Syrian Peace Talks Hit Dead End
The opposition delegation wants to speak about a transitional replacement for President Bashar al-Assad, but Syrian government negotiators insist talks must address “terrorism” in the country.
International envoy Lakhdar Brahimi has been mediating, meeting separately with each side.
In New York, UN Security Council experts on February 14 started difficult negotiations on a resolution demanding immediate humanitarian access in all areas of Syria.
A Western and Arab-backed draft text threatens sanctions if demands aren't implemented within 15 days.
But Russia -- a staunch ally of Assad’s regime -- is proposing a rival text that doesn't mention sanctions or any kind of enforcement.
In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesperson Marie Harf said attempts to negotiate a peaceful solution to Syria’s civil war “will take some time.”
"There is no military solution here," Harf told reporters. "If you think of all the options militarily, those would bring incredible, even more incredible suffering on the Syrian people. The best way to end their suffering is actually through a diplomatic solution. But we're not naïve about the fact that this will take some time."
Harf also expressed alarm and blamed Assad's regime for reports of continuing violence in Syria while the Geneva peace conference is under way.
"It is horrific that in the time we are negotiating, more Syrians are being killed," Harf said. "But that's not because we're negotiating. We're negotiating to end it. It's because you have someone in charge of Syria who is willing and able to brutally kill his own people."
Reports from Syria say government forces were shelling rebel positions near the southwestern village of Yadouda early on February 15 after a car bomb outside of a village mosque exploded there on February 14, killing dozens.
Meanwhile, a deal brokered in Geneva by Brahimi for the evacuation of civilians from the historic central district of the city of Homs was put on hold February 14 despite an announcement that a cease-fire there has been extended through the weekend.
The delay of the Homs evacuation comes after reports that some 200 males between the ages of 15 and 55 who tried to join evacuees from the rebel-held district of Homs earlier in the week were detained and still being held by government forces.
In the U.S. state of California, U.S. President Barack Obama and King Abdullah II of Jordan were expected to meet on the evening of February 14 for talks focusing on the conflict in Syria.
Based on reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP
Despite Warning Signals From Moscow, Armenian Lawmakers Ratify ICC's Rome Statute
YEREVAN -- Despite signs of deep opposition from Moscow, Armenian lawmakers have voted in favor of ratifying the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), putting the country in the jurisdiction of The Hague-based institution that issued arrest warrants in March for Russian President Vladimir Putin and his children's commissioner, Maria Lvova-Belova, for their roles in the deportation of Ukrainian children after Moscow launched invaded its neighbor.
A total of 60 lawmakers, mostly representing the ruling Civil Contract party, voted for the ratification of the treaty on October 3, while 22 lawmakers voted against.
Armenia's two opposition parties, Hayastan (affiliated with former President Robert Kocharian) and Pativ Unem (affiliated with former President Serzh Sarkisian), have criticized the government's decision to approve the document, accusing the leadership of deliberately endangering Armenia's close relationship with Moscow.
The bill now must be endorsed into law by President Vahagn Khachatrian.
A week after the ICC issued arrest warrants for Putin and Lvova-Belova on March 17, Armenia's Constitutional Court ruled that the Rome Statute does not contradict the constitution.
Armenia signed the Rome Statute in 1998, but had yet to ratify it.
Russia's Foreign Ministry said earlier that Armenia's ratification of the treaty would have "the most negative consequences for bilateral relations."
Last week, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov warned that Armenia's move would worsen a growing rift with Moscow, adding that the move would be seen as "extremely hostile" toward Russia.
Independent legal experts believe that ratification of the Rome Statute implies that Putin may be arrested in Armenia if he visits the country due to the ICC arrest warrant.
Armenia has said it needs to ratify of the Rome Statute because of concerns connected with the conflict it has been engaged in with neighboring Azerbaijan.
Earlier this week, Yeghishe Kirakosian, who represents the Armenian government in international legal bodies, denied Yerevan would be committed to arresting Putin and extraditing him to The Hague tribunal if he visits Armenia.
Kirakosian claimed that Putin and other heads of state enjoy immunity from arrest and that the Rome Statute allows countries to sign bilateral agreements to ignore ICC arrest warrants. Yerevan offered to sign such a deal with Moscow in April, he said, adding that the Russian side has still not responded to the proposal.
Another Former Wagner Mercenary Recruited From Russian Prison Accused Of Murder
A former fighter from the Wagner mercenary group who was recruited from prison last year has been accused of killing two women and burning their house down after returning home to Siberia from the ongoing war against Ukraine.
Police in the town of Yermakovskoye in the Krasnoyarsk region said on October 3 they had detained Denis Stepanov, who is suspected of setting a house on fire overnight. The two women were found dead inside.
According to the police, the motive for the crime is unknown, but witnesses said the suspect had openly threatened the women.
It's not the first instance of former Wagner mercenaries recruited from jails and prisons across Russia in 2022 being accused of committing serious crimes after completing tours of duty in Ukraine.
In August, former Wagner fighter Igor Sofonov and a man with a criminal record, Maksim Bochkaryov, were arrested on suspicion of stabbing to death five men and a woman and setting two houses on fire in the northwestern region of Karelia.
In May, police in the Krasnodar region arrested former Wagner fighter Demyan Kevorkyan on suspicion of killing two people.
In 2016, the 31-year-old Kevorkyan was sentenced to 18 years in prison for robbery and creating a criminal group. After he spent several months fighting against Ukrainian forces for Russia earlier this year, he was fully exonerated and returned home, where he was subsequently accused of committing murder.
In May, police in the Siberian city of Novosibirsk arrested a man on suspicion of raping two underage girls. Media identified the suspect as former Wagner mercenary Sergei S., giving only the first letter of his last name.
Wagner's late leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, said in late June that 32,000 former inmates recruited by his group from prison had returned home after being granted clemency as part of their remuneration for taking part in Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Ukraine's Security Service Says It 'Neutralized' Russian Spy Network In South
The Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) says it has "neutralized" a Russian intelligence network in the southern region of Mykolayiv following a "large-scale" special operation. "[The network] included 13 local residents who worked for the [Russian Federal Security Service] FSB," the SBU said in a statement on October 3. It said members of the network gathered intelligence about the locations of bases and the movements of Ukrainian forces in Mykolayiv and guided Russian air strikes on civilians and infrastructure in the city of Mykolayiv, including one last year that killed seven civilians, including a child. The SBU's charges could not be independently confirmed. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.
Georgia's Constitutional Court Starts Hearing On President's Impeachment
The Constitutional Court of Georgia on October 3 started a hearing into a request by lawmakers to impeach President Salome Zurabishvili. Deputies from the ruling Georgian Dream party have called for Zurabishvili's impeachment, saying she violated the constitution by visiting a number of foreign countries earlier this year without the government's approval. Zurabishvili is not present at the hearing and is represented there by Maya Kopaleshvili, a former Constitutional Court judge, and Tamar Chugoshvili, a former Georgian Dream member. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Georgian Service, click here.
Kadyrov's Daughter Named Chechen Deputy PM Amid Unconfirmed Reports Of Father's Poor Health
Aishat Kadyrova, the 24-year-old daughter of the Kremlin-backed authoritarian head of Russia's Chechnya region, has been promoted from culture minister to the region's deputy prime minister responsible for social issues. The announcement on October 2 came amid unconfirmed reports that Ramzan Kadyrov's health is deteriorating. He and Chechen officials have denied the speculation. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Caucasus.Realities, click here.
Kazakh Minister Admits To List Of People Barred From Entering Country Over Comments
ASTANA -- A spokesman for the Kazakh Foreign Ministry said on October 2 that the ministry has created a list of persons who publicly "express negative opinions" about Kazakhstan and therefore are banned from entering the country.
Aibek Smadiyarov added that the list will not be made public and did not say when it was first created.
"I also cannot say how many persons are currently on the list. The border will be closed for such people and they will not be allowed to enter the country," Smadiyarov said.
Smadiyarov's statement came at a briefing at which journalists asked him about Kazakhstan's official reaction to frequent statements by officials, politicians, bloggers, and journalists in Russia, calling for war against Kazakhstan.
Kazakhstan is a close economic and military ally of Moscow that shares a 7,500-kilometer border with Russia, but Astana has not recognized Ukrainian regions occupied by Moscow as part of Russia.
Last week, while visiting Germany, Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev said at a press conference that his country does not fear any territorial claims from Moscow.
Still, since the Kremlin launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, another former Soviet republic, a stream of comments seen as anti-Kazakh have appeared, even from some lawmakers.
Last year, in the wake of the invasion, Moscow municipal lawmaker Sergei Sevostyanov publicly said that Kazakhstan "must be de-Nazified and demilitarized like Ukraine."
Shortly after that, pro-Kremlin political analyst Dmitry Drobnitsky said on television that "Kazakhstan is next after Ukraine," adding that "like in Ukraine, the Nazi processes may develop there as well."
In August 2022, nationalist, pro-imperial post calling Kazakhstan and Georgia "artificial" creations briefly appeared on the VKontakte (VK) social network account of former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. The post was removed after 10 minutes and officially attributed to hackers.
Kazakh Deputy Foreign Minister Roman Vasilenko and Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in separate statements last year that the comments in question about Kazakhstan by Russian politicians, journalists, and bloggers did not reflect Russia's official stance.
Kazakh officials have already taken action against some of those who have commented, such as Russian propagandist Tigran Keosayan, who was barred from entering Kazakhstan for threatening the country in a YouTube statement for Astana's decision to cancel a Victory Day parade -- a patriotic event marking the Soviet Union's role in defeating Nazi Germany in World War II -- in May.
However, in May 2023, Russian lawmaker Konstantin Zatulin was allowed to visit Kazakhstan even though he publicly stated that Kazakhstan "will have the same fate as Ukraine."
Warsaw, Kyiv Make Breakthrough On Ukrainian Grain Transit
Warsaw and Kyiv announced on October 3 they had agreed to speed up the transit of Ukrainian cereal exports through Poland to third countries, a first step in resolving their "grain war." The three-country agreement among Poland, Ukraine, and Lithuania means that Ukrainian grain exports -- destined for markets in Africa and the Middle East in particular -- will be taken directly through Poland instead of first being checked at the Polish-Ukrainian border. "From tomorrow, grains that transit (to world markets) via Lithuania will undergo checks at a Lithuanian port and not at the Poland-Ukraine border," Polish Agriculture Minister Robert Telus told journalists.
French Foreign Minister Arrives In Armenia For Talks With Pashinian, Refugee Visit
French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna on October 3 arrived in Armenia, where she will hold talks with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian and visit the border town of Goris, where Armenian authorities have set up a reception center for people who fled Nagorno-Karabakh following a blitz Azerbaijani offensive last month that gave Baku's forces total control over the ethnic Armenian-populated breakaway region. Pashinian and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev are due to meet in Granada, Spain, on October 5 for negotiations under the auspices of France, Germany, and the European Council. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Armenian Service, click here.
Civilian Areas In Southern Ukraine Targeted By Deadly Russian Shelling, Drone Strikes
Russia attacked civilian targets in southern Ukraine with artillery and drones over the past 24 hours, regional officials and the military said on October 3, as fighting continued in the south and east, where Ukrainian and Russian forces have been engaged for months in close-quarters combat.
In the southern region of Kherson, Russian shelling has killed two people and wounded seven others over the past 24 hours, Governor Oleksandr Prokudin said on Telegram on October 3.
"The Russian military targeted residential areas in the region, educational institutions, a church, the headquarters of a humanitarian organization, a shopping center, an auto center, a factory, and a critical infrastructure facility in Kherson [city]," Prokudin said.
Kherson, which was partially liberated by Ukrainian troops one year ago, has been constantly targeted by Russian shelling from across the Dnieper River.
Russia also launched a fresh wave of Iranian-made drones on the Mykolayiv and Dnipropetrovsk regions overnight, Ukraine's air defenses said early on October 3, adding that it had shot down 29 out of the 31 drones. One Russian cruise missile was also destroyed, air defenses said.
Ukraine's southern command said the attack lasted more than three hours.
In the town of Pavlohrad, in the Dnipropetrovsk region, a Russian drone struck an industrial enterprise, causing a fire, Governor Serhiy Lysak said on Telegram.
"The fire has already been extinguished, but there is destruction among the production facilities," Lysak added.
On the battlefield, Ukrainian forces fought 35 close-quarters battles over the past 24 hours as they pressed with an offensive in the Bakhmut area of the eastern Donetsk region and in the direction of the southern city of Melitopol, the General Staff of the Ukrainian military said in its daily report on October 2.
Russian forces captured Bakhmut earlier this year following a months of bloody fighting that took a heavy toll on both sides.
On the diplomatic front, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy told European Union foreign ministers on October 2 that Ukraine's victory in the war with invading Russian forces depended "directly" on Kyiv's cooperation with the EU amid growing concerns about a possible weakening of support in the bloc.
The concerns were prompted by the election victory in neighboring Slovakia of a populist party that opposes military aid for the war-wracked country.
"I am sure that Ukraine and the entire free world are capable of winning this confrontation. But our victory directly depends on our cooperation with you: the more strong and principled steps we take with you, the sooner this war will end," Zelenskiy said after meeting with EU foreign ministers gathered for in Kyiv on October 2 in a show of solidarity with Ukraine.
Zelenskiy also told the gathering that sanctions pressure on Russia was "obviously not enough," calling for more cooperation to end any "schemes of circumvention of sanctions by Russia" and an end to supplies to Russia that enable it to increase military production.
"This is a clear interest not only of Ukraine, but also of everyone in the world who wants a faster end to this war," Zelenskiy said.
In Washington, where Congress only managed to avert a government shutdown over the weekend by removing aid to Ukraine from a spending deal, White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre rejected claims about war fatigue in Western countries.
"If Putin thinks he can outlast us he's wrong," Jean-Pierre said.
With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP
Russian Ruble Weakens Past 100 To The Dollar
The Russian ruble weakened past the symbolic threshold of 100 to the dollar before recovering slightly in early trade on October 3, weighed down by foreign-currency outflows and the country's shrinking current-account surplus. The ruble's last tumble into triple digits in August led the Bank of Russia to make an emergency 350-basis-point rate hike to 12 percent and authorities discussed reintroducing controls to buttress the currency. At 0415 GMT, the ruble was 0.21 percent weaker against the dollar at 99.97 after falling to as low as 100.26 soon after opening at 0400 GMT. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
U.S. Welcomes Serbia's Announced Withdrawal Of Troops From Kosovo Border
The United States has welcomed an announcement by the commander of the Serbian Army that some troops have been withdrawn from the border with Kosovo, but Washington is still concerned about tensions in northern Kosovo, a State Department spokesman said.
"We will be looking for further confirmation. But if true, that would be a welcome step," spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters on October 2 after Serbian Army chief of staff General Milan Mojsilovic told reporters in Belgrade that the number of troops along the border had been cut from 8,350 to 4,500.
Miller said the United States had not verified the withdrawal and that Washington continues to be "concerned about the cycle of rising tensions and sporadic violence in northern Kosovo."
White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby on September 29 called on Serbia to pull back what it said was a large military deployment at the border, calling it a "very destabilizing development."
NATO last week ordered more troops to the area and demanded that Belgrade and Pristina resume an EU-facilitated dialogue as soon as possible as "the only way to achieve lasting peace," alliance spokesman Dylan White said.
NATO still has 4,500 troops in Kosovo, and Britain said last week it would send additional forces to the mission, known as KFOR.
Germany is also closely monitoring the tensions between Serbia and Kosovo and will "react if necessary," Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said on October 2, calling for a de-escalation of the situation.
He did not rule out increasing the contribution of German soldiers to KFOR, but said there were no plans to do so at the moment.
The Serbian military buildup came on the heels of an attack in northern Kosovo that left four people dead. Pristina blamed Serbia for providing financial and logistical support to the group of armed Serbs that clashed with Kosovar police. Belgrade denied the accusation.
Three attackers and one police officer were killed in the gunbattle on September 24 near the northern village of Banjska after the Serbs attacked a police patrol and then barricaded themselves in a Serbian Orthodox monastery.
Mojsilovic on October 2 denied Kosovo's accusation that Serbia planned to annex northern Kosovo with the attack in Banjska.
"The Serbian Army is a serious, strong organization that does not tolerate lies," he said. "I deny all allegations made by Pristina."
EU spokesman Peter Stano said on October 2 that the Kosovar police had a mandate to investigate the attack, and Brussels expects Serbia's "full and unconditional" cooperation.
Prime Minister Albin Kurti released images taken by a drone that he claimed showed Serbian paramilitaries in training ahead of the attack at Serbian Army bases. The images were taken around four days before the attack, he said on X, formerly known as Twitter.
"The attacks enjoyed the full support and planning of the Serbian state," Kurti said.
Interior Minister Xhelal Svecla told the Koha Ditore newspaper that the images had been taken by the Serbian paramilitaries themselves and had been seized along with weapons by the Kosovar police.
The skirmish prompted international concern over the stability of Kosovo, a former province of Serbia with a predominantly ethnic Albanian population that declared independence in 2008.
Tens of thousands of ethnic Serbs who live in northern Kosovo do not recognize Pristina's institutions, and they have often clashed with Kosovar police and international peacekeepers.
With reporting by Reuters and dpa
Hungary Offers To Step In For Germany On Bosnian Serbs' Infrastructure Projects, Dodik Says
Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik said on October 2 after meeting with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in Budapest that Hungary may take over infrastructure projects that Germany suspended in the Bosnia-Herzegovina's Serb-dominted entity over Dodik's secessionist policies.
Germany in August announced a decision to suspend four infrastructure projects in Republika Srpska worth a total of 105 million euros ($110 million).
Dodik said Orban "expressed his willingness to substitute projects that Germany canceled.“
But he said Germany still considered the contracts active, while Republika Srpska waits for Berlin to resolve so that the entity can "can realize these projects with the Hungarians and Prime Minister Orban in the best possible way and for mutual benefit."
Among the projects is the construction of a wind farm in Berkovici, a municipality in the far southeast of Bosnia. Additionally, Germany has suspended its work on the renovation of a hydroelectric power plant near Trebinje in the far south and a wastewater-treatment initiative in Gradiska in the north.
Republika Srpska previously sought financial assistance from the Export-Import Bank of Hungary, borrowing a total of 110 million euros at the end of the previous year. Hungary is also providing an aid program for farmers in Republika Srpska valued at 100 million euros.
Orban, a crucial ally for Dodik, has blocked European Union sanctions against the pro-Russian president of the Serbian member of Bosnia's tripartite presidency, which also includes a Bosniak Muslim and an ethnic Croat.
Bosnia is still governed under the terms of a 1995 peace treaty known as the Dayton accords that divided the country into a Bosniak and Croat federation and a Serb-majority entity.
Dodik was designated for sanctions by the United States and Britain last year after saying that Republika Srpska would pull out of the Western Balkan country's joint military, top judiciary body, and tax administration.
Dodik also currently faces an indictment over a push to ignore decisions by international envoy Christian Schmidt and the Constitutional Court.
His meeting with Orban in Budapest was their third official meeting in the past year. They previously met in the Hungarian capital in August and in October 2022 and in Banja Luka in June.
Dodik also made a controversial trip to Moscow last year for a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. After his meeting with Orban, he said he would meet again with Putin "soon."
Slovakia Summons Russian Envoy To Protest 'Inadmissible Interference' In Elections
Slovakia's Foreign Ministry said on October 2 it had summoned a Russian Embassy representative to protest what it called "inadmissible interference" by Moscow in the Slovak parliamentary elections. In a statement published on the eve of the vote, the head of Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), Sergei Naryshkin, said that the United States would manipulate the election results. Slovakia’s Foreign Ministry called the statement "deliberately disseminated misinformation" aimed at interfering in the electoral process. Former Prime Minister Robert Fico, who has pledged to end military aid for Ukraine, won the elections on September 30.
Crimean Tatar Activist Sent To Russian Psychiatric Clinic
Russian authorities have sent jailed Crimean Tatar activist Abdulmedzhit Seitumerov to a psychiatric clinic for unknown reasons, his lawyer said on October 2. Seitumerov was arrested in late August on terrorism charges that he and his supporters reject. Emil Kuberdinov called his client’s transfer to a psychiatric clinic "a punitive measure used to impose pressure on our client," adding that Seitumerov may be held in the medical institution for up to 25 days. Since illegally occupying Crimea in 2014, Russia has pressured the Crimean Tatars, many of whom openly protested the takeover. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Crimea.Realities, click here.
Azerbaijan's Aliyev Hopes Meeting Will Give Impetus To Peace Process For Nagono-Karabakh
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev hopes that a meeting later this week in Granada, Spain, will give impetus to the development of a peace agenda for Nagorno-Karabakh amid claims of continued violence in the breakaway region.
Aliyev expressed hope for the meeting on October 2 while receiving the spiritual head of the Anglican Church, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, at his residence.
Aliyev is scheduled to meet Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian on October 5 in Granada. The leaders of France, Germany, and the European Council are also expected to attend.
Aliyev again emphasized that Azerbaijan took the initiative for a peace treaty after Baku regained full control over Nagorno-Karabakh last month, and that historical opportunities have arisen in the region to advance the peace agenda.
The Azerbaijani president "touched on the efforts made by Azerbaijan to establish peace" in his conversation with Welby, the Azerbaijani news agency APA reported.
Aliyev's administration also issued a statement saying Armenian residents living in Karabakh "will be granted freedom of religion and the protection of their cultural and religious monuments will be ensured," according to the Azerbaijani news agency Trend.
"Regardless of ethnic, religious, or linguistic affiliation, equal rights and freedoms of everyone are guaranteed, including the safety of everyone," the statement said.
The moves came as the Armenian Defense Ministry said one of its soldiers was killed when Azerbaijani forces opened fire in a border region.
Azerbaijani forces shelled a vehicle belonging to Armenian forces carrying provisions for personnel, a statement said, adding that two other soldiers were wounded.
Azerbaijan rejected an earlier statement from the Armenian ministry about the incident, calling it false.
The Russian Defense Ministry said separately that a joint Russian-Azerbaijani patrol came under sniper fire in Nagorno-Karabakh. There were no casualties, a ministry statement said.
In Stepanakert (Xankendi), the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh, a fourth session of the closely watched "reintegration" talks was held between Azerbaijani officials and ethnic Armenian leaders of the breakaway region.
The Azerbaijani presidential administration announced a reintegraton plan that had been presented at three previous meetings last month.
The talks come two weeks after Azerbaijan routed Nagorno-Karabakh's ethnic Armenian forces in a 24-hour military campaign. Separatist authorities then agreed to dissolve their government by the end of this year, a bitter pill for Armenians who have made control of Nagorno-Karabakh a national priority.
Azerbaijani Interior Ministry spokesman Elshad Haciyev told AP on October 2 that the country's police had established control over the entire region and moved to "protect the rights and ensure security of the Armenian population in accordance with Azerbaijan's law."
Haciyev's statements came as the last bus carrying ethnic Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh left the region, completing an exodus of more than 100,000 people.
The bus carried 15 passengers with serious illnesses and mobility problems, said Gegham Stepanian, Nagorno-Karabakh's human rights ombudsman. He called for information about any other residents who want to leave but had trouble doing so.
Although Baku pledged to respect the rights of ethnic Armenians after the military campaign, most of them fled the region fearing reprisals or the loss of the freedom to speak their language and practice their religion and customs.
The Armenian government said on October 2 that 100,514 of the region's estimated 120,000 residents had crossed into Armenia.
Health Minister Anahit Avanesyan said some people had died during the slow journey over a single mountain road into Armenia that took as long as 40 hours.
With reporting by AP
Jailed Belarusian Activist Whose Term Ended In August Faces New Trial
Amid an ongoing crackdown on civil society groups and free speech in Belarus, activist Palina Sharenda-Panasyuk, who finished serving a prison term in early August but was not released, has gone on trial again, this time on a charge of "blatantly violating the penitentiary regulations."
Judge Stanislau Ivanyutsenka of the Rechytsa district court in the country's southeastern region of Homel began the trial on October 2.
Sharenda-Panasyuk was initially arrested in 2021 and sentenced to two years in prison for insulting the authoritarian ruler of Belarus, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, and allegedly assaulting a police officer.
She was scheduled to be released on August 6 but instead she was remanded in custody and the new charge was brought against her. If convicted, she faces as much as another year in prison.
The Crisis In Belarus
Read our coverage as Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka continues his brutal crackdown on NGOs, activists, and independent media following the August 2020 presidential election.
Belarusian human rights organizations have declared Sharenda-Panasyuk a political prisoner. Earlier this year, Sharenda-Panasyuk renounced her Belarusian citizenship to protest against her incarceration.
Also on October 2, the Prosecutor-General's Office said it had launched several investigations against the Rada (Council) of the Belarusian Democratic Republic (BNR) in exile -- an advocacy group promoting support for Belarusian independence and democracy among Western policymakers.
The BNR, known as the oldest existing government in exile, once governed the Belarusian Democratic Republic between 1917 and 1919 before moving into exile after the Bolsheviks took over.
According to the Belarusian Prosecutor-General's Office, "BNR's leadership in exile coordinates activities with other extremist organizations, establishes contacts with armed groups involved in developments in Ukraine, of which Belarusian citizens are members."
Many journalists, rights activists, and representatives of democratic institutions have been jailed in Belarus since an August 2020 presidential election that opposition politicians, ordinary Belarusians, and Western governments said was rigged.
Thousands have been detained during protests across the country over the results and there have been credible reports of torture and ill-treatment by security forces. Several people have died during the crackdown.
Lukashenka has refused to negotiate with the opposition and many of its leaders have been arrested or forced to leave the country.
The United States, the European Union, and several other countries have refused to acknowledge Lukashenka as the winner of the vote and imposed several rounds of sanctions on him and his regime, citing election fraud and the crackdown.
Relatives Of Self-Exiled Tajik Activists Detained After Rahmon's Car Pelted With Eggs In Berlin
Tajik police have detained the relatives of several self-exiled activists after the car of President Emomali Rahmon was pelted with eggs while he was in Berlin last week. The activists told RFE/RL that relatives of Sharofiddin Gadoev, Dilshod Sharifov, Ismoil Mahmadov, Jamshed Sharifov, Behruz Taghoizoda, and Muhammadjon Abdulloev -- all members of the opposition Group 24 -- had been detained over the weekend on unspecified charges. Rahmon's car was pelted with eggs when he and leaders of four other Central Asian nations were in Berlin on August 29 for talks with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. To read the original story by RFE/RL' Tajik Service, click here.
Ukrainian Lawmakers, Elon Musk Trade Barbs On Social Media
A simmering feud between Elon Musk and Ukraine neared a boil on October 2 after the tech billionaire mocked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's continued pleas for wartime assistance from the West, triggering Kyiv to respond with accusations the entrepreneur had become a tool of Moscow by spreading its "propaganda."
Musk the owner of SpaceX, the provider of the Starlink satellite communication services that help Ukraine's defensive efforts to repel invading Russian troops, launched the first volley on October 2, when he posted a picture of an anxious-looking student with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's face superimposed on it and the caption: "When it's been 5 minutes and you haven't asked for a billion dollars in aid."
The post sparked an immediate outcry in Ukraine, with parliament posting a response using the same photo but with Musk's face on the student's body and a caption that said, "When it's been 5 minutes and you haven't spread Russian propaganda."
The exchange, which played out in front of more than 36 million users on X, formerly known as Twitter, who viewed the posts highlights the precarious situation Kyiv faces as it tries to continue to fund its war effort more than 19 months after the Kremlin sent tens of thousands of troops pouring across its border into Ukraine.
The United States has been the largest single donor of aid to Ukraine since Russia's full-scale invasion last year, giving tens of billions of dollars in military and financial assistance. However, over the weekend, aid for Ukraine was omitted from a stopgap funding measure passed by Congress to avert a U.S. government shutdown.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhaylo Podolyak said in a post on Telegram that being silent or ironic about Ukraine's situation played into the narrative Russia is putting out over the war.
"Unfortunately, not everyone and not always, while being significant media figures, but being thousands of kilometers away from the war's epicenter, is able to realize what the daily bombardments and cries of children losing their parents are," he said.
It's not the first time Musk and officials in Ukraine have butted heads.
Ukrainian officials have criticized Musk before during the war for suggesting they should consider giving up land for peace, a position that Kyiv has staunchly rejected.
Ukraine also reacted angrily to the revelation in September that Musk prevented a Ukrainian attack on a Russian Navy base last year by declining Kyiv's request to activate Starlink satellites to open Internet access in the Black Sea near Moscow-occupied Crimea.
Starlink, operated by SpaceX, has proved a key battlefield tool for Kyiv.
The service is a network of more than 2,000 satellites orbiting the Earth in communication with thousands of terminals on the ground. It was activated across Ukraine in late February 2022 after Internet services were disrupted because of Russia's invasion.
The Ukrainian military uses Starlink for broadband communications in the field and to help control a network of surveillance drones that is critical to monitor Russian troop concentrations and military movements.
Zelenskiy last month appealed to his allies for more military support to push back Russia's invasion during a trip to the United States. Zelenskiy visited the White House during the visit to push his case directly with President Joe Biden.
With reporting by Reuters
Kazakhstan Cancels Concerts Of Russian Comedian Who Opposes Ukraine Invasion
Two major concert halls in Kazakhstan said over the weekend that performances by Russian comedian and TV presenter Maksim Galkin, who has been vocal in his criticism of the Kremlin's war against Ukraine, cannot be held due to "repair works" at the venues. Galkin, who fled Russia last year, was scheduled to appear on October 8 in Astana and October 9 in Almaty. Galkin has been fighting to hold his concerts in Kazakhstan for some time. In late August, he accused Kazakh authorities of blocking his plans to try and hold concerts for "fictitious reasons." To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Kazakh Service, click here.
Bulgarian Energy Workers Block Roads For Fourth Day To Protest Green Transition Plans
Bulgarian energy workers blocked key roads for a fourth day on October 2 in protest of government plans to transition away from fossil fuels and toward green energy sources. They declined an invitation for talks with the government and demanded officials come to them instead. The protests were sparked by the adoption of plans for a green transition of the coal-mining regions Stara Zagora, Pernik, and Kustendil, which is a condition for the EU to allocate 1.2 billion euros for new jobs. In September, protesters and the government agreed on measures to protect workers, but the demonstrations continue. To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Bulgarian Service, click here.
Russians Unofficially Honor Wagner Mercenary Leader Prigozhin On 40th Day After His Death
Russians have commemorated the founder and leader of Wagner mercenary group Yevgeny Prigozhin on the 40th day since his death, a Russian Orthodox tradition to honor those who have passed away.
People brought flowers on October 1 to makeshift memorials in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Abakan, Sochi, Yekaterinburg, Chelyabinsk, and at least nine other cities across Russia. Similar commemorations were held in the Belarusian city of Homel and the city of Sevastopol in Ukraine's Russian-annexed Crimea.
A member of the Wagner group told RFE/RL that about 150 vehicles cruised through the city of Novosibirsk in Siberia in a procession to commemorate Prigozhin, whose mercenary group gained notoriety for cruel and brutal methods of fighting along Russian armed forces invading Ukraine.
Dozens of vehicles were used in similar events in at least two other Russian cities.
In Prigozhin's hometown of St. Petersburg, his mother and son laid flowers at his grave and an Orthodox religious memorial and prayer services were held.
Prigozhin, 62, and several of his associates died in an unexplained plane crash in late August. He was buried on August 29 in a discreet ceremony.
Russian officials said at the time that investigators were considering the possibility that the plane was downed on purpose.
Two months before his death, on June 23-24, Prigozhin sent thousands of his fighters in a short-lived rebellion against the military command fighting in Ukraine, imposing one of the biggest challenges to President Vladimir Putin in his more than two decades in power.
The insurrection came on the heels of months of intense public infighting with Russia’s military leadership over the war strategy in Ukraine and ammunition supplies, as Wagner's fighters played a major role in heavy fighting for the city of Bakhmut in Ukraine's east.
In mid-September, the British government added Wagner group to its list of terrorist organizations, saying it remains a threat to global security even after Prigozhin's death.
Earlier in January, Washington designated Wagner a transnational criminal organization.
Kosovo Says Serbia's Behavior Same As Russia's Before Ukraine Invasion
Serbia's troop deployment on Kosovo's border is similar to Russia's behavior toward Ukraine before its full-scale invasion, the Kosovar foreign minister said, urging the European Union to take action against Belgrade such as freezing its candidacy status. The United States said last week it was monitoring a troubling Serbian military buildup along the Kosovo frontier that is destabilizing the area. NATO said it was authorizing additional peacekeeping forces for Kosovo. "There has never been this kind of concentration of troops in recent years," Kosovar Foreign Minister Donika Gervalla-Schwarz told German broadcaster Deutschlandfunk in an interview on October 2. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Bulgaria Bans Entry Of Cars With Russian License Plates
Bulgaria will ban the entry of cars with Russian license plates by the end of the day on October 2, the head of Bulgaria's border police, Anton Zlatanov has announced. “By the end of today, the ban on the entry of Russian cars will begin to be enforced on the territory of Bulgaria," Zlatanov said, adding that a ban on Russian trucks already has been in effect for several months. The ban, which is part of the sanctions imposed by the European Union on Russia for its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, is already in force in Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland, Finland, and non-EU member Norway. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.
Amid Concerns About Weakening Support For Ukraine, Zelenskiy Says Victory Depends On Cooperation With EU
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy told European Union foreign ministers on October 2 that Ukraine's victory in the war with invading Russian forces depended "directly" on Kyiv's cooperation with the EU as concerns grow about a possible weakening of support in the bloc after the election victory of a populist Slovak party that opposes military aid for Kyiv.
"I am sure that Ukraine and the entire free world are capable of winning this confrontation. But our victory directly depends on our cooperation with you: the more strong and principled steps we take with you, the sooner this war will end," Zelenskiy said after meeting with EU foreign ministers gathered in Kyiv on October 2 in a show of solidarity with Ukraine.
Zelenskiy also told the gathering that sanctions pressure on Russia was "obviously not enough," calling for more cooperation to end any "schemes of circumvention of sanctions by Russia" and an end to supplies to Russia that enable it to increase military production.
"This is a clear interest not only of Ukraine, but also of everyone in the world who wants a faster end to this war," Zelenskiy said.
He also called for expanding sanctions against Iran, including on its ability to import equipment and chemicals used to make drones that it then supplies to Russia.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell hailed the meeting of EU foreign ministers in Kyiv as "historic" and a reiterated that the place of Ukraine was in the 27-member bloc.
"You can be sure of our determination to be by Ukraine's side as long as it takes," Borrell told Zelenskiy after the meeting.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said the gathering took place within the bloc's "future borders" and urged Ukraine's allies to stand firm amid what he said were "huge resources" invested by the Kremlin to stir disunity.
"Putin's greatest expectation is precisely that the West and the world will tire of standing on the side of Ukraine in this war," he said.
In Washington, where Congress managed to avert a government shutdown over the weekend only by removing aid to Ukraine from a stopgap spending deal, White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre also rejected claims about war fatigue in Western countries.
"If Putin thinks he can outlast us, he's wrong," Jean-Pierre said.
Kuleba, referring to the election victory in neighboring Slovakia of pro-Russian Robert Fico, who vowed to immediately curb military aid to Ukraine if he became prime minister again, said Kyiv respected the result.
"We respect the choice of the Slovak people," Kuleba said. "But it is too early to say how the election result will affect Slovakia's position," he added, pointing that Kyiv can "draw the first conclusions" after a coalition is formed -- a complicated process that might take a long time.
Although Ukraine was granted EU candidate status in June 2022, months after the start of Russia's unprovoked invasion, the negotiation process is expected to take years before Kyiv can join the bloc, and there is opposition to its membership from countries such as Hungary.
Prime Minister Viktor Orban has maintained close relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin and has been against supplying weapons to Kyiv or admitting it into the 27-member bloc.
Neither Hungary's nor Poland's foreign ministers were present in Kyiv. Poland's relations with Ukraine, usually warm, are currently strained due a spat about Ukrainian grain exports.
The two EU member states sent lower-level delegations to Kyiv.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, on the other hand, told reporters on the sidelines of the meeting that, as the cold season settles in, the EU needed to come up with a strategic plan to shield Kyiv from the consequences of an expected repeat of Russia's campaign of strikes on Ukraine's energy grid that caused misery and suffering last winter.
"Ukraine needs a winter protection plan of air defense, generators, and a strengthening of the energy supply. We saw last winter the brutal way in which the Russian president wages this war, with targeted attacks on critical infrastructure such as power plants," she told reporters in Kyiv.
The meeting in Kyiv came just hours after Russia overnight launched fresh artillery strikes on Kherson, killing at least two people and wounding several others, including children, and damaging an Orthodox cathedral in the southern Ukrainian city.
WATCH: Amid their grinding counteroffensive, Ukrainian troops are training on donated German mobile-bridge equipment that could help them cross rivers and defensive Russian anti-tank ditches.
One of the dead was a policeman killed in shelling on the morning of October 2, and children were among those wounded in overnight attacks on the regional capital, Kherson, Governor Oleksandr Prokudin said on Telegram.
Russian shelling also damaged the Holy Spirit Cathedral and the administration of the Kherson Diocese, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church reported on October 2.
"The projectiles hit the basement of the diocesan administration, as well as the cathedral, as a result of which the central entrance, facade, sacristy, and utility rooms were damaged and the panes in the windows were broken," the Kherson Diocese said in a message.
The liberated part of Kherson region, including the city of Kherson, has been shelled on a near-daily basis for months by Russian troops stationed on the left bank of the Dnieper River.
On October 1, Russian shelling of several settlements in Kherson killed a man in his 40s in Tyahynka, a town about 30 kilometers northeast of Kherson city.
Russia overnight also launched seven Iranian-made drones at the southern region of Dnipropetrovsk, military spokeswoman Natalya Humenyuk told Ukrainian television, adding that four of them were downed by Ukraine's air defense.
On the battlefield, Ukrainian forces continued their offensive actions in the Bakhmut area of the eastern Donetsk region and in the direction of the southern city of Melitopol, where 38 close-quarters battles were fought over the past 24 hours, the General Staff of the Ukrainian military said in its daily report on October 2.
With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP
Biden Says U.S. Support For Ukraine Must Not Be Interrupted After Deal To Avert Shutdown Drops Aid
U.S. President Joe Biden vowed on October 1 after signing a bill to avoid a government shutdown that aid for Ukraine that was dropped from the legislation would continue and said he expects Congress to pass the aid in separate legislation.
Biden said in an address from the White House Ukraine can count on U.S. support.
"We cannot under any circumstances allow American support for Ukraine to be interrupted," he added.
Biden spoke after Congress averted a government shutdown by passing a short-term funding package late on September 29 and rushing it to the White House for his signature before the midnight deadline. But in order to ensure passage, legislators dropped assistance for Ukraine to help in its fight against Russia.
Biden is now urging Congress to negotiate an aid package as soon as possible, saying there's "an overwhelming sense of urgency."
He said he expects House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (Republican-California) to keep his commitment to secure passage of support needed to help Ukrainians “defend themselves against aggression and brutality."
Asked if he could trust McCarthy to honor deals, Biden said, "We just made one about Ukraine, so we’ll find out."
A White House official said Biden was referring to a promise from Republicans to pass a separate bill on the issue.
McCarthy said he would "make sure that the weapons are provided for Ukraine," but added in an interview with U.S. broadcaster CBS that this would be only in conjunction with legislation dealing with the U.S. southern border as demanded by far-right Republicans who insist domestic matters such as illegal immigration and crime take priority.
Ukraine played down the situation, saying Kyiv continues to work to ensure new aid.
"The Ukrainian government is now actively working with its American partners to ensure that the new U.S. budget decision, which will be developed over the next 45 days, includes new funds to help Ukraine," Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleh Nikolenko said.
Despite the growing signs of war fatigue in the U.S. Congress, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said he was counting on the United States to keep up its unwavering security assistance to Ukraine.
"We believe this will not be the last word," Borrell said while on a visit to Kyiv on October 1. "I have the hope that this will not be the definite decision and that the United States will continue to support Ukraine."
Borrell met with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Defense Minister Rustem Umerov, saying afterward that the EU is preparing long-term security commitments for Ukraine.
"Ukraine needs more capabilities & needs them faster," Borrell said on X, formerly known as Twitter. He said he had discussed "continuous EU military assistance" during his first in-person meeting with Umerov.
"We are preparing long-term security commitments for Ukraine," Borrell said.
The aggression against Ukraine "is accompanied by massive hybrid attacks, with propaganda, malign information manipulation & cyber attacks," he added, saying the EU continues supporting Ukraine in defending itself against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s disinformation.
Umerov, who took over as defense minister in September, said on X he was grateful for the EU's "continuous support" and that the meeting was "a starting point for great cooperation."
He said their discussions covered artillery, ammunition, air defense, electronic warfare, and long-term assistance programs, training, and defense industry localization in Ukraine.
Umerov also thanked U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, saying he had a phone conversation with him on October 1 in which they discussed further military assistance from the U.S.
"Secretary Austin assured me that U.S. support to Ukraine will continue [and] Ukrainian warriors will continue to have a strong back-up on the battlefield," Umerov said.
With reporting by Reuters and CBS
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