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Russia Issues Arrest Warrant For Mobile-Phone Mogul

Yevgeny Chichvarkin
Yevgeny Chichvarkin
MOSCOW (Reuters) -- Russia has issued an international arrest warrant for a billionaire who fled Russia after being threatened with prosecution for kidnapping and blackmail.

The fate of Yevgeny Chichvarkin, 34, who spoke out about official corruption, is widely viewed as a test of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's pledge to protect business from unwarranted interference from prosecutors.

Chichvarkin, who helped found one of Russia's biggest mobile-phone retailers before selling out last year, moved to London last December with his family.

"Today the prosecutor-seneral submitted to Interpol a request for an international arrest warrant to be issued for Yevgeny Chichvarkin," said Marina Gridneva, a spokeswoman for the Prosecutor-General's Office.

"The prosecutor-general has studied the case and concluded that there is a basis...for his arrest and extradition, if he is found in any foreign country," she said.

The charges against him relate to the 2003 kidnapping and blackmail of a former employee believed to have stolen from the company.

'Absolutely No Evidence'

His lawyer, Vladimir Zherebenkov, said his client denied the charges and that the proper legal procedures had been breached in the case.

"There is absolutely no evidence of his guilt," his lawyer said, adding that Britain would be unlikely to grant extradition. "It is my view that Russia will be refused extradition due to the procedural breaches."

Chichvarkin did not answer repeated calls to his mobile phone. He made a name for himself in Russia by complaining openly about corruption in law enforcement agencies, who he said had sought to paralyze his business with demands for bribes.

The entrepreneur was an unusual member of Moscow's business elite, sporting jeans rather than a business suit and driving an orange Porsche sports car.

Kremlin officials have refused to comment, saying prosecutors are still working on the case.

In the past few years foreign investors have been alarmed by a series of prosecutions of leading businessmen, including the sentencing of former oil magnate Mikhail Khodorkovsky to eight years in a Siberian prison on fraud and tax evasion charges.

When Medvedev replaced his mentor Vladimir Putin as president last year, he promised to stop arbitrary investigations into businessman, a commitment that was welcomed by Russia's business community.

Chichvarkin expanded his Euroset mobile phone retail chain from two to 5,000 stores in less than a decade. Last year the company reported revenues of more than $3 billion.

In November, Chichvarkin announced he had sold his 50-percent stake in the company. Media reports said the company was sold for $1.25 billion dollars, $850 million of which was used to pay off debts.

Euroset has since said it has cut all ties with Chichvarkin.

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Iran Commutes Death Sentence Of Sunni Cleric Detained During 2022 Protests

Mohammad Khezrnejad, a Kurdish cleric in Iran, had his death sentence commuted to prison time.
Mohammad Khezrnejad, a Kurdish cleric in Iran, had his death sentence commuted to prison time.

Iran's judiciary has commuted the death sentence of Sunni cleric Mohammad Khezrnejad to imprisonment after widespread criticism of the punishment both at home and abroad.

Khezrnejad, originally detained during the widespread Women, Life, Freedom protests, was facing execution for charges including "corruption on Earth," "acting against national security," and "propaganda against the system."

It gave no details of the length of time Khezrnejad would spend in prison, but his initial sentence on one of the charges was 15 years.

He was arrested in Bukan, West Azerbaijan Province, two months after the death of Mahsa Amini, whose death in police custody sparked widespread unrest in late 2022.

Khezrnejad's arrest and subsequent sentencing -- the trial was held via video conference with the defendant deprived of legal representation -- drew widespread condemnation, highlighting the Iranian judiciary's harsh stance against dissent.

Nonetheless, the sentence was confirmed by the Supreme Court.

However, on June 11, the Mizan news agency, which is affiliated with Iran's judiciary, announced that following appeals for clemency from several Sunni scholars and expressions of remorse by Khezrnejad, his sentence was reduced.

The report highlighted his pledge of good behavior as a contributing factor to the mitigation of his punishment.

Mizan also said authorities blamed foreign Persian-language media for escalating the situation by falsely linking the case to ethnic and religious issues.

Khezrnejad's case is another example of Iranian authorities blaming "external forces" for internal dissent without giving evidence to back up the claim.

The case had attracted international attention, with human rights groups, including Amnesty International, warning against the execution.

Hundreds of Sunni clerics within Iran had also called on the judiciary for Khezrnejad's release, criticizing the lack of fairness in the judicial proceedings.

Khazrnejad remains incarcerated at Urmia prison, with the judicial process drawing ongoing scrutiny for its handling of cases related to the Women, Life, Freedom protests.

Sunni Muslims make up a majority of the population in Iran’s Kurdistan region and Sistan-Baluchistan Province but account for only about 10 percent of the population in Shi'a-dominated Iran overall.

Since Amini's death in September 2022, more than 500 people have been killed in the police crackdown, according to rights groups. Several thousand more have been arrested, including many protesters, as well as journalists, lawyers, activists, digital rights defenders, and others.

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

Azerbaijan Says All Russian Troops Left Nagorno-Karabakh

Russian peacekeepers' cars leaving Nagorno-Karabakh in April
Russian peacekeepers' cars leaving Nagorno-Karabakh in April

Azerbaijan's Defense Ministry said on June 12 that the process of the withdrawal of Russian troops from Nagorno-Karabakh has been fully completed. The withdrawal started in mid-April. Armenia has criticized Russian peacekeepers deployed to the once mostly ethnic Armenian-populated Nagorno-Karabakh for failing to stop Azerbaijan’s lightning offensive in September 2023 that ended with Baku regaining control over the region that for three decades had been under ethnic-Armenian control. Moscow has yet to confirm the statement by Azerbaijan's Defense Ministry. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service click here.

Pro-Kremlin Ballet Dancer's Performance Canceled In Slovenia

Svetlana Zakharova was expected to play the role of Coco Chanel in the Bolshoi's performance of Modanse in August.
Svetlana Zakharova was expected to play the role of Coco Chanel in the Bolshoi's performance of Modanse in August.

Ukraine's Foreign Ministry said authorities in the Slovenian capital, Ljubljana, canceled a performance by Svetlana Zakharova, the pro-Kremlin prima ballerina of Moscow's Bolshoi Theater, at the requests of Ukraine's embassy and Slovenia’s Ukrainian community. Zakharova was expected to play the role of Coco Chanel in the Bolshoi's performance of Modanse in August. Ukrainian-born Zakharova is a member of Russia's ruling United Russia party. She served as a lawmaker in 2007-2011. In 2014, Zakharova publicly supported Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea. This year, she took part in President Vladimir Putin's presidential campaign. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

Senior U.S. Diplomat Says Ukraine-NATO Policy Unchanged Despite Biden Comments

James O'Brien, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, speaks to RFE/RL from Yerevan on June 11.
James O'Brien, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, speaks to RFE/RL from Yerevan on June 11.

U.S. President Joe Biden's recent comments signaling Ukraine is unlikely to become a NATO member during its war to repel invading Russian troops is not a change in Washington's position on the issue ahead of a key summit for the military alliance's leaders, a senior State Department diplomat told RFE/RL.

In an interview conducted on May 28 and published by Time magazine, Biden appeared to suggest he no longer supported Ukraine's NATO membership, a change from previously stated goals by Washington and the alliance itself.

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.

But James O'Brien, U.S. assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, told RFE/RL on June 11 while on a visit to Armenia that "interpretations began to run away" from the meaning of Biden's comments, and that Washington remains committed to Ukraine's membership in the alliance.

"There's no change in our position. I think what the president said, if I could just paraphrase, he said he doesn't believe in Ukraine joining NATO now," O'Brien said.

"Our position, really...is that Ukraine will be in the alliance when conditions allow."

In the wide-ranging June 4 interview with Time, Biden said that "peace looks like making sure Russia never, never, never, never occupies Ukraine. That's what peace looks like."

But, he added, "It doesn't mean NATO, [that] they are part of NATO."

O'Brien further elaborated saying Biden was referring to the NATO summit in July when stating that he was "not prepared" to support Ukrainian membership.

"It will be clear that Ukraine needs to undertake some reforms, and it will take some time to adapt its military from what it had been before Russia's further invasion, to what it will be needed to be part of NATO.

"And we'll lay out [at the summit] both how NATO will assist Ukraine in getting ready. So we are talking about several steps," he added.

Top Diplomat: U.S. Aims To 'Build Bridge' For Ukraine Into NATO
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NATO stated in the final declaration of last year's summit in Vilnius that "Ukraine’s future is in NATO" and there are indications that the upcoming summit of the alliance in Washington next month would reinforce the message of support for Kyiv's eventual membership.

In reaction to Biden's interview, a NATO source who spoke on condition of anonymity told RFE/RL that "my understanding is that the American line has been and still is that Ukraine should be offered 'a bridge to NATO membership.'"

O'Brien echoed those comments, with Ukraine remaining a NATO ally in the near future as it prepares for the longer term.

"We're talking about NATO assisting with building Ukraine's future force, so that it will know that it has a military able to deter and repel further Russian aggression, but also that NATO will assist with Ukraine's reforms," O'Brien said.

During Yerevan Visit, U.S. Diplomat Says Armenia-Azerbaijan Deal A 'Momentous' Step Forward

James O'Brien, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, said during a visit to Yerevan that a demarcation deal between Armenia and Azerbaijan is a "very good step forward."
James O'Brien, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, said during a visit to Yerevan that a demarcation deal between Armenia and Azerbaijan is a "very good step forward."

The leaders of Armenian and Azerbaijan say they are committed to a "momentous" demarcation accord signed last month that is designed to end decades of hostile relations in the volatile region, a top U.S. diplomat said during a visit to Yerevan.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Armenia and Azerbaijan have fought wars over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh -- with more than 30,000 people killed -- as they transitioned into independent countries.

Azerbaijan regained control of Nagorno-Karabakh in a lightening military offensive last year, but much of the border between the countries remained in dispute, with both sides occupying villages that formerly belonged to the other side.

"I think both sides say that they're committed to peace. It's a momentous agreement. It will be a generational commitment by the two countries," James O'Brien, U.S. assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs, told RFE/RL in an interview on June 11 during a visit to Yerevan.

O'Brien was referring to an agreement between Yerevan and Baku completed on May 15 that delineated the border between the two bitter rivals who have seen their relations marred by several deadly wars and conflicts.

Some critics have cited the lack of progress following the agreement, with the Armenian side often suggesting Baku has been slow to follow through on efforts to attain an overall peace deal to settle longstanding issues.

"It's appropriate to be careful and take time, so the two countries have had a number of discussions at the level of the leaders, deputy prime ministers, foreign ministers, national security advisers, technical teams, just to be sure that they are aware of all the implications of an agreement," he said.

"I think the recent demarcation arrangement was a very good step forward."

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian (right) greets O'Brien in Yerevan on June 11.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian (right) greets O'Brien in Yerevan on June 11.

O'Brien said the deal "acknowledged that some territory belonging to Azerbaijan had to be transferred, but also that the basis of further demarcation would be the Alma-Ata agreement, and that, I think, is a very constructive basis for next steps."

The deal, which involved Yerevan returning to Baku four abandoned villages that had been part of Azerbaijan during the Soviet era but which had been occupied by Armenian forces, has sparked protests in Armenia and calls for the country's leadership to resign.

U.S. Diplomat Sees 'Great Moment' For Peace, New Trade Routes In Armenia, Azerbaijan
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Armenian opposition groups have denounced what they describe as the latest "unilateral territorial concessions" to Azerbaijan. They argue that the border demarcation that affects the infrastructure of border communities leaves local residents more vulnerable to further possible Azerbaijani aggression.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian has rejected the criticism, saying the demarcation agreement was necessary to assure Armenia's security and end decades of enmity with Azerbaijan.

The United States and the European Union have hailed the demarcation agreement, stressing it contains a reference to the 1991 Alma-Ata Declaration, a document by which a dozen former Soviet countries, including Armenia and Azerbaijan, pledged to recognize each other's territorial integrity within existing administrative borders.

The declaration was named after the city now known as Almaty in Kazakhstan where it was signed.

"In our [U.S.] view, there's a once-in-a-generation -- maybe several generations -- opportunity to build a trade route from Central Asia across to the Mediterranean. That can come only if there is peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan," he said.

When asked whether the United States would be willing to act as guarantor of an agreement between the two sides, O'Brien said that "neither side has asked us to play that role."

"We are very happy to support the peace agreement that the sides reach. And the exact role that we might play, or no role, is really up to the two sides to conclude. We are not looking to serve as intervener or superpower in the region."

James O'Brien spoke from Yerevan. RFE/RL's Armenian Service's Heghine Buniatian conducted the interview from Prague.

Trial Begins Of Belarusian Rights Defender In Exile

Leanid Sudalenka fled Belarus in July 2023 after serving more than 2 1/2 years in prison for taking part in activities that "disrupt social order."
Leanid Sudalenka fled Belarus in July 2023 after serving more than 2 1/2 years in prison for taking part in activities that "disrupt social order."

A court in the Belarusian city of Homel on June 12 started a trial in absentia of noted rights defender Leanid Sudalenka on a charge of participating in extremist activities. Sudalenka fled Belarus in July 2023 after serving more than 2 1/2 years in prison for taking part in activities that "disrupt social order." The charge stemmed from Sudalenka's participation in mass protests in the summer of 2020 against the results of a presidential election that pronounced authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka as the winner. In October 2022, Belarusian authorities added Sudalenka to their list of extremists. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Belarus Service, click here.

Imprisoned Kremlin Critic Yashin Says He Will Reject Swap With Russians Jailed In West

Ilya Yashin, a former municipal lawmaker, also called on ordinary Russians "not to throw themselves under the tank that is speeding up toward them."
Ilya Yashin, a former municipal lawmaker, also called on ordinary Russians "not to throw themselves under the tank that is speeding up toward them."

Imprisoned Russian opposition politician Ilya Yashin, who is serving an 8 1/2-year prison term for his criticism of Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, says he will not agree to get exchanged for Russian citizens jailed in the Western countries if such a proposal occurs.

In his interview to Dozhd TV, parts of which were published on Telegram on June 12, Yashin said a possible swap would mean emigration for him, which he called "unacceptable" for him.

"I have stayed in Russia to be a Russian voice against the war and dictatorship. And, of course, it is important for me to share the fate of my country and my people. I sincerely believe that a Russian politician must be with Russia, as we say, both in joy and sorrow," Yashin said.

Talking about the self-exiled widow of opposition politician Aleksei Navalny, Yulia Navalnaya, Yashin said her role is "to explain to the world and the Western leaders that the Russian people and Putin are not the same, that our compatriots are in fact hostages in the hands of the Kremlin junta."

The former municipal lawmaker also called on ordinary Russians "not to throw themselves under the tank that is speeding up toward them."

"Just remember that sooner or later that tank will stop, and then we have to be ready to disassemble it," Yashin said.

Yashin, 40, is an outspoken Kremlin critic and one of the few prominent opposition politicians who stayed in Russia after a wave of repression against those who have condemned Russia's aggression against Ukraine since the full-scale invasion was launched in February 2022.

The sentence handed to Yashin in December 2022 was the harshest among the cases against those charged with discrediting Russia's armed forces under a new law introduced days after the invasion commenced.

The criminal case against Yashin was launched in July 2022. The charge against him stemmed from his YouTube posts about alleged crimes committed by the Russian military in the Ukrainian city of Bucha.

Yashin is serving his prison term in correctional colony No. 3 in the western Smolensk region.

Kazakh Court Rejects Appeals Of Convicted Killers Of Anticorruption Activist

Activist Ghaly Baqtybaev was shot dead near his house in May 2019.
Activist Ghaly Baqtybaev was shot dead near his house in May 2019.

A court in Kazakhstan on June 11 rejected the appeals of four men imprisoned for the killing of a noted anticorruption activist in the Central Asian nation's Aqmola region. Ghaly Baqtybaev, 59, was shot dead near his house in May 2019. In January, former police officer Ghalym Akhmetzhanov and businessman Azamat Bokenaev were sentenced to 15 years in prison each for their roles in ordering and organizing the assassination. Iman Miyashev was handed 16 years for attacking Baqtybaev, while a fourth man, Eldar Zhaken, was handed a three-year prison term for his role in the crime. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, click here.

Updated

Stoltenberg Says Hungary Agrees Not To Block NATO Support To Ukraine

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban (right) listens as NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg speaks at a press conference in Budapest on June 12.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban (right) listens as NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg speaks at a press conference in Budapest on June 12.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg says Hungary will not block support to Ukraine, though it will exercise its opt-out and not provide soldiers or funds the military alliance supplies to Kyiv as it battles to repel invading Russian forces.

Stoltenberg has been meeting with NATO members on a tour as he looks to shore up support ahead of a summit in Washington next month for the alliance to increase its role in aiding Ukraine's military.

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.

Hungary, led by Prime Minister Viktor Orban, arguably Moscow's closest ally in the European Union, has been wary of NATO's involvement in the conflict and has suggested a new definition for Budapest's position to keep Hungarian forces from operations outside the territory of NATO members.

"Hungary will not participate in these NATO efforts and I accept this position," Stoltenberg told reporters in Budapest after meeting with Orban on June 12.

"At the same time, the prime minister has assured me that Hungary will not oppose these efforts, enabling other allies to move forward, and he has confirmed that Hungary will continue to meet its NATO commitments in full."

Orban, at the same news conference, confirmed Hungary won't block NATO support.

Since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of neighboring Ukraine in February 2022, Orban has forged closer relations with the Kremlin, angering Brussels for refusing to join EU sanctions against Moscow or to allow, like other NATO countries, arms shipments to Ukraine.

Western government have been unhappy over Orban's continued warm ties with Moscow and Hungary's delay in the ratification of Sweden's NATO accession, though Budapest ultimately approved the move.

Hungary had asked the Brussels-based military alliance for an exemption from providing military support to Ukraine in exchange for allowing decisions to be carried out, meaning it would not exercise its veto power, since NATO makes all of its military decisions by consensus.

Stoltenberg said he had agreed with Orban on "modalities for Hungary's nonparticipation in NATO's support for Ukraine," though he gave no details on what such an agreement entailed.

NATO is looking to create a plan to provide more predictable military support to Ukraine in the coming years to repel Moscow's full-scale invasion, as better-armed Russian troops assert control on the battlefield.

The alliance will hold a summit next month in Washington where its leaders are looking to finalize such a plan.

1 Person Injured, Buildings Damaged In Latest Russian Attacks In Kyiv Region

Firefighters extinguish a fire caused by falling missile debris during a Russian attack in the Kyiv region on June 12.
Firefighters extinguish a fire caused by falling missile debris during a Russian attack in the Kyiv region on June 12.

Russian forces targeted Ukraine's Kyiv region with missile and drone attacks overnight, injuring at least one person and damaging several buildings, Ukrainian officials said on June 12. “As a result of falling debris one person was injured…and medical assistance was provided on the spot,” said the head of the regional military administration, Ruslan Kravchenko. A residential house, a gas station, and a garage were damaged by falling debris, which also caused a fire in an industrial facility, he added. To read the original story by RFE/RL Ukrainian Service, click here.

Updated

U.S. Pledges Second Patriot Missile System As Russian Strikes Deplete Ukraine's Air Defenses

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy visits a military training area in northeastern Germany on June 11 where Ukrainian soldiers are being trained on the Patriot missile system.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy visits a military training area in northeastern Germany on June 11 where Ukrainian soldiers are being trained on the Patriot missile system.

The United States will provide another Patriot missile system in response to Ukraine's pleas for more air defenses as devastating Russian strikes keep the country on edge and decimate its energy grid, forcing Kyiv to import record amounts of power.

The pledge would give Ukraine its second Patriot system since the Russian invasion of the country in February 2022, while the Pentagon routinely provides an undisclosed number of missiles for the system.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

RFE/RL's Live Briefing gives you all of the latest developments on Russia's full-scale invasion, Kyiv's counteroffensive, Western military aid, global reaction, and the plight of civilians. For all of RFE/RL's coverage of the war in Ukraine, click here.

The move has been approved by President Joe Biden, AP reported on June 12, citing two U.S. officials who spoke on condition of anonymity, and comes after an impassionate plea from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy for more help against the 3,000 missiles, drones, and other projectiles that he said Russia launches at the country each month.

Germany on June 11 also pledged to send a Patriot system, along with Gepard self-propelled antiaircraft guns and an IRIS-T air-defense system.

"If we had these modern Patriot systems, [Russian] airplanes wouldn’t be able to fly close enough to drop [glide] bombs on the civilian population and the military," Zelenskiy told a recent news conference in Madrid.

He said Ukraine urgently needed more air defenses to fend off Russian strikes against the power grid and civilian areas, as well as military targets.

Russian missile and drone attacks on Ukraine's energy sector have intensified since March, causing blackouts in many regions, and forcing Kyiv to begin large-scale electricity imports from the European Union.

Ukraine's Energy Ministry said in a statement the country would import 29,796 megawatt hours on June 12, exceeding the previous record of up to 28,000 MWh set earlier this month.

"Yesterday, due to the shortage of generation capability caused by massive Russian attacks on energy facilities, consumer restrictions were applied," the ministry noted.

Ukraine's air defenses shot down two dozen Russian drones and several missiles overnight, some targeting the capital, Kyiv, and the surrounding region, officials said on June 12.

"As a result of falling debris one person was injured...and medical assistance was provided on the spot," said the head of the regional military administration, Ruslan Kravchenko.

An apartment building, a gas station, and a garage were damaged by falling debris, which also caused a fire in an industrial facility, he added.

Firefighters extinguish a fire caused by falling missile debris during a Russian attack in the Kyiv region on June 12.
Firefighters extinguish a fire caused by falling missile debris during a Russian attack in the Kyiv region on June 12.

The U.S. decision to give Kyiv an additional Patriot missile system comes as defense leaders from the United States, Europe, and other countries prepare for their monthly meeting on Ukraine's security needs. U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will host the meeting in Brussels on June 13.

Pentagon press secretary Pat Ryder told reporters earlier this week that Ukraine's need for air defenses will be a topic at the meeting.

Washington has routinely urged allies to provide air defense systems to Ukraine, but many are reluctant to give up the high-tech systems — particularly countries in eastern Europe that also feel threatened by Russia.

With reporting by AP, Reuters, and AFP

8 People From Tajikistan With Possible IS Ties Arrested In U.S.

American flags fly outside of FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C.
American flags fly outside of FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Eight people from Tajikistan with suspected ties to the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group have been arrested in the United States in recent days, multiple people familiar with the matter told AP on June 11. The arrests took place in New York, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles. The individuals, who entered the country through the southern border, are being held on immigration violations, said the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The nature of their suspected connections to the IS wasn't immediately clear, but the individuals were being tracked by the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force.

U.S. Restates Support For Multiethnic Bosnia Following 'All-Serbian Assembly'

Serbian nationalists gather in Belgrade on June 8 for the "All-Serbian Assembly."
Serbian nationalists gather in Belgrade on June 8 for the "All-Serbian Assembly."

The U.S. State Department on June 11 restated its support for the unity of Bosnia-Herzegovina following the gathering of a so-called All-Serbian Assembly on June 8 under the slogan "One People, One Assembly -- Serbia and Srpska." Western leaders have condemned any suggestions by leaders of Republika Srpska -- the Serb-led entity of Bosnia -- to separate from the country. "As we have consistently made clear, we firmly support the sovereignty, territorial integrity, and multiethnic character of Bosnia-Herzegovina, of which Republika Srpska is a part," the State Department said in a statement. Since the Dayton peace agreements that ended the 1992-95 Bosnian War, the country has consisted of a Bosniak-Croat federation and the mostly ethnic Serb Republika Srpska under a weak central government.

New Measures To Punish Russia To Be Unveiled At G7 Summit, U.S. Says

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Washington is planning new measures against Russia. (file photo)
White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Washington is planning new measures against Russia. (file photo)

The White House on June 11 said new measures will be announced to punish Russia for its aggression against Ukraine when the Groupof Seven (G7) meets this week, including action on the use of frozen Russian assets to aid Kyiv. "We will announce new steps to unlock the value of the immobilized Russian sovereign assets to benefit Ukraine," National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters. Kirby said Washington will also announce new sanctions and export controls against Russia during the June 13-15 summit in Italy. The West has been looking for ways to utilize interest income from frozen Russian state assets to shore up Ukraine's finances. "We're going to continue to drive up costs for the Russian war machine," Kirby said.

Georgian Activist Says Beaten By Unknown Assailants Outside His Home

Georgian civil activist Zuka Berdzenishvilli recovers after he said he was attacked on June 11.
Georgian civil activist Zuka Berdzenishvilli recovers after he said he was attacked on June 11.

TBILISI -- Georgian civil activist Zuka Berdzenishvili says he was attacked outside his home by three unknown assailants after parliament speaker Shalva Papuashvili publicly accused him and other activists of "politically motivated terror" for criticizing lawmakers.

Berdzenishvili, the son of opposition Republican Party member Davit Berdzenishvili, said in a Facebook post on June 11 that he suffered head and facial injuries when he was attacked from behind.

Berdzenishvili had previously reported attempted attacks on him, but said he had evaded assault in those incidents.

The Georgian Interior Ministry told RFE/RL that an investigation had been launched into the attack.

The incident occurred shortly after Papuashvili in a Facebook posting accused citizens who protested against the government of engaging in "politically motivated terror" sponsored by the European Union.

Opponents of Georgia’s "foreign-agent" law approved on June 3 have accused the Georgian Dream-led government and roving groups of masked thugs of targeting protesters and activists over the past several months.

Western governments have condemned the South Caucasus country's government for passing the law, which they say mirrors legislation used by the Kremlin to silence critics in Russia. The Georgian government claims the law is needed to assure transparency in political matters.

The United States on June 7 imposed visa restrictions against dozens of Georgian officials over adoption of the law, which sparked weeks of mass protests and warnings from the West that it would derail Georgia from its Euro-Atlantic path.

Georgia's pro-Western president, Salome Zurabishvili, refused to endorse the measure after it was sent to her. On May 28, lawmakers overrode her veto by an 84-4 vote, leading to its passage in parliament.

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

Shortly after the law took effect, Georgian Dream General Secretary Kakha Kaladze, who is also the mayor of the capital, Tbilisi, said that once the law was published, organizations that receive funding from abroad and do not register in a database that the law provides for will be fined and their assets will be seized.

With reporting by Civil Georgia

Bosnia Protests To Montenegro Over 'Two States' Reference To Bosnian Serb Entity

Montenegrin parliament speaker Andrija Mandic (right) attends the All-Serb Assembly in Belgrade on June 8.
Montenegrin parliament speaker Andrija Mandic (right) attends the All-Serb Assembly in Belgrade on June 8.

SARAJEVO -- Bosnia-Herzegovina's Foreign Ministry has sent a protest note to Montenegro over what it called "controversial statements" by the right-wing speaker of the country's parliament implying statehood for Republika Srpska, the mostly Serb entity that makes up about half of Bosnia.

Speaker Andrija Mandic referred to an "All-Serb Assembly" in Belgrade on June 8 attended by the leadership of Republika Srpska as "a gathering of two states."

The Bosnian Serbs' leadership has repeatedly threatened to break away from the rest of Bosnia and has taken steps in the past two years to establish key parallel institutions.

"Even though we know him, even though he constantly behaves like this, we will always respond to attempts to attack the constitutional architecture of Bosnia-Herzegovina," Bosnian Foreign Minister Ellmedin Konakovic said.

He said Bosnian officials were considering sending a note of protest to Serbia as well.

The June 8 assembly in Belgrade was organized under the slogan "One people, one assembly -- Serbia and Srpska."

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic shows a Serbian flag during the "All-Serb Assembly" in Belgrade on June 8.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic shows a Serbian flag during the "All-Serb Assembly" in Belgrade on June 8.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has kept a number of its post-Yugoslav neighbors with Serbian minorities off-balance with appeals to Serbian ethnicity and nationhood as well as Christian Orthodoxy.

Pro-Moscow Republika Srpska President Milorad Dodik, accused of corruption and targeted by Western sanctions over his moves toward secession, has wielded mostly unrivaled power among Bosnian Serbs for decades and actively undermined Bosnian statehood.

Bosnia was admitted as a member of the United Nations in May 1992.

The constitution of Bosnia -- comprising Republika Srpska and the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina, along with the self-governing Brcko District -- arose from the Dayton agreement that ended the Bosnian War in 1995.

Montenegro declared independence from its State Union with Serbia following a referendum in May 2006 and has grappled with identity issues stemming from its close historical, religious, and ethno-national ties with Serbs.

Among other assertions, its participants described Kosovo -- a partially recognized state that declared independence from Serbia in 2008 -- as "an inalienable part of Serbia."

U.S. officials have called the "All-Serb Assembly" assertions an attack on Bosnia's postwar institutions.

In a statement on June 11, the State Department reaffirmed its support for Bosnia's unity, saying, "As we have consistently made clear, we firmly support the sovereignty, territorial integrity, and multiethnic character of Bosnia-Herzegovina, of which Republika Srpska is a part."

One Detained As Anti-Government Protesters Block Roads In Armenian Capital

Anti-government protesters gather on a main road in downtown Yerevan where police were guarding access to Armenia's parliament on June 10.
Anti-government protesters gather on a main road in downtown Yerevan where police were guarding access to Armenia's parliament on June 10.

Participants in a two-month-old, civil-disobedience campaign demanding the resignation of Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian over territorial concessions to archfoe Azerbaijan blocked streets in downtown Yerevan early on June 11.

Police said they had detained one activist for failing to comply with an order early on the second day of four days of nonstop protests called by Archbishop Bagrat Galstanian in his bid to unseat and replace Pashinian.

The outspoken 53-year-old head of the Tavush Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church has attracted tens of thousands of demonstrators with his Tavush for the Motherland movement in an unprecedented challenge to Pashinian's six-year leadership.

Pashinian's Civil Contract party has a two-thirds majority in parliament that has helped insulate his government from public anger since a lightning offensive by Azerbaijan in September 2023 retook full control of Nagorno-Karabakh, which had been controlled by ethnic Armenians with Yerevan's support for decades.

Pashinian insists that having a demarcated border provides an assurance against further conflict between the Caucasus neighbors.

A two-day-old protest encampment blocking a main avenue outside the National Assembly was mostly quiet on June 11, with small groups of protesters gathering alongside a dozen or so tents.

Galstanian's movement has also held rallies in other towns and cities since launching a defiant march from the village of Kirants in May.

Kirants is one of four abandoned villages formally handed over by Armenia this month that used to be part of Soviet Azerbaijan but which came under Armenian control in the early 1990s during the first Armenian-Azerbaijani war.

The demarcation altered the boundary in a way that affects the infrastructure of a number of Armenian border villages, a problem the government has pledged to fix within weeks.

EU Commission Seeks To Allow Ukrainian Refugees To Stay Until March 2026

Refugees from Ukraine stop at the reception desk at an aid center in Warsaw in July 2022.
Refugees from Ukraine stop at the reception desk at an aid center in Warsaw in July 2022.

The European Commission on June 11 proposed a move to allow Ukrainians who have fled Russian aggression to remain in the European Union until March 4, 2026, extending its Temporary Protection Directive by one year. "Given continued Russian attacks on the civil and critical infrastructure across Ukraine, safe and durable conditions for the return of people to Ukraine are not currently in place," the commission said in a statement. The commission will on June 13 submit the proposal to the Justice and Home Affairs Council for likely adoption. The EU activated the directive in March 2022 after Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The commission said nearly 4.2 million Ukrainians are under such protection in the EU.

Romania's Ruling Parties Win Votes, But Extremists Reach European Parliament

Official election documents pile up in downtown Bucharest as transport and other issued dogged the vote count after Romania's elections on June 9.
Official election documents pile up in downtown Bucharest as transport and other issued dogged the vote count after Romania's elections on June 9.

Partial results from Romania's local, mayoral, and European elections showed Prime Minister Marcel Ciolacu's ruling Social Democrats (PSD) and their junior coalition partner, the Liberal Party (PNL), leading all groupings but unprecedented success for a 4-year-old party on the far right.

Vote counts were continuing on June 11 after technical delays affected more than half of Romania's counties in the June 9 elections seen as a bellwether for a presidential election in September and parliamentary voting scheduled for December.

But the early returns showed the senior ruling PSD and PNL on top and the extreme nationalist Alliance for the Union of Romanians' (AUR) third-place finish suggesting the populist party continues to make inroads since its first test at the ballot box in 2020.

In partial returns from the local voting, the PSD was leading with nearly 39 percent, followed by the PNL with 30 percent and the AUR with nearly 9 percent. They were followed by the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania (UDMR), which is close to Hungary's ruling Fidesz party, with around 6 percent, and the pro-Western opposition gathered in the Alliance of the United Right (ADU), with less than 3 percent.

The partial tallies also suggested the PSD had won control of 25 of Romania's 41 county councils, five more than in 2020, and the PNL 12 versus 17 in voting four years ago.

The PSD looked poised to win control of nearly 1,500 of the 2,759 mayoralties being contested all over the country, and the PNL another 957. The AUR was shut out of any mayoral victories.

An independent incumbent, Nicusor Dan, looked set to win reelection as mayor of Bucharest.

His victory was arguably the only good news for the center-right coalition that supported him, the United Right Alliance (ADU). The ADU has battled both the PSD-PNL government and voter disappointment. It has yet to decide on its candidate for the presidency, and a failure to improve on its 2.77 percent showing would leave it short of the 3-percent threshold to reach parliament in December.

In voting for the European Parliament, where the PSD and PNL ran a joint campaign to fend off the AUR threat, their joint National Coalition for Romania list had 48.7 percent support and a predicted 19 seats.

The AUR was projected at nearly 15 percent and six seats in the European Parliament, below some predictions but the first time Romanian voters have sent representatives of the far right to Strasbourg.

The AUR and its leader, George Simion, have staked out strongly anti-Western positions rooted in the nationalist communism of the Ceausescu dictatorship, questioning Romania's membership in the European Union and NATO, alongside xenophobia and conspiratorial rabble-rousing.

Diana Sosoaca, the most openly pro-Russian politician in Romania, also won a seat in Strasbourg. She heads the S.O.S. Romania party, an irredentist faction of the AUR.

Vote counts were suspended late on election night in more than half the country's 41 counties to allow a break for election workers after transport and other problems were reported in some districts.

The authorities declined to identify the affected counties, but sources confirmed to RFE/RL's Romanian Service that they included a downtown district of the capital, Bucharest, as well as Constanta, Cluj, and Brasov.

The tallying was confirmed to have resumed in at least three of those counties early on June 11.

Former Wagner Fighter Jailed For Murder After Return From Ukraine War

 Wagner fighters (file photos)
Wagner fighters (file photos)

A court in the Russian Urals region of Orenburg on June 11 sentenced a former Wagner mercenary group fighter to 18 years in prison for stabbing to death his friend's mother, attempting to murder his friend, and theft. Kirill Smirnov was serving a lengthy prison term for murdering a young woman in 2015 when he was recruited by Wagner to fight in Ukraine. He returned from the war in April 2023. The number of crimes in Russia committed by former Wagner recruits and other former ex-military personnel has been on rise since early 2023 as soldiers returned from duty. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Idel.Realities, click here.

Yerevan's Lone Synagogue Attacked For Fourth Time In A Year

Yerevan's only synagogue was attacked again on June 10 when perpetrators threw rocks through a window.
Yerevan's only synagogue was attacked again on June 10 when perpetrators threw rocks through a window.

The Jewish community in Yerevan said on June 10 that the only synagogue in the Armenian capital was attacked overnight, the fourth such attack since October. Unknown people threw rocks through one of the synagogue's windows. Armenian authorities launched a probe into the attack. Media reports in Israel expressed concerns over the lack of proper response to the attacks. Armenian authorities said earlier that one of the attacks may have been conducted by a Russian tourist but did not give any details. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Kremlin Critic Novikov Sentenced In Absentia

Ilya Novikov (file photo)
Ilya Novikov (file photo)

A Moscow court on June 11 sentenced in absentia noted Russian lawyer and outspoken Kremlin critic Ilya Novikov to 8 1/5 years in prison on a charge of spreading false information about Russia's military, the court's press service said. Novikov, who currently lives in Ukraine, has openly criticized Russia's full-scale aggression against Ukraine. In June 2022, the Moscow Chamber of Attorneys annulled Novikov’s license to practice law. He was later added to the registry of "foreign agents." Novikov, who is also wanted in Russia on high-treason charges, continues to work as a lawyer in Kyiv. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

Court Denies Early Release For Mother Of Chechen Activists Over Change Of Diagnosis

Zarema Musayeva is the mother of Ibragim, Abubakar, and Baisangur Yangulbayev, all of whom have fled the country citing harassment from Chechen authorities over their online criticism of Kremlin-backed Chechen head Ramzan Kadyrov.
Zarema Musayeva is the mother of Ibragim, Abubakar, and Baisangur Yangulbayev, all of whom have fled the country citing harassment from Chechen authorities over their online criticism of Kremlin-backed Chechen head Ramzan Kadyrov.

A court in Russia's North Caucasus region of Chechnya rejected a request by Zarema Musayeva, the imprisoned mother of three self-exiled outspoken Chechen opposition activists, for an early release over her state of health.

The Team Against Torture human rights group on June 10 quoted Musayeva's lawyer Aleksandr Savin as saying the court in the city of Shali backed up its decision by basing it on a new diagnosis made by state medical personnel.

In April, a medical commission in Chechnya replaced Musayeva's previous diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes with multiple complications with a revised assessment of type 2 diabetes without complications.

Musayeva, who is serving a five-year term in a colony settlement -- a dormitory-like penitentiary located near an industrial facility where convicts work alongside regular employees -- was hospitalized in late March after her eyesight deteriorated sharply and lumps appeared on her body.

Human rights groups have said Musayeva needs proper medical assistance as she has an acute form of diabetes, cataracts, and a constant pain in her knee.

Musayeva is the mother of Ibragim, Abubakar, and Baisangur Yangulbayev, all of whom have fled the country citing harassment from Chechen authorities over their online criticism of Kremlin-backed Chechen head Ramzan Kadyrov.

Chechen police and security officers detained Musayeva in January 2022 in her apartment in the Russian city of Nizhny Novgorod, some 1,800 kilometers from Chechnya, and forcibly returned her to the North Caucasus region's capital, Grozny.

In July last year, a court in Chechnya sentenced Musayeva to 5 1/2 years in prison on charges of fraud and attacking a police officer, which Musayeva and her supporters have denied.

In September, the Supreme Court of Chechnya shortened Musayeva's prison term by six months and said Musayeva must serve her term in a colony settlement instead of a correctional colony.

Kadyrov, other Chechen officials, and a member of the Russian Duma have publicly vowed to kill all members of the Yangulbayev family, calling them "terrorists."

Journalists, rights activists, and other Russians have urged the government to punish those who issued the threats.

Abubakar Yangulbayev has accused Kadyrov's law enforcement and security officers of "lawlessness on a daily basis in Chechnya" and said the case against his mother is Kadyrov's retaliation for his activities.

Ibragim and Abubakar have said they faced years of pressure from Chechen authorities over their online criticism of Kadyrov and the rights situation in Chechnya.

Many of their relatives have been similarly harassed in Chechnya and even deprived of their homes since Kadyrov and his people vowed to kill them and their families.

The activists' father, retired federal judge Saidi Yangulbayev, and a sister fled Russia in January 2022, following the threats.

Russian and international human rights groups have for years accused Kadyrov of overseeing grave human rights abuses, including abductions, torture, extrajudicial killings, and the persecution of the LGBT community.

Kremlin critics say Putin has turned a blind eye to the abuses because he relies on the former rebel commander to control separatist sentiment and violence in mostly-Muslim Chechnya.

Russian Man Gets 10 Days In Jail For T-Shirt With Ukrainian Symbols

Andrei Yevseyev was found guilty of promoting extremist symbols. (file photo)
Andrei Yevseyev was found guilty of promoting extremist symbols. (file photo)

A Moscow court on June 11 sentenced a 59-year-old resident to 10 days in jail for wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with Ukrainian symbols and the slogan "Glory to Ukraine." Andrei Yevseyev was found guilty of promoting extremist symbols. Police searched his apartment after he was detained on June 8 for wearing the T-shirt in question. A day earlier, the same court sentenced Viktoria Mumrina to seven days in jail on the same charge. Mumrina was accused of wearing a necklace with a pendant in the form of a Ukrainian trident. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

U.S. Lifts Weapons Ban On High-Profile Ukrainian Military Unit With A Controversial Past

A soldier of the 12th Special Forces Brigade Azov of the National Guard of Ukraine prepares to fire at an undisclosed location in the Donetsk region, Ukraine. (file photo)
A soldier of the 12th Special Forces Brigade Azov of the National Guard of Ukraine prepares to fire at an undisclosed location in the Donetsk region, Ukraine. (file photo)

The United States has removed restrictions on the transfer of American weapons and training to the controversial Ukrainian military unit the Azov Brigade, the State Department said. The U.S. Embassy in Kyiv confirmed the news to RFE/RL as as well. The move will help the unit, one of Ukraine's most effective and popular fighting groups, move beyond its reputation as a far-right movement that has been a constant target of Russian propaganda. The State Department said the Leahy vetting process was applied to the Azov Brigade, which has been taken into Ukraine's National Guard as the 12th Special Forces Brigade. The brigade said in a social media post that "the acquisition of Western weapons will increase the combat capability of 'Azov.'" To read the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.

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