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Moldova Intensifies Push to Join EU

Moldova on Thursday hosts a symbolic summit of EU leaders where Moldovan leaders hope to push their country’s longstanding bid for integration into the European Union. That effort has fervent supporters and opponents, both internal and external. Marcus Harton narrates this report from Ricardo Marquina in Chisinau, Moldova.

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Ankara Could Get F16s but US–Turkey Ties Remain Fraught

Aiming to secure support for Sweden’s bid to join NATO, U.S. President Joe Biden signaled a transactional approach in his engagement with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The newly reelected Turkish leader has been one of the most consequential yet complicated members of the transatlantic military alliance. White House Bureau Chief Patsy Widakuswara has this report. Contributor: Anita Powell

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Ankara Could Get F16s but US-Turkey Ties Remain Fraught

Aiming to secure support for Sweden’s bid to join NATO, U.S. President Joe Biden signaled a transactional approach in his engagement with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The newly reelected Turkish leader has been one of the most consequential yet complicated members of the transatlantic military alliance.

Biden spoke with Erdogan on Monday to congratulate him on winning his third presidential term and said the two had discussed the issue of Sweden’s NATO accession and Turkey’s request to overhaul and expand its fleet of American-made F-16 fighter jets.

“He still wants to work on something on the F-16s. I told him we wanted a deal with Sweden, so let’s get that done. And so, we’ll be back in touch with one another,” Biden said, adding that they will talk more about it “next week.”

This is the first time Biden has linked the two issues together. Neither the White House nor the Turkish government mentioned the potential F-16 sale in their readout of the call.

U.S. administration officials have repeatedly rejected suggestions of a quid pro quo between the transatlantic military alliance’s expansion and a weapons sale.

“That’s not a condition,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre reiterated during her press briefing Tuesday. “President Biden has long been clear that he supports selling F-16s.”

On Tuesday, during a joint news conference with Sweden’s Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson in Lulea, Sweden, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that both issues “should go forward as quickly as possible.”

In response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Finland and Sweden applied for NATO membership in May 2022. The bids, which must be approved by all NATO members, were held up by objections from Turkey and Hungary though Finland’s bid was finally approved in April.


Ankara has long sought to purchase 40 F-16 fighter jets made by U.S. company Lockheed Martin and nearly 80 modernization kits for its air force’s existing warplanes — a $20 billion transaction.

The F-16 jets make up the bulk of Turkey’s combat aircraft after the Trump administration in 2019 expelled Ankara from the fifth-generation F-35 fighter jet program over its decision to acquire Russian-made S-400 air defense systems.

The U.S. Congress, which has authority to block major weapons sales, objects to F-16 sales for reasons beyond NATO enlargement. It wants Ankara to ease tensions with Greece, refrain from invading northern Syria and enforce sanctions against Russia for its war on Ukraine.

In April, about two weeks after Turkey ratified its support for Finland joining NATO, Washington approved a $259 million sale of avionics software upgrades for Ankara’s current fleet of F-16 fighter aircraft. But Sweden’s bid is still held up because Ankara believes that Stockholm is harboring “terrorists” — militants from the banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which took up arms against the Turkish state in 1984.

Swedish lawmakers have passed legislation tightening the country’s anti-terrorism laws, a move expected to help persuade Turkey. U.S. and Swedish officials have expressed hope that Sweden’s membership will be confirmed by the time NATO leaders meet in Vilnius, Lithuania, in mid-July.

While Erdogan is likely to leverage his support for Sweden, he is also a pragmatist, said Asli Aydintaşbaş, a Turkish journalist and visiting fellow in the Center on the United States and Europe at Brookings.

“What we are going to see is a bit of a last-minute drama heading up to the Vilnius summit,” Aydıntaşbaş told VOA. “At the end, it’s possible that this will be resolved on the night of the summit.”

Fraught relations

F-16s aside, U.S.-Turkish ties will remain fraught, said James Jeffrey, a former U.S. ambassador to Turkey, who now chairs the Middle East program at the Wilson Center.

“It’s a complicated, transactional relationship,” Jeffrey told VOA. “It’s never 100% on our side. We’re hoping it won’t be more than 50% away from us, but a lot depends on the personal relationship between Biden and Erdogan. It’s been frosty; the call is a good first step.”

Solid ties with Ankara will be “dramatically strategic in terms of containing Russia,” as well as containing Iran and terrorist movements in the region — all key goals for Washington, Jeffrey added.

However, Erdogan’s friendly ties with Russian leader Vladimir Putin while NATO helps Ukraine to fend off a Russian invasion have made Western officials uneasy.

“We are not bound by the West’s sanctions,” Erdogan said in a CNN interview earlier this month. “We are a strong state, and we have a positive relationship with Russia.”

Ankara has calibrated its response to the war in Ukraine consistent with its own strategic interests, condemning the invasion and restricting Russian warships and military flights across its territory while refusing to join Western sanctions on Russia and expanding its trade ties with Moscow.

At the same time Erdogan has maintained good ties with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. His government has provided aid and drones to Ukraine and was instrumental in the U.N.-backed deal allowing Ukrainian grain ships access to global markets via the Black Sea.


The Turkish decision to acquire S-400 air defense systems remains the thorniest issue for the U.S., said Howard Eissenstat, a nonresident scholar at the Middle East Institute.

“That one’s going to be really difficult to solve,” he told VOA.

Washington insists it won’t allow Ankara back into its F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program until Ankara abandons the Russian-made weapons. Earlier this month, Turkish media reported that Ankara rejected the Biden administration’s request for Turkey to send its S-400 air defense systems to Ukraine.

Next week, Biden will host British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen. The leaders are expected to discuss the issue of NATO enlargement, including how to get Ankara on board.

“Those are good interlocutors for the president,” Jeffrey said. “Those are people who understand the geostrategic situation in Europe.”

Anita Powell contributed to this report.

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 Turkey to Investigate Media Outlets Over Election Coverage 

Turkey’s broadcasting watchdog on Tuesday announced it is investigating six opposition TV channels for “insulting the public” through coverage of Sunday’s presidential election runoff.

The Radio and Television Supreme Council, or RTUK, said viewers had complained about election coverage, but did not provide specific examples. 

One of the channels under investigation —Tele 1— said on its website that the action shows the “government’s censorship device is at work.”

The inquiry comes two days after President Tayyip Erdogan of the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, won the second round of the presidential election on Sunday.  

Assaults on press freedom bookended this election. Ahead of the vote, several journalists were arrested, detained, sentenced to jail time and assaulted — often over coverage about the election, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.  

Freedom of expression both online and offline has sharply declined in Turkey over the past decade, according to Cathryn Grothe, a research analyst at Freedom House.  

“President Erdogan and the AKP have increasingly exerted control over the media environment by censoring independent news outlets and silencing those who criticize the government or its policies,” Grothe told VOA.  

“The RTUK’s recent investigation into six opposition television channels on politically motivated charges of ‘insulting the public’ is just another example of how Turkish authorities will go to extensive lengths to control the narrative and silence the opposition,” Grothe said.  

The investigation was also of little surprise to Erol Onderoglu, the Turkey representative for media watchdog Reporters Without Borders, or RSF. 

“We now know that the ultimate goal of those who say, ‘death to criticism’ is to completely silence those who make different voices arbitrarily,” Onderoglu said. 

Turkey’s Washington embassy did not immediately reply to VOA’s email requesting comment. 

The media outlets under RTUK investigation are Halk TV, Tele 1, KRT TV, TV 5, Flash Haber TV and Szc TV. 

In April, RTUK fined three of those channels over coverage, including for reports that were critical of earthquake rescue efforts or that included opposition voices criticizing the AKP policy.

In 2022, RTUK issued 54 penalties to five independent broadcasters, compared to just four against pro-government channels, according to the free expression group Article 19.

“RTUK has long been an apparatus of [authorities],” said Faruk Eren, the head of the press union of the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions of Turkey.

“More difficult days await journalists,” he told VOA. 

RTUK has previously dismissed criticism of how it operates, saying it acts in accordance with Turkish law and “stands up for pluralism, press freedom and free news.”

Media and rights analysts have raised concerns over what another Erdogan term will mean for civil society after a presidency marked by a crackdown on media, internet censorship and hostility to minority groups, the Associated Press reported.

Overall, Turkey ranks poorly on the World Press Freedom Index, coming in at 165 out of 180 countries, where 1 denotes the best environment for media, says RSF.

“One part of me thinks that it’s par for the course. We’ve become accustomed to this,” said Sinan Ciddi, a fellow on Turkey at the Washington think tank Foundation for Defense of Democracies. But, Ciddi told VOA, there are concerns that Erdogan will use his new term to crack down even harder on press freedom. 

“I’m of the opinion he basically lets things continue as they are,” Ciddi said, “simply because that’s his way of demonstrating to the world, ‘Hey, look, we have press freedom. There are channels and outlets which hate me.’”  

The timing of the inquiry just two days after the election is concerning said Suay Boulougouris, who researches Turkish digital rights at the free expression group Article 19.  

No one was under the impression that another Erdogan term would bring about advancements to human rights and press freedom in Turkey, Boulougouris said, but this inquiry sets the tone for the next five years in a distressing way.  

“It’s known that RTUK is weaponized to challenge or suppress these TV channels,” Boulougouris told VOA. “Launching this inquiry so quickly, right after the elections, to me indicates that chances are really low for political change and democratic reforms in Turkey.”  

To Ciddi, critical voices “will want to keep the fight going.”  

“Going forward, we can expect a rallying cry for media and independence,” he said.  

Hilmi Hacaloglu contributed to this report.

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South African Rand Dives After Russia Accusations

South Africa’s currency, already under pressure, has plummeted to new lows after a US official accused the country of helping Russia. The plunge is causing concern among officials and investors, but as Zaheer Cassim reports from Johannesburg, it’s the people who are feeling the impact the hardest.

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NATO Soldiers on Guard in Kosovo Town, Serb Protesters Smash 2 Cars

Serb protesters smashed two cars belonging to Albanian journalists in Kosovo’s Leposavic town on Tuesday, a day after 30 NATO soldiers and 52 protesters were hurt in clashes, as EU and NATO officials urged calm and de-escalation of the violence.

Unrest in the region has intensified since ethnic Albanian mayors took office in northern Kosovo’s Serb-majority area after April elections the Serbs boycotted, a move that led the U.S. and its allies to rebuke Pristina on Friday.

Masked men approached a car with an Albanian license plate marked as “A2, CNN affiliate” and smashed the windshield, a Reuters reporter who witnessed the incident said. Another car belonging to another media outlet was smashed as well. No one was injured. 

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell urged Kosovo and Serbian leaders to find a way to de-escalate tensions through dialogue. 

“We have too much violence already in Europe today, we cannot afford another conflict,” Borrell told a news briefing in Brussels.

Northern Kosovo’s majority Serbs have never accepted Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence from Serbia and consider Belgrade their capital more than two decades after the Kosovo Albanian uprising against repressive Serbian rule.

Ethnic Albanians make up more than 90% of the population in Kosovo as a whole, but northern Serbs have long demanded the implementation of an EU-brokered 2013 deal for the creation of an association of autonomous municipalities in their area. 

Serbs refused to take part in local elections in April and ethnic Albanian candidates won the mayoralties in four Serb-majority municipalities with a 3.5% turnout.

Russia, which has long had close ties with Serbia and shares its Slavic and Orthodox Christian traditions, called on Tuesday for “decisive steps” to quell the unrest in Kosovo. 

The Russian foreign ministry urged “the West to finally silence its false propaganda and stop blaming incidents in Kosovo on Serbs driven to despair, who are peaceful, unarmed, trying to defend their legitimate rights and freedoms.” 

Moscow helped block Kosovo’s bid for U.N. membership at Belgrade’s request.

Several ethnic Serbs gathered in front of the building in Zvecan but the situation was calm on Tuesday as soldiers from the United States, Italy and Poland stood by in anti-riot gear.

A Kosovo police source who asked not to be named, told Reuters bulldozers were heading north, ready to remove any barricades set by Serbs.

Kosovo authorities have blamed Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic for destabilizing Kosovo. Vucic blames Kosovo authorities for causing problems by installing new mayors.

“In a democracy there is no place for fascist violence—no appeal from ballot to bullet,” Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti said on Twitter late on Monday.

In a statement after meeting ambassadors of the so-called Quint group – the United States, Italy, France, Germany and Britain – in Belgrade, Vucic said he had asked that Albanian mayors are removed from their offices in the north. 

Kosovo President Vjosa Osmani said criminal gangs, supported by Vucic, aimed to destabilize Kosovo and the entire region. 

On Monday, Serb protesters in Zvecan threw tear gas and stun grenades at NATO soldiers, leaving 30 NATO troops hurt, along with 52 Serbs. 

“Violent acts against citizens, against media, against law enforcement and KFOR troops are absolutely unacceptable,” EU’s Borrell said. 

“KFOR (NATO’s Kosovo force) will continue to take all necessary measures to ensure a safe and secure environment and freedom of movement for all communities in Kosovo, in accordance with its mandate,” the NATO force said in a statement.

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5 Greek Border Police Officers Arrested on Suspicion of Working With Migrant Smugglers

Greek authorities said Monday they had arrested five police officers from a special border guard force on suspicion of working with smugglers to help migrants cross into the country from neighboring Turkey. 

A police statement said the five suspects are believed to have facilitated the entry of at least 100 people since late October, using boats to cross the Evros River that runs along the northeastern Greek land border with Turkey. 

During the arrests in the border town of Didymoteicho Monday, police confiscated some $28,000 in cash, and nearly 60 mobile phones. The operation followed an investigation by the police internal affairs squad. 

The Evros is a key crossing point into Greece for people seeking a better life in the European Union. Greece has built a high fence along much of the border to prevent migrant entries and is planning to further extend it. 

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Why Do Kosovo-Serbia Tensions Persist?

Tensions between Serbia and Kosovo flared anew this weekend after Kosovo’s police raided Serb-dominated areas in the region’s north and seized local municipality buildings.

Violent clashes between Kosovo’s police and NATO-led peacekeepers on one side and local Serbs on the other have left several people injured on both sides.

The violence led Serbia to raise the combat readiness of its troops stationed near the border and warned it won’t stand by if Serbs in Kosovo are attacked again. The situation has again fueled fears of a renewal of the 1998-99 conflict in Kosovo that claimed more than 10,000 lives and left more than 1 million homeless.

Why are Serbia and Kosovo at odds?

Kosovo is a mainly ethnic Albanian-populated territory that was formerly a province of Serbia. It declared independence in 2008.

Serbia has refused to recognize Kosovo’s statehood and still considers it a part of Serbia, even though it has no formal control there.

Kosovo’s independence has been recognized by about 100 countries, including the United States, Russia and China, while five European Union nations have sided with Serbia.

The deadlock has kept tensions simmering and prevented full stabilization of the Balkan region after the bloody wars in the 1990s.

What’s the latest flare-up about?

After Serbs boycotted last month’s local elections held in northern Kosovo — where Serbs represent a majority — newly elected ethnic Albanian mayors needed the help of Kosovo’s riot police to move into their offices last Friday.

Serbs tried to prevent them from taking over the premises, but police fired tear gas to disperse them.

On Monday, Serbs staged a protest in front of the municipality buildings, triggering a tense standoff that resulted in fierce clashes between the Serbs and local police, along with Kosovo peacekeepers.

The election boycott followed a collective resignation in November by Serb officials from the area, including administrative staff, judges, and police officers.

How deep is the ethnic conflict in Kosovo?

The dispute over Kosovo is centuries old. Serbia cherishes the region as the heart of its statehood and religion.

Numerous medieval Serb Orthodox Christian monasteries are in Kosovo. Serb nationalists view a 1389 battle against Ottoman Turks there as a symbol of its national struggle.

Kosovo’s majority ethnic Albanians view Kosovo as their country and accuse Serbia of occupation and repression. Ethnic Albanian rebels launched a rebellion in 1998 to rid the country of Serbian rule.

Belgrade’s brutal response prompted a NATO intervention in 1999, which forced Serbia to pull out and cede control to international peacekeepers.

What is the situation locally?

There are constant tensions between the Kosovo government and the Serbs who live mainly in the north of the country and keep close ties with Belgrade.

Attempts by the central government to impose more control in the Serb-dominated north are usually met with resistance from Serbs.

Mitrovica, the main town in the north, has been effectively divided into an ethnic Albanian part and a Serb-held part, and the two sides rarely mix. There are also smaller Serb-populated enclaves in the south of Kosovo, while tens of thousands of Kosovo Serbs live in central Serbia, where they fled together with the withdrawing Serb troops in 1999.

Have there been attempts to resolve the dispute?

There have been constant international efforts to find common ground between the two former wartime foes, but there has been no final comprehensive agreement.

EU officials have mediated negotiations designed to normalize relations between Serbia and Kosovo. Numerous agreements have been reached during those negotiations, but they were rarely implemented on the ground. Some areas have seen results, such as introducing freedom of movement within the country.

An idea has been floated for border changes and land swaps as the way forward, but this was rejected by many EU countries out of fears that it could cause a chain reaction in other ethnically mixed areas in the Balkans and trigger more trouble in the region that went through bloody wars in the 1990s.

Who are the main players?

Both Kosovo and Serbia are led by nationalist leaders who haven’t shown readiness for a compromise.

In Kosovo, Albin Kurti, a former student protest leader and political prisoner in Serbia, leads the government and is the main negotiator in EU-mediated talks. He was also known as a fierce supporter of Kosovo’s unification with Albania and is against any compromise with Serbia.

Serbia is led by populist President Aleksandar Vucic, who was information minister during the war in Kosovo. The former ultranationalist insists that any solution must be a compromise in order to last and says Serbia won’t settle unless it gains something.

What happens next?

International officials are hoping to speed up negotiations and reach a solution in the coming months.

Both nations must normalize ties if they want to advance toward EU membership. No major breakthrough would mean prolonged instability, economic decline and constant potential for clashes.

Any Serbian military intervention in Kosovo would mean a clash with NATO peacekeepers stationed there. Belgrade controls Kosovo’s Serbs, and Kosovo can’t become a member of the U.N. and a functional state without resolving the dispute with Serbia.

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