UN Refugee Chief Doubtful About Trump Plan For 'Safe Zones' In Syria
U.S. President Donald Trump has said he wants to establish safe zones for refugees in Syria to discourage them from fleeing to other countries, but a top United Nations official says that won't work.
"Frankly, I don't see in Syria the conditions" to create successful safe zones, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said on February 3.
"With the fragmentation, the number of actors, the presence of terrorist groups, it's not the right place to think of that solution," he said.
Grandi made his comments on a visit to Lebanon, where President Michel Aoun endorsed the idea of safe zones and said world powers should work with the Syrian government to create such zones so Syrians can return to their country.
At least 1 million Syrians have fled since 2011 into Lebanon, which has an estimated total population of less than 6 million.
The war has divided Syria into a patchwork of areas controlled by President Bashar al-Assad, various rebel groups fighting to unseat him, Kurdish militia, and Islamic State militants.
Trump is expected to soon order the Pentagon and the State Department to craft a plan for safe zones, a move that could require significantly more U.S. military involvement in Syria.
Trump has not provided details about the proposed zones, except to say he would try to persuade Persian Gulf states to pay for them.
The Pentagon has warned that policing them would be difficult in a war zone filled with armed groups.
The UN refugee chief, who just completed a visit to Syria, said his agency has no information about the Trump safe zone plans, but he expressed opposition to the idea.
"Let's not waste time planning safe zones that will not be set up because they will not be safe enough for people to go back," Grandi said. "Let's concentrate on making peace so that everything becomes safe. That should be the investment."
The Syrian government said earlier this week that any attempt to create safe zones for refugees without coordinating with Damascus would be "unsafe" and violate Syria's sovereignty.
Syrian rebel backers such as Qatar have welcomed Trump's support for safe zones. Turkey -- which has proposed safe zones in the past -- says it is waiting to see what Trump proposes.
Turkey is the country that currently hosts the most Syrian refugees, estimated at nearly 3 million.
Trump discussed safe zones in a meeting with Jordanian King Abdullah II in Washington on February 2. Jordan is host to some 650,000 Syrian refugees.
The Syrian refugee crisis is one of the most pressing in the world. The six-year war there has killed hundreds of thousands of people and made more than half of Syrians homeless, creating the worst refugee crisis since World War II.
Trump barred all Syrian refugees from the United States indefinitely as part of sweeping anti-immigration restrictions announced a week ago.
He had originally suggested creating Syrian safe zones as an alternative to resettling Syrian refugees in the United States.
The UN estimates that around 20,000 refugees worldwide have been affected by Trump's suspension of the entire U.S. refugee resettlement program for 120 days, a move Grandi called a "dangerous weakening" of protections for refugees.
"These are people that flee from danger. They are not dangerous themselves," he said.
"We are taking exception to discrimination," he said. "All people that are vulnerable, irrespective of their ethnic or religious affiliations, should be given a chance to benefit from this program."
With reporting by AP and Reuters
Biden Says U.S. Support For Ukraine Must Not Be Interrupted After Deal To Avert Shutdown Drops Aid
U.S. President Joe Biden vowed on October 1 after signing a bill to avoid a government shutdown that aid for Ukraine that was dropped from the legislation would continue and said he expects Congress to pass the aid in separate legislation.
Biden said in an address from the White House Ukraine can count on U.S. support.
"We cannot under any circumstances allow American support for Ukraine to be interrupted," he added.
Biden spoke after Congress averted a government shutdown by passing a short-term funding package late on September 29 and rushing it to the White House for his signature before the midnight deadline. But in order to ensure passage, legislators dropped assistance for Ukraine to help in its fight against Russia.
Biden is now urging Congress to negotiate an aid package as soon as possible, saying there's "an overwhelming sense of urgency."
He said he expects House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (Republican-California) to keep his commitment to secure passage of support needed to help Ukrainians “defend themselves against aggression and brutality."
Asked if he could trust McCarthy to honor deals, Biden said, "We just made one about Ukraine, so we’ll find out."
A White House official said Biden was referring to a promise from Republicans to pass a separate bill on the issue.
McCarthy said he would "make sure that the weapons are provided for Ukraine," but added in an interview with U.S. broadcaster CBS that this would be only in conjunction with legislation dealing with the U.S. southern border as demanded by far-right Republicans who insist domestic matters such as illegal immigration and crime take priority.
Ukraine played down the situation, saying Kyiv continues to work to ensure new aid.
"The Ukrainian government is now actively working with its American partners to ensure that the new U.S. budget decision, which will be developed over the next 45 days, includes new funds to help Ukraine," Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleh Nikolenko said.
Despite the growing signs of war fatigue in the U.S. Congress, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said he was counting on the United States to keep up its unwavering security assistance to Ukraine.
"We believe this will not be the last word," Borrell said while on a visit to Kyiv on October 1. "I have the hope that this will not be the definite decision and that the United States will continue to support Ukraine."
Borrell met with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Defense Minister Rustem Umerov, saying afterward that the EU is preparing long-term security commitments for Ukraine.
"Ukraine needs more capabilities & needs them faster," Borrell said on X, formerly known as Twitter. He said he had discussed "continuous EU military assistance" during his first in-person meeting with Umerov.
"We are preparing long-term security commitments for Ukraine," Borrell said.
The aggression against Ukraine "is accompanied by massive hybrid attacks, with propaganda, malign information manipulation & cyber attacks," he added, saying the EU continues supporting Ukraine in defending itself against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s disinformation.
Umerov, who took over as defense minister in September, said on X he was grateful for the EU's "continuous support" and that the meeting was "a starting point for great cooperation."
He said their discussions covered artillery, ammunition, air defense, electronic warfare, and long-term assistance programs, training, and defense industry localization in Ukraine.
Umerov also thanked U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, saying he had a phone conversation with him on October 1 in which they discussed further military assistance from the U.S.
"Secretary Austin assured me that U.S. support to Ukraine will continue [and] Ukrainian warriors will continue to have a strong back-up on the battlefield," Umerov said.
With reporting by Reuters and CBS
Protesting Bulgarian Energy Workers Refuse Meeting With PM On Green Transition Plan
Protesters in Bulgaria blocked roads in three districts for a third day on October 1 in protest of government plans to shut down coal-burning power plants as part of a transition away from fossil fuels and toward green energy sources.
Bulgarian miners and other energy-sector workers who are taking part in the protest declined an invitation from Prime Minister Nikolay Denkov to meet on October 1 with the Council of Ministers in Sofia, union leader Dimitar Manolov said.
Manolov said late on September 30 the protestors' refusal was categorical, and early on October 1 said their position had not changed. The protesters on September 30 also refused a meeting with Energy Minister Rumen Radev.
The local union, which has demanded Radev's resignation, wants an extraordinary meeting of the Council of Ministers "with one item on its agenda -- the withdrawal of the submitted territorial just transition plans," according to state news agency BTA. Although the plans have already been submitted to the European Commission, the union wants them "to be corrected and our demands to be applied."
The Bulgarian government on September 29 adopted the plan for a green transition of the coal-mining regions of Stara Zagora, Pernik, and Kustendi, prompting the protesters to begin blocking roads in the three regions.
Radev announced on September 30 that Bulgaria's plan had been sent to Brussels. Prior to that move, Bulgaria had been the only EU member state that had not sent its plan.
The adoption of the plan was a condition for the European Commission to allocate 1.2 billion euros ($1.27 billion) -- money that would be used for the green transformation of the regions and the creation of new jobs for coal workers.
The plan must include a timetable for reducing the capacities of coal-burning power plants in order to be approved by the European Commission.
Denkov said that the plan clearly stated that the government would not close coal-burning plants in Bulgaria before 2038. He has said however that "gradually some of them will drop out of the energy system because it will not be economically possible for them to function anymore."
Denkov said this was why it is important to "create mechanisms by which people who have the necessary qualifications can find employment in the same region."
The government also agreed to pay compensations of 36 months of salary for energy workers who decide to quit.
Denkov has called on the protesters to stop the demonstrations, saying that their demands have been fulfilled.
But protesting miners and energy workers are dubious and want the plans to be reworked to reflect their demands.
"What we are being offered now is -- take some small change and ruin what you have. This is what we are being offered...to ruin the future for years to come, in fact forever," Manolov told BTA. He claimed that "no one knows" what is written in the territorial plans that have been sent to Brussels.
Energy workers from a Pernik power plant and miners on October 1 joined the protest to support their colleagues from Stara Zagora. The protesters carried banners and chanted that they wanted to keep their jobs and that the green transition plan is not fair.
They told journalists that if the transition plans are not revised, more serious protest action will follow.
With reporting by BTA and dpa
Russian Forces Keep Up Attacks In Southern Ukraine As Missiles Downed Over Crimea
The latest Russian attacks on the Kherson region in southern Ukraine killed at least one man, local military authorities said on October 1, while Russia said its air defenses shot down six Ukrainian drones over two western and southern regions.
The fatality occurred in Tyahynka, a town about 30 kilometers northeast of Kherson city, where a man in his 40s was killed in the yard of a house by enemy fire.
Beryslava, a city on the Dnieper River to the northeast of Tyahynka, also came under attack shortly before 5 p.m. on October 1, according to the military administration of Kherson, a region that Ukrainian troops partially recaptured from Russia last year.
As a result of the impact of two guided aerial bombs, garages in Beryslava were destroyed, the windows of a medical facility and residential buildings were blown out, and critical infrastructure was damaged, the message said.
Russian forces also attacked Vesele, a village east of the river, where a 63-year-old woman was taken to the hospital with injured limbs and a concussion, according to the report, which could not be independently verified.
Earlier on October 1, Russian forces attacked a residential quarter of Kherson city, starting a fire that trapped a mother and three children before the family managed to be saved.
Russian troops also shelled Stanislav overnight, injuring two men. Rescuers were able to pull two women out from under the rubble.
Librated parts of the Kherson region are shelled nearly every day. Despite evidence of the shelling, Moscow has denied targeting civilians.
One person was injured in the Cherkasy region as well, regional Governor Ihor Taburets said.
"Overnight, the enemy massively attacked our Cherkasy region with attack drones. Unfortunately, there were hits on industrial infrastructure in Uman," Taburets said in a post to Telegram. "As a result, fires broke out in warehouses; in particular, where grain was stored.”
The city of Kryviy Rih was also hit, damaging electricity and gas lines, according to local authorities.
The Russian Defense Ministry said on October 1 that it downed two Grom-2 missiles, the fragments of which fell on the territory of the Dzhankoy district of Crimea.
Sergei Aksyonov, the Russian-installed governor of Crimea, said that the debris of the rockets damaged the warehouse. There were no casualties, he said.
The Russian Defense Ministry said one drone was brought down in the southern Krasnodar region around dawn on October 1, and five more were shot down over the western Smolensk region in the following hours.
No casualties were reported and it was unclear if there was any damage on the ground. Ukraine, which has rarely claimed official responsibility for drone or missile attacks on Russian targets, had no comment.
Smolensk Mayor Aleksandr Novikov echoed the Defense Ministry, saying that five drones were shot down over the regional center and in its suburbs.
He called on city residents to "remain calm and not leave their homes unnecessarily, and also refrain from out-of-town trips."
Britain's new defense secretary said London was considering stepping up its instruction of Ukrainian soldiers by sending British trainers to Ukraine itself.
In an interview published October 1 by The Telegraph, Grant Shapps said he had spoken with top military officers about moving "more training" into Ukraine and he called on British defense firms to set up manufacturing facilities inside the country.
More than 20,000 Ukrainian soldiers have received training from Britian since the start of 2022.
Britain might also play a more active naval role in the Black Sea, where Russia has targeted Ukrainian cargo ships, Schapps said.
Dmitry Medvedev, the bombastic former Russian president who is now a top official on the country's Security Council, said that British trainers would be legitimate military targets if they traveled to Ukraine to train Ukrainian troops.
London is "perfectly aware that they'll be eliminated mercilessly, and not as mercenaries this time around, but precisely as British NATO specialists," Medvedev wrote in a post on Telegram.
With reporting by Reuters
UN Mission Arrives In Nagorno-Karabakh Following Azerbaijani Takeover
A United Nations mission has arrived in Nagorno-Karabakh following an Azerbaijani takeover of the mountain enclave that resulted in the exodus of the region's ethnic Armenian population. An Azerbaijani presidential spokesman said the mission arrived early on October 1 to assess the humanitarian needs in the region. It marks the first time in about 30 years that the UN has gained access to the region. Ethnic Armenians, who had controlled Nagorno-Karabakh for three decades, agreed to disarm and dissolve their government following an Azerbaijani offensive last week. Nearly all of Karabakh's estimated 120,000 residents have fled the territory for Armenia in recent days.
Romania Says Youth Soccer Teams Will Boycott Matches Against Russia
The Romanian Football Federation says its teams will refuse to compete against Russian youth teams in international competitions. According to a statement issued on September 30, the federation believes that it "must be in solidarity with the spirit of sanctions confirmed by European and national institutions." UEFA announced on September 27 that youth teams from Russia will be allowed to compete in European competitions, saying the youth "should not be punished for actions for which adults are solely responsible." The Ukrainian Football Association subsequently said its teams will boycott all competitions featuring Russian teams. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.
Pristina Says Evidence Shows Serbia Planned To Sieze Northern Kosovo After Attack
Kosovo says its investigation into an attack last weekend in a northern Kosovar village has turned up evidence showing that Serbia intended to annex northern Kosovo and that the attackers prepared at Serbian Army bases.
Interior Minister Xhelal Svecla said on October 1 during a news conference in Mitrovica that more than 90 people took part in the attack in the village of Banjska on September 24. Three of the attackers and a Kosovar police officer were killed.
"Serbia has repeatedly tried to say that it has nothing to do with this attack, but the facts that will be published show that the preparations, training, and exercises of this group were carried out at the military training base near Jagodina and in Kopaonik,” Svecla said, referring to locations in Serbia.
He said images of the preparations can been seen in data obtained from drones that Kosovo seized.
The attackers also planned to open "a long underground channel" from Banjska to Serbia for "supplies from the Serbian state," he said.
Kosovo Police Director-General Gazmend Hoxha said the group that carried out the attack had been trained at Serbian bases for a long, unspecified period and the plan involved the annexation of northern Kosovo.
"In the documents we have, which we cannot share with you now, there is a plan for annexation of the north forest in an initial phase in 37 positions, from which our police units would be attacked, not only in Banjska and Zvecan but in all the northern parts," Hoxha said.
A corridor was then to be created to carry out armed resistance and "the creation of a new reality in the country," he said.
Serbian Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Milos Vucevic and General Milan Mojsilovic, chief of the General Staff of the Serbian armed forces, called the allegations lies and scheduled a news conference on October 2 to respond.
Hoxha said the Kosovo Police are still investigating a week after the deadly attack.
Svecla said a quantity of weapons was found in Banjska on October 1. Police had already confiscated large quantities of weapons in the days after the attack.
After initially saying the attack was on the monastery, officials now say the Serbian attackers took refuge in the monastery after attacking a police patrol in an ambush. From the monastery they continued the confrontation with police, and three of them were killed.
Hoxha said the Serbian Orthodox Church and monastery were part of the investigation "to see their possible role in the attack or whether they helped the terrorist group."
Earlier on October 1 Kosovo called on Serbia to withdraw troops from its border region, vowing it was ready to protect its territorial integrity.
Serbia's president, meanwhile, denied Western reports of a military buildup, and complained about a "campaign of lies" against Serbia.
"We call on [Serbian] President [Aleksandar] Vucic and the institutions of Serbia to immediately withdraw all troops from the border with Kosovo," Kosovo's government said. "The deployment of Serbian troops along the border with Kosovo is the next step by Serbia to threaten the territorial integrity of our country."
In a video posted to Instagram on October 1, Vucic denied the U.S. and other Western reports of a buildup.
"A campaign of lies...has been launched against our Serbia," Vucic said. "They have lied a lot about the presence of our military forces.... In fact, they are bothered that Serbia has what they describe as sophisticated weapons."
The United States on September 29 accused Serbia of massing forces along the border and urged Belgrade to pull them back. NATO, which still has 4,500 troops in Kosovo, has ordered more troops to the area "to address the current situation."
NATO again called for calm and demanded that Belgrade and Pristina resume dialogue as soon as possible, as "the only way to achieve lasting peace," alliance spokesman Dylan White said.
With reporting by AP and AFP
U.S. Congress Averts Government Shutdown, But Removes New Ukraine Support
U.S. lawmakers have passed a last-minute, temporary spending bill to keep the U.S. government open, averting a disruptive shutdown but also removing any new support for Ukraine. A coalition of Democratic and Republican lawmakers backed the legislation late on September 30, sending it for President Joe Biden's approval just before a midnight deadline. Opposition to more Ukraine support is growing among House Republicans. Still, congressional leaders vowed to revisit the issue in the coming weeks. Biden has requested another $24 billion for Ukraine, on top of the $133 billion in weaponry and humanitarian aid sent since Russia's February 2022 invasion.
Slovakia's Populist, Pro-Russian Ex-PM To Receive Mandate To Form Government
The president of Slovakia says she will give a mandate to form a new government to the winner of the country's parliamentary elections, signaling former Prime Minister Robert Fico and his SMER-SSD can begin putting together a coalition government in the central European country.
With reporting by Reuters and AP
Top EU Diplomat Visits Odesa, Calls Russian Attacks On Ukrainian Port City 'Barbaric'
The European's Union's foreign policy chief visited the embattled Ukrainian port city of Odesa on the Black Sea on September 30, lamenting that is has been in the news not because of its beauty and historical significance but because it has been targeted by Russian missile and drone attacks.
“Odesa is a beautiful historic city. It should be in the headlines for its vibrant culture & spirit. Instead, it marks the news as frequent target of Putin’s war,” Josef Borrell said on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.
“I’ve been witnessing the consequences of this war, how Ukraine and Odesa are paying a high price for it,” he said in a video posted on X. “This is a good example of how Russia is trying to destroy Ukraine,” he added, pointing to damaged walls inside the Cathedral of the Transfiguration.
As he toured the cathedral, Borrell called the Russian assault on the city "barbaric."
Odesa's old quarter and the historic Cathedral of the Transfiguration were badly damaged by a Russian bombardment in July. Harbor infrastructure that is key to Ukraine's grain exports has also been hit in recent attacks.
Borrell noted that a year has passed since Russia's illegal annexation of the Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhya, and Kherson regions. He also mentioned the illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014.
The top EU diplomat promised that Europe would not abandon Ukraine in its grinding war to recapture those areas, saying further military, economic, political, and diplomatic support is needed.
He also said his visit to Odesa was meant to highlight how the EU is supporting Ukraine in multiple ways in hopes for a “just peace that preserves the territorial integrity and independence of Ukraine.”
Borrell again reproached President Vladimir Putin for ending the UN-brokered agreement that allowed the safe transit of Ukrainian grain exports across the Black Sea.
The deal was seen as essential to addressing global food insecurity and containing grain prices. Borrell noted that Ukraine had once been the largest supplier of grain to the UN's World Food Program.
Borrell's trip was not announced in advance for security reasons. No details were given on what else was on his agenda.
With reporting by dpa
Kyrgyz Presidential Adviser Backs Flag-Change Away From 'Sunflower'
An adviser to Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov has expressed support for changing the post-Soviet Central Asian republic's flag so it appears less like "a sunflower." The adviser, Cholpon Abykeev, said "There is no need to make a tragedy out of changing the flag, considering its flaws." The speaker of Kyrgyzstan's parliament this week opened public debate on a bill to "improve" the flag, which shows a yellow sun with a yurt-like opening against a red backdrop. The current design was adopted in March 1992, one day after Kyrgyzstan joined the United Nations along with seven other former Soviet states. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, click here.
Kazakh Court Rejects Atazhurt Movement's Complaint Over Registration
An interdistrict court in Astana has rejected a complaint by an unregistered movement called Atazhurt protesting the Kazakh Justice Ministry's refusal to grant it registration, according to the group's local representative.
Kapar Ahatuly said the special court concluded on September 29 that the complaint was groundless based on the presence of deceased people on Atazhurt's petition for registration as well as an Excel formatting mistake.
Ahatuly dismissed the accusation that the list of at least 700 petitioners might include any dead people.
Contacted by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, the Justice Ministry declined to comment.
Atazhurt was started by Serikzhan Bilash, an ethnic Kazakh from Xinjiang who moved to Kazakhstan in 2000 and received citizenship in 2011, and later helped highlight alleged mass abuses against Uyghurs in western China.
Kazakh officials have bristled at China's treatment of ethnic Kazakhs and Uyghurs but have avoided joining international condemnations of Beijing for the alleged mass roundups and brutality.
China is a major trade partner with Kazakhstan and a significant investor in Kazakh projects.
Bilash led the Atazhurt Eriktileri (Volunteers of the Fatherland) group, which in 2018-19 staged several gatherings of ethnic Kazakhs from Xinjiang who have resettled in Kazakhstan and asked for help securing the release of their relatives and friends from reeducation camps in Xinjiang.
Kazakh authorities in March 2019 arrested Bilash and charged him with inciting ethnic hatred. They held him in custody for five months before fining and releasing him.
Bilash later fled Kazakhstan.
Kazakh officials reject accusations that they withhold registrations for political reasons.
Pakistan Death Toll Rises As UN Security Council Condemns Attacks On Religious Events
The death toll has risen to at least 59 from an explosion at a religious gathering in Pakistan's southwestern province of Balochistan, after officials said more critically ill victims died in the hospital overnight.
Dozens more were injured in the attack that took place on September 29, when one or more suicide bombers are believed to have targeted a procession celebrating the birth of Prophet Muhammad in the Mastung district, some 60 kilometers from the provincial capital, Quetta.
It was one of the deadliest attacks on civilians in Pakistan in months and prompted officials to declare a state of emergency at Quetta area hospitals.
Police on September 30 filed a report to launch an investigation, saying they had sent DNA from the suicide bomber to be analyzed.
Pakistani Interior Minister Sarfaraz Bugti told reporters in Quetta that India's intelligence agency, the Research & Analysis Wing (RAW), was involved in the suicide attack but provided no details or evidence to support the claim.
Pakistani officials have long claimed that India sponsors violent groups in Pakistan. India has consistently denied the claims.
On the same day as the attack in Balochistan, at least five people were killed in explosions that targeted a mosque and a police station in the restive northwestern Khyber Pakhtuknkhwa Province bordering Afghanistan, according to police and media reports.
The UN Security Council's members issued a statement in which they "condemned in the strongest terms the heinous and cowardly suicide terrorist attacks in Pakistan today that targeted a religious procession in Mastung, Balochistan Province, to commemorate 12 Rabi-ul-Awaal, the birthday of Prophet Muhammad, and a mosque in the Hangu district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province."
They "underlined the need to hold perpetrators, organizers, financiers, and sponsors of these reprehensible acts of terrorism accountable and bring them to justice."
Pakistani caretaker Prime Minister Anwar ul-Haq Kakar and President Arif Alvi along with cabinet ministers and other officials and religious leaders condemned the killings.
No group has claimed responsibility.
Dr. Rashid Mohammad Shahi, the head of the Mastung Health Department, told RFE/RL that more than 50 people were wounded in the Mastung incident at a celebration of what is known as Mawlid al-Nabi, during which Muslims usually hold gatherings and distribute free meals to the poor.
Balochistan, Pakistan's largest province that borders both Afghanistan and Iran, is regularly targeted by Islamist militants, sectarian groups, and nationalist separatists.
The most prominent militant group in the region, the outlawed Balochistan Liberation Army, or BLA, routinely takes credit for attacks on Pakistani security forces.
The BLC claims that ethnic Baluchis face extortion and discrimination by Pakistani authorities, a charge that Islamabad rejects.
With reporting by AP and Reuters
Putin, Medvedev Combine Spin With Threats On Anniversary Of Unilateral Annexations In Ukraine
President Vladimir Putin and his lockstep deputy chairman of the federal Security Council Dmitry Medvedev issued separate statements on September 30 aimed at whitewashing the unrecognized annexation one year ago of four partially occupied regions of Ukraine and seemingly threatening another land grab.
Putin said in an address released overnight that residents of the four Ukrainian regions that Moscow illegally annexed in September 2022 “made their choice -- to be with their Fatherland.”
One year ago, Moscow unilaterally declared Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhya, and Kherson to be part of Russia.
The United Nations continues to recognize all four regions -- along with Crimea, which was occupied and annexed in 2014 -- as Ukrainian territory.
Throughout its 19-month-old defense against Russia's full-scale invasion that began in February 2022, Kyiv has insisted that it will claw back all of its territory, including Crimea.
In his anniversary remarks, Putin claimed that the referendum under occupation and the rest of the process was “in full accordance with international norms."
Then, former Russian Prime Minister and ex-President Dmitry Medvedev vowed to continue the invasion and even hinted that Russia could try to annex more of Ukraine.
Medvedev, who is now the deputy chairman of Russia's Security Council, invoked the Kremlin's talking points to justify the invasion of Ukraine and said the "special military operation" -- Moscow's term for the invasion -- "will continue."
"Victory will be ours," he added, according to AFP. "And there will be more new regions within Russia."
Russian officials routinely use the term "new regions" in reference to the illegally annexed Ukrainian regions.
Russian authorities held voting in occupied parts of Ukraine earlier this month in an effort to tighten their grip on the territories in a vote Kyiv and the West have condemned as "fake" and a "propaganda exercise."
The voting for Russian-installed legislatures in the illegally occupied parts of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhya began on September 8 and concluded on September 10, coinciding with local elections in Russia.
Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry condemned the Russian-orchestrated voting, saying the "sham elections in the temporarily occupied territories" will have "no legal consequences and will not bring any changes in the international status of Ukrainian territories seized by Russian military forces."
Ukraine has recently reported advances in its counteroffensive to drive Russian forces out of the occupied territories.
With reporting by AFP and AP
Zelenskiy Unveils Industrial Alliance To Boost Military Manufacturing
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has announced the creation of an industrial alliance to increase weapons manufacturing and develop a more modern defense industry as Russia's ongoing 19-month-long invasion grinds on.
Zelenskiy made the announcement at an event in Kyiv, billed as the Defense Industries Forum, which he said included industry representatives from the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Turkey, Sweden, and the Czech Republic.
"We have developed an appropriate basic declaration as the basis of the alliance, which can be joined by manufacturers of weapons and military equipment around the world who share our intention to provide protection against aggression in the risky conditions of today," Zelenskiy told attendees on September 30.
Zelenskiy said later that he believes that Ukraine will become one of the world's key producers of weapons and defense systems.
"This is not just an ambition or a prospect, it is a potential that has begun to be realized," he said. "We are working to start producing the systems we need in Ukraine."
Someday Ukraine will see its "maximum armed power" through its manufacturers and its new cooperation with the world and will be able to say that its beginning "was laid right now," he said.
The Kyiv event followed unannounced visits by NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and the British, French, and Slovak defense ministers.
Russia's ongoing full-scale invasion of Ukraine has met with fierce Ukrainian resistance since it was launched 19 months ago, but also with massive contributions of weapons from NATO and other states declaring support for Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity.
"Our priority is the development of defense production using modern technologies, including the production of shells, missiles, and drones in Ukraine, in cooperation with global leaders in this field," Zelenskiy said on social media.
He added that his country is "ready to offer special conditions to companies willing to develop defense production together with our country."
Zelenskiy said the declaration had already been signed by 13 companies "which are ready to build a new arsenal for defense together with Ukraine."
NATO's Stoltenberg, British Defense Minister Grant Shapps, and French Defense Minister Sebastien Lecornu arrived in Kyiv on unannounced visits ahead of the forum.
On September 30, Zelenskiy also welcomed Slovak Defense Minister Martin Sklenar to Kyiv.
Sklenar's visit coincides with snap elections in Slovakia that pit a soured pro-Western alliance against a populist ex-prime minister who has vowed to stop supplying weapons to Ukraine in what could be a blow to NATO and Western unity to counter the Russian invasion.
Ukraine's war-tested officials were reportedly planning to meet with representatives of more than 160 companies from 26 countries at the defense forum in Kyiv.
Romania Issues Another Airspace Alert Amid Russian Attacks On Ukraine's Danube Region
Romania's National Defense Ministry said on September 30 that an army surveillance system had detected a "possible unauthorized entry into national airspace" overnight around Galati, although authorities said they were still looking for fragments of any possible intrusion. Romania has implemented local take-cover alerts in response to a surge in Russian drone attacks on ports across the border in Ukraine's southern Danube region since Moscow walked away in July from a UN-backed deal to allow Ukrainian Black Sea grain exports despite the war. Fragments have landed three times this month in NATO member Romania, Ukraine's primary alternative export route. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Romanian Service, click here.
U.S. Senators Demand Russia Free 'Wrongfully Detained' Americans Gershkovich And Whelan
The bipartisan leadership of the U.S. Senate's Foreign Relations Committee has led the introduction of a call by 27 senators for the immediate release by Russian authorities of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who they say has been "wrongfully detained in Russia for merely doing his job."
In the draft resolution introduced this week, U.S. Senators Ben Cardin (Democrat-Maryland) and Jim Risch (Republican-Idaho), who are the chairman and ranking member of the influential committee, also demand the release of another American, former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan.
"Evan and Paul cannot be left behind, and as Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I will continue to sound the alarm about this grave injustice and do everything in my power to safely bring them home to their families," Cardin said in the text.
Gershkovich, 31, was detained six months ago and accused of espionage.
Whelan is serving a 16-year espionage sentence in a notorious Russian penal colony in Mordovia.
U.S. officials have called the charges against both men baseless and their detentions "wrongful."
Gershkovich was detained in late March in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg, and few details are available as materials for the case have been classified. Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) said at the time of the arrest that it had opened an espionage case against Gershkovich for collecting what it said were state secrets about the military industrial complex.
Gershkovich, a U.S. citizen based in Moscow, had been in Yekaterinburg reporting about the attitude of Russians toward the Kremlin's war against Ukraine and on the Wagner mercenary group.
If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in prison.
Gershkovich is the first American journalist detained in Russia on espionage charges since the end of the Cold War.
Arrested in 2018 in Russia, Whelan was convicted of spying charges in 2020. Both he and the U.S. government have denied the 53-year-old is a spy.
U.S. Ambassador to Russia Lynne Tracy has said the plight of U.S. citizens “wrongfully” held in Russia “remains a top priority for me.”
Armenian Exodus From Nagorno-Karabakh Tops 100,000; UN Readies For Visit
Armenia says more than 100,000 people have fled Nagorno-Karabakh since Azerbaijan's seizure of that breakaway territory a little over a week ago, while Yerevan has appealed to a UN court to stop Baku from allegedly targeting ethnic Armenians there.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian's office told journalists early on September 30 that authorities had registered 81,827 of the 100,437 people who had left Nagorno-Karabakh so far -- the latter representing more than three-quarters of the higher estimates of the territory's entire population.
The update came hours after Armenia said it had filed a suit with the UN International Court of Justice (ICJ) to prevent the targeting of ethnic Armenians amid signs of a roundup by Baku amid the massive exodus a week after Azerbaijan seized Nagorno-Karabakh in a lightning offensive.
Armenian officials and outsiders have expressed fears of ethnic cleansing and international calls have escalated for help to avoid a humanitarian disaster.
Azerbaijan, meanwhile, has urged ethnic Armenians to stay and has invited UN agencies to send a mission "to become acquainted with the current humanitarian activities being carried out by Azerbaijan in the region."
The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry said on September 30 that its forces were taking "retaliatory measures" after one of its soldiers was killed by an Armenian Army sniper on the border between the two countries.
Armenia denied the accusation, saying the claim "does not correspond to reality."
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said late on September 29 that the United Nations will send a mission this weekend to Nagorno-Karabakh, which is internationally recognized as Azerbaijani territory but was controlled by ethnic Armenians with Yerevan's support for decades since the waning years of the Soviet Union.
Dujarric said the UN mission will mainly assess humanitarian needs in a region to which it had not had access "in about 30 years."
"The government of Azerbaijan and the UN have agreed on a mission to the region. The mission will take place over the weekend," Dujarric told reporters.
Both sides have expressed hope that a more durable peace agreement between the longtime Caucasus archfoes might be reached ahead of a possible meeting between Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian in connection with European-wide meetings in Granada, Spain next week.
But Azerbaijani authorities have detained several key figures from the ethnic Armenian leadership of Nagorno-Karabakh, which Armenians refer to as Artsakh.
The Artsakh leadership has already announced that it would cease to exercise authority over the territory by the end of this year, a bitter pill for Armenians who have made control of Nagorno-Karabakh a national priority.
European and other Western governments meanwhile have been responding to Armenia's calls for assistance to help it deal with the influx of refugees. The office of Italy's prime minister said in a statement that Armenia has asked the EU for temporary shelters and medical supplies, adding that Rome is working to promote stabilization in the region.
European Commission spokesman Peter Stano said "urgent, continuous, unhindered humanitarian support" is needed to support the people who are still in Nagorno-Karabakh as well as those who have left.
The EU supports the work of the Red Cross, he said, saying that the European Commission announced an additional 5 million euros in humanitarian aid to help those displaced from Nagorno-Karabakh and those in vulnerable situations in the region. He also said it is important that the UN mission be able to enter the area in the next few days.
With reporting by AFP
Public Administration Employees In Republika Srpska Demand Pay Rise
Six unions representing public administration employees, including in health care, internal affairs, and justice, protested on September 29 in Bosnia-Herzegovina demanding a salary increase from the government of the Republika Srpska entity.
The unions said the government violated an agreement reached in June last year under which they say nearly 55,000 public administration employees were supposed to receive an average monthly salary increase of about 130 marks ($69) this year.
The protesters now say that is not enough and they are demanding a raise of 160 marks ($84) by the end of the year, as well as the payment of outstanding contributions, overtime, and the signing of special collective agreements with the government of Republika Srpska.
"I think it is at least inappropriate public administration employees employed by the government of Republika Srpska were forced to take these requests out on the streets, especially doctors, nurses, policemen,” Bozo Maric, one of the trade union leaders, told RFE/RL ahead of the protest. “The agreement was reached in an earlier period and the funds have been planned in the budget. We are asking why it is not being fulfilled and where the money went."
Several hundred trade union activists took part in the protest in Mladen Stojanovic Park in Banja Luka, and then headed to the Republika Srpska government building, where they blew whistles and shouted "thieves."
They carried banners calling for an end to discrimination in the judiciary and claiming that salaries in health care drove numerous workers in that sector out of the country to seek work in Western countries. “They will not return from the West," one banner said.
The protest continued across Krajina Square past the National Assembly building and the Palace of the President of Republika Srpska.
The government told RFE/RL before the demonstration that the agreement with unions has been fully respected and that there is no money for additional salary increases. However, government officials invited the union leaders to hold talks and negotiate.
The average net salary in August in Republika Srpska was 1,286 marks ($694) per month, according to the entity’s Institute of Statistics. There is no available data on the average salary for public administration employees.
The unions announced plans to stage a more massive protest should the government fail to fulfill their demands by the time the budget for the next year is adopted.
With reporting by Ermin Zatega of RFE/RL's Balkan Service
Slovaks Choose Between Pro-Russian Ex-PM Fico And Pro-Western Liberals
Slovaks have begun voting in parliamentary elections that are being closely fought between former leftist Prime Minister Robert Fico, who has pledged to end military aid for neighboring Ukraine, and pro-Western liberals. Final polls showed the two parties in a dead heat, with the winner expected to get the first chance to form a new government to replace a caretaker administration running the country of 5.5 million since May. A government led by Fico would mean Slovakia joining Hungary as EU countries challenging the bloc's consensus on support for Ukraine, just as the bloc looks to keep unity in opposing Russia's invasion. To see the original story by Reuters, click here.
Ukraine Says Its Forces Repelled Attacks, Inflicted Losses Across Front Line
Ukrainian forces repelled attacks by Russian troops in the Donetsk and Zaporizhzhya regions, fighting 24 combat clashes on the front, the General Staff said on September 30.
Clashes took place in areas near Avdiyivka, Mariynka, and in the Zaporizhzhya region, the General Staff said in its evening message, which said Ukrainian forces continued their offensive operations near Bakhmut, "inflicting losses in manpower and equipment on the occupying troops [and] exhausting the enemy along the entire front line."
According to the message, Ukrainian aviation made 14 strikes on areas where Russian personnel, weapons, and military equipment were concentrated. They also carried out eight strikes on anti-aircraft missile systems, and used missiles to hit six Russian anti-aircraft systems and nine artillery pieces.
RFE/RL cannot independently confirm accounts by either Ukraine or Russia in areas of heavy combat.
Russian forces, meanwhile, carried out 71 air strikes and 17 attacks from rocket salvo systems on the positions of Ukrainian troops and populated areas, the message said.
The regional military administration in Kherson said Russian forces dropped explosives on residential areas the region, injuring a 48-year-old man in the village of Kozatske.
Russia reported a drone attack in the southern region of Bryansk. The region's governor said one person was injured in the attack, which also damaged windows and the roof of an administrative building.
The governor, Aleksandr Bogomaz, said on Telegram that the incident occurred in the town of Trubchevsk. Bogomaz earlier reported that a village in the region had been shelled by Ukrainian forces, damaging three homes.
Earlier on September 30, a huge fire erupted at an oil pipeline in the western Ukrainian region of Ivano-Frankivsk.
"Nine people were injured," regional Governor Svitlana Onyshchuk said. "According to preliminary information, two children and three adults are in critical condition, with numerous burns," she added.
The blaze caused an oil spill spanning 100 square meters before it was extinguished. Footage shared on social media showed thick clouds of black smoke billowing out over a village, while firefighters worked to tackle the blaze.
The cause of the fire was not immediately clear, but local media outlets reported there had been a powerful explosion.
Moscow and Kyiv said earlier they had shot down dozens of airborne attacks over their respective territories overnight as the furious pace of nighttime air assaults continued.
Russia's Defense Ministry said its forces had intercepted all nine missiles that it claimed Ukraine fired into its western Belgorod region.
It said the attack was with Uragan multiple-launch rocket systems.
In Ukraine, air alert sirens blared in cities and towns across the southern and eastern parts of the country around 1:30 a.m. local time on September 30, followed by explosions far from the front lines including in the central region of Vinnytsya.
At least one explosion was also reported in Kramatorsk, where the Ukrainian military's rear base is located for the frontline eastern region of Donetsk.
A spokeswoman for Ukraine's Southern Defense Forces said on Ukrainian television that Russia had launched more than 20 kamikaze drones apparently bound for southern and central Ukraine overnight but that around 20 of them were destroyed.
Spokeswoman Natalya Humenyuk said many of the attacks appeared to target areas south of the Black Sea port of Odesa and that "the enemy's priority is still the Danube, in particular, the port infrastructure."
Authorities in Vinnytsya, a central Ukrainian city used extensively for humanitarian shipments since the start of the 19-month-old invasion, ordered an evacuation from the area around an infrastructure site that they said had been struck in the Russian attack.
Regional Governor Serhiy Borzov and the head of the local administration in the Vinnytsya-area town of Kalynivka confirmed the incident but did not provide details.
Humenyuk, the Southern Defense Forces spokeswoman, said the fire in Vinnytsya had been put out and the situation was no longer critical there.
With reporting by Reuters
Bulgarian Government Adopts Green Transition Plans Amid Protests By Energy Sector Workers
The Bulgarian government adopted plans on September 29 for the green transition of three coal regions in the country, but the decision met with protests by Bulgarian miners and other energy sector workers who blocked key roads.
The approval of the plans for the transition of the three regions is a condition for the European Commission to allocate 1.2 billion euros ($1.27 billion). The money would be used for the green transformation of the regions, which is intended to create new jobs for coal industry workers.
The plans must include a timetable for reducing the capacities of coal power plants in order to be approved by the European Commission.
But miners and energy workers do not want the coal power plants and mines to close, saying that they would lose their jobs. The protesters want the government to guarantee that coal power plants and mines would continue to operate without setting any dates for their shutdown.
Despite the demonstrations, which drew hundreds of people onto the streets to block roads in the coal-mining regions of Stara Zagora, Pernik, and Kustendil, the government approved the plans and said it would send them to the European Commission on September 30.
Bulgaria is already late in submitting the territorial plans for the transition of the three coal regions and lost almost 100 million euros ($106 million) for 2022 from the EU and risks losing another 800 million euro ($850 million) for 2023.
Prime Minister Nikolay Denkov said the end of September was the deadline for the government to approve and submit the plans so that the country does not lose the funding for 2023.
Denkov said that the government would not close coal power plants in Bulgaria before 2038 and that this would be clearly stated in the plans that would be sent to the European Commission.
He said that the plans would not specify dates for closing coal power plants but added that “gradually some of them will drop out of the energy system because it will not be economically possible for them to function anymore.”
“That is why it is extremely important to create mechanisms by which people who have the necessary qualifications can find employment in the same region,” Denkov added.
The government also agreed to pay compensations of 36 months' salary for energy sector workers who decide to quit.
Denkov called on the protesters to stop the demonstrations, saying that their demands have been fulfilled.
The Bulgarian government said last month that it had finished the draft territorial plans for the transition and vowed to send them to the European Commission by the end of September.
But it faced protests by miners and energy workers who were not satisfied with the plans.
The government held negotiations earlier in September with the trade unions that represent the protesting miners and energy workers and agreed on the creation of a state enterprise in which all those currently working for the state-owned mines and coal power plants would be reassigned.
Bulgaria is the only EU country that has not submitted its plans for what the European Commission formally calls the Just Transition Mechanism.
The country previously was among the last to submit its Recovery and Resilience Plan -- another European mechanism that provides funding for a transition to renewable energy. But this funding is now blocked following a parliament decision in December 2022 demanding that the government renegotiate Bulgaria’s commitment to reduce carbon emissions from coal power plants by 40 percent by 2026.
The European Union aims to be climate-neutral by 2050 -- an economy with net-zero greenhouse gas emissions. The bloc has allocated billions of euros in funding for its member states to fulfill this objective.
Russians Allowed To Take Part In Paris 2024 Paralympics As Individual, Neutral Athletes
The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) voted on September 29 to allow Russian para-athletes to compete as individual and neutral athletes at the Paris 2024 Paralympics. The decision came hours after the IPC voted against a full ban on the Russian athletes. They will be allowed to take part in the Paralympics scheduled for August 28- September 8, 2024, without national flags, colors or emblems. After Russia launched its ongoing unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the IPC banned Russian athletes from taking part in the Paralympics.
NATO Says It Will Send More Troops To Kosovo Amid Deteriorating Security Situation
NATO on September 29 said it would beef up its KFOR peacekeeping Kosovo force amid rising tensions in the predominantly ethnic-Serb north. "Yesterday the North Atlantic Council authorized additional forces to address the current situation," the alliance said in a statement on September 29. It did not say how many more troops it would send to Kosovo. Four people were killed on September 24 in an attack at a 14th-century Orthodox monastery in north Kosovo when some 30 gunmen stormed the monastery, sparking a gunbattle with Kosovar police. In May, violence erupted when Kosovar authorities tried to install mayors in some Serb-majority towns. Dozens of KFOR peacekeepers and some ethnic Serb protesters were injured.
Swiss Accuse Late Uzbek President's Daughter Of Running Criminal Organization
Switzerland's federal prosecutor has filed an indictment against the imprisoned daughter of Uzbekistan's former president, accusing her of taking bribes and running an elaborate criminal organization known as "The Office."
Gulnara Karimova, the eldest daughter of Islam Karimov, who ruled Uzbekistan from 1991 until his death in 2016, is accused of leading the operation, which allegedly channeled hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of bribes from telecoms companies.
Switzerland’s Office of the Attorney General (OAG) said on September 28 that money was funneled through bank accounts in several countries before being transferred to banks in Switzerland.
According to the statement, Karimova's network began its operations in Switzerland in 2005 “in order to conceal the capital originating from its criminal dealings in Swiss bank accounts and safes and by purchasing real estate.”
"‘The Office conducted its criminal activities as a professional business, complying with mandatory regulations and observing a strict allocation of tasks, while also resorting to violence and intimidation," the prosecutors' statement said.
In 2012, Switzerland said it froze around 800 million Swiss francs ($871.3 million) in connection with criminal proceedings against Karimova, a pop diva and businesswoman who had a public falling out with her late father and is currently in an Uzbek prison on embezzlement and criminal conspiracy charges.
The Uzbek Justice Ministry said earlier that it was working with authorities in Switzerland, the United States, France, Russia, and several other nations on the return of Karimova assets that it said were "earned through criminal activities."
In 2020, the Swiss government said a nonbinding framework agreement signed between Switzerland and Uzbekistan meant any returned assets "shall be used for the benefit of the people of Uzbekistan."
Once seen as a possible successor to her father, Karimova was placed under house arrest in Tashkent in 2014 while her father was still alive and running the country. Karimov died in 2016 and Shavkat Mirziyoev succeeded him soon afterward.
Criminal investigators in Switzerland, the United States, Sweden, and the Netherlands have linked Karimova to a massive, yearslong bribery scheme that revolved mainly around foreign telecommunications companies gaining access to the Uzbek market.
In December 2017, a Tashkent court sentenced Karimova to a 10-year prison term, but the sentence was later commuted to house arrest for five years. She was detained in March 2019 for allegedly violating the terms of her house arrest.
In February 2020, Karimova sent a letter to Mirziyoev offering to return $686 million to the country's treasury in exchange for the dismissal of the court case against her at home.
But a month later, she received an additional 13-year sentence after being found guilty of extortion, money laundering, and other crimes.
With reporting by Reuters and AP
German Chancellor Scholz, Five Central Asian Leaders Meet As Berlin Looks To Blunt Moscow's Influence
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and five Central Asian nations' leaders have discussed cooperation and ties as Berlin looks to gain influence in the region that has been traditionally a sphere of dominance for Russia.
Scholz greeted presidents Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev of Kazakhstan, Sadyr Japarov of Kyrgyzstan, Emomali Rahmon of Tajikistan, Shavkat Mirziyoev of Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan's former president and current chairman of the People's Council, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, in the German capital, on September 29.
The gathering comes amid efforts to counter Russian influence on the Central Asian states during the Kremlin's full-scale invasion of Ukraine launched in February last year.
Scholz and Toqaev held talks a day earlier, at which the German chancellor praised Kazakhstan's efforts to stop the circumvention of sanctions against Russia imposed by the West over its aggression against Ukraine.
Since the unprecedented sanctions were implemented, exports from the five Central Asian states to Russia have significantly increased, sparking concerns that some Western companies are using these former Soviet republics to evade the measures taken against Moscow.
As the summit started on September 29, a group of about a dozen Central Asian rights activists rallied in front of the German chancellor's office, demanding the immediate release of political prisoners in region amid signs of backsliding on free speech.
Rahmon's car was pelted with eggs, at least one of which splattered on the window and car seat where the president was sitting as the vehicle stopped near the Chancellery.
On September 28, Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a statement calling on Scholz to focus on human rights in the five tightly controlled Central Asian nations during the summit.
"Germany plays a strong role on Central Asia, as a leading trade and investment partner and a key political motor behind the European Union’s Central Asia strategy. It should use this position to make clear that upholding fundamental human rights standards and respecting rule of law are essential to any long-term partnership between Europe and these authoritarian states," the HRW statement said.
Last week, U.S. President Joe Biden held talks with presidents of the five Central Asian nations in New York amid the United Nations General Assembly.
With reporting by dpa and regionalHeute.de
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Ukraine Says Its Forces Repelled Attacks, Inflicted Losses Across Front Line