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New EU Foreign-Policy Chief Promises Solutions For 'Jigsaw Puzzle' Of Relations

Catherine Ashton answers questions at the European Parliament in Brussels.
Catherine Ashton answers questions at the European Parliament in Brussels.
BRUSSELS -- The European Union's new high representative for foreign policy has appeared before the European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee for her confirmation hearing and managed to avoid controversy.

Catherine Ashton is a former EU trade commissioner with no direct foreign-policy experience and was a surprise pick for the post last November by EU leaders seeking compromise candidates for new top jobs created by the Lisbon Treaty

During her three-hour-long questioning by EU members of parliament on January 11, Ashton focused on the positives, promising a "stronger and more credible" EU role in the world during her tenure.

Ashton's account of the global challenges faced by the bloc, outlined during her opening remarks, was carefully tailored to avoid giving offense to anyone.

"Like many of you, I'm convinced there is a clear call inside the European Union and around the world for greater European engagement to promote peace, to protect the vulnerable, to fight poverty and to address the many challenges of our time," Ashton said.

"We have to answer this call combining leadership with partnership, defending our values and promoting our interests, listening to what our partners say, and making sure that when we speak our voice is heard."

Although her lack of experience has been questioned by critics, Ashton remained unruffled throughout the hearing. A member of Britain's ruling Labour Party, she good-naturedly deflected the few sharp attacks launched at her by British Conservatives and Euroskeptics.

And as she did during an earlier appearance at the European Parliament in December, Ashton refused to apologize for her youthful involvement in the British Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, which is suspected of receiving Soviet funds in the 1970s and 1980s.

Pleasing All Parties

Overall, Ashton was given a relatively easy time by the committee -- reflecting the satisfaction of all major political groups in the European Parliament with how top political appointments have been distributed in the past months.

Commenting on EU policy objectives, Ashton limited herself to well-rehearsed EU views. She called for a more effective partnership with the United States and a stronger relationship with Russia, urged a two-state solution for the Middle Eastern conflict, regretted Iran's rejection of international supervision of its nuclear program, and promised more EU engagement in Afghanistan.

Ashton also announced a flurry of visits designed to familiarize her with her main counterparts across the world. She said she will soon travel to Washington for talks with the U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, with visits to Beijing and Moscow to follow shortly thereafter.

In December, Ashton attended a NATO foreign ministers' meeting in Brussels. She will soon travel to the Middle East, as well as participate in international summits on Afghanistan and Yemen at the end of the month.

Ashton has a "double-hatted" job description -- she is simultaneously a representative of the EU's member states and a vice president of the bloc's executive arm, the European Commission. That means she will have to perform an intricate balancing act.

EU member states retain full sovereignty on foreign-policy issues and Ashton's brief does not extend to policy making. Her appointment will thus have no substantive effect on common EU positions on Russia, the Balkans, or the Middle East, among other issues.

Within the European Commission, which carries out the bloc's foreign policy, Ashton will provide strategic direction to Enlargement and Neighborhood Commissioner Stefan Fuele, Development Commissioner Andris Piebalgs, and Rumiana Jeleva, who will lead humanitarian aid and crisis response.

Ashton said much of her day-to-day work will consist of putting into practice of the EU's gospel of "multilateralism" -- treating as equals and forging direct links with selected established and emerging world powers.

"We need effective partnerships with the United States, China, and Russia, but also with Turkey, Japan, Canada, India, Brazil, and South Africa; with the UN, with the African Union and many others," she said. "Nurturing these partnerships will be a big part of my day-to-day work."

Lack Of Experience

Ashton's lack of practical foreign-policy experience seemed to trip her up when questions arose about her specific intentions in the new post.

After several EU deputies challenged her comment that she will pursue "different approaches" to human rights problems in different non-EU countries, Ashton had to admit that human rights are universal, even if cultural differences and traditions necessitate different approaches among nations.

Time and again, Ashton said she considers her main objective to "get results" for the EU.

"It's finding the appropriate ways of raising issues, finding the appropriate mechanisms we want is what will get us the results that we want," she said. "That's what I really want to focus on."

Ashton was also forced to explain her repeatedly expressed preference for "quiet diplomacy."

She said she meant that although she herself is "not quiet necessarily," she does think that "loud" or highly public diplomacy tends to be less effective.

Ashton's grasp on the substance of many of the issues appeared to be tenuous at best. Implicitly admitting this, she said she is only "beginning to sketch out where we are, what the conflicts are, what we can do." Ashton said the EU is facing a "jigsaw puzzle" of challenges.

Looking East

Addressing the EU's relations with its eastern neighbors, Ashton limited herself to short-term goals and issues, avoiding comments on strategy or the neighbors' longer-terms prospects.

Ashton said the EU's future policy choices will depend heavily on developments in the bloc's partner countries, and she singled out Ukraine's impending presidential election, saying that "we don't know, and it's interesting that we don't know who's going to win, I think it's actually quite significant that in this country we don't know, perhaps that's a really strong indicator of democracy at work."

The EU's "real concerns," Ashton said, must be addressed after the elections and cannot be "preempted" before discussions with the country's new leadership.

Ashton said Ukraine's relationship with Russia will play a major role in its future, and said the same is true in Belarus and Georgia.

Asked about Russia itself, the new EU foreign policy chief said the EU needs a "strong relationship" with the country, coupled with an energy strategy aimed at diversifying delivery routes and supply sources. Russia, Ashton said, must be pressed to view energy as an economic, not a political issue.

Sidestepping requests to specify her intentions, Ashton said she would "build on the past" when developing relations with Russia, "reviewing what works and what doesn't."

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Trump Chooses Ohio Senator J.D. Vance, Opponent Of Ukraine Aid, To Be His Running Mate

Senator J.D. Vance has been a vocal critic of U.S. aid to Ukraine (file photo)
Senator J.D. Vance has been a vocal critic of U.S. aid to Ukraine (file photo)

WASHINGTON -- Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has chosen Ohio Senator J.D. Vance, a vocal critic of U.S. aid to Ukraine, as his running mate, putting the 39-year-old political newcomer on the ticket for the November 5 U.S. election.

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.

Trump made the announcement on July 15 on his social media platform Truth Social as the Republican National Convention kicked off in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He had previously mentioned Vance, who has opposed aid to Ukraine, as a possible running mate.

“After lengthy deliberation and thought, and considering the tremendous talents of many others, I have decided that the person best suited to assume the position of Vice President of the United States is Senator J.D. Vance of the Great State of Ohio," Trump said.

Less than an hour after Trump announced his selection of Vance, Trump swept a majority of votes from national convention delegates, formally anointing him the party's nominee for the third consecutive election. He hit the necessary threshold with votes from his home state of Florida, announced by his son Eric.

Vance has been a vocal critic of U.S. aid to Ukraine and in April wrote an op-ed saying that Kyiv's challenge in passing a massive aid bill had more to do with mathematics than Republicans in the House of Representatives, who were resisting pressure from the White House to vote in favor of the aid.

"Ukraine needs more soldiers than it can field, even with draconian conscription policies. And it needs more materiel than the United States can provide," he wrote in The New York Times. "This reality must inform any future Ukraine policy, from further congressional aid to the diplomatic course set by the president."

He also wrote that the United States lacks the capacity to manufacture the amount of weapons Ukraine needs from the United States to win the war.

The convention in Milwaukee opened two days after a campaign rally shooting over the weekend that injured Trump and killed a supporter. Vance, a loyal Trump follower, stirred controversy after the shooting by posting a social media message saying that the shooting was not "just some isolated incident."

Vance's post on X said the Biden campaign's central premise "is that President Donald Trump is an authoritarian fascist who must be stopped at all costs" and the "rhetoric led directly to President Trump's attempted assassination."

He was heavily criticized for posting the message at a time when people from both parties were calling for unity and for the temperature of the campaign to come down.

Vance, 39, held no public office prior to being elected to the Senate in 2022. He is the author of the bestselling memoir Hillbilly Elegy in 2016 about his upbringing in a southwestern Ohio city whose factories were shuttered in the late 1980s and '90s, putting the region into an economic tailspin. The book, which also covered Vance’s military service and deployment to Iraq, was made into a movie in 2020.

After serving in the Marine Corps, Vance went on to graduate from The Ohio State University and Yale Law School. From there, he worked as a law clerk for a federal judge and then joined a Silicon Valley investment firm before returning to Ohio to enter into politics.

Vance’s story resonates with Republicans who believe the country has done too little to maintain its manufacturing base and perpetuated what Trump has called "endless wars." His background and positions could increase the odds of Trump supporters turning out for the November 5 election, including in the neighboring swing states of Pennsylvania and Michigan.

The choice of Vance also increases the probability that " extended into the next generation of the Republican Party," Chris Tuttle, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, told RFE/RL.

"J.D. Vance is a younger voice channeling increasing dissatisfaction in the United States that Trump has been a beneficiary of," Tuttle said.

Vance as an articulate amplifier of Trump's views and fulfills an "ideological consistency, which you always find in a vice presidential candidate," Tuttle added, saying the Vance's inexperience is an asset.

"In some ways, being in office for too long is a disadvantage. People view them as a creature of Washington, part of a sort of rotten game," he said.

Vance was not always a Trump disciple, however. He previously criticized Trump when the billionaire real estate mogul first ran for president in 2016, writing privately to an associate on Facebook that he alternates between "thinking Trump is a cynical asshole like [former U.S. President Richard] Nixon who wouldn't be that bad (and might even prove useful) or that he's America's Hitler."

When the comment was first reported in 2022, a spokesperson for Vance did not dispute it, but said it no longer represented Vance's views.

Trump likened the selection process to a "highly sophisticated version of The Apprentice," the TV reality show where contestants competed for a job at his company and helped turn Trump into a household name.

Trump suffered an injury to his right ear when a gunman identified by the FBI as 20-year-old Thomas Matthew Crooks fired at him and the crowd at a campaign rally from a nearby rooftop before he was killed by Secret Service officers on July 13. The FBI said it was still seeking a motive in the attack.

U.S. President Joe Biden, who is the presumptive candidate for the Democrats in the election, condemned the assassination attempt in a televised address to the nation from the White House late on July 14 and said he had ordered a review of how a man with an AR-15-style rifle got close enough to shoot at Trump despite U.S. Secret Service protection.

The FBI says it is not aware of any threats to the Republican convention and the Secret Service said it does not anticipate any changes to the security plan in Milwaukee.

With contributions from RFE/RL's Todd Prince in Washington and reporting by AP and Reuters

40 Dead, Hundreds Injured After Heavy Rain, Storms In Eastern Afghanistan

Heavy rains and storms have killed dozens in Nangarhar Province in eastern Afghanistan.
Heavy rains and storms have killed dozens in Nangarhar Province in eastern Afghanistan.

Thirty-five people have died and more than 230 others have been injured in heavy rains and storms in Nangarhar Province in eastern Afghanistan, the provincial administration of the Taliban-led government said on July 15 in a statement. Earlier on July 15, five people died in heavy rain and floods in the eastern province of Kunar. The statement on the situation in Nangarhar Province said that heavy rain and strong winds contributed to the deaths there and said the number of victims is expected to increase. Officials also said financial losses and telecommunication interruptions are expected. The Meteorological Department of Afghanistan's Taliban-led government predicted heavy rains and floods in 12 Afghan provinces. To read the full story by RFE/RL's Radio Azadi, click here.

Romania Doubles Quota For Legal Kills Of Brown Bears After Fatal Attack

Romania has an estimated 8,000 brown bears, the largest number in Europe outside of Russia.
Romania has an estimated 8,000 brown bears, the largest number in Europe outside of Russia.

The Romanian parliament on July 15 voted to more than double the quota of annual legal bear kills following a fatal bear attack on a 19-year-old woman in the Bucegi Mountains. The draft law provides a quota for the killing of 481 brown bears -- up from 220 in 2023 -- to prevent further attacks on people and property. The law relies on a 2021 ordinance that allows bears to be tranquilized, relocated, or shot when they endanger communities or come close to towns or villages. Romania has an estimated 8,000 brown bears, the largest number in Europe outside of Russia. To read the full story by RFE/RL's Romanian Service, click here.

China Denies Building Military Base In Tajikistan  

Large-scale military exercises held in the south of Tajikistan (file photo)
Large-scale military exercises held in the south of Tajikistan (file photo)

The Chinese Embassy in Dushanbe on July 15 denied media reports that Beijing is building a military base in Tajikistan, calling the reports “groundless.” The embassy responded to a story in The Daily Telegraph showing satellite photos of buildings and what the report claimed is a shelter for helicopters in the Shaymak region of Tajikistan, near the Afghan border. The Tajik Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Dushanbe and Beijing are “actively cooperating on issues of resistance to challenges and threats.” The statement said the countries are cooperating on controlling cross-border organized crime, drug trafficking, and cybercrime, but denied the existence of the base. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Tajik Service, click here. Reuters contributed to this report.

Kyrgyz Government Critic Loses Appeal Against 5-Year Prison Term

Oljobai Shakir in court on July 15
Oljobai Shakir in court on July 15

The Chui regional court in northern Kyrgyzstan on July 15 rejected an appeal filed by government critic and journalist Oljobai Shakir (aka Egemberdiev) against the five-year prison term he was handed in mid-May on a charge of making online calls for mass unrest. Shakir called the regional court's ruling "unjust." He was arrested in August 2023, days after he criticized the government's decision to hand four spa centers near Lake Issyk-Kul to Uzbekistan and called on President Sadyr Japarov and the chief of the State Committee of National Security, Kamchybek Tashiev, to participate in public debates with him. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, click here.

Yandex Split Finalized As Russian Assets Sold In $5.4 Billion Deal

Yandex's logo on a laptop screen
Yandex's logo on a laptop screen

A deal to split the assets of Russian technology company Yandex was finalized on July 15, with a Russian consortium of investors buying the bulk of Yandex's businesses in a cash and shares deal worth around $5.4 billion. The split marks the end of foreign ownership in Yandex, often dubbed "Russia's Google," while potentially tightening the Kremlin's control of the Internet space in Russia. The move is the largest corporate exit from Russia since Moscow invaded Ukraine over two years ago. Yandex's Dutch parent company Yandex NV (YNV) said it had sold its remaining minority 28 percent stake as part of the deal's second closing. Yandex blazed a trail for Russian technology after setting up in the late 1990s dot-com boom.

Russian General Charged With Fraud Transferred To House Arrest

Major General Ivan Popov in a courtroom in May
Major General Ivan Popov in a courtroom in May

A military court in Moscow ruled on July 15 to transfer jailed Major General Ivan Popov from pretrial detention to house arrest. The 49-year-old Popov, the former commander of Russia's 58th Army who once complained about his forces' lack of support from Moscow, was arrested in May on fraud charges. He is one of several top military and Defense Ministry officials who have been arrested on corruption charges after President Vladimir Putin's dismissal of close ally Sergei Shoigu as defense minister. Former First Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Belousov was appointed to the post on May 12. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Gas Explosion Reportedly Kills 5 In Russia's Chechnya

Grozny, Chechnya
Grozny, Chechnya

Media reports in Russia said on July 15 that a gas explosion in the North Caucasus region of Chechnya killed five people. According to the reports, more than 20 people were injured after gas tanks exploded at a construction site in the village of Bashin-Kali. The injured were rushed to hospitals; six people in very serious condition were transported to the Chechen capital, Grozny, the reports said. Authorities in Russia have yet to confirm the reports. To read the original story by RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service, click here.


Zelenskiy Says Ukraine Needs 25 Patriot Systems, Maps Out Plans For 2nd Peace Summit

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy speaks to the media during a press conference in Kyiv on July 15.
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy speaks to the media during a press conference in Kyiv on July 15.

KYIV -- Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on July 15 that Ukraine needs 25 Patriot missile defense systems as he outlined three steps toward a second international peace summit at his first press conference since attending the NATO summit in Washington last week.

Zelenskiy described Patriot systems as the “most important” for Ukrainian air defense but also said Ukraine needs more F-16 fighter jets. At the NATO summit last week, officials announced that the delivery of F-16s to Ukraine had begun and would continue over the summer.

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.

"From the point of view of the structure of our air defense, in order to completely cover Ukraine, according to our military, we need 25 systems,” Zelenskiy said, referring to the U.S.-made Patriots. “I can't tell you how many we have or will have."

The NATO summit saw widespread pledges of additional military support for Ukraine, and on July 15, the Spanish Defense Ministry announced the donation of 10 Leopard 2A4 battle tanks, anti-tank missiles, and other equipment to Ukraine.

The ministry said the transfer of the tanks was already under way following repairs at a facility in Spain. They are expected to arrive in Poland by sea by the weekend and then be transferred by land to the Ukrainian armed forces.

Zelenskiy, speaking in Kyiv, said meetings on the preparation of the next peace summit will concern energy, freedom of navigation, and the release of prisoners.

Zelenskiy used the news conference to focus more on plans for an international peace summit than on Ukraine’s military growth. He said the second international peace summit should include officials from Russia.

During the first peace summit on June 15-16 in Switzerland, more than 90 countries focused on the most devastating conflict in Europe since World War II. As the delegations dispersed, participants lauded the launching of a process to keep the dialogue going and the prospect of a second summit in the near future.

But the fact that Moscow was not invited to the event and had derided it as a waste of time and effort cast doubts over the future of any peace process. While the summit’s final communiqué did not explicitly mention Russia, it noted that “reaching peace requires the involvement of and dialogue between all parties.”

At his news conference on July 15, Zelenskiy said, "I believe that Russia's representatives should be at the second summit."

Zelenskiy outlined three steps to a plan to a second international peace summit.

First, Zelenskiy said a meeting, most likely to be held in Qatar at the end of the month or in early August, would aim to resolve questions and prepare a plan around energy security.

That would be followed later in August by a meeting in Turkey to agree on a "fully developed" plan for food security, Zelenskiy said. A third meeting, to be held in Canada in September, is intended to create a plan on the exchange of prisoners and the return of children taken from Ukraine to Russia.

"I am setting a goal for us to have a fully ready plan in November. When the plan is ready, everything will be ready for the second summit," Zelenskiy told reporters.

Zelenskiy also responded to questions about the presidential candidacy of former U.S. President Donald Trump.

'Everything Is Burning': Ukrainian Troops Defend Donetsk Region Hot Spot
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"I think that if Donald Trump becomes president, we will work together. I'm not worried about this," Zelenskiy responded, but he did not elaborate.

He added that when he met with Republican governors while he was in Washington and was assured of the party's backing.

"There are hawks whose messages are more right-wing or more radical," Zelenskiy said on July 15. "But I want to tell you that the majority of the Republican Party supports Ukraine and the people of Ukraine."

In Washington, Zelenskiy met with several senior NATO officials and world leaders, including U.S. President Joe Biden, as the United States heads toward a November 5 presidential election.

Biden, a Democrat and the party's presumptive candidate, expressed strong support for Ukraine throughout his presidency. But Trump, who is expected to be formally nominated as his party's convention this week just days after surviving an assassination attempt, has opposed expanded aid to Ukraine and, according to critics, has expressed pro-Russia sentiments.

Trump also has suggested that if elected in November he will resolve the Russia-Ukraine conflict even before he takes office, without elaborating.

Georgia's President Challenges 'Foreign Agent' Law At Constitutional Court

Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili at an event in June
Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili at an event in June

President Salome Zurabishvili has filed a challenge with Georgia's Constitutional Court over the validity of the recently passed "transparency of foreign influence" law, which has driven a wedge between the government and a considerable segment of society and drawn angry repercussions from Tbilisi's Western partners.

In a statement on the presidency's official website announcing its first-ever lawsuit before the court, Zurabishvili aide Giorgi Mskhiladze adopted the language of protesters to describe the law passed in late May over a presidential veto as "the so-called Russian law."

The law is "unconstitutional" and it contradicts the Georgian Constitution's Article 78, he said, which orders constitutional bodies including the government to "take all measures within the scope of their competences to ensure the full integration of Georgia into the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.”

"The lawsuit also challenges a number of norms of the law, which violate a number of basic rights guaranteed by the constitution," the statement said. "With this lawsuit, the president requests the suspension of the mentioned law and its final cancellation."

Zurabishvili has had a dramatic falling out with the governing Georgian Dream party since it backed her candidacy for president in 2018, culminating in an embarrassing squabble over her right to represent Georgia abroad and then an ultimately failed impeachment in 2023.

The government's enactment of the law, which imposes tight controls on foreign-funded media and NGOs that get more than 20 percent of their funding from abroad, came one year after it originally abandoned a similar bill under public pressure.

This year's battle sparked massive street protests and intensified Zurabishvili's clash with the government over what she and demonstrators insist is fealty to their post-Soviet country's commitment to integration with the West.

When she vetoed the foreign-agent bill in mid-May, Zurabishvili called it "a Russian law in essence and spirit, which contradicts our constitution and all European standards" and "an obstacle on our European path."

Opponents have pointed to its similarity to legislation used by President Vladimir Putin to crush dissent in Russia and stifle independent institutions, prompting Georgians to refer to the measure as "the Russian law."

Georgian Dream and its alliance with the Democratic Georgia party hold 84 of the parliament's 150 seats. Lawmakers voted 84-4 to override Zurabishvili's veto in late May.

Brussels has paused ongoing EU accession negotiations with Tbilisi and the United States has undertaken a "comprehensive review" of relations with Georgia over the law's passage.

On July 15, Georgia's public defender, Levan Ioseliani, repeated his criticism of the "foreign influence" law and said his office would "definitely" be involved in the Constitutional Court's review.

Georgian Dream has insisted that it remains committed to joining Western institutions and the law was only meant to increase transparency on NGO funding.

Alongside the Constitutional Court challenge, Zurabishvili's office announced on July 15 the appointment of Kakha Tsikarishvili to the country's High Council of Justice, where the president gets to appoint one member.

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.

Pakistani Court Ensures Dual Citizenship For Women Married To Afghans

An Afghan refugee (second from right) deported from Pakistan receives humanitarian aid at a UN camp on the outskirts of Kabul in 2023.
An Afghan refugee (second from right) deported from Pakistan receives humanitarian aid at a UN camp on the outskirts of Kabul in 2023.

The Pakistani High Court in Peshawar has ruled in a case brought by 95 Afghan and Pakistani citizens that women married to Afghan nationals have the right to both Pakistani and Afghan citizenship, eliminating a problem for many women stemming from administrative obstacles arising from such dual registrations. Millions of Afghan nationals live in neighboring Pakistan, many of them for decades dating back to the Afghan-Soviet War of the 1980s. A number of Pakistani women recently protested in Peshawar after Pakistani authorities expelled their husbands. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal, click here.

Latvia Bans Entry Of Passenger Cars With Belarusian License Plates

Passenger cars registered in Belarus will be barred from entering the EU through various crossing points along Latvia's borders. (file photo)
Passenger cars registered in Belarus will be barred from entering the EU through various crossing points along Latvia's borders. (file photo)

Latvia's State Revenue Service says that, as of July 16, passenger cars registered in Belarus will be barred from entering the European Union through crossing points along the Baltic state's borders with Belarus and Russia. The move is being taken in accordance with European Union laws to prevent the circumvention of EU sanctions imposed on Russia and Belarus over Moscow’s full-scale aggression against Ukraine. Earlier this year, Latvia and several other EU nations banned cars with Russian license plates from their territories over the invasion. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Belarus Service, click here.

Russia Sentences Self-Exiled Former Municipal Lawmaker To 7 1/2 Years In Prison

Yelena Kotyonochkina (file photo)
Yelena Kotyonochkina (file photo)

A Moscow court on July 15 sentenced self-exiled former municipal lawmaker Yelena Kotyonochkina to 7 1/2 years in prison in absentia on a charge of distributing false information about Russia's military. In March 2022, less than a month after Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Kotyonochkina and her colleague Aleksei Gorinov proposed canceling public events for children due to the invasion because many Ukrainian children and civilians were being killed. A probe was launched against the two, after which Kotyonochkina left Russia, while Gorinov was arrested, tried, and handed a seven-year prison term. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Pakistani Minister Says Ex-PM Khan Will Face Treason Charges, PTI Party To Be Banned

A supporter of Pakistan's jailed former Prime Minister Imran Khan celebrates after Khan's acquittal in a case of alleged leaking of state secrets following in Karachi on June 3.
A supporter of Pakistan's jailed former Prime Minister Imran Khan celebrates after Khan's acquittal in a case of alleged leaking of state secrets following in Karachi on June 3.

Pakistani Information Minister Atta Tarar said on July 15 that the coalition government led by the Muslim League would launch high-treason charges against former Prime Minister Imran Khan and two aides and ban Khan's Pakistan Tehrik-e Insaf (PTI) political party.

He accused the jailed Khan of damaging institutions, creating chaos, and breaking counterterrorism laws by improperly negotiating with militants during his tenure as prime minister in 2018-22.

Tarar said the PTI had waged "enmity" against Pakistan by "attacking" security and government agencies, lobbied the U.S. Congress against Pakistan's interest, and received funding from abroad without documenting their provenance. It would be banned under Article 17 of the constitution, he added.

“This country has to move forward. Pakistan and PTI can’t exist together,” Tarar said.

PTI leader Shibli Faraz called Tarar's statements laughable and said "it is very sad that the country has fallen into the hands of such incompetent people." He countered that Tarar and his governing allies "are trying to lead the country into chaos" and are failing to see the consequences of their actions.

Khan, 71, still enjoys huge popularity, but his political future and return to the political limelight is unclear.

Pakistan's Imran Khan Accuses Army Of Waging 'Revenge' Campaign
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Khan remains in jail on charges that include taking improper gifts while further charges are pending against him.

He founded the PTI in 1996.

Other PTI leaders have also been charged with wrongdoing in cases that Khan and their defenders say are politically motivated.

Khan has alleged that powerful intelligence services intent on manufacturing cases against his party are damaging the country.

Last week, Pakistan's Supreme Court ordered that special seats in national and provincial assemblies for women and minorities be given to the PTI, reversing rulings by the Peshawar High Court and the national Election Commission regarding elections in February in which the PTI was barred.

The February 8 vote took place amid rising political tensions and an upsurge of violence that prompted authorities to deploy more than 650,000 army, paramilitary, and police personnel across the country.

Reported irregularities during the February 8 poll prompted the United States, Britain, and the European Union to voice concerns about the way the vote was conducted and to urge an investigation.

The military has run Pakistan for nearly half its history since partition from India in 1947 and it still wields huge power and influence.

With reporting by dpa

Moscow Court Sentences U.S. Journalist Masha Gessen To 8 Years In Prison In Absentia

Masha Gessen at RFE/RL (file photo)
Masha Gessen at RFE/RL (file photo)

A Moscow court on July 15 sentenced Russian-American journalist, writer, and outspoken Kremlin critic Masha Gessen to eight years in prison on a charge of distributing "false" information about Russia's military. The charge stemmed from Gessen's interview with Russian journalist Yury Dud about alleged atrocities committed by Russian troops against civilians in Ukraine. In December, Russia's Interior Ministry added Gessen to its wanted list. Gessen led RFE/RL's Russian Service in 2012-2013. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Kazakh Anti-War Activist Summoned To Police Over Online Rap Song

Kazakh anti-war activist Maria Kochneva told RFE/RL on July 15 that Almaty city police summoned her over performing a rap song online that was critical of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Kochneva said that her online song sparked an outcry on pro-Kremlin Telegram channels, adding that an investigator called her and ordered her to come to the police "for a conversation due to the public response" to her performance. Kochneva said the investigator did not tell her about her status, and she did not receive an official subpoena. According to Kochneva, she and her relatives have received threats from unknown individuals since her song was posted online. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, click here.

Anti-Putin Shaman Loses Appeal Against Refusal To Get Transferred To Less Restrictive Psychiatric Clinic

Yakut shaman Aleksandr Gabyshev (file photo)
Yakut shaman Aleksandr Gabyshev (file photo)

The Primorye regional court in Russia's Far East on July 15 rejected the appeal against a lower court's refusal in May to transfer Yakut shaman Aleksandr Gabyshev to a less restrictive psychiatric clinic. Gabyshev made headlines in 2019 by launching a march to Moscow in what he called an attempt to drive Putin out of the Kremlin. He walked some 2,000 kilometers before officials detained him in the Siberian region of Buryatia. Several recommendations to transfer Gabyshev to a general psychiatric clinic have been rejected since he was placed in a restrictive clinic against his will in July 2021. The Memorial human rights group has recognized Gabyshev as a political prisoner. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Siberia.Realities, click here.

'Fugitive' Ukrainian Soldier Shot At Moldovan Border

More than 23,000 Ukrainian men have crossed the border illegally into neighboring Moldova since Russian troops poured into Ukraine in February 2022. (file photo)
More than 23,000 Ukrainian men have crossed the border illegally into neighboring Moldova since Russian troops poured into Ukraine in February 2022. (file photo)

Ukraine's main investigative office said on July 15 that it was looking into the circumstances surrounding the death in the Odesa region of a serviceman who it suggested was shot after going AWOL and trying to get to Moldova illegally along with three other men.

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The incident comes with Ukrainian officials pressing conscription and other measures to bolster their fighting forces as the full-scale Russian invasion nears its 30th month.

The State Bureau of Investigations (DBR) said border guards detained the dead man and three other "fugitives" as they tried to cross the border into Moldova by foot on July 14.

It said one of the detainees attacked a border guard "while trying to escape."

"In response, he used a service weapon and shot the assailant," the investigators said.

The agency said its investigation was based on the death of a serviceman and was intended to clarify whether the guard used appropriate force.

More than 23,000 Ukrainian men have crossed the border illegally into neighboring Moldova since Russian troops poured into Ukraine in February 2022 in Europe's first all-out army invasion since World War II.

As part of early defense efforts, Ukrainian men between the ages of 18 and 59 were banned from leaving the country.

In April, Ukrainian officials lowered the conscription age from 27 to 25.

To address a shortfall in troops, hundreds of thousands of whom are thought to have been killed or wounded so far in the war, they also required men to update their draft registration information.

They also imposed pressure and punishments on Ukrainians abroad who refused to register for possible military service.

Ukrainian border officials have detained small numbers of individuals trying to leave the country into Moldova.

They reported the deaths of at least a dozen people this year who were trying to cross a western river on the border between the two countries.

Cyberexperts Predict Pro-Russia Hackers Will 'Almost Certainly' Target Paris Olympics

Paris is hosting this year's Summer Olympics, which run from July 26 to August 11. (file photo)
Paris is hosting this year's Summer Olympics, which run from July 26 to August 11. (file photo)

Finland-based cybersecurity firm WithSecure has warned that the Paris 2024 Summer Olympics "faces a greater risk of malicious cyber activity than previous Olympics." In a report on July 15, the company's director of threat intelligence called the threat "moderate" and predicted that “Hacktivists aligned with states that are pro-Russia will almost certainly try to disrupt the Olympics in some way." The report lists "threat actors" in four categories: Russian, Chinese, Iranian, and North Korean, and speculates as to their intentions and capabilities.

Nephews Of Former De Facto Leader Of South Ossetia Reportedly Wounded In Shoot-Out

Former de facto leader of Georgia's breakaway region of South Ossetia, Anatoly Bibilov (file photo)
Former de facto leader of Georgia's breakaway region of South Ossetia, Anatoly Bibilov (file photo)

Media reports in Georgia's breakaway region of South Ossetia said Sergo and Lyova Kabisov, two nephews of the region's former de facto leader, Anatoly Bibilov, were wounded in a shoot-out in the regional capital, Tskhinvali, on July 14. The reports cited witnesses as saying that Alik Gagloyev, a brother of the region's current de facto leader, Alan Gagloyev, was involved in the incident. Officials have not commented on the situation. South Ossetia's de facto Interior Ministry confirmed that two men were wounded in a shoot-out but did not identify them. Alan Gagloyev called on law enforcement to thoroughly and swiftly investigate the matter. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Echo of the Caucasus, click here.


State Of Emergency Declared In Kyrgyzstan's Osh After Deadly Flooding, Mudslides

Deadly Flood Hits Kyrgyzstan's Second City
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Authorities in Kyrgyzstan's southern city of Osh have declared a state of emergency after mudslides and flooding caused by heavy rains killed at least four people on July 14. As of July 15, the deaths of a 44-year-old woman and her three daughters, as well as the death of another woman, have been confirmed. The Ak-Buura River's currents became extremely dangerous over the weekend, officials said, and its banks were breached, flooding the local market as well as a village near the city. Kyrgyz officials said earlier that mudslides and floods caused by heavy rains in recent months killed 17 people. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, click here.

Estonian PM Kallas Steps Down To Prepare For EU Diplomatic Role

Outgoing Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas in a file photo
Outgoing Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas in a file photo

Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas officially stepped down on July 15 to step aside and set up her expected move later this year to replace Spaniard Josep Borrell as the European Union's high representative for foreign affairs and security policy. Kallas, a staunch supporter of support for Ukraine in its ongoing war against a Russian invasion, still faces hearings before her likely appointment in the fall. She is a longtime advocate for liberal democracy who was shaped by her personal experience growing up as a child under Soviet occupation and, if appointed, she will have a major role shaping and advancing the bloc's security and defense goals. She will stay on as a caretaker prime minister for now.


At Least 4 Soldiers Dead, Dozens Injured In Attack On Pakistani Garrison

Attack On Pakistani Garrison Leaves 3 Dead And Dozens Injured
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At least four soldiers are dead and 50 more were injured after an explosion and gunfire at a military barracks in Bannu city in northwestern Pakistan on July 15, security officials told RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal.

The incident began when a suicide bomber detonated explosives-laden vehicles and insurgents opened fire near the outer wall of the barricaded garrison.

Security officials who described the incident to Radio Mashaal asked to remain anonymous as they were not authorized to discuss it publicly.

A previously unknown group called Jaish-e Fursan-e Muhammad claimed responsibility for the attack in a WhatsApp message to media outlets.

Radio Mashaal could not independently confirm the existence of any such armed group.

Local security officials quoted by the Associated Press said all five attackers had been killed. Police official Tahir Khan told the AP that security forces responded to a “coordinated attack” by the insurgents to enter the military facility, which mainly houses offices of the military and the homes of security forces.

Local residents told a Radio Mashaal correspondent that homes far from the blast were shaken and windows shattered.

Residents of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province have recently protested the lack of security provided by Islamabad against the actions of extremists.

Pakistani security forces have reported conducting targeted operations against militants in several parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a longtime ally in Pakistan of the Afghan Taliban, has been blamed for a surge in violence in the region over the past year.

With reporting by AP

Azerbaijan Reopens Embassy In Iranian Capital Following Deadly Attack

The former building of the Azerbaijani Embassy in Tehran (file photo)
The former building of the Azerbaijani Embassy in Tehran (file photo)

Azerbaijan's Foreign Ministry said on July 15 that its ambassador and embassy staff have returned to Tehran, a year and a half after a deadly attack on its diplomatic facility there. The diplomatic mission will work from new premises and Iran “will implement adequate steps to ensure diplomatic protection in front of the new building," it said. Baku closed its embassy and evacuated its staff at the end of January 2023, after an armed attack on the building. The attacker killed the mission security chief and wounded two other security officials. The suspect was detained, tried in court for a year, and, according to Iran’s Justice Ministry, sentenced to death. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service, click here.

Note: This article has been amended to clarify that it is Azerbaijan which is reopening its embassy in Iran.

Rights Watchdog Calls On Incoming Iranian President, Other Officials To Curb 'Excessive' Force At Border

HRW has urged Iran to end its use of "excessive and lethal force" at the country's border with Iraq. (file photo)
HRW has urged Iran to end its use of "excessive and lethal force" at the country's border with Iraq. (file photo)

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged President-elect Masud Pezeshkian and other Iranian authorities to end their use of "excessive and lethal force" against mostly Kurdish border couriers at the frontier with Iraq, saying such low-level smugglers frequently "come from marginalized communities." In a July 15 statement, the rights organization quoted Pezeshkian saying before his July 5 election that it was "shameful" that young people are forced into such roles "for a piece of bread." HRW has recently cited "serious violations against border couriers" and highlighted socioeconomic and other factors that contribute to the practice. Pezeshkian will be sworn in on July 30.

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