COVID-19: Armenian, Moldovan, Romanian Police Enforce National Lockdowns
The global death toll from the coronavirus has passed 20,000 with more than 450,000 infections confirmed, 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.
The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Romania has surpassed 900, including 13 deaths, as the authorities deployed army troops on the streets to enforce a "total quarantine."
Romania has been under a state of emergency since March 16.
But the number of coronavirus cases has continued to grow as many people ignored recommendations to stay indoors, prompting President Klaus Iohannis to strengthen the restrictions on March 24 by declaring "a total quarantine."
The authorities on March 25 reported 144 more infections, bringing the total to 907 out of some 14,000 people tested. The death toll of 13 on March 25 was an increase from eight during the previous 24 hours.
Armored vehicles manned by soldiers in combat gear and face masks were patrolling downtown Bucharest on March 25 after Iohannis ordered the army to help police enforce the lockdown.
Neighboring Moldova on March 25 reported 16 more coronavirus cases during the previous 24 hours, bringing the total number of infections there to 125.
"A total of 1,011 coronavirus tests have been carried out since March 7, and 125 of them were positive," Health, Labor, and Social Protection Minister Viorica Dumbraveanu said. "One person has died."
Armored vehicles were seen patrolling the streets of Moldova's capital, Chisinau, after Prime Minister Ion Chicu on March 24 asked the military to help enforce restrictions.
"We have decided to resort to the army's help," Chicu said. "We have decided to restrict the people's access to public areas, such as parks, public gardens, and other places. This is a hard decision, but it is necessary to stop the virus from spreading."
According to a tally published on March 25 by Johns Hopkins University, there have been more than 436,150 confirmed cases of coronavirus worldwide -- including about 19,650 deaths.
Police in Armenia have begun enforcing a nationwide lockdown to slow the spread of coronavirus by ensuring people are following new restrictions to freedom of movement.
The toughened measures, which will remain in force for at least one week, come as the number of coronavirus cases in the South Caucasus country increased to 265 on March 25.
Health authorities say 18 people have recovered from the respiratory illness. No deaths have been reported.
People leaving their homes in the country of nearly 3 million people must carry identity credentials and self-completed forms that explain their reason for being outdoors.
The information must include destination, duration outside, and the time the person left as well as the estimated time when he or she plans to return home.
Citizens are allowed to travel to and from work if they are employed in a field whose activities have not been not suspended by the government.
They are also permitted to leave their homes to exercise or to buy food or medicine.
Only two people, including the driver, can be inside a vehicle at the same time.
The Armenian government on March 16 declared a one-month state of emergency to contain the outbreak.
The country has closed its border with Georgia and Iran -- one of the hardest-hit countries in the world by the virus.
And citizens of a number of countries, including the United States and EU member states, are not allowed entry to Armenia.
Ukraine's government has declared a state of emergency to cope with the spread of the coronavirus as it seeks to unlock billions of dollars from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
The 30-day measure was approved on March 25 at a cabinet meeting broadcast live on television.
At the meeting, Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said the new measures would not hinder individual constitutional rights and only “consolidate efforts to overcome the threat” of the coronavirus.
He also proposed a border closure plan to ban all passenger traffic in and out of the country that would apply to Ukrainian nationals as well.
"This is an urgent need, because, in recent weeks, we have seen that the only source of coronavirus penetration into Ukraine has been the flow of citizens from abroad, and this flow continues," Shmyhal said.
Previously, only Kyiv and some regions of Ukraine had declared states of emergency.
The cabinet on March 25 also extended quarantine measures -- basically stay-at-home orders -- until at least April 24. The order, in place since March 12, originally was to be in effect through April 3.
Ukraine confirmed 32 new cases on March 25, bringing the nationwide total to 145 in 13 regions and Kyiv, according to the Center for Public Health.
Four lawmakers are among those who have tested positive.
Five deaths have been attributed to COVID-19. The patients' ages ranged from 33 to 71 years.
Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said that after March 27 no more flights will be allowed to land in or depart from the country, while calling on Ukrainians to come home or risk remaining stranded indefinitely.
“There are two days. Gather yourselves and come home, my dear fellows. And after that, you will remain sitting somewhere in Sri Lanka in a luxurious hut. Well, sit there more, since you decided to do so. Because two weeks have passed from the moment when we got into this situation,” Avakov said.
He added that Ukrainians will still be able to enter Ukraine by foot or in a vehicle.
Parliament, meanwhile, has pushed back a scheduled extraordinary session from March 26 to March 28 to address the coronavirus outbreak and pass bills required by the IMF.
The legislation would enable sessions and committee meetings via video conferencing for at least two months. It also includes measures to cope with the coronavirus, improve social and economic conditions, and amend the budget.
Among the laws required to unlock a $5.5 billion IMF loan is a change of bank regulations to prevent tycoons from regaining control of financial institutions which were nationalized during a period of insolvency from 2014 to 2016.
Kyiv is reportedly seeking a second package worth about $5 billion related to the negative economic effects of the coronavirus outbreak.
Meanwhile, police are investigating an unnamed private medical clinic in Kyiv for possible violations of sanitation rules related to the prevention of infectious diseases and widespread poisoning, local media reported.
Investigators are following up on reports that the clinic may have failed to inform the Health Ministry’s Center for Public Health regarding positive test results for coronavirus.
The government's coronavirus task force has admitted to Russia's first two deaths from the respiratory illness known as COVID-19. Two patients, aged 88 and 73, died on March 25.
The task force has not included the earlier deaths of two other coronavirus patients in Russia as part of its tally, saying they had died of other causes.
Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin earlier on March 25 ordered provincial governors to move more quickly to provide hospital beds for coronavirus patients.
The government had earlier reported 658 infections, up from 495 a day before, a rise Deputy Prime Minister Tatiana Golikova said was almost three times higher than the previous average of confirmed cases.
"There are currently 658 cases in 55 regions of Russia. Twenty-nine people have recovered. A total of 112,000 people are being monitored in self-isolation," Golikova told a meeting of the country's federal coronavirus operative response group that is coordinating the fight against the coronavirus.
The same number appeared on the government's official website dedicated to the coronavirus outbreak in Russia.
Mishustin's warning to regional governors came a day after the mayor of Moscow told Putin that the Russian regions weren't acting energetically enough to prepare for the outbreak.
Sergei Sobyanin warned that the low number of cases in Russia compared to Europe could be explained by insufficient screening and called for quicker action to brace for the worst. He has ordered the closure of all eateries, shopping malls, and parks from March 28 to April 5.
As of March 25, Russian authorities had not reported any coronavirus deaths. A 79-year-old woman who was diagnosed with COVID-19 died last week at a Moscow infectious disease hospital. At first, Moscow health authorities said the death was virus related, but officials quickly changed the cause of death to a blood clot, not the coronavirus.
Pakistan has announced it is halting all domestic passenger flights to stop the spread of the coronavirus after reporting 1,000 cases in the country.
The domestic flight ban will begin on March 26, civil aviation spokesman Abdul Sattar Khokhar said.
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Islamabad had previously cut train service and international flights.
Most of those who initially tested positive were Pakistani pilgrims returning from neighboring Iran, which has seen the Mideast's worst outbreak of the coronavirus.
However, officials now say the virus is being reported in people who had no travel history.
As of March 25, 1,000 people have tested positive for the virus in Pakistan, with seven deaths and 19 full recoveries, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University in the United States.
Iran on March 25 announced 143 new deaths from the coronavirus, raising the official death toll to 2,077 in one of the world's worst-hit countries.
Health Ministry spokesman Kianush Jahanpur said "our colleagues have registered 2,206 new cases of COVID-19 infection" in the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of infections to 27,017.
Jahanpur's announcement came a day after Iran rejected an offer from a Geneva-based medical charity to set up a 50-bed inflatable hospital in the central city of Isfahan to deal with the outbreak.
A Doctors Without Borders (MSF) crisis-response team comprised of nine emergency and intensive-care unit doctors and logisticians were to run the unit to be set up in the compound of the city’s Amin hospital, the organization said.
Michel-Olivier Lacharite, who is in charge of the MSF team, said on March 24 that the organization had been ready to set up the unit at the end of the week after being given prior approval from the authorities.
"We are surprised to learn that the deployment of our treatment unit is canceled," Lacharite said.
With reporting RFE/RL's Armenian, Moldovan, Romanian, and Ukrainian services, AP, Dawn, Reuters, G4media.ro, Hotnews.ro, Interfax, Hromadske, Interfax, and Ukrayinska pravda
Navalny Says He Will Be Transferred To Strictest Prison Cell For 12 Months
Jailed Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny says he was informed a day after a court rejected his appeal against a 19-year sentence that he will be transferred to the strictest possible prison cell for one year.
"Yesterday, right after my appeal, I was taken to a commission and told that due to my incorrigibility I will be transferred to an 'EPKT' for a period of 12 months," he said on September 27 on X, formerly Twitter, referring to cells widely considered to have the harshest confinement conditions.
"A year of EPKT is the strictest possible punishment in all kinds of prisons," he said.
It was unclear if the punishment will be carried out in a special-regime prison or in the maximum-security IK-6 prison 250 kilometers east of Moscow where he is currently held.
Navalny has been in and out of solitary confinement in recent months, and his allies say his health has deteriorated.
Last month he had his sentence more than doubled to 19 years, with the court also ruling to send him to a harsher "special-regime" facility, rather than the maximum-security prison where he currently is held.
A court in Moscow on September 26 rejected Navalny's appeal of the sentence, which came after the Moscow City Court on August 4 convicted him of extremism charges, ruling that his previous sentences will be served concurrently.
The ruling came 18 months into Russia's invasion in Ukraine, which brought with it an unprecedented crackdown on dissenting voices. Navalny has repeatedly denounced the Kremlin's military offensive from behind bars and called on Russians not to lose "the will to resist."
The charges against Navalny are widely seen as retribution for his efforts to expose what he describes as the pervasive lawlessness, corruption, and repression by Russian President Vladimir Putin and his political system.
Navalny was Russia's loudest opposition voice and galvanized huge anti-government rallies before he was jailed.
His previous sentence was handed down in 2021 after he arrived in Moscow from Germany, where he had been recovering from a poisoning attack he blamed on the Kremlin.
Before the most recent conviction, he was serving a combined 11 1/2 years for embezzlement and violating the terms of his parole while he was in Germany being treated for the poisoning.
With reporting by AFP
U.S. Imposes Sanctions Aimed At Iranian Drone-Procurement Network
The United States has imposed sanctions on entities in Iran, Hong Kong, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates that the U.S. Treasury Department says comprise a network for the procurement of parts for Iran's drone program.
The network has facilitated shipments and financial transactions in support of a critical component used in Iran's Shahed drones, which Iran has been supplying to Russia for use against Ukraine, the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) said on September 27.
The critical component is known as a servomotor and is used in Iran’s Shahed-series unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). The OFAC said the sanctions took aim at the procurement of servomotors by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps' (IRGC) aerospace organization.
The OFAC said one of the servomotors procured by the network was recovered in the remnants of a Russian-operated Shahed-136 that was recently shot down in Ukraine.
"Iranian-made UAVs continue to be a key tool for Russia in its attacks in Ukraine, including those that terrorize Ukrainian citizens and attack its critical infrastructure," Undersecretary of the Treasury Brian Nelson said in a news release.
Two of the five entities designated for sanctions are Iran-based Pishgam Electronic Safeh Company (PESC) and Hongkong Himark Electron Model Limited. The other three are based in Turkey and the U.A.E., the OFAC said.
PESC has procured thousands of servomotors with one-way attack UAV applications worth hundreds of thousands of dollars for the IRGC, the OFAC said. The company's CEO, Iran-based Hamid Reza Janghorbani, was also designated for sanctions along with Hongkong Himark official Fan Yang, who is based in China.
The OFAC said Fan had represented Hong Kong-based Hongkong Himark in fulfilling servomotor orders worth more than $1 million for PESC. In addition to selling servomotors to PESC, Fan attempted to hide that an Iranian company was behind the shipments by falsifying invoices, the OFAC said.
Hongkong Himark is being designated for having provided or attempted to provide financial, technological, or other support for PESC. The firms based in Turkey and the U.A.E. have been designated for facilitating financial transactions, shipping, and material and technical support for PESC’s servomotor procurement from Hongkong Himark.
The sanctions build on designations announced in November 2022 by the OFAC aimed at Iran's Shahed Aviation Industries Research Center. The Iranian firm is subordinate to the IRGC's aerospace organization and designs and manufactures the Shahed-136, the Treasury Department said.
The sanctions freeze any assets the individuals hold in U.S. jurisdiction and block people in the United States from having any dealings with the entities and individuals named.
Bulgarian Parliament Approves Sending Antiaircraft Missiles To Ukraine
Bulgaria's parliament approved on September 27 a decision to provide missiles for S-300 air-defense systems to Ukraine. The missiles are defective and more than 30 years old, but Ukraine can use them for spare parts, Bulgarian parliamentary Defense Committee Chairman Hristo Gadjev said after the vote. Russia reacted with a statement urging Bulgaria to reconsider the decision. It said providing the missiles to Kyiv would violate an agreement for military cooperation between the Russia and Bulgaria that dates back to 2002. Bulgaria has been providing military aid to Ukraine since December 2022 following a decision by parliament. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Bulgarian Service, click here.
Imprisoned Father Of Russian Girl Who Drew Anti-War Picture Placed In Solitary Confinement Five Times
A Russian man who was sentenced to two years in prison on a charge of discrediting Russia's armed forces in April after anti-war drawings by his 13-year-old daughter drew attention to his online posts about the Kremlin's invasion of Ukraine has been placed in punitive solitary confinement five times since August. Aleksei Moskalyov's lawyer said on September 27 that his client's latest, 14-day stint in solitary confinement was imposed on September 22. All punitive confinements have been imposed on Moskalyov for minor "violations" such as "failure to get up quickly," or "not having his hands behind his back," the lawyer said. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.
Poll Shows Slovaks Split Ahead Of Elections With Ukraine In Spotlight
Slovak opposition party Direction-Social Democracy (Smer), led by former Prime Minister Robert Fico, holds a narrow lead over its liberal challenger, Progressive Slovakia (PS), ahead of weekend elections that have revealed stark dividing lines over whether the country should continue to support Ukraine or instead seek closer ties with Russia.
In the final opinion poll conducted by the IPSOS agency prior to the September 30 vote, Smer, which has taken a more pro-Russian stance over the war in neighboring Ukraine than other European Union members, garnered support at 20.6 percent compared with 19.8 percent for PS, which has shown a late surge in popularity.
No matter which party wins, they are likely to need at least two coalition partners to form a government, according to the poll, conducted for news website Dennikn.sk, among 1,000 participants between September 22 and September 25.
During the campaign, Fico, 59, has criticized Slovakia's arms supplies to Ukraine while pledging to stop shipments to Kyiv if he takes power. He has also dismissed further EU sanctions against Russia, questioned the possibility of Ukraine joining NATO, and repeated Kremlin narratives that NATO caused the war.
"Why aren't we holding peace talks, for God's sake? Why are we always talking about what kind of munitions we're going to send to Ukraine, what kind of tanks we'll send there, how many billions of euros will be spent on further armaments?" he asks in a statement that mirrors the thinking of Viktor Orban, the leader of neighboring Hungary.
"It's naive to think Russia will leave Crimea, it's naive to think that Russia will leave the territory it controls. So, explain to me, what's the good of all this killing?" Fico added.
Progressive Slovakia leader Michal Simecka has warned such a policy shift could push the country into isolation. He has promised to maintain support for Ukraine as it tries to repel Russia's invasion, in line with EU and NATO partners.
Slovakia has provided neighboring Ukraine with substantial military and humanitarian aid since the Russian invasion began in February 2022.
But a study by the Bratislava-based think tank Globsec conducted earlier in 2023 noted that 69 percent of respondents agreed that by providing military equipment to Ukraine, Slovakia was provoking Russia and bringing itself closer to war.
Slovaks' support for NATO membership has also shrunk to 58 percent this year from 72 percent in 2022, the poll showed. Globsec analysts say the results are due to disinformation.
Fico was Slovakia's prime minister from 2006 to 2010 and again from 2012 to 2018.
He remained a member of parliament and in 2022, he faced criminal charges of using sensitive information on political opponents. He denied the charges, which were eventually dropped, and has been seeking the removal of the special prosecutor who investigates high-level corruption allegations.
With reporting by Ray Furlong in Bratislava, Reuters, and AFP
Russian Court Rejects Appeal Of Ukrainian Activist From Crimea Against 15-Year Prison Term
A military court in Russia has rejected an appeal filed by Ukrainian activist Bohdan Zyza from Russian-occupied Crimea against the 15-year prison term he was handed in June on terrorism charges, Zyza's sister, Oleksandra Barkova, said on September 27. Zyza was arrested in May 2022 after he splashed yellow and blue paint -- the colors of the Ukrainian flag -- on a building of the Russian-imposed administration in the Crimean city of Yevpatoria. He also threw a Molotov cocktail at it. Earlier in June, Barkov held a 17-day hunger strike, demanding all Ukrainian political prisoners in Russian custody be released. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Crimea.Realities, click here.
Eight Killed, Including Five Children, In Explosion Of Stray Ordnance In Pakistan
Eight people -- five children, a man, and two women -- were killed on September 27 after a rocket-launcher round exploded inside a house in the Kashmor district of Pakistan's southeastern Sindh Province, police said. The round was found by children in the fields who brought it home, local police officer Rohail Khosa told RFE/RL. He said investigations were under way to establish the circumstances of the blast.
Prosecutors Seek Five Years In Prison In Retrial Of Protest Artist Krisevich
Krisevich was arrested in June last year on Moscow's Red Square and charged with hooliganism after he fired two blanks into the air while shouting: "There will be shots before the Kremlin's curtain." He then held the gun to his head and fired another blank.
Krisevich's girlfriend, Anastasia Mikhailova, said at the time that the goal of the protest performance was to support political prisoners in Russia.
Declaring that his protest was aimed at "state intimidation," Krisevich described the performance as "a kill shot" -- an expression used by hired assassins in Russia's criminal underworld to describe a gunshot to the head of a victim to ensure they are dead.
"The state labels protests as crimes," Krisevich's statement said. "It forces us to think that we are criminals in our cells and chats. But what is it without state intimidation? Clearly, it is an empty space."
Krisevich, who is originally from Russia's second-largest city, St. Petersburg, has been jailed in the past over his protests in the Russian capital.
In November 2021, he was sentenced to 15 days in jail for a protest in front of the Federal Security Service’s headquarters in Moscow in which he was staged a mock crucifixion of himself over burning files. He said that protest symbolized criminal cases against Russian citizens.
In addition to jail time, he was also expelled from the university in Moscow he was attending.
In May 2022, Krisevich was sentenced to 10 days in jail for taking part in an action to support political prisoners in Russia by displaying their paintings in central Moscow.
Binance, World's Largest Cryptocurrency Exchange Company, Quits Russian Market
Binance, the world's largest cryptocurrency exchange company, said on September 27 it will sell all of its Russian operations to a newly established company, CommEx. Binance’s chief compliance officer, Noah Perlman, said that "as we look toward the future, we recognize that operating in Russia is not compatible with Binance's compliance strategy.” The process of leaving the Russian market will last for up to one year to ensure a smooth process for clients in Russia, the company said. All assets of current Russian users are safe and securely protected, the statement added. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.
Rights Watchdog Urges Uzbekistan To Ensure Safety Of Imprisoned Karakaplak Journalist
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged Uzbek authorities to ensure the safety of imprisoned Karakalpak activist and journalist Dauletmurat Tajimuratov, who was sentenced to 16 years in prison in January for joining mass anti-government protests in Uzbekistan's Karakalpak Autonomous Republic last year.
HRW cited Tajimuratov's lawyer, Sergei Mayorov, in a statement late on September 26 as saying that his client’s rights “are being violated while he is serving his prison sentence.”
According to Mayorov, his client has been refused adequate health care and food. He added that Tajimuratov doesn’t have access to a prison library or media, and that he is being isolated in a single cell, while prison officials refuse to assign him work detail, further limiting his contact with other prisoners.
"Tajimuratov had noticeably lost weight and the conditions of his imprisonment were taking a serious toll on his physical and psychological health,” the HRW statement quoted Mayorov as saying.
HRW Senior Researcher Mihra Rittmann said that "like any detainee," Tajimuratov has a right to "absolute protection against inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, as well as his other basic rights including to adequate nutrition and health care."
"Tajimuratov, whose 'crime' was to call for a peaceful protest and speak out against proposed constitutional amendments that would have stripped Karakalpakstan of its sovereign status, should not be languishing in prison," Rittmann added.
The HRW statement said that Uzbek authorities have the responsibility to ensure Tajimuratov suffers no further harm in prison and that he is not isolated from others without just cause.
Tajimuratov, a lawyer for the El Khyzmetinde (At The People's Service) newspaper, where he previously was the chief editor, was sentenced on January 31 by the Bukhara regional court along with 21 other defendants.
In March, another 39 Karakalpak activists accused of taking part in the protests in Karakalpakstan’s capital, Nukus, were convicted with 28 of them sentenced to prison terms of between five and 11 years, while 11 were handed parole-like sentences.
Uzbek authorities say 21 people died during the protests in early July 2022, which were sparked by the announcement of a planned change to the constitution that would have undermined the region's right to self-determination.
However, the Austria-based Freedom for Eurasia human rights group said in July that at least 70 people were killed during the unrest.
The violence forced President Shavkat Mirziyoev to make a rare about-face and scrap the proposal.
Mirziyoev accused "foreign forces" of being behind the unrest, without further explanation, before backing away from the proposed changes.
Karakalpaks are a Central Asian Turkic-speaking people. Their region used to be an autonomous area within Kazakhstan before becoming autonomous within the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic in 1930 and then part of Uzbekistan in 1936.
The European Union has called for an independent investigation into the violence.
Chief Editor Of Belarusian Newspaper Goes On Trial On Charge Of Discrediting Belarus
A court in the city of Maladechna near Minsk began the trial of journalist Alyaksandr Mantsevich on September 27 amid an ongoing crackdown on independent journalists and democratic institutions. The chief editor of Rehiyanalnaya hazeta (Regional newspaper) was arrested in mid-March and charged with discrediting Belarus and its government entities. The charge stems from the newspaper's coverage of the political situation in the country in 2020-2023. Belarusian rights watchdogs have designated Mantsevich as a political prisoner. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Belarus Service, click here.
Polish Minister Says Talks With Ukraine On Track After Grain Import Ban
Polish Agriculture Minister Robert Telus said on September 27 that talks with Ukraine were on track as the two countries try to resolve a dispute about a ban imposed by Warsaw on Polish grain imports. Telus spoke at a press conference after online talks with Ukrainian Agriculture Minister Mykola Solsky. Warsaw and Kyiv are allies, but relations have soured since Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia decided to extend a ban that was introduced to protect their farmers from a surge in grain and food imports from Ukraine after Russia's invasion last year. The Polish government is also under pressure from the far right to take a tougher stance on Ukraine before October 15 elections. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Baku Detains Former Russian Businessman Vardanian, Who Briefly Served As Nagorno-Karabakh's De Facto PM
BAKU -- Azerbaijan's State Border Service (DSX) said on September 27 that it has detained billionaire Ruben Vardanian, a former Russian citizen of Armenian descent, who served as prime minister in the de facto government of the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh for less than four months before he was dismissed from the post in February.
According to DSX, Vardanian was detained while leaving along with thousands of ethnic Armenians fleeing Nagorno-Karabakh, which is now under the full control of Azerbaijan, for Armenia via the Lachin Corridor. Vardanian was then transferred to Baku, the statement said.
Vardanian's wife, Veronika Zonabend, has confirmed her husband's detention.
"My husband, Ruben Vardanian...has been arrested by the Azerbaijani authorities at the border as he attempted to leave this morning, along with thousands of Armenians escaping Azerbaijani occupation," Zonabend said in a statement released by Vardanian's office.
When Vardanian was dismissed from the post of de facto prime minister of Nagorno-Karabakh in February. Media reports in Armenia indicated that Azerbaijan had made the removal one of its conditions in reaching a peace agreement during talks between Baku and Yerevan about the future of the ethnic-Armenian dominated region, which lies wholly inside Azerbaijan's borders.
Vardanian publicly renounced his Russian citizenship in September 2022 and said he made the decision to move to Nagorno-Karabakh with an understanding of all the risks he may face.
He said at the time that after the 2020 Armenia-Azerbaijan war over Nagorno-Karabakh, which resulted in Baku's regaining control over large chunks of the disputed region and seven adjacent districts, “Armenians around the whole world” must be together with Nagorno-Karabakh.
Nagorno-Karabakh, which along with the seven adjacent districts had been under ethnic Armenian control for nearly three decades prior to the war in 2020, is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan.
The 2020 war ended with a Russia-brokered cease-fire under which Moscow deployed about 2,000 troops to the region to serve as peacekeepers.
Last week, Azerbaijani forces staged a lightning offensive, overwhelming Nagorno-Karabakh forces, and taking control, after which tens of thousands of ethnic Armenians fled the region for Armenia.
Vardanian was born in the Armenian capital, Yerevan, in 1968. He is the former chief executive officer of Russia’s Troika Dialog investment bank, which was bought by Sberbank in 2011.
In 2021, Forbes estimated Vardanian's assets at $1 billion. Forbes has called Vardanian one of the "founding fathers" of Russia's stock market.
Ukraine To Boycott All UEFA Tournaments With Russian Participation
Ukrainian soccer teams will boycott all competitions featuring Russian sides, while Poland will refuse to play against teams from the country, their national federations said on September 27 following a decision by UEFA to lift a ban on Russia's youth teams. The Ukrainian Football Association called on other UEFA members to boycott matches against Russian teams after the announcement by European soccer's governing body. The president of Poland's Football Association promptly complied, saying Polish national teams will not compete against Russian teams. England's Football Association said its position opposing play against Russian teams remained unchanged. After banning all Russian teams -- national or club sides -- from participating in its competitions following Moscow's invasion of Ukraine, UEFA said on September 26 that it was "aware that children should not be punished for actions whose responsibility lies exclusively with adults."
Uzbek Journalists Handed Prison Terms After Closed-Door Trial
A court in Tashkent has sentenced Uzbek journalists Khurshid Daliev and Siyovush Hoshimov to seven years in prison each on charges of slander, extortion, fraud, and tax evasion. On September 26, the Shaikhontohur district court handed a third defendant, a former press secretary of the Employment Ministry, journalist Mavjuda Mirzaeva, a five-year parole-like sentence on a charge of extortion and another defendant Ahmadullo Ahmadjonov a three-year parole-like sentence on a charge of failing to report a crime. Mirzaeva pleaded partially guilty, while Hoshimov rejected the charges. It was not clear how Daliev pleaded in the trial held behind closed doors. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Uzbek Service, click here.
Moscow Bars 23 British Nationals, Including Senior Admiral, From Entering Russia
Russia's Foreign Ministry said on September 27 that it has banned 23 British nationals, including the chief of the Defense Staff, Admiral Tony Radakin, from entering Russia, saying they have been responsible for training Ukrainian armed forces or have coordinated activities to collect data to fight against Russia. The ministry added in a statement that it will continue to add to the sanctions list as warranted. The British government has so far offered hundreds of millions of dollars in support of Ukraine as its armed forces fight against Russia's ongoing full-scale invasion, which was launched in February 2022.
Iran Claims It Launched Noor 3 Satellite Into Orbit
Iran's Revolutionary Guards successfully launched a third military satellite into orbit on September 27, state media reported, citing Minister of Communications Issa Zarepour. The Noor 3 imaging satellite orbits at an altitude of 450 kilometers above the earth's surface and was launched by the three-stage Qased, or messenger carrier, state media said, which launched its predecessor Noor 2 in 2022. The U.S. military says the same long-range ballistic technology used to put satellites into orbit could also allow Tehran to launch longer-range weapons, possibly including nuclear warheads. Tehran denies U.S. assertions that such activity is a cover for ballistic missile development and says it has never pursued the development of nuclear weapons. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Death Toll From Nagorno-Karabakh Fuel Blast Revised Down To 68
The number of confirmed deaths following an explosion at a fuel depot in Nagorno-Karabakh is 68, the breakaway region's ombudsman, Gegham Stepanian, has told RFE/RL, adding that so far only 21 victims have been identified. Previous media reports had cited Armenia's health minister as putting the death toll at 125. The blast occurred as people seeking to flee to Armenia had lined up to fuel their cars in order to leave the region. The cause of the blast has not been determined. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Armenian Service, click here.
Kherson Under 'Massive Shelling' As Cities In Southern Ukraine On Alert
The southern Ukrainian city of Kherson again came under Russian shelling late on September 27 after Russian troops struck two businesses in the regional capital, local authorities said.
The State Emergencies Service reported on Telegram that firefighters rushed to the businesses after they were hit but had had to return several times to extinguish the flames.
Oleksandr Prokudin, head of the regional military administration, announced around 10 p.m. local time that Kherson was under massive shelling. Russia has regularly shelled the Ukrainian-controlled part of Kherson since Moscow withdrew from the regional capital last year.
Russian drone attacks and shelling on September 26 briefly disrupted the rail link between Kherson and the city of Mykolayiv, which was also under air alert on September 27.
Earlier, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Ukrainian forces were making gains against Russian troops in the eastern region of Donetsk as Moscow launched fresh artillery strikes on Ukraine's southern region of Nikopol and Kherson overnight, wounding civilians and damaging houses and infrastructure.
"We are advancing in the Donetsk direction," Zelenskiy said after a conference call with military officials, adding that he was also briefed on the situation in the partially liberated southern region of Kherson, which has been targeted for months by Russian shelling.
"The Russians continue to terrorize the territories their [artillery] can reach," he said.
In the Nikopol region, two people were wounded by Russian shelling, Serhiy Lysak, the head of Dnipropetrovsk region's military administration, said on Telegram on September 27.
"At night, the enemy fired heavy artillery at Myrivska Hromada and [the city of] Nikopol itself," Lysak wrote, adding that the two men who had been wounded were in a moderate condition in hospital. He said a two-story building was set on fire during the attack. "Rescuers put out the fire," Lysak said.
The General Staff of Ukraine's military said in its daily update that Ukrainian forces were conducting offensive operations in the direction of the embattled eastern city of Bakhmut and the southern region of Melitopol, adding that a total of 26 close-quarters battles were fought along the front line over the past 24 hours.
On September 26, Russia again struck grain-exporting facilities in the Odesa region, causing damage and injuries among the local inhabitants, Ukrainian officials said.
Odesa Governor Oleh Kiper said Izmayil, one of the two Danube ports that Ukraine uses to export grain, was hit, and a checkpoint building, storage facilities, and more than 30 trucks and cars were damaged. Two people were wounded, Kiper said.
Russia has stepped up its aerial bombardments of Ukrainian sites, targeting in particular Ukraine's grain-exporting infrastructure in the southern Odesa and Mykolayiv regions.
Ukraine has resumed exporting grain despite Russia’s pulling out of a United Nations-brokered deal allowing safe grain shipments in July.
Zelenskiy has vowed new Ukrainian actions against Russia following a missile strike last week against Russia’s Black Sea Fleet headquarters that Kyiv said killed nearly three dozen officers, including its top commander.
"We clearly see which directions of pressure on Russia need to be strengthened to prevent [its] terrorist capabilities from growing," Zelenskiy said in his nightly video address on September 26.
"Sanctions are not enough," he said.
Ukraine's claim about its strike against the Russian Black Sea Fleet could not be immediately confirmed, and Russia released markedly lower casualty figures from the September 22 attack in the Crimean port of Sevastopol.
But the strike itself was the latest in a series of increasingly audacious attacks by Ukrainian forces on Russian ships and Black Sea facilities -- attacks that Western experts say may have drastically curtailed Russia’s naval operations in the region.
In a statement on September 25, Ukraine’s special operations forces cited “new information about the losses of the enemy as a result of the special operation,” claiming that 34 officers, including the fleet commander, were killed when cruise missiles -- believed to be either British or French -- hit the Sevastopol building. At least 105 others were wounded, it said.
The Ukrainian statement did not name the naval commander. The current top officer in the Black Sea Fleet is Admiral Viktor Sokolov.
Asked by reporters on September 26 about the Ukrainian claim, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he had no comment.
Sokolov was shown on Russian state television on September 26 among other senior officers attending a video conference with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, although it was not clear when the footage has been recorded.
With reporting by Current Time, AFP, TASS, and Reuters
U.S. Pledges To Work With Partners On Monitoring Mission As Tens Of Thousands Arrive In Armenia
The U.S. State Department says it will work with allies and partners on an international monitoring mission after nearly half the population of Nagorno-Karabakh fled following an offensive by Azerbaijan that gave Baku complete control of the breakaway region.
State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters the United States would work toward establishing a mission as the Armenian government said more than 53,000 people had left Nagorno-Karabakh since September 24.
The updated number of refugees accounts for nearly half of the region's population. The exodus began after Azerbaijan opened the only road leading from the breakaway region to Armenia four days after a cease-fire agreement that ended a lightning military operation.
Yerevan over the weekend asked the United Nations to send a monitoring mission to assess the human rights and security situation as it attempts to absorb the ethnic Armenians.
The foreign ministers of Armenia and Turkey on September 27 held a telephone conversation to discuss the situation, the Armenian Foreign Ministry said.
The foreign ministers of Russia and Azerbaijan also spoke by phone to discuss providing humanitarian assistance and ensuring the rights and security of the local Armenian population, the Russian Foreign Ministry said.
Meanwhile, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) chief Samantha Power and a top U.S. diplomat arrived in Azerbaijan and met with President Ilham Aliyev.
Power was to raise concerns about the humanitarian situation and address the prospects for "a durable and dignified peace between Azerbaijan and Armenia" based on mutual respect for each other's territorial integrity and sovereignty, USAID said in a statement.
Aliyev's press service said during the meeting opinions were exchanged about the current situation, which arose as a result of "anti-terrorist measures" implemented in the region. Aliyev noted that talks were under way between representatives of Azerbaijan and ethnic Armenian residents of Nagorno-Karabakh in the direction of reintegration, the press service said.
Aliyev also said Baku was ready to organize a visit to the region of a UN liaison office representative accredited in the country in the near future.
The U.S. delegation arrived in Azerbaijan after visiting Armenia, where Power said Washington would stand in solidarity with Yerevan. She also announced a $11.5 million humanitarian aid package for Armenia, but said it was essential the international community gain access to Nagorno-Karabakh amid reports of injuries and a lack food and other essentials.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock called on Azerbaijan on September 27 to allow international observers to enter Nagorno-Karabakh and announced that Berlin was stepping up its humanitarian aid for the refugees.
"I have decided to significantly increase our humanitarian aid once again and to increase our additional funding for the International Committee of the Red Cross from 2 million to 5 million euros ($5.28 million)," Baerbock said.
Earlier on September 27, Azerbaijani authorities announced that they had detained the separatist region's former prime minister, Ruben Vardanian, at a border crossing.
Azerbaijan's State Border Service (DSX) said Vardanian, a former Russian citizen of Armenian descent who served as prime minister in the de facto government of the breakaway region for less than four months before being removed from the post in February, was detained at the border and transferred to Baku.
His wife, Veronika Zonabend, has confirmed her husband's detention.
Officials in the region also were still dealing with the aftermath of a blast that occurred on September 25 as people seeking to flee to Armenia lined up to fuel their cars. The cause of the blast has not been determined.
Nagorno-Karabakh's ombudsman, Gegham Stepanian, said the number of confirmed deaths in the explosion is 68 -- far lower than previous reports that had put the number as high as 125. Stepanian told RFE/RL that so far only 21 victims have been identified.
Baku said on September 27 that 192 Azerbaijani servicemen and one civilian had been killed during the September 19-20 blitz offensive. Another 511 soldiers were wounded in the course of the operation, Azerbaijan's Health Ministry said in a statement.
The European Union also said it would increase humanitarian aid by 5 million euros ($5.2 million) in response to growing needs caused by the crisis.
The EU stressed in a statement the need for transparency and access for international humanitarian and human rights groups and for more detail on Baku's vision for Karabakh Armenians' future in Azerbaijan.
During the meeting, Hikmet Haciyev, a foreign policy adviser to Aliyev, outlined Azerbaijan's plans to provide humanitarian assistance and security to the local population.
The meeting also discussed a possible meeting of Nagorno-Karabakh stakeholders on October 5 in Granada.
"The participants took note of the shared interest of Armenia and Azerbaijan to make use of the possible meeting in Granada to continue their normalization efforts," the statement said.
Armenian representative Armen Grigorian and Haciyev "engaged in talks on possible concrete steps to advance the Armenia-Azerbaijan peace process in the upcoming possible meeting, such as those with regard to border delimitation, security, connectivity, humanitarian issues, and the broader peace treaty," the statement said.
The statement added that the EU believes that the meeting should be used by both Yerevan and Baku to reiterate publicly their commitment to each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty in line with previous agreements.
Armenia and Azerbaijan have fought two wars in the last three decades over the region, which had been a majority ethnic Armenian enclave within the internationally recognized border of Azerbaijan since the Soviet collapse.
The region initially came under the control of ethnic Armenian forces, backed by the Armenian military, in separatist fighting that ended in 1994. During a war in 2020, however, Azerbaijan took back parts of Nagorno-Karabakh along with surrounding territory that Armenian forces had claimed during the earlier conflict.
That fighting ended with a Russian-brokered cease-fire and the deployment of Russian peacekeepers. Those peacekeepers did little, however, to prevent the advances by Azerbaijani forces.
With reporting by RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service, AP, AFP, The New York Times, and Reuters
'Too Bad, Vladimir:' Hillary Clinton Taunts Putin On NATO Expansion Since Invasion
Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton taunted Russian President Vladimir Putin over the expansion of NATO since launching his invasion of Ukraine. "Too bad, Vladimir. You brought it on yourself," Clinton said on September 26 as she returned to the State Department for the unveiling of her official portrait. She said the United States has always stressed that joining NATO was a choice. Ukraine sought to join the alliance before the invasion, and Putin cited this as a reason for his action. Finland and Sweden applied to join NATO soon after the invasion, and Finland has been admitted.
Car Traffic Briefly Suspended On Сrimean Bridge
Car traffic was briefly suspended on the Crimea Bridge on September 27 in the morning, Russian authorities said on the Telegram messaging app, a measure often taken due to drone or missile attacks by Ukraine. The bridge was reopened shortly afterwards and authorities said there were no traffic jams in either direction. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Russia Calls On Canada To Bring Nazi Veteran To Justice Hours After Parliament Speaker Resigns
The speaker of Canada's parliament has resigned after inadvertently honoring a Ukrainian Nazi veteran, triggering global condemnation and calls from the Kremlin for Ottawa to bring 98-year-old Yaroslav Hunka, a Ukrainian who fought for a Nazi unit in World War II, to justice.
Speaker Anthony Rota stepped down saying he made an "error" by inviting Hunka to the House of Commons and hailing him as a "hero" during a visit to the legislature by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. Members of parliament from all parties rose to applaud Hunka, unaware of the details of who he was.
Rota, who initially resisted calls to resign, said he had no knowledge Hunka, a Ukrainian immigrant from Rota's parliamentary district, had served in a Nazi-linked military unit that was accused of killing Polish and Jewish civilians, though it was never convicted in a court of committing war crimes.
Polish Education Minister Przemyslaw Czarnek said on September 26 he had "taken steps" to start the extradition of Hunka, while Russia on September 27 called Rota's resignation an "insufficient step."
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Canada's parliament needed to publicly condemn Nazism and called on the Canadian authorities to "bring to justice or to extradite to those who wish to bring to justice this criminal."
The furor comes 19 months into Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Russia has accused Ukrainian leaders of being "neo-Nazis" despite Zelenskiy being Jewish and losing family members in the Holocaust. Moscow has also sought to justify its full-scale invasion with the need to "de-Nazify" its neighbor.
Peskov repeated that narrative on September 27, saying that the incident in the Canadian parliament "once again confirms Kyiv's Nazi ideology."
Hunka served in the 1st Ukrainian Division, also known as the Waffen-SS Galicia Division, or the SS 14th Waffen Division, a volunteer unit that was under the command of the Nazis.
The Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies has called the incident "shocking" and "incredibly disturbing."
"This incident has compromised all 338 members of parliament," the organization said in a statement, adding it had "handed a propaganda victory to Russia, distracting from what was a momentously significant display of unity between Canada and Ukraine."
In his apology, Rota said he alone was responsible for inviting and recognizing Hunka. His office confirmed that it did not share its invitation list with any other party or group before Hunka's visit.
Ukraine's government has not commented on the incident.
Zelensky's visit to Canada was part of a tour aimed at bolstering international support, after addressing the United Nations and visiting U.S. President Joe Biden in Washington.
During the visit, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged additional aid to Zelensky's war-torn country.
Canada is home to the world's second-largest Ukrainian diaspora and Zelenskiy, in his speech to parliament, expressed thanks for the backing given to Kyiv since Russian troops poured over the Ukrainian borders in February 2022.
With reporting by AP, AFP and Reuters
Russian Court Rejects Navalny's Appeal Against His 19-Year Prison Term
A Russian court has rejected Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny’s appeal against a decision to imprison him on extremism charges for almost two decades.
On August 4, judges of the Moscow City Court convicted Navalny on extremism charges and sentenced him to 19 years in prison, ruling that his previously handed prison sentences will be served concurrently in Russia's harshest prison regime. Navalny, his allies, rights groups, and Western governments say all charges are politically motivated.
The first appeals court in Moscow upheld the sentence on September 26 at a hearing held behind closed doors. Only the reading of the verdict was public. Navalny, who has accused the Kremlin of seeking to keep him behind bars for life and to keep Russians from voicing dissent, participated in the proceedings via video link.
Navalny's team reacted to the court's decision on X, formerly known as Twitter, criticizing the secrecy of the trial and saying the decision would not silence Navalny or his team.
"After a shameful verdict for completely legal political activity, they closed the hearing on appeal. Arguing why a shameful sentence is not at all shameful is also much more comfortable behind closed doors," Navalny's team said.
Navalny's team also they would continue their work despite the decision to uphold the verdict against Navalny and co-defendant Daniel Kholodny, former technical director of Navalny Live.
"We continue to fight the regime that has turned the judiciary into this. We continue to work on Aleksei Navalny's projects and continue to tell the whole world about him."
The charges against Navalny are widely seen as retribution for his efforts to expose what he describes as the pervasive lawlessness, corruption, and repression by Putin and his political system.
Navalny was Russia's loudest opposition voice over the last decade and galvanized huge anti-government rallies before he was jailed.
The 47-year-old threatened the Kremlin by establishing a network of political offices across the country and a corruption watchdog that brought credible graft allegations against political elites.
He was jailed in 2021 after arriving in Moscow from Germany, where he had been recovering from a poisoning attack he blamed on the Kremlin.
The ruling last month came a year and a half into Russia's invasion in Ukraine, which brought with it an unprecedented crackdown on dissenting voices.
Navalny has repeatedly spoken out against the military campaign.
Navalny, who has complained of a series of health complications -- and undertook a weekslong hunger strike -- is being held in the IK-6 penal colony, 250 kilometers east of Moscow.
Allies say his health has deteriorated in recent months, during which he has been in and out of solitary confinement. Ahead of the appeal, prison authorities placed Navalny in an detention cell for the 20th time, his team said.
In August the court also ruled to send Navalny to a “special regime” colony, a maximum-security facility reserved for dangerous criminals that will cut him off from the outside world.
The “special regime” prison is a system in which inmates stay in cells either alone, in pairs, or in fours. The cells have additional metal bars on windows and doors, nonstop lighting, and video surveillance. Inmates can request one or two hours of walking outside in specially fenced cubes where there is no direct sunlight.
Special regime inmates are not allowed to communicate with friends or relatives and can have no visits in the first 10 years of their sentences.
With reporting by AFP
Resist Russian Disinformation As Elections Loom, EU Minister Tells Big Tech
European Commission Vice President Vera Jourova has urged Google, Microsoft, Meta, and TikTok to do more to tackle what she called Russia's "multimillion-euro weapon of mass manipulation" ahead of elections in Europe. Jourova on September 26 also singled out X, formerly known as Twitter, saying it had the largest ratio of fake news posts compared with those on the larger platforms. "The Russian state has engaged in the war of ideas to pollute our information space with half-truth and lies to create a false image that democracy is no better than autocracy," Jourova said. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
After Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine, Bulgaria Is Rapidly Trying To Modernize Its Armed Forces2
'Chaos, Screams, And Explosions': Ukrainian Forces Make Modest But Important Gains In Grueling Counteroffensive3
Heavy Metal: The Radioactive Ammunition Headed For Ukraine4
Karabakh Separatists Say They Are Implementing Withdrawal Deal As Aid Arrives Through Lachin5
U.S. Condemns Attack In Kosovo's North As Country Observes Day Of Mourning6
Ukrainian Military Claims Russian Navy Commanders Killed In Sevastopol Attack7
Ukraine Hails Arrival Of First U.S. Abrams Tanks As Occupation Officials Claim Missile Attack On Sevastopol Repelled8
Ukrainian Crews Put Hundreds Of Captured Russian Tanks Into Action9
Russian-Installed Leader Of Crimea Denies Strikes Hit Power Plants10
Live Briefing: Russia Invades Ukraine