Saakashvili's Erratic Response To Invasion Hoax Raises Suspicions
Saakashvili was first defiant, saying on March 14 that the broadcast reflects a true threat emanating from Moscow. But a day later he called it "harmful to our society."
The report, aired on the staunchly pro-government Imedi channel on March 13, said Russian tanks had crossed into Georgia and were headed for Tbilisi. It also said Saakashvili had been killed and that some opposition leaders -- including former parliamentary speaker Nino Burjanadze and former Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli -- had betrayed their country and sided with Moscow.
The report caused widespread panic in Georgia, still jittery less than two years after Russian forces staged a real invasion of their country in August 2008. Cell-phone signals were overloaded as nervous residents attempted to reach family, and emergency services reported a rise in heart attacks.
WATCH: A YouTube post of the introduction to the Imedi report, in which the moderator urges viewers: "Let's watch this edition of 'Chronika' about a worst-case scenario for the future, and then we'll return to you with a discussion." (Translation by RFE/RL's Georgian Service)
Sensing the public anger, most Georgian government officials have sharply criticized the Imedi program.
Speaking to local residents in Georgia's Bolnisi region on March 14, Saakashvili was mild in his assessment. He said the program "should have been done differently." But he also appeared to defend it, saying its content, regardless of whether it was real or not, reflected Russia's true intentions.
"But the main unpleasant thing in yesterday's report -- and I want everyone to realize it -- was that it was very close to the real situation, close to what can really happen, or to what our enemies have in their minds and heads," Saakashvili said.
Saakashvili also condemned Burjanadze and Noghaideli -- both of whom had visited Moscow recently and have called for better relations with Russia -- for associating with people who "have the blood of Georgians on their hands."
But on March 15, Saakashvili backtracked. In a written statement posted on the president's website, he said despite Moscow's "aggressive plans against Georgia, the condition of our state institutions, the level of consolidation within our society, and the attitude of the international [community], all make the plans of these occupying forces impossible to realize."
In his statement, Saakashvili also called for higher journalistic standards to prevent such incidents in the future.
The report and Saakashvili's erratic response to it have raised questions about how much the president, or members of his inner circle, knew about it in advance.
Those suspicions picked up steam when an audio recording of a telephone conversation allegedly between Imedi's director Giorgi Arveladze and Eka Tsamalashvili, a producer at the station and a former correspondent for RFE/RL's Georgian Service, began circulating on the Internet.
Georgian media quoted Arveladze as saying that the audio recording was fabricated by the Russian security services.
Privately run Imedi is widely believed to have close ties to Saakashvili's government. Formerly an opposition television station, Imedi was raided by police during antigovernment protests in November 2007 and later sold off to private investors under murky circumstances. Its ownership structure remains opaque, but the station is run by Arveladze, a close Saakashvili ally who once served as his chief of staff.
The report comes amid a tense political atmosphere in the volatile South Caucasus nation. In May, the country will hold local elections that are widely seen as a dress rehearsal for the 2013 presidential vote that will determine a successor to Saakashvili, who is constitutionally barred from seeking a third term.
Opposition figures have accused the ruling elite of trying to create an atmosphere of fear so that Saakashvili can more easily engineer an electoral triumph for a handpicked successor.
"There is no question that this is another incident that raises the political temperature in Georgia," says Lawrence Sheets, director of the International Crisis Group's Tbilisi office. "The opposition is accusing the government of being behind this fake broadcast that scared the daylights out of a lot of people. The government is saying it has nothing to do with it and that it should have been done in a different way, but then claims that the actual content [of the program] could actually happen in a worst-case scenario."
Shock At Home And Abroad
The United States, European Union, and Georgia's influential Orthodox Church have also joined in the chorus of criticism.
In a televised appearance, U.S. Ambassador John Bass called the report "irresponsible," adding that it does nothing "to help Georgia address real problems and threats to security it faces."
Peter Semneby, the EU's special envoy to the South Caucasus, said the hoax did little to help stability in the region. Speaking to Reuters, he said the fake program "seems to have created further internal political division. It may even have been intended to do so."
Georgian Patriarch Ilia II called the broadcast an "abomination" and "an insult" to the Georgian people.
Patriarch Ilia is widely revered in Georgia and has criticized Saakashvili in the past. Sheets says the harshness of criticism, delivered in his March 14 sermon at Tbilisi's Holy Trinity Cathedral, could resonate widely.
"I would call your attention to the very serious tone that was used by Georgia's patriarch in condemning this broadcast," says Sheets.
Imedi head Arveladze apologized for causing a "shock" with the broadcast, adding that the station's management discussed running a warning caption on the screen throughout the program. He said they opted to simply air a warning at the beginning and end of the report. (The Georgian news announcer opening the program describes it simply as a "special, simulated" edition of Imedi's information program "Chronika.")
But like Saakashvili, Arveladze also defended the broadcast, saying that its goal was "to lay out the plan prepared in Moscow, with all of its painful details." He then appeared to blame viewers for not correctly understanding Imedi's goals, saying "it was a miscalculation to think society would have perceived the broadcast adequately."
Despite Saakashvili's initial defiance, the broadcast appears to have also opened up divisions within Georgia's ruling clique. Unlike the president, parliamentary speaker David Bakradze -- a close Saakashvili ally -- was unequivocal in condemning Imedi.
"It is impermissible to produce [programs] with such a form and content that scare and shock people," said Bakradze. "It is impermissible to produce [programs] with such form and content that would scare off investors, who are needed to secure jobs for our citizens."
RFE/RL's Georgian Service contributed to this report
Former Military Ruler Musharraf's Body To Be Flown To Pakistan
The body of Pakistan's exiled former military ruler Pervez Musharraf, who became a key U.S. ally during the "war on terror," is expected to be repatriated on February 6.
Musharraf, who fled Pakistan in 2016 for medical treatment after a travel ban was lifted, died on February 5, aged 79, in Dubai after a long illness.
Senior officials who asked not to be named said his body would be repatriated on February 6, with a burial expected later in the day.
Russia's Lavrov In Iraq For Energy Talks
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov arrived in Iraq on February 5 for talks on energy and food security in view of the Ukraine conflict, an Iraqi Foreign Ministry spokesman said. He landed in Baghdad late in the day at the head of a large delegation that includes "oil and gas companies and investors," Ahmad al-Sahhaf told AFP. On February 6, Lavrov will meet Iraqi counterpart Fuad Hussein, the state news agency INA quoted Sahhaf as saying.
Reznikov Out, Budanov In As Ukraine's Defense Minister, Top Lawmaker Says
KYIV -- Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov is being replaced by General Kyrylo Budanov, the head of the country's military intelligence agency, according to the leader of President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's faction in parliament.
David Arakhamia, the leader of the Servant of the People faction in parliament, said on Telegram on February 5 that Reznikov would be transferred to the post of minister for strategic industries to strengthen military-industrial cooperation.
"War dictates personnel policy," Arakhamia said. "Time and circumstances need to be strengthened and regrouped. This is happening now and will happen in the future."
"The enemy is preparing to attack. We are preparing to defend ourselves and return ours," he added.
Arakhamia did not specify when the changes would take place.
An official ministry statement has not yet been issued about the changes.
Arakhamia said the Interior Ministry will be headed by Ihor Klymenko, currently chief of the National Police.
Rumors of a possible Reznikov resignation or ouster have mounted after a series of accusations of corruption within the ministry.
In a news conference hours earlier, Reznikov said he was not planning to resign but added that any decision about his future would be made by the president.
"He nominates an appointee, and the [parliament] appoints. Therefore, only by the decision of the president of Ukraine will I make certain decisions, and I will do what the president of Ukraine tells me," he said.
In January, Ukrainian media reported that the Defense Ministry had allegedly purchased products for the military at inflated prices through a "gasket" company. Other charges of corruption were also alleged in the media.
The 56-year-old Reznikov denied the allegations as authorities launched an investigation.
Deputy Minister Vyacheslav Shapovalov, who was responsible for supplying troops with food and equipment, resigned on January 24, citing "media accusations" of corruption that he and the ministry said were baseless.
Moscow, Tehran Move Forward On Plans For Iran-Designed Drone Factory in Russia
Russia and Iran are moving forward on plans to establish a factory in Russia aimed at producing some 6,000 Iran-designed drones of the type Moscow has used in the Ukraine war, according to The Wall Street Journal, which cited officials in a U.S.-aligned country. Moscow and Tehran seek to produce a faster drone to better challenge Ukrainian air defenses, the officials said. Washington last month warned that Moscow and Tehran were considering construction of a drone-making plant in Russia.
Former Iranian President Khatami Joins In Calls For Political Change Amid Growing Unrest
Former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami has joined opposition figure and ex-Prime Minister Mir Hossein Musavi in calls for political change as the country continues to be stricken with widespread anti-government protests.
"What is evident today is widespread discontent," the 79-year-old Khatami said on February 5 in remarks carried on local media.
He added that "there is no sign of the ruling system's desire for reform and avoiding the mistakes of the past and present."
Khatami, the reformist who served as president from 1997 until 2005, said he hoped "nonviolent civil methods [will] "force the governing system to change its approach and accept reforms."
"Iran and Iranians need and are ready for a fundamental transformation whose outline is drawn by the pure 'Woman, life, freedom' movement," he added.
Iran has been beset with widening unrest since the death of Mahsa Amini on September 16. The 22-year-old died while in custody after being arrested by the notorious morality police for improperly wearing a mandatory Islamic head scarf, or hijab.
Her death, which officials blamed on a heart attack, touched off a wave of protests in cities across the country. The authorities have met the unrest with a harsh crackdown that rights groups say has killed more than 500 people, including 71 children.
The protests pose the biggest threat to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution.
Khatami's remarks come as Iran is set to mark the 44th anniversary of the revolution and follow comments on February 4 by Iranian opposition figure Musavi, who called for a "free" referendum in Iran and the drafting of a new constitution.
Musavi, 80, who has been under house arrest since 2011, made the call in a statement in which he said Iranians want fundamental change based on the slogan "Woman, life, freedom" -- which many have been chanting during recent antiestablishment protests.
Meanwhile, on February 5, Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei pardoned "tens of thousands" of prisoners, including many arrested in the recent anti-government protests, state media reported.
"Prisoners not facing charges of spying for foreign agencies, having direct contact with foreign agents, committing intentional murder and injury, committing destruction and arson of state property, or not having a private plaintiff in their case will be pardoned," said state media, which added that the pardons were part of activities related to the anniversary of the revolution.
With reporting AFP and Reuters
European Ban On Russian Diesel, Other Oil Products Takes Effect
Europe on February 5 imposed a ban on Russian diesel fuel and other refined oil products, slashing energy dependency on Moscow and seeking to further crimp the Kremlin's fossil-fuel earnings as punishment for invading Ukraine. The ban comes along with a price cap agreed by the G7 democracies. The goal is to reduce the profits funding Moscow's budget and war. Europe has already banned Russian coal and most crude oil, while Moscow has cut off most shipments of natural gas. To read the original story by AP, click here.
Ukraine Says It Will Not Strike Russian Territory With New Missiles
Ukraine will not use longer-range weapons pledged by the United States to hit Russian territory and will only target Russian units in occupied Ukrainian territory, Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said on February 5. The United States confirmed on February 3 that a new rocket that would double Ukraine's strike range was included in a $2.175 billion U.S. military aid package to help Kyiv fight back Russian forces. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Qatar Sends Envoy To Afghan Capital To Meet With Taliban
An envoy for Qatar's foreign minister visited the Afghan capital on February 5 and met with the Taliban administration's acting foreign minister, according to an Afghan Foreign Ministry statement. The visit comes after the Taliban administration placed restrictions on women's education and NGO work, which Qatar labelled "deeply concerning" amid widespread international criticism. Mutlaq bin Majed al-Qahtani, the special envoy of Qatar's foreign minister, took part in meetings with the Taliban-led government's acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi in Kabul, officials said. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Germany Has 'Hundreds' Of Pieces Of Ukraine War Crime Evidence
Germany's prosecutor-general said on February 5 that his office had collected "hundreds" of pieces of evidence showing war crimes by Russian forces in Ukraine, calling for an international effort to bring leaders to justice. "At the moment we are focusing on mass killings in Bucha and attacks on Ukraine's civil infrastructure," prosecutor Peter Frank told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper. He said the goal was now to "prepare for a possible later court case -- whether in Germany or with our foreign partners or an international court."
Iran Detains Journalist After Detaining Her Sister
Iranian authorities have detained a journalist at a reformist publication, local media reported on February 5, as her sister, also a journalist, remains in custody after reporting on Mahsa Amini's death. Elnaz Mohammadi, a reporter for reformist newspaper Hammihan, was detained at the Evin prosecutor's office in Tehran after she had gone there "for an explanation," reported Shargh, another reformist daily. It was not immediately clear why Mohammadi had been summoned there. Her sister, Elaheh Mohammadi, was arrested on September 29 after reporting for Hammihan from Amini's funeral.
Iran's Leader Pardons 'Large Number' Of Protest-Related Prisoners
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has pardoned "tens of thousands" of prisoners, including many arrested in recent anti-government protests over security-related charges, state media reported on February 5. "Prisoners not facing charges of spying for foreign agencies, having direct contact with foreign agents, committing intentional murder and injury, committing destruction and arson of state property, or not having a private plaintiff in their case will be pardoned," state media said. The pardons were announced in honor of the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Pervez Musharraf, Pakistani Military Ruler Who Never Overcame Dangerous Foes, Dies At 79
Pakistan lost one of its most influential and polarizing figures with the death of General Pervez Musharraf, who died at a hospital in Dubai on February 5 at the age of 79 after a prolonged illness.
General Musharraf took over the presidency of the nuclear-armed country on the back of a bloodless 1999 military coup, but was forced out of office in 2008 amid scandal and efforts by his political rivals to impeach him and even briefly faced a death-sentence verdict for alleged treason before a court overturned it.
Upon assuming power following the bloodless military coup, Musharraf promised to bring progress and harmony to Pakistan.
"I wish to inform you that the armed forces have moved in as a last resort to prevent any further destabilization," he said at the time. "I wish to assure you that the situation in the country is perfectly calm, stable, and under control. I request you all to remain calm and support your armed forces in the reestablishment of order to pave the way for a prosperous future for Pakistan."
Fighting The Taliban
Musharraf's rule was complicated by the political realities that emerged after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
He openly supported Washington by joining the global war on terrorism. But he had to balance that decision against the rise of anti-Americanism at home after the fight came to neighboring Afghanistan and Pakistan's restive northwest.
He achieved some success in his efforts to modernize Pakistan by creating a more open media environment, expanding the middle class, holding elections, and allowing key politicians to return from exile.
But he failed to overcome opposition to his highly unpopular moves to root out extremism and separatism on Pakistani soil, to improve Islamabad's often uneasy relations with neighboring states, or to suppress his most dangerous political foes -- some of whom came back to haunt him.
He survived at least five purported assassination attempts by Islamist militant groups or other enemies between 2000 and 2014.
Born in New Delhi in 1943, Mushrraf's family migrated to Pakistan in 1947 after it was established as an independent state. His formative years were spent in Turkey, where his father worked as a diplomat.
Musharraf joined the Pakistani Army's officer corps at the age of 18, rising through the ranks over the next few decades to become its chief in 1998.
He was appointed by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, but differences quickly emerged -- a sign of the fierce political rivalry to come.
Musharraf disagreed with Sharif's peace overtures toward India and launched a botched offensive against Indian forces in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir. This fanned his disagreements with Sharif's civilian government, ultimately resulting in a coup in October 1999.
Musharraf titled himself chief executive and consolidated power quickly. He appointed himself president in 2001, giving him final say in Pakistani affairs.
'The Path Of Development'
He quickly sided with Washington after the 9/11 terrorist attacks against the United States.
In a televised speech days after the 9/11 attacks, he told Pakistanis he had allied with Washington to save his country's critical security and geopolitical interests.
"At this moment, our decisions may have far-reaching and wide repercussions," Musharraf said. "The worst results, God forbid, may endanger our territorial integrity and our survival."
The alliance prompted a domestic backlash, as pro-Taliban hard-liners opposed his policies. But in a major policy speech in January 2002, Musharraf indicated he was determined to lead Pakistan on the path of moderation:
"Do we want to turn Pakistan into a theocratic state? Or do we want Pakistan to become a progressive, dynamic, Islamic welfare state?" he asked. "The choice of our people is absolutely clear. And their decision is to take the path of development."
His efforts produced mixed results at best and provoked two assassination attempts masterminded by Al-Qaeda-linked militants in 2003.
Islamabad benefited enormously from allying with Washington, as it received tens of billions of dollars in military and civilian assistance. Major Western donors wrote off Islamabad's debts and Pakistan was formally declared a major non-NATO U.S. ally.
Defeated By Radical Backlash
But Musharraf's failure to confront or eradicate pro-Taliban radicals backfired. Under his watch, Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters who had been chased out of Afghanistan recuperated across the border in Pakistan and, by the end of 2007, emerged as a major challenge to Pakistan's stability and security.
Musharraf's failure to handle extremist clerics at Islamabad's Red Mosque eventually ended in a bloody showdown in July 2007. Dozens died in a weeklong siege of the mosque. The confrontation provoked Pakistani Taliban to mount attacks across Pakistan and capture large swathes of territories in the northwest.
That year he was unable to manipulate the country's political scene, as he had done for years.
His firing of a popular Supreme Court chief justice in March 2007 prompted a countrywide protest movement led by lawyers.
By year's end the movement grew strong enough to force him to give up his leadership of the military, and to step down as president in 2008. Afterward he went into self-imposed exile in London and Dubai.
Musharraf returned to Pakistan in March 2013 in an attempt to make a political comeback -- hoping to be voted into parliament and position himself to become prime minister.
But those hopes were dashed when he was barred from taking part in the general elections and placed under house arrest amid a litany of court cases related to his final years in office.
In March 2014, Musharraf was formally charged by a special tribunal on five counts of high treason -- charges which highlighted tensions between Pakistan's military and its civilian government, which initiated the case.
The treason charges stemmed from Musharraf's imposition of emergency rule, followed by his dismissal of high-ranking judges, less than a month after his controversial reelection as president in 2007.
Musharraf was also charged with murder and conspiracy to murder for allegedly failing to protect his political rival and former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated in December 2007 while campaigning for general elections.
In another case he was investigated for the killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti, a senior Baluch leader who died in a military operation ordered by Musharraf in August 2006. He was also tried for his role in the 2007 siege of the Red Mosque.
Musharraf tried hard to defend his record.
He told the court at his formal indictment for treason that he "put the country on the path of progress after 1999 when the country was being called a failed and defaulted state," asking the judges, "Is this the way to reward someone for being loyal to the country and loving the country?"
Musharraf also labeled attacks against him as a vendetta aimed at maligning his achievements and a conspiracy to keep him out of politics.
"I helped build a lot of roads and dams. I promoted telecommunication and information technology and vastly enhanced Pakistan's defense capabilities and made it very strong," Musharraf said. "I brought an industrial and agricultural revolution and helped propel the country's economy into one of the top 11 global economies."
Would-be assassins continued to try to kill Musharraf in the midst of the lengthy court proceedings against him. He narrowly escaped an assassination attempt in April 2014 while being transported in a convoy from an army hospital to his home.
But even with the treason charge hanging over him, in 2016, Pakistan's government allowed to travel abroad for medical treatment. He left his country and reportedly took up residence between London and Dubai, still vowing to clear his name and return to Pakistan.
Musharraf continued to appear on a controversial weekly television show on which he opined on Pakistani politics and current affairs.
A year later, a Pakistani antiterrorism court in Rawalpindi declared Musharraf a fugitive for "absconding" amid the ongoing charges in the Bhutto assassination case and ordered his assets seized.
In 2019, senior officials from his All Pakistan Muslim League (APML) party disclosed that he had been hospitalized due to a "reaction" from amyloidosis, a rare condition that can lead to organ failure.
Later the same year, a closed trial in Islamabad convicted him in absentia of high treason and other wrongdoing over the 2007 suspension of the constitution, and sentenced him to death.
Pakistan's powerful military responded publicly to condemn the verdict and accused the courts of ignoring due process.
Less than a month later, in January 2020, the Lahore High Court agreed with Musharraf's appeal and declared the trial in the capital case against him unconstitutional and politically motivated.
Reports said a special flight would travel from Pakistan to Dubai to repatriate Musharraf's body, according to the wishes of Musharraf's family.
Pakistani Taliban Commanders Killed In Northwest
Pakistani police killed two commanders of the Pakistani Taliban militant group in the country's northwest, a local officer said February 4. Regional police officer Muhammad Ali Gandapur said the slain fighters were wanted in connection with the killing of five police officers and were also involved in attacks on security checkpoints. The government had a bounty on the two men. Police arrested four fighters and recovered gunpowder, hand grenades, electronic detonators, and Kalashnikov rifles in the same intelligence operation in the Hund village of the Swabi district. To read the original story by AP, click here.
Situation 'Very Difficult' In East, Zelenskiy Says, As Ukraine Calls Again For Jets, Weapons
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has said the situation is "very difficult" in the eastern region of Donetsk and elsewhere as Russia intensifies its war effort as the first anniversary nears of its full-scale attack on Ukraine.
"Things are very difficult in Donetsk region. Fierce battles," Zelenskiy said in his nightly video address on February 5. "But, however difficult it is and however much pressure there is, we must endure."
Zelenskiy said Moscow was intensifying its attacks in an attempt to "make up for its defeats last year. We see that on various sectors of the front and also pressure in terms of information."
Heavy shelling was also reported in the key eastern city of Kharkiv and the strategic southern port of Kherson on February 5.
Ukrainian authorities said numerous residential buildings were hit by Russian rocket attacks in Kherson, while Kharkiv Governor Oleh Synehubov said missiles struck a residential building in the city center, injuring at least five people.
Earlier in the day, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov renewed calls for allies to supply additional weapons, including fighter jets, saying the West's reluctance to send such aircraft will "cost us more lives" in the battle against Russian forces.
"I am sure that we will win this war. I am sure we will liberate all the occupied territories," Reznikov told a Kyiv news conference on February 5. But without Western supplies of jets, "it will cost us more lives."
Western leaders have said it is not practical to send such jets to Ukraine given the amount of time it would take to train pilots and maintenance crews and amid fears of widening the conflict.
At the same news conference, Reznikov vowed his country will not use newly provided long-range weapons to target sites inside Russia amid the same fears of escalating tensions.
"Our partners decided to provide us with weapons capable of firing at a distance of 150 kilometers," Reznikov said.
"We always tell our partners that we take an obligation not to use the weapons of foreign partners against the territory of Russia, only against their units in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine for the purpose of de-occupying our land," he added.
Reznikov said Russia could launch a new offensive later this month for symbolic reasons as the war approaches the anniversary of the February 24, 2022, invasion, but that Ukraine was prepared to hold off any major military onslaught.
Ukraine's military, in its regular update on February 5, claimed 131,290 Russian military personnel have been killed in Ukraine since Russia invaded the country last year.
The Ukrainian General Staff said 700 Russian soldiers were killed just over the past day.
The update -- which is often higher than Western estimates -- also said Russia had lost 3,220 tanks, 6,405 armored vehicles, and 2,226 artillery systems since the war began.
Citing U.S. and other Western officials, The New York Times reported earlier this month that the number of Russian troops killed and wounded in Ukraine was approaching 200,000 in total.
Heavy fighting was under way on February 5 in the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut in the eastern region of Donetsk, according to Yevgeny Prigozhin the head of Russia's Wagner mercenary group.
"In the northern quarters of [Bakhmut], fierce battles are going on for every street, every house, every stairwell," Prigozhin said on Telegram, adding that Ukrainian forces were not retreating.
"The Ukrainian armed forces are fighting to the last," he said.
Bakhmut has been virtually razed by repeated Russian artillery bombardments as Moscow has been trying to seize control of the city for months.
The British Defense Ministry said that "over the last week, Russia has continued to make small advances in its attempt to encircle" Bakhmut.
"The M03 and the H32 -- the two main roads into the city for Ukrainian defenders -- are likely now both threatened by direct fire, following the Russian advances," it said in its regular update on February 5.
In the neighboring Luhansk region, Ukrainian forces remained in control of the village of Bilohorivka, the regional governor said, rejecting claims by some Russian-installed officials that the village was captured by the Russian Army.
"Our troops remain in their positions, nobody has captured Bilohorivka, nobody has entered there, there is no enemy there," Serhiy Hayday told the Ukrainian national broadcaster.
He said the situation was "tense," as "the number of Russian attacks has increased," but he added that "all of the [attacks] have been repulsed" by Ukrainian troops.
Three people were wounded on February 5 by two Russian missiles in the northeastern city of Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city, according to local officials. Kharkiv Governor Oleh Synehubov said the missiles hit a residential building in the city center.
The claims cannot be independently verified.
In Germany, Chancellor Olaf Scholz again rejected concerns that Berlin's recent decision to supply Ukraine with its Leopard tanks could make Germany an active party to the conflict with Russia.
"We have carefully weighed every arms shipment [to Ukraine], coordinated them closely with our allies, first and foremost with the United States," Scholz told Germany's Bild am Sonntag, in comments seen by dpa ahead of publication on February 5.
"This joint approach prevents an escalation of the war," said the German chancellor, who has faced much criticism over his initial reluctance to send the Leopards.
Scholz also said that Russian President Vladimir Putin in his telephone conversations "has not made any threats against me or Germany."
Former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson earlier this week said Putin had threatened him with a missile strike that would "only take a minute." The Kremlin said Johnson was lying.
Scholz said the conversations he had with Putin made it clear they had very different views of the war in Ukraine. "I make it very clear to Putin that Russia has sole responsibility for the war," Scholz said.
With reporting by Reuters, AFP, AP, and dpa
Opposition Figure Musavi Calls For 'Free' Referendum In Iran, Drafting Of New Constitution
Iranian opposition figure Mir Hossein Musavi has called for a "free" referendum in Iran and the drafting of a new constitution. Musavi who has been under house arrest since 2011, made the call in a statement released on February 4 in which he said Iranians want fundamental change based on the slogan "Woman, life, freedom," which many have been chanting during recent antiestablishment protests. Musavi said the the three words are "the seeds of a bright future free of oppression, poverty, humiliation, and discrimination." Musavi, his wife, university professor Zahra Rahnavard, and reformist cleric Mehdi Karrubi were put under house arrest in February 2011 for challenging Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei over the disputed 2009 presidential vote and criticizing human rights abuses. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Radio Farda, click here.
Venezuela's Maduro, Iranian Diplomat Discuss Defense Against 'External Pressures'
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and the visiting Iranian foreign minister have discussed the need for "vigilance in defending their national interests against external pressures," according to a statement released on February 4. The Caracas visit by Foreign Minister Ossein Amir-Abdollahian underlined the strength of an alliance between two countries seen as outcasts by much of the international community, both of them subject to U.S. sanctions. Maduro received Abdollahian on the evening of February 3 in the Miraflores presidential palace after the Iranian minister arrived from Managua, Nicaragua. "I am sure that our relations will continue to strengthen for technological, industrial, scientific, and cultural exchanges that benefit both peoples," Maduro wrote on Twitter, calling the meeting "productive."
At Least Two Civilians Wounded In Bomb Blast In Kabul
At least two civilians were wounded in a bomb blast in Kabul city on February 4, police said. Kabul police spokesman Khalid Zadran said that the blast was caused by a magnetic bomb that was attached to a private vehicle. An investigative team was inspecting the scene of the explosion, police added. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack that comes after several weeks of calm. When the Taliban returned to power in August 2021, the Islamic State group intensified its attacks in Afghanistan, mainly targeting religious minorities, members of the Taliban, and areas where foreign diplomats live.
WHO Report On Ukraine Health Emergency Sparks U.S.-Russia Dispute
The United States and Russia faced off on February 4 over a World Health Organization (WHO) report on the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, with Moscow saying it was politically motivated and Washington calling for it to be swiftly updated. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus's report was presented to the organization's executive board, on which both Russia and the United States sit. It covered events in the first nine months of 2022 and classed the situation in Ukraine, which Russia invaded on February 24, as one of eight acute global health emergencies. The report documented more than 14,000 civilian casualties, with 17.7 million people in need of humanitarian assistance and 7.5 million Ukrainian refugees displaced across Europe. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
U.S. Weighs Sanctions For Chinese Companies Over Iran Surveillance Buildup
The United States is considering new sanctions on Chinese surveillance companies over sales to Iran's security forces, The Wall Street Journal reported on February 4, citing people familiar with the matter. U.S. authorities are in advanced discussions on the sanctions and have zeroed in on Tiandy Technologies Co, an electrical equipment manufacturer based in the Chinese city of Tianjin whose products have been sold to units of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, the report added. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Three Bulgarians Detained At Border With North Macedonia
North Macedonia's Interior Ministry has said that three Bulgarian citizens were detained on February 4 at the Deve Bair border crossing with Bulgaria for disturbing public order.
A group of Bulgarian citizens were waiting to enter North Macedonia on February 4 to pay their respects at the tomb of revolutionary Goce Delchev on the occasion of the 151st anniversary of his birth.
Delchev is claimed by both Skopje and Sofia as a hero in the fight for the liberation from the Ottoman Empire.
The ministry announced on February 4 that the three were detained for disturbing public order and peace.
The three Bulgarians, identified only as G.Z. (35), A.H. (50), and R.H. (54), "first behaved verbally impudently and inappropriately using most derogatory words and then tried to physically attack the police officers who took legal action, detaining the three while work is being done to completely clear up the case," the Interior Ministry said.
The ministry said that all border crossings between the two Balkan neighbors were forced to close for several hours because of a fault in the border-control system. Border traffic resumed after the fault was fixed, it said.
Earlier this week, the interior ministers of North Macedonia and Bulgaria met to discuss tensions between their two countries and measures aimed at preventing violence during Delchev's upcoming celebration.
Oliver Spasovski, interior minister of North Macedonia, and his Bulgarian counterpart, Ivan Demerdziev, met on January 30 in Skopje to reduce tensions between the two countries, vowing that "no incident" will be tolerated during the Fberuary 4 celebration in Skopje.
The announcement that a larger number of Bulgarian citizens will attend the celebration of the Delchev’s birth caused further concern.
A ceremony attended by state officials was conducted under strong police presence at Delchev's grave at the Church of Holy Salvation in Skopje on February 4.
Bilateral tensions were heightened earlier this month after the beating in Ohrid of Hristijan Pendikov, a man who identifies as Bulgarian and is an employee of one of the Bulgarian cultural clubs in North Macedonia that some Macedonians regard as provocative.
Following the incident, Bulgaria recalled its ambassador to Skopje.
Demerdziev said on January 30 that he and Spasovski reached an understanding that such incidents should not be allowed in the Republic of North Macedonia and he was assured that the case will be investigated fully and objectively.
Relations between the two neighbors have long been strained by deep cultural, historical, and linguistic differences that spilled into the open three years ago when Sofia invoked its veto power to stall North Macedonia's negotiations to join the European Union.
Sofia finally agreed to withdraw the veto last year.
Pakistan Blocks Wikipedia Over 'Blasphemous Content'
Wikipedia was blocked in Pakistan on February 4 after authorities censored the website for hosting "blasphemous content" in the latest blow to digital rights in the deeply conservative country. Blasphemy is a sensitive issue in Muslim-majority Pakistan, and social-media giants Facebook and YouTube have previously been banned for publishing content deemed sacrilegious. Pakistan had earlier in the week given Wikipedia a 48 hour ultimatum to remove material, without publicly specifying its exact objections.
Ukraine, Russia Exchange Prisoners; Kyiv Recovers Bodies Of Foreign Humanitarian Volunteers
Russia and Ukraine on February 4 announced an exchange of prisoners that led to the release of 63 Russians and 116 Ukrainians and the return of the bodies of two foreign volunteers who were involved in humanitarian work in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donetsk.
The Russian Ministry of Defense reported the return of its 63 Russian soldiers in a statement on its Telegram channel. The statement said that among those released were persons belonging to a "sensitive category," without elaborating.
It added that the exchange was facilitated "thanks to the mediation of the leadership of the United Arab Emirates."
Ukrainian authorities, meanwhile, reported that 116 prisoners had returned home.
Andriy Yermak, head of Ukraine's presidential office, wrote on Telegram that among them were "defenders of Mariupol, Kherson partisans, snipers from the Bakhmut area."
In addition, Yermak wrote, the bodies of two dead foreign volunteers -- Briton Christopher Matthew Parry and New Zealander Andrew Tobias Matthew Bagshaw -- as well as the body of deceased Ukrainian volunteer Yevhen Kulik, who served in the French Foreign Legion, were returned to Ukraine.
Parry and Bagshaw, two volunteers who were helping with the evacuation of civilians and delivering humanitarian aid, were reported missing on January 7 in Donetsk.
They had last been seen the previous day on their way from Kramatorsk to Soledar, where heavy fighting had been under way between Ukrainian defenders and Russian forces.
Soon after, the family of one of the two volunteers said that the men were killed during an attempt to carry out a humanitarian evacuation.
Yermak also published a short video purporting to show released Ukrainian prisoners traveling by bus and two photos of men holding Ukrainian flags in front of a bus.
U.S. Attorney General Allows First Transfer Of Russian Oligarch's Confiscated Assets To Ukraine
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland announced on February 3 that the frozen assets of a Russian oligarch will be transferred to Ukraine. "Today I am announcing that I have authorized the first-ever transfer of confiscated Russian assets for use in Ukraine," he said. The assets were seized after the indictment of oligarch Konstantin Malofeyev on sanctions-evasion charges. Garland said the assets will be transferred to the State Department to be spent "in support of the people of Ukraine." Garland made the announcement during a meeting with Ukrainian Prosecutor-General Andriy Kostin. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.
Serbian Parliament Adopts Government Report On Negotiations With Kosovo
The Serbian parliament on February 3 adopted the government's report on negotiations with Kosovo. The vote was 154-23 while nine members did not vote. The parliament discussed the report during a two-day session that began after Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic received the European Union's proposal for normalizing relations with Kosovo. The proposal, which has not been fully released, has the backing of the United States and the European Union. Vucic discussed some of the provisions of the proposal on February 2 and warned that Serbia could become isolated if it rejects the proposal. To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Balkan Service, click here.
U.S. Warned Turkey On Exports Seen To Boost Russia's War Effort, Official Says
The United States has warned Turkey in recent days about the export to Russia of chemicals, microchips, and other products that can be used in Moscow's war effort in Ukraine, and it could move to enforce existing bans, according to a senior U.S. official. Brian Nelson, the U.S. Treasury Department's top sanctions official, visited Turkish government and private-sector officials on February 2-3 to urge more cooperation in disrupting the flow of such goods, the official said, requesting anonymity to discuss the talks. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
In Ukraine's Donbas, Intensifying Russian Offensives -- An Omen Of Things To Come?2
'They Will Send The Army To Ukraine': Bulgarian Social Media Flooded With Rumors Of Military Draft3
Interview: Writer Vladimir Sorokin Says Russia's Unresolved Historical Traumas Have Now 'Taken The Form Of War'4
Denounced By Her Classmates, Anti-War Russian Teen Faces A Long Prison Term5
Ukraine Will Hold Bakhmut, Zelenskiy Vows, Amid Warnings About New Offensive In The East6
Biden To Speak With Zelenskiy As Ukraine's Calls For Fighter Jets Grow Louder7
The Week In Russia: Stalingrad And A 'Stupid, Criminal War'8
European Ban On Russian Diesel, Other Oil Products Takes Effect9
Wider Europe Briefing: Sending Leopards To Ukraine Is About More Than Tanks; Plus, Hungary's Habit Of Horse-Trading10
Live Briefing: Russia Invades Ukraine