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Poland Summons Belarusian Charge d'Affaires Over Belsat TV Journalist's Imprisonment

Iryna Slaunikava
Iryna Slaunikava

The Polish Foreign Ministry has summoned Belarusia's charge d'affaires after a journalist for Polish broadcaster Belsat TV was sentenced in Belarus to five years in jail.

Ministry spokesman Lukasz Jasina said on August 4 that the Belarusian diplomat was summoned because journalist Iryna Slaunikava "is not only an employee of Polish Television, but one of those journalists who fight for peace and the rule of law in Belarus."

A court in Belarus sentenced Slaunikava a day earlier as the Belarusian government continues to crack down on independent media following mass protests sparked by a disputed presidential election two years ago that handed victory to authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

Slaunikava, who is being held in custody, was found guilty of leading an extremist group and organizing activities that disrupt social order. She has denied the charges.

A former correspondent for Belsat TV who went on trial in June, Slaunikava was first arrested along with her husband, Alyaksandr Loyka, in late October. The couple was sentenced to 30 days in jail on charges of "distribution of extremist materials" and "minor hooliganism."

After serving their jail terms, Slaunikava was charged again, this time with "leading an extremist group" and the "organization and preparation of events disrupting social order." Loyka was not arrested a second time.

Lukashenka, 67, and in power since 1994, has tightened his grip on the country since the 2020 election by arresting -- sometimes violently -- tens of thousands of people. Fearing for their safety, most opposition members have fled the country.

Most of the country's independent media have also been either arrested or left the country due to the crackdown.

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

With reporting by Polska Times and Wiadomosci

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Former RFE/RL Turkmen Correspondent Arrested On Unknown Charges

Hudaiberdy Allashov worked for RFE/RL for a few months in 2016, before he stopped, fearing for his safety.
Hudaiberdy Allashov worked for RFE/RL for a few months in 2016, before he stopped, fearing for his safety.

Police in the northern Turkmen city of Koneurgench have arrested Hudaiberdy Allashov, a former correspondent for RFE/RL in the Central Asian country, on unknown charges.

Relatives told RFE/RL that Allashov was arrested on December 1, several days after he was summoned by the police, where he was "beaten and electroshocked."

According to the relatives, Allashov's whereabouts and the reason for his arrest are unknown.

Allashov worked as an RFE/RL correspondent for about three months in 2016 before he and his mother were arrested in December that year on a charge of using chewing tobacco, which is illegal in the tightly controlled former Soviet republic. Allashov and his mother, Kurbantach Arazmedova, rejected the charge at the time.

In mid-February 2017, amid an international outcry, Allashov and his mother were released after a court convicted them of possessing chewing tobacco and handed each a three-year suspended prison sentence.

After his release, Allashov stopped working for RFE/RL, as he feared for his safety.

In October 2019, police rearrested Allashov and beat him during questioning over several hours. The stress of her son's situation weighed on Arazmedova, who fell ill and died in hospital two days later.

In May 2022, an official severely beat Allashov and his wife in Koneurgench, after which Allashov's wife, Ejesh Arazgylyjeva, was hospitalized and he himself needed medical assistance.

Last month, another former RFE/RL correspondent in Turkmenistan, 74-year-old Soltan Achilova, was not allowed to leave the country for Switzerland, where she was expected to receive a prestigious human rights award for her reporting.

Achilova told RFE/RL at the time that she was strip-searched and humiliated at Ashgabat International Airport, where officials didn't allow her or her daughter to board a plane on November 17 despite having valid passports, visas, and tickets.

The only journalist in Turkmenistan who openly criticizes the authoritarian government, Achilova was scheduled to attend the Martin Ennals Award human rights ceremony in Switzerland on November 21.

The government maintains tight control of newspapers, radio, television, and the Internet in Turkmenistan, which placed 177th out of 180 countries in the 2023 Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders.

In New Case, Russian Prosecutors Seek 12 Years For Jailed Ex-Governor

Former Kirov Governor Nikita Belykh attends a court hearing in Moscow in 2018.
Former Kirov Governor Nikita Belykh attends a court hearing in Moscow in 2018.

Prosecutors in Russia's Kirov region on December 4 asked a court in the regional capital of Kirov to sentence to 12 years in prison the region's former governor, Nikita Belykh, who is already serving an eight-year prison term on a bribe-taking charge that he rejects.

Belykh was arrested in July 2016 and sentenced to eight years in prison on February 1, 2018, after a Moscow court found him guilty of taking about 400,000 euros ($435,150) in bribes in 2012-16 in connection with timber projects in the region.

One of the highest-ranking officials to be arrested in office since President Vladimir Putin was first elected in 2000, Belykh maintained his innocence, saying he was the victim of a "banal provocation" by law enforcement.

In July 2021, the Investigative Committee launched a new probe against Belykh, accusing him of abuse of office. According to investigators, while leading the region, Belykh used his post to illegally obtain 320 million rubles ($3.5 million) from a mortgage company for a local business.

The prosecutor's office added that the 12 years requested by prosecutors would include the time Belykh has already served, meaning the new case would add about four years to Belykh's current prison time.

Belykh has maintained innocence in the new case as well.

Once a leader of a liberal opposition party, the Union of Rightist Forces, Belykh was one of the few provincial governors in Russia not to be closely allied with Putin.

Before serving as Kirov governor, Belykh was a deputy governor of the Perm region and a lawmaker in the regional assembly.

He conducted several political campaigns in opposition to Putin's policies and was sharply criticized by liberals such as former ally Boris Nemtsov -- who was assassinated in February 2015 -- when he accepted appointment in 2009 by then-President Dmitry Medvedev.

Putin fired Belykh in July 2016, shortly after his arrest.

Kyrgyz Blogger Who Wrote About Issues At Mining Complex Cleared On Violence Charges

Yryskeldi Jekshenaliev (file photo)
Yryskeldi Jekshenaliev (file photo)

A court in Bishkek on December 4 fully acquitted blogger Yryskeldi Jekshenaliev, who was arrested in August on charges of making public calls for mass disorder and violence. Prosecutors sought seven years in prison for him. The probe against the 20-year-old blogger was launched in August last year. His arrest came hours after President Sadyr Japarov condemned unspecified "defenders" of the environment in the region, calling them "false patriots and liars." The charges against Jekshenaliev stemmed from his Facebook posts about ecological problems at an iron ore mining complex. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, click here.

Afghans Banned From 16 Provinces In Iran As Forced Exodus Continues

During the past few months, the rate of Afghans deported from Iran has steadily increased despite efforts by Afghanistan's Taliban-run government to persuade Tehran to give the Afghans more time. (file photo)
During the past few months, the rate of Afghans deported from Iran has steadily increased despite efforts by Afghanistan's Taliban-run government to persuade Tehran to give the Afghans more time. (file photo)

Iran has banned millions of Afghan refugees and migrants in the country from living in, traveling to, or seeking employment in just over half of the country's 31 provinces.

On December 3, Hamzeh Soleimani, the director-general of citizenship and foreign nationals affairs of the western Kermanshah Province, confirmed the ban was in place in 16 provinces nationwide.

"Numerous construction projects, greenhouses and livestock farms underwent inspection under the plan. [This led] to the arrest and expulsion of Afghan workers from the province," he said.

Iranian media have identified 15 of the 16 provinces, including Kermanshah, East Azarbaijan, West Azerbaijan, Ardabil, Zanjan, Kurdistan, Hamedan, Gilan, Mazandaran, Sistan-Baluchistan, Ilam, Lorestan, Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari, Kahgiluyeh and Boyer Ahmad, and Hormozgan.

In October, Iranian Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi reiterated that Tehran would deport all "illegal" migrants, most of whom are Afghan nationals who fled war, persecution, and poverty.

Tehran estimates that more than 5 million Afghans currently live in the country. Iranian officials now want to deport at least half of them because they do not have the documents to remain in the country.

During the past few months, the rate of Afghans deported from Iran has steadily increased despite efforts by Afghanistan's Taliban-run government to persuade Tehran to give the Afghans more time before embarking on a mass expulsion campaign like Pakistan.

Islamabad is currently deporting thousands of impoverished Afghans daily as part of its campaign to expel more than 1.7 million "undocumented foreigners."

In Iran, Afghans say their life is becoming more complicated with each passing day.

"The situation of Afghan refugees across Iran is very worrying," Sharif Mateen, an Afghan refugee, told RFE/RL's Azadi Radio.

"Police are arresting everyone irrespective of whether they have documents or not. They are then taken to repatriation camps," he added.

WATCH: Despite risks to their safety, thousands of Afghans -- often undocumented -- flock into Iran to find work.

Thousands Of Desperate Afghans Make Risky Journeys Into Iran To Find Work
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Iran has hosted millions of Afghans for more than four decades, but Tehran has often complained of the lack of international aid for hosting them.

More than 70 percent of the 3.6 million Afghans who left their country after the Taliban seized back power in August 2021 fled to Iran.

Data show most are educated, middle-class Afghans who served in the fallen pro-Western Afghan republic's security forces or civil bureaucracy.

Russia Seeks To Take Eastern Ukrainian Stronghold 'At Any Cost' As Kyiv Gets Worrying News About Western Support

A Ukrainian soldier fires a mortar during fighting in Avdiyivka last month.
A Ukrainian soldier fires a mortar during fighting in Avdiyivka last month.

Local military officials in eastern Ukraine say Russian forces have expanded their avenues of attack against the Donetsk region town of Avdiyivka in an effort to surround and capture it "at any cost."

Ukrainian forces have been engaged in heavy fighting for weeks as they try to stave off Russian advances on the industrial hub, and are now facing assaults from two new directions, according to Vitaliy Barabash, the head of Avdiyivka's military administration.

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.

"The current third wave of enemy assaults differs from the previous two in that they have conditionally opened two new directions," Barabash told Ukrainian state media on December 4. "The launching of new directions proves that the enemy has been given a command to capture the city at any cost."

Ukrainian commanders have said that Russian forces have suffered heavy losses during the assault on the frontline town, while British intelligence has said that the fight for Avdiyivka has led to the highest casualty rates among Russian troops since Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Barabash said some 1,300 civilians remained in Avdiyivka, which once had a population of about 30,000.

The comments came as Ukraine touted multiple battleground victories, but also received troubling news about possible issues regarding future financial and military support from its Western allies.

In the United States, the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden sent a letter to Congress urging lawmakers to approve tens of billions of promised economic assistance to Kyiv to support Ukraine's war effort.

Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young warned in the letter that without action funding for Kyiv would run out by the end of the year, a scenario Young said would "kneecap" Ukrainian forces.

Funding to support Ukraine's economy had already dried up, Young added, saying that "if Ukraine's economy collapses, they will not be able to keep fighting, full stop."

"We are out of money -- and nearly out of time," Young said.

While the Biden administration has sought a nearly $106 billion aid package to cover Ukraine, Israel, allies in the Indo-Pacific, and other priority areas, the request has been met with skepticism by some lawmakers.

Congress previously allocated $111 billion in Ukrainian aid.

In NATO-member Bulgaria, meanwhile, President Rumen Radev vetoed the country's plans to send 100 surplus armored personnel carriers to aid Ukraine's efforts to stave off invading Russian forces.

Radev said on December 4 that lawmakers needed to reassess if the vehicles, which were to be provided free of charge, might still be of use to Bulgaria in the case of emergencies. The deal will now go back to parliament for a second vote.

Meanwhile, Ukraine's military also said on December 4 that it had downed dozens of drones launched by Russia over the past 24 hours, and that an overnight drone attack launched by Ukrainian forces had destroyed a major oil depot on Russian-controlled territory in the eastern Luhansk region.

In Russia, the governor of the Voronezh region, Aleksandr Gusev, on December 4 confirmed reports that Russian Major General Vladimir Zavadsky died last week in Ukraine.

Unconfirmed reports in Russian and Ukraine said earlier that the 45-year-old deputy commander of the 14th Army Corps was killed in Ukraine on November 28

The Russian media website iStories said at the time that Zavadsky was the seventh Russian general whose death in the war in Ukraine had been confirmed by Russian sources.

With reporting by AFP and AP

RFE/RL Journalist Kurmasheva's Appeal Over Dual-Citizenship Fine Rejected

Alsu Kurmasheva traveled to Russia for a family emergency in May and was then detained while waiting for her return flight on June 2. (file photo)
Alsu Kurmasheva traveled to Russia for a family emergency in May and was then detained while waiting for her return flight on June 2. (file photo)

KAZAN, Russia -- A court in Kazan, the capital of Russia's Tatarstan region, has rejected an appeal filed by lawyers of Alsu Kurmasheva, a veteran journalist of RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service, against another court's October decision to fine her 10,000 rubles ($110) for "failure to inform Russian officials about holding a second citizenship."

After the Soviet district court pronounced its decision on December 4, the ruling to fine Kurmasheva, who has been in Russian custody since October 18 on a separate case, officially came into force.

Kurmasheva, a Prague-based journalist with RFE/RL who holds dual U.S. and Russian citizenships, traveled to Russia for a family emergency in May.

She was temporarily detained while waiting for her return flight on June 2 at the airport in Kazan, where both of her passports were confiscated. She was not able to leave Russia as she awaited the return of her travel documents.

On October 11, a court ordered Kurmasheva to pay the fine for failing to register her U.S. passport with Russian authorities.

Kurmasheva was detained again on October 18 and this time charged with failing to register as a foreign agent, a crime that carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

The Investigative Committee said Kurmasheva was being charged under a section of the Criminal Code that refers to the registration of foreign agents who carry out "purposeful collection of information in the field of military, military-technical activities of Russia," which, if received by foreign sources, "can be used against the security of the country."

It gave no further details.

Last week, the Soviet district court extended Kurmasheva's pretrial detention until at least February 5.

The Investigative Committee said its investigation found that while the Russian Justice Ministry did not add her to the list of foreign agents, she failed to provide documents to be included on the registry.

Kurmasheva and RFE/RL have both rejected the charge.

Russia's detention of Kurmasheva, the second U.S. media member to be held by Moscow this year, triggered a wave of criticism from rights groups and politicians saying the move signals new level of war-time censorship.

RFE/RL's jailed journalists (left to right): Alsu Kurmasheva, Ihar Losik, Andrey Kuznechyk, and Vladyslav Yesypenko
RFE/RL's jailed journalists (left to right): Alsu Kurmasheva, Ihar Losik, Andrey Kuznechyk, and Vladyslav Yesypenko

The court decision to extend Kurmasheva's detention came on December 1, a day after leading Russian human rights group Memorial recognized her as a political prisoner.

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

Kurmasheva is one of four RFE/RL journalists -- Andrey Kuznechyk, Ihar Losik, and Vladyslav Yesypenko are the other three -- currently imprisoned on charges related to their work. Rights groups and RFE/RL have called repeatedly for the release of all four, saying they have been wrongly detained.

Losik is a blogger and contributor for RFE/RL’s Belarus Service who was convicted in December 2021 on several charges including the “organization and preparation of actions that grossly violate public order” and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Kuznechyk, a web editor for RFE/RL’s Belarus Service, was sentenced in June 2022 to six years in prison following a trial that lasted no more than a few hours. He was convicted of “creating or participating in an extremist organization.”

Yesypenko, a dual Ukrainian-Russian citizen who contributed to Crimea.Realities, a regional news outlet of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, was sentenced in February 2022 to six years in prison by a Russian judge in occupied Crimea after a closed-door trial. He was convicted of “possession and transport of explosives,” a charge he steadfastly denies.

Bulgarian President Vetoes Donation Of Armored Personnel Carriers To Ukraine

Bulgarian President Rumen Radev (file photo)
Bulgarian President Rumen Radev (file photo)

Bulgarian President Rumen Radev has vetoed the country's plans to send 100 surplus armored personnel carriers (APCs) to Ukraine, sending the arrangement back to parliament for reconsideration. In explaining the veto, signed off on by parliament last month, Radev said on December 4 that lawmakers needed to assess if the vehicles -- last deployed in the 1980s -- were expendable and not of possible use to Bulgaria in case of emergencies. Under an agreement signed with Kyiv in August, the APCs were to be provided free of charge. The deal will now go back to parliament for a second vote. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Bulgarian Service, click here.

Relatives Of Kazakhs Incarcerated In Xinjiang Blocked From Approaching Chinese Consulate

The protesters said it was the 1,000th day of their rallies "against China's genocidal politics against ethnic Kazakhs, Uyghurs, and Kyrgyz," as well as other indigenous peoples of the region.
The protesters said it was the 1,000th day of their rallies "against China's genocidal politics against ethnic Kazakhs, Uyghurs, and Kyrgyz," as well as other indigenous peoples of the region.

ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- Police in Kazakhstan’s largest city, Almaty, have blocked five Kazakh men and women from approaching the Chinese Consulate, where they planned to demand the release of their relatives imprisoned in so-called reeducation camps in China's northwestern region of Xinjiang.

The protesters, who planned to picket the Chinese Consulate on December 4, told RFE/RL that it was the 1,000th day of their rallies "against China's genocidal politics against ethnic Kazakhs, Uyghurs, and Kyrgyz," as well as other indigenous peoples of the region.

According to the protesters, their relatives in Xinjiang were incarcerated either for being practicing Muslims or for posts on the Internet.

China has been accused of human rights violations against Kazakhs, Uyghurs and other mostly Turkic-speaking indigenous ethnic groups over the existence of mass detention camps in Xinjiang.

Beijing denies that the facilities are internment camps, saying its actions are aimed at combating terrorism. People who have fled the province, however, say people from the ethnic groups are undergoing "political indoctrination" at a network of facilities officially referred to as reeducation camps.

Amid ongoing rallies and pickets in front of China's diplomatic missions in Kazakhstan, the Chinese Embassy said in March 2021 that all ethnic Kazakhs incarcerated in Xinjiang are Chinee citizens and are being held there for breaking Chinse laws.

Several relatives of the protesters were released and allowed to travel to Kazakhstan in recent years.

Kazakh authorities refrain from openly criticizing the policies of China, one of their main creditors.

The U.S. State Department has said that as many as 2 million Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and members of Xinjiang's other indigenous, mostly Muslim ethnic groups have been taken to detention centers.

Kazakhs are the second-largest Turkic-speaking indigenous community in Xinjiang after Uyghurs. The region is also home to ethnic Kyrgyz, Tajiks, and Hui, also known as Dungans. Han, China's largest ethnicity, is the second-largest community in Xinjiang.

Two Kazakh Journalists Handed Prison Terms On Extortion Charges They Reject

Vladimir and Nargiz Severny
Vladimir and Nargiz Severny

A court in Kazakhstan’s largest city, Almaty, has sentenced journalists Vladimir and Nargiz Severny to seven years and eight years in prison, respectively, on extortion charges that the couple rejects. The court ruled on December 4 that Nargiz Severnaya may start serving her prison term in 2028. Investigators say the married journalists blackmailed two businesses in Almaty, extorting significant amount of cash from them for withholding sensitive information related to the businesses from being published. The couple pleaded not guilty and denies any wrongdoing. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

Revenue Of World's Top Arms Producers Down; Order Backlog Signals Increase On Horizon

The fall in revenue “was mostly driven by overall decreases in the arms revenue of companies in the United States and Russia,” SIPRI said.
The fall in revenue “was mostly driven by overall decreases in the arms revenue of companies in the United States and Russia,” SIPRI said.

Revenue from the sales of arms and military services by the 100 largest companies in the global defense industry was down in real terms an annual 3.5 percent in 2022, despite a sharp rise in demand, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) said on December 4.

The combined arms revenue of the world’s largest arms-producing and military services companies -- the SIPRI Top 100 -- totaled $597 billion last year, according to new data released by the research institute.

The fall in revenue “was mostly driven by overall decreases in the arms revenue of companies in the United States and Russia,” SIPRI said, adding that orders are likely to increase in the coming years.

“Large backlogs in orders and surging demand for arms during 2022 and 2023 suggest that the total Top 100 arms revenue may rise significantly in the years ahead,” the institute added.

The data also shows that Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine drove an increase in demand for weapons in 2022, but many arms companies’ efforts to increase production capacity were hindered by labor shortages, rising costs, and supply chain disruptions.

Despite the year-on-year drop, the total arms revenues of the Top 100 firms were still 14 percent higher in 2022 than in 2015, the first year that SIPRI included Chinese companies in its ranking.

While three U.S. companies -- Lockheed Martin, Raytheon Technologies, and General Dynamics -- topped the list, revenue nonetheless was down for arms manufacturers in the United States and Russia as well, while among Asian and Middle Eastern companies, revenue increased substantially, it said.

Arms revenue at the seven companies in the Top 100 based in the Middle East went up by 11 percent to $17.9 billion. This was the largest annual percentage increase in arms revenue when assessed by region.

The SIPRI data also shows that China accounted for 18 percent of the Top 100’s arms revenue in 2022, the second most after the United States at 51 percent.

The aggregate arms revenue of the eight Chinese companies in the rankings increased to $108 billion, SIPRI said.

The seven British companies in the top 100 grew their revenue to $41.8 billion, 7 percent of the overall total.

The combined arms revenues of the two Russian companies in the Top 100 fell by 12 percent to $20.8 billion, SIPRI said, adding that there was an overall lack of data on Russian companies as “transparency in the Russian arms industry continued to decline.”

The only Ukrainian company in the top 100, UkrOboronProm, saw a real 10 percent drop in its arms revenue to $1.3 billion. Although its arms revenue increased in nominal terms, this was more than offset by the country’s high inflation.

Updated

Heavy Shelling Kills Two In Ukraine's Southern Kherson Region

Ukrainian authorities said that residential areas, medical facilities, and other infrastructure were damaged in the regional capital, Kherson, during the shelling. (file photo)
Ukrainian authorities said that residential areas, medical facilities, and other infrastructure were damaged in the regional capital, Kherson, during the shelling. (file photo)

Two people were killed in Ukraine's southern Kherson region on December 3 after the region came under heavy shelling by Russian forces.

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.

Regional head Oleksandr Prokudin said on December 4 that in addition to the deaths, eight people were injured as the region was targeted 117 times by Russian shelling.

In the regional capital, Kherson, residential areas, medical facilities, and other infrastructure were damaged, Prokudin said.

Ukraine's military leadership in Kherson said earlier on December that the city was under "heavy fire" from Russian forces from the "temporarily occupied left bank" of the Dnieper River.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration on December 4 sent the U.S. Congress an urgent warning about the need to approve tens of billions of dollars in military and economic assistance to Ukraine, saying Kyiv's war effort to defend itself from Russia's invasion may grind to a halt without it.

In a letter to House and Senate leaders and also released publicly, Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young warned that the United States will run out of funding to send weapons and assistance to Ukraine by the end of the year, saying that would “kneecap” Ukraine on the battlefield.

With reporting by AP

First Trucks Pass Through New Ukraine Crossing At Polish Border

Four Poland-Ukraine border crossings have been under a blockade since earlier this month. (file photo)
Four Poland-Ukraine border crossings have been under a blockade since earlier this month. (file photo)

The first 30 trucks passed through the newly opened Uhryniv-Dolhobychuv crossing on the Ukrainian-Polish border that Kyiv expects will unblock main land corridors amid protests by Polish drivers, Ukraine's border service said on December 4. Those protests, over what Polish truckers see as unfair competition from their Ukrainian peers, started on November 6, with four border crossings now under a blockade. Polish haulers' main demand is to stop Ukrainian truckers having permit-free access to the EU, something that Kyiv and Brussels say is impossible.

Updated

Belarusian Leader Lukashenka Discusses Cooperation And Ukraine With Chinese President Xi

Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka (left) meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing on December 4.
Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka (left) meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing on December 4.

Belarusian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka discussed ways to boost diplomatic and economic cooperation with China, as well as the ongoing war in Ukraine, during talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping on December 4. Xi told Lukashenka that China was ready to continue to strengthen bilateral cooperation, including through international bodies like the United Nations, according to Xinhua. The Chinese state news agency also said the two leaders discussed the war in Ukraine launched by mutual ally Russia. Belarusian state media said that the meeting, the two leaders' second this year, lasted more than three hours. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Belarus Service, click here.

Serbian Minister Says Work On Gas Interconnector With Bulgaria Completed, Testing Imminent

Serbian Energy Minister Dubravka Djedovic Handanovic (second from right) and EU Ambassador to Serbia Emanuele Giofre (third from right) visit the site of a planned Serbia-Bulgaria gas interconnector earlier this year.
Serbian Energy Minister Dubravka Djedovic Handanovic (second from right) and EU Ambassador to Serbia Emanuele Giofre (third from right) visit the site of a planned Serbia-Bulgaria gas interconnector earlier this year.

Serbian Mining and Energy Minister Dubravka Djedovic Handanovic announced on December 3 that all the work has been completed and testing should begin this week on a "strategically important" interconnector to carry natural gas between Bulgaria and Serbia, an official statement said. Djedovic Handanovic said the 109 kilometers of new pipeline with a transmission station in Trupale would more safely provide a stable supply of gas to Serbia from sources "especially Azerbaijan." Russia provides most of Serbia's natural gas imports. President Aleksandar Vucic said last summer that Serbia was negotiating for 300-400 million cubic meters of gas from Azerbaijan. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Balkan Service, click here.

Amnesty International Faults Serbia, World Bank For 'Stripping' Vulnerable Of Social Assistance

Children play in a Roma settlement near Belgrade. A new report identifies the ethnic minority as one of the groups who have been badly affected by a revamp of Serbia's social welfare system. (file photo)
Children play in a Roma settlement near Belgrade. A new report identifies the ethnic minority as one of the groups who have been badly affected by a revamp of Serbia's social welfare system. (file photo)

Amnesty International has warned that Serbia's recently revamped system with World Bank funding to determine eligibility for social protections has worsened poverty "especially for Roma and people with disabilities" in the Balkan nation of around 6.6 million people.

The international rights group said in a report published on December 4 that the so-called Social Card registry launched in 2022 has adversely affected already "poverty-stricken and marginalized communities" and "strip[ped] them of social assistance."

Damini Satija, who heads a lab at Amnesty's global digital collective, Amnesty Tech, was quoted in a statement as saying the registry's effects confirm "that imposing automation in social assistance systems can exacerbate inequality, entrench or scale discrimination, and pose a dire risk to human rights."

The report is titled Trapped By Automation: Poverty And Discrimination In Serbia’s Welfare State.

The World Bank touts registries like the Serbian Social Card registry as "inclusion systems" or a "tool for inclusion."

But Amnesty International, citing the data and individual cases in Serbia, suggested people forced to appeal their exclusion can end up "trapped in a bureaucratic maze."

Serbia's 2022 census counted nearly 132,000 Roma, or under 2 percent of the population, but most experts warn that such official figures are probably undercounts.

Minority Rights Group International quotes local and international estimates at between 300,000 and 460,000 Roma, which would make them the country's largest minority group above Hungarians (184,000) and Bosniaks (154,000).

The United Nations recently estimated that nearly 600,000 people in Serbia, most of them women or girls, live with some type of disability.

“Rather than make benefit payments fairer, thousands of people who rely on these payments as their only source of income have been locked out of the social safety net and cut off from essential assistance," Satija said.

"Already marginalized groups, have suffered the sharpest consequences of this automated system, leading to disproportionate impact on their access to benefits programs."

Low-quality data translates into problems, Amnesty International said. The accuracy of existing databases at the Social Card registry's inception "plays a huge role in ensuring fair application outcomes and continued receipt of social assistance," the group said.

It also said "the semi-automated layer has reduced the role of social workers in verifying the data and documents of applicants."

Amnesty International said the World Bank, an international financial institution established in 1944 to help finance projects in middle- and low-income countries, provided technical and financial assistance for Serbia's Social Card registry and helped implement similar schemes in other places, including nearby Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

UNICEF, the UN's aid and relief organization for children, said that 6.9 percent of Serbia's population lived below the absolute poverty line in 2020.

“The World Bank and governments -- including in Serbia -- must conduct robust human rights risk assessments both during the design and implementation of such programs, and ensure system design that eliminates potential threats to human rights," Amnesty Tech's Satija said.

"Crucially if the human rights risks of a system cannot be prevented then this system is not fit for purpose and should not be rolled out."

Bosnian Serb Dodik Says He'll 'Declare Independence' If Trump Retakes U.S. Presidency

Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik has threatened secession for years as he spurned the rest of Bosnia and its UN-backed overseer and cozied up to Moscow.
Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik has threatened secession for years as he spurned the rest of Bosnia and its UN-backed overseer and cozied up to Moscow.

The anti-Western president of Bosnia-Herzegovina's majority-Serb entity says he intended to "declare independence" for Republika Srpska during U.S. President Donald Trump's first term and regrets he "got scared and didn't do it," but "if Trump won again, I think I wouldn't hesitate." The 64-year-old Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik further told Serbian TV Prva that he believes Republika Srpska will be independent some day. Dodik has threatened secession for years as he spurned the rest of Bosnia and its UN-backed overseer and cozied up to Moscow, but has taken steps to establish some separate institutions over the past 18 months. To see the original story by RFE/RL's Balkan Service, click here.

Renowned Russian Director Sokurov Says Official Ban Means His Career 'Is Over'

Aleksandr Sokurov (file photo)
Aleksandr Sokurov (file photo)

One of Russia's best-known film directors, Aleksandr Sokurov, says his "professional career...is over" because of Russia's ban on his new film. Sokurov told News.ru he's "not working on new projects" after the Culture Ministry refused to allow distribution of Fairytale (Skazka). International media describe the film as an experimental "deepfake" film that uses archival imagery to depict Stalin, Churchill, Mussolini, and Hitler meeting in purgatory. The outspoken Sokurov publicly supported artist Aleksandra Skochilenko last month when she was sentenced to seven years in prison for using price tags to spread information about the war in Ukraine. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

Ulyanovsk Police Target Russian Wives Pleading For Return Of Mobilized Husbands

A growing number of protests across Russia have featured the wives of mobilized soldiers calling for their return.
A growing number of protests across Russia have featured the wives of mobilized soldiers calling for their return.

Police in the western Russian city of Ulyanovsk joined ongoing official backlash over a bumper-sticker protest involving women purportedly calling for their husbands deployed for the war in Ukraine to be sent home. The 7x7 Telegram channel said police suggested to four women they might be accused of breaking the administrative law on "discrediting" the army. They have summoned at least one of the wives for questioning on December 4. An unnamed deputy mayor reportedly also got involved after media reported individuals were putting stickers on cars reading, "Bring back husband. I'm [expletive] tired of this." To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

Ukraine Says Kherson Takes 'Heavy Fire' From 'Temporarily Occupied Left Bank' Of Dnieper River

Ukrainian soldiers navigate on the Dnieper River by boat at the front line near Kherson.
Ukrainian soldiers navigate on the Dnieper River by boat at the front line near Kherson.

Ukraine's military leadership in the southern city of Kherson said on December 3 that the city was under "heavy fire" from Russian forces from the "temporarily occupied left bank" of the Dnieper River, and one person had been killed in the attacks. Roman Mrochka, head of Kherson's military administration, urged residents to seek safe shelter and avoid open spaces. He later updated the casualty figure to say one person had been killed and three injured after a multistory building was shelled. Ukraine's military said early on December 3 that it had destroyed 10 Russian drones overnight. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.

NATO's Stoltenberg Stresses Ukraine Support 'In Both Good And Bad Times'

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg arrives to attend the Nato foreign ministers' meeting on Ukraine at NATO headquarters in Brussels on November 29.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg arrives to attend the Nato foreign ministers' meeting on Ukraine at NATO headquarters in Brussels on November 29.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has stressed that it is in the defense alliance's interest to back Kyiv and it must "support Ukraine in both good and bad times," as Russia's full-scale invasion continues in its 22nd month. Speaking to German broadcaster ARD, Stoltenberg said that "conflicts develop in stages." "We should also be prepared for bad news," he said. Stoltenberg acknowledged that Ukraine's Western allies have not provided it with ammunition in sufficient quantity. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy recently blamed a lack of weaponry for an absence of the desired results. To see the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.

Ukraine And Poland Open Border Crossing To Ease Blockade

An aerial photo made with a drone shows trucks standing in a queue at the Polish-Ukrainian border in Hrebenne, southeast Poland, on November 27.
An aerial photo made with a drone shows trucks standing in a queue at the Polish-Ukrainian border in Hrebenne, southeast Poland, on November 27.

Ukraine and Poland will open a border crossing for empty trucks on December 4 in a bid to ease a blockade by Polish hauliers, whose protests have paralyzed traffic for weeks. Polish truckers have been blocking major crossings with Ukraine demanding the reintroduction of entry permits for their Ukrainian competitors. The Dolhobyczow-Uhryniv crossing, which currently serves cars and buses, will open to empty trucks traveling from Ukraine into Poland from December 4, Kyiv's border service said. Kyiv said December 1 that fallout from the Polish protest was "catastrophic" and Ukrainian drivers stuck at the border were in a "dire" situation.

Kyiv Police Cannot Confirm Whether Ukrainian Lawmaker Detained For Alleged Treason Injured In Custody

Ukrainian lawmaker Oleksandr Dubinskiy attends a parliamentary session in Kyiv in November 2019.
Ukrainian lawmaker Oleksandr Dubinskiy attends a parliamentary session in Kyiv in November 2019.

Kyiv police said on December 3 that following an investigation they were unable to confirm allegations that detained Ukrainian lawmaker Oleksandr Dubinskiy was physically injured while in custody.

The headquarters of the National Police in Kyiv earlier this week reported it had been informed by Dubinskiy's legal team in a message that the lawmaker, who is in detention in Kyiv as he awaits trial for alleged treason, was physically injured over the course of two days.

On December 2, Dubinskiy's lawyers claimed on his Telegram channel that an ambulance had been sent to facility and determined that he had suffered "multiple hematomas, as well as a suspected rib fracture."

After sending a team to investigate, the National Police in Kyiv said in its December 3 statement that it was unable to verify the claims.

"According to the results of an inspection and forensic examination" carried out at the facility, the National Police in Kyiv said, the information it had received "was not confirmed."

Dubinskiy, a former deputy for the ruling Servant of the People party who is under U.S. sanctions for interference in U.S. elections, was ordered by a Kyiv court last month to serve 60 days in pretrial detention on suspicion of treason.

Dubinskiy was expelled from the party in 2021 after he was put on a U.S. sanctions list for election interference, which he has denied. He has continued in parliament as an independent lawmaker.

The SBU said on November 13 that an investigation had determined that an unidentified current member of the Servant of the People party it said was suspected of treason went by the call sign "Buratino" and "was part of a criminal organization formed by the Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces."

The SBU alleged that criminal organization had $10 million in financing and that its aim was "to disrupt the sociopolitical situation in Ukraine and discredit the state in the international arena."

The investigation, according to the SUB, also documented instances in which the unidentified lawmaker spread false information about Ukraine's military and political leadership, including the "alleged interference in 2019 of Ukrainian high-ranking officials in U.S. presidential elections."

Ukrainian media have reported that the lawmaker under investigation was Dubinskiy.

Ukrainian prosecutors have reportedly indicted Dubinskiy, along with another Ukrainian politician and a former prosecutor, for allegedly colluding in 2019 with Russian intelligence in an alleged effort to tie the family of then-U.S. presidential candidate and 2020 U.S. election winner President Joe Biden to corruption in Ukraine.

Also reportedly indicted are Kosyantyn Kulyk, a former Ukrainian deputy prosecutor general who is also under U.S. sanctions for election interference, and former lawmaker Andriy Derkach.

The three have also been accused of promoting conspiracy theories that Kyiv, and not Russia, had meddled in the 2016 U.S. presidential election won by Donald Trump.

Updated

Ukraine Says Apparent Shooting Of Surrendering Soldiers A Russian War Crime

Ukrainian Human Rights Commission Dmytro Lubinets wrote on Telegram on December 2 that the video showed that the Ukrainian soldiers were disarmed with their hands raised and that they clearly posed no threat.
Ukrainian Human Rights Commission Dmytro Lubinets wrote on Telegram on December 2 that the video showed that the Ukrainian soldiers were disarmed with their hands raised and that they clearly posed no threat.

Ukraine's military has decried the apparent killing of two surrendering Ukrainian troops by Russian forces and said it considers the incident evidence of a war crime.

Drone footage of the incident that appeared on social media on December 2 showed apparently unarmed Ukrainian soldiers leaving their shelter, lying on the ground, and then being shot by people in darker uniforms.

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The alleged execution reportedly took place near the village of Stepove, which is located a few kilometers from the eastern Ukrainian town of Avdiyivka where heavy fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces is taking place.

RFE/RL was unable to independently confirm the authenticity of the video or the date or location of the apparent killings.

On December 2, Ukrainian military spokesman Oleksandr Shtupun said on Telegram that the drone footage "published in the media depicts the killing of two Ukrainian prisoners of war."

"All evidence will be handed over to the responsible international institutions dealing with war crimes," Shtupun said.

Ukrainian Human Rights Commission Dmytro Lubinets wrote on Telegram on December 2 that the video showed that the Ukrainian soldiers were disarmed with their hands raised and that they clearly posed no threat.

"The execution of those who surrender is a war crime," Lubinets wrote.

Lubinets said he will report the incident to the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations.

"The Russian Federation must be punished for every such case of the execution of Ukrainian soldiers who surrender," Lubinets said, adding that the alleged incident was not the first in which Ukrainian prisoners of war had been killed by Russian forces.

Russia has widely been accused of committing war crimes and human rights violations in Ukraine, including the targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure, the use of cluster munitions, and the torture of Ukrainian prisoners of war.

Russia has denied committing war crimes in Ukraine.

Hundreds Of Ukrainian Monuments Threatened Or Damaged By War Documented

The Transfiguration Cathedral in Odesa was damaged by a Russian missile strike on July 23.
The Transfiguration Cathedral in Odesa was damaged by a Russian missile strike on July 23.

Scientists from the German cities of Marburg and Hanover, along with Ukrainian photographers, have documented 250 architectural monuments that have been threatened or damaged by the Russian war in Ukraine. Since the start of the project in October 2022, the photographers have taken a total of around 3,700 exterior and interior photographs of historically and culturally significant buildings in cities, including Kyiv, Odesa, and Zaporizhzhya, Christian Bracht, director of the German Documentation Center for Art History (DDK), told dpa. These include the Transfiguration Cathedral in the historic center of Odesa, which was damaged in Russian attacks this summer.

Updated

Pakistan Arrests 17 Suspects In Connection To Bus Shooting That Killed 10

Police in Pakistan have arrested at least 17 suspects in relation to a bus shooting that left 10 people dead and 25 others wounded, authorities said on December 4.

Security forces raided several areas in the northern Gilgit-Baltistan region -- where the attack took place on December 2 -- and made the arrests, the local police chief said.

The bus was carrying passengers from Gilgit to the city of Rawalpindi when it was shot at, causing the driver to lose control and crash into a truck, which in turn caught fire.

While no group has claimed responsibility for the late-evening attack, the injury to the cleric led Interior Minister Shamsul Lone to suggest on December 3 that the aim was "to breed religious hatred."

Lone said the militants fired on the two vehicles from nearby hills as they traveled on the Karokoram Highway to the Punjab Province city of Rawalpindi. The highway, which connects Pakistan to China and also passes through the restive Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province.

Security forces were accompanying the passenger bus due to recent tensions between local Sunnis and Shi'a, Lone said.

Interim Prime Minister Anwar ul-Haq Kakar said in a statement that "anti-state elements would not be allowed to sabotage the peace of Gilgit-Baltistan," and vowed to continue fighting "against terrorists."

Authorities in Gigit-Baltistan said that a special investigative team has been formed to look into the attack.

Muhammad Khorasani, a spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban, also known as Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan and active in the region, denied any link with the shooting.

Local and central government officials have requested that religious scholars work to lessen Sunni-Shi'a tensions that have risen since summer after scholars on both sides accused each other of insulting their respective branches of Islam.

In September, a joint committee of Shi'ite and Sunni leaders was formed with the aim of preventing conflicts.

Following the December 2 attack, the committee condemned the violence and called on people to remain calm.

Gilgit-Baltistan lies along China's One Ring One Road initiative and is the sight of a dam project being built with the help of Beijing.

Interior Minister Lone said there was a possibility the attack was carried out in an effort to scare investors.

With reporting by AP

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