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British Government Says It Will Trigger EU Exit Procedure On March 29

U.K. Brexit Secretary David Davis

Britain has said it will initiate the process of leaving the European Union on March 29, following a referendum last year in which voters decided to exit the 28-nation bloc.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Theresa May said on March 20 that the British government has informed European Council President Donald Tusk's office of its intention to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, the formal notification of a member’s intention to leave the EU.

"We are on the threshold of the most important negotiation for this country for a generation," U.K. Brexit Secretary David Davis said in a statement.

In response to the announcement, Tusk said he would present the remaining EU states with a draft of negotiating guidelines within 48 hours after the article is formally triggered.

Talks on the terms of Britain’s exit from the EU, and how the two sides will handle relations afterward, must be completed within two years.

Britain is the only country to invoke Article 50.

Davis said Britain wants "a deal that works for every nation and region of the U.K. and indeed for all of Europe -- a new, positive partnership between the U.K. and our friends and allies in the European Union."

Based on reporting by Reuters, AP, BBC

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Russia Says UN Nuclear Watchdog Chief To Visit Moscow This Week

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Grossi (file photo)

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on February 6 that the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Grossi, will visit Moscow this week, state media reported. The meeting will focus on the creation of a safety zone around Ukraine's Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, he said, adding that Moscow was counting on a deep and professional discussion. The IAEA -- the United Nations' nuclear watchdog - has repeatedly expressed concerns over the plant, which has come under repeated shelling since Russia's invasion of Ukraine last year.

Kosovar PM Calls On West Not To Exert Pressure Over Serb Entity

Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti

Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti has called on Western powers not to pressure his country into accepting a contentious association of five Serb-majority municipalities that is ramping up tensions between Kosovo and Serbia. Kurti told the Associated Press that the focus instead should be on making Serbia more democratic and getting rid of what he called Belgrade's hegemonistic ideas. Kurti said on February 5 that the Serbian government should acknowledge the independence of all the ex-republics of the former Yugoslavia in order to “face the past.” (AP)

To read the original story from AP, click here.

No Changes Expected At Ukraine Defense Ministry This Week, Says Senior Official

SWITZERLAND – Head of the Servant of the People faction David Arakhamia attends the Ukraine Recovery Conference URC in Lugano, Switzerland, July 5, 2022

A senior Ukrainian official said on February 6 that no personnel changes would be announced at the Defense Ministry this week, despite saying earlier that Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov would be replaced. David Arakhamia, the head of President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's parliamentary bloc, said on February 5 that Reznikov would be transferred to another ministerial job. On February 6, he made it clear that there would not be an immediate reshuffle. "There will be no personnel changes in the defense sector this week," he wrote on the Telegram messaging app, without giving further details.

Pakistan Blocks Wikipedia For 'Hurting Muslim Sentiment'

Blasphemy is a sensitive subject and carries the death penalty in Pakistan, where even allegations of the offense are often enough to provoke storms of protest as well as mob violence. (file photo)

Pakistan's media regulator said on February 6 that it blocked Wikipedia services in the country for hurting Muslim sentiment by not removing purportedly blasphemous content from the site. Blasphemy is a sensitive subject and carries the death penalty in Pakistan, where even allegations of the offense are often enough to provoke mob violence. International and domestic rights groups say that accusations of blasphemy have often been used to intimidate religious minorities and settle personal scores. The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority says it blocked Wikipedia because a 48-hour deadline to remove the content was ignored. To read the original story by AP, click here.

Reports: Russian Patriarch Kirill Spied In Switzerland For The KGB In The 1970s

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill (file photo)

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, a strong supporter of President Vladimir Putin, worked for Soviet intelligence while living in Switzerland in the 1970s, Swiss newspapers reported, citing declassified archives. According to the Sonntagszeitung and Le Matin Dimanche weeklies, the Swiss police file on the man who today serves as the spiritual head of the Russian Orthodox Church "confirms that 'Monsignor Kirill,' as he is referred to in this document, worked for the KGB."

Drone Explodes Outside Russian City Of Kaluga, Governor Says

A drone has exploded outside the Russian city of Kaluga, regional Governor Vladislav Shapsha said on February 6, adding that no-one was injured in the blast. "The drone exploded in the air at an altitude of 50 meters in the forest near the city at five o'clock in the morning," he wrote on Telegram. Kaluga is about 150 kilometers southwest of Moscow and 260 kilometers from the Ukrainian border. The governor did not make it clear what the source of the drone was. Russia has said in the past that Ukrainian drones have flown into its territory, an assertion that Kyiv denies.

Russia Says It Discussed Nuclear Arms Treaty With U.S. Ambassador

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov (file photo)

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on February 6 that he discussed the New START nuclear arms control treaty with new United States Ambassador Lynne Tracy last week, the Interfax news agency reported. He added that Russia was committed to the treaty but that no date had been set for new talks, citing the conflict in Ukraine. Talks between Moscow and Washington on the New START treaty were scheduled for last November but were called off at the last moment.

Iranian Singer Who Faces Prison Wins Grammy For Protest Anthem

U.S. first lady Jill Biden accepts a Grammy award on behalf of Shervin Hajipur for "Baraye" on February 5.

An Iranian singer who faces possible prison time for his song, which has become an anthem for the ongoing protests shaking the Islamic republic, wept early February 6 after seeing he'd won a Grammy. Shervin Hajipur appeared stunned after hearing Jill Biden, the wife of U.S. President Joe Biden, announce he'd won the Grammy's new song for social change special merit award for “Baraye.” An online video showed Hajipur in a darkened room, wiping tears away after the announcement. Hajipur faces charges of “propaganda against the regime” and “instigating the violence." To read the original story from AP, click here.

Former Military Ruler Musharraf's Body To Be Flown To Pakistan

Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf (file photo)

The body of Pakistan's exiled former military ruler Pervez Musharraf, who became a key U.S. ally during the "war on terror," is expected to be repatriated on February 6.

Musharraf, who fled Pakistan in 2016 for medical treatment after a travel ban was lifted, died on February 5, aged 79, in Dubai after a long illness.

Senior officials who asked not to be named said his body would be repatriated on February 6, with a burial expected later in the day.

Russia's Lavrov In Iraq For Energy Talks

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (file photo)

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov arrived in Iraq on February 5 for talks on energy and food security in view of the Ukraine conflict, an Iraqi Foreign Ministry spokesman said. He landed in Baghdad late in the day at the head of a large delegation that includes "oil and gas companies and investors," Ahmad al-Sahhaf told AFP. On February 6, Lavrov will meet Iraqi counterpart Fuad Hussein, the state news agency INA quoted Sahhaf as saying.

Reznikov Out, Budanov In As Ukraine's Defense Minister, Top Lawmaker Says

Oleksiy Reznikov said at a news conference in Kyiv on February 5 he was not planning to resign, but added that any decision about his future would be made by the president.

KYIV -- Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov is being replaced by General Kyrylo Budanov, the head of the country's military intelligence agency, according to the leader of President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's faction in parliament.

David Arakhamia, the leader of the Servant of the People faction in parliament, said on Telegram on February 5 that Reznikov would be transferred to the post of minister for strategic industries to strengthen military-industrial cooperation.

"War dictates personnel policy," Arakhamia said. "Time and circumstances need to be strengthened and regrouped. This is happening now and will happen in the future."

"The enemy is preparing to attack. We are preparing to defend ourselves and return ours," he added.

Arakhamia did not specify when the changes would take place.

An official ministry statement has not yet been issued about the changes.

Arakhamia said the Interior Ministry will be headed by Ihor Klymenko, currently chief of the National Police.

Rumors of a possible Reznikov resignation or ouster have mounted after a series of accusations of corruption within the ministry.

In a news conference hours earlier, Reznikov said he was not planning to resign but added that any decision about his future would be made by the president.

"He nominates an appointee, and the [parliament] appoints. Therefore, only by the decision of the president of Ukraine will I make certain decisions, and I will do what the president of Ukraine tells me," he said.

In January, Ukrainian media reported that the Defense Ministry had allegedly purchased products for the military at inflated prices through a "gasket" company. Other charges of corruption were also alleged in the media.

The 56-year-old Reznikov denied the allegations as authorities launched an investigation.

Deputy Minister Vyacheslav Shapovalov, who was responsible for supplying troops with food and equipment, resigned on January 24, citing "media accusations" of corruption that he and the ministry said were baseless.

Moscow, Tehran Move Forward On Plans For Iran-Designed Drone Factory in Russia

This Iranian kamikaze Shahed drone was launched by Russian forces with a New Year's greeting in Russian and shot down on New Year's Eve over Kyiv.

Russia and Iran are moving forward on plans to establish a factory in Russia aimed at producing some 6,000 Iran-designed drones of the type Moscow has used in the Ukraine war, according to The Wall Street Journal, which cited officials in a U.S.-aligned country. Moscow and Tehran seek to produce a faster drone to better challenge Ukrainian air defenses, the officials said. Washington last month warned that Moscow and Tehran were considering construction of a drone-making plant in Russia.

Former Iranian President Khatami Joins In Calls For Political Change Amid Growing Unrest

Former President Mohammad Khatami in 2013

Former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami has joined opposition figure and ex-Prime Minister Mir Hossein Musavi in calls for political change as the country continues to be stricken with widespread anti-government protests.

"What is evident today is widespread discontent," the 79-year-old Khatami said on February 5 in remarks carried on local media.

He added that "there is no sign of the ruling system's desire for reform and avoiding the mistakes of the past and present."

Khatami, the reformist who served as president from 1997 until 2005, said he hoped "nonviolent civil methods [will] "force the governing system to change its approach and accept reforms."

"Iran and Iranians need and are ready for a fundamental transformation whose outline is drawn by the pure 'Woman, life, freedom' movement," he added.

Iran has been beset with widening unrest since 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 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.

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

Khatami's remarks come as Iran is set to mark the 44th anniversary of the revolution and follow comments on February 4 by Iranian opposition figure Musavi, who called for a "free" referendum in Iran and the drafting of a new constitution.

Musavi, 80, who has been under house arrest since 2011, made the call in a statement in which he said Iranians want fundamental change based on the slogan "Woman, life, freedom" -- which many have been chanting during recent antiestablishment protests.

Meanwhile, on February 5, Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei pardoned "tens of thousands" of prisoners, including many arrested in the recent anti-government protests, state media reported.

"Prisoners not facing charges of spying for foreign agencies, having direct contact with foreign agents, committing intentional murder and injury, committing destruction and arson of state property, or not having a private plaintiff in their case will be pardoned," said state media, which added that the pardons were part of activities related to the anniversary of the revolution.

With reporting AFP and Reuters

European Ban On Russian Diesel, Other Oil Products Takes Effect

Europe has already banned Russian coal and most crude oil, while Moscow has cut off most shipments of natural gas.

Europe on February 5 imposed a ban on Russian diesel fuel and other refined oil products, slashing energy dependency on Moscow and seeking to further crimp the Kremlin's fossil-fuel earnings as punishment for invading Ukraine. The ban comes along with a price cap agreed by the G7 democracies. The goal is to reduce the profits funding Moscow's budget and war. Europe has already banned Russian coal and most crude oil, while Moscow has cut off most shipments of natural gas. To read the original story by AP, click here.

Ukraine Says It Will Not Strike Russian Territory With New Missiles

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov (file photo)

Ukraine will not use longer-range weapons pledged by the United States to hit Russian territory and will only target Russian units in occupied Ukrainian territory, Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said on February 5. The United States confirmed on February 3 that a new rocket that would double Ukraine's strike range was included in a $2.175 billion U.S. military aid package to help Kyiv fight back Russian forces. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Qatar Sends Envoy To Afghan Capital To Meet With Taliban

The Taliban's acting foreign minister, Amir Khan Muttaqi (file photo)

An envoy for Qatar's foreign minister visited the Afghan capital on February 5 and met with the Taliban administration's acting foreign minister, according to an Afghan Foreign Ministry statement. The visit comes after the Taliban administration placed restrictions on women's education and NGO work, which Qatar labelled "deeply concerning" amid widespread international criticism. Mutlaq bin Majed al-Qahtani, the special envoy of Qatar's foreign minister, took part in meetings with the Taliban-led government's acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi in Kabul, officials said. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Germany Has 'Hundreds' Of Pieces Of Ukraine War Crime Evidence

Forensic experts exhume a body of someone who, according to police, was killed by the Russian military in the Bucha district outside Kyiv in June 2022.

Germany's prosecutor-general said on February 5 that his office had collected "hundreds" of pieces of evidence showing war crimes by Russian forces in Ukraine, calling for an international effort to bring leaders to justice. "At the moment we are focusing on mass killings in Bucha and attacks on Ukraine's civil infrastructure," prosecutor Peter Frank told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper. He said the goal was now to "prepare for a possible later court case -- whether in Germany or with our foreign partners or an international court."

Iran Detains Journalist After Detaining Her Sister

Elaheh Mohammadi (right, with fellow journalist Niloofar Hamedi)

Iranian authorities have detained a journalist at a reformist publication, local media reported on February 5, as her sister, also a journalist, remains in custody after reporting on Mahsa Amini's death. Elnaz Mohammadi, a reporter for reformist newspaper Hammihan, was detained at the Evin prosecutor's office in Tehran after she had gone there "for an explanation," reported Shargh, another reformist daily. It was not immediately clear why Mohammadi had been summoned there. Her sister, Elaheh Mohammadi, was arrested on September 29 after reporting for Hammihan from Amini's funeral.

Iran's Leader Pardons 'Large Number' Of Protest-Related Prisoners

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (file photo)

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has pardoned "tens of thousands" of prisoners, including many arrested in recent anti-government protests over security-related charges, state media reported on February 5. "Prisoners not facing charges of spying for foreign agencies, having direct contact with foreign agents, committing intentional murder and injury, committing destruction and arson of state property, or not having a private plaintiff in their case will be pardoned," state media said. The pardons were announced in honor of the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.


Pervez Musharraf, Pakistani Military Ruler Who Never Overcame Dangerous Foes, Dies At 79

Pervez Musharraf salutes at a public rally in 2002 in Lahore, Pakistan.

Pakistan lost one of its most influential and polarizing figures with the death of General Pervez Musharraf, who died at a hospital in Dubai on February 5 at the age of 79 after a prolonged illness.

General Musharraf took over the presidency of the nuclear-armed country on the back of a bloodless 1999 military coup, but was forced out of office in 2008 amid scandal and efforts by his political rivals to impeach him and even briefly faced a death-sentence verdict for alleged treason before a court overturned it.

Upon assuming power following the bloodless military coup, Musharraf promised to bring progress and harmony to Pakistan.

"I wish to inform you that the armed forces have moved in as a last resort to prevent any further destabilization," he said at the time. "I wish to assure you that the situation in the country is perfectly calm, stable, and under control. I request you all to remain calm and support your armed forces in the reestablishment of order to pave the way for a prosperous future for Pakistan."

Fighting The Taliban

Musharraf's rule was complicated by the political realities that emerged after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

He openly supported Washington by joining the global war on terrorism. But he had to balance that decision against the rise of anti-Americanism at home after the fight came to neighboring Afghanistan and Pakistan's restive northwest.

He achieved some success in his efforts to modernize Pakistan by creating a more open media environment, expanding the middle class, holding elections, and allowing key politicians to return from exile.

But he failed to overcome opposition to his highly unpopular moves to root out extremism and separatism on Pakistani soil, to improve Islamabad's often uneasy relations with neighboring states, or to suppress his most dangerous political foes -- some of whom came back to haunt him.

He survived at least five purported assassination attempts by Islamist militant groups or other enemies between 2000 and 2014.

Indian Rivalry

Born in New Delhi in 1943, Mushrraf's family migrated to Pakistan in 1947 after it was established as an independent state. His formative years were spent in Turkey, where his father worked as a diplomat.

Musharraf joined the Pakistani Army's officer corps at the age of 18, rising through the ranks over the next few decades to become its chief in 1998.

He was appointed by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, but differences quickly emerged -- a sign of the fierce political rivalry to come.

Musharraf disagreed with Sharif's peace overtures toward India and launched a botched offensive against Indian forces in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir. This fanned his disagreements with Sharif's civilian government, ultimately resulting in a coup in October 1999.

Musharraf titled himself chief executive and consolidated power quickly. He appointed himself president in 2001, giving him final say in Pakistani affairs.

'The Path Of Development'

He quickly sided with Washington after the 9/11 terrorist attacks against the United States.

In a televised speech days after the 9/11 attacks, he told Pakistanis he had allied with Washington to save his country's critical security and geopolitical interests.

"At this moment, our decisions may have far-reaching and wide repercussions," Musharraf said. "The worst results, God forbid, may endanger our territorial integrity and our survival."

The alliance prompted a domestic backlash, as pro-Taliban hard-liners opposed his policies. But in a major policy speech in January 2002, Musharraf indicated he was determined to lead Pakistan on the path of moderation:

"Do we want to turn Pakistan into a theocratic state? Or do we want Pakistan to become a progressive, dynamic, Islamic welfare state?" he asked. "The choice of our people is absolutely clear. And their decision is to take the path of development."

His efforts produced mixed results at best and provoked two assassination attempts masterminded by Al-Qaeda-linked militants in 2003.

Islamabad benefited enormously from allying with Washington, as it received tens of billions of dollars in military and civilian assistance. Major Western donors wrote off Islamabad's debts and Pakistan was formally declared a major non-NATO U.S. ally.

Defeated By Radical Backlash

But Musharraf's failure to confront or eradicate pro-Taliban radicals backfired. Under his watch, Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters who had been chased out of Afghanistan recuperated across the border in Pakistan and, by the end of 2007, emerged as a major challenge to Pakistan's stability and security.

Musharraf's failure to handle extremist clerics at Islamabad's Red Mosque eventually ended in a bloody showdown in July 2007. Dozens died in a weeklong siege of the mosque. The confrontation provoked Pakistani Taliban to mount attacks across Pakistan and capture large swathes of territories in the northwest.

That year he was unable to manipulate the country's political scene, as he had done for years.

His firing of a popular Supreme Court chief justice in March 2007 prompted a countrywide protest movement led by lawyers.

By year's end the movement grew strong enough to force him to give up his leadership of the military, and to step down as president in 2008. Afterward he went into self-imposed exile in London and Dubai.

Facing Charges

Musharraf returned to Pakistan in March 2013 in an attempt to make a political comeback -- hoping to be voted into parliament and position himself to become prime minister.

But those hopes were dashed when he was barred from taking part in the general elections and placed under house arrest amid a litany of court cases related to his final years in office.

In March 2014, Musharraf was formally charged by a special tribunal on five counts of high treason -- charges which highlighted tensions between Pakistan's military and its civilian government, which initiated the case.

The treason charges stemmed from Musharraf's imposition of emergency rule, followed by his dismissal of high-ranking judges, less than a month after his controversial reelection as president in 2007.

Musharraf was also charged with murder and conspiracy to murder for allegedly failing to protect his political rival and former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated in December 2007 while campaigning for general elections.

In another case he was investigated for the killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti, a senior Baluch leader who died in a military operation ordered by Musharraf in August 2006. He was also tried for his role in the 2007 siege of the Red Mosque.

Musharraf tried hard to defend his record.

He told the court at his formal indictment for treason that he "put the country on the path of progress after 1999 when the country was being called a failed and defaulted state," asking the judges, "Is this the way to reward someone for being loyal to the country and loving the country?"

Musharraf also labeled attacks against him as a vendetta aimed at maligning his achievements and a conspiracy to keep him out of politics.

"I helped build a lot of roads and dams. I promoted telecommunication and information technology and vastly enhanced Pakistan's defense capabilities and made it very strong," Musharraf said. "I brought an industrial and agricultural revolution and helped propel the country's economy into one of the top 11 global economies."

Declining Health

Would-be assassins continued to try to kill Musharraf in the midst of the lengthy court proceedings against him. He narrowly escaped an assassination attempt in April 2014 while being transported in a convoy from an army hospital to his home.

But even with the treason charge hanging over him, in 2016, Pakistan's government allowed to travel abroad for medical treatment. He left his country and reportedly took up residence between London and Dubai, still vowing to clear his name and return to Pakistan.

Musharraf continued to appear on a controversial weekly television show on which he opined on Pakistani politics and current affairs.

A year later, a Pakistani antiterrorism court in Rawalpindi declared Musharraf a fugitive for "absconding" amid the ongoing charges in the Bhutto assassination case and ordered his assets seized.

In 2019, senior officials from his All Pakistan Muslim League (APML) party disclosed that he had been hospitalized due to a "reaction" from amyloidosis, a rare condition that can lead to organ failure.

Later the same year, a closed trial in Islamabad convicted him in absentia of high treason and other wrongdoing over the 2007 suspension of the constitution, and sentenced him to death.

Pakistan's powerful military responded publicly to condemn the verdict and accused the courts of ignoring due process.

Less than a month later, in January 2020, the Lahore High Court agreed with Musharraf's appeal and declared the trial in the capital case against him unconstitutional and politically motivated.

Reports said a special flight would travel from Pakistan to Dubai to repatriate Musharraf's body, according to the wishes of Musharraf's family.

Pakistani Taliban Commanders Killed In Northwest

Pakistani police killed two commanders of the Pakistani Taliban militant group in the country's northwest, a local officer said February 4. Regional police officer Muhammad Ali Gandapur said the slain fighters were wanted in connection with the killing of five police officers and were also involved in attacks on security checkpoints. The government had a bounty on the two men. Police arrested four fighters and recovered gunpowder, hand grenades, electronic detonators, and Kalashnikov rifles in the same intelligence operation in the Hund village of the Swabi district. To read the original story by AP, click here.


Situation 'Very Difficult' In East, Zelenskiy Says, As Ukraine Calls Again For Jets, Weapons

A Ukrainian tank fires at Russian positions near Kreminna in the Luhansk region.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has said the situation is "very difficult" in the eastern region of Donetsk and elsewhere as Russia intensifies its war effort as the first anniversary nears of its full-scale attack on Ukraine.

"Things are very difficult in Donetsk region. Fierce battles," Zelenskiy said in his nightly video address on February 5. "But, however difficult it is and however much pressure there is, we must endure."

Zelenskiy said Moscow was intensifying its attacks in an attempt to "make up for its defeats last year. We see that on various sectors of the front and also pressure in terms of information."

Heavy shelling was also reported in the key eastern city of Kharkiv and the strategic southern port of Kherson on February 5.

Ukrainian authorities said numerous residential buildings were hit by Russian rocket attacks in Kherson, while Kharkiv Governor Oleh Synehubov said missiles struck a residential building in the city center, injuring at least five people.

Missiles Hit Center Of Ukraine's Kharkiv
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Earlier in the day, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov renewed calls for allies to supply additional weapons, including fighter jets, saying the West's reluctance to send such aircraft will "cost us more lives" in the battle against Russian forces.

"I am sure that we will win this war. I am sure we will liberate all the occupied territories," Reznikov told a Kyiv news conference on February 5. But without Western supplies of jets, "it will cost us more lives."

Western leaders have said it is not practical to send such jets to Ukraine given the amount of time it would take to train pilots and maintenance crews and amid fears of widening the conflict.

At the same news conference, Reznikov vowed his country will not use newly provided long-range weapons to target sites inside Russia amid the same fears of escalating tensions.

Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov holds a news conference in Kyiv on February 5.
Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov holds a news conference in Kyiv on February 5.

"Our partners decided to provide us with weapons capable of firing at a distance of 150 kilometers," Reznikov said.

"We always tell our partners that we take an obligation not to use the weapons of foreign partners against the territory of Russia, only against their units in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine for the purpose of de-occupying our land," he added.

Reznikov said Russia could launch a new offensive later this month for symbolic reasons as the war approaches the anniversary of the February 24, 2022, invasion, but that Ukraine was prepared to hold off any major military onslaught.

Ukraine's military, in its regular update on February 5, claimed 131,290 Russian military personnel have been killed in Ukraine since Russia invaded the country last year.

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.

The Ukrainian General Staff said 700 Russian soldiers were killed just over the past day.

The update -- which is often higher than Western estimates -- also said Russia had lost 3,220 tanks, 6,405 armored vehicles, and 2,226 artillery systems since the war began.

Citing U.S. and other Western officials, The New York Times reported earlier this month that the number of Russian troops killed and wounded in Ukraine was approaching 200,000 in total.

Heavy fighting was under way on February 5 in the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut in the eastern region of Donetsk, according to Yevgeny Prigozhin the head of Russia's Wagner mercenary group.

"In the northern quarters of [Bakhmut], fierce battles are going on for every street, every house, every stairwell," Prigozhin said on Telegram, adding that Ukrainian forces were not retreating.

"The Ukrainian armed forces are fighting to the last," he said.

Bakhmut has been virtually razed by repeated Russian artillery bombardments as Moscow has been trying to seize control of the city for months.

The British Defense Ministry said that "over the last week, Russia has continued to make small advances in its attempt to encircle" Bakhmut.

"The M03 and the H32 -- the two main roads into the city for Ukrainian defenders -- are likely now both threatened by direct fire, following the Russian advances," it said in its regular update on February 5.

In the neighboring Luhansk region, Ukrainian forces remained in control of the village of Bilohorivka, the regional governor said, rejecting claims by some Russian-installed officials that the village was captured by the Russian Army.

"Our troops remain in their positions, nobody has captured Bilohorivka, nobody has entered there, there is no enemy there," Serhiy Hayday told the Ukrainian national broadcaster.

He said the situation was "tense," as "the number of Russian attacks has increased," but he added that "all of the [attacks] have been repulsed" by Ukrainian troops.

Three people were wounded on February 5 by two Russian missiles in the northeastern city of Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city, according to local officials. Kharkiv Governor Oleh Synehubov said the missiles hit a residential building in the city center.

The claims cannot be independently verified.

In Germany, Chancellor Olaf Scholz again rejected concerns that Berlin's recent decision to supply Ukraine with its Leopard tanks could make Germany an active party to the conflict with Russia.

"We have carefully weighed every arms shipment [to Ukraine], coordinated them closely with our allies, first and foremost with the United States," Scholz told Germany's Bild am Sonntag, in comments seen by dpa ahead of publication on February 5.

"This joint approach prevents an escalation of the war," said the German chancellor, who has faced much criticism over his initial reluctance to send the Leopards.

Scholz also said that Russian President Vladimir Putin in his telephone conversations "has not made any threats against me or Germany."

Former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson earlier this week said Putin had threatened him with a missile strike that would "only take a minute." The Kremlin said Johnson was lying.

Scholz said the conversations he had with Putin made it clear they had very different views of the war in Ukraine. "I make it very clear to Putin that Russia has sole responsibility for the war," Scholz said.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, AP, and dpa

Opposition Figure Musavi Calls For 'Free' Referendum In Iran, Drafting Of New Constitution

A photo of Mir Hossein Musavi and Zahra Rahnavard emerged on social media in 2019.

Iranian opposition figure Mir Hossein Musavi has called for a "free" referendum in Iran and the drafting of a new constitution. Musavi who has been under house arrest since 2011, made the call in a statement released on February 4 in which he said Iranians want fundamental change based on the slogan "Woman, life, freedom," which many have been chanting during recent antiestablishment protests. Musavi said the the three words are "the seeds of a bright future free of oppression, poverty, humiliation, and discrimination." Musavi, his wife, university professor Zahra Rahnavard, and reformist cleric Mehdi Karrubi were put under house arrest in February 2011 for challenging Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei over the disputed 2009 presidential vote and criticizing human rights abuses. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Radio Farda, click here.

Venezuela's Maduro, Iranian Diplomat Discuss Defense Against 'External Pressures'

Both Venezuela and Iran have been subjected to U.S. sanctions.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and the visiting Iranian foreign minister have discussed the need for "vigilance in defending their national interests against external pressures," according to a statement released on February 4. The Caracas visit by Foreign Minister Ossein Amir-Abdollahian underlined the strength of an alliance between two countries seen as outcasts by much of the international community, both of them subject to U.S. sanctions. Maduro received Abdollahian on the evening of February 3 in the Miraflores presidential palace after the Iranian minister arrived from Managua, Nicaragua. "I am sure that our relations will continue to strengthen for technological, industrial, scientific, and cultural exchanges that benefit both peoples," Maduro wrote on Twitter, calling the meeting "productive."

At Least Two Civilians Wounded In Bomb Blast In Kabul

At least two civilians were wounded in a bomb blast in Kabul city on February 4, police said. Kabul police spokesman Khalid Zadran said that the blast was caused by a magnetic bomb that was attached to a private vehicle. An investigative team was inspecting the scene of the explosion, police added. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack that comes after several weeks of calm. When the Taliban returned to power in August 2021, the Islamic State group intensified its attacks in Afghanistan, mainly targeting religious minorities, members of the Taliban, and areas where foreign diplomats live.

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