Obama Removes McChrystal From Top Afghan Command Post
WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama has removed General Stanley McChrystal from his position as the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan and named the head of U.S. Central Command, General David Petraeus, to replace him.
"Today I accepted General Stanley McChrystal's resignation as commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan," Obama said June 23 at the White House. "I did so with considerable regret but also with certainty that it is the right thing for our mission in Afghanistan, for our military, and for our country."
The decision to replace McChrystal was made following the publication of a magazine article in which he made derisive comments about several top administration officials, including Vice President Joe Biden.
In the "Rolling Stone" magazine article, McChrystal and his top aides are quoted calling national security adviser James Jones "a clown," characterizing Obama as "unprepared" for a strategy meeting, mocking Biden, and criticizing U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry.
Obama said his decision was not made out of "any sense of personal insult," or policy disagreement with McChrystal. "This is a personnel decision, not a policy decision," he said.
Indeed, McChrystal released his own statement reaffirming his "strong support" for Obama's strategy in Afghanistan.
But the president did fault McChrystal for eroding the trust within the nation's military and security leadership team.
"The conduct represented in the recently published article does not meet the standard that should be set by a commanding general. It undermines the civilian control of the military that is at the core of our democratic system and it erodes the trust that's necessary for our team to work together to achieve our objectives in Afghanistan," Obama said.
Consensus On Firing
Disagreement to the president's decision was hard to find in the halls of Congress and Washington think tanks.
At a hastily-called press conference, Senator John McCain (Republican-Arizona) appeared with fellow members of the Senate Armed Services Committee to praise the move and Obama's choice to replace McChrystal.
"We applaud the decision of the president of the United States to ask General Petraeus to serve again in defense of our nation," McCain said. "We think there's no one more qualified, or a more outstanding leader than General Petraeus, to achieve a successful conclusion of the Afghan conflict."
McCain, who opposes Obama's decision to set a date to begin troop withdrawals from Afghanistan, took the opportunity to raise a question he has many times before: whether next summer's scheduled troop drawdown is "etched in stone" or would be "conditions based," now that a new general is leading the effort.
"I am convinced that we can succeed in Afghanistan with the leadership and the talent of the young men and women who are serving, but we have to send the message that we will do whatever is necessary in order to achieve success," he said. "And if that means a longer period of time, or even an increase in troops, as necessary, that those actions will not be precluded in consideration of the facts on the ground at the time."
Along with McCain, Senator Joseph Lieberman (Independent-Connecticut) praised McChrystal's years of loyal military service but said his "unfortunate and inappropriate comments" had put Obama in a hard spot. "The president today stepped up and dealt with it directly and strongly and made the right decision in accepting General McChrystal's offer of resignation," he said.
Lindsey Graham (Republican-South Carolina) said it was "a sad day" because "a good man's ... career is probably over, but the president of the United States, our commander in chief, had no other choice, in my view."
He added, "I've been a military officer most of my adult life and there's lines you can't cross. Those lines were crossed. And it was poor judgment, but it was beyond poor judgment. It made it, I think, virtually impossible for the general to stay in his job, and as commander in chief, President Obama did the right thing today by accepting his resignation."
No Strategy Change
As decision day in Washington dawned, the country's second most widely-read newspaper, "USA Today," carried an editorial by Brookings Institute scholar and national security expert Michael O'Hanlon, with the headline, "Don't Fire McChrystal."
Hours after Obama made his announcement, O'Hanlon told RFE/RL that he had changed his mind.
"I was a person who was calling for a second chance for General McChrystal and yet, I can't, in any way disagree with President Obama's reasoning," O'Hanlon said. "Fundamentally, he has every right to feel completely comfortable with his commanding general, the offenses were indeed rather serious, even if one could quibble about whether they were quite as bad as some people alleged, they were certainly significant, and I certainly cannot imagine choosing a better successor [than] General Petraeus."
O'Hanlon said he expects no significant changes in U.S. strategy under Petraeus' leadership, short of "ongoing recalibrations because the situation is constantly changing."
Nor does Steven Clemons, director of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation. Obama's choice of Petraeus, he believes, was a signal that the president "won't give an inch to either side" in the policy debate over how much longer the U.S. military should stay in Afghanistan.
"He's saying with this decision, 'We're going to stay on course. We're not going to review those basic benchmarks of the strategy at this point' -- down the road that may happen -- but they're certainly not going to allow this appointment to do that," Clemons said.
Clemons said he felt McChrystal deserved to be removed because of what he described as "the toxic culture" the general had created among his staff.
As to why the general chose to share with a reporter his private opinions of White House leadership in the first place, Clemons said it was puzzling, since among all of Obama's national security team members, 'the one who had the monopoly of resources and who really did have the complete trust of the president, was Stanley McChrystal."
"This was a self-inflicted thing that he did to himself," he said.
Russian Court Rejects Navalny's Appeal Against His 19-Year Prison Term
A Russian court has rejected Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny’s appeal against a decision to imprison him on extremism charges for almost two decades.
On August 4, judges of the Moscow City Court convicted Navalny on extremism charges and sentenced him to 19 years in prison, ruling that his previously handed prison sentences will be served concurrently in Russia's harshest prison regime. Navalny, his allies, rights groups, and Western governments say all charges are politically motivated.
The first appeals court in Moscow upheld the sentence on September 26 at a hearing held behind closed doors. Only the reading of the verdict was public. Navalny, who has accused the Kremlin of seeking to keep him behind bars for life and to keep Russians from voicing dissent, participated in the proceedings via video link.
Navalny's team reacted to the court's decision on X, formerly known as Twitter, criticizing the secrecy of the trial and saying the decision would not silence Navalny or his team.
"After a shameful verdict for completely legal political activity, they closed the hearing on appeal. Arguing why a shameful sentence is not at all shameful is also much more comfortable behind closed doors," Navalny's team said.
Navalny's team also they would continue their work despite the decision to uphold the verdict against Navalny and co-defendant Daniel Kholodny, former technical director of Navalny Live.
"We continue to fight the regime that has turned the judiciary into this. We continue to work on Aleksei Navalny's projects and continue to tell the whole world about him."
The charges against Navalny are widely seen as retribution for his efforts to expose what he describes as the pervasive lawlessness, corruption, and repression by Putin and his political system.
Navalny was Russia's loudest opposition voice over the last decade and galvanized huge anti-government rallies before he was jailed.
The 47-year-old threatened the Kremlin by establishing a network of political offices across the country and a corruption watchdog that brought credible graft allegations against political elites.
He was jailed in 2021 after arriving in Moscow from Germany, where he had been recovering from a poisoning attack he blamed on the Kremlin.
The ruling last month came a year and a half into Russia's invasion in Ukraine, which brought with it an unprecedented crackdown on dissenting voices.
Navalny has repeatedly spoken out against the military campaign.
Navalny, who has complained of a series of health complications -- and undertook a weekslong hunger strike -- is being held in the IK-6 penal colony, 250 kilometers east of Moscow.
Allies say his health has deteriorated in recent months, during which he has been in and out of solitary confinement. Ahead of the appeal, prison authorities placed Navalny in an detention cell for the 20th time, his team said.
In August the court also ruled to send Navalny to a “special regime” colony, a maximum-security facility reserved for dangerous criminals that will cut him off from the outside world.
The “special regime” prison is a system in which inmates stay in cells either alone, in pairs, or in fours. The cells have additional metal bars on windows and doors, nonstop lighting, and video surveillance. Inmates can request one or two hours of walking outside in specially fenced cubes where there is no direct sunlight.
Special regime inmates are not allowed to communicate with friends or relatives and can have no visits in the first 10 years of their sentences.
With reporting by AFP
Resist Russian Disinformation As Elections Loom, EU Minister Tells Big Tech
European Commission Vice President Vera Jourova has urged Google, Microsoft, Meta, and TikTok to do more to tackle what she called Russia's "multimillion-euro weapon of mass manipulation" ahead of elections in Europe. Jourova on September 26 also singled out X, formerly known as Twitter, saying it had the largest ratio of fake news posts compared with those on the larger platforms. "The Russian state has engaged in the war of ideas to pollute our information space with half-truth and lies to create a false image that democracy is no better than autocracy," Jourova said. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Five Bulgarians Charged With Spying For Russia Remanded In Custody By London Court
Five Bulgarian nationals charged in the U.K. with spying for Russia appeared in a London court on September 26 and were remanded in custody until their next hearing in mid-October.
Orlin Roussev, 45, Bizer Dzhambazov, 41, Katrin Ivanova, 31, Ivan Stoyanov, 31, and Vanya Gaberova, 29, appeared at the Westminster Magistrates' Court in London by video from four different prisons where they are being held.
They spoke only to confirm their names and dates of birth, and did not enter pleas of apply for bail. All five were remanded in custody until their next appearance at the Central Criminal Court on October 13.
The three men and two women are accused of conspiring “to collect information intended to be directly or indirectly useful to an enemy for a purpose prejudicial to the safety and interest of the state” between August 2020 and February 2023.
Prosecutor Kathryn Selby told the Westminster Magistrates Court the suspects are thought to have been part of an organized network that carried out surveillance and hostile action on behalf of Russia against specific targets. Their surveillance activities are alleged to have been for the purpose of assisting Russia to conduct hostile action against the targets, including potential abductions.
Much of the activity took place abroad, but coordination took place in the Unite Kingdom, the prosecution said.
Selby said the “operating hub in this country [the U.K.] for the offense of espionage” was the residence of Roussev. His home address was a now-closed seaside guesthouse in Great Yarmouth.
Roussev is alleged to have organized and managed the cell's spying operations from the United Kingdom.
The prosecution said Roussev received tasking from abroad by Jan Marsalek.
Marsalek, an Austrian national who is not charged in connection with the case, was the former chief operating officer of German payment systems provider Wirecard, which collapsed in 2020 in a fraud scandal. Marsalek, who is considered a key figure in that scandal, has been on the run since the summer of 2020. His whereabouts remain unclear.
The suspects are accused of conspiring to collect information with Marsalek and “others unknown.”
The five Bulgarian nationals, who lived in London and Norfolk, were arrested in February by the Metropolitan Police's counterterrorism officers under the Official Secrets Act.
Roussev, Dzhambazov, and Ivanova were charged in February with having false identity documents, but news about them did not emerge until August. The three are accused of possessing 34 ID documents, some of which were suspected to be false, from the United Kingdom, Bulgaria, France, Italy, Spain, Croatia, Slovenia, Greece, and the Czech Republic.
Bulgarian prosecutors said in August that they were investigating the case, without adding further details.
The United Kingdom has been seeking to take tougher action on external security threats and potential spies, and in July passed a national security law aiming at overhauling its means of deterring espionage and foreign interference with new tools and criminal provisions.
At the time, the government labeled Russia as “the most acute threat” to its security.
With reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters
Central European Countries Urge EU To Check Ukraine Grain 'Solidarity Corridors'
Four Central European countries urged the EU on September 26 to thoroughly inspect the so-called "solidarity corridors" through which Ukrainian grain passes on its way to third countries. Agricultural ministry officials from the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia said part of the transported grain stays in countries such as Poland, and harms local farmers as it is much cheaper than local grain. Czech Agriculture Minister Marek Vyborny said that, to prevent grain leaks during transport, the EU could introduce refundable deposits for dealers. Ukrainian Agriculture Minister Mykola Solsky joined the meeting via a video link.
Chechen Strongman Releases Video Of Teenage Son Beating Alleged Koran Burner
Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov has released а video showing his teenage son, Adam, assaulting a man accused of burning a Koran, an assault that the Kremlin declined to condemn.
The beating, which Kadyrov praises, is the latest piece of evidence underscoring Kadyrov’s impunity as the head of Chechnya, and the Kremlin’s willingness to ignore it.
The alleged Koran burning earlier this year sparked outrage within Chechnya, Right activists have questioned why prosecutors transferred jurisdiction in the case to Chechnya.
“He beat him properly,” Kadyrov says in the 7-second video published on his Telegram channel September 25. “
I’m proud of Adam’s actions.”
To read the original story by Caucasus.Realities, click here.
Kazakh Court Rules Publishing Book Violates Sentence Of Opposition Politician
Zhanbolat Mamai, the leader of the unregistered Democratic Party of Kazakhstan, has been banned from publishing a book he wrote by the Bostandyk District Court of Almaty. Mamai's wife, activist Inga Imanbay, wrote in a Facebook post that the judge -- who was asked for a clarification of the terms of the suspended six-year prison term he was handed in April on charges of organizing mass unrest, spreading false information, and insulting a government representative -- ruled that the book violated the sentence as it was a "a public political activity." To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, click here.
Resist Russian Disinformation as Elections Loom, EU Tells Big Tech
European Commission Vice President Vera Jourova urged Alphabet's Google, Microsoft, Meta Platforms and TikTok on September 26 to do more to tackle what she called Russia's "multimillion euro weapon of mass manipulation" ahead of elections in Europe. Concerns have mounted in recent months about a spate of disinformation related to parliamentary elections in Slovakia on September 30 and Poland next month as well as European Parliament elections next year. The companies and other online platforms have submitted data on their activity in the last six months to fight fake news as part of the EU code of practice on disinformation. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Video Released By Kosovo Allegedly Shows Ethnic Serb Politician Participating In Monastery Attack
Kosovar authorities have released a video they said implicates a top ethnic Serb businessman in an attack on an Orthodox monastery that left four people dead, including a police officer.
In a statement accompanying the video published on Facebook, Interior Minister Xhelal Svecla said that among the heavily armed men shown in the video was Milan Radoicic, a construction tycoon who is also a top official of the main ethnic Serb political party in Kosovo, Serbian List, funded mainly by Belgrade.
It wasn’t immediately possible to verify Radoicic’s identity in the video, which Svecla said was shot on September 24, apparently by drone.
Radoicic was hit with sanctions by the United States and Britain in 2021 for allegedly being part of an organized crime group in the Balkans.
In the September 24 attack, around 30 people dressed in military-like uniforms stormed the Serbian Orthodox complex in Banjska, sparking a gunbattle with Kosovar police.
Three attackers were killed, along with a Kosovar police officer. Kosovo’s prime minister, Albin Kurti, declared a day of mourning for the slain officer.
The attack, and the murkiness of its circumstances -- no group has come forward to claim responsibility -- comes as tensions continue to mount in the ethnic-Serb-dominated district of Kosovo.
Serbia does not recognize Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence, and squabbling and conflicts erupt frequently over things like license plate registrations and municipal elections.
Some observers speculated the attack might have been a false-flag operation, aimed at generating outrage in Serbia.
Veton Elshani, a top regional police official, told RFE/RL that access to Banjska will continue to be blocked until at least 9:00 a.m. local time on September 27. Elshani said searches conducted on September 26 resulted in the arrest of eight people.
Among those arrested, four had radio communications equipment, police said, and a “significant amount” of weapons, ammunition, and other equipment was also found.
Serbian List, the main political party representing Serbs in Kosovo, on September 27 declared a three-day mourning period to mark the "killing of our fellow citizens in the tragic events in the Banjska village."
At least six of the suspected attackers who escaped are now in Serbia receiving treatment at a hospital there, Svecla told reporters, and he demanded Serbia hand them over to Kosovar authorities.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has denied that Belgrade was involved in the incident.
He also repeated that Serbia would “never” recognize Kosovo’s independence, "neither formally nor informally.”
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on both Kosovo and Serbia to avoid worsening tensions.
"We call on the governments of Kosovo and Serbia to refrain from any actions or rhetoric which could further inflame tensions and to immediately work in coordination with international partners to de-escalate the situation,” Blinken said in a statement.
Western officials are mediating talks between Serbia and Kosovo as part of a decade-long diplomatic push toward formalized relations and repairing some of the wounds from internecine wars in the 1990s after the breakup of Yugoslavia.
In May and June, Kurti ignored outside warnings and tried to forcibly install four mayors in mostly Serbian northern municipalities following boycotted by-elections to fill posts vacated by protesting Serbs.
The resulting tensions erupted in violence that injured dozens of NATO-led peacekeepers and some ethnic Serb protesters.
With reporting by AFP
Ukrainian Captain Gets 5 1/2 Year Sentence For Deadly Budapest Boat Accident
A Ukrainian captain of a cruise liner was sentenced to five and a half years in prison in Hungary for his role in a 2019 accident in which his boat hit and sank a smaller boat on the River Danube, killing 25 South Korean tourists and two crew. In the worst disaster on the Danube in more than half a century, the smaller boat called the Mermaid, which had 35 people on board, sank after being hit under a bridge in Budapest during heavy rain. The Mermaid's captain and a crew member also died and one Korean is still unaccounted for. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Polish Experts Confirm Missile That Hit Grain Facility Was Ukrainian
Polish experts have confirmed that a missile which killed two people at a grain facility in November was fired by Ukraine, the Rzeczpospolita daily reported, citing sources. The explosion of the missile in NATO-member Poland fueled fears that the war in Ukraine could spiral into a wider conflict by triggering the alliance's mutual defense clause, but at the time Warsaw and NATO said that they believed that it was a Ukrainian projectile that had strayed off course. Sources with knowledge of the investigation told Rzeczpospolita that Poland had established that the missile that landed in the village of Przewodow was an S 300 5-W-55 air-defense missile. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Armenia Says 28,000 Arrive From Nagorno-Karabakh, Reports 125 Deaths In Explosion
More than 28,000 people have arrived in Armenia from Nagorno-Karabakh, the government in Yerevan said on September 26 amid a massive exodus that followed an Azerbaijani offensive that gave Baku complete control of the mountainous region.
The Armenian government said that as of 8 p.m. local time the number of people who had entered was 28,120, and registration had already been completed for 20,800 of them. The government is providing housing for all who do not have a place to go.
The Armenian Health Ministry, meanwhile, said the number of deaths from an explosion that occurred on September 25 at a gas station near the enclave's capital, Stapanakert, had risen to 125.
Nagorno-Karabakh authorities said earlier on September 26 that at least 20 people were killed and nearly 300 others injured in the explosion, which occurred as people seeking to flee to Armenia lined up to fuel their cars in order to leave the region.
The cause of the blast has not been determined.
Azerbaijan opened the only road leading from the region to Armenia on September 24, four days after a cease-fire agreement that ended a lightning military operation.
Baku has pledged equal treatment for mainly ethnic Armenian residents who are fleeing, but the Armenian government has warned of possible “ethnic cleansing.”
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev that he must protect civilians in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Blinken spoke by phone with Aliyev to underscore “the urgency of no further hostilities” and to state that there be “unconditional protections and freedom of movement for civilians,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters.
Blinken also told Aliyev that there must be unhindered humanitarian access to Nagorno-Karabakh.
Samantha Power, the top official at the U.S. Agency for International Development, said Baku's use of force was unacceptable, and she called on Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev to protect ethnic Armenians’ rights.
She said it was "absolutely critical" that independent monitors and aid organizations be given access to people in Nagorno-Karabakh, and she later announced a $11.5-million package of humanitarian aid for Armenia.
In Brussels, envoys from Baku and Yerevan met with European Council diplomats in the first such encounter since Azerbaijan's recapture of Nagorno-Karabakh following a nine-month blockade of the region that Armenian officials said had deprived the enclave's residents of food, medicine, and other essentials.
The EU stressed in a statement the need for transparency and access for international humanitarian and human rights groups and for more detail on Baku’s vision for Karabakh Armenians’ future in Azerbaijan.
During the meeting Hikmet Hajiyev, a foreign policy adviser to Aliyev, outlined Azerbaijan’s plans to provide humanitarian assistance and security to the local population.
The meeting also discussed a possible meeting of Nagorno-Karabakh stakeholders on October 5 in Granada.
"The participants took note of the shared interest of Armenia and Azerbaijan to make use of the possible meeting in Granada to continue their normalization efforts," the statement said.
Armenian representative Armen Grigorian and Hajiyev "engaged in talks on possible concrete steps to advance the Armenia-Azerbaijan peace process in the upcoming possible meeting, such as those with regard to border delimitation, security, connectivity, humanitarian issues, and the broader peace treaty," the statement said.
The statement added that the EU believes that the meeting should be used by both Yerevan and Baku to reiterate publicly their commitment to each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty in line with previous agreements.
Armenia and Azerbaijan have fought two wars in the last three decades over the region, which had been a majority ethnic Armenian enclave within the internationally recognized border of Azerbaijan since the Soviet collapse.
The region initially came under the control of ethnic Armenian forces, backed by the Armenian military, in separatist fighting that ended in 1994. During a war in 2020, however, Azerbaijan took back parts of Nagorno-Karabakh along with surrounding territory that Armenian forces had claimed during the earlier conflict.
That fighting ended with a Russia-brokered cease-fire and the deployment of Russian peacekeepers. Those peacekeepers did little, however, to prevent the advances by Azerbaijani forces.
With reporting by RFE/RL’s Armenian and Azerbaijani services, AP, AFP, The New York Times, and Reuters
Siberian Anti-War Feminist Activist Found Dead In Turkey
Anastasia Yemelyanova, a noted anti-war feminist activist from the Siberian city of Novosibirsk, has been found dead in the eastern Turkish city of Erzurum, her friend Anastasia Polozkova said late on September 24. According to Polozkova, Turkish police detained Yemelyanova's boyfriend from Syria, Nizar, as a suspect. Yemelyanova, who recently moved to Turkey, went missing on September 20. She was known for her activities that defended women's rights and looked to stop domestic violence. She also protested against Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Siberia.Realities, click here.
Zelenskiy Vows More Ukrainian Action Against Russia After Strike On Black Sea Fleet
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy vowed new Ukrainian action against Russia following a missile strike last week against Russia’s Black Sea Fleet headquarters that Kyiv said killed nearly three dozen officers, including its top commander.
"We clearly see which directions of pressure on Russia need to be strengthened to prevent [its] terrorist capabilities from growing," Zelenskiy said in his nightly video address on September 26.
He also said that an analysis of Russia's military industry shows that pressure on Moscow should be increased.
"We can clearly see which areas of pressure on Russia should be strengthened so that terrorist possibilities do not increase," he said. "Sanctions are not enough."
The Ukrainian military said earlier that 20 combat clashes took place on September 26 along the front line amid air strikes in the Donetsk region and fighting in the area around Bakhmut.
An air strike hit near the key village of Klishchiyivka in the Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine, during the day, the General Staff said in its evening report.
Ukrainian forces appeared earlier this month to have recaptured Klishchiyivka as part of their drive to liberate the symbolic eastern town of Bakhmut. The Ukrainian military said on September 26 that its forces were "firmly on the defensive" in the area around the embattled city.
In addition, Ukrainian troops "successfully repelled" Russian attacks to the southeast of the settlement of Severny and enemy attacks in the Maryinka area, both in the Donetsk region, the General Staff said.
The Prosecutor-General's Office reported Russian military shelling in the Kharkiv region, saying that according to preliminary information, a 64-year-old civilian was injured and hospitalized. In addition, residential buildings, commercial buildings, and a car were damaged, the Prosecutor-General’s Office said.
Ukraine's military claimed earlier on September 26 that nearly three dozen officers with Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, including its top commander, were killed in a missile attack on the fleet headquarters last week.
Ukraine's claim about its strike against the Russian Black Sea Fleet could not be immediately confirmed, and Russia released markedly lower casualty figures from the September 22 attack on the Crimea port of Sevastopol.
But the strike itself on the naval headquarters was the latest in a series of increasingly audacious attacks by Ukrainian forces on Russian ships and Black Sea facilities -- attacks that Western experts say may have drastically curtailed Russia’s naval operations in the region.
In a statement issued on September 25, Ukraine’s special operations forces cited “new information about the losses of the enemy as a result of the special operation,” claiming that 34 officers, including the fleet commander, were killed when cruise missiles -- believed to be either British or French -- hit the Sevastopol building. At least 105 others were wounded, it said.
IN PHOTOS: Kyiv has said that its use of heavy weapons supplied by the West is inflicting a significant toll on Russian forces near Bakhmut. RFE/RL cannot independently verify battlefield claims made by either side.
The Ukrainian statement did not name the naval commander in its statement. The current top officer in the Black Sea Fleet is Admiral Viktor Sokolov.
Asked by reporters on September 26 about the Ukrainian claim, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he had no comment. And a video released later by state news agency RIA Novosti showed a meeting of top Russian military officials, and RIA said Sokolov was in attendance.
The September 22 attack, which was caught on bystanders’ video and satellite imagery, came on the heels of a missile strike nine days earlier that hit Sevastopol’s main naval shipyard. Two ships -- a landing vessel and a diesel submarine -- that were undergoing repairs in a dry dock facility were believed to be severely damaged, if not destroyed. The dry dock facility may have also been damaged, which would limit Russia’s ability to maintain and repair its naval ships.
Russia has stepped up its aerial bombardments of Ukrainian sites, targeting in particular Ukraine's grain-exporting infrastructure in the southern Odesa and Mykolayiv regions. Ukraine has resumed exporting grain despite Russia’s pulling out of a United Nations-brokered deal allowing safe grain shipments in July.
An overnight air strike on another port facility in Izmayil injured two people and damaged infrastructure, the region’s governor said in a post to Telegram on September 26. Ukraine’s military reported shooting down 26 of 38 Iranian-made attack drones it said were launched by Russia.
Russian air defenses shot down a drone on September 26 as it approached the city of Belgorod, regional Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said. There were no casualties or damage, according to preliminary information, he said on Telegram.
With reporting by Current Time, AFP, TASS, and Reuters
Mass Casualties Feared In Powerful Explosion At Nagorno-Karabakh Fuel Depot
A powerful explosion on September 25 is feared to have resulted in mass casualties at a fuel warehouse near the Stepanakert-Askeran Highway in the mostly ethnic-Armenian breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, which Azerbaijan is in the process of taking full control of after a lightening military offensive. Separatist authorities in the region said many burn victims have been taken to hospitals for treatment. Details remain scarce in the incident. Rescue teams are at the site, officials said. To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Armenian Service, click here.
Russian Black Sea Fleet Commander Killed In Sevastopol Attack, Kyiv Says
Ukraine's military on September 25 said the commander of Russia's Black Sea Fleet was killed along with 33 other naval officers in Ukraine's September 22 attack on the fleet headquarters in Russian-annexed Crimea city of Sevastopol. The statement didn't mention the commander's name, but Admiral Viktor Sokolov was appointed to the post in August 2022. It said more than 100 were injured. Russian authorities gave vastly lower casualty figures and said one person had gone missing after the attack. Some 62 Russian naval personnel were killed in a September 13 attack on a Sevastopol shipyard that also damaged a submarine and a landing craft carrier, Kyiv said. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.
Russia Calls Pashinian's Criticism Of Moscow Over Situation In Nagorno-Karabakh 'Unacceptable'
Russia’s Foreign Ministry on September 25 slammed remarks by Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian that were critical of Moscow, saying they "include unacceptable outbursts addressed against Russia and can spark nothing but rejection" and calling them a "big mistake."
Pashinian had said in a televised address that Yerevan's involvement in "the external security systems" -- referring to Armenia’s membership in the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) -- "are not effective" for Armenia's interests.
Pashinian and many Armenians blame Russia -- which traditionally has served as Armenia's protector in the region -- for failing to use its peacekeeping force to protect ethnic Armenians in Azerbaijan’s mostly Armenian-populated breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh.
"Multiple cases of terror against the Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh, illegal blocking of the Lachin Corridor, and Azerbaijan's September 19 attack against Nagorno-Karabakh have raised serious questions about goals and motives of the Russian Federation’s peacekeeping contingent in Nagorno-Karabakh," Pashinian said.
He warned that Baku and Russian peacekeepers will be fully responsible if "ethnic cleansing" follows Baku's final victory over the separatist forces in the breakaway region.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry in a statement rejected Pashinian’s remarks, calling them "an attempt to evade responsibility for failures in domestic and foreign policies" and blaming Armenian leadership of "steps to give Armenia's development a new, Western direction."
"The leadership in Yerevan is making a big mistake by deliberately trying to destroy Armenia's multifaceted and centuries-old ties with Russia, and by holding the country hostage to the geopolitical games of the West," the ministry said.
The statement also said all allegations that ongoing protests in Yerevan demanding Pashinian's resignation have links to Russia "have nothing to do with the reality."
Yerevan said on September 25 that more than 6,000 ethnic Armenians had left Nagorno-Karabakh for Armenia after Baku asserted control over the region last week following what Baku called "anti-terrorist measures of local character."
The military operation was halted on September 20 after Nagorno-Karabakh's separatist leadership accepted a cease-fire proposal by the Russian peacekeeping mission.
Pakistani Journalist Imran Riaz Khan Released From Captivity, Reunited With Family
Pakistani journalist Imran Riaz Khan has been freed after four months of captivity and was reunited with his family, friend and fellow journalist Hamid Mir said on September 25, confirming earlier police reports. It remains unclear who had abducted Khan. Critics say security agencies had held Khan, who had publicly supported jailed former Prime Minister Imran Khan (no relation). Riaz Khan was arrested at an airport in Punjab Province in May as he tried to leave Pakistan. Police say he was later released, but relatives said they were unable to find him and feared he had been abducted. Journalists are often targeted by Pakistan's security services, according to the international Committee to Protect Journalists. To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Radio Azadi, click here.
Pakistani Ex-PM Imran Khan Moved To Prison With Better Facilities, Lawyer Says
Pakistan's former prime minister, Imran Khan, was moved to a prison with better facilities near the national capital, Islamabad, after a court order, his lawyer said on September 25. His legal team and party had been pleading with several courts to issue orders for Khan to be shifted to Adyala Jail in garrison city of Rawalpindi, which they argued was more appropriate for a former premier. Khan has been detained in a low-key, colonial era prison in northwestern Attock district, that lacked facilities. The former premier has been in jail since August after being convicted on corruption charges. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Russia Adds President Of ICC To Wanted List
The Russian Interior Ministry added the president of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Piotr Hofmanski, to its wanted list for unspecified reasons on September 25. Earlier this year, the ministry added ICC judges Tomoko Akane and Rosario Salvatore Aitala, as well as ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan, after they issued arrest warrants in March for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russia's children's commissioner, Maria Lvova-Belova, for being responsible for the deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia since Moscow launched its invasion -- a war crime under international legislation. Russia retaliated by opening criminal cases against the ICC officials. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.
Belarusian Freelance Journalist, Wife Handed Prison Terms On Extremism Charges
A court in the city of Vitsebsk in Belarus's northeast has sentenced freelance video-journalist Vyachaslau Lazarau and his wife, Tatsyana Pytsko, to five years and three years in prison, respectively, on extremism charges as authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka continues to clamp down on independent media and free speech.
Judge Yauhen Burunou of the Vitsebsk regional court pronounced the sentences on September 25 after finding Lazarau and Pytsko guilty of cooperating with an extremist group. The charges against the couple stemmed from their cooperation with the Poland-based Belsat television channel that was labeled as extremist and banned in the country in November 2021.
Lazarau and his wife were arrested in February. Belarusian human rights organizations have recognized the couple as political prisoners.
Also on September 25, the Minsk-based Vyasna (Spring) human rights group said a court in the western city of Brest handed 20-year-old activist Vadzim Smaleuski a two-year parole-like sentence after finding him guilty of insulting Lukashenka in an online post.
In a separate statement, Vyasna said it learned that a court in the western city of Baranavichy has sentenced activist Svyatlana Bakanava, 36, to one year in prison after finding her guilty of insulting Lukashenka on the Internet.
Many journalists, rights activists, and representatives of democratic institutions have been jailed in Belarus since the August 2020 presidential election that opposition politicians, ordinary Belarusians, and Western governments said was rigged.
Thousands have been detained during countrywide protests over the results and there have been credible reports of torture and ill-treatment by security forces. Several people have died during the crackdown.
Lukashenka has refused to negotiate with the opposition and many of its leaders have been arrested or forced to leave the country.
The United States, the European Union, and several other countries have refused to acknowledge Lukashenka as the winner of the vote and imposed several rounds of sanctions on him and his regime, citing election fraud and the crackdown.
Former Russian Economy Minister Yevgeny Yasin Dies At 89
A leading ideologue of economic reforms during Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's reforms in the late 1980s, former Russian Economy Minister Yevgeny Yasin died at the age of 89 in Moscow on September 25. Ukraine-born Yasin was an economy professor at Moscow State University before he was asked to lead a unit at the state commission on economic reforms at the Soviet government in 1989. In 1991, he joined the Scientific Industrial Union, which after the collapse of the Soviet Union turned into the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs. Yasin served as Russia's economy minister in 1994-97. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.
Satellite Imagery Points To Uptick In Activity At Russian Arctic Nuclear Testing Site
Russia has significantly increased construction at a remote Arctic island location where Soviet nuclear tests were conducted, new satellite imagery shows, suggesting Moscow may be intending to resume tests.
Annotated images obtained by the Middlebury Institute for International Studies and shared with RFE/RL showed a number of new facilities and construction equipment on Novaya Zemlya, an island archipelago located in the northern Barents Sea.
The images were released as part of a report examining the uptick in construction at nuclear test sites not only in Russia, but also in the United States and China. Details of the report were published earlier by CNN.
A comparison of imagery taken in July 2021 and in June 2023, showed large trucks, shipping containers, construction cranes, and building supplies at a settlement in Novaya Zemlya called Severny, according to the analysis by the Middlebury Institute, located in Monterey, California.
The activity appears to be aimed at least two new buildings, including what will be the location's largest.
Such a pace of construction at the site has not been seen "since the end of nuclear testing in the 1990s," the institute said, and may indicate Russia plans to expand personnel there or operate it year-round.
The archipelago was used by the Soviets for years of Cold War nuclear testing, including the detonation of the most powerful device ever constructed, the Tsar Bomba, in 1961. A 2004 research paper estimated 224 nuclear detonations on the islands until 1990, when Moscow conducted its last.
Russia and the United States later announced a moratorium on all nuclear tests, and both signed the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban. However, the treaty has not come into effect, since the minimum number of countries required to ratify it has not been reached. Russia ratified the treaty in 2000; the United States has yet to do so.
Novaya Zemlya has been the focus of new, heightened attention from analysts and open-source researchers in recent years, in particular after a 2019 incident in the White Sea, where, according to U.S. officials, a nuclear-powered missile called the Burevestnik exploded accidentally, spewing radiation over long distances, including a nearby Russian city.
In the months after the blast, satellite imagery and other data -- including warnings issued to airlines about airspace closure in the Barents Sea -- suggested Russia might be seeking to move testing of the Burevestnik missile to another location on Novaya Zemlya, a site called Pankovo.
Within the past month, meanwhile, other researchers have detected new activity at the suspected Pankovo test site, along with airspace and maritime warnings. Open-source researchers Bellingcat released a new image of the site dated September 20.
Hints that Russia might be preparing to resume nuclear testing come as other nuclear powers, including the United States and China, have also signaled intentions, overtly or covertly, to do the same.
In 2019, under the administration of then-President Donald Trump, some U.S. officials reportedly pushed to resume full testing. The official U.S. policy statement on the subject -- the Nuclear Posture Review -- ultimately stated that the United States would not seek to ratify the test-ban treaty, and it would "remain ready to resume nuclear testing if necessary to meet severe technological or geopolitical challenges."
Middlebury researchers contrasted the imagery at Novaya Zemlya with imagery from a U.S. test site in Nevada, where, they said, U.S. officials have conducted mining operations to add more than 1,000 square feet of underground laboratory space. That could be an indication the United States intends to conduct new subcritical nuclear experiments -- tests that are allowed under the test-ban treaty.
China has also expanded construction in recent years at Lop Nor, a known nuclear testing site in the western Xinjiang Province, Middlebury researchers found.
"A resumption of nuclear explosive testing by the three big nuclear powers would allow all three to resume development of new nuclear weapons and accelerate the arms race among the three," they said.
Bulgaria's GERB Nominates Journalist Anton Hekimyan As Sofia Mayor Candidate
Bulgaria's center-right GERB party on September 25 nominated journalist and political novice Anton Hekimyan as its candidate for a mayoral election in the capital, Sofia, next month that pits two factions in the country's governing coalition against each other.
Speculation has been mounting in recent months over who would be tabbed as GERB’s candidate for Sofia mayor, after the current mayor -- GERB’s Yordanka Fandakova -- said she would not run for another term in the October 29 elections.
GERB leader and former Prime Minister Boyko Borisov had refused to announce the name of the candidate, saying only that the decision would be “nonstandard.”
GERB has dominated the political scene in Sofia since 2005, when Borisov was elected mayor. But the party now faces a stiff challenge from entrepreneur Vassil Terziev, nominated by the parties We Continue The Change, Democratic Bulgaria, and Save Sofia.
GERB, We Continue The Change, and Democratic Bulgaria all support the current government in Bulgaria, without having signed a formal coalition agreement.
The surprise nomination of Hekimyan, who was head of the news division of the leading Bulgarian broadcaster bTV before quitting just two days ago, also has sparked questions about the party’s possible interference in editorial decisions during the time he was head of the outlet’s News, Current Affairs, and Sports division.
But the 39-year-old media personality said the question of whether he subordinated bTV’s editorial policy to GERB was “insulting.”
“Even as a question, it's insulting. Throughout my journey, I have stood firmly behind the principles of journalism,” Hekimyan said.
bTV said in a statement that it was taking the situation "very seriously,” and would ensure measures are implemented to “protect its name and reputation” during the upcoming election campaign.
bTV is a leading broadcaster in Bulgaria, owned by PPF Group, the company of Czech businessman Petr Kellner, who died in 2021.
Hekimyan was appointed head of bTV’s news division in December 2020, months after PPF Group acquired the outlet. Earlier, he had worked as TV host and reporter for bTV.
When he left his post two days before announcing he would be running for mayor of Sofia, Hekyiman said he would continue in a “different professional direction” but gave no further details.
On September 25, he said he met with Borisov last week when he received the invitation to run for mayor on the GERB ticket.
“I have received assurances that I will be able to make my own decisions. We have discussed a team, strategy, people with whom we will work together to make Sofia look even better,” he said.
Russian Theater Director Found Dead In Leningrad Region
The director of the Tovstonogov Bolshoi Drama Theater in Russia's second-largest city, St. Petersburg, has been found dead in a suburb, local media reports said on September 25. Aleksandr Nikanorov went missing on September 21. Police and volunteers have searched for him since then. The 40-year-old Nikanorov's colleagues said earlier that he left home without his phone and ID documents. Several reports said earlier that a suicide note had been found in his apartment, but that has yet to be officially confirmed. To read the original story by RFE/RL's North.Realities, click here.
Russian Animal Shelter Where Dozens Of Dead Dogs Found Investigated
Police in Russia's southwestern Astrakhan region have started a new investigation accusing a shelter of animal cruelty after dozens of mutilated dead dogs were found near and in the facility last year. In February, police launched a probe into alleged financial fraud by the shelter's owners after some 60 dogs were found dead and mutilated in December but registered as alive in the shelter's documents. The shelter, owned by the wife of former Astrakhan municipal lawmaker Andrei Nevlyudov, has received significant amounts of money from the city to catch stray dogs and provide them with medical assistance. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Idel.Realities click here.
'Chaos, Screams, And Explosions': Ukrainian Forces Make Modest But Important Gains In Grueling Counteroffensive2
After Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine, Bulgaria Is Rapidly Trying To Modernize Its Armed Forces3
Karabakh Separatists Say They Are Implementing Withdrawal Deal As Aid Arrives Through Lachin4
U.S. Condemns Attack In Kosovo's North As Country Observes Day Of Mourning5
Ukrainian Crews Put Hundreds Of Captured Russian Tanks Into Action6
Heavy Metal: The Radioactive Ammunition Headed For Ukraine7
Ukrainian Military Claims Russian Navy Commanders Killed In Sevastopol Attack8
Ukraine Hails Arrival Of First U.S. Abrams Tanks As Occupation Officials Claim Missile Attack On Sevastopol Repelled9
Russian-Installed Leader Of Crimea Denies Strikes Hit Power Plants10
Live Briefing: Russia Invades Ukraine