Recapturing Crimea In Focus After Blasts As Russian Forces Attempt Frontline Advances
The leader of the Crimean Tatars' self-governing body says major explosions at a Russian airfield in Crimea are the first clear signal that the Russian-occupied peninsula will be returned to Ukraine.
Mejlis head Refat Chubarov said Russian aggression began there and "must end with the liberation of Crimea, with the restoration of the state sovereignty of Ukraine over the Ukrainian peninsula."
Chubarov made the comments on August 10 on the Svoboda Live program of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service.
He also said people who arrived in Crimea after Moscow's 2014 annexation and people who are currently on vacation there because sanctions prohibit them from going to other countries "are in a panic" and are preparing to leave.
The explosions were "an appropriate signal that sooner or later those who have the right to be there will return to Crimea, and not those who captured Crimea," he said.
Ukrainian officials have stopped short of publicly claiming responsibility for the explosions in Crimea, but the air force said on August 10 that nine Russian warplanes were destroyed. Russia denied any aircraft were damaged in the blasts.
If Ukrainian forces were responsible for the blasts, it would be the first known major attack on a Russian military site on the Crimean Peninsula.
Chubarov's comments echoed those of President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who in his nightly video address on August 9 vowed to reverse Moscow's annexation of Crimea and retake the peninsula by the end of the war.
Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine
"This Russian war against Ukraine and against all of free Europe began with Crimea and must end with Crimea — its liberation," Zelenskiy said. "Today it is impossible to say when this will happen. But we are constantly adding the necessary components to the formula for the liberation of Crimea."
Crimea has so far escaped heavy fighting, and officials in Moscow have warned Ukraine that any attack there would trigger massive retaliation, including strikes on "decision-making centers" in Kyiv.
The Russian Defense Ministry indicated in a statement that the Saky airfield was not targeted in an attack and that the detonation of aviation ammunition caused the explosions, which reportedly killed one person, without clarifying who or what triggered the blasts.
The New York Times quoted an unnamed "senior Ukrainian military official with knowledge of the situation" as saying that Ukrainian forces were behind the Crimea explosions.
It said the official declined to specify what type of weapon caused them but said "a device exclusively of Ukrainian manufacture was used."
The source also suggested that the Saky air base, on Crimea's western coast, was routinely used to launch air attacks on Ukrainian forces.
RFE/RL could not independently confirm the Times' reporting.
A Ukrainian military expert told Current Time that Kyiv "theoretically" had weapons that could have reached Saky.
Amid speculation about the explosions, reports overnight on August 9-10 suggested Russian troops were concentrating on a southern region and Ukrainians reported minor successes around Kharkiv.
Assessments of the fighting from Ukrainian and Western military sources indicate that battle lines have become increasingly entrenched as the conflict grinds on, with advances mostly limited on either side.
The General Staff of the Ukrainian military on August 10 said the operational situation in the north did not change during the day.
But it said military exercises began in Belarus, and a threat remains of missile and air strikes from the country bordering Ukraine to the north.
The General Staff also said Russian troops tried to conduct assault operations near settlements in the Kharkiv region but had to retreat due to the resistance of Ukrainian units.
The report also said Russian forces withdrew after attempting to advance in the Kramatorsk direction and Bakhmut and other settlements in the Donetsk region.
With reporting by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, Current Time, and The New York Times
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Russia Toughens Penalty For Voluntary Surrender, Refusal To Fight
Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed amendments toughening the punishment for deserters and those who refuse to fight, just days after ordering a partial mobilization amid recent Russian military losses in Ukraine.
Those who voluntarily go into Ukrainian captivity can expect up to 10 years in prison, according to amendments passed by parliament and the Federation Council this week and put into effect by Putin's signature on September 24.
Under the amendments, Russians of compulsory military age or reservists will also face up to 10 years imprisonment if they refuse to take part in combat operations, the Kremlin said.
A separate law, also signed on September 24 , facilitates access to Russian citizenship for foreigners who enlist in the Russian military, following efforts to increase the ranks fighting in Ukraine.
Based on reporting by AFP and dpa
Iran Will Give 'Appropriate' Response To Ukraine's Decision To Reduce Ties
Iran's Foreign Ministry has said Tehran will give "an appropriate" response to Ukraine's decision to downgrade diplomatic ties over the reported supply of Iranian drones to Russia.
Spokesman Nasser Kanaani was quoted by the official government news agency IRNA on September 24 as saying that Ukraine should "refrain from being influenced by third parties who seek to destroy relations between the two countries."
Ukraine said on September 23 that it would reduce Iran's diplomatic presence in the country and withdraw accreditation of the Iranian ambassador over Tehran's decision to supply Russian forces with drones, a move President Volodymyr Zelenskiy called "a collaboration with evil."
Kanaani said Ukraine's decision was "based on unconfirmed reports and resulted from a media hype by foreign parties."
He did not directly refer to drones.
He said that Iran's foreign minister had phone conversations and meetings with his counterparts from Russia and Ukraine over the past few months to help resolve the dispute.
Iran has in the past dismissed accusations by the United States and Ukraine that it is supplying drones to Russia to use in its unprovoked war against its neighbor.
Military authorities in southern Ukraine said on September 24 they had shot down at least seven Iranian drones over the sea near the ports of Odesa and Pivdenniy.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhaylo Podolyak said on Twitter on September 24 that Iran was supporting Russia "by giving modern drones to (a) backward country for the murders of Ukrainians."
With reporting by Reuters and IRNA
French Lawmakers Want Inquiry Into Alleged Russian Financing Of Political Parties
Members of the French National Assembly say they have asked the president of the lower house of parliament to set up a committee to investigate alleged Russian financing of political parties.
In a letter to Yael Braun-Pivet shown to reporters on September 24, deputies said the move was prompted by a recent declassification of U.S. intelligence showing Russia had paid hundreds of millions of dollars to foreign political parties "with the aim to...influence elections."
The eight lawmakers, who belong to French President Emmanuel Macron's En Marche party, also noted that Marine Le Pen's far-right Rassemblement National party is still paying off a loan granted by Russian banks.
"These facts clearly suggest a Russian will to weigh in the French public debate...they warrant the set-up of an investigation committee to establish if French political parties -- and which ones -- have benefited from Russian financing," they wrote.
The U.S. State Department said on September 13 that Russia had covertly spent more than $300 million since 2014 on efforts to influence politicians and other officials in more than two dozen countries.
The information followed a review by the U.S. intelligence community of Russia's efforts to influence other countries' politics, a senior U.S. official said.
The report does not name specific Russian targets but says Russia likely will increasingly turn to covert political financing to undermine international sanctions over its war in Ukraine.
Russia has not publicly commented on the issue.
Based on reporting by Reuters
Russian Deputy Defense Minister Removed From Office
Russian Deputy Defense Minister Dmitry Bulgakov has been removed from office and transferred to "another post," the Defense Ministry in Moscow said.
Bulgakov will be replaced by Colonel General Mikhail Mizintsev, who previously held the position of head of the National Defense Control Center of Russia.
The Ukrainian military said Mizintsev led the siege of the Ukrainian Sea of Azov port of Mariupol, which earned him the nickname "the butcher of Mariupol."
Mariupol was captured by Russia at the end of May after most of the city was turned into ruins and thousands of civilians were killed during the siege.
The Russian military leadership under Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has recently been criticized in circles close to the Kremlin.
Some two weeks ago, Moscow's army had hastily withdrawn from the eastern Ukrainian region of Kharkiv, under pressure from Ukrainian counteroffensives.
With reporting by dpa
Iran's President Says Protesters Should Be Confronted 'Decisively
President Ebrahim Raisi has said that Iran must "deal decisively with those who oppose the country's security and tranquility," state media reported as the number of people killed in more than a week of anti-government protests more than doubled, according to official accounts.
State media said that at least 35 people have been killed in more than a week of protests in Iran that were sparked by the death of a young woman arrested by the morality police for failing to properly wear a mandatory headscarf, or hijab.
"The number of people who died in recent riots in the country has risen to 35 people," the Borna news agency, which is affiliated with Iran's Sports Ministry, said late on September 23, citing state television.
The official toll had previously stood at 17 dead, including five members of the security forces.
Raisi's comments were made in a condolence telephone call to the family of a security agent stabbed to death last week, allegedy by protesters.
Amnesty International said in a statement on September 23 that it had gathered evidence pointing to "a harrowing pattern of Iranian security forces deliberately and unlawfully firing live ammunition at protesters."
The statement said that on the night of 21 September alone, shootings by security forces left at least 19 people dead, including at least three children.
The London-based rights group called on the world community to take "meaningful action" against the crackdown in Iran while warning about the risk of further bloodshed amid severe Internet restrictions.
Sweeping arrests have been reported, with the police chief in the northwestern Guilan Province announcing on September 24 "the arrest of 739 rioters, including 60 women" in his region alone, according to the Tasnim news agency.
Demonstrators have taken to the streets of major cities across Iran, including Tehran, for eight straight nights since the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini.
The Kurdish woman was pronounced dead three days after the morality police, a unit responsible for enforcing Iran's strict dress code for women, arrested her in Tehran for wearing the headscarf in an "improper" way.
On September 23, state-organized counterdemonstrations took place in several Iranian cities, paying tribute to security forces who have moved to quell a week of protests by what media called "conspirators."
The state-sponsored rallies came amid the strongest warning yet from the authorities when the army told Iranians it would confront "the enemies" behind the unrest.
Iran's military said on September 23 it would "confront the enemies' various plots in order to ensure security and peace for the people who are being unjustly assaulted."
"We will not allow enemies to use the situation," a military statement said, according to the semiofficial ISNA news agency.
Iran's intelligence service said it had foiled several bomb attacks during the protests.
According to an intelligence report published by the Mehr news agency on September 24, the attacks were planned by supporters of the former monarchy and militia members in the city of Tabriz in the northwest of the country.
The account could not be independently verified.
Activists said Amini suffered a blow to the head while in custody but Iranian authorities, who say they have opened an investigation, denied she had been beaten.
"Reports from oversight bodies were received, witnesses were interviewed, videos were reviewed, forensic opinions were obtained and it was found that there had been no beating," Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi was quoted as saying by Iranian media on September 23.
The minister indicated said the government was investigating the cause of Amini's death, adding, "we must wait for the final opinion of the medical examiner, which takes time."
Vahidi criticized "those who took irresponsible positions...incited violence and followed the United States, European countries, and anti-revolutionary groups."
With reporting by AFP and dpa
Russia Struck Dam On Siverskiy Donets River, British Intelligence Says
Russia struck the Pechenihy dam on the Siverskiy Donets River in northeast Ukraine this week using short-range ballistic missiles or similar weapons, the British Ministry of Defense has said.
The attack on September 21-22 followed an earlier one on the Karachunivske dam near Kryviy Rih in central Ukraine on September 15, the ministry said in its daily intelligence bulletin on September 24, adding that Ukrainian forces were advancing further downstream along both rivers.
Russian commanders may be attempting to strike sluice gates of the dams in order to flood Ukrainian military crossing points, the bulletin said.
The attacks are unlikely to have caused significant disruption to Ukrainian operations due to distance between damaged dams and combat zones, it said.
With reporting by Reuters
Belarus's Fate Intertwined With Ukraine's, Opposition Leader Says
The leader of the Belarusian opposition says Russia views neither Belarus nor Ukraine as independent sovereign states and the two countries should fight together to safeguard their very existence.
Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who moved to Lithuania after strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka claimed victory in disputed August 2020 presidential election that many consider she won, said in an interview with the Associated Press that "there will be no free Belarus without free Ukraine."
Lukashenka is a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin and has backed Moscow's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.
Speaking on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York, Tsikhanouskaya said there will be constant security threats to Ukraine and on Belarus's western border as long as Putin is in power.
Tsikhanouskaya said neither country wants to be part of another Russian empire.
The Crisis In Belarus
Read our ongoing coverage as Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka continues his brutal crackdown on NGOs, activists, and independent media following the August 2020 presidential election, widely seen as fraudulent.
"So Belarus is part of this problem and this problem, this crisis, has to be solved in this context," she said, adding that Lukashenka had to support Russia after its invasion because Putin backed him after the mass protests against his claim of victory in the 2020 election.
Since its invasion, Russia has used Belarus as a staging ground to send troops into Ukraine, and Moscow and Minsk have maintained close military ties.
Tsikhanouskaya said the war in Ukraine was "extremely unexpected" and some Belarusians were especially opposed to the war "against Ukrainians, our brothers and sisters."
She urged the international community to both keep up pressure against Lukashenka -- suggesting new sanctions on Belarusian exports of wood, potash and steel -- and to help Belarusian civil society, including human rights defenders.
There are now six packages of sanctions, pushed for by the opposition, against the Lukashenka regime.
"People are scared, of course," Tsikhanouskaya said. "We live like in a gulag actually in Belarus, but people have this energy to continue."
With reporting by AP
Vote On Annexation In Russian-Occupied Parts Of Ukraine Enters Second Day
A second day of so-called referendums on joining the Russian Federation is being held in four Ukrainian regions partially occupied by Moscow -- votes dismissed as a sham by Ukraine, the West, and the United Nations because they are illegal under international law.
The vote in Russian-controlled areas of Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhya regions being held in the midst of the largest conflict in Europe since the end of World War II runs counter to the UN Charter and takes place amid claims by some local officials that voters were being threatened and intimidated.
There are no independent observers, and many of the prewar inhabitants have fled. The four regions represent around 15 percent of Ukraine, or an area the size of Hungary.
The Ukrainian military General Staff said on September 24 that "employees of the 'election commissions,' accompanied by armed servicemen of the military of the Russian federation" were collecting signatures of local residents directly at their homes.
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy urged the world to condemn "pseudo-referendums" meant to annex Ukrainian lands.
"The world will react absolutely justly to pseudo-referendums -- they will be unequivocally condemned," Zelenskiy said in his nightly address to the nation on September 23.
In Washington, U.S. President Joe Biden harshly condemned the move and warned that more sanctions will follow for Moscow.
"Russia's referenda are a sham -- a false pretext to try to annex parts of Ukraine by force in flagrant violation of international law," Biden said on September 23.
"We will work with our allies and partners to impose additional swift and severe economic costs on Russia," he added in a statement.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters that the United States was prepared to level additional economic penalties on Russia, in lockstep with allies, if Moscow attempted to annex more Ukrainian territory.
The vote hastily announced this week as Russia decreed a partial mobilization came as Ukrainian forces said they were clawing back territory from Moscow-backed separatists in the very territories Russia wants to annex.
Ukrainian officials said people were forbidden from leaving some occupied areas until the five-day vote was over.
Polling stations will only operate on the fifth day, September 27, with officials citing security reasons.
The Ukrainian General Staff said in a Facebook post that on the ground, Russia "has not stopped striking the civilian infrastructure and the homes of civilians."
It added that, during the night, the city of Mykolayiv was subjected to rocket fire from Russian occupiers, but information on civilian casualties was not initially available.
Ukraine's presidential office said on September 24 that the latest Russian shelling had killed at least three people and wounded 19. Oleksandr Starukh, the governor of the Zaporizhzhya region, said a Russian missile hit an apartment building in the city of Zaporizhzhya, killing one person and injuring seven others.
Serhiy Hayday, Ukraine's regional governor in Luhansk, said in a post on Telegram that Russian authorities banned people from leaving for several days to ensure votes.
"We have reports from people that the so-called 'voting commissions' coming to residences to record votes are accompanied by people with weapons.... If the doors to the apartments are not opened, they threaten to break them down," he said, adding that anyone voting "No" was written down in a ledger by the commissioners.
In Kherson, Serhiy Khlan, a Ukrainian deputy in the regional council, told RFE/RL on September 23 that the polling stations opened by the Russian-appointed officials in the region had remained mostly empty, prompting them to start going house-to-house to collect votes "at gunpoint."
Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine
The referendums have been condemned as an illegitimate, choreographed precursor to illegal annexation.
The move comes as Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a partial military mobilization on September 21 amid apparent heavy personnel losses in the unprovoked invasion of Ukraine that Moscow started in February.
Zelenskiy urged Ukrainians in occupied regions to undermine the referendums and to share information about the people conducting "this farce" and called on residents to try to avoid Moscow's mobilization.
"Hide from the Russian mobilization by any means," Zelenskiy said. "Avoid conscription letters. Try to get to the free territory of Ukraine."
The mobilization announcement has triggered an exodus of able Russian men scrambling to leave the country to avoid being drafted, with traffic at frontier crossings with Finland and Georgia surging and prices for air tickets from Moscow sky-rocketing.
The Kremlin has also shown little desire to mask its true goal over the balloting, with spokesman Dmitry Peskov telling reporters in Moscow on September 23 that he was "convinced" Russia will proceed "quite quickly" with taking over the regions if the vote is successful.
The incorporation of the four areas would allow Moscow to portray any moves to retake them as an attack on Russia itself -- potentially using that to justify even a nuclear response.
Ukraine says it will never accept Russian territorial takeovers while NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance will ramp up its help for Kyiv in response to the "sham" referendum.
The Group of Seven industrialized economies on September 23 condemned the referendums as a "sham" with "no legal effect or legitimacy."
"We will never recognize these referenda, which appear to be a step toward Russian annexation, and we will never recognize a purported annexation if it occurs," the G7 leaders said in a statement.
Moscow has deported about 1.6 million Ukrainians from those regions to Russia, according to Western estimates, while also busing Russian citizens into Ukrainian territory.
It has also seized the personal and biometric data of hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian citizens at so-called "filtration camps," opening the door, experts say, to ballot manipulation.
Nikolai Bulayev, the deputy chairman of Russia’s Central Election Commission, said he expected "hundreds of thousands" of Ukrainians currently in Russia to take part in the referendum.
Russia has little history of holding free and fair elections, with ballot stuffing, voter intimidation, outright fraud, and media manipulation common practices. It held a similar illegal vote in 2014 after occupying Ukraine's Crimea region. Very few countries have accepted the results of the vote.
With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP
Ukraine Strips Iranian Ambassador Of Accreditation After Accusing Tehran Of Supplying Drones To Russia
Kyiv says that it has stripped the Iranian ambassador of his accreditation and decided to reduce Iran's diplomatic presence in Ukraine to protest drone deliveries to Russia.
"Supplying Russia with weapons to wage war against Ukraine is an unfriendly act that deals a serious blow to relations between Ukraine and Iran," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement on September 23.
"In response to such an unfriendly act the Ukrainian side has decided to deprive the ambassador of Iran of his accreditation and also to significantly reduce the number of diplomatic staff" at the Iranian Embassy in Kyiv, it added.
Earlier on September 23, Kyiv said that one civilian was killed during a Russian attack with drones on the southern port city of Odesa and that one Iranian-designed unmanned vehicle was shot down by Ukrainian forces.
There was no immediate reaction from Tehran.
Iran has in the past dismissed accusations by the United States and Ukraine that it is supplying drones to Russia to use in its unprovoked war against its neighbor.
Based on reporting by AFP and Reuters
Former Russian Federation Council Member Rauf Arashukov Found Guilty Of Organizing Two Murders
A jury in a high-profile trial in Russia has found a former member of the parliament's upper chamber, the Federation Council, guilty of organizing two murders.
The jury at the Moscow City Court said on September 23 that Rauf Arashukov was guilty of organizing the 2010 murders of Fral Shebzukhov, an adviser to the leader of the North Caucasus region of Karachai-Cherkessia, and Aslan Zhukov, deputy chairman of a youth movement in the mostly Muslim region.
The jury also found Arashukov's father, Raul Arashukov, guilty of ordering the two killings. Raul Arashukov was a lawmaker in Karachai-Cherkessia and an adviser to the chief executive of a Gazprom subsidiary.
Rauf Arashukov, 36, was detained in late January 2019 at a dramatic session of the upper house, after fellow lawmakers voted to strip him of his immunity from prosecution.
The younger Arashukov, who could be sentenced to life in prison following the guilty verdict, was also charged with participation in a "criminal community" and witness-tampering.
He represented Karachai-Cherkessia in the Federation Council. His membership in the regional branch of the Kremlin-controlled United Russia party was suspended after his arrest.
His 62-year-old father was also arrested at the time along with several other people, including Rauf Arashukov's cousin.
Both Rauf and Raul Arashukov pleaded not guilty. The former lawmaker has insisted that the case against him and his father is politically motivated.
With reporting by RIA Novosti and Interfax
UN Chief Raised Human Rights Issues With Iranian President, Spokesman Says
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres met with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in New York on September 22 and raised human rights issues, a UN spokesman said.
The UN is concerned "about reports of peaceful protests being met with excessive use of force leading to dozens of deaths and injuries," spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters on September 23.
"We call on the security forces to refrain from using unnecessary or disproportionate force and appeal to all to exercise restraint to avoid further escalation," Dujarric said.
The call came amid protests in dozens of cities over the death of Mahsa Amini, 22, following her arrest by the morality police in Tehran.
Based on reporting by Reuters
Ukrainian Official Says 436 Bodies Exhumed In Izyum, Including 30 With 'Signs Of Torture'
The head of the regional military administration in Ukraine's Kharkiv region, Oleh Synyehubov, says 436 bodies, including 30 with signs of torture, were exhumed from a mass burial site near the eastern city of Izyum recaptured from Russian forces in early September.
Synyehubov said on September 23 that most of the bodies have signs of a violent death.
"Some bodies have ropes on the necks, tied hands, broken limbs, and burn wounds. Several men had their genitals cut off. All that indicates torture the occupiers imposed on the residents of Izyum. The majority of the bodies are civilians, 21 are military personnel," Synyehubov wrote on Telegram.
Synyehubov also said that at least three more mass graves had been found in Izyum, and more in the Kharkiv region where demining operations are under way.
The discovery of a mass burial site and evidence of torture in Izyum days after the city was retaken from Russian forces during Ukraine’s successful offensive in early September shocked Ukrainians and the international community.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy called it proof of war crimes.
U.S. Expands Access To Internet Services For Iranians Amid Rising Unrest
The U.S. announced on September 23 that it was easing export restrictions on Iran to expand access to Internet services which have been severely curbed by the government amid protests over the death of a woman following her arrest by the morality police.
The Treasury said in a statement that it was seeking to increase support for Internet freedom in Iran through updating a general license allowing access to certain services, software, and hardware after the government on September 21 restricted the Internet severely after days of unrest sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who died in police custody after being detained for allegedly violating the strictly enforced dress code regarding the hijab.
"While Iran’s government is cutting off its people’s access to the global internet, the United States is taking action to support the free flow of information and access to fact-based information to the Iranian people," the statement said.
Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo added: “As courageous Iranians take to the streets to protest the death of Mahsa Amini, the United States is redoubling its support for the free flow of information to the Iranian people...With these changes, we are helping the Iranian people be better equipped to counter the government’s efforts to surveil and censor them."
Adeyemo said that Washington would continue to issue guidance on the matter in the coming weeks.
The new license includes social media platforms and video conferencing. It also expands access to cloud-based services used to deliver virtual private networks (VPNs), which provide users with anonymity online, and other anti-surveillance tools, according to a Treasury official, who briefed reporters on the license on condition of anonymity.
The license also continues to authorize antivirus, anti-malware and anti-tracking software, the Treasury said, and removes a previous condition that communications be "personal" to ease compliance for companies.
Asked how the expanded license would help Iranians if their government again shuts down Internet access, a State Department official also briefing reporters said Iran's government would still have "repressive tools for communication."
Netblocks, a London-based Internet observatory group, said on September 21 that Iran is now subject to the most severe Internet restrictions since violent protests in November 2019 over a sudden rise in the price of gasoline.
The Iranian government claims Amini died after suffering a heart attack but her supporters and family dispute that, saying she was beaten while being apprehended.
With reporting by Reuters and AFP
Finland To 'Significantly Restrict' Border Crossings From Russia
Finland says it will "significantly restrict" Russian citizens from entering the country after President Vladimir Putin's decree announcing a partial mobilization of military reservists for the war in Ukraine triggered an exodus from Russia that has clogged its borders.
The Finnish government said in a statement on September 23 that its decision to limit the number of Russians entering the country was needed because the influx had done "serious damage to Finland's international position."
The statement gave no details on potential measures that will be taken to restrict border crossings or when they would take effect.
Reuters quoted a Finnish border guard as saying that the number of Russians trying to cross into the country appeared to have more than doubled on September 23 from the previous day, when an estimated 7,000 entered from Russia.
Finland has remained one of the few entry points into Europe from Russia since Moscow's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in late February prompted many European countries to close their physical borders and ban Russian planes from their airspace.
With reporting by Reuters
Embassy Warns Kyrgyz Nationals With Dual Citizenship They're Considered Russians While In Russia
The Kyrgyz Embassy in Moscow has warned Kyrgyz men and women with dual Kyrgyz-Russian citizenship that they are considered Russian citizens while residing in the Russian Federation, and thus could face military service after President Vladimir Putin announced a partial military mobilization to boost troop levels during the war with Ukraine.
Hours after Putin announced the partial military mobilization on September 21, the Kyrgyz Embassy in Moscow issued a statement saying that any form of participation by Kyrgyz citizens in military activities on the territory of foreign countries is considered to be mercenary activity and will be punished by up to 10 years in prison.
However, embassy spokeswoman Nazgul Jusubakunova told RFE/RL on September 23 that, while reports Russian authorities were forcing Kyrgyz citizens to mobilize for the war in Ukraine were not true, she did note that "according to Russian federal law on migration, Kyrgyz citizens who obtained Russian citizenship, and therefore have dual citizenship, are considered Russian citizens only."
Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine
On September 20, Russian lawmakers approved a bill on amendments to the Criminal Code that envisages lengthy prison terms for Russian citizens who refuse to join the Russian armed forces.
Concerns over being forced to fight in Ukraine are running high across the country, with thousands trying to flee to countries where they don't need visas. But those with non-Russian backgrounds are particularly concerned.
The Washington-based Institute for the Study of War said in a report on September 22 that Russian authorities will "likely mobilize ethnically non-Russian and immigrant communities at a disproportionate rate" to the ongoing invasion of Ukraine, launched in late February.
"A member of the Kremlin’s Russian Human Rights Council, Kirill Kabanov, proposed mandatory military service for Central Asian immigrants that have received Russian citizenship within the last 10 years, threatening to confiscate their Russian citizenship if they do not mobilize," the report said.
According to official Kyrgyz statistics, more than 1 million Kyrgyz citizens reside in Russia as labor migrants. About half of them hold dual Kyrgyz-Russian citizenship and therefore are eligible for military mobilization in Russia.
Another Belarusian Journalist Goes On Trial As Crackdown Continues
MINSK -- Another Belarusian journalist has gone on trial on charges that many consider unfounded and politically motivated as a crackdown on independent media, political dissent, and democratic institutions continues in the country that has been run by the authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka since 1994.
The Minsk City Court started the trial of Syarhey Satsuk, the chief editor of the Yezhednevnik (Daily News) website, on September 23 behind closed doors.
Satsuk, an investigative journalist, was arrested in early December after police searched his home. He was charged with bribe-taking at the time but he said in a letter, which he managed to circulate from behind bars, that he faced new charges as well.
One of his former cellmates said later that Satsuk was additionally charged with inciting hatred and abuse of office.
It is not known what actions the charges stem from exactly.
Belarusian human rights organizations have recognized Satsuk as a political prisoner.
Satsuk is one of 28 Belarusian journalists who are currently in custody, many of whom have been jailed since an August 2020 presidential election where Lukashenka was officially announced as the winner.
Rights activists and opposition politicians, however, say the poll was rigged.
Thousands have been detained during countrywide protests over the results and there have been credible reports of torture and ill-treatment by security forces. Several people have died during the crackdown.
Lukashenka has refused to negotiate with the opposition and many of its leaders have been arrested or forced to leave the country.
The United States, the European Union, and several other countries have refused to acknowledge Lukashenka as the winner of the vote and imposed several rounds of sanctions on him and his regime, citing election fraud and the police crackdown.
Barbra Streisand Notes Ukrainian Roots After Call With Zelenskiy
U.S. singer and actress Barbra Streisand, whose grandparents emigrated from Ukraine to the United States, says she held a phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy where she pledged to donate to the United24 platform that Kyiv has set up to accept money from around the world as it fights to repel Russia’s invasion.
Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine
“I have been moved by the resilience and courage of the Ukrainian people and his inspirational leadership,” Streisand said in a tweet accompanied by a picture of Zelenskiy during their phone call on September 22.
UNITED24 was launched by Zelenskiy as a venue for collecting charitable donations in support of Ukraine. The website said that funds donated “will be transferred to the official accounts of the National Bank of Ukraine and allocated by assigned ministries to cover the most pressing needs.”
The 80-year-old Streisand, who said she had pledged $24,000 to the fund, has been critical of Russia since it launched its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in late February.
“My paternal grandparents emigrated from Ukraine and my heart breaks for the courageous people there fighting this Russian invasion. Putin’s propaganda about “denazification” as a rationale is one of the great lies of this century, she wrote on February 24, just hours after the invasion was launched.
Putin has said repeatedly that part of the reason he launched his “special military operation” in Ukraine was to “de-Nazify” Ukraine even though Zelenskiy, who was democratically elected, is Jewish and lost relatives in the Holocaust.
Streisand, who has sold more than 150 million records worldwide, has won 10 Grammy awards for her music and two Oscar awards for her acting.
Prison Sentences Pronounced Over 2019 Deadly Fire In Children's Camp In Russia's Far East
KHABAROVSK, Russia -- A court in Russia's Far East has handed prison terms to three defendants who had been charged over a tent fire that claimed the lives of four children in 2019.
A court in the city of Khabarovsk on September 23 sentenced the owner of the Kholdomi tent camp, Vitaly Burlakov, to nine years in prison and the director of the camp, Maksim Kuznetsov, to eight years in prison after finding them guilty of manslaughter and failing to meet safety requirements while providing services.
The court also barred the two men from occupying positions linked to children's upbringing and education for three years.
A third defendant, Eduard Novgorodtsev, an employee of the Emergency Ministry, was found guilty of negligence that led to more than one death and sentenced to three years in prison.
The fire on July 23, 2019, destroyed 20 tents and partially damaged six more tents in the Kholdomi camp, killing four children.
In total there were 189 children between the ages of 7 and 15 at the camp when the fire broke out.
Bishkek Rejects Dushanbe's Allegation Of Persecution Of Ethnic Tajiks In Kyrgyzstan
BISHKEK -- Bishkek has rejected a statement by Tajikistan alleging that ethnic Tajiks are being persecuted in Kyrgyzstan on ethnically motivated grounds.
In a statement issued late on September 22, the Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry called the Tajik statement "provocative," adding that Dushanbe "has fully discredited itself on the international scene by its groundless statements recently."
Earlier in the day, the Tajik Foreign Ministry had accused the Kyrgyz government of going after ethnic Tajiks, alleging, among other things, cases such as "an ethnically motivated attack in Kyrgyzstan's Osh region on September 18 against a Tajik woman, Nasibakhon Davronbekova, who is a correspondent of RFE/RL."
RFE/RL does not have any correspondent in Kyrgyzstan or elsewhere with that name.
The ministry removed the sentence in question from the statement shortly afterward.
A regional correspondent for the Voice of America who is based in Osh, Davronbek Nasibkhonov, is the only correspondent in the region working for an international broadcaster with a name similar to the one mentioned in the Tajik statement, accused Tajik authorities of misusing his name and surname for their political campaign.
He wrote on Facebook that he is neither Tajik nor a woman, and that he has nothing to do with RFE/RL.
Nasibkhonov said he is an ethnic Uzbek and a citizen of Kyrgyzstan, confirming that he was involved in a brawl on September 18 in the central park in Osh, but emphasizing that it had nothing to do with any ethnic issues.
The exchange of statements between the two Central Asian nations comes amid heightened tensions following deadly clashes along the border between September 14 and September 17.
Since a cease-fire was reached on September 19, Tajikistan has accused Kyrgyzstan of violating the agreement. The Kyrgyz side has rejected the accusation, saying it has stuck to all the conditions of the agreement.
Kyrgyz officials say 59 of its citizens died in the recent clashes, and 183 others were injured. Tajikistan has put its death toll at 41, but correspondents for RFE/RL's Tajik Service have reported after talking to relatives and friends of the people killed during the clashes that the number of dead appears to be nearly double that number.
They concluded that 70 people, including dozens of civilians, lost their lives and have compiled a list of those killed.
Many border areas in Central Asia have been disputed since the Soviet Union's collapse in 1991.
The situation is particularly complicated near the numerous exclaves in the volatile Ferghana Valley, where the borders of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan meet.
Almost half of the 970-kilometer Kyrgyz-Tajik border has yet to be demarcated, leading to repeated tensions since the two countries gained independence more than three decades ago.
Navalny Placed In Punitive Solitary Confinement For Fifth Time Since Mid-August
Imprisoned Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny has been placed in punitive solitary confinement for the fifth time since mid-August for what he says are politically motivated reasons.
Navalny's press secretary Kira Yarmysh wrote on Telegram on September 23 that the outspoken Kremlin critic was sent back to a punitive solitary confinement for 12 days, one day after he finished his previous 15-day term there.
Meanwhile, a video showing Navalny speaking at an unspecified court hearing via a video link appeared on his Twitter account. In the video, he says the decision to return him to the punitive cell was politically motivated because of his recent statements criticizing President Vladimir Putin's decision to launch a partial military mobilization for the war in Ukraine.
"To stand against the idea of sending hundreds of thousands of our people to kill other innocent people for nothing, I will go [to punitive confinement] for 12 days or more if it is necessary," Navalny said in the statement.
On September 21, hours after Putin announced the partial military mobilization amid recent Russian military losses in Ukraine, Navalny issued a statement condemning the move and accusing Putin of sending more Russians to their death for a failing war where some reports say tens of thousands of Russians have become casualties.
Navalny was arrested in January 2021 upon his return to Moscow from Germany, where he was treated for a poison attack in Siberia in 2020 with what European labs defined as a Soviet-style nerve agent.
Navalny has blamed Putin for the poison attack, which the Kremlin has denied.
He was then handed a 2 1/2-year prison sentence for violating the terms of an earlier parole during of his convalescence abroad. The original conviction is widely regarded as a trumped-up, politically motivated case.
In March, Navalny was sentenced in a separate case to nine years in prison on embezzlement and contempt charges that he and his supporters have repeatedly rejected as politically motivated.
UN Commission Says Evidence Shows War Crimes Have Been Committed In Ukraine
UN investigators have concluded that war crimes have been committed during Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, including the bombing of civilians areas, numerous executions, torture, and horrific sexual violence.
"Based on the evidence gathered by the commission, it has concluded that war crimes have been committed in Ukraine," Erik Mose, the head of a Commission of Inquiry On Ukraine, told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on September 23.
The commission, set up in May to investigate crimes in Russia's invasion of Ukraine, presented extensive findings outlining offenses committed during the war, launched by Moscow on February 24.
Mose said his experts on the commission had received and documented “credible allegations regarding many more cases of executions.”
The panel's finding cited testimonies by former detainees held in Russian detention facilities outlining beatings, electric shocks and forced nudity. The panel also expressed grave concerns about executions in the regions of Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Sumy -- all of which were previously occupied by Russian forces.
Mose noted that a number of Russian soldiers were found to have committed gender-based and sexual crimes against people ranging in age from 4 years old to 82 years old.
“We were struck by the large number of executions in the areas that we visited. The commission is currently investigating such deaths in 16 towns and settlements,” Mose added.
Despite mounting evidence to the contrary, Russia has repeatedly denied targeting civilian infrastructure and residential areas, while accusing Ukraine of mistreating Russian prisoners of war.
Russia's Mir Payment System Stops Functioning In Uzbekistan Amid Fears Of Breaking Sanctions
Internationally issued payment cards by Russia's Mir reportedly have stopped functioning in Uzbekistan in the face of repeated warnings over failing to adhere to international sanctions against Moscow for its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.
The RBK news agency, citing the Central Asian nation's UZCARD processing center, said on September 23 that Mir payment cards issued in Russia were not working, while those issued locally in Uzbekistan were still functioning.
Earlier this week, several banks in Kazakhstan, Turkey, and Vietnam suspended the use of Mir payment cards amid warnings by the U.S. Treasury Department about possible sanctions to be imposed on institutions supporting Russia's payment system outside of Russia.
Russia has vowed to expand its Mir payments system in so-called friendly countries as Western sanctions attempt to shut it out of international finance over its war against Ukraine.
On September 20, Reuters quoted a senior U.S. administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity as saying that steps by Turkey's Isbank and Denizbank to suspend the use of Russian payment system Mir "make a lot of sense."
"Cutting off Mir is one of the best ways to protect a bank from the sanctions risk that comes from doing business with Russia. We expect more banks to cut off Mir because they don’t want to risk being on the wrong side of the coalition’s sanctions," the official said.
With reporting by RBK and Reuters
Two Kazakh Activists Briefly Detained During Rally Protesting Russian Influx
ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- Police in Kazakhstan's largest city, Almaty, briefly detained two activists who protested against a wave of Russian citizens entering the country after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a partial military mobilization to boost troop levels in the war in Ukraine.
Qarakoz Qasym and Aisultan Qudaibergen were detained on September 23 at the Almaty international airport while holding posters saying: "Did you realize that you are cannon fodder?" and "Either respect or go away," as passengers from a Moscow-Almaty flight passed by after disembarking.
Qasym told RFE/RL that she was expressing her support for the Ukrainian people, who are standing up to Russia's unprovoked invasion launched in late February.
"I am against the flow of Russian citizens to Kazakhstan. This opinion of mine is shared by many. Through my rally, I wanted to show what people in my country think about all of this. There is no guarantee that those who're arriving here in droves now will not stab us in the back later," Qasym said.
Qasym added that the police told her and Qudaibergen that they will be charged with "minor hooliganism," but after journalists interfered, the warnings disappeared.
Police spokesman Ernar Tasqyn told RFE/RL that the two activists were released shortly after law enforcement officers "held preventive talks" and warned them about possible repercussions for repeat infractions.
Since Putin announced a partial military mobilization on September 21, thousands of Russians have left for countries where Russians can enter without visas, such as Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Serbia, Kazakhstan, and Mongolia.
Videos showing long lines of vehicles leaving Russia and stuck along the Russian-Kazakh border have circulated on the Internet.
On September 22, Kazakh parliamentary speaker Maulen Ashimbaev told reporters in Astana that his country will not issue residence permits to "individuals who fail to provide documents proving that the countries of their citizenship have no objections to their move to Kazakhstan."
According to Kazakhstan’s official statistics, since the beginning of 2022, 1.6 million Russian citizens have come to Kazakhstan. It is not known how many of them have remained in the Central Asian nation.
Meta Denies Accusations That It's Working With Iranian Government To Disrupt WhatsApp
Meta Platforms has denied accusations by Iranian activists that its WhatsApp messaging platform has been working with the government to disrupt communications outside the country amid growing civil unrest over the death of a 22-year-old after she was arrested by morality police for failing to adhere to the country's strict rules on wearing a hijab.
Tehran has restricted the popular messaging service inside Iran as the protests over the death of Mahsa Amini last week spread countrywide. State TV says as many as 26 people may have died so far in the unrest.
Late on September 22, some users reported that their access to WhatsApp accounts abroad had also been disrupted, accusing tech giant Meta of collaborating with the Iranian government.
Iranian right activist Hossein Ronaghi was one of those who raised the question of whether Meta, the owner of WhatsApp, was intentionally causing such a disruption.
The company quickly denied any tie between the disruption and its actions.
"We exist to connect the world privately. We stand with the rights of people to access private messaging. We are not blocking Iranian numbers. We are working to keep our Iranian friends connected and will do anything within our technical capacity to keep our service up and running," WhatsApp said in a post on Twitter after the accusations surfaced.
The demonstrations were sparked by an emotional outpouring over the death of Amini, who authorities say died of a heart attack while in custody for allegedly violating the strictly enforced dress code regarding the hijab. Activists say she was beaten by security forces.
They also come on top of months of unrest over rising prices and poor living conditions that many Iranians blame on the country's leadership.
Despite the strong denial by Meta, some still questioned the company's role in the disruption and demanded a technical explanation about the reason for the disruption in WhatsApp -- and other Meta platforms such as Instagram -- of Iranians abroad.
Anonymous, the international activist hacker group, accused Meta of censoring the protests in Iran on its Twitter account, “just like they did to Myanmar, Syria, Palestine.”
Manoto TV, a London-based Persian-language television station, accused Meta of deleting a large number of videos from its Instagram page that were related to the protests in Iran and which were shared by the station with its 10 million followers.
Many Iranian journalists and social media activists have reported previous incidents where they say Meta had also removed many of their posts related to anti-government protests and accused Instagram's content-review subcontractor of blocking content related to the rise in anger against the authorities.
Bammad Esmaili, a German-based Iranian journalist, quoted several sources from the German branch of Telus International, a Canadian contractor that provides content moderation on Instagram, as saying that the Iranian government has offered financial rewards for the deletion of accounts opposing the Iranian government.
Esmaili did not provide any evidence. Meta has not commented on the accusations.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
Cease-Fire Between Armenia, Azerbaijan Falters As Clashes Break Out Overnight
Armenia and Azerbaijan have traded fresh accusations over a violation of a fragile cease-fire agreement that ended the worst fighting between the two ex-Soviet Caucasus countries since a 2020 war over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh.
In statements issued by both countries' defense ministries, the two sides accused each other of firing first in renewed clashes along their shared border.
Following a flare-up that killed more than 200 soldiers during two days of fighting early last week, the two sides agreed to a cease-fire, brokered by Russia, to end hostilities, though the situation has remained tense.
"On September 23, at 0740 (0340 GMT), units of the Azerbaijani armed forces again violated the cease-fire regime by firing from different positions against Armenian combat positions located in the eastern area of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border," Armenia's Defense Ministry said in a post on Facebook on September 23.
“The enemy fire was silenced by retaliatory actions,” said Aram Torosian, the ministry spokesman.
The ministry said one Armenian soldier was wounded.
The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry issued a statement on September 23 blaming Armenia for opening fire first.
Baku said Armenia's armed forces had opened fire on three different areas of the shared border, "intermittently shelling positions of the Azerbaijani armed forces with mixed-caliber small arms" for nine hours starting around midnight.
The ministry added it had taken "adequate retaliatory measures."
Baku and Yerevan have been locked in a conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh for years. Armenian-backed separatists seized the mainly Armenian-populated region from Azerbaijan during a war in the early 1990s that killed some 30,000 people.
The two sides fought another war in 2020 that lasted six weeks before a Russia-brokered cease-fire, resulting in Armenia losing control over parts of the region, which is part of Azerbaijan, and seven adjacent districts.
Under the cease-fire, Moscow deployed about 2,000 troops to the region to serve as peacekeepers. Russia moved quickly to negotiate an end to the latest hostilities, but a renewal of the cease-fire has failed to hold.
With reporting by Reuters
Russian Military Eyes Central Asian Recruits Amid Mobilization Drive2
'Almost Free': How One Russian Inmate Was Recruited To Fight, And Die, In Ukraine3
Former Russian Federation Council Member Rauf Arashukov Found Guilty Of Organizing Two Murders4
'Complex' Battlefield Situation In Eastern Ukraine As Fighting Continues5
Ukrainian Military Claims Advances In Eastern Luhansk Region6
Russian Vehicles Flock To Georgian Border Following Partial Military Mobilization7
No Game Changer: Russian Mobilization May Slow, Not Stop, Ukrainian Offensive8
Several Iranian Government Websites Down; Anonymous Claims Responsibility9
NATO Battle Group Sets Up In Central Romania10
Across Russia, Putin's Mobilization Seeps Deeper Into An Anxious Society