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Georgian President Accuses Russia Of Launching 'Full-Scale Invasion'

South Ossetian troops near a destroyed Georgia tank in Tskhinvali, August 9


Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has accused Russia of launching "a full-scale military invasion" of the country and appealed to the international community, calling on Georgia's friends and allies around the world to urge Russia to cease hostilities immediately.

"We appeal to our friends and allies to call on Russia to cease hostilities immediately," he said. "Georgia is a peace-loving nation, but today we are being attacked north to south, east to west."

Officials at the Kremlin and the Russian Defense Ministry say they have not received any offer for a cease-fire from Georgia. The Russian president's press service said there has been no offer from Georgia to President Dmitry Medvedev. The Defense Ministry repeated Medvedev's call for Georgian military forces to withdraw from South Ossetia entirely as the surest means of effecting a cease-fire.

Saakashvili also accused Russian forces of a campaign of "ethnic cleansing" in the separatist region of South Ossetia.

"Russian troops, Russian tanks that moved into South Ossetia, on their way expelled the whole ethnically Georgian population of South Ossetia," he said. "They've committed, as of this morning, ethnic cleansing in all areas they control in South Ossetia."

Saakashvili accused Russian forces of deliberately hitting civilian targets throughout Georgia, including hospitals and apartment buildings.

After two days of fighting, both Georgian and Russian forces are claiming control of the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali, but reports indicate a battle is under way for control of the city. Officials in South Ossetia's Defense Ministry confirm Georgian tanks have again entered parts of the capital and ITAR-TASS has reported that Georgian ground forces are also in the city.

Attacks In Georgia

The conflict has spilled over the borders of the separatist region, with Georgian officials saying Russian aircraft have bombed the Georgian Black Sea port of Poti and other targets on Georgian territory.

Reports say most of the targets have been military bases, but Georgian officials said a number of civilians have been killed in residential buildings.

Saakashvili accused Russian forces of deliberately targeting civilian targets around the country.

"Russian forces have been specifically targeting civilian quarters. They specifically attacked and blew up the whole civilian quarter in the town of Gori, far away from the place where the conflict area is and where direct friction between forces is. They attacked civilian installations in the western part of Georgia. They've attacked residential quarters all around the country. They've attacked civilian hospitals. And most of the casualties are among civilians."

Koba Liklikadze, a correspondent for RFE/RL's Georgian Service, was at the scene of bombing in the city of Gori. "Close to the artillery base [located near the entrance to the city] we saw a dreadful sight," he reported. "Aside from the base itself, two apartment blocks were on fire. The yard was full of bodies.

Liklikadze said that the wounded were being taken to the capital, Tbilisi, "because Gori's hospital is already full."

Georgia: Fighting in South Ossetia
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(Reuters video: Russian military vehicles in the pre-dawn hours head toward the border of South Ossetia where they crossed into the breakway republic. Georgian forces launch a series of attacks on separatist positions there. Russian peacekeepers take cover as Georgian jets fly overhead.)

Meanwhile, the foreign minister for Georgia's other Russian-backed breakaway region, Abkhazia, said on August 9 that it has launched a military operation to retake the Tbilisi-controlled part of the disputed Kodori Gorge. Sergei Shamba said artillery was being used. There were reports earlier of bombardment by Russian jets in the area.

A spokesman for the pro-Tbilisi Abkhaz government in exile said Russian warplanes had bombed two villages.

Meanwhile Georgia's parliament endorsed Saakashvili's decree introducing martial law for the next 15 days. The decree allows for the mobilization of reservists and for government agencies to work around the clock.

International Mediation

In Beijing, U.S. President George W. Bush said he is "deeply concerned" about the situation in South Ossetia and he called for an immediate cease-fire.

"The attacks are occurring in regions of Georgia far from the zone of conflict in South Ossetia," Bush said. "They mark a dangerous escalation in the crisis. The violence is endangering regional peace. Civilian lives have been lost and others are endangered."

He also had a reminder for Russia.

"Georgia is a sovereign nation and its territorial integrity must be respected. We have urged an immediate halt to the violence and a stand-down by all troops. We call for an end to the Russian bombings and a return by the parties to the status quo of August 6."

South Ossetia: Timeline Of A Crisis
Bush said the United States was working with its partners to launch international mediation.

The U.S. president and his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev, spoke by telephone to discuss the situation in South Ossetia and Georgia. Russian news agencies quoted Medvedev as criticizing Georgia's "barbaric actions" that have led to thousands of deaths and turned tens of thousands of people into refugees in South Ossetia.

Medvedev said the only way out of the current situation is for the Georgian government to withdraw all its forces from the zones of conflict, return to peace talks and sign a binding treaty, pledging not to resort to violence.

Arriving in the North Ossetian capital of Vladikavkaz from the Olympic Games in Beijing, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said that "Georgia's aspiration to join NATO...is driven by its attempt to drag other nations and peoples into its bloody adventures." He added that "from a legal point of view, Russia's actions in South Ossetia are totally legitimate."

At an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council on August 8, envoys from Russia and Georgia traded accusations over who was responsible for escalating the conflict. The council was unable to agree on a statement and is expected to continue talks on August 9.

Georgian UN Ambassador Irakli Alasania told RFE/RL's Georgian Service that Tbilisi hopes its Western allies will put pressure on Moscow to stop its "aggression against Georgia."

"I think there are various mechanisms that the United States can use when dealing with Russia -- both in a bilateral format, individually, as well as collectively, together with its European colleagues," Alasania said.

"This is precisely what we are hoping for -- that the Russian Federation will be pressured to stop the bombardments, the aggression against Georgia. I would not be able to speak about any concrete talks and consultations that are under way, but I can confirm that the United States has assumed this function of a mediator."

The fighting is the worst violence in the region since South Ossetia and Abkhazia broke away from the central Georgian government in a war in the early 1990s.

Moscow said more than 30,000 refugees from South Ossetia have now fled across the border to Russia. That represents more than a third of the territory's total population.

The Russian government's chief of staff, Sergei Sobyanin, made the statement at a meeting this morning with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who said, "Our task is to help overcome the consequences of the humanitarian catastrophe."

Medvedev was also quoted as saying Russian peacekeepers and units subordinate to them were "carrying out an operation to force the Georgian side to peace."

Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said 1,500 people had been killed in the conflict so far. President Saakashvili rejected the claim.

Saakashvili said that "Russian propaganda channels are saying that 1,500 people have died in South Ossetia -- this is total nonsense. This is being done deliberately, to prove that Georgia's armed forces killed many, which is a total lie. In fact, apart from the militants, our forces have killed no one. During the attack against us in Tskhinvali, the fire opened in response brought virtually no casualties among civilians. I say this with full responsibility."

General Anatoly Nogovitsyn, deputy chief of Russia's General Staff, has now acknowledged the loss of two Russian planes. Georgia had claimed to have downed several Russian planes, but this was the first confirmation from Moscow.

And the commander of Russian ground forces, Vladimir Boldyrev, said his soldiers had "fully liberated" Tskhinvali and driven Georgian forces out of the city. This could not be independently confirmed.

Factbox -- South Ossetia

Factbox: South Ossetia

Status: The region broke away from Georgia in a 1991-92 war. A peacekeeping force with 500 peacekeepers each from Russia, Georgia, and North Ossetia monitors a 1992 truce.

Population: Approximately 70,000 (according to the 1989 census, about two-thirds Ossetian, one-third Georgian)

Capital: Tskhinvali

Languages: Ossetian, Georgian, Russian

Religion: Orthodox Christianity

South Ossetia: Timeline Of A Crisis

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Ukraine Claims Russian Death Toll Rises To More Than 130,000

A Ukrainian tank fires at Russian positions near Kreminna in the Luhansk region.

Ukraine's military says 131,290 Russian military personnel have been killed in Ukraine since Russia invaded the country on February 24 last year.

In its regular update on February 5, the Ukrainian General Staff claimed that 700 Russian soldiers were killed just over the past day.

The regular update -- which is often higher than Western estimates -- also said Russia had lost 3,220 tanks, 6,405 armored vehicles, and 2,226 artillery systems since the war began.

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Citing U.S. and other Western officials, The New York Times reported earlier this month that the number of Russian troops killed and wounded in Ukraine was approaching 200,000 in total.

Heavy fighting was under way on February 5 in the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut in the eastern region of Donetsk, according to Yevgeny Prigozhin the head of Russia's Wagner mercenary group.

"In the northern quarters of [Bakhmut], fierce battles are going on for every street, every house, every stairwell," Prigozhin said on Telegram, adding that Ukrainian forces were not retreating.

"The Ukrainian armed forces are fighting to the last," he said.

Bakhmut has been virtually razed by repeated Russian artillery bombardments as Moscow has been trying to seize control of the city for months.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on February 3 that Ukrainian forces would fight for Bakhmut "as long as we can."

The British Defense Ministry said that "over the last week, Russia has continued to make small advances in its attempt to encircle" Bakhmut.

"The M03 and the H32 -- the two main roads into the city for Ukrainian defenders -- are likely now both threatened by direct fire, following the Russian advances," it said in its regular update on February 5.

In the neighboring Luhansk region, Ukrainian forces remained in control of the village of Bilohorivka, the regional governor said, rejecting claims by some Russian-installed officials that the village was captured by the Russian Army.

"Our troops remain in their positions, nobody has captured Bilohorivka, nobody has entered there, there is no enemy there," Serhiy Hayday told the Ukrainian national broadcaster.

He said the situation was "tense," as "the number of Russian attacks has increased," but he added that "all of the [attacks] have been repulsed" by Ukrainian troops.

Three people were wounded on February 5 by two Russian missiles in the northeastern city of Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city, according to local officials. Kharkiv Governor Oleh Synehubov said the missiles hit a residential building in the city center.

The claims cannot be independently verified.

In Germany, Chancellor Olaf Scholz again rejected concerns that Berlin's recent decision to supply Ukraine with its Leopard tanks could make Germany an active party to the conflict with Russia.

"We have carefully weighed every arms shipment [to Ukraine], coordinated them closely with our allies, first and foremost with the United States," Scholz told Germany's Bild am Sonntag, in comments seen by dpa ahead of publication on February 5.

"This joint approach prevents an escalation of the war," said the German chancellor, who has faced much criticism over his initial reluctance to send the Leopards.

Scholtz also said that Russian President Vladimir Putin in his telephone conversations "has not made any threats against me or Germany."

Former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson earlier this week said Putin had threatened him with a missile strike that would "only take a minute." The Kremlin said Johnson was lying.

Scholz said the conversations he had with Putin made it clear they had very different views of the war in Ukraine. "I make it very clear to Putin that Russia has sole responsibility for the war," Scholz said.

Meanwhile, a former Israeli prime minister who served briefly as a mediator at the start of Russia's war with Ukraine has said he drew a promise from the Russian president not to kill his Ukrainian counterpart.

Former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett became an unlikely intermediary in the war's first weeks, becoming one of the few Western leaders to meet with Putin during the war in a snap trip to Moscow in March 2022.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, AP, and dpa

Opposition Figure Musavi Calls For 'Free' Referendum In Iran, Drafting Of New Constitution

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U.S. Weighs Sanctions For Chinese Companies Over Iran Surveillance Buildup

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Three Bulgarians Detained At Border With North Macedonia

A ceremony attended by state officials was conducted under strong police presence at Delchev's grave at the Church of Holy Salvation in Skopje on February 4.

North Macedonia's Interior Ministry has said that three Bulgarian citizens were detained on February 4 at the Deve Bair border crossing with Bulgaria for disturbing public order.

A group of Bulgarian citizens were waiting to enter North Macedonia on February 4 to pay their respects at the tomb of revolutionary Goce Delchev on the occasion of the 151st anniversary of his birth.

Delchev is claimed by both Skopje and Sofia as a hero in the fight for the liberation from the Ottoman Empire.

The ministry announced on February 4 that the three were detained for disturbing public order and peace.

The three Bulgarians, identified only as G.Z. (35), A.H. (50), and R.H. (54), "first behaved verbally impudently and inappropriately using most derogatory words and then tried to physically attack the police officers who took legal action, detaining the three while work is being done to completely clear up the case," the Interior Ministry said.

The ministry said that all border crossings between the two Balkan neighbors were forced to close for several hours because of a fault in the border-control system. Border traffic resumed after the fault was fixed, it said.

Earlier this week, the interior ministers of North Macedonia and Bulgaria met to discuss tensions between their two countries and measures aimed at preventing violence during Delchev's upcoming celebration.

Oliver Spasovski, interior minister of North Macedonia, and his Bulgarian counterpart, Ivan Demerdziev, met on January 30 in Skopje to reduce tensions between the two countries, vowing that "no incident" will be tolerated during the Fberuary 4 celebration in Skopje.

The announcement that a larger number of Bulgarian citizens will attend the celebration of the Delchev’s birth caused further concern.

A ceremony attended by state officials was conducted under strong police presence at Delchev's grave at the Church of Holy Salvation in Skopje on February 4.

Bilateral tensions were heightened earlier this month after the beating in Ohrid of Hristijan Pendikov, a man who identifies as Bulgarian and is an employee of one of the Bulgarian cultural clubs in North Macedonia that some Macedonians regard as provocative.

Following the incident, Bulgaria recalled its ambassador to Skopje.

Demerdziev said on January 30 that he and Spasovski reached an understanding that such incidents should not be allowed in the Republic of North Macedonia and he was assured that the case will be investigated fully and objectively.

Relations between the two neighbors have long been strained by deep cultural, historical, and linguistic differences that spilled into the open three years ago when Sofia invoked its veto power to stall North Macedonia's negotiations to join the European Union.

Sofia finally agreed to withdraw the veto last year.

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Ukraine's Andriy Yermak posted images of the prisoner exchange on February 4.

Russia and Ukraine on February 4 announced an exchange of prisoners that led to the release of 63 Russians and 116 Ukrainians and the return of the bodies of two foreign volunteers who were involved in humanitarian work in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donetsk.

The Russian Ministry of Defense reported the return of its 63 Russian soldiers in a statement on its Telegram channel. The statement said that among those released were persons belonging to a "sensitive category," without elaborating.

It added that the exchange was facilitated "thanks to the mediation of the leadership of the United Arab Emirates."

Ukrainian authorities, meanwhile, reported that 116 prisoners had returned home.

Andriy Yermak, head of Ukraine's presidential office, wrote on Telegram that among them were "defenders of Mariupol, Kherson partisans, snipers from the Bakhmut area."

In addition, Yermak wrote, the bodies of two dead foreign volunteers -- Briton Christopher Matthew Parry and New Zealander Andrew Tobias Matthew Bagshaw -- as well as the body of deceased Ukrainian volunteer Yevhen Kulik, who served in the French Foreign Legion, were returned to Ukraine.

Parry and Bagshaw, two volunteers who were helping with the evacuation of civilians and delivering humanitarian aid, were reported missing on January 7 in Donetsk.

They had last been seen the previous day on their way from Kramatorsk to Soledar, where heavy fighting had been under way between Ukrainian defenders and Russian forces.

Ukrainians Hold Memorial Service For Slain Foreign Aid Workers
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Soon after, the family of one of the two volunteers said that the men were killed during an attempt to carry out a humanitarian evacuation.

Yermak also published a short video purporting to show released Ukrainian prisoners traveling by bus and two photos of men holding Ukrainian flags in front of a bus.

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Zelenskiy Says Situation In Eastern Ukraine Getting More Difficult As Odesa Battles To Restore Power

Ukrainian soldier fire a mortar on the front line in Bakhmut.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy warned on February 4 that Russia was throwing more and more forces into battle and that the situation on the front lines in the eastern parts of the country was getting more severe.

"The occupier is throwing more and more of his forces into breaking down our defenses," Zelenskiy said in his nighty video address, adding that the situation was "very difficult" in Bakhmut, Vuhledar, Lyman, and other areas.

His warning came as Energy Minister Herman Halushchenko said that power had been restored to critical infrastructure in the southern port city of Odesa following an accident at a substation.

"Power to all critical infrastructure has been restored. The city will therefore have water and heat," Halushchenko said on Facebook.

"About one-third of the city's consumers now have lighting," he said, without offering more details.

Earlier, regional Governor Maksym Marchenko said a "serious" accident at a high-voltage substation had left a half-million households without power in Odesa, confirming earlier reports about an accident at a facility that was previously targeted in Russian strikes.

"A serious accident occurred at one of the energy facilities, which caused a fire," he said, adding that emergency measures were being taken.

Earlier, an air-raid alert for the whole of Ukraine was canceled without any reports of Russian shelling as Ukrainian defenders faced renewed attacks by Moscow's troops in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk over the past 24 hours.

The alert, which lasted for about two hours in the morning, was the third in two days. No massive Russian strikes on civilian and infrastructure targets were reported on February 3 either.

Amid warnings that a massive Russian offensive is in the making as Moscow's unprovoked invasion nears the one-year mark, the military said fighting had intensified in the Donbas.

"The enemy continues offensive operations in the Lyman, Bakhmut, Avdiyivka, and Novopavlivka areas [of Donetsk], suffering heavy losses," Ukraine's General Staff said in its report.

Battles have been raging for months for the city of Bakhmut, where waves of Russian attackers are piling increasing pressure on the Ukrainian forces.

Witnesses have told RFE/RL that street fighting is under way in Bakhmut, with building-by-building combat on the outskirts of the city.

Zelenskiy said on February 3 that Ukrainian forces will continue their fight to hold on to Bakhmut. "Nobody will give away Bakhmut. We will fight for as long as we can. We consider Bakhmut our fortress," he said.

Zelenskiy's comments come after U.S. media reports saying the United States had advised Ukraine to withdraw from Bakhmut. U.S. officials quoted by Bloomberg said this would allow Kyiv to gather forces for a spring offensive.

The General Staff said on February 4 that the Ukrainian military also repelled Russian attacks in the Grekivka, Nevske, Kreminna, and Dibrova settlements in the Luhansk region.

Russian forces carried out 20 air strikes and three missile strikes, the military said, targeting civilian infrastructure of the Kharkiv and Mykolayiv regions, causing civilian casualties.

Zelenskiy said Ukrainian forces "have a chance" of beating back a looming Russian offensive if supplied with the right Western weapons.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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"If weapon [supplies] are accelerated, specifically long-range weapons, not only will we not abandon Bakhmut but we will also begin to remove the [Russian] occupiers from the Donbas," he said.

Zelenskiy said European sanctions should aim to ensure Russia cannot rebuild its military capability.

On February 4, Zelenskiy said he discussed the "further expansion of capabilities" of Ukraine's military in a call with British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. Zelenskiy said he also thanked Sunak for the start of training of Ukrainian crews on Challenger 2 tanks.

"The prime minister said he was focused on ensuring the U.K.'s defensive military equipment reached the front line as quickly as possible," Sunak's office said in a readout of the call.

"Both leaders agreed that it was vital that international partners accelerated their assistance to Ukraine to help seize the opportunity to push Russian forces back," it added.

The United States on February 3 announced a fresh $2.2 billion package of military aid for Ukraine that will include rockets with a range twice the distance of the rockets Ukraine now has.

The Ground-Launched Small-Diameter Bomb (GLSDB) is included in the package announced by the Pentagon.

GLSDBs have a range roughly double that of the High-Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) already supplied.

Kyiv is requesting more powerful modern weapons, including F-16 fighter jets, even after securing pledges from its Western allies to send tanks as its forces brace for an expected new Russian onslaught in the east.

Meanwhile, Portugal will send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, Prime Minister Antonio Costa said on February 4, without specifying how many will be shipped.

Costa added that Portugal is in talks with Germany to obtain parts needed for the repair of a number of inoperable Leopard tanks in Portugal's inventory.

"I know how many tanks will be (sent to Ukraine) but that will be announced at the appropriate time," Costa told the Lusa news agency during a trip to the Central African Republic.

The EU announced on February 3 that it is ramping up its military training mission for Ukraine, raising it from an initial target of 15,000 troops to up to 30,000.

With reporting by Reuters. dpa, and AFP

EU Agrees On Price Caps On Russian Refined Oil Products

Ambassadors for the 27 EU countries agreed on the European Commission proposal, which will apply from February 5. (file photo)

European Union countries agreed to set price caps on Russian refined oil products to limit Moscow's funds for its invasion of Ukraine, the EU said on February 3. EU diplomats said the price caps are $100 per barrel on products that trade at a premium to crude, principally diesel, and $45 per barrel for products that trade at a discount, such as fuel oil. Ambassadors for the 27 EU countries agreed on the European Commission proposal, which will apply from February 5. The price caps follow a $60 per barrel cap on Russian crude that the Group of Seven leading industrialized nations imposed on December 5. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

New U.S. Aid Package For Ukraine Includes Rockets With Longer Striking Range

U.S. Brigadier General Patrick Ryder (file photo)

A new package of U.S. military aid for Ukraine announced on February 3 includes rockets with a range twice the distance of the rockets Kyiv now has. The Ground Launched Small Diameter Bomb (GLSDB) is included in a $2.2 billion U.S. military aid package announced by the Pentagon. GLSDBs has a range roughly double that of the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) already supplied. As part of the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative (USAI), the United States “will be providing a Ground Launched Small Diameter Bomb to Ukraine," Brigadier General Patrick Ryder told a news briefing at the Pentagon. To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, click here.

U.S. Targets Executives Of Iranian Drone Maker In Latest Sanctions Designation

Ali Reza Tangsiri, the IRGC's naval commander is among those sanctioned. (file photo)

The United States has imposed new sanctions on a previously designated Iranian drone maker, Paravar Pars, this time targeting the board of directors.

The U.S. Treasury Department said on February 3 that its Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) had designated eight senior executives of Paravar Pars.

The drone maker was previously blacklisted by OFAC for making Shahed-series unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), the Treasury Department said in a news release.

"Iranian entities continue to produce UAVs for Iran's IRGC and military. More broadly, Iran is supplying UAVs for Russia's combat operations to target critical infrastructure in Ukraine," said Brian Nelson, undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.

“The United States will continue to aggressively target all elements of Iran’s UAV program,” added Nelson, who is the U.S. Treasury's top sanctions official, in the statement.

Among the eight individuals blacklisted are Paravar Pars’ managing director and CEO, Hossein Shamsabadi, and the company’s chairman, Ali Reza Tangsiri, who is also the commander of the IRGC Navy. Tangsiri, who the Treasury Department said has overseen the testing of UAVs and cruise missiles, was previously designated for U.S. sanctions in 2019.

The sanctions freeze any property held in U.S. jurisdictions by the eight individuals. People in the United States who engage in transactions with the individuals designated may themselves be exposed to sanctions, the Treasury Department said.

The department earlier his week put new trade restrictions on seven Iranian entities for producing drones that the Treasury Department said Russia has used to attack Ukraine.

In response, Iran's mission to the United Nations in New York said sanctions have no effect on Iran's drone production capacity because its drones are all produced domestically.

“This is a strong indication that the drones shot down in Ukraine and using parts made by Western countries don't belong to Iran," it said, according to Reuters.

Since Russia launched its war against Ukraine in February 2022, the United States and more than 30 other countries have sought to degrade Russia’s military and defense industrial base by restricting its access to defense needs.

With reporting by Reuters

Iranian Film Director Panahi 'Temporarily ' Released From Prison, Wife Says

Award-winning Iranian film director Jafar Panahi (file photo)

Iranian director Jafar Panahi has been temporarily released from prison days after going on a hunger strike to protest “the illegal and inhumane behavior" of Iran's judiciary and security apparatus, which have led a brutal and sometimes deadly crackdown on unrest over the death of a young woman while in police custody for allegedly wearing a head scarf improperly.

"Today, on the third day of Jafar Panahi's hunger strike; Mr. Panahi was temporarily released from Evin prison with the efforts of his family, respected lawyers, and representatives of the cinema," a statement on Panahi's wife's Instagram page said on February 3.

The post added that further details would follow from Panahi's legal team.

She gave no further details, but a photo of the couple in a car was attached to the post.

The U.S.-based US-based Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) also said on Twitter that Panahi had been released.

Panahi, 62, was arrested in July as the authorities cracked down on dissent in response to growing antiestablishment sentiment and near-daily protests over living conditions and graft across the Islamic republic.

Just days prior to his arrest, Panahi had joined a group of more than 300 Iranian filmmakers in publishing an open letter calling on the security forces to "lay down arms" in the face of public outrage over "corruption, theft, inefficiency, and repression" following the violent crackdown against those protesting a building collapse in May in the southwestern city of Abadan, which killed 41 people.

Those protests were overtaken by a wave of unrest following the September 16 death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in custody for allegedly violating the country's head-scarf law.

Since the start of daily protests that have rocked Iran since Amini's death, several Iranian filmmakers and prominent public figures have been summoned or arrested by the authorities, including the popular actress Taraneh Alidoosti.

Several high-profile actresses have taken pictures without a head scarf in defiant support of the protesters, whose demonstrations pose one of the biggest threats to the Islamic leadership since the revolution in 1979.

Panahi was awarded the Special Jury prize at the Venice International Film Festival in September for his latest film, released while he was in prison, No Bears.

The filmmaker has won a number of international awards for films critiquing modern Iran, including the top prize at the Berlin International Film Festival for Taxi in 2015 and best screenplay at Cannes for his film Three Faces in 2018.

Since Amini's death, more than 500 people have been killed in the police crackdown, according to rights groups.

Several thousand more have been arrested, including many protesters, as well as journalists, lawyers, activists, digital rights defenders, and others.

Ukraine's Security Service Exposes 'Large-Scale' Embezzlement Scheme

Ukraine's Security Service (SBU) said the Ukrainian Defense Ministry had lost more than $3 million as a result of the fraud.

Ukraine's Security Service (SBU) says it has uncovered a large-scale embezzlement scheme to siphon off public funds earmarked for the purchase of food for the military as it battles to repel Moscow's nearly yearlong invasion.

The SBU said in a statement posted on Telegram on February 3 that as a result of the fraud, the Defense Ministry incurred losses of more than 119.5 million hryvnyas ($3.24 million).

The findings are part of a scandal that broke on January 22 when allegations surfaced in local media that the ministry was overpaying suppliers for food for troops. The supplier has said a technical mistake was to blame and no extra money had actually changed hands. The ministry said the accusations were baseless.

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.

Eradicating endemic corruption is one of the chief requirements presented by the European Union to Kyiv as Ukraine is pressing Brussels to speed up its accession into the 27-member bloc even as it is fighting Russian troops that invaded on February 24 last year.

On the eve of a meeting between EU leaders and Ukrainian officials on February 3, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy pledged "new steps" to continue "our fight against the internal enemy," a reference to the battle against graft. He did not give any details.

The SBU said in its statement explaining the scheme that officials from one ministry department made agreements with the heads of two commercial enterprises regarding the wholesale supply of food to locations where the military is deployed.

Funds from the ministry's budget were then transferred to the accounts of firms that "lacked a production base and technological equipment" to provide the relevant services.

"Instead of supplying the armed forces with the agreed quantities of food products, the participants in the fraudulent mechanism diverted the funds through a number of affiliated shadow companies," the statement said.

The SBU added that, based on evidence found, two heads of companies involved in the fraudulent scheme were notified of being suspected of "[illegal] appropriation, waste of property, or possession of [such property] through abuse of an official position."

It noted that SBU agents are still conducting an investigation to establish the involvement of Defense Ministry officials in any illegal activities.

"In addition, SBU officers exposed the commander of a military unit in the Kyiv region who embezzled almost 2.4 million hryvnyas ($68,000) allocated for military personnel's food," the statement said, adding that the commander had as accomplices four of his subordinates and businessmen who concealed the "kickbacks" through falsified documentation.

No names were given in the statement, which comes after a number of senior Ukrainian officials resigned or were fired beginning on January 24 as Zelenskiy vowed to eradicate corruption from his administration amid a high-profile graft scandal.

Ukraine Unveils Criminal Case Against Russia's Wagner Boss

Yevgeny Prigozhin attends the funeral outside St. Petersburg in December of Dmitry Menshikov, a prisoner who died fighting with Wagner in the war in Ukraine.

Ukraine has unveiled a criminal case against the boss of Russia's Wagner mercenary company and promised to track down and prosecute the company's fighters who try to flee abroad. Wagner, run by businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, an ally of President Vladimir Putin, has recruited thousands of fighters, including convicts from Russian prisons, to wage war in Ukraine. "The Prosecutor-General's Office has served a notice of suspicion to the head of the private military company Wagner," Prosecutor-General Andriy Kostin said in a statement on Facebook that did not identify Prigozhin by name. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Iranian Protesters Burn Government Propaganda Banners

A protester sets fire to a government banner in Isfahan.

Protesters in several Iranian cities, including the capital, Tehran, have set fire to government banners commemorating the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution in a continued show of defiance amid unrest over the death of a young woman while in police custody for allegedly wearing a head scarf improperly.

Protesters in Tehran's Ekbatan neighborhood showed the depth of their anger toward the government's intrusion on their freedoms with chants from windows and rooftops of "Death to the dictator," a reference to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Similar scenes were repeated in other neighborhoods of Tehran, as well as in other areas of the country.

Several videos published on social networks showed people setting fire to the government's propaganda banners for the 44th anniversary of the revolution that brought Iran's clerical rulers to power. The anniversary falls on February 11.

The unrest was sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini on September 16. The 22-year-old died while in custody after being arrested by the notorious morality police for improperly wearing a mandatory Islamic head scarf, or hijab.

Her death, which officials blamed on a heart attack, touched off a wave of anti-government protests in cities across the country. The authorities have met the unrest with a harsh crackdown that rights groups say has killed more than 500 people, including 71 children.

Officials, who have blamed the West for the demonstrations, have vowed to crack down even harder on protesters, with the judiciary leading the way after the unrest entered a fourth month.

The protests pose the biggest threat to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution.

Several thousand people have been arrested, including many protesters, as well as journalists, lawyers, activists, digital rights defenders, and others.

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

Germany Confirms Approval Of Leopard 1 Tank Deliveries To Ukraine

Dozens of German-made Leopard 1 tanks are seen in a hangar in Tournais, Belgium.

Germany has approved the export of Leopard 1 battle tanks to Ukraine from industry stocks, a government spokesperson said on February 3 at a regular news conference in Berlin. The spokesperson declined to comment on the number of tanks that would be exported. The Leopard 1s are not as advanced as Leopard 2s that Germany and other countries pledged last week, but could be delivered sooner. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Emaciated Iranian Activist Meysami Vows To Continue Hunger Strike

Farhad Meysami has been in prison since August 2018.

Farhad Meysami has vowed to continue his hunger strike until Iranian authorities stop executing protesters, release six political prisoners, and stop their harassment of women over the compulsory hijab rule despite photos on social media showing him in an emaciated condition amid growing fears over his state of health.

"I still stand by my three demands," Meysami, a doctor, said in a letter published on February 2 along with the photos that show him looking frail and sickly.

Meysami has been in prison since August 2018 after being sentenced to six years for supporting women protesting against the hijab law that forces them to cover their hair and bodies in public.

He was charged with "spreading propaganda against the system" and "gathering and colluding to commit crimes against national security," as well as for "insulting Islamic sanctities," because the authorities said he denigrated the hijab.

Lawyer Mohammad Moghimi has warned that Meysami’s condition is worsening and that his life is in danger.

Last month, Moghimi said Meysami's weight had dropped to 52 kilograms and that he had been beaten by guards due to his resistance to being transferred to the criminal-prisoners ward.

Many on social media, including Reza Pahlavi, the exiled former crown prince of Iran and an opposition leader, have supported Meysami and demanded his release.

On Twitter on February 3, Pahlavi said that the thin body of Meysami, "is another symbol of the boundless cruelty of the Islamic regime."

Prominent Iranian oppositionist Hamed Esmaeilion said he holds the government responsible for Meysami's condition.

Meysami has held several hunger strikes during his incarceration and in most, his demands are related to social conditions in Iran and other activists and prisoners.

In May, Meysami went on a hunger strike to protest the possible execution of Ahmadreza Djalali, a Brussels university professor with dual Iranian-Swedish citizenship. He ended the hunger strike after 145 days.

He reportedly went on a hunger strike in August 2018 to protest the charges he faced and also the lack of access to a lawyer of his choosing. He reportedly was being held at the time in a medical clinic at Evin prison, where he was force-fed intravenously.

The news comes as Iran finds itself engulfed in a wave of protests following the September 16 death of a young woman while in custody for allegedly violating the country's head-scarf law.

The U.S.-based Human Rights Activists News Agency said that as of January 29, at least 527 people had been killed during the unrest, including 71 minors, as security forces muzzle dissent.

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

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