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Olympic Glory For Rudisha, Bolt

Iran's Mohammad Bagheri Motamed celebrates winning the silver medal in the under-68-kilogram taekwondo competition at the London Olympic Games.
Kenyan runner David Rudisha has become the first athlete to set a new world record on the track at the 2012 London Olympics, clocking the 800 meter run in 1:40.91 to win gold on August 9.

The 23-year-old Rudisha has now run the three fastest 800 meter races of all time and six of the eight fastest times ever over the distance.

Also in athletics, Jamaican Usain Bolt powered to victory in the 200 meters to become the first man to successfully defend both Olympic sprint titles, having retained his 100-meter crown earlier in the week.

Bolt finished in a time of 19.32 seconds ahead of compatriots Yohan Blake and Warren Weir, who made it a clean sweep of medals for Jamaica.

Also on August 9, Afghan taekwondo hero Rohullah Nekpa won bronze in the men's under-68-kilogram category, becoming the first athlete from Afghanistan to win an Olympic medal in London.

The 25-year-old Nekpa defeated Britain's Martin Stamper 5-3. He told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan he is happy he will return from London "with full hands" because his win is a victory for his entire country.

Nekpa lost his quarter finals match to Iran's eventual silver medallist Mohammad Bagheri Motamed, but he took advantage of a second chance via the repechage. Turkey's Servet Tazegul won the gold while Terrence Jennings from the United States also won bronze in the category.

Elsewhere, the U.S. women's soccer team won its third consecutive Olympic gold medal, defeating Japan 2-1 and gaining a modicum of revenge for their defeat to the same nation in last year's World Cup final.

The final on August 9 was played before more than 80,000 spectators at Wembley Stadium -- a record crowd for a women's Olympic soccer game.

Wrestling Gold For Russia

In wrestling, Russia's Natalia Vorobieva defeated Bulgaria's Stanka Hristova to win gold in the women's 72-kilogram freestyle competition.

Hristova, who has won the world championship five times, was aiming to improve on her silver medal finish at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. But the speed of Vorobieva to engineer a take down in the second round proved decisive for the Russian.

Maider Unda of Spain and Kazakhstan's repechage winner Guzel Manyurova each were awarded the bronze medal.

Olympic women's handball debutants Montenegro beat Spain 27-26, advancing to the final against the reigning champions, Norway, on August 11.

Montenegro, only officially recognized as an Olympic nation in 2007, now has a chance of winning the country's first Olympic gold medal.

Russia's hopes for an Olympic gold medal in women's basketball were dashed when France beat the them 81-64 in their semifinal match.

The United States defeated Australia 86-73 to set up a match with the French in the final on August 11.

The Russian women will compete against Australia for bronze on the same day.

Barbora Spotakova of the Czech Republic retained her Olympic women's javelin, winning the gold medal with a throw of 69.55 meters.

Germany's Peter Kretschmer and Kurt Kuschela won gold in the men's canoe double, finishing nearly two seconds faster than Belarusian brothers Andrei and Alyaksandr Bahdanovich, who won silver. Russia's Aleksey Korovashkov and Ilya Pervukhin won bronze.

Pistorius Back On Track

In women's boxing, American boxer Claressa Shields defeated Russia's Nadezda Torlopova in the middleweight final to win the only pugilism medal for team USA in London.

Katie Taylor of Ireland defeated Russia's Sofya Ochigava in the lightweight final to win gold. Tajikistan's Mavzuna Chorieva and Brazil's Adriana Arauja won bronze for making it to the semifinals.

Amputee Oscar Pistorius' hopes of winning an Olympic medal were back on track after his South African team in the men's 4x400-meter relay won an appeal and was given a place in the final on August 11.

The 25-year-old Pistorius thought his Olympic dream was over when South Africa's second-leg runner Ofentse Mogawane fell on the curve after tangling with Kenya's Vincent Kiilu during a qualifying round.

But Kenya's team was subsequently disqualified, prompting an appeal by South Africa that was accepted by the International Association of Athletics Federations.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa, and the BBC

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Fire Breaks Out At Drone-Making Factory In Latvia

Fire engines are seen at the site of a blaze that broke out at a drone factory on the outskirts of Latvia's capital, Riga, on February 7.

A fire broke out on February 7 at a drone factory in Latvia that has built drones for Ukraine's military and NATO allies. Two dozen police cars, nine fire engines, and five ambulances rushed to the scene of the fire at the factory run by the U.S. company Edge Autonomy on the outskirts of Riga. The cause of the blaze was not known and no injuries were reported. "A high-risk fire has occurred in the production building, sparking a lot of smoke," the fire department said on Twitter, urging local residents to keep their doors and windows closed.

Updated

Explosion In Residential Building Kills At Least Five In Russia

According to authorities, the explosion was caused by a gas leak and destroyed three levels of a five-story building.

An explosion in a residential building in Russia's western Tula region has killed at least five people. Emergency Department officials in the town of Yefremov said on February 7 that rescue teams continue to look for survivors or bodies at the site. According to the authorities, the explosion was caused by a gas leak and destroyed three levels of a five-story building. Gas explosions frequently occur across the former Soviet Union due to aging pipelines and infrastructure, as well as lax safety standards.

Ukraine 'Disappointed' With Georgian Court's Rejection Of Saakashvili's Release Request

Former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili (file photo)

KYIV-- Ukraine has expressed concerns over a court decision in Tbilisi rejecting an appeal to release former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, who holds Ukrainian citizenship, from prison on health grounds.

Ukraine's Foreign Ministry called on Georgian authorities in a statement on February 7 "to stop settling political scores with a Ukrainian citizen and ensure compliance with his rights and hand him over to Ukraine."

A day earlier, Judge Giorgi Arevadze rejected Saakashvili's request to suspend his sentence, a move Saakashvili called a "death sentence" handed to him by his political opponents.

The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said it was "disappointed with the decision of the Tbilisi City Court."

"The court did not take into account the doctors' conclusions regarding the severity of Mikheil Saakashvili's illness," the statement said.

Saakashvili, who was Georgia’s president from 2004 to 2013, is serving a six-year sentence for abuse of power, a charge that he and his supporters say was politically motivated.

Family members and his lawyers have warned for months that Saakashvili’s health condition has been deteriorating even as he receives treatment in a private clinic in Tbilisi.

His medical team says his health has worsened significantly since he went to prison in October 2021 and staged repeated hunger strikes to protest his incarceration.

Saakashvili's legal team has also asserted that he was "poisoned" with heavy metals while in custody.

During a hearing last week, he asked for “the opportunity for adequate treatment” by having his sentence suspended so he could be transferred abroad for more intensive care.

But Georgian officials have raised doubts about how critical his health situation is.

Saakashvili is currently on trial on separate charges of violently dispersing an anti-government rally in November 2007 and illegal border crossing.

Updated

Moscow Court Upholds Decision To Withdraw Novaya Gazeta Newspaper's License

Novaya gazeta suspended publication online and in print after Russia introduced strict new censorship laws. (file photo)

MOSCOW -- The Moscow City Court has upheld the decision of a lower court to withdraw the licenses of the Novaya gazeta newspaper and its Novaya rasskaz-gazeta magazine, two of the last independent media outlets in the country, amid a crackdown on the free press during the Kremlin's war against Ukraine.

The court ruled on February 7 that the decision to withdraw the media outlets’ licenses by the Basmanny district court in September was correct and cannot be changed.

In November, Russian authorities blocked access to Novaya gazeta's website. Previous to that, the newspaper in March was forced to suspend publication online and in print after Russia introduced strict new censorship laws.

Shortly after the Moscow City Court pronounced its decision, Kirill Martynov, the chief editor of Novaya gazeta's project in the EU, Novaya gazeta. Europe, condemned the ruling.

"The court in Moscow just destroyed Novaya gazeta, Russia's oldest independent media outlet. We always opposed to war, our six journalists were murdered and our editor-in-chief received the Nobel Peace Prize a few months before Putin invaded Ukraine. It will not end like this," Martynov wrote on Twitter.

Russian authorities have used courts to intensify pressure on the free press since the Kremlin launched its invasion of Ukraine in late February last year.

Novaya gazeta was founded in part with money from former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and had been one of the most respected publications in post-Soviet Russia since 1993. It suspended operations inside the country in March after being forced to remove material from its website on Russia's full-scale aggression against Ukraine.

Some members of the paper’s staff left Russia after it stopped publishing and launched the newspaper's new project Novaya gazeta. Europe from Latvia's capital, Riga. Russia's media regulator, Roskomnadzor, has blocked that website inside Russia as well.

Novaya gazeta’s chief editor Dmitry Muratov, a 2021 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, has remained in Russia despite his vocal opposition to the conflict in Ukraine.

Shortly after the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, Moscow quickly adopted a law criminalizing the dissemination of “false” information that “discredits the armed forces.” The law has been central to a massive crackdown against dissent over the war in Russia.

Rights Watchdog Calls Iranian Government's Anniversary Celebrations 'Shameful,' Banners Burned

Months of unrest sparked have posed the greatest threat to Iran's leadership since the Islamic Revolution. (file photo)

Protesters in several Iranian cities, including the capital, Tehran, have set fire to government banners commemorating the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution as rights group Amnesty International chided the country's leaders for "decades of mass killings and cover-ups."

Months of unrest sparked by the death on September 16 of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old who died while in custody after being arrested by the notorious morality police for allegedly not wearing a mandatory Islamic head scarf properly, have posed the greatest threat to the Islamic leadership since the revolution.

Her death, which officials blamed on a heart attack, touched off a wave of anti-government protests in cities across the country. The authorities have responded to the unrest with a harsh crackdown that rights groups say has killed more than 500 people, including 71 children.

Amnesty called the anniversary celebrations "shameful" amid decades of mass killings and cover-ups by authorities, including the current brutal treatment of protesters since Amini's death, as well as the 1988 prison massacre that saw thousands of Iranian political prisoners and others killed in mass executions across the country.

“The authorities of the Islamic Republic of Iran have maintained an iron grip on power for decades through the commission of horror after horror with absolute impunity," Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty International’s deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa, said in a statement dated February 6.

"The anniversary arrives amid a horrific wave of bloodshed around the latest protests, as well as arbitrary executions and death sentences targeting protesters. This highlights the need for urgent global action from countries around the world to bring Iranian officials involved in crimes under international law to justice in fair trials,” she added.

Despite the crackdown, Iranians continue to push back as they call for increased freedoms and human rights.

In the evening on February 7, neighborhoods in the northeastern Iranian city of Mashhad witnessed the chanting of slogans -- a nightly occurrence -- by protestors along with the burning of propaganda banners of the government celebrations of the 1979 Islamic Revolution anniversary. Similar scenes were repeated in the cities of Arak, Kermanshah, and Kerman.

In the western Iranian city of Sanandaj, a group of protesters blocked the street leading to the central prison of Sanandaj by lighting a fire and chanting anti-government slogans, including "death to the dictator," a reference to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Videos published on social media also show that, in different areas of the Iranian capital of Tehran, people chanted anti-government slogans from the windows and rooftops of residential buildings and played the song “Baraye,” which won a Grammy award for social change on February 5 and has become an anthem for the ongoing protests in Iran.

The song Baraye, which roughly translates as "because of," is based on the outpouring of public anger following Amini's death. It is composed of tweets sent by Iranians in response to the tragedy. Many of the tweets blame the country's social, economic, and political ills on the clerical regime.

Officials, who have blamed the West for the demonstrations, have vowed to crack down even harder on protesters, with the judiciary leading the way after the unrest entered a fourth month.

Several thousand people have been arrested, including many protesters, as well as journalists, lawyers, activists, digital rights defenders, and others.

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

Ukraine's Parliament Amends 2023 Budget, Raises Spending

Roksolana Pidlasa, the head of the parliamentary budget committee (file photo)

Ukraine's parliament approved changes to the 2023 state budget that raise state spending to support small businesses and channel more funds into reconstruction and recovery projects following Russia's invasion. Roksolana Pidlasa, the head of the parliamentary budget committee, said spending was increased by 5.5 billion hryvnias ($150 million). The increase included funds to finance and modernize hospitals in Kyiv and Lviv and to rebuild bridges damaged in Russia's war on Ukraine. The amended budget also plans for 1.28 billion hryvnias in additional support for small businesses in the processing industry and state guarantees for loans in the agriculture sector. To read the original story from Reuters, click here.

Estonian Ambassador Leaves Russia As Deadline Expires In Tit-For-Tat Dispute

The Russian Embassy in Tallinn (file photo)

Estonian Ambassador Margus Laidre has left Moscow as requested by Russia's Foreign Ministry, Russian media reports said on February 7. Last month, Moscow demanded that Laidre leave Russia by February 7, saying the level of diplomatic representation in both countries will be reduced from ambassadors to charge d'affaires. The move came after Estonia told Russia to cut the number of diplomats it has in the Baltic nation to eight, equivalent to the number of Estonian diplomats in Moscow. Since Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Estonia has expelled three Russian diplomats. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

Iranian Clinic Shut After Doctor Defends Woman For Her Stance On Hijab

Since Amini's death, Iranians have flooded into the streets across the country to protest against a lack of rights, with women and schoolgirls making unprecedented shows of support in the biggest threat to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution.

Authorities in the northeastern Iranian city of Kashmar have shut down a clinic after a confrontation between two women over wearing a head scarf, a topic that has been at the center of months of unrest since a young woman died while in police custody after being detained over how she was wearing hers.

A video that appeared on social media on February 4 shows a veiled woman warning another woman for allegedly not wearing her hijab properly. A doctor at the clinic then defends the woman's right not to wear a hijab and says that her move is a symbol of protest.

"This is a criticism of the mullahs and I defend her," the doctor added in the video. The date of the recording of the video could not be independently verified.


The hard-line Fars news agency, which is affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), quoted the prosecutor of Razavi Khorasan Province as saying the doctor was summoned and charged for "insulting a hijabi woman and insulting clerics," while his clinic was also sealed.

In recent weeks, numerous reports have been published about the sealing of businesses, restaurants, cafes, and in some cases even pharmacies for owners and managers failing to observe Islamic laws and mandatory hijab rules.

The wave of closings comes amid the months-long public anger that erupted after 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died in September while in custody after being detained by morality police in Tehran for "improperly" wearing a head scarf.

Since Amini's death, Iranians have flooded into the streets across the country to protest against a lack of rights, with women and schoolgirls making unprecedented shows of support in the biggest threat to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution.

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

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

Germany Urges 'Immediate' End To Nagorno-Karabakh Blockade

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock (file photo)

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock on February 7 called for the reopening of a key corridor to the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, after talks with her Armenian counterpart. Baerbock, whose country leads a European Union mission in the region, told reporters that the escalating humanitarian situation made it essential that the blockade by Azerbaijan "end immediately." "The supermarket shelves are almost empty, medication is lacking...family members are stuck in Armenia and can't get back to their loved ones, schoolchildren have to freeze in these icy temperatures because the energy supplies are cut off," Baerbock said. To read the original report by AFP, click here.

Swedish PM Says He's Ready To Restart NATO Talks With Turkey When Ankara Is

Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson (file photo)

Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said on February 7 that he's ready to restart stalled negotiations over Sweden's application to join NATO as soon as Turkey is. Finland and Sweden sought NATO membership shortly after Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and while most member states have ratified the applications, Turkey has yet to give its approval in what must be a unanimous process. The three nations last year reached an agreement on a way forward, but Ankara suspended talks last month following protests in Stockholm, where a far-right politician burned a copy of the Koran. To read the original story from Reuters, click here.

Updated

Nordic Countries 'Stand Firm' In Opposing Russian, Belarusian Athletes At Paris Olympics

Paris is due to host the Summer Olympics in July and August 2024. (file photo)

The Olympic committees of five Nordic countries have reiterated their opposition to allowing Russian and Belarusian athletes to take part in the 2024 Paris Olympics.

The countries said in a statement on February 7 that the situation in Ukraine has not changed.

“Therefore, we stand firm in our position, not to open for Russian and Belarusian athletes and officials in international sports participation,” the statement said. “Now is not the right time to consider their return; that is our position.”

The Olympic Committees and Paralympic Committees representing Denmark, Iceland, Finland, Norway, Sweden, and the sports confederations of Greenland, the Faroe Islands, and Aland issued the statement after meeting on February 3.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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

The statement said the committees also reaffirmed their steadfast support for the Ukrainian people and the demand for peace.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) said last month that it was exploring a "pathway" to allow Russian and Belarusian competitors to take part in the Paris Olympics. Ukraine responded to that announcement by saying it would consider boycotting the Paris games.

Other European countries remain angered by the Olympic body’s statement, saying efforts to restore the participation of athletes from Russia and Belarus, who were banned after Moscow launched its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine last February, were ill-timed given that the military conflict continues.

The three Baltic nations and Poland last week noted the possibility that Russian and Belarusian athletes could be allowed to participate under a neutral flag. They said this would "legitimize the political decisions and extensive propaganda of these countries" and allow them to use sport as a distraction from Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy also criticized it, saying it would be “a legitimization of the criminal aggression against Ukraine," adding on Twitter, "We won't allow sport to be used against humanity & for war propaganda!"

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said earlier on February 7 that she was opposed to Russians competing at the Olympics in her city if the war in Ukraine was still going on.

The statement from her office represents a change in position by Hidalgo, who said last month she believed Russians could take part "under a neutral flag" to avoid "depriving athletes of competition."

With reporting by AFP

Another Group Of Karakalpak Activists Goes On Trial In Uzbekistan Over 2022 Protests

Lawyer and journalist Dauletmurat Tajimuratov was given 16 years in prison on charges of plotting to seize power by disrupting the constitutional order, organizing mass unrest, embezzlement, and money laundering.

A court in Uzbekistan's southwestern city of Bukhara has started the trial of another 39 Karakalpak activists accused of taking part in unsanctioned anti-government protests in the Central Asian nation's Autonomous Republic of Karakalpakstan last year.

Uzbekistan's Supreme Court said on February 7 that 20 of the defendants are charged with organizing mass unrest, while seven are charged with distributing materials inciting social discord, seven others with inflicting serious bodily damage, four with the illegal use of firearms, and one person is charged with torture and blackmail.

The same court last week sentenced the first group of Karakalpak activists -- 22 individuals -- sending lawyer and journalist Dauletmurat Tajimuratov to prison for 16 years on charges of plotting to seize power by disrupting the constitutional order, organizing mass unrest, embezzlement, and money laundering.

Four defendants, including another journalist, Lolagul Qallykhanova, were handed parole-like sentences and immediately released from custody.


Another 17 defendants were sentenced to prison terms of between three years and 8 1/2 years. It remains unclear how the defendants pleaded.

Uzbekistan's Prosecutor-General’s Office said on February 6 that one of the activists convicted last week and handed a six-year prison term, Polat Shamshetov, had died over the weekend while in custody of "thromboembolism of the pulmonary artery and acute heart failure."

Self-exiled Karakalpak activists have expressed suspicions that the 45-year-old Shamshetov might have been tortured to death in custody and have demanded a thorough investigation of his death.

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

The violence in Nukus, the main city in Karakalpakstan, 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.

Karakalpakstan is home to fewer than 2 million people, out of a nation of 35 million, but it covers more than one-third of Uzbekistan's territory.

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

Ukrainian Lawmakers Appoint New Security Service Chief, Interior Minister

Ihor Klymenko is Ukraine's new interior minister. (file photo)

Ukrainian lawmakers on February 7 appointed Vasyl Malyuk to the post of chief of the Security Service (SBU) and Ihor Klymenko to the post of interior minister. Malyuk had served as the SBU's acting chief since August 2022. Klymenko had been serving as acting interior minister after his predecessor, Denys Monastyrskiy, was killed in a helicopter crash in January. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.

Wikipedia Unblocked In Pakistan

(illustrative photo)

Wikipedia was accessible in Pakistan on February 7, days after the country’s media regulator had blocked the free online encyclopedia. Pakistan’s media regulator blocked Wikipedia services on February 3. A spokesperson told RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal that the decision was taken after the site failed to remove purportedly blasphemous content. After an outcry, Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif on February 6 ordered the site to be unblocked. Blasphemy is a sensitive subject and carries the death penalty in Pakistan, where even allegations of the offense are often enough to provoke mob violence. To read the original story from RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal, click here.

Russian Court Reduces Sentence Of Self-Exiled Activist Shevchenko

Anastasia Shevchenko (file photo)

A Russian court has cut the prison term handed down to the self-exiled former coordinator of the defunct Open Russia group, Anastasia Shevchenko, by one year, putting the sentence at two years.

Shevchenko, who fled Russia for Lithuania last summer, tweeted the court decision -- the second time that a year was cut from her original sentence -- on February 6. She gave no reason for the reduction of the sentence.

In December, a court in the southwestern city of Rostov-on-Don ruled in absentia to replace Shevchenko's suspended sentence with a real prison term at the Federal Penitentiary Service's request.

Shevchenko was initially handed a four-year suspended sentence in February 2021 for having links with the opposition group Open Russia. The sentence was later cut by one year.

Shevchenko was the first person in Russia charged with “repeatedly participating in the activities of an undesirable organization.” Previously, violations of this law were punished as a noncriminal offense.

Shevchenko's supporters have said the case was a politically motivated attempt to stop her activism and punish her for showing dissent publicly.

The “undesirable organization” law, adopted in May 2015, was part of a series of regulations pushed by the Kremlin that squeezed many nonprofit and nongovernmental organizations that received funding from foreign sources.

The Russian Prosecutor-General's Office declared Open Russia "undesirable” in 2017.

During her pretrial house arrest in January 2019, Shevchenkowas granted a furlough at the last minute to see her eldest daughter in the hospital shortly before she died of an unspecified illness.

Prosecutor Seeks Nine Years In Prison For Siberian Journalist Charged With 'Discrediting' Russian Armed Forces

Maria Ponomarenko

A prosecutor has asked a court in the Siberian city of Barnaul to convict and sentence journalist Maria Ponomarenko to nine years in prison on a charge of discrediting Russia’s armed forces with "fake" social media posts about the war in Ukraine. Ponomarenko's lawyer, Dmitry Shitov, said the prosecutor also requested the court to bar Ponomarenko from journalistic and online activities for five years. Ponomarenko was arrested in April 2022 for her online posts about Russia's ongoing unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

Updated

Ukraine To Receive 100 Leopard 1 Battle Tanks, German Defense Minister Says In Kyiv

German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius presents a miniature copy of a Leopard tank to his Ukrainian counterpart Oleksiy Reznikov in Kyiv on February 7.

German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius has made a surprise visit to Kyiv, where he announced that Ukraine is to receive more than 100 battle tanks of the older Leopard 1 type from several European countries.

The number of tanks is enough to equip at least three battalions, Pistorius said without naming the countries aside from Germany that will send the Leopard 1 tanks. They are to be shipped by the first or second quarter of 2024.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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

Pistorius, who took the job of defense minister less than three weeks ago, met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov during his visit.

"Thank you to @Bundeskanzler my colleague Boris Pistorius and the German people. The tank coalition is marching...to victory!" Reznikov said on Twitter.

The German government last week said that it had approved the export of Leopard 1 battle tanks to Ukraine but the government spokesperson who made the announcement declined to comment on the number of tanks that would be exported.

A joint statement issued by the Economy Ministry and the Defense Ministry said the export of up to 178 Leopard 1A5 main battle tanks to Ukraine had been approved. The statement added the exact number that will be delivered "depends on the required maintenance work."

The Leopard 1s are not as advanced as Leopard 2s that Germany and other countries pledged to send Ukraine last month after the United States agreed to send M1 Abrams tanks. Germany initially showed reluctance to provide Leopard tanks or to allow third countries that have Leopard tanks to send them to Ukraine.

Reznikov's tweet showed him and Pistorius holding a model of the Leopard 2, saying the "first" of the pledged battle tanks had arrived in Kyiv. "There will be more of them," he added.

Ukraine has asked its Western allies for heavier weapons to confront invading Russian troops who continue to launch attacks along the front lines in eastern Ukraine. Kyiv’s military reported more attacks on February 7 as Ukrainian officials continued to warn that Moscow was preparing for a fresh offensive in the region.

Russia’s military launched six missile and 24 air strikes in the previous 24 hours, according to the General Staff of the Ukrainian military early on February 7. The General Staff also reported 75 artillery strikes, including on civilian targets in the eastern and southeastern regions of Kharkiv, Donetsk, Dnipropetrovsk, and Kherson. It said there had been an unspecified number of civilian casualties.

Later, Pavlo Kyrylenko, the head of the Donetsk regional military administration, reported that one person had been killed and five wounded as a result of overnight shelling in the Donetsk region.

The General Staff also said that 1,030 Russian soldiers were killed in Ukraine over the 24-hour period, although such casualty figures are impossible to verify.


The fresh fighting comes after Luhansk Governor Serhiy Hayday said that Russia is deploying reinforcements in eastern Ukraine ahead of a possible new offensive.

"We are seeing more and more (Russian) reserves being deployed in our direction, we are seeing more equipment being brought in," Hayday told Ukrainian television on February 6.

"They bring ammunition that is used differently than before -- it is not round-the-clock shelling anymore. They are slowly starting to save, getting ready for a full-scale offensive," Hayday claimed.

Britain's Defense Intelligence said in its daily report on February 7 that Russia's military has likely attempted since early January to restart major offensive operations aimed at capturing Ukraine-held parts of Donetsk.

However, Russian forces have gained little territory as they "lack munitions and maneuver units required for a successful offensive", it said.

Zelenskiy said Ukrainian forces are fighting attempts by Russian troops to surround the city of Bakhmut and break the city's defenses.

Speaking in his evening address on February 6, Zelenskiy thanked every soldier involved, singling out specific brigades.

Intense fighting has been raging for weeks around Bakhmut and the nearby towns of Soledar and Vuhledar, Ukraine’s presidential office said.

For months Russia's main target in eastern Ukraine has been Bakhmut, where its state media said the Wagner mercenary group had gained a foothold.

With reporting by AP, AFP, dpa, and Reuters

Almost 8 Million People Have Fled Ukraine, UN Aid Chief Says

Some 17.6 million people, or almost 40 percent of Ukraine's population, need humanitarian assistance.

The UN's emergency relief coordinator, Martin Griffiths, said that nearly 8 million people have fled Ukraine since the beginning of Russia's invasion almost a year ago. Almost 8 million people fled from Ukraine to neighboring countries, while another 5.3 million are internally displaced, Griffiths told the UN Security Council in New York on February 6. The head of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that 17.6 million people, or almost 40 percent of Ukraine's population, need humanitarian assistance.

Russian Pleads Guilty In U.S. On Money-Laundering Charge

Russian citizen Denis Dubnikov pleaded guilty on February 6 to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, according to the U.S. District Court of Oregon. Dubnikov is scheduled to be sentenced on April 11. The Russian national, who had been sought by U.S. prosecutors for allegedly laundering cryptocurrency tied to a notorious ransomware gang, was extradited to the United States from the Netherlands in August. U.S. prosecutors accuse Dubnikov and his co-conspirators of laundering the proceeds of ransomware attacks. They allegedly laundered $400,000 in payments from victims of Ryuk, a ransomware gang believed to have extracted $70 million from individuals and companies around the world, including in the United States.

U.S. Vice President To Map Out Next Steps To Aid Ukraine At Munich Security Conference

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris (file photo)

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris is expected to discuss Washington's future support for Ukraine when she travels to a major security conference in Germany next week. Harris will travel to the Munich Security Conference, scheduled to begin on February 16, as Ukraine readies itself for a new Russian offensive. A White House official said Harris will use her speech to celebrate the courage of the Ukrainian people, reaffirm international support for the country, condemn Russia's actions, reaffirm Washington's mutual defense commitments under NATO, and "outline the path forward" on Ukraine. To read the original story from Reuters, click here.

Ukraine's Zelenskiy Invited To Take Part In EU Summit

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (file photo)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has been invited to take part in a summit of European Union leaders, the EU said on February 6. Charles Michel, the president of the European Council, invited Zelenskiy "to participate in person in a future summit," Michel spokesman Barend Leyts tweeted. Leyts did not say when Zelenskiy might take up the invitation and specified that no further information would be provided "for security reasons." The next EU summit is scheduled to take place on February 9-10 in Brussels. To read the original story from Reuters, click here.

Salman Rushdie To Release New Novel, Six Months After Stabbing Attack

Salman Rushdie (file photo)

A new novel by Salman Rushdie will be published on February 7, nearly six months after a man repeatedly stabbed the writer onstage during a lecture in New York state in what was widely condemned as an attack on freedom of expression. Rushdie, 75, was blinded in his right eye and his left hand was badly injured in the stabbing, which happened more than three decades after Iran instructed Muslims to kill Rushdie because of what religious leaders alleged was blasphemy in his 1988 novel The Satanic Verses. To read the original story from Reuters, click here.

Poll Shows Steady Support Among Americans For Ukraine Reclaiming Its Territory

Rescuers carry a woman who was wounded inside a residential building by a Russian missile strike in central Kharkiv on February 5.

Nearly one year into the war in Ukraine, Americans’ support for Kyiv holds steady, according to a Gallup poll released on February 6. The poll shows 65 percent of U.S. adults polled want the United States to support Ukraine in reclaiming its territory, even if that results in a prolonged conflict. Thirty-one percent said they would rather see the United States work to end the war quickly, even if this allows Russia to keep territory captured in its invasion. The data is from a Gallup web survey conducted January 3-22.

Judge Denies Saakashvili's Request For Release On Health Grounds

Former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili is seen on video at his trial.

TBILISI -- A court in Tbilisi has rejected an appeal to release former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili from prison on health grounds, Saakashvili's legal team said.

Judge Giorgi Arevadze said the arguments presented during 15 hearings did not satisfy the request to suspend the sentence of the imprisoned ex-president and immediately announced his decision on February 6 after hearing closing arguments.

“The motion to postpone or release the sentence due to Mikheil Saakashvili's illness should not be granted," Arevadze said.

In a statement shared by Saakashvili's team, the ex-president slammed the ruling as a "death sentence" handed down by his political opponents.

"The Georgian court hearing turned out to be a total joke," Saakashvili said. "The government's experts did not even bother to see me.... Now I've basically got a death sentence.”

Saakashvili, who was Georgia’s president from 2004 to 2013, is serving a six-year sentence for abuse of power, a charge that he and his supporters say was politically motivated.

Family members and his lawyers have warned for months that Saakashvili’s health condition has been deteriorating, even as he receives treatment in a private clinic in Tbilisi.

His medical team says his health has worsened significantly since he went to prison in October 2021 and staged repeated hunger strikes to protest his incarceration.

Saakashvili's legal team has also asserted that he was "poisoned" with heavy metals while in custody.

During a hearing last week, he asked for “the opportunity for adequate treatment” as he asked to have his sentence suspended so he can be transferred abroad for more intensive care.

But Georgian officials have raised doubts about how critical his health situation is.

Saakashvili is currently on trial on separate charges of violently dispersing an anti-government rally in November 2007 and illegal border crossing.

With reporting by Reuters

Russia's January Budget Deficit Widens As Energy Revenues Slump

The Finance Ministry said on February 6 that oil and gas revenues were 46.4 percent lower in January than in the same month last year. (file photo)

Slumping energy revenues and soaring expenditures pushed Russia's federal budget to a deficit of 1.76 trillion rubles ($24.78 billion) in January amid Western sanctions and the cost of the war in Ukraine. The Finance Ministry said on February 6 that oil and gas revenues were 46.4 percent lower in January than in the same month last year. Overall revenue for the month was down 35.1 percent, while spending was 58.7 percent higher. The ministry cited lower prices for Russian oil and lower volumes of natural gas exports as the primary reasons. Sanctions have forced Moscow to sell oil and gas at a discount. To read the original story from Reuters, click here.

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