Gates, Biden Preside Over Launch Of Operation New Dawn In Iraq
The two attended a U.S. military ceremony in Baghdad that marks the beginning of what has been described as a new era in Iraq.
It follows by less than 24 hours U.S. President Barack Obama's declaration from the White House that U.S. combat operations in the country have ended, more than seven years after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq that ousted Saddam Hussein's regime.
The Baghdad event marks the transition to what the Pentagon hopes will be the final phase of the Iraq war -- shifting the focus from combat operations to preparing Iraqi troops to protect the country on their own.
General Ray Odierno, the top U.S. commander in Iraq since taking over from General David Petraeus in 2008, officially handed over command of nearly 50,000 U.S. soldiers still in Iraq to Lieutenant General Lloyd Austin.
The presence of Biden and Gates at the ceremony -- which took place near Baghdad International Airport at a palace formerly used by Saddam Hussein -- highlighted the historic significance of the event.
Biden emphasized that the U.S. soldiers still in Iraq are "as combat ready as any" in the U.S. military.
"Operation Iraqi Freedom is over, but American engagement with Iraq will continue with the mission that begins today -- Operation New Dawn," Biden said. "This ceremony not only marks the change of command, but the start of a different chapter in the relationship with Iraq."
Stressing that Iraqis are ready to provide security for their own country, Biden said Iraqi forces share credit for improving security in Iraq and reducing the level of sectarian violence in recent years.
"Today, while the threat -- a tragic reality -- of further bloodshed remains, violence has reached the lowest point since 2003 when we arrived here, shortly after we arrived here," Biden said. "And a great deal of credit goes to Iraqi security forces -- more than 650,000-strong, including highly trained special operations forces who are increasingly ready to defend their fellow citizens."
Gates, meanwhile, credited Odierno and the 2007 surge of U.S. troops in Iraq for improved security in the country and decreased levels of violence during the past three years.
Iraqis 'Step Up'
Speaking on August 31, U.S. Major General Steven Lanza, the chief U.S. military spokesman in Iraq, said the goal of Operation New Dawn was to build the capacity of Iraq's own security forces ahead of the eventual withdrawal of all U.S. forces from the country, scheduled for the end of next year.
"You have a professional force of 660,000 both in the [Iraqi] police and in the army. They are capable of doing internal security," Lanza said. "There is still a lot of work to be done to build that capability, to extend it to an external foundation of capacity. And part of our commitment and part of the reason we are still here is to help them build that capability and capacity as our mission ends in December 2011."
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said he thought Iraqi security forces were already capable of maintaining internal security in Iraq. Zebari noted that Iraqi forces carried out the bulk of security work -- with limited support from the United States -- during general elections earlier this year.
But he added that "defending Iraq against foreign aggression...will take time."
"I am not going to put a time ceiling on [Iraq's own self-defense]...but it is a process because any country needs to have a viable air-defense system, air-force capabilities, naval forces, and this can only be materialized by training, by equipment, and by arming, and this will take time," he said.
But many Iraqis who welcome the withdrawal of the last U.S. combat troops say they are worried that violence could flare in their country. Baghdad resident Abu Walid told RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq that he worried about the capabilities of Iraqi security forces.
"We hope to get rid of [U.S. troops] as soon as possible on the condition that they first restore security because they are the ones who shook the country's security," Walid said. "They have to secure the borders and then they can complete their withdrawal. They could withdraw like this and leave borders unsecured in southern areas with Iran and other neighboring countries and leave this country in chaos."
Iltifat, another Baghdad resident, told RFE/RL he would consider Iraq to be an occupied country until the last U.S. soldier left -- a milestone the Obama administration says will take place by the end of 2011.
"We are still an occupied country, so whether the U.S. Army withdraws or not, we are still an occupied country," Iltifat said. "When the last U.S. soldier leaves Iraqi bases and no U.S. base remains in the country, we will say that the U.S. troops have withdrawn. Now, the U.S. Army is still here and the country is occupied and it will remain occupied. The country is also too weak."
During this week's visit to Baghdad, Biden has been assuring Iraqis that the United States is not abandoning their country but instead wants to build a long-term partnership.
Biden has also been encouraging Iraqi political factions to overcome their differences and forge a coalition government. The Iraqi factions have been unable to agree on a new government nearly six months after inconclusive elections in March.
written by RFE/RL correspondent Ron Synovitz in Prague; RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq contributed to this report from Baghdad
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Journalists In Western Iranian Province Face Prosecution
At least six journalists have faced prosecution for their professional work in the last month in Iran’s western province of Lorestan, local sources reported.
The Roydad24 news agency wrote on August 10 that Mohammad Basati, the editor in chief of the Balutestan newspaper, was sentenced to six months in prison and fined 80 million rials ($260) following a complaint by the Imam Khomeini Relief Foundation (IKRF).
The Imam Khomeini Relief Foundation is an Iranian charitable organization founded in 1979 to provide support for poor families. The foundation is supported by the Iranian government and receives budgetary funds.
The verdict stated that Basati "published fake news that he was not able to prove" in a WhatsApp news group, without giving further details.
Sina Ghalandari, a local journalist in Lorestan Province, reported on August 1 that he had been sentenced to 27 months in prison and banned from media work for two years.
Last September, Ghalandari published the story of Mobina Suri, a 16-year-old teenager who was murdered by her husband in a so-called “honor” killing. Her husband was a clergyman.
According to Roydad24, the same judge presided over the trials of both Ghalandari and Basati.
Local sources have reported that four other journalists have faced prosecution in Lorestan in the last month.
Recently, the governor of Lorestan ordered that charges against all journalists be dropped to mark the Journalists’ Day holiday in Iran.
Iran has a long history of arresting and imprisoning journalists and media activists for reporting corruption and other stories that are embarrassing to the authorities. In provincial cities, even the smallest criticism of officials can bring harsh retribution.
In some cases, journalists have faced direct threats of violence from the authorities.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
Man Jailed In Kazakhstan For Painting Pro-War 'Z' Symbol On WWII Memorial
SARAN, Kazakhstan -- A court in central Kazakhstan has sentenced a local resident to seven days in jail for painting the Latin letter "Z" -- a sign of support for Russia's ongoing unprovoked war against Ukraine -- on a tank that is a part of a memorial honoring World War II veterans.
The Saran municipal court in the Qaraghandy region announced on August 11 that it had sentenced the man, whose identity was not disclosed, after convicting him of hooliganism.
According to the court's press service, the 54-year-old, who was detained on July 29, pleaded guilty and expressed regret.
Russian military vehicles in Ukraine are marked with the Latin letters "Z" and "V," and the symbols have been promoted by Russian state media and other Kremlin supporters as patriotic emblems expressing support for the military and the invasion of Ukraine.
Ukraine and several European Union member-states have banned the symbols. Although Kazakhstan has not officially banned them, several drivers in the Central Asian nation have been fined in recent months for displaying them on their vehicles.
Another Navalny Team Member Flees Russia Amid Crackdown
An aide to the former coordinator of jailed Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny's team in the North Caucasus region of Daghestan, Murad Manapov, has fled Russia amid an ongoing crackdown on dissent.
Manapov told RFE/RL on August 11 that he is currently in Poland, adding that he has not yet applied for political asylum there.
Manapov also said he decided to leave Russia after the coordinator of Navalny's team in Daghestan, Eduard Atayev, was arrested earlier this year on an illegal weapons charge that Atayev and his supporters say was fabricated in retaliation for his political activity.
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.
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 have been designated "extremist" organizations.
Trial Begins Of German Reserve Officer Charged With Spying For Russia
A German military reserve officer has gone on trial on charges of spying for Russia in the western German city of Dusseldorf.
The trial of 65-year-old Ralf Goelert, who allegedly passed sensitive information to the Russian foreign intelligence service from 2014 until 2020, opened on August 11.
Investigators say Goelert provided Russian agents with information about the Bundeswehr's reserve system, civilian-military cooperation in crisis situations, and data about the effects of sanctions imposed on Russia in 2014 following the annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region. Goelert also purportedly provided Moscow with information about the Nord Stream 2 Baltic Sea pipeline, a project that was halted following Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February.
According to the Federal Prosecutor's Office, the suspect did not receive any financial compensation for the documents he provided but was regularly invited to events organized in Germany by the Russian Embassy.
A court spokeswoman said the suspect made a partial confession during the preliminary proceedings.
With reporting by Kommersant, Der Spiegel, and dpa
Russian Official Says Child Suicide Has Risen Nearly 40 Percent Since 2020
An adviser to the office of Russia's children ombudswoman says the number of suicide cases among minors in the country has increased almost 40 percent.
Roman Chuprikov said on August 11 that the number of registered suicides among children across Russia last year was 753 while in 2020 that number was 548.
An expert from the Moscow Psychiatric Research Center, Karine Keshchyan, said the number of attempted suicides among children is much higher.
According to Keshchyan, psychiatric experts are unable to keep up with "the huge number of children" who attempt to kill themselves because their parents often refuse to seek professional assistance.
With reporting by Interfax
Russia Nixes Plan For Switzerland To Represent Ukraine's Interests
Moscow has rejected a plan by Kyiv to have Switzerland represent Ukraine's interests in Russia, saying it no longer considers Switzerland a neutral country.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ivan Nechayev said on August 11 that Switzerland had applied to Moscow for permission to represent Ukraine’s interests and that Moscow had denied the request.
"We very clearly answered that Switzerland had unfortunately lost its status of a neutral state and could not act as an intermediary or a representative," Nechayev said. "Bern has joined illegal Western sanctions against Russia."
Nechayev added that Switzerland also could not represent Russia's interests in Ukraine.
Ukraine broke off diplomatic relations with Russia shortly after Moscow’s unprovoked massive military invasion of the country on February 24.
Kyiv on August 10 asked Switzerland to represent its interests in Russia, a move that Bern insisted requires Moscow’s assent.
Switzerland has a long history of such arrangements, representing U.S. interests in Iran, Iranian interests in Saudi Arabia, Russian interests in Georgia, and Georgian interests in Russia, among others.
Switzerland has joined nearly all the sanctions the European Union has imposed on Russia since its military intervention in Ukraine.
Based on reporting by Reuters, TASS, and dpa
Latvian Parliament Designates Russia A State Sponsor Of Terrorism
Lawmakers in Latvia have designated Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism, citing Moscow’s ongoing unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, its military activities in Syria, and several high-profile cases of poisoning of Kremlin-critics.
The Latvian parliament adopted the resolution on August 11 after 67 lawmakers voted for it. Sixteen lawmakers abstained.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova posted on Telegram that the Latvian resolution was "xenophobic."
Ukraine's foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, posted on Twitter that he was grateful for the resolution.
"Ukraine encourages other states and organizations to follow suit," Kuleba wrote.
The resolution denounced Russia's "violence against civilians in pursuit of political aims" and condemned Moscow's use of cluster munitions "to sow fear and indiscriminately kill civilians."
The parliament called on other "like-minded countries" to join the move and urged the European Union to stop issuing visas to citizens of Russia and Belarus, noting that Russia's invasion of Ukraine was carried out "with the support and involvement of the Belarusian regime."
With reporting by Delfi, Reuters, and AFP
Explosions Rock Military Airport In Belarus Days After Crimea Air Base Attack
Several explosions have been reported in an area of Belarus near a military airport that Ukrainian authorities say has been used by the Russian Air Force to attack Ukrainian territory.
The Belaruski Hayun and Flagshtok Telegram channels quoted witnesses on August 11 as saying at least eight blasts were heard and flashes were seen near the Zyabrovka military airport in the southeastern Homel region of Belarus overnight. The base is some 30 kilometers from the border with Ukraine.
The Belarusian Defense Ministry said in a statement that at 11 p.m. on August 10, the engine of a military vehicle caught fire and "measures to extinguish the fire were undertaken," adding there were no casualties.
The incident came in the wake of a series of explosions at a Russian airbase in the occupied Ukrainian region of Crimea that destroyed at least nine Russian military aircraft. Kyiv has not publicly claimed responsibility for the attack. Russia's Defense Ministry has denied the Saky base in Crimea was attacked, blaming the explosions on a "violation of fire-safety requirements."
Ukrainian officials maintain that the Zyabrovka base in Belarus has been used by the Russian Air Force during Moscow's ongoing unprovoked war against Ukraine, which was launched in February. Last month, the military said Russia has based Iskander-M and S-400 mobile missile systems at the Belarusian airport, using them to strike Ukraine.
August 11 marks the last day of military drills by Belarus's air force that started on August 9. Belarusian authorities said this week the exercises' second phase will be held on August 22-25 in the Ashuluk military training base in southwestern Russia near the border with Kazakhstan.
Belarus's authoritarian ruler, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, has openly supported Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Although Belarusian troops have not taken part in the invasion, Minsk allowed Russia's military to use the country's territory to enter Ukraine and shell Ukrainian towns and cities.
Intense Fighting Reported In Suburb Of Ukraine's Donetsk, As Concerns Mount Over Security Of Nuclear Plant
Heavy fighting has been reported around the eastern Ukrainian town of Pisky, some 10 kilometers northwest of the city of Donetsk.
“It is hot in Pisky,” wrote Danil Bezsonov, a member of a Russia-backed separatist group that calls itself the Donetsk People's Republic, on Telegram early on August 11. “The town is ours, but there remain scattered pockets of resistance in its north and west.”
Ukrainian officials said their troops still control the town. Presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said in an interview that Russian forces had tried to move into Pisky “without success.”
Neither report could be independently verified.
After forcibly annexing Ukraine’s Crimea region in 2014, Moscow fomented separatist movements in parts of eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions, collectively known as the Donbas.
The Kyiv-backed governor of the Luhansk region, Serhiy Hayday, said in an interview on August 10 that Russia had boosted its forces in the area, including by sending in a large number of mercenaries from the Vagner group, a private security company with close ties to the Kremlin.
Also on August 10, there was heavy shelling in the Dnipropetrovsk region. Andriy Yermak, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s chief of staff, accused Russian forces of launching attacks from areas near the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant with impunity because they know Ukraine cannot strike back without risking an environmental catastrophe.
"The Russian troops can't win battles, so they keep attacking the cities, hiding at the Zaporizhzhya NPP facilities and blackmailing the world with nuclear incidents," Yermak said on Twitter.
Russia has not commented on the allegations of the attack on Marhanets and the Ukrainian side's claims could not be independently verified. Moscow has said it does not deliberately target civilians.
Russia's envoy to talks in Vienna to revive the Iran nuclear deal, Mikhail Ulyanov, told the Rossiya-24 TV channel on August 10 that Ukraine’s claims that Russia allegedly rigged the power plant with mines were false.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on August 8 for international inspectors to be given access to the Zaporizhzhya plant. Guterres has openly expressed grave concerns about the situation at the plant.
"Any attack on a nuclear plant is a suicidal thing," Guterres said.
With reporting by Reuters and AP
Bulgarians Press Caretaker Government For Independence From Russian Gas
Hundreds of people took part on August 10 in a second protest to demand Bulgaria continue a path toward gas independence from Russia.
The protesters gathered in front of the presidential building in Sofia and said they want the country's current caretaker government to reject Russian gas and maintain the policies of the pro-Western former government.
“We refuse to be dependent on Gazprom and finance Putin’s outrageous war!” read one of the banners at the protest, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin and the war in Ukraine.
Atanas Sharkov, one of the protest organizers, insisted that Gazprom must cease to be Bulgaria’s only gas supplier.
“It is high time to follow European policies and be part of Europe,” Sharkov said.
Sharkov also called on President Rumen Radev, who appointed the caretaker government, to guarantee that previous decisions will not be revised.
The caretaker government was sworn in on August 2 to run the EU member country until snap elections set for October 2. The previous coalition government of pro-western Prime Minister Kiril Petkov's collapsed in late June after just over half a year in power.
It was toppled in part because of its hard stance against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and after Petkov refused to pay Gazprom in rubles, prompting Russia to halt direct gas exports to Bulgaria.
The first demonstration for gas independence took place on August 5, touched off by statements indicating a potential delay in finalizing a gas deal with Greece at a time when Bulgaria is officially looking for alternatives to Gazprom.
The protesters oppose the restart of negotiations with Gazprom for a new long-term contract.
The organizers said they also sent a letter with seven questions to the caretaker government on August 8. In addition to a question about finding alternative oil and gas suppliers, the letter also asked the government about strengthening the defense of the country, support measures for Ukrainian refugees, and its position on the Crimean Peninsula.
They said only Bulgaria's centrist Continue the Change party (PP) and Democratic Bulgaria had answered.
It said a “pseudo-answer” from the Council of Ministers showed that the government has no desire to solve the problems and is concealing its general geopolitical orientation in the context of the war in Ukraine and sanctions against Russia and Putin’s regime.
With reporting by AP
Satellite Images Show Massive Destruction At Russian Air Base On Crimea
A Russian air base on Ukraine’s annexed Crimean Peninsula suffered massive destruction from several explosions on August 9, satellite imagery made available on August 10 shows.
The Russian Navy's Saky Air Base near the village of Novofedorivka lost at least nine military aircraft, including Su-30SM fighters and Su-24M bombers, an analysis of before-and-after images by Schemes, an investigative unit of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, indicates.
Several buildings on the base that may have housed ammunition were destroyed, as well.
WATCH: Massive explosions hit a military airfield in Russian-occupied Crimea. Ukraine has stopped short of officially claiming responsibility, and speculation over what triggered the conflagration continues. Many locals doubt Russia's claim that the blasts were an accident.
Russia has been using the Saky Air Base, located on the western side of Crimea, to regularly strike Ukrainian territory since it launched an invasion of the country on February 24.
The exact cause of the August 9 explosions is unknown.
Unidentified Ukrainian officials have told U.S. media that their armed forces were responsible for the explosions but did not give further details.
Russia’s Defense Ministry has denied the base was attacked, blaming the explosions on a “violation of fire safety requirements.”
However, the August 10 satellite images show several large craters of similar size, indicating it was hit by multiple strikes.
Military analysts called the destruction a huge blow for Russia and a psychological win for Ukraine.
Videos posted to social media on August 9 show several explosions at the base and billows of thick, gray smoke rising into the sky.
Homes, cars, and other objects in the vicinity of the base were damaged, with windows blown out. The Russia-appointed head of Crimea said on August 9 that the blasts killed one person and injured 14. Sergei Aksyonov also said at least 80 buildings were damaged.
Analysts said aircraft at the base that survived the explosion are probably damaged.
There were as many as 30 military aircraft at the base on August 9, according to the satellite images.
Robert Lee, a military analyst, said Russia lacked hangars for their aircraft at Saky.
Many of the planes would have survived the explosion had Russia built hardened aircraft shelters, he said in a tweet.
If Ukraine were behind the explosions, it would be Kyiv’s first major attack on Russian forces in Crimea, which Moscow forcibly annexed in 2014.
It would also show that Ukraine has the technical capability for a long-distance strike and the ability to catch Russia off guard, said Volodymyr Dubovyk, a professor of international relations at Mechnikov National University in Odesa.
Ukraine Grateful For Two-Year Freeze In Payments On Foreign Debt
Ukrainian Finance Minister Serhiy Marchenko says a deal to freeze payments on billions of dollars of overseas debt owed by Ukraine is a testament to investors' willingness to support Kyiv.
"Thanks to the solidarity with Ukraine shown by the private investor community along with the official public sector, we will be able to meet the needs of the state budget of the country in war(time)," Marchenko said in a statement.
Ukraine's overseas creditors earlier on August 10 backed its request for a two-year freeze on payments on almost $20 billion in international bonds.
According to a regulatory filing, bondholders have agreed to postpone sovereign interest and capital payments for 13 Ukrainian sovereign bonds maturing between 2022 and 2033.
Ukraine said it would save around $5 billion over the next 24 months as it manages its dwindling financial resources. The move also allows the war-torn country to avoid a debt default.
Ukraine is experiencing a monthly fiscal shortfall of $5 billion and is therefore heavily reliant on foreign financing from Western allies and multilateral lenders such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to keep government services going.
The United States said this week it would provide an additional $4.5 billion to Ukraine's government, bringing to $8.5 billion its total budgetary support since Moscow launched its full-scale invasion on February 24.
Based on reporting by Reuters
U.S. Charges Iranian Operative With Plotting To Kill Ex-National-Security Adviser Bolton
The U.S. Justice Department has charged a member of Iran's elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) in connection with an alleged plot to kill former White House national-security adviser John Bolton.
The Justice Department announced the charges against Shahram Poursafi, also known as Mehdi Rezayi, 45, of Tehran in a news release on August 10. The charging documents identify Poursafi as a member of the IRGC.
Iran rejected the charges as "ridiculous and baseless." Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani was quoted by Iranian media as saying that Iran strongly warned against any action committed against Iranian citizens on the pretext of the accusations.
The department said Poursafi "attempted to pay individuals in the United States $300,000 to carry out the murder" in either Washington or the neighboring U.S. state of Maryland.
Prosecutors said the plot was likely in retaliation for the January 2020 drone strike that killed Qasem Soleimani, who was the head of the IRGC's elite Quds Force.
The allegation came as Iran weighs a proposed agreement to revive the 2015 nuclear agreement under which Tehran had curbed its nuclear program in return for relief from sanctions.
Tehran held up negotiations on reviving the deal for months, demanding that the United States remove its official designation of the IRGC as a sponsor of terrorism. Washington rejected that demand.
A U.S. official quoted by Reuters said the United States did not believe the charges against Poursafi should affect the diplomatic efforts.
According to the Justice Department, Poursafi began communicating with a confidential source in October 2021 over an encrypted messaging application and directed the individual to hire someone to "eliminate" Bolton for $300,000 and set up a cryptocurrency account to facilitate payment.
Poursafi allegedly told the confidential source, who is not identified by the Justice Department, that it did not matter how the killing was carried out.
The Justice Department said that in December 2021, Poursafi sent a photograph of two plastic bags that appeared to contain stacks of dollars and a handwritten note with the confidential source's name.
On January 3, the anniversary of the killing of Soleimani, Poursafi expressed regret that the killing would not be conducted by the anniversary. He also told the source that he was under pressure to complete the killing.
Poursafi also allegedly told the source he had another assassination job for which he would pay $1 million. The target of that alleged plot was not revealed by the Justice Department.
The source months later declined to continue to work without being paid. Poursafi agreed on April 28 to send the source $100 in cryptocurrency to prove payment could be made. Later that day, the cryptocurrency wallet received two payments totaling $100, according to the Justice Department.
If convicted, Poursafi faces up to 10 years in prison for the use of interstate commerce facilities in the commission of murder-for-hire, and up to 15 years in prison for providing and attempting to provide material support to a transnational murder plot. The potential sentences also carry fines of up to $250,000 each.
Poursafi remains at large abroad, the Justice Department said.
Bolton, who served as national-security adviser to then-President Donald Trump from 2018-19 and also served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations from 2005-06 under then-president George W. Bush, thanked the FBI and Justice Department for their work in developing the case.
"While much cannot be said publicly right now, one point is indisputable: Iran's rulers are liars, terrorists, and enemies of the United States," he said in a statement.
Current national-security adviser Jake Sullivan said in a statement that the charging document outlines allegations of Iran's continued attempts to carry out an assassination on U.S. soil and warned Iran against carrying out any such plots.
"Should Iran attack any of our citizens, to include those who continue to serve the United States or those who formerly served, Iran will face severe consequences," he said.
With reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters
U.S.-Sponsored Regional Military Drills Kick Off In Tajikistan
A U.S. Central Command-sponsored military exercise has kicked off in Tajikistan, the U.S. Embassy in Dushanbe says.
U.S. Ambassador to Tajikistan John Pommersheim welcomed participants of the Regional Cooperation 22 military maneuvers, which will be conducted from August 10 to August 20.
"As the largest U.S. military-to-military exercise involving Central and South Asian nations, Regional Cooperation 22 is an unparalleled opportunity to strengthen relationships with our partners in that region. The exercise serves as a forum for addressing relevant regional issues including peaceful responses to global challenges, information exchange, and security cooperation,” Pommersheim said.
The annual exercise "focuses on enhancing multinational stability operations, counterterrorism, and promoting cooperation, and joint combined capabilities among U.S. Central and South Asia states, and other participating nations."
According to the statement, the United States, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Pakistan, and Uzbekistan will take part in a six-day command-post exercise, while Tajikistan and the United States will conduct a five-day bilateral field-training component of the exercise at the Fakhrabad Training Center.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Regional Cooperation exercise series had been conducted annually since 2004 in one of the participant countries, including in the United States.
Lithuanian Figure Skaters Lose State Award After Taking Part In Event In Russia
Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda has signed a decree stripping well-known figure skaters Margarita Drobiazko and Povilas Vanagas of the Order of the Lithuanian Grand Duke Gediminas over their participation in an event in Russia that was organized by Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov's wife, Tatyana Navka.
Nauseda wrote on Facebook after he signed the decree on August 10 that the figure skaters' achievements on Lithuania's behalf had been annulled by their "cynical" participation in the ice-dancing event in Sochi.
Nauseda also wrote that the Lithuanian government's decision to grant Moscow native Drobiazko Lithuanian citizenship in 1993 "looks like a miserable farce under the current circumstances," as Russia continues its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.
The day before, Lithuanian lawmakers proposed stripping Drobiazko of her Lithuanian citizenship.
Navka, an Olympic gold medalist and multiple world and European champion in ice dancing, called the Lithuanian parliament's plan to strip Drobiazko of her citizenship and state awards 'disgusting."
After the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Drobiazko began representing Lithuania in international figure-skating tournaments along with Vanagas. In 1993, she obtained Lithuanian citizenship, and seven years later the couple married. They have been living in Moscow for many years.
The couple earned bronze medals in the 2000 World Championship and in the European Championships in 2000 and 2006.
Last month, Ukraine's Olympic Committee fired Olympic champion Viktor Petrenko as vice president of the Figure Skating Federation and expelled him from the organization for taking part in Navka's event.
Iranian Activists Demand Immediate Release Of Hijab Protester
Hundreds of civil activists in the western Lorestan Province have issued a statement calling on the Iranian authorities to release a woman who was arrested for protesting the mandatory head scarf and was apparently beaten to force a televised confession from her.
The signatories of this letter described Sepideh Rashno's "forced confessions" on state television as a "ridiculous display" and condemned the "producers" of the television program and their "insulting behavior" toward Rashno.
The Iranian Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) said on August 5 that Rashno had been beaten before she confessed on air to breaking the country's hijab law.
According to eyewitnesses the agency spoke to, Rashno had low blood pressure and had difficulty moving when she was transferred to the hospital. She returned to prison immediately after the examination.
Rashno, a 28-year-old writer and artist, was arrested on June 15 after a video of her arguing with another woman who was enforcing rules on wearing a head scarf on a bus in Tehran went viral.
The other woman threatened to send the video -- which showed Rashno riding the bus without a hijab -- to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.
Rashno was subsequently detained and has been held since without access to a lawyer, nor have the charges against her been made public.
Amid growing concern over her whereabouts, a Twitter campaign started with the hashtag "Where is Sepideh?"
Iran's state television subsequently showed Rashno in a video report on July 30 where her eyes appeared darkened. Witnesses said she was listless and moved slowly.
During a one-sided narrative over the confrontation, Rashno was shown for a few seconds in what looked like a studio setting saying lines that appeared to have been written for her.
The signatories of the statement, who introduced themselves as "Lorestan men and women from different social classes," also demanded the immediate release of Sepideh Rashno and an official apology from state television.
They asked the head of Iran's judiciary to "take legal action against those who tortured and broadcast the forced confessions of Sepideh Rashno on TV."
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
Iran's Morality Police Warn Clothesmakers To Avoid 'Loud' Colors Or Face Closure
Iranian authorities have warned manufacturers and sellers of women's clothing that they will shut down their businesses if they keep using "loud" colors in their products.
In a statement to the Roydad24 website, Majid Emami, who heads Iran's fashion and clothing organization, quoted the Ministry of Industry and Trade as saying that women's clothing manufacturers could lose the right to manufacture knee-length open cloaks -- the Iranian women's most common piece of clothing that is usually worn over a shirt and with long pants or jeans -- unless they stick with colors not deemed to be "loud."
"Regarding the color: the ministry emphasized that manufacturers should not use loud colors," Emami said.
However, he said that "there is no order or regulation to clarify which colors are deemed illegal."
Emami added that "society does not have a problem with this kind of clothing [knee-length open cloaks in bright colors]."
"If the relevant institutions want to create restrictions on the type of production, they should first change the taste of society," Emami added.
The news comes amid recent reports that authorities in Iran are increasingly cracking down on women deemed to be in violation of wearing the hijab, which is mandatory in public in Iran.
In recent weeks, women judged not to be in compliance have been barred from government offices, banks, and public transportation.
The notorious Guidance Patrols, or morality police, have become increasingly active and violent. Videos have emerged on social media appearing to show officers detaining women, forcing them into vans, and whisking them away.
The hijab -- the head covering worn by Muslim women -- became compulsory in public for Iranian women and girls over the age of 9 after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Many Iranian women have flouted the rule over the years and pushed the boundaries of what officials say is acceptable clothing.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
Rights Group Urges Kyrgyz Authorities To Drop 'Bogus' Charge Against Noted Activist
BISHKEK -- A human rights group in Kyrgyzstan has urged the Central Asian nation's authorities to drop a "bogus" forgery charge against human rights defender Kamiljan (Kamil) Ruziev and instead probe allegations that security services have threatened him.
Kyrgyzstan's State Committee for National Security (UKMK) arrested Ruziev in May 2020 outside the Karakol City Courthouse in northeastern Kyrgyzstan while the court was considering a lawsuit Ruziev had filed against the UKMK and the prosecutor’s office for failing to investigate his complaint that law enforcement officers had threatened him.
Ruziev was charged with fraud and forgery at the time, but later the fraud charge was dropped.
In its August 10 statement, the Bishkek-based Equal Rights Coalition, which comprises several leading Kyrgyz human rights groups, said that, instead of trying Ruziev, who said earlier that his verdict was expected on August 12, the authorities "should thoroughly investigate Ruziev’s complaint" to find out if his claims about abuse of power by the security officials who arrested him really took place.
Ruziev, who heads the Karakol-based human rights organization Ventus, has said that he was arrested in retribution for his human rights activities.
For the past 20 years, Ruziev has been defending the rights of prisoners and others who have complained of torture and harassment at the hands of the police and government officials.
Human Rights Watch and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Mary Lawlor, have demanded that Kyrgyz authorities drop the charge against Ruziev and investigate his claims that he was threatened by law enforcement.
Druzhba Oil Flows To Resume After Weeklong Suspension Blamed On Russia Sanctions
Russia's pipeline monopoly Transneft and Hungarian energy group MOL say oil flows are poised to resume through the Druzhba pipeline on August 10 after nearly a weeklong stoppage due to complications from sanctions.
The suspension has affected a number of countries, including Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic.
Transneft said Ukraine suspended Russian oil flows to three European nations as of August 4 because its transit payment couldn't be processed due to sanctions stemming from Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
On August 10, MOL said the transit fee for the use of the Ukrainian section of the pipeline had been paid and the flow could resume within days.
Russian media then quoted Transneft as saying that the flow would begin by 4 p.m. Moscow time on August 10.
Slovak Economy Minister Richard Sulik said onFacebook the oil flow had resumed but gave no further details.
However, no oil had reached the Czech Republic by the evening of August 10, the country's Mero pipeline operator said, and Hungary also was still to receive deliveries.
Czech Industry Minister Jozef Sikela said on Twitter the failure of supplies via the Druzhba pipeline "does not limit the performance of Czech refineries in any way."
The refineries are working full time and the state company Mero CR had oil reserves for several days, he said.
He also said the government is working with Poland to restore oil supplies through the pipeline to Polish-owned Czech refineries.
Transneft had said it made payments for August transits to Ukraine's pipeline operator Ukrtransnafta in July but the payment didn't go through.
Gazprombank, which handled the payment, said the money was returned because of EU restrictions, adding that oil deliveries to Poland and Germany via Belarus were under way "as usual."
Russia has already reduced gas pipeline flows to many EU member-states, citing problems with turbine maintenance on the Nord Stream 1 pipeline as well as sanctions against some buyers whom Moscow officially deemed to be "unfriendly."
Since the Kremlin launched its ongoing unprovoked invasion of Ukraine on February 24, the West has imposed unprecedented sanctions on Russia, cutting the country off from international financial institutions.
The European Union has been looking for ways to reduce its dependence on Russian energy resources and has agreed to ban more than two-thirds of Russian oil imports.
An EU ban on the purchase of Russian coal kicks into effect after midnight on August 10.
Based on reporting by Reuters and dpa
U.S. Defense Secretary Pledges Military Training, Support For Baltics
The United States will conduct more military exercises with Baltic nations such as Latvia, and look to provide increased training, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on August 10.
Speaking at a press conference with Latvian Defense Minister Artis Pabriks in Riga, Austin said Washington may also bring in more U.S. troops if needed to bolster the region against any possible threat from Russia.
Austin, who is on a two-day visit to Latvia, said plans to do continuous rotations of forces into the Baltics will likely use troops from U.S. brigades in Romania and other parts of Europe, but “we can also bring in forces from the United States.”
During his visit, Austin repeatedly reemphasized the United States' commitment to helping the region defend itself.
Austin is the first U.S. defense secretary to visit Latvia in nearly three decades, highlighting the increased importance of the Baltic nations, which sit at Russia’s western edge.
The Pentagon said the last defense chief to go to Latvia was William Perry in 1995.
Pabriks told reporters that his top priorities are to get more U.S. military enablers, adding that, in order to defend his country, his troops need “nitty gritty training” on a daily basis.
He added that Latvia also needs additional financial assistance from Washington in order to buy new military equipment and to beef up its air and coastal defenses.
Austin met with top Latvian leaders, including President Egils Levits at Riga Castle, pledging Washington’s steadfast commitment to standing with the Baltic region against any Russian aggression.
The three Baltic countries - Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia -- are all former Soviet republics that were annexed during World War II . They gained independence with the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991 and joined NATO in 2004, putting themselves under the military protection of the Western allies.
With reporting by AP
Russia Seeks UN Security Council Meeting On Ukrainian Nuclear Plant
A Russian envoy to the United Nations says Moscow has requested a meeting of the UN Security Council on August 11 to discuss issues concerning the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, which its troops seized early in the five-month-old invasion of Ukraine.
First Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN Dmitry Polyansky also confirmed on August 10 that Russia wanted the head of the UN's atomic energy agency (IAEA), Rafael Grossi, to brief attendees at the meeting.
It would follow increasingly urgent international safety concerns and with the Russian occupiers reportedly preparing to redirect its electricity production in a dangerous pivot that relies on diesel generators and other aging technology.
Desperate safety warnings from Ukrainian and UN atomic experts have been compounded in the past week by intensified shelling around Zaporizhzhya and accusations and counteraccusations of risky behavior by the warring sides.
Operator Enerhoatom and exhausted Ukrainian workers still manning the facility five months after its capture by Russian forces have repeatedly warned of the risks of a nuclear catastrophe.
Zaporizhzhya is Europe's largest nuclear plant, and it houses six of Ukraine's 15 reactors.
On August 9, Enerhoatom also warned that the occupiers were preparing to redirect Zaporizhzhya's output to Crimea, which Russia forcibly annexed from Ukraine eight years ago.
Enerhoatom President Petro Kotin told Ukrainian television that Russian energy agency Rosatom's plan was "aimed at connecting the [Zaporizhzhya] plant to the Crimean electricity grid."
He said doing that requires damaging power lines that lead to the Ukrainian grid and said at least three lines were already damaged, leaving Zaporizhzhya "operating with only one production line, which is an extremely dangerous way of working."
"When the last production line is disconnected," he said, "the plant will be powered by generators running on diesel. Everything will then depend on their reliability and fuel stocks."
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on August 8 called any attack on a nuclear plant "suicidal" and demanded that UN inspectors be given access to Zaporizhzhya.
On August 9, the IAEA's Grossi said that based on the information provided by Ukraine, IAEA experts assessed that there was no immediate threat to nuclear safety as a result of recent shelling.
The same day, Yevhen Balytskiy, the head of the Russian military administration in the region around Zaporizhzhya, told Russian television that "the power plant's air-defense systems are being reinforced."
Kyiv and some Western leaders have accused Russia of "nuclear blackmail" through its army's actions with respect to Zaporizhzhya and other Ukrainian nuclear facilities and Moscow's repeated hints that it might deploy its nuclear arsenal in response to Western actions stemming from the Ukraine conflict.
Ukrainian officials have blamed shelling that killed at least 13 civilians overnight on August 9-10 on Russian forces operating in or around Zaporizhzhya.
On August 10, the foreign ministers of the Group of Seven (G7) leading industrialized countries demanded that Russia return control of the Zaporizhzhya plant to Ukraine.
"Ukrainian personnel responsible for the operation of the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant must be able to carry out their duties without threats or pressure," a statement from the G7 foreign ministers said on August 10. "It is Russia's continued domination of the nuclear power plant that endangers the region."
The ministers said they remain "profoundly concerned" by the threat that the seizure of Ukrainian nuclear facilities poses to the safety and security of the facilities, which they said significantly raises the risk of a nuclear accident.
With reporting by dpa, Reuters, and TASS
Belarusian 'Railway Guerrillas' Handed Prison Terms
BABRUYSK, Belarus --Five Belarusian activists who were arrested for allegedly damaging railways in the country to disrupt the transportation of Russian arms and troops to war-torn Ukraine have been sentenced on terrorism charges.
A court in the eastern city of Babruysk sentenced Kanstantsin Yermalovich on August 10 to 16 years in prison and ordered him to pay a fine of 9,600 rubles ($3,800).
Vital Mankevich was handed a 15-year prison term, and Ihar Kazlou was sentenced to 14 years in prison.
There were two women in the case, Nadzeya Polkina and Natallya Ked. Polkina was sentenced to two years in prison, while Ked was handed a parole-like two-year sentence.
The five activists were charged with carrying out a terrorist act, threatening to conduct a terrorist act, creating a terrorist group, and insulting the country's president.
They were among some 60 men and women arrested for their alleged involvement into the damaging of Belarus's railways to impede the progress of Russian troops and arms being sent into Ukraine since the start of the invasion. The other cases are still being investigated.
The campaign called "Railways War" was initiated in Belarus by a group called BYPOL. Those involved in the campaign have been nicknamed "railway guerrillas."
Belarus is not a direct participant in the war in Ukraine, but it has provided logistical support to Russia for the invasion by allowing Russian forces to enter Ukraine via Belarusian territory.
Western nations have slapped Belarus, like Russia, with an ever-increasing list of financial sanctions in response to the Kremlin's war on Ukraine, and for Belarus’s efforts to aid the Russian invasion.
In May, the country's authoritarian ruler, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, signed a controversial law amending the Criminal Code that allowed the use of the capital punishment for "attempted terrorist acts."
Iran Commander Says Naval Attack Repulsed In Red Sea
A senior commander says Iran's navy repelled an attack on an Iranian vessel in the Red Sea overnight on August 9-10, but he didn't identify the type of ship or its attackers.
Rear Admiral Mustafa Tajeddini said a destroyer-led flotilla responded to a distress call "and engaged with the attacking boats."
He said the attackers "made off." The resulting damage was unclear.
Piracy and other minor incidents are not unusual in the oil-rich region, but while seizures and other more serious confrontations are less frequent they can threaten shipping on one of the world's busiest commercial cargo routes.
Dangerous naval encounters involving Western and Iranian militaries or commercial shippers have eased in recent years despite persistent tensions over sanctions-busting and influence in the region.
Tensions are still high between Iran and the United States over a hobbled nuclear deal and what Washington regards as malign activities by Tehran in the region.
Iran boosted its naval presence in the nearby Gulf of Aden after a rash of attacks by Somalia-based pirates that eased about a decade ago.
But Iranian media reported two attacks on Iranian oil tankers in the nearby Gulf of Aden late last year.
Based on reporting by AFP
Uzbekistan Warns Its Citizens Of Repercussions If They Join Russian Military In War-Torn Ukraine
The Uzbek Embassy in Moscow has warned the Central Asian nation's citizens residing in Russia of serious repercussions for joining Russia's ongoing unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.
In a statement issued on August 10, the Embassy of Uzbekistan in the Russian Federation said any form of participation in military activities on the territory of foreign countries is considered to be mercenary activity and will be punished by up to 10 years in prison.
"The embassy calls on all our compatriots to stay away from provocations," the statement says.
The statement comes a day after the BETTA television channel in Russia's Perm region broadcast a report in which the leader of the Uzbek diaspora in the region, Jahongir Jalolov, called on Uzbeks residing in Perm to create an Uzbek battalion named after the 14th century Turkic ruler Amir Timur. Jalolov said the proposed Uzbek battalion must join Russian military forces to fight against Ukrainians.
Russian media reported earlier this week that more than 40 military units of volunteers have been created in Russian regions and ethnic republics.
Russia launched its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in February. After facing firm resistance from the Ukrainian armed forces, Moscow changed its goal in Ukraine in late March, withdrawing troops from the outskirts of the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, and northern Ukraine, and focusing on Ukraine’s east and southeast.
EU Ban On Russian Coal Set To Go Into Effect Overnight
An EU embargo on the import of Russian coal goes into effect on August 11 after a midnight deadline for the transition period agreed by bloc members four months ago.
The ban is part of the fifth package of EU sanctions to punish the Russian economy since President Vladimir Putin ordered tens of thousands of Russian troops into Ukraine in late February.
The coal embargo is the first measure among the seven rounds of EU sanctions so far to hit energy supplies, which have been particularly hard-hit along with grain exports by the Ukraine conflict.
The 120-day grace period for compliance since the approval of the coal ban in April expires at midnight on August 10.
The European Commission estimates that the coal cutoff could cost Russia around $8 billion a year.
EU countries imported nearly 52 million tons of coal from Russia in 2021, up from 41 million tons the previous year.
But overall coal imports to the EU fell by almost half from 2014 to 2020 under pressure from climate-change targets and efforts to find cleaner energy alternatives.
The EU's subsequent ban on Russian oil is slated to come into effect at the end of the year.
The EU sanctions are part of an unprecedented international response to the biggest military invasion in Europe since World War II, targeting oil and gas, SWIFT payments, overflights and travel, broadcasting, and a range of other areas.
Based on reporting by dpa
Ukrainian Forces Use Modified Soviet-Era Rocket Systems In Kharkiv Region2
German-Built Howitzers Pound Russian Targets In Ukraine3
The Dead Of The 64th: A Notorious Russian Army Unit And Its High Casualty Rate4
Explosions Hit Military Airport In Ukraine's Russia-Annexed Crimea, Killing One Person5
Made In Ukraine: Anti-Tank Missiles Take On Russian Armored Units6
Satellite Images Of Russian Base In Occupied Crimea Before And After Massive Explosions7
Sabotage, Assassinations, Propaganda: Simmering Guerrilla War Rattles Ukraine's Russian Occupiers8
Ukraine Unleashes A 'Hurricane' Of Rockets Against Russian Forces9
Satellite Images Show Massive Destruction At Russian Air Base On Crimea10
EU Ban On Russian Coal Set To Go Into Effect Overnight