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Gates To Give Obama Afghan Troop Plan Within Days

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates will give President Barack Obama his formal recommendation on new U.S. troop deployments to Afghanistan within days, the Pentagon has said.

"I would think in the coming days the secretary hopes to be able to present the president with his recommendation," said Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell.

He said Obama would also receive a recommendation from the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen.

"How soon after that [the president] makes decisions that would lead to deployment orders, I can't tell you precisely," Morrell said at a news briefing.

The United States has 36,000 troops in Afghanistan and the Pentagon is considering plans to increase the force to possibly more than 60,000 troops over the next 12 to 18 months.

Morrell was speaking a day after Obama met for the first time with the heads of the U.S. armed forces to discuss a range of topics, including Afghanistan and Iraq.

Obama emerged from the meeting to say the United States would soon face difficult decisions on Iraq and Afghanistan but gave no details.

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Jordan Summons Iranian Ambassador To Protest Interference In Its Afairs

Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi (file photo)
Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi (file photo)

Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi on April 14 said his country had summoned the Iranian ambassador to protest against Iranian comments that were interference in the kingdom's internal affairs. In remarks given to the state-owned Mamlaka public broadcaster, Safadi was referring to comments in Iran's official media in recent days that warned Jordan would be the next target in the event it cooperated with Israel in a showdown with Iran.

Saudi Foreign Minister To Lead Delegaton On Pakistan Visit

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan al-Saud attends a session at the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos in January.
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan al-Saud attends a session at the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos in January.

A high-level delegation from Saudi Arabia led by Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan bin Abdullah will visit Pakistan on April 15-16 as part of efforts to increase economic cooperation between the two countries, the Foreign Ministry in Islamabad said on April 14. "This visit is aimed at lending positive impetus to enhanced bilateral cooperation and mutually rewarding economic partnership," it said in a statement. Saudi Arabia has vowed to invest up to $25 billion into various sectors in Pakistan over the next two to five years.

U.S. Speaker Says Will Try To Pass Israel Aid, But Ukraine Package Uncertain

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (left) and U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson meet in Washington in December 2023.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (left) and U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson meet in Washington in December 2023.

U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Mike Johnson (Republican-Louisiana) on April 14 said he would try to pass aid to Israel in the upcoming week, after Iran's mass drone and missile attack, but didn’t say whether the legislation would also include assistance for Ukraine and other U.S. allies. Johnson, who is struggling to unify his fractious Republican majority and avoid an ouster threat, recounted two failed attempts to pass standalone aid for Israel. "We're going to try again this week, and the details of that package are being put together right now," Johnson told Fox News without providing details.

Flash Flooding Kills At Least 33 People In Kabul, Other Afghan Regions

An Afghan man removes debris from his house following heavy rains and flash flooding in Kandahar on April 14.
An Afghan man removes debris from his house following heavy rains and flash flooding in Kandahar on April 14.

Flash flooding caused by heavy rains has destroyed hundreds of homes and killed at least 33 people over the past three days in the Afghan capital, Kabul, and across the country, the de facto Taliban rulers said on April 14. "Unfortunately, 33 people have been martyred and 27 injured as a result of the floods, while approximately 606 houses have been destroyed in villages," Taliban spokesman Mullah Janan Sayiq said. A resident of the village of Bast in Helmand Province who did not want to be identified told RFE/RL that "the floods have destroyed our agricultural lands and houses, our animals have been destroyed. Our area is between two rivers." To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Radio Azadi, click here.


Ukraine's Zelenskiy Calls For Urgent Aid To Counter Russian Air Strikes

Ukrainian air defenses intercept a Shahed drone in midair in a Russian attack on Kyiv in May 2023.
Ukrainian air defenses intercept a Shahed drone in midair in a Russian attack on Kyiv in May 2023.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy called on Ukraine's allies to provide additional support, adding that "every day of delay in the delivery of aid results in more destroyed homes and ruined lives," while his defense minister visited outmanned and outgunned troops on the "tense" front lines as conditions worsened near the embattled town of Chasiv Yar.

In a post on X, formerly Twitter, on April 14, Zelenskiy argued that "the world has everything necessary to stop any missiles, Shahed drones, or other forms of terror."

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"It only requires decisions that can restore true and lasting security," he added.

Visiting the front lines on April 14, Defense Minister Rustem Umerov said that "the situation is tense," a day after Kyiv warned that the conditions on the eastern front had "deteriorated" to dangerous levels.

Ukrainian officials have over the past two days warned about the perilous situation near the strategic town of Chasiv Yar, in the Donetsk region, amid a major Russian offensive.

If Russia takes the town -- which had a prewar population of about 13,000 – it would "create conditions for a deeper advance" toward Kramatorsk, a major rail and logistics hub for Ukrainian forces some 30 kilometers away, commander in chief Oleksandr Syrskiy said.

Syrskiy said Russia's top leadership had ordered the military to capture Chasiv Yar in time for the May 9 commemoration of the Soviet contribution to victory in World War II.

According to Ukraine's military, Russia attacked Ukraine with 10 Iranian-made Shahed drones overnight on April 13-14, all of them launched from Russia's western Kursk region.

"Defenders shot down all 10 drones over the Kharkiv region," air force commander Mykola Oleshchuk said.

A civilian truck was struck by a Russian drone in the Sumy region, local prosecutors reported, killing the driver.

The U.S.-based Institute for the Study of War wrote on April 13 that Russia was "taking advantage" of Ukraine's shortages of artillery shells and air-defense equipment by operating variously in three different areas with "alternating emphasis."

"Russian forces likely lack the ability to conduct more than one simultaneous, effective, large-scale operational effort as they have throughout the war," it wrote. "Russian forces are now able to use multiple alternating offensive efforts to stretch Ukrainian defensive capabilities amid Ukrainian artillery and air-defense shortages."

Responding to Iran's massive overnight drone and missile attack against Israel, Zelenskiy wrote on X on April 14 that Shahed drones were "an instrument of terror."

"We in Ukraine know very well the horror of similar attacks by Russia, which used the same Shahed drones and Russian missiles, the same tactics of mass air strikes," he wrote.

"The obvious collaboration between the two regimes in spreading terror must face a resolute and united response from the world."

Ukraine Commander Says Moscow Seeks Fall Of Chasiv Yar By May 9

A Ukrainian tank fires at Russian positions in Chasiv Yar during fighting in February.
A Ukrainian tank fires at Russian positions in Chasiv Yar during fighting in February.

Russia's top leadership has ordered the military to capture the city of Chasiv Yar, in the Donetsk region, in time for the May 9 commemoration of the Soviet contribution to victory in World War II, Ukraine's top military commander said on April 14. "The realization of the Russians' plans is hindered by the heroic defense of our brigades, which literally 'bite into the ground' to hold back the enemy's daily attacks," Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskiy said. The fall of Chasiv Yar, which had a prewar population of about 13,000 and is just west of the Russian-occupied city of Bakhmut, would be a significant setback for Kyiv. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.

Russian Officials Urge Evacuation Of Parts Of Kurgan Region Amid Flooding

The region's governor said that the Tobol River was now 5 meters above flood stage and the rate of rising was increasing.
The region's governor said that the Tobol River was now 5 meters above flood stage and the rate of rising was increasing.

Officials in Russia's Kurgan region in the southern Urals are urging residents of districts threatened by flooding to evacuate immediately. Kurgan region Governor Vadim Shumkov wrote on Telegram on April 14 that the Tobol River was now 5 meters above flood stage and the rate of rising was increasing. He warned that electricity and natural-gas supplies could soon be cut off. The newspaper Kommersant wrote that 62 settlements with a population of about 19,000 people were in the endangered area. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Bulgaria's Georgieva Appointed To New Five-Year Term Atop IMF

 Kristalina Georgieva
Kristalina Georgieva

Kristalina Georgieva, a Bulgarian economist, will serve as head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a second five-year term, the Washington-based fund said on April 13. Georgieva, 70, said in a statement that she was "truly honored to continue to lead the IMF as managing director." She added that “"a more challenging global context demands an even more effective IMF. I will continue to devote all my energy to serve our members." The IMF is traditionally led by a European, while the World Bank is led by an American. To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Bulgarian Service, click here.

Germany To Send Additional Patriot System To Ukraine As Scholz, Zelenskiy Talk

German Patriot system units are seen at the Vilnius airport ahead of a NATO summit in July 2023.
German Patriot system units are seen at the Vilnius airport ahead of a NATO summit in July 2023.

Germany will send an additional Patriot air-defense system to Ukraine to bolster its hard-pressed military and help it fend off increased Russian air strikes, Berlin said on April 13. "Due to the increase in Russian air strikes against Ukraine, the German government has decided to further strengthen Ukrainian air defense," a statement from the Defense Ministry said. Chancellor Olaf Scholz later reaffirmed Germany's solidarity with Ukraine in a telephone conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. Scholz discussed ways of further strengthening Ukraine's air defenses with Zelenskiy, government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit said.

Iranian Student Still Missing Days After Being Detained

Fahimeh Soltani
Fahimeh Soltani

A university law student who has been a supporter of Iran's Women, Life, Freedom movement is still missing several days after her arrest by security forces, the second time she has been detained since unrest broke out over the death of a young woman in custody for an alleged violation of the head-scarf law.

Fahimeh Soltani, who studies at the University of Isfahan, was taken into custody after a raid on her home on April 6 and has not been heard from since, her family reported.

Security personnel, posing as postal workers, seized Soltani's mobile phone and laptop during the arrest, the family said.

Soltani's detention coincides with her previous arrest in November 2022 during the Women, Life, Freedom protests following Mahsa Amini's death in police custody.

After being held in detention for three months, Soltani was released as part of a broader pardon issued by the Islamic republic's leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Soltani's university activities have led to her being barred from studying for two terms due to cases she says were fabricated by the university's security department. Despite appealing the disciplinary rulings against her, the school's Central Committee delayed a final decision on her case.

On April 2, Soltani received a late-night call regarding the appeal and was told she had received an additional two-term study ban.

Amid efforts to expel her, the university in Isfahan, a city of some 2 million people about 400 kilometers south of Tehran, sent a direct expulsion request to the Central Committee. Along with her current arrest, her family said it remains in the dark about the outcome of the expulsion request.

Separately, a review committee at Tehran University has confirmed the suspension of Zahra Jafari, a graduate student in social welfare planning and editor of the student magazine Zhina.

Jafari was barred from studying for two semesters on charges including insulting Islamic and national symbols and acts against the Islamic republic. Her sentence, affecting her final thesis defense, began at the start of this academic year and will continue through the end of the second semester.

Universities and students have long been at the forefront of the struggle for greater social and political freedoms in Iran. In 1999, students protested the closure of a reformist daily newspaper, prompting a brutal raid on the dorms of Tehran University that left one student dead.

Over the years, the authorities have sent student activists and leaders to prison and banned them from studying.

The activist HRANA news agency says at least 700 university students have been arrested during the nationwide protests sparked by the September 2022 death of the 22-year-old Amini.

Many have faced sentences such as imprisonment and flogging, and dozens of students have been expelled from universities or suspended from their studies as security forces try to stifle widespread dissent.

Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda

Israel Vows Victory, Retaliation In 'Fashion And Timing' Of Its Choosing

Explosions, Sirens Over Jerusalem As Iran Attacks With Drones, Missiles
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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised victory after a massive overnight air attack by Iran that marked a sharp escalation of the conflict in the Middle East, while an influential member of his war cabinet said the country will retaliate in the "fashion and time" of its choosing.

"We intercepted, we repelled, together we shall win," Netanyahu wrote in an April 14 post on X, formerly Twitter.

Meanwhile, centrist politician and retired General Benny Gantz, a member of Israel's war cabinet and former defense minister, said that "we will build a regional coalition and exact the price from Iran in the fashion and timing that is right for us."

Israel and its allies intercepted the "vast majority" of hundreds of drones and missiles launched by Iran overnight.

Loud explosions and flashes of light could be seen in the sky above many parts of Israel in the early morning hours of April 14 as the country's air defenses tried to shoot down incoming drones and missiles that Iran launched just hours after it seized an Israeli-linked ship in the Strait of Hormuz.

Israeli authorities reported only light damage to one Israeli military installation and said a 7-year-old girl was critically injured as more than 200 drones and missiles -- including more than 10 cruise missiles -- were intercepted before impact.

"The Iranian attack was foiled," Israeli military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said early on April 14, adding that "99 percent" of the attacking vehicles had been intercepted. Hagari said the result was "a very significant strategic success."

U.S., British, and French officials confirmed their armed forces took part in shooting down the incoming projectiles, intercepting some over the Iraq-Syria border area as they made their way toward Israel.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi warned Israel against "reckless behavior" following the strike, saying Tehran's response to retaliation would be "decisive and much stronger."

Iran's military earlier said its strikes had "achieved all its objectives" and been "completed successfully."

Iranian armed forces chief of staff Major General Mohammad Bagheri, speaking on state television, warned Israel not to retaliate, saying Tehran's "response will be much larger than tonight's military action." He also said U.S. assets would be targeted if Washington assisted Israeli in any retaliation.

"Our operations are over and we have no intention to continue them," Bagheri said.

The United States had contact with Iran through Swiss intermediaries both before and after Tehran's mass drone and missile attack on Israeli territory overnight, a senior Biden administration official said on April 14.

The official declined to provide details on the contact, saying only that Washington and Iran had "a series of direct communications through the Swiss channel."

Asked about comments by Iran's foreign minister that Tehran had given regional countries 72 hours' notice of the attacks, the official said that was not true. "They did not give a notification," the official said.

Iran informed Turkey in advance of its planned operation against Israel, a Turkish diplomatic source told Reuters on April 14, adding that Washington conveyed to Iran via Ankara that its operation must be "within certain limits."

Earlier, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said Tehran's regional allies were informed about its aerial attacks on Israel in advance.

"We naturally informed our friends in regional countries 72 hours before the operation that Iran's response in the form of a legitimate defense is definite and certain," he said without specifying which regional allies.

Israel called on the United Nations Security Council to convene an emergency session in New York on April 14 to discuss the attack, which Israeli UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan described in a post on X as "a serious threat to global peace and security."

U.S. President Joe Biden on April 14 convened G7 allies to discuss the situation in the Middle East and coordinate a response, with the group reiterating support for Israel.

Biden also spoke by telephone with Netanyahu, after which he said he had reaffirmed "America's ironclad commitment" to Israeli security but said U.S. forces would not participate in any offensive actions by Tel Aviv.

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told NBC TV on April 14 that "We don't want to see this escalate.... We're not looking for a wider war with Iran."

Other Western countries also condemned the attack, with France warning that Iran "is risking a potential military escalation." Britain described the attack as "reckless," while Germany called on Iran to "stop it immediately."

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen wrote on X that the attack was "blatant and unjustifiable."

"I call on Iran and its proxies to immediately cease these attacks," she added. "All actors must now refrain from further escalation and work to restore stability in the region."

EU foreign ministers will meet on April 16 to discuss the escalation in tensions in the Middle East following the strike, the bloc's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said.

"Following the Iranian attacks against Israel, I have called an extraordinary...meeting of EU foreign affairs ministers[on April 16]," Borrell wrote on X, formerly Twitter. "Our objective is to contribute to de-escalation and security of the region."

Iran's Foreign Ministry on April 14 meanwhile summoned the ambassadors of Britain, France, and Germany to question what it referred to as their "irresponsible stance" regarding Tehran's strikes on Israel, the semiofficial Iranian Labour News Agency reported.

Tehran accused the three countries of "double standards" as they opposed earlier this month a Russian-drafted UN Security Council statement that would have condemned Israel's attack on Iran's embassy compound.

The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement calling on all sides to show restraint. "We are counting on the regional states to solve existing problems with political and diplomatic means," it said.

Turkey does not want further escalation of tension in the region after Iran's drone and missile attack against Israel, Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan told his Iranian counterpart in a phone call on April 14.

Pope Francis, speaking to pilgrims on St. Peter's Square in Rome, made a "heartfelt appeal for a halt to any action that could fuel a spiral of violence" that could lead to a wider conflict.

Israel said early on April 14 that it had reopened its airspace for commercial traffic and that airports had resumed operations.

The intelligence directorate of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) on April 14 warned citizens against posting pro-Israeli sentiments on social media, Iranian state media reported.

Israel and Iran have been bitter enemies for decades, but this was the first direct attack by one on the other's soil instead of through proxy forces or by targeting each other's assets in third countries.

"So far, we've intercepted the vast majority of incoming missiles," Hagari said of the attack launched by the IRGC in what it said was retaliation for a deadly April 1 drone strike thought to be carried out by Israel on Iran's consulate in Damascus, Syria.

The launch came amid heightened tensions between Iran and the West over the continuing war in the Gaza Strip and the strike in Syria.

Iran called the attack, which Tehran named operation "Honest Response," on Israel a "response to the Zionist regime's aggression against our diplomatic premises in Damascus."

However, Iran also appeared to be taking a cautious approach to keep the strikes from broadening conflict in the region, with its mission to the United Nations saying that "the matter can be deemed concluded."

The Iranian attack was immediately condemned by many governments around the world, while United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was "deeply alarmed about the very real danger of a devastating region-wide escalation."

Earlier on April 13, Iranian state media reported that IRGC forces seized a container ship near the Strait of Hormuz, claiming the vessel was "linked to Israel."

Following that event, Israel said it was putting its military on high alert and canceling school activities on concerns of a possible attack.

It accused Iran of piracy and said Tehran will "bear the consequences" of escalating tensions in the Middle East.

The MSC Aries, a Portuguese-flagged vessel that is reportedly operated by a shipping company partially owned by Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer, was seized on April 13 and was being transferred to Iranian territorial waters, according to the IRNA state news agency.

The ship's operator, the Italian-Swiss group MSC, said the ship had 25 crew members on board and that it was working closely with "the relevant authorities to ensure their well-being and safe return of the vessel."

Israel's retaliatory war in Gaza was sparked by a raid on Israeli territory carried out by Hamas, which rules Gaza and is designated as a terrorist group by the United States and European Union, on October 7. The raid left 1,200 people dead and hundreds of people were taken hostage.

The ensuing Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip aimed at destroying Hamas has killed more than 33,000 Palestinians, according to the Palestinian territory's Hamas-run Health Ministry.

Since the war began, Tehran has openly supported militant groups and proxies targeting Israel that are part of Iran's "axis of resistance" against Israel and the West, leading to concerns of a broader Middle East conflict involving archenemies Iran and Israel.

The security firm Ambrey said late on April 13 that Yemen's Huthi rebels had also launched multiple drones at Israel in coordination with Iran.

In addition to strikes launched against Israel by Iranian proxy Lebanese Hizballah, the Iranian-backed Huthis have attacked Israeli territory as well as international and Israeli shipping in the Red Sea.

On April 14, Israeli forces hit a Hizballah site in Lebanon near the Syrian border, the Israeli military said.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Radio Farda, AP, and Reuters

Last Reactor At Ukrainian Nuclear Plant Put Into Cold State

The nuclear power plant, the largest in Europe, has been occupied since shortly after Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
The nuclear power plant, the largest in Europe, has been occupied since shortly after Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

The last reactor at the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine has been shut down as fighting continues in the area for the third year. This means that all of the plant's six reactor units are now in a cold shutdown state. No radioactivity escaped during the procedure, the facility's Russian management wrote on Telegram on April 13. The nuclear power plant, the largest in Europe, was occupied shortly after Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. It has come under fire several times, including this month, stoking concerns about a potential nuclear accident.


Situation In East Has 'Deteriorated,' Ukrainian Commander Says, As Dry Conditions Aid Russia

In an image released by the Russian Defense Ministry on April 4, a Russian tank fires in an undisclosed location in Ukraine.
In an image released by the Russian Defense Ministry on April 4, a Russian tank fires in an undisclosed location in Ukraine.

KYIV -- Russian attacks have intensified in eastern Ukraine and conditions for Kyiv's forces have "deteriorated significantly" as dry, warmer weather is allowing the easier movement of Russian tanks and troops, according to Ukraine's top military commander.

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"The situation on the eastern front has deteriorated significantly in recent days," Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskiy said on Telegram on April 13.

“The enemy is actively attacking our positions in the Lyman and Bakhmut directions with assault groups supported by armored vehicles," he said. "In the Pokrovsk direction, they are trying to break through our defenses using dozens of tanks and infantry fighting vehicles."

Syrskiy said the "dry weather favors the use of armored vehicles at the front -- the weather has made most of the open areas tank-accessible."

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who won a new term in a March election that critics say was held under conditions of "intense repression," has intensified attacks, especially targeting power plants and substations to cripple Ukraine's energy infrastructure.

Ukrainian authorities have increasingly signaled alarm over dwindling supplies of artillery shells and air-defense missiles as a military aid package from the United States has been tied up in Congress, with a small number of Republicans stating that domestic matters should take priority over assistance to Kyiv proposed by Democratic President Joe Biden.

Christopher Cavoli, the top U.S. general in Europe, on April 11 warned that further assistance to Ukraine to repel Russian aggression is crucial and that Moscow poses a "chronic threat" to the world.

On April 13, Germany announced it would immediately send another Patriot air-defense system to bolster Ukraine in its fight against Russia’s latest onslaught.

German leader Olaf Scholz, in a call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, reaffirmed Berlin's solidarity with Ukraine and discussed ways to further strengthen the embattled country's air defenses, German government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit said.

Zelenskiy thanked Scholz for approving delivery of the additional Patriot missile system and for supplying further air-defense weaponry at this "critical time" for his country.

A week ago, Zelenskiy said the U.S.-made Patriot systems were desperately required to provide protection for the entire country.

In a Telegram post following his call with Scholz, Zelenskiy said the talks were "important" and "productive."

"I am grateful to the chancellor for the decision to supply another additional Patriot system to Ukraine and missiles to the existing air-defense systems," Zelenskiy wrote.

"I call on all other leaders of partner states to follow this example," Zelenskiy added.

Scholz later left Germany for a China on a three-day trip in which he is scheduled to meet with President Xi Jinping.

Beijing is the Kremlin's most crucial ally. It has remaining outwardly neutral but hasn't condemned Russia's February 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

According to AP, a U.S. assessment has detected a large rise in sales by China to Russia of machine tools, microelectronics, and other technology that is used by Moscow in the production of tanks, planes, and other weaponry for use against Ukraine.

The report cited two senior officials in the U.S. administration who discussed the findings on April 12 on the condition of anonymity.

On the battlefield, Yevgeny Balitsky, the Kremlin-installed head of the Zaporizhzhya region, said at least 10 people were killed when shelling hit an apartment building in the Russian-occupied town of Tokmak.

“Rescuers continue to search for and extract the bodies of the dead, dismantling the structures. Rescue units have been provided with everything necessary," he wrote on Telegram, adding that 18 people had been injured in the town of some 30,000 people.

Separately, Russia's Defense Ministry said its forces had captured the village of Pervomayske in Ukraine's Donetsk region, where Moscow has centered much of its attacks in recent months.

Ukraine did not immediately comment on the Russian reports, and battlefield claims on both sides cannot immediately be verified due to the intense fighting in the region.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, and dpa

U.S., Britain Take Action Targeting Russian Aluminum, Copper, Nickel

Russia is a major producer of aluminum, copper, and nickel.
Russia is a major producer of aluminum, copper, and nickel.

Washington and London on April 12 prohibited metal-trading exchanges from accepting new aluminum, copper, and nickel produced by Russia and barred the import of the metals to the United States and Britain. The action, aimed at disrupting Russian export revenue from the metals, comes as Washington seeks to punish Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine. Russia is a major producer of aluminum, copper, and nickel. The U.S. Treasury Department said action would prohibit the London Metal Exchange and Chicago Mercantile Exchange from accepting new Russian production of aluminum, copper, and nickel.

Belarusian Rock Band Known For 2020 Protest Song Branded 'Extremists'

Nizkiz members Dzmitry Khalyaukin, Syarhey Kulsha, and Alyaksandar Ilyn
Nizkiz members Dzmitry Khalyaukin, Syarhey Kulsha, and Alyaksandar Ilyn

The Belarusian dissident rock band Nizkiz and its three members have been declared extremists and sentenced to 2 1/2 years of restrictions on their freedom of movement after being convicted on criminal charges of violating public order.

The decision to sentence the musicians to restricted freedom of movement, a type of house arrest, was announced on April 12 by a judge in Minsk who opted not to send the three musicians -- Syarhey Kulsha, Alyaksandr Ilyin, and Dzmitry Khalyaukin -- to prison, the news agency Pozirk reported, citing a post by Mayday Team human rights group on Telegram.

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The musicians were found guilty of organizing and preparing actions that "grossly violate public order" or actively participating in them, the right group said.

In addition to the sentence, the Interior Ministry labeled the musicians extremists, which effectively means a ban on Nizkiz songs and exposes Nizkiz's fans to prosecution.

The band's song Rule became an anthem of the 2020 protests against authoritarian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who claimed victory in the presidential election that year. After the election, Lukashenka's government unleashed a brutal crackdown against the opposition and protesters, many of whom were beaten and jailed.

Ilyin, Kulsha, and Khalyaukin were arrested on January 5 and initially faced lesser charges of distribution, production, storage, and transportation of information products containing calls for extremist activities. They were tried on January 8, but the outcome of that case is unknown.

The musicians were hit later with the public-order criminal charges and transferred to the Minsk pretrial detention center. They have been behind bars since then. In February, the Vyasna human rights center declared them political prisoners.

Nizkiz, founded in 2008 in the city of Mahilyou in the east of the country, has released five studio albums and won a number of musical awards. The fourth member of the band -- guitarist Leonid Nestyaruk -- lives in Warsaw.

While Lukashenka was declared the winner of the 2020 election, the Belarusian opposition and many Western governments and organizations said the poll was rigged and opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya actually won.

Tsikhanouskaya on April 12 urged musicians around the world "to express solidarity with their Belarusian colleagues, who were convicted over the songs of freedom."

In written comments sent to the Associated Press, she said Nizkiz's songs were played during the 2020 protests.

"That's why the members of this popular band were brutally detained in their apartments and then convicted. It is yet another shameful act of the regime's revenge," she said, according to the AP.

With reporting by AP

Bosnian Tycoon With Ties To Dodik Posthumously Removed From U.S. Sanctions List

Slobodan Stankovic died in February.
Slobodan Stankovic died in February.

The late Bosnian tycoon Slobodan Stankovic and his engineering company have been removed from the U.S. blacklist of sanctioned individuals.

Stankovic and his company, Integral Inzenjering A.D. Laktasi (Integral), had been designated for sanctions in October 2022 for materially aiding, sponsoring, or providing financial, material, or technological support to Milorad Dodik, the Russian-friendly leader of Bosnia-Herzegovina's ethnic Serb entity, Republika Srpska.

The U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) on April 12 lifted the sanctions against Stankovic and his company without commenting.

Stankovic died in February at age 74 in Banja Luka.

The Treasury Department said when it imposed the sanctions that major construction projects were often handed to Stankovic's firm without fair and open competition and that the vast majority of Stankovic's wealth came from public money.

In addition to its offices in Banja Luka, Integral also has branches in Serbia and Croatia.

One of the last projects Stankovic was involved in as a contractor is the construction of a 20-kilometer-long section of the highway in northeastern Bosnia leading to the border with Serbia. The cost of the project is estimated at 154.4 million euros ($164 million).

Integral also carried out work on the construction of an interstate bridge between Croatia and Bosnia with two other companies.

In addition, his company was awarded a job worth about 35 million euros for the construction of a highway in Croatia that will connect a bridge on the Sava River with the Zagreb-Belgrade highway.

Stankovic is also the former owner of Alternative Television Banja Luka (ATV), a media company that was previously blacklisted by the United States. The U.S. Treasury Department said ATV showed a bias toward Dodik, and the purchase showed the reciprocal nature of Dodik's corrupt relations.

In January 2023, Dodik awarded Stankovic the Order of the Flag of the Republika Srpska on Republika Srpska Day, which has been declared unconstitutional by Bosnia's Constitutional Court.

With reporting by Sejla Ibrahimovic

Militants Block Highway In Southwest Pakistan, Kill 11

Police said they were searching for the perpetrators. (file photo)
Police said they were searching for the perpetrators. (file photo)

Unidentified gunmen have killed 11 people in separate incidents on the same highway in Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan Province.

Noshki district police chief Ilahi Bakksh said that the nine victims in the second attack, in which laborers were abducted from a bus traveling from the provincial capital of Quetta to a town near Pakistan's border with Iran, appear to have been killed execution-style.

"Militants blocked the highway leading to Taftan, bordering Iran, at midnight on April 13 in the Sultan Charai area near Noshki city," Bakksh told RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal.

"Their bodies were later found under a bridge 2 kilometers from the highway having been fired upon at point-blank range."

Earlier, the same gunmen opened fire on a vehicle that failed to stop for the blockade, killing two people and injuring five, Bakksh said.

No group immediately claimed responsibility or the attacks, and police said there was no ransom demand or known motive.

Police said they were searching for the perpetrators.

Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif condemned the attacks and expressed his "deep sorrow and regret over this shocking incident."

Sharif offered his condolences to the families of the victims, according to a statement from his office, adding that "the perpetrators of this incident of terrorism and their facilitators will be punished."

Balochistan is a mineral-rich province that borders both Afghanistan and Iran and is regularly targeted by Islamist militants, sectarian groups, and Baluch separatists fighting for independence.

The Pakistani government has said it has quelled the insurgency in the province, but violence has persisted, often targeting police forces, the Pakistani military, or infrastructure.

Abductions are rare in the restive region.


Water Levels Rise Again To Record Levels In Southern Russia, Kazakhstan

Mass Evacuations Ordered In Southern Russia, Northern Kazakhstan As Floods Surge
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The water level in the city of Orenburg continued to rise on April 13 as a deluge from heavy rains and snowmelt accelerated by unseasonably warm temperatures forced mass evacuations in southern Russia and in neighboring Kazakhstan.

Some flood-hit residents in both countries continued to criticize authorities for what they perceived an unsatisfactory response to the crisis.

The Ural River reached record levels in Orenburg, a city of half a million people, where the water rose to 11.71 meters on April 13 from 11.43 meters on April 12 -- more than 2 meters above the critical mark of 9.3 meters, according to regional Governor Denis Paler.

"We hope that this is a plateau -- that there will be no more increases, the situation will stabilize, and then a decline will begin," he said on Telegram.

Pasler, speaking during a video conference with President Vladimir Putin late on April 11, had said the previous record level of the Ural was 9.4 meters in 1942.

Later on April 13, local publication Ural56 reported that the river near Orenburg had risen again, reaching 11.8 meters, although local authorities have not yet confirmed the latest figures.

The governor's press service reported that 17,203 households were flooded and that 13,194 people had been evacuated as of 9 a.m. on April 13.

Swollen rivers around the border areas between Russia and Kazakhstan have wreaked havoc over the past week, pushing tens of thousands of people out of their homes. Aerial photos show massive swathes of submerged residential areas.

Some 100,000 people have been evacuated from their homes in neighboring Kazakhstan, authorities say, including in the northern city of Petropavlovsk following an alarm launched at 7 a.m. on April 13.

Due to the disruption of the power grid, water services were cut off in the city. Videos appeared to show members of the public demanding water at shops in the city and long lines were seen in front of trucks delivering water on the streets.

City authorities vowed that supplies of bottled water would be delivered to retail sites in Orenburg over the next two days.

A state of emergency has been declared in several regions of both countries, but some inhabitants have been sharply critical of how the authorities have handled the crisis.

At least five people have died during the floods, and on April 8 local residents picketed the local government’s headquarters in Orsk -- a city in the Orenburg region -- demanding increased efforts to deal with the dramatic situation and calling for Putin to intervene.

A Flood Of Anger As Russia Struggles With Raging Waters
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Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on April 9 that Putin did not plan to visit the Orenburg region at the moment, stressing that the president "is taking care of the issue" without being at the site.

In Kazakhstan, Nadezhda, a resident of the northern village of Petrovka, told RFE/RL that people know that "a lot of water" is coming toward the village but that "no anti-flood work was carried out, the mayor didn't do anything."

"People here are used to flooding, but when we heard the levels were so high and had risen over the dam, people were overwhelmed and began to panic."

Kuanysh Amanshiev, a resident of the district of Kobda in Kazakhstan's Aqtobe region, told RFE/RL that floodwaters had made the family home unliveable.

"Last year, when my yard was flooded, [the local government] provided 20 bags of cement," he said.

"After this year's flood, my house is completely unequipped. We're all empty. I'm glad [the government] provided me with a place to live.... But this is not a place to build a house -- it’s an embankment. This is a question that someone should answer," he added.

With reporting by Reuters

Biden Says He Expects Iran To Attack Israel Soon, Warns: 'Don't'

U.S. President Joe Biden (file photo)
U.S. President Joe Biden (file photo)

U.S. President Joe Biden on April 12 said he expected Iran to attack Israel "sooner, rather than later" and warned Tehran not to proceed. Asked by reporters about his message to Iran, Biden said simply, "Don't," and he underscored Washington's commitment to defend Israel. "We are devoted to the defense of Israel. We will support Israel. We will help defend Israel and Iran will not succeed," he said. Israel braced on April 12 for an attack by Iran or its proxies as warnings grew of retaliation for an attack on Iran's embassy compound last week in Damascus.

At Least 50,000 Russian Military Deaths, Likely Thousands More, Recorded In Ukraine War

More than 85,000 Russian military members have died based on the number of inheritance settlements for slain soldiers that have been recorded, according to Mediazona.
More than 85,000 Russian military members have died based on the number of inheritance settlements for slain soldiers that have been recorded, according to Mediazona.

An independent Russian media outlet has documented more than 50,000 deaths among Russian military personnel since its full-scale invasion of Ukraine more than two years ago, and says tens of thousands more are believed to have died.

Mediazona, which tracks Russian casualties in the war with the BBC based on deaths recorded by open sources, said in its latest update that 50,471 members of the Russian military had died in the war since it began in February 2022.

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More than 85,000 Russian military members have died based on the number of inheritance settlements for slain soldiers that have been recorded, according to Mediazona.

"We know the names of more than 3,300 officers of the army and other security forces. 390 of them hold the rank of lieutenant colonel and above," Mediazona wrote.

"The real number of the dead is calculated according to the register of inheritance cases and is current as of March 15, 2024 -- about 85,000 people."

The outlet also said that Russia had lost a large number of tanks, armored personnel carriers, and artillery units in recent weeks, although casualties from those losses were not included in the updated figures.

Russia loses about 1,200 soldiers per week, according to Mediazona, with most casualties coming from Russia's Krasnodar and Bashkortostan regions.

Ukraine's armed forces estimate that the Russian military has suffered 451,730 casualties in the war, including deaths and injuries, while the United States and British intelligence both say that Russian casualties top 300,000.

Kyiv has claimed that more than 180,000 Russian servicemen have been killed.

Russia rarely provides casualty figures. The last estimate, provided seven months into the war, stood at just under 6,000 people.

Ukraine has said that it has lost 31,000 soldiers since the war began.

4 Armenian Soldiers Killed When Truck Plunges Into Ravine

At least four Armenian soldiers were killed and 20 others injured on April 12 when the military vehicle they were in veered off the road and fell into a ravine. The Armenian Defense Ministry said the incident happened at around 3:25 p.m. local time. It did not disclose the location or identify of the dead and injured. A spokesman for the Investigative Committee said a preliminary investigation is being carried out. The spokesman said in a statement that investigators currently are conducting “investigative and operational activities, including inspecting the scene of the incident and the wrecked vehicle." To read the original story on RFE/RL’s Armenian Service, click here.

China Is Surging Equipment Sales To Russia For Ukraine War, U.S. Finds

China has surged sales to Russia of machine tools, microelectronics, and other technology that Moscow in turn is using to produce missiles, tanks, aircraft, and other weaponry for use in its war against Ukraine, according to a U.S. assessment. Two senior Biden administration officials, who discussed the sensitive findings on April 12 on the condition of anonymity, said that in 2023 about 90 percent of Russia’s microelectronics came from China. Russia has used the technology to make missiles, tanks, and aircraft. In addition, nearly 70 percent Russia’s approximately $900 million in machine tool imports late last year came from China.

Russia Summons French Ambassador Over Minister's 'Unacceptable' Comments

French Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne
French Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne

Russia on April 12 summoned the French ambassador to Moscow following "unacceptable" comments by French Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne, the Russian Foreign Ministry said. Sejourne on April 8 said that France had no interest in talking to the Kremlin after a conversation a few days earlier between Russian and French army ministers ended in divergent accounts. The Russian Foreign Ministry statement said the ambassador "was reprimanded over making such statements, as they have nothing to do with the real state of affairs." A French diplomatic source told AFP the Russian ministry “does not accept that we correct its lies.”

Tajik Foreign Minister Speaks Out About Treatment Of Crocus City Hall Suspects

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (right) shakes hands with Tajikistan's Foreign Minister Sirojiddin Muhriddin as they meet on the sidelines of a CIS conference in Minsk on April 12.
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (right) shakes hands with Tajikistan's Foreign Minister Sirojiddin Muhriddin as they meet on the sidelines of a CIS conference in Minsk on April 12.

Tajikistan's foreign minister on April 12 condemned the treatment of the mostly Tajik suspects in last month’s terrorist attack on a Moscow-area concert hall that killed more than 140 people.

Foreign Minister Sirojiddin Muhriddin, speaking in Minsk at a meeting of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), also criticized what he said was a media campaign to slander Tajiks.

After the attack on Crocus City Hall on March 22, several Tajiks were arrested and showed signs of abuse when they appeared in Basmanny District Court in Moscow. The four accused gunmen had bruised and swollen faces and showed other signs of having been severely beaten. There were unconfirmed reports that one of them had his ear cut off during his arrest.

"The use of torture in the form of bodily mutilation is unacceptable," Muhriddin was quoted as saying on April 12. "The price of confessions extracted in this way is well known to everyone."

Muhriddin said that Russian security authorities should respect the rights of the Tajik suspects and adhere to the principles and norms of international law in their investigations into the massacre, especially regarding the presumption of innocence, the prohibition of torture, and ill-treatment of detainees.

In addition, Muhriddin condemned the surge of xenophobia in Russia after the attack, saying that as a result of an “ill-conceived information campaign” a “negative perception is being formed toward citizens of Tajikistan and Tajiks.”

Of the 11 men in custody, 10 are Tajik; one is reported to be a Kyrgyz-born Uzbek man who has Russian citizenship.

Some experts and Tajiks living in Russia had previously criticized Tajik authorities for not speaking out about the rights of Tajik citizens and choosing to remain silent in the face of torture of suspects and mistreatment of Tajiks.

The attack was Russia’s worst terrorist attack in two decades. Responsibility was claimed by an offshoot of the Islamic State extremist group.

Netherlands Pledges Additional 1 Billion Euros In Military Support For Ukraine

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (right) and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte walk in downtown Kharkiv on March 1.
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (right) and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte walk in downtown Kharkiv on March 1.

The Netherlands will provide Ukraine with an additional 1 billion euros ($1.06 billion) in military support this year, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy announced on April 12.

The extra support takes the total sum for this year to 3 billion euros, caretaker Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said on X, formerly Twitter.

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The Netherlands, which has been one of the leading donors of military support to Ukraine since Russia's full-scale invasion began in February 2022, also decided to make 3 billion euros available for military support next year in addition to 400 million euros in economic aid that is also intended to help pay for vital repairs to energy infrastructure.

Rutte said the Netherlands will continue working with international partners to do everything possible to expedite the provision of more munitions and air-defense equipment, adding that Amsterdam is working on this closely with Denmark and the Czech Republic, among other countries.

“Ukraine must win this fight. For their security and ours,” he said.

Rutte said he discussed the new aid in a phone call with Zelenskiy and promised to work on accelerating the supply of weapons and ammunition.

"Thank you, Mark, thank you, Dutch people! This is an exemplary case of support for Ukraine," Zelenskiy said on Telegram following the phone call.

Zelenskiy also said he and Rutte discussed working with partners to accelerate the supply of shells for artillery, ammunition, and air-defense systems to Ukraine.

Just last month, Zelenskiy and Rutte signed a package of aid during a visit Rutte made on March 1 to Kharkiv. Zelenskiy put the value of that arms pact at 2 billion euros.

Zelenskiy also noted at the time that the Netherlands belongs to a coalition of states supplying Kyiv with F-16 fighter jets and said then that he and Rutte agreed to speed up the process of supplying Ukraine with F-16 fighter jets. Zelenskiy has said F-16s are expected to be part of Ukraine’s forces later this year.

With reporting by Reuters

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