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Israeli Plan To Build In East Jerusalem Criticized

(RFE/RL) -- Israel's approval of a plan to build 900 new homes in disputed East Jerusalem is drawing sharp criticism from Washington.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said on November 17 that the U.S. government was "dismayed" at the Israeli decision.

He said such a move would make it more difficult to relaunch the stalled peace negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had equally sharp words, saying on November 18 that he "deplores" the Israeli decision.

Ban said it casts doubt on the viability of solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by creating a Palestinian state.

Palestinian leaders say restarting the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace hinges upon Israel ending settlement activities on the West Bank.

At a joint press conference in Amman, Jordan, with French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner on November 17, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat condemned the decision saying it "affects the negotiations for a final resolution and destroys the two-state option."

Erekat said the Palestinians have asked Kouchner and France, as part of the Quartet of Middle East peacemakers -- the United Nations, United States, Russia, and European Union -- "to ask the Israeli government to halt all settlement activity."

Kouchner urged a resumption of the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Fight For East Jerusalem

The criticisms came just hours after the Israeli Interior Ministry on November 17 gave the green light for the new construction.

Israel has defended its plan, saying that the new homes in East Jerusalem have nothing to do with settlements.

A statement of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's office said that "the neighborhood of Gilo is an integral part of Jerusalem." It added, "This concerns a routine procedure of the district planning commission."

Israel claims all of Jerusalem as part of Israel, including East Jerusalem, which it annexed after the 1967 war. About 180,000 Israelis now live in neighborhoods built around East Jerusalem.

Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the intended capital of any independent Palestinian state and consider all the Jewish neighborhoods there as settlements.

The latest conflict over settlements comes despite repeated efforts by the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama to restart peace talks aimed at a two-state solution.

A trip to the region by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton earlier this month failed to restart the talks. At that time, Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas rejected an Israeli offer of limited restrictions on construction of new settlements as a compromise position for restarting the talks.

White House spokesman Gibbs said that Israel's new building in East Jerusalem now could make restarting peace talks still more complicated.

"At a time when we are working to relaunch negotiations, these actions make it more difficult for our efforts to succeed," Gibbs said.

Gibbs added, "Neither party should engage in efforts or take actions that could unilaterally preempt, or appear to preempt, negotiations."

with news agency material

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Former Siberian Coal Mine Official Imprisoned Over Deadly 2021 Blast

A Russian Emergency Ministry rescue team at the Listvyazhnaya coal mine after a deadly blast in 2021
A Russian Emergency Ministry rescue team at the Listvyazhnaya coal mine after a deadly blast in 2021

A court in Russia's Siberian region of Kemerovo on May 28 sentenced the former chief engineer at a coal mine over an explosion in 2021 that killed 51 people. Anatoly Lobanov was convicted of giving false information regarding the mine's safety. The court had already handed sentences to several former employees of the mine and a technical safety service inspector ranging from parole-like sentences to up to six years in prison for safety violations, negligence, and bribery. Numerous inspections of the mine in 2021 revealed 914 violations and operations were stopped nine times. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Siberia.Realities, click here.

Tatar Activist Gets Suspended Sentence Over Anti-War Stance

Anti-war activist Zulfia Sitdikova was convicted of rehabilitating Nazism and discrediting Russia's military.
Anti-war activist Zulfia Sitdikova was convicted of rehabilitating Nazism and discrediting Russia's military.

The Supreme Court in Russia's Republic of Tatarstan on May 28 handed a suspended two-year prison sentence to anti-war activist Zulfia Sitdikova, who was convicted of rehabilitating Nazism and discrediting Russia's military. The charges stem from two public actions Sitdikova carried out in 2023 to protest against the war in Ukraine. In 2022, she was fined for wearing a hoodie with the words "No war" on it while attending a Pro-Kremlin concert in Tatarstan's capital, Kazan. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service, click here.

Belarusian Entrepreneur Gets 9 Years In Prison Amid Crackdown

Artur Rolich
Artur Rolich

The Vyasna human rights center said on May 28 that the Minsk City Court sentenced Artur Rolich, the owner of a shop selling brand-name clothing and shoes, to nine years in prison on charges of financing terrorist and extremist activities and financially supporting an extremist group. The charges stem from Rolich's donations to various foundations assisting Belarusian citizens, including those who fled their homeland amid an ongoing crackdown on democratic institutions, free media, and dissent. The 39-year-old Rolich left Belarus in late July 2023. He was most likely arrested after he returned home.

Missing Ukrainian Journalist Turns Up In Russian Custody

Ukrainian journalist Victoria Roshchyna
Ukrainian journalist Victoria Roshchyna

Ukrainian journalist Viktoria Roshchyna, who went missing in the Russia-occupied part of Ukraine's southeastern Zaporizhzhya region last August, has turned up in Russian custody. The Russian Defense Ministry informed Roshchyna's father on May 28 that his daughter "was detained and is currently on the territory of the Russian Federation." No reason for her detention was given. Roshchyna covered Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine from its outset in February 2022. In March 2022, she was detained for 10 days by Russian authorities in the Russian-occupied city of Berdyansk. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Updated

Georgian Parliament Set To Confirm 'Foreign Agent' Law Despite Western Warnings, Presidential Veto

Demonstrators protesting the "foreign agent" law crowd outside the parliament building in central Tbilisi on May 28.
Demonstrators protesting the "foreign agent" law crowd outside the parliament building in central Tbilisi on May 28.

TBILISI -- Protesters started gathering outside of Georgia's parliament as legislators opened a plenary session to consider overriding President Salome Zurabishvili's veto of the so-called foreign agent law, a highly divisive piece of legislation that has sparked weeks of protests and warnings from the West over concerns it will be used to stifle civil society.

The meeting opened on May 28 despite last-minute appeals from the European Union and several member states to Georgian lawmakers not to override the presidential veto of a law frequently referred to as the "Russian law" because of its resemblance to legislation introduced by the Kremlin to silence opposition and free speech.

Dozens of mostly young protesters chanting "No Russian law!" and "Slaves!" and waving Georgian and EU flags massed at the back entrance of the legislature amid a heavy presence of riot police.

The ruling Georgian Dream party founded by Moscow-friendly tycoon Bidzina Ivanishvili has a comfortable majority in parliament, with a successful override vote seen as a mere formality after a key parliamentary committee on May 27 sent it to the plenary session, opening the path for lawmakers to put the legislation into effect.

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

Georgia's civil society has for years sought to move the country away from the influence of Russia, which still maintains thousands of troops in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, two breakaway Georgian regions that Moscow recognized as independent states following a five-day war with Tbilisi in 2008.

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

Georgia obtained the coveted status of EU candidate country in December, but it has yet to start actual accession talks, which could last for years. There had been hope such talks could start later this year, but Brussels has warned that the "foreign agent" law could endanger the path toward Europe.

Parliament speakers from seven EU member countries -- the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, France, Netherlands, and Poland -- on May 27 issued a joint statement calling on the Georgian lawmakers to scrap the legislation.

The statement addressed to Shalva Papuashvili, the speaker of Georgia's Parliament, says recent developments in Georgia are "disturbing" and the Georgian government's actions contradict the values and principles that Georgia undertook to respect.

"The spirit and content of the Law on Foreign Transparency adopted by the Parliament of Georgia are incompatible with European norms and values. The law as it stands seeks to silence media and civil society organizations that play a vital role in a democratic society and are instrumental in helping Georgia on its path to the EU," the statement said.

Georgia Marks Independence Day Amid Protests Over 'Foreign Agent' Law
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"We urge you to withdraw this law and engage in a meaningful and inclusive dialogue with organized civil society and citizens. We also urge you to respect the fundamental values by upholding the rights of people to assembly and discontinue the use of violence and intimidation against peaceful demonstrators."

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on May 27 that the bloc had started weighing options should Georgia enact the law. He said a decision will be made next month.

Georgian Ombudsman Levan Ioseliani also warned on May 27 that the law needs changes to limit the damage it will bring to civil society.

"Accepting this law in this form, in my opinion, has already brought significant damage to the [democratic] process as a whole," Ioseliani told a news conference in Tbilisi on May 27, as he warned of the law's effects.

"Therefore, it would be possible that parliament will refuse to override this veto and...there will be space for making changes in other legislative acts.... In my opinion, retreat is often not a sign of weakness but a sign of strength," Ioseliani added.

On May 26, thousands of mostly young people marched in Tbilisi on Georgia's Independence Day, calling on the ruling Georgian Dream party to scrap the law.

"Our fight is tireless, although they thought that we would get exhausted," writer Lasha Bugadze told the crowds of young Georgians who marched peacefully in downtown Tbilisi, waving Georgian and EU flags. "Neither will we get tired in the coming days, not until the Russian law is withdrawn and Georgia becomes part of Europe," Bugadze said.

The participants raised the flashlights on their mobile phones and chanted, “No to the Russian law!” and “No to the Russian regime!”

The United States on May 26 marked the Georgian holiday, saying in a statement that it "will continue to strongly support the aspirations of the Georgian people for a Euro-Atlantic future."

"We urge Georgia’s leaders to take the steps necessary to move Georgia forward in the right direction," U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.

Last week, Blinken announced visa restrictions on Georgian government officials and a comprehensive review of bilateral relations with Tbilisi over the "foreign agent" legislation.

Updated

Belgium Signs Security Pact With Ukraine, Pledges 30 F-16s

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo shake hands after signing a bilateral security agreement in Brussels on May 28.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo shake hands after signing a bilateral security agreement in Brussels on May 28.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo signed on May 28 a 10-year bilateral security agreement between their countries. The agreement includes at least 977 million euros ($1.06 billion) in Belgian military aid to Ukraine this year, Zelenskiy wrote on X, formerly Twitter. Zelenskiy also said the agreement mentions that Belgium will deliver 30 F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine until 2028, with the first aircraft arriving already this year. Belgium's Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib earlier said that "we hope deliveries will start at the end of this year." To read the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.

Lawyer For Family Of Executed Iranian Protester Sentenced To 6 Years In Prison

Lawyer Amir Hossein Koohkan represents the family of Mohammad Mahdi Karmi, who was executed during nationwide protests.
Lawyer Amir Hossein Koohkan represents the family of Mohammad Mahdi Karmi, who was executed during nationwide protests.

The Islamic Revolutionary Court of Karaj has sentenced Amir Hossein Koohkan, a defense lawyer for the family of Mohammad Mehdi Karami, who was executed during protests over the death of Mahsa Amini that rocked Iran in 2022, to six years in prison.

Koohkan faced several charges, according to the Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA), including assembly and collusion and propaganda against the regime.

Koohkan's arrest comes after he was summoned by the Karaj Intelligence Department last year. He was detained at the time and held until he was granted a conditional release in December.

The charges come shortly after the sentencing of Mashallah Karami, Mohammad Mehdi Karami’s father, to six years in prison on charges of endangering national security and propaganda against the regime.

The cases highlight a pressure campaign, rights groups say, the government is using against those connected to protest movements in Iran.

Mohammad Mehdi Karami was one of nine individuals executed by the Islamic republic in relation to the protests of 2022, which saw widespread unrest over government policies that protesters said curbed basic human rights and intruded too deeply in the lives of most Iranians.

His execution in January 2023, which was tied to the alleged murder of a Basij militia member during the nationwide upheaval, drew international condemnation.

The cases of Koohkan and Karami underscore the concern among Iranian authorities of the possibility of a new wave of unrest.

Following the death of Amini in September 2022, hundreds of thousands of Iranians took to the streets nationwide to protest. The 22-year-old died under mysterious circumstances while she was in police custody for an alleged head-scarf violation.

A clampdown by security forces against protesters has resulted in the deaths of approximately 600 demonstrators, as reported by human rights groups, and thousands of arrests.

The Iranian judiciary has also executed several protesters, further inflaming public outcry against the regime's harsh tactics.

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

Iranian Authorities Ratchet Up Crackdown On Critics After Raisi's Death

Factory owner Ali Reyhani Kajvar was reportedly detained and charged with "propaganda against the system and insulting Ebrahim Raisi" for his online posts regarding Raisi's death.
Factory owner Ali Reyhani Kajvar was reportedly detained and charged with "propaganda against the system and insulting Ebrahim Raisi" for his online posts regarding Raisi's death.

Rights groups say Iranian authorities have intensified their crackdown on posts made by social media users following the death of President Ebrahim Raisi in a helicopter crash on May 19.

Raisi, who along with Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and several others died in the helicopter crash in a mountainous region in northwestern Iran, had been accused of serving as a prosecutor for an "execution committee" that sent thousands of political prisoners and regime opponents to their deaths in the late 1980s.

He is often referred to by critics as "Ayatollah Execution" or "Ayatollah Massacre" due to his alleged role in mass executions during 1988.

The crash was mocked by many users of Persian-language social networks. In turn, Iranian security and judicial agencies have responded vigorously to the online activities of citizens and media activists.

The Association for the Defense of Azerbaijani Political Prisoners in Iran highlighted an example of the crackdown with a report saying that factory owner Ali Reyhani Kajvar was detained and charged with "propaganda against the system and insulting Ebrahim Raisi" for his online posts regarding Raisi's death.

It was not clear which comments the charges referred to.

Similarly, human rights media outlets said Akbar Yousefi, a resident of Malekan in East Azerbaijan Province, is said to have been arrested on charges related to his social media commentary on the crash.

Others have been charged, rights groups say, for "spreading lies and insulting the sanctity of service martyrs," for their comments on Raisi’s death.

Reza Babarnejad, whose brother was a casualty in the Women, Life, Freedom protests that followed the death of Mahsa Amini while in police custody for an alleged head scarf violation, was also arrested for his reactions to the incident.

Others say they have been warned by authorities for their online activities.

The Judiciary Information Center of Kerman province announced that 254 individuals received telephone warnings for posting "offensive" content, while eight people faced judicial summons.

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

Russia To Build 'Vital' Nuclear Power Plant In Uzbekistan

Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) signed several agreements in Tashkent with Uzbek leader Shavkat Mirziyoev on May 27.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) signed several agreements in Tashkent with Uzbek leader Shavkat Mirziyoev on May 27.

Russia and Uzbekistan have signed an agreement for Moscow to build a small nuclear power plant in the Central Asian country.

The agreement was one of several deals signed on May 27 in Tashkent between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Uzbek counterpart, Shavkat Mirziyoev.

The Uzbek leader hailed the project as "vital" in a statement released by his press service after the talks, noting that Uzbekistan had "its own large reserves of uranium."

Meanwhile, Putin vowed to "do everything in order to work effectively" on Uzbekistan’s nuclear energy market.

If the agreement is enacted, the nuclear plant will become the first in Central Asia, further cementing Russia's influence in the region.

Putin said Russia would inject $400 million into a joint investment fund of $500 million to finance projects in Uzbekistan.

Mirziyoev also said Tashkent was interested in buying more oil and gas from Russia, a reversal of decades-long practice where Moscow imported hydrocarbons from Central Asia.

The Russian president pledged to increase gas deliveries to Uzbekistan.

Putin and Mirziyoev also discussed migration, with the Russian leader reassuring the Uzbek president that his government would ensure good working conditions and provide social protection for migrant workers from Uzbekistan.

Putin arrived in Tashkent on May 26 and was greeted at the airport by Mirziyoev.

International investigations have identified Uzbekistan as one of the main entry points into Russia for goods that are subject to sanctions. Putin has traveled sparingly since he launched Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Putin's trip to Uzbekistan is his third foreign trip since being inaugurated for a fifth presidential term earlier this month.

He previously traveled to China, where he welcomed China’s proposals for talks to end the war in Ukraine.

Putin later traveled to Belarus, an ally where Russia has deployed tactical nuclear weapons.

With reporting by AP and Reuters

Iran's Stockpile Of Enriched Uranium Continues To Increase, Says UN Nuclear Watchdog

IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi (left) holds a news conference in Tehran with Iran's nuclear energy chief, Mohammad Eslami, on May 7.
IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi (left) holds a news conference in Tehran with Iran's nuclear energy chief, Mohammad Eslami, on May 7.

Iran has further increased its stockpile of uranium enriched to near weapons-grade levels, according to a confidential May 27 report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Iran's stockpile of uranium enriched to 60 percent purity is now 142.1 kilograms -- an increase of 20.6 kilograms since the watchdog's last report in February. The IAEA also said that the deaths of Iran's president and foreign minister in a helicopter crash on May 19 have forced a pause in the UN nuclear watchdog's talks with Tehran over improving cooperation.

EU's Borrell 'Horrified' At Israeli Strikes That Killed 45 In Rafah

Palestinians gather at the site of an Israeli strike on a camp for internally displaced people in Rafah on May 27.
Palestinians gather at the site of an Israeli strike on a camp for internally displaced people in Rafah on May 27.

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has decried the latest Israeli air strikes on the southern Gaza city of Rafah that killed at least 45 Palestinians, including children and people living in tents after being forced from their homes.

Speaking after a meeting of the bloc's foreign ministers on May 27, Borrell said that he condemned the attack "in the strongest terms."

"It proves that there is no safe place in Gaza. You can imagine how horrified we all are of these attacks," he said.

The strikes occurred late on May 26, when Israeli forces hitting what they called a Hamas -- designated a terrorist organization by the United States and the EU -- installation, killing two senior members of the group.

The Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza said around half of the dead were women, children and older adults.

Israeli Prime MInister Benjamin Netanyahu said the strikes were "a tragic mistake," which comes amid mounting criticism of Israel for its war against Hamas, which was sparked by a Hamas attack on Israel on October 7 that killed more than 1,200 people, mainly civilians.

EU foreign ministers were meeting in Brussels and agreed in principle to press ahead with the reopening of the EU border mission in Rafah, which has not been operational since 2007, when Hamas seized full control of the territory.

When the mission was first deployed, it consisted of roughly 70 personnel monitoring crossings at the border between Gaza and Egypt with Borrell noting that the mission could "play a useful role to get people in and out of Gaza."

It is, however, unlikely that the mission will be fully operational before the hostilities in Gaza end and Egypt, Israel, and the Palestinian authorities have given their green light to it.

The Rafah crossing is the main entry point between Gaza and Egypt for aid but has been closed since Israeli forces took control of it earlier this month.

EU foreign ministers agreed on May 27 to immediately start preparations to relaunch the border mission.

There was also broad agreement to work toward an EU-sponsored international conference on how to implement a two-state solution, which according to Brussels can be merged with a previous call by the bloc to host an international peace conference.

The ministers also found consensus on calling for a so-called EU-Israel association council to discuss the situation in Gaza and to the need to respect human rights. The association council, which last met in 2022, is the formal political avenue between the EU and the Israeli government.

The meeting in Brussels comes shortly after several international developments in recent days relating to the conflict.

Last week, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) overwhelmingly ordered Israel to halt its Rafah offensive, while the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced recently that he was seeking the arrest of the Netanyahu, his defense minister, Yoav Gallant, and three Hamas leaders.

Meanwhile, EU member states Ireland and Spain announced last week that they will recognize a Palestinian state as of May 28.

Borrell noted that the EU wants Israel to implement the ICJ ruling, as "all members of the United Nations have an obligation to comply with its decision."

He also urged Jerusalem to unblock funds for the Palestinian Authorities and to allow UNWRA to operate in the Palestinian territories.

The call comes amid reports that the Israeli Knesset is preparing a vote to brand the UN body providing aid for Palestinian refugees "a terrorist organization."

7 Soldiers Killed In Clashes With Pakistani Taliban

A Pakistani soldier stands guard near the border with Afghanistan. (file photo)
A Pakistani soldier stands guard near the border with Afghanistan. (file photo)

Seven Pakistani soldiers, including an army captain, were killed in separate clashes with the Pakistani Taliban on May 26 and 27, according to the military's media wing, the Inter-Services Public Relations. It added that 23 Taliban fighters were killed in the clashes. A captain and a soldier were killed in an operation near Peshawar on May 26, during which six militants were shot dead. The next day, five Pakistani soldiers and seven militants were killed in clashes in the Bara region of the Khyber district. There were no military casualties in a third operation on May 27 near South Waziristan district, but 10 Taliban fighters were killed. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal, click here.

Zelenskiy Sees 'No Faith' In Putin As EU Mulls Russia Peace Talks

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said multiple rounds of Ukraine-Russia peace talks failed to yield results. (file photo)
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said multiple rounds of Ukraine-Russia peace talks failed to yield results. (file photo)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has said he does not trust Putin amid reports that the European Union plans to organize peace talks with Russia.

Bloomberg on May 27 reported that the bloc is working on organizing a meeting in Saudi Arabia later this year with Russia's participation.

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 meeting would come after a June 15-16 Ukraine peace summit in Switzerland, where representatives of dozens of countries -- but not Russia -- are expected to attend.

"There is no faith in [Russian President Vladimir] Putin," Zelenskiy said during a press conference in Spain, where he signed a bilateral security deal with Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez worth 1 billion euros on May 27.

The Ukrainian president said his country had held around 200 rounds of talks with the Kremlin, many of which were held long before Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

"There were no results; the occupied territories remained occupied," Zelenskiy told reporters.

He said 90 countries had agreed to attend the summit near the city of Lucerne in Switzerland next month.

In a video message on May 26, Zelenskiy urged world leaders, particularly U.S. President Joe Biden, to "show leadership in advancing the peace" and attend the gathering.

However, Bloomberg said Biden will skip the gathering to attend a fundraiser for his presidential campaign, while Brazil and China are planning to organize their own initiative and will send junior officials.

Russia has not been invited to the Ukrainian-organized summit. Zelenskiy has said Russia's participation risked disrupting the summit.

Moscow has dismissed the significance of the summit in Switzerland, with Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov saying in April that peace talks without Russia "make no sense."

Similarly, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova has said decisions regarding the war in Ukraine that "ignore Russia's position" are "detached from reality."

EU Puts Sanctions On Russian Officials For Persecuting Opposition

European Union foreign ministers agreed to impose sanctions on 19 Russian officials and Russia's Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) over their involvement in the persecution of opposition politicians and activists. The decision, agreed in Brussels on May 27, targets investigators, prosecutors, and judges who were involved in politically motivated cases against a number of dissidents, including Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny, who died in February while serving a lengthy prison term in an Arctic prison, Memorial human rights center co-Chairman Oleg Orlov, and activist Aleksandra Skochilenko, who was imprisoned for her opposition to Russia's invasion of Ukraine. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

HRW: Lawyers In Belarus Under 'Unprecedented Pressure' Since 2020

Human Rights Watch said on May 27 that lawyers in Belarus have been under "unprecedented" pressure since mass unrest followed the official results of a 2020 presidential election that handed authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka victory. The report said more than 140 Belarusian lawyers have lost their licenses in politically motivated moves since the vote, while at least 23 lawyers have been arrested in what appears to be an attempt to force them to drop clients facing politically motivated charges. At least six Belarusian lawyers are currently serving politically motivated prison terms of between six and 10 years, the report said. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Belarus Service, click here.

Former Kyrgyz Customs Official Matraimov's Brother To Face Trial Soon

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

OSH, Kyrgyzstan -- The Osh regional court in Kyrgyzstan's south told RFE/RL on May 27 that it had registered a criminal case against Tilek Matraimov, a brother 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.

Tilek Matraimov, the ex-governor of the Kara-Suu district, was charged with abuse of office, his lawyer Mamat Shaiev said.

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

Raimbek Matraimov, 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.

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.

Updated

Ukraine, Spain Sign $1 Billion Bilateral Security Deal

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (left) and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez pose for photos after signing a bilateral agreement on security cooperation in Madrid on May 27.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (left) and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez pose for photos after signing a bilateral agreement on security cooperation in Madrid on May 27.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez have signed a bilateral security agreement that provides for Madrid to provide Ukraine with 1 billion euros ($1.08 billion) in military aid this year.

The announcement was made at a joint news conference in Madrid, where Zelenskiy arrived on May 27 for talks with the head of the Spanish government and King Felipe VI.

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.

"For the period up to 2027, Ukraine will get 5 billion euros from Spain through the European Peace Fund," Zelenskiy told the news conference.

Ahead of the visit, the Spanish newspaper El Pais reported that Madrid plans to send missiles for Patriot air-defense systems and Leopard tanks to Ukraine as part of the weapons package.

The bilateral security agreement was the 10th signed by Ukraine with Western allies, following similar pacts with Britain, Germany, France, Denmark, Canada, Italy, Netherlands, Finland, and Latvia.

Zelenskiy's office has said that bilateral security agreements are also in the works with the United States, Japan, Romania, Norway, Greece, and the European Union.

Zelenskiy will travel to Portugal on a working visit on May 28, according to a statement by Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa's office.

The statement said the leaders will seek to enhance relations, with a "special emphasis" on strengthening security and defense cooperation.

Zelenskiy was forced to postpone his visit to Spain and other countries earlier this month after Russian troops launched a cross-border offensive in the northeastern Kharkiv region.

Outmanned and outgunned Ukrainian forces have been grappling with a severe lack of modern air-defense systems and ammunition as they struggle to stave off the Russian offensive amid a slowdown in deliveries of weapons, despite the U.S. Congress finally approving a $61 billion military aid package for Kyiv after several months of delay.

Highlighting Ukraine's increasing difficulties in protecting its skies against Russia's indiscriminate strikes on civilian targets, at least 14 people were killed and 43 wounded when Russia bombed a DYI store in the country's second-largest city, Kharkiv, located just some 35 kilometers from the Russian border.

Following the Kharkiv attack, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg called on May 27 on Ukraine's Western allies to step up their military aid to Kyiv.

Speaking at the NATO Parliamentary Assembly in Bulgaria's capital, Sofia, Stoltenberg said Ukraine had the right to use Western weapons against military targets on Russian territory and called on Western countries to reconsider forbidding Ukraine to launch such attacks.

"The time has come to consider whether it will be right to lift some of the restrictions which have been imposed because we see now that especially in the Kharkiv region the front line and the border line is more or less the same," Stoltenberg said.

"If Kyiv cannot attack military targets on Russian territory then it ties one hand of the Ukrainians on their back and makes it very hard for them to conduct defense."

Kyrgyz Blogger Fined Amid Crackdown On Independent Media

Kyrgyz journalist Ali Ergeshev after his arrest in February 2024
Kyrgyz journalist Ali Ergeshev after his arrest in February 2024

The Jalal-Abad City Court in southern Kyrgyzstan told RFE/RL on May 27 that independent journalist Ali Ergeshev was fined 70,000 soms ($795) on a hooliganism charge three days earlier. Ergeshev was detained on February 13 and placed under house arrest. His detention came just before Kyrgyz lawmakers approved a controversial bill allowing authorities to register media outlets and NGOs as "foreign representatives" in a way that critics say mirrors repressive Russian legislation that the authorities there have used to discredit its critics and stifle civil society. Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov signed the bill into law in early April. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, click here.

Ukraine Claims Drone Attacks On Russian Radar Station Near Kazakh Border

A Russian Voronezh-M radar system (file photo)
A Russian Voronezh-M radar system (file photo)

KYIV -- A Ukrainian military intelligence official claimed to RFE/RL that one of its drones targeted a Russian Voronezh-M early warning radar system, in one of Kyiv's deepest attacks inside Russian territory since Moscow launched a full-scale invasion of its neighbor more than two years ago.

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According to the official on May 27, the drone covered a distance of 1,800 kilometers to hit a radar station in the city of Orsk near the Russian-Kazakh border.

There was no immediate confirmation from Russian officials concerning the attack claim.

Last week, a Ukrainian drone attack targeted a similar radar installation in Russia's southwestern region of Krasnodar. Satellite images showed that the Armavir radar station, which has two Voronezh-type radars, had suffered serious damage to the buildings housing the radar installations.

The Ukrainian attack on the Armavir station came shortly after Russia began exercises with its tactical nuclear weapons forces in the Southern Military District.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said the exercises were held “in response to provocative statements and threats from certain Western officials.”

Separately on May 27, Krasnodar Governor Veniamin Kondratyev said several Ukrainian drones were shot down by Russian air defenses overnight in areas close to a giant luxury complex on the Black Sea coast near the city of Gelendzhik.

The late Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny’s investigative group said in 2021 that the palace complex had been built for President Vladimir Putin, which he denied at the time.

After the report by Navalny’s team sparked debate across Russia, Putin’s close associate, businessman Arkady Rotenberg, publicly said he is the owner of the property in question.

Another Ukrainian drone attack on May 27 targeted a gasoline station in the western Russian region of Oryol, killing one person, the region's governor, Andrei Klychkov, wrote on Telegram.

Later on May 27, Moscow region Governor Andrei Vorobyov said air defenses had downed a drone in Balashikha, just east of Moscow. He said drone fragments had landed on a house but nobody was injured.

In recent months, Ukraine has stepped up strikes on Russian territory and off its shores, targeting, in particular, oil production and refining facilities, air defense installations, and naval vessels.

U.S. Soldier Faces New Charge In Russia

U.S. Staff Sergeant Gordon Black
U.S. Staff Sergeant Gordon Black

U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Gordon Black, who was arrested in the Far East city of Vladivostok in early May on suspicion of theft, has been additionally charged with threatening to kill his partner, a Russian woman, according to Russian media.

A district prosecutor's office in Vladivostok said in a statement on May 27 that the final accusation papers for "a U.S. citizen" had been submitted and the case sent to court.

"The man, born in 1989, was handed accusation papers saying that in May 2024, while he was in an apartment on Sakhalin street in Vladivostok that is owned by a woman with whom he is acquainted, and where he was residing with her since April, forcibly grabbed the young woman's neck during a quarrel, which she considered as a threat to her life," a statement of the prosecutor's office said.

"The suspect then stole 10,000 rubles [$110] from the victim's purse, which he spent for his own needs, including paying for a room in a hotel, where he was detained," it added.

If found guilty on both charges, Black faces up to seven years in prison.

U.S. authorities said earlier that Black had been arrested in Russia and accused of stealing from a woman after traveling via China from South Korea -- where he had been assigned before returning home to Texas -- without informing his superiors.

Weeks later, Russian authorities also said that another U.S. citizen, identified as William Russell Nycum, had been detained in late April on "petty hooliganism" and alcohol charges in a separate case, adding that Nycum was held in a detention center in Moscow.

The two arrests again raised questions over whether Russian authorities are targeting Americans for potential prisoner swaps amid sharp disagreements between Moscow and Washington over the war in Ukraine and other international security issues.

The detentions of Black and Nycum added to a list of U.S. citizens being held in Russia under various circumstances and came as tensions between Moscow and Washington are at the highest levels since the Cold War.

Among those being held are journalists Alsu Kurmasheva of RFE/RL and Evan Gershkovich of The Wall Street Journal. Both have been detained on charges they, their employers, and their supporters reject as politically motivated.

American Paul Whelan in 2020 was convicted and sentenced to 16 years in Russian prison on espionage charges that he and the U.S. government have repeatedly rejected.

Russia's Foreign Ministry has said Black's and Nycum's cases are not political and neither is accused of espionage.

The State Department in September 2023 issued a "do not travel" warning to U.S. citizens and cited "the singling out of U.S. citizens for detention by Russian government security officials."

With reporting by Kommersant and TASS

Former German Soldier Found Guilty Of Spying For Russia

The Russian Embassy in Berlin where a German Army officer is said to have offered to spy for Russia.
The Russian Embassy in Berlin where a German Army officer is said to have offered to spy for Russia.

A German former soldier was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in jail on May 27 for sharing secret military information with Russia in the wake of its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. A court in Dusseldorf found the defendant, named only as Thomas H., guilty of passing on information on his own initiative from his post in the military procurement service. The 54-year-old had admitted to the crime during his trial, claiming he was hoping to obtain information in return that would help him get his family to safety in time in the event of the conflict escalating into a nuclear war.

Updated

Dozens Detained In Yerevan At Protest Calling For Pashinian's Resignation

Hundreds Detained In Yerevan As Protests Continue Over Controversial Border Deal
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YEREVAN -- Armenian police detained dozens of people in the capital, Yerevan, early on May 27 as demonstrators demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian resumed their anti-government protests over a border demarcation deal with Azerbaijan.

Members and supporters of the Tavush For The Homeland movement opposed to a recent controversial border deal blocked traffic in several streets in the center of Yerevan following a call by Archbishop Bagrat Galstanian, the 53-year-old head of the Tavush Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church, to ratchet up pressure on the government.

Police moved in and made arrests as they tried to unblock some of the streets. Interior Ministry spokesman Narek Sargsian told journalists that a total of 137 people were detained early on May 27.

Among the protesters were opposition lawmakers.

Hundreds Detained In Yerevan As Protests Continue Over Controversial Border Deal
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Galstanian is also taking part in “civil disobedience” actions on May 27, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported.

The outspoken cleric, who has led anti-government protests in Armenia over the border deal, announced his intention on May 26 to challenge Pashinian for the premiership as he addressed tens of thousands of supporters who had gathered in central Yerevan.

Galstanian said at the rally in Republic Square that he had asked Catholicos Karekin II to suspend his “spiritual service” so that he could challenge the prime minister.

Rally participants cheered and applauded Galstanian as he said that he was ready to accept the “nomination” as a candidate for prime minister in the opposition’s possible impeachment bid against Pashinian.

Under Armenia’s constitution, at least one-third of lawmakers can initiate a no-confidence vote against the prime minister in parliament, provided they also name a candidate who will replace him or her.

Earlier, Hayastan and Pativ Unem -- opposition factions in parliament associated with the former presidents of Armenia, Robert Kocharian and Serzh Sarkisian -- said they would support the bid.

They will need the support of the only nonaligned lawmaker to initiate the process, which, in order to succeed, will require a majority vote in the legislature dominated by Pashinian’s Civil Contract party.

Pashinian -- who remains largely popular with the population despite some dissatisfaction with recent events -- has rejected Galstanian’s resignation demand, and his allies in parliament so far have ruled out a break in ranks to support the protest leader’s possible bid to head the government.

The Armenian Constitution bars dual citizens from serving as prime minister, creating another obstacle for Galstanian, who is a dual citizen of Armenia and Canada.

He has said he would not violate the constitution but didn't explain how he would remedy the situation.

WATCH: Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian met with residents in the village of Kirants on May 25 as part of his trip to several border communities involved in a controversial demarcation process that will see Azerbaijan regain control over the area.

Border Village Residents Challenge Armenian PM Over Demarcation With Azerbaijan
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Both the United States and the European Union have hailed the border demarcation between Armenia and Azerbaijan, stressing that the deal announced by the two bitter South Caucasus rivals in April contains a reference to the 1991 Alma-Ata Declaration, a document by which a dozen former Soviet countries, including Armenia and Azerbaijan, pledged to recognize each other’s territorial integrity within existing administrative borders.

In the process, which was formally completed on May 15, Baku regained control over four abandoned villages near the Armenian border that had been under Yerevan’s military control since the first Armenian-Azerbaijani war in the early 1990s.

Armenia and Azerbaijan announced on May 24 that their border guards were deployed at the sections where the demarcation was completed.

Azerbaijan retook the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh in a blitz offensive in September from ethnic Armenian forces who had controlled it for three decades.

The offensive forced more than 100,000 ethnic Armenians to flee the region, leaving it nearly deserted.

Georgian Parliament Moves Closer To Overriding Presidential Veto Of 'Foreign Agent' Law

The participants in the May 26 march raised the flashlights on their cell phones and chanted, “No to the Russian law!” and “No to the Russian regime!”
The participants in the May 26 march raised the flashlights on their cell phones and chanted, “No to the Russian law!” and “No to the Russian regime!”

TBILISI -- A key Georgian parliamentary committee has overruled pro-Western President Salome Zurabishvili's veto of the so-called "foreign agent" law, opening the path for lawmakers to put the legislation into effect despite weeks of domestic protests and criticism from the West that the measure is harming Georgia's drive to join the Euro-Atlantic community.

Following the move by the Legal Affairs Committee, parliament, dominated by the ruling Georgian Dream party that has pressed ahead with the law while cracking down harshly on protesters, is to consider overriding Zurabishvili's veto at a plenary session on May 28.

Georgian Dream has a comfortable majority in parliament, with a successful override vote seen as a mere formality.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell on May 27 said the bloc had started weighing options should Georgia enact the law. He said a decision will be made next month.

The move came despite a massive peaceful protest in Tbilisi on May 26 and a last-minute warning by Georgian Ombudsman Levan Ioseliani that the law, also referred to as the "Russian law" because of its resemblance to legislation introduced by the Kremlin to stifle opposition and free speech, needs changes to limit the damage it will bring to civil society.

"Accepting this law in this form, in my opinion, has already brought significant damage to the [democratic] process as a whole," Ioseliani told a news conference in Tbilisi on May 27, as he warned of the law's effects.

"Therefore, it would be possible that parliament will refuse to override this veto and...there will be space for making changes in other legislative acts.... In my opinion, retreat is often not a sign of weakness but a sign of strength," Ioseliani added.

Thousands of mostly young people marched in Tbilisi on Georgia's Independence Day on May 26, calling on the ruling Georgian Dream party to scrap the law.

WATCH: On Independence Day, thousands of demonstrators called on the ruling Georgian Dream party to withdraw the law, which is seen as mirroring legislation used in Russia to silence critics and crush opposition.

Georgia Marks Independence Day Amid Protests Over 'Foreign Agent' Law
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"Our fight is tireless, although they thought that we would get exhausted," writer Lasha Bugadze told the crowds of young Georgians who marched peacefully in downtown Tbilisi, waving Georgian and European Union flags. "Neither will we get tired in the coming days, not until the Russian law is withdrawn and Georgia becomes part of Europe," Bugadze said.

The participants raised the flashlights on their cell phones and chanted, “No to the Russian law!” and “No to the Russian regime!”

Earlier on May 26, Zurabishvili, in an Independence Day speech, said integration in the European Union and strong ties to the United States were paramount for the Caucasus nation to preserve its freedom.

"This is the cornerstone of the solution,” she told a crowd on May 26 in Tbilisi’s Freedom Square.

“Today -- when the ghost of Russia stands before us -- partnership and rapprochement with Europe and America is a true way to maintain our independence, peace, and strength,” she said, as she cited the desire of a vast majority of citizens to join the European Union.

Georgia obtained the coveted status of EU candidate country in December, but it has yet to start actual accession talks, which could last for years. There had been hope such talks could start later this year, but Brussels has warned that the "foreign agent" law could endanger the path toward Europe.

Russia still maintains thousands of troops in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, two breakaway Georgian regions that Moscow recognized as independent states following a five-day war with Georgia in 2008.

"No war has been started by [members of the] European Union since its inception,” Zurabishvili said. “Instead, the real war party is one and only one that we see today in our occupied territories: Russian imperialism."

The United States on May 26 marked the Georgian holiday, saying in a statement that it "will continue to strongly support the aspirations of the Georgian people for a Euro-Atlantic future."

"We urge Georgia’s leaders to take the steps necessary to move Georgia forward in the right direction," U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.

Last week, Blinken announced visa restrictions on Georgian government officials and a comprehensive review of bilateral relations with Tbilisi over the "foreign agent" legislation.

"Anyone who undermines democratic processes or institutions in Georgia -- including in the lead up to, during, and following Georgia’s October 2024 elections -- may be found ineligible for U.S. visas under this policy and precluded from travel to the United States. Immediate family members of such persons may also be subject to these restrictions," Blinken said while announcing the sanctions on May 24.

The "foreign agent" law would require civil society and media organizations that get more than 20 percent of funding from foreign sources to report that fact to local authorities and submit to oversight that could encompass sanctions for as-yet-undefined criminal offenses.

Critics have said the legislation was introduced by Georgian Dream, founded by Russia-friendly Georgian tycoon Bidzina Ivanishvili, in order to cement the party's grip on power ahead of elections later this year seen as crucial for Georgia's Euro-Atlantic path.

Moldovan Parties Sign 'Pact For Europe' As Commitment To Drive For EU Entry

Moldovan political leaders at signing ceremony for the Pact For Europe in Chisinau on May 26
Moldovan political leaders at signing ceremony for the Pact For Europe in Chisinau on May 26

Thirteen Moldovan political entities, including the ruling Party of Action and Solidarity (PAS) party and the mayor of Chisinau, signed a Pact For Europe on May 26 to signify the small southeastern European nation’s commitment to "contribute fully to the objective of Moldova's integration into the European Union." The signing ceremony at the National Museum of History was also attended by representatives of the U.S. Embassy in Chisinau and the Romanian and Ukrainian ambassadors. To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Moldovan Service, click here.

In Rare Foreign Foray, Putin Arrives In Uzbekistan For 2-Day Visit

Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev (left) and Russian leader Vladimir Putin at Tashkent airport on May 26.
Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev (left) and Russian leader Vladimir Putin at Tashkent airport on May 26.

Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived on May 26 in Uzbekistan, where he was met at the Tashkent airport by President Shavkat Mirziyoev amid reports some Western nations are trying to pull Central Asian nations away from Russia’s sphere of influence. Tashkent, the capital of the former Soviet republic, is decorated with flags of the two countries for the two-day visit. The Uzbek presidential press service said their meeting discussed strengthening a "comprehensive strategic partnership and alliance" and the "development of trade and economic cooperation.” International investigations have identified Uzbekistan as one of the main entry points into Russia for goods that are subject to sanctions. Putin has traveled sparingly since he launched Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

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