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Russian Opposition Dismisses Medvedev Election Reforms

Yabloko party leader Sergei Mitrokhin compared Medvedev's claims to have boosted democracy since coming to power last year to statements by the Soviet Communist Party. "It's calling black white," he said.
MOSCOW (Reuters) -- Russia's pro-Western opposition has dismissed President Dmitry Medvedev's promises to reform the political system as empty and said they saw little prospect of an easing of Kremlin domination.

In his annual state-of-the-nation address, Medvedev listed 10 reforms aimed at breaking the domination of the pro-Kremlin United Russia party, which has dominated politics in Russia since the presidency of Vladimir Putin, who now serves as prime minister.

Medvedev focused on the local election system, heavily criticized during votes last month. He promised "in future" to cancel controversial requirements on political parties to collect signatures to register for elections.

But leaders of Russia's pro-Western opposition parties, who have long complained that officials rule signatures as fake to block their parties from registering, were not impressed.

"What does 'in future' mean? In 20 years, in 30 years?" said Sergei Mitrokhin, leader of the opposition Yabloko party, which saw several candidates blocked from Moscow elections in October due to problems with signatures.

He compared Medvedev's claims to have boosted democracy since coming to power last year to statements by the Soviet Communist Party. "It's calling black white," he told Reuters.

'Clownery And Comedy'

Boris Nemtsov who has failed repeated attempts to register his Solidarity movement as a political party, described the reform proposals as "clownery and comedy."

"At essence it is a continuation of Putin's regime," he said, complaining that Medvedev said nothing about Russia's electoral fraud, biased court decisions, and the persecution of journalists and rights workers.

The Communist Party, the largest opposition party in parliament and among the most careful in its criticism of the Kremlin, was more guarded, with Gennady Zyuganov saying "at least half" of his party's demands had been met.

The Communists are accused by the pro-Western opposition of refraining from serious criticism of the Kremlin in exchange for representation in parliament.

That unwritten deal appeared to collapse in October when the Communists and the two other nominally opposition parties staged a walkout from parliament in protest at violations in Moscow city elections in which United Russia won 32 out of 35 seats.

They only returned when promised a meeting with Medvedev.

Ruling party deputy and political expert Sergei Markov said Medvedev's speech in essence divided the opposition into two camps.

While Medvedev promised to help opposition parties who are working for the people, he rebuffed the pro-West parties set on destabilizing the country, Markov said.

"The authorities consider democrats as those who work for the people. Garry Kasparov is the classic example of those who do not work to support the population," Markov said, referring to the former chess grandmaster who led a series of opposition demonstrations in 2006.

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Angry Iranians Launch Three-Day Protest As More Death Sentences Issued

Shops at a Tehran bazaar were shuttered on December 5 as a sign of support for the protests that have swept the country.

Iranian protesters have begun three consecutive days of protests and nationwide strikes as the judiciary continues to follow through on a government crackdown by issuing three more death sentences in its response to unrest sparked by the death of a young woman while in police custody for allegedly wearing a head scarf improperly.

Reports from across the country on December 5 said shopkeepers and businesses had stopped working in dozens of Iranian cities in a concerted effort to bolster the daily demonstrations that have erupted after the September 16 death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in Tehran.

The opposition activist collective 1500tasvir reported that several protest rallies have taken place in the center of Iranian capital on December 5, with protesters chanting slogans against the ayatollah and the government forces that have carried out a brutal crackdown that has left hundreds dead.

Security forces reportedly raided a market in the south of Tehran early on December 5 in an apparent attempt to try to prevent businesses there from joining the nationwide strikes.

Iran's state media, meanwhile, has reported that the restaurant and jewelry store owned by former Iranian soccer star Ali Daei has been sealed for joining the three-day strikes in Iran.

Since the start of the protests, Daei, a former forward with German soccer giant Bayern Munich and a former Iranian national team captain, has been a vocal supporter of the protesters and has repeatedly criticized government officials for suppressing the protests.

At the same time, the head of Iran’s judiciary announced at his weekly news conference the imminent execution of some protesters.

This is the second time in recent weeks that Iranian authorities have threatened to carry out death sentences for protesters arrested during the unrest. Several death sentences have been handed out already for some of those arrested in protests, but it has not been announced if the penalty has been carried out.

In October, 227 lawmakers from the 290-seat, hard-line parliament urged the judiciary to approve death sentences for some of the protesters arrested.

Human rights organizations strongly object to the issuance of death sentences, which they say were issued without valid proceedings and in a short time.

The activist HRANA news agency said that as of November 29, at least 459 protesters had been killed during the unrest, including 64 minors.

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

EU Commission To Try To Limit Illegal Migration In Western Balkans

A Macedonian soldier patrols the border with Greece, near Gevgelija.

The European Commission launched an action plan on December 5 detailing how it plans to clamp down on illegal migration into the European Union via the Western Balkans. The commission wants to increase border management in the region, continue work to align visa policies, and support asylum seekers' registrations, said Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas. The EU executive arm is acting in the wake of more than 22,000 illegal border crossings attempted in the Western Balkans in October -- 159 percent more than in 2021 -- according to data from Frontex, the EU border protection agency.

Russia Defiant As Oil Price Cap, Embargo Come Into Effect

An oil tanker is moored at the Sheskharis complex, part of Chernomortransneft JSC, a subsidiary of Transneft PJSC, in Novorossiysk -- one of the largest facilities for oil and petroleum products in southern Russia.

A price cap of $60 per barrel imposed on seaborne Russian oil by the Group of Seven (G7) leading economies, the European Union, and several importing countries came into effect on December 5, as Russia remained defiant and said it would not recognize the restrictions.

The EU also introduced an embargo of seaborne Russian oil that took effect on December 5.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

RFE/RL's Live Briefing gives you all of the latest developments on Russia's ongoing invasion, Kyiv's counteroffensive, Western military aid, global reaction, and the plight of civilians. For all of RFE/RL's coverage of the war, click here.

The price cap, which has been joined by the United States, Australia, Japan, and the United Kingdom, was intended to punish Moscow for its unprovoked aggression against neighboring Ukraine.

It stipulates that Russian oil can only be shipped to third countries using G7 or EU tankers, insurance companies, or credit institutions if the cargo is purchased at or below the price cap.

A similar price cap on Russian petroleum products is scheduled to take effect on February 5.

Russia said on December 4 that it rejects the price cap and will not sell oil below market prices, even if that means reducing production targets.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on December 5 that a response to the price cap "is being prepared."

"One thing is obvious: We will not recognize any price caps," Peskov said, adding that the price cap will not have any impact on Russia's war against Ukraine.

Moscow reportedly was considering issuing a decree that would ban the sale of any petroleum products to any country applying the price cap.

The price cap will be reviewed every two months with the first review set for January.

G7 and EU countries set the cap fairly close to market prices in the expectation that Russia would accept lower profits and continue selling oil.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has called for the international community to set the price cap at $30 per barrel in order to ramp up pressure on the Russian economy. He said that if Russia agrees to sell oil at $60 per barrel, it would still bring in about $1 billion in annual oil revenues.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry on December 5 said Beijing will continue its "mutually beneficial" energy cooperation with Russia, which is the world's second-largest oil exporter.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, and dpa

Georgia's Ex-Leader Saakashvili 'Poisoned' In Prison, Doctors Say

Former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili was transferred to a hospital last year after a hunger strike that he maintained for 50 days to protest his jailing, which rights groups have denounced as politically motivated.

Georgia's jailed ex-president, Mikheil Saakashvili, was "poisoned" in custody by heavy metals and risks dying without proper treatment, according to a medical report distributed on December 5 by his legal team. The 54-year-old was transferred to a hospital last year after a hunger strike that he maintained for 50 days to protest his jailing, which rights groups have denounced as politically motivated. In a report distributed by Saakashvili's legal team, U.S.-based toxicologist David Smith said "testing has revealed the presence of heavy metals" in Saakashvili's body and the pathological symptoms he displays "are the result of heavy metal poisoning."

Updated

Russia Launches Fresh Wave Of Missile Attacks On Ukraine

Firefighters work outside an office building destroyed by shelling in Donetsk, Ukraine, on December 5.

Residents of Kyiv and other cities across Ukraine have scrambled for cover as Russia launched another barrage of missiles at the country after explosions were reported at two airfields in central Russia.

Air-raid sirens could be heard in many parts of the country on December 5 with officials warning people to shelter from missiles that "have already been launched."

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

RFE/RL's Live Briefing gives you all of the latest developments on Russia's ongoing invasion, Kyiv's counteroffensive, Western military aid, global reaction, and the plight of civilians. For all of RFE/RL's coverage of the war, click here.

"Don't ignore the alarm," said Andriy Yermak, head of the Ukrainian presidential office said in a tweet.

Reports on social media showed hundreds of people sheltering in the subway stations in the capital Kyiv.

Kyiv's regional governor, Oleksiy Kuleba, said in a message on Telegram that rockets were "moving toward the region" and asked people not to post photographs of what was happening online.

In recent weeks, Russia’s military focus has been on striking Ukrainian infrastructure nationwide, pressing an offensive in the Donetsk region city of Bakhmut and shelling sites in the city of Kherson, which Ukrainian forces liberated last month after an 8-month Russian occupation.

Earlier on December 5, at least one large explosion occurred at a Russian military air base in the Saratov region, about 600 kilometers east of Ukraine, while another blast was reported by Russian state media at an airfield outside Ryazan, southeast of Moscow.

Social media posts by residents in the cities of Engels and Saratov seemed to show a large explosion at the Engels-2 air base at about 6 a.m. local time on December 5.

Neither Ukrainian nor Russian authorities immediately commented on the possible cause of the blasts.

Saratov Governor Roman Busargin issued a statement calling for local residents to remain calm amid the reports but neither confirmed nor denied them.

The latest volley of Russian missiles comes the same day that a price cap of $60 per barrel imposed on seaborne Russian oil by the Group of Seven (G7) leading economies, the European Union, and several importing countries took effect.

The price cap, which has been joined by the United States, Australia, Japan, and the United Kingdom, was intended to punish Moscow for its unprovoked aggression against neighboring Ukraine.

It stipulates that Russian oil can only be shipped to third countries using G7 or EU tankers, insurance companies, or credit institutions if the cargo is purchased at or below the price cap.

The EU has also introduced an embargo of seaborne Russian oil that also took effect on December 5.

Moscow remained defiant over the move and said it would not recognize the restrictions.

Status Of Iran's Notorious Morality Police Unclear After Reports Of Closure

An Iranian policewoman, part of the country's morality police, looks out from a police van in Tehran. (file photo)

The status of Iran's morality police remains unclear after the country's chief prosecutor said the notorious force had been closed in the wake of continuing protests following the September death in police custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini.

Mohammad Jafar Montazeri was quoted by the semiofficial ISNA news agency on December 3 as saying the morality police "had been closed," but a day later the state IRNA news agency quoted him as saying “the morality police have nothing to do with the judiciary” after he was asked why the morality police were being shut down.

As of December 5, there had been no word from officials -- including the Interior Ministry -- on the status of the controversial morality police, which began patrols in 2006 under hard-line President Mahmud Ahmadinejad to enforce the country’s Islamic dress codes, particularly the requirement to wear the hijab, or female head covering.

The squads of men in green uniforms and women in black chadors initially issued warnings but soon began arresting women for alleged violations.

Montazeri also was quoted on December 3 as saying parliament and the judiciary were "working" on whether the law requiring women to wear the hijab in public should be changed. He added that "the results will be seen in a week or two."

The Iranian government has said more than 200 people had been killed in the protests sparked by Amini’s death in September. Iranian rights groups put the figure at more than double that, while the United Nations has said more than 300 have been killed as the national protests have evolved into one of the most serious challenges to the country’s theocracy since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

While the government had taken a hard line in its stance toward the protests over the past several months, some officials have started to strike a more conciliatory tone as they talk about problems being experienced in Iran, which is struggling under the weight of crippling U.S. sanctions over Tehran's nuclear program.

In a December 4 interview with Iran’s state broadcaster, Deputy Security Minister Majid Mirahmadi said the "main cause" of the protests was not economic.

"This is an issue but not the main cause," Mirahmadi said. "It is a protest against injustice."

President Ebrahim Raisi said on December 3 that Iran's Islamic foundations were enshrined in the constitution.

"But there are methods of implementing the constitution that can be flexible," he said.

Russia's Kudrin Accepts Role As Adviser To Tech Giant Yandex

Aleksei Kudrin, who resigned as head of Russia's Audit Chamber last week, said on December 5 he had accepted an offer from technology giant Yandex to become an adviser on corporate development. (file photo)

Aleksei Kudrin, who resigned as head of Russia's Audit Chamber last week, said on December 5 he had accepted an offer from technology giant Yandex to become an adviser on corporate development. Yandex last month announced a review of a possible sweeping governance overhaul that would leave its major business units in Russia under new ownership. The announcement comes after months of internal turmoil, with executives departing, the sale of two of the company’s best-known products, and company shares hitting basement prices prior to being frozen on international stock exchanges. To read the original story from Reuters, click here. To read a previous RFE/RL story on the Yandex shakeup, click here.

Updated

Prominent Chechen Blogger, Kadyrov Critic Killed In Sweden

Tumso Abdurakhmanov, a popular YouTube blogger who has been harshly critical of Kadyrov and his government in Chechnya, left Russia in 2015. He has been granted political asylum in Sweden.

A prominent critic of Chechen strongman leader Ramzan Kadyrov has been killed in Sweden.

Colleagues of Chechen blogger Tumso Abdurakhmanov told RFE/RL’s Russian Service that he had been shot dead on the night of December 1-2, confirming earlier reports of his killing.

Swedish authorities have not issued a statement on the matter.

The Chechen opposition Telegram feed 1ADAT on December 5 also confirmed that Abdurakhmanov had been killed and that his brother, Mukhammad Abdurakhmanov, was under the protection of Swedish security forces.

Reports that Abdurakhmanov, 36, had been killed emerged on social media on December 1 but could not be confirmed. RFE/RL's Caucasus.Realities and Chechen opposition groups reported they were unable to contact the blogger and that his representatives said they had not been in contact with him or his brother.

Swedish officials told RFE/RL on December 2 that they had no information about Abdurakhmanov’s whereabouts.

In January 2021, two Russian citizens from Chechnya were given long prison sentences in Sweden after being convicted of attempting to kill Abdurakhmanov in February 2020.

One of the men, Ruslan Mamayev, testified that he had been acting on the behest of Chechen authorities who promised to pay him 50,000 euros ($50,000).

Kadyrov, who has ruled Chechnya since 2007 with a cult of personality around him, is frequently accused by Russian and international human rights groups of overseeing grave human rights abuses including abductions, torture, extrajudicial killings, and targeting the LGBT community.

Abdurakhmanov, a popular YouTube blogger who has been harshly critical of Kadyrov and his government in Chechnya, left Russia in 2015. He has been granted political asylum in Sweden.

He has not posted on his Telegram channel since the evening of November 30. "Normally, Tumso warns when his Telegram channel won't be active, but yesterday he did not," one commentator wrote below the post.

Abdurakhmanov’s last YouTube video was posted several weeks ago.

Blinken Says Putin Shows No Sign He's Interested In Diplomacy

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left to right), U.S. President Joe Biden, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attend a U.S.-Russia summit at Villa La Grange in Geneva, Switzerland, in June 2021.

Washington sees no signs that Moscow is interested in talks on ending the war in Ukraine, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said.

"There's always value in diplomacy if the parties in question and in this case Russia, are actually interested in meaningful diplomacy. And what we've seen, at least recently, is exactly the contrary," Blinken told CBS News on December 4, adding that Putin had switched tactics after suffering setbacks on the battlefield.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

RFE/RL's Live Briefing gives you all of the latest developments on Russia's ongoing invasion, Kyiv's counteroffensive, Western military aid, global reaction, and the plight of civilians. For all of RFE/RL's coverage of the war, click here.

"He's been unable to win on the battlefield, so he's taking, he's basically turning his ire and his fire on Ukrainian civilians, going after the energy infrastructure, trying to turn off the lights, turn off the heat, turn off the electricity. That's what's going on.

"So,unless and until Putin demonstrates that he's actually interested in meaningful diplomacy, it's unlikely to go anywhere," Blinken said on Face The Nation.

In recent weeks, Russia's military focus has been on striking Ukrainian infrastructure nationwide, pressing an offensive in the Donetsk region city of Bakhmut, and shelling sites in the city of Kherson, which Ukrainian forces liberated last month after an eight-month Russian occupation.

On December 1, President Joe Biden indicated he would be willing to talk with Putin if the Russian leader demonstrated that he seriously wanted to end the invasion.

"I'm prepared to speak with Mr. Putin if in fact there is an interest in him deciding that he's looking for a way to end the war," Biden said. "He hasn't done that yet."

The head of U.S. intelligence said fighting in Russia's war in Ukraine was running at a "reduced tempo" and suggested Ukrainian forces could have brighter prospects in coming months.

Avril Haines alluded to past allegations by some that Putin's advisers could be shielding him from bad news -- for Russia -- about war developments, and said he "is becoming more informed of the challenges that the military faces in Russia."

"But it's still not clear to us that he has a full picture of at this stage of just how challenged they are," Haines, the U.S. director of national intelligence, said on December 3.

The British Ministry of Defense, in its latest intelligence estimate on December 4, pointed to new signs from an independent Russian media outlet that public support in Russia for the military campaign was "falling significantly."

Meduza said it obtained a recent confidential opinion survey conducted by the Federal Protection Service, which is in charge of guarding the Kremlin and providing security to top government officials.

The survey, commissioned by the Kremlin, found that 55 percent of respondents backed peace talks with Ukraine while 25 percent wanted the war to go on. The report didn’t mention the margin of error.

With reporting by AP and Reuters

Ukrainian Presidential Aide Criticizes Musk For 'Magical Simple Solutions'

Mykhaylo Podolyak (file photo)

A top Ukrainian presidential aide has chided Twitter owner Elon Musk for the billionaire's "magical simple solutions," citing ideas put forward by Musk on Russia's invasion of Ukraine and Twitter content moderation. Mykhaylo Podolyak listed "exchang(ing) foreign territories for an illusory peace" and "open(ing) all private accounts because freedom of speech has to be total," as examples of such suggestions in comments on Twitter on December 4.

Russia Will Not Export Oil Subject To Western Price Cap, Deputy Prime Minister Says

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Novak (file photo)

Russia will not export oil that is subject a Western-imposed price cap even if Moscow has to accept a drop in oil production, President Vladimir Putin's point man on energy said on December 4. "We are working on mechanisms to prohibit the use of a price-cap instrument, regardless of what level is set, because such interference could further destabilize the market," Russian Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Novak said. On December 4, Group of Seven countries and Australia agreed a $60-per-barrel price cap on Russian seaborne crude oil in a move to deprive President Vladimir Putin of revenue while keeping Russian oil flowing to global markets. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Rebuilding Ukraine After Russian Invasion Will Cost $500-600 Billion, Says World Bank VP

A woman stands among the debris of a destroyed building after a Russian air strike in Chasiv Yar, Ukraine, in late November.

The postwar reconstruction of Ukraine will cost about 500-600 billion euros ($525 billion-$630 billion), World Bank Vice President Anna Bjerde said in an interview with the Austrian newspaper Die Presse. "Previously, we published the figure, which was calculated jointly with the European Commission and the Ukrainian government. How much money is needed to rebuild Ukraine and bring it up to European standards, for example in terms of energy efficiency? At of the beginning of June, it was about 350 billion euros," Bjerde said. But since then, she said the figure had risen significantly to the new estimate. To read the original report by Die Press, click here.

1,700 Dead Seals Found on Russia's Caspian Coast

The authorities in the Russian region of Daghestan said that it's still unclear what caused the animals' deaths, but they likely died of natural causes.

About 1,700 seals have been found dead on the Caspian Sea coast in southern Russia, officials said on December 4. The authorities in the Russian region of Daghestan said that it's still unclear what caused the animals' deaths, but they likely died of natural causes. Regional officials initially said on December 3 that 700 dead seals were found on the coast, but a day later Zaur Gapizov, head of the Caspian Environmental Protection Center, said according to the state RIA Novosti news agency that after a broader inspection of the coast the number of dead animals was 1,700. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

U.S. Focus On Iran Is Thwarting Weapons Aid To Russia, Not Nuclear Talks

Robert Malley, the U.S. special envoy for Iran (file photo)

Washington will focus on preventing the supply of Iranian weapons to Russia and supporting Iranian protests instead of continuing deadlocked negotiations with Iran on restoring the nuclear deal, said Robert Malley, the U.S. special envoy for Iran, in an interview with Bloomberg. "Iran is not interested in a deal and we're focused on other things," Malley said on December 3. To read the original story by Bloomberg, click here.

Kyiv Claims Russia Used Banned Chemical Weapon

Ukrainian troops used chemical defenses "to protect themselves from the strong irritant effect" of the prohibited substance, the navy said. (illustrative photo)

The Ukrainian Navy has accused Russia of using a banned chemical weapon against Ukrainian troops in eastern Ukraine. In a post on Facebook on December 4, the navy asserted Russia had dropped chloropicrin grenades from drones, but that Ukrainian troops had used chemical defenses "to protect themselves from the strong irritant effect" of the prohibited substance. The chemical -- which was developed as a poison gas during World War I -- was reportedly dispersed using K-51 aerosol grenades. The reports could not be verified, and there was no immediate reaction from Moscow. To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, click here.

Russian Fined For Displaying Slogan 'I Love My Father'

A man and woman kiss at a farewell ceremony at a mobilization center in Kazan in October.

A court in Kazan, the capital of the Russian region of Tatarstan, has fined local resident Svetlana Poteryakhina 30,000 rubles ($480) for purportedly “discrediting” the Russian armed forces by publicly carrying a sign with the slogan, “I love my father.” Earlier, she had been fined 10,000 rubles ($160) for violating the law on demonstrations for the same incident. Poteryakhina said the demonstration occurred on September 24, shortly after President Vladimir Putin announced a mobilization to raise troops for the war in Ukraine. She said that after she was detained, police threatened her with beating, rape, and criminal charges of terrorism. To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Russian Service, click here.

Iran Reportedly Shuts Down 'Morality Police' Amid Protests

A female officer of Iran's morality police looks out of the back of a police vehicle during a crackdown to enforce the Islamic dress code in Tehran in 2007.

Iran has cancelled its dreaded "morality police" in the wake of continuing protests following the September death in police custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, the country's chief prosecutor has said.

Iran’s state IRNA news agency on December 4 quoted Mohammad Jafar Montazeri as saying, "the morality police have nothing to do with the judiciary."

Montazeri was responding to the question of "why the morality police were being shut down."

The controversial morality police patrols were established in 2006 under hard-line President Mahmud Ahmadinejad to enforce the country's Islamic dress codes, particularly the requirement to wear the hijab, or female head covering.

The squads of men in green uniforms and women in black chadors initially issued warnings, but soon began arresting women for alleged violations.

Montazeri was quoted the previous day as saying parliament and the judiciary were "working" on whether the law requiring women to wear the hijab in public should be changed. He added that "the results will be seen in a week or two."

On December 3, the Iranian government said more than 200 people had been killed in the protests sparked by Amini's death in September.

The United Nations and Iranian rights groups put the figure at more than 300, as the national protests have evolved into one of the most serious challenges to the theocracy since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

In a December 4 interview with Iran's state broadcaster, Deputy Security Minister Majid Mirahmadi said the "main cause" of the protests was not economic.

"This is an issue, but not the main cause," Mirahmadi said. "It is a protest against injustice."

President Ebrahim Raisi said on December 3 that Iran's Islamic foundations were enshrined in the constitution.

"But there are methods of implementing the constitution that can be flexible," he said.

Ukraine Briefs U.S. On Russian Missile Strikes, Presses For Air-Defense Systems

Valeriy Zaluzhniy, commander-in-chief of the armed forces of Ukraine (file photo)

Ukrainian Army commander Valeriy Zaluzhniy has spoken with the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mark Milley, by phone and pressed Kyiv's requests for additional weaponry and equipment. In a post on Facebook late on December 3, Zaluzhniy said he briefed Milley on the latest Russian missile strikes against civilian infrastructure and asked for additional anti-aircraft and anti-missile defense systems. On November 30, the United States announced a $1.2 billion contract with defense contractor Raytheon to produce sophisticated NASAMS air-defense systems for Ukraine. To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, click here.

U.S. Intelligence Chief Says Ukraine Fighting Tempo To Decline In Coming Months

Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines testifies before a Senate committee hearing in Washington in May.

The director of U.S. national intelligence says fighting in Ukraine will continue at a reduced tempo for the coming months. Avril Haines also said on December 3 that she saw no evidence of a reduced will to resist on the part of Ukrainian forces. And she said U.S. intelligence saw no indication that the level of Russian dissent or opposition to the war in Ukraine might lead to a change in the government of President Vladimir Putin. Haines made the remarks at the annual Reagan National Defense Forum in California.

Iran Executes Four Accused Of Working For Israel

Nooses prepared for a public hanging. (illustrative photo)

Iran executed four people accused of working for Israel's Mossad intelligence agency on December 4, Iran's state IRNA news agency reported. The executed prisoners were identified as Hossein Ordukhanzadeh, Shahin Imani Mahmudabadi, Milad Ashrafi, and Manuchehr Shahbandi. They were accused of receiving weapons and funds in the form of cryptocurrency from Mossad. The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps claimed to have arrested several people supposedly linked to Mossad, accusing them of destroying property and kidnapping Iranian citizens. To read the original story by AP, click here.

NASA Says Russia Took $1 Billion In Wheat From Occupied Ukraine

A wheat field burns after Russian shelling a few kilometers from the Russian border in Ukraine's Kharkiv region in July.

Russia has harvested some $1 billion worth of wheat in the parts of Ukraine occupied by Russian forces, the U.S. space agency NASA has said. NASA Harvest, the agency's food-security program, said on December 4 that satellite imagery showed some 5.8 million tons of wheat were harvested from occupied land in Ukraine. It is not known what became of the Ukrainian wheat taken by Russia, but Russian ships have been exporting grain that may have been taken from occupied Ukraine to Libya, Iran, and other countries. To read the original story by Bloomberg, click here.

U.S. Defense Secretary Accuses Russia Of 'Deliberate Cruelty' In Ukraine

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin (file photo)

The U.S. defense secretary has accused Russia of "deliberate cruelty" in its war in Ukraine, saying Moscow was intentionally targeting civilians. Lloyd Austin made the accusation on December 3 during a speech at the Ronald Reagan National Defense Forum in California. "With deliberate cruelty, Russia is putting civilians and civilian targets in its gunsights," Austin said. "Russian attacks have left children dead, schools shattered, and hospitals smashed." Still, Austin said, the Pentagon is also concerned about escalating the Ukraine conflict into a U.S. war with Moscow: "We will not be dragged into Putin's war." To read the original story from Reuters, click here.

Popular Iranian Actress Mitra Hajjar Arrested

Mitra Hajjar (file photo)

Popular Iranian film and television actress Mitra Hajjar has been arrested, the IRNA news agency reported on December 3. Mehdi Kohian, a member of a group that monitors artists' arrests, has confirmed Hajjar's detention. The reason for the arrest of Hajjar, who is also an environmental activist, was not immediately clear. Last month, Hajjar was one of the artists summoned by prosecutors and questioned about "provocative" content posted online amid a wave of popular protests caused by the death in September of a young woman in the custody of Iran's notorious morality police. To read the original story from RFE/RL's Radio Farda, click here.

Updated

Russian Businessman Mikhail Fridman Reportedly Detained In London On Money-Laundering Suspicions

Mikhail Fridman attends a conference in Moscow in 2019.

British police say a "wealthy Russian businessman" has been arrested at his multimillion-dollar London home on potential money-laundering suspicions, and later released on bail.

The National Crime Agency did not identify the man in its December 3 statement.

But Russian state news agency TASS identified the man as Mikhail Fridman, a Russian-Ukrainian billionaire and one of the principals behind the Alfa Group conglomerate.

In its statement, the crime agency said a 58-year-old man was among three men who was arrested by officers from the Combating Kleptocracy Cell on December 1 at a "multimillion-pound residence" in London.

It was unclear why the agency released its statement two days after the arrest.

The man was detained on suspicion of money laundering, conspiracy to defraud the Home Office, and conspiracy to commit perjury, the agency said.

The agency also said a 35-year-old man was arrested at the premises after he was seen leaving with a bag containing a large amount of cash.

A former boyfriend, 39, of the businessman's partner was also arrested at the property, police said.

All three were released on bail.

The press service for Alfa Group issued a statement on December 3 stating Fridman was not under arrest. But the statement did not address whether Fridman had been released on bail.

TASS, citing what it described as a source close to Fridman, said Fridman had been detained, but then released on bail.

The Russian Embassy in London, meanwhile, issued a statement on December 3 demanding more information about the detentions.

Fridman, 58, was the founder of Alfa Bank, and grew to be one of Russia's wealthiest businessmen. He's been put under sanctions by the European Union as part of broader punishment against Russia for its war against Ukraine.

The EU described him as as "a top Russian financier and enabler of [President Vladimir] Putin's inner circle."

In 2013, Fridman and one of his main Alfa partners, Pyotr Aven, reorganized their holdings following the $14 billion sale of their stake in the Russian oil company TNK-BP, and created a new London-based investment group called LetterOne.

Both Fridman and Aven stepped down from LetterOne after the EU imposed sanctions in March.

In a statement to RFE/RL, LetterOne said it had no comment on the reports of Fridman's arrest.

Iranian Reportedly Begins Construction On Nuclear Plant

An Iranian flag flies at the Bushehr nuclear power plant, its first, during an official ceremony to kick-start work on a second reactor at the facility in 2019.

Iran has begun construction on a new nuclear power plant in the country's southwest, Iranian state TV announced, amid tensions with the United States over sweeping sanctions imposed after Washington pulled out of the Islamic republic's nuclear deal with world powers. The new 300-megawatt plant, known as Karoon, will take eight years to build and cost around $2 billion, the country’s state television and radio agency reported on December 3. The plant will be located in the oil-rich Khuzestan Province, near its western border with Iraq, it said. To read the original story from AP, click here.

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