After the Soviet Union collapsed in the early 1990s, scientists who claim to have worked on its chemical weapons program spoke publicly about a nerve agent they had named Novichok -- Russian for "new guy" or "newcomer." Russia has never officially confirmed its existence, but those same scientists said Novichok nerve agents are the deadliest ever made, with some variants possibly five to eight times more potent than VX.
A Russian court has cleared the director and deputy director of a prison in the Russian city of Yaroslavl of involvement in the brutal torture of an inmate. Lower-ranking officers received sentences ranging from three to more than four years. The prosecution had alleged that the torture of Yevgeny Makarov was conducted on the orders of the prison directors. Video footage of the beating emerged in 2018, provoking a public outcry.
Hundreds of people rallied in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, to protest against proposed changes to the constitution that opponents say will drastically erode freedoms in the Central Asian country. Protesters at the November 22 rally said changes would expand presidential powers and weaken parliament by making it report to a new people's council. Kyrgyz Presidential Hopeful Japarov Defends Draft Constitutional Reforms.
Russia's Investigative Committee says it has arrested several Jehovah's Witnesses and carried out raids of their homes across the country as part of a new investigation into the religious group that Moscow has labeled as extremist and banned in the country. The Investigative Committee's Moscow office said in a statement on November 24 that officers in more than 20 Russian regions searched the homes of members of the religious group, adding that an unspecified number of "organizers and members of the movement" had been detained.
The situation in many Ukrainian hospitals is critical, doctors say, after a spike in the number of coronavirus cases in the country. According to the doctors, there is a shortage of beds, intensive-care units are overcrowded, and many seriously ill patients have to wait for ventilators.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, Bosnia and Herzegovina presidency member Milorad Dodik, and other high-ranking officials attended the November 22 funeral liturgy for Patriarch Irinej, the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church, who died on November 20. Serbia's state news agency and public TV were the only media outlets allowed to cover the ceremony inside the Church of St. Sava in Belgrade. The chief cleric died aged 90 after testing positive for the coronavirus.
Monica Macovei, a former European Parliament member and Romanian justice minister, sees the election of Maia Sandu as Moldova's next president in stark terms: For one of Europe's poorest countries, it's an opportunity for a "a new beginning" that must not be missed. "At present, there is no other chance to save Moldova," Macovei, now an expert with Harvard University's Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies, told RFE/RL. Although Sandu's victory gives Moldova a new direction of leadership, she faces more fights ahead in order to implement her vision.
Russia's Defense Ministry says a U.S. Navy destroyer has left Russian waters in the Far East after being warned it might be rammed. The ministry said in a statement that the USS John S. McCain, which the United States said was "challenging Russia's excessive maritime claims," ventured 2 kilometers into Russian territorial waters in the Peter the Great Gulf, near the eastern Russian port city of Vladivostok, before turning back after receiving a warning from the Russian destroyer Admiral Vinogradov.
Russia's media regulator, Roskomnadzor, has opened a case against U.S. tech giant Google for allegedly failing to remove banned content from its search engine. Roskomnadzor said on November 23 that Google had not removed up to 30 percent of “dangerous content” from its search engine. "The company is accused of failing to comply with the requirements of Russian legislation on the removal of Internet resources containing information banned in Russia from search results," Roskomnadzor said in a statement.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) is calling on the Russian parliament to dismiss a new bill giving authorities the power to block websites that have censored Russian state media content, saying it would increase censorship in Russia. Anastasia Zlobina, coordinator for Europe and Central Asia at HRW, said in a statement on November 23 that global Internet companies’ “often opaque and inconsistent policies and practices around removing or moderating online content deserve criticism. But totally blocking online platforms used by millions of Russians, as this bill proposes, does the opposite of protecting access to information,” she said.
The financial backers and developers of Russia's Sputnik-V coronavirus vaccine say the two shots required to vaccinate one person will cost “less than $20” on international markets and will be free of charge for Russian citizens. The international market price for Sputnik-V announced on November 24 is cheaper than some other Western rivals, such as a vaccine produced by Pfizer, which costs more than $18 per shot. However, the Russian vaccine is more expensive than one produced by AstraZeneca, which will be sold in Europe for around $3 per shot.
As war raged this autumn over Azerbaijan's breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, some Armenians expressed a sense of betrayal that long-standing ally Russia wasn't providing more support to ethnic Armenian fighters in the conflict. But any ill will in Yerevan toward the Kremlin appears to have subsided since Moscow brokered a truce that brought an end to the fighting on November 10 and cleared the way for the deployment of nearly 2,000 Russian peacekeepers in the conflict zone. Political analyst Richard Giragosian told RFE/RL that many Armenians now viewed Russia as a "savior" rather than a "scapegoat" to be blamed for the territorial losses of the Armenian forces.
Several thousand pensioners in Belarus marched for an eighth-straight week in Minsk on November 23 to protest state violence against the country’s pro-democracy movement. Black-clad security forces wearing balaclavas blocked the columns of elderly protesters from completing the regular Monday march, preventing them from entering central Independence Avenue. The protesters shouted, "Freedom for political prisoners!" and "Murderers!"
The Telegram channel of the Belarusian Association of Journalists reports that journalist Ihar Ilyash, who was due to attend a meeting of the BAJ in Minsk but never arrived, had stopped communicating and his phones are disconnected. Ilyash’s brother later told "Belsat" that he entered his brother’s apartment and found a protocol documenting confiscation of a computer, telephone and other things. However, these papers contain neither names nor an indication of the reason for the search. Ilyash is the husband of Belsat journalist Katerina Andreeva, who was arrested on November 15 and is now being held at a pre-trial detention center in Zhodino as a suspect in a criminal investigation into organizing actions that grossly violate public order. (Belarus Service)
The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has concluded that the Kazakh government violated international human rights law last year when it detained activist Serikzhan Bilash, who had raised the plight of indigenous ethnic groups in China's northwestern region of Xinjiang. Responding to a legal petition filed by the Washington-based Freedom Now human rights group, the UN concluded that Kazakhstan “was targeting Mr. Bilash for exercising his rights to freedom of expression and association.”
Russian historian Yury Dmitriyev, who was sentenced to 13 years in prison on a controversial child sexual-abuse charge that he and his supporters have rejected as politically motivated, has gone on trial on a new charge of producing child pornography. The Petrozavodsk City Court in Russia's northwestern region of Karelia began the hearing on November 24 behind closed doors, citing coronavirus measures.
The deputy chairman of the opposition Social Democratic Party, Mahmurod Odinaev, has disappeared in Tajikistan. So far, nothing is known about his whereabouts for the past three days. The opposition politician disappeared after he addressed Dushanbe mayor Rustam Emomali, the son of Tajik President Emomali Rahmon, on his Facebook page with a request to allow a protest at the presidential palace; the authorities did not officially respond to Odinaev's appeal. Odinaev’s relatives said that they were interrogated by police officers, but the Tajik Internal Affairs Ministry denied this information. (Tajik Service)
The Almaty regional court has upheld a lower court's decision to deny an early release request by Kazakh activist Kenzhebek Abishev, who was jailed for allegedly being linked to the banned Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK) movement. Abishev's lawyer, Gulnara Zhuaspaeva, told RFE/RL that the decision was handed down on November 24. Abishev's request for early release was rejected by the Qapshaghai district court on October 5.
Current Time Asia reports that fewer ethnic Kazakhs returned to their ancestral home in Kazakhstan in 2020 – due to the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as persecution of minority groups, including Kazakhs, by Chinese authorities. (in Russian, Current Time TV)
A maximum security penitentiary in Kazakhstan’s central region of Qaraghandy has launched an inquiry after a video of an inmate, whose eyes and mouth were sewn partially closed, was posted on the Internet to protest allegations of torture in the facility. The Central Asian nation's penitentiary department (QAZhD) said on November 24 that it had launched an inspection of the Corrective Colony AK-159/25 in the city of Zhezqazghan, following the video statement by the inmate, Zhaniyar Zharmakhanov, which claims the torture of inmates on a regular basis.
According to the Landmine Monitor report, in 2019 Ukraine ranked third in the world, after Afghanistan and Mali, in terms of the number of casualties from mine explosions. RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service project Donbas Realii reports on how, with support from the Kingdom of the Netherlands, the British NGO the HALO Trust is clearing minefields centimeter by centimeter in Donbas. (Ukrainian Service/Donbas.Realii)
MAJLIS PODCAST: The Controversy Over Kyrgyzstan's Draft Constitution
COMMENTARY: A Ghost Story From Kazakhstan