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EU Enlargement Chief: No 'Discount' For Turkey On Visa Liberalization

EU 'Treating Everyone Equally' On Visa Liberalization
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WATCH: EU Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Commissioner Johannes Hahn speaks with RFE/RL correspondent Rikard Jozwiak in Prague on May 3 about visa liberalization.

PRAGUE -- The European Union's top enlargement official says that Turkey will not get an easier ride than Ukraine, Georgia, and Kosovo in securing a liberalized visa regime with the 28-member bloc.

In an exclusive interview with RFE/RL in Prague, Johannes Hahn, the EU's commissioner for European neighborhood policy and enlargement negotiations, dismissed claims that Turkey would be granted the visa waiver faster than the other three countries as a quid pro quo for Ankara's help in stemming the flow of refugees and migrants into Europe.

"We are, so to say, treating everybody equally," Hahn said. "This means we have applied the same methodology for Ukraine, Georgia, and also for Kosovo. And the same applies for Turkey."

He added, however, that visa liberalization depends on how quickly "our partner countries" will "move forward and comply with our requirements."

"In that respect there is no…discount for Turkey to get something cheaper than the others, because it is about certain standards which have to be met," Hahn said.

His comments come one day before the European Commission is expected to announce that Turkey has lived up to most of the criteria to enjoy a visa-free regime with the EU, despite not having completely met all of the required benchmarks.

Brussels struck a controversial deal with Ankara in March in which Turkey vowed to step up its efforts to prevent migrants from leaving Turkey for the EU and to take back migrants who have already have crossed the Aegean Sea for Greece.

In exchange, Turkey would receive financial compensation and the possibility for Turkish citizens to enjoy a liberalized visa regime with the EU by the end of June.

WATCH: EU Enlargement Commissioner: 'Europe Is Built On Solidarity'

EU Enlargement Commissioner: 'Europe Is Built On Solidarity'
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The swift movement on the visa deal has irked Ukraine and Georgia as they watch Ankara leapfrog them in the visa queue.

The European Commission said in December 2015 that Ukraine and Georgia had met all the conditions for visa-free travel, including stepped-up efforts to fight corruption, and that the two countries would get a positive recommendation in the spring of this year. At the time, Turkey and Kosovo lagged far behind the ex-Soviet nations on the path to visa-free travel to the EU.

Tbilisi and Kyiv did were granted positive recommendations in March and April, respectively, but Turkey now looks like it will be fast-tracked. Kosovo, meanwhile, is set to get its positive recommendation on May 4.

Hahn said he hopes that Georgians, Ukrainians, and Kosovars will be able to travel without visas to the EU in 2016 "because they have done their work."

"Of course, finally there is always a political assessment. But in terms of, so to say, meeting the standards, qualifying themselves, they have done what is necessary," he said.

It will now be up to the European Council and the European Parliament to approve the visa waiver for all four countries.

"I think there should be a joint treatment of at least these three countries, maybe including Turkey," Hahn said.

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Iranian Filmmaker Jailed For Six Years Amid Crackdown On Dissent

Mostafa al-Ahmad (file photo)

Iranian director Mostafa al-Ahmad, one of three prominent filmmakers detained as part of a broad crackdown against dissent, has been sentenced to more than six years in prison.

The Islamic Revolutionary Court of Tehran handed Ahmad three cumulative prison sentences: three years and eight months for illegal assembly and collusion, eight months for propaganda against Iran, and two years for publishing falsehoods.

The court also ordered him to pay a fine of 150 million rials ($450), banned him from leaving the country for two years, and forbade him to take part in social or political groups.

Ahmad, 52, was arrested in July as the authorities cracked down on dissent in response to growing anti-establishment sentiment and near-daily protests across the Islamic republic.

Fellow filmmakers Mohammad Rasulof and Jafar Panahi were arrested around the same time.

The arrests have prompted international criticism.

Just days prior to his arrest, Ahmad had joined a group of more than 300 Iranian filmmakers in publishing an open letter calling on the security forces to "lay down arms" in the face of public outrage over "corruption, theft, inefficiency, and repression" following the violent crackdown against those protesting a building collapse in May in the southwestern city of Abadan, which killed 41 people.

Ahmad's lawyers said they would appeal the sentence, which comes amid anti-government protests over the death of Mahsa Amini, 22, after she was taken into custody by morality police for the alleged improper wearing of a headscarf or hijab.

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

Italian Woman Arrested In Iran Amid Amini Protests

Alessia Piperno

An Italian woman has been arrested in Iran amid a wave of protests triggered by the death in custody of a young woman detained by morality police for "improperly" wearing a mandatory headscarf, or hijab.

Anger over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini on September 16 has swept Iran, with demonstrations in cities across the country.

Alessia Piperno's parents told the Italian newspaper Il Messaggero on October 3 that the previous day their daughter informed the family she had been detained after having been out of reach for four days.

The parents said Alessia told them during a short phone call that "they arrested me, and I am in Tehran prison. Please help."

Piperno, 30, is a solo world traveler who has been in Iran for 2 1/2 months.

She told her parents that she was unharmed, but added, "there are people in prison who have been detained for months without any reason." She told her parents she was worried that she will suffer the same fate.

According to her Instagram page, she was impressed by the courage of the Iranian people. "This land welcomed me with open arms, and it went straight into my heart," Il Messaggero quoted Piperno as saying in her latest post.

Iran has repeatedly accused outside forces of stoking the protests and last week said nine foreign nationals -- including from France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Poland -- had been arrested.

Piperno is one of more than a dozen foreign nationals or people with dual Iranian citizenship being held in Iran.

Two French nationals -- 37-year-old Cecile Kohler and her 69-year-old partner, Jacques Paris -- were also recently detained in Iran, accused of seeking to foment labor unrest in the country.

Western countries have repeatedly charged that Iran is trying to take advantage of foreign countries by taking dual and foreign nationals hostage.

The arrest also comes as Iran and world powers negotiations over a revamped version of the 2015 nuclear deal have hit a dead end.

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

Japan Expels Russian Diplomat In Tit-For-Tat Move

Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi (file photo)

In a tit-for-tat move, Tokyo has ordered a senior Russian official stationed in the country to leave following Russia's decision last week to expel a Japanese diplomat over alleged spying.

Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi said on October 4 that a Russian consul in the northern city of Sapporo will be expelled "as a corresponding measure to Russia's actions."

The statement comes after Russia said on September 26 that a Japanese diplomat in the eastern city of Vladivostok was detained and ordered to leave the country for suspected espionage, claiming that the consul allegedly sought "restricted" information.

It said the diplomat, identified as Motoki Tatsunori, was caught receiving information on the economic effects of Western sanctions on Russia in exchange for a "monetary reward."

The Russian Foreign Ministry said Tatsunori had been declared persona non grata and given 48 hours to leave Russia.

With reporting by Kyodo and AFP

Siberian Anti-Putin Shaman's Forced Psychiatric Care Extended Again

Aleksandr Gabyshev (with beard) attracted attention when he announced in 2019 that he would trek across Russia to exorcise Vladimir Putin from power.

USSURIISK, Russia -- A court in the Far East has again extended the forced detention in a psychiatric clinic of a Yakut shaman who became known across Russia for his attempts to march to Moscow to drive President Vladimir Putin out of the Kremlin.

Aleksandr Gabyshev's lawyer, Aleksei Pryanishnikov, said on October 4 that the Ussuriisk district court rejected his client's request to be medically examined in Moscow's Serbsky clinic.

Pryanishnikov said he will appeal the ruling.

The day before, Gabyshev's doctor was suddenly replaced, which Pryanishnikov and the shaman's supporters called a move to falsify his medical assessment before the court hearing.

In early September, the Primorye regional court ruled in favor of Gabyshev's appeal against the extension of his forced treatment and sent the case back to the Ussuriisk district court for a new hearing, citing inconsistences in medical conclusions regarding the case.

In early August, the Ussuriisk district court ruled that Gabyshev must continue psychiatric treatment even though a month earlier, a team of psychiatrists concluded that Gabyshev could be transferred from a psychiatric clinic to a regular hospital because his "condition had improved."

However, several days later, a new medical commission concluded that the shaman's mental health "had worsened" and he must be transferred back to a psychiatric clinic.

Gabyshev, who has been stopped several times by the Russian authorities since 2019, when he tried to march from his native Siberian region of Yakutia to Moscow with the stated goal of driving Putin out of office, was sent to a psychiatric clinic against his will in July after a court found him "mentally unfit."

During the hearing, the court accused him of committing a "violent act against a police officer" when he was being forcibly removed from his home to be taken to a psychiatric clinic in late January.

The ruling was challenged by Gabyshev's lawyers and supporters who say his detention is an attempt to silence dissent.

The Memorial Human Rights Center in Russia has recognized Gabyshev as a political prisoner and Amnesty International has launched a campaign calling for his release.

Kazakh Interior Minister Says 200,000 Russians Have Entered Country Since Mobilization

Russians wait to cross into Kazakhstan at the Zhanibek border crossing on Septembr 29.

ASTANA -- Kazakh Interior Minister Marat Akhmetzhanov says 200,000 Russian citizens have entered the country since Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a partial mobilization on September 21 amid Moscow’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

Akhmetzhanov also said on October 4 that 147,000 Russian citizens left Kazakhstan in the same period of time. He did not mention where the Russians were heading but last week Kazakh authorities said that tens of thousands of those Russians who entered Kazakhstan in recent days, moved further to neighboring Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.

Akhmetzhanov said that the number of Russians entering Kazakhstan has started decreasing since the weekend. Media reports said earlier that Russian authorities had placed mobile conscription stations at Russian-Kazakh border checkpoints.

Akhmetzhanov said last week that Kazakhstan will extradite Russian citizens to Russia only if they are officially added to international wanted lists.

Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev said earlier that he plans to hold talks with the Russian government regarding the influx of Russians, mostly males, to the country after the start of Russia's mobilization.

Kazakhstan's Digital Development Ministry said on October 4 that since September 21, more than 70,000 Russian citizens had applied and received personal identification numbers that allows them to set up bank accounts and work in Kazakhstan.

RFE/RL's correspondents from many towns and cities in Kazakhstan report that long lines of mostly Russian citizens continue to stand next to Public Service Centers seeking to receive such numbers.

Russian citizens do not need travel passports or visas to enter Kazakhstan for 30 days.

Moscow Court Again Fines Twitch, TikTok For Failing To Delete 'Illegal' Information

(file photo)

A court in Moscow has fined the interactive livestreaming application Twitch and the TikTok video hosting service for failing to delete content from its platform that the Russian government deems illegal as the Kremlin continues to ramp up pressure on social media networks.

The Magistrate Court of the Taganka district ruled on October 4 that Twitch must pay 4 million rubles ($68,400) for failing to take down materials related to Russia's ongoing unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

The court also ordered the TikTok company to pay 3 million rubles ($51,300) for failing to delete content that Russian authorities consider as LGBT propaganda among minors.

Two weeks earlier, the court ordered Twitch to pay a 2-million-ruble ($32,800) fine for its failure to remove materials related to the war in Ukraine.

President Vladimir Putin has accused social media platforms and other foreign-based tech companies of flouting the country's Internet laws. He has been pushing ways to force foreign firms to open offices in Russia and to store users' personal data locally.

In recent months, Russian courts have fined Twitch, TikTok, Google, Facebook, and Twitter over the personal-data issue, as well as for refusing to delete content deemed to be banned by Russian laws.

Many critics have accused the Russian authorities of trying to quell dissent by imposing stricter regulations on Internet companies.

Based on reporting by TASS and Interfax

Bulgarian Ex-PM Borisov Seeks Coalition Talks After Election Victory

Former Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov

Bulgaria's center-right GERB party, the winner of the country's October 2 snap election, will initiate negotiations with other parties to try to form a government, GERB leader Boyko Borisov, the former long-serving prime minister, said on October 4.

Borisov said he was ready to give up the prime minister position if that was what was needed to agree to a functioning coalition, and added that a new early election -- following four already in the last two years -- would not produce different results.

GERB won the election with 25.3 percent of the votes, but faces a challenge to forge a ruling coalition in a hung parliament.

The early election came after a fragile coalition led by Kiril Petkov of the reformist anti-corruption We Continue the Change party lost a no-confidence vote in June. We Continue the Change came in second, with 20.2 percent.

The southeastern EU member country of nearly 7 million people has been plagued by political gridlock since 2020 when it was rocked by nationwide protests, as public anger over years of corruption boiled over. Much of the ire was directed at Borisov and his GERB party.

With reporting by Reuters

Zelenskiy Issues Decree Ruling Ukraine Talks With Putin 'Impossible'

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has signed a decree that officially declares any negotiations between Kyiv and Russian President Vladimir Putin "impossible."

The decree implemented a decision by Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council and formalized comments made by Zelenskiy on September 30 after Putin proclaimed four regions of Ukraine partially occupied by Moscow as being a part of Russia, in what Kyiv and the West said was an illegitimate farce.

"He (Putin) does not know what dignity and honesty are. Therefore, we are ready for a dialogue with Russia, but with another president of Russia," Zelenskiy said on September 30.

The decree also states that Ukraine will use military means to bring the territories occupied by Russia back under its control.

Zelenskiy's decree came as Kyiv's forces reportedly broke through Russian defenses in southern Ukraine and expanded a rapid offensive in the east, seizing back territory in areas declared annexed by Russia.

Putin, who turns 70 this week, could run for office two more times under constitutional amendments he presided over, potentially remaining in power until 2036.

With reporting by Reuters

Russian Parliament's Upper Chamber Ratifies Annexation Of Four Ukrainian Regions

All of the 153 deputies who were present at the Federation Council session on October 4 voted for the annexation of parts of Ukraine's Zaporizhzhya, Kherson, Donetsk, and Luhansk regions, which represent around 18 percent of Ukraine. (file photo)

MOSCOW -- The upper chamber of Russia's parliament, the Federation Council, has ratified agreements incorporating four regions of Ukraine into Russia, a further step toward the formal annexation of the territories, which has been met with condemnation from the West.

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All of the 153 deputies who were present at the session on October 4 voted for the annexation of parts of Ukraine's Zaporizhzhya, Kherson, Donetsk, and Luhansk regions, which represent around 18 percent of Ukraine.

A day earlier, parliament's lower chamber, the State Duma, approved the move. The final step in the process is the signing of the documents into law by President Vladimir Putin.

Russia is following through on the annexations after holding what it called referendums in occupied areas of Ukraine. Western governments and Kyiv have called the votes a "sham" and said they breached international law and were coercive and nonrepresentative.

According to the agreements, signed last week between Putin and Moscow-backed officials in the four regions, the transitional period for the annexed territories to become fully incorporated into Russia will last until January 1, 2026. Local elections in the territories are scheduled for September 10, 2023.

Russia does not fully control any of the four regions and the Kremlin has yet to formally designate the new borders as large parts of the territory is still under the control of Ukraine's forces.

The documents, however, say that the Donetsk and Luhansk regions will be absorbed by Russia as the Donetsk People's Republic and the Luhansk People's Republic. The borders will be set according to 2014, when parts of the two regions were forcibly taken under control by Russia-backed separatists.

Part of Ukraine's Mykolayiv region, which is under the control of Russian armed forces, will be annexed as part of the Kherson region, the documents say.

Ukrainians living in the annexed territories will be considered Russian citizens unless they inform local authorities that they do not want to do so. They have one month, according to the agreement, to make the choice.

The annexations have been called a breach of international law, with U.S. President Joe Biden saying Washington "will never recognize Ukrainian territory as anything other than part of Ukraine."

Roskosmos Discussing Extension Of Russia's Participation In ISS Past 2024, Says Official

The International Space Station has now been continuously occupied for more than 21 years. (file photo)

Roskosmos, Russia's space agency, is seeking a continuation of its participation in the International Space Station (ISS) past 2024, an agency official said on October 3.

As relations between the West and Russia have become increasingly tense over Moscow's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, Roskosmos chief Yury Borissov had said over the summer that Russia would leave the ISS "after 2024," and would seek to build its own space station.

But Sergei Krikalyov, the head of Russia's human space flight programs, told reporters on October 3 that Roskosmos had started "to discuss extending our participation in the ISS program with our government and hope to have permission to continue next year."

Krikalyov has not announced a clear date for that plan. He said that building a new station would not happen quickly, "so probably we will keep flying until we will have any new infrastructure."

He made his remarks in English during a NASA press conference ahead of the October 5 launch of a SpaceX rocket that will carry a Russian cosmonaut, two American astronauts, and a Japanese astronaut to the ISS.

ISS partner countries -- the United States, Russia, Europe, Canada, and Japan -- are currently committed to operate the orbiting laboratory only until 2024, though U.S. officials have already stated they want to continue until 2030.

Based on reporting by AFP and TASS

Hungary Begins Process Of Passing Reforms To Meet Commitments It Made To EU

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban (file photo)

The Hungarian parliament on October 3 began passing reforms to try to appease Brussels' concerns about democratic backsliding and Hungary's rule-of-law record.

The first legal changes, which are also aimed at ensuring the release of billions of euros in EU funds that Brussels has threatened to withhold, were adopted by large majorities, according to the results of the votes published on the parliament's website.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban's ruling Fidesz party is expected to pass a total of 17 changes aimed at monitoring the use of EU funds and making the legislative process more transparent.

Orban's government committed to passing the changes to stave off the suspension of EU money at a time when Hungary’s economy is headed into recession and the forint has plunged to record lows.

The first change adopted on October 3 will allow people to file a complaint in court to seek to open corruption investigations. The second aims to strengthen the transparency of the legislative process by making a public consultation mandatory before the adoption of a law.

Another reform that passed on October 3 sets up a procedure concerning criminal offences related to the management of public property. It allows a judicial review if an investigation is closed without indictment or a crime report is dismissed.

A measure expected to be passed by parliament on October 4 with other reforms would create an independent authority to better control the use of EU funds.

The European Union's executive arm proposed last month the suspension of 7.5 billion euros ($7.3 billion) in financing for Hungary over concerns that Orban is undercutting the rule of law and using EU money to enrich family members and cronies.

Also last month, the European Parliament in a symbolic vote declared that Hungary was no longer a full democracy but a "hybrid regime of electoral autocracy.”

The vote angered the Central European nation of 10 million people, which depends heavily on EU funds, and like the rest of Europe, has seen its economy hit by ripple effects from the Ukraine war.

Orban, who denies that Hungary is any more corrupt than other EU member states, has long been at odds with the bloc.

He has tightened state control over media, courts, academia, and migrants from Africa and the Middle East and NGOs that support them. He has also clashed with the EU over alleged discrimination against LGBT people.

But his government now appears willing to fulfill demands to create institutions to support democratic checks and balances and reduce the risk of corruption.

The EU will have until November 19 to assess Hungary's actions. A favorable decision could ease pressure on the forint and Hungarian assets. Otherwise, the EU could move ahead with cutting the 7.5 billion euros, the equivalent to about 5 percent of the country's estimated gross domestic product for 2022.

With reporting by Reuters and AFP
Updated

Ukrainian Forces Advance In South, Repel Russian Attacks In Donbas

A Ukrainian serviceman walks along a road while searching for dead bodies of his comrades killed in the recently recaptured town of Lyman on October 3.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has said that his country's troops are pressing ahead with advances against Russian forces after liberating more towns in a number of areas.

Zelenskiy gave no further details in announcing in his nightly video address that the “offensive movement of our army and all our defenders continued” on October 3.

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But Ukrainian officials and a Russian-installed leader said Kyiv's forces continued their advance in the south on October 3, recapturing several villages along the strategic Dnieper River, which bisects the country.

The Ukrainian military's southern operational command said in a nightly update that its forces in the south destroyed 31 Russian tanks and one multiple-rocket launcher, without providing details of where the fighting occurred.

The account could not be independently confirmed.

"New population centers have been liberated in several regions. Fierce fighting continues in many areas of the front," Zelenskiy said without specifying which settlements had been liberated.

He added that “more and more occupiers are trying to escape, more and more losses are being borne by the enemy army, and there is a growing understanding that Russia made a mistake by going to war against Ukraine."

A day earlier Zelenskiy said its forces took full control of the strategic eastern city of Lyman in the Donetsk region.

The recapture of Lyman was the Ukrainian forces’ most significant battlefield gain in weeks and followed a counteroffensive in the Kharkiv region to the north that drove out Russian troops and stunned many observers.

The fall of Lyman was also the latest setback for Russian President Vladimir Putin, coming one day after he proclaimed the illegal annexation of Donetsk and three other Ukrainian regions that have been partly occupied by Russian forces for months now.

Kyiv and the West have condemned the annexation declaration as illegal and a sham.

Serhiy Cherevatiy, a spokesman for the Eastern Group of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, said Ukrainian troops went on to liberate the settlement of Torske near Lyman on October 3.

In the south, Vladimir Saldo, the Russia-installed leader in occupied parts of Ukraine's Kherson province, told Russian state television that Ukrainian troops recaptured the town of Dudchany along the west bank of the Dnieper River.

"There are settlements that are occupied by Ukrainian forces," Saldo said.

Dudchany is located some 30 kilometers south of where the front stood before the Ukrainian breakthrough on October 3, indicating the fastest advance of the war in the south.

Russian military bloggers earlier on October 3 described a Ukrainian tank advance through dozens of kilometers of territory along the western bank of the Dnieper.

A senior U.S. military official said on October 3 that the attacks by Ukrainian forces have forced Russia into a “defensive crouch” in Kherson, hampering Russian efforts to resupply their front line troops.

Meanwhile, the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces reported in an update early on October 4 that, over the past several days, Ukrainian forces repelled Russian attacks on several settlements in Donetsk and one in Ternovy Pody, just north of the city of Kherson.

The General Staff's communique also said that Ukrainian forces destroyed three Russian anti-aircraft missile systems and two drones. The news could not be independently confirmed.

As Ukrainian forces pressed their counterattacks in the east and the south, the Russian military launched more missile strikes at Ukrainian cities on October 3.

Several Russian missiles hit Ukraine’s second-largest city of Kharkiv, causing damage to its infrastructure and power cuts. Kharkiv Governor Oleh Syniehubov said one person was killed and at least two others, including a 9-year-old girl, were wounded.

Four civilians were wounded when Russian missiles struck the city of Nikopol in southern Ukraine.

U.S. officials on October 3 said Washington will soon deliver to Ukraine four more advanced rocket systems. The High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, known as HIMARS, have been credited with helping the country’s military gain momentum in the war.

HIMARS have been used to strike bridges that Russia has used to supply its troops. The additional four HIMARS will be part of a new $625 million package of aid expected to be announced on October 4, according to the U.S. officials, who were quoted in U.S. media reports.

The decision marks the first time that the United States has sent more HIMARS to Ukraine since late July, and it will bring the total number delivered so far to 20.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, TASS, and Interfax

Bulgarian President Didn't Sign Document Backing Ukraine Because Of Wording On NATO Membership

Bulgarian President Rumen Radev

Bulgarian President Rumen Radev said on October 3 that he did not join other leaders of Central and Eastern European countries in signing a declaration in support of Ukraine because he did not agree with the full text of the declaration.

Radev's office issued the response on October 3 after inquiries from journalists about why his name was not among nine heads of state who issued the declaration on October 2 supporting Ukraine.

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Radev "does not agree with the full text of the declaration adopted by some countries in Eastern Europe regarding Ukraine's membership in NATO," a statement from his office said.

A decision on Ukraine joining NATO should be made "only after the development of clear parameters for the peaceful settlement of the conflict," it said.

But the statement said Radev supports other positions in the document signed by the leaders of the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia.

It came after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy announced on September 30 that Ukraine had submitted an application for accession to NATO under an accelerated procedure after Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed Moscow had annexed four Ukrainian regions that are partially occupied by Russian forces.

The nine Central and Eastern European leaders reiterated their support for "the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine" and said they "do not recognize and will never recognize Russian attempts to annex any Ukrainian territory."

Their declaration also said that the leaders “firmly stood behind the 2008 Bucharest NATO Summit decision concerning Ukraine’s future membership.”

At the 2008 summit, NATO members welcomed Ukraine and Georgia’s aspirations to join but declined to provide a clear timeline for their possible ascension. Putin has cited the possibility of Ukraine joining NATO as justification for launching the ongoing full-scale invasion in February.

The statement from Radev's office on October 3 says that Bulgaria is part of the declaration from the 2008 NATO summit supporting the future accession of Ukraine, but notes that this declaration was adopted in a completely different security environment.

"Military actions on the territory of Ukraine today require that its membership in the Alliance be discussed within the full composition of [NATO] and not lead to a risk of the direct involvement of NATO countries in the war," the statement added.

U.S. Imposes Sanctions Against Head Of Bosniak-Croat Federation For Alleged Misuse Of Power

Prime Minister of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina Fadil Novalic (file photo)

The United States has imposed sanctions on the head of Bosnia-Herzegovina’s Bosniak-Croat federation and others over the alleged misuse of pensioner data.

The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated Prime Minister Fadil Novalic on October 3, saying he acquired pensioner data through his official position in the week before the 2018 elections and used it “for the benefit of his own political party and contrary to [Bosnian] law.”

Novalic allegedly misused the data by sending out letters listing his accomplishments and promising increased pensions, the Treasury Department said in a statement.

Additionally, Bosnian tycoon Slobodan Stankovic and his engineering firm Integral Inzenjering A.D. Laktasi were blacklisted for allegedly having links to corruption.

The Treasury Department said major construction projects are often handed to Stankovic's firm without fair and open competition and that the vast majority of Stankovic’s wealth comes from public money.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken referred to the sanctions on Twitter, saying political parties and leaders "should not be able to use public resources for their own benefit, and people should not get rich helping them."

The Treasury Department described Stankovic as one of the wealthiest people in Bosnia and said he was linked to Milorad Dodik, the Serb member of Bosnia's tripartite presidency, who was previously designated for U.S. sanctions for “secessionist rhetoric" and actions that threaten "stability and undermine" the Dayton peace accords.

The sanctions designation freezes any assets or property interests owned by Novalic, Stankovic, or his engineering firm in the United States and bars U.S. nationals from transactions involving them without special permission from the OFAC.

“Today’s action underscores how politicians in Bosnia and Herzegovina are undermining democratic institutions and processes for their own political gain and to reward their patronage networks,” Brian Nelson, Treasury’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said in the department’s statement on October 3.

“We will continue to target those that destabilize the region, as well as their supporters, and hold them to account.”

The sanctions come less than a week after the Treasury Department levied sanctions on a Bosnian state prosecutor accused of being complicit in corruption and undermining democratic processes in the Western Balkans.

Treasury called Diana Kajmakovic a “brazenly corrupt state prosecutor with links to criminal organizations." She was designated for sanctions on September 26.

With reporting by AP

Russian Court Sets October 25 For Hearing On U.S. Basketball Star's Appeal Of Drug Sentence

U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner (file photo)

A Russian court has set October 25 as the date for American basketball star Brittney Griner’s appeal against her nine-year prison sentence for drug possession.

The Moscow regional court said on October 3 it will hear her appeal on October 25 at 11 a.m. local time, according to the Interfax news agency.

Griner, a star of the U.S. Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA), was convicted on August 4 at the Khimki court near Moscow after police said they found vape canisters containing cannabis oil in her luggage at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport.

Griner’s lawyers have argued that the nine-year sentence is excessive.

Griner admitted that she had the canisters in her luggage when she passed through the Moscow airport in February just days before Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, but she said she had inadvertently packed them.

Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, was returning to the Russian city of Yekaterinburg, where she plays in the WNBA's off-season.

She told the court that she had no criminal intent, and her defense team presented written statements showing she had been prescribed cannabis to treat pain caused by injuries she suffered while playing basketball.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken revealed in July that Washington had made a proposal to get Griner home along with Paul Whelan, an American serving a 16-year sentence in Russia for espionage.

Blinken said later that he and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov discussed a possible prisoner swap, but since then the White House has said it has not received a productive response from Russia.

U.S. media have reported that Washington has offered to exchange Griner and Whelan for Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer who is serving a 25-year sentence in a U.S. prison.

Based on reporting by AP and Interfax

Top Official At Hermitage Museum In St. Petersburg Leaves Russia In Protest At The War In Ukraine

The board of directors at the Hermitage museum, which was founded in 1764, has several members who have been included in sanctions by the West against Putin and those around him for the invasion of Ukraine. (file photo)

A top official at the Hermitage museum in St. Petersburg has left Russia in protest at the Kremlin's ongoing unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

Dmitry Ozerkov, the director of the modern arts section of the world's largest art museum by gallery space, wrote on Instagram on October 2 that he had quit his job after Hermitage Director Mikhail Piotrovsky praised the war in an interview in June while calling arts exhibitions organized by the Hermitage abroad another "special operation" to push forward "Russian world's ideas."

"I left because I don’t intend to have anything in common with today’s Russia," Ozerkov wrote, adding that "Russia squeezed out all of us who wanted nothing but good to its culture."

President Vladimir Putin has refused to call the conflict a war, and has signed legislation making it illegal to use the word to describe what he calls a "special military operation."

Since Russia launched its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine on February 24, many celebrities, writers, actors, opposition politicians, and activists have left Russia.

Last month Putin announced a "partial military mobilization" to support the war in Ukraine, prompting tens of thousands of Russian men to flee the country for nations where they can enter without visas. Most headed to Armenia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, and Mongolia.

The board of directors at the Hermitage museum, which was founded in 1764, has several members who have been included in sanctions by the West against Putin and those around him for the invasion of Ukraine.

U.S. Supreme Court Declines To Hear Case Over Dispute Between Ukraine, Russian Oil Company

The U.S. Supreme Court https://www.supremecourt.gov/orders/courtorders/100322zor_fcgj.pdf

The U.S. Supreme Court has sided with the Russian oil company Tatneft in a dispute with Ukraine over the payment of a multimillion-dollar judgment awarded years ago by an arbitration panel.

The high court on October 3 did not comment on the case except to say that it would not hear it.

The decision, a win for one of Russia's largest oil companies as Moscow continues to wage war in Ukraine, means the case will continue in U.S. lower courts, which also have sided with the company and have declined to dismiss it.

A U.S. District Court judge ruled in Tatneft's favor in 2020, and an appeals court in Washington subsequently affirmed the enforcement of the judgment.

In its decision on October 3, the Supreme Court turned away Ukraine's attempt to avoid a Paris-based arbitration panel's order saying the Ukrainian government must pay a $173 million judgment to Tatneft.

The panel was established by the parties to consider Tatneft's accusations of Ukrainian wrongdoing over the handling of shares in an oil refinery.

The case involves Ukraine's Kremenchuk oil refinery, which was destroyed by Russia in April.

Ukraine originally owned half the refinery, while the other half was owned by Tatneft and the oil-rich Russian region of Tatarstan. A dispute between the parties led to arbitration in which Ukraine was ordered in 2014 to pay $112 million plus interest.

Tatneft since 2017 has argued in U.S. courts in favor of enforcing the arbitration panel's award, but Ukraine says the United States has no connection to the case.

Lawyers for Ukraine say Tatneft should be using courts in Ukraine which “remain open and would fairly consider its request for relief.”

Ukraine appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court after Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February.

Lawyers representing Ukraine raised Tatneft's ties to the Russian government and the ongoing invasion in their appeal.

They said Tatneft had used the case to target "third parties integral to Ukraine's national security" ahead of Russia's invasion. Tatneft has denied those allegations.

With reporting by Reuters and AP

Canada Sanctions Iranian Security Chiefs Citing Death Of Mahsa Amini

Mahsa Amini died last month while she was in custody for breaking a rule on the wearing of the Islamic head scarf, or hijab.

Citing the death of a young woman while in police custody, Canada has slapped a new round of sanctions on several high-ranking Iranian security officials for alleged human rights abuses.

Melanie Joly, the minister of Foreign Affairs, said in a statement on October 3 that the sanctions "in response to gross human rights violations that have been committed in Iran, including its systematic persecution of women and in particular, the egregious actions committed by Iran’s so-called ‘Morality Police,’ which led to the death of Mahsa Amini while under their custody."

"Iran’s continued grave and ongoing breaches of international law are well known and documented, including its blatant disregard for human life," she added.

The list of those added to the sanctions regime includes 25 individuals and nine entities, including officials in Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and the country's ministry of intelligence and security.

Among those named are Mohammed-Hossein Bagheri, a major general in the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and the chief of staff of the Iranian armed forces; Major General Hossein Salami, commander-in-chief of the IRGC; Esmail Qaani, commander of the Quds Force of the IRGC; the Evin Prison, which houses political prisoners; and Iran’s morality police and its head, Mohammad Rostami Cheshmeh Gachi.

Iran's state-run Press TV and its "morality police," which enforces the Islamic Republic's strict dress code, were also sanctioned by Canada.

Amini, 22, was taken into custody by the morality police before she died. She was detained for allegedly wearing a head scarf, or hijab, improperly.

Officials have said Amini died of a heart attack on September 16, but her relatives and supporters reject the claim, saying there are eyewitness accounts reporting she was beaten by police.

Amini's death has sparked widespread anger and daily protests in Iran, which the country's leadership has vowed to put down harshly.

"Our message to Iran is clear: the continued and systemic persecution of Iranian women must stop and they will be held accountable for human rights violations and blatant disregard for human life," Joly said in the statement.

"Canada applauds the courage and actions of Iranians and will stand by them as they fight for their rights and dignity.”

Director Of Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant Released After Detention That Raised 'Grave Concern' At UN Atomic Agency

Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant director Ihor Murashov (file photo)

The head of the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant in Ukraine has been released, UN nuclear watchdog chief Rafael Grossi said on October 3.

"I welcome the release of Ihor Murashov, Director General of #Ukraine's #Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant; I have received confirmation that Mr Murashov has returned to his family safely," Grossi said on Twitter.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) called for Murashov’s release over the weekend after reports that he had been abducted by a Russian military patrol while traveling between the Zaporizhzhya plant and the town of Enerhodar.

Murashov “was taken out of the car, and with his eyes blindfolded, he was driven in an unknown direction,” said Enerhoatom, the Ukrainian state company that oversees the plant.

Murashov's detention had a "very significant impact" on him and nuclear safety and security standards, the IAEA said in a statement on October 1.

“Such a detention of any member of the plant staff would be a source of grave concern in itself, but also for its psychological impact and pressure on the rest of the staff -- which is detrimental to nuclear safety and security,” said Grossi said in the statement.

It remained unclear why Murashov was detained. Russian authorities have made no statement about the detention.

The plant and the surrounding area have been controlled by Russian forces since March, while Ukrainian staff have continued operating the plant.

Its last reactor was shut down in September because of shelling near the plant.

Kyiv and IAEA have been warning of the possibility of an environmental catastrophe because of nearby fighting. The UN agency has called for the creation of a demilitarized zone around the plant, but Russia has rejected the proposal.

With reporting by Reuters

Russian TV Journalist Who Protested Ukraine War On Air Added To Wanted List

Former Russian state TV producer Marina Ovsyannikova (file photo)

Russian TV journalist Marina Ovsyannikova, who in March protested Russia's ongoing invasion of Ukraine in a live broadcast, has been placed on the Interior Ministry's wanted list after she allegedly escaped from house arrest.

Mediazona website said on October 3 that Ovsyannikova's name appeared in the ministry's registry of wanted persons. The ministry said the journalists is wanted for a crime but did not specify the accusations.

Two days earlier, Ovsyannikova's former husband, Igor Ovsyannikov, said she escaped from house arrest along with their 11-year-old daughter, adding that their current whereabouts are unknown.

Ovsyannikova's lawyer, Dmitry Zakhvatov, told Novaya gazeta.Europe at the time that he had no information about his client’s possible flight.

In August, a Moscow court placed Ovsyannikova under house arrest on a charge of distributing false information about Russia’s armed forces after police searched her apartment in the Russian capital.

Zakhvatov said then that Ovsyannikova may face up to 10 years in prison if convicted of the charge.

Russian TV News Hit By Anti-War Protest In Studio
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Ovsyannikova gained international recognition on March 14 when she burst onto the set of Channel One's Vremya news program holding a poster reading: “Stop the war. Don’t believe propaganda. They are lying to you” in Russian. She also shouted: "Stop the war. No to war."

Ukraine-born Ovsyannikova was a producer with Channel One at the time of her protest. She was later detained and fined 30,000 rubles ($490) by a court for calling for illegal protests.

Ovsyannikova resigned from Channel One and spent several months abroad, including in Ukraine, repeatedly expressing her condemnation of the war.

After her return to Moscow in July, a court on August 8 ordered Ovsyannikova to pay a fine of 40,000 rubles ($660) for her latest online posts protesting the war.

A law signed by Putin in March provides for lengthy prison terms for distributing "deliberately false information" about Russian military operations.

Kyrgyz Court Rejects Former Kumtor Gold Mine Manager's Appeal Against His Arrest

Former Kumtor gold mine interim manager Tengiz Bolturuk (file photo)

BISHKEK -- The Bishkek City Court has rejected an appeal filed by the former interim manager of Kyrgyzstan's Kumtor gold mine against his arrest.

The court ruled on October 3 that Tengiz Bolturuk, a Canadian citizen, must stay in pretrial detention until at least November 10.

Bolturuk was arrested on September 13 along with his two subordinates, Aisha-Gul Janalieva and Ryspek Toktogulov, on suspicion of financial mismanagement.

They were fired in late August after the State Committee for National Security (UKMK) launched a probe against them, saying that the auditing chamber found financial violations in their activities.

The UKMK said at the time that Bolturuk and his assistants allegedly caused financial damage to the State Treasury assessed at 1 billion soms ($12,472,400).

Bolturuk rejects the charges.

Kyrgyzstan and the Kyrgyz state-owned gold mining company regained full control of the Kumtor gold mine earlier this year under the terms of a deal with the Canadian company Centerra Gold signed in April.

Bolturuk, who previously represented Kyrgyzstan at Centerra Gold, was interim manager of Kumtor at the time.

Kumtor had been the target of financial and environmental disagreements for years before turning into the subject of a control battle between the Kyrgyz state and Centerra Gold.

The Kyrgyz government has insisted that Centerra's operations endangered human lives and the environment, which the company denied.

In May 2021, the Canadian firm said it had "initiated binding arbitration to enforce its rights under long-standing investment agreements with the government."

Many Kyrgyz lawmakers have expressed concern about an alleged lack of transparency at Kumtor since the Kyrgyz government took control of the gold mine in April.

Iranian Currency Hits Record Low As Unrest Intensifies Economic Concerns

The rial traded at 331,800 to the dollar on October 3, down from the quoted price of 316,800 a week ago. At the start of September, the rial was at 298,200 to the dollar.

Iran's national currency, the rial, fell to a record low against the U.S. dollar amid a wave of protests triggered by the death in custody of a young woman.

The rial traded at 331,800 to the dollar on October 3, according to traders in Tehran and the Bonbast.com foreign-exchange website, down from the quoted price of 316,800 a week ago. At the start of September, the rial was at 298,200 to the dollar.

The weakening of the currency has intensified since widespread protests over the death of a young woman in police custody for reportedly improperly wearing a hijab, along with reports about the end of hopes for a revival of a 2015 nuclear accord between Tehran and global powers.

Anger over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini on September 16 has swept the country, with demonstrations in cities across Iran, including on October 2 when security forces in Tehran cracked down on hundreds of university students overnight.

Iran has repeatedly accused outside forces of stoking the protests and last week said nine foreign nationals -- including from France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Poland -- had been arrested.

When the 2015 nuclear deal was signed with world powers, the rial was trading at 32,000 to the dollar. The agreement gave Tehran relief from financial sanctions in return for curbs on its nuclear program.

The accord collapsed in 2018 when then-U.S. President Donald Trump pulled out of the deal and reimposed crippling sanctions that have battered Iran's economy and its currency. After Washington withdrew, Iran began to breach some of the pact's nuclear limits saying they could no longer be enforced.

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

Norway Deploys Soldiers At Oil, Gas Plants In Wake Of Nord Stream Leaks

Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store visited the Sleipner A platform in the Sleipner East gas field of Norway's North Sea sector on October 1.

NATO member Norway has posted soldiers to help guard major onshore oil and gas processing plants, its military said, as part of efforts to beef up security amid suspicion that sabotage caused leaks in the Nord Stream gas pipelines last week.

The Norwegian Home Guard, a rapid mobilization force, on October 3 began to deploy troops at plants responsible for processing and exporting oil and gas.

"The purpose is to assist the police in averting and preventing punishable or unwanted incidents in Norway," it said in a statement.

Four leaks were discovered on the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines in the Baltic Sea near Denmark and Sweden last week.

Neither pipeline was in use at the time of the suspected blasts, but they were filled with gas that has been spewing out and bubbling to the surface of the Baltic Sea since September 26.

Following the incidents, Norway last week deployed its navy and air force to patrol offshore petroleum fields and announced it would receive assistance from Britain, Germany, and France.

Norway is Europe's largest gas supplier and a major oil exporter.

The Norwegian government has said it decided to boost the security of its oil and gas infrastructure as an extra safety measure despite not being aware of any specific threats.

Among the onshore facilities receiving police and military protection on October 3 were the gas export terminals in Kollsnes and Nyhamna in southwestern Norway as well as the Kaarstoe gas and condensate plant and the Mongstad oil refinery.

Meanwhile, British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said the Joint Expeditionary Force group of northern European nations will meet on October 3 to discuss the safety of undersea pipelines and cables following the Nord Stream incidents.

The force consists of troops from 10 countries, including the Baltic and Nordic nations.

With reporting by Reuters and AP

Kyrgyz Security Forces Detain Seven Alleged Members Of Banned Islamic Group

BISHKEK -- Kyrgyz officials say seven members of the banned Hizb ut-Tahrir Islamic group have been detained in the Central Asian nation.

The Kyrgyz State Committee for National Security said in a statement on October 3 that the suspects were arrested after investigators found books and electronic devices with texts and other materials that had been deemed as extremist.

According to the experts, the materials in question were propagating the ideas of Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is a global organization based in London that seeks to unite all Muslim countries into an Islamic caliphate through peaceful means.

Kyrgyzstan banned the group in 2003, branding its supporters as extremists.

Buddhist Leader Becomes First Religious Head In Russia To Openly Condemn War In Ukraine

Telo Tulku Rinpoche, also known as Erdni Ombadykov, said in an interview to a Russian blogger on YouTube over the weekend that he supports Ukraine because it was Russia that attacked Ukrainian territories. (file photo)

The Supreme Lama of Russia's Republic of Kalmykia has become the first religious leader in the Russian Federation to condemn Russia's ongoing unprovoked invasion in Ukraine.

Telo Tulku Rinpoche, also known as Erdni Ombadykov, said in an interview to a Russian blogger on YouTube over the weekend that he supports Ukraine because it was Russia that attacked Ukrainian territories.

"I think [the war] is wrong; nobody needs this war. We are all living in the 21st century, all of us want to live peacefully, each country wants to develop. I think the Ukrainian side, of course, is right -- it is defending its country, its land, its truth, its constitution, its people. It is very difficult to say and accept that Russia is right. It is very hard to say so, and this is what I cannot [say]," the leader of Kalmykia's Buddhists said during the interview.

Telo Tulku Rinpoche also said he had avoided expressing his thoughts about the war in Ukraine because he "did not want to damage the ties between the authorities and Buddhists," though he added that Buddhist leaders who openly supported the war in Ukraine could not sincerely believe in what they were saying if they are "real" Buddhists.

Telo Tulku Rinpoche is currently in Mongolia, where he is helping thousands of Kalmyks who fled Russia after Moscow launched its war against Ukraine in late February.

The influx of Russian citizens, mostly of Kalmyk, Buryat, and Tyvan origin, to Mongolia has dramatically increased in recent days after President Vladimir Putin announced on September 21 a partial military mobilization to support the war in Ukraine.

Kalmyks in Russia's southwest and Buryats in Siberia are mostly Buddhist, Mongol-speaking ethnic groups. Tyvans are another mostly Buddhist indigenous people in Siberia, whose language is Turkic.

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