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Medvedev: Russia Ready For Deep Nuclear Arms Cuts

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev
AMSTERDAM, June 20 (Reuters) -- Russia is ready to dramatically cut its nuclear stockpiles in a new arms pact with the United States if Washington meets Russia's concerns over missile defence, President Dmitry Medvedev said on June 20.

"We are ready to reduce by several times the number of nuclear delivery vehicles compared with the START-1 pact," he told a news conference in Amsterdam.

"As far as warheads are concerned, their numbers should be lower than envisaged by the Moscow 2002 pact," he added.

He was referring to an interim pact called the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT) which commits the sides to further cuts in their arsenals to between 1,700 and 2,200 warheads by 2012.

A new arms pact to follow the 1991 START treaty, which expires on December 5, is at the centre of efforts by Medvedev and U.S. President Barack Obama to improve bilateral ties which sank to post-Cold War lows under the previous U.S. administration.

A successor treaty aimed at cutting long-range nuclear weapons amassed by the former superpower rivals during the Cold War arms race will be a major topic at talks between Medvedev and Obama in Moscow next month.

Negotiators from both sides are expected to start a new round of consultations on a new pact next week, Medvedev's spokeswoman Natalya Timakova told reporters.

START-1 stipulates that neither side can deploy more than 6,000 nuclear warheads and no more than 1,600 strategic delivery vehicles, which includes intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarines and bomber aircraft.

A Kremlin source said Medvedev's remarks amounted to instructions to Russian arms negotiators.

But the Kremlin chief again made clear that progress on START was linked to the future of the U.S. missile shield project.

Russia deplores U.S. plans to deploy elements of its missile shield in Eastern Europe. It sees the move as a threat to Russia's national security and says it will not achieve its declared aim of averting a missile attack from Iran.

In a separate statement posted on the Kremlin website and distributed by Kremlin officials to journalists, Medvedev said: "We cannot agree to the U.S. plans of a global Missile defence system."

"I would want to stress that cuts proposed by us are only possible if the United States lift Russia's concerns (about missile defence)," he added.

"In any case, the connection between offensive and defensive strategic weapons should be reflected in the new treaty," Medvedev's statement said.

Russian leaders see signs of the Obama administration taking a more cautious approach to the missile defence project and feel some kind of compromise can be worked out.

Earlier, Russia has proposed to the United States to work on a joint missile defence system and use its radars in southern regions, which can monitor the Indian Ocean zone.

Medvedev also said Russia was concerned about U.S. plans to deploy non-nuclear warheads on strategic missiles, which it says reduces the chances of solid verification of any future treaty and increases security threats.

The Russian pesident also reiterated Russia's insistence that deployment of strategic weapons in the outers space should be banned.

"We need a solid, verifiable document," Medvedev said.

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

 Kristalina Georgieva
Kristalina Georgieva

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

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

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

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

Iranian Student Still Missing Days After Being Detained

Fahimeh Soltani
Fahimeh Soltani

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Israel, Allies Intercept 'Vast Majority' Of Drones, Missiles Launched By Iran

An anti-missile system operates after Iran launched drones and missiles towards Israel, as seen from Ashkelon, Israel, early on April 14.
An anti-missile system operates after Iran launched drones and missiles towards Israel, as seen from Ashkelon, Israel, early on April 14.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised victory after a massive overnight air attack by Iran that marked a sharp escalation of the conflict in the Middle East.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

U.S. President Joe Biden pledged to convene allies to discuss the situation in the Middle East and coordinate a response. Biden spoke by telephone with Netanyahu, after which he said he had reaffirmed "America's ironclad commitment" to Israeli security.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I have repeatedly stressed that neither the region nor the world can afford another war," he said while urging restraint from all parties involved.

Reuters quoted a diplomatic source as saying the UN Security Council will meet later on April 14 where, upon request by Israel, it will consider condemning the attack and declaring the IRGC a terrorist organization.

Leaders in Tehran had warned of a retaliatory strike, while U.S. leaders, including Biden, have warned Iran against any assault on Israel.

Regional power Egypt urged "utmost restraint."

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

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

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

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

The ship's operator, the Italian-Swiss group MSC, later confirmed that Iranian authorities had boarded the vessel.

MSC said the ship had 25 crew members on board and said it was working closely with "the relevant authorities to ensure their well-being and safe return of the vessel."

Following the seizure of the vessel on April 13, an Israeli military spokesperson said that "Iran will bear the consequences for choosing to escalate the situation any further."

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

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

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

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

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

The Strait of Hormuz is a narrow passage to the Persian Gulf that borders Iran and through which a fifth of the world's oil traffic passes. Fujairah, which is on the eastern coast of the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.), is a major shipping port.

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

Last Reactor At Ukrainian Nuclear Plant Put Into Cold State

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

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


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

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

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

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, and dpa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Crisis In Belarus

Read our coverage as Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka continues his brutal crackdown on NGOs, activists, and independent media following the August 2020 presidential election.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With reporting by AP

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

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

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

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

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

Stankovic died in February at age 74 in Banja Luka.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With reporting by Sejla Ibrahimovic

Militants Block Highway In Southwest Pakistan, Kill 11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Police said they were searching for the perpetrators.

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

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

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

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

Abductions are rare in the restive region.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With reporting by Reuters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4 Armenian Soldiers Killed When Truck Plunges Into Ravine

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

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

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

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

French Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne
French Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Netherlands Pledges Additional 1 Billion Euros In Military Support For Ukraine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With reporting by Reuters

Argentinian Court Finds Iran, Proxies To Blame For 1994 Jewish Center Bombing

A police officer prevents people from approaching the site where a powerful explosion destroyed a seven-story building housing the Jewish Mutual Association of Argentina, in Buenos Aires, on July 18, 1994.
A police officer prevents people from approaching the site where a powerful explosion destroyed a seven-story building housing the Jewish Mutual Association of Argentina, in Buenos Aires, on July 18, 1994.

A high court in Argentina has ruled that Iran, and its Lebanese proxy Hizballah, are responsible for the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people and injured some 300 others.

In a ruling made public on April 11, Argentina's Court of Cassation declared the attack a "crime against humanity," saying it was part of a series of attacks coordinated by Iran and carried out by its proxies.

The decision, close to the 30th anniversary of the attack, described the bombings as a retaliatory act by Iran following Argentina’s cancellation of nuclear cooperation agreements in the mid-1980s. The Argentinian judiciary found that Lebanon's Hizballah, acting under Iran's direction, executed the attack that devastated Latin America's largest Jewish community.

This ruling underscores accusations by Argentinian prosecutors who have long claimed Iranian officials orchestrated not only the community center attack but also the prior 1992 bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires that killed 29 people.

The court decision represents "a significant victory for the victims, their families, and everyone who has contributed to documenting this crime in pursuit of justice," said the D.C.-based Abdorrahman Boroumand Center for Human Rights in Iran (ABC), which actively documents extrajudicial killings orchestrated by the Islamic republic both inside Iran and globally.

The court’s judgment, coinciding with comments from Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei regarding an alleged Israeli attack on the Iranian Consulate in Damascus, reaffirms the fraught relations between Argentina and Iran.

The ruling also opens a path for the families of the victims of the attack to seek compensation from Tehran, which has refused to turn over Iranians convicted in Argentina for the attacks, despite arrest warrants being issued by Interpol.

Israel’s foreign minister, Israel Katz, applauded the decision and said that on the back of it, Argentina should designate Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organization.

"Iran is the enemy of Israel as well as of Argentina and together with Hizballah leads terrorist activity in South America and throughout the world, and this decision against the Revolutionary Guards will be an important step in stopping Iranian aggression," he said in a post on X, formerly Twitter. "Now is the time to stop Iran."

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

Former Ukrainian Secret Service Employee Injured When Car Explodes In Moscow

A former Ukrainian secret service employee was injured when a device under his car exploded in Moscow on April 12. Russian media said Vasily Prozorov suffered leg injuries that are not considered life threatening after the device detonated as he tried to start his car. Prozorov worked for Ukraine's SBU until 2018. The following year, he told media in Moscow that he had collaborated with Russia “for ideological reasons” from April 2014 until his departure from the SBU. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

France To Co-Sponsor UN Resolution On Bosnian Genocide, Says Srebrenica Memorial

The Srebrenica Memorial Center on March 1
The Srebrenica Memorial Center on March 1

France will be one of the co-sponsors of a draft UN resolution on Srebrenica, the Srebrenica Memorial Center announced on April 12, a move that would establish a day marking the massacre of thousands of Bosnian Muslim men by Bosnian Serb forces in 1995.

The news, announced by the Srebrenica Memorial Center but has yet to be confirmed by France, came after the Voice of America (VOA) earlier this week reported that several UN member states are working on a draft resolution that would declare July 11 as the International Day of the Remembrance of the Genocide committed in Srebrenica in 1995.

The draft resolution is to be presented on April 17 at a closed-doors meeting at the UN, VOA reported citing unofficial sources.

The draft resolution, seen by RFE/RL, calls for the condemnation of any denial of the genocide in Srebrenica and encourages UN members to establish educational programs to prevent future manifestations of revisionism and genocide.

The move has been opposed by Milorad Dodik, the Russia-friendly leader of Bosnia-Herzegovina's ethnic Serb entity, Republika Srpska, who threatened that if the resolution is adopted, "Republika Srpska will withdraw from the decision-making process in Bosnia."

Dodik, who has been sanctioned by the United States and Britain over his efforts to undermine the Dayton peace accords that ended the Balkan country's war in 1995, has reiterated his denial of the Srebrenica genocide.

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in 2008 ruled that the killing of some 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys by ethnic Serb forces in July 1995 during the bloody breakup of the former Yugoslavia was genocide.

The final text of the resolution is still in the works, and all 193 UN member countries will have their say on the document at the UN General Assembly early next month.

So far, more than 50 individuals have been sentenced to some 700 years in prison for their roles in the Srebrenica genocide.

Radovan Karadzic, the first president (1992-1995) of Republika Srpska, one of the two entities that make up Bosnia, was sentenced to life in prison by ICTY for the Srebrenica genocide and crimes against humanity. Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serbs' military commander was also sentenced to life by the same court for his role in the genocide.

The initiators of the resolution are Germany and Rwanda, but as VOA has reported citing unofficial sources, the United States, Albania, Finland, New Zealand, Turkey, and other countries are also participating in the drafting of the text.

Ukraine, Russia Exchange Bodies Of More Than 120 Fallen Troops

The bodies of 99 fallen Ukrainian soldiers were returned to Kyiv, Ukraine's Coordination Headquarters for the Treatment of Prisoners of War reported in a message on April 12. "The bodies of 77 defenders killed in Donetsk, 20 fallen in Zaporizhzhya region, and two killed in Kharkiv" were returned, the message posted on Facebook said. Russian news site RBK meanwhile reported, citing Duma deputy Shamsail Saraliev, that Russia received 23 soldiers' bodies. The previous exchange took place on March 29. At that time, the Russian side received 29 bodies while Ukraine received the remains of 121 troops. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Brussels Says It Suspects Russia Of Interfering In EU Elections

European-wide polls are being held on June 6-9 to elect a new EU parliament. 
European-wide polls are being held on June 6-9 to elect a new EU parliament. 

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo announced on April 12 an investigation into suspected Russian interference in European-wide elections in June, saying his country’s intelligence service has confirmed the existence of a network trying to undermine support for Ukraine. De Croo, whose country holds the European Union’s rotating presidency, said the "the goal is very clear: a weakened European support for Ukraine serves Russia on the battlefield and that is the real aim of what has been uncovered in the last weeks." European-wide polls are being held on June 6-9 to elect a new EU parliament.

Moscow Expels Slovenian Diplomat In Tit-For-Tat Move

Slovenia on March 21 expelled a Russian diplomat over "activities incompatible with the diplomatic status." 
Slovenia on March 21 expelled a Russian diplomat over "activities incompatible with the diplomatic status." 

Russia has ordered a Slovenian diplomat to leave the country in a retaliatory move after Ljubljana expelled a Russian diplomat, Russia's Foreign Ministry said in a statement on April 12. The ministry said it had also told the Slovenian ambassador that his country was responsible for what it called the "destruction of bilateral relations" between Russia and Slovenia. "We regard this openly unfriendly step in the context of Ljubljana’s general course toward the destruction of Russian-Slovenian ties," the statement said. Slovenia on March 21 expelled a Russian diplomat over "activities incompatible with the diplomatic status."

Tehran Police To Launch New Phase Of Hijab Enforcement

Women walk without the mandatory hijab in Iran.
Women walk without the mandatory hijab in Iran.

Tehran police said they will launch a new phase of enforcement of the mandatory hijab law from April 13 even though the new "hijab and chastity" bill has yet to be approved by the country's Guardians Council.

Police Chief Abbasali Mohammadian announced the new phase of tightened enforcement ahead of a similar declaration made by the police chief of the southern city of Bushehr. Both said a more "vigorous enforcement" of the law will begin in all public spaces starting April 13.

Even though the Guardians Council has yet to approve the law, a necessary step to it becoming official, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei gave a directive during the Eid al-Fitr prayer sermon for enforcement of measures against what he called "religious norm-breaking" within Iranian society.

Khamenei also emphasized the mandatory hijab law as a "definite religious decree," underscoring the obligation of all to adhere to this and other legal decrees.

The "hijab and chastity" bill, which passed in parliament last year without public discussion, came in reaction to a wave of protests and defiance by women against being forced to wear the head covering. However, the approval process is still ongoing after some objections by the Guardians Council, including questions over how the law will be enforced.

Mehdi Bagheri, a lawmaker involved in the bill's review, said there are plans to resubmit an amended bill to the Guardians Council next week.

Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei, head of Iran's judiciary, said that given Khamenei's comments, existing legal frameworks could be leveraged to enhance compliance without waiting the bill's formal approval.

The renewed focus on the mandatory hijab enforcement arrives as numerous reports suggest a decline in adherence to the head scarf among Iranian women in Tehran and other cities following widespread protests triggered by the death of Mahsa Amini while in custody of the morality police in 2022 for an alleged hijab violation.

The hijab became compulsory for women and girls over the age of 9 in 1981, two years after the Islamic Revolution in Iran. The move triggered protests that were swiftly crushed by the new authorities. Many women have flouted the rule over the years and pushed the boundaries of what officials say is acceptable clothing.

The death of Amini released a wave of anger that has presented the Islamic regime with its biggest challenge since the revolution.

The Women, Life, Freedom protests and civil disobedience against the compulsory hijab have swept the country, involving tens of thousands of Iranians, many of whom were already upset over the country's deteriorating living standards.

Campaigns were also launched against the discriminatory law, although many have been pressured by the state and forced to leave the country.

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

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