Ukraine, Baltics, Poland leaders meet on Polish holiday

Ukraine, Baltics, Poland leaders meet on Polish holiday

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By MONIKA SCISLOWSKA

Associated Press

Monday, May 3, 2021

WARSAW, Poland (AP) – Lithuania‘s president said Monday that his country will never accept Russia‘s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and Moscow’s military pressure on eastern Ukraine, or the Kremlin’s attempts to influence Belarus.

President Gitanas Nauseda was in Warsaw addressing a remote session of Poland‘s and Lithuania‘s parliaments marking the 230th anniversary of their joint constitution, Europe’s first such written democratic document.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the presidents of Latvia and Estonia – countries on the European Union’s border with Russia and Belarus – were also among the guests at the ceremonies in Warsaw.

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Lithuania will never recognize the illegal annexation of Crimea and will be taking steps toward ending the actual occupation of part of eastern Ukraine,” Nauseda said. “Whatever happens, we cannot allow Ukraine to slide back into the past.”

He also said Lithuania backs the freedom drive in neighboring Belarus and will never allow it to be influenced by Moscow.

“There is no room in the Europe of the 21st century for new areas of influence that negate the sovereignty of independent countries,” Nauseda said.

During a later televised debate among the presidents, Poland‘s Andrzej Duda assured Zelenskyy it was also Warsaw’s view that Russia‘s actions in Ukraine “must not be accepted.”

Zelenskyy, who is to meet with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken this week in Kyiv, said that the war against Moscow-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine means that “there is war in Europe.”

“No one today will give up our sovereignty. We are fighting … because we want to be free,” Zelenskyy said.

Following one-on-one talks with Duda, Zelenskyy thanked Poland for its strong support for Ukraine‘s territorial integrity and condemnation of Crimea’s annexation.

Zelenskyy said he invited Duda to ceremonies in August marking 30 years of Ukraine‘s independence and to the accompanying meeting of state leaders that is to discuss the “de-occupation of Crimea.”

During the presidents’ debate Monday on the European Union and the pandemic, Zelenskyy said that Ukraine, which is aspiring to one day join the club, said it has not yet received any of the promised COVID-19 vaccines from the EU.

He said only 1 million people in his nation of more than 44 million have been immunized.

The five presidents signed a declaration stressing that solidarity among nations is the basis for peace, stability and development in today’s world.

Poland’s 1791 Constitution was intended to strengthen its political system and rule of law and protect it against aggression from neighboring powers, including Russia. Historians say the effort came too late, and failed to avert annexations by the Russian, Prussian and Austrian empires that in 1795 wiped Poland from maps for more than a century.

Poland and neighboring Lithuania were one state at the time of the 18th-century constitution.

Poland, Lithuania are targets of cyber disinformation attack

Poland, Lithuania are targets of cyber disinformation attack

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Associated Press

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

WARSAW, Poland (AP) – The Polish and Lithuanian governments say they have been the target of a cyber disinformation attack that appears aimed at undermining relations between the two NATO allies.

A Polish government official, Stanislaw Zaryn, said Russia appeared to be the culprit, saying the type of attack falls into a recent pattern of informational warfare directed by the Kremlin against NATO members on the eastern flank of the alliance.

The cyberattack involved a false press release published last week that claimed to be issued by Lithuanian border guards. The fabricated statement said a Polish diplomat was caught smuggling narcotics, firearms, explosives and extremist materials into Lithuania, said Zaryn, the spokesman for the head of Poland’s security services.

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The Lithuanian Foreign Ministry said it “has worked in coordination with other responsible Lithuanian institutions and determined that this was a complex cyber-information attack.”

It added that “there has been an increase in cyber-information attacks aimed at undermining the friendly relationship between Lithuania and Poland, and at igniting discord.”

In a statement to The Associated Press, Zaryn said the hacking also involved a fake Facebook account pretending to belong to a regional Polish official spreading the “news” in Polish.

“The fashion in which the attack was carried, the fact that it targeted the relations between Poland and Lithuania, and the fact that it was yet another cyber-campaign of this kind allow (us) to conclude that Russia might be the culprit,” Zaryn said.

Belarus’ authoritarian leader visits his foes in prison

Belarus’ authoritarian leader visits his foes in prison

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Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko delivers a speech during his inauguration ceremony at the Palace of the Independence in Minsk, Belarus, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020. Lukashenko of Belarus has assumed his sixth term of office in an inauguration ceremony that wasn’t … more >

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Associated Press

Saturday, October 10, 2020

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) – Belarus’ authoritarian president on Saturday visited a prison to talk to opposition activists, who have been jailed for challenging his re-election that was widely seen as manipulated and triggered two months of protests.

President Alexander Lukashenko spent more than four hours talking to his jailed political foes at the Minsk prison that belongs to Belarus’ State Security Committee, which still goes under its Soviet-era name, KGB.

Lukashenko’s office said that “the goal of the president was to hear everyone’s opinion.” Among 11 jailed activists who attended the meeting were several members of the opposition’s Coordination Council and Viktor Babariko, the former head of a major Russia-owned bank. Babariko aspired to challenge Lukashenko but was barred from the race and remained in jail since his arrest in May on charges he dismissed as political.

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Lukashenko’s landslide re-election in the Aug. 9 vote was widely seen as manipulated amid widespread public frustration with the Belarusian leader’s 26-year authoritarian rule, his cavalier response to the coronavirus pandemic and the deteriorating economy.

A violent crackdown on peaceful demonstrators in the first days after the vote, in which thousands were arrested and hundreds were beaten by police, provoked international outrage and helped swell protesters’ ranks.

The main opposition challenger in the vote, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who left for Lithuania after the election under pressure from authorities, cast Lukashenko’s visit to prison as a result of continuing demonstrations and urged keeping up a push for new elections.

“With this meeting, Lukashenko recognized the existence of political prisoners whom he previously dismissed as criminals,” she said in a statement. “Today’s event is a result of our pressure.”

The European Union and the United States said the election was neither free nor fair. They have slapped scores of Belarusian officials with sanctions for their role in the alleged vote-rigging and the crackdown on protests, but didn’t target Lukashenko himself.

EU members Poland and Lithuania have been especially outspoken in their support for Belarusian opposition politicians, leading to diplomatic tensions that have included Belarus’ government expelling Polish and Lithuanian diplomats. Those two countries responded by withdrawing their ambassadors to Minsk.

Late Friday, Britain temporarily recalled its ambassador to Belarus, Jacqueline Perkins, in response to the Belarusian government’s decision to expel the Polish and Lithuanian diplomats.

In a tweet, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab condemned the decision, labeling it as “completely unjustified.” He said the temporary recall of the ambassador “for consultations on the situation in Belarus” was intended to show “solidarity” with the people in the country.

The government has sought to stifle protests by detaining hundreds of demonstrators, prosecuting some top activists and forcing others to leave the country. However, massive demonstrations have continued, reaching their peak numbers on Sundays when up to 100,000 flood the streets of the Belarusian capital, Minsk. Another big protest is planned for this Sunday.

Hundreds of women marched through the Belarusian capital on Saturday to protest against political repressions and demand a new election. Several participants in the rally were detained.

Pavel Latushko, a former culture minister and ambassador to France, who joined the opposition’s Coordination Council and was pressured by authorities to leave the country, said that the meeting reflected the Belarusian leader’s weakness.

“Lukashenko was forced to sit down at the negotiation table with the people whom he jailed,” Latushko said in a statement, demanding the release of all political prisoners.

Observers saw Lukashenko’s visit to prison as part of his efforts to steal the protesters’ thunder by offering vaguely-described reforms, such as his proposal to draft a new constitution. During the meeting in prison, Lukashenko emphasized that “the constitution can’t be written in the streets,” his office said without offering other details of the meeting.

“After two months of protests and harsh repressions, Lukashenko is moving to de-escalate the situation,” said Valery Karbalevich, an independent Minsk-based political expert.

“The discussion of a new constitution is an attempt by the government to imitate a dialogue. It would allow Lukashenko to drown the protests in talks, reduce tensions and enforce his agenda both inside the country and to foreign players,” Karbalevich said.