NATO Leaders Endorse New Deployments To Eastern Europe
WARSAW -- NATO leaders have endorsed a major new deployment of armed forces to Eastern Europe, a direct response to growing belligerence from Russia and the largest such move by the alliance since the end of the Cold War.
The decision came as heads of state gathered in the Polish capital July 8 for a two-day summit that U.S. President Barack Obama said “may be the most important moment for our transatlantic alliance" in 25 years.
Aside from Russia, the alliance faces a growing number challenges including Islamic State extremists, cyberattacks, and the influx of millions of people seeking refuge in Europe. Also looming in the background is Britain's vote last month to leave the European Union.
The leaders from the 28 members formally authorized four multinational battalions of up to 1,000 troops to be led by Canada, Germany, Britain, and the United States. They will be stationed in Poland and the three Baltic states.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg called the new deployments, which had been announced earlier, an appropriate deterrence against Russia.
"We have just taken decisions to deliver 21st century deterrence and defense in the face of 21st-century challenges," Stoltenberg told reporters.
Much of the summit’s focus is on Russia, which seized the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in March 2014 and backs separatists whose war with Kyiv’s forces has killed more than 9,300 people in Ukraine's east.
Obama reiterated that in a commentary published on the Financial Times website shortly before the summit began.
“Russia’s aggression against Ukraine threatens our vision of a Europe that is whole, free, and at peace,” Obama wrote.
He highlighted attacks that have been fueled by Islamic State militants’ extremist ideology, attacks that “slaughtered innocents in NATO countries, from Orlando to Paris to Brussels to Istanbul.” And he focused on Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, and conflicts “from Africa to Syria to Afghanistan” that have sent migrants to Europe.
“I believe that our nations must summon the political will, and make concrete commitments, to meet these urgent challenges,” wrote Obama, who also met with EU leaders. “In Warsaw, we must reaffirm our determination -- our duty under Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty -- to defend every NATO ally.”
WATCH: Ukraine Hopes For Help Against Russian "Escalation" -- Deputy PM
The treaty’s Article 5 is the most important component of the alliance, obligating all members to come to the aid of another member if it is attacked. The clause has been invoked only once in the alliance’s 67-year history: after the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001.
Russia’s interference in Ukraine has increased concerns in Poland and Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, which were under Moscow’s thumb until the disintegration of the Soviet Union a quarter-century ago. All are now NATO members.
"We are witnessing the policy of aggression and notorious lack of respect for international law, internal sovereignty, and territorial integrity," the summit host, Polish President Andrzej Duda, said in opening remarks.
Further reflecting the unease many European nations are feeling toward Russia, the leaders of Finland and Sweden -- neither of whom are members -- were attending the summit for the first time. Governments in both countries have openly discussed the possibility of closer cooperation, or even outright membership, in the alliance, a possibility that prompted thinly veiled threats from Moscow.
The U.S.-led battalion comes on top of an additional armored U.S. brigade, which U.S. officials announced earlier this year would begin rotating into Eastern Europe on a regular basis. That brings the number of fully manned U.S. combat brigades with a presence in Europe to three. A brigade comprises about 4,200 to 4,500 troops.
Stoltenberg and other leaders also tried to offer a fig leaf to Moscow, saying alliance would "continue to seek meaningful and constructive dialogue" with Russia, which he called “an integral part of European security."
WATCH: U.S. President Barack Obama said the United States and Europe were united in supporting Ukraine and maintaining sanctions on Russia, ahead of the annual NATO summit in Warsaw. (Reuters)
"NATO does not seek confrontation.... The Cold War is history and should remain history,” he said.
The NATO-Russia Council, which was set up in the 1990s to address Russia’s misgivings about the alliance expanding eastward, is to meet next week for the second time this year. The council was suspended in 2014 following Russia’s seizure of Crimea.
French President Francois Hollande also sounded a conciliatory note toward Russia, saying it should not be considered a threat but rather a partner.
"NATO has no role at all to be saying what Europe's relations with Russia should be. For France, Russia is not an adversary, not a threat," Hollande said.
"Russia is a partner which, it is true, may sometimes, and we have seen that in Ukraine, use force which we have condemned when it annexed Crimea," he added.
Earlier, Duda took an even harder line, saying NATO must stand firm in the face of what he called Russian “blackmail and aggression.”
“Everyone who is tempted to apply the rule of force even for a moment” must be made to “understand quickly that is does not pay off,” Duda said.
Ben Rhodes, a top White House official, also reiterated the stern message intended for Russia, saying Moscow's continued aggression would provoke a NATO repsonse.
"What we are demonstrating is that if Russia continues this pattern of aggressive behavior, there will be a response and there will be a greater presence in Eastern Europe," said Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser.
In addition to military force, Western governments say President Vladimir Putin’s Russia has used cyberattacks, propaganda, and other methods in an effort to destabilize European countries and undermine Western unity.
In Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that it was “absurd to speak of a threat from Russia” and that Moscow hoped "common sense" would prevail at the summit.
“Russia was and is open to dialogue and interested in cooperation -- but only on a mutually beneficial basis and taking into account mutual interests,” Peskov said in a conference call with journalists on July 8.
In an interview in the newspaper Kommersant, Russia's ambassador to NATO, Aleksandr Grushko, said the alliance has a “confrontational agenda" and that Moscow would take countermeasures.
NATO leaders, however, have said Russia’s aggression in Ukraine was what led to the deploying of additional forces. They have also taken Moscow to task for potentially dangerous maneuvers in recent months such as jets buzzing U.S. warships.
Critics of the increased NATO deployments say they are too small to serve as a serious deterrent and may only increase Russia’s ire.
But former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said that "Putin needs no provoking -- he is the provocateur.”
“We need to remember that Putin will be far less likely to engage in provocation if he sees a NATO that is unified, strong, and determined to push back against any aggressive move on his part,” Albright said at a discussion of experts held alongside the summit.
One thing that is not expected is substantial movement toward NATO membership for Ukraine or for Georgia. Those two countries’ aspirations join the alliance were a catalyst of a five-day war in 2008 during which Russian forces drove deep into the former Soviet republic.
Montenegro, however, is participating in the Warsaw Summit as an observer after signing a preliminary agreement in May. The Balkans nations is expected to formally join the alliance next year.
Beyond NATO, Obama said that “our alliance must do more on behalf of global security, especially on Europe’s southern flank. NATO should intensify its commitment to the campaign to destroy (IS) and do more to help the EU shut down criminal networks that are exploiting desperate migrants crossing the Mediterranean and Aegean seas.”
He said his decision to maintain 8,400 U.S. troops in Afghanistan though the end of his presidency “should encourage more allies and partners to affirm their commitment to the NATO mission to train Afghan forces.”
With reporting by AP, dpa, Interfax, The Financial Times, Reuters
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Latvia's electronic media authority has revoked the broadcasting license of the independent Russian television channel Dozhd (Rain), the authority's chief announced on December 6.
The decision, due to come into force on December 8, was made "in connection with the threat to national security and public order," National Electronic Media Council (NEPLP) Chairman Ivars Abolins said.
The TV channel's management "does not understand and is not aware of the significance and seriousness of the violations, and therefore cannot operate on the territory of Latvia," Abolins said.
Dozhd said in a statement that the move was "unfair and absurd."
"The TV channel will stop broadcasting on cable but will remain on YouTube. We continue to work and believe all accusations against us to be unfair and absurd," Dozhd said on Twitter.
The NEPLP granted Dozhd a broadcast license in June after it was forced to suspend operations in Russia in March amid pressure linked to its coverage of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
On December 2, Dozhd was fined 10,000 euros ($10,468) for using a map of Russia with Ukraine's Moscow-occupied Crimea on it and calling Russian armed forces invading Ukraine "our army."
The same day, Latvia's state security service said it had launched an investigation in connection with statements "which raise suspicions about the assistance provided by this TV channel to the soldiers of the Russian occupation forces in Ukraine."
Dozhd anchor Aleksei Korostelyov on December 1 called on the station's audience to write about cases of violations of Russian laws during the recent mobilization in Russia and about war crimes.
In making the request, he said, "We hope we also helped many military personnel, namely by assisting with equipment and bare necessities on the front line."
The security service said in a news release, "No provision of support to the aggressor Russia is justifiable," adding that anyone helping the Russian forces was subject to criminal liability.
Other news organizations have also relocated operations to Riga.
Following the forced suspension of its operations in Russia in March, RFE/RL opened a news bureau in the Latvian capital, which is also currently hosting Novaya Gazeta Europe and German international broadcaster Deutsche Welle's Moscow bureau.
The city has also hosted independent news website Meduza since 2014.
With reporting by AFP and Reuters
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Heavy Fighting Continues In East As Ukraine Races To Restore Electricity After Russian Strikes
Ukrainian forces have fought off a fresh round of Russian attacks in the east, Ukraine's General Staff said, as technicians race to restore electricity following Moscow's latest wave of missile strikes that caused power disruptions across the country amid dropping temperatures.
Russian troops continued their relentless offensive in the Bakhmut and Avdiyivka areas of Donetsk region, the General Staff said on December 6, adding that tank and artillery bombardment hit some 20 settlements in the area, including Soledar, Verkhnokamyanske, Andriyivka, and Yakovlyivka.
Ukrainian officials warned that critical energy infrastructure continues to be threatened by further Russian strikes and there would be emergency blackouts once again in several regions as engineers work frantically to repair damage from the huge wave of missile attacks the previous day that destroyed homes and knocked out power.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy announced in his nightly address that four people were killed in Russia's strikes. But "our people never give up," he said late on December 5.
About half the region surrounding the Ukrainian capital will remain without electricity for the coming days after Russian missile strikes on power facilities, the Kyiv regional governor said.
The attacks on December 5, which plunged parts of Ukraine back into freezing darkness, were the latest in weeks of attacks that hit critical energy infrastructure.
Kyiv, a city of about 3 million people, appeared to have escaped serious damage. But the Kyiv region, which does not include the capital and which had a population of about 1.8 million before the war, was badly hit.
"In the coming days, about half of the region will be without electricity," Governor Oleksiy Kuleba said on Telegram late on December 5.
Volodymyr Kudritskiy, the chief of power grid operator Ukrenerho, said Moscow had deliberately launched the attacks as the temperature fell below zero.
"A day or two is necessary to restore normal generation in the system," Kudritskiy told Ukrainian television.
Other regions sustained damage as well, with all water pumping stations and reserve lines in the Odesa region losing power and water supply being cut.
In the eastern city of Kramatorsk, which remains under Ukraine's control, 370 apartment blocks were without heat because of electricity outages, the city's mayor said.
In Russia's Kursk region across the border from Ukraine, an airfield was targeted by a "drone attack," according to Governor Roman Starovoyt, who did not specify where the drone originated.
"As a result of a drone attack in the area of the Kursk airfield, an oil storage tank caught fire," Starovoyt said on social media, adding that there were no casualties.
The December 6 incident comes a day after Moscow accused Ukraine of carrying out deadly drone strikes on two other airfields.
The information could not be independently confirmed.
Separately, Reuters reported that the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden is convening a virtual meeting on December 8 with oil and gas executives to discuss how the Washington can support Ukrainian energy infrastructure.
With reporting by Reuters and AFP
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The disciplinary action, which was announced on December 5, comes after complaints from the Football Association of Kosovo about offensive chants against two Swiss players who have ethnic Albanian roots and family ties to Kosovo. Serbia was eliminated from the tournament in the 3-2 defeat on December 2.
A statement from FIFA said its disciplinary committee has opened proceedings against the Football Association of Serbia "due to potential breaches of articles 12 (misconduct of players and officials), 13 (discrimination) and 16 (order and security at matches) of the FIFA Disciplinary Code" related to incidents during the match.
It is the second time that FIFA has launched disciplinary proceedings against the Serbian team during the 2022 World Cup. The first occurred after a flag showing Kosovo as part of Serbia allegedly was displayed in the Serbian locker room after the match on November 26 with Brazil.
Serbian team manager Dragan Stojkovic, speaking at a press conference on December 5 after the national team returned from Qatar, said he had no comment on the latest actions by FIFA.
The Football Association of Kosovo had complained to FIFA about the alleged incidents, judging them to be nationalistic.
"It's good that FIFA dealt with this and that it took it seriously," Agim Ademi, the president of the Football Association of Kosovo, told RFE/RL.
The Football Association of Serbia and the Serbian Sports Ministry did not respond to RFE/RL's request for comment about the disciplinary charges.
The Football Association of Kosovo had demanded a reaction from FIFA, due to "severe insults by the coach of Serbia and racist actions of Serbian fans" during the match against Switzerland, which was captained by Granit Xhaka, and in which Xherdan Shaqiri scored the opening goal. Both players have roots in Kosovo.
Serbia does not recognize Kosovar sovereignty more than a decade after the mostly ethnic Albanian province declared independence. Kosovo has been a member of FIFA and UEFA, soccer’s European governing body, since 2016.
FIFA’s announcement said that "racist calls against Albanians were heard during the entire match" and "slogans with political messages” were also heard.
Several Serbian players also encroached onto the field when the referee didn't use a video review to study a claim for a penalty kick in the second half.
FIFA gave no timetable for the disciplinary case. Any punishments could apply when Serbia next plays competitive games in March in a European Championship qualifying group.
The Football Association of Kosovo demanded investigation and sanctions against the Football Association of Serbia “so that once and for all fascist chants disappear from football stadiums and events such as the World Cup."
The association said in a statement that teams and fans “with behavior and a philosophy of hatred should not have a place at such important sports events as the World Cup in Qatar."
With reporting by AP
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Iranian Official Appears To Admit To Killing Of Women, Children On Recording
A leaked audio recording from the Iranian pro-regime Coalition Council of Islamic Revolution Forces, appears to show the secretary of the council admitting to the accidental killing of women and children during a bloody crackdown in the southeastern city of Zahedan on September 30.
The document was published on December 4 after the hacktivist group Black Reward announced that it had succeeded in hacking the hard-line Fars news agency, which is affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). The group released dozens of documents and videos it said were prepared by the news agency.
In the meeting involving the alleged admission of random killings, Reza Davari, the secretary of the Coalition Council of Islamic Revolution Forces, said that an agent who was on top of the police station "mistakenly" targeted an area where a number of people, including women and children, were killed.
"They were not even part of the protests," Davari added.
Almost 100 people were killed and hundreds injured by security forces in the incident, which came during protests sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in the custody of the morality police and the alleged rape of a 15-year-old girl by a local police commander.
Last month, Molavi Abdolhamid, a spiritual leader for Iran's Sunni Muslim population, said senior officials, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, were "responsible" for the killing of protesters during the so-called "Bloody Friday" massacre in Zahedan.
He also called for an immediate referendum with the presence of international observers to "change policies based on the wishes of the people."
Earlier, another leaked document from the Fars agency published by Black Reward shows Khamenei telling security and military officials to try and disgrace Molavi Abdolhamid, who is a vocal critic of the government, instead of arresting him.
Anger over Amini's death has prompted thousands of Iranians to take to the streets nationwide to demand more freedoms and women's rights. The widespread unrest represents the biggest threat to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution.
The activist HRANA news agency said that, as of November 29, at least 459 protesters had been killed during the unrest, including 64 minors, as security forces try to stifle widespread dissent.
Sunni Muslims make up the majority of the population in Sistan-Baluchistan Province in southeastern Iran where Molavi Abdolhamid is based, but make up only about 10 percent of the population in Shi'a-dominated Iran overall.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
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Angry Iranians Launch Three-Day Protest As More Death Sentences Issued
Iranian protesters have begun three consecutive days of protests and nationwide strikes as the judiciary continues to follow through on a government crackdown by issuing three more death sentences in its response to unrest sparked by the death of a young woman while in police custody for allegedly wearing a head scarf improperly.
Reports from across the country on December 5 said shopkeepers and businesses had stopped working in dozens of Iranian cities in a concerted effort to bolster the daily demonstrations that have erupted after the September 16 death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in Tehran.
The opposition activist collective 1500tasvir reported that several protest rallies have taken place in the center of Iranian capital on December 5, with protesters chanting slogans against the ayatollah and the government forces that have carried out a brutal crackdown that has left hundreds dead.
Security forces reportedly raided a market in the south of Tehran early on December 5 in an apparent attempt to try to prevent businesses there from joining the nationwide strikes.
Iran's state media, meanwhile, has reported that the restaurant and jewelry store owned by former Iranian soccer star Ali Daei has been sealed for joining the three-day strikes in Iran.
Since the start of the protests, Daei, a former forward with German soccer giant Bayern Munich and a former Iranian national team captain, has been a vocal supporter of the protesters and has repeatedly criticized government officials for suppressing the protests.
At the same time, the head of Iran’s judiciary announced at his weekly news conference the imminent execution of some protesters.
This is the second time in recent weeks that Iranian authorities have threatened to carry out death sentences for protesters arrested during the unrest. Several death sentences have been handed out already for some of those arrested in protests, but it has not been announced if the penalty has been carried out.
In October, 227 lawmakers from the 290-seat, hard-line parliament urged the judiciary to approve death sentences for some of the protesters arrested.
Human rights organizations strongly object to the issuance of death sentences, which they say were issued without valid proceedings and in a short time.
The activist HRANA news agency said that as of November 29, at least 459 protesters had been killed during the unrest, including 64 minors.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
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Russia Defiant As Oil Price Cap, Embargo Come Into Effect
A price cap of $60 per barrel imposed on seaborne Russian oil by the Group of Seven (G7) leading economies, the European Union, and several importing countries came into effect on December 5, as Russia remained defiant and said it would not recognize the restrictions.
The EU also introduced an embargo of seaborne Russian oil that took effect on December 5.
The price cap, which has been joined by the United States, Australia, Japan, and the United Kingdom, was intended to punish Moscow for its unprovoked aggression against neighboring Ukraine.
It stipulates that Russian oil can only be shipped to third countries using G7 or EU tankers, insurance companies, or credit institutions if the cargo is purchased at or below the price cap.
A similar price cap on Russian petroleum products is scheduled to take effect on February 5.
Russia said on December 4 that it rejects the price cap and will not sell oil below market prices, even if that means reducing production targets.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on December 5 that a response to the price cap "is being prepared."
"One thing is obvious: We will not recognize any price caps," Peskov said, adding that the price cap will not have any impact on Russia's war against Ukraine.
Moscow reportedly was considering issuing a decree that would ban the sale of any petroleum products to any country applying the price cap.
The price cap will be reviewed every two months with the first review set for January.
G7 and EU countries set the cap fairly close to market prices in the expectation that Russia would accept lower profits and continue selling oil.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has called for the international community to set the price cap at $30 per barrel in order to ramp up pressure on the Russian economy. He said that if Russia agrees to sell oil at $60 per barrel, it would still bring in about $1 billion in annual oil revenues.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry on December 5 said Beijing will continue its "mutually beneficial" energy cooperation with Russia, which is the world's second-largest oil exporter.
With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, and dpa
Georgia's Ex-Leader Saakashvili 'Poisoned' In Prison, Doctors Say
Georgia's jailed ex-president, Mikheil Saakashvili, was "poisoned" in custody by heavy metals and risks dying without proper treatment, according to a medical report distributed on December 5 by his legal team. The 54-year-old was transferred to a hospital last year after a hunger strike that he maintained for 50 days to protest his jailing, which rights groups have denounced as politically motivated. In a report distributed by Saakashvili's legal team, U.S.-based toxicologist David Smith said "testing has revealed the presence of heavy metals" in Saakashvili's body and the pathological symptoms he displays "are the result of heavy metal poisoning."
Ukrainians Scramble As New Wave Of Russian Missiles Launched
Residents of Kyiv and other cities across Ukraine scrambled for cover on December 5 as Russia launched another deadly barrage of missiles at the country after explosions were reported at two airfields in central Russia.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said four people were killed in the attacks, but said Ukrainian air defense forces had been able to shoot down most of the missiles launched.
"Every Russian missile shot down is concrete proof that terror can be defeated," he said in his evening video address.
Ukrainian Air Force spokesman Yuriy Ihnat told RFE/RL earlier that Ukrainian air defenses were able to shoot down over 60 of the more than 70 missiles launched.
He said 38 cruise missiles were fired from Tu-95 bombers based in the Caspian Sea region and the southern Russian region of Rostov, which borders on Ukraine to the east. Another 22 Kalibr missiles were fired from ships in Russia's Black Sea Fleet.
"We also have information on the use of Tu-22 M3 bombers with rocket launchers, which are the most powerful in terms of combat weight," Ihnat said. "Guided air missiles were also launched from Su-25 fighters."
Air-raid sirens lasted for three hours as officials warned people to take shelter.
Andriy Yermak, head of the Ukrainian presidential office, told Ukrainians to heed the alarm. Reports on social media showed hundreds of people sheltering in subway stations in the capital, Kyiv.
The missile strikes injured one person in Odesa and hit energy infrastructure in the city, where all substations and backup lines were not working and where there is no water supply.
In Kryviy Rih in the Dnipropetrovsk region, critical infrastructure has been damaged and large-scale blackouts are possible, authorities said. Electricity was turned off as a precaution in the northern Sumy region, and possible disruptions were reported in the northern Chernihiv region and the western Ternopil region.
Zelenskiy said engineers had already started to restore electricity, and Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said that, despite being hit by Russian missiles, Ukraine's energy system "functions and will remain intact."
John Kirby, spokesman for the White House National Security Council, condemned the latest Russian strikes, calling them a reminder of Russian President Vladimir Putin's brutality. The United States is in constant contact with Ukraine and will continue to provide Kyiv with everything it needs for its defense, Kirby said.
Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said on Twitter that he had a conversation with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on December 5 after the Russian missile strike. Reznikov said he and Austin discussed further steps to strengthen Ukrainian air defense and thanked the U.S. for its continued support.
Earlier on December 5, at least one large explosion occurred at a Russian military air base in the Saratov region, about 600 kilometers east of Ukraine, while another blast was reported by Russian state media at an airfield outside Ryazan, southeast of Moscow.
Social-media posts by residents in the cities of Engels and Saratov seemed to show a large explosion at the Engels-2 air base at about 6 a.m. local time on December 5.
The Russian Defense Ministry said the attacks were carried out by Ukrainian drones. The ministry confirmed news reports of damage to two Tu-95 strategic bombers and the deaths of Russian servicemen. The ministry also claimed that both drones were shot down.
Ukrainian authorities have not publicly commented on the blasts, but a senior Ukrainian official quoted anonymously by The New York Times, said the drones were launched from Ukrainian territory and at least two planes were destroyed at one of the Russian bases and several more were damaged.
The latest volley of Russian strikes against Ukraine came the same day that a price cap of $60 per barrel imposed on seaborne Russian oil by the Group of Seven (G7) leading economies, the European Union, and several importing countries took effect.
The price cap, which has been joined by the United States, Australia, Japan, and the United Kingdom, was intended to punish Moscow for its unprovoked aggression against neighboring Ukraine.
It stipulates that Russian oil can only be shipped to third countries using G7 or EU tankers, insurance companies, or credit institutions if the cargo is purchased at or below the price cap.
The EU has also introduced an embargo of seaborne Russian oil that also took effect on December 5.
Moscow remained defiant over the move and said it would not recognize the restrictions.
The United States doesn't expect that Russia's threats to have any long-term impact on global oil prices, Kirby said.
The cap will lock in the discount on Russian oil, and countries like China and India will be able to bargain for steep price reductions, he said.
With reporting by Reuters, AP, and The New York Times
Mission Of Iran's Morality Police Has Ended, But New Methods Sought To Enforce Hijab Law
The spokesman for Iran's morality police has said that the mission of the police unit has ended but new methods should be used to enforce the country's mandatory hijab law.
The spokesman, Ali Khan Mohammadi, said in an interview published on December 5 that various institutions in the country are looking into having appropriate mechanisms to be able to deal with the issue of veiling.
"For us, the basis is that it should be within the framework of Shari'a, and at the same time, our people must adhere to the law so that we can create a peaceful atmosphere," Mohammadi said in the interview, which was published on the website Entekhab though it was not clear that he spoke with that news outlet.
He noted that a discussion of chastity and the hijab is currently popular in the country and decisions are being made “in a more modern framework.” He didn’t elaborate but mentioned the use of technologies.
The status of Iran's morality police has been unclear since the country's chief prosecutor said the notorious force had been closed in the wake of continuing protests following the September death in police custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini.
Mohammad Jafar Montazeri was quoted by the semiofficial ISNA news agency on December 3 as saying the morality police "had been closed," but a day later the state IRNA news agency quoted him as saying that "the morality police has nothing to do with the judiciary" after he was asked why the morality police were being shut down.
Prior to the interview with Mohammadi, there had been no word from officials -- including the Interior Ministry -- on the status of the controversial morality police, which began patrols in 2006 under hard-line President Mahmud Ahmadinejad to enforce the country's Islamic dress codes, particularly the requirement to wear the hijab, or female head covering.
The squads of men in green uniforms and women in black chadors initially issued warnings but soon began arresting women for alleged violations.
Montazeri also was quoted on December 3 as saying parliament and the judiciary were "working" on whether the law requiring women to wear the hijab in public should be changed. He added that "the results will be seen in a week or two."
The Iranian government has said more than 200 people had been killed in the protests sparked by Amini’s death in September. Iranian rights groups put the figure at more than double that, while the United Nations has said more than 300 have been killed as the national protests have evolved into one of the most serious challenges to the country’s theocracy since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
While the government had taken a hard line in its stance toward the protests over the past several months, some officials have started to strike a more conciliatory tone as they talk about problems being experienced in Iran, which is struggling under the weight of crippling U.S. sanctions over Tehran's nuclear program.
In a December 4 interview with Iran’s state broadcaster, Deputy Security Minister Majid Mirahmadi said the "main cause" of the protests was not economic.
"This is an issue but not the main cause," Mirahmadi said. "It is a protest against injustice."
President Ebrahim Raisi said on December 3 that Iran's Islamic foundations were enshrined in the constitution.
"But there are methods of implementing the constitution that can be flexible," he said.
Russia's Kudrin Accepts Role As Adviser To Tech Giant Yandex
Aleksei Kudrin, who resigned as head of Russia's Audit Chamber last week, said on December 5 he had accepted an offer from technology giant Yandex to become an adviser on corporate development. Yandex last month announced a review of a possible sweeping governance overhaul that would leave its major business units in Russia under new ownership. The announcement comes after months of internal turmoil, with executives departing, the sale of two of the company’s best-known products, and company shares hitting basement prices prior to being frozen on international stock exchanges. To read the original story from Reuters, click here. To read a previous RFE/RL story on the Yandex shakeup, click here.
Prominent Chechen Blogger, Kadyrov Critic Reported Killed
A Chechen opposition Telegram feed has reported that prominent dissident Chechen blogger Tumso Abdurakhmanov has been killed.
The 1ADAT channel on December 5 cited unidentified sources as saying Abdurakhmanov had been shot dead and that his brother, Mukhammad, was under police protection.
Anzor Maskhadov, a prominent leader of the Chechen diaspora, confirmed the information, adding that Abdurkhmanov had been killed by several unknown assailants.
Neither 1ADAT nor Maskhadov said the purported killing took place in Sweden, where Abdurakhmanov lived and had political asylum.
Swedish police have refused to confirm the media reports and speculation.
“The Swedish Police Authority is aware of media reports about a killing of a person who is residing in Sweden,” police press officer Irene Sokolow said in a written response to RFE/RL’s Caucasus.Realities. “The Swedish Police Authority can’t confirm these media reports nor give any further comments.”
Reports that Abdurakhmanov, 36, had been killed emerged on social media on December 1 but could not be confirmed. RFE/RL's Caucasus.Realities and Chechen opposition groups reported they were unable to contact the blogger and that his representatives said they had not been in contact with him or his brother.
Swedish officials told RFE/RL on December 2 that they had no information about Abdurakhmanov’s whereabouts.
In January 2021, two Russian citizens from Chechnya were given long prison sentences in Sweden after being convicted of attempting to kill Abdurakhmanov in February 2020.
One of the men, Ruslan Mamayev, testified that he had been acting on the behest of Chechen authorities who promised to pay him 50,000 euros ($50,000).
Kadyrov, who has ruled Chechnya since 2007 with a cult of personality around him, is frequently accused by Russian and international human rights groups of overseeing grave human rights abuses including abductions, torture, extrajudicial killings, and targeting the LGBT community.
Abdurakhmanov, a popular YouTube blogger who has been harshly critical of Kadyrov and his government in Chechnya, left Russia in 2015. He has been granted political asylum in Sweden.
He has not posted on his Telegram channel since the evening of November 30. "Normally, Tumso warns when his Telegram channel won't be active, but yesterday he did not," one commentator wrote below the post.
Abdurakhmanov’s last YouTube video was posted several weeks ago.
Blinken Says Putin Shows No Sign He's Interested In Diplomacy
Washington sees no signs that Moscow is interested in talks on ending the war in Ukraine, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said.
"There's always value in diplomacy if the parties in question and in this case Russia, are actually interested in meaningful diplomacy. And what we've seen, at least recently, is exactly the contrary," Blinken told CBS News on December 4, adding that Putin had switched tactics after suffering setbacks on the battlefield.
"He's been unable to win on the battlefield, so he's taking, he's basically turning his ire and his fire on Ukrainian civilians, going after the energy infrastructure, trying to turn off the lights, turn off the heat, turn off the electricity. That's what's going on.
"So,unless and until Putin demonstrates that he's actually interested in meaningful diplomacy, it's unlikely to go anywhere," Blinken said on Face The Nation.
In recent weeks, Russia's military focus has been on striking Ukrainian infrastructure nationwide, pressing an offensive in the Donetsk region city of Bakhmut, and shelling sites in the city of Kherson, which Ukrainian forces liberated last month after an eight-month Russian occupation.
On December 1, President Joe Biden indicated he would be willing to talk with Putin if the Russian leader demonstrated that he seriously wanted to end the invasion.
"I'm prepared to speak with Mr. Putin if in fact there is an interest in him deciding that he's looking for a way to end the war," Biden said. "He hasn't done that yet."
The head of U.S. intelligence said fighting in Russia's war in Ukraine was running at a "reduced tempo" and suggested Ukrainian forces could have brighter prospects in coming months.
Avril Haines alluded to past allegations by some that Putin's advisers could be shielding him from bad news -- for Russia -- about war developments, and said he "is becoming more informed of the challenges that the military faces in Russia."
"But it's still not clear to us that he has a full picture of at this stage of just how challenged they are," Haines, the U.S. director of national intelligence, said on December 3.
The British Ministry of Defense, in its latest intelligence estimate on December 4, pointed to new signs from an independent Russian media outlet that public support in Russia for the military campaign was "falling significantly."
Meduza said it obtained a recent confidential opinion survey conducted by the Federal Protection Service, which is in charge of guarding the Kremlin and providing security to top government officials.
The survey, commissioned by the Kremlin, found that 55 percent of respondents backed peace talks with Ukraine while 25 percent wanted the war to go on. The report didn’t mention the margin of error.
With reporting by AP and Reuters
Ukrainian Presidential Aide Criticizes Musk For 'Magical Simple Solutions'
A top Ukrainian presidential aide has chided Twitter owner Elon Musk for the billionaire's "magical simple solutions," citing ideas put forward by Musk on Russia's invasion of Ukraine and Twitter content moderation. Mykhaylo Podolyak listed "exchang(ing) foreign territories for an illusory peace" and "open(ing) all private accounts because freedom of speech has to be total," as examples of such suggestions in comments on Twitter on December 4.
Russia Will Not Export Oil Subject To Western Price Cap, Deputy Prime Minister Says
Russia will not export oil that is subject a Western-imposed price cap even if Moscow has to accept a drop in oil production, President Vladimir Putin's point man on energy said on December 4. "We are working on mechanisms to prohibit the use of a price-cap instrument, regardless of what level is set, because such interference could further destabilize the market," Russian Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Novak said. On December 4, Group of Seven countries and Australia agreed a $60-per-barrel price cap on Russian seaborne crude oil in a move to deprive President Vladimir Putin of revenue while keeping Russian oil flowing to global markets. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Prominent Chechen Blogger, Kadyrov Critic Reported Killed2
Ukrainians Scramble As New Wave Of Russian Missiles Launched3
Killing In Kherson: A Self-Made Partisan Describes His Role In The Resistance To Russia's Occupation4
'Only The Dead Are Not Afraid': Civilians Evacuate As New Battle Lines Emerge In Ukraine's East, South5
Russian Businessman Mikhail Fridman Reportedly Detained In London On Money-Laundering Suspicions6
Tens Of Thousands Of Dead Dolphins Among Environmental Casualties Of Ukraine War7
Russian Soldier Says Commander Stabbed Ukrainian Woman To Death8
Gepard Antiaircraft Systems From Germany Target Iranian Drones Over Ukraine9
Kyiv Claims Russia Used Banned Chemical Weapon10
Kyrgyz Politicians Annoyed Over Russian Anger At Possible Soviet-Era Name Changes