Czech Presidential Race Goes Down To The Wire As Voting Ends
PRAGUE -- Czechs should know the results of a closely contested presidential election within a few hours now that polls have closed following a two-day presidential election runoff that has pitted the Russia-friendly incumbent Milos Zeman against pro-European academic Jiri Drahos.
Opinion surveys ahead of the vote in the EU and NATO member state had pointed to an extremely tight race in the voting. A poll by the Kantar TNS and Median agencies showed Zeman scoring 45.5 percent of the vote against 45 percent for Drahos, with nearly 10 percent saying they were undecided.
Zeman, 73, has held the largely ceremonial post since 2013. He has courted controversy by voicing antimigrant views, denigrating Muslims, and warming up to Russian President Vladimir Putin at a time when many in Europe fear that Moscow is meddling in Western elections and affairs. He also seeks closer ties with China.
Drahos, 68, the former head of the Czech Academy of Sciences, is seen as a pro-European liberal. A political newcomer with no political-party affiliation, Drahos says he is worried about the rise of extremism and populism.
In their final TV debate on January 25, Drahos and Zeman both spoke in favor of deeper EU cooperation and against refugee quotas.
However, political analyst Michael Romancov told the AFP news agency that while "Zeman never questioned the Czech membership in the EU...he said he would welcome a referendum on exit and in practice he significantly deviated from both EU and NATO."
"It is clear that Jiri Drahos is unequivocally pro-EU and an euro-Atlantic candidate," the analyst added.
During the debate, Drahos called Zeman "a representative of the past political era...a symbol of division."
Drahos also said he saw Russia as a security threat because Moscow sees NATO as its adversary.
Zeman attacked Drahos's inexperience in politics, saying he "has no idea" about the "craft you have to learn for a long time."
Around 8.4 million Czechs were eligible to vote in the runoff, which was mandated after no candidate won a majority in the January 12-13 first round.
Zeman was first in that round with 38.6 percent of the vote, followed by Drahos with 26.6 percent.
With reporting by AFP, dpa, and AP
U.S. Welcomes Serbia's Announced Withdrawal Of Troops From Kosovo Border
The United States has welcomed an announcement by the commander of the Serbian Army that some troops have been withdrawn from the border with Kosovo, but Washington is still concerned about tensions in northern Kosovo, a State Department spokesman said.
"We will be looking for further confirmation. But if true, that would be a welcome step," spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters on October 2 after Serbian Army chief of staff General Milan Mojsilovic told reporters in Belgrade that the number of troops along the border had been cut from 8,350 to 4,500.
Miller said the United States had not verified the withdrawal and that Washington continues to be "concerned about the cycle of rising tensions and sporadic violence in northern Kosovo."
White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby on September 29 called on Serbia to pull back what it said was a large military deployment at the border, calling it a "very destabilizing development."
NATO last week ordered more troops to the area and demanded that Belgrade and Pristina resume an EU-facilitated dialogue as soon as possible as "the only way to achieve lasting peace," alliance spokesman Dylan White said.
NATO still has 4,500 troops in Kosovo, and Britain said last week it would send additional forces to the mission, known as KFOR.
Germany is also closely monitoring the tensions between Serbia and Kosovo and will "react if necessary," Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said on October 2, calling for a de-escalation of the situation.
He did not rule out increasing the contribution of German soldiers to KFOR, but said there were no plans to do so at the moment.
The Serbian military buildup came on the heels of an attack in northern Kosovo that left four people dead. Pristina blamed Serbia for providing financial and logistical support to the group of armed Serbs that clashed with Kosovar police. Belgrade denied the accusation.
Three attackers and one police officer were killed in the gunbattle on September 24 near the northern village of Banjska after the Serbs attacked a police patrol and then barricaded themselves in a Serbian Orthodox monastery.
Mojsilovic on October 2 denied Kosovo's accusation that Serbia planned to annex northern Kosovo with the attack in Banjska.
"The Serbian Army is a serious, strong organization that does not tolerate lies," he said. "I deny all allegations made by Pristina."
EU spokesman Peter Stano said on October 2 that the Kosovar police had a mandate to investigate the attack, and Brussels expects Serbia's "full and unconditional" cooperation.
Prime Minister Albin Kurti released images taken by a drone that he claimed showed Serbian paramilitaries in training ahead of the attack at Serbian Army bases. The images were taken around four days before the attack, he said on X, formerly known as Twitter.
"The attacks enjoyed the full support and planning of the Serbian state," Kurti said.
Interior Minister Xhelal Svecla told the Koha Ditore newspaper that the images had been taken by the Serbian paramilitaries themselves and had been seized along with weapons by the Kosovar police.
The skirmish prompted international concern over the stability of Kosovo, a former province of Serbia with a predominantly ethnic Albanian population that declared independence in 2008.
Tens of thousands of ethnic Serbs who live in northern Kosovo do not recognize Pristina's institutions, and they have often clashed with Kosovar police and international peacekeepers.
With reporting by Reuters and dpa
Hungary Offers To Step In For Germany On Bosnian Serbs' Infrastructure Projects, Dodik Says
Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik said on October 2 after meeting with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in Budapest that Hungary may take over infrastructure projects that Germany suspended in the Bosnia-Herzegovina's Serb-dominted entity over Dodik's secessionist policies.
Germany in August announced a decision to suspend four infrastructure projects in Republika Srpska worth a total of 105 million euros ($110 million).
Dodik said Orban "expressed his willingness to substitute projects that Germany canceled.“
But he said Germany still considered the contracts active, while Republika Srpska waits for Berlin to resolve so that the entity can "can realize these projects with the Hungarians and Prime Minister Orban in the best possible way and for mutual benefit."
Among the projects is the construction of a wind farm in Berkovici, a municipality in the far southeast of Bosnia. Additionally, Germany has suspended its work on the renovation of a hydroelectric power plant near Trebinje in the far south and a wastewater-treatment initiative in Gradiska in the north.
Republika Srpska previously sought financial assistance from the Export-Import Bank of Hungary, borrowing a total of 110 million euros at the end of the previous year. Hungary is also providing an aid program for farmers in Republika Srpska valued at 100 million euros.
Orban, a crucial ally for Dodik, has blocked European Union sanctions against the pro-Russian president of the Serbian member of Bosnia's tripartite presidency, which also includes a Bosniak Muslim and an ethnic Croat.
Bosnia is still governed under the terms of a 1995 peace treaty known as the Dayton accords that divided the country into a Bosniak and Croat federation and a Serb-majority entity.
Dodik was designated for sanctions by the United States and Britain last year after saying that Republika Srpska would pull out of the Western Balkan country's joint military, top judiciary body, and tax administration.
Dodik also currently faces an indictment over a push to ignore decisions by international envoy Christian Schmidt and the Constitutional Court.
His meeting with Orban in Budapest was their third official meeting in the past year. They previously met in the Hungarian capital in August and in October 2022 and in Banja Luka in June.
Dodik also made a controversial trip to Moscow last year for a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. After his meeting with Orban, he said he would meet again with Putin "soon."
Slovakia Summons Russian Envoy To Protest 'Inadmissible Interference' In Elections
Slovakia's Foreign Ministry said on October 2 it had summoned a Russian Embassy representative to protest what it called "inadmissible interference" by Moscow in the Slovak parliamentary elections. In a statement published on the eve of the vote, the head of Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), Sergei Naryshkin, said that the United States would manipulate the election results. Slovakia’s Foreign Ministry called the statement "deliberately disseminated misinformation" aimed at interfering in the electoral process. Former Prime Minister Robert Fico, who has pledged to end military aid for Ukraine, won the elections on September 30.
Crimean Tatar Activist Sent To Russian Psychiatric Clinic
Russian authorities have sent jailed Crimean Tatar activist Abdulmedzhit Seitumerov to a psychiatric clinic for unknown reasons, his lawyer said on October 2. Seitumerov was arrested in late August on terrorism charges that he and his supporters reject. Emil Kuberdinov called his client’s transfer to a psychiatric clinic "a punitive measure used to impose pressure on our client," adding that Seitumerov may be held in the medical institution for up to 25 days. Since illegally occupying Crimea in 2014, Russia has pressured the Crimean Tatars, many of whom openly protested the takeover. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Crimea.Realities, click here.
Azerbaijan's Aliyev Hopes Meeting Will Give Impetus To Peace Process For Nagono-Karabakh
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev hopes that a meeting later this week in Granada, Spain, will give impetus to the development of a peace agenda for Nagorno-Karabakh amid claims of continued violence in the breakaway region.
Aliyev expressed hope for the meeting on October 2 while receiving the spiritual head of the Anglican Church, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, at his residence.
Aliyev is scheduled to meet Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian on October 5 in Granada. The leaders of France, Germany, and the European Council are also expected to attend.
Aliyev again emphasized that Azerbaijan took the initiative for a peace treaty after Baku regained full control over Nagorno-Karabakh last month, and that historical opportunities have arisen in the region to advance the peace agenda.
The Azerbaijani president "touched on the efforts made by Azerbaijan to establish peace" in his conversation with Welby, the Azerbaijani news agency APA reported.
Aliyev's administration also issued a statement saying Armenian residents living in Karabakh "will be granted freedom of religion and the protection of their cultural and religious monuments will be ensured," according to the Azerbaijani news agency Trend.
"Regardless of ethnic, religious, or linguistic affiliation, equal rights and freedoms of everyone are guaranteed, including the safety of everyone," the statement said.
The moves came as the Armenian Defense Ministry said one of its soldiers was killed when Azerbaijani forces opened fire in a border region.
Azerbaijani forces shelled a vehicle belonging to Armenian forces carrying provisions for personnel, a statement said, adding that two other soldiers were wounded.
Azerbaijan rejected an earlier statement from the Armenian ministry about the incident, calling it false.
The Russian Defense Ministry said separately that a joint Russian-Azerbaijani patrol came under sniper fire in Nagorno-Karabakh. There were no casualties, a ministry statement said.
In Stepanakert (Xankendi), the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh, a fourth session of the closely watched "reintegration" talks was held between Azerbaijani officials and ethnic Armenian leaders of the breakaway region.
The Azerbaijani presidential administration announced a reintegraton plan that had been presented at three previous meetings last month.
The talks come two weeks after Azerbaijan routed Nagorno-Karabakh's ethnic Armenian forces in a 24-hour military campaign. Separatist authorities then agreed to dissolve their government by the end of this year, a bitter pill for Armenians who have made control of Nagorno-Karabakh a national priority.
Azerbaijani Interior Ministry spokesman Elshad Haciyev told AP on October 2 that the country's police had established control over the entire region and moved to "protect the rights and ensure security of the Armenian population in accordance with Azerbaijan's law."
Haciyev's statements came as the last bus carrying ethnic Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh left the region, completing an exodus of more than 100,000 people.
The bus carried 15 passengers with serious illnesses and mobility problems, said Gegham Stepanian, Nagorno-Karabakh's human rights ombudsman. He called for information about any other residents who want to leave but had trouble doing so.
Although Baku pledged to respect the rights of ethnic Armenians after the military campaign, most of them fled the region fearing reprisals or the loss of the freedom to speak their language and practice their religion and customs.
The Armenian government said on October 2 that 100,514 of the region's estimated 120,000 residents had crossed into Armenia.
Health Minister Anahit Avanesyan said some people had died during the slow journey over a single mountain road into Armenia that took as long as 40 hours.
With reporting by AP
Jailed Belarusian Activist Whose Term Ended In August Faces New Trial
Amid an ongoing crackdown on civil society groups and free speech in Belarus, activist Palina Sharenda-Panasyuk, who finished serving a prison term in early August but was not released, has gone on trial again, this time on a charge of "blatantly violating the penitentiary regulations."
Judge Stanislau Ivanyutsenka of the Rechytsa district court in the country's southeastern region of Homel began the trial on October 2.
Sharenda-Panasyuk was initially arrested in 2021 and sentenced to two years in prison for insulting the authoritarian ruler of Belarus, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, and allegedly assaulting a police officer.
She was scheduled to be released on August 6 but instead she was remanded in custody and the new charge was brought against her. If convicted, she faces as much as another year in prison.
The Crisis In Belarus
Read our coverage as Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka continues his brutal crackdown on NGOs, activists, and independent media following the August 2020 presidential election.
Belarusian human rights organizations have declared Sharenda-Panasyuk a political prisoner. Earlier this year, Sharenda-Panasyuk renounced her Belarusian citizenship to protest against her incarceration.
Also on October 2, the Prosecutor-General's Office said it had launched several investigations against the Rada (Council) of the Belarusian Democratic Republic (BNR) in exile -- an advocacy group promoting support for Belarusian independence and democracy among Western policymakers.
The BNR, known as the oldest existing government in exile, once governed the Belarusian Democratic Republic between 1917 and 1919 before moving into exile after the Bolsheviks took over.
According to the Belarusian Prosecutor-General's Office, "BNR's leadership in exile coordinates activities with other extremist organizations, establishes contacts with armed groups involved in developments in Ukraine, of which Belarusian citizens are members."
Many journalists, rights activists, and representatives of democratic institutions have been jailed in Belarus since an August 2020 presidential election that opposition politicians, ordinary Belarusians, and Western governments said was rigged.
Thousands have been detained during protests across the country over the results and there have been credible reports of torture and ill-treatment by security forces. Several people have died during the crackdown.
Lukashenka has refused to negotiate with the opposition and many of its leaders have been arrested or forced to leave the country.
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.
Relatives Of Self-Exiled Tajik Activists Detained After Rahmon's Car Pelted With Eggs In Berlin
Tajik police have detained the relatives of several self-exiled activists after the car of President Emomali Rahmon was pelted with eggs while he was in Berlin last week. The activists told RFE/RL that relatives of Sharofiddin Gadoev, Dilshod Sharifov, Ismoil Mahmadov, Jamshed Sharifov, Behruz Taghoizoda, and Muhammadjon Abdulloev -- all members of the opposition Group 24 -- had been detained over the weekend on unspecified charges. Rahmon's car was pelted with eggs when he and leaders of four other Central Asian nations were in Berlin on August 29 for talks with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. To read the original story by RFE/RL' Tajik Service, click here.
Ukrainian Lawmakers, Elon Musk Trade Barbs On Social Media
A simmering feud between Elon Musk and Ukraine neared a boil on October 2 after the tech billionaire mocked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's continued pleas for wartime assistance from the West, triggering Kyiv to respond with accusations the entrepreneur had become a tool of Moscow by spreading its "propaganda."
Musk the owner of SpaceX, the provider of the Starlink satellite communication services that help Ukraine's defensive efforts to repel invading Russian troops, launched the first volley on October 2, when he posted a picture of an anxious-looking student with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's face superimposed on it and the caption: "When it's been 5 minutes and you haven't asked for a billion dollars in aid."
The post sparked an immediate outcry in Ukraine, with parliament posting a response using the same photo but with Musk's face on the student's body and a caption that said, "When it's been 5 minutes and you haven't spread Russian propaganda."
The exchange, which played out in front of more than 36 million users on X, formerly known as Twitter, who viewed the posts highlights the precarious situation Kyiv faces as it tries to continue to fund its war effort more than 19 months after the Kremlin sent tens of thousands of troops pouring across its border into Ukraine.
The United States has been the largest single donor of aid to Ukraine since Russia's full-scale invasion last year, giving tens of billions of dollars in military and financial assistance. However, over the weekend, aid for Ukraine was omitted from a stopgap funding measure passed by Congress to avert a U.S. government shutdown.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhaylo Podolyak said in a post on Telegram that being silent or ironic about Ukraine's situation played into the narrative Russia is putting out over the war.
"Unfortunately, not everyone and not always, while being significant media figures, but being thousands of kilometers away from the war's epicenter, is able to realize what the daily bombardments and cries of children losing their parents are," he said.
It's not the first time Musk and officials in Ukraine have butted heads.
Ukrainian officials have criticized Musk before during the war for suggesting they should consider giving up land for peace, a position that Kyiv has staunchly rejected.
Ukraine also reacted angrily to the revelation in September that Musk prevented a Ukrainian attack on a Russian Navy base last year by declining Kyiv's request to activate Starlink satellites to open Internet access in the Black Sea near Moscow-occupied Crimea.
Starlink, operated by SpaceX, has proved a key battlefield tool for Kyiv.
The service is a network of more than 2,000 satellites orbiting the Earth in communication with thousands of terminals on the ground. It was activated across Ukraine in late February 2022 after Internet services were disrupted because of Russia's invasion.
The Ukrainian military uses Starlink for broadband communications in the field and to help control a network of surveillance drones that is critical to monitor Russian troop concentrations and military movements.
Zelenskiy last month appealed to his allies for more military support to push back Russia's invasion during a trip to the United States. Zelenskiy visited the White House during the visit to push his case directly with President Joe Biden.
With reporting by Reuters
Kazakhstan Cancels Concerts Of Russian Comedian Who Opposes Ukraine Invasion
Two major concert halls in Kazakhstan said over the weekend that performances by Russian comedian and TV presenter Maksim Galkin, who has been vocal in his criticism of the Kremlin's war against Ukraine, cannot be held due to "repair works" at the venues. Galkin, who fled Russia last year, was scheduled to appear on October 8 in Astana and October 9 in Almaty. Galkin has been fighting to hold his concerts in Kazakhstan for some time. In late August, he accused Kazakh authorities of blocking his plans to try and hold concerts for "fictitious reasons." To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Kazakh Service, click here.
Bulgarian Energy Workers Block Roads For Fourth Day To Protest Green Transition Plans
Bulgarian energy workers blocked key roads for a fourth day on October 2 in protest of government plans to transition away from fossil fuels and toward green energy sources. They declined an invitation for talks with the government and demanded officials come to them instead. The protests were sparked by the adoption of plans for a green transition of the coal-mining regions Stara Zagora, Pernik, and Kustendil, which is a condition for the EU to allocate 1.2 billion euros for new jobs. In September, protesters and the government agreed on measures to protect workers, but the demonstrations continue. To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Bulgarian Service, click here.
Russians Unofficially Honor Wagner Mercenary Leader Prigozhin On 40th Day After His Death
Russians have commemorated the founder and leader of Wagner mercenary group Yevgeny Prigozhin on the 40th day since his death, a Russian Orthodox tradition to honor those who have passed away.
People brought flowers on October 1 to makeshift memorials in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Abakan, Sochi, Yekaterinburg, Chelyabinsk, and at least nine other cities across Russia. Similar commemorations were held in the Belarusian city of Homel and the city of Sevastopol in Ukraine's Russian-annexed Crimea.
A member of the Wagner group told RFE/RL that about 150 vehicles cruised through the city of Novosibirsk in Siberia in a procession to commemorate Prigozhin, whose mercenary group gained notoriety for cruel and brutal methods of fighting along Russian armed forces invading Ukraine.
Dozens of vehicles were used in similar events in at least two other Russian cities.
In Prigozhin's hometown of St. Petersburg, his mother and son laid flowers at his grave and an Orthodox religious memorial and prayer services were held.
Prigozhin, 62, and several of his associates died in an unexplained plane crash in late August. He was buried on August 29 in a discreet ceremony.
Russian officials said at the time that investigators were considering the possibility that the plane was downed on purpose.
Two months before his death, on June 23-24, Prigozhin sent thousands of his fighters in a short-lived rebellion against the military command fighting in Ukraine, imposing one of the biggest challenges to President Vladimir Putin in his more than two decades in power.
The insurrection came on the heels of months of intense public infighting with Russia’s military leadership over the war strategy in Ukraine and ammunition supplies, as Wagner's fighters played a major role in heavy fighting for the city of Bakhmut in Ukraine's east.
In mid-September, the British government added Wagner group to its list of terrorist organizations, saying it remains a threat to global security even after Prigozhin's death.
Earlier in January, Washington designated Wagner a transnational criminal organization.
Kosovo Says Serbia's Behavior Same As Russia's Before Ukraine Invasion
Serbia's troop deployment on Kosovo's border is similar to Russia's behavior toward Ukraine before its full-scale invasion, the Kosovar foreign minister said, urging the European Union to take action against Belgrade such as freezing its candidacy status. The United States said last week it was monitoring a troubling Serbian military buildup along the Kosovo frontier that is destabilizing the area. NATO said it was authorizing additional peacekeeping forces for Kosovo. "There has never been this kind of concentration of troops in recent years," Kosovar Foreign Minister Donika Gervalla-Schwarz told German broadcaster Deutschlandfunk in an interview on October 2. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Bulgaria Bans Entry Of Cars With Russian License Plates
Bulgaria will ban the entry of cars with Russian license plates by the end of the day on October 2, the head of Bulgaria's border police, Anton Zlatanov has announced. “By the end of today, the ban on the entry of Russian cars will begin to be enforced on the territory of Bulgaria," Zlatanov said, adding that a ban on Russian trucks already has been in effect for several months. The ban, which is part of the sanctions imposed by the European Union on Russia for its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, is already in force in Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland, Finland, and non-EU member Norway. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.
Amid Concerns About Weakening Support For Ukraine, Zelenskiy Says Victory Depends On Cooperation With EU
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy told European Union foreign ministers on October 2 that Ukraine's victory in the war with invading Russian forces depended "directly" on Kyiv's cooperation with the EU as concerns grow about a possible weakening of support in the bloc after the election victory of a populist Slovak party that opposes military aid for Kyiv.
"I am sure that Ukraine and the entire free world are capable of winning this confrontation. But our victory directly depends on our cooperation with you: the more strong and principled steps we take with you, the sooner this war will end," Zelenskiy said after meeting with EU foreign ministers gathered in Kyiv on October 2 in a show of solidarity with Ukraine.
Zelenskiy also told the gathering that sanctions pressure on Russia was "obviously not enough," calling for more cooperation to end any "schemes of circumvention of sanctions by Russia" and an end to supplies to Russia that enable it to increase military production.
"This is a clear interest not only of Ukraine, but also of everyone in the world who wants a faster end to this war," Zelenskiy said.
He also called for expanding sanctions against Iran, including on its ability to import equipment and chemicals used to make drones that it then supplies to Russia.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell hailed the meeting of EU foreign ministers in Kyiv as "historic" and a reiterated that the place of Ukraine was in the 27-member bloc.
"You can be sure of our determination to be by Ukraine's side as long as it takes," Borrell told Zelenskiy after the meeting.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said the gathering took place within the bloc's "future borders" and urged Ukraine's allies to stand firm amid what he said was "huge resources" invested by the Kremlin to stir disunity.
"Putin's greatest expectation is precisely that the West and the world will tire of standing on the side of Ukraine in this war," he said.
In Washington, where Congress managed to avert a government shutdown over the weekend only by removing aid to Ukraine from a stopgap spending deal, White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre also rejected claims about war fatigue in Western countries.
"If Putin thinks he can outlast us he's wrong," Jean-Pierre said.
Kuleba, referring to the election victory in neighboring Slovakia of pro-Russian Robert Fico, who vowed to immediately curb military aid to Ukraine if he became prime minister again, said Kyiv respected the result.
"We respect the choice of the Slovak people," Kuleba said. "But it is too early to say how the election result will affect Slovakia's position," he added, pointing that Kyiv can "draw the first conclusions" after a coalition is formed -- a complicated process that might take a long time.
Although Ukraine was granted EU candidate status in June 2022, months after the start of Russia's unprovoked invasion, the negotiation process is expected to take years before Kyiv can join the bloc, and there is opposition to its membership from countries such as Hungary.
Prime Minister Viktor Orban has maintained close relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin and has been against supplying weapons to Kyiv or admitting it into the 27-member bloc.
Neither Hungary's nor Poland's foreign ministers were present in Kyiv. Poland's relations with Ukraine, usually warm, are currently strained due a spat about Ukrainian grain exports.
The two EU member states sent lower-level delegations to Kyiv.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, on the other hand, told reporters on the sidelines of the meeting that, as the cold season settles in, the EU needed to come up with a strategic plan to shield Kyiv from the consequences of an expected repeat of Russia's campaign of strikes on Ukraine's energy grid that caused misery and suffering last winter.
"Ukraine needs a winter protection plan of air defense, generators, and a strengthening of the energy supply. We saw last winter the brutal way in which the Russian president wages this war, with targeted attacks on critical infrastructure such as power plants," she told reporters in Kyiv.
The meeting in Kyiv came just hours after Russia overnight launched fresh artillery strikes on Kherson, killing at least two people and wounding several others, including children, and damaging an Orthodox cathedral in the southern Ukrainian city.
WATCH: Amid their grinding counteroffensive, Ukrainian troops are training on donated German mobile-bridge equipment that could help them cross rivers and defensive Russian anti-tank ditches.
One of the dead was a policeman killed in shelling on the morning of October 2, and children were among those wounded in overnight attacks on the regional capital, Kherson, Governor Oleksandr Prokudin said on Telegram.
Russian shelling also damaged the Holy Spirit Cathedral and the administration of the Kherson Diocese, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church reported on October 2.
"The projectiles hit the basement of the diocesan administration, as well as the cathedral, as a result of which the central entrance, facade, sacristy, and utility rooms were damaged and the panes in the windows were broken," the Kherson Diocese said in a message.
The liberated part of Kherson region, including the city of Kherson, has been shelled on a near-daily basis for months by Russian troops stationed on the left bank of the Dnieper River.
On October 1, Russian shelling of several settlements in Kherson killed a man in his 40s in Tyahynka, a town about 30 kilometers northeast of Kherson city.
Russia overnight also launched seven Iranian-made drones at the southern region of Dnipropetrovsk, military spokeswoman Natalyia Humenyuk told Ukrainian television, adding that four of them were downed by Ukraine's air defense.
On the battlefield, Ukrainian forces continued their offensive actions in the Bakhmut area of the eastern Donetsk region and in the direction of the southern city of Melitopol, where 38 close-quarters battles were fought over the past 24 hours, the General Staff of the Ukrainian military said in its daily report on October 2.
With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP
Biden Says U.S. Support For Ukraine Must Not Be Interrupted After Deal To Avert Shutdown Drops Aid
U.S. President Joe Biden vowed on October 1 after signing a bill to avoid a government shutdown that aid for Ukraine that was dropped from the legislation would continue and said he expects Congress to pass the aid in separate legislation.
Biden said in an address from the White House Ukraine can count on U.S. support.
"We cannot under any circumstances allow American support for Ukraine to be interrupted," he added.
Biden spoke after Congress averted a government shutdown by passing a short-term funding package late on September 29 and rushing it to the White House for his signature before the midnight deadline. But in order to ensure passage, legislators dropped assistance for Ukraine to help in its fight against Russia.
Biden is now urging Congress to negotiate an aid package as soon as possible, saying there's "an overwhelming sense of urgency."
He said he expects House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (Republican-California) to keep his commitment to secure passage of support needed to help Ukrainians “defend themselves against aggression and brutality."
Asked if he could trust McCarthy to honor deals, Biden said, "We just made one about Ukraine, so we’ll find out."
A White House official said Biden was referring to a promise from Republicans to pass a separate bill on the issue.
McCarthy said he would "make sure that the weapons are provided for Ukraine," but added in an interview with U.S. broadcaster CBS that this would be only in conjunction with legislation dealing with the U.S. southern border as demanded by far-right Republicans who insist domestic matters such as illegal immigration and crime take priority.
Ukraine played down the situation, saying Kyiv continues to work to ensure new aid.
"The Ukrainian government is now actively working with its American partners to ensure that the new U.S. budget decision, which will be developed over the next 45 days, includes new funds to help Ukraine," Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleh Nikolenko said.
Despite the growing signs of war fatigue in the U.S. Congress, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said he was counting on the United States to keep up its unwavering security assistance to Ukraine.
"We believe this will not be the last word," Borrell said while on a visit to Kyiv on October 1. "I have the hope that this will not be the definite decision and that the United States will continue to support Ukraine."
Borrell met with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Defense Minister Rustem Umerov, saying afterward that the EU is preparing long-term security commitments for Ukraine.
"Ukraine needs more capabilities & needs them faster," Borrell said on X, formerly known as Twitter. He said he had discussed "continuous EU military assistance" during his first in-person meeting with Umerov.
"We are preparing long-term security commitments for Ukraine," Borrell said.
The aggression against Ukraine "is accompanied by massive hybrid attacks, with propaganda, malign information manipulation & cyber attacks," he added, saying the EU continues supporting Ukraine in defending itself against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s disinformation.
Umerov, who took over as defense minister in September, said on X he was grateful for the EU's "continuous support" and that the meeting was "a starting point for great cooperation."
He said their discussions covered artillery, ammunition, air defense, electronic warfare, and long-term assistance programs, training, and defense industry localization in Ukraine.
Umerov also thanked U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, saying he had a phone conversation with him on October 1 in which they discussed further military assistance from the U.S.
"Secretary Austin assured me that U.S. support to Ukraine will continue [and] Ukrainian warriors will continue to have a strong back-up on the battlefield," Umerov said.
With reporting by Reuters and CBS
Protesting Bulgarian Energy Workers Refuse Meeting With PM On Green Transition Plan
Protesters in Bulgaria blocked roads in three districts for a third day on October 1 in protest of government plans to shut down coal-burning power plants as part of a transition away from fossil fuels and toward green energy sources.
Bulgarian miners and other energy-sector workers who are taking part in the protest declined an invitation from Prime Minister Nikolay Denkov to meet on October 1 with the Council of Ministers in Sofia, union leader Dimitar Manolov said.
Manolov said late on September 30 the protestors' refusal was categorical, and early on October 1 said their position had not changed. The protesters on September 30 also refused a meeting with Energy Minister Rumen Radev.
The local union, which has demanded Radev's resignation, wants an extraordinary meeting of the Council of Ministers "with one item on its agenda -- the withdrawal of the submitted territorial just transition plans," according to state news agency BTA. Although the plans have already been submitted to the European Commission, the union wants them "to be corrected and our demands to be applied."
The Bulgarian government on September 29 adopted the plan for a green transition of the coal-mining regions of Stara Zagora, Pernik, and Kustendi, prompting the protesters to begin blocking roads in the three regions.
Radev announced on September 30 that Bulgaria's plan had been sent to Brussels. Prior to that move, Bulgaria had been the only EU member state that had not sent its plan.
The adoption of the plan was a condition for the European Commission to allocate 1.2 billion euros ($1.27 billion) -- money that would be used for the green transformation of the regions and the creation of new jobs for coal workers.
The plan must include a timetable for reducing the capacities of coal-burning power plants in order to be approved by the European Commission.
Denkov said that the plan clearly stated that the government would not close coal-burning plants in Bulgaria before 2038. He has said however that "gradually some of them will drop out of the energy system because it will not be economically possible for them to function anymore."
Denkov said this was why it is important to "create mechanisms by which people who have the necessary qualifications can find employment in the same region."
The government also agreed to pay compensations of 36 months of salary for energy workers who decide to quit.
Denkov has called on the protesters to stop the demonstrations, saying that their demands have been fulfilled.
But protesting miners and energy workers are dubious and want the plans to be reworked to reflect their demands.
"What we are being offered now is -- take some small change and ruin what you have. This is what we are being offered...to ruin the future for years to come, in fact forever," Manolov told BTA. He claimed that "no one knows" what is written in the territorial plans that have been sent to Brussels.
Energy workers from a Pernik power plant and miners on October 1 joined the protest to support their colleagues from Stara Zagora. The protesters carried banners and chanted that they wanted to keep their jobs and that the green transition plan is not fair.
They told journalists that if the transition plans are not revised, more serious protest action will follow.
With reporting by BTA and dpa
Russian Forces Keep Up Attacks In Southern Ukraine As Missiles Downed Over Crimea
The latest Russian attacks on the Kherson region in southern Ukraine killed at least one man, local military authorities said on October 1, while Russia said its air defenses shot down six Ukrainian drones over two western and southern regions.
The fatality occurred in Tyahynka, a town about 30 kilometers northeast of Kherson city, where a man in his 40s was killed in the yard of a house by enemy fire.
Beryslava, a city on the Dnieper River to the northeast of Tyahynka, also came under attack shortly before 5 p.m. on October 1, according to the military administration of Kherson, a region that Ukrainian troops partially recaptured from Russia last year.
As a result of the impact of two guided aerial bombs, garages in Beryslava were destroyed, the windows of a medical facility and residential buildings were blown out, and critical infrastructure was damaged, the message said.
Russian forces also attacked Vesele, a village east of the river, where a 63-year-old woman was taken to the hospital with injured limbs and a concussion, according to the report, which could not be independently verified.
Earlier on October 1, Russian forces attacked a residential quarter of Kherson city, starting a fire that trapped a mother and three children before the family managed to be saved.
Russian troops also shelled Stanislav overnight, injuring two men. Rescuers were able to pull two women out from under the rubble.
Librated parts of the Kherson region are shelled nearly every day. Despite evidence of the shelling, Moscow has denied targeting civilians.
One person was injured in the Cherkasy region as well, regional Governor Ihor Taburets said.
"Overnight, the enemy massively attacked our Cherkasy region with attack drones. Unfortunately, there were hits on industrial infrastructure in Uman," Taburets said in a post to Telegram. "As a result, fires broke out in warehouses; in particular, where grain was stored.”
The city of Kryviy Rih was also hit, damaging electricity and gas lines, according to local authorities.
The Russian Defense Ministry said on October 1 that it downed two Grom-2 missiles, the fragments of which fell on the territory of the Dzhankoy district of Crimea.
Sergei Aksyonov, the Russian-installed governor of Crimea, said that the debris of the rockets damaged the warehouse. There were no casualties, he said.
The Russian Defense Ministry said one drone was brought down in the southern Krasnodar region around dawn on October 1, and five more were shot down over the western Smolensk region in the following hours.
No casualties were reported and it was unclear if there was any damage on the ground. Ukraine, which has rarely claimed official responsibility for drone or missile attacks on Russian targets, had no comment.
Smolensk Mayor Aleksandr Novikov echoed the Defense Ministry, saying that five drones were shot down over the regional center and in its suburbs.
He called on city residents to "remain calm and not leave their homes unnecessarily, and also refrain from out-of-town trips."
Britain's new defense secretary said London was considering stepping up its instruction of Ukrainian soldiers by sending British trainers to Ukraine itself.
In an interview published October 1 by The Telegraph, Grant Shapps said he had spoken with top military officers about moving "more training" into Ukraine and he called on British defense firms to set up manufacturing facilities inside the country.
More than 20,000 Ukrainian soldiers have received training from Britian since the start of 2022.
Britain might also play a more active naval role in the Black Sea, where Russia has targeted Ukrainian cargo ships, Schapps said.
Dmitry Medvedev, the bombastic former Russian president who is now a top official on the country's Security Council, said that British trainers would be legitimate military targets if they traveled to Ukraine to train Ukrainian troops.
London is "perfectly aware that they'll be eliminated mercilessly, and not as mercenaries this time around, but precisely as British NATO specialists," Medvedev wrote in a post on Telegram.
With reporting by Reuters
UN Mission Arrives In Nagorno-Karabakh Following Azerbaijani Takeover
A United Nations mission has arrived in Nagorno-Karabakh following an Azerbaijani takeover of the mountain enclave that resulted in the exodus of the region's ethnic Armenian population. An Azerbaijani presidential spokesman said the mission arrived early on October 1 to assess the humanitarian needs in the region. It marks the first time in about 30 years that the UN has gained access to the region. Ethnic Armenians, who had controlled Nagorno-Karabakh for three decades, agreed to disarm and dissolve their government following an Azerbaijani offensive last week. Nearly all of Karabakh's estimated 120,000 residents have fled the territory for Armenia in recent days.
Romania Says Youth Soccer Teams Will Boycott Matches Against Russia
The Romanian Football Federation says its teams will refuse to compete against Russian youth teams in international competitions. According to a statement issued on September 30, the federation believes that it "must be in solidarity with the spirit of sanctions confirmed by European and national institutions." UEFA announced on September 27 that youth teams from Russia will be allowed to compete in European competitions, saying the youth "should not be punished for actions for which adults are solely responsible." The Ukrainian Football Association subsequently said its teams will boycott all competitions featuring Russian teams. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.
Pristina Says Evidence Shows Serbia Planned To Sieze Northern Kosovo After Attack
Kosovo says its investigation into an attack last weekend in a northern Kosovar village has turned up evidence showing that Serbia intended to annex northern Kosovo and that the attackers prepared at Serbian Army bases.
Interior Minister Xhelal Svecla said on October 1 during a news conference in Mitrovica that more than 90 people took part in the attack in the village of Banjska on September 24. Three of the attackers and a Kosovar police officer were killed.
"Serbia has repeatedly tried to say that it has nothing to do with this attack, but the facts that will be published show that the preparations, training, and exercises of this group were carried out at the military training base near Jagodina and in Kopaonik,” Svecla said, referring to locations in Serbia.
He said images of the preparations can been seen in data obtained from drones that Kosovo seized.
The attackers also planned to open "a long underground channel" from Banjska to Serbia for "supplies from the Serbian state," he said.
Kosovo Police Director-General Gazmend Hoxha said the group that carried out the attack had been trained at Serbian bases for a long, unspecified period and the plan involved the annexation of northern Kosovo.
"In the documents we have, which we cannot share with you now, there is a plan for annexation of the north forest in an initial phase in 37 positions, from which our police units would be attacked, not only in Banjska and Zvecan but in all the northern parts," Hoxha said.
A corridor was then to be created to carry out armed resistance and "the creation of a new reality in the country," he said.
Serbian Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Milos Vucevic and General Milan Mojsilovic, chief of the General Staff of the Serbian armed forces, called the allegations lies and scheduled a news conference on October 2 to respond.
Hoxha said the Kosovo Police are still investigating a week after the deadly attack.
Svecla said a quantity of weapons was found in Banjska on October 1. Police had already confiscated large quantities of weapons in the days after the attack.
After initially saying the attack was on the monastery, officials now say the Serbian attackers took refuge in the monastery after attacking a police patrol in an ambush. From the monastery they continued the confrontation with police, and three of them were killed.
Hoxha said the Serbian Orthodox Church and monastery were part of the investigation "to see their possible role in the attack or whether they helped the terrorist group."
Earlier on October 1 Kosovo called on Serbia to withdraw troops from its border region, vowing it was ready to protect its territorial integrity.
Serbia's president, meanwhile, denied Western reports of a military buildup, and complained about a "campaign of lies" against Serbia.
"We call on [Serbian] President [Aleksandar] Vucic and the institutions of Serbia to immediately withdraw all troops from the border with Kosovo," Kosovo's government said. "The deployment of Serbian troops along the border with Kosovo is the next step by Serbia to threaten the territorial integrity of our country."
In a video posted to Instagram on October 1, Vucic denied the U.S. and other Western reports of a buildup.
"A campaign of lies...has been launched against our Serbia," Vucic said. "They have lied a lot about the presence of our military forces.... In fact, they are bothered that Serbia has what they describe as sophisticated weapons."
The United States on September 29 accused Serbia of massing forces along the border and urged Belgrade to pull them back. NATO, which still has 4,500 troops in Kosovo, has ordered more troops to the area "to address the current situation."
NATO again called for calm and demanded that Belgrade and Pristina resume dialogue as soon as possible, as "the only way to achieve lasting peace," alliance spokesman Dylan White said.
With reporting by AP and AFP
U.S. Congress Averts Government Shutdown, But Removes New Ukraine Support
U.S. lawmakers have passed a last-minute, temporary spending bill to keep the U.S. government open, averting a disruptive shutdown but also removing any new support for Ukraine. A coalition of Democratic and Republican lawmakers backed the legislation late on September 30, sending it for President Joe Biden's approval just before a midnight deadline. Opposition to more Ukraine support is growing among House Republicans. Still, congressional leaders vowed to revisit the issue in the coming weeks. Biden has requested another $24 billion for Ukraine, on top of the $133 billion in weaponry and humanitarian aid sent since Russia's February 2022 invasion.
Slovakia's Populist, Pro-Russian Ex-PM To Receive Mandate To Form Government
The president of Slovakia says she will give a mandate to form a new government to the winner of the country's parliamentary elections, signaling former Prime Minister Robert Fico and his SMER-SSD can begin putting together a coalition government in the central European country.
With reporting by Reuters and AP
Top EU Diplomat Visits Odesa, Calls Russian Attacks On Ukrainian Port City 'Barbaric'
The European's Union's foreign policy chief visited the embattled Ukrainian port city of Odesa on the Black Sea on September 30, lamenting that is has been in the news not because of its beauty and historical significance but because it has been targeted by Russian missile and drone attacks.
“Odesa is a beautiful historic city. It should be in the headlines for its vibrant culture & spirit. Instead, it marks the news as frequent target of Putin’s war,” Josef Borrell said on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.
“I’ve been witnessing the consequences of this war, how Ukraine and Odesa are paying a high price for it,” he said in a video posted on X. “This is a good example of how Russia is trying to destroy Ukraine,” he added, pointing to damaged walls inside the Cathedral of the Transfiguration.
As he toured the cathedral, Borrell called the Russian assault on the city "barbaric."
Odesa's old quarter and the historic Cathedral of the Transfiguration were badly damaged by a Russian bombardment in July. Harbor infrastructure that is key to Ukraine's grain exports has also been hit in recent attacks.
Borrell noted that a year has passed since Russia's illegal annexation of the Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhya, and Kherson regions. He also mentioned the illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014.
The top EU diplomat promised that Europe would not abandon Ukraine in its grinding war to recapture those areas, saying further military, economic, political, and diplomatic support is needed.
He also said his visit to Odesa was meant to highlight how the EU is supporting Ukraine in multiple ways in hopes for a “just peace that preserves the territorial integrity and independence of Ukraine.”
Borrell again reproached President Vladimir Putin for ending the UN-brokered agreement that allowed the safe transit of Ukrainian grain exports across the Black Sea.
The deal was seen as essential to addressing global food insecurity and containing grain prices. Borrell noted that Ukraine had once been the largest supplier of grain to the UN's World Food Program.
Borrell's trip was not announced in advance for security reasons. No details were given on what else was on his agenda.
With reporting by dpa
Kyrgyz Presidential Adviser Backs Flag Change Away From 'Sunflower'
An adviser to Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov has expressed support for changing the post-Soviet Central Asian republic's flag so it appears less like "a sunflower." The adviser, Cholpon Abykeev, said, "There is no need to make a tragedy out of changing the flag, considering its flaws." The speaker of Kyrgyzstan's parliament this week opened public debate on a bill to "improve" the flag, which shows a yellow sun with a yurt-like opening against a red backdrop. The current design was adopted in March 1992, one day after Kyrgyzstan joined the United Nations along with seven other former Soviet states. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, click here.
Kazakh Court Rejects Atazhurt Movement's Complaint Over Registration
An interdistrict court in Astana has rejected a complaint by an unregistered movement called Atazhurt protesting the Kazakh Justice Ministry's refusal to grant it registration, according to the group's local representative.
Kapar Ahatuly said the special court concluded on September 29 that the complaint was groundless based on the presence of deceased people on Atazhurt's petition for registration as well as an Excel formatting mistake.
Ahatuly dismissed the accusation that the list of at least 700 petitioners might include any dead people.
Contacted by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, the Justice Ministry declined to comment.
Atazhurt was started by Serikzhan Bilash, an ethnic Kazakh from Xinjiang who moved to Kazakhstan in 2000 and received citizenship in 2011, and later helped highlight alleged mass abuses against Uyghurs in western China.
Kazakh officials have bristled at China's treatment of ethnic Kazakhs and Uyghurs but have avoided joining international condemnations of Beijing for the alleged mass roundups and brutality.
China is a major trade partner with Kazakhstan and a significant investor in Kazakh projects.
Bilash led the Atazhurt Eriktileri (Volunteers of the Fatherland) group, which in 2018-19 staged several gatherings of ethnic Kazakhs from Xinjiang who have resettled in Kazakhstan and asked for help securing the release of their relatives and friends from reeducation camps in Xinjiang.
Kazakh authorities in March 2019 arrested Bilash and charged him with inciting ethnic hatred. They held him in custody for five months before fining and releasing him.
Bilash later fled Kazakhstan.
Kazakh officials reject accusations that they withhold registrations for political reasons.
'Messianic' Putin Fell Victim To His Own Propaganda, Says Veteran Journalist2
Putin, Medvedev Combine Spin With Threats On Anniversary Of Unilateral Annexations In Ukraine3
U.S. Urges Serbia To Pull Back Large Military Deployment Along Border With Kosovo4
Pristina Says Evidence Shows Serbia Planned To Sieze Northern Kosovo After Attack5
War In Ukraine Poses 'Terrible Threat' For Russia's Saami People, But Solutions Are Few6
Controversial New Russian History Textbook Opens Old Wounds In North Caucasus7
As Armenia And Azerbaijan Seek Peace, Proposed Zangezur Corridor Could Be Major Sticking Point8
Ukraine Says Its Forces Repelled Attacks, Inflicted Losses Across Front Line9
Live Briefing: Russia Invades Ukraine10
Russia's Harsh Prison System Is 'A Bottomless Reservoir Of Mercenaries,' Says Rights Advocate