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Polish Police Release Chechen Exile Leader

Chechen Separatist Leader Detained In Poland
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WATCH: Polish police detain Akhmed Zakayev, who is wanted by Russia on terrorism charges. (Reuters video)

A Polish court has ordered the release of Chechen separatist leader Akhmed Zakayev, pending a decision on whether he can be extradited to Russia.

Zakayev was shown on television smiling as he left a Warsaw courthouse before a car collected him. He said that he planned to attend the second day of a two-day congress of Chechen exiles in the town of Pultusk, near Warsaw.

Zakayev arrived in Poland on September 16 despite pledges by Polish police that they would detain him on an international arrest warrant requested by Russia.

Media Crush

He was arrested the next morning. Polish television footage showed him surrounded by police and a crush of media on a Warsaw street.

Zakayev's assistant, Adam Borowski, said the Chechen separatist leader was detained as he was heading to the prosecutors' office in the Polish capital.

"Ahmed Zakayev himself wanted to report here," Borowski said. "There's no success of the police; you can't say they caught Zakayev. But we were prevented from showing our good will."

Police spokesman Mariusz Sokolowski said authorities were responding to an international arrest warrant that obliged them to detain Zakayev and take him to prosecutors in Warsaw. Sokolowski said it is up to the Polish courts to determine whether Zakayev is extradited to Russia.

The head of Russia's North Caucasus Federal District, Aleksandr Khloponin, repeated Russia's demand for Zakayev's extradition, saying Zakayev is an "international terrorist" and "must be tried in Russia."

In Grozny, Chechen Republic Present Ramzan Kadyrov welcomed news of Zakayev's detention.

"We ask all those who have given refuge to our bandits to arrest them and hand them over to us," Kadyrov said. "We are going to punish them according to the law."

However, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk has warned Moscow not to count on the Polish courts to reach a decision they will be happy with. Tusk was quoted today as saying at the EU summit in Brussels that "the extradition procedure is not the same as extradition."

Tusk also warned supporters of an independent Chechnya not to stage any anti-Russian provocations.

Zakayev's detention comes at a time when relations between Warsaw and Moscow have been improving, following the April plane crash in Russia that killed Polish President Lech Kaczynski.

Not Entirely Unexpected

Zakayev arrived in Poland on September 16 to attend a two-day conference of Chechen exiles in the town of Pultusk, near Warsaw.

Polish police had warned Zakayev that if he came to the country he would face arrest under an international warrant issued by Russia.

Zakayev told RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service on September 16 in a telephone interview from Warsaw that he was "absolutely legally" in Poland and would not hide from authorities there. Zakayev also told RFE/RL that he had communicated, through his lawyer, his willingness to "answer any questions" asked by the Polish prosecutor's office.

"I don't think Russia has presented any new information [to Polish authorities]," Zakayev said. "Everything they have has already been considered twice by courts in Denmark and Britain. However, if it is necessary and if Polish authorities decide that these questions should be considered by a Polish court, I am ready for such a turn of events."

Maciej Kujawski, from the Prosecutor-General's Office in Poland, told RFE/RL in Warsaw on September 16 that the specifics of the charges against Zakayev were not at his disposal.

But he added: "We know that an international arrest warrant has been issued [for Zakayev]. This means that if he steps onto the territory of Poland, the police will detain him and bring him before a prosecutor."

Russia's 2002 warrant against Zakayev alleges that he was responsible for crimes committed during the 1990s in wars between Russian forces and Chechen separatists.

Russian authorities also complain that the two-day conference of Chechen exiles in Poland will stoke tensions in the troubled Caucasus region.

Polish European parliamentary deputy Tadeusz Zwiefka, who accompanied Zakayev to the Regional Prosecutor's Office in Warsaw where he was being questioned, told RFE/RL he thinks the arrest warrant against Zakayev was politically motivated.

Zwiefka says Zakayev's planned appearance at an international forum organized by the World Chechen Congress was "very inconvenient" for Russia -- suggesting that Moscow is trying to silence international debate on problems in Chechnya or other Russian regions in the North Caucasus.

Major Figure

Zakayev is the former deputy prime minister and current prime minister of the unrecognized Chechen Republic of Ichkeria. He also had been the spokesman for Chechen separatist President Aslan Maskhadov, who was killed in a battle against Russian forces in 2005.

Moscow has fought two full-blown wars against separatists in Muslim-majority Chechnya since 1994 -- leaving the region devastated. Russia is now battling a radical Islamist-fueled insurgency in Chechnya and in Russia's neighboring Caucasus regions of Dagestan and Ingushetia.

During the early phases of the second war in 1999-2000, Zakayev commanded Maskhadov's presidential guard. He also was involved in negotiations with Russian representatives before and during those hostilities.

He left Chechnya in 2000 to seek treatment abroad for injuries.

He was arrested in Denmark in 2002 on a Russian extradition request but Copenhagen rejected Moscow's request.

Britain then detained Zakayev on that Russian extradition request when he flew into London from Denmark in late 2002, and launched extradition proceedings there. But the British courts eventually rejected Moscow's calls for his extradition and granted Zakayev political asylum in November 2003.

In that case, British Judge Timothy Workman ruled that the Russian extradition request was politically motivated and that Zakayev would be at risk of torture under an "unjust and oppressive" extradition.

Workman also said crimes in which Zakayev allegedly used armed force against Russian troops were not extraditable because they took place during an internal armed conflict.

Russian authorities have criticized that British ruling by accusing the court of double standards.

Complicated Issue

Zakayev has been able to travel abroad under an internationally recognized refugee passport. Since 2003, he has traveled to France, Germany, and Poland without being arrested.

Organizers of the World Chechen Congress planned to adopt a concept for ending the ongoing violence and securing the "de-occupation" of Chechnya. Invitees include four Nobel Peace Prize laureates, including Mikhail Gorbachev and Vaclav Havel, as well as representatives of international organizations and Russian political figures and intellectuals who have campaigned against the country's actions in Chechnya.

Zakayev has political asylum in the United Kingdom, a status which does not extend to other EU countries. But the British court's ruling -- and its reasons for granting political asylum to Zakayev -- could be taken into account by the Polish courts when they weigh whether to extradite him.

The consensus under international law is that no state has an obligation to surrender an alleged criminal to a foreign state because every country has legal authority over the people within its borders.

That has led to a complicated web of extradition treaties or agreements signed between countries. Typically, courts in the country where a suspect is detained rule on whether the suspect should be extradited to another country.

Extradition requests often are rejected if the accusations appear to be based on dubious evidence, if evidence is thought to have been obtained from torture, or if the courts think the defendant will not be granted a fair trial after extradition or will be subjected to cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment.

based on RFE/RL and agency reports

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Crew Of Four, Including Russian Cosmonaut, Launches From U.S. On Mission To ISS

The group of four spacefarers launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, on a SpaceX rocket. 

A Russian cosmonaut and three astronauts launched from the United States on October 5 on a five-month mission to the International Space Station (ISS).

It was the first launch of a cosmonaut from the United States in 20 years and took place despite tensions over the war in Ukraine.

The group of four spacefarers launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, on a SpaceX rocket.

Russian cosmonaut Anna Kikina joined Koichi Wakata of the Japanese space agency and NASA astronauts Marine Colonel Nicole Mann, and Navy Captain Josh Cassada. Wakata, who is making his fifth flight, is the only one of the foursome who has traveled to space before.

“Awesome! said Mann as they reached orbit. "That was a smooth ride uphill. You’ve got three rookies who are pretty happy to be floating in space right now.”

They’re due to arrive at the space station on October 6 and won’t return to Earth until March. They will replace a U.S.-Italian crew that arrived in April.

The space agencies recently agreed to swap seats on their flights to the ISS in order to ensure a continuous U.S. and Russian presence aboard the ISS.

Kikina, the fifth Russian woman in space, will replace NASA’s Frank Rubio, who launched to the space station two weeks ago from Kazakhstan aboard a Soyuz rocket.

Kakina said she was surprised to be selected for the seat swap after encountering “many tests and obstacles” during her decade of training. “But I did it. I’m lucky maybe. I’m strong,” she said.

As for the war in Ukraine, Mann said all four have put politics and personal beliefs aside, “and it’s really cool how the common mission of the space station just instantly unites us.”

Based on reporting by AP and Reuters

Ukrainian Supreme Court Judge Sacked Over Russian Citizenship Following Journalistic Investigation

Bohdan Lvov has been chairman of Ukraine's top court for economic and property disputes. (file photo)

KYIV -- The Ukrainian Supreme Court has fired one of its judges following a recent finding by Schemes, the investigative unit of RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, that he has Russian citizenship.

In a directive published on October 5, Supreme Court Chairman Vsevolod Knyazyev ordered that Bohdan Lvov be stripped of his powers as a judge and dismissed from the court, effective immediately.

A Supreme Court statement said the decision was based on confirmation from the Ukrainian Security Service, the SBU, that official Russian registries indicate he possesses Russian citizenship.

The SBU’s finding echoed the results of the investigation by Schemes, which reported on September 15 that Lvov had Russian citizenship in addition to his Ukrainian citizenship.

Using multiple sources, Schemes journalists found that Russian government databases contain Lvov’s past applications for Russian passports and the use of a Russian passport that bears his name to register his co-ownership of a Moscow apartment and to transfer that ownership share to his wife in 2012.

Under Ukrainian law, judges may not have dual citizenship. Sensitivity about Ukrainians in positions of power with ties to Russia has intensified since Moscow launched a large-scale invasion of Ukraine in February.

In a Facebook post on October 3, the Supreme Court said that the SBU’s “verification” of information related to Lvov’s case continued. Meanwhile, Schemes learned from multiple sources that the SBU had suspended the 55-year-old judge’s access to state secrets and reported his Russian citizenship to several state bodies, including the State Migration Service and President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s office.

Lvov, who nearly five years ago was made chairman of the Supreme Court’s Commercial Court of Cassation, Ukraine’s top court for economic and property disputes, denies that he has ever had Russian citizenship, despite the evidence.

He alleges that documents have been falsified in a bid to discredit him and undermine Ukraine’s judicial system. He asserts that the results of a polygraph examination show that he does not have Russian citizenship, but he has not provided substantial evidence to support his claim.

In his 2017 application for a Supreme Court judgeship, he did not acknowledge any foreign citizenship.

Lvov made no immediate comment following the announcement of his dismissal.

Online Petition

Since the initial Schemes report was published, Ukraine's National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NABU) has launched a criminal investigation into the judge’s failure to declare the Moscow real estate in past annual financial declarations. NABU has summoned Schemes journalists as witnesses in this investigation.

On September 30, an online petition appeared on the president’s website urging Zelenskiy to start an investigation into the Schemes’ findings and, if confirmed, to strip Lvov of his Ukrainian citizenship -- an act permitted under Ukrainian law for the voluntary acquisition of foreign citizenship.

By the evening of October 6, the initiative had received more than 21,000 signatures out of the 25,000 required for Zelenskiy to consider this proposal.

Lvov has requested the State Bureau of Investigation and the SBU open investigations into the Schemes report, but neither body has commented publicly about their responses to his appeal.

A representative of the SBU, however, earlier told Schemes that the position of the Security Service “remains unchanged -- representatives of the judicial branch of government must possess Ukrainian citizenship only.”

The SBU itself underwent a change of leadership earlier this year for allegedly failing to stamp out collaboration with Russia in its own ranks.

Elizabeth Owen contributed to this report

Kazakh Online Newspaper Says It Received Pig's Head With Editor's Photo In Its Mouth's editor in chief, Gulnara Bazhkenova (file photo)

An online newspaper in Kazakhstan has received a parcel containing a severed pig’s head with a torn photo of the media outlet's editor in chief in its mouth.

Gulnara Bazhkenova, the editor in chief of, wrote on Facebook on October 5 that a private delivery service brought the parcel to the newspaper's offices in Almaty.

"'s editorial team has faced frequent attacks, including threats and provocations, lately," Bazhkenova wrote.

Bazhkenova said earlier that unknown individuals painted a text containing threats to her and her newspaper on a pavement close to's headquarters in Almaty. focuses on political, economic, and social events and developments in the Central Asian nation.

Attacks on independent media outlets in the country have been frequent for years, especially before presidential or parliamentary elections.

Kazakhstan is holding an early presidential election on November 20.

EU Approves Eighth Round Of Sanctions Against Russia

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has welcomed the agreement on the eighth sanctions package. (file photo)

The European Union has given its final approval to a new round of sanctions on Russia over its war against Ukraine, the bloc's executive arm said on October 5.

The EU’s eighth sanctions package is meant to deprive Moscow of billions of euros in revenues from the sale of products that the EU says generate significant revenues for Russia.

The sanctions package “extends the list of restricted items which might contribute to the Russian Federation’s military and technological enhancement or to the development of its defense and security sector,” the new EU sanctions regulation said.

The new sanctions extend a ban on imports from Russia of steel and steel products, imports of wood pulp and paper, imports of machinery and appliances not yet covered by existing sanctions, and imports of intermediate chemicals, plastics, and cigarettes.

The sanctions also ban the export of EU goods used in aviation, such as tires and brakes, and extend a ban on the export of electric components, including certain semiconductors and less sophisticated components than those already banned.

In addition, the sanctions ban the export of certain chemical substances, nerve agents, and goods that have “no practical use other than for capital punishment, torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

The sanctions also target more individuals at the Russian Defense Ministry, people involved in Moscow's referendum votes in occupied parts of four regions of Ukraine, and those participating in evading sanctions.

The sanctions package comes on the same day that Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the final papers on the annexation of the four regions. Ukraine, meanwhile, has said its military is in the process of reclaiming the regions.

The EU said it was motivated to impose the sanctions by Russia’s repeated threat to use weapons of mass destruction, a reference to Putin’s comments that he would defend Russian territory “with any means at our disposal.”

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen welcomed the agreement on the eighth sanctions package.

"We will never accept Putin's sham referenda nor any kind of annexation in Ukraine. We are determined to continue making the Kremlin pay," she said.

The agreement is to be formalized on October 6 if no EU country raises an objection. Sanctions require the unanimous backing of all 27 EU member states.

The sanctions stop short of imposing measures sought by Poland and the Baltic states, including a complete ban on nuclear energy cooperation, diamond imports, and the blacklisting of Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church.

"The package could have been far stronger," said Andrzej Sados, Poland's ambassador to the EU. "But given that we require is important that we have this strong response to Russia's latest aggressive steps."

The new sanctions package also includes a price cap on maritime transport to third countries of Russian crude oil. It does not affect the exceptions allowing certain EU member states to continue importing crude oil and petroleum products from Russia by pipeline.

Von der Leyen has also urged the EU to introduce a temporary price cap on imported gas to help bring down soaring energy costs. She said a cap on gas would be a temporary solution until a new EU price index can be developed that ensures the better functioning of the market.

The gas price cap has divided the EU as some countries are concerned it could make securing supplies harder.

With reporting by Reuters

Kazakh Court Extends Pretrial Detention For Opposition Politician Mamai

Kazakh activist Zhanbolat Mamai was arrested in late February.

ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- A court in Kazakhstan's largest city, Almaty, has extended the pretrial detention of Zhanbolat Mamai, the leader of the unregistered opposition Democratic Party of Kazakhstan.

Mamai's wife, Inga Imanbai, wrote on Facebook on October 5 that her husband's pretrial detention was prolonged until at least November 12.

The 34-year-old Mamai was arrested in late February. He faces up to 10 years in prison on charges of organizing mass riots and knowingly disseminating false information during protests in January. He and his supporters reject the accusations as politically motivated.

In August, the European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights (DROI) called on Kazakh authorities to release Mamai and other political prisoners and stop the criminal prosecution of those who died during unrest in the Central Asian nation in January.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have urged Kazakh authorities to release Mamai and drop all charges against him, also calling them politically motivated.

Mamai, known for his harsh criticism of the nation's authoritarian government, has been trying to register the Democratic Party of Kazakhstan, but claims he is being prevented from doing so by the government. He says officials only permit parties loyal to the political powers to be legally registered.

Kazakhstan was ruled by authoritarian President Nursultan Nazarbaev from its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 until current President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev succeeded him in 2019.

Over the past three decades, several opposition figures have been killed and many jailed or forced to flee the tightly controlled former Soviet republic.

Toqaev recently broadened his powers after Nazarbaev and his clan left the oil-rich nation's political scene following the unprecedented deadly anti-government protests in January.

The unrest, which started over a fuel price hike, quickly spread across Kazakhstan because of discontent over the cronyism that had long plagued the country. At least 238 people, including 19 law enforcement officers, were killed during the dispersal of the protests by security forces and police.

Several participants in the protests have been handed lengthy prison terms across the country in recent months on charges of organizing mass disturbances and riots. More trials are pending.

Russia Expels Lithuania's Charge d'Affaires In Tit-For-Tat Move

The Russian Foreign Ministry announced the move on October 5, two days after Lithuania declared Russia's envoy to the Baltic state to be persona non grata. (file photo)

In a tit-for-tat move, Russia has expelled Lithuania's charge d'affaires and suspended the operations of a cultural center at the Lithuanian Embassy in Moscow.

The Foreign Ministry in Moscow said in a statement on October 5 that Virginia Umbrasene was labeled as persona non grata and ordered to leave Russia within five days.

The order comes two days after Lithuania declared Russia's envoy to the Baltic state, Sergei Ryabokon, persona non grata over his actions, which Lithuanian authorities described "incompatible" with his diplomatic status and which interfered with internal Lithuanian affairs.

Lithuania's Foreign Ministry also strongly protested against the Russia's decision on 30 September to illegally annex the Ukrainian regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhya, parts of which were partially occupied by Russian troops.

Iran Charges Former Bayern Munich Player Ali Karimi Over Support For Protests

Former Iranian international soccer captain Ali Karimi (file photo)

Former Iranian international footballer Ali Karimi has been charged in absentia by authorities in Tehran over his support for anti-government protesters who have taken to the streets across the country in recent weeks after the death of a 22-year-old woman who was being held in custody for failing to "properly wear" an Islamic head scarf, or hijab.

The Dubai-based Karimi, a former soccer player with Bayern Munich and once the captain of Iran’s national soccer team, has been under pressure from the security forces in recent days over his posts on social media, including on Instagram, where he has nearly 12 million followers.

Karimi, widely regarded as one of the greatest Iranian players of all time, has condemned Amini’s death while lending his support to the protesters, particularly women. He has also urged security forces not to allow “innocent blood to be shed.”

The semiofficial Mehr News agency reported that Karimi has been charged with unlawful “assembly and collusion with the intention of acting against national security,” an accusation often used by Iran against dissidents and critics.

Karimi was one of the first celebrities to condemn the death of Mahsa Amini, who died three days after being detained by Iran's morality police on September 13 for allegedly wearing a hijab improperly.

Her death has sparked a wave of protests across the country despite government warnings that a harsh crackdown on any dissent will continue.

Videos posted on social media showed demonstrations taking place in several cities across the country on the evening of October 4 and in the morning of October 5.

In one of the videos, protesters in the Iranian capital, Tehran, are seen gathering on Shariati Street with many women blocking it completely.

In a video from Ferdowsi University in the northeastern Iranian city of Mashhad, students can be heard chanting "Referendum, referendum," a reference to their demand to hold a vote to change the how Iran is run.

In another video, a girl's school brought a member of the IRGC-run Basij paramilitary, to talk to the students. The girls then welcomed the speaker by removing their hijabs and shouting "Get lost, Basiji!"

Amid the protests there have been many reports of arrests and deaths as security forces clamp down. Meanwhile, the government has imposed restrictions on access to the Internet, while reports published on social media on October 5 indicate that a number of Persian- and Kurdish-language channels broadcast over the Eutelsat satellite in Iran have experienced outages.

News of Amini's death struck a nerve in a country already wracked by social unrest over poor living conditions and economic hardships exacerbated by crippling U.S. economic sanctions in response to Iran's nuclear program.

Iran Human Rights, an Oslo-based rights organization, says at least 154 people, including 9 children, have been killed during the 18 days of protest.

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

Office Of Golos Voters' Rights Movement, Activists' Homes Across Russia Searched

Golos co-Chairman Grigory Melkonyants speaks on the phone at his office in Moscow in 2018.

MOSCOW -- Police have searched the Moscow office of Golos (Voice), a movement that monitors elections and defends voters' rights, as well as the homes of the group's members in Moscow and other parts of Russia.

Grigory Melkonyants, the movement's co-chairman, said on October 5 that Moscow police confiscated computers, flash memory cards, payment cards, and his passport during an early morning that was executed "on completely trumped-up reasons."

According to Melkonyants, police said the searches were conducted because the Golos members were "witnesses" in a probe launched against Mikhail Gusev, a member of the movement from the city of Ivanovo, who was charged with discrediting Russia's armed forces.

Police also searched the homes of leading Golos members Arkady Lyubarev and Vitaly Kovin in Perm, Irina Matlseva in Ivanovo, Natalya Guseva in the Chelyabinsk region, as well as journalist Denis Kamalyagin and two members of the Yabloko opposition party -- Nikolai Kuzmin and Katerina Novikova -- in the city of Pskov.

Golos member Vitaly Averin said the searches were held over the organization's "fight for fair and free elections, and for a humane state governed by the rule of law."

Earlier in the day, police in Moscow searched the home of noted mathematician and elections analyst Sergei Shpilkin.

Officially established in 2013, Golos has monitored elections in Russia and other countries since the early 2000s. Last year, the Justice Ministry declared the movement and its 20 regional coordinators "foreign agents," a tool critics say the government uses to harass and restrict dissenting voices.

Last Native Speaker Of Aleut Language In Russia Dies

Vera Timoshenko (left) and Gennady Yakovlev were experts on the Aleut language, culture, and history.

The last native speaker of the Aleut language in Russia, Gennady Yakovlev, has died at the age of 86 in Russia's Far Eastern Kamchatka region.

The chairwoman of the regional council of the Aleut district of the Kamchatka region, Galina Korolyova, said on October 5 that Yakovlev died in his native village of Nikolskoye on Bering Island.

Korolyov also spoke the so-called Medny dialect of Aleut.

Until recently there were only two known native speakers of the Aleut language in Russia -- Yakovlev and Vera Timoshenko. Timoshenko, who spoke the so-called Bering dialect of the Aleut language, died in March 2021 at the age of 93.

Yakovlev and Timoshenko were experts on the Aleut language, culture, and history who actively consulted Russian and foreign researchers and linguists.

Aleut, the sole language in the Aleut branch of the Eskimo-Aleut linguistic stem, used to be widely spoken by indigenous people of the Aleutian Islands, Pribilof Islands, Commander Islands, and the Alaskan Peninsula.

According to experts, there are fewer than 100 to 150 remaining active Aleut speakers.

With reporting by Kam24

Kazakhstan Summons Russian Ambassador Over Demand To Expel Ukrainian Ambassador

Kazakh Deputy Minister Yermukhambet Konuspaev (right) meets with Ukrainian Ambassador Petr Vrublevskiy. (file photo)

ASTANA -- Kazakh authorities have rejected a demand by Russia's Foreign Ministry to expel Ukraine's ambassador to Kazakhstan, Petro Vrublevskiy, over his comments in August about killing Russians.

Kazakh Foreign Ministry spokesman Aibek Smadiyarov said on October 5 that the tone of Moscow's request to expel the Ukrainian ambassador, made the day before, was "dissonant to the character of the allied mutual ties between Kazakhstan and Russia as equal strategic partners."

Smadyarov also said that Russian Ambassador to Kazakhstan Aleksei Borodavkin was summoned to the Foreign Ministry later in the day over the situation.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on October 4 that Moscow was "outraged" by the fact that Vrublevskiy remained in Kazakhstan, adding that Kazakh Ambassador to Russia Ermek Kosherbaev had been summoned over the issue.

Smadyarov said that Astana and Kyiv had a "full understanding" of the situation and that a decision on the diplomat leaving Kazakhstan would be made solely by Kyiv.

Vrublevskiy found himself at the center of a scandal in August, after he said in an interview with noted Kazakh blogger Dias Kuzairov that "the more Russians we kill now, the fewer of them our children will have to kill in the future."

Moscow and Russian organizations in Kazakhstan demanded Astana expel the diplomat for his controversial statement, but Kazakh authorities refused, though they did ask Kyiv to replace him.

On October 4, a court in the northern city of Pavlodar sentenced Kuzairov to five days in jail on hooliganism charges after he asked Russian citizens who fled to Kazakhstan to evade a mobilization to fight for Russia in the war it launched against Ukraine if they supported the conflict.

Kazakhstan, which has aligned itself as Russia's economic ally, has not officially condemned Moscow's military aggression against Ukraine since it was launched in late February.

Binoche, Cotillard, Other French Film Stars Cut Hair In Support Of Iranian Women

Juliette Binoche appears at a news conference on the imprisonment of Iranian director Jafar Panahi during the Cannes Film Festival in 2010.

A group of French female films stars led by Oscar winners Juliette Binoche and Marion Cotillard have posted videos of themselves cutting their hair in support of women in Iran who are protesting the death of Mahsa Amini while in police custody for allegedly wearing her hijab improperly.

In the videos, posted on an Instagram account named Support Women Iran and with the hashtag #hairforfreedom, the stars can be seen lopping off handfuls of hair while looking directly into the camera.

"For freedom!" Binoche says while shaking a fist full of hair at the camera.

Amini died on September 16, three days after Iran's notorious morality police detained her because of how she was wearing the hijab, a headscarf that is mandatory for women in Iran to wear while in public.

Officials have said the 22-year-old died of a heart attack, but that claim has been rejected by her family amid reports from eyewitnesses that Amini was beaten while in custody.

"She died for letting a few strands of hair show," a note accompanying the videos on Instagram says.

Since Amini's death, protests have erupted across Iran, with some women showing up at the demonstrations, removing their hijabs, and cutting their hair.

"Since Mahsa's death, the Iranian people, women in the lead, have been demonstrating at the risk of their lives. These people only hope for access to the most essential freedoms," the note says.

The Instagram post comes a day after more than 1,000 people involved in the French film industry signed a petition "supporting the revolt by women in Iran."

Iranian-American Baquer Namazi, 85, Leaves Iran

Iranian-Americans Baquer (left) and Siamak Namazi (undated photo)

An 85-year-old Iranian-American previously barred from leaving Iran has now left and arrived in Oman, state media report.

Baquer Namazi has left Iran, semiofficial Iranian website Khabaronline said on October 5, publishing a video showing him boarding a private plane accompanied by a man in Omani traditional dress.

Oman on October 4 thanked Iran for handing over U.S. citizen Namazi, the Iranian Foreign Ministry said on its website.

Namazi, a former UNICEF official, holds both U.S. and Iranian citizenship and is one of four Iranian-Americans, including his son, Siamak, who had been detained in Iran or barred from leaving the country.

The United Nations said in a statement on October 1 that following appeals by Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to the Iranian president, Tehran had agreed to allow Namazi to leave the country for medical treatment and that his son had been granted a furlough.

Baquer Namazi suffers from a heart condition and was hospitalized several times while in prison.

Siad and Baquer Namazi both received 10-year prison sentences in 2015 for "collaborating with the hostile American government" -- charges they both denied.

Washington also rejected the allegations and called for their immediate release.

Siamak Namazi was based in Dubai with Crescent Petroleum Co. and was detained while visiting family in Tehran in 2015.

Baquer Namazi was arrested at the Tehran airport. He served two years of his sentence before being placed on a medical furlough but was forced to remain in Iran until the latest announcement.

Based on reporting by Reuters and AFP

Iran Summons British Envoy As Tehran Blames Foreign 'Enemies' For Unrest

Women carry banners during a protest organized by feminist groups in support of women protesters in Iran in front of Lebanon's National Museum in Beirut on October 2, 2022. The banner reads, "Women, life, freedom."

Iran has summoned the British ambassador to Tehran, accusing U.K. officials of trying to provoke further unrest in the country amid a wave of protests sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini after she was detained for Islamic dress-code violations over the way she was wearing a hijab.

Officials in Iran have tried to portray more than two weeks of anti-government demonstrations that have spread across the country as a foreign plot.

The Foreign Ministry in Tehran said in a statement that British officials were interfering in Iran's internal affairs and had made comments showing it is one of the countries involved in "anti-Iranian activities."

There was no immediate comment from the British ambassador or government officials in London on the matter.

After a summer of sporadic protests over poor living conditions, water shortages, and economic hardships, a new wave of unrest was unleashed in Iran following Amini's death on September 16.

Three days before she died, Amini was taken into custody by Iran's morality police for the alleged "improper wearing" of a hijab.

Officials say the 22-year-old died of a heart attack, but relatives said Amini had no history of illness and was healthy when detained.

Eyewitness accounts of the arrest say she was beaten by security officials.

Since then, anti-government protests have gained strength and broadened to include many parts of the country.

On October 3, President Ebrahim Raisi appealed for national unity while admitting "weaknesses and shortcomings" in the country.

But he also echoed other officials, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in blaming the United States, Israel, and the West for inciting the unrest.


Ukraine Claims Gains On The Battlefield As Putin Signs Takeover Law

Ukrainian soldiers sit on an armored vehicle as they drive on a road between Izyum in the Kharkiv region and the city of Lyman in the Donetsk region on October 4.

Ukrainian forces continued to make advances into several areas that Russia has declared as its own, raising doubts about Moscow's capacity to control those territories even as the Kremlin vowed to reoccupy them, saying those regions will be Russian "forever."

"The given territories will be taken back," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on October 5 after President Vladimir Putin signed the decree incorporating them into Russia.

To add to Russia's woes, the United States pledged $625 million in additional military aid to Kyiv, drawing a stern response from Moscow, which warned that pouring more U.S. weapons into Ukraine fueled the danger of a direct military clash between Russia and the West.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in his nightly address on October 4 that his forces had made "rapid and powerful" gains in southern Ukraine and recaptured "dozens" of villages from Russia this week.

"The Ukrainian Army is quite rapidly and powerfully advancing in the south," Zelenskiy said.

He said some of the territory was taken back in the regions of Kherson, Luhansk, and Donetsk, which together with Zaporizhzhya make up the four regions of Ukraine where referendums that Kyiv and the West denounced as a "sham" were held last month on joining Russia.

The areas claimed by Russia account for about 18 percent of Ukraine's territory.

The liberation of Luhansk, which is almost completely under Russian control, is well under way, the region's Ukrainian governor, Serhiy Hayday, said in a post on Telegram on October 5.

"Several settlements have already been liberated from the Russian troops, and Ukrainian armed forces are raising Ukrainian flags there...Luhansk is Ukraine," Hayday said.

The purported advances in Luhansk, which could not be independently confirmed, came after maps revealed by Moscow on October 4 showed that Russian troops had left many areas in Kherson, including along the west bank of the Dnieper River.

In the northeastern Kharkiv region, the maps indicated that Russian forces had almost entirely abandoned the east bank of the Oskil River, where British intelligence said Ukraine had now "consolidated" a substantial area.

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"Ukrainian formations have advanced up to 20 km beyond the (Oskil) river into Russia's defensive zone towards the supply node of the town of Svatove," Britain's Ministry of Defense said in its daily intelligence bulletin.

"Russian leaders will highly likely be concerned that leading Ukrainian units are now approaching the borders of Luhansk Oblast, which Russia claimed to have formally annexed [on September 30]," British intelligence suggested.

Russia struck back on October 5, when one person was wounded in an attack with Iranian-made drones on the town of Bila Tserkva, southwest of Kyiv, the region's governor said.

"During the night, the enemy carried out strikes with Shahed-136-type kamikaze drones against Bila Tserkva," Oleksiy Kuleba said on social media, adding that the attack left one person wounded and damaged infrastructure.

The previous day, Russian troops again struck the energy infrastructure of Kharkiv, Mayor Ihor Terekhov said. Russian forces are purposefully destroying transformers in order to cut off electricity and prevent people from having a normal life, he said.

In Moscow, Putin on October 5 signed laws absorbing into Russia the four regions that Moscow only partially controls, a move that finalizes the seizure carried out in defiance of international law, after earlier this week, both houses of the Russian parliament ratified the takeover.

Asked if there was a contradiction between Putin's gesture and the reality of retreat on the ground, Peskov said, "There is no contradiction whatsoever. They will be with Russia forever and they will be returned" to Russian control.

On October 4, U.S. President Joe Biden told Zelenskiy in a phone call that the United States will provide Kyiv with $625 million in new security assistance.

The assistance will include more high-mobility artillery rocket systems (HIMARS), ammunition, and armored vehicles, a White House statement said.

Biden "pledged to continue supporting Ukraine as it defends itself from Russian aggression for as long as it takes," the statement said.

The U.S. president also affirmed that the United States is prepared “to impose severe costs on any individual, entity, or country that provides support to Russia’s purported annexation.”

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement that the $625 million in aid will bring the total U.S. military assistance for Ukraine to more than $17.5 billion since the beginning of the Biden administration.

Zelenskiy thanked Biden and the American people for "continued defense and financial support."

"I enjoyed hearing President Biden say that our military inspires the world, our people inspire the world," he added.

WATCH: Ukrainian volunteers check the corpses of Russian soldiers for booby traps as they clear the area after fighting around freshly liberated Lyman.

Dead Russian Soldiers Litter Roads Around Liberated Lyman
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Russia reacted furiously to the announcement of extra U.S. military aid.

On the Telegram messaging app, Ambassador Anatoly Antonov urged Washington to stop "provocative actions" that could lead to "serious consequences."

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, RFE/RL's Russian Service

Nord Stream Operators Await End Of Investigation To Inspect Damage Caused By Suspected Sabotage

An image released on September 27 taken from an aircraft of the Swedish Coast Guard shows the release of gas emanating from a leak on the Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline.

The operator of the damaged Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline has said that it has been unable to conduct its own inspection of its pipeline more than a week after suspected sabotage triggered massive leaks.

Nord Stream AG, based in Switzerland, said it could not inspect the underwater Nord Stream 1 Baltic Sea site due to a lack of permits, and Danish authorities say the process can take over 20 working days.

According to the statement, Nord Stream AG has contracted a company from Norway to investigate the leaks. The company's vessel also needs a permit from the Norwegian Foreign Ministry to be deployed.

The company said that according to the Swedish authorities, a ban on shipping, anchoring, diving, using underwater vehicles, and geophysical mapping has been introduced to allow the authorities to conduct a state investigation around the damage sites.

Nord Stream AG will do its examination once a police investigation of the "crime scene" is completed and the cordon is lifted, the company said.

Europe is investigating what caused the pipelines designed to deliver Russian natural gas to Germany to burst last week in an act of suspected sabotage.

Neither pipeline was in use at the time of the suspected blasts, but they were filled with gas that began spewing out and bubbling to the surface of the Baltic Sea. Pressure in the pipelines has since stabilized, their operators say.

The operators of Nord Stream 2, also based in Switzerland, said Copenhagen police were handling the investigation of the crime scene at the Nord Stream 2 leak in the Danish exclusive economic zone.

Based on reporting by Reuters and dpa

U.S. Officials See No Indication Russia Preparing Nuclear Test

U.S. Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary Laura Cooper said the U.S. military had not seen anything to change its own nuclear posture. (file photo)

U.S. officials have said they have no information to corroborate media reports suggesting Russia is preparing to use a tactical nuclear weapon on or near the battlefield in Ukraine.

Laura Cooper, a deputy assistant secretary of defense, said she had seen only "open-source reports" suggesting Russia might be moving tactical nuclear weapons by rail.

She added that the U.S. military had not seen anything to change its own nuclear posture.

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White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre, asked on October 4 about the reports, said the United States takes nuclear weapons and nuclear saber-rattling very seriously.

But she added, "We have not seen any reason to adjust our own strategic nuclear posture, nor do we have any indication that Russia is preparing to imminently use nuclear weapons."

Russian President Vladimir Putin has escalated the seven-month war in Ukraine by ordering a "partial" military mobilization, pushing through an illegal annexation of four regions of Ukraine, and promising to defend Russian territory "with any means at our disposal," including nuclear weapons.

The U.S. officials' comments came after The Times newspaper reported on October 3 that Putin was set to carry out a nuclear test on Ukraine's border. The London-based newspaper said NATO had warned its members about the test.

NATO said it also had not observed changes in Russia's nuclear posture, according to an alliance official quoted by Reuters.

Asked about the reports, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Western media and politicians were "engaging in a lot of exercises in nuclear rhetoric right now," and Russia declined take part in it.

Cooper also said the Pentagon closely monitored Russia's nuclear forces, a core part of its mission since the Cold War, and was also closely monitoring the rate of munitions spent by Ukrainian forces.

"We're watching their ammunition consumption rates very closely to make sure they have what it takes to counterattack," she said.

Cooper expressed confidence that the additional HIMARS systems provided by Washington in a new aid package announced on October 4 will strengthen Ukraine's capabilities on the battlefield.

The United States is providing additional ammunition and investing in ammunition production as are allies and partners, while Russia is turning to North Korea and Iran for help, she said.

Commenting on whether Washington is considering providing long-range missiles to Ukraine, Cooper said the HIMARS currently allowed the Ukrainian forces to hit most targets on the battlefield.

"We think that [the HIMARS] can achieve most goals, including in Crimea," Cooper said.

With reporting by Reuters and RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service

World Bank Now Projects Return To Weak Growth In 2023 In Europe, Central Asia

The World Bank estimated that more than 14 million people have been displaced by the war.

The World Bank says countries in its Europe and Central Asia region will return to weak growth in 2023 "reflecting negative spillovers" from the war in Ukraine.

The World Bank said the collective GDP in its Europe and Central Asia region was now expected to grow by 0.3 percent in 2023.

That will follow contraction now forecast to be 0.2 percent this year, the World Bank said in an economic update for Europe and Central Asia released on October 4.

The bank noted that the 0.2 percent contraction forecast for 2022 was a marked improvement over the bank's forecast in June of a contraction of 2.9 percent.

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The new forecasts for the 23-countriy region, including Ukraine and Russia, reflect better-than-expected resilience in some of the region's largest economies along with extensions of pandemic-era stimulus programs in some countries.

The report said the bank now expects the economy of Ukraine to shrink 35 percent this year, an improvement over the 45 percent contraction forecast earlier this year.

Ukraine's economy has been "scarred by the destruction of productive capacity, damage to agricultural land, and reduced labor supply," the report said. It also estimates more than 14 million people have been displaced by the war.

Recovery and reconstruction will require at least $349 billion, or more than 1 1/2 times the size of Ukraine's prewar economy, the report said.

The World Bank also said the ongoing war dampens prospects of a post-pandemic recovery for emerging and developing economies in the region.

"The overlapping crises of the war in Ukraine, the ongoing pandemic and the surge in food and fuel prices are painful reminders that governments need to be prepared to manage massive, unexpected shocks that unravel very quickly," Anna Bjerde, the World Bank's vice president for Europe and Central Asia, said in a statement.

"Ukraine continues to need enormous financial support as the war needlessly rages on as well as for recovery and reconstruction projects that could be quickly initiated," Bjerde added.

The World Bank said Russia's economy was now forecast to contract by 4.5 percent in 2022, compared with an 8.9 percent contraction estimated in June. Russia's economy is forecast to shrink by 3.6 percent in 2023, it said.

In a separate note on the impact of the global energy crisis, the World Bank said an extended cutoff of energy supplies to the European Union could trigger a recession for the European and Central Asian countries.

The impact will be greater on countries more dependent on Russian natural gas and less on countries with access to alternate gas supplies or more domestic energy production.

The report notes that global prices for oil, gas, and coal had been picking up since early 2021 but they "skyrocketed" after Russia's invasion and that helped inflation climb "to levels not seen for decades in the region."

This is especially painful for countries that rely on imported energy and "countries closely connected with EU energy markets," and the bank said countries should prepare for shortages.

The regional grouping includes Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Poland, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan.

With reporting by Reuters and AFP

Head Of Ukraine's National Bank Resigns, Citing Health

UKRAINE -- Kyrylo Shevchenko, Ukraine's Central Bank Governor, speaks during an interview with Reuters in Kyiv, February 1, 2021

Ukrainian central-bank Governor Kyrylo Shevchenko has submitted his resignation, saying he has decided to quit for health reasons.

"Due to health-related issues that can no longer be ignored, I have made a difficult decision for myself. I am leaving the post of chairman of the National Bank of Ukraine," he said.

The 49-year-old added that he had asked President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to accept his resignation.

Shevchenko said that he came to work at the National Bank of Ukraine (NBU) primarily as an anti-crisis manager, and he is leaving with the bank "stronger than ever in its ability to meet challenges and overcome crises."

His successor will find that he is "handing over a strong, capitalized, sustainable banking system" that he believes "will remain so in the future," he said.

Until a successor is named, the board of the NBU will continue to perform its functions and manage the activities of the regulator with its current composition.

With reporting by Reuters

Ukraine Blasts Billionaire Musk's Plan To End War For Rewarding Russia

SpaceX owner and Tesla CEO Elon Musk has come under harsh criticism for his proposal.

Billionaire Elon Musk has come under heavy criticism for asking his more than 107 million Twitter followers to weigh in on his proposal to end the war in Ukraine under which Ukraine would cede Crimea, allow new referendums on Russian-occupied land, and agree to neutrality.

The Tesla and SpaceX CEO made his arguments in a series of tweets that in addition to proposing that Ukraine drop a bid to join NATO, said Russia should be allowed to keep the Crimean Peninsula, which it seized in 2014.

Musk also suggested that four regions Russia moved to illegally annex following Kremlin-orchestrated referendums denounced by the West as "sham" votes should repeat them under UN supervision.

As part of his proposal Musk launched a Twitter poll asking whether "the will of the people" should decide if seized regions remain part of Ukraine or become part of Russia.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who has pledged to recover all the territory captured by Russia in the war and reclaim Crimea, responded by posting a Twitter poll of his own asking users to vote for "which @elonmusk do you like more?" "One who supports Ukraine" or "One who supports Russia."

Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba denounced Musk's proposal as rewarding Russia for its invasion.

"Those who propose Ukraine to give up on its people and land -- presumably not to hurt [Russian President Vladimir] Putin's bruised ego or to save Ukraine from suffering -- must stop using word 'peace' as an euphemism to 'let Russians murder and rape thousands more innocent Ukrainians, and grab more land,'" Kuleba tweeted.

Musk replied to Zelenskiy that he still "very much" supported Ukraine, but said he was "convinced that massive escalation of the war will cause great harm to Ukraine and possibly the world."

The billionaire businessman said in another tweet that Russia would "go to full war mobilization if Crimea is at risk" and the "death on both sides will be devastating," noting that Russia has a population more than three times that of Ukraine, making victory for Ukraine unlikely.

"If you care about the people of Ukraine, seek peace," he said.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov responded by saying it was "very positive that somebody like Elon Musk is looking for a peaceful way out of this situation" but warned that Russia will not backtrack on its move to absorb the Ukrainian regions.

Ukraine and the West have said that the hastily organized votes in four occupied or partially occupied regions last month were rigged and have condemned them as illegal.

Many Twitter users, including Russian chess champion and anti-Putin political activist Garry Kasparov, bashed Musk's plan.

"This is moral idiocy, repetition of Kremlin propaganda, a betrayal of Ukrainian courage and sacrifice, and puts a few minutes browsing Crimea on Wikipedia over the current horrific reality of Putin's bloody war," Kasparov tweeted.

With reporting by AP and Reuters

Iranian Protests Broaden As Raisi Calls For National Unity

Iranian students remove their headscarves in support of protests over the death of Mahsa Amini.

Iranians have taken to the streets for a 17th consecutive day in anti-government protests triggered by the death in custody of a young woman as President Ebrahim Raisi appealed for unity.

Universities and high schools joined the protests on October 4, highlighting the broadening of demonstrations that have followed the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in custody for allegedly improperly wearing a hijab.

Videos posted on social media showed unrest in the cities of Tehran, Karaj, Shiraz, and Isfahan, with demonstrators shouting slogans such as "Death to the dictator."

During a session of parliament, Raisi acknowledged "weaknesses and shortcomings" in the country.

"Today the country's determination is aimed at cooperation to reduce people's problems," he told the session. "Unity and national integrity are necessities that render our enemy hopeless."

At the same time he echoed other officials, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in blaming the United States and Israel for inciting the unrest.

Iran has also blamed the unrest on Kurdish opposition groups in the country's northwest that operate along the border with Iraq.

Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) on October 4 bombed three bases belonging to Kurdish militant groups in Iraq's semiautonomous Kurdish region using drones and artillery, the semiofficial Tasnim news agency reported. It was the latest in a series of bombardments carried out by the IRGC that killed at least nine people last month.

The scope of the ongoing unrest, the most sustained in over a decade, has been difficult to verify as the government blocks access to social media and the Internet.

Witnesses have reported spontaneous gatherings across the country featuring small acts of defiance -- such as protesters shouting slogans from rooftops, cutting their hair, and burning their state-mandated headscarves.

WATCH: Video has emerged of angry female students, some of them with their hair uncovered, allegedly confronting an Education Ministry official and forcing him out of their school in the city of Karaj, west of Tehran.

Angry Female Students Drive Iranian Government Official From Their School
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The Tehranpars and Ekbatan neighborhoods have been among the centers of the protests in Tehran, with the sound of gunshots sometimes heard in the background.

Medical students at Gilan University on October 4 protested the use of ambulances by the security forces to suppress demonstrations.

Videos released on October 4 also the shops on Taleghani Street in the central Iranian city of Isfahan closed as part of a strike.

Reports from Amini's hometown of Saghez in Kurdistan Province indicate that teachers are on strike in schools as well as female students protesting in the street.

Schoolgirls in Saghez were shown chanting "Don't be afraid, we are all together" in the street.

The European Union says it is weighing tough new sanctions over the crackdown.

Foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the bloc was considering "all the options at our disposal, including restrictive measures, to address the killing of Mahsa Amini and the way Iranian security forces have been responding to the demonstrations."

Borrell's comment came after France said it was pushing the bloc to target senior officials with punitive measures, including "freezing their assets and their right to travel."

U.S. President Joe Biden said earlier this week that the United States would impose "further costs" this week on "perpetrators of violence against peaceful protesters" in Iran.

Amini's death on September 16 has unleashed a wave of anger over the enforcement of a rule that women must cover their head in public, which they say highlights the lack of women's rights in Iran.

Officials say she died of a heart attack, while her relatives and supporters say eyewitness reports indicated she was beaten while being arrested.

Hundreds of people including artists, activists, and journalists have been arrested since the protests erupted.

Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda. With reporting by AFP and AP

Former U.S. Marine Sentenced To 4 1/2 Years In Prison For Attacking Russian Police Officer

Police pulled Gilman off a train in Voronezh in January after complaints from fellow passengers about his behavior, according to the prosecution.

A court in the western Russian city of Voronezh has sentenced a former U.S. Marine to 4 1/2 years in prison for attacking a police officer while drunk, Russian news agencies reported.

The American, named by TASS as Robert Gilman, 28, intends to file an appeal, his lawyer said, according to the agency.

Police pulled Gilman off a train in Voronezh in January after complaints from fellow passengers about his behavior, according to the prosecution.

While in custody, Gilman was accused of kicking a police officer, leaving him with bruises.

"This man, who disagreed with lawful actions taken by the authorities, used violence against a police officer who was on duty, kicking him several times," the Investigative Committee said in a statement.

Gilman, who went to Russia to study and obtain citizenship, told the court in Voronezh that he did not remember the incident but "apologized to Russia" and to the police officer.

Russia has sentenced several U.S. citizens to lengthy prison terms in recent years. American basketball star Brittney Griner was sentenced in August to nine years in prison after being found in possession of cannabis oil in vape cartridges.

Paul Whelan, another former U.S. Marine, is serving 16 years in prison on espionage charges that he denies.

Russian officials have said they are in talks with Washington about possible prisoner exchanges. Media reports say they could involve convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout, who is serving a 25-year sentence in the United States.

In April, Russia and the United States swapped Trevor Reed for a Russian pilot convicted of drug smuggling. Reed, also a former U.S. Marine, was sentenced to nine years in prison after allegedly attacking police officers while drunk.

Based on reporting by Reuters, AFP, and Interfax

IAEA Chief Says Ukrainian Nuclear Plant Chief Will Not Return To Job After Russian Abduction

Petro Kotin speaks during an interview with Reuters in Kyiv in September.

The head of the UN nuclear watchdog has said the director of the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant in Ukraine, who was recently released after reports that he had been abducted by Russian forces, will not return to his job.

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Rafael Grossi said in a statement that Ihor Murashov was with his family in territory controlled by Ukraine "and will not be continuing with his duties" at the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant.

It is not yet clear who will replace him, Grossi said in the statement, which added that the absence of Murashov "had an immediate and serious impact on decision-making in ensuring the safety and security of the plant."

Grossi on October 3 welcomed the release of Murashov, who, according to Enerhoatom, the Ukrainian state company that oversees the plant, was taken out of a car on October 1, blindfolded, and driven in an unknown direction.

The IAEA said his detention had a "very significant impact" on him.

Grossi also said in his statement on October 4 that he plans to travel to Kyiv and then to Moscow later this week to continue his consultations aimed at agreeing and implementing a safety and security protection zone around the plant.

The IAEA has called for the creation of a the zone, but Russia has rejected the proposal.

The head of Enerhoatom earlier said it was considering restarting the Zaporizhzhya power plant, currently occupied by Russian troops, as a safety measure as winter nears.

In an interview with the AP published on October 4, Enerhoatom President Petro Kotin said the company could restart two of the reactors in a matter of days to protect safety installations as temperatures drop.

"If you have low temperature, you will just freeze everything inside. The safety equipment will be damaged," he said in his office at the company's Kyiv headquarters.

"So you need heating and the only heating is going to come from the working reactor," he added.

The last of the plant's six reactors was shut down on September 11 because Russian military activity had cut reliable external power supplies for cooling and other safety systems, threatening a potentially catastrophic meltdown that raised concern across the globe.

Russian troops occupy the plant and the surrounding area, including the nearby town of Enerhodar, where thousands of Ukrainian workers continue to maintain the facility.

The plant is also the only source of heat for the town, Kotin said, adding that a decision on a restart could be made as early as October 5.

"We at the moment are evaluating all the risks. And this depends on the weather. And actually, we don't have much time to do that," Kotin said.

With reporting by AP and Reuters

Navalny's Team To Resume Operations Of Banned Networks In Russia

Ivan Zhdanov (left) and Leonid Volkov said that a new network needs to operate like an "underground guerilla group." (file photo)

The team of jailed opposition leader Aleksei Navalny says it will resume operations across Russia despite being banned as "extremist" last year, after which many of the Kremlin critic's associates and supporters fled the country.

Navalny associates Leonid Volkov and Ivan Zhdanov said in a statement posted on YouTube on October 4 that after more than seven months of President Vladimir Putin's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, the regime had "weakened" and it is time for a new network to operate like an "underground guerilla group."

In recent months, many of Navalny's associates and members of his teams across Russia fled the country fearing for their safety amid a broad crackdown on political and civil dissent in Russia.

Zhdanov said in the video that the "safety of the group's members is a priority" and that a system has been set up to ensure the anonymity of any data transmitted through the group.

Volkov added that former members of Navalny's networks will only be considered part of the new organizations if they choose to join. He also called on the coordinators of groups currently protesting Russia's war in Ukraine to contact Navalny's team operating abroad.

Navalny, who suffered a near-fatal poisoning in August 2020 that he blames on Russian security operatives acting at the behest of President Vladimir Putin, has been in prison since February 2021. His Anti-Corruption Foundation and his network of regional offices also have been designated "extremist" organizations.

The anti-corruption campaigner was handed a 2 1/2-year prison sentence for violating the terms of an earlier parole during of his convalescence abroad. The original conviction is widely regarded as trumped-up and politically motivated.

The Kremlin has denied any involvement in Navalny's poisoning.

Tajik Journalist Sentenced To More Than Seven Years In Prison On Charges He Rejects

Abdullo Ghurbati (file photo)

DUSHANBE -- Noted Tajik journalist Abdullo Ghurbati has been sentenced to 7 1/2 years in prison on charges he and his supporters have called unfounded.

The Dushanbe-based Independent Center to Defend Human Rights, which provided Ghurbati with a lawyer, told RFE/RL that the verdict and sentence were pronounced on October 4 at a trial held behind closed doors on the premises of a detention center in the Tajik capital.

The court found Ghurbati guilty of publicly insulting an authority, minor assault of an authority, and participating in the activities of an extremist group.

The latter charge, the most serious, was linked to Ghurbati's business relations with Tajik businessman Idibek Latipov, who has been living and working in Egypt since 2007.

Investigators say Ghurbati received money from Latipov for making a YouTube video advertising his company, while Latipov was included on the Tajik National Bank's registry of individuals involved in "terrorist or extremist activities."

Ghurbati has insisted that he was not aware that Latipov was on the registry and that his ties with the man were purely business-related.

Latipov told RFE/RL by phone that his inclusion on the National Bank's registry was groundless.

Prosecutors sought eight years in prison for the journalist. Ghurbati's lawyer, Abdurahmon Sharipov, told RFE/RL that his client had continued to insist that he was not guilty during the trial.

Ghurbati and blogger Daleri Imomali, known for articles critical of the government, were detained on June 15 and subsequently sent to pretrial detention for two months.

Imomali was charged with illegal entrepreneurship and premeditated false denunciation. His trial is pending.

In June, Human Rights Watch demanded that Tajik officials immediately release Ghurbati and Imomali, saying that the two men "are being targeted for their professional activities, despite being protected by Tajikistan's laws and international obligations on freedom of expression and media freedom."

Tajik President Emomali Rahmon has been criticized by international human rights groups for years over his disregard for independent media, religious freedoms, civil society, and political pluralism in the tightly controlled former Soviet republic.

Daughter Of Journalist Who Set Self On Fire Charged With Discrediting Russian Army

Before setting herself on fire in front of police headquarters in Nizhny Novgorod, Irina Slavina wrote on Facebook, "Blame the Russian Federation for my death."

The daughter of the late Russian journalist Irina Slavina, who died two years ago after setting herself on fire in an apparent reaction to being under investigation, has been charged with discrediting Russia's armed forces.

Oleg Rodin, the chief of the opposition Yabloko party branch in the city of Nizhny Novgorod, tweeted that Margarita Murakhtayeva was charged on October 4 and faces a 50,000-ruble ($855) fine.

Two days earlier, Murakhtayeva staged a single-person picket to protest against Russia's ongoing invasion of Ukraine, launched by President Vladimir Putin in late February.

Murakhtayeva stood at the site where her mother burned herself to death on October 2, 2020, with a poster saying, "My mother would say 'Putin, go to hell with your war,' but Putin already killed her.

Before setting herself on fire in front of police headquarters in Nizhny Novgorod, Slavina wrote on Facebook, "Blame the Russian Federation for my death."

Slavina killed herself the day after a group of law enforcement officers searched her apartment in an attempt to find evidence linking her with the opposition Open Russia group. The officers confiscated Slavina's computers and mobile phones.

Slavina said at the time that she was left without the tools needed to do her job as a journalist, adding that she had never had any links with Open Russia.

Slavina's suicide caused a public outcry, with many people demanding justice for the journalist. However, the authorities refused to launch a probe into her death, saying there were no elements of a crime to investigate.

Slavina's Koza.Press online newspaper focused on shortcomings in the work of local authorities, cases of political persecution, and the illegal removal of historic buildings in the Nizhny Novgorod region.

The newspaper was shut down by her daughter after her death.

Several days after Russia launched its full-scale aggression against Ukraine, Putin signed a law that criminalized the dissemination of "fake" reports that purportedly "discredit the armed forces."

With reporting by SOTA

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