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UN Nuclear Watchdog Says Power Restored At Zaporizhzhya Plant, Situation 'Precarious'

International Atomic Energy Agency chief Rafael Grossi speaks to reporters after visiting the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant last month.
International Atomic Energy Agency chief Rafael Grossi speaks to reporters after visiting the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant last month.

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Rafael Grossi says power has been restored at the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant in Ukraine after the second outage in five days highlighted the "precarious" situation concerning the station's nuclear safety and security functions.

"This morning's outage was caused by shelling damage to a far off substation, highlighting how precarious the situation is. We need a protection zone ASAP," he said in a tweet on October 12.

When the connection to the external power line was cut, the plant's emergency diesel generators automatically started operating to provide the six reactors with the electricity they need for cooling and other essential safety functions, the IAEA said in a statement.

"The fact that the plant's external power was lost because of an incident far away shows how vulnerable it is with only one power line connecting it to the grid," Grossi said in the statement.

"The situation at the plant is clearly untenable and immediate action is required to strengthen nuclear safety and security and prevent a nuclear accident from happening."

The Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, Europe's largest, has been a flashpoint in Russia's military campaign in Ukraine. Moscow and Kyiv have traded blame for months over shelling near the facility that has sparked fears of a nuclear disaster. Russian troops occupy the plant and the surrounding area.

Grossi met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on October 11 as part of efforts by the IAEA to prevent an accident and Grossi's push to establish a safety and security zone around the plant.

The IAEA chief is due to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Kyiv on October 13 for further talks regarding the power plant, the agency's statement said.

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Ukrainian Rights Defender Located In Penal Colony In Russian-Occupied Luhansk Region

Ukrainian human rights defender Maksym Butkevych (file photo)
Ukrainian human rights defender Maksym Butkevych (file photo)

Well-known Ukrainian human rights defender Maksym Butkevych, sentenced by a Moscow-installed court in Ukraine's eastern Luhansk region to 13 years in prison in March, has been located in a penal colony in the Russian-occupied region after going missing for more than three months.

Butkevych's lawyer, Leonid Solovyov, told the Graty Telegram channel on December 5 that the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service had informed him his client is currently serving his term in a penal colony in the town of Krasniy Luch.

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Butkevych's relatives have expressed concerns about his situation saying they had not been aware of his whereabouts since late August.

Butkevych was sentenced on March 10 for allegedly being involved in two attempted murders, as well as premeditated damage of others' property, cruelty against civilians, and using banned methods in an armed conflict. He and his supporters have rejected the charges.

Butkevych was known for raising awareness of the problems faced by refugees even before the Russian invasion.

He gained prominence for his calls to amend Ukraine's migration regulations for Belarusian nationals who fled en masse to Ukraine following a deadly crackdown on dissent that started after a disputed presidential election in Belarus in August 2020.

In addition to his human rights activities, Butkevych is known for his journalistic activities and is a well-known public figure in Ukraine.

He is a co-founder of the Hromadske radio (Public radio) station that has broadcast a series of special programs for residents of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions that at the time were controlled by Russian-backed separatists.

Just days after Russia launched its ongoing full-scale invasion of Ukraine in late February 2022, Butkevych joined Ukraine's armed forces.

In July 2022, his mother recognized him on a video showing Ukrainian soldiers captured by Russian forces near the towns of Zolote and Hirne in the Luhansk region.

She says she has had no contact with her son since his capture. She has been trying to free him from Russian captivity in prisoner swaps that have taken place sporadically since Russia invaded Ukraine.

UNESCO Puts Tajik Art Of Weaving, Turkmen Breeding Of Akhal-Teke Horses On Cultural Heritage List

Silk satin and adras, consisting of silk and cotton, are natural fabrics, the production of which is a labor-intensive and expensive process.
Silk satin and adras, consisting of silk and cotton, are natural fabrics, the production of which is a labor-intensive and expensive process.

UN cultural and scientific agency UNESCO has included on its list of Intangible Cultural Heritage the Tajik art of weaving silk satin and adras and the Turkmen tradition of breeding Akhal-Teke horses as well as the ornament decorating the harness. The decision was made during the 18th session of the Interstate Committee on Intangible Cultural Heritage of the organization. Silk satin and adras, consisting of silk and cotton, are natural fabrics, the production of which is a labor-intensive and expensive process. Akhal-Teke horses have been bred on the territory of modern Turkmenistan. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

Romania Declares Measles Epidemic Amid Rapid Increase In Cases

A nurse prepares a measles-rubella vaccine. Romania has seen a continuous decrease in the number of children vaccinated against measles prompted by anti-vaccination campaigns on social media. 
A nurse prepares a measles-rubella vaccine. Romania has seen a continuous decrease in the number of children vaccinated against measles prompted by anti-vaccination campaigns on social media. 

Romania's Health Ministry has declared a measles epidemic at national level amid an alarming increase in cases throughout of the country. "The ministry declares a national epidemic to facilitate the vaccination of children between 9 and 11 months old and of older children who have not yet been vaccinated," it said in a statement on December 5, adding that were a total of nearly 2,000 new cases in 29 out of Romania's 41 counties. Romania has seen a continuous decrease in the number of children vaccinated against measles prompted by anti-vaccination campaigns on social media.

Rape, Sexual Abuse Used Against Iranian Protesters, Says Amnesty International

Sexual violence was weaponized and used with impunity against women, men, and children in Iran, the 120-page report that documents the ordeal of 45 survivors has found. (illustrative image)
Sexual violence was weaponized and used with impunity against women, men, and children in Iran, the 120-page report that documents the ordeal of 45 survivors has found. (illustrative image)

Iranian security forces have used rape and other types of sexual abuse to intimidate protesters during the crackdown on nationwide protests that started in September last year under the banner of "Women, Life, Freedom," Amnesty International said in a report published on December 6.

Sexual violence was weaponized and used with impunity against women, men, and children, the 120-page report that documents the ordeal of 45 survivors has found.

Those interviewed included 26 men, 12 women, and seven children who suffered sexual violence perpetrated by Iranian security forces.

No Iranian official has so far been charged or prosecuted for sexual crimes against the detained protesters that included rape, gang rape, and/or other forms of sexual violence, the report said.

Iranian women have been at the forefront of nationwide protests triggered by the death in custody in September last year of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman who had been arrested in Tehran for allegedly improperly wearing a hijab.

The protest movement was joined by many men and boys outraged by the decades of religious restrictions and other forms of suppression imposed on women by Iran's theocracy.

Protests gradually lost their intensify by the end of 2022 as they were met with fierce repression by the security forces. Hundreds were killed and thousands were arrested, according to activists and the United Nations.

"Our research exposes how intelligence and security agents in Iran used rape and other sexual violence to torture, punish, and inflict lasting physical and psychological damage on protesters, including children as young as 12," Amnesty International Secretary-General Agnes Callamard said.

"The harrowing testimonies we collected point to a wider pattern in the use of sexual violence as a key weapon in the Iranian authorities' armory of repression of the protests and suppression of dissent to cling to power at all costs," Callamard said.

The report found that a wide array of Iranian security forces participated in the sexual violence against those detained during protests.

They included members of the Revolutionary Guards, the paramilitary Basij force, the Intelligence Ministry, and various law-enforcement departments such as the Public Security Police, the Investigation Unit of Iran's police, and the Special Forces of the police.

Amnesty International shared its findings with the Iranian authorities on November 24 but has thus far received no response, the rights watchdog said.

Out of the 45 survivors interviewed by Amnesty, 16 were raped, including six women, seven men, a 14-year-old girl, and two boys aged 16 and 17.

Four women and two men were subjected to gang rape by members of the security forces. ‎

The report documented instances of vaginal, anal, and oral rape perpetrated on women and girls by security agents, while men and boys were subjected to anal rape.

Wooden and metal batons, glass bottles, and hosepipes were used to rape detainees in detention facilities and police vans, as well as schools and residential buildings.

Most of the abused victims did not file complaints against the perpetrators out of fear of reprisals, Amnesty said, adding that in the rare cases when the victims told prosecutors about their ordeal, they were ignored.

"Without political will and fundamental constitutional and legal reforms, structural barriers will continue to plague Iran's justice system," said Callamard.

"With no prospects for justice domestically, the international community has a duty to stand with the survivors and pursue justice.... We urge states to initiate criminal investigations in their own countries against suspected perpetrators under the principle of universal jurisdiction, with a view to issuing international arrest warrants."

With reporting by AFP

Two Russian Officers Sentenced To Four Years Each For 'Failing To Repulse A Ukrainian Attack'

Ukrainian forces have launched several attacks on the Russian city of Belgorod, which is located close to the border, since Russia began its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
Ukrainian forces have launched several attacks on the Russian city of Belgorod, which is located close to the border, since Russia began its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

A Moscow military court has sentenced two Russian officers -- Colonel Anatoly Bondarev and Major Dmitry Dmitrakov -- to four years in a penal colony for "failing to repulse a surprise attack" by Ukrainian forces on Russian territory. The two kept their military ranks and are allowed to rejoin the military after completing their sentences. The verdict is the first of its kind since the start of Russia's invasion of Ukraine and originated in a Ukrainian missile attack in March last year on an ammunition depot in Russia's Belgorod region in which seven Russian soldiers were killed and 43 were wounded. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

Ukraine Air Defense Says Repels Large Russian Drone Attack

A Ukrainian tank crew take part in military training in the Chernihiv region on December 5.
A Ukrainian tank crew take part in military training in the Chernihiv region on December 5.

Ukrainian air defense shot down 41 out of 48 Iranian-made drones that Russia launched at targets in Ukraine early on December 6, the air force said. "A total of 48 Shahed-136/131 attack UAVs were launched. As a result of anti-aircraft fire, 41 enemy attack UAVs were destroyed," the Ukrainian Air Force said in a statement on Telegram. The statement said that the drones had been launched from Cape Chaud in Moscow-occupied Crimea and from Russia's Kursk region. No details were given about possible casualties or damage. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.

Russian Prankster Posing As African Union Leader Reaches German Vice Chancellor On Phone

German Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck (file photo)
German Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck (file photo)

A Russian prankster managed to get through to German Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck on a recorded phone call, Germany’s Economy Ministry confirmed to dpa on December 5. The prankster posed as a representative of the African Union in the call, which was repeatedly interrupted by technical problems and largely incoherent as a result, the ministry said. No confidential or security-related information was discussed, it added, saying the content of a recording of the call published on Telegram by pro-Kremlin duo Vovan and Lexus didn't match accounts of the phone conversation, so its authenticity could not be confirmed.

U.S. Says Russia Rejected 'Substantial' Proposal To Free Two Americans

U.S. journalist Evan Gershkovich, arrested on espionage charges, stands inside a defendants' cage at the Moscow City Court on October 10.
U.S. journalist Evan Gershkovich, arrested on espionage charges, stands inside a defendants' cage at the Moscow City Court on October 10.

The United States says Russia rejected a new proposal to free two detained Americans, Wall Street Journal correspondent Evan Gershkovich and former Marine Paul Whelan. "We have made a number of proposals, including a substantial one in recent weeks," State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters on December 5. "That proposal was rejected by Russia," he said. Miller said that Secretary of State Antony Blinken and President Joe Biden would keep trying to find a way to free the pair, considered "wrongfully detained" by the State Department.

Russian Defense Procurement Network Added To U.S. Sanctions Designations

The U.S. Treasury Department (file photo)
The U.S. Treasury Department (file photo)

The United States on December 5 imposed fresh sanctions targeting a defense procurement network that the U.S. Treasury Department said is led by a Belgium-based businessman and involves numerous Cyprus-based companies as well as businesses in Sweden, Hong Kong, and the Netherlands.

The Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) said the businessman, Hans De Geetere, leads the network, which it said is involved in procuring electronics with military applications for Russian end-users.

"Today's coordinated action reflects our collective commitment to enforcing our sanctions and export controls, including holding accountable those who seek to evade these measures," said Undersecretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian E. Nelson.

Nelson added that United States and its allies "remain focused on disrupting any attempts by Russia or its trusted agents to gain access to the critical inputs and technologies necessary to support Moscow's defense industry and facilitate its brutal war in Ukraine."

The network is involved in procuring electronics with military applications for Russian end-users and consists of nine entities and five people based in Russia, Belgium, Cyprus, Sweden, Hong Kong, and the Netherlands, the Treasury Department said.

De Geetere operates Belgium-based Knokke Heist Support Corporation Management, Cyprus-based Eriner, Cyprus-based The Mother Ark, and Netherlands-based European Trading Technology, all of which were designated for sanctions by the Treasury Department on December 5.

The treasury also designated companies it said are linked to Eriner and The Mother Ark, including M and S Trading based in Hong Kong and other companies in Cyprus and the Netherlands that it said De Geetere has a hand in running.

In addition to those companies, De Geetere's network includes the Belgium-based company European Technical Trading (ETT), founded and led by his brother, Tom De Geetere.

De Geetere has leveraged the ETT brand in attempted purchases from U.S. and European companies, the Treasury Department said. In addition to his role as the founder and director of ETT, Tom De Geetere has coordinated with his brother to procure engines for drones.

Also designated is Russian national Vladimir Kulemekov, who is linked to De Geetere through multiple business dealings, including coordinating electronics orders for Russian entities. Kulemekov was previously employed by De Geetere and has been identified as a member of Russia's military intelligence agency.

Kulemekov associate Sergey Skvortsov, who has served as the director of a Kulemekov-owned electronics company founded to facilitate Sweden-based contracts between China and Russia, was also designated. Treasury said Skvortsov simultaneously led a separate import-export company that tested electronic components in production.

The sanctions freeze any assets held by the individuals and entities held in U.S. jurisdiction and generally bar Americans from dealing with them.

Separately, the U.S. Department of Justice also unsealed two separate indictments against De Geetere related to the network, while the Department of Commerce added De Geetere and five entities to its entity list.

Tsikhanouskaya Calls On U.S. To Support Belarusian Opposition, Tighten Sanctions On Lukashenka

Addressing U.S. Congress on December 5, exiled Belarusian opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya accused the Lukashenka regime of accepting about 2,000 children from Russian-occupied Ukraine. She said the opposition has sent "tons of proof" to the ICC and lamented that no action had been taken yet.
Addressing U.S. Congress on December 5, exiled Belarusian opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya accused the Lukashenka regime of accepting about 2,000 children from Russian-occupied Ukraine. She said the opposition has sent "tons of proof" to the ICC and lamented that no action had been taken yet.

WASHINGTON -- Exiled Belarusian opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya has called on U.S. lawmakers to materially support the Belarusian democracy movement abroad and tighten sanctions on authoritarian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka amid a push for a clear U.S. strategy for her country.

In testimony on Capitol Hill on December 5, Tsikhanouskaya also asked U.S. lawmakers to urge the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate Lukashenka for the deportation of Ukrainian children to Belarus and back more military aid to Kyiv, saying her nation’s freedom hinges on Ukraine defeating Russia.

Tsikhanouskaya's visit to Washington comes as Congress is embroiled in debate over a bill that would send billions of dollars in military aid to Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan, raising questions how much bandwidth lawmakers and the White House have for Belarus right now. She sought to hammer home that supporting the Belarus opposition is in the U.S. national interest.

"Supporting free Belarus is not charity. It's your investment into the global peace and security," she told lawmakers, using the same pitch that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy delivered to Congress nearly a year ago as he sought more U.S. aid for his country's fight against Russia.

Tsikhanouskaya asked lawmakers to "provide material assistance" to the Belarusian opposition, their family members, and media. She said members of the Belarusian opposition living abroad, including herself, are paying a “big price” for their dogged pursuit of democracy and “we can’t do it alone.”

Belarusian authorities last week raided about 200 homes belonging to members of the government in exile and their family. The authorities said they would seek to expropriate property. Relatives of several members of the government in exile, including Tsikhanouskaya's husband, are in prison.

She said the opposition needs money to counter the vast resources Russia spends on propaganda and disinformation in Belarus as well as to help its members who have suffered terribly under Lukashenka.

There are about 1,500 political prisoners in Belarus, according to the U.S. State Department, most of whom were jailed following mass demonstrations to protest the declared outcome of the August 2020 election. Lukashenka claimed to defeat Tsikhanouskaya with 80 percent in a vote the opposition called rigged. Tsikhanouskaya and other leading members of the opposition fled Belarus to avoid persecution along with thousands of other citizens.

Belarus treats political prisoners harshly, and those exiting now are in "awful physical and emotional state," Tsikhanouskaya said.

"These people need rehabilitation and we need to support the organization of rehabilitation programs so people do not feel that they have been abandoned" after risking their lives for democracy, she told the lawmakers.

Representative Bill Keating (Democrat-Massachusetts) told the hearing that Congress had appropriated $30 million for Belarusian civil society and democracy.

Sanctions

Tsikhanouskaya also called on lawmakers to expand sanctions to include Belarusian wood and steel and to close loopholes that allow Lukashenka to circumvent existing sanctions.

As Tsikhanouskaya testified, the U.S. Treasury Department announced a raft of sanctions targeting several entities and individuals that it said generate revenue for Lukashenka and support Russia's war in Ukraine. The sanctions also target the head of the Belarus Red Cross, accusing him of being complicit in the deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia.

Tsikhanouskaya accused the Lukashenka regime of accepting about 2,000 children from Russian-occupied Ukraine. She said the opposition has sent "tons of proof" to the ICC and, lamenting that no action had been taken yet, she asked Congress to push the ICC to open an investigation.

The ICC earlier this year issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Russian commissioner for children's rights, Maria Lvova-Belova, for the deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia.

"People have to feel that dictators shouldn't feel impunity for their crimes," she told the lawmakers.

Envoy, Ukraine Aid

Tsikhanouskaya is visiting Washington with other members of the Belarusian exiled government to take part in a new initiative organized by the State Department that seeks to coordinate various U.S. government efforts aimed at supporting the Belarusian democratic movement.

The so-called Strategic Dialogue will take place December 6-7 at the State Department and include members of Belarusian civil society and human rights defenders.

She said she hopes the dialogue will lead to a clear U.S. strategy for Belarus, including its place in a post-Ukraine war security architecture.

Tsikhanouskaya also told Congress she wants the White House to appoint a special envoy for Belarus to help be a “bridge” between the opposition and the U.S. government and to help coordinate a whole-of-government strategy toward Belarus.

“We need to clearly understand what will be the future steps of the U.S. [government] and that's why we need this person,” she told lawmakers.

Tsikhanouskaya urged Congress to approve more military aid for Kyiv, saying the fate of Ukraine and Belarus are intertwined.

Congress has been unable to pass new aid for Ukraine for months as Republicans tie the shipment of weapons to Kyiv with border security and U.S. immigration reform. The White House on December 4 warned that current aid to Ukraine will run out by the end of the month if a new bill isn't passed.

“Without a free Ukraine, there will be no free Belarus but also vice versa. We have to remember that without a free, independent Belarus, there will be a constant threat to the security of the whole region of Europe. So help Ukraine to win this war.”

U.S. Targets Belarusian Red Cross Official, Regime's 'Revenue Generators' With Sanctions

Belarusian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka (right) greets Russian President Vladimir Putin in Minsk on November 23. The U.S. Treasury Department stated on December 5 that the Russian government and Belarus's regime "have been working together to coordinate and fund the movement of children from Ukraine to Belarus."
Belarusian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka (right) greets Russian President Vladimir Putin in Minsk on November 23. The U.S. Treasury Department stated on December 5 that the Russian government and Belarus's regime "have been working together to coordinate and fund the movement of children from Ukraine to Belarus."

The United States on December 5 imposed fresh sanctions targeting several entities and individuals that the U.S. Treasury Department says are revenue generators for the regime of Belarusian authoritarian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

The action aims to increase pressure on the Lukashenka regime for its "brutal suppression of Belarus's democratic civil society, corrupt financial enrichment of the Lukashenka family, and complicity in Russia's unjustified war against Ukraine," the Treasury Department said in a news release.

One of the individuals targeted is Dzmitry Shautsou, secretary-general for the Belarus Red Cross, whom the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) said has been complicit in Russia’s efforts to transport Ukrainian children to Russia.

The Russian government and Belarus's regime "have been working together to coordinate and fund the movement of children from Ukraine to Belarus," the Treasury Department said.

Both Ukraine and the Belarusian democratic opposition have labeled the transfers unlawful deportations, and the International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued arrest warrants for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Maria Lvova-Belova, the Russian commissioner for children's rights, for their roles in the unlawful deportations. Moscow has not denied transferring Ukrainian children to Russia but claims it did so for their own protection.

OFAC said it was designating Shautsou for having assisted Lvova-Belova, who has previously been designated for sanctions, in her efforts to transport Ukrainian children to Russia.

The Belarusian Red Cross reported in June that more than 700 Ukrainian children were in Belarus, and in July, the Belarus Red Cross sparked international outrage when Shautsou visited children in the Luhansk region of Ukraine and said on Belarusian state television that the organization has been actively involved in bringing Ukrainian children from Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine to Belarus.

The International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has called for Shautsou's removal, and the IFRC on December 1 suspended the membership of the Belarus Red Cross.

The Treasury Department announced the sanctions during a visit to Washington by Belarusian Opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, telling lawmakers that Belarus accepted about 2,000 children who had been deported from Russian-occupied Ukraine.

Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya testifies during a Subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs about Belarus on Capitol Hill on December 5.
Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya testifies during a Subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs about Belarus on Capitol Hill on December 5.


Undersecretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian E. Nelson said in the news release that the United States will continue to target "actors who facilitate Russia's war of aggression in Ukraine, coordinate the movement of children from Ukraine to Belarus, and support Lukashenka's authoritarian regime."

The sanctions also take aim at what treasury said were the Lukashenka regime's revenue generators and his so-called personal wallets by targeting members of Lukashenka's inner circle, including Alyaksandr Shakutsin, one of the leading businessmen in Belarus who made his fortune through privatization under Lukashenka.

Shakutsin controls a large piece of Belarus's construction machinery production business through his company Amkodor, which is currently planning to produce attack drones and artillery fire systems, the treasury said.

"Despite running a deficit for years, Amkodor has relied on Shakutsin's personal relationship with Lukashenka to secure highly favorable loans and other forms of public support at the expense of the average Belarusian," the department said.

Among the other Belarusian entities designated for sanctions are three state-owned companies that OFAC said have served as "revenue generators" for the regime: the Belarusian Cement Company, Belarusian Production and Trade Concern of Timber Woodworking and Pulp and Paper Industry (Bellesbumprom), and Republican Unitary Enterprise Beltamozhservice (Beltamozhservice).

The designation also names the general director of Beltamozhservice, Vadim Babarikin, and two of Belarus's richest oligarchs, Pavel Topuzidis and Viktor Petrovich, who though their business Tabak Invest control 30 percent of Belarus's tobacco production. The company has been cited in news reports as having been involved in a cigarette-smuggling scheme into Russia that has generated millions of dollars in revenue.

The designation also names companies in the Belarusian defense sector and some of their directors that OFAC said have supported Russia's war in Ukraine.

The sanctions freeze any assets held by the individuals and entities held in U.S. jurisdiction and generally bar Americans from dealing with them.

Kazakh Court Liquidates Charity Foundation Providing Assistance To Victims Of Russian Aggression In Ukraine

The Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law (KIBHR) said on December 5 that a court in the western city of Atyrau had ruled to shut down the local Slava Ukraini (Glory to Ukraine) charity foundation that provided humanitarian and financial assistance to victims of Russia's ongoing war in Ukraine. The foundation, registered in early August, was liquidated at the request of the Justice Ministry. The foundation's leader, Turarbek Kusainov, told KIBHR that the court's ruling was political and most likely made under pressure from Russia.

Russia Returns Six Ukrainian Children Taken From Ukraine's Occupied Territories

Qatar's ambassador to Russia, Sheikh Ahmed bin Nasser Al Thani (center) and Alexei Ghazaryan, head of the Russian Office of the Commissioner for Children's Rights meet Ukrainian children and their family members before their departure to Ukraine at the Qatari Embassy in Moscow on December 5.
Qatar's ambassador to Russia, Sheikh Ahmed bin Nasser Al Thani (center) and Alexei Ghazaryan, head of the Russian Office of the Commissioner for Children's Rights meet Ukrainian children and their family members before their departure to Ukraine at the Qatari Embassy in Moscow on December 5.

Russia has returned six Ukrainian children taken from Ukraine's territories occupied by Russia, officials of Russia's Commissioner for Children's Rights Maria Lvova-Belova told the RBK news agency on December 5. According to the officials, the children were returned to Ukraine via the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Qatari Embassy in Moscow. Lvova-Belova and President Vladimir Putin are wanted by the International Criminal Court in the Hague for their roles in the deportation of Ukrainian children. Kyiv said earlier that as of July 1 it had confirmed 19,546 Ukrainian children had been illegally deported by Russia during its invasion. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

Nobel Laureate Malala Calls Out Taliban For Making 'Girlhood Illegal' In Afghanistan

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai sits onstage after delivering the 21st Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture in Johannesburg on December 5.
Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai sits onstage after delivering the 21st Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture in Johannesburg on December 5.

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai decried Afghanistan's Taliban rulers in a speech on December 5 and called on the international community to make gender apartheid a crime against humanity.

In a speech marking the 10th anniversary of the death of Nelson Mandela, Yousafzai told the audience in Johannesburg, South Africa, that since returning to power in August 2021, Taliban militants have made "girlhood illegal," causing many to despair over a lack of freedoms.

"Just two years ago, women in Afghanistan were working, serving in leadership positions, running ministries, traveling freely. Girls of all ages were playing soccer and cricket and learning in schools. Though all was not perfect, there was progress," she said of the almost two decades between Taliban rule, when international forces provided security to allow governments to rule.

But, she added, that since the U.S.-led troops pulled out in August 2021, the Taliban rulers who seized power "quickly began the systematic oppression of girls and women" by enacting more than 80 decrees and edicts restricting women's rights -- including barring girls from pursuing a high-school education -- in the name of their "false visions."

"In effect, the Taliban have made girlhood illegal, and it is taking a toll," Yousafzai said.

Eleven years ago, Yousafzai, then 15, was shot in the head on her school bus by the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) extremist group, which has pledged allegiance to the Afghan Taliban, though the two groups have separate operation and command structures.

The attack on Yousafzai, who had become a target for her campaign for girls' education, sent shock waves across the predominately Muslim country and provoked international outrage.

At 17, she became the youngest-ever recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize when she won the award in 2014 along with Indian children's rights activist Kailash Satyarthi.

In her speech honoring Mandela's legacy, Yousafzai said that while the Taliban's restrictions of the lives of girls and women made global headlines at first, "the world has turned its back" since and it is "imperative to call the regime in Afghanistan what it really is: a gender apartheid."

She said world leaders have an opportunity to make a stand on the issue by including gender apartheid in a new UN crimes against humanity treaty that is currently being debated at the United Nations.

"I call on every government in every country to make gender apartheid a crime against humanity," she said.

Updated

Bosnian Arrested After Warrants Issued For Suspects In Russian's Escape From Italy

Russian businessman Artyom Uss was indicted in October 2022 by a federal grand jury in New York along with six co-defendants.
Russian businessman Artyom Uss was indicted in October 2022 by a federal grand jury in New York along with six co-defendants.

Italian prosecutors have identified six suspects who allegedly aided the escape of the son of a Russian politician wanted by the United States on charges of smuggling Western technologies in violation of sanctions and money laundering.

The prosecutors said on December 5 they had executed arrest warrants in Brescia in northern Italy, Slovenia, and Croatia, where one of the suspects was taken into custody.

The U.S. Justice Department named the suspect as Vladimir Jovancic, 52, saying prosecutors are seeking his extradition on charges that he helped Artyom Uss escape from a residence outside Milan, Italy, in March just before Uss was to be extradited to the United States.

The other suspects are identified as an Italian national of Bosnian origin and four foreign nationals living abroad.

A still image taken from surveillance video obtained by the U.S. State Department allegedly shows Vladimir Jovancic helping Artyom Uss escape house arrest in Milan, Italy, on March 22.
A still image taken from surveillance video obtained by the U.S. State Department allegedly shows Vladimir Jovancic helping Artyom Uss escape house arrest in Milan, Italy, on March 22.

Uss, 40, is the son of Aleksandr Uss, the governor of Russia's Krasnoyarsk region and a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The elder Uss has ownership interests in several Russian companies in the Krasnoyarsk region and elsewhere as well as a senior position with a subsidiary of Rosneft, a sanctioned Russian state-controlled oil conglomerate.

Artyom Uss was under house arrest wearing an electronic bracelet when he escaped just hours after a court ordered him to be extradited to the United States.

Investigators discovered that four cars had been involved in smuggling Uss out of Milan and over the border into Slovenia after months of planning, Milan prosecutor Marcello Viola said.

U.S. authorities had warned of the risk that Uss, a well-connected individual with significant financial resources, might flee. In April, Uss announced he was back in Russia.

Washington has accused Uss of taking part in illegal schemes to export U.S. military technology to Russia in violation of U.S. sanctions. The Justice Department said some of the military equipment had been "discovered on the battlefields of Ukraine.”

Uss also faces charges in connection with oil shipped from Venezuela in breach of sanctions and of bank fraud.

Jovancic, a Bosnian citizen who resides in Serbia, was charged with obstructing justice and escape from custody in an indictment unsealed on December 4, the U.S. Justice Department said.

"The defendant allegedly helped a Kremlin crony jump bail in order to evade justice -- but now finds himself captured by the long arm of U.S. law enforcement," said Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco in the Justice Department news release.

Aleksandr Uss and his business partner, Yury Orekhov, allegedly orchestrated a transnational fraud, smuggling, and money-laundering operation under the umbrella of a privately held German company, Nord-Deutsche Industrieanlagenbau (NDA GmbH), according to the Justice Department.

Using NDA GmbH as a front company, Uss and Orekhov sourced and purchased sensitive military and dual-use technologies from U.S. manufacturers, including advanced semiconductors and microprocessors used in fighter aircraft, missile systems, radar, satellites, and other space-based military applications, the department said.

These items were shipped to Russian end users, including sanctioned companies that serviced Russia’s defense sector. Uss and Orekhov also used NDA GmbH as a front to smuggle hundreds of millions of barrels of oil from Venezuela to Russian and Chinese purchasers, according to the Justice Department.

The State Department on December 5 announced a reward of up to $7 million for information leading to the arrest or conviction of Artyom Uss, who was indicted in October 2022 by a federal grand jury in New York along with six co-defendants and charged with conspiracy in connection with the transnational fraud, smuggling, and money-laundering operation.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Balkan Service

Former Deputy PM Of North Macedonia Barred From Entering U.S. Over Corruption

Kocho Angjushev, considered one of North Macedonia's richest citizens, served as a deputy prime minister for economic affairs from 2017 to 2020 under Prime Minister Zoran Zaev. (file photo)
Kocho Angjushev, considered one of North Macedonia's richest citizens, served as a deputy prime minister for economic affairs from 2017 to 2020 under Prime Minister Zoran Zaev. (file photo)

The former deputy prime minister of North Macedonia, Kocho Angjushev, Kocho Angjushev has been barred from entering the United States for what the U.S. State Department said was his "involvement in significant corruption."

"While serving as Deputy Prime Minister, Angjushev abused his official position to benefit his private business interests, undermining the confidence of North Macedonia’s public in their government institutions and public processes," the State Department said in a statement on December 5.

"Today’s action demonstrates the United States stands with those in North Macedonia who seek accountability of corrupt public officials," it added, noting Angjushev’s wife, Elizabeta, and children, Angel and Ognen, are "generally ineligible" for entry into the United States as well.

The State Department statement did not give specific instances of corruption by Angjushev.

The 54-year-old Angjushev, considered one of North Macedonia's richest citizens, served as a deputy prime minister for economic affairs from 2017 to 2020 under Prime Minister Zoran Zaev.

Corruption has long been an issue for the country, which is trying to enact reforms as it strives for membership in the European Union after applying for accession in 2004.

Earlier this year, the U.S. AID agency said corruption in North Macedonia "continues to erode trust in institutions, weakens accountability and transparency, obstructs economic growth, and contributes to political fragility
and instability."

The European Commission said in a report last month that corruption remains "prevalent in many areas and is an issue of concern" and that "no progress was made" on the issue in recent months.

In Transparency International's 2022 Corruption Perception Index, North Macedonia scored 40 out of 100, ranking it 85th among 180 countries in the survey, just above Belarus and Moldova.

Kyrgyz President Postpones New Taxation System For Vendors Amid Nationwide Protests

Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov speaks outside the Dordoi market on December 5.
Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov speaks outside the Dordoi market on December 5.

Amid protests against the introduction of a new taxation system for vendors at marketplaces as of January 1, 2024, Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov said on December 5 that the move will be delayed by six months due to the "unpreparedness" of the country's Taxation Service for the innovation. Thousands of vendors at marketplaces across Kyrgyzstan have rallied since November 30, demanding the current system -- based on a flat annual sum -- be kept in place. According to the new system, vendors will be obliged to use electronic cash registers and pay tax on each item sold. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, click here.

Six Nepalese Nationals Killed In Ukraine While Serving In Russian Armed Forces

The government of Nepal said late on December 4 that six Nepalese nationals had been killed in Ukraine while serving with the occupying Russian forces. The government statement also called on Moscow to stop recruiting Nepalese citizens to its armed forces and immediately return any Nepalese nationals remaining in the Russian armed services to the small Himalayan country. According to the statement, Kathmandu is currently working on the release of a Nepalese citizen recruited by the Russian military and captured by Ukrainian forces during battle.

Russia's LUKoil Mulls Sale Of Operations In Bulgaria

LUKoil's operations include Bulgaria's largest refinery, Neftohim, located in the Black Sea port of Burgas.
LUKoil's operations include Bulgaria's largest refinery, Neftohim, located in the Black Sea port of Burgas.

LUKoil, Russia's largest private oil company, says it is reviewing its business strategy in Bulgaria and is not ruling out selling its entire operation in the Balkan EU and NATO member, including the country's largest refinery, Neftohim, located in the Black Sea port of Burgas. In recent months the Bulgarian government has taken steps to curb some of the privileges LUKoil enjoyed for years. Bulgaria's parliament banned the import of Russian oil from March 1 2024, a few months earlier than the derogation from EU sanctions that allowed Bulgaria to import Russian oil until the end of 2024. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Bulgarian Service, click here.

Hungary's Orban Plans To Meet France's Macron On December 7

French President Emmanuel Macron (left) shakes hands with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban after addressing a joint press conference in Budapest in December 2021.
French President Emmanuel Macron (left) shakes hands with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban after addressing a joint press conference in Budapest in December 2021.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban plans to meet French President Emmanuel Macron on December 7 ahead of a crucial European Union summit next week, Orban's press chief told Reuters on December 5. The meeting comes after Orban demanded on December 4 that a summit of EU leaders next week avoid any decision on Ukraine's coveted goal of getting a green light for membership talks even as the country fights Russia's invasion.

Russian Parliament To Declare Sea Of Azov As Internal Waters

A Russian Navy ship passes the cargo seaport of Mariupol, an occupied Ukrainian city on the Sea of Azov, in June 2022.
A Russian Navy ship passes the cargo seaport of Mariupol, an occupied Ukrainian city on the Sea of Azov, in June 2022.

Russian lawmaker Mikhail Sheremet told the RIA Novosti news agency on December 5 that the parliament's lower chamber, the State Duma, was set to approve a bill on the recognition of the Sea of Azov as an internal Russian body of water by the end of 2023. The Sea of Azov is bounded by Russia to the east, and by Ukraine's coast to the southwest and northwest. Russian troops occupied those areas in the first months of the Kremlin's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Moscow has relocated warships to occupied Ukrainian ports since then. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

Kyrgyz, Tajik Officials Say More Disputed Segments Of Border Agreed Upon

In spring 2021, an armed conflict along one segment of the border left 36 Kyrgyz nationals, including two children, dead and 154 injured on the Kyrgyz side.
In spring 2021, an armed conflict along one segment of the border left 36 Kyrgyz nationals, including two children, dead and 154 injured on the Kyrgyz side.

Officials from Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan say the two countries agreed on another 24 kilometers of the border between the two former Soviet republics after special talks on the issue were held over the past week.

Tajikistan's State Committee for National Security said on December 5 that the talks were held in the northern town of Buston, near the Kyrgyz border.

According to the Kyrgyz government, the next round of talks regarding other parts of the border will be held on Kyrgyzstan's territory on a day that is still to be determined.

The delimitation and demarcation of the Kyrgyz-Tajik border has been an issue for decades, but turned into an extremely urgent problem in recent years after several deadly clashes took place along disputed segments of the frontier.

In spring 2021, an armed conflict along one segment of the border left 36 Kyrgyz nationals, including two children, dead and 154 injured on the Kyrgyz side.

Tajik authorities officially said that 19 Tajik citizens were killed and 87 were injured during the clashes. However, local residents told RFE/RL's Tajik Service at the time that the number of people killed in the clashes was much higher.

In all, the border between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan is 972 kilometers long, of which 688 kilometers have now been agreed upon, while the rest remains disputed.

Many border areas in Central Asian former Soviet republics have been disputed since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

The situation is particularly complicated near the numerous exclaves in the volatile Ferghana Valley, where the borders of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan meet.

Tensions in those areas have led to clashes between local residents and border guards of the three countries.

'My Little Pony' Gets Adult Rating After Russia Declares 'LGBT Movement' Extremist

Kinopoisk did not explain the move, but some noted that Rainbow Dash, one of the ponies in the animated franchise mainly targeted at young girls, is depicted with a mane and tail in colors that resemble the rainbow colors that symbolize LGBT rights.
Kinopoisk did not explain the move, but some noted that Rainbow Dash, one of the ponies in the animated franchise mainly targeted at young girls, is depicted with a mane and tail in colors that resemble the rainbow colors that symbolize LGBT rights.

The Russian online movie database Kinopoisk has changed its rating for the popular animated series My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic to suitable for "18+" adult audiences, Mediazona reported, saying the move appears to be associated with "new legislative restrictions."

The adult rating for the children's show follows Russia's Supreme Court declaring last week the "international LGBT social movement" extremist. The decision banned all its activities -- -- even though the movement does not exist legally -- effective immediately.

Kinopoisk did not explain its move, but some social-media channels noted that Rainbow Dash, one of the ponies in the animated franchise mainly targeted at young girls, is depicted with a mane and tail in colors that resemble the rainbow colors that symbolize LGBT rights.

Separately, the Russian social network VKontakte has restricted access to the content of the Russian pop duo t.A.T.u. -- consisting of Lena Katina, now 39, and Julia Volkova, now 38.

VKontakte has blocked access to the t.A.T.u. community's posts, photos, and videos, Sota wrote.

Last year, after the adoption of a law banning LGBT propaganda, community administrators voluntarily deleted all footage of the two singers kissing.

A popular act across the world in the early 2000s, t.A.T.u, shot to fame with the hit Not Gonna Get Us and represented Russia at the Eurovision Song Contest in 2003.

Their single All the Things She Said peaked at the top spot on music charts in Australia, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.

The video for the song caused controversy worldwide because it showed Katina and Volkova, who were both 17 at the time, kissing behind a fence, although neither of them identified themselves as homosexual.

The Supreme Court decision sparked outrage among human rights defenders, with Amnesty International saying the ruling will have "catastrophic" consequences.

"This shameful and absurd decision represents a new front in the Russian authorities' campaign against the LGBTI community," said Marie Struthers, director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia at Amnesty International, in a statement.

Prosecutor Seeks Almost 20 Years In Prison For Former Russian Minister Abyzov

Mikhail Abyzov attends a court hearing in Moscow in March 2021.
Mikhail Abyzov attends a court hearing in Moscow in March 2021.

The prosecutor at the high-profile trial of former Russian Minister for Open Government Affairs Mikhail Abyzov has asked a Moscow court to convict the defendant on corruption charges and sentence him to almost two decades in prison.

The prosecutor asked the Preobrazhensky district court on December 4 to sentence Abyzov to 19 1/2 years, and his four co-defendants, former top managers of the Novosibirsk region's energy supplying companies, to prison terms between seven and 18 1/2 years.

Abyzov was arrested in March 2019 and charged with organization of a criminal group, fraud, illegal entrepreneurship, and commercial tampering.

His co-defendants, Nikolai Stepanov, Maksim Rusakov, Galina Fainberg, and Aleksandr Pelipasov, were arrested at the same time as suspects in the case.

Abyzov was minister for open government affairs from 2012 to 2018 in the cabinet of former Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.

He is one of several liberal-leaning former government officials in Russia who has been targeted by criminal investigations in recent years.

Abyzov's arrest was seen by some observers in Moscow as part of a crackdown by Russia's security and intelligence services against reformist politicians.

As a minister in Medvedev's cabinet, Abyzov's duties had included trying to make the Russian government more transparent and accountable.

But Russia's Investigative Committee charges that Abyzov was a member of a criminal organization that embezzled 4 billion rubles, or about $44 million, from the Siberian Energy Company and Regional Electric Grid in Novosibirsk.

Investigators allege that Abyzov and his accomplices stole the money and transferred the funds abroad. They also accused Abyzov of founding the criminal enterprise in April 2011, before he became a government minister.

Abyzov has held several executive positions at major Russian energy firms since the mid-1990s, including a role on the board of directors at the electric-power holding company Unified Energy System.

With reporting by Interfax

Russian Activist Who Disappeared In Georgia Located In Detention Center In Sverdlovsk Region

Rafail Shepelev, who had lived in Georgia since 2021 and did not plan to return to Russia, was tricked into leaving Tbilisi by Russian security services.
Rafail Shepelev, who had lived in Georgia since 2021 and did not plan to return to Russia, was tricked into leaving Tbilisi by Russian security services.

Russian activist Rafail Shepelev, who disappeared in Georgia in mid-October, has been located in a pretrial detention center in Nizhny Tagil in Russia's Sverdlovsk region in the Urals, the human rights project First Department reported.

Shepelev, an activist of the Artpodgotovka (Artillery Bombardment) movement, has been charged with terrorism, First Department reported on its Telegram channel.

Russia labeled Artpodgotovka, a Russian political organization of a left-wing-nationalist character, as an extremist group in 2017 and banned it.

Human rights activists say that Shepelev, who had resided in Georgia since 2021 and did not plan to return to Russia, was tricked into leaving Tbilisi by Russian security forces.

"They lured him from Tbilisi to Tskhinvali (in the Russian-backed separatist region of South Ossetia), detained him there, transported him to Vladikavkaz (in Russia), placed him under administrative arrest, during which they charged him with a criminal offense and put him in the Nizhny Tagil pretrial detention center," First Department said.

Shepelev's documents, including his passport, remained in Georgia.

Shepelev reportedly went missing in Tbilisi on October 12. Irina Ruchko, a friend of Shepelev, told Mediazona that he “left home to take care of errands" without giving details.

The day after Shepelev went missing, an administrative case was opened against him in a court in the Russian city of Vladikavkaz.

He was first sentenced to 15 days of administrative arrest for alleged petty hooliganism and was later charged with participation in the activities of a terrorist organization, which can be punished by 10 to 20 years in prison, and of justifying terrorism -- a charge punishable by five to seven years of prison.

In October, another Russian activist, Lev Skoryakin, was discovered in a Moscow detention center after he went missing in Kyrgyzstan.

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