Associates of Aleksei Navalny say traces of the Novichok nerve agent used to poison the Russian opposition politician were found on a water bottle in the hotel room he stayed in in the Russian city of Tomsk. Navalny's blog on Instagram said on September 17 that his associates were still in the Xander hotel in Tomsk when news of the politician's illness broke, and were able to collect the opened bottle of mineral water before the room had been cleaned. Kremlin Calls Report About Novichok Found On Navalny Water Bottle 'Absurd'.
Speaking at a special urgent session of the UN Human Rights Committee in Geneva, Belarus opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya has demanded that Minsk allow an international mission to document possible crimes committed by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and his government in a crackdown on protesters and media following a disputed election. Representatives of Belarus, Russia, China and Venezuela asked that the video stream of Tsikhanouskaya’s speech be stopped.
The IT sector has been a success story for Belarus, but its future is now in question amid the country's political turmoil. An online survey found dozens of companies were at least partially relocating to other countries, while more than a hundred were looking into it; twelve companies were in the process of relocating completely.
Hundreds of followers of the Breslov Hasidic movement, who were trying to reach the central Ukrainian city of Uman to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, have begun leaving neutral territory along the Belarusian-Ukrainian border after they were refused entry to Ukraine over measures banning foreigners from entering the country to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Prominent Russian activist Andrei Pivovarov has been detained at the exit of a Moscow detention center immediately after being released from serving a 14-day sentence for breaking protest laws. Pivovarov, executive director of the opposition group Open Russia, was taken to a Moscow police station on September 17 and is due in court the following day to face new charges of organizing a public event without giving notice.
The European Union's top court has upheld restrictive measures adopted by the 27-nation bloc against Russian oil and gas companies in connection with Moscow’s actions in Ukraine. The Luxembourg-based Court of Justice announced on September 17 that it had upheld a judgment by a lower EU court dismissing an appeal against the sanctions, saying the measures "have been duly justified and are suitable for putting pressure on Russia because of its role" in the Ukraine crisis.
The Crimean Human Rights Group (CHRG) reports that authorities in Russia-annexed Crimea have installed a jamming tower in the northern part of the peninsula to block FM transmissions from Ukrainian radio stations. According to CHRG, Russian radio programs are heard on frequencies allocated to Ukrainian broadcasters in seven of 19 monitored villages, while in 11 others, Russian and Ukrainian programs are heard on the same frequency. In mid-November 2019, RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service Crimea Realii radio began round-the-clock broadcasting from southern Ukraine to northern Crimea on both mediumwave and FM frequencies. (Ukrainian Service/Crimea Realii)
RFE/RL’s Belarus Service reports that an as-yet unidentified man doused himself with gasoline and set himself on fire on the steps of the local police department in the Belarus town of Smalavichy. According to a local resident, the young man was “trying to prove his truth.” The man apparently did not shout any slogans, and it is still unclear what prompted him to take such a step. He was taken into a hospital and placed in an intensive care unit. (Belarus Service)
The Belarusian State Border Committee says it has strengthened border controls, but entry and exit crossing points currently remain open despite a September 17 statement by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka demanding their closure with the West. "The border service has strengthened controls on the state border of the Republic of Belarus using tactical reserve forces," the committee said in a statement on September 18. Also, Lukashenka stripped the diplomatic status of three Belarusian officials who supported protesters, and Belarus FM Vladimir Makei said any Belarus government response to potential EU sanctions may impact “the functioning of foreign media accredited in Belarus.”
Twenty-nine countries including the United States and Germany issued a joint statement on September 17 condemning Belarus for Internet shutdowns and blocking websites after a "fraudulent" presidential election last month. "In conjunction with restrictive measures and intimidation employed against opposition candidates and the mass arrests and detentions of Belarusian civil society members and journalists, actions to limit access to the Internet, including social media and other digital communication platforms, further erode civic space," said the statement released by the U.S. State Department. Also -- OSCE launches probe into Belarus election fraud, rights abuses.
As courtyard disputes go, the battle for control of a small stretch of wall on a children's playground in Belarus’s capital, Minsk is a regime-changer. So much so that the courtyard of Building No. 3 has been renamed "Change Square" by locals who have stepped in to protect and maintain a mural dedicated to the opposition.
Romania’s military received its first shipment of U.S. Patriot surface-to-air missiles on September 16, part of efforts to upgrade the NATO member's defense capabilities. The missiles, as well as recent purchases of F-16 fighter jets, are also part of Romania’s pledge to gradually increase military spending to 2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) by 2024, the minimum level demanded for NATO members.
Afghanistan says it plans to sign a strategic partnership agreement with neighboring Tajikistan, although the Afghan Foreign Ministry September 17 announcement did not specify when and where the document would be signed. The statement came hours after visiting acting Foreign Minister of Afghanistan Mohammad Haneef Atmar held talks with his Tajik counterpart Sirojiddin Muhriddin during the first day of his two-day official trip to Dushanbe.
Uzbekistan says it will lift a ban on international flights to and from the Central Asian nation as of October 1. The government said on September 17 that the country will be open for international tourists on condition that they follow COVID-19 regulations. Uzbekistan shut its borders and suspended transport links with other countries in mid-March because of the outbreak.
Reports from Uzbekistan contradict the government's claim that it has phased out its internationally-criticized policy of forcing citizens into farm fields to pick cotton every autumn. Under pressure from the Cotton Campaign NGO, officials in Tashkent say they have ended the practice. But recent complaints heard by RFE/RL from hundreds of Uzbeks around the country reveal that forced labor is continuing in Uzbekistan's cotton sector under the guise of "volunteer" work.
Uzbek rights defenders and former political prisoners, some of whom reside abroad, have called on Switzerland, Uzbekistan, and the United States to ensure that money confiscated from Gulnara Karimova, the oldest daughter of late Uzbek President Islam Karimov, will not be misused again. The letter, initiated by the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights and signed by 13 Uzbek human and civil rights activists, was placed on the Uzbekform.org website on September 16, five days after the Swiss government said it had reached agreement with Tashkent on returning $131 million to Uzbekistan that was seized in connection with criminal proceedings against Karimova.
Tajikistan on September 16 experienced a one-hour Internet outage that coincided with an address by an exiled opposition leader in the United States that was streamed live online. Tajikistan's State Communications Service has not given any official explanation for the outage. The service's representative told RFE/RL on September 17 that the Internet unexpectedly stopped working at around 7:40 p.m. for ”unknown reasons” and that the operator had to switch to its backup system to bring it back after about 30 minutes.
A Current Time TV special report shows that medical workers serving a town with a population of 60,000 people just 18 miles outside of Kyiv have one rusty ambulance and only one protective suit to wear when on calls to coronavirus patients. Doctors are short on medicine and even cotton pads. Regulations say an ambulance should respond to calls within 10 minutes, but due to the workload and long distances, in some cases doctors don't have time to get from one emergency to another -- and patients die. (in Russian, Current Time TV)