Iraqi Official: U.S Pullout Poses Challenge
"The biggest challenge we have on the security level is the transition of security from U.S. forces to Iraqi forces," Defense Minister Abdel Qader Jassim told Reuters in an interview on February 27.
U.S. troops will speed up the reduction of forces from Iraq after a March 7 parliamentary election in time for a full withdrawal by 2012, although Iraq is still struggling with bombings and other attacks.
Jassim said a development plan for the army, rebuilt from scratch since the 2003 U.S. invasion and which now numbers some 197,000 soldiers, would be finished by 2020.
"We cannot say that we have finished building the Iraqi army as a modern army," he said.
Looming U.S. Pullout
Washington has already pulled its soldiers out of major towns and cities and expects to whittle down troop numbers to 50,000 by the end of August before full withdrawal in 2011.
But the U.S. military commander in Iraq has signaled that he could slow this year's pull-out if the security situation deteriorated following the March ballot.
U.S. troops go on patrols with Iraqi security forces, and provide back up with logistics, training and intelligence, expertise in which Iraqi forces have traditionally been weak.
An Iraqi affiliate of al Qaeda, a Sunni Islamist group, has threatened to prevent the election at any cost, using "military" means to stop what it called a farce aimed at cementing the domination of Iraq's majority Shi'ite Muslims over Sunnis.
Jassim said that Iraqi forces were on alert for the vote, seen as crucial if Iraq is to bolster its fragile democracy by co-opting feuding factions into the political process.
Iraq plans to deploy tens of thousands of troops and police, restrict vehicle movement and impose curfews to prevent attacks during the election.
"We are expecting the worst. There is no doubt that there are areas where the scale of operations are more concentrated," he said.
Security forces will focus on the violent provinces of Nineveh and Diyala, and high-profile Baghdad.
"You heard the threats like we did. We have evidence that we cannot make public...The terrorist enemy is trying to appear widespread and strong," he said without elaborating.
Jassim is an election candidate in Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's State of Law coalition, which has made better security a plank of its campaign message.
However, although violence has fallen sharply since the days of sectarian slaughter in 2006 and 2007, a series of major bombings in Baghdad since August have shaken the public's faith in Maliki and the security forces, at least in the capital.
Eastern European Governments Urge Tech Firms To Fight Disinformation
Ukraine and seven other Central and Eastern European nations on March 29 called on the world's top tech firms to take action to fight disinformation by hostile powers on their social media platforms, which they say undermines peace and stability. In an open letter signed by their prime ministers, the countries said tech platforms such as Facebook should take concrete steps, including rejecting payments from sanctioned individuals and altering algorithms to promote accuracy over engagement. The letter was signed by the prime ministers of Ukraine, Moldova, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Former Executive Of Russian Gas Company Convicted Of Tax Evasion In U.S.
A former top executive at Russian natural gas producer Novatek has been convicted of tax evasion in the United States.
Mark Gyetvay, who was deputy chairman of Novatek’s management board and its chief financial officer, was convicted of making false statements to U.S. tax authorities, failing to disclose offshore accounts, and failing to file tax returns, the U.S. Justice Department said.
According to court documents and evidence presented at his trial, Gyetvay from 2005-15 “concealed his ownership and control over substantial offshore assets and failed to file and pay taxes on millions of dollars of income,” the Justice Department said in a news release on March 28.
Gyetvay, who lives in Naples, Florida, worked as a certified public accountant (CPA) in the United States and Russia before becoming the chief financial officer of Novatek, a large Russian gas company.
Beginning in 2005, Gyetvay opened two accounts at a bank in Switzerland to hold assets amounting to more than $93 million, the Justice Department said.
“Over a period of several years, Gyetvay took steps to conceal his ownership and control over these funds, including removing himself from the accounts and making his then-wife, a Russian citizen, the beneficial owner of the accounts,” the department said.
Additionally, despite being a CPA, Gyetvay did not file his 2013 and 2014 U.S. tax returns and did not file documents on foreign bank accounts, as required, to disclose his control over the Swiss accounts.
As an American citizen, Gyetvay is required to pay U.S. taxes on his worldwide income, even if he spends most of the year in Russia.
At the time of his arrest in September 2021, Gyetvay called the charges “baseless” and said he had already settled them through a voluntary program. He vowed then to vigorously fight the charges.
Gyetvay was the face of Novatek to the Western investment community for more than a decade, conducting the quarterly earnings conference calls with stock and bond investors, as well as speaking at industry conferences. He now faces more than 10 years in prison at his sentencing on September 21.
Novatek is Russia’s largest independent natural gas producer and analysts say its phenomenal rise from a bit player in the early 2000s to a company that was once valued as high as $79 billion was in large part due to the company’s connections to the Kremlin.
Gennady Timchenko, a major shareholder in Novatek, is considered a close associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Their friendship goes back to the early 1990s.
"Timchenko’s activities in the energy sector have been directly linked to Putin," the United States said in a 2014 statement sanctioning Timchenko. Putin has investments in oil trader Gunvor in which Timchenko had been a major shareholder and may have access to Gunvor funds, the United States said.
Timchenko sold his stake in Gunvor shortly before the sanctions were imposed.
Germany To Send Additional 12 Billion Euros In Military Support To Ukraine
The German government has agreed to send an additional 12 billion euros ($13 billion) worth of military support to Ukraine. The Budget Committee of the German Bundestag gave the green light on March 29 for the unbudgeted expenditure. The additional funding includes 3.2 billion euros to be disbursed in 2023 and credit lines for the period between 2024 and 2032 amounting to some 8.8 billion euros. "With the money, Ukraine can directly buy armaments with the support of the German government," three politicians representing the coalition government on the committee said in a statement. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Iranian Teachers Protest Conditions Amid Reports Of Unpaid Wages
Iranian teachers have protested in several different cities around the country over wages and poor living standards as unrest over social and economic issues that has plagued Iran for almost a year continues.
Reports published on social media showed teachers gathered in front of education departments on March 28 in the cities of Tabriz, Bojnurd, Zanjan, Malayer, Ardabil, Kermanshah, and Hamedan demanding better financial conditions. The demonstrations came after a teachers' union had warned the government to meet its demands or face protests.
The rallies also came amid reports from the semiofficial Tasnim news agency that said numerous teachers across Iran had yet to receive their salaries for the previous month.
In recent years, Iranian teachers have taken to the streets across the country to demand better pay and working conditions. In response, the authorities have summoned, detained, and jailed a growing number of protesters and activists, actions that have failed to stop the rallies.
The Coordinating Council of Teachers' Syndicates said on March 19 that imprisonment, dismissal, deportation, and court sentences have failed to deter teachers from their desire to accompany the people of Iran in the direction of fundamental changes in the Islamic republic.
SPECIAL REPORT: The Protests That Shook Iran's Clerical System
The statement, published just ahead of the beginning of the Persian New Year on March 21, referred to the last year as "a year full of glory and complaints" and added that "the stance of teachers and students together will promise days full of awareness."
Unrest has rattled Iran since last summer in response to declining living standards, wage arrears, and a lack of welfare support. Labor law in Iran does not recognize the right of workers to form independent unions.
Adding to the dissent, the death in September of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in police custody for allegedly wearing a head scarf improperly breathed new life into demonstrations, which officials across the country have since tried to quell with harsh measures.
The activist HRANA news agency said that more than 500 people have been killed during the unrest, including 71 minors, as security forces try to stifle widespread dissent.
Thousands have been arrested in the clampdown, with the judiciary handing down harsh sentences -- including the death penalty -- to protesters.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
Pussy Riot Member Tolokonnikova Added To Russia's Wanted List
A member of the Pussy Riot protest group in Russia, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, has been added to the Russian Interior Ministry’s wanted list.
Tolokonnikova's name appeared on the ministry’s registry of wanted suspects on March 29. The ministry did not specify on what charges Tolokonnikova is wanted.
Media reports cited sources earlier this month as saying that a probe was launched against Tolokonnikova on a charge of "insulting believers' religious feelings."
According to the sources, the charge against Tolokonnikova stems from unspecified online posts. Rights defender Pavel Chikov said then that Moscow police had conducted a series of searches as part of its investigations.
In late December 2021, the Russian Justice Ministry added Tolokonnikova to its registry of "foreign agents." Russian authorities have used the controversial law on foreign agents to stifle dissent.
Pussy Riot came to prominence after three of its members were convicted of "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred" for a stunt in which they burst into Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral and sang a "punk prayer" against Vladimir Putin, who was prime minister at the time and campaigning for his subsequent return to the Kremlin.
Tolokonnikova and bandmate Maria Alyokhina had almost completed serving their two-year prison sentences when they were freed in December 2013 under an amnesty. The two dismissed the move as a propaganda stunt by Putin to improve his image ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics that were held in the Russian resort city of Sochi.
While in prison, Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina were recognized as political prisoners by domestic and international rights watchdogs. Amnesty International named the two activists prisoners of conscience due to "the severity of the response of the Russian authorities."
After the Pussy Riot stunt, Russian authorities adopted a law criminalizing what it called "insulting believers' religious feelings."
Russia's Wagner Chief Says Battle For Bakhmut Has Damaged His Forces
The head of Russia's Wagner mercenary group acknowledged on March 29 that fighting for the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut had inflicted severe damage on his own forces as well as the Ukrainian side. "The battle for Bakhmut today has already practically destroyed the Ukrainian Army, and unfortunately, it has also badly damaged the Wagner Private Military Company," Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin said in an audio message. British military intelligence said on March 29 that Ukrainian forces had successfully pushed the Russians back from one of the city's main supply routes. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Russian Architect Sentenced To More Than Five Years In Prison For Posting 'Fakes' About Ukraine War
A Russian court has sentenced architect Oleg Belousov to 5 1/2 years in prison for discrediting Russia's armed forces with "fake" social-media posts about the war in Ukraine and calls for extremism. The district court in St. Petersburg on March 29 also barred Belousov from administering websites for four years. Belousov, who has a medical condition, was added to Russia's list of "foreign agents" in January. He is one of dozens of Russian citizens prosecuted for criticizing Russia's ongoing unprovoked invasion of Ukraine launched in February last year. To read the original story by RFE/RL's North.Realities, click here.
Montenegro Says U.S., South Korea Requesting Extradition Of Korean Cryptocurrency Fugitive
Montenegrin Justice Minister Marko Kovac said on March 29 that both South Korea and United States are requesting the extradition of Do Kwon, the former CEO and co-founder of cryptocurrency company Terraform Labs, who is suspected in the loss of investments worth more than $40 billion.
Do Kwon and his business partner, Hon Chang-joon, were arrested in Montenegro on March 23 while trying to flee to Dubai with falsified documents, according to the Justice Ministry.
Kovac said South Korea had requested the extradition of both Do Kwon and Hon Chang-joon.
He said that United States also requested Do Kwon's extradition.
"The existence of the international warrant regarding these two persons and the submitted request for extradition creates the ground for the extradition procedure to be initiated," Kovac told a news conference in Podgorica on March 29.
He did not clarify to which of the two countries they will be extradited, adding the ministry will inform the public if any other country sends an extradition request.
"In case we receive several extradition requests, I would like to say that determining which state they will be extradited to will be based on several factors, given the severity of the criminal offense committed, the location, and the time when the criminal offense was committed, the order in which we received the request for extradition, and several other factors," Kovac said.
He added that South Korea and the United States had also requested the laptops seized from the two suspects.
On March 24, Montenegro charged the two with forgery after their arrest.
The two men were taken into custody because they are considered a flight risk, authorities said. The suspects can be detained for a maximum of 30 days, a Podgorica court said.
Do Kwon is wanted by the United States, South Korea, and Singapore for what the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) calls "orchestrating a multibillion-dollar crypto-asset securities fraud."
"We allege that Terraform and Do Kwon failed to provide the public with full, fair, and truthful disclosure as required for a host of crypto-asset securities, most notably for Luna and Terra USD," SEC Chairman Gary Gensler said in a statement in February.
Terra USD was a crypto-asset security referred to as an "algorithmic stablecoin" that supposedly maintained its peg to the U.S. dollar by being interchangeable with Luna, another of Kwon's crypto-asset securities, the SEC said.
"We also allege that [Terraform and Kwon] committed fraud by repeating false and misleading statements to build trust before causing devastating losses for investors," he added.
Many investors lost their life savings when Luna and Terra USD collapsed, falling to a value of near zero. The fallout from the collapse of Terraform Labs also affected the wider cryptocurrency market.
With reporting by AFP
Russian Prosecutor Seeks Life In Prison For School Attacker Who Killed Nine
The prosecutor of Russia's Tatarstan region, Ildus Nafikov, asked the region's Supreme Court to convict and sentence to life in prison a man who killed nine people in an attack on a school in May 2021. The 19-year-old defendant, Ilnaz Galyaviyev, pleaded guilty. Galyaviyev attacked a school in Tatarstan's capital, Kazan, with explosives and a firearm on May 11, 2021, killing four boys, three girls -- all eighth-graders -- and two teachers. A court-ordered psychiatric examination concluded earlier that Galyaviyev is mentally ill. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Idel.Realities, click here.
Gulagu.net Rights Group Stops Helping Military Personnel Opposed To War Escape Russia
The founder of the Gulagu.net human rights group, Vladimir Osechkin, announced that his organization is suspending efforts to help Russian military personnel opposed to Ukraine war leave Russia.
Osechkin, who is based in France, wrote on Telegram on March 29 that the decision was made after former Russian paratrooper Pavel Filatyev, whom Gulagu.net helped flee to France last year, confessed to knowledge of war crimes in Ukraine.
According to Osechkin, Filatyev told Swedish journalist Erik de la Reguera during an interview that he had been aware that some Ukrainians captured by his unit would later be executed.
Osechkin said that Filatyev had never told him and his group about knowing of extrajudicial killings of Ukrainians he and his fellow soldiers captured during the invasion of Ukraine.
Osechkin also said that Filatyev did not mention that element in the book he published after Gulagu.net helped him leave Russia and move to France.
"We also apologize to all who willingly or unwillingly got involved in this situation and assisted Pavel Filatyev at our request. We trusted that man and asked you to help him. We could not have imagined that this man is capable to do something like that," Osechkin wrote.
"This case and experience showed clearly that it is important to thoroughly check all testimonies and statements before deciding to assist or not assist such individuals," he said, adding that his group suspended its program on evacuating Russian military personnel to other countries.
Osechkin also wrote that he will offer his resignation as president of another rights organization, the New Dissidents Foundation, at the group's gathering next month.
"I am ready to bear responsibility for my mistakes and I want my negative experience to help others to avoid similar situations," Osechkin said on Telegram.
Since the start of Russia's full-scale aggression against Ukraine, Gulagu.net also helped Russian military servicemen Konstantin Yefremov and a former member of the Wagner mercenary group, Andrei Medvedev, leave Russia after they described what they witnessed during the invasion and openly condemned the war in Ukraine.
The Russian military has been accused of committing multiple war crimes in Ukrainian towns and cities. Russia denies the accusations despite abundant evidence to the contrary.
IAEA Chief Grossi Visits Ukraine's Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Plant
Rafael Grossi, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN's nuclear watchdog, visited the Russian-held Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant on March 29, Ukraine's state-owned nuclear company Enerhoatom reported. The visit was Grossi's second to Europe's largest nuclear power plant since the start of its occupation by Russian troops, Enerhoatom's press service said. The visit was part of efforts to avert the risk of an accident at the nuclear plant. On March 27, Grossi met with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy during a working trip to the Zaporizhzhya region. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.
Russian Rights Defender Not Allowed To Reenter Georgia
Daryana Gryaznova, a Russian rights defender who has lived in Tbilisi since May 2021, has not been allowed to reenter Georgia after she took a trip to Istanbul. Gryaznova's boyfriend said on March 28 that she was sent back to Istanbul after border guards informed her at the Tbilisi airport that she was not allowed to enter the country for unspecified reasons. The UN special rapporteur on human rights defenders, Mary Lawlor, expressed concern over the situation, demanding an explanation from the Georgian authorities. Several Russian activists and journalists have been banned from reentering Georgia in recent months. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Echo of the Caucasus, click here.
Two Men Killed In Chechnya After Allegedly Attacking Police
Two men were killed in Russia's volatile North Caucasus region of Chechnya after they attacked a police station in the city of Gudermes, late on March 28, opposition Chechen Telegram channels reported. The region's authoritarian Kremlin-backed ruler, Ramzan Kadyrov, wrote on Telegram on March 29 that "two criminals" were killed after they were located in Gudermes, refused to give up, and threw a grenade at security forces. One day earlier, the Interior Ministry in the neighboring region of Ingushetia said unidentified men had opened fire at a police station late in the night on March 27, wounding two police officers. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Caucasus.Realities, click here.
Sweden Summons Russia's Ambassador Over 'Legitimate Target' Statement
Sweden's Foreign Ministry said on March 29 it will summon Russia's Stockholm ambassador to complain about an "attempt at interference" with the Swedish NATO application process. Sweden and Finland in 2022 both sought NATO membership shortly after Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and are hoping to complete the process this year. The Russian ambassador in a statement on the embassy's website said joining NATO made the Nordic countries "a legitimate target for Russian retaliatory measures, including those of a military nature." A Swedish Foreign Ministry spokesperson told Reuters the ambassador would be summoned. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Siberian Journalist Goes On Trial For Article Related To Ukraine War
The editor in chief of the Novy fokus (New Focus) online newspaper in the Siberian region of Khakasia, Mikhail Afanasyev, went on trial on March 29 charged with discrediting Russia's armed forces. Afanasyev was arrested in April 2022 after his newspaper reported about the refusal of local riot police officers to participate in Russia's ongoing invasion of Ukraine. Afanasyev was the first foreign recipient of the Swedish Magazine Publishers Association Award and was twice awarded with the Andrei Sakharov prize. If convicted, he may face up to 10 years in prison. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Siberia.Realities, click here.
Hungary Says 'Grievances' Hold Up Ratification Of Sweden's NATO Accession
Hungary is holding up Sweden's admission to NATO because of grievances over its criticism of Prime Minister Viktor Orban's policies, the Hungarian government spokesman said March 29. Bridging the gap will require effort on both sides, Zoltan Kovacs said. Sweden and Finland asked to join NATO last year following Russia's invasion of Ukraine. But the process has been held up by Hungary and Turkey. Swedish representatives "have been repeatedly keen to bash Hungary through diplomatic means, using their political influence to harm Hungarian interests", Kovacs said, referring to Swedish criticism over the erosion of the rule of law by Orban's government. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Azerbaijani PM Known For Criticism Of Iran Wounded In 'Terrorist Attack'
Azerbaijan's State Security Service (DTX) said on March 29 that lawmaker Fazil Mustafa was hospitalized with gunshot wounds to his shoulder and leg the previous evening after an unknown assailant opened fire at him near his home. DTX called the attack "a terrorist act," adding that Mustafa's life was not in danger. Mustafa is the only representative in parliament of the Boyuk Qurulus (Great Creativeness) party loyal to the government. Investigations into the attack are under way, DTX said. Mustafa is a sharp critic of neighboring Iran's policies toward Azerbaijan. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service, click here.
Hungary's Foreign Minister Holds Energy Talks With Russian Deputy PM
Hungary's foreign minister held telephone talks with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Novak about gas and oil shipments and nuclear cooperation, the Hungarian minister said late on March 28. In a statement, Peter Szijjarto said Novak reassured him that despite international sanctions, the Russian party would be able to do maintenance work on the Turkstream pipeline. "Hungary's gas supply will continue without any disruptions," the statement added. Under a 15-year deal signed in 2021, Hungary receives 4.5 billion cubic meters of gas per year from Russia mostly via Bulgaria and Serbia on the Turkstream pipeline. To read the full story by Reuters, click here.
Pakistan Says It Will Skip U.S. Democracy Summit
Pakistan announced on March 28 that it will not participate in this week's U.S.-led Summit for Democracy. The Biden administration has invited 120 global leaders to the summit being held in Washington on March 29-30. It will be co-hosted by the governments of Costa Rica, the Netherlands, South Korea, and Zambia. Pakistan's Foreign Ministry in a statement thanked the United States and its co-hosts for the invitation and said Pakistan would engage with the United States and co-hosts of the summit "to promote and strengthen democratic principles."
French Parliament Recognizes Ukrainian Famine As Genocide
The French parliament has voted to recognize as genocide the starvation of millions in Ukraine in the 1930s under Soviet leader Josef Stalin.
French deputies adopted the resolution on March 28 as the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine revives memories of the famine known in Ukraine as the Holodomor.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky hailed the decision on Twitter, thanking French legislators.
"The totalitarian regime of the Kremlin, past or present, could not destroy and will never destroy truth and justice!" he said.
Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba also thanked the French lawmakers.
"I am grateful to France for recognizing the 1932-33 Holodomor as a genocide of Ukrainians and for honoring the memory of the victims of Stalin and his regime," he said on Twitter.
"With this historic vote, [the French parliament] made it clear that such crimes will never be forgotten and must never be repeated."
Kyiv has urged the international community to declare the mass starvation a genocide.
The European Parliament did so in December and called on Russia, as the legal successor of the Soviet Union, to do the same and apologize. It also called on "all countries and international organizations" that have not yet recognized the Holodomor as genocide to do so.
The Ukrainian government and many scholars regard the Holodomor -- Ukrainian for "death by hunger" -- as an act of genocide by Stalin's regime.
The famine took place in 1932-33 as Stalin's police forced peasants in Ukraine to join collective farms by requisitioning their grain and other foodstuffs.
Historians say the failure to properly harvest crops in Ukraine in 1932 under Soviet mismanagement was the main cause of the famine.
It is estimated that up to 9 million people died as a result of executions, deportation, and starvation during the campaign.
Moscow has long denied any systematic effort to target Ukrainians, arguing a poor harvest at the time wiped out many in other parts of the Soviet Union.
The text adopted in Paris recognizes "the genocidal nature of the forced and planned famine by the Soviet authorities against the Ukrainian population in 1932 and 1933."
The French parliament condemned those acts and "affirms its support for the Ukrainian people in their aspiration to have the mass crimes committed against them by the Soviet regime recognized."
With reporting by AFP
Zelenskiy Says Ukraine Can't Afford To Lose The Battle For Bakhmut, Urges More 'Decisive' International Action
Ukrainian defenders repelled more waves of Russian assaults on Bakhmut, the military said on March 29, as President Volodymyr Zelenskiy warned that Kyiv cannot afford to lose the battle for the city in the Donetsk region that has become the focal point of Russia's protracted offensive in the east.
"The enemy continued its assault on the city of Bakhmut," the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said in its daily report. "However, our defenders have been courageously holding on to the city, repelling numerous enemy attacks," it said.
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Bakhmut, along with Avdiyivka, Mariynka, and Lyman, remain the main targets of Russia's relentless shelling, the Ukrainian military said, adding that a total of 57 enemy attacks were repelled over the past 24 hours in the area.
Russian troops also carried out 18 air strikes and three missile strikes, as well as 50 rocket salvoes along the whole front line over the previous day, the military said.
The information could not be independently verified.
Farther south, Russian forces kept shelling the Kherson region, the head of the regional military administration Oleksandr Prokudin said.
"Over the past day, the enemy has shelled the region 34 times -- three times the city of Kherson itself," Prokudin said on Telegram, adding that one person was wounded.
Residential buildings, a hospital, and a factory were among the Russian targets, Prokudin said.
In the eastern Kharkiv region, one man was killed and another was wounded by massive Russian shelling, local police reported.
Rafael Grossi, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN's nuclear watchdog, visited the Russian-held Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant on March 29, Ukraine's state-owned company Enerhoatom reported.
The visit was Grossi's second to Europe's largest nuclear power plant since the start of its occupation by Russian troops, Enerhoatom's press service said.
The visit was part of efforts to avert the risk of an accident at the nuclear plant. On March 27, Grossi met with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy during a working trip to the Zaporizhzhya region.
Meanwhile, Zelenskiy reaffirmed that Ukraine must hold on to Bakhmut at all costs, warning that a win by Russia there would be used by President Vladimir Putin as a stepping stone in garnering international support for a peace agreement that would force Ukraine to accept painful compromises.
Putin would "sell this victory to the West, to his society, to China, to Iran," Zelenskiy told the Associated Press in an interview published on March 29.
"If he will feel some blood -- smell that we are weak -- he will push, push, push," Zelenskiy said.
Ukrainian military commanders have said their own counteroffensive is not far off but in the meantime they seek to maintain control of Bakhmut.
The Ukrainian military announced on March 28 that it has recently received long-promised Western equipment, including German Leopard 2 tanks.
On March 28, Zelenskiy said in his evening video address that the world must act with more urgency to put a stop to Russia's aggression.
He said he believed the "Russian aggression can end much faster" than some have said. It will end faster "if the world is faster, if the world is more decisive," Zelenskiy said.
With reporting by Reuters and AFP
U.S. To Withhold Some Nuclear Data From Russia After Moscow's Treaty Suspension
The United States has told Russia it will withhold some data on its nuclear forces in response to Moscow's suspension of participation in the New START nuclear arms treaty. While Russia has not formally withdrawn from the treaty, which limits the two sides' deployed strategic nuclear arsenals, Russia's suspension, announced on February 21, imperils the arms control treaty. A White House spokesperson said that under international law the United States has the right to respond to Russia's breaches of the treaty "by taking proportionate and reversible countermeasures in order to induce Russia to return to compliance with its obligations." To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Iranian Activist Alinejad Says International Support Vital For Both Iran And West
Prominent activist Masih Alinejad says the West's continued support for Iranians is vital both for achieving regime change in Iran and reaching the goals Western nations have in their relationship with Tehran.
Speaking in an interview with RFE/RL's Radio Farda, Alinejad said she has tried to persuade leaders such as Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte that the months of unrest that have roiled Iran are an actual revolution that will ultimately lead to the toppling of the Islamic republic's government.
Alinejad said Iranians aren't looking for the West to replace the Islamic regime with democracy, but their support is key to the democratic aspirations of the Iranian people.
"This strategy also holds significant benefits for Western populations in the future. For example, Western governments have dedicated decades to securing a nuclear agreement with the Islamic republic, yet the Islamic republic has covertly advanced its nuclear activities," she added.
"To achieve an Iran without nuclear weapons, the West should assist the Iranian people in achieving an Iran without the Islamic republic."
Amid the unrest, Iranian opposition leaders and activists have begun to discuss the shape of Iran in the future.
In one recent discussion, a group of exiled opposition activists and celebrities met at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. to discuss the future of Iran's pro-democracy movement. The group pleaded for unity and an end to infighting to help replace Iran's theocratic system with a secular democracy.
Alinejad, who is a member of the newly formed Alliance for Democracy and Freedom in Iran, announced that the alliance's representatives will soon meet with members of the Canadian Parliament as well.
The group also includes the exiled former crown prince of Iran, Reza Pahlavi, the spokesman for the Association of Families of Flight PS752 Victims, Hamed Esmaeilion, and rights activist Nazanin Boniadi.
Alinejad spoke to Radio Farda amid nationwide protests in Iran sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini on September 16. The 22-year-old died while in custody after being arrested by the notorious "morality police" for allegedly improperly wearing a mandatory Islamic head scarf, or hijab.
Her death, which officials blamed on a heart attack, touched off a wave of anti-government protests in cities across the country. The authorities have responded to the unrest with a harsh crackdown that rights groups say has killed more than 500 people, including 71 children.
Officials, who have blamed the West for the demonstrations, have vowed to crack down even harder on protesters, with the judiciary leading the way after the unrest entered a fourth month.
The protests pose the biggest threat to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution.
Several thousand people have been arrested, including many protesters, as well as journalists, lawyers, activists, digital rights defenders, and others.
Anti-government protests over poor living conditions, low wages, and a lack of freedoms have also been taking place.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
IOC To Decide Russian, Belarusian Participation In Paris Olympics 'At Appropriate Time'
The executive board of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on March 28 recommended allowing Russian and Belarusian athletes to take part in international competitions as neutral athletes, but said it will make a decision "at the appropriate time" on whether to allow them to compete at next year's Paris Olympics.
The executive board issued six recommendations in a statement after a meeting at IOC headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, saying that while they do not concern the participation of athletes from Russia and Belarus in the 2024 Paris Olympics, their implementation will be monitored.
"The IOC will take this decision at the appropriate time, at its full discretion," the IOC statement said.
Despite the ongoing war in Ukraine, the board said during nearly four months of consultations, it was clear that the "vast majority" of Olympic Movement stakeholders “want a pathway to be opened for the competitions under their sole authority," but they also requested recommendations should they decide to admit athletes from Russia or Belarus.
The executive board on March 28 said following this request, it issued six recommendations, saying that while they do not concern the participation of athletes from Russia and Belarus in the 2024 Paris Olympics, their implementation will be monitored.
The recommendations include allowing Russians and Belarusians to compete as individual neutral athletes and bars teams from the two countries. The board also recommended barring athletes who actively support the war and athletes who are "contracted to the Russian or Belarusian military."
The monitoring of the implementation of the recommendations "will be an important factor in the decision by the IOC concerning the participation of athletes with a Russian or Belarusian passport in the Olympic Games Paris 2024 and the Olympic Winter Games Milano Cortina 2026,” the executive board said.
IOC President Thomas Bach said after the meeting that the executive board wants to monitor the implementation of the recommendations "as long as possible...to be enabled to take an informed decision."
The board, he said, did not consider it appropriate to give a timeline, adding, "no one knows what's happening tomorrow or in nine months."
Poland slammed the IOC action, while Russia's Olympic Committee said the recommendations were unacceptable.
"What positive things has Russia done for their athletes to now take part in competitions!! After Bucha, Irpin, Hostomel!! After the daily bombings of civilian sites!! It's a day of shame for the IOC!!" Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Piotr Wawrzyk said on Twitter.
Stanislav Pozdnyakov, the head of Russia's Olympic Committee, was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying the IOC action is "discrimination on the basis of nationality."
Bach defended plans to allow Russian and Belarusian athletes back into competitions as neutrals, telling the board in his address at the start of the meeting that the method is employed "in a number of sports, most prominently in tennis but also in cycling," but also in ice hockey, handball, and soccer.
He said the method "works," adding, there been no "security incidents."
The IOC sanctioned Russia and Belarus after Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, and the executive board on March 28 reiterated its condemnation of the invasion.
Bach's support for allowing athletes from Russia and Belarus to compete as neutrals and thereby have a chance to qualify for the Paris 2024 Olympics has faced opposition, particularly from Ukraine, which has threatened to boycott the Paris Olympics should Russian and Belarusians be allowed to compete, even as neutrals.
More than 300 fencers on March 28 wrote to Bach to ask the IOC to reconsider allowing them back, calling it a "catastrophic error" should Russia and Belarus return.
"You have chosen Russian and Belarusian interests over the rights of athletes, notably Ukrainian athletes, and by doing so, you are failing to support the very people your organizations are meant to support," the letter said.
Bach said politics could not be a part of sports competitions, and the board said "the Olympic Games cannot prevent wars and conflicts. Nor can they address all the political and social challenges in our world. This is the realm of politics."
With reporting by Reuters and AFP
Montenegro's President: EU's Neglect Gave Russia A Platform
Montenegro's pro-Western president criticized the European Union for allegedly allowing Russia to spread its influence in the Western Balkans, saying the volatile region has become a "platform" for anti-EU policies due to the bloc's "negligence." President Milo Djukanovic spoke to the Associated Press as he prepares for an April 2 runoff election with a political newcomer who has the support of the Montenegrin government, which includes parties seeking closer relations with Serbia and Russia. "Russia has simply walked into an open space left by the European Union," Djukanovic said of the EU's position toward the Balkans. To read the original story by AP, click here.
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