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Red Cross Condemns Attack That Killed Ukrainian POWs, Says No Access Yet Granted

Dozens of Ukrainian POWs were apparently killed in the attack on a prison complex in Olenivka on July 29.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has condemned an attack on a prison site where dozens of Ukrainian prisoners of war were killed this week in territory controlled by Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

In a statement issued on July 31, the Red Cross said it had not yet received permission to visit the site of the July 29 attack on the Olenivka prison facility.

While demanding that an impartial probe be conducted into the attack, it added that it was not the organization that is mandated to carry out such an investigation.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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

"Families must receive urgent news of and answers on what happened to their loved ones,” the ICRC said.

“The parties must do everything in their power, including through impartial investigations, to help determine the facts behind the attack and bring clarity to this issue.

“However, it is not the role or mandate of the ICRC to carry out public investigations into alleged war crimes," it added.

Kyiv and Moscow have traded accusations over who is to blame for the missile strike or blast that killed dozens of Ukrainian prisoners in the town of Olenivka on the front lines of the conflict.

Russia's Defense Ministry invited the United Nations and the ICRC to conduct an investigation at the prison in separatist-controlled territory.

"Russia has officially invited UN and International Committee of the Red Cross experts to engage in an impartial investigation into an attack on a pre-trial detention center in Olenivka, which killed a large number of Ukrainian prisoners of war," the Russian Defense Ministry said in a July 31 statement.

Prior to the Russian Defense Ministry's statement, UN spokesperson Farhan Haq said it would send investigators to the prison if both Russia and Ukraine agreed.

Russian authorities and Russia-backed separatists in the eastern Donetsk region said the attack killed 53 Ukrainian POWs and wounded 75. The Russian Defense Ministry on July 30 published a list naming 48 Ukrainian fighters aged 20 to 62 who were killed in the attack.

Russia has claimed that the POWs were killed by a Ukrainian strike using U.S.-supplied precision rockets.

The Ukrainian military has denied the allegation and accused the Russians, aided by pro-Russia separatist forces in the Donetsk region, of shelling the prison holding Ukrainian POWs to cover up the alleged torture and execution of Ukrainians there.

Satellite photos taken before and after the attack show that a small building in the middle of the Olenivka prison complex was damaged, its roof in splinters. The ICRC has sought access to the site and offered to help evacuate the wounded.

“Our priority right now is making sure that the wounded receive lifesaving treatment and that the bodies of those who lost their lives are dealt with in a dignified manner,” the Red Cross said earlier.

After reporting difficulties gaining an invitation to visit the site in Russia-controlled territory, the ICRC said in a July 30 tweet that "granting ICRC access to POWs is an obligation of parties to conflict under the Geneva Convention."

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has said that the UN and ICRC have a duty to react to the attack.

“It was a deliberate Russian war crime, a deliberate mass murder of Ukrainian prisoners of war,” Zelenskiy said in a video address late on July 30. “There should be a clear legal recognition of Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism.”

Video Blogs Show Everyday Life In Russian-Occupied Ukraine
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U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed his condolences over the deaths in a phone call on July 29 with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, according to a State Department statement on July 30.

The United States is committed to "hold Russia accountable for atrocities committed by its forces against the people of Ukraine," Blinken told Kuleba.

Following the attack, the European Union on July 29 expressed shock at the attack on the site, which it said held Ukrainian POWs including surrendered defenders of Mariupol’s Azovstal steel plant who were "in Russia’s legal protection under international humanitarian law."

EU high representative Josep Borrell condemned in "the strongest terms the atrocities committed by the Russian armed forces and their proxies."

Ukraine has accused Russia of atrocities and brutality against civilians since its invasion began on February 24 and said it has identified more than 10,000 possible war crimes. Russia denies targeting civilians and has denied allegations of war crimes.

With reporting by AFP, AP, Reuters, and TASS

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Kremlin Tasks Senior Ex-Wagner Commander With Forming Volunteer Corps

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with Deputy Defense Minister Yunus-Bek Yevkurov and former Wagner senior commander Andrei Troshev (right).

Russian President Vladimir Putin has met with Andrei Troshev, a former senior commander of the Wagner mercenary group, and handed him responsibilities in establishing new volunteer fighting units, the Kremlin said on September 29. “At our last meeting, we talked about the fact that you will be engaged in the formation of volunteer units that can perform various combat tasks," Putin said at a meeting with Troshev and Russian Deputy Defense Minister Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, according to a transcript of the conversation published on September 29. Troshev was an aide to late Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin, who died when a plane flying from Moscow to St. Petersburg crashed last month. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Russia Strikes Mykolayiv As Ukrainian Drones Knock Out Power In Kursk Region

Local residents walk past damaged shops and buildings in Kupyansk, Kharkiv region, on September 28.

Russian troops launched a missile attack on September 29 on the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolayiv, damaging infrastructure, a regional official said, as the governor of Russia's Kursk region bordering Ukraine said a drone attack had cut off the energy supply of several settlements in the area.

"On the morning of September 29, around 4:13, the city of Mykolayiv was targeted by a missile attack," the head of Mykolayiv regional military administration, Vitaly Kim, said on Telegram. "An infrastructure objective was damaged on the outskirts of the city. The resulting fire was extinguished at 6:45. Detailed information is being clarified," Kim wrote.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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

Meanwhile, Roman Starovoit, the governor of Russia's Kursk region that borders Ukraine, said on September 29 that a Ukrainian drone attack on a power substation in the region's Belovsky district left five settlements without electricity.

“One of the transformers caught fire. Five settlements and a hospital were left without power. Fire crews have left for the scene. They will begin restoring power supply as soon as it is safe,” Starovoit said on Telegram. Russia's Defense Ministry later said in a statement that it had shot down 11 drones overnight -- 10 over the Kursk region and one over the Kaluga region.

On the battlefield, Ukrainian forces continued to conduct both defensive and offensive operations in the east and south, where they fought 26 close-quarters battles against Russian troops over the past 24 hours, the General Staff of the Ukrainian military said in its daily update on September 29

On September 28, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said during a visit to Kyiv that Ukrainian forces were "gradually gaining ground" in their counteroffensive against Russian invaders.

"[Ukrainian troops] face fierce fighting, but they are gradually gaining ground," Stoltenberg said at a news conference with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

"Every meter that Ukrainian forces regain is a meter that Russia loses.... Moscow is fighting for imperialist delusions," Stoltenberg said.

WATCH: Ukraine's homegrown UAV producers are modifying their drone fleets with the latest, cutting-edge technology. The domestic company Warbirds of Ukraine says that the development of so-called smart drones will play a key role in the outcome of the war.

Ukrainian UAV Manufacturers In Race For 'Smart Drone'
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The NATO chief also announced that the alliance has framework contracts in place for 2.4 billion euros ($2.53 billion) of key ammunition for Kyiv, including 1 billion euros in firm orders.

Stoltenberg said Ukraine's ties with the 30-member alliance had never been stronger. "Ukraine is now closer to NATO than ever before," he said.

At a crucial summit in July, NATO leaders said in a statement that Ukraine's future is inside the alliance, but the bloc will extend an invitation to Kyiv only when "members agree and conditions are met."

British Admiral Tony Radakin, chief of the Defense Staff, was also in Kyiv on September 28. He said a recent strike on Russia's Black Sea Fleet that Ukraine said killed dozens of Russian naval officers was an example of how Ukraine holds the initiative.

WATCH: Amid their grinding counteroffensive, Ukrainian troops are training on donated German mobile-bridge equipment that could help them cross rivers and defensive Russian anti-tank ditches.

Ukrainian Troops Train With Newly Delivered German Bridge-Laying Equipment
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Radakin met with Ukrainian Commander in Chief Valeriy Zaluzhniy to discuss new military aid commitments made by Ukraine's allies in Ramstein, Germany, that are aimed at helping to strengthen and sustain Ukraine's resilience through the winter and beyond.

Radakin said Russian President Vladimir Putin "has lost control of the war he started." He said his visit along with previous visits in the summer "strengthened my conviction that Ukraine will win," adding that Britain "will stay with them every step of the way."

Zaluzhniy announced the meeting with Radakin earlier on September 28, saying the situation at the front and the urgent needs of the Ukrainian Army were discussed during the meeting.

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

Majority Of Karabakh Armenians Leave Region Amid Fears Of Ethnic Cleansing

Ethnic Armenians who fled Nagorno-Karabakh embrace upon their arrival in Kornidzor, in Armenia's Syunik region, on September 26.

An exodus of ethnic Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh continued 10 days after a lightning military offensive that gave Azerbaijan complete control over its breakaway region, with thousands more people pouring over the border into Armenia proper.

Nazeli Baghdasarian, a spokeswoman for Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian, said that a total of 84,770 people had entered Armenia from Nagorno-Karabakh as of 6 a.m. local time on September 29, amounting to more than two-thirds of the region's estimated 120,000 inhabitants.

Pashinian has accused Azerbaijan of "ethnic cleansing" and warned that no Armenian will remain in the breakaway region in the following days.

"This is a direct act of ethnic cleansing that we warned the international community about," Pashinian told a government meeting on September 28, calling for concrete action by the international community.

WATCH: Armenian volunteers are doing what they can to provide relief to the tens of thousands of displaced people who have flooded into the country since Azerbaijan launched an attack on Nagorno-Karabakh on September 19.

Armenian Volunteers Rush To Help Flood Of Refugees From Nagorno-Karabakh
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"Statements condemning ethnic cleansing by various international players are important, but if they are not followed by concrete actions, these statements will be seen as creating moral statistics for history, so that in future different countries will have the opportunity to formally dissociate themselves from this crime, saying we have condemned it," said Pashinian.

Baku has denied accusations of ethnic cleansing and said that it wanted to "reintegrate" the enclave's ethnic Armenian population into Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan's Foreign Ministry on September 28 urged ethnic Armenians to remain in Nagorno-Karabakh.

"We call on Armenian residents not to leave their homes and become part of Azerbaijan's multiethnic society," the ministry said in a statement.

Russia, which used to be Armenia's main military backer but has been criticized by Yerevan for its peacekeepers' failure to prevent the fall of Nagorno-Karabakh, said fleeing Armenians had nothing to fear.

"It's difficult to say who is to blame [for the exodus]. There is no direct reason for such actions," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in an apparent rejection of Armenia's claims of ethnic cleansing.

WATCH: RFE/RL spoke with refugees in Armenia who said they left everything behind and hadn't eaten in days.

'I Have Nothing': Ethnic Armenians Face Dire Conditions Amid Mass Exodus From Nagorno-Karabakh
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"People are nevertheless expressing a desire to leave.... Those who made such a decision should be provided with normal living conditions," Peskov added.

The U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh should be able to remain in their homes with respect for their rights and security, if they choose, and those who leave and return should be allowed safe passage overseen by a neutral, independent third party.

"We would expect that those Nagorno-Karabakh residents who depart for Armenia would be able to return freely to their homes once it is safe to do so," Ambassador Michael Carpenter told an OSCE Permanent Council meeting in Vienna.

He also said Azerbaijan has a responsibility to protect civilians and to ensure the humane treatment of all, including those it suspects of being combatants.

Carpenter reiterated a call for an independent international mission to provide security in the region and called for unhindered access for international humanitarian organizations.

Carpenter noted that U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) chief Samantha Power announced a $11.5 million humanitarian aid package while visiting Armenia earlier this week. This is beyond the more than $23 million the United States has already provided in humanitarian assistance since 2020 in response to the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh, he said.

"The United States will continue to engage Azerbaijan and Armenia at the highest levels to find a lasting and sustainable peace agreement," Carpenter said.

On September 28, the de facto leader of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic said the self-styled separatist entity will cease to exist as of January 1.

Samvel Shahramanian said the move was prompted by the situation created after Azerbaijan's taking complete control of the region. His decree mentioned a cease-fire agreement reached last week to end the fighting under which Baku pledged to permit the “free, voluntary, and unrestrained passage” of Nagorno-Karabakh's ethnic Armenian residents, including "servicemen who have laid down arms."

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

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

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

With reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters

Swiss Court Acquits Former Belarusian Security Force Member In Disappearance Case

Defendant Yury Harauski enters a court building in Switzerland on the first day of hearings on September 19.

A former member of Belarusian authoritarian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s special security forces was acquitted in Switzerland on September 28 of involvement in the disappearances of prominent opposition figures more than two decades ago.

A district court in Rorshach acquitted Yury Harauski, 45, after a two-day hearing last week.

A court statement said due to the defendant's contradictory statements, his actual involvement in the disappearances of former Interior Minister Yury Zakharanka, former Deputy Prime Minister Viktar Hanchar, and businessman Anatol Krasouski, who had gone missing in 1999, “cannot be considered legally proven."

The court also said the involvement of the Belarus government in the disappearances could not be proven beyond reasonable doubt because it was not represented in the proceedings.

Harauski sought asylum in Switzerland in 2018 arguing that his life was at risk in Belarus due to his willingness to speak out about his involvement with a special unit that made opponents of Lukashenka disappear.

In explaining his decision, the judge said during the interrogation, “the accused got confused in contradictions” and evaded the questions. The ruling concluded that Harauski may have served in Lukashenka’s special security forces but his role in the abductions remains unclear.

Harauski was arrested in 2021 and formally charged last year. He confessed to taking part in the abduction of the three men but said he was not aware why they were kidnapped and said he did not take part in their killings.

In an interview published earlier this month, the accused said he was involved in arresting the men, but he "neither ordered nor carried out the murders” and was “merely a witness to them."

During his testimony, Harauski said Zakharanka was kidnapped in Minsk on May 7, 1999, driven to a military base outside the Belarusian capital, and then shot by his superior, Dzmitry Paulichenka, a lieutenant colonel who had headed the special unit.

He added that Hanchar and Krasouski were abducted in September 1999 while they were leaving a sauna in Minsk and later shot execution style by Paulichenka.

The case followed criminal claims by the daughters of two of the disappeared men, supported by Geneva-based group Trial International, the International Federation for Human Rights, and the Vyasna Human Rights Center.

The groups said they were disappointed with the outcome, while one of the daughters said she would appeal the court's decision, according to Reuters.

With reporting by Reuters

Kazakh President Assures Germany His Country Follows Sanctions Regime Against Russia

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (right) meets with Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev in Berlin on September 28.

Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev says his country will not help Russia circumvent Western sanctions imposed over the war in Ukraine amid suspicions that Moscow is still receiving goods via Central Asian nations.

"Kazakhstan has unambiguously stated that it will follow the sanctions regime," Toqaev said on September 28 following talks in Berlin with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

Toqaev was on the defensive because his country has been repeatedly accused of helping its larger neighbor obtain goods in violation of sanctions.

Kazakhstan is a close economic and military ally of Moscow that shares a 7,500-kilometer border with Russia, but it has not recognized Ukrainian regions occupied by Moscow as part of Russia.

The European Union has sought to crack down on re-exports of sensitive goods by third countries to Russia with a measure allowing it to restrict certain exports to states that fail to cooperate.

Toqaev maintained that Kazakhstan has “contacts with the relevant organizations to comply with the sanctions regime.” He added that there should be no concerns on the German side about possible actions aimed at circumventing the sanctions regime.

Toqaev also said he did not fear any territorial claims from Moscow.

"The border between Kazakhstan and Russia has been set out, largely demarcated, confirmed, and ratified by the parliaments of both countries. We therefore have no concerns about Russia's territorial claims," he said, according to his press office.

In recent months, Kazakh citizens have faced trial for pro-Russian separatism in Kazakhstan, mainly in the north of the country.

Scholz is scheduled to host Toqaev along with the leaders of Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Tajikistan for joint talks on September 29.

The meeting with the five Central Asian leaders will be the first joint gathering of its kind with an EU country.

With reporting by AFP
Updated

Warsaw Denies Belarus Claim That Polish Helicopter Violated Its Airspace

Polish soldiers land from an Mi-8 helicopter (illustrative photo)

Belarus said on September 28 that a Polish helicopter violated its airspace, but Warsaw said none of its helicopters had crossed the border between the two countries.

The Belarusian Defense Ministry said the aircraft crossed the border between Poland and Belarus at around 3:20 p.m. local time, traveling as far as 1.5 kilometers into Belarusian airspace, and then again at 4:22 p.m., “going 300 meters deep."

Belarus, a close ally of Russia, said the information was "confirmed by objective control data” and said it had scrambled military aircraft in response.

The ministry said it was gathering information about the incident and planned to prepare a joint note of protest with the Foreign Ministry to deliver to Poland.

Warsaw denied that any Polish helicopter crossed the border.

"We inform you that today's statement by the Belarusian side about the alleged crossing of the border by a Polish helicopter is false. This is confirmed by the records of flight control and the radar station -- no such event took place,” the operative headquarters of the Armed Forces of Poland said in a statement posted on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.

The statement emphasized that the Polish Army "invariably respects and complies with all provisions and rules regarding the inviolability of borders" and also notes that “information provided by the Belarusian regime’s media must always be approached with caution and prudence, as it is often an element of provocation and misinforms the public."

Tense relations between Poland and Belarus have been further strained by Russia's ongoing full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Last month the Polish Defense Ministry said two Belarusian military helicopters that were conducting training exercises near the border violated Poland’s airspace.

The ministry said in a statement on August 1 that the charge d'affaires of Belarus would be summoned to the Polish Foreign Ministry to explain the circumstances of the incident.

The statement clarified that the helicopters crossed into Polish airspace at a very low altitude, making them difficult to detect. It said that is why the Polish military initially said that the helicopters had not violated the NATO country's airspace.

After the incident Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak ordered an increase in the number of soldiers on the border. He also allocated additional resources, including combat helicopters.

NATO was also notified about the incident.

With reporting by Reuters

Draft Law On Foreign Agents Passes Republika Srpska's Legislature

The National Assembly of Republika Srpska (file photo)

The National Assembly of Republika Srpska has adopted a controversial draft law that would require nonprofit organizations funded from abroad and active in Bosnia-Herzegovina's Serb entity to register and report on their work.

The so-called foreign agents law, formally known as the Special Register and Publicity of the Work of Nonprofit Organizations law, passed on September 28.

Whether the draft law will receive final approval and be implemented remains uncertain. It must still go through additional procedural steps before taking effect.

The law would require mandatory additional registration requirements and the submission of detailed financial reports. It also would prohibit NGOs receiving foreign funding to take part in political activities and would give the justice minister the authority to propose a ban on noncompliant organizations.

The draft law has been sharply criticized by U.S. and EU officials, who have called it repressive and anti-democratic.

In presenting the law to the National Assembly, Justice Minister Milos Bukejlovic said he would monitor the activities of organizations receiving foreign funding "across the territory of the whole of Bosnia and Herzegovina."

The draft law was approved by Republika Srpska's executive in March, and Bukejlovic said then the goal was "to prevent the misuse of nonprofit organizations."

The law was proposed last year by Milorad Dodik, the pro-Russian president of the Republic of Srpska and leader of the ruling Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD) party. At that time Dodik claimed that the law's framework “would be inspired by the American model,” a reference to the U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).

A similar foreign agents law in Russia has proved controversial and has been used to disrupt the work of media organizations, including RFE/RL. Russia also claimed its law was in response to the FARA.

U.S. officials have argued that Russia uses its foreign agents law to silence dissent and discourage the free exchange of ideas and have said there is there "no equivalence" between FARA and Russia’s foreign agents law.

Civil society organizations in Republika Srpska say the law has more in common with the Russian law than with FARA.

In addition to U.S. and EU criticism, the proposed legislation has drawn negative assessments from various organizations, including NGOs and domestic and international entities.

Transparency International of Bosnia said it contravenes the European Convention on Human Rights and Freedoms, the constitutions of both the state and Bosnia's entities, as well as existing laws within Republika Srpska.

Swiss Accuse Daughter Of Ex-Uzbek President Of Running Criminal Organization

Gulnara Karimova, daughter of Islam Karimov, who ruled Uzbekistan from 1991 to 2016, is accused of leading the operation, which allegedly channeled hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of bribes from telecom companies.

Switzerland's federal prosecutor has filed an indictment against the daughter of Uzbekistan's former president, accusing her of taking bribes and running an elaborate criminal organization known as "The Office." Gulnara Karimova, daughter of Islam Karimov, who ruled Uzbekistan from 1991 to 2016, is accused of leading the operation, which allegedly channeled hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of bribes from telecom companies. Switzerland’s Office of the Attorney General (OAG) said on September 28 that money was funneled through bank accounts in several countries before being transferred to banks in Switzerland. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Britain's Shapps Meets Zelenskiy On First Visit To Kyiv As Defense Minister

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy greets British Defense Secretary Grant Shapps in Kyiv on September 28.

British Defense Secretary Grant Shapps discussed how to bolster Ukraine's air defenses during talks in Kyiv with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, the president's office said on September 28. The visit to the Ukrainian capital was Shapps's first to wartime Kyiv since he became defense secretary last month. Britain has been a staunch ally of Ukraine throughout the full-scale invasion launched by Russia in February 2022. "On behalf of the whole nation, I thank you for everything you are doing for us. We are grateful for your help -- military, financial, humanitarian," a statement released by Zelenskiy's office quoted the president as saying. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

One Killed, More Than 160 Injured In Blast At Warehouse Close To Tashkent Airport

The powerful blast, which occurred around 3 a.m. in the Sergeli district of the Uzbek capital, sent shock waves throughout the city and was followed by a massive fire.

TASHKENT -- A powerful explosion struck a warehouse near the main airport in Uzbekistan's capital, Tashkent, overnight, killing a 16-year-old youth, injuring at least 160, and causing extensive damage.

At least 24 people are in critical condition in intensive-care units at local hospitals.

The powerful blast, which occurred around 3 a.m. in the Sergeli district of the Uzbek capital, sent shock waves throughout the city and was followed by a massive fire.

The Emergency Situations Ministry of Uzbekistan said the explosion was followed by a fire.

“Sixteen fire crews and three ladder trucks were sent to the scene of the explosion. They arrived at 2:48 a.m. and began extinguishing the fire and eliminating the consequences,” the ministry said in a statement.

The Defense Ministry said that some 1,000 troops were involved in dealing with the consequences of the incident.

Authorities have opened an investigation into the cause of the blast that hit the warehouse belonging to the Inter Logistics company.

A government commission headed by Deputy Prime Minister Achilbay Ramatov was created to deal with the situation, authorities announced.

With a population of nearly 35 million, Uzbekistan is the most populous of the Central Asian former Soviet republics.

The explosion reportedly broke windows of nearby apartment blocks, shops, and other buildings.

Local media reports said a person born in 2006 died after being crushed by a window frame during the blast.

Video footage posted on social media showed a column of flames and smoke rising into the sky.

Uzbek national news agency UzA said that despite the blast, the Islam Karimov International Airport, Uzbekistan's largest, is functioning normally.

Fires triggered by outdated equipment and noncompliance with safety standards are a regular occurrence in Uzbekistan.

The acting mayor of Tashkent, Shavkat Umurzakov, promised that the city would compensate those whose houses incurred damage as a result of the explosion within two to three days.

With reporting by AFP
Updated

NATO Chief Says Ukraine 'Gradually Gaining Ground' As Kyiv Repels Massive Russian Drone Barrage

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (left) and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy attend a press conference in Kyiv on September 28.

Ukrainian forces were "gradually gaining ground" in their counteroffensive against Russian invaders, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said during a previously unannounced visit to Kyiv on September 28, hours after the Ukrainian military said it had repelled a massive wave of Russian drone attacks on southern Ukraine.

"(Ukrainian troops) face fierce fighting, but they are gradually gaining ground, Stoltenberg said at a news conference with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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


"Every meter that Ukrainian forces regain is a meter that Russia loses.... Moscow is fighting for imperialist delusions," Stoltenberg said.

The NATO chief also announced that the alliance has framework contracts in place for 2.4 billion euros ($2.53 billion) of key ammunition for Kyiv, including 1 billion euros in firm orders.

Stoltenberg said Ukraine's ties with the 30-member alliance had never been so close. "Ukraine is now closer to NATO than ever before," he said.

"We are doing everything to bring this time closer," Zelensky said.

At a crucial summit in July, NATO leaders said in a statement that Ukraine's future is inside the alliance, but the bloc will extend an invitation to Kyiv only when "members agree and conditions are met."

The Ukrainian president also called on the alliance to beef up Kyiv's air-defense systems ahead of expected Russian strikes on Ukraine's energy facilities as the cold season approaches.

"The Secretary-General agreed to undertake efforts to help and to support us in this matter, to mobilize the member states of the alliance," Zelensky said, adding, "We need to get through this winter together, to protect our energy infrastructure and people's lives."

Zelenskiy's appeal came just hours after Ukraine's air defense said it had destroyed 34 out of the 44 Iranian-made Shahed drones launched by Russia early on September 28.

"Fighter aircraft, anti-aircraft missile units and mobile fire groups were involved in repelling the attack," the air defense said in a message, adding that six Russian reconnaissance drones had also been downed overnight.

Earlier on September 28, Ukrainian military spokeswoman Nataliya Humenyuk said Russia launched a wave of drone attacks along the entire southern Ukraine.

"Several groups of strike UAVs were launched.... Air defense worked along almost the entire southern direction in the Odesa, Mykolayiv regions. Also, much higher north -- the enemy aimed its attacks at central Ukraine," Humenyuk said.

WATCH: Amid their grinding counteroffensive, Ukrainian troops are training on donated German mobile-bridge equipment that could help them cross rivers and defensive Russian anti-tank ditches.

Ukrainian Troops Train With Newly Delivered German Bridge-Laying Equipment
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Russia "does not stop the pressure and searching for new tactics, namely with the use of mass attacks," Humenyuk said on Telegram.

The latest attack came after the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson came under Russian shelling late on September 27.

Oleksandr Prokudin, head of the regional military administration, announced around 10 p.m. local time that Kherson was under massive shelling. Russia has regularly shelled the Ukrainian-controlled part of Kherson since Moscow withdrew from the regional capital last year.

Russian drone attacks and shelling on September 26 briefly disrupted the rail link between Kherson and the city of Mykolayiv, which was also under air alert on September 27.

On the battlefield, Ukrainian forces fought 26 close-quarters battles over the past 24 hours, repelling several waves of Russian attacks against their positions in the eastern region of Donetsk, mainly in the Bakhmut, Avdiyivka, and Mariynka areas, while consolidating their hold on the village of Robotyne in the south in the face of Russian attempts to retake it, the General Staff of Ukraine's military said in it daily report on September 28.

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

Pashinian Accuses Baku Of Ethnic Cleansing As Exodus From Karabakh Continues

Refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh ride on a truck arriving at the border village of Kornidzor, Armenia, on September 27.

Thousands more people poured into Armenia from Nagorno-Karabakh on September 28, prompting Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian to accuse Azerbaijan of "ethnic cleansing" and warn that no Armenian will remain in the breakaway region following a lightning military offensive that gave Baku total control over the ethnic-Armenian populated territory.

Pashinian's spokeswoman, Nazeli Baghdasarian, said that a total of 76,407 people had entered Armenia from Nagorno-Karabakh as of 8 p.m. local time on September 28, amounting to more than half of the region's estimated 120,000 inhabitants.

"This is a direct act of ethnic cleansing that we warned the international community about," Pashinian told a government meeting on September 28, calling for concrete action by the international community.

"Statements condemning ethnic cleansing by various international players are important, but if they are not followed by concrete actions, these statements will be seen as creating moral statistics for history, so that in future different countries will have the opportunity to formally dissociate themselves from this crime, saying we have condemned it," said Pashinian.

WATCH: The journey out of the crisis-hit region can take days and many arrive exhausted and hungry. Armenian volunteers are doing what they can to provide relief to the tens of thousands of displaced people who have flooded into the country since Azerbaijan launched an attack on Nagorno-Karabakh on September 19.

Armenian Volunteers Rush To Help Flood Of Refugees From Nagorno-Karabakh
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Pashinian added that if the trend continued, no ethnic Armenians will be left in Karabakh in the coming days.

Baku has denied accusations of ethnic cleansing and said it wants to "reintegrate" the enclave's ethnic Armenian population into Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan's Foreign Ministry on September 28 urged ethnic Armenians to remain in Nagorno-Karabakh.

"We call on Armenian residents not to leave their homes and become part of Azerbaijan's multi-ethnic society," the ministry said in a statement.

Russia, which used to be Armenia's main military backer but has been criticized by Yerevan for its peacekeepers' failure to prevent the fall of Nagorno-Karabakh, said fleeing Armenians had nothing to fear.

"It's difficult to say who is to blame [for the exodus]. There is no direct reason for such actions," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in an apparent rejection of Armenia's claims of ethnic cleansing.

"People are nevertheless expressing a desire to leave.... Those who made such a decision should be provided with normal living conditions," Peskov added.

WATCH: Thousands of ethnic Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh have flooded into the border town of Goris after enduring an arduous journey out of the the crisis-hit region. RFE/RL spoke with refugees in Armenia who said they left everything behind and hadn't eaten in days.

'I Have Nothing': Ethnic Armenians Face Dire Conditions Amid Mass Exodus From Nagorno-Karabakh
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The exodus began after Azerbaijan opened the only road leading from Karabakh to Armenia four days after a cease-fire agreement that ended the September 19-20 Azerbaijani military operation which gave Baku complete control over the region.

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

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

The U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh should be able to remain in their homes with respect for their rights and security, if they choose, and those who leave and return should be allowed safe passage overseen by a neutral, independent third party.

"We would expect that those Nagorno-Karabakh residents who depart for Armenia would be able to return freely to their homes once it is safe to do so," Ambassador Michael Carpenter told an OSCE Permanent Council meeting in Vienna.

He also said Azerbaijan has a responsibility to protect civilians and to ensure the humane treatment of all, including those it suspects of being combatants.

Carpenter reiterated a call for an independent international mission to provide security in the region and called for unhindered access for international humanitarian organizations.

As the exodus continued, sparking more fears of a major humanitarian crisis, the de facto leader of Nagorno-Karabakh said the self-styled separatist entity will cease to exist as of January 1.

Samvel Shahramanian said the move was prompted by the situation created after Azerbaijan's taking complete control of the region. His decree mentioned a cease-fire agreement reached last week to end the fighting under which Baku pledged to permit the “free, voluntary, and unrestrained passage” of Nagorno-Karabakh's ethnic Armenian residents, including ''servicemen who have laid down arms."

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

As concerns over the humanitarian situation in the region grew, U.S. State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said Washington would work with allies and partners on an international monitoring mission.

With reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters

Navalny Says He Will Be Transferred To Strictest Prison Cell For 12 Months

Aleksei Navalny appears in a video link from prison durring a hearing at the Russian Supreme Court in Moscow on August 23.

Jailed Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny says he was informed a day after a court rejected his appeal against a 19-year sentence that he will be transferred to the strictest possible prison cell for one year.

"Yesterday, right after my appeal, I was taken to a commission and told that due to my incorrigibility I will be transferred to an 'EPKT' for a period of 12 months," he said on September 27 on X, formerly Twitter, referring to cells widely considered to have the harshest confinement conditions.

"A year of EPKT is the strictest possible punishment in all kinds of prisons," he said.

It was unclear if the punishment will be carried out in a special-regime prison or in the maximum-security IK-6 prison 250 kilometers east of Moscow where he is currently held.

Navalny has been in and out of solitary confinement in recent months, and his allies say his health has deteriorated.

Last month he had his sentence more than doubled to 19 years, with the court also ruling to send him to a harsher "special-regime" facility, rather than the maximum-security prison where he currently is held.

A court in Moscow on September 26 rejected Navalny's appeal of the sentence, which came after the Moscow City Court on August 4 convicted him of extremism charges, ruling that his previous sentences will be served concurrently.

The ruling came 18 months into Russia's invasion in Ukraine, which brought with it an unprecedented crackdown on dissenting voices. Navalny has repeatedly denounced the Kremlin's military offensive from behind bars and called on Russians not to lose "the will to resist."

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

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

His previous sentence was handed down in 2021 after he arrived in Moscow from Germany, where he had been recovering from a poisoning attack he blamed on the Kremlin.

Before the most recent conviction, he was serving a combined 11 1/2 years for embezzlement and violating the terms of his parole while he was in Germany being treated for the poisoning.

With reporting by AFP

U.S. Imposes Sanctions Aimed At Iranian Drone-Procurement Network

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy stands next to a downed Iranian-made Shahed-136 kamikaze drone launched by Russia to attack Ukraine.

The United States has imposed sanctions on entities in Iran, Hong Kong, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates that the U.S. Treasury Department says comprise a network for the procurement of parts for Iran's drone program.

The network has facilitated shipments and financial transactions in support of a critical component used in Iran's Shahed drones, which Iran has been supplying to Russia for use against Ukraine, the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) said on September 27.

The critical component is known as a servomotor and is used in Iran’s Shahed-series unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). The OFAC said the sanctions took aim at the procurement of servomotors by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps' (IRGC) aerospace organization.

The OFAC said one of the servomotors procured by the network was recovered in the remnants of a Russian-operated Shahed-136 that was recently shot down in Ukraine.

"Iranian-made UAVs continue to be a key tool for Russia in its attacks in Ukraine, including those that terrorize Ukrainian citizens and attack its critical infrastructure," Undersecretary of the Treasury Brian Nelson said in a news release.

Two of the five entities designated for sanctions are Iran-based Pishgam Electronic Safeh Company (PESC) and Hongkong Himark Electron Model Limited. The other three are based in Turkey and the U.A.E., the OFAC said.

PESC has procured thousands of servomotors with one-way attack UAV applications worth hundreds of thousands of dollars for the IRGC, the OFAC said. The company's CEO, Iran-based Hamid Reza Janghorbani, was also designated for sanctions along with Hongkong Himark official Fan Yang, who is based in China.

The OFAC said Fan had represented Hong Kong-based Hongkong Himark in fulfilling servomotor orders worth more than $1 million for PESC. In addition to selling servomotors to PESC, Fan attempted to hide that an Iranian company was behind the shipments by falsifying invoices, the OFAC said.

Hongkong Himark is being designated for having provided or attempted to provide financial, technological, or other support for PESC. The firms based in Turkey and the U.A.E. have been designated for facilitating financial transactions, shipping, and material and technical support for PESC’s servomotor procurement from Hongkong Himark.

The sanctions build on designations announced in November 2022 by the OFAC aimed at Iran's Shahed Aviation Industries Research Center. The Iranian firm is subordinate to the IRGC's aerospace organization and designs and manufactures the Shahed-136, the Treasury Department said.

The sanctions freeze any assets the individuals hold in U.S. jurisdiction and block people in the United States from having any dealings with the entities and individuals named.

Bulgarian Parliament Approves Sending Antiaircraft Missiles To Ukraine

An S-300 air-defense missile system (file photo)

Bulgaria's parliament approved on September 27 a decision to provide missiles for S-300 air-defense systems to Ukraine. The missiles are defective and more than 30 years old, but Ukraine can use them for spare parts, Bulgarian parliamentary Defense Committee Chairman Hristo Gadjev said after the vote. Russia reacted with a statement urging Bulgaria to reconsider the decision. It said providing the missiles to Kyiv would violate an agreement for military cooperation between the Russia and Bulgaria that dates back to 2002. Bulgaria has been providing military aid to Ukraine since December 2022 following a decision by parliament. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Bulgarian Service, click here.

Imprisoned Father Of Russian Girl Who Drew Anti-War Picture Placed In Solitary Confinement Five Times

Aleksei Moskalyov is escorted from a courtroom in Yefremov in Russia's Tula region in March.

A Russian man who was sentenced to two years in prison on a charge of discrediting Russia's armed forces in April after anti-war drawings by his 13-year-old daughter drew attention to his online posts about the Kremlin's invasion of Ukraine has been placed in punitive solitary confinement five times since August. Aleksei Moskalyov's lawyer said on September 27 that his client's latest, 14-day stint in solitary confinement was imposed on September 22. All punitive confinements have been imposed on Moskalyov for minor "violations" such as "failure to get up quickly," or "not having his hands behind his back," the lawyer said. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

Poll Shows Slovaks Split Ahead Of Elections With Ukraine In Spotlight

Party leaders Robert Fico (left to right); Michal Simecka, and Peter Pellegrini wait for a televised debate to begin at TV TA3 in Bratislava on September 26.

Slovak opposition party Direction-Social Democracy (Smer), led by former Prime Minister Robert Fico, holds a narrow lead over its liberal challenger, Progressive Slovakia (PS), ahead of weekend elections that have revealed stark dividing lines over whether the country should continue to support Ukraine or instead seek closer ties with Russia.

In the final opinion poll conducted by the IPSOS agency prior to the September 30 vote, Smer, which has taken a more pro-Russian stance over the war in neighboring Ukraine than other European Union members, garnered support at 20.6 percent compared with 19.8 percent for PS, which has shown a late surge in popularity.

No matter which party wins, they are likely to need at least two coalition partners to form a government, according to the poll, conducted for news website Dennikn.sk, among 1,000 participants between September 22 and September 25.

During the campaign, Fico, 59, has criticized Slovakia's arms supplies to Ukraine while pledging to stop shipments to Kyiv if he takes power. He has also dismissed further EU sanctions against Russia, questioned the possibility of Ukraine joining NATO, and repeated Kremlin narratives that NATO caused the war.

"Why aren't we holding peace talks, for God's sake? Why are we always talking about what kind of munitions we're going to send to Ukraine, what kind of tanks we'll send there, how many billions of euros will be spent on further armaments?" he asks in a statement that mirrors the thinking of Viktor Orban, the leader of neighboring Hungary.

"It's naive to think Russia will leave Crimea, it's naive to think that Russia will leave the territory it controls. So, explain to me, what's the good of all this killing?" Fico added.

Progressive Slovakia leader Michal Simecka has warned such a policy shift could push the country into isolation. He has promised to maintain support for Ukraine as it tries to repel Russia's invasion, in line with EU and NATO partners.

Slovaks Vote Amid Deep Divide On Ukraine
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Slovakia has provided neighboring Ukraine with substantial military and humanitarian aid since the Russian invasion began in February 2022.

But a study by the Bratislava-based think tank Globsec conducted earlier in 2023 noted that 69 percent of respondents agreed that by providing military equipment to Ukraine, Slovakia was provoking Russia and bringing itself closer to war.

Slovaks' support for NATO membership has also shrunk to 58 percent this year from 72 percent in 2022, the poll showed. Globsec analysts say the results are due to disinformation.

Fico was Slovakia's prime minister from 2006 to 2010 and again from 2012 to 2018.

He remained a member of parliament and in 2022, he faced criminal charges of using sensitive information on political opponents. He denied the charges, which were eventually dropped, and has been seeking the removal of the special prosecutor who investigates high-level corruption allegations.

With reporting by Ray Furlong in Bratislava, Reuters, and AFP

Russian Court Rejects Appeal Of Ukrainian Activist From Crimea Against 15-Year Prison Term

Bohdan Zyza (file photo)

A military court in Russia has rejected an appeal filed by Ukrainian activist Bohdan Zyza from Russian-occupied Crimea against the 15-year prison term he was handed in June on terrorism charges, Zyza's sister, Oleksandra Barkova, said on September 27. Zyza was arrested in May 2022 after he splashed yellow and blue paint -- the colors of the Ukrainian flag -- on a building of the Russian-imposed administration in the Crimean city of Yevpatoria. He also threw a Molotov cocktail at it. Earlier in June, Barkov held a 17-day hunger strike, demanding all Ukrainian political prisoners in Russian custody be released. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Crimea.Realities, click here.

Eight Killed, Including Five Children, In Explosion Of Stray Ordnance In Pakistan

Eight people -- five children, a man, and two women -- were killed on September 27 after a rocket-launcher round exploded inside a house in the Kashmor district of Pakistan's southeastern Sindh Province, police said. The round was found by children in the fields who brought it home, local police officer Rohail Khosa told RFE/RL. He said investigations were under way to establish the circumstances of the blast.

Prosecutors Seek Five Years In Prison In Retrial Of Protest Artist Krisevich

Russian protest artist Pavel Krisevich
Prosecutors asked the Tver district court in Moscow during the retrial of noted protest artist Pavel Krisevich to sentence the defendant to five years in prison over a so-called "suicide" performance in which he fired blanks from a pistol in Moscow's Red Square.
In June, the Moscow City Court canceled a previous five-year prison sentence handed to Krisevich in October 2022, saying that the case must be reinvestigated as the original hooliganism charge lacked what they called "an ideological motive."

Krisevich was arrested in June last year on Moscow's Red Square and charged with hooliganism after he fired two blanks into the air while shouting: "There will be shots before the Kremlin's curtain." He then held the gun to his head and fired another blank.

Krisevich's girlfriend, Anastasia Mikhailova, said at the time that the goal of the protest performance was to support political prisoners in Russia.

Declaring that his protest was aimed at "state intimidation," Krisevich described the performance as "a kill shot" -- an expression used by hired assassins in Russia's criminal underworld to describe a gunshot to the head of a victim to ensure they are dead.

"The state labels protests as crimes," Krisevich's statement said. "It forces us to think that we are criminals in our cells and chats. But what is it without state intimidation? Clearly, it is an empty space."

Krisevich, who is originally from Russia's second-largest city, St. Petersburg, has been jailed in the past over his protests in the Russian capital.

In November 2021, he was sentenced to 15 days in jail for a protest in front of the Federal Security Service’s headquarters in Moscow in which he was staged a mock crucifixion of himself over burning files. He said that protest symbolized criminal cases against Russian citizens.

In addition to jail time, he was also expelled from the university in Moscow he was attending.

In May 2022, Krisevich was sentenced to 10 days in jail for taking part in an action to support political prisoners in Russia by displaying their paintings in central Moscow.

Binance, World's Largest Cryptocurrency Exchange Company, Quits Russian Market

(file photo)

Binance, the world's largest cryptocurrency exchange company, said on September 27 it will sell all of its Russian operations to a newly established company, CommEx. Binance’s chief compliance officer, Noah Perlman, said that "as we look toward the future, we recognize that operating in Russia is not compatible with Binance's compliance strategy.” The process of leaving the Russian market will last for up to one year to ensure a smooth process for clients in Russia, the company said. All assets of current Russian users are safe and securely protected, the statement added. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Rights Watchdog Urges Uzbekistan To Ensure Safety Of Imprisoned Karakalpak Journalist

Journalist Daulet Tajimuratov (file photo)

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged Uzbek authorities to ensure the safety of imprisoned Karakalpak activist and journalist Dauletmurat Tajimuratov, who was sentenced to 16 years in prison in January for joining mass anti-government protests in Uzbekistan's Karakalpak Autonomous Republic last year.

HRW cited Tajimuratov's lawyer, Sergei Mayorov, in a statement late on September 26 as saying that his client’s rights “are being violated while he is serving his prison sentence.”

According to Mayorov, his client has been refused adequate health care and food. He added that Tajimuratov doesn’t have access to a prison library or media, and that he is being isolated in a single cell, while prison officials refuse to assign him work detail, further limiting his contact with other prisoners.

"Tajimuratov had noticeably lost weight and the conditions of his imprisonment were taking a serious toll on his physical and psychological health,” the HRW statement quoted Mayorov as saying.

HRW Senior Researcher Mihra Rittmann said that "like any detainee," Tajimuratov has a right to "absolute protection against inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, as well as his other basic rights including to adequate nutrition and health care."

"Tajimuratov, whose 'crime' was to call for a peaceful protest and speak out against proposed constitutional amendments that would have stripped Karakalpakstan of its sovereign status, should not be languishing in prison," Rittmann added.

The HRW statement said that Uzbek authorities have the responsibility to ensure Tajimuratov suffers no further harm in prison and that he is not isolated from others without just cause.

Tajimuratov, a lawyer for the El Khyzmetinde (At The People's Service) newspaper, where he previously was the chief editor, was sentenced on January 31 by the Bukhara regional court along with 21 other defendants.

In March, another 39 Karakalpak activists accused of taking part in the protests in Karakalpakstan’s capital, Nukus, were convicted with 28 of them sentenced to prison terms of between five and 11 years, while 11 were handed parole-like sentences.

Uzbek authorities say 21 people died during the protests in early July 2022, which were sparked by the announcement of a planned change to the constitution that would have undermined the region's right to self-determination.

However, the Austria-based Freedom for Eurasia human rights group said in July that at least 70 people were killed during the unrest.

The violence forced President Shavkat Mirziyoev to make a rare about-face and scrap the proposal.

Mirziyoev accused "foreign forces" of being behind the unrest, without further explanation, before backing away from the proposed changes.

Karakalpaks are a Central Asian Turkic-speaking people. Their region used to be an autonomous area within Kazakhstan before becoming autonomous within the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic in 1930 and then part of Uzbekistan in 1936.

The European Union has called for an independent investigation into the violence.

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

Belarusian journalist Alyaksandr Mantsevich (file photo)

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

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

Polish Agriculture Minister Robert Telus (file photo)

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

Updated

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nagorno-Karabakh, which along with the seven adjacent districts had been under ethnic Armenian control for nearly three decades prior to the war in 2020, is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan.

The 2020 war ended with a Russia-brokered cease-fire under which Moscow deployed about 2,000 troops to the region to serve as peacekeepers.

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

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

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

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