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Trump Hails Strike On Syria As 'Perfectly Executed'

A Typhoon aircraft prepares to land at the British Royal Air Force base in Akrotiri, near the coastal city of Limassol on the eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus early on April 14.

U.S. President Donald Trump has praised an overnight military strike on Syria as a "perfectly executed" operation, and the United Nations Security Council has rejected a Russian effort to denounce it as an unjustified "aggression" against a sovereign state.

The United States, along with allies France and Britain, launched air strikes on Syria early on April 14 in response to a suspected Syrian chemical attack that killed dozens of people last week.

Trump announced the military action from the White House, saying it was aimed at ending the use of such weapons of mass destruction.

Trump had vowed to make Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who he called a "monster," a "criminal," and a "murderous dictator," pay a "big price" for an April 7 suspected toxic gas attack on the town of Douma that killed at least 43 civilians.

In a tweet later on April 14, Trump said the Syrian strike was "perfectly executed" and couldn't have achieved "a better result. Mission Accomplished!"

The Pentagon said that the joint U.S.-British-French operation against Syria's regime had "successfully hit every target," countering claims from Russia that dozens of missiles were intercepted.

A building near Damascus lies in rubble after the attack.
A building near Damascus lies in rubble after the attack.

Chief Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said at a press briefing that the strikes were launched to "cripple Syria's ability to use chemical weapons in the future."

"The strikes were justified, legitimate, and proportionate,” she said.

Lieutenant-General Kenneth McKenzie said at the briefing that three sites that are "fundamental components of the regime's chemical weapons infrastructure" were struck.

The operation was "precise, overwhelming, and effective," he said, adding it will set Syria’s chemical-weapons program back "for years."

Assad said the strike would increase Syria's resolve to "fight and crush terrorism in every inch" of the country.

In a statement issued by the Kremlin, Russian President Vladimir Putin denounced the U.S.-led military action as an "act of aggression against a sovereign state that is at the forefront of the battle against terrorism."

Putin also said Russia was calling an emergency session of the UN Security Council, which opened on April 14 shortly after 1700 CET.

Ahead of the meeting, Russia circulated a draft resolution calling for condemnation of the "aggression" against Syria in the form of military strikes carried out by the United States, Britain, and France, according to a draft resolution seen by AFP and Reuters.

The resolution was later rejected by council members. It won three votes, far below the nine votes required for adoption. Eight countries voted against and four abstained.

Russia's UN Ambassador Vasily Nebenzya said after the vote that the meeting confirmed that the U.S. and its allies "continue to put international politics and diplomacy in the realm of myth-making -- myths invented in London, Paris, and Washington." He accused the allies of violating the UN Charter and international law.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley told the Security Council that the United States is "locked and loaded" to strike again if Assad's government again uses chemical weapons.

"We are confident that we have crippled Syria's chemical-weapons program. We are prepared to sustain this pressure, if the Syrian regime is foolish enough to test our will," she said.

"If the Syrian regime uses this poison gas again, the United States is locked and loaded," Haley said.

Nikki Haley at the UN on April 14.
Nikki Haley at the UN on April 14.

Syrian envoy to the UN Bashar Jaafari claimed that the Douma attack was a "masquerade" mounted by rebels.

NATO said all 29 of its members in the alliance back the air strikes on Syria as a consequence of the Syrian government conducting a suspected chemical attack against civilians last weekend.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the strikes were about making sure that chemical weapons cannot be used with impunity.

"I am not saying that the attacks last night solved all problems but compared to the alternative to do nothing this was the right thing to do," he said.

British Prime Minister Theresa May said the air strikes in Syria sent a "clear message" against the use of chemical weapons.

"This collective action sends a clear message that the international community will not stand by and tolerate the use of chemical weapons," May said on April 14.

French Defense Minister Florence Parly said that the joint military strikes on Syrian targets was a success and that the mission's goals have been achieved.

"Syria's ability to design, produce, and stockpile chemical weapons has been greatly diminished," she said.

Speaking in Istanbul, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed his support for the military operation but said more must be done to hold the Syrian regime accountable.

"The people martyred by chemicals is a certain amount, but the people martyred by conventional weapons is much, much more," he said.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the U.S.-led action in Syria was a crime and would not achieve any gains.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry earlier warned the strike would have “regional consequences,” Iranian media reported.

Syrian television reported that Syria's air defenses, which are substantial, responded to the attack. U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said there were no reports of U.S. losses in what he described as a heavy but carefully limited assault. The Syrian military said it had shot down 13 missiles.

A few hours after the strikes, hundreds of Syrians gathered at landmark squares in the Syrian capital, honking their car horns, flashing victory signs, and waving Syrian flags in scenes of defiance.

General Joseph Dunford (file photo)
General Joseph Dunford (file photo)

U.S. General Joseph Dunford said three sites involved in the research and production of chemical weapons in western Syria were the main targets of the attack.

Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said missiles first struck a scientific research center in the Damascus area that he said was a center of Syria’s chemical and biological weapons program. The two other strikes targeted chemical-weapons storage facilities west of Homs, Dunford said.

Trump said the main purpose of the attacks was to establish "a strong deterrent" against chemical weapons use, which he said killed more than 1 million people during World War I a century ago before it was banned worldwide.

About an hour after Trump finished speaking, the Pentagon said the wave of more than 100 missile strikes was over and there were no reports of losses among U.S. and allied forces involved in the attacks.

The British Defense Ministry said initial indications were the attacks were "successful" in destroying their targets. Syrian officials reported injuries among civilians and military personnel.

Mattis said no further attacks are planned, and "right now this is a one-time shot." Any further military action would depend on whether Syria keeps using chemical weapons, he said.

The Pentagon said the strikes were twice as large as those Trump ordered on a Syrian airfield last year. It said targets were chosen so as to avoid hitting Russian forces in Syria, but it did not notify Russia of the targets in advance.

The Russian Defense Ministry said early on April 14 that none of the strikes hit areas near Russia's air and naval bases in Syria.

The Russian Defense Ministry also claimed a majority of the missiles fired by the United States and its allies had been intercepted by Syrian government air-defense systems, TASS news agency reported.

TASS reported that the business center of Damascus, where a parliamentary delegation from Russia was staying at a hotel, was not hit by the bombing.

Trump called on both Russia and Iran to stop supporting Assad's "murderous" and "terrible regime."

Trump said the two countries are "most responsible for supporting, equipping, and financing the criminal Assad regime."

"What kind of a nation wants to be associated with the mass murder of innocent men, women, and children?" he asked. "The nations of the world can be judged by the friends they keep."

Addressing Moscow in particular, Trump said Assad's repeated use of chemical weapons against his own people is a "direct result" of Russia's failure to hold its ally to a 2013 agreement to abandon and destroy its chemical weapons.

Russia failed to keep its promise to restrain Assad, Trump said.

Now, he said, "Russia must decide if it will continue down this dark path or if it will join with civilized nations as a force for stability and peace."

In his remarks quoted by Russian media on April 14, Putin said the strike had a "destructive influence on the entire system of international relations."

He also reaffirmed Russia's view that the purported chemical attack in Douma that prompted the strike was a fake.

Earlier, Russian ambassador to Washington Anatoly Antonov strongly denounced the attacks, saying in a statement that "the worst expectations have materialized. Our warnings fell on deaf ears.... We are being threatened again."

Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Anatoly Antonov
Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Anatoly Antonov

"We have warned that such actions will not remain without consequences," Antonov said. "All responsibility for them rests upon Washington, London, and Paris."

Antonov added that "insulting the Russian president was inadmissible," in an apparent reaction to some of Trump's comments.

"The United States, a country that has the largest arsenal of chemical weapons, has no moral right to accuse other countries," Antonov said.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova responded by questioning on Facebook why the West would stage such attacks at a time when Syria had "a chance for peace at last," in an apparent reference to the Syrian government's recent success at gaining an upper hand in the civil war.

In Iran, Khamenei said the U.S.-led strike was a "crime."

"I clearly declare that the president of the United States, the president of France, and the British prime minister are criminals," Khamenei said in a speech, according to his Twitter account.

"They will not benefit [from the attack] as they went to Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan in the past years and committed such crimes and did not gain any benefits," Khamenei said.

Iranian President Hassan Rohani said the U.S.-led missile attack on Syria would lead to destruction in the Middle East, the semi-official Tasnim news agency reported.

"Such attacks will have no result but more destruction...the Americans want to justify their presence in the region by such attacks," Rohani was quoted as saying by Tasnim.

Rohani told Assad in a telephone call that Iran would continue to stand by Syria, "expressing his confidence that this aggression would not weaken the determination of the Syrian people in its war against terrorism,"the Syrian presidency said.

French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister May spoke in addresses to their nations within minutes of Trump's statement.

"A red line has been crossed," said Macron. "We cannot tolerate the normalization of the use of chemical weapons."

French Defense Minister Parly told reporters that its joint military operation targeted three sites and that Russia was informed ahead of time.

Earlier, Dunford said the Russians had not been notified before the strikes, but normal “deconfliction channels” had been used for “airspace issues.”

May said the strikes were "limited and targeted" to "degrade the Syrian regime's chemical-weapons capability" while minimizing civilian casualties.

"This is not about intervening in a civil war. It is not about regime change," she said.

The strike will send "a clear signal to anyone else who believes they can use chemical weapons with impunity," she said.

"We cannot allow the use of chemical weapons to become normalized -- within Syria, on the streets of the U.K., or anywhere else in our world," she said.

May later told reporters on April 14 that reports indicate a barrel bomb was used in the Syrian regime chemical attack on Douma.

She said intelligence indicates that Syrian military officials coordinated what appears to have been the use of chlorine in Douma.

May said Russian claims the attack was fake were "grotesque and absurd."

The global chemical watchdog said in a statement that its factfinding mission into the Douma attack would continue.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, whose experts arrived in Syria earlier this week, said it was in talks with UN safety and security officials "to assess the situation and ensure the safety of the team."

With reporting by AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa, the BBC, and OPCW statement

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Air-Raid Alert Canceled Across Ukraine As Heavy Fighting Under Way In East

Ukrainian soldier fire a mortar on the front line in Bakhmut.

An air-raid alert for the whole of Ukraine on February 4 was canceled without any reports of Russian shelling as Ukrainian defenders faced renewed attacks by Moscow's troops in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk over the past 24 hours.

The alert, which lasted for about two hours in the morning, was the third in two days. No massive Russian strikes on civilian and infrastructure targets were reported on February 3 either.

Amid warnings that a massive Russian offensive is in the making as Moscow's unprovoked invasion nears the one-year mark, the military said fighting had intensified in the Donbas.

"The enemy continues offensive operations in the Lyman, Bakhmut, Avdiyivka, and Novopavlivka areas [of Donetsk], suffering heavy losses," Ukraine's General Staff said in its report.

Battles have been raging for months for the city of Bakhmut, where waves of Russian attackers are piling increasing pressure on the Ukrainian forces.

Witnesses have told RFE/RL that street fighting is under way in Bakhmut, with building-by-building combat on the outskirts of the city.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on February 3 that Ukrainian forces will continue their fight to hold on to Bakhmut.

"Nobody will give away Bakhmut. We will fight for as long as we can. We consider Bakhmut our fortress," Zelenskiy said as he hosted European Union leaders to discuss Kyiv's desire to join the bloc and an additional sanctions package.

Zelenskiy's comments come after U.S. media reports saying the United States had advised Ukraine to withdraw from Bakhmut. U.S. officials quoted by Bloomberg said this would allow Kyiv to gather forces for a spring offensive.

The General Staff said on February 4 that the Ukrainian military also repelled Russian attacks in the Grekivka, Nevske, Kreminna, and Dibrova settlements in the Luhansk region.

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"If weapon [supplies] are accelerated, specifically long-range weapons, not only will we not abandon Bakhmut but we will also begin to remove the [Russian] occupiers from the Donbas," he said.

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Award-winning Iranian film director Jafar Panahi (file photo)

Iranian director Jafar Panahi has been temporarily released from prison days after going on a hunger strike to protest “the illegal and inhumane behavior" of Iran's judiciary and security apparatus, which have led a brutal and sometimes deadly crackdown on unrest over the death of a young woman while in police custody for allegedly wearing a head scarf improperly.

"Today, on the third day of Jafar Panahi's hunger strike; Mr. Panahi was temporarily released from Evin prison with the efforts of his family, respected lawyers, and representatives of the cinema," a statement on Panahi's wife's Instagram page said on February 3.

The post added that further details would follow from Panahi's legal team.

She gave no further details, but a photo of the couple in a car was attached to the post.

The U.S.-based US-based Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) also said on Twitter that Panahi had been released.

Panahi, 62, was arrested in July as the authorities cracked down on dissent in response to growing antiestablishment sentiment and near-daily protests over living conditions and graft across the Islamic republic.

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

Those protests were overtaken by a wave of unrest following the September 16 death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in custody for allegedly violating the country's head-scarf law.

Since the start of daily protests that have rocked Iran since Amini's death, several Iranian filmmakers and prominent public figures have been summoned or arrested by the authorities, including the popular actress Taraneh Alidoosti.

Several high-profile actresses have taken pictures without a head scarf in defiant support of the protesters, whose demonstrations pose one of the biggest threats to the Islamic leadership since the revolution in 1979.

Panahi was awarded the Special Jury prize at the Venice International Film Festival in September for his latest film, released while he was in prison, No Bears.

The filmmaker has won a number of international awards for films critiquing modern Iran, including the top prize at the Berlin International Film Festival for Taxi in 2015 and best screenplay at Cannes for his film Three Faces in 2018.

Since Amini's death, more than 500 people have been killed in the police crackdown, according to rights groups.

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Eradicating endemic corruption is one of the chief requirements presented by the European Union to Kyiv as Ukraine is pressing Brussels to speed up its accession into the 27-member bloc even as it is fighting Russian troops that invaded on February 24 last year.

On the eve of a meeting between EU leaders and Ukrainian officials on February 3, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy pledged "new steps" to continue "our fight against the internal enemy," a reference to the battle against graft. He did not give any details.

The SBU said in its statement explaining the scheme that officials from one ministry department made agreements with the heads of two commercial enterprises regarding the wholesale supply of food to locations where the military is deployed.

Funds from the ministry's budget were then transferred to the accounts of firms that "lacked a production base and technological equipment" to provide the relevant services.

"Instead of supplying the armed forces with the agreed quantities of food products, the participants in the fraudulent mechanism diverted the funds through a number of affiliated shadow companies," the statement said.

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It noted that SBU agents are still conducting an investigation to establish the involvement of Defense Ministry officials in any illegal activities.

"In addition, SBU officers exposed the commander of a military unit in the Kyiv region who embezzled almost 2.4 million hryvnyas ($68,000) allocated for military personnel's food," the statement said, adding that the commander had as accomplices four of his subordinates and businessmen who concealed the "kickbacks" through falsified documentation.

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Protesters in several Iranian cities, including the capital, Tehran, have set fire to government banners commemorating the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution in a continued show of defiance amid unrest over the death of a young woman while in police custody for allegedly wearing a head scarf improperly.

Protesters in Tehran's Ekbatan neighborhood showed the depth of their anger toward the government's intrusion on their freedoms with chants from windows and rooftops of "Death to the dictator," a reference to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Similar scenes were repeated in other neighborhoods of Tehran, as well as in other areas of the country.

Several videos published on social networks showed people setting fire to the government's propaganda banners for the 44th anniversary of the revolution that brought Iran's clerical rulers to power. The anniversary falls on February 11.

The unrest was sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini on September 16. The 22-year-old died while in custody after being arrested by the notorious morality police for improperly wearing a mandatory Islamic head scarf, or hijab.

Her death, which officials blamed on a heart attack, touched off a wave of anti-government protests in cities across the country. The authorities have met the unrest with a harsh crackdown that rights groups say has killed more than 500 people, including 71 children.

Officials, who have blamed the West for the demonstrations, have vowed to crack down even harder on protesters, with the judiciary leading the way after the unrest entered a fourth month.

The protests pose the biggest threat to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution.

Several thousand people have been arrested, including many protesters, as well as journalists, lawyers, activists, digital rights defenders, and others.

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

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Farhad Meysami has been in prison since August 2018.

Farhad Meysami has vowed to continue his hunger strike until Iranian authorities stop executing protesters, release six political prisoners, and stop their harassment of women over the compulsory hijab rule despite photos on social media showing him in an emaciated condition amid growing fears over his state of health.

"I still stand by my three demands," Meysami, a doctor, said in a letter published on February 2 along with the photos that show him looking frail and sickly.

Meysami has been in prison since August 2018 after being sentenced to six years for supporting women protesting against the hijab law that forces them to cover their hair and bodies in public.

He was charged with "spreading propaganda against the system" and "gathering and colluding to commit crimes against national security," as well as for "insulting Islamic sanctities," because the authorities said he denigrated the hijab.

Lawyer Mohammad Moghimi has warned that Meysami’s condition is worsening and that his life is in danger.

Last month, Moghimi said Meysami's weight had dropped to 52 kilograms and that he had been beaten by guards due to his resistance to being transferred to the criminal-prisoners ward.

Many on social media, including Reza Pahlavi, the exiled former crown prince of Iran and an opposition leader, have supported Meysami and demanded his release.

On Twitter on February 3, Pahlavi said that the thin body of Meysami, "is another symbol of the boundless cruelty of the Islamic regime."

Prominent Iranian oppositionist Hamed Esmaeilion said he holds the government responsible for Meysami's condition.

Meysami has held several hunger strikes during his incarceration and in most, his demands are related to social conditions in Iran and other activists and prisoners.

In May, Meysami went on a hunger strike to protest the possible execution of Ahmadreza Djalali, a Brussels university professor with dual Iranian-Swedish citizenship. He ended the hunger strike after 145 days.

He reportedly went on a hunger strike in August 2018 to protest the charges he faced and also the lack of access to a lawyer of his choosing. He reportedly was being held at the time in a medical clinic at Evin prison, where he was force-fed intravenously.

The news comes as Iran finds itself engulfed in a wave of protests following the September 16 death of a young woman while in custody for allegedly violating the country's head-scarf law.

The U.S.-based Human Rights Activists News Agency said that as of January 29, at least 527 people had been killed during the unrest, including 71 minors, as security forces muzzle dissent.

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

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NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg (file photo)

NATO called on Russia to fulfill its obligations under the nuclear reductions treaty START, it said in a statement on February 3. "We note with concern that Russia has failed to comply with legally-binding obligations, including on inspection and call on Russia to fulfill its obligations under the Treaty," NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg wrote on Twitter. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Pakistan 'Will Have To Agree' To IMF Conditions For Bailout, PM Says

Pakistani Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif (file photo)

Pakistani Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif said on February 3 the government would have to agree to International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout conditions that are "beyond imagination." An IMF delegation landed in Pakistan on January 31 for last-ditch talks to revive vital financial aid that has stalled for months. Pakistan's economy is in dire straits, stricken by a balance-of-payments crisis as it attempts to service high levels of external debt, amid political chaos and deteriorating security.

CPJ Condemns Kyrgyz Threat To Block Media Outlet Kloop's Websites Over Article

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has condemned a warning by Kyrgyz authorities that threatens to block the websites of investigative journalist outlet Kloop if it does not take down an article over the controversy surrounding the cost of reconstructing public facilities destroyed in border clashes with Tajikistan last year.

"Kyrgyzstan authorities' attempt to censor Kloop, one of the country's most respected news outlets, once again shows the absurdity and arbitrariness of its false information law, which should never have been enacted," said Gulnoza Said, the CPJ's Europe and Central Asia program coordinator.

While Kyrgyzstan is known for having a vibrant and pluralistic media environment compared to its Central Asian neighbors, human rights groups have warned that the climate for free expression has deteriorated since President Sadyr Japarov first came to power in October 2020, especially with the approval of the Law on Protection from False Information, adopted in August 2021.

In late October, Kyrgyz authorities blocked the local-language websites of RFE/RL, known as Radio Azattyk, after it refused to take down a video about deadly clashes along the Kyrgyz-Tajik border.

In the case of Kloop, the Ministry Of Culture, Information, Sports, and Youth Policies objected to part of a January 20 report regarding allegations that the state Community Development and Investment Agency (ARIS) had inflated its construction costs.

On January 25, Kloop reported that ARIS denied the allegations, but the ministry sent a letter dated February 1 that demanded Kloop "immediately" remove or amend the January 25 article, as ARIS objected to the summary of its denial, the article's headline, and the mention of a government official who accused the agency of inflating its costs.

Failure to obey the demand would result in Kloop's websites being blocked for at least two months under the false-information law.

Kloop has denied the article contains any false information and has refused to take it down.

"Authorities should withdraw their threat to block Kloop's website, repeal the false information law, and cease their escalating repression of the independent press," the CPJ's Said added.

In the case of RFE/RL, the video in question was produced by Current Time, a Russian-language network run by RFE/RL in cooperation with Voice of America.

Kyrgyz officials have claimed that the authors of the video "predominantly" took the position of the Tajik side.

In response, RFE/RL President and Chief Executive Officer Jamie Fly said that the broadcaster "takes our commitment to balanced reporting seriously" and that after a review of the content in question, "no violation of our standards" was found.

Days after the blocking of the RFE/RL local websites, the government froze Radio Azattyk's bank account in Bishkek. Kyrgyz authorities have also suspended the accreditation of 11 RFE/RL correspondents at parliament.

RFE/RL has said it is "will pursue all available legal means to preserve our operations in the country."

Dozens of media organizations, domestic and international rights groups, Kyrgyz politicians, and lawmakers have urged the government to unblock Radio Azattyk's websites.

EU 'Deeply Disturbed' Over Navalny Solitary Reports On Second Anniversary Of Sentencing

Aleksei Navalny appears on a video link from prison for his trial in Moscow in October 2022.

The European Union, marking the second anniversary of the "politically motivated" sentencing of Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny, says it is "deeply disturbed" over reports of his treatment behind bars.

The 46-year-old Kremlin critic was handed a 2 1/2-year prison sentence for violating the terms of an earlier parole when he was medically evacuated in a coma after suffering a near-fatal poisoning in August 2020 that he blames on Russian security operatives acting at President Vladimir Putin's behest.

The original conviction is widely regarded as a trumped-up, politically motivated case. In March 2022, Navalny was handed a separate nine-year prison term on charges of contempt and embezzlement through fraud that he and his supporters have repeatedly rejected as politically motivated.

"The verdict came after A. Navalny's arbitrary arrest and imprisonment upon his return to Russia after receiving life-saving medical care in Berlin. He needed it after an attempted murder in Russia in August 2020 using a chemical-warfare nerve agent prohibited by the Chemical Weapons Convention, to which Russia is a state party," the EU's top diplomat, Josep Borrell, said in a statement to mark the second anniversary of the sentencing on February 2.

Concern has been growing in recent months over Navalny's health and his treatment in prison.

Navalny, who has been a persistent thorn in Putin's side by exposing corruption and organizing pro-democracy protests, said on social media on February 1 that he was being placed in a solitary confinement cell for six months.

That comes on top of spending more than 100 days in solitary in the past six months for what he and his supporters say are dubious reasons.

"The main torment of imprisonment is, of course, the inability to see the faces of your family, to talk to your loved ones. I haven't had any visits for 8 months and yesterday I was told that I'd be transferred to a cell-type facility for the maximum possible term of 6 months," he wrote on Twitter.

"Even maniacs and serial killers serving life sentences have the right for meetings, but I do not," he added.

"When such thing happens to you, you understand even more acutely how important it is to fight this unscrupulous government, how important it is to do at least something to free Russia from the yoke of these scoundrels from Russia and dispel the dope with which they have enveloped the heads of millions," he added.

Since January 1, dozens of lawmakers, lawyers, and physicians in Russia have urged Putin, the Prosecutor-General's Office, and the presidential Council for Human Rights to intervene on behalf of Navalny amid reports his health has dramatically worsened.

"Reports of repeated ill-treatment, physical and psychological torture by the Russian prison authorities against A. Navalny are deeply disturbing. The Russian authorities are responsible for his safety and health, and we call them to account," Borrell said in his statement.

He added that the EU "stands in solidarity" with Navalny and others, including ordinary Russian citizens, "who dare to speak the truth despite the great risk to themselves."

Pakistani Troops Kill Two Militants In Raid Near Afghan Border

The militants killed during the raid had been involved in past attacks on security forces, the military said. (file photo)

Troops have raided a militant hideout in a former Pakistani Taliban stronghold near the border with Afghanistan, triggering a shoot-out that killed two insurgents, the Pakistani military said. Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif summoned the country's opposition leader to forge a response to the recent surge in violence, including a mosque bombing that killed 101 people. Troops on February 3 recovered a cache of weapons in a militant hideout in North Waziristan, a district of the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province. The militants killed during the raid had been involved in past attacks on security forces, the military said. To read the original story by AP, click here.

Poland Expects 40 Countries To Oppose Russian Athletes At Olympics

Polish Sports Minister Kamil Bortniczuk gives an interview with Reuters at his office in Warsaw, Poland February 2,

Polish Sports Minister Kamil Bortniczuk on February 2 said he expected several dozen countries to come out against the inclusion of athletes from Russia and Belarus in the 2024 Paris Olympics. "I think that next week...a very firm stance on the part of representatives from these 40 countries will see the light of day," he told state television. The position will "very clearly oppose the participation of Russians and Belarusians in the Olympic Games," he added. He said he believed the countries would notably include members of the European Union and Britain.

After Netanyahu Talks, Macron Warns Of Iran Nuclear 'Consequences'

French President Emmanuel Macron (file photo)

French President Emmanuel Macron denounced late on February 2 the "headlong rush" of Iran's nuclear program after talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was in Paris to seek a stronger European stance against Tehran. In a statement released after a dinner meeting in the Elysee Palace, Macron warned that Tehran continuing with the atomic project "would inevitably have consequences." Israel has long accused Iran of seeking a nuclear weapon, while Tehran insists its nuclear program is aimed solely at generating energy.

Ukraine's Allies Push IMF To Approve $14 Billion-$16 Billion Loan

Ukraine's allies are pushing the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to finalize plans for a multibillion-dollar lending program, the Financial Times reported on February 3. IMF representatives are planning to meet Ukrainian officials in mid-February to advance discussions over a loan that could range from $14 billion to $16 billion, the report said, citing officials familiar with the talks. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.


EU Urges Ukraine To Continue On Membership Path But Sets No Timeline For Accession Talks

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (center) European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (right) and European Council President Charles Michel shake hands during their EU-Ukraine summit in Kyiv on February 3.

The European Union acknowledged Ukraine's "considerable efforts" in recent months to advance toward membership in the 27-nation bloc and urged Kyiv to continue on that path after EU leaders met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in the Ukrainian capital in a show of support.

Speaking at a news conference after the meeting on February 3 with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel, Zelenskiy pressed again for negotiations to start relatively soon.

As air raid sirens sounded in Kyiv and across Ukraine, Zelenskiy told the news conference that Ukraine's goal was to start negotiations this year, adding "this is not just a purpose but a major overwhelming goal."

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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

Von der Leyen said there were no rigid timelines for Ukraine to join the European Union, and reiterated that Kyiv must meet certain benchmarks as part of its membership push.

A joint statement published after the meeting mentioned Ukraine's determination to start talks "as soon as possible" without providing a date. It also said that a formal review of Kyiv's efforts to fulfill a set of conditions to begin accession talks is due later this year.

Ukraine was granted candidate status for membership in the 27-member bloc in June.

However, Brussels has been firm in its position that while it backs Ukraine's bid, the country will need to implement a wide array of democratic and economic reforms and root out endemic corruption before it can be admitted, and that the admission process could take many years.

Among the reforms are changes to the selection procedure for constitutional judges and the passage of legislation limiting the influence of oligarchs.

Zelenskiy has pledged to root out entrenched corruption that has weakened the effectiveness of state institutions even as the country faced an increasingly aggressive Russia since 2014, culminating with Moscow's unprovoked invasion.

Several high-ranking officials' homes were raided by anti-corruption agents on February 1 in a second sweep in a week.

Both von der Leyen and Michel made positive public statements about Ukraine's progress and the EU's commitment to supporting Ukraine's goal.

Von der Leyen commended the Ukrainian government for taking swift action against corruption, and Michel said Ukraine and the EU "are family" and the future of Ukraine "is within the European Union." But he did not comment on a timeline.

Von der Leyen, who arrived in Kyiv on February 2 with a team of 15 commissioners, told the news conference that the EU's next sanctions package against Russia would target components used in Russian drones that have been deployed in Ukraine.

Responding to a remark by Zelenskiy, who said Kyiv hopes the bloc's sanctions campaign will gain momentum again after appearing to have "slightly slowed down" recently, von der Leyen said:

"We will introduce with our G7 partners an additional price cap on Russian petroleum products, and by February 24 -- exactly one year since the invasion started -- we aim to have the 10th package of sanctions in place."

The summit comes after the EU commissioners met their counterparts in the Ukrainian government for the first-ever joint meeting on February 2.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP and AP

Ukraine Will Hold Bakhmut, Zelenskiy Vows, Amid Warnings About New Offensive In The East

Ukrainian servicemen fire a mortar on the front line in Bakhmut.

Ukrainian forces will continue their fight to hold on to the eastern city of Bakhmut, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on February 3 amid warnings of continued intense fighting and a coming offensive by Russian forces.

"Nobody will give away Bakhmut. We will fight for as long as we can. We consider Bakhmut our fortress," Zelenskiy said as he hosted European Union leaders to discuss Kyiv's desire to join the bloc and an additional sanctions package.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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

Zelenskiy said European sanctions should aim to ensure Russia cannot rebuild its military capability as he delivered his message on Bakhmut, which has been the focal point of Russia's monthslong battle in Donetsk.

"If weapon [supplies] are accelerated, specifically long-range weapons, not only will we not abandon Bakhmut but we will also begin to remove the [Russian] occupiers from the Donbas," he said.

Zelenskiy's comments come after U.S. media reports saying the United States has advised Ukraine to withdraw from Bakhmut. U.S. officials quoted by Bloomberg said this would allow Kyiv to gather forces for a spring offensive.

The official, who spoke to Bloomberg anonymously, said the United States believes a withdrawal from Bakhmut would not affect the war, and Russia would not be able to use it to capture Kramatorsk and Slovyansk.

Zelenskiy said Kyiv’s forces “have a chance” of beating back the looming offensive if supplied with the right Western weapons.

Kyiv has continued to request more powerful modern weapons, including F-16 fighter jets, even after securing pledges from its Western allies to send tanks as its forces brace for an expected new onslaught by the Kremlin’s troops in eastern Ukraine.

Moscow says Russian forces are encircling Bakhmut from several directions and battling to take control of a road that serves as a supply route for Ukrainian forces.

The EU announced on February 3 that it is ramping up its military training mission for Ukraine, raising it from an initial target of 15,000 troops to up to 30,000.

The leaders of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania met on February 3 in Riga, calling afterward for weapons deliveries to Ukraine to be sped up, saying the coming months may be decisive in the course of the war.

Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said arms supplies from Ukraine's allies should not come too late.

"It is of clear importance that we see the results as quickly as possible including results [on] the battlefield. Aid to Ukraine must not be too late and it should not be fragmented," Kallas said.

"Russia is preparing for a new large scale offensive and our assistance to Ukraine must be sufficient in order to confront it," she said.

The Ukrainian military said earlier on February 3 that Russian troops are not slowing their push in several areas of Donetsk region despite suffering heavy losses.

The Russian attacks over the 24 hours that ended early on February 3 were concentrated mainly on four directions -- Lyman, Bakhmut, Avdiyivka, and Novopavlivka -- the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine reported in its morning briefing.

At the same time, the General Staff said, Russia's continued attacks on Ukraine's civilian and infrastructure objectives have resulted in civilian deaths and damage.

With reporting by Reuters. dpa, and AFP

U.S. Judge Clears Way For Seizure Of $5.4 Million In Assets Belonging To Russian Oligarch

Konstantin Malofeyev (file photo)

A federal district judge in New York ruled on February 2 that prosecutors may seize $5.4 million belonging to Russian oligarch Konstantin Malofeyev, paving the way for the funds to be used to help rebuild Ukraine. The ruling marked the first forfeiture order for a Russian oligarch's assets since the Justice Department in 2022 launched a task force aimed at squeezing the finances of Russian President Vladimir Putin's allies in response to the invasion of Ukraine. U.S. authorities have accused Malofeyev of financing separatists in Crimea. Malofeyev has denied financing the separatists. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

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