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Iran Tells Egypt It Is Ready To Help Gaza Wounded

Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki
TEHRAN (Reuters) -- Iran has told Egypt it is ready to treat people wounded in the Israeli assault on Gaza and is seeking permission to set up a field hospital nearby, the Iranian Foreign Ministry has said.

Iranian officials have condemned Israel for its attacks and expressed support for the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, criticizing what they say is the silence of some Arab states.

Egypt, the only Arab state to border Gaza, has been a focus for protests by hard-line Iranians who say Cairo has not done enough to help the Palestinians. Egypt has partly blamed Hamas for the violence because it failed to renew a truce with Israel.

Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki wrote to his Egyptian counterpart on January 4 outlining Iran's offer to treat wounded people from Gaza, ministry spokesman Hassan Qashqavi told a news conference in Tehran.

He said the letter expressed "Iran's readiness for receiving and treating the wounded at hospitals."

Qashqavi said the letter also "asked for the cooperation of Egypt for setting up an Islamic Republic field hospital and its medical team on the nearest point to Gaza at the recommendation of the Egyptian government."

"We are awaiting response to this demand," he said.

Israel launched aerial bombardments on December 27 to curtail Hamas rocket attacks from Gaza then sent in ground troops on January 3. At least 512 Palestinians have been killed, at least one-quarter of them civilians, a UN agency said.

Iran does not recognize Israel's right to exist and does not have full relations with Egypt, the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel.

Egypt sometimes allows wounded people and medical supplies through its border with the Gaza Strip but the crossing has been closed to ordinary traffic since Hamas seized control of the territory in 2007.

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Romania Starts Sending Natural Gas To Moldova Through Pipeline

The Iasi-Ungheni pipeline was unveiled in 2014 to reduce Moldova's dependence on gas supplies from Russia. (file photo)

Romania has started transporting natural gas to Moldova, which is struggling to meet energy demand amid Russia's war against Ukraine. Gas began arriving on December 3 through a pipeline connecting Iasi in eastern Romania with the Moldovan border town of Ungheni, state news agency Agerpres reported, citing Romanian gas distributor Transgaz. The 43-kilometer pipeline, unveiled in 2014 to reduce dependence on supplies from Russia, has not been used until now. Moldova connected it in 2019 to supply Chisinau, and the compressor stations were commissioned in 2021. To read the full story by RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, click here.

Montenegro Reaffirms Its Support For Ukraine's Euro-Atlantic Path

A screen grab of video showing Montenegrin Prime Minister Dritan Abazovic (left) and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy signing a joint declaration on Ukraine's Euro-Atlantic perspective on December 5.

The prime minister of Montenegro and president of Ukraine have signed a joint declaration on Ukraine's Euro-Atlantic perspective. Dritan Abazovic and Volodymyr Zelenskiy signed the declaration on December 5 in an online meeting. Montenegro is the third country in Europe after Belgium and the Czech Republic to sign the declaration. It reaffirms Montenegro's support for Ukraine's efforts to become a full-fledged part of the Euro-Atlantic society, the government of Montenegro said. Zelenskiy thanked all Montenegrins for their support and for accepting Ukrainian refugees. Abazovic said that Ukrainians are fighting for their sovereignty and a chance to live in democracy. To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Balkan Service, click here.

FIFA Announces Probe Into Conduct Of Serbian Team, Fans At World Cup

Swiss captain Granit Xhaka (left) scuffles with Serbian players during their World Cup group game in Doha on December 2.

World soccer's governing body, FIFA, has announced a probe into alleged misconduct by Serbian players, team officials, and fans during Serbia’s World Cup loss to Switzerland last week.

The disciplinary action, which was announced on December 5, comes after complaints from the Football Association of Kosovo about offensive chants against two Swiss players who have ethnic Albanian roots and family ties to Kosovo. Serbia was eliminated from the tournament in the 3-2 defeat on December 2.

A statement from FIFA said its disciplinary committee has opened proceedings against the Football Association of Serbia "due to potential breaches of articles 12 (misconduct of players and officials), 13 (discrimination) and 16 (order and security at matches) of the FIFA Disciplinary Code" related to incidents during the match.

It is the second time that FIFA has launched disciplinary proceedings against the Serbian team during the 2022 World Cup. The first occurred after a flag showing Kosovo as part of Serbia allegedly was displayed in the Serbian locker room after the match on November 26 with Brazil.

Serbian team manager Dragan Stojkovic, speaking at a press conference on December 5 after the national team returned from Qatar, said he had no comment on the latest actions by FIFA.

The Football Association of Kosovo had complained to FIFA about the alleged incidents, judging them to be nationalistic.

"It's good that FIFA dealt with this and that it took it seriously," Agim Ademi, the president of the Football Association of Kosovo, told RFE/RL.

The Football Association of Serbia and the Serbian Sports Ministry did not respond to RFE/RL's request for comment about the disciplinary charges.

The Football Association of Kosovo had demanded a reaction from FIFA, due to "severe insults by the coach of Serbia and racist actions of Serbian fans" during the match against Switzerland, which was captained by Granit Xhaka, and in which Xherdan Shaqiri scored the opening goal. Both players have roots in Kosovo.

Serbia does not recognize Kosovar sovereignty more than a decade after the mostly ethnic Albanian province declared independence. Kosovo has been a member of FIFA and UEFA, soccer’s European governing body, since 2016.

FIFA’s announcement said that "racist calls against Albanians were heard during the entire match" and "slogans with political messages” were also heard.

Several Serbian players also encroached onto the field when the referee didn't use a video review to study a claim for a penalty kick in the second half.

FIFA gave no timetable for the disciplinary case. Any punishments could apply when Serbia next plays competitive games in March in a European Championship qualifying group.

The Football Association of Kosovo demanded investigation and sanctions against the Football Association of Serbia “so that once and for all fascist chants disappear from football stadiums and events such as the World Cup."

The association said in a statement that teams and fans “with behavior and a philosophy of hatred should not have a place at such important sports events as the World Cup in Qatar."

With reporting by AP

International Criminal Court's Prosecutor Opposes EU Plan For Special Ukraine Tribunal

International Criminal Court prosecutor Karim Khan (file photo)

The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has denounced a European Union proposal to create a UN-backed special tribunal to prosecute crimes in Ukraine, saying his court was capable of effectively dealing with war crimes committed there. On December 5, Karim Khan pushed back against the plan that European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced last week to establish a special court to prosecute Russia’s invasion. The Hague-based ICC has launched an investigation into war crimes in Ukraine but cannot prosecute the crime of aggression because Russia is not a signatory to the treaty that created the court. To read the original story by AP, click here.

Automobile Traffic Reopens On Part Of Bridge Linking Russia To Crimea

An explosion in October caused heavy damage to sections of the Crimean Bridge, which links Russia to the Ukrainian peninsula.

Two-way traffic has been restored on a Russian-built bridge that connects Russia to the Crimean Peninsula, which it seized from Ukraine in 2014. An explosion believed to be from a truck bomb caused heavy damage to road and railway sections of the bridge in October. The attack infuriated the Kremlin. Ukrainian officials have not said who carried it out. Russian state television channel Rossia-24 showed video of President Vladimir Putin driving a vehicle across the bridge. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Russian Prosecutor Seeks 9-Year Prison Term For Politician Ilya Yashin Over YouTube Posts

Kremlin critic Ilya Yashin in court earlier this year.

Russian prosecutors have asked a Moscow court to sentence opposition politician and Kremlin critic Ilya Yashin to nine years in prison for purportedly spreading false information about the Russian military amid its ongoing invasion of Ukraine. Yashin, who was arrested in July, is one of the few prominent opposition politicians still in Russia. The charge against him stems from his YouTube posts about alleged crimes committed by the Russian military in the Ukrainian city of Bucha. Yashin's trial started on November 23. The maximum sentence for such an offense is 10 years. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

Iranian Official Appears To Admit To Killing Of Women And Children on Audio File

The recording seems to have caught Iranian official Reza Davari admitting on tape that women and children have been killed during Tehran's crackdown on ongoing protests in the country. (file photo)

A leaked audio file from the Iranian pro-regime Coalition Council of Islamic Revolution Forces, appears to show the secretary of the council admitting to the accidental killing of women and children during a bloody crackdown in the southeastern city of Zahedan on September 30.

The document was published on December 4 after the hacktivist group Black Reward announced that it had succeeded in hacking the hard-line 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.

In the meeting involving the alleged admission of random killings, Reza Davari, the secretary of the Coalition Council of Islamic Revolution Forces, said that an agent who was on top of the police station "mistakenly" targeted an area where a number of people, including women and children, were killed.

"They were not even part of the protests," Davari added.

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.

Last month, Molavi Abdolhamid, a spiritual leader for Iran’s Sunni Muslim population, said senior officials, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, were "responsible" for the killing of protesters during the so-called "Bloody Friday" massacre in Zahedan. He also called for an immediate referendum with the presence of international observers to "change policies based on the wishes of the people."

Earlier, another leaked document from the Fars agency published by Black Reward shows Khamenei telling security and military officials to try and disgrace Molavi Abdolhamid, who is a vocal critic of the government, instead of arresting him.

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.

Putin Signs Controversial Law Banning 'LGBT Propaganda'

Russian President Vladimir Putin (file photo)

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a law that expands an existing ban on promoting "LGBT propaganda" to children by prohibiting it among people of all ages. Under the new law, which Putin signed on November 5, any event or act regarded as an attempt to promote homosexuality -- including online, in film, books, advertising or in public -- could incur a heavy fine. Human rights defenders and activists working with LGBT+ groups believe that the new law will make it impossible for public organizations that help LGBT+ organizations to function. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Enlargement On The Agenda As EU Prepares Western Balkans Summit

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic (right) and European Commissioner for Neighborhood and Enlargement Oliver Varhelyi (center) arrive for a roundtable meeting during an EU summit in Kranj, Slovenia in October 2021.

As European Union leaders and officials from the Western Balkans prepare for a regional summit in Tirana, Albania, on December 6, enlargement tops the agenda, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama told AP on December 5. The EU has promised Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia closer relations, but the integration process has been stalled for years. The EU last admitted a new member, Croatia, in 2013. EU enlargement commissioner Oliver Varhelyi said during a recent visit last week enlargement “is among the top three priorities for EU leaders.” To read the original story from AP, click here.

Angry Iranians Launch Three-Day Protest As More Death Sentences Issued

Shops at a Tehran bazaar were shuttered on December 5 as a sign of support for the protests that have swept the country.

Iranian protesters have begun three consecutive days of protests and nationwide strikes as the judiciary continues to follow through on a government crackdown by issuing three more death sentences in its response to unrest sparked by the death of a young woman while in police custody for allegedly wearing a head scarf improperly.

Reports from across the country on December 5 said shopkeepers and businesses had stopped working in dozens of Iranian cities in a concerted effort to bolster the daily demonstrations that have erupted after the September 16 death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in Tehran.

The opposition activist collective 1500tasvir reported that several protest rallies have taken place in the center of Iranian capital on December 5, with protesters chanting slogans against the ayatollah and the government forces that have carried out a brutal crackdown that has left hundreds dead.

Security forces reportedly raided a market in the south of Tehran early on December 5 in an apparent attempt to try to prevent businesses there from joining the nationwide strikes.

Iran's state media, meanwhile, has reported that the restaurant and jewelry store owned by former Iranian soccer star Ali Daei has been sealed for joining the three-day strikes in Iran.

Since the start of the protests, Daei, a former forward with German soccer giant Bayern Munich and a former Iranian national team captain, has been a vocal supporter of the protesters and has repeatedly criticized government officials for suppressing the protests.

At the same time, the head of Iran’s judiciary announced at his weekly news conference the imminent execution of some protesters.

This is the second time in recent weeks that Iranian authorities have threatened to carry out death sentences for protesters arrested during the unrest. Several death sentences have been handed out already for some of those arrested in protests, but it has not been announced if the penalty has been carried out.

In October, 227 lawmakers from the 290-seat, hard-line parliament urged the judiciary to approve death sentences for some of the protesters arrested.

Human rights organizations strongly object to the issuance of death sentences, which they say were issued without valid proceedings and in a short time.

The activist HRANA news agency said that as of November 29, at least 459 protesters had been killed during the unrest, including 64 minors.

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

EU Commission To Try To Limit Illegal Migration In Western Balkans

A Macedonian soldier patrols the border with Greece, near Gevgelija.

The European Commission launched an action plan on December 5 detailing how it plans to clamp down on illegal migration into the European Union via the Western Balkans. The commission wants to increase border management in the region, continue work to align visa policies, and support asylum seekers' registrations, said Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas. The EU executive arm is acting in the wake of more than 22,000 illegal border crossings attempted in the Western Balkans in October -- 159 percent more than in 2021 -- according to data from Frontex, the EU border protection agency.

Russia Defiant As Oil Price Cap, Embargo Come Into Effect

An oil tanker is moored at the Sheskharis complex, part of Chernomortransneft JSC, a subsidiary of Transneft PJSC, in Novorossiysk -- one of the largest facilities for oil and petroleum products in southern Russia.

A price cap of $60 per barrel imposed on seaborne Russian oil by the Group of Seven (G7) leading economies, the European Union, and several importing countries came into effect on December 5, as Russia remained defiant and said it would not recognize the restrictions.

The EU also introduced an embargo of seaborne Russian oil that took effect on December 5.

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.

The price cap, which has been joined by the United States, Australia, Japan, and the United Kingdom, was intended to punish Moscow for its unprovoked aggression against neighboring Ukraine.

It stipulates that Russian oil can only be shipped to third countries using G7 or EU tankers, insurance companies, or credit institutions if the cargo is purchased at or below the price cap.

A similar price cap on Russian petroleum products is scheduled to take effect on February 5.

Russia said on December 4 that it rejects the price cap and will not sell oil below market prices, even if that means reducing production targets.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on December 5 that a response to the price cap "is being prepared."

"One thing is obvious: We will not recognize any price caps," Peskov said, adding that the price cap will not have any impact on Russia's war against Ukraine.

Moscow reportedly was considering issuing a decree that would ban the sale of any petroleum products to any country applying the price cap.

The price cap will be reviewed every two months with the first review set for January.

G7 and EU countries set the cap fairly close to market prices in the expectation that Russia would accept lower profits and continue selling oil.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has called for the international community to set the price cap at $30 per barrel in order to ramp up pressure on the Russian economy. He said that if Russia agrees to sell oil at $60 per barrel, it would still bring in about $1 billion in annual oil revenues.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry on December 5 said Beijing will continue its "mutually beneficial" energy cooperation with Russia, which is the world's second-largest oil exporter.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, and dpa

Georgia's Ex-Leader Saakashvili 'Poisoned' In Prison, Doctors Say

Former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili was transferred to a hospital last year after a hunger strike that he maintained for 50 days to protest his jailing, which rights groups have denounced as politically motivated.

Georgia's jailed ex-president, Mikheil Saakashvili, was "poisoned" in custody by heavy metals and risks dying without proper treatment, according to a medical report distributed on December 5 by his legal team. The 54-year-old was transferred to a hospital last year after a hunger strike that he maintained for 50 days to protest his jailing, which rights groups have denounced as politically motivated. In a report distributed by Saakashvili's legal team, U.S.-based toxicologist David Smith said "testing has revealed the presence of heavy metals" in Saakashvili's body and the pathological symptoms he displays "are the result of heavy metal poisoning."

Updated

Ukrainians Scramble As New Wave Of Russian Missiles Launched

Firefighters work outside an office building destroyed by shelling in Donetsk, Ukraine, on December 5.

Residents of Kyiv and other cities across Ukraine scrambled for cover on December 5 as Russia launched another deadly barrage of missiles at the country after explosions were reported at two airfields in central Russia.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said four people were killed in the attacks, but said Ukrainian air defense forces had been able to shoot down most of the missiles launched.

"Every Russian missile shot down is concrete proof that terror can be defeated," he said in his evening video address.

Ukrainian Air Force spokesman Yuriy Ignat told RFE/RL earlier that Ukrainian air defense forces were able to shoot down over 60 of the more than 70 missiles launched.

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.

He said 38 cruise missiles were fired from Tu-95 bombers based in the Caspian Sea region and the southern Russian region of Rostov, which borders on Ukraine to the east. Another 22 Kalibr missiles were fired from ships in Russia's Black Sea Fleet.

"We also have information on the use of Tu-22 M3 bombers with rocket launchers, which are the most powerful in terms of combat weight," Ignat said. "Guided air missiles were also launched from Su-25 fighters."

Air raid sirens lasted for three hours as officials warned people to take shelter.

Andriy Yermak, head of the Ukrainian presidential office, told Ukrainians to heed the alarm. Reports on social media showed hundreds of people sheltering in subway stations in the capital, Kyiv.

The missile strikes injured one person in Odesa and hit energy infrastructure in the city, where all substations and backup lines were not working and where there is no water supply.

In Kryviy Rih in the Dnipropetrovsk region, critical infrastructure has been damaged and large-scale blackouts are possible, authorities said. Electricity was turned off as a precaution in the northern Sumy region, and possible disruptions were reported in the northern Chernihiv region and the western Ternopil region.

Zelenskiy said engineers had already started to restore electricity, and Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said that, despite being hit by Russian missiles, Ukraine's energy system "functions and will remain intact."

John Kirby, spokesman for the White House National Security Council, condemned the latest Russian strikes, calling them a reminder of Russian President Vladimir Putin's brutality. The U.S. is in constant contact with Ukraine and will continue to provide Kyiv with everything it needs for its defense, Kirby said.

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said on Twitter that he had a conversation with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on December 5 after the Russian missile strike. Reznikov said he and Austin discussed further steps to strengthen Ukrainian air defense and thanked the U.S. for its continued support.

Earlier on December 5, at least one large explosion occurred at a Russian military air base in the Saratov region, about 600 kilometers east of Ukraine, while another blast was reported by Russian state media at an airfield outside Ryazan, southeast of Moscow.

Social media posts by residents in the cities of Engels and Saratov seemed to show a large explosion at the Engels-2 air base at about 6 a.m. local time on December 5.

The Russian Defense Ministry said the attacks were carried out by Ukrainian drones. The ministry confirmed news reports of damage to two Tu-95 strategic bombers and the deaths of Russian servicemen. The ministry also claimed that both drones were shot down.

Ukrainian authorities have not publicly commented on the blasts, but a senior Ukrainian official quoted anonymously by The New York Times, said the drones were launched from Ukrainian territory and at least two planes were destroyed at one of the Russian bases and several more were damaged.

The latest volley of Russian strikes against Ukraine came on the same day that a price cap of $60 per barrel imposed on seaborne Russian oil by the Group of Seven (G7) leading economies, the European Union, and several importing countries took effect.

The price cap, which has been joined by the United States, Australia, Japan, and the United Kingdom, was intended to punish Moscow for its unprovoked aggression against neighboring Ukraine.

It stipulates that Russian oil can only be shipped to third countries using G7 or EU tankers, insurance companies, or credit institutions if the cargo is purchased at or below the price cap.

The EU has also introduced an embargo of seaborne Russian oil that also took effect on December 5.

Moscow remained defiant over the move and said it would not recognize the restrictions.

The United States doesn't expect that Russia’s threats to have any long term impact on global oil prices, Kirby said.

The cap will lock in the discount on Russian oil, and countries like China and India will be able to bargain for steep price reductions, he said.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, and The New York Times

Mission Of Iran's Morality Police Has Ended, But New Methods Sought To Enforce Hijab Law -- Spokesman

An Iranian policewoman, part of the country's morality police, looks out from a police van in Tehran. (file photo)

The spokesman for Iran's morality police said that the mission of the police unit has ended but new methods should be used to enforce the country's mandatory hijab law.

The spokesman, Ali Khan Mohammadi, said in an interview published on December 5 that various institutions in the country are looking into having appropriate mechanisms to be able to deal with the issue of veiling.

“For us, the basis is that it should be within the framework of Shari'a, and at the same time, our people must adhere to the law so that we can create a peaceful atmosphere,” Mohammadi said in the interview, which was published on the website Entekhab though it was not clear that he spoke with that news outlet.

He noted that a discussion of chastity and the hijab is currently popular in the country and decisions are being made “in a more modern framework.” He didn’t elaborate but mentioned the use of technologies.

The status of Iran's morality police has been unclear since the country's chief prosecutor said the notorious force had been closed in the wake of continuing protests following the September death in police custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini.

Mohammad Jafar Montazeri was quoted by the semi-official ISNA news agency on December 3 as saying the morality police "had been closed," but a day later the state IRNA news agency quoted him as saying “the morality police have nothing to do with the judiciary” after he was asked why the morality police were being shut down.

Prior to the interview with Mohammadi, there had been no word from officials -- including the Interior Ministry -- on the status of the controversial morality police, which began patrols in 2006 under hard-line President Mahmud Ahmadinejad to enforce the country’s Islamic dress codes, particularly the requirement to wear the hijab, or female head covering.

The squads of men in green uniforms and women in black chadors initially issued warnings but soon began arresting women for alleged violations.

Montazeri also was quoted on December 3 as saying parliament and the judiciary were "working" on whether the law requiring women to wear the hijab in public should be changed. He added that "the results will be seen in a week or two."

The Iranian government has said more than 200 people had been killed in the protests sparked by Amini’s death in September. Iranian rights groups put the figure at more than double that, while the United Nations has said more than 300 have been killed as the national protests have evolved into one of the most serious challenges to the country’s theocracy since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

While the government had taken a hard line in its stance toward the protests over the past several months, some officials have started to strike a more conciliatory tone as they talk about problems being experienced in Iran, which is struggling under the weight of crippling U.S. sanctions over Tehran's nuclear program.

In a December 4 interview with Iran’s state broadcaster, Deputy Security Minister Majid Mirahmadi said the "main cause" of the protests was not economic.

"This is an issue but not the main cause," Mirahmadi said. "It is a protest against injustice."

President Ebrahim Raisi said on December 3 that Iran's Islamic foundations were enshrined in the constitution.

"But there are methods of implementing the constitution that can be flexible," he said.

Russia's Kudrin Accepts Role As Adviser To Tech Giant Yandex

Aleksei Kudrin, who resigned as head of Russia's Audit Chamber last week, said on December 5 he had accepted an offer from technology giant Yandex to become an adviser on corporate development. (file photo)

Aleksei Kudrin, who resigned as head of Russia's Audit Chamber last week, said on December 5 he had accepted an offer from technology giant Yandex to become an adviser on corporate development. Yandex last month announced a review of a possible sweeping governance overhaul that would leave its major business units in Russia under new ownership. The announcement comes after months of internal turmoil, with executives departing, the sale of two of the company’s best-known products, and company shares hitting basement prices prior to being frozen on international stock exchanges. To read the original story from Reuters, click here. To read a previous RFE/RL story on the Yandex shakeup, click here.

Updated

Prominent Chechen Blogger, Kadyrov Critic Reported Killed

Tumso Abdurakhmanov, a popular YouTube blogger who has been harshly critical of Kadyrov and his government in Chechnya, left Russia in 2015. He has been granted political asylum in Sweden.

A Chechen opposition Telegram feed has reported that prominent dissident Chechen blogger Tumso Abdurakhmanov has been killed.

The 1ADAT channel on December 5 cited unidentified sources as saying Abdurakhmanov had been shot dead and that his brother, Mukhammad, was under police protection.

Anzor Maskhadov, a prominent leader of the Chechen diaspora, confirmed the information, adding that Abdurkhmanov had been killed by several unknown assailants.

Neither 1ADAT nor Maskhadov said the purported killing took place in Sweden, where Abdurakhmanov lived and had political asylum.

Swedish police have refused to confirm the media reports and speculation.

“The Swedish Police Authority is aware of media reports about a killing of a person who is residing in Sweden,” police press officer Irene Sokolow said in a written response to RFE/RL’s Caucasus.Realities. “The Swedish Police Authority can’t confirm these media reports nor give any further comments.”

Reports that Abdurakhmanov, 36, had been killed emerged on social media on December 1 but could not be confirmed. RFE/RL's Caucasus.Realities and Chechen opposition groups reported they were unable to contact the blogger and that his representatives said they had not been in contact with him or his brother.

Swedish officials told RFE/RL on December 2 that they had no information about Abdurakhmanov’s whereabouts.

In January 2021, two Russian citizens from Chechnya were given long prison sentences in Sweden after being convicted of attempting to kill Abdurakhmanov in February 2020.

One of the men, Ruslan Mamayev, testified that he had been acting on the behest of Chechen authorities who promised to pay him 50,000 euros ($50,000).

Kadyrov, who has ruled Chechnya since 2007 with a cult of personality around him, is frequently accused by Russian and international human rights groups of overseeing grave human rights abuses including abductions, torture, extrajudicial killings, and targeting the LGBT community.

Abdurakhmanov, a popular YouTube blogger who has been harshly critical of Kadyrov and his government in Chechnya, left Russia in 2015. He has been granted political asylum in Sweden.

He has not posted on his Telegram channel since the evening of November 30. "Normally, Tumso warns when his Telegram channel won't be active, but yesterday he did not," one commentator wrote below the post.

Abdurakhmanov’s last YouTube video was posted several weeks ago.

Blinken Says Putin Shows No Sign He's Interested In Diplomacy

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left to right), U.S. President Joe Biden, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attend a U.S.-Russia summit at Villa La Grange in Geneva, Switzerland, in June 2021.

Washington sees no signs that Moscow is interested in talks on ending the war in Ukraine, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said.

"There's always value in diplomacy if the parties in question and in this case Russia, are actually interested in meaningful diplomacy. And what we've seen, at least recently, is exactly the contrary," Blinken told CBS News on December 4, adding that Putin had switched tactics after suffering setbacks on the battlefield.

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.

"He's been unable to win on the battlefield, so he's taking, he's basically turning his ire and his fire on Ukrainian civilians, going after the energy infrastructure, trying to turn off the lights, turn off the heat, turn off the electricity. That's what's going on.

"So,unless and until Putin demonstrates that he's actually interested in meaningful diplomacy, it's unlikely to go anywhere," Blinken said on Face The Nation.

In recent weeks, Russia's military focus has been on striking Ukrainian infrastructure nationwide, pressing an offensive in the Donetsk region city of Bakhmut, and shelling sites in the city of Kherson, which Ukrainian forces liberated last month after an eight-month Russian occupation.

On December 1, President Joe Biden indicated he would be willing to talk with Putin if the Russian leader demonstrated that he seriously wanted to end the invasion.

"I'm prepared to speak with Mr. Putin if in fact there is an interest in him deciding that he's looking for a way to end the war," Biden said. "He hasn't done that yet."

The head of U.S. intelligence said fighting in Russia's war in Ukraine was running at a "reduced tempo" and suggested Ukrainian forces could have brighter prospects in coming months.

Avril Haines alluded to past allegations by some that Putin's advisers could be shielding him from bad news -- for Russia -- about war developments, and said he "is becoming more informed of the challenges that the military faces in Russia."

"But it's still not clear to us that he has a full picture of at this stage of just how challenged they are," Haines, the U.S. director of national intelligence, said on December 3.

The British Ministry of Defense, in its latest intelligence estimate on December 4, pointed to new signs from an independent Russian media outlet that public support in Russia for the military campaign was "falling significantly."

Meduza said it obtained a recent confidential opinion survey conducted by the Federal Protection Service, which is in charge of guarding the Kremlin and providing security to top government officials.

The survey, commissioned by the Kremlin, found that 55 percent of respondents backed peace talks with Ukraine while 25 percent wanted the war to go on. The report didn’t mention the margin of error.

With reporting by AP and Reuters

Ukrainian Presidential Aide Criticizes Musk For 'Magical Simple Solutions'

Mykhaylo Podolyak (file photo)

A top Ukrainian presidential aide has chided Twitter owner Elon Musk for the billionaire's "magical simple solutions," citing ideas put forward by Musk on Russia's invasion of Ukraine and Twitter content moderation. Mykhaylo Podolyak listed "exchang(ing) foreign territories for an illusory peace" and "open(ing) all private accounts because freedom of speech has to be total," as examples of such suggestions in comments on Twitter on December 4.

Russia Will Not Export Oil Subject To Western Price Cap, Deputy Prime Minister Says

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Novak (file photo)

Russia will not export oil that is subject a Western-imposed price cap even if Moscow has to accept a drop in oil production, President Vladimir Putin's point man on energy said on December 4. "We are working on mechanisms to prohibit the use of a price-cap instrument, regardless of what level is set, because such interference could further destabilize the market," Russian Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Novak said. On December 4, Group of Seven countries and Australia agreed a $60-per-barrel price cap on Russian seaborne crude oil in a move to deprive President Vladimir Putin of revenue while keeping Russian oil flowing to global markets. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Rebuilding Ukraine After Russian Invasion Will Cost $500-600 Billion, Says World Bank VP

A woman stands among the debris of a destroyed building after a Russian air strike in Chasiv Yar, Ukraine, in late November.

The postwar reconstruction of Ukraine will cost about 500-600 billion euros ($525 billion-$630 billion), World Bank Vice President Anna Bjerde said in an interview with the Austrian newspaper Die Presse. "Previously, we published the figure, which was calculated jointly with the European Commission and the Ukrainian government. How much money is needed to rebuild Ukraine and bring it up to European standards, for example in terms of energy efficiency? At of the beginning of June, it was about 350 billion euros," Bjerde said. But since then, she said the figure had risen significantly to the new estimate. To read the original report by Die Press, click here.

1,700 Dead Seals Found on Russia's Caspian Coast

The authorities in the Russian region of Daghestan said that it's still unclear what caused the animals' deaths, but they likely died of natural causes.

About 1,700 seals have been found dead on the Caspian Sea coast in southern Russia, officials said on December 4. The authorities in the Russian region of Daghestan said that it's still unclear what caused the animals' deaths, but they likely died of natural causes. Regional officials initially said on December 3 that 700 dead seals were found on the coast, but a day later Zaur Gapizov, head of the Caspian Environmental Protection Center, said according to the state RIA Novosti news agency that after a broader inspection of the coast the number of dead animals was 1,700. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

U.S. Focus On Iran Is Thwarting Weapons Aid To Russia, Not Nuclear Talks

Robert Malley, the U.S. special envoy for Iran (file photo)

Washington will focus on preventing the supply of Iranian weapons to Russia and supporting Iranian protests instead of continuing deadlocked negotiations with Iran on restoring the nuclear deal, said Robert Malley, the U.S. special envoy for Iran, in an interview with Bloomberg. "Iran is not interested in a deal and we're focused on other things," Malley said on December 3. To read the original story by Bloomberg, click here.

Kyiv Claims Russia Used Banned Chemical Weapon

Ukrainian troops used chemical defenses "to protect themselves from the strong irritant effect" of the prohibited substance, the navy said. (illustrative photo)

The Ukrainian Navy has accused Russia of using a banned chemical weapon against Ukrainian troops in eastern Ukraine. In a post on Facebook on December 4, the navy asserted Russia had dropped chloropicrin grenades from drones, but that Ukrainian troops had used chemical defenses "to protect themselves from the strong irritant effect" of the prohibited substance. The chemical -- which was developed as a poison gas during World War I -- was reportedly dispersed using K-51 aerosol grenades. The reports could not be verified, and there was no immediate reaction from Moscow. To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, click here.

Russian Fined For Displaying Slogan 'I Love My Father'

A man and woman kiss at a farewell ceremony at a mobilization center in Kazan in October.

A court in Kazan, the capital of the Russian region of Tatarstan, has fined local resident Svetlana Poteryakhina 30,000 rubles ($480) for purportedly “discrediting” the Russian armed forces by publicly carrying a sign with the slogan, “I love my father.” Earlier, she had been fined 10,000 rubles ($160) for violating the law on demonstrations for the same incident. Poteryakhina said the demonstration occurred on September 24, shortly after President Vladimir Putin announced a mobilization to raise troops for the war in Ukraine. She said that after she was detained, police threatened her with beating, rape, and criminal charges of terrorism. To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Russian Service, click here.

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