borne warheads would bring a greater threat.

Zelenskyy dedicated his attention to an official ceremony in Bucha, where he was joined by the president of the Republic of Moldova and the prime ministers of Croatia, Slovakia and Slovenia.

The Kremlin’s forces occupied Bucha weeks after they invaded Ukraine and stayed for about a month. When Ukrainian troops retook the town, they encountered horrific scenes: bodies of women, young and old men, in civilian clothing, lying in the street where they had fallen or in yards and homes.

Other bodies were found in a mass grave. Over weeks and months, hundreds of bodies were uncovered, including some of children.

Russian soldiers on intercepted phone conversations called it “zachistka” — cleansing, according to an investigation by The Associated Press and the PBS series “Frontline.”

Such organized cruelty — used by Russian troops in past conflicts as well, notably in Chechnya — was later repeated in Russia-occupied territories across Ukraine.

Zelenskyy handed out medals to soldiers, police, doctors, teachers and emergency services in Bucha, as well as to families of two soldiers killed during the defense of the Kyiv region.

“Ukrainian people, you have stopped the biggest anti-human force of our times,” he said. “You have stopped the force which has no respect and wants to destroy everything that gives meaning to human life.”

More than 1,400 civilian deaths, including 37 children, were documented by Ukrainian authorities, Zelenskyy said.

More than 175 people were found in mass graves and alleged torture chambers, according to Zelenskyy. Ukraine and other countries, including the U.S., have demanded that Russia answer for war crimes.

Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin alleged Friday that many of the dead civilians were tortured. Almost 100 Russian soldiers are suspected of war crimes, he said on his Telegram channel, and indictments have been issued for 35 of them.

Two Russian servicemen have already been sentenced by a Ukrainian court to 12 years in prison for illegal deprivation of liberty of civilians and looting.

“I am convinced that all these crimes are not a coincidence. This is part of Russia’s planned strategy aimed at destroying Ukraine as a state and Ukrainians as a nation,” Kostin said.

In Geneva, the U.N. human rights chief said his office has so far verified the deaths of more than 8,400 civilians in Ukraine since Russia’s invasion — a count believed to be far short of the true toll.

Volker Türk told the U.N. Human Rights Council that “severe violations of human rights and international humanitarian law have become shockingly routine” amid Russia’s invasion.

As well as making an announcement about possibly having Russian strategic nuclear weapons on his country’s soil, the Belarusian president also unexpectedly called for a cease-fire in Ukraine without making any reference about how the two developments might be connected.

A truce, Lukashenko said in his state-of-the-nation address in Minsk on Friday, must be announced without any preconditions and all movement of troops and weapons must be halted.

“It’s necessary to stop now until an escalation begins,” Lukashenko said, adding that an anticipated Ukrainian counteroffensive using Western-supplied weapons would bring “an irreversible escalation of the conflict.”

But Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov responded that Russia has to keep fighting, claiming Ukraine has rejected any talks under pressure from its Western allies.

Peskov also dismissed Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s remarks about the European Union mulling the deployment of sending peacekeeping troops to Ukraine as “extremely dangerous.”

Russia has maintained its bombardment of Ukraine with the war already into its second year.

As well as killing at least two civilians in Ukraine, 14 other civilians were wounded early Friday as Russia launched missiles, shells, exploding drones and gliding bombs, the Ukraine presidential office said.

Two Russian missiles hit the city of Kramatorsk in the eastern Donetsk region, damaging eight residential buildings. Throughout the Donetsk region, one civilian was killed and five others wounded by the strikes, the office said.

Nine Russian missiles struck Kharkiv, damaging residential buildings, roads, gas stations and a prison. The Russians also used exploding drones to attack the Kharkiv region.

Russian forces also shelled the southern city of Kherson, killing one resident and wounding two others. The village of Lviv in the Kherson region was struck by gliding bombs that damaged about 10 houses.

The barrage also hit the city of Zaporizhzhia, and its outskirts, causing major fires.

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