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Pakistani Officials Estimate Over 800 Dead In Floods

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WATCH: Pakistani floods and rescue efforts

Pakistan says some 800 people have died in flooding that has hit the north of the country.

Mian Iftikhar Hussain, information minister for the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, gave the death toll to reporters in Peshawar on July 31, saying that at least another 150 people are unaccounted for in his province alone.

UN officials say that 1 million people have been affected by the floods across the northern region.

Pakistani rescue workers and troops are continuing operations to get help to hundreds of thousands of trapped people as roads to many regions have been cut off by rising waters.

compiled from agency reports

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Putin Visits U.A.E., Saudi Arabia Seeking To Bolster Moscow's Mideast Clout

Russian President Vladimir Putin is greeted upon arrival at the airport in Riyadh on December 6.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is greeted upon arrival at the airport in Riyadh on December 6.

Russian President Vladimir Putin visited the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia on December 6 in an effort to raise Moscow's profile as a Middle East power broker, even as his war in Ukraine grinds on. Putin landed in Abu Dhabi to start his first trip to the region since before the coronavirus pandemic and Moscow's 2022 invasion of Ukraine. Putin held talks with U.A.E. President Muhammad bin Zayed al-Nahyan before traveling on to Saudi Arabia, where he was greeted by Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman. Putin said Russian-Saudi relations had "reached a level they never saw before."

Bosnian Serb Leader's Trial Postponed As Defense Requests Venue Change

Milorad Dodik speaks to the media in front of the Court of Bosnia-Herzegovina in Sarajevo on December 6 after the trial was posponed.
Milorad Dodik speaks to the media in front of the Court of Bosnia-Herzegovina in Sarajevo on December 6 after the trial was posponed.

A court in Bosnia-Herzegovina on December 6 postponed the start of Republika Srpska President Milorad Dodik's trial on charges related to his efforts to ignore decisions by an international envoy at the request of his lawyers, who want the trial moved.

Lawyers for Dodik on December 4 asked that the trial be moved from Sarajevo to Banja Luka.

The Court of Bosnia-Herzegovina rejected the request, but Dodik’s defense team argued they have right to appeal the decision and that they will do so within the three-day legal limit.

Judge Mirsad Strika set December 20 as the new date for the start of the trial, provided a ruling on the appeal is issued by then.

During the hearing on December 6, Dodik, who has called the case a "political process" and a "circus," refused to answer the judge's questions or stand up when the judge told him to.

Dodik and the head of Republika Srpska’s official legal gazette, Milos Lukic, are charged with criminal offenses in connection with efforts to ignore decisions by Bosnia's Constitutional Court and international envoy Christian Schmidt.

Schmidt heads the Office of the High Representative (OHR), the international community's overseer of civilian, administrative, and other aspects of government stemming from the Dayton agreement that ended three years of intense fighting in 1995.

Schmidt on December 6 denied the process against Dodik was political.

"Those who are accused often defend themselves by saying that it's a political process. It's not, it's a process against Milorad Dodik,“ Schmidt said, speaking in Sarajevo after a meeting of the Peace Implementation Council steering board.

He said the case was "about Dodik and he has to accept in a decent way that this is an impartial judiciary."

Schmidt also responded to statements by Dodik about the possibility that the Bosnian Serb-domnated entity would declare independence from Bosnia, saying that secessionist rhetoric poisons the reconciliation process and the spirit of cooperation in Bosnia.

"It is clear that anyone who tries to threaten the state of Bosnia-Herzegovina and its stability, inside or outside the country, represents a danger for this country and its European future. However, at the same time, I emphasize that the European Union and the international community are ready to protect this country and its citizens, if necessary," Schmidt said.

He pointed out that Bosnian citizens had never been closer to EU integration and that "there is a real chance that in the next month they will be closer to that goal."

The legislation at the center of the case against Dodik was approved by Bosnian Serb lawmakers in June and signed by Dodik on July 7 before being published in the gazette. It stipulated that the decisions of the OHR and the Constitutional Court should not be applied in the territory of the Republika Srpska.

The indictment states that Dodik signed the laws even though he was aware that the decisions of the OHR are binding.

Lukic is accused of having "facilitated the implementation of the publication procedure" of the laws.

Dodik and Lukic face up to five years in prison and a ban on working in all public institutions and companies if found guilty.

Kyrgyz President Warns Of 'External Management' For Marketplaces Unless Protests Stop

Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov speaks outside Bishkek's Dordoi market on December 5.
Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov speaks outside Bishkek's Dordoi market on December 5.

Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov said on December 6 that "external management" for marketplaces will be applied unless vendors stop protests against the introduction of a new taxation system that will oblige them to use electronic cash registers and pay tax on each item sold. He did not specify what external management would entail. The day before, Japarov announced that the new taxation system will be introduced not on January 1, 2024, as was initially planned, but on July 1. Thousands of vendors at marketplaces across Kyrgyzstan have rallied for days demanding the current system -- based on a flat annual sum -- be kept in place. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, click here.

Iranian Jewish Family Waits For Information On Son Thought Held Hostage In Gaza

Israeli soldiers await the arrival of hostages by helicopter near Tel Aviv on November 30. Seniors, women, and children have been the priority so far in negotiations for the release of hostages.
Israeli soldiers await the arrival of hostages by helicopter near Tel Aviv on November 30. Seniors, women, and children have been the priority so far in negotiations for the release of hostages.

Since October 7, Avi Shamriz, an Iranian Jew, has waited for his phone to ring for news on his son, Alon. He's still waiting.

Two months after Alon was taken hostage during an attack on Israel by extremists from Hamas, which has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union, Avi Shamriz, whose Iranian first name is Kamran, hopes the phone will ring.

"We have no news. From October 7, when we received information that my son was kidnapped until now, we don't know if he's dead, alive, or injured," Shamriz told RFE/RL's Radio Farda in a brief phone interview on December 6.

Hamas killed more than 1,200 Israelis -- mainly civilians -- in the October 7 raid, and took some 240 hostages back to the Gaza Strip, where Israel has launched an intense war in the aftermath of the deadliest attack on Jews since the Holocaust.

Since the war began, swaps of dozens of hostages and Palestinians held in Israeli prisons have taken place.

Shamriz, who spoke from Tel Aviv where the family was evacuated after the Hamas attack, said they believe Alon is in Gaza, as he has yet to turn up on any list of those who died in the attack on October 7.

So he scours video and reports from those released for any tidbit of information on his son, a 26-year-old student of computer engineering from the Kfar Aza kibbutz near the border with Gaza.

Israeli officials says seniors, women, and children have been the priority so far in negotiations for the release of hostages. That would put Avi Shamriz down on the priority list.

"[The Israeli hostages] who have been freed haven't seen my son. They took 19 hostages from [Kfar] Aza and 10 of them have returned home. But none of them saw my son," he said.

The cease-fire to allow the trading of hostages for prisoners broke down over the weekend.

Israel has since resumed its withering attack on Gaza, where an estimated 138 hostages remain, as it hunts Hamas fighters.

On December 5, Israel's military entered Khan Younis, Gaza's second-largest city, as aid agencies warned of dire humanitarian conditions that are growing worse by the day.

The Shamriz family knows only that Alon has yet to turn up.

"The war has resumed [after a temporary truce], but my son is still there. I’m scared that something will happen to him," Shamriz said.

"We went and talked [to Israeli officials] and told them that this is not the time [for war]. First, they must save my son [and other hostages]. This is not the time for war. We went and talked and pleaded, but nothing. They are not a government."

Updated

U.S. Files War Crimes Charges Against Four Russians Accused Of Torturing American In Ukraine

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland (file photo)
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland (file photo)

The United States has charged four Russian soldiers with torture and other war crimes in connection with the alleged abduction and interrogation of an American during the early stages of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in April 2022.

Attorney General Merrick Garland announced the indictment on December 6, saying the charges against the four "Russia-affiliated military personnel" are for "heinous crimes against an American citizen" and are the first to be brought under the U.S. war crimes statute.

The U.S. citizen, who was not identified, was abducted from his home in the village of Mylove in the Kherson region in southern Ukraine and held for at least 10 days, the Justice Department said in a news release.

Investigators from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the FBI interviewed the American, his family, and others who were around Mylove at the time of the abduction to identify the four Russians, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said.

"The evidence gathered by our agents speaks to the brutality, criminality, and depravity of Russia's invasion," Mayorkas said at a news conference in Washington.

The American and his wife, a Ukrainian citizen, were eventually evacuated.

According to the indictment, two of the soldiers charged -- Suren Mkrtchyan and Dmitry Budnik -- were commanding officers of military units of the “Russian Armed Forces and/or the so-called Donetsk People's Republic." The two others charged were lower-ranking military personnel, identified only as Valery and Nazar.

"During the abduction, Mkrtchyan, Valery, Nazar, and others allegedly threw the victim face down to the ground while he was naked, tied his hands behind his back, pointed a gun at his head, and severely beat him, including with the stocks of their guns," the Justice Department said.

The indictment also alleges that Mkrtchyan and Budnik led at least two interrogation sessions during which the four defendants and others tortured the victim.

During one interrogation, Mkrtchyan, Valery, and Nazar allegedly stripped the victim and photographed him. The defendants and others then allegedly severely beat the victim and pointed guns at the back of his head. Budnik allegedly threatened the victim with death and asked for his last words, which was followed by a mock execution.

U.S. Attorney Jessica Aber said in the news release that these were "grave breaches" of the Geneva Conventions.

The defendants, whose whereabouts are unknown, are charged with three war crimes -- unlawful confinement, torture, and inhuman treatment -- and one count of conspiracy to commit war crimes. If convicted, each faces a maximum penalty of life in prison.

Although U.S. officials described the case as history-making, the charges are largely symbolic, given the unlikely prospect of the Justice Department taking any of them into custody.

U.K. Announces Sanctions Targeting Businesses, Individuals Seen As Aiding 'Putin's War Machine'

Sanctions Minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan added that the sanctions "will hit Putin where it hurts, damaging Russian defense systems, and cracking down on illegal supply chains propping up Russia's war machine." (file photo)
Sanctions Minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan added that the sanctions "will hit Putin where it hurts, damaging Russian defense systems, and cracking down on illegal supply chains propping up Russia's war machine." (file photo)

The United Kingdom has imposed new sanctions on 46 groups and individuals in countries ranging from Serbia to China that it says are supplying and financing Russia's war against Ukraine by helping it circumvent international sanctions.

The U.K. government said in a statement on December 6 that the sanctions target "foreign military suppliers" who are exporting equipment and parts to Russia and are "helping [Russian President Vladimir] Putin's war machine."

The new sanctions include entities and businesses operating in China, Turkey, Serbia, Belarus, and Uzbekistan.

Russian weapons manufacturers and defense importers were also on the list of newly imposed sanctions as well as "three actors" supporting the Wagner Group network and "four operators" of so-called "shadow fleet" vessels used by Russia to soften the blow of oil-related sanctions imposed by the U.K. alongside Group of Seven partners.

"This signals the UK’s no tolerance approach to those enabling Russia’s illegal war, wherever they may be," the statement said.

Sanctions Minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan added that the sanctions "will hit Putin where it hurts, damaging Russian defense systems, and cracking down on illegal supply chains propping up Russia's war machine."

Ales Luci, the owner of Serbia's Avio Chem, one of the companies on the list, told RFE/RL that he stopped cooperating with Russian companies, though he could not specify exactly when.

"It is not clear to me what we have to do with Great Britain when Serbia does not have any sanctions against Russia, nor has it introduced any," Luci said.

An investigation by RFE/RL's Balkan Service last month highlighted several Serbian companies exporting dual-use goods to Russia that have been targeted by Western sanctions due to their use in Russian armaments deployed in Ukraine -- despite a pledge by President Aleksandar Vucic that his country would not serve as a conduit for circumventing U.S. and EU sanctions.

The investigation showed equipment for the Russian squadron was shipped from the Belgrade airport by a company that had an address associated with Avio Chem. According to international trade databases, most of the company's trade was with two related airlines that are close to Putin's regime.

The British statement said 31 individuals and entities, including several directors and their immediate family members, linked to designing and manufacturing drones and missile parts and importing and supplying key electronic components are part of the sanctions.

Another aim of the sanctions, the British government said, is to starve Russia's military of key components and technology from Western manufacturers.

"Pre-invasion Russia was a major exporter of arms. Instead, it is now having to turn to North Korea and Iran for unreliable equipment and to buy back parts it previously exported to other countries. While the world is moving forwards technologically, Russia is going backwards," the statement said.

Prosecutor Seeks Seven Years In Prison For Kazakh Opposition Activist

Askar Sembai (file photo)
Askar Sembai (file photo)

The prosecutor in the case against Kazakh opposition activist Asqar Sembai on December 6 asked a court in Astana to sentence him to seven years in prison on a charge of taking part in the activities of the banned opposition Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK) movement. Sembai was arrested in May after he took part in rallies organized by DVK's leader, former banker and government critic Mukhtar Ablyazov. Last week, a court in Astana sentenced the chairman of the unregistered Algha Kazakhstan (Forward Kazakhstan) party, Marat Zhylanbaev, to seven years in prison for his links to DVK. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, click here.

Remains Of 23 Georgians Killed In 1992-93 Abkhaz War Identified

Since 2010, the International Committee of the Red Cross has helped to identify 273 human remains in Abkhazia, while 1,870 people are still considered missing.
Since 2010, the International Committee of the Red Cross has helped to identify 273 human remains in Abkhazia, while 1,870 people are still considered missing.

Georgian officials said on December 6 that the remains of 23 Georgians, including 21 soldiers and two civilians, who died during the war in the breakaway region of Abkhazia in 1992-93 had been identified and will be buried on December 7. Since 2010, the International Committee of the Red Cross has helped to identify 273 human remains in Abkhazia, while 1,870 people are still considered missing. Between 10,000 and 30,000 people were killed during the war and more than 300,000 displaced. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Georgian Service, click here.

At Least 10 People Detained In Nepal On Charge Of Recruiting Jobless People To Ukraine War

Russian soldiers guard a road as a Russian military convoy in Zaporizhzhya, Ukraine.
Russian soldiers guard a road as a Russian military convoy in Zaporizhzhya, Ukraine.

Reuters cited police officials in Nepal on December 6 as saying that they detained 10 people on suspicion of sending Nepalese citizens to Russia, where they were recruited to Russian armed forces involved in Moscow's war in Ukraine. The Himalayan Times and AFP reported that the number of the detained suspects is 12. A probe was launched into human trafficking. The reports come two days after authorities in Kathmandu confirmed that six Nepalese citizens had been killed while fighting along Russian troops in the war in Ukraine, while another one had been captured by Ukrainian forces. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

U.S. Senator Calls On Tajik President To 'Immediately Stop Repressions'

Tajik President Emomali Rahmon has been criticized by international human rights groups over his administration's alleged disregard for independent media, religious freedoms, civil society, and political pluralism. 
Tajik President Emomali Rahmon has been criticized by international human rights groups over his administration's alleged disregard for independent media, religious freedoms, civil society, and political pluralism. 

The chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Ben Cardin, has urged Tajik President Emomali Rahmon "to immediately end" the repression of peaceful demonstrators, community leaders, journalists and activists in Tajikistan, as well as "all forms of transnational repression."

In a statement issued on December 5, Senator Cardin stressed that "there are persistent reports of arbitrary arrest, denial of judicial due process, as well as acts of violence including torture, assault, and even instances of murder of journalists, political dissidents, as well as community and religious leaders."

"The ongoing crackdown on ethnic and religious minorities, their local organizations and leaders, in the Gorno-Badakhshan region, in particular, is especially troubling," Cardin's statement said, citing the State Department's 2022 Country Report on Human Rights and Freedom House as saying that Rahmon's government "used intimidation and abused judicial procedures to engage in repression against individuals outside of Tajikistan's borders -- also known as transnational repression -- targeting political opponents, civil society activists, human rights defenders, and journalists."

"The United States wants to strengthen its growing partnership with Tajikistan," the statement emphasized. "Bolstering human rights and the rule of law will reap long-lasting benefits for Tajikistan through increased influence, foreign investment, tourism, and trade."

Rahmon, who has ruled the Central Asian country for almost 30 years, has been criticized by international human rights groups over his administration's alleged disregard for independent media, religious freedoms, civil society, and political pluralism.

In recent years, several Tajik journalists, rights activists, and opposition politicians have been handed lengthy prison terms mostly based on accusations of collaborating with extremist, or banned organizations, the charges seen by rights groups as trumped up and politically motivated.

Cardin's statement came one day before the committee's hearing on "Transnational Repression: Authoritarian Targeting Dissenters Abroad."

Noted international investigative journalist Christo Hrozev, Freedom House President Michael Abramowitz, and British lawyer Caoilfhionn Gallagher will testify at the hearing as witnesses.

Ukrainian Rights Defender Located In Prison In Russian-Occupied Luhansk Region

Ukrainian human rights defender Maksym Butkevych (file photo)
Ukrainian human rights defender Maksym Butkevych (file photo)

Well-known Ukrainian human rights defender Maksym Butkevych, sentenced by a Moscow-installed court in Ukraine's eastern Luhansk region to 13 years in prison in March, has been located in the Russian-occupied region after going missing for more than three months.

Butkevych's lawyer, Leonid Solovyov, told the Graty Telegram channel on December 5 that the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service had informed him his client is currently serving his term in a prison in the town of Krasniy Luch.

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Butkevych's relatives have expressed concerns about his situation saying they had not been aware of his whereabouts since late August.

Butkevych was sentenced on March 10 for allegedly being involved in two attempted murders, as well as premeditated damage of others' property, cruelty against civilians, and using banned methods in an armed conflict. He and his supporters have rejected the charges.

Butkevych was known for raising awareness of the problems faced by refugees even before the Russian invasion.

He gained prominence for his calls to amend Ukraine's migration regulations for Belarusian nationals who fled en masse to Ukraine following a deadly crackdown on dissent that started after a disputed presidential election in Belarus in August 2020.

In addition to his human rights activities, Butkevych is known for his journalistic activities and is a well-known public figure in Ukraine.

He is a co-founder of the Hromadske radio (Public radio) station that has broadcast a series of special programs for residents of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions that at the time were controlled by Russian-backed separatists.

Just days after Russia launched its ongoing full-scale invasion of Ukraine in late February 2022, Butkevych joined Ukraine's armed forces.

In July 2022, his mother recognized him on a video showing Ukrainian soldiers captured by Russian forces near the towns of Zolote and Hirne in the Luhansk region.

She says she has had no contact with her son since his capture. She has been trying to free him from Russian captivity in prisoner swaps that have taken place sporadically since Russia invaded Ukraine.

UNESCO Puts Tajik Art Of Weaving, Turkmen Breeding Of Akhal-Teke Horses On Cultural Heritage List

Silk satin and adras, consisting of silk and cotton, are natural fabrics, the production of which is a labor-intensive and expensive process.
Silk satin and adras, consisting of silk and cotton, are natural fabrics, the production of which is a labor-intensive and expensive process.

UN cultural and scientific agency UNESCO has included on its list of Intangible Cultural Heritage the Tajik art of weaving silk satin and adras and the Turkmen tradition of breeding Akhal-Teke horses as well as the ornament decorating the harness. The decision was made during the 18th session of the Interstate Committee on Intangible Cultural Heritage of the organization. Silk satin and adras, consisting of silk and cotton, are natural fabrics, the production of which is a labor-intensive and expensive process. Akhal-Teke horses have been bred on the territory of modern Turkmenistan. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

Romania Declares Measles Epidemic Amid Rapid Increase In Cases

A nurse prepares a measles-rubella vaccine. Romania has seen a continuous decrease in the number of children vaccinated against measles prompted by anti-vaccination campaigns on social media. 
A nurse prepares a measles-rubella vaccine. Romania has seen a continuous decrease in the number of children vaccinated against measles prompted by anti-vaccination campaigns on social media. 

Romania's Health Ministry has declared a measles epidemic at national level amid an alarming increase in cases throughout the country. "The ministry declares a national epidemic to facilitate the vaccination of children between 9 and 11 months old and of older children who have not yet been vaccinated," it said in a statement on December 5, adding that were a total of nearly 2,000 new cases in 29 out of Romania's 41 counties. Romania has seen a continuous decrease in the number of children vaccinated against measles prompted by anti-vaccination campaigns on social media.

Rape, Sexual Abuse Used Against Iranian Protesters, Says Amnesty International

Sexual violence was weaponized and used with impunity against women, men, and children in Iran, the 120-page report that documents the ordeal of 45 survivors has found. (illustrative image)
Sexual violence was weaponized and used with impunity against women, men, and children in Iran, the 120-page report that documents the ordeal of 45 survivors has found. (illustrative image)

Iranian security forces have used rape and other types of sexual abuse to intimidate protesters during the crackdown on nationwide protests that started in September last year under the banner of "Women, Life, Freedom," Amnesty International said in a report published on December 6.

Sexual violence was weaponized and used with impunity against women, men, and children, the 120-page report that documents the ordeal of 45 survivors has found.

Those interviewed included 26 men, 12 women, and seven children who suffered sexual violence perpetrated by Iranian security forces.

No Iranian official has so far been charged or prosecuted for sexual crimes against the detained protesters that included rape, gang rape, and/or other forms of sexual violence, the report said.

Iranian women have been at the forefront of nationwide protests triggered by the death in custody in September last year of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman who had been arrested in Tehran for allegedly improperly wearing a hijab.

The protest movement was joined by many men and boys outraged by the decades of religious restrictions and other forms of suppression imposed on women by Iran's theocracy.

Protests gradually lost their intensify by the end of 2022 as they were met with fierce repression by the security forces. Hundreds were killed and thousands were arrested, according to activists and the United Nations.

"Our research exposes how intelligence and security agents in Iran used rape and other sexual violence to torture, punish, and inflict lasting physical and psychological damage on protesters, including children as young as 12," Amnesty International Secretary-General Agnes Callamard said.

"The harrowing testimonies we collected point to a wider pattern in the use of sexual violence as a key weapon in the Iranian authorities' armory of repression of the protests and suppression of dissent to cling to power at all costs," Callamard said.

The report found that a wide array of Iranian security forces participated in the sexual violence against those detained during protests.

They included members of the Revolutionary Guards, the paramilitary Basij force, the Intelligence Ministry, and various law-enforcement departments such as the Public Security Police, the Investigation Unit of Iran's police, and the Special Forces of the police.

Amnesty International shared its findings with the Iranian authorities on November 24 but has thus far received no response, the rights watchdog said.

Out of the 45 survivors interviewed by Amnesty, 16 were raped, including six women, seven men, a 14-year-old girl, and two boys aged 16 and 17.

Four women and two men were subjected to gang rape by members of the security forces. ‎

The report documented instances of vaginal, anal, and oral rape perpetrated on women and girls by security agents, while men and boys were subjected to anal rape.

Wooden and metal batons, glass bottles, and hosepipes were used to rape detainees in detention facilities and police vans, as well as schools and residential buildings.

Most of the abused victims did not file complaints against the perpetrators out of fear of reprisals, Amnesty said, adding that in the rare cases when the victims told prosecutors about their ordeal, they were ignored.

"Without political will and fundamental constitutional and legal reforms, structural barriers will continue to plague Iran's justice system," said Callamard.

"With no prospects for justice domestically, the international community has a duty to stand with the survivors and pursue justice.... We urge states to initiate criminal investigations in their own countries against suspected perpetrators under the principle of universal jurisdiction, with a view to issuing international arrest warrants."

With reporting by AFP

Two Russian Officers Sentenced To Four Years Each For 'Failing To Repulse A Ukrainian Attack'

Ukrainian forces have launched several attacks on the Russian city of Belgorod, which is located close to the border, since Russia began its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
Ukrainian forces have launched several attacks on the Russian city of Belgorod, which is located close to the border, since Russia began its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

A Moscow military court has sentenced two Russian officers -- Colonel Anatoly Bondarev and Major Dmitry Dmitrakov -- to four years in prison for "failing to repulse a surprise attack" by Ukrainian forces on Russian territory. The two kept their military ranks and are allowed to rejoin the military after completing their sentences. The verdict is the first of its kind since the start of Russia's invasion of Ukraine and originated in a Ukrainian missile attack in March last year on an ammunition depot in Russia's Belgorod region in which seven Russian soldiers were killed and 43 were wounded. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

Updated

'We Can't Let Putin Win,' Biden Tells U.S. Lawmakers As Vote On Ukrainian Aid Package Looms

"It has been difficult, but we have persevered," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a video address on the occasion of Armed Forces Day in Kyiv on December 6.
"It has been difficult, but we have persevered," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a video address on the occasion of Armed Forces Day in Kyiv on December 6.

U.S. President Joe Biden has urged Congress to quickly approve more military aid to Ukraine, warning that Russia's Vladimir Putin, will be emboldened to grab more territory if he is victorious on the battlefield.

"If Putin takes Ukraine, he won't stop there. He's made that pretty clear," Biden said in a televised speech on December 6.

He cautioned that Putin could try to send troops into a NATO country if he took Ukraine, resulting in a U.S.-Russian military clash.

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"We can't let Putin win. It is in our overwhelming national interest," he said.

Biden spoke ahead of a vote in the Senate on his proposal to allocate $106 billion in military aid to Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan. The bill also contains funding for greater security at the southern U.S. border.

Republicans in the House of Representatives have been holding up the bill for months as they seek to tighten laws to slow a wave of migration, a historically contentious issue. Republicans control the House.

U.S. military aid for Ukraine will run out at the end of the month if no new bill is passed, the White House warned earlier this week. The United States has been the largest supplier of military aid to Ukraine since Russia invaded in February 2022.

The White House said an interruption of U.S. aid would significantly hinder Ukraine's ability to defend itself against Russia, which has been ramping up weapons production and recruitment.

Biden said it was "stunning" that Congress has taken so long to pass the aid package, saying the delay was the "greatest gift" to Putin.

He spoke following a call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Group of Seven leaders, who Biden said reiterated their commitment to backing Ukraine.

Biden said he was not prepared to walk away from Ukraine "and I don't think the American people are either."

The Senate vote comes as Ukrainian forces are locked in close combat with Russian troops around the industrial city of Avdiyivka. Russian forces have been attempting for several weeks to encircle the city in the eastern region of Donetsk that has become the latest symbol of Ukrainian resistance.

Ukrainian air defenses also shot down 41 out of 48 Iranian-made drones that Russia launched at targets in Ukraine early on December 6, the air force said, adding that the drones had been launched from Cape Chaud in Moscow-occupied Crimea and from Russia's Kursk region.

No details were given about possible casualties or damage.

'The Armed Forces Are Our Shield And Hope': Ukrainians Mark Armed Forces Day
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Earlier in the day, Zelenskiy said Russian forces were stepping up their attacks but expressed confidence that Ukraine will defeat Russia and win a fair peace.

"It has been difficult, but we have persevered.... It is not easy now, but we are moving. No matter how difficult it is, we will get there. To our borders, to our people. To our peace. Fair peace. Free peace. Against all odds," he said in a self-recorded video early on December 6.

Zelenskiy dispatched Defense Minister Rustem Umerov to Washington to plead Ukraine's case for more military aid before House leaders.

Umerov said he told U.S. lawmakers on December 6 that Ukraine needed additional air defense, drones, electronic-warfare equipment, artillery, and ammunition, warning that Russia was increasing its output of weapons.

Meanwhile, U.S. and Ukrainian officials signed an agreement to speed up weapons co-production and data sharing. No information was given on what types of weapons the agreement covered. Greater domestic production of weapons would ease Ukraine's dependence on Western partners.

The United States has delivered more than $44 billion in military aid to Ukraine since February 2022, including more than $25 billion in U.S. presidential drawdown authority.

The bimonthly drawdown had averaged more than $600 million during the first 19 months of the war but has significantly fallen over the past two months as authorized spending approaches depletion.

The United States on December 6 announced the latest bimonthly drawdown for Ukraine totaling $175 million.

With reporting by Reuters

Russian Prankster Posing As African Union Leader Reaches German Vice Chancellor On Phone

German Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck (file photo)
German Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck (file photo)

A Russian prankster managed to get through to German Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck on a recorded phone call, Germany’s Economy Ministry confirmed to dpa on December 5. The prankster posed as a representative of the African Union in the call, which was repeatedly interrupted by technical problems and largely incoherent as a result, the ministry said. No confidential or security-related information was discussed, it added, saying the content of a recording of the call published on Telegram by pro-Kremlin duo Vovan and Lexus didn't match accounts of the phone conversation, so its authenticity could not be confirmed.

U.S. Says Russia Rejected 'Substantial' Proposal To Free Two Americans

U.S. journalist Evan Gershkovich, arrested on espionage charges, stands inside a defendants' cage at the Moscow City Court on October 10.
U.S. journalist Evan Gershkovich, arrested on espionage charges, stands inside a defendants' cage at the Moscow City Court on October 10.

The United States says Russia rejected a new proposal to free two detained Americans, Wall Street Journal correspondent Evan Gershkovich and former Marine Paul Whelan. "We have made a number of proposals, including a substantial one in recent weeks," State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters on December 5. "That proposal was rejected by Russia," he said. Miller said that Secretary of State Antony Blinken and President Joe Biden would keep trying to find a way to free the pair, considered "wrongfully detained" by the State Department.

Russian Defense Procurement Network Added To U.S. Sanctions Designations

The U.S. Treasury Department (file photo)
The U.S. Treasury Department (file photo)

The United States on December 5 imposed fresh sanctions targeting a defense procurement network that the U.S. Treasury Department said is led by a Belgium-based businessman and involves numerous Cyprus-based companies as well as businesses in Sweden, Hong Kong, and the Netherlands.

The Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) said the businessman, Hans De Geetere, leads the network, which it said is involved in procuring electronics with military applications for Russian end-users.

"Today's coordinated action reflects our collective commitment to enforcing our sanctions and export controls, including holding accountable those who seek to evade these measures," said Undersecretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian E. Nelson.

Nelson added that United States and its allies "remain focused on disrupting any attempts by Russia or its trusted agents to gain access to the critical inputs and technologies necessary to support Moscow's defense industry and facilitate its brutal war in Ukraine."

The network is involved in procuring electronics with military applications for Russian end-users and consists of nine entities and five people based in Russia, Belgium, Cyprus, Sweden, Hong Kong, and the Netherlands, the Treasury Department said.

De Geetere operates Belgium-based Knokke Heist Support Corporation Management, Cyprus-based Eriner, Cyprus-based The Mother Ark, and Netherlands-based European Trading Technology, all of which were designated for sanctions by the Treasury Department on December 5.

The treasury also designated companies it said are linked to Eriner and The Mother Ark, including M and S Trading based in Hong Kong and other companies in Cyprus and the Netherlands that it said De Geetere has a hand in running.

In addition to those companies, De Geetere's network includes the Belgium-based company European Technical Trading (ETT), founded and led by his brother, Tom De Geetere.

De Geetere has leveraged the ETT brand in attempted purchases from U.S. and European companies, the Treasury Department said. In addition to his role as the founder and director of ETT, Tom De Geetere has coordinated with his brother to procure engines for drones.

Also designated is Russian national Vladimir Kulemekov, who is linked to De Geetere through multiple business dealings, including coordinating electronics orders for Russian entities. Kulemekov was previously employed by De Geetere and has been identified as a member of Russia's military intelligence agency.

Kulemekov associate Sergey Skvortsov, who has served as the director of a Kulemekov-owned electronics company founded to facilitate Sweden-based contracts between China and Russia, was also designated. Treasury said Skvortsov simultaneously led a separate import-export company that tested electronic components in production.

The sanctions freeze any assets held by the individuals and entities held in U.S. jurisdiction and generally bar Americans from dealing with them.

Separately, the U.S. Department of Justice also unsealed two separate indictments against De Geetere related to the network, while the Department of Commerce added De Geetere and five entities to its entity list.

Tsikhanouskaya Calls On U.S. To Support Belarusian Opposition, Tighten Sanctions On Lukashenka

Addressing U.S. Congress on December 5, exiled Belarusian opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya accused the Lukashenka regime of accepting about 2,000 children from Russian-occupied Ukraine. She said the opposition has sent "tons of proof" to the ICC and lamented that no action had been taken yet.
Addressing U.S. Congress on December 5, exiled Belarusian opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya accused the Lukashenka regime of accepting about 2,000 children from Russian-occupied Ukraine. She said the opposition has sent "tons of proof" to the ICC and lamented that no action had been taken yet.

WASHINGTON -- Exiled Belarusian opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya has called on U.S. lawmakers to materially support the Belarusian democracy movement abroad and tighten sanctions on authoritarian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka amid a push for a clear U.S. strategy for her country.

The Crisis In Belarus

Read our coverage as Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka continues his brutal crackdown on NGOs, activists, and independent media following the August 2020 presidential election.

In testimony on Capitol Hill on December 5, Tsikhanouskaya also asked U.S. lawmakers to urge the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate Lukashenka for the deportation of Ukrainian children to Belarus and back more military aid to Kyiv, saying her nation’s freedom hinges on Ukraine defeating Russia.

Tsikhanouskaya's visit to Washington comes as Congress is embroiled in debate over a bill that would send billions of dollars in military aid to Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan, raising questions how much bandwidth lawmakers and the White House have for Belarus right now. She sought to hammer home that supporting the Belarus opposition is in the U.S. national interest.

"Supporting free Belarus is not charity. It's your investment into the global peace and security," she told lawmakers, using the same pitch that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy delivered to Congress nearly a year ago as he sought more U.S. aid for his country's fight against Russia.

Tsikhanouskaya asked lawmakers to "provide material assistance" to the Belarusian opposition, their family members, and media. She said members of the Belarusian opposition living abroad, including herself, are paying a “big price” for their dogged pursuit of democracy and “we can’t do it alone.”

Belarusian authorities last week raided about 200 homes belonging to members of the government in exile and their family. The authorities said they would seek to expropriate property. Relatives of several members of the government in exile, including Tsikhanouskaya's husband, are in prison.

She said the opposition needs money to counter the vast resources Russia spends on propaganda and disinformation in Belarus as well as to help its members who have suffered terribly under Lukashenka.

There are about 1,500 political prisoners in Belarus, according to the U.S. State Department, most of whom were jailed following mass demonstrations to protest the declared outcome of the August 2020 election. Lukashenka claimed to defeat Tsikhanouskaya with 80 percent in a vote the opposition called rigged. Tsikhanouskaya and other leading members of the opposition fled Belarus to avoid persecution along with thousands of other citizens.

Belarus treats political prisoners harshly, and those exiting now are in "awful physical and emotional state," Tsikhanouskaya said.

"These people need rehabilitation and we need to support the organization of rehabilitation programs so people do not feel that they have been abandoned" after risking their lives for democracy, she told the lawmakers.

Representative Bill Keating (Democrat-Massachusetts) told the hearing that Congress had appropriated $30 million for Belarusian civil society and democracy.

Sanctions

Tsikhanouskaya also called on lawmakers to expand sanctions to include Belarusian wood and steel and to close loopholes that allow Lukashenka to circumvent existing sanctions.

As Tsikhanouskaya testified, the U.S. Treasury Department announced a raft of sanctions targeting several entities and individuals that it said generate revenue for Lukashenka and support Russia's war in Ukraine. The sanctions also target the head of the Belarus Red Cross, accusing him of being complicit in the deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia.

Tsikhanouskaya accused the Lukashenka regime of accepting about 2,000 children from Russian-occupied Ukraine. She said the opposition has sent "tons of proof" to the ICC and, lamenting that no action had been taken yet, she asked Congress to push the ICC to open an investigation.

The ICC earlier this year issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Russian commissioner for children's rights, Maria Lvova-Belova, for the deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia.

"People have to feel that dictators shouldn't feel impunity for their crimes," she told the lawmakers.

Envoy, Ukraine Aid

Tsikhanouskaya is visiting Washington with other members of the Belarusian exiled government to take part in a new initiative organized by the State Department that seeks to coordinate various U.S. government efforts aimed at supporting the Belarusian democratic movement.

The so-called Strategic Dialogue will take place December 6-7 at the State Department and include members of Belarusian civil society and human rights defenders.

She said she hopes the dialogue will lead to a clear U.S. strategy for Belarus, including its place in a post-Ukraine war security architecture.

Tsikhanouskaya also told Congress she wants the White House to appoint a special envoy for Belarus to help be a “bridge” between the opposition and the U.S. government and to help coordinate a whole-of-government strategy toward Belarus.

“We need to clearly understand what will be the future steps of the U.S. [government] and that's why we need this person,” she told lawmakers.

Tsikhanouskaya urged Congress to approve more military aid for Kyiv, saying the fate of Ukraine and Belarus are intertwined.

Congress has been unable to pass new aid for Ukraine for months as Republicans tie the shipment of weapons to Kyiv with border security and U.S. immigration reform. The White House on December 4 warned that current aid to Ukraine will run out by the end of the month if a new bill isn't passed.

“Without a free Ukraine, there will be no free Belarus but also vice versa. We have to remember that without a free, independent Belarus, there will be a constant threat to the security of the whole region of Europe. So help Ukraine to win this war.”

U.S. Targets Belarusian Red Cross Official, Regime's 'Revenue Generators' With Sanctions

Belarusian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka (right) greets Russian President Vladimir Putin in Minsk on November 23. The U.S. Treasury Department stated on December 5 that the Russian government and Belarus's regime "have been working together to coordinate and fund the movement of children from Ukraine to Belarus."
Belarusian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka (right) greets Russian President Vladimir Putin in Minsk on November 23. The U.S. Treasury Department stated on December 5 that the Russian government and Belarus's regime "have been working together to coordinate and fund the movement of children from Ukraine to Belarus."

The United States on December 5 imposed fresh sanctions targeting several entities and individuals that the U.S. Treasury Department says are revenue generators for the regime of Belarusian authoritarian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

The action aims to increase pressure on the Lukashenka regime for its "brutal suppression of Belarus's democratic civil society, corrupt financial enrichment of the Lukashenka family, and complicity in Russia's unjustified war against Ukraine," the Treasury Department said in a news release.

One of the individuals targeted is Dzmitry Shautsou, secretary-general for the Belarus Red Cross, whom the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) said has been complicit in Russia’s efforts to transport Ukrainian children to Russia.

The Russian government and Belarus's regime "have been working together to coordinate and fund the movement of children from Ukraine to Belarus," the Treasury Department said.

Both Ukraine and the Belarusian democratic opposition have labeled the transfers unlawful deportations, and the International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued arrest warrants for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Maria Lvova-Belova, the Russian commissioner for children's rights, for their roles in the unlawful deportations. Moscow has not denied transferring Ukrainian children to Russia but claims it did so for their own protection.

OFAC said it was designating Shautsou for having assisted Lvova-Belova, who has previously been designated for sanctions, in her efforts to transport Ukrainian children to Russia.

The Belarusian Red Cross reported in June that more than 700 Ukrainian children were in Belarus, and in July, the Belarus Red Cross sparked international outrage when Shautsou visited children in the Luhansk region of Ukraine and said on Belarusian state television that the organization has been actively involved in bringing Ukrainian children from Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine to Belarus.

The International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has called for Shautsou's removal, and the IFRC on December 1 suspended the membership of the Belarus Red Cross.

The Treasury Department announced the sanctions during a visit to Washington by Belarusian Opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, telling lawmakers that Belarus accepted about 2,000 children who had been deported from Russian-occupied Ukraine.

Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya testifies during a Subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs about Belarus on Capitol Hill on December 5.
Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya testifies during a Subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs about Belarus on Capitol Hill on December 5.


Undersecretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian E. Nelson said in the news release that the United States will continue to target "actors who facilitate Russia's war of aggression in Ukraine, coordinate the movement of children from Ukraine to Belarus, and support Lukashenka's authoritarian regime."

The sanctions also take aim at what treasury said were the Lukashenka regime's revenue generators and his so-called personal wallets by targeting members of Lukashenka's inner circle, including Alyaksandr Shakutsin, one of the leading businessmen in Belarus who made his fortune through privatization under Lukashenka.

Shakutsin controls a large piece of Belarus's construction machinery production business through his company Amkodor, which is currently planning to produce attack drones and artillery fire systems, the treasury said.

"Despite running a deficit for years, Amkodor has relied on Shakutsin's personal relationship with Lukashenka to secure highly favorable loans and other forms of public support at the expense of the average Belarusian," the department said.

Among the other Belarusian entities designated for sanctions are three state-owned companies that OFAC said have served as "revenue generators" for the regime: the Belarusian Cement Company, Belarusian Production and Trade Concern of Timber Woodworking and Pulp and Paper Industry (Bellesbumprom), and Republican Unitary Enterprise Beltamozhservice (Beltamozhservice).

The designation also names the general director of Beltamozhservice, Vadim Babarikin, and two of Belarus's richest oligarchs, Pavel Topuzidis and Viktor Petrovich, who though their business Tabak Invest control 30 percent of Belarus's tobacco production. The company has been cited in news reports as having been involved in a cigarette-smuggling scheme into Russia that has generated millions of dollars in revenue.

The designation also names companies in the Belarusian defense sector and some of their directors that OFAC said have supported Russia's war in Ukraine.

The sanctions freeze any assets held by the individuals and entities held in U.S. jurisdiction and generally bar Americans from dealing with them.

Kazakh Court Liquidates Charity Foundation Providing Assistance To Victims Of Russian Aggression In Ukraine

The Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law (KIBHR) said on December 5 that a court in the western city of Atyrau had ruled to shut down the local Slava Ukraini (Glory to Ukraine) charity foundation that provided humanitarian and financial assistance to victims of Russia's ongoing war in Ukraine. The foundation, registered in early August, was liquidated at the request of the Justice Ministry. The foundation's leader, Turarbek Kusainov, told KIBHR that the court's ruling was political and most likely made under pressure from Russia.

Russia Returns Six Ukrainian Children Taken From Ukraine's Occupied Territories

Qatar's ambassador to Russia, Sheikh Ahmed bin Nasser Al Thani (center) and Alexei Ghazaryan, head of the Russian Office of the Commissioner for Children's Rights meet Ukrainian children and their family members before their departure to Ukraine at the Qatari Embassy in Moscow on December 5.
Qatar's ambassador to Russia, Sheikh Ahmed bin Nasser Al Thani (center) and Alexei Ghazaryan, head of the Russian Office of the Commissioner for Children's Rights meet Ukrainian children and their family members before their departure to Ukraine at the Qatari Embassy in Moscow on December 5.

Russia has returned six Ukrainian children taken from Ukraine's territories occupied by Russia, officials of Russia's Commissioner for Children's Rights Maria Lvova-Belova told the RBK news agency on December 5. According to the officials, the children were returned to Ukraine via the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Qatari Embassy in Moscow. Lvova-Belova and President Vladimir Putin are wanted by the International Criminal Court in the Hague for their roles in the deportation of Ukrainian children. Kyiv said earlier that as of July 1 it had confirmed 19,546 Ukrainian children had been illegally deported by Russia during its invasion. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

Nobel Laureate Malala Calls Out Taliban For Making 'Girlhood Illegal' In Afghanistan

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai sits onstage after delivering the 21st Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture in Johannesburg on December 5.
Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai sits onstage after delivering the 21st Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture in Johannesburg on December 5.

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai decried Afghanistan's Taliban rulers in a speech on December 5 and called on the international community to make gender apartheid a crime against humanity.

In a speech marking the 10th anniversary of the death of Nelson Mandela, Yousafzai told the audience in Johannesburg, South Africa, that since returning to power in August 2021, Taliban militants have made "girlhood illegal," causing many to despair over a lack of freedoms.

"Just two years ago, women in Afghanistan were working, serving in leadership positions, running ministries, traveling freely. Girls of all ages were playing soccer and cricket and learning in schools. Though all was not perfect, there was progress," she said of the almost two decades between Taliban rule, when international forces provided security to allow governments to rule.

But, she added, that since the U.S.-led troops pulled out in August 2021, the Taliban rulers who seized power "quickly began the systematic oppression of girls and women" by enacting more than 80 decrees and edicts restricting women's rights -- including barring girls from pursuing a high-school education -- in the name of their "false visions."

"In effect, the Taliban have made girlhood illegal, and it is taking a toll," Yousafzai said.

Eleven years ago, Yousafzai, then 15, was shot in the head on her school bus by the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) extremist group, which has pledged allegiance to the Afghan Taliban, though the two groups have separate operation and command structures.

The attack on Yousafzai, who had become a target for her campaign for girls' education, sent shock waves across the predominately Muslim country and provoked international outrage.

At 17, she became the youngest-ever recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize when she won the award in 2014 along with Indian children's rights activist Kailash Satyarthi.

In her speech honoring Mandela's legacy, Yousafzai said that while the Taliban's restrictions of the lives of girls and women made global headlines at first, "the world has turned its back" since and it is "imperative to call the regime in Afghanistan what it really is: a gender apartheid."

She said world leaders have an opportunity to make a stand on the issue by including gender apartheid in a new UN crimes against humanity treaty that is currently being debated at the United Nations.

"I call on every government in every country to make gender apartheid a crime against humanity," she said.

Updated

U.S. Charges Bosnian With Helping Wanted Russian Businessman Escape Italian House Arrest

Russian businessman Artyom Uss was indicted in October 2022 by a federal grand jury in New York along with six co-defendants.
Russian businessman Artyom Uss was indicted in October 2022 by a federal grand jury in New York along with six co-defendants.

A Bosnian man helped a Russian businessman wanted by the United States on smuggling charges escape house arrest in Italy last spring, U.S. officials charged, a stunning escape that embarrassed Italian officials and infuriated Washington.

The charges against Vladimir Jovancic, 52 -- handed down by a U.S. grand jury in October -- were unsealed on December 4, the same day he was arrested by Croatian authorities as he entered the country. U.S. prosecutors said they would seek his extradition.

Separately, Italian prosecutors announced they had identified six people who also helped in the March escape of the Russian businessman, Artyom Uss. The others included a Bosnian-Italian man and four foreign nationals living abroad.

The prosecutors said on December 5 they had executed arrest warrants in Brescia in northern Italy, Slovenia, and Croatia, which appeared to be of Jovancic.

A still image taken from surveillance video obtained by the U.S. State Department allegedly shows Vladimir Jovancic helping Artyom Uss escape house arrest in Milan, Italy, on March 22.
A still image taken from surveillance video obtained by the U.S. State Department allegedly shows Vladimir Jovancic helping Artyom Uss escape house arrest in Milan, Italy, on March 22.

Uss, 40, was charged by U.S. officials last year with running an elaborate yearslong smuggling scheme that brought sensitive military technology to Russia, as well as allegedly smuggling Venezuelan oil in violation of U.S. sanctions.

U.S. officials alleged that Uss and another Russian, Yury Orekhov, used a German company called Nord-Deutsche Industrieanlagenbau as a front company to acquire sensitive military and dual-use technologies from U.S. manufacturers. Items included advanced semiconductors and microprocessors used in fighter aircraft, missile systems, radar, satellites, and other space-based military applications, the Justice Department said.

Some of the chips have turned up in Russian military equipment found on the battlefield in Ukraine, officials said.

The German company was also used as a front to smuggle hundreds of millions of barrels of oil from Venezuela to Russian and Chinese purchasers, U.S. officials said.

Uss was arrested by Italian police at Milan's airport on October 17, 2022, as he prepared to board a flight to Istanbul. Orekhov was arrested by German police.

About a month later, a Milan court ordered that Uss be moved from jail to house arrest, a move that U.S. officials warned was potentially dangerous due to Uss's family.

Uss's father, Aleksandr Uss, is a wealthy businessman with ties to Igor Sechin, the powerful, Kremlin-connected CEO of the state oil giant Rosneft who is widely believed to have worked for Soviet intelligence agencies in the 1980s. Aleksandr Uss also served as governor of the sprawling, mineral-rich Siberian region of Krasnoyarsk until earlier this year.

Artyom Uss was allowed to serve his house arrest in a villa in an upscale suburb south of Milan, where he was allowed Internet access and visitors and was required to wear an electronic monitoring bracelet. Italian police also checked in on him regularly.

On March 22, a court approved the U.S. extradition request. The following day, according to U.S. officials, Uss fled house arrest with the help of Jovancic and other identified people who "escorted Uss into a car and provided Uss with bolt cutters, which Uss used to remove his electronic ankle monitor and throw it out the window."

Uss was then driven into Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, before crossing into Serbia, where he later flew to Moscow, according to the indictment.

Jovancic, who was allegedly paid 50,000 euros for his services by Uss's wife, had posed as a grocery delivery man to slip past guards.

Uss told Russian media in April that he was back in Russia.

"I am in Russia! In these past few particularly dramatic days, I had strong and reliable people by my side," he was quoted as saying by the state news agency RIA Novosti on April 4.

"The Italian court, whose impartiality I initially counted on, demonstrated its obvious political bias. Unfortunately, it is ready to buckle under the pressure of U.S. authorities."

At a news conference in Milan on December 6, Italian prosecutors provided more details of Uss's escape, and identified four other alleged accomplices. Italian media said the names were Jovancic's son, Boris; a Slovenian man named Matej Janezic; and two Serbian men, Srdjan Lolic and Nebojsa Illic.

The Milan prosecutor's office could not be immediately reached for further comment.

Uss's escape prompted outrage from U.S. authorities and among some Italian officials, as well, who questioned why a person known for a high risk of flight would be allowed house arrest.

"The case is quite serious," Italian Prime Minister Giorgina Meloni said in April when she was questioned by reporters about the escape. "There are certainly anomalies. I think the main anomaly is the (court’s decision) to keep him under house arrest with questionable reasons and to maintain the decision even when there was a decision on extradition."

On December 5, the day after the indictment against Jovancic was unsealed, the U.S. State Department announced a $7 million reward for information leading to the arrest or conviction of Uss.

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