Russian-Led CSTO Grouping Adds Military Dimension
At a CSTO summit in Moscow on February 4, leaders of the member countries -- Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan -- signed a draft document calling for each of the seven member states to provide one battalion for the formation of the force.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said leaders of the regional grouping had deemed security threats serious enough to establish a joint rapid-reaction force.
"We spent a long time today discussing the central question of today's extraordinary session of the CSTO about a mechanism of rapid response to the broadest range of threats and challenges," Medvedev said. "Generally I would like to say that everyone present here agreed about the need to make the necessary decision."
However, the terms of Uzbekistan's participation are still to be worked out, and the country has indicated that it does not want to delegate military units on a permanent basis. Uzbek President Islam Karimov said that, "at the current stage," his country is prepared only "to join operations dealing with territorial drug threats and other global problems."
Uzbekistan's position did not come as a surprise to the seven presidents in attendance, as it has been discussed in previous CSTO discussions.
The Russian president's foreign policy adviser, Sergei Prikhodko, said in a statement published ahead of the summit that the collective-rapid reaction force "would deflect military aggression, and carry out special operations against international terrorism and extremism, trans-border crime, and drug trafficking."
Afghanistan, which shares common borders with two member states of the organization -- Tajikistan and Uzbekistan -- is considered the main security threat to the organization, according to Prikhodko.
Aleksei Malashenko, an expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Moscow, has assessed the move as part of an effort by Moscow to strengthen its influence in former Soviet territories.
But Malashenko expressed doubt that CSTO would have an active role in regional security. "Generally, [the CSTO] exists as Russia's political tool to keep this area under its own control," Malashenko said. "Russia pays the expenses from its own pocket; it pays through the sale of its weapons at domestic prices. That is what the CSTO means. I cannot imagine the CSTO taking any real action. For instance, it would not fight against NATO in Abkhazia and [within] Georgian borders. Likewise, it would not save one of the presidents, for example, in the case of a revolt by Islamists."
The agreement does not mark the first time the CSTO has declared its intention to add a military dimension by setting up joint forces.
In September 2008, the security organization announced plans to establish an 11,000-strong regional military force to deal with possible "challenges to the sovereignty" of its member states.
Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev used a visit to Moscow one day earlier to suggest that his country could evict U.S. troops from a strategic base at Manas, used to supply counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan, if Washington did not agree to pay more to lease the facilities.
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Brother Of Russia-Imprisoned American Says Contact Resumed
The family of Paul Whelan, an American imprisoned in Russia for espionage, said on December 2 that he has resumed contact after unexpectedly becoming unreachable in November. Whelan's brother, David, said that Paul had called his parents early U.S. time on December 2, the first time any family member had spoken with him since November 23. The family had been told he was moved to a prison hospital, but the reason for that was unclear because he had not spoken of health problems. In the call, he did not explain why he was at the hospital, David Whelan said. To read the original story by AP, click here.
Ukraine Bans Religious Organizations With Links To Russia
Ukraine has banned the activities of religious organizations “affiliated with centers of influence” in Russia and said it would examine links between the Ukrainian and Russian Orthodox churches. President Volodymyr Zelenskiy signed a decree enacting the decision to impose personal sanctions against representatives of religious organizations associated with Russia, which invaded Ukraine more than nine months ago. The decree additionally provided for examining the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, one of two Orthodox bodies in Ukraine following a schism that in 2019 resulted in the establishment of one with independence from the Russian church. To read the original story from AP, click here.
Journalist In Tatarstan Jailed, Fined For Reposting Online Call For Anti-War Rally
A journalist in Russia's Tatarstan, Nailla Mullayeva, has been sentenced to six days in jail and fined $490 on a charge of discrediting the Russian armed forces and violating the law on public gatherings. Mullayeva's lawyer said the charge stemmed from his client's reposting of an online call for an unsanctioned rally against the war in Ukraine in September. Police searched Mullayeva’s home twice before her arrest this week. To read the original story from RFE/RL's Idel.Realities, click here.
Russian Police Investigate Private Animal Shelter After Dozens Of Mutilated Dogs Found Dead
Police in Russia's southwestern Astrakhan region have started an investigation into an animal shelter after activists found dozens of mutilated dead dogs in the facility and nearby. The shelter, owned by the wife of a former Astrakhan city lawmaker, Andrei Nevlyudov, has received significant amounts of money from the city to catch stray dogs, provide them with medical assistance, and find homes for them. Activists said on December 1 that some 60 dogs that were found dead and mutilated are registered as alive in the shelter's documents. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.
Moscow Court Issues Arrest Warrants For Two Former Coordinators Of Navalny Groups In Siberia
A court in Moscow has issued arrest warrants for two former coordinators of groups in Siberia associated with jailed opposition politician Aleksei Navalny. The Basmanny district court's ruling on December 2 resulted in warrants being issued for Stanislav Kalinichenko from Kemerovo and Sergei Bespalov from Irkutsk. Both are accused of organizing the activities of an extremist group. Both activists, who are currently outside of Russia, were earlier designated as extremists and added to the Interior Ministry’s wanted list. To read the original story from RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.
Belarusian Journalist, Wife, Colleague Handed Prison Terms Over Reporting On Border Crisis
MINSK -- A court in Minsk has sentenced journalist Dzmitry Luksha; his wife, Palina Palavinka; and cameraman Dzyanis Yarouski for their reporting on a migrants' crisis along the Belarusian-Polish border last year.
The Minsk City Court on December 2 sentenced Luksha, a freelance correspondent for Kazakhstan's Khabar 24 television channel, and Palavinka to four and 2 1/2 years in prison, respectively, after finding them guilty of discrediting Belarus and "actively participating in group activities that blatantly disrupt social order."
Yarouski was sentenced to 18 months in prison on the same charges.
A fourth defendant in the case, Kanstantsin Nikanorau, was handed a parole-like sentence on a charge of discrediting Belarus.
The charges against the four stemmed from Luksha's video reports from the Belarusian-Polish border for Khabar 24.
The reports covered the situation along the border, where thousands of migrants mostly from the Middle East tried to illegally enter EU-member Poland from Belarusian territory.
European nations have condemned the authoritarian ruler of Belarus, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, for masterminding the crisis in response to Western sanctions imposed on him over an ongoing crackdown on dissent and independent media that followed his disputed win in a 2020 presidential election.
Separately on December 2, the Minsk City Court started the trial of another journalist, Henadz Mazheyka, who is accused of insulting Lukashenka and inciting hatred over his report about a police shootout at a Minsk apartment last year that left an IT worker and a KGB officer dead.
Little is known about the September 2021 shooting that resulted in the deaths of Andrey Zeltsar, who worked for U.S.-based IT company EPAM, and KGB officer Dzmitry Fedasyuk.
Multiple individuals have received prison terms in recent months on charges related to comments about the incident.
Mazheyka pleaded not guilty.
Exiled Former Tajik Vice President Narzullo Dustov Dies In Tashkent At 82
Former Tajik Vice President Narzullo Dustov, wanted in his native country over the organization of a mutiny against the government in 1998, died in Uzbekistan last month at the age of 82. Former Chairman of the Socialist Party of Tajikistan Mirhusain Nazriev told RFE/RL on December 2 that Dustov died on November 1 of cancer. Dustov served as Tajikistan's vice president in 1991-1992. The post was later eliminated. His former ally, Mahmud Khudoiberdiev, who also led the failed deadly mutiny, fled the country for Uzbekistan, as well. To read the original story of RFE/RL's Tajik Service, click here.
Several Ukrainian Diplomatic Missions Receive 'Bloody' Parcels
Ukrainian diplomatic missions in several countries have received “bloody parcels” containing animals' eyes, the country's Foreign Ministry said on December 2.
Spokesman Oleh Nykolenko added on Facebook that the parcels were soaked with an unspecified liquid "of a specific color and smelled correspondingly."
According to Nykolenko, the parcels were delivered to Ukrainian diplomatic missions in Hungary, the Netherlands, Poland, Croatia, Austria, Italy, and the Czech Republic.
The packages arrived amid Russia's continued invasion of Ukraine, and Nykolenko said "we are studying the meaning of this message."
Police in the Czech Republic said earlier in the day that Ukraine’s consulate in the country’s second-largest city, Brno, received "a suspicious letter" similar to letter bombs sent to high-profile targets in Spain in recent days.
The police said later that "an animal tissue" was found in the package.
Nykolenko said that unknown individuals called the Ukrainian Embassy in Kazakhstan saying that there was a bomb in the mission's building, which turned out to be false.
He added that the Ukrainian Embassy in the United States received a letter harshly criticizing the Ukrainian government.
Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba called the situation "a well-planned campaign of terror and intimidation of Ukraine's embassies and consulates."
"Not being able to stop Ukraine on the diplomatic front, [Russians] try to intimidate us. However, I can say with confidence that these attempts are futile. We will continue to effectively work on Ukraine's victory," Kuleba said.
A day earlier, bomb disposal experts in Spain defused a letter bomb at the U.S. Embassy in Madrid, the sixth such device sent to high-profile targets in Spain in the past several days.
The campaign began with a letter bomb sent to Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez last week. Similar devices have been sent to the Defense Ministry, an air force base, a weapons manufacturer, and the Ukrainian Embassy.
Orban Says Hungary Opposes Global Minimum Corporate Tax
Prime Minister Viktor Orban told Hungarian public radio on December 2 that Budapest continues to be against a global minimum corporate tax rate, arguing it would reduce the number of jobs in Hungary, which has used its low-tax regime to attract investment. Hungary's 9 percent corporate tax rate and government subsidies have brought major investments by German carmakers and Asian battery manufacturers. "This is a job-killing tax hike, which, if implemented with Hungary's approval, would wipe out tens of thousands of jobs," Orban said. To listen to Orban's interview with Radio Kossuth, click here.
IAEA Chief Says Progress Being Made on Zaporizhzhya Safety Zone
Rafael Grossi, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), says progress is being made to reach a deal to create a safe zone around Ukraine's Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, which has come under repeated shelling during the fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces since late February.
Speaking to the Italian newspaper La Repubblica in an interview published on December 2, Grossi said he is committed to finding a solution to ensuring the safety of Europe's largest nuclear power station, "hopefully by the end of the year."
"On the safety of Zaporizhzhya there is a concrete proposal and important progress has been made," the head of the United Nation's nuclear watchdog told the newspaper.
"My commitment is to reach a solution as soon as possible.... Our aim is to avoid a nuclear accident, not to cause a militarily favorable situation for one or the other," he added.
Moscow and Kyiv have accused each other in recent months of targeting the plant, which Russian forces took control of shortly after their invasion of Ukraine in February.
The reactors at the Soviet-designed plant have been shut down, but there is a risk that nuclear fuel could overheat if power supplies to the plant's cooling systems are cut off.
The plant has been forced to operate on backup generators a number of times since the Russian invasion, but no radioactive emissions are believed to have leaked since Moscow invaded Ukraine on February 24.
Grossi said the two sides are now "in agreement on some fundamental principles" around securing the plant.
"The first is that of protection: It means accepting that you don't shoot at the facility, nor from the facility. The second is the recognition that the IAEA represents the only possible way" to ensure the safety of the plant, he said.
Grossi said it's possible he could soon meet with both Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, to work out details of a deal.
Rosatom Chief Executive Officer Aleksei Likhachev was quoted by Russian state media as saying Moscow's representative at the IAEA, Mikhail Ulyanov, is "actively working" on the issue, though he said "the decision is not on the Russian side" as the Russian government has outlined its position on creating a safety zone around the plant.
The safety zone should be set up "as soon as possible," he added.
With Russian strikes over the past weeks decimating Ukraine's energy infrastructure, Grossi said he is concerned about other nuclear plants in Ukraine, which have at times lost external power, creating potentially dangerous situations.
"The Ukrainian authorities have made a formal request to have a permanent presence of the IAEA in these plants, as in Zaporizhzhya. In this way, the agency's personnel will be deployed throughout Ukraine and will ensure that nuclear power plants are not used by anyone as weapons of blackmail in the conflict," he said.
Based on reporting by La Repubblica
Finnish PM Warns Russian Win Would Empower Aggressors
Finland’s Prime Minister Sanna Marin warned an Australian audience on December 2 that a Russian victory over Ukraine would empower other aggressors and urged democracies against forming “critical dependencies” on authoritarian states such as China. Marin was speaking in Sydney at the end of the first-ever visit by a Finnish prime minister to Australia and New Zealand. She used a speech to urge democracies to ramp up sanctions against Russia. To read the original AP story, click here.
Russia Tests New Missile-Defense System Rocket
Russia on December 2 tested a new missile-defense system rocket, the Defense Ministry said, adding that the missile was launched from the Sary Shagan testing range in Kazakhstan. Other than saying the test was successful, the ministry gave few other details. To read the original story from Reuters, click here.
Ukraine War Shows Europe 'Not Strong Enough,' Says Finnish PM
Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin on December 2 offered a "brutally honest" assessment of Europe's capabilities in the wake of Russia's war on Ukraine, stating that "we're not strong enough" to stand up to Moscow alone. Visiting Australia, the leader of the pending NATO member said Russian President Vladimir Putin's invasion and occupation of neighboring Ukraine had exposed both European weaknesses and strategic blunders in dealing with Russia.
Putin Says Further Russian Strikes On Ukraine Infrastructure Are 'Inevitable'
Russian President Vladimir Putin has told German Chancellor Olaf Scholz that further attacks on Ukraine's infrastructure are "inevitable," even as millions of Ukrainians struggle without electricity and heating at the onset of winter following waves of Russian strikes across the country.
"It was noted that the Russian Armed Forces had long refrained from precision missile strikes against certain targets on the territory of Ukraine," the Kremlin said in a statement on December 2 following the first phone conversation between Putin and Scholz since mid-September.
"But now such measures have become a forced and inevitable response to Kyiv's provocative attacks on Russia's civilian infrastructure," the Kremlin said, accusing the West of pursuing "destructive" policies and "pumping" Ukraine with weapons. It was unclear which attacks the Kremlin was referencing.
Putin told Scholz that "political and financial support" from the Ukraine's Western allies "leads to the fact that Kyiv completely rejects the idea of any negotiations," the Kremlin said.
Scholz pressed Putin to seek a diplomatic solution to end his war in Ukraine, including troop withdrawals, German government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit said following a call between the two.
"The chancellor urged the Russian president to come as quickly as possible to a diplomatic solution including the withdrawal of Russian troops," according to Hebestreit.
During the one-hour call, Scholz "condemned in particular the Russian air strikes against civilian infrastructure in Ukraine and stressed Germany's determination to support Ukraine in ensuring the defense capability against Russian aggression."
Following U.S. President Joe Biden's statement on December 1 that he would be willing to speak with Putin, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists December 2 that the Russian leader "has always been, is, and remains open to negotiations in order to ensure our interests."
But Peskov added that the West must accept Moscow's demands for a settlement in Ukraine to become possible.
In Kyiv, Mayor Vitaliy Klitschko told residents to stock up on water, food, and warm clothes in the event of a total blackout caused by Russian strikes.
In the recently liberated southern region of Kherson, Russian missiles killed three people over the past day, Governor Yaroslav Yanushevych wrote on the Telegram messaging app, while shelling the night before damaged power lines in the city where electricity had only begun to be restored nearly three weeks after Russian troops withdrew to the eastern side of the Dnieper River.
Meanwhile, fierce fighting continued in the east where Kyiv's forces fought off waves of attacks in Luhansk and Donetsk regions, the military reported early on December 2, as an aide to President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said up to 13,000 Ukrainian soldiers have been killed since the start of the war.
The General Staff of the Armed Forces said in its daily update that Russian troops attacked Ukrainian positions in 14 settlements including Belohoryivka in Luhansk and Bakhmut in Donetsk, while carrying out 30 air strikes and 35 multiple-rocket attacks on civilian settlements along the contact line.
WATCH: Ukrainian civilians who have fled Russian-occupied cities in the east, along with local Bucha residents who have lost their homes, do their best to cope with temporary modular housing.
The Russians were on the defensive in Kupyansk and Lyman in the east and Zaporizhzhya in central Ukraine, the General Staff said, while in the Bakhmut and Avdiyivka directions in the east Moscow's forces were on the offensive.
The battlefield reports could not be independently verified.
Mykhaylo Podolyak, a senior adviser to Zelenskiy, told Ukraine's Channel 24 television on December 1 that as many as 13,000 Ukrainian troops have been killed since Russia's invasion in February.
"We have official estimates from the General Staff.... And they range from 10,000...to 13,000 dead," Podolyak said.
He said Zelenskiy would make the official data public "when the right moment comes." Podolyak's comments have not been confirmed by the military.
In June, Zelenskiy said Ukraine was losing "60 to 100 soldiers per day, killed in action, and around 500 people wounded in action."
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said in September that 5,937 Russian troops had been killed in the nearly seven months of fighting to that point.
The figures could not be independently verified and it is believed both sides are minimizing their losses to avoid lowering the troops' morale.
U.S. General Mark Milley said last month said more than 100,000 Russian military personnel and 100,000 Ukrainian troops have been killed or wounded since the start of the war.
The figures advanced by Milley -- which could not be independently confirmed -- are the most precise to date from the U.S. government.
With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and BBC
Reports: EU Close To Agreeing On $60 A Barrel Cap For Russian Seaborne Oil
EU governments have tentatively agreed on a $60 a barrel price cap on Russian seaborne oil aimed at reducing Moscow's ability to finance its war in Ukraine.
"The price cap is set at $60 with a provision to keep it 5 percent below market price for Russian crude, based on [International Energy Agency] figures," an EU diplomat said, according to Reuters on December 1.
U.S. Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo said he was encouraged by the news about the tentative agreement on the price cap -- an idea supported by the United States and the other Group of Seven (G7) leading industrialized nations -- adding that he expects the European Union to iron out details and reach a final agreement.
EU countries have wrangled for days over the details of the price cap. Poland, which had pushed for the cap to be as low as possible, had as of late on December 1 not confirmed its support for the deal, Reuters and AFP reported.
The initial G7 proposal last week was for a cap of $65-$70 per barrel with no adjustment mechanism.
Poland, Lithuania, and Estonia rejected that level because Russian Urals crude, the main variety sold by Russia, was trading at below $70 a barrel on December 1 and last week traded at about $55.
The G7 price cap on Russian seaborne crude oil is to kick in on December 5, replacing an outright ban on buying Russian seaborne crude.
The price cap would work by prohibiting shippers and insurance companies from handling cargoes of Russian crude unless it is sold at or below the price cap.
The world's key shipping and insurance firms are based in G7 countries, giving them leverage to set the price cap and make it difficult for Moscow to sell its oil for a higher price.
The adjustment mechanism would mean the price cap would be reviewed in mid-January and every two months after that.
The document outlining the tentative agreement, quoted by Reuters, said a 45-day "transitional period" would apply to vessels carrying Russian-origin crude oil that was loaded before December 5 and unloaded at its final destination by January 19, 2023.
Russian President Vladimir Putin warned last week that any attempt by the West to cap the price of Russian oil would have "grave consequences" for world markets. But the G7 vowed to go ahead.
Oil ministers from OPEC+ cartel of petroleum exporting countries, of which Russia is a member, will meet in Vienna on December 4.
With reporting by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, RFE/RL's Russian Service, Reuters, and AFP
Leaked Document Says Iranian Leadership Is Seeking To Discredit Sunni Cleric
A leaked document from the hard-line Fars news agency says Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has told security and military officials to try and disgrace a top Sunni cleric, who is a vocal critic of the government, instead of arresting him.
The document was published on November 30 after the hacktivist group Black Reward announced that it had succeeded in hacking the Fars news agency, which is affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). The group released dozens of documents and videos it said were prepared by the news agency.
The cleric, Molavi Abdolhamid Ismaeelzah, is regarded across the country as a spiritual leader for Iran’s Sunni Muslim population. He is the director of the main Sunni seminary in Iran and has been under pressure for his comments against the Islamic republic.
"He [Molavi Abdolhamid] should not be arrested. Rather, he should be dishonored," according to one of the documents, which are delivered as bulletins prepared by Fars and delivered to senior IRGC officials, which was handing down comments from the Ayatollah.
Early last month, Molavi Abdolhamid said senior officials, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, were "responsible" for the killing of protesters during the so-called "Bloody Friday" massacre in the southeastern city of Zahedan on September 30. He also called for an immediate referendum with the presence of international observers to "change policies based on the wishes of the people."
Almost 100 people were killed and hundreds injured by security forces in the incident, which came during protests sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in the custody of the morality police and the alleged rape of a 15-year-old girl by a local police commander.
Anger over Amini's death has prompted thousands of Iranians to take to the streets nationwide to demand more freedoms and women's rights. The widespread unrest represents the biggest threat to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution.
The activist HRANA news agency said that, as of November 29, at least 459 protesters had been killed during the unrest, including 64 minors, as security forces try to stifle widespread dissent.
Sunni Muslims make up the majority of the population in Sistan-Baluchistan Province in southeastern Iran where Molavi Abdolhamid is based, but make up only about 10 percent of the population in Shi'a-dominated Iran overall.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda.
Dutch Prosecutors Won't Appeal In MH17 Case, Making Verdicts Final
Dutch prosecutors said on December 1 that they will not file an appeal regarding the outcome in the trial over the 2014 downing of Flight MH17 in eastern Ukraine, making the verdicts final. A Dutch court last month convicted three former Russian intelligence agents in absentia and sentenced them to life in prison for the downing of the jet. All 298 people aboard were killed. The three men were found to have helped arrange the transport of the Russian military Buk missile system that was used to shoot down the plane. To read the original story from Reuters, click here.
Biden, Macron Vow To Hold Russia Accountable For 'Widely Documented Atrocities' In Ukraine
U.S. President Joe Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron on December 1 renewed their commitment to fighting Russia's invasion of Ukraine during a meeting at the White House.
The two leaders said in a joint statement that they were determined to hold Russia to account "for widely documented atrocities and war crimes, committed both by its regular armed forces and by its proxies including mercenary entities such as Vagner" in Ukraine.
Speaking at a joint news conference after their meeting, Biden said he was ready to speak to Russian President Vladimir Putin "if he is looking for a way to end the war," while Macron vowed not to push Ukraine into a compromise it can't accept.
They also reaffirmed their continued support for Ukraine’s defense of its sovereignty and territorial integrity “for as long as it takes.” The support includes significant resources to help Ukrainian civilians through the winter.
The United States and France also intend to continue providing “robust direct budget support for Ukraine, and to urge the international financial institutions to scale up their financial support,” the joint statement said.
He said the two countries were "facing down Vladimir Putin's grasping ambition for conquest" and "defending the democratic values and universal human rights which are the heart of both our nations."
"It doesn't mean that every single solitary thing we agree on," Biden said, speaking after meeting Macron. "But it does mean we agree on almost everything."
Macron said the two nations had a shared responsibility to protect democracies on both sides of the ocean and face the direct and indirect consequences of the war in Ukraine together.
Biden and Macron covered several other topics during their meeting, including energy, emerging technologies, trade, and nuclear deterrence.
The two leaders said in their joint statement that they will continue to coordinate on their concerns regarding "China’s challenge to the rules-based international order, including respect for human rights, and to work together with China on important global issues like climate change."
Prior to their meeting, Macron raised French and European concerns about subsidies in Biden's Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), a $430 billion bill that offers massive subsidies for U.S.-made products and is aimed at addressing the climate crisis.
European leaders say the legislation signed by Biden in August is unfair to non-American companies and would be a serious blow to their economies as Europe deals with the fallout from Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Biden is hosting Macron for the first state visit since he took office last year. He and first lady Jill Biden are playing up the pageantry with a colorful arrival ceremony planned and 200 live lobsters flown in from Maine for a glittering state dinner.
With reporting by Reuters and AP
Armenia, Hungary Agree To Restore Diplomatic Relations After 10-Year Suspension
Armenia and Hungary have agreed to fully restore diplomatic relations, which were severed in 2012 after Hungary extradited Azerbaijani military officer Ramil Safarov to Baku. Safarov at the time was serving a life sentence in Hungary for axing to death Armenian officer Gurgen Margarian in 2004 during NATO training courses. The Armenian Foreign Ministry said on December 1 that the Armenian and Hungarian foreign ministers, who met in Poland, expressed their intention to open a new chapter in Armenian-Hungarian relations. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Armenian Service, click here.
Iran Hands Death Sentences To Four Accused Of Collaborating With Israel
Iran has sentenced to death four people accused of collaborating with Israel, the semiofficial Mehr News agency reported.
According to a report by Mehr News on November 30, the four were arrested in June and were accused of having interrogated people in Iran with intelligence cooperation from Mossad, the Israeli secret service.
Three other people on trial in the case were handed sentences by the Supreme Judicial Court of Iran of between five years and 10 years for "acting against the country's security," kidnapping, and the possession of weapons.
Iran and Israel have been engaged in a yearslong shadow war. Tensions between the two have soared in recent years.
The report on the sentencing comes after Tehran accused Israel of carrying out a recent spate of assassinations and sabotage attacks inside the Islamic republic.
Earlier this year, Israeli media reported that Mossad captured and interrogated a member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps inside Iran.
Later, a video was released in which a person who identified himself as Mansur Rasuli, admitted that he wanted to assassinate an Israeli diplomat working in the country's consulate in Istanbul, as well as an American general stationed in Germany and a journalist in France.
Mehr News has not specified whether the people who were sentenced to death were related to that case or not.
Iran has been roiled in recent months by nationwide protests sparked by the death of a young woman while she was being held in police custody for allegedly wearing a head scarf improperly.
Tehran has blamed Israel, the United States, and other Western countries for the unrest, which has seen security forces kill more than 400 people, according to human rights groups, including dozens of minors.
Officials have not shown any evidence to back up their accusations that the West has been involved in the anti-government uprising.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda.
Ukrainian Power-Grid Operator Receives 300 Million Euro Loan From European Bank, 72 Million Euro Grant From Netherlands
Ukraine's Ukrenerho grid operator has secured 300 million euros ($315 million) in loans from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) to restore power infrastructure damaged in Russian attacks and improve financial stability, the company said in a statement on December 1. Ukrenerho said 150 million euros of the loan and a 72 million euro grant from the Netherlands will be used for the purchase of equipment needed for the repairs. The remaining 150 million euros of EBRD funds will be allocated for the company's financial obligations in the electricity market, Ukrenerho said. To read the original story from Reuters, click here.
Jailed Belarusian Opposition Activist Kalesnikava Leaves Intensive Care Unit After Surgery
Maryya Kalesnikava, a leading opposition activist in Belarus who was sentenced to 11 years in prison last year, was transferred from an intensive care unit to a regular unit in a hospital after a surgery.
Viktar Babaryka, a would-be presidential candidate who was imprisoned for alleged corruption last year, wrote on Telegram on December 1 that doctors informed Kalesnikava’s father, Alyaksandr Kalesnikau, that his daughter felt better and ate yogurt and porridge in the morning.
Kalesnikau has not been allowed to see his daughter and still does not know her diagnosis. Kalesnikava’s lawyer, Uladzimer Pylchanka, has not been able to see his client either due to "the absence of a request from the convict."
Kalesnikava was rushed to the hospital from a penal colony in the city of Homel, 300 kilometers southeast of Minsk, on November 29.
Kalesnikava rose to prominence after she joined forces with Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya and Veranika Tsapkala to form a trio of women who led historic demonstrations against Belarusian authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka in 2020.
Kalesnikava, 40, the only one of the three still in the country, has been imprisoned over her role in the mass protests that lasted for more than two years. She was arrested in September 2020.
Kalesnikava and another opposition figure, Maksim Znak, were sentenced to prison terms of 11 and 10 years, respectively, in September 2021, after being found guilty on charges of conspiracy to seize power, calls for action to damage national security, and calls for actions damaging national security by trying to create an extremist group. Both had pleaded not guilty and rejected the charges.
Human rights watchdogs in Belarus have recognized Kalesnikava and two other associates who also being detained as political prisoners and have demanded their immediate release.
Jailed Russian Opposition Politician Navalny Again Placed In Punitive Solitary Confinement
Imprisoned Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny has been placed in a punitive solitary confinement cell for the eighth time since August, Navalny's press secretary Kira Yarmysh tweeted on December 1. This time, Navalny was sent to solitary confinement for 11 days for a "violation of the dress code." The violation was for failing to have on a prison jacket during a check at 5:12 a.m. Navalny has called all his previous incarcerations in solitary confinement "politically motivated." To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.
Tajik Prosecutors Seek 30 Years In Prison For Activist From Restive Gorno-Badakhshan Region
DUSHANBE -- Tajik prosecutors have asked a court in Dushanbe to convict and sentence to 30 years in prison Faromuz Irgashev, an activist and former lawmaker in the volatile Gorno-Badakhshan region (GBAO), on charges of receiving illegal financial support from abroad, organizing an unsanctioned rally, and participating in the activities of a criminal group.
Two sources close to the trial, which started in October and is being held behind closed doors, told RFE/RL on December 1 that the prosecutor asked the court to sentence Irgashev last week.
The 32-year-old lawyer was arrested in May with several other activists in the wake of the deadly dispersal of protesters in GBAO. It is not known how he pleaded.
Irgashev was a lawyer for the Commission 44 group, which was created in November last year in GBAO to facilitate a dialogue between regional authorities and anti-government protesters. The group’s efforts led to the peaceful resolution of protests in the region.
In May, the protests in GBAO resumed as people demanded a thorough investigation into the 2021 death of an activist while in police custody and the refusal by regional authorities to consider the resignation of the regional governor and the mayor of GBAO's capital, Khorugh.
The rallies intensified after one of the protesters was killed by police in May, prompting the authorities to launch a "counterterrorist operation."
Authorities violently dispersed the protesters, arresting dozens of them. Irgashev and at least six other members of Commission 44 were among those apprehended. Two of them were later sentenced to 18 years in prison each.
In August, Tajikistan's Supreme Court declared Commission 44 to be a criminal group.
Protests are rare in the tightly controlled nation of 9.5 million where President Emomali Rahmon has ruled with an iron fist for nearly three decades.
Former Russian Lawmaker And His Brother Handed Lengthy Prison Terms On Embezzlement Charges
A court in Moscow on December 1 sentenced former Russian lawmaker Magomed Magomedov and his brother, an ex-tycoon, Ziyavudin Magomedov, to 18 years and 19 years in prison, respectively, on embezzlement charges. The Meshchansky district court also found the brothers guilty of creating a criminal group. Magomed Magomedov used to be a member of the Federation Council, the Russian parliament's upper chamber. In 2017, Forbes estimated Ziyavudin Magomedov's wealth to be $1.4 billion. The two were arrested in March 2018. Both maintain their innocence. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.
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