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Amnesty Says No Side Blameless In Russia-Georgia War

A Georgian woman is evacuated from her house outside Tskhinvali on August 20.
It has been just over 100 days since the start of the conflict between Russia and Georgia over the breakaway region of South Ossetia.

But while the active warfare lasted less than a week, some 30,000 Georgian and Ossetian civilians remain homeless and subject to continued violence by local militias.

The situation remains so lawless that Georgians from the Gori district bordering South Ossetia last week -- residents of villages like Nikozi, Kvemo Khviti, and Zemo Khviti -- staged a demonstration demanding greater protection from the government.

"In our village, there's no police checkpoint at all," said one woman. "Two days ago, some 10 policemen came, but they didn't manage to ensure that the field was de-mined. We can't even salvage whatever's left from the harvest. And in this unprotected village, yesterday they even turned off the electricity. We're so scared that we run like crazy at every little noise."

The right of returnees, as well as general conduct during the war, is the focus of a new report by Amnesty International.

Entitled "Civilians In The Line Of Fire," the report is based on several research missions to the main conflict areas as well as interviews with victims and local authorities. It says "looting, shooting, explosions, and abductions" continue to imperil lives along the de facto border separating South Ossetia from Georgia proper.

'No-Go Zone'

John Dalhuisen is an Amnesty International researcher who has traveled to Georgia and South Ossetia several times since the conclusion of major fighting. He says while Ossetian and Georgian forces maintain patrols on either side of the de facto border, a "no-man's land" of about 500 to 600 meters remains between the two patrols. There, former residents enter at their own peril.

"This area still contains many homes and fields on which people's livelihoods depend. And, particularly in these areas, there's no guarantee of security at all -- in fact, it's kind of a no-go zone, particularly at night," said Dalhuisen, who last visited the region in late October. "Some, though, do travel there during the day, and I did accompany a local resident beyond the last Georgian checkpoint into this no-man's land, and was aware of the risks the individual was taking to harvest his grapes."

Some of the violence has been as recent as November 17, when two Georgian de-miners were killed in an explosion in the village of Plavi just south of the administrative border. Nine other people were injured in the blast, including a 10-year-old boy.

Amnesty is calling on Georgian, Ossetian, and Russian authorities to bring "marauding" elements under control and to allow international observers access to the entire conflict zone, including the whole of South Ossetia.

Fresh Account

Meanwhile, as the propaganda war grows louder over the conduct of the war, Dalhuisen says Amnesty is holding "all sides" responsible for the use of indiscriminate violence against civilians and general violations of humanitarian law.

The group is asking Georgia and Russia to support an inquiry by the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission, or IHFFC, to investigate the war's conduct and report publicly on its findings.

The IHFFC is a body established under the Geneva Conventions created specifically to look into violations of international humanitarian law on a consensual basis. As a result, Dalhuisen says it is "ideally placed" to investigate situations where each side in a conflict is accusing the other of misfeasance.

"We believe that this expert body would be a good first step in establishing the truth of what happened, as the conflict has been to a large extent characterized by exaggerated reports and concerns emanating from all sides," he says.

Neither side has responded formally to the Amnesty request. Dalhuisen says while both capitals have offered more words of cooperation than actual commitments to act, the Georgian authorities "have expressed a greater enthusiasm for international investigations into what happened."

Representatives from Russia and Georgia are due on November 19 to hold talks on the future of Georgia's breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

They will also discuss general compliance with an EU-brokered cease-fire and the return of internally displaced people.

Goga Aptsiauri of RFE/RL's Georgian Service contributed to this report.

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Police In Russia's Tatarstan Search Homes Of Local Journalist, Anti-War Activist

A video in May showed Russia's ambassador to Poland, Sergei Andreyev (right) being doused with red paint by participants of a protest against Russia's invasion of Ukraine during his attempt to lay flowers at a cemetery in Warsaw.

Police in Kazan, the capital of Russia's Republic of Tatarstan, have searched the home of local journalist Nailla Mullayeva over a video of an attack by anti-war activists in Poland against the Russian ambassador in May.

Police in Kazan also searched the home of activist Elina Yasonova on December 1 for unspecified reasons. Both Mullayeva and Yasonova have been known for their public stance against Russia's ongoing unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

Mullayeva told OVD-Info, a group that monitors cases of persecution of journalists and activists, that the search of her home was held as part of a probe into a "justification of terrorist action" case.

According to Mullayeva, police are investigating whether she had any involvement in distributing a video in May showing Ambassador Sergei Andreyev being doused with red paint by Polish activists as he attempted to lay flowers at a Soviet military memorial cemetery in Warsaw for Red Army soldiers who died during World War II.

Last month, Tatarstan's authorities added Andrei Grigoryev, a correspondent from RFE/RL's Idel.Realities online project, to the wanted list and issued a warrant for his arrest over the same video, accusing him of publicly calling for terrorist activities via the Internet.

In August, police in Kazan searched the homes of Grigoryev and several other current and former correspondents of RFE/RL's Idel.Realities and Tatar-Bashkir Service, saying they were suspected of having been involved in the video's distribution online.

All of the journalists said they had nothing to do with the video.

Idel.Realities is a regional news outlet in Russian of RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service.

With reporting by OVD-Info

Serbia's Plum Brandy Gets UNESCO World Heritage Status

Sljivovica has been handcrafted in Serbia for centuries, a custom carried from generation to generation that experts say has become part of the national identity. 

Serbian authorities announced on December 1 that sljivovica, Serbia's traditional plum brandy, is being added to the UN’s list of intangible cultural heritage as "a cherished tradition to be preserved by humanity." UNESCO experts gathering in Morocco this week decided that “social practices and knowledge related to the preparation and use” of sljivovica deserve UN recognition as an example of an important cultural tradition, Serbia's Culture Ministry said. Sljivovica has been handcrafted in Serbia for centuries, a custom carried from generation to generation that experts say has become part of the national identity. To read the original AP story, click here.

Streaming Of Foreign Movies, Music Aboard Russia's Aeroflot Aircraft Suspended Amid Sanctions

Aeroflot said on Telegram on December 1 that all of its 137 planes were affected by the situation, adding that domestic movies and music will be offered to passengers by January 1, 2023. 

Streaming of foreign movies and music aboard planes operated by Aeroflot, Russia's largest airline, has been suspended after foreign partners refused to provide services due to international sanctions imposed on Russia over its ongoing unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. Aeroflot said on Telegram on December 1 that all of its 137 planes were affected by the situation, adding that domestic movies and music will be offered to passengers by January 1, 2023. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Former Kyrgyz President Atambaev Calls Trial A 'Circus,' Removed From Courtroom For 'Disrupting Order'

Former Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambaev stands in a glass cage at the start of his trial at a Bishkek courthouse on December 1.

BISHKEK -- Former Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambaev has been removed from the courtroom after he called his trial "a circus" and started kicking at the glass cage where he had been placed.

The judge of the Birinchi Mai district court ordered bailiffs to remove Atambaev from the courtroom as the trial of the former leader and three other former officials charged with abuse of office during deadly ethnic clashes in 2010 in the Central Asian nation started on December 1.

The 66-year-old Atambaev, who is currently serving an 11-year prison sentence for his role in the illegal release of a notorious crime boss in 2013, led Kyrgyzstan's interim government when clashes between Kyrgyz and local Uzbeks shook the Central Asian nation's southern regions of Osh and Jalal-Abad in June 2010, following anti-government protests that toppled then President Kurmanbek Bakiev.

According to Kyrgyz officials, 446 men and women were killed in the ethnic clashes, about 2,000 people were injured, and tens of thousands were displaced.

Atambaev is currently involved in another trial that is related to August 2019 clashes between his supporters and security forces at his residential compound near Bishkek.

The two-day standoff between security forces and Atambaev’s supporters resulted in the death of a top security officer and more than 170 injuries -- 79 of them sustained by law enforcement officers.

Atambaev and 13 others are charged in that case with murder, attempted murder, threatening or assaulting representatives of authorities, hostage taking, and the forcible seizure of power.

Russia-Backed Separatist Leader In Ukraine Says Moscow, Kyiv To Exchange 50 POWs Each

Denis Pushilin (file photo)

The leader of Russia-backed separatists in Ukraine's occupied eastern region of Donetsk, Denis Pushilin, says that Russia and Ukraine will each hand over 50 prisoners of war in the latest in a series of prisoner exchanges. Pushilin said in a post on Telegram on December 1 that the exchange will be conducted during the day. He said 20 of the POWs to be returned to the Russian side are from Donetsk and separatist-controlled districts of another eastern region in Ukraine, Luhansk. Ukrainian officials have yet to confirm the swap.

China's Xi Urges Ukraine Talks In Meeting With EU's Michel

European Council President Charles Michel meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing on December 1.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping urged negotiations on a political solution to the Ukraine conflict in talks with visiting European Council President Charles Michel in Beijing on December 1, state broadcaster CCTV said. Xi was quoted as saying that "solving the Ukrainian crisis through political means is in the best interest of Europe and the common interest of all countries in Eurasia." He added that “under current conditions, we must avoid escalation and expansion of the crisis and work for peace." To read the original AP story, click here.

EU's Borrell Says Russia Must Pay For Ukraine Reconstruction

A damaged building in the Russian-occupied Azov Sea port city of Mariupol in southeastern Ukraine on November 29.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said at regional security talks on December 1 that he plans to discuss with his counterparts any available legal means to ensure Russia pays for the reconstruction of war-torn Ukraine. Borrell spoke at the start of this year's two-day ministerial conference of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in the central Polish city of Lodz. He noted that the EU has frozen Russian assets worth nearly 20 billion euros since Moscow invaded Ukraine.

U.S. Prosecutors Move To Seize $5 Million Tied To Russian Oligarch Malofeyev

Konstantin Malofeyev is accused of evading sanctions and using co-conspirators to acquire media organizations across Europe. He’s also been sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department. (file photo)

U.S. prosecutors have moved to seize more than $5 million from a U.S. bank account belonging to Russian businessman Konstantin Malofeyev, a nationalist oligarch who officials say has funded separatist fighters in eastern Ukraine for years.

The civil forfeiture complaint, filed on November 30 in a U.S. federal court in Manhattan, was the latest effort by U.S. authorities targeting Malofeyev and part of a wider effort by authorities to go after assets belonging to wealthy and politically connected Russians.

Malofeyev himself was hit with criminal charges in March. He is accused of evading sanctions and using co-conspirators to acquire media organizations across Europe. He’s also been sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department.

There was no immediate response to an e-mail sent by RFE/RL to his television channel Tsargrad TV seeking comment.

In the court filing, U.S. prosecutors alleged that Malofeyev used a Seychelles shell company in March 2014 to invest $10 million in shares in a Texas bank.

Prosecutors said he sold the shell company in 2015 to an unnamed Greek business partner for $1. But the sale agreement was backdated to July 2014, before sanctions were imposed, prosecutors said.

According to the complaint, the Texas bank, called Strategic Growth Bancorp, recognized Malofeyev as the owner of the original shares and flagged the attempted transfer to the Treasury Department.

Malofeyev's shares were later converted into cash and deposited into a blocked account when Strategic Growth Bancorp merged with another bank, Sunflower Bank, which is Denver-based.

Neither Strategic Growth Bancorp nor Sunflower Bank was accused of wrongdoing.

A billionaire and founder of Tsargrad TV, Malofeyev has gained notoriety for years for espousing a nationalist, religious ideology that has been increasingly embraced by some Russian officials. He’s also been instrumental in financing and supporting separatist efforts in the Donbas for years, according to Western and Ukrainian officials.

In the criminal indictment issued in April, U.S. prosecutors accused Malofeyev of trying to evade U.S. sanctions by a U.S. man to operate television networks in Russia and Greece and attempting to acquire a Bulgarian television network.

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, U.S. and Western authorities have stepped up efforts to go after assets -- bank accounts, yachts, private jets, mansions -- owned by wealthy and politically connected Russians.

FIFA Allows Banners Supporting Iranian Protesters At World Cup After Iran Eliminated

Players fight for a header during the World Cup group B soccer match between Iran and the United States in Doha on November 29.

FIFA has given permission for the display of banners supporting protests in Iran and rainbow items at the World Cup soccer tournament in Qatar -- but only after the Middle Eastern country was eliminated from the competition.

Since the start of the World Cup on November 20, stadium security staff organized by Qatari authorities had confiscated items with rainbow colors and slogans such as "Women, Life, Freedom" to stop them from being taken inside stadiums.

During matches involving the Iranian national team, Iranian spectators were not allowed to wear clothes with slogans in support of the months-long protest movement in Iran triggered by the death in police custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini after she was detained in September for allegedly improperly wearing a head scarf, or hijab.

At least 459 protesters have been killed so far by security forces during the unrest in Iran, including 64 minors, according to the activist HRANA news agency.

The U.S.-Iran game on November 29 was charged with emotion for Iranian fans, some of whom had come to Qatar to back the protest movement back home with banners and flags. Iran lost 1-0 and was eliminated from the tournament.

“FIFA is aware of some incidents where permitted items were not allowed to be displayed at stadiums,” soccer’s world body said in a statement on November 30, more than a week after some infractions were reported at World Cup stadiums.

“FIFA has received assurances by authorities that venue commanders have been contacted in relation to the agreed rules and regulations for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022.”

In the first week of the tournament, seven European teams including Wales were banned by FIFA from wearing multicolored “One Love” armbands during World Cup matches and some fans complained they weren’t allowed to bring items with rainbow colors, a symbol of LGBTQ rights, into the stadiums of the conservative Islamic emirate.

“FIFA continues to work closely with the Host Country to ensure the full implementation of related regulations and agreed protocols,” FIFA said.

Russian Interior Ministry Adds Noted Lawyer Ilya Novikov To Its Wanted List

Russian lawyer Ilya Novikov has harshly criticized Russian authorities for the ongoing unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

Russia's Interior Ministry has added noted Russian lawyer and outspoken Kremlin critic Ilya Novikov, who currently resides in Ukraine, to its wanted list on unspecified charges. Novikov's picture and data appeared on the ministry's online registry of wanted persons on November 30. Novikov, 40, has harshly criticized Russian authorities for the ongoing unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. He has gained prominence for defending Ukrainian nationals and human rights activists in high-profile cases in recent years. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Switzerland Freezes $8 Billion In Financial Assets Under Russia Sanctions

A poster with an image of Russian President Vladimir Putin and the word "Murderer" at a rally against the Russian invasion of Ukraine near the UN headquarters in Geneva on September 25.

Switzerland has frozen financial assets worth 7.5 billion Swiss francs ($7.94 billion) as of November 25 under sanctions against Russians to punish Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine. The State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO), the agency overseeing sanctions, said on December 1 that 15 properties in six cantons are also "blocked." Up until June 3, it said, SECO had been notified of existing deposits held by Russian nationals, and individuals and legal entities in Russia, amounting to 46.1 billion francs. To read the original story from Reuters, click here.


Spain Ramps Up Security After Five Letter Bombs Detected

A suspected explosive device hidden in an envelope was mailed to the Torrejon de Ardoz Air Force base outside of Madrid on December 1.

Bomb-disposal experts defused a fifth letter bomb on December 1 as Spain stepped up security to confront a spate of explosive devices sent to high-profile targets, including the prime minister and the Ukrainian ambassador in Madrid. Early indications suggest that all five of the packages were sent from within Spain, said Rafael Perez, the country's deputy interior minister. Perez said one of the devices had detonated, injuring a security officer at the Ukrainian Embassy in Madrid, while three others were detonated in controlled explosions. One had been kept intact for investigative purposes.

New Law Broadens The Net For 'Foreign Agents' In Russia

A police officer detains a supporter of the Memorial society, which Russia has deemed a foreign agent, outside the Moscow Supreme Court in December 2021. The supporter holds a sign reading, "We will live always."

A Russian law that expands the definition of so-called foreign agents has come into force that rights groups say will make it easier for the state to target its domestic critics at a time when the Kremlin is cracking down on dissent over its war in Ukraine.

The new law, signed by President Vladimir Putin in July, took effect as of December 1 and allows officials to include in the foreign agents registry anyone who is "under foreign influence."

The new law also broadens the definition of political activities to include a vague clause covering any activities that "contradict the national interests of the Russian Federation."

Under the previous version of the law, prosecutors had to assert that an individual charged as a foreign agent had to receive financial or material assistance from abroad.

Russia has used its foreign agent law for the past decade to label and punish critics of government policies. It also has been increasingly used by officials to shutter civil society and media groups in Russia since the Kremlin launched its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in late February.

Individuals who are officially labeled as foreign agents are banned from receiving state grants for creative activities, working as teachers, organizing public events, and working for organizations that distribute information.

According to the law, the four existing registries of foreign agents will be merged and a new list will be created to register all individuals tagged as foreign agents.

That designation requires nongovernmental organizations that receive foreign assistance and which the government claims are engaged in political activities to register as foreign agents, publicly identify themselves as such, and submit to cumbersome audits.

They also must label any content they produce with an intrusive disclaimer or face criminal fines for not doing so. Kremlin critics say the foreign agent designation is also intended to stigmatize any independent civic activity in Russia.

Hungarian Government Misused Personal Data For Political Campaigns, HRW Says

Since coming to power in 2010, Orban has tightened state control over media, courts, academia, and migrants from Africa and the Middle East and NGOs that support them.

Hungary's right-wing government misused personal data during the campaign for national elections this year, undermining privacy and tipping an already uneven political playing field in favor of Prime Minister Viktor Orban's ruling Fidesz party, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report published on December 1.

Orban and his party won a fourth consecutive term in power in April by a landslide.

Since coming to power in 2010, Orban has tightened state control over media, courts, academia, and migrants from Africa and the Middle East and NGOs that support them. He also has clashed with the EU over alleged discrimination against LGBT people

In its report, Trapped in a Web: The Exploitation of Personal Data in Hungary’s 2022 Elections, HRW says the government repurposed data it collected from people applying for services to spread Fidesz's campaign messages.

"Using people's personal data collected so they could access public services to bombard them with political campaign messages is a betrayal of trust and an abuse of power," said Deborah Brown, a senior researcher for HRW.

"The Hungarian government should stop exploiting personal data for political campaigns and guarantee a level playing field for elections," she added.

HRW found that the personal data collected from people who signed up for the COVID-19 vaccine, applied for tax benefits, or registered for mandatory membership in a professional association was used to spread Fidesz's campaign messages.

For example, political messages intended to tilt voters toward the ruling party were received by people who had submitted their data to a government-run website to register for the vaccine, HRW said.

HRW urged the European Union to establish whether the exploitation of personal data collected by the Hungarian government for political campaigning is consistent with EU laws, in particular with the EU General Data Protection Regulation.

It also called on the European Commission, the bloc's executive branch, to bring infringement proceedings against Budapest for the failure of the national body that that supervises data protection to act as an independent authority.

The HRW report comes a day after the commission proposed that billions of euros of European Union funds allocated to Hungary remain blocked over the failure of Orban's government to implement credible rule-of-law and anti-corruption reforms.

Orban, who maintains warm relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, has also antagonized EU officials with his repeated criticism of EU sanctions targeting Russia for its war in Ukraine.

Orban continues to block crucial EU decisions such as the disbursement of 18 billion euros of financial aid to Ukraine and a global tax deal.


Air-Raid Alerts Sound Across Ukraine As Fierce Fighting Rages In East

Ukrainian soldiers fire a Bureviy multiple-launch rocket system at a position in the Donetsk region on November 29.

Air-raid alerts were issued across all regions of Ukraine in the early afternoon on December 1 as fighting raged in the eastern region of Donetsk while in the south, heavy Russian bombardment knocked out power again in the regional capital of Kherson, where power had only started to be restored after Russian troops fled the city across the Dnieper River.

"An overall air-raid alert is in place in Ukraine. Go to shelters," Ukraine's border service wrote on Telegram following warnings that Russia was preparing a new wave of missile and drone strikes.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

RFE/RL's Live Briefing gives you all of the latest developments on Russia's ongoing invasion, Kyiv's counteroffensive, Western military aid, global reaction, and the plight of civilians. For all of RFE/RL's coverage of the war, click here.

German magazine Der Spiegel reported on November 30 that Russia may be preparing a new massive wave of attacks on Ukraine that would involve strategic bombers. Der Spiegel also published satellite images of the Engels-2 military airfield near the southwestern city of Saratov purporting to show Russian bombers.

"Current satellite images show unusual movement at a key Russian military airport. Experts see 'Engels-2' in high combat readiness and warn of a new powerful air raid on Ukraine," Der Spiegel wrote.

Across Ukraine, technicians were frantically working to restore electricity supplies heavily damaged by relentless waves of Russian bombardment that have left millions in darkness and cold at the onset of winter.

Donetsk, where Russian forces have been attempting to make further advances, remained the site of the heaviest fighting, the Ukrainian General Staff said on December 1, adding that Russian artillery pounded Ukrainian positions and several towns, including the flashpoint town of Bakhmut and nearby Soledar and Opytne.

Russian troops were building defense lines in the direction of the town of Lyman, the General Staff said. Fresh units as well as those that sustained losses "are being resupplied with personnel, ammunition, and fuel," it said.

The leader of Moscow-backed separatists in Donetsk, Denis Pushilin, said in a post on Telegram on December 1 that Russia and Ukraine will each hand over 50 prisoners of war in the latest in a series of prisoner exchanges. Ukrainian officials have yet to confirm the swap.

On the southern front, the military said, Russian forces dug in on the left bank of the Dnieper River, taking up defensive positions, and trained tank, mortar, and artillery fire on the recently liberated city of Kherson, causing it to lose electricity again after technicians had restored it to more than half of the city's population.

Regional Governor Yaroslav Yanushevych said on December 1 in a statement on Telegram that energy workers were working to fix the problem.

In the central Dnipropetrovsk region, Russian troops shelled the Nikopol region from artillery and rocket systems, destroying several houses, a gas pipeline, and an electric transmission line, said regional Governor Valentyn Reznichenko. No one was injured, he added in a message on Telegram.

Other battleground activity was reported in northeastern and central Ukraine, the military said.

The battlefield reports could not be independently verified.

The United States and other Western allies pledged more financial support and relevant equipment to boost Kyiv's energy resilience during a gathering of NATO foreign ministers in Romania on November 30.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told a news conference at the end of the meeting in Bucharest that Russia's strategy of targeting Ukraine's energy infrastructure will not divide Ukraine's supporters.

Blinken said Russian President Vladimir Putin has focused "his ire and his fire" on Ukraine's civilian population, hitting infrastructure that provides heat, water, and electricity to Ukrainians.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on December 1 accused the United States and its allies of directly playing a role in the war by supplying weapons and training personnel to Ukraine with the aim of "destroying Russia as a player altogether."

He also defended the usage of air, drone and missile strikes to destroy Ukrainian infrastructure -- which Kyiv and the West have called war crimes.

Still, he said Russia remains ready to hold talks on settling the crisis. Ukraine has vowed not to negotiate with Moscow until all Russian troops have left its territory, which include the Crimean peninsula, which Russia illegally annexed in 2014.

With reporting by Reuters

Biden Nominee For Ambassador To Russia Pledges To Prioritize Prisoner Release

"The plight of U.S. citizens detained in Russia will be a top priority for me," Tracy said on November 30 during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. (file photo)

U.S. President Joe Biden's nominee for ambassador to Russia, Lynne Tracy, has pledged to make the release of detained Americans a priority if she is confirmed. "The plight of U.S. citizens detained in Russia will be a top priority for me," Tracy said on November 30 during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Tracy, a career diplomat and current ambassador to Armenia, promised to visit detained Americans, including basketball star Brittney Griner and former Marine Paul Whelan. To read the original story from Reuters, click here.

Blinken Says Putin's 'Ire And Fire' Attacks On Ukrainian Energy Infrastructure Will Not Divide Allies

Kyiv residents stand in line to fill up bottles with fresh drinking water after critical civil infrastructure was hit by Russian missile attacks on the capital on November 24.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken says Russia's recent strategy of targeting Ukraine’s energy infrastructure will not divide Ukraine's supporters.

Blinken on November 30 told a news conference in Bucharest following a two-day NATO foreign ministers' meeting that Russian President Vladimir Putin has focused "his ire and his fire" on Ukraine's civilian population, hitting infrastructure that provides heat, water, and electricity to Ukrainians.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

RFE/RL's Live Briefing gives you all of the latest developments on Russia's ongoing invasion, Kyiv's counteroffensive, Western military aid, global reaction, and the plight of civilians. For all of RFE/RL's coverage of the war, click here.

"We know President Putin's playbook: Freeze and starve Ukrainians, force them from their homes, drive up energy, food, and other household costs, not only across Europe but around the world, and then try to splinter our coalition," Blinken said.

Russia's recent attacks have left millions of people in the dark and without heating amid sub-zero temperatures. Blinken said his "brutalization of Ukraine's people is barbaric."

Blinken accused Putin of trying to force Ukraine's partners to abandon their support for Ukraine.

"This strategy has not, and will not, work. We will continue to prove him wrong. That's what I heard loudly and clearly from every country here in Bucharest," Blinken added.

The United States and other Western allies pledged more financial support and relevant equipment to boost Kyiv's energy resilience during the foreign ministers' meeting.

In addition, U.S. military planners are working to ensure that the equipment provided thus far to restore Ukraine's energy infrastructure is not destroyed by Russian attacks, Blinken said.

The United States also is trying to establish the best possible defense for Ukraine's energy infrastructure, he said.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, who also attended the meeting in Bucharest, said on Twitter that he and Blinken "focused on urgent assistance to restore Ukraine's energy system and new military aid, including [air defense], to protect it from Russian strikes."

WATCH: After Ukrainian troops retook large parts of the Kherson region from Russian forces, officials began the work of investigating military and civilian deaths and removing mines and booby traps from the area.

Ukrainians Say Russians Left Behind Bodies And Booby Traps In Kherson Region
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Blinken also said NATO is considering the possibility of investing in the production of Soviet-era weapons systems used by the Ukrainian Army.

Ukraine’s NATO allies are considering all options to provide Ukraine with what will be effective, including Soviet-era weapons systems that have been in the Ukrainian arsenal for decades, and ammunition for these systems.

In some cases, this may require the production of equipment that has not been produced for some time, he told CNN.

Blinken's comments came after The New York Times reported last week that NATO member states are discussing the possibility of investing in old factories in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Bulgaria to resume production of ammunition for Ukrainian Soviet-style artillery systems.

NATO foreign ministers also used their meeting in Bucharest to reassure countries in Russia's neighborhood that could be destabilized by Russia as the conflict in Ukraine drags on.

The NATO ministers pledged to provide stronger "individualized support" for Moldova, Georgia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina, countries that Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said are "facing pressure from Russia" amid Moscow's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

With reporting by Reuters and CNN

Four Lion Cubs Saved From War In Ukraine Arrive At U.S. Sanctuary

The orphaned lion cubs explore the Wildcat Sanctuary in Sandstone, Minnesota, on November 30.

Four lion cubs that were orphaned during the war in Ukraine have arrived safely at an animal sanctuary in the U.S. state of Minnesota that has pledged to give them a permanent home. The arrival of one male cub and three female cubs on November 29 marked the final step of their journey after they lived through sporadic bombings and drone attacks in Ukraine, according to the International Fund for Animal Welfare. "These cubs have endured more in their short lives than any animal should," said Meredith Whitney, wildlife rescue program manager at the fund. To read the original story from AP, click here.

U.K. Unveils New Sanctions Targeting Russian Officials Over Mobilization

The new package of 22 sanctions hit Deputy Prime Minister Denis Manturov, who London said is responsible for overseeing the country's weapons industry and equipping newly mobilized troops. (file photo)

Britain has unveiled a new round of sanctions on Russian officials over the war in Ukraine, targeting those accused of spearheading the recent mobilization and the recruitment of "criminal mercenaries." The new package of 22 sanctions hit Deputy Prime Minister Denis Manturov, who London said is responsible for overseeing the country's weapons industry and equipping newly mobilized troops. It also targeted 10 governors and regional heads, including in Dagestan, Ingushetia, and Kalmykia, noting that “a significant number" of conscripts had been drawn from those regions. To read the original story from RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, click here.

Zelenskiy Thanks Germany For Recognizing 1932-33 Famine In Ukraine As Genocide

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and his wife, Olena Zelenska, attend a memorial to the victims of the Holodomor famine of 1932-1933, in Kyiv on November 26.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has thanked the German parliament for recognizing the 1932-33 famine in Ukraine, known as the Holodomor, as a genocide of the Ukrainian people.

"Germany recognized the 1932-1933 Holodomor as a genocide. I thank the members of the Bundestag for this historic decision. The truth always wins," Zelenskiy said on Twitter.

The Bundestag voted on November 30 in favor of the resolution, which was submitted by three parties of the ruling coalition and the main opposition bloc. It passed with their support in a show of hands, while the two other opposition parties abstained.

The vote took place after a debate attended by Ukraine’s ambassador to Germany and comes days after Ukrainians marked the 90th anniversary of the start of the famine, which is believed to have killed millions of Ukrainians.

Historians say the failure to properly harvest crops in Ukraine in 1932 under Soviet mismanagement was the main cause of the famine.

Zelenskiy said on November 26 as he marked the anniversary that Ukraine “cannot be broken” in its current fight against Russia's ongoing unprovoked invasion.

"Ukrainians went through very terrible things.... Once they wanted to destroy us with hunger -- now, with darkness and cold," Zelenskiy said.

The resolution states that “the mass deaths from hunger were not a result of failed harvests; the political leadership of the Soviet Union under Josef Stalin was responsible for them." It adds that all things Ukrainian were “deeply suspect” to Stalin and notes that “the whole of Ukraine was affected by hunger and repression, not just its grain-producing areas.”

The resolution says that from today's perspective, “a historical and political classification as genocide is obvious. The German Bundestag shares such a classification.”

Such resolutions aren't binding and don't mandate government action, but Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock has thanked lawmakers who championed it.

Lawmaker Robin Wagener of the Green party told the Bundestag that the “horror” of the Holodomor “had its cause in the Kremlin,” where “the dictator took the cruel decision to push through collectivization by force and cause hunger.”

He said that “the parallels with today are unmissable.”

According to the Holodomor Museum in Kyiv, in addition to Ukraine and Germany the states that so far have recognized the famine as genocide are Australia, Ecuador, Estonia, Canada, Colombia, Georgia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, Poland, Portugal, the United States, and the Vatican. Some other countries, including Argentina, Chile, and Spain, have condemned it as “an act of extermination.”

The resolution calls on the German government to work against “any attempts to spread one-sided Russian historical narratives” and to keep supporting Ukraine as a victim of the current war.

It notes that the famine in Ukraine happened in a period of massive crimes against humanity in Europe, which included the Holocaust “in its historical singularity,” the war crimes of the German military, and the systematic murder of millions of civilians as part of the “the racist German war of annihilation in the east.”

With reporting by AP

Zelenskiy Invites Elon Musk To Ukraine To See Damage Caused By Russian Forces

The Ukrainian president said that only after the Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk (pictured) sees the damage in Ukraine could he tell Zelenskiy how to end the war. (file photo)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has invited American billionaire Elon Musk to visit Ukraine to see with his own eyes the damage caused by Russian forces, The New York Times reported on November 30. The visit would help Musk understand the situation before making statements about it, Zelenskiy said on a video link at the New York Times DealBook Summit. Zelenskiy said that only after the Tesla and SpaceX CEO sees the damage could he tell Ukraine how to end the war. To read the original story from RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, click here.

Germany, Norway Seek NATO-Led Hub For Key Undersea Structures

A gas leak in the Nord Stream 2 pipeline the Baltic Sea in September was blamed on sabotage.

Germany and Norway want to start a NATO-led alliance to protect critical underwater infrastructure, their leaders said on November 30, weeks after explosions hit two key gas pipelines in the fallout from the war in Ukraine. "We are in the process of asking the NATO secretary-general to set up a coordination office for the protection of underwater infrastructure," German Chancellor Olaf Scholz told a press conference in Berlin. "We take the protection of our critical infrastructure very seriously, and nobody should believe that attacks will remain without consequences," he said.

U.S. 'Deeply Concerned' About American Jailed In Russia And Out Of Touch For Days

Paul Whelan is serving 16 years in the Russian region of Mordovia on charges of espionage, which he denies. (file photo)

The United States is deeply concerned about American Paul Whelan, who is in a Russian jail, White House national security spokesman John Kirby said on November 30 after Whelan's family said they had not heard from him for a week.

U.S. diplomats have been trying to get more information about Whelan's condition and his whereabouts, Kirby said.

"As we speak this morning, regrettably, we do not have an update specifically about where he is or what condition he's in," Kirby told reporters in a telephone briefing. "That deeply concerns us, and we certainly share the anxiety and the concern of the land and family."

Kirby addressed the issue after Whelan’s brother, David Whelan, said the family had become concerned about his whereabouts.

David Whelan said in an e-mail on November 29 that it was unusual that the family did not know the whereabouts of the former U.S. Marine and corporate security executive, who is serving 16 years in the Russian region of Mordovia on charges of espionage, which he denies.

The U.S. State Department has said it has been negotiating with Russia on a potential prisoner swap that would involve Whelan and U.S. women's basketball star Brittney Griner, who is serving nine years in Russia after being convicted on drug charges.

The negotiations appear to be stalled as the Russian side has not provided a "serious response" to any of the U.S. proposals on a prisoner swap, a senior U.S. diplomat said on November 28.

The penal colony's staff said Paul Whelan was moved to the prison hospital on November 17, a day after a visit by U.S. and Irish diplomats, David Whelan said in the e-mail.

Paul had spoken to his parents every day from the 17th to the 23rd and did not mention the move and had appeared healthy and well to the diplomats, David Whelan said in the e-mail.

“Paul has always mentioned when he's been transferred to the prison hospital," said David Whelan, adding that the transfers usually have occurred without his request or need for medical attention.

“And he spoke to our parents a number of times after the [penal colony] staff say he was moved, at least as recently as November 23, and never mentioned it,” David Whelan said, questioning why his brother has been prohibited from making calls if he is at the prison hospital.

"Is he unable to make calls? Or is he really still at [prison colony] IK-17 but he's been put in solitary and the prison is hiding that fact?" David Whelan asked.

David Whelan added that it was highly unusual that the family did not hear from him on November 24, the U.S. Thanksgiving Day holiday.

With reporting by Reuters

Exiled Group Uniting Russia's Non-Russian Ethnic Groups Protest Pope's Comments

Pope Francis arrives for the weekly general audience at the Vatican on November 23. Francis been an outspoken critic of the war in Ukraine and has been criticized by Russian officials.

The Free Nations League, an exiled group representing some of the dozens of non-Russian ethnic groups inside Russia, has sent a letter to Pope Francis protesting against his recent comments calling Chechens and Buryats "perhaps the cruelest" in Moscow's ongoing war in Ukraine.

In the letter, the Free Nations League calls the statement by the leader of the Roman Catholic Church "humiliating, offensive, and unproven."

In an interview with the Jesuit publication America published on November 28, Francis answered a question about the war in Ukraine by saying: "When I speak about Ukraine, I speak about the cruelty because I have much information about the cruelty of the troops that come in. Generally, the cruelest are perhaps those who are of Russia, but are not of the Russian tradition, such as the Chechens, the Buryati and so on. Certainly, the one who invades is the Russian state."

The Free Nations League did not demand an apology from the pontiff but instead recommended he become better acquainted with examples of cruelty by "the carriers of the Russian tradition" against Chechens and Buryats, a reference to "war crimes" committed against Chechens during Russian-Chechen wars in the 1990s, the "institutionalized assimilation of Buryats," and their disproportionate mobilization in the war in Ukraine.

The letter also urged Francis to "look at what Russian tradition is doing in Ukraine if examples of faraway Muslims and Buddhists are alien and unclear for you."

"Is it Buryats and Chechens who order the shelling of civilian targets, bomb maternity clinics and hospitals? Is it us who kidnap and forcibly take to Russia hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian children and conduct deportations within the occupied territories? Look into the eyes of that tradition -- those are Russian eyes," the letter says.

Representatives of Buryat, Chechen, Kalmyk, Tatar, Bashkir, Yakut, Erzya, Moksha, Cossack, and Ingermanland movements signed the letter.

Francis, who has been an outspoken critic of the war, has also been criticized by Russian officials, who reportedly lodged a protest in connection with the statements made in the interview.

The Vatican has not officially commented on the controversy surrounding the pontiff's remarks.

Russia's state-controlled TASS news agency quoted a source in the Vatican as saying that "there was no intention to offend Russia's peoples" and that "the interview's interpretations and translations will be checked."

With reporting by TASS

Iranian Sunni Clerics Release Video Urging End To Deadly Crackdown On Protesters

Iranian youths protest against the government in the western city of Sanandaj on November 16.

Sunni clerics of the southern Iranian province of Sistan and Baluchistan have released a video calling on authorities of the Islamic republic to stop a deadly crackdown on protests that has "no justificiation."

The video, released on November 29, shows the signatories of the statement together in a mosque.

According to the statement, the Sunni clerics of the southeastern Iranian cities of Khash, Taftan, and Mirjaveh were united in their stance with regional elders and cultural figures in condemning the repression of "Bloody Friday" in Zahedan and Khash as a sign of "national solidarity."

During the Bloody Friday massacre in the southeastern city of Zahedan on September 30, almost 100 people were killed and hundreds injured by security forces during protests sparked by the death of a 22-year-old woman while in custody of the morality police and the alleged rape of a 15-year-old girl by a local police commander.

At least 96 protesters were reportedly killed in the violence, with more than 300 others injured.

The Sunni clerics announced in their statement that "the killing of people in Zahedan and Khash, and in our beloved Kurdistan, and in other parts of Iran, has no justification and is completely condemned."

Earlier this month, top Iranian Sunni cleric Molavi Abdulhamid, who is regarded as a spiritual leader for Iran’s Sunni Muslim population, said senior officials, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, were "responsible" for the killing of protesters in Zahedan and called for an immediate referendum with the presence of international observers to "change policies based on the wishes of the people."

Anger over Mahsa Amini's death has prompted thousands of Iranians to take to the streets to demand more freedoms and women's rights. The widespread demonstrations represent the biggest threat to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution.

The activist HRANA news agency said that as of November 23 at least 445 protesters had been killed during the unrest, including 61 minors, as security forces try to stifle widespread dissent.

Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda

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