Accessibility links

Breaking News

News

Updated

Russia Signals New Optimism On Ties With U.S.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov called U.S. Vice President Joe Biden's speech "very positive."
MUNICH (Reuters) -- Russia has welcomed an offer by the United States "to press the reset button" on relations with Moscow and suggested the two sides could jointly review the contentious issue of missile defense.

Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov told a news conference: "It is obvious that the new U.S. administration has a very strong desire to change and that inspires optimism."

Earlier, he described as "very positive" a remark by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden at an international security conference in Munich that it was time to "reset" relations and end a dangerous drift in ties between Russia and NATO.

Moscow strongly opposed plans by former President George W. Bush to deploy parts of a missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic, to defend against perceived threats from countries hostile to Washington, chiefly Iran.

Ivanov, also speaking in Munich, indicated that Moscow was prepared to discuss missile threats with Washington.

"We do not claim there is no threat. The question is how we are going to react to the hypothetical threat of the spread of missile technologies," he said. "There are a few options that include, among other things, a joint threat assessment [by] Russia and the U.S."

Ivanov also reaffirmed that if Washington scrapped the proposed missile shield, Russia would not proceed with the threatened deployment of nuclear missiles near the Polish border.

But, asked whether Russia would take concrete steps to signal its readiness to work with the United States, Ivanov said: "It is not an oriental bazaar and we do not trade the way people do in a bazaar."

He was speaking after a meeting with Biden earlier on February 8.

Ties between Russia and the United States have grown increasingly strained in recent years.

Russia's brief war with Georgia last year and its recognition of the breakaway Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia were sharply condemned by the United States.

All Of The Latest News

EU, Western Balkans States Gather For Summit In Tirana

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama (left) welcomes European Council President Charles Michel before the EU-Western Balkans summit in Tirana on December 6.

EU leaders and their Western Balkan counterparts have gathered in the Albanian capital, Tirana, for talks aimed at boosting their partnership amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Brussels wants to use the one-day gathering -- the first EU-Western Balkans summit to be held outside the European Union -- to tell leaders from Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia to give them concrete signals, rather than just vague promises, that they will join that the 27-country bloc one day.

"I am convinced that the future of our children will be safer with the Western Balkans within the European Union, and we hope that we will progress in that direction," European Council President Charles Michel said at the start of the summit on December 6.

The EU's top diplomat, Josep Borrell, has reiterated that stepping up the bloc's engagement with the six countries is more crucial than ever to maintaining Europe's security given Russia's war in Ukraine.

Tensions have also mounted in the Balkans since the start of the conflict and the EU wants to avoid other flashpoints close to its borders. Brussels is also wary of the battle to increase influence in the region by Moscow and Beijing.

"In the Western Balkans, several crises are looming, and partners feel the immediate damaging impact of Russia's aggression against Ukraine," Borrell said last month.

"The shock waves of this war are hitting the Western Balkans. To counter that, we are stepping up our engagement as the Western Balkans remain our geostrategic priority -- the closest and most important geostrategic priority."

According to a draft of the declaration to be adopted at the summit, the EU will repeat "its full and unequivocal commitment to the European Union membership perspective of the Western Balkans" and call for an acceleration of accession talks with the incumbents.

In return, the EU expects full solidarity from its Western Balkans partners and wants them fully aligned with its foreign policies.

The attendance of Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, who claims he wants to take Serbia into the European Union but has cultivated ties with Russia, was uncertain until the day before the summit.

Vucic said that he decided to come to Tirana "after consultations with the state institutions."

"It's always better to be at the table because when you're not at the table, you're on the menu," Vucic said.

Kosovar President Vjosa Osmani emphasized that she expects clear messages from the European Union regarding her country's membership prospects.

"Sometimes confusing messages are being sent. On the one hand, we have countries that are fully aligned with the EU, and on the other hand, you have countries that are fully aligned with [Russian President Vladimir] Putin. The EU needs to be clear in its messages. Standing on the right side of history today is the least that is expected of us," Osmani said.

Osmani has confirmed Kosovo's intention to submit an application for full EU membership this month.

Kosovo has only started the first step, with the signing of a Stabilization and Association Agreement.

Among the concrete measures to be adopted in Tirana, a deal involving telecommunications operators that will bring down data roaming charges will be announced.

With reporting by AP

Iran Arrests 12 With Alleged European Links: Report

The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps logo

Iran's Revolutionary Guards have arrested 12 alleged members of a European-linked group accused of planning acts of sabotage in the country, Tasnim news agency said. Iran has been rocked by more than two months of what it calls deadly "riots" that it says have been fomented by the United States, its allies, and foreign-based opposition groups. In a statement quoted by Tasnim, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps in Markazi Province, southwest of Tehran, said it had arrested "a network with 12 members with links abroad."

Prosecutors Seek Life Sentence For Former Russian Lawmaker Arashukov, Father

Rauf Arashukov attends a court hearing in Moscow in 2019.

Prosecutors in Moscow are seeking a life sentence for a former member of the parliament's upper chamber, the Federation Council, Rauf Arashukov and his father, Raul, both of whom a jury found guilty in September of organizing two murders.

The request was made on December 5 at the post-verdict sentencing stage of the trial at the Moscow City Court.

In late September, a jury found Rauf Arashukov guilty of organizing the 2010 murders of Fral Shebzukhov, an adviser to the leader of the North Caucasus region of Karachai-Cherkessia, and Aslan Zhukov, deputy chairman of a youth movement in the mostly Muslim region.

The jury also found Arashukov's father, Raul Arashukov, guilty of ordering the two killings. Raul Arashukov was a lawmaker in Karachai-Cherkessia and an adviser to the chief executive of a Gazprom subsidiary.

Rauf Arashukov, 36, was detained in late January 2019 at a dramatic session of the upper house, after fellow lawmakers voted to strip him of his immunity from prosecution.

The younger Arashukov was also charged with participating in a "criminal community" and witness tampering.

He represented Karachai-Cherkessia in the Federation Council. His membership in the regional branch of the Kremlin-controlled United Russia party was suspended after his arrest.

His 62-year-old father was also arrested at the time along with several other people, including Rauf Arashukov's cousin.

Both Rauf and Raul Arashukov pleaded not guilty. The former lawmaker has insisted that the case against him and his father is politically motivated.

With reporting by RIA Novosti and Interfax

Father Of Jailed Belarusian Opposition Figure Kalesnikava Allowed Brief Visit

Alyaksandr Kalesnikau (file photo)

Alyaksandr Kalesnikau, the father of jailed Belarusian opposition activist Maryya Kalesnikava, has been allowed to see his daughter for 10 minutes after she spent several days in an intensive care unit following a surgery to save her life.

The Crisis In Belarus

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

Viktar Babaryka, a would-be presidential candidate who was imprisoned for alleged corruption last year, wrote on Telegram that Kalesnikau met his daughter under supervision of guards in the penitentiary's infirmary on December 5, where Kalesnikava was transferred over the weekend. She will remain in the infirmary for at least 10 days.

Babaryka quoted medical personnel as saying that Kalesnikava, who lost a significant amount of weight, had a ruptured ulcer.

Kalesnikava was rushed to the hospital from a prison 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 have 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 years 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 also being detained as political prisoners and have demanded their immediate release.

Drone Strikes Airfield In Russia's Kursk Region, Governor Says

The regional governor did not say who was responsible for the incident.

A drone has struck an airfield in the Russian region of Kursk bordering Ukraine, setting fire to an oil storage tank, the regional governor said on December 6. "There were no casualties. The fire is localized. All emergency services are working at the site," Governor Roman Starovoyt said on the Telegram messaging app. Starovoyt did not say who was responsible for the incident. Russia previously accused Ukraine of carrying out drone strikes inside Russian territory, including on December 6. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Russia Deploys Defense Missile System On Kurile Island Near Japan

Russian Bastion anti-ship missile systems (file photo)

Russia's Defense Ministry says it has deployed mobile coastal-defense missile systems on a northern Kurile island, part of a strategically located chain of islands that stretch between Japan and the Russian Kamchatka Peninsula. Japan lays claim to the Russian-held southern Kurile Islands, which Tokyo calls the Northern Territories, a territorial row that dates to the end of World War II, when Soviet troops seized them from Japan. The Russian Bastion systems, which have missiles with a flight range of up to 500 kilometers, were deployed on the island of Paramushir, the Russian Defense Ministry said on December 5. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Updated

Latvia Cancels License Of Exiled Independent Russian TV Dozhd

Dozhd was granted a broadcast license in June after it was forced to suspend operations in Russia in March amid pressure linked to its coverage of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Latvia's electronic media authority has revoked the broadcasting license of the independent Russian television channel Dozhd (Rain), the authority's chief announced on December 6.

The decision, due to come into force on December 8, was made "in connection with the threat to national security and public order," National Electronic Media Council (NEPLP) Chairman Ivars Abolins said.

The TV channel's management "does not understand and is not aware of the significance and seriousness of the violations, and therefore cannot operate on the territory of Latvia," Abolins said.

Dozhd said in a statement that the move was "unfair and absurd."

"The TV channel will stop broadcasting on cable but will remain on YouTube. We continue to work and believe all accusations against us to be unfair and absurd," Dozhd said on Twitter.

The NEPLP granted Dozhd a broadcast license in June after it was forced to suspend operations in Russia in March amid pressure linked to its coverage of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

On December 2, Dozhd was fined 10,000 euros ($10,468) for using a map of Russia with Ukraine's Moscow-occupied Crimea on it and calling Russian armed forces invading Ukraine "our army."

The same day, Latvia's state security service said it had launched an investigation in connection with statements "which raise suspicions about the assistance provided by this TV channel to the soldiers of the Russian occupation forces in Ukraine."

Dozhd anchor Aleksei Korostelyov on December 1 called on the station's audience to write about cases of violations of Russian laws during the recent mobilization in Russia and about war crimes.

In making the request, he said, "We hope we also helped many military personnel, namely by assisting with equipment and bare necessities on the front line."

The security service said in a news release, "No provision of support to the aggressor Russia is justifiable," adding that anyone helping the Russian forces was subject to criminal liability.

Other news organizations have also relocated operations to Riga.

Following the forced suspension of its operations in Russia in March, RFE/RL opened a news bureau in the Latvian capital, which is also currently hosting Novaya Gazeta Europe and German international broadcaster Deutsche Welle's Moscow bureau.

The city has also hosted independent news website Meduza since 2014.

With reporting by AFP and Reuters

Bulgaria Rejects Media Report About Refugee Shot At Border

Abdullah el-Rustum said he was shot by Bulgarian border guards after his group was caught illegally entering Bulgaria and pushed back to Turkey.

Bulgaria has rejected accusations that its border guards shot a Syrian refugee in October after a video released on December 5 showed a man being fired at on the country's border with Turkey. The footage of an asylum-seeker being hit with live ammunition was part of a joint investigation by several European media outlets including RFE/RL's Bulgarian Service, led by Lighthouse Reports. In a separate video recorded days later, the man identifies himself as a 19-year-old Abdullah el-Rustum of Syria. He said he was shot by Bulgarian border guards after his group was caught illegally entering Bulgaria and pushed back to Turkey. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Bulgarian Service, click here.

Heavy Fighting Continues In East As Ukraine Races To Restore Electricity After Russian Strikes

A Ukrainian police officer stands next to part of a Russian cruise missile shot down by the Ukrainian air defenses in the Kyiv region on December 5.

Ukrainian forces have fought off a fresh round of Russian attacks in the east, Ukraine's General Staff said, as technicians race to restore electricity following Moscow's latest wave of missile strikes that caused power disruptions across the country amid dropping temperatures.

Russian troops continued their relentless offensive in the Bakhmut and Avdiyivka areas of Donetsk region, the General Staff said on December 6, adding that tank and artillery bombardment hit some 20 settlements in the area, including Soledar, Verkhnokamyanske, Andriyivka, and Yakovlyivka.

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.

Ukrainian officials warned that critical energy infrastructure continues to be threatened by further Russian strikes and there would be emergency blackouts once again in several regions as engineers work frantically to repair damage from the huge wave of missile attacks the previous day that destroyed homes and knocked out power.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy announced in his nightly address that four people were killed in Russia's strikes. But "our people never give up," he said late on December 5.

About half the region surrounding the Ukrainian capital will remain without electricity for the coming days after Russian missile strikes on power facilities, the Kyiv regional governor said.

The attacks on December 5, which plunged parts of Ukraine back into freezing darkness, were the latest in weeks of attacks that hit critical energy infrastructure.

Kyiv, a city of about 3 million people, appeared to have escaped serious damage. But the Kyiv region, which does not include the capital and which had a population of about 1.8 million before the war, was badly hit.

"In the coming days, about half of the region will be without electricity," Governor Oleksiy Kuleba said on Telegram late on December 5.

Volodymyr Kudritskiy, the chief of power grid operator Ukrenerho, said Moscow had deliberately launched the attacks as the temperature fell below zero.

"A day or two is necessary to restore normal generation in the system," Kudritskiy told Ukrainian television.

Other regions sustained damage as well, with all water pumping stations and reserve lines in the Odesa region losing power and water supply being cut.

In the eastern city of Kramatorsk, which remains under Ukraine's control, 370 apartment blocks were without heat because of electricity outages, the city's mayor said.

In Russia's Kursk region across the border from Ukraine, an airfield was targeted by a "drone attack," according to Governor Roman Starovoyt, who did not specify where the drone originated.

"As a result of a drone attack in the area of the Kursk airfield, an oil storage tank caught fire," Starovoyt said on social media, adding that there were no casualties.

The December 6 incident comes a day after Moscow accused Ukraine of carrying out deadly drone strikes on two other airfields.

The information could not be independently confirmed.

Separately, Reuters reported that the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden is convening a virtual meeting on December 8 with oil and gas executives to discuss how the Washington can support Ukrainian energy infrastructure.

With reporting by Reuters and AFP

Romania Starts Sending Natural Gas To Moldova Through Pipeline

The Iasi-Ungheni pipeline was unveiled in 2014 to reduce Moldova's dependence on gas supplies from Russia. (file photo)

Romania has started transporting natural gas to Moldova, which is struggling to meet energy demand amid Russia's war against Ukraine. Gas began arriving on December 3 through a pipeline connecting Iasi in eastern Romania with the Moldovan border town of Ungheni, state news agency Agerpres reported, citing Romanian gas distributor Transgaz. The 43-kilometer pipeline, unveiled in 2014 to reduce dependence on supplies from Russia, has not been used until now. Moldova connected it in 2019 to supply Chisinau, and the compressor stations were commissioned in 2021. To read the full story by RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, click here.

Montenegro Reaffirms Its Support For Ukraine's Euro-Atlantic Path

A screen grab of video showing Montenegrin Prime Minister Dritan Abazovic (left) and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy signing a joint declaration on Ukraine's Euro-Atlantic perspective on December 5.

The prime minister of Montenegro and president of Ukraine have signed a joint declaration on Ukraine's Euro-Atlantic perspective. Dritan Abazovic and Volodymyr Zelenskiy signed the declaration on December 5 in an online meeting. Montenegro is the third country in Europe after Belgium and the Czech Republic to sign the declaration. It reaffirms Montenegro's support for Ukraine's efforts to become a full-fledged part of the Euro-Atlantic society, the government of Montenegro said. Zelenskiy thanked all Montenegrins for their support and for accepting Ukrainian refugees. Abazovic said that Ukrainians are fighting for their sovereignty and a chance to live in democracy. To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Balkan Service, click here.

FIFA Announces Probe Into Conduct Of Serbian Team, Fans At World Cup

Swiss captain Granit Xhaka (left) scuffles with Serbian players during their World Cup group game in Doha on December 2.

World soccer's governing body, FIFA, has announced a probe into alleged misconduct by Serbian players, team officials, and fans during Serbia’s World Cup loss to Switzerland last week.

The disciplinary action, which was announced on December 5, comes after complaints from the Football Association of Kosovo about offensive chants against two Swiss players who have ethnic Albanian roots and family ties to Kosovo. Serbia was eliminated from the tournament in the 3-2 defeat on December 2.

A statement from FIFA said its disciplinary committee has opened proceedings against the Football Association of Serbia "due to potential breaches of articles 12 (misconduct of players and officials), 13 (discrimination) and 16 (order and security at matches) of the FIFA Disciplinary Code" related to incidents during the match.

It is the second time that FIFA has launched disciplinary proceedings against the Serbian team during the 2022 World Cup. The first occurred after a flag showing Kosovo as part of Serbia allegedly was displayed in the Serbian locker room after the match on November 26 with Brazil.

Serbian team manager Dragan Stojkovic, speaking at a press conference on December 5 after the national team returned from Qatar, said he had no comment on the latest actions by FIFA.

The Football Association of Kosovo had complained to FIFA about the alleged incidents, judging them to be nationalistic.

"It's good that FIFA dealt with this and that it took it seriously," Agim Ademi, the president of the Football Association of Kosovo, told RFE/RL.

The Football Association of Serbia and the Serbian Sports Ministry did not respond to RFE/RL's request for comment about the disciplinary charges.

The Football Association of Kosovo had demanded a reaction from FIFA, due to "severe insults by the coach of Serbia and racist actions of Serbian fans" during the match against Switzerland, which was captained by Granit Xhaka, and in which Xherdan Shaqiri scored the opening goal. Both players have roots in Kosovo.

Serbia does not recognize Kosovar sovereignty more than a decade after the mostly ethnic Albanian province declared independence. Kosovo has been a member of FIFA and UEFA, soccer’s European governing body, since 2016.

FIFA’s announcement said that "racist calls against Albanians were heard during the entire match" and "slogans with political messages” were also heard.

Several Serbian players also encroached onto the field when the referee didn't use a video review to study a claim for a penalty kick in the second half.

FIFA gave no timetable for the disciplinary case. Any punishments could apply when Serbia next plays competitive games in March in a European Championship qualifying group.

The Football Association of Kosovo demanded investigation and sanctions against the Football Association of Serbia “so that once and for all fascist chants disappear from football stadiums and events such as the World Cup."

The association said in a statement that teams and fans “with behavior and a philosophy of hatred should not have a place at such important sports events as the World Cup in Qatar."

With reporting by AP

International Criminal Court's Prosecutor Opposes EU Plan For Special Ukraine Tribunal

International Criminal Court prosecutor Karim Khan (file photo)

The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has denounced a European Union proposal to create a UN-backed special tribunal to prosecute crimes in Ukraine, saying his court was capable of effectively dealing with war crimes committed there. On December 5, Karim Khan pushed back against the plan that European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced last week to establish a special court to prosecute Russia’s invasion. The Hague-based ICC has launched an investigation into war crimes in Ukraine but cannot prosecute the crime of aggression because Russia is not a signatory to the treaty that created the court. To read the original story by AP, click here.

Automobile Traffic Reopens On Part Of Bridge Linking Russia To Crimea

An explosion in October caused heavy damage to sections of the Crimean Bridge, which links Russia to the Ukrainian peninsula.

Two-way traffic has been restored on a Russian-built bridge that connects Russia to the Crimean Peninsula, which it seized from Ukraine in 2014. An explosion believed to be from a truck bomb caused heavy damage to road and railway sections of the bridge in October. The attack infuriated the Kremlin. Ukrainian officials have not said who carried it out. Russian state television channel Rossia-24 showed video of President Vladimir Putin driving a vehicle across the bridge. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Russian Prosecutor Seeks 9-Year Prison Term For Politician Ilya Yashin Over YouTube Posts

Kremlin critic Ilya Yashin in court earlier this year.

Russian prosecutors have asked a Moscow court to sentence opposition politician and Kremlin critic Ilya Yashin to nine years in prison for purportedly spreading false information about the Russian military amid its ongoing invasion of Ukraine. Yashin, who was arrested in July, is one of the few prominent opposition politicians still in Russia. The charge against him stems from his YouTube posts about alleged crimes committed by the Russian military in the Ukrainian city of Bucha. Yashin's trial started on November 23. The maximum sentence for such an offense is 10 years. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

Iranian Official Appears To Admit To Killing Of Women, Children On Recording

The recording seems to have caught Iranian official Reza Davari admitting on tape that women and children have been killed during Tehran's crackdown on ongoing protests in the country. (file photo)

A leaked audio recording from the Iranian pro-regime Coalition Council of Islamic Revolution Forces, appears to show the secretary of the council admitting to the accidental killing of women and children during a bloody crackdown in the southeastern city of Zahedan on September 30.

The document was published on December 4 after the hacktivist group Black Reward announced that it had succeeded in hacking the hard-line 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.

In the meeting involving the alleged admission of random killings, Reza Davari, the secretary of the Coalition Council of Islamic Revolution Forces, said that an agent who was on top of the police station "mistakenly" targeted an area where a number of people, including women and children, were killed.

"They were not even part of the protests," Davari added.

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.

Last month, Molavi Abdolhamid, a spiritual leader for Iran's Sunni Muslim population, said senior officials, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, were "responsible" for the killing of protesters during the so-called "Bloody Friday" massacre in Zahedan.

He also called for an immediate referendum with the presence of international observers to "change policies based on the wishes of the people."

Earlier, another leaked document from the Fars agency published by Black Reward shows Khamenei telling security and military officials to try and disgrace Molavi Abdolhamid, who is a vocal critic of the government, instead of arresting him.

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

Putin Signs Controversial Law Banning 'LGBT Propaganda'

Russian President Vladimir Putin (file photo)

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a law that expands an existing ban on promoting "LGBT propaganda" to children by prohibiting it among people of all ages. Under the new law, which Putin signed on November 5, any event or act regarded as an attempt to promote homosexuality -- including online, in film, books, advertising or in public -- could incur a heavy fine. Human rights defenders and activists working with LGBT+ groups believe that the new law will make it impossible for public organizations that help LGBT+ organizations to function. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Enlargement On The Agenda As EU Prepares Western Balkans Summit

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic (right) and European Commissioner for Neighborhood and Enlargement Oliver Varhelyi (center) arrive for a roundtable meeting during an EU summit in Kranj, Slovenia in October 2021.

As European Union leaders and officials from the Western Balkans prepare for a regional summit in Tirana, Albania, on December 6, enlargement tops the agenda, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama told AP on December 5. The EU has promised Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia closer relations, but the integration process has been stalled for years. The EU last admitted a new member, Croatia, in 2013. EU enlargement commissioner Oliver Varhelyi said during a recent visit last week enlargement “is among the top three priorities for EU leaders.” To read the original story from AP, click here.

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

Ukrainians Scramble As New Wave Of Russian Missiles Launched

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

Residents of Kyiv and other cities across Ukraine scrambled for cover on December 5 as Russia launched another deadly barrage of missiles at the country after explosions were reported at two airfields in central Russia.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said four people were killed in the attacks, but said Ukrainian air defense forces had been able to shoot down most of the missiles launched.

"Every Russian missile shot down is concrete proof that terror can be defeated," he said in his evening video address.

Ukrainian Air Force spokesman Yuriy Ihnat told RFE/RL earlier that Ukrainian air defenses were able to shoot down over 60 of the more than 70 missiles 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.

He said 38 cruise missiles were fired from Tu-95 bombers based in the Caspian Sea region and the southern Russian region of Rostov, which borders on Ukraine to the east. Another 22 Kalibr missiles were fired from ships in Russia's Black Sea Fleet.

"We also have information on the use of Tu-22 M3 bombers with rocket launchers, which are the most powerful in terms of combat weight," Ihnat said. "Guided air missiles were also launched from Su-25 fighters."

Air-raid sirens lasted for three hours as officials warned people to take shelter.

Andriy Yermak, head of the Ukrainian presidential office, told Ukrainians to heed the alarm. Reports on social media showed hundreds of people sheltering in subway stations in the capital, Kyiv.

The missile strikes injured one person in Odesa and hit energy infrastructure in the city, where all substations and backup lines were not working and where there is no water supply.

In Kryviy Rih in the Dnipropetrovsk region, critical infrastructure has been damaged and large-scale blackouts are possible, authorities said. Electricity was turned off as a precaution in the northern Sumy region, and possible disruptions were reported in the northern Chernihiv region and the western Ternopil region.

Zelenskiy said engineers had already started to restore electricity, and Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said that, despite being hit by Russian missiles, Ukraine's energy system "functions and will remain intact."

John Kirby, spokesman for the White House National Security Council, condemned the latest Russian strikes, calling them a reminder of Russian President Vladimir Putin's brutality. The United States is in constant contact with Ukraine and will continue to provide Kyiv with everything it needs for its defense, Kirby said.

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said on Twitter that he had a conversation with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on December 5 after the Russian missile strike. Reznikov said he and Austin discussed further steps to strengthen Ukrainian air defense and thanked the U.S. for its continued support.

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.

The Russian Defense Ministry said the attacks were carried out by Ukrainian drones. The ministry confirmed news reports of damage to two Tu-95 strategic bombers and the deaths of Russian servicemen. The ministry also claimed that both drones were shot down.

Ukrainian authorities have not publicly commented on the blasts, but a senior Ukrainian official quoted anonymously by The New York Times, said the drones were launched from Ukrainian territory and at least two planes were destroyed at one of the Russian bases and several more were damaged.

The latest volley of Russian strikes against Ukraine came 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.

The United States doesn't expect that Russia's threats to have any long-term impact on global oil prices, Kirby said.

The cap will lock in the discount on Russian oil, and countries like China and India will be able to bargain for steep price reductions, he said.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, and The New York Times

Mission Of Iran's Morality Police Has Ended, But New Methods Sought To Enforce Hijab Law

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

The spokesman for Iran's morality police has said that the mission of the police unit has ended but new methods should be used to enforce the country's mandatory hijab law.

The spokesman, Ali Khan Mohammadi, said in an interview published on December 5 that various institutions in the country are looking into having appropriate mechanisms to be able to deal with the issue of veiling.

"For us, the basis is that it should be within the framework of Shari'a, and at the same time, our people must adhere to the law so that we can create a peaceful atmosphere," Mohammadi said in the interview, which was published on the website Entekhab though it was not clear that he spoke with that news outlet.

He noted that a discussion of chastity and the hijab is currently popular in the country and decisions are being made “in a more modern framework.” He didn’t elaborate but mentioned the use of technologies.

The status of Iran's morality police has been unclear since 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 that "the morality police has nothing to do with the judiciary" after he was asked why the morality police were being shut down.

Prior to the interview with Mohammadi, 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.

Load more

XS
SM
MD
LG