Putin Orders Troops Into Ukraine After Recognizing Separatists' Independence Bid
Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered Russian troops to be sent into a separatist-held region of eastern Ukraine in a military escalation that Western leaders have warned will spark massive consequences for Moscow.
Putin's move came hours after he announced his decision to recognize the Russia-backed separatists' call for recognition of independence in a move that was discouraged by the United Nations and swiftly condemned by Western leaders fearful of major conflict in the region.
Before it was clear that news of the Kremlin decree had reached foreign capitals, the White House said that President Joe Biden had spoken to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Biden's administration also said the U.S. president had reiterated to a phone call with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz that the United States would respond "swiftly and decisively" and in "lock-step" with its allies and partners to further aggression against Ukraine.
The decree, on a Russian government site and dated February 21, says the order takes effect immediately. But it was unclear when any of the 150,000 or so Russian troops that Western leaders say are near the Ukrainian border might start moving into Ukrainian territory.
The decree says the Russian military will enter the region at the request of the republic to "maintain peace."
The full extent of Putin's decree is unclear, as the separatists claim all of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions but control only around half of the two eastern Ukrainian regions.
The State Duma and the Federation Council are expected on February 22 to ratify Russian treaties with the separatist groups, and under those agreements potentially provide them with military assistance.
Putin listed a litany of alleged grievances against the leadership in Kyiv as well as NATO and the West in a televised speech that concluded with the signing of documents that appeared to give Kremlin backing to the separatists' ambitions.
"I consider it necessary to take a long overdue decision: to immediately recognize the independence and sovereignty of the Donetsk People's Republic and the Luhansk People's Republic," Putin said in a reference to separatist-held parts of Ukraine's Donetsk and Luhansk regions. "I ask the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation to support this decision and then ratify the treaty of friendship and mutual assistance with both republics."
As Putin spoke, international news agencies quoted Ukrainian government troops in frontline trenches in eastern Ukraine as saying firing from heavy weapons in the hands of the separatists had intensified.
European and U.S. leaders quickly condemned the recognition and vowed more sanctions targeting Russia or the separatist-held areas of eastern Ukraine.
The Russian ruble also plummeted, slipping past 80 against the dollar, while stocks plunged to their lowest in over a year led by a fall in Russian assets.
U.S. Embassy personnel in Lviv will spend the night of February 22 in Poland amid safety concerns. The State Department said in a statement that the security situation in Ukraine “continues to be unpredictable” and “may deteriorate with little notice.”
The United States earlier this month moved its embassy in Ukraine from the capital of Kyiv to Lviv in the west near the border with Poland.
Kyiv responded to Putin's announcement recognizing the independence of the groups by saying "the entire world" is following Russia's actions on the recognition of the self-styled groups and "everyone realizes the consequences."
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said he will meet with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Washington on February 22 after a phone call between the two diplomats on February 21.
Putin made widespread and familiar allegations throughout his speech -- without providing evidence -- including that Kyiv was seeking to obtain nuclear weapons, that "horror and genocide" was being perpetrated against residents of eastern Ukraine, and that the Russian language and Orthodox Church were being targeted there.
He also said NATO had "completely ignored" Moscow's security demands, which have included calls for a legally binding pledge that Ukraine won't be allowed to join the alliance and the removal of NATO weapons and equipment from Central and Eastern European countries.
Putin concluded with an ominous warning for Kyiv, which he described as a "puppet regime" run by foreign powers.
"And from those who have seized and are holding power in Ukraine, we demand an immediate cessation of hostilities," he said, turning Ukrainian reports of aggression by Russia and its proxy forces on their head. "Otherwise, the entire responsibility for the possible continuation of the bloodshed will be entirely on the conscience of the regime ruling on the territory of Ukraine."
Western powers have repeatedly warned of serious consequences if Russia attacks Ukraine.
After Putin's recognition announcement, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Biden would sign an executive order to "prohibit new investment, trade, and financing by U.S. persons to, from, or in the so-called DNR and LNR regions of Ukraine," in a reference to the separatist areas.
She said the order will "provide authority to impose sanctions on any person determined to operate in those areas of Ukraine."
Psaki stressed that wider sanctions were prepared "should Russia further invade Ukraine."
Biden also had a phone call with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, the White House said.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg issued a statement "condemning" Russia's decision.
"NATO supports the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders," the alliance chief said.
Stoltenberg said Putin's move "further undermines Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, erodes efforts towards a resolution of the conflict, and violates the Minsk Agreements [cease-fire], to which Russia is a party."
EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Council President Charles Michel issued a joint statement saying the recognition is "a blatant violation of international law." They said the bloc “will react with sanctions” and “reiterates its unwavering support to Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders.”
As Putin was speaking, Johnson repeated that a "robust package of sanctions" could await Russia. He called Putin's move "a flagrant violation of the sovereignty and integrity of the Ukraine."
Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics said the EU must immediately impose sanctions.
Ahead of Putin's speech, the United Nations, which recognizes Crimea and the separatist-controlled areas as part of Ukraine, underscored the need for "maximum restraint" to avoid escalations.
"We would encourage everyone involved to refrain from any unilateral decision or unilateral action that could undermine the territorial integrity of Ukraine," UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
Earlier, the U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Michael Carpenter, said Russian recognition of areas of eastern Ukraine outside of government control would be "deplorable" and should be condemned.
After speaking by phone with Putin in talks to "prevent a catastrophe," German Chancellor Olaf Scholz's office said the German leader had condemned possible recognition and warned Putin that the move would be a "unilateral breach" of the Minsk accords aimed at a peaceful resolution of Ukraine's eight-year war with Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba noted "a lot of emotions" but said in a tweet that "it's exactly now that we all should calmly focus on de-escalation efforts. No other way."
A short time earlier, Kuleba said he had urged UN Security Council members to convene under an article of the so-called Budapest Memorandum "to discuss urgent actions aimed at de-escalation" along with "practical steps to guarantee the security of Ukraine."
Putin appeared at a rare televised meeting of the Russian Security Council on February 21 alongside Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, and the Kremlin's special envoy on Ukraine, Dmitry Kozak, as well as other officials.
Putin added that there was "no prospect" of a peace plan to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine, where Kyiv has been fighting the separatists since 2014, when Russia also occupied and illegally annexed Ukraine's Crimea. At least 13,200 people were killed in the conflict so far.
Moscow has insisted that it has no invasion plans. But U.S. President Joe Biden said last week that he believed Putin might already have decided on an attack, and U.S. media have reported that U.S. intelligence suggests orders have been sent to Russian tactical commanders.
In the Security Council meeting, Putin said the current discussion was not about "adding" the separatist-controlled areas to Russian territory.
Putin and Lavrov also repeated Moscow's demand that NATO and Western leaders pledge not to allow Ukraine to join the transatlantic military alliance. Putin repeated that the "threat" for Russia "increases substantially" if Ukraine joins NATO.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has reiterated Kyiv's hopes of joining the alliance, a goal that was written into the Ukrainian Constitution in 2019, five years into the ongoing conflict with the separatists.
Zelenskiy has pledged that Ukrainian soldiers will avoid responding to provocations from separatists or Russian forces with tensions ratcheted high after U.S. and other Western officials warned of the risk of so-called false-flag operations to spark a pretext for a Russian offensive.
U.S. national-security adviser Jake Sullivan said on February 21 that "we anticipate they very well may [roll Russian tanks across the border into Ukraine] in the coming hours or days."
Lavrov said he planned to meet U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Geneva on February 24.
He also said he plans to travel to Paris the following day to meet with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian to lay the groundwork for a possible Biden-Putin summit that was suggested by French President Emmanuel Macron.
With reporting by Reuters and AP
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German Police Search Superyacht Believed To Be Owned By Uzbek-Born Russian Tycoon
German police have searched the superyacht Dilbar, the world's biggest yacht by tonnage, believed to be owned by Alisher Usmanov -- an Uzbek-born billionaire and close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The search conducted on September 27 was part of investigations of Usmanov's alleged tax evasion, money-laundering, and violations of European Union sanctions imposed on him and Russia over Putin's ongoing invasion of Ukraine launched in late February, public prosecutors in Frankfurt told reporters.
German authorities in March said they had seized the Dilbar, a 156-meter superyacht worth $600 million, and Forbes magazine subsequently reported that the vessel belonged to Usmanov.
Prosecutors did not mention Usmanov’s name or provide the names of any suspects. They specified only that the search was conducted in “northern Germany” and did not say why nearly six months passed before they searched the vessel.
Last week, German police searched dozens of houses and apartments belonging to Usmanov and discovered four rare Faberge eggs.
Usmanov, 69, is currently believed to be residing in Uzbekistan, according to Der Spiegel, which said he is accused of evading at least 555 million euros ($534 million) in German taxes since 2014.
With reporting by Reuters, dpa, and Der Spiegel
Iranian Oil Workers Warn Of Strike If Government Doesn't End Crackdown
Iranian oil industry contract workers have warned the government to end its crackdown on protesters or they will strike, a move that could cripple a key sector of the economy.
"We support the people's struggles against organized and everyday violence against women and against the poverty and hell that dominates the society,” the Organizing Council of Oil Contract Workers said on September 26.
Iran has been roiled by unrest that has spread to more than 80 cities and towns, including in the northwest, where 22-year-old Mahsa Amini lived before eyewitnesses and family said she was beaten -- and later died -- after being seized by the morality police in Tehran on September 13.
Labor protests in Iran also have been on the rise in recent months in response to declining living standards and state support as crippling Western sanctions wrack the economy.
The outrage over Amini's death also has reignited decades-old resentment at the treatment of women by Iran's religious leadership, including laws forcing women to wear Islamic scarves to cover their heads in public.
The Iran Human Rights Organization said on September 27 that at least 76 people have been killed in anti-government protests across Iran.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
Kyrgyz Musician Back In Kazakhstan For Probe Into His Alleged Beating While In Police Custody
BISHKEK -- A well-known Kyrgyz jazz musician who was arrested in Kazakhstan during deadly anti-government protests in January says he is in Almaty, where investigations into his alleged beating and torture by Kazakh police officers have started.
Vikram Ruzakhunov told RFE/RL on September 27 that he arrived in the Almaty region a day earlier and has met with a Kazakh investigator involved in the probe.
"The meeting [with the investigator] was fruitful. Today, we will visit the crime site, where I was detained and tortured. We will hold face-to-face confrontations with identified individuals," Ruzakhunov said.
Ruzakhunov said earlier that he had suffered a chest injury, broken ribs, a concussion, and multiple bruises while in Kazakh custody.
Anti-government protests sparked by a fuel-price hike erupted in Kazakhstan in early January. President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev has publicly blamed what he said were “extremists” trained abroad for attacking Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city, during the unrest. He has not produced any evidence to back up the claim.
Ruzakhunov's situation was amplified when a Kazakh television channel showed a video in which he said he was recruited by an unspecified group to take part in the unrest for $200. In the video, severe bruises can be seen on Ruzakhunov's face, leading to speculation he was forced to make the statement.
The video sparked protests in Kyrgyzstan, where Ruzakhunov was immediately recognized by his fans. He was freed several days after his arrest and allowed to go to Bishkek after the Kyrgyz government demanded his release.
Kazakh officials said earlier that six people were tortured to death after being arrested for taking part in the protests and 238 people died during or after the unrest, which was violently dispersed by law enforcement and the armed forces.
The Kazakh Prosecutor-General's Office has said 25 people were officially considered victims of torture as investigators used hot irons during their interrogations.
Human rights groups insist that the number of killed during the unrest may be much bigger, presenting proof that many peaceful demonstrators and persons who had nothing to do with the protesters were killed by police and military personnel following an order by Toqaev to "shoot to kill without warning."
In July, police in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, concluded that Kazakh authorities had inflicted severe injuries on Ruzakhunov's body during his illegal arrest in January.
Relatives Say They Had To Pay Bribes To Get Family Members On Turkmen Prison Clemency List
ASHGABAT -- Relatives of inmates in Turkmenistan say they were forced to pay up to $2,000 to secure the inclusion of their loved ones on lists of inmates affected by a recent mass amnesty by President Serdar Berdymukhammedov.
According to several men and women who spoke to RFE/RL on condition of anonymity on September 26, they had to pay bribes to police officers who investigated the cases of their relatives and to prosecutors involved in the cases to make sure that their incarcerated relatives would be included in the clemency.
Representatives from prosecutors' offices and law enforcement structures in Ashgabat were not immediately available for comment.
According to the decree on the mass amnesty signed by Berdymukhammedov, 834 inmates, including four foreign nationals, will be released from prisons.
One of the world's most isolated and repressive countries, Turkmenistan marks its independence on September 27.
Serdar Berdymukhammedov took over the tightly controlled former Soviet republic in March from his authoritarian father, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, who ruled the nation with an iron fist from 2006.
Russian Poet Hospitalized, Charged After Reciting Verses Critical Of Ukraine Invasion
Russian poet and activist Artyom Kamardin, who was reportedly beaten and raped during his arrest, has been charged with inciting hatred over the presentation of his verses critical of the Kremlin's ongoing invasion of Ukraine
Kamardin's lawyer, Leonid Solovyov, said on September 27 that his client was hospitalized with symptoms of a concussion, bruises on his body, scratches on his face, and chest wounds and remains in custody. A court is to decide his pretrial restrictions.
Kamardin, 31, was detained on September 26 along with his girlfriend, Anna Popova, and friend Aleksandr Menyukov after police broke into their apartment in Moscow. The Novaya gazeta.Europe newspaper cited Popova as saying that police severely beat Kamardin and raped him with a dumbbell.
Popova and Menyukov were released hours later.
Doctors diagnosed Popova with a concussion, head wounds, hip and legs wounds, and graze wounds on her left hand. The Sota online newspaper says it obtained a medical report on Popova conducted after her release.
The detainments came a day after Kamardin presented his verses at an annual poetry event at a monument to Soviet poet Vladimir Mayakovsky in Moscow. The verses criticized the Russian government for its war in Ukraine.
Police in Moscow also detained poets Nikolai Daineko and Yegor Shtovba, who also presented their verses at the Mayakovsky readings on September 25.
The two were also charged with inciting hatred and are waiting for the court's decisions on their pretrial restrictions.
With reporting by Novaya gazeta.Europe, Sota, and OVD-Inform
Professors Join Student Nationwide Protests Triggered By Woman's Death While In Police Custody Over Hijab
Several Iranian university professors have joined students protest by refusing to participate in classes, with some resigning to support anti-government protests across the country that were triggered by the death of a 22-year-old woman while she was in police custody for allegedly wearing a head scarf, or hijab, improperly.
Lily Galehadaran, a member of the academic faculty of Shiraz Art University, was one of the first professors who resigned her position in support of the protests.
“I was interrogated many times in the Intelligence Department of Shiraz and Tehran, but I continued to teach because of the love of my students. But today I am resigning from my job because of the love I have for them,” Galehadaran wrote in her resignation letter, addressing protesting students who had repeatedly asked professors to join them in recent days.
The move by academics comes amid massive anti-government protests over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who died after she was taken into custody by morality police over the hijab.
Officials say 41 people have died during the protests, but the group Iran Human Rights says at least 76 people have been killed in a crackdown that has seen sweeping restrictions imposed on the Internet, including blocks on Instagram and WhatsApp.
WATCH: A funeral has been held for a 20-year-old woman who was said to have been shot dead by Iranian security forces in the city of Karaj, near Tehran. Hadis Najafi was shot six times on September 21 during ongoing nationwide protests following the death of Mahsa Amini.
Many students, high-profile activists, rights advocates, and intellectuals have also been arrested in recent days, including Majid Tavakoli and Mohammad Reza Jalaeipour.
Students in Tehran and other Iranian cities have often chanted the slogan, "The streets are covered in blood; our professors are silent," during rallies in recent days.
Nasrollah Hekmat, a prominent Iranian philosopher and philosophy professor at Beheshti University, has joined the protesting students.
"Today, I consider myself your student and you are my teacher. Only God knows that in these few days, I have learned more from you than in my entire life," Hekmat wrote in a letter, adding that “as long as students are protesting, I will not hold any classes.”
Ammar Ashuri, a professor who resigned from Tehran Azad University’s faculty of art and architecture, said he has been pressured and threatened by university security officers because of the posts and stories he has posted on Instagram.
At least 20 journalists are among those arrested, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). They include photojournalist Yalda Moayeri, Fatemeh Rajabi, and Niloufar Hamedi, who reported from the Tehran hospital where Amini died on September 16.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
RFE/RL Freelance Correspondent Among Group Detained In Russia's Daghestan
Documentary filmmaker, journalist, and RFE/RL freelance correspondent Yulia Vishnevetskaya has been detained along with dozens of others by police in Russia's North Caucasus region of Daghestan while she was covering an unsanctioned rally against the Kremlin's partial military mobilization to support troop levels in the war against Ukraine.
Vishnevetskaya and several other journalists were detained on September 26 in Daghestan's capital, Makhachkala, according to Idris Yusupov and Sergei Ainbinder, two journalists who were also held.
They said police confiscated mobile phones from most of the detained journalists and kept them in custody without access to lawyers.
Yusupov and Ainbinder said they were released about 17 hours after being detained.
Yusupov told RFE/RL that more than 100 men and women remain in police custody, adding that they all were charged with administrative misdemeanors and will face court hearings.
The arrests came after hundreds rallied in Makhachkala on September 26, a day after another rally, attended mostly by women, ended with the detainment of about 120 people. Eight of the demonstrators detained on that day face criminal charges.
Protests against the partial mobilization announced by President Vladimir Putin on September 21 have taken place in several towns and cities across Russia in recent days, including Moscow and St. Petersburg.
According to OVD-Info, a human rights group that monitors political arrests in Russia, at least 2,398 people have been detained for protesting the mobilization since September 21. All public criticism of Russia's "special military operation" is banned.
Dushanbe City Bank Suspends Russia's Mir Payment System
DUSHANBE -- One of Tajikistan's largest banks, Dushanbe City Bank, has suspended operations of Russia's Mir payment cards in the country, citing technical issues.
Dushanbe City Bank said on September 27 that the "problems with using Mir payment cards" started four days earlier. It gave no further details.
The statement comes amid repeated warnings from the United States and other countries that those who fail to adhere to international sanctions against Moscow for its ongoing unprovoked invasion of Ukraine may themselves face penalties.
On September 23, another Central Asian country, Uzbekistan, said Mir payment cards issued outside the country would no longer work, though those issued locally were still functioning.
Earlier last week, several banks in Kazakhstan, Turkey, and Vietnam suspended the use of Mir payment cards amid warnings by the U.S. Treasury about possible sanctions on institutions supporting Russia's payment system outside of Russia.
Moscow has vowed to expand its Mir payments system in so-called "friendly countries" as Western sanctions attempt to shut it out of international finance over its war against Ukraine.
Last week Reuters quoted a senior U.S. administration official as saying that steps by Turkey's Isbank and Denizbank to suspend the use of Russian payment system Mir "make a lot of sense."
"Cutting off Mir is one of the best ways to protect a bank from the sanctions risk that comes from doing business with Russia. We expect more banks to cut off Mir because they don’t want to risk being on the wrong side of the coalition's sanctions," the official said.
With reporting by RBK and Reuters
EU Plans Sanctions On Organizers Of 'Illegal' Referendums In Ukraine
The European Union plans to follow suit with the United Kingdom and others and impose sanctions on the organizers of "illegal, illegitimate referendums" that are being conducted in four regions of Ukraine that are at least partially controlled by Moscow.
"There would be consequences for all people who participate in the illegal, illegitimate referendums," Peter Stano, a spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, told journalists on September 27, the fifth and final day of voting in the referendums, which many Western governments have called "sham" votes.
The vote in the Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhya regions is being held in the midst of the largest conflict in Europe since the end of World War II and amid claims by some local officials that voters have been threatened and intimidated.
On September 26, the United Kingdom announced new sanctions in response to the referendums, calling them "a clear violation of international law, including the UN Charter."
The new sanctions hit many top Russian officials involved in enforcing the votes, as well as dozens of individuals from state-linked organizations that the U.K. said continued to "bankroll the Russian war machine, serving as a stark reminder of the cost of supporting [Russian President Vladimir] Putin's operation."
Kazakhstan Chosen To Host Central Asia's First MotoGP Race
Kazakhstan has signed a deal to become the first Central Asian country to host a race in the premier category of the motorcycle world championship.
MotoGP promoter Dorna said on September 27 in a statement that a five-year deal had been reached for the Sokol International Racetrack -- located just outside the city of Almaty -- to hold a race starting in 2023 as part of the FIM MotoGP World Championship.
"The region will be a new pitstop for MotoGP as the sport continues to expand around the world, engaging with new markets and fan bases," Dorna said in the statement.
Kazakhstan will be the 30th country to host a MotoGP race since the championship started in 1949.
Kazakhstan Plans Talks With Moscow Regarding Influx Of Russians Amid Military Call-Up
TURKISTAN, Kazakhstan -- Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev says his country plans to hold talks with Moscow regarding the massive influx of Russian citizens entering the country following the Kremlin's introduction of a partial military mobilization to support its war in Ukraine.
Talking to journalists in the southern Kazakh city of Turkistan on September 27, Toqaev called the inflow of Russian citizens into the country "a political and humanitarian matter," stressing that all necessary measures must be implemented to secure the safety of those entering the country.
"We do not have any crisis. Our government must do its work. The incoming people will be provided with help, but not special benefits. All necessary procedures will be held in accordance with the law," Toqaev said.
"We will hold talks with Russia and resolve this issue with taking our people's interests into account."
Toqaev's statement comes amid concerns among Kazakhs that the huge number of Russians entering the country is already fueling a real-estate crisis. Some media reports said landlords have begun to evict Kazakh tenants in order to rent homes to Russians at much higher prices.
The influx has put so much pressure on accommodations in the Central Asian country that the administration of a cinema in the city of Oral said it would allow Russian nationals arriving without a place to stay to use the premises for temporary living.
Prime Minister Alikhan Smaiylov said on September 27 that all issues related to the influx of Russian citizens will be "taken care of while giving priority to the interests of our people."
Smayilov's statement a day earlier about the "necessity to provide incoming Russian citizens with registration papers and jobs" has sparked harsh criticism in Kazakhstan since Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the partial military mobilization on September 21.
Some media outlets in Russia say that more than 260,000 have fled the country since the announcement.
According to Kazakhstan's Interior Ministry, some 98,000 Russian citizens have entered the country since September 21.
The acting chief of the Migration Committee, Colonel Aslan Atalyqov, said on September 26 that around 40,000 Russian citizens had already left for other countries -- mainly Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan -- after entering Kazakhstan in recent days.
Interior Minister Marat Akhmetzhanov said on September 27 that Russian citizens who come to Kazakhstan to evade the mobilization will be extradited back to Russia only if they are officially added to Russia's wanted list.
Russian citizens trying to avoid being called up to join the war are also fleeing to Finland, Georgia, and Mongolia.
Authorities in Russia's North Ossetia-Alania region, which borders Georgia, said on September 27 that a mobile conscription point was placed on the border checkpoint to tighten controls on Russian men leaving the country.
A traffic jam leading to the border checkpoint stretched for about 15 kilometers on September 27, according to the online service Yandex Maps. Georgia's Interior Ministry said more than 53,000 Russians have entered the country since last week.
With reporting by Tengrinews and Echo of the Caucasus
Death Toll In Russian Shooting Spree Rises To 17
The death toll from a shooting spree at a Russian school on September 26 has risen to 17, as the Udmurtia region holds a day of mourning to honor the victims of the tragedy.
The press service of the governor of Udmurtia said on September 27 that two people died overnight, bringing the death toll from the attack -- the fourth school shooting in the Volga region in the past 15 months -- to 11 children and six adults.
Russia's Investigative Committee said on September 26 that the gunman had been identified as Artyom Kazantsev, 34, who was a graduate of the school, which is attended by students from elementary school up to the end of high school.
The gunman, who some media said was wearing a T-shirt with a swastika on it, shot himself dead at the scene, the committee said.
Aleksandr Shaklein, the chief physician of the regional clinic in Izhevsk, where the school is located, said on September 27 that 16 children and two adults were currently in the city's hospitals, and that seven of the children and the two adults were in intensive care.
According to Shaklein, 15 patients will be transported to Moscow for further treatment.
Shootings at schools and other educational institutions in Russia and other former Soviet republics were very rare until recent years, when the numbers of incidents began to rise.
In April 2022, in Veshkaima, an armed man entered a kindergarten and killed two children and a teacher before shooting himself, while in September 2021, a mass shooting took place at the Perm State National Research University, which resulted in the death of six people.
Five months before that, 19-year-old Ilnaz Galyaviev opened fire at Kazan's School No. 175. Nine people died in the shooting, including seven children.
With reporting by TASS and Interfax
Sabotage Being Investigated After Explosions Strike Russia's Nord Stream Pipelines
Swedish police say they have launched a preliminary investigation into possible sabotage related to leaks in the Nord Stream gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea after seismologists from Sweden and Denmark said they had recorded powerful explosions in areas near where evidence of leaks had been found.
A national police spokesperson on September 27 said that Swedish police had "established a report and the crime classification is gross sabotage."
Bjorn Lund, a seismologist at Sweden's National Seismology Centre (SNSN), said earlier that there was no doubt that explosions were related to the seismic activity.
The leaks have raised concerns about possible sabotage amid fears of a growing energy crisis as Western nations turn away from Russia as a supplier in response to Moscow's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States had not yet confirmed initial reports that the leaks could be the result of an attack or sabotage. A National Security Council spokesperson said the United States stands ready to provide support to European partners investigating the leaks.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mikhaylo Podolyak said the reported gas leaks were likely the result of a "terrorist attack" carried out by Moscow.
"The large-scale 'gas leak' from Nord Stream 1 is nothing more than a terrorist attack planned by Russia and an act of aggression towards the EU," Podolyak said on Twitter.
Podolyak accused Russia of seeking to "destabilize the economic situation in Europe and cause pre-winter panic."
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki earlier called the events “an act of sabotage," while Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said later on September 27 that it was clear that leaks were caused by "deliberate actions."
"It was not an accident," Frederiksen said, adding that there is no information yet to indicate who may be behind the actions.
Moscow reduced the gas flow to Europe through Nord Stream 1 before suspending it completely in August, claiming that Western sanctions had caused technical difficulties.
The new Nord Stream 2 pipeline was recently completed, but Germany scrapped plans to import gas through it just days before Russia invaded Ukraine in February.
However, both pipelines still contain gas under pressure.
Nord Stream AG, which operates the pipelines, said on September 27 that three offshore lines of the Nord Stream gas pipeline system have sustained what it called "unprecedented" damage in one day, adding that it was impossible to say when the gas network system's working capability would be restored.
In Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on September 27 that he could not exclude the possibility that sabotage was behind the leaks.
The turmoil came on the same day of the inauguration of a long-awaited pipeline that will bring Norwegian gas to Poland, which used to rely heavily on Russia for supplies.
The new system will bring Norway's gas across Denmark and the Baltic Sea to Poland.
Anders Puck Nielsen, a researcher with the Center for Maritime Operations at the Royal Danish Defense College, was quoted by Reuters as saying the timing of the leaks was “conspicuous,” given the ceremony.
He said it appeared someone may have sought “to send a signal that something could happen to the Norwegian gas.”
“The arrow points in the direction of Russia,” Puck Nielsen said. “No one in the West is interested in having any kind of instability in the energy market.”
With reporting by SVT, Reuters, and TASS
French Foreign Minister Returns To Kyiv In Unannounced Visit
French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna has arrived in Kyiv for an unannounced visit to show support for Ukraine as it battles Russian troops that invaded the country more than seven months ago.
"Good morning Ukraine, it's good to be back," she wrote in a post on Twitter on September 27.
She also wrote the same in French and Ukrainian, and posted a picture of herself walking in Kyiv with the French ambassador to Ukraine, Etienne de Poncins.
Colonna first visited Kyiv during the war at the end of May.
Earlier this month, French President Emannuel Macron pledged his country's unwavering support for Kyiv in what he said would be a long war.
Macron had been criticized by Ukraine and some Eastern European allies for what they perceived as his ambiguous backing for Kyiv since Russia launched its invasion in late February, and his repeated dialogue with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Macron says dialogue is needed to help prevent the conflict from escalating.
Heavy Fighting Under Way In Ukraine As Anti-Mobilization Protests Continue In Russia
Heavy fighting between Ukrainian and Russian forces is under way in parts of eastern Ukraine and the northeast Kharkiv region as Moscow continues a crackdown on protests against a partial mobilization decreed by President Vladimir Putin last week.
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the eastern Donetsk region remained Ukraine's -- and Russia's -- top strategic priority, with fighting under way in several towns as Russian troops try to advance to the south and west.
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Zelenskiy said in his nightly video address on September 26 that the military situation in Donetsk was "particularly severe."
"We are doing everything to contain enemy activity. This is our No. 1 goal right now because Donbas is still the No. 1 goal for the occupiers," Zelenskiy said.
Regional officials, meanwhile, said that Russia carried out at least five attacks on targets in the Odesa region using Iranian drones in the last few days.
Russian missiles targeted the airport in Kriviy Rih in central Ukraine, destroying infrastructure and making the airport unusable, Valentyn Reznichenko, governor of Dnipropetrovsk region, said on Telegram.
The Ukrainian armed forces' southern command said on September 27 that its counteroffensive in the southeastern Kherson region had resulted in enemy losses of 77 servicemen, six tanks, five howitzers, three anti-aircraft installations and 14 armored vehicles.
The claim could not be independently verified.
Fighting was also raging in the Kharkiv region in the northeast, which has been the target of a Ukrainian counteroffensive this month.
In the south, Ukrainian forces pressed on with a campaign to render four bridges and other river crossings inoperable to disrupt supply lines to Russian forces.
The General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces reported on September 27 that Russian forces used drones, including Iranian-made Shahed-136 drones, in the northeastern Donetsk region to conduct reconnaissance.
Russian troops also launched two missile and six air strikes in the region and carried out more than 20 attacks from rocket systems on military and civilian objects, the General Staff's evening report said.
The Ukrainian Air Force responded by carrying out 10 strikes, hitting Russian troops and military equipment, the General Staff said. The air force also destroyed one Su-25 aircraft and five drones of various types, the report said. These claims could not be verified.
Security Council Secretary Oleksiy Danilov told RFE/RL that Ukraine will continue to defend itself even in the face of Putin's veiled threats that it could use nuclear weapons.
In the event of such an "audacious" attack, Danilov said if even there is no response from the world community or NATO countries, "this does not mean that we will not defend our land."
Danilov said the Security Council has developed detailed instructions for citizens in the event of Russia's use of tactical nuclear weapons and intends to "publicize them as much as possible" in the coming days.
In Russia, the announced mobilization of some 300,000 reservists has sparked the first sustained protests since the start of the unprovoked invasion on February 24.
OVD-Info, a human rights group that monitors political arrests in Russia, said that 2,386 people had been detained by September 26. All public criticism of Russia's "special military operation" is banned.
In Geneva, the United Nations voiced alarm on September 27 at the report.
"We are deeply disturbed by the large number of people who have reportedly been arrested," UN High Commissioner for Human Rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani told reporters.
Citing unidentified officials, two Russian news sites that operate from abroad -- Meduza and Novaya gazeta Europe -- reported that the authorities were planning to ban men from leaving as cars clogged border checkpoints, with reports of a 48-hour queue at the sole road border to neighboring Georgia, which allows Russian citizens to enter without a visa.
Asked about the prospect of the border being shut, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on September 26: "I don't know anything about this. At the moment, no decision has been made on this."
In Washington, White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said the United States will consider asylum applications from Russians fleeing mobilization.
With reporting by AFP, AP, and Reuters
As Expected, 'Sham' Vote On Annexation Approved Overwhelmingly In Ukraine's Occupied Zaporizhzhya
Russian-backed officials in Zaporizhzhya -- one of four regions where so-called referendums on joining the Russian Federation were held over the last five says -- say voters in the region overwhelmingly supported the annexation.
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Russian-installed election officials in Zaporizhzhya reported the expected outcome on September 27 after polls closed, saying 93 percent of the ballots cast were in support of annexation. Results from three other Ukrainian regions -- Luhansk, Donetsk, and Kherson -- were expected to follow.
The referendums in Russian-controlled areas of the regions began on September 23. They have been dismissed by Ukraine, Western governments, and the United Nations because they are illegal under international law.
The vote was held amid claims by some local officials that voters had been threatened and coerced to vote. Election officials brought ballot boxes house-to-house in many cases accompanied by armed Russian forces.
Valentina Matviyenko, chairman of the Russian parliament's upper house, said President Vladimir Putin is scheduled to address the parliament about the referendums on September 30 and that lawmakers could consider annexation legislation on October 4.
Kyiv and its allies have denounced the votes as a "sham" and that they would never recognize the results of balloting that runs counter to the UN Charter and international law.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg also called the Moscow-organized votes a "sham" and a "blatant violation of international law."
Stoltenberg said on Twitter that he spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on September 27 "and made clear that NATO Allies are unwavering in our support for Ukraine's sovereignty and right to self-defence."
The lands where the votes are taking place "are Ukraine," Stoltenberg said.
U.S. President Joe Biden has previously said the polls were a "sham" and nothing but a "false pretext to try to annex parts of Ukraine by force."
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on September 27 urged the European Union to impose further economic sanctions on Russia to punish it for the votes and said the moves by Moscow would not change Ukraine's actions on the battlefield.
Kuleba, speaking after talks in Kyiv with French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna, said that personal sanctions would not suffice as a punishment for the referendums, which Putin on September 27 claimed were meant to "save people" in those regions.
Voting was also held in Russia because thousands of residents of the areas that are controlled by Russian forces in Ukraine fled after the war started.
Votes counted thus far show huge majorities in favor of joining Russia, according to Russia’s state RIA Novosti news agency.
Observers view the outcome of the ballot as a foregone conclusion that follows the same pattern that Moscow applied in 2014 to annex the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in the wake of huge pro-Western street demonstrations that saw the country's Kremlin-friendly president ousted.
Russian troops have suffered serious setbacks in the conflict this month, both in the east and south of Ukraine, which observers say pushed Putin to rush ahead with the vote to cement Moscow's authority there.
The British Ministry of Defense said on September 27 in its daily intelligence bulletin that Russia's leaders "almost certainly hope that any accession announcement will be seen as a vindication of the special military operation and will consolidate patriotic support for the conflict."
The UN Security Council was scheduled to hold a meeting later on September 27 on the referendums.
With reporting by AFP, AP, Reuters, and dpa
Russia Expels Japanese Diplomat On Espionage Accusation
Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) has said that it detained and ordered the expulsion of a Japanese diplomat in the eastern city of Vladivostok for suspected espionage after the consul allegedly sought "restricted" information.
It said the diplomat was caught receiving the information, on the economic effects of Western sanctions, in exchange for a "monetary reward."
"A Japanese diplomat was detained red-handed while receiving, in exchange for financial reward, restricted information about Russia's cooperation with another country in the Asia-Pacific region," the FSB said in a public statement on September 26.
The diplomat was named by Russian officials as Vladivostok-based consul Motoki Tatsunori.
The Foreign Ministry said Tatsunori had been declared persona non grata and given 48 hours to leave Russia.
There was no immediate confirmation from Tokyo of the incident.
The accusation and expulsion come with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida so far joining international sanctions including asset freezes on Russia over its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine that began in late February.
Based on reporting by AP and Reuters
Iran Sets Up Special Courts For Protesters, Rejects EU Criticism As Crackdown Deaths, Arrests Rise
Iran has dismissed Western criticism of its deadly crackdown that has killed dozens and led to at least 1,200 arrests since protests broke out after a 22-year-old woman's death in custody for allegedly breaking the country's Islamic dress code.
Iranian judiciary officials also said they had set up special courts to try protesters, whom they claimed were "hired from abroad."
Meanwhile, defiant demonstrations erupted again after nightfall on September 26.
The unrest has spread to more than 80 cities and towns, including in northwestern Iran where Mahsa Amini lived before eyewitnesses and family said she was beaten after being seized by the country's morality police in Tehran on September 13.
The Oslo-based group Iran Human Rights (IHR) said on September 26 that at least 76 protesters have been killed, nearly double the number acknowledged by Iranian officials.
Shared videos and eyewitness reports said the protests kicked off for an 11th night late on September 26 in Tehran, Narmak, Sanandaj, and other places and included chants of "Death to the dictator!" in reference to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Other chants in cities like Qorveh in Kurdistan Province included "Death to Khamenei!"
Video of young women in Sanandaj showed them removing their mandated head scarves and hugging in the street.
Earlier in the day, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock urged "very quick" debate within the European Union on new sanctions on Iran in light of the brutality of the crackdown and the alleged abuse before Amini's death.
"We will now have to talk very quickly in EU circles about further consequences, and for me this also includes sanctions against those responsible," Baerbock told the dpa news agency.
She said "the attempt to suppress peaceful protests with even more deadly violence must not go unanswered."
The outrage over Amini's death has reignited decades-old resentment at the treatment of women by Iran's religious leadership, including so-called hijab laws forcing women to wear Islamic head scarves to cover their heads in public.
Baerbock called women's rights "the yardstick for the state of a society" and said that "if women are not safe in a country, no one is safe."
She said Berlin had summoned Iran's ambassador to the German Foreign Ministry.
Officials in Tehran have accused Western enemies and Iranian elements abroad of fomenting the unrest, whose official death toll is 41. But rights groups and Iran's record suggest that could be underreported, and IHR insisted the number of dead is now at least 76.
Security forces have used water cannons and fired live rounds into crowds of protesters, according to rights groups and video shared online. Protesters have thrown rocks and burned police cars and public buildings.
State media have cited officials as saying that the number of arrestees is above 1,200, including about 450 in the northern Mazandaran Province.
The United States last week announced sanctions on Iran's so-called morality police, and Canada said on September 26 that it would follow suit.
Josep Borrell, the European Union's high representative for foreign policy, has said that Iranian officials' "widespread and disproportionate use of force against nonviolent protesters is unjustifiable and unacceptable" and communications blackouts are "violating freedom of expression."
Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi last week said that the country must "deal decisively with those who oppose the country's security and tranquility," and the head of its powerful judiciary has pledged to act "without leniency" in the crackdown.
On September 26, Iran's Foreign Ministry rejected EU criticism.
"This is intervention in the internal affairs of Iran and support for the rioters," Foreign Ministry spokesman Naser Kanaani said.
The head of Iran's judiciary in the capital, Tehran, said that special courts would be set up to try demonstrators.
The Tasnim news agency quoted Ali Alghasi Mehr as pledging tough punishments against the "leaders of the troublemakers hired from abroad."
Mehr said such defendants would be treated like rapists and other serious criminals, who can face the death penalty under Iran's notoriously secretive justice system.
With reporting by Reuters, dpa, and AFP
Tajiks Say Mortar Fire From Kyrgyz Military Wounded Villager One Week After Border Clashes
Residents of a Tajik village near a disputed segment of the Tajik-Kyrgyz border say a mortar fired by Kyrgyzstan's military has wounded a civilian, as tensions between the two Central Asian nations remain high following deadly clashes along the border earlier this month.
Residents of the village of Somoniyon near the Tajik city of Isfara said a son of a local teacher was wounded on September 26 by one of three mortar shells shot from the Kyrgyz side.
They said residents were cleaning debris from the clashes less than two weeks ago that lefts dozens of people on both sides dead.
Neither the Tajik nor the Kyrgyz government issued public statements on the purported incident, but a source in the Tajik Sughd region's government confirmed the shelling to RFE/RL.
A day earlier, Tajik and Kyrgyz officials reached agreements on suspending operations at eight checkpoints along the border, replacing them with mobile joint patrols that will be moving along the border on agreed routes.
Kyrgyz officials say 59 of its citizens died in the September 14-17 clashes, and 183 more were injured.
Tajikistan has put its death toll at 41, but correspondents of RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported a higher number after talking to relatives and friends of victims of the violence.
They concluded that 70 people, including dozens of civilians, lost their lives and have compiled a list of those killed.
Many border areas in Central Asia have been disputed since the Soviet Union's collapse in 1991.
The situation is particularly complicated near the numerous exclaves in the volatile Ferghana Valley, where the borders of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan meet.
Almost half of the 970-kilometer Kyrgyz-Tajik border has yet to be demarcated, leading to repeated tensions since the two countries gained independence more than three decades ago.
Putin Grants Russian Citizenship To U.S. Surveillance Whistle-Blower Snowden
Russian President Vladimir Putin has granted Russian citizenship to former U.S. security contractor Edward Snowden, whose leaks and international flight from U.S. justice nearly a decade ago highlighted top-secret U.S. intelligence-gathering efforts.
Snowden described his revelations as an effort to pull back the curtain on a legally dubious U.S. electronic-surveillance program.
He was among dozens of individuals named in Putin's citizenship decree signed on September 26.
Snowden’s Russian lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, told the Interfax news agency that his client will not be eligible for being called up in a partial mobilization for the war in Ukraine announced last week by Putin, since he had never served in the Russian Army.
After exposing the U.S. surveillance program, Snowden, now 39, fled the United States first to Hong Kong and then to Russia, where he was granted permanent residency.
Snowden is wanted in the United States on espionage charges.
The U.S. State Department said after the Kremlin announcement that it was unaware of any change in Snowden's U.S. citizenship status.
State Department spokesman Ned Price added that the U.S. position on Snowden had not changed.
Snowden said in early November 2020 that he had applied for Russian citizenship while retaining his U.S. citizenship.
With reporting by Interfax and Reuters
U.S. Imposes Sanctions On 'Brazenly Corrupt' Bosnian State Prosecutor
The U.S. Treasury Department has announced sanctions against a Bosnian state prosecutor it said is "brazenly corrupt" with links to organized crime and whose actions have undermined the fledgling former Yugoslav republic's democracy and institutions.
U.S. Under Secretary for the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian Nelson said in a statement on September 26 that the Bosnian official, Diana Kajmakovic, "has continued to undermine democracy and the rule of law in Bosnia and Herzegovina."
The designation freezes the 56-year-old Kajmakovic's assets or property interests in the United States and bars U.S. nationals from transactions involving her without special permission from the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).
"Today’s designation reinforces the United States’ commitment to a stable and prosperous Bosnia and Herzegovina by targeting an individual who has played a central role in enabling corruption in the country.” Nelso said.
Kajmakovic was head of the Bosnian Prosecutor's Office's anti-corruption department until early August, when acting chief prosecutor Milanko Kajganic transferred her to the war-crimes department.
Kajganic told RFE/RL's Balkan Service on September 26 that the federal prosecutor's office had already launched a case based on accusations against Kajmakovic.
"Two prosecutors are working on the mentioned case and will continue to act in the case until they make a prosecutorial decision," Kajganic said.
The head of the Bosnian body that appoints judges and prosecutors, Halil Lagumdzija, told RFE/RL that he didn't know whether disciplinary proceedings would be initiated against Kajmakovic.
The U.S. Treasury Department cited criminals' references to Kajmakovic in decrypted conversations and said she "helped hide evidence, prevent prosecution, and otherwise assist criminal activity in exchange for personal gain" and "attempted to block an investigation into her apparent criminal affiliates."
It said her "destabilizing" activities took place "against the backdrop of [Bosnia's] most serious political crisis since 1995, as ethno-nationalist politicians and affiliated patronage networks continue to undermine the country."
Bosnia, composed of a Bosniak and Croat federation and a mostly Serb entity called Republika Srpska, has faced intensifying challenges from Bosnian Serbs led by Bosnian Presidency member Milorad Dodik, including the establishment of parallel institutions over the past six months.
Dodik has maintained close ties with neighboring Serbia and with Russia for diplomatic and other support to resist Bosnia's federal structure and international pressure.
The United States announced sanctions against Dodik in 2017 and again in January over his secessionist efforts.
Bosnian Croats have also long complained of being sidelined within the three-member presidency, citing grievances that have been acknowledged by European institutions, including the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
Bosnia's fractious leaders failed to agree on electoral reforms or a budget ahead of elections scheduled for October 2 for Bosnia's ethnically designated presidency, the parliaments within its entities, as well as leaders for 10 cantons.
The election dispute has largely centered around the ethnically based voting system and administration of the country stemming from the 1995 Dayton agreement that ended three years of brutal conflict in Bosnia.
The international community's high representative for civilian affairs and compliance with that peace deal, Germany's Christian Schmidt, said in June that he was allocating millions of euros to fund the voting so the balloting could go forward as planned.
Iranian Rights Activist Ronaghi Says Guards At Tehran's Evin Prison Broke His Leg During Beatings
Iranian civil rights activist Hossein Ronaghi says he has been beaten by guards in Tehran's Evin prison.
Journalist Masoud Kazemi said in a tweet on September 25 that Hossein Ronaghi said prison officers broke his leg during the beating, while Ronaghi's mother said her son told her he had been injured by guards.
Security agents stormed Ronaghi's house and arrested him on September 22 as he was giving an interview to the London-based Iran International TV.
Hours later, Ronaghi announced in a video message that he had managed to escape the security agents, but that he would turn himself in to the prosecutor's office of Evin prison in Tehran on September 24.
"If I am arrested after going to the prosecutor's office, I will go on a hunger strike from that moment," Ronaghi said in his video message.
On September 24, Ronaghi went to the Evin prison prosecutor's office and was violently apprehended.
The arrest comes amid anti-government protests over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini after she was taken into custody by morality police for the alleged improper wearing of a head scarf, or hijab.
Many high profile activists, rights advocates, and intellectuals have also been arrested in recent days, including Majid Tavakoli and Mohammad Reza Jalaeipour.
At least 20 journalists are among those arrested, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). They include photojournalist Yalda Moayeri, Fatemeh Rajabi, and Niloufar Hamedi, who reported from a Tehran hospital where Amini died on September 16.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
EU, U.S. Expect Serbia To 'Clarify' Its New Consultation Deal With Russia
EU and U.S. envoys have expressed dismay at Serbia's decision to sign a two-year pledge to consult with Moscow as much of the West seeks to isolate Russia over its escalating war on Ukraine.
Moscow's closest ally in the Balkans even as it pursues EU membership, Belgrade has condemned Russia's unprovoked invasion but staunchly resisted joining unprecedented Western sanctions that would curb trade, energy shipments, direct flights, and other links.
Alongside Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on September 23, Serbian Foreign Minister Nikola Selakovic announced his signing of a "Plan of Consultations" through 2024 on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York.
U.S. Ambassador to Serbia Christopher Hill said at a conference at Belgrade's Metropol Hotel on September 26 that "the United States would like to hear some clarification of what this agreement or what this protocol really was."
He said the U.S. side had "some of the best discussions we've had" with the Serbian delegation on "big-picture and small-picture issues" during last week's General Assembly before learning of the protocol's signing. Hill said he hadn't seen the document's precise contents.
"To be very frank, nobody should be signing anything with Russia right now, and frankly no one is signing very much with Russia, except perhaps some very poor recruits who are being forced into this mobilization to support this failing military operation that Russia has launched against its neighbor," Hill said.
"It is hard for us to understand, but we do look forward to hearing some kind of clarification of what it is," he said of the document and Belgrade's relations with Moscow. "We want to know what the bedrock is of the relationship with a country that does things like that."
Hill said the United States supported Serbia's effort to achieve greater integration into the West and its EU membership goal, and encouraged Serbian energy diversification away from Russia.
At the same conference, EU Ambassador to Serbia Emmanuel Joffre said the bloc "expects Serbia to stand by it in defense of European values and international law."
"By signing the agreement on cooperation with Russia, Serbia sent a completely opposite message, regardless of the fact that it said it would not recognize the results of the referendum that Russia is conducting on the occupied territory of Ukraine," Zoffre said.
He noted that Serbia is on the path to EU membership and is expected to harmonize its foreign policy with the EU's, including the introduction of sanctions against Russia.
The Serbian Foreign Ministry described the consultation protocol as a "technical document," and Selakovic suggested it contained no commitments on security issues but rather bilateral and multilateral activities.
Serbian opposition parties quickly condemned the move by the government of Selakovic and President Aleksandar Vucic's ruling Progressive Party (SNS) and its nationalist allies.
Serbia has kept close relations with Russia in particular to bolster its refusal to recognize the 2008 declaration of sovereignty by its former province Kosovo, which is now recognized by more than 100 countries.
But it has frequently balanced those diplomatic ties, along with Moscow's provisions of energy and weapons, with deeper trade and economic ties to EU member states in addition to talks on joining the bloc.
Back in Belgrade on September 25, Selakovic announced that Serbia would not recognize the voting that Russia and its separatist allies have staged in occupied parts of Ukraine on September 23-27, citing Serbia's commitment to the UN Charter and respect for international law, among other things.
Recognizing what Kyiv and Western governments have called "sham" referendums "would completely violate our national and state interests, the preservation of sovereignty and territorial integrity and the inviolability of borders," Selakovic said.
Ukrainian Man Who Took 13 People Hostage In 2020 Gets 13 Years In Prison
A Ukrainian man who held 13 people hostage inside a bus with a firearm and explosives in the northwestern town of Lutsk for 12 hours in 2020 has been handed a 13-year prison term.
A court in Lutsk sentenced 46-year-old Maksym Kryvosh on September 26 after finding him guilty of hostage-taking, illegal weapon use, conducting an act of terrorism, and the attempted murder of a law enforcement officer.
Kryvosh threw a piece of soap at the judge and shouted that he was innocent while the judge was reading out the sentence. Kryvosh said he does not plan to appeal the sentence.
Kryvosh, a native of the city of Dubno and a resident of Lutsk who has a criminal record and was once treated at a psychiatric center, has said that the hostage-taking on July 21, 2020, was "a performance."
Physiatrists concluded that Kryvosh was mentally fit to stand trial.
Police said earlier that, while holding hostages, Kryvosh ranted against "the system" in his negotiations, called the nation's oligarchs and officials "terrorists," and demanded that people watch the 2005 documentary film Earthlings about the suffering endured by animals at farms, research labs, and other locations.
Nobody was hurt in the 12-hour ordeal.
With reporting by Ukrayinska Pravda, Suspilne, and Volynski Novyny
Russian Ally Kazakhstan Says It Won't Recognize Referendum Results From Ukraine
ASTANA -- Kazakhstan, a close ally of Russia, will not recognize the results of so-called referendums organized by Moscow on Ukraine’s territories occupied by Russian troops.
Kazakh Foreign Ministry spokesman Aibek Smadiyarov said on September 26 that Astana's attitude to the ongoing referendums in parts of Ukraine's Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhya regions, which are under at least the partial control of Russian troops, is based on "the principle of countries' territorial integrity."
Smadiyarov stressed that Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev had explicitly expressed the Central Asian nation's position on the parts of Ukraine's Luhansk and Donetsk regions that have been under Russia-backed separatists' control since 2014, as well as in the districts of Ukraine's Zaporizhzhya and Kherson regions, parts of which have been under the control of occupying Russian troops since March this year.
At a June economic forum in Russia's second-largest city, St. Petersburg, Toqaev, sitting on the podium next to his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, called parts of Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk, which Moscow has recognized as the Luhansk People's Republic (LNR) and Donetsk People's Republic (DNR), as "quasi-states" that Kazakhstan will not recognize.
The referendums, which began on September 23 and run until September 27, have been condemned by Kyiv, Western leaders and the United Nations as an illegitimate, choreographed precursor to the illegal annexation of the territory by Russia.
U.S. President Joe Biden has called them a "sham" and said that Washington "will never recognize Ukrainian territory as anything other than part of Ukraine."
The move to hold the referendums came as Putin announced a partial military mobilization on September 21 amid reports of heavy personnel losses in the unprovoked invasion of Ukraine that Moscow launched in late February.
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Russian Ally Kazakhstan Says It Won't Recognize Referendum Results From Ukraine