COVID-19: Central Asia Employs Additional Measures; Armenia Suspends Exports Of Medical Items
The global coronavirus pandemic has infected more than 246,000 people and killed over 10,000 worldwide, causing mass disruptions as governments continue to try to slow the spread of the new respiratory illness.
Here's a roundup of developments in RFE/RL's broadcast countries.
Central Asian nations are moving to take additional measures to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus outbreak.
Uzbekistan's Transport Ministry said on its Telegram channel that international terrestrial and air passenger traffic has been suspended for 40 days as of March 20.
The regulation does not affect cargo transportation.
Also on March 20, state-run media in Uzbekistan reported that President Shavkat Mirziyoev signed a decree to establish an anti-crisis fund of $1 billion to deal with the effects of the coronavirus.
Uzbekistan is Central Asia's most populous nation, with 32 million people.
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In neighboring Kazakhstan, five more coronavirus cases were reported on March 20, including the first two cases outside Nur-Sultan, the capital, and the country's largest city, Almaty.
With three more cases in Almaty and two in the central city of Qaraghandy, the number of coronavirus cases in Kazakhstan is now 49.
As of March 19, Nur-Sultan and Almaty have been sealed off with police, security forces, and military personnel blocking roads and highways inside and around the two cities.
In Kyrgyzstan, a state of emergency was announced in the southern district of Nookat, where another three coronavirus cases were reported on March 20, bringing the total number to six. Earlier, a state of emergency was announced in the Suzak district, where three men tested positive for the coronavirus.
All six persons recently returned to Kyrgyzstan from Saudi Arabia.
In Tajikistan, the government suspended all international flights as of March 20. No coronavirus cases have been reported in Tajikistan so far.
In Turkmenistan, RFE/RL correspondents report that as of March 19, Ashgabat, the capital, has been surrounded with checkpoints to regulate entrances into the city. Only residents of Ashgabat can enter the city now. No coronavirus cases were officially recorded.
According to the correspondents, intercity movement in Turkmenistan has also been restricted.
Armenia has suspended exports of some medical items over the novel coronavirus outbreak.
Deputy Prime Minister Tigran Avinian, who coordinates Armenia's efforts under a 30-day state-of-emergency rule, published a list of products subject to restrictions on March 19 that includes protective gear for medics, equipment for mechanical lung ventilation, COVID-19 test kits, respirators, medical masks, alcohol-based sanitizers, and other items.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian said earlier in the week that his government would allocate at least 150 billion drams (some $300 million) to support the economy and limit the impact of the pandemic.
Armenia's Ministry of Education, Science, Culture, and Sports said on March 20 that all universities in the country will switch to online learning.
The current number of officially recorded coronavirus cases in Armenia is 136.
In neighboring Azerbaijan, President Ilham Aliyev signed a decree on March 19, allocating 1 billion manats ($600 million) to deal with the impact of the pandemic on the oil-rich nation's economy.
Meanwhile, as of March 20, the number of the coronavirus cases in Azerbaijan is 44, with one fatality.
In another South Caucasus nation, Georgia, where as of March 19, only groceries, pharmacies, gas stations, post offices, and banks were allowed to operate, the number of coronavirus cases reached 43.
Prime Minister Imran Khan has asked Pakistani citizens to strictly follow the policy of self-quarantine and social distancing to avoid the spread of the coronavirus.
Addressing journalists in Islamabad on March 20, Khan said he was not in favor of total lockdown of the country, saying it would affect poor people.
Khan warned that if the number of infected people continues to spike, Pakistan may not have the necessary facilities to properly handle the situation.
He also advised against buying food in bulk to avoid shortages.
Pakistan, a country of roughly 220 million people, has confirmed 481 cases of coronavirus so far, most of them linked to travel to neighboring Iran, and three deaths.
Khan also called for the lifting of sanctions on Iran so that Tehran can better deal with the coronavirus crisis.
"It is very unjust they are dealing with such a large outbreak on one side, and on the other they are facing international sanctions," Khan said.
Earlier this week, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted that U.S. sanctions were "impairing" Iran's ability to fight COVID-19.
Russian officials said on March 20 that 54 cases of the coronavirus were confirmed across the country during the previous 24 hours, bringing the total number of COVID-19 cases in Russia to 253.
The coronavirus crisis center in Moscow said the 54 new cases were registered in Moscow and in eight other regions.
Since the pandemic hit Russia, 12 patients have recovered from the virus and have been released from medical institutions.
One coronavirus patient, a 79-year-old woman, has died. But authorities said the cause of her death was not officially registered as COVID-19 because an autopsy revealed she had died of a blood clot.
President Vladimir Putin on March 17 called the coronavirus pandemic "an external threat."
Putin assured Russian citizens that the situation was "generally under control." But many Russians have expressed distrust about official accounts of Russia's outbreak and fear the true situation is much worse than they are being told.
As the number of infections in Russia has risen, officials have temporarily barred entry into the country of foreigners. They also have imposed restrictions on passenger flights and public gatherings.
Russia's national health watchdog on March 19 tightened restrictions on all travelers from abroad with a decree that requires "all individuals arriving to Russia" to be isolated for medical observation.
Meanwhile, activists in Russia's Republic of Tatarstan have sued authorities of the regional capital, Kazan, for ordering them to provide participants to planned protest rallies with surgical masks because of the coronavirus outbreak.
Organizers of the rallies against constitutional amendments that, among other things, would allow President Vladimir Putin to stay in power after his term ends in 2024 told RFE/RL that the city administration approved their request to hold three protests on March 22 in Kazan only on condition they provide participants with face masks and regularly measure the participants' body temperature during the rallies.
Activists Emil Garayev and Vladimir Kolodtsev told RFE/RL that authorities justified the order by citing the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The order was included in the city administration's response to the activists' request for permission to hold the rallies.
The activists filed a lawsuit against the mayor's office, challenging the order, adding that a lawyer from the Open Russia opposition organization, Elza Nisanbekova, is their legal representative.
The activists also say that they received the city administration's answer to their request seven days after they officially filed it, although the law provides for an answer to be delivered in three days.
Ukraine has declared a state of emergency in the capital and two regions as a measure to counteract the spread the coronavirus.
Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said on March 20 that a state of emergency had been declared in the city of Kyiv, the east-central Dnipropetrovsk Oblast, and the western Ivano-Fankivsk Oblast.
"No new restrictions are yet to be expected. The emergency mode is designed to mobilize efforts to combat the spread of COVID-19," he wrote on Telegram.
Earlier, states of emergency were declared in Kyiv and Zhytomyr oblasts in the north-central part of the country and the southwestern region of Chernivtsi.
Under the state of emergency, the heads of the affected regions are expected to implement coordinated measures to curtail the spread of the virus and to submit daily reports to the Health Ministry.
The same day, Ukraine’s parliament reported that it would continue working normally even though lawmaker Serhiy Shakhov of the Dovira (Faith) parliamentary group tested positive for the coronavirus on March 18.
As of March 20, Ukraine has reported 26 coronavirus infections and three fatalities.
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy reported that the first Ukrainian had recovered from COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus.
“A patient from Chernivtsi has again been tested for the coronavirus, and his test was negative for the second time,” Zelenskiy said in a national address. “This means we can officially say that Ukraine now has its first person to have recovered from the coronavirus. He will be discharged from the hospital today.”
With reporting by RFE/RL's Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Tajik, Turkmen, Uzbek, Armenian, Azerbaijani, Georgian, and Tatar-Bashkir services
All Of The Latest News
U.K. Says It's Likely That New Russian Ground Corps Leans Heavily On 'Volunteers'
Britain says Russia has "almost certainly established a major new ground forces formation" that could include "volunteer" battalions to support its Ukrainian invasion.
The emergence of a significantly volunteer-style corps would underscore the challenges that face Russian President Vladimir Putin and his war planners as they try to subdue Russia's much smaller fellow post-Soviet republic.
British Defense Intelligence on August 10 described the new formation as the "3rd Army Corps" (3 AC) and said it was based out of Mulino, in Nizhny Novgorod Oblast east of Moscow.
The assessment came in a tweet of the Defense Ministry's latest intelligence update.
"Russia likely plans to resource a large proportion of 3 AC from newly formed 'volunteer' battalions, which are being raised across the country, and which group together recruits from the same areas," the update said.
The ministry quoted Russian regional officials as saying potential 3 AC recruits were "being offered lucrative cash bonuses once they deploy to Ukraine."
Several hundred thousand Russian troops are participating in or supporting the large-scale invasion of Ukraine that began on February 24, following eight years of Russian support for armed separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Western military analysts have argued that Putin and his military and intelligence services expected a quick victory that has not materialized.
Since failing to capture the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, early in the invasion, Russian commanders have suggested that they are concentrating their forces on territory in the east and south of Ukraine.
"Russian commanders highly likely continue to be faced with the competing operational priorities of reinforcing the Donbas offensive [in eastern Ukraine], and strengthening defenses against anticipated Ukrainian counterattacks in the south," the U.K. Defense Intelligence update said.
U.S. defense officials recently estimated that 70,000-80,000 Russian troops have been killed or wounded in the fighting.
The Ukrainian government has previously said that 100 to 200 of its troops are being killed daily.
Russian Shelling Said To Have Killed 13 Civilians in Dnipropetrovsk, Kilometers From Nuclear Plant
The governor of Ukraine's central Dnipropetrovsk region says 13 civilians were killed by Russian shelling overnight in Nikopol and Marhanets, and 11 more people injured, five of them seriously.
Dnipropetrovsk's State Administration head, Valentyn Reznichenko, said two of the victims died at Marhanets Hospital despite efforts to save them.
Reznichenko described the scene of the attacks, on the Kakhovka Reservoir of the Dnieper River in south-central Ukraine, in a burst of Telegram posts early on August 10.
"We had a terrible night.... We have 11 dead.... All peaceful people who had plans for life today," Reznichenko wrote. He later revised the death toll to 13.
"It is very difficult to get bodies from under the rubble," he added.
The areas that were reportedly struck are about 20 kilometers away and on the opposite side of the Dnieper from the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant that was seized early in the five-month-old invasion and has been shelled several times in the past week, sparking intense international concern.
Marhanets was worst hit, the governor said, with 20 multiple-story buildings damaged including schools, a dormitory, and a cultural center.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on August 8 for international inspectors to be given access to the Zaporizhzhya plant after Ukraine and Russia traded accusations over the recent shelling of the facility.
"Any attack on a nuclear plant is a suicidal thing," Guterres said.
Armenian Readies Delayed Census For October
Armenian authorities say that in October they will conduct the Caucasus nation's first census in more than a decade and only its third since post-Soviet independence, following two postponements due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Questionnaires will be filled out electronically for the first time.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian's government announced that census-taking will take place from October 13 to October 22, with its results to be summarized within a year.
Authorities plan to spend about 1.5 billion drams ($3.7 million) on the census, and the enumeration will include visits to households and other means of data collection.
Armenia took its previous two population censuses in 2001 and 2011. It planned to conduct its third population census in 2020, but had to postpone it first until 2021 and then until 2022 because of the pandemic.
“Electronic questionnaires will be filled in with the use of tablets. This is new for us," Vardan Gevorkian, the head of the population census department of Armenia’s Statistics Committee, told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service.
Answering questions during a population census in Armenia is mandatory under the law.
Citizens will be asked a total of 39 questions, including about their marital status, education, occupation, health, housing conditions, their main sources of income, and so on.
The census will also include questions about the availability of a second citizenship and the place of permanent residence of absent family members.
According to the 2011 population census, Armenia had a population of a little more than 3 million people, down by around 200,000 people from the results of 10 years previously.
Crimea In Spotlight After Airfield Blasts, As Russians Focus On South And Ukrainians On Northeast
Speculation continued over the cause of major explosions at a Russian airfield in Crimea, while reports overnight on August 9-10 suggested Russian troops were concentrating on a southern region and Ukrainians reported minor successes around Kharkiv, in the northeast.
Meanwhile assessments of the fighting from Ukrainian and Western military sources indicate that battle lines have become increasingly entrenched as the five-month-old conflict grinds on, with advances mostly limited on either side.
Speaking in his nightly video address on August 9, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy avoided any specific reference to the dozen or so blasts that reportedly killed one person at the military airport in Crimea.
But he vowed to reverse Moscow's 2014 annexation of the peninsula and to retake the it from Russia by the end of the war.
“This Russian war against Ukraine and against all of free Europe began with Crimea and must end with Crimea — its liberation,” Zelenskiy said. “Today it is impossible to say when this will happen. But we are constantly adding the necessary components to the formula for the liberation of Crimea.”
Crimea has so far escaped heavy fighting, and officials in Moscow have warned Ukraine that any attack there would trigger massive retaliation, including strikes on “decision-making centers” in Kyiv.
The Russian Defense Ministry indicated in a statement that the Saky airfield was not targeted in an attack and that the detonation of aviation ammunition caused the explosions, which reportedly killed one person, without clarifying who or what triggered the blasts.
The Ukrainian Defense Ministry said it "cannot establish the cause of the fire, but once again reminds about the rules of fire safety and the prohibition of smoking in unspecified places," hinting at an accident at the facility.
But The New York Times quoted an unnamed "senior Ukrainian military official with knowledge of the situation" as saying that Ukrainian forces were behind the Crimea explosions.
It said the official declined to specify what type of weapon caused them but said "a device exclusively of Ukrainian manufacture was used."
The source also suggested that the Saky air base, on Crimea's western coast, was routinely used to launch air attacks on Ukrainian forces.
RFE/RL could not independently confirm the Times' reporting.
A Ukrainian military expert told Current Time that Kyiv "theoretically" has weapons that could have reached Saky.
Reports of fighting suggest that Russia is concentrating its main troop activities in the southern Kherson region, while the Ukrainians claimed to be making minor gains in the Kharkiv region.
Russian forces were said to have shelled the northeastern city of Kharkiv overnight on August 9-10, damaging infrastructure but causing no casualties.
Kharkiv Mayor Ihor Terekhov said that at least four explosions had sounded through the night, including one near a building that "has nothing to do with military infrastructure."
The Ukrainian Army's General Staff said late on August 9 that "Russians continue to attempt to attack in different parts of the hundred-kilometer front in eastern Ukraine, from the outskirts of Seversk to the outskirts of Donetsk."
It cited Russian tactical offensives in Yakovlevka, Bakhmut, and Zaitsev, and said Ukrainian defenders had beat back an enemy offensive in Spornoye, near Seversk.
With reporting by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, Current Time, and The New York Times
U.S. Pledges $89 Million To Help Ukraine Clear Land Mines Left By Russian Forces
The United States says it will provide $89 million to Ukraine for removing land mines put in place by Russian forces.
The money will support 100 demining teams and also help provide training and equipment necessary to clear land mines and unexploded ordnance for a year.
"Russia's unlawful and unprovoked further invasion of Ukraine has littered massive swaths of the country with land mines, unexploded ordnance, and improvised explosive devices," the U.S. State Department said on August 9 in a statement.
The “grotesque” use of improvised explosive devices by the Russians in Ukraine was previously only associated with Islamic State in Syria, the statement said.
"These explosive hazards block access to fertile farmland, delay reconstruction efforts, prevent displaced communities from returning to their homes, and continue to kill and maim innocent Ukrainian civilians," it said.
The Russians left a large number of mines and other explosive devices behind when they were forced to withdraw from northern Ukraine after the failure of the initial thrust of the invasion to seize Kyiv.
Since late March Kyiv has defused around 160,000 mines, but some 5 million Ukrainians still live in areas threatened by bombs planted by the Russians, according to the State Department.
With reporting by Reuters and AFP
Two More Cargo Ships Carrying Grain Leave Ukrainian Port Near Odesa
Two more cargo ships carrying grain have left Ukraine, the Infrastructure Ministry announced on August 9.
The ships were to travel across the Black Sea in a convoy headed toward the Bosphorus under a deal with Russia to ease agricultural exports from Ukrainian ports.
The ministry said on Facebook that the two ships departed from Chornomorsk, south of Odesa, carrying a total of 70,000 tons of grain and food. It said that one of the ships, the Rahmi Yaggi, was bound for Turkey with 5,300 tons of products, while the other, the Ocean Lion, was carrying some 65,000 tons of corn to South Korea.
With the departures a total of 12 ships have left three different Ukrainian Black Sea ports under the deal between Russia and Ukraine brokered late last month by the United Nations and Turkey.
Exports from Ukraine -- one of the world's biggest grain producers -- had been halted by a Russian naval blockade and the Ukrainian mining of the ports.
The halt of grain shipments from Ukraine contributed to a spike in global food prices and caused concern about countries in the Middle East and Africa receiving enough grain and other commodities to feed their populations.
The resumption of grain exports is being overseen by a Joint Coordination Center (JCC) in Istanbul where Russian, Ukrainian, Turkish, and UN personnel are working.
The first ship to depart Ukraine under the deal brokered by the UN and Turkey reached its destination, Lebanon, on August 7, but the buyer refused the shipment citing a five-month delay, the Ukrainian Embassy in Lebanon said.
The ship was looking for another consignee to unload its cargo in Lebanon or any other country or port. It was off the coast of Turkey on August 9, according to the website MarineTraffic.
With reporting by AFP
Ukrainian Military Reports Heavy Fighting Along Front Line In Eastern Ukraine
Heavy fighting was reported on August 9 in frontline towns of Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region as Russian troops launched waves of attacks to try to expand their control of the Donbas.
Kyiv said its troops were putting up fierce resistance and largely holding the line.
Russian troops tried to storm in several directions in the Donetsk region, the General Staff of the Ukrainian military said in a battlefield assessment issued on the evening of August 9.
"In the Donetsk direction, the enemy, with the support of aviation, is trying to conduct assault actions in the Bakhmut and Avdiyiv directions,” the General Staff report said.
Russian forces were continuing with the "systematic shelling of positions along the contact line” to constrain the actions of Ukrainian units and prevent them from regrouping, it said.
Shelling was reported in the direction of Kramatorsk and Bakhmut, cities north of Donetsk city, while the General Staff said there was an unsuccessful attempt to storm Russian troops in the Spirniy region of Donetsk, one of the two eastern regions where Russia-backed separatists have held large swaths of territory for the past eight years.
Russian troops tried to involve intelligence groups in several districts north of Donetsk city but retreated after being hit by fire from Ukrainian defenders, the report said.
They were also unsuccessful in carrying out combat reconnaissance in the areas of Pidgorodne north of Dnipro and Bakhmut, the report says.
According to the General Staff, Russian units had "partial success" in the direction of the village of Vershina, but have not been able to improve the tactical position in the directions of Bakhmut and other cities north of Donetsk city.
Russia said its forces had captured a factory for Moscow on the edge of the eastern town of Soledar.
Other Russian-backed forces said they were in the process of "clearing out" the heavily fortified village of Pisky. And Russian media reported that a group of mercenaries from the Vagner Group had dug in near Bakhmut.
It was not possible to verify either side's battlefield accounts.
Russia has been "reinforcing defenses" in southern Ukraine while keeping up attacks on Ukrainian positions in the eastern Donetsk region, but has only managed to advance about 10 kilometers in the past month on its "most successful axis" there, according to U.K. military intelligence.
In its regular assessment earlier on August 9, British Defense Intelligence said Russian forces had not advanced more than three kilometers elsewhere in Donetsk.
Such a pace is "almost certainly significantly less than planned," Defense Intelligence added.
"Despite its continued heavy use of artillery in these areas, Russia has not been able to generate capable combat infantry in sufficient numbers to secure more substantial advances," it said.
British intelligence previously warned on August 8 that Russia was using anti-personnel mines in an effort to defend and hold its defense lines, with resulting risks to both the military and local civilian populations.
In Crimea, Moscow-imposed authorities said explosions hit a military airport near the village of Novofedorivka, killing one person and injuring several others.
The Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement that the detonation of aviation ammunition caused the explosions without clarifying who or what triggered the blasts.
The ministry's statement implied the airfield was not targeted in an attack and said that no one was injured.
Meanwhile, the United States said it would provide $89 million to Ukraine for removing land mines put in place by Russian forces. The money will support 100 demining teams as well as training and equipment necessary to clear landmines and unexploded ordnance for a year.
With reporting by Reuters and AFP
Biden Signs U.S. Ratification Document On NATO Membership For Sweden, Finland
U.S. President Joe Biden has signed ratification documents endorsing bids by Finland and Sweden to join NATO.
Biden said the two Nordic countries’ expected entry into the alliance once they receive the backing of all 30 members will be “a watershed moment” for NATO and “for the greater security and stability not only of Europe and the United States but of the world."
Biden signed the documents -- formally called the instrument of ratification -- in a ceremony at the White House on August 9.
Sweden and Finland applied for NATO membership in response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine. They completed accession talks with the alliance just last month.
The U.S. Senate backed the expansion by a vote of 95-1 last week. Both Democrats and Republicans strongly approved the measure, describing Sweden and Finland as important allies whose modern militaries already worked closely with NATO.
Biden said the two countries would become "strong, reliable highly capable new allies" by making the "sacred commitment" to mutual defense in the transatlantic alliance.
Biden handed the pens he used to sign the documents to Sweden's ambassador to the U.S., Karin Olofsdotter, and Finland's ambassador to the U.S., Mikko Hautala, who witnessed the signing along with members of Congress and Vice President Kamala Harris.
Biden said Finland and Sweden both have "strong democratic institutions, strong militaries, and strong and transparent economies" that would now bolster NATO.
He also praised NATO as "the foundation of American security" and said the United States is committed to it.
Russian President Vladimir Putin's Russia on the other hand "shattered peace and security in Europe" by invading Ukraine. "Putin thought he could break us apart…Instead, he is getting exactly what he did not want."
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement that the United States appreciates the swift action of the NATO allies that have already ratified the accession protocols "and encourages all to complete the process soon."
As of last week seven member countries -- the Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, and Turkey -- had yet to formally agree to the entry of the two countries. Only Turkey has formally raised a challenge, demanding certain concessions from Finland and Sweden to back their memberships.
Blinken also said the commitment among NATO members to Article 5 of the organization's founding treaty remains "ironclad."
Article 5 says NATO members must consider an attack on one member of the alliance as an attack on all, committing each member to defend all others in what NATO calls a spirit of solidarity within the alliance.
"Allies are united in their shared mission to defend the Euro-Atlantic community, deter aggression, project stability, and uphold NATO’s values of democracy, individual liberty, and the rule of law," Blinken said. "We also remain firmly committed to NATO’s Open Door policy and to further strengthening our bilateral defense and security cooperation."
Russia cited Ukraine's ambitions to join NATO as a key reason for launching the war in February. Putin said in May that, while Russia does not see Finland and Sweden's decision to join NATO as a threat, deployment of military infrastructure in the countries may trigger a response from Moscow.
With reporting by AP and Reuters
U.S. Calls For 'Immediate Steps' To Reduce Tensions In Nagorno-Karabakh
Washington is closely following the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh and urges immediate steps to reduce tensions and avoid further escalation, the U.S. mission to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said on August 9.
In a statement delivered to the OSCE Special Permanent Council in Vienna, U.S. mission Chargé d’Affaires Courtney E. Austrian also said that “the United States expresses its deep concern over the reports of intensive fighting around Nagorno-Karabakh, including casualties and the loss of life.”
“We are closely following the situation [in Nagorno-Karabakh] and urge immediate steps to reduce tensions and avoid further escalation,” Austrian said.
“As we have said many times at the Permanent Council, the United States emphasizes the importance of a negotiated, comprehensive, and sustainable settlement of all remaining issues related to or resulting from the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict,” she added.
The diplomat noted that last week U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken personally engaged Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev “to urge de-escalation and direct contacts to reduce tensions.”
“The United States is ready to engage bilaterally, with like-minded partners, and through our role as an OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chair to facilitate dialogue between Armenia and Azerbaijan and help achieve a long-term political settlement to the conflict,” Austrian said.
At least one Azerbaijani and two ethnic Armenian soldiers were killed during the most recent escalation in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone, which took place on August 1-3. The two sides blame each other for the violence.
Azerbaijan and Armenia have been locked in a conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh for years.
The mostly Armenian-populated region, which had the status of an autonomous oblast within Soviet Azerbaijan, declared its independence from Baku amid the collapse of the Soviet Union, triggering a 1992-94 war that claimed an estimated 30,000 lives and displaced hundreds of thousands of people.
The war ended in a Russia-brokered cease-fire, leaving Nagorno-Karabakh’s ethnic Armenians in control of most of the region as well as several adjacent districts of Azerbaijan proper.
Internationally mediated negotiations with the involvement of the OSCE Minsk Group -- co-chaired by the United States, Russia, and France -- failed to result in a resolution before another large-scale war broke out in September 2020.
The 44-day conflict, which killed more than 6,500 people, ended in a Moscow-brokered cease-fire with Azerbaijan regaining control of all districts surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh as well as large swaths of territory inside the former autonomous oblast itself.
Some 2,000 Russian peacekeepers were deployed in the region to oversee the truce.
With reporting by By Heghine Buniatyan
Russian Border Guards Set Up Road Checkpoints In Southern Armenia
Citing increased drug trafficking and other illegal cross-border activities, Russian border guards controlling Armenia’s frontier with Iran have set up checkpoints along several roads in the country’s southern Syunik Province.
Images of the checkpoints along the road linking Meghri to other towns appeared on the Internet earlier this week, raising speculation about possible preparations for the opening of transit routes for Azerbaijan via the strategic mountainous region.
Syunik is the Armenian province through which Azerbaijan expects to get a highway and railroad connection with its western exclave of Nakhichevan under the terms of the Russia-brokered 2020 cease-fire in Nagorno-Karabakh. Under the terms of that arrangement, Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) is to ensure the security of traffic along transport routes in Armenia for Azerbaijan.
Yerevan insists that it should maintain sovereignty over the roads, while Baku is seeking an extraterritorial status for them amounting to a corridor similar to the Russian-controlled Lachin corridor that connects Armenia with Nagorno-Karabakh.
At a government session on August 4, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian again implicitly rejected the corridor logic for the unblocking of regional transport routes, saying that Azerbaijan even today can use all parts of Armenia, not only Syunik, for transit purposes in accordance with Armenian legislation.
“We have been saying all the while that we are ready to provide this connection between the western districts of Azerbaijan and Nakhichevan. We are ready to ensure this connection even today, but it is Azerbaijan that does not use these opportunities offered by us,” Pashinian said.
Pashinian spoke after the latest escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh in which at least two Armenian soldiers and one Azerbaijani soldier were killed in fresh fighting near the Lachin corridor where Russian peacekeepers are deployed under the terms of the 2020 cease-fire.
Amid the escalation, ethnic Armenian authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh announced that several Armenian villages along the current corridor would be evacuated until September when Armenians are to start using an alternative road connecting Armenia and the Armenian-populated region.
Bagrat Zakarian, the mayor of Meghri, told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service on August 9 that the Russian checkpoints recently spotted in Syunik were actually set up several months ago. In total, he said, five such checkpoints were placed at roads leading from Meghri to several towns and villages in Syunik.
After media reports about the installation of new Russian checkpoints near Meghri, the FSB Border Guards Department in Armenia explained that it was done in coordination with Armenian authorities to prevent smuggling, illegal migration, and other offenses.
According to the FSB, a tense situation has been observed recently at the Meghri section of the Armenian-Iranian state border due to increased attempts to smuggle drugs from Iran to Armenia. Violations of the border by representatives of extremist and terrorist groups were also recorded.
Armenian government officials have not yet commented on the presence of Russian checkpoints along the roads in Syunik.
Meghri’s mayor acknowledged that the checkpoints create certain problems for local tourism.
“Tourists have to go through passport control procedures before they can visit several rural areas here,” Zakarian said.
With reporting by Artak Khulian
On Second Anniversary Of Disputed Belarusian Presidential Poll, Tsikhanouskaya Names 'Interim Cabinet'
VILNIUS -- On the second anniversary of the disputed presidential election in Belarus, exiled opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, whom many consider the winner of the August 2020 vote, has named an interim government of the country.
Tsikhanouskaya said on August 9, the final day of a two-day conference of Belarusian democratic movements and groups held in Vilnius, Lithuania, that many opposition figures had demanded that she create "a united interim government" and she said she has now established one.
The interim government consists of Paval Latushka, who is responsible for the transition of power, Alyaksandr Azarau, who will take care of the restoration of law and order, Valer Kavaleuski, who will focus on foreign affairs, and Valer Sakhashchyk who will represent the interim government on issues related to defense and national security, Tsikhanouskaya said. She also called on all Belarusians who want to contribute to the transition of Belarus to a democratic country to join her team.
After the presidential election on August 9, 2020, Belarus was hit by a wave of protests against the results of the poll, which handed victory to authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka despite claims by opposition leaders that the vote was rigged.
Many of Belarus's opposition leaders have been arrested or have been forced to leave the country, while Lukashenka has refused to negotiate with opponents of his regime.
Security officials have cracked down hard on any dissent against Lukashenka's rule, arresting thousands, including dozens of journalists, some of whom are RFE/RL correspondents.
Several protesters have been killed, and some rights organizations say there is credible evidence of torture by security officials against some of those detained.
Belarusian authorities have also shuttered several media outlets, including the Polish-funded Belsat television channel, the popular Nasha Niva newspaper, the Minsk office of RFE/RL, and dozens of regional publications for their independent coverage of Lukashenka's regime.
On August 9, RFE/RL President and CEO Jamie Fly again condemned the imprisonment of RFE/RL correspondents in Belarus who were arrested over their coverage of the disputed poll and its aftermath.
“Two years ago, Alyaksandr Lukashenka stole not only an election, but the futures of our colleagues Ihar Losik, Aleh Hruzdzilovich, and Andrey Kuznechyk,” Fly said in a statement.
“We condemn the Belarusian government’s relentless campaign to criminalize independent media, and demand the immediate release of our journalists imprisoned for reporting the truth.”
The European Union, the United States, and several other countries have refused to acknowledge Lukashenka as the winner of the vote and imposed several rounds of sanctions on him and his regime, citing election fraud and a brutal police crackdown.
Tsikhanouskaya, 39, emerged as the face of the opposition to Lukashenka after facing off against the strongman because her husband, Syarhey Tsikhanouski, had been detained to prevent him from running. He is serving an 18-year prison sentence.
Russia Extradites Belarusian Activist Despite Torture Fears
ST. PETERSBURG, Russia -- Russian authorities have extradited activist Yana Pinchuk back to her native Belarus where she faces charges for protesting the disputed August 2020 presidential election that kept authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka in power despite opposition accusations that the voting was rigged.
Pinchuk supporters said on August 9 that she was extradited to Belarus.
Pinchuk's lawyer, Maria Belyayeva, confirmed the supporters' statement, adding that her client’s exact current whereabouts are unknown.
In former Soviet countries, convicts and suspects are usually transferred in special trains, and the transfer may last for weeks or even months as the transported individuals stop for an uncertain time in detention centers in towns and cities they pass.
Last month, a court in Russia's second largest city, St. Petersburg, upheld the decision to extradite Pinchuk even after the 25-year-old activist said she may face torture if returned to custody in Belarus.
Pinchuk is wanted in Belarus on several charges, including inciting national hatred, calls for activities that damaged national security, and slander. If convicted, she faces up to 20 years in prison.
Police in St. Petersburg arrested Pinchuk on November 1 last year at the request of Belarus.
Belarusian authorities accuse Pinchuk of administering the Vitsebsk97% Telegram channel, which had been critical of Lukashenka's regime and has been labeled as extremist in Belarus.
Pinchuk has rejected all of the charges saying she immediately closed the Telegram channel after it was officially designated as extremist.
She is one of many Belarusians who have faced multiple charges linked to the mass protests following Lukashenka's contested reelection.
Thousands have been arrested and much of the opposition leadership has been jailed or forced into exile. Several protesters have been killed and there have also been credible reports of torture during a widening security crackdown.
Belarusian authorities have also shut down several nongovernmental organizations and independent media outlets.
The United States, the European Union, and several other countries have refused to acknowledge Lukashenka as the winner of the vote and imposed several rounds of sanctions on him and his regime, citing election fraud and the crackdown.
In December, the Moscow-based Memorial Human Rights Center recognized Pinchuk as a political prisoner and demanded her immediate release.
EU Envisions 'Very Quick' Responses On 'Final Text' Of Iran Nuclear Deal
The European Union says that the United States and Iran are likely to respond "very quickly" to a "final text" that has emerged to revive a crippled nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers.
EU foreign policy chief and negotiations coordinator Josep Borrell said on August 8 that the 25-page draft had been delivered to the capitals involved for decisions on acceptance.
"We have a final text. So it's the moment for a decision: yes or no. And we expect all participants to take this decision very quickly," Peter Stano, Borrell's spokesman, told reporters on August 9.
"There is no more space for negotiations," Stano said.
A State Department spokesman has said that the United States is ready to "quickly conclude a deal" to revive the 2015 agreement based on the EU proposals.
The spokesman said Washington will wait to see if Tehran's "actions match their words" following repeated signals that Iranian officials might endorse the deal.
Iran has said it is considering the draft amid "more comprehensive discussions in Tehran."
Enrique Mora, the European Union’s top negotiator, has said he's “absolutely” optimistic about the talks’ progress.
Iran struck the Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action (JCPOA) in 2015 with the United States, France, Germany, Britain, Russia, and China. The deal saw Iran agree to limit its enrichment of uranium under the watch of UN inspectors in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.
Washington unilaterally withdrew from the nuclear pact under then-President Donald Trump in 2018. Iran reacted by gradually backtracking on its obligations under the deal, such as uranium enrichment.
Negotiators from Iran, Russia, and the EU -- as well as the United States, indirectly -- resumed talks over Tehran’s nuclear deal on August 4 after a monthslong standstill in negotiations.
Based on reporting by Reuters
Explosions Hit Military Airport In Ukraine's Russia-Annexed Crimea, Killing One Person
Moscow-imposed authorities in Ukraine's Crimea that was illegally annexed by Russia say explosions hit a military airport near the village of Novofedorivka, killing one person.
The Russian-appointed head of Crimea, Sergei Aksyonov, wrote on Telegram on August 9 that one person was killed and expressed condolences to the victim's relatives. He did not identify the victim.
Meanwhile, local health officials said that five people, including one child, were injured.
The Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement earlier that the detonation of aviation ammunition caused the explosions, without clarifying who or what triggered the blast.
The ministry's statement implied that the airfield was not targeted in an attack and said that no one was injured.
The primary cause appeared to be a “violation of fire safety requirements,” the ministry said, according to an unidentified ministry source quoted by TASS. The ministry said no warplanes were damaged.
The Ukrainian Defense Ministry said it did not know what caused the explosions but suggested that Russia may use the incident as propaganda.
An adviser to President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Ukraine was not taking responsibility for the explosions.
Mykhaylo Podolyak, asked by the Dozhd online television channel whether Kyiv was taking responsibility, replied: "Of course not. What do we have to do with this?"
Zelenskiy responded to the attack by vowing to retake Crimea from Russia.
“This Russian war against Ukraine and against all of free Europe began with Crimea and must end with Crimea -- its liberation,” Zelenskiy said in his nightly video address. “Today it is impossible to say when this will happen. But we are constantly adding the necessary components to the formula for the liberation of Crimea.”
Last week, five Russian Navy staff members were wounded by an explosion after a presumed drone flew into the courtyard of Russia's Black Sea fleet in the Crimean port city of Sevastopol.
Russia illegally annexed Crimea in 2014 and launched its ongoing unprovoked invasion of Ukraine on February 24.
Dozens Of Iranian Activists Condemn Islamic Republic's Oppression Of Baha'i Community
A group of 70 political and civil activists, university professors, artists, and human rights activists from Ian and abroad have condemned in a joint statement the Islamic Republic's treatment of the Baha'i community following a spike in restrictions and pressure on its members.
"The arbitrary suppression and arrest of Baha'i citizens in various cities has intensified in recent days as more Baha'i students have been deprived of education," the signatories said.
"These crimes are part of the chain of tyranny and the attempt to destroy and eliminate religious minorities and dissidents."
Baha'is -- who number some 300,000 in Iran and have an estimated 5 million followers worldwide -- say they face systematic persecution in Iran, where their faith is not officially recognized in the constitution.
Iranian security forces have arrested dozens of Baha'i followers in recent weeks and raided the homes of hundreds of others.
Among the signatories of the statement are Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi and Iranian-American movie star Shohreh Aghdashloo.
Since the Islamic Republic of Iran was established in 1979, hundreds of Baha'is have been arrested and jailed for their beliefs. At least 200 have been executed or were arrested and never heard from again.
Thousands more have been banned from receiving higher education or had their property confiscated, while vandals often desecrate Baha'i cemeteries.
The statement said the ruling autocratic ideology of Iran is the result of religious apartheid, which has deprived millions of Baha'is of their civil rights because of their religious beliefs.
Iran' Ministry of Intelligence accused a number of Baha'is who were arrested recently that they are "directly connected with the Zionist center known as Bayt al-Adl located in occupied Palestine."
Bayt al-Adl (The Universal House of Justice), located in Haifa, is the nine-member supreme ruling body of the Baha'i Faith.
Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has on several occasions called the Baha'i faith a cult and issued a religious fatwa in 2018 forbidding contact, including business dealings, with followers of the faith.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
Russia Says Ukraine Suspended Oil Flows To Europe Due To Sanctions
Ukraine has suspended Russian oil flows to three European nations as of August 4 because the transit payment cannot be processed due to sanctions, Russia's pipeline monopoly company said.
Transneft said on August 9 that the situation had affected deliveries to the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia.
According to the company, it made payments for the August oil transit to Ukraine's pipeline operator Ukrtransnafta on July 22, but the payment did not go through and, therefore, the money bounced back.
Gazprombank, which handled the payment, said the money was returned because of European Union restrictions, adding that oil deliveries to Poland and Germany via Belarus were under way "as usual."
Russia has already reduced gas pipeline flows to many EU member-states, citing problems with turbine maintenance on the Nord Stream 1 pipeline as well as sanctions against some buyers whom Moscow has officially recognized as "unfriendly."
Since the Kremlin launched its ongoing unprovoked invasion of Ukraine on February 24, the West has imposed unprecedented sanctions on Russia, cutting the country off from international financial institutions.
The European Union has been looking for ways to reduce its dependence on Russian energy resources and has agreed to ban more than two-thirds of Russian oil imports.
The United States banned Russian oil and gas days after Russia launched its wide-scale aggression against Ukraine.
Based on Reporting by Interfax, TASS, Reuters, and AFP
Kremlin Lashes Out At European Leaders For Supporting Visa Ban For All Russians
The Kremlin has lashed out at European critics including leaders of EU states and besieged Ukraine over their calls for all Russians to be banned from the West until their country ends its invasion of Ukraine along with the underlying mindset.
The sharp response follows encouragement by the Finnish and Estonian prime ministers for a ban on visas to Russians and news that the French military has banned Russian nationals from a medieval fortress and touristic site outside Paris that houses military archives.
Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine has killed tens of thousands of troops and civilians since it was launched in late February, sparked unprecedented financial and other sanctions, flight and airspace bans, and contributed to a global food crisis.
Some EU countries, including Latvia, have already stopped issuing visas to Russians, citing the war.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, whose defiant leadership has included nightly video messages imploring international assistance, this week urged the West to ban all Russians to discourage Moscow from trying to annex more territory.
Zelenskiy told The Washington Post that "whichever kind of Russian" should be made to "go to Russia."
But Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, said on August 9 that "the irrationality of thinking" behind calls for such bans "is off the charts."
Amid increasing tensions with the West, poisonings abroad allegedly ordered by senior Russian officials, and the creep of Russian troops and proxy fighters from Georgia to Ukraine to Syria and central Africa, Putin and other Russian officials have complained of growing "Russophobia."
Peskov said the fresh calls to ban Russians "can only be viewed extremely negatively" and warned that "any attempt to isolate Russians or Russia is a process that has no prospects."
EU members and Russia neighbors Finland and Estonia have hinted they're willing to try a visa ban.
Finland Prime Minister Sanna Marin told Finnish broadcaster YLE on August 8 that "it is not right that while Russia is waging an aggressive, brutal war of aggression in Europe, Russians can live a normal life, travel in Europe, be tourists."
Estonia's Prime Minister Kaja Kallas followed with a call for countries to "stop issuing tourist visas to Russians."
"Visiting #Europe is a privilege, not a human right," Kallas tweeted. "Air travel from RU is shut down. It means while Schengen countries issue visas, neighbors to Russia carry the burden (FI, EE, LV – sole access points). Time to end tourism from Russia now."
Barring all Russians would also impact the tens of thousands of people who have left that country out of protest or disagreement with the actions of Putin and his administration.
"They'll understand then," the Ukrainian president told The Washington Post. "They'll say, 'This [war] has nothing to do with us. The whole population can't be held responsible, can it?' It can. The population picked this government and they're not fighting it, not arguing with it, not shouting at it."
"Don't you want this isolation?" Zelensky added, speaking as if he were addressing Russians directly. "You're telling the whole world that it must live by your rules. Then go and live there. This is the only way to influence Putin."
The French military has imposed a ban on Russians visiting the storied Chateau de Vincennes, once the residence of French kings and a venue for tours and concerts as well as part of the French armed forces' historical archives.
AFP quoted two Russian women denied entry by French guards after showing their documents and being told they couldn't get in "because you're Russian."
Putin has spent the decades since taking office in 1999 consolidating and otherwise tightening the country's grip on media, including strictures in the past decade like laws on "foreign agents" and "undesirable" designations to punish activists, journalists, and any other perceived enemies.
Since the full-scale war in Ukraine was launched, criminal procedures and other punishments have been imposed for criticism of the Russian military or even just describing the conflict as a war, rather than the Kremlin's preferred term, a "special military operation."
With reporting by AFP and AP
Putin, Israeli Counterpart Discuss Jewish Agency Case In Call
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Israeli President Isaac Herzog discussed the strained relations between their countries and the situation of the Jewish Agency in Russia in a phone call on August 9.
The Russian Justice Ministry has moved to disband the agency's Russian arm, which promotes emigration to Israel, despite protests from Israel.
Russia accuses the organization of violating the country's laws and, according to media reports, unlawfully collecting personal data from Russian citizens.
Some Israelis have seen this as retribution for Israel's criticism of Russia's military campaign in Ukraine.
The case against the Jewish Agency is due to be heard on August 19.
The discussion was "open and honest," Herzog's office said, adding that Herzog spoke at length about the activities of the agency.
Herzog was chairman of the Jewish Agency before he took over as president.
"The two presidents emphasized the important areas of cooperation between Israel and Russia, and agreed to stay in touch," Herzog's office announced.
Putin, he said, had stressed his personal commitment to remembrance of the Holocaust and the fight against anti-Semitism.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed that the phone call also touched upon the Jewish Agency. Both sides had agreed that "contacts on this will continue along the responsible authorities of both countries," he said.
Peskov rejected reports that the dissolution of the organization was intended to prevent the departure of bright minds from Russia.
Based on reporting by dpa and Reuters
Bulgarian Court Orders Extradition Of Russian Protester Over Tax-Evasion Charge
A Bulgarian court has ordered the extradition of a Russian man accused at home of large-scale tax evasion in a case complicated by the suspect's burning of his Russian passport during an antiwar protest in the Black Sea resort of Varna.
The suspect, 46-year-old Aleksei Alchin, has argued that Russian authorities are persecuting him for his political leanings and criticism of Russia's war on Ukraine.
Alchin says he has been living in Bulgaria for five years.
He was declared a fugitive by Russian prosecutors in April 2018 following an investigation into alleged tax evasion.
He took part in a protest in Bulgaria two days after the large-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine began on February 24 in which he demonstratively burned his Russian passport.
Months later, Bulgarian authorities were notified by Russian officials that Alchin was the target of an international manhunt and a formal extradition request followed.
He was detained by Bulgarian authorities last week and his extradition case was heard on August 8 by a district court in Varna, in eastern Bulgaria.
Alchin's wife, friends, and others protested outside the court for his release.
But the court ruled that the tax-evasion charges against him were of a sufficient magnitude to warrant his extradition.
Through its press service, the Bulgarian court also cited an assurance from a Russian deputy prosecutor-general, Pyotr Gorodov, that Alchin won't be tortured or otherwise abused and that he will be allowed counsel.
Russia's heavily prosecutor-friendly legal system leads to convictions in around 99 percent of all cases, and allegations are widespread of detainee and inmate abuse.
The Varna court also cited a guarantee by Russian prosecutors that Alchin will only be investigated for tax evasion and that, if he is convicted, he will be allowed to leave Russia after serving any possible sentence.
Alchin can appeal the first-instance ruling within seven days.
It is unclear what sort of leverage officials in Bulgaria -- a NATO and EU member whose relations with Moscow have markedly worsened since Russia's military invaded Ukraine -- might have if Russian authorities abandon their pledges concerning Alchin.
Alchin requested political asylum in Bulgaria only after being detained in connection with the extradition request, which prosecutors said hurt his chances of success.
Russian authorities have sought him internationally since February 2020.
Alchin has described past employment in Russia that includes work for a State Duma committee that he says he left "due to the high level of corruption in the system."
He said he fled Russia after being warned that his metals company had attracted interest from elites and he might be accused of tax crimes.
He also said he'd never received any subpoenas, as lawyers he approached before fleeing came under "pressure" and refused to represent his interests.
Belarus Air Force Starts Exercises At Home And At Russian Base
Belarus' air force is holding exercises on its territory and at a military training base in Russia, the Belarusian Defense Ministry said on August 9.
According to the ministry, the drills involve live fire and are to be held in two phases: the first from August 9 to August 11 in Belarus, while the second one on August 22-25 will take place at Russia's Ashuluk military training base located in Russia's southwest near the border with Kazakhstan.
Belarus' authoritarian ruler, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, has openly supported Russia's ongoing unprovoked invasion of Ukraine that was launched in late February.
Although Belarusian troops have not taken part in the invasion, Belarusian authorities allowed Russia's military to use the country's territory to enter Ukraine and shell Ukrainian towns and cities from Belarus.
Based on reporting by Interfax, TASS, and Reuters
Russia-Appointed Deputy Mayor Of Ukrainian Town Detained On Criminal Charges
The Moscow-appointed deputy mayor of the occupied Ukrainian city of Nova Kakhovka, Vitaliy Efymenko, has been detained on criminal charges.
Russia-imposed authorities in the city in Ukraine's southeastern region of Kherson said on August 8 that they confiscated illegal weapons and tens of millions of rubles from Efymenko, who is also a local businessman.
According to the so-called Temporary Directorate of the Russian Interior Ministry in the region, Efymenko is suspected of being a member of a gang that conducted at least two attacks against two local businessmen in recent weeks.
After Russia occupied the Kherson region in the first days of its ongoing unprovoked invasion of Ukraine launched in late February, he was appointed by occupying forces as Nova Kakhovka's first deputy mayor.
Last week, Efymenko survived an apparent car-bomb assassination attempt.
Ukrainian media reports cited sources at the time as saying that Efymenko was a criminal kingpin.
On August 6, another deputy mayor of Nova Kakhovka, Vitaliy Hura, was shot dead by an unidentified assailant while leaving his home.
On August 5, Russian news agencies reported that the Russia-appointed governor of the Kherson region, Volodymyr Saldo, had been hospitalized. Some reports said then that he may have been poisoned.
On June 24, a car bomb in Kherson killed the Russia-appointed head of the directorate for youth policies at the Kherson region's administration, Dmytro Savluchenko.
With reporting by Kommersant
Disinformation Trackers Say Myth-Spreading Sites Doubled After Russian Invasion Began
The number of websites spreading Russia-Ukraine disinformation has more than doubled since Russia's unprovoked invasion was launched in late February, says a New York-based group that rates trustworthiness across media.
NewsGuard said on August 9 that its experts have identified 250 websites publishing disinformation related to those two combatant states, versus 116 in March.
It said digital platforms like Google, Twitter, Facebook, and TikTok have imposed "temporary measures in some countries against well-known Russian propaganda outlets such as RT and Sputnik News, after the European Commission prohibited distribution or advertising support for these Kremlin-funded and operated propaganda sites."
"However," it added, "the large number of other sites identified by NewsGuard continue to spread myths freely on the Internet."
It cited 54 leading myths being spread by those outlets about the five-month-old conflict or its roots in eight years of fighting between Ukraine and Russia-backed separatists.
They include "claims that the U.S. operates labs in Ukraine to develop bioweapons, that Russian troops were not responsible for the massacre of civilians in Bucha in March, and that Russian did not attack the railway station in Kramatorsk in eastern Ukraine," the group said.
Many of the sites avoid disclosing ownership or control but claim -- without evidence -- to be independent think tanks or other nonprofits.
European Commission Vice President Vera Jourova recently described disinformation as "a growing problem in the EU, and we really have to take stronger measures."
NewsGuard launched a Russia-Ukraine Disinformation Tracking Center in March, days after tens of thousands of Russian troops rolled across Ukraine's border.
With reporting by Reuters
Russia Launches Iranian Satellite Into Orbit
A Russian rocket successfully launched an Iranian satellite into space on August 9 amid accusations that Moscow might use it to improve its surveillance of military targets in Ukraine.
The remote sensing satellite, called Khayyam, was launched by a Russian Soyuz rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in southern Kazakhstan, at 08:52 a.m. Moscow time on August 9, according to a video broadcast by Russia's space agency on YouTube.
The Washington Post reported last week that U.S. officials are worried by the incipient space cooperation between Russia and Iran and fear the satellite will not only help Russia in Ukraine but also provide Iran "unprecedented capabilities" to monitor potential military targets in Israel and the Middle East.
Iran says the satellite is designed for scientific research including radiation and environmental monitoring for agricultural purposes and no other country will have access to information it gathers.
Russia has sought to deepen its ties with Iran since it invaded Ukraine in February.
Last month, Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Iran in his first international trip outside the former Soviet Union since the war.
Based on reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters
Rights Group Says 'Bogus' New Charge Targets Russian Dissident Kara-Murza
Human Rights Watch (HRW) says Russia's "spurious" new charge against opposition politician Vladimir Kara-Murza is "a thinly veiled threat to the Russian public not to engage in dissent," as authorities there accelerate their long-running clampdown amid the ongoing war in Ukraine.
Kara-Murza's lawyer announced last week that his client had been charged with carrying out activities of an "undesirable" organization.
HRW demanded in an August 8 statement that Russian officials drop all charges against Kara-Murza and repeal the "abusive" law that underpins the latest accusation.
"It is now a pattern for the Kremlin to throw its critics behind bars on spurious charges and then continue to add new bogus charges against them to keep them there," HRW quoted its Europe and Central Asia director, Hugh Williamson, as saying. "The new charge against Kara-Murza is a blatant attempt to instill more fear among Russia’s civil society and deter it from mobilizing against the Kremlin and its war against Ukraine."
A longtime Kremlin-critic who has survived at least two apparent poisonings, Kara-Murza was already in jail after he was arrested in April for allegedly spreading false information about the Russian Army's activities in Ukraine.
On August 9, a Moscow court extended his detention until October 12, Interfax reported quoting the court's press service, on a charge of deliberately disseminating false information in a speech on March 15 to Arizona lawmakers.
According to his lawyer Vadim Prokhorov, Kara-Murza is now charged with holding a Moscow conference in October to support Russian political prisoners that was sponsored by the foreign-based Free Russia Foundation. That group has been recognized as "undesirable" in the country.
The new charge carries a maximum penalty of four years in prison, according to HRW.
"The fake charges against Kara-Murza are purely politically motivated, and he should be immediately and unconditionally released, as should the many other Russians prosecuted on outrageous 'fake news,' 'undesirable,' and similar charges," Williamson said. "The Russian authorities need to stop misusing and manipulating the justice system in their desperate efforts to stomp out dissent and opposition."
The "undesirable organization" law, adopted in 2015, was part of a series of regulations pushed by the Kremlin that squeezed many nonprofit and nongovernmental organizations that received funding from foreign sources -- mainly from Europe and the United States.
Russian lawmakers have since dramatically widened the scope of the law, including to bar Russian nationals and organizations anywhere in the world from taking part in activities of such "undesirable" groups.
A close associate of slain opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, Kara-Murza fell deathly ill on two separate occasions in Moscow -- in 2015 and 2017-- with symptoms consistent with poisoning.
Tissue samples smuggled out of Russia by his relatives were turned over to the FBI, which investigated his case as one of "intentional poisoning."
U.K. Says Russian Advances 'Less Than Planned' As Kyiv Cites Invaders' Ongoing Offensive
Russia has been "reinforcing defenses" in southern Ukraine while keeping up attacks on Ukrainian positions in the eastern Donetsk region but has only managed to advance about 10 kilometers in the past month on its "most successful axis" there, according to U.K. military intelligence.
In its latest regular assessment, on August 9, British Defense Intelligence said Russian forces had not advanced more than three kilometers elsewhere in Donetsk, one of the two eastern regions where Russia-backed separatists have held large swaths of territory for the past eight years.
Such a pace is "almost certainly significantly less than planned," the intelligence added.
"Despite its continued heavy use of artillery in these areas, Russia has not been able to generate capable combat infantry in sufficient numbers to secure more substantial advances," it said.
British intelligence previously warned on August 8 that Russia was using anti-personnel mines in an effort to defend and hold its defense lines, with resulting risks to both the military and local civilian populations.
The Ukrainian Army's General Staff said early on August 9 that a Russian offensive is continuing toward the hub cities of Bakhmut and Avdiyivka in the eastern Donetsk region as the enemy tries to inflict "maximum losses" on Ukrainian forces.
It said the Russian Air Force was bombarding military facilities in the direction of Donetsk in support of artillery and other ground operations aimed at dislodging Ukrainian units from the front lines.
Battlefield reports from either side in the rapidly developing conflict are difficult to confirm.
But Kyiv's military planners said their forces had repelled reconnaissance and offensive operations in a handful of settlements around Ivano-Daryivka, Bakhmut, and Zaitseve.
They said Russian forces had withdrawn after unsuccessful pushes around Avdiyivka and Krasnohorivka.
WATCH: German-Built Howitzers Pound Russian Targets In Ukraine
Kyiv said two Russian warships armed with Kalibr cruise missiles are poised for battle off Ukraine's Black Sea coast.
Meanwhile, international concern persisted over the weekend shelling of the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant over potential for disaster at Europe's largest atomic facility.
The head of the Ukrainian nuclear power company Enerhoatom has urged that Zaporizhzhya be declared a military-free zone to avoid nuclear catastrophe.
Zaporizhzhya was seized early in the five-month-old invasion but continues to be manned by Ukrainian staff.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that "any attack to a nuclear plant is a suicidal thing" in calling on August 8 for international inspectors to be given access to Zaporizhzhya.
The Russian-installed head of the local administration was quoted by Interfax as saying on August 8 that the facility was operating "in normal mode."
Washington and the World Bank announced more support for Ukraine on the heels of U.S. President Joe Biden's committing this week to the single largest package of security assistance under his so-called drawdown authority with $1 billion in aid that includes long-range weapons and medical transport vehicles.
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) said on August 8 that Washington would provide $4.5 billion more in economic funding, nearly doubling the budgetary support so far since Russia's invasion began in February.
The World Bank said it will implement the U.S. grant, which it said is aimed at urgent needs including health-care, pensions, and social payments.
Also, Reuters cited a document in which Russia, Ukraine, Turkey, and the United Nations pledged to ensure a 10-nautical-mile buffer zone for ships exporting Ukrainian grain through the Black Sea.
The long-awaited procedures are part of intense international efforts to unblock millions of tons of grain stuck at Ukrainian ports since the invasion began.
With reporting by Reuters
Ukrainian Forces Use Modified Soviet-Era Rocket Systems In Kharkiv Region2
German-Built Howitzers Pound Russian Targets In Ukraine3
Explosions Hit Military Airport In Ukraine's Russia-Annexed Crimea, Killing One Person4
Ukrainian Tanks, Artillery Defy Russian Forces Near Bakhmut5
Ukraine Says Positions In East Shelled To Prevent Troop Transfers, Plot To Kill Top Officials Foiled6
Ukraine Unleashes A 'Hurricane' Of Rockets Against Russian Forces7
Ukrainian Farmer Says Russian Occupiers Barbecued 100 Cows And Stole His Equipment8
Made In Ukraine: Anti-Tank Missiles Take On Russian Armored Units9
How Viktor Orban Is Using Sports To Expand Hungary's Influence Abroad10
Bulgaria's 'Graffiti Capital'