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Putin Defers To Medvedev On Libya

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin during his Ljubljana visit on March 22
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin during his Ljubljana visit on March 22
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has said he and President Dmitry Medvedev have "very close views" on the situation in Libya.

Medvedev on March 21 rebuked Putin for comparing Western calls for action on Libya with "crusades," in the sharpest public difference yet between the two ahead of a 2012 election.

Putin told journalists while on a visit to Ljubljana, Slovenia, on March 22 that Medvedev has expressed Russia's official position.

"As for agreement or disagreement among the Russian leadership on what is going on in Libya," Putin said, "it is the Russian president who is in charge of foreign policy and there can be no divergence [of views]."

Earlier, Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said his remarks on the UN resolution authorizing armed intervention in Libya were the prime minister's personal opinion.

The apparent disagreement and the dismissal of Moscow's envoy to Libya had sparked speculation of growing tension between Putin and Medvedev.

compiled from agency reports

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China Reportedly Willing To Continue Strengthening Cooperation With Belarus

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.

China is willing to continue strengthening its strategic cooperation with Belarus, President Xi Jinping was cited as saying after meeting with authoritarian Belarusian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka on December 4. Xi also said China is willing to enhance coordination and cooperation with Belarus in multilateral mechanisms such as the United Nations and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the official news agency Xinhua said. Xi told Lukashenka that both countries should improve cross-border transport facilitation and promote economic and trade ties as well as people-to-people exchanges, according to Xinhua.

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

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

Nine Dead, Including Two Soldiers, After Militants Open Fire On Bus In Northern Pakistan

Nine people have been killed, including two soldiers, after unidentified militants opened fire on a passenger bus accompanied by a security-forces vehicle in northwestern Pakistan.

At least 26 were injured, including one soldier and a local Sunni cleric, in the attack in the Gilgit-Baltistan region, according to local police and government officials.

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.

Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Plant's Grid Connection Cut In Another Reminder Of 'Precarious' Safety Situation

The IAEA confirmed in a statement on December 2 that the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine lost offsite power overnight and temporarily relied on emergency diesel generators.
The IAEA confirmed in a statement on December 2 that the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine lost offsite power overnight and temporarily relied on emergency diesel generators.

Ukraine and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said two power lines connecting the Zaporizhzhya nuclear plant to the country’s electricity grid were cut overnight, again highlighting the risk of an accident at the plant.

The IAEA confirmed in a statement on December 2 that the plant in southern Ukraine lost offsite power overnight and temporarily relied on emergency diesel generators.

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The plant, which stopped supplying electricity to the Ukraine's grid in September 2022, has been rocked by repeated shelling and drone attacks since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Although its six reactors have been shut down, it still needs power to operate cooling systems and other safety features.

The Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant "lost the connection to both of its external power lines," IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi said in a statement, adding that this is the eighth time since the start of the war that the plant, Europe’s largest, suffered a complete offsite power outage.

The IAEA team at the site reported that the connection to its sole back-up 330 kilovolt power line was cut around 10:26 p.m. local time on December 1 due to "an external grid fault," Grossi said. This was followed around five hours later by the loss of the plant’s sole 750 kilovolt line -- its main supplier of external electricity.

The cause appeared to be in the outside grid far away from the plant, Grossi said.

"The most recent external power outage is yet another reminder about the precarious nuclear safety and security situation at the plant, which can be affected by events far away from the site itself," Grossi said.

The safety situation at the plant has been a source of concern since it was captured by Russian forces last year, and the two sides have accused each other of compromising its safety.

Enerhoatom, Ukraine's nuclear energy operator, said in its statement that due to the outage the plant switched to 20 diesel generators.

The IAEA said these generators automatically started operating and the staff at the plant, which includes a team of IAEA experts, then reduced the number in operation to eight, which is enough to ensure that the plant’s reactors have enough power for cooling.

The affected 750 kilovolt power line was reconnected shortly after 8 a.m. local time on December 1, and the eight diesel generators were being gradually shut down.

Enerhoatom said the plant was on "the verge of a nuclear and radiation accident" before off-site power was restored.

"The situation was actually saved by the prompt actions of Ukrainian specialists who restored power supply to the plant from the Ukrainian power grid," it said.

It was not possible to verify Ukraine's claims.

With reporting by AFP

Ukraine's Security Service Cancels Former President's Trip To Meet With Orban

Petro Poroshenko, who was Ukrainian president from 2014 to 2019, said he had planned a number of high-level meetings abroad but the trip had to be canceled because he was turned away at the border on December 1.
Petro Poroshenko, who was Ukrainian president from 2014 to 2019, said he had planned a number of high-level meetings abroad but the trip had to be canceled because he was turned away at the border on December 1.

Ukrainian border guards prevented former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko from leaving the country on what Poroshenko described as a business trip that the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) said was to start with a meeting with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

The SBU said on December 2 that it believes Russia intended to use the meeting, as well as other meetings of Ukrainian politicians with foreign officials, to spread a pro-Russian narrative.

Poroshenko's party, European Solidarity, pointed the finger back at the SBU, saying in a statement that it had "spread a false message" that the cancellation was related to the meeting with Orban. It also said that the "theoretical use of the conversation by Russian special services" was surprising.

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Poroshenko, who was president from 2014 to 2019, said he had planned a number of high-level meetings abroad but the trip had to be canceled because he was turned away at the border on December 1.

The SBU said in a statement that Poroshenko was turned back due to his planned meeting with Orban, whom the SBU said "systematically expresses an anti-Ukrainian position."

The SBU said it had received information indicating that Moscow planned to use the meeting "in its information and psychological operations against Ukraine." The purpose of such "provocations," it said, is to "reduce the support of foreign partners and try to split Ukrainian society."

Russia is trying to "change the mood in the partner countries" and encourage politicians to "declare narratives about the need for a negotiation process" with Russia, the statement added.

"According to the received counterintelligence data, it is in this context that information regarding the planned meeting of [Orban], who systematically expresses an anti-Ukrainian position, is a 'friend of Putin,' and calls for the lifting of sanctions from the Russian Federation," the SBU statement said.

After receiving the information, the SBU said it appealed to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's office, the government, and the parliament proposing that this information be taken into account during the process of approving foreign missions of Ukrainian delegations.

Poroshenko said on the morning of December 1 that he was not allowed to leave Ukraine despite an order from the chairman of the Verkhovna Rada that clearly stated that the international business trip was from December 1-8.

Poroshenko said he had planned meetings at the highest level with representatives of the U.S. Congress and the Polish parliament. European Solidarity said in a statement that Poroshenko planned visits to only to the U.S. and Poland.

The party said it is surprising that the Ukrainian government would "justify the actual disruption of opposition leader Petro Poroshenko's visit to Washington with counterintelligence information from the SBU about the likelihood of a meeting between [Poroshenko and Orban]."

The SBU "spread a false message that the cancellation of the travel order signed by the head of the Verkhovna Rada (Ukrainian parliament) and the travel ban on Poroshenko on December 1 were related to the meeting with Orban," European Solidarity said.

The statement said that Poroshenko's position that there is no question of negotiations with Russia remains unchanged.

It also said that the actions of the SBU create "artificial additional tension" with Hungary, which as an EU member will soon vote on the start of accession talks between Ukraine and the EU in Brussels.

With reporting by AFP

Iran Says Two Revolutionary Guards Killed In Israeli Attack In Syria

Two Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps members who served as military advisers in Syria have been killed in an Israeli attack, Iranian state media reported on December 2, in the first reported Iranian casualties during the ongoing war in Gaza. A Revolutionary Guards statement did not give details of the attack. Syria earlier said its air defenses repelled an Israeli rocket attack against targets in the vicinity of Damascus early on December 2.

Updated

Russian Shelling, Drone Strikes Cause Death, Damage In Ukraine's Donetsk, Kherson, And Odesa Regions

Aftermath of Russian shelling of the Donetsk region of Ukraine on November 30.
Aftermath of Russian shelling of the Donetsk region of Ukraine on November 30.

At least two civilians were killed in Ukraine's Donetsk and Kherson regions in shelling by Russian troops that also caused damage to infrastructure and property, regional officials said on December 2.

"One person died in Horlivka [in Donetsk], and six private homes plus three high-rise buildings and an industrial facility were damaged," the region's military administration said in its report, adding that two more people were wounded.

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In the southern region of Kherson, one civilian was killed and another one was wounded by Russian shelling and missile strikes. "Kherson region was struck 82 times with mortars, artillery, Grad missiles, tanks, aircraft and drones," regional Governor Oleksandr Prokudin said on Telegram, adding that Russian troops targeted residential areas and an educational facility.

Russian troops also attacked the border region of Chernihiv, injuring civilians in the town of Semenivska in northern Ukraine, the regional military administration said in a statement.

A man suffered shrapnel wounds and was treated at a local hospital, the military administration's press service said.

His daughter, age 4, was injured and transported to a hospital where she will undergo an operation, the administration added. A 4-year-old grandson was not injured.

The heads of the Kharkiv, Zaporizhzhya, Dnipropetrovsk, Sumy, and Mykolayiv regions also reported that civilian settlements in their region were hit by Russian shelling, but no civilians were wounded.
https://www.radiosvoboda.org/a/news-obstrily-za-dobu-zahybli/32710974.html


The heads of the Kharkiv, Zaporizhzhya, Dnipropetrovsk, Sumy, and Mykolayiv regions also reported civilian settlements in their region were hit by Russian shelling but no civilians were wounded.

Earlier on December 2, Russian troops attacked the southern region of Odesa with 11 Iranian-made kamikaze drones, the Ukrainian Air Force Command reported. Ukrainian air defense shot down 10 drones over Odesa and a guided missile in Dnipropetrovsk region, the Command said on Telegram, adding that the drones had been launched from Cape Chauda in Russia-occupied Crimea.

Oleh Kiper, the governor of Odesa region, said no one was wounded but the drone attack caused damages.

"Unfortunately, an infrastructure objective was hit. A fire broke out, which was quickly extinguished by rescuers," Kiper wrote on his Telegram channel, without elaborating.

Inclement weather compounded by Russian attacks on infrastructure facilities have left almost 500 settlements in western Ukraine without electricity, the country's Energy Ministry said in a statement on December 2.

On the battlefield, Ukrainian forces fought 84 close-quarters battles over the past 24 hours, the General Staff of Ukraine's military said on December 2.

It said the fiercest clashes took place around the industrial hub of Avdiyivka in Donetsk, which Russian troops have been attempting to encircle for weeks.

General Oleksandr Tarnavskiy, the Ukrainian commander near Avdiyivka, which is under his group's responsibility, said Russian forces have reduced the use of aviation in the area.

"The enemy has reduced the activity of aviation [and] artillery and the total number of combats. Russian forces continue to try to advance with infantry," he said, estimating losses at nearly 500 soldiers.

The battlefield claims could not be independently confirmed.

With reporting by AFP

Iranian Rapper's Violent Rearrest For Comments In Video Sparks Outrage

Iranian rapper Toomaj Salehi appeared in a video on November 26 in which he talked about the torture and beatings he suffered while in prison.
Iranian rapper Toomaj Salehi appeared in a video on November 26 in which he talked about the torture and beatings he suffered while in prison.

The rearrest of Iranian rapper Toomaj Salehi has triggered a wave of outrage after reports that armed security agents beat the dissident while taking him into custody even though he is still recovering from being tortured during his previous prison time.

Police detained Salehi, a prominent voice in Iran's recent social and political movements, on November 30 on a street in Babol, northern Iran.

The Mizan News Agency, which is affiliated with Iran's judiciary, confirmed Salehi's rearrest, alleging it was for "spreading lies and unverified statements on social media," a charge of disturbing public opinion.

Salehi had only been out for 12 days after enduring 252 days in solitary confinement and a total of one year and 21 days in prison on charges that his supporters said were based on his music and participation in protests during the past year over the death of Mahsa Amini in September 2022.

Ye-One Rhie, a German parliamentarian and Salehi's political sponsor, criticized the "violent abduction," linking it to Salehi speaking out about his prison experience. Salehi has said he needs surgery because of injuries sustained from beatings and torture while he was incarcerated.


"When I say he was arrested, I mean he was kidnapped. He was kidnapped without any without any warning, without any identification, without any reasons given why he was beaten and why he was taken so violently," she said.

"To say that he used his time as a free man after he was released on bail to spread false rumors and to spread lies just because he was talking about his time in prison and his time in solitary confinement, that doesn't hold against any rule of law," the German lawmaker added.

Salehi was initially arrested in November 2022 after a period in hiding. His detention then immediately sparked significant attention and demands for his release, both domestically and internationally.

He was sentenced to more than six years in prison but released on November 18 after the Supreme Court, responding to an appeal, found “flaws in the original sentence.” It sent the case back to a lower court for a reexamination and possible retrial.

Once out, Salehi produced a video where he described being injected with a substance, likely adrenaline, to prevent unconsciousness during torture. He recounted the severe beatings he endured, leading to broken hands and feet.

He also said in the video that he filed a complaint against the General Directorate of Intelligence in Isfahan, a claim disputed by the Mizan News Agency. However, Salehi's lawyer, Amir Raesian, contradicted Mizan's statement, affirming that a complaint had been filed over his treatment and was under consideration.

Nazanin Boniadi, an actress and prominent opponent of the Islamic republic, condemned Salehi's violent rearrest, calling it "devastating."

Salehi has gained prominence for his lyrics that rail against corruption, widespread poverty, state executions, and the killing of protesters in Iran. His songs also point to a widening gap between ordinary Iranians and the country's leadership, accusing authorities of "suffocating" the people without regard for their well-being.

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

Congress Must Pass Aid For Ukraine To Avoid Interruption Of U.S. Support, White House Says

White House national-security spokesman John Kirby said Washington plans to send more weapons systems but for this Congress needs to pass a package with additional funding.
White House national-security spokesman John Kirby said Washington plans to send more weapons systems but for this Congress needs to pass a package with additional funding.

The U.S. Congress should act swiftly to provide aid to Ukraine before the end of the month to avoid an interruption in support provided by the United States, White House national-security spokesman John Kirby said.

"We need that assistance immediately so we can provide them assistance in an uninterrupted way," Kirby said on December 1 at a news briefing.

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"We have been consistently providing Ukraine with a truly unprecedented level of security support for over a year and a half. And we were able to provide this with incredible speed," Kirby said.

U.S. aid so far has amounted to $40 billion, and Kirby said Washington plans to send more weapons systems but for this Congress needs to pass a package with additional funding.

President Joe Biden last month submitted to Congress a request for more than $105 billion in defense aid, which included $61.4 billion in aid to Ukraine and $14.3 billion in aid to Israel, but the measure remains blocked.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (Democrat-New York) told reporters on November 28 that the U.S. Senate next week will begin consideration of a package that includes aid for Israel and Ukraine and he hopes it will achieve bipartisan support.

Schumer said the aid bill is needed even if there is no agreement on funding for border security measures that Republican lawmakers have demanded.

Kirby said every package provided by the U.S. and other countries to Ukraine thus far has been prepared based on comprehensive consultations with the Ukrainian military regarding their needs for its counteroffensive.

In response to a request for comment on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's assessment in an AP interview that "Ukraine did not get all the weapons it wanted," Kirby said, "Ukraine's desire to obtain more weapons is fully justified."

With reporting by Reuters

Azerbaijani Journalist Ordered Detained Amid Clampdown On Independent Media

Azerbaijani journalist Nargiz Absalamova is the fourth journalist from the Abzas Media outlet to be arrested in recent days.
Azerbaijani journalist Nargiz Absalamova is the fourth journalist from the Abzas Media outlet to be arrested in recent days.

Independent Azerbaijani journalist Nargiz Absalamova has been ordered in detention for three months -- the latest journalist from the independent Abzas Media to be detained in a smuggling case that the outlet rejects as trumped up and rights groups say is a part of a crackdown on the outlet's "pioneering journalism" to root out corruption.

The Khatai District Court in Azerbaijan’s capital, Baku, ordered Absalamova detained on a charges of conspiring to smuggle foreign currency into the country after summoning her for interrogation on November 30.

Absalamova is the fourth journalist of Abzas Media arrested in recent days.

Abzas' director, Ulvi Hasanli, chief editor Sevinc Vaqifqizi, and employee Mahammad Kekalov were arrested less than two weeks ago after police claimed they found 40,000 euros ($43,800) in cash at the Abzas offices.

The journalists insist the case against them is trumped up in retaliation for reports about corruption among officials.

Critics of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev's government say authorities in the oil-rich Caucasus state frequently seek to silence dissent by jailing opposition activists, journalists, and civil-society advocates on trumped-up charges.

The crackdown on Abzas Media has sparked a wave of condemnation from human rights groups and journalism watchdogs.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) released a statement for the immediate release of Absalamova and her colleagues.

"The continued arrests of Abzas Media journalists are unacceptable and only show how Azerbaijani authorities are unable to forgive the outlet for its bold anticorruption coverage," said CPJ's Carlos Martinez de la Serna.

"Journalists should not be prosecuted in retaliation for their vital public interest reporting, nor should they be used as pawns in diplomatic spats. Azerbaijani authorities must immediately release Nargiz Absalamova, her Abzas Media colleagues, and all other unjustly jailed journalists."

Amnesty International has demanded the journalists' immediate release, saying the government's campaign "fits into a pattern of critics being arrested by the authorities to stifle their dissent," while Human Rights Watch (HRW) chided Azerbaijani authorities for pursuing "dubious, punitive criminal charges against their critics."

Aliyev has repeatedly rejected criticism from rights groups and Western governments accusing him of jailing his opponents and abusing power to stifle dissent.

Earlier this week, Azerbaijan's Foreign Ministry summoned the U.S., French, and German envoys to protest what it called "illegal financial operations" by organizations located in the three countries to support Abzas.

Aliyev has ruled Azerbaijan with an iron fist since 2003, taking over for his father, Heydar Aliyev, who served as president for a decade.

Ukraine Repels Russian Drone Attack On Odesa Region 

Broken windows are seen near the site of a Russian missile strike. (file photo)
Broken windows are seen near the site of a Russian missile strike. (file photo)

Russian troops attacked the Odesa region with 11 Iranian-made kamikaze drones overnight, the Ukrainian Air Force Command reported early on December 2. Ukrainian air defense shot down 10 drones over Odesa and a guided missile in Dnipropetrovsk region, the Command said on Telegram, adding that the drones had been launched from Cape Chauda in Russian-occupied Crimea. To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, click here.

Second Batch Of Ukraine Troops Finish Training On Patriot In Germany

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz meets with members of the Patriot air-defense system unit as he visits the Cologne-Bonn Air Force on October 23.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz meets with members of the Patriot air-defense system unit as he visits the Cologne-Bonn Air Force on October 23.

Germany's army, the Bundeswehr, has trained a second group of Ukrainian soldiers on the Patriot air-defense system. After more than six weeks, the training of around 70 men and women was nearing completion. The defense of Ukrainian airspace is a central task, said Lieutenant General Andreas Marlow, commander of the multinational Special Training Command, during a visit to the training site. He pointed out that Russian attacks were specifically directed against civilian infrastructure in Ukraine.

Police Raid Gay Clubs, Saunas In Moscow As St. Petersburg Club Shuttered

LGBT activists protest in Moscow in July 2020. On November 30, Russia's Supreme Court declared "the international LGBT social movement" -- which legally does not exist -- as extremist.
LGBT activists protest in Moscow in July 2020. On November 30, Russia's Supreme Court declared "the international LGBT social movement" -- which legally does not exist -- as extremist.

Russian police have conducted raids on LGBT-friendly clubs and saunas in Moscow, the Caution, News site reported on its Telegram channel.

The overnight raids came just one day after the Supreme Court of Russia declared "the international LGBT social movement" -- which legally does not exist -- as extremist and banned all its activities effective immediately in a closed-doors ruling at the Justice Ministry's on November 30.

One of the clubs raided by the police under the pretext of searching for drugs hosted a party for the LGBT community attended by about 300 people.

The police checked the attendees’ documents and photographed their ID cards before releasing them.

Anger, Despair After Russia's Supreme Court Outlaws 'LGBT Movement'
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Similar raids took place in at least two more Moscow nightclubs, a bar, and a sauna under the same pretext of searching for drugs.

Although no drugs were found, masked police officers searching the sauna made everyone lie on the floor face-down, Caution, Moscow quoted witnesses as saying.

In Russia’s second-largest city, St. Petersburg, the Central Station gay club was closed down.

“The site we rented refused to allow us to work because of the [new] law. We apologize, we are no longer in business,” the club said on the VKontakte social media site.

The raids came as it remains unclear what or whom the new regulation will affect given that no LGBT social movement is even registered in Russia.

Authorities claim the alleged LGBT movement is, among other things, stirring social and religious unrest.

Activists and rights defenders have warned the newly adopted legislation could lead to the blanket prosecution of not just activists but also those who seek shelter from homophobic violence under a threat of up to 10 years of imprisonment.

On December 1, the human rights initiative LGBT+ Cause announced that it was ending its Russia operation following the Supreme Court's ruling.

"Due to external circumstances, we are forced to announce the self-dissolution of our initiative and, accordingly, the cessation of activities" in Russia, LGBT+ Cause said on Telegram.

LGBT+ Cause has been active in protect the rights of people discriminated against on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity.

Swiss Have Frozen $8.8 Billion Of Russian Assets

Protesters rally against Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine outside the United Nations in Geneva on February 26, 2022.
Protesters rally against Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine outside the United Nations in Geneva on February 26, 2022.

Switzerland has frozen an estimated 7.7 billion Swiss francs ($8.81 billion) in financial assets belonging to Russians, the government said on December 1, under sanctions designed to punish Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine. The figure, a provisional estimate, represented a slight increase from the 7.5 billion francs the Swiss government said it had blocked last year after the neutral country adopted European Union sanctions.

Polish, Ukrainian Ministers Meet To Seek Solutions To Trucker Blockade On Border

An aerial photo shows trucks standing in line at the Polish-Ukrainian border near the village of Hrebenne in southeastern Poland on November 27.
An aerial photo shows trucks standing in line at the Polish-Ukrainian border near the village of Hrebenne in southeastern Poland on November 27.

Ukrainian and Polish government officials met on December 1 in Warsaw to try to find ways to end a weekslong protest by Polish truckers who want the European Union to reintroduce entry permits for their Ukrainian competitors heading for EU countries.

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Polish transport companies have blocked three border crossings with Ukraine since November 6, demanding the reintroduction of the permits, which the EU waived after Russia invaded Ukraine last year.

As the government officials seek solutions, Ukraine’s ombudsman pointed to the urgency of the situation, saying it was “catastrophic” for Ukraine, while Slovak haulers also joined the protest at border crossings from their country into war-torn Ukraine.

The officials agreed at the Warsaw meeting to open the Ugriniv-Dolgobychev checkpoint for the passage of empty trucks from Ukraine to increase the capacity at the border and reduce the load on other checkpoints, the Ukrainian Ministry of Community, Territory, and Infrastructure Development said on Facebook.

They also agreed to create lanes for empty vehicles at two other checkpoints on both the Ukrainian and Polish sides and to launch a pilot electronic registration project for one month at another checkpoint.

The ministry emphasized in its message on Facebook that the issue of canceling or making changes to the entry permit policy was not discussed and was not on the agenda.

The protest has resulted in huge lines on both sides of the border, leaving drivers stuck in their vehicles in cold temperatures and with little food. Kyiv on December 1 said that some 2,100 trucks trying to enter Ukraine were blocked on the Polish side.

Ukrainian rights ombudsman Dmytro Lubinets said in a statement that the blockade has put Ukrainian drivers in such a dire situation that they plan to go on hunger strike if the situation is not improved.

"Blocking traffic on the border between Poland and Ukraine: the situation is catastrophic!" Lubinets said.

Ukrainian Truckers Still Stuck At Polish Border After Weeks Of Blockades
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Lubinets said he had contacted his Polish counterpart, Marcin Wiacek, but has not yet received a response.

The Warsaw meeting was between Jadwiga Emilewicz, Ukrainian deputy minister of community, territory, and infrastructure development, and Rafal Weber, Polish secretary of state of the Ministry of Infrastructure. Serhiy Derkach, a Ukrainian government commissioner for Polish-Ukrainian development cooperation, chaired the meeting.

Ukraine rejects the Polish protesters’ demands, saying they are discriminatory. The Ukrainian ministry said this was confirmed on November 30 in a meeting of the Ukraine-Poland-EU Coordination Platform, adding that it is working with the European Commission to develop “strategic solutions that will resolve the situation with queues at the border and reduce tension in the issue of road transportation.”

The Federation of Employers of Ukraine and the Association of International Motor Carriers last month appealed to President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen regarding the blockade, which the association estimated has cost the Ukrainian economy hundreds of millions of euros.

With reporting by AFP

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