Afghanistan's Peace Jirga Pushed Back Until June
The government says "technicalities" have forced it to delay the start of the so-called peace jirga until June 2 -- the second postponement announced within the past month.
The gathering would bring together lawmakers, provincial council chiefs, tribal and religious leaders, and members of civil society -- a total of some 1,600 Afghans -- to talk about a political resolution to Afghanistan's ongoing insurgency.
A spokesman for the peace jirga, Gul Agha Ahmadi Wardak, tells RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan that it has been difficult trying to arrange the logistics for bringing so many local and regional delegates to Kabul from across Afghanistan for the event.
"The only reason the peace jirga was postponed for three days was to give delegates time to arrive safety, to get registered, and to familiarize themselves with the procedures," Wardak says.
But European diplomats say the delay also may be linked to Afghan President Hamid Karzai's domestic political confrontations.
About 45 of Afghanistan's 249 lawmakers have threatened to boycott the peace jirga unless Karzai responds to their demand that he submit names of new cabinet nominees to replace those rejected by the parliament in January.
"This is a step made in the interests of the Afghan people, as well as to give the government a direction, and a measure that will ensure the national sovereignty and the will of the Afghan people," Abdul Satar Khawasi, a secretary of Afghanistan's Wolesi Jirga, or lower house of parliament, says to explain the call for a boycott. "That is the direction we want to lead the government."
Siamak Herawi, a deputy spokesman for Karzai, denies that there is any link between the delay of the peace jirga and lawmakers' demands for Karzai to submit a new list of cabinet nominees.
"The president of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan has lots of difficult tasks in Afghanistan, and he has trips outside of the country," Herawi says. "You should remember that the president submitted his list of cabinet nominees to the parliament twice. Unfortunately, many of the most qualified proposed ministers did not receive a vote of confidence from the parliament. This has caused the president to face serious challenges. And now, the president is seeking to find qualified people based on the criteria the president has set."
Wardak, the peace jirga's spokesman, downplayed the significance of a threatened boycott of the peace jirga. He says some lawmakers have mentioned the possibility of a boycott, but he says that "generally speaking" the Afghan National Assembly agrees with the peace jirga and will attend the gathering.
Parliament has refused to confirm 11 of Karzai's 25 nominees. Nevertheless, Karzai's rejected choices have been serving as ministers in an acting capacity. The jirga could proceed without the parliament members. But a boycott by a substantial number of lawmakers would call into question the degree of nationwide support for any decisions made during the conference.
Although no senior members of the Taliban are expected to attend the peace jirga, the gathering is meant to include some supporters of the insurgency -- including delegates with ties to extremist leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, one of the three main leaders of the Afghan insurgency.
The peace jirga was originally scheduled to start in early May. But it was pushed back until late May to allow Karzai to visit Washington and speak with U.S. President Barack Obama about the event.
After those talks, Obama signaled his support for peace talks and the reintegration of some Taliban fighters.
"I appreciated the president sharing his plans for the upcoming Consultative Peace Jirga -- an important milestone that America supports," Obama said. "In addition, the United States supports the efforts of the Afghan government to open the door to Taliban who cut their ties to Al-Qaeda, abandon violence and accept the Afghan constitution, including respect for human rights."
Karzai told reporters in Washington that thousands of rank-and-file Taliban fighters could, conceivably, be brought into the peace process if given a chance.
"Now there are thousands of the Taliban who are not ideologically oriented, who are not part of Al-Qaeda or other terrorist networks, or controlled from outside in any manner troublesome to us," Karzai said. "There are thousands of them who are country boys who have been driven by intimidation or fear, caused by, at times, misconduct by us, or circumstances beyond their control or our control."
The size of the peace jirga is expected to be comparable to the two loya jirgas, or grand councils, that have been held in Kabul since the collapse of the Taliban regime -- one to confirm Karzai as a transitional leader and another to approve Afghanistan's constitution.
But the peace jirga differs from the loya jirgas in at least one major respect: Any decisions made by the peace jirga are considered "consultative" and nonbinding.
Many Afghans voice optimism that the peace jirga can establish a framework for negotiations with armed militants and bring the country a step closer to a regional settlement. But considering that the jirga is merely consultative, others are skeptical.
written by Ron Synovitz, with contributions from RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent Khalid Mafton in Prague
Belarusian Player Sabalenka Skips French Open Press Conference Citing Mental Health
Belarusian tennis star Aryna Sabalenka skipped the post-match press conference at the French Open on June 2, citing mental health reasons. After defeating Russian Kamilla Rakhimova, the world No. 2 instead released an interview with the tournament organizers in which she said she had not felt safe at a press conference two days earlier during which she was asked about Russia's invasion of Ukraine and her country's role as a staging ground for Moscow's troops and weapons. Sabalenka said that her choice not to take part in the press conference was supported by the French Open organizers. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Online Tatar Language School To Close As International Educator Leaves Russia
The popular online Tatar language school Ana Tele (The Mother Tongue) has announced its closure as of June 30. The Education Ministry in Russia's Republic of Tatarstan explained on June 2 that the closure is linked to the international Education First (EF) group's decision to leave Russia. The online school was launched in 2013 on the order of the president of Tatarstan, Rustam Minnikhanov. Hosted by the EF's website, the online school had more than 100,000 users from Russia's regions and various countries who registered to study Tatar, which is a Turkic language. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service. click here.
Ethnic Serbs Again Gather In North Kosovo As West Pushes Diplomatic Solution To Crisis
Protesters have again gathered in front of municipal buildings in several cities in northern Kosovo as Western diplomats ratchet up pressure on Pristina to hold fresh elections to defuse tensions over the installation of ethnic Albanian mayors that sparked clashes between ethnic Serbs and NATO peacekeepers earlier this week.
The ethnic Albanian mayors were installed with the help of Kosovar police in three towns with overwhelming ethnic Serbian majorities -- Zvecan, Leposavic, and Zubin Potok -- following by-elections in April with a turnout of under 3.5 percent amid a boycott by ethnic Serbs.
Reports from the towns said hundreds had showed up to protest again, though the situation remained calm four days after violence flared -- injuring dozens, including peacekeepers -- when the new officials were brought to their offices with the help of special police units. NATO's KFOR peacekeeping troops have since erected a cordon to keep ethnic Serb protesters from accessing the buildings.
The presidents of Kosovo and Serbia held talks on measures to lower tensions between the Balkan neighbors late on June 1, and sources told RFE/RL that the Special Representative of the European Union (EU) for dialogue, Miroslav Lajcak, and the American envoy for the Western Balkans, Gabriel Escobar, will visit Pristina and Belgrade next week to push for a diplomatic solution.
The president of Kosovo confirmed that the European Union, France, and Germany have all suggested holding new elections in four municipalities in as a means of defusing tensions over the forced installation of ethnic-Albanian mayors.
So far, Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti has appeared to be against fresh elections, but on June 2 he acknowledged that another vote could happen at some point.
"Removing violent mobs in front of municipality buildings & full implementation of the [Brussels] Agreement is the way toward de-escalation until new elections," he said, referring to a 2013 deal struck by the country in Brussels to normalize relations some five years after Kosovo declared independence from Serbia.
But later, in a speech at parliament, Kurti seemed to fan the flames by blaming the escalation of the situation on Serbia.
"The escalation of the situation on May 29 was planned, well-organized and had an author," Kurti told lawmakers in parliament.
"The author is official Belgrade," he added.
That prompted an immediate response by the Serb minority political party Serbian List (Srpska Lista).
"How much of a farce is everything that Kurti said today in the assembly, and the fact that he labeled honorable people, women, disabled people, and even some who are in the hospital, and have not been in the north of Kosovo for weeks now, as criminals and protest organizers," the party said.
The by-elections at the center of the current unrest were sparked by mass resignations in November 2022 by influential Serbian mayors, police, and other officials essential to the "parallel system" that helps local Serbs avoid recognizing Kosovar institutions.
The mayoral buildings in all but North Mitrovica have been controlled for years by the so-called "parallel" institutions run by Serbs and backed by neighboring Serbia, which 15 years after Kosovo's declaration of independence still doesn't recognize its former province's sovereignty. Neither do Russia or China.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic used a major rally in Belgrade last week to condemn Kosovo's swearing-in of ethnic Albanian "alleged mayors" in the north without local Serbs' votes.
Officials in neighboring Serbia have demanded as part of EU- and U.S.-mediated talks over the past decade that Pristina fulfill the 2013 Brussels Agreement to establish an association of Serb municipalities to represent the majority-Serb communities.
Kurti came to power in 2020 and again in 2021 pledging to impose greater “reciprocal” measures on Serbia and accelerate efforts to achieve full international recognition for his country. He has resisted forming the association.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has urged Kosovar and Serbian leaders to ease tensions, warning they were putting their aspirations of European integration at risk.
Security Forces Fire On Protesters In Abdanan Demonstrating Over Student's Death
A group of citizens in the western Iranian city of Abdanan, took to the streets chanting anti-government slogans on June 1 to protest the suspicious death of 21-year-old student Bamshad Suleimankhani. Several protesters were injured when security forces opened fire on them, local sources reported.
Suleimankhani reportedly died earlier this week following his release from prison. Authorities said he had committed suicide.
According to videos shared on social media, protesters chanted slogans such as "Death to Khamenei," a reference to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. They also blocked some streets of Abdanan by setting fires and continued their protest with slogans like " We don't want a child-murdering government.”
The Twitter account "Voice of Shahrivar," which covers protests in Iran, reported hours before the night protests in Abdanan that the seventh-day memorial service for the “government murder" of Bamshad Suleimankhani, who died “after continuous threats by government institutions” was attended by many of the city’s residents.
The human rights website Hengaw reported that security forces and special units had attacked protesters in Abdanan, firing "live ammunition, pellet guns, and tear gas."
Images and videos from the protests appear to show that several demonstrators were injured by the pellet guns of security forces during the protests on June 1. Dozens of security forces and special unit vehicles were reportedly stationed in the main square of Abdanan and various streets of the city in the late hours of June 1. However, reports said protests continued in different neighborhoods of the city.
Issa Baziar, a civil activist from Abdanan who now resides outside the country, said on Twitter on May 28 that Suleimankhani returned home on May 26, “with signs of beating and cigarette burns on his hand, and due to severe injuries, he fell into a coma that night and his death was announced by doctors on May 28."
Baziar said Suleimankhani had received “serious warnings” from security forces. He also said that Suleimankhani’s family have been threatened by authorities and warned not to speak to the media.
Judicial and law enforcement officials in Abdanan in Ilam Province did not provide any explanation about the manner of Suleimankhani's death until the start of a strike by some merchants in the city, the widespread presence of people marking a week since his death, and the beginning of nighttime protests in Abdanan.
Speaking on June 1, Omran Ali Mohammad, the head of the Ilam Province judiciary, was quoted by the Tasnim news agency, affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), as saying that Suleimankhani died as a result of “suicide.”
Mohammad said that the student “had not been accused or summoned by any law enforcement, military and security institutions, or the judiciary of Ilam Province."
Universities and students have long been at the forefront of the struggle for greater social and political freedoms in Iran.
According to the Human Rights Activists Organization, more than 750 students have been arrested by security forces, mostly by kidnapping accompanied by assault and battery in the streets around universities amid the nationwide antiestablishment protests sparked by the death in custody of Mahsa Amini in September.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
- By AFP
Iran Frees One Danish, Two Austrian-Iranian Citizens
Iran on June 2 released one Danish and two Austrian-Iranian citizens it had been holding after mediation by Oman, and they are being flown to Belgium, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said. He added that he had informed the governments of Denmark and Austria of the release, which came a week after Tehran freed a Belgian aid worker in exchange for an Iranian diplomat who was convicted on terrorism charges.
Pashinian Says Armenia Is Not Russia's Ally In Moscow's War With Ukraine
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian says "in its war with Ukraine, we are not Russia's ally." In an interview with CNN Prima News in Prague, broadcast late on June 1, Pashinian said Armenia's membership in Russia-led groupings creates the opinion in the West that Yerevan is Moscow's ally, while Russian authorities understand that Armenia is not their ally in the war against Ukraine. "So, in this situation, we are nobody's ally," Pashinian said, adding that it is difficult for Yerevan to continue to maneuver between the West and Moscow as the situation gets "more complicated." To read the original story by RFE/RL's Armenian Service, click here.
Russian Activists Under Pressure Over Pro-Navalny Rally Scheduled For June 4
Police in Russia have warned activists of possible repercussions for their participation in nationwide rallies to support jailed opposition politician Aleksei Navalny, scheduled for June 4, his birthday. Anton Kartavin, a municipal lawyer in Novosibirsk, and local activist Irina Selishcheva were detained for questioning on June 2 and handed written warnings about the consequences for taking part in "extremist activities." Kartavin said he had nothing to do with the planned rallies. Meanwhile, blogger Sergei Veselov in the city of Shuya was charged with violating regulations for holding public events over his announcement of rallies on his Telegram channel. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.
- By Current Time
Ukraine Freezes More Assets Under Name Of Pro-Russian Politician's Wife
KYIV -- The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) has frozen more assets of Oksana Marchenko, the wife of pro-Russian politician Viktor Medvedchuk.
The SBU said on June 2 that the assets, estimated to have a value of 740 million hryvnyas ($19.8 million), are related to stakes Marchenko owned via offshore schemes in several energy transportation companies located in Ukraine's Black Sea port city of Odesa -- Eximnaftoprodukt, Sintez Oil, Sintez Transit, Ukrloadsystem, Odesnaftoprodukt, Black Sea Fuel Terminal, and Albion Commodities.
"The freezing of these assets will prevent their re-registration under other fake names and will allow them to be transferred for our state's needs," the SBU statement said.
Marchenko's husband, Viktor Medvedchuk, is a longtime Ukrainian political fixture and reportedly a godfather to Russian President Vladimir Putin's daughter. Medvedchuk was one of Ukraine’s wealthiest individuals with a fortune estimated in the hundreds of millions of dollars, including energy assets in Russia.
Ukrainian courts have already frozen and impounded assets and property in Ukraine held by Marchenko with an estimated value of 7 billion hryvnyas ($188 million).
In April, Ukraine's Interior Ministry added Marchenko, who is not in Ukraine, to its wanted list, saying she is suspected of financing actions to forcibly disrupt Ukraine's constitutional order, seize power, and change the state borders of Ukraine.
Ukraine sanctioned Medvedchuk in February 2021, freezing his assets, and took off the air three television stations it said belonged to him for promoting Russian propaganda.
He was arrested in 2021 on charges of treason and terrorism financing and later placed under house arrest on bail.
Shortly after Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine in late February last year, Medvedchuk escaped house arrest, but he was rearrested in April while trying to flee to Russia.
In June, a court in Ukraine banned the Medvedchuk-led pro-Russia Opposition Platform -- For Life political party.
In September, Ukrainian authorities handed the 68-year-old politician over to Russia in a prisoner exchange.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has since stripped Medvedchuk and three other pro-Russian Ukrainian politicians of their Ukrainian citizenship.
Belarusian Union Activist Sentenced To 42 Months On Charge Of Insulting Lukashenka
A court in Minsk has sentenced union activist and genetics scientist Alyaksandr Kandratsyuk to 42 months in prison for allegedly insulting authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka amid an ongoing crackdown on dissent and civil society in Belarus.
The Minsk-based Vyasna (Spring) human rights group said on June 2 that the Minsk City Court sentenced Kandratsyuk after finding him guilty of insulting Lukashenka, discrediting the country, and inciting social hatred.
Kandratsyuk was initially arrested in September and handed a 13-day jail term, but he was not released after serving the sentence and instead was sent back to pretrial detention. The reason for his initial arrested remains unclear.
Vyasna also said on June 2 that the Minsk City Court is currently trying 21-year-old activist Dzmitry Hudzeyeu on charges of organizing the actions of a terrorist group and the creation of an extremist group.
It remains unclear what exactly the charges stem from. Last month, Belarusian KGB added Hudzeyeu to its terrorist registry. If convicted, Hudzeyeu may face up to 12 years in prison.
Hundreds of people have been handed prison terms in Belarus following the unprecedented anti-Lukashenka rallies sparked by the election results.
Thousands of others have been detained and there have been credible reports of torture and ill-treatment of detainees by security forces. Several people have died during the crackdown.
The 68-year-old Lukashenka has leaned heavily on Russian support amid Western sanctions while punishing the opposition and arresting or forcing many of its leaders out of the country.
Lukashenka denies voter fraud and has refused to negotiate with the opposition, led by Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who supporters say actually won the vote.
The European Union, United States, Canada, and other countries have refused to recognize Lukashenka as the legitimate leader of Belarus and have slapped him and senior Belarusian officials with sanctions in response to the “falsification” of the vote and postelection crackdown.
U.S. To Offer To Keep Nuclear Arms Curbs Until 2026 If Russia Does Same
The United States on June 2 will offer to abide by the nuclear weapons limits set in the New START treaty until its 2026 expiration if Russia does the same, in order to bolster global security, two senior administration officials said. U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan will make the offer in a speech to the Arms Control Association, the oldest U.S. arms control advocacy group, the officials said on June 1 on condition of anonymity. Sullivan will say President Joe Biden's administration is open to resuming unconditional talks with Moscow on managing nuclear dangers, including replacing New START with a new pact, the sources said. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Former Lawmaker Gets 16 Years In Prison For Ordering Journalist's Assassination In Siberia
Isa Khashiyev, a former lawmaker in the Siberian city of Minusinsk, has been sentenced to 16 years in prison for ordering the assassination of an editor of the Ton-M newspaper in 2016. The Krasnoyarsk regional prosecutor's office said on June 2 that another defendant in the case, Viktor Shestakov, was found guilty of shooting Dmitry Popkov on Khashiyev's order and was sentenced to 14 years in prison. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Siberia.Realities, click here.
U.S. Lawyer Named Chief Prosecutor At Office Linked To Kosovo War Crimes Court
American lawyer Kimberly West has been appointed as the chief prosecutor linked to a European Union-backed court prosecuting war crimes in Kosovo, the prosecutor's office announced on June 2. West replaces Jack Smith, who stood down as head of the Specialist Prosecutor's Office in November to become a U.S. Justice Department special counsel overseeing investigations into the retention of classified documents at former President Donald Trump's Florida estate, Mar-a-Lago, as well as aspects of an investigation into efforts to overturn the 2020 election won by Democrat Joe Biden. To read the original story by AP, click here.
Russian Writer, Staunch Kremlin Critic Barred From Entering Georgia
Russian writer Viktor Shenderovich, an outspoken Kremlin critic, has not been allowed to enter Georgia. Shenderovich, who fled Russia last year after a probe was launched against him on a libel charge that he calls trumped up, wrote on Facebook on June 2 that he canceled his readings in Georgia after he was rejected without explanation from entering the Caucasus nation. Shenderovich accused Georgia's government of "doing the work" to turn the nation into "Putin's province."
Swiss Parliament Votes To Block Indirect Arms Exports To Ukraine
The Swiss parliament rejected an exemption for the transfer of arms to Ukraine on June 1. The majority of members of the Swiss National Council voted against the proposal that had been drafted by the security policy committee of the country's larger parliamentary chamber. The Swiss Federal Assembly is made up of the National Council and the smaller Council of States. The "Lex Ukraine" would have allowed other states to deliver Swiss-made war materiel to Ukraine. The laws of neutral Switzerland prohibit support for countries involved in acts of war. Switzerland has therefore so far refused to give Germany permission to pass along Swiss ammunition, purchased years ago for the German Leopard tank, to Ukraine.
Prominent Pakistani Activist Goes Missing Amid Political Turmoil
A prominent Pakistani lawyer and activist known for criticizing the country’s powerful military went missing after he was abducted by armed men in Karachi. More than a dozen unidentified armed men abducted Jibran Nasir as he was returning from a dinner with his wife around midnight in the port city. His wife, Mansha Pasha, a prominent actress, asked people to speak out for his return and pray for his safety in a video message late on June 1. Nasir's abduction amid the ongoing political turmoil in Pakistan prompted activists and civil society to raise their concerns. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said it was deeply concerned by the reports that Nasir had been abducted.
Amnesty Blasts Iran's 'Shameless' Use Of Executions For Drug-Related Cases
Amnesty International says Iran's prisons have turned into "killing fields" with the number of people executed on drug-related charges almost triple this year compared with 2022, calling it a "shameless rate" that exposes the regime's "lack of humanity."
The London-based rights organization said in a report released on June 2 that Iranian authorities have executed at least 173 people convicted of drug-related offences this year after "systematically unfair trials," nearly three times more than this time last year.
Amnesty said members of Iran's Baluch ethnic minority accounted for around 20 percent of the recorded executions, "despite making up only 5 percent of Iran's population."
"The shameless rate at which the authorities are carrying out drug-related executions, in violation of international law, exposes their lack of humanity and flagrant disregard for the right to life," said Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty International's deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa.
"The international community must ensure that cooperation in antidrug trafficking initiatives do not contribute, directly or indirectly, to the arbitrary deprivation of life and other human rights violations in Iran," Eltahawy added.
Amnesty said the number of executions for all crimes had also significantly increased in the Islamic republic, with at least 282 people executed in total so far in 2023.
"If the authorities continue to carry out overall executions at this alarming pace, they could kill nearly 1,000 prisoners by the end of this year," the rights group warned.
The report said the poor and vulnerable are mostly impacted by the death penalty while the families of those executed frequently struggle with the dire economic consequences of losing breadwinners and being heavily indebted from legal fees.
The wave of executions has sparked outrage among rights activists and many Western governments who have called the legal proceedings against the accused "sham" trials where proper representation is not always granted and decisions are rushed behind closed doors.
The Norway-based Iran Human Rights (IHR) group said on June 1 at least 307 people have been executed in 2023, a 76 percent rise compared with the same period last year.
IHR said at least 142 people were executed in Iran in May, the highest monthly total in eight years, amid a brutal crackdown on dissent that the Norway-based watchdog says is aimed at spreading "societal fear."
According to Amnesty International, Iran was the world's top executioner in 2022 after China.
Ukraine Says It Downed All Drones, Missiles Shot At Capital, Two Injured
Ukrainian authorities say air-defense forces shot down all 15 missiles and 21 drones over the capital, Kyiv, as Russia launched its sixth consecutive day of attacks on the capital.
Ukraine's Prosecutor General's Office said a 68-year-old man and an 11-year-old child were wounded in the June 2 attacks, which came from several directions and hit residential areas.
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Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko, who earlier reported two separate waves of attacks, said on Telegram there had been no calls for rescue services.
“Already after the alarm, smoldering fragments of a rocket were found on the road in the Darnytsya district of the capital. The rescue and fire service is on its way to the scene," Klitschko wrote.
Russian troops have intensified their attacks against Ukrainian cities, particularly Kyiv, since the start of May.
The Ukrainian capital has been targeted by 19 waves of Russian air strikes since the start of May.
Kyiv military authorities have said that as a result of falling rocket fragments on the capital on June 1, three people were killed, including a child. Another 11 people were injured.
Two of those killed were hit by debris after they weren't able to enter a bomb shelter that was locked, sparking anger among many residents.
Klitschko said on June 2 that the city will immediately implement mandatory controls of all shelters to ensure they are always open.
"The city authorities are strengthening control over the work of shelters. Yes, there are questions. And we will work on it," he said, adding that residents can also volunteer to control facilities to make sure they are accessible.
"The enemy is now shelling the capital with ballistic missiles. When the alarm sounds, it's a matter of minutes. If you think you cannot get to a shelter in time, follow the rule of [standing by a junction of] two walls in the house," he added.
Meanwhile, Russian regional authorities said two villages in the country’s western Bryansk region were shelled by Ukrainian forces.
Regional Governor Alexander Bogomaz said on Telegram that no one was injured in the attacks.
The governor of the southern Kursk region, which also borders Ukraine, said air-defense systems shot down "several" Ukrainian drones. He did not say if there were any casualties.
Separately, the governor of Belgorod, which shares a border with Ukraine, said two women have been killed by shelling in the region.
The women were traveling by car near the town of Shebekino when shrapnel hit their vehicle, Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said on Telegram on June 2 while blaming the Ukrainian Army for the attack.
Two men were hospitalized with serious injuries, he added.
None of the reports could be independently verified.
The increase in attacks comes days after Chinese Special Representative for Eurasian Affairs Li Hui toured Europe to try and make progress on a peace agreement to stop the fighting.
Speaking at a news briefing in Bejing on June 2, Li said that while the "risk of escalation" was "still high," China is "willing to do anything" to help mediate the situation and is willing to send another delegation for further peace talks.
On a trip to Finland, NATO's newest member, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on June 2 called the invasion of Ukraine a "strategic failure" for Russia, pointing to Western unity and Moscow's losses.
"Putin's war of aggression against Ukraine has been a strategic failure -- greatly diminishing Russia's military, economic, and diplomatic power and its influence for years to come," Blinken said in a speech in Helsinki.
Blinken also said the United States was working with Ukraine and other allies to build consensus around the core elements of a "just and lasting peace" to end the war.
"We will support efforts -- whether by Brazil, China, or any other nation -- if they help find a way to a just and lasting peace," Blinken said in his speech.
With reporting by Reuters, AFP and dpa
U.S. Sanctions Iranians Over Alleged Plots To Kill John Bolton And Others
The U.S. imposed sanctions on June 1o on an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) official and others in Iran it says took part in wide-ranging plots to kill former national security adviser John Bolton and others around the world, including at least one additional U.S. government official. The alleged 2021 plot against Bolton, one of the best-documented of the alleged assassination efforts, is part of what U.S. prosecutors and former government officials describe as ongoing efforts by the IRGC to kill Trump-era officials behind a 2020 U.S. air strike that killed the head of the IRGC's elite Quds Force, Qassem Soleimani. To read the original story by AP, click here.
U.S. To Stop Giving Russia Certain START Nuclear Arms Data
The United States will stop giving Russia some notifications required under the New START arms control treaty to retaliate for Moscow's "ongoing violations" of the accord, the State Department said on June 1. In a fact sheet posted on its website, the department said the United States would also stop giving Russia flight telemetry information on launches of U.S. intercontinental and submarine-launched ballistic missiles. The State Department said international law permits such measures to induce a state to return to compliance with its international obligations.
U.S. Envoy Warns About Russian Efforts To Use Disinformation To Divide U.S. Allies In Balkans
SOFIA -- The Kremlin is "weaponizing information" to divide U.S. allies in the Balkans, and media outlets in the region should increase efforts to detect Russian disinformation and distinguish it from the truth, a top U.S. diplomat said on June 1 in an interview with RFE/RL.
James Rubin, coordinator for the U.S. State Department's Global Engagement Center, cited North Macedonia, Montenegro, Slovakia, and Bulgaria as countries where the United States has discovered "the Kremlin is really working to try to divide our countries, divide our friendships with NATO allies, EU allies and friends, partners, by using this information as a weapon."
For the Kremlin, he said, it's part of a broader plan because Russia understands it can't win the argument on the ground over the war in Ukraine.
"They are trying to use whatever technique they can to divide the West in its support to Ukraine," he said.
Rubin spoke with RFE/RL in Sofia, one of the stops on his current European tour in which he’s talking to governments about developing the will to spot disinformation and the capacity to do something about it.
While every country has the right to free expression and news outlets have the right to report what foreign governments say, they shouldn’t repeat foreign government disinformation without reporting where it comes from, he said.
"We need to use whatever tools we can in a democratic society to distinguish between the noise in the information domain and those operations that are run by the Kremlin that are designed to divide us, that are intended to upset democratic process so that NATO support evaporates," Rubin said.
He said his job is to ensure there’s transparency and to expose any links to Russian media and let each government make its own decision on how to respond, noting that Bulgaria, along with Slovakia and Montenegro, are among the countries where Russia has spent money and corrupted politicians and media organizations.
The United States is also aware that China also has spent spend billions of dollars developing what he called "disinformation manipulation systems" around the world, but its tactics are different from Russia's.
The Chinese offer their Xinhua news service for free to newspapers in certain countries and do not allow the newspapers to use other independent Western news agencies.
"So that means that the African journalist writing a story about the world is writing it from a Chinese point of view in which horrible things happen in America, wonderful things happen in China," he said.
The United States is attempting to "make sure that that is transparent," he said, so that readers know that the newspaper is getting its news from China.
With reporting by Elitsa Simeonova of RFE/RL's Bulgarian Service
Two New York Lawyers Sentenced For Helping Asylum Seekers From Former Soviet Union Falsify Affidavits
Two New York lawyers, husband and wife Arthur Arcadian and Ilona Dzhamgarova, have been sentenced to six months and two years in prison, respectively, for assisting asylum seekers, mostly from the former Soviet Union, to prepare false affidavits and coaching their clients to lie under oath. The U.S. Attorney's Office said on May 31 that the couple's Dzhamgarova Firm "advised certain of its clients regarding the manner in which they were most likely to obtain asylum in this country, fully understanding that those clients did not legitimately qualify for asylum." To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.
Mudslide Kills Three, Including Two Children, In Tajikistan's East
A massive mudslide killed three people, including two children, in the village of Qushai in eastern Tajikistan in the early hours of June 1. Officials of the Lakhsh district identified the victims as 38-year-old woman, her 15-year-old daughter, and 12-year-old son. Mountains cover 93 percent of the Central Asian nation's territory, and mudslides and avalanches kill dozens of people every year. Since January, natural disasters have killed more than 20 people in the country. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Tajik Service, click here.
U.S. To Open Diplomatic Station In Arctic Norway
The United States will open its northernmost diplomatic station in the Norwegian Arctic town of Tromsoe, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on June 1 at a time when cooperation among the Arctic nations has been hit by Russia's invasion of Ukraine. The region is becoming strategically more important as a shrinking ice cap opens up new sea lanes and attracts other nations seeking its largely untapped natural resources. Blinken's announcement comes three weeks after Norway took over the chairmanship of the Arctic Council from Russia. The Arctic Council is a forum that was created in 1996 to discuss issues affecting the polar region. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
President Of Former Pakistani PM Imran Khan's Party Arrested In Lahore
The president of former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan's party was arrested on June 1 in the eastern city of Lahore on charges of corruption, a government official said. Pakistan is beset by political turmoil as Khan's party has faced a countrywide crackdown since his own arrest on May 9 for suspected graft sparked widespread protests that saw mobs ransacking state installations, including military assets. Pervez Elahi, the president of Khan's Pakistan Tehrik-e Insaf party, joins a long list of key party leaders arrested in the security swoop to halt turmoil that has threatened to worsen instability in a country reeling from a crippling financial crisis. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Moscow Court Extends Pretrial Detention Of Suspect From Cafe Bombing That Killed War Blogger
MOSCOW -- A court in Moscow has extended the pretrial detention of Darya Trepova, the woman suspected in the assassination of a prominent Russian war blogger at a St. Petersburg cafe in early April.
The Basmanny district court in the Russian capital ruled on June 1 that Trepova must stay in pretrial detention until at least September 3.
The 26-year-old Trepova was arrested on a charge of committing "a terrorist act with an organized group that caused intentional death" shortly after a blast in St. Petersburg on April 2 killed Vladlen Tatarsky, the pen name of prominent pro-Kremlin blogger Maksim Fomin. Dozens of others were wounded in the attack.
Russia’s Investigative Committee said on June 1 that an arrest warrant was issued for the Kyiv-based Russian journalist Roman Popkov on suspicion of recruiting Trepova to carry out the assassination of Tatarsky.
The Investigative Committee also said Popkov was added to the Interior Ministry’s wanted list.
Last week, Popkov was added to the registry of terrorists and extremists.
Tatarsky was known for his support of Russia's invasion of Ukraine and support for Moscow-backed separatists in Ukraine's eastern Donbas region.
Investigators say Trepova was working on the instruction of people representing Ukraine, which Moscow invaded in February 2022, sparking a war that has killed thousands.
Russian media have said that Tatarsky was meeting with attendees when a woman presented him with a box containing a small bust of him that apparently exploded.
Following her detention, Russia's Interior Ministry posted a video of Trepova, who may have been speaking under duress, telling an interrogator that she "brought the statuette there that exploded." When asked who had given her the bust, she replied that she would answer the question "later."
Tatarsky's death marked the second assassination of a prominent advocate of Russia's war against Ukraine. In August, nationalist TV commentator Darya Dugina was killed in a car bombing near Moscow.
Russian authorities blamed Ukrainian military intelligence for the death of Dugina, whose father is well-known Russian war supporter and ideologue Aleksandr Dugin.
Kyiv denied involvement in Dugina's death.
With reporting by RIA Novosti, Interfax, and TASS
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