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Iran Forces Furloughed U.S-British National Back To Prison, Lawyer Says

Morad Tahbaz

A dual U.S.-British citizen who was temporarily furloughed from an Iranian prison just days ago has been returned to jail, his family and lawyer said on March 20.

Morad Tahbaz, a 66-year-old environmentalist, was released on March 16, the same day as two high-profile British citizens who had been detained for more than five years were freed and flown home to Britain.

But his lawyer said that Iranian security officers had forced Tahbaz -- who also has Iranian citizenship -- to return to Iran’s notorious Evin Prison.

“Unfortunately, we have no idea if or when he is going to be released,” Hojjat Kermani told the AP. “He is back in Evin for the time being.”

It was not immediately clear if Tahbaz’s return to prison was a temporary move or if he would be required to serve the final years of his 10-year sentence.

British and U.S. officials said they had been told he was returning to prison only to have an ankle tag attached, but his lawyer and family said they had no information on that.

Tahbaz's family said they had received "devastating news" that he had been returned to prison.

"We the family are distraught at this moment," they said in a statement.

British-Iranians Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori arrived in Britain on March 17 after being released from Iranian prisons following more than five years of detention.

The United States, Britain, and other countries have sought to secure the release of dozens of dual nationals detained by Iran. Family members and human rights activists have accused Tehran of arresting the dual nationals on trumped-up charges to squeeze concessions out of Western nations.

The release of Tahbaz, Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Ashoori was reached as world leaders try to revive the landmark 2015 Iran nuclear pact. Negotiations on renewing the deal have stalled over Russia’s demand that its trade with Iran be guaranteed amid massive sanctions on Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine.

Tahbaz, a board member of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, was arrested in January 2018 during a crackdown on environmental activists. He and seven others were accused of compiling classified information while pretending to carry out environmental work.

Tahbaz was sentenced to 10 years in prison with the others on vague allegations of spying for the United States and undermining Iranian security.

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss on March 16 said Tahbaz had been released to his home in Tehran on furlough.

Iranian officials did not respond to requests for comment and did not acknowledge his return to prison.

The British Foreign Office said: "We hope to see him returned to his home in the coming hours. Morad Tahbaz is a tri-national, and we are working closely with the United States to secure Morad's permanent release."

With reporting by RFE/RL's Radio Farda, the BBC, and AP

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Chief Editor Of Belarusian Newspaper Goes On Trial On Charge Of Discrediting Belarus

Belarusian journalist Alyaksandr Mantsevich (file photo)

A court in the city of Maladechna near Minsk began the trial of journalist Alyaksandr Mantsevich on September 27 amid an ongoing crackdown on independent journalists and democratic institutions. The chief editor of Rehiyanalnaya hazeta (Regional newspaper) was arrested in mid-March and charged with discrediting Belarus and its government entities. The charge stems from the newspaper's coverage of the political situation in the country in 2020-2023. Belarusian rights watchdogs have designated Mantsevich as a political prisoner. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Belarus Service, click here.

Polish Minister Says Talks With Ukraine On Track After Grain Import Ban

Polish Agriculture Minister Robert Telus (file photo)

Polish Agriculture Minister Robert Telus said on September 27 that talks with Ukraine were on track as the two countries try to resolve a dispute about a ban imposed by Warsaw on Polish grain imports. Telus spoke at a press conference after online talks with Ukrainian Agriculture Minister Mykola Solsky. Warsaw and Kyiv are allies, but relations have soured since Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia decided to extend a ban that was introduced to protect their farmers from a surge in grain and food imports from Ukraine after Russia's invasion last year. The Polish government is also under pressure from the far right to take a tougher stance on Ukraine before October 15 elections. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Updated

Baku Detains Former Russian Businessman Vardanian, Who Briefly Served As Nagorno-Karabakh's De Facto PM

A picture obtained from Azerbaijani's State Border Service showing Ruben Vardanian being detained by Azerbaijani authorities.

BAKU -- Azerbaijan's State Border Service (DSX) said on September 27 that it has detained billionaire Ruben Vardanian, a former Russian citizen of Armenian descent, who served as prime minister in the de facto government of the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh for less than four months before he was dismissed from the post in February.

According to DSX, Vardanian was detained while leaving along with thousands of ethnic Armenians fleeing Nagorno-Karabakh, which is now under the full control of Azerbaijan, for Armenia via the Lachin Corridor. Vardanian was then transferred to Baku, the statement said.

Vardanian's wife, Veronika Zonabend, has confirmed her husband's detention.

"My husband, Ruben Vardanian...has been arrested by the Azerbaijani authorities at the border as he attempted to leave this morning, along with thousands of Armenians escaping Azerbaijani occupation," Zonabend said in a statement released by Vardanian's office.

When Vardanian was dismissed from the post of de facto prime minister of Nagorno-Karabakh in February. Media reports in Armenia indicated that Azerbaijan had made the removal one of its conditions in reaching a peace agreement during talks between Baku and Yerevan about the future of the ethnic-Armenian dominated region, which lies wholly inside Azerbaijan's borders.

Vardanian publicly renounced his Russian citizenship in September 2022 and said he made the decision to move to Nagorno-Karabakh with an understanding of all the risks he may face.

He said at the time that after the 2020 Armenia-Azerbaijan war over Nagorno-Karabakh, which resulted in Baku's regaining control over large chunks of the disputed region and seven adjacent districts, “Armenians around the whole world” must be together with Nagorno-Karabakh.

Nagorno-Karabakh, which along with the 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 Russia-brokered cease-fire under which Moscow deployed about 2,000 troops to the region to serve as peacekeepers.

Last week, Azerbaijani forces staged a lightning offensive, overwhelming Nagorno-Karabakh forces, and taking control, after which tens of thousands of ethnic Armenians fled the region for Armenia.

Vardanian was born in the Armenian capital, Yerevan, in 1968. He is the former chief executive officer of Russia’s Troika Dialog investment bank, which was bought by Sberbank in 2011.

In 2021, Forbes estimated Vardanian's assets at $1 billion. Forbes has called Vardanian one of the "founding fathers" of Russia's stock market.

Ukraine Says It Will Boycott All UEFA Tournaments With Russian Participation

European soccer's governing body has controversially decided to let Russian youth teams return to international competition.

Ukraine has strongly condemned a decision by UEFA to allow the return of Russia's youth football teams to international competitions and said it would boycott all tournaments with Russian participation. Ukraine's football federation said in a statement that Ukraine "will not take part in any competitions with the participation of Russian teams" and appealed to other countries to follow suit. After banning all Russian teams -- national or club sides -- from participating in its competitions following Moscow's invasion of Ukraine, UEFA said on September 26 that it was "aware that children should not be punished for actions whose responsibility lies exclusively with adults.”

Uzbek Journalists Handed Prison Terms After Closed-Door Trial

A court in Tashkent has sentenced Uzbek journalists Khurshid Daliev and Siyovush Hoshimov to seven years in prison each on charges of slander, extortion, fraud, and tax evasion. On September 26, the Shaikhontohur district court handed a third defendant, a former press secretary of the Employment Ministry, journalist Mavjuda Mirzaeva, a five-year parole-like sentence on a charge of extortion and another defendant Ahmadullo Ahmadjonov a three-year parole-like sentence on a charge of failing to report a crime. Mirzaeva pleaded partially guilty, while Hoshimov rejected the charges. It was not clear how Daliev pleaded in the trial held behind closed doors. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Uzbek Service, click here.

Moscow Bars 23 British Nationals, Including Senior Admiral, From Entering Russia

The chief of Britain's Defense Staff, Admiral Tony Radakin (file photo)

Russia's Foreign Ministry said on September 27 that it has banned 23 British nationals, including the chief of the Defense Staff, Admiral Tony Radakin, from entering Russia, saying they have been responsible for training Ukrainian armed forces or have coordinated activities to collect data to fight against Russia. The ministry added in a statement that it will continue to add to the sanctions list as warranted. The British government has so far offered hundreds of millions of dollars in support of Ukraine as its armed forces fight against Russia's ongoing full-scale invasion, which was launched in February 2022.

Iran Claims It Launched Noor 3 Satellite Into Orbit

The Noor 3 imaging satellite will orbit the earth at an altitude of 450 kilometers above the surface. (file photo)

Iran's Revolutionary Guards successfully launched a third military satellite into orbit on September 27, state media reported, citing Minister of Communications Issa Zarepour. The Noor 3 imaging satellite orbits at an altitude of 450 kilometers above the earth's surface and was launched by the three-stage Qased, or messenger carrier, state media said, which launched its predecessor Noor 2 in 2022. The U.S. military says the same long-range ballistic technology used to put satellites into orbit could also allow Tehran to launch longer-range weapons, possibly including nuclear warheads. Tehran denies U.S. assertions that such activity is a cover for ballistic missile development and says it has never pursued the development of nuclear weapons. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Death Toll From Nagorno-Karabakh Fuel Blast Revised Down To 68

The blast occurred as people seeking to flee to Armenia had lined up to fuel their cars in order to leave Nagorno-Karabakh.

The number of confirmed deaths following an explosion at a fuel depot in Nagorno-Karabakh is 68, the breakaway region's ombudsman, Gegham Stepanian, has told RFE/RL, adding that so far only 21 victims have been identified. Previous media reports had cited Armenia's health minister as putting the death toll at 125. The blast occurred as people seeking to flee to Armenia had lined up to fuel their cars in order to leave the region. The cause of the blast has not been determined. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Armenian Service, click here.

Updated

Zelenskiy Says Ukrainian Forces 'Advancing' In Donetsk As Russia Shells Civilians

Ukrainian firefighters battler a blaze following Russian shelling on Kherson earlier this month.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy says Ukrainian forces are making gains against Russian troops in the eastern region of Donetsk as Moscow launched fresh artillery strikes on Ukraine's southern region of Nikopol and Kherson overnight, wounding civilians and damaging houses and infrastructure.

"We are advancing in the Donetsk direction," Zelenskiy said after a conference call with military officials, adding that he was also briefed on the situation in the partially liberated southern region of Kherson, which has been targeted for months by Russian shelling.

"The Russians continue to terrorize the territories their [artillery] can reach," he said.

Earlier on September 27, Oleksandr Prokudin, the head of the Kherson regional military administration, said on Telegram that 12 people were wounded in the region over the past day as a result of Russian shelling.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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

In the Nikopol region, two people were wounded by Russian shelling, Serhiy Lysak, the head of Dnipropetrovsk region's military administration, said on Telegram on September 27.

"At night, the enemy fired heavy artillery at Myrivska Hromada and [the city of] Nikopol itself," Lysak wrote, adding that the two men who had been wounded were in a moderate condition in hospital. He said a two-story building was set on fire during the attack. "Rescuers put out the fire," Lysak said.

The General Staff of Ukraine's military said in its daily update that Ukrainian forces were conducting offensive operations in the direction of the embattled eastern city of Bakhmut and the southern region of Melitopol, adding that a total of 26 close-quarters battles were fought along the front line over the past 24 hours.

On September 26, Russia again struck grain-exporting facilities in the Odesa region, causing damage and injuries among the local inhabitants, Ukrainian officials said.

Odesa governor Oleh Kiper said Izmayil, one of the two Danube ports that Ukraine uses to export grain, was hit, and a checkpoint building, storage facilities, and more than 30 trucks and cars were damaged. Two people were wounded, Kiper said.

Russia has stepped up its aerial bombardments of Ukrainian sites, targeting in particular Ukraine's grain-exporting infrastructure in the southern Odesa and Mykolayiv regions.

Ukraine has resumed exporting grain despite Russia’s pulling out of a United Nations-brokered deal allowing safe grain shipments in July.

Zelenskiy has vowed new Ukrainian actions against Russia following a missile strike last week against Russia’s Black Sea Fleet headquarters that Kyiv said killed nearly three dozen officers, including its top commander.

"We clearly see which directions of pressure on Russia need to be strengthened to prevent [its] terrorist capabilities from growing," Zelenskiy said in his nightly video address on September 26.

"Sanctions are not enough," he said.

Ukraine's claim about its strike against the Russian Black Sea Fleet could not be immediately confirmed, and Russia released markedly lower casualty figures from the September 22 attack in the Crimean port of Sevastopol.

But the strike itself was the latest in a series of increasingly audacious attacks by Ukrainian forces on Russian ships and Black Sea facilities -- attacks that Western experts say may have drastically curtailed Russia’s naval operations in the region.

In a statement on September 25, Ukraine’s special operations forces cited “new information about the losses of the enemy as a result of the special operation,” claiming that 34 officers, including the fleet commander, were killed when cruise missiles -- believed to be either British or French -- hit the Sevastopol building. At least 105 others were wounded, it said.

The Ukrainian statement did not name the naval commander. The current top officer in the Black Sea Fleet is Admiral Viktor Sokolov.

Asked by reporters on September 26 about the Ukrainian claim, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he had no comment.

Sokolov was shown on Russian state television on September 26 among other senior officers attending a video conference with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, although it was not clear when the footage has been recorded.

With reporting by Current Time, AFP, TASS, and Reuters

More Than 47,000 Arrive In Armenia From Karabakh As U.S., EU Pledge Aid To Refugees

Ethnic Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh walk flee the region following Azerbaijan's swift military operation to retake the breakaway territory.

More than 47,000 people have arrived in Armenia from Nagorno-Karabakh, the government in Yerevan announced on September 27 amid a massive exodus that followed an Azerbaijani offensive, which gave Baku complete control of the breakaway region as the United States and the European Union pledged emergency relief aid for Armenia.

As of noon local time, 47,115 people forcibly displaced from Nagorno Karabakh have crossed the border into Armenia, some 22,800 of whom have already been officially registered," Nazeli Baghdasarian, a spokeswoman for Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian, told the media on September 27.

Azerbaijan opened the only road leading from the breakaway region to Armenia on September 24, four days after a cease-fire agreement that ended a lightning military operation.

Nagorno-Karabakh's ombudsman, Gegham Stepanian, said that the number of confirmed deaths following an explosion at a fuel depot in the separatist region is 68, after previous reports had put the number of deaths at 125. Stepanian told RFE/RL that so far only 21 victims have been identified.

The blast occurred as people seeking to flee to Armenia had lined upvto fuel their cars in order to leave the region. The cause of the blast has not been determined.

Baku said on September 27 that 192 Azerbaijani servicemen and one civilian had been killed during the September 19-20 blitz offensive. Another 511 soldiers were wounded in the course of the operation, Azerbaijan's Health Ministry said in a statement.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock called on Azerbaijan on September 27 to allow international observers to enter Nagorno-Karabakh and announced that Berlin was stepping up its humanitarian aid for the refugees.

"I have decided to significantly increase our humanitarian aid once again and to increase our additional funding for the International Committee of the Red Cross from 2 to 5 million euros ($5.28 million)," Baerbock said.

Baku has pledged equal treatment for mainly ethnic Armenian residents who are fleeing, but the Armenian government has warned of possible “ethnic cleansing.”

Newborn Refugee: Two-Week-Old Infant Among Exodus Of Ethnic Armenians From Nagorno-Karabakh
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On September 26, Samantha Power, the top official at the U.S. Agency for International Development, told reporters in Yerevan that it was "absolutely critical" that independent monitors and aid organizations be given access to people in Karabakh, and she later announced a $11.5 million package of humanitarian aid for Armenia.

The European Union also said it would increase humanitarian aid by 5 million euros ($5.2 million) in response to growing needs caused by the crisis.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev on September 26 that he must protect civilians in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Blinken spoke by phone with Aliyev to underscore “the urgency of no further hostilities” and to state that there be “unconditional protections and freedom of movement for civilians,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters.

Blinken also told Aliyev that there must be unhindered humanitarian access to Nagorno-Karabakh.

Traffic Jam At Lachin Corridor As Ethnic Armenians Flee Nagorno-Karabakh
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In Brussels, envoys from Baku and Yerevan met with European Council diplomats in the first such encounter since Azerbaijan's recapture of Nagorno-Karabakh following a nine-month blockade of the region that Armenian officials said had deprived the enclave's residents of food, medicine, and other essentials.

The EU stressed in a statement the need for transparency and access for international humanitarian and human rights groups and for more detail on Baku’s vision for Karabakh Armenians’ future in Azerbaijan.

During the meeting Hikmet Hajiyev, a foreign policy adviser to Aliyev, outlined Azerbaijan’s plans to provide humanitarian assistance and security to the local population.

The meeting also discussed a possible meeting of Nagorno-Karabakh stakeholders on October 5 in Granada.

"The participants took note of the shared interest of Armenia and Azerbaijan to make use of the possible meeting in Granada to continue their normalization efforts," the statement said.

Armenian representative Armen Grigorian and Hajiyev "engaged in talks on possible concrete steps to advance the Armenia-Azerbaijan peace process in the upcoming possible meeting, such as those with regard to border delimitation, security, connectivity, humanitarian issues, and the broader peace treaty," the statement said.

The statement added that the EU believes that the meeting should be used by both Yerevan and Baku to reiterate publicly their commitment to each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty in line with previous agreements.

Armenia and Azerbaijan have fought two wars in the last three decades over the region, which had been a majority ethnic Armenian enclave within the internationally recognized border of Azerbaijan since the Soviet collapse.

The region initially came under the control of ethnic Armenian forces, backed by the Armenian military, in separatist fighting that ended in 1994. During a war in 2020, however, Azerbaijan took back parts of Nagorno-Karabakh along with surrounding territory that Armenian forces had claimed during the earlier conflict.

That fighting ended with a Russia-brokered cease-fire and the deployment of Russian peacekeepers. Those peacekeepers did little, however, to prevent the advances by Azerbaijani forces.

With reporting by RFE/RL Azerbaijani Service, AP, AFP, The New York Times, and Reuters

'Too Bad, Vladimir:' Hillary Clinton Taunts Putin On NATO Expansion Since Invasion

Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton jokes with the audience during her speech at her portrait unveiling ceremony at the State Department in Washington on September 26.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton taunted Russian President Vladimir Putin over the expansion of NATO since launching his invasion of Ukraine. "Too bad, Vladimir. You brought it on yourself," Clinton said on September 26 as she returned to the State Department for the unveiling of her official portrait. She said the United States has always stressed that joining NATO was a choice. Ukraine sought to join the alliance before the invasion, and Putin cited this as a reason for his action. Finland and Sweden applied to join NATO soon after the invasion, and Finland has been admitted.

Car Traffic Briefly Suspended On Сrimean Bridge

The Crimea Bridge was reopened shortly after the closure. (file photo)

Car traffic was briefly suspended on the Crimea Bridge on September 27 in the morning, Russian authorities said on the Telegram messaging app, a measure often taken due to drone or missile attacks by Ukraine. The bridge was reopened shortly afterwards and authorities said there were no traffic jams in either direction. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Canadian Parliament Speaker Resigns After Tribute To Ukrainian Nazi Veteran

Canadian Parliament Speaker Anthony Rota (file photo)

The speaker of Canada's parliament resigned on September 26, days after publicly celebrating a Ukrainian veteran who fought for the Nazis during World War II. During a visit to parliament by Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy last week, Anthony Rota hailed an elderly Ukrainian immigrant from his district as a hero, prompting a standing ovation. But Rota has faced growing pressure to resign after it was revealed that the veteran had served in a Nazi-linked military unit. "It is with a heavy heart that I rise to inform members of my resignation as speaker of the House of Commons," Rota told lawmakers from the parliamentary floor.

Updated

Russian Court Rejects Navalny's Appeal Against His 19-Year Prison Term

Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny appears in a video link during a hearing at the Russian Supreme Court in Moscow on August 23.

A Russian court has rejected Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny’s appeal against a decision to imprison him on extremism charges for almost two decades.

On August 4, judges of the Moscow City Court convicted Navalny on extremism charges and sentenced him to 19 years in prison, ruling that his previously handed prison sentences will be served concurrently in Russia's harshest prison regime. Navalny, his allies, rights groups, and Western governments say all charges are politically motivated.

The first appeals court in Moscow upheld the sentence on September 26 at a hearing held behind closed doors. Only the reading of the verdict was public. Navalny, who has accused the Kremlin of seeking to keep him behind bars for life and to keep Russians from voicing dissent, participated in the proceedings via video link.

Navalny's team reacted to the court's decision on X, formerly known as Twitter, criticizing the secrecy of the trial and saying the decision would not silence Navalny or his team.

"After a shameful verdict for completely legal political activity, they closed the hearing on appeal. Arguing why a shameful sentence is not at all shameful is also much more comfortable behind closed doors," Navalny's team said.

Navalny's team also they would continue their work despite the decision to uphold the verdict against Navalny and co-defendant Daniel Kholodny, former technical director of Navalny Live.

"We continue to fight the regime that has turned the judiciary into this. We continue to work on Aleksei Navalny's projects and continue to tell the whole world about him."

The charges against Navalny are widely seen as retribution for his efforts to expose what he describes as the pervasive lawlessness, corruption, and repression by Putin and his political system.

Navalny was Russia's loudest opposition voice over the last decade and galvanized huge anti-government rallies before he was jailed.

The 47-year-old threatened the Kremlin by establishing a network of political offices across the country and a corruption watchdog that brought credible graft allegations against political elites.

He was jailed in 2021 after arriving in Moscow from Germany, where he had been recovering from a poisoning attack he blamed on the Kremlin.

The ruling last month came a year and a half into Russia's invasion in Ukraine, which brought with it an unprecedented crackdown on dissenting voices.

Navalny has repeatedly spoken out against the military campaign.

Navalny, who has complained of a series of health complications -- and undertook a weekslong hunger strike -- is being held in the IK-6 penal colony, 250 kilometers east of Moscow.

Allies say his health has deteriorated in recent months, during which he has been in and out of solitary confinement. Ahead of the appeal, prison authorities placed Navalny in an detention cell for the 20th time, his team said.

In August the court also ruled to send Navalny to a “special regime” colony, a maximum-security facility reserved for dangerous criminals that will cut him off from the outside world.

The “special regime” prison is a system in which inmates stay in cells either alone, in pairs, or in fours. The cells have additional metal bars on windows and doors, nonstop lighting, and video surveillance. Inmates can request one or two hours of walking outside in specially fenced cubes where there is no direct sunlight.

Special regime inmates are not allowed to communicate with friends or relatives and can have no visits in the first 10 years of their sentences.

With reporting by AFP

Resist Russian Disinformation As Elections Loom, EU Minister Tells Big Tech

TikTok was one of the big-tech firms singled out by the European Commission's vice president for needing to do more to stop Russian disinformation.

European Commission Vice President Vera Jourova has urged Google, Microsoft, Meta, and TikTok to do more to tackle what she called Russia's "multimillion-euro weapon of mass manipulation" ahead of elections in Europe. Jourova on September 26 also singled out X, formerly known as Twitter, saying it had the largest ratio of fake news posts compared with those on the larger platforms. "The Russian state has engaged in the war of ideas to pollute our information space with half-truth and lies to create a false image that democracy is no better than autocracy," Jourova said. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Updated

Five Bulgarians Charged With Spying For Russia Remanded In Custody By London Court

Bizer Dzhambazov, Katrin Ivanova, and Orlin Roussev are three of the Bulgarians accused of spying for Russia. (combo photo)

Five Bulgarian nationals charged in the U.K. with spying for Russia appeared in a London court on September 26 and were remanded in custody until their next hearing in mid-October.

Orlin Roussev, 45, Bizer Dzhambazov, 41, Katrin Ivanova, 31, Ivan Stoyanov, 31, and Vanya Gaberova, 29, appeared at the Westminster Magistrates' Court in London by video from four different prisons where they are being held.

They spoke only to confirm their names and dates of birth, and did not enter pleas of apply for bail. All five were remanded in custody until their next appearance at the Central Criminal Court on October 13.

The three men and two women are accused of conspiring “to collect information intended to be directly or indirectly useful to an enemy for a purpose prejudicial to the safety and interest of the state” between August 2020 and February 2023.

Prosecutor Kathryn Selby told the Westminster Magistrates Court the suspects are thought to have been part of an organized network that carried out surveillance and hostile action on behalf of Russia against specific targets. Their surveillance activities are alleged to have been for the purpose of assisting Russia to conduct hostile action against the targets, including potential abductions.

Much of the activity took place abroad, but coordination took place in the Unite Kingdom, the prosecution said.

Selby said the “operating hub in this country [the U.K.] for the offense of espionage” was the residence of Roussev. His home address was a now-closed seaside guesthouse in Great Yarmouth.

Roussev is alleged to have organized and managed the cell's spying operations from the United Kingdom.

The prosecution said Roussev received tasking from abroad by Jan Marsalek.

Marsalek, an Austrian national who is not charged in connection with the case, was the former chief operating officer of German payment systems provider Wirecard, which collapsed in 2020 in a fraud scandal. Marsalek, who is considered a key figure in that scandal, has been on the run since the summer of 2020. His whereabouts remain unclear.

The suspects are accused of conspiring to collect information with Marsalek and “others unknown.”

The five Bulgarian nationals, who lived in London and Norfolk, were arrested in February by the Metropolitan Police's counterterrorism officers under the Official Secrets Act.

Roussev, Dzhambazov, and Ivanova were charged in February with having false identity documents, but news about them did not emerge until August. The three are accused of possessing 34 ID documents, some of which were suspected to be false, from the United Kingdom, Bulgaria, France, Italy, Spain, Croatia, Slovenia, Greece, and the Czech Republic.

Bulgarian prosecutors said in August that they were investigating the case, without adding further details.

The United Kingdom has been seeking to take tougher action on external security threats and potential spies, and in July passed a national security law aiming at overhauling its means of deterring espionage and foreign interference with new tools and criminal provisions.

At the time, the government labeled Russia as “the most acute threat” to its security.

With reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters

Central European Countries Urge EU To Check Ukraine Grain 'Solidarity Corridors'

Ukrainian grain has been moved through so-called "solidarity corridors" in Central Europe on its way to third countries. (file photo)

Four Central European countries urged the EU on September 26 to thoroughly inspect the so-called "solidarity corridors" through which Ukrainian grain passes on its way to third countries. Agricultural ministry officials from the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia said part of the transported grain stays in countries such as Poland, and harms local farmers as it is much cheaper than local grain. Czech Agriculture Minister Marek Vyborny said that, to prevent grain leaks during transport, the EU could introduce refundable deposits for dealers. Ukrainian Agriculture Minister Mykola Solsky joined the meeting via a video link.

Chechen Strongman Releases Video Of Teenage Son Beating Alleged Koran Burner

Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov (file photo)

Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov has released а video showing his teenage son, Adam, assaulting a man accused of burning a Koran, an assault that the Kremlin declined to condemn.

The beating, which Kadyrov praises, is the latest piece of evidence underscoring Kadyrov’s impunity as the head of Chechnya, and the Kremlin’s willingness to ignore it.

The alleged Koran burning earlier this year sparked outrage within Chechnya, Right activists have questioned why prosecutors transferred jurisdiction in the case to Chechnya.

“He beat him properly,” Kadyrov says in the 7-second video published on his Telegram channel September 25. “

I’m proud of Adam’s actions.”

To read the original story by Caucasus.Realities, click here.

Kazakh Court Rules Publishing Book Violates Sentence Of Opposition Politician

Kazakh oppositionist Zhanbolat Mamai

Zhanbolat Mamai, the leader of the unregistered Democratic Party of Kazakhstan, has been banned from publishing a book he wrote by the Bostandyk District Court of Almaty. Mamai's wife, activist Inga Imanbay, wrote in a Facebook post that the judge -- who was asked for a clarification of the terms of the suspended six-year prison term he was handed in April on charges of organizing mass unrest, spreading false information, and insulting a government representative -- ruled that the book violated the sentence as it was a "a public political activity." To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, click here.

Resist Russian Disinformation as Elections Loom, EU Tells Big Tech

European Commission Vice President Vera Jourova (file photo)

European Commission Vice President Vera Jourova urged Alphabet's Google, Microsoft, Meta Platforms and TikTok on September 26 to do more to tackle what she called Russia's "multimillion euro weapon of mass manipulation" ahead of elections in Europe. Concerns have mounted in recent months about a spate of disinformation related to parliamentary elections in Slovakia on September 30 and Poland next month as well as European Parliament elections next year. The companies and other online platforms have submitted data on their activity in the last six months to fight fake news as part of the EU code of practice on disinformation. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Updated

Video Released By Kosovo Allegedly Shows Ethnic Serb Politician Participating In Monastery Attack

Kosovar police display weapons after an attack on a monastery in the north of the country.

Kosovar authorities have released a video they said implicates a top ethnic Serb businessman in an attack on an Orthodox monastery that left four people dead, including a police officer.

In a statement accompanying the video published on Facebook, Interior Minister Xhelal Svecla said that among the heavily armed men shown in the video was Milan Radoicic, a construction tycoon who is also a top official of the main ethnic Serb political party in Kosovo, Serbian List, funded mainly by Belgrade.

It wasn’t immediately possible to verify Radoicic’s identity in the video, which Svecla said was shot on September 24, apparently by drone.

Radoicic was hit with sanctions by the United States and Britain in 2021 for allegedly being part of an organized crime group in the Balkans.

In the September 24 attack, around 30 people dressed in military-like uniforms stormed the Serbian Orthodox complex in Banjska, sparking a gunbattle with Kosovar police.

Three attackers were killed, along with a Kosovar police officer. Kosovo’s prime minister, Albin Kurti, declared a day of mourning for the slain officer.

The attack, and the murkiness of its circumstances -- no group has come forward to claim responsibility -- comes as tensions continue to mount in the ethnic-Serb-dominated district of Kosovo.

Serbia does not recognize Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence, and squabbling and conflicts erupt frequently over things like license plate registrations and municipal elections.

Some observers speculated the attack might have been a false-flag operation, aimed at generating outrage in Serbia.

Veton Elshani, a top regional police official, told RFE/RL that access to Banjska will continue to be blocked until at least 9:00 a.m. local time on September 27. Elshani said searches conducted on September 26 resulted in the arrest of eight people.

Among those arrested, four had radio communications equipment, police said, and a “significant amount” of weapons, ammunition, and other equipment was also found.

Serbian List, the main political party representing Serbs in Kosovo, on September 27 declared a three-day mourning period to mark the "killing of our fellow citizens in the tragic events in the Banjska village."

At least six of the suspected attackers who escaped are now in Serbia receiving treatment at a hospital there, Svecla told reporters, and he demanded Serbia hand them over to Kosovar authorities.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has denied that Belgrade was involved in the incident.

He also repeated that Serbia would “never” recognize Kosovo’s independence, "neither formally nor informally.”

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on both Kosovo and Serbia to avoid worsening tensions.

"We call on the governments of Kosovo and Serbia to refrain from any actions or rhetoric which could further inflame tensions and to immediately work in coordination with international partners to de-escalate the situation,” Blinken said in a statement.

Western officials are mediating talks between Serbia and Kosovo as part of a decade-long diplomatic push toward formalized relations and repairing some of the wounds from internecine wars in the 1990s after the breakup of Yugoslavia.

In May and June, Kurti ignored outside warnings and tried to forcibly install four mayors in mostly Serbian northern municipalities following boycotted by-elections to fill posts vacated by protesting Serbs.

The resulting tensions erupted in violence that injured dozens of NATO-led peacekeepers and some ethnic Serb protesters.

With reporting by AFP

Ukrainian Captain Gets 5 1/2 Year Sentence For Deadly Budapest Boat Accident

The Mermaid, which sank in the Danube in 2019, is lifted from the river as part of a salvage operation. (file photo)

A Ukrainian captain of a cruise liner was sentenced to five and a half years in prison in Hungary for his role in a 2019 accident in which his boat hit and sank a smaller boat on the River Danube, killing 25 South Korean tourists and two crew. In the worst disaster on the Danube in more than half a century, the smaller boat called the Mermaid, which had 35 people on board, sank after being hit under a bridge in Budapest during heavy rain. The Mermaid's captain and a crew member also died and one Korean is still unaccounted for. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Polish Experts Confirm Missile That Hit Grain Facility Was Ukrainian

Polish investigators work at the site where a missile struck a grain facility in the village of Przewodow last November. (file photo)

Polish experts have confirmed that a missile which killed two people at a grain facility in November was fired by Ukraine, the Rzeczpospolita daily reported, citing sources. The explosion of the missile in NATO-member Poland fueled fears that the war in Ukraine could spiral into a wider conflict by triggering the alliance's mutual defense clause, but at the time Warsaw and NATO said that they believed that it was a Ukrainian projectile that had strayed off course. Sources with knowledge of the investigation told Rzeczpospolita that Poland had established that the missile that landed in the village of Przewodow was an S 300 5-W-55 air-defense missile. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Updated

Armenia Says 28,000 Arrive From Nagorno-Karabakh, Reports 125 Deaths In Explosion

People fleeing from Nagorno-Karabakh wait after crossing the border into Armenia and arriving at a registration center on September 25.

More than 28,000 people have arrived in Armenia from Nagorno-Karabakh, the government in Yerevan said on September 26 amid a massive exodus that followed an Azerbaijani offensive that gave Baku complete control of the mountainous region.

The Armenian government said that as of 8 p.m. local time the number of people who had entered was 28,120, and registration had already been completed for 20,800 of them. The government is providing housing for all who do not have a place to go.

The Armenian Health Ministry, meanwhile, said the number of deaths from an explosion that occurred on September 25 at a gas station near the enclave's capital, Stapanakert, had risen to 125.

Nagorno-Karabakh authorities said earlier on September 26 that at least 20 people were killed and nearly 300 others injured in the explosion, which occurred as people seeking to flee to Armenia lined up to fuel their cars in order to leave the region.

The cause of the blast has not been determined.

Azerbaijan opened the only road leading from the region to Armenia on September 24, four days after a cease-fire agreement that ended a lightning military operation.

Baku has pledged equal treatment for mainly ethnic Armenian residents who are fleeing, but the Armenian government has warned of possible “ethnic cleansing.”

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev that he must protect civilians in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Blinken spoke by phone with Aliyev to underscore “the urgency of no further hostilities” and to state that there be “unconditional protections and freedom of movement for civilians,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters.

Blinken also told Aliyev that there must be unhindered humanitarian access to Nagorno-Karabakh.

Samantha Power, the top official at the U.S. Agency for International Development, said Baku's use of force was unacceptable, and she called on Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev to protect ethnic Armenians’ rights.

Armenian Protesters Block Traffic In Yerevan
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She said it was "absolutely critical" that independent monitors and aid organizations be given access to people in Nagorno-Karabakh, and she later announced a $11.5-million package of humanitarian aid for Armenia.

In Brussels, envoys from Baku and Yerevan met with European Council diplomats in the first such encounter since Azerbaijan's recapture of Nagorno-Karabakh following a nine-month blockade of the region that Armenian officials said had deprived the enclave's residents of food, medicine, and other essentials.

The EU stressed in a statement the need for transparency and access for international humanitarian and human rights groups and for more detail on Baku’s vision for Karabakh Armenians’ future in Azerbaijan.

During the meeting Hikmet Hajiyev, a foreign policy adviser to Aliyev, outlined Azerbaijan’s plans to provide humanitarian assistance and security to the local population.

The meeting also discussed a possible meeting of Nagorno-Karabakh stakeholders on October 5 in Granada.

"The participants took note of the shared interest of Armenia and Azerbaijan to make use of the possible meeting in Granada to continue their normalization efforts," the statement said.

Armenian representative Armen Grigorian and Hajiyev "engaged in talks on possible concrete steps to advance the Armenia-Azerbaijan peace process in the upcoming possible meeting, such as those with regard to border delimitation, security, connectivity, humanitarian issues, and the broader peace treaty," the statement said.

The statement added that the EU believes that the meeting should be used by both Yerevan and Baku to reiterate publicly their commitment to each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty in line with previous agreements.

Armenia and Azerbaijan have fought two wars in the last three decades over the region, which had been a majority ethnic Armenian enclave within the internationally recognized border of Azerbaijan since the Soviet collapse.

The region initially came under the control of ethnic Armenian forces, backed by the Armenian military, in separatist fighting that ended in 1994. During a war in 2020, however, Azerbaijan took back parts of Nagorno-Karabakh along with surrounding territory that Armenian forces had claimed during the earlier conflict.

That fighting ended with a Russia-brokered cease-fire and the deployment of Russian peacekeepers. Those peacekeepers did little, however, to prevent the advances by Azerbaijani forces.

With reporting by RFE/RL’s Armenian and Azerbaijani services, AP, AFP, The New York Times, and Reuters

Siberian Anti-War Feminist Activist Found Dead In Turkey

Russian activist Anastasia Yemelyanova (file photo)

Anastasia Yemelyanova, a noted anti-war feminist activist from the Siberian city of Novosibirsk, has been found dead in the eastern Turkish city of Erzurum, her friend Anastasia Polozkova said late on September 24. According to Polozkova, Turkish police detained Yemelyanova's boyfriend from Syria, Nizar, as a suspect. Yemelyanova, who recently moved to Turkey, went missing on September 20. She was known for her activities that defended women's rights and looked to stop domestic violence. She also protested against Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Siberia.Realities, click here.

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