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Four Men Found Guilty, Handed Long Prison Terms For Murder Of Daghestani Journalist In 2011

Journalist Khadzhimurad Kamalov was shot dead in Daghestan in 2011.
Journalist Khadzhimurad Kamalov was shot dead in Daghestan in 2011.

ROSTOV-ON-DON, Russia -- More than a decade after prominent journalist Khadzhimurad Kamalov was gunned down in Russia's North Caucasus republic of Daghestan, a court sentenced four men to lengthy prison terms after finding them guilty of his murder in the high-profile case.

On July 1, a court in Russia’s southwestern city of Rostov-on-Don, sentenced the former deputy prime minister of Daghestan, Shamil Isayev, to 16 years in prison after finding him guilty of ordering the assassination.

Two men, whom the court found guilty of conducting the deadly attack, Murat Shuaibov and Magomed Khazamov, were sentenced to 23 and 24 years in prison, respectively.

A fourth defendant, Magomed Abigasanov, who pleaded guilty to taking part in the attack, was handed a 16-year prison term.

Prosecutors had sought life in prison for Isayev, Shuaibov, and Khazamov. The high-profile trial started in November 2020.

Khadzhimurad Kamalov, the editor and publisher of the weekly newspaper Chernovik, was shot dead in mid-December 2011 outside the newspaper's office in Makhachkala, the capital of Daghestan.

Kamalov's newspaper was known for in-depth reporting on police abuses in the fight against an Islamist insurgency that originated in neighboring Chechnya and spread across Russia's North Caucasus.

After the verdicts and sentences were announced, Kamalov's brother, Magdi Kamalov, said that he hoped the case will be returned to investigators as, according to him, more people were involved in the journalist's murder.

Khadzhimurad Kamalov's murder was harshly criticized by international and domestic human rights organizations.

The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said at the time that Kamalov's murder sent "a chilling message to journalists" seeking to cover alleged abuses by authorities and called on the Russian government to conduct a "thorough, transparent and independent" investigation into the journalist's killing and bring the perpetrators to justice promptly.

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Air-Raid Alert Declared Across Most Of Ukraine As Several Russian Drones Downed

A firefighter runs past a burning car at an oil depot hit by shelling in Donetsk, Russian-controlled Ukraine, on December 6.
A firefighter runs past a burning car at an oil depot hit by shelling in Donetsk, Russian-controlled Ukraine, on December 6.

The Ukrainian Air Force declared an air-raid alert early on December 8 in most Ukrainian regions and reported the destruction of several incoming Russian drones. The alert covered Kyiv and the regions of Cherkasy, Kirovohrad, Kherson, Mykolayiv, Chernihiv, Poltava, Dnipropetrovsk, Zaporizhzhya, Donetsk, Kharkiv, and Sumy. The air defense reported that it shot down five of the seven Iranian-made drones targeting Ukraine's Dnipropetrovsk region. Six S-300 guided missiles were launched at the Kharkiv region, the military said. Regional authorities in Kharkiv reported people were wounded and damage was caused to residential infrastructure as a result of the Russian missile attack. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.

Ukraine To Make Shells With U.S. Firms As It Seeks To Develop Defense Sector

A Ukrainian soldier prepares 155mm artillery shells near Bakhmut, eastern Ukraine, in March.
A Ukrainian soldier prepares 155mm artillery shells near Bakhmut, eastern Ukraine, in March.

Kyiv has agreed with two American firms to jointly manufacture 155mm artillery shells in Ukraine, Strategic Industry Minister Oleksandr Kamyshin said on December 7. But he noted that Ukraine had never produced such shells and it would be "a minimum of two years, a maximum of three" before production could begin. The agreement followed a two-day Ukraine-U.S. defense conference in Washington that included bilateral meetings to discuss Ukraine's battlefield plans for 2024. The United States and allies have sent Kyiv more than 2 million 155mm rounds and are trying to increase production to replenish stocks.

Updated

Azerbaijan, Armenia Agree To Several Goodwill Steps, Including Mutual Release Of Prisoners

The news comes via a joint statement by Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian (right) and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev. (file photo)
The news comes via a joint statement by Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian (right) and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev. (file photo)

Azerbaijan released 32 Armenian servicemen on December 7, while Armenia released two Azerbaijanis, according to a joint statement from the two countries that outlined other "tangible steps" toward building trust.

The statement from the office of Armenian Nikol Pashinian and the administration of the president of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, said both sides viewed the prisoner release as “guided by humanitarian values, and as a manifestation of goodwill."

The names of the released servicemen have not yet been released.

The statement also said there is a historic opportunity to achieve long-awaited peace.

"The two states reaffirm their intention to regulate relations and reach a peace treaty based on respect for the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity," the statement said.

European Council President Charles Michel hailed the agreement as a "major break through" in Armenian and Azerbaijani relations.

"Welcome in particular release of detainees and unprecedented opening in political dialogue," Michel said on X, formerly Twitter. "Establishing and deepening bilateral dialogue between sides has been a key objective of the EU-led Brussels process: today’s progress is a key step."

He encouraged the leaders to finalize a peace deal as soon as possible.

In another goodwill gesture, Armenia expressed its support for Azerbaijan's bid to host next year's Session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP29) and is withdrawing its own candidacy.

The two countries hope that other states of the convention's Eastern European Group will also support Azerbaijan's bid to host the event.

Azerbaijan in turn expressed its support for Armenia's candidacy for membership in the COP Bureau of the Eastern European Group.

Armenia and Azerbaijan will continue their discussions on the implementation of more confidence-building measures, the statement said. They also call on the international community to support their efforts, which they said will contribute to building mutual trust between the two states and have a positive impact on the entire South Caucasus.

Azerbaijan and Armenian have been taking preliminary steps toward a formal peace agreement since Baku regained control over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh in September, resulting in an exodus of ethnic Armenians from the region.

Negotiators from the two countries last week led a meeting of their nations' border delimitation commissions and agreed to intensify future talks on the matter, which has been another focus of preliminary discussions.

U.S. Targets Financial Network Backing Huthis In Yemen Through Sales Of Iranian Commodities

U.S. Undersecretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian E. Nelson
U.S. Undersecretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian E. Nelson

The United States has issued sanctions against 13 individuals and entities in Yemen and other countries that the Treasury Department says are responsible for providing millions of dollars’ worth of funding to Huthi rebels in Yemen from the sale of Iranian commodities.

The individuals and entities sanctioned use a “complex network of exchange houses and companies in multiple jurisdictions” to funnel Iranian money to the Huthis, Iran’s militant partners in Yemen, the U.S. Treasury Department said in a news release on December 7.

“The [Huthis] continue to receive funding and support from Iran, and the result is unsurprising: unprovoked attacks on civilian infrastructure and commercial shipping, disrupting maritime security and threatening international commercial trade,” Undersecretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian E. Nelson, said in the news release.

U.S. warships operating in international waters in the Persian Gulf have responded to the attacks, which the Treasury Department said risk broadening the conflict between Israel and Hamas, which has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States and the EU.

A top White House aide said on December 7 the United States believes that Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps is helping to plan and carry out the missile and drone attacks.

"We believe that they are involved in the conduct of these attacks, the planning of them, the execution of them, the authorization of them and ultimately they support them," deputy national-security adviser Jon Finer said at the Aspen Security Forum.

Iran denies involvement.

The Treasury Department said the sanctions imposed by its Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) target a network that Iran-based Huthi financial facilitator Sa’id al-Jamal has relied on to send the proceeds of Iranian commodity sales to the Huthis and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC).

Two of the individuals designated for sanctions -- Bilal Hudroj and Ahmet Duri -- own companies that made millions of dollars’ worth of financial transfers to Huthi rebels, according to OFAC. Their companies, based in Lebanon and Turkey, also were singled out for sanctions.

Five other companies among those blacklisted on December 7 operated in a similar fashion, handling funds on behalf of Jamal, including through one Yemen-based exchange that OFAC said was established 2021 as a means of bypassing U.S. sanctions imposed that year on Jamal’s other exchanges.

The five companies include one based in Russia -- OOO Russtroi-SK. All five are owned by Deniz Capital Maritime, established in St. Kitts and Nevis by international businessman Fadi Deniz, who OFAC said maintains identity documents from multiple countries. Both Deniz and Deniz Capital Maritime were designated for sanctions.

The sanctions announced on December 7 also hit illicit agents that organized shipments on behalf of Jamal and arranged payments for vessels used to transport commodities, the department said.

The sanctions freeze any property belonging to the designated individuals and entities in U.S. jurisdiction and bar people in the U.S. from dealings with them.

With reporting by Reuters

Putin Hails Ties With Iran In Meeting With Raisi

Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) greets his Iranian counterpart, Ebrahim Raisi, in Moscow on December 7.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) greets his Iranian counterpart, Ebrahim Raisi, in Moscow on December 7.

Russian President Vladimir Putin praised his country's relations with Iran at a meeting in Moscow on December 7 with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi. Since launching its full-scale war in Ukraine, Moscow has sought to deepen its economic and political ties with Tehran. Putin told Raisi that relations between their two countries, both of which have been heavily sanctioned by the West, “are developing very well.” Putin also told Raisi to “convey his best wishes” to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's head of state. "Thanks to his support, we have gained good momentum over the past year," Putin said.

Iranian Rapper Tataloo Detained Upon Arrival After Being Deported From Turkey

Iranian rapper Amir Tataloo meets then-presidential election candidate Ebrahim Raisi in 2017.
Iranian rapper Amir Tataloo meets then-presidential election candidate Ebrahim Raisi in 2017.

Popular Iranian rapper Amir Tataloo was taken into custody immediately upon his arrival in Iran on December 6, following his deportation by Turkish police authorities -- which he had demanded.

Ahead of his arrest, the rapper, who has been detained in Iran several times posted a video on November 29 on his Telegram channel in which he was at Istanbul's Sabiha Gokçen Airport, holding a ticket and preparing to board a plane to Iran.

He later stated that he couldn't board the plane because his passport had expired. Following the incident, videos surfaced on social media showing him loudly insisting on being deported back to Iran.

Iranian media on December 3 showed Tataloo's arrest by Turkish police after they received a complaint from the Iranian consulate in Istanbul. The charges against the rapper centered around his alleged insults directed toward consulate staff and members.

Upon crossing the border, coming into Iran at Bazargan, Tataloo, whose real name is Amir Hossein Maghsoodloo, was taken into custody by Iranian officials. Afterward, the judiciary said he was handed to judicial officers for further investigation.

The Mizan News Agency, associated with Iran's judicial system, reported that multiple complaints have been filed against Tataloo, notably involving minors under 18 and their families. The complaints arose following the teenagers' visit to Tataloo's Istanbul residence.

The controversial rapper supported hard-line candidate Ebrahim Raisi during the country’s 2017 presidential vote.

In a video clip posted online, Raisi, who was defeated by President Hassan Rohani and was later appointed as the head of the judiciary, was seen talking to Tataloo and praising his work.

In 2015, Tataloo praised Iran’s nuclear activities in a music video where the singer was seen on the deck of an Iranian warship in the waters of the Persian Gulf.

Tataloo reportedly had been living in Turkey for several years.

The news of his extradition and arrest has sparked a flurry of reactions on social media.

Some observers speculate that this high-profile case might divert public attention from domestic issues, while others expressed concern that this might overshadow the commemoration of the 40th day since Armita Garavand's death.

The teen died after a confrontation with morality police, allegedly over the hijab, or mandatory Islamic head scarf, in Tehran's subway.

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

Moscow Court Extends Pretrial Detention Of Nationalist Putin Critic Girkin

Igor Girkin in court earlier this year (file photo)
Igor Girkin in court earlier this year (file photo)

The Moscow City Court on December 7 extended the pretrial detention of Igor Girkin (aka Strelkov), once a leader of Russia-backed separatists in Ukraine's east, who was arrested in July after he criticized President Vladimir Putin for “badly” handling the ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

Girkin, who has been charged with public calls for extremism, announced earlier that he plans to take part in the presidential election in March next year.

Girkin's lawyer, Aleksandr Molokhov, said on December 7 that his client's trial will start on December 14, adding that it will be held behind closed doors despite protests by his client and his defense team.

Russian authorities said earlier that Girkin's case was classified.

If convicted, the 52-year-old Girkin, who maintains his innocence, faces up to five years in prison.

Girkin was a key commander of Russia-backed separatists in Ukraine's eastern Donbas region in 2014 and helped Russia annex Ukraine's Crimea that year.

A former officer of Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB), Girkin has sharply criticized Putin in online statements for his handling of the Ukraine invasion, referring to the president as a “nonentity” and accusing him of “cowardly mediocrity.”

He has also called out Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu for "mistakes" in the full-scale invasion of Ukraine and has accused both of "incompetence," saying a total military mobilization is needed for Russia to achieve victory.

In one of his harshest rants, Girkin said in a July 18 post on his official Telegram channel that Putin should transfer power "to someone truly capable and responsible." The post has garnered almost 800,000 views.

Shortly after his arrest, Girkin made a statement from pretrial detention, saying that he plans to take part in a presidential election next year.

In November 2022, a court in the Netherlands sentenced Girkin and two other defendants to life in prison in absentia in the case of the 2014 shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 over Ukraine. All 298 people on board died in the crash.

In February, international investigators said there were "strong indications" that Putin was personally involved in the incident.

The Boeing 777 flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was blown out of the sky on July 17, 2014, amid a conflict between Russia-backed separatists and Ukrainian armed forces. The victims came from more than a dozen countries, although more than two-thirds of them were Dutch citizens.

Russia has denied any involvement in the downing of the plane.

With reporting by RBK

Pretrial Detention Extended For Navalny Lawyers Charged With Extremism

Vadim Kobzev appears in court in Moscow on October 13.
Vadim Kobzev appears in court in Moscow on October 13.

A court in Moscow on December 7 extended the pretrial detention of three lawyers for imprisoned opposition leader Aleksei Navalny until at least March 13, 2024. Vadim Kobzev, Igor Sergunin, and Aleksei Lipster were arrested in October for allegedly participating in an extremist community because of their association with Navalny and his Anti-Corruption Foundation. Last month, Russia's financial watchdog, Rosfinmonitoring, added the three to its list of extremists and terrorists, meaning that Russian banks must freeze their accounts and stop providing them with services. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Updated

U.K., U.S. Sanction Two Russians Accused Of Cyber Spying On British Politicians, Journalists

"Russia's attempts to interfere in U.K. politics are completely unacceptable and seek to threaten our democratic processes," Foreign Secretary David Cameron said.
"Russia's attempts to interfere in U.K. politics are completely unacceptable and seek to threaten our democratic processes," Foreign Secretary David Cameron said.

The British Foreign Office and the U.S. Treasury Department announced sanctions on December 7 against two Russians for their ties to a group of cybercriminals sponsored by Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) that Britain and the United States say has targeted people and entities in the two countries and other partner countries.

The United States also announced an indictment charging the two Russians -- identified as Ruslan Peretyatko and Andrei Korinets -- with conducting a campaign to hack into computers in the United States, Britain, and other NATO countries "all on behalf of the Russian government."

The U.K. Foreign Office said in a statement on December 7 that the cyber-spying was conducted by Star Blizzard, also known as the Callisto Group, an entity that Britain's cybersecurity center has established with quasi-total certainty is run by Center 18 -- an FSB unit identified as being behind a series of cyber-espionage operations targeting Britain.

Following an investigation, the Foreign Office placed sanctions on Star Blizzard members Ruslan Aleksandrovich Peretyatko and Andrei Stanislavovich Korinets "for their involvement in the preparation of spear-phishing campaigns and associated activity that resulted in unauthorized access and exfiltration of sensitive data, which was intended to undermine U.K. organizations and more broadly, the U.K. government."

Among the actions conducted by Star Blizzard, the statement enumerated the targeting, including "spear-phishing," of British lawmakers from various political parties since at least 2015; the hack of British-U.S. trade documents that were leaked ahead of the 2019 general election; and the targeting of journalists, universities, the public sector, NGOs, and civil society groups that have a key role in British democracy.

British Foreign Secretary David Cameron said that, in sanctioning Korinets and Peretyatko and summoning the Russian ambassador, Britain was "shining a light on yet another example of how Russia chooses to operate on the global stage."

He said Russia’s attempts to interfere in U.K. politics "are completely unacceptable and seek to threaten our democratic processes."

The United States took action against Peretyatko and Korinets "in solidarity and support with the United Kingdom" after identifying their connection to the FSB unit and its activity targeting U.S. critical government networks, the U.S. Treasury Department said in a news release.

The U.S. Justice Department said the indictment charges each defendant with conspiracy to commit computer fraud against the United States, which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison, and conspiracy to commit wire fraud, which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.

The men are presumed to be in Russia and would risk being brought to the United States for prosecution on the charges only if they were arrested in a country that has an extradition treaty with the United States. The sanctions freeze any assets they hold in U.S. jurisdictions and bar people in the United States from conducting business or any other dealings with them.

Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division said in the Justice Department's news release that the indictment unsealed on December 7 highlights that the Russian government continues to target the critical networks of the United States and its partners.

“Through this malign influence activity directed at the democratic processes of the United Kingdom, Russia again demonstrates its commitment to using weaponized campaigns of cyber espionage against such networks in unacceptable ways," Olsen said.

The Treasury Department said the FSB has conducted spear-phishing campaigns designed to gain access to targeted e-mail accounts and maintain access to them to obtain potentially sensitive information.

The department said that Korinets and Peretyatko operated between at least 2016 and 2020. Their activities included creating malicious domain infrastructure for FSB spear-phishing campaigns and using several e-mail addresses designed to mimic legitimate management accounts of well-known technology companies.

One of the fake e-mail accounts intended to mimic a retired U.S. Air Force general and, since the date of its activation until late 2019, it had sent at least 20 spear-phishing e-mails, which included domains created by Korinets, the Treasury Department said.

Fraudulent e-mail accounts created by Peretyatko sent spear-phishing e-mails purporting to be from a major software company directing victims to change their passwords in an attempt to harvest their credentials.

Kazakh Opposition Activist Gets 15 Days In Jail On Hooliganism Charge

Aidar Syzdyqov also said he was beaten by police officers after being detained on December 6.
Aidar Syzdyqov also said he was beaten by police officers after being detained on December 6.

A court in Astana on December 7 sentenced Aidar Syzdyqov, a member of the unregistered opposition Algha Kazakhstan (Forward Kazakhstan) party, to 15 days in jail on hooliganism charges which the activist rejected as politically motivated. Syzdyqov and another member of the party, Aset Abishev, were detained a day earlier near a detention center where they were awaiting the release of their colleague. Abishev's trial on the same charge is pending. Last week, a court in Astana sentenced the chairman of Algha Kazakhstan, Marat Zhylanbaev, to seven years in prison on extremism charges that he also rejects as politically motivated. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, click here.

Ukrainian Intelligence Official Says Slain Former Lawmaker Likely Aided By Russia

Illya Kyva, a member of the Opposition Platform -- For Life, attends a rally in Kyiv in September 2021.
Illya Kyva, a member of the Opposition Platform -- For Life, attends a rally in Kyiv in September 2021.

A former Ukrainian lawmaker who was gunned down near Moscow took safety precautions that were likely aided by the Russian authorities, as he "took an active part in pushing Russian propaganda," an official from Ukraine's military intelligence has said.

The body of Illya Kyva was found with two gunshot wounds in the village of Suponevo, southwest of Moscow, on December 6.

Ukrainian law enforcement sources have told RFE/RL that the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) "liquidated" the former Ukrainian lawmaker during a special operation. Russia's Investigative Committee has confirmed Kyva's death and announced a criminal investigation.

Andriy Yusov, a spokesman for Ukraine's military intelligence, told RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service on December 7 that people "who are in the active circle of the Russian special services -- and Kyva was exactly that -- and who take an active part in the work of Russian propaganda" take security precautions.

"Actually, [Russia] is trying to help such people in one way or another, and where he lived recently, this is in particular a sign of his attempts to escape and protect himself," Yusov said.

After Russia launched its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Kyva moved to Russia, where he took part in pro-Kremlin TV talk shows and roundtable discussions.

He claimed Ukraine had been "enslaved and brought to its knees by the West, permeated by Nazism, and has no future" and called Russia's full-scale invasion a "necessary liberation."

A court in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv last month sentenced him in absentia to 14 years in prison after finding him guilty of high treason.

His death and that of another Ukrainian who collaborated with Russia, Oleh Popov, a former de facto lawmaker in a part of Ukraine's Luhansk region occupied by Russia, was also reported on December 6.

Popov, who headed the Russian-installed government committee on state security and defense, law enforcement agencies, the judicial system, and the protection of human and civil rights was killed by an explosive device that detonated in his car in the city of Luhansk.

Several Ukrainian nationals accused of collaborating with the occupying Russian authorities have been targeted in recent years, and some of them have been killed.

Most recently, a de facto lawmaker of the Russian-installed regional assembly in Luhansk, Mykhaylo Filiponenko, was killed last month in a car bombing. Ukraine's Main Directorate of Intelligence claimed responsibility for that killing.

Russia has accused Ukrainian special services of organizing the assassinations. Kyiv rarely claims responsibility for the attacks.

Days before Russia launched the invasion, Kremlin-backed separatist leaders of parts of Ukraine's Luhansk and Donetsk regions asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to recognize their independence from Ukraine.

Russian lawmakers in mid-February 2022 also called on Putin to recognize separatist-controlled parts of Luhansk and Donetsk as independent states and ratified corresponding documents after Putin signed them.

Moscow used the documents to justify its invasion.

Russia Detains Belarusian Over Explosions On Siberian Railway Line

The explosions occurred on November 29 and 30, hitting the main railway line connecting Russia with China. (illustrative photo)
The explosions occurred on November 29 and 30, hitting the main railway line connecting Russia with China. (illustrative photo)

Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) said on December 7 it detained a Belarusian national with permanent residence in Lithuania on suspicion of carrying out explosions on two trains on the Baikal-Amur Main Line last week. According to the FSB, the suspect, whose identity was not disclosed, confessed to the attacks, saying that Ukrainian intelligence organized them. The explosions occurred on November 29 and 30, hitting the main railway line connecting Russia with China. Ukrainian media, citing sources, have said that Ukrainian secret services were behind the attacks. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Siberia.Realities, click here.

Uzbek Blogger Released After Prison Term Replaced With Parole-Like Sentence

Fozilxoja Orifxojaev (file photo)
Fozilxoja Orifxojaev (file photo)

Uzbek blogger Fozilxoja Orifxojaev, who was sentenced to 7 1/2 years in prison in January 2022 over a post on Facebook, was released from prison after his sentence was replaced with a parole-like sentence, relatives said on December 6. Orifxojaev, known for his articles criticizing the Uzbek government for its restrictive religious policies, was imprisoned on a charge of "distributing materials containing a threat to public security and public order." Human rights groups had urged Tashkent to release Orifxojaev, calling the case against him politically motivated. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Uzbek Service, click here.

Australia Hits 13 Russians With Sanctions Over Kara-Murza Poisonings

Vladimir Kara-Murza was sentenced to 25 years in prison in April on charges including treason in a trial he said was politically motivated.
Vladimir Kara-Murza was sentenced to 25 years in prison in April on charges including treason in a trial he said was politically motivated.

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong said in a statement on December 7 that Canberra has imposed sanctions on three officers of Russia's Federal Security Service and 10 other Russian citizens over two near-fatal poisonings of opposition politician Vladimir Kara-Murza in 2015 and 2017. Wong also called on Moscow to immediately release Kara-Murza, who was sentenced to 25 years in prison in April on charges including treason in a trial he said was politically motivated. Russian authorities deny any involvement in the poison attacks. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Japan Pledges $1 Billion In Additional Aid, Ukraine's Zelenskiy Says

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (left) and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida meet after a G7 leaders' meeting in Hiroshima, Japan, on May 21.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (left) and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida meet after a G7 leaders' meeting in Hiroshima, Japan, on May 21.

Japan has pledged $1 billion in additional aid to Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy announced on December 7. "I am grateful to Japan and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida for the decision to provide additional aid to Ukraine in the amount of $1 billion, as well as for the willingness to increase the total amount of Japanese aid to $4.5 billion," Zelenskiy said, adding that the extra money provides "significant support" to Ukraine's economy. "Japan firmly stands side by side with Ukraine and the Ukrainian people. We continue to work together to bring our joint victory closer," he added. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.

Prosecutor In Russia's Bashkortostan Seeks Five Years In Prison For Activist's Posts

Ramilya Saitova (file photo)
Ramilya Saitova (file photo)

A prosecutor asked a court in Ufa, the capital of Russia's Bashkortostan region, on December 6 to sentence activist Ramila Saitova to five years in prison for her online posts protesting against Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Saitova was arrested in May and charged with "public calls for actions aimed against national security." The charge stemmed from an online video address to men mobilized to fight in the war in Ukraine from Bashkortostan, calling on them "to be brave and openly say, 'I do not want to kill.'" Saitova rejects the charge. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service, click here.

Retrial Ordered For Russian Jailed Over Daughter's Anti-War Drawings

Aleksei Moskalyov is escorted from a courtroom in Yefremov in Russia's Tula region, some 300 kilometers south of Moscow, on March 27.
Aleksei Moskalyov is escorted from a courtroom in Yefremov in Russia's Tula region, some 300 kilometers south of Moscow, on March 27.

A court of appeals in Russia has cancelled the two-year prison term for the father of a teenage girl who drew pictures against Moscow's ongoing invasion of Ukraine. The court in Saratov on December 6 sent Aleksei Moskalyov's case for retrial. Moskalyov was sentenced in April on a charge of "repeatedly discrediting Russia's armed forces" after police investigating his daughter's pictures discovered his online posts criticizing the war in Ukraine. While serving his term, Moskalyov was placed in punitive solitary confinement multiple times for minor "violations of the penitentiary's internal regulations," his lawyer has said. To read the original story by RFE/RL's North.Realities, click here.

Russian Girl, 14, Shoots Classmate Dead Before Committing Suicide

A 14-year-old Russian girl from Bryansk, some 885 kilometers southwest of Moscow, opened fire with a shotgun on her classmates on December 7, killing a 13-year-old girl, before turning the gun on herself and committing suicide. Authorities have not disclosed the shooter's identity. Russia's Health Ministry reported that five other people were wounded in the attack, one of them seriously, and were hospitalized in moderate condition. Russia's Investigative Committee, which deals with serious crimes, has opened an investigation. The shooter's motives were not immediately clear. Bryansk is some 100 kilometers from the Ukrainian border. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

Azerbaijan To Hold Snap Presidential Poll On February 7

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev (file photo)
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev (file photo)

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has signed a decree announcing an early presidential election in the country on February 7. Aliyev's decree, issued on December 7, instructed the Central Election Commission to start preparing the poll in accordance with the procedure specified in the Electoral Code of Azerbaijan. Aliyev has been the president of the oil-rich Caucasus country since 2003, when he succeeded his father, Heydar Aliyev, and has stayed in power ever since through a series of elections marred by irregularities and accusations of fraud. Under his authoritarian rule, political activity and human rights have been stifled. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service, click here.

Updated

Russian Presidential Election Set For March 17; Navalny Says Putin Victory Could 'Destroy' Country

Vladimir Putin has been in power as prime minister or president since 1999.
Vladimir Putin has been in power as prime minister or president since 1999.

Russia's upper house of parliament, the Federation Council, has set March 17 for a presidential election in which President Vladimir Putin is widely expected to run for another term, paving the way for him to stay in power until at least 2030.

The council adopted the decision during a session on December 7.

"In essence, this decision marks the start of the election campaign," said Valentina Matviyenko, speaker of the Federation Council.

Putin, 71, has yet to announce his intention to run in the election for another six-year term, though he is widely expected to and win a new six-year mandate and extend his tenure, already the longest of any Russian leader since Josef Stalin.

Though Putin has not officially announced he will run, the government in 2020 pushed through a massive raft of constitutional amendments, the most important of which allows Putin to seek two more six-year terms and possibly remain in office until 2036.

No serious challenger has emerged so far to run against Putin, while two of the country's best-known opposition voices, Aleksei Navalny and Vladimir Kara-Murza, are serving lengthy prison sentences that they and their supporters say are politically motivated.

Navalny immediately responded to the setting of the election date, urging the country's 110 million eligible voters to cast ballots for "any other candidate" than Putin even though "the final results will be rigged."

"He [Putin] will destroy Russia. He has to leave," Navalny wrote in a blog post.

"For Putin, this election is a referendum on the approval of his actions. A referendum on the approval of war. Let us thwart his plans and make sure that on March 17 no one cares about the falsified result, but that all of Russia has seen and understood it: the will of the majority is that Putin has to leave."

In a separate action on December 7, Navalny's associates and supporters disguised statements calling on Russians not to vote for Putin on large billboards bearing New Year’s greetings in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and several other Russian cities.

The billboards carried QR codes that led to a website titled Russia Without Putin when people scanned them with their mobile phones.

The Federation Council decision also applies to what Russia calls its new territories: four regions of Ukraine that Moscow annexed last year after launching its full-scale invasion of that country in February 2022.

While Russia claims the regions -- Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk, and Zaporizhzhya -- it only partially controls them and Kyiv has pledged to retake the annexed territories.

Last month, Putin signed amendments to the law on presidential elections which restricts coverage of the poll, while also giving the Central Election Commission the right to change the election procedure on territories where martial law has been introduced.

The Kremlin has said the amendments were necessary due to "the special situation" in Russia's "new territories."

Updated

Zelenskiy Thanks Japan For Aid Pledge After U.S. Senate Blocks Massive Package

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (left) visits wounded soldiers at a hospital in Kyiv on December 6.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (left) visits wounded soldiers at a hospital in Kyiv on December 6.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has thanked Japan for a pledge of an additional $1 billion in aid, saying the funds will give "significant support" to the country just hours after the U.S. Senate blocked a White House request that would have earmarked around $60 billion for Kyiv.

The vote on whether to allow the bill with the White House request to advance marked a significant defeat for President Joe Biden, who had urged Congress in a speech earlier to quickly approve more military aid to Ukraine, warning that Russian leader Vladimir Putin will be emboldened to grab more territory if he is victorious on the battlefield.

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"If Putin takes Ukraine, he won't stop there. He's made that pretty clear," Biden said in televised speech on December 6, cautioning that Putin could try to send his troops into a NATO country if he took Ukraine.

Republicans, however, blocked the entire $106 billion request -- which also included funds for Israel, Taiwan, and to shore up the southern U.S. border, saying the bill lacked immigration reforms.

The Kremlin voiced hope that Congress will continue to block military aid for Ukraine, with spokesman Dmitry Peskov saying on December 7, "It is to be hoped that there remain enough people with sober minds among American congressmen" and claiming that Biden wanted to "continue burning taxpayers' money in the furnace of war."

Zelenskiy earlier this week cancelled a discussion with U.S. lawmakers as the success of the aid request began looking very doubtful.

On December 7, he received the pledge from Japan, which includes the possibility of increasing the total aid package to as much as $4.5 billion.

Ukraine has been bracing for a second long winter of war with Russia -- which launched its full-scale invasion in February 2022 -- amid intense fighting in the east, especially around the industrial city of Avdiyivka in the Donetsk region.

Russian troops have been attempting for several weeks to encircle the city, which has become the latest symbol of Ukrainian resistance.

Avdiyivka has remained in Ukrainian hands even after Russia in 2014 seized large portions of the Donetsk region, including Donetsk city, just 10 kilometers to the south.

Ukrainian forces repelled 34 Russian attacks in the Avdiyivka area, more than one-third of the 91 assaults that Kyiv's forces fought off on the entire front line over the past 24 hours, the General Staff of Ukraine's military said in its morning summary.

The battlefield reports could not be independently confirmed.

The United Nations warned on December 6 that Moscow was intensifying attacks on Ukraine's energy infrastructure as heavy snowfalls and freezing temperatures grip the country.

Assistant Secretary-General Miroslav Jenca told the UN Security Council that Russia's attacks on critical Ukrainian civilian infrastructure had not only resulted in civilian casualties, but also worsened humanitarian conditions for civilians.

"All attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure must stop immediately," he said. "They are prohibited under international humanitarian law and are simply unacceptable."

Ukraine for the first time this cold season asked people to conserve energy after a power plant near the front line was hit by shelling, causing serious damage and disabling two power units.

The Energy Ministry said that, due to the stoppage of the two units and an increase in demand, there is a temporary shortage of electricity. The ministry appealed to consumers to support energy workers by using electricity "wisely and economically, especially during peak hours."

Ukraine's power grid has been under pressure from constant Russian strikes that have caused substantial damage.

Russia also continues to attack critical grain-export infrastructure.

It launched drone attacks on the Danube port of Izmayil on December 7 that killed a man and caused damage to port facilities, Oleh Kiper, the governor of the Odesa region, said in a message on his Telegram channel.

Earlier, the Ukrainian military said its air defenses shot down 15 out of the 18 Iranian-made drones that Russia launched at the Odesa and Khmelnytskiy regions on December 7. The military said in a message on Telegram that the attack with Shahed-136/131 drones was launched from Cape Chauda, in the Moscow-occupied Crimea region.

"They specifically attacked the Danube port infrastructure. A warehouse, a grain elevator, and trucks were damaged. The driver of one of the trucks was killed," Kiper said, adding that a fire broke out but was promptly extinguished by emergency workers.

Since the collapse in July of a United Nations-brokered deal allowing the safe passage of Ukrainian grain shipments from Black Sea ports, Ukraine has used its Danube ports of Reni and Izmayil on the border with Romania to ship food to the Romanian Black Sea port of Constanta.

Russia has since been targeting both Odesa, Ukraine's main Black Sea port, and the two Danube ports with drone strikes that have caused substantial damage and disrupted Ukrainian grain exports. Debris from downed Russian drones has also crashed on the territory of NATO member Romania.

Updated

G7 Leaders Agree To Restrictions On Imports Of Russian Diamonds

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (top left) addressed the leaders of the G7 nations during an online summit on December 6.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (top left) addressed the leaders of the G7 nations during an online summit on December 6.

The leaders of the Group of Seven (G7) countries have agreed to restrict imports of Russian diamonds in another tightening of sanctions over Moscow's invasion of Ukraine.

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A G7 statement issued after a virtual summit on December 6 joined by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the first set of restrictions on nonindustrial diamonds, mined, processed, or produced in Russia would take effect on January 1.

This will be "followed by further phased restrictions on the import of Russian diamonds processed in third countries targeting March 1, 2024," the leaders of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Italy, and the United States said in a statement.

The statement added that by the beginning of September, a "robust traceability-based verification and certification mechanism for rough diamonds within the G7" will be established.

The new restrictions add to a raft of sanctions targeting financial institutions, technology imports, and fossil fuel exports already imposed on Russia by the United States and other countries over its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Following the G7 pledge, Foreign Minister Melanie Joly announced on December 6 that Canada will introduce a ban on the direct import of Russian diamonds and related products.

"Canada will continue working with its G7 and other international partners to implement comprehensive controls and verification measures for banning Russian diamonds," Joly said in a statement. "Today’s announcement therefore imposes further costs on the Kremlin for its illegal and unjustifiable war of aggression against Ukraine."

The G7 leaders also condemned Russian attacks against critical and civil infrastructure across Ukraine, saying they are increasing efforts to provide humanitarian aid and energy assistance, and they said Russia’s sovereign assets in G7 jurisdictions "will remain immobilized until Russia pays for the damage it caused to Ukraine."

The statement noted that according to the World Bank, the damage caused by Russia's invasion "already exceeds $400 billion dollars."

In his remarks to the G7 leaders, Zelenskiy warned against the collapse of Western unity, saying that Russia is counting on that happening.

"Russia hopes only for one thing -- that next year the free world's consolidation will collapse," Zelenskiy said, adding that Moscow has “significantly increased pressure on the front."

He reiterated that the battle is “not just about the fate of Ukraine, it's about Europe."

The virtual G7 meeting came amid concern about continued Western military support for Ukraine.

The White House has warned that funding for Ukraine aid will run out by the end of the year if Congress does not approve fresh funds.

U.S. President Joe Biden addressed lawmakers on December 6 after the G7 meeting, urging them to quickly approve more military aid to Ukraine. However, the U.S. Senate blocked the White House request for $106 billion in emergency aid primarily for Ukraine and Israel as Republicans objected to the bill's lack of immigration reforms.

The G7 statement said the leaders were "determined" to support Ukraine and find further ways to cap Russia's ability to fund the war, and they said their "steadfast commitment to supporting Ukraine's fight for its independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity will never waver.”

With reporting by AFP

'Liquidated': Two 'Traitors Of Ukraine' Killed In Separate Incidents

Illya Kyva in a 2016 photo
Illya Kyva in a 2016 photo

Two Ukrainians who collaborated with Russian authorities have been killed -- one in a shooting in a village southwest of Moscow and the other in a car bombing in the Russian-occupied part of Ukraine's Luhansk region.

Ukrainian law enforcement sources told RFE/RL on December 6 that the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) “liquidated” former Ukrainian lawmaker Illya Kyva by shooting him to death in a special operation.

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Russia's Investigative Committee later confirmed Kyva’s death and announced that a criminal investigation has been opened.

The Investigative Committee said in a statement that an unknown person shot Kyva in the village of Suponevo southwest of Moscow and he "died of his injuries on the spot."

Andriy Yusov, a spokesman for Ukraine's military intelligence, said in televised remarks that Kyva was “done,” adding that “the same fate will befall other traitors of Ukraine and accomplices of Putin's regime.”

Yusov did not say who was behind his death but said "justice takes different forms."

Kyva was known for his pro-Russian stance. A court in Ukraine's western city of Lviv last month sentenced him in absentia to 14 years in prison after finding him guilty of high treason.

After Russia launched its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Kyva moved to Russia, where he took part in televised pro-Kremlin talk shows and roundtable discussions.

The death of the other Ukrainian who collaborated with Russia, Oleh Popov, a former de facto lawmaker in a part of Ukraine's Luhansk region occupied by Russia, was also reported on December 6. Popov was killed by an explosive device that detonated in his car in the city of Luhansk.

The Investigative Committee said in a statement that it launched a probe into Popov's death.

Popov headed the Russian-installed government's committee on state security and defense, law enforcement agencies, the judicial system, and the protection of human and civil rights.

Yury Yorov, a member of the de facto parliament in Luhansk, was quoted by Interfax as saying that in September 2022 an attempt was made on Popov's life that he said was organized by the SBU.

Several Ukrainian nationals accused of collaborating with occupying Russian authorities have been targeted in recent years, and some of them have been killed.

Most recently, a de facto lawmaker of the Russian-installed regional assembly in Luhansk, Mykhaylo Filiponenko, was killed last month in a car bombing. Ukraine's Main Directorate of Intelligence claimed responsibility for that killing.

Russia has accused Ukrainian special services of organizing the assassinations. Kyiv rarely claims responsibility for the attacks.

Days before Russia launched its ongoing invasion, Kremlin-backed separatist leaders of parts of Ukraine's Luhansk and Donetsk regions asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to recognize the two regions' independence from Ukraine.

Russian lawmakers in mid-February 2022 also called on Putin to recognize separatist-controlled parts of Luhansk and Donetsk as independent states and ratified corresponding documents after Putin signed them.

Moscow used the documents to justify its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, launched on February 24, 2022.

With reporting by AP and Interfax

Putin Visits U.A.E., Saudi Arabia Seeking To Bolster Moscow's Mideast Clout

Russian President Vladimir Putin is greeted upon arrival at the airport in Riyadh on December 6.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is greeted upon arrival at the airport in Riyadh on December 6.

Russian President Vladimir Putin visited the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia on December 6 in an effort to raise Moscow's profile as a Middle East power broker, even as his war in Ukraine grinds on. Putin landed in Abu Dhabi to start his first trip to the region since before the coronavirus pandemic and Moscow's 2022 invasion of Ukraine. Putin held talks with U.A.E. President Muhammad bin Zayed al-Nahyan before traveling on to Saudi Arabia, where he was greeted by Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman. Putin said Russian-Saudi relations had "reached a level they never saw before."

Bosnian Serb Leader's Trial Postponed As Defense Requests Venue Change

Milorad Dodik speaks to the media in front of the Court of Bosnia-Herzegovina in Sarajevo on December 6 after the trial was posponed.
Milorad Dodik speaks to the media in front of the Court of Bosnia-Herzegovina in Sarajevo on December 6 after the trial was posponed.

A court in Bosnia-Herzegovina on December 6 postponed the start of Republika Srpska President Milorad Dodik's trial on charges related to his efforts to ignore decisions by an international envoy at the request of his lawyers, who want the trial moved.

Lawyers for Dodik on December 4 asked that the trial be moved from Sarajevo to Banja Luka.

The Court of Bosnia-Herzegovina rejected the request, but Dodik’s defense team argued they have right to appeal the decision and that they will do so within the three-day legal limit.

Judge Mirsad Strika set December 20 as the new date for the start of the trial, provided a ruling on the appeal is issued by then.

During the hearing on December 6, Dodik, who has called the case a "political process" and a "circus," refused to answer the judge's questions or stand up when the judge told him to.

Dodik and the head of Republika Srpska’s official legal gazette, Milos Lukic, are charged with criminal offenses in connection with efforts to ignore decisions by Bosnia's Constitutional Court and international envoy Christian Schmidt.

Schmidt heads the Office of the High Representative (OHR), the international community's overseer of civilian, administrative, and other aspects of government stemming from the Dayton agreement that ended three years of intense fighting in 1995.

Schmidt on December 6 denied the process against Dodik was political.

"Those who are accused often defend themselves by saying that it's a political process. It's not, it's a process against Milorad Dodik,“ Schmidt said, speaking in Sarajevo after a meeting of the Peace Implementation Council steering board.

He said the case was "about Dodik and he has to accept in a decent way that this is an impartial judiciary."

Schmidt also responded to statements by Dodik about the possibility that the Bosnian Serb-domnated entity would declare independence from Bosnia, saying that secessionist rhetoric poisons the reconciliation process and the spirit of cooperation in Bosnia.

"It is clear that anyone who tries to threaten the state of Bosnia-Herzegovina and its stability, inside or outside the country, represents a danger for this country and its European future. However, at the same time, I emphasize that the European Union and the international community are ready to protect this country and its citizens, if necessary," Schmidt said.

He pointed out that Bosnian citizens had never been closer to EU integration and that "there is a real chance that in the next month they will be closer to that goal."

The legislation at the center of the case against Dodik was approved by Bosnian Serb lawmakers in June and signed by Dodik on July 7 before being published in the gazette. It stipulated that the decisions of the OHR and the Constitutional Court should not be applied in the territory of the Republika Srpska.

The indictment states that Dodik signed the laws even though he was aware that the decisions of the OHR are binding.

Lukic is accused of having "facilitated the implementation of the publication procedure" of the laws.

Dodik and Lukic face up to five years in prison and a ban on working in all public institutions and companies if found guilty.

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