Millions of people have watched a video issued by Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny in which he names several men he alleges attempted to kill him with a military-grade poison in August. The men were also named in a joint report by Bellingcat, CNN, Der Spiegel, and Russian investigative outfit The Insider, which presents detailed evidence that the men were a Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) team that trailed Navalny for years before finally poisoning him.
Thousands of private entrepreneurs have clashed with police in Kyiv's central Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) as they protested against state restrictions imposed because of the coronavirus pandemic. The demonstrators, who are demanding that lawmakers approve tax cuts for owners of small- and medium-sized businesses, tried to erect tents on the square on December 15 when police intervened.
Security forces in Belarus detained dozens of people in the capital, Minsk, as opposition demonstrators staged scattered marches and rallies on December 13 to pressure strongman leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka to make political concessions. Human rights group Vyasna said that nearly 180 people were detained during protests across the country.
The Taj Majal and Stonehenge are UNESCO World Heritage sites and the Ukrainian government hopes that the exclusion zone around the radioactive wreckage of the Chernobyl nuclear plant will be added to the list. Ukraine's culture minister cited the recent influx of tourists as evidence of Chernobyl's importance "not only to Ukrainians, but to all of humanity."
U.S. authorities investigated a Russian opposition activist's two near-fatal illnesses as "intentional" poisonings, according to newly obtained government records that also show U.S. doctors and scientists mulled the possibility that he was targeted with a biotoxin or a radioactive substance. The U.S. Justice Department documents, reviewed exclusively by RFE/RL, provide more glimpses into several years of deliberations by the FBI as it sought to determine why Vladimir Kara-Murza fell suddenly ill on two separate occasions in Moscow over the course of two years.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has been added to a growing list of targets in a major cyberattack by suspected Russian hackers, according to U.S. media reports on December 14. A DHS statement did not confirm the reports, saying only that it was "aware of cyber breaches across the federal government and working closely with our partners in the public and private sector on the federal response.".
The Muslim and Croat members of Bosnia-Herzegovina's tripartite presidency on December 15 refused to meet with visiting Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov following his comments about the peace agreement that ended the Bosnian War in the mid-1990s. Sefik Dzaferovic and Zeljko Komsic said in a joint statement that their decision had been prompted by the fact that Lavrov's remarks on December 14 contradict Bosnia's official position.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has blasted Russia for continuing to "threaten Mediterranean stability" and sowing "chaos, conflict, and division" in countries around the region. In a statement on December 15, Pompeo responded to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who he said has "accused the United States of playing political games" in the region. Lavrov "again gets the facts wrong and attempts to rewrite history," Pompeo said, denouncing Moscow's actions in Libya, Syria, and other Mediterranean countries.
Ukrainian lawmakers have approved a bill extending the law on the special status of local self-governance in areas of eastern Ukraine until December 31, 2021. The bill was approved by 304 lawmakers at a parliament session, on December 15. Lawmakers of the Holos (Voice) and Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) political parties did not take part in the vote. The legislation was first adopted in September 2014 for a period of three years after Russia incited an insurgency in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, generally known as the Donbas, where more than 13,200 people have been killed in the ongoing conflict since.
The Ukrainian parliament has voted to restore the powers of the National Anti-Corruption Agency (NAZK) as Kyiv is seeking to secure new loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to fight a sharp economic slump triggered by the coronavirus pandemic. NAZK's chief Oleksandr Novikov hailed the December 15 vote at the Verkhovna Rada, saying it would allow the agency to "tackle corruption." "NAZK resumes all of its operations in all major directions now," Novikov added.
The RFE/RL Ukrainian Service project Krym.Realii reports that, on orders of Ukraine’s Defense Ministry, the Ukrainian Army’s General Staff destroyed “combat duty logs of officials of the regular combat unit” and the workbooks of officials of the regular combat unit that contained military records of everything that happened in and around the Crimean military units in 2014 - including what orders were received from headquarters to respond to Russia’s violations of Ukrainian airspace. (Ukrainian Service/Krym.Realii)
Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine who was sentenced in June to 16 years in prison on espionage charges that he has vehemently rejected, complained during a telephone conversation with his family about the conditions of his detention in Mordovian penal colony No. 17, where he is serving his sentence. According to Whelan, the temperature inside the barracks where he is being held doesn’t rise above 45 degrees (Farenheit), and the workshop where inmates sew clothing is even colder. Additionally, Whelan said that he is not allowed to sleep normally and is awakened every two hours at night. (Russian Service)
Russian State Duma has approved in a first reading a draft bill banning the publication of information about operational and investigative activities and private life, including property information of law enforcement officers, regulatory agencies and military personnel. Among the persons subject to state protection the law lists the military, judges, prosecutors, police officers, the Federal Security Service, the National Guard, the Investigative Committee and the Foreign Intelligence Service. (in Russian, Current Time)
Ongoing clinical trials for the Sputnik V vaccine and reported production snags have raised questions about how easily Russia’s campaign to vaccinate people across more than 17 million square meters of territory might be accomplished. But in two regions visited by Current Time, some of the first individuals to be vaccinated – all public employees -- expressed only confidence in the vaccine drive.
Police in Minsk have summoned Andrey Bastunets, the chairman of the Belarusian Journalists' Association (BAZh) for questioning in a probe related to activities "directed at causing damage to the national security" of the country. BAZh said on December 15 that Bastunets was ordered during a phone call to visit the Central Office of the Investigative Committee in Minsk on December 16. Also read -- Minsk court upholds pretrial detention of Belarus rights watchdog coordinator.
Azerbaijan and Armenia have started exchanging prisoners, a move stipulated in the cease-fire agreement between the two neighbors that ended recent fighting over the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh territory. Azerbaijani authorities said the sides had agreed to an all-for-all exchange of prisoners, and that a plane with some of the captives landed in Azerbaijan on December 14. Armenian officials said a Russian plane carrying 44 Armenian captives landed at Yerevan’s Erebuni airport late in the day.
The nationalist-dominated Hungarian parliament has passed a law that effectively bans adoptions by same-sex couples as part of a package of new measures decried by human rights and LGBT rights defenders as "homophobic and transphobic." The parliament, where the ruling right-wing Fidesz party of Prime Minister Viktor Orban has a two-thirds majority, passed the measure on December 15 on a 134-45 vote, with 5 abstentions.