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Medvedev Says Russia Will Defend Interests Abroad

Dmitry Medvedev speaking at the Foreign Ministry in Moscow
MOSCOW -- Russia will robustly defend its interests abroad, President Dmitry Medvedev said in a speech that made clear he would not soften the assertive policies that irked the West under his predecessor.

Russia-watchers scrutinize statements from the Kremlin leader, who took office in May, for any indication of changes from his mentor and previous President Vladimir Putin.

Putin reasserted Russia as a major power after a decade in which the country saw its Soviet-era influence sharply reduced. In the process, Putin irked the West by confronting it on issues from Kosovo to Iran.

Some observers predicted that 42-year-old former lawyer Medvedev would take a softer line.

But addressing a gathering of Russia's top diplomats on July 15, he said he would stick to Putin's doctrine of seeking a role for Russia on the world stage worthy of its resurgent power.

"Russia has become stronger and is capable of assuming greater responsibility for solving problems on both a regional and global scale," Medvedev told a meeting with over 200 Russian ambassadors and senior Foreign Ministry officials.

Ex-KGB spy Putin has stayed on as prime minister and continues to help shape policy.

"The world, which got rid of the Cold War, still cannot achieve a new balance," Medvedev said in his, speech delivered in the Foreign Ministry's Stalin-era building still decorated with the Soviet emblem.

"Moreover, a trend towards the use of force [in international relations] has become stronger."

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Medvedev said security arrangements established in Europe at the end of the Cold War could collapse if the United States continued to chip away at their foundations, notably by deploying elements of a missile shield in Eastern Europe.

Washington says the system aims to avert potential strikes from Iran but Moscow views it as a threat to its own security.

"This common heritage cannot survive if one of the sides selectively destroys isolated elements of the strategic construction. This does not satisfy us," Medvedev said.

"Deployment of elements of the U.S. global antimissile system in Eastern Europe only makes the situation worse. We will need to react to this adequately," he added.

Moscow, sensitive to any Western military advance towards its borders, also opposes U.S.-led moves to integrate the former Soviet states of Georgia and Ukraine into NATO.

The West, in turn, has been alarmed by Russia's decision to suspend participation in the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty, which limits the deployment of heavy armor from the Atlantic coast to the Ural Mountains.

"The crisis situation over...the CFE Treaty is also part of the problems with the European security architecture," Medvedev said.

"We would not like to think that only its [the treaty's] final collapse would prove to everyone that the existing control regime is ineffective and unfair."

Medvedev has proposed a European security conference to draft new rules offering equal security to all European states and settling arms-control issues.

He said narrow interests should not be allowed to bypass international law, citing as an example Kosovo's declaration of independence from Serbia earlier this year, which Russia said created a dangerous precedent.

But Medvedev also echoed Putin by saying he was not picking fights with the West and that it was important to defend Russia's interests "without plunging into a confrontation."

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Tsikhanouskaya Calls On Croatia To Distinguish Lukashenka's Regime From Belarusians

Tsikhanouskaya started her two-day visit to Croatia on January 26. She was scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic and parliament speaker Gordan Jandrokovic. (file photo)

Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the exiled leader of the democratic opposition in Belarus, has called on Croatia "to distinguish between" the Belarusian people and the regime of the authoritarian ruler of her country, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, and to do the same between Belarus and Russia.

Tsikhanouskaya said after talks with Croatian Foreign Minister Gordan Grlic-Radman in Zagreb on January 26 that "dictator Lukashenka is fully responsible for taking part in [Russia's] war against Ukraine."

She said the vast majority of Belarusians oppose the war and support Ukraine.

"Another message: Belarus is not Russia," she said. "Belarus has always been part of the European community; we strive for that. And we see our future in friendship with Croatia."

She described Belarus as currently "under a creeping occupation."

Tsikhanouskaya expressed thanks to Grlic-Radman for "his active support to a democratic Belarus in the European Union, the European Council, and the OSCE,” as well as for Croatia's support of Ukraine.

"Today we discussed how to prevent involvement of Belarusian troops' participation in the war against Ukraine, how to help Belarusian guerillas and volunteers, to strengthen the isolation of Lukashenka on the international arena," Tsikhanouskaya said.

Tsikhanouskaya started her two-day visit to Croatia on January 26. She was scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic and parliament speaker Gordan Jandrokovic.

On January 26, Belarusian state-controlled Telegram channels said that Tsikhanouskaya's Office and the Coordination Council of Belarusian opposition were extremist organizations.

With reporting by BPN

Workers At Chinese-Serbian Copper Mine Block Roads To Press Wage Demands

Workers from the Chinese Zijin Copper company in Bor, Serbia, block the entrance to the factory demanding higher wages and working conditions.

Hundreds of workers at a joint Chinese-Serbian copper mine in Bor, in eastern Serbia, blocked access to the facility on January 26 to protest for higher wages and a new collective bargaining agreement with the mine's Chinese majority owners.

The demonstrators blocked four entrance gates to the mining and smelting complex.

"We are only blocking heavy trucks -- we let in the ambulance, firefighters, and police. Anyone can walk by foot and get to work," Dragan Elek, from the smelters trade union organization, told RFE/RL.

Chinese Zijin Copper bought around two-thirds of the Bor mining facility from the Serbian state in 2018 and employs some 6,200 people to exploit copper, gold, and other ore deposits in eastern Serbia.

A similar protest was staged earlier this month.

Workers are demanding the 14.3-percent pay rise that was proposed by the tripartite Socio-Economic Council representing labor, management, and the Serbian government. They also want a new collective agreement.

"Primarily, we want to preserve our budgets and our dignity," Miodrag Milic, one of the protesting workers, told RFE/RL.

The Zijin Copper company issued a statement pledging in 2023 to increase wages by 10 percent.

The Chinese Bor operations have already faced legal challenges based on accusations of noncompliance with environmental standards.

Russia's Path To 2024 Olympics Takes Shape; Ukraine Objects

Athletes of the Russian Olympic Committee attend a welcoming ceremony after returning from the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games on Red Square in Moscow, on August 9, 2021.

Russia's path to sending a team to the Paris Olympics next year became clearer on January 26 amid fierce objections from Ukraine. The International Olympic Committee indicated on January 25 that it favors officially neutral teams from Russia and its ally Belarus at the 2024 Olympics despite a plea from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to exclude them entirely. A day later, Russia and Belarus were invited to compete at the Asian Games, a key Olympic qualifier. To see the original story by AP, click here.

Canada To Send Four Leopard 2 Tanks To Ukraine

A Leopard 2 tank (file photo)

Canada will send four Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine, Canadian Defense Minister Anita Anand said on January 26, after Germany this week allowed other countries to re-export the German-built tank. "This donation, combined with the contributions of allies and partners, will significantly help the armed forces of Ukraine" in their defense against the Russian invasion, Anand told reporters in Ottawa.

U.K. Aiming To Deliver Tanks To Ukraine By End Of March

Britain this month became the first Western ally to promise heavy assault vehicles for Ukraine with a plan to send 14 Challenger 2 tanks. (file photo)

Britain's government said on January 26 that it was aiming to send tanks to Ukraine at the end of March, with training starting next week. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told reporters that "everything is going according to plan" after Britain this month became the first Western ally to promise heavy assault vehicles for Ukraine with a plan to send 14 Challenger 2 tanks. Germany and the United States swept aside longstanding misgivings and followed suit on January 25.

North Macedonia Says Bulgaria Recall 'Disproportionate' As Balkan Tensions Bubble Over

Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nikolay Milkov (left) and North Macedonian Foreign Minister Bujar Osmani visited Hristijan Pendikov in the hospital on January 22 after he was attacked and beaten over the weekend in Ohrid, North Macedonia.

SKOPJE -- North Macedonia's foreign minister, Bujar Osmani, has described Bulgaria's decision to recall its ambassador to Skopje as "disproportionate" if it is a response to a weekend attack on a minority Bulgarian in the city of Ohrid.

Hristijan Pendikov, a Macedonian citizen who identifies as Bulgarian and is an employee of one of the Bulgarian cultural clubs in North Macedonia that some Macedonians regard as provocative, was attacked and beaten last weekend in that Macedonian city.

Sofia announced the diplomatic withdrawal on January 25, with Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nikolay Milkov saying it would remain in effect until Sofia sees signs of change.

Relations between the Balkan neighbors have long been strained by deep cultural, historical, and linguistic ties that spilled into the open three years ago when Sofia invoked its veto power to stall North Macedonia's EU negotiations.

Sofia finally agreed to withdraw the veto last year but only after slightly reshaping the Macedonian EU accession framework.

The day after the attack on Pendikov, he was flown to Bulgaria on a Bulgarian government plane to undergo surgery for his injuries.

Macedonian President Stevo Pendarovski called a meeting of the Security Council on January 23, after which he said he would ask the government to ban the entry into the country of several Bulgarian citizens he said were leading a campaign against North Macedonia and were connected to Russian intelligence services.

Osmani blamed the attack on Pendikov on individual perpetrators and said Macedonian officials had done all they could to respond to the attack.

"The state immediately identified the perpetrators, [and] one of them is in custody," Osmani told the Macedonian Desk of RFE/RL's Balkan Service on January 26. "There were condemnations by the president, the prime minister, the minister of foreign affairs. I went to Sofia [and] we expressed what the state should show our citizens, so I don't see what the connection would be between one case and the reaction."

Milkov suggested on Bulgarian state television that Sofia would "review" joint projects with its North Macedonia and said "things cannot continue as they have been."

He added that "things have changed" between the neighbors.

Osmani rejected generalizations about a state's behavior based on a single incident.

He also said he thought the Bulgarian government's actions were related to elections there scheduled for early April -- the country's fifth in less than two years.

"The Republic of Bulgaria is entering the election process," Osmani said, adding that a political vacuum over the past two years has been an "aggravating circumstance" with respect to "sensitive issues."

He said "the season of provocateurs, thugs, and political profiteers is open and now everyone is in trouble."

The European Commission is currently reviewing all 33 of North Macedonia's accession chapters to determine what North Macedonia must achieve to prepare to become an EU member.

Any existing member state -- including Bulgaria -- can veto the opening and closing of such chapters in negotiations.

Bulgarian cultural clubs became a flashpoint for tensions between the countries as their numbers and visibility increased last year.

Other recent celebrations of historical figures have further stirred tensions.

A large contingent of Bulgarian nationals is expected to travel to North Macedonia to mark the 151st anniversary of the birth of revolutionary Goce Delcev on February 4.

Earlier this week, the Macedonian government instructed the Interior Ministry to take measures to keep the event safe.

U.S. Lists Russian Vagner Mercenary Group As 'Transnational Criminal Organization'

Vagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin has been increasingly public in his efforts to take credit for battlefield gains. He has also been filmed recruiting Vagner fighters from Russian prisons, promising pardons in exchange for battlefield action.

The United States has designated the Vagner Group a "significant transnational criminal organization" and targeted individuals and entities within the Russian mercenary enterprise's global network in line with an executive order.

The U.S. Treasury said on January 26 that additional new sanctions in connection with the designation target six individuals and 12 entities, including a Chinese satellite-imagery provider and companies and people in the Central African Republic (CAR) where Vagner has active paid fighters, as well as in the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.).

A Treasury statement described the listing by its Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) as part of an effort "to degrade the Russian Federation's capacity to wage war against Ukraine."

Thousands of Vagner troops are fighting in Ukraine, and Vagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin has been increasingly public in his efforts to take credit for battlefield gains. He has also been filmed recruiting Vagner fighters from Russian prisons, promising pardons in exchange for battlefield action.

Ukrainian and Western officials have blamed Vagner troops for atrocities against civilians in Russia's invasion, which is now in its 12th month.

"As sanctions and export controls on Russia from our international coalition continue to bite, the Kremlin is desperately searching for arms and support -- including through the brutal [Vagner] Group -- to continue its unjust war against Ukraine," the statement quoted Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen as saying.

The Treasury said Vagner personnel "have engaged in an ongoing pattern of serious criminal activity, including mass executions, rape, child abductions, and physical abuse in the Central African Republic (CAR) and Mali."

It noted that the OFAC in 2017 concluded that Vagner was complicit in actions that threatened Ukraine and was singled out in November by the State Department for its contribution to the now nearly year-old full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

"As Russia’s military has struggled on the battlefield, Putin has resorted to relying on the [Vagner] Group to continue his war of choice," the Treasury said of the Ukrainian invasion effort.

The sanctions will also target the Joint Stock Company Terra Tech (Terra Tech) and China's Changsha Tianyi Space Science and Technology Research Institute Co. LTD (Spacety China).

It also named an alleged Vagner front company called Officer’s Union for International Security (OUIS) and its director, along with a Russian Vagner employee it said was advising C.A.R.'s president, along with U.A.E.-based Kratol Aviation.

It said that "to further degrade Russia's war machine" it was sanctioning JSC Aviacon Zitotrans (Aviacon Zitotrans), unmanned aerial vehicle maker AO Ural Civil Aviation Factory (UCAF), and state-owned Joint Stock Company National Aviation Service Company (NASC), along with a handful of other entities.

Sakharov Center Says It's Being Evicted From Moscow Premises

A roundtable event at the Sakharov Center in Moscow in 2019

MOSCOW -- The Sakharov Center in Moscow, the human rights entity named after Nobel Prize-winning Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov, says it is being evicted from its three premises in the Russian capital.

The Sakharov Center's staff said in a statement on January 26 that Moscow's Property Department had informed it two days earlier that it was canceling the group's lease agreements, including one to its main building, an exhibition hall, and one to Sakharov's former apartment.

The department explained the decision by saying that amendments to the controversial law on foreign agents, which took force on December 1, forbid organizations and individuals labeled as foreign agents from receiving any state support. All the premises were provided to the Sakharov Center free of charge.

"For a quarter of a century, the center has been a place that united thousands of Russian citizens who are not indifferent to the fate of the country, the values of freedom and human rights," the statement from the Sakharov Center said.

"This legal collision proves yet again that the state policy's idea is liquidation of the independent organizations that fight for social interests," it added.

The center was given its first premises by Moscow authorities in 1993.

The personal archive of Andrei Sakharov is currently kept in the center's apartment location on Moscow's Zemlyanoi Val Street.

Exhibits about the first president of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Havel, Polish journalist and dissident Adam Michnik, British cinema director Tom Stoppard, Lithuanian writer and dissident Tomas Venclova, and prominent Soviet and Russian dissidents Vladimir Bukovsky and Natan Sharansky all were featured at one time or another.

The center was also a place where people bid last farewell to well-known Soviet dissidents and post-Soviet Kremlin critics such as Sergei Kovalyov, Boris Nemtsov, Yury Ryzhov, Valeria Novodvorskaya, and Yury Afanasyev.

The Sakharov Center "created the only historic exposition in the country that told the history of the Soviet Union as a totalitarian help society reevaluate the tragic pages of its history and realize that the repetition of political repressions, deportations, aggressive foreign policy is perilous for the country," the Sakharov Center statement said.

Death Sentence Protest Turns Violent Outside Iranian Prison As Security Agents Disperse Crowd

An undated photo of the Ghezel Hesar prison near the capital, Tehran

A gathering of the families of drug-related prisoners sentenced to death in Iran has turned violent as law enforcement and security officers tried to break up the demonstration in front of the Ghezel Hesar prison near the capital, Tehran.

The U.S.-based activist group HRANA reported that the families, holding placards with the slogan "No To Execution," demanded a reduction in the punishment of those accused of drug crimes and a halt to the carrying out of their death sentences. Many protest rallies have been held in Iran in recent years, but one opposing the death sentence is a rare act of defiance.

In videos of the January 25 protests posted on social media police officers can be seen dispersing the demonstrators, who identified themselves as relatives of those on death row, arresting some of them.

There were no details on whether anyone was injured or how many people were detained.

Iran has seen a sharp rise in the number of executions since September 2021 after Ebrahim Raisi, a former head of the judiciary, became president and former Intelligence Minister Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei took over the judiciary.

The Oslo-based Iran Human Rights Organization says the number of executions in Iran exceeded 500 last year, and officials have been pushing for harsh penalties, including the death sentence, for protesters at the center of unrest sweeping the country over the September 16 death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in police custody for an alleged violation of the country's head scarf law.

On January 10, UN human rights chief Volker Turk accused Tehran of "weaponizing" the death penalty to quell dissent amid months of unrest over the death of Amini.

Four convicted protesters have already been executed, and others remain on death row after being handed death sentences.

Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda

France Demands Release Of Citizen In Iran As Health Worsens

Diplomats said Bernard Phelan, 64, a tourism consultant, recently ended a hunger strike that had hit his health, but he remains fragile.

France's Foreign Ministry demanded on January 26 the immediate release of Bernard Phelan, a Franco-Irish citizen detained in Iran whose health situation has worsened, with Paris saying he has been denied urgent medical care. Ties between France and Iran have deteriorated in recent months with Tehran detaining seven of its nationals in what Paris has said are arbitrary arrests that are equivalent to state hostage taking. Diplomats said Phelan, 64, a tourism consultant, recently ended a hunger strike that had hit his health, but he remains fragile. To read the original Reuters story, click here.

Britain Sounds Alarm On Russia-Based Hacking Group

(illustrative image)

A Russia-based hacking group named Cold River is behind an expansive and ongoing information-gathering campaign that has struck various targets in government, politics, academia, defense, journalism, and activism, Britain said. In an advisory, the National Cyber Security Center said Cold River impersonates people around its targets by using fake email addresses and social media profiles. "There is often some correspondence between attacker and target, sometimes over an extended period, as the attacker builds rapport," the advisory said. The advisory did not directly attribute the digital attacks to the Russian government. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev In Kyrgyzstan, To Sign Deal On Border

Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev and Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov shake hands at a summit in July 2022.

Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev has arrived in Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, for a two-day official visit. Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov met his Uzbek counterpart at the Bishkek airport on January 26. The two leaders will discuss bilateral ties and sign several agreements, including those on border delimitation. Kyrgyz-Uzbek border demarcation has been an issue for years. More than 20 Kyrgyz politicians and activists were arrested in October after they protested a border deal that allowed Uzbekistan to acquire an important water reservoir along a disputed segment of the border. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, click here.

UN Food Agency Warns That Afghan Malnutrition Rates Have Reached A Record High

A burqa-clad woman sits with her children along a roadside in Kandahar.

Malnutrition rates in Afghanistan are at record highs, with half the country enduring severe hunger throughout the year, a spokesman for the World Food Program said on January 26. The Taliban takeover in August 2021 drove millions into poverty and hunger after foreign aid stopped almost overnight. "Half of Afghanistan endures severe hunger throughout the year, regardless of the season, and malnutrition rates are at a record high for Afghanistan," said Phillipe Kropf, a spokesman for the UN food agency in Kabul. "There are 7 million children and mothers who are malnourished." To read the original story by AP, click here.

Imprisoned Iranian Activist Sadeghi, Who Is Ill With Cancer, Sentenced Again

Arash Sadeghi (left) and his wife, Golrokh Iraei

Iranian political activist Arash Sadeghi, who is already in prison serving a 19-year sentence despite being diagnosed with cancer, has been handed another sentence of more than five years for his participation in protests over the death of a young woman in police custody.

Ramin Safarnia, Sadeghi's lawyer, said on Twitter on January 25 that his client was also banned from living in Tehran and the northern Iranian provinces, and cannot carry out activities via the Internet for two years after being found guilty of "gathering and collusion against national security" and "propaganda activity against the Islamic republic."

Safarnia added that Sadeghi cannot be a member of any political or social party or group, and that all of his personal belongings will be confiscated "for the benefit of the government."

Sadeghi, who has been imprisoned several times and was diagnosed with cancer during his previous incarceration, was released from prison a year and a half ago after enduring more than five years behind bars on two separate terms totaling 19 years that were handed down in 2013 on charges of propaganda against the government, defamation of the supreme leader, and threatening national security.

A political activist while a student at Allameh Tabatabaei University in Tehran, he has gone on hunger strike several times, including in 2016 to protest the arrest of his wife, who was detained on a charge of writing fiction that had not yet been published.

Sadeghi was released in 2021 before being arrested again in October during protests over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while she was being detained by morality police for allegedly improperly wearing her hijab.

Anger over Amini's death on September 16 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 January 15 at least 522 people had been killed during the unrest, including 70 minors, as security forces try to stifle widespread dissent.

Many high-profile activists, rights advocates, and intellectuals have also been arrested in recent months because of the protests, including Fatemeh Sepehri and Majid Tavakoli.

Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda

Russia Labels Latvia-Based Meduza News Website 'Undesirable Organization'

Meduza was added to Russia's list of "foreign agents" in 2021.

The Russian Prosecutor-General's Office has designated the Latvia-based Meduza news outlet as "an undesirable organization," amid the government's ongoing crackdown on independent media. The office explained its January 26 decision by saying the Russian-language media outlet's "activities pose a threat to the basis of the Russian Federation's constitutional order and security." Meduza was added to Russia's list of "foreign agents" in 2021. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

Turkey Says It's 'Meaningless' To Restore NATO Dialogue With Sweden, Finland

A protester jumps on a poster of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at a demonstration against Sweden's NATO bid arranged by the Kurdish Democratic Society Center in Stockholm on January 21.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on January 26 it was "meaningless" to hold a trilateral meeting with Sweden and Finland to discuss their NATO bids after anti-Turkish protests this month in Stockholm. Cavusoglu also told a news conference in Ankara that there was no offer to evaluate Sweden's and Finland's NATO membership separately. Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said his country wanted to restore NATO dialogue with Turkey after Ankara indefinitely postponed trilateral talks with Sweden and Finland over their membership. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.


Former Kyrgyz Deputy Prime Minister Razakov Arrested On Fraud Charges

Jenish Razakov was deputy prime minister from 2012 to 2016.

Former Kyrgyz Deputy Prime Minister Jenish Razakov has been arrested on charges of fraud and abuse of office. Kyrgyz Interior Ministry said on January 26 that Razakov is currently being held in pretrial detention. He is suspected of illegally obtaining $1 million from an individual via a fraud scheme in 2017. Razakov served as the Central Asian nation's deputy prime minister, secretary of the Security Council, and a regional governor between 2012 and 2020. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, click here.

Former Theater Director In Siberia Whose Son Condemned War In Ukraine Sent To House Arrest

Aleksandr Kulyabin (file photo)

The former director of the Red Torch Theater in Novosibirsk, Aleksandr Kulyabin, whose son publicly condemned Moscow's invasion of Ukraine, was sent on January 26 to pretrial house arrest on embezzlement charges. Kulyabin was detained two days earlier after his home was searched. His son, Timofei Kulyabin, worked as the chief producer at the theater in the Siberian city. He decided not to return to Russia from the Czech Republic, where he was on a business trip weeks after Russia launched its full-scale aggression against Ukraine in February 2022. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

French Foreign Minister Arrives In Odesa To Assess Ukraine's Needs

French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna (file photo)

French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna arrived on January 26 in the Ukrainian Black Sea port city of Odesa as part of France's efforts to boost its relationship with Ukraine and discuss its upcoming needs. Colonna was in Odesa shortly after missile strikes hit crucial power-infrastructure facilities in the surrounding region, causing blackouts in the city. She was due to visit one of the damaged sites. The visit aims to send a message to Moscow amid Western fears that Russia may still want to launch an attack on the city to deprive Ukraine of its key maritime outlet for grain products. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Tatarstan's Leader To Officially Lose Title Of President Sooner Than Expected

In October 2021, Tatarstan's parliament first voted to reject the Russian lawmakers' bill on the grounds that it would violate the autonomous republic's constitution. (file photo)

Kazan, Russia -- Rustam Minnikhanov, the leader of Russia's autonomous republic of Tatarstan, has signed into law a bill on constitutional amendments, including a change that abolishes the title of the republic’s president.

According to the amendments that Minnikhanov endorsed on January 26 just hours after Tatarstan's lawmakers approved them in all three readings, the title of Tatarstan's leader as of February 6 will be "glava" (head) in Russian and "rais" in Tatar, which still translates as president or chairman. Leaders of several Arab nations are officially called rais.

When lawmakers in December gave initial approval of the move following a directive from Moscow, they said that under transition arrangements, Minnikhanov would be allowed to complete his current term as president, which runs until 2025.

The change was prompted by legislation proposed by Russian federal lawmakers and signed into force by President Vladimir Putin last year that provides for replacing the title of president of autonomous republics with the more generic title of head.

Minnikhanov was the last regional leader in Russia to use the title of president since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

All of the Russian Federation's other ethnic republics have already changed the titles of their leaders from president to head, while regional parliaments have lost their independence in adopting laws and regulations.

In October 2021, Tatarstan's parliament first voted to reject the Russian lawmakers' bill on the grounds that it would violate the autonomous republic's constitution.

But in December 2022, Minnikhanov told lawmakers that he favored the change, arguing that opposing it would undermine the unity of the Russian Federation at a time when Moscow is involved in a war with Ukraine.

Three Kazakh Officers Arrested On Torture Charge From 2022 Mass Protests

Troops are seen on Almaty's main square, where hundreds of people were protesting against the government after the authorities' decision to lift price caps on liquefied petroleum gas, on January 6, 2022.

A court in Astana has sent two officers from Kazakhstan's National Security Committee, Colonel Erkin Amanov and Major Khamit Abdighali, as well as Qairat Sartai of the Border Guard Service, to pretrial detention for two months on a charge of torturing people arrested during and after nationwide mass anti-government protests in January 2022. Kazakh authorities have said that the unrest left at least 238 people dead, of whom at least six were tortured to death while in police custody. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, click here.


Court Orders Kyrgyz Ministry To Produce Documents On Blocking Local RFE/RL Websites

At the end of the brief hearing, the judge adjourned the proceedings until February 17.

BISHKEK -- A court in Bishkek has ordered the Kyrgyz Ministry Of Culture, Information, Sports, and Youth Policies to produce documents relating to its decision to block the local-language websites of RFE/RL.

At a preliminary hearing on January 26 at Bishkek's Administrative Court, the judge ruled in favor of a motion by RFE/RL to see the documents in a lawsuit brought by the broadcaster over the move by Kyrgyz authorities to block Radio Azattyk's websites in Kyrgyz and Russian in late October after the media outlet refused to take down a video about deadly clashes along the Kyrgyz-Tajik border.

At the end of the brief hearing, the judge adjourned the proceedings until February 17.

The video in question was produced by Current Time, a Russian-language network run by RFE/RL in cooperation with Voice of America. Officials of the Central Asian state have claimed that the authors of the video "predominantly" took the position of the Tajik side.

The authorities have said the decision to block Radio Azattyk's websites was based on the Law on Protection from False Information, legislation that drew widespread criticism when it was adopted in August 2021.

Also on January 26, the Bishkek City Court held another preliminary hearing into RFE/RL's appeal against a court decision to freeze Radio Azattyk's bank account in Kyrgyzstan in November at the request of the State Committee for National Security (UKMK).

At that hearing, the court agreed with the motion by RFE/RL's lawyers to bring to the hearing investigator Ulan Japekov of the Interior Ministry, whose group concluded that Radio Azattyk's bank account must be frozen. The court then adjourned the hearing until February 2.

After Radio Azattyk's bank account in Bishkek was frozen in November, Kyrgyz authorities suspended the accreditation of 11 RFE/RL correspondents at parliament.

Three days before the hearings, the Ministry of Culture, Information, Sports, and Youth Policies informed RFE/RL that it had asked a court in Bishkek to halt all of RFE/RL's media operations in the country. The court said later in the day that it will address the request on February 8.

RFE/RL President and Chief Executive Officer Jamie Fly has rejected the ministry's request and characterized the government's moves as "continued unlawful attacks against Radio Azattyk and our independent reporting."

"We will pursue all available legal means to preserve our operations in the country. We will continue to serve our loyal Kyrgyz audiences no matter what actions the Kyrgyz government takes," Fly said in a statement published on January 23.

Dozens of media organizations, domestic and international rights groups, Kyrgyz politicians, and lawmakers have urged the government to unblock Radio Azattyk's websites.

"Shutting down Azattyk Media would be a huge blow to media freedom in Kyrgyzstan and the lawsuit should be immediately withdrawn," Syinat Sultanalieva, Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement on January 26.

"The government needs to end its attempts to control and censor independent journalism in Kyrgyzstan and restore its commitment to international human rights obligations, particularly to media freedom."

Asian Olympic Council Says Russians, Belarusians Can Compete In Asian Games

"All athletes, regardless of their nationality or the passport they hold, should be able to compete in sports competitions," the OCA said.

Russian and Belarusian athletes will be allowed to participate in this year's Asian Games despite Russia's war in Ukraine, the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) said on January 26. "All athletes, regardless of their nationality or the passport they hold, should be able to compete in sports competitions," the OCA said in a statement. The International Olympic Committee had said on January 25 that the presence of Russians at next year's Paris Olympics should be "further explored" despite calls from Ukraine for them to be excluded.

Germany Arrests Man Suspected Of Colluding With Russian Intelligence

BND headquarters in Berlin

Germany says it has arrested a man suspected of passing on intelligence to Russia. The German Prosecutor-General's Office said in a statement on January 26 that Arthur E. was arrested last weekend at the Munich airport as he arrived on a flight from the United States. The statement said he brought information obtained by an employee of Germany's Federal Intelligence Service (BND) to Russia. The BND employee, identified as Carsten L, was detained by German police last month. No details were released on the information that was allegedly passed on to Russia.

Serbian Tennis Star Djokovic's Father Seen Posing With Fans Carrying Russian Flags

Novak Djokovic (file photo)

Australian Open organizers have issued a reminder to players and their entourages about their policy on "inappropriate flags" after a video emerged showing Novak Djokovic's father posing for pictures with fans holding Russian flags. Four fans with "inappropriate flags and symbols" were questioned by Victoria Police following the quarterfinal between Djokovic and Russia's Andrei Rublev. A video also posted on social media showed one supporter on the steps of Rod Laver Arena holding up a Russian flag with the image of President Vladimir Putin on it. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

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