Freedom House Cites 'Serious Setbacks' In Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan
The group's "Freedom In The World 2014" report, published on January 23, says rights and liberties around the world declined during 2013 for the eighth year in a row -- the longest such period of decline in the report's 41-year history.
The report says Russian President Vladimir Putin's government continued its antidemocratic tendencies, both at home and abroad.
Domestically, it says Moscow took actions against vulnerable minorities such as the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual) community and non-ethnic Russians, while the government consolidated its control over media.
Abroad, the report says Russia conducted a "campaign of intimidation" against its neighbors -- strong-arming Ukraine and Armenia into scuppering closer ties with the European Union.
The report says Putin's government employed "a series of opportunistic maneuvers" -- such as co-sponsoring a Syrian chemical weapons agreement, granting temporary asylum to fugitive U.S. intelligence whistleblower Edward Snowden, and granting pardons to several high-profile political prisoners -- to deflect international criticism ahead of February’s Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.
Arch Puddington, vice president for research at Freedom House, told RFE/RL that such moves could not hide the fact that Russia is one of the world's most prominent authoritarian regimes.
"Russia is the leading power in its neighborhood, and it has been in a state of decline since Putin became president in 2000," he said. "That decline accelerated when he returned to the presidency and began this systematic crackdown on civil society, on the political opposition, on what's left of an independent media. All of these developments we see as very negative, and we see Russia as really one of the most important authoritarian powers in the world."
'Worst Of The Worst'
The report also highlights the continued deterioration of democracy in Ukraine under President Viktor Yanukovych's government.
Puddington voiced concern about violence between police and antigovernment protesters in Ukraine, saying the United States must take more vigorous steps to condemn it.
"We are very concerned about Ukraine," he said. "Since Yanukovych took over, it has declined rather considerably and declined again this past year. We're very concerned about developments there right now. We're also concerned that the American government hasn't been aggressive enough in protesting against the policies of the [Ukrainian] government."
The report lists the governments of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan among the 10 "worst of the worst" democratic rights offenders in the world. Belarus is ranked only slightly higher.
Puddington called on the West to forgo economic or strategic interests in Central Asia and press harder for improvements in democratic standards.
"Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan also have very low scores," he said. "Central Asia proves the slogan that there is one standard for countries with energy wealth or strategic significance, and there's another standard for everybody else. You have some of the most repressive regimes in the world in Central Asia, and yet these regimes do not get the attention from the United States or from the European Union."
The Freedom House paper says Pakistan showed improvement last year and achieved the status of an "electoral democracy," while Afghanistan's democratic standards continued to deteriorate.
The report highlights progress by Georgia and Moldova.
It also notes "across-the-board reversals" in Egypt's democratic evolution and "serious setbacks" to democratic rights in Turkey.
Reports: More Former Separatist Leaders Of Nagorno-Karabakh Arrested
Authorities in Azerbaijan reportedly have arrested more former separatist leaders of Nagorno-Karabakh after Baku reclaimed control of the ethnic Armenian-populated breakaway region in a lightning military operation last month.
Arayik Harutiunian, who led the region before stepping down as president at the beginning of September, was arrested and was being transported to the Azerbaijani capital, sources confirmed to RFE/RL on October 3.
Arkadi Gukasian, who served as the separatist president from 1997 to 2007, and Bako Sahakian, who held the job from 2007 to 2020, were also arrested along with the speaker of the separatist legislature, Davit Ishkhanian.
Gukasian, Sahakian, and Ishkhanian have already been transported to Baku, sources told RFE/RL. The arrests have not been officially confirmed.
The arrests follow the detention of other officials by Azerbaijan's State Security Service (DTX). The DTX said on September 29 that it detained Davit Manukian, a former deputy commander of the breakaway region's de facto armed forces, on "terrorism" charges. Two days earlier, Azerbaijan arrested the former de facto prime minister of Nagorno-Karabakh, billionaire Ruben Vardanian.
Sources close to ethnic Armenian de facto authorities in the region confirmed to RFE/RL on September 29 that Azerbaijani officials also detained Levon Mnatsakanian, a former commander of Nagorno-Karabakh's separatist armed forces, at a border checkpoint with Armenia.
Other leaders of Nagorno-Karabakh have arrived safely in Armenia, according to State Minister Artur Harutiunian. He told RFE/RL on October 3 that he arrived in Armenia through the Azerbaijani checkpoint accompanied by the director of the National Security Service (NSS), Ararat Melkumyan, Internal Affairs Minister Karen Sargsian, and the head of the presidential administration Karen Shahramanian.
Artur Harutiunian did not comment on the detention of the former presidents and the speaker of parliament, saying only that when they were escorted out, they were still in Stepanakert.
Other details could not be verified because communications with Nagorno-Karabakh have been disrupted.
Although Baku pledged to respect the rights of ethnic Armenians after the military campaign, most of the population have fled the region fearing reprisals after three decades of separatist rule.
The UN mission has sent a mission to Nagorno-Karabakh to assess humanitarian needs in the region, but an Armenian official complained on October 3 that it “has done everything possible to legitimize ethnic cleansing, illegal arrests, destruction of civil infrastructure and other crimes carried out by Azerbaijan."
Edmon Marukian, Armenian ambassador-at-large, said the people in the mission “discredit the UN as an institution."
Marukian made the comments on X, formerly Twitter, but they were later deleted.
Armenia has also filed a lawsuit with the UN International Court of Justice (ICJ) to prevent the targeting of ethnic Armenians.
The lawsuit says Yerevan expects that Baku will "refrain from taking punitive measures against current or former political representatives or military personnel of Nagorno-Karabakh."
Nagorno-Karabakh, which along with seven adjacent districts had been under ethnic Armenian control for nearly three decades prior to the war in 2020, is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan.
The 2020 war ended with a Russian-brokered cease-fire, under which Moscow deployed about 2,000 troops to the region to serve as peacekeepers.
Azerbaijan’s presidential office said the country has presented a plan for the “reintegration” of ethnic Armenians in the region, noting that “the equality of rights and freedoms, including security, is guaranteed to everyone regardless of their ethnic, religious or linguistic affiliation.”
With reporting by AP and Reuters
Teenager In Coma After Morality Police Apprehend Her In Tehran, Rights Group Says
An Iranian teenager is in a coma at a hospital and under heavy security after an assault on the Tehran subway, a rights group said on October 3. The rights group Hengaw said the teenager, Armita Garawand, had been severely injured after being apprehended by agents of the so-called morality police. Iranian authorities denied security forces were involved and said the girl fainted due to low blood pressure. Iran remains on high alert just over a year after the death in custody of Mahsa Amini, who had been arrested for allegedly wearing a hijab, or head scarf, improperly.
Russia Plans To Block VPN In March 2024, Member Of Federation Council Says
Artyom Sheikin, a member of the Russian parliament's Federation Council, said on October 3 that the country’s Roskomnadzor media watchdog plans to block virtual private networks (VPNs) across the country as of March 1, 2024. As Russian authorities have introduced dramatic restrictions to increasing numbers of independent websites to block the flow of information related to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, demand for VPN services significantly increased among Internet users. Sheikin emphasized that it was "especially important" to block access to Meta Platforms, which owns Instagram, WhatsApp, and Facebook.
To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Romania To Send Troops To Bolster NATO Kosovo Force
Romania says it will send some 100 troops to bolster NATO's peacekeeping force in Kosovo after mounting tensions with Serbia. Romania's NATO Ambassador said on October 3 that Bucharest would add a "contingent at company level" to the KFOR peacekeepers after a decision by the Western alliance to bolster the deployment. NATO member Britain last week said it would deploy some 600 troops to reinforce KFOR. The moves came after an armed attack on September 24 that killed a Kosovar police officer and three attackers. Kosovo's government has accused Belgrade of backing the operation.
Pakistani Government Orders All Migrants Living In Country Illegally To Leave By November 1
Pakistan has issued an order requiring all people living illegally in the country to leave by November 1. Caretaker Interior Minister Sarfarz Bugti said that businesses and properties of foreign nationals living illegally in Pakistan will be confiscated if they do not leave Pakistan. Bugti said the crackdown would apply to all nationalities but was not aimed at Afghans, though the vast majority of migrants in the country are Afghans. A government statement said the new policy was endorsed on October 3 during a high-level meeting of Pakistani political leaders and the country’s powerful military. To read the story on RFE/RL’s Radio Mashaal, click here.
Armenian Ambassador Objects To Dodik's Praise For Azerbaijani Military Action In Nagorno-Karabakh
The Armenian ambassador to the Czech Republic, Serbia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina has expressed “deep regret and disgust” over Republika Srpska President Milorad Dodik’s praise for the recent Azerbaijani offensive in Nagorno-Karabakh. In a letter to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, Dodik expressed respect for Aliyev's recent military action, saying the settlement of the dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh was “thanks to his wisdom and courage." Ambassador Ashot Hovakimian responded in an open letter saying the “almost complete ethnic cleansing of the Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh…is not a move that deserves the praise of the international community [or] the president of Republika Srpska." To read the full story on RFE/RL’s Balkan Service, click here.
Kyrgyz, Tajik Officials Sign Protocol On Disputed Border Areas, But Don't Give Details
Kyrgyz and Tajik officials meeting to discuss the delimitation and demarcation of disputed border areas between the two countries said they had signed a protocol amid claims that progress was made on the issue, though no details were disclosed.
Saimumin Yatimov, the chairman of the State Committee for National Security of Tajikistan, said the deal had been signed on October 2 in Batken, Kyrgyzstan. The two Central Asian countries have been meeting for months in an effort to resolve border disputes that have led to deadly clashes between them in recent years.
"Conflicts should occur less than in recent history. That's why we have signed Protocol No. 44," said Yatimov. "We will diligently and constructively implement it step by step, aiming to reach a comprehensive and fundamental agreement in the shortest possible time."
Kamchybek Tashiev, the chairman of Kyrgyzstan's Committee for National Security, said in a statement that the protocol "provides a basis for resolving all border issues."
“God willing, we will soon decide to define the state borders. We have decided that our commissions will operate continuously [on this issue]. Our decision today will lead to peace and stability at the border, and our people will live in friendship and harmony,” he added.
The most disputed areas between two countries are the land surrounding Vorukh, an enclave of Tajik territory within Kyrgyzstan. Bishkek maintains that the road leading to the enclave, Tort-Kocho, is strictly part of Kyrgyzstan -- as it is internationally recognized -- while Dushanbe considers it as its own.
The border between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan is approximately 975 kilometers long. The delimitation and demarcation process began in 2002 and, as of 2020, some 519 kilometers had been defined. To show the progress made since then, at a meeting last year between Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov and his Tajik counterpart, Emomali Rahmon, the sides said some 664 kilometers of the border had been defined.
But that total was contradicted by Rahmon in January when he said that 63 percent of the border -- roughly 614 kilometers -- had been demarcated as work on the remaining border was ongoing. Special commissions from each country continue to negotiate the disputed areas.
In Kyrgyz-Tajik border clashes in September 2022, Kyrgyz officials said 63 of its citizens had been killed, while Tajikistan reported a death toll of 41 people. After speaking with relatives and friends of those killed during the clashes, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported that 81 Tajik citizens had lost their lives.
Kyrgyz and Tajik authorities accused each other of aggression after the two sides used heavy artillery and mortars in the clashes.
Biden Calls Allies To Reassure U.S. Aid Will Continue As Zelenskiy Visits Frontline Troops In East
U.S. President Joe Biden spoke by phone with key allies on October 3 to reassure them that the Washington will stand fast on Ukraine after funding for U.S. aid to help Kyiv's war effort was dropped from a stopgap spending measure passed by Congress over the weekend.
The call came as President Volodymyr Zelenskiy traveled to the front line in eastern Ukraine's regions of Kharkiv and Donetsk where he met with troops engaged in fighting with attacking Russian forces.
Poland's President Andrzej Duda said Biden assured allies of continued U.S. support for Ukraine and of his strong conviction that Congress will not walk away. Biden explained the situation after Congress passed and he signed legislation that keeps the U.S. government funded through mid-November but which excluded billions of dollars to help Ukraine in its fight against Russia.
"He assured us that there is backing for the continuing support for Ukraine, first of all for the military support. He said that he will get that backing in the Congress,” Duda said at a news conference in Kielce, Poland.
Duda said Biden called on the allies to continue their support for Ukraine and that all the leaders assured him that they would.
"All of us...are determined to continue supporting Ukraine,” Duda said.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on X, the social media platform formerly called Twitter, that it was a “good call," adding that "we are all committed to supporting #Ukraine for as long as it takes.”
Others joining Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken on the call were the leaders of Canada, Germany, Italy, Japan, Romania, Britain, the European Commission, and the European Council. France’s foreign minister also participated, the White House said.
While Biden told the leaders that he is "confident" Congress will agree to fund new assistance for Ukraine, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby warned that U.S. aid will only last "perhaps a couple of months or so," adding that it is vital to help Kyiv's slow-moving counteroffensive before winter sets in.
"Time is not our friend," Kirby told reporters. "We have enough funding authorities to meet Ukraine's battlefields needs for a bit longer, but we need Congress to act.
Biden made the call after reports that Zelenskiy had visited brigades fighting in one of the hot spots of the war, the Kupyansk-Lyman direction "where Russian occupiers constantly attempt to attack our positions," Zelenskiy said.
"We met with brigade and battalion commanders to discuss the battlefield situation, pressing issues, and needs," he said on X, adding, "I thank them for their service!"
Zelenskiy's visit to the front line came as fighting continued in the south and east, where Ukrainian and Russian forces have been engaged for months in close-quarters combat operations.
In the southern region of Kherson, Russian shelling killed two people and wounded seven others over the past 24 hours, regional Governor Oleksandr Prokudin said on Telegram on October 3.
"The Russian military targeted residential areas in the region, educational institutions, a church, the headquarters of a humanitarian organization, a shopping center, an auto center, a factory and a critical infrastructure facility in Kherson [city]," Prokudin said.
Kherson, which was partially liberated by Ukrainian troops one year ago, has been constantly targeted by Russian shelling from across the Dnieper River.
Russia also launched a fresh wave of Iranian-made drones on the Mykolayiv and Dnipropetrovsk regions overnight, Ukraine's air defense said early on October 3, adding that it had shot down 29 out of the 31 drones. One Russian cruise missile was also destroyed, the air defense said.
Ukraine's southern command said the attack lasted more than three hours.
In the town of Pavlohrad, in Dnipropetrovsk region, a Russian drone struck an industrial enterprise, causing a fire, regional Governor Serhiy Lysak said on Telegram.
"The fire has already been extinguished, but there is destruction among the production facilities," Lysak said.
On the battlefield, Ukrainian forces fought 35 close-quarter battles over the past 24 hours as they pressed with an offensive in the Bakhmut area of the eastern Donetsk region and in the direction of the southern city of Melitopol, the General Staff of the Ukrainian military said in its daily report on October 3.
With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP
Moldova's Constitutional Court Allows Members of Banned Pro-Russian Party Shor To Run In Elections
Moldova's Constitutional Court said on October 3 that members of the Russia-backed Shor party can take part in local elections next month, less than four months after it banned the organization. The decision comes after a complaint by members of the party, which is headed by exiled businessman Ilan Shor and is accused by the West and the Moldovan government of trying to destabilize the country, against a law that prevents its leaders from running in elections for a period of five years. In June, the Constitutional Court declared Shor “unconstitutional” and dissolved it amid moves by Moldova to reduce the influence of Russia. To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Moldovan Service, click here.
Roskosmos Pinpoints Cause Of Moon Landing Failure
Russia blamed a malfunction in an on-board control unit for causing its lunar lander to crash into the moon in August. Russia's first moon mission for 47 years ended in failure on August 19 with the crash of its Luna-25 spacecraft, dashing Moscow's hopes of beating India to the unexplored south pole of the moon. Russian space corporation Roskosmos said on October 3 that the control unit had failed to turn off the propulsion system, which blasted for 43 seconds longer than necessary as the craft hurtled toward the moon. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Four Police Officers Go On Trial In Serbia Over 2008 Attack On U.S. Embassy
Belgrade’s High Court started a trial on October 3 against four high-ranking police officers accused of failing to prevent an arson attack on the U.S. Embassy in Serbia’s capital in 2008. The fire broke out in February 2008 as demonstrators tried to storm the embassy during a protest against Kosovo's declaration of independence. One person was killed and dozens were injured in the violence, which also included attacks on several European embassies. No one has so far been imprisoned for the torching of the U.S. Embassy, with seven suspects being acquitted in a separate court case in 2019. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Balkan Service, click here.
Russia Adds Former Adviser To Ukraine's Presidential Office To Wanted List
Russia's Interior Ministry added the former adviser to Ukraine's presidential office, Oleksiy Arestovich, to its wanted list on unspecified charges a day after Arestovich participated in a forum for self-exiled Russian opposition activists and politicians in Estonia on October 2. Earlier in May, Russian authorities added Arestovich to the list of terrorists and extremists. Russia-backed separatists in Ukraine's eastern Luhansk region said they "launched a probe" against Arestovich on charge of public calls for extremism. Arestovich has been known for taking part in programs on YouTube channels covering Russia's ongoing invasion of Ukraine. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.
Ethnic Serb Politician Accused By Kosovo Of Organizing Monastery Attack Is Detained In Serbia
Serbia’s Interior Ministry said on October 3 that police have detained Milan Radoicic, the top official of the main ethnic-Serb political party in Kosovo. Radoicic has admitted to organizing and participating in the events that sparked clashes with Kosovar police at an Orthodox monastery in Kosovo in late September. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, who has denied claims that Serbia was involved in the clashes, said on September 27 that Radoicic would be questioned by the Serbian authorities about the matter. Kosovo accuses the ethnic-Serb politician of organizing and participating in the monastery attack, which left four people dead. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Balkan Service, click here.
Billions In Frozen Funds For Hungary On Table As EU Seeks Ukraine Support
The European Union is considering unlocking billions of euros for Hungary that were frozen over rule-of-law concerns as it seeks to win Budapest's approval for aid to Ukraine including a start to membership talks for Kyiv, senior officials said. Hungary cultivates closer ties with Russia than other EU states, and is seen as the key potential opponent to a decision due in December on whether to open accession talks with Kyiv, which would require unanimous backing from the union's 27 members. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Russian Defense Minister Says Moscow Has No Plans For Additional Mobilization For War In Ukraine
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said on October 3 that there are no plans for an additional military mobilization for the ongoing invasion of Ukraine, launched in February last year. According to Shoigu, since January this year, 335,000 people have signed contracts with the armed forces or volunteer units, which is how Russia mostly calls private military groups that often consist of people recruited from penitentiaries. Shoigu said that in September alone, 50,000 new contracts were signed. Around 300,000 people were mobilized due to President Vladimir Putin's decree on a partial mobilization signed in September 2022, which is still valid.
Protesting Bulgarian Energy Workers Sign Agreement With Government
The Bulgarian government has signed an agreement with energy sector workers who have been protesting plans for a transition to cleaner energy over fears of the effects the move would have on the mining sector.
The agreement, which was signed on October 3 after more than seven hours of negotiations between representatives of the protesters, the government, and leaders of political parties, will be sent to the parliament for approval.
It is not clear yet if the energy workers will end their most recent wave of protests that started on September 29. Trade union leader Dimitar Manolov told state broadcaster BNT that not all the unions representing the protesters signed the agreement with the government.
The protests were sparked by the adoption of plans for a green transition of the coal-mining regions Stara Zagora, Pernik, and Kustendil.
Miners and energy workers disagree with the plans and want the government to withdraw them, blocking key roads in Bulgaria for fifth day on October 3 to highlight their concerns.
The adoption of the plans was a condition for the European Commission to allocate 1.2 billion euros ($1.27 billion) in funds that would be used for the green transformation of the regions and the creation of new jobs for coal workers.
The plans must include a timetable for reducing the capacities of coal-burning power plants in order to be approved by the European Commission.
The plans, sent by the government in Sofia to Brussels on September 30, set the date for the closure of coal-powered power plants to 2038 -- a deadline that has previously been agreed.
Prime Minister Nikolay Denkov said after the negotiations that the government will not close any coal-burning power plants before 2038. He said, however, that “the market will decide which ones will stay.”
“Many people imagine that coal plants as we see them today are likely to continue [to operate] until 2038. This is impossible and it is high time to state it clearly,” Denkov said.
“Therefore, the discussion in Europe for several years is how to ensure a smooth transition from the situation today to the situation in 2038.”
The government says that coal power has no future because of the increasing cost of maintaining it. In 2023 the state-owned coal mines and coal-burning power plant posted a deep loss due to reduced sales, and expectations are that such losses will grow in the future.
Bulgaria is already late in submitting the territorial plans for the transition of the three coal regions and lost almost 100 million euros ($106 million) for 2022 in funds that would have come from the EU.
The deadline for the government to send its plans to Brussels was the end of September or it would lose another 800 million euros earmarked for 2023.
Prior to sending its plan to Brussels, Bulgaria had been the only EU member state that had not sent its plan.
Miners and energy workers met the decision to submit the plan with protests, although earlier in September they held negotiations with the government and agreed on measures to protect workers.
Among those measures is the creation of a state enterprise to which all those currently working for the state-owned mines and coal power plants would be reassigned.
The government also agreed to pay compensation totaling 36 months of salary for energy workers who decide to quit.
The demonstrations, however, have continued with the protesters saying that they want the plans to be reworked to better reflect their demands.
These include the adoption of a mechanism for state aid for the coal-burning plants to guarantee that they would continue to operate until 2038, dropping the country's commitment to reduce carbon emissions from coal power plants by 40 percent by 2026 and adoption of long-term energy strategy.
Experts quoted by Bulgarian media say that most of the demands are either already fulfilled or impossible to fulfill.
The country previously was among the last to submit its Recovery and Resilience Plan -- another European mechanism that provides funding for a transition to renewable energy. But this funding is now blocked following a parliament decision in December 2022 demanding that the government renegotiate Bulgaria's commitment to reduce carbon emissions from coal power plants by 40 percent by 2026.
The European Union aims to be climate-neutral -- meaning an economy with net-zero greenhouse-gas emissions -- by 2050. The bloc has allocated billions of euros in funding for its member states to fulfill this objective.
Despite Warning Signals From Moscow, Armenian Lawmakers Ratify ICC's Rome Statute
YEREVAN -- Despite signs of deep opposition from Moscow, Armenian lawmakers have voted in favor of ratifying the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), putting the country in the jurisdiction of The Hague-based institution that issued arrest warrants in March for Russian President Vladimir Putin and his children's commissioner, Maria Lvova-Belova, for their roles in the deportation of Ukrainian children since Moscow invaded its neighbor.
A total of 60 lawmakers, mostly representing the ruling Civil Contract party, voted for the ratification of the treaty on October 3, while 22 lawmakers voted against.
Armenia's two opposition parties, Hayastan (affiliated with former President Robert Kocharian) and Pativ Unem (affiliated with former President Serzh Sarkisian), have criticized the government's decision to approve the document, accusing the leadership of deliberately endangering Armenia's close relationship with Moscow.
The bill now must be endorsed into law by President Vahagn Khachaturian.
A week after the ICC issued arrest warrants for Putin and Lvova-Belova on March 17, Armenia's Constitutional Court ruled that the Rome Statute does not contradict the constitution.
Armenia signed the Rome Statute in 1998, but had yet to ratify it.
Last week, the Kremlin warned that Armenia's move would worsen a growing rift with Moscow, adding that the move would be seen as "extremely hostile" toward Russia, and its reaction to the actual ratification was swift, with spokesman Dmitry Peskov calling it "an incorrect decision."
"We doubt and we have doubted from the very beginning that from the point of view of the bilateral ties, Armenia's joining the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court is a correct move. We still consider it an incorrect decision," Peskov said, adding that "serious talks on that matter" will be held between Russia and Armenia.
Russia's Foreign Ministry said earlier that Armenia's ratification of the treaty would have "the most negative consequences for bilateral relations."
The French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna hailed Armenian lawmakers' approval of the ratification of the document in her statement posted on X (formerly Twitter) social network.
"I salute the decision of the Armenian parliament to ratify the Rome Statute and allow it to become a state party to the International Criminal Court. The fight against impunity for crimes is a condition for peace and stability," Colonna's statement said.
Independent legal experts believe that ratification of the Rome Statute implies that Putin may be arrested in Armenia if he visits the country due to the ICC arrest warrant.
Armenia has said it needs to ratify of the Rome Statute because of concerns connected with the conflict it has been engaged in with neighboring Azerbaijan.
Earlier this week, Yeghishe Kirakosian, who represents the Armenian government in international legal bodies, denied Yerevan would be committed to arresting Putin and extraditing him to The Hague tribunal if he visits Armenia.
Kirakosian claimed that Putin and other heads of state enjoy immunity from arrest and that the Rome Statute allows countries to sign bilateral agreements to ignore ICC arrest warrants. Yerevan offered to sign such a deal with Moscow in April, he said, adding that the Russian side has still not responded to the proposal.
Another Former Wagner Mercenary Recruited From Russian Prison Accused Of Murder
A former fighter from the Wagner mercenary group who was recruited from prison last year has been accused of killing two women and burning their house down after returning home to Siberia from the ongoing war against Ukraine.
Police in the town of Yermakovskoye in the Krasnoyarsk region said on October 3 they had detained Denis Stepanov, who is suspected of setting a house on fire overnight. The two women were found dead inside.
According to the police, the motive for the crime is unknown, but witnesses said the suspect had openly threatened the women.
It's not the first instance of former Wagner mercenaries recruited from jails and prisons across Russia in 2022 being accused of committing serious crimes after completing tours of duty in Ukraine.
In August, former Wagner fighter Igor Sofonov and a man with a criminal record, Maksim Bochkaryov, were arrested on suspicion of stabbing to death five men and a woman and setting two houses on fire in the northwestern region of Karelia.
In May, police in the Krasnodar region arrested former Wagner fighter Demyan Kevorkyan on suspicion of killing two people.
In 2016, the 31-year-old Kevorkyan was sentenced to 18 years in prison for robbery and creating a criminal group. After he spent several months fighting against Ukrainian forces for Russia earlier this year, he was fully exonerated and returned home, where he was subsequently accused of committing murder.
In May, police in the Siberian city of Novosibirsk arrested a man on suspicion of raping two underage girls. Media identified the suspect as former Wagner mercenary Sergei S., giving only the first letter of his last name.
Wagner's late leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, said in late June that 32,000 former inmates recruited by his group from prison had returned home after being granted clemency as part of their remuneration for taking part in Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Ukraine's Security Service Says It 'Neutralized' Russian Spy Network In South
The Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) says it has "neutralized" a Russian intelligence network in the southern region of Mykolayiv following a "large-scale" special operation. "[The network] included 13 local residents who worked for the [Russian Federal Security Service] FSB," the SBU said in a statement on October 3. It said members of the network gathered intelligence about the locations of bases and the movements of Ukrainian forces in Mykolayiv and guided Russian air strikes on civilians and infrastructure in the city of Mykolayiv, including one last year that killed seven civilians, including a child. The SBU's charges could not be independently confirmed. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.
Georgia's Constitutional Court Starts Hearing On President's Impeachment
The Constitutional Court of Georgia on October 3 started a hearing into a request by lawmakers to impeach President Salome Zurabishvili. Deputies from the ruling Georgian Dream party have called for Zurabishvili's impeachment, saying she violated the constitution by visiting a number of foreign countries earlier this year without the government's approval. Zurabishvili is not present at the hearing and is represented there by Maya Kopaleshvili, a former Constitutional Court judge, and Tamar Chugoshvili, a former Georgian Dream member. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Georgian Service, click here.
Kadyrov's Daughter Named Chechen Deputy PM Amid Unconfirmed Reports Of Father's Poor Health
Aishat Kadyrova, the 24-year-old daughter of the Kremlin-backed authoritarian head of Russia's Chechnya region, has been promoted from culture minister to the region's deputy prime minister responsible for social issues. The announcement on October 2 came amid unconfirmed reports that Ramzan Kadyrov's health is deteriorating. He and Chechen officials have denied the speculation. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Caucasus.Realities, click here.
Kazakh Minister Admits To List Of People Barred From Entering Country Over Comments
ASTANA -- A spokesman for the Kazakh Foreign Ministry said on October 2 that the ministry has created a list of persons who publicly "express negative opinions" about Kazakhstan and therefore are banned from entering the country.
Aibek Smadiyarov added that the list will not be made public and did not say when it was first created.
"I also cannot say how many persons are currently on the list. The border will be closed for such people and they will not be allowed to enter the country," Smadiyarov said.
Smadiyarov's statement came at a briefing at which journalists asked him about Kazakhstan's official reaction to frequent statements by officials, politicians, bloggers, and journalists in Russia, calling for war against Kazakhstan.
Kazakhstan is a close economic and military ally of Moscow that shares a 7,500-kilometer border with Russia, but Astana has not recognized Ukrainian regions occupied by Moscow as part of Russia.
Last week, while visiting Germany, Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev said at a press conference that his country does not fear any territorial claims from Moscow.
Still, since the Kremlin launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, another former Soviet republic, a stream of comments seen as anti-Kazakh have appeared, even from some lawmakers.
Last year, in the wake of the invasion, Moscow municipal lawmaker Sergei Sevostyanov publicly said that Kazakhstan "must be de-Nazified and demilitarized like Ukraine."
Shortly after that, pro-Kremlin political analyst Dmitry Drobnitsky said on television that "Kazakhstan is next after Ukraine," adding that "like in Ukraine, the Nazi processes may develop there as well."
In August 2022, nationalist, pro-imperial post calling Kazakhstan and Georgia "artificial" creations briefly appeared on the VKontakte (VK) social network account of former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. The post was removed after 10 minutes and officially attributed to hackers.
Kazakh Deputy Foreign Minister Roman Vasilenko and Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in separate statements last year that the comments in question about Kazakhstan by Russian politicians, journalists, and bloggers did not reflect Russia's official stance.
Kazakh officials have already taken action against some of those who have commented, such as Russian propagandist Tigran Keosayan, who was barred from entering Kazakhstan for threatening the country in a YouTube statement for Astana's decision to cancel a Victory Day parade -- a patriotic event marking the Soviet Union's role in defeating Nazi Germany in World War II -- in May.
However, in May 2023, Russian lawmaker Konstantin Zatulin was allowed to visit Kazakhstan even though he publicly stated that Kazakhstan "will have the same fate as Ukraine."
Warsaw, Kyiv Make Breakthrough On Ukrainian Grain Transit
Warsaw and Kyiv announced on October 3 they had agreed to speed up the transit of Ukrainian cereal exports through Poland to third countries, a first step in resolving their "grain war." The three-country agreement among Poland, Ukraine, and Lithuania means that Ukrainian grain exports -- destined for markets in Africa and the Middle East in particular -- will be taken directly through Poland instead of first being checked at the Polish-Ukrainian border. "From tomorrow, grains that transit (to world markets) via Lithuania will undergo checks at a Lithuanian port and not at the Poland-Ukraine border," Polish Agriculture Minister Robert Telus told journalists.
French Foreign Minister Arrives In Armenia For Talks With Pashinian, Refugee Visit
French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna on October 3 arrived in Armenia, where she will hold talks with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian and visit the border town of Goris, where Armenian authorities have set up a reception center for people who fled Nagorno-Karabakh following a blitz Azerbaijani offensive last month that gave Baku's forces total control over the ethnic Armenian-populated breakaway region. Pashinian and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev are due to meet in Granada, Spain, on October 5 for negotiations under the auspices of France, Germany, and the European Council. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Armenian Service, click here.
Zelenskiy Visits Frontline Troops In East As Russians Target Civilians In South
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy traveled on October 3 to the front line in eastern Ukraine's regions of Kharkiv and Donetsk where he met with troops engaged in fighting with attacking Russian forces.
"Today, we are visiting our brigades fighting in one of the hotspots, the Kupyansk-Lyman direction where Russian occupiers constantly attempt to attack our positions," Zelenskiy said in a post on the social media network X, formerly known as Twitter.
"We met with brigade and battalion commanders to discuss the battlefield situation, pressing issues, and needs," he said, adding, "I thank them for their service!"
Zelenskiy's visit to the front line came as fighting continued in the south and east, where Ukrainian and Russian forces have been engaged for months in close-quarter combat operations.
In the southern region of Kherson, Russian shelling has killed two people and wounded seven others over the past 24 hours, Governor Oleksandr Prokudin said on Telegram on October 3.
"The Russian military targeted residential areas in the region, educational institutions, a church, the headquarters of a humanitarian organization, a shopping center, an auto center, a factory, and a critical infrastructure facility in Kherson [city]," Prokudin said.
Kherson, which was partially liberated by Ukrainian troops one year ago, has been constantly targeted by Russian shelling from across the Dnieper River.
Russia also launched a fresh wave of Iranian-made drones on the Mykolayiv and Dnipropetrovsk regions overnight, Ukraine's air defenses said early on October 3, adding that it had shot down 29 out of the 31 drones. One Russian cruise missile was also destroyed, air defenses said.
Ukraine's southern command said the attack lasted more than three hours.
In the town of Pavlohrad, in the Dnipropetrovsk region, a Russian drone struck an industrial enterprise, causing a fire, Governor Serhiy Lysak said on Telegram.
"The fire has already been extinguished, but there is destruction among the production facilities," Lysak added.
On the battlefield, Ukrainian forces fought 35 close-quarters battles over the past 24 hours as they pressed with an offensive in the Bakhmut area of the eastern Donetsk region and in the direction of the southern city of Melitopol, the General Staff of the Ukrainian military said in its daily report on October 2.
Russian forces captured Bakhmut earlier this year following a months of bloody fighting that took a heavy toll on both sides.
Zelenskiy on October 2 told European Union foreign ministers that Ukraine's victory in the war with invading Russian forces depends "directly" on Kyiv's cooperation with the EU amid growing concerns about a possible weakening of support in the bloc.
The concerns were prompted by the election victory in neighboring Slovakia of a populist party that opposes military aid for the war-wracked country.
Zelenskiy also told the gathering that sanctions pressure on Russia was "obviously not enough," calling for more cooperation to end any "schemes of circumvention of sanctions by Russia" and an end to supplies to Russia that enable it to increase military production.
In Washington, where Congress only managed to avert a government shutdown over the weekend by removing aid to Ukraine from a spending deal, White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre rejected claims about war fatigue in Western countries.
"If Putin thinks he can outlast us he's wrong," Jean-Pierre said.
With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP
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