Obama Defends Plan To Close Guantanamo, Transfer Prisoners
Obama spoke at the National Archives building in Washington, D.C., one day after the Senate overwhelmingly rejected his request for funds to close the detention center and blocked his plan to transfer some of the most dangerous detainees to high security prisons within the United States.
The building houses some of the nation’s most revered documents of democracy -- including the Declaration of Independence, U.S. Constitution, and the Bill of Rights -- and Obama vowed that his policies would always reflect the fundamental values of “freedom, fairness, equality, and dignity” that they embody.
"We have been the nation that has shut down torture chambers and replaced tyranny with the rule of law. That is who we are," Obama said. "And where terrorists offer only the injustice of disorder and destruction, America must demonstrate that our values and our institutions are more resilient than a hateful ideology."
He characterized the policies of harsh interrogation and illegal detentions of his predecessor, George W. Bush, as “hasty decisions” that were “based on fear rather than foresight.”
That lack of foresight was evident in the Bush administration’s decision to open Guantanamo Bay in the first place, Obama said, which now presents his administration with a tangled legal mess that has prompted heated responses from across the political spectrum.
"We are cleaning up something that is, quite simply, a mess -- a misguided experiment that has left in its wake a flood of legal challenges that my administration is forced to deal with on a constant, almost daily basis and that consumes the time of government officials whose time should be spent on better protecting our country," he said.
Human rights groups are angry that Obama has decided to revive, albeit with significant reforms, the Bush-era military commissions system, and both Republicans and Democrats are upset that he has proposed transferring some 80 of the most dangerous detainees to high security “supermax” prisons in the United States. The U.S. Senate on May 20 also denied Obama's request for $80 million to close Guantanamo.
In his speech, Obama assured his critics that he would never release anyone that poses a danger to the American people and said his administration is conducting a painstaking review of each case of the 240 detainees left at the camp to determine the appropriate legal solutions to each.
Those remaining will fall into one of five categories, he said -- eligible for open trial in U.S. courts; suitable only for trial by secret military commission; cleared for release; cleared for transfer to a foreign country; and finally, those who can’t be prosecuted but also cannot be released.
Obama called this last category “the toughest issue” and said it included prisoners who have expressed allegiance to Osama bin Laden "or otherwise made it clear they want to kill Americans."
He argued that transferring this small group of prisoners to federal supermax prisons -- which already hold hundreds of convicted terrorists and have never had an escapee -- would not endanger national security. But he acknowledged that there are no easy solutions.
“Now, let me be blunt. There are no neat or easy answers here. I wish there were," Obama said. "But I can tell you that the wrong answer is to pretend like this problem will go away if we maintain an unsustainable status quo. As president, I refuse to allow this problem to fester. I refuse to pass it on to somebody else. It is my responsibility to solve the problem. Our security interests will not permit us to delay. Our courts won’t allow it. And neither should our conscience.”
Obama said he knew that dealing with Congress on the issue of Guantanamo detainees “will be difficult,” but promised that his administration would work with legislators to come up with an acceptable solution.
But he warned against the “politicization” of the issue, and delivered something akin to a preemptive strike to former Vice President Dick Cheney, who has been scathingly critical of Obama’s security policies and delivered the equivalent of a rebuttal speech elsewhere in Washington just moments after the president finished speaking.
"And we will be ill-served by some of the fear-mongering that emerges whenever we discuss this issue," Obama said. "Listening to the recent debate, I’ve heard words that, frankly, are calculated to scare people rather than educate them, words that have more to do with politics than protecting our country."
Cheney has been the most outspoken critic of Obama’s decision to end the brutal interrogation technique known as waterboarding, which the former vice president says was an effective means of getting prisoners to talk. Obama ended the practice as soon as he took office, and in his speech hit back at those who argue for its reinstatement, saying, “As commander in chief, I see the intelligence, I bear responsibility for keeping this country safe, and I categorically reject the assertion that these are the most effective means of interrogation."
"What’s more, [brutal interrogation methods] undermine the rule of law. They alienate us in the world. They serve as a recruitment tool for terrorists and increase the will of our enemies to fight us, while decreasing the will of others to work with America," Obama said. "They risk the lives of our troops by making it less likely that others will surrender to them in battle, and more likely that Americans will be mistreated if they are captured."
Throughout his speech, Obama returned repeatedly to the theme that American values must be upheld as the nation redrafts its wartime policies. Around the world, he said, people are right now plotting how to kill Americans -- and conceivably will still be doing so 10 years from now.
But the terrorists can succeed, Obama said, only if they manage to separate America from her allies -- something they won’t be able to do if the United States stays true to its values. “Not only because doing so is right,” he said, “but because it strengthens our country and keeps us safe.”
Australian Open Chief Tells Djokovic's Family To 'Be Really Careful'
Australian Open chief Craig Tiley on January 28 advised tennis ace Novak Djokovic's family to be "really careful" of people using the tournament's global exposure as a platform for "disruptive" purposes. It follows a video posted on the Internet showing Djokovic's father, Srdjan, posing in Melbourne with a fan holding a Russian flag featuring Vladimir Putin's face. It sparked a backlash from Ukraine, which is battling Russia's full-scale invasion. "My advice is that you have to be really careful because, if this is an event of global significance, it's a platform," Tiley said he told them. To read the original article by AFP, click here.
Ukraine To Summon Hungarian Envoy Over 'Unacceptable' Remarks By Orban
The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry will summon Hungary's ambassador to complain about "completely unacceptable" remarks Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban made about Ukraine, Kyiv said on January 27. Hungary has repeatedly criticized EU sanctions on Russia. Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleh Nikolenko, writing on Facebook, said Orban had told reporters that Ukraine was a no-man's-land and compared it to Afghanistan. "The Hungarian ambassador will be summoned to the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry for a frank discussion. We reserve the right to take other measures in response," Nikolenko said. To read the original article by Reuters, click here.
Fierce Battles Rage In Ukraine's East As Zelenskiy Calls The Situation 'Extremely Acute'
Ukrainian forces were engaged in fierce fighting with Russian troops in several hot spots in the east, where Moscow has been pressing with increasing urgency amid Western pledges of modern tank deliveries for Kyiv.
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the frontline situation was "extremely acute," especially in the Donetsk region, where he said major battles were under way for Vuhledar, to the southwest of Donetsk's regional capital, and Bakhmut, to the northeast, a town that has been virtually razed by repeated Russian artillery bombardments.
Zelenskiy, in his nightly video address on January 27, said the intensity of the fighting showed that Ukraine urgently needs more weapons to fight off the growing Russian pressure.
The General Staff of Ukraine's Armed Forces said in its daily report early on January 28 that Russian troops continued to press on with a multipronged offensive in the eastern Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.
"The enemy continues to conduct offensive actions in the Bakhmut, Avdiyivka, and Novopavlyivka directions," the General Staff said.
"In the Kupyansk, Lyman, Zaporizhzhya, and Kherson directions, the enemy is on the defensive," it said.
Ukrainian military spokesman Serhiy Cherevatiy told local media that "there is fierce combat" in Vuhledar.
"For many months, the military of the Russian Federation...has been trying to achieve significant success there," he said.
Vuhledar, a town with a preinvasion population of around 15,000 people, has strategic significance as a communications node in southern Donetsk.
The secretary of Ukraine's Security Council, Oleksiy Danilov, told RFE/RL that Moscow was preparing for a new offensive on February 24, the first anniversary of the Russian invasion.
"Now they are preparing for maximum activation...and they believe that by the anniversary they should have some achievements," Danilov said. "There is no secret that they are preparing for a new wave by February 24, as they themselves say."
WATCH: Ukrainian combat medic Oksana Lebedenko lost contact with her 11-year-old daughter Yeva after Russian forces occupied her hometown of Vovchansk in Ukraine's Kharkiv region. Lebedenko later discovered that her pro-Russian brother had taken her daughter to Russia without permission. After nearly a year apart, volunteers helped reunite the mother and daughter in Kyiv in December.
Ukraine's Western allies continue to pledge military equipment and aid to shore up Kyiv's defenses.
U.S. national-security spokesman John Kirby said Washington anticipates an “intense period of fighting” in the coming months," adding that there is "no sign" of the war stopping.
Zelenskiy said on January 27 that Ukraine needs up to 500 tanks.
"We need 300 or 500 tanks now. We need tanks to protect our territory, our land. We need armored vehicles to protect our people, that's all," Zelenskiy said in an interview with Sky News.
So far, a total of 321 heavy tanks have been promised to Ukraine by several countries, Ukraine's ambassador to France, Vadym Omelchenko, said on BFM television on January 27.
Poland announced on January 27 that it will send an additional 60 tanks to Ukraine to strengthen its defenses. It comes on top of media reports that NATO members will donate around 100 German-manufactured Leopard 2 tanks.
Separately, the United States and Britain have promised to contribute 31 M1 Abrams and 14 Challenger 2 tanks, respectively.
Ukraine has also asked for U.S. F16 fighter jets. Kirby said Washington was aware of Ukraine's request but added, "We don't have any additional weapons systems to speak to today."
Meanwhile, the European Union on January 27 extended its economic sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine for another six months, as EU justice ministers vowed to seek swift accountability for the "horrific" crimes in Ukraine.
The Kremlin has reacted with fury to the latest gestures of Western solidarity with Ukraine and said it saw the promised delivery of advanced tanks as evidence of escalating "direct involvement" of the United States and NATO in Russia's war of aggression, something both deny.
The British Defense Ministry said in its daily intelligence bulletin on January 28 that Russia likely lost some 300 troops in a Ukrainian strike on a troop accommodation facility in Makiyivka on January 1. The ministry estimated that the majority of the casualties were killed or missing rather than wounded.
Russia had claimed that 89 troops were killed in the attack.
"The difference between the number of casualties Russia acknowledged and the likely true total highlights the pervasive presence of disinformation in Russian public announcements," the British intelligence report concluded.
It added that Russia took the rare step of acknowledging that it had suffered casualties because "officials likely assessed that it was not viable to avoid comment in the face of widespread criticism of Russian commanders over the incident."
In a separate development, Ukraine said it would summon Hungary's ambassador to complain about "completely unacceptable" remarks Prime Minister Viktor Orban made about Ukraine, Kyiv said on January 27.
Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleh Nykolenko said Orban had told the media that Ukraine was a no-man's-land and compared it to Afghanistan.
With reporting by Reuters and AFP
Kurti Resisting Western Proposal Even Though It Could Cost Kosovo Critical Support
PRISTINA -- Prime Minister Albin Kurti has remained defiant over a Western proposal for improving relations with Serbia even as he says it could cost Kosovo critical support.
In an interview with RFE/RL on January 27 in Pristina, Kurti again rejected a request to create an association of Kosovo municipalities with an ethnic Serbian majority, a step the West says is necessary to resolve tensions between the two Balkan neighbors.
Kurti said the association should not be based on ethnicity.
Kosovo and Serbia agreed in 2013 to the creation of an Association of Serbian Municipalities when they signed the Western-backed Brussels Agreement. However, Pristina has failed to implement it.
Gabriel Escobar, the U.S. special envoy for the Western Balkans, told RFE/RL last month during a visit to region that the creation of the association was a priority for the United States, the biggest backer of Kosovo.
Escobar’s visit came amid protests by ethnic Serbs in Kosovo that have accerbated already tense relations between the two countries.
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 following a bloody war in the 1990s. While most European countries and the United States have recognized Kosovo as an independent state, Serbia has refused to do so, preventing both from potentially joining the bloc.
The United States and the European Union have been trying to reconcile the two countries, opening the door to joining Western organizations.
The EU last summer submitted its plan for normalizing relations to Pristina and Belgrade. According to a copy of the document seen by RFE/RL, the proposal calls for equal rights for Kosovo and Serbia, respect for territorial integrity, inviolability of borders, recognition of state symbols, and a special arrangement for the Serbian community in Kosovo.
It does not, however, mention mutual recognition. The creation of the association is not part of the EU plan.
In his interview with RFE/RL, Kurti said that the plan "does not contain everything Kosovo would want."
"It is not even called a final deal and I believe that it rightly isn't [called so] because discussions are needed. It is a common platform for discussions. It is not a final version of the 'take it or leave it kind,'" he said.
Kurti said that the West had alluded to downgrading its support for Kosovo if it does not back the plan and the association proposal. Kosovo is dependent on Western financial and technical aid.
However, he said he was not concerned about a weakening of Western support.
"We are very constructive on top of being very determined and creative," Kurti said.
Dialogue between Kosovo's and Serbia's leaders has intensified in the months since the EU submitted its plan.
Last week in Pristina, Kurti met with several Western emissaries led by Miroslav Lajcak, the EU special representative for the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue.
Lajcak said his group expected a "better understanding" from Kurti on the opportunities the proposal offers.
Separately, the U.S. Embassy in Kosovo will host a meeting expected to take place on January 31 to discuss the association proposal.
During the interview, Kurti said that he had not received an invitation to the meeting but added that he is interested in continuing talks in hope of reaching tangible results by March of this year.
Serb Who Joined Russian-Backed Forces In Ukraine Has Jail Sentence Overturned
A Serbian court has overturned the one-year prison sentence handed down to a citizen who fought for Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine in 2015.
The Court of Appeal in Belgrade let Vlado Stanic go free after lowering his conviction to a suspended sentence, according to his lawyer.
The decision was made on December 13, 2022, but Stanic's lawyer only received the official decision yesterday.
Stanic was arrested at Belgrade's airport on July 15, 2022, and charged with joining the Russian-backed Hussar Regiment paramilitary formation.
According to reports, Stanic checked passengers and vehicles entering and leaving Snezno, a town in Russian-controlled eastern Ukraine. He allegedly wore the official uniform of the Luhansk and Donetsk separatists.
Stanic was among 300 Serbian citizens who participated on the side of the Kremlin-backed forces from 2014 through 2018, according to estimates of the Embassy of Ukraine in Serbia.
Serbia has historically had close ties with Russia.
Serbia's Criminal Code forbids citizens from participating in foreign wars. The act is punishable with a prison sentence of six months to five years.
The penalty is higher -- from one to eight years --for participating in a war as part of a paramilitary group.
Stanic was sentenced in September to one year in prison by an extrajudicial verdict after pleading guilty. His lawyer, Katarina Nikic, immediately filed an appeal.
Serbia has convicted 32 citizens for participating in the war but the sentences handed down have been mild.
In 28 cases, the court sentenced the defendants to a suspended prison sentence, while four people were sentenced to house arrest for six months.
One of those sentenced to house arrest was a man who helped recruit fighters. According to the Criminal Code, the punishment for recruiting fighters is from two to 10 years.
The lenient punishments have had consequences. Several Serbian citizens convicted of fighting in Ukraine violated their probation and returned to the front.
Russia Summons Latvian Charge d'Affaires Over Riga's Move To Downgrade Diplomatic Ties
Russia's Foreign Ministry said on January 27 it summoned Latvia's Charge d'Affaires Dacija Rutka to express protest over Riga's move to downgrade diplomatic relations with Moscow, expressed days earlier. The ministry requested outgoing Latvian Ambassador Maris Riekstins to leave Russia in two weeks. On January 23, Latvia and Estonia told their ambassadors to leave Moscow after Russia downgraded diplomatic relations with Estonia, accusing it of "total Russophobia." The two Baltic states have been among the strongest backers of Ukraine since Russia launched its unprovoked invasion in February 2022.
Ukraine Bans Officials' Trips Abroad Except In 'Exceptional' Cases
Ukraine's government has approved a resolution banning officials from traveling abroad. Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said on January 27 that lawmakers, government members, local officials, prosecutors, judges, and other officials can travel abroad only on business trips, for medical reasons, or to take care of minors. "No travel [abroad] to have a rest," Shmyhal wrote on Telegram. A day earlier, lawmaker Mykola Tyshchenko was expelled from the ruling Servant of the People party for being in Thailand without parliament's knowledge. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.
Ukraine Needs $17 Billion In Additional Financing For Energy Repairs, PM Says
Ukraine will need an additional $17 billion in financing this year for energy repairs, demining, and to rebuild infrastructure, Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said on January 27. He told a government meeting that five high-voltage substations in the central, southern, and southwestern regions were hit during Russia's air attacks on January 26. The energy sector has been severely damaged following four months of Russian missile and drones attacks. Shmyhal said the government hosted a meeting with Western partners this week to coordinate financial support in a transparent and efficient way. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Iranians Use End Of 40-Day Mourning Period To Protest Against Government
Iranians continue to gather at the graves of those who have been killed by security forces in ongoing nationwide protests that have rocked the country since the death of a woman in police custody, calling for regime change despite a brutal crackdown on dissent by the authorities.
Since Mahsa Amini's death, Iranians have flooded into the streets across the country to protest against a lack of rights, with women and schoolgirls making unprecedented shows of support in the biggest threat to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution.
In response, the authorities have launched a brutal crackdown on dissent, detaining thousands and handing down stiff sentences, including the death penalty, to protesters.
In recent weeks, protesters have turned the end of the traditional 40-day mourning period following a protester's death into a stage for anti-government demonstrations.
Videos published on social media on January 26 showed crowds at the grave of Hamidreza Rouhi, a university student who had a modeling career since childhood and was shot dead during a demonstration in the Iranian capital, Tehran, on November 18.
They chanted "Death to the dictator!," a reference to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as they gathered to honor Rouhi.
In the western city of Khorramabad, people flocked to the cemetery where Nika Shakrami -- a 16-year-old killed after participating in anti-government protests in Tehran on September 20 -- was buried.
Similar scenes were repeated in the central city of Arak, where Mehrshad Shahidinejad was buried. Shahidinejad was a 19-year-old aspiring chef who was reportedly killed after being arrested during a protest.
Reports also indicate that a group of people and family members of Mohammad Mehdi Karami visited a cemetery in the city of Eshtehard to lay flowers at the graves of Karami and another protester, Mohammad Hosseini.
The were hanged in prison on January 7 following threats by Iranian authorities of harsher penalties to those who participate in the unrest.
The activist HRANA news agency said that as of January 15, at least 522 people had been killed during the unrest, including 70 minors, as security forces muzzle dissent.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
Two Iranian Professors Dismissed After Supporting Student Protests
Two Iranian university professors have been fired from their jobs following their support of students in nationwide protests over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in police custody.
The Hakim Sabzevari University Students Union Council announced on January 26 that Hassan Bagherinia, a member of the psychology faculty, had been suspended.
In a letter to the president of the university, the council described Bagherinia's suspension as unfair and said that "in these days when the truth is clouded, he has not remained silent and has always supported the people."
Meanwhile, the Union Council of Iranian Students announced that Amir Nikpey, a professor of sociology and anthropology at Beheshti University, had also been dismissed.
According to the council, Nikpey is the fourth professor to be fired from Beheshti University after Negar Zilabi from the faculty of theology, Mohammad Ragheb from the faculty of literature, and Eslam Nazemi from the faculty of computer engineering.
Anger over Amini's death on September 16 has prompted thousands of Iranians to take to the streets to demand more freedoms and women's rights.
Numerous protests have been held at universities, particularly in Tehran, where many students have refused to attend class. Protesting students have chanted "woman, life, freedom" and "death to the dictator" at the rallies. Some female students have removed and burned their head scarves.
In most of the protests, students have asked the professors to support them, and some university professors and lecturers have expressed solidarity with the protesters.
In a rare act of protest, Encieh Erfani resigned from her post at the Institute of Advanced Studies in Basic Sciences, which is located in the northwestern city of Zanjan.
"Student protesters were chanting, 'the streets are soaked with blood, our professors are silent,'" she told RFE/RL's Radio Farda. "So I submitted my resignation."
Universities and students have long been at the forefront of the struggle for greater social and political freedoms in Iran. In 1999, students protested the closure of a reformist daily, prompting a brutal raid on the dorms of Tehran University that left one student dead.
Over the years, the authorities have arrested student activists and leaders, sentencing them to prison and banning them from studying.
The activist HRANA news agency said that as of January 26 at least 700 university students had been arrested during the recent unrest.
Many have faced sentences such as imprisonment, flogging, and dozens of students have been expelled from universities or suspended from their studies, as security forces try to stifle widespread dissent.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
Kazakh Teenage Girl Beats Russia's Noted Chess Grandmaster Karyakin
An 18-year-old female Kazakh chess player has beaten Russian grandmaster Sergei Karyakin at the Chess Stars International Tournament in Moscow.
Bibisara Asaubaeva, the first Muslim woman in history to become women's World Blitz chess champion twice, defeated Karyakin in the tournament's rapid format on January 26.
Asaubaeva, who currently holds the titles of international master and woman grandmaster, is competing for the tournament's prize pool of $216,247.
The blitz competitions are next up and will be held on January 28-30.
Karyakin commended Asaubaeva's performance, calling her a "world champion who plays very well."
Last year, the International Chess Federation (FIDE) disqualified Karyakin for six months for publicly supporting Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.
The 33-year-old Karyakin has supported Russia's invasion of Ukraine since it started on February 24, 2022, which has been harshly criticized by many in the chess world.
Karyakin, who was born in Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula that was illegally annexed by Russia eight years ago, represented Ukraine until 2009.
With reporting by Kazinform and KazTAG
EU Prolongs Economic Sanctions Over Russia's War In Ukraine Until July 31
The Council of the European Union on January 27 extended sanctions targeting specific sectors of Russia's economy by six months, until July 31. The sanctions, first introduced in 2014, were significantly expanded since the start of Moscow's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the council said in a statement. They include restrictions on trade, finance, technology, industry, transport, and luxury goods; a ban on the import or transfer of seaborne crude oil and certain petroleum products from Russia to the EU; a de-SWIFTing of several Russian banks; and the suspension of Russian broadcasting activities.
EU Seeks Effective Justice For 'Horrific' Crimes In Ukraine War
The EU wants swift accountability for the "horrific" crimes in Ukraine, EU justice ministers said on January 26, even as they differed over the methods about how to bring prosecutions, seek evidence, or fund war-damage repairs. The bloc's 27 justice ministers met in Stockholm ahead of the February 24 anniversary of Russia's attack on Ukraine. "Nobody doing this kind of war crimes shall go free. It's very, very important that we will find a way to hold responsible people accountable," Swedish Justice Minister Gunnar Strommer said. "The question is, how can we deal with this in a practical and efficient way." To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Moscow Blocks CIA, FBI Websites, Citing 'False' Information About Russian Armed Forces
Russian media regulator, Roskomnadzor, has blocked the websites of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the State Department's national security rewards program, according to the Roskomsvoboda project. There was no immediate comment from Washington, but earlier this month the intelligence service posted a message on Facebook saying Russia's military mobilization could radically change the lives of Russians and asked them to contact FBI agents as "it is in your power to change this." The FBI regularly launches advertising campaigns on social networks in different languages, including Russian. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.
Rogue Russian Priest Gets Additional Prison Term On Hatred Charge
MOSCOW -- An ultraconservative, coronavirus-denying Russian priest who was stripped of his religious rank and sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison in 2021 has been handed an additional sentence of 5 1/2 years in prison on charge of inciting hatred toward Catholics, Muslims, and Jews.
The Babushkin district court ruled on January 27 that it was combining the two sentences, meaning the general prison term for Nikolai Romanov, also known as Father Sergiy, will amount to seven years.
The additional charge against Romanov, who is already in prison after being convicted of vigilantism, violating the right to religious freedom, and encouraging suicide, stemmed from his six online posts about religions other than Orthodox Christianity.
His co-defendant Vsevolod Moguchev, who placed Father Sergiy's sermons on his YouTube channel, was also found guilty of inciting hatred and sentenced to five years in prison.
Father Sergiy was arrested in December 2020 after law enforcement raided his convent in the Sverdlovsk region. Parishioners and some clergy skirmished with the police during the arrest of the rogue priest, who was then sent to a detention center in Moscow.
The priest made headlines in June 2020 after he took over the Sredneuralsk Women's Monastery in the Urals by force with help from Cossack guards.
He was later stripped of his religious rank by the Diocesan Court in the Sverdlovsk region for what the court called disobedience toward Russian Orthodox Church authorities.
Father Sergiy is known for his public praising of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, calling the coronavirus pandemic a Western plot, and publicly condemning the Russian Orthodox Church's order in April 2020 to stop church services to prevent the spreading of the virus.
After forcibly taking over the convent, Father Sergiy issued political statements saying that constitutional amendments proposed by President Vladimir Putin "would legalize a slave-owning system."
The constitutional changes approved in 2020 allow Putin, who has ruled Russia as president or prime minister for more than 21 years, to stay in power until 2036 if he chooses to run again after his current term ends in 2024.
Armenian Officer Arrested For Negligence Over Fire That Killed 15 Soldiers
An Armenian military officer has been arrested over a deadly fire last week that killed 15 soldiers and critically injured three others in the South Caucasus country. The Prosecutor-General's Office said on January 27 that Gor Aghabekian, the deputy commander of the military unit, who was responsible for fire-safety rules, was sent to pretrial detention for at least two months on a charge of negligence that led to the deaths. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Armenian Service, click here.
U.K. Court Says Russian Businessman Cannot Pause $850 Million Fraud Case Over Sanctions
The High Court in London has ruled a prominent Russian businessman cannot pause an $850 million fraud lawsuit brought by two Russian banks because of British sanctions. Boris Mints and his sons Dmitry, Aleksandr, and Igor are being sued by National Bank Trust, which is 99 percent owned by Russia's central bank, on behalf of Bank Otkritie, once Russia's largest private lender before its 2017 collapse. Lawyers representing the Mints family -- who deny the fraud allegations -- say the lawsuit should be indefinitely put on hold because, if the banks win at trial, damages could not be paid, as Bank Otkritie is under British sanctions. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Russian Police Officer Gets Eight Years In Prison In Absentia Over Posts About War In Ukraine
A Moscow court sentenced in absentia police officer Oleg Kashintsev to eight years in prison on a charge of discrediting Russia's armed forces by spreading "false" information about Moscow's invasion of Ukraine. Kashintsev's lawyer said on January 27 the court also stripped Kashintsev's major rank and barred him from administering social networks and from serving in police ranks for four years. Kashintsev fled Russia several months ago. His case is the first about "fake" news on Russia's full-scale aggression against Ukraine that was tried in absentia. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.
Journalist Ponomarenko, Charged With Discrediting Russian Army, Returned To Pretrial Detention
Siberian journalist Maria Ponomarenko, who was under house arrest on a charge of discrediting Russia’s armed forces with "fake" social media posts about the war in Ukraine, has been transferred to a pretrial detention center on January 27 after she quarreled with her ex-husband overnight. Ponomarenko was arrested in April last year and faces up to 10 years in prison for her online posts. Earlier in January, a court in Barnaul rejected her request to be transferred to pretrial detention to protest against the military mobilization by the Russian government. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Siberia.Realities, click here.
Kyrgyz, Uzbek Presidents Sign Raft Of Documents, Including Border Delimitation
More than 20 bilateral documents have been signed during talks between Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev and his Kyrgyz counterpart, Sadyr Japarov, in Bishkek. Among the documents signed on January 27, the last day of Mirziyoev’s two-day visit to Kyrgyzstan, was a protocol on the exchange of resolutions to ratify November agreements on delimitation of several disputed segments of the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border. More than 20 Kyrgyz politicians and activists were arrested in October after they protested the border deal. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, click here.
Russia Shifting War Focus To 'NATO And The West,' Says EU Official
A senior EU official says Russia has taken its war against Ukraine to "a different stage" through indiscriminate attacks on civilians and nonmilitary targets, while criticizing Moscow for triggering recent moves by Germany and the United States to send advanced tanks to Ukraine. Stefano Sannino, secretary-general of the European Union’s European External Action Service, told reporters in Tokyo that Putin had "moved from a concept of special operation to a concept now of a war against NATO and the West." He said German and U.S. tank provisions are meant to help Ukrainians defend themselves rather than making them attackers. To read the original story by AP, click here.
One Person Shot Dead At Azerbaijan's Embassy In Iran; Baku Evacuates Staff
One security official has been shot dead and two guards wounded when an attacker armed with a Kalashnikov-style automatic rifle stormed Azerbaijan's embassy in Iran's capital, Tehran.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev called the January 27 assault "an act of terrorism" and Baku quickly announced it was evacuating the embassy while blaming Iran for the incident.
"The attacker broke through the guard post, killing the head of security with a Kalashnikov assault rifle," Azerbaijan's Foreign Ministry said.
Iranian state TV quoted Tehran Police Chief Hossein Rahimi as saying the attacker was arrested and that he had "personal and family problems."
Rahimi said the attacker entered the embassy with two children. However, surveillance footage from inside the embassy released in Azerbaijan appeared to show the shooter entering the building alone. The footage bore a timestamp matching the Azerbaijan Foreign Ministry's statement.
Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman, Nasser Kanaani, said Tehran strongly condemned the attack, which was under investigation with "high priority and sensitivity."
Iran and Azerbaijan have a common border. Relations between the two countries have been tense amid the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh region.
"I fiercely condemn the terrorist attack perpetrated against our embassy in Tehran today," Aliyev said on Twitter.
"We demand that this terrorist act be swiftly investigated and the terrorist be punished.... Terror against diplomatic missions is unacceptable!"
Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry spokesman Ayxan Hacizada told local media that "all responsibility for the attack lies with Iran" as a recent anti-Azerbaijani campaign in Iranian media had "emboldened the attack."
"Unfortunately, the latest bloody terrorist act demonstrates the serious consequences of the failure to give the necessary attention to our constant appeals in this regard," Azerbaijan's Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and AP
Jury Convicts Uzbek New York Bike Attacker, Weighs Death Penalty
A U.S. jury on January 26 convicted an Uzbek man who used a truck to kill eight people on a Manhattan bike path in 2017 on murder and terrorism charges in the first federal death-penalty trial of U.S. President Joe Biden's administration. After finding Sayfullo Saipov guilty of committing murder with the goal of joining the Islamic State militant group, the Manhattan jury will return on February 6 to consider whether the death penalty is appropriate punishment. Saipov, an Uzbek national who moved to the United States in 2010, was convicted on all of the 28 counts he faced. To read the full story by Reuters, click here.
Russia Steps Up Offensive In Ukraine As West Displays United Front In Support Of Kyiv
Russian forces have pressed on with a multipronged offensive in the eastern Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk as Kyiv's Western allies continue to display a united front in their support.
Ukraine's military said on January 27 that heavy shelling was seen in Ukraine's north, northeast, and east amid expectations that Russia is gearing up for a renewed offensive sometime in the coming months.
In the face of those expectations, Ukraine's Western allies continue to pledge military equipment and aid to shore up Kyiv's defenses as the first anniversary of the conflict, launched by Russia on February 24 last year, approaches.
U.S. national security spokesman John Kirby said Washington anticipates an "intense period of fighting" in the coming months," adding that there was "no sign" of the war stopping.
The European Union on January 27 extended its economic sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine for another six months, as EU justice ministers vowed to seek swift accountability for the "horrific" crimes in Ukraine.
Meanwhile, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croo said his country was earmarking another 90 million euros ($100 million) in military support to Ukraine, its largest aid package to Ukraine to date.
"Ukraine must be able to defend itself against brutal Russian aggression," he wrote on Twitter.
Ukrainian troops repelled attacks in 11 locations in the two eastern regions over the past 24 hours, a day after Moscow unleashed another wave of missile strikes across Ukraine, killing at least 11 people and damaging energy infrastructure despite Kyiv's air defense destroying most of the incoming projectiles.
"The defense forces over the past day repelled the invaders' attacks in Ploshanka, Nevske, and Chervonpopyivka in Luhansk, and Verkhnyokamyanske, Paraskoviyivka, Bakhmut, Klishchiyivka, Vodyane, Nevelske, Maryinka, and Vuhledar in Donetsk," Ukraine's General Staff said in its daily report, which
Oleh Synehubov, governor of the northeastern region of Kharkiv, said that "fierce fighting" continued along the front lines in the area. "Our defenders are firmly holding their positions and inflicting losses to the enemy," he said.
RFE/RL could not independently verify the reports.
Poland announced on January 27 that it will send an additional 60 tanks to Ukraine to strengthen its defenses. It comes on top of media reports that NATO members will donate around 100 German-manufactured Leopard 2 tanks.
Separately, the United States and Britian have promised to contribute 31 M1 Abrams and 14 Challenger 2 respectively, bringing the total tank donations this month to about 200. Ukraine said it needs 300 tanks.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiyin his nightly video address on January 26 thanked "everyone in the world who is truly fighting against terror together with us" and reemphasized the need for "speeding up" the delivery of heavy tanks to his country.
The United States said it could take "many months" before the Abrams can be delivered to Ukraine, while the Leopards could take a few months as well, due to the need for training and logistics build-out, experts said.
The 60 tanks promised by Poland could be deployed sooner. They include 30 PT-91, a modernized version of the Soviet-era T-72, which is the main tank used by Ukraine and thus requires little training or additional logistics support
Canada was the latest country to declare its intention to give Ukraine tanks. Ottawa will send four Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine, the Canadian defense minister said, after Germany this week allowed other countries to reexport the German-built tank.
Poland, the Netherlands, and Spain previously announced their readiness to transfer some of the Leopard 2 tanks in their stocks to Ukraine, something they can only do with manufacturer Germany's express permission.
Ukrainian officials have repeatedly said that they need 300 tanks as they seek to drive Russian forces from their territory. Ukraine lost more than half of its 850 tanks during the 11-month, according to Oryx, a website that uses open-source tools to count destroyed equipment.
However, Ukraine will need weeks to months to train on those new weapon systems and build out supply chains to service them.
As the PT-91s are similar to the T-72, they could be quickly deployed with little additional training.
NATO's Eastern European members have sent hundreds of modernized T-72 tanks and tank parts to Ukraine since February, with Poland having sent about 250 tanks, according to Morawiecki.
According to two diplomatic sources quoted by Reuters, France and Italy are close to finalizing the technical details to supply an SAMP/T air-defense system to Ukraine.
Zelenskiy said that "there are already 12 countries in our tank coalition" to provide advanced Western battle tanks to help Ukraine's defense against Russia's 11-month Russian invasion.
Zelenskiy was also pressing for the Western supply of long-range missiles and aircraft to Ukraine.
Morawiecki was quoted by dpa as telling a French broadcaster on January 26 that his country would be willing to send fighter jets to Ukraine if Warsaw's NATO allies decided on such a move.
Those weapons would help Ukraine counter Russian missile attacks that have knocked out much of Ukraine's energy infrastructure over the past several months. The United States, Germany, and the Netherlands earlier promised a total of four Patriot air-defense systems.
Kirby said there were no plans at the moment for the United States to send aircraft to Ukraine.
In addition to offering military and financial aid to Ukraine, the West continues to seek reparations and justice for Russia's unprovoked invasion.
EU justice ministers gathered in Stockholm on January 27 said the 27-member bloc wants swift accountability for Russia's "horrific" crimes in Ukraine, even as they differed over the methods about how to bring prosecutions, seek evidence or fund war damage repairs.
The same day, the Council of the European Union extended sanctions targeting specific sectors of Russia's economy by six months, until July 31.
"They currently consist of a broad spectrum of sectoral measures, including restrictions on trade, finance, technology and dual-use goods, industry, transport and luxury goods," the statement said.
Sanctions also include a ban on the import or transfer of seaborne crude oil and certain oil products from Russia to the EU, as well as the de-SWIFTing of several Russian banks.
The suspension of the broadcasting activities and licenses of several Kremlin-backed disinformation outlets is also part of the restrictive measures.
The Kremlin has reacted with fury to the latest gesture of Western solidarity with Ukraine, saying it saw the promised delivery of advanced tanks as evidence of escalating "direct involvement" of the United States and NATO in Russia's war of aggression, something both deny.
With reporting by Reuters, dpa and CTV
U.S. Envoy To OSCE Warns Russia Trying To 'Wipe Out' Ukrainian Sovereignty, Incorporate Belarus
The U.S. envoy to the OSCE warned at a meeting of the organization's Permanent Council on January 26 that Russia is trying "to wipe out the sovereignty of an entire, independent nation" in Ukraine.
Ambassador Michael Carpenter added that Russia was also seeking to do much the same thing with neighboring Belarus, following a historical pattern of denying the existence of sovereign nations and trying to "incorporate them into their empires."
He said Russian President Vladimir Putin had "made clear" that he thinks both those nations "belong" to Russia.
"The United States flatly rejects Russia's efforts to dismiss and repress Ukraine’s distinct culture, history, and statehood," Carpenter said. "We also strongly support the sovereignty and independence of Belarus, which has a proud history and its own rich culture as well."
Putin's forces covertly occupied Crimea ahead of its annexation in 2014, when Russia-backed armed separatists also captured wide swaths of eastern Ukraine.
After massing Russian troops at the Ukrainian borders with Russia and Belarus in late 2021 and early 2022, Putin ordered tens of thousands of soldiers and armored vehicles to launch a full-scale invasion on February 24.
Ukrainian officials have chronicled what they say are tens or hundreds of thousands of atrocities and other abuses against civilians, and international war crimes investigators are documenting many allegations along with physical evidence in formerly occupied territory.
Carpenter said that "Putin’s language and view of Ukraine and its people is essential to understanding the brutal conduct of Russia’s forces in Ukraine."
The Kremlin leader has increased pressure on Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka since the latter declared himself the winner of sixth term in a flawed presidential election in 2020, a vote that sparked massive street protests and Western condemnation.
Lukashenka has been further isolated internationally since allowing Russian troops to stage their invasion from Belarusian soil.
"Russia's leadership has openly and repeatedly professed the belief that Ukrainian and Belarusian identity do not exist outside of Russian culture," Carpenter told the OSCE Permanent Council.
Kyrgyz Workers With Russian Citizenship Prevented From Leaving Russia, Urged To Fight In Ukraine2
Kyiv Says Forces Outnumbered, Battling 'Intensifying' Russian Attacks Near Bakhmut3
Leader Of Group Of Mothers And Wives Of Russian Soldiers Detained En Route To Moscow4
Ukrainian Military Says Russia Advancing In Three Directions As Air Strikes Increase5
Light In The Darkness: Ukrainian Teen Dancers Bring Country's Plight To A Mass Audience6
Russia Shifting War Focus To 'NATO And The West,' Says EU Official7
Russian State Duma Head Joins Officials Warning Of Nuclear Retaliation In Ukraine8
Ukraine's SBU Responsible For Killing Of Banker Who Was Conduit For Russian Intelligence, Says Intel Chief9
Ukrainian Army Drone Footage Shows Purported Russian Sneak Attack10
Russia Stages Military Exercise Near Moscow Days After Images Showing Air Defense Installation Began Circulating