- By Ahto Lobjakas
New NATO Chief Outlines Priorities In Afghanistan, Russia
Speaking to reporters in Brussels, former Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen pledged that NATO's core mission remains unchanged.
As before, the alliance will act as "the ultimate security policy" for nearly a billion people in 28 member states in defense of the basic values of freedom, peace, and security. To remain a "pillar of global security," he said, NATO must transform.
The secretary-general's role is largely restricted to being the alliance's global face and chairing its meetings, while the real power within the alliance rests with the member states, above all the United States.
But as a former prime minister, Rasmussen will expect to wield more authority than his predecessor, former Dutch Foreign Minister Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.
NATO's current priorities remain essentially unchanged -- the missions in Afghanistan and the western Balkans, and trying to keep Russia on board.
Defining 'Success' In Afghanistan
In Brussels, Rasmussen reiterated that Afghanistan remains NATO's preeminent, and only global mission.
"Our mandate from the United Nations is clear -- and so is the importance to global security -- to help prevent Afghanistan from becoming again the grand central station of international terrorism," Rasmussen said.
"The moral argument is also powerful. Anyone who believes in basic human rights, including women's rights, should support this mission."
Extra Western military trainers and the expansion of the numbers of both the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police are key to this effort.
Rasmussen took up his predecessor's efforts to spread responsibility for stabilizing the country. He said NATO is doing "its part" in Afghanistan, but "cannot do it alone." He said more civilian support and backing to Afghan institution building are needed.
Referring to the August 20 presidential election, the new NATO chief cautioned his audience that the poll should not be expected to meet the same standard people in the West are accustomed to. The criterion of success there, he said, is that the results be "credible" for the Afghan population.
Onus On Russia
Moving down the list of priorities to Russia, Rasmussen said NATO is looking for a "strategic partnership," despite some recent "fundamental" disagreements.
"It is obvious that there will be fundamental issues on which we disagree. We have to insist, for example, that Russia fully complies with its international obligations, including respecting the territorial integrity and political freedom of its neighbors," Rasmussen said.
"But we cannot let those areas of disagreement poison the whole relationship."
Subtly, Rasmussen appeared to shift the onus for this onto Russia. He said the country's leadership and people "must understand NATO is not an enemy or against Russia."
NATO's new secretary-general argued that "shared interests" must prevail, listing counterterrorism, Afghanistan, nonproliferation, and the fight against piracy as preeminent mutual concerns.
Without once mentioning Georgia or Ukraine by name, Rasmussen also promised NATO will not shelve its policy of expansion.
"I am fully committed to the principle of NATO's open door," he said. "Membership is not a right. Countries must be ready. But NATO enlargement already demonstrated its power to spread stability and promote reforms. I expect that will continue during my tenure."
Finally, Rasmussen said he wants NATO's stability force in Kosovo, KFOR, to dwindle to a "small reaction force" or leave the country altogether by the end of his term.
He brushed off questions about the possible impact of the cartoon controversy that saw Denmark at loggerheads with much of the Muslim world in 2005, when a Danish daily newspaper published a series of sketches depicting the Prophet Muhammad.
Rasmussen, Denmark's prime minister at the time, refused to negotiate with Muslim representatives over the issue, arguing it would amount to a curtailment of freedom of speech.
In Brussels, he said the cartoons were "a thing of the past," adding that he prefers looking forward.
Rasmussen announced a series of meetings with 11 Muslim ambassadors, to canvass "the governments of Muslim countries" for "ideas."
Russian Architect Sentenced To More Than Five Years In Prison For Posting 'Fakes' About Ukraine War
A Russian court has sentenced architect Oleg Belousov to 5 1/2 years in prison for discrediting Russia's armed forces with "fake" social-media posts about the war in Ukraine and calls for extremism. The district court in St. Petersburg on March 29 also barred Belousov from administering websites for four years. Belousov, who has a medical condition, was added to Russia's list of "foreign agents" in January. He is one of dozens of Russian citizens prosecuted for criticizing Russia's ongoing unprovoked invasion of Ukraine launched in February last year. To read the original story by RFE/RL's North.Realities, click here.
Montenegro Says U.S., South Korea Requesting Extradition Of Korean Cryptocurrency Fugitive
Montenegrin Justice Minister Marko Kovac said on March 29 that both South Korea and United States are requesting the extradition of Do Kwon, the former CEO and co-founder of cryptocurrency company Terraform Labs, who is suspected in the loss of investments worth more than $40 billion.
Do Kwon and his business partner, Hon Chang-joon, were arrested in Montenegro on March 23 while trying to flee to Dubai with falsified documents, according to the Justice Ministry.
Kovac said South Korea had requested the extradition of both Do Kwon and Hon Chang-joon.
He said that United States also requested Do Kwon's extradition.
"The existence of the international warrant regarding these two persons and the submitted request for extradition creates the ground for the extradition procedure to be initiated," Kovac told a news conference in Podgorica on March 29.
He did not clarify to which of the two countries they will be extradited, adding the ministry will inform the public if any other country sends an extradition request.
"In case we receive several extradition requests, I would like to say that determining which state they will be extradited to will be based on several factors, given the severity of the criminal offense committed, the location, and the time when the criminal offense was committed, the order in which we received the request for extradition, and several other factors," Kovac said.
He added that South Korea and the United States had also requested the laptops seized from the two suspects.
On March 24, Montenegro charged the two with forgery after their arrest.
The two men were taken into custody because they are considered a flight risk, authorities said. The suspects can be detained for a maximum of 30 days, a Podgorica court said.
Do Kwon is wanted by the United States, South Korea, and Singapore for what the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) calls "orchestrating a multibillion-dollar crypto-asset securities fraud."
"We allege that Terraform and Do Kwon failed to provide the public with full, fair, and truthful disclosure as required for a host of crypto-asset securities, most notably for Luna and Terra USD," SEC Chairman Gary Gensler said in a statement in February.
Terra USD was a crypto-asset security referred to as an "algorithmic stablecoin" that supposedly maintained its peg to the U.S. dollar by being interchangeable with Luna, another of Kwon's crypto-asset securities, the SEC said.
"We also allege that [Terraform and Kwon] committed fraud by repeating false and misleading statements to build trust before causing devastating losses for investors," he added.
Many investors lost their life savings when Luna and Terra USD collapsed, falling to a value of near zero. The fallout from the collapse of Terraform Labs also affected the wider cryptocurrency market.
With reporting by AFP
Russian Prosecutor Seeks Life In Prison For School Attacker Who Killed Nine
The prosecutor of Russia's Tatarstan region, Ildus Nafikov, asked the region's Supreme Court to convict and sentence to life in prison a man who killed nine people in an attack on a school in May 2021. The 19-year-old defendant, Ilnaz Galyaviyev, pleaded guilty. Galyaviyev attacked a school in Tatarstan's capital, Kazan, with explosives and a firearm on May 11, 2021, killing four boys, three girls -- all eighth-graders -- and two teachers. A court-ordered psychiatric examination concluded earlier that Galyaviyev is mentally ill. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Idel.Realities, click here.
Gulagu.net Rights Group Stops Helping Military Personnel Opposed To War Escape Russia
The founder of the Gulagu.net human rights group, Vladimir Osechkin, announced that his organization is suspending efforts to help Russian military personnel opposed to Ukraine war leave Russia.
Osechkin, who is based in France, wrote on Telegram on March 29 that the decision was made after former Russian paratrooper Pavel Filatyev, whom Gulagu.net helped flee to France last year, confessed to knowledge of war crimes in Ukraine.
According to Osechkin, Filatyev told Swedish journalist Erik de la Reguera during an interview that he had been aware that some Ukrainians captured by his unit would later be executed.
Osechkin said that Filatyev had never told him and his group about knowing of extrajudicial killings of Ukrainians he and his fellow soldiers captured during the invasion of Ukraine.
Osechkin also said that Filatyev did not mention that element in the book he published after Gulagu.net helped him leave Russia and move to France.
"We also apologize to all who willingly or unwillingly got involved in this situation and assisted Pavel Filatyev at our request. We trusted that man and asked you to help him. We could not have imagined that this man is capable to do something like that," Osechkin wrote.
"This case and experience showed clearly that it is important to thoroughly check all testimonies and statements before deciding to assist or not assist such individuals," he said, adding that his group suspended its program on evacuating Russian military personnel to other countries.
Osechkin also wrote that he will offer his resignation as president of another rights organization, the New Dissidents Foundation, at the group's gathering next month.
"I am ready to bear responsibility for my mistakes and I want my negative experience to help others to avoid similar situations," Osechkin said on Telegram.
Since the start of Russia's full-scale aggression against Ukraine, Gulagu.net also helped Russian military servicemen Konstantin Yefremov and a former member of the Wagner mercenary group, Andrei Medvedev, leave Russia after they described what they witnessed during the invasion and openly condemned the war in Ukraine.
The Russian military has been accused of committing multiple war crimes in Ukrainian towns and cities. Russia denies the accusations despite abundant evidence to the contrary.
IAEA Chief Grossi Visits Ukraine's Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Plant
Rafael Grossi, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN's nuclear watchdog, visited the Russian-held Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant on March 29, Ukraine's state-owned nuclear company Enerhoatom reported. The visit was Grossi's second to Europe's largest nuclear power plant since the start of its occupation by Russian troops, Enerhoatom's press service said. The visit was part of efforts to avert the risk of an accident at the nuclear plant. On March 27, Grossi met with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy during a working trip to the Zaporizhzhya region. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.
Russian Rights Defender Not Allowed To Reenter Georgia
Daryana Gryaznova, a Russian rights defender who has lived in Tbilisi since May 2021, has not been allowed to reenter Georgia after she took a trip to Istanbul. Gryaznova's boyfriend said on March 28 that she was sent back to Istanbul after border guards informed her at the Tbilisi airport that she was not allowed to enter the country for unspecified reasons. The UN special rapporteur on human rights defenders, Mary Lawlor, expressed concern over the situation, demanding an explanation from the Georgian authorities. Several Russian activists and journalists have been banned from reentering Georgia in recent months. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Echo of the Caucasus, click here.
Two Men Killed In Chechnya After Allegedly Attacking Police
Two men were killed in Russia's volatile North Caucasus region of Chechnya after they attacked a police station in the city of Gudermes, late on March 28, opposition Chechen Telegram channels reported. The region's authoritarian Kremlin-backed ruler, Ramzan Kadyrov, wrote on Telegram on March 29 that "two criminals" were killed after they were located in Gudermes, refused to give up, and threw a grenade at security forces. One day earlier, the Interior Ministry in the neighboring region of Ingushetia said unidentified men had opened fire at a police station late in the night on March 27, wounding two police officers. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Caucasus.Realities, click here.
Sweden Summons Russia's Ambassador Over 'Legitimate Target' Statement
Sweden's Foreign Ministry said on March 29 it will summon Russia's Stockholm ambassador to complain about an "attempt at interference" with the Swedish NATO application process. Sweden and Finland in 2022 both sought NATO membership shortly after Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and are hoping to complete the process this year. The Russian ambassador in a statement on the embassy's website said joining NATO made the Nordic countries "a legitimate target for Russian retaliatory measures, including those of a military nature." A Swedish Foreign Ministry spokesperson told Reuters the ambassador would be summoned. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Siberian Journalist Goes On Trial For Article Related To Ukraine War
The editor in chief of the Novy fokus (New Focus) online newspaper in the Siberian region of Khakasia, Mikhail Afanasyev, went on trial on March 29 charged with discrediting Russia's armed forces. Afanasyev was arrested in April 2022 after his newspaper reported about the refusal of local riot police officers to participate in Russia's ongoing invasion of Ukraine. Afanasyev was the first foreign recipient of the Swedish Magazine Publishers Association Award and was twice awarded with the Andrei Sakharov prize. If convicted, he may face up to 10 years in prison. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Siberia.Realities, click here.
Hungary Says 'Grievances' Hold Up Ratification Of Sweden's NATO Accession
Hungary is holding up Sweden's admission to NATO because of grievances over its criticism of Prime Minister Viktor Orban's policies, the Hungarian government spokesman said March 29. Bridging the gap will require effort on both sides, Zoltan Kovacs said. Sweden and Finland asked to join NATO last year following Russia's invasion of Ukraine. But the process has been held up by Hungary and Turkey. Swedish representatives "have been repeatedly keen to bash Hungary through diplomatic means, using their political influence to harm Hungarian interests", Kovacs said, referring to Swedish criticism over the erosion of the rule of law by Orban's government. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Azerbaijani PM Known For Criticism Of Iran Wounded In 'Terrorist Attack'
Azerbaijan's State Security Service (DTX) said on March 29 that lawmaker Fazil Mustafa was hospitalized with gunshot wounds to his shoulder and leg the previous evening after an unknown assailant opened fire at him near his home. DTX called the attack "a terrorist act," adding that Mustafa's life was not in danger. Mustafa is the only representative in parliament of the Boyuk Qurulus (Great Creativeness) party loyal to the government. Investigations into the attack are under way, DTX said. Mustafa is a sharp critic of neighboring Iran's policies toward Azerbaijan. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service, click here.
Hungary's Foreign Minister Holds Energy Talks With Russian Deputy PM
Hungary's foreign minister held telephone talks with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Novak about gas and oil shipments and nuclear cooperation, the Hungarian minister said late on March 28. In a statement, Peter Szijjarto said Novak reassured him that despite international sanctions, the Russian party would be able to do maintenance work on the Turkstream pipeline. "Hungary's gas supply will continue without any disruptions," the statement added. Under a 15-year deal signed in 2021, Hungary receives 4.5 billion cubic meters of gas per year from Russia mostly via Bulgaria and Serbia on the Turkstream pipeline. To read the full story by Reuters, click here.
Pakistan Says It Will Skip U.S. Democracy Summit
Pakistan announced on March 28 that it will not participate in this week's U.S.-led Summit for Democracy. The Biden administration has invited 120 global leaders to the summit being held in Washington on March 29-30. It will be co-hosted by the governments of Costa Rica, the Netherlands, South Korea, and Zambia. Pakistan's Foreign Ministry in a statement thanked the United States and its co-hosts for the invitation and said Pakistan would engage with the United States and co-hosts of the summit "to promote and strengthen democratic principles."
French Parliament Recognizes Ukrainian Famine As Genocide
The French parliament has voted to recognize as genocide the starvation of millions in Ukraine in the 1930s under Soviet leader Josef Stalin.
French deputies adopted the resolution on March 28 as the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine revives memories of the famine known in Ukraine as the Holodomor.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky hailed the decision on Twitter, thanking French legislators.
"The totalitarian regime of the Kremlin, past or present, could not destroy and will never destroy truth and justice!" he said.
Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba also thanked the French lawmakers.
"I am grateful to France for recognizing the 1932-33 Holodomor as a genocide of Ukrainians and for honoring the memory of the victims of Stalin and his regime," he said on Twitter.
"With this historic vote, [the French parliament] made it clear that such crimes will never be forgotten and must never be repeated."
Kyiv has urged the international community to declare the mass starvation a genocide.
The European Parliament did so in December and called on Russia, as the legal successor of the Soviet Union, to do the same and apologize. It also called on "all countries and international organizations" that have not yet recognized the Holodomor as genocide to do so.
The Ukrainian government and many scholars regard the Holodomor -- Ukrainian for "death by hunger" -- as an act of genocide by Stalin's regime.
The famine took place in 1932-33 as Stalin's police forced peasants in Ukraine to join collective farms by requisitioning their grain and other foodstuffs.
Historians say the failure to properly harvest crops in Ukraine in 1932 under Soviet mismanagement was the main cause of the famine.
It is estimated that up to 9 million people died as a result of executions, deportation, and starvation during the campaign.
Moscow has long denied any systematic effort to target Ukrainians, arguing a poor harvest at the time wiped out many in other parts of the Soviet Union.
The text adopted in Paris recognizes "the genocidal nature of the forced and planned famine by the Soviet authorities against the Ukrainian population in 1932 and 1933."
The French parliament condemned those acts and "affirms its support for the Ukrainian people in their aspiration to have the mass crimes committed against them by the Soviet regime recognized."
With reporting by AFP
UN Nuclear Chief Visits Zaporizhzhya As Zelenskiy Says 'World Must Act' To Protect Bakhmut
Ukrainian defenders repelled more waves of Russian assaults on Bakhmut, the military said on March 29, as President Volodymyr Zelenskiy warned that Kyiv cannot afford not to win the battle for the city in Donetsk region that has become the focal point of Russia's protracted offensive in the east.
"The enemy continued its assault on the city of Bakhmut," the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said in its daily report.
"However, our defenders have been courageously holding on to the city, repelling numerous enemy attacks," it said.
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Bakhmut, along with Avdiyivka, Mariynka, and Lyman, remain the main targets of Russia's relentless shelling, the Ukrainian military said, adding that a total of 57 enemy attacks were repelled over the past 24 hours in the area.
Russian troops also carried out 18 air strikes and three missile strikes, as well as 50 rocket salvoes along the whole front line over the previous day, the military said.
The information could not be independently verified.
Farther south, Russian forces kept shelling the Kherson region, the head of the regional military administration Oleksandr Prokudin said.
"Over the past day, the enemy has shelled the region 34 times -- three times the city of Kherson itself," Prokudin said on Telegram, adding that one person was wounded.
Residential buildings, a hospital, and a factory were among the Russian targets, Prokudin said.
In the eastern Kharkiv region, one man was killed and another was wounded by massive Russian shelling, local police reported.
Rafael Grossi, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN's nuclear watchdog, visited the Russian-held Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant on March 29, Ukraine's state-owned company Enerhoatom reported.
The visit was Grossi's second to Europe's largest nuclear power plant since the start of its occupation by Russian troops, Enerhoatom's press service said.
The visit was part of efforts to avert the risk of an accident at the nuclear plant. On March 27, Grossi met with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy during a working trip to the Zaporizhzhya region.
Meanwhile, Zelenskiy reaffirmed that Ukraine must hold on to Bakhmut at all costs, warning that a win by Russia there would be used by President Vladimir Putin as a stepping stone in garnering international support for a peace agreement that would force Ukraine to accept painful compromises.
Putin would "sell this victory to the West, to his society, to China, to Iran," Zelenskiy told the Associated Press in an interview published on March 29.
"If he will feel some blood -- smell that we are weak -- he will push, push, push," Zelenskiy said.
Ukrainian military commanders have said their own counteroffensive is not far off but in the meantime they seek to maintain control of Bakhmut.
The Ukrainian military announced on March 28 that it has recently received long-promised Western equipment, including German Leopard 2 tanks.
On March 28, Zelenskiy said in his evening video address that the world must act with more urgency to put a stop to Russia's aggression.
He said he believed the "Russian aggression can end much faster" than some have said. It will end faster "if the world is faster, if the world is more decisive," Zelenskiy said.
With reporting by Reuters and AFP
U.S. To Withhold Some Nuclear Data From Russia After Moscow's Treaty Suspension
The United States has told Russia it will withhold some data on its nuclear forces in response to Moscow's suspension of participation in the New START nuclear arms treaty. While Russia has not formally withdrawn from the treaty, which limits the two sides' deployed strategic nuclear arsenals, Russia's suspension, announced on February 21, imperils the arms control treaty. A White House spokesperson said that under international law the United States has the right to respond to Russia's breaches of the treaty "by taking proportionate and reversible countermeasures in order to induce Russia to return to compliance with its obligations." To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Iranian Activist Alinejad Says International Support Vital For Both Iran And West
Prominent activist Masih Alinejad says the West's continued support for Iranians is vital both for achieving regime change in Iran and reaching the goals Western nations have in their relationship with Tehran.
Speaking in an interview with RFE/RL's Radio Farda, Alinejad said she has tried to persuade leaders such as Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte that the months of unrest that have roiled Iran are an actual revolution that will ultimately lead to the toppling of the Islamic republic's government.
Alinejad said Iranians aren't looking for the West to replace the Islamic regime with democracy, but their support is key to the democratic aspirations of the Iranian people.
"This strategy also holds significant benefits for Western populations in the future. For example, Western governments have dedicated decades to securing a nuclear agreement with the Islamic republic, yet the Islamic republic has covertly advanced its nuclear activities," she added.
"To achieve an Iran without nuclear weapons, the West should assist the Iranian people in achieving an Iran without the Islamic republic."
Amid the unrest, Iranian opposition leaders and activists have begun to discuss the shape of Iran in the future.
In one recent discussion, a group of exiled opposition activists and celebrities met at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. to discuss the future of Iran's pro-democracy movement. The group pleaded for unity and an end to infighting to help replace Iran's theocratic system with a secular democracy.
Alinejad, who is a member of the newly formed Alliance for Democracy and Freedom in Iran, announced that the alliance's representatives will soon meet with members of the Canadian Parliament as well.
The group also includes the exiled former crown prince of Iran, Reza Pahlavi, the spokesman for the Association of Families of Flight PS752 Victims, Hamed Esmaeilion, and rights activist Nazanin Boniadi.
Alinejad spoke to Radio Farda amid nationwide protests in Iran sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini on September 16. The 22-year-old died while in custody after being arrested by the notorious "morality police" for allegedly improperly wearing a mandatory Islamic head scarf, or hijab.
Her death, which officials blamed on a heart attack, touched off a wave of anti-government protests in cities across the country. The authorities have responded to the unrest with a harsh crackdown that rights groups say has killed more than 500 people, including 71 children.
Officials, who have blamed the West for the demonstrations, have vowed to crack down even harder on protesters, with the judiciary leading the way after the unrest entered a fourth month.
The protests pose the biggest threat to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution.
Several thousand people have been arrested, including many protesters, as well as journalists, lawyers, activists, digital rights defenders, and others.
Anti-government protests over poor living conditions, low wages, and a lack of freedoms have also been taking place.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
- By RFE/RL
IOC To Decide Russian, Belarusian Participation In Paris Olympics 'At Appropriate Time'
The executive board of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on March 28 recommended allowing Russian and Belarusian athletes to take part in international competitions as neutral athletes, but said it will make a decision "at the appropriate time" on whether to allow them to compete at next year's Paris Olympics.
The executive board issued six recommendations in a statement after a meeting at IOC headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, saying that while they do not concern the participation of athletes from Russia and Belarus in the 2024 Paris Olympics, their implementation will be monitored.
"The IOC will take this decision at the appropriate time, at its full discretion," the IOC statement said.
Despite the ongoing war in Ukraine, the board said during nearly four months of consultations, it was clear that the "vast majority" of Olympic Movement stakeholders “want a pathway to be opened for the competitions under their sole authority," but they also requested recommendations should they decide to admit athletes from Russia or Belarus.
The executive board on March 28 said following this request, it issued six recommendations, saying that while they do not concern the participation of athletes from Russia and Belarus in the 2024 Paris Olympics, their implementation will be monitored.
The recommendations include allowing Russians and Belarusians to compete as individual neutral athletes and bars teams from the two countries. The board also recommended barring athletes who actively support the war and athletes who are "contracted to the Russian or Belarusian military."
The monitoring of the implementation of the recommendations "will be an important factor in the decision by the IOC concerning the participation of athletes with a Russian or Belarusian passport in the Olympic Games Paris 2024 and the Olympic Winter Games Milano Cortina 2026,” the executive board said.
IOC President Thomas Bach said after the meeting that the executive board wants to monitor the implementation of the recommendations "as long as possible...to be enabled to take an informed decision."
The board, he said, did not consider it appropriate to give a timeline, adding, "no one knows what's happening tomorrow or in nine months."
Poland slammed the IOC action, while Russia's Olympic Committee said the recommendations were unacceptable.
"What positive things has Russia done for their athletes to now take part in competitions!! After Bucha, Irpin, Hostomel!! After the daily bombings of civilian sites!! It's a day of shame for the IOC!!" Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Piotr Wawrzyk said on Twitter.
Stanislav Pozdnyakov, the head of Russia's Olympic Committee, was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying the IOC action is "discrimination on the basis of nationality."
Bach defended plans to allow Russian and Belarusian athletes back into competitions as neutrals, telling the board in his address at the start of the meeting that the method is employed "in a number of sports, most prominently in tennis but also in cycling," but also in ice hockey, handball, and soccer.
He said the method "works," adding, there been no "security incidents."
The IOC sanctioned Russia and Belarus after Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, and the executive board on March 28 reiterated its condemnation of the invasion.
Bach's support for allowing athletes from Russia and Belarus to compete as neutrals and thereby have a chance to qualify for the Paris 2024 Olympics has faced opposition, particularly from Ukraine, which has threatened to boycott the Paris Olympics should Russian and Belarusians be allowed to compete, even as neutrals.
More than 300 fencers on March 28 wrote to Bach to ask the IOC to reconsider allowing them back, calling it a "catastrophic error" should Russia and Belarus return.
"You have chosen Russian and Belarusian interests over the rights of athletes, notably Ukrainian athletes, and by doing so, you are failing to support the very people your organizations are meant to support," the letter said.
Bach said politics could not be a part of sports competitions, and the board said "the Olympic Games cannot prevent wars and conflicts. Nor can they address all the political and social challenges in our world. This is the realm of politics."
With reporting by Reuters and AFP
Montenegro's President: EU's Neglect Gave Russia A Platform
Montenegro's pro-Western president criticized the European Union for allegedly allowing Russia to spread its influence in the Western Balkans, saying the volatile region has become a "platform" for anti-EU policies due to the bloc's "negligence." President Milo Djukanovic spoke to the Associated Press as he prepares for an April 2 runoff election with a political newcomer who has the support of the Montenegrin government, which includes parties seeking closer relations with Serbia and Russia. "Russia has simply walked into an open space left by the European Union," Djukanovic said of the EU's position toward the Balkans. To read the original story by AP, click here.
Iranian IRGC Commander Warns Restive Province Of 'Red Lines'
A high-ranking commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) has warned protesters in the southeastern Iranian province of Sistan and Baluchistan against crossing the regime's "red lines" in anti-government rallies that have been taking place weekly after Friday Prayers.
According to the Tasnim news agency, which is affiliated with the IRGC, Mohammad Pakpor, the commander of the IRGC's ground forces, blamed the protests in the province on "malicious individuals and enemies" and warned that "if someone attempts to undermine the security of the people, they will face severe consequences." He gave no more details on what exactly would constitute a "red line" for the government.
The comments come at a time when religious leaders in Sistan and Baluchistan, particularly Molavi Abdolhamid, a spiritual leader for Iran’s Sunni Muslim population, have complained that the government's actions, including the violent dispersal of worshippers demonstrating in the region by security agents of the Islamic republic, as being a major factor adding to the feeling of insecurity among the general population.
Meanwhile, civil activists in Sistan and Baluchistan report that over the past six months of protests, particularly during the ongoing protests on Fridays in the city of Zahedan, "a significant number of citizens, including children under 18, have been arrested without justification and contrary to legal procedures."
Due to Internet disruptions in many areas of Sistan and Baluchistan and threats by security agencies to the families of protesters, there is limited accurate information available about the status of many detainees.
During the Bloody Friday massacre in Zahedan on September 30, 2022, almost 100 people were killed and hundreds injured by security forces amid unrest triggered by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini and the alleged rape of a 15-year-old girl by a local police commander.
In December, a leaked audio recording from the Iranian pro-regime Coalition Council of Islamic Revolution Forces appeared to show the secretary of the council admitting to the accidental killing of women and children during Bloody Friday.
Earlier, another leaked document from the Fars agency, published by the Black Reward hacking group, shows Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei telling security and military officials to try and disgrace Abdolhamid, who is a vocal critic of the government, instead of arresting him.
Anger over Amini's death while in police custody on September 16 has prompted thousands of Iranians to take to the streets nationwide to demand more freedoms and women's rights. The widespread unrest represents the biggest threat to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution.
Her death, which officials blamed on a heart attack, touched off a wave of anti-government protests in cities across the country. The authorities have responded to the unrest with a harsh crackdown that rights groups say has killed more than 500 people, including 71 children.
Sunni Muslims make up the majority of the population in Sistan-Baluchistan Province in southeastern Iran where Abdolhamid is based but make up only about 10 percent of the population in Shi'a-dominated Iran overall.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
IAEA Chief Grossi Says Deal To Protect Ukrainian Nuclear Plant 'Close'
A deal to protect Europe's largest nuclear power plant from a catastrophic accident due to fighting in Ukraine could be "close," said the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Grossi, but he warned that intensified combat in the area has increased risks to the Zaporizhzhya plant. In an interview with the Associated Press a day before he was to cross the front lines for a second time to visit the plant, Grossi said he felt it was his duty to ramp up talks aimed at safeguarding the facility. To read the original story by AP, click here.
Bulgaria Suspects Russian Role In Bomb Threats Closing Schools For Second Day
Dozens of Bulgarian schools were closed for a second day on March 28 following bomb threats with investigators saying they were looking into potential Russia-linked terror actions meant to disrupt the upcoming snap parliamentary elections scheduled for April 2.
Most of the schools targeted in the threats -- first made by e-mail and phone on March 27 -- were located in the capital, Sofia, and the Black Sea port cities of Varna and Burgas. The threats prompted the disruption of classes and the evacuation of students.
More threats were made on March 28, with Sofia's Economic University among the institutions targeted by the calls that appeared to be hoaxes after police teams searching for explosives failed to find any devices.
The Interior Ministry said it suspected Russia may be behind plans to disrupt the April vote, since most polling across Bulgaria will take place at schools, with Acting Interior Minister Ivan Demerdzhiev saying similarly worded threats had been sent to other European schools before.
"What is happening to us has been happening in many European countries recently," Demerdzhiev told the media on March 28 in the city of Malko Tarnovo in the Burgas region, adding that the ministry's investigation is taking into account a possible hybrid attack originating in Russia.
Demerdzhiev said EU and U.S. partner agencies were aiding Bulgaria in its effort to pinpoint the source of the threats.
EU and NATO member Bulgaria is among the countries that imposed sanctions on Russia following its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine and has since been regarded as a hostile country by the Kremlin.
Asked about how authorities will respond if bomb threats continue through election day on April 2, Demerdzhiev said, "The election process will only be interrupted if there is a credible threat."
Demerdzhiev said authorities plan to review the procedures that assess the seriousness of a threat before evacuating public institutions.
"Within days, a change in the protocol for action in such situations will be prepared. At this stage, we have no confirmed information about the original source of the bomb threats to Bulgarian schools," said Demerdzhiev.
The Sofia City Prosecutor's Office, meanwhile, said that it had opened an investigation into a potential act of terrorism.
Father Of Russian Sixth-Grader Who Drew Anti-War Picture Escapes House Arrest, Given Prison Term In Absentia
A man in Russia's western region of Tula whose daughter last year drew an anti-war picture at school has been sentenced to two years in prison in absentia on a charge of discrediting Russia's armed forces. The Yefremov district court said after pronouncing the sentence on March 28 that Aleksei Moskalyov had escaped house arrest. Moskalyov came to the attention of police after his daughter Maria, a sixth-grader, drew a picture in an art class in December calling for peace in Ukraine. The charges against him stemmed from a subsequent investigation into his own online posts that condemned Russia's invasion of Ukraine. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.
EU Official Calls On Kyrgyzstan To Prevent Russia From Evading Sanctions
BISHKEK -- David O'Sullivan, the European Union's special envoy for the implementation of sanctions, has called on Kyrgyzstan and other nations in Moscow's political and economic sphere to avoid assisting Moscow's attempts to evade sanctions imposed on Russia over its ongoing full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Talking to reporters in Bishkek on March 28, O'Sullivan questioned the final destination of many goods imported to Central Asian nations, as well as to Armenia, Georgia, Serbia, and the United Arab Emirates, after data showed a 300 percent increase of goods coming into the area from the EU in recent months.
"The transportation of goods previously exported to Russia from the European Union, but stopped after the sanctions, has increased," he said.
O'Sullivan pointed out that 770 items imported from the EU to other countries had been found in Russian military equipment and weapons used in its war against Ukraine, a clear sign that some nations were being used as transit points for goods to flow into Russia.
He added that he hopes to meet with top officials from Kyrgyzstan to discuss the exporting of goods from the Central Asian nation to other countries to prevent the products from making their way to Russia.
Kyrgyz Economy and Commerce Minister Daniyar Amangeldiev told RFE/RL that Kyrgyzstan's trade with other nations is being carried out in accordance with all laws and regulations, adding however, that Bishkek cannot guarantee no sanctioned goods are being exported to Russia.
Kyrgyzstan is one of Russia's active trading partners and a member of the Eurasian Economic Union, a trading bloc dominated by Russia that also includes Belarus, Armenia, and Kazakhstan. The grouping was conceived by Moscow as a counterweight to the European Union, though experts view it as being mainly a way for Moscow to exert economic leverage over the other countries.
Since the start of Russia's full-scale aggression against Ukraine, the EU and the United States have sanctioned thousands of entities and individuals, while the U.S. Commerce Department has imposed prohibitive controls on exports to Russia and its ally Belarus.
The United States said earlier this month that Russian companies have evaded the sanctions using intermediaries in China, Armenia, Turkey, Uzbekistan, and the United Arab Emirates.
In April last year, the deputy chief of the presidential office in Kazakhstan, Russia's largest trade partner in Central Asia, said his country will not help Russia evade Western sanctions, but added it will continue its economic ties with Russia within the Eurasian Economic Union, as "there is no way for our economy to do it differently."
Bosnian Serb Entity Says Controversial Draft Law Will Monitor NGOs' Financial Flows
A controversial draft law approved by the government of Republika Srpska that would require nonprofit organizations funded from abroad and active in Bosnia-Herzegovina's Serb entity to register and report on their work will require them to submit their "financial flows" to the Justice Ministry of Republika Srpska.
The draft law, approved by the Republika Srpska's executive on March 23, is now being debated by the entity's parliament -- the National Assembly. After a two-month period for public discussion, an adapted version of the law would then return to the National Assembly for approval.
The proposal has been sharply criticized by the United States and the European Union, with American officials calling it "repressive, anti-democratic legislation."
Justice Minister Milos Bukejlovic, however, justified the move, saying in a video message released on March 28 that the goal of the legislation is "to prevent the misuse of nonprofit organizations."
"There are organizations that use these funds through illegal financial flows for social destruction, destabilization, and eventual financing of terrorist organizations," Bukejlovic said.
If adopted, it would then be signed into law by the entity's president, Milorad Dodik, who has been backing the measure.
After approving the draft on March 23, the government issued a statement justifying the move as necessary to plug a hole in the current legislation that does not require the NGOs to exercise financial transparency.
It said this gap in regulation creates a situation that could lead to "the collapse of the legal system and constitutional framework of [Republika Srpska], while harmful consequences are caused for the institutions and organizations of [Republika Srpska]."
Dodik, who has been blacklisted by the United States and Britain in multiple rounds of sanctions over alleged destabilization efforts and corruption, has claimed the draft law is based on the U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).
A similar foreign agents law in Russia has proved controversial and has been used to disrupt the work of media organizations, including RFE/RL.
Russia also claimed its law was in response to FARA.
U.S. officials have argued that Russia uses its foreign agents law to silence dissent and discourage the free exchange of ideas and have said there is there "no equivalence" between FARA and Russia’s foreign agents law.
"[The law], if implemented, would drastically impinge on the rights and freedoms of the people living in the Republika Srpska. This legislation would benefit only the ruling coalition in its effort to consolidate power. It will hurt everyone else," the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo said on March 10.
Civil society organizations in Republika Srpska say the proposed foreign agents law has more in common with the Russian law than with the U.S. FARA. They also said is about "establishing supervision and total control over the work of civil society."
The EU delegation in Bosnia has said in a statement that the move is "regrettable, as it further limits the work of civil society organizations, and thus the realization of freedom of association and assembly."
In a statement released on March 27, the delegation also voiced its hope that Republika Srpska authorities will withdraw proposed laws on introducing criminal sanctions for defamation and controlling nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).
As per the electronic register of associations and foundations in Bosnia-Herzegovina, there are currently around 25,600 nongovernmental organizations. More than 7,500 of these are registered in Republika Srpska. However, there is no data on how many of them are funded from abroad.
'Don't Go To The Enlistment Office': Wave Of Military Summonses Raises Fears Of Another Russian Mobilization Drive2
Zelenskiy Makes Surprise Trip To Zaporizhzhya, Meets IAEA Chief3
As Fighting Rages On At The Front, Thousands Join Ukraine's Offensive Guard4
Graveyard War: Why Prigozhin Is Picking A Fight Over Burials And What It Means For His Own Future5
Amnesty Report Says 'Hypocrisy' Of Western States Laid Bare By Russia's Invasion of Ukraine6
Fighting Rages Around Bakhmut As West Assails Kremlin Plan To Place Nukes In Belarus7
Ukraine Says No Letup On Bakhmut Front Despite Claims Russian Offensive Stalling8
Sky Hunters: Ukrainian Border Guards Gun Down Iranian-Made Drones9
Outrage In Serbia After Chinese Construction Company Destroys War Monument10
Russian Lawmaker Calls For Ban On ICC Activity In Russia