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Kerry Urges China To Ease Regional Tensions

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (file photo)
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (file photo)

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has urged China to reduce tension in the South China Sea.

He also expressed concern over the pace and scale of Beijing's land reclamation in the disputed area.

He was speaking on May 16 in Beijing at the start of a two-day visit amid deepening security concerns over Chinese actions in the South China Sea.

China's rapid reclamation effort around seven reefs in the Spratly archipelago of the South China Sea has alarmed nearby countries such as the Philippines and Vietnam.

Kerry, speaking at a joint news conference with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, said Beijing and Washington were committed to finalizing a deal that would block paths for Iran to obtain fissile material.

Based on reporting by Reuters and AP

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Opposition Politicians Arrested In Kosovo During Protest Against Special War Crimes Court

Protest led by politicians opposed to the Kosovo Specialist Chambers escalates on streets of Pristina.
Protest led by politicians opposed to the Kosovo Specialist Chambers escalates on streets of Pristina.

Several members of an opposition party in Kosovo were arrested on November 29 during a protest in Pristina against a special war crimes court in The Hague that is prosecuting former Kosovar leaders over crimes committed during the 1998-99 war against Serbia.

Six members of the Social Democratic Party (PSD), which is not represented in parliament, were arrested and ordered detained for 48 hours by the prosecutor's office, PSD said, adding that its chairman, Dardan Molliqaj, was among those arrested.

The protest took place during a visit by Kosovo Specialist Chambers (KSC) President Ekaterina Trendafilova and escalated when protesters threw smoke bombs inside and outside the hotel where she was holding a meeting with members of civil society. Police responded by using tear gas and pepper spray to disperse the protesters.

The presence of Trendafilova "is an attempt to...improve the image of the unjust special court," PSD said on Facebook.

PSD said the detention of its members was unfair and an attempt to silence the opposition.

Kosovar police have not commented on the arrests or the protest.

The demonstrators believe that the KSC has unfairly accused former members of the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK), which waged the war for independence from Serbia and are now on trial at The Hague.

The KSC is a Kosovo court seated in the Netherlands and staffed by international judges. It was set up in 2015 to handle cases under Kosovo law against former UCK guerrillas.

Former Kosovar President Hashim Thaci, former parliament speaker Kadri Veseli, former lawmaker Rexhep Selimi, and others have been charged. They were all top leaders of the UCK.

Thaci resigned as president of Kosovo in November 2020 after learning that the KSC had confirmed an indictment against him. The charges against him and the others include murder, torture, and persecution.

Speaking before the protest escalated, Molliqaj said that the demonstrators gathered in front of the hotel to oppose Trendafilova's visit.

He claimed that the court’s mandate is to pursue only the UCK and said that whenever Kosovo gets closer to Serbia, "there has been persecution of the UCK."

With reporting by AP

Another Russian General Reportedly Dies In Ukraine

The Russian media website Important Stories says Zavadsky is the seventh Russian general whose death in the war in Ukraine has been confirmed by Russian sources. (illustrative photo)
The Russian media website Important Stories says Zavadsky is the seventh Russian general whose death in the war in Ukraine has been confirmed by Russian sources. (illustrative photo)

Another Russian Army general has died in Ukraine, according to Ukrainian and Russian media reports on November 29. Russian Major General Vladimir Zavadsky died on November 28, according to the reports, which say his death was confirmed by an organization of graduates of his military school. The Russian research group Conflict Intelligence Team also confirmed Zavadsky's death, citing Russian military sources. The Russian Defense Ministry has not confirmed his death. The Russian media website Important Stories says Zavadsky is the seventh Russian general whose death in the war in Ukraine has been confirmed by Russian sources. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Iranian Judge At Wushu Championships Takes Stand By Shunning Head Scarf

Arghavan Jalali Farahani funded her own travel to the competition and fulfilled her role as a judge because she wanted to take a stand and wouldn't compromise her beliefs.
Arghavan Jalali Farahani funded her own travel to the competition and fulfilled her role as a judge because she wanted to take a stand and wouldn't compromise her beliefs.

In a bold act of defiance, an Iranian judge at the 2023 World Wushu Championships in the United States appeared without the mandatory hijab, igniting a controversy back home where the head scarf has become a flashpoint in a battle for women's rights.

In an exclusive interview with RFE/RL's Radio Farda, Arghavan Jalali Farahani explained that her decision was "a gesture of solidarity with the ongoing struggles in Iran" and a tribute to Mahsa Amini and Armita Garavand, two Iranian women who died after a confrontation with morality police over the hijab and have become symbols of resistance against the mandatory Islamic dress code.

The incident gained international attention after a photo of Farahani, with nothing covering her head, surfaced online from the competition being held in Fort Worth, Texas. Despite her name being announced as Iran's representative, the Islamic republic's Wushu Federation swiftly denied she was there officially.

Farahani called the federation's denial a fabrication, adding she was appointed as Iran's representative by the same federation. She further revealed that initially, she was informed by Iranian officials of her removal from the competition list.

After making inquiries, however, she discovered that they had lied to her and that her name was still valid as a judge representing Iran, most likely because officials needed to keep her name on the list to ensure they could collect money for her being there.

"They didn't want me to judge. On the one hand, they did not remove my name from the list so that I would remain on their unrealistic invoices, which is a significant amount. They didn't think I would follow up and realize their lie," Farahani added.

Farahani said that in the end, she funded her own travel to the competition and fulfilled her role as a judge, because she wanted to take a stand and wouldn't compromise her beliefs, as that would have been a disservice to those who have lost their lives in Iran's struggle for freedom and justice.

"I wanted to stand with the people who are fighting inside Iran with this small act. Perhaps I have been able to pay respect to Mahsa Amini and Armita Garavand with my actions," she said.

The hijab, or Islamic head scarf, became compulsory for women and girls over the age of 9 in 1981, two years after the Islamic Revolution in Iran. The move triggered protests that were swiftly crushed by the new authorities. Many women have flouted the rule over the years and pushed the boundaries of what officials say is acceptable clothing.

Women have also launched campaigns against the discriminatory law, although many have been pressured by the state and forced to leave the country.

The death of 22-year-old Amini in September 2022 in police custody for an alleged hijab violation released a wave of anger that has presented the Islamic regime with its biggest challenge since the revolution.

The case of the 17-year-old Garavand, who succumbed in October 2023 to injuries suffered in an alleged confrontation with morality police in the Tehran subway over a head-scarf violation, and suggestions of a cover-up by the authorities over what transpired in the teen's last living moments, have drawn parallels with the events leading up to the death of Amini, which was also shrouded in mystery.

Wushu, often referred to as kung fu, is a competitive martial arts sport that integrates concepts and forms from various traditional and modern Chinese martial arts.

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

New U.S. Sanctions Target Illicit Financial Networks Set Up To Benefit Iranian Military

The United States has imposed a new round of sanctions on more than 20 people and firms that the U.S. Treasury Department says have been involved in a "financial facilitation network" for the benefit of the Iranian military.

The sanctions target people and companies inside Iran as well as in Hong Kong and the United Arab Emirates, the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) said in a news release on November 29.

The sanctions single out the Iranian firm Sepehr Energy and its employees, brokers, and purchasers, saying the business acts as a front company for the Iranian government's oil sales, which "fund its destabilizing regional activities and support of multiple regional proxy groups."

These groups include Hamas, which has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States and European Union, and Hizballah.

OFAC said the people and entities designated for sanctions are involved in the networks, which ultimately benefit Iran's Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics (MODAFL), the Armed Forces General Staff (AFGS), and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps' Qods Force (IRGC-QF).

MODAFL and the AFGS sell commodities through networks that include "shadow banking" and front companies both inside Iran and abroad, OFAC said.

"The IRGC-QF and MODAFL continue to engage in illicit finance schemes to generate funds to fan conflict and spread terror throughout the region," Undersecretary of the Treasury Brian Nelson said.

Sepehr Energy oversees this activity for the AFGS, OFAC said, adding that its deputy chairman, principal board member, and managing director, Majid A'Zami, who is also an Iranian Oil Ministry official, was also blacklisted.

Another company designated for sanctions is the Iran-based Pishro Tejarat Sana Company, which OFAC said works with Sepehr Energy to facilitate the sale and shipment of commodities to overseas buyers, generating revenue for MODAFL and the Iranian military.

Pishro Tejarat works on behalf of Sepehr Energy, in return for a portion of the profits, it said, adding that its chairman of the board of directors, Seyyed Abdoljavad Alavi, was designated for sanctions in the action announced on November 29.

Neslon said the United States "remains committed to exposing elements of the Iranian military and its complicit partners abroad to disrupt this critical source of funds."

The sanctions block access to U.S. property and bank accounts and prevent the targeted people and companies from doing business with Americans.

With reporting by AP

Rights Group Says Iranian Political Prisoner Karimi Executed Along With Six Others

Ayoub Karimi was arrested in 2010.
Ayoub Karimi was arrested in 2010.

Ayoub Karimi, an Iranian-Kurdish prisoner of conscience who has been held in Qezelhesar prison in Karaj for the past 14 years, was executed on November 29, according to human rights watchdogs.

The Norway-based group Iran Human Rights said Karimi's execution came along with the carrying out of the death sentences of six other prisoners, a sign of Tehran's continued increase in the meting out of capital punishment against political and religious dissenters.

"The execution of Ayoub Karimi, based on coerced confessions and without a fair trial, like the execution of other political prisoners, is a crime," said Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, director of Iran Human Rights.

"The authorities of the Islamic republic must be held accountable for this crime."

The identities of the six other prisoners executed along with Karimi were not disclosed, but the Hengaw rights group noted that Ghasem Abasteh, a co-defendant in Karimi's case, faced a similar fate last month. The remaining five defendants are still incarcerated and face the imminent threat of execution.

Karimi, Davoud Abdollahi, Farhad Salimi, Anwar Khezri, Khosrow Besharat, and Kamran Sheikheh were arrested in January 2010. They were subsequently sentenced by Tehran's Islamic Revolutionary Court on charges including "acting against national security" and "corruption on Earth."

Their death sentences were confirmed in 2020 amid allegations of coerced confessions and torture -- a claim supported by at least four prisoners in open letters.

Amnesty International said in a statement at the time that the trial was "grossly unfair," pointing to forced confessions under torture.

The rate of executions in Iran has been rising sharply, particularly in the wake of widespread protests that swept across the country last year following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody for an alleged head-scarf violation.

Amnesty International says the regime in Tehran has executed more people than any other country in the world other than China so far this year.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on November 2 that Iran was carrying out executions "at an alarming rate," while Iran Human Rights said more than 600 people had been executed in the country during the first seven months of the year.

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

Russia Issues Arrest Warrant For Ukrainian Eurovision Winner

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (left) poses with Jamala in Kyiv on November 29, 2022.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (left) poses with Jamala in Kyiv on November 29, 2022.

The Moscow prosecutor's office said on November 29 that an arrest warrant had been issued for Ukrainian Eurovison Song Contest winner Jamala, who is of Crimean Tatar origin, on a charge of distributing "fake" information about Russia's armed forces involved in Moscow's invasion of Ukraine. Earlier this month, the Russian Interior Ministry added the singer, whose real name is Susana Dzhamaladinova, to its wanted list. In 2016, Jamala won the Eurovision Song Contest for performing a ballad that described the brutal 1944 Soviet deportation of Crimean Tatars from Crimea to Central Asia. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Former Crimean Mayor Sentenced To 16 Years On Espionage Charge

Yuriy Lomenko (file photo)
Yuriy Lomenko (file photo)

A Russian-installed court in Ukraine's occupied Crimea on November 29 sentenced Yuriy Lomenko, former mayor of the city of Simeyiz, to 16 years in prison for espionage. The court found Lomenko guilty of collecting classified data and handing the information to Ukrainian intelligence. Lomenko led Simeyiz from 2013 to 2014 and in 2019 became a municipal lawmaker in the Russian-controlled council of the Crimean city of Yalta. He was arrested in November 2021. It remains unclear what kind of information he is accused of collecting for Kyiv, as the trial was held behind closed doors. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

Russian Lawmaker Jailed For 11 Years In Absentia In Ukraine

Olga Kovitidi (file photo)
Olga Kovitidi (file photo)

A court in Ukraine has sentenced in absentia Olga Kovitidi, a member of the Russian parliament's upper chamber, the Federation Council, to 11 years in prison on charges of collaboration with occupying Russian forces and justification of Moscow's ongoing invasion of Ukraine, the Kyiv-controlled Prosecutor's Office of Crimea said on November 29. Kovitidi, 61, served as a Ukrainian lawmaker in Crimea, deputy mayor of Sevastopol, and an aide to the Ukrainian justice minister until Russia seized Crimea in 2014. She supported the annexation and then became a member of Russia's Federation Council. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.

Kyrgyz Lawmakers Approve Bill On Amending National Flag In First Reading

Kyrgyz lawmakers on November 29 approved the first reading of a bill amending Kyrgyzstan's national flag amid controversy. The bill, proposed in October, says that the slightly wavy rays of a yellow sun on a red field on the current flag give and impression of a sunflower. The Kyrgyz word for sunflower is "kunkarama," but it also has a second meaning: "dependent." The bill would allow the "straightening" of the sunrays to make it look more like a sun, the lawmakers said, adding that the current image on the flag conjures up thoughts of the Central Asian country's dependence on foreign loans and investment. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, click here.

Iranian Sports Federation Chief Removed After Athlete's Hijab Violation At Competition

Mehran Tishegaran (file photo)
Mehran Tishegaran (file photo)

The head of Iran's Deaf Sports Federation has been dismissed after at least one female athlete from Kazakhstan did not wear attire that adhered to the Islamic republic's strict dress code during an event while male officials and referees were in attendance.

The dismissal of Mehran Tishegaran from his role at the federation follows an exclusive report by RFERL's Radio Farda on November 27 that showed video of the Asian Deaf Athletics Championships in Tehran.

Radio Farda's exclusive footage of the championships showed the Kazakh female athlete jumping over a hurdle in sport shorts and a shirt with no sleeves while her Iranian counterparts ran in the mandatory Islamic hijab. The video also captured male referees and officials at the Aftab Enghelab Stadium.

The controversy was further fueled by comments Tishegaran regarding the mixing of genders at the event, where he stated that he should be hanged if any men were present during women's competitions.

In response to the furor created by the scene, Iranian Sports Minister Kiumars Hashemi removed Mehran Tishegaran from his role at the federation and appointed Alireza Khosravi as the interim head.

The semi-official ISNA News Agency characterized the dismissal as a direct consequence of the fallout from the Asian Deaf Athletics Championships in Tehran. The incident has sparked a broader discussion about the enforcement of dress codes in international sports events held in Iran and the gender dynamics within such settings if the country is to host similar competitions.

In October 2022, climbing champion Elnaz Rekabi sparked a controversy by competing in the Asian Championships in Seoul without a head scarf.

The hijab -- the head covering worn by Muslim women -- became compulsory in public for Iranian women and girls over the age of nine after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

The lack of women's rights in Iran has come under intense scrutiny since the September 2022 death of Mahsa Amini while in police custody for a head-scarf violation.

Since then, thousands have poured onto the streets across the country to protest the treatment of women and a general lack of rights, with women and schoolgirls making unprecedented shows of support in the biggest threat to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution.

In response, the authorities have launched a brutal crackdown on dissent, detaining thousands and handing down stiff sentences to protesters, including the death penalty.

Resistance to the hijab is likely to increase, analysts say, as it is seen now as a symbol of the state's repression of women and the deadly crackdown on society.

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

Russian Detained For Allegedly Spying For Latvia

(illustrative photo)
(illustrative photo)

Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) said on November 29 that its officers detained a resident of the northwestern city of Pechory on suspicion of spying for Latvia. According to the FSB, the suspect, whose identity was not disclosed, collected information about Russian armed forces located in the area and intended to hand it to the Latvian Embassy in Moscow in exchange for Latvian citizenship. Earlier this month, a court in Latvia sentenced a former interior minister and ex-lawmaker, Janis Adamsons, to 8 1/2 years in prison for spying for Russia. To read the original story by RFE/RL's North.Realities, click here.

Three Suspects, Including Father, Arrested In Pakistani 'Honor' Killing Of Girl

Police in Pakistan's northwestern region of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have arrested four men suspected in the "honor" killing of a girl who had posted a photo of herself together with a boy on Facebook. Police officer Noor Muhammad, from the region's Kohistan district, told Radio Mashaal on November 28 that the killing was committed by the father of the girl, whose name was Reema, with the aid of three relatives on November 24 in the district village of Palas-Kotlai. An anonymous source told Radio Mashaal that a second girl and the boy in the photo were under police protection. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal, click here.

Leader Of Unregistered Kazakh Opposition Party Gets Seven Years In Prison

Kazakh opposition leader Marat Zhylanbaev appears in court last month.
Kazakh opposition leader Marat Zhylanbaev appears in court last month.

A court in Astana on November 29 sentenced the chairman of Kazakhstan's unregistered Algha Kazakhstan (Forward Kazakhstan) party, Marat Zhylanbaev, to seven years in prison after finding him guilty of taking part in a banned group's activities and financing an extremist group. Zhylanbaev rejected the charges against him, calling them politically motivated. He has been on a hunger strike since late October protesting against a court decision to hold his trial, which started on November 1 behind closed doors. Human Rights Watch has urged the Kazakh authorities to immediately release Zhylanbaev. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, click here.


Former U.S. Marine Whelan Assaulted In Russian Prison

Paul Whelan (file photo)
Paul Whelan (file photo)

Russia's Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) said on November 29 that Paul Whelan, a U.S. citizen who is serving a 16-year espionage sentence in a Russian prison, was assaulted by another inmate, an attack prison officials said was sparked by "political differences" but that Whelan's family said was likely prompted by anti-American sentiment.

The FSIN also said a further escalation of the conflict on November 28 was prevented and Whelan, who sustained a scratch under his eye, was provided with medical assistance at the notorious prison in Mordovia where he is incarcerated.

Arrested in 2018 in Russia, the former U.S. Marine was convicted on spying charges in 2020. Both he and the U.S. government have denied the 53-year-old is a spy.

The Biden administration has designated Whelan as "wrongfully detained" -- a term that effectively says the case against him is politically motivated -- and has called for his immediate release.

Relatives said Whelan described the attack as "relatively minor" but that he was "concerned that these sorts of attacks can occur any time and, due to the various sharp implements in the workshop including the shears the other prisoner was holding today, could escalate into a far more serious attack."

"Paul is a target because he is an American and anti-American sentiment is not uncommon among the other prisoners," they said in a statement, adding that Whelan believes prison officials are taking the matter "seriously."

Whelan, a Michigan-based corporate security executive, was arrested in December 2018 while visiting Moscow for a friend's wedding. Russia claimed Whelan was caught with a flash drive containing classified information.

Whelan, who holds U.S., British, Canadian, and Irish citizenship, said he was set up in a sting operation and had thought the drive, given to him by a Russian acquaintance, contained vacation photos.

The detentions of Whelan and other Americans comes at a time when relation between Moscow and Washington are at their lowest point since the end of the Cold War over the Kremlin's full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Russia has been accused of detaining the Americans to use as bargaining chips to exchange for Russians jailed in the United States. Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich was arrested for allegedly spying -- a charge he and the newspaper vehemently deny -- in March and remains in pretrial custody.

Prague-based U.S. journalist Alsu Kurmasheva, who has worked for RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service for some 25 years, was attending to a family emergency in her native Tatarstan when she was temporarily detained while waiting for her return flight on June 2 at the Kazan airport, where both of her passports and phone were confiscated.

After five months spent waiting for a decision in her case, Kurmasheva was fined 10,000 rubles ($103) for failing to register her U.S. passport with Russian authorities.

While waiting for the return of her travel documents, Kurmasheva was detained again on October 18 and this time charged with failing to register as a "foreign agent," a legal designation Russia has used since 2012 to label and punish critics of government policies.

She also remains in pretrial detention.

Russian Military Unit Admits To Hiring Women For Assault Detachments To Fight In Ukraine

The iStories report appeared to be the first confirmation that women are being hired for assault operations in Russia’s war on Ukraine. (illustrative photo)
The iStories report appeared to be the first confirmation that women are being hired for assault operations in Russia’s war on Ukraine. (illustrative photo)

Espanola, a military unit within the Redut network, is hiring women as fighters in its assault detachments, the media outlet iStories reported on November 28. The outlet said its correspondent phoned Espanola asking to join an assault detachment, whereupon an official explained procedures for getting a contract and details of the agreement. A recent RFE/RL investigation revealed that Redut is a recruitment system for combat units that is coordinated and funded by the Russian military and its intelligence agency, the GRU. The iStories report appeared to be the first confirmation that women are being hired for assault operations in Russia’s war on Ukraine. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Turkey Expects To Ratify Sweden's NATO Accession 'Within Weeks,' Says Swedish Minister

Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom (file photo)
Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom (file photo)

Turkey has told Sweden that it expects to ratify its long-delayed accession to the NATO military alliance within weeks, Sweden's Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom said on November 29. Sweden and Finland asked to join NATO last year after Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine. But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose country is a NATO member, raised objections over what he said was the two countries' protection of groups that Ankara deems terrorists. Turkey endorsed Finland's membership bid in April, but has kept Sweden waiting. There was no immediate confirmation or comment by Turkey.

Imprisoned Ex-Mayor Of Vladivostok Barred From Joining Russian Troops Invading Ukraine

Former Vladivostok Mayor Oleg Gumenyuk (file photo)
Former Vladivostok Mayor Oleg Gumenyuk (file photo)

The chief of the Public Monitoring Group in Russia's Far East said on November 29 that the former mayor of Vladivostok, Oleg Gumenyuk, who is serving a 12-year prison term for bribe-taking, was not allowed to join Russian armed forces involved in Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine for unspecified reasons. Thousands of inmates in Russia have been allowed to fight in Ukraine in exchange for clemency after serving six months in the war. According to Vladimir Naidin, Gumenyuk was ordered to return to a penal colony as he tried to board a plane to fly to Ukraine last week. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Siberia.Realities, click here.


Moldovan Police Say Stars Of David Graffiti On Paris Buildings Ordered By Fugitive Magnate

Dozens of Stars of David resembling those on the flag of Israel were painted on buildings in Paris and several suburbs on October 31, triggering alarm about surging anti-Semitism in France.
Dozens of Stars of David resembling those on the flag of Israel were painted on buildings in Paris and several suburbs on October 31, triggering alarm about surging anti-Semitism in France.

Police in Moldova say they have identified one of the perpetrators of a series of spray-painted Stars of David that appeared last month on buildings in Paris as being a Moldovan citizen who was acting on orders from fugitive businessman Ilan Shor in order to "denigrate the Republic of Moldova."

Some 60 blue Stars of David resembling those on the flag of Israel were painted on buildings in Paris and several suburbs on October 31, triggering alarm about surging anti-Semitism in France during the war in Gaza between Israel and Hamas, which has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union.

Moldova's General Police Inspectorate released a photo of the man on November 29 after RFE/RL requested information about the fate of Moldovan citizens involved in the activities in Paris at the end of October.

The police photo did not include the man's name, but he appears to be Aleksandr Cocii, who lives in Moldova's Moscow-backed Transdniester separatist region.

Cocii confirmed in a phone call with RFE/RL that he traveled to France and recently returned to Transdniester, but he did not admit that he had been detained.

RFE/RL used open-source data and Cocii's posts on social media to establish that he was born on June 22, 1990. The information matches that released on November 7 by French police, who said that they had detained a Moldovan couple -- a man born in June 1990 and a woman born in December 1994.

Cocii also appears to have taken part in a demonstration in October 2022 in support of the Shor party in Chisinau, according to photos taken of the march.

After preliminary investigations, the couple detained in Paris was allowed to return to Moldova. No charges have been filed against them. French authorities suspect that another Moldovan couple participated in painting the symbols in what was interpreted as an anti-Semitic act.

French prosecutors said in October that CCTV footage purportedly showed a man and a woman spray-painting the stars on walls while a third person was taking pictures. That couple fled France.

French prosecutors said that another couple, identified as Moldovan and staying in France illegally, was arrested on October 27 after being caught spray-painting a Star of David on a wall in Paris.

“They declared they were acting under orders from a third person and for remuneration,” the French prosecutors said in a statement, adding that it was suspected that both couples were being coordinated by the same third person or party.

The Moldovan police statement issued earlier on November 29 said they had identified an individual who had previously been involved in "hooliganism and actions meant to destabilize" Moldova that had been "directed by the Shor crime group."

Shor, a fugitive Moldovan oligarch implicated in a $1 billion bank fraud and other illicit schemes, organized months of anti-government protests in Moldova's capital, Chisinau, with the aim of toppling pro-Western President Maia Sandu and a new reformist government appointed in February.

"Based on our analysis, the French action was organized and directed from abroad and was meant as an attempt at staining Moldova's image abroad," said the Moldovan police statement, which included a photo of the alleged perpetrator.

French journalists have reported that the man behind the painting of the Stars of David was Anatoli Prizenco, a 48-year-old businessman from Transdniester.

Prizrenco admitted in a call with RFE/RL that he recruited the Moldovans who painted the stars, but said he did so at the request of a Jewish group and that the goal of the action was not an anti-Semitic manifestation, but one of support for the Jewish community amid the ongoing conflict in Gaza.

Cocii admitted to RFE/RL that he knows Prizenco but declined to confirm whether he was among the Moldovans recruited by him to draw Jewish symbols in Paris.

With reporting by Aliona Ciurca of RFE/RL's Moldovan Service

Leading Russian Expert On Supercomputers To Be Sent To Psychiatric Clinic

Russian scientist Sergei Abramov (file photo)
Russian scientist Sergei Abramov (file photo)

Russian academic Sergei Abramov, a noted scientist, mathematician, and a leading expert on supercomputers who is charged with financing an unspecified extremist group, will be sent to a psychiatric clinic for three weeks for an examination, the T-invariant website said on November 28. According to the website, Abramov will be placed in a psychiatric clinic on November 30. The probe against Abramov was launched in April after the Federal Security Service (FSB) searched his home. He has been under house arrest since then. Abramov told T-invariant that his case is indicative of "an enormous systemic mistake" in governing the country. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Russian Duma To Discuss 'Loyalty' Obligation For Foreign Visitors

Among other things, the "loyalty agreement" would not allow tourists and other foreign visitors to Russia to "discredit" Russian policies." (file photo)
Among other things, the "loyalty agreement" would not allow tourists and other foreign visitors to Russia to "discredit" Russian policies." (file photo)

Russia's Interior Ministry has outlined a bill that would oblige foreigners visiting the country to sign what it called a "loyalty agreement," the state news agency TASS said on November 29, adding that it has the draft bill in its possession. According to the document, TASS said, the agreement would not allow foreigners to "discredit" Russian policies, "distort" the contribution of the Soviet people to the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945, and deny "traditional values," the latter targeting "LGBT relations." The bill is expected be sent to parliament soon. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Moscow Teacher Fined For Reportedly Writing 'Glory To Ukraine' On Blackboard

Moscow's Khoroshevsky District Court has fined computer science teacher Sergei Averyanov 40,000 rubles ($450) for writing on the blackboard during class a slogan "aimed at discrediting" Russia's military, the court's press service reported on November 28. Pro-Kremlin Telegram channel Mash reported that Averyanov allegedly wrote “Glory to Ukraine! Death to Russian idiots” on the blackboard and drew a swastika. Mash said that after publishing its report, Averyanov was taken away by police for interrogation. Averyanov has been suspended from his position at Gymnasium No. 1619 in Moscow's Strogino district, the school's headmaster told the media. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

Russians Banned From Leaving Country Will Have Passports Confiscated

(file photo)
(file photo)

Russians banned from traveling abroad must hand in their passports within five days of the date when they were notified of the travel ban, according to a government decree from November 22 published on the official portal of legal documents. The measure is due to come into force on December 11. Authorities can impose foreign travel bans on conscripts, Federal Security Service employees, people with access to state secrets and “information of special importance” as well as on convicted persons. A conscript will get their passport back only upon producing proof that they completed their military duty or alternative service, the decree says. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

Latvia's Chief Diplomat Pursues NATO's Top Job, Saying Clear Vision On Russia Is Needed

Latvian Foreign Minister Krisjanis Karins (file photo)
Latvian Foreign Minister Krisjanis Karins (file photo)

Latvian Foreign Minister Krisjanis Karins has staked his claim to the top job at NATO, saying that the alliance needs a consensus builder who is committed to higher defense spending and has a clear vision of how to deal with Russia. Karins told reporters at NATO headquarters in Brussels on November 28 that the alliance needs a leader who "can work with any and all allies, to move everyone forward in the same direction.” NATO is likely to name a new secretary-general at its next summit in Washington in July.

Ex-Rosneft Chief Says He Owns Seized Yacht, Seeks To Block Forfeiture

Former Rosneft CEO Eduard Khudainatov (file photo)
Former Rosneft CEO Eduard Khudainatov (file photo)

A former chief executive of Russian state oil company Rosneft has claimed ownership of a yacht seized by U.S. authorities last year as part of a crackdown on alleged sanctions violations. Eduard Khudainatov's lawyers said on November 28 in a filing with federal court in New York that he has always been the ultimate owner of the yacht and is not sanctioned by the U.S. government. The filing says the yacht therefore is “not forfeitable, as it neither constitutes nor is derived from any unlawful activity." The Justice Department says the yacht is owned by sanctioned Russian billionaire Suleiman Kerimov.


Zelenskiy Visits Southern Ukraine As Kuleba Presses Allies To Step Up Armaments Production

Among other things, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (center) says he discussed the situation in the Black Sea with Odesa authorities. (file photo)
Among other things, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (center) says he discussed the situation in the Black Sea with Odesa authorities. (file photo)

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy met on November 29 with civilian and military authorities in Ukraine's southern region of Odesa, which has been a regular target for Russian strikes directed at its port installations critical for food exports.

"Many important questions.... The situation in the Black Sea, mine countermeasures and ensuring the safety of the 'grain corridor.' The work of the air defense...protecting Odesa, the infrastructure of the 'grain corridor,' and our brigades," Zelenskiy said on Telegram.

Zelenskiy met with Ukrainian troops in the area and handed them medals and awards for bravery, he said.

The president also met with civilian authorities to discuss measures to bring life in Odesa and other southern regions back to normal after a spell of inclement weather that hit the area, leaving at least 12 people dead and 23 injured.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba called on Kyiv's allies to step up efforts to increase the production of armaments and munitions for Ukraine's defensive war against Russia's unprovoked invasion.

"In order to ensure the stability and security of the entire European region, its defense industry must increase production, coordinate, and work as one integral defense industry complex of the Euro-Atlantic community," Kuleba said in introductory remarks at the first meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Council in Brussels on November 29.

The NATO-Ukraine Council, the joint body in which Kyiv and its allies sit as equal participants, was launched at the NATO summit in Vilnius in July.

Earlier this month, European diplomats told RFE/RL on condition of anonymity that the European Union was concerned that it will not be able to supply Ukraine with the 1 million artillery rounds by March next year as promised in spring by EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell.

Earlier on November 29, Russian shelling of Ukraine's Donetsk and Kharkiv regions caused casualties among civilians and damage to infrastructure, despite Ukrainian air defenses repelling a large drone attack on several parts of Ukraine.

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Seven civilians were wounded in Donetsk overnight, the acting head of the region, Ihor Moroz, said on November 29. Five residents were wounded in the industrial city of Toretsk and two in Severniy, Moroz said on Telegram.

In the Kharkiv region, Russian shelling caused extensive damage overnight to infrastructure, residential areas, administrative buildings, businesses, and educational facilities, Governor Oleh Synyehubov said.

The cities of Kharkiv, Chuhuyiv, and Kupyansk bore the brunt of the Russian bombardment, Synyehubov said. No casualties were immediately reported, he added.

Russia also unleashed a fresh wave of drones on Ukraine overnight, launching 21 Iranian-made unmanned aerial vehicles and three Kh-59 guided missiles, the Ukrainian Air Force said in a statement early on November 29.

"All the enemy's attack drones were destroyed above the Odesa, Dnipropetrovsk, Kyiv, Kherson, Zaporizhzhya, and Khmelnytskiy regions. Also, two guided missiles were destroyed in the Mykolayiv region. A third one did not reach its target," the air force said. No casualties or damage was immediately reported.

On the battlefield, Ukrainian forces were engaged in 87 close-quarter battles over the past 24 hours, the General Staff of Ukraine's military said in its daily report on November 29.

Heavy fighting continued in Kharkiv and in Donetsk region where Russian forces have been incessantly attacking Ukrainian positions in the industrial city of Avdiyivka. Moscow's troops have been unsuccessfully trying to encircle for several weeks at a heavy cost of human lives and equipment.

Anton, an artilleryman from a brigade stationed near the southern flank of the embattled city, told an RFE/RL correspondent that the situation had become more "difficult and intense" since the beginning of the Russian offensive in the area on October 10.

"I have long stopped counting the targets that we are destroying, and the Russians themselves don't stop sending thousands [of their soldiers] to certain death," he said.

The costs have been high for Ukraine as well.

Oleksandr, a doctor heading a triage site close to Avdiyivka, said that wounded Ukrainian soldiers were arriving at his facility every few hours. As his team treated a soldier with the call sign "President" for a minor injury, he said he was seeing more and more soldiers come in with bullet wounds, indicating that more close-quarter combat is being fought in the area.

The military said that Ukrainian marines continue to hold bridgeheads on the left bank of Dnieper River after landing there earlier this month. The report could not be independently confirmed.

Russian troops one year ago withdrew eastward from Kherson city in the face of Ukrainian advances, crossing the Dnieper, but continuing to shell the city and its surroundings from the left bank.

On November 19, the Ukrainian military said it had pushed Russian forces some "3 to 8 kilometers" east of the Dnieper River as its forces secured bridgeheads on the eastern side of the waterway.

With reporting by Aleksander Palikot in the Donetsk region

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