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Ingush Leader Sacks His Cabinet Over Poverty

President Yunus-Bek Yevkurov
MOSCOW (Reuters) -- The president of Russia's troubled Ingushetia, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, sacked his government on October 5, saying the cabinet had failed to alleviate the region's widespread poverty.

Ingushetia, a tiny republic in Russia's North Caucasus, has been rocked by a string of rebel attacks, including one in August when a truck packed with explosives blew up at police headquarters, killing at least 25 people and wounding 136.

Yevkurov, who was badly wounded in a suicide bomb attack in June, fired his cabinet "for its unsatisfactory work in resolving social and economic problems of the republic," presidential spokesman Kaloi Akhilgov told Reuters by telephone.

Yevkurov, a battle-hardened former paratrooper general installed in the region by the Kremlin a year ago, has repeatedly said that apart from extremist Islam it is deep-rooped local corruption and poverty that push many local young people into the hands of Muslim rebels.

"One of the main tasks of the government was namely to fight these negative issues," Akhilgov said. "And because they did not cope with the task, the cabinet was sacked."

Aleksei Vorobyov, the head of Ingushetia's Security Council, will serve as acting government head until Yevkurov appoints a new cabinet, he said.

Yevkurov and other leaders of the turbulent North Caucasus region warned Medvedev in August that an Islamist insurgency had permeated all spheres of society.

The Kremlin is worried both by the immediate threat of destabilization in the North Caucasus, and the possibility that radical Islamism may spill over into other regions in Russia, which is home to some 20 million Muslims.

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At Least Nine Women, Three Children Killed In Stampede At Charity Distribution Center In Pakistan

A view of footwear left behind after the deadly stampede in Karachi on March 31.

At least nine women and three children were killed and several others injured in a stampede during the distribution of Ramadan charity at a private center in Pakistan’s port city of Karachi, police and rescue officials said.

The stampede occurred late on March 31 when hundreds of women and children panicked and started pushing each other as they were jostling to collect food and money outside of a private company in the industrial area of Karachi, Pakistan's most populous city.

Senior police officer Fida Hussain Janwari told the media that the private company, FK Dyeing, located in an industrial area known as SITE or Sindh Industrial and Trading Estate, had invited the families of its employees to distribute charity on the occasion of Ramadan, Islam's holy month.

Under the Islamic tradition, businesspeople give away food and money, especially to the poor, during Ramadan.

Janwari said that some 400 women had arrived on the premises when the company, fearing a large crowd, closed the gates, causing panic.

He said that inside the premises there were no arrangements in place to form an orderly line and that local police were not informed about the activity.

Hussain said police detained seven people from the company and took them for interrogation.

Pakistan, a South Asian country of some 220 million, has grappled a serious economic crisis over the past several months, facing record high inflation rates and skyrocketing food prices.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has urged the Pakistani government to enact tough tax reforms and increase utility prices in order to qualify for another tranche of a $6.5 billion bailout.

On April 1, Pakistan's statistics bureau announced that consumer price inflation in Pakistan accelerated to a record 35.37 percent in March from a year earlier -- the highest-ever year-on-year increase recorded by the bureau since monthly records began in the 1970s.

Higher prices of food, cooking oil, and electricity contributed to the record growth, the bureau said.

Pakistan Posts Highest-Ever Inflation In March

A man sells lentils at a wholesale grocery market in Karachi.

Consumer price inflation in Pakistan accelerated to a record 35.37 percent in March from a year earlier, eclipsing February's 31.5 percent, the statistics bureau said on April 1. A spokesman said the number was the highest-ever year-on-year increase recorded by the bureau since monthly records began in the 1970s. "This is the highest-ever inflation recorded in the data we have," the spokesman said. The consumer price index was up 3.72 percent in March from the previous month. Higher prices for food, cooking oil, and electricity pushed up the index, the bureau said.

IMF Approves $15.6 Billion Ukraine Loan, Part Of $115 Billion In Global Support

The Extended Fund Facility loan is the first major conventional financing program approved by the IMF for a country involved in a large-scale war.

The International Monetary Fund said on March 31 that its executive board had approved a four-year $15.6 billion loan program for Ukraine, part of a global $115 billion package to support the country's economy as it battles Russia's 13-month-old invasion. The decision clears the way for an immediate disbursement of $2.7 billion to Kyiv and requires Ukraine to carry out ambitious reforms, especially in the energy sector, the IMF said in a statement. The Extended Fund Facility loan is the first major conventional financing program approved by the IMF for a country involved in a large-scale war. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Russia Announces Ban On Dairy Imports From Armenia Amid Souring Of Relations

Dairy products at a supermarket in Yerevan.

Russia moved to ban imports of dairy products from Armenia on March 31 amid rising tensions between Moscow and Yerevan. Russia's Rosselkhoznadzor agriculture watchdog first warned of a ban on March 28, arguing that Armenian dairy companies use Iranian milk and other raw materials banned in Russia. It said Russia risks importing “low-quality and unsafe products” because of a lack of “proper oversight” of those companies’ operations by Armenian authorities. Bilateral relations have soured lately due to what Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s government sees as dwindling Russian support for Armenia in the conflict with Azerbaijan. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Armenian Service, click here.

Zelenskiy Vows To Bring Russian 'Executioners And Murderers' To Justice Over Bucha Killings

Slovenia's Prime Minister Robert Golob, Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Moldovan President Maia Sandu, Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, and Slovakian Prime Minister Eduard Heger attend a ceremony marking the first anniversary of the liberation of the town of Bucha, outside Kyiv, on March 31.

Ukrainian forces repelled dozens of Russian attacks in the eastern region of Donetsk over the past day, the military said on April 1, as President Volodymyr Zelenskiy warned Moscow's soldiers who are suspected of committing atrocities that they will be brought to justice.

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Besides the city of Bakhmut, the focal point of Moscow's offensive in the east for the past several months, the General staff of Ukraine's military said in its regular daily update that Russian forces have now stepped up their assault on the towns of Avdiyivka and Maryinka in the Donetsk region and on Bilohorivka in the Luhansk region.

A total of 70 attacks were recorded over the past 24 hours on the four locations, where heavy fighting has been under way, the military said.

Six Iranian-made Shahed drones were downed by Ukraine's air defenses, the military said.

As Ukraine marked on March 31 one year since Russian forces withdrew from Bucha, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy used the anniversary to warn those Russian soldiers suspected of perpetrating the massacre of hundreds of civilians in the commuter town near Kyiv, where hundreds of bodies of murdered civilians were left on the streets, that they are going to be brought to justice eventually.

Ukrainian officials estimate that about 400 bodies of civilians were found in Bucha and a total of more than 1,000 throughout the region around Kyiv in what Ukraine has said amounted to a Russian war crime.

"The key word today is justice. Justice...for all our people who lost relatives, loved ones, health, home, [and] normal life due to Russian aggression, due to the terror of the occupier," Zelenskiy said in his evening video message.

"Russian executioners and murderers will receive fair sentences. One hundred percent," Zelenskiy said.

He added that talks with international officials were aimed at speeding up the process of creating a tribunal on Russian aggression.

Ukrainian and international investigators have opened a probe into war crimes in Bucha, Irpin, and other locations in Ukraine where apparent massacres occurred.

Russia has denied committing the massacres and claimed that the deaths were "staged" by Ukraine.

Earlier in the day, Zelenskiy presided over an official outdoor ceremony in Bucha that was also attended by Moldovan President Maia Sandu and the prime ministers of EU and NATO members Croatia, Slovakia, and Slovenia -- Eduard Geger, Robert Golob, and Andrej Plenkovich.

In a video message, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States "will continue pushing for accountability and for justice for as long as it takes."

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the bloc is assisting Ukraine to investigate crimes.

Meanwhile, three U.S. officials familiar with the issue told Reuters on March 31 that the United States could announce a new $2.6 billion military aid package for Ukraine next week that could include aerial surveillance radars, anti-tank missiles and fuel tankers.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and dpa

Sarajevo Demonstrators Demand Dismissal Of International Envoy In Bosnia

The protesters accuse Christian Schmidt, who leads the Office of the High Representative (OHR), and U.S. Ambassador Michael Murphy of bias.

SARAJEVO -- Several hundred people demonstrated in Sarajevo on March 31 against Christian Schmidt, the international community’s high representative in Bosnia-Herzegovina, over decisions he made last year affecting Bosnia’s elections law.

The protesters demanded that Schmidt be dismissed, that embassies, namely the U.S. Embassy, stop interfering in the internal affairs of Bosnia, and that "neighboring countries Croatia and Serbia do not shape the fate of [Bosnia]."

The protesters also accused Schmidt, who leads the Office of the High Representative (OHR), and U.S. Ambassador Michael Murphy of bias.

The protest, which took place in front of Schmidt's office, was organized by the informal citizen group Restart and the nongovernmental organization Krug 99. Participants arrived by bus from several cities to take part in the protest, which blocked traffic.

Some demonstrators held up signs that read in English: "Schmidt go away, OHR stay!"

The rally was peaceful, according to Bosnian media.

Before the protest, Schmidt said on Twitter, "Peaceful demonstrations are a fundamental right in a democracy and of crucial importance for a pluralistic society."

The protesters expressed dissatisfaction with Schmidt’s decision on election night in October when he invoked his UN backed so-called “Bonn powers” minutes after the polls closed. Schmidt said he was taking the steps to avoid gridlock in key institutions after the vote, but critics said the moves strengthened the position of Croat nationalists.

Schmidt said his "functionality package" would shape indirect elections to the Bosniak-Croat federation's legislature while dramatically restricting officials' ability to block legislative appointments and other processes.

His changes include an increase in the size of the federation's House of Peoples to "correct overrepresentation" of some ethnic groups and the inclusion of "others" to be represented there -- code in Bosnia for minorities outside the main Bosniak, Serb, and Croat peoples.

The people who protested in Sarajevo on March 31 believe Schmidt imposed the changes so the role of the Croatian Democratic Union in forming the government becomes inevitable.

With reporting by Predrag Zvijerac and dpa

Croatia Returns Migrants To Bosnia Amid Spike In Illegal Border Crossings

Migrants, mostly from Afghanistan, wrapped in jackets and blankets because of the cold, wait on a platform at the railway station in Rijeka, on the Adriatic coast in western Croatia in February.

Croatia on March 31 returned a second group of migrants to Bosnia-Herzegovina amid questions about where the migrants should be allowed to apply for asylum.

A group of about 93 people who were deported by Croatia are being housed in a temporary reception center near the town of Bihac in northwestern Bosnia. The first group of about 80 migrants arrived at the center from Croatia on March 30.

They were brought to the center accompanied by the Bosnian Border Police in coordination with the State Service for Foreigners' Affairs.

Mustafa Ruznic, the leader of Una-Sana Canton in northwestern Bosnia, told RFE/RL that he asked the Bosnian authorities to provide information about the origin of the migrants and the reason they were relocated from Croatia. He has not yet received an answer.

Croatian police did not respond when asked by RFE/RL to comment on the readmission of the migrants.

A spokesman for the Bosnian Security Ministry told RFE/RL that the migrants were brought to the border crossing under the readmission agreement between Bosnia and Croatia.

"This is a regular procedure, and this is what we are doing toward Serbia and toward Montenegro under agreements with these countries," Admir Malagic said.

The agreement envisages that people who enter Croatia from Bosnia will be returned to Bosnia.

The number of migrants arriving in Slovenia since Croatia entered Europe's Schengen passport-free zone on January 1 has shot up by 300 percent.

Slovenian Prime Minister Robert Golob in a statement on March 27 after a meeting with Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic warned of increased pressure on Croatia and Slovenia as transit countries for migrants who aim to make Italy their target destination.

"We are looking for ways to control the entire corridor from the Bosnian border to the Italian border through trilateral participation in order to establish better control of irregular migration," Golob said.

Plenkovic said after the meeting that the Croatian police were guarding the border according to the law.

"We cooperate with the authorities and police of other countries and prevent irregular migration, and the 6,500 Croatian police officers guarding the border behave in accordance with Croatian laws and European and international norms and standards," Plenkovic said.

He once again stressed that Croatia will not install fences or barbed wire on the border with its neighbors in Southeastern Europe.

According to Slovenian police, in the first two months of 2023 Slovenia recorded 5,162 attempts to enter the country illegally, while in the same period last year there were only 1,295 attempts.

The migrants are mostly from Afghanistan, Morocco, Russia, and Cuba.

Croatian media cited data from the Interior Ministry showing that since Croatia's entry into the Schengen zone the number of asylum seekers has increased by 800 percent compared to the same period last year, but more than 90 percent of them immediately move on to Western Europe.

With reporting by Meliha Kesmer and Sejla Ibrahimovic

Romanian Court Releases Tate To House Arrest

Andrew Tate talks to the media in Bucharest in January.

Andrew Tate, an Internet personality who has spent months in a Romanian jail on suspicion of organized crime and human trafficking, has won an appeal to replace his detention with house arrest. The Bucharest Court of Appeal issued the ruling on March 31 after Tate challenged a judge’s decision last week to extend his detention for 30 days, a Romanian government official said. "We see the court decision as legal, thorough, and correct," Tate's lawyer Eugen Vidineac said. Tate, 36, a British-U.S. citizen, was detained in December in Bucharest along with his brother and two Romanian women. They will remain under house arrest until April 29. To read the original story by AP, click here.

U.S. Seeks To Keep Yemen-Bound Ammunition Seized From Iran

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland (file photo)

The United States is seeking to keep more than 1 million rounds of ammunition the U.S. Navy seized in December as it was in transit from Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) to militant groups in Yemen, the Justice Department said on March 31. "The United States disrupted a major operation by [the IRGC] to smuggle weapons of war into the hands of a militant group in Yemen," Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement. "The Justice Department is now seeking the forfeiture of those weapons," the statement said. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Leader Of White Supremacist Group Wanted In U.S. Arrested In Romania

Robert Rundo (in blue) fights a cage match against a Ukrainian Azov member in Kyiv in 2018.

The leader of a U.S. neo-Nazi group wanted in the United States for allegedly fomenting violence at political rallies has been apprehended by Romanian authorities in Bucharest.

Robert Paul Rundo, 33, was taken into custody in the Romanian capital with the help of a police special-forces unit after he was spotted at a gym on March 29.

He had a document identifying himself as Robert Lazar Pavic, according to judicial sources. It is not clear when he entered Romania.

The U.S citizen is currently being held by the General Directorate of Police in Bucharest. U.S. authorities have sent a request for his extradition on charges that he conspired to attend political rallies and use combat tactics and physical violence against people and groups that did not support their ideology.

Rundo allegedly assaulted several people, including a police officer, at two rallies in the United States. The charges are in connection with activity that took place between December 2016 and October 2018.

The Bucharest Court of Appeals opened an extradition procedure on behalf of Rundo, and April 25 was set for the next hearing in the case.

Rundo is suspected of promoting white-supremacist ideology for the past three years in Serbia, Bulgaria, and Hungary.

"The suspect is said to be one of the founders of an organization that supports the ideology of white supremacy, which has publicly presented itself as a group ready to fight, campaigning for a new nationalist movement of white supremacy and identity," a Romanian police statement said.

The Rise Above Movement (RAM) is based in southern California and members believe they are fighting a modern world corrupted by the "destructive cultural influences" of liberals, Jews, Muslims, and nonwhite immigrants.

They describe themselves as a "premier alt-right MMA (mixed martial arts) club." RAM members participated in the so-called Unite The Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017 that led to the death of a counterprotester.

Rundo was detained the following year in connection with events that took place in California but was released after the charges were dismissed, and he left the United States for Europe.

According to the Anti-Defamation League, Rundo tried to create a group dedicated to white supremacy in Eastern Europe. The open-source investigative group Bellingcat revealed in 2020 that Rundo was in Serbia and had posted videos of himself and others on Telegram in which they are seen writing white-supremacist messages on walls in Belgrade.

In February 2020, Rundo published an article on a nationalist website in which he wrote that he participated in a march organized by Serbian extremists in front of the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade.

Bellingcat reported that Rundo also participated in a neo-Nazi commemoration that took place in Budapest in February 2020 and was attended by 600 neo-Nazis from Europe. They gathered in the Hungarian capital for what they call Honor Day, commemorating an escape attempt by besieged Nazi forces in 1945.

Two weeks later, Rundo was in Sofia, Bulgaria, for a neo-Nazi march that was banned by local authorities.

In an interview on a neo-Nazi podcast in September 2020, Rundo used anti-Semitic language, referenced to Adolf Hitler's book Mein Kampf, and claimed he left the United States because of nonstop harassment by U.S. authorities.


Lukashenka Defends Placement Of Russian Tactical Nuclear Weapons In Belarus

Alyaksandr Lukashenka addresses the nation on March 31.

The authoritarian ruler of Belarus, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, has defended a Russian plan to place tactical nuclear weapons on Belarusian territory and said that Russia could also position intercontinental nuclear missiles there if he and Russian President Vladimir Putin deem it necessary, claiming that the country is coming under increased threats from the West.

Commenting on the issue for the first time since Putin announced the move on March 25, Lukashenka said in his annual address to the nation on March 31 that he had initiated the plan by asking Moscow to move tactical nuclear weapons to his country to ensure it is capable "of defending the sovereignty and independence of Belarus."

In his announcement, Putin said nothing about long-range missiles.

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 counteroffensives, Western military aid, global reaction, and the plight of civilians. For all of RFE/RL's coverage of the war, click here.

Lukashenka, a pariah in Europe and most of the Western world after launching a brutal crackdown against opponents following an August 2020 presidential he claimed to win but they say was rigged, offered no evidence of any specific threats from the West, which has called the possible deployment "irresponsible."

"I would like to add that all of the infrastructure [for tactical nuclear weapons] is ready.... Those are weapons that will contribute to our sovereignty and independence," Lukashenka said, adding that Minsk could exercise control over all nuclear weapons on Belarusian territory.

That appears to contradict Putin, who said during the announcement last week that the tactical missiles would remain under Moscow's control. Military experts have said the deployment will lead to the creation of a permanent Russian military base in Belarus.

He also said that, if necessary, "Putin and I will decide and bring strategic weapons here, which those scoundrels abroad must comprehend, those who are trying to blow us up from inside and outside today. Nothing will prevent us from protecting our countries."

Russia and the United States clashed over the issue at the United Nations on March 31. Russian Ambassador Vasily Nebenzya claimed Moscow is not transferring nuclear weapons but “operational tactical missile complexes,” which will be under Russian control. Nebenzya also accused the United States of destroying arms control agreements and repeated Russia's objection to tactical nuclear weapons deployed in NATO countries.

U.S. Deputy Ambassador Robert Wood accused Russia of “attempting to manipulate the specter of nuclear conflict” to help win the war in Ukraine.

“No other country is inflicting such damage on arms control nor seeking to undermine strategic stability in Europe,” Wood said.

Belarus is the closest thing Putin's Russia has to an ally, and their ties have tightened further since Lukashenka -- in power since 1994 -- claimed victory in a 2020 election widely seen as rigged and then cracked down violently against massive peaceful protests over the vote.

Minsk has not sent troops to fight alongside Moscow's forces in Ukraine, but Lukashenka allowed Russia to use the country -- which borders Ukraine on the north --- as a staging area for the invasion.

It has also granted Russia full access to its air bases, carried out joint drills, and treated wounded Russian soldiers on its territory.

Speaking about the possible deployment of Russian strategic nuclear weapons, Lukashenka said that he ordered his military to immediately put the former base for Soviet intercontinental ballistic missiles in order.

"It's a highly technologically sophisticated structure," he said. "All the infrastructure has been created and is standing ready."

The deployment announcement comes amid soaring tensions between Moscow and the West over Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine launched in February 2022. Waves of economic and diplomatic sanctions have been aimed at Russia, as well as Belarus, for its logistical support for the attack on Ukraine.

Those came on top of sanctions already slapped on Minsk for its crackdown on civil society and dissent following the disputed election.

Addressing Russia's ongoing invasion of Ukraine, Lukashenka called for immediate truce talks "without preconditions"

"It is crucial to stop [the war] now, before an escalation of the situation. Declare a truce with a ban on supplies of forces, weapons and equipment," Lukashenka said, stressing a truce cannot be used to bring more weapons to the conflict, as Russia could be forced to use "the most terrible weapon" if it felt threatened.

Given Belarus's role in the conflict and its close ties with Russia, Ukraine has previously rejected offers from Minsk to broker peace.

Belarus has said it has no plans to enter the war.

With reporting by AP

Kazakh Tycoon Related To Former President's Family Handed Eight-Year Prison Term

Qairat Boranbaevappears in court to hear the verdict in his case in Astana on March 31.

ASTANA -- Kazakh tycoon Qairat Boranbaev, whose daughter is the widow of the grandson of former President Nursultan Nazarbaev, has been sentenced to eight years in prison on corruption charges.

A court in Astana's Saryarqa district sentenced Boranbaev and his two co-defendants on March 31 after finding them guilty of illegally obtaining property and embezzlement. The court also stripped Boranbaev of all state awards and ordered the confiscation of all his property and financial assets.

Boranbaev's co-defendants, businessmen Roman Nakhanov and Taiyr Zhanuzaq, were also each sentenced to eight years in prison. The trio had pleaded not guilty.

Boranbaev's daughter, Alima Boranbaeva, and Nazarbaev's grandson, Aisultan Nazarbaev, married in 2013. In September 2020, Aisultan Nazarbaev, who reportedly suffered from drug addiction and had run-ins with the law in the United Kingdom, died in London at the age of 29.

Boranbaev, 56, was arrested after unprecedented anti-government protests in early January 2022 after which the Kazakh regime began to quietly target Nazarbaev, his family, and other allies -- many of whom held powerful or influential posts in government, security agencies, and profitable energy companies.

In September, another court in Astana sentenced Nazarbaev's nephew Qairat Satybaldy to six years in prison on corruption charges.

President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev has taken a series of moves since the unrests to push Nazarbaev, who ruled the tightly controlled former Soviet republic with an iron fist for almost three decades, further into the background following his resignation in 2019.

Though he officially stepped down as president, Nazarbaev retained sweeping powers as the head of the country's powerful Security Council. He also enjoyed substantial powers by holding the title of "elbasy" -- the leader of the nation.

Even after Nazarbaev's resignation, many Kazakhs remained bitter over the oppression of his reign.

Those feelings came to a head in January 2022 when unprecedented, nationwide anti-government protests were sparked by a fuel-price hike.

The demonstrations unexpectedly exploded into deadly countrywide unrest over perceived corruption under the Nazarbaev regime and the cronyism that allowed his family and close friends to enrich themselves while ordinary citizens failed to share in the oil-rich country's wealth.

Toqaev subsequently stripped Nazarbaev of his Security Council role, taking it over himself. Since then, several of Nazarbaev’s relatives and allies have been pushed out of their positions or resigned.

Last month, Toqaev sign a law that canceled Nazarbaev's elbasy title.

Kazakh critics say Toqaev's initiatives were cosmetic and did not change the nature of the autocratic system in a country that has been plagued for years by rampant corruption and nepotism.

EU May Need To Reintroduce Tariffs On Ukrainian Grain, PMs Say

Ukraine, one of the world's largest grain exporters, had its Black Sea ports blocked following Russia's February 2022 invasion and found alternative shipping routes through EU states Poland and Romania.

Tariffs on Ukrainian agricultural imports may need to be reintroduced if an influx of products that is pushing down prices in EU markets cannot be stopped by other means, several prime ministers of eastern states said. In a letter to the European Commission, the leaders of Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, and Slovakia said the scale of the increase of products including grains, oilseeds, eggs, poultry, and sugar had been "unprecedented." Ukraine, one of the world's largest grain exporters, had its Black Sea ports blocked following Russia's February 2022 invasion and found alternative shipping routes through EU states Poland and Romania. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Iran's IRGC Says Israeli Air Strike In Syria Kills One Of Its Officers

Milad Haydari was killed in Syria, the IRGC said.

Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) says an Israeli attack in Syria on March 31 killed one of its officers in a sign of Israel's increasing efforts to counter Tehran's foothold in the country. The IRGC "has announced the martyrdom of guardsman Milad Haydari, one of the IRGC's military advisers and officers," in the attack, a statement said. This was the second attack attributed to Israel in Syria in less than two days. There was no immediate comment from Israel, which usually declines to comment on reports of strikes in Syria. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Radio Farda, click here.

Spanish PM Says He Encouraged China's Xi To Speak With Zelenskiy

Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) speaks to Chinese President Xi Jinping as they attend an official welcome ceremony in Moscow on March 21.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez encouraged Chinese President Xi Jinping on March 31 to talk to the Ukrainian leadership and learn firsthand about Kyiv's peace formula to help bring an end to Russia's invasion. Sanchez told a news conference in Beijing he had informed Xi, who visited Moscow on March 20-21, that Spain supported the proposals made by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. They include a demand to restore Ukraine's territory to the status quo before Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.


Ukraine Condemns Wimbledon Decision To Lift Ban On Russian Players

Wimbledon said last year that barring players from the two countries was its only viable option under the guidance provided by the British government.

Ukraine has condemned the decision to allow Russian and Belarusian tennis players to compete at the Wimbledon tennis tournament.

Tournament organizers announced on March 31 they were lifting a ban imposed in 2022, clearing the way for competitors from the two countries to enter the Grand Slam, which starts on July 3, if they are "neutral" athletes and comply with certain conditions.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba blasted the decision, urging Britain to bar entry to participants from the two countries.

"Wimbledon's decision to permit the participation of Russian and Belarusian players is immoral," Kuleba said on Twitter.

Wimbledon said last year that barring players from the two countries was its only viable option under the guidance provided by the British government.

However, this year's conditions include prohibiting "expressions of support for Russia's invasion of Ukraine" and prohibiting entry by players "receiving funding from the Russian and/or Belarusian states."

With reporting by AFP and Reuters

Police In North Kazakhstan Investigate Group Calling For 'Sovereign Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic'

Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev poses with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Astana on October 14, 2022.

Police in the North Kazakhstan region say they are investigating a group in the regional capital, Petropavl, called the People's Council. The group announced its creation days earlier saying it promotes "our independence and sovereignty" and "the unbreakable territorial integrity of the sovereign Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic" -- Kazakhstan's former name when it was part of the Soviet Union. After Russia launched its full-scale aggression against Ukraine in February 2022, Kazakh officials launched several probes linked to online expressions of support for Russia and the idea of reviving the Soviet Union by Kazakh citizens. To read the original story of RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, click here.

Former Putin Speechwriter Gallyamov Accused Of Discrediting Russian Armed Forces

Abbas Gallyamov worked as a speechwriter for Putin from 2008 to 2010. He was a deputy chief of the administration of then-President of Russia's Republic of Bashkortostan Rustem Khamitov from 2010 to 2014.

A self-exiled former speechwriter of Vladimir Putin, Abbas Gallyamov, whose name appeared in the Russian Interior Ministry's online registry of wanted persons last week, is suspected of discrediting Russia's armed forces, a charge Russian authorities have been using to stifle any criticism of Moscow's war in Ukraine.

The Setevyye Svobody (Network Freedoms) group, which monitors the rights of online journalists, said on March 30 that it had obtained official documents of the probe against Gallyamov stating that the charge against him stems from his interview with Ukraine's 1+1 television's YouTube project.

Gallyamov gave the interview with the outlet on April 9, 2022, discussing alleged war crimes committed by Russian troops in the Ukrainian cities of Bucha and Kramatorsk.

Setevyye Svobody said the investigation against Gallyamov was launched on January 18 and that his name was added to the wanted list on February 17, more than one month before it appeared on the ministry's website.

If convicted, Gallyamov faces up to 10 years in prison. According to Setevyye Svobody, lawyer Alan Gamazov is representing Gallyamov. It is not clear whether he was appointed by Russian authorities or was chosen by Gallyamov to be his legal representative.

On March 24, the Mediazona website said it found the official notice identifying Gallyamov as wanted on unspecified charges on the Interior Ministry's website. The notice was posted a day after RFE/RL published an extensive interview with Gallyamov.

In the interview, Gallyamov suggested that the ongoing unprovoked invasion of Ukraine may lead to a revolution in Russia.

He also reflected on his time as a member of Putin's speechwriting team after Putin became prime minister in 2008. He said that at that time, nobody could have predicted "that Russia would turn into some kind of fascist state, as it is now."

Discrediting Russia's armed forces became a crime under a new law adopted after Russia sent troops into Ukraine in February 2022.

Last month, the Russian Justice Ministry added Gallyamov to its registry of foreign agents, saying he has distributed "materials compiled by foreign agents, expressed ideas against the special military operation in Ukraine, participated as an expert, and respondent on information platforms presented by foreign entities."

Gallyamov, 50, is currently residing in Israel. He worked as a speechwriter for Putin from 2008 to 2010. He was a deputy chief of the administration of then-President of Russia's Republic of Bashkortostan Rustem Khamitov from 2010 to 2014.


Ukraine Marks Bucha Massacre Anniversary As Russia Shells Cities In East

(Left to right) Slovakia's Prime Minister Eduard Heger, Moldova's President Maia Sandu, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Slovenia's Prime Minister Robert Golob, and Croatia's Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic attend an event to mark the liberation of Bucha on March 31.

Ukraine on March 31 marked one year since Russian forces withdrew from Bucha, leaving behind hundreds of bodies of murdered civilians on the streets of the commuter town near the capital in what Kyiv said was a massacre and a Russian war crime.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy presided over an official outdoor ceremony in Bucha that was also attended by Moldovan President Maia Sandu and the prime ministers of EU and NATO members Croatia, Slovakia, and Slovenia -- Eduard Geger, Robert Golob, and Andrej Plenkovich.

In a video posted on social media, Zelenskiy called the Bucha massacre "a symbol of the atrocities" committed by the Russian military.

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"We will never forgive. We will punish all those guilty," Zelenskiy said in a statement accompanying the video.

As the Russian military was forced to hastily leave Bucha and Irpin, another town on the outskirts of Kyiv, after a failed attempt to capture the Ukrainian capital, images of the dead bodies scattered on the streets of Bucha sparked a wave of shock and condemnation around the world.

Russia has denied committing the massacres and claimed the deaths were "staged" by Ukraine.

Ukrainian officials estimate about 400 bodies of civilians were found in Bucha, as well as more than 1,000 throughout the region around Kyiv.

Many of the bodies were buried in mass graves.

In a video message, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States "will continue pushing for accountability and for justice for as long as it takes."

Ukrainian and international investigators have opened a probe into war crimes in Bucha, Irpin, and other locations in Ukraine where apparent massacres occurred.

"The key word today is justice. Justice...for all our people who lost relatives, loved ones, health, home, [and] normal life due to Russian aggression, due to the terror of the occupier," Zelenskiy said in his evening video message.

He added that the events that took place in Bucha on the anniversary and other talks with international officials were aimed at speeding up the process of creating a tribunal on Russian aggression.

Sandu tweeted about the event in Bucha, saying the people of Moldova "stand with the global community in remembering the terror inflicted on the civilians in Bucha one year ago."

"We honor and grieve the innocent. Democracies must work together to ensure that these atrocities are investigated and punished," she added.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the bloc "assists Ukraine to investigate such crimes and collect evidence," while Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said Bucha showed the world "the true face of Russian occupation."

"A year ago, Ukraine liberated Bucha and the world woke up to the true face of Russian occupation. Bucha is a crime scene and a symbol for all Russian crimes -- mass killings, deportations, erasing whole cities," Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas wrote on Twitter on March 31. "There's no going back -- Russia will be held accountable."

Meanwhile, fighting between Ukrainian and Russian forces for control of Bakhmut and other key towns in the eastern region of Donetsk continued unabated as the northeastern city of Kharkiv was targeted with missile and drone strikes overnight, the military said on March 31.

Russia targeted civilian infrastructure in the city of Kharkiv with nine missile strikes launched from S-300 air-to-surface systems and 10 Iranian-made Shahed drones, Ukraine's General Staff said in its daily report, adding that nine drones were destroyed.

At least five civilians were wounded, authorities said.

"The enemy continues to ignore the laws and customs of war, using terror tactics against the peaceful citizens of our country," the military said.

WATCH: Ukrainian artillery targets Russian armored guns at a range of up to 28 kilometers in the ongoing battle for Bakhmut. Using a captured self-propelled cannon, a Ukrainian artillery crew is also trying to destroy Russian command posts.

Ukrainian Artillery Hunts Russian Howitzers As Battle For Bakhmut Grinds On
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In the southern Kherson region, Russian troops shelled settlements 64 times over the past day, killing one person and wounding two, the regional military administration reported on March 31.

The city of Kramatorsk in Donetsk was also struck by two Russian missiles that damaged eight residential buildings, the military said.

Heavy fighting continued in and around Bakhmut, where the Ukrainian defenders repelled 22 attacks over the past 24 hours, and in Avdiyivka, Lyman, and Maryinka.

A civilian was killed and six others were wounded by Russian shelling the area around Bakhmut, the governor of the Donetsk region, Pavlo Kirylenko, wrote on Telegram on March 31.

Bakhmut, a mining city with a prewar population of 70,000 people, has become the epicenter of Russia's offensive for the control of eastern Ukraine. About 2,000 civilians are thought to be left in the city, which has been all but razed to the ground.

In southern Ukraine, the city of Zaporizhzhya was targeted by overnight shelling by Russia that damaged civilian infrastructure, the secretary of the Zaporizhzhya city council, Anatoliy Kurtev, reported on Telegram.

Kurtev said no one was injured.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and dpa

White House Urges Russia To Act Professionally During UN Security Council Presidency

Russian Ambassador to the United Nations Vasily Nebenzya responds as Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba asks for a minute of silence during a meeting of the UN Security Council to mark a year since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2023.

The White House has urged Russia to conduct itself professionally when it assumes its scheduled UN Security Council presidency next month. "Unfortunately, Russia is a permanent member of the Security Council and no feasible international legal pathway exists to change that reality," White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said on March 30. "We expect Russia to continue to use its seat on the council to spread disinformation" and justify its actions in Ukraine. The presidency rotates to council members month by month. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Azerbaijan Denounces 'Slanderous' Comments By Top Iranian Commander

Iranian commander Kiumars Heydari (file photo)

Azerbaijan has denounced comments by a senior Iranian military commander who said members of the Islamic State militant group had fought for Azerbaijan and were still based in the country. The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry on March 30 said the comments made by Kiumars Heydari, head of Iran's regular army ground forces, were "vile, defamatory, and slanderous," adding, "Generally speaking, there are no foreign elements on the territory of Azerbaijan." The ministry's response came a day after security services said they were investigating "a terrorist act" on lawmaker Fazil Mustafa, who has strong anti-Iranian views. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

U.S. Mideast Envoy Hopeful Saudi-Iran Detente Will Help Region

The Biden administration is hopeful that warming ties between Iran and Saudi Arabia will help de-escalate conflicts and crises across the Middle East, a senior U.S. diplomat said on March 30. The detente between the two regional heavyweights could help bring Yemen's civil war to an end, Barbara Leaf said. Earlier this month, Riyadh and Tehran agreed to reestablish diplomatic relations -- a move that stirred cautious optimism across the region. "The first order is to see whether Iran will live up to its commitments in terms of Yemen," Leaf said.

U.S. Blacklists Slovak For Allegedly Facilitating Arms Deals Between North Korea, Russia

The United States has imposed sanctions on a Slovakian man who allegedly worked as a broker for Russia in its efforts to purchase arms and munitions from North Korea to support its war on Ukraine.

Ashot Mkrtychev, 56, of Bratislava was involved in arranging sales and barter deals for North Korea to ship weapons and munitions to Russia between late 2022 and early 2023, the U.S. Treasury Department said in a news release.

In exchange, Pyongyang would obtain cash, commercial aircraft, commodities, and raw materials, according to the Treasury Department.

Mkrtychev worked with officials from both sides to makes the deals happen, according to the Treasury.

"Mkrtychev's negotiations with DPRK and Russian officials detailed mutually beneficial cooperation between North Korea and Russia to include financial payments and barter arrangements," the department said, referring to North Korea by its formal name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK). "He confirmed Russia's readiness to receive military equipment from the DPRK with senior Russian officials."

Although the department did not say if any deals were completed or describe the specific weapons involved, it said its Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) imposed sanctions against Mkrtychev.

The United States said last year amid an increase in air strikes on Ukraine that Russia has purchased artillery shells and rockets from North Korea.

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said then that North Korea was shipping the ammunition to Russia but making it look like it was sending the arms to the Middle East or North Africa.

Kirby also said North Korea completed an arms delivery to the Wagner mercenary group, which is fighting on the front lines in Ukraine.

Pyongyang has denied the U.S. claims.

Kirby said on March 30 that Russia continues to seek arms from the communist country.

"We have new information that Russia is actively seeking to acquire additional munitions from North Korea," Kirby said after the Treasury announced the sanctions against Mkrtychev.

The OFAC blacklist freezes any assets Mkrtychev holds within the jurisdiction of the United States and bans Americans and U.S. businesses, including banks, of having any dealings with him.

The move comes as Washington steps up sanctions targeting Russia's attempts to obtain military equipment to replenish stocks that have been depleted by the war in Ukraine.

"Russia has lost over 9,000 pieces of heavy military equipment since the start of the war, and thanks in part to multilateral sanctions and export controls, [Russian President Vladimir] Putin has become increasingly desperate to replace them," U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in the statement.

Schemes like the alleged arms deal pursued by Mkrtychev "show that Putin is turning to suppliers of last resort like Iran and [North Korea]," she added.

"We remain committed to degrading Russia's military-industrial capabilities, as well as exposing and countering Russian attempts to evade sanctions and obtain military equipment from the DPRK or any other state that is prepared to support its war in Ukraine," Yellen said.

With reporting by Reuters and AFP

Russian Soldier Jailed In Crimea For Desertion

A court in the Russian-occupied Ukrainian region of Crimea has sentenced a military serviceman to nine years in prison for desertion. The Crimea Garrison Military Court said on March 30 the defendant, whose identity was not disclosed, pleaded guilty and said he desert his unit in Crimea in September because he was unwilling to take part in the war against Ukraine. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Crimea.Realities, click here.

Russian, 63, Jailed For Seven Years For Anti-War Posts

A court in Moscow has sentenced a 63-year-old man to seven years in prison for two online posts last year condemning Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. The Timiryazev district court sentenced Mikhail Simonov on March 30 after finding him guilty of "discrediting the Russian armed forces," a charge Russian authorities have been using against any criticism of the war in Ukraine since it was launched by Moscow in February 2022. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

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