- By Andrew Tully
Obama Orders 30,000 More Troops To Afghanistan, Plots Exit
U.S. President Barack Obama has announced that he's committing a large number of fresh troops to the war in Afghanistan and outlined an exit strategy under which Americans will begin leaving the country in 18 months.
In a widely awaited speech to cadets and faculty at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York, Obama said he was acting in the United States' "vital national interest" following the Al-Qaeda attacks of September 11, 2001.
"I do not make this decision lightly," Obama said. "I make this decision because I am convinced that our security is at stake in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is the epicenter of the violent extremism practiced by Al-Qaeda; it is from here that we were attacked on 9/11, and it is from here that new attacks are being plotted as I speak."
Obama's administration has been mulling the future course of U.S. military activity in Afghanistan under pressure from both sides of the political spectrum, with a majority of Americans reportedly reluctant to face an escalation in the eight-year-old war.
Obama warned that in the past few months, extremists from the Afghan-Pakistani border region who had planned acts of terror against Americans have been arrested in the United States.
He said such threats will only grow if the United States fails to take firm action to eliminate Al-Qaeda's leadership and prevent the Taliban from regaining power in Afghanistan.
The United States launched its Afghan effort just one month after the devastating attacks that killed more than 3,000 people and were blamed on Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network.
Obama said that U.S. troop strength in Afghanistan will increase to about 100,000 in the spring of 2010 and that the number of NATO forces there will rise from the current 40,000 to 45,000 or even 50,000.
It was not immediately clear whether U.S. allies in the Afghan campaign were prepared to commit thousands more troops.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy welcomed his U.S. counterpart's speech as "courageous, determined, and lucid," but stopped short of saying his country would follow suit, according to Reuters. Sarkozy, who days ago rejected the idea of more French troops, said Obama had given "new impetus to the international commitment and open[ed] new prospects."
Obama said U.S. forces would begin their withdrawal in July 2011.
Afghans will increasingly be expected to shoulder the burden of ensuring Afghan security, Obama added.
These additional American and international troops will allow us to accelerate handing over responsibility to Afghan forces and allow us to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011," Obama said. "Just as we have done in Iraq, we will execute this transition responsibly, taking into account conditions on the ground."
He added: "We'll continue to advise and assist Afghanistan's security forces to ensure that they can succeed over the long haul. But it will be clear to the Afghan government -- and, more importantly, to the Afghan people -- that they will ultimately be responsible for their own country."
WATCH: RFE/RL Radio Free Afghanistan Director Akbar Ayazi talks about reservations among Afghans toward Obama's new AfPak strategy:
Relations between Kabul and Washington have been strained over perceptions of corruption and poor governance under Hamid Karzai, who has been Afghanistan's dominant leader since taking over under a UN-backed scheme after the fundamentalist Taliban regime was ousted.
While Obama made clear he expects more from the Afghan president, he expressed solidarity with the Afghan people.
Obama said Afghanistan should be allowed to live in peace after decades of war, beginning with the Soviet invasion of 1979, followed by civil war in the 1980s and the intrusion of Al-Qaeda in the 1990s.
"We have no interest in occupying your country," Obama said in comments directed at Afghan's 28 million people. "We will support efforts by the Afghan government to open the door to those Taliban who abandon violence and respect the human rights of their fellow citizens. And we will seek a partnership with Afghanistan grounded in mutual respect -- to isolate those who destroy; to strengthen those who build; to hasten the day when our troops will leave; and to forge a lasting friendship in which America is your partner, and never your patron."
Obama also stressed the importance of Afghanistan's nuclear-armed neighbor, Pakistan, in stabilizing Afghanistan. He acknowledged that U.S. policy on Pakistan had been defined "narrowly" and would now change.
"We [NATO countries] are committed to a partnership with Pakistan that is built on a foundation of mutual interest, mutual respect, and mutual trust," Obama said. "We will strengthen Pakistan's capacity to target those groups that threaten our countries, and have made it clear that we cannot tolerate a safe haven for terrorists whose location is known, and whose intentions are clear."
He added that the United States was "also providing substantial resources to support Pakistan's democracy and development" and described his country as "the largest international supporter for those Pakistanis displaced by the fighting."
From now on, Obama said, the United States will be a strong backer of Pakistan, both economically and militarily, long after the Afghan war is over.
Mindful that he has many American critics of his policy, both on the right and the left, Obama spoke against the argument that Afghanistan is nothing but a 21st-century version of the Vietnam War, which is probably the worst chapter in U.S. military history.
Recent polls, however, show a little more than half of Americans surveyed disapprove of Obama's handling of Afghanistan, while only about one-third approve. In that light, the president said it's become difficult to remember that when the Afghan war began, Americans were united in their approval of going after Al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
Obama said he believed Americans can find that unity again, as they have in the past.
Still, the president's Afghan policy faces opposition from both the right and the left sides of the political spectrum.
Michael Rubin, who studies the Islamic world at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative policy-research center in Washington, told RFE/RL's Radio Farda that he's encouraged that Obama is willing to send more troops into Afghanistan.
But he expressed concern at the announcement that U.S. forces would leave "by 2011."
"President Obama...may think that this is the proper thing to say, but if the United States is going to withdraw from Afghanistan, then all the neighboring states are going to assume that they should start preparing to fill the vacuum," Rubin said. "So rather than bring stability to Afghanistan, I'm afraid the strategy will be counterproductive."
Marina Ottaway of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, another Washington think tank, countered that she agreed to some extent with Obama's rejection of Afghanistan as an analogue of Vietnam. She added that one point was unassailable: More troops can't guarantee success in a country as tribal as Afghanistan.
Ottaway added that if Obama had decided to end Afghan operations immediately, he would have faced a full-throated denunciation from Republicans in Congress.
Criticism from Obama's fellow Democrats seeking an early exit, she said, might be mild in comparison and easier to weather.
"I think he has made as strong a case as possible for why we have to continue the war," Ottaway said. "I think he's not going to be able to remove the doubt whether or not this is a war that we can win, and therefore it is worthwhile to send in even more troops. I think that doubt is going to remain. So I don't think he has changed the minds of too many people -- also because, I think, everybody has made up their mind in advance."
Norway Says Beluga Whale With Apparent Russian-Made Harness Swims South To Sweden
Norwegian authorities say a beluga whale, which was first spotted in Arctic Norway four years ago with an apparent Russian-made harness and alleged to have come from a Russian military facility, has been seen off Sweden's coast nearly 2,000 kilometers to the south. "During the last few weeks, it has moved quickly and swam several hundred kilometers" before reaching waters off Sweden's west coast, Olav Lekve of the Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries said. Whale-watchers in Norway have nicknamed it Hvaldimir, combining the Norwegian word for whale -- hval -- and the Russian first name Vladimir. To read the original story by AP, click here.
Bulgaria's Top Court Rejects Russian's Asylum Request
Bulgaria's Supreme Court has rejected a request for political asylum by 27-year-old Russian Aleksandr Stotsky, who fled Russia immediately after the start of Moscow's invasion of Ukraine. Stotsky, a supporter of imprisoned Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny, requested political asylum, arguing that he risked being sent to fight in Ukraine upon returning to Russia. He staged an anti-war protest outside Russia's Embassy in Sofia. Stotsky's asylum request was rejected by Bulgaria's authority for refugees and a Sofia court, which ruled he was in no danger if he returned to his homeland. Stotsky is set to appeal the Supreme Court ruling. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Bulgarian Service, click here.
More Than 150 Tajik Migrant Workers Detained By Moscow Police, Sources Say
More than 150 Tajik migrants workers have been detained by Moscow police, several of the laborers told RFE/RL, saying they were being held in the courtyard of a police station.
The men said they were woken up by police in the early morning on May 30 before being taken “in four buses” to the Mitino district police headquarters. Police gave no reason for their arrest, the men said.
“We are now at the police station...The officers didn’t tell us why we’re taken here,” a Tajik worker told RFE/RL by phone on condition of anonymity.
Contacted by RFE/RL, Tajikistan’s embassy in Moscow confirmed it is aware of the incident and trying to clarify the situation.
There have been no immediate public comments or statements from either Russian police or Tajik officials.
The workers said they temporarily live in converted railway cars near the construction site where they work in the Mitino district.
There have been several reports of Tajik immigrants being rounded up or beaten in recent days by police in Russia, a top destination for hundreds of thousands of migrant workers from Tajikistan.
Dozens of Tajik men were rounded up by police in two separate arrests in Moscow’s Mozhaysky district and the town of Kotelniki in Moscow Province last week.
Russian media reported that in at least one incident police had responded to calls from local residents. The residents allegedly complained that a group of Tajik men forced local school children to leave a neighborhood stadium so they could play soccer there themselves.
On May 24, Tajikistan’s Foreign Ministry summoned the Russian ambassador to Dushanbe, Semyon Grigoryev, over reports that some 100 Tajik students were detained and beaten by police in Russia's Far Eastern city of Komsomolsk-on-Amur.
According to the students, they were severely beaten by security officers who raided a dormitory housing Tajik students on May 19.
Lithuania Calls For Extra NATO Forces On Border
Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda is urging a stronger NATO presence on the alliance's eastern flank as Russia's war on Ukraine continues. "This is a front line that needs to be very strong. We need air and missile defense and a greater presence of allied forces in the region," Nauseda said on May 30 after a meeting with German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier in Vilnius. "Germany's long-term commitment to Lithuania's security is indispensable for NATO's entire eastern flank," he said. Currently, 760 German soldiers belong to a NATO combat unit in Lithuania led by Germany.
Pushkin Statue Removed From Latvian Park
Authorities in Latvia's capital, Riga, have moved a statue of 19th-century Russian poet Aleksandr Pushkin from a downtown park to a warehouse, local media reported on May 30. The statue is to be transferred to a local art museum, reports said. The statue, made by Russian sculptor Aleksandr Tartynov, was erected in 2009 as a gift from the city of Moscow. However, Latvian authorities never gave official approval for the statue to be placed in Riga's Kronvalda Park. In August, authorities demolished a monument in Riga dedicated to the Red Army. In October, two monuments to Soviet soldiers were dismantled in the city of Daugavpils. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.
Russian Director, Writer Held In Detention Over Play
A Moscow court on May 30 rejected requests by theater director Yevgenia Berkovich and playwright Svetlana Petriichuk have their pretrial detention changed to a different form of restraint such as house arrest. No reason for the decision was given and the two will remain in detention until at least July 4 on suspicion of justification of terrorism over the production of the play Finist -- The Brave Falcon. The play, written by Petriichuk, is about Russian women who married Muslim men and moved to Syria. Berkovich was the director of the production that sparked the charges. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.
A Moscow court on May 30 rejected a request by theater director Yevgenia Berkovich to have her pretrial detention changed to a different form of restraint such as house arrest. No reason for the decision was given and Berkovich will remain in detention until at least July 4 on suspicion of justifying terrorism for her production of the play Finist -- The Brave Falcon. The production is about Russian women who married Muslim men and moved to Syria. Berkovich has pleaded not guilty. The author of the play, Svetlana Petriichuk, has also been detained. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.
Thousands Of Striking Romanian Teachers March In Bucharest For Higher Pay, More Investment
Tens of thousands of striking Romanian primary and secondary school teachers marched to the government building in downtown Bucharest on May 30, calling for better pay, more investment in education, and a reform of the country's education system. Union organizers have estimated that 15,000-20,000 teachers are attending the protest march, which will then head toward Cotroceni Palace to call for a meeting of their representatives with President Klaus Iohannis. Union leaders have rejected the government's compromise offers during several rounds of negotiations since the strike started on May 22. Health-care employees and railway workers have also signaled that they are preparing to go on strike. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Romanian Service, click here.
Russian Drone Attack Damages High-Rise Apartment Building In Kyiv
At least one person was killed, several wounded, as Russia launched a fresh wave of drone attacks on Kyiv in the pre-dawn hours of May 30. According to authorities, 29 out of 31 Iranian-made drones were shot down by air defenses; however, falling debris caused fires in several districts of the Ukrainian capital, including a high-rise apartment block. Its upper floors were decimated, windows shattered throughout, and parked cars damaged below.
Japarov Says Former Kyrgyz Leader Bakiev To Be Arrested If He Returns
Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov says the government has no plans to invite former President Kurmanbek Bakiev to the country, but if he does try to come back he will be arrested given there is an outstanding criminal case against him.
Speaking in an interview with the state news agency Kabar on May 30, Japarov said a court sentence handed to Bakiev was still in effect and there was currently no legal basis to annul it.
“There is a decision by the court. He was sentenced to 30 years. That decision is still in force today. If he comes, of course, he will be arrested. We all must learn to live under the law,” Japarov said.
Bakiev, 73, fled Kyrgyzstan for Belarus with members of his family following anti-government protests in 2010. A Bishkek court sentenced him in absentia to life in prison after convicting him of involvement in the killing of almost 100 protesters during the uprising.
In Kyrgyzstan, many people see their former leaders as stained by corruption and, in some cases, with blood on their hands.
Japarov has moved recently to try and reconcile differences over the former leaders, including holding an unprecedented summit in February that saw all five of the country’s previous presidents since Kyrgyzstan regained independence 31 years ago meet with the current head of state in a bid to foster forgiveness and unity.
The summit has raised speculation that Japarov is looking to allow former leaders the freedom to return without facing legal consequences.
But inside the Central Asian nation, Bakiev, Kyrgyzstan’s second president, remains arguably the biggest pariah.
Japarov said in the interview with Karab that he feels the sentence should be annulled, but that’s not a decision he can make at the moment.
“I want to cancel the court's decisions. But I have no right either. I only have the right to grant or refuse clemency if Kurmanbek Bakiyev asks for mercy.,” Japarov said.
“I have to make a decision whether to grant it or not, taking into account the opinion of the people who suffered in 2010," he added.
Pro-Imran Khan Pakistani TV Journalist Returns Home After Being Freed
A prominent Pakistani television journalist who went missing last week, apparently because of his public support for former Prime Minister Imran Khan, returned home early on May 30 after being released by his captors, his family and his employer said. Sami Abrahim’s brother, Ali Raza, took to Twitter to confirm his release. BOL TV confirmed his release in a news announcement. Abrahim went missing last week when eight people in four vehicles intercepted his car on his way back home from work in the capital, Islamabad, and took him away, according to his family and BOL TV where Abrahim works.
Ethnic Serbs Gather In Northern Kosovo Amid Flurry Of Diplomatic Efforts To Calm Tensions
PRISTINA -- Ethnic Serbs continued to gather in front of town halls in northern Kosovo following a day of violence that led to the intervention of KFOR forces, resulting in dozens of injuries among troops and protesters as EU officials scrambled to bring leaders of Serbia and Kosovo together to find a way out of the situation.
On May 30, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell urged Kosovar authorities and ethnic Serb protesters to "immediately de-escalate" tensions in Kosovo's north, while sources told RFE/RL that the special representative of the European Union for dialogue, Miroslav Lajcak, was trying to organize a meeting between Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and the prime minister of Kosovo, Albin Kurti.
The sources cautioned, however, that it appears unlikely either side is ready to meet or hold talks, making Lajcak's chances of success minimal.
Vucic asked the leader of the Quint group -- an informal decision-making group comprising Germany, Britain, France, the United States, and Italy that focuses on major international issues -- to urge Pristina to guarantee the safety of Serbs in Kosovo.
Both Vucic and Kurti were supposed to travel to Bratislava for a global security conference, but neither now appears likely to attend as they deal with the crisis.
While diplomatic efforts buzzed behind the scenes, Kosovo police said that the situation in the ethnic Serb majority towns of Zvecan, Leposaviq, and Zubin Potok was calm as protests continued.
"We recorded no incidents. The police are performing their duties according to the commitments they have," Veton Elshani from the Kosovo Police told RFE/RL.
On May 2, NATO-led KFOR troops dispersed ethnic Serb demonstrators who had ignored warnings to move away from the municipal headquarters in Zvecan as violent clashes broke out in the standoff between majority local Serbs and ethnic Albanian authorities, leading to dozens of injuries among troops and protesters.
Some 30 members of the KFOR forces-- 11 soldiers from the Italian contingent and 19 from the Hungarian contingent -- were injured during the "containment of protesting demonstrators," KFOR said in a statement.
"To avoid the clashes between the parties and to minimize the risk of the escalation, KFOR peacekeepers prevented threats to the lives of Kosovo Serbs and Kosovo Albanians. Both parties need to take full responsibility for what happened and prevent any further escalation, rather than hide behind false narratives," the KFOR mission commander, Major General Angelo Michele Ristuccia, said in the statement.
Zvecan, a town of some 16,500 people, is one of three hot spots in northern Kosovo where authorities from Pristina have attempted to install ethnic Albanian mayors following boycotted elections that raised the ire of the local ethnic Serb communities and neighboring Serbia.
The mayors were all sworn in despite a turnout of under 3.5 percent in the April 23 by-elections in those four areas amid a Serbian boycott.
Crowds of several hundred people had gathered outside municipal headquarters in Zvecan, Leposavic, and Zubin Potok, with alarm sirens sounding and pepper spray and bottles flying, as local and international pressure mounted for Kosovar officials to de-escalate the situation.
KFOR soldiers, wearing full riot gear, have put a metal barrier around the municipal building in Zvecan, and are attempting to maintain cordons to keep the two sides apart in the three municipalities and to prevent the crowds from overrunning the buildings where so-called “parallel” administrations backed by neighboring Serbia operate.
Charles Kupchan, a member of the American Council on Foreign Affairs and professor at Georgetown University, told RFE/RL on May 30 that the government of Kosovo should withdraw from efforts to appoint Albanian mayors in municipalities with a Serbian majority in the north as such moves "are useless and counterproductive in the long run."
"We need to see the government of Serbia and the government of Kosovo sit down together and try to work out the details of the agreement [on the normalization of relations]. Self-governance for the Serbian community seems to be one of the main obstacles. I think what is happening in the north now is a distraction from this important step of the agreement," he said.
With reporting by AFP, dpa, and AP
Russia Launches New Deadly Air Strikes On Kyiv; Drones Hit Moscow Buildings
Russia launched a fresh wave of drone strikes on Kyiv on May 30 -- the fourth attack in three days -- killing at least one person and wounding several others, but Ukrainian authorities said most of the drones were shot down by the capital's air defenses, while Moscow was subjected to a rare drone attack that damaged several buildings.
Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine
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The mayor of Kyiv, Vitali Klitschko, said on Telegram that fires broke out in several districts of the capital, and falling debris set a high-rise building on fire in Kyiv's Holosiyivskiy district.
"One person died. In total, four victims were hospitalized in the Holosiyivskiy district. Medics provided help on the spot," Klitschko wrote, adding that 20 people were evacuated.
The acting head of Ukraine's National Police, Ivan Vyhivskiy, said on Telegram that 13 people were wounded in the attack on Kyiv and its surroundings in addition to the person who died -- a young woman.
"Nine people were wounded in Kyiv, and a 33-year-old woman died. Four citizens were injured in the Kyiv region," the press service of the National Police quoted Vyhivskiy as saying.
The Ukrainian military said the attack solely consisted of Iranian-made drones and it lasted from shortly before midnight until 4:30 a.m. local time.
"A total of 31 kamikaze drones attacked from the north and south. The air defense forces destroyed 29 drones," the military said.
Almost all drones were shot down on the outskirts of Kyiv and above the capital.
Bolstered by sophisticated Western-supplied equipment, Ukrainian air defenses have been adept at thwarting Russian air attacks -- both drones and aircraft missiles.
Russia has intensified missile and drone strikes on Ukraine after a lull of nearly two months, targeting military facilities and supplies with waves of attacks several times a week.
The capital's military administration said only Iranian-made drones were involved in the May 30 attack -- the 17th on Kyiv this month.
Meanwhile, Russia's Defense Ministry said eight drones were shot down or jammed in Moscow in what it said was a "terrorist attack" by the "Kyiv regime." Baza's Telegram channel said more than 25 drones had been involved in the attack.
The reports could not be independently verified.
"Several buildings suffered minor damage" in the attack, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said on Telegram. "No one has been seriously wounded."
An emergency services representative told RIA Novosti that drones hit two residential buildings in Moscow. The information could not be independently verified.
Russia's Investigative Committee said no one was wounded.
Russian President Vladimir Putin came to the Kremlin later and was briefed on the attack, spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhaylo Podolyak told the Breakfast Show YouTube channel on May 30 that the country had nothing to do with the drone attack.
"Of course we are pleased to watch and predict an increase in the number of attacks. But, of course, we have nothing directly to do with this," he said. Ukraine has denied similar attacks in the past.
The European Union condemned the attacks on Kyiv, with EU spokesman Peter Stano saying that such actions "indiscriminately terrorize" Ukrainian civilians.
"In the last 24 hours, Kyiv endured three waves of Russian missile and drone attacks. These attacks shows that Putin is not serious about stopping his war and he wants to continue his escalation against the Ukrainian people," Stano said on Twitter.
The latest attack on Kyiv came a day after Russian forces carried out rare daytime air strikes on the Ukrainian capital on May 29.
Eyewitnesses said they heard at least 10 explosions in Kyiv, as the sky above the city filled with blast clouds and smoke trails.
The city's military administration said that air defenses shot down all 11 Iskander missiles launched in the daytime attack. The claim could not be independently verified.
Speaking to RFE/RL near a subway station in Kyiv's Podil district, several locals said air raids had become the reality of their everyday lives since the war began.
"These attacks are yet another problem we have to deal with because of this war," pensioner Ivan Chihir said.
With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and AP
Drone Attack Causes 'Minor Damage' In Moscow, Says Mayor
A drone attack took place in Moscow on the morning of May 30, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said on his Telegram channel. As a result of the attack, "several buildings suffered minor damage," Sobyanin said. "At the moment, no one has been seriously wounded," Sobyanin added. Telegram channels report that more than ten drones were shot down in the Moscow region on the morning of May 30. An emergency services representative told RIA Novosti that drones hit two residential buildings in Moscow. According to him, there were no casualties. The information could not be independently verified. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.
Belarus Has No Immediate Plans To Adopt Russian Currency, Lukashenka Says
Belarus and Russia have no plans to adopt a joint currency in the near future, Belarus's strongman leader announced on May 29. Alyaksandr Lukashenka, speaking at a meeting with the head of Russia's central bank, said that introducing the Russian ruble in Belarus would not be "an easy process," and that the authorities in Minsk had no intentions so far of doing so. "When it comes to creating a single currency and so on, this is not an easy process and, probably, not [one] for today," Lukashenka said during talks with Bank of Russia chief Elvira Nabiullina. To read the original story by AP, click here.
Zelenskiy Pays Tribute To Americans Who Fought For Ukraine In Memorial Day Message
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on May 29 thanked U.S. citizens who have fought for Kyiv following Russia's full-scale invasion of February 2022. Speaking in English in a video address marking the U.S. Memorial Day holiday, Zelenskiy said it was important to remember the price paid by many to "give light to freedom." "We Ukrainians will always be grateful to the U.S. and every American for extraordinary support which helps us [fight] Russian tyranny." An unknown number of Americans have volunteered along with other foreign nationals to fight alongside Ukrainian soldiers. Casualty figures are not known.
Kosovo Ex-President Thaci, On Trial For War Crimes, Allowed To Visit Sick Mother
Former Kosovar President Hashim Thaci, who is on trial in The Hague on 10 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, was in Kosovo on May 29 to visit his sick mother, the court said. The Kosovo Specialist Chambers said that "due to compelling humanitarian grounds...the Trial Panel has instructed the Registry to manage a custodial visit to Kosovo for Hashim Thaci to meet family." Thaci remained in the custody of the Specialist Chambers, it added. Local media reported that Thaci, 55, who has been in custody since November 2020, was in the village of Buroje at his mother's house. To read the original story by AP, click here.
Ukrainian Lawmakers Approve Sanctions On Iran For 50 Years
Ukrainian lawmakers on May 29 approved a bill proposed by President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to impose sanctions on Iran for 50 years. The sanctions, among other restrictions, include a complete ban on trade with Iran, investments, and transferring technologies. The restrictions also forbid Iranian transit across Ukrainian territory as well as the use of its airspace and prevents the withdrawal of Iranian assets from Ukraine. The bill has already been approved by the National Security and Defense Council. Kyiv has accused Tehran of providing Moscow with military drones for use in Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which Iran has vehemently denied. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.
Iran Wants To Upgrade Syria's Air Defense
Iran wants to boost Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's military by upgrading the country's air-defense system, the Fars news agency reported on May 29. In an interview with the news agency, Iranian General Said Hamzah Kalandari said that although Syria had its air-defense capabilities, the "Syrian brothers" will be supported with equipment and tactical upgrades. The general, who is active in the Defense Ministry, said the aim was to contain Israeli attacks. Along with Russia, Iran is Assad's most important ally. Iran has been expanding its political and military relations in the region since the 1990s.
House Arrest Of Orthodox Metropolitan Pavlo Extended In Kyiv
A court in Kyiv on May 29 extended until at least July 1 the pretrial house arrest of Metropolitan Pavlo of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC), a former abbot at the famed Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra monastery. Pavlo, who is accused of inciting religious enmity and denying Russia's ongoing invasion of Ukraine, was sent to house arrest for at least two months on April 1 after Ukraine's Security Service searched his residence. Although the UOC officially cut its traditional ties with the Russian Orthodox patriarch in Moscow, it has been accused of maintaining links to Russia. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.
Ukrainian Lawmakers Move Victory Day From May 9 To May 8
In another move to distance their country from Russia, Ukrainian lawmakers on May 29 approved a bill proposed by President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to set May 8 as the Day of Remembrance and Victory over Nazism in World War II, instead of the Soviet-inherited celebrations of Victory Day on May 9. Most European countries celebrate Victory in Europe Day on May 8 to mark the anniversary of Nazi Germany's defeat in 1945. May 9 will be a working day in Ukraine but marked as the Day of Europe. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.
- By Reuters
Poland Puts Sanctions On 365 Belarusians Over Journalist's Jailing
Poland has imposed sanctions on a further 365 Belarusian citizens over the imprisonment of a journalist of Polish origin in Belarus, the Interior Ministry said on May 29, amid rising tensions between Warsaw and Minsk. Poland has been an important refuge for opponents of authoritarian Belarusian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka. On May 26, a Belarusian court upheld an earlier decision to sentence journalist Andrzej Poczobut to eight years in prison. Poczobut was jailed on charges of encouraging actions aimed at harming the national security of Belarus, trying to rehabilitate Nazism, and inciting ethnic hostility. Poland says the charges are unjust and politically motivated. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Iranian Women Reveal Degrading Tactics Employed By Security Authorities
Several female Iranian activists are following the lead of women's rights leader Mojgan Keshavarz by speaking out about degrading and dehumanizing methods -- including sexual harassment -- being employed by staff at the country's prisons.
Keshavarz revealed on social media on May 28 that she had been forced to undress completely after being arrested in 2019 and forced to spread her legs and sit and stand at the direction of guards under the pretense of ensuring she had not concealed a mobile phone inside her body. During the ordeal, she said she was photographed.
Keshavarz's narrative was echoed soon afterward on social media by other women who said they had been subjected to similar acts.
Zeynab Zaman, a civil activist who was recently detained, disclosed that she was forced to completely undress twice -- once at the detention center and once at the court -- to supposedly ensure she wasn't smuggling anything.
"The most ridiculous, illogical, and stupid reason for normalizing the suffering of others, is to say that it is the same everywhere! Wherever suffering is imposed on a human being, it's wrong, it's inhumane, it's filthy, it's a crime," she wrote of her experience.
Several political and civil prisoners have repeatedly reported inhumane and illegal behavior toward prisoners in Iran and have called for institutions and international organizations to devote attention to the situation in Iranian prisons.
The number of females detained in Iran has grown since the death of Mahsa Amini in September while in police custody for an alleged head scarf offense.
Women have been at the forefront of the unrest that Amini's death unlocked in Iran, posing one of the biggest challenges to authorities since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Gender equality activist Nasibeh Shamsaei described similar experiences, saying security officials forced her to undress at a time when she was menstruating, describing the tactics as "humiliation" and "psychological torture."
Prominent Iranian actress Mahnaz Afshar said the tactics are not new.
Afshar said that several years ago, she was summoned to an intelligence office following the release of a video featuring a "naked" girl, falsely identified as her. A female agent at the office forced Afshar to strip completely for photographs to prove it wasn't her. Afshar described the ordeal as a "violation of my spirit and psyche."
She added that she fears others will be like her, hiding the experience while feeling "shame" and being gripped by the fear that the pictures of her would be misused.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
Families Of Executed Iranian Protesters Say The Government Continues To Pressure Them
The family of executed protester Majid Kazemi says Iranian authorities have launched a campaign against it, suspending Kazemi's father's retirement benefits and firing his sister from her job just 10 days after his death sentence was carried out.
Mohammad Hashemi, Kazemi's cousin, also revealed on Twitter on May 29 that Kazemi's brothers, Mehdi and Hossein, remain in the custody of the Islamic republic's security institutions after speaking out and pleading for a stay of the death penalty prior to his May 19 execution.
According to a correspondent for RFE/RL’s Radio Farda, Amir Kazemi, another cousin of Majid, confirmed that the family remains in the dark about the whereabouts and condition of Majid's brothers. Amir Kazemi suggested that the arrest of these family members -- his sister was also detained but later released -- was an attempt to prevent a memorial service for Majid Kazemi.
Following the execution of Kazemi and two other young protesters, the government has ratcheted up pressure on their families. The executions sparked widespread public outrage, with rights groups and several governments criticizing the authorities for conducting hasty trials, forcing "confessions," and denying the accused due process.
Majid Kazemi, Saleh Mirehashemi, and Saeed Yaqoubi were arrested for the alleged killing of two Basij paramilitary force members and a law enforcement officer during protests in November 2022.
However, based on a picture of the court verdict made public by the defendants' families, the death sentences for the three were not issued for murder, but instead for "waging war against God," a crime often applied to political dissidents.
The Basij members died at the height of widespread protests ignited by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in September 2022 while she was in police custody for allegedly breaking rules concerning the Islamic head scarf, known as a hijab. All three said they were innocent of the charges and were being made scapegoats for the deaths.
Saleh Mirehashemi's mother released an audio file on social media three days after the executions saying her husband had been handcuffed by government forces and prevented from holding a ceremony honoring their son. Videos have also emerged showing security forces stationed around Saeed Yaqoubi's house in recent nights.
Authorities warned for months after unrest broke out following Amini's death that they would react harshly to any dissent. Lawmakers have pushed the judiciary to render the death penalty in trials for those arrested during the protests, which are seen as one of the biggest threats to the Islamic leadership since it took power in 1979.
So far, Iranian authorities have followed through with their threats by executing at least seven protesters, including the three on May 19.
Human rights activists say authorities in Iran are using the executions to try to instill fear in society rather than to combat crime.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
Navalny Group's YouTube Anchor Says Barred From Entering Turkey
Irina Alleman, an anchor of the Popular Politics YouTube Channel of jailed Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny's team, was refused entry to Turkey. Alleman said on Telegram on May 29 that her trip to Turkey to cover the runoff presidential poll did not take place, as Turkish border guards informed her at the airport in Istanbul on May 25 that she had been barred from entering the country for five years due to "national security" issues. It remains unclear what prompted the decision. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.
Toqaev 'Appreciates' Lukashenka's 'Joke' Proposal For Kazakhstan To Join Russia-Belarus Union
Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev has called a proposal by the authoritarian ruler of Belarus, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, for Kazakhstan to join the so-called Russia-Belarus Union State a "joke" that has no resonance in the Central Asian country, given its commitments to other international treaties.
Toqaev said on May 29 while meeting with farmers of the North Kazakhstan region that he "duly appreciated the joke" by Lukashenka that he expressed in a televised interview with a Russian journalist over the weekend that Kazakhstan should join the union, which was created on paper in the 1990s and has been negotiated off and on since, but "there is no need" to join.
"Because there are other integration groupings, first of all the Eurasian Economic Union," Toqaev said.
He also touched on Russia's controversial plans to place tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, which borders NATO members Lithuania, Latvia, and Poland.
"As for the nuclear weapons, we do not need them because we joined the Nonproliferation Treaty and the Partial Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty. We remain loyal to our obligations defined by these two international documents," Toqaev said.
Kazakhstan, Belarus, and Ukraine gave up their nuclear weapons in the 1990s after they joined the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons.
The three former Soviet republics also signed the Budapest Memorandum in 1994 -- as did Russia, the United States, and the United Kingdom -- which barred the superpowers from threatening or using military force or economic coercion against the three.
However, Russian authorities have repeatedly raised the specter of the potential use of nuclear weapons since launching the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, with the frequency of the warnings increasing as Moscow's aggression against Ukraine continues.
Last week, Toqaev said at a Eurasian Economic Union (EES) meeting in Moscow that integration within the group was different from the controversial Russia-Belarus Union State.
"I am sorry, even nuclear weapons are being shared by the two," Toqaev said as he tried to emphasize that other EES states such as Armenia, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan were attempting to stay away from getting involved in Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
In a televised interview aired on May 28, Lukashenka commented on Toqaev's statement at the EES session regarding the nuclear weapons "shared" by Belarus and Russia, saying that former Soviet republics, including Kazakhstan, longing to own nuclear weapons can join Russia-Belarus Union State as well.
With reporting by Tengrinews, Inbusiness.kz, and Rossia TV
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