EU Takes Stock Of Its Near Neighbors
The European Neighborhood Policy includes bilateral action plans with six former Soviet states: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine.
Here is a rundown of the reports on those countries issued on May 15.
Georgia: Seeking Tbilisi's Cooperation With Abkhaz, South Ossetians
Brussels urges Georgia to engage in "pragmatic cooperation" with the leadership of the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
The review praises the progress Tbilisi has made both in implementing the visa facilitation agreement and in negotiations with the EU on a free-trade agreement.
The European Commission does, however, urge the country to reverse isolation of the inhabitants of Abkhazia and South Ossetia by giving them access to health care and other social services. Such care "should be extended without preconditions such as acceptance of Georgian ID documents," the report says.
The text further notes that there should be continued reform of the justice system and that the independence and efficiency of the judiciary should be strengthened.
Belarus: EU Declines To Adopt Country Report
For a second year in a row, the European Union opted not to adopt a country progress report for Belarus.
Unlike the five other "Eastern Neighbors," Belarus is not a full participant in the European Neighborhood Policy. EU assistance to Minsk has been restricted since a crackdown followed the controversial presidential poll of December 2010, which saw authoritarian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka reelected amid accusations of widespread fraud.
In an assessment of the situation in Belarus, the European Commission concluded that "there has been a serious deterioration in the respect for human rights, the rule of law and democratic principles in Belarus."
The EU so far has subjected 243 Belarusian nationals to a visa ban and asset freeze, and has blocked the assets of 32 companies linked to the regime.
Ukraine: EU Says Review Haunted By 'Selective Justice'
The latest European Neighborhood Policy report on Ukraine is dominated by what are seen as the shortcomings of the Ukrainian judiciary and the prosecution of opposition figures.
The report says those shortcomings are blocking ratification of Ukraine's Association Agreement with the EU, and notes that several leading opposition figures, including former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, were "subjected to selective justice, characterized by untransparent judicial processes." It goes on to suggest that "successfully addressing the issue of selective justice would open the way to the signature and ratification of the Association Agreement."
The text also urges Ukraine to pursue reform in all aspects of the judicial process, tackle corruption in business, and bring legislation on freedom of assembly and media freedom into line with European standards.
Prime Minister Mykola Azarov quickly rejected the EU criticism.
Armenia: EU Has Praise, But Cites Persistent Corruption
The European Commission praises Armenia for its progress on democracy and human rights, but says Yerevan still must deal with shortcomings in areas such as corruption and media freedom.
The report says negotiations toward an EU-Armenia association agreement have "progressed in good pace."
The report also offers praise for recent changes to Armenia's electoral code but notes that parliamentary elections earlier this month still fell short of international standards.
The report is critical of media freedom, citing limitations on television broadcasting and lawsuits against journalists for alleged insults and defamation.
It says "public trust in the judiciary continues to be low, and perception of corruption high."
Azerbaijan: Brussels Raps Baku Over Range Of Issues
The European Commission criticizes Azerbaijan for a lack of progress in a host of areas.
Brussels urges Baku to "bring legislation on elections, freedom of assembly, freedom of association, and media freedom into line with international standards and ensure its full implementation." It also urges more measures to tackle corruption.
The text says negotiations on an EU-Azerbaijan association agreement have progressed "at slow pace" and that negotiations on a free-trade deal cannot start until Azerbaijan becomes a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO).
The report does, however, praise Azerbaijan's quick economic growth, although it notes that such expansion largely was driven by "oil-financed public spending rather than by self-sustained development in the private sector."
Moldova: EU Has General Praise
Moldova arguably receives the best review among the Eastern Partnership countries in this year's European Neighborhood Policy review.
The text cites the "good pace" of negotiations on an association agreement and "good progress in almost all areas of the action plan" that was established between Brussels and Chisinau.
There is, however, criticism that only limited progress has been made in fighting corruption.
The EU also urges Chisinau to "step up efforts to implement the justice and law-enforcement reform strategies, with a focus on human rights protection."
An insufficient pace of reforms of the public administration, including transparency and access to information, is also mentioned, as is the need for faster privatization of state-owned enterprises in telecommunications, transport, energy, and the financial sectors.
Based on reporting by RFE/RL Brussels correspondent Rikard Jozwiak
Russia Shifting War Focus To 'NATO And The West,' Says EU Official
A senior EU official says Russia has taken its war against Ukraine to "a different stage" through indiscriminate attacks on civilians and nonmilitary targets, while criticizing Moscow for triggering recent moves by Germany and the United States to send advanced tanks to Ukraine. Stefano Sannino, secretary general of the European Union’s European External Action Service, told reporters in Tokyo that Putin had "moved from a concept of special operation to a concept now of a war against NATO and the West." He said German and U.S. tank provisions are meant to help Ukrainians defend themselves rather than making them attackers. To read the original story by AP, click here.
One Person Shot Dead At Azerbaijan's Embassy In Iran
One person was killed and two others were wounded when an attacker opened fire on a guard post outside Azerbaijan's embassy in Tehran, Azerbaijan's Foreign Ministry said January 27. "The attacker broke through the guard post, killing the head of security with a Kalashnikov assault rifle," the ministry said. Police said a suspect was arrested. Iranian news agency Tasnim cited the Tehran police chief as saying the suspect entered the premises with two young children and may have been motivated by "personal issues."To read the original story by RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service, click here.
Jury Convicts Uzbek New York Bike Attacker, Weighs Death Penalty
A U.S. jury on January 26 convicted an Uzbek man who used a truck to kill eight people on a Manhattan bike path in 2017 on murder and terrorism charges in the first federal death-penalty trial of U.S. President Joe Biden's administration. After finding Sayfullo Saipov guilty of committing murder with the goal of joining the Islamic State militant group, the Manhattan jury will return on February 6 to consider whether the death penalty is appropriate punishment. Saipov, an Uzbek national who moved to the United States in 2010, was convicted on all of the 28 counts he faced. To read the full story by Reuters, click here.
Zelenskiy Hails 'Tank Coalition' As Fighting Rages In Eastern Ukraine
Russian forces pressed on with a multipronged offensive in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, Ukraine's military said early on January 27, as President Volodymyr Zelenskiy voiced his gratitude for the growing number of countries that have pledged advanced tanks to Kyiv while urging them to accelerate the delivery of the offensive assault vehicles.
Ukrainian troops repelled attacks in 11 locations in the two eastern regions over the past 24 hours, a day after Moscow unleashed another wave of missile strikes across Ukraine, killing at least 11 people and damaging energy infrastructure despite Kyiv's air defense destroying most of the incoming projectiles.
"The Defense Forces over the past day repelled the invaders' attacks in Ploshanka, Nevske, and Chervonpopyivka in Luhansk, and Verkhnyokamyanske, Paraskoviyivka, Bakhmut, Klishchiyivka, Vodyane, Nevelske, Maryinka, and Vuhledar in Donetsk," the General Staff of the Ukrainian military said in its daily report, which RFE/RL could not independently verify.
The latest reports of heavy fighting in the east came after Ukraine's military said on January 26 that it had shot down 47 of 59 Russian missiles -- some fired from Tu-95 strategic bombers in the Russian Arctic.
Moscow also launched 37 air strikes, 17 of them using Iranian-made Shahed-136 drones. All drones were destroyed, the Ukrainian military said.
Zelenskiy said in his nightly video address on January 26 that "there are already 12 countries in our tank coalition" to provide advanced Western battle tanks to help Ukraine's defense against Russia's 11-month Russian invasion.
He thanked "everyone in the world who is truly fighting against terror together with us" and re-emphasized the "speeding up" of the delivery of defense equipment to his country.
According to media reports, around 100 German-manufactured Leopard 2 tanks are being pledged by Germany and its allies initially, in addition to the U.S. contribution of 31 M1 Abrams tanks and Britain's earlier promise of 14 Challenger 2 tanks.
Canada was the latest country to declare its intention to give Ukraine tanks. Ottawa will send four Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine, the Canadian defense minister said, after Germany this week allowed other countries to re-export the German-built tank.
Poland, the Netherlands, and Spain previously announced their readiness to transfer some of the Leopard 2 tanks in their stocks to Ukraine, something they can only do with manufacturer Germany's express permission.
Training of Ukrainian crews and delivery of tanks will take at least about two months in the earliest cases, according to public statements.
According to two diplomatic sources quoted by Reuters, France and Italy are close to finalizing the technical details to supply an SAMP/T air-defense system to Ukraine.
Hours after the German and U.S. tank announcements, Zelenskiy said he'd spoken to NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and was pressing for the Western supply of long-range missiles and aircraft to Ukraine -- a line that those governments have so far declined to cross.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki was quoted by dpa as telling a French broadcaster on January 26 that his country would be willing to send fighter jets to Ukraine if Warsaw's NATO allies decided on such a move.
The Kremlin has reacted with fury to the latest gesture of Western solidarity with Ukraine, saying it saw the promised delivery of advanced tanks as evidence of escalating "direct involvement" of the United States and NATO in Russia's war of aggression, something both deny.
U.S. Envoy To OSCE Warns Russia Trying To 'Wipe Out' Ukrainian Sovereignty, Incorporate Belarus
The U.S. envoy to the OSCE warned at a meeting of the organization's Permanent Council on January 26 that Russia is trying "to wipe out the sovereignty of an entire, independent nation" in Ukraine.
Ambassador Michael Carpenter added that Russia was also seeking to do much the same thing with neighboring Belarus, following a historical pattern of denying the existence of sovereign nations and trying to "incorporate them into their empires."
He said Russian President Vladimir Putin had "made clear" that he thinks both those nations "belong" to Russia.
"The United States flatly rejects Russia's efforts to dismiss and repress Ukraine’s distinct culture, history, and statehood," Carpenter said. "We also strongly support the sovereignty and independence of Belarus, which has a proud history and its own rich culture as well."
Putin's forces covertly occupied Crimea ahead of its annexation in 2014, when Russia-backed armed separatists also captured wide swaths of eastern Ukraine.
After massing Russian troops at the Ukrainian borders with Russia and Belarus in late 2021 and early 2022, Putin ordered tens of thousands of soldiers and armored vehicles to launch a full-scale invasion on February 24.
Ukrainian officials have chronicled what they say are tens or hundreds of thousands of atrocities and other abuses against civilians, and international war crimes investigators are documenting many allegations along with physical evidence in formerly occupied territory.
Carpenter said that "Putin’s language and view of Ukraine and its people is essential to understanding the brutal conduct of Russia’s forces in Ukraine."
The Kremlin leader has increased pressure on Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka since the latter declared himself the winner of sixth term in a flawed presidential election in 2020, a vote that sparked massive street protests and Western condemnation.
Lukashenka has been further isolated internationally since allowing Russian troops to stage their invasion from Belarusian soil.
"Russia's leadership has openly and repeatedly professed the belief that Ukrainian and Belarusian identity do not exist outside of Russian culture," Carpenter told the OSCE Permanent Council.
Tsikhanouskaya Calls On Croatia To Distinguish Lukashenka's Regime From Belarusians
Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the exiled leader of the democratic opposition in Belarus, has called on Croatia "to distinguish between" the Belarusian people and the regime of the authoritarian ruler of her country, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, and to do the same between Belarus and Russia.
Tsikhanouskaya said after talks with Croatian Foreign Minister Gordan Grlic-Radman in Zagreb on January 26 that "dictator Lukashenka is fully responsible for taking part in [Russia's] war against Ukraine."
She said the vast majority of Belarusians oppose the war and support Ukraine.
"Another message: Belarus is not Russia," she said. "Belarus has always been part of the European community; we strive for that. And we see our future in friendship with Croatia."
She described Belarus as currently "under a creeping occupation."
Tsikhanouskaya expressed thanks to Grlic-Radman for "his active support to a democratic Belarus in the European Union, the European Council, and the OSCE,” as well as for Croatia's support of Ukraine.
"Today we discussed how to prevent involvement of Belarusian troops' participation in the war against Ukraine, how to help Belarusian guerillas and volunteers, to strengthen the isolation of Lukashenka on the international arena," Tsikhanouskaya said.
Tsikhanouskaya started her two-day visit to Croatia on January 26. She was scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic and parliament speaker Gordan Jandrokovic.
On January 26, Belarusian state-controlled Telegram channels said that Tsikhanouskaya's Office and the Coordination Council of Belarusian opposition were extremist organizations.
With reporting by BPN
Workers At Chinese-Serbian Copper Mine Block Roads To Press Wage Demands
Hundreds of workers at a joint Chinese-Serbian copper mine in Bor, in eastern Serbia, blocked access to the facility on January 26 to protest for higher wages and a new collective bargaining agreement with the mine's Chinese majority owners.
The demonstrators blocked four entrance gates to the mining and smelting complex.
"We are only blocking heavy trucks -- we let in the ambulance, firefighters, and police. Anyone can walk by foot and get to work," Dragan Elek, from the smelters trade union organization, told RFE/RL.
Chinese Zijin Copper bought around two-thirds of the Bor mining facility from the Serbian state in 2018 and employs some 6,200 people to exploit copper, gold, and other ore deposits in eastern Serbia.
A similar protest was staged earlier this month.
Workers are demanding the 14.3-percent pay rise that was proposed by the tripartite Socio-Economic Council representing labor, management, and the Serbian government. They also want a new collective agreement.
"Primarily, we want to preserve our budgets and our dignity," Miodrag Milic, one of the protesting workers, told RFE/RL.
The Zijin Copper company issued a statement pledging in 2023 to increase wages by 10 percent.
The Chinese Bor operations have already faced legal challenges based on accusations of noncompliance with environmental standards.
Russia's Path To 2024 Olympics Takes Shape; Ukraine Objects
Russia's path to sending a team to the Paris Olympics next year became clearer on January 26 amid fierce objections from Ukraine. The International Olympic Committee indicated on January 25 that it favors officially neutral teams from Russia and its ally Belarus at the 2024 Olympics despite a plea from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to exclude them entirely. A day later, Russia and Belarus were invited to compete at the Asian Games, a key Olympic qualifier. To see the original story by AP, click here.
Canada To Send Four Leopard 2 Tanks To Ukraine
Canada will send four Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine, Canadian Defense Minister Anita Anand said on January 26, after Germany this week allowed other countries to re-export the German-built tank. "This donation, combined with the contributions of allies and partners, will significantly help the armed forces of Ukraine" in their defense against the Russian invasion, Anand told reporters in Ottawa.
U.K. Aiming To Deliver Tanks To Ukraine By End Of March
Britain's government said on January 26 that it was aiming to send tanks to Ukraine at the end of March, with training starting next week. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told reporters that "everything is going according to plan" after Britain this month became the first Western ally to promise heavy assault vehicles for Ukraine with a plan to send 14 Challenger 2 tanks. Germany and the United States swept aside longstanding misgivings and followed suit on January 25.
North Macedonia Says Bulgaria Recall 'Disproportionate' As Balkan Tensions Bubble Over
SKOPJE -- North Macedonia's foreign minister, Bujar Osmani, has described Bulgaria's decision to recall its ambassador to Skopje as "disproportionate" if it is a response to a weekend attack on a minority Bulgarian in the city of Ohrid.
Hristijan Pendikov, a Macedonian citizen who identifies as Bulgarian and is an employee of one of the Bulgarian cultural clubs in North Macedonia that some Macedonians regard as provocative, was attacked and beaten last weekend in that Macedonian city.
Sofia announced the diplomatic withdrawal on January 25, with Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nikolay Milkov saying it would remain in effect until Sofia sees signs of change.
Relations between the Balkan neighbors have long been strained by deep cultural, historical, and linguistic ties that spilled into the open three years ago when Sofia invoked its veto power to stall North Macedonia's EU negotiations.
Sofia finally agreed to withdraw the veto last year but only after slightly reshaping the Macedonian EU accession framework.
The day after the attack on Pendikov, he was flown to Bulgaria on a Bulgarian government plane to undergo surgery for his injuries.
Macedonian President Stevo Pendarovski called a meeting of the Security Council on January 23, after which he said he would ask the government to ban the entry into the country of several Bulgarian citizens he said were leading a campaign against North Macedonia and were connected to Russian intelligence services.
Osmani blamed the attack on Pendikov on individual perpetrators and said Macedonian officials had done all they could to respond to the attack.
"The state immediately identified the perpetrators, [and] one of them is in custody," Osmani told the Macedonian Desk of RFE/RL's Balkan Service on January 26. "There were condemnations by the president, the prime minister, the minister of foreign affairs. I went to Sofia [and] we expressed what the state should show our citizens, so I don't see what the connection would be between one case and the reaction."
Milkov suggested on Bulgarian state television that Sofia would "review" joint projects with its North Macedonia and said "things cannot continue as they have been."
He added that "things have changed" between the neighbors.
Osmani rejected generalizations about a state's behavior based on a single incident.
He also said he thought the Bulgarian government's actions were related to elections there scheduled for early April -- the country's fifth in less than two years.
"The Republic of Bulgaria is entering the election process," Osmani said, adding that a political vacuum over the past two years has been an "aggravating circumstance" with respect to "sensitive issues."
He said "the season of provocateurs, thugs, and political profiteers is open and now everyone is in trouble."
The European Commission is currently reviewing all 33 of North Macedonia's accession chapters to determine what North Macedonia must achieve to prepare to become an EU member.
Any existing member state -- including Bulgaria -- can veto the opening and closing of such chapters in negotiations.
Bulgarian cultural clubs became a flashpoint for tensions between the countries as their numbers and visibility increased last year.
Other recent celebrations of historical figures have further stirred tensions.
A large contingent of Bulgarian nationals is expected to travel to North Macedonia to mark the 151st anniversary of the birth of revolutionary Goce Delcev on February 4.
Earlier this week, the Macedonian government instructed the Interior Ministry to take measures to keep the event safe.
U.S. Lists Russian Vagner Mercenary Group As 'Transnational Criminal Organization'
The United States has designated the Vagner Group a "significant transnational criminal organization" and targeted individuals and entities within the Russian mercenary enterprise's global network in line with an executive order.
The U.S. Treasury said on January 26 that additional new sanctions in connection with the designation target six individuals and 12 entities, including a Chinese satellite-imagery provider and companies and people in the Central African Republic (CAR) where Vagner has active paid fighters, as well as in the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.).
A Treasury statement described the listing by its Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) as part of an effort "to degrade the Russian Federation's capacity to wage war against Ukraine."
Thousands of Vagner troops are fighting in Ukraine, and Vagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin has been increasingly public in his efforts to take credit for battlefield gains. He has also been filmed recruiting Vagner fighters from Russian prisons, promising pardons in exchange for battlefield action.
Ukrainian and Western officials have blamed Vagner troops for atrocities against civilians in Russia's invasion, which is now in its 12th month.
"As sanctions and export controls on Russia from our international coalition continue to bite, the Kremlin is desperately searching for arms and support -- including through the brutal [Vagner] Group -- to continue its unjust war against Ukraine," the statement quoted Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen as saying.
The Treasury said Vagner personnel "have engaged in an ongoing pattern of serious criminal activity, including mass executions, rape, child abductions, and physical abuse in the Central African Republic (CAR) and Mali."
It noted that the OFAC in 2017 concluded that Vagner was complicit in actions that threatened Ukraine and was singled out in November by the State Department for its contribution to the now nearly year-old full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
"As Russia’s military has struggled on the battlefield, Putin has resorted to relying on the [Vagner] Group to continue his war of choice," the Treasury said of the Ukrainian invasion effort.
The sanctions will also target the Joint Stock Company Terra Tech (Terra Tech) and China's Changsha Tianyi Space Science and Technology Research Institute Co. LTD (Spacety China).
It also named an alleged Vagner front company called Officer’s Union for International Security (OUIS) and its director, along with a Russian Vagner employee it said was advising C.A.R.'s president, along with U.A.E.-based Kratol Aviation.
It said that "to further degrade Russia's war machine" it was sanctioning JSC Aviacon Zitotrans (Aviacon Zitotrans), unmanned aerial vehicle maker AO Ural Civil Aviation Factory (UCAF), and state-owned Joint Stock Company National Aviation Service Company (NASC), along with a handful of other entities.
Sakharov Center Says It's Being Evicted From Moscow Premises
MOSCOW -- The Sakharov Center in Moscow, the human rights entity named after Nobel Prize-winning Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov, says it is being evicted from its three premises in the Russian capital.
The Sakharov Center's staff said in a statement on January 26 that Moscow's Property Department had informed it two days earlier that it was canceling the group's lease agreements, including one to its main building, an exhibition hall, and one to Sakharov's former apartment.
The department explained the decision by saying that amendments to the controversial law on foreign agents, which took force on December 1, forbid organizations and individuals labeled as foreign agents from receiving any state support. All the premises were provided to the Sakharov Center free of charge.
"For a quarter of a century, the center has been a place that united thousands of Russian citizens who are not indifferent to the fate of the country, the values of freedom and human rights," the statement from the Sakharov Center said.
"This legal collision proves yet again that the state policy's idea is liquidation of the independent organizations that fight for social interests," it added.
The center was given its first premises by Moscow authorities in 1993.
The personal archive of Andrei Sakharov is currently kept in the center's apartment location on Moscow's Zemlyanoi Val Street.
Exhibits about the first president of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Havel, Polish journalist and dissident Adam Michnik, British cinema director Tom Stoppard, Lithuanian writer and dissident Tomas Venclova, and prominent Soviet and Russian dissidents Vladimir Bukovsky and Natan Sharansky all were featured at one time or another.
The center was also a place where people bid last farewell to well-known Soviet dissidents and post-Soviet Kremlin critics such as Sergei Kovalyov, Boris Nemtsov, Yury Ryzhov, Valeria Novodvorskaya, and Yury Afanasyev.
The Sakharov Center "created the only historic exposition in the country that told the history of the Soviet Union as a totalitarian regime...to help society reevaluate the tragic pages of its history and realize that the repetition of political repressions, deportations, aggressive foreign policy is perilous for the country," the Sakharov Center statement said.
Death Sentence Protest Turns Violent Outside Iranian Prison As Security Agents Disperse Crowd
A gathering of the families of drug-related prisoners sentenced to death in Iran has turned violent as law enforcement and security officers tried to break up the demonstration in front of the Ghezel Hesar prison near the capital, Tehran.
The U.S.-based activist group HRANA reported that the families, holding placards with the slogan "No To Execution," demanded a reduction in the punishment of those accused of drug crimes and a halt to the carrying out of their death sentences. Many protest rallies have been held in Iran in recent years, but one opposing the death sentence is a rare act of defiance.
In videos of the January 25 protests posted on social media police officers can be seen dispersing the demonstrators, who identified themselves as relatives of those on death row, arresting some of them.
There were no details on whether anyone was injured or how many people were detained.
Iran has seen a sharp rise in the number of executions since September 2021 after Ebrahim Raisi, a former head of the judiciary, became president and former Intelligence Minister Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei took over the judiciary.
The Oslo-based Iran Human Rights Organization says the number of executions in Iran exceeded 500 last year, and officials have been pushing for harsh penalties, including the death sentence, for protesters at the center of unrest sweeping the country over the September 16 death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in police custody for an alleged violation of the country's head scarf law.
On January 10, UN human rights chief Volker Turk accused Tehran of "weaponizing" the death penalty to quell dissent amid months of unrest over the death of Amini.
Four convicted protesters have already been executed, and others remain on death row after being handed death sentences.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
France Demands Release Of Citizen In Iran As Health Worsens
France's Foreign Ministry demanded on January 26 the immediate release of Bernard Phelan, a Franco-Irish citizen detained in Iran whose health situation has worsened, with Paris saying he has been denied urgent medical care. Ties between France and Iran have deteriorated in recent months with Tehran detaining seven of its nationals in what Paris has said are arbitrary arrests that are equivalent to state hostage taking. Diplomats said Phelan, 64, a tourism consultant, recently ended a hunger strike that had hit his health, but he remains fragile. To read the original Reuters story, click here.
Britain Sounds Alarm On Russia-Based Hacking Group
A Russia-based hacking group named Cold River is behind an expansive and ongoing information-gathering campaign that has struck various targets in government, politics, academia, defense, journalism, and activism, Britain said. In an advisory, the National Cyber Security Center said Cold River impersonates people around its targets by using fake email addresses and social media profiles. "There is often some correspondence between attacker and target, sometimes over an extended period, as the attacker builds rapport," the advisory said. The advisory did not directly attribute the digital attacks to the Russian government. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev In Kyrgyzstan, To Sign Deal On Border
Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev has arrived in Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, for a two-day official visit. Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov met his Uzbek counterpart at the Bishkek airport on January 26. The two leaders will discuss bilateral ties and sign several agreements, including those on border delimitation. Kyrgyz-Uzbek border demarcation has been an issue for years. More than 20 Kyrgyz politicians and activists were arrested in October after they protested a border deal that allowed Uzbekistan to acquire an important water reservoir along a disputed segment of the border. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, click here.
UN Food Agency Warns That Afghan Malnutrition Rates Have Reached A Record High
Malnutrition rates in Afghanistan are at record highs, with half the country enduring severe hunger throughout the year, a spokesman for the World Food Program said on January 26. The Taliban takeover in August 2021 drove millions into poverty and hunger after foreign aid stopped almost overnight. "Half of Afghanistan endures severe hunger throughout the year, regardless of the season, and malnutrition rates are at a record high for Afghanistan," said Phillipe Kropf, a spokesman for the UN food agency in Kabul. "There are 7 million children and mothers who are malnourished." To read the original story by AP, click here.
Imprisoned Iranian Activist Sadeghi, Who Is Ill With Cancer, Sentenced Again
Iranian political activist Arash Sadeghi, who is already in prison serving a 19-year sentence despite being diagnosed with cancer, has been handed another sentence of more than five years for his participation in protests over the death of a young woman in police custody.
Ramin Safarnia, Sadeghi's lawyer, said on Twitter on January 25 that his client was also banned from living in Tehran and the northern Iranian provinces, and cannot carry out activities via the Internet for two years after being found guilty of "gathering and collusion against national security" and "propaganda activity against the Islamic republic."
Safarnia added that Sadeghi cannot be a member of any political or social party or group, and that all of his personal belongings will be confiscated "for the benefit of the government."
Sadeghi, who has been imprisoned several times and was diagnosed with cancer during his previous incarceration, was released from prison a year and a half ago after enduring more than five years behind bars on two separate terms totaling 19 years that were handed down in 2013 on charges of propaganda against the government, defamation of the supreme leader, and threatening national security.
A political activist while a student at Allameh Tabatabaei University in Tehran, he has gone on hunger strike several times, including in 2016 to protest the arrest of his wife, who was detained on a charge of writing fiction that had not yet been published.
Sadeghi was released in 2021 before being arrested again in October during protests over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while she was being detained by morality police for allegedly improperly wearing her hijab.
Anger over Amini's death on September 16 has prompted thousands of Iranians to take to the streets nationwide to demand more freedoms and women's rights.
The widespread unrest represents the biggest threat to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution.
The activist HRANA news agency said that as of January 15 at least 522 people had been killed during the unrest, including 70 minors, as security forces try to stifle widespread dissent.
Many high-profile activists, rights advocates, and intellectuals have also been arrested in recent months because of the protests, including Fatemeh Sepehri and Majid Tavakoli.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
Russia Labels Latvia-Based Meduza News Website 'Undesirable Organization'
The Russian Prosecutor-General's Office has designated the Latvia-based Meduza news outlet as "an undesirable organization," amid the government's ongoing crackdown on independent media. The office explained its January 26 decision by saying the Russian-language media outlet's "activities pose a threat to the basis of the Russian Federation's constitutional order and security." Meduza was added to Russia's list of "foreign agents" in 2021. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.
Turkey Says It's 'Meaningless' To Restore NATO Dialogue With Sweden, Finland
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on January 26 it was "meaningless" to hold a trilateral meeting with Sweden and Finland to discuss their NATO bids after anti-Turkish protests this month in Stockholm. Cavusoglu also told a news conference in Ankara that there was no offer to evaluate Sweden's and Finland's NATO membership separately. Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said his country wanted to restore NATO dialogue with Turkey after Ankara indefinitely postponed trilateral talks with Sweden and Finland over their membership. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Former Kyrgyz Deputy Prime Minister Razakov Arrested On Fraud Charges
Former Kyrgyz Deputy Prime Minister Jenish Razakov has been arrested on charges of fraud and abuse of office. Kyrgyz Interior Ministry said on January 26 that Razakov is currently being held in pretrial detention. He is suspected of illegally obtaining $1 million from an individual via a fraud scheme in 2017. Razakov served as the Central Asian nation's deputy prime minister, secretary of the Security Council, and a regional governor between 2012 and 2020. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, click here.
Former Theater Director In Siberia Whose Son Condemned War In Ukraine Sent To House Arrest
The former director of the Red Torch Theater in Novosibirsk, Aleksandr Kulyabin, whose son publicly condemned Moscow's invasion of Ukraine, was sent on January 26 to pretrial house arrest on embezzlement charges. Kulyabin was detained two days earlier after his home was searched. His son, Timofei Kulyabin, worked as the chief producer at the theater in the Siberian city. He decided not to return to Russia from the Czech Republic, where he was on a business trip weeks after Russia launched its full-scale aggression against Ukraine in February 2022. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.
French Foreign Minister Arrives In Odesa To Assess Ukraine's Needs
French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna arrived on January 26 in the Ukrainian Black Sea port city of Odesa as part of France's efforts to boost its relationship with Ukraine and discuss its upcoming needs. Colonna was in Odesa shortly after missile strikes hit crucial power-infrastructure facilities in the surrounding region, causing blackouts in the city. She was due to visit one of the damaged sites. The visit aims to send a message to Moscow amid Western fears that Russia may still want to launch an attack on the city to deprive Ukraine of its key maritime outlet for grain products. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Tatarstan's Leader To Officially Lose Title Of President Sooner Than Expected
Kazan, Russia -- Rustam Minnikhanov, the leader of Russia's autonomous republic of Tatarstan, has signed into law a bill on constitutional amendments, including a change that abolishes the title of the republic’s president.
According to the amendments that Minnikhanov endorsed on January 26 just hours after Tatarstan's lawmakers approved them in all three readings, the title of Tatarstan's leader as of February 6 will be "glava" (head) in Russian and "rais" in Tatar, which still translates as president or chairman. Leaders of several Arab nations are officially called rais.
When lawmakers in December gave initial approval of the move following a directive from Moscow, they said that under transition arrangements, Minnikhanov would be allowed to complete his current term as president, which runs until 2025.
The change was prompted by legislation proposed by Russian federal lawmakers and signed into force by President Vladimir Putin last year that provides for replacing the title of president of autonomous republics with the more generic title of head.
Minnikhanov was the last regional leader in Russia to use the title of president since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.
All of the Russian Federation's other ethnic republics have already changed the titles of their leaders from president to head, while regional parliaments have lost their independence in adopting laws and regulations.
In October 2021, Tatarstan's parliament first voted to reject the Russian lawmakers' bill on the grounds that it would violate the autonomous republic's constitution.
But in December 2022, Minnikhanov told lawmakers that he favored the change, arguing that opposing it would undermine the unity of the Russian Federation at a time when Moscow is involved in a war with Ukraine.
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