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Van Rompuy Gets Second Term As European Council President

European Council President Herman Van Rompuy
European Council President Herman Van Rompuy
European Union leaders have confirmed that Herman Van Rompuy will serve a second term as president of the European Council.

A former prime minister of Belgium, Van Rompuy was a little known figure when he was first elected to the Council president's post in December 2009, and was regarded as an uncharismatic compromise candidate.

However, his background in finance and economics ensured he had a strong grasp of events when the eurozone debt crisis struck.

Van Rompuy's second term, announced on March 1, will keep him in the post until the end of 2014.

It cannot be renewed a third time.

With reporting by Reuters and AP

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Extreme Cold Snap In Siberia Causes Power Cuts

Pedestrians walk along a street in the city of Yakutsk in Siberia, which has been hit with an extreme cold snap.
Pedestrians walk along a street in the city of Yakutsk in Siberia, which has been hit with an extreme cold snap.

Extreme cold has caused electricity outages in several of Russia's several Siberian regions. A number of cities saw temperatures fall to minus 40 degrees Celsius, while in the region of Yakutia, temperatures went as low as minus 60 degrees. In the region of Krasnoyarsk Krai, one person who used a gas-engine generator died of carbon monoxide poisoning. In the Irkutsk region, several towns and villages, including several streets in the regional capital, Irkutsk, were cut off for electricity over the weekend. Two other Siberian regions, Khakassia and Tyumen, have faced similar problems due to the extreme cold. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Siberia.Realities, click here and here

Zelenskiy Heading To Washington To Plead For Continued War Aid Amid Republican Opposition In Congress

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy leaves the Argentinian Congress after the inauguration ceremony of the Latin American country's new president, Javier Milei, in Buenos Aires on December 10.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy leaves the Argentinian Congress after the inauguration ceremony of the Latin American country's new president, Javier Milei, in Buenos Aires on December 10.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy is heading to Washington after a visit to Argentina as he continues to make his case for continued support as Kyiv braces for a second difficult winter of war with invading Russian forces.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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

U.S. President Joe Biden invited Zelenskiy to Washington to reaffirm his administration's backing of Ukraine amid a dispute with Republicans in Congress who are blocking tens of billions of dollars in much-needed military and economic aid for the embattled country.

Zelenskiy attended the swearing-in of Argentina’s new president, Javier Milei, on December 10 in his first official trip to Latin America where he hoped to drum up support among developing nations.

As Zelenskiy prepares to make the case for deblocking the aid package in the United States, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on December 11 arrived in Brussels, where an EU summit on December 15 will decide whether to launch membership negotiations with Kyiv and also give it 50 billion euros ($53.8 billion) in economic aid.

Biden will receive Zelenskiy at the White House on December 12, spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said, and the Ukrainian leader will also address U.S. senators and meet with the new Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, Mike Johnson.

“As Russia ramps up its missile and drone strikes against Ukraine, the leaders will discuss Ukraine’s urgent needs and the vital importance of the United States’ continued support at this critical moment,” Jean-Pierre said.

Zelenskiy’s office said the Ukrainian leader would hold a "series of meetings and discussions" focusing on defense cooperation between Washington and Kyiv, "particularly through joint projects on the production of weapons and air defense systems, as well as the coordination of efforts between our countries in the coming year."

Zelenskiy's visit comes after he canceled a video address to U.S. senators on December 5 as debate heated up on Biden’s nearly $106 billion request for funding for the wars in Ukraine and Israel.

The Biden administration asked Congress in October to pass the aid package, which would cover not only aid for Ukraine and Israel but also border security, but the Republican-controlled House rejected the request.

The planned Washington visit would follow Zelenskiy’s first trip to Latin America, where he thanked regional leaders on December 10 for their support of his country in its battle against the full-scale Russian invasion and the “fight for freedom and democracy.”

While in Argentina for the inauguration of new President Javier Milei, Zelenskiy met briefly with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in a bid to resolve differences over Ukraine's bid for European Union membership.

Orban last week had reportedly written to European Council President Charles Michel to demand that Ukraine's membership in the European Union be taken off the agenda at an EU summit next week.

Orban has maintained close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and his nationalist government has argued against EU sanctions on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

Upon arriving in Brussels on December 11, Kuleba warned of "devastating" repercussions for Ukraine and the EU if the bloc will not agree on green-lighting the start of admission talks with Ukraine.

"I cannot imagine, I don't even want to talk about the devastating consequences that will occur should the (European) Council fail to make this decision," Kuleba said ahead of the meeting.

Kuleba said that Kyiv was “still struggling to understand these harsh statements from Hungary” and added that Ukraine implemented all the systemic judicial and education reforms that the bloc required for the start of accession talks.

"We did our homework," Kuleba said. "We expect the European Union to do its homework."

With reporting by Reuters

Residential Building Collapses In North Kazakhstan, Rescue Teams Look For Survivors

A one-story residential building collapsed in Kazakhstan’s northern city of Qostanai on December 11 amid fears that seven people may be trapped under the debris. Local emergency officials say the building, which included several apartments, collapsed following a blast that might have been caused by a gas leak. Rescue brigades are working at the site. Gas explosions occur frequently across the former Soviet Union due to aging pipelines and infrastructure, as well as lax safety standards. The situation is especially dangerous when people use natural gas devices to help with heating in cold winters. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, click here.

Russia's Imprisoned Former 'Aluminum King' Gets Additional Prison Term For 1998 Murder Case

Anatoly Bykov attends a court hearing in Krasnoyarsk in September 2021. (file photo)
Anatoly Bykov attends a court hearing in Krasnoyarsk in September 2021. (file photo)

A court in Siberia on December 11 sentenced imprisoned businessman Anatoly Bykov to 12 years in prison for his involvement in ordering the assassination of a crime boss in 1998. Bykov is already serving a 17-year prison term for being involved in the murders of three people in 1994 and 2005. The court ruled that all the sentences will to some extent be served concurrently, putting his total prison time at 20 years. Bykov, who once co-owned the Krasnoyarsk Aluminum Plant and was a regional lawmaker, had the nickname Russia's Aluminum King. He rejects all the charges, calling them politically motivated. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Imprisoned Navalny Held Incommunicado For Days, Lawyers Not Allowed To See Him

Imprisoned Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny (file photo)
Imprisoned Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny (file photo)

Associates of imprisoned Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny said on December 11 that the outspoken Kremlin critic has been held incommunicado for almost a week, while his lawyers have not been allowed to meet with him in the penal colony.

Navalny's press secretary Kira Yarmysh said on X, formerly Twitter, that the penal colony where Navalny is serving a total of 19 years in prison on extremism and other charges that he rejects as politically motivated, did not connect him via video link to a hearing for one his cases on December 11, citing power supply problems that started on December 7.

"It is the sixth day now that we do not know where Aleksei is and what is happening with him," Yarmysh wrote.

On December 1, Navalny said a new criminal case on vandalism charges had been brought against him.

Navalny's lawyers have complained that they have not been allowed to see their client since December 6.

Yarmysh, and another of Navalny's associates, Ruslan Shavetdinov, said earlier that Navalny felt extremely unwell in his cell in late November and early December after prison guards deprived him of food and fresh air, keeping him in solitary confinement and limiting his walks outside the cell.

Navalny's current isolation from his lawyers and the outside world coincided with a campaign that his team launched on December 7 against President Vladimir Putin. That day, the Russian parliament's upper chamber, the Federation Council, set March 17, 2024, as the date for a presidential election.

Putin, who has led the country as prime minister or president since 1999, is eligible to take part in two more presidential elections due to constitutional amendments introduced in 2020. He is expected to easily win the poll.

Navalny had his sentence increased to 19 years in August after being found guilty of creating an extremist organization and was transferred to a harsher “special regime” facility.

His previous sentence was handed down in 2021 after he arrived in Moscow from Germany, where he had been recovering from a poisoning attack he blamed on the Kremlin.

He was Russia's loudest opposition voice and galvanized huge anti-government rallies before he was jailed.

Three of Navalny's former lawyers -- Vadim Kobzev, Igor Sergunin, and Aleksei Lipster -- were taken into custody in October and charged with taking part an extremist group's activities because of their association with Navalny and his anti-corruption foundation.

Ukrainian Children Who Are Being Educated 'In Hiding' Risk Reprisals In Russian-Occupied Regions, Says Amnesty International

Ukrainian children take part in an online lesson amid Russia's ongoing invasion of their country. (file photo)
Ukrainian children take part in an online lesson amid Russia's ongoing invasion of their country. (file photo)

Parents in Russian-occupied territories who continue their children's education in the Ukrainian language face the risk of having their kids taken away and given up for adoption in Russia or sent to "reeducation" schools that teach in Russian, Amnesty International says.

In a study titled Ukraine: Children’s Education Is One More Casualty Of Russian Aggression, which was published on December 11, Amnesty says that besides the tragic loss of life and widespread destruction resulting from Moscow's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the systemic violations of the right of children to an education are an additional consequence Ukrainians have faced.

Russian forces still occupy some 20 percent of Ukraine's territory, and despite the risks of reprisals, some parents who live under Moscow's occupation have resorted to schooling their children "in hiding" under the Ukrainian curriculum.

“Amnesty International has obtained evidence from 23 education workers and 16 families with school-age children who were, or still are, living under Russian occupation, and documented how Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine has led to significant and widespread interruptions of education in Ukraine," Amnesty regional researcher Anna Wright said about the study.

"In the Russian-occupied territories, intimidation and coercion are a daily reality for families, children, and teaching staff. No one is safe under Russia’s endless campaign of terror in Ukraine” Wright said.

The study quotes a Ukrainian education official as saying that children, parents, and teachers have become “partisans digging holes in their gardens to hide laptops and mobile phones or hiding in the attics and old sheds to catch the mobile [phone] signal.”

Those interviewed told Amnesty that Russian troops regularly patrol the streets and often conduct random searches, and those found in possession of teaching materials in Ukrainian or electronic devices that can be used for online learning risk being detained and having their children taken away.

Some parents, like a mother of two whose real name was changed to "Polina" for fear of reprisals, have chosen to stop their children's education altogether. Polina's children had been outside of their house only a few times during the first nine months of Russian occupation for fear of them being abducted and taken to Russia, she said.

Another mother, from an occupied village in the occupied Kherson region, told Amnesty that Russian troops came and told her that unless she sends her 15-year-old son to school the next day, he will be taken "to an orphanage in Russia." When the boy returned to school, he found it redecorated with Russian symbols and guarded by Russian soldiers.

Teachers who refuse to return to teach in schools in Russian-occupied areas are either going into hiding or fleeing.

A teacher from occupied Berdyansk in the Zaporizhzhya region told Amnesty that children are forced to study in Russian and sing the Russian national anthem under the threat of being sent away for “re-education in Russian orphanages.” The teacher left and now gives online lessons to children from occupied territories from somewhere else in free Ukraine.

Some parents have enrolled their children in secret online learning courses despite the risks of being caught and facing grave consequences.

A father from Berdyansk told Amnesty that, in order to allow his son to study in a Ukrainian school online in the afternoons, he goes on a watch outside while his wife stands by the window. If he gives her a signal that someone is approaching the house, the mother and the son will erase any evidence of online learning and hide the laptop.

“The only way to help Ukraine heal and to make Ukrainian children’s present and future less painful, is for Russia to end the war in Ukraine, which is an act of aggression under international law,” said Wright.

“During war or occupation, all parties remain bound by international humanitarian and human rights law. Ensuring children’s right to access to quality education is one such duty, and it must be fully respected,” she said.

Russian Police Raid Gay Club In Yekaterinburg

Russian police have raided a gay club in Yekaterinburg, detaining more than 100 people who were attending a party in the city in Russia's Urals region. Authorities said the raid was prompted by reports from “concerned citizens” that the club was selling illicit alcohol and tobacco products. Several liters of illegal alcohol products were allegedly confiscated. Those detained were eventually released after their documents were checked, social media reports said. The raid came after Russia's Supreme Court last month declared "the international LGBT social movement" -- which legally does not exist -- as extremist and banned all its activities effective immediately. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Several Wounded As Ukraine Repels Russian Missile Attack On Kyiv

Ukrainian authorities say the country's air defenses downed eight cruise missiles over Kyiv. (file photo)
Ukrainian authorities say the country's air defenses downed eight cruise missiles over Kyiv. (file photo)

Ukrainian air defenses repelled a missile attack on the capital, Kyiv, and its surroundings in which at least four people were wounded, the military and officials said. Eight cruise missiles were downed over Kyiv on December 11, the Ukrainian Air Force said, while the capital's military administration said falling debris wounded four residents of Kyiv's southeastern neighborhood of Bortnychiy. Eighteen drones were also shot down over Ukraine, the military said, adding that most of them had targeted the southern region of Mykolayiv. To read the original stories by RFE/RL Ukrainian Service, click here and here.

Draft COP28 Text Proposes Azerbaijan Host Next Summit In 2024

People walk at Dubai's Expo City during the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) in Dubai.
People walk at Dubai's Expo City during the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) in Dubai.

A draft text published on December 10 proposed that next year's COP29 climate summit be hosted by Azerbaijan from November 11-22. The text will need to be adopted by the summit before it becomes official, but it is in line with expectations after Azerbaijan won backing from Eastern European countries on December 9. The text also proposed dates for COP30 in Brazil of November 10-21, 2025.

Top Swedish General Visits Front Lines In Ukraine

General Micael Byden (file photo)
General Micael Byden (file photo)

The commander in chief of the Swedish armed forces, General Micael Byden, has visited the front in eastern Ukraine, according to Ukrainian media reports. He inspected positions of the 45th Independent Artillery Brigade and spoke with soldiers, according to a video of the unit shared by Ukrainian media on December 10. The brigade was equipped with Swedish Archer mobile artillery pieces in the autumn. Byden promised the Ukrainians further support. Sweden has traditionally followed a policy of neutrality, but following Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the country changed course and is now seeking to join the NATO alliance.

Netanyahu Speaks To Putin, Voices Disapproval Of Iran Ties

Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) welcomes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Moscow in 2020.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) welcomes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Moscow in 2020.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin on December 10 and voiced displeasure with "anti-Israel positions" taken by Moscow's envoys at the UN, an Israeli statement said. Russia backed a UN Security Council resolution for a Gaza truce, which was vetoed by the United States on December 8. Speaking to Putin, Netanyahu also voiced "robust disapproval" of Russia's "dangerous" cooperation with Iran, the Israeli statement said. The Kremlin said Russia was ready to give all possible assistance to alleviate the suffering of civilians and de-escalate the conflict.

Borrell Demands Iran Release Swedish EU Employee As Trial Begins On Spying Accusation

Sweden's foreign minister said Johan Floderus's trial began on December 9.
Sweden's foreign minister said Johan Floderus's trial began on December 9.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has demanded Iran immediately release Swedish EU employee Johan Floderus, who is facing trial in Tehran on charges of spying for Israel, accusations the bloc and his family have vehemently denied. Floderus was detained in April 2022 while visiting Iran, his family said. Borrell on December 10 said that "there are absolutely no grounds for keeping Johan Floderus in detention." Sweden's foreign minister said Floderus's trial began on December 9. Floderus works for the EU's diplomatic service responsible for Afghanistan, but it wasn't immediately clear if he holds diplomatic status. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Radio Farda, click here.

Mohammadi Blasts Iran's 'Despotic' Regime In Smuggled Nobel Acceptance Speech

Ali and Kiana Rahmani, children of Narges Mohammadi, accept the Nobel Peace Prize on her behalf in Oslo on December 10.
Ali and Kiana Rahmani, children of Narges Mohammadi, accept the Nobel Peace Prize on her behalf in Oslo on December 10.

The teenage children of imprisoned Iranian human rights activist Narges Mohammadi accepted the 2023 Nobel Peace Prize for their mother at a ceremony in Oslo on December 10, delivering a speech in which she blasted the "despotic" regime in Tehran.

Twins Ali and Kiana, 17, who have lived in exile in France the past eight years, read the speech their mother had managed to smuggle out of Tehran’s notorious Evin prison, where she has been held since 2021.

The Nobel Committee released a video of the twins' acceptance of the award.

Renowned globally as a staunch advocate for the Women, Life, Freedom movement, Mohammadi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on October 6.

The Nobel awards are each endowed with 11 million Swedish kronors (just more than $1 million).

For years, Mohammadi has voiced dissent against the obligatory hijab rule imposed on Iranian women, as well as restrictions on women's freedoms and rights in the country by its Islamic regime.

In the speech read by her children -- who were standing next to an empty chair -- Mohammadi said, "I write this message from behind the high, cold walls of a prison."

"I am an Iranian woman, a proud and honorable contributor to civilization, who is currently under the oppression of a despotic religious government," she said.

"I am a woman prisoner who, in enduring deep and soul-crushing suffering resulting from the lack of freedom, equality, and democracy, has recognized the necessity of her existence and has found faith."

Her message stated that "the Islamic republic regime is at the lowest level of popular legitimacy and this government has responded to people's demands by suppression, execution, slaughter, and imprisonment."

On December 9, Mohammadi announced on the Instagram page that friends abroad maintain for her that she had gone on a three-day hunger strike.

Rights groups in the past have expressed concern about her health in the notorious prison.

With reporting by dpa

Russian Military Police In Armenia Detain Deserter Who Refused To Fight In Ukraine

The deserter was transferred to a Russian military base in the northwestern Armenian town of Gyumri, where several thousand Russian troops are stationed.
The deserter was transferred to a Russian military base in the northwestern Armenian town of Gyumri, where several thousand Russian troops are stationed.

A Russian conscript soldier who reportedly refused to take part in fighting in Ukraine has been arrested by Russian military police in Armenia. Dmitry Setrakov, who is said to have fled to Armenia sometime after Russia launched its unprovoked aggression against Ukraine in February 2022, was transferred to a Russian military base in the northwestern Armenian town of Gyumri, where several thousand Russian troops are stationed. A criminal case has been launched against him for leaving his unit without permission. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Armenian Service, click here.

Serbia Launches Interconnector To Gas Pipeline In Bulgaria

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev (left to right), Bulgarian President Rumen Radev, and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic take part in launch of interconnector to gas pipeline between Serbia and Bulgaria in Nis on December 10.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev (left to right), Bulgarian President Rumen Radev, and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic take part in launch of interconnector to gas pipeline between Serbia and Bulgaria in Nis on December 10.

Serbia on December 10 completed the interconnector to a pipeline in Bulgaria that would allow the Balkan country to diversify its gas supplies and reduce its dependence on Russia. The launch of the interconnector will make operational the pipeline from the town of Novi Iskar in Bulgaria to the Serbian city of Nis, allowing Belgrade to access gas from Azerbaijan and the LNG terminal in the Greek port of Alexandroupolis. The capacity of the pipeline on the Serbian side is 1.8 billion cubic meters a year, which accounts for 60 percent of the country's annual gas needs.

Iran, Saudi Arabia To Negotiate On Direct Scheduled Flights

(illustrative photo)
(illustrative photo)

Iran and Saudi Arabia will start formal talks next week to resume direct scheduled flights between Tehran and Riyadh and other cities, an Iranian official told the state-affiliated news agency ILNA on December 10. Regular flights would be another step toward restoring ties between the two Middle Eastern rivals. A Chinese-mediated agreement in March restored diplomatic relations after years of tensions that threatened the security of the entire region and fuelled conflicts in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen.

Russian Activists Protest Crackdown On Journalists, Including RFE/RL's Detained Kurmasheva

Protesters demonstrate against the persecution of journalists in Kazan on December 10.
Protesters demonstrate against the persecution of journalists in Kazan on December 10.

KAZAN, Russia -- Activists on December 10 protested against the crackdown inside Russia on independent journalists, including Alsu Kurmasheva, a veteran journalist of RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service who has been held in Russian custody since October 18.

Protesters in Kazan held placards including, "Alsu Kurmasheva is a journalist, not a criminal," and "No one should die for the right to tell the truth," before security forces moved in and removed any signs mentioning the detained RFE/RL journalist.

Kurmasheva, a Prague, Czech Republic-based journalist with RFE/RL who holds dual U.S. and Russian citizenship, traveled to Russia for a family emergency in May.

She was temporarily detained while waiting for her return flight on June 2 at the airport in Kazan, the capital of the Tatarstan region, where both of her passports were confiscated. She was not able to leave Russia as she awaited the return of her travel documents.

Kurmasheva was fined 10,000 rubles ($103) on October 11 for failing to register her U.S. passport with the Russian authorities, according to local media reports based on court documents they'd seen.

Kurmasheva was detained again on October 18 and this time charged with failing to register as a foreign agent, a crime that carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

The Investigative Committee said Kurmasheva was being charged under a section of the Criminal Code that refers to the registration of "foreign agents" who carry out the "purposeful collection of information in the field of military, military-technical activities of Russia," which, if received by foreign sources, "can be used against the security of the country."

On December 4, a court in Kazan rejected an appeal filed by Kurmasheva's lawyers against another court's decision in October to fine her 10,000 rubles for "failure to inform Russian officials about holding a second citizenship."

Russia Scolds German Ambassador For War Remarks In Moscow Cathedral

 Alexander Graf Lambsdorff (file photo)
Alexander Graf Lambsdorff (file photo)

The Russian Foreign Ministry has criticized Germany's ambassador in Moscow, Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, for his remembrance of war victims and plea for peace during a church Christmas concert. Lambsdorff addressed a crowd of several hundred people at the Catholic Church's Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Moscow on December 9. He said that "war is not inevitable" and commemorated those killed in Ukraine and the Middle East. The diplomat's remarks drew a sharp rebuke from Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova.

UN Says Taliban Must Embrace, Uphold Human Rights Obligations In Afghanistan

Taliban fighters ride in the back of a vehicle during a night patrol in Kabul.
Taliban fighters ride in the back of a vehicle during a night patrol in Kabul.

The Taliban must embrace and uphold human rights obligations in Afghanistan, the UN mission in the country said on December 10 on Human Rights Day and the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Since seizing power in 2021, the Taliban has erased basic rights and freedoms, with women and girls deeply affected. They are excluded from most public spaces and daily life, and the restrictions have sparked global condemnation. The UN mission, highlighting the Taliban's failures in upholding its rights obligations, said it continues to document extrajudicial killings, torture and ill-treatment, corporal punishment, arbitrary arrest and detention, and other violations of detainees' rights.

Updated

Zelenskiy Set To Visit White House After Argentina Stop On Drive To Bolster Support

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (right) greets Javier Milei on the day of his inauguration as president of Argentina in Buenos Aires on December 10.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (right) greets Javier Milei on the day of his inauguration as president of Argentina in Buenos Aires on December 10.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy plans to travel to the United States on December 11 after receiving an invitation from President Joe Biden to visit the White House on December 12 on the heels of his visit to Argentina to meet with Latin American leaders.

Biden invited Zelenskiy to the White House "to underscore the United States' unshakeable commitment to supporting the people of Ukraine as they defend themselves against Russia's brutal invasion,” White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement on December 10.

"As Russia ramps up its missile and drone strikes against Ukraine, the leaders will discuss Ukraine's urgent needs and the vital importance of the United States' continued support at this critical moment," she added.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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

Zelenskiy's office said on Telegram that the Ukrainian leader would arrive in Washington on December 11 for a "series of meetings and discussions" along with the White House visit the following day.

The talks will focus on defense cooperation between Washington and Kyiv, "particularly through joint projects on the production of weapons and air-defense systems, as well as the coordination of efforts between our countries in the coming year," Zelenskiy's office said.

Zelenskiy has been invited to address U.S. senators at the Capitol on December 12 at 9 a.m., a Senate aide said.

Zelenskiy on December 5 canceled a video address to U.S. senators as debate heated up on Biden's nearly $106 billion request for funding for the wars in Ukraine and Israel.

Zelenskiy had been expected to make Ukraine's case for continued U.S. military aid as Ukraine braces for a difficult winter on the battlefield and as Russian shelling and strikes continue to kill civilians.

The Biden administration asked Congress in October to pass the aid package, which would cover not only aid for Ukraine and Israel but also border security, but the Republican-controlled House rejected the request.

Zelenskiy canceled the video address shortly after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Republican-Kentucky) told fellow Republicans to vote against the measure when it came to the floor.

The planned Washington visit would follow Zelenskiy's first trip to Latin America, where he on December 10 thanked regional leaders for their support of his country in its battle against the full-scale Russian invasion and the “fight for freedom and democracy.”

"The support and strong united voice of Latin American countries that stand with the people of Ukraine in our fight for freedom and democracy is very important for us," Zelenskiy said on social media after meeting with the leaders of Ecuador, Paraguay, and Uruguay during his trip to Buenos Aires, where he is attending the inauguration of Argentinian President Javier Milei.

In discussions with Uruguayan President Luis Lacalle Pou, the Ukrainian leader said his country was grateful to the South American country "for supporting Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity."

Zelenskiy's official Telegram channel said the Ukrainian leader also thanked Paraguayan President Santiago Pena "for his decisive support of Ukraine within international organizations."

"With [Ecuadoran] President Daniel Noboa, they discussed the possibilities of developing bilateral cooperation between Ukraine and Ecuador: in the field of security, digitalization, trade in agricultural products," the Telegram statement said.

"It is very important for us to have the support and powerful united voice of the countries of Latin America, which support the Ukrainian people in the war for our freedom and democracy," Zelenskiy was quoted as saying.

The Telegram statement said Zelenskiy congratulated Milei on his election as Argentina's new president.

"This is a new beginning for Argentina, and I express my wish that President Milei and all the Argentinian people will surprise the world with their success. I am also sure that bilateral cooperation between Ukraine and Argentina will continue to expand," Zelenskiy was quoted as saying.

Prior to arriving in Argentina, Zelenskiy made a stopover visit to Cape Verde, a small island state off the west coast of Africa, in his latest bid to shore up support for Ukraine in the Global South for Kyiv in its 21-month-old war against Russia.

Zelenskiy met on December 9 with Cape Verde Prime Minister Ulisses Correia e Silva in what he later called in a social-media post the "first meeting of leaders in the history of our bilateral relations."

Zelenskiy thanked Cape Verde for condemning Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022 and its backing of Ukrainian initiatives.

Zelenskiy is hoping to convene a "global peace summit" and has promoted a peace plan rooted in the withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine and recognition of its post-Soviet borders of 1991.

Analysts say Kyiv has been trying to build ties with African, Asian, and Latin American governments, but has found its support for Israel at odds with the positions of some of those countries.

In Cape Verde, Zelenskiy informed the African leader of efforts to develop new grain routes as well as plans to create grain centers in Africa, a statement from Zelenskiy's office said.

In July, Russia refused to extend a UN-backed deal that had allowed Ukraine to export grain and other food items from three designated Black Sea ports. Much of those agricultural exports were destined for parts of Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.

After pulling out of the agreement brokered by the UN and Turkey, Russia has attacked Ukraine's Black Sea ports and grain infrastructure, destroying almost 300,000 metric tons of grain, according to a recent estimate by the British government.

An alternative, temporary Black Sea corridor has allowed Ukraine to ship more than 7 million tons of cargo through Black Sea ports despite Russia's blockade, Ukrainian officials said on December 4.

Meanwhile, while in Argentina for Milei’s inauguration, Zelenskiy met briefly with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in a bid to resolve differences over Ukraine's bid for European Union membership.

Orban's office confirmed he had met with Zelenskiy and that EU membership issues were discussed, but it did not provide details.

Earlier this week it was reported that Orban had written European Council President Charles Michel to demand that Ukraine's membership be taken off the agenda at an EU summit next week.

That summit in Brussels will decide on whether to start talks with Ukraine and neighboring Moldova -- as recommended by the EU Executive Commission -- on their bids to join the 27-member bloc. EU leaders will also decide on the release of 50 billion euros ($55 billion) in aid for Ukraine.

Orban is considered one of Russian President Vladimir Putin's closest allies in Europe, and his nationalist government has argued against EU sanctions on Russia over its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

On the battlefield on December 10, Ukraine reported that Russian shelling in the Kherson region hit residential buildings and wounded two civilians, a 37-year-old man and a 52-year-old woman.

Moscow has denied targeting civilian areas despite widespread evidence of such attacks.

Russian forces in recent weeks have been attempting to regain territory they lost to a Ukrainian blitz offensive last year, with heavy losses reported. Ukrainian losses have also been heavy, but official figures are impossible to obtain.

With reporting by dpa and Reuters

Russia Transfers Seized Stake In Strategic Metals Firm To State Nuclear Energy Company

Solikamsk, which produces 100 percent of Russia's tantalum and niobium as well as 60 percent of its commercial magnesium, was privatized in the 1990s.
Solikamsk, which produces 100 percent of Russia's tantalum and niobium as well as 60 percent of its commercial magnesium, was privatized in the 1990s.

Russia has transferred a majority stake in a strategic metals firm to the state's nuclear energy company after seizing shares from its private owners.

Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin on December 8 signed an order transferring the shares in Solikamsk Magnesium Plant to Kremlin-controlled Rosatom, according to аn order posted on the government's website.

Russia last year seized an 89 percent stake in Solikamsk, claiming the Urals-based company was illegally privatized in the 1990s.

Russian courts have nationalized dozens of companies -- many strategic -- on that basis since the Kremlin launched its invasion of Ukraine, raising fears in the business community about a larger revision of privatizations.

Russia sold off wide swaths of its economy in the 1990s, including energy and metals companies, often in an opaque and unfair manner that gave rise to the so-called "oligarchs."

Solikamsk, which produces 100 percent of Russia's tantalum and niobium as well as 60 percent of its commercial magnesium, was privatized in the 1990s as well.

Tantalum is used in a variety of commercial and critical defense applications such as mobile phones and turbine engines for aircraft, while niobium is used in the production of high-strength steel alloys used in pipelines and transportation infrastructure.

Magnesium has a variety of industrial uses, including as a reducing agent to separate uranium.

President Vladimir Putin promised in the early 2000s shortly after coming to power that he would not reverse the privatizations if Russia's tycoons stayed out of politics and that agreement had largely been maintained with a few major exceptions before the war.

The series of nationalizations -- many but not all based on alleged illegal privatization -- since the war began has sent a chill through the business community, Aleksandr Shokhin, the head of Russia’s industry lobby, told the RBK news agency in September.

"Nobody knows who will be next," he said.

He said there was concern the assets are being seized to hand over to people who are considered more loyal to the Kremlin.

"If an asset goes into state ownership, where does it go? Is it transferred to the management of the 'right' people, 'good' entrepreneurs from some circle? Or is it being put up for privatization?" he said.

Many Russian tycoons have kept a low profile since the invasion of Ukraine, with some relocating abroad, opening themselves to criticism, especially from pro-war members of the elite.

Russia earlier this year seized a controlling stake in Syas Pulp and Paper Mill, one of the largest manufacturers of toilet paper and napkins, after its owner acquired Israeli citizenship and relocated abroad.

Putin last month met with the country's largest businessmen at his residence outside Moscow to discuss Russia's business climate. The issue of nationalization was expected to be raised.

With reporting by Kommersant, RBK, and Reuters

U.S.-Russian Citizen Arrested For Social-Media Posts

Since December 2022, desecrating a St. George's ribbon is against the law in Russia.
Since December 2022, desecrating a St. George's ribbon is against the law in Russia.

Russia has arrested a dual U.S.-Russian citizen on charges of "rehabilitating Nazism" for two critical posts he made on social media.

Yury Malyev was arrested on December 8 in St. Petersburg and ordered to pretrial detention for two months, the Smolnensky district court said in a post on its Telegram channel.

Malyev last year posted on his Odnoklassniki page an image of the St. George ribbon, which represents Russia’s victory over Nazi Germany, along with a caption that included the face of a known gay individual and profanities, according to the court. It gave no further details.

On May 8, the day before Russia celebrates its victory over Nazi Germany, Malyev posted the image of a dead body with a caption that read "how to correctly wear the St. George ribbon."

The court said the latter post showed "disrespect for society and the days of military glory and memorable dates of Russia" and was an "insult" to World War II veterans.

Malyev has "partially" admitted guilt, the court said. He faces up to five years in prison if convicted.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has largely snuffed out freedom of expression, clamping down hard on individuals who contest the state's official view of World War II as well as the current invasion of Ukraine.

In 2014, Putin outlawed the dissemination of "false information about Soviet activities" during World War II and seven years later outlawed criticism of veterans of that war.

In December 2022, he signed into law a bill criminalizing the desecration of the St. George ribbon with a punishment of up to five years in prison.

The ribbon dates back to 1769, when Russian Empress Catherine the Great established the Order of St. George. The medal was attached to a ribbon of black and yellow -- later orange.

In 1945, the Soviet Union resurrected the orange-and-black ribbon for a medal to celebrate victory over Nazi Germany in World War II.

The colors then became part of annual May 9 Victory Day celebrations in the Soviet Union and then in Russia, and they were handed out en masse in Russia starting in 2005.

Nearly a decade later, activists supporting Russia's 2014 seizure of Ukraine's Crimea and backing of separatists in eastern Ukraine began using the ribbon as a symbol, and it is now widely associated with the Russian aggression in Ukraine.

Ukraine banned the St. George ribbon in 2017.

Russia Seeks To Unfreeze Gold Reserves As It Woos Global South

Ruslan Edelgeriyev (file photo)
Ruslan Edelgeriyev (file photo)

Russia has said it is studying whether its gold reserves, frozen by the West in the wake of its invasion of Ukraine, could be used to help developing countries overcome the impact of climate change.

In a statement made at the COP28 summit in Dubai, where officials from around the world are gathered, Russia's climate envoy suggested the frozen funds could be used to help emerging nations accelerate their fight against climate change.

"We are ready to announce that Russia is looking into the voluntary contribution of finance to the loss and damage fund from the frozen national gold reserves held by international organisations," Ruslan Edelgeriyev, Russia's climate representative, said on the main stage at COP28.

Russia has been seeking to strengthen ties with countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East -- sometimes referred to as the Global South -- after the West cut most ties with Moscow over its brutal invasion of Ukraine.

Those countries, many of which are in the developing stage, are among the hardest hit by climate change. Global South countries have criticized developed countries, especially Western states, for slow rolling aid to help them combat climate change.

Global South countries say developed countries have largely caused climate change through their greater use of fossil fuels, while they suffer the consequences. Developed countries provided about $100 billion in financing to developing countries for climate change last year.

The United States and Europe have frozen about $300 billion in Russian gold reserves held in the West as punishment for its invasion of Ukraine.

Washington and Brussels have yet to decide what they will do with the Russian funds. Some Western officials have called for using the funds to help rebuild Ukraine after the war.

Russia's climate representative may have simply attempted to win over developing countries while stoking their frustration with the West.

Many countries in the Global South have criticized the West for quickly mobilizing tens of billions of dollars in military and financial aid for Ukraine when their calls for help receive marginal attention and resources.

With reporting by Reuters

Kyiv Removes Monument To Bolshevik Military Commander Shchors

Workers dismantle the monument to Mykola Shchors in the center of Kyiv on December 9.
Workers dismantle the monument to Mykola Shchors in the center of Kyiv on December 9.

The authorities in Kyiv on December 9 dismantled a massive equestrian monument to Bolshevik military commander Mykola Shchors that was erected in the Ukrainian capital nearly 70 years ago. Workers spent seven hours removing the 7-ton monument, which will be stored in a museum. The city administration announced on Telegram that "more than 60 monuments related to the history and culture of Russia and the U.S.S.R. have already been removed from the capital." Shchors was a Red Army commander who fought against the short-lived Ukrainian People's Republic and was killed in unclear circumstances in August 1919. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.

'Initiative Group' Meets To Plan Putin's Presidential Campaign

Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) and then-Pskov region Governor Andrei Turchak meet for talks at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence in December 2013.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) and then-Pskov region Governor Andrei Turchak meet for talks at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence in December 2013.

Representatives of the ruling United Russia party and the All-Russia Popular Front (ONF) met in Moscow on December 9 as an "initiative group" to discuss their support for President Vladimir Putin's bid for a fifth presidential term. Party secretary Andrei Turchak said United Russia would provide all necessary resources for Putin's campaign. Putin on December 8 signaled that he will seek another term in the election set for March 15-17. Russian elections are tightly controlled by the Kremlin and are neither free nor fair but are viewed by the government as necessary to convey a sense of legitimacy. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

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