Blinken Makes Surprise Kyiv Visit As Zelenskiy Claims Counteroffensive Gains
U.S. Secretary Antony Blinken made a surprise visit to Kyiv on September 8 as the United States pledged another $2.675 billion in aid to Ukraine and other countries to bolster security in Europe amid Russia's unprovoked invasion of its neighbor.
Blinken, who interrupted a trip to Poland to visit the Ukrainian capital, met for two hours with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who later claimed that Ukrainian forces had taken back land in the north, south, and east.
"Our heroes have already liberated dozens of settlements. And today this movement continued," Zelenskiy said in his nightly address.
"In total, more than a thousand square kilometers have been liberated since September 1," he said shortly after announcing the recapture of Balaklia in the eastern Kharkiv region, a town which fell to Russian forces in early March.
Vitaliy Hanchev, a local pro-Russian official, disputed the claim about Balaklia, telling Russian state TV that Russian forces had fought off a Ukrainian attempt to encircle and capture the town and it remained in Russian hands.
In the area around Kharkiv, Ukraine's second city, forces penetrated 50 kilometers beyond Russian lines and "liberated" more than 20 towns and villages, senior military official Oleksiy Hromov said.
The claims could not be independently verified, but Ukraine has for weeks talked about a big counteroffensive in the south around Kherson. Western military analysts say Russia may have left itself exposed in the Kharkiv region and other areas as it rushed to reinforce its forces in the south.
The Kharkiv region was shelled on September 8, with missiles striking the regional center and Chuguyiv region, said Kharkiv regional Governor Oleh Sinehubov. One woman died as a result of the shelling, he wrote on Telegram.
Kharkiv Mayor Ihor Terekhov said there were no victims in the city, which comes under Russian missile attacks almost daily.
During his visit to Kyiv, Blinken also highlighted a "real effectiveness" in the counteroffensive in the south.
"It's very early, but we are seeing clear and real progress on the ground, particularly in the area around Kherson, but also some interesting developments in the Donbas in the east," Blinken told reporters.
"We are proud of the fact that our support and the support of so many other countries is helping to enable what the Ukrainians are doing -- working to liberate territory seized by Russia in this aggression," he said. "At the end of the day, the thing that fundamentally makes a difference is that this is Ukraine's homeland, not Russia's."
Blinken announced more than $2 billion in new aid from the Foreign Military Financing program to bolster the security of Ukraine and 18 of its neighbors -- including some NATO countries -- and regional security partners “most potentially at risk for future Russian aggression."
Zelenskiy said the visit "once again demonstrates the leadership position of the United States in supporting our country and the fight for freedom."
He said Ukraine appreciates the financial, economic, and defense assistance from the United States.
"For us, this is a guarantee that we can return our lands," Zelenskiy said, thanking Blinken for "everything you do for Ukraine and for being by my side today."
In a statement, Blinken said he reiterated to Zelenskiy and his team that President Joe Biden has been clear that the United States will support the people of Ukraine for as long as it takes and vowed that Kyiv "will remain the capital of a sovereign, independent Ukraine.”
The visit came hours after U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the Biden administration had approved a further $675 million worth of weapons for Ukraine, adding that Washington is seeing "demonstrable success" on the battlefield by Ukraine against Russian troops, who invaded the country in late February.
"This is the Biden administration's 20th drawdown of equipment from U.S. stocks for Ukraine since last August," Austin said at the start of a meeting of dozens of defense ministers on September 8 at the Ramstein air base in Germany, adding that the package would include 105-millimeter howitzers, precision-guided GMLRS rockets, and artillery ammunition.
The aid announced on September 8 brings to $15.2 billion the total provided to Ukraine by the United States under the Biden administration.
The defense ministers' meeting was to discuss issues such as how to coordinate the training of Ukrainian troops and how to support Kyiv with military aid over the long haul as the six-month-old conflict settles into a war of attrition fought primarily in eastern and southern Ukraine.
U.S. General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Ukraine is using its modern Western weapons to devastating effect, striking hundreds of Russian targets with the U.S.-supplied high-mobility artillery rocket systems (HIMARS).
"We are seeing real and measurable gains from Ukraine in the use of these systems. For example, the Ukrainians have struck over 400 targets with the HIMARS and they've had devastating effect," Milley said, speaking to reporters after the meeting at Ramstein air base.
With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and AP
U.S. Sends Ukraine 1.1 Million Rounds Of Ammunition Seized From Iran
The United States has transferred to Ukraine 1.1 million rounds of small-arms ammunition it seized from Iran, U.S. Central Command said on October 4. While Ukraine will use the 7.62-mm ammunition seized from Iran in its fight against Russia, Iran has been supplying Russia with the Shahed-136 drones that its forces have used in Ukraine against both civilian and military targets. The ammunition is standard for Soviet-era Kalashnikov assault rifles and many derivatives. Ukraine, as a former Soviet republic, still relies on the Kalashnikov for many of its units. To read the original story by AP, click here.
Attacks On Free Expression Online 'Grew More Common' Around The World
Rights watchdog Freedom House said global Internet freedom declined for the 13th consecutive year in 2023 as attacks on freedom of expression grew more common.
In its annual report on the level of the Internet freedom in the world, published on October 4, the watchdog said that the most serious cases occurred in Iran and Myanmar, where authorities carried out death sentences against people convicted of online expression-related crimes.
In Belarus and Nicaragua, people received "draconian prison terms" for online speech, the report said, adding that this was "a core tactic employed by longtime dictators Alyaksandr Lukashenka and Daniel Ortega in their violent campaigns to stay in power."
The report, titled Freedom On The Net 2023, covers 70 countries in six regions around the world, ranking the Internet in three groups -- free, partially free, and not free.
Iceland, Estonia, and Canada were ranked as most free, with Germany, the United States, Georgia, Armenia, and Serbia also among the top-ranking countries.
China, Myanmar, and Iran were among the countries where the Internet is least free while Russia, Uzbekistan, and Belarus were also among the lowest-ranking countries.
Iran was home to this year's sharpest decline, the report said, as authorities shut down Internet service, blocked the WhatsApp and Instagram social media apps, and increased surveillance during a crackdown on anti-government protests last year sparked by the death of a young woman -- 22-year-old Mahsa Amini -- while in police custody.
The report identified artificial intelligence (AI) as a threat for human rights online, saying that it has enabled governments to conduct more precise and subtle forms of online censorship, surveillance and disinformation campaigns.
"The world’s most technically advanced authoritarian governments have responded to innovations in AI chatbot technology, attempting to ensure that the applications comply with or strengthen their censorship systems," the report said.
But AI-powered moderation may struggle to keep up with a surge of unexpected content and expressions of dissent during times of crisis or protests, the report said, and authoritarian governments continue to use other forms of censorship online.
Russia has established a system to block global social-media platforms, Ukrainian news sites, and domestic sites that contradict the Kremlin's narratives over its invasion of Ukraine.
Belarus, which has aided Russia's military aggression, has blocked more than 9,000 websites, including independent news sites.
In its report, Freedom House noted that democratic governments in Europe and the United States also considered or in some cases actually imposed restrictions on access to websites, calling the approach "unproductive."
FIFA Lifts Ban On Russia Under-17 Teams Competing In International Soccer
World soccer governing body FIFA on October 4 said it had lifted Russia's ban from international soccer by allowing under-17 girls and boys teams from the country to take part in tournaments. The move follows a similar relaxation on Russian youth teams by European soccer body UEFA. "This is conditional on these teams playing under the name of the 'Football Union of Russia' rather than Russia, in the absence of their national flag, their national anthem, their national-team kit and equipment, and instead playing in neutral colors," FIFA said. Teams from Russia were banned from international soccer following Russia's invasion of Ukraine. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Ukrainian, Azerbaijani Leaders Affirm 'Territorial Integrity' In Talks
KYIV -- Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on October 4 said he and Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev both "affirmed our commitment to the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity" during a telephone conservation.
"We also discussed regional security, actual challenges, and formats of mutual cooperation," Zelenskiy's statement on Telegram said.
Aliyev's office in a statement confirmed the call and stressed that Zelenskiy also expressed thanks to Azerbaijan for the humanitarian aid that Baku has sent to Ukraine to tackle problems caused by Russia's invasion of Ukraine, launched in February 2022.
Since the beginning of Russia's aggression against Ukraine, Azerbaijan has provided Kyiv with a significant amount of equipment for restoration of energy infrastructure that was destroyed or damaged during attacks by Russian forces.
The talks were held two weeks after Baku gained full control over the mostly ethnic Armenian-populated breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh following a one-day offensive against the separatist government's armed forces.
More than 100,000 Armenians have fled for Armenia since then, representing nearly all of the territory's population.
Ukraine has been fighting against Russian forces that captured several districts of Ukraine's eastern regions of Zaporizhzhya and Kherson.
In 2014, Russia illegally annexed Ukraine's Black Sea peninsula of Crimea and backed separatists in parts of two eastern Ukrainian regions -- Luhansk and Donetsk.
Some political analysts in Azerbaijan and Ukraine have said the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh -- which is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan but was under separatist control for more than 30 years -- is analogous to the situation in Russian-occupied Crimea and other illegally occupied territories of Ukraine.
With reporting by RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service
Three Failed Doping Tests At Asian Games In 24 Hours, Including Uzbek Cyclist
Uzbek cyclist Aleksei Fomovsky and Philippine mountain biker Ariana Evangelista both failed doping tests at the Hangzhou Asian Games, officials said on October 4, making it three announced in 24 hours. Fomovsky, 22, who came fifth in the men's omnium points race on September 28, failed a drug test for anabolic steroids, the International Testing Agency (ITA) said. Late on October 3, the ITA and Olympic Council of Asia said that Saudi distance runner Muhammad Yousef Alasiri had also failed a drug test. So did Afghan boxer Mohammad Khaibar Nooristani, on September 28, in what was the first known case of doping at the Games.
Serbian Activist Fined For Egging Ratko Mladic Mural
A Serbian court has fined civic activist Aida Corovic 100,000 dinars ($897) for throwing eggs at a mural of convicted war criminal Ratko Mladic on the wall of a Belgrade residential building in 2021. The court said Corovic violated the law because she "threw eggs in the direction of a residential building" and insulted police officers. The UN court in The Hague sentenced the former Bosnian Serb military chief to life imprisonment for genocide and crimes against humanity. The mural by unknown authors celebrating him stood for a year and a half on a building in the city center. Civic activists removed it in May. To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Balkan Service, click here.
German Foreign Minister Heads To Balkans Amid Serbia-Kosovo Tensions
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock will travel to the Balkans on October 5 amid mounting tensions between Serbia and Kosovo. Baerbock will speak to leaders from Serbia and Kosovo and continue to urge both sides to de-escalate the conflict on the sidelines of a meeting in Albania of foreign ministers from the Western Balkans, a German Foreign Ministry spokesman said. Baerbock's spokesman said the situation in the region was "definitely worrying." The meetings in Albania are part of the Berlin Process, which was launched in 2014 to promote cooperation among the six West Balkan countries.
Ukraine's Economy Set To Continue To Grow Next Year, IMF Official Says
Ukraine's economy is adapting well to the wartime environment following Russia's invasion and growth will continue next year, a top International Monetary Fund (IMF) official said on October 4. Natan Epstein, deputy mission chief for Ukraine, said domestic demand and strong private consumption were driving the activities. "The economy is certainly adapting to the war environment, showing remarkable resilience, and we do expect growth to continue next year," he told a media briefing. In June, the IMF forecast Ukraine's gross domestic product growth would be 1 percent-3 percent this year. Epstein said he expected growth to be closer to the upper estimate. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Armenia Protests Arrests Of Former Nagorno-Karabakh Leaders
The Armenian Foreign Ministry has protested the arrests of several former separatist leaders of Nagorno-Karabakh by Azerbaijan after Baku reclaimed control of the ethnic Armenian-populated breakaway region in a lightning military operation last month.
The ministry on October 4 said former de facto leaders of Nagorno-Karabakh -- Arkadi Ghukasian, Bako Sahakian, Arayik Harutiunian, Davit Ishkhanian, Ruben Vardanian, and others -- had been arrested "illegally."
"Despite the dialogue with the representatives of Nagorno-Karabakh, the statements of high-ranking officials of Azerbaijan regarding the willingness to respect and protect the rights of Armenians, not to hinder their return to Nagorno-Karabakh, and on establishment of peace in the region, the law enforcement bodies of Azerbaijan continue arbitrary arrests," a statement said.
It added that Armenia "will take all possible steps to protect the rights of illegally detained representatives of Nagorno-Karabakh, including in international courts."
The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry rejected the Armenian statement, saying it "constitutes an attempt to justify the acts committed by those who are now under arrest."
"The arrest of these persons in the process of the criminal investigation initiated under the applicable articles of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Azerbaijan, regarding the aggression against Azerbaijan, inciting separatism, terrorist acts, crimes against peace and humanity, as well as war crimes and other grave crimes against prisoners of war and civilians, first and foremost serves to restore justice, and to undermine the legitimacy of these actions is completely unacceptable," the Azerbaijani ministry said.
A day earlier, sources close to Azerbaijani law enforcement told RFE/RL that Harutiunian, who was the de facto leader of Nagorno-Karabakh before stepping down as president in early September, was arrested and was being transported to Baku.
The sources also said Ghukasian, who served as the separatist president from 1997 to 2007, and Sahakian, who held the job from 2007 to 2020, were also arrested along with Ishkhanian, the speaker of the separatist legislature.
Azerbaijan's State Security Service said on September 29 that it detained Davit Manukian, former deputy commander of the breakaway region's de facto armed forces, on "terrorism" charges. Two days earlier, Azerbaijan arrested Vardanian, the former de facto prime minister of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Sources close to the ethnic Armenian leadership in the region confirmed to RFE/RL on September 29 that Azerbaijani officials also detained Levon Mnatsakanian, a former commander of Nagorno-Karabakh's armed forces, at a border checkpoint with Armenia.
Notorious Criminal Kingpin Killed In Special Operation In Bishkek
BISHKEK -- Kyrgyz security officers have killed notorious organized-crime figure Kamchy Kolbaev (aka Kamchybek Asanbek), who was added by Washington to a list of major global drug-trafficking suspects in 2011.
The State Committee of National Security (UKMK) said on October 4 that Kolbaev was "liquidated" during a special operation in Bishkek after he resisted arrest and opened fire at security forces.
The 49-year-old Kolbaev, known as a "thief-in-law," a title traditionally given to kingpins among criminal groups in former Soviet republics, was detained in October 2020 on suspicion of organizing a criminal group and participating in the activities of an organized criminal group.
The U.S. Embassy in Bishkek welcomed Kolbaev's detention at the time it was announced and expressed hope that Kyrgyz authorities would "prosecute and continue to detain this dangerous criminal leader in the interest of public safety.”
However, in early March 2021, Kolbaev was released from pretrial detention and ordered not to leave Bishkek.
In late 2012, Kolbaev was extradited to Kyrgyzstan from the United Arab Emirates at Bishkek's request and sentenced to 5 1/2 years in prison on extortion charges. His prison term was later shortened to three years without explanation.
In June 2014, Kolbaev was granted an early release, which Kyrgyz officials explained by saying that each day spent by an inmate in a detention center is equal to two days in prison.
Weeks before his early release, the U.S. State Department offered a reward of up to $1 million for information leading to the disruption of the financial mechanisms of Kolbaev's criminal network, which it described as being "part of the broader Brothers' Circle transnational criminal organization composed of leaders and members of several Eurasian criminal groups."
Bulgarian Parliament Approves Agreement With Protesting Energy Workers
Bulgaria's parliament approved on October 4 an agreement with energy workers who have been protesting plans for a transition to cleaner energy. It was not immediately clear if the protesters would end their demonstration, triggered by the adoption of plans for a green transition of the coal-mining regions Stara Zagora, Pernik, and Kustendil. The plans must include a timetable for reducing the capacities of coal-burning power plants in order to be approved by the European Union. The government has now agreed it won't close coal power plants before 2038 -- a deadline that was set by the plans -- but it said it would leave it to market forces to decide which ones would remain operational until then. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Bulgarian Service, click here.
Armenian PM To Attend EU-Sponsored Talks In Spain Despite Reports Baku Won't Show
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian has said he plans to attend European Union talks scheduled for October 5 in Granada, Spain, despite reports that Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has decided not to take part in the meeting where discussions over a peace deal were expected.
Pashinian said on October 4 that the Armenian side was "very constructive and optimistic" about signing a peace agreement with Azerbaijan. But, he added, he was also ready to resign if it helps "normalize" the situation in the Caucasus country.
"We thought there was an opportunity to sign a landmark document, and in fact, until this morning, we valued that opportunity very highly," Pashinian said, calling the peace agreement-to-be "a document of turning point" that the Armenian opposition "tried to present as destructive."
Pashinian said that the Armenian delegation will "present our viewpoints" in Granada.
"Of course we are sorry that the meeting will not take place, but we hope that the conceptual document that is on the table will be signed at a convenient time," Pashinian said.
Pashinian's statement came amid reports by Azerbaijani media saying that Aliyev refused to participate in the five-party -- European Union, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Germany, France -- meeting. Aliyev's office has not confirmed the reports.
The reports said Baku proposed Turkey take part in the talks as well, but Germany and France rejected that proposal.
According to the reports, Baku will not discuss regional problems with countries located far from the South Caucasus but could take part in three-party talks between the EU, Azerbaijan, and Armenia.
The talks in Granada were scheduled after Azerbaijan routed Nagorno-Karabakh's ethnic Armenian forces in a 24-hour military campaign two weeks ago. De facto authorities of the breakaway region then agreed to dissolve their government by the end of this year.
More than 100,000 ethnic Armenians fled Nagorno-Karabakh after that, although Baku pledged to respect the rights of Armenians after the military campaign.
Russian LGBT Artist Says Warrant Issued For Her, Added To Wanted List
Russian LGBT activist and artist Yulia Tsvetkova -- who is involved in a high-profile pornography case involving nude drawings and other artwork -- said a court has issued a warrant for her arrest and added her to a wanted list.
Tsvetkova left Russia in July 2022 after a court in the Far Eastern city of Komsomolsk-on-Amur acquitted her.
However, in March of this year, a court of appeals in Vladivostok canceled the acquittal and sent the case for retrial.
Tsvetkova, 30, draws women's bodies and is widely known for her advocacy of LGBT issues.
She administers a social-media page dubbed The Vagina Monologues. The pages contained drawings and other images that resembled female genitalia, which had attracted the attention of authorities.
She was charged with producing and distributing pornographic material in 2019, and prosecutors said at the time that they sought a 38-month prison sentence in the case.
Tsvetkova went on trial in April 2021 after an investigation of almost 18 months, during which she was fined for spreading LGBT "propaganda" and put under house arrest.
In May 2021, Tsvetkova launched a hunger strike to protest the case against her, accusing the state of the "cowardly" handling of her case and ruining her life, which amounted to "torture."
In June 2022, the Justice Ministry added Tsvetkova to its list of "foreign agents."
Amnesty International has said the case against Tsvetkova amounts to political repression and "Kafkaesque absurdity," adding that the artist was criminally charged with "producing pornography" simply for "drawing and publishing images of the female body and freely expressing her views through art."
In November 2022, Tsvetkova's paintings were exhibited at the Le Pangolin space in Marseille, France.
Pretrial Detention Of Suspect In Car-Bomb Attack On Russian Nationalist Writer Extended
A Moscow court extended pretrial detention until January 6, 2024, of a Ukrainian-born man suspected of carrying out a car bombing in May that wounded a prominent Russian nationalist writer. The writer, Zakhar Prilepin, an ardent supporter of Russia's military campaign in Ukraine, broke both legs in the attack. His close associate, who was in the car with him, was killed. Aleksandr Permyakov was charged with committing a "terrorist act" and illegal handling of explosives. Russia accused Ukraine's Security Service of organizing the attack, while Ukraine’s Atesh movement claimed responsibility for it. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Idel.Realities, click here.
Belgrade Court Orders Release Of Politician Accused Of Organizing Monastery Attack
A Belgrade court on October 4 ordered the release of Milan Radoicic, the top official of the main ethnic Serb political party in Kosovo, who had been detained in Serbia a day earlier for his involvement in a deadly confrontation with Kosovar police late last month.
Radoicic was detained for 48 hours on October 3 after he admitted to organizing and participating in the events that sparked the shoot-out at an Orthodox monastery in Kosovo that left four people dead.
The prosecution, which accused Radoicic of crimes against public security in connection with illegally manufacturing and trafficking weapons, had asked the court to hold him in custody, saying that there was a risk he would escape.
The court rejected the proposal on October 4 but banned Radoicic from leaving the country, confiscating his passport. The prosecution can appeal the court’s decision within three days.
In a statement read by his lawyer on September 29, Radoicic admitted that he “personally made all the logistical preparations” for the events, describing his actions as a way to “encourage Serbs” from the region to resist what he called “the terror of [Kosovo Prime Minister Albin] Kurti's regime.”
Radoicic also said that the Serbian government had no knowledge of his planning the confrontation.
Kosovo has rejected Radoicic's denial, saying Serbia was involved in the clashes, which Belgrade denies.
Kosovar Interior Minister Xhelal Svecla has told RFE/RL in an interview that Radoicic didn't act alone and said he had been “continuously supported by [Serb President Aleksandar] Vucic” and the government of Serbia.
Svecla sadi that Vucic and what he called his “extremist ideas related to the whole region” were the real culprits behind the attack on the monastery.
Radoicic is a construction tycoon as well as a top official in the main ethnic Serb political party in Kosovo, Serbian List, funded mainly by Belgrade. He was hit with sanctions by the United States and Britain in 2021 for allegedly being part of an organized crime group.
The monastery attack further raised tensions in the region at a time when European Union and U.S. officials have been pushing for a deal that would normalize ties between Serbia and Kosovo.
Trial Of 27 Kyrgyz Border-Deal Detainees Continues, With 11 Defendants Absent
BISHKEK -- The Birinchi Mai district court in Bishkek has resumed the high-profile trial of 27 politicians, journalists, and activists -- without 11 of the defendants present -- after they protested against a Kyrgyz-Uzbek border demarcation deal.
The 11 defendants who did not attend the proceedings on October 4 are being held in detention centers, while those who did attend are currently under house arrest.
The lawyers for the 11 defendants challenged the judge's decision to not allow their presence, saying it contradicted their legal rights. They demanded the judge's replacement, but the motion was denied.
The court has yet to give an official justification for the move.
The 27 members of the so-called Kempir-Abad Defense Committee, who went on trial behind closed doors on June 22, were arrested in late October last year after they protested against the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border demarcation deal that saw Kyrgyzstan in November hand over the territory of the Kempir-Abad water reservoir, which covers 4,485 hectares, to Uzbekistan in exchange for over 19,000 hectares of land elsewhere.
The majority of them were later transferred to house arrest.
Those arrested were charged with planning riots over the agreement, which was more than three decades in the making. Some of the arrested individuals were later charged with plotting a power seizure by force.
Several of them protested against their arrest and launched hunger strikes while in pretrial detention.
If convicted, the defendants face more than 10 years in prison.
There have been several rallies in Bishkek demanding their release.
Human rights organizations have also demanded the Kyrgyz government release the jailed men and women and drop all charges against them, saying they were imprisoned for expressing their thoughts and opinions.
In November 2022, Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov and his Uzbek counterpart, Shavkat Mirziyoev, signed the disputed deal into law after lawmakers in both countries approved it.
The Kempir-Abad reservoir, known in Uzbekistan as the Andijon reservoir, was built in 1983. It is located in the fertile Ferghana Valley and represents a vital regional water source. Uzbekistan, whose population of 35 million is five times larger than that of Kyrgyzstan, uses most of the water from the area.
Many Kyrgyz civil activists, opposition politicians, and residents living close to the dam have been against the deal, saying Uzbekistan should continue to be allowed to use the water but that the reservoir's land should remain within Kyrgyzstan.
Japarov and his allies claim the deal benefits Kyrgyzstan and that Kyrgyz farmers will still have access to the water reservoir.
Moldova Takes Further Steps To Ban Members Of Pro-Russian Party From Local Polls
Moldovan authorities on October 4 reinforced a ban on members of an outlawed Russia-backed party taking part in upcoming local elections, in effect reversing the Constitutional Court's decision a day earlier that had scrapped the interdiction.
Moldova's Exceptional Situations Committee (CSE) decided that members of the Shor Party who are charged, indicted, or even under suspicion of committing criminal acts will not be allowed to run in the polls, scheduled for November 5.
The CSE, which is led by Prime Minister Dorin Recean and comprises several cabinet members as well as intelligence agency chiefs and prominent lawmakers, was initially established to deal with the emergency situation declared due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Constitutional Court, which had outlawed the Shor Party in June amid moves by Moldova to reduce Russia's influence, ruled on October 3 that legislation approved by lawmakers in July banning party members from running for office for five years was unconstitutional.
The court's decision came following a complaint against the ban by members of the disbanded party, which was headed by exiled businessman Ilan Shor, who is accused by the West and the Moldovan government of trying to destabilize the country.
Wedged between Ukraine, Romania, and the Black Sea, Moldova has often found itself in the center of a struggle for influence between Moscow and the West.
The situation has intensified since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, especially with the Kremlin-backed breakaway region of Transdniester on its eastern border. Russia still keeps more than 1,000 troops in Transdniester as "peacekeepers."
The United States in June imposed sanctions on seven members of a group linked to Shor for their alleged roles in Moscow's campaign to destabilize Moldova and instigate an insurrection.
Shor, who is suspected of involvement in a $1 billion bank fraud and other illicit schemes, fled to Israel following the election of Moldova's pro-Western President Maia Sandu in 2020.
From abroad, he has organized months of anti-government protests with the aim of toppling Sandu and the reformist government that has been critical of Russia's war in Ukraine.
Russian Journalist Who Famously Protested Ukraine War On Live TV Sentenced For Second Protest
Former Russian TV journalist Marina Ovsyannikova has been sentenced in absentia to 8 1/2 years in prison for an anti-war demonstration she made in front of the Kremlin last year.
Ovsyannikova first shot to global attention in March 2022 when she protested Russia's invasion of Ukraine by interrupting a live news broadcast.
The Basmanny district court pronounced the sentence on October 4 after finding Ovsyannikova guilty of distributing "false information" about Russian armed forces involved in the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, saying she was "motivated by political hatred."
The case against Ovsyannikova was launched in July last year after she unfolded a poster near the Kremlin saying: "Putin Is A Murderer, His Soldiers Are Fascists," with photos of Ukrainian children killed during attack by Russia's armed forces against Ukrainian civilians.
She was placed under house arrest in August after police searched her apartment in the Russian capital but fled the country in October with her 11-year-old daughter after a Moscow court ruled that the young girl must stay with her father because her mother "is involved in political activities."
The couple was divorced years before the protest actions.
The Interior Ministry then added Ovsyannikova to its wanted list, saying that she violated the conditions of her house arrest.
Ovsyannikova gained international recognition on March 14, 2022, when she burst onto the set of Channel One's Vremya news program holding a poster reading: “Stop the war. Don’t believe propaganda. They are lying to you,” in Russian. She also shouted: "Stop the war! No to war!"
The Ukraine-born Ovsyannikova was a producer with Channel One at the time of her protest. She was later detained and fined 30,000 rubles ($300) by a court for calling for illegal protests.
A law signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin in March last year -- well after Ovsyannikova's first protest but before her second demonstration -- provides for lengthy prison terms for distributing "deliberately false information" about Russian military operations.
Ovsyannikova resigned from Channel One and spent several months abroad, including in Ukraine, repeatedly expressing her condemnation of the war.
Russia refers to the full-scale conflict in Ukraine, which it launched in February 2022, as a "special military operation." It is forbidden to publicly call it a war and those who do face stiff penalties, including lengthy sentences.
Zelenskiy Vows Ukrainians Will 'Do Everything' To Defeat Russia As U.K. Urges Aid 'To Finish The Job'
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has said Ukrainians will "do everything" in their power to prevail over invading Russian forces despite all difficulties as Britain urged the West to beef up its military assistance to help Ukraine "finish the job."
"There is fatigue but we will do everything to win against the enemy, and our counteroffensive goes ahead, even if slowly we do everything to repel the enemy," Zelenskiy told Italian news station SkyTg24 on October 4.
Zelenskiy also said Russia was weaker than at the start of the invasion in February 2022 and was trying to freeze the conflict.
He thanked Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni for Italy's support for Ukraine and mentioned his "personal relationship and human relationship [with Meloni] based on shared values."
Despite growing signs of war fatigue in the U.S. Congress and in some European Union countries, Zelenskiy said Kyiv felt support from Washington and that he hoped to discuss with EU leaders ways to improve Ukraine's air defenses ahead of the cold season, when fresh Russian strikes are expected on the country's energy infrastructure.
In Britain, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on October 4 urged Western allies to continue supplying Ukraine with weapons.
"I say this to our allies: If we give President Zelenskiy the tools, the Ukrainians will finish the job," Sunak told the Conservative Party conference in northern England.
Earlier on October 4, air-raid alerts sounded across Ukraine's south, east, and center on October 4 amid reports of explosions in the southern region of Dnipropetrovsk, as Moscow claimed that it had "destroyed" swarms of Ukrainian drones over three Russian areas.
There was little initial information about the blasts that were reported in Kryviy Rih. Alerts were declared early in the day in Odesa, Mykolayiv, and the Kherson regions, regional officials said.
In Russia, sirens also wailed across the country and TV stations interrupted regular programming to broadcast warnings on October 4 as part of sweeping drills intended to test the readiness of the country's emergency responders amid the fighting in Ukraine.
The exercise follows Ukrainian drone attacks on Moscow and other cities.
As the readiness drill went on, the Russian Defense Ministry said air defenses shot down 31 Ukrainian drones over border regions early on October 4.
"Air-defense systems intercepted and destroyed 31 Ukrainian aircraft-type unmanned aerial vehicles over the Belgorod, Bryansk, and Kursk regions," the ministry said on Telegram on October 4.
"Russian aircraft prevented an attempt to penetrate the territory of Crimea by a Ukrainian landing group traveling in the direction of Cape Tarkhankut on a high-speed military boat and three jet skis," it added.
The information could not be independently confirmed.
Russia, which has launched countless deadly drone and missile attacks on Ukrainian cities and energy infrastructure since the start of its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, has been in recent months subjected itself to increasingly frequent aerial and naval drone strikes targeting regions close to the border and even Moscow.
On the battlefield, Ukrainian forces have been engaged in heavy fighting with Russian troops in the east and south, the military said, amid a seesaw of offensive and defensive actions by both sides in the Donetsk, Kharkiv, and Zaporizhzhya regions.
Offensive operations were under way in the Melitopol area of Zaporizhzhya and Bakhmut in Donetsk, the General Staff reported early on October 4, adding that Ukrainian forces also repelled Russian counterattacks near Bakhmut.
"During the past 24 hours, 43 close-quarter battles took place along the front line," it said.
Meanwhile, U.S. President Joe Biden spoke by phone with key allies to reassure them that the United States will stand fast on Ukraine after funding for U.S. aid to help Kyiv's war effort was dropped from a stopgap spending measure passed by Congress over the weekend.
Poland's President Andrzej Duda said Biden assured allies of continued U.S. support for Ukraine and of his strong conviction that Congress will not walk away. Biden explained the situation after Congress passed and he signed legislation that keeps the U.S. government funded through mid-November but that excluded billions of dollars to help Ukraine in its fight against Russia.
"He assured us that there is backing for the continuing support for Ukraine, first of all for the military support. He said that he will get that backing in the Congress,” Duda said at a news conference.
Duda said Biden called on allies to continue their support for Ukraine and that all the leaders assured him that they would.
"All of us...are determined to continue supporting Ukraine,” Duda said.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on X, the social media platform formerly called Twitter, that it was a “good call," adding that "we are all committed to supporting #Ukraine for as long as it takes.”
Others joining Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken on the call were the leaders of Canada, Germany, Italy, Japan, Romania, Britain, the European Commission, and the European Council. France’s foreign minister also participated, the White House said.
While Biden told the leaders he is "confident" that Congress will agree to fund new assistance for Ukraine, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby warned that U.S. aid will only last "perhaps a couple of months or so," adding that it is vital to help Kyiv's slow-moving counteroffensive before winter sets in.
"Time is not our friend," Kirby told reporters. "We have enough funding authorities to meet Ukraine's battlefields needs for a bit longer, but we need Congress to act."
With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP
France Agrees To Start Delivering Military Equipment To Armenia
France is ready to begin deliveries of military equipment to Armenia to beef up its defense capabilities, French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna said on a visit to Yerevan on October 3. Colonna's visit came after Azerbaijan's lightning offensive last month that gave it total control over Nagorno-Karabakh and triggered a massive exodus of ethnic Armenians from the breakaway region into Armenia. Colonna declined to give details but added that she has asked the European Union's chief diplomat, Josep Borrell, to expand the EU mission in the region and proposed including Armenia in an EU peace mechanism similar to that implemented by the bloc in Moldova. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Armenian Service, click here.
Reports: More Former Separatist Leaders Of Nagorno-Karabakh Arrested
Authorities in Azerbaijan reportedly have arrested more former separatist leaders of Nagorno-Karabakh after Baku reclaimed control of the ethnic Armenian-populated breakaway region in a lightning military operation last month.
Arayik Harutiunian, who led the region before stepping down as president at the beginning of September, was arrested and was being transported to the Azerbaijani capital, sources confirmed to RFE/RL on October 3.
Arkadi Gukasian, who served as the separatist president from 1997 to 2007, and Bako Sahakian, who held the job from 2007 to 2020, were also arrested along with the speaker of the separatist legislature, Davit Ishkhanian.
Gukasian, Sahakian, and Ishkhanian have already been transported to Baku, sources told RFE/RL. The arrests have not been officially confirmed.
The arrests follow the detention of other officials by Azerbaijan's State Security Service (DTX). The DTX said on September 29 that it detained Davit Manukian, a former deputy commander of the breakaway region's de facto armed forces, on "terrorism" charges. Two days earlier, Azerbaijan arrested the former de facto prime minister of Nagorno-Karabakh, billionaire Ruben Vardanian.
Sources close to ethnic Armenian de facto authorities in the region confirmed to RFE/RL on September 29 that Azerbaijani officials also detained Levon Mnatsakanian, a former commander of Nagorno-Karabakh's separatist armed forces, at a border checkpoint with Armenia.
Other leaders of Nagorno-Karabakh have arrived safely in Armenia, according to State Minister Artur Harutiunian. He told RFE/RL on October 3 that he arrived in Armenia through the Azerbaijani checkpoint accompanied by the director of the National Security Service (NSS), Ararat Melkumian, Internal Affairs Minister Karen Sarkisian, and the head of the presidential administration Karen Shahramanian.
Artur Harutiunian did not comment on the detention of the former presidents and the speaker of parliament, saying only that when they were escorted out, they were still in Stepanakert.
Other details could not be verified because communications with Nagorno-Karabakh have been disrupted.
Although Baku pledged to respect the rights of ethnic Armenians after the military campaign, most of the population have fled the region fearing reprisals after three decades of separatist rule.
The UN mission has sent a mission to Nagorno-Karabakh to assess humanitarian needs in the region, but an Armenian official complained on October 3 that it “has done everything possible to legitimize ethnic cleansing, illegal arrests, destruction of civil infrastructure and other crimes carried out by Azerbaijan."
Edmon Marukian, Armenian ambassador-at-large, said the people in the mission “discredit the UN as an institution."
Marukian made the comments on X, formerly Twitter, but they were later deleted.
Armenia has also filed a lawsuit with the UN International Court of Justice (ICJ) to prevent the targeting of ethnic Armenians.
The lawsuit says Yerevan expects that Baku will "refrain from taking punitive measures against current or former political representatives or military personnel of Nagorno-Karabakh."
Nagorno-Karabakh, which along with seven adjacent districts had been under ethnic Armenian control for nearly three decades prior to the war in 2020, is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan.
The 2020 war ended with a Russian-brokered cease-fire, under which Moscow deployed about 2,000 troops to the region to serve as peacekeepers.
Azerbaijan’s presidential office said the country has presented a plan for the “reintegration” of ethnic Armenians in the region, noting that “the equality of rights and freedoms, including security, is guaranteed to everyone regardless of their ethnic, religious or linguistic affiliation.”
With reporting by AP and Reuters
Teenager In Coma After Morality Police Apprehend Her In Tehran, Rights Group Says
An Iranian teenager is in a coma at a hospital and under heavy security after an assault on the Tehran subway, a rights group said on October 3. The rights group Hengaw said the teenager, Armita Garawand, had been severely injured after being apprehended by agents of the so-called morality police. Iranian authorities denied security forces were involved and said the girl fainted due to low blood pressure. Iran remains on high alert just over a year after the death in custody of Mahsa Amini, who had been arrested for allegedly wearing a hijab, or head scarf, improperly.
Russia Plans To Block VPN In March 2024, Member Of Federation Council Says
Artyom Sheikin, a member of the Russian parliament's Federation Council, said on October 3 that the country’s Roskomnadzor media watchdog plans to block virtual private networks (VPNs) across the country as of March 1, 2024. As Russian authorities have introduced dramatic restrictions to increasing numbers of independent websites to block the flow of information related to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, demand for VPN services significantly increased among Internet users. Sheikin emphasized that it was "especially important" to block access to Meta Platforms, which owns Instagram, WhatsApp, and Facebook.
To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Romania To Send Troops To Bolster NATO Kosovo Force
Romania says it will send some 100 troops to bolster NATO's peacekeeping force in Kosovo after mounting tensions with Serbia. Romania's NATO Ambassador said on October 3 that Bucharest would add a "contingent at company level" to the KFOR peacekeepers after a decision by the Western alliance to bolster the deployment. NATO member Britain last week said it would deploy some 600 troops to reinforce KFOR. The moves came after an armed attack on September 24 that killed a Kosovar police officer and three attackers. Kosovo's government has accused Belgrade of backing the operation.
Pakistani Government Orders All Migrants Living In Country Illegally To Leave By November 1
Pakistan has issued an order requiring all people living illegally in the country to leave by November 1. Caretaker Interior Minister Sarfarz Bugti said that businesses and properties of foreign nationals living illegally in Pakistan will be confiscated if they do not leave Pakistan. Bugti said the crackdown would apply to all nationalities but was not aimed at Afghans, though the vast majority of migrants in the country are Afghans. A government statement said the new policy was endorsed on October 3 during a high-level meeting of Pakistani political leaders and the country’s powerful military. To read the story on RFE/RL’s Radio Mashaal, click here.
'Messianic' Putin Fell Victim To His Own Propaganda, Says Veteran Journalist2
Putin, Medvedev Combine Spin With Threats On Anniversary Of Unilateral Annexations In Ukraine3
U.S. Urges Serbia To Pull Back Large Military Deployment Along Border With Kosovo4
Pristina Says Evidence Shows Serbia Planned To Seize Northern Kosovo After Attack5
Russian Ruble Weakens Past 100 To The Dollar6
War In Ukraine Poses 'Terrible Threat' For Russia's Saami People, But Solutions Are Few7
Slovakia: An Election Result That Embodies Ukraine Fatigue8
Ukraine Says Its Forces Repelled Attacks, Inflicted Losses Across Front Line9
Chinese Drones Flow To Training Centers Linked To Russian War In Ukraine10
Controversial New Russian History Textbook Opens Old Wounds In North Caucasus