Trump Calls On U.S. Attorney General To End Russia Probe 'Right Now'
U.S. President Donald Trump has called on Attorney General Jeff Sessions to stop an investigation into ties between Russia and his 2016 election campaign "right now," in a tweet that set off a firestorm of criticism in Washington.
Trump's demand on August 1 that Sessions end Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation drew a rebuke from fellow Republicans in Congress, who said the probe must go on, while Democrats charged it was Trump's latest attempt to obstruct justice -- a possible crime that Mueller is reportedly investigating.
In a series of early morning tweets, Trump called Mueller's investigation into whether there was collusion between Russia and his campaign a "TOTAL HOAX" and said, "This is a terrible situation and Attorney General Jeff Sessions should stop this Rigged Witch Hunt right now, before it continues to stain our country any further."
Democratic Representative Adam Schiff was one of many who seized on the tweet, saying Trump "just called on his Attorney General to put an end to an investigation in which the president, his family, and campaign may be implicated."
He called the tweet "an attempt to obstruct justice hiding in plain sight."
When pressed whether Trump was ordering Sessions to fire Mueller, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders insisted that the tweet was "not an order" and the president was not directing his attorney general to do anything.
"It's the president's opinion," she said, adding that Trump had been frustrated that the investigation has continued this year despite hopes among Trump's attorneys that it would end early in 2018.
"The president's not obstructing, he's fighting back," Sanders said.
Media have reported, however, that Mueller, who was appointed by the Justice Department a year ago, has been investigating whether Trump's frequent tweets attacking his investigation and rebuking Sessions and other Justice Department officials for allowing it to continue provide evidence that he is attempting to obstruct justice.
Trump in May tweeted that he might take action on his own against the probe if the Justice Department didn't intervene. "At some point I will have no choice but to use the powers granted to the Presidency and get involved!" he said at the time.
"There is now highly credible evidence that the president of the United States is committing obstruction of justice in real time, right before our eyes," Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal said on August 1 after Trump's latest tweets.
Sessions has faced frequent criticism from Trump since he recused himself from the Mueller investigation last year, citing his role as an adviser to Trump's election campaign.
As a result of Sessions' recusal, he no longer has authority to stop the investigation. He ceded that power to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who has also been the target of Trump attacks and an impeachment resolution in Congress.
But Mueller, a Republican and former FBI director, has broad support in Congress, where Republicans control both chambers.
Several Republican senators on August 1 rejected Trump's call to end Mueller's probe.
"They ought to let them conclude their work. What they’re doing is something that is important and we support and I don’t think any effort to truncate that or somehow shut it down early is in the public's best interest," said Senator John Thune, the Senate's No. 3 Republican.
Senator Orrin Hatch said he did not think Sessions had the power to end the probe and it would be unwise to do so.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said after Trump's tweet, "It's clear to me he's very worried about it and he wants to prevent it any way he can."
In April, the committee approved legislation to protect Mueller from firing, but Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said there was no need to advance the bill because he did not believe Trump would fire Mueller.
Some legal analysts said Trump's latest tweet, on its own, is not proof enough to bring an obstruction-of-justice charge, but they said it could be used to establish a pattern of conduct revealing Trump's intentions.
"It is a piece of evidence. It is part and parcel with the other 94 things the man has done that show obstruction of justice," Paul Rosenzweig, a former U.S. prosecutor who was part of a team that investigated former President Bill Clinton, told Reuters.
With reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters
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Erdogan To Discuss Russian-Occupied Ukrainian Nuclear Plant With Putin
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, speaking after holding talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, says he plans to discuss the issue of Ukraine's Russian-held Zaporizhzhya nuclear plant with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin.
Talking to journalists on his return to Turkey from Ukraine on August 19, Erdogan called the situation around the Zaporizhzhya station -- Europe's largest nuclear plant -- "a threat for the world."
Erdogan added that Zelenskiy said during their talks in Ukraine's western city of Lviv a day earlier that he wants Russia to demine the area around the nuclear power station.
"We will discuss this issue with Mr. Putin, and we will ask him specifically for this so that Russia does its part in this regard as an important step for world peace. [Russians] need to take this step. Ukraine has both its own technical staff and its own military forces in Zaporizhzhya. And they are capable of securing safety with their technical staff and solders there," Erdogan said.
A day earlier Erdogan warned that "we don't want another Chernobyl."
Ukraine's state nuclear company Enerhoatom on August 19 accused Russian forces of planning to switch off the functioning power blocks at the plant and to disconnect them from the Ukrainian power grid.
It said the move was part of a "large-scale provocation" being planned by Moscow, which itself accused Kyiv of preparing a "provocation" at the site.
On August 18, after talks with Erdogan and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Zelenskiy said he agreed to the parameters of a mission from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to the Zaporizhzhya nuclear plant.
A Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman called the plan to demilitarize the zone around the plant "unacceptable," saying it would make the plant even more vulnerable to attack.
Russia doesn't deny it has troops located at the plant but has disputed claims it has shelled the area. Instead, Moscow blames Ukrainian forces for firing artillery shells in the area, which officials in Kyiv deny.
With reporting by Ahaber, CNN Turk, and Milliyet
RFE/RL Journalists In Ukraine In Group Honored With 2022 Free Media Award
RFE/RL journalists Andriy Dubchak and Vladyslav Yesypenko, who is jailed in Russia-annexed Crimea, have been named as part of a group of Ukrainian media members to win the prestigious Free Media Award 2022 for their coverage of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
The Norway-based Fritt Ord Foundation said on August 19 that, in all, six Ukrainian photographers, journalists, and media outlets will be awarded the prize jointly "in recognition of their efforts to document the suffering and the challenges that Ukrainian people are facing due to the hostile destruction and war crimes committed by Russian troops."
The foundation called Yesypenko's incarceration "a striking example of the persecution of journalists who try to report from" Crimea, which was forcibly annexed by Russia in 2014. Weeks later, the Kremlin threw its support behind pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine's east.
Yesypenko, a dual Russian-Ukrainian citizen who is a freelance contributor to RFE/RL's Crimea.Realities project, was sentenced in Crimea to six years in prison in February after a closed-door trial for allegedly collecting information for Ukrainian intelligence. Before the arrest, he had worked in Crimea for five years reporting on social and environmental issues on the peninsula.
WATCH: RFE/RL freelance correspondent Vladyslav Yesypenko made detailed allegations in court in September 2021 about being tortured while in custody.
Yesypenko testified during a court hearing that Russian authorities "want to discredit the work of freelance journalists who really want to show the things that really happen in Crimea." In May, he was awarded the PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award in the United States, which is given to honor writers who are political prisoners.
On August 18, a Russia-controlled court in Crimea shortened Yesypenko's prison term by one year.
The Fritt Ord Foundation called Dubchak, a longtime correspondent of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, "one of the most important sources of information about life on the front lines in" Ukraine's eastern Donbas region.
Others in the group of winners include AP photographer Mstyslav Chernov and Evgeniy Maloletka, who a freelance photojournalist for several outlets. Author Nataliya Gumenyuk and the online newspaper Zaborona are also in the group.
On February 24, Moscow launched an unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. In recent weeks, it has intensified its bombardment of areas in the east to tighten and expand its grip on areas where the separatists have a stronghold.
The Free Media Awards Press Prizes are earmarked for journalists from Eastern Europe and awarded through a collaborative program between the Fritt Ord Foundation of Norway and the ZEIT-Stiftung Ebelin und Gerd Bucerius of Germany.
The awards ceremony will be held at the Norwegian Nobel Institute on October 17.
Several Serbian Ruling Party Members Say Twitter Has Frozen Their Accounts
Several parliamentary deputies and politicians belonging to the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) of President Aleksandar Vucic say Twitter has blocked their accounts.
"Twitter just suspended my account on which I had 34,000 followers, without explanation," Arnaud Gouillon, director of the Serbian Foreign Ministry's Directorate for Cooperation With the Diaspora and Serbs in the Region, confirmed in a post on Facebook on August 19.
Some 13 members of the SNS said their accounts also were blocked, including the Belgrade city manager, Miroslav Cuckovic, and Slavisa Micanovic, who reportedly leads the Internet team of the SNS.
Twitter has not publicly commented on the suspended accounts in Serbia, nor was the company immediately available for comment.
Gouillon's Facebook post showed a notification from Twitter saying the account was "permanently suspended" because the social media company determined it had "broke the Twitter Rules."
It added that the account will now be available in "read-only" mode, meaning the user cannot post, like, or retweet content from others. The user can appeal the ruling, it said.
Gouillon was born in France and is known for his ties to the extreme right.
In 2004, he founded the NGO Solidarity For Kosovo, which helps ethnic Serbs in the country. He has held a Serbian passport since 2015.
Fire Erupts At Munitions Depot In Russian Border Region Near Ukraine's Kharkiv
The governor of Russia’s Belgorod region, which borders Ukraine near Kharkiv, reported on August 19 that two villages had been evacuated after a fire broke out at a munitions depot.
Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov wrote on Telegram that no one was injured in the incident, which occurred during the night of August 18-19. He said the cause of the fire was being investigated.
The previous day, Gladkov warned local residents to be wary of land mines that he said had been found along the border. He said the mines had been discovered after the area had purportedly been shelled by Ukrainian forces.
It was not possible to independently verify the reports.
Fighting has been intense in the area around Kharkiv for several days. Some 17 Ukrainian civilians were killed and 42 injured in the Kharkiv region by Russian shelling on August 18, the governor of the region, Oleh Synyehubov, wrote on Telegram, describing the shelling as “terrorism.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy called the Kharkiv shelling “a vile and cynical attack on civilians that has no justification.”
Russia has denied targeting civilians, saying the August 18 strikes in the Kharkiv region were carried out using “precision weaponry” and targeted “a temporary base for foreign mercenaries.”
The British Defense Ministry on August 19 posted on Twitter its assessment that Russian forces are trying “to force Ukraine to maintain significant forces [near Kharkiv] to prevent them from being employed as a counterattack force elsewhere.”
Kharkiv is just 15 kilometers from Russian lines and has faced nearly continuous shelling since Moscow’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in February. Because of the city’s proximity to Russian forces, it is often targeted by “multiple rocket launchers and generally inaccurate are weapons” that have “caused devastation across large parts of the city,” the U.K. Defense Ministry wrote.
Kazakh Activist Released After Serving 16 Years In Prison Over Protest Case
QOSTANAI, Kazakhstan -- A Kazakh activist who was sentenced along with the late prominent dissident poet Aron Atabek for helping organize protests that resulted in the death of a police officer in 2006 has been released after serving 16 years behind bars.
The administration of the UK-161/2 penal colony in the northern city of Qostanai told RFE/RL that Qurmanghazy Otegenov was released early on August 19.
His lawyer, Gulmira Quatbek, confirmed his client's release and said that Kazakh rights activists greeted Otegenov at the penitentiary's gates.
Otegenov, Atabek (aka Aron Edigeev), and two other activists were arrested in July 2006 after police clashed with homeowners in the Almaty suburb of Snagyraq over a court decision to demolish their houses because they were built "illegally."
A police officer was set on fire by the protesters and died in the hospital days later.
In 2007, the four were handed lengthy prison terms after a court found them guilty of masterminding the protests, which the activists and their supporters vehemently rejected.
The two activists were released from prison in 2020 after serving 14 years in prison.
While in prison, Atabek wrote a book, Heart Of Eurasia, which was critical of then-President Nursultan Nazarbaev. He was granted an early release in October 2021 due to health concerns.
He died in November while being treated in a Kazakh hospital for COVID-19.
As punishment for his book, which was published after it was smuggled out of prison, Atabek was moved from a penal colony to a cell-system penitentiary for two years. Atabek rejected a government pardon offer in 2012 that would have required him to admit guilt.
Moscow Court Postpones Hearing On Shutting Down Jewish Agency
A district court in Moscow has postponed for one month its hearing of a Justice Ministry request to close down the Russian offices of a prominent Jewish nongovernmental organization.
The Basmanny District Court on August 19 granted a request by the Jewish Agency for Israel for a one-month delay in the proceedings, during which the organization said it would respond to the government’s complaints.
Moscow has accused the organization of unspecified violations of Russian law. According to media reports, however, the government believes the Jewish Agency for Israel illegally collects the personal data of Russian citizens.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has denied Israeli media reports that Moscow wants to shutter the organization to combat a brain drain that has accelerated since Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in February.
The Jewish Agency for Israel, which was founded in 1929 and began working in the Soviet Union in 1989, works to promote Jewish cultural identity and facilitate the immigration of Jews to Israel. It has helped hundreds of thousands of Jews from Russia and other former Soviet countries to immigrate to Israel.
Russia and Israel have discussed the case at the highest diplomatic levels.
Israel has warned that shuttering the organization could harm bilateral relations.
Putin, Xi Will Attend G20 Summit In November, Indonesia Says
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping plan to attend the G20 summit on the Indonesian island of Bali on November 15-16, Indonesian President Joko Widodo said on August 19.
Widodo also said that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy haS been invited, even though Ukraine is not a G20 member. He has reportedly confirmed he would attend either in person or virtually.
Xi has not traveled internationally since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Last month, he made his first trip away from mainland China when he traveled to Hong Kong.
Jakarta has faced Western pressure to exclude Putin because of Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. However, Indonesia has sought to maintain a neutral stance, and Widodo has visited both Kyiv and Moscow this year.
The G20 summit also comes at a time of high tension between China and the United States over the status of Taiwan and Chinese claims in the South China Sea.
Based on reporting by AFP and Reuters
Explosions Reported In Ukraine's Russian-Occupied Crimea Region
At least four explosions were reported in the Russian-occupied Ukrainian region of Crimea overnight near the Belbek military airport outside the port city of Sevastopol, according to local sources.
The Russian-imposed administrator of Sevastopol, Mikhail Razvozhayev, wrote on Telegram late on August 18 that anti-aircraft defenses had shot down a Ukrainian drone. He added that the explosions had not caused any damage.
The same day, a Russian official in the Crimean city of Kerch said that air defenses had been activated there. Kerch is located on the far eastern tip of Crimea and is the terminus of the Crimean Bridge (also called the Kerch Strait Bridge), a high-profile Russian-built road and rail link between the occupied Ukrainian region and the Russian mainland.
The official said: “There is no danger to the city or the bridge.”
Video clips apparently showing the anti-aircraft fire in Kerch appeared on social media.
The Crimean Bridge was completed in May 2018 and built at a cost of some $4 billion. It was a significant prestige project intended to bolster Moscow’s claims on Crimea and was inaugurated by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Russian military targets in Crimea, which Moscow illegally annexed in 2014, have been rocked by blasts in recent days. A Russian ammunition depot in northern Crimea exploded on August 16, in an incident Russian authorities have attributed to “sabotage.”
The same day, an electrical substation in the Dzhankoy district of the Black Sea peninsula exploded, although the cause of that blast remains unknown.
On August 9, the Saky Air Base was struck by explosions that destroyed at least nine military aircraft, including Su-30SM fighters and Su-24M bombers.
Ukrainian officials have avoided publicly claiming responsibility for the explosions, but an unnamed senior Ukrainian official was quoted in The New York Times as saying an elite Ukrainian military unit operating behind enemy lines was carrying out at least some of the attacks.
On July 31, the Russian Navy Day celebrations in Sevastopol were canceled after a drone strike on the headquarters of the Russian Black Sea Fleet injured six people.
With reporting by Reuters and AP
Relatives Of Kazakhs Jailed For Taking Part In January Unrest Demand Retrials, Justice
ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- Relatives of Kazakh citizens who were handed lengthy prison terms on charges of taking part in mass disorder and stealing firearms during unprecedented anti-government protests in January that left at least 238 people dead have demanded their release or a retrial.
Close family members, including mothers and wives, made their demands at a press conference held in Almaty on August 18 that was attended by Rysbek Sarsenbaiuly, a member of the Public Commission investigating the January unrest.
Kazakhstan's Prosecutor-General's Office has said that more than 10,000 people were arrested following the January bloodshed, and more than 5,300 individuals were charged. To date, 834 people have been sentenced to various prison terms in quick trials.
Sarsenbaiuly said the investigations were poorly conducted with violations of law, adding that many suspects were severely beaten and tortured while in custody.
Bayan Shyrynbekova, whose husband was sentenced last month to six years in prison on a charge of stealing two firearms from a store in Almaty during the unrest, told the press conference that her husband had to sign a written confession after he was "beaten and tortured" by investigators.
Gulfaria Tangirbergenova said that her son was sentenced in May to five years in prison on a charge of stealing firearms as well.
Tangirbergenova denied that her son had stolen a firearm, saying he found a rifle on the ground during the unrest. She also said her son was severely beaten while in custody and she demanded that he be retried.
Several other speakers at the press conference shared similar ordeals about their close relatives.
A day earlier, the Kazakh Bureau on Human Rights and the Rule of Law issued a statement claiming that 71 percent of the people arrested during and after the January unrest were tortured while in custody.
Meanwhile, on August 16, Eldos Qilymzhanov, a top official with the Prosecutor-General's Office, said six individuals who were detained during the riots had died as a result of “illegal methods of interrogation by law enforcement structures.”
He said that 15 law enforcement officers were under investigation for those deaths.
Qilymzhanov said his office has concluded that 238 people were killed during and after the unrest. However, Kazakh human rights groups claim they have evidence showing that this number is much higher.
The unrest led to the removal of former President Nursultan Nazarbaev and his relatives from Kazakh politics. Some relatives have been stripped of their posts, lost influential positions at companies, or have even been arrested on corruption charges.
Kazakh authorities have rejected calls by Kazakh and global human rights groups for an international probe into the events in January.
Zelenskiy Says Ukraine, UN Agree On Parameters For Atomic Watchdog's Mission To Nuclear Plant
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy says he agreed to the parameters of an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) mission to the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant at talks with the UN secretary-general and Turkey's leader.
Zelenskiy told a news conference on August 18 after the talks in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv that Russia should immediately withdraw its forces and stop shelling from the nuclear facility in southern Ukraine.
As the Ukrainian leader held talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Kyiv and Moscow accused each other of planning to stage a "provocation" at the plant in the Zaporizhzhya region, the largest in Europe.
Fears have mounted of the risk of a Chernobyl-style nuclear disaster as Kyiv and Moscow have blamed each other for shelling the Russian-controlled facility, prompting calls for an IAEA mission to the plant.
"We agreed with the secretary general the conditions of a possible mission by the IAEA to the Zaporizhzhya nuclear plant, in a legal way, via territory free from occupiers," Zelenskiy told reporters.
"Russia should immediately and unconditionally withdraw its forces from the territory of the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, as well as stop any provocations and shelling," he said.
Guterres said he was "gravely concerned" about the situation at the plant and said it had to be demilitarized, adding: "We must tell it like it is -- any potential damage to Zaporizhzhya is suicide.”
Erdogan told the press conference that he was “worried” about the safety of the nuclear plant and is seeking to “find a solution” to end the war.
Erdogan, who has major geopolitical rivalries with the Kremlin but maintains a close working relationship with President Vladimir Putin, met with the Russian leader less than two weeks ago in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.
A Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman called the plan to demilitarize the zone around the plant "unacceptable," saying it would make the plant even more vulnerable to attack.
Russia doesn't deny it has troops located at the plant but has disputed claims that it has shelled the area. Instead, Moscow blames Ukrainian forces for firing artillery shells in the area, which officials in Kyiv deny.
The Turkish leader along with Guterres were key brokers of a deal inked in Istanbul last month allowing the resumption of grain exports from Ukraine after Russia's invasion blocked essential global supplies.
Ahead of the press conference with Zelenskiy, Ukraine's port authority announced that the 25th cargo ship under the deal had departed for Egypt carrying 33,000 tons of grain.
Ukraine and Russia are two of the world's biggest grain exporters and the halt in exports saw grain prices soar and fears rise of global food shortages, particularly in poor countries already experiencing shortfalls.
Guterres said during the meeting with reporters that the sides hoped to intensify efforts to bolster operations at three southern Ukrainian ports designated for exports under the deal.
"We will do our best to scale up our operations to face...the coming winter," the UN chief said, hailing the deal that saw a safe corridor established for cargo ships to exit Black Sea ports.
Guterres will visit a Ukrainian port tomorrow.
With reporting by Reuters and AFP
Iranian Political Prisoner Mehdipour Reportedly Beaten Again In Prison
Human right activists say Khadijeh Mehdipour, a political prisoner being held in Ilam prison in western Iran, has been beaten again by inmates who are serving time for violent crimes.
The Hengaw Human Rights Organization says Mehdipour, who is in prison without being segregated from dangerous prisoners, was beaten by violent criminals at the instigation of the prison authorities and even forced to sleep in the prison library.
Some human rights sources, including the Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA), say Mehdipour has been handed new charges while in prison for "insulting Islamic sanctities." Because of this, she has been banned from making phone calls with her family for a month, according to the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Earlier in February, Mehdipour was also attacked and beaten by a number of prisoners accused of violent crimes, which resulted in an injury to her eye.
The Iranian Prisons Organization announced at the time that the reason for the "conflict" was for Mehdipour voicing "obscenities and insults" about Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ali Khamenei, the current leader of Iran, and Qasem Soleimani, the former commander of the Quds Force who was killed by the United States in 2020.
Reports of political prisoners being held alongside dangerous criminals in prisons across Iran are not uncommon.
Mehdipour was arrested in October 2021 for her activities posted on social media and sentenced to 20 months in prison by the Islamic Revolutionary Court of Ilam for "propaganda against the regime, insulting the founder of the Islamic republic and insulting its leadership."
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
Jailed Contributor To RFE/RL's Russian Service Starts Hunger Strike Over Arrest
Jailed Russian journalist Yelena Shukayeva, who contributes to RFE/RL's Russian Service and several other independent media outlets, has started a hunger strike to protest a 14-day jail sentence handed to her in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg on August 17 for reposting jailed opposition politician Aleksei Navalny's investigative materials online.
The OVD-Info human rights group said on August 18 that Shukayeva revealed that her hunger strike is "a protest against police arbitrariness, the distortion of common sense, and the pandering of judges to any fantasies the police have."
Shukayeva was sentenced to 14 days in jail after a court in Yekaterinburg found her guilty of propagating and publicly displaying symbols of an extremist organization.
Russia last year declared Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation "extremist" and banned the use of any symbols tied to the group as part of a widening crackdown on dissent.
Also on August 17, police in the capital of Russia's Republic of Tatarstan, Kazan, searched the homes of seven journalists contributing to programs of RFE/RL's Russian and Tatar-Bashkir Services, as well as Idel.Realities, an online project that covers news and events in the Volga-Urals region.
Pro-Kremlin website Tatar-Inform reported that the searches were linked to the journalists' articles covering Russia's ongoing invasion against Ukraine.
President Vladimir Putin signed a law in March that calls for lengthy prison terms for distributing "deliberately false information" about Russian military operations as the Kremlin seeks to control the narrative about its war in Ukraine.
The law envisages sentences of up to 10 years in prison for individuals convicted of an offense, while the penalty for the distribution of "deliberately false information" about the Russian Army that leads to "serious consequences" is 15 years in prison.
It also makes it illegal "to make calls against the use of Russian troops to protect the interests of Russia" or "for discrediting such use" with a possible penalty of up to three years in prison. The same provision applies to calls for sanctions against Russia.
RFE/RL's President and CEO Jamie Fly has condemned Shukayeva's sentencing and the searches of the journalists' homes.
American Investor Known For Russian Nightclub, Pro-Ukrainian Stances Found Dead In Washington
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- An American stockbroker who made a fortune in the Russian market in the 1990s and 2000s and later co-founded a posh Moscow nightclub before leaving the country died after being found lying on a sidewalk in Washington, police said.
Police said they were investigating the death of Dan Rapoport, 52, who was found outside an apartment building in a northwestern district of the U.S. capital, but there were no immediate indications of foul play.
A preliminary police report said officers responded to a report of a “jumper” on the evening of August 14, and the man, later identified as Rapoport, was taken to a nearby hospital, where he was declared dead.
The police report said officers found $2,620 in cash on Rapoport when they discovered his body on the sidewalk, along with headphones, a cracked cell phone, a Florida driver’s license, and other items. He was wearing flip-flops.
Brianna Burch, a police spokesperson, told RFE/RL that there did not appear to be anyone with Rapoport at the time and there were no listed witnesses. She said she did not have information to suggest he left a suicide note.
It wasn’t clear whether Rapoport was living in the apartment building. He had recently moved back to Washington after spending several years working in finance in Ukraine.
A police spokeswoman referred further questions from RFE/RL to the city’s medical examiner’s offices. An official with that office confirmed that an autopsy was pending, but had no other information.
The FBI did not immediately respond to queries about whether it was involved in the investigation.
Rapoport's wife, Alonya, a native of Ukraine, did not immediately respond to a Facebook message, but she confirmed his death in a Facebook post.
A native of Latvia and a fluent Russian speaker, Rapoport emigrated with his family to the United States in 1980. After graduation from a U.S. university, he moved to Russia in the early 1990s as a wave of privatizations swept across the country.
The sale of former state-owned companies created a booming stock market, minting a new generation of millionaires, Russian and foreign.
Rapoport was respected within Russian financial circles, where he worked for more than a decade at a local brokerage called CenterInvest, making his way up to managing partner. He claimed his clients included some of the nation's wealthiest tycoons.
In 2007, he opened a swanky nightclub in downtown Moscow called Soho Rooms, which became the go-to location for Moscow’s elite, Russian and foreign alike.
In 2012, he left Russia and returned to the United States, saying the stock brokerage industry that had made him a fortune "had died" as commission fees shrunk with improvements in technology.
But in a media interview prior to his departure, he also criticized the direction Russia had taken and expressed support for Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny, who was jailed last year.
"Our flight to Washington is in 12 hours. It's sad to leave Russia, but for thoughtful people, living here has become unbearable and disgusting," Rapoport wrote on his Facebook page on June 13, 2012.
He moved to Washington, where he said his parents lived, and set up a company called Rapoport Capital to advise and assist technology start-ups as well as venture capital funds on fundraising options.
The company’s website said it was registered in Washington, D.C., though public records say the company was registered in St. Petersburg, Florida, in February 2022.
An e-mail sent to the company’s website was not immediately responded to.
In 2016, four years after leaving Russia, Rapaport set up an office in Kyiv and opened a private equity fund. In social media posts, he was a vocal supporter of Ukraine, and an outspoken critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Rapoport gained a degree of publicity in January 2017, after The New York Times reported that the daughter and son-in-law of newly elected President Donald Trump had purchased a mansion owned by him and his first wife. The mansion was located in an exclusive neighborhood of the U.S. capital.
Later that same month, Raporport's co-founder of the Soho Rooms nightclub, Sergei Tkachenko, was found dead outside a Moscow building. Investigators said Tkachenko's body was found on a building awning “with injuries typical of a fall from a great height.”
In 2018, the open-source investigative organization Bellingcat reported that Rapoport had been the creator of a fictional persona named David Jewberg, who was frequently quoted in Ukrainian media as a senior Pentagon analyst.
Todd Prince reported from Washington, D.C. Mike Eckel reported from Prague.
Russian-Controlled Supreme Court Of Crimea Trims Sentence For Jailed RFE/RL Writer
SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine -- The Moscow-controlled Supreme Court of Russian-annexed Crimea has shortened the prison term of RFE/RL freelance correspondent Vladyslav Yesypenko by one year to five years.
Yesypenko's wife, Kateryna Yesypenko, told RFE/RL on August 18 that the decision to fine her husband 110,000 rubles ($1,810) remains in effect.
"We will continue to appeal the verdict. Because of the decision by the court of appeals, we now have a very good chance. In half-a-year, we can request an early release. If the sentence remained six years in prison, the time for early release would be in one year," Kateryna Yesypenko said, adding that her husband was present at the hearing and looked well.
Yesypenko, a dual Russian-Ukrainian citizen who contributes to RFE/RL's Crimea.Realities project, was sentenced in Crimea in February after a closed-door trial.
He was detained in Crimea in March 2021 for allegedly collecting information for Ukrainian intelligence. Before the arrest, he had worked in Crimea for five years reporting on social and environmental issues on the peninsula.
Yesypenko testified during a court hearing that the Russian authorities "want to discredit the work of freelance journalists who really want to show the things that really happen in Crimea."
RFE/RL President Jamie Fly has called the judgment a “travesty” of justice.
Press freedom advocates, including the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders, along with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and the U.S. State Department, are among those who have called for Yesypenko’s immediate release in the absence of any evidence of wrongdoing.
In May, Yesypenko was awarded the PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award in the United States, which is given to honor writers who are political prisoners.
Moscow illegally annexed Crimea in early 2014 and weeks later threw its support behind pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine's east.
On February 24, Moscow launched an unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. In recent weeks it has intensified its bombardment of areas in the east to tighten and expand its grip on areas where the separatists have a stronghold.
Russia Calls UN Proposal To Demilitarize Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Plant 'Unacceptable'
Moscow has rejected a proposal by United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to demilitarize the area around the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine.
During a press briefing on August 18, Foreign Ministry spokesman Ivan Nechayev said the proposals were "unacceptable."
The Zaporizhzhya nuclear plant was captured by Russia in March, shortly after it launched an unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. The plant -- Europe's largest -- has repeatedly come under fire in recent weeks, sparking fears of a nuclear disaster.
Guterres and the international community have expressed deep concern over the risk of disaster at the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant amid reports of fighting in its vicinity in the past week. Both Ukraine and Russia have accused each other of shelling the plant.
The United Nations has also offered to help facilitate a visit by its International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors to Zaporizhzhya, but Moscow has dismissed the idea of a mission traveling through Kyiv despite vowing it would do all it could to help ensure IAEA access to the plant.
Based on reporting by Reuters
Moscow Reportedly Moves Three Warplanes With Hypersonic Missiles To Kaliningrad Exclave
The Russian Defense Ministry has deployed three MiG-31E warplanes equipped with Kinzhal hypersonic missiles to the far western Kaliningrad exclave, according to Russian media.
The ministry was quoted as saying by the Russian state-owned news agency RIA Novosti on August 18 that the aircraft would be on round-the-clock duty.
Russia has long boasted about its arsenal of Kinzhals, which have a range of up to 2,000 kilometers, and fly 10 times the speed of sound.
Kaliningrad, a Russian region located between NATO members Poland and Lithuania, became a flashpoint in June after Vilnius imposed restrictions on Russian goods traveling across its territory to the exclave, arguing it was applying sanctions imposed by the European Union after Russia's invasion of Ukraine on February 24.
Earlier on August 18, Finland's Defense Ministry said that two Russian MiG-31 jets were suspected of violating its airspace near the city of Porvoo, on the Gulf of Finland 150 kilometers from Russia.
Based on reporting by Interfax and RIA Novosti
Tajik Blogger Detained In Moscow; Relatives Fear His Extradition To Dushanbe
A Tajik activist and blogger who is a native of the Central Asian nation's restive Gorno-Badakhshan region (GBAO) has reportedly been arrested in Moscow and may be extradited to Tajikistan, where rights activists say he faces illegal incarceration and arbitrary prosecution.
Relatives and friends of Maqsud Ghayosov told RFE/RL on August 18 that the blogger was detained in Moscow a day earlier. It is not known where Ghayosov is being kept as Moscow police have not commented on his arrest.
According to the relatives, Ghayosov's arrest may be linked to his online blogging activities that intensified earlier this year in the wake of mass protests in Gorno-Badakhshan that were violently dispersed by the authorities.
Ghayosov's satirical Instagram blog, Bobingi, has more than 47,000 subscribers. He also has taken part in various social events in Gorno-Badakhshan in the past.
At least three natives of Gorno-Badakhshan have gone missing in Russia in recent weeks. Two of them appeared in Tajikistan as the government continues to track activists from the restive region after the deadly protests.
In April, an informal leader of Gorno-Badakhshan youth in Russia, Amriddin Alovatshoev, was sentenced in Dushanbe to 18 years in prison after he was convicted of hostage-taking, illegally depriving others of their freedom, and "other crimes," charges his relatives call trumped-up.
Alovatshoev was arrested in Russia in January and disappeared before later showing up in custody in Tajikistan.
Deep tensions between the Tajik government and residents of volatile Gorno-Badakhshan have simmered since a five-year civil war broke out shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Protests are rare in the tightly controlled nation of 9.5 million, where President Emomali Rahmon has ruled with an iron fist for nearly three decades.
The latest crackdown on activists in Gorno-Badakhshan followed protests initially sparked by anger over the lack of an investigation into the 2021 death of an activist while in police custody and the refusal by regional authorities to consider the resignation of regional Governor Alisher Mirzonabot and Khorugh Mayor Rizo Nazarzoda.
The rallies intensified after one of the protesters, 29-year-old Zamir Nazrishoev, was killed by police on May 16, prompting the authorities to launch what they called a "counterterrorism operation."
The escalating violence in the region has sparked a call for restraint from UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Western diplomatic missions in Tajikistan, and human rights groups.
Russian Billionaire Deripaska Sues Navalny Over Report About Lavrov Links
Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska has filed a lawsuit against jailed opposition leader Aleksei Navalny, his team, and several foreign entities over an investigative report they produced about alleged corruption links between the tycoon and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
Navalny wrote on Telegram on August 17 that Deripaska demanded the removal of the investigation from the Internet and an official refuting of the investigation's conclusion that he makes payments to Lavrov on a regular basis and financially supports his "second family."
The investigation, called Yachts, Bribes, and A Mistress. What Minister Lavrov Hides, was issued last fall.
Deripaska is also demanding Navalny remove from the Internet a photo of him and Lavrov taken in Japan, and all mentions about his alleged ties with Paul Manafort, who chaired former U.S. President Donald Trump's presidential campaign in 2016.
Deripaska, who has been known for his close ties with President Vladimir Putin, is among the Russian oligarchs who have been hit by Western sanctions over the Kremlin's unprovoked war in Ukraine.
"I once again call on the United States, European Union, and Great Britain to impose really effective sanctions against these thieves and war enablers that would not allow them to escape [the sanctions] through basic tricks," Navalny's Telegram post said.
Navalny associate Maria Pevchikh said Deripaska also demanded Navalny's team record a video statement saying that the investigation "does not reflect reality," warning that each day such a video statement is delayed will cost her and her colleague Georgy Alburov 50,000 rubles ($882).
Deripaska's lawsuit also targets The Insider investigative group, DMG Media company, which owns The Daily Mail newspaper in the United Kingdom, and the United States-based Newlines Institute for Strategy and Policy, which issues the Newlines information digest.
EU's Borrell Calls For 'Flexibility' As Kosovo-Serbia Talks Begin In Brussels
The European Union's top diplomat has opened high-level crisis talks between the leaders of Kosovo and Serbia in Brussels with an appeal to both sides to show flexibility.
European Union mediators hope the talks will de-escalate growing tensions in the Balkans and reduce the increasingly war-mongering rhetoric coming from both sides.
"Recent tensions in the north of Kosovo have demonstrated yet again that it is time to move forward towards full normalization," Josep Borrell wrote on Twitter on August 18.
Hoping for progress, Borrell called on both Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti "to be open and flexible to find common ground."
Kosovo is a former province of Serbia, which has refused to recognize the country's 2008 declaration of independence.
The two sides have engaged in the EU-led dialogue since 2011, aiming to reach a comprehensive and legally binding agreement on the normalization of relations.
But tensions resurfaced late last month when Pristina declared that Serbian identity documents and vehicle license plates would no longer be valid on Kosovo territory.
Serbs, who live mostly in northern Kosovo, reacted with fury, putting up roadblocks and firing their guns into the air and in the direction of Kosovo police officers. No one was injured.
Kurti postponed the implementation of the measure for a month, to September 1, after apparent pressure from the West.
Before meeting with Borrell, Vucic and Kurti held separate meetings with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on August 17 to discuss the recent tensions.
Stoltenberg told the two that the alliance's peacekeeping troops are ready to step in if tensions escalate further.
"While the situation on the ground has improved, it is the responsibility of all parties -- particularly officials from Belgrade and Pristina -- to prevent escalation again," Stoltenberg told a news conference.
"I call on all sides to show restraint and to avoid the violence. NATO continues to monitor closely the situation on the ground. Our KFOR peacekeeping mission remains focused on its UN mandate. Should stability be jeopardized KFOR stands ready to intervene," he said.
With reporting by dpa
Estonia Repels Massive Cyberattack Linked To Removal Of Soviet Memorial
Estonia says it was targeted by "the most extensive cyberattacks since 2007" shortly after removing a Soviet-era monument in a region with a sizeable ethnic Russian majority.
Russian hacker group Killnet claimed responsibility for the attack, saying on its Telegram account on August 17 that it had blocked access to more than 200 state and private Estonian institutions, including an online citizen-identification system.
Killnet said it acted after a Soviet Tu-34 tank was removed from public display in the town of Narva to a museum on August 16.
"Yesterday, Estonia was subject to the most extensive cyber attacks it has faced since 2007," Luukas Ilves, undersecretary for digital transformation at Estonia's Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications, tweeted on August 18.
However, Ilves said the denial-of-service attacks were "ineffective" and went "largely unnoticed" by the general population.
"With some brief and minor exceptions, websites remained fully available throughout the day," he added. "E-Estonia is up and running," Ilves wrote, using a moniker that the Baltic country, seen as a pioneer of digitization in Europe, has adopted.
Estonia's roughly 1.3 million citizens can complete almost all administrative procedures over the Internet.
Based on reporting by Reuters and dpa
Russian Paratrooper Who Condemned War In Ukraine Flees Country
A Russian paratrooper who condemned his country's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine after taking part in the war has fled Russia.
France-based human rights activist Vladimir Osechkin said on August 17 that he and his team helped Pavel Filatyev to "urgently" leave Russia.
Filatyev took part in Russia's attack on Ukraine in February and March. He later wrote a book titled ZOV (A Call) in Russian. The title was written in Latin script to highlight the letters "Z" and "V."
Russian military vehicles in Ukraine are marked with those letters, which have become symbols promoted by Russian state media and other Kremlin supporters as patriotic emblems expressing support for the military and the invasion.
Before leaving Russia, Filatyev gave an interview to The Guardian saying that after his book was published, he changed his address several times to avoid possible arrest.
Filatyev also said that he was not aware of whether a criminal case has been launched against him.
President Vladimir Putin in March signed a law that calls for lengthy prison terms for distributing "deliberately false information" about Russian military operations, as the Kremlin seeks to control the narrative about the war in Ukraine it launched in late February.
The law envisages sentences of up to 10 years in prison for individuals convicted of an offense, while the penalty for the distribution of "deliberately false information" about the Russian military that leads to "serious consequences" is 15 years in prison.
It also makes it illegal "to make calls against the use of Russian troops to protect the interests of Russia" or "for discrediting such use" with a possible penalty of up to three years in prison. The same provision applies to calling for sanctions against Russia.
Earlier this week, another Russian soldier, Daniil Frolkin of the 64th Motorized Rifle Brigade from the Far Eastern Khabarovsk region, publicly confessed that Russian troops took part in robberies, looting, and murders of civilians in Ukraine under orders from their supervisors.
He also confessed that he killed a Ukrainian civilian, Ruslan Yaremchuk, in the village of Andriyivka.
With reporting by Meduza
Ukraine Says Kherson Attack Repelled, Kharkiv Hit By Deadly Russian Bombing
Ukraine's military says that its forces have beaten back a Russian attack in the southern region of Kherson, while shelling by Moscow's forces in the northeastern city of Kharkiv killed seven people and wounded 16.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy called the Kharkiv shelling, which hit a dormitory, "vile and cynical."
"Pain for Kharkiv. Rocket attack.... On the dormitory.... The building was completely destroyed," Zelenskiy wrote on Telegram. "A vile and cynical attack on civilians that has no justification and demonstrates the powerlessness of the aggressor. We will not forgive, we will take revenge."
In southern Ukraine, Kyiv's forces repelled an attempted advance by Russian forces near the town of Bilohirka, northeast of Kherson, Ukrainian military analyst Oleh Zhdanov said.
The southern district of the Operational Command of the Ukrainian armed forces said its forces killed 29 "occupiers" and destroyed artillery, armored vehicles, and a military supply depot.
The claims could not be independently confirmed.
"Russian forces have achieved only minimal advances, and in some cases we have advanced, since last month," Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said in a video message. "What we are seeing is a 'strategic deadlock.'"
Meanwhile, Russia's RIA Novosti news agency on August 17 quoted sources as saying the commander of the Black Sea Fleet, Igor Osipov, had been replaced with a new commander, Viktor Sokolov.
The move, if confirmed, would mark one of the most prominent dismissals of a Russian military official so far in the almost six-month war.
Russia's Black Sea Fleet has suffered several humiliations since the invasion of Ukraine on February 24, including the sinking in April of its flagship, the Moskva, a missile cruiser, with Neptune missiles.
Most recently, military bases and ammunition depots in the past week in the Russian-occupied region of Crimea were hit by explosions over the past week.
Britain's Ministry of Defense said in its daily intelligence bulletin on August 18 that the altogether poor performance of Russian forces since the start of the invasion could be at least partially caused by the commanders' failure to enforce low-level battle discipline.
British intelligence pointed to the Russian forces' lack of training in properly fitting and maintaining tank armor -- a deficiency first noticed during the first Chechen War of 1994 -- as likely the main reason for Moscow's heavy losses in tanks and armored vehicles.
With reporting by Reuters and AFP
Half of Russian Flight Dispatchers On Forced Leave As Sanctions Clobber Travel
Half of Russia's flight dispatchers have been put on forced leave as Western sanctions batter the country's travel industry, a labor union official says.
Sergei Kovalyov, the president of Russia's Federal Trade Union of Air Traffic Controllers, made the statement in a complaint sent to the Prosecutor-General's Office earlier this week, Russian media reported.
Russia has about 30,000 flight dispatchers, suggesting 15,000 have been put on leave.
Russia's aviation industry -- highly dependent on Western technology and Western routes -- has been among the hardest hit by sweeping sanctions triggered by Moscow's invasion of Ukraine.
The United States and its allies have banned the sale of planes and plane parts to Russia, while the EU has banned Russia from using its airspace.
Russia has a tradition of cutting hours rather than firing employees to reduce labor costs during an economic crisis.
Forced leave can last from days to months, with workers receiving two-thirds of their base salary, according to Russian law.
About 135,000 Russian workers were on forced leave, Labor Minister Anton Kotyakov said in June.
Many of them are from Russia’s auto industry, which had come to nearly a standstill in May due to sanctions.
Russian Sought By U.S. Over 'Ryuk' Ransomware Extradited From Netherlands
A Russian national sought by U.S. prosecutors for allegedly laundering cryptocurrency tied to a notorious ransomware gang has been extradited to the United States from the Netherlands.
Denis Dubnikov, 29, a Russian citizen, made his initial appearance in federal court in Portland on August 17, the Justice Department said in a statement.
A five-day jury trial is scheduled to begin on October 4.
U.S. prosecutors accuse Dubnikov and his co-conspirators of laundering the proceeds of ransomware attacks on individuals and organizations throughout the United States and abroad.
Dubnikov and his accomplices allegedly laundered $400,000 in ransom payments from victims of Ryuk, a ransomware gang believed to have extracted $70 million from individuals and companies around the world, including the United States.
Dubnikov, who owns small crypto exchanges in Russia, was detained in the Netherlands in November after he was denied entry into Mexico and put on a plane back to the EU country and U.S. ally.
A lawyer representing him at the time said he did not know the source of the money that the United States alleges came from ransomware payments.
Dubnikov's arrest has been called one of U.S. law enforcement's first potential blows to the Ryuk ransomware gang, which is suspected of being behind a rash of cyberattacks on U.S. health-care organizations.
The attacks forced delays in potentially life-saving treatments for cancer and other patients.
In October 2020, the FBI and other U.S. agencies warned that Ryuk presented an "imminent" threat to U.S. health-care institutions. The Wall Street Journal said the Ryuk gang took in more than $100 million in ransom payments last year.
In a ransomware attack, a criminal encrypts files on a target computer network and demands payment in cryptocurrency to unlock them. In the health-care industry, where time is often critical, such delays can result in deadly outcomes.
Dubnikov's extradition comes amid high-level talks between Moscow and Washington about a prisoner swap.
The Biden administration said in July it was ready to carry out a prisoner swap with the Kremlin to free a few Americans held in jail in Russia, including women's basketball star Brittney Griner and former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan.
In an interview with RFE/RL in early August, Arkady Bukh, a New York-based lawyer who has represented hundreds of Russian-speaking foreigners, said that Dubnikov could potentially be part of the prisoner swap.
Bukh said at the time that he expected Dubnikov to be extradited to the United States in August.
New COVID Cases In Russia Hit Five-Month High
Russia registered more than 33,000 new cases of COVID-19 on August 17, a five-month high.
The number of new cases has risen for the past seven weeks, prompting officials to recommend residents wear masks and get another vaccine shot.
The number of new hospitalizations on August 17 stood at more than 3,100.
According to official Russian statistics, 383,00 citizens have died from COVID-19 since the disease began to rapidly spread around the globe in 2020.
Independent demography experts estimate the Russian death total at four times the official figure.
'Escalation? The Russians Have Already Escalated': Former Estonian Spy Chief On Why The West Should Continue To Support Ukraine2
American Investor Known For Russian Nightclub, Pro-Ukrainian Stances Found Dead In Washington3
Ukraine Says Kherson Attack Repelled, Kharkiv Hit By Deadly Russian Bombing4
Fit For Fighting: Combat Training For Civilians Now Part Of Ukraine's Wartime Lifestyle5
China Says It Will Send Troops To Russia For Joint Military Drills6
Russia Pounds Kharkiv Region With Fresh Air And Artillery Strikes7
Estonia Removes Soviet WWII Memorial In Border City8
Russians Blame 'Sabotage' For Blasts At Crimean Ammo Depot; Kyiv Hints At Role9
German Troops Rejoin EU's Bosnian Mission, Sparking Russian Anger10
Explosions Reported In Ukraine's Russian-Occupied Crimea Region