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Anti-Taliban Cleric Killed In Pakistan Blast

Pakistani security officials collect evidence from the site of a suicide bomb attack in Peshawar on June 11.
Pakistani security officials collect evidence from the site of a suicide bomb attack in Peshawar on June 11.
LAHORE, Pakistan (Reuters) -- A prominent anti-Taliban Pakistani Muslim cleric has been killed in a suicide bomb attack in the city of Lahore, police said.

In another blast at around the same time, a suicide car bomber set off explosives near a mosque in the northwestern town of Nowshera, killing at least three people, police said.

The blasts came as Pakistani forces stepped up attacks on militants across the northwest after the U.S. House of Representatives approved tripling aid to Pakistan to about $1.5 billion a year for the next five years.

Security forces have made progress in more than a month of fighting against Taliban militants in the Swat Valley, northwest of Islamabad, and in recent days have begun operations in several other parts of the region.

The militants have responded with a series of bomb attacks.

Moderate cleric Sarfraz Naeemi was attacked at his mosque complex just after leading Friday Prayers.

"Unfortunately, Maulana Sarfraz Naeemi has been martyred," Lahore police chief Pervez Rathore told Reuters.

In Nowshera, in Northwest Frontier Province, three people were killed and more than 20 were wounded, police said.

Rising Islamist violence has raised fears for Pakistan's stability and for the safety of its nuclear arsenal but the offensive in Swat has reassured the United States about its commitment to the global campaign against militancy.

Pakistan is a vital security ally for the United States as it struggles to stabilize neighboring Afghanistan and defeat Al-Qaeda.

U.S. officials said on June 11 insurgent violence in Afghanistan had accelerated sharply alongside the arrival of new U.S. troops, reaching its highest level since 2001.

U.S. Central Intelligence Agency Director Leon Panetta said he believed Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was hiding in Pakistan and he hoped joint operations with Pakistani forces would find him.

Helicopters Attack

Police in Bannu, a town in Northwest Frontier Province adjacent to the North Waziristan militant stronghold on the Afghan border, said the military had fired artillery through the night at militant positions in the Jani Kheil area.

"Since sunrise, helicopter gunships have also been used in the attack. There have been reports of casualties on the militant side but we aren't sure how many," police official Sami Ullah told Reuters.

More than 130 militants have been killed in the fighting near Bannu this week up to June 11, according to military officers and a senior civilian official in the area.

Independent casualty estimates for the fighting in Bannu and other parts of the northwest are not available.

Gunship helicopters also attacked militants in the Bajaur and Mohmand regions on the Afghan border, both to the north of the city of Peshawar, military officials and residents said.

There has also been fighting this week in the South Waziristan and Orakzai ethnic-Pashtun tribal regions.

The military's chief spokesman was not available for comment but an analyst said the various air strikes appeared aimed at keeping militants bottled up.

"The operation in Swat has entered its final stages and troops are engaging militants elsewhere to stop them going to Swat and to disrupt their network," said Mahmood Shah, a former chief of security in the Pashtun tribal areas.

The U.S. House of Representatives approved tripling aid to Pakistan to about $1.5 billion a year for the next five years in a key part of a strategy to combat extremism with economic and social development.

The bill includes military aid with conditions that require the Obama administration to certify that Pakistan remains committed to fighting terrorist groups -- a provision that Pakistan had criticized.

The funding includes money for schools, the judicial system, parliament, and law enforcement agencies.

The fighting in Swat and other parts of the northwest has displaced about 2.5 million people and aid officials have appealed to donors to step up their help.

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Ukraine's Ambassador To International Organizations Resigns Amid Scandal

Emine Dzheppar (file photo)
Emine Dzheppar (file photo)

Former First Deputy Ukrainian Foreign Minister Emine Dzheppar (aka Dzhaparova) said on Facebook on July 11 that she filed papers asking Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba to relieve her from the post of full-time ambassador to international organizations in Vienna. In April, Dzheppar was dismissed as first deputy foreign minister but kept her position in Vienna. She has been under media focus for months after she married a controversial tycoon, Hennadiy Boholyubov, who, according to the State Bureau of Investigations, used forged documents to flee Ukraine last month to avoid arrest on corruption charges. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.

Finland Passes Law To Block Migrants Crossing From Russia

Finnish Prime Minister Petteri Orpo called the new law "a strong message to Russia, a strong message to our allies, that Finland takes care of its own security, we take care of the security of the EU border." (file photo)
Finnish Prime Minister Petteri Orpo called the new law "a strong message to Russia, a strong message to our allies, that Finland takes care of its own security, we take care of the security of the EU border." (file photo)

Finland's parliament passed a law on July 12 granting border guards the power to block asylum seekers crossing from Russia, after more than 1,300 people arrived in the country and forced Helsinki to close its border. Finland has accused neighboring Russia of weaponizing migration by encouraging scores of migrants from countries such as Syria and Somalia to cross the border, an assertion the Kremlin denies. Helsinki believes Moscow is promoting the crossings in retaliation for Finland joining NATO, which is backing Ukraine against Russia's invasion. The right-wing government of Prime Minister Petteri Orpo has said the bill is vital to stop future arrivals, despite the law being at odds with its international human rights commitments. Finland shut its land borders with Russia late last year.

Sukhoi Superjet Crashes Near Moscow, Killing All 3 Aboard

Sukhoi Superjet 100 (file photo)
Sukhoi Superjet 100 (file photo)

Emergency officials in the Moscow region said on July 12 that a Sukhoi Superjet 100 passenger plane crashed near the city of Kolomna, near the Russian capital, killing all three crew members on board. The plane was on its way to Moscow's Vnukovo airport after a regular technical evaluation and repair work. The plane, made in 2014, belonged to the Gazprom Avia company. Kolomna Mayor Aleksandr Grechishchev, who visited the crash site, said there were no casualties beyond the three crew members. A probe was launched into the "violation of safety regulations aboard aircraft that led to deaths." To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Ukraine's Top Prosecutor Wants International Court To Open Case On Kyiv Hospital Attack

Mourners stand next to the grave in Lviv of Svitlana Lukyanchuk, a 30-year-old physician who was killed in the suspected Russian missile strike on Kyiv's Okhmatdyt children's hospital.
Mourners stand next to the grave in Lviv of Svitlana Lukyanchuk, a 30-year-old physician who was killed in the suspected Russian missile strike on Kyiv's Okhmatdyt children's hospital.

Ukraine's top prosecutor has called for the International Criminal Court (ICC) to prosecute Russia over a missile strike on a children's hospital in Kyiv earlier this week. On July 8, Ukraine's capital suffered one of its worst days of air strikes since the start of Russia's war, and attacks across the country killed at least 44 people, including two adults at the Okhmatdyt children's hospital, Ukrainian officials have said. "For the sake of international justice, cases like the intentional attack on the biggest child hospital in Kyiv [are] worth lifting to the ICC," Prosecutor-General Andriy Kostin told Reuters late on July 11 in an interview in The Hague, where the ICC is based. Moscow denies attacking the hospital and has blamed Ukrainian anti-missile fire. A UN rights mission has said there is a "high likelihood" the hospital took a direct hit from a Russian missile.

Kazakh Court Rejects Appeal Filed By Pro-Ukrainian Woman Against 'Hatred' Conviction

Qalima Zhaparova in a Kazakh courtroom on May 23
Qalima Zhaparova in a Kazakh courtroom on May 23

The Shymkent City Court in southern Kazakhstan on July 12 rejected an appeal filed by a pro-Ukrainian resident, Qalima Zhaparova, against a two-year parole-like sentence she was handed in May on a charge of inciting ethnic hatred. On May 24, after her sentence was pronounced, Zhaparova shouted, "Glory to Ukraine!" The 63-year-old was arrested in November after an ethnic Russian woman filed a complaint accusing Zhaparova of insulting her and her ethnicity while on public transport. Zhaparova rejected the accusation, saying she was reacting to the woman's viewpoint regarding the war in Ukraine when she openly condemned Russia's full-scale invasion. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, click here.

U.S. Diplomat Says Kyiv's Drive Toward Western Norms Will Thwart Moscow's Aggression

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs James O'Brien during an interview with RFE/RL correspondent Zoriana Stepanenko. Washington, NATO summit, July 11
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs James O'Brien during an interview with RFE/RL correspondent Zoriana Stepanenko. Washington, NATO summit, July 11

WASHINGTON -- Ukraine's position in its battle to repel invading Russian troops has improved recently and Kyiv's drive to integrate with Western democratic structures will ultimately triumph over Moscow's aggression, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs James O'Brien told RFE/RL in an interview.

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.

Speaking on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Washington, D.C. on July 11, O'Brien said the fastest way to peace is for Ukraine to be strong enough to win the war, which is why the military alliance, and the United States in particular, are stepping up supplies and aid to Kyiv to help drive out Russia while at the same time preserving a functioning economy.

NATO this week announced a major aid package to support Ukraine’s defense against Russia’s invasion, including the delivery of long-awaited U.S.-made F-16 fighter jets and the provision of $43 billion in military assistance within the next year.

"I think the quickest path to peace is that Ukraine be strong enough to win the war and between what we are doing here this week and what has been done in recent months, we feel very confident that Ukraine will be able to say to Russia we can continue fighting and defeating you through 2025," O'Brien said.

U.S. officials earlier in the week said that despite an intensification of air strikes and moves on the battlefield by Russia's army, Ukraine's position has improved since a $61 billion aid package was passed by Congress in April.

O'Brien said that by the end of the year, Kyiv will be able to say it has pushed back Russia, showing its resolve, and that of its allies.

"It’s clear that Ukraine will thrive, it will integrate in the West, it will be able to join the EU, as it was just invited to do, as it reforms, and in all of that, I don't think Russia will be able to maintain a conflict. The key to Russia's frozen conflicts is that it tries to keep those societies from joining the West and the rule of law. And that's not going to be allowed as part of the solution to this conflict," O'Brien said.

In order to reclaim ground and weaken Russia's war machine, Kyiv has been pushing Washington and other key allies to remove restrictions on the use of weapons they give Ukraine's army.

The issue of how Ukraine uses their donated weaponry is up to individual NATO members to decide. Some have said Kyiv can use them to strike Russian territory, while others have said their donated weapons can only be used within Ukraine.

Andriy Yermak, the head of Zelenskiy’s administration, told a NATO forum this week that lifting restrictions on how Ukraine uses donated weapons would be a “game-changer.”

O'Brien said discussions about how U.S. weaponry is to be used are ongoing to ensure their usage "is the most effective in military terms" and that Ukraine is still able to use "its own weapons" as it deems suitable.

"The president [Joe Biden] has said that we provide the weapons Ukraine's able to use in an effective way at a time it's able to use them...Any chances that limitations will be lifted? I think we always have discussions with Ukraine about what's most militarily effective," he added.

The NATO summit ended with a communique stating Ukraine is on an "irreversible path" to membership in the alliance.

O'Brien said NATO is giving Ukraine "the tools it needs" to go through the reform process necessary to become a member, including for the first time placing a senior civilian representative in a candidate country to help it navigate the process.

"As Secretary [of State Antony] Blinken has said, there will be a bridge to NATO, it will be short, unimpeded, well-lit, assisted to help Ukraine join. And that's why we say it's irreversible. Do the work, come in. And that's what's necessary and always has been."

Pakistani High Court Orders Jailed Ex-PM Khan's Party Into Assemblies

Protesters in Swat, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, demanding the release of former Prime Minister Imran Khan on June 8.
Protesters in Swat, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, demanding the release of former Prime Minister Imran Khan on June 8.

Pakistan's Supreme Court on July 12 ordered that special seats in national and provincial assemblies for women and minorities be given to jailed former Prime Minister Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehrik-e Insaf (PTI) party, reversing rulings by the Peshawar High Court and the national Election Commission regarding elections in February. Supreme Court Chief Justice Qazi Faiz Isa led the 13-member court decision ruling that the PTI was still a political party and was unfairly excluded from the vote process. It said the PTI should submit its list of candidates to fill the special seats to the Election Commission within 15 days. Seventy-seven representatives had been disqualified from national and provincial assemblies. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal, click here.

Orban-Backed Challenger Admits Defeat In Budapest Mayoral Race

Budapest mayoral candidate was backed David Vitezy by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in last month's election. (file photo)
Budapest mayoral candidate was backed David Vitezy by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in last month's election. (file photo)

Budapest's Fidesz-backed mayoral challenger conceded defeat on July 12 after Hungary's National Election Commission announced a recount had confirmed a razor-thin victory for opposition incumbent Gergely Karacsony. The challenger, David Vitezy, had gone to court over the results of the June 9 local elections, alleging widespread errors in the vote, but he acknowledged defeat in a Facebook post. Karacsony, representing the opposition green party Dialogue, received 293 more votes than Vitezy out of more than 742,000 valid ballots counted. Vitezy had the support of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, whose Fidesz party has ruled Hungary for 14 years.

Russian Soldier Opens Fire At Fellow Servicemen In Belgorod Region

Russian soldiers (file photo)
Russian soldiers (file photo)

A Russian soldier opened fire at fellow servicemen in the Belgorod region that borders Ukraine before fleeing the site. The governor of the Graivoron district, Gennady Bondarev, told the state RT news agency on July 12 that there were no civilian casualties, but he gave no further details, including whether other soldiers were killed or wounded. Several Telegram channels, however, reported that two soldiers were killed and one wounded in the incident, which took place overnight. Some Telegram channels identified the shooter as Aleksei Zhuravlyov from Russia's Republic of Chuvashia. Officials have not commented on the shooting. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

OSCE Official Gets Jail Term For 'Spying' In Russian-Occupied Ukraine

Vehicles of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine in the Donetsk region in April 2020
Vehicles of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine in the Donetsk region in April 2020

A court in Ukraine's Russian-controlled Donetsk region on July 12 jailed a member of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine for "espionage" in a judgment condemned by the European security organization. The Supreme Court of the Russia-backed separatist group that calls itself the Donetsk People's Republic found Vadym Holda, 56, guilty and sentenced him to 14 years in a strict-regime penal colony, Russia's Prosecutor-General's Office said in a statement. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) condemned it as "a grave violation of participating states' commitments under international law" and called for the immediate release of Holda and two other jailed OSCE officials.

Former Georgian Officials Rue Near-Exclusion From NATO Declaration

Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze (right) and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg after talks in Tbilisi on March 18.
Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze (right) and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg after talks in Tbilisi on March 18.

A former Georgian defense minister and Tbilisi's former ambassador to the United States have lamented the reduced language devoted to Georgia in the declaration that emerged from this week's NATO summit in Washington.

Pursuit of EU and NATO membership remains embedded in the post-Soviet Caucasus nation's constitution, but the current Georgian government's passage of a perceived Russian-style law to curb media and NGOs has dealt a blow to both efforts.

Whereas former declarations have mentioned Georgian cooperation with the transatlantic defense alliance, NATO members this week limited the text to a single reference urging Russia to completely withdraw its troops from Moldova and Georgia.

NATO allies controversially pledged in the 2008 Bucharest Summit Declaration that Georgia would eventually become a member, providing it fulfilled requirements.

That decision was reconfirmed in the wake of Russia's five-day war with Georgia in August 2008 and Russia's ongoing occupation of Georgia's breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions.

Tina Khidasheli, Georgia's defense minister in 2015-16 and a critic of the current Georgian Dream government, told RFE/RL that she was shocked at the exclusion and hopes "that it is only temporary."

"I didn't have high expectations, but I didn't expect anything like that, that they would neither repeat the record of the Bucharest summit, nor talk about the NATO-Georgia program, nor mention the essential package of the Wales summit," she said.

A 2022 NATO summit in Madrid approved specific "support measures" for Georgia as a partner seemingly at risk from Russia after President Vladimir Putin ordered troops to invade Ukraine months earlier.

But EU officials have checked the momentum of Georgia's candidacy, and the United States has undertaken a "comprehensive review" of relations with Tbilisi since the so-called "foreign agent" law was passed in May over pro-European President Salome Zurabishvili's veto.

Prime Minister and Georgian Dream leader Irakli Kobakhidze, who in May accused a former U.S. ambassador of supporting two attempted revolutions in Georgia, responded to Washington's review by calling for a review of relations with the United States.

"The main issue regarding Georgia is that Georgia is no longer on the Euro-Atlantic agenda and that there has been a democratic backsliding in Georgia, which may bring irreparable consequences," Batu Kutelia, a former Georgian ambassador to the United States, told RFE/RL regarding the perceived NATO snub.

Siberian Artist Gets 9 Years In Prison For Wiring $30 To Ukraine

Tatyana Laletina
Tatyana Laletina

The Tomsk regional court in Siberia said on July 11 that 21-year-old artist Tatyana Laletina had been handed a nine-year prison term two weeks earlier for wiring $10 to a Ukrainian fund on February 24, 2022, the day when Russia started its ongoing unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, and then another $20 two months later. An associate of Laletina had said earlier that the artist was detained in late February for sending $30 to Ukraine. Further details of the case and how Laletina pleaded are unknown. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Siberia.Realities, click here.

Fake Security Officer Who Extorted Bribes From Foreigner Arrested In Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyz authorities said on July 12 that a man who impersonated an officer for the State Committee for National Security was arrested two days earlier while reportedly accepting $3,000 from a Chinese national. Investigators allege the man had extorted $18,000 from the victim earlier, "promising" to close an unspecified probe launched against him. Several cases of impersonating law enforcement officers to extort money from foreigners have taken place in the Central Asian nation in the past. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, click here.

UN Condemns Russia, Urges 'Urgent Withdrawal' Of Forces From Ukrainian Nuclear Plant

A photo from 2023 of the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine, Europe's largest.
A photo from 2023 of the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine, Europe's largest.

The UN General Assembly on July 11 condemned "Moscow's failure to implement" resolutions concerning the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant by the assembly and by the UN's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency. It demanded that Russia "urgently withdraw its military and other unauthorized personnel" from the facility and "immediately return the plant to the full control of Ukraine’s competent authorities to ensure its safety and security." In a press statement, the UN said the vote was 99 in favor of the resolution, nine against, and 60 abstentions. The text also "demanded that the Russian Federation immediately cease its aggression against Ukraine and unconditionally withdraw all of its military forces from Ukraine’s territory within its internationally recognized borders."

Daghestani Man Reportedly Commits Suicide In Austria Before Deportation To Russia

Armed policemen patrol in the center of Vienna, Austria, following a shooting incident in November 2020.
Armed policemen patrol in the center of Vienna, Austria, following a shooting incident in November 2020.

Austrian media reported on July 11 that a native of Russia's North Caucasus region of Daghestan who was suspected of being a member of the Islamic State's Khorasan branch committed suicide hours before being deported to Russia. The 40-year-old man, whose identity was not disclosed, was suspected of being involved in plotting terrorist attacks on Catholic cathedrals in Vienna and the German city of Cologne. After police were unable to collect enough evidence to officially charge him, a decision was taken to deport him to Russia, reports said. To read the original story by RFER/RL's Caucasus.Realities, click here.

Montenegrin High Court Acquits Alleged 2016 Coup Plotters

Lawyers for the defense talk to reporters outside the High Court in Podgorica on July 11.
Lawyers for the defense talk to reporters outside the High Court in Podgorica on July 11.

The 13 Montenegrin, Russian, and Serbian individuals accused of plotting an election-day coup in Montenegro in 2016 were acquitted of all charges by that Balkan country's High Court on July 12, marking the latest twist in a seven-year prosecutorial saga since authorities claimed to have thwarted a last-ditch conspiracy to derail Montenegro's NATO accession.

Prosecutors had alleged that the Russian-organized plot included plans to attack parliament and assassinate longtime leader and then-Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic.

But at the end of a retrial ordered in 2021, the three-judge panel decided "there was no evidence that the defendants were guilty of the crimes they were charged with, so they are acquitted," according to Judge Zoran Radovic.

The Special Prosecutor's Office is expected to appeal the acquittals.

The defendants include the current speaker of the Montenegrin parliament, Andrija Mandic, along with two other senior members of the pro-Russian, right-wing populist Democratic Front party.

Two Russians tried in absentia were accused of organizing and financing the purported coup attempt, along with a retired Serbian police commander and seven other Serbian nationals who were arrested on election day more than seven years ago.

An initial court decision in May 2019 over terrorism charges resulted in guilty verdicts and a combined 70 years in prison for the defendants before that ruling was overturned in 2021.

Russia has resisted calls for the handover of alleged plotters Eduard Sismakov and Vladimir Popov.

On July 11, Judge Radovic said that, in order for someone to be declared guilty, there must be certainty in the facts, "and there is none."

He said the weapons alleged to have been organized for the coup attempt "never entered Montenegro, the equipment that was supposed to be used for the forced entry into the Assembly was not brought into Montenegro, and the claim that the special units were supposed to shoot at the Montenegrin police has not been proven."

Neither the special prosecutors nor the accused were present at the announcement of the acquittal.

Mandic and the other Montenegrin suspects accused Djukanovic of political retaliation against the then-opposition through the Special Prosecutor's Office.

Federal Penitentiary Service Chief In Russia's Rostov Resigns After Hostage Crisis

Police officers stand near detention center No.1 in Rostov-on-Don during a hostage crisis on June 16.
Police officers stand near detention center No.1 in Rostov-on-Don during a hostage crisis on June 16.

The chief of the Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) in Russia's southwestern Rostov region, Dmitry Berzrukikh, and his deputy resigned following a hostage-taking incident at detention center No.1 in the regional capital, Rostov-on-Don, last month. FSIN said on July 12 that, after an internal investigation, four FSIN officers were fired and 16 officers faced disciplinary repercussions. Six inmates of the detention center took two guards hostage on June 16. The hostages were released after special troops stormed the building, killing four hostage-takers. Two hostage-takers who survived were charged with belonging to Islamic groups banned in Russia. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Caucasus.Realities, click here.

Zelenskiy Hails Ukraine Compact As 'Important Achievement' For Kyiv, Others

U.S. President Joe Biden and his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, attend a Ukraine Compact event on the sidelines of the NATO Summit in Washington on July 11.
U.S. President Joe Biden and his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, attend a Ukraine Compact event on the sidelines of the NATO Summit in Washington on July 11.

WASHINGTON -- Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy welcomed a new agreement on long-term support for Ukraine finalized at this week's NATO summit in Washington as an "important achievement" and praised the U.S. leadership for its "decisive action" to ensure Ukrainian security.

The conclusion of the so-called "Ukraine Compact" committing the United States and more than 20 countries plus the European Union to help protect Ukraine was announced by U.S. President Joe Biden at a joint press conference alongside other NATO leaders and Zelenskiy at the close of the summit on July 11.

NATO Summit Ends With Promises To Ukraine, New Scrutiny Of Biden
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"This Ukrainian agreement, which we are concluding, takes our relations to a new level," Zelenskiy said. "It is an important achievement for Ukraine and all of us."

"I thank President Biden for his leadership and efforts to ensure that our security cooperation is full of decisive action," Zelenskiy said. "There are 23 strong agreements, and there will be agreements with other countries. And we have a historically important security agreement with the United States."

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.

He said the agreement had helped Kyiv acquire crucially important air-defense systems to help fight off Russia's ongoing, 28-month-old full-scale invasion.

Twenty-four NATO leaders and Ukraine approved the compact as part of boosted defense and other commitments to Ukraine.

The signatories also pledged to meet "rapidly and collectively" at the highest level in the event of a future attack by Russia on Ukraine after the cessation of the current conflict.

Biden has called the compact a "central part" of the "bridge" on Ukraine's path toward NATO.

"[H]ere today, with all these important people behind me, we take another important step in our collective support for Ukraine," Biden told the press conference. "Last year, the G7 nations...signed on to a declaration to protect Ukraine long term, not just for the duration of this war but beyond, after they win. Twenty-five additional countries quickly joined them and pledged to negotiate and sign a bilateral security agreement with Ukraine."

Biden said "more countries are finalizing theirs as we speak."

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said at the summit that the alliance was “putting in place the foundations for Ukraine to prevail” in its effort to defend itself against Russia and said the alliance “cannot and will not allow this to happen again.”

“Violence and intimidation do not pay,” Stoltenberg said.

Orban Takes Solo 'Peace Mission' To Mar-A-Lago, Says Trump Is 'Going To Solve It'

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban (left) meets Donald Trump at Trump's Mar-a-Lago home in Florida on July 11.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban (left) meets Donald Trump at Trump's Mar-a-Lago home in Florida on July 11.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban met with former U.S. President and presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump in Florida on July 11 after the Central European leader's attendance at NATO's 75th anniversary summit in Washington concluded earlier the same day.

Orban asserted that the visit was part of a self-styled "peace mission" that he has been conducting despite objections from Brussels since Hungary took over the six-month rotating EU Council presidency this month, taking him to Kyiv, Moscow, and Beijing en route to the NATO event.

"We discussed ways to make #peace," Orban tweeted after the meeting with Trump, adding, "The good news of the day: he’s going to solve it!"

EU leaders have repeatedly distanced themselves from Orban's "peace mission," and Orban has acknowledged that he has no authority to act on other EU members' behalf stemming from the council presidency.

Orban has publicly endorsed Trump's candidacy and raised eyebrows by planning the visit to the billionaire U.S. politicians' Mar-a-Lago resort after holding no such bilateral meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden on the sidelines of the summit.

Critics accuse Orban of adopting Kremlin talking points since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in early 2022, and Budapest has undermined Western sanctions and refused to join fellow EU and NATO allies in helping arm Kyiv to beat back the invasion.

Trump has suggested that if elected in November he will resolve the Russia-Ukraine conflict even before he takes office, without elaborating.

Last month during a podcast interview, Trump blamed the war on Ukraine’s possible NATO membership, raising concerns that he may block the country from joining the alliance as part of any potential peace deal.

Hungary has raised doubts about Ukraine's membership in the alliance, saying it risks open conflict with Russia.

"Ukraine's admission wouldn't strengthen but weaken the alliance's unity, as there are completely different viewpoints on their membership," Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said on July 11.

The United States and NATO allies criticized Orban’s uncoordinated meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier this month. It was seen as a rogue move by the leader of a NATO country.

Orban's opposition to Ukraine's NATO bid has been watched closely during the summit, but allies said on July 11 that they did not see it denting Kyiv's eventual alliance membership.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy welcomed Orban in Kyiv but said he had not in any way endorsed the Hungarian prime minister's mediation efforts in Moscow or beyond.

“The U.S. position, the Biden administration position is: Nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine. So whatever adventurism is being undertaken without Ukrainians' consent or support is not something that's consistent with our policy or the policy of the United States,” Biden’s national-security adviser, Jake Sullivan, told reporters July 11 on the sidelines of the summit.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis told reporters at the NATO summit on July 11 that the Hungarian leader does not represent the opinion of the European Union or NATO. French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olah Scholz also expressed frustration with Orban. Macron said it was legitimate for Orban to travel to Russia as the Hungarian prime minister, but not on behalf of the European Union.

NATO Summit Ends With Promises To Ukraine, New Scrutiny Of Biden
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On July 10, Orban said he would not sign on to the so-called Ukraine Compact, a shared pledge among more than 20 NATO to support Ukraine both now and for the long term.

In a video statement posted to his X account, the Hungarian prime minister said that NATO was "behaving more and more like a war organization," citing the alliance's military support for Ukraine.

In a communique issued during the summit, NATO members said that Ukraine’s path into NATO was “irreversible.” When asked about the potential Orban-Trump meeting, outgoing NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said it "doesn't undermine or reduce the importance of what we have agreed" at the summit.

Moldova Encouraged By NATO's Call For Withdrawal Of Russian Troops From Transdniester

Moldovan Foreign Minister Mihai Popsoi (file photo)
Moldovan Foreign Minister Mihai Popsoi (file photo)

WASHINGTON -- Moldovan Foreign Minister Mihai Popsoi said it is encouraging to Moldova that a declaration issued at the NATO summit in Washington calls on Russia to withdraw all its forces from Moldova and also welcomes Moldova’s reform efforts.

“We are happy to see Moldova mentioned and also the acknowledgement of the...positive efforts that we are [making] to reform the Republic of Moldova, but also the call for the withdrawal of Russian troops from the Republic of Moldova, which is a very important message,” Popsoi, who is also a deputy prime minister, told RFE/RL on July 11 on the sidelines of the summit.

Moldovan President Maia Sandu has repeatedly demanded an end to the presence in Moldova's breakaway Transdniester region of hundreds of Russian troops at a Soviet-era weapons depot.

The declaration agreed upon by the leaders of the 32 NATO countries on July 10 has one sentence about the withdrawal of all Russian forces from Moldova. It also has one sentence on Moldova’s efforts to continue democratic reforms.

Popsoi said at a panel discussion at the summit that, while there is always room for improvement, Moldova has been on the agenda of its friends and partners in NATO and the European Union and has “received remarkable support in the last few years.”

This was especially true during the energy crisis that rocked Moldova as a result of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, he said, adding that the crisis has eased recently thanks to the resilience of the Moldovan people and “the generous support of the international community that has come to the rescue of not just Ukraine, but also the Republic of Moldova.”

Popsoi said Moldova and the Moldovan people have also made achievements on their own, citing energy independence from Gazprom after 30 years of being tied to the Russian energy giant.

“Russian gas contracts come with significant political strings attached and we suffered more than our fair share through this political blackmail,” he said.

He also touted the 30 years that Moldova has been in NATO’s Partnership for Peace program and its contributions to peacekeeping missions in Kosovo, Lebanon, Somalia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina, saying that Moldova is “firmly committed to be not just a security consumer given our challenges, given the Russia-backed separatists region.”

Popsoi told RFE/RL that Moldova now has a chance to make further progress through accession talks with the European Union that began on June 25.

“We count on the accession process helping us advance when it comes to our economic circumstances, but also democratic institutions,” he said, calling the accession negotiations “a key priority for us” and a chance to fulfill the “sincere craving of our citizens to return to the European family of nations.”

Whether Moldovans are hungry enough to become part of the EU will be tested on October 20 when a referendum on joining the 27-nation bloc takes place alongside the country’s presidential election.

Popsoi said Sandu’s government is counting on the citizens of Moldova to back the referendum.

“There's a lot of attempts to divide us domestically, to paint a negative picture of what we want to achieve. And this referendum is another democratic exercise for the Moldovan people to speak out,” he said. “And we are confident that they will support a prosperous, a peaceful future for their children in the European family of nations.”

On joining NATO, he said the question is being debated in Moldova, where “you don't need to look far” to see the risks of the region, he said.

He said many Moldovans believe that neutrality ensures security but "that is, of course, a questionable proposition in light of historic experience,” adding, “But nonetheless, in a democratic society, we need to abide by the will of the majority, and for now, there is not a majority in Moldova that would support NATO membership.”

Australia Charges Russian-Born Married Couple With Espionage

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese warned anyone considering acting against Australia's national security. (file photo)
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese warned anyone considering acting against Australia's national security. (file photo)

Australia said on July 12 that it had arrested a Russian-born married couple on espionage charges, alleging that the woman who was an information-systems technician in the Australian Army sought to access defense material and send it to Russian officials. The Australian Federal Police (AFP) said the couple, who hold Australian citizenship, worked to access material related to Australia's national security though no significant compromise had been identified yet. The AFP said the woman, 40, traveled to Russia and instructed her husband in Australia to log into her official account to access defense materials. Prime Minister Anthony Albanese warned anyone considering acting against Australia's national security.

Biden Positions Himself As Defender Of NATO And Ukraine Following ‘Putin’ Gaffe At Summit

U.S. President Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (right) during the NATO summit on July 11. Biden introduced Zelenskiy as "President Putin" before quickly correcting himself.
U.S. President Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (right) during the NATO summit on July 11. Biden introduced Zelenskiy as "President Putin" before quickly correcting himself.

WASHINGTON -- U.S. President Joe Biden, speaking in a highly anticipated news conference following the conclusion of the NATO summit in Washington on July 11, stressed his efforts building partnerships to oppose Russia’s all-out invasion of Ukraine in 2022 and said he would “keep NATO strong.”

"For those who thought NATO's time had passed, they got a rude awakening when [Russian President Vladimir] Putin invaded Ukraine," Biden said.

In an eight-minute opening address that often took on the appearance of a campaign speech at a time when his pursuit of a second presidential term is being openly questioned, Biden lauded his early action in alerting the world that Russia was about to invade its neighbor and in building a coalition of partners to oppose it.

Biden said that Putin thought that Ukraine would fall “in less than a week,” but that the country “still stands.” He also said that he would do everything to “end the war now.”

The press appearance was seen as a pivotal moment in Biden’s attempts to overcome his disastrous performance during his debate two weeks ago against Donald Trump, his presumptive Republican opponent in the November presidential election.

The 81-year-old Biden’s tired appearance and verbal missteps during the June 27 debate fueled doubts about his ability to beat Trump or to serve a full second term should he win. Calls have grown among Democratic supporters and elected officials for Biden to end his campaign, although high-ranking party figures have continued to support his bid to win a second term in office.

Going into what some described as a make-or-break press appearance following the NATO summit, Biden was already facing criticism for mistakenly referring to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy as “President Putin.”

Early on in the press conference, Biden made another gaffe when he mistakenly referred to Trump as his “vice president.”

When pressed by reporters during a 50-minute question-and-answer session about his fitness for another term, Biden made his case for continuing his campaign, saying neurological exams showed that he was “in good shape” and insisting that he was the “best qualified to govern” the United States.

In the aftermath of a NATO summit in which the alliance boosted its support for Ukraine’s efforts to defend itself against Russia and referred to China as a “decisive enabler” of Moscow’s war effort, Biden said that in the event of future negotiations with Russian President Putin or Chinese President Xi Jinping, he was “ready to deal with them now, and in three years.”

However, he added, that he was not ready to talk to Putin "unless Putin is ready to change his behavior."

“The idea that we're going to be able to fundamentally change Russia in the near term is not likely,” Biden said. “But one thing is for certain, if we allow Russia to succeed in Ukraine, they're not stopping at Ukraine."

Biden said, however, that the United States would take a cautious approach on the issue of allowing Ukraine to launch deep strikes into Russian territory.

"We're making on a day-to-day basis on what they should and shouldn't do, how far they should go in,” Biden said. “That's a logical thing to do."

The comments came after Ukrainian President Zelenskiy pressed NATO leaders to lift all restrictions against Kyiv using their donated weaponry to launch long-range strikes onto Russian territory if they want to see Ukraine defeat Russia’s invading forces.

“If he [Zelenskiy] had the capacity to strike Moscow, strike the Kremlin, would that make sense? It wouldn’t," Biden said.

The United States in early May gave Kyiv the green light to use U.S. weapons to strike just over the border on Russian territory to help Ukraine beat back a major Russian offensive near Kharkiv.

Biden, in a meeting with Zelenskiy earlier in the day, said he was pleased to announce the allocation of new aid to Ukraine to help it defeat Russia.

"We will stay with you, period," Biden said ahead of bilateral talks.

The United States later announced it would be sending $225 million worth of military equipment to Ukraine, the eight tranche since the passage of a $61 billion aid package in April. The latest tranche includes a Patriot missile battery, anti-aircraft systems and munitions, as well as artillery ammunition and rockets.

During his press appearance following the end of the NATO summit, Biden positioned himself as a protector of the alliance, while casting Trump as a danger.

Biden accused Trump, who during his presidency from 2017 to 2021 often criticized NATO members and suggested he might pull the United States out of the alliance, as having “no commitment to NATO.”

“He’s made it clear that he would feel no obligation to honor Article 5,” Biden said of Trump, referring to the NATO defense pact that requires the alliance to respond in the event any individual member state is attacked.

Biden also claimed that during the NATO summit, other leaders had told him that another Trump presidency would be a “disaster.”

"I've not had any of my European allies come up here and say 'Joe, don't run,'" Biden told reporters. "What I hear them say is 'You've gotta win. You can't let this guy [Trump] come forward, he'd be a disaster.'"

After Biden’s gaffe in which he introduced Ukrainian President Zelenskiy as “President Putin” before quickly correcting himself, some NATO leaders came to his defense.

French President Emmanuel Macron said that Biden was “in charge” during the two-day summit, while German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said that "slips of tongue happen.”

During the question-and-answer session, however, at least one reporter suggested that NATO officials had said off the record that Biden's "decline had become noticeable."

U.S., NATO Allies Criticize Orban Amid Reports Of Trump Meeting

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban (left) is seen during a visit to the Florida home of former U.S. President and expected Republican nominee Donald Trump in March.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban (left) is seen during a visit to the Florida home of former U.S. President and expected Republican nominee Donald Trump in March.

WASHINGTON -- The United States and NATO allies criticized Viktor Orban’s secret meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier this month, as the Hungarian prime minister prepared to travel after the NATO summit to visit with the presumptive Republican nominee in the upcoming U.S. presidential election, Donald Trump.

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.

Orban's unexpected visit to Russia, which in February 2022 launched an all-out invasion of Ukraine that NATO has opposed, was seen as a rogue move by the leader of a NATO country.

Orban's opposition to Ukraine's NATO bid has been watched closely during the summit, but allies said on July 11 that they did not see it denting Kyiv's eventual alliance membership.

The Hungarian leader, who took over the six-month rotating EU Presidency at the start of July, made a secret trip to Moscow to discuss with Putin an end to Russia's invasion of Ukraine without informing the bloc or NATO allies. The visit came on the eve of the July 9-11 NATO summit in Washington hosted by U.S. President Joe Biden.

“The U.S. position, the Biden administration position is: Nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine. So whatever adventurism is being undertaken without Ukrainians' consent or support is not something that's consistent with our policy or the policy of the United States,” Biden’s national-security adviser, Jake Sullivan, told reporters July 11 on the sidelines of the summit.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis criticized Orban’s visit to Moscow, telling reporters at the summit on July 11 that the Hungarian leader does not represent the opinion of the European Union or NATO. French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olah Scholz also expressed frustration with Orban. Macron said it was legitimate for Orban to travel to Russia as the Hungarian prime minister, but not on behalf of the European Union.

Orban, Landsbergis, Macron and Scholz were among the leaders and top officials from all 32 NATO countries taking part in the annual summit, where the main topic of discussion was military aid for Ukraine.

On July 10, Orban said he would not sign on to the so-called Ukraine Compact, a shared pledge among more than 20 NATO to support Ukraine both now and for the long-term.

In a video statement posted to his X account, the Hungarian prime minister said that NATO was "behaving more and more like a war organization," citing the alliance's military support for Ukraine.

Orban is reportedly flying to Florida after the summit to meet with Trump. The Republican contender has claimed that, should he win the election, he would negotiate a deal between Ukraine and Russia before his January 2025 inauguration. He has not given any details about his alleged peace plan.

The Hungarian leader, who recently met Trump in Florida in March, has made clear that he backs the Republican candidate in the 2024 election.

The possible return of Trump to the presidency has partially overshadowed the 2024 summit. During his four years in the presidency from 2017 to 2021, Trump repeatedly criticized NATO members for their failure to meet the defense spending target of 2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) and even raised the idea of pulling the United States out of the alliance.

During a campaign rally on July 10, Trump took pride in having grilled NATO members and spoke of his first days in office in 2017.

“I didn’t know what the hell NATO was too much before. But it didn’t take me long to figure it out -- like about two minutes. And the first thing I figured out was they were not paying. We were paying. We were paying almost fully for NATO. And I said that’s unfair,” he said.

Last month during a podcast interview, Trump blamed the war on Ukraine’s possible NATO membership, raising concerns that he may block the country from joining the alliance as part of a peace deal.

Hungary has also raised doubts about Ukraine's membership in the alliance, saying it risks open conflict with Russia.

"Ukraine's admission wouldn't strengthen but weaken the alliance's unity, as there are completely different viewpoints on their membership," Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said on July 11.

In the communique reached during the summit, NATO members said that Ukraine’s path into NATO was “irreversible.” When asked about the potential Orban-Trump meeting, outgoing NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said it "doesn't undermine or reduce the importance of what we have agreed" at the summit.

Stoltenberg also said he did not think a change in leadership in Washington would result in the United States leaving the alliance, especially as the threat from China grows.

"The reality is that NATO makes the United States stronger and safer, and this is a strong argument for the United States to continue to support and remain a loyal and committed NATO ally," Stoltenberg said.

The NATO chief also said that Trump's biggest complaint -- that of allies' failure to meet defense spending targets -- has been significantly addressed, with 23 members now spending 2 percent or more of GDP. Just 9 members were at the target when Trump left office.

44,000 Afghans In Pakistan Still Awaiting U.S., Foreign Resettlement

Afghan refugees arrive from Pakistan at the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in December 2023.
Afghan refugees arrive from Pakistan at the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in December 2023.

At least 44,000 Afghans approved for relocation to Western countries following the Taliban's return to power are still waiting in limbo in Pakistan, Islamabad said on July 11. In the days after the NATO-backed government collapsed in August 2021, more than 120,000 people, mostly Afghans, were airlifted from Kabul in a chaotic evacuation. Hundreds of thousands more Afghans have fled Taliban rule since then, with many promised new lives in the nations involved in their country's 20-year occupation. Pakistan’s Foreign Office said that 25,000 Afghans approved for relocation to the United States are still living in Pakistan.

Oil Tanker Seized By Iran Moving To International Waters, Tracking Data Shows

Iranian marines rappel onto the Advantage Sweet in April 2023.
Iranian marines rappel onto the Advantage Sweet in April 2023.

A Chevron-chartered oil tanker that was seized by Iran more than a year ago was heading for international waters on July 11, LSEG ship tracking data showed. The Marshall Islands-flagged Advantage Sweet was boarded by Iran's military in the Gulf of Oman in April 2023 after an alleged collision with an Iranian boat. There was no immediate comment from Chevron or Iranian officials on July 11 on whether the vessel had been released or what discussions may have been involved. The U.S. State Department called in March for the immediate release of the tanker.

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