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Belarus Forces Way To Top Of EU Ministers' Agenda

The EU's high representative for foreign policy, Catherine Ashton, issued a declaration last week warning Belarus's relations with the EU were at risk.
The EU's high representative for foreign policy, Catherine Ashton, issued a declaration last week warning Belarus's relations with the EU were at risk.
Belarus has forced its way to the top of the EU agenda once again as member states' foreign ministers meet today in Brussels.

Ministers are also expected to discuss plans with respect to Ukraine, Afghanistan, Iran, and Haiti, as well as to adopt a declaration on relations with Moldova.

The debate on the situation in Belarus comes at the request of Poland, increasingly worried about Minsk's moves against the autonomous leaders of the some 400,000 ethnic Poles in the country.

Dozens of ethnic Polish activists have been briefly arrested and Polish community buildings have been seized by Belarusian authorities in the crackdown on the Union of Poles in Belarus (ZPB). The head of the ZPB, Andzelika Borys, is in Brussels this week.

In a letter sent to other EU governments, Poland cast doubt on the "genuineness" of Belarus's commitment to improve relations with the EU and asked for an "in-depth reflection about the future of the EU-Belarus relations in case the negative tendencies continue."

The EU's high representative for foreign policy, Catherine Ashton, issued a declaration last week warning Belarus's relations with the EU were at risk.

The EU has previously suspended a visa ban on Belarusian leaders, admitted the country into its Eastern Partnership outreach project, and offered tentative talks on further assistance in response to apparent assurances from Minsk to allow some democratic reforms. Belarus is seen by many EU member states as a crucial link in the bloc's drive to secure its eastern flank against the encroachment of Russian influence.

Postelection Ukraine


Aside from Belarus, EU ministers will hold a lunch debate on the situation in Ukraine in the wake of the presidential elections won by Viktor Yanukovych.

EU governments have received indications to attend the new president's inauguration ceremony in Kyiv on February 25. Yanukovych has indicated he will visit Brussels shortly.

The EU remains concerned about the state of the Ukrainian economy, urging the country to resume talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

This is one of the preconditions the bloc has set to release its own $6 billion aid package for Ukraine. The European Commission has also put together a short-term "crisis package" identifying key sectors in the Ukrainian economy for reforms and another 600 million euros in assistance. To gain access to the package, EU diplomats say, Ukraine must, as soon as possible, adopt a "realistic" budget for 2010.

Security Issues

On Afghanistan, EU ministers will review the country's preparations for parliamentary elections, postponed from May to September 18.

Most EU countries support U.S. "red lines" for providing the $120 million needed for the elections, which include demands for changes in the leadership of the Afghan Independent Election Commission and the preservation of an international presence in the Electoral Complaints Commission. Diplomats say France especially fears President Hamid Karzai will ignore the demands of the international community.

Diplomats say former Lithuanian foreign minister Vygaudas Usackas will be appointed the EU's new representative for security and development aid coordination in Afghanistan.

Today's EU discussion on Iran's nuclear program is not expected to produce concrete results, with the bloc awaiting developments in the UN Security Council.

The EU has said it is ready to strengthen existing sanctions on the country if it doesn't accept an international offer to conduct the enrichment of uranium outside Iran. Diplomats say the EU remains very concerned about continued repressions against supporters of the opposition.

EU foreign ministers will also broach an escalating spat between Switzerland and Libya, which has led Tripoli to close its borders to citizens of the EU's Schengen countries, of which Switzerland is a member.

A declaration will be adopted on Moldova, extending existing sanctions on the leadership of the breakaway Transdniester region. However, diplomats say, the EU visa ban on the leaders will be suspended until the end of September. The number of people affected by the visa ban will also be reduced -- although Romania has forcefully argued for limiting the cuts to only two people, citing national security concerns.

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China, Russia Start Naval Drills, Days After NATO Says Beijing Enables Ukraine War

Chinese and Russian naval forces began joint drills in sea off southern China on July 14. (file photo)
Chinese and Russian naval forces began joint drills in sea off southern China on July 14. (file photo)

Chinese and Russian naval forces on July 14 kicked off a joint exercise at a military port in southern China, the official news agency Xinhua reported, days after NATO allies called Beijing a "decisive enabler" of the war in Ukraine. China's Defense Ministry said in a brief statement that forces from both sides recently patrolled the western and northern Pacific Ocean and that the operation had nothing to do with international and regional situations and didn't target any third party. Xinhua reported that Chinese and Russian naval forces carried out on-map military simulation and tactical coordination exercises after the opening ceremony in the city of Zhanjiang.

Updated

Russia Says Another Ukrainian Village Captured In East

The former mining city of Toretsk has come under intense bombardment in recent days.
The former mining city of Toretsk has come under intense bombardment in recent days.

Russian troops have captured a small village in Ukraine's southeast, the Defense Ministry said, an incremental advance that highlights the grinding advances Russian forces continue to make against Ukrainian troops.

Ukrainian officials had no immediate comment on the Russian claim on July 14 that it had taken Urozhayne, one of several settlements located along the Mokriy Yaly River west of the city of Donetsk.

The advance was one of several places along the roughly 1,200-kilometer front line where Ukrainian forces have struggled to hold back Russian troops.

The fiercest fighting at present is occurring near the former mining city of Toretsk, north of Donetsk, and Chasiv Yar, yet further to the north.

After Russia launched a localized offensive into the Kharkiv region in early May, Ukraine was forced to redeploy many of its more experienced units, to stabilize their defenses. But it also stretched Ukrainian units thin, leading to openings along the front line that Russia has sought to exploit.

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.

Both Russian and Ukrainian troops are grappling with soaring summer temperatures, which are making life miserable in many Ukrainian cities suffering from regular power outages.

Large parts of Ukraine's electricity grid have been damaged by Russian missiles, and there are concerns the grid could collapse entirely by the winter.

The Kremlin, meanwhile, reacted angrily to news that the United States was planning to deploy long-range weapons including Tomahawk cruise missiles in Germany beginning in 2026. The decision marks a return of U.S. cruise missiles to Germany after a 20-year absence.

The White House made the announced on the sidelines of a NATO summit in Washington earlier in the week.

"We have enough capacity to contain these missiles but the potential victims are the capitals of these countries," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian state television.

"Europe is coming apart. Europe is not living its best moment. In a different configuration, a repeat of history is inevitable," he said.

Russian and U.S. defense chiefs spoke by phone on July 12, in what was described as an effort to lower the risk of "possible escalation."

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on July 14 said further military aid was on the way to the country after a series of meetings with world leaders at the NATO summit in Washington.

"Following my visit to the United States, we have secured new Patriot systems and dozens of other air defense systems. We are working tirelessly to increase the strength and number of Ukrainian Patriots," he wrote on X.

"The Ukrainian Compact, approved at the NATO Summit in Washington, focuses on weapons for our soldiers, the work of defense companies in and with Ukraine, and support for our recovery – all concrete and genuinely supportive of our defense."

With reporting by AFP
Updated

World Leaders Condemn 'Assassination Attempt' On Former U.S. President Trump

Former U.S. President Donald Trump was rushed from the stage at the campaign rally in Pennsylvania by Secret Service agents on July 13.
Former U.S. President Donald Trump was rushed from the stage at the campaign rally in Pennsylvania by Secret Service agents on July 13.

World leaders rushed to condemn the attack on Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, an incident that roiled the U.S. election campaign and raised fears of further political violence.

Antonio Guterres, the United Nations’ secretary-general, "unequivocally" condemned what the FBI has described as an assassination attempt.

"The secretary-general unequivocally condemns this act of political violence. He sends his best wishes to President Trump for a speedy recovery," Guterres spokesman Stephan Dujarric said in a statement.

Trump was speaking at a campaign rally on July 13 in western Pennsylvania when several shots were fired. He said later that he had been hit in the ear by a bullet and slightly wounded.

Two people were killed, including the suspected shooter, and two other spectators were wounded. The FBI later identified the suspected gunman as a 20-year-old man from a town not far from where the rally was held. Law enforcement officials also said a semiautomatic rifle had been recovered at the scene.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said she was "deeply shocked" by the shooting.

"Political violence has no place in a democracy," she wrote on X. "I wish Donald Trump a speedy recovery and offer my condolences to the family of the innocent victim."

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was "sickened" by the violence.

"It cannot be overstated -- political violence is never acceptable. My thoughts are with former President Trump, those at the event, and all Americans," he said in a post to X.

Josep Borrell, the European Union's top diplomat, said he was shocked and strongly condemned the attack.

"Once again, we are witnessing unacceptable acts of violence against political representatives," he wrote on X.

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni voiced "solidarity" with Trump, while French President Emmanuel Macron wished him a "speedy recovery," while calling the shooting "a tragedy for our democracies."

"France shares the shock and indignation of the American people," Macron said in a post to X.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz also described the violence as a threat to democracy.

"The attack on U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump is despicable," he said in a post to X. "Such acts of violence threaten democracy."

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who visited Trump at his home in Florida earlier in the week, said his thoughts and prayers were with the former U.S. president.

And Ukraine’s president, who has had a fraught relationship in the past with Trump, said he was appalled to hear of the violence.

"Such violence has no justification and no place anywhere in the world. Never should violence prevail," Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a post to X.

"We pray for his safety and speedy recovery," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a post to X.

In Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov accused President Joe Biden's administration of creating an atmosphere that provoked the attack on Trump.

"We do not believe that the attempt to eliminate and assassinate Trump was organized by the current authorities," Peskov told reporters in a conference call.

"But the atmosphere that the [Biden] administration has created through its political fights, the atmosphere that's surrounding candidate Trump, has provoked what America is now facing today."

The incident came two days before the opening of the Republican National Convention, at which the businessman and former reality TV star is expected to secure the party's nomination and less than four months before the November 5 election.

With reporting by AFP
Updated

U.S. Authorities Rush To Find Motive For Assassination Attempt On Trump

Former U.S. President Donald Trump is led from a campaign rally after what police say was an assassination attempt on July 13.
Former U.S. President Donald Trump is led from a campaign rally after what police say was an assassination attempt on July 13.

U.S. authorities raced to identify a motive behind the assassination attempt on former President Donald Trump, as officials blamed a 20-year-old man for the shooting at a campaign rally in Pennsylvania.

The alleged gunman, identified by the FBI as Thomas Matthew Crooks, was killed by Secret Service officers, and one other spectator also died, the agency said. Two other people were critically wounded.

Trump said later he had been shot in the ear, and video from the July 13 rally showed blood visible on the right side of his head as Secret Service agents rushed him from the stage.

Trump Rushed Off Stage After Incident At Campaign Rally
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The 78-year-old presumptive Republican nominee for the 2024 election had just begun to deliver a speech in the city of Butler when several gunshots were heard, prompting screams from the crowd.

Trump then reached for his right ear before he quickly crouched down behind the podium where he was delivering the speech.

Secret Service officers, who are assigned to protect Trump as well as other top political leaders, rushed the stage and surrounded him.

As he got up and was led off of the stage, blood was visible on Trump's right ear and cheek. He was whisked by the Secret Service agents into a waiting car and left the venue.

As he was being led off of the stage, Trump turned toward the crowd, pumped his fist in the air and appeared to yell, "Fight, fight, fight!"

"It is incredible that such an act can take place in our country," Trump said on his Truth Social platform following the shooting.

In a second statement issued about 12 hours after the shooting, Trump said he was looking forward to speaking at the Republican National Convention, which gets under way later this week.

"In this moment, it is more important than ever that we stand united, and show our true character as Americans, remaining strong and determined," Trump said on Truth Social.

At a briefing for reporters late July 13, Kevin Rojek, the FBI agent in charge of the bureau's local office, said the shooting was being investigated as an "assassination attempt."

In a statement published on X shortly after the incident, Secret Service spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said the shooter had fired "multiple shots toward the stage from an elevated position outside of the rally venue." He also said the shooter had been "neutralized."

In a statement provided to RFE/RL, the FBI identified Crooks, 20, as the suspected gunman, and said he was from a town located about an hour south of Butler.

Several U.S. news outlets reported that state voting records showed Crooks was a registered Republican, but that he had also made small donations to Democratic campaigns.

Overnight on July 13, law enforcement officials blockaded the roads leading to the house identified as belonging to Crooks' family.

AP reported that police had recovered an AR-style rifle -- a lightweight, semi-automatic rifle similar to the U.S. military's M16 -- at the scene. The weapon is popular in the United States, and widely available for sale throughout the country.

Trump was treated locally, before flying to his golf club in neighboring New Jersey. Video of his arrival released by a campaign official showed him being escorted to the club by heavily armed Secret Service agents.

The shooting comes two days before the opening of the Republican National Convention at which the businessman and former reality TV star is expected to secure the party’s nomination and less than four months before the November 5 election.

Pennsylvania is considered one of the key swing states that will determine the election outcome. Vice President Kamala Harris was in the state campaigning on the same day as Trump's rally.

President Joe Biden, whom Trump is challenging in the November election, said he was grateful to hear that Trump is safe and well.

"I’m praying for him and his family and for all those who were at the rally, as we await further information," Biden said in the statement.

"There's no place for this kind of violence in America. We must unite as one nation to condemn it."

Trump's election campaign website did not show any other events listed for the former president before the convention.

Trump "looks forward to joining you all in Milwaukee as we proceed with our convention," it said.

Leading U.S. politicians rushed to condemn the shooting of Trump, who served as president from 2017 to 2021.

"Political violence has no place in our country," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a tweet, adding he was "horrified" by the news and "relieved" that Trump was safe.

"This horrific act of political violence at a peaceful campaign rally has no place in this country and should be unanimously and forcefully condemned," Mike Johnson, the Republican leader of the House of Representatives, said in a post on X.

He also said Congress would schedule hearings to know the circumstances behind the shooting, and how someone was able to bring a weapon into the rally.

The Secret Service, which provides protection to leading political candidates such as Trump, also conducts security checks for political rallies.

While political violence is rare in the United States, several presidents or candidates have been shot over the country's history.

Most recently, President Ronald Reagan was shot and seriously wounded as he left an event at a Washington hotel in 1981.

In 1975, President Gerald Ford was unscathed in two separate assassination attempts.

Four presidents -- Abraham Lincoln (1865), James Garfield (1881), William McKinley (1901), and John F. Kennedy (1963) -- have been assassinated in U.S. history.

With reporting by AP and Reuters

Russia To Ban Adoption From Countries Recognizing Gender Transition

Volodin wrote that Russia was "essentially implementing a ban on the adoption of children by citizens of NATO countries."
Volodin wrote that Russia was "essentially implementing a ban on the adoption of children by citizens of NATO countries."

Russia is developing legislation that would ban child adoption by citizens of countries that recognize the right to change gender, the speaker of the lower house of parliament, or State Duma, Vyacheslav Volodin, said on July 13. The ban concerns states that either allow people to change their gender through medical procedures or on official documents. In a note to the legislation, Volodin wrote that Russia was "essentially implementing a ban on the adoption of children by citizens of NATO countries." The move appears to expand the 2012 legislation known as the Dima Yakovlev law, which bars U.S. citizens from adopting Russian children. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Russia Won't Air Summer Olympics Amid Ban On Athletes, Flag

Individual Russian athletes who do not support the war are allowed to participate but without the Russian tricolor on their uniform. Few have agreed to do so.
Individual Russian athletes who do not support the war are allowed to participate but without the Russian tricolor on their uniform. Few have agreed to do so.

Russia has decided not to show the 2024 Summer Olympics on national television after its teams were banned from participating in the widely watched event following its invasion of Ukraine. Moscow last refused to air the Olympics in 1984, when the Soviet Union boycotted the Games held in the United States. Individual Russian athletes who do not support the war are allowed to participate but without the Russian tricolor on their uniform. Only a few Russian athletes have agreed to the conditions. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Putin Signs Bill Banning Lawmakers From Leaving Russia Without Permission

Russian President Vladimir Putin (file photo)
Russian President Vladimir Putin (file photo)

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed into law a bill that bans members of parliament from leaving the country without permission, a move likely aimed at curtailing dissent among the country's elite over his struggling invasion of Ukraine. The law does not state who should approve overseas trips, only stating that the upper and lower chambers should decide for themselves. Lawmakers who break the law may lose their seat. Putin has outlawed criticism of the war and armed forces, prompting many people to leave amid fear of arrest. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Swiss Suspect Russian Diplomat, Others Of Trying To Obtain Weapons

Swiss prosecutors suspect three individuals, including a Russian diplomat, of trying to obtain weapons and other potentially dangerous material, AFP and Tages-Anzeiger reported on July 13. The Russian diplomat immediately left the country, Tages-Anzeiger reported. Prosecutors have searched several houses and an arrest warrant has been issued for one of the individuals without diplomatic immunity, Switzerland's top prosecutor told AFP. The case comes amid growing concerns about Kremlin espionage efforts in Switzerland, where Russia has 220 accredited diplomats and staff. Switzerland's Federal Intelligence Service said last year the number of Russian intelligence officers in the country operating under diplomatic cover was among the highest in Europe.

Updated

Ukraine's Zelenskiy Meets Irish PM As 11 Killed in Russian Attacks

Ukrainians in Paris rally in memory of athletes killed during the war in Ukraine on July 13, two weeks before the start of the Paris 2024 Olympics and Paralympics Games.
Ukrainians in Paris rally in memory of athletes killed during the war in Ukraine on July 13, two weeks before the start of the Paris 2024 Olympics and Paralympics Games.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy met with Irish Prime Minister Simon Harris to discuss Russia’s invasion as at least 11 civilians were killed in attacks in the east and south of the country.

Zelenskiy stopped off in Ireland on July 13 on his way back to Ukraine from the July 9-11 NATO summit in Washington, where alliance members announced they would continue to back the embattled country with military aid.

Though Ireland joined the alliance’s Partnership for Peace program in 1999 to increase interoperability with other Western militaries, it is a neutral country and does not support parties involved in conflict with military aid.

In a post on X, Zelenskiy said he and Harris discussed demining, cybersecurity, and the fate of Ukrainian children taken to Russia against their will. Since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, it has taken thousands of children from the occupied territories to Russia.

Zelenskiy will travel next week to the United Kingdom for a meeting of the European Political Community, a collective launched following Russia's invasion. Nearly 50 European leaders will attend the event hosted by new British Prime Minister Keir Starmer, including Harris.

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.

The NATO summit and European Political Community meeting come as Russia doubles down on its invasion of Ukraine with the help of China, North Korea, and Iran.

Russia has been slowly grinding forward in Ukraine's Donetsk region, though at a significant cost in human life and equipment.

More than 10,000 Russian soldiers have been confirmed killed this year, according to an investigation published on July 13, though the actual number is most likely much higher.

Six people were killed and 22 injured overnight in the Donbas region, Ukrainian officials said on July 13.

Meanwhile, two people were killed and two injured in a Russian strike on Priozernye village in the Ukrainian-controlled Kherson region, Aleksandr Prokudin, head of the Kherson military administration, said on his Telegram channel.

In the Dnipro region, three people were injured in a Russian strike, the local administration said, while in the Kharkiv region, three were killed and dozens injured in attacks.

Russia has stepped up air strikes against Ukraine's armed forces and infrastructure this year amid Kyiv's deficit of air defenses.

Russia has damaged half of Ukraine’s power capacity, causing outages across the country. Amid a jump in demand triggered by a heat wave, Ukraine's state power operater said on July 13 that outages had increased.

NATO allies announced this week plans to donate five air-defense systems and hundreds of missiles and also reiterated the first deliveries of F-16s this summer.

Russian Businessman Charged With Bribing Defense Officials Dies In Jail

The Moscow detention center is known for its tough conditions, and Igor Kotelnikov was allegedly moved to a punishment cell against doctor's orders. (file photo)
The Moscow detention center is known for its tough conditions, and Igor Kotelnikov was allegedly moved to a punishment cell against doctor's orders. (file photo)

A Russian businessman charged with bribing senior Defense Ministry officials on behalf of suppliers has died in pretrial detention, according to a member of the country's human rights council.

Igor Kotelnikov, 52, died on July 8 after feeling unwell in the Moscow pretrial detention center, Yeva Merkacheva said. She did not give a cause of death but said he had been held in a part of the center that has tough conditions.

"Rights defenders, examining the pretrial detention center, repeatedly noted that these cells are packed with people. [The cells] are small, hot in warm weather, cold in the winter. In addition, some detainees sit there all day," Merkacheva wrote in a column for the popular daily Moskovsky Komsomolets.

She said that Kotelnikov's death was not the first in such cells and that other detainees have committed suicide.

Kotelnikov allegedly operated as a middleman in the bribery scheme that rocked the ministry earlier this year, leading to the arrest of former Deputy Defense Minister Timur Ivanov and two other businessmen. Kotelnikov denied the charges.

According to the Telegram channel CHEKA-OGPU, officials from the Federal Security Service (FSB) visited Kotelnikov in detention on several occasions to encourage him to finger Ivanov.

The channel claimed that when Kotelnikov refused, the FSB officials began pressuring him and later moved him to a punishment cell. CHEKA-OGPU is reportedly close to Russia’s security services.

According to the Telegram channel, prison doctors said Kotelnikov should not be held in a punishment cell due to chronic illness and had him sent back. However, prison officials, allegedly under FSB pressure, had him returned, CHEKA-OGPU said.

Ivanov, who oversaw the military-industrial complex for the ministry, was arrested in April on charges of taking more than 1 billion rubles ($11.4 million) in bribes from contractors. Ivanov, whose family flaunted its wealth, has denied the charges.

Businessmen Sergei Borodin and Aleksandr Fomin were also arrested in connection with the alleged bribery scheme.

Corruption in the Russian military allegedly flourished under former Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, who held the top post for more than a decade.

Russian President Vladimir Putin in May replaced Shoigu with Andrei Belousov, an economist and former deputy prime minister, reportedly in part to improve the efficiency of defense spending.

Russia is set this year to spend tens of billions of dollars, or 6 percent of GDP, on defense as its invasion of Ukraine continues into its third year.

Russia Seeking To Exploit Ethnic Tensions In Western Balkans, U.S. Warns

Bosnian Serb protesters carry portraits of Russian President Vladimir Putin as they rally in support of leader Milorad Dodik in East Sarajevo in September 2023.
Bosnian Serb protesters carry portraits of Russian President Vladimir Putin as they rally in support of leader Milorad Dodik in East Sarajevo in September 2023.

Moscow is seeking to exploit ethnic tensions in the Western Balkans to provoke "instability and hinder the region's integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions," the U.S. State Department has said.

The warning came after retired U.S. General Wesley Clark, the former NATO supreme allied commander in Europe, recently cautioned that Russia, which maintains close ties with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, is using Belgrade as a proxy to sow discord in the region.

Serbia, which has been a candidate for membership in the European Union since 2012, has so far refused to impose sanctions on Moscow over its war against Ukraine, even though it voted in favor of several UN resolutions condemning Russia's aggression.

Tensions have been on the rise in recent months in northern Kosovo, where there's a sizeable ethnic Serb minority, and in Republika Srpska, the Serb-majority entity of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Republika Srpska leader Milorad Dodik, who has been put under sanctions by the United States and Britain over his efforts to undermine the 1995 Dayton peace accords that ended the Balkan country's civil war, has also been on friendly terms, with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Dodik's separatist statements have been one of the main stumbling blocks in Bosnia's progress toward EU membership, after it became a candidate in 2022.

"It is clear that Russia does not support the same European future for the countries in the Western Balkans that they themselves have chosen and that the people of the region deserve. Russia seeks to exploit interethnic tensions, create instability, and obstruct the region’s integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions," a State Department spokesperson told RFE/RL.

In Serb-dominated northern Kosovo, tensions have remained high since an incident in September 2023 that left an ethnic Albanian police officer dead after an encounter with masked commandos allegedly led by a Kosovar Serb politician.

A long-delayed promise by Kosovo's government of an association of Kosovar Serb municipalities for dialogue with Pristina and a recent ban on the use of the Serbian dinar, which has remained in widespread use in northern Kosovo, have also added to the tensions with Belgrade, which has not recognized its former province's 2008 declaration of independence.

"We remain concerned about the risk that local tensions will turn into serious political conflagrations that will hold back the states of the region, for instance in northern Kosovo and given threats of secession in Bosnia-Herzegovina," the spokesperson told RFE/RL.

"We are working closely with all parties to minimize those risks."

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Asia James O'Brien has recently described the tensions on northern Kosovo and Republika Srpska's threats to secede as the main security risks in the Western Balkans.

"This is why the United States is working with the Western Balkan countries to strengthen regional cooperation and advance reforms that will lessen opportunity for malign Russian influence and bring lasting peace, stability, and prosperity to the region," the spokesperson said.

"Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine underscores the urgency and importance of these priorities."

Updated

Pakistani Ex-PM Imran Khan, Wife Acquitted In Unlawful Marriage Case

Former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan (center) with his wife, Bushra Bibi (left), arrive to appear at a high court in Lahore in May 2023.
Former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan (center) with his wife, Bushra Bibi (left), arrive to appear at a high court in Lahore in May 2023.

A court in Islamabad on July 13 acquitted former Prime Minister Imran Khan and his wife on July 13 on charges of unlawful marriage. Khan, 71, and his wife, Bushra Khan, also known as Bushra Bibi, were sentenced to 7 years in prison in February when a court found them guilty of breaking Islamic law by failing to observe the required interval between Bibi's divorce from a previous marriage and her marriage to Khan. The case was filed at the request of her ex-husband, Khawar Manika. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal, click here.

Pakistan, IMF Reach Deal For $7 Billion Loan

IMF delegation meets with Pakistan officials (file photo).
IMF delegation meets with Pakistan officials (file photo).

Pakistan has reached a deal for a fresh $7 billion loan with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the global lender has announced.

In exchange for the 37-month loan, which Islamabad badly needs to prop up its sputtering economy, the Pakistani government pledged to implement more unpopular reforms.

The loan, the 24th from the IMF to Pakistan in more than six decades, is "subject to approval by the IMF's executive board," the IMF said in a statement.

The deal's main aim is to back the Pakistani government's steps to cement macroeconomic stability while putting in place the necessary conditions for resilient growth.

"This includes steps to strengthen fiscal and monetary policy and reforms to broaden the tax base, improve state-owned enterprises' management, strengthen competition, secure a level playing field for investment, enhance human capital, and scale up social protection through increased generosity," the statement said.

The deal came after months of negotiations, and on condition that Pakistan improve its tax collection system. Only 5.2 million people filed income-tax returns in 2022 in a country of some 236 million people.

While around 40 percent of the population already lives below the poverty line, the World Bank said in April it feared that 10 million additional Pakistanis would fall below this threshold.

Last year, Islamabad was close to default as its economy was hit hard by political chaos, the aftermath of huge monsoon floods in 2022, and decades of mismanagement.

Pakistan's financial sector remains very fragile amid high inflation and a huge public debt.

Under the program, "we need to ensure structural reforms and bring self-sustainability in areas of public finance, energy, and state-owned institutions," Finance Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb was quoted by Geo News as saying on July 13.


With reporting by AFP

Russia Adds Blogger, Telegram Channel To 'Foreign Agents' List

Russian blogger Daria Bogdanova (file photo)
Russian blogger Daria Bogdanova (file photo)

Russia's Justice Ministry has added a blogger and a widely read Telegram channel to its "foreign agents" register. Daria Bogdanova was added to the list for "creating and distributing foreign agent" materials and "disseminating false information about decisions made by Russian authorities," speaking out against Russia's war in Ukraine, and taking part in fundraising for Ukraine's military, the ministry said. The Telegram channel VChK-OGPU, which is widely read and is believed to have ties to security agencies, was added to the list for "dissemination of false information aimed at creating a negative image of the Russian army." Russia has used its "foreign agent" law since 2012 to label and punish critics of government policies. To read the original story by Current Time. click here.

Oil Depot On Fire In Russia's Rostov Region, Governor Says

Ukraine has targetted Russia's oil infrastructure with drone attacks in recent months. (file photo)
Ukraine has targetted Russia's oil infrastructure with drone attacks in recent months. (file photo)

An oil depot was on fire in Russia's southwestern Rostov region following a Ukrainian drone attack early on July 13, the region's governor, Vasily Golubev, said on Telegram. "An oil depot in the Tsimlyansky district caught fire at about 4 a.m. following a drone attack," Golubev wrote, adding that 14 firefighting units were working at the site to put the fire out. Golubev said that according to preliminary information, there were no casualties following the attack. Telegram channel Don Mash published a video purporting to show the fire. Ukraine has not commented on the Russian claim. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Concern Rises Over Racial Extremism After Arrest Of Alleged White Supremacist Headed To Ukraine

Representatives of the Free Russia Legion, the Siberian Battalion, and the Russian Volunteer Corps attend a press conference of pro-Ukrainian Russian paramilitary groups in Kyiv in March.
Representatives of the Free Russia Legion, the Siberian Battalion, and the Russian Volunteer Corps attend a press conference of pro-Ukrainian Russian paramilitary groups in Kyiv in March.

The U.S. Justice Department on July 12 said ethnically motivated attacks were becoming a serious global threat and suggested the global community take them more seriously, a day after announcing the arrest of an 18-year-old New Jersey man who is accused of plotting to attack a U.S. electrical substation to advance his white-supremacist views.

The new threats are emerging through technological changes and Russian-linked actors developing and spreading false narratives on racially and ethnically motivated violent extremism (REMVE) in Ukraine, the Justice Department said in a news release.

The department said the international community had developed strong cooperation over the last 20 years to counter terrorist groups and networks, such as Al-Qaeda and Islamic State, but there is not yet the same type of routine information sharing for REMVE.

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To address the gap, the Justice Department said it co-hosted with the State Department the third annual meeting of the Counterterrorism Law Enforcement Forum in The Hague on July 10-11.

The forum's participants included law enforcement, prosecutors, and other criminal justice practitioners from around the world to discuss how to effectively address and counter REMVE threats.

The meeting built on the conversations that participants had in the first two forums, "reflecting the type of cooperation that will be needed in the coming years as REMVE threats continue to build their transnational ties," the Justice Department said.

The arrest of the 18-year-old was announced on July 11 after he made his initial appearance in court for allegedly soliciting another individual to destroy an electrical substation in the United States.

The defendant, Andrew Takhistov of Brunswick, New Jersey, was arrested on July 10 at the international airport in Newark, New Jersey, where he was about to board a transatlantic flight.

Authorities said they believe Takhistov was on his way to Ukraine to join the Russian Volunteer Corps.

Takhistov two months ago informed an undercover employee that he was planning to travel to Ukraine in July to join the Russian Volunteer Corps, explaining that he chose the organization because it was openly national-socialist and specialized in assassinations, attacks on power grids, and other infrastructure sabotage.

"We will not tolerate these kinds of alleged terroristic threats, and working with our partners, we will always be ready to root out and bring to justice anyone who attempts to carry out these acts," Philip Sellinger, the U.S. attorney in New Jersey, said in a news release.

A criminal complaint against Takhistov alleges that he encouraged violence against black and Jewish communities, discussed causing death and destruction on a large scale, praised mass shooters, and shared online a quote attributed to Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler about terrorism as "the best political weapon."

According to the complaint, Takhistov repeatedly referred to his REMVE ideology and his desire to advance that ideology through violent means. He also formed his own REMVE group called White Legion in North Carolina.

Takhistov claimed that he trained with two individuals he recruited from militant neo-Nazi chatrooms, obtained neo-Nazi literature from the overtly neo-Nazi discussion group European American Unity, and in March took part in a white-nationalist protest at a park in New Brunswick.

According to Sellinger, Takhistov discussed a "three-step plan for white domination" ending the war in Ukraine, invading Russia and then starting political activism in Europe and the United States in support of national-socialist political parties.

Takhistov is charged with one count of soliciting another individual to engage in criminal conduct that involved destroying an electrical facility in the United States. If convicted, he faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $125,000 fine.

With reporting by AP

Russian, U.S. Defense Chiefs Discussed Lowering Escalation In Call, Moscow Says

U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin (left) and Russian Defense Minister Andrei Belousov (combo photo)
U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin (left) and Russian Defense Minister Andrei Belousov (combo photo)

Russian Defense Minister Andrei Belousov and U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin discussed lowering the risk of "possible escalation" in a telephone call, the Russian Defense Ministry said on July 12. The call, which was initiated by Moscow, came after Washington announced plans to deploy long-range missiles in Germany, a decision the Kremlin warned could spell a return to Cold War-style confrontation. "The issue of preventing security threats and reducing the risk of possible escalation was discussed," Russia's Defense Ministry said in a statement. Pentagon spokeswoman Sabrina Singh confirmed that the call took place and was initiated by Moscow but provided no further information. The White House announced on July 10 that it would station long-range weapons in Germany as a deterrent.

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.

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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.

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