Accessibility links

Breaking News



Rights Groups Say Russian Secret Services Hiding Estemirova's Killer

People pray during the burial of murdered human rights activist Natalya Estemirova at a cemetery in Koshkeldy, 70 kilometers east of Grozny, on July 17, 2009.
It was two years ago that rights worker Natalya Estemirova was kidnapped from outside her home in the Chechen capital, Grozny, and slain with shots to the head and chest.

Now, on the anniversary of her killing -- on July 15, 2009 -- journalists and rights activists inside and outside of Russia say little progress has been made in resolving her murder and are calling for a thorough and impartial investigation into her death.

The Russian rights group Memorial -- Estemirova's employer at the time of her death -- has collaborated with the independent "Novaya gazeta" newspaper and the Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights to conduct its own investigation into the killing of the 50-year-old activist.

Their findings -- presented to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev last week and leaked to the media on July 14 -- suggest that the government investigation is on the wrong track and that the secret services were used to concoct a false version of events to steer attention away from the true killers.

Natalya Estemirova
Friederike Behr works in the Moscow office with Amnesty International, one of the rights groups behind a separate press release calling for renewed efforts to fully investigate the murder.

She said the new report didn't put blame on specific authorities but pointed to critical gaps in the investigation -- including DNA evidence found on Estemirova's fingernails and clothes -- that make it impossible to adequately judge who was behind the killing.

"It's not convincingly proven that the current theory published by the investigation committee -- that she was murdered by members of an armed group -- is founded in sufficient evidence," Behr said, "and that with all the other leads suggesting that she was murdered maybe by staff members of law enforcement agencies, that there's really not enough evidence to prove that this version can be excluded."

Medvedev used the first anniversary of Estemirova's killing to announce that authorities had uncovered the killer and were looking for the masterminds behind the attack. Government investigators claim the activist was murdered by Chechen insurgents in retaliation for exposing some of their crimes.

But the new independent report disputes that theory, saying the circumstances of Estemirova's death point to the possible involvement of public officials.

Chechen authorities, including President Ramzan Kadyrov, had publicly criticized Estemirova for her reporting on human rights abuses in the North Caucasus republic, including extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, and torture by the Chechen government. Just weeks before her death, Estemirova had exposed a case of extrajudicial killing by local police. Federal investigators, however, have failed to explore any possible role of the police in her killing.

Estemirova had frequently been threatened and harassed for her human rights work. Rachel Denber, who works in the New York office of Human Rights Watch, said the authorities' selective investigation into the murder "raises more questions than it resolves."

"There were very strong circumstances around Estemirova's murder that suggested that there could have been some official involvement," Denber said. "You know, the threats that had been made against Estemirova and others like her, the threats against Memorial, the timing of the threat, the kinds of crimes that Estemirova had been investigating -- all of that pointed to a very strong official interest in seeing some kind of harm done to her."

Rights groups say the Russian government is obligated under both domestic and international law to investigate Estemirova's case properly and prosecute all responsible, regardless of rank or position. Without such a commitment, Denber said, activists like Estemirova continue their work in the North Caucasus "at serious peril."

written by Daisy Sindelar

All Of The Latest News

World Bank Now Projects Return To Weak Growth In 2023 In Europe, Central Asia

The World Bank estimated that more than 14 million people have been displaced by the war.

The World Bank says countries in its Europe and Central Asia region will return to weak growth in 2023 "reflecting negative spillovers" from the war in Ukraine.

The World Bank said the collective GDP in its Europe and Central Asia region was now expected to grow by 0.3 percent in 2023.

That will follow contraction now forecast to be 0.2 percent this year, the World Bank said in an economic update for Europe and Central Asia released on October 4.

The bank noted that the 0.2 percent contraction forecast for 2022 was a marked improvement over the bank's forecast in June of a contraction of 2.9 percent.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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

The new forecasts for the 23-countriy region, including Ukraine and Russia, reflect better-than-expected resilience in some of the region's largest economies along with extensions of pandemic-era stimulus programs in some countries.

The report said the bank now expects the economy of Ukraine to shrink 35 percent this year, an improvement over the 45 percent contraction forecast earlier this year.

Ukraine's economy has been "scarred by the destruction of productive capacity, damage to agricultural land, and reduced labor supply," the report said. It also estimates more than 14 million people have been displaced by the war.

Recovery and reconstruction will require at least $349 billion, or more than 1 1/2 times the size of Ukraine's prewar economy, the report said.

The World Bank also said the ongoing war dampens prospects of a post-pandemic recovery for emerging and developing economies in the region.

"The overlapping crises of the war in Ukraine, the ongoing pandemic and the surge in food and fuel prices are painful reminders that governments need to be prepared to manage massive, unexpected shocks that unravel very quickly," Anna Bjerde, the World Bank's vice president for Europe and Central Asia, said in a statement.

"Ukraine continues to need enormous financial support as the war needlessly rages on as well as for recovery and reconstruction projects that could be quickly initiated," Bjerde added.

The World Bank said Russia's economy was now forecast to contract by 4.5 percent in 2022, compared with an 8.9 percent contraction estimated in June. Russia's economy is forecast to shrink by 3.6 percent in 2023, it said.

In a separate note on the impact of the global energy crisis, the World Bank said an extended cutoff of energy supplies to the European Union could trigger a recession for the European and Central Asian countries.

The impact will be greater on countries more dependent on Russian natural gas and less on countries with access to alternate gas supplies or more domestic energy production.

The report notes that global prices for oil, gas, and coal had been picking up since early 2021 but they "skyrocketed" after Russia's invasion and that helped inflation climb "to levels not seen for decades in the region."

This is especially painful for countries that rely on imported energy and "countries closely connected with EU energy markets," and the bank said countries should prepare for shortages.

The regional grouping includes Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Poland, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan.

With reporting by Reuters and AFP

Head Of Ukraine's National Bank Resigns, Citing Health

UKRAINE -- Kyrylo Shevchenko, Ukraine's Central Bank Governor, speaks during an interview with Reuters in Kyiv, February 1, 2021

Ukrainian central-bank Governor Kyrylo Shevchenko has submitted his resignation, saying he has decided to quit for health reasons.

"Due to health-related issues that can no longer be ignored, I have made a difficult decision for myself. I am leaving the post of chairman of the National Bank of Ukraine," he said.

The 49-year-old added that he had asked President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to accept his resignation.

Shevchenko said that he came to work at the National Bank of Ukraine (NBU) primarily as an anti-crisis manager, and he is leaving with the bank "stronger than ever in its ability to meet challenges and overcome crises."

His successor will find that he is "handing over a strong, capitalized, sustainable banking system" that he believes "will remain so in the future," he said.

Until a successor is named, the board of the NBU will continue to perform its functions and manage the activities of the regulator with its current composition.

With reporting by Reuters

Ukraine Blasts Billionaire Musk's Plan To End War For Rewarding Russia

SpaceX owner and Tesla CEO Elon Musk has come under harsh criticism for his proposal.

Billionaire Elon Musk has come under heavy criticism for asking his more than 107 million Twitter followers to weigh in on his proposal to end the war in Ukraine under which Ukraine would cede Crimea, allow new referendums on Russian-occupied land, and agree to neutrality.

The Tesla and SpaceX CEO made his arguments in a series of tweets that in addition to proposing that Ukraine drop a bid to join NATO, said Russia should be allowed to keep the Crimean Peninsula, which it seized in 2014.

Musk also suggested that four regions Russia moved to illegally annex following Kremlin-orchestrated referendums denounced by the West as "sham" votes should repeat them under UN supervision.

As part of his proposal Musk launched a Twitter poll asking whether "the will of the people" should decide if seized regions remain part of Ukraine or become part of Russia.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who has pledged to recover all the territory captured by Russia in the war and reclaim Crimea, responded by posting a Twitter poll of his own asking users to vote for "which @elonmusk do you like more?" "One who supports Ukraine" or "One who supports Russia."

Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba denounced Musk's proposal as rewarding Russia for its invasion.

"Those who propose Ukraine to give up on its people and land -- presumably not to hurt [Russian President Vladimir] Putin's bruised ego or to save Ukraine from suffering -- must stop using word 'peace' as an euphemism to 'let Russians murder and rape thousands more innocent Ukrainians, and grab more land,'" Kuleba tweeted.

Musk replied to Zelenskiy that he still "very much" supported Ukraine, but said he was "convinced that massive escalation of the war will cause great harm to Ukraine and possibly the world."

The billionaire businessman said in another tweet that Russia would "go to full war mobilization if Crimea is at risk" and the "death on both sides will be devastating," noting that Russia has a population more than three times that of Ukraine, making victory for Ukraine unlikely.

"If you care about the people of Ukraine, seek peace," he said.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov responded by saying it was "very positive that somebody like Elon Musk is looking for a peaceful way out of this situation" but warned that Russia will not backtrack on its move to absorb the Ukrainian regions.

Ukraine and the West have said that the hastily organized votes in four occupied or partially occupied regions last month were rigged and have condemned them as illegal.

Many Twitter users, including Russian chess champion and anti-Putin political activist Garry Kasparov, bashed Musk's plan.

"This is moral idiocy, repetition of Kremlin propaganda, a betrayal of Ukrainian courage and sacrifice, and puts a few minutes browsing Crimea on Wikipedia over the current horrific reality of Putin's bloody war," Kasparov tweeted.

With reporting by AP and Reuters

Iranian Protests Broaden As Raisi Calls For National Unity

Iranian students remove their headscarves in support of protests over the death of Mahsa Amini.

Iranians have taken to the streets for a 17th consecutive day in anti-government protests triggered by the death in custody of a young woman as President Ebrahim Raisi appealed for unity.

Universities and high schools joined the protests on October 4, highlighting the broadening of demonstrations that have followed the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in custody for allegedly improperly wearing a hijab.

Videos posted on social media showed unrest in the cities of Tehran, Karaj, Shiraz, and Isfahan, with demonstrators shouting slogans such as "Death to the dictator."

During a session of parliament, Raisi acknowledged "weaknesses and shortcomings" in the country.

"Today the country's determination is aimed at cooperation to reduce people's problems," he told the session. "Unity and national integrity are necessities that render our enemy hopeless."

At the same time he echoed other officials, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in blaming the United States and Israel for inciting the unrest.

Iran has also blamed the unrest on Kurdish opposition groups in the country's northwest that operate along the border with Iraq.

Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) on October 4 bombed three bases belonging to Kurdish militant groups in Iraq's semiautonomous Kurdish region using drones and artillery, the semiofficial Tasnim news agency reported. It was the latest in a series of bombardments carried out by the IRGC that killed at least nine people last month.

The scope of the ongoing unrest, the most sustained in over a decade, has been difficult to verify as the government blocks access to social media and the Internet.

Witnesses have reported spontaneous gatherings across the country featuring small acts of defiance -- such as protesters shouting slogans from rooftops, cutting their hair, and burning their state-mandated headscarves.

WATCH: Video has emerged of angry female students, some of them with their hair uncovered, allegedly confronting an Education Ministry official and forcing him out of their school in the city of Karaj, west of Tehran.

Angry Female Students Drive Iranian Government Official From Their School
please wait

No media source currently available

0:00 0:02:17 0:00

The Tehranpars and Ekbatan neighborhoods have been among the centers of the protests in Tehran, with the sound of gunshots sometimes heard in the background.

Medical students at Gilan University on October 4 protested the use of ambulances by the security forces to suppress demonstrations.

Videos released on October 4 also the shops on Taleghani Street in the central Iranian city of Isfahan closed as part of a strike.

Reports from Amini's hometown of Saghez in Kurdistan Province indicate that teachers are on strike in schools as well as female students protesting in the street.

Schoolgirls in Saghez were shown chanting "Don't be afraid, we are all together" in the street.

The European Union says it is weighing tough new sanctions over the crackdown.

Foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the bloc was considering "all the options at our disposal, including restrictive measures, to address the killing of Mahsa Amini and the way Iranian security forces have been responding to the demonstrations."

Borrell's comment came after France said it was pushing the bloc to target senior officials with punitive measures, including "freezing their assets and their right to travel."

U.S. President Joe Biden said earlier this week that the United States would impose "further costs" this week on "perpetrators of violence against peaceful protesters" in Iran.

Amini's death on September 16 has unleashed a wave of anger over the enforcement of a rule that women must cover their head in public, which they say highlights the lack of women's rights in Iran.

Officials say she died of a heart attack, while her relatives and supporters say eyewitness reports indicated she was beaten while being arrested.

Hundreds of people including artists, activists, and journalists have been arrested since the protests erupted.

Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda. With reporting by AFP and AP

Former U.S. Marine Sentenced To 4 1/2 Years In Prison For Attacking Russian Police Officer

Police pulled Gilman off a train in Voronezh in January after complaints from fellow passengers about his behavior, according to the prosecution.

A court in the western Russian city of Voronezh has sentenced a former U.S. Marine to 4 1/2 years in prison for attacking a police officer while drunk, Russian news agencies reported.

The American, named by TASS as Robert Gilman, 28, intends to file an appeal, his lawyer said, according to the agency.

Police pulled Gilman off a train in Voronezh in January after complaints from fellow passengers about his behavior, according to the prosecution.

While in custody, Gilman was accused of kicking a police officer, leaving him with bruises.

"This man, who disagreed with lawful actions taken by the authorities, used violence against a police officer who was on duty, kicking him several times," the Investigative Committee said in a statement.

Gilman, who went to Russia to study and obtain citizenship, told the court in Voronezh that he did not remember the incident but "apologized to Russia" and to the police officer.

Russia has sentenced several U.S. citizens to lengthy prison terms in recent years. American basketball star Brittney Griner was sentenced in August to nine years in prison after being found in possession of cannabis oil in vape cartridges.

Paul Whelan, another former U.S. Marine, is serving 16 years in prison on espionage charges that he denies.

Russian officials have said they are in talks with Washington about possible prisoner exchanges. Media reports say they could involve convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout, who is serving a 25-year sentence in the United States.

In April, Russia and the United States swapped Trevor Reed for a Russian pilot convicted of drug smuggling. Reed, also a former U.S. Marine, was sentenced to nine years in prison after allegedly attacking police officers while drunk.

Based on reporting by Reuters, AFP, and Interfax

IAEA Chief Says Ukrainian Nuclear Plant Chief Will Not Return To Job After Russian Abduction

Petro Kotin speaks during an interview with Reuters in Kyiv in September.

The head of the UN nuclear watchdog has said the director of the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant in Ukraine, who was recently released after reports that he had been abducted by Russian forces, will not return to his job.

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Rafael Grossi said in a statement that Ihor Murashov was with his family in territory controlled by Ukraine "and will not be continuing with his duties" at the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant.

It is not yet clear who will replace him, Grossi said in the statement, which added that the absence of Murashov "had an immediate and serious impact on decision-making in ensuring the safety and security of the plant."

Grossi on October 3 welcomed the release of Murashov, who, according to Enerhoatom, the Ukrainian state company that oversees the plant, was taken out of a car on October 1, blindfolded, and driven in an unknown direction.

The IAEA said his detention had a "very significant impact" on him.

Grossi also said in his statement on October 4 that he plans to travel to Kyiv and then to Moscow later this week to continue his consultations aimed at agreeing and implementing a safety and security protection zone around the plant.

The IAEA has called for the creation of a the zone, but Russia has rejected the proposal.

The head of Enerhoatom earlier said it was considering restarting the Zaporizhzhya power plant, currently occupied by Russian troops, as a safety measure as winter nears.

In an interview with the AP published on October 4, Enerhoatom President Petro Kotin said the company could restart two of the reactors in a matter of days to protect safety installations as temperatures drop.

"If you have low temperature, you will just freeze everything inside. The safety equipment will be damaged," he said in his office at the company's Kyiv headquarters.

"So you need heating and the only heating is going to come from the working reactor," he added.

The last of the plant's six reactors was shut down on September 11 because Russian military activity had cut reliable external power supplies for cooling and other safety systems, threatening a potentially catastrophic meltdown that raised concern across the globe.

Russian troops occupy the plant and the surrounding area, including the nearby town of Enerhodar, where thousands of Ukrainian workers continue to maintain the facility.

The plant is also the only source of heat for the town, Kotin said, adding that a decision on a restart could be made as early as October 5.

"We at the moment are evaluating all the risks. And this depends on the weather. And actually, we don't have much time to do that," Kotin said.

With reporting by AP and Reuters

Navalny's Team To Resume Operations Of Banned Networks In Russia

Ivan Zhdanov (left) and Leonid Volkov said that a new network needs to operate like an "underground guerilla group." (file photo)

The team of jailed opposition leader Aleksei Navalny says it will resume operations across Russia despite being banned as "extremist" last year, after which many of the Kremlin critic's associates and supporters fled the country.

Navalny associates Leonid Volkov and Ivan Zhdanov said in a statement posted on YouTube on October 4 that after more than seven months of President Vladimir Putin's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, the regime had "weakened" and it is time for a new network to operate like an "underground guerilla group."

In recent months, many of Navalny's associates and members of his teams across Russia fled the country fearing for their safety amid a broad crackdown on political and civil dissent in Russia.

Zhdanov said in the video that the "safety of the group's members is a priority" and that a system has been set up to ensure the anonymity of any data transmitted through the group.

Volkov added that former members of Navalny's networks will only be considered part of the new organizations if they choose to join. He also called on the coordinators of groups currently protesting Russia's war in Ukraine to contact Navalny's team operating abroad.

Navalny, who suffered a near-fatal poisoning in August 2020 that he blames on Russian security operatives acting at the behest of President Vladimir Putin, has been in prison since February 2021. His Anti-Corruption Foundation and his network of regional offices also have been designated "extremist" organizations.

The anti-corruption campaigner was handed a 2 1/2-year prison sentence for violating the terms of an earlier parole during of his convalescence abroad. The original conviction is widely regarded as trumped-up and politically motivated.

The Kremlin has denied any involvement in Navalny's poisoning.

Tajik Journalist Sentenced To More Than Seven Years In Prison On Charges He Rejects

Abdullo Ghurbati (file photo)

DUSHANBE -- Noted Tajik journalist Abdullo Ghurbati has been sentenced to 7 1/2 years in prison on charges he and his supporters have called unfounded.

The Dushanbe-based Independent Center to Defend Human Rights, which provided Ghurbati with a lawyer, told RFE/RL that the verdict and sentence were pronounced on October 4 at a trial held behind closed doors on the premises of a detention center in the Tajik capital.

The court found Ghurbati guilty of publicly insulting an authority, minor assault of an authority, and participating in the activities of an extremist group.

The latter charge, the most serious, was linked to Ghurbati's business relations with Tajik businessman Idibek Latipov, who has been living and working in Egypt since 2007.

Investigators say Ghurbati received money from Latipov for making a YouTube video advertising his company, while Latipov was included on the Tajik National Bank's registry of individuals involved in "terrorist or extremist activities."

Ghurbati has insisted that he was not aware that Latipov was on the registry and that his ties with the man were purely business-related.

Latipov told RFE/RL by phone that his inclusion on the National Bank's registry was groundless.

Prosecutors sought eight years in prison for the journalist. Ghurbati's lawyer, Abdurahmon Sharipov, told RFE/RL that his client had continued to insist that he was not guilty during the trial.

Ghurbati and blogger Daleri Imomali, known for articles critical of the government, were detained on June 15 and subsequently sent to pretrial detention for two months.

Imomali was charged with illegal entrepreneurship and premeditated false denunciation. His trial is pending.

In June, Human Rights Watch demanded that Tajik officials immediately release Ghurbati and Imomali, saying that the two men "are being targeted for their professional activities, despite being protected by Tajikistan's laws and international obligations on freedom of expression and media freedom."

Tajik President Emomali Rahmon has been criticized by international human rights groups for years over his disregard for independent media, religious freedoms, civil society, and political pluralism in the tightly controlled former Soviet republic.

Daughter Of Journalist Who Set Self On Fire Charged With Discrediting Russian Army

Before setting herself on fire in front of police headquarters in Nizhny Novgorod, Irina Slavina wrote on Facebook, "Blame the Russian Federation for my death."

The daughter of the late Russian journalist Irina Slavina, who died two years ago after setting herself on fire in an apparent reaction to being under investigation, has been charged with discrediting Russia's armed forces.

Oleg Rodin, the chief of the opposition Yabloko party branch in the city of Nizhny Novgorod, tweeted that Margarita Murakhtayeva was charged on October 4 and faces a 50,000-ruble ($855) fine.

Two days earlier, Murakhtayeva staged a single-person picket to protest against Russia's ongoing invasion of Ukraine, launched by President Vladimir Putin in late February.

Murakhtayeva stood at the site where her mother burned herself to death on October 2, 2020, with a poster saying, "My mother would say 'Putin, go to hell with your war,' but Putin already killed her.

Before setting herself on fire in front of police headquarters in Nizhny Novgorod, Slavina wrote on Facebook, "Blame the Russian Federation for my death."

Slavina killed herself the day after a group of law enforcement officers searched her apartment in an attempt to find evidence linking her with the opposition Open Russia group. The officers confiscated Slavina's computers and mobile phones.

Slavina said at the time that she was left without the tools needed to do her job as a journalist, adding that she had never had any links with Open Russia.

Slavina's suicide caused a public outcry, with many people demanding justice for the journalist. However, the authorities refused to launch a probe into her death, saying there were no elements of a crime to investigate.

Slavina's Koza.Press online newspaper focused on shortcomings in the work of local authorities, cases of political persecution, and the illegal removal of historic buildings in the Nizhny Novgorod region.

The newspaper was shut down by her daughter after her death.

Several days after Russia launched its full-scale aggression against Ukraine, Putin signed a law that criminalized the dissemination of "fake" reports that purportedly "discredit the armed forces."

With reporting by SOTA

Iranian Filmmaker Jailed For Six Years Amid Crackdown On Dissent

Mostafa al-Ahmad (file photo)

Iranian director Mostafa al-Ahmad, one of three prominent filmmakers detained as part of a broad crackdown against dissent, has been sentenced to more than six years in prison.

The Islamic Revolutionary Court of Tehran handed Ahmad three cumulative prison sentences: three years and eight months for illegal assembly and collusion, eight months for propaganda against Iran, and two years for publishing falsehoods.

The court also ordered him to pay a fine of 150 million rials ($450), banned him from leaving the country for two years, and forbade him to take part in social or political groups.

Ahmad, 52, was arrested in July as the authorities cracked down on dissent in response to growing anti-establishment sentiment and near-daily protests across the Islamic republic.

Fellow filmmakers Mohammad Rasulof and Jafar Panahi were arrested around the same time.

The arrests have prompted international criticism.

Just days prior to his arrest, Ahmad had joined a group of more than 300 Iranian filmmakers in publishing an open letter calling on the security forces to "lay down arms" in the face of public outrage over "corruption, theft, inefficiency, and repression" following the violent crackdown against those protesting a building collapse in May in the southwestern city of Abadan, which killed 41 people.

Ahmad's lawyers said they would appeal the sentence, which comes amid anti-government protests over the death of Mahsa Amini, 22, after she was taken into custody by morality police for the alleged improper wearing of a headscarf or hijab.

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

Italian Woman Arrested In Iran Amid Amini Protests

Alessia Piperno

An Italian woman has been arrested in Iran amid a wave of protests triggered by the death in custody of a young woman detained by morality police for "improperly" wearing a mandatory headscarf, or hijab.

Anger over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini on September 16 has swept Iran, with demonstrations in cities across the country.

Alessia Piperno's parents told the Italian newspaper Il Messaggero on October 3 that the previous day their daughter informed the family she had been detained after having been out of reach for four days.

The parents said Alessia told them during a short phone call that "they arrested me, and I am in Tehran prison. Please help."

Piperno, 30, is a solo world traveler who has been in Iran for 2 1/2 months.

She told her parents that she was unharmed, but added, "there are people in prison who have been detained for months without any reason." She told her parents she was worried that she will suffer the same fate.

According to her Instagram page, she was impressed by the courage of the Iranian people. "This land welcomed me with open arms, and it went straight into my heart," Il Messaggero quoted Piperno as saying in her latest post.

Iran has repeatedly accused outside forces of stoking the protests and last week said nine foreign nationals -- including from France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Poland -- had been arrested.

Piperno is one of more than a dozen foreign nationals or people with dual Iranian citizenship being held in Iran.

Two French nationals -- 37-year-old Cecile Kohler and her 69-year-old partner, Jacques Paris -- were also recently detained in Iran, accused of seeking to foment labor unrest in the country.

Western countries have repeatedly charged that Iran is trying to take advantage of foreign countries by taking dual and foreign nationals hostage.

The arrest also comes as Iran and world powers negotiations over a revamped version of the 2015 nuclear deal have hit a dead end.

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

Japan Expels Russian Diplomat In Tit-For-Tat Move

Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi (file photo)

In a tit-for-tat move, Tokyo has ordered a senior Russian official stationed in the country to leave following Russia's decision last week to expel a Japanese diplomat over alleged spying.

Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi said on October 4 that a Russian consul in the northern city of Sapporo will be expelled "as a corresponding measure to Russia's actions."

The statement comes after Russia said on September 26 that a Japanese diplomat in the eastern city of Vladivostok was detained and ordered to leave the country for suspected espionage, claiming that the consul allegedly sought "restricted" information.

It said the diplomat, identified as Motoki Tatsunori, was caught receiving information on the economic effects of Western sanctions on Russia in exchange for a "monetary reward."

The Russian Foreign Ministry said Tatsunori had been declared persona non grata and given 48 hours to leave Russia.

With reporting by Kyodo and AFP

Siberian Anti-Putin Shaman's Forced Psychiatric Care Extended Again

Aleksandr Gabyshev (with beard) attracted attention when he announced in 2019 that he would trek across Russia to exorcise Vladimir Putin from power.

USSURIISK, Russia -- A court in the Far East has again extended the forced detention in a psychiatric clinic of a Yakut shaman who became known across Russia for his attempts to march to Moscow to drive President Vladimir Putin out of the Kremlin.

Aleksandr Gabyshev's lawyer, Aleksei Pryanishnikov, said on October 4 that the Ussuriisk district court rejected his client's request to be medically examined in Moscow's Serbsky clinic.

Pryanishnikov said he will appeal the ruling.

The day before, Gabyshev's doctor was suddenly replaced, which Pryanishnikov and the shaman's supporters called a move to falsify his medical assessment before the court hearing.

In early September, the Primorye regional court ruled in favor of Gabyshev's appeal against the extension of his forced treatment and sent the case back to the Ussuriisk district court for a new hearing, citing inconsistences in medical conclusions regarding the case.

In early August, the Ussuriisk district court ruled that Gabyshev must continue psychiatric treatment even though a month earlier, a team of psychiatrists concluded that Gabyshev could be transferred from a psychiatric clinic to a regular hospital because his "condition had improved."

However, several days later, a new medical commission concluded that the shaman's mental health "had worsened" and he must be transferred back to a psychiatric clinic.

Gabyshev, who has been stopped several times by the Russian authorities since 2019, when he tried to march from his native Siberian region of Yakutia to Moscow with the stated goal of driving Putin out of office, was sent to a psychiatric clinic against his will in July after a court found him "mentally unfit."

During the hearing, the court accused him of committing a "violent act against a police officer" when he was being forcibly removed from his home to be taken to a psychiatric clinic in late January.

The ruling was challenged by Gabyshev's lawyers and supporters who say his detention is an attempt to silence dissent.

The Memorial Human Rights Center in Russia has recognized Gabyshev as a political prisoner and Amnesty International has launched a campaign calling for his release.

Kazakh Interior Minister Says 200,000 Russians Have Entered Country Since Mobilization

Russians wait to cross into Kazakhstan at the Zhanibek border crossing on Septembr 29.

ASTANA -- Kazakh Interior Minister Marat Akhmetzhanov says 200,000 Russian citizens have entered the country since Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a partial mobilization on September 21 amid Moscow’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

Akhmetzhanov also said on October 4 that 147,000 Russian citizens left Kazakhstan in the same period of time. He did not mention where the Russians were heading but last week Kazakh authorities said that tens of thousands of those Russians who entered Kazakhstan in recent days, moved further to neighboring Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.

Akhmetzhanov said that the number of Russians entering Kazakhstan has started decreasing since the weekend. Media reports said earlier that Russian authorities had placed mobile conscription stations at Russian-Kazakh border checkpoints.

Akhmetzhanov said last week that Kazakhstan will extradite Russian citizens to Russia only if they are officially added to international wanted lists.

Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev said earlier that he plans to hold talks with the Russian government regarding the influx of Russians, mostly males, to the country after the start of Russia's mobilization.

Kazakhstan's Digital Development Ministry said on October 4 that since September 21, more than 70,000 Russian citizens had applied and received personal identification numbers that allows them to set up bank accounts and work in Kazakhstan.

RFE/RL's correspondents from many towns and cities in Kazakhstan report that long lines of mostly Russian citizens continue to stand next to Public Service Centers seeking to receive such numbers.

Russian citizens do not need travel passports or visas to enter Kazakhstan for 30 days.

Russia Again Fines Twitch, TikTok For Failing To Delete 'Illegal' Information

(file photo)

A court in Moscow has fined the interactive livestreaming application Twitch and the TikTok video hosting service for failing to delete content from its platform that the Russian government deems illegal as the Kremlin continues to ramp up pressure on social media networks.

The Magistrate Court of the Taganka district ruled on October 4 that Twitch must pay 4 million rubles ($68,400) for failing to take down materials related to Russia's ongoing unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

The court also ordered the TikTok company to pay 3 million rubles ($51,300) for failing to delete content that Russian authorities consider as LGBT propaganda among minors.

Two weeks earlier, the court ordered Twitch to pay a 2-million-ruble ($32,800) fine for its failure to remove materials related to the war in Ukraine.

President Vladimir Putin has accused social media platforms and other foreign-based tech companies of flouting the country's Internet laws. He has been pushing ways to force foreign firms to open offices in Russia and to store users' personal data locally.

In recent months, Russian courts have fined Twitch, TikTok, Google, Facebook, and Twitter over the personal-data issue, as well as for refusing to delete content deemed to be banned by Russian laws.

Many critics have accused the Russian authorities of trying to quell dissent by imposing stricter regulations on Internet companies.

Based on reporting by TASS and Interfax

Bulgarian Ex-PM Borisov Seeks Coalition Talks After Election Victory

Former Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov

Bulgaria's center-right GERB party, the winner of the country's October 2 snap election, will initiate negotiations with other parties to try to form a government, GERB leader Boyko Borisov, the former long-serving prime minister, said on October 4.

Borisov said he was ready to give up the prime minister position if that was what was needed to agree to a functioning coalition, and added that a new early election -- following four already in the last two years -- would not produce different results.

GERB won the election with 25.3 percent of the votes, but faces a challenge to forge a ruling coalition in a hung parliament.

The early election came after a fragile coalition led by Kiril Petkov of the reformist anti-corruption We Continue the Change party lost a no-confidence vote in June. We Continue the Change came in second, with 20.2 percent.

The southeastern EU member country of nearly 7 million people has been plagued by political gridlock since 2020 when it was rocked by nationwide protests, as public anger over years of corruption boiled over. Much of the ire was directed at Borisov and his GERB party.

With reporting by Reuters

Biden Pledges $625 Million In Military Aid During Call With Zelenskiy

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy

U.S. President Joe Biden has told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in a phone call that the United States will provide Kyiv with $625 million in new security assistance, the White House said.

The assistance will include more high-mobility artillery rocket systems (HIMARS), ammunition, and armored vehicles, the White House said in a statement.

Biden "pledged to continue supporting Ukraine as it defends itself from Russian aggression for as long as it takes," the statement said.

The U.S. president also affirmed that the United States was prepared "to impose severe costs on any individual, entity, or country that provides support to Russia's purported annexation."

The statement noted that Biden was joined on the call by Vice President Kamala Harris.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement that the $625 million in aid will be the 22nd drawdown of U.S. arms and equipment for Ukraine since August 2021 from Department of Defense inventories and will bring the total U.S. military assistance for Ukraine to more than $17.5 billion since the beginning of the Biden administration.

"The capabilities we are delivering are carefully calibrated to make the most difference on the battlefield and strengthen Ukraine's hand at the negotiating table when the time is right," Blinken said.

Zelenskiy thanked Biden and the American people for "continued defense and financial support," and said the discussion included "additional sanctions [and] the situation on the battlefield," according to Zelenskiy on Facebook.

"I enjoyed hearing President Biden say that our military inspires the world, our people inspire the world," he added.

Zelenskiy earlier on October 4 signed a decree that officially declares any negotiations between Kyiv and Russian President Vladimir Putin "impossible."

The decree implemented a decision by Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council and formalized comments made by Zelenskiy on September 30 after Putin proclaimed four regions of Ukraine partially occupied by Moscow as being a part of Russia, in what Kyiv and the West said was an illegitimate farce.

"He (Putin) does not know what dignity and honesty are. Therefore, we are ready for a dialogue with Russia, but with another president of Russia," Zelenskiy said on September 30.

The decree also states that Ukraine will use military means to bring the territories occupied by Russia back under its control.

The White House statement reiterated Washington's position that it will never recognize Russian annexation of Ukrainian territory.

Zelenskiy's decree came as Kyiv's forces reportedly broke through Russian defenses in southern Ukraine and expanded a rapid offensive in the east, seizing back territory in areas declared annexed by Russia.

Putin, who turns 70 this week, could run for office two more times under constitutional amendments he presided over, potentially remaining in power until 2036.

With reporting by Reuters

Russian Parliament's Upper Chamber Ratifies Annexation Of Four Ukrainian Regions

All of the 153 deputies who were present at the Federation Council session on October 4 voted for the annexation of parts of Ukraine's Zaporizhzhya, Kherson, Donetsk, and Luhansk regions, which represent around 18 percent of Ukraine. (file photo)

MOSCOW -- The upper chamber of Russia's parliament, the Federation Council, has ratified agreements incorporating four regions of Ukraine into Russia, a further step toward the formal annexation of the territories, which has been met with condemnation from the West.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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

All of the 153 deputies who were present at the session on October 4 voted for the annexation of parts of Ukraine's Zaporizhzhya, Kherson, Donetsk, and Luhansk regions, which represent around 18 percent of Ukraine.

A day earlier, parliament's lower chamber, the State Duma, approved the move. The final step in the process is the signing of the documents into law by President Vladimir Putin.

Russia is following through on the annexations after holding what it called referendums in occupied areas of Ukraine. Western governments and Kyiv have called the votes a "sham" and said they breached international law and were coercive and nonrepresentative.

According to the agreements, signed last week between Putin and Moscow-backed officials in the four regions, the transitional period for the annexed territories to become fully incorporated into Russia will last until January 1, 2026. Local elections in the territories are scheduled for September 10, 2023.

Russia does not fully control any of the four regions and the Kremlin has yet to formally designate the new borders as large parts of the territory is still under the control of Ukraine's forces.

The documents, however, say that the Donetsk and Luhansk regions will be absorbed by Russia as the Donetsk People's Republic and the Luhansk People's Republic. The borders will be set according to 2014, when parts of the two regions were forcibly taken under control by Russia-backed separatists.

Part of Ukraine's Mykolayiv region, which is under the control of Russian armed forces, will be annexed as part of the Kherson region, the documents say.

Ukrainians living in the annexed territories will be considered Russian citizens unless they inform local authorities that they do not want to do so. They have one month, according to the agreement, to make the choice.

The annexations have been called a breach of international law, with U.S. President Joe Biden saying Washington "will never recognize Ukrainian territory as anything other than part of Ukraine."

Roskosmos Discussing Extension Of Russia's Participation In ISS Past 2024, Says Official

The International Space Station has now been continuously occupied for more than 21 years. (file photo)

Roskosmos, Russia's space agency, is seeking a continuation of its participation in the International Space Station (ISS) past 2024, an agency official said on October 3.

As relations between the West and Russia have become increasingly tense over Moscow's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, Roskosmos chief Yury Borissov had said over the summer that Russia would leave the ISS "after 2024," and would seek to build its own space station.

But Sergei Krikalyov, the head of Russia's human space flight programs, told reporters on October 3 that Roskosmos had started "to discuss extending our participation in the ISS program with our government and hope to have permission to continue next year."

Krikalyov has not announced a clear date for that plan. He said that building a new station would not happen quickly, "so probably we will keep flying until we will have any new infrastructure."

He made his remarks in English during a NASA press conference ahead of the October 5 launch of a SpaceX rocket that will carry a Russian cosmonaut, two American astronauts, and a Japanese astronaut to the ISS.

ISS partner countries -- the United States, Russia, Europe, Canada, and Japan -- are currently committed to operate the orbiting laboratory only until 2024, though U.S. officials have already stated they want to continue until 2030.

Based on reporting by AFP and TASS

Hungary Begins Process Of Passing Reforms To Meet Commitments It Made To EU

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban (file photo)

The Hungarian parliament on October 3 began passing reforms to try to appease Brussels' concerns about democratic backsliding and Hungary's rule-of-law record.

The first legal changes, which are also aimed at ensuring the release of billions of euros in EU funds that Brussels has threatened to withhold, were adopted by large majorities, according to the results of the votes published on the parliament's website.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban's ruling Fidesz party is expected to pass a total of 17 changes aimed at monitoring the use of EU funds and making the legislative process more transparent.

Orban's government committed to passing the changes to stave off the suspension of EU money at a time when Hungary’s economy is headed into recession and the forint has plunged to record lows.

The first change adopted on October 3 will allow people to file a complaint in court to seek to open corruption investigations. The second aims to strengthen the transparency of the legislative process by making a public consultation mandatory before the adoption of a law.

Another reform that passed on October 3 sets up a procedure concerning criminal offences related to the management of public property. It allows a judicial review if an investigation is closed without indictment or a crime report is dismissed.

A measure expected to be passed by parliament on October 4 with other reforms would create an independent authority to better control the use of EU funds.

The European Union's executive arm proposed last month the suspension of 7.5 billion euros ($7.3 billion) in financing for Hungary over concerns that Orban is undercutting the rule of law and using EU money to enrich family members and cronies.

Also last month, the European Parliament in a symbolic vote declared that Hungary was no longer a full democracy but a "hybrid regime of electoral autocracy.”

The vote angered the Central European nation of 10 million people, which depends heavily on EU funds, and like the rest of Europe, has seen its economy hit by ripple effects from the Ukraine war.

Orban, who denies that Hungary is any more corrupt than other EU member states, has long been at odds with the bloc.

He has tightened state control over media, courts, academia, and migrants from Africa and the Middle East and NGOs that support them. He has also clashed with the EU over alleged discrimination against LGBT people.

But his government now appears willing to fulfill demands to create institutions to support democratic checks and balances and reduce the risk of corruption.

The EU will have until November 19 to assess Hungary's actions. A favorable decision could ease pressure on the forint and Hungarian assets. Otherwise, the EU could move ahead with cutting the 7.5 billion euros, the equivalent to about 5 percent of the country's estimated gross domestic product for 2022.

With reporting by Reuters and AFP

Ukrainian Forces Advance In South, Repel Russian Attacks In Donbas

A Ukrainian serviceman walks along a road while searching for dead bodies of his comrades killed in the recently recaptured town of Lyman on October 3.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has said that his country's troops are pressing ahead with advances against Russian forces after liberating more towns in a number of areas.

Zelenskiy gave no further details in announcing in his nightly video address that the “offensive movement of our army and all our defenders continued” on October 3.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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

But Ukrainian officials and a Russian-installed leader said Kyiv's forces continued their advance in the south on October 3, recapturing several villages along the strategic Dnieper River, which bisects the country.

The Ukrainian military's southern operational command said in a nightly update that its forces in the south destroyed 31 Russian tanks and one multiple-rocket launcher, without providing details of where the fighting occurred.

The account could not be independently confirmed.

"New population centers have been liberated in several regions. Fierce fighting continues in many areas of the front," Zelenskiy said without specifying which settlements had been liberated.

He added that “more and more occupiers are trying to escape, more and more losses are being borne by the enemy army, and there is a growing understanding that Russia made a mistake by going to war against Ukraine."

A day earlier Zelenskiy said its forces took full control of the strategic eastern city of Lyman in the Donetsk region.

The recapture of Lyman was the Ukrainian forces’ most significant battlefield gain in weeks and followed a counteroffensive in the Kharkiv region to the north that drove out Russian troops and stunned many observers.

The fall of Lyman was also the latest setback for Russian President Vladimir Putin, coming one day after he proclaimed the illegal annexation of Donetsk and three other Ukrainian regions that have been partly occupied by Russian forces for months now.

Kyiv and the West have condemned the annexation declaration as illegal and a sham.

Serhiy Cherevatiy, a spokesman for the Eastern Group of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, said Ukrainian troops went on to liberate the settlement of Torske near Lyman on October 3.

In the south, Vladimir Saldo, the Russia-installed leader in occupied parts of Ukraine's Kherson province, told Russian state television that Ukrainian troops recaptured the town of Dudchany along the west bank of the Dnieper River.

"There are settlements that are occupied by Ukrainian forces," Saldo said.

Dudchany is located some 30 kilometers south of where the front stood before the Ukrainian breakthrough on October 3, indicating the fastest advance of the war in the south.

Russian military bloggers earlier on October 3 described a Ukrainian tank advance through dozens of kilometers of territory along the western bank of the Dnieper.

A senior U.S. military official said on October 3 that the attacks by Ukrainian forces have forced Russia into a “defensive crouch” in Kherson, hampering Russian efforts to resupply their front line troops.

Meanwhile, the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces reported in an update early on October 4 that, over the past several days, Ukrainian forces repelled Russian attacks on several settlements in Donetsk and one in Ternovy Pody, just north of the city of Kherson.

The General Staff's communique also said that Ukrainian forces destroyed three Russian anti-aircraft missile systems and two drones. The news could not be independently confirmed.

As Ukrainian forces pressed their counterattacks in the east and the south, the Russian military launched more missile strikes at Ukrainian cities on October 3.

Several Russian missiles hit Ukraine’s second-largest city of Kharkiv, causing damage to its infrastructure and power cuts. Kharkiv Governor Oleh Syniehubov said one person was killed and at least two others, including a 9-year-old girl, were wounded.

Four civilians were wounded when Russian missiles struck the city of Nikopol in southern Ukraine.

U.S. officials on October 3 said Washington will soon deliver to Ukraine four more advanced rocket systems. The High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, known as HIMARS, have been credited with helping the country’s military gain momentum in the war.

HIMARS have been used to strike bridges that Russia has used to supply its troops. The additional four HIMARS will be part of a new $625 million package of aid expected to be announced on October 4, according to the U.S. officials, who were quoted in U.S. media reports.

The decision marks the first time that the United States has sent more HIMARS to Ukraine since late July, and it will bring the total number delivered so far to 20.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, TASS, and Interfax

Bulgarian President Didn't Sign Document Backing Ukraine Because Of Wording On NATO Membership

Bulgarian President Rumen Radev (file photo)

Bulgarian President Rumen Radev said on October 3 that he did not join other leaders of Central and Eastern European countries in signing a declaration in support of Ukraine because he did not agree with the full text of the declaration.

Radev's office issued the response on October 3 after inquiries from journalists about why his name was not among nine heads of state who issued the declaration on October 2 supporting Ukraine.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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

Radev "does not agree with the full text of the declaration adopted by some countries in Eastern Europe regarding Ukraine's membership in NATO," a statement from his office said.

A decision on Ukraine joining NATO should be made "only after the development of clear parameters for the peaceful settlement of the conflict," it said.

But the statement said Radev supports other positions in the document signed by the leaders of the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia.

It came after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy announced on September 30 that Ukraine had submitted an application for accession to NATO under an accelerated procedure after Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed Moscow had annexed four Ukrainian regions that are partially occupied by Russian forces.

The nine Central and Eastern European leaders reiterated their support for "the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine" and said they "do not recognize and will never recognize Russian attempts to annex any Ukrainian territory."

Their declaration also said that the leaders “firmly stood behind the 2008 Bucharest NATO Summit decision concerning Ukraine’s future membership.”

At the 2008 summit, NATO members welcomed Ukraine and Georgia’s aspirations to join but declined to provide a clear timeline for their possible ascension. Putin has cited the possibility of Ukraine joining NATO as justification for launching the ongoing full-scale invasion in February.

The statement from Radev's office on October 3 says that Bulgaria is part of the declaration from the 2008 NATO summit supporting the future accession of Ukraine, but notes that this declaration was adopted in a completely different security environment.

"Military actions on the territory of Ukraine today require that its membership in the Alliance be discussed within the full composition of [NATO] and not lead to a risk of the direct involvement of NATO countries in the war," the statement added.

U.S. Imposes Sanctions Against Head Of Bosniak-Croat Federation For Alleged Misuse Of Power

Prime Minister of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina Fadil Novalic (file photo)

The United States has imposed sanctions on the head of Bosnia-Herzegovina’s Bosniak-Croat federation and others over the alleged misuse of pensioner data.

The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated Prime Minister Fadil Novalic on October 3, saying he acquired pensioner data through his official position in the week before the 2018 elections and used it “for the benefit of his own political party and contrary to [Bosnian] law.”

Novalic allegedly misused the data by sending out letters listing his accomplishments and promising increased pensions, the Treasury Department said in a statement.

Additionally, Bosnian tycoon Slobodan Stankovic and his engineering firm Integral Inzenjering A.D. Laktasi were blacklisted for allegedly having links to corruption.

The Treasury Department said major construction projects are often handed to Stankovic's firm without fair and open competition and that the vast majority of Stankovic’s wealth comes from public money.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken referred to the sanctions on Twitter, saying political parties and leaders "should not be able to use public resources for their own benefit, and people should not get rich helping them."

The Treasury Department described Stankovic as one of the wealthiest people in Bosnia and said he was linked to Milorad Dodik, the Serb member of Bosnia's tripartite presidency, who was previously designated for U.S. sanctions for “secessionist rhetoric" and actions that threaten "stability and undermine" the Dayton peace accords.

The sanctions designation freezes any assets or property interests owned by Novalic, Stankovic, or his engineering firm in the United States and bars U.S. nationals from transactions involving them without special permission from the OFAC.

“Today’s action underscores how politicians in Bosnia and Herzegovina are undermining democratic institutions and processes for their own political gain and to reward their patronage networks,” Brian Nelson, Treasury’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said in the department’s statement on October 3.

“We will continue to target those that destabilize the region, as well as their supporters, and hold them to account.”

The sanctions come less than a week after the Treasury Department levied sanctions on a Bosnian state prosecutor accused of being complicit in corruption and undermining democratic processes in the Western Balkans.

Treasury called Diana Kajmakovic a “brazenly corrupt state prosecutor with links to criminal organizations." She was designated for sanctions on September 26.

With reporting by AP

Russian Court Sets October 25 For Hearing On U.S. Basketball Star's Appeal Of Drug Sentence

U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner (file photo)

A Russian court has set October 25 as the date for American basketball star Brittney Griner's appeal against her nine-year prison sentence for drug possession.

The Moscow regional court said on October 3 it will hear her appeal on October 25 at 11 a.m. local time, according to the Interfax news agency.

Griner, a star of the U.S. Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA), was convicted on August 4 at the Khimki court near Moscow after police said they found vape canisters containing cannabis oil in her luggage at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport.

Griner's lawyers have argued that the nine-year sentence is excessive.

Griner admitted that she had the canisters in her luggage when she passed through the Moscow airport in February just days before Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, but she said she had inadvertently packed them.

Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, was returning to the Russian city of Yekaterinburg, where she plays in the WNBA's off-season.

She told the court that she had no criminal intent, and her defense team presented written statements showing she had been prescribed cannabis to treat pain caused by injuries she suffered while playing basketball.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken revealed in July that Washington had made a proposal to get Griner home along with Paul Whelan, an American serving a 16-year sentence in Russia for espionage.

Blinken said later that he and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov discussed a possible prisoner swap, but since then the White House has said it has not received a productive response from Russia.

U.S. media have reported that Washington has offered to exchange Griner and Whelan for Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer who is serving a 25-year sentence in a U.S. prison.

Based on reporting by AP and Interfax

Top Official At Hermitage Museum In St. Petersburg Leaves Russia In Protest At The War In Ukraine

The board of directors at the Hermitage museum, which was founded in 1764, has several members who have been included in sanctions by the West against Putin and those around him for the invasion of Ukraine. (file photo)

A top official at the Hermitage museum in St. Petersburg has left Russia in protest at the Kremlin's ongoing unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

Dmitry Ozerkov, the director of the modern arts section of the world's largest art museum by gallery space, wrote on Instagram on October 2 that he had quit his job after Hermitage Director Mikhail Piotrovsky praised the war in an interview in June while calling arts exhibitions organized by the Hermitage abroad another "special operation" to push forward "Russian world's ideas."

"I left because I don’t intend to have anything in common with today’s Russia," Ozerkov wrote, adding that "Russia squeezed out all of us who wanted nothing but good to its culture."

President Vladimir Putin has refused to call the conflict a war, and has signed legislation making it illegal to use the word to describe what he calls a "special military operation."

Since Russia launched its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine on February 24, many celebrities, writers, actors, opposition politicians, and activists have left Russia.

Last month Putin announced a "partial military mobilization" to support the war in Ukraine, prompting tens of thousands of Russian men to flee the country for nations where they can enter without visas. Most headed to Armenia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, and Mongolia.

The board of directors at the Hermitage museum, which was founded in 1764, has several members who have been included in sanctions by the West against Putin and those around him for the invasion of Ukraine.

Load more