U.S. Authorities Charge 17 With Defrauding Holocaust Fund
WASHINGTON -- U. S. authorities have charged 17 people with stealing more than $42 million from programs designed established to help impoverished survivors of Nazi persecution.
At a joint news conference with FBI officials on November 10 in Manhattan, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said the money was stolen in a "perverse and pervasive fraud." Authorities say the fraud scheme ran for more than a decade before the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany tipped off federal authorities.
Six of those charged are employees of the nonprofit, which has offices in New York, Vienna, Israel, and Germany. The organization's executive vice president, Gregory Schneider, said the group was "disgusted" by the intent, and extent, of the fraud scheme that was carried out in its offices for so long.
"We are both sickened and relieved. We're relieved because we first discovered this and brought it to federal authorities in November of 2009, so it's been a year that we've been working with the FBI very closely in bringing this matter to closure," he said. "When you look at what's happened, what they've done, you can't help but be disgusted by this criminal activity."
U.S. Attorney Bharara vowed that the U.S. government "will bring to justice all those who would callously line their own pockets by looting a lifeline for Holocaust survivors."
The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany -- also known as the Claims Conference -- provides assistance to victims of Nazi persecution by supervising and administering several funds that make reparation payments. Applications for disbursements are processed by employees in Manhattan, who must confirm that the applicants meet the specific criteria for fund disbursements.
The criminal complaint alleges that staffers of the Claims Conference approved more than 5,000 fraudulent applications for aid and then distributed the assistance funds among themselves and outside co-conspirators.
The fraud was perpetrated on the Hardship Fund and the Article 2 Fund, both of which are funded by the German government. The Hardship Fund gives a onetime payment of approximately $3,600 to mainly poor and elderly victims of Nazi persecution who were forced to leave their homes and become refugees.
The indictment says the defendants in the case recruited "applicants" from places like Brighton Beach in Brooklyn -- known as Little Odessa for its huge Ukrainian population -- and used altered government records and fake identities to carry out the scheme.
The recruited applicants' histories were altered so that they qualified for aid payments -- including new birthdates and made-up stories about surviving Nazi occupations. But the fraudsters got sloppy -- in some cases, several applications carried the same photo or birthdates that occurred after the war had ended.
A Fraud 'Factory'
Many of the defendants' names are Slavic -- the ring leader, Semen Domnitser, for example, and co-defendants Valentina Romashova; Polina Staroseletsky; Liliya Ukrainsky; Raisa Belgorodskaya; and Galina Trutina-Demchuk.
Schneider said the amount involved in the fraud scheme was less than 1 percent of the more than $400 million in funds from Eastern European governments that the Claims Conference distributes annually.
As to how the crimes went undetected for so many years, Schneider said the operation was "very complicated and organized."
"This group of people whose intent was to steal were recruiting people to pretend to be Holocaust survivors. There was a factory manufacturing false documents, and then they had a few people on the inside here, who worked at the Claims Conference. So it was collusion of a whole group of people with criminal intent," he said.
Some of the indicted employees were fired months ago, and some just this week, he added.
Since the charges were announced, the Claims Conference has been contacted by other groups that also administer aid to World War II survivors. Schneider said their messages have been supportive, but there is also the unspoken question: how do they prevent this from happening again?
"It's extraordinarily complicated because you're balancing, on one hand, the interests of legitimate Holocaust survivors -- you want to approve their claims as quickly as possible and make it as easy as possible for them to receive the funds. But on the other hand there has to be secure application process."
For that reason, he said, that the Claims Conference is implementing new procedures "to insure that this can never happen again."
All Of The Latest News
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Urges Decision On Patriot Missile System
Ukraine’s foreign minister says the “time has come” for a decision on whether to provide his country with the Patriot missile defense system. “We began our conversation about Patriots in the very beginning of the war -- even actually before the war,” Dmytro Kuleba told CNN in an interview published on December 2. “But now, the time has come to make decisions.” Kuleba said that he had spoken with his American and German counterparts about the system, which he said “would be a huge help.” A decision has not yet been made at the Pentagon or at the NATO level.
EU Tentatively Backs $60-Per-Barrel Price Cap On Russian Oil
The European Union has reached a deal for a $60-per-barrel price cap on Russian oil, a move that aims to reduce Russia's income from selling oil, while preventing a spike in global prices. The EU presidency tweeted on December 2 that ambassadors reached the agreement, which will affect Russian seaborne oil. The decision must still be approved by EU members but is expected to go through. Europe needed to set the cap by December 5, when an EU embargo on Russian oil shipped by sea and a ban on insurance for those supplies take effect. To read the original story by AP, click here.
Snowden Receives Russian Passport, Takes Citizenship Oath
Former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, who fled prosecution after revealing highly classified surveillance programs, has received a Russian passport and taken the citizenship oath, Russian news agencies quoted his lawyer as saying on December 2. Snowden’s lawyer said he got the passport and took the oath on December 1, about three months after Russian President Vladimir Putin granted him citizenship. Snowden leaked documents in 2013 on the National Security Agency’s collection of data passing through U.S. public communications networks and released details about the classified U.S. intelligence budget and the extent of American surveillance of foreign officials. To read the original story by AP, click here.
Bosnian Court Abolishes Republika Srpska's Law On Medicines
The Constitutional Court of Bosnia-Herzegovina has abolished Republika Srpska’s law on medicines and medical devices, declaring it unconstitutional.
The law envisioned the formation of Republika Srpska’s own agency for medicines, which would usurp the state’s authority, the court ruled on December 2. According to the constitution, state level jurisdictions cannot be moved to the entities’ level, and the state law on medicines can be altered only by Bosnia’s parliament.
"There are no provisions in the constitution of [Bosnia] upon which it could be concluded that the disputed laws, passed by the National Assembly of Republika Srpska, are constitutional. According to the constitution…entities are obliged to respect the decisions made by the institutions of Bosnia-Herzegovina,” the court’s decision said.
The Constitutional Court had temporarily abolished the law prior to its final decision. It also abolished several provisions in May regarding “the return of transferred jurisdictions” from Bosnia to Republika Srpska, the Serb-dominated entity that makes up half of Bosnia alongside the Bosniak and Croat federation.
The Republika Srpska government had been expected to send more laws to the entity’s assembly aimed at taking over jurisdictions on taxation, criminal law and defense and security. However, the assembly decided to postpone these actions for six months.
The Constitutional Court on December 2 also declined the appeal of Zeljko Komsic, a member of Bosnia’s tripartite presidency, to adopt a temporary measure regarding the amendments to Bosnia’s election law imposed by the high representative for Bosnia, Christian Schmidt, on October 2 shortly after the polls closed on Bosnia’s general election.
Komsic’s appeal said Schmidt’s step to impose the decision after the voting concluded was a “direct assault on the integrity of the election process" because voters possibly would have voted differently had they known how the elections law was going to be changed.
“By the opinion of the Constitutional Court of Bosnia-Herzegovina, the applicants have not clearly stated, outside the realm of the abstract, what sort of irretrievable damage could be done if the disputed decision were to remain in place, nor have they produced evidence on the validity of their claims,” the court stated.
UN Nuclear Chief Says Iran Ties Need To Get Back On Track
Iran appears to be at odds with the UN nuclear watchdog over information it should be providing regarding its atomic program, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency said on December 2. "We don't seem to be seeing eye-to-eye with Iran over their obligations to the IAEA," Rafael Grossi told a conference in Rome, adding that he was concerned over a recent announcement by Tehran that it was boosting its enrichment capacity. "We need to put our relationship back on track," he said. Grossi said he was "still hopeful" Tehran would give an explanation for the unexpected discovery a few years back of traces of uranium at three undeclared sites. To read the original story from Reuters, click here.
U.S. Designates China, Iran, Russia As Countries Of Concern Under Religious Freedom Act
The United States has designated China, Iran, and Russia among other nations as "countries of particular concern" under the Religious Freedom Act, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said on December 2. “Our announcement of these designations is in keeping with our values and interests to protect national security and to advance human rights around the globe,” Blinken said in a statement. The Taliban and the Vagner Group were added to the blacklist as entities of particular concern. To read the original story from Reuters, click here.
Iranian Students Accuse Authorities Of Poisoning After Spate Of Incidents
Several Iranian student associations have accused authorities of deliberate "serial poisoning" after reports that a large number of students from at least four Iranian universities across the country fell ill.
In a report on December 1, the Union Councils of Iranian students reported that several schools experienced outbreaks of poisoning after eating at cafeterias, including Kharazmi University in Karaj, near the Iranian capital, where the number of those poisoned was so high that the university's clinic could not handle all of the patients.
Similarly, the Telegram channel of the United Students group also reported that several students at Allameh University in Tehran were poisoned after consuming food in the university canteen.
Students across the country have been at the forefront of protests sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in September while in police custody for allegedly wearing a head scarf improperly. The authorities have cracked down violently on the university protests, beating and detaining dozens of students.
The channel, which covers university news, alleged the poisonings were "intentional" and an attempt by officials to intimidate the students.
"You cannot stop the student movement with these things," it said. It did not provide any evidence to back up its claim.
Universities and students have long been at the center of the struggle for greater social and political freedoms in Iran.
In 1999, students protested the closure of a reformist daily, prompting a brutal raid on the dormitories of Tehran University that left one student dead.
Over the years, the authorities have arrested student activists and leaders, sentencing them to prison and banning them from studying.
Anger over Amini's death has prompted thousands of Iranians to take to the streets nationwide to demand more freedoms and women's rights. The widespread unrest represents the biggest threat to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution.
Some university professors and lecturers have expressed solidarity with the protesters.
The activist HRANA news agency said that, as of November 29, at least 459 protesters have been killed during the unrest, including 64 minors, as security forces try to stifle widespread dissent.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda.
Dozhd TV Channel Fined, Warned Of Possible Loss Of License In Latvia
The Latvia-based independent Russian television channel Dozhd (Rain) has been fined 10,000 euros ($10,468) for using a map of Russia with Ukraine's Moscow-annexed Crimea on it and calling Russian armed forces invading Ukraine "our army."
The chairman of Latvia's National Council on Electronic Media (NEPLP), Ivars Abolins, tweeted on December 2 that it was Dozhd's second violation of regulations in recent months, adding that a third violation of that kind would lead to the suspension of the television channel's license.
Abolins also wrote on Twitter that a probe had been launched into an administrative violation by Dozhd in a report about Russia’s full-scale aggression against Ukraine, in which an anchor, who was later fired, appeared to express support for the Russian military.
Anchor Aleksei Korostelyov on December 1 called on the Dozhd audience to write about cases of violations of Russian laws during the recent mobilization in Russia and about war crimes. In making the request, he said:
"We hope we also helped many military personnel, namely by assisting with equipment and bare necessities on the front line."
The chief of Dozhd's information service, Yekaterina Kotrikadze, offered apologies on December 2 and said that Korostelyov was fired for his on-air statements.
Editor in Chief Tikhon Dzyadko said his television channel "has never been, is not, and will never be involved in assisting Russian armed forces with equipment."
NEPLP granted Dozhd a broadcast license in June after it was forced to suspend operations in Russia in March amid pressure linked to its coverage of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Dozhd's website was blocked in Russia on March 1 under a demand by the Prosecutor-General's Office.
Russia further tightened its grip on media freedom after launching its full-scale attack against Ukraine on February 24.
Iranian Climbing Champion Rekabi Says Police Demolished Her Family's Home
The family of Elnaz Rekabi, the Iranian rock-climbing champion who sparked a controversy by competing in the Asian climbing championships in Seoul without a head scarf, announced that police officers have violently demolished their family villa.
Rekabi's supporters had expressed concerns about her safety after her return last month amid unrest over the death of a young woman while in police custody for allegedly wearing a hijab improperly.
The BBC quoted an informed source as saying that the authorities of the Islamic republic have also fined the Rekabi family 168,000,000,000 Rials ($4,700).
Officials have not yet provided an explanation for knocking down the dwelling.
Rekabi’s participation without the head scarf in Seoul was seen by some observers as a move to show solidarity with ongoing anti-government protests.
However, in a post that appeared on her Instagram page on October 18, she apologized and explained that "due to poor scheduling and an unexpected call for me to climb.... I inadvertently had a problem with my cover."
It could not be verified whether Rekabi made the post independent of pressure from Iranian officials, and some government critics said the apology appeared in line with previous similar confessions by offenders who were pressured by authorities to recant. There were also unconfirmed reports that Rekabi's brother had been detained by police.
The 33-year-old said in an Instagram post that she competed without the hijab, which is mandatory for Iranian women to wear in public, "due to poor scheduling and an unexpected call for me to climb."
She added that she returned to Iran with the team "according to a pre-arranged schedule."
The controversy comes after months of unrest across Iran -- one of the deepest challenges to the Islamic regime since the revolution in 1979 -- sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini after she was taken into police custody for allegedly breaking hijab rules.
Since the start of the protests, several Iranian sports champions and prominent public figures, including soccer star Ali Daei, have been summoned or arrested by the authorities and had their passports confiscated after showing support for anti-government protests.
The hijab -- the head covering worn by Muslim women -- became compulsory in public for Iranian women and girls over the age of nine after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda.
Brother Of Russia-Imprisoned American Says Contact Resumed
The family of Paul Whelan, an American imprisoned in Russia for espionage, said on December 2 that he has resumed contact after unexpectedly becoming unreachable in November. Whelan's brother, David, said that Paul had called his parents early U.S. time on December 2, the first time any family member had spoken with him since November 23. The family had been told he was moved to a prison hospital, but the reason for that was unclear because he had not spoken of health problems. In the call, he did not explain why he was at the hospital, David Whelan said. To read the original story by AP, click here.
Zelenskiy Says More Measures Coming After Decree Banning Religious Organizations With Links To Russia
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said measures to guarantee Ukraine's "spiritual independence" will continue after Ukraine on December 2 banned the activities of religious organizations “affiliated with centers of influence” in Russia.
"These days we have taken some steps to guarantee the spiritual independence of our people. I see that people support these steps,” Zelenskiy said in his nightly video message, pledging to implement more steps.
Zelenskiy earlier on December 2 signed a decree enacting a decision to impose personal sanctions against representatives of religious organizations associated with Russia, which invaded Ukraine more than nine months ago.
The decree additionally provided for examining links between the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, one of two Orthodox bodies in Ukraine following a schism that in 2019 resulted in the establishment of one with independence from the Russian church.
The Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council on December 1 told the government to draft the law following a series of raids on parishes that Kyiv said could be taking orders from Moscow. The government has two months to submit to the Verkhovna Rada a corresponding draft law on making it impossible for such religious organizations to operate in Ukraine.
In an addendum to the decree, sanctions were introduced against the vicar of Kyiv’s Pechersk Lavra, other Russian Orthodox Church leaders, and former lawmaker Vadym Novinsky.
The sanctions packages contain 12 types of restrictions, including a complete block of assets and a ban on trade operations.
The Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) has conducted searches recently at the facilities of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in which law enforcement officers discovered "a large number of anti-Ukrainian materials” and documents confirming the presence of Russian citizenship in the leadership of diocesan structures.
The SBU continued its raids on December 2, saying it searched at least five parishes belonging to a branch of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
The Ukrainian Orthodox Church urged the government "not to ignite an internal war" and called the accusations of collaborative activities "unproven and groundless."
Journalist In Tatarstan Jailed, Fined For Reposting Online Call For Anti-War Rally
A journalist in Russia's Tatarstan, Nailla Mullayeva, has been sentenced to six days in jail and fined $490 on a charge of discrediting the Russian armed forces and violating the law on public gatherings. Mullayeva's lawyer said the charge stemmed from his client's reposting of an online call for an unsanctioned rally against the war in Ukraine in September. Police searched Mullayeva’s home twice before her arrest this week. To read the original story from RFE/RL's Idel.Realities, click here.
Russian Police Investigate Private Animal Shelter After Dozens Of Mutilated Dogs Found Dead
Police in Russia's southwestern Astrakhan region have started an investigation into an animal shelter after activists found dozens of mutilated dead dogs in the facility and nearby. The shelter, owned by the wife of a former Astrakhan city lawmaker, Andrei Nevlyudov, has received significant amounts of money from the city to catch stray dogs, provide them with medical assistance, and find homes for them. Activists said on December 1 that some 60 dogs that were found dead and mutilated are registered as alive in the shelter's documents. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.
Moscow Court Issues Arrest Warrants For Two Former Coordinators Of Navalny Groups In Siberia
A court in Moscow has issued arrest warrants for two former coordinators of groups in Siberia associated with jailed opposition politician Aleksei Navalny. The Basmanny district court's ruling on December 2 resulted in warrants being issued for Stanislav Kalinichenko from Kemerovo and Sergei Bespalov from Irkutsk. Both are accused of organizing the activities of an extremist group. Both activists, who are currently outside of Russia, were earlier designated as extremists and added to the Interior Ministry’s wanted list. To read the original story from RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.
Belarusian Journalist, Wife, Colleague Handed Prison Terms Over Reporting On Border Crisis
MINSK -- A court in Minsk has sentenced journalist Dzmitry Luksha; his wife, Palina Palavinka; and cameraman Dzyanis Yarouski for their reporting on a migrants' crisis along the Belarusian-Polish border last year.
The Minsk City Court on December 2 sentenced Luksha, a freelance correspondent for Kazakhstan's Khabar 24 television channel, and Palavinka to four and 2 1/2 years in prison, respectively, after finding them guilty of discrediting Belarus and "actively participating in group activities that blatantly disrupt social order."
Yarouski was sentenced to 18 months in prison on the same charges.
A fourth defendant in the case, Kanstantsin Nikanorau, was handed a parole-like sentence on a charge of discrediting Belarus.
The charges against the four stemmed from Luksha's video reports from the Belarusian-Polish border for Khabar 24.
The reports covered the situation along the border, where thousands of migrants mostly from the Middle East tried to illegally enter EU-member Poland from Belarusian territory.
European nations have condemned the authoritarian ruler of Belarus, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, for masterminding the crisis in response to Western sanctions imposed on him over an ongoing crackdown on dissent and independent media that followed his disputed win in a 2020 presidential election.
Separately on December 2, the Minsk City Court started the trial of another journalist, Henadz Mazheyka, who is accused of insulting Lukashenka and inciting hatred over his report about a police shootout at a Minsk apartment last year that left an IT worker and a KGB officer dead.
Little is known about the September 2021 shooting that resulted in the deaths of Andrey Zeltsar, who worked for U.S.-based IT company EPAM, and KGB officer Dzmitry Fedasyuk.
Multiple individuals have received prison terms in recent months on charges related to comments about the incident.
Mazheyka pleaded not guilty.
Exiled Former Tajik Vice President Narzullo Dustov Dies In Tashkent At 82
Former Tajik Vice President Narzullo Dustov, wanted in his native country over the organization of a mutiny against the government in 1998, died in Uzbekistan last month at the age of 82. Former Chairman of the Socialist Party of Tajikistan Mirhusain Nazriev told RFE/RL on December 2 that Dustov died on November 1 of cancer. Dustov served as Tajikistan's vice president in 1991-1992. The post was later eliminated. His former ally, Mahmud Khudoiberdiev, who also led the failed deadly mutiny, fled the country for Uzbekistan, as well. To read the original story of RFE/RL's Tajik Service, click here.
Several Ukrainian Diplomatic Missions Receive 'Bloody' Parcels
Ukrainian diplomatic missions in several countries have received “bloody parcels” containing animals' eyes, the country's Foreign Ministry said on December 2.
Spokesman Oleh Nykolenko added on Facebook that the parcels were soaked with an unspecified liquid "of a specific color and smelled correspondingly."
According to Nykolenko, the parcels were delivered to Ukrainian diplomatic missions in Hungary, the Netherlands, Poland, Croatia, Austria, Italy, and the Czech Republic.
The packages arrived amid Russia's continued invasion of Ukraine, and Nykolenko said "we are studying the meaning of this message."
Police in the Czech Republic said earlier in the day that Ukraine’s consulate in the country’s second-largest city, Brno, received "a suspicious letter" similar to letter bombs sent to high-profile targets in Spain in recent days.
The police said later that "an animal tissue" was found in the package.
Nykolenko said that unknown individuals called the Ukrainian Embassy in Kazakhstan saying that there was a bomb in the mission's building, which turned out to be false.
He added that the Ukrainian Embassy in the United States received a letter harshly criticizing the Ukrainian government.
Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba called the situation "a well-planned campaign of terror and intimidation of Ukraine's embassies and consulates."
"Not being able to stop Ukraine on the diplomatic front, [Russians] try to intimidate us. However, I can say with confidence that these attempts are futile. We will continue to effectively work on Ukraine's victory," Kuleba said.
A day earlier, bomb disposal experts in Spain defused a letter bomb at the U.S. Embassy in Madrid, the sixth such device sent to high-profile targets in Spain in the past several days.
The campaign began with a letter bomb sent to Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez last week. Similar devices have been sent to the Defense Ministry, an air force base, a weapons manufacturer, and the Ukrainian Embassy.
Orban Says Hungary Opposes Global Minimum Corporate Tax
Prime Minister Viktor Orban told Hungarian public radio on December 2 that Budapest continues to be against a global minimum corporate tax rate, arguing it would reduce the number of jobs in Hungary, which has used its low-tax regime to attract investment. Hungary's 9 percent corporate tax rate and government subsidies have brought major investments by German carmakers and Asian battery manufacturers. "This is a job-killing tax hike, which, if implemented with Hungary's approval, would wipe out tens of thousands of jobs," Orban said. To listen to Orban's interview with Radio Kossuth, click here.
IAEA Chief Says Progress Being Made on Zaporizhzhya Safety Zone
Rafael Grossi, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), says progress is being made to reach a deal to create a safe zone around Ukraine's Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, which has come under repeated shelling during the fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces since late February.
Speaking to the Italian newspaper La Repubblica in an interview published on December 2, Grossi said he is committed to finding a solution to ensuring the safety of Europe's largest nuclear power station, "hopefully by the end of the year."
"On the safety of Zaporizhzhya there is a concrete proposal and important progress has been made," the head of the United Nation's nuclear watchdog told the newspaper.
"My commitment is to reach a solution as soon as possible.... Our aim is to avoid a nuclear accident, not to cause a militarily favorable situation for one or the other," he added.
Moscow and Kyiv have accused each other in recent months of targeting the plant, which Russian forces took control of shortly after their invasion of Ukraine in February.
The reactors at the Soviet-designed plant have been shut down, but there is a risk that nuclear fuel could overheat if power supplies to the plant's cooling systems are cut off.
The plant has been forced to operate on backup generators a number of times since the Russian invasion, but no radioactive emissions are believed to have leaked since Moscow invaded Ukraine on February 24.
Grossi said the two sides are now "in agreement on some fundamental principles" around securing the plant.
"The first is that of protection: It means accepting that you don't shoot at the facility, nor from the facility. The second is the recognition that the IAEA represents the only possible way" to ensure the safety of the plant, he said.
Grossi said it's possible he could soon meet with both Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, to work out details of a deal.
Rosatom Chief Executive Officer Aleksei Likhachev was quoted by Russian state media as saying Moscow's representative at the IAEA, Mikhail Ulyanov, is "actively working" on the issue, though he said "the decision is not on the Russian side" as the Russian government has outlined its position on creating a safety zone around the plant.
The safety zone should be set up "as soon as possible," he added.
With Russian strikes over the past weeks decimating Ukraine's energy infrastructure, Grossi said he is concerned about other nuclear plants in Ukraine, which have at times lost external power, creating potentially dangerous situations.
"The Ukrainian authorities have made a formal request to have a permanent presence of the IAEA in these plants, as in Zaporizhzhya. In this way, the agency's personnel will be deployed throughout Ukraine and will ensure that nuclear power plants are not used by anyone as weapons of blackmail in the conflict," he said.
Based on reporting by La Repubblica
Finnish PM Warns Russian Win Would Empower Aggressors
Finland’s Prime Minister Sanna Marin warned an Australian audience on December 2 that a Russian victory over Ukraine would empower other aggressors and urged democracies against forming “critical dependencies” on authoritarian states such as China. Marin was speaking in Sydney at the end of the first-ever visit by a Finnish prime minister to Australia and New Zealand. She used a speech to urge democracies to ramp up sanctions against Russia. To read the original AP story, click here.
Russia Tests New Missile-Defense System Rocket
Russia on December 2 tested a new missile-defense system rocket, the Defense Ministry said, adding that the missile was launched from the Sary Shagan testing range in Kazakhstan. Other than saying the test was successful, the ministry gave few other details. To read the original story from Reuters, click here.
Ukraine War Shows Europe 'Not Strong Enough,' Says Finnish PM
Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin on December 2 offered a "brutally honest" assessment of Europe's capabilities in the wake of Russia's war on Ukraine, stating that "we're not strong enough" to stand up to Moscow alone. Visiting Australia, the leader of the pending NATO member said Russian President Vladimir Putin's invasion and occupation of neighboring Ukraine had exposed both European weaknesses and strategic blunders in dealing with Russia.
Biden Not Intending To Speak With Putin, White House Says As Scholz Presses Diplomacy
U.S. President Joe Biden is not intending to speak to Russian President Vladimir Putin right now as the condition for such discussions do not exist, the White House said on December 2.
White House national-security spokesman John Kirby said Putin has shown "absolutely no inclination to be interested in dialogue of any kind."
During a joint press conference with French President Emmanuel Macron on December 1, Biden said he would be willing to talk with Putin about resolving Russia's Ukraine invasion if the Kremlin leader "is looking for a way to end the war."
Kirby, asked about the comment on December 2, told reporters that conditions are "not at a point now where talks seem to be a fruitful avenue to approach."
Kirby also reiterated the U.S. position that only Ukraine could determine if and when there could be a negotiated settlement. Kyiv says peace talks are only possible if Russia stops attacking and withdraws.
The Kremlin responded to Biden's comment by saying the West must recognize what Moscow calls Russia's "new territories" before any talks with Putin can take place.
"The president of the Russian Federation has always been, is and remains open to negotiations in order to ensure our interests," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters, adding that Russia will not pull out of Ukraine.
Peskov claimed that the search for ways to end the war has been hindered by the U.S. refusal to recognize territory in Ukraine that Russia annexed in September, a move that has been condemned as illegal by most countries.
Putin spoke earlier on December 2 with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, telling him that further attacks on Ukraine's infrastructure were "inevitable" even as millions of Ukrainians are struggling without electricity and heating at the onset of winter following waves of Russian strikes across the country.
"It was noted that the Russian Armed Forces had long refrained from precision missile strikes against certain targets on the territory of Ukraine," the Kremlin said in a statement following the first phone conversation between Putin and Scholz since mid-September.
"But now such measures have become a forced and inevitable response to Kyiv's provocative attacks on Russia's civilian infrastructure," the Kremlin said, accusing the West of pursuing "destructive" policies and "pumping" Ukraine with weapons. It was unclear which attacks the Kremlin was referring to.
Putin told Scholz that "political and financial support" from the Ukraine's Western allies "leads to the fact that Kyiv completely rejects the idea of any negotiations," the Kremlin said.
Scholz pressed Putin to seek a diplomatic solution to end the war, including troop withdrawals, German government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit said following the call.
"The chancellor urged the Russian president to come as quickly as possible to a diplomatic solution including the withdrawal of Russian troops," according to Hebestreit.
During the one-hour call, Scholz "condemned in particular the Russian air strikes against civilian infrastructure in Ukraine and stressed Germany's determination to support Ukraine in ensuring the defense capability against Russian aggression."
WATCH: Ukrainian civilians who have fled Russian-occupied cities in the east, along with local Bucha residents who have lost their homes, do their best to cope with temporary modular housing.
In the recently liberated southern region of Kherson, Russian missiles killed three people over the past day, Governor Yaroslav Yanushevych wrote on Telegram, while shelling the night before damaged power lines in the city where electricity had only begun to be restored nearly three weeks after Russian troops withdrew to the eastern side of the Dnieper River.
Meanwhile, fierce fighting continued in the east where Kyiv's forces fought off waves of attacks in Luhansk and Donetsk regions, the military reported early on December 2, as an aide to Zelenskiy said up to 13,000 Ukrainian soldiers have been killed since the start of the war.
The General Staff of the Armed Forces said in its daily update that Russian troops attacked Ukrainian positions in 14 settlements including Belohoryivka in Luhansk and Bakhmut in Donetsk, while carrying out 30 air strikes and 35 multiple-rocket attacks on civilian settlements along the contact line.
In Kupyansk and Lyman in the east and in Zaporizhzhya in central Ukraine, the Russians were on the defensive, the General Staff said, while in the Bakhmut and Avdiyivka directions in the east, Moscow's forces were on the offensive.
The battlefield reports could not be independently verified.
Meanwhile, Mykhaylo Podolyak, a senior adviser to President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, told Ukraine's Channel 24 television on December 1 that as many as 13,000 Ukrainian troops have been killed since Russia's invasion in February.
"We have official estimates from the General Staff.... And they range from 10,000...to 13,000 dead," Podolyak said.
He said Zelenskiy would make the official data public "when the right moment comes." Podolyak's comments have not been confirmed by the military.
In June, Zelenskiy said Ukraine was losing "60 to 100 soldiers per day, killed in action, and around 500 people wounded in action."
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said in September that 5,937 Russian troops had been killed in the nearly seven months of fighting to that point.
The figures could not be independently verified and it is believed both sides are minimizing their losses to avoid lowering the troops' morale.
U.S. General Mark Milley said last month said more than 100,000 Russian military personnel and 100,000 Ukrainian troops have been killed or wounded since the start of the war.
The figures advanced by Milley -- which could not be independently confirmed -- are the most precise to date from the U.S. government.
With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and BBC
Reports: EU Close To Agreeing On $60 A Barrel Cap For Russian Seaborne Oil
EU governments have tentatively agreed on a $60 a barrel price cap on Russian seaborne oil aimed at reducing Moscow's ability to finance its war in Ukraine.
"The price cap is set at $60 with a provision to keep it 5 percent below market price for Russian crude, based on [International Energy Agency] figures," an EU diplomat said, according to Reuters on December 1.
U.S. Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo said he was encouraged by the news about the tentative agreement on the price cap -- an idea supported by the United States and the other Group of Seven (G7) leading industrialized nations -- adding that he expects the European Union to iron out details and reach a final agreement.
EU countries have wrangled for days over the details of the price cap. Poland, which had pushed for the cap to be as low as possible, had as of late on December 1 not confirmed its support for the deal, Reuters and AFP reported.
The initial G7 proposal last week was for a cap of $65-$70 per barrel with no adjustment mechanism.
Poland, Lithuania, and Estonia rejected that level because Russian Urals crude, the main variety sold by Russia, was trading at below $70 a barrel on December 1 and last week traded at about $55.
The G7 price cap on Russian seaborne crude oil is to kick in on December 5, replacing an outright ban on buying Russian seaborne crude.
The price cap would work by prohibiting shippers and insurance companies from handling cargoes of Russian crude unless it is sold at or below the price cap.
The world's key shipping and insurance firms are based in G7 countries, giving them leverage to set the price cap and make it difficult for Moscow to sell its oil for a higher price.
The adjustment mechanism would mean the price cap would be reviewed in mid-January and every two months after that.
The document outlining the tentative agreement, quoted by Reuters, said a 45-day "transitional period" would apply to vessels carrying Russian-origin crude oil that was loaded before December 5 and unloaded at its final destination by January 19, 2023.
Russian President Vladimir Putin warned last week that any attempt by the West to cap the price of Russian oil would have "grave consequences" for world markets. But the G7 vowed to go ahead.
Oil ministers from OPEC+ cartel of petroleum exporting countries, of which Russia is a member, will meet in Vienna on December 4.
With reporting by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, RFE/RL's Russian Service, Reuters, and AFP
Leaked Document Says Iranian Leadership Is Seeking To Discredit Sunni Cleric
A leaked document from the hard-line Fars news agency says Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has told security and military officials to try and disgrace a top Sunni cleric, who is a vocal critic of the government, instead of arresting him.
The document was published on November 30 after the hacktivist group Black Reward announced that it had succeeded in hacking the Fars news agency, which is affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). The group released dozens of documents and videos it said were prepared by the news agency.
The cleric, Molavi Abdolhamid Ismaeelzah, is regarded across the country as a spiritual leader for Iran’s Sunni Muslim population. He is the director of the main Sunni seminary in Iran and has been under pressure for his comments against the Islamic republic.
"He [Molavi Abdolhamid] should not be arrested. Rather, he should be dishonored," according to one of the documents, which are delivered as bulletins prepared by Fars and delivered to senior IRGC officials, which was handing down comments from the Ayatollah.
Early last month, Molavi Abdolhamid said senior officials, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, were "responsible" for the killing of protesters during the so-called "Bloody Friday" massacre in the southeastern city of Zahedan on September 30. He also called for an immediate referendum with the presence of international observers to "change policies based on the wishes of the people."
Almost 100 people were killed and hundreds injured by security forces in the incident, which came during protests sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in the custody of the morality police and the alleged rape of a 15-year-old girl by a local police commander.
Anger over Amini's death has prompted thousands of Iranians to take to the streets nationwide to demand more freedoms and women's rights. The widespread unrest represents the biggest threat to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution.
The activist HRANA news agency said that, as of November 29, at least 459 protesters had been killed during the unrest, including 64 minors, as security forces try to stifle widespread dissent.
Sunni Muslims make up the majority of the population in Sistan-Baluchistan Province in southeastern Iran where Molavi Abdolhamid is based, but make up only about 10 percent of the population in Shi'a-dominated Iran overall.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda.
What Has Russia Gained Or Lost From Its War On Ukraine? Muscovites Weigh In.2
Russia Is Using The Caspian Sea To Launch Strikes Against Ukraine. So Why Are The Caspian Countries Silent?3
Echoes Of World War I Highlighted In Mud, Shattered Trees Of Ukraine4
The Week In Russia: Untimely Death In Ukraine5
On Eve Of Russian Invasion, Ukrainian Court Catered To Yanukovych's Interests, RFE/RL Investigation Finds6
This Is What A Textbook Is Teaching Young Serbs About The Balkan Wars.7
'Loyal Soldiers Of Putin': Ukraine, Activists Call Militarization Of Schools In Russian-Occupied Crimea A War Crime8
Serbia's Plum Brandy Gets UNESCO World Heritage Status9
Ukrainians Say Russians Left Behind Bodies And Booby Traps In Kherson Region10
Russian Shelling Cuts Electricity Again In Kherson As Fighting Rages In East