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U.S. Outlines Conditions For Aid To Pakistan

Pakistani policemen stand beside burning trucks that were carrying NATO fuel supplies after an attack by suspected Taliban militants in November.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- The Obama administration sought to reassure U.S. lawmakers this week it would demand "maximum accountability" from Pakistan for $7.5 billion in aid and that it had safeguards to ensure funds did not reach extremists.

In a report sent by the State Department to congressional committees late on December 14, the administration outlined its priorities for the aid, including water, agriculture and electricity projects, and laid out a strategy to prevent corruption and misuse of the money.

"The Secretary [of State] will suspend any government to government assistance to any implementing agency if there is credible evidence of misuse of funds by such agency," said the report, obtained by Reuters.

President Barack Obama has called Pakistan the "epicenter" of violence, a region seen as critical to U.S. efforts to fight the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan. The aid is one of the tools being used by Obama to fight extremism that threatens to destabilize the region.

The report was mandated by Congress after the $7.5 billion, five-year aid plan passed into law in October. So far, appropriations committees have agreed on nearly $1.5 billion for the first year.

In a shift from previous practice, much of the aid will be channeled via national and provincial governments in Pakistan as well as domestic groups, instead of the usual U.S.-based humanitarian organizations and contractors.

"Throughout this period there will be a decrease in reliance on U.S.-based partners for education, health and other field programs that can be managed responsibly by Pakistani institutions," said the report.

"To provide maximum accountability and oversight, a bilateral agreement between the U.S. and Pakistan must be in place detailing the conditions for disbursement of funds and detailed monitoring and reporting requirements, before any government to government assistance is provided," it said.


The report conceded "real and significant" challenges in implementing the plan, including public sector corruption, poor security and "extremist" elements as well as deep suspicion of U.S. intentions and long-term commitment to Pakistan.

Nearly half of the funds -- $3.5 billion -- would focus on infrastructure programs that would demonstrate Washington's long-term commitment to Pakistan and help build mutual trust between the two nations, said the report.

There needs to be urgent investment in canals and irrigation services, and another focus will be on improving cold storage facilities, it added.

Another large chunk -- about $2 billion -- would be allocated to humanitarian and social programs such as education and health, "extending the writ of government in areas vulnerable to extremism."

The final $2 billion is for building up Pakistani government institutions at the national, provincial and local level, it added.

One fear of lawmakers and others is that the increased U.S. aid will reach the hands of militants, but the report promised strict guidelines would be in place to ensure that aid was not awarded to "terrorist organizations."

Potential recipients would be checked against lists of suspected extremists kept by the U.S. Treasury, and the State Department's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement would apply "thorough vetting" procedures.

"On the ground verification procedures are being implemented to ensure that U.S. government humanitarian and other forms of assistance do not benefit extremist groups."

Several lawmakers have expressed strong doubts over the capacity of the U.S. government to implement the additional funding but the report said there were plans to increase the number of U.S. staff in Pakistan. It did not give figures.

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Journalist Ponomarenko, Charged With Discrediting Russian Army, Returned To Pretrial Detention

Siberian journalist Maria Ponomarenko was arrested in April last year and faces up to 10 years in prison for her online posts.

Siberian journalist Maria Ponomarenko, who was under house arrest on a charge of discrediting Russia’s armed forces with "fake" social media posts about the war in Ukraine, has been transferred to a pretrial detention center on January 27 after she quarreled with her ex-husband overnight. Ponomarenko was arrested in April last year and faces up to 10 years in prison for her online posts. Earlier in January, a court in Barnaul rejected her request to be transferred to pretrial detention to protest against the military mobilization by the Russian government. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Siberia.Realities, click here.

Kyrgyz, Uzbek Presidents Sign Raft Of Documents, Including Border Delimitation

Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev and Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov signed more than 20 bilateral documents on January 27.

More than 20 bilateral documents have been signed during talks between Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev and his Kyrgyz counterpart, Sadyr Japarov, in Bishkek. Among the documents signed on January 27, the last day of Mirziyoev’s two-day visit to Kyrgyzstan, was a protocol on the exchange of resolutions to ratify November agreements on delimitation of several disputed segments of the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border. More than 20 Kyrgyz politicians and activists were arrested in October after they protested the border deal. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, click here.

Russia Shifting War Focus To 'NATO And The West,' Says EU Official

Stefano Sannino, secretary-general of the European Union’s European External Action Service, told reporters in Tokyo that Putin had "moved from a concept of special operation to a concept now of a war against NATO and the West." (file photo)

A senior EU official says Russia has taken its war against Ukraine to "a different stage" through indiscriminate attacks on civilians and nonmilitary targets, while criticizing Moscow for triggering recent moves by Germany and the United States to send advanced tanks to Ukraine. Stefano Sannino, secretary-general of the European Union’s European External Action Service, told reporters in Tokyo that Putin had "moved from a concept of special operation to a concept now of a war against NATO and the West." He said German and U.S. tank provisions are meant to help Ukrainians defend themselves rather than making them attackers. To read the original story by AP, click here.

One Person Shot Dead At Azerbaijan's Embassy In Iran; Baku Evacuates Staff

One person was killed and two others were wounded when an attacker opened fire on a guard post outside Azerbaijan's embassy in Tehran on January 27.

One security official has been shot dead and two guards wounded when an attacker armed with a Kalashnikov-style automatic rifle stormed Azerbaijan's embassy in Iran's capital, Tehran.

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev called the January 27 assault "an act of terrorism" and Baku quickly announced it was evacuating the embassy while blaming Iran for the incident.

"The attacker broke through the guard post, killing the head of security with a Kalashnikov assault rifle," Azerbaijan's Foreign Ministry said.

Iranian state TV quoted Tehran Police Chief Hossein Rahimi as saying the attacker was arrested and that he had "personal and family problems."

Rahimi said the attacker entered the embassy with two children. However, surveillance footage from inside the embassy released in Azerbaijan appeared to show the shooter entering the building alone. The footage bore a timestamp matching the Azerbaijan Foreign Ministry's statement.

Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman, Nasser Kanaani, said Tehran strongly condemned the attack, which was under investigation with "high priority and sensitivity."

Iran and Azerbaijan have a common border. Relations between the two countries have been tense amid the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh region.

"I fiercely condemn the terrorist attack perpetrated against our embassy in Tehran today," Aliyev said on Twitter.

"We demand that this terrorist act be swiftly investigated and the terrorist be punished.... Terror against diplomatic missions is unacceptable!"

Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry spokesman Ayxan Hacizada told local media that "all responsibility for the attack lies with Iran" as a recent anti-Azerbaijani campaign in Iranian media had "emboldened the attack."

"Unfortunately, the latest bloody terrorist act demonstrates the serious consequences of the failure to give the necessary attention to our constant appeals in this regard," Azerbaijan's Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and AP

Jury Convicts Uzbek New York Bike Attacker, Weighs Death Penalty

Sayfullo Saipov, an Uzbek national who moved to the United States in 2010, was convicted on all of the 28 counts he faced. 

A U.S. jury on January 26 convicted an Uzbek man who used a truck to kill eight people on a Manhattan bike path in 2017 on murder and terrorism charges in the first federal death-penalty trial of U.S. President Joe Biden's administration. After finding Sayfullo Saipov guilty of committing murder with the goal of joining the Islamic State militant group, the Manhattan jury will return on February 6 to consider whether the death penalty is appropriate punishment. Saipov, an Uzbek national who moved to the United States in 2010, was convicted on all of the 28 counts he faced. To read the full story by Reuters, click here.

Zelenskiy Hails 'Tank Coalition' As Fighting Rages In Eastern Ukraine

Ukrainian police inspect a cruise missile of the Russian Army shot down by Ukrainian air defense in the Kyiv region on January 26.

Russian forces pressed on with a multipronged offensive in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, Ukraine's military said early on January 27, as President Volodymyr Zelenskiy voiced his gratitude for the growing number of countries that have pledged advanced tanks to Kyiv while urging them to accelerate the delivery of the offensive assault vehicles.

Ukrainian troops repelled attacks in 11 locations in the two eastern regions over the past 24 hours, a day after Moscow unleashed another wave of missile strikes across Ukraine, killing at least 11 people and damaging energy infrastructure despite Kyiv's air defense destroying most of the incoming projectiles.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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

"The Defense Forces over the past day repelled the invaders' attacks in Ploshanka, Nevske, and Chervonpopyivka in Luhansk, and Verkhnyokamyanske, Paraskoviyivka, Bakhmut, Klishchiyivka, Vodyane, Nevelske, Maryinka, and Vuhledar in Donetsk," the General Staff of the Ukrainian military said in its daily report, which RFE/RL could not independently verify.

The latest reports of heavy fighting in the east came after Ukraine's military said on January 26 that it had shot down 47 of 59 Russian missiles -- some fired from Tu-95 strategic bombers in the Russian Arctic.

Moscow also launched 37 air strikes, 17 of them using Iranian-made Shahed-136 drones. All drones were destroyed, the Ukrainian military said.

Zelenskiy said in his nightly video address on January 26 that "there are already 12 countries in our tank coalition" to provide advanced Western battle tanks to help Ukraine's defense against Russia's 11-month Russian invasion.

He thanked "everyone in the world who is truly fighting against terror together with us" and re-emphasized the "speeding up" of the delivery of defense equipment to his country.

According to media reports, around 100 German-manufactured Leopard 2 tanks are being pledged by Germany and its allies initially, in addition to the U.S. contribution of 31 M1 Abrams tanks and Britain's earlier promise of 14 Challenger 2 tanks.

Canada was the latest country to declare its intention to give Ukraine tanks. Ottawa will send four Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine, the Canadian defense minister said, after Germany this week allowed other countries to re-export the German-built tank.

Poland, the Netherlands, and Spain previously announced their readiness to transfer some of the Leopard 2 tanks in their stocks to Ukraine, something they can only do with manufacturer Germany's express permission.

Training of Ukrainian crews and delivery of tanks will take at least about two months in the earliest cases, according to public statements.

According to two diplomatic sources quoted by Reuters, France and Italy are close to finalizing the technical details to supply an SAMP/T air-defense system to Ukraine.

Hours after the German and U.S. tank announcements, Zelenskiy said he'd spoken to NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and was pressing for the Western supply of long-range missiles and aircraft to Ukraine -- a line that those governments have so far declined to cross.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki was quoted by dpa as telling a French broadcaster on January 26 that his country would be willing to send fighter jets to Ukraine if Warsaw's NATO allies decided on such a move.

The Kremlin has reacted with fury to the latest gesture of Western solidarity with Ukraine, saying it saw the promised delivery of advanced tanks as evidence of escalating "direct involvement" of the United States and NATO in Russia's war of aggression, something both deny.

U.S. Envoy To OSCE Warns Russia Trying To 'Wipe Out' Ukrainian Sovereignty, Incorporate Belarus

Michael R. Carpenter, U.S. ambassador to the OSCE, said Russian President Vladimir Putin had "made clear" that he thinks both Ukraine and Belarus "belong" to Russia. 

The U.S. envoy to the OSCE warned at a meeting of the organization's Permanent Council on January 26 that Russia is trying "to wipe out the sovereignty of an entire, independent nation" in Ukraine.

Ambassador Michael Carpenter added that Russia was also seeking to do much the same thing with neighboring Belarus, following a historical pattern of denying the existence of sovereign nations and trying to "incorporate them into their empires."

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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

He said Russian President Vladimir Putin had "made clear" that he thinks both those nations "belong" to Russia.

"The United States flatly rejects Russia's efforts to dismiss and repress Ukraine’s distinct culture, history, and statehood," Carpenter said. "We also strongly support the sovereignty and independence of Belarus, which has a proud history and its own rich culture as well."

Putin's forces covertly occupied Crimea ahead of its annexation in 2014, when Russia-backed armed separatists also captured wide swaths of eastern Ukraine.

After massing Russian troops at the Ukrainian borders with Russia and Belarus in late 2021 and early 2022, Putin ordered tens of thousands of soldiers and armored vehicles to launch a full-scale invasion on February 24.

Ukrainian officials have chronicled what they say are tens or hundreds of thousands of atrocities and other abuses against civilians, and international war crimes investigators are documenting many allegations along with physical evidence in formerly occupied territory.

Carpenter said that "Putin’s language and view of Ukraine and its people is essential to understanding the brutal conduct of Russia’s forces in Ukraine."

The Kremlin leader has increased pressure on Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka since the latter declared himself the winner of sixth term in a flawed presidential election in 2020, a vote that sparked massive street protests and Western condemnation.

Lukashenka has been further isolated internationally since allowing Russian troops to stage their invasion from Belarusian soil.

"Russia's leadership has openly and repeatedly professed the belief that Ukrainian and Belarusian identity do not exist outside of Russian culture," Carpenter told the OSCE Permanent Council.

Tsikhanouskaya Calls On Croatia To Distinguish Lukashenka's Regime From Belarusians

Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya started her two-day visit to Croatia on January 26. She was scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic and parliament speaker Gordan Jandrokovic. (file photo)

Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the exiled leader of the democratic opposition in Belarus, has called on Croatia "to distinguish between" the Belarusian people and the regime of the authoritarian ruler of her country, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, and to do the same between Belarus and Russia.

Tsikhanouskaya said after talks with Croatian Foreign Minister Gordan Grlic-Radman in Zagreb on January 26 that "dictator Lukashenka is fully responsible for taking part in [Russia's] war against Ukraine."

She said the vast majority of Belarusians oppose the war and support Ukraine.

"Another message: Belarus is not Russia," she said. "Belarus has always been part of the European community; we strive for that. And we see our future in friendship with Croatia."

She described Belarus as currently "under a creeping occupation."

Tsikhanouskaya expressed thanks to Grlic-Radman for "his active support to a democratic Belarus in the European Union, the European Council, and the OSCE,” as well as for Croatia's support of Ukraine.

"Today we discussed how to prevent involvement of Belarusian troops' participation in the war against Ukraine, how to help Belarusian guerillas and volunteers, to strengthen the isolation of Lukashenka on the international arena," Tsikhanouskaya said.

Tsikhanouskaya started her two-day visit to Croatia on January 26. She was scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic and parliament speaker Gordan Jandrokovic.

On January 26, Belarusian state-controlled Telegram channels said that Tsikhanouskaya's Office and the Coordination Council of Belarusian opposition were extremist organizations.

With reporting by BPN

Workers At Chinese-Serbian Copper Mine Block Roads To Press Wage Demands

Workers from the Chinese Zijin Copper company in Bor, Serbia, block the entrance to the factory demanding higher wages and working conditions.

Hundreds of workers at a joint Chinese-Serbian copper mine in Bor, in eastern Serbia, blocked access to the facility on January 26 to protest for higher wages and a new collective bargaining agreement with the mine's Chinese majority owners.

The demonstrators blocked four entrance gates to the mining and smelting complex.

"We are only blocking heavy trucks -- we let in the ambulance, firefighters, and police. Anyone can walk by foot and get to work," Dragan Elek, from the smelters trade union organization, told RFE/RL.

Chinese Zijin Copper bought around two-thirds of the Bor mining facility from the Serbian state in 2018 and employs some 6,200 people to exploit copper, gold, and other ore deposits in eastern Serbia.

A similar protest was staged earlier this month.

Workers are demanding the 14.3-percent pay rise that was proposed by the tripartite Socio-Economic Council representing labor, management, and the Serbian government. They also want a new collective agreement.

"Primarily, we want to preserve our budgets and our dignity," Miodrag Milic, one of the protesting workers, told RFE/RL.

The Zijin Copper company issued a statement pledging in 2023 to increase wages by 10 percent.

The Chinese Bor operations have already faced legal challenges based on accusations of noncompliance with environmental standards.

Russia's Path To 2024 Olympics Takes Shape; Ukraine Objects

Athletes of the Russian Olympic Committee attend a welcoming ceremony after returning from the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games on Red Square in Moscow, on August 9, 2021.

Russia's path to sending a team to the Paris Olympics next year became clearer on January 26 amid fierce objections from Ukraine. The International Olympic Committee indicated on January 25 that it favors officially neutral teams from Russia and its ally Belarus at the 2024 Olympics despite a plea from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to exclude them entirely. A day later, Russia and Belarus were invited to compete at the Asian Games, a key Olympic qualifier. To see the original story by AP, click here.

Canada To Send Four Leopard 2 Tanks To Ukraine

A Leopard 2 tank (file photo)

Canada will send four Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine, Canadian Defense Minister Anita Anand said on January 26, after Germany this week allowed other countries to re-export the German-built tank. "This donation, combined with the contributions of allies and partners, will significantly help the armed forces of Ukraine" in their defense against the Russian invasion, Anand told reporters in Ottawa.

U.K. Aiming To Deliver Tanks To Ukraine By End Of March

Britain this month became the first Western ally to promise heavy assault vehicles for Ukraine with a plan to send 14 Challenger 2 tanks. (file photo)

Britain's government said on January 26 that it was aiming to send tanks to Ukraine at the end of March, with training starting next week. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told reporters that "everything is going according to plan" after Britain this month became the first Western ally to promise heavy assault vehicles for Ukraine with a plan to send 14 Challenger 2 tanks. Germany and the United States swept aside longstanding misgivings and followed suit on January 25.

North Macedonia Says Bulgaria Recall 'Disproportionate' As Balkan Tensions Bubble Over

Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nikolay Milkov (left) and North Macedonia's foreign minister, Bujar Osmani, visited Hristijan Pendikov in the hospital on January 22 after he was attacked and beaten over the weekend in Ohrid, North Macedonia.

SKOPJE -- North Macedonia's foreign minister, Bujar Osmani, has described Bulgaria's decision to recall its ambassador to Skopje as "disproportionate" if it is a response to a weekend attack on a minority Bulgarian in the city of Ohrid.

Hristijan Pendikov, a Macedonian citizen who identifies as Bulgarian and is an employee of one of the Bulgarian cultural clubs in North Macedonia that some Macedonians regard as provocative, was attacked and beaten last weekend in that Macedonian city.

Sofia announced the diplomatic withdrawal on January 25, with Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nikolay Milkov saying it would remain in effect until Sofia sees signs of change.

Relations between the Balkan neighbors have long been strained by deep cultural, historical, and linguistic ties that spilled into the open three years ago when Sofia invoked its veto power to stall North Macedonia's EU negotiations.

Sofia finally agreed to withdraw the veto last year but only after slightly reshaping the Macedonian EU accession framework.

The day after the attack on Pendikov, he was flown to Bulgaria on a Bulgarian government plane to undergo surgery for his injuries.

Macedonian President Stevo Pendarovski called a meeting of the Security Council on January 23, after which he said he would ask the government to ban the entry into the country of several Bulgarian citizens he said were leading a campaign against North Macedonia and were connected to Russian intelligence services.

Osmani blamed the attack on Pendikov on individual perpetrators and said Macedonian officials had done all they could to respond to the attack.

"The state immediately identified the perpetrators, [and] one of them is in custody," Osmani told the Macedonian Desk of RFE/RL's Balkan Service on January 26. "There were condemnations by the president, the prime minister, the minister of foreign affairs. I went to Sofia [and] we expressed what the state should show our citizens, so I don't see what the connection would be between one case and the reaction."

Milkov suggested on Bulgarian state television that Sofia would "review" joint projects with its North Macedonia and said "things cannot continue as they have been."

He added that "things have changed" between the neighbors.

Osmani rejected generalizations about a state's behavior based on a single incident.

He also said he thought the Bulgarian government's actions were related to elections there scheduled for early April -- the country's fifth in less than two years.

"The Republic of Bulgaria is entering the election process," Osmani said, adding that a political vacuum over the past two years has been an "aggravating circumstance" with respect to "sensitive issues."

He said "the season of provocateurs, thugs, and political profiteers is open and now everyone is in trouble."

The European Commission is currently reviewing all 33 of North Macedonia's accession chapters to determine what North Macedonia must achieve to prepare to become an EU member.

Any existing member state -- including Bulgaria -- can veto the opening and closing of such chapters in negotiations.

Bulgarian cultural clubs became a flashpoint for tensions between the countries as their numbers and visibility increased last year.

Other recent celebrations of historical figures have further stirred tensions.

A large contingent of Bulgarian nationals is expected to travel to North Macedonia to mark the 151st anniversary of the birth of revolutionary Goce Delcev on February 4.

Earlier this week, the Macedonian government instructed the Interior Ministry to take measures to keep the event safe.

U.S. Lists Russian Vagner Mercenary Group As 'Transnational Criminal Organization'

Vagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin has been increasingly public in his efforts to take credit for battlefield gains. He has also been filmed recruiting Vagner fighters from Russian prisons, promising pardons in exchange for battlefield action.

The United States has designated the Vagner Group a "significant transnational criminal organization" and targeted individuals and entities within the Russian mercenary enterprise's global network in line with an executive order.

The U.S. Treasury said on January 26 that additional new sanctions in connection with the designation target six individuals and 12 entities, including a Chinese satellite-imagery provider and companies and people in the Central African Republic (CAR) where Vagner has active paid fighters, as well as in the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.).

A Treasury statement described the listing by its Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) as part of an effort "to degrade the Russian Federation's capacity to wage war against Ukraine."

Thousands of Vagner troops are fighting in Ukraine, and Vagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin has been increasingly public in his efforts to take credit for battlefield gains. He has also been filmed recruiting Vagner fighters from Russian prisons, promising pardons in exchange for battlefield action.

Ukrainian and Western officials have blamed Vagner troops for atrocities against civilians in Russia's invasion, which is now in its 12th month.

"As sanctions and export controls on Russia from our international coalition continue to bite, the Kremlin is desperately searching for arms and support -- including through the brutal [Vagner] Group -- to continue its unjust war against Ukraine," the statement quoted Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen as saying.

The Treasury said Vagner personnel "have engaged in an ongoing pattern of serious criminal activity, including mass executions, rape, child abductions, and physical abuse in the Central African Republic (CAR) and Mali."

It noted that the OFAC in 2017 concluded that Vagner was complicit in actions that threatened Ukraine and was singled out in November by the State Department for its contribution to the now nearly year-old full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

"As Russia’s military has struggled on the battlefield, Putin has resorted to relying on the [Vagner] Group to continue his war of choice," the Treasury said of the Ukrainian invasion effort.

The sanctions will also target the Joint Stock Company Terra Tech (Terra Tech) and China's Changsha Tianyi Space Science and Technology Research Institute Co. LTD (Spacety China).

It also named an alleged Vagner front company called Officer’s Union for International Security (OUIS) and its director, along with a Russian Vagner employee it said was advising C.A.R.'s president, along with U.A.E.-based Kratol Aviation.

It said that "to further degrade Russia's war machine" it was sanctioning JSC Aviacon Zitotrans (Aviacon Zitotrans), unmanned aerial vehicle maker AO Ural Civil Aviation Factory (UCAF), and state-owned Joint Stock Company National Aviation Service Company (NASC), along with a handful of other entities.

Sakharov Center Says It's Being Evicted From Moscow Premises

A roundtable event at the Sakharov Center in Moscow in 2019

MOSCOW -- The Sakharov Center in Moscow, the human rights entity named after Nobel Prize-winning Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov, says it is being evicted from its three premises in the Russian capital.

The Sakharov Center's staff said in a statement on January 26 that Moscow's Property Department had informed it two days earlier that it was canceling the group's lease agreements, including one to its main building, an exhibition hall, and one to Sakharov's former apartment.

The department explained the decision by saying that amendments to the controversial law on foreign agents, which took force on December 1, forbid organizations and individuals labeled as foreign agents from receiving any state support. All the premises were provided to the Sakharov Center free of charge.

"For a quarter of a century, the center has been a place that united thousands of Russian citizens who are not indifferent to the fate of the country, the values of freedom and human rights," the statement from the Sakharov Center said.

"This legal collision proves yet again that the state policy's idea is liquidation of the independent organizations that fight for social interests," it added.

The center was given its first premises by Moscow authorities in 1993.

The personal archive of Andrei Sakharov is currently kept in the center's apartment location on Moscow's Zemlyanoi Val Street.

Exhibits about the first president of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Havel, Polish journalist and dissident Adam Michnik, British cinema director Tom Stoppard, Lithuanian writer and dissident Tomas Venclova, and prominent Soviet and Russian dissidents Vladimir Bukovsky and Natan Sharansky all were featured at one time or another.

The center was also a place where people bid last farewell to well-known Soviet dissidents and post-Soviet Kremlin critics such as Sergei Kovalyov, Boris Nemtsov, Yury Ryzhov, Valeria Novodvorskaya, and Yury Afanasyev.

The Sakharov Center "created the only historic exposition in the country that told the history of the Soviet Union as a totalitarian help society reevaluate the tragic pages of its history and realize that the repetition of political repressions, deportations, aggressive foreign policy is perilous for the country," the Sakharov Center statement said.

Death Sentence Protest Turns Violent Outside Iranian Prison As Security Agents Disperse Crowd

An undated photo of the Ghezel Hesar prison near the capital, Tehran

A gathering of the families of drug-related prisoners sentenced to death in Iran has turned violent as law enforcement and security officers tried to break up the demonstration in front of the Ghezel Hesar prison near the capital, Tehran.

The U.S.-based activist group HRANA reported that the families, holding placards with the slogan "No To Execution," demanded a reduction in the punishment of those accused of drug crimes and a halt to the carrying out of their death sentences. Many protest rallies have been held in Iran in recent years, but one opposing the death sentence is a rare act of defiance.

In videos of the January 25 protests posted on social media police officers can be seen dispersing the demonstrators, who identified themselves as relatives of those on death row, arresting some of them.

There were no details on whether anyone was injured or how many people were detained.

Iran has seen a sharp rise in the number of executions since September 2021 after Ebrahim Raisi, a former head of the judiciary, became president and former Intelligence Minister Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei took over the judiciary.

The Oslo-based Iran Human Rights Organization says the number of executions in Iran exceeded 500 last year, and officials have been pushing for harsh penalties, including the death sentence, for protesters at the center of unrest sweeping the country over the September 16 death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in police custody for an alleged violation of the country's head scarf law.

On January 10, UN human rights chief Volker Turk accused Tehran of "weaponizing" the death penalty to quell dissent amid months of unrest over the death of Amini.

Four convicted protesters have already been executed, and others remain on death row after being handed death sentences.

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

France Demands Release Of Citizen In Iran As Health Worsens

Diplomats said Bernard Phelan, 64, a tourism consultant, recently ended a hunger strike that had hit his health, but he remains fragile.

France's Foreign Ministry demanded on January 26 the immediate release of Bernard Phelan, a Franco-Irish citizen detained in Iran whose health situation has worsened, with Paris saying he has been denied urgent medical care. Ties between France and Iran have deteriorated in recent months with Tehran detaining seven of its nationals in what Paris has said are arbitrary arrests that are equivalent to state hostage taking. Diplomats said Phelan, 64, a tourism consultant, recently ended a hunger strike that had hit his health, but he remains fragile. To read the original Reuters story, click here.

Britain Sounds Alarm On Russia-Based Hacking Group

(illustrative image)

A Russia-based hacking group named Cold River is behind an expansive and ongoing information-gathering campaign that has struck various targets in government, politics, academia, defense, journalism, and activism, Britain said. In an advisory, the National Cyber Security Center said Cold River impersonates people around its targets by using fake email addresses and social media profiles. "There is often some correspondence between attacker and target, sometimes over an extended period, as the attacker builds rapport," the advisory said. The advisory did not directly attribute the digital attacks to the Russian government. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev In Kyrgyzstan, To Sign Deal On Border

Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev and Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov shake hands at a summit in July 2022.

Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev has arrived in Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, for a two-day official visit. Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov met his Uzbek counterpart at the Bishkek airport on January 26. The two leaders will discuss bilateral ties and sign several agreements, including those on border delimitation. Kyrgyz-Uzbek border demarcation has been an issue for years. More than 20 Kyrgyz politicians and activists were arrested in October after they protested a border deal that allowed Uzbekistan to acquire an important water reservoir along a disputed segment of the border. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, click here.

UN Food Agency Warns That Afghan Malnutrition Rates Have Reached A Record High

A burqa-clad woman sits with her children along a roadside in Kandahar.

Malnutrition rates in Afghanistan are at record highs, with half the country enduring severe hunger throughout the year, a spokesman for the World Food Program said on January 26. The Taliban takeover in August 2021 drove millions into poverty and hunger after foreign aid stopped almost overnight. "Half of Afghanistan endures severe hunger throughout the year, regardless of the season, and malnutrition rates are at a record high for Afghanistan," said Phillipe Kropf, a spokesman for the UN food agency in Kabul. "There are 7 million children and mothers who are malnourished." To read the original story by AP, click here.

Imprisoned Iranian Activist Sadeghi, Who Is Ill With Cancer, Sentenced Again

Arash Sadeghi (left) and his wife, Golrokh Iraei

Iranian political activist Arash Sadeghi, who is already in prison serving a 19-year sentence despite being diagnosed with cancer, has been handed another sentence of more than five years for his participation in protests over the death of a young woman in police custody.

Ramin Safarnia, Sadeghi's lawyer, said on Twitter on January 25 that his client was also banned from living in Tehran and the northern Iranian provinces, and cannot carry out activities via the Internet for two years after being found guilty of "gathering and collusion against national security" and "propaganda activity against the Islamic republic."

Safarnia added that Sadeghi cannot be a member of any political or social party or group, and that all of his personal belongings will be confiscated "for the benefit of the government."

Sadeghi, who has been imprisoned several times and was diagnosed with cancer during his previous incarceration, was released from prison a year and a half ago after enduring more than five years behind bars on two separate terms totaling 19 years that were handed down in 2013 on charges of propaganda against the government, defamation of the supreme leader, and threatening national security.

A political activist while a student at Allameh Tabatabaei University in Tehran, he has gone on hunger strike several times, including in 2016 to protest the arrest of his wife, who was detained on a charge of writing fiction that had not yet been published.

Sadeghi was released in 2021 before being arrested again in October during protests over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while she was being detained by morality police for allegedly improperly wearing her hijab.

Anger over Amini's death on September 16 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 January 15 at least 522 people had been killed during the unrest, including 70 minors, as security forces try to stifle widespread dissent.

Many high-profile activists, rights advocates, and intellectuals have also been arrested in recent months because of the protests, including Fatemeh Sepehri and Majid Tavakoli.

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

Russia Labels Latvia-Based Meduza News Website 'Undesirable Organization'

Meduza was added to Russia's list of "foreign agents" in 2021.

The Russian Prosecutor-General's Office has designated the Latvia-based Meduza news outlet as "an undesirable organization," amid the government's ongoing crackdown on independent media. The office explained its January 26 decision by saying the Russian-language media outlet's "activities pose a threat to the basis of the Russian Federation's constitutional order and security." Meduza was added to Russia's list of "foreign agents" in 2021. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

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A protester jumps on a poster of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at a demonstration against Sweden's NATO bid arranged by the Kurdish Democratic Society Center in Stockholm on January 21.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on January 26 it was "meaningless" to hold a trilateral meeting with Sweden and Finland to discuss their NATO bids after anti-Turkish protests this month in Stockholm. Cavusoglu also told a news conference in Ankara that there was no offer to evaluate Sweden's and Finland's NATO membership separately. Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said his country wanted to restore NATO dialogue with Turkey after Ankara indefinitely postponed trilateral talks with Sweden and Finland over their membership. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.


Former Kyrgyz Deputy Prime Minister Razakov Arrested On Fraud Charges

Jenish Razakov was deputy prime minister from 2012 to 2016.

Former Kyrgyz Deputy Prime Minister Jenish Razakov has been arrested on charges of fraud and abuse of office. Kyrgyz Interior Ministry said on January 26 that Razakov is currently being held in pretrial detention. He is suspected of illegally obtaining $1 million from an individual via a fraud scheme in 2017. Razakov served as the Central Asian nation's deputy prime minister, secretary of the Security Council, and a regional governor between 2012 and 2020. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, click here.

Former Theater Director In Siberia Whose Son Condemned War In Ukraine Sent To House Arrest

Aleksandr Kulyabin (file photo)

The former director of the Red Torch Theater in Novosibirsk, Aleksandr Kulyabin, whose son publicly condemned Moscow's invasion of Ukraine, was sent on January 26 to pretrial house arrest on embezzlement charges. Kulyabin was detained two days earlier after his home was searched. His son, Timofei Kulyabin, worked as the chief producer at the theater in the Siberian city. He decided not to return to Russia from the Czech Republic, where he was on a business trip weeks after Russia launched its full-scale aggression against Ukraine in February 2022. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

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