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British Man Says Novichok Was In Perfume Bottle He Gave Partner

Dawn Sturgess (left) and Charles Rowley
Dawn Sturgess (left) and Charles Rowley

A British man poisoned with Novichok has said in interviews that he found a perfume bottle that contained the deadly nerve agent and unknowingly gave it to his girlfriend, who sprayed the liquid on her wrists and later died.

Charlie Rowley, 45, said in interviews released on July 24 that he was amazed he survived after handling the "oily" substance himself, but was still struggling with the death of his partner Dawn Sturgess, a 44-year-old mother of three.

Both fell ill in Amesbury, near the southwestern English city of Salisbury where a former Russian spy and his daughter were poisoned with Novichok in March.

In an interview with ITV News television, Rowley said he could not remember where he picked up the glass perfume bottle, but said it was still in its box and plastic packaging.

When he offered it as a gift to Sturgess, "she recognized the bottle and product as a known brand" and sprayed it on her wrists.

"Within fifteen minutes Dawn said she had a headache," and she went to lie down in the bath, fully clothed.

Rowley also got some of it on his hands but washed it off. "It had an oily substance and I smelled it and it didn't smell of perfume," he said.

'Awful And Shocking'

Both of them fell ill and were hospitalized later that day, June 30.

A few days later, authorities confirmed their exposure to Novichok, a military-grade nerve agent developed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

Sturgess died on July 9, but after two weeks in an induced coma Rowley was discharged from the hospital on July 20.

In an interview with The Sun newspaper, he said: "It's awful and shocking. I was still on medication when they told me she passed away. I don't think I will ever be able to get over it.

"My heart goes out to Dawn's family. It's amazing that I'm alive. In a way I feel lucky I survived, but I've also lost so much."

Police are treating Sturgess' death as murder and say a link with the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia on March 4 is a major line of inquiry.

Britain and its allies blamed Russia for trying to kill Skripal, a former military intelligence colonel who was jailed for betraying Russian agents to Britain and released in a 2010 spy swap.

Russia has strongly denied involvement in the poisonings, which sparked a major diplomatic row.

Rowley said he was "very angry at the whole incident."

"It was very irresponsible for people to leave the poison for anybody to pick up. It could have been children," he told ITV.

With reporting by AFP and dpa

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Several Families Fear For Detained Relatives, Accuse Iranian Officials Of Rights Abuses

Ali Babaei, Dawood Shiri, and Yorush Mehrali Biglo are among the civil activists arrested in Iran.
Ali Babaei, Dawood Shiri, and Yorush Mehrali Biglo are among the civil activists arrested in Iran.

The families of 13 Iranian political and civil activists detained in East Azerbaijan Province have accused Iranian authorities of failing to grant access to lawyers for their relatives while charges remain unclear.

In an interview with RFE/RL's Radio Farda, Ayoub Shiri, brother of detained activist Davoud Shiri, said that since his brother's arrest outside his Tabriz home on September 22, the family has only received three brief phone calls.

Shiri expressed frustration over the lack of clarity regarding his brother's charges.

"We have no news. They did not tell us the subject of the accusation, and every time we go to follow up, they say the same thing. Then the authorities provide a different explanation each time they are in contact," he said.

Yilmaz Mehr Ali Biglu, whose brother Ayat (Yurosh) was arrested in Jolfa on November 7, said his family is experiencing a similar situation.

He said his brother managed only a brief call with his wife after being arrested and the family suspects he is being held at the Tabriz Intelligence Detention Center.

"The judiciary is not independent enough for us to follow up. When we approached the Tabriz judiciary, they didn't respond and said,'Your brother is our guest for four months,'" Yilmaz Mehr Ali Biglu told Radio Farda.

Some of the families say their concerns extend beyond the lack of information on the legal aspects of the situation and on to the health and well-being of the detainees.

Reports have emerged about the deteriorating physical condition of Hamed Yeganepor, who was arrested in Maragheh. Despite a heart condition requiring medical attention, Yeganepor is reportedly receiving insufficient care and was returned to the detention center after a brief hospital visit.

The situation highlights growing anxiety among the families of detainees, who fear for their loved ones, especially those feared being held in solitary confinement.

The government has yet to provide any official explanation or comment on the arrests of these activists, further deepening the concerns of their families and human rights observers.

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

Kazakh Citizen Gets More Than Six Years In Prison For Joining Wagner Mercenary Group

The District Criminal Court of the city of Qaraghandy
The District Criminal Court of the city of Qaraghandy

The Qaraghandy regional court in central Kazakhstan told RFE/RL on November 28 that a local resident, Aleksei Shompolov, had been sentenced to six years and eight months for joining Russia's Wagner mercenary group and fighting against Ukrainian forces in May in Bakhmut, where he was injured. The 34-year-old, who pleaded guilty, was arrested after arriving back in Kazakhstan, which makes it a crime to serve as a mercenary abroad. Shompolov's sentence was upheld on November 15, the court said, adding that his payment from Wagner -- 205,590 rubles ($2,300) -- was confiscated. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, click here.

Finland Closes Russian Border For Two Weeks To Stop Asylum Seekers

A general view of the Raja-Jooseppi border station in Lapland, northern Finland, on November 27.
A general view of the Raja-Jooseppi border station in Lapland, northern Finland, on November 27.

Finland will close its entire border with Russia to travelers for the next two weeks in a bid to halt a flow of asylum seekers to the Nordic nation, the government said. Finland last week shut all but one of its remaining border posts to visitors from Russia, keeping open only the northernmost crossing located in the Arctic. But this too would now close, allowing only goods transport, the government said on November 28. Some 900 asylum seekers have entered Finland from Russia in November, an increase from less than one per day previously, according to the Finnish Border Guard.

Azerbaijan Summons Western Diplomats Over Support For Arrested Journalists

Abzas Director Ulvi Hasanli and chief editor Sevinc Vaqifqizi
Abzas Director Ulvi Hasanli and chief editor Sevinc Vaqifqizi

Azerbaijan's Foreign Ministry said on November 28 it summoned the U.S., French, and German envoys to protest what it called "illegal financial operations" by organizations located in the three countries to support the independent Abzas news website -- an investigative outlet whose leaders were arrested on suspicion of foreign currency smuggling, a charge the journalists reject. Abzas's director, Ulvi Hasanli, and chief editor Sevinc Vaqifqizi were arrested last week after police claimed they found 40,000 euros ($43,800) in cash in Abzas's offices. The journalists insist the case against them is trumped up in retaliation for reports about corruption among officials.

Siberian LGBT Activist Sinko Detained While Holding Solo Picket

Alexandra Sinko protesting in St. Petersburg
Alexandra Sinko protesting in St. Petersburg

Police in the Siberian city of Novosibirsk detained an LGBT activist, Aleksandra Sinko, while she was holding a single-person picket, which does not require advance permission from the authorities. She was protesting a request filed by the Justice Ministry earlier this month to recognize the international LGBT rights movement as an extremist group. Sinko, who is an openly trans woman, was holding a poster on November 28 with text saying LGBT persons are not extremists. She was charged with "propagating untraditional sexual relations" -- a charge that carries a fine or up to 15 days in jail. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Siberia.Realities, click here.

Stoltenberg Sees Washington's Support For Ukraine Continuing Despite Republican Impasse

Newly elected U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson enters a session of U.S. Congress in Washington, D.C., on October 25.
Newly elected U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson enters a session of U.S. Congress in Washington, D.C., on October 25.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said he expects the United States to continue its support of Ukraine in its fight to repel invading Russian forces despite opposition from some Republican lawmakers who have cast doubt on Washington's aid to Kyiv.

Speaking at a meeting of foreign ministers from the alliance's 31 members, Stoltenberg said on November 28 that the allies have provided Ukraine with an unprecedented level of military support since the beginning of Russia's full-scale invasion in February 2022.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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

That support has allowed Ukraine "to inflict heavy losses on Russian forces," he said, "therefore, we must continue to support them."

Commenting on whether U.S. support will continue despite a political impasse in Washington, Stoltenberg voiced confidence aid from the United States -- which so far has topped $40 billion -- will continue to flow.

"I am confident that the United States will continue to provide support because it is in the security interest of the United States to do so," Stoltenberg said.

"This is also in line with what we have agreed upon. This is what all NATO allies confirmed time and time again at our summit in Vilnius, where all leaders were present: We will provide support and strengthen it," he said.

U.S. President Joe Biden last month submitted to Congress a previously announced request for more than $105 billion in defense aid, which included $61.4 billion in aid to Ukraine and $14.3 billion in aid to Israel, but the measure remains blocked.

In comments reported by Politico, House Speaker Mike Johnson on November 27 said he remains "confident and optimistic" Congress will be able to pass the aid for Israel and Ukraine before the holiday season.

Speaking at an event in Florida, Johnson said, "I think all of that will come together in the coming days. "I'm confident and optimistic that we’ll be able to get that done -- get that over the line," he said adding that, in Congress, there is "a sense of urgency in providing aid to both Ukraine and Israel."

"Of course, we can’t allow [Russian President] Vladimir Putin to march through Europe, and we understand the necessity of assisting there," he said.

Politico also reported that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer plans to hold a vote on Biden's request as early as December 4.

Stoltenberg also urged the rest of the allies to remain committed to continuing to deliver support, welcoming the recent announcement of military aid packages by Germany and the Netherlands worth 10 billion euros ($11 billion).

"The challenge we face now is that we need to continue this support," Stoltenberg said, pointing to the fact that although the front line in Ukraine has not moved much, intense fighting has continued and military aid from NATO has helped give Kyiv the ability to launch deep strikes into Russian-controlled territory.

With reporting by AFP and Politico

Russian Gets 12 Years In Prison On Charge Of Joining Ukrainian Far-Right Group

Yevgeny Kazantsev (file photo)
Yevgeny Kazantsev (file photo)

A court in Russia's western city of Kursk on November 28 sentenced a native of St. Petersburg, Yevgeny Kazantsev, to 12 years in prison on a charge of joining the Right Sector, a Ukrainian far-right group. Kazantsev was found guilty of extremism, illegally joining an armed group abroad, and illegal weapons possession. Investigators say Kazantsev joined Right Sector in 2015 and fought against Moscow-backed separatists in Ukraine's east. In March 2022, Russian forces reportedly captured Kazantsev while armed in Ukraine's Chernihiv region. Kazantsev pleaded not guilty. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

Stickers Demanding Return Of Husbands From War In Ukraine Pop Up On Vehicles Across Russia

Stickers demanding Russian husbands be returned from fighting in the Kremlin's war against Ukraine appeared on cars across Russia on November 28. The stickers, which used Latin letters "Z" and "V" -- signs of support for Russia's aggression against Ukraine -- translated into English as "Return my husband. I am f**ked up," and "Return my son-in-law." The pictures of the cars appeared on the Way Home Telegram channel. A day earlier, hundreds of women in Russia signed a petition calling President Vladimir Putin's September 2022 partial mobilization "a big mistake." To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

Slovak Truckers Threaten Ukraine Border Blockade From December 1

Trucks wait in line at the Polish-Ukrainian border at Hrebenne, southeastern Poland, on November 27.
Trucks wait in line at the Polish-Ukrainian border at Hrebenne, southeastern Poland, on November 27.

Slovak truckers are threatening to block the country's main border crossing with Ukraine from December 1 unless steps are taken to limit competition from Ukrainian hauliers, the head of the country's truckers association UNAS said. The threat on November 28 comes after action by Polish truckers who have been blocking several crossings with Ukraine for three weeks to demand tougher conditions for Ukrainian peers. Polish and Slovak truckers complain they offer cheaper prices for their services and also transport goods within the European Union, rather than just between the bloc and Ukraine.

Belarusian Police Search Homes Of Self-Exiled Opposition Figures

Paval Latushka (file photo)
Paval Latushka (file photo)

Police in Belarus searched the homes of several self-exiled opposition figures on November 28 amid an ongoing crackdown on dissent. A leading member of the People's Anti-Crisis Directorate based abroad, Paval Latushka, wrote on Telegram that the searches were held simultaneously at homes and apartments of several self-exiled members of the group, but that they will not affect the group's activities "to bring to justice" the representatives of authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka's regime. Police also searched homes of self-exiled members of the opposition Coordination Council of Belarus. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Belarus Service, click here.


Officials Confirm Wife Of Ukrainian Military Intelligence Chief Budanov, Others Poisoned

Kyrylo Budanov (file photo)
Kyrylo Budanov (file photo)

KYIV -- Ukrainian officials have confirmed reports that Marianna Budanova, the wife of the chief of the country's military intelligence service, had been poisoned with "heavy metals" and is in hospital for treatment, in what appears to represent the most serious targeting of a family member of Ukraine's leadership since Russia launched its full-scale invasion in February 2022.

Andriy Yusov, an official at the GUR military intelligence agency, confirmed earlier media reports on November 28 that Budanova, the wife of Kyrylo Budanov, had fallen ill and is under treatment for poisoning.

"Marianna Budanova was indeed poisoned by heavy metals. She is now undergoing a course of treatment, which is already coming to an end," Yusov told RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service.

Local media, quoting unnamed military intelligence officials, reported that several intelligence officials also appear to have been poisoned with "substances" that "are not used in everyday life or for military purposes and their presence may indicate a premeditated attempt to poison a concrete person."

Budanov has been one of the more high-profile Ukrainian officials for his efforts to design and enact plans by operatives to carry out strikes against Russian targets.

A Moscow court on April 21 issued an arrest warrant for Budanov on the charge of creating a terrorist group, a terrorist act, and illegal possession of explosives and firearms. Media reports cited sources close to law enforcement as saying the arrest warrant was linked to an explosion that damaged a Russian-built bridge that connects Russia to Ukraine's Moscow-annexed Crimean Peninsula in October 2022.

Budanov has said that his wife lives with him at his office, although she does not work at the GUR. Since June 2021, however, she has been working as an adviser to Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko.

According to reports, there have been at least 10 attempts on Budanov's life since 2014, including one during the full-scale invasion by Russia into Ukraine when a rocket attack was carried out on the building of the State Administration of Ukraine in Kyiv.

Russian Journalist Arrested In Absentia On Charge Of Justifying Terrorism

Anna Loiko (file photo)
Anna Loiko (file photo)

A Moscow court on November 28 ordered the arrest of journalist Anna Loiko in absentia for at least one month on a charge of "publicly justifying terrorism." Loiko, who currently resides in Georgia, works for the online media outlet SOTA. The charge stems from Loiko's 2021 article about the Hizb ut-Tahrir Islamic group, which is banned as "terrorist" in Russia. Last month, police searched Loiko's Moscow apartment and briefly detained her mother for questioning. Loiko has insisted the story in question has nothing to do with justifying terrorism and is about abuse of Russian citizens' rights by the authorities.

Kyrgyz Governor's Adviser Arrested On Extortion Charge

The arrested official, whose identity was not disclosed, is accused of extorting $200,000 from a local businessman.
The arrested official, whose identity was not disclosed, is accused of extorting $200,000 from a local businessman.

A court in Kyrgyzstan has sent an adviser of the southern Batken region's governor to pretrial detention for at least two months on extortion charges. The arrested official, whose identity was not disclosed, is accused of extorting $200,000 from a local businessman. The Central Asian country's State Committee for National Security announced the man's detainment on November 24. The suspect was sent to a pretrial detention center in the country's second-largest city, Osh, on November 26. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, click here.

Six Teenagers Go On Trial In France Over Teacher's Killing By Chechen Refugee In 2020

A woman holds a picture of Samuel Paty at a rally in Lille on October 18, 2020, two days after he was beheaded by an attacker who was shot dead by policemen.
A woman holds a picture of Samuel Paty at a rally in Lille on October 18, 2020, two days after he was beheaded by an attacker who was shot dead by policemen.

Six teenagers went on trial in Paris on November 27 over the killing of teacher Samuel Paty in 2020 by an 18-year-old refugee from Russia's Chechnya who was shot dead at the crime scene. The defendants are accused of having identified Paty to the killer in exchange for promises of money. The deadly attack took place after messages on social media said the teacher had shown his class cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad from the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo while talking about freedom of speech. Eight adults implicated in the case will go on trial next year. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Caucasus.Realities, click here.

Kazakh Police Close High-Profile Investigation Of Attack On Journalist

Diana Saparqyzy (file photo)
Diana Saparqyzy (file photo)

Police in the central Kazakh town of Shakhtinsk have closed a high-profile case investigating an attack on noted journalist Diana Saparqyzy. The KazTAG news agency reporter's lawyer told RFE/RL on November 28 that the police ruled that "there were no elements of a crime" in the case, which was being investigated as obstruction of journalistic activities. The case was closed almost three weeks ago, police said. Saparqyzy's lawyer said the journalist was attacked in August by five unknown men who forcibly removed her from the grounds of a mining operation in Shakhtinsk, where she was reporting on a deadly accident. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, click here.

Kyrgyz Security Chief Says Almost 20 Ex-Officials Held Responsible In Kumtor Gold Mine Case

Kamchybek Tashiev (file photo)
Kamchybek Tashiev (file photo)

The chief of Kyrgyzstan's State Committee of National Security, Kamchybek Tashiev, said on November 28 that almost 20 former top officials, including "two ex-presidents, four former prime ministers, and two former parliament speakers," had been held responsible for their roles in the high-profile Kumtor gold mine case. He did not specify the names. According to Tashiev, the probe "helped to nationalize Kumtor." Kyrgyzstan regained full control of Kumtor last year under the terms of a deal with the Canadian company Centerra Gold following years of financial and environmental disagreements. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, click here.


Bulgaria Approves Lavrov's Flight To OSCE Meeting, Sparking Boycott

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (file photo)
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (file photo)

Bulgaria's Foreign Ministry gave permission to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's plane to cross its airspace en route to North Macedonia's capital, Skopje, so he can attend a meeting of the Council of Ministers of the OSCE this week, sparking an immediate outcry from Ukraine and other nations who will boycott the gathering.

The European Union, of which Bulgaria is a member, imposed a blanket flight on Russian planes over the bloc's territory on February 27 last year, three days after Moscow began its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

Bulgaria's decision, announced late on November 27, came at the request of North Macedonia, which currently holds the rotating presidency of the OSCE.

Less than 24 hours later, Ukraine's Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleh Nikolenko said Foreign Minister "Dmytro Kuleba will boycott the OSCE ministerial meeting over the decision to allow Lavrov to attend" the November 29-December 1 event.

Soon after that, the Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania said in a joint statement that they would not take part in the annual meeting in Skopje as well because of the Lavrov decision.

"We deeply regret the decision enabling the personal participation of Russian Foreign Minister S. Lavrov at the 30th Session of the OSCE Ministerial Council in Skopje. It will only provide Russia with yet another propaganda opportunity," the statement said.

"Lavrov’s attendance at the OSCE Ministerial also risks legitimizing aggressor Russia as a rightful member of our community of free nations, trivializing the atrocious crimes Russia has been committing, and putting up with Russia's blatant violation and contempt of the OSCE fundamental principles and commitments," it added.

In June, several Balkan nations refused to open their airspace to Lavrov, forcing him to cancel a trip to Serbia.

Lavrov, who has been placed under sanctions by the United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom, and Canada, called the move "unthinkable."


More Than 550 Settlements In Ukraine Still Without Power Following Blizzard

Rescuers help drivers trapped in the Mykolayiv region following heavy snowfall on November 27.
Rescuers help drivers trapped in the Mykolayiv region following heavy snowfall on November 27.

More than 550 settlements are still without electricity in Ukraine amid a cold spell following snowstorms and heavy snowfall over the weekend, despite the fact that technicians working nonstop managed to reconnect several hundred villages and cities, the state-owned Ukrenerho power-grid operator said on November 28.

"Fewer settlements remain disconnected from the power grid -- 559 as of the morning of November 28. Energy workers have been working all night and restored several hundred settlements," Ukrenerho Chairman Volodymyr Kudrytskiy told RFE/RL.

Kudrytskiy said the worst-affected by the bad weather was southern Ukraine, in particular the Odesa, Mykolaiyv, and Kherson regions, where most communities still disconnected are located.

Kyiv and its surroundings, which besides having to deal with the effects of bad weather were also targeted by Russia's largest wave of drone strikes just days before, has managed to repair all three high-voltage power lines that were damaged by the Russians, Kudrytskiy said.

Earlier on November 28, Interior Minister Ihor Klymenko said the spell of cold weather and snow storms that swept through Ukraine and parts of Southeastern Europe had killed 10 Ukrainians in the Odesa, Kharkiv, Mykolayiv regions, and the capital, Kyiv.

A further 23 people, including two children, were injured in incidents caused by the bad weather, Klymenko said. The highest number of deaths, five, and injuries, 15, was recorded in the Odesa region.

The ministry said 411 settlements in 11 Ukrainian regions remained cut off due to blocked roads as of early on November 28.

In occupied Crimea, winds of more than 100 kilometers per hour were forecast for November 28, Russian state news agency TASS said, adding that similarly strong gusts were expected in southern Russia and parts of northwestern Russia.

At least four people lost their lives because of inclement weather in southern Russia and occupied Crimea, regional authorities said.

With reporting by AP

Azerbaijani Independent TV Journalist Detained

Aziz Orucov (file photo)
Aziz Orucov (file photo)

Aziz Orucov, the executive director of Azerbajian's Kanal 13 Internet TV station, was detained late on November 27 and his home and office were searched by the police. Orucov's lawyer, Bahruz Bayramov, told local media that his client was accused of owning, using, or leasing property illegally. Bayramov said Orucov linked his arrest to his journalistic activity. In 2017, Orucov was sentenced to six years in prison over allegedly gaining illegal revenues from grants but denied the charges. He was released on parole a year later. Kanal 13 and other independent media have been accused by state media of anti-government activities. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service, click here.


Russian Shells Hit Border Village, Killing Three, Including 7-Year-Old Girl

Russian shells destroyed at least five private houses in the village of Seredyna-Buda in Ukraine's Sumy region on November 28.
Russian shells destroyed at least five private houses in the village of Seredyna-Buda in Ukraine's Sumy region on November 28.

Russian shelling of a border village in the northeastern Sumy region of Ukraine on November 28 killed three people, including a 7-year-old girl who was in a car with her stepfather when the attack occurred, Ukrainian officials said.

Russian shells destroyed at least five private houses in the village of Seredyna-Buda at around 12:30 p.m. local time, authorities in the Sumy region reported.

Photos published by the local prosecutor's office showed rubble strewn around an area of collapsed houses.

"Two dead women and two wounded men were recovered from the rubble. A man and his 7-year-old stepdaughter were also injured in their car. The girl later died in the hospital," the Prosecutor-General's Office said on social media.

A separate attack in the southern town of Nikopol hit a five-story building, said Serhiy Lysak, governor of the Dnipropetrovsk region.

"A 63-year-old man was killed. Two women, aged 65 and 63, were injured. There may be people under the rubble," Lysak said on Telegram. Two men were wounded.

It was not possible to independently verify the claims.

The prosecutor's office in the Sumy region said an investigation has been launched into the attack there to determine whether it violated the laws and customs of war.

Russia has denied deliberately targeting civilians although more than 10,000 have been killed since the start of Russia's full-scale invasion in February 2022, according to the United Nations.

Earlier on November 28, Russian troops launched a missile strike on the city of Kryviy Rih in the eastern region of Donetsk, said Yevhen Sytnychenko, head of the city's military administration, on Telegram.

Authorities are looking into the consequences of the overnight strike, said Sytnychenko, adding that the region's infrastructure appears to be "working normally."

With reporting by Reuters and AFP

Pakistan's Imran Khan Denied Court-Ordered Public Trial, Lawyer Says

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan (file photo)
Former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan (file photo)

Jailed former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has been denied an open-court trial as ordered by a high court after the government submitted reports citing threats to his life, his lawyer said on November 28. The court hearing the case later said Khan's trial on the charge of leaking state secrets will be held in jail premises but will be open to media and the public, the lawyer said. The Islamabad High Court had ruled last week that holding Khan's trial inside jail premises on security concerns was illegal, and ordered it restarted in an open court. Khan denies the charges.

Moscow More Than Doubles Spending On Surveillance

A video-surveillance camera is seen by a Moscow subway station.
A video-surveillance camera is seen by a Moscow subway station.

Russia's capital will more than double its spending on video-surveillance equipment next year, the budget approved by the Moscow City Duma shows. The amount earmarked for such equipment, is 1.97 billion rubles ($22.2 million) in 2024, according to the budget passed last week, compared to 800 million rubles ($9 million) spent this year. The Moscow Times last month reported that official data showed the number of video cameras connected to facial-recognition systems exceeded half a million throughout Russia. Moscow has the most such systems -- 216 installed throughout the city. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.


Russia Extends U.S. Journalist's Pretrial Detention

Evan Gershkovich appears in court.
Evan Gershkovich appears in court.

A Russian court has extended by two months the pretrial detention of U.S. journalist Evan Gershkovich, a reporter for The Wall Street Journal being held on spying charges that he, his newspaper and Washington call "false."

After holding a session closed to the media on November 28, the Lefortovo district court of Moscow announced on Telegram it had ruled to keep the 32-year-old correspondent in custody at least until January 30.

"Evan has now been unjustly imprisoned for nearly 250 days, and every day is a day too long," The Wall Street Journal said in a statement after the ruling.

"The accusations against him are categorically false and his continued imprisonment is a brazen and outrageous attack on a free press, which is critical for a free society," it added.

Gershkovich was detained in late March in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg.

Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) said at the time of the arrest that it had opened an espionage case against Gershkovich for collecting what it said were state secrets about the military industrial complex. He denies the charges.

If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in prison.

The White House and The Wall Street Journal have said Gershkovich was working and is a properly accredited journalist in Russia.

"We are deeply concerned by the court's decision to extend his detention for another two months. We reiterate our call for Evan's immediate release," the U.S. Embassy in Moscow said in a post on X, formerly Twitter, adding it had representatives inside the courtroom during the session.

Since his arrest, Gershkovich has been held in Moscow's Lefortovo prison, a notorious institution dating back to tsarist times. Seen as a symbol of Soviet repression, Lefortovo is where Russia holds most suspects in espionage cases.

On August 24, the Lefortovo district court extended for three months, until November 30, Gershkovich's detention. On October 10, the court rejected Gershkovich's appeal against the extension.

A U.S. citizen based in Moscow, Gershkovich, 31, had been in Yekaterinburg reporting about the attitude of Russians toward the Kremlin's war against Ukraine and on the Wagner mercenary group.

Lawyer Maria Korchagina told reporters that the defense asked the court to change the preventive measure for Gershkovich from incarceration to house arrest, a ban on certain actions, or 50 million rubles ($561,000) bail. The bail was to be provided by Dow Jones&Co, the owner of The Wall Street Journal.

The U.S. State Department has declared Gershkovich "wrongfully detained," which gives the department grounds to act in the interest of Gershkovich.

Russia has been accused of detaining Americans to use as bargaining chips to exchange for Russians jailed in the United States.

RFE/RL journalist Alsu Kurmasheva, who holds dual U.S. and Russian citizenship, has been detained since last month and charged with failing to register as a "foreign agent," a crime that carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

Kurmasheva, who had traveled to Russia in May for a family emergency, was temporarily detained while waiting for her return flight on June 2 at Kazan airport in Tatarstan, where both of her passports were confiscated.

As she awaited the return of her travel documents, she was detained again and charged on October 18.

More than 30 RFE/RL journalists have been listed as "foreign agents" by the Russian Justice Ministry in their personal capacity.

RFE/RL says the "foreign agent" law amounts to political censorship meant to prevent journalists from performing their professional duties and is challenging the authorities' moves in Russian courts and at the European Court of Human Rights.

With reporting by Current Time

Putin Signs Russia's National Budget For Next Three Years, Bolstering Military Spending

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting in Moscow on November 27.
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting in Moscow on November 27.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on November 27 signed a national budget for the next three years that increases spending by around 25 percent. The budget foresees spending in 2024 of 36.6 trillion rubles ($415 billion) with an expected deficit of 1.595 trillion rubles ($9.5 billion). After the budget was passed by the lower house of parliament, Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin said it was developed specifically to fund the military and to mitigate the impact of international sanctions. Part of the Russian budget is secret as the Kremlin tries to conceal its military plans and sidestep scrutiny of its operations in Ukraine.

Russia Says There Will Be No Lavrov-Blinken Talks At OSCE Meeting This Week

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov move to their seats before a meeting in Geneva on January 21, 2022, almost a month before Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov move to their seats before a meeting in Geneva on January 21, 2022, almost a month before Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

There will be no meeting between U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at a conference in North Macedonia this week, Russian news agency TASS reported on November 27, citing a comment by Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov. Washington has not requested a meeting "and there will be no meeting," Ryabkov was quoted as saying. Lavrov said earlier that he would take part in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) meeting if Bulgaria opened its air space to the Russian delegation. He also said some Western countries had asked to meet him.

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