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NATO 'Ready To Act' In Kosovo If Tensions With Serbia Escalate

Kosovo's government has set a date of October 31 for imposing "reciprocal" local-registration requirements on vehicles crossing the Kosovar-Serbian border similar to those already required by Serbian authorities.

A deputy commander of NATO's peacekeeping mission in Kosovo says the alliance is "ready to act" and even prepared to increase troop numbers if trouble erupts amid a vehicle-licensing standoff between Kosovo and Serbia.

Brigadier General Luca Piperni told journalists at the Kosovo Force (KFOR) headquarters in the Kosovar capital, Pristina: "We are vigilant and ready to act...if we have an increase of tensions, but we can also draw on reserve forces...that we can call in at short notice."

Serbia doesn't recognize its former province Kosovo as an independent state, and 10 years of EU-mediated talks aimed at normalizing diplomatic and other mutual relations have so far failed.

Kosovo's government has set a date of October 31 for imposing "reciprocal" local-registration requirements on vehicles crossing the Kosovar-Serbian border similar to those already required by Serbian authorities.

Piperni called the current situation calm but tense and said he could not exclude the risk of fresh unrest or violence in heavily Serb northern Kosovo as the deadline looms.

The vehicle-registration issue and refusal to respect mutual ID documents have long posed practical problems in northern Kosovo in particular, where ethnic Serbs are in the majority.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell announced a compromise deal on August 27 over the distribution of exit and entrance documents in which Serbia agreed to abolish entry and exit documents for Kosovo ID holders and Kosovo agreed not to introduce them for Serbian ID holders.

He welcomed it as a "European solution" to a stubborn problem in the Balkans, where ethnically fueled wars killed more than 130,000 during and after the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

Last weekend, a text circulated online that some suggested was a "new framework" for the EU-mediated talks on normalization between Serbia and Kosovo.

On September 19, Vucic said he'd rejected an EU envoy's effort to give him a document and suggested that his country faced problems whether or not it "accepted" Kosovo's membership in the United Nations.

"If the situation deteriorates, we are ready to intervene, we are ready to be in the middle between the protesters and the security organizations," Piperni said. "We have sufficient forces to deal with the situation.... With that amount of troops we can end any kind of increase of tensions."

Based on reporting by Reuters

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West Rebuked In UN Rights Council Vote To Debate China's Treatment Of Uyghur Muslims

It was only the second time in the Human Rights Council's 16-year history that a motion has been rejected. (file photo)

In a rare defeat for Western nations at the UN Human Rights Council, developing nations voted down a motion to hold a debate over alleged human rights abuses in China's Xinjiang region after a UN report found possible crimes against humanity against Uyghurs and other Muslims.

The motion, pushed for by the United States, Canada, Europe and Japan, was defeated 19-17 with 11 abstentions as countries from Asia, South America, Africa, and the Middle East banded together.

Many developing countries in the 47-member council are thought to have avoided publicly defying Beijing for fear of jeopardizing Chinese investment.

It was only the second time in the council's 16-year history that a motion has been rejected, prompting some analysts to characterize the failure as a setback to both accountability efforts and the West's moral authority.

Dolkun Isa, president of the World Uyghur Congress, noted extreme disappointment with the fact that Muslim countries such as Indonesia, Pakistan, and Qatar all voted down the motion.

"This is a disaster. This is really disappointing," Isa said.

The vote came about after then-UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet issued a report describing China's "appalling treatment" of Uyghurs and other minorities.

Bachelet's report, which followed a trip to the region, came just minutes before she left her post on August 31.

China has been accused for years of detaining more than 1 million Uyghurs and other Muslims in the region.

The UN Human Rights Office could not confirm how many people were affected by the centers but concluded that the system operated on a "wide scale" across the entire region.

Beijing vigorously denies any abuses.

With reporting by AP and Reuters

Initial Probe Of Nord Stream Leaks Strengthens Sabotage Suspicions, Swedish Investigators Say

A photo taken from a Danish fighter jet on September 27 shows a gas leak from the Nord Stream 2 pipeline in the Baltic Sea.

Sweden's security police and prosecutor's office say a preliminary investigation into leaks from two Russian gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea has strengthened suspicions of sabotage as the cause.

The Swedish Security Police said on October 6 that the probe confirmed that “detonations" caused “extensive damage” to the Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 pipelines last week.

The service didn't give details about its investigation, but a separate statement from the Swedish prosecutor who led the preliminary investigation said “seizures have been made at the crime scene and these will now be investigated.”

The prosecutor, Mats Ljungqvist, did not identify the seized evidence, but he said he had given “directives to temporarily block [the area] and carry out a crime scene investigation."

The governments of Denmark and Sweden previously said they suspected that several hundred pounds of explosives were involved in carrying out a deliberate act of sabotage.

The EU and NATO also called the explosions “sabotage,” with some EU officials accusing Russia of being behind the attack. The Kremlin has denied any involvement and pointed the finger at the United States, an accusation that Washington immediately dismissed.

Leaks in four places along the pipelines in the Swedish and Danish exclusive economic zones in the Baltic Sea lasted about a week, discharging huge amounts of methane into the air.

The pipelines -- built to carry Russian natural gas supplied by Kremlin-controlled natural gas giant Gazprom to Germany -- were filled with Russian gas at the time of the explosions, but were not operational due to the consequences of the war in Ukraine and tensions with Russia.

Russia earlier this year slashed exports through Nord Stream 1, claiming Western sanctions on equipment and services impaired its ability to maintain the pipeline. Nord Stream 2, the newer pipeline, was never put into operation.

The Nord Stream operators, based in Switzerland, said this week that they were unable to inspect the damaged sections because of restrictions imposed by Danish and Swedish authorities who had cordoned off the area.

The statement from Sweden's Prosecution Authority said the area where gas spewed out was no longer cordoned off.

Russia said on October 6 that it had been informed through diplomatic channels that it was not able to join the investigation.

"As of now, there are no plans to ask the Russian side to join investigations," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters, adding that Moscow replied it was not possible to conduct an objective investigation without its participation.

Sweden's justice minister said it was not possible to let others take part in a Swedish criminal investigation.

Denmark's Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod told Reuters on October 6 that his ministry had not told Russia to stay out of the investigation, but that a police-led taskforce comprising members from Denmark, Sweden, and Germany was in charge of the investigation.

With reporting by AP, Reuters, and dpa

Three Jehovah's Witness Get Prison Terms In Russian-Annexed Crimea Amid Crackdown

Jehovah's Witnesses" Volodymyr Maladyka (left), Yevhen Zhukov (center), and Volodymyr Sakada were each sentenced to six years in prison on October 6.

SEVASTOPOL, Ukraine -- A Moscow-imposed court in the Russian-annexed Ukrainian Black Sea peninsula of Crimea has sentenced three Jehovah's Witnesses to prison terms amid an ongoing crackdown against the religious group.

The Crimean Solidarity human rights group said on October 6 that the Nakhimov district court in the city of Sevastopol sentenced Yevhen Zhukov, Volodymyr Maladyka, and Volodymyr Sakada to six years in prison each after finding them guilty of organizing activities for the group, which was labeled as extremist and banned in Russia in 2017 but is legal in Ukraine.

The court also ruled that, after serving their prison terms, the three men will be placed under parole-like controls for one year. They were also banned from publicly expressing their views and from publishing articles in media and on the Internet for seven years after finishing their prison sentences.

The case against Zhukov, Maladyka, Sakada, and a fourth believer, Ihor Shmidt, was launched in October 2020 after their homes were searched.

Shmidt was tried separately and sentenced to six year in prison in late October last year.

Since the faith was outlawed in Russia, many Jehovah's Witnesses have been imprisoned in Russia and Russian-annexed Crimea.

The United States has condemned Russia's ongoing crackdown on Jehovah's Witnesses and other peaceful religious minorities.

For decades, the Jehovah's Witnesses have been viewed with suspicion in Russia, where the dominant Orthodox Church is championed by President Vladimir Putin.

The Christian group is known for door-to-door preaching, close Bible study, rejecting military service, and not celebrating national and religious holidays or birthdays.

According to the group, dozens of Jehovah's Witnesses were either convicted of extremism or are being held in pretrial detention.

The Moscow-based Memorial Human Rights Center has recognized dozens of Jehovah’s Witnesses who've been charged with or convicted of extremism as political prisoners.

Russia Submits Preliminary Objection To Genocide Case Brought By Ukraine In UN Court

The Hague-based International Court of Justice is the supreme judicial institution of the United Nations. (file photo)

Russia has submitted a preliminary objection to a genocide case brought by Ukraine against Russia, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) said on October 6.

The UN’s highest court said on Twitter that it had received the filing, which has not been made public, on October 3.

Moscow argued in a letter to the court earlier this year that the court -- the UN’s highest for disputes between states -- did not have jurisdiction because the Genocide Convention does not regulate the use of force between states.

Parties can file preliminary objections with the ICJ if they believe the court does not have jurisdiction.

Ukraine filed the case shortly after Russia's invasion began on February 24, saying that Moscow's stated justification for the invasion -- that it was acting to prevent a genocide in eastern Ukraine -- was unfounded.

During hearings in March, Ukraine said there was no threat of genocide in eastern Ukraine, and that the UN's 1948 Genocide Convention, which both countries have signed, does not allow an invasion to prevent an invasion.

ICJ judges subsequently ordered Russia to stop the invasion as an emergency measure while it looked into the merits of Ukraine's claim.

The Kremlin rejected that order, saying both sides would have to agree to end the hostilities for the ruling to be implemented.

The next step in the case will be a hearing on the objection against the jurisdiction of the court. No date has been set.

The Hague-based ICJ resolves legal complaints submitted by states over alleged breaches of international law. It is the supreme judicial institution of the United Nations.

Based on reporting by Reuters

Amnesty Says Dozens Killed By Iranian Security Forces In Southeast Amid Protests

Iran has been rocked by protests since the death of a young woman in police custody last month.

Amnesty International said dozens have been killed by Iranian security forces in the city of Zahedan in the southeastern Sistan-Baluchistan province as unrest across Iran continues to build.

The rights group said in a report on October 6 that Iranian security forces unlawfully killed at least 66 people, including children, and injured hundreds of others after firing live ammunition, metal pellets and teargas at protesters, bystanders, and worshippers during a violent crackdown after Friday prayers on 30 September in Zahedan.

Since then, another 16 people were killed in separate incidents in Zahedan amid an ongoing clampdown on protests that have broadened in recent weeks since 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died while in police custody after being detained for improperly wearing an Islamic head scarf, or hijab.

“The Iranian authorities have repeatedly shown utter disregard for the sanctity of human life and will stop at nothing to preserve power," Agnes Callamard, Amnesty International’s secretary-general, said in the report.

"The callous violence being unleashed by Iran’s security forces is not occurring in a vacuum. It is the result of systematic impunity and a lackluster response by the international community,” she added.

Since Amini's death on September 16, anti-government street protests have rocked the country.

Reports overnight on October 5 said demonstrations took place in the cities of Talesh, Kermanshah, Shiraz, Qom and Tehran.

In the northern Iranian city of Talesh, a group of young people blocked the streets by lighting fires, while in the western city of Kermanshah, a group of women rallied under the slogan "Women, Life, Freedom." In a sign of support, passing cars continuously honked their horns.

In the holy Shi’ite city of Qom, many people gathered in the residential areas of the city and chanted "Don't be afraid; We are all together."

In Tehran, groups of girls took off their hijab while accompanied by boys, and then marched defiantly in the Tajrish neighborhood, while in another part of the city a group of protesters confronted security forces with the slogans "Shameless" and "Death to Khamenei," a reference to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.


In a video sent to RFERL’s Radio Farda, security forces on motorcycles can be seen firing tear gas at protesters' cars in Tehran's Parkway neighborhood.

Amnesty's death toll for Zahedan comes after Human Rights Watch said that at least 154 people, including nine children, have been killed over the past 18 days during the protests over Amini's death.

"Iranian authorities have ruthlessly cracked down on widespread anti-government protests with excessive and lethal force throughout Iran," HRW said on October 5.

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

Belarusian Strongman Lukashenka Bans Price Hikes To Curb Inflation

Belarusian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka (file photo)

MINSK -- Belarus' authoritarian ruler, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, has banned price increases as he looks to tackle accelerating inflation in a country wracked by Western sanctions over his disputed election and support for Russia in Moscow's war against Ukraine.

Lukashenka announced the move on October 6 at a meeting with government officials.

"As of the 6th [of October], all price increases are banned. Banned! As of today. Not tomorrow, today. This is so no one can drive up prices in the next 24 hours. That is why price increases are banned as of today," Lukashenka said.

Lukashenka explained his decision by citing what he called an "outrageous" rise in food prices in recent months.

"Prices cannot go higher... But there are exclusions, and those exclusions are under the control of the [economy] minister and governors," Lukashenka added without providing further details.

Lukashenka said that for the January-September period, inflation was 13 percent, and could have quickened further to 19 percent by the end of the year if no measure had been undertaken.

He ordered the government and the central bank to take measures to slow inflation to 7-8 percent by January 2023.

Four Belarusian Journalists Handed Prison Terms As Lukashenka's Crackdown Continues

Iryna Leushyna (left), Dzmitry Navazhylau (second from left), Andrey Alyaksandrau (second from right), and Iryna Zlobina have rejected the charges against them.

MINSK -- Four journalists from the banned BelaPAN news agency have been handed prison terms as the Belarusian government continues to crack down on independent media following mass protests sparked by a disputed presidential election in August 2020 that handed victory to authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

Judge Vyachaslau Tuleyka of the Minsk regional court on October 6 sentenced BelaPAN's former Deputy Director Andrey Alyaksandrau to 14 years in prison after finding him guilty of high treason, organizing illegal rallies, and tax evasion.

Alyaksadrau's wife, journalist Iryna Zlobina, was found guilty of high treason and organizing illegal rallies and sentenced to nine years in prison.

BelaPAN's former director, Dzmitry Navazhylau, and chief editor Iryna Leushyna were sentenced to six and four years in prison respectively on tax evasion changes.

The journalists, who went on trial in June, have rejected the charges. The case against them was launched last year after police searched BelaPAN's headquarters.

In late 2020, several BelaPAN journalists fled the country following another wave of searches by police of homes of independent journalists.

Lukashenka, 68 and in power since 1994, has tightened his grip on the country since the election by arresting -- sometimes violently -- tens of thousands of people. Fearing for their safety, most opposition members have fled the country.

The West has refused to recognize the results of the election and does not consider Lukashenka to be the country's legitimate leader. Many countries have imposed several rounds of sanctions against his regime in response to the suppression of dissent in the country.

Despite Recent Statements, Russia Says It's Committed To Avoiding Nuclear War

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova (file photo)

Russia says it is remains "fully committed" to avoiding a nuclear conflict amid global concerns that recent statements from the Kremlin indicated atomic weapons are an option if Moscow's war on Ukraine escalates.

"The Russian Federation, to the full extent, sticks to the principle of not allowing a nuclear war to unfold... We have said and confirmed that many times. There will be no winners in such a war and it must never be unleashed," Russian Foreign Ministry's spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told a news briefing on October 6.

President Vladimir Putin and other senior Russian officials have said in recent days that they are not "bluffing" with their statements that Moscow "has a right to use all its military means to defend its territories," including "newly joined regions."


Many in the West have taken that to mean the use of nuclear weapons by Russia is not off the table.

According to Russia's military doctrine, the country has a right to use nuclear weapons in case if there is a threat to the country's existence.

Based on reporting by RIA Novosti and TASS

EU Formalizes Eighth Round Of Sanctions Against Russia

(file photo)

The European Union's eighth sanctions package on Russia over its war in Ukraine was officially adopted on October 6 after gaining final approval the previous day, the bloc's executive arm said.

The package, which was formalized on October 6 in the absence of any objections from the 27 EU members, is meant to deprive Moscow of billions of euros in revenues from the sale of products that the EU says generate significant revenues for Russia.

The European Commission welcomed the adoption of what it called fresh hard-hitting sanctions against Russia for its aggression against Ukraine.

"This package -- which has been closely coordinated with our international partners -- responds to Russia's continued escalation and illegal war against Ukraine, including by illegally annexing Ukrainian territory based on sham 'referenda,' mobilizing additional troops, and issuing open nuclear threats," the commission said in a statement.

The new sanctions, which the bloc says will deprive Russia of a further 7 billion euros ($6.9 billion) in revenues, extend a ban on imports from Russia of steel and steel products, imports of wood pulp and paper, imports of machinery and appliances not yet covered by existing sanctions. They also extend a ban on imports of intermediate chemicals, plastics, and cigarettes.

Additionally, the sanctions ban the export of EU goods used in aviation, such as tires and brakes, and they extend a ban on the export of electric components, including certain semiconductors and less sophisticated components than those already banned.

In addition, the sanctions ban the export of certain chemical substances, nerve agents, and goods that have “no practical use other than for capital punishment, torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

The sanctions also target more individuals at the Russian Defense Ministry, people involved in Moscow's referendum votes in occupied parts of four regions of Ukraine, and those participating in evading sanctions.

Notably, the eighth package of punitive measures includes a ban on EU citizens sitting on the boards of Russian state companies.

"Russia should not benefit from European knowledge and expertise," the commission said, in an apparent nod to popular outrage over the cases of Gerhard Schroeder and Francois Fillon -- former top European politicians who subsequently took jobs on Russian boards.

The EU said it was motivated to impose the sanctions by Russia’s repeated threat to use weapons of mass destruction, a reference to Putin’s comments that he would defend Russian territory “with any means at our disposal.”

The sanctions stop short of imposing measures sought by Poland and the Baltic states, including a complete ban on nuclear energy cooperation, diamond imports, and the blacklisting of Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church.

"The package could have been far stronger," said Andrzej Sados, Poland's ambassador to the EU. "But given that we require unanimity...it is important that we have this strong response to Russia's latest aggressive steps."

The new sanctions package also includes a price cap on maritime transport to third countries of Russian crude oil. It does not affect the exceptions allowing certain EU member states to continue importing crude oil and petroleum products from Russia by pipeline.

With reporting by Reuters and AP

Uzbek City Mayor Arrested On Embezzlement Charges

The mayor of Uzbekistan's southern border city of Termiz has been arrested on embezzlement charges, an official close to the city administration told RFE/RL on condition of anonymity.

According to the official, who spoke to RFE/RL on October 5, Isroil Khudoiberdiev was fired from the post on September 21 and is currently under arrest along with his deputy, Gairat Elamanov.

A source close to the Uzbek Prosecutor-General's Office told RFE/RL that the charges against Khudoiberdiev and Elamanov stem from the construction of a large food market in the city on the border with Afghanistan, which was completed in 2020.

Khudoiberdiev has served as the mayor of Termiz since 2017.

Khudoiberdiev's arrest comes amid a house cleaning by President Shavkat Mirziyoev, who has fired mayors and governors of 14 cities and districts in the last 10 days.

London-based analyst Alisher Ilhamov told RFE/RL that corruption among mayors and governors in Central Asia's most-populous nation of some 35 million is a big problem, emphasizing the lack of transparency in the regional leaders' activities.

According to Ilhamov, if mayors and local governors were elected by residents instead of being appointed by Tashkent, they would be more accountable to voters and therefore more transparent with their decisions and operations on a regular basis.

"The accountability of governors to the people can be established only via elections. We remember Mirziyoev's words, when he promised right after he came to power [in 2016] to introduce a system of elections of governors and mayors. That has never been done," Ilhamov said.

Amnesty Calls For Halt In Retribution Sentences In Iran As Three Await Blinding

Islamic law adheres to the notion of an "eye for an eye" under the "qesas" principle.

Amnesty International has issued a demand for Iran to immediately end carrying out retribution sentences as three inmates await being blinded, part of what the rights group called an "alarming" increase in such punishments.

In a statement issued on October 5, Amnesty said two men and a woman were at "imminent risk" of judicially sanctioned blinding after their cases were sent to a unit of the judiciary in Tehran to carry out the sentences under the principle of "qesas" (retribution in kind).

"[We] call on you to immediately stop any plans to implement any blinding sentences, and quash the blinding sentences of all three as they amount to torture, and grant them fair retrials without resorting to corporal punishments," Amnesty said in the statement.

Islamic law adheres to the notion of an "eye for an eye" under the qesas principle. Victims or their families have the final say in such cases and can stop the punishment.

The implementation of corporal punishment under Islamic law, including lashings, amputations, and blinding, is controversial in Iran, where many citizens have criticized it as inhumane and barbaric.

Such retribution sentences used to be rare but have increased in frequency since 2015.

Human rights groups say the punishments violate international laws and amount to torture and the cruel treatment of those convicted while requiring doctors to administer such procedures violates medical ethical codes.

In the past, Iranian officials have admitted that it has been difficult to find medical professionals willing to carry out punishments.

"Iran is a state party to ICCPR [the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights] and as such is legally obliged to prohibit and punish torture in all circumstances and without exception," Amnesty said.

Amnesty International has previously said that the penalties expose "the utter brutality of Iran’s justice system and underlines the Iranian authorities' shocking disregard for basic humanity."

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

Jailed Russian Opposition Politician Kara-Murza Additionally Charged With Treason

Vladimir Kara-Murza (file photo)

MOSCOW -- Jailed Russian opposition politician Vladimir Kara-Murza reportedly has been charged with high treason.

Russian media quoted unnamed law enforcement officials and sources as saying that the high-treason charge against Kara-Murza stems from his alleged cooperation with organizations in a NATO member for many years.

If convicted, the staunch Kremlin opponent faces up to 20 years in prison.

The 41-year-old politician was detained in April and sentenced to 15 days in jail on a charge of disobeying a police order. He was later charged with spreading false information about the Russian military while speaking to lawmakers in the U.S. state of Arizona.

Kara-Murza has rejected the charge, calling it politically motivated.

His lawyer, Vadim Prokhorov, told TASS on October 6 that the treason charge against Kara-Murza stems from speeches he gave at events in Lisbon, Helsinki, and Washington that criticized the Kremlin's rule.

“These speeches did not carry any threat to the country; it was public, open criticism,” Prokhorov said, according to TASS.

His arrest comes amid a mounting crackdown on Russian opposition figures and any dissent to the ongoing war in Ukraine that Moscow launched against its neighbor on February 24.

In August, Kara-Murza was additionally charged with carrying out activities of an undesirable organization for taking part in organizing a conference in Moscow last year to support political prisoners in Russia that was sponsored by the foreign-based Free Russia Foundation. That group has been declared "undesirable" in Russia.

The "undesirable organization" law, adopted in 2015, was part of a series of regulations pushed by the Kremlin that squeezed many nonprofit and nongovernmental organizations that received funding from foreign sources -- mainly from Europe and the United States.

Russian lawmakers have since dramatically widened the scope of the law, including to bar Russian nationals and organizations anywhere in the world from taking part in the activities of such "undesirable" groups.

In early March, President Vladimir Putin signed a law that calls for lengthy prison terms for distributing "deliberately false information" about Russian military operations.

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

A close associate of slain opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, Kara-Murza is best known for falling deathly ill on two separate occasions in Moscow -- in 2015 and 2017-- with symptoms consistent with poisoning.

Tissue samples smuggled out of Russia by his relatives were turned over to the FBI, which investigated his case as one of "intentional poisoning."

U.S. government laboratories also conducted extensive tests on the samples, but documents released by the Justice Department suggest they were unable to reach a conclusive finding.

With reporting by TASS, RT, and Izvestia

European Leaders Meet In Prague To Talk Energy, Security In Face Of Ukraine War

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian arrives in Prague, where he said he will meet with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev to discuss their ongoing conflict over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Leaders from more than 40 countries are gathering in Prague for an inaugural summit of a continental forum aimed at bringing Europe together in the face of Russia's war in Ukraine and the resulting energy crisis.

The stated aim of the European Political Community -- a brainchild of French President Emmanuel Macron -- is to improve cooperation between European Union countries and nonmembers such as Britain, Turkey, and the states of the Western Balkans and the Caucasus region.

Among those set to meet in Prague Castle on October 6 are the leaders of Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Georgia, Iceland, Kosovo, Liechtenstein, Moldova, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Norway, Serbia, and Switzerland.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal is set to attend in person while President Volodymyr Zelenskiy is due to join by video.

The gathering has been billed by Brussels as a "platform for political coordination," but despite the rhetoric, few concrete results are expected from the summit.

Russia, which is not invited, will loom over the meeting as discussions focus on the economic and security fallout from its invasion of Ukraine.

The meeting is likely be dominated by differences about how to cap gas prices to contain soaring energy costs driven by the war.

The group meets for a plenary session followed by a family photograph.

Participants will then hold several smaller roundtable discussions on security, energy, climate, and the economy.

Participants are then expected to outline the conclusions during a working dinner.

While the usefulness of the meeting has been doubted by observers, some say the the most important events will be the bilateral meetings held on the sidelines.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian has said he will meet Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev together with Macron and EU chief Charles Michel in Prague to discuss their ongoing conflict over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Countries pushing to join the EU -- Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, and the Western Balkan states -- have had reservations about the event, concerned that it could end up being a consolation prize to replacing serious membership discussions.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's attendance has also been viewed with reluctance by EU members Greece and Cyprus, who have long-standing disputes with Ankara.

With reporting by AFP, Reuters, dpa, and Politico.eu

Schmidt Says Bosnian Election-Night Decrees Have Country 'On Right Track'

High Representative in Bosnia-Herzegovina Christian Schmidt (left) spoke with RFE/RL in Sarajevo on October 5.

High Representative to Bosnia-Herzegovina Christian Schmidt says he's pleased with the "definite momentum" in the Balkan country since his dramatic election-night intervention to alter and unblock key institutions.

In a wide-ranging interview with RFE/RL, he also said that while "the country has priority and should make decisions on its own," he could invoke his international authority again "if I don't see another way to solve problems or difficulties."

Schmidt also acknowledged that his amendment of election laws, the constitution, and the formation of the legislature in the Bosniak and Croat federation that makes up half of Bosnia was motivated by the desire to avert a "blockade" by the largest ethnic Croatian party, the Croatian Democratic Union of Bosnia and Herzegovina (HDZBiH).

"It seems to me that we are somewhat on the right track," Schmidt said in the German-language interview on October 5.

Critics have accused Schmidt, the UN's overseer of civilian and administrative aspects of the 26-year-old peace deal that still governs Bosnia along ethnic lines, of dealing a major blow to Bosnian democracy by using his so-called "Bonn powers" to sidestep local officials.

But he said his move "is not a test of who will win here" but rather allows elected politicians to "show what they know and can do" to overcome decades of political stalemate.

"I think that we have reached a certain stage, and some other things must happen for sure -- yes, there are some weaknesses -- but I think that overall we can still say that we are on the right path, and that's how I understood everyone I talked to [after the election], including the representatives 'under scrutiny.'"

Bosnia is made up of the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina, with a majority Bosniak and minority Croatian population, and the Republika Srpska, where majority Serbs led by Milorad Dodik have threatened secession.

Schmidt cited leaders' inability to form a government or appoint a president within the federation since elections in 2018, despite the HDZBiH party's popularity among Croats, as a major factor in his decision to intervene.

"That is absurd," said Schmidt, who took over as high representative with wide-ranging powers just over a year ago. "Until now, the situation was such that we had this blockade, which was created by the HDZ," he said.

Schmidt's election-day changes to the upcoming process of cantonal appointments and a new 30-day deadline mean "that blockade won't be able to go on like that anymore."

"I think that, because of that, it is a very pragmatic and correct decision," he told RFE/RL.

Two of the three seats in the ethnically partitioned Bosnian presidency were won by moderates over more ethno-nationalist candidates, with the exception being the victory of a Dodik ally for the Serbs' seat.

Losers included the HDZBiH's nominee, feeding long-running resentment that majority Bosniak votes can tip the balance for the Croats' seat.

Schmidt said his tenure so far had "really made a strong impression on me how big the difference is between the ruling political structures and normal people."

That situation "is something that needs to be broken, and the high representative cannot do it alone -- that must be done by the citizens."

Schmidt said he'd therefore amended the federation's constitution to give lawmakers one year to adopt legislation to allow citizens to submit proposed laws to parliament.

Responding to questions about Russia and Serbia's perceived encouragement of Bosnian Serb secessionist efforts, Schmidt said he spoke by phone with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic on October 5 and said both men "are basically of the same opinion here and we believe the Dayton agreement [of 1995] must be accepted and the territorial integrity of Bosnia-Herzegovina is inviolable."

"People don't want war here...and I think that Mr. Dodik also knows that," he said.

High Representative Schmidt On Russian Influence: 'No Imminent Danger For Bosnia-Herzegovina'
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He cited Russia's aggression against Ukraine and said that while Moscow's influence in Bosnia remained to be seen, "I don't think that we currently have any acute danger for Bosnia-Herzegovina."

Schmidt said he desired "strongly...that in the coming years [Bosnia] will finally start the path toward European integration."

Kazakh Opposition Activists Detained At Rally Demanding Jailed Leader's Release

KDP activists are detained by police in Almaty on October 6.

ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- Several activists from the unregistered opposition Democratic Party of Kazakhstan (KDP) have detained during a rally in Kazakhstan's largest city, Almaty, where they were demanding the immediate release of their jailed leader, Zhanbolat Mamai.

Dozens of KDP activists marched from a subway station in Almaty toward the headquarters of the ruling Amanat party on October 6 chanting "Down with Amanat (the ruling party) that served [former Kazakh President Nursultan] Nazarbaev," and "Free Zhanbolat!"

Police officers followed the activists as they marched.

When the activists reached Amanat headquarters, they unfolded posters saying "[President Qasym-Zhomart] Toqaev, release Zhanbolat!"

At that moment, police began detaining the activists and taking them away in police cars.

One of the detained activists, Aruzhan Duisebaeva, told RFE/RL by phone that police beat at least one of the activists while in custody.

The rally was held the day after a court in Almaty extended Mamai's pretrial detention until at least November 12.

Mamai, who was arrested in February, may face up to 10 years in prison on charges of organizing mass riots and knowingly disseminating false information during protests in January, which he and his supporters reject as politically motivated.

Mamai, known for his strong criticism of the authoritarian government, has been trying to register the KDP for years but claims he is being prevented from doing so by the government.

He says officials only permit parties loyal to the political powers to be legally registered.

Meanwhile, the ruling Amanat party at its congress on October 6 in Astana, the capital, officially proposed incumbent Toqaev as its candidate for an early presidential election scheduled for November 20.

Large Demonstration In Budapest Demands Better Conditions For Teachers

The protest later grew into the biggest anti-government demonstration since Prime Minister Viktor Orban's reelection in April.

Tens of thousands of Hungarians have demonstrated in Budapest against low pay and poor working conditions for teachers, who have launched an "I want to teach" campaign and called for civil disobedience to demand higher wages.

The demonstration on October 5 started with students forming a chain stretching for kilometers across Budapest, and students temporarily blocking a downtown bridge in the morning.

The protest later grew into the biggest anti-government demonstration since Prime Minister Viktor Orban's reelection in April.

Protesters carried posters that read "We are with our teachers" and "No teachers, no future." One banner said, "Do not fire our teachers" and another said, "For a glimpse of the future, look at the schools of the present."

The demonstration was organized by civilians in solidarity with teachers who were fired due to civil disobedience actions.

Orban's government has said it can only meet teachers' demands once the European Union releases billions of euros of long-held-up pandemic recovery funds.

Brussels has not yet signed off on the release because of corruption concerns and rule-of-law disputes.

A month ago, thousands demonstrated for better working conditions for teachers, some of whom temporarily stopped work in protest as schools reopened after summer recess.

With reporting by Reuters and AFP

HRW Says Iran 'Ruthlessly' Stifles Protests, Calls For International Action

Women hold signs during a protest against the Islamic regime of Iran and the death of Mahsa Amini outside the Iranian Embassy in Mexico City on September 27.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has accused Tehran of employing excessive repressive measures, including lethal force, against participants in weeks-long nationwide anti-government protests sparked by the death last month of a young woman arrested by Iran's morality police.

Mahsa Amini died on September 16, three days after being detained by morality police because of "improperly" wearing the hijab, a headscarf that is mandatory for women in Iran to wear while in public.

Authorities said the 22-year-old died of a heart attack, an allegation rejected by her family and activists, who say she was subjected to beatings while in custody.

Her death has sparked a wave of protests across the country despite government warnings that a harsh crackdown on any dissent will continue.

At least 154 people, including nine children, have been killed during the 18 days of protest, according to a human rights group.

HRW said it had so far compiled a list of 47 individuals who have been killed, most by bullets, according to rights groups or credible media outlets. The names included at least nine children, two of them girls, and six women.

"Iranian authorities have ruthlessly cracked down on widespread anti-government protests with excessive and lethal force throughout Iran," HRW said October 5.

The New York-based group said it had documented numerous incidents of security forces unlawfully using excessive or lethal force against protesters in 13 cities across Iran.

"Videos showed security forces using shotguns, assault rifles, and handguns against protesters in largely peaceful and often crowded settings, altogether killing and injuring hundreds. In some cases, they shot at people who were running away," the group said.

"The Iranian authorities' brutal response to protests across many cities indicates concerted action by the government to crush dissent with cruel disregard for life," HRW's Tara Sepehri Far said.

"The security forces' widespread shooting of protesters only serves to fuel anger against a corrupt and autocratic government," Far said.

HRW said that the international community should take action and make sure those responsible answer for their deeds.

"Concerned governments should cooperate to increase pressure on Iran and undertake a United Nations-led independent inquiry into serious abuses committed during the protests and recommend avenues for holding those responsible to account," HRW said.

Ukrainian Forces Advance In Regions Seized By Russia As Putin Vows 'Stabilization'

The Ukrainian governor of Zaporizhzhya said early on October 6 that shelling by Russian forces killed at least two people overnight.

Ukrainian forces have continued their advance in the south and east, retaking territory occupied by Moscow, even as President Vladimir Putin said he expected the situation to "stabilize" in the four Ukrainian regions incorporated by Russia last week.

Putin also ordered his government to seize immediate control over Europe's biggest nuclear power plant, located in the Russian-controlled region of Zaporizhzhya, prompting Rafael Grossi, the head of the UN nuclear agency, to depart for Kyiv for consultations on the facility with Ukrainian authorities.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in his nightly address late on October 5 that Novovoskresenske, Novohryhorivka, and Petropavlivka settlements to the northeast of the city of Kherson had been "liberated."

Kherson is the capital of one of four partially Russian-occupied regions that the Kremlin formally seized, along with Donetsk, Luhansk, and Zaporizhzhya.

Oleksandr Starukh, the Ukrainian governor of Zaporizhzhya, said early on October 6 that shelling by Russian forces killed at least two people overnight, damaged or destroyed several residential buildings, and caused widespread fires.

In the eastern region of Luhansk, which has been almost completely under Russian control since the start of Moscow's unprovoked invasion in February, Ukraine also claimed victories over Russian forces.

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 region's Ukrainian governor, Serhiy Hayday, told Ukrainian television that Kyiv's military liberated six settlements in Luhansk. He did not specify the names of these settlements out of concern that Russian forces would then attack them.

"I will hold a pause until the official information of the General Staff. I can only say that these are six settlements," Hayday said.

Britain's Ministry of Defense confirmed the Ukrainian advance in Kherson in its daily intelligence bulletin on October 6.

"Advancing south, Ukrainian units have pushed the front line forwards by up to an additional 20 kilometers," the bulletin said.

Putin indirectly acknowledged Moscow's difficulties in asserting its control over the regions it seized, voicing hope the situation will "stabilize."

"We are working on the assumption that the situation in the new territories will stabilize," Putin told Russian teachers during a televised video call on October 5.

Putin also ordered the Russian state to seize complete control of the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, a move immediately rejected by Kyiv.

"The Zaporizhzhya nuclear plant is now on the territory of the Russian Federation and, accordingly, should be operated under the supervision of our relevant agencies," RIA Novosti news agency quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Vershinin as saying.

The plant, which has been occupied by Russian forces since March, is still run by Ukrainian engineers.

Rosenergoatom, Russia's nuclear power operator, said it would transfer the Ukrainian employees to a new Russian-owned organization.

Ukraine's state nuclear energy company, Enerhoatom, said Putin's decree and other Russian documents regarding the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant were "worthless, absurd, and inadequate."

The International Atomic Energy Agency's Grossi on October 5 said he was headed to Kyiv by train and would visit Moscow later this week.

Grossi said negotiations on a safe zone around the plant were more important than ever.

As Ukrainian forces continued to make advances into several of the four regions seized by Moscow, a senior Russian lawmaker called on military officials to tell the truth about developments on the ground.

"We need to stop lying," the chairman of the lower house of parliament's Defense Committee, Andrei Kartapolov, told a journalist from state-run media.

"The reports of the Defense Ministry do not change. The people know. Our people are not stupid. This can lead to loss of credibility."

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and RFE/RL's Russian Service

U.S. Intelligence Agencies Said To Believe Ukrainians Were Behind Killing Of Russian Nationalist's Daughter

Russian political philosopher Aleksandr Dugin speaks during a mourning ceremony for his daughter, Darya Dugina (Platonova), at the Ostankino Television Technical Center on August 23.

U.S. intelligence agencies believe a car bombing that killed the daughter of Kremlin-connected far-right ideologue Aleksandr Dugin was authorized by elements within the Ukrainian government, according to U.S. media reports.

The United States took no part in the attacks, was not aware of the plan beforehand, and would have opposed the killing had it been consulted, according to unidentified sources briefed on the intelligence who are quoted in the reports.

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 U.S. intelligence community's assessment that the Ukrainian government was complicit in the car bombing, which occurred in Moscow on August 20, was first revealed by The New York Times.

It is still unclear who the United States believes signed off on the killing or if the U.S. intelligence community believes that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy was aware of the plot or authorized it.

It appears to corroborate Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB), which accused Ukraine's secret service of carrying out the bombing just days after it took place.

Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhaylo Podolyak denied that Kyiv was behind the bombing immediately after it was reported.

When asked about the U.S. intelligence assessment, Podolyak reiterated the Ukrainian government's denial.

"Again, I'll underline that any murder during wartime in some country or another must carry with it some kind of practical significance," Podolyak told The New York Times in an interview on October 4.

"It should fulfill some specific purpose, tactical or strategic. Someone like Dugina is not a tactical or a strategic target for Ukraine."

The U.S. officials, who are also quoted by CNN, spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss secret information and matters of sensitive diplomacy.

Ukrainian government officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment from CNN and The New York Times, and the news outlets said U.S. agencies, including the CIA, declined to comment.

U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said on August 22 the United States unequivocally condemned the intentional targeting of civilians anywhere.

He declined to say then whether Washington knew who was behind the attack that killed Dugina.

U.S. intelligence officials believe that Dugina was driving her father's car on the night she was killed, and that her father was the actual target of the bombing, one of the sources said.

According to family members, Dugin and his daughter, who was described as a journalist and political analyst, had attended a festival outside Moscow and he had decided to switch cars at the last minute.

In a statement released by a close associate on August 22, Dugin described his daughter as a "rising star" who was "treacherously killed by enemies of Russia."

Dugin, a Russian ultranationalist and philosopher, has been a fierce proponent of Russia's war in Ukraine.

The killing raised concerns in Washington that such attacks could provoke Moscow to carry out its own strikes against senior Ukrainian officials.

If the intelligence indicating Ukraine's involvement is accurate, it would signal an expansion of Ukraine's covert operations. Ukrainian strikes thus far inside Russia have largely been limited to attacks on fuel depots and military bases in cities along the Russia-Ukraine border.

The Ukrainian government also has quietly acknowledged killing Kremlin-installed officials in regions of Ukraine occupied by Russian forces.

With reporting by The New York Times and CNN

OPEC+ Agrees To Cut Output In Move Favoring Russia While Ignoring U.S. Pleas

OPEC headquarters in Vienna

The Saudi-led OPEC+ cartel, which includes Russia, has agreed to cut output by 2 million barrels per day, its deepest cut in production since the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic.

The decision rebuffed U.S. President Joe Biden, who had urged OPEC+ not to cut production, a move that is likely to result in higher prices, which benefits Russia as it uses oil revenues to fund its ongoing full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

The White House responded by saying Biden was "disappointed by the shortsighted decision" at a time when the global economy is dealing with "the continued negative impact of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin's invasion of Ukraine."

The decision "will have the most negative impact on lower- and middle-income countries that are already reeling from elevated energy prices," national-security adviser Jake Sullivan and National Economic Council Director Brian Deese said in the joint statement.

Biden called on his administration and Congress to explore ways to boost U.S. energy production and reduce OPEC's control over energy prices.

The White House also said Biden was ordering another release of oil from the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve in an attempt to reduce prices.

The next release will continue "as appropriate to protect American consumers and promote energy security, and (Biden) is directing the secretary of energy to explore any additional responsible actions to continue increasing domestic production in the immediate term," the White House statement said.

The White House also expressed concern that the production cut signaled closer cooperation between Saudi Arabia and Russia, which has used oil revenues to fund its war in Ukraine.

White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said the announcement made clear that OPEC+ is aligning with Russia.

"Today's announcement is a reminder of why it is so critical that the United States reduce its reliance on foreign sources of fossil fuels," Jean-Pierre added.

Biden has been trying to lower fuel costs for Americans while simultaneously cutting the amount of revenue Russia receives from energy exports.

Average gasoline costs have fallen by more than $1 a gallon for U.S. consumers from highs earlier this year. Biden, a Democrat, had touted the drop as the U.S. heads into midterm elections in five weeks that could shift control of Congress to Republicans.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and AP

Ukraine Added To Spain-Portugal 2030 World Cup Bid In Sign Of European Solidarity

Portuguese Football Federation President Fernando Gomes (left), Spanish Football Federation President Luis Rubiales (center) and Ukrainian Football Association President Andriy Pavelko pose for photographers in Nyon, Switzerland, on October 5.

Ukraine has been added to Portugal and Spain's bid to host the 2030 World Cup, creating a joint European application to host the soccer tournament in eight years time.

Ukrainian Football Association President Andriy Pavelko said hosting World Cup matches in 2030 would be “the dream of people who survived the horrors of war or are still in the occupied territories and over whom the Ukrainian flag will surely fly soon.”

Pavelko spoke on October 5 alongside his counterparts from Portugal and Spain ahead of the presentation of the formal bid at the headquarters of the UEFA, football’s European governing body, in Nyon, Switzerland.

Pavelko said the project is backed by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, but no details were given about how many games of the 48-team tournament would be staged in Ukraine or in which cities.

The original bid from Spain and Portugal was announced two years ago with the goal of bringing the World Cup back to Europe 12 years after Russia hosted.

“Now it’s not the Iberian bid, it’s the European bid,” Spanish Football Federation President Luis Rubiales said. “Together we represent the power of transformation football has in society.”

The European bid is facing competition from a joint bid from four South American countries -- Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay. Their bid aims to mark the centenary of Uruguay hosting the inaugural 1930 World Cup.

The members of FIFA, football’s world governing body, will choose the host of the 2030 World Cup in a vote scheduled to take place in 2024.

Based on reporting by AP and AFP

Media Watchdog Condemns Tajik Journalist's Imprisonment, Demands His Immediate Release

Tajik journalist Abdullo Ghurbati (file photo)

DUSHANBE -- The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has condemned the imprisonment of noted Tajik journalist Abdullo Ghurbati, who was sentenced to 7 1/2 years in prison on October 4 on charges that he and his supporters have called unfounded.

In a statement issued hours after Ghurbati's verdict and sentence were pronounced in Dushanbe, the CPJ called the punishment "harsh and unjustified."

A court in Dushanbe found Ghurbati guilty of publicly insulting an authority, the minor assault of an authority, and participating in the activities of an extremist group.

Ghurbati pleaded not guilty to all charges and called the case against him groundless.

Ghurbati and blogger Daleri Imomali, known for his articles critical of the government, were detained on June 15 and subsequently sent to pretrial detention for two months.

Imomali was charged with illegal entrepreneurship and premeditated false denunciation. His trial is pending.

“Authorities in Tajikistan should refrain from contesting Ghurbati’s appeal, immediately release him, Imomali, and all other journalists currently imprisoned for their work, and stop their campaign of intimidation against the country’s beleaguered independent press,” said CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, Gulnoza Said, in the statement.

Tajik President Emomali Rahmon has been criticized by international human rights groups for years over his disregard for independent media, religious freedoms, civil society, and political pluralism in the tightly controlled former Soviet republic.

Belgian Court Backs Treaty That Paves Way For Prisoner Swap With Iran

Belgium's government has said that the treaty is the only solution for the release of Olivier Vandecasteele (pictured), a Belgian aid worker jailed in Tehran. (file photo)

A court in Brussels has backed a fiercely criticized treaty allowing prisoner exchanges with Iran, potentially opening the way for an Iranian diplomat imprisoned on terrorism charges to return home in exchange for a Belgian aid worker.

The ruling, according to the Belgian media, lifts a temporary ban on using the treaty that was handed down by an appeals court earlier this year.

Prime Minister Alexander de Croo's government has said that the treaty is the only solution for the release of Olivier Vandecasteele, a Belgian aid worker jailed in Tehran.

Vandecasteele, 41, was detained by Iranian authorities in February, apparently without charge.

In exchange, Iran would likely take back Iranian diplomat Assadollah Assadi, who was last year sentenced to 20 years in connection with a plot to bomb a rally of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), an exiled opposition group, outside Paris in June 2018.

The Belgian opposition has alleged that the agreement with Tehran was tailor-made to permit Assadi's release, while Iranian exiles have also mounted a fierce campaign against the deal, leading a group of 11 human rights organizations to appeal to Brussels to cancel the agreement.

The groups said the treaty could result in the release of a convicted terrorist and “legitimize Iran’s hostage-taking.”

They also warned that the agreement violates the commitment of Belgium and the European Union to hold perpetrators of terrorist acts accountable.

Western countries have repeatedly charged that Iran is trying to take advantage of foreign countries by taking dual and foreign nationals hostage and then using them in prisoner swaps.

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

Crew Of Four, Including Russian Cosmonaut, Launches From U.S. On Mission To ISS

The group of four spacefarers launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, on a SpaceX rocket. 

A Russian cosmonaut and three astronauts launched from the United States on October 5 on a five-month mission to the International Space Station (ISS).

It was the first launch of a cosmonaut from the United States in 20 years and took place despite tensions over the war in Ukraine.

The group of four spacefarers launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, on a SpaceX rocket.

Russian cosmonaut Anna Kikina joined Koichi Wakata of the Japanese space agency and NASA astronauts Marine Colonel Nicole Mann, and Navy Captain Josh Cassada. Wakata, who is making his fifth flight, is the only one of the foursome who has traveled to space before.

“Awesome! said Mann as they reached orbit. "That was a smooth ride uphill. You’ve got three rookies who are pretty happy to be floating in space right now.”

They’re due to arrive at the space station on October 6 and won’t return to Earth until March. They will replace a U.S.-Italian crew that arrived in April.

The space agencies recently agreed to swap seats on their flights to the ISS in order to ensure a continuous U.S. and Russian presence aboard the ISS.

Kikina, the fifth Russian woman in space, will replace NASA’s Frank Rubio, who launched to the space station two weeks ago from Kazakhstan aboard a Soyuz rocket.

Kakina said she was surprised to be selected for the seat swap after encountering “many tests and obstacles” during her decade of training. “But I did it. I’m lucky maybe. I’m strong,” she said.

As for the war in Ukraine, Mann said all four have put politics and personal beliefs aside, “and it’s really cool how the common mission of the space station just instantly unites us.”

Based on reporting by AP and Reuters
Updated

Ukrainian Supreme Court Judge Fired Over Russian Citizenship Following Journalistic Investigation

Bohdan Lvov had been chairman of Ukraine's top court for economic and property disputes. (file photo)

KYIV -- The Ukrainian Supreme Court has dismissed one of its judges following a recent finding by Schemes, the investigative unit of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, that he has Russian citizenship.

In a directive published on October 5, Supreme Court Chairman Vsevolod Knyazyev ordered that Bohdan Lvov be stripped of his powers as a judge and dismissed from the court, effective immediately.

A Supreme Court statement said the decision was based on confirmation from the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) that official Russian registries indicate he possesses Russian citizenship.

The SBU's finding echoed the results of the investigation by Schemes, which reported on September 15 that Lvov had Russian citizenship in addition to his Ukrainian citizenship.

Using multiple sources, Schemes journalists found that Russian government databases contain Lvov's past applications for Russian passports and the use of a Russian passport that bears his name to register his co-ownership of a Moscow apartment and to transfer that ownership share to his wife in 2012.

Under Ukrainian law, judges may not have dual citizenship. Sensitivity about Ukrainians in positions of power with ties to Russia has intensified since Moscow launched a large-scale invasion of Ukraine in February.

In a Facebook post on October 3, the Supreme Court said that the SBU's "verification" of information related to Lvov's case continued.

Meanwhile, Schemes learned from multiple sources that the SBU had suspended the 55-year-old judge's access to state secrets and reported his Russian citizenship to several state bodies, including the State Migration Service and President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's office.

Lvov, who was also dismissed from his position as chairman of the Supreme Court's Commercial Court of Cassation, Ukraine's top court for economic and property disputes, denies that he has ever had Russian citizenship, despite the evidence.

He alleges that documents have been falsified in a bid to discredit him and undermine Ukraine's judicial system. He asserts that the results of a polygraph examination show that he does not have Russian citizenship, but he has not provided substantial evidence to support his claim.

In his 2017 application for a Supreme Court judgeship, he did not acknowledge any foreign citizenship.

Lvov made no immediate comment following the announcement of his dismissal.

Online Petition

Since the initial Schemes report was published, Ukraine's National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NABU) has launched a criminal investigation into the judge's failure to declare the Moscow real estate in past annual financial declarations. NABU has summoned Schemes journalists as witnesses in this investigation.

On September 30, an online petition appeared on the president's website urging Zelenskiy to start an investigation into the Schemes' findings and, if confirmed, to strip Lvov of his Ukrainian citizenship -- an act permitted under Ukrainian law for the voluntary acquisition of foreign citizenship.

By the evening of October 6, the initiative had received more than 22,000 signatures out of the 25,000 required for Zelenskiy to consider this proposal.

Lvov has requested the State Bureau of Investigation and the SBU open investigations into the Schemes report, but neither body has commented publicly about their responses to his appeal.

A representative of the SBU, however, earlier told Schemes that the position of the Security Service "remains unchanged -- representatives of the judicial branch of government must possess Ukrainian citizenship only."

The SBU itself underwent a change of leadership earlier this year for allegedly failing to stamp out collaboration with Russia in its own ranks.

Elizabeth Owen contributed to this report

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