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Poland Criticizes EU For Postponing Accession Talks With Albania, North Macedonia

Polish President Andrzej Duda
Polish President Andrzej Duda

Polish President Andrzej Duda has criticized the European Union for delaying accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia and urged the bloc to offer the Balkan states a clear path towards EU membership.

The Balkan states should not be asked to participate in a race "where they cannot see the finish line,” Duda said during a Western Balkans summit in the Polish city of Poznan on July 5.

Duda said both countries had undergone “difficult reforms” in order to improve their chances of joining the bloc.

Last month, EU member states postponed a decision on whether to open accession talks with the two nations until October, amid resistance from some bloc members, including France and the Netherlands.

Duda, along with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Theresa May, attended the second day of the gathering of foreign, interior, and economy ministers of the six Western Balkan states aspiring to join the European Union.

The four other Western Balkan countries seeking to join the EU are Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, and Kosovo.

Earlier this week, French President Emmanuel Macron said he opposes further EU enlargement at a time when the bloc is already struggling to find agreement among its existing members.

Supporters of EU expansion argue it will better buttress the region against the growing influence of Russia and China.

Based on reporting by dpa and Reuters

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Putin Hails Ties With Iran In Meeting With Raisi

Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) greets his Iranian counterpart, Ebrahim Raisi, in Moscow on December 7.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) greets his Iranian counterpart, Ebrahim Raisi, in Moscow on December 7.

Russian President Vladimir Putin praised his country's relations with Iran at a meeting in Moscow on December 7 with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi. Since launching its full-scale war in Ukraine, Moscow has sought to deepen its economic and political ties with Tehran. Putin told Raisi that relations between their two countries, both of which have been heavily sanctioned by the West, “are developing very well.” Putin also told Raisi to “convey his best wishes” to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's head of state. "Thanks to his support, we have gained good momentum over the past year," Putin said.

Iranian Rapper Tataloo Detained Upon Arrival After Being Deported From Turkey

Iranian rapper Amir Tataloo meets then-presidential election candidate Ebrahim Raisi in 2017.
Iranian rapper Amir Tataloo meets then-presidential election candidate Ebrahim Raisi in 2017.

Popular Iranian rapper Amir Tataloo was taken into custody immediately upon his arrival in Iran on December 6, following his deportation by Turkish police authorities -- which he had demanded.

Ahead of his arrest, the rapper, who has been detained in Iran several times posted a video on November 29 on his Telegram channel in which he was at Istanbul's Sabiha Gokçen Airport, holding a ticket and preparing to board a plane to Iran.

He later stated that he couldn't board the plane because his passport had expired. Following the incident, videos surfaced on social media showing him loudly insisting on being deported back to Iran.

Iranian media on December 3 showed Tataloo's arrest by Turkish police after they received a complaint from the Iranian consulate in Istanbul. The charges against the rapper centered around his alleged insults directed toward consulate staff and members.

Upon crossing the border, coming into Iran at Bazargan, Tataloo, whose real name is Amir Hossein Maghsoodloo, was taken into custody by Iranian officials. Afterward, the judiciary said he was handed to judicial officers for further investigation.

The Mizan News Agency, associated with Iran's judicial system, reported that multiple complaints have been filed against Tataloo, notably involving minors under 18 and their families. The complaints arose following the teenagers' visit to Tataloo's Istanbul residence.

The controversial rapper supported hard-line candidate Ebrahim Raisi during the country’s 2017 presidential vote.

In a video clip posted online, Raisi, who was defeated by President Hassan Rohani and was later appointed as the head of the judiciary, was seen talking to Tataloo and praising his work.

In 2015, Tataloo praised Iran’s nuclear activities in a music video where the singer was seen on the deck of an Iranian warship in the waters of the Persian Gulf.

Tataloo reportedly had been living in Turkey for several years.

The news of his extradition and arrest has sparked a flurry of reactions on social media.

Some observers speculate that this high-profile case might divert public attention from domestic issues, while others expressed concern that this might overshadow the commemoration of the 40th day since Armita Garavand's death.

The teen died after a confrontation with morality police, allegedly over the hijab, or mandatory Islamic head scarf, in Tehran's subway.

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

Moscow Court Extends Pretrial Detention Of Nationalist Putin Critic Girkin

Igor Girkin in court earlier this year (file photo)
Igor Girkin in court earlier this year (file photo)

The Moscow City Court on December 7 extended the pretrial detention of Igor Girkin (aka Strelkov), once a leader of Russia-backed separatists in Ukraine's east, who was arrested in July after he criticized President Vladimir Putin for “badly” handling the ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

Girkin, who has been charged with public calls for extremism, announced earlier that he plans to take part in the presidential election in March next year.

Girkin's lawyer, Aleksandr Molokhov, said on December 7 that his client's trial will start on December 14, adding that it will be held behind closed doors despite protests by his client and his defense team.

Russian authorities said earlier that Girkin's case was classified.

If convicted, the 52-year-old Girkin, who maintains his innocence, faces up to five years in prison.

Girkin was a key commander of Russia-backed separatists in Ukraine's eastern Donbas region in 2014 and helped Russia annex Ukraine's Crimea that year.

A former officer of Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB), Girkin has sharply criticized Putin in online statements for his handling of the Ukraine invasion, referring to the president as a “nonentity” and accusing him of “cowardly mediocrity.”

He has also called out Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu for "mistakes" in the full-scale invasion of Ukraine and has accused both of "incompetence," saying a total military mobilization is needed for Russia to achieve victory.

In one of his harshest rants, Girkin said in a July 18 post on his official Telegram channel that Putin should transfer power "to someone truly capable and responsible." The post has garnered almost 800,000 views.

Shortly after his arrest, Girkin made a statement from pretrial detention, saying that he plans to take part in a presidential election next year.

In November 2022, a court in the Netherlands sentenced Girkin and two other defendants to life in prison in absentia in the case of the 2014 shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 over Ukraine. All 298 people on board died in the crash.

In February, international investigators said there were "strong indications" that Putin was personally involved in the incident.

The Boeing 777 flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was blown out of the sky on July 17, 2014, amid a conflict between Russia-backed separatists and Ukrainian armed forces. The victims came from more than a dozen countries, although more than two-thirds of them were Dutch citizens.

Russia has denied any involvement in the downing of the plane.

With reporting by RBK

Pretrial Detention Extended For Navalny Lawyers Charged With Extremism

Vadim Kobzev appears in court in Moscow on October 13.
Vadim Kobzev appears in court in Moscow on October 13.

A court in Moscow on December 7 extended the pretrial detention of three lawyers for imprisoned opposition leader Aleksei Navalny until at least March 13, 2024. Vadim Kobzev, Igor Sergunin, and Aleksei Lipster were arrested in October for allegedly participating in an extremist community because of their association with Navalny and his Anti-Corruption Foundation. Last month, Russia's financial watchdog, Rosfinmonitoring, added the three to its list of extremists and terrorists, meaning that Russian banks must freeze their accounts and stop providing them with services. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

U.K. Places Sanctions On Russians Accused Of Cyber-Spying On British Politicians, Journalists

"Russia's attempts to interfere in U.K. politics are completely unacceptable and seek to threaten our democratic processes," Foreign Secretary David Cameron said.
"Russia's attempts to interfere in U.K. politics are completely unacceptable and seek to threaten our democratic processes," Foreign Secretary David Cameron said.

Britain's Foreign Ministry says it has placed sanctions on two Russian individuals and summoned Russia's ambassador to London after uncovering actions by a group of cybercriminals affiliated with Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) meant to interfere in British political life and the democratic process.

The Foreign Office said in a statement on December 7 that the cyber-spying was conducted by Star Blizzard, also known as the Callisto Group, an entity that Britain's cybersecurity center has established with quasi-total certainty is run by Center 18 -- an FSB unit identified as being behind a series of cyber-espionage operations targeting Britain.

Following an investigation, the Foreign Office placed sanctions on Star Blizzard members Ruslan Aleksandrovich Peretyatko and Andrei Stanislavovich Korinets "for their involvement in the preparation of spear-phishing campaigns and associated activity that resulted in unauthorized access and exfiltration of sensitive data, which was intended to undermine U.K. organizations and more broadly, the U.K. government."

Among the actions conducted by Star Blizzard, the statement enumerated the targeting since at least 2015 of British lawmakers from various political parties; the targeting of journalists, universities, public sector, NGOs, and civil society groups that have a key role in British democracy; the hack of British-U.S. trade documents.

Russian Ambassador to Britain Andrei Kelin was summoned on December 7 to the Foreign Office, where he was informed of the "U.K.'s deep concern about Russia’s sustained attempts to use cyber to interfere in political and democratic processes in the UK and beyond," the statement said.

"In sanctioning those responsible and summoning the Russian ambassador today, we are exposing their malign attempts at influence and shining a light on yet another example of how Russia chooses to operate on the global stage," British Foreign Secretary David Cameron said.

"Russia's attempts to interfere in U.K. politics are completely unacceptable and seek to threaten our democratic processes," Cameron said.

"Despite their repeated efforts, they have failed."

Kazakh Opposition Activist Gets 15 Days In Jail On Hooliganism Charge

Aidar Syzdyqov also said he was beaten by police officers after being detained on December 6.
Aidar Syzdyqov also said he was beaten by police officers after being detained on December 6.

A court in Astana on December 7 sentenced Aidar Syzdyqov, a member of the unregistered opposition Algha Kazakhstan (Forward Kazakhstan) party, to 15 days in jail on hooliganism charges which the activist rejected as politically motivated. Syzdyqov and another member of the party, Aset Abishev, were detained a day earlier near a detention center where they were awaiting the release of their colleague. Abishev's trial on the same charge is pending. Last week, a court in Astana sentenced the chairman of Algha Kazakhstan, Marat Zhylanbaev, to seven years in prison on extremism charges that he also rejects as politically motivated. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, click here.

Ukrainian Intelligence Official Says Slain Former Lawmaker Likely Aided By Russia

Illya Kyva, a member of the Opposition Platform -- For Life, attends a rally in Kyiv in September 2021.
Illya Kyva, a member of the Opposition Platform -- For Life, attends a rally in Kyiv in September 2021.

A former Ukrainian lawmaker who was gunned down near Moscow took safety precautions that were likely aided by the Russian authorities, as he "took an active part in pushing Russian propaganda," an official from Ukraine's military intelligence has said.

The body of Illya Kyva was found with two gunshot wounds in the village of Suponevo, southwest of Moscow, on December 6.

Ukrainian law enforcement sources have told RFE/RL that the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) "liquidated" the former Ukrainian lawmaker during a special operation. Russia's Investigative Committee has confirmed Kyva's death and announced a criminal investigation.

Andriy Yusov, a spokesman for Ukraine's military intelligence, told RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service on December 7 that people "who are in the active circle of the Russian special services -- and Kyva was exactly that -- and who take an active part in the work of Russian propaganda" take security precautions.

"Actually, [Russia] is trying to help such people in one way or another, and where he lived recently, this is in particular a sign of his attempts to escape and protect himself," Yusov said.

After Russia launched its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Kyva moved to Russia, where he took part in pro-Kremlin TV talk shows and roundtable discussions.

He claimed Ukraine had been "enslaved and brought to its knees by the West, permeated by Nazism, and has no future" and called Russia's full-scale invasion a "necessary liberation."

A court in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv last month sentenced him in absentia to 14 years in prison after finding him guilty of high treason.

His death and that of another Ukrainian who collaborated with Russia, Oleh Popov, a former de facto lawmaker in a part of Ukraine's Luhansk region occupied by Russia, was also reported on December 6.

Popov, who headed the Russian-installed government committee on state security and defense, law enforcement agencies, the judicial system, and the protection of human and civil rights was killed by an explosive device that detonated in his car in the city of Luhansk.

Several Ukrainian nationals accused of collaborating with the occupying Russian authorities have been targeted in recent years, and some of them have been killed.

Most recently, a de facto lawmaker of the Russian-installed regional assembly in Luhansk, Mykhaylo Filiponenko, was killed last month in a car bombing. Ukraine's Main Directorate of Intelligence claimed responsibility for that killing.

Russia has accused Ukrainian special services of organizing the assassinations. Kyiv rarely claims responsibility for the attacks.

Days before Russia launched the invasion, Kremlin-backed separatist leaders of parts of Ukraine's Luhansk and Donetsk regions asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to recognize their independence from Ukraine.

Russian lawmakers in mid-February 2022 also called on Putin to recognize separatist-controlled parts of Luhansk and Donetsk as independent states and ratified corresponding documents after Putin signed them.

Moscow used the documents to justify its invasion.

Russia Detains Belarusian Over Explosions On Siberian Railway Line

The explosions occurred on November 29 and 30, hitting the main railway line connecting Russia with China. (illustrative photo)
The explosions occurred on November 29 and 30, hitting the main railway line connecting Russia with China. (illustrative photo)

Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) said on December 7 it detained a Belarusian national with permanent residence in Lithuania on suspicion of carrying out explosions on two trains on the Baikal-Amur Main Line last week. According to the FSB, the suspect, whose identity was not disclosed, confessed to the attacks, saying that Ukrainian intelligence organized them. The explosions occurred on November 29 and 30, hitting the main railway line connecting Russia with China. Ukrainian media, citing sources, have said that Ukrainian secret services were behind the attacks. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Siberia.Realities, click here.

Uzbek Blogger Released After Prison Term Replaced With Parole-Like Sentence

Fozilxoja Orifxojaev (file photo)
Fozilxoja Orifxojaev (file photo)

Uzbek blogger Fozilxoja Orifxojaev, who was sentenced to 7 1/2 years in prison in January 2022 over a post on Facebook, was released from prison after his sentence was replaced with a parole-like sentence, relatives said on December 6. Orifxojaev, known for his articles criticizing the Uzbek government for its restrictive religious policies, was imprisoned on a charge of "distributing materials containing a threat to public security and public order." Human rights groups had urged Tashkent to release Orifxojaev, calling the case against him politically motivated. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Uzbek Service, click here.

Australia Hits 13 Russians With Sanctions Over Kara-Murza Poisonings

Vladimir Kara-Murza was sentenced to 25 years in prison in April on charges including treason in a trial he said was politically motivated.
Vladimir Kara-Murza was sentenced to 25 years in prison in April on charges including treason in a trial he said was politically motivated.

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong said in a statement on December 7 that Canberra has imposed sanctions on three officers of Russia's Federal Security Service and 10 other Russian citizens over two near-fatal poisonings of opposition politician Vladimir Kara-Murza in 2015 and 2017. Wong also called on Moscow to immediately release Kara-Murza, who was sentenced to 25 years in prison in April on charges including treason in a trial he said was politically motivated. Russian authorities deny any involvement in the poison attacks. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Japan Pledges $1 Billion In Additional Aid, Ukraine's Zelenskiy Says

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (left) and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida meet after a G7 leaders' meeting in Hiroshima, Japan, on May 21.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (left) and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida meet after a G7 leaders' meeting in Hiroshima, Japan, on May 21.

Japan has pledged $1 billion in additional aid to Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy announced on December 7. "I am grateful to Japan and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida for the decision to provide additional aid to Ukraine in the amount of $1 billion, as well as for the willingness to increase the total amount of Japanese aid to $4.5 billion," Zelenskiy said, adding that the extra money provides "significant support" to Ukraine's economy. "Japan firmly stands side by side with Ukraine and the Ukrainian people. We continue to work together to bring our joint victory closer," he added. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.

Prosecutor In Russia's Bashkortostan Seeks Five Years In Prison For Activist's Posts

Ramilya Saitova (file photo)
Ramilya Saitova (file photo)

A prosecutor asked a court in Ufa, the capital of Russia's Bashkortostan region, on December 6 to sentence activist Ramila Saitova to five years in prison for her online posts protesting against Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Saitova was arrested in May and charged with "public calls for actions aimed against national security." The charge stemmed from an online video address to men mobilized to fight in the war in Ukraine from Bashkortostan, calling on them "to be brave and openly say, 'I do not want to kill.'" Saitova rejects the charge. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service, click here.

Retrial Ordered For Russian Jailed Over Daughter's Anti-War Drawings

Aleksei Moskalyov is escorted from a courtroom in Yefremov in Russia's Tula region, some 300 kilometers south of Moscow, on March 27.
Aleksei Moskalyov is escorted from a courtroom in Yefremov in Russia's Tula region, some 300 kilometers south of Moscow, on March 27.

A court of appeals in Russia has cancelled the two-year prison term for the father of a teenage girl who drew pictures against Moscow's ongoing invasion of Ukraine. The court in Saratov on December 6 sent Aleksei Moskalyov's case for retrial. Moskalyov was sentenced in April on a charge of "repeatedly discrediting Russia's armed forces" after police investigating his daughter's pictures discovered his online posts criticizing the war in Ukraine. While serving his term, Moskalyov was placed in punitive solitary confinement multiple times for minor "violations of the penitentiary's internal regulations," his lawyer has said. To read the original story by RFE/RL's North.Realities, click here.

Russian Girl, 14, Shoots Classmate Dead Before Committing Suicide

A 14-year-old Russian girl from Bryansk, some 885 kilometers southwest of Moscow, opened fire with a shotgun on her classmates on December 7, killing a 13-year-old girl, before turning the gun on herself and committing suicide. Authorities have not disclosed the shooter's identity. Russia's Health Ministry reported that five other people were wounded in the attack, one of them seriously, and were hospitalized in moderate condition. Russia's Investigative Committee, which deals with serious crimes, has opened an investigation. The shooter's motives were not immediately clear. Bryansk is some 100 kilometers from the Ukrainian border. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

Azerbaijan To Hold Snap Presidential Poll On February 7

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev (file photo)
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev (file photo)

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has signed a decree announcing an early presidential election in the country on February 7. Aliyev's decree, issued on December 7, instructed the Central Election Commission to start preparing the poll in accordance with the procedure specified in the Electoral Code of Azerbaijan. Aliyev has been the president of the oil-rich Caucasus country since 2003, when he succeeded his father, Heydar Aliyev, and has stayed in power ever since through a series of elections marred by irregularities and accusations of fraud. Under his authoritarian rule, political activity and human rights have been stifled. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service, click here.

Updated

Russian Presidential Election Set For March 17; Navalny Says Putin Victory Could 'Destroy' Country

Vladimir Putin has been in power as prime minister or president since 1999.
Vladimir Putin has been in power as prime minister or president since 1999.

Russia's upper house of parliament, the Federation Council, has set March 17 for a presidential election in which President Vladimir Putin is widely expected to run for another term, paving the way for him to stay in power until at least 2030.

The council adopted the decision during a session on December 7.

"In essence, this decision marks the start of the election campaign," said Valentina Matviyenko, speaker of the Federation Council.

Putin, 71, has yet to announce his intention to run in the election for another six-year term, though he is widely expected to and win a new six-year mandate and extend his tenure, already the longest of any Russian leader since Josef Stalin.

Though Putin has not officially announced he will run, the government last year pushed through a massive raft of constitutional amendments, the most important of which allows Putin to seek two more six-year terms and possibly remain in office until 2036.

No serious challenger has emerged so far to run against Putin, while two of the country's best-known opposition voices, Aleksei Navalny and Vladimir Kara-Murza, are serving lengthy prison sentences that they and their supporters say are politically motivated.

Navalny immediately responded to the setting of the election date, urging the country's 110 million eligible voters to cast ballots for "any other candidate" than Putin even though "the final results will be rigged."

"He [Putin] will destroy Russia. He has to leave," Navalny wrote in a blog post.

"For Putin, this election is a referendum on the approval of his actions. A referendum on the approval of war. Let us thwart his plans and make sure that on March 17 no one cares about the falsified result, but that all of Russia has seen and understood it: the will of the majority is that Putin has to leave."

The Federation Council decision also applies to what Russia calls its new territories: four regions of Ukraine that Moscow annexed last year after launching its full-scale invasion of that country in February 2022.

While Russia claims the regions -- Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk, and Zaporizhzhya -- it only partially controls them and Kyiv has pledged to retake the annexed territories.

Last month, Putin signed amendments to the law on presidential elections which restricts coverage of the poll, while also giving the Central Election Commission the right to change the election procedure on territories where martial law has been introduced.

The Kremlin has said the amendments were necessary due to "the special situation" in Russia's "new territories."

Updated

Ukraine Thanks Japan For Aid Pledge After U.S. Senate Blocks Massive Package

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (left) visits wounded soldiers at a hospital in Kyiv on December 6.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (left) visits wounded soldiers at a hospital in Kyiv on December 6.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has thanked Japan for a pledge of an additional $1 billion in aid, saying the funds will give "significant support" to the country just hours after the U.S. Senate blocked a White House request that would have earmarked around $60 billion for Kyiv.

The vote on whether to allow the bill with the White House request to advance marked a significant defeat for President Joe Biden, who had urged Congress in a speech earlier to quickly approve more military aid to Ukraine, warning that Russian leader Vladimir Putin will be emboldened to grab more territory if he is victorious on the battlefield.

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.

"If Putin takes Ukraine, he won't stop there. He's made that pretty clear," Biden said in televised speech on December 6, cautioning that Putin could try to send his troops into a NATO country if he took Ukraine.

Republicans, however, blocked the entire $106 billion request -- which also included funds for Israel, Taiwan, and to shore up the southern U.S. border, saying the bill lacked immigration reforms.

The Kremlin voiced hope that Congress will continue to block military aid for Ukraine, with spokesman Dmitry Peskov saying on December 7, "It is to be hoped that there remain enough people with sober minds among American congressmen" and claiming that Biden wanted to "continue burning taxpayers' money in the furnace of war."

Zelenskiy earlier this week cancelled a discussion with U.S. lawmakers as the success of the aid request began looking very doubtful.

On December 7, he received the pledge from Japan, which includes the possibility of increasing the total aid package to as much as $4.5 billion.

Ukraine has been bracing for a second long winter of war with Russia -- which launched its full-scale invasion in February 2022 -- amid intense fighting in the east, especially around the industrial city of Avdiyivka in the Donetsk region.

Russian troops have been attempting for several weeks to encircle the city, which has become the latest symbol of Ukrainian resistance.

Avdiyivka has remained in Ukrainian hands even after Russia in 2014 seized large portions of the Donetsk region, including Donetsk city, just 10 kilometers to the south.

Ukrainian forces repelled 34 Russian attacks in the Avdiyivka area, more than one-third of the 91 assaults that Kyiv's forces fought off on the entire front line over the past 24 hours, the General Staff of Ukraine's military said in its morning summary.

The battlefield reports could not be independently confirmed.

The United Nations warned on December 6 that Moscow was intensifying attacks on Ukraine's energy infrastructure as heavy snowfalls and freezing temperatures grip the country.

Assistant Secretary-General Miroslav Jenca told the UN Security Council that Russia's attacks on critical Ukrainian civilian infrastructure had not only resulted in civilian casualties, but also worsened humanitarian conditions for civilians.

"All attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure must stop immediately," he said. "They are prohibited under international humanitarian law and are simply unacceptable."

Ukraine's state-owned Ukrenerho power grid operator said on December 7 that a bout of cold weather had prompted a spike in electricity usage across the country, causing shortages that had to be covered by emergency imports from Slovakia, Romania, and Poland.

"Consumption due to the cold weather exceeds the forecast by 2.7 percent," Ukrenerho said in a statement, adding that several thermal power plants were currently undergoing repairs, and urging consumers to use electricity responsively.

Ukraine's power grid has been under pressure from constant Russian strikes that have caused substantial damage.

Russia also continues to attack critical grain-export infrastructure.

It launched drone attacks on the Danube port of Izmayil on December 7 that killed a man and caused damage to port facilities, Oleh Kiper, the governor of the Odesa region, said in a message on his Telegram channel.

Earlier, the Ukrainian military said its air defenses shot down 15 out of the 18 Iranian-made drones that Russia launched at the Odesa and Khmelnytskiy regions on December 7. The military said in a message on Telegram that the attack with Shahed-136/131 drones was launched from Cape Chauda, in the Moscow-occupied Crimea region.

"They specifically attacked the Danube port infrastructure. A warehouse, a grain elevator, and trucks were damaged. The driver of one of the trucks was killed," Kiper said, adding that a fire broke out but was promptly extinguished by emergency workers.

Since the collapse in July of a United Nations-brokered deal allowing the safe passage of Ukrainian grain shipments from Black Sea ports, Ukraine has used its Danube ports of Reni and Izmayil on the border with Romania to ship food to the Romanian Black Sea port of Constanta.

Russia has since been targeting both Odesa, Ukraine's main Black Sea port, and the two Danube ports with drone strikes that have caused substantial damage and disrupted Ukrainian grain exports. Debris from downed Russian drones has also crashed on the territory of NATO member Romania.

Updated

G7 Leaders Agree To Restrictions On Imports Of Russian Diamonds

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (top left) addressed the leaders of the G7 nations during an online summit on December 6.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (top left) addressed the leaders of the G7 nations during an online summit on December 6.

The leaders of the Group of Seven (G7) countries have agreed to restrict imports of Russian diamonds in another tightening of sanctions over Moscow's invasion of Ukraine.

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.

A G7 statement issued after a virtual summit on December 6 joined by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the first set of restrictions on nonindustrial diamonds, mined, processed, or produced in Russia would take effect on January 1.

This will be "followed by further phased restrictions on the import of Russian diamonds processed in third countries targeting March 1, 2024," the leaders of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Italy, and the United States said in a statement.

The statement added that by the beginning of September, a "robust traceability-based verification and certification mechanism for rough diamonds within the G7" will be established.

The new restrictions add to a raft of sanctions targeting financial institutions, technology imports, and fossil fuel exports already imposed on Russia by the United States and other countries over its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Following the G7 pledge, Foreign Minister Melanie Joly announced on December 6 that Canada will introduce a ban on the direct import of Russian diamonds and related products.

"Canada will continue working with its G7 and other international partners to implement comprehensive controls and verification measures for banning Russian diamonds," Joly said in a statement. "Today’s announcement therefore imposes further costs on the Kremlin for its illegal and unjustifiable war of aggression against Ukraine."

The G7 leaders also condemned Russian attacks against critical and civil infrastructure across Ukraine, saying they are increasing efforts to provide humanitarian aid and energy assistance, and they said Russia’s sovereign assets in G7 jurisdictions "will remain immobilized until Russia pays for the damage it caused to Ukraine."

The statement noted that according to the World Bank, the damage caused by Russia's invasion "already exceeds $400 billion dollars."

In his remarks to the G7 leaders, Zelenskiy warned against the collapse of Western unity, saying that Russia is counting on that happening.

"Russia hopes only for one thing -- that next year the free world's consolidation will collapse," Zelenskiy said, adding that Moscow has “significantly increased pressure on the front."

He reiterated that the battle is “not just about the fate of Ukraine, it's about Europe."

The virtual G7 meeting came amid concern about continued Western military support for Ukraine.

The White House has warned that funding for Ukraine aid will run out by the end of the year if Congress does not approve fresh funds.

U.S. President Joe Biden addressed lawmakers on December 6 after the G7 meeting, urging them to quickly approve more military aid to Ukraine. However, the U.S. Senate blocked the White House request for $106 billion in emergency aid primarily for Ukraine and Israel as Republicans objected to the bill's lack of immigration reforms.

The G7 statement said the leaders were "determined" to support Ukraine and find further ways to cap Russia's ability to fund the war, and they said their "steadfast commitment to supporting Ukraine's fight for its independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity will never waver.”

With reporting by AFP

'Liquidated': Two 'Traitors Of Ukraine' Killed In Separate Incidents

Illya Kyva in a 2016 photo
Illya Kyva in a 2016 photo

Two Ukrainians who collaborated with Russian authorities have been killed -- one in a shooting in a village southwest of Moscow and the other in a car bombing in the Russian-occupied part of Ukraine's Luhansk region.

Ukrainian law enforcement sources told RFE/RL on December 6 that the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) “liquidated” former Ukrainian lawmaker Illya Kyva by shooting him to death in a special operation.

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.

Russia's Investigative Committee later confirmed Kyva’s death and announced that a criminal investigation has been opened.

The Investigative Committee said in a statement that an unknown person shot Kyva in the village of Suponevo southwest of Moscow and he "died of his injuries on the spot."

Andriy Yusov, a spokesman for Ukraine's military intelligence, said in televised remarks that Kyva was “done,” adding that “the same fate will befall other traitors of Ukraine and accomplices of Putin's regime.”

Yusov did not say who was behind his death but said "justice takes different forms."

Kyva was known for his pro-Russian stance. A court in Ukraine's western city of Lviv last month sentenced him in absentia to 14 years in prison after finding him guilty of high treason.

After Russia launched its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Kyva moved to Russia, where he took part in televised pro-Kremlin talk shows and roundtable discussions.

The death of the other Ukrainian who collaborated with Russia, Oleh Popov, a former de facto lawmaker in a part of Ukraine's Luhansk region occupied by Russia, was also reported on December 6. Popov was killed by an explosive device that detonated in his car in the city of Luhansk.

The Investigative Committee said in a statement that it launched a probe into Popov's death.

Popov headed the Russian-installed government's committee on state security and defense, law enforcement agencies, the judicial system, and the protection of human and civil rights.

Yury Yorov, a member of the de facto parliament in Luhansk, was quoted by Interfax as saying that in September 2022 an attempt was made on Popov's life that he said was organized by the SBU.

Several Ukrainian nationals accused of collaborating with occupying Russian authorities have been targeted in recent years, and some of them have been killed.

Most recently, a de facto lawmaker of the Russian-installed regional assembly in Luhansk, Mykhaylo Filiponenko, was killed last month in a car bombing. Ukraine's Main Directorate of Intelligence claimed responsibility for that killing.

Russia has accused Ukrainian special services of organizing the assassinations. Kyiv rarely claims responsibility for the attacks.

Days before Russia launched its ongoing invasion, Kremlin-backed separatist leaders of parts of Ukraine's Luhansk and Donetsk regions asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to recognize the two regions' independence from Ukraine.

Russian lawmakers in mid-February 2022 also called on Putin to recognize separatist-controlled parts of Luhansk and Donetsk as independent states and ratified corresponding documents after Putin signed them.

Moscow used the documents to justify its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, launched on February 24, 2022.

With reporting by AP and Interfax

Putin Visits U.A.E., Saudi Arabia Seeking To Bolster Moscow's Mideast Clout

Russian President Vladimir Putin is greeted upon arrival at the airport in Riyadh on December 6.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is greeted upon arrival at the airport in Riyadh on December 6.

Russian President Vladimir Putin visited the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia on December 6 in an effort to raise Moscow's profile as a Middle East power broker, even as his war in Ukraine grinds on. Putin landed in Abu Dhabi to start his first trip to the region since before the coronavirus pandemic and Moscow's 2022 invasion of Ukraine. Putin held talks with U.A.E. President Muhammad bin Zayed al-Nahyan before traveling on to Saudi Arabia, where he was greeted by Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman. Putin said Russian-Saudi relations had "reached a level they never saw before."

Bosnian Serb Leader's Trial Postponed As Defense Requests Venue Change

Milorad Dodik speaks to the media in front of the Court of Bosnia-Herzegovina in Sarajevo on December 6 after the trial was posponed.
Milorad Dodik speaks to the media in front of the Court of Bosnia-Herzegovina in Sarajevo on December 6 after the trial was posponed.

A court in Bosnia-Herzegovina on December 6 postponed the start of Republika Srpska President Milorad Dodik's trial on charges related to his efforts to ignore decisions by an international envoy at the request of his lawyers, who want the trial moved.

Lawyers for Dodik on December 4 asked that the trial be moved from Sarajevo to Banja Luka.

The Court of Bosnia-Herzegovina rejected the request, but Dodik’s defense team argued they have right to appeal the decision and that they will do so within the three-day legal limit.

Judge Mirsad Strika set December 20 as the new date for the start of the trial, provided a ruling on the appeal is issued by then.

During the hearing on December 6, Dodik, who has called the case a "political process" and a "circus," refused to answer the judge's questions or stand up when the judge told him to.

Dodik and the head of Republika Srpska’s official legal gazette, Milos Lukic, are charged with criminal offenses in connection with efforts to ignore decisions by Bosnia's Constitutional Court and international envoy Christian Schmidt.

Schmidt heads the Office of the High Representative (OHR), the international community's overseer of civilian, administrative, and other aspects of government stemming from the Dayton agreement that ended three years of intense fighting in 1995.

Schmidt on December 6 denied the process against Dodik was political.

"Those who are accused often defend themselves by saying that it's a political process. It's not, it's a process against Milorad Dodik,“ Schmidt said, speaking in Sarajevo after a meeting of the Peace Implementation Council steering board.

He said the case was "about Dodik and he has to accept in a decent way that this is an impartial judiciary."

Schmidt also responded to statements by Dodik about the possibility that the Bosnian Serb-domnated entity would declare independence from Bosnia, saying that secessionist rhetoric poisons the reconciliation process and the spirit of cooperation in Bosnia.

"It is clear that anyone who tries to threaten the state of Bosnia-Herzegovina and its stability, inside or outside the country, represents a danger for this country and its European future. However, at the same time, I emphasize that the European Union and the international community are ready to protect this country and its citizens, if necessary," Schmidt said.

He pointed out that Bosnian citizens had never been closer to EU integration and that "there is a real chance that in the next month they will be closer to that goal."

The legislation at the center of the case against Dodik was approved by Bosnian Serb lawmakers in June and signed by Dodik on July 7 before being published in the gazette. It stipulated that the decisions of the OHR and the Constitutional Court should not be applied in the territory of the Republika Srpska.

The indictment states that Dodik signed the laws even though he was aware that the decisions of the OHR are binding.

Lukic is accused of having "facilitated the implementation of the publication procedure" of the laws.

Dodik and Lukic face up to five years in prison and a ban on working in all public institutions and companies if found guilty.

Kyrgyz President Warns Of 'External Management' Unless Vendors Stop Protests

Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov speaks outside Bishkek's Dordoi market on December 5.
Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov speaks outside Bishkek's Dordoi market on December 5.

Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov said on December 6 that "external management" for marketplaces will be applied unless vendors stop protests against the introduction of a new taxation system that will oblige them to use electronic cash registers and pay tax on each item sold. He did not specify what external management would entail. The day before, Japarov announced that the new taxation system will be introduced not on January 1, 2024, as was initially planned, but on July 1. Thousands of vendors at marketplaces across Kyrgyzstan have rallied for days demanding the current system -- based on a flat annual sum -- be kept in place. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, click here.

Iranian Jewish Family Waits For Information On Son Thought Held Hostage In Gaza

Israeli soldiers await the arrival of hostages by helicopter near Tel Aviv on November 30. Seniors, women, and children have been the priority so far in negotiations for the release of hostages.
Israeli soldiers await the arrival of hostages by helicopter near Tel Aviv on November 30. Seniors, women, and children have been the priority so far in negotiations for the release of hostages.

Since October 7, Avi Shamriz, an Iranian Jew, has waited for his phone to ring for news on his son, Alon. He's still waiting.

Two months after Alon was taken hostage during an attack on Israel by extremists from Hamas, which has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union, Avi Shamriz, whose Iranian first name is Kamran, hopes the phone will ring.

"We have no news. From October 7, when we received information that my son was kidnapped until now, we don't know if he's dead, alive, or injured," Shamriz told RFE/RL's Radio Farda in a brief phone interview on December 6.

Hamas killed more than 1,200 Israelis -- mainly civilians -- in the October 7 raid, and took some 240 hostages back to the Gaza Strip, where Israel has launched an intense war in the aftermath of the deadliest attack on Jews since the Holocaust.

Since the war began, swaps of dozens of hostages and Palestinians held in Israeli prisons have taken place.

Shamriz, who spoke from Tel Aviv where the family was evacuated after the Hamas attack, said they believe Alon is in Gaza, as he has yet to turn up on any list of those who died in the attack on October 7.

So he scours video and reports from those released for any tidbit of information on his son, a 26-year-old student of computer engineering from the Kfar Aza kibbutz near the border with Gaza.

Israeli officials says seniors, women, and children have been the priority so far in negotiations for the release of hostages. That would put Avi Shamriz down on the priority list.

"[The Israeli hostages] who have been freed haven't seen my son. They took 19 hostages from [Kfar] Aza and 10 of them have returned home. But none of them saw my son," he said.

The cease-fire to allow the trading of hostages for prisoners broke down over the weekend.

Israel has since resumed its withering attack on Gaza, where an estimated 138 hostages remain, as it hunts Hamas fighters.

On December 5, Israel's military entered Khan Younis, Gaza's second-largest city, as aid agencies warned of dire humanitarian conditions that are growing worse by the day.

The Shamriz family knows only that Alon has yet to turn up.

"The war has resumed [after a temporary truce], but my son is still there. I’m scared that something will happen to him," Shamriz said.

"We went and talked [to Israeli officials] and told them that this is not the time [for war]. First, they must save my son [and other hostages]. This is not the time for war. We went and talked and pleaded, but nothing. They are not a government."

Updated

U.S. Files War Crimes Charges Against Four Russians Accused Of Torture In Ukraine

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland (file photo)
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland (file photo)

The United States has charged four Russian soldiers with torture and other war crimes in connection with the alleged abduction and interrogation of an American during the early stages of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in April 2022.

Attorney General Merrick Garland announced the indictment on December 6, saying the charges against the four "Russia-affiliated military personnel" are for "heinous crimes against an American citizen" and are the first to be brought under the U.S. war crimes statute.

The U.S. citizen, who was not identified, was abducted from his home in the village of Mylove in the Kherson region in southern Ukraine and held for at least 10 days, the Justice Department said in a news release.

Investigators from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the FBI interviewed the American, his family, and others who were around Mylove at the time of the abduction to identify the four Russians, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said.

"The evidence gathered by our agents speaks to the brutality, criminality, and depravity of Russia's invasion," Mayorkas said at a news conference in Washington.

The American and his wife, a Ukrainian citizen, were eventually evacuated.

According to the indictment, two of the soldiers charged -- Suren Mkrtchyan and Dmitry Budnik -- were commanding officers of military units of the “Russian Armed Forces and/or the so-called Donetsk People's Republic." The two others charged were lower-ranking military personnel, identified only as Valery and Nazar.

"During the abduction, Mkrtchyan, Valery, Nazar, and others allegedly threw the victim face down to the ground while he was naked, tied his hands behind his back, pointed a gun at his head, and severely beat him, including with the stocks of their guns," the Justice Department said.

The indictment also alleges that Mkrtchyan and Budnik led at least two interrogation sessions during which the four defendants and others tortured the victim.

During one interrogation, Mkrtchyan, Valery, and Nazar allegedly stripped the victim and photographed him. The defendants and others then allegedly severely beat the victim and pointed guns at the back of his head. Budnik allegedly threatened the victim with death and asked for his last words, which was followed by a mock execution.

U.S. Attorney Jessica Aber said in the news release that these were "grave breaches" of the Geneva Conventions.

The defendants, whose whereabouts are unknown, are charged with three war crimes -- unlawful confinement, torture, and inhuman treatment -- and one count of conspiracy to commit war crimes. If convicted, each faces a maximum penalty of life in prison.

Although U.S. officials described the case as history-making, the charges are largely symbolic, given the unlikely prospect of the Justice Department taking any of them into custody.

U.K. Announces Sanctions Targeting Those Seen As Aiding 'Putin's War Machine'

Sanctions Minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan added that the sanctions "will hit Putin where it hurts, damaging Russian defense systems, and cracking down on illegal supply chains propping up Russia's war machine." (file photo)
Sanctions Minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan added that the sanctions "will hit Putin where it hurts, damaging Russian defense systems, and cracking down on illegal supply chains propping up Russia's war machine." (file photo)

The United Kingdom has imposed new sanctions on 46 groups and individuals in countries ranging from Serbia to China that it says are supplying and financing Russia's war against Ukraine by helping it circumvent international sanctions.

The U.K. government said in a statement on December 6 that the sanctions target "foreign military suppliers" who are exporting equipment and parts to Russia and are "helping [Russian President Vladimir] Putin's war machine."

The new sanctions include entities and businesses operating in China, Turkey, Serbia, Belarus, and Uzbekistan.

Russian weapons manufacturers and defense importers were also on the list of newly imposed sanctions as well as "three actors" supporting the Wagner Group network and "four operators" of so-called "shadow fleet" vessels used by Russia to soften the blow of oil-related sanctions imposed by the U.K. alongside Group of Seven partners.

"This signals the UK’s no tolerance approach to those enabling Russia’s illegal war, wherever they may be," the statement said.

Sanctions Minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan added that the sanctions "will hit Putin where it hurts, damaging Russian defense systems, and cracking down on illegal supply chains propping up Russia's war machine."

Ales Luci, the owner of Serbia's Avio Chem, one of the companies on the list, told RFE/RL that he stopped cooperating with Russian companies, though he could not specify exactly when.

"It is not clear to me what we have to do with Great Britain when Serbia does not have any sanctions against Russia, nor has it introduced any," Luci said.

An investigation by RFE/RL's Balkan Service last month highlighted several Serbian companies exporting dual-use goods to Russia that have been targeted by Western sanctions due to their use in Russian armaments deployed in Ukraine -- despite a pledge by President Aleksandar Vucic that his country would not serve as a conduit for circumventing U.S. and EU sanctions.

The investigation showed equipment for the Russian squadron was shipped from the Belgrade airport by a company that had an address associated with Avio Chem. According to international trade databases, most of the company's trade was with two related airlines that are close to Putin's regime.

The British statement said 31 individuals and entities, including several directors and their immediate family members, linked to designing and manufacturing drones and missile parts and importing and supplying key electronic components are part of the sanctions.

Another aim of the sanctions, the British government said, is to starve Russia's military of key components and technology from Western manufacturers.

"Pre-invasion Russia was a major exporter of arms. Instead, it is now having to turn to North Korea and Iran for unreliable equipment and to buy back parts it previously exported to other countries. While the world is moving forwards technologically, Russia is going backwards," the statement said.

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