Gates Cites Taliban 'Momentum,' Says Pullout No Option
"We are not leaving Afghanistan. This discussion is about next steps forward and the president has some momentous decisions to make," Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on October 5 in a television program taped at George Washington University that will be aired by CNN on October 6.
Gates said the Afghan and Pakistani governments should not be "nervous" about the U.S. review as Obama prepared to brief congressional leaders and to convene his war council again this week on how to deal with the deteriorating security situation.
"I don't think we have the option to leave," said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs. "That's quite clear."
Obama faces pivotal decisions in the coming weeks after the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, presented a dire assessment of the eight-year-old war effort.
Earlier, Gates urged military advisers to speak "candidly but privately" but defended McChrystal, who has been criticized for appearing to lobby in public for his position that more troops need to be sent to Afghanistan.
"Stan McChrystal is exactly the right person to be the commander in Afghanistan right now," Gates said. "I have every confidence that, no matter what decision the president makes, Stan McChrystal will implement it as effectively as possible."
The debate within the Obama administration is now over whether to send thousands more U.S. troops, as McChrystal has requested, or scale back the U.S. mission and focus on striking Al-Qaeda cells, an idea backed by Vice President Joe Biden.
Gates suggested that the failure of the United States and its allies to put more troops into Afghanistan in earlier years -- a period when former U.S. President George W. Bush invaded Iraq -- had given the Taliban an edge in Afghanistan.
"The reality is that because of our inability, and the inability, frankly, of our allies, [to put] enough troops into Afghanistan, the Taliban do have the momentum right now, it seems," Gates said, although he declined to discuss what options Obama may be considering.
As the strategy debate in Washington gathered steam, Afghan election authorities began a recount on October 6 in the disputed presidential election held in August.
Allegations of fraud in what Gates called the "flawed" election are among the reasons U.S. officials have cited for launching the review of policy toward Afghanistan.
With U.S. casualties on the rise, American public opinion has turned increasingly against what Obama's aides once hailed as the "good war," in contrast to the unpopular war in Iraq that occupied the focus of Bush.
There also have been increasing calls from the anti-war left and foreign policy critics for a U.S. pullout. Dozens of protesters gathered outside the White House on October 5, and a few were arrested when they chained themselves to the gates.
Seeking to shore up support, Obama invited senior Democratic and Republican lawmakers to the White House on October 6 to discuss the future course of the war. He is due to meet his national security team on October 7 and 9.
The Obama administration already has almost doubled the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan this year to 62,000 to contend with the worst violence since U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban rulers in 2001. The U.S. invasion was launched in the weeks after the September 11 attacks carried out by Al-Qaeda, which had been given a haven in Afghanistan by the Taliban.
McChrystal has warned in a confidential assessment that the war effort would end in failure without additional troops and changes in strategy.
But signing off on the 30,000 to 40,000 troop increase that McChrystal is said to have requested would be politically risky for Obama due to unease within his own Democratic Party and fatigue among the American public after eight years of war in Afghanistan and six in Iraq.
U.S. forces in Afghanistan suffered their worst losses in more than a year when fighters stormed remote outposts near the Pakistan border over the weekend. Eight American soldiers were killed on October 3 after tribal militia stormed two combat outposts in remote Nuristan province in eastern Afghanistan.
Death Toll In Afghanistan Cold Snap Rises To 166
At least 166 people have died in a wave of bitterly cold weather sweeping Afghanistan, the Disaster Management Ministry said on January 28. Afghanistan has been frozen by temperatures as low as -33 degrees Celsius since January 10, combined with widespread snowfall, icy gales, and regular electricity outages. Aid agencies had warned before the cold snap that more than half of Afghanistan's 38 million people were facing hunger, while nearly 4 million children were suffering from malnutrition. The ministry said on January 28 that the death toll had risen by 88 over the past week and now stood at 166. To read the original story by AFP, click here.
Zelenskiy Adviser Slams International Olympic Committee For 'Antihuman Policy'
Senior Ukrainian presidential aide Mykhailo Podolyak criticized the International Olympic Committee on January 28 for siding with Russia after the IOC said the Olympic Council of Asia had offered Russian and Belarusian athletes a chance to compete in the Paris 2024 Olympics. "#IOC proposes to the world promotion of violence, mass murders, destruction. That's why it insists Russian athletes should participate in contests as real 'ambassadors of death'," Mykhailo Podolyak wrote on Twitter. "Sport doesn't exist outside politics -- sport promotes it. Thus, the IOC promotes the [Russian] anti-human policy."
Australian Open Chief Tells Djokovic's Family To 'Be Really Careful'
Australian Open chief Craig Tiley on January 28 advised tennis ace Novak Djokovic's family to be "really careful" of people using the tournament's global exposure as a platform for "disruptive" purposes. It follows a video posted on the Internet showing Djokovic's father, Srdjan, posing in Melbourne with a fan holding a Russian flag featuring Vladimir Putin's face. It sparked a backlash from Ukraine, which is battling Russia's full-scale invasion. "My advice is that you have to be really careful because, if this is an event of global significance, it's a platform," Tiley said he told them. To read the original article by AFP, click here.
Ukraine To Summon Hungarian Envoy Over 'Unacceptable' Remarks By Orban
The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry will summon Hungary's ambassador to complain about "completely unacceptable" remarks Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban made about Ukraine, Kyiv said on January 27. Hungary has repeatedly criticized EU sanctions on Russia. Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleh Nikolenko, writing on Facebook, said Orban had told reporters that Ukraine was a no-man's-land and compared it to Afghanistan. "The Hungarian ambassador will be summoned to the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry for a frank discussion. We reserve the right to take other measures in response," Nikolenko said. To read the original article by Reuters, click here.
Fierce Battles Rage In Ukraine's East As Zelenskiy Calls The Situation 'Extremely Acute'
Ukrainian forces were engaged in fierce fighting with Russian troops in several hot spots in the east, where Moscow has been pressing with increasing urgency amid Western pledges of modern tank deliveries for Kyiv.
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the frontline situation was "extremely acute," especially in the Donetsk region, where he said major battles were under way for Vuhledar, to the southwest of Donetsk's regional capital, and Bakhmut, to the northeast, a town that has been virtually razed by repeated Russian artillery bombardments.
Regional Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said three people were killed and at least two others wounded in a Russian strike on a residential neighborhood in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kostiantynivka. In a post on Telegram, Kyrylenko said four apartment buildings and a hotel had been damaged and that rescuers and police officials were at the site to "carefully document yet another crime by the Russian occupiers."
Earlier on January 28, Kyrylenko said four people had been killed and at least seven wounded from Russian strikes in the last 24 hours.
Zelenskiy, in his nightly video address on January 27, said the intensity of the fighting showed that Ukraine urgently needs more weapons to fight off the growing Russian pressure.
The General Staff of Ukraine's Armed Forces said in its daily report early on January 28 that Russian troops continued to press on with a multipronged offensive in the eastern Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.
"The enemy continues to conduct offensive actions in the Bakhmut, Avdiyivka, and Novopavlyivka directions," the General Staff said.
"In the Kupyansk, Lyman, Zaporizhzhya, and Kherson directions, the enemy is on the defensive," it said.
Ukrainian military spokesman Serhiy Cherevatiy told local media that "there is fierce combat" in Vuhledar.
"For many months, the military of the Russian Federation...has been trying to achieve significant success there," he said.
Vuhledar, a town with a preinvasion population of around 15,000 people, has strategic significance as a communications node in southern Donetsk.
The secretary of Ukraine's Security Council, Oleksiy Danilov, told RFE/RL that Moscow was preparing for a new offensive on February 24, the first anniversary of the Russian invasion.
"Now they are preparing for maximum activation...and they believe that by the anniversary they should have some achievements," Danilov said. "There is no secret that they are preparing for a new wave by February 24, as they themselves say."
WATCH: Ukrainian combat medic Oksana Lebedenko lost contact with her 11-year-old daughter Yeva after Russian forces occupied her hometown of Vovchansk in Ukraine's Kharkiv region. Lebedenko later discovered that her pro-Russian brother had taken her daughter to Russia without permission. After nearly a year apart, volunteers helped reunite the mother and daughter in Kyiv in December.
Ukraine's Western allies continue to pledge military equipment and aid to shore up Kyiv's defenses.
U.S. national-security spokesman John Kirby said Washington anticipates an “intense period of fighting” in the coming months," adding that there is "no sign" of the war stopping.
Zelenskiy said on January 27 that Ukraine needs up to 500 tanks.
"We need 300 or 500 tanks now. We need tanks to protect our territory, our land. We need armored vehicles to protect our people, that's all," Zelenskiy said in an interview with Sky News.
So far, a total of 321 heavy tanks have been promised to Ukraine by several countries, Ukraine's ambassador to France, Vadym Omelchenko, said on BFM television on January 27.
Poland announced on January 27 that it will send an additional 60 tanks to Ukraine to strengthen its defenses. It comes on top of media reports that NATO members will donate around 100 German-manufactured Leopard 2 tanks.
Separately, the United States and Britain have promised to contribute 31 M1 Abrams and 14 Challenger 2 tanks, respectively.
Ukraine has also asked for U.S. F16 fighter jets. Kirby said Washington was aware of Ukraine's request but added, "We don't have any additional weapons systems to speak to today."
Meanwhile, the European Union on January 27 extended its economic sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine for another six months, as EU justice ministers vowed to seek swift accountability for the "horrific" crimes in Ukraine.
The Kremlin has reacted with fury to the latest gestures of Western solidarity with Ukraine and said 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.
The British Defense Ministry said in its daily intelligence bulletin on January 28 that Russia likely lost some 300 troops in a Ukrainian strike on a troop accommodation facility in Makiyivka on January 1. The ministry estimated that the majority of the casualties were killed or missing rather than wounded.
Russia had claimed that 89 troops were killed in the attack.
"The difference between the number of casualties Russia acknowledged and the likely true total highlights the pervasive presence of disinformation in Russian public announcements," the British intelligence report concluded.
It added that Russia took the rare step of acknowledging that it had suffered casualties because "officials likely assessed that it was not viable to avoid comment in the face of widespread criticism of Russian commanders over the incident."
In a separate development, Ukraine said it would summon Hungary's ambassador to complain about "completely unacceptable" remarks Prime Minister Viktor Orban made about Ukraine, Kyiv said on January 27.
Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleh Nykolenko said Orban had told the media that Ukraine was a no-man's-land and compared it to Afghanistan.
With reporting by Reuters and AFP
Kurti Resisting Western Proposal Even Though It Could Cost Kosovo Critical Support
PRISTINA -- Prime Minister Albin Kurti has remained defiant over a Western proposal for improving relations with Serbia even as he says it could cost Kosovo critical support.
In an interview with RFE/RL on January 27 in Pristina, Kurti again rejected a request to create an association of Kosovo municipalities with an ethnic Serbian majority, a step the West says is necessary to resolve tensions between the two Balkan neighbors.
Kurti said the association should not be based on ethnicity.
Kosovo and Serbia agreed in 2013 to the creation of an Association of Serbian Municipalities when they signed the Western-backed Brussels Agreement. However, Pristina has failed to implement it.
Gabriel Escobar, the U.S. special envoy for the Western Balkans, told RFE/RL last month during a visit to region that the creation of the association was a priority for the United States, the biggest backer of Kosovo.
Escobar’s visit came amid protests by ethnic Serbs in Kosovo that have accerbated already tense relations between the two countries.
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 following a bloody war in the 1990s. While most European countries and the United States have recognized Kosovo as an independent state, Serbia has refused to do so, preventing both from potentially joining the bloc.
The United States and the European Union have been trying to reconcile the two countries, opening the door to joining Western organizations.
The EU last summer submitted its plan for normalizing relations to Pristina and Belgrade. According to a copy of the document seen by RFE/RL, the proposal calls for equal rights for Kosovo and Serbia, respect for territorial integrity, inviolability of borders, recognition of state symbols, and a special arrangement for the Serbian community in Kosovo.
It does not, however, mention mutual recognition. The creation of the association is not part of the EU plan.
In his interview with RFE/RL, Kurti said that the plan "does not contain everything Kosovo would want."
"It is not even called a final deal and I believe that it rightly isn't [called so] because discussions are needed. It is a common platform for discussions. It is not a final version of the 'take it or leave it kind,'" he said.
Kurti said that the West had alluded to downgrading its support for Kosovo if it does not back the plan and the association proposal. Kosovo is dependent on Western financial and technical aid.
However, he said he was not concerned about a weakening of Western support.
"We are very constructive on top of being very determined and creative," Kurti said.
Dialogue between Kosovo's and Serbia's leaders has intensified in the months since the EU submitted its plan.
Last week in Pristina, Kurti met with several Western emissaries led by Miroslav Lajcak, the EU special representative for the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue.
Lajcak said his group expected a "better understanding" from Kurti on the opportunities the proposal offers.
Separately, the U.S. Embassy in Kosovo will host a meeting expected to take place on January 31 to discuss the association proposal.
During the interview, Kurti said that he had not received an invitation to the meeting but added that he is interested in continuing talks in hope of reaching tangible results by March of this year.
Serb Who Joined Russian-Backed Forces In Ukraine Has Jail Sentence Overturned
A Serbian court has overturned the one-year prison sentence handed down to a citizen who fought for Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine in 2015.
The Court of Appeal in Belgrade let Vlado Stanic go free after lowering his conviction to a suspended sentence, according to his lawyer.
The decision was made on December 13, 2022, but Stanic's lawyer only received the official decision yesterday.
Stanic was arrested at Belgrade's airport on July 15, 2022, and charged with joining the Russian-backed Hussar Regiment paramilitary formation.
According to reports, Stanic checked passengers and vehicles entering and leaving Snezno, a town in Russian-controlled eastern Ukraine. He allegedly wore the official uniform of the Luhansk and Donetsk separatists.
Stanic was among 300 Serbian citizens who participated on the side of the Kremlin-backed forces from 2014 through 2018, according to estimates of the Embassy of Ukraine in Serbia.
Serbia has historically had close ties with Russia.
Serbia's Criminal Code forbids citizens from participating in foreign wars. The act is punishable with a prison sentence of six months to five years.
The penalty is higher -- from one to eight years --for participating in a war as part of a paramilitary group.
Stanic was sentenced in September to one year in prison by an extrajudicial verdict after pleading guilty. His lawyer, Katarina Nikic, immediately filed an appeal.
Serbia has convicted 32 citizens for participating in the war but the sentences handed down have been mild.
In 28 cases, the court sentenced the defendants to a suspended prison sentence, while four people were sentenced to house arrest for six months.
One of those sentenced to house arrest was a man who helped recruit fighters. According to the Criminal Code, the punishment for recruiting fighters is from two to 10 years.
The lenient punishments have had consequences. Several Serbian citizens convicted of fighting in Ukraine violated their probation and returned to the front.
Russia Summons Latvian Charge d'Affaires Over Riga's Move To Downgrade Diplomatic Ties
Russia's Foreign Ministry said on January 27 it summoned Latvia's Charge d'Affaires Dacija Rutka to express protest over Riga's move to downgrade diplomatic relations with Moscow, expressed days earlier. The ministry requested outgoing Latvian Ambassador Maris Riekstins to leave Russia in two weeks. On January 23, Latvia and Estonia told their ambassadors to leave Moscow after Russia downgraded diplomatic relations with Estonia, accusing it of "total Russophobia." The two Baltic states have been among the strongest backers of Ukraine since Russia launched its unprovoked invasion in February 2022.
Ukraine Bans Officials' Trips Abroad Except In 'Exceptional' Cases
Ukraine's government has approved a resolution banning officials from traveling abroad. Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said on January 27 that lawmakers, government members, local officials, prosecutors, judges, and other officials can travel abroad only on business trips, for medical reasons, or to take care of minors. "No travel [abroad] to have a rest," Shmyhal wrote on Telegram. A day earlier, lawmaker Mykola Tyshchenko was expelled from the ruling Servant of the People party for being in Thailand without parliament's knowledge. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.
Ukraine Needs $17 Billion In Additional Financing For Energy Repairs, PM Says
Ukraine will need an additional $17 billion in financing this year for energy repairs, demining, and to rebuild infrastructure, Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said on January 27. He told a government meeting that five high-voltage substations in the central, southern, and southwestern regions were hit during Russia's air attacks on January 26. The energy sector has been severely damaged following four months of Russian missile and drones attacks. Shmyhal said the government hosted a meeting with Western partners this week to coordinate financial support in a transparent and efficient way. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Iranians Use End Of 40-Day Mourning Period To Protest Against Government
Iranians continue to gather at the graves of those who have been killed by security forces in ongoing nationwide protests that have rocked the country since the death of a woman in police custody, calling for regime change despite a brutal crackdown on dissent by the authorities.
Since Mahsa Amini's death, Iranians have flooded into the streets across the country to protest against a lack of rights, with women and schoolgirls making unprecedented shows of support in the biggest threat to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution.
In response, the authorities have launched a brutal crackdown on dissent, detaining thousands and handing down stiff sentences, including the death penalty, to protesters.
In recent weeks, protesters have turned the end of the traditional 40-day mourning period following a protester's death into a stage for anti-government demonstrations.
Videos published on social media on January 26 showed crowds at the grave of Hamidreza Rouhi, a university student who had a modeling career since childhood and was shot dead during a demonstration in the Iranian capital, Tehran, on November 18.
They chanted "Death to the dictator!," a reference to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as they gathered to honor Rouhi.
In the western city of Khorramabad, people flocked to the cemetery where Nika Shakrami -- a 16-year-old killed after participating in anti-government protests in Tehran on September 20 -- was buried.
Similar scenes were repeated in the central city of Arak, where Mehrshad Shahidinejad was buried. Shahidinejad was a 19-year-old aspiring chef who was reportedly killed after being arrested during a protest.
Reports also indicate that a group of people and family members of Mohammad Mehdi Karami visited a cemetery in the city of Eshtehard to lay flowers at the graves of Karami and another protester, Mohammad Hosseini.
The were hanged in prison on January 7 following threats by Iranian authorities of harsher penalties to those who participate in the unrest.
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 muzzle dissent.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
Two Iranian Professors Dismissed After Supporting Student Protests
Two Iranian university professors have been fired from their jobs following their support of students in nationwide protests over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in police custody.
The Hakim Sabzevari University Students Union Council announced on January 26 that Hassan Bagherinia, a member of the psychology faculty, had been suspended.
In a letter to the president of the university, the council described Bagherinia's suspension as unfair and said that "in these days when the truth is clouded, he has not remained silent and has always supported the people."
Meanwhile, the Union Council of Iranian Students announced that Amir Nikpey, a professor of sociology and anthropology at Beheshti University, had also been dismissed.
According to the council, Nikpey is the fourth professor to be fired from Beheshti University after Negar Zilabi from the faculty of theology, Mohammad Ragheb from the faculty of literature, and Eslam Nazemi from the faculty of computer engineering.
Anger over Amini's death on September 16 has prompted thousands of Iranians to take to the streets to demand more freedoms and women's rights.
Numerous protests have been held at universities, particularly in Tehran, where many students have refused to attend class. Protesting students have chanted "woman, life, freedom" and "death to the dictator" at the rallies. Some female students have removed and burned their head scarves.
In most of the protests, students have asked the professors to support them, and some university professors and lecturers have expressed solidarity with the protesters.
In a rare act of protest, Encieh Erfani resigned from her post at the Institute of Advanced Studies in Basic Sciences, which is located in the northwestern city of Zanjan.
"Student protesters were chanting, 'the streets are soaked with blood, our professors are silent,'" she told RFE/RL's Radio Farda. "So I submitted my resignation."
Universities and students have long been at the forefront 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 dorms 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.
The activist HRANA news agency said that as of January 26 at least 700 university students had been arrested during the recent unrest.
Many have faced sentences such as imprisonment, flogging, and dozens of students have been expelled from universities or suspended from their studies, 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
Kazakh Teenage Girl Beats Russia's Noted Chess Grandmaster Karyakin
An 18-year-old female Kazakh chess player has beaten Russian grandmaster Sergei Karyakin at the Chess Stars International Tournament in Moscow.
Bibisara Asaubaeva, the first Muslim woman in history to become women's World Blitz chess champion twice, defeated Karyakin in the tournament's rapid format on January 26.
Asaubaeva, who currently holds the titles of international master and woman grandmaster, is competing for the tournament's prize pool of $216,247.
The blitz competitions are next up and will be held on January 28-30.
Karyakin commended Asaubaeva's performance, calling her a "world champion who plays very well."
Last year, the International Chess Federation (FIDE) disqualified Karyakin for six months for publicly supporting Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.
The 33-year-old Karyakin has supported Russia's invasion of Ukraine since it started on February 24, 2022, which has been harshly criticized by many in the chess world.
Karyakin, who was born in Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula that was illegally annexed by Russia eight years ago, represented Ukraine until 2009.
With reporting by Kazinform and KazTAG
EU Prolongs Economic Sanctions Over Russia's War In Ukraine Until July 31
The Council of the European Union on January 27 extended sanctions targeting specific sectors of Russia's economy by six months, until July 31. The sanctions, first introduced in 2014, were significantly expanded since the start of Moscow's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the council said in a statement. They include restrictions on trade, finance, technology, industry, transport, and luxury goods; a ban on the import or transfer of seaborne crude oil and certain petroleum products from Russia to the EU; a de-SWIFTing of several Russian banks; and the suspension of Russian broadcasting activities.
EU Seeks Effective Justice For 'Horrific' Crimes In Ukraine War
The EU wants swift accountability for the "horrific" crimes in Ukraine, EU justice ministers said on January 26, even as they differed over the methods about how to bring prosecutions, seek evidence, or fund war-damage repairs. The bloc's 27 justice ministers met in Stockholm ahead of the February 24 anniversary of Russia's attack on Ukraine. "Nobody doing this kind of war crimes shall go free. It's very, very important that we will find a way to hold responsible people accountable," Swedish Justice Minister Gunnar Strommer said. "The question is, how can we deal with this in a practical and efficient way." To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Moscow Blocks CIA, FBI Websites, Citing 'False' Information About Russian Armed Forces
Russian media regulator, Roskomnadzor, has blocked the websites of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the State Department's national security rewards program, according to the Roskomsvoboda project. There was no immediate comment from Washington, but earlier this month the intelligence service posted a message on Facebook saying Russia's military mobilization could radically change the lives of Russians and asked them to contact FBI agents as "it is in your power to change this." The FBI regularly launches advertising campaigns on social networks in different languages, including Russian. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.
Rogue Russian Priest Gets Additional Prison Term On Hatred Charge
MOSCOW -- An ultraconservative, coronavirus-denying Russian priest who was stripped of his religious rank and sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison in 2021 has been handed an additional sentence of 5 1/2 years in prison on charge of inciting hatred toward Catholics, Muslims, and Jews.
The Babushkin district court ruled on January 27 that it was combining the two sentences, meaning the general prison term for Nikolai Romanov, also known as Father Sergiy, will amount to seven years.
The additional charge against Romanov, who is already in prison after being convicted of vigilantism, violating the right to religious freedom, and encouraging suicide, stemmed from his six online posts about religions other than Orthodox Christianity.
His co-defendant Vsevolod Moguchev, who placed Father Sergiy's sermons on his YouTube channel, was also found guilty of inciting hatred and sentenced to five years in prison.
Father Sergiy was arrested in December 2020 after law enforcement raided his convent in the Sverdlovsk region. Parishioners and some clergy skirmished with the police during the arrest of the rogue priest, who was then sent to a detention center in Moscow.
The priest made headlines in June 2020 after he took over the Sredneuralsk Women's Monastery in the Urals by force with help from Cossack guards.
He was later stripped of his religious rank by the Diocesan Court in the Sverdlovsk region for what the court called disobedience toward Russian Orthodox Church authorities.
Father Sergiy is known for his public praising of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, calling the coronavirus pandemic a Western plot, and publicly condemning the Russian Orthodox Church's order in April 2020 to stop church services to prevent the spreading of the virus.
After forcibly taking over the convent, Father Sergiy issued political statements saying that constitutional amendments proposed by President Vladimir Putin "would legalize a slave-owning system."
The constitutional changes approved in 2020 allow Putin, who has ruled Russia as president or prime minister for more than 21 years, to stay in power until 2036 if he chooses to run again after his current term ends in 2024.
Armenian Officer Arrested For Negligence Over Fire That Killed 15 Soldiers
An Armenian military officer has been arrested over a deadly fire last week that killed 15 soldiers and critically injured three others in the South Caucasus country. The Prosecutor-General's Office said on January 27 that Gor Aghabekian, the deputy commander of the military unit, who was responsible for fire-safety rules, was sent to pretrial detention for at least two months on a charge of negligence that led to the deaths. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Armenian Service, click here.
U.K. Court Says Russian Businessman Cannot Pause $850 Million Fraud Case Over Sanctions
The High Court in London has ruled a prominent Russian businessman cannot pause an $850 million fraud lawsuit brought by two Russian banks because of British sanctions. Boris Mints and his sons Dmitry, Aleksandr, and Igor are being sued by National Bank Trust, which is 99 percent owned by Russia's central bank, on behalf of Bank Otkritie, once Russia's largest private lender before its 2017 collapse. Lawyers representing the Mints family -- who deny the fraud allegations -- say the lawsuit should be indefinitely put on hold because, if the banks win at trial, damages could not be paid, as Bank Otkritie is under British sanctions. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Russian Police Officer Gets Eight Years In Prison In Absentia Over Posts About War In Ukraine
A Moscow court sentenced in absentia police officer Oleg Kashintsev to eight years in prison on a charge of discrediting Russia's armed forces by spreading "false" information about Moscow's invasion of Ukraine. Kashintsev's lawyer said on January 27 the court also stripped Kashintsev's major rank and barred him from administering social networks and from serving in police ranks for four years. Kashintsev fled Russia several months ago. His case is the first about "fake" news on Russia's full-scale aggression against Ukraine that was tried in absentia. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.
Journalist Ponomarenko, Charged With Discrediting Russian Army, Returned To Pretrial Detention
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
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
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 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
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.
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