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International Auditors Say Former Ukrainian Government Misused Funds

The government of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko is accused of misappropriating more than $400 million.
An international audit alleges that the government of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko misappropriated more than $400 million.

The audit, ordered by the current Ukrainian government in May, was contracted to the American law firm Trout Cacheris, who in turn engaged the international law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, as well as Kroll Inc., an investigative and forensic audit company.

The audit -- whose findings were released on October 14 -- focused on six cases involving procurement of automobiles, sugar, the sale of carbon credits, the purchase of pharmaceutical and medical equipment, and the government's land-registration program.

Covering the period from 2008 to the beginning of this year, the investigation claims that Tymoshenko's government wrongly used some $280 million from the sale of carbon credits.

According to the Kyoto Protocol, proceeds from the sale of carbon credits are to be spent on environmental projects. The audit claims these funds were inappropriately transferred to cover severe shortages in Ukraine's state pension fund.

Another finding claims that $140 million of state funds were used to purchase minivans for the Health Ministry, vehicles which then were allegedly used by the Tymoshenko presidential campaign.

President Viktor Yanukovych
Viktor Yanukovych defeated Yulia Tymoshenko in a bitter struggle for the Ukrainian presidency in January.

Tymoshenko's former deputy prime minister, Hryhoriy Nemyria, told RFE/RL that the audit is part of a concentrated government effort against the leaders of the opposition.

"We denounce Trout Cacheris' claims as clearly politically motivated," Nemyria said. "We consider these, so to speak, findings as yet another example of the systemic oppression directed at the leaders of the opposition, and we deny that this so-called audit has any legal standing."

Trout Cacheris senior partner Plato Cacheris rejected claims that the audit amounts to a "witch hunt."

"The strength of our findings and conclusions is further evidenced by the fact that the Ukrainian government has directed that civil suits be filed in the United States' courts and in the United Kingdom courts," Cacheris said. "These courts are widely regarded as the most open and transparent in the entire world."

Asked about conflicts of interest and the cost of the audit, Akin Gump partner Mark MacDougall said: "The important the unique and I think unprecedented level of transparency that has been brought to the investigation of misconduct in this country."

Whether attempts will be made to recover allegedly misused money is to be decided by Ukraine's Justice Ministry and the Prosecutor-General's Office, MacDougall said.

Nemyria questioned the qualifications of Trout Cacheris to conduct an impartial audit, saying: "This law firm specializes in defending clients of dubious reputation, among those are [FBI spy] Robert Hansen...[Russian spy] Aldrich Ames and a number of others. With clients like these, I'm sure Trout Cacheris felt right at home dealing with President Yanukovych and Prime Minister [Mykola] Azarov."

Plato Cacheris
Plato Cacheris has also represented Monica Lewinsky, Watergate scandal figure John Mitchell, and Iran-Contral scandal witness Fawn Hall.

Nemyria also said that for Akin Gump to take part in any audit concerning Ukraine was a clear conflict of interest. He said Akin Gump has long been the legal adviser to Dmytro Firtash, one of the owners of RosUkrEnergo, a gas-trading company who was the intermediary in the gas dealings between Russia and Ukraine.

Tymoshenko's government removed Firtash's company from that intermediary position.

"The cost of the nine-month investigation has not been announced. [The investigation] has been funded by the Ukrainian taxpayers," Nemyria said. "It represents a blatant attempt to discredit the opposition by smearing its leadership and follows the pattern of repressive tactics orchestrated against opponents of the Viktor Yanukovych regime."

Since Yanukovych became president of Ukraine, several members of the Tymoshenko government have been investigated. One, a senior customs official, has been jailed.

The full 176-page report of the audit is available on the Ukrainian Finance Ministry's website.

All Of The Latest News

EU Tentatively Backs $60-Per-Barrel Price Cap On Russian Oil

The price cap would work by prohibiting shippers and insurance companies from handling cargoes of Russian seaborne crude unless it is sold at or below the price cap. (file photo)

The European Union has reached a deal for a $60-per-barrel price cap on Russian oil, a move that aims to reduce Russia's income from selling oil, while preventing a spike in global prices. The EU presidency tweeted on December 2 that ambassadors reached the agreement, which will affect Russian seaborne oil. The decision must still be approved by EU members but is expected to go through. Europe needed to set the cap by December 5, when an EU embargo on Russian oil shipped by sea and a ban on insurance for those supplies take effect. To read the original story by AP, click here.

Snowden Receives Russian Passport, Takes Citizenship Oath

Former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden (file photo)

Former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, who fled prosecution after revealing highly classified surveillance programs, has received a Russian passport and taken the citizenship oath, Russian news agencies quoted his lawyer as saying on December 2. Snowden’s lawyer said he got the passport and took the oath on December 1, about three months after Russian President Vladimir Putin granted him citizenship. Snowden leaked documents in 2013 on the National Security Agency’s collection of data passing through U.S. public communications networks and released details about the classified U.S. intelligence budget and the extent of American surveillance of foreign officials. To read the original story by AP, click here.

Bosnian Court Abolishes Republika Srpska's Law On Medicines

The Constitutional Court had temporarily abolished the law prior to its final decision. (file photo)

The Constitutional Court of Bosnia-Herzegovina has abolished Republika Srpska’s law on medicines and medical devices, declaring it unconstitutional.

The law envisioned the formation of Republika Srpska’s own agency for medicines, which would usurp the state’s authority, the court ruled on December 2. According to the constitution, state level jurisdictions cannot be moved to the entities’ level, and the state law on medicines can be altered only by Bosnia’s parliament.

"There are no provisions in the constitution of [Bosnia] upon which it could be concluded that the disputed laws, passed by the National Assembly of Republika Srpska, are constitutional. According to the constitution…entities are obliged to respect the decisions made by the institutions of Bosnia-Herzegovina,” the court’s decision said.

The Constitutional Court had temporarily abolished the law prior to its final decision. It also abolished several provisions in May regarding “the return of transferred jurisdictions” from Bosnia to Republika Srpska, the Serb-dominated entity that makes up half of Bosnia alongside the Bosniak and Croat federation.

The Republika Srpska government had been expected to send more laws to the entity’s assembly aimed at taking over jurisdictions on taxation, criminal law and defense and security. However, the assembly decided to postpone these actions for six months.

The Constitutional Court on December 2 also declined the appeal of Zeljko Komsic, a member of Bosnia’s tripartite presidency, to adopt a temporary measure regarding the amendments to Bosnia’s election law imposed by the high representative for Bosnia, Christian Schmidt, on October 2 shortly after the polls closed on Bosnia’s general election.

Komsic’s appeal said Schmidt’s step to impose the decision after the voting concluded was a “direct assault on the integrity of the election process" because voters possibly would have voted differently had they known how the elections law was going to be changed.

“By the opinion of the Constitutional Court of Bosnia-Herzegovina, the applicants have not clearly stated, outside the realm of the abstract, what sort of irretrievable damage could be done if the disputed decision were to remain in place, nor have they produced evidence on the validity of their claims,” the court stated.

UN Nuclear Chief Says Iran Ties Need To Get Back On Track

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency Rafael Grossi (file photo)

Iran appears to be at odds with the UN nuclear watchdog over information it should be providing regarding its atomic program, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency said on December 2. "We don't seem to be seeing eye-to-eye with Iran over their obligations to the IAEA," Rafael Grossi told a conference in Rome, adding that he was concerned over a recent announcement by Tehran that it was boosting its enrichment capacity. "We need to put our relationship back on track," he said. Grossi said he was "still hopeful" Tehran would give an explanation for the unexpected discovery a few years back of traces of uranium at three undeclared sites. To read the original story from Reuters, click here.

U.S. Designates China, Iran, Russia As Countries Of Concern Under Religious Freedom Act

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken (file photo)

The United States has designated China, Iran, and Russia among other nations as "countries of particular concern" under the Religious Freedom Act, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said on December 2. “Our announcement of these designations is in keeping with our values and interests to protect national security and to advance human rights around the globe,” Blinken said in a statement. The Taliban and the Vagner Group were added to the blacklist as entities of particular concern. To read the original story from Reuters, click here.

Iranian Students Accuse Authorities Of Poisoning After Spate Of Incidents

Universities in Iran have become one of the main centers of ongoing anti-government protests in the country. (file photo)

Several Iranian student associations have accused authorities of deliberate "serial poisoning" after reports that a large number of students from at least four Iranian universities across the country fell ill.

In a report on December 1, the Union Councils of Iranian students reported that several schools experienced outbreaks of poisoning after eating at cafeterias, including Kharazmi University in Karaj, near the Iranian capital, where the number of those poisoned was so high that the university's clinic could not handle all of the patients.

Similarly, the Telegram channel of the United Students group also reported that several students at Allameh University in Tehran were poisoned after consuming food in the university canteen.

Students across the country have been at the forefront of protests sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in September while in police custody for allegedly wearing a head scarf improperly. The authorities have cracked down violently on the university protests, beating and detaining dozens of students.

The channel, which covers university news, alleged the poisonings were "intentional" and an attempt by officials to intimidate the students.

"You cannot stop the student movement with these things," it said. It did not provide any evidence to back up its claim.

Universities and students have long been at the center of the struggle for greater social and political freedoms in Iran.

In 1999, students protested the closure of a reformist daily, prompting a brutal raid on the dormitories of Tehran University that left one student dead.

Over the years, the authorities have arrested student activists and leaders, sentencing them to prison and banning them from studying.

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

Some university professors and lecturers have expressed solidarity with the protesters.

The activist HRANA news agency said that, as of November 29, at least 459 protesters have been killed during the unrest, including 64 minors, as security forces try to stifle widespread dissent.

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

Dozhd TV Channel Fined, Warned Of Possible Loss Of License In Latvia

(file photo)

The Latvia-based independent Russian television channel Dozhd (Rain) has been fined 10,000 euros ($10,468) for using a map of Russia with Ukraine's Moscow-annexed Crimea on it and calling Russian armed forces invading Ukraine "our army."

The chairman of Latvia's National Council on Electronic Media (NEPLP), Ivars Abolins, tweeted on December 2 that it was Dozhd's second violation of regulations in recent months, adding that a third violation of that kind would lead to the suspension of the television channel's license.

Abolins also wrote on Twitter that a probe had been launched into an administrative violation by Dozhd in a report about Russia’s full-scale aggression against Ukraine, in which an anchor, who was later fired, appeared to express support for the Russian military.

Anchor Aleksei Korostelyov on December 1 called on the Dozhd audience to write about cases of violations of Russian laws during the recent mobilization in Russia and about war crimes. In making the request, he said:

"We hope we also helped many military personnel, namely by assisting with equipment and bare necessities on the front line."

The chief of Dozhd's information service, Yekaterina Kotrikadze, offered apologies on December 2 and said that Korostelyov was fired for his on-air statements.

Editor in Chief Tikhon Dzyadko said his television channel "has never been, is not, and will never be involved in assisting Russian armed forces with equipment."

NEPLP granted Dozhd a broadcast license in June after it was forced to suspend operations in Russia in March amid pressure linked to its coverage of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Dozhd's website was blocked in Russia on March 1 under a demand by the Prosecutor-General's Office.

Russia further tightened its grip on media freedom after launching its full-scale attack against Ukraine on February 24.

Iranian Climbing Champion Rekabi Says Police Demolished Her Family's Home

Elnaz Rekabi’s participation without the head scarf in the Asian climbing championships was seen by some observers as a move to show solidarity with ongoing anti-government protests.

The family of Elnaz Rekabi, the Iranian rock-climbing champion who sparked a controversy by competing in the Asian climbing championships in Seoul without a head scarf, announced that police officers have violently demolished their family villa.

Rekabi's supporters had expressed concerns about her safety after her return last month amid unrest over the death of a young woman while in police custody for allegedly wearing a hijab improperly.

The BBC quoted an informed source as saying that the authorities of the Islamic republic have also fined the Rekabi family 168,000,000,000 Rials ($4,700).

Officials have not yet provided an explanation for knocking down the dwelling.

Rekabi’s participation without the head scarf in Seoul was seen by some observers as a move to show solidarity with ongoing anti-government protests.

However, in a post that appeared on her Instagram page on October 18, she apologized and explained that "due to poor scheduling and an unexpected call for me to climb.... I inadvertently had a problem with my cover."

It could not be verified whether Rekabi made the post independent of pressure from Iranian officials, and some government critics said the apology appeared in line with previous similar confessions by offenders who were pressured by authorities to recant. There were also unconfirmed reports that Rekabi's brother had been detained by police.

The 33-year-old said in an Instagram post that she competed without the hijab, which is mandatory for Iranian women to wear in public, "due to poor scheduling and an unexpected call for me to climb."

She added that she returned to Iran with the team "according to a pre-arranged schedule."

The controversy comes after months of unrest across Iran -- one of the deepest challenges to the Islamic regime since the revolution in 1979 -- sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini after she was taken into police custody for allegedly breaking hijab rules.

Since the start of the protests, several Iranian sports champions and prominent public figures, including soccer star Ali Daei, have been summoned or arrested by the authorities and had their passports confiscated after showing support for anti-government protests.

The hijab -- the head covering worn by Muslim women -- became compulsory in public for Iranian women and girls over the age of nine after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

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

Brother Of Russia-Imprisoned American Says Contact Resumed

Imprisoned American Paul Whelan

The family of Paul Whelan, an American imprisoned in Russia for espionage, said on December 2 that he has resumed contact after unexpectedly becoming unreachable in November. Whelan's brother, David, said that Paul had called his parents early U.S. time on December 2, the first time any family member had spoken with him since November 23. The family had been told he was moved to a prison hospital, but the reason for that was unclear because he had not spoken of health problems. In the call, he did not explain why he was at the hospital, David Whelan said. To read the original story by AP, click here.

Ukraine Bans Religious Organizations With Links To Russia

Kyiv's move comes after Ukraine's security service carried out a raid last month on a historic Orthodox monastery in Kyiv over suspected "activities" by Russian agents.

Ukraine has banned the activities of religious organizations “affiliated with centers of influence” in Russia and said it would examine links between the Ukrainian and Russian Orthodox churches. President Volodymyr Zelenskiy signed a decree enacting the decision to impose personal sanctions against representatives of religious organizations associated with Russia, which invaded Ukraine more than nine months ago. The decree additionally provided for examining the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, one of two Orthodox bodies in Ukraine following a schism that in 2019 resulted in the establishment of one with independence from the Russian church. To read the original story from AP, click here.

Journalist In Tatarstan Jailed, Fined For Reposting Online Call For Anti-War Rally

A journalist in Russia's Tatarstan, Nailla Mullayeva, has been sentenced to six days in jail and fined $490 on a charge of discrediting the Russian armed forces and violating the law on public gatherings. Mullayeva's lawyer said the charge stemmed from his client's reposting of an online call for an unsanctioned rally against the war in Ukraine in September. Police searched Mullayeva’s home twice before her arrest this week. To read the original story from RFE/RL's Idel.Realities, click here.

Russian Police Investigate Private Animal Shelter After Dozens Of Mutilated Dogs Found Dead

Police in Russia's southwestern Astrakhan region have started an investigation into an animal shelter after activists found dozens of mutilated dead dogs in the facility and nearby. The shelter, owned by the wife of a former Astrakhan city lawmaker, Andrei Nevlyudov, has received significant amounts of money from the city to catch stray dogs, provide them with medical assistance, and find homes for them. Activists said on December 1 that some 60 dogs that were found dead and mutilated are registered as alive in the shelter's documents. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Moscow Court Issues Arrest Warrants For Two Former Coordinators Of Navalny Groups In Siberia

Sergei Bespalov, who has worked as a coordinator for Aleksei Navalny's headquarters in Irkutsk, is one of the two men for whom arrest warrants have been issued. He currently resides outside of Russia.

A court in Moscow has issued arrest warrants for two former coordinators of groups in Siberia associated with jailed opposition politician Aleksei Navalny. The Basmanny district court's ruling on December 2 resulted in warrants being issued for Stanislav Kalinichenko from Kemerovo and Sergei Bespalov from Irkutsk. Both are accused of organizing the activities of an extremist group. Both activists, who are currently outside of Russia, were earlier designated as extremists and added to the Interior Ministry’s wanted list. To read the original story from RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Belarusian Journalist, Wife, Colleague Handed Prison Terms Over Reporting On Border Crisis

Belarusian journalist Dzmitry Luksha and his wife, Palina Palavinka were sentenced to four and 2 1/2 years, respectively.

MINSK -- A court in Minsk has sentenced journalist Dzmitry Luksha; his wife, Palina Palavinka; and cameraman Dzyanis Yarouski for their reporting on a migrants' crisis along the Belarusian-Polish border last year.

The Minsk City Court on December 2 sentenced Luksha, a freelance correspondent for Kazakhstan's Khabar 24 television channel, and Palavinka to four and 2 1/2 years in prison, respectively, after finding them guilty of discrediting Belarus and "actively participating in group activities that blatantly disrupt social order."

Yarouski was sentenced to 18 months in prison on the same charges.

A fourth defendant in the case, Kanstantsin Nikanorau, was handed a parole-like sentence on a charge of discrediting Belarus.

The charges against the four stemmed from Luksha's video reports from the Belarusian-Polish border for Khabar 24.

The reports covered the situation along the border, where thousands of migrants mostly from the Middle East tried to illegally enter EU-member Poland from Belarusian territory.

European nations have condemned the authoritarian ruler of Belarus, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, for masterminding the crisis in response to Western sanctions imposed on him over an ongoing crackdown on dissent and independent media that followed his disputed win in a 2020 presidential election.

Separately on December 2, the Minsk City Court started the trial of another journalist, Henadz Mazheyka, who is accused of insulting Lukashenka and inciting hatred over his report about a police shootout at a Minsk apartment last year that left an IT worker and a KGB officer dead.

Little is known about the September 2021 shooting that resulted in the deaths of Andrey Zeltsar, who worked for U.S.-based IT company EPAM, and KGB officer Dzmitry Fedasyuk.

Multiple individuals have received prison terms in recent months on charges related to comments about the incident.

Mazheyka pleaded not guilty.

Exiled Former Tajik Vice President Narzullo Dustov Dies In Tashkent At 82

Narzullo Dustov served as Tajikistan's vice president in 1991-1992.

Former Tajik Vice President Narzullo Dustov, wanted in his native country over the organization of a mutiny against the government in 1998, died in Uzbekistan last month at the age of 82. Former Chairman of the Socialist Party of Tajikistan Mirhusain Nazriev told RFE/RL on December 2 that Dustov died on November 1 of cancer. Dustov served as Tajikistan's vice president in 1991-1992. The post was later eliminated. His former ally, Mahmud Khudoiberdiev, who also led the failed deadly mutiny, fled the country for Uzbekistan, as well. To read the original story of RFE/RL's Tajik Service, click here.


Several Ukrainian Diplomatic Missions Receive 'Bloody' Parcels

Police stand outside the Ukrainian Embassy in Madrid after a blast injured one employee while handling a letter on November 30.

Ukrainian diplomatic missions in several countries have received “bloody parcels” containing animals' eyes, the country's Foreign Ministry said on December 2.

Spokesman Oleh Nykolenko added on Facebook that the parcels were soaked with an unspecified liquid "of a specific color and smelled correspondingly."

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.

According to Nykolenko, the parcels were delivered to Ukrainian diplomatic missions in Hungary, the Netherlands, Poland, Croatia, Austria, Italy, and the Czech Republic.

The packages arrived amid Russia's continued invasion of Ukraine, and Nykolenko said "we are studying the meaning of this message."

Police in the Czech Republic said earlier in the day that Ukraine’s consulate in the country’s second-largest city, Brno, received "a suspicious letter" similar to letter bombs sent to high-profile targets in Spain in recent days.

The police said later that "an animal tissue" was found in the package.

Nykolenko said that unknown individuals called the Ukrainian Embassy in Kazakhstan saying that there was a bomb in the mission's building, which turned out to be false.

He added that the Ukrainian Embassy in the United States received a letter harshly criticizing the Ukrainian government.

Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba called the situation "a well-planned campaign of terror and intimidation of Ukraine's embassies and consulates."

"Not being able to stop Ukraine on the diplomatic front, [Russians] try to intimidate us. However, I can say with confidence that these attempts are futile. We will continue to effectively work on Ukraine's victory," Kuleba said.

A day earlier, bomb disposal experts in Spain defused a letter bomb at the U.S. Embassy in Madrid, the sixth such device sent to high-profile targets in Spain in the past several days.

The campaign began with a letter bomb sent to Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez last week. Similar devices have been sent to the Defense Ministry, an air force base, a weapons manufacturer, and the Ukrainian Embassy.

Orban Says Hungary Opposes Global Minimum Corporate Tax

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban addresses workers at the car-manufacturing plant of Audi Hungaria Kft., an affiliate of German carmaker Audi AG, in Gyor, Hungary, in 2020.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban told Hungarian public radio on December 2 that Budapest continues to be against a global minimum corporate tax rate, arguing it would reduce the number of jobs in Hungary, which has used its low-tax regime to attract investment. Hungary's 9 percent corporate tax rate and government subsidies have brought major investments by German carmakers and Asian battery manufacturers. "This is a job-killing tax hike, which, if implemented with Hungary's approval, would wipe out tens of thousands of jobs," Orban said. To listen to Orban's interview with Radio Kossuth, click here.


IAEA Chief Says Progress Being Made on Zaporizhzhya Safety Zone

Moscow and Kyiv have accused each other in recent months of targeting the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, which Russian forces took control of shortly after their invasion of Ukraine in February. 

Rafael Grossi, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), says progress is being made to reach a deal to create a safe zone around Ukraine's Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, which has come under repeated shelling during the fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces since late February.

Speaking to the Italian newspaper La Repubblica in an interview published on December 2, Grossi said he is committed to finding a solution to ensuring the safety of Europe's largest nuclear power station, "hopefully by the end of the year."

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.

"On the safety of Zaporizhzhya there is a concrete proposal and important progress has been made," the head of the United Nation's nuclear watchdog told the newspaper.

"My commitment is to reach a solution as soon as possible.... Our aim is to avoid a nuclear accident, not to cause a militarily favorable situation for one or the other," he added.

Moscow and Kyiv have accused each other in recent months of targeting the plant, which Russian forces took control of shortly after their invasion of Ukraine in February.

The reactors at the Soviet-designed plant have been shut down, but there is a risk that nuclear fuel could overheat if power supplies to the plant's cooling systems are cut off.

The plant has been forced to operate on backup generators a number of times since the Russian invasion, but no radioactive emissions are believed to have leaked since Moscow invaded Ukraine on February 24.

Grossi said the two sides are now "in agreement on some fundamental principles" around securing the plant.

"The first is that of protection: It means accepting that you don't shoot at the facility, nor from the facility. The second is the recognition that the IAEA represents the only possible way" to ensure the safety of the plant, he said.

Grossi said it's possible he could soon meet with both Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, to work out details of a deal.

Rosatom Chief Executive Officer Aleksei Likhachev was quoted by Russian state media as saying Moscow's representative at the IAEA, Mikhail Ulyanov, is "actively working" on the issue, though he said "the decision is not on the Russian side" as the Russian government has outlined its position on creating a safety zone around the plant.

The safety zone should be set up "as soon as possible," he added.

With Russian strikes over the past weeks decimating Ukraine's energy infrastructure, Grossi said he is concerned about other nuclear plants in Ukraine, which have at times lost external power, creating potentially dangerous situations.

"The Ukrainian authorities have made a formal request to have a permanent presence of the IAEA in these plants, as in Zaporizhzhya. In this way, the agency's personnel will be deployed throughout Ukraine and will ensure that nuclear power plants are not used by anyone as weapons of blackmail in the conflict," he said.

Based on reporting by La Repubblica

Finnish PM Warns Russian Win Would Empower Aggressors

Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin (second right) met with other EU leaders in Prague on October 27.

Finland’s Prime Minister Sanna Marin warned an Australian audience on December 2 that a Russian victory over Ukraine would empower other aggressors and urged democracies against forming “critical dependencies” on authoritarian states such as China. Marin was speaking in Sydney at the end of the first-ever visit by a Finnish prime minister to Australia and New Zealand. She used a speech to urge democracies to ramp up sanctions against Russia. To read the original AP story, click here.

Russia Tests New Missile-Defense System Rocket

A missile of the Russian missile-defense system is launched at the Sary-Shagan military range in Kazakhstan in 2021.

Russia on December 2 tested a new missile-defense system rocket, the Defense Ministry said, adding that the missile was launched from the Sary Shagan testing range in Kazakhstan. Other than saying the test was successful, the ministry gave few other details. To read the original story from Reuters, click here.

Ukraine War Shows Europe 'Not Strong Enough,' Says Finnish PM

Visiting Australia, the leader of the pending NATO member said Russian President Vladimir Putin's invasion and occupation of neighboring Ukraine had exposed both European weaknesses and strategic blunders in dealing with Russia. (file photo)

Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin on December 2 offered a "brutally honest" assessment of Europe's capabilities in the wake of Russia's war on Ukraine, stating that "we're not strong enough" to stand up to Moscow alone. Visiting Australia, the leader of the pending NATO member said Russian President Vladimir Putin's invasion and occupation of neighboring Ukraine had exposed both European weaknesses and strategic blunders in dealing with Russia.


Putin Says Further Russian Strikes On Ukraine Infrastructure Are 'Inevitable'

A residential building damaged by a Russian missile strike near the town of Chuhuiv in Ukraine's Kharkiv region on December 2.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has told German Chancellor Olaf Scholz that further attacks on Ukraine's infrastructure are "inevitable," even as millions of Ukrainians struggle without electricity and heating at the onset of winter following waves of Russian strikes across the country.

"It was noted that the Russian Armed Forces had long refrained from precision missile strikes against certain targets on the territory of Ukraine," the Kremlin said in a statement on December 2 following the first phone conversation between Putin and Scholz since mid-September.

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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.

"But now such measures have become a forced and inevitable response to Kyiv's provocative attacks on Russia's civilian infrastructure," the Kremlin said, accusing the West of pursuing "destructive" policies and "pumping" Ukraine with weapons. It was unclear which attacks the Kremlin was referencing.

Putin told Scholz that "political and financial support" from the Ukraine's Western allies "leads to the fact that Kyiv completely rejects the idea of any negotiations," the Kremlin said.

Scholz pressed Putin to seek a diplomatic solution to end his war in Ukraine, including troop withdrawals, German government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit said following a call between the two.

"The chancellor urged the Russian president to come as quickly as possible to a diplomatic solution including the withdrawal of Russian troops," according to Hebestreit.

During the one-hour call, Scholz "condemned in particular the Russian air strikes against civilian infrastructure in Ukraine and stressed Germany's determination to support Ukraine in ensuring the defense capability against Russian aggression."

Following U.S. President Joe Biden's statement on December 1 that he would be willing to speak with Putin, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists December 2 that the Russian leader "has always been, is, and remains open to negotiations in order to ensure our interests."

But Peskov added that the West must accept Moscow's demands for a settlement in Ukraine to become possible.

In Kyiv, Mayor Vitaliy Klitschko told residents to stock up on water, food, and warm clothes in the event of a total blackout caused by Russian strikes.

In the recently liberated southern region of Kherson, Russian missiles killed three people over the past day, Governor Yaroslav Yanushevych wrote on the Telegram messaging app, while shelling the night before damaged power lines in the city where electricity had only begun to be restored nearly three weeks after Russian troops withdrew to the eastern side of the Dnieper River.

Meanwhile, fierce fighting continued in the east where Kyiv's forces fought off waves of attacks in Luhansk and Donetsk regions, the military reported early on December 2, as an aide to President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said up to 13,000 Ukrainian soldiers have been killed since the start of the war.

The General Staff of the Armed Forces said in its daily update that Russian troops attacked Ukrainian positions in 14 settlements including Belohoryivka in Luhansk and Bakhmut in Donetsk, while carrying out 30 air strikes and 35 multiple-rocket attacks on civilian settlements along the contact line.

WATCH: Ukrainian civilians who have fled Russian-occupied cities in the east, along with local Bucha residents who have lost their homes, do their best to cope with temporary modular housing.

Evacuees Living In Container Housing In Bucha Brave Freezing Temperatures And Power Cuts
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The Russians were on the defensive in Kupyansk and Lyman in the east and Zaporizhzhya in central Ukraine, the General Staff said, while in the Bakhmut and Avdiyivka directions in the east Moscow's forces were on the offensive.

The battlefield reports could not be independently verified.

Mykhaylo Podolyak, a senior adviser to Zelenskiy, told Ukraine's Channel 24 television on December 1 that as many as 13,000 Ukrainian troops have been killed since Russia's invasion in February.

"We have official estimates from the General Staff.... And they range from 10, 13,000 dead," Podolyak said.

He said Zelenskiy would make the official data public "when the right moment comes." Podolyak's comments have not been confirmed by the military.

In June, Zelenskiy said Ukraine was losing "60 to 100 soldiers per day, killed in action, and around 500 people wounded in action."

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said in September that 5,937 Russian troops had been killed in the nearly seven months of fighting to that point.

The figures could not be independently verified and it is believed both sides are minimizing their losses to avoid lowering the troops' morale.

U.S. General Mark Milley said last month said more than 100,000 Russian military personnel and 100,000 Ukrainian troops have been killed or wounded since the start of the war.

The figures advanced by Milley -- which could not be independently confirmed -- are the most precise to date from the U.S. government.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and BBC

Reports: EU Close To Agreeing On $60 A Barrel Cap For Russian Seaborne Oil

The price cap would work by prohibiting shippers and insurance companies from handling cargoes of Russian seaborne crude unless it is sold at or below the price cap. (file photo)

EU governments have tentatively agreed on a $60 a barrel price cap on Russian seaborne oil aimed at reducing Moscow's ability to finance its war in Ukraine.

"The price cap is set at $60 with a provision to keep it 5 percent below market price for Russian crude, based on [International Energy Agency] figures," an EU diplomat said, according to Reuters on December 1.

U.S. Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo said he was encouraged by the news about the tentative agreement on the price cap -- an idea supported by the United States and the other Group of Seven (G7) leading industrialized nations -- adding that he expects the European Union to iron out details and reach a final agreement.

EU countries have wrangled for days over the details of the price cap. Poland, which had pushed for the cap to be as low as possible, had as of late on December 1 not confirmed its support for the deal, Reuters and AFP reported.

The initial G7 proposal last week was for a cap of $65-$70 per barrel with no adjustment mechanism.

Poland, Lithuania, and Estonia rejected that level because Russian Urals crude, the main variety sold by Russia, was trading at below $70 a barrel on December 1 and last week traded at about $55.

The G7 price cap on Russian seaborne crude oil is to kick in on December 5, replacing an outright ban on buying Russian seaborne crude.

The price cap would work by prohibiting shippers and insurance companies from handling cargoes of Russian crude unless it is sold at or below the price cap.

The world's key shipping and insurance firms are based in G7 countries, giving them leverage to set the price cap and make it difficult for Moscow to sell its oil for a higher price.

The adjustment mechanism would mean the price cap would be reviewed in mid-January and every two months after that.

The document outlining the tentative agreement, quoted by Reuters, said a 45-day "transitional period" would apply to vessels carrying Russian-origin crude oil that was loaded before December 5 and unloaded at its final destination by January 19, 2023.

Russian President Vladimir Putin warned last week that any attempt by the West to cap the price of Russian oil would have "grave consequences" for world markets. But the G7 vowed to go ahead.

Oil ministers from OPEC+ cartel of petroleum exporting countries, of which Russia is a member, will meet in Vienna on December 4.

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

Leaked Document Says Iranian Leadership Is Seeking To Discredit Sunni Cleric

Iranian Sunni theologian and spiritual leader Molavi Abdolhamid Ismaeelzah (file photo)

A leaked document from the hard-line Fars news agency says Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has told security and military officials to try and disgrace a top Sunni cleric, who is a vocal critic of the government, instead of arresting him.

The document was published on November 30 after the hacktivist group Black Reward announced that it had succeeded in hacking the Fars news agency, which is affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). The group released dozens of documents and videos it said were prepared by the news agency.

The cleric, Molavi Abdolhamid Ismaeelzah, is regarded across the country as a spiritual leader for Iran’s Sunni Muslim population. He is the director of the main Sunni seminary in Iran and has been under pressure for his comments against the Islamic republic.

"He [Molavi Abdolhamid] should not be arrested. Rather, he should be dishonored," according to one of the documents, which are delivered as bulletins prepared by Fars and delivered to senior IRGC officials, which was handing down comments from the Ayatollah.

Early last month, Molavi Abdolhamid said senior officials, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, were "responsible" for the killing of protesters during the so-called "Bloody Friday" massacre in the southeastern city of Zahedan on September 30. He also called for an immediate referendum with the presence of international observers to "change policies based on the wishes of the people."

Almost 100 people were killed and hundreds injured by security forces in the incident, which came during protests sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in the custody of the morality police and the alleged rape of a 15-year-old girl by a local police commander.

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

The activist HRANA news agency said that, as of November 29, at least 459 protesters had been killed during the unrest, including 64 minors, as security forces try to stifle widespread dissent.

Sunni Muslims make up the majority of the population in Sistan-Baluchistan Province in southeastern Iran where Molavi Abdolhamid is based, but make up only about 10 percent of the population in Shi'a-dominated Iran overall.

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

Dutch Prosecutors Won't Appeal In MH17 Case, Making Verdicts Final

A Dutch court last month convicted three former Russian intelligence agents in absentia and sentenced them to life in prison for the downing of the jet.

Dutch prosecutors said on December 1 that they will not file an appeal regarding the outcome in the trial over the 2014 downing of Flight MH17 in eastern Ukraine, making the verdicts final. A Dutch court last month convicted three former Russian intelligence agents in absentia and sentenced them to life in prison for the downing of the jet. All 298 people aboard were killed. The three men were found to have helped arrange the transport of the Russian military Buk missile system that was used to shoot down the plane. To read the original story from Reuters, click here.

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