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Iran's First Nuclear Power Plant Is Born After Years Of Delays

The Bushehr plant was built by Russia, after initially being begun by Siemens.
Iran's quest for fully-fledged nuclear status passed an important landmark on August 21 when Russia began loading fuel into a power plant delayed for more than three decades.

The $1 billion Bushehr facility was ushered into being amid a blaze of fanfare by Iranian officials hailing it as a triumph over Western hostility to the country's nuclear aspirations.

The plant, at a spot 12 kilometers outside Bushehr on the Persian Gulf, has been built by Russian technicians and will be powered by fuel shipped in from Russia.

The inaugural ceremony was attended by Iranian and Russian nuclear officials, including the head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization, Ali Akbar Salehi, and Sergei Kiriyenko, the head of Russia's Rosatom nuclear agency.

Salehi said Iran was grateful to Russia for its help with launching the country's first nuclear power plant.

"[Russia] has cooperated with the Iranian nation. They have secured a place in the history of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and made their name known. They have facilitated the launch of the nuclear energy at this power plant, and this has happened in the hands of our friend and neighbor Russia," Salehi said.

A defiant Salehi later told a news conference, "Despite all pressures, sanctions, and hardships imposed by Western nations, we are witnessing the start-up of the largest symbol of Iran's peaceful nuclear activities."

Kiriyenko said the construction of the nuclear plant was a "clear example" showing that any country that cooperates openly with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the United Nations nuclear watchdog, has the right to peaceful nuclear technology.

1970s Beginnings

The inauguration marked the end of a long saga first begun in 1974 when French and German scientists began constructing two reactors at the site under commission from Iran's Western-backed monarchy.

The reactors were only partially complete at the time of the 1979 Islamic Revolution that toppled the last shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, and the project was subsequently halted. During the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War, the site was badly damaged and the equipment looted.

The scheme was revived in the 1990s with Russian help but has run into repeated difficulties amid claims by Russia that Iran was delaying payments.

Now Iran says the new facility will be the first in a network of nuclear power plants it promises will provide 20,000 megawatts of electricity by 2020 and enable it to export more oil and natural gas.

The plant comes online at a time when international concerns about Iran's nuclear activities are at a peak over fears that the country's leadership is seeking atomic weapons capability. Iranian officials deny that and insist the country's nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

Iran has already faced four separate rounds of United Nations Security Council sanctions, as well as separate U.S. and European Union embargoes, over its refusal to halt uranium-enrichment work being carried out in at least two other facilities, Natanz and Fordow, near Qom.

Despite that, the Bushehr plant is relatively uncontroversial compared to the uranium-enrichment facilities.

The U.S. State Department has said it does not regard the facility as a potential proliferation risk because Russia has committed itself to taking back the reactor's spent fuel and processing it themselves. Spent nuclear fuels rods will be returned to Russia to assuage U.S. concerns that Iran might be able to reprocess the material into weapons-grade plutonium -- a different route to building a bomb from highly enriched uranium.

'Legitimate Activity'

The reactor, which will have an operating capacity of 1,000 megawatts, is also subject to strict monitoring by the IAEA.

Richard Dalton, a former British ambassador to Tehran, says the Bushehr reactor is gaining broad international acceptance because it is a "legitimate activity."

"It is all taking place under IAEA safeguards. There is also the factor that it's been a long time coming. This is project that is 35 years old and has been accepted by nearly all countries for nearly all that period of time as legitimate under the Nonproliferation Treaty as it's a civil power project," Dalton says.

"The country which particularly opposed it and held out against it, the United States, has come round in the last few years to realizing that, whereas it might be undesirable from their point of view, it's not something that they could stop."

Not everyone has been reassured. Last week, John Bolton, the hawkish former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, raised the specter of an Israeli military strike on the reactor -- a prospect widely deemed to be highly unlikely.

"What this does is give Iran a second route to nuclear weapons in addition to enriched uranium. It's a very huge, huge victory for Iran," Bolton, who served under President George W Bush, told the U.S. television network Fox.

"If Israel's going to do anything against Bushehr it has to move in the next eight days. If they don't, then as I say, something Saddam Hussein wanted but couldn't get, a functioning nuclear reactor...the Iranians, sworn enemies of Israel, will have."

However, such concerns have been dismissed by nonproliferation experts.

Mark Fitzpatrick, a nonproliferation specialist at the Institute for Strategic Studies in London, described the Bushehr plant as a "sideshow," telling Reuters, "It shouldn't distract world attention from the real issue of enrichment."

Dalton says the views expressed by critics such as Bolton are "extreme" but acknowledges the Bushehr project contains elements of potential concern. That includes providing Iran with the opportunity to train more nuclear scientists and technicians who could then be reassigned for enrichment or other activities.

"Those who wish to restrict Iran's nuclear program to the absolute minimum, if it can't be eliminated entirely, see [the program] as a potential source of cadres who might at some stage be diverted to more nefarious uses of nuclear energy," Dalton says.

"And secondly, they see the possibility that Iran would take this unit out of safeguards and abrogate the agreements with Russia, thus in effect leaving the Nonproliferation Treaty. And then they might -- might -- be able to extract plutonium from the spent fuel rods and then, in turn, divert that for potentially military uses."

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Security Forces Fire On Protesters In Abdanan Demonstrating Over Student's Death

One human rights website reported that security forces and special units had attacked protesters in Abdanan on June 1.

A group of citizens in the western Iranian city of Abdanan, took to the streets chanting anti-government slogans on June 1 to protest the suspicious death of 21-year-old student Bamshad Suleimankhani. Several protesters were injured when security forces opened fire on them, local sources reported.

Suleimankhani reportedly died earlier this week following his release from prison. Authorities said he had committed suicide.

According to videos shared on social media, protesters chanted slogans such as "Death to Khamenei," a reference to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. They also blocked some streets of Abdanan by setting fires and continued their protest with slogans like " We don't want a child-murdering government.”

The Twitter account "Voice of Shahrivar," which covers protests in Iran, reported hours before the night protests in Abdanan that the seventh-day memorial service for the “government murder" of Bamshad Suleimankhani, who died “after continuous threats by government institutions” was attended by many of the city’s residents.

The human rights website Hengaw reported that security forces and special units had attacked protesters in Abdanan, firing "live ammunition, pellet guns, and tear gas."

Images and videos from the protests appear to show that several demonstrators were injured by the pellet guns of security forces during the protests on June 1. Dozens of security forces and special unit vehicles were reportedly stationed in the main square of Abdanan and various streets of the city in the late hours of June 1. However, reports said protests continued in different neighborhoods of the city.

Issa Baziar, a civil activist from Abdanan who now resides outside the country, said on Twitter on May 28 that Suleimankhani returned home on May 26, “with signs of beating and cigarette burns on his hand, and due to severe injuries, he fell into a coma that night and his death was announced by doctors on May 28."

Baziar said Suleimankhani had received “serious warnings” from security forces. He also said that Suleimankhani’s family have been threatened by authorities and warned not to speak to the media.

Judicial and law enforcement officials in Abdanan in Ilam Province did not provide any explanation about the manner of Suleimankhani's death until the start of a strike by some merchants in the city, the widespread presence of people marking a week since his death, and the beginning of nighttime protests in Abdanan.

Speaking on June 1, Omran Ali Mohammad, the head of the Ilam Province judiciary, was quoted by the Tasnim news agency, affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), as saying that Suleimankhani died as a result of “suicide.”

Mohammad said that the student “had not been accused or summoned by any law enforcement, military and security institutions, or the judiciary of Ilam Province."

Universities and students have long been at the forefront of the struggle for greater social and political freedoms in Iran.

According to the Human Rights Activists Organization, more than 750 students have been arrested by security forces, mostly by kidnapping accompanied by assault and battery in the streets around universities amid the nationwide antiestablishment protests sparked by the death in custody of Mahsa Amini in September.

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

Iran Frees One Danish, Two Austrian-Iranian Citizens

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said the freed Danish and Austrian-Iranian citizens were being flown to Belgium. (file photo)

Iran on June 2 released one Danish and two Austrian-Iranian citizens it had been holding after mediation by Oman, and they are being flown to Belgium, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said. He added that he had informed the governments of Denmark and Austria of the release, which came a week after Tehran freed a Belgian aid worker in exchange for an Iranian diplomat who was convicted on terrorism charges.

Pashinian Says Armenia Is Not Russia's Ally In Moscow's War With Ukraine

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian (lft) made his remarks in an interview with CNN Prima News in Prague.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian says "in its war with Ukraine, we are not Russia's ally." In an interview with CNN Prima News in Prague, broadcast late on June 1, Pashinian said Armenia's membership in Russia-led groupings creates the opinion in the West that Yerevan is Moscow's ally, while Russian authorities understand that Armenia is not their ally in the war against Ukraine. "So, in this situation, we are nobody's ally," Pashinian said, adding that it is difficult for Yerevan to continue to maneuver between the West and Moscow as the situation gets "more complicated." To read the original story by RFE/RL's Armenian Service, click here.

Russian Activists Under Pressure Over Pro-Navalny Rally Scheduled For June 4

Opposition leader Alexei Navalny

Police in Russia have warned activists of possible repercussions for their participation in nationwide rallies to support jailed opposition politician Aleksei Navalny, scheduled for June 4, his birthday. Anton Kartavin, a municipal lawyer in Novosibirsk, and local activist Irina Selishcheva were detained for questioning on June 2 and handed written warnings about the consequences for taking part in "extremist activities." Kartavin said he had nothing to do with the planned rallies. Meanwhile, blogger Sergei Veselov in the city of Shuya was charged with violating regulations for holding public events over his announcement of rallies on his Telegram channel. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Ukraine Freezes More Assets Under Name Of Pro-Russian Politician's Wife

Ukrainian courts have already frozen and impounded assets and property in Ukraine held by Oksana Marchenko with an estimated value of 7 billion hryvnyas ($188 million). 

KYIV -- The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) has frozen more assets of Oksana Marchenko, the wife of pro-Russian politician Viktor Medvedchuk.

The SBU said on June 2 that the assets, estimated to have a value of 740 million hryvnyas ($19.8 million), are related to stakes Marchenko owned via offshore schemes in several energy transportation companies located in Ukraine's Black Sea port city of Odesa -- Eximnaftoprodukt, Sintez Oil, Sintez Transit, Ukrloadsystem, Odesnaftoprodukt, Black Sea Fuel Terminal, and Albion Commodities.

"The freezing of these assets will prevent their re-registration under other fake names and will allow them to be transferred for our state's needs," the SBU statement said.

Marchenko's husband, Viktor Medvedchuk, is a longtime Ukrainian political fixture and reportedly a godfather to Russian President Vladimir Putin's daughter. Medvedchuk was one of Ukraine’s wealthiest individuals with a fortune estimated in the hundreds of millions of dollars, including energy assets in Russia.

Ukrainian courts have already frozen and impounded assets and property in Ukraine held by Marchenko with an estimated value of 7 billion hryvnyas ($188 million).

In April, Ukraine's Interior Ministry added Marchenko, who is not in Ukraine, to its wanted list, saying she is suspected of financing actions to forcibly disrupt Ukraine's constitutional order, seize power, and change the state borders of Ukraine.

Ukraine sanctioned Medvedchuk in February 2021, freezing his assets, and took off the air three television stations it said belonged to him for promoting Russian propaganda.

He was arrested in 2021 on charges of treason and terrorism financing and later placed under house arrest on bail.

Shortly after Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine in late February last year, Medvedchuk escaped house arrest, but he was rearrested in April while trying to flee to Russia.

In June, a court in Ukraine banned the Medvedchuk-led pro-Russia Opposition Platform -- For Life political party.

In September, Ukrainian authorities handed the 68-year-old politician over to Russia in a prisoner exchange.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has since stripped Medvedchuk and three other pro-Russian Ukrainian politicians of their Ukrainian citizenship.

Belarusian Union Activist Sentenced To 42 Months On Charge Of Insulting Lukashenka

Security forces in Hrodna, Belarus (file photo)

A court in Minsk has sentenced union activist and genetics scientist Alyaksandr Kandratsyuk to 42 months in prison for allegedly insulting authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka amid an ongoing crackdown on dissent and civil society in Belarus.

The Minsk-based Vyasna (Spring) human rights group said on June 2 that the Minsk City Court sentenced Kandratsyuk after finding him guilty of insulting Lukashenka, discrediting the country, and inciting social hatred.

Kandratsyuk was initially arrested in September and handed a 13-day jail term, but he was not released after serving the sentence and instead was sent back to pretrial detention. The reason for his initial arrested remains unclear.

Vyasna also said on June 2 that the Minsk City Court is currently trying 21-year-old activist Dzmitry Hudzeyeu on charges of organizing the actions of a terrorist group and the creation of an extremist group.

It remains unclear what exactly the charges stem from. Last month, Belarusian KGB added Hudzeyeu to its terrorist registry. If convicted, Hudzeyeu may face up to 12 years in prison.

Hundreds of people have been handed prison terms in Belarus following the unprecedented anti-Lukashenka rallies sparked by the election results.

Thousands of others have been detained and there have been credible reports of torture and ill-treatment of detainees by security forces. Several people have died during the crackdown.

The 68-year-old Lukashenka has leaned heavily on Russian support amid Western sanctions while punishing the opposition and arresting or forcing many of its leaders out of the country.

Lukashenka denies voter fraud and has refused to negotiate with the opposition, led by Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who supporters say actually won the vote.

The European Union, United States, Canada, and other countries have refused to recognize Lukashenka as the legitimate leader of Belarus and have slapped him and senior Belarusian officials with sanctions in response to the “falsification” of the vote and postelection crackdown.

U.S. To Offer To Keep Nuclear Arms Curbs Until 2026 If Russia Does Same

A Yars intercontinental ballistic missile is test-fired as part of Russia's nuclear drills from a launch site in Plesetsk, northwestern Russia, in 2022.

The United States on June 2 will offer to abide by the nuclear weapons limits set in the New START treaty until its 2026 expiration if Russia does the same, in order to bolster global security, two senior administration officials said. U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan will make the offer in a speech to the Arms Control Association, the oldest U.S. arms control advocacy group, the officials said on June 1 on condition of anonymity. Sullivan will say President Joe Biden's administration is open to resuming unconditional talks with Moscow on managing nuclear dangers, including replacing New START with a new pact, the sources said. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Former Lawmaker Gets 16 Years In Prison For Ordering Journalist's Assassination In Siberia

Isa Khashiyev, a former lawmaker in the Siberian city of Minusinsk, has been sentenced to 16 years in prison for ordering the assassination of an editor of the Ton-M newspaper in 2016. The Krasnoyarsk regional prosecutor's office said on June 2 that another defendant in the case, Viktor Shestakov, was found guilty of shooting Dmitry Popkov on Khashiyev's order and was sentenced to 14 years in prison. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Siberia.Realities, click here.

U.S. Lawyer Named Chief Prosecutor At Office Linked To Kosovo War Crimes Court

Kimberly West replaces Jack Smith, who stood down as head of the Specialist Prosecutor's Office in November.

American lawyer Kimberly West has been appointed as the chief prosecutor linked to a European Union-backed court prosecuting war crimes in Kosovo, the prosecutor's office announced on June 2. West replaces Jack Smith, who stood down as head of the Specialist Prosecutor's Office in November to become a U.S. Justice Department special counsel overseeing investigations into the retention of classified documents at former President Donald Trump's Florida estate, Mar-a-Lago, as well as aspects of an investigation into efforts to overturn the 2020 election won by Democrat Joe Biden. To read the original story by AP, click here.

Russian Writer, Staunch Kremlin Critic Barred From Entering Georgia

Viktor Shenderovich fled Russia last year after a probe was launched against him that he calls trumped up.

Russian writer Viktor Shenderovich, an outspoken Kremlin critic, has not been allowed to enter Georgia. Shenderovich, who fled Russia last year after a probe was launched against him on a libel charge that he calls trumped up, wrote on Facebook on June 2 that he canceled his readings in Georgia after he was rejected without explanation from entering the Caucasus nation. Shenderovich accused Georgia's government of "doing the work" to turn the nation into "Putin's province."

Swiss Parliament Votes To Block Indirect Arms Exports To Ukraine

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy is displayed on a giant screen after delivering a live voice message during a demonstration against the Russian invasion of Ukraine in front of the Swiss parliament in Bern on March 19, 2022.

The Swiss parliament rejected an exemption for the transfer of arms to Ukraine on June 1. The majority of members of the Swiss National Council voted against the proposal that had been drafted by the security policy committee of the country's larger parliamentary chamber. The Swiss Federal Assembly is made up of the National Council and the smaller Council of States. The "Lex Ukraine" would have allowed other states to deliver Swiss-made war materiel to Ukraine. The laws of neutral Switzerland prohibit support for countries involved in acts of war. Switzerland has therefore so far refused to give Germany permission to pass along Swiss ammunition, purchased years ago for the German Leopard tank, to Ukraine.

Prominent Pakistani Activist Goes Missing Amid Political Turmoil

Jibran Nasir

A prominent Pakistani lawyer and activist known for criticizing the country’s powerful military went missing after he was abducted by armed men in Karachi. More than a dozen unidentified armed men abducted Jibran Nasir as he was returning from a dinner with his wife around midnight in the port city. His wife, Mansha Pasha, a prominent actress, asked people to speak out for his return and pray for his safety in a video message late on June 1. Nasir's abduction amid the ongoing political turmoil in Pakistan prompted activists and civil society to raise their concerns. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said it was deeply concerned by the reports that Nasir had been abducted.

Amnesty Blasts Iran's 'Shameless' Use Of Executions For Drug-Related Cases

Amnesty International said Iranian authorities have executed at least 173 people convicted of drug-related offences this year after "systematically unfair trials,"  nearly three times more than this time last year. 

Amnesty International says Iran's prisons have turned into "killing fields" with the number of people executed on drug-related charges almost triple this year compared with 2022, calling it a "shameless rate" that exposes the regime's "lack of humanity."

The London-based rights organization said in a report released on June 2 that Iranian authorities have executed at least 173 people convicted of drug-related offences this year after "systematically unfair trials," nearly three times more than this time last year.

Amnesty said members of Iran's Baluch ethnic minority accounted for around 20 percent of the recorded executions, "despite making up only 5 percent of Iran's population."

"The shameless rate at which the authorities are carrying out drug-related executions, in violation of international law, exposes their lack of humanity and flagrant disregard for the right to life," said Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty International's deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa.

"The international community must ensure that cooperation in antidrug trafficking initiatives do not contribute, directly or indirectly, to the arbitrary deprivation of life and other human rights violations in Iran," Eltahawy added.

Amnesty said the number of executions for all crimes had also significantly increased in the Islamic republic, with at least 282 people executed in total so far in 2023.

"If the authorities continue to carry out overall executions at this alarming pace, they could kill nearly 1,000 prisoners by the end of this year," the rights group warned.

The report said the poor and vulnerable are mostly impacted by the death penalty while the families of those executed frequently struggle with the dire economic consequences of losing breadwinners and being heavily indebted from legal fees.

The wave of executions has sparked outrage among rights activists and many Western governments who have called the legal proceedings against the accused "sham" trials where proper representation is not always granted and decisions are rushed behind closed doors.

The Norway-based Iran Human Rights (IHR) group said on June 1 at least 307 people have been executed in 2023, a 76 percent rise compared with the same period last year.

IHR said at least 142 people were executed in Iran in May, the highest monthly total in eight years, amid a brutal crackdown on dissent that the Norway-based watchdog says is aimed at spreading "societal fear."

According to Amnesty International, Iran was the world's top executioner in 2022 after China.


Ukraine Says It Downed All Drones, Missiles Shot At Capital, Two Injured

The aftermath of an overnight wave of attacks by Russia on Kyiv, on June 1

Ukrainian authorities say air-defense forces shot down all 15 missiles and 21 drones over the capital, Kyiv, as Russia launched its sixth consecutive day of attacks on the capital.

Ukraine's Prosecutor General's Office said a 68-year-old man and an 11-year-old child were wounded in the June 2 attacks, which came from several directions and hit residential areas.

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 in Ukraine, click here.

Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko, who earlier reported two separate waves of attacks, said on Telegram there had been no calls for rescue services.

“Already after the alarm, smoldering fragments of a rocket were found on the road in the Darnytsya district of the capital. The rescue and fire service is on its way to the scene," Klitschko wrote.

Russian troops have intensified their attacks against Ukrainian cities, particularly Kyiv, since the start of May.

The Ukrainian capital has been targeted by 19 waves of Russian air strikes since the start of May.

Kyiv military authorities have said that as a result of falling rocket fragments on the capital on June 1, three people were killed, including a child. Another 11 people were injured.

Two of those killed were hit by debris after they weren't able to enter a bomb shelter that was locked, sparking anger among many residents.

Klitschko said on June 2 that the city will immediately implement mandatory controls of all shelters to ensure they are always open.

"The city authorities are strengthening control over the work of shelters. Yes, there are questions. And we will work on it," he said, adding that residents can also volunteer to control facilities to make sure they are accessible.

"The enemy is now shelling the capital with ballistic missiles. When the alarm sounds, it's a matter of minutes. If you think you cannot get to a shelter in time, follow the rule of [standing by a junction of] two walls in the house," he added.

Meanwhile, Russian regional authorities said two villages in the country’s western Bryansk region were shelled by Ukrainian forces.

Regional Governor Alexander Bogomaz said on Telegram that no one was injured in the attacks.

The governor of the southern Kursk region, which also borders Ukraine, said air-defense systems shot down "several" Ukrainian drones. He did not say if there were any casualties.

Separately, the governor of Belgorod, which shares a border with Ukraine, said two women have been killed by shelling in the region.

Russian Strike Kills Ukrainian Child Amid Claims Of Locked Bomb Shelter
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The women were traveling by car near the town of Shebekino when shrapnel hit their vehicle, Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said on Telegram on June 2 while blaming the Ukrainian Army for the attack.

Two men were hospitalized with serious injuries, he added.

None of the reports could be independently verified.

The increase in attacks comes days after Chinese Special Representative for Eurasian Affairs Li Hui toured Europe to try and make progress on a peace agreement to stop the fighting.

Speaking at a news briefing in Bejing on June 2, Li said that while the "risk of escalation" was "still high," China is "willing to do anything" to help mediate the situation and is willing to send another delegation for further peace talks.

On a trip to Finland, NATO's newest member, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on June 2 called the invasion of Ukraine a "strategic failure" for Russia, pointing to Western unity and Moscow's losses.

"Putin's war of aggression against Ukraine has been a strategic failure -- greatly diminishing Russia's military, economic, and diplomatic power and its influence for years to come," Blinken said in a speech in Helsinki.

Blinken also said the United States was working with Ukraine and other allies to build consensus around the core elements of a "just and lasting peace" to end the war.

"We will support efforts -- whether by Brazil, China, or any other nation -- if they help find a way to a just and lasting peace," Blinken said in his speech.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP and dpa

U.S. Sanctions Iranians Over Alleged Plots To Kill John Bolton And Others

John Bolton (right), who was the U.S. National security adviser under the Trump administration, in 2019

The U.S. imposed sanctions on June 1o on an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) official and others in Iran it says took part in wide-ranging plots to kill former national security adviser John Bolton and others around the world, including at least one additional U.S. government official. The alleged 2021 plot against Bolton, one of the best-documented of the alleged assassination efforts, is part of what U.S. prosecutors and former government officials describe as ongoing efforts by the IRGC to kill Trump-era officials behind a 2020 U.S. air strike that killed the head of the IRGC's elite Quds Force, Qassem Soleimani. To read the original story by AP, click here.

U.S. To Stop Giving Russia Certain START Nuclear Arms Data

The Russian Navy launches an intercontinental ballistic missile from a nuclear submarine in the Sea of Okhotsk. (file photo)

The United States will stop giving Russia some notifications required under the New START arms control treaty to retaliate for Moscow's "ongoing violations" of the accord, the State Department said on June 1. In a fact sheet posted on its website, the department said the United States would also stop giving Russia flight telemetry information on launches of U.S. intercontinental and submarine-launched ballistic missiles. The State Department said international law permits such measures to induce a state to return to compliance with its international obligations.

U.S. Envoy Warns About Russian Efforts To Use Disinformation To Divide U.S. Allies In Balkans

James Rubin, coordinator for the U.S. State Department's Global Engagement Center

SOFIA -- The Kremlin is "weaponizing information" to divide U.S. allies in the Balkans, and media outlets in the region should increase efforts to detect Russian disinformation and distinguish it from the truth, a top U.S. diplomat said on June 1 in an interview with RFE/RL.

James Rubin, coordinator for the U.S. State Department's Global Engagement Center, cited North Macedonia, Montenegro, Slovakia, and Bulgaria as countries where the United States has discovered "the Kremlin is really working to try to divide our countries, divide our friendships with NATO allies, EU allies and friends, partners, by using this information as a weapon."

For the Kremlin, he said, it's part of a broader plan because Russia understands it can't win the argument on the ground over the war in Ukraine.

"They are trying to use whatever technique they can to divide the West in its support to Ukraine," he said.

Rubin spoke with RFE/RL in Sofia, one of the stops on his current European tour in which he’s talking to governments about developing the will to spot disinformation and the capacity to do something about it.

While every country has the right to free expression and news outlets have the right to report what foreign governments say, they shouldn’t repeat foreign government disinformation without reporting where it comes from, he said.

"We need to use whatever tools we can in a democratic society to distinguish between the noise in the information domain and those operations that are run by the Kremlin that are designed to divide us, that are intended to upset democratic process so that NATO support evaporates," Rubin said.

He said his job is to ensure there’s transparency and to expose any links to Russian media and let each government make its own decision on how to respond, noting that Bulgaria, along with Slovakia and Montenegro, are among the countries where Russia has spent money and corrupted politicians and media organizations.

The United States is also aware that China also has spent spend billions of dollars developing what he called "disinformation manipulation systems" around the world, but its tactics are different from Russia's.

The Chinese offer their Xinhua news service for free to newspapers in certain countries and do not allow the newspapers to use other independent Western news agencies.

"So that means that the African journalist writing a story about the world is writing it from a Chinese point of view in which horrible things happen in America, wonderful things happen in China," he said.

The United States is attempting to "make sure that that is transparent," he said, so that readers know that the newspaper is getting its news from China.

With reporting by Elitsa Simeonova of RFE/RL's Bulgarian Service

Two New York Lawyers Sentenced For Helping Asylum Seekers From Former Soviet Union Falsify Affidavits

Arthur Arcadian and is wife, Ilona Dzhamgarova, were sentenced by the Court of the Southern District in New York on May 31. (file photo)

Two New York lawyers, husband and wife Arthur Arcadian and Ilona Dzhamgarova, have been sentenced to six months and two years in prison, respectively, for assisting asylum seekers, mostly from the former Soviet Union, to prepare false affidavits and coaching their clients to lie under oath. The U.S. Attorney's Office said on May 31 that the couple's Dzhamgarova Firm "advised certain of its clients regarding the manner in which they were most likely to obtain asylum in this country, fully understanding that those clients did not legitimately qualify for asylum." To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Mudslide Kills Three, Including Two Children, In Tajikistan's East

A massive mudslide killed three people, including two children, in the village of Qushai in eastern Tajikistan in the early hours of June 1. Officials of the Lakhsh district identified the victims as 38-year-old woman, her 15-year-old daughter, and 12-year-old son. Mountains cover 93 percent of the Central Asian nation's territory, and mudslides and avalanches kill dozens of people every year. Since January, natural disasters have killed more than 20 people in the country. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Tajik Service, click here.

U.S. To Open Diplomatic Station In Arctic Norway

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken

The United States will open its northernmost diplomatic station in the Norwegian Arctic town of Tromsoe, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on June 1 at a time when cooperation among the Arctic nations has been hit by Russia's invasion of Ukraine. The region is becoming strategically more important as a shrinking ice cap opens up new sea lanes and attracts other nations seeking its largely untapped natural resources. Blinken's announcement comes three weeks after Norway took over the chairmanship of the Arctic Council from Russia. The Arctic Council is a forum that was created in 1996 to discuss issues affecting the polar region. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

President Of Former Pakistani PM Imran Khan's Party Arrested In Lahore

President of Pakistan Tehrik-e-insaf Pervez Elahi (file photo)

The president of former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan's party was arrested on June 1 in the eastern city of Lahore on charges of corruption, a government official said. Pakistan is beset by political turmoil as Khan's party has faced a countrywide crackdown since his own arrest on May 9 for suspected graft sparked widespread protests that saw mobs ransacking state installations, including military assets. Pervez Elahi, the president of Khan's Pakistan Tehrik-e Insaf party, joins a long list of key party leaders arrested in the security swoop to halt turmoil that has threatened to worsen instability in a country reeling from a crippling financial crisis. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Moscow Court Extends Pretrial Detention Of Suspect From Cafe Bombing That Killed War Blogger

Darya Trepova attends a court hearing in Moscow in April.

MOSCOW -- A court in Moscow has extended the pretrial detention of Darya Trepova, the woman suspected in the assassination of a prominent Russian war blogger at a St. Petersburg cafe in early April.

The Basmanny district court in the Russian capital ruled on June 1 that Trepova must stay in pretrial detention until at least September 3.

The 26-year-old Trepova was arrested on a charge of committing "a terrorist act with an organized group that caused intentional death" shortly after a blast in St. Petersburg on April 2 killed Vladlen Tatarsky, the pen name of prominent pro-Kremlin blogger Maksim Fomin. Dozens of others were wounded in the attack.

Russia’s Investigative Committee said on June 1 that an arrest warrant was issued for the Kyiv-based Russian journalist Roman Popkov on suspicion of recruiting Trepova to carry out the assassination of Tatarsky.

The Investigative Committee also said Popkov was added to the Interior Ministry’s wanted list.

Last week, Popkov was added to the registry of terrorists and extremists.

Tatarsky was known for his support of Russia's invasion of Ukraine and support for Moscow-backed separatists in Ukraine's eastern Donbas region.

Investigators say Trepova was working on the instruction of people representing Ukraine, which Moscow invaded in February 2022, sparking a war that has killed thousands.

Russian media have said that Tatarsky was meeting with attendees when a woman presented him with a box containing a small bust of him that apparently exploded.

Following her detention, Russia's Interior Ministry posted a video of Trepova, who may have been speaking under duress, telling an interrogator that she "brought the statuette there that exploded." When asked who had given her the bust, she replied that she would answer the question "later."

Tatarsky's death marked the second assassination of a prominent advocate of Russia's war against Ukraine. In August, nationalist TV commentator Darya Dugina was killed in a car bombing near Moscow.

Russian authorities blamed Ukrainian military intelligence for the death of Dugina, whose father is well-known Russian war supporter and ideologue Aleksandr Dugin.

Kyiv denied involvement in Dugina's death.

With reporting by RIA Novosti, Interfax, and TASS

Watchdog Says Iran Executed At Least 142 People In May, Calls For International Pressure

Iran Human Rights (IHR) says at least 142 people were executed in Iran in May, the highest monthly total in eight years, amid a brutal crackdown on dissent that the Norway-based watchdog says is aimed at spreading "societal fear."

The group added in a statement released on June 1 that so far this year, the death penalty has been administered at least 307 times, a 76 percent rise compared with the same period last year.

"The purpose of the Islamic republic’s intensification of arbitrary executions is to spread societal fear to prevent protests and prolong its rule," IHR DIrector Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam said in the statement.

Amid a wave of unrest -- which has posed the biggest threat to the country's leadership since the Islamic revolution in 1979 -- sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini in September while in police custody for an alleged infraction of the country's mandatory-head-scarf law, officials have launched a brutal crackdown.

Iran's judiciary, at the urging of senior leaders, has taken a hard-line stance against demonstrators, executing at least seven protesters, including three on May 19. Several others are currently waiting on death row for their sentences to be carried out.

But IHR said the judiciary is using the death penalty in many areas, especially with regard to people convicted of drugs charges, 180 of whom were executed in the first five months of the year.

The wave of executions has sparked outrage among rights activists and many Western governments who have called the legal proceedings against the accused "sham" trials where proper representation is not always granted and decisions are rushed behind closed doors.

Officials have staunchly defended the use of the death penalty, with Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei, the head of the judiciary of the Islamic republic, saying on May 30 that those who, in his view, "should be executed" will have their sentences "executed."

"If the international community doesn’t show a stronger reaction to the current wave of executions, hundreds more will fall victims to their killing machine in the coming months," IHR's Amiry-Moghaddam said.

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

Russian Security Service Claims Thousands Of Diplomats' iPhones Hacked; Moscow-Based Kaspersky Also Hit

Apple stopped direct sales of iPhones in Russia last year over the Kremlin's full-scale invasion of neighboring Ukraine, but legalized import programs still exist to bring the phones into the country. (file photo)

Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) claims thousands of iPhones belonging to the country's diplomats have suffered a massive hacking attack.

The FSB said in a statement on June 1 that hackers allegedly targeted the iPhones of diplomats working at Russian embassies and consulates in countries that are members of NATO, former Soviet republics, as well as in China, Israel, and Syria.

The statement did not give any details or evidence of the alleged cyberattack, just saying that an "unknown" app that targets vulnerable parts of the iOS operational system was used by the hackers.

"The information obtained by Russian special services indicates close cooperation between the U.S. company Apple with the national security community, namely with the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA), and confirms that the declared policy of providing confidentiality for the personal data of the users of Apple devices does not correspond to the reality," the FSB statement said, without giving any information to back up the allegation.

Apple denied the allegation, saying in a statement quoted by Reuters that it has "never worked with any government to insert a backdoor into any Apple product and never will." The NSA declined to comment, according to the news agency.

The FSB statement was issued a few hours before the Moscow-based antivirus firm Kaspersky Lab said an undisclosed number of its employees' iPhones were hacked using sophisticated malware.

Kaspersky said the "extremely complex, professionally targeted cyberattack" delivered an invisible message that exploited vulnerabilities in the iOS operating system and that information from the phone was then transmitted to remote servers. Kaspersky said the hacking campaign targeted the company's "top and middle-management."

Kaspersky also issued a technical report saying it noticed "suspicious activity that originated from several iOS-based phones" while monitoring traffic on its own corporate Wi-Fi network. The report, which outlined how it said the malicious software worked, describes how the company created off-line backups to inspect the iPhones, and said first traces of the hack date back to 2019 and it is ongoing.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in Moscow that the FSB's statement "deserves attention," though "we do not have the authority" to restrict the usage of iPhones by officials.

Peskov added that while some of Kremlin officials use iPhones, others have also started replacing iPhones with other brands.

Russian media reported in March that some Russian officials allegedly were told to ditch their iPhones over security fears.

Apple and the NSA have previously clashed over securing a so-called back door to allow access to user data. The company has strenuously refused.

In 2021, a mass break-in to Apple products via the Pegasus spying program created by an Israeli company, the NSO Group, was registered. The program was used by intelligence agencies of other countries.

Apple has sued the NSO Group.

Apple stopped direct sales of iPhones in Russia last year over the Kremlin's full-scale invasion of neighboring Ukraine. However, legalized import programs still exist to bring the phones into the country and sell them without the company's permission.

With reporting by TASS, Interfax, and Reuters

Belarusian Activist Sentenced To More Than Four Years In Prison For Caricatures

Ihar Shumilau was charged with insulting and libeling Alyaksandr Lukashenka and several top officials by posting online caricatures.

A court in Belarus's western city of Baranavichy has sentenced activist Ihar Shumilau to 4 1/2 years in prison for posting online caricatures of several officials, including the country’s authoritarian ruler, Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

The Minsk-based Vyasna (Spring) human rights group said on June 1 that the Baranavichy City Court sentenced Shumilau, who lost a leg in a traffic accident 10 years ago and has an 11-year-old son, on May 30 after finding him guilty of insulting and libeling Lukashenka and several top officials.

Shumilau was initially detained in late February and sentenced to 15 days in jail on a charge of "distributing extremist materials."

He was not released after he served his term and instead immediately sent to pretrial detention on the new charges that he was found guilty of and sentenced for on May 30.

Vyasna also said on June 1 that the central district court in Minsk on May 30 handed a two-year parole-like sentence to children's author Yana Tsegla.

Tsegla was found guilty of the "organization and preparation of actions that blatantly disrupt social order," a charge many Belarusians have faced for protesting against Lukashenka after he claimed victory in a 2020 presidential election that the opposition says was rigged.

Hundreds of people have been handed prison terms in Belarus following the unprecedented anti-Lukashenka rallies sparked by the election results.

Thousands of others have been detained, and there have been credible reports of torture and ill-treatment of detainees by security forces. Several people have died during the crackdown.

The 68-year-old Lukashenka has leaned heavily on Russian support amid Western sanctions while punishing the opposition and arresting or forcing many of its leaders out of the country.

Lukashenka denies voter fraud and has refused to negotiate with the opposition, led by Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who supporters say actually won the vote.

The European Union, United States, Canada, and other countries have refused to recognize Lukashenka as the legitimate leader of Belarus and have slapped him and senior Belarusian officials with sanctions in response to the “falsification” of the vote and postelection crackdown.

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