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Sarkozy In Moscow To Discuss Georgian Cease-Fire

French President Nicolas Sarkozy
French President Nicolas Sarkozy is in Moscow for talks with his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev.

Sarkozy, whose country currently holds the rotating European Union presidency, is trying to persuade Russia to fully implement an accord to end its conflict with Georgia and remove its forces from the country's territory.

"I fully share the point of view of President Medvedev that the starting point is the agreement," Sarkozy said at the start of talks. "It is precisely this agreement which should be carried out.

"I have no doubt that if everyone acts responsibly, we will find a solution," he continued. "Like our Russian friends, we want to strongly defend our convictions."

Sarkozy is accompanied on his mission by European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana.

The European delegation will then head to Georgia to brief President Mikheil Saakashvili on the negotiations.

Russian troops entered Georgia on August 8 following an attempt by Georgian troops to restore control over the breakaway region of South Ossetia.

Phased Pullout

The EU is seeking to secure a phased pullout of Russian troops, first from within Georgia proper and later -- in part, at least -- from South Ossetia and another breakaway Georgian republic, Abkhazia.

But Russian officials have made clear that they disagree with the EU's interpretation of the six-point cease-fire plan negotiated by Sarkozy on August 12.

Moscow says the cease-fire entitles it to a continued military presence in a "buffer zone" abutting the territory of South Ossetia along its border with Georgia.

The European trio is also expected to press Russia on arrangements to monitor developments on the ground.

The EU stands ready to contribute observers to an Organization for Security and Cooperatio in Europe mission currently in the process of being deployed in Georgia. On September 15, the bloc will also formally declare itself ready to send its own, separate team of 200 monitors to the country.

Allegations Of Ethnic Cleansing

Meanwhile, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) has opened hearings in a legal bid by Georgia to end alleged "ethnic cleansing" in South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Georgia is asking the court to order Russia to halt the alleged abuses, including physical violence causing civilian deaths. Tbilisi is also asking that Russia allow the safe return of Georgians displaced by the violence.

The hearing is expected to last three days. A judgment is not expected for several weeks. However, the ICJ has no power to enforce its judgments.

At an emergency summit in Brussels earlier this month, EU leaders agreed to postpone talks with Russia on a new partnership pact if Moscow has not withdrawn its troops to pre-conflict positions in Georgia by the start of the talks, scheduled for September 15-16. The pact is due to regulate relations in the energy sector and on trade.

On September 6, in the southern French city of Avignon, the EU's 27 foreign ministers agreed to move ahead with easing current visa restrictions on Georgia and establishing free trade with the country. The EU has pledged 100 million euros in aid ahead of a donors' conference for Georgia in October.

with agency reports

Crisis In Georgia

Crisis In Georgia
For RFE/RL's full coverage of the conflict that began in Georgia's breakway region of South Ossetia, click here.

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EU Plans Sanctions On Organizers Of 'Illegal' Referendums In Ukraine

Peter Stano, lead spokesman for the external affairs of the European Union (file photo)

The European Union plans to follow suit with the United Kingdom and others and impose sanctions on the organizers of "illegal, illegitimate referendums" that are being conducted in four regions of Ukraine that are at least partially controlled by Moscow.

"There would be consequences for all people who participate in the illegal, illegitimate referendums," Peter Stano, a spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, told journalists on September 27, the fifth and final day of voting in the referendums, which many Western governments have called "sham" votes.

The vote in the Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhya regions is being held in the midst of the largest conflict in Europe since the end of World War II and amid claims by some local officials that voters have been threatened and intimidated.

On September 26, the United Kingdom announced new sanctions in response to the referendums, calling them "a clear violation of international law, including the UN Charter."

The new sanctions hit many top Russian officials involved in enforcing the votes, as well as dozens of individuals from state-linked organizations that the U.K. said continued to "bankroll the Russian war machine, serving as a stark reminder of the cost of supporting [Russian President Vladimir] Putin's operation."

Kazakhstan Chosen To Host Central Asia's First MotoGP Race

MotoGP racers round a turn at the Japanese Grand Prix in Motegi, Japan, on September 25.

Kazakhstan has signed a deal to become the first Central Asian country to host a race in the premier category of the motorcycle world championship.

MotoGP promoter Dorna said on September 27 in a statement that a five-year deal had been reached for the Sokol International Racetrack -- located just outside the city of Almaty -- to hold a race starting in 2023 as part of the FIM MotoGP World Championship.

"The region will be a new pitstop for MotoGP as the sport continues to expand around the world, engaging with new markets and fan bases," Dorna said in the statement.

Kazakhstan will be the 30th country to host a MotoGP race since the championship started in 1949.

Kazakhstan Plans Talks With Moscow Regarding Influx Of Russians Amid Military Call-Up

Russians wait at a public service center in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on September 27.

TURKISTAN, Kazakhstan -- Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev says his country plans to hold talks with Moscow regarding the massive influx of Russian citizens entering the country following the Kremlin's introduction of a partial military mobilization to support its war in Ukraine.

Talking to journalists in the southern Kazakh city of Turkistan on September 27, Toqaev called the inflow of Russian citizens into the country "a political and humanitarian matter," stressing that all necessary measures must be implemented to secure the safety of those entering the country.

"We do not have any crisis. Our government must do its work. The incoming people will be provided with help, but not special benefits. All necessary procedures will be held in accordance with the law," Toqaev said.

"We will hold talks with Russia and resolve this issue with taking our people's interests into account."

Toqaev's statement comes amid concerns among Kazakhs that the huge number of Russians entering the country is already fueling a real-estate crisis. Some media reports said landlords have begun to evict Kazakh tenants in order to rent homes to Russians at much higher prices.

The influx has put so much pressure on accommodations in the Central Asian country that the administration of a cinema in the city of Oral said it would allow Russian nationals arriving without a place to stay to use the premises for temporary living.

Prime Minister Alikhan Smaiylov said on September 27 that all issues related to the influx of Russian citizens will be "taken care of while giving priority to the interests of our people."

Smayilov's statement a day earlier about the "necessity to provide incoming Russian citizens with registration papers and jobs" has sparked harsh criticism in Kazakhstan since Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the partial military mobilization on September 21.

Some media outlets in Russia say that more than 260,000 have fled the country since the announcement.

According to Kazakhstan's Interior Ministry, some 98,000 Russian citizens have entered the country since September 21.

The acting chief of the Migration Committee, Colonel Aslan Atalyqov, said on September 26 that around 40,000 Russian citizens had already left for other countries -- mainly Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan -- after entering Kazakhstan in recent days.

Interior Minister Marat Akhmetzhanov said on September 27 that Russian citizens who come to Kazakhstan to evade the mobilization will be extradited back to Russia only if they are officially added to Russia's wanted list.

Russian citizens trying to avoid being called up to join the war are also fleeing to Finland, Georgia, and Mongolia.

Authorities in Russia's North Ossetia-Alania region, which borders Georgia, said on September 27 that a mobile conscription point was placed on the border checkpoint to tighten controls on Russian men leaving the country.

With reporting by Tengrinews and Echo of the Caucasus

Death Toll In Russian Shooting Spree Rises To 17

Onlookers gather near the crime scene after the shooting in Izhevsk on September 26.

The death toll from a shooting spree at a Russian school on September 26 has risen to 17, as the Udmurtia region holds a day of mourning to honor the victims of the tragedy.

The press service of the governor of Udmurtia said on September 27 that two people died overnight, bringing the death toll from the attack -- the fourth school shooting in the Volga region in the past 15 months -- to 11 children and six adults.

Russia's Investigative Committee said on September 26 that the gunman had been identified as Artyom Kazantsev, 34, who was a graduate of the school, which is attended by students from elementary school up to the end of high school.

The gunman, who some media said was wearing a T-shirt with a swastika on it, shot himself dead at the scene, the committee said.

Aleksandr Shaklein, the chief physician of the regional clinic in Izhevsk, where the school is located, said on September 27 that 16 children and two adults were currently in the city's hospitals, and that seven of the children and the two adults were in intensive care.

According to Shaklein, 15 patients will be transported to Moscow for further treatment.

Shootings at schools and other educational institutions in Russia and other former Soviet republics were very rare until recent years, when the numbers of incidents began to rise.

In April 2022, in Veshkaima, an armed man entered a kindergarten and killed two children and a teacher before shooting himself, while in September 2021, a mass shooting took place at the Perm State National Research University, which resulted in the death of six people.

Five months before that, 19-year-old Ilnaz Galyaviev opened fire at Kazan's School No. 175. Nine people died in the shooting, including seven children.

With reporting by TASS and Interfax

Unexplained Leaks Hit Russian Undersea Gas Pipelines In Baltic

Gas flares at a Nord Stream station on the coast of the Gulf of Finland in Russia's Leningrad Region.

Scandinavian neighbors Sweden and Denmark are investigating leaks in two Russian gas pipelines running under the Baltic Sea that the operating company called "unprecedented."

Sweden on September 27 issued a warning about two leaks discovered in the Nord Stream 1 pipeline shortly after another leak on the nearby Nord Stream 2 pipeline was discovered, prompting Denmark to limit shipping in a 5-nautical-mile radius.

Moscow reduced the gas flow to Europe via Nord Stream 1 before suspending it completely in August, claiming that Western sanctions had caused technical difficulties.

The new Nord Stream 2 pipeline has been recently completed but Germany scrapped plans to import gas via the pipeline just days before Russia invaded Ukraine in February.

However, both pipelines still contained gas under pressure.

Nord Stream AG, which operates the pipelines, said on September 27 that three offshore lines of the Nord Stream gas pipeline system had sustained what it called "unprecedented" damage in one day, adding that it was impossible to say when the gas network system's working capability would be restored.

"The destruction that occurred on the same day simultaneously on three strings of the offshore gas pipelines of the Nord Stream system is unprecedented. It is not yet possible to estimate the timing of the restoration of the gas transport infrastructure," Nord Stream AG said in comments to reporters.

In Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on September 27 that he could not exclude the possibility that sabotage was behind the leaks.

"No option can be ruled out right now," Peskov told a conference call with reporters.

Meanwhile, the Baltic Pipe, a new subsea pipeline delivering Norwegian gas to Poland with an annual capacity of 10 billion cubic meters per day, was inaugurated on September 27 in a move to strengthen Europe's energy security after Russia cut off Warsaw's supplies.

At a ceremony in western Poland, Norwegian Energy Minister Terje Aasland said it was "a milestone on the important path towards European independence from Russian energy."

Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said the pipeline launch "marks a crucial geopolitical step for all of us."

Polish President Andrzej Duda called the pipeline "a Polish dream."

With reporting by Reuters and TASS

French Foreign Minister Returns To Kyiv In Unannounced Visit

French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna visits the Memorial Wall of Fallen Defenders of Ukraine in Kyiv during her previos visit in May.

French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna has arrived in Kyiv for an unannounced visit to show support for Ukraine as it battles Russian troops that invaded the country more than seven months ago.

"Good morning Ukraine, it's good to be back," she wrote in a post on Twitter on September 27.

She also wrote the same in French and Ukrainian, and posted a picture of herself walking in Kyiv with the French ambassador to Ukraine, Etienne de Poncins.

Colonna first visited Kyiv during the war at the end of May.

Earlier this month, French President Emannuel Macron pledged his country's unwavering support for Kyiv in what he said would be a long war.

Macron had been criticized by Ukraine and some Eastern European allies for what they perceived as his ambiguous backing for Kyiv since Russia launched its invasion in late February, and his repeated dialogue with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Macron says dialogue is needed to help prevent the conflict from escalating.

Updated

Heavy Fighting Under Way In Ukraine As Anti-Mobilization Protests Continue In Russia

Ukrainian soldiers ride in a military vehicle in the Kharkiv region.

Heavy fighting between Ukrainian and Russian forces is under way in parts of eastern Ukraine and the northeast Kharkiv region as Moscow continues a crackdown on protests against a partial mobilization decreed by President Vladimir Putin last week.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the eastern Donetsk region remained Ukraine's -- and Russia's -- top strategic priority, with fighting under way in several towns as Russian troops try to advance to the south and west.

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, Russian protests, and the plight of civilians. For all of RFE/RL's coverage of the war, click here.

Zelenskiy said in his nightly video address on September 26 that the military situation in Donetsk was "particularly severe."

"We are doing everything to contain enemy activity. This is our No. 1 goal right now because Donbas is still the No. 1 goal for the occupiers," Zelenskiy said.

Regional officials, meanwhile, said that Russia carried out at least five attacks on targets in the Odesa region using Iranian drones in the last few days.

Russian missiles targeted the airport in Kriviy Rih in central Ukraine, destroying infrastructure and making the airport unusable, Valentyn Reznichenko, governor of Dnipropetrovsk region, said on Telegram.

The Ukrainian armed forces' southern command said on September 27 that its counteroffensive in the southeastern Kherson region had resulted in enemy losses of 77 servicemen, six tanks, five howitzers, three anti-aircraft installations and 14 armored vehicles.

The claim could not be independently verified.

Fighting was also raging in the Kharkiv region in the northeast, which has been the target of a Ukrainian counteroffensive this month.

In the south, Ukrainian forces pressed on with a campaign to render four bridges and other river crossings inoperable to disrupt supply lines to Russian forces.


In Russia, the announced mobilization of some 300,000 reservists has sparked the first sustained protests since the start of the unprovoked invasion on February 24.

OVD-Info, a human rights group that monitors political arrests in Russia, said that 2,386 people had been detained by September 26. All public criticism of Russia's "special military operation" is banned.

In Geneva, the United Nations voiced alarm on September 27 at the report.

"We are deeply disturbed by the large number of people who have reportedly been arrested," UN High Commissioner for Human Rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani told reporters.

Citing unidentified officials, two Russian news sites that operate from abroad -- Meduza and Novaya gazeta Europe -- reported that the authorities were planning to ban men from leaving as cars clogged border checkpoints, with reports of a 48-hour queue at the sole road border to neighboring Georgia, which allows Russian citizens to enter without a visa.

Asked about the prospect of the border being shut, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on September 26: "I don't know anything about this. At the moment, no decision has been made on this."

In Washington, White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said the United States will consider asylum applications from Russians fleeing mobilization.

With reporting by AFP, AP, and Reuters

Vote On Joining Russia In Occupied Parts Of Ukraine Enters Last Day

A construction worker casts his ballot during a referendum on joining Russia in Sevastopol, Crimea, on September 26.

The last of the five days of so-called referendums on joining the Russian Federation is taking place in four Ukrainian regions partially occupied by Moscow -- votes dismissed as a sham by Ukraine, the West, and the United Nations because they are illegal under international law.

The vote in Russian-controlled areas of the Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhya regions being held in the midst of the largest conflict in Europe since the end of World War II takes place amid claims by some local officials that voters have been threatened and intimidated.

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, Russian protests, and the plight of civilians. For all of RFE/RL's coverage of the war, click here.

Kyiv and its allies have denounced the votes as a sham and said the West would never recognize the results of the ballots that runs counter to the UN Charter. Ukraine has called for a Security Council meeting on September 27 on the referendums.

U.S. President Joe Biden said the polls were a "sham" and nothing but a "false pretext to try to annex parts of Ukraine by force."

Moscow-installed leaders in the regions where the voting is taking place have said provisional results could be expected in the evening of September 27 or in the days that follow.

Russian lawmakers would then vote to formally annex the four territories, which would need Putin's signature to be enacted.

Election officials brought ballot boxes house-to-house, in many cases accompanied by armed Russian troops. Officials said that actual polling stations would only be open on September 27 because of security concerns.

Russian troops have suffered serious setbacks in the conflict this month, both in the east and south of Ukraine, which observers say pushed President Vladimir Putin to rush ahead with the vote to cement Moscow's authority there.

The British Ministry of Defense said on September 27 that Putin is likely to announce the accession of the occupied regions of Ukraine to the Russian Federation during an address to parliament on September 30.

"Russia's leaders almost certainly hope that any accession announcement will be seen as a vindication of the special military operation and will consolidate patriotic support for the conflict," the ministry said in its daily intelligence bulletin.

Observers view the outcome of the ballot as a foregone conclusion that follows the same pattern that Moscow applied in 2014 to annex the Crimea region from Ukraine in the wake of huge pro-Western street demonstrations that saw the country's Kremlin-friendly president ousted.

Putin also announced that Moscow was calling up 300,000 reservists, a move that has triggered protests and saw thousands of able Russian men fearing deployment to Ukraine flee to neighboring countries.

The British government on September 26 placed sanctions on 92 Russian individuals and entities for their various roles in the voting.

"Sham referendums held at the barrel of a gun cannot be free or fair and we will never recognize their results," Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said in a statement.

With reporting by AFP, AP, Reuters, and dpa

Russia Expels Japanese Diplomat On Espionage Accusation

A police officer stands guard outside the Japanese Embassy in Moscow. (illustrative photo)

Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) has said that it detained and ordered the expulsion of a Japanese diplomat in the eastern city of Vladivostok for suspected espionage after the consul allegedly sought "restricted" information.

It said the diplomat was caught receiving the information, on the economic effects of Western sanctions, in exchange for a "monetary reward."

"A Japanese diplomat was detained red-handed while receiving, in exchange for financial reward, restricted information about Russia's cooperation with another country in the Asia-Pacific region," the FSB said in a public statement on September 26.

The diplomat was named by Russian officials as Vladivostok-based consul Motoki Tatsunori.

The Foreign Ministry said Tatsunori had been declared persona non grata and given 48 hours to leave Russia.

There was no immediate confirmation from Tokyo of the incident.

The accusation and expulsion come with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida so far joining international sanctions including asset freezes on Russia over its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine that began in late February.

Based on reporting by AP and Reuters
Updated

Iran Sets Up Special Courts For Protesters, Rejects EU Criticism As Crackdown Deaths, Arrests Rise

Iran has been rocked by protests since the death of a young woman in police custody earlier this month.

Iran has dismissed Western criticism of its deadly crackdown that has killed dozens and led to at least 1,200 arrests since protests broke out after a 22-year-old woman's death in custody for allegedly breaking the country's Islamic dress code.

Iranian judiciary officials also said they had set up special courts to try protesters, whom they claimed were "hired from abroad."

Meanwhile, defiant demonstrations erupted again after nightfall on September 26.

The unrest has spread to more than 80 cities and towns, including in northwestern Iran where Mahsa Amini lived before eyewitnesses and family said she was beaten after being seized by the country's morality police in Tehran on September 13.

The Oslo-based group Iran Human Rights (IHR) said on September 26 that at least 76 protesters have been killed, nearly double the number acknowledged by Iranian officials.

Shared videos and eyewitness reports said the protests kicked off for an 11th night late on September 26 in Tehran, Narmak, Sanandaj, and other places and included chants of "Death to the dictator!" in reference to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Other chants in cities like Qorveh in Kurdistan Province included "Death to Khamenei!"

Video of young women in Sanandaj showed them removing their mandated head scarves and hugging in the street.

Earlier in the day, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock urged "very quick" debate within the European Union on new sanctions on Iran in light of the brutality of the crackdown and the alleged abuse before Amini's death.

"We will now have to talk very quickly in EU circles about further consequences, and for me this also includes sanctions against those responsible," Baerbock told the dpa news agency.

She said "the attempt to suppress peaceful protests with even more deadly violence must not go unanswered."

The outrage over Amini's death has reignited decades-old resentment at the treatment of women by Iran's religious leadership, including so-called hijab laws forcing women to wear Islamic head scarves to cover their heads in public.

Baerbock called women's rights "the yardstick for the state of a society" and said that "if women are not safe in a country, no one is safe."

She said Berlin had summoned Iran's ambassador to the German Foreign Ministry.

Officials in Tehran have accused Western enemies and Iranian elements abroad of fomenting the unrest, whose official death toll is 41. But rights groups and Iran's record suggest that could be underreported, and IHR insisted the number of dead is now at least 76.

Tears And Anger After Iranian TikToker Killed In Ongoing Protests
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Security forces have used water cannons and fired live rounds into crowds of protesters, according to rights groups and video shared online. Protesters have thrown rocks and burned police cars and public buildings.

State media have cited officials as saying that the number of arrestees is above 1,200, including about 450 in the northern Mazandaran Province.

The United States last week announced sanctions on Iran's so-called morality police, and Canada said on September 26 that it would follow suit.

Josep Borrell, the European Union's high representative for foreign policy, has said that Iranian officials' "widespread and disproportionate use of force against nonviolent protesters is unjustifiable and unacceptable" and communications blackouts are "violating freedom of expression."

Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi last week said that the country must "deal decisively with those who oppose the country's security and tranquility," and the head of its powerful judiciary has pledged to act "without leniency" in the crackdown.

On September 26, Iran's Foreign Ministry rejected EU criticism.

"This is intervention in the internal affairs of Iran and support for the rioters," Foreign Ministry spokesman Naser Kanaani said.

The head of Iran's judiciary in the capital, Tehran, said that special courts would be set up to try demonstrators.

The Tasnim news agency quoted Ali Alghasi Mehr as pledging tough punishments against the "leaders of the troublemakers hired from abroad."

Mehr said such defendants would be treated like rapists and other serious criminals, who can face the death penalty under Iran's notoriously secretive justice system.

With reporting by Reuters, dpa, and AFP

Tajiks Say Mortar Fire From Kyrgyz Military Wounded Villager One Week After Border Clashes

Residents of Somoniyon say that when the shelling occurred they were cleaning debris from clashes less than two weeks ago that lefts dozens of people dead on both the Kyrgyz and Tajik sides of the border.

Residents of a Tajik village near a disputed segment of the Tajik-Kyrgyz border say a mortar fired by Kyrgyzstan's military has wounded a civilian, as tensions between the two Central Asian nations remain high following deadly clashes along the border earlier this month.

Residents of the village of Somoniyon near the Tajik city of Isfara said a son of a local teacher was wounded on September 26 by one of three mortar shells shot from the Kyrgyz side.

They said residents were cleaning debris from the clashes less than two weeks ago that lefts dozens of people on both sides dead.

Neither the Tajik nor the Kyrgyz government issued public statements on the purported incident, but a source in the Tajik Sughd region's government confirmed the shelling to RFE/RL.

A day earlier, Tajik and Kyrgyz officials reached agreements on suspending operations at eight checkpoints along the border, replacing them with mobile joint patrols that will be moving along the border on agreed routes.

Kyrgyz officials say 59 of its citizens died in the September 14-17 clashes, and 183 more were injured.

Tajikistan has put its death toll at 41, but correspondents of RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported a higher number after talking to relatives and friends of victims of the violence.

They concluded that 70 people, including dozens of civilians, lost their lives and have compiled a list of those killed.

Many border areas in Central Asia have been disputed since the Soviet Union's collapse in 1991.

The situation is particularly complicated near the numerous exclaves in the volatile Ferghana Valley, where the borders of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan meet.

Almost half of the 970-kilometer Kyrgyz-Tajik border has yet to be demarcated, leading to repeated tensions since the two countries gained independence more than three decades ago.

Updated

Putin Grants Russian Citizenship To U.S. Surveillance Whistle-Blower Snowden

Former U.S. security contractor Edward Snowden in 2021

Russian President Vladimir Putin has granted Russian citizenship to former U.S. security contractor Edward Snowden, whose leaks and international flight from U.S. justice nearly a decade ago highlighted top-secret U.S. intelligence-gathering efforts.

Snowden described his revelations as an effort to pull back the curtain on a legally dubious U.S. electronic-surveillance program.

He was among dozens of individuals named in Putin's citizenship decree signed on September 26.

Snowden’s Russian lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, told the Interfax news agency that his client will not be eligible for being called up in a partial mobilization for the war in Ukraine announced last week by Putin, since he had never served in the Russian Army.

After exposing the U.S. surveillance program, Snowden, now 39, fled the United States first to Hong Kong and then to Russia, where he was granted permanent residency.

Snowden is wanted in the United States on espionage charges.

The U.S. State Department said after the Kremlin announcement that it was unaware of any change in Snowden's U.S. citizenship status.

State Department spokesman Ned Price added that the U.S. position on Snowden had not changed.

Snowden said in early November 2020 that he had applied for Russian citizenship while retaining his U.S. citizenship.

With reporting by Interfax and Reuters

U.S. Imposes Sanctions On 'Brazenly Corrupt' Bosnian State Prosecutor

Bosnian prosecutor Diana Kajmakovic (file photo)

The U.S. Treasury Department has announced sanctions against a Bosnian state prosecutor it said is "brazenly corrupt" with links to organized crime and whose actions have undermined the fledgling former Yugoslav republic's democracy and institutions.

U.S. Under Secretary for the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian Nelson said in a statement on September 26 that the Bosnian official, Diana Kajmakovic, "has continued to undermine democracy and the rule of law in Bosnia and Herzegovina."

The designation freezes the 56-year-old Kajmakovic's assets or property interests in the United States and bars U.S. nationals from transactions involving her without special permission from the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).

"Today’s designation reinforces the United States’ commitment to a stable and prosperous Bosnia and Herzegovina by targeting an individual who has played a central role in enabling corruption in the country.” Nelso said.

Kajmakovic was head of the Bosnian Prosecutor's Office's anti-corruption department until early August, when acting chief prosecutor Milanko Kajganic transferred her to the war-crimes department.

Kajganic told RFE/RL's Balkan Service on September 26 that the federal prosecutor's office had already launched a case based on accusations against Kajmakovic.

"Two prosecutors are working on the mentioned case and will continue to act in the case until they make a prosecutorial decision," Kajganic said.

The head of the Bosnian body that appoints judges and prosecutors, Halil Lagumdzija, told RFE/RL that he didn't know whether disciplinary proceedings would be initiated against Kajmakovic.

The U.S. Treasury Department cited criminals' references to Kajmakovic in decrypted conversations and said she "helped hide evidence, prevent prosecution, and otherwise assist criminal activity in exchange for personal gain" and "attempted to block an investigation into her apparent criminal affiliates."

It said her "destabilizing" activities took place "against the backdrop of [Bosnia's] most serious political crisis since 1995, as ethno-nationalist politicians and affiliated patronage networks continue to undermine the country."

Bosnia, composed of a Bosniak and Croat federation and a mostly Serb entity called Republika Srpska, has faced intensifying challenges from Bosnian Serbs led by Bosnian Presidency member Milorad Dodik, including the establishment of parallel institutions over the past six months.

Dodik has maintained close ties with neighboring Serbia and with Russia for diplomatic and other support to resist Bosnia's federal structure and international pressure.

The United States announced sanctions against Dodik in 2017 and again in January over his secessionist efforts.

Bosnian Croats have also long complained of being sidelined within the three-member presidency, citing grievances that have been acknowledged by European institutions, including the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

Bosnia's fractious leaders failed to agree on electoral reforms or a budget ahead of elections scheduled for October 2 for Bosnia's ethnically designated presidency, the parliaments within its entities, as well as leaders for 10 cantons.

The election dispute has largely centered around the ethnically based voting system and administration of the country stemming from the 1995 Dayton agreement that ended three years of brutal conflict in Bosnia.

The international community's high representative for civilian affairs and compliance with that peace deal, Germany's Christian Schmidt, said in June that he was allocating millions of euros to fund the voting so the balloting could go forward as planned.

Updated

Iranian Rights Activist Ronaghi Says Guards At Tehran's Evin Prison Broke His Leg During Beatings

Iranian rights activist Hossein Ronaghi

Iranian civil rights activist Hossein Ronaghi says he has been beaten by guards in Tehran's Evin prison.

Journalist Masoud Kazemi said in a tweet on September 25 that Hossein Ronaghi said prison officers broke his leg during the beating, while Ronaghi's mother said her son told her he had been injured by guards.

Security agents stormed Ronaghi's house and arrested him on September 22 as he was giving an interview to the London-based Iran International TV.

Hours later, Ronaghi announced in a video message that he had managed to escape the security agents, but that he would turn himself in to the prosecutor's office of Evin prison in Tehran on September 24.

"If I am arrested after going to the prosecutor's office, I will go on a hunger strike from that moment," Ronaghi said in his video message.

On September 24, Ronaghi went to the Evin prison prosecutor's office and was violently apprehended.

The arrest comes amid anti-government protests over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini after she was taken into custody by morality police for the alleged improper wearing of a head scarf, or hijab.

Many high profile activists, rights advocates, and intellectuals have also been arrested in recent days, including Majid Tavakoli and Mohammad Reza Jalaeipour.

At least 20 journalists are among those arrested, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). They include photojournalist Yalda Moayeri, Fatemeh Rajabi, and Niloufar Hamedi, who reported from a Tehran hospital where Amini died on September 16.

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

EU, U.S. Expect Serbia To 'Clarify' Its New Consultation Deal With Russia

Alongside Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (left), Serbian Foreign Minister Nikola Selakovic (right) announced his signing of a "Plan of Consultations" with Moscow on September 23. (file photo)

EU and U.S. envoys have expressed dismay at Serbia's decision to sign a two-year pledge to consult with Moscow as much of the West seeks to isolate Russia over its escalating war on Ukraine.

Moscow's closest ally in the Balkans even as it pursues EU membership, Belgrade has condemned Russia's unprovoked invasion but staunchly resisted joining unprecedented Western sanctions that would curb trade, energy shipments, direct flights, and other links.

Alongside Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on September 23, Serbian Foreign Minister Nikola Selakovic announced his signing of a "Plan of Consultations" through 2024 on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York.

U.S. Ambassador to Serbia Christopher Hill said at a conference at Belgrade's Metropol Hotel on September 26 that "the United States would like to hear some clarification of what this agreement or what this protocol really was."

He said the U.S. side had "some of the best discussions we've had" with the Serbian delegation on "big-picture and small-picture issues" during last week's General Assembly before learning of the protocol's signing. Hill said he hadn't seen the document's precise contents.

"To be very frank, nobody should be signing anything with Russia right now, and frankly no one is signing very much with Russia, except perhaps some very poor recruits who are being forced into this mobilization to support this failing military operation that Russia has launched against its neighbor," Hill said.

"It is hard for us to understand, but we do look forward to hearing some kind of clarification of what it is," he said of the document and Belgrade's relations with Moscow. "We want to know what the bedrock is of the relationship with a country that does things like that."

Hill said the United States supported Serbia's effort to achieve greater integration into the West and its EU membership goal, and encouraged Serbian energy diversification away from Russia.

At the same conference, EU Ambassador to Serbia Emmanuel Joffre said the bloc "expects Serbia to stand by it in defense of European values and international law."

"By signing the agreement on cooperation with Russia, Serbia sent a completely opposite message, regardless of the fact that it said it would not recognize the results of the referendum that Russia is conducting on the occupied territory of Ukraine," Zoffre said.

He noted that Serbia is on the path to EU membership and is expected to harmonize its foreign policy with the EU's, including the introduction of sanctions against Russia.

The Serbian Foreign Ministry described the consultation protocol as a "technical document," and Selakovic suggested it contained no commitments on security issues but rather bilateral and multilateral activities.

Serbian opposition parties quickly condemned the move by the government of Selakovic and President Aleksandar Vucic's ruling Progressive Party (SNS) and its nationalist allies.

Serbia has kept close relations with Russia in particular to bolster its refusal to recognize the 2008 declaration of sovereignty by its former province Kosovo, which is now recognized by more than 100 countries.

But it has frequently balanced those diplomatic ties, along with Moscow's provisions of energy and weapons, with deeper trade and economic ties to EU member states in addition to talks on joining the bloc.

Back in Belgrade on September 25, Selakovic announced that Serbia would not recognize the voting that Russia and its separatist allies have staged in occupied parts of Ukraine on September 23-27, citing Serbia's commitment to the UN Charter and respect for international law, among other things.

Recognizing what Kyiv and Western governments have called "sham" referendums "would completely violate our national and state interests, the preservation of sovereignty and territorial integrity and the inviolability of borders," Selakovic said.

Ukrainian Man Who Took 13 People Hostage In 2020 Gets 13 Years In Prison

Maksym Kryvosh held more than a dozen people hostage inside a bus in the northwestern Ukrainian town of Lutsk in July 2020.

A Ukrainian man who held 13 people hostage inside a bus with a firearm and explosives in the northwestern town of Lutsk for 12 hours in 2020 has been handed a 13-year prison term.

A court in Lutsk sentenced 46-year-old Maksym Kryvosh on September 26 after finding him guilty of hostage-taking, illegal weapon use, conducting an act of terrorism, and the attempted murder of a law enforcement officer.

Kryvosh threw a piece of soap at the judge and shouted that he was innocent while the judge was reading out the sentence. Kryvosh said he does not plan to appeal the sentence.

Kryvosh, a native of the city of Dubno and a resident of Lutsk who has a criminal record and was once treated at a psychiatric center, has said that the hostage-taking on July 21, 2020, was "a performance."

Physiatrists concluded that Kryvosh was mentally fit to stand trial.

Police said earlier that, while holding hostages, Kryvosh ranted against "the system" in his negotiations, called the nation's oligarchs and officials "terrorists," and demanded that people watch the 2005 documentary film Earthlings about the suffering endured by animals at farms, research labs, and other locations.

Nobody was hurt in the 12-hour ordeal.

With reporting by Ukrayinska Pravda, Suspilne, and Volynski Novyny

Russian Ally Kazakhstan Says It Won't Recognize Referendum Results From Ukraine

Kazakh Foreign Ministry spokesman Aibek Smadiyarov

ASTANA -- Kazakhstan, a close ally of Russia, will not recognize the results of so-called referendums organized by Moscow on Ukraine’s territories occupied by Russian troops.

Kazakh Foreign Ministry spokesman Aibek Smadiyarov said on September 26 that Astana's attitude to the ongoing referendums in parts of Ukraine's Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhya regions, which are under at least the partial control of Russian troops, is based on "the principle of countries' territorial integrity."

Smadiyarov stressed that Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev had explicitly expressed the Central Asian nation's position on the parts of Ukraine's Luhansk and Donetsk regions that have been under Russia-backed separatists' control since 2014, as well as in the districts of Ukraine's Zaporizhzhya and Kherson regions, parts of which have been under the control of occupying Russian troops since March this year.

At a June economic forum in Russia's second-largest city, St. Petersburg, Toqaev, sitting on the podium next to his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, called parts of Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk, which Moscow has recognized as the Luhansk People's Republic (LNR) and Donetsk People's Republic (DNR), as "quasi-states" that Kazakhstan will not recognize.

The referendums, which began on September 23 and run until September 27, have been condemned by Kyiv, Western leaders and the United Nations as an illegitimate, choreographed precursor to the illegal annexation of the territory by Russia.

U.S. President Joe Biden has called them a "sham" and said that Washington "will never recognize Ukrainian territory as anything other than part of Ukraine."

The move to hold the referendums came as Putin announced a partial military mobilization on September 21 amid reports of heavy personnel losses in the unprovoked invasion of Ukraine that Moscow launched in late February.

U.K. Sanctions Russians It Says Are Linked to 'Sham' Referendums In Ukraine

U.K. Foreign Secretary James Cleverly (file photo)

The United Kingdom has announced 92 new sanctions in response to Russia-backed authorities imposing "sham referendums" in four regions of Ukraine, saying the move "is a clear violation of international law, including the UN charter."

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The British Foreign Office said in a statement on September 26 that the referendums, which began last week and run until September 27, are a "desperate attempt to grab land and justify their illegal war."

The statement said that among those hit by the new sanctions are top Russian officials involved in enforcing the votes.

"Sham referendums held at the barrel of a gun cannot be free or fair and we will never recognize their results. They follow a clear pattern of violence, intimidation, torture, and forced deportations in the areas of Ukraine Russia has seized," Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said in the statement.

"Today’s sanctions will target those behind these sham votes, as well as the individuals that continue to prop up the Russian regime’s war of aggression. We stand with the Ukrainian people and our support will continue as long as it takes to restore their sovereignty," he added.

The sanctions also hit 55 board members from state-linked organizations that the United Kingdom said continue to "bankroll the Russian war machine, serving as a stark reminder of the cost of supporting Putin’s operation."

Among those sanctioned are 23 individuals from Gazprombank's board of directors and management board, 16 members of the Sberbank supervisory board and executive board as well as other directors, and 10 individuals from Sovcodmbank, including the deputy chairman and members of the supervisory board and management board.

"The U.K. will never recognize the results of any sham referendums or attempts to annex Ukraine’s sovereign territory. Ukraine voted overwhelmingly for independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 and their continued brave resistance against Russian aggression clearly demonstrates their wish to remain an independent sovereign state," the statement said.

At Least 57 Protesters Have Been Killed In Iran During Amini Protests, Rights Group Says

Iran has been rocked by protests since the death of a young woman in police custody earlier this month.

At least 57 people have been killed in anti-government protests across Iran that were triggered by the death of a 22-year-old woman who died after being taken into police custody for allegedly improperly wearing a headscarf, or hijab, a rights group says.

The Iran Human Rights Organization said on September 25 that due to the government's blocking of the Internet in Iran, it is difficult to confirm a significant number of reports received over the deaths of protesters. The official death toll stands at 41.

Anti-government protests have rocked the country for 10 nights night since the death of Mahsa Amini. Officials have said she died of a heart attack, but her relatives and some rights groups have rejected that assertion saying she was in perfect health and that they believe she was beaten while being detained.

Some social media reports have quoted members of the families of those killed in the protest as saying officials have listed false causes of death on death certificates, including various diseases. Some say they have been pressured to bury their loved ones at night to hide what happened.

Tears And Anger After Iranian TikToker Killed In Ongoing Protests
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The WhatsApp, Instagram, and Skype messaging applications have been blocked and Internet access in Iran restricted beyond normal levels, according to web monitor NetBlocks. Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, and Telegram were banned well before the most-recent wave of protests.

Nonetheless, videos of protests in Iran continue to be published, and in some of them, security and anti-riot forces are seen shooting directly at crowds.

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

Kazakh Court Hands Nazarbaev's Nephew Six-Year Prison Term On Fraud, Embezzlement Charges

Qairat Satybaldy (file photo)

ASTANA -- A nephew of Kazakhstan's former strongman President Nursultan Nazarbaev has been handed a six-year prison term for fraud and embezzlement charges.

The Baiqonyr district court in Astana pronounced its ruling on September 26, also depriving Qairat Satybaldy of the rank of major general on the Committee of National Security. He was also barred from occupying state posts for 10 years.

Satybaldy, whose trial started a week ago, pleaded guilty to all charges and said he regrets his misdeeds.

Satybaldy was arrested in early March while trying to board a plane heading to Turkey. The probe launched against him is one of a series of investigations targeting relatives and allies of Nazarbaev.

Kazakhstan’s Anti-Corruption Agency has said Satybaldy and four other unnamed individuals were suspected of embezzling an unspecified amount of money from the state companies Kazakhtelecom and Transport Service Center.

The agency said at the time that $500 million had been returned to the State Treasury and that 29 percent of Kazakhtelecom's shares that had been controlled by Satybaldy were placed back under state control.

Satybaldy's former wife, Gulmira, was also arrested in March on charges of embezzlement and the illegal takeover of a private business.

After unprecedented anti-government protests in early January, the Kazakh regime began to quietly target Nazarbaev, his family, and other allies -- many of whom held powerful or influential posts in government, security agencies, and profitable energy companies.

President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev, whom Nazarbaev handpicked as his successor after stepping down in 2019, started distancing himself from the former leader after the January unrest, which was fueled by the Kazakhs’ pent up frustration with cronyism and corruption.

Toqaev stripped Nazarbaev of the sweeping powers he had retained as the head of the Security Council after resigning.

Just days after the protests, two of Nazarbaev’s sons-in-law were pushed out of top jobs at two major oil and gas companies.

Another son-in-law, Timur Kulibaev, resigned as chairman of the country’s main business lobby group, while in late February, Nazarbaev's eldest daughter, Darigha, was apparently forced to give up her parliamentary seat.

Authorities also launched probes against the leaders of a company linked to Nazarbaev's youngest daughter Aliya.

In June, Toqaev said he had created a commission to "return cash illegally taken out of Kazakhstan" by "a narrow circle of people who had illegally taken over" a large portion of the country’s wealth.

Kremlin Says No Decision To Close Borders As Many Flee Russia To Avoid Military Mobilization

Cars line up to leave Russia at the border with Finland on September 23.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov says the government does not plan to seal off borders as tens of thousands of cars with fleeing Russians, mostly men, cross into Georgia, Finland, Kazakhstan, and Mongolia after President Vladimir Putin announced a partial military mobilization to support the ongoing war in Ukraine.

While answering a question about rumors of a possible closure of the borders at a press conference in Moscow on September 26, Peskov said, "I am not aware of anything like that."

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"At this moment, no decisions regarding that were made," Peskov said.

Meanwhile, Russians continue to leave the country in droves, with some local media outlets saying that more than 260,000 have fled since the Kremlin announced the partial mobilization last week.

The acting chief of Kazakhstan's migration committee, Colonel Aslan Atalyqov, said on September 26 that the number of Russian citizens entering the Central Asian nation since September 22 had dramatically increased.

He said that around 40,000 Russian citizens had already left for other countries -- mainly Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan -- after entering Kazakhstan in recent days.

The influx has put so much pressure on accommodations in Kazakhstan that the administration of a cinema in the city of Oral said it would allow Russian nationals arriving without a place to stay to use the theater's premises for temporary living.

Over the weekend, Mongolia's former president, Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj, issued a video statement on YouTube, calling on Russian citizens of Tyvan, Buryat, and Kalmyk origin to flee Russia instead of "killing Ukrainians."

"I know that since the start of this bloody war, ethnic minorities who live in Russia have suffered the most. The Buryat Mongols, the Tyva Mongols, the Kalmyk Mongols have suffered a lot. They have been used as nothing more than cannon fodder. Hundreds of them are wounded, thousands of them have been killed. We the Mongols, will meet you with open arms and hearts," the former president said.

Elbegdorj also called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to immediately end the war, saying that Ukraine has a right to exist as a free nation.

With reporting by TASS, Interfax, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, Idel.Realities, and Siberia.Realities

Lukashenka Reportedly In Russia To Meet Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) and Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka in Moscow in 2018.

Local media are reporting that Belarus's authoritarian leader, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, has flown to Russia to meet with President Vladimir Putin.

No details of the September 26 meeting were given.

Belarus has been a close ally of Russia during its war in Ukraine.

Lukashenka has allowed Putin to use Belarusian territory to stage attacks on Ukraine since the Kremlin launched its invasion on February 24.

Based on reporting by Belta and Belsat
Updated

Gunman Kills 15, Including Children, In Shooting Spree At Russian School

The scene in Izhevsk near where the shooting took place.

A gunman in Izhevsk, the capital of Russia's Republic of Udmurtia, has killed 15 people, including 11 children, the fourth school shooting in the region in the past 15 months.

Russia's Investigative Committee said on September 26 that the gunman has been identified as Artyom Kazantsev, 34, who was a graduate of school No. 88, which is attended by students from kindergarten up to the end of high school.

The gunman, who some media outlets said was wearing a T-shirt with a swastika on it, shot himself dead at the scene, the committee said, adding that 24 people, including 22 children, were wounded in the incident.

The Investigative Committee also said that its Main Investigative Directorate in Moscow is investigating the shooting.

Shootings at schools and other educational institutions in Russia and other former Soviet republics were very rare until recent years, when the numbers of incidents has risen.

In April 2022, in Veshkaima, an armed man entered a kindergarten and killed two children and a teacher before shooting himself, while in September 2021, a mass shooting took place at the Perm State National Research University, which resulted in the deaths of six people.

Five months before that, 19-year-old Ilnaz Galyaviev opened fire at Kazan school No. 175. Nine people died in that shooting, including seven children.

Reservist Shoots Enlistment Officer Amid Russia's Unpopular Mobilization For War In Ukraine

A gunman opens fire at a military draft office in Ust-Ilimsk in this screen grab obtained from social media.

A man has shot a military commissioner at an enlistment center in Siberia who was recruiting soldiers amid rising tensions over the Kremlin's unpopular partial military mobilization to support Russia's ongoing unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

The governor of the Irkutsk region, Igor Kobzev, said on September 26 that the military commissioner, who was shot in the city of Ust-Ilimsk, is in grave condition at a local hospital.

Media reports identified the shooter as 25-year-old Ruslan Zinin, who had been called to report for mobilization that day.

The Babr Mash Telegram channel posted a video reportedly taken at the moment of the shooting that showed paramedics taking a wounded man away and the moment the shooter was detained.

Russia's Investigative Committee said it has launched a probe into "attempted murder and the illegal possession, transportation, and use of a weapon."

The mobilization for the war in Ukraine announced by President Vladimir Putin last week has been met with countrywide protests and the mass flight of men potentially eligible for military duty from Russia.

Almost 2,500 people have been detained in Russian towns and cities for protesting against mobilization, while several military enlistment centers and other administrative buildings in the country have been targeted in arson attacks in recent days.

The largest protest against the mobilization took place over the weekend in Makhachkala, the capital of the North Caucasus region of Daghestan.

With reporting by Babr Mash, Interfax, Baza, Mash, and TASS

After Years Of Denial, Putin Ally Admits He Founded Russian Paramilitary Group Vagner

Yevgeny Prigozhin, known as "Putin's chef" due to his Kremlin catering contracts, has already been sanctioned by the United States and European Union for his role in Vagner. 

Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, a close associate of President Vladimir Putin, has admitted he founded the private paramilitary Vagner group after years of denying any links to the mercenaries who have been involved in the ongoing war in Ukraine, as well as conflicts in Syria and Africa.

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In response to a question asked by a journalist from the Bloknot online newspaper, Prigozhin said in a statement posted on September 26 to a VKontakte account belonging to his Konkord company that he himself created the paramilitary private group in 2014 on "a military test field" after he realized that military formations that planned to take part in the war in Ukraine's eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk were poorly prepared and unprofessional.

Prigozhin, known as "Putin's chef" due to his Kremlin catering contracts, has already been sanctioned by the United States and European Union for his role in Vagner.

The Kremlin has denied any ties with the Vagner group as Russian laws do not allow creation of such kind of paramilitary groups.

Prigozhin said he avoided admitting to his links to Vagner so as "not to put these guys who are the foundation of Russian patriotism under fire."

According to Prigozhin, Vagner troops took over an airport and many other territories in Ukraine's Luhansk region in 2014. He called the paramilitary group "heroes who defended the people of Syria and other Arabic nations, poor people in Africa and Latin America."

Prigozhin has launched lawsuits against several journalists who reported that he was behind the Vagner group.

In August, Moscow's Presnensky district court recognized as false a statement by Aleksei Venediktov, the former chief editor of the now defunct Ekho Moskvy independent radio station, after he said that Prigozhin was the owner of Vagner.

In July, Prigozhin sued investigative journalist Lilia Yapparova and the editorial director of Latvia-based media outlet Meduza, Tatyana Yershova, after the journalists had sent a query to Prigozhin asking him to comment on allegations that he is the owner of the Vagner group.

Recent media reports have said that Prigozhin and his group were involved in recruiting inmates across the country to assist in Russia's ongoing unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

Earlier this month, a video circulated on the Internet showing a person looking like Prigozhin talking to a large group of inmates in a penal colony in Russia's Mari El Republic during a recruiting trip for the paramilitary group.

Commenting on the video at the time, Prigozhin did not confirm or deny that he was the man in the video, saying only that "either inmates, or your children," will fight in Ukraine.

Prigozhin's admission comes less than a week after Putin announced a partial mobilization in the country, a move that prompted protests across Russia and a mass exodus of men who feared they may be called up for duty.

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