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Georgia, Ukraine May Get Visa-Free Regime With EU At Riga Summit

Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics (file photo)

BRUSSELS -- Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics has said that the EU might grant both Georgians and Ukrainians visa-free access to the EU's Schengen zone next year.

Rinkevics, whose country takes over the EU's rotating presidency in January 2015, told RFE/RL on December 16 that both Ukraine and Georgia had a chance to get visa liberalization at the Eastern Partnership summit in Riga in May next year.

He noted, "in my ideal world there is at least one or maybe even more than one Eastern partner where the visa-liberalization program is enhanced and introduced," noting that Ukraine is lagging a bit behind for purely technical reasons.

The countries have to undertake several reforms, such as increased judicial cooperation with the EU, before being granted visa-free travel.

Moldovans in April were granted visa-free travel to the Schengen zone, which consists of 22 of the 28 EU member states and non-EU Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland.

With reporting by Rikard Jozwiak in Brussels

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Author Salman Rushdie, Focus Of Iranian Fatwa, Attacked Onstage In New York

Rushdie is the author of The Satanic Verses, a book banned in Iran as many Muslims consider it blasphemous. A year after it was published in 1988, Iran’s leader at the time, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, issued a fatwa calling for Rushdie’s death.

Author Salman Rushdie has been attacked onstage at an event in New York as he was set to deliver a lecture.

A man stormed the stage and began punching or stabbing Rushdie as he was being introduced. Reports showed a video clip of medics rushing to tend to Rushdie on the floor. His condition was not immediately known.

The attack occurred on August 12 at the Chautauqua Institution in Chautauqua, New York.

Rushdie is the author of The Satanic Verses, a book banned in Iran as many Muslims consider it to be blasphemous. A year after it was published in 1988, Iran’s leader at the time, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, issued a fatwa calling for Rushdie’s death.

Iran’s government has distanced itself from Khomeini’s decree, but anti-Rushdie sentiment has lingered. In 2012, a semiofficial Iranian religious foundation raised the bounty for Rushdie from $2.8 million to $3.3 million.

Rushdie, who lived for years in hiding, dismissed that threat at the time, saying there was no evidence of people being interested in the reward. He later published a memoir about the fatwa.

The Swedish institution that awards the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2016 denounced the fatwa, saying reward money for Rushdie's death was a "flagrant” breach of international law.

Based on reporting by AP, Sky News, and CBS

Kyrgyz Court Acquits Noted Rights Activist In High-Profile Case

Human rights activist Kamiljan Ruziev told RFE/RL on August 12 that the Karakol city court concluded there were no elements of crime in his case and found him not guilty. (file photo)

KARAKOL, Kyrgyzstan -- A Kyrgyz court has acquitted well-known rights activist Kamiljan Ruziev on fraud and forgery charges in a high-profile case that rights groups call trumped-up.

Ruziev told RFE/RL on August 12 that the Karakol city court concluded there were no elements of crime in his case and found him not guilty.

Kyrgyz Ombudswoman Atyr Abdrakhmatova confirmed Ruziev's acquittal on Facebook.

Kyrgyzstan's State Committee for National Security arrested Ruziev in May 2020 outside the Karakol city courthouse while the court was considering a lawsuit Ruziev had filed against the State Committee for National Security (UKMK) and the prosecutor-general’s office for failing to investigate his complaint that law enforcement officers had threatened him.

Ruziev was charged with fraud and forgery at the time, but later the fraud charge was dropped.

On August 10, the Bishkek-based Equal Rights Coalition, which comprises several leading human rights groups in the Central Asian country, issued a statement saying that instead of trying Ruziev the authorities "should thoroughly investigate Ruziev's complaint" to find out if his claims about abuse of power by the security officials who arrested him really took place.

Ruziev, who heads the Karakol-based human rights organization Ventus, has said he was arrested in retribution for his human rights activities.

For more than 20 years, Ruziev has been defending the rights of prisoners and others who have complained of torture and harassment at the hands of the police and government officials.

Human Rights Watch and Mary Lawlor, the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, have demanded Kyrgyz authorities drop the charge against Ruziev and investigate his claims that he was threatened by law enforcement.

At this point, it is unclear if the authorities will launch a probe into Ruziev's claim against the UKMK officers.

Skyrocketing Inflation Pushes Iranians Away From Basic Food Items, Experts Say

According to one leading expert, fruit consumption has decreased by 50 percent in Iran because of rising prices. (file photo)

Skyrocketing inflation is forcing an increasing number of Iranians to limit buying fruit and vegetables, industry experts say, as Iran continues to grapple with crippling international sanctions.

Asadollah Kargar, the head of the Fruit and Vegetable Sellers Association, said that fruit consumption has decreased by 50 percent because of rising prices.

“This increase in the price of fruit has caused some households in Iran to buy waste and throw away fruits,” he was quoted as telling the Resalat newspaper on August 11.

The Statistics Center of Iran said recently that inflation for food items in July hit 90.2 percent.

Kargar’s comments echo other remarks from major food producers.

Last month, a top official with the Beef Production and Distribution Union said that beef sales had dropped 20 percent, while the head of the Food Industry Federation said sales of overall food industry products had fallen by half.

The chairman of the Dairy Products Industry Association said household consumption in his sector had decreased by 20 percent in recent months, due to an 80 percent increase in prices for dairy products.

President Ebrahim Raisi’s government has struggled to curb the price hikes, which have raised social tensions. In May, the government announced "economic surgery," a series of policies that include reforming subsidies and halting the devaluation of the exchange rate used to import essential goods such as food.

Raisi's government also promised to give Iranians four million rials ($13) in subsidies for two months. But prices have continued to outpace the subsidies.

The economy has been devastated by years of sanctions imposed by the United States after Washington withdrew from the 2015 nuclear accord aimed at curbing Tehran's nuclear ambitions. Talks to revive that deal are ongoing.

Extreme inflation has rattled public institutions such as hospitals, prisons, and child-care centers, which are facing possible food shortages.

The economic woes have led to sizable protests in recent months, many of which have been met by crackdowns from security forces.

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

Belarusian Court Orders Harsher Prison Confinement For Opposition Activist Syarhey Tsikhanouski

Belarusian oppositionist Syarhey Tsikhanouski (file photo)

A Belarusian court has ordered imprisoned video blogger and opposition activist Syarhey Tsikhanouski into harsher confinement conditions after finding him in violation of unspecified prison rules.

The Vyasna human rights center said on August 11 that Tsikhanouski, who has been held in solitary confinement-type conditions in a prison colony since before he was sentenced in December 2021, will end up in a more restrictive prison.

The court in the eastern city of Mahilyou said Tsikhanouski will be transferred to prison for three years for unspecified violations.

It wasn’t immediately clear exactly what those alleged violations were.

Tsikhanouski is the husband of Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who is now the widely considered to be the leader of Belarus’s opposition.

A popular video blogger, Tsikhanouski intended to challenge Alyaksandr Lukashenka who was running for re-election as president in 2020. But he was disqualified and arrested before the vote.

Tsikhanouskaya subsequently mobilized voters and won the election, according to the opposition and Western countries who say Lukashenka rigged the results.

She has been living in Lithuania since fleeing Belarus due to concerns about her safety and that of the couple's two children.

Svyatlana also confirmed the news of the harsher punishment for her husband, but she said in a post to her Telegram channel that she did not know the reasons for the decision or where he would be sent.

Leading Russian Hospital Offers To Treat Jailed Ex-Kyrgyz President

Former Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambaev (file photo)

BISHKEK -- A leading Russian hospital has said it would provide treatment to former Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambaev, whose health is reportedly deteriorating as he serves an 11-year prison sentence in Bishkek.

It's unclear if Kyrgyz authorities will authorize Atambaev's departure, even for medical treatment offered by the Central Clinical Hospital of the Administrative Directorate of the President of the Russian Federation.

Atambaev's defense team officially requested that prison authorities transfer Atambaev to the elite Moscow hospital, defense lawyer Sergei Slesarev told RFE/RL on August 11.

There was no immediate comment on the request by prison authorities or government officials.

Atambaev, who was convicted and sentenced in 2020 for his role in the illegal release of a notorious crime boss, has in the past complained of numbness in his limbs. Another lawyer said that he had lost weight, had low blood pressure, and looked unwell.

Although Kyrgyz authorities typically cede to Moscow's requests, the government may be more reluctant to let Atambaev go, fearing he would not return to Kyrgyzstan, where he faces multiple other investigations.

Kyrgyzstan’s first president, Askar Akaev, has been living in Moscow openly since being ousted in 2005 by anti-government protests.

Bishkek authorities still want him on corruption charges and he visited Kyrgyzstan last year for the first time since he fled the country, and he was questioned in an investigation involving a major gold mine operation.

However, he was allowed to return to Moscow.

The 65-year-old Atambaev is currently involved in another trial linked to 2019 violence at his compound near Bishkek involving an Interior Ministry summons. A standoff between security forces and his supporters resulted in the death of a senior security officer and more than 170 injuries.

In that case, Atambaev and 13 others have been charged with murder, attempted murder, and other charges.

In June, prosecutors filed another charge against Atambaev over deadly ethnic clashes in 2010 that claimed almost 450 lives.

At that time, Atambaev led an interim government, which took over following anti-government protests that toppled then-President Kurmanbek Bakiev.

Nazarbaev Makes Rare Public Appearance, Along With Ousted Aides

Former Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev (file photo)

NUR-SULTAN – Former President Nursultan Nazarbaev made a rare public appearance, attending the opening of a new mosque in the Kazakh capital, accompanied by top associates who were pushed out in the wake of the January political unrest that roiled the country.

The August 12 visit to a ceremony unveiling a new mosque in the Central Asian capital was the only the third time since the January violence that the 82-year-old Nazarbaev has been seen in public.

Nazarbaev gave only brief opening remarks about the mosque's construction.

Nazarbaev ruled Kazakhstan for nearly three decades before resigning in 2019 and picking his long-time ally, Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev, as his successor.

But he retained sweeping powers as the head of the Security Council, enjoying substantial powers with the title of “Elbasy” or leader of the nation.

In January, protests that started over a fuel price hike spread across Kazakhstan because of discontent over the cronyism that had plagued the country under Nazarbaev. More than 200 people were killed in the unrest, and hundreds arrested.

In the wake of these events, Toqaev stripped Nazarbaev of his Security Council role, taking it over himself. Since then, several of Nazarbaev's relatives and allies have been pushed out of their positions or resigned. Some have been arrested on corruption charges.

In June, a Toqaev-initiated referendum removed Nazarbaev's name from the Kazakhstan's constitution and annulled his status as Elbasy.

Kazakh critics say Toqaev's initiatives were mainly cosmetic and would not change the nature of the autocratic system in a country that has been plagued for years by rampant corruption and nepotism.

Russia Blocks Social Network Account Of Rights Group Over Ukraine War Coverage

OVD-Info is a nongovernmental organization whose compilations of arrests and detentions nationwide are widely followed inside Russia. (file photo)

Russian authorities have blocked the main social media account for police watchdog OVD-Info over its coverage of the ongoing Russian war on Ukraine.

OVD-Info said its account on VK, the dominant Russian social media network also known as VKontakte, had been blocked on the orders of prosecutors.

The group, a nongovernmental organization whose compilations of arrests and detentions nationwide are widely followed inside Russia, said the Prosecutor-General's Office declared that its reports about casualties among Ukrainian civilians and Russian troops were "false."

The Prosecutor-General's Office had no immediate statement on the order.

The organization's main website was ordered blocked in December, after a court accused it of promoting terrorism and extremism.

An appeals court later threw out that ruling and ordered a new hearing, although the website remained blocked and OVD-Info had to set up a new site.

The group's other media channels including Facebook, Instagram, and Telegram still appeared to be working as of August 12.

Since the February 24 invasion, Russian authorities have clamped down on independent media and civil society groups in particular where coverage of the Ukraine war is concerned. The Kremlin has ordered that the invasion be called a "special military operation,” and has criminalized “discrediting the armed forces.”

According to Roskomsvoboda, a group that promotes uncensored online media, more than 5,000 websites have been fully blocked since the beginning of the invasion.

Updated

Zelenskiy Calls On Officials To Stop Discussing Military Tactics

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy gives his nightly video address to the nation on August 11.

Ukraine's president has called on officials to stop talking to reporters about military tactics against Russia, and a top Defense Ministry official said an investigation had been opened into the leaks.

The comments by Volodymyr Zelenskiy, made on August 11, came amid continuing speculation as to the cause of a series of explosions at a Russian air base in occupied Crimea earlier this week. The explosions destroyed at least Russian eight warplanes and spooked Russian tourists vacationing on the Black Sea peninsula.

Satellite imagery shows widespread destruction at the Saky air base in the western Crimean town of Novofedorivka.

Russia has suggested carelessness was to blame. However, unnamed Ukrainian officials have told U.S. newspapers that Ukrainian forces were responsible.

"War is definitely not the time for vanity and loud statements," Zelenskiy said in his nightly video address. “The fewer details you divulge about our defense plans, the better it will be for the implementation of those plans.”

"If you want to generate loud headlines, that's one thing; frankly, it's irresponsible," he said. "If you want victory for Ukraine, that is another thing, and you should be aware of your responsibility for every word that you say about our government’s plans for defense or counterattacks."

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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

In a post to Facebook, Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar said security services were investigating who had spoken to media about the explosions.

"A leak like this disrupts the plans of the Ukrainian armed forces since the enemy adjusts its actions and uses this information against us," she wrote.

Moscow and Kyiv, meanwhile, traded accusations about fighting that's flared at the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant as United Nations officials again voiced fears that Europe's largest atomic facility could be disastrously damaged.

The UN Security Council met on August 11 to discuss the situation and Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on both sides to stop fighting near the plant, which has been under Russian control since just after the February 24 invasion.

Ukrainian engineers are operating the plant under Russian supervision.

"The facility must not be used as part of any military operation. Instead, urgent agreement is needed at a technical level on a safe perimeter of demilitarization to ensure the safety of the area," Guterres said in a statement.

Ukraine's Enerhoatom agency said the Zaporizhzhya complex in south-central Ukraine was struck five times on August 11, including near where radioactive materials are stored.

Russian-appointed officials, meanwhile, accused Ukraine of shelling the plant twice, disrupting a shift changeover, the state-run TASS news agency said.

Separately, Turkey said that two more cargo ships had departed from Ukraine's Black Sea ports on August 11, bringing the total number of ships to depart the country under a UN-brokered deal to 14.

Ukraine signed an agreement with Turkey and the United Nations on July 22 clearing the way for Ukraine to export 22 million tons of corn and other grain stuck at ports and in silos since the Russian invasion.

Ukraine is a major exporter of wheat, corn, and other grains, and its inability to export the goods has contributed to rising global food prices, sparking worries of hunger or political instability in some countries.

With reporting by AP and Reuters

Ukraine's Pipeline Operator Says Oil Flow From Russia Through Druzhba Resumes

Ukraine had halted Russian oil shipments through Druzhba on August 4 after Western sanctions prevented it from receiving transit fees from Moscow. (file photo)

The flow of Russian oil has resumed to Hungary and Slovakia through the Ukrainian section of the Druzhba oil pipeline, Ukraine's Naftogaz said on August 11.

Ukraine's pipeline operator Ukrtransnafta said it resumed operations upon receiving payment from Hungarian energy group MOL on the evening of August 10.

Ukraine had halted Russian oil shipments through Druzhba on August 4 after Western sanctions prevented it from receiving transit fees from Moscow.

Russia's pipeline monopoly Transneft and MOL said on August 10 that oil flows were poised to resume through the pipeline.

The suspension also affected the Czech Republic. All three countries rely heavily on Russian crude and have limited ability to import alternative supply by sea.

Ukrtransnafta said that no funds were received from Transneft. Instead MOL, the Hungarian oil company, took the initiative to pay a transit fee for the Russian oil.

Ukrtransnafta also said that it had not received any data on transit fee payment from the Czech Republic so far, or any official letters from Transneft informing that the company operating the section of the Druzhba pipeline in the Czech Republic would pay transit frees for the oil flows to that country.

The chairman of the Czech pipeline operator said that oil flows through the Druzhba pipeline to the Czech Republic should resume within two days as problems with paying transit fees are resolved.

Based on reporting by Reuters

Navalny Establishes One-Man Labor Union In Russian Penal Colony

Jailed Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny (file photo)

Jailed Russian opposition politician and outspoken Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny has established a labor union in the penal colony where he is currently being held.

Navalny tweeted on August 11 that the name of the labor union he created is Promzona (Industrial Zone). Promzona is the official name of parts of penal colonies across many former Soviet countries in which factories and plants are located.

Navalny said the labor union, which currently has just one member -- himself -- was established due to the exploitation of around 600,000 people in Russia's penitentiaries, adding that he would also be happy to represent the interests of the guards if they wanted him to do so.

"Basically, if life has given me a lemon in the form of a prison sentence, then I need to turn it into the lemonade of at least some useful activity for society," Navalny said.

According to Navalny, other inmates were more worried than the prison's guards about the creation of the union.

"Each time I talk about it, my fellow murderers sadly say: 'Aleksei, stop it, please. Because of you they will never let us out at all, and all this will end badly,'" Navalny said, explaining that is why his is a one-man union.

Navalny added that his labor union had already won some victories, citing the penal colony's administration providing inmates seated at sewing machines with proper chairs. This was an improvement over stools, which had hurt their backs.

5 Things To Know About Russian Opposition Leader Aleksei Navalny
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Navalny was arrested in January last year upon his return to Moscow from Germany, where he was treated for a poison attack with what European labs defined as a Soviet-style nerve agent.

He was then handed a 2 1/2-year prison sentence for violating the terms of an earlier parole during his convalescence abroad. The original conviction is widely regarded as a trumped-up, politically motivated case.

In March, Navalny was sentenced in a separate case to nine years in prison on embezzlement and contempt charges that he and his supporters have repeatedly rejected as politically motivated.

He was transferred in June to Correctional Colony No. 6 in the town of Melekhovo in the Vladimir region east of Moscow after the Moscow City Court rejected his appeal against the nine-year jail term.

Navalny is still able to use Twitter and other social media through his representatives.

With reporting by dpa

Russian TV Journalist Who Protested Ukraine War On Air Is Put Under House Arrest

Russian journalist Marina Ovsyannikova (file photo)

MOSCOW -- A court in Moscow has placed TV journalist Marina Ovsyannikova under house arrest on a charge of distributing false information about Russia’s armed forces.

The Basmanny district court in the Russian capital announced the decision on August 11, one day after Ovsyannikova’s home was searched and she was detained.

Ovsyannikova's lawyer, Dmitry Zakhvatov, said on August 10 that his client was charged with "public distributing false information about Russian armed forces" and may face 10 years in prison if convicted.

Ovsyannikova, known for delivering a live on-air anti-war protest in March, wrote on Telegram that the charge filed on August 10 stems from her one-person protest in front of the Kremlin in early July in which she held a poster saying "[Russian President Vladimir] Putin is a murderer, his soldiers are fascists" and displayed photos of children killed in Ukraine.

Last week, a court in Moscow fined Ovsyannikova 50,000 rubles ($820) for that protest.

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."

Russian TV News Hit By Anti-War Protest In Studio
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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.

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

In March, Putin signed a law that provides for lengthy prison terms for distributing "deliberately false information" about Russian military operations as the Kremlin seeks to control the narrative about its war in Ukraine.

The law envisages sentences of up to 10 years in prison for individuals convicted of an offense, while the penalty for the distribution of "deliberately false information" about the Russian Army that leads to "serious consequences" is 15 years in prison.

It also makes it illegal "to make calls against the use of Russian troops to protect the interests of Russia" or "for discrediting such use" with a possible penalty of up to three years in prison. The same provision applies to calls for sanctions against Russia.

Updated

Western Nations Pledge $1.55 Billion In Military Aid To Ukraine

Danish Defense Minister Morten Bodskov speaks during a press conference about supporting Ukraine, in Copenhagen on August 10.

Western countries committed more than 1.5 billion euros ($1.55 billion) in cash, equipment, and training on August 11 during a donor conference to boost Ukraine's military capabilities in its war against Russia.

The money was pledged by 26 countries at the conference of defense ministers in Copenhagen, Danish Defense Minister Morten Bodskov told journalists.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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

“All the countries that came to Copenhagen came with the intention of supporting Ukraine,” Bodskov said at the end of the one-day meeting.

The money will be used to supply weapons, missiles, and ammunition, increase weapon production for Ukraine, train Ukrainian soldiers, and demine war-torn areas in Ukraine.

The defense ministers of Poland, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic signaled a willingness to expand the production of artillery systems, ammunition, and other military equipment for Ukraine, Bodskov said.

In a joint statement, the countries pledged to ensure continued and sustained military support for Ukraine and agreed to hold a virtual meeting in September.

Britain pledged an additional 300 million euros, including multiple-launch rocket systems and precision guided M31A1 missiles that can strike targets up to 80 kilometers away.

British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said the donations were “proof of the opposite” of what Russian President Vladimir Putin would have bet would be true by now -- that Western governments “would have all got bored of the conflict and the international community would have gone off in different directions.”

Wallace also said that Russia's invasion of Ukraine was "starting to fail in many areas."

Denmark also made additional commitments to help Ukraine's military defense.

“We will not let you down,” Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said as she opened the conference. Denmark said a new contribution of $113 million would push the total amount of funding from the small northern nation of 5.8 million to over $500 million. She called it “a huge donation.”

Ukraine has made repeated appeals to the West to send more weapons, including long-range artillery, while Moscow has accused Western countries of dragging out the conflict by giving Ukraine more arms.

Russia took apparent steps on August 11 to strengthen its control over the eastern Luhansk region after driving out the last Ukrainian troops last month.

Dmitry Medvedev, the former Russian president, said he was joined on a visit to the region by Russia's top law enforcement and security officials and also the minister in charge of construction.

Medvedev, who is now vice chairman of the Russian Security Council, said on Telegram that they met in the city of Luhansk with local Kremlin-backed officials to discuss “restoring infrastructure, repairing hospitals and preparing schools for the start of the school year, solving social problems, and supporting civilians.”

Luhansk and Donetsk make up the Donbas, the area that has been the focus of the war for months. While Moscow already controls Luhansk, it is now fighting to take the remainder of Donetsk.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, and dpa

Tallinn To Bar Russian Citizens With Estonia-Issued Schengen Visas From Entering Country

Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu (file photo)

Estonia plans to bar Russian citizens with Schengen visas that were issued by the Baltic state from entering the country because of Russia's ongoing unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu said after a government session on August 11 that, although the Schengen visas issued by his country will remain valid, they will not be accepted for entry into Estonia.

Estonia stopped issuing new tourist visas to Russians shortly after the invasion of Ukraine in February, except for the relatives of Estonian citizens.

Reinsalu emphasized that the decision affects only the estimated 50,000 visas issued by Estonia, adding that the government plans to discuss in the coming days ways of barring all Russian citizens from entering Estonia.

The minister also said that holders of Schengen visas issued by Estonia will be able to enter other countries of the Schengen area.

The move does not affect diplomats and members of their families, individuals involved in international transportation businesses, people who need to visit Estonia for humanitarian reasons, or the close relatives of Estonian citizens and permanent residents.

In addition, people who have a right to move freely across the European Union under EU laws will also be able to enter Estonia.

Estonia and Finland have called on other EU countries to ban tourist visas for all Russian citizens over the ongoing Russian aggression against Ukraine. The issue will be discussed on the EU level because current EU legislation does not allow for such a move.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ivan Nechayev on August 11 condemned the calls for a visa ban as "overt manifestations of chauvinism and a reckless attempt to cancel all things Russian, which is impossible."

Meanwhile, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said on August 11 that he is against a ban on tourist visas for Russian citizens.

"This is [Russian President Vladimir] Putin's war, so I have a very hard time with this idea," Scholz told reporters in Berlin.

Scholz stressed that he is confident that Western sanctions imposed on Russia because of the war in Ukraine would become less effective if they target "everyone, including innocent people."

With reporting by dpa and TASS

One Of Three Iranian Filmmakers Arrested In Crackdown Has Been Released On Bail

Iranian filmmaker Mustafa Al-Ahmad (file photo)

Mostafa al-Ahmad, one of the three prominent filmmakers jailed last month in Iran as part of a broad crackdown, was released on bail on August 10. He had contracted COVID-19 in prison.

Ahmad, 52, was arrested in July as Iranian authorities cracked down on dissent in response to growing antiestablishment sentiment and near-daily protests across the Islamic republic. Fellow filmmakers Mohammad Rasulof and Jafar Panahi were arrested around the same time.

It had been reported recently that Ahmad and Panahi had developed COVID-19 in Tehran's Evin prison, but judicial authorities prevented them from being hospitalized outside that detention facility.

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

More than 100 Iranian filmmakers backed the statement, which said that soldiers "have turned into the people's oppressors.”

The arrests of the three prominent directors has prompted international criticism. Three European film and arts festivals have strongly condemned the government over the detention of the filmmakers.

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

Journalists In Western Iranian Province Face Prosecution

Journalist and editor Mohammad Basati has been sentenced to six months in prison. (file photo)

At least six journalists have faced prosecution for their professional work in the last month in Iran’s western province of Lorestan, local sources reported.

The Roydad24 news agency wrote on August 10 that Mohammad Basati, the editor in chief of the Balutestan newspaper, was sentenced to six months in prison and fined 80 million rials ($260) following a complaint by the Imam Khomeini Relief Foundation (IKRF).

The Imam Khomeini Relief Foundation is an Iranian charitable organization founded in 1979 to provide support for poor families. The foundation is supported by the Iranian government and receives budgetary funds.

The verdict stated that Basati "published fake news that he was not able to prove" in a WhatsApp news group, without giving further details.

Sina Ghalandari, a local journalist in Lorestan Province, reported on August 1 that he had been sentenced to 27 months in prison and banned from media work for two years.

Last September, Ghalandari published the story of Mobina Suri, a 16-year-old teenager who was murdered by her husband in a so-called “honor” killing. Her husband was a clergyman.

According to Roydad24, the same judge presided over the trials of both Ghalandari and Basati.

Local sources have reported that four other journalists have faced prosecution in Lorestan in the last month.

Recently, the governor of Lorestan ordered that charges against all journalists be dropped to mark the Journalists’ Day holiday in Iran.

Iran has a long history of arresting and imprisoning journalists and media activists for reporting corruption and other stories that are embarrassing to the authorities. In provincial cities, even the smallest criticism of officials can bring harsh retribution.

In some cases, journalists have faced direct threats of violence from the authorities.

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

Man Jailed In Kazakhstan For Painting Pro-War 'Z' Symbol On WWII Memorial

A Ukrainian soldier sits atop a Russian artillery vehicle marked with the 'Z' symbol that Ukraine captured during fighting outside Kharkiv in March.

SARAN, Kazakhstan -- A court in central Kazakhstan has sentenced a local resident to seven days in jail for painting the Latin letter "Z" -- a sign of support for Russia's ongoing unprovoked war against Ukraine -- on a tank that is a part of a memorial honoring World War II veterans.

The Saran municipal court in the Qaraghandy region announced on August 11 that it had sentenced the man, whose identity was not disclosed, after convicting him of hooliganism.

According to the court's press service, the 54-year-old, who was detained on July 29, pleaded guilty and expressed regret.

Russian military vehicles in Ukraine are marked with the Latin letters "Z" and "V," and the symbols have been promoted by Russian state media and other Kremlin supporters as patriotic emblems expressing support for the military and the invasion of Ukraine.

Ukraine and several European Union member-states have banned the symbols. Although Kazakhstan has not officially banned them, several drivers in the Central Asian nation have been fined in recent months for displaying them on their vehicles.

Another Navalny Team Member Flees Russia Amid Crackdown

Murad Manapov (left) said he decided to leave Russia after the coordinator of Navalny's team in Daghestan, Eduard Atayev (right), was arrested earlier this year on an illegal weapons charge that Atayev and his supporters say was fabricated in retaliation for his political activity.

An aide to the former coordinator of jailed Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny's team in the North Caucasus region of Daghestan, Murad Manapov, has fled Russia amid an ongoing crackdown on dissent.

Manapov told RFE/RL on August 11 that he is currently in Poland, adding that he has not yet applied for political asylum there.

Manapov also said he decided to leave Russia after the coordinator of Navalny's team in Daghestan, Eduard Atayev, was arrested earlier this year on an illegal weapons charge that Atayev and his supporters say was fabricated in retaliation for his political activity.

In recent months, many of Navalny's associates and members of his teams across Russia fled the country fearing for their safety amid a broad crackdown on political and civil dissent in Russia.

Navalny, who suffered a near-fatal poisoning in August 2020 that he blames on Russian security operatives acting at the behest of President Vladimir Putin, has been in prison since February 2021. His Anti-Corruption Foundation and his network of regional offices have been designated "extremist" organizations.

Trial Begins Of German Reserve Officer Charged With Spying For Russia

Goelert also purportedly provided Moscow with information about the Nord Stream 2 Baltic Sea pipeline, a project that was halted following Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February.

A German military reserve officer has gone on trial on charges of spying for Russia in the western German city of Dusseldorf.

The trial of 65-year-old Ralf Goelert, who allegedly passed sensitive information to the Russian military intelligence from 2014 until 2020, opened on August 11.

Investigators say Goelert provided Russian agents with information about the Bundeswehr's reserve system, civilian-military cooperation in crisis situations, and data about the effects of sanctions imposed on Russia in 2014 following the annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region.

Goelert also purportedly provided Moscow with information about the Nord Stream 2 Baltic Sea pipeline, a project that was halted following Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February.

According to the Federal Prosecutor's Office, the suspect did not receive any financial compensation for the documents he provided but was regularly invited to events organized in Germany by the Russian Embassy.

A court spokeswoman said the suspect made a partial confession during the preliminary proceedings.

With reporting by Kommersant, Der Spiegel, and dpa

Russian Official Says Child Suicide Has Risen Nearly 40 Percent Since 2020

A mother and daughter walk through a hallway at the Russian Children's Clinical Hospital in Moscow. (file photo)

An adviser to the office of Russia's children ombudswoman says the number of suicide cases among minors in the country has increased almost 40 percent.

Roman Chuprikov said on August 11 that the number of registered suicides among children across Russia last year was 753 while in 2020 that number was 548.

An expert from the Moscow Psychiatric Research Center, Karine Keshchyan, said the number of attempted suicides among children is much higher.

According to Keshchyan, psychiatric experts are unable to keep up with "the huge number of children" who attempt to kill themselves because their parents often refuse to seek professional assistance.

With reporting by Interfax

Russia Nixes Plan For Switzerland To Represent Ukraine's Interests

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal, Swiss President Ignazio Cassis, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, and chairman of the Ukrainian parliament Ruslan Stefanchuk attend the Ukraine Recovery Conference in Lugano, Switzerland, on July 4.

Moscow has rejected a plan by Kyiv to have Switzerland represent Ukraine's interests in Russia, saying it no longer considers Switzerland a neutral country.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ivan Nechayev said on August 11 that Switzerland had applied to Moscow for permission to represent Ukraine’s interests and that Moscow had denied the request.

"We very clearly answered that Switzerland had unfortunately lost its status of a neutral state and could not act as an intermediary or a representative," Nechayev said. "Bern has joined illegal Western sanctions against Russia."

Nechayev added that Switzerland also could not represent Russia's interests in Ukraine.

Ukraine broke off diplomatic relations with Russia shortly after Moscow’s unprovoked massive military invasion of the country on February 24.

Kyiv on August 10 asked Switzerland to represent its interests in Russia, a move that Bern insisted requires Moscow’s assent.

Switzerland has a long history of such arrangements, representing U.S. interests in Iran, Iranian interests in Saudi Arabia, Russian interests in Georgia, and Georgian interests in Russia, among others.

Switzerland has joined nearly all the sanctions the European Union has imposed on Russia since its military intervention in Ukraine.

Based on reporting by Reuters, TASS, and dpa

Latvian Parliament Designates Russia A State Sponsor Of Terrorism

The Latvian parliament The Latvian parliament adopted the resolution on August 11 after 67 lawmakers voted for it. (file photo)

Lawmakers in Latvia have designated Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism, citing Moscow’s ongoing unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, its military activities in Syria, and several high-profile cases of poisoning of Kremlin-critics.

The Latvian parliament adopted the resolution on August 11 after 67 lawmakers voted for it. Sixteen lawmakers abstained.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova posted on Telegram that the Latvian resolution was "xenophobic."

Ukraine's foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, posted on Twitter that he was grateful for the resolution.

"Ukraine encourages other states and organizations to follow suit," Kuleba wrote.

The resolution denounced Russia's "violence against civilians in pursuit of political aims" and condemned Moscow's use of cluster munitions "to sow fear and indiscriminately kill civilians."

The parliament called on other "like-minded countries" to join the move and urged the European Union to stop issuing visas to citizens of Russia and Belarus, noting that Russia's invasion of Ukraine was carried out "with the support and involvement of the Belarusian regime."

With reporting by Delfi, Reuters, and AFP

Explosions Rock Military Airport In Belarus Days After Crimea Air Base Attack

A satellite image from March shows a military presence at the Zyabrauka air base, which is located some 30 kilometers from the Ukrainian border.

Several explosions have been reported in an area of Belarus near a military airport that Ukrainian authorities say has been used by the Russian Air Force to attack Ukrainian territory.

The Belaruski Hayun and Flagshtok Telegram channels quoted witnesses on August 11 as saying at least eight blasts were heard and flashes were seen near the Zyabrauka military airport in the southeastern Homel region of Belarus overnight. The base is some 30 kilometers from the border with Ukraine.

The Belarusian Defense Ministry said in a statement that at 11 p.m. on August 10, the engine of a military vehicle caught fire and "measures to extinguish the fire were undertaken," adding there were no casualties.


The incident came in the wake of a series of explosions at a Russian airbase in the occupied Ukrainian region of Crimea that destroyed at least nine Russian military aircraft. Kyiv has not publicly claimed responsibility for the attack. Russia's Defense Ministry has denied the Saky base in Crimea was attacked, blaming the explosions on a "violation of fire-safety requirements."

Ukrainian officials maintain that the Zyabrauka base in Belarus has been used by the Russian Air Force during Moscow's ongoing unprovoked war against Ukraine, which was launched in February. Last month, the military said Russia has based Iskander-M and S-400 mobile missile systems at the Belarusian airport, using them to strike Ukraine.

August 11 marks the last day of military drills by Belarus's air force that started on August 9. Belarusian authorities said this week the exercises' second phase will be held on August 22-25 in the Ashuluk military training base in southwestern Russia near the border with Kazakhstan.

Belarus's authoritarian ruler, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, has openly supported Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Although Belarusian troops have not taken part in the invasion, Minsk allowed Russia's military to use the country's territory to enter Ukraine and shell Ukrainian towns and cities.

Updated

UN Nuclear Watchdog Chief Says Situation At Ukrainian Nuclear Plant Enters 'Grave Hour'

Zaporizhzhya is Europe's largest nuclear plant, and it houses six of Ukraine's 15 reactors. (file photo)

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) says agency officials must be allowed to inspect the Zaporizhzhya nuclear plant in Ukraine after fighting near the site.

"This is a serious hour, a grave hour and the IAEA must be allowed to conduct its mission to Zaporizhzhya as soon as possible," IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi told an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council on August 11.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy also warned about the situation at the nuclear power plant, saying it is of global interest.

No other country has used a nuclear plant "so obviously to threaten the whole world," he said in his nightly video address on August 11. "Absolutely everyone in the world should react immediately to expel the occupiers from the Zaporizhzhya [nuclear power plant]."

He said only the Russians' full withdrawal would guarantee nuclear safety for all of Europe.

A U.S. State Department official told the Security Council that Washington supports the idea of an IAEA mission to Ukraine.

"This visit cannot wait any longer," Undersecretary for Arms Control and International Security Bonnie Jenkins said, calling for Russia to immediately withdraw its forces from Ukraine's territory.

"This would allow for Ukraine to restore the impeccable safety, security, and safeguards performance it upheld for decades at the facility," Jenkins said.

Russian UN Ambassador Vasily Nebenzya put the blame for fighting at and near Zaporizhzhya on Ukrainian forces.

"We call on states that support the Kyiv regime to bring their proxies into check to compel them to immediately and once and for all stop attacks on the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power [plant] to ensure safe conditions for the conduct of the IAEA mission," Nebenzya told the council.

"This is the only way to prevent a major radioactive catastrophe on the European continent, the risk of which is now more real than ever," Nebenzya added. "If Ukrainian armed forces attacks continue, this could take place at any time."

The two sides traded blame earlier on August 11 over a recent escalation in fighting on the nuclear facility's premises.

Ukraine's state energy company said the plant was shelled again by Russian forces, while the Russia-backed local administration said Ukrainian forces were to blame.

There were no injuries and the situation at the plant was under control. Enerhoatom added in its statement posted on Telegram that reports that workers fled the plant in panic were "fake and manipulative."

The Russia-backed local administration said it was Ukrainian rocket fire that struck the plant.

"Zelenskiy's militants once again struck the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant and territory near the nuclear facility," said Vladimir Rogov, a member of the Moscow-installed regional administration, referring to the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

Neither side's claims could be independently verified.

The Zaporizhzhya plant, which was captured by Russian forces in the opening stages of the war, was hit by shelling last weekend, which also prompted the two sides to trade blame.


Heavy fighting was reported earlier on August 11 around the eastern Ukrainian town of Pisky, some 10 kilometers northwest of the city of Donetsk.

“It is hot in Pisky,” wrote Danil Bezsonov, a member of a Russia-backed separatist group that calls itself the Donetsk People's Republic, on Telegram early on August 11. “The town is ours, but there remain scattered pockets of resistance in its north and west.”

Ukrainian officials said their troops were still control of the town. Presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said in an interview that Russian forces had tried to move into Pisky “without success.”

Neither report could be independently verified.

After forcibly annexing Ukraine’s Crimea region in 2014, Moscow fomented separatist movements in parts of eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions, collectively known as the Donbas.

The Kyiv-backed governor of the Luhansk region, Serhiy Hayday, said in an interview on August 10 that Russia had boosted its forces in the area, including by sending in a large number of mercenaries from the Vagner group, a private security company with close ties to the Kremlin.

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk predicted on August 11 that more mandatory evacuations would be ordered for a number of areas affected by fighting.

Vereshchuk reported that, as of August 11, 3,908 people were evacuated from the Donetsk region, including 777 children.

She said mandatory evacuations had been carried out for the first time and it is likely they will take place in other regions.

"We see now the deterioration of the situation. And with the beginning of the autumn-winter heating period, it will definitely worsen" as it becomes more difficult to provide heating, she said during a briefing.

Zelenskiy said last month that hundreds of thousands of people were still living in areas of the Donbas where fighting has been intense.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and AP

Bulgarians Press Caretaker Government For Independence From Russian Gas

The protesters oppose the restart of negotiations with Gazprom for a new long-term contract.

Hundreds of people took part on August 10 in a second protest to demand Bulgaria continue a path toward gas independence from Russia.

The protesters gathered in front of the presidential building in Sofia and said they want the country's current caretaker government to reject Russian gas and maintain the policies of the pro-Western former government.

“We refuse to be dependent on Gazprom and finance Putin’s outrageous war!” read one of the banners at the protest, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin and the war in Ukraine.

Atanas Sharkov, one of the protest organizers, insisted that Gazprom must cease to be Bulgaria’s only gas supplier.

“It is high time to follow European policies and be part of Europe,” Sharkov said.

Sharkov also called on President Rumen Radev, who appointed the caretaker government, to guarantee that previous decisions will not be revised.

The caretaker government was sworn in on August 2 to run the EU member country until snap elections set for October 2. The previous coalition government of pro-western Prime Minister Kiril Petkov's collapsed in late June after just over half a year in power.

It was toppled in part because of its hard stance against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and after Petkov refused to pay Gazprom in rubles, prompting Russia to halt direct gas exports to Bulgaria.

The first demonstration for gas independence took place on August 5, touched off by statements indicating a potential delay in finalizing a gas deal with Greece at a time when Bulgaria is officially looking for alternatives to Gazprom.

The protesters oppose the restart of negotiations with Gazprom for a new long-term contract.

The organizers said they also sent a letter with seven questions to the caretaker government on August 8. In addition to a question about finding alternative oil and gas suppliers, the letter also asked the government about strengthening the defense of the country, support measures for Ukrainian refugees, and its position on the Crimean Peninsula.

They said only Bulgaria's centrist Continue the Change party (PP) and Democratic Bulgaria had answered.

It said a “pseudo-answer” from the Council of Ministers showed that the government has no desire to solve the problems and is concealing its general geopolitical orientation in the context of the war in Ukraine and sanctions against Russia and Putin’s regime.

With reporting by AP

Satellite Images Show Massive Destruction At Russian Air Base On Crimea

This satellite image provided by Planet Labs PBC shows destroyed Russian aircraft at the Saky Air Base after explosions on August 9.

A Russian air base on Ukraine’s annexed Crimean Peninsula suffered massive destruction from several explosions on August 9, satellite imagery made available on August 10 shows.

The Russian Navy's Saky Air Base near the village of Novofedorivka lost at least nine military aircraft, including Su-30SM fighters and Su-24M bombers, an analysis of before-and-after images by Schemes, an investigative unit of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, indicates.

Several buildings on the base that may have housed ammunition were destroyed, as well.

WATCH: Massive explosions hit a military airfield in Russian-occupied Crimea. Ukraine has stopped short of officially claiming responsibility, and speculation over what triggered the conflagration continues. Many locals doubt Russia's claim that the blasts were an accident.

Speculation Swirls Around Explosions At Russian Military Base In Occupied Crimea
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Russia has been using the Saky Air Base, located on the western side of Crimea, to regularly strike Ukrainian territory since it launched an invasion of the country on February 24.

The exact cause of the August 9 explosions is unknown.

Unidentified Ukrainian officials have told U.S. media that their armed forces were responsible for the explosions but did not give further details.

Russia’s Defense Ministry has denied the base was attacked, blaming the explosions on a “violation of fire safety requirements.”

However, the August 10 satellite images show several large craters of similar size, indicating it was hit by multiple strikes.

Military analysts called the destruction a huge blow for Russia and a psychological win for Ukraine.

Videos posted to social media on August 9 show several explosions at the base and billows of thick, gray smoke rising into the sky.

Homes, cars, and other objects in the vicinity of the base were damaged, with windows blown out. The Russia-appointed head of Crimea said on August 9 that the blasts killed one person and injured 14. Sergei Aksyonov also said at least 80 buildings were damaged.


Analysts said aircraft at the base that survived the explosion are probably damaged.

There were as many as 30 military aircraft at the base on August 9, according to the satellite images.

Robert Lee, a military analyst, said Russia lacked hangars for their aircraft at Saky.


Many of the planes would have survived the explosion had Russia built hardened aircraft shelters, he said in a tweet.

If Ukraine were behind the explosions, it would be Kyiv’s first major attack on Russian forces in Crimea, which Moscow forcibly annexed in 2014.

It would also show that Ukraine has the technical capability for a long-distance strike and the ability to catch Russia off guard, said Volodymyr Dubovyk, a professor of international relations at Mechnikov National University in Odesa.

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