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Prosecutors Seek Six Years In Prison For Nazarbaev's Nephew

Qairat Satybaldy (left) in a Kazakh courtroom on September 20.

ASTANA -- Prosecutors at the high-profile trial of a nephew of Kazakhstan's former strongman president, Nursultan Nazarbaev, have asked a court in Astana to sentence the defendant to six years in prison on fraud and embezzlement charges.

Prosecutors also asked the Baiqonyr district court on September 22 to deprive Qairat Satybaldy of the rank of major general in the Committee of National Security and of his state awards and medals, as well as to bar the defendant from occupying state posts for 10 years.

Satybaldy, whose trial started earlier this week, pleaded guilty to all charges and said he regrets his misdeeds, adding that he agrees with the prosecutor's proposal.

Satybaldy was arrested in early March while trying to board a plane heading to Turkey. The probe launched against him is one of a series of investigations targeting relatives and allies of Nazarbaev.

Kazakhstan’s Anti-Corruption Agency said late last month that Satybaldy and four other unnamed individuals are suspected of embezzling an unspecified amount of money from Kazakhtelecom and Transport Service Center state companies.

The agency also said at the time that $500 million had been returned to the state treasury and that 29 percent of Kazakhtelecom's shares that had been controlled by Satybaldy were put back under state control.

Satybaldy's former wife, Gulmira, was also arrested in March on charges of embezzlement and the illegal takeover of a private business.

After unprecedented anti-government protests in early January, the Kazakh regime began to quietly target Nazarbaev, his family, and other allies -- many of whom held powerful or influential posts in government, security agencies, and profitable energy companies.

President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev, whom Nazarbaev hand-picked as successor after stepping down in 2019, started distancing himself from the former leader after the January unrest, which was fueled by Kazakhs’ exasperation with cronyism and corruption.

Toqaev stripped Nazarbaev of the sweeping powers he had retained as the head of the Security Council after resigning.

Just days after the protests, two of Nazarbaev’s sons-in-law were pushed out of top jobs at two major oil and gas companies.

Another son-in-law, Timur Kulibaev, resigned as chairman of the country’s main business lobby group, while in late February, Nazarbaev's eldest daughter, Darigha, was apparently forced to give up her parliamentary seat.

Authorities also launched probes against leaders of a company linked to Nazarbaev's youngest daughter, Aliya.

In June, Toqaev said he had created a commission to "return cash illegally taken out of Kazakhstan" by "a narrow circle of people who had illegally taken over" a large portion of the country’s wealth.

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Lukashenka Reportedly In Russia To Meet Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) and Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka in Moscow in 2018.

Local media are reporting that Belarus's authoritarian leader, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, has flown to Russia to meet with President Vladimir Putin.

No details of the September 26 meeting were given.

Belarus has been a close ally of Russia during its war in Ukraine.

Lukashenka has allowed Putin to use Belarusian territory to stage attacks on Ukraine since the Kremlin launched its invasion on February 24.

Based on reporting by Belta and Belsat
Updated

Gunman Kills 13, Including Children, In Shooting Spree At Russian School

The scene in Izhevsk near where the shooting took place.

A gunman in Izhevsk, the capital of Russia's Republic of Udmurtia, has killed 13 people, including seven children, the fourth school shooting in the region in the past 15 months.

Russia's Investigative Committee said on September 26 that the gunman has been identified as Artem Kazantsev, a man in his early 30s who was a graduate of school No. 88, which is attended by students from kindergarten up to the end of high school.

The gunman, who some media outlets said was wearing a T-shirt with a swastika on it, shot himself dead at the scene, the committee said, adding that 21 persons, including 14 children, were wounded in the incident.

The Investigative Committee also said that its Main Investigative Directorate in Moscow is investigating the shooting.

Shootings at schools and other educational institutions in Russia and other former Soviet republics were very rare until recent years, when the numbers of incidents has risen.

In April 2022, in Veshkaima, an armed man entered a kindergarten and killed two children and a teacher before shooting himself, while in September 2021, a mass shooting took place at the Perm State National Research University, which resulted in the deaths of six people.

Five months before that, 19-year-old Ilnaz Galyaviev opened fire at Kazan school No. 175. Nine people died in that shooting, including seven children.

Reservist Shoots Enlistment Officer Amid Russia's Unpopular Mobilization For War In Ukraine

A gunman opens fire at a military draft office in Ust-Ilimsk in this screen grab obtained from social media.

A man has shot a military commissioner at an enlistment center in Siberia who was recruiting soldiers amid rising tensions over the Kremlin's unpopular partial military mobilization to support Russia's ongoing unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

The governor of the Irkutsk region, Igor Kobzev, said on September 26 that the military commissioner, who was shot in the city of Ust-Ilimsk, is in grave condition at a local hospital.

Media reports identified the shooter as 25-year-old Ruslan Zinin, who had been called to report for mobilization that day.

The Babr Mash Telegram channel posted a video reportedly taken at the moment of the shooting that showed paramedics taking a wounded man away and the moment the shooter was detained.

Russia's Investigative Committee said it has launched a probe into "attempted murder and the illegal possession, transportation, and use of a weapon."

The mobilization for the war in Ukraine announced by President Vladimir Putin last week has been met with countrywide protests and the mass flight of men potentially eligible for military duty from Russia.

Almost 2,500 people have been detained in Russian towns and cities for protesting against mobilization, while several military enlistment centers and other administrative buildings in the country have been targeted in arson attacks in recent days.

The largest protest against the mobilization took place over the weekend in Makhachkala, the capital of the North Caucasus region of Daghestan.

With reporting by Babr Mash, Interfax, Baza, Mash, and TASS

After Years Of Denial, Putin Ally Admits He Founded Russian Paramilitary Group Vagner

Yevgeny Prigozhin, known as "Putin's chef" due to his Kremlin catering contracts, has already been sanctioned by the United States and European Union for his role in Vagner. 

Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, a close associate of President Vladimir Putin, has admitted he founded the private paramilitary Vagner group after years of denying any links to the mercenaries who have been involved in the ongoing war in Ukraine, as well as conflicts in Syria and Africa.

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

In response to a question asked by a journalist from the Bloknot online newspaper, Prigozhin said in a statement posted on September 26 to a VKontakte account belonging to his Konkord company that he himself created the paramilitary private group in 2014 on "a military test field" after he realized that military formations that planned to take part in the war in Ukraine's eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk were poorly prepared and unprofessional.

Prigozhin, known as "Putin's chef" due to his Kremlin catering contracts, has already been sanctioned by the United States and European Union for his role in Vagner.

The Kremlin has denied any ties with the Vagner group as Russian laws do not allow creation of such kind of paramilitary groups.

Prigozhin said he avoided admitting to his links to Vagner so as "not to put these guys who are the foundation of Russian patriotism under fire."

According to Prigozhin, Vagner troops took over an airport and many other territories in Ukraine's Luhansk region in 2014. He called the paramilitary group "heroes who defended the people of Syria and other Arabic nations, poor people in Africa and Latin America."

Prigozhin has launched lawsuits against several journalists who reported that he was behind the Vagner group.

In August, Moscow's Presnensky district court recognized as false a statement by Aleksei Venediktov, the former chief editor of the now defunct Ekho Moskvy independent radio station, after he said that Prigozhin was the owner of Vagner.

In July, Prigozhin sued investigative journalist Lilia Yapparova and the editorial director of Latvia-based media outlet Meduza, Tatyana Yershova, after the journalists had sent a query to Prigozhin asking him to comment on allegations that he is the owner of the Vagner group.

Recent media reports have said that Prigozhin and his group were involved in recruiting inmates across the country to assist in Russia's ongoing unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

Earlier this month, a video circulated on the Internet showing a person looking like Prigozhin talking to a large group of inmates in a penal colony in Russia's Mari El Republic during a recruiting trip for the paramilitary group.

Commenting on the video at the time, Prigozhin did not confirm or deny that he was the man in the video, saying only that "either inmates, or your children," will fight in Ukraine.

Prigozhin's admission comes less than a week after Putin announced a partial mobilization in the country, a move that prompted protests across Russia and a mass exodus of men who feared they may be called up for duty.

Russian Patriarch Kirill Says Dying In Ukraine 'Washes Away All Sins'

Patriarch Kirill (right) with Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. (file photo)

Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, has told his followers that "sacrifice in the course of carrying out your military duty washes away all sins."

The patriarch's comments during his Sunday sermon on September 25 came amid nationwide protests and rising criticism over the Kremlin's recent announcement of a partial mobilization to replenish Russian forces fighting in Ukraine.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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

Western officials estimate that Russia has suffered 70,000 to 80,000 casualties since it invaded Ukraine in February.

Russian officials have said the draft would focus on reservists and would bring 300,000 fresh troops to the war effort. But Russian media has said the real target is 1 million new troops, and reports that men with no combat experience and beyond draft age are being enlisted has attracted criticism even from pro-Kremlin voices.

Kirill, a prominent supporter of President Vladimir Putin who has "blessed" the war effort and warned by Pope Francis against becoming "Putin's altar boy," has previously claimed that Russians were doing a "heroic deed" by killing Ukrainians, even as he has urged them not to see the Ukrainian people as enemies.

"We know that many today are dying in the fields of internecine battle," Kirill said at a church near Moscow on September 25. "The church is praying that this battle will end as soon as possible, that as few brothers as possible will kill each other in this fratricidal war."

However, he added, "The church realizes that if someone, driven by a sense of duty and the need to honor his oath, stays loyal to his vocation and dies while carrying out his military duty, then he is, without any doubt, doing a deed that is equal to sacrifice."

After Putin announced the military mobilization on September 21, Kirill was quoted by Russian state media as saying that "danger looms over the Ukrainian people," claiming that unidentified forces were trying to turn them from being "part of the holy united Rus into a state hostile to this Rus, hostile to Russia."

Kirill sees Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine launched in February as a bulwark against a decadent West and has insisted that "Russia has never attacked anyone."

About 34 percent of Orthodox believers in Ukraine identify with the main Orthodox Church of Ukraine, which in 2019 was officially recognized as separate from the Moscow Patriarchate by Orthodox Christianity's spiritual head, Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople.

About 14 percent of Ukraine's Orthodox community are members of Ukraine's Moscow Patriarchate Church, according to a 2020 study.

Following Russia's invasion in February, about 400 parishes of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine that had remained loyal to Kirill cut ties with the Russian Orthodox Church over the patriarch's position on the war.

"Not only did he fail to condemn Russia's military aggression, but he also failed to find words for the suffering of the Ukrainian people," church spokesman Archbishop Kliment said of Kirill's stance in May.

Days later, Kirill said he understood the decision to cut ties amid Moscow's invasion but claimed that the "spirits of malice" were trying to divide the Orthodox people of Russia and Ukraine.

More than 150 Russian Orthodox clerics called for a stop to the war in an open letter on March 1. Kirill was not among those who signed it.

Britain imposed sanctions against Kirill in June as part of a package aimed at punishing Moscow over the war in Ukraine. The measure came shortly after the EU dropped a similar proposal to sanction Kirill following opposition from Russia-friendly bloc member Hungary.

Jen Psaki, who was spokeswoman for the White House at the time, said in May when asked about the possibility of sanctioning Kirill that "no one is safe from our sanctions."

With reporting by TASS, Ukrainska Pravda, and Meduza

OECD Says War In Ukraine To Have Greater Impact On Global Economy Than Expected

A ship carrying a cargo of 26,000 tons of corn leaves Ukraine’s port of Odessa en route to Lebanon on August 1.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) says Russia's war in Ukraine, now in its eighth month, will have a greater impact on the global economy than previously expected.

The OECD said on September 26 that it had slashed its growth forecast for the global economy to 2.2 percent in 2023 from a previous estimate of 2.8 percent.

"The world economy is paying a high price for Russia’s unprovoked, unjustifiable, and illegal war of aggression against Ukraine," the OECD said in a regular report updating its economic outlook.

"With the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic still lingering, the war is dragging down growth and putting additional upward pressure on prices, above all for food and energy. Global GDP stagnated in the second quarter of 2022 and output declined in the G20 economies," it added.

The report said that high inflation is persisting for longer than expected and that in many economies, inflation in the first half of 2022 was at its highest since the 1980s.

"With recent indicators taking a turn for the worse, the global economic outlook has darkened," the OECD said.

Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine on February 24.

Far-Right Euroskeptic Meloni Set To Become Italy's First Female Prime Minister

As returns showed her heading to victory, Giorgia Meloni appeared to try to tone down her nationalist messaging in an effort to reassure wary EU and international partners.

Far-right politician Giorgia Meloni appears set to become Italy's first female prime minister, after near final results showed her Euroskeptic party with neo-fascist roots winning the country's parliamentary elections.

“If we are called to govern this nation, we will do it for everyone. We will do it for all Italians, and we will do it with the aim of uniting the people [of this country],” Meloni said in her victory speech following the September 25 polls that saw record low turnout.

Meloni has downplayed the neo-fascist origins of her Brothers of Italy party, which took more than 26 percent of the vote and which she casts as mainstream and center-right.

The 45-year-old now faces the task of forming a ruling coalition with the help of right-wing and center-right allies, who as a bloc took about 44 percent of the vote.

The coalition poised to take control of both chambers of parliament includes parties whose leaders have close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin and who have questioned the backlash against Moscow following its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

Former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who heads the center-right Forza party, said just days before the vote that "Putin was pushed" by his cabinet, party, and the Russian people into invading Ukraine in February.

Matteo Salvini, leader of the right-wing League party, has expressed concerns that EU sanctions against Russia could end up hurting Italy's economic interests.

Meloni has been a staunch supporter of supplying Ukraine with weapons to defend itself and has pledged to back Western policy opposing Russia's war against Ukraine.

She has been critical of “Brussels bureaucrats,” however, and recently defended Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban against EU concerns about a democratic backslide and corruption in his country, which the European Parliament recently classified as an "electoral autocracy."

As returns showed her heading to victory, Meloni appeared to try to tone down her nationalist messaging in an effort to reassure wary EU and international partners.

“This is the time for being responsible,” Meloni said on live television, describing the situation for Italy and the European Union as “particularly complex.”

Right-wing politicians from Germany, France, and Poland were quick to congratulate Meloni on her apparent victory.

Meloni's coalition government is not expected to be installed before the end of October, leaving caretaker prime minister Mario Draghi as head of the government for now.

With reporting by AP and Reuters

Zelenskiy Says Intense Fighting Showing 'Positive Results,' As West Responds To Putin's Nuclear Threat

A Ukrainian soldier reacts as he receives an injection during an evacuation of injured soldiers in a region near the retaken village of Shchurove on September 25.

Ukraine's president said late on September 25 that there was fierce fighting taking place on the front lines of its 7-month-old defense against Russia's invasion but that Kyiv was seeing "positive results."

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's battlefield assessment came after he warned in a broadcast interview earlier in the day against dismissing Russian President Vladimir Putin's nuclear threats as Moscow's forces lose ground.

Meanwhile, new British Prime Prime Minister Liz Truss downplayed Putin's recent statements as "saber-rattling" and "bogus threats," and U.S. national-security adviser Jake Sullivan said Washington had outlined to Moscow the "catastrophic consequences" it would face if it used nuclear weapons against Ukraine.

In his nightly video address, Zelenskiy claimed gains against Russian forces in the eastern Donetsk, northeastern Kharkiv, and the southern Mykolayiv and Zaporizhzhya regions.

"We have positive results in several directions." he said.

Russia and its separatist allies in the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhya regions of Ukraine have been holding votes on possible independence and union with Russia that they call referendums but Kyiv and many in the international community have said are a sham.

The votes are scheduled to conclude on September 27.

They were announced amid Ukrainian counteroffensives in northeastern and eastern Ukraine that Kyiv has said have wrested back thousands of square kilometers this month.

Putin and other Russian officials have suggested the votes will result in an irreversible transformation of those areas to make them part of Russia. And Putin suggested this week that Moscow could use all means at its disposal to defend them.

After his speech to the UN General Assembly in New York, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was asked if Moscow would have grounds for using nuclear weapons to defend the annexed regions.

He said territory "further enshrined" in Russia's constitution "is under the full protection of the state."

Zelenskiy, who has vowed Ukraine will reclaim all of its lost territory, said in an interview with a U.S. broadcaster on September 25 that "maybe yesterday it was a bluff. Now, it could be a reality."

He added of Putin: "He wants to scare the whole world. These are the first steps of his nuclear blackmail. I don't think he's bluffing."

Truss told CNN in a September 25 interview: "We should not be listening to [Putin's] saber-rattling and his bogus threats."

"Instead, what we need to do is continue to put sanctions on Russia and continue to support the Ukrainians because if Putin is allowed to succeed, this wouldn't just send a terrible message in Europe and, of course, huge threats to the Ukrainian population themselves, but it also would send a message to other authoritarian regimes around the world that it's somehow acceptable to...invade a sovereign nation."

U.S. officials were less dismissive of the Kremlin threat.

"If Russia crosses this line, there will be catastrophic consequences for Russia; the United States will respond decisively," Sullivan said on U.S. television.

With reporting by Reuters, dpa, and CNN

U.S. Welcomes Release Of RFE/RL Journalist, Calls On Belarus To Free More Political Prisoners

Aleh Hruzdzilovich (file photo)

The United States has welcomed the release of RFE/RL correspondent Aleh Hruzdzilovich, who was sentenced to 18 months in prison by Belarusian authorities for allegedly participating in anti-government demonstrations that he was covering as an accredited journalist.

U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price, commenting on September 25 on the release of Hruzdzilovich and other political prisoners who had been rounded up in a crackdown on dissent, said that the move by the Belarusian authorities was a "step in the right direction" but that more moves need to follow.

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"Too many political prisoners remain behind bars in Belarus," Price said in a statement. "We call for the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners."

Hruzdzilovich arrived in Lithuania on September 21 accompanied by his wife, Maryana, after he was released from a prison in the region of Mahilyou where he had been held since May.

RFE/RL President Jamie Fly, who previously condemned his prison sentence as “illegitimate,” hailed the release of Hruzdzilovich, who had served as an RFE/RL correspondent focusing on human rights since the 1990s.

“Aleh was robbed of time he will never get back with his family while wrongly imprisoned, and I am overjoyed that he will now be reunited with his wife and other loved ones,” Fly said immediately after Hruzdzilovich's release. “I am grateful to members of the international and advocacy communities for their unwavering support of Aleh’s case, but our work is not done.”

Fly noted that two other Belarusians who have been imprisoned since the crackdown -- RFE/RL consultant and blogger Ihar Losik and RFE/RL freelance correspondent Andrey Kuznechyk -- remain behind bars and “should also be released immediately.”

A court in Minsk sentenced Hruzdzilovich in early March for his presence at mass protests challenging the official results of the 2020 presidential election in Belarus that handed authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka a sixth term in office. Hruzdzilovich was also ordered to pay 56,000 rubles ($16,600) in compensation to the Mensktrans city transportation agency, which was a plaintiff in the case.

Mensktrans claimed Hruzdzilovich’s participation in three unsanctioned rallies cost it revenue. At one demonstration, Hruzdzilovich said he was working as a correspondent with accreditation issued by the Foreign Ministry, while at the other two protests he was working as a correspondent for the Narodnaya volya (People's Will) newspaper.

Hruzdzilovich was arrested in December amid a harsh crackdown by Belarusian authorities on independent media, rights activists, and democratic institutions in the wake of the protests. The opposition and West say the vote was rigged and that opposition candidate Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya won the election.

Updated

Russia Continues Crackdown On Spreading Anti-Mobilization Protests As Draft Criticism Grows

Russian police detain a protester during a rally against the mobilization of reservists ordered by President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on September 24.

The number of people detained in Russia for protesting against the country's partial military mobilization has risen to nearly 2,500 people across the country, as prominent pro-Kremlin voices have begun questioning the way the draft is being conducted.

OVD-Info, a human rights group that monitors political arrests in Russia, said that 2,353 people had been detained as of September 25, and at least 141 new detentions had been recorded on September 26.

The highest one-day number of detentions came on September 21, when protests were held in 43 cities immediately after the draft was announced.

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The rights group has said that there might be more detainees than those published by police and that it was only reporting names it could verify.

It was unclear if the latest figures included the detentions of anti-mobilization protesters in the capital of the southern Russian republic of Daghestan on September 25.

Caucasus.Realities reported that police dispersed an unknown number of people who had gathered in Makhachkala to express their anger over the draft.

In one of multiple videos shared on Telegram capturing the confrontation, a police officer is shown beating a protester as two other officers hold the man down.

OVD-Info said on September 26 that protesters who were detained in Makhachkala were beaten after being taken to a police department in the city's Leninsky district, and that officers had refused to provide detainees with water.

The rights group also quoted a correspondent for the Caucasian Knot website as saying that he was held along with 60 other detainees at an Interior Ministry branch in Makhachkala's Soviet district.

The correspondent, Murad Muradov, said that "some of the detainees were forced by the police to sign a protocol, threatening that otherwise they would be given a summons to the military registration and enlistment office." In at least one case, Muradov added, "they carried out their threat."

WATCH: Hundreds came out in the North Caucasus region of Daghestan on September 25 to protest against the partial mobilization announced by Russian President Vladimir Putin on September 21 in an effort to step up the ongoing war against Ukraine.

Protesters In Russia's Daghestan Rally Against Military Call-Up
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The nationwide demonstrations erupted within hours of President Vladimir Putin announcing the partial military mobilization on September 21, which is intended to buttress Russian military forces fighting in Ukraine.

Russian police have been mobilized in cities where protests were called for by the opposition group Vesna and supporters of opposition politician Aleksei Navalny.

Images on Russian media have shown scenes of police using force against demonstrators, and many young men detained during the protests have reportedly been summoned to register for military service.

In Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula that Russia occupied and annexed in 2014, the Russian-installed leadership said on September 25 that their mobilization would be completed by the end of the day.

The call-up came as Russian forces suffered significant losses of occupied territories in Ukraine's east owing to a counteroffensive launched by the Ukrainian military. Putin followed up on his mobilization order on September 24 by imposing harsher penalties against Russians who willingly surrendered to Ukrainian forces or refused orders to mobilize.

Russian officials have said that up to 300,000 reserve forces will be called up and that only those with relevant combat and service experience will be drafted to fight. However, Russian media reports have surfaced saying that men who have never been in the military or who are past draft age are being called up, and foreign media have reported that the real goal is to mobilize more than 1 million soldiers, which the Kremlin denies.

Western officials say that Russia has suffered 70,000 to 80,000 casualties, accounting for both deaths and injuries, since it launched its unprovoked war in Ukraine in February.

The mobilization to replenish those losses has seen men across Russia sent to register and to reports of Russian citizens attempting to flee the country.

Several military enlistment centers and other administrative buildings in the country have been targeted in arson attacks in recent days, and on September 26 a military commissioner was shot by an apparent recruit at an enlistment center in Siberia.

Media reports say the 25-year-old shooter had been called to report to the office in the city of Ust-Ilimsk for mobilization that day.

The draft has also led to rare complaints by pro-Kremlin voices.

Margarita Simonyan, the editor in chief of the state-backed media outlet RT, wrote on her Telegram channel on September 24 that while it had been announced that only people up to the age of 35 would be recruited, "summonses are going to 40-year-olds."

"They're infuriating people, as if on purpose, as if out of spite," Simonyan said of the authorities behind the draft.

The same day, the head of the Russian president's Human Rights Council, Valery Fadeyev, called on Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu to put a halt to the manner with which many draft boards in the country were proceeding.

On September 25, two of Russia's most senior lawmakers weighed in on the growing controversy.

In a Telegram post, Valentina Matviyenko, chairwoman of Russia's Federation Council, said that she was aware of reports that men who should be ineligible for the draft are being called up.

"Such excesses are absolutely unacceptable. And I consider it absolutely right that they are triggering a sharp reaction in society," she wrote.

Vyacheslav Volodin, speaker of the State Duma, wrote in a separate post that "complaints are being received."

"If a mistake is made, it is necessary to correct it," he said. "Authorities at every level should understand their responsibilities."

Balkan Ally Serbia Says It Won't Recognize Russia's Staged Votes In Occupied Ukraine

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (left) and his Serbian counterpart, Nikola Selakovic, in Belgrade in December 2020.

Russian ally Serbia has said it won't recognize the current votes in Russian-held parts of Ukraine that Kyiv has called "sham" referendums, dealing another international blow to the Kremlin's hastily organized effort at consolidating early gains in its 7-month-old invasion.

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Foreign Minister Nikola Selakovic said on September 25 in Belgrade that "Serbia cannot accept these results" due to its commitment to the UN Charter and respect for international law, among other things.

Doing so "would completely violate our national and state interests, the preservation of sovereignty and territorial integrity, and the inviolability of borders," he said.

Serbia has kept close relations with Russia in particular to bolster its refusal to recognize the 2008 declaration of sovereignty by its former province Kosovo, which is now recognized by more than 100 countries.

Moscow has repeatedly cited the Kosovo case as an example of Western overreach.

Selakovic and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov signed a so-called consultation plan for their countries for the next two years on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York this week.

It was the first high-level diplomatic document that Serbia and Russia have signed since February 24, when the large-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine began.

The European Union's rapporteur for EU hopeful Serbia, Vladimir Bilicik, greeted news of the signing as "a major blow to [the] accession process in the Western Balkans."

"Let’s be clear: [Russia] is mobilizing to attack [EU] candidate state [Ukraine], Russia is attacking EU enlargement!" Bilicik said.

Belgrade backed several UN resolutions condemning Russia's invasion but has avoided joining EU-wide sanctions joined by the bloc's other aspiring members.

The so-called referendums in the Russia-held areas in Ukraine of the Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhya regions have been dismissed as frauds by Ukraine, the West, and the United Nations because they are illegal under international law.

Moscow has suggested it will defend them as part of Russia after the votes.

Updated

Russia Pressing Men In Occupied Areas Of Ukraine Into Fight Against Ukrainian Forces

Sergei Aksyonov (file photo)

Reports say Russia has already begun rounding up men in occupied parts of southern and eastern Ukraine to compel them to fight their countrymen seven months into the Russian invasion in a widely anticipated move that Kyiv has warned is a breach of international law.

The Geneva Conventions forbid occupation forces from compelling the local population to enlist in the occupier's armed forces.

RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service quoted the Moscow-installed leader of annexed Crimea, Sergei Aksyonov, as saying on September 25 that his authorities had already delivered 1,200 troops to mainland Ukraine in response to Russian President Vladimir Putin's partial-mobilization order on September 21.

Aksyonov said on September 25 that "Crimea will finish the mobilization measures today by the end of the day, carrying them out in full," according to RFE/RL's Russian Service.

He had previously said mobilized Crimeans would be sent to Sevastopol "for retraining."

But on September 25, Aksyonov said 1,200 "volunteers" had been sent to mainland Ukraine and two more "battalions" were being prepared.

There are concerns that, as in parts of Russia, Moscow-backed authorities are pressing minorities and other vulnerable groups into military service.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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

Human rights activists said about 5,000 Crimean residents had already received summonses since Putin's call-up announcement on September 21.

Russian authorities reportedly this week forbid Crimeans from leaving the peninsula without the permission of the military authorities.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who has vowed to fight until his country wins back "every centimeter" Russia has occupied, has said Kyiv has evidence that occupation authorities are targeting Crimeans to fight for Russia.

He has stressed that forced conscription by occupying armies of local populations contravenes international law.

Moscow incorporated Crimea into the Russian Federation in 2014, but a UN vote overwhelmingly rejected that annexation and supported Ukraine's territorial integrity.

Russia controls around one-fifth of Ukraine seven months into its full-scale invasion, including the Crimean Peninsula that it forcibly annexed in 2014. But a Ukrainian counteroffensive this month has retaken thousands of square kilometers, according to Kyiv.

This week, Russia and its separatist allies in eastern Ukraine organized what Kyiv dubbed "sham" referendums on September 23-27 in four areas where they control large swaths of territory: Donetsk and Luhansk in the east and Kherson and Zaporizhzhya in the southeast.

The New York Times on September 25 quoted witnesses and Ukrainian officials as saying all men between the ages of 18 and 35 have been forbidden to leave Russia-controlled territory around Kherson and Zaporizhzhya and ordered to report for military duty.

It quoted sources as saying many young men are in hiding or trying to escape.

The Geneva Conventions also prohibit the transfer of civilians from occupied regions into its own territory, a safeguard that Russia quickly abandoned in this conflict as it vetted and forcibly moved Ukrainians from the war zone into Russian territory by the tens of thousands with the use of "filtration" centers.

Ukraine Says U.S. Decision To Provide NASAMS Air-Defense Systems 'Already Made'

NASAMS anti-aircraft missile systems are deployed during preparations ahead of the Nuclear Security Summit in Noordwijk, the Netherlands, in 2014.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has said that U.S. President Joe Biden's administration had already decided to provide Ukraine with sophisticated air-defense systems known as NASAMS as Kyiv fights off a seven-month-old Russian military invasion.

It is thought to be the first public acknowledgement by either side that Ukraine was being given the National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System.

There was no immediate confirmation from U.S. officials of the decision, which reportedly came in late August.

"We absolutely need the United States to show leadership and give Ukraine the air-defense systems. I want to thank President Biden for a positive decision that has been already made," Zelenskiy said in the interview broadcast on September 25, as quoted by Reuters.

Ukrainian officials have reportedly been lobbying for the NASAMS.

"But believe me, it's not even nearly enough to cover the civilian infrastructure, schools, hospitals, universities, homes of Ukrainians" that have been destroyed or threatened, Zelenskiy said of the purported air-defense boost.

Zelenskiy also thanked U.S. officials for so-called high-mobility artillery rocket systems (HIMARS) that have already been supplied and other systems helping Ukraine battle the largest army invasion in Europe since World War II.

Based on reporting by Reuters

Mongolia Also Reports Thousands Of Russian Men Entering Since Putin Ordered Call-Up

Mongolian border guards check vehicles arriving from Russia at the Mongolian border checkpoint of Altanbulag on September 25.

There were long lines of cars at a border crossing from Russia to Mongolia on September 25, with thousands of new arrivals to that East Asian country since a Kremlin call-up announcement threatened Russian men with conscription.

The increase in Russian traffic to Mongolia comes amid reports of similar crowding to leave Russia via land routes for Finland, Georgia, and Armenia since President Vladimir Putin ordered a partial mobilization on September 21.

Western military experts estimate that Russia has lost tens of thousands of casualties so far in its seven-month-old invasion of Ukraine.

AFP quoted the head of a checkpoint in the Mongolian town of Altanbulag as saying more than 3,000 Russians had crossed into Mongolia there in the past five days, about five out of six of them men.

"From September 21, the number of Russian citizens entering Mongolia has increased," the checkpoint commander said.

There were lines of people with Russian passports at the immigration counter.

Russians can stay 30 days visa-free in Mongolia, and may extend for another 30 days once there.

The call-up is Russia's first since World War II.

Nearly 800 people had been detained amid protests in Moscow and dozens of other cities against Putin's mobilization order by September 24, according to humanitarian group OVD-Info.

Russian media have shown police using force against demonstrators, and eyewitnesses have said the number of protesters have diminished since the first rallies.

Many young men detained during the protests have reportedly been summoned to register for military service.

Flights in Russia also filled up and ticket prices skyrocketed to places like Istanbul and other foreign destinations after the call-up was announced.

Based on reporting by AFP

Moldovan Anti-Government Protesters Set Up Tents Outside President's Residence

Shor Party protesters set up a tent in front of the presidency building on September 25.

Supporters of a fugitive businessman's pro-Russian party have led thousands in a protest outside the Moldovan president's official residence in Chisinau to complain about gas and other price hikes and press their demands for early elections.

Some of them set up around a dozen tents in front of the presidential home on September 25 in a repeat of a similar attempt a week earlier to erect an encampment outside parliament.

They shouted chants of "Down with the government!" and "Down with [President] Maia Sandu!"

The protests were organized by the Shor Party, whose wealthy populist leader Ilan Shor has been abroad since 2019 following fraud and money-laundering convictions two years earlier.

Shor's supporters accuse the government and Sandu of doing too little to combat price hikes -- including a 27 percent natural-gas hike announced on September 23 -- and other setbacks exacerbated by Russia's ongoing war in Ukraine.

But the demonstrators are also demanding an end to the corruption investigations against Shor and other members of the party, which placed third in the 2021 elections behind Sandu's ruling Party of Action and Solidarity (PAS) and the Bloc of Communists and Socialists.

Sandu, who was abroad last week, did not comment on the protests.

But government representatives accused "thieves" concerned about justice reform and the fight against corruption of organizing the demonstrations.

Shor was sentenced to more than seven years in prison in 2017 in connection with the loss of around $1 billion from a trio of Moldovan banks and is now wanted internationally.

Multiple Shor Party members had their parliamentary immunity withdrawn after investigations into a rash of massive thefts between 2013 and 2019 that devastated public confidence, including a lucrative airport concession and the banks case.

Shor Party deputy leader Marina Tauber was placed under house arrest on September 14 after losing her parliamentary immunity nearly two months earlier amid suspicion that she falsified a party financial report and accepted financing from a criminal group.

Moldova is among Europe's poorest states with a separatist-led territory, Transdniester, that is heavily populated by Russian speakers and has around 1,500 Russian troops still stationed at a Soviet-era facility despite Chisinau's request for their departure.

It has also faced some of the toughest fallout from Russia's seven-month-old invasion of neighboring Ukraine, including huge flows of Ukrainian refugees and concerns that Russia's military could try to occupy its territory next.

The pro-Western government in Moldova accelerated its EU bid after Russia invaded Ukraine, and was given candidate status alongside Ukraine.

Earlier this month, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov threatened Moldova with military retaliation if Moldovan officials "threaten the security of our troops" in Transdniester.

With reporting by dpa
Updated

Iranians Protest For 10th Night Despite 'No Leniency' Warnings

Protesters take to the streets on September 25 in Tehran to protest the death of Mahsa Amini in the custody.

Anti-government protests have erupted in Tehran and other cities for a 10th night over the death of a young Iranian woman after a reported beating at the hands of morality police, despite official warnings that an already deadly crackdown would toughen.

The simmering anger over 22-year-old Mahsa Amini's death this month has also sparked demonstrations outside Iranian embassies around the world, including in Paris, where French police used tear gas and anti-riot tactics to thwart a march by hundreds of people on Iran's diplomatic compound.

In Iran's capital, students gathered at Tehran University late on September 25 to chant slogans including "Freedom, freedom, freedom!" and "We will fight, we will die, we will take back Iran!"

They also chanted for the release of jailed students.

In the city of Ekbatan, in western Iran, where Amini is from and where much of the resulting unrest has taken place, demonstrators chanted, "Death to Basiji!" in a cry targeting the volunteer militia full of hard-liners who frequently dispense some of the harshest treatment of demonstrators.

Details of many of the protests are piecemeal, as Iranian officials have blocked Internet and other digital connections as they frequently do in areas of intense unrest.

The head of Iran's powerful judiciary earlier in the day pledged to act "without leniency" in the deadly crackdown on protests.

Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei's comments on the judiciary's official Mizan Online on September 25 followed a warning the previous day by hard-line President Ebrahim Raisi that the country must "deal decisively with those who oppose the country's security and tranquility."

Mizan Online said Mohseni-Ejei had "emphasized the need for decisive action without leniency" against the primary instigators of what he described as "riots."

An official toll said 41 people have so far died in the unrest, but rights groups and other observers suggest the number is likely higher as protests have spread to at least 80 cities and towns.

In the French capital, protesters gathered for a second day to express outrage at Amini's death and express solidarity with Iranians risking their freedom to speak out against the country's hard-line religious leadership.

The French protest began at Trocadero Square in downtown Paris but was met by police in full riot gear and police vans as it approached the Iranian Embassy a short distance away.

Police fired tear gas to disperse the crowd.

Josep Borrell, the European Union's high representative for foreign policy, hours earlier called Iran's crackdown "unjustifiable" and "unacceptable."

Officials in Tehran have blamed foreign governments and other outside elements for fomenting the protests.

Iran's Foreign Ministry said on September 25 that it summoned both the British and Norwegian ambassadors over alleged actions and comments related to the unrest.

It said the British envoy was summoned over Persian-speaking media in London's "invitation to riots" among Iranians.

Tehran summoned Oslo's envoy over what it said were "unconstructive comments" by the Norwegian parliament's Tehran-born speaker, Masud Gharahkhani.

The death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini on September 16 after she fell into a coma following her detention by Iran's morality police for an allegedly loose head covering triggered protests and rallies across Iran.

The public outrage increased after officials suggested the police did not mistreat her despite eyewitness accounts of a beating.

Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi said that "we must wait for the final opinion of the medical examiner, which takes time."

Defiant protesters have mostly come out at night -- many of them women frustrated at decades of discrimination embodied by the harsh dress code mandating the wearing of a headscarf, or hijab, in public.

On September 23, state-organized counterdemonstrations took place in several Iranian cities, paying tribute to security forces who have moved to quell a week of protests by what media called "conspirators."

WhatsApp, Instagram, and Skype have been blocked and Internet access restricted beyond normal levels, according to web monitor NetBlocks, following older bans on Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, and Telegram.

Amnesty International has cited "a harrowing pattern of Iranian security forces deliberately and unlawfully firing live ammunition at protesters." It blamed Iranian security forces for shootings on one night alone, September 21, that left three children and 16 other people dead.

The group urged the international community to take "meaningful action" to force an end to the crackdown.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres met with President Raisi in New York on September 22 and expressed concern "about reports of peaceful protests being met with excessive use of force leading to dozens of deaths and injuries," according to a spokesman.

He called on Iran's security forces to avoid "unnecessary or disproportionate force" and appealed for "restraint to avoid further escalation."

With reporting by Reuters and AFP

Tehran Claims U.S. Signaled 'Will' For New Nuclear Deal; Washington Silent

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian (file photo)

Iran's top diplomat says Tehran received a new signal from the United States that the "will and goodwill" exist in Washington to reach an agreement to replace the nuclear deal that fell apart after a U.S. pullout four years ago.

The official IRNA news agency quoted Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian on September 25 as saying he responded by urging the U.S. side to demonstrate "realism" so the sides could finalize a deal.

Amir-Abdollahian didn't detail how or at what level any exchange had taken place.

U.S. officials have not confirmed any exchange of messages, although diplomats are said to be working on the Iran nuclear issue during the ongoing UN General Assembly in New York.

IRNA quoted Amir-Abdollahian as saying he had met in New York with EU and other envoys whose countries are party to the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) but not providing details.

After 16 months of international negotiations in Vienna and indirect talks between Tehran and Washington, the European Union last month put forward a final offer to overcome an impasse for the revival of the JCPOA from 2015.

Tehran responded publicly by saying it wanted stronger "guarantees" that the U.S. side wouldn't again abandon the deal, and Washington signaled it thought the Iranian response "takes us backwards."

The last official meeting in the EU-facilitated negotiations to replace the JCPOA took place two months ago.

Hard-line Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi -- whose country has been convulsed by deadly protests in dozens of cities since the death in custody of a young student for reportedly breaking Iran's strict Islamic dress code -- was in New York last week to deliver a speech to the UN gathering.

Vahid Jalalzadeh, who heads Iran's National Security and Foreign Policy Commission and accompanied Raisi on his trip, suggested a meeting was sought via Swiss diplomats but did not take place.

Washington has not confirmed any such initiative.

The JCPOA began to collapse when former U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew the United States unilaterally in 2018 and reimposed crippling sanctions on Iran, and Tehran has since strayed from compliance with the deal.

The head of Iran's nuclear agency, Mohammad Eslami, was quoted by state television as saying he would travel to Vienna next week for a meeting with the head of the UN's atomic agency, the IAEA.

"I will go to Austria to take part in the annual general conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, where I will meet with Director-General Rafael Grossi," Eslami said.

The IAEA's annual conference is scheduled for September 26-30.

With reporting by AFP

Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan Trade Accusations At UN Over Recent Border Clashes

Tajik Foreign Minister Sirojiddin Muhriddin speaks at the United Nations General Assembly on September 24.

Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan have continued to blame each other for recent deadly clashes along their border.

Speaking at the UN General Assembly on September 24, Tajik Foreign Minister Sirojiddin Muhriddin responded to a speech made earlier to the assembly by Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov.

Muhriddin repeated Tajikistan's claim that Kyrgyzstan was responsible for deviating from a cease-fire worked out on September 19 to halt the clashes that broke out the week prior.

Kyrgyzstan has said it is fully complying with the agreement.

Muhriddin accused Kyrgyzstan of creating a false appearance of withdrawing its troops and military equipment from the conflict zone and of hiding them in populated areas near its border with Tajikistan.

Muhriddin said that "the responsibility for any next round of tension on the Tajik-Kyrgyz border will lie exclusively with Kyrgyzstan," while also saying his country was willing "to continue negotiations toward building together an atmosphere of peace."

The comments came after Japarov told the General Assembly on September 20 that Tajikistan had violated agreements worked out by former Soviet republics calling for them to respect each other's territorial integrity.

He said that Tajikistan had launched an unprovoked attack on his country in April 2021 and again on September 14 of this year.

Japarov said he was prepared to "spend as much time as possible to resolve" the border dispute.

The latest fighting over the unresolved Tajik-Kyrgyz border has resulted in the deaths of at least 100 people.

Kyrgyz officials say 59 citizens died in the recent clashes and 183 people were injured.

Tajikistan has put its death toll at 41, but correspondents of RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported a higher number after talking to relatives and friends of the people killed during the clashes. They concluded that 59 people, including 31 civilians, lost their lives and compiled a list of those killed.

Many border areas in Central Asia have been disputed since the Soviet Union's collapse in 1991.

Life Along The Kyrgyz-Tajik Border
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The situation is particularly complicated near the numerous exclaves in the volatile Ferghana Valley, where the borders of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan meet.

Almost half of the 970-kilometer Kyrgyz-Tajik border has yet to be demarcated, leading to repeated tensions since the two countries gained independence more than three decades ago.

Updated

Russian Crackdown On Anti-Mobilization Protests Continues; More Than 800 Detained

Police officers detain a demonstrator during a protest against the mobilization in Moscow on September 24.

More than 800 people have been detained in Russia as protests against the country's partial military mobilization continue in cities across the country.

At least 842 people were confirmed detained in 35 cities on September 25, nearly half of them in the capital, Moscow, according to OVD-Info. The highest one-day number of detentions came on September 21, when protests were held in 43 cities immediately after the draft was announced.

In total, more than 2,000 people have been detained over a five-day period.

The human rights group, which monitors political arrests and detentions in Russia, said that some of those detained in the crackdown on dissent following this week's military call-up were minors.

But reports of crackdowns on anti-mobilization protests including in the capital of the southern Russian region of Daghestan, suggest the arrest numbers are continuing to rise.

The demonstrations erupted within hours after President Vladimir Putin on September 21 announced the partial military mobilization, which is intended to buttress Russian military forces fighting in Ukraine.

Russian police have been mobilized in cities where protests were called for by the opposition group Vesna and supporters of opposition politician Aleksei Navalny.

Images on Russian media have shown scenes of police using force against demonstrators, and eyewitnesses have said that the number of protesters have diminished since the first rallies. Many young men detained during the protests have reportedly been summoned to register for military service.

In Makhachkala, the Daghestani capital, on September 25, police dispersed an unknown number of protesters after a gathering formed to express anger over the call-up, according to Caucasus.Realities.

WATCH: A spontaneous protest rally took place in the local capital, Makhachkala, where hundreds of protesters, mostly women, chanted "No to war!"

Protesters In Russia's Daghestan Rally Against Military Call-Up
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In one of multiple videos shared on Telegram capturing the confrontation, a police officer is shown beating a protester as two other officers hold the man down.

In Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula that Russia occupied and annexed in 2014, the Russian-installed leadership said their mobilization would be complete by the end of the day, a claim that could increase fears of forced mobilization, particularly of minority Crimean Tatars under occupation.

The call-up came as Russian forces suffered significant losses of occupied territories in Ukraine's east owing to a counteroffensive launched by the Ukrainian military.

Putin followed up on his mobilization order on September 24 by imposing harsher penalties against Russians who willingly surrendered to Ukrainian forces or refused orders to mobilize.

Russian officials have said that up to 300,000 reserve forces will be called up and that only those with relevant combat and service experience will be drafted to fight.

However, Russian media reports have surfaced that men who have never been in the military or who are past draft age are being called up, and foreign media have reported that the real goal is to mobilize more than 1 million soldiers, which the Kremlin denies.

Western officials say that Russia has suffered 70,000 to 80,000 casualties, accounting for both deaths and injuries, since it launched its unprovoked war in Ukraine in February.

The mobilization to replenish those losses has seen men across Russia sent to register, reports of Russian citizens attempting to flee the country, and even rare complaints by pro-Kremlin voices.

Margarita Simonyan, the editor in chief of the state-backed media outlet RT, wrote on her Telegram channel on September 24 that while it had been announced that only people up to the age of 35 would be recruited, "summonses are going to 40-year-olds."

"They're infuriating people, as if on purpose, as if out of spite," Simonyan said of the authorities behind the draft.

The same day, the head of the president's Human Rights Council, Valery Fadeyev, called on Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu to put a halt to the manner with which many draft boards in the country were proceeding.

On September 25, two of Russia's most senior lawmakers weighed in on the growing controversy.

In a Telegram post, Valentina Matviyenko, chairwoman of the Federation Council, said that she was aware of reports that men who should be ineligible for the draft are being called up.

"Such excesses are absolutely unacceptable. And, I consider it absolutely right that they are triggering a sharp reaction in society," she wrote.

Vyacheslav Volodin, speaker of the State Duma, wrote in a separate post that "complaints are being received."

"If a mistake is made, it is necessary to correct it," he said. "Authorities at every level should understand their responsibilities."

Updated

Russia, Ukraine Trade Accusations Of Shelling In Southern Ukraine Amid Sham Referendums In Occupied Territories

People from Ukraine's Donetsk and Luhansk regions vote at a temporary accommodation facility in Novocherkassk, Russia, on September 24.

Russia and Ukraine have traded accusations of shelling in southern Ukraine as four Ukrainian territories partially occupied by Russian forces continued to vote in so-called referendums on joining the Russian Federation

Ukraine's military said early on September 25 that dozens of missile attacks and air strikes had been launched against military and civilian targets in Ukraine's south, including 35 "settlements," over the previous 24 hours.

The same day, Russian-backed officials in the southern city of Kherson said that two people had been killed in a missile strike on a hotel the same day.

Authorities in the city of Alchevsk in the eastern Luhansk region, meanwhile, announced that voting in the mostly Russian-occupied territory could take place in bomb shelters.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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

The reports came as the referendums, which have been dismissed as a sham by Ukraine, the West, and the United Nations because they are illegal under international law, entered their third day on September 25.

The voting is taking place in Russian-held areas of Ukraine's Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhya regions.

The voting is widely seen as a way for Moscow to justify the formal annexation of the areas under Russian occupation.

Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier this week announced a partial military mobilization that could send hundreds of thousands of fresh troops into the war against Ukraine that was launched by Moscow in February.

The call-up came after Russian forces suffered major territorial losses in Ukraine's east as Kyiv launched a major counteroffensive.

Putin has also announced harsher penalties for Russians who dodge the draft or who willingly surrender to Ukrainian forces, making such actions punishable by 10 years in prison.

Ukrainian officials have said that people in Russian-occupied territories have been banned from leaving until the voting finishes on September 27, and that armed groups were entering homes to force people to vote.

Residents of the southern Kherson region told RFE/RL's News Of Azov project reported that people were being offered monetary compensation for a "yes" vote on joining the Russian Federation. Those who agree and fill out a ballot are then given 40,000 rubles (about $690).

RFE/RL was not able to independently verify the claims.

There are no independent observers monitoring the polls, and many of the inhabitants who lived in areas of Ukraine occupied after Russia's unprovoked invasion seven months ago have fled.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on September 24 that regions of Ukraine where the votes are being held would be under Russia's "full protection" if they were annexed by Moscow.

Russia's state-run TASS news agency has reported that the State Duma, Russia's lower house of parliament, could debate legislation to annex the four Ukrainian regions as early as September 29.

With reporting by Reuters and dpa

Ukrainian President Calls On Russians To Surrender, Dodge Military Draft

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (file photo)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has provided guarantees to Russian soldiers who surrender to Ukrainian forces and called on Russians to dodge their country's recent partial military mobilization.

Speaking in a September 24 address in which he switched to the Russian language, Zelenskiy offered guarantees to Russians who are taken prisoner while fighting in Ukraine and referred to newly enacted penalties in Russia against deserters or those who dodge the draft.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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

"Ukraine guarantees every Russian soldier who surrenders three things. First, you will be treated in a civilized manner, in accordance with all conventions. Second, no one will know the circumstances of your surrender, no one in Russia will know that your surrender was voluntary. And third, if you are afraid to return to Russia and do not want an exchange, we will find a way to ensure this as well," Zelenskiy said.

Zelenskiy's comments directly addressed Moscow's recent partial mobilization, which is intended to buttress Russian forces who have been fighting in Ukraine since Moscow's unprovoked invasion in February and who have recently suffered military setbacks in Ukraine's east due to a Ukrainian counteroffensive.

"It is better not to take a conscription letter than to die in a foreign land as a war criminal," Zelenskiy said. "It is better to run away from criminal mobilization than to be crippled and then bear responsibility in the court for participating in the war of aggression."

Zelenskiy condemned the mobilization effort, announced by Russian President Vladimir Putin on September 21, as a "crime," and said that Russian commanders "do not care about the lives of Russians" and just need to replenish "empty spaces left by the dead, wounded, those who fled, or the Russian soldiers who were captured."

On September 24, Putin signed amendments that toughened punishments for Russians who voluntarily surrender or who refuse to fight, making such actions punishable by 10 years in prison.

Putin also signed new regulations the same day that stipulated that foreigners serving in the Russian military for at least a year can apply for Russian citizenship without a residence permit.

Pink Floyd's Waters Cancels Poland Concerts After Ukraine War Remarks

Roger Waters speaks at a press conference in Rome in 2018.

Pink Floyd co-founder Roger Waters has canceled concerts planned in Poland amid anger over his stance on Russia's unprovoked war against Ukraine, Polish media reported.

An official with the Tauron Arena in Krakow, where Waters was scheduled to perform two concerts in April, said they would no longer take place.

"Roger Waters' manager decided to withdraw...without giving any reason," Lukasz Pytko from Tauron Arena Krakow said on September 24 in comments carried by Polish media outlets.

The website for Waters' This Is Not A Drill concert tour did not list the Krakow concerts previously scheduled for April 21-22.

City councilors in Krakow were expected to vote next week on a proposal to name Waters as a persona non grata, expressing "indignation" over the musician's stance on the war in Ukraine.

Allowing "Roger Waters, an open supporter of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, to play in Krakow...would be shameful for our city," city councilor Lukasz Wantuch said last week on social media. "Let him sing in Moscow."

Waters wrote an open letter to Ukrainian first lady Olena Zelenska earlier this month in which he blamed "extreme nationalists" in Ukraine for having "set your country on the path to this disastrous war."

Waters has also criticized NATO, accusing it of provoking Russia.

Based on reporting by AP

Iran Fires On Separatist Groups Based In Northern Iraq

The IRGC attacks targeted the bases of Kurdish separatist groups in the north of Iraq.

Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) has attacked a militant group's base located in the north of neighboring Iraq, state media reported.

The official government news agency IRNA said the IRGC ground forces fired artillery from positions within Iran's West Azerbaijan Province on September 24, attacking what it described as a "terrorist group" based across the border.

The IRGC-affiliated Tasnim news agency said the attacks targeted the bases of Kurdish separatist groups in the north of Iraq.

The IRGC attacks were in response to the support of the separatist group for the recent unrest in the country, as well as their attempt to import weapons into Iran, the report said.

Iran has faced more than a week of protests and unrest over the death of a 22-year-old woman, Mahsa Amini, who died in custody after being detained by Tehran's morality police.

The protests, which started in Amini's home province of Kurdistan, have spread to dozens of cities across the country.

With reporting by AP

Russian Anti-Mobilization Protests Broken Up, Over 700 Arrested

Police gather ahead of a protest in Novosibirsk against the mobilization on September 24.

Russian police have dispersed peaceful protests against President Vladimir Putin's military mobilization order, arresting hundreds of people in more than 30 cities across the country.

Police detained more than 700 people on September 24, including over 300 in Moscow, according to OVD-Info, a human rights group that monitors political arrests in Russia. Some of those arrested were minors, it said.

The demonstrations followed protests that erupted within hours after Putin on September 21 issued the partial-mobilization order, which was designed to bolster Russia's forces in Ukraine following heavy losses during a recent Ukrainian counteroffensive.

On September 24 , police deployed in force in the cities where protests were scheduled by opposition group Vesna and supporters of jailed opposition politician Aleksei Navalny. They moved quickly to arrest demonstrators, most of them young people, before they could hold protests.

People who held individual protests were also detained.

Meanwhile, the head of the Russian president's Human Rights Council, Valery Fadeyev, on September 24 called on Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu to put a halt to the manner with which many draft boards in the country were proceeding.

Even men who had no combat experience had been given conscription orders, Fadeyev said.

Shoigu has told Russian state media that up to 300,000 could be called up, with only those with relevant combat and service experience to be mobilized. The Kremlin has denied reports by two Russian news outlets based abroad -- Nezavisimaya gazeta Europe and Meduza -- that the real target is more than 1 million.

The Kremlin's decision to mobilize forces for a war that has killed or injured as many as 80,000 of its servicemen has sparked fear and anger among parts of the Russian population.

On September 24, Putin signed amendments toughening punishment for deserters and those who refuse to fight by up to 10 years in prison, just days after ordering a partial mobilization amid recent Russian military losses in Ukraine.

Those who voluntarily go into Ukrainian captivity can expect up to 10 years in prison, according to amendments passed by parliament and the Federation Council this week and put into effect by Putin's signature.

Under the amendments, Russians of compulsory military age or reservists will face up to 10 years imprisonment if they refuse to take part in combat operations, the Kremlin said.

A separate law, also signed on September 24 , facilitates access to Russian citizenship for foreigners who enlist in the military.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, and dpa

Russia Toughens Penalty For Voluntary Surrender, Refusal To Fight

Emotional Goodbyes Across Russia As Ukraine Mobilization Begins
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Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed amendments toughening the punishment for deserters and those who refuse to fight, just days after ordering a partial mobilization amid recent Russian military losses in Ukraine.

Those who voluntarily go into Ukrainian captivity can expect up to 10 years in prison, according to amendments passed by parliament and the Federation Council this week and put into effect by Putin's signature on September 24.

Under the amendments, Russians of compulsory military age or reservists will also face up to 10 years imprisonment if they refuse to take part in combat operations, the Kremlin said.

A separate law, also signed on September 24 , facilitates access to Russian citizenship for foreigners who enlist in the Russian military, following efforts to increase the ranks fighting in Ukraine.

Based on reporting by AFP and dpa

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