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EU Says Croatia Nearing Entry, Macedonia May Start Talks

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union's has executive arm said that Croatia could wrap up EU entry talks next year and recommended that the bloc start membership negotiations with Macedonia.

The European Commission said other EU hopefuls including Turkey had a lot more to do, criticizing corruption, weak administrations and making clear that it would take many years before the bulk of them could join the now 27-country EU.

"If Croatia meets all outstanding benchmarks in time, the accession negotiations could be concluded next year," the Commission said in an annual report on enlargement.

EU governments should open membership talks with Macedonia, another former Yugoslav country, it said.

"The country has made convincing progress and substantially addressed reform priorities," EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn told a news conference.

Diplomats say a dispute with EU member Greece over Macedonia's name could jeopardize the plan. Greece has vetoed Macedonia's accession to NATO, saying the country's name implied territorial claims to Greece's own province of Macedonia.

Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski welcomed the commission's announcement, saying: "It's a historic day for Macedonia and its citizens. This report will serve as a signpost for our future steps.”

The report said Turkey must step up political and economic reforms, improve the rights of minorities, women, and trade unions as well as normalize relations with Cyprus.

Ankara recognizes the northern Turkish-dominated part of Cyprus and refuses to normalize ties with the southern part, which is an EU member. The island was split by a Turkish invasion triggered by a brief Greek-inspired coup in early 1970s.

The report raised concerns over Turkey's treatment of media group Dogan Yayin in a tax dispute, saying the issue may affect freedom of the press in the country.

Turkey called the dispute an internal matter and said the EU was dragging its feet in membership talks.

"We are hoping that the European Union will reciprocate Turkey's decisiveness for reform with the same decisiveness to take us into the Union," EU Chief Negotiator Egemen Bagis said.

The French government opposes Turkey's full membership and Germany has doubts.

The Commission said other hopefuls Serbia, Albania, Bosnia, Montenegro, and Kosovo were making uneven progress towards membership. The situation was especially grave in Bosnia, where leaders of ethnic communities have failed to cooperate on reforms.

The report gave no entry date for Croatia. Diplomats say the former Yugoslav state of 4.4 million could become the EU's 28th member in 2012 after ratification of its accession treaty.

But before Croatia can wrap up entry talks, it still needs to improve its fight against corruption and organized crime, boost its judicial system, and increase cooperation with the United Nations war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

"There is more effort to be made but this is probably the last such report as we will certainly wrap up this job by mid-2010," Croatian Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor said.

Croatia's accession was made possible after it settled this month a border dispute with EU member Slovenia, which had frozen entry talks for a year.

There is little appetite for further enlargement among EU member states amid the economic crisis and following the bloc's costly expansion since 2004 to take in 12 mostly ex-communist countries from Central and Eastern Europe.

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Wife Of Jailed Journalist Losik Released In Amnesty, Rights Group Says

Darya and Ihar Losik (file photo)
Darya and Ihar Losik (file photo)

The Homelskaya Vyasna human rights group in Belarus said on July 24 that Darya Losik, the wife of imprisoned RFE/RL journalist Ihar Losik, was released earlier this month as part of a mass amnesty.

According to the group, Darya Losik was one of five women imprisoned on politically motivated charges who were released from the prison in the southeastern city of Homel in early July.

Darya Losik was handed a two-year sentence in January 2023 on a charge of facilitating extremist activity that stemmed from her interview with the Poland-based Belsat news outlet, which has been declared an extremist group by Minsk.

Ihar Losik is currently serving a 15-year prison sentence for charges that he, RFE/RL, and foreign governments have called politically motivated.

The 32-year-old was arrested in June 2020 and sentenced in December 2021 for "organizing mass riots, taking part in mass disorder, inciting social hatred," and several other charges that remain unclear.

He has maintained his innocence and calls all charges against him politically motivated.

In October 2023, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found that Belarus violated international human rights law by imprisoning Losik, concluding that his arrest and detention were "based solely on his journalistic activity and his exercise of the freedoms of expression and of association."

The U.S.-based rights group Freedom Now said at the time that the conclusion was made in response to a legal petition it filed along with the international law firm Dechert LLP.

The U.S. State Department, U.S. Helsinki Commission, Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, the U.S. Agency for Global Media, and several U.S. and EU politicians have called several times for Losik's immediate release.

Losik's parents said in February that the last letter they received from their son, who was placed in cell-type premises where letters, parcels from relatives, and visits are banned, was on February 20, 2023.

Iranian Historian Who Escaped Persecution At Risk Of Being Sent Back To Iran

Ali Asghar Haghdar (file photo)
Ali Asghar Haghdar (file photo)

A historian who fled Iran in the aftermath of the 2009 protests is at risk of being sent back.

Ali Asghar Haqdar, a published author who has been living in Turkey for 13 years, was detained on June 13 in Istanbul and sent to a refugee camp.

On July 24, he informed RFE/RL's Radio Farda that a court had denied his request for temporary release.

His lawyer, Salih Efe, told Radio Farda that he had appealed the verdict but warned that if the appeal is rejected, "it will seriously increase Haqdar's chances of being deported to Iran."

Haqdar, who is being held in a camp in Istanbul's Arnavutkoy municipality, is in a poor mental state, according to people familiar with his condition.

He has reportedly told those close to him that people in the camp are rarely allowed to get fresh air and are mostly kept inside repurposed shipping containers.

Last month, Haqdar told Radio Farda that he was detained in Istanbul during a mass arrest of foreign nationals.

He said police had told him that his passport was close to expiry and that they needed to check whether he was registered in the system. He has been in the camp since his detention on June 13.

Haqdar fled Iran after a leaked document allegedly prepared by the Intelligence Ministry listed his name among several authors and translators accused of fomenting sedition in the aftermath of the controversial 2009 presidential election.

During his time in Turkey, he has been collaborating with various universities and says he had permission to live in Istanbul to use the libraries for his research.

Haqdar is a recipient of the 2013 Hellman/Hemmet award, which is given by Human Rights Watch to authors facing political persecution.

Updated

U.S., Canadian Warplanes Intercept Russian, Chinese Military Aircraft Near Alaska

A Russian TU-95 bomber (file photo)
A Russian TU-95 bomber (file photo)

The United States and Canada scrambled fighter jets after two Russian and two Chinese military planes were tracked in the international airspace close to Alaska, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) said in a statement.

"NORAD detected, tracked, and intercepted two Russian TU-95 and two PRC H-6 military aircraft operating in the Alaska Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) on July 24, 2024. NORAD fighter jets from the United States and Canada conducted the intercept," the statement said.

The "identification zone" is a stretch of international airspace that acts as a buffer zone where the U.S. and Canadian national airspace ends. All aircraft entering the ADIZ requires identification for national security reasons, NORAD clarified.

The presence of the Russian and Chinese planes was not seen as a threat, since they remained in international airspace and did not violate U.S. or Canadian sovereign airspace, NORAD said, adding that it will "continue to monitor competitor activity near North America and meet presence with presence."

Russia has long had a military presence in the North Pacific and intercepts of Russian planes are relatively common in the area. An intercept refers to visual or electronic contact by NORAD aircraft of foreign planes.

Russia's Defense Ministry said in a statement that the Russian and Chinese warplanes conducted a "joint patrol over the Chukchi Sea, the Bering Sea, and the northern part of the Pacific Ocean" and "worked out issues of interaction at all stages of air patrolling."

They "acted strictly in accordance with the provisions of international law" and there were "no violations of the airspace of foreign states," the ministry said.

China's Defense Ministry, meanwhile, said the joint flight was "not aimed at a third party."

Ministry spokesman Zhang Xiaogang said the action "has nothing to do with the current international and regional situation," while it "tests and enhances the level of cooperation between the two air forces."

Russia and China have deepened their political, military, and economic cooperation since the start of Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.


Beijing's military has in recent years expanded its reach farther and farther away from continental China, with Chinese naval ships being detected in international waters near Alaska.

The U.S. Coast Guard earlier this month spotted four Chinese vessels in the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone, a 370-kilometer stretch of sea from the U.S. coast.

NORAD is a Colorado-based joint organization of the United States and Canada that provides aerospace warning, air sovereignty, and protection for Canada and the continental United States.

"NORAD remains ready to employ a number of response options in defense of North America," the statement said.

Ukraine Downed More Than Two Dozen Drones Over 7 Regions, Military Says

Air defenses search the sky over Kyiv for Russian drones. (file photo)
Air defenses search the sky over Kyiv for Russian drones. (file photo)

Ukraine's air defenses shot down 25 out of the 38 drones launched by Russia at its territory early on July 25, the air force said. The drones were destroyed over the Odesa, Kherson, Mykolayiv, Kyiv, Sumy, Zhytomyr, and Cherkasy regions, it said, adding that three drones "were lost on location after crossing the Romanian border." NATO member Romania separately said that mobile-phone messages were issued for Tulcea County, which borders southern Ukraine, alerting the public of the risk of falling drone debris. It was the second time Romania issued such an alert in as many days.

Military Helicopter Crew Killed In Crash In Western Russia

A Russian Mi-28 helicopter (file photo)
A Russian Mi-28 helicopter (file photo)

A Mi-28 helicopter belonging to the Russian military crashed in the western Kaluga region and the crew was killed, the Defense Ministry reported, saying that a technical malfunction was identified as the preliminary cause of the crash. It did not say how many people were on board, but Mi-28 helicopters usually have a two-people crew. The helicopter had been on a scheduled flight, the ministry said. Regional Governor Vladislav Shapsha wrote on Telegram that rescuers were working at the crash site. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Biden Vows To Defend Ukraine, Democracy In Final Months Of Presidency

President Joe Biden addresses the nation from the Oval Office of the White House in Washington on July 24 about his decision to drop his reelection bid.
President Joe Biden addresses the nation from the Oval Office of the White House in Washington on July 24 about his decision to drop his reelection bid.

U.S. President Joe Biden, speaking publicly for the first time about his decision to drop his bid for reelection, vowed to defend democracy at home and in allies such as Ukraine in the final months of his presidency.

In an address to the nation on July 24, Biden explained his decision to drop out of the November 5 presidential election, saying it was time to put personal ambition to the side and allow a new generation to take over.

Instead of running against Republican rival Donald Trump -- Biden has endorsed Vice President Kamala Harris as the Democratic Party's candidate -- the 81-year-old president said he would "keep working to ensure America remains strong and secure and the leader of the free world."

"We’ll keep rallying a coalition of proud nations to stop [Russian President Vladimir] Putin from taking over Ukraine and doing more damage. We’ll keep NATO stronger, and I’ll make it more powerful and more united than at any time in all of our history," he said in the 10-minute address broadcast live to the nation.

Throughout his nearly decade-long political career, Trump has praised authoritarian leaders like Putin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

At times Trump has publicly criticized U.S. aid to Ukraine's defenses as it tries to repel invading Russian troops, while his candidate for vice president, Senator J.D. Vance, helped lead Republican efforts to try and block billions in U.S. military and financial assistance to Kyiv.

During his term in office from 2017 to 2021, Trump tilted the Supreme Court to the right of the political spectrum, sought to overturn the 2020 election results, and -- his critics say -- undermined NATO unity.

Biden and Harris, who attended an international Ukraine peace summit in Switzerland last month, have been staunch supporters of Ukraine and of NATO's role in helping the country.

Biden, whose term officially ends on January 20, 2025, said that with the United States at an inflection point, Harris, 59, is best-placed to run in an election where "the soul of America was at stake."

Biden had sewn up the Democratic Party's nomination for the election, but dropped out of the race and endorsed Harris amid an erosion of support over concerns about his fitness to run because of his age.

He had been under pressure for weeks since a horrendous performance at a debate with Trump, where the president appeared frail and confused at times, raising questions about his physical and mental state.

Biden said he became the first incumbent U.S. president to give up his party's nomination in more than five decades because he needed to unite Democrats, even though he believed his record in the Oval Office merited a second four-year term.

"So I've decided the best way forward is to pass the torch to a new generation. That's the best way to unite our nation," he said.

"I know there is a time and a place for long years of experience in public life, but there’s also a time and a place for new voices, fresh voices, yes, younger voices, and that time and place is now."

Trump, who now becomes the oldest presidential nominee in U.S. history, immediately slammed Biden, saying in a post on his Truth Social network the address was "barely understandable and so bad."

Harris, a former prosecutor and California senator, would become the first black woman to run at the top of the election ticket for a major party in the country's history if she is confirmed as the Democratic nominee at the party's convention in Chicago that begins on August 19.

"The great thing about America is here kings and dictators do not rule, the people do. History is in your hands. The power is in your hands. The idea of America lies in your hands," Biden said at the end of his address.

With reporting by AP

Man Charged With Stabbing Salman Rushdie In 2022 Faces New Federal Charges

Salman Rushdie (file photo)
Salman Rushdie (file photo)

A man who severely injured author Salman Rushdie in a knife attack in 2022 was motivated by a Hizballah leader's endorsement of a fatwa calling for Rushdie's death, prosecutors said on July 24. A new indictment of Hadi Matar, a U.S. citizen from New Jersey, said he was attempting to carry out a fatwa. The prosecutor said in a news release that Matar believed the call for the Iranian-born author's death, first issued in 1989, was backed by the Lebanon-based militant group Hizballah and endorsed in a 2006 speech by the group’s secretary-general, Hassan Nasrallah. U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said that in attempting to murder Rushdie, Matar "committed an act of terrorism in the name of Hizballah, a designated terrorist organization aligned with the Iranian regime.” Matar, who faces separate state charges of attempted murder and assault, pleaded not guilty to the new federal charges. To read the U.S. Justice Department news release, click here.

Constitutional Court In Bosnia Temporarily Suspends Republika Srpska's Election Law

Citizens who oppose changes to the election law of Bosnia-Herzegovina protest in Sarajevo. (file photo)
Citizens who oppose changes to the election law of Bosnia-Herzegovina protest in Sarajevo. (file photo)

The Constitutional Court of Bosnia-Herzegovina on July 24 temporarily suspended an election law passed by the National Assembly of Republika Srpska in April, sparking negative reaction by the international community and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) mission to Bosnia.

The court declared the law “temporarily invalid,” saying that the decision will stay in place until the Constitutional Court makes a final decision.

The suspension came in a case to assess the compliance of Republika Srpska’s election law with the constitution of Bosnia. Denis Zvizdic, deputy speaker of the House of Representatives of the Bosnian parliament, requested the court make the assessment.

The Constitutional Court said the case brings up "a very serious and complex issues regarding the constitutionality of the contested election law of [Republika Srpska].”

It said the entity’s new election law regulates issues that are already regulated by the election law of Bosnia and transfers the competences of the Bosnian Central Election Commission to the lower-level entity commission, invalidating at the same time some provisions of the state level election law.

OSCE Chairman Ian Borg and Secretary-General Helga Marie Schmid said in their criticism of the election law that the establishment of parallel structures that undermine the overall security and stability of the country are against the constitutional order of Bosnia.

The court's decision on July 24 said it must resolve the question of whether the National Assembly of Republika Srpska has the authority to differently regulate areas that are already regulated at the state level in Bosnia.

The court therefore considers that there are valid concerns that the disputed law could violate the constitutional order and political stability of Bosnia, the court said.

This is sufficient to determine the existence of the possibility of "irreversible adverse consequences" if the Constitutional Court of Bosnia does not temporarily suspend the law, the court stated, adding that the temporary measure does not prejudge the final decision on the constitutionality of this law.

The court considers that election regulations represent one of the key areas for ensuring free, fair, and transparent elections that reflect the will of the citizens, the court said. Bosnia is preparing for local elections on October 6.

The court said that the implementation of the election law ahead of this year’s elections “would seriously undermine the role of the Central Election Commission of Bosnia-Herzegovina." It added that implementing the law ahead of upcoming local elections "could cause irreparable damage to the democratic election process, legal stability, and threatened the legitimacy of the electoral process."

3 Dead, 4 Wounded In Shooting Between Ukrainian Troops In Kharkiv Region

Ukrainian national flags flutter over the graves of fallen Ukrainian soldiers in a military cemetery in Kharkiv in northeastern Ukraine. (file photo)
Ukrainian national flags flutter over the graves of fallen Ukrainian soldiers in a military cemetery in Kharkiv in northeastern Ukraine. (file photo)

Three members of a Ukrainian military unit have been killed and four wounded in the Kharkiv region in a shooting between soldiers. The Khortytsia operational-strategic group reported on Telegram on July 24 that the shooting took place "on the basis of personal relationships." The four wounded soldiers were transported to a military clinic, where they are receiving emergency medical care, the Khortytsia group said, adding that their condition is serious. The Military Law and Order Service of the Ukrainian Armed Forces and law enforcement agencies were at the scene to begin an investigation. To read the original story on RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.

Russia Is Waging A 'Christian Jihad' In Occupied Ukraine, Military Chaplain Says 

Ukrainian Military Chaplain Mark Serhiyev on July 24, 2024, after testifying before the U.S. Helsinki Commission
Ukrainian Military Chaplain Mark Serhiyev on July 24, 2024, after testifying before the U.S. Helsinki Commission

WASHINGTON -- Churches in occupied Ukraine are “loyal to Moscow rather than God,” Ukrainian military chaplain Mark Serhiyev said at a July 24 congressional hearing, adding that Russia is waging a “Christian jihad” in the region.

Serhiyev, an evangelical pastor in Melitopol, a city in southern Ukraine, was invited to speak to the Helsinki Commission about life as a non-Orthodox Christian in occupied Ukraine. Serhiyev said he came to the United States to meet with over 25 pastors and American Christians to “spread the stories” of Ukrainian believers.

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.

Members of Congress in recent months have met with representatives from various Ukrainian Protestant churches to better understand the impact of the war on religious freedom. Evangelical leaders, in turn, have said that minority faith groups are under threat in Russian-occupied territory in Ukraine as they appeal to American evangelicals, a key constituency in the presidential election this November.

Serhiyev told the commission that he watched “from the windows of my church” as Russian tanks “rolled into my city” in the early days of Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022.

There are no evangelical churches left in Russia-occupied parts of Ukraine, Serhiyev told Representative Joe Wilson (Republican-South Carolina), chairman of the Helsinki Commission, which is a committee that focuses on security, cooperation, and human rights in Europe.

Serhiyev noted that before the war there were 2,000 Baptist churches and 2,500 Pentecostal churches in Ukraine. He didn’t specify how many remain but said many Christians are now worshiping underground.

Serhiyev said his father, also an evangelical pastor, was given 72 hours early in the invasion to record a video in front of his Melitopol church stating that Russian President Vladimir Putin controlled the area. His father refused to make the video, even under threat of having his fingers cut off, and the church’s 40-foot cross was “cut up” and “replaced with the Russian flag.”

“Russians are trying to make a weapon of religion,” Serhiyev said, adding that his church is now being used to host pro-Russia concerts funded by the Kremlin.

Moscow values religion for controlling the public, Serhiyev said, noting that Russia in June exchanged a single Orthodox priest for Ukrainian soldiers in a prisoner swap.

While Serhiyev told the commission that Ukraine has “100 percent religious freedom,” in Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine members of all non-Orthodox denominations and religions are targeted.

Under Russian occupation, Serhiyev said 80 percent of congregants from his 1,500-person church fled. Those who remain meet and pray in small groups of less than five people in what Serhiyev described as a “new level of faith.” One small group leader, Lena, is being held prisoner by Russia for leading a small evangelical group, Serhiyev recounted.

Penn State professor Catherine Wanner told the commission there is “no place for Protestants in the Russian world.” According to Wanner, who previously worked for the Ukrainian Research Institute at Harvard University, evangelicals in Russia are considered “apostates,” “traitors,” and “spies.”

For Serhiyev, Russia’s behavior parallels his great-grandfather’s experience as a jailed pastor in the Soviet Union. He was later killed.

“Nothing has changed,” Serhiyev told RFE/RL. “The questions by the communist KGB were the same when Russians came into my house.”

Serhiyev said that when the Russian forces found out he was a pastor, he was forced to go outside in the middle of the night. Russian soldiers, he said, pointed an assault rifle in his face while his 9-year-old son, Christopher, watched.

Serhiyev also condemned Patriarch Kirill, who is the head of the Russian Orthodox Church and known for his ties to Putin.

The hearing addressed Kirill, who announced a “Christian jihad,” and proclaimed that every Russian soldier who fights against Ukraine would “go directly to heaven because he’s fighting for the country” if he died in battle, Serhiyev told RFE/RL.

From the Russian perspective, Serhiyev said Kirill wants a “fight for the Slavic Orthodox world,” which “is crazy because they are killing kids and destroying our city.”

Defamation Case Filed By Tate Brothers Can Proceed, Florida Judge Rules

Andrew Tate (file photo)
Andrew Tate (file photo)

A judge in the U.S. state of Florida ruled on July 24 that a defamation lawsuit filed by Internet influencer Andrew Tate against a Florida woman who accused him of imprisoning her in Romania can go to trial. The judge ruled that the former professional kickboxer, 37, and his brother, Tristan, 36, can present their allegations to a jury that the woman in 2022 engaged in a plot to extort money from them. The British-American brothers say the woman falsely accused them of human trafficking and rape, costing them their freedom and millions of dollars in income from their social media ventures. The brothers are currently awaiting trial in Romania on charges of human trafficking, rape, and forming a criminal gang to sexually exploit women.

Orban Allies Show Trump Solidarity With Ear 'Bandages' At Closely Watched Gathering

Hungarian Fidesz lawmaker Zsolt Nemeth with a folded paper "bandage" over his ear at the Tusvanyos Festival in eastern Transylvania on July 24.
Hungarian Fidesz lawmaker Zsolt Nemeth with a folded paper "bandage" over his ear at the Tusvanyos Festival in eastern Transylvania on July 24.

The chairman of the Hungarian parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee and the organizer of an annual political boot camp for Hungary's ruling Fidesz party in neighboring Romania made a show of solidarity with former U.S. President Donald Trump at the opening of the five-day event on July 24.

Lawmaker Zsolt Nemeth and David Campanale, the co-founder of the 33rd annual Tusvanyos Festival, each wore a folded paper rectangle next to their right ear in homage to the bandage that Trump wore after an assassination attempt at a campaign rally in Pennsylvania on July 13 injured the Republican nominee for U.S. president.

The red-white-and-green papers had "Go, Hungarians" written on them.

Speaking at a panel discussion at the Transylvanian event, Nemeth cited the attempt on Trump's life alongside the shooting at close range of left-wing nationalist Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico in mid-May, nearly killing him.

"The escalation of violence and aggressiveness demands that [we] demonstrate and protest against it," Nemeth said. "This is unacceptable. It goes against everything for which Tusvanyos was launched 33 years ago."

David Campanale, a former journalist and co-founder of the event, which is officially called the Balvanyos Free Summer University and Student Camp, also wore the paper bandage.

The Tusvanyos Festival is an annual event that Orban frequently uses to lay out broad strategic goals and policies and appeal to ethnic Hungarians abroad, including to announce his support for Trump's successful presidential bid in 2016.

Orban will address this year's festival on July 27.

An estimated 1 million ethnic Hungarians live in northern Romania, hundreds of thousands of them with dual citizenship since Orban mounted a major effort to extend voting rights and other benefits of Hungarian nationality to the diaspora.

Hungarian nationalism is a sensitive topic in northern Romania and in nearby Ukraine, where Orban has pressed for greater autonomy for ethnic Hungarians and where Hungarian-language media are readily available.

Orban and his national populist Fidesz party have dominated Hungarian politics since 2010. Orban and Trump have become staunch transatlantic allies of the political right on issues from immigration and Russia's invasion of Ukraine to multilateralism since the run-up to Trump's first presidential bid eight years ago.

Orban was the first foreign leader to endorse Trump's successful campaign in 2016 and has repeatedly expressed his support ahead of the 2024 race that looks likely to pit him against Democratic Vice President Kamala Harris.

Orban's comments have sparked a feud with the U.S. ambassador to Budapest under President Joe Biden's administration, David Pressman.

Orban and his foreign minister, Peter Szijjarto, have resisted but so far avoided vetoing EU sanctions on Russia since its full-scale Ukraine invasion began more than two years ago, blaming those economic punishments for a flagging national economy and depicting many Western leaders as warmongers.

They have insisted on keeping NATO member Hungary out of military supply efforts for Kyiv, arguing that defeating Russia is out of the question and that arming Ukrainians extends the war.

Critics say Budapest has cynically adopted Kremlin talking points on the war, the continent's first all-out invasion since World War II.

Earlier this month, Hungary's Foreign Ministry quoted Orban as urging the European Union "not to copy the foreign policy of U.S. Democrats."

Before NATO's 75th anniversary summit earlier this month in Washington, Orban traveled to Kyiv, Moscow, and Beijing as part of a "peace mission" that the EU denounced, and he accused the United States of conducting a "war policy."

Orban also predicted a Trump victory in November, adding, “I’m sure that a change would be good for the world."

Orban met with Trump at the latter's Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida after the summit, where the Hungarian leader said they "discussed ways to make peace," adding of the Republican U.S. presidential nominee, "The good news of the day: He’s going to solve it!"

Trump and his party have criticized the amounts of aid being given to Ukraine, and Trump has vowed, without elaborating, to end the war quickly.

Trump wore a rectangular bandage over his right ear throughout last week's Republican National Convention where he officially received the party's nomination for president, sparking supporters to don similar patches in a show of solidarity against the attempt on Trump's life by a 20-year-old gunman.

Former Azerbaijani Diplomat Sent To Pretrial Detention On Stabbing Charge

Emin Ibrahimov (file photo)
Emin Ibrahimov (file photo)

The Nizami district Court in Baku on July 24 sent former Azerbaijani diplomat Emin Ibrahimov to pretrial detention for at least four months on a stabbing charge, which Ibrahimov rejects as totally fabricated. The 43-year-old government critic was detained two days earlier. Ibrahimov's lawyer, Aqil Layic, said the criminal case was fabricated in retaliation for his criticism of the government. The Interior Ministry has not responded. Ibrahimov used to work at the Azerbaijani Embassy in the United States and held other diplomatic posts. In recent years, he criticized the government for Baku's worsening relations with the West. In September, he was sentenced to 30 days in jail on a charge of "spreading harmful information" after an online post criticizing Russia. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service, click here.

Square Of Europe In Moscow Renamed As Square Of Eurasia

The square was unveiled in 2002 as part of a Russian-Belgian project symbolizing European unity.
The square was unveiled in 2002 as part of a Russian-Belgian project symbolizing European unity.

The mayor of Moscow, Sergei Sobyanin, on July 24 signed a decree renaming the Square of Europe in central Moscow as the Square of Eurasia. The square was unveiled in 2002 as part of a Russian-Belgian project symbolizing European unity. National flags of 48 European nations were flying on the square until they were removed without explanation in March 2023. A monument called The Abduction of Europa by Belgian sculptor Olivier Strebel is located on the square, while a shopping center called European Shopping Mall was opened nearby in 2006. It was not clear if the monument would be removed. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

Probe Launched Into Alleged Plot To Kill Leaders Of Georgia's Ruling Party

Bidzina Ivanishvili, founder and honorary chairman of the ruling Georgian Dream party (file photo)
Bidzina Ivanishvili, founder and honorary chairman of the ruling Georgian Dream party (file photo)

Georgia's State Security Service (SUS) said on July 24 it had launched an investigation into an alleged "plot" to assassinate Bidzina Ivanishvili, the founder and honorary chairman of the ruling Georgian Dream party, and then "violently overthrow" the government.

The SUS said in a statement on July 24 the investigation is looking into "criminal activities" allegedly supported by "former high officials."

The investigation comes amid heightened tensions in the Caucasus nation over the recently passed controversial law on "foreign agents" that has juxtaposed the country's aspirations to join the European Union with accusations the legislation -- analogous to a law passed a decade ago in Russia -- is another move toward warmer relations with Moscow.

"The purpose of the mentioned criminal actions is to violently overthrow the state government by destructive forces in the background of creating disorder and weakening the government," SUS said.

SUS did not name any suspects in the case, though local media said at least six people had been questioned, some of whom had fought on the side of Ukraine in the war to repel invading Russian forces.

However, the announcement of the investigation came one day after the Tbilisi City Court questioned Gela Kakhabrishvili, who fought on the Ukrainian side against occupying Russian armed forces.

At a briefing in Tbilisi, Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze blamed unspecified "global political forces" behind the plot to kill Ivanishvili, adding that "the same forces" were behind the assassination attempts of former U.S. President Donald Trump and Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico.

Kobakhidze, a member of Georgian Dream, gave no evidence to directly link the investigation to the assassination attempts.

On June 4, the speaker of parliament, Georgian Dream member Shalva Papuashvili, signed the foreign agent bill into law.

Twenty days later, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the European Union will downgrade political contacts with Georgia and consider freezing financial aid to the Tbilisi government in reaction to the law.

Critics say the legislation was introduced by Georgian Dream in order to cement the party's grip on power ahead of elections later this year seen as crucial for Georgia's Euro-Atlantic aspirations.

The law requires civil-society and media organizations that receive more than 20 percent of their funding from foreign sources to submit to oversight that could encompass sanctions for as-yet-undefined criminal offenses.

Both the United States and the EU have warned Georgian Dream that ignoring criticism and cracking down violently on protesters will have negative consequences.

Georgia obtained the coveted EU candidate status last December but has yet to start actual accession talks, which could last for years.

Georgian Dream has insisted it remains committed to joining Western institutions and the law was only meant to increase transparency on NGO funding.

But Western governments and organizations have issued stark statements warning the Georgian Dream government that the Tbilisi's EU path will be blocked if the law comes into force.

Russia Adds Arrested Musician Eduard Sharlot To Terrorist List

Eduard Sharlot was initially arrested and handed 13 days in jail for hooliganism. (file photo)
Eduard Sharlot was initially arrested and handed 13 days in jail for hooliganism. (file photo)

Russia's financial watchdog, Rosfinmonitoring, on July 23 added to the list of terrorists and extremists musician Eduard Sharlot, who was arrested in November on his return from Armenia, where he publicly protested against Moscow's ongoing invasion of Ukraine. Sharlot was initially arrested and handed 13 days in jail for hooliganism. He was later placed in pretrial detention on charges of rehabilitating Nazism, insulting believers' feelings, and publicly damaging an official document. The charges stem from a video Sharlot posted on Instagram in June 2022 showing him burning his Russian passport and condemning Moscow's aggression against Ukraine. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Idel.Realities, click here.

Jailed Former Navalny Team Member Faces New Charge

Olga Komleva is a former member of late Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny's team in Bashkortostan. (file photo)
Olga Komleva is a former member of late Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny's team in Bashkortostan. (file photo)

The jailed former member of late Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny's team in Bashkortostan, Olga Komleva, has been additionally charged with distributing false information about Russia's military, the Basmanny district court in Moscow said on July 23. It remains unclear what the new charge stems from. The 45-year-old Komleva, who is also a journalist with the RusNews online media outlet, was arrested in late March on a charge of taking part in an extremist group's activities. All of Navalny's organizations were labeled extremist in 2021. The Memorial human rights group recognized Komleva a political prisoner. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Idel.Realities, click here.

Uzbek Court Again Rejects Appeal Of Karakalpak Activist

Karakalpak activist and journalist Dauletmurat Tajimuratov (file photo)
Karakalpak activist and journalist Dauletmurat Tajimuratov (file photo)

The Supreme Court of Uzbekistan has again rejected the appeal by Karakalpak activist Dauletmurat Tajimuratov against the 16-year prison term he was handed over mass antigovernment protests in the country's Karakalpak Autonomous Republic in 2022. Tajimuratov's lawyer, Sergei Mayorov, said on July 23 that his client had filed a second, so-called revised appeal with the Supreme Court after it had rejected his initial appeal in June last year. Mayorov added that the hearing late on July 23 was held without his client's presence as the court did not allow Tajimuratov to participate in the hearing via a video link. Mayorov added that he is not aware of Tajimuratov's exact whereabouts. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, click here.

Kazakh Anti-War Activist Gets 10 Days In Jail Over Online Rap Song

Kazakh activist Maria Kochneva (file photo)
Kazakh activist Maria Kochneva (file photo)

A Kazakh court on July 23 sentenced anti-war activist Maria Kochneva to 10 days in jail for performing a rap song online that was critical of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Kochneva told RFE/RL she will appeal the ruling, which she called politically motivated. Kochneva's performance sparked an outcry on pro-Kremlin Telegram channels earlier in July. Kochneva has said she and her relatives have received anonymous threats since her song was posted online. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, click here.

Russian Anti-War Activist Released From Extradition Center In Kazakhstan

Russian anti-war activist Natalya Narskaya (file photo)
Russian anti-war activist Natalya Narskaya (file photo)

The Kazakh Bureau for Human Rights said on July 23 that Russian anti-war activist Natalya Narskaya was released from an extradition detention center in Almaty after spending exactly one year there. Kazakh law allows those facing possible extradition to be held for no more than 12 months. Narskaya, who fled Moscow in 2022, was arrested in Kazakhstan at Russia's request. Kazakh human rights defenders have helped prevent her extradition to Russia, where she is wanted for publicly condemning Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Narskaya is said to have developed psychological problems while in custody. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, click here.

Kuleba Says Moscow Not Ready For Peace Talks 'In Good Faith'

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba (file photo)
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba (file photo)

Ukraine remains ready to hold talks with Russia provided Moscow proves it's ready to negotiate in "good faith," but Kyiv has yet to see such inclination from the Kremlin, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba reiterated on July 24 during talks with his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi.

At the invitation of Wang, Kuleba is on a three-day visit to China, his first since Russia's 2022 full-scale invasion, for talks to explore a possible Chinese role in ending the war.

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"I am convinced that a just peace in Ukraine is in China's strategic interests, and China's role as a global force for peace is important," Kuleba said, according to a Ukrainian Foreign Ministry statement, in opening remarks at the meeting with Wang in Guangzhou, a major commercial and manufacturing center in southern China.

Kuleba "presented the consistent position of Ukraine, that is its readiness to conduct negotiations with the Russian side at a certain stage, when Russia is ready to conduct negotiations in good faith, but emphasized that currently such readiness has not been observed on the Russian side," the statement added.

Kuleba's trip came as a surprise to some observers, given Beijing's close relationship with Moscow and diplomatic maneuvering that has often seen Chinese diplomats keep their distance from high-level Ukrainian officials.

Ukraine last month held an international summit without Russian representation in Switzerland to promote its vision of peace.

The gathering hosted delegations from 100 countries and Washington was represented by Vice President Kamala Harris, the front-runner to obtain the Democratic Party's nomination for the November presidential poll following President Joe Biden's announcement that he will not run for reelection.

China, which did not attend the Swiss summit, published a separate six-point peace plan with Brazil in the weeks leading up to the gathering which called for a separate international peace conference to be held that would have representation from both Kyiv and Moscow.

Kuleba, who reportedly said Ukraine had "carefully studied" the Chinese plan, also informed Wang "about the results of the peace summit in Switzerland and explained the logic of further steps in the implementation of the peace formula as a way to a fair end to Russian aggression," the statement said.

In an Instagram post ahead of the visit, Kuleba said: "We must avoid competing peace plans. It is very important that Kyiv and Beijing conduct a direct dialogue and exchange positions."

Wang in turn told Kuleba that Bejing believes that all conflicts should be resolved "at the negotiating table," the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

He added that recently, both Ukraine and Russia had sent signals that they are willing to negotiate "to varying degrees."

"Although the conditions and timing are not yet ripe, we support all efforts conducive to peace and are willing to continue to play a constructive role in cease-fire and the resumption of peace talks," the statement quoted Wang as saying.

China's invitation to Kuleba came after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy voiced rare criticism directed at Beijing, saying that China's efforts were undermining the Swiss peace talks by pushing some countries to not attend and others to not sign the final communique.

Kyiv has been hesitant to criticize China, with Zelenskiy often encouraging Beijing to play a role in reaching a peace settlement.

China says its ties with Russia are built on the basis of nonalliance and do not target any third party.

Despite expressing neutrality toward the war in Ukraine, China has emerged as the Kremlin's leading international supporter by supplying Russia with key components that Moscow needs for its production of weapons and as a vital consumer for oil and gas that has helped boost the Russian economy.

Western governments have also accused China of providing crucial support to Russia during the war, with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg saying Beijing's assistance to Moscow has made it a "decisive enabler" of the war.

Some 3,400 Tajik Nationals Turned Back From Russian Airports In Past 6 Months

Tajik migrants stranded at Moscow's Vnukovo airport in early July
Tajik migrants stranded at Moscow's Vnukovo airport in early July

Some 3,400 Tajik migrant workers have not been allowed to enter Russia and turned back to Tajikistan from Russian airports over the last six months, the director of the Tajik Civil Aviation Agency, Habibullo Nazarzoda, told reporters on July 24. According to Nazarzoda, Tajik citizens were not allowed to enter Russia due to alleged problems with their documents. Since Russia arrested several Tajik nationals suspected of being involved in a terrorist attack at an entertainment center near Moscow that left more than 140 people dead in late March, Tajik migrant workers have faced increased restrictions inside Russia and when traveling to Russia. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Tajik Service, click here.

Germany Carries Out Raids, Bans Group Accused Of Links To Iran

A police officer is seen in front of the Blue Mosque, housing the Islamic Center of Hamburg, in Germany on July 24.
A police officer is seen in front of the Blue Mosque, housing the Islamic Center of Hamburg, in Germany on July 24.

The German government on July 24 banned a Hamburg-based organization accused of promoting the Iranian leadership's ideology and supporting Lebanon's Hizballah militant group, as police raided 53 properties around the country. The ban on the Islamic Center Hamburg, or IZH, and five suborganizations around Germany followed searches in November. Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said evidence gathered in the investigation "confirmed the serious suspicions to such a degree that we ordered the ban today." The IZH "promotes an Islamist-extremist, totalitarian ideology in Germany," while it and its suborganizations "also support the terrorists of Hizballah and spread aggressive antisemitism," Faeser said in a statement.

Updated

Turkey Detains Russian Man Suspected Of Car Bombing In Moscow

A damaged car is seen in a parking spot following a blast that reportedly injured an officer from Russia's GRU military intelligence, in Moscow on July 24.
A damaged car is seen in a parking spot following a blast that reportedly injured an officer from Russia's GRU military intelligence, in Moscow on July 24.

Turkish Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya said on July 24 that Turkish police have detained a Russian man suspected in a car bombing in Moscow earlier in the day that wounded two people, one of whom is reported to be a senior military intelligence officer.

The man, identified by Yerlikaya as Yevgeny Serebryakov, a Russian citizen, is suspected of conducting a terrorist act using an explosive device on a car in Moscow that left two people wounded, Yerlikaya said on X. Serebryakov arrived on a flight from Moscow and was detained by police in Turkey's Mugla Province, Yerlikaya added.

Yerlikaya's post carried a video showing Turkish police taking a man out of a white vehicle and handcuffing him.

Russia's Investigative Committee said earlier in the day that the owner of the Toyota Land Cruiser SUV and a passenger were wounded in the blast, while Interior Ministry spokeswoman Irina Volk said the blast was caused by an "unidentified device" placed in the vehicle.

"Preliminary investigations revealed that an unidentified object placed in a vehicle detonated in a parking lot in the capital’s north," Volk said. "Two people were injured in the explosion and rushed to a medical institution by ambulance."

Neither agency identified the two people wounded in the blast, saying that a criminal investigation and a forensic investigation had been opened into the incident that occurred in a parking lot on Sinyavinskaya Street in the northern part of the Russian capital.

The Kommersant newspaper reported that one of the wounded served in the Main Intelligence Directorate of Russia's General Staff, known as the GRU.

The Astra Telegram channel initially reported that Andrei Torgashov, 49, the deputy chief of unit 33790, a Russian military satellite communications radio center, and his wife were the two victims, and that both had been hospitalized.

Astra also issued an edited security-camera video purporting to show the moment of the explosion.

Pictures and videos of the vehicle parked in a residential courtyard with the windows, doors, and front side destroyed in the explosion circulated on the Baza Telegram channel, which is linked to Russian security services. Baza said that "presumably" one of the two victims was an officer of the Russian military intelligence.

Torgashov, who had reportedly taken part in Russia's invasion of Ukraine, had his feet torn off and his wife suffered facial injuries, some reports said.

However, the 360 Telegram channel later quoted Torgashov's wife, Maya, as saying that neither she nor her husband was in the car when the explosion occurred, claiming other people were in the vehicle.

A report in the Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper said that "the investigation leads include possible involvement of Ukrainian special services and their agents."

Several Russian military officials and pro-Kremlin public figures and bloggers have been targeted by bombing attacks since Moscow launched its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

With reporting by Baza, TASS, Interfax, Astra, Moskovsky Komsomolets, 360, Mash, and RIA Novosti
Updated

At Least 2 Killed In Russian Strikes On Ukraine As Danube Port Infrastructure Damaged

Several missile strikes on Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city, killed at least one civilian on July 24.
Several missile strikes on Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city, killed at least one civilian on July 24.

Russian shelling and missile strikes on Ukrainian regions on July 24 killed at least two people, injured several others, and damaged infrastructure in the Danube port of Izmayil, regional officials reported.

An elderly woman died in the southern city of Kherson during Russian shelling overnight, the regional military administration reported.

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"At night, the Russian Army hit a residential building in the Dnipro district of Kherson. Unfortunately, a 77-year-old woman was killed and her body was found under the rubble of her own home," it said on Telegram.

Several missile strikes on Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city, killed at least one civilian, Mayor Ihor Terekhov said on Telegram.

"The first strike targeted an industrial zone in one of Kharkiv's districts.... The second hit a private enterprise area, setting a building on fire. There are reports of one dead person," Terekhov said.

Kharkiv Governor Oleh Synyehubov said separately that an industrial building was set on fire in the attack on the city's Nemyshlyanskiy district.

Oleh Kiper, the governor of the southern region of Odesa, reported that Russian drones struck the area of the Danube port of Izmayil, which is critical for Ukraine's grain exports.

"The port infrastructure and an apartment building were targeted by the Russians," Kiper wrote on Telegram, adding that three people were injured. Kiper said the attack damaged several port installations and a fire broke out, but it was eventually put out by firefighters.

In Bucharest, the Defense Ministry of Ukraine's NATO neighbor, Romania, said that following the attacks on Izmayil, which is located on the Danube's left bank just across Romania's Tulcea county, it scrambled two warplanes in the area.

"Two F-16 fighter jets took off at 2:19 a.m. local time from Borcea Air Base to monitor the situation. The two aircraft returned to the base at 4:20 a.m.," the ministry said in a statement. Romania's Borcea Air Base is located some 135 kilometers southeast of Izmayil.

Earlier, authorities in Tulcea county issued alerts after several drones were observed close to the border. Debris from Russian drones has fallen on Romania's territory several times in the past.

Ukraine's air force said that its air-defense systems shot down 17 of the 23 drones launched by Russia at Ukrainian targets. According to the commander of Ukraine's air force, General Mykola Oleschuk, most drones were downed over the Odesa region.

Meanwhile, Russia's Defense Ministry said its air-defense systems downed three Ukrainian drones over the Belgorod region.

Ukraine, whose civilian and energy infrastructure has been devastated by incessant Russian missile and drone attacks, has in turn targeted oil refining installations and other fuel-producing facilities inside Russia that work for the military.

In an interview with The Guardian, Ukraine’s top military commander, Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskiy, said on July 24 that so far, Ukrainian drones have targeted "about 200 critical infrastructure sites" such as factories, fuel dumps, and ammunition depots deep inside Russia, all of which were connected with "military logistics."

Ukraine has also claimed that its sea drones have sunk or disabled one-third of all Russian warships in the Black Sea.

"It really became a trap for them and for some [vessels] a grave," Sryskiy told The Guardian.

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