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Fierce Clashes As Police Disperse Protesters In Iranian Capital

An image grab from Iran's official Press TV shows protesters in the streets of Tehran.
An image grab from Iran's official Press TV shows protesters in the streets of Tehran.
(RFE/RL) -- Iranian state television has said that 13 people were killed in fierce clashes between demonstrators and security forces in Iran's capital on June 20.

Police reportedly used water cannon and tear gas against thousands of people who gathered in downtown Tehran to protests against last week's presidential election won by President Mahmud Ahmadinejad. Gunshots were heard in some parts of the city.

Reports say thousands of riot police and Basij militia tried to isolate the groups of protesters and prevent them from getting to Enghelab (Revolution) Square, where those protesting against the results of the June 12 vote were planning to hold their rally (see amateur video footage).

"They surrounded people and started beating them with full force, I haven't seen such violence from special forces and plainclothes agents in recent years," one eyewitness told RFE/RL's Radio Farda.

"People sat on the ground but they came with their motorbikes. [Police officers] didn't care if it's a woman, child, or man, they were beating everyone violently."

Another eyewitness told Radio Farda of seeing security and military forces on the roads outside Tehran. The police presence is also reported to be heavy in other cities, and there are unconfirmed reports of clashes between protesters and police in the cities of Shiraz, Isfahan, and Mashhad.

Unconfirmed reports also say opposition presidential candidate Mir Hossein Musavi was seen close to the main Azadi Street, where he was talking to people and saying that he is ready for martyrdom. Musavi also called for a national strike if he was arrested.

In a statement, opposition leader Mir Hossein Musavi said the Islamic Republic must be purged of what he called lies and dishonesty.

In an earlier statement issued on his website, Musavi vowed to side with the people and said that his demand for the cancelation of the election was an undeniable right. He also called on Iran's leaders to let people protest peacefully and create a "free atmosphere" for people to express their demands and criticism.

"We are not against the Islamic system and its laws, but against lies and deviations and just want to reform it," Musavi's statement said.

Meanwhile, the semi-official news agencies Fars and Mehr reported that a bomb exploded in Tehran at the mausoleum of revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

Protests in Tehran
Mehr quoted Iran's deputy police chief for operations, Hossein Sajedinia, as saying a suicide bomber blew himself up at the site, killing himself and wounding at least one other person. State television said two were killed.

The reports could not be independently verified.

Tensions High Ahead Of Planned Rally

Earlier on June 20, Iran's Security Council had warned Musavi he would "be responsible for the consequences" of any more protest rallies. The ISNA news agency quoted council head Abbas Mohtaj, who is also deputy interior minister, as sending the warning in a letter to Musavi.

And the semi-official Fars news agency quoted deputy police chief Ahmad Reza Radan as saying the police would deal with the protests "firmly and with determination."

In a nationwide address on June 19, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ordered an end to street protests, calling the country's disputed presidential election fair and free of fraud.

Speaking to RFE/RL's Radio Farda, Mohammad Ali Ayazi, a reformist cleric in the city of Qom, called for peaceful protests to be allowed to prevent dissatisfaction from becoming violent.

More scenes from Tehran
"If [the authorities] are after calm and want that the people's protests to be staged peacefully, the correct way to do this is to let people express their protest peacefully in order to prevent them from becoming violent," Ayazi said.

Vote-Count Complaints

Also, Iranian state television said the Guardians Council, the country's top vetting body, had expressed its readiness to randomly recount up to 10 percent of the ballot boxes from the presidential election.

The announcement came as press reports indicated Musavi and Karrubi failed to attend an extraordinary session of the council on June 20. The two reformist candidates were expected, along with fellow challenger Mohsen Rezai, to discuss more than 600 objections they have filed complaining about the poll.

Official results of the June 12 presidential poll gave President Mahmud Ahmadinejad 63 percent of the vote, compared to 34 percent for his nearest rival, Musavi.

Rights Complaints

Iran has seen massive rallies almost every day since the results were announced a week ago. The London-based human rights group Amnesty International says it believes about 10 people have been killed.

A haze over Tehran.
Over 100 reformists and government critics have been arrested in recent days. The Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders has released the names of 20 journalists and bloggers who have been arrested in the past week.

The group says Iran now ranks alongside China as the world's biggest prison for journalists.

On June 19 Amnesty International said that Khamenei's speech gave "the green light to security forces to violently handle protesters exercising their right to demonstrate and express their views." Ahmadinejad thanked Khamenei on June 20 for his "helpful comments."

Western Reaction

U.S. President Barack Obama has urged Tehran to "stop all violent and unjust actions against its own people."

"The Iranian government must understand that the world is watching. We mourn each and every innocent life that is lost," Obama said in a statement.

Meanwhile, on June 19 the U.S. Congress voted 405 to one to condemn the Iranian authorities' crackdown on demonstrators and government interference with Internet and mobile-phone communications.

And in a statement issued at a European Union summit in Brussels, European leaders said that "the authorities should refrain from the use of force against peaceful demonstrations."

RFE/RL's Radio Farda contributed to this report

Iran Election Special

Iran Election Special
RFE/RL's Full Coverage
Following the disputed reelection of Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, supporters of Mir Hossein Musavi have taken to the streets to protest. Click here for news, blogs, and analysis of the presidential election and aftermath.

Iran Election Diary

Iran Election Diary
Disputed Presidential Vote
There have been protests and clashes with police on the streets of Tehran following the disputed reelection of Mahmud Ahmadinejad. RFE/RL collects videos, photos, and messages on social-networking sites coming out of Iran to attempt to get a picture of what is happening inside the country. Click here

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European Court Rules Russia Guilty Of Human Rights Abuses In Ukraine

The European Court of Human Rights (file photo)
The European Court of Human Rights (file photo)

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled that Russia committed human rights violations in the Crimean Peninsula since its annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula in 2014.

The Strasbourg-based court said in a ruling on June 25 that atrocities committed by Russia include harassment and intimidation of priests and journalists. Moscow has denied the claims in the case, which was brought to the court by Ukraine.

It also concerns allegations by Kyiv that Russia has used a pattern of persecution of Ukrainians for their political stance or pro-Ukrainian activities, whether they occurred in Crimea or other parts of Ukraine or in Russia.

Kyiv insists Moscow controlled the peninsula since February 27, 2014 and that Russian forces tortured and killed police as well as civilians, allegations that Moscow also denies.

"There has been a violation of Articles 5 and 7 of the [Geneva] Convention on account of an ongoing administrative practice of unlawful deprivation of liberty, prosecution and conviction of 'Ukrainian political prisoners' based on the application of the Russian law in Crimea," the court said in one of its decisions within the ruling.

"The Court held, unanimously...that Russia had to take measures as soon as possible for the safe return of the relevant prisoners transferred from Crimea to penal facilities located on the territory of the Russian Federation," it added.

It added that legal breaches committed by Russia include violations of the right to life, the prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment, freedom of religion, and freedom of expression, among other rights.

Both Ukraine and Russia are members of the Council of Europe, of which the court is a part.

Moscow’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula by force and its ongoing full-scale invasion of the country launched in February 2022 have been condemned by the international community.

Czech PM Says First Shipment Of Ammunition From Initiative Arrives In Ukraine

A Ukrainian tank of the 17th tank brigade fires at the Russian positions in Chasiv Yar, Donetsk region, Ukraine.
A Ukrainian tank of the 17th tank brigade fires at the Russian positions in Chasiv Yar, Donetsk region, Ukraine.

Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala says the first shipment of ammunition from an initiative launched by his country has reached Ukraine. "The first shipment of ammunition from our initiative arrived in Ukraine some time ago," Fiala said on X. "We are doing what it takes." The Czechs have been working for months on a plan to procure artillery shells from countries outside the European Union and provide them to Ukraine, whose troops in recent months have suffered from a debilitating shortage.

Russia Issues Arrest Warrant For Former Chechen Separatist Government Member Zakayev

Akhmed Zakayev (right) is a former top official of the short-lived independent Chechen Republic of Ichkeria who lives in London.
Akhmed Zakayev (right) is a former top official of the short-lived independent Chechen Republic of Ichkeria who lives in London.

An arrest warrant has been issued for Akhmed Zakayev, a former top official of the short-lived independent Chechen Republic of Ichkeria who resides in London, on charges of the "creation of a terrorist grouping in the interests of Ukraine's armed forces, and the justification of terrorism."

The TASS news agency reported on June 25 that Zakayev was also added to Russia's wanted list.

Along with Zakayev, Russia added to its wanted list and issued an arrest warrant for Murad Yusupov, who is a leader from Chechnya of the Separate Special Battalion within the International Legion of Ukraine's armed forces.

Russian investigators accuse Zakayev of proclaiming himself the leader of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, the name of Chechnya chosen by the separatist government in the 1990s, They say he attracted Yusupov and other unspecified individuals to join Ukraine’s armed forces fighting against Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Zakayev and Yusupov also have been added to Russia's list of terrorists and extremists.

The Southern military court in the city of Rostov-on-Don is scheduled to start a trial in absentia of Zakayev and Yusupov on July 2.

Kazakhstan-born Zakayev, 65, served as culture minister, deputy prime minister, prime minister, and foreign minister in Chechnya's separatist government.

He and his immediate family members have been residing in exile in London since 2002.

Zakayev told RFE/RL earlier that despite probes launched in Russia against him and his colleagues, Chechen groups in Ukraine's International Legion will continue operating and taking part in Ukraine's efforts to repel Russia's aggression.

Moscow-backed authoritarian leader of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov, who himself is a former Chechen fighter who battled Russian troops during the First Chechen War in 1994-1996, called on natives of Chechnya to kill Zakayev and announced his personal blood feud against supporters of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria fighting on Ukraine's side.

Bishkek Court Extends Former Customs Official Matraimov's Pretrial Detention

(Left to right) The Matraimov brothers: Raimbek, Ruslan, Tilek, and Islambek
(Left to right) The Matraimov brothers: Raimbek, Ruslan, Tilek, and Islambek

BISHKEK -- The Birinchi Mai district court in Bishkek told RFE/RL on June 25 that it extended until at least August 26 the pretrial detention of Raimbek Matraimov, the former deputy chief of Kyrgyzstan’s Customs Service who was at the center of a high-profile corruption scandal involving the funneling of close to $1 billion out of the country.

Raimbek Matraimov and his brothers -- Tilek, Ruslan, and Islambek -- were extradited to Kyrgyzstan in March from Azerbaijan, where they were in hiding.

Raimbek, the most notorious of the brothers, was charged with money laundering and the abduction and illegal incarceration of unnamed individuals as part of the 2020-21 corruption scandal.

Raimbek Matraimov
Raimbek Matraimov

In February 2021, a Bishkek court ordered pretrial custody for Matraimov in connection with the corruption charges. He received a mitigated sentence that involved fines amounting to just a few thousand dollars but no jail time.

The court justified the move by saying that Matraimov had paid back around $24 million that disappeared through corruption schemes that he oversaw.

In November last year, the chairman of the state security service, Kamchybek Tashiev, accused Matraimov and crime boss Kamchy Kolbaev (aka Kamchybek Asanbek), who was added by Washington to a list of major global drug-trafficking suspects in 2011, of "forming a mafia in Kyrgyzstan."

Matraimov left Kyrgyzstan in October after Kolbaev was killed in a special security operation in Bishkek. In January, the Kyrgyz Interior Ministry said Matraimov was added to the wanted list of Kyrgyzstan's State Committee for National Security.

In 2019, an investigation by RFE/RL, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, and Kloop implicated Matraimov in a corruption scheme involving the transfer of hundreds of millions of dollars out of Kyrgyzstan.

Also in March, a court in neighboring Uzbekistan sentenced late Kolbaev's close associate, influential Uzbek crime boss Salim Abduvaliev, to six years in prison on charges of illegal possession and transportation of arms and explosives.

Abduvaliev is believed to have ties with top Uzbek officials and leaders of the so-called Brothers' Circle, a Eurasian drug-trafficking network that included Kolbaev.

Kyrgyz Officials Say Leader, Members Of Banned Islamic Group Detained

Kyrgyz police searched the homes of suspected members of the banned Yaqyn Inkar Islamic group in the Batken region on June 25.
Kyrgyz police searched the homes of suspected members of the banned Yaqyn Inkar Islamic group in the Batken region on June 25.

Kyrgyzstan's State Committee for National Security (UKMK) said on June 25 that "a leader and nine members" of the Yaqyn Inkar Islamic group, which is banned in the Central Asian nation, were detained in the southern Batken region. The UKMK added that 12 residents of the region denounced their membership in the group after police held "explanatory talks" with them. Yaqyn Inkar was founded in India. Authorities in Kyrgyzstan, a mostly Muslim country whose secular government is wary of people whose religious beliefs or practices fall outside the mainstream, deemed it an extremist organization and banned it in 2017. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, click here.

Kyrgyz Prosecutor Seeks 8 Years In Prison For Government Critic

Askat Jetigen in the courtroom on June 25, 2024
Askat Jetigen in the courtroom on June 25, 2024

The Kyrgyz prosecutor asked the Sverdlov district court on June 25 to convict activist Askat Jetigen and sentence him to eight years in prison on charges of calling for the seizure of power and mass unrest. In his final statement at the trial, Jetigen, known for his criticism of the Central Asian nation's government, reiterated his innocence. Jetigen was arrested in March, days after his last video, criticizing reforms by the Culture Ministry, was posted online. His trial started in late May. Human rights groups have criticized the Kyrgyz government for using the charge of "calling for mass unrest" as a tool to muzzle dissent. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, click here.

Ukraine, Moldova Set To Open EU Accession Talks

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Moldovan President Maia Sandu (file photo)
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Moldovan President Maia Sandu (file photo)

Ukraine and Moldova are set to officially open accession talks with the European Union on June 25 in Luxembourg, a move that marks a watershed moment for the two countries' aspirations to eventually join the bloc.

The EU Council, which groups representatives of the governments of the 27 states that make up the bloc, approved the negotiating framework for Ukraine and Moldova on June 21 after the European Commission, the bloc's executive arm, on June 7 recommended opening the process, saying the two countries are sufficiently prepared.

The official opening of the negotiations -- an arduous journey that could take years -- will take place first for Ukraine at 3:30 p.m., followed by Moldova at 6 p.m.

European Council President Charles Michel said in October that Ukraine, which is currently engaged in a defense war against Russia's unprovoked invasion, could become a member of the bloc by 2030 "if both sides do their homework."

Moldova's pro-Western President Maia Sandu has also made a political commitment to achieve EU membership by 2030. Sandu, under whom Moldova made an abrupt U-turn from Russia to Europe, is up for reelection later this year after handing an upset defeat to Moscow-backed incumbent Igor Dodon in 2020.

Ukraine and Moldova submitted their candidacies shortly after the start of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 and obtained candidate status in June of that year, gaining the conditional green light for the start of negotiations in December.

With Sandu at the helm, neutral Moldova strongly condemned Russia's invasion of Ukraine, firmly aligning itself with Kyiv while tightening its ties with its Western neighbor, EU and NATO member Romania, with whom Moldova shares a common language and history.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on June 21 that pursuing EU integration was a sovereign matter for Chisinau but said there were "many Moldovans" who also desired close ties to Russia.

Russia Claims To Have Downed 30 Ukrainian Drones Over 2 Regions

A damaged apartment building in Stroitel, Belgorod region, Russia, on June 25
A damaged apartment building in Stroitel, Belgorod region, Russia, on June 25

Russia's Defense Ministry said its air-defense systems shot down 29 Ukrainian drones over the Belgorod region and one over the Voronezh region early on June 25. Separately, Belgorod regional Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said one woman was killed while four other people were injured during drone attacks on the village of Belovskoye and the cities of Stroitel and Yakovlevsky. Local media said private houses and vehicles were damaged during the attack. Ukraine has not commented on the Russian claim, which could not be immediately verified independently. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.

Daghestan Holds Second Day Of Mourning After At Least 20 Killed In Attacks

Sergei Melikov, head of the Daghestan region, visits the Derbent synagogue following an attack by gunmen on June 24.
Sergei Melikov, head of the Daghestan region, visits the Derbent synagogue following an attack by gunmen on June 24.

Russia's North Caucasus republic of Daghestan is holding a second day of mourning on June 25 following apparently coordinated attacks that targeted Christian and Jewish religious locations and a police station and killed at least 20 people, including civilians and police officers.

At least 46 people were also wounded in the attacks that occurred late on June 23 when gunmen opened fire at two Orthodox churches, two synagogues, and a police station in the cities of Derbent and regional capital Makhachkala.

Russia's Investigative Committee announced criminal probes over what it said were "acts of terror."

Daghestan is a predominantly Muslim region that has a history of armed militancy and is located near Chechnya, where Russian forces fought two wars against separatists in the mid-90s and early 2000s.

Derbent is one of Russia's oldest Christian centers and has one the oldest Jewish communities in the country. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Shock And Devastation After Attacks In Russia's Daghestan Region
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Makhachkala and other cities in the region have been the scene of anti-Jewish protests after the October 7 attack on Israel by Hamas, which has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union.

The Makhachkala airport was shut down for several days in October after a mob shouting anti-Jewish slogans stormed it after the arrival of a flight from Israel.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the June 23 attack, which occurred on Trinity Sunday, one of the most important religious holidays in the Russian Orthodox calendar.

But the Russian branch of Islamic State-Khorasan's Al-Azaim Media posted a statement praising what it called "brothers from the Caucasus" for the attack.

The Washington-based Institute for the Study of War said in a research note that Wilayat Kavkaz, the Northern Caucasus branch of Islamic State, had "likely conducted" the shootings.

In recent years, Russian security forces appeared to have had the upper hand in their fight against armed militants in the region, despite rare attacks such as an Islamic State-claimed shooting outside a church in Daghestan in 2018.

Regional Governor Sergei Melikov, who declared three days of mourning for the victims said in a statement posted on Telegram said that among the civilians killed was 66-year-old Father Nikolai, who served for more than 40 years in the Orthodox church in Derbent.

Melikov said that six "bandits" were "liquidated" by security forces and called the attacks an attempt to "destabilize" his region.

"This is a day of tragedy for Daghestan and the whole country," Melikov said.

Among those detained was Magomed Omarov, the head of the central Sergokala district and secretary of the local branch of the United Russia party, whose home was searched. Omarov was expelled from the party for actions discrediting the organization, United Russia's press service in Daghestan said.

Three of the suspected attackers who were killed have been identified, according to Interfax, which quoted an unidentified source as saying two of Omarov's sons and one of his nephews were among the slain attackers.

There has been no official statement by Russia on the attacks, But Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed the analogy with the late 1990s, when militant attacks were frequent.

"Russia is different now, society is absolutely consolidated. And such criminal terrorist manifestations as we saw in Daghestan yesterday are not supported by society, either in Russia itself or in Daghestan," Dmitry Peskov told the media on June 24.

Meanwhile, Russian lawmaker Abdulkhakim Gadzhiev told Russian state TV that the attacks had been the work of Ukrainian and Western intelligence services, without providing any evidence.

The chairman of the public council of Russia's Federation of Jewish Communities, Boruch Gorin, said on Telegram that synagogues in both cities caught fire during the attacks.

"Two are killed: a policeman and a security guard," Gorin said.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry said the synagogue in Derbent was burned to the ground and shots had been fired at a second synagogue in Makhachkala.

The attacks came just three months after 145 people died and hundreds were injured when Islamic State (IS) extremists opened fire in a crowded concert hall on the outskirts of Moscow, in Russia's worst terrorist attack in years.

Months later, after the deadly March 22 massacre at the Crocus City Hall concert venue near Moscow, Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) detained four people in Daghestan suspected of providing financing and weapons to participants.

Responsibility for that attack was claimed by an offshoot of IS known as Islamic State-Khorasan. Russian investigators said the assault was carried out by four men, all Tajik nationals.

Russian authorities arrested 11 Tajik citizens and a Kyrgyzstan-born Russian citizen in connection with the Moscow attack.

U.S. Disputes Russia's Claim About Responsibility For Strike On Crimea

A makeshift memorial for the victims of the Sevastopol missile attack
A makeshift memorial for the victims of the Sevastopol missile attack

The United States responded on June 24 to Russia's claim that it was to blame for a deadly attack on Crimea on June 23 by pointing the finger back at Moscow for starting the war and by saying that the weapons it provides are for Ukraine to use to defend its territory against Russian aggression.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

RFE/RL's Live Briefing gives you all of the latest developments on Russia's full-scale invasion, Kyiv's counteroffensive, Western military aid, global reaction, and the plight of civilians. For all of RFE/RL's coverage of the war in Ukraine, click here.

The Russian Defense Ministry said that the June 23 strike near Sevastopol involved five longer-range missiles that the United States began supplying to Ukraine this year.

It also claimed that U.S. specialists had set the missiles' flight coordinates based on information gathered from U.S. satellites.

State Department spokesman Matthew Miller responded by saying it was not unusual for Moscow to make "ridiculous, hyperbolic claims about responsibility that aren't borne out by fact."

He noted that Russia initially blamed Washington for a terrorist attack on a Moscow concert hall in March that killed more than 140 people and was later claimed by the extremist Islamic State group.

"We regret any civilian loss of life in this war. We provide weapons to Ukraine so it can defend its sovereign territory against armed aggression -- that includes in Crimea which, of course, is part of Ukraine," Miller told reporters. "Russia could stop this war today."

Miller said the United States had no assessment on the attack on Crimea, which Russia said killed four people, including two children, and injured 151. Moscow claimed it was carried out by U.S.-supplied Army Tactical Missile Systems, known as ATACMS, loaded with a cluster warhead.

Pentagon spokesman Major Charlie Dietz said that Ukraine "makes its own targeting decisions and conducts its own military operations."

Russia summoned U.S. Ambassador Lynne Tracy to the Foreign Ministry earlier on June 24 to face accusations that Washington was "waging a hybrid war against Russia and has actually become a party to the conflict" and was told that the attack would not go unpunished.

"Of course, the involvement of the United States in the fighting, as a result of which peaceful Russians are dying, cannot but have consequences," Peskov said. "Which ones exactly -- time will tell."

While he declined to provide specifics, Peskov cited Russian President Vladimir Putin's comments on June 6 about supplying conventional weapons to regions near to the United States and near U.S. allies.

Putin also has said that Russia might supply weapons to North Korea, suggesting this would be a mirror response to the West supplying military arms and equipment to help Ukraine defend itself in the full-scale invasion that Russia launched in February 2022. Since the start of the invasion, Russian attacks have killed more than 11,000 Ukrainian civilians, according to the United Nations.

While the Russian Defense Ministry said four people died in the attack on Crimea when they were hit by falling debris from the missiles, Sevastopol's Russian-appointed governor, Mikhail Razvozhayev, said that five people were killed.

Video footage aired by Russian media and posted on social media showed vacationers running to safety and injured people being evacuated from a beach said to be on the north side of the city, which is a popular tourist destination and home to the Russian Black Sea Fleet.

Russia seized and illegally annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and installed a local government, although the territory is still officially part of Ukraine.

Since Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, Kyiv has vowed to restore control of its territory and has targeted key Russian military and naval installations in Crimea.

The attack came as Russia continues to pound Ukrainian energy infrastructure and strike the northeastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, near the border with Russia.

At least two people were killed and more than 50 were injured on June 22 when an apartment building was struck by a Russian bomb. On June 23, the air strikes on the city continued, killing one person.

Russian forces also attacked Ukraine's eastern Donetsk region on June 24, killing at least four people and injuring 34. Regional Governor Vadym Filashkin said that two Iskander-M missiles destroyed a home and damaged 16 others in the town of Pokrovsk.

Russian military bloggers sharply criticized the Russian Defense Ministry and occupying authorities in Crimea following the missile strike near Sevastopol, according to the Institute for the Study of War (ISW).

In a June 23 report, the ISW said that "Russian sources criticized Russian authorities for not using air-raid sirens to alert civilians to seek shelter."

The U.S. think tank also said that Russian authorities were criticized for "failing to detect and destroy all the missiles before they approached Sevastopol."

Ukraine has in recent months stepped up attacks against Russian forces in Crimea, which Russia has militarized since annexing it in 2014. There are more than 200 Russian military sites on Crimea, including air bases, naval installations, training grounds, air defense and rocket forces, as well as signals and communications facilities.

The Kremlin has been promoting Crimea as a tourist destination despite the danger of attacks. Crimean officials have organized festivals and concerts this summer as the peninsula is heavily dependent on tourism to sustain its economy. The Kremlin and Russian businessmen have poured tens of billions of dollars into infrastructure, hotels, and real estate since 2014.

Tourists who go there have been told to heed official warnings, like air alarms. At the same time, Ukrainian authorities have been warning Russians since 2022 not to vacation in Crimea.

With reporting by AFP and Reuters

EU To Downgrade Georgia Ties And Mull Finance Freeze, Borrell Says

Protests in Tbilisi on May 28 after parliament voted to reject the president's veto of a controversial "foreign agent" bill.
Protests in Tbilisi on May 28 after parliament voted to reject the president's veto of a controversial "foreign agent" bill.

The European Union will downgrade political contacts with Georgia and consider freezing financial aid to the Tbilisi government after it pushed through a controversial "foreign agent" law, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on June 24. The Georgian law has been slammed as a Kremlin-style authoritarian move, which Borrell said shifts the South Caucasus country away from the EU. “If the government will not change the course of action, Georgia will not progress on the European Union path,” Borrell said. He also said the EU would reconsider its support for Georgia through a military aid fund, the European Peace Facility.

Zelenskiy Replaces Commander Of Ukraine's Joint Forces

Yuriy Sodol has been replaced as commander of the Joint Forces of the Ukrainian military. (file photo)
Yuriy Sodol has been replaced as commander of the Joint Forces of the Ukrainian military. (file photo)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has announced that the commander of the Joint Forces of the Ukrainian military, Yuriy Sodol, is to be replaced with Brigadier-General Andriy Hnatov. Zelenskiy did not provide the reasons for the move in his video message on June 24. The announcement followed criticism of Sodol's performance in Odesa by Ukrainian lawmaker Maryana Bezuhla. In addition, Bohdan Krotevych, the chief of staff of the National Guard’s Azov Brigade, submitted a statement to the State Bureau of Investigation with a request to investigate Sodol. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.


Georgia Receives Invitation To NATO Summit Despite 'Foreign Agent' Law

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State James O'Brien said the Georgian people want EU and NATO integration. (file photo)
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State James O'Brien said the Georgian people want EU and NATO integration. (file photo)

WASHINGTON -- Georgia has received an invitation to attend partnership events at the upcoming NATO summit in Washington, according to U.S. Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs James O’Brien on June 24.

The invitation comes despite the June 3 passage of a “foreign agent" law in Georgia. The law requires nongovernmental organizations and media groups that receive at least 20 percent of their funding from outside the country to register as organizations "pursuing the interests of a foreign power."

At a press conference, O’Brien condemned the Georgian Dream party’s bill, which some opponents have called the Russia law, and Tbilisi’s shift away from NATO.

“The violence against opposition figures, the violence against civil society, the Moscow-based foreign agent law, [and] the apparent decision to award a new port to a Chinese company are incompatible with wanting to join the U.S. and EU-based international organizations,” O’Brien said.

At the same time, O’Brien said the Georgian people want EU and NATO integration.

“We want them to understand that the path they are on and the rhetoric that they are using about the West is incompatible with what 80 percent of Georgia’s citizens say that they want,” O’Brien said. “We’re trying to be as clear as we can that there’s a way to step back from the path that they have chosen.”

He compared Georgia’s potential integration to the current Euro 2024 soccer championship taking place in Germany.

“Georgia has decided it wants to come and play in our football league,” O’Brien said. “Georgia, in its sovereign right, has decided to join the club and we’re making clear what that means.”

This year marks Georgia’s first time qualifying for the European soccer championship since it gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

The foreign agents law raised concern throughout Europe and the United States. Some Georgians have expressed concern that the country would face national repercussions for the law.

On June 6, the United States imposed visa restrictions against dozens of Georgian officials including members of the Georgian Dream party, members of parliament, law enforcement, and private citizens.

Washington, which has been one of the main backers of Georgia’s integration into Western institutions, gave Tbilisi over $390 million in aid over the past several years.

O’Brien said that, shortly after the law passed, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced a policy that any individual or entity undermining the path to democracy in Georgia would face some kind of repercussion but he did not list any specific action.

All of NATO’s partner countries have been invited to attend the July 9-11 NATO summit in Washington, O’Brien said, adding that key summit priorities include “the health of the alliance, partnerships in the Indo-Pacific, and Ukraine’s success.”

O’Brien said a “parade of deliverables for Ukraine,” have been announced leading up to the summit and mentioned a “bridge” to Ukraine’s NATO membership as an anticipated summit outcome.

O’Brien emphasized participation from Indo-Pacific partners such as Australia, Japan, New Zealand, and South Korea.

Other NATO partners include Algeria, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Colombia, Egypt, Iraq, Ireland, Israel, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Malta, Mauritania, Moldova, Mongolia, Morocco, Pakistan, Qatar, Serbia, Switzerland, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, the United Arab Emirates, and Uzbekistan.

Fire In Office Building Near Moscow Reportedly Kills At Least 8

The blaze in an office building in Fryazino near Moscow reportedly killed at least eight people on June 24
The blaze in an office building in Fryazino near Moscow reportedly killed at least eight people on June 24

At least eight people died in a fire that broke out on June 24 at an office building in the town of Fryazino near Moscow, Russian news media reports said. The Emergency Situations Ministry said firefighters saved one person. Some reports cited officials as saying that the office building belongs to the Platan Research Institute. But the Ruselectronics holding company of the state-owned Rostec defense conglomerate said the building had been sold to a private firm in the 1990s. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

U.S. Supreme Court To Take Up Hungary's Bid To End Lawsuit Filed By Holocaust Survivors And Heirs

A view of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C.
A view of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C.

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed on June 24 to intervene for the second time in a dispute between Hungary and Holocaust survivors who want to be compensated for property confiscated from them during World War II. The justices will hear arguments in the fall in Hungary's latest bid to end the lawsuit filed 14 years ago by survivors, all of whom are now over 90, and heirs of survivors. The issue in the case concerns whether an American court is the proper forum for the lawsuit. Under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, sovereign nations like Hungary are shielded from lawsuits in U.S. courts. But the law makes an exception for lawsuits involving “property taken in violation of international law.”

Russian Gets 4 Years In Prison For Arson Attack On Lenin's Mausoleum

Konstantin Starchukov (file photo)
Konstantin Starchukov (file photo)

A Moscow court on June 24 sentenced Konstantin Starchukov to four years in prison for throwing a Molotov cocktail at Lenin's Mausoleum. The Tver district court found the 37-year-old native of the Siberian city of Chita guilty of "hooliganism using a weapon." Starchukov threw a Molotov cocktail at the mausoleum on Moscow's Red Square in June 2023. The bottle hit a fence and caused no harm to the building. Starchukov said he did what he did as part of his "struggle against Freemasonry's influence on Russian society." To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Kyiv Says Russia Stepping Up Attacks With Banned Chemical Agents

Ukraine says that Russian forces primarily use grenades dropped by drones to deploy banned hazardous chemicals.
Ukraine says that Russian forces primarily use grenades dropped by drones to deploy banned hazardous chemicals.

Ukraine has accused Russia of stepping up frontline attacks using prohibited hazardous chemicals, including tear gas, the latest in a series of allegations of battlefield abuses. Moscow and Kyiv have accused each other of carrying out war crimes and deploying banned chemical munitions throughout the Russian war in Ukraine, now in its third year. The Ukrainian military said on June 24 that it had registered 715 cases of the use of munitions containing "hazardous chemical compounds" by Russian forces in May. It said that figure represented an increase of 271 cases compared to the month before.


Russian Missile Strike Kills 4 In Eastern Ukraine

Russian Attempts To Advance In Eastern Ukraine Bring Devastation To Civilian Areas
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At least four people were killed and 34 injured on June 24 after Russian forces launched a missile attack on Ukraine's eastern Donetsk region. Regional Governor Vadym Filashkin said that two Iskander-M missiles destroyed a home and damaged 16 others in the town of Pokrovsk. "This is one of the largest hostile attacks on civilians in recent times. Its final consequences are yet to be determined," Filashkin said. Earlier in the day, another person was killed by Russian shelling in the Donetsk region town of Toretsk. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.

Whereabouts Of 5 Tajiks Deported From Russia Unknown

Passengers disembark at Kulob airport. (file photo)
Passengers disembark at Kulob airport. (file photo)

The parents of five young Tajik men from the volatile Gorno-Badakhshan region told RFE/RL on June 23 that their sons did not arrive at the airport in the southern city of Kulob, where they were expected to arrive from Moscow on June 20 after Russian authorities deported them for unspecified reasons.

It remains unclear if the men were deported for violating Russia's migration regulations, or at the request of the Tajik authorities.

Relatives told RFE/RL that the men called their parents, who are from the community of Yazgulom, asking them to meet them at the Kulob airport on June 20. However, the men were not among the passengers who disembarked from the plane on that day.

The parents said they travelled 300 kilometers to reach Kulob to meet their sons after a Tajik official promised them by phone that they would be able to meet their sons at the airport.

Sources close to Tajik law enforcement have told RFE/RL that since May at least 15 residents of Yazgulom had been extradited from Russia to Tajikistan, where they were charged with "membership in an extremist organization" or "having links with members of an extremist organization."

There has been no official statement regarding the situation.

On May 16, Tajik security forces arrested more than 30 residents of Yazgulom, accusing them of plotting unspecified sabotage.

Sources told RFE/RL at the time that those arrested were suspected of having links with "extremist groups" in neighboring Afghanistan.

Residents of Gorno-Badakhshan have been under pressure for years. A crackdown on the restive Tajik region intensified in 2022 after mass protests in May that year were violently dispersed by security forces.

Tajik authorities said at the time that 10 people were killed and 27 injured during the clashes between protesters and police.

Residents of the remote region's Rushon district, however, have told RFE/RL that 21 bodies were found at the sites of the clashes.

Dozens of the region's residents have been jailed for lengthy terms on terrorism and extremism charges since then.

Deep tensions between the government and residents of the volatile region have simmered ever since a five-year civil war broke out shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Still, protests are rare in the tightly controlled state of 9.5 million where President Emomali Rahmon has ruled with an iron fist for nearly three decades.

Flooding Cuts Off 10 Villages In Russia's Far East

Nizhneudinsk in the Primorye region after flooding
Nizhneudinsk in the Primorye region after flooding

Floods caused by heavy rains have cut off access to 10 villages in Russia's Far East region of Primorye and are wreaking havoc with transportation in and around several other towns and settlements, the region's administration said on June 24. Some roads connecting towns and villages were fully or partially flooded, the officials said. Roads in nine municipalities were mainly affected by the rising water levels, they added. No casualties were reported. Earlier this spring, several Russian regions were hit by heavy floods caused by abrupt warm weather that caused a massive runoff from melting snow. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Siberia.Realities, click here.

Another Kyrgyz Jailed For Fighting With Russian Troops In Ukraine

Askar Kubanychbek-uulu fled the country for Russia after being given a suspended sentence in January.
Askar Kubanychbek-uulu fled the country for Russia after being given a suspended sentence in January.

The Osh regional court in southern Kyrgyzstan told RFE/RL on June 24 that a lower court had sentenced a local man, whose identity was not disclosed, to five years in prison two weeks earlier for joining Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. In January, a Bishkek court handed a suspended seven-year prison term to another Kyrgyz man, Askar Kubanychbek-uulu, for joining the Russian military in Ukraine. In April, Kubanychbek-uulu fled the country for Russia. On June 22, the chairman of Russia's National Anti-Corruption Committee, Kirill Kabanov, said that Kubanyuchbek-uulu signed a new contract with the Russian military to fight in Ukraine. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, click here.

North Korea's 'Deepening Military Cooperation' With Moscow Condemned

Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un enjoy a ride together in a Russian armored limousine during Putin's visit to Pyongyang last week.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un enjoy a ride together in a Russian armored limousine during Putin's visit to Pyongyang last week.

The United States, South Korea, and Japan have condemned the deepening military cooperation between North Korea and Russia, while a top North Korean military official has reiterated Pyongyang's support for Moscow's war against Ukraine.

The three Western allies said in a joint statement on June 24 that the increasing ties between Moscow and Pyongyang, including arms transfers that aid Russia's war in Ukraine, serve to "prolong the suffering of the Ukrainian people, violate multiple United Nations Security Council Resolutions, and threaten stability in both Northeast Asia and Europe."

The statement also said that the recent signing of a strategic partnership treaty between Russia and North Korea during Russian President Vladimir Putin's June 19 visit "should be of grave concern to anyone with an interest in maintaining peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula, upholding the global nonproliferation regime, and supporting the people of Ukraine as they defend their freedom and independence against Russia’s brutal aggression."

The three allies reaffirmed their intention to strengthen diplomatic and security cooperation to counter threats posed by North Korea to regional and global security, the statement said.

Washington and Seoul have accused Russia and North Korea of violating international law by trading arms, including the provision of North Korean missiles and munitions used on the Ukrainian battlefield.

The Washington Post reported on June 22 that Russia may have received about 1.6 million artillery shells from North Korea, while military analysts have said that North Korean missiles have been fired by Russian forces at Ukraine.

Moscow and Pyongyang have denied any such arms transfers.

The pact signed last week by Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un commits each side to provide immediate military assistance if either state comes under armed aggression.

On June 24, a top North Korean military official criticized Washington for its military assistance to Ukraine and reiterated Pyongyang's support for Moscow in the war, according to state media.

Pak Jong Chon, one of North Korea's top military officials, said that Russia had the "right to opt for any kind of retaliatory strike" should it be attacked, and warned that Washington could provoke a "world war" should it continue pushing Ukraine into a "proxy war" against Russia.

Last week, Washington said that Ukrainian forces had the green light to use U.S.-supplied weapons to strike Russian forces anywhere across the border into Russia.

With reporting by Reuters

3 Police Officers, Suspect, Civilian Killed In Shoot-Out In Baku

Three Azerbaijani police officers were reportedly killed. (file photo)
Three Azerbaijani police officers were reportedly killed. (file photo)

Azerbaijani officials said on June 24 that five people, including three police officers, were killed during the arrest of a suspect being detained for unspecified crimes. The incident took place in the Suvalan neighborhood of Baku's Xazar district, where a suspect with a criminal record, identified as Rovsan Allahverdiyev, resisted arrest and opened fire on police while "using relatives as human shields." The suspect, three police officers, and a civilian were killed in the shoot-out. No further details were given by the Prosecutor-General's Office. The Interior Ministry also did not elaborate on the situation. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service, click here.

Catholic Priest In Belarus Not Released After Serving 45-Day Jail Term

Andzhey Yukhnevich (left) was jailed for a Facebook post. (file photo)
Andzhey Yukhnevich (left) was jailed for a Facebook post. (file photo)

Catholic priest Andzhey Yukhnevich was not released over the weekend after serving a 45-day jail term on a charge of "violating regulations for holding pickets," and instead had his incarceration extended for unspecified reasons until July 2. The charge against the priest stemmed from his post on Facebook of a picture, showing him holding a Ukrainian national flag, and the historical flag of Belarus. The white-red-white flag was used by the short-lived Belarusian Democratic Republic in 1918-1920 and reinstated after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. In 1995, the authoritarian ruler of Belarus, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, replaced the historical flag with one similar to that used in the Soviet era. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Belarus Service, click here.


EU Approves New Sanctions To Limit 'Russia's Criminal Actions Against Ukraine'

The European Union's foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, says a new package of sanctions seeks "to limit Russia’s criminal activities against Ukrainians."
The European Union's foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, says a new package of sanctions seeks "to limit Russia’s criminal activities against Ukrainians."

The European Union's 27 members agreed on a new package of sanctions against Russia over its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, with the target being "high-value sectors" including energy, finance, and trade.

The package, the bloc's 14th against Russia, also seeks to make it more difficult for third parties to circumvent all of the measures put in place against Moscow since February 2022, when Russian troops poured over the border, setting off Europe's worst conflict since World War II.

"Our sanctions have already significantly weakened the Russian economy and prevented Putin from accomplishing his plans to destroy Ukraine, although he still continues the illegal aggression targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure," said Josep Borrell, the EU's foreign policy chief.

"The 14th package of sanctions demonstrates our unity in supporting Ukraine and seeking to limit Russia's criminal activities against Ukrainians, including efforts to circumvent EU measures."

The package includes restrictive measures on additional 116 individuals and entities "responsible for actions undermining or threatening the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine," the bloc said, adding that it was also "equipping itself with additional tools to crack down on circumvention."

Since Moscow's full-scale invasion of Ukraine more than two years ago, the United States, Britain, the European Union, Australia, Canada, and Japan have imposed thousands of sanctions on Russia.

The main target of the measures has been Russian finances, especially the networks that fund Moscow's war effort.

Moscow dismissed the new measures, saying the sanctions are ineffective and will actually hurt the European Union.

The West is not looking at the consequences for its own economy or for the prosperity of people in the EU, said Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Grushko in Moscow.

"The purpose of the sanctions was to strangle the Russian economy and destroy the cohesion of society. The EU has achieved the opposite," said Grushko.

The Russian Foreign Ministry also announced that it banned additional people from politics, business, and institutions from entering Russia. No details were given.

Amid the grinding conflict that's claimed tens of thousands of lives, the companies, entities, and individuals connected to Russia's defense and security sector have been added to ever-growing lists compiled by Brussels, Washington, and their partners meant to curb Moscow's capacity on the battlefield.

But as the war enters its third year, a growing body of evidence shows Moscow can circumvent many of these sanctions and get key items for its military from third countries despite Western attempts to stop those efforts.

The EU's sanctions list now includes more than 2,200 entities and individuals.

In the energy sector, the bloc said reloading services for Russian LNG in EU territory for the purpose of transshipment operations to third countries is banned.

The new package outlaws the use of the System for Transfer of Financial Messages (SPFS), a specialized financial-messaging service developed by the central bank of Russia to neutralize the effect of restrictive measures.

It also forces EU operators transferring industrial know-how for the production of battlefield goods to third-country commercial counterparts to include contractual provisions to ensure that such know-how will not be used for goods intended for use in Russia.

Earlier this month, the United States issued new sanctions targeting hundreds of individuals and companies for helping Moscow circumvent Western blocks on obtaining key technology, including seven Chinese-based companies.

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