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Shelling Hits Towns Near Nuclear Power Plant, Ukraine Says, As Russian Troops Remain At Facility

UKRAINE – Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant near the city of Enerhodar, Zaporizhia region. July 2019

Ukraine and Russia have accused each other of risking nuclear disaster by shelling the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, which the United Nations says should have a demilitarized zone declared around it.

Western countries have called for Moscow to withdraw its troops from the plant, but there has been no sign so far of Russia agreeing to move its troops out.

"The facility must not be used as part of any military operation. Instead, urgent agreement is needed at a technical level on a safe perimeter of demilitarization to ensure the safety of the area," UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell also weighed in on the situation, echoing Guterres in saying the power plant must not be used as part of any military operation.

"I support call for demilitarisation of area starting with full withdrawal of Russian forces, and urge the @iaeaorg to visit," he said on Twitter, referring to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

"Russia must immediately hand back full control to rightful sovereign owner Ukraine," he said.

Ukraine's Enerhotam agency said the Zaporizhzhya complex in south-central Ukraine was struck five times on August 11, including near where radioactive materials are stored. The governor of the Zaporizhzhya region said the plant was hit again on the evening of August 12.

Russian-appointed officials, meanwhile, accused Ukraine of shelling the plant twice, disrupting a shift changeover, the state-run TASS news agency said.

Vladimir Rogov, a member of the Moscow-installed regional administration, said on August 12 that Ukraine's strikes may lead to an emergency reactor shutdown.

The Ukrainian military denies having struck the plant, saying Russian troops struck it themselves and are using it as a shield to provide cover while they bombard nearby towns and cities.

Shelling overnight of one of those towns, Marhanets, injured three civilians, said Valentyn Reznichenko, governor of the Dnipropetrovsk region.

Ukrainian forces control Marhanets and other towns and cities on the opposite bank of the Dnieper River, and they have come under intense bombardment from the Russian-held side in recent days.

A UN Security Council meeting on August 11 discussed the situation, and Guterres called on both sides to stop all fighting near the plant.

The United States backed the call for a demilitarized zone and urged the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to visit the site.

Russia's ambassador to the UN, Vasily Nebenzya, said IAEA officials could visit the site as soon as this month.

Speaking at the Security Council meeting, he said the world was being pushed "to the brink of nuclear catastrophe" comparable in scale with the 1986 Chornobyl disaster.

Ukrainian UN Ambassador Serhiy Kyslytsya accused Russia of using "elaborate plans of deceit, sabotage, and cover-ups" to stage the shelling, which he said poses "an unprecedented threat to nuclear security for Ukraine, to Europe, and the world as a whole."

The Ukrainian military’s General Staff, meanwhile, on August 12 reported widespread shelling and air attacks by Russian forces on scores of towns and military bases, especially in the east where Russia is trying to expand territory held on behalf of separatist proxies.

Other parts of the main front line have been comparatively static in recent weeks, but fighting has been intensifying in anticipation of a planned counteroffensive in the south.

In the province of Mykolayiv, the governor’s press officer said the region is still experiencing shelling, but it has become "a little quieter."

Dmytro Pletenchuk, the press officer of the Mykolayiv military administration, said this is because there is currently a shortage of ammunition in the Russian military.

Ukrainian forces have hit Russian ammunition warehouses, and the Russian forces have now switched to more outdated weapons systems, he said on Ukrainian television.

"Now the situation has changed. There is a shortage of ammunition among the Russians. And that is very good. We feel the result of the work on their warehouses -- it has become a little quieter in Mykolayiv, but the region is being shelled," he said.

Elsewhere on the battlefield, shelling killed two civilians and wounded 13 others in Kramatorsk, the last major city under Ukrainian control in the eastern Donetsk region.

Pavlo Kyrylenko, governor of the eastern Donetsk region, said on Facebook the bombardment damaged at least 20 buildings and caused a fire to break out. He called for remaining residents to evacuate.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, AP, and Reuters

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Pink Floyd's Waters Cancels Poland Concerts After Ukraine War Remarks

Roger Waters speaks at a press conference in Rome in 2018.

Pink Floyd co-founder Roger Waters has canceled concerts planned in Poland amid anger over his stance on Russia's unprovoked war against Ukraine, Polish media reported.

An official with the Tauron Arena in Krakow, where Waters was scheduled to perform two concerts in April, said they would no longer take place.

"Roger Waters' manager decided to withdraw...without giving any reason," Lukasz Pytko from Tauron Arena Krakow said on September 24 in comments carried by Polish media outlets.

The website for Waters' This Is Not a Drill concert tour did not list the Krakow concerts previously scheduled for April 21 and 22.

City councilors in Krakow were expected to vote next week on a proposal to name Waters as a persona non grata, expressing "indignation" over the musician's stance on the war in Ukraine.

Allowing "Roger Waters, an open supporter of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, to play in Krakow...would be shameful for our city," city councilor Lukasz Wantuch said last week on social media. "Let him sing in Moscow."

Waters wrote an open letter to Ukrainian first lady Olena Zelenska earlier this month in which he blamed "extreme nationalists" in Ukraine for having "set your country on the path to this disastrous war."

Waters has also criticized NATO, accusing it of provoking Russia.

Based on reporting by AP

Iran Fires On Separatist Groups Based In Northern Iraq

The IRGC attacks targeted the bases of Kurdish separatist groups in the north of Iraq.

Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) has attacked a militant group's base located in the north of neighboring Iraq, state media reported.

The official government news agency IRNA said the IRGC ground forces fired artillery from positions within Iran's West Azerbaijan Province on September 24, attacking what it described as a "terrorist group" based across the border.

The IRGC-affiliated Tasnim news agency said the attacks targeted the bases of Kurdish separatist groups in the north of Iraq.

The IRGC attacks were in response to the support of the separatist group for the recent unrest in the country, as well as their attempt to import weapons into Iran, the report said.

Iran has faced more than a week of protests and unrest over the death of a 22-year-old woman, Mahsa Amini, who died in custody after being detained by Tehran's morality police.

The protests, which started in Amini's home province of Kurdistan, have spread to dozens of cities across the country.

With reporting by AP

Russian Anti-Mobilization Protests Broken Up, Over 700 Arrested

Police gather ahead of a protest in Novosibirsk against the mobilization on September 24.

Russian police have dispersed peaceful protests against President Vladimir Putin's military mobilization order, arresting hundreds of people in more than 30 cities across the country.

Police detained more than 700 people on September 24, including over 300 in Moscow, according to OVD-Info, a human rights group that monitors political arrests in Russia. Some of those arrested were minors, it said.

The demonstrations followed protests that erupted within hours after Putin on September 21 issued the partial-mobilization order, which was designed to bolster Russia's forces in Ukraine following heavy losses during a recent Ukrainian counteroffensive.

On September 24 , police deployed in force in the cities where protests were scheduled by opposition group Vesna and supporters of jailed opposition politician Aleksei Navalny. They moved quickly to arrest demonstrators, most of them young people, before they could hold protests.

People who held individual protests were also detained.

Meanwhile, the head of the Russian president's Human Rights Council, Valery Fadeyev, on September 24 called on Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu to put a halt to the manner with which many draft boards in the country were proceeding.

Even men who had no combat experience had been given conscription orders, Fadeyev said.

Shoigu has told Russian state media that up to 300,000 could be called up, with only those with relevant combat and service experience to be mobilized. The Kremlin has denied reports by two Russian news outlets based abroad -- Nezavisimaya gazeta Europe and Meduza -- that the real target is more than 1 million.

The Kremlin's decision to mobilize forces for a war that has killed or injured as many as 80,000 of its servicemen has sparked fear and anger among parts of the Russian population.

On September 24, Putin signed amendments toughening punishment for deserters and those who refuse to fight by up to 10 years in prison, 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.

Under the amendments, Russians of compulsory military age or reservists will 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 military.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, and dpa

Russia Toughens Penalty For Voluntary Surrender, Refusal To Fight

Emotional Goodbyes Across Russia As Ukraine Mobilization Begins
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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

An undated photograph released by the Ukrainian military's Strategic Communications Directorate shows the wreckage of what Kyiv has described as an Iranian Shahed drone downed near Kupyansk,

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

The National Assembly in Paris (file photo)

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

Deputy Minister of Defense Dmitry Bulgakov (file photo)

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

Iranians protest in the center of Tehran on September 23.

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.

Security forces have also arrested activists and journalists, with the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists reporting 17 journalists and columnists have been detained since last week.

They include Niloufar Hamedi of the reformist newspaper Shargh, who reported from the hospital where Amini died.

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.

Speaking on September 24, Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi insisted Amini had not 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," he said.

Vahidi said Iran was investigating Amini's death. "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."

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.

With reporting by AFP and dpa

Russia Struck Dam On Siverskiy Donets River, British Intelligence Says

Ukrainian paratroopers cross a pontoon bridge across the Siverskiy Donets River in the recently retaken area of Izyum.

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

Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya says neither country wants to be part of another Russian empire. (file photo)

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 Held For Second Day

A rally and concert is held on September 23 in support of the Russian-organized referendums in the occupied areas of Ukraine in Sevastopol, Crimea, where Moscow staged a similar vote in 2014 following its seizure of the region by force from Ukraine.

A second day of so-called referendums on joining the Russian Federation has been 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 is 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 the Ukrainian capital, about 100 people from the Russia-occupied city of Mariupol, which is part of the Donetsk region, gathered to protest the referendum, covering themselves in Ukrainian flags and carrying posters "Mariupol is Ukraine.”

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."

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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

Part of an unmanned aerial vehicle, described by the Ukrainian military leadership as an Iranian suicide drone, which was shot down near the city of Kupyansk in Ukraine's Kharkiv Oblast earlier this month.

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

Former Russian lawmaker Rauf Arashukov (file photo)

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

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres

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 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.

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

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, according to one monitoring group. (file photo)

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

Cars line up to enter Finland from Russia at the Vaalimaa border crossing on September 22.

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

A spokeswoman for the Kyrgyz Embassy in Moscow said that "according to Russian federal law on migration, Kyrgyz citizens who obtained Russian citizenship, and therefore have dual citizenship, are considered Russian citizens only."

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

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

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

Belarusian journalist Syarhey Satsuk (file photo)

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

Barbra Streisand talks to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy via videolink on September 22.

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

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

“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

Four children died in the fire at the Kholdomi camp in July 2019.

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

A Kyrgyz soldier patrols near a damaged mosque in the village of Maksat near the Kyrgyz-Tajik border after deadly clashes broke out in the region earlier this month.

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

Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny speaks from prison via a video link in Petushki, Russia, in January.

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

Investigators unearth Ukrainian soldiers whose bodies were found with their hands tied near Izyum following Russia's occupation of that city.

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

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.

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

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