- By Antoine Blua
EU Agrees Deal On Energy Links With 'Southern Corridor'
The "Southern Corridor-New Silk Road" summit brought together leaders and ministers of the EU and Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Egypt -- all either key suppliers of natural gas, crucial transit countries, or both.
Two suppliers -- Azerbaijan and Egypt -- and two key transit states -- Turkey and Georgia -- agreed to give "the necessary political support," and, where possible, "technical and financial assistance" to the construction of planned pipelines and transport routes needed to bring gas from the Caspian Basin region and the Middle East to the European market.
The final declaration also calls on energy producers to identify noncommitted natural-gas and oil volumes that can be dedicated specifically to the EU.
The EU, for its part, bound itself to "provide producers with reliable commitments on their aggregate demand," and to help them improve their energy efficiency.
At the end of the talks, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso described the summit as "very important."
Barroso said that the "'Southern Corridor initiative' is the key priority project for the European Union. Our objective was to provide a further political push for the implementation of this strategic initiative and this was indeed achieved during this very important summit."
Boost To Nabucco
In particular, the summit gave a boost to the Nabucco project, with a commitment by Turkey's President Abdullah Gul to sign up to a deal on the construction of the gas pipeline running from the eastern border of Turkey to Austria by next month. But Gul made clear he expected some progress on Turkey's stalled EU membership talks.
But questions hung over the attitude of Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, which did not sign the declaration.
Barroso said energy talks between the EU and Turkmenistan have been going very positively and there was marked progress. He said a Turkmen Foreign Ministry delegation would visit Brussels on June 4 to hold talks on the energy issue.
Meanwhile, Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek said Turkmenistan was serious about its new energy pipeline plans and sees no obstacle in diversification of its gas export routes.
Ahead of the summit, RFE/RL's Brussels correspondent Ahto Lobjakas said that for the first time, the EU had given its open backing to plans to build a trans-Caspian gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to Azerbaijan. This would allow Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan to feed their gas directly into the Nabucco gas pipeline.
Lobjakas noted that this is the first time that the EU has officially given assurances to the Central Asian and South Caucasus countries that it will commit "whatever political, economic, and financial resources are necessary to the project of forging a direct link to the Caspian Sea." While this primarily concerns gas reserves, it's "also about oil and transport."
In order to reduce reliance on gas supplies from Russia, the EU is pushing for the construction of three new pipelines in the region, which would ultimately bring natural gas from the Caspian Basin and from as far away as Iraq to Europe.
The three pipelines are Nabucco, running from the eastern border of Turkey to Austria; White Stream, running from Georgia under the Black Sea to Romania; and the Interconnector between Turkey and Greece and Italy (ITGY).
Combined, all three pipelines could supply up to 10 percent of the EU's total gas need by 2020, or some 60 billion cubic meters. Russia currently provides the EU with some 150 billion cubic meters annually, and that figure is not expected to rise significantly.
Lobjakas says everything turns on political issues, namely to what extent the EU can convince the Central Asian and South Caucasus states that they can safely ignore Moscow's stiff resistance to the EU-backed pipeline projects bypassing Russian territory.
"If the EU follows through, if the larger member states follow through, especially if the trans-Caspian pipeline is built, linking the Central Asian countries directly to projects such as Nabucco, then they will have a very real option in the future, a very real choice, to delivering gas only via Russia," he says.
"Now this doesn't mean that Russia will disappear from their radar screens, but these countries will acquire a far more substantial political and economic latitude in their decisions."
Three major regional players were missing at the summit -- Iraq, Qatar, and Iran. Energy-rich Iraq was invited but did not send a representative.
An EU official told RFE/RL privately before the summit that Qatar, a major gas producer, had not been invited "for the time being," but did not elaborate.
Another official told RFE/RL privately that Iran would be invited to participate "when circumstances permit," an allusion to the country's internationally controversial nuclear program.
Russia attended as an observer, along with the United States and Ukraine.
Toqaev 'Appreciates' Lukashenka's 'Joke' Proposal For Kazakhstan To Join Russia-Belarus Union
Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev has called a proposal by the authoritarian ruler of Belarus, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, for Kazakhstan to join the so-called Russia-Belarus Union State a "joke" that has no resonance in the Central Asian country, given its commitments to other international treaties.
Toqaev said on May 29 while meeting with farmers of the North Kazakhstan region that he "duly appreciated the joke" by Lukashenka that he expressed in a televised interview with a Russian journalist over the weekend that Kazakhstan should join the union, which was created on paper in the 1990s and has been negotiated off and on since, but "there is no need" to join.
"Because there are other integration groupings, first of all the Eurasian Economic Union," Toqaev said.
He also touched on Russia's controversial plans to place tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, which borders NATO members Lithuania, Latvia, and Poland.
"As for the nuclear weapons, we do not need them because we joined the Nonproliferation Treaty and the Partial Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty. We remain loyal to our obligations defined by these two international documents," Toqaev said.
Kazakhstan, Belarus, and Ukraine gave up their nuclear weapons in the 1990s after they joined the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons.
The three former Soviet republics also signed the Budapest Memorandum in 1994 -- as did Russia, the United States, and the United Kingdom -- which barred the superpowers from threatening or using military force or economic coercion against the three.
However, Russian authorities have repeatedly raised the specter of the potential use of nuclear weapons since launching the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, with the frequency of the warnings increasing as Moscow's aggression against Ukraine continues.
Last week, Toqaev said at a Eurasian Economic Union (EES) meeting in Moscow that integration within the group was different from the controversial Russia-Belarus Union State.
"I am sorry, even nuclear weapons are being shared by the two," Toqaev said as he tried to emphasize that other EES states such as Armenia, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan were attempting to stay away from getting involved in Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
In a televised interview aired on May 28, Lukashenka commented on Toqaev's statement at the EES session regarding the nuclear weapons "shared" by Belarus and Russia, saying that former Soviet republics, including Kazakhstan, longing to own nuclear weapons can join Russia-Belarus Union State as well.
With reporting by Tengrinews, Inbusiness.kz, and Rossia TV
Family Of Missing Pakistani Journalist Fears For His Life
The family of a prominent TV anchor and YouTuber who has gone missing amid political turmoil in Pakistan fears for his life as the authorities remain clueless about his whereabouts. "We are extremely worried and fear for his life," Usman Riaz Khan, brother of the missing journalist, told dpa on May 29. Riaz Khan, known for his support of former Prime Minister Imran Khan, was arrested on May 11 at Punjab's Sialkot Airport during a crackdown on Khan's party for violent protests over his arrest. Police told the family he was subsequently released.
Putin Signs Law Allowing Elections In Russian-Occupied Ukrainian Regions
Russian President Vladimir Putin on May 29 signed into law a bill legalizing elections planned for later this year on Ukrainian territories that Moscow took over during its ongoing invasion. Putin had announced martial law in parts of four regions of Ukraine that are under Russian control, but previously Russian law did not allow for holding elections during such conditions. The new law allows elections during martial law with the approval of defense and security organs.
Polish President To Sign Russian Influence Bill, Despite Opposition Protests
Poland's president said on May 29 that he would sign a bill authorizing a panel to investigate Russian influence, despite opposition criticism that it creates a witch hunt against government opponents in an election year. The ruling nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party says the liberal opposition Civic Platform (PO) party allowed Poland to become dangerously dependent on Russian fossil fuels when it was in government from 2007 to 2015, raising questions about whether PO members were under Moscow's sway. Duda said he would ask the Constitutional Tribunal to look at the law after it takes force due to criticism it is unconstitutional. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
HRW Urges Vigilance On Cluster Munitions, Chides Russia For Usage In Ukraine
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called for greater global efforts to ensure an international treaty banning cluster munitions achieves its goal of ending the usage of such weapons, which it says are being used "repeatedly" by Russia in its war against Ukraine.
HRW said in a report released on May 29 that the Convention On Cluster Munitions, adopted on May 30, 2008, in Dublin, "is being tested as never before.”
The report details how cluster munitions are being used in several conflict areas of the world, including by Russia, which HRW says has "repeatedly" used them since launching its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, causing hundreds of civilian casualties and damaging civilian objects, including homes, hospitals, and schools.
"A single Russian cluster munition attack on a train station in Kramatorsk on April 8, 2022, killed at least 58 civilians and wounded 100 others. The stigma created by the convention has led to widespread international condemnation of these attacks," the report says, noting Ukrainian forces have also used cluster munitions on several occasions.
Russia and Ukraine are not signatories of the treaty.
WATCH: Award-winning Ukrainian journalist Andriy Dubchak barely escaped with his life as he and his son came under cluster-bomb attack. The weapons are widely banned, but both Russia and Ukraine are accused of using them. The attack blew out his car's windows, ripped through the vehicle, and fragments even tore through his trousers.
HRW also said that the Syrian-Russian military alliance used cluster munition rockets in attacks on camps for internally displaced people in Syria's Idlib Province in November, killing and wounding civilians.
Cluster munitions are launched by artillery, rockets, missiles, and aircraft. The weapons open in midair and disperse dozens or hundreds of submunitions, also called bomblets, over a wide area.
Many submunitions fail to explode on initial impact, leaving duds that can indiscriminately wound and kill, like land mines, for years until they are cleared and destroyed.
The Convention On Cluster Munitions bans the use, production, acquisition, transfer, and stockpiling of cluster munitions and requires the destruction of stockpiles.
HRW said there have been no reports of new use, production, or transfers of cluster munitions by the 123 nations that have signed or ratified the convention.
However, a handful of countries outside the treated have produced or used cluster munitions, the group said.
Former Chief Of Navalny's Team In Bashkortostan Calls Her Trial Politically Motivated
UFA, Russia -- Lilia Chanysheva, the former leader of jailed opposition politician Aleksei Navalny's team in the Republic of Bashkortostan, has told a court that her trial on charges of extremism is politically motivated.
In her final statement, published online by Navalny's team on May 29, Chanysheva said that she does not consider herself a defendant because she is a politician and the case against her is political.
"I am a politician, a woman who is being persecuted by male opponents, whose names are [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and [Head of Bashkortostan] Radiy Khabirov. Politics is a profession as well. Therefore to plead guilty for me is the same as for a teacher to plead guilty to being a teacher or for a physician to plead guilty to being a physician," Chanysheva said.
"Putin has been eradicating dissent for a long time, creating hatred among people and the government with a single goal -- to stay in power after the 2024 [presidential election]. But Putin means corruption, low salaries, and pensions, a falling economy and price hikes. Putin means war! It has affected each and every one now," Chanysheva stated, adding that many opposition politicians and rights defenders have been jailed since her arrest.
Chanysheva, 41, was arrested in November 2021 and later charged with the organization of an extremist community, public calls for extremist activities, and propagating the activities of a noncommercial organization that encroaches on citizens' privacy and rights.
Chanysheva's trial, which started on March 1, is being held behind closed doors.
She headed the local unit of Navalny's network of regional campaign groups until his team disbanded them after a Moscow prosecutor went to court to have them branded "extremist."
The request was accepted, effectively outlawing the group.
Chanysheva's defense team said at the time that her arrest was the first since the movement was banned. The charges appear to be retroactive since the organization she worked for disbanded before it had been legally classified as extremist.
Amnesty International has urged Russian authorities to release Chanysheva "immediately," insisting that the extremism charges are "false" and should be dropped.
Navalny himself has been in prison since February 2021, after he was arrested the month prior upon returning to Russia from Germany, where he had been undergoing treatment for a near-fatal poisoning with a Novichok-type nerve agent that he says was ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The Kremlin has denied any role in Navalny's poisoning.
Several of the opposition leader and Kremlin critic's allies have been charged with establishing an extremist group. Many of Navalny's close associates have fled the country amid pressure from the Russian authorities.
Ukrainian Forces Shell Settlements In Russia's Belgorod Border Region, Says Governor
The governor of Russia's Belgorod region, which borders Ukraine, said on May 29 that several frontier settlements were being shelled simultaneously by Ukrainian forces. In a statement published on the Telegram messaging app, Vyacheslav Gladkov said two industrial facilities in the border town of Shebekino had been shelled and four employees had been wounded. Several settlements were left without electricity, he added. Belgorod, which borders Ukraine's Kharkiv region, has repeatedly come under attack from Kyiv's forces since the beginning of the full-scale conflict in Ukraine in February 2022. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Kazakh Journalist Launches Hunger Strike Protesting Second 25-Day Jail Term
Kazakh journalist Duman Mukhammedkarim has launched a hunger strike to protest against a 25-day jail term he was handed on May 28, two days after he had finished serving a similar sentence. Mukhammedkarim’s lawyer told RFE/RL that a court in the southern town of Qonaev sentenced his client on a charge of violating regulations for public gatherings because of a video on Mukhammedkarim's YouTube channel that called on Kazakhs to defend their rights. His previous 25-day sentence was on the same charge over his online calls for Almaty residents to rally against the government's move to introduce visa-free entry to Kazakhstan for Chinese citizens. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, click here.
Russia Puts U.S. Senator Graham On Wanted List; Remarks Taken Out Of Context
Russia's Interior Ministry has put U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (Republican-South Carolina) on a wanted list, Russian media reported on May 29. In an edited video released by the Ukrainian president's office of Graham's meeting with Volodymyr Zelenskiy on May 26, Graham was shown saying "the Russians are dying" and then saying U.S. support was the "best money we've ever spent." After Russia criticized the remarks, Ukraine released a full video of the meeting that showed the two remarks were not linked. Graham disputed Russian criticism of his support for Ukraine, saying he had simply praised the spirit of Ukrainians in resisting a Russian invasion with assistance provided by Washington. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Unrest, International Pressure Mounts As Mayoral Standoffs Roil Serbian Areas Of Northern Kosovo
ZVECAN, Kosovo -- International KFOR troops have cordoned off town halls and pepper-sprayed demonstrators as standoffs between local ethnic Serbs and ethnic Albanian authorities in northern Kosovo continue over Pristina's contentious efforts to install ethnic Albanian mayors after boycotted elections that raised the ire of neighboring Serbia.
Crowds of several hundred people were gathered outside municipal headquarters in Zvecan, Leposavic, and Zubin Potok, with alarm sirens sounding and pepper spray and bottles flying, as local and international pressure mounted for Kosovar officials to de-escalate the situation.
A powerful Serbian party leader demanded that the "illegal" Kosovar forces leave the areas.
Troops from the NATO-led peacekeeping mission in Kosovo, KFOR, manned cordons to keep the two sides apart in the three municipalities and to prevent the crowds from overrunning the buildings where the so-called "parallel" administrations backed by neighboring Serbia operate.
Serbia's prime minister, Ana Brnabic, was critical of the international community's handling of the situation, saying that KFOR was protecting "the usurpers," a thinly veiled reference to the new mayors.
"But we must protect the peace. Peace is all we have," Brnabic said.
Kosovar police last week escorted newly inaugurated mayors into those buildings despite objections from locals and warnings from Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, whose country doesn't recognize Kosovo and who has put Serbia's military on high alert.
Even though they pushed for the elections to be held, U.S. and EU envoys have condemned Kosovo's decision to forcibly install the mayors in northern Kosovo to try to calm the situation to avoid further turbulence in Europe at a time when Russia is waging war against Ukraine.
Five Kosovar police officers were injured and four police vehicles torched when they battled crowds on May 26 to install the mayors in three town halls, including with the use of tear gas and shock bombs.
U.S. Ambassador to Kosovo Jeffrey Hovenier emerged from a meeting on May 29 with Kosovar President Vjosa Osmani citing a "shared concern of the prospect of violence and the need to de-escalate."
He said that "we're deeply concerned" and expressed a willingness to meet with Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti "at his convenience."
Earlier, Hovenier met with two of the installed mayors -- Izmir Zeqiri of Zubin Potok and Ilir Peci of Zvecan, both from the opposition Democratic Party of Kosovo -- at the EU offices in the Kosovar capital before going to the building of the Kosovar Assembly, the national parliament.
The mayors of Leposavic, Lulzim Hetemi, and of North Mitrovica, Erden Atiq, who are both from Kurti's Vetevendosje party, reportedly were not at the meeting.
The mayors were all sworn in despite a turnout of under 3.5 percent in the April 23 by-elections in those four areas amid a boycott by ethnic Serbs.
The special elections were sparked by mass resignations by Kosovar Serb mayors, police, and judges in November as a cross-border dispute raged over vehicle registrations between Kosovo and Serbia, which does not recognize its former province's 2008 declaration of independence.
Ethnic Serbs compose around 5 percent of Kosovo's 1.8 million residents but are a majority in the four northern regions.
Goran Rakic, the chairman of the dominant Serbian political party in northern Kosovo, the Belgrade-backed Serbian List (Srpska Lista), had warned against the new mayors turning up for work after the weekend.
Rakic was in Zvecan on May 29, where he spoke with international troops and local Serbs.
Riot police formed a security cordon while blue armored vehicles of special units of the Kosovar Police were positioned around the "parallel" administrative building in Zvecan.
Rakic said he had forwarded two demands to KFOR representatives and to foreign representatives in Pristina before the Serbian protesters would withdraw.
One is for the Kosovar "sheriffs," whom he described as "illegal," to return to their homes. The second condition, he said, was for "all the special units in the municipality building and around the municipality, withdraw to the south, because this is not a police station, it is the city hall."
At one point, Rakic was shouted down when he asked the crowd to allow two Kosovar police vehicles to pass. Shouts of "treason!" rang out and bottles landed nearby, according to an RFE/RL's Balkan Service correspondent at the scene.
Later, Kosovar police used chemical spray to repel the crowd.
In Leposavic, KFOR troops laid out metal barricades reinforced with concertina wire to keep a crowd of several hundred people away from the municipal headquarters.
Armored vehicles topped with guns and other KFOR-marked vehicles stood on guard outside the municipal building in Zubin Potok, where a crowd of several hundred people gathered and Serbian flags and political party messages hung from nearby homes.
The embassies in Pristina of France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the European Union on May 28 -- the so-called QUINT governments -- reiterated an earlier statement "condemning Kosovo's decision to force access into municipal buildings in the north of Kosovo despite our repeated calls for restraint."
They said they expected "no new measures to force access to the municipal buildings in Leposavic, Zubin Potok, and Zvecan" by Kosovo's government.
The town hall in North Mitrovica has its own building, rather than one controlled under the "parallel system" that is backed by Belgrade to administer to ethnic Serbs in northern Kosovo.
Serbian Defense Minister Milos Vucevic said on May 29 that his country's armed forces would be fully deployed by 2 p.m. local time, in accordance with Vucic's order to put them on high alert.
Officials in neighboring Serbia have demanded as part of EU- and U.S.-mediated talks over the past decade that Pristina fulfill an agreement in 2013 to establish an association of Serbian municipalities to represent the Serb-majority communities.
Kurti came to power in 2020 and again in 2021 pledging to impose greater "reciprocal" measures on Serbia and accelerate efforts to achieve full international recognition for his country. He has resisted forming the association.
Kurti said via Facebook on May 27 that his country was "aware and understands the concerns" of Kosovo's international partners but the municipal buildings "belong to the Kosovar state and therefore were not taken yesterday and will not be taken any other day."
He urged "everyone, especially Serb citizens of Kosovo, to cooperate with the new mayors and their cabinets."
He defended the installation of the mayors and suggested that "any other option would be failure to meet our government's constitutional obligations to the new mayors; would be failure to fulfill the obligations and obligations of the new mayors to the citizens of the Republic; and would make it impossible to provide basic communal services to the citizens."
Vucic warned around the April by-elections in northern Kosovo that Pristina sought to "occupy" the region.
On May 26, with local Serbs opposing the mayoral placements, Vucic told a pro-government rally in Belgrade that his country would not "stand idly by" if Serbs in northern Kosovo were "attacked."
Local critics have also questioned Kurti's rush to use Kosovo's police forces to install the ethnic Albanian mayors in the mostly Serbian areas.
"This inspired Vucic, [Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica] Dacic, and Serbian List even more to continue their opposition, to remove the mayors and the presence of Kosovo Police at all costs," former Kosovar lawmaker Nuredinn Ibishi said.
Ibishi said the Serbs' response could have been expected, given Serbian List's warnings in the days before the swearing-in of the mayors.
Belarus's Lukashenka Says There Can Be 'Nuclear Weapons For Everyone'
Belarus’s authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka said that if any other country wanted to join a Russia-Belarus union there could be "nuclear weapons for everyone." Russia moved ahead last week with a plan to deploy tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, in the Kremlin's first deployment of such warheads outside Russia since 1991, spurring concerns in the West. In an interview published on Russia's state television late on May 28, Lukashenka, President Vladimir Putin's staunchest ally among Russia's neighbors, said that it must be "strategically understood" that Minsk and Moscow have a unique chance to unite.
Russia Launches Rare Daytime Air Strikes On Ukrainian Capital
KYIV -- Explosions rocked the skies above Kyiv as Russian forces carried out rare daytime air strikes on the Ukrainian capital hours after bombarding it overnight with missile and drone attacks.
Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine
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The drama, visible in the skies over the city, started soon after air-raid sirens wailed at 11 a.m. in Kyiv on May 29, prompting many to seek shelter in subway stations and basements, an RFE/RL correspondent in the city reported.
“Blasts could be seen in the sky from several places in the city, including downtown Kyiv,” the correspondent said. “The explosions set off car alarms across the city, and loud booms could be heard, [possibly] from rockets being shot down by air defenses,” he added.
Eyewitnesses said they heard at least 10 explosions in Kyiv, as the sky above the city filled with blast clouds and smoke trails.
The city’s military administration said that air defenses shot down all 11 Iskander missiles launched by Russia at Kyiv in the daytime attack. The claim could not be independently verified.
Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said emergency services had been dispatched to “respond to a call near the center of the city.” He urged residents to shelter in place, saying “the attack on Kyiv continues.”
"The enemy used missiles of a ballistic trajectory -- preliminarily Iskanders. There is a possibility that S-300 and S-400 missiles were also used," Air Force spokesman Yuri Ihnat told Ukrainian media.
Bolstered by sophisticated Western-supplied equipment, Ukrainian air defenses have been adept at thwarting Russian air attacks -- both drones and aircraft missiles.
Russia has intensified missile and drone strikes on Ukraine after a lull of nearly two months, targeting military facilities and supplies with waves of attacks several times a week.
On May 28, Kyiv came under what Ukrainian officials described as the “largest” drone attack on the city since the start of the war. That attack was “carried out in several waves, and the air alert lasted more than five hours,” according to Serhiy Popko, the head of Kyiv's military administration.
Elsewhere, the governor of Russia’s Belgorod region that borders Ukraine’s Kharkiv Province said on May 29 that Ukrainian forces were shelling several border settlements.
Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said on Telegram that two industrial facilities in the border town of Shebekino had been shelled and four employees had been wounded.
Several villages were left without electricity in the aftermath of the shelling, he added.
Belgorod has repeatedly come under attacks from Ukrainian forces since the Russian invasion began in February 2022.
With reporting by Aleksander Palikot in Kyiv, Reuters and AFP
Hundreds Demonstrate In Sarajevo To Demand Better Street Safety
Hundreds of people gathered in central Sarajevo to demand improved street safety after a man was killed by a drunk driver while walking in the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina. "The streets of Sarajevo are not safe. The existing legal regulations are not adequate," organizers of the protest said on May 28. "The institutions must take responsibility and offer solutions." The protests came after a 25-year-old man was killed and two other pedestrians were seriously injured when they were struck by a speeding vehicle driven by an intoxicated driver as they crossed a street. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Balkan Service, click here.
Iranian Official Says Conflict With Afghanistan Detrimental To Both Sides
An Iranian Foreign Ministry official has said following the outbreak of border clashes between Iranian border guards and Taliban fighters that any conflict between the two countries is detrimental to both of them.
The May 28 comments on Twitter by Seyyed Rasool Musavi, director of the Iranian Foreign Ministry's South Asia Department, came a day after deadly gunfire was exchanged along the countries' mutual border.
Abdul Nafee Takour, spokesman for the Taliban-led government's Interior Ministry, told RFE/RL's Radio Azadi that one Taliban fighter and one Iranian border guard were killed in the incident.
Iran's official IRNA news agency has said two border guards were killed and two civilians injured.
Each side has accused the other of shooting first.
Tensions over water rights have risen between Iran and Afghanistan in recent weeks. Drought-stricken southeastern Iran is heavily dependent on upriver water flows from Afghanistan, leading to calls for Afghanistan to release more water and accusations that Kabul is not honoring a bilateral water treaty signed in 1973.
The Taliban has denied it is in violation of the agreement, and said low water levels on the Helmand River -- which feeds lakes and wetlands in Iran's southeastern Sistan-Baluchistan Province -- preclude releasing more water.
Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian earlier this month demanded in a call with his Taliban counterpart, Amir Khan Muttaqi, that Afghan authorities open the gates of the inland Kajaki Dam on the Helmand River "so both the people of Afghanistan and Iran can be hydrated."
During a visit to Sistan-Baluchistan on May 18, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi warned "the rulers of Afghanistan to immediately give the people of Sistan-Baluchistan their water rights," adding that the Taliban should take his words "seriously."
The region is one of the most arid areas of Iran, which has seen multiple public protests over water scarcity in recent years.
Shortly after Raisi's comment, Taliban officials announced the construction of a new dam on the Farah River, which feeds agricultural land in southwestern Afghanistan and also drains into southeastern Iran.
In 2021, prior to the Taliban's seizure of power, Afghanistan completed work on the Kamal Khan Dam, which also sits on the Helmand River.
Zelenskiy Seeks Sanctions On Iran As Ukraine War Rages On
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy initiated sanctions against Iran for a period of 50 years, according to state news agency Unian, referring to a presidential legislative initiative received by the Ukrainian parliament. The bill would ban trade in military equipment and dual-use goods. In addition, Ukraine would also halt its economic and financial obligations to Tehran and prevent the export of capital to Iran. The bill also proposes a ban on technology transfers and investment in Iran. The Ukrainian parliament is expected to back the decision, which has already been approved by the National Security Council.
Iranian Student Suspended From University For Refusing To Wear Hijab Summoned In New Case
Sepideh Rashno, a 28-year-old Iranian writer and student arrested last year for refusing to wear the mandatory hijab, has said she has been summoned to appear before the Tehran Prosecutor's Office in relation to a supposed new case against her.
Rashno announced the development by publishing a photograph of the official judicial notice on her Instagram page.
"A new case has been created and today I was notified that I have to go to the Evin courthouse to explain the charge or imputed charge,"
Rashno said, adding that she believed the summons was related to several Instagram posts that she has published in recent weeks.
Earlier this month, Rashno wrote on her Instagram account that she had been banned from studying at Al-Zahra University in Tehran for two semesters for "not observing the Islamic dress code."
She was arrested in June after a video of her arguing with another woman who was enforcing rules on wearing a head scarf on a bus in Tehran went viral.
Rashno was handed a five-year suspended prison sentence in December after being found guilty of "gathering and colluding against the country's security," "propaganda activity against the government," and "appearing without a hijab in public."
Just weeks after Rashno's arrest, mass protests erupted around the country after 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died in September while in police custody after being arrested by morality police in Tehran for "improperly" wearing a hijab.
Hundreds of Iranian students are reportedly facing disciplinary committees and possible suspensions at Al-Zahra University over issues related to the mandatory hijab on campus.
According to the Telegram channel Voice of Al-Zahra Students, since the beginning of the Persian New Year in late March, at least 35 students have been suspended from studying for one to two semesters due to issues related to the mandatory hijab and have been deprived of dormitory access until the end of their studies.
Take A Stand On War, Ukraine's Kostyuk Tells Belarus's Sabalenka At French Open
Marta Kostyuk refused to shake hands with Aryna Sabalenka after their first-round match at the French Open and the Ukrainian says the Belarusian should take a stronger, more personal stand against Russia's war against Ukraine. Booing and jeering could be heard from the crowd as Kostyuk left the court after a 6-3 6-2 loss to world No. 2 Sabalenka on May 28. Kostyuk has said she would not shake hands with tour rivals from Russia and Belarus -- a staging ground for Russia's invasion -- if she feels they have not done enough to speak out against the war. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
NATO Head Urges Kosovo To Ease Tensions With Serbia
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg on May 28 called on Kosovo to tone down tensions with Serbia, two days after violent clashes between Kosovar police and protesters opposed to Albanian mayors taking office in ethnic Serbian areas. Stoltenberg, the transatlantic military alliance's Norwegian secretary-general, said he had spoken to European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell about Kosovo. He said Pristina and Belgrade must engage in the EU-led dialogue. Serbs, who form the majority of the population in Kosovo's northern region, do not accept Kosovo's 2008 declaration of independence from Serbia. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Wagner Chief Prigozhin Says Kremlin Blanking Him On State Media Will Provoke Backlash
Russia's most powerful mercenary said on May 28 he was convinced that senior Kremlin officials had banned reporting about him on state media, cautioning that such a misleading approach would lead to a backlash from the Russian people within months. Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder of the private Wagner Group, is the most striking member of President Vladimir Putin's circle to gain widespread notoriety in the 15-month war in Ukraine. Prigozhin claimed that his mercenary forces gained control of the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut earlier this month -- something Ukraine has denied -- but Russian state television gave him little coverage. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Russia Thwarts Drone Attack On Krasnodar Oil Refinery, Officials Say
Russia's air-defense systems destroyed several drones as they approached the Ilsky oil refinery in the Krasnodar region near the Black Sea, local officials said on May 28. "Several unmanned aerial vehicles tried to approach the territory of the Ilsky oil refinery in the Krasnodar Krai," the region's emergency officials said on Telegram. "All of them were neutralized, the infrastructure of the plant was not damaged." The officials did not say who launched the attack. Reuters was not able to independently verify the report. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Russia Targets Ukrainian Capital With 'Largest' Drone Attack As City Marks Kyiv Day
Russian forces targeted Kyiv with multiple waves of air strikes early on May 28, Ukrainian officials said, describing the air raid as the "largest" drone attack on the city since the start of the war.
The strikes came on the last Sunday of May when the Ukrainian capital celebrates Kyiv Day, the anniversary of the city's official founding 1,541 years ago.
The Tavberidze Interviews
Since the beginning of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Vazha Tavberidze of RFE/RL's Georgian Service has been interviewing diplomats, military experts, and academics who hold a wide spectrum of opinions about the war's course, causes, and effects. To read all of his interviews, click here.
Ukrainian military officials said 58 out of 59 drones used in the attack were shot down by Ukraine’s defense systems.
Falling debris killed at least one person and wounded two others in Kyiv, according to the city authorities.
Serhiy Popko, the head of Kyiv's military administration, said Russia used the Iranian-made Shahed drones in the pre-dawn attacks on Kyiv, the largest Ukrainian city with a population of around 3 million.
"Today, the enemy decided to 'congratulate' the people of Kyiv on Kyiv Day with the help of their deadly [unmanned aerial vehicles]," Popko wrote on Telegram.
"The attack was carried out in several waves, and the air alert lasted more than five hours," he added.
Several buildings were damaged, and fires broke out, city officials said.
Falling debris set a three-story warehouse on fire in the Holosiyivskiy district in the southwestern part of Kyiv, destroying 1,000 square meters of building structures, according to Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko.
Falling drone debris also caused a fire in the Solomyanskiy district, a busy rail and air transport hub in the city's west.
The roof of a nine-story building was set on fire by debris in the Pecherskiy district, and a shop was damaged in the Darnytskiy district, military administration officials said on Telegram early on May 28.
Russia has intensified missile and drone strikes on Ukraine after a lull of nearly two months, targeting military facilities and supplies with waves of attacks several times a week.
Bolstered by sophisticated Western-supplied equipment, Ukrainian air defenses have been adept at thwarting Russian air attacks -- both drones and aircraft missiles.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy hailed his country's air-defense forces and rescue services, calling them "heroes."
"You look up to destroy enemy missiles, aircraft, helicopters, and drones. Every time you shoot down enemy drones and missiles, lives are saved.... You are heroes!" Zelensky said on May 28, also thanking rescuers.
Drone strikes and artillery fire were also reported from other parts of Ukraine, including the northeastern province of Sumy on the border with Russia and the town of Nikopol in the southeastern Dnipropetrovsk region.
In the northeastern Kharkiv Province, regional authorities said two people were killed in two separate shelling attacks on May 28.
Also on May 28, the death toll from a missile attack two days earlier on the city of Dnipro, the provincial capital of Dnipropetrovsk, rose to four.
Dnipropetrovsk Governor Serhiy Lysak said three people who were considered missing were confirmed dead. At least 32 people, including two children, were wounded in the May 26 attack.
With reporting by Reuters and AFP
Tens Of Thousands Take To The Streets Of Belgrade To Protest Mass Shootings, Government Response
Tens of thousands of Serbian citizens took to the streets of the capital, Belgrade, on May 27 to protest against the government’s response to two mass shootings earlier in the month that killed 18. Protesters called on President Aleksandar Vucic, Interior Minister Bratislav Gasic, and Aleksandar Vulin, the director of Serbia's security agency, to resign. Many opponents blame Vucic for creating an atmosphere of hopelessness and division in the country that they say indirectly led to the mass shootings. The demonstration was the fourth such protest in recent weeks. To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Balkan Service, click here.
Ukraine Claims Russia Plotting 'Provocation' At Nuclear Plant, Offers No Evidence
Ukraine’s military intelligence has claimed, without offering evidence, that Russia is plotting a "large-scale provocation" at a nuclear power plant it occupies in the southeast of the country with the aim of disrupting a looming Ukrainian counteroffensive. A statement released on May 26 by the intelligence directorate of Ukraine's Defense Ministry claimed that Russian forces would strike the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, the biggest in Europe, and then report a radioactive leak in order to trigger an international probe that would pause the hostilities and give the Russian forces the respite they need to regroup ahead of the counteroffensive. To read the original story by AP, click here.
Russian Orthodox Church Fires Archpriest For 'Obstruction' Of Trinity Icon Transfer
Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, on May 27 fired archpriest Leonid Kalinin, head of the Moscow Patriarchate’s expert council on church art, architecture, and restoration for "obstructing" the transfer of the historic 15th-century Trinity icon to the church from a museum in Moscow. Kalinin was also banned from the priesthood, according to a statement published by the Russian Orthodox Church. "I apparently made a mistake," Kalinin was quoted as saying by the Tass news agency, adding that he accepted the decision "calmly." To read the original story by Current Time, click here.
Germany Says Russia Set To Expel German Diplomats, Teachers, Cultural Staff
Russia will start expelling German diplomats, teachers and employees of German cultural institutions next month, the German Foreign Office said on May 27 -- a move that will further enhance tensions between the two countries that have already had very fraught ties since Russia invaded Ukraine early last year. The German Foreign Ministry sharply criticized Russia’s move, calling the upcoming expulsions a "unilateral, unjustified and incomprehensible decision." To read the original story by AP, click here.
Interview: The 'War Of Clans For Putin's Throne Has Begun'2
A Quick Ukrainian Defeat Of Russia Lessens Chances Of 'Black Swan Event,' Argues Former Military Adviser To Ukraine3
Wagner Chief Prigozhin Says Russia's Plan To 'Demilitarize' Ukraine Has Failed4
'We're Moving Forward': Ukrainian Artillery Still Targeting Russian Positions Near Bakhmut5
Consider The Porcupine: Western Officials Struggle To Find A New Security Model For Ukraine6
Three Russian Regions Attacked By Ukrainian Forces, Governors Say7
Russian Rights Defender Khamroyev Sentenced To 14 Years In Prison8
Along Ukraine's Border, Fear, Suspicion, Exhaustion Seep Into A Russian Region9
Russia Cancels Air Show For The First Time In Decades10
Air Defense: Ukraine Parries As Russia Seeks To Slow Counteroffensive With New Surge Of Attacks