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Russian Workers Protest Slashed Wages At Lada Maker

Sales of Ladas have fallen
Sales of Ladas have fallen
TOGLIATTI, Russia (Reuters) -- Hundreds of workers at Russia's biggest carmaker has demanded the state nationalize the producer of the iconic Lada after management decided to slash wages as sales tumble.

More than 1,500 AvtoVAZ workers gathered in the city of Togliatti, which lies in Russia's industrial heartland 900 kilometers southeast of Moscow.

AvtoVAZ, owned by France's Renault and a Russian state-owned corporation, has denied it plans massive layoffs but workers' incomes will be cut to half their precrisis level from September 1 as hours have been slashed.

"The Unity union has taken the decision to demand the nationalisation of AvtoVAZ," the leader of the main independent union at the plant, Pyotr Zolotaryev, told workers at the protest.

"Let the plant belong to the state not private owners," he said.

After a decade-long economic boom, Russia is in recession. Unemployment has soared and protests have erupted.

Russia's car market was until recently Europe's fastest growing but has seen sales tumble and AvtoVAZ has stopped its production line for August.

Workers will do a 20-hour week from September, which will push down monthly incomes to about half their precrisis level of 21,931 rubles ($706).

Togliatti was built from scratch to house workers at AvtoVAZ, which made cheap cars available to the Soviet masses. The company has denied reports it plans to lay off 27,691 people, or a quarter of its staff.

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Orban Allies Show Trump Solidarity With Ear 'Bandages' At Closely Watched Gathering

Hungarian Fidesz lawmaker Zsolt Nemeth with a folded paper "bandage" over his ear at the Tusvanyos Festival in eastern Transylvania on July 24.
Hungarian Fidesz lawmaker Zsolt Nemeth with a folded paper "bandage" over his ear at the Tusvanyos Festival in eastern Transylvania on July 24.

The chairman of the Hungarian Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee and the organizer of an annual political boot camp for Hungary's ruling Fidesz party in neighboring Romania made a show of solidarity with former U.S. President Donald Trump at the opening of the five-day event on July 24.

Lawmaker Zsolt Nemeth and David Campanale, the co-founder of the 33rd annual Tusvanyos Festival, each wore a folded paper rectangle next to their right ear in homage to the bandage that Trump wore after an assassination attempt at a campaign rally in Pennsylvania on July 13 injured the Republican nominee for U.S. president.

The red-white-and-green papers had "Go, Hungarians" written on them.

Speaking at a panel discussion at the Transylvanian event, Nemeth cited the attempt on Trump's life alongside the shooting at close range of left-wing nationalist Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico in mid-May, nearly killing him.

"The escalation of violence and aggressiveness demands that [we] demonstrate and protest against it," Nemeth said. "This is unacceptable. It goes against everything for which Tusvanyos was launched 33 years ago."

David Campanale, a former journalist and co-founder of the event, which is officially called the Balvanyos Free Summer University and Student Camp, also wore the paper bandage.

The Tusvanyos Festival is an annual event that Orban frequently uses to lay out broad strategic goals and policies and appeal to ethnic Hungarians abroad, including to announce his support for Trump's successful presidential bid in 2016.

Orban will address this year's festival on July 27.

An estimated 1 million ethnic Hungarians live in northern Romania, hundreds of thousands of them with dual citizenship since Orban mounted a major effort to extend voting rights and other benefits of Hungarian nationality to the diaspora.

Hungarian nationalism is a sensitive topic in northern Romania and in nearby Ukraine, where Orban has pressed for greater autonomy for ethnic Hungarians and where Hungarian-language media are readily available.

Orban and his national populist Fidesz party have dominated Hungarian politics since 2010. Orban and Trump have become staunch transatlantic allies of the political right on issues from immigration and Russia's invasion of Ukraine to multilateralism since the run-up to Trump's first presidential bid eight years ago.

Orban was the first foreign leader to endorse Trump's successful campaign in 2016 and has repeatedly expressed his support ahead of the 2024 race that looks likely to pit him against Democratic Vice President Kamala Harris.

Orban's comments have sparked a feud with the U.S. ambassador to Budapest under President Joe Biden's administration, David Pressman.

Orban and his foreign minister, Peter Szijjarto, have resisted but so far avoided vetoing EU sanctions on Russia since its full-scale Ukraine invasion began more than two years ago, blaming those economic punishments for a flagging national economy and depicting many Western leaders as warmongers.

They have insisted on keeping NATO member Hungary out of military supply efforts for Kyiv, arguing that defeating Russia is out of the question and that arming Ukrainians extends the war.

Critics say Budapest has cynically adopted Kremlin talking points on the war, the continent's first all-out invasion since World War II.

Earlier this month, Hungary's Foreign Ministry quoted Orban as urging the European Union "not to copy the foreign policy of U.S. Democrats."

Before NATO's 75th anniversary summit earlier this month in Washington, Orban traveled to Kyiv, Moscow, and Beijing as part of a "peace mission" that the EU denounced, and he accused the United States of conducting a "war policy."

Orban also predicted a Trump victory in November, adding, “I’m sure that a change would be good for the world."

Orban met with Trump at the latter's Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida after the summit, where the Hungarian leader said they "discussed ways to make peace," adding of the Republican U.S. presidential nominee, "The good news of the day: He’s going to solve it!"

Trump and his party have criticized the amounts of aid being given to Ukraine, and Trump has vowed, without elaborating, to end the war quickly.

Trump wore a rectangular bandage over his right ear throughout last week's Republican National Convention where he officially received the party's nomination for president, sparking supporters to don similar patches in a show of solidarity against the attempt on Trump's life by a 20-year-old gunman.

Former Azerbaijani Diplomat Sent To Pretrial Detention On Stabbing Charge

Emin Ibrahimov (file photo)
Emin Ibrahimov (file photo)

The Nizami district Court in Baku on July 24 sent former Azerbaijani diplomat Emin Ibrahimov to pretrial detention for at least four months on a stabbing charge, which Ibrahimov rejects as totally fabricated. The 43-year-old government critic was detained two days earlier. Ibrahimov's lawyer, Aqil Layic, said the criminal case was fabricated in retaliation for his criticism of the government. The Interior Ministry has not responded. Ibrahimov used to work at the Azerbaijani Embassy in the United States and held other diplomatic posts. In recent years, he criticized the government for Baku's worsening relations with the West. In September, he was sentenced to 30 days in jail on a charge of "spreading harmful information" after an online post criticizing Russia. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service, click here.

Square Of Europe In Moscow Renamed As Square Of Eurasia

The square was unveiled in 2002 as part of a Russian-Belgian project symbolizing European unity.
The square was unveiled in 2002 as part of a Russian-Belgian project symbolizing European unity.

The mayor of Moscow, Sergei Sobyanin, on July 24 signed a decree renaming the Square of Europe in central Moscow as the Square of Eurasia. The square was unveiled in 2002 as part of a Russian-Belgian project symbolizing European unity. National flags of 48 European nations were flying on the square until they were removed without explanation in March 2023. A monument called The Abduction of Europa by Belgian sculptor Olivier Strebel is located on the square, while The European mall was opened nearby in 2006. It was not clear if the monument would be removed. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

Probe Launched Into Alleged Plot To Kill Leaders Of Georgia's Ruling Party

Bidzina Ivanishvili, founder and honorary chairman of the ruling Georgian Dream party (file photo)
Bidzina Ivanishvili, founder and honorary chairman of the ruling Georgian Dream party (file photo)

Georgia's State Security Service (SUS) said on July 24 it had launched an investigation into an alleged "plot" to assassinate Bidzina Ivanishvili, the founder and honorary chairman of the ruling Georgian Dream party, and then "violently overthrow" the government.

The SUS said in a statement on July 24 the investigation is looking into "criminal activities" allegedly supported by "former high officials."

The investigation comes amid heightened tensions in the Caucasus nation over the recently passed controversial law on "foreign agents" that has juxtaposed the country's aspirations to join the European Union with accusations the legislation -- analogous to a law passed a decade ago in Russia -- is another move toward warmer relations with Moscow.

"The purpose of the mentioned criminal actions is to violently overthrow the state government by destructive forces in the background of creating disorder and weakening the government," SUS said.

SUS did not name any suspects in the case, though local media said at least six people had been questioned, some of whom had fought on the side of Ukraine in the war to repel invading Russian forces.

However, the announcement of the investigation came one day after the Tbilisi City Court questioned Gela Kakhabrishvili, who fought on the Ukrainian side against occupying Russian armed forces.

At a briefing in Tbilisi, Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze blamed unspecified "global political forces" behind the plot to kill Ivanishvili, adding that "the same forces" were behind the assassination attempts of former U.S. President Donald Trump and Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico.

Kobakhidze, a member of Georgian Dream, gave no evidence to directly link the investigation to the assassination attempts.

On June 4, the speaker of parliament, Georgian Dream member Shalva Papuashvili, signed the foreign agent bill into law.

Twenty days later, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the European Union will downgrade political contacts with Georgia and consider freezing financial aid to the Tbilisi government in reaction to the law.

Critics say the legislation was introduced by Georgian Dream in order to cement the party's grip on power ahead of elections later this year seen as crucial for Georgia's Euro-Atlantic aspirations.

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.

Both the United States and the EU have warned Georgian Dream that ignoring criticism and cracking down violently on protesters will have negative consequences.

Georgia obtained the coveted EU candidate status last December but has yet to start actual accession talks, which could last for years.

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

But Western governments and organizations have issued stark statements warning the Georgian Dream government that the Tbilisi's EU path will be blocked if the law comes into force.

Russia Adds Arrested Musician Eduard Sharlot To Terrorist List

Eduard Sharlot was initially arrested and handed 13 days in jail for hooliganism. (file photo)
Eduard Sharlot was initially arrested and handed 13 days in jail for hooliganism. (file photo)

Russia's financial watchdog, Rosfinmonitoring, on July 23 added to the list of terrorists and extremists musician Eduard Sharlot, who was arrested in November on his return from Armenia, where he publicly protested against Moscow's ongoing invasion of Ukraine. Sharlot was initially arrested and handed 13 days in jail for hooliganism. He was later placed in pretrial detention on charges of rehabilitating Nazism, insulting believers' feelings, and publicly damaging an official document. The charges stem from a video Sharlot posted on Instagram in June 2022 showing him burning his Russian passport and condemning Moscow's aggression against Ukraine. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Idel.Realities, click here.

Jailed Former Navalny Team Member Faces New Charge

Olga Komleva is a former member of late Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny's team in Bashkortostan. (file photo)
Olga Komleva is a former member of late Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny's team in Bashkortostan. (file photo)

The jailed former member of late Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny's team in Bashkortostan, Olga Komleva, has been additionally charged with distributing false information about Russia's military, the Basmanny district court in Moscow said on July 23. It remains unclear what the new charge stems from. The 45-year-old Komleva, who is also a journalist with the RusNews online media outlet, was arrested in late March on a charge of taking part in an extremist group's activities. All of Navalny's organizations were labeled extremist in 2021. The Memorial human rights group recognized Komleva a political prisoner. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Idel.Realities, click here.

Uzbek Court Again Rejects Appeal Of Karakalpak Activist

Karakalpak activist and journalist Dauletmurat Tajimuratov (file photo)
Karakalpak activist and journalist Dauletmurat Tajimuratov (file photo)

The Supreme Court of Uzbekistan has again rejected the appeal by Karakalpak activist Dauletmurat Tajimuratov against the 16-year prison term he was handed over mass antigovernment protests in the country's Karakalpak Autonomous Republic in 2022. Tajimuratov's lawyer, Sergei Mayorov, said on July 23 that his client had filed a second, so-called revised appeal with the Supreme Court after it had rejected his initial appeal in June last year. Mayorov added that the hearing late on July 23 was held without his client's presence as the court did not allow Tajimuratov to participate in the hearing via a video link. Mayorov added that he is not aware of Tajimuratov's exact whereabouts. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, click here.

Kazakh Anti-War Activist Gets 10 Days In Jail Over Online Rap Song

Kazakh activist Maria Kochneva (file photo)
Kazakh activist Maria Kochneva (file photo)

A Kazakh court on July 23 sentenced anti-war activist Maria Kochneva to 10 days in jail for performing a rap song online that was critical of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Kochneva told RFE/RL she will appeal the ruling, which she called politically motivated. Kochneva's performance sparked an outcry on pro-Kremlin Telegram channels earlier in July. Kochneva has said she and her relatives have received anonymous threats since her song was posted online. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, click here.

Russian Anti-War Activist Released From Extradition Center In Kazakhstan

Russian anti-war activist Natalya Narskaya (file photo)
Russian anti-war activist Natalya Narskaya (file photo)

The Kazakh Bureau for Human Rights said on July 23 that Russian anti-war activist Natalya Narskaya was released from an extradition detention center in Almaty after spending exactly one year there. Kazakh law allows those facing possible extradition to be held for no more than 12 months. Narskaya, who fled Moscow in 2022, was arrested in Kazakhstan at Russia's request. Kazakh human rights defenders have helped prevent her extradition to Russia, where she is wanted for publicly condemning Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Narskaya is said to have developed psychological problems while in custody. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, click here.

Kuleba Says Moscow Not Ready For Peace Talks 'In Good Faith'

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba (file photo)
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba (file photo)

Ukraine remains ready to hold talks with Russia provided Moscow proves it's ready to negotiate in "good faith," but Kyiv has yet to see such inclination from the Kremlin, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba reiterated on July 24 during talks with his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi.

At the invitation of Wang, Kuleba is on a three-day visit to China, his first since Russia's 2022 full-scale invasion, for talks to explore a possible Chinese role in ending the war.

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.

"I am convinced that a just peace in Ukraine is in China's strategic interests, and China's role as a global force for peace is important," Kuleba said, according to a Ukrainian Foreign Ministry statement, in opening remarks at the meeting with Wang in Guangzhou, a major commercial and manufacturing center in southern China.

Kuleba "presented the consistent position of Ukraine, that is its readiness to conduct negotiations with the Russian side at a certain stage, when Russia is ready to conduct negotiations in good faith, but emphasized that currently such readiness has not been observed on the Russian side," the statement added.

Kuleba's trip came as a surprise to some observers, given Beijing's close relationship with Moscow and diplomatic maneuvering that has often seen Chinese diplomats keep their distance from high-level Ukrainian officials.

Ukraine last month held an international summit without Russian representation in Switzerland to promote its vision of peace.

The gathering hosted delegations from 100 countries and Washington was represented by Vice President Kamala Harris, the front-runner to obtain the Democratic Party's nomination for the November presidential poll following President Joe Biden's announcement that he will not run for reelection.

China, which did not attend the Swiss summit, published a separate six-point peace plan with Brazil in the weeks leading up to the gathering which called for a separate international peace conference to be held that would have representation from both Kyiv and Moscow.

Kuleba, who reportedly said Ukraine had "carefully studied" the Chinese plan, also informed Wang "about the results of the peace summit in Switzerland and explained the logic of further steps in the implementation of the peace formula as a way to a fair end to Russian aggression," the statement said.

In an Instagram post ahead of the visit, Kuleba said: "We must avoid competing peace plans. It is very important that Kyiv and Beijing conduct a direct dialogue and exchange positions."

Wang in turn told Kuleba that Bejing believes that all conflicts should be resolved "at the negotiating table," the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

He added that recently, both Ukraine and Russia had sent signals that they are willing to negotiate "to varying degrees."

"Although the conditions and timing are not yet ripe, we support all efforts conducive to peace and are willing to continue to play a constructive role in cease-fire and the resumption of peace talks," the statement quoted Wang as saying.

China's invitation to Kuleba came after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy voiced rare criticism directed at Beijing, saying that China's efforts were undermining the Swiss peace talks by pushing some countries to not attend and others to not sign the final communique.

Kyiv has been hesitant to criticize China, with Zelenskiy often encouraging Beijing to play a role in reaching a peace settlement.

China says its ties with Russia are built on the basis of nonalliance and do not target any third party.

Despite expressing neutrality toward the war in Ukraine, China has emerged as the Kremlin's leading international supporter by supplying Russia with key components that Moscow needs for its production of weapons and as a vital consumer for oil and gas that has helped boost the Russian economy.

Western governments have also accused China of providing crucial support to Russia during the war, with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg saying Beijing's assistance to Moscow has made it a "decisive enabler" of the war.

Some 3,400 Tajik Nationals Turned Back From Russian Airports In Past 6 Months

Tajik migrants stranded at Moscow's Vnukovo airport in early July
Tajik migrants stranded at Moscow's Vnukovo airport in early July

Some 3,400 Tajik migrant workers have not been allowed to enter Russia and turned back to Tajikistan from Russian airports over the last six months, the director of the Tajik Civil Aviation Agency, Habibullo Nazarzoda, told reporters on July 24. According to Nazarzoda, Tajik citizens were not allowed to enter Russia due to alleged problems with their documents. Since Russia arrested several Tajik nationals suspected of being involved in a terrorist attack at an entertainment center near Moscow that left more than 140 people dead in late March, Tajik migrant workers have faced increased restrictions inside Russia and when traveling to Russia. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Tajik Service, click here.

Germany Carries Out Raids, Bans Group Accused Of Links To Iran

A police officer is seen in front of the Blue Mosque, housing the Islamic Center of Hamburg, in Germany on July 24.
A police officer is seen in front of the Blue Mosque, housing the Islamic Center of Hamburg, in Germany on July 24.

The German government on July 24 banned a Hamburg-based organization accused of promoting the Iranian leadership's ideology and supporting Lebanon's Hizballah militant group, as police raided 53 properties around the country. The ban on the Islamic Center Hamburg, or IZH, and five suborganizations around Germany followed searches in November. Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said evidence gathered in the investigation "confirmed the serious suspicions to such a degree that we ordered the ban today." The IZH "promotes an Islamist-extremist, totalitarian ideology in Germany," while it and its suborganizations "also support the terrorists of Hizballah and spread aggressive antisemitism," Faeser said in a statement.


Turkey Detains Russian Man Suspected Of Car Bombing In Moscow

A damaged car is seen in a parking spot following a blast that reportedly injured an officer from Russia's GRU military intelligence, in Moscow on July 24.
A damaged car is seen in a parking spot following a blast that reportedly injured an officer from Russia's GRU military intelligence, in Moscow on July 24.

Turkish Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya said on July 24 that Turkish police have detained a Russian man suspected in a car bombing in Moscow earlier in the day that wounded two people, one of whom is reported to be a senior military intelligence officer.

The man, identified by Yerlikaya as Yevgeny Serebryakov, a Russian citizen, is suspected of conducting a terrorist act using an explosive device on a car in Moscow that left two people wounded, Yerlikaya said on X. Serebryakov arrived on a flight from Moscow and was detained by police in Turkey's Mugla Province, Yerlikaya added.

Yerlikaya's post carried a video showing Turkish police taking a man out of a white vehicle and handcuffing him.

Russia's Investigative Committee said earlier in the day that the owner of the Toyota Land Cruiser SUV and a passenger were wounded in the blast, while Interior Ministry spokeswoman Irina Volk said the blast was caused by an "unidentified device" placed in the vehicle.

"Preliminary investigations revealed that an unidentified object placed in a vehicle detonated in a parking lot in the capital’s north," Volk said. "Two people were injured in the explosion and rushed to a medical institution by ambulance."

Neither agency identified the two people wounded in the blast, saying that a criminal investigation and a forensic investigation had been opened into the incident that occurred in a parking lot on Sinyavinskaya Street in the northern part of the Russian capital.

The Kommersant newspaper reported that one of the wounded served in the Main Intelligence Directorate of Russia's General Staff, known as the GRU.

The Astra Telegram channel initially reported that Andrei Torgashov, 49, the deputy chief of unit 33790, a Russian military satellite communications radio center, and his wife were the two victims, and that both had been hospitalized.

Astra also issued an edited security-camera video purporting to show the moment of the explosion.

Pictures and videos of the vehicle parked in a residential courtyard with the windows, doors, and front side destroyed in the explosion circulated on the Baza Telegram channel, which is linked to Russian security services. Baza said that "presumably" one of the two victims was an officer of the Russian military intelligence.

Torgashov, who had reportedly taken part in Russia's invasion of Ukraine, had his feet torn off and his wife suffered facial injuries, some reports said.

However, the 360 Telegram channel later quoted Torgashov's wife, Maya, as saying that neither she nor her husband was in the car when the explosion occurred, claiming other people were in the vehicle.

A report in the Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper said that "the investigation leads include possible involvement of Ukrainian special services and their agents."

Several Russian military officials and pro-Kremlin public figures and bloggers have been targeted by bombing attacks since Moscow launched its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

With reporting by Baza, TASS, Interfax, Astra, Moskovsky Komsomolets, 360, Mash, and RIA Novosti

At Least 2 Killed In Russian Strikes On Ukraine As Danube Port Infrastructure Damaged

Several missile strikes on Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city, killed at least one civilian on July 24.
Several missile strikes on Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city, killed at least one civilian on July 24.

Russian shelling and missile strikes on Ukrainian regions on July 24 killed at least two people, injured several others, and damaged infrastructure in the Danube port of Izmayil, regional officials reported.

An elderly woman died in the southern city of Kherson during Russian shelling overnight, the regional military administration reported.

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.

"At night, the Russian Army hit a residential building in the Dnipro district of Kherson. Unfortunately, a 77-year-old woman was killed and her body was found under the rubble of her own home," it said on Telegram.

Several missile strikes on Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city, killed at least one civilian, Mayor Ihor Terekhov said on Telegram.

"The first strike targeted an industrial zone in one of Kharkiv's districts.... The second hit a private enterprise area, setting a building on fire. There are reports of one dead person," Terekhov said.

Kharkiv Governor Oleh Synyehubov said separately that an industrial building was set on fire in the attack on the city's Nemyshlyanskiy district.

Oleh Kiper, the governor of the southern region of Odesa, reported that Russian drones struck the area of the Danube port of Izmayil, which is critical for Ukraine's grain exports.

"The port infrastructure and an apartment building were targeted by the Russians," Kiper wrote on Telegram, adding that three people were injured. Kiper said the attack damaged several port installations and a fire broke out, but it was eventually put out by firefighters.

In Bucharest, the Defense Ministry of Ukraine's NATO neighbor, Romania, said that following the attacks on Izmayil, which is located on the Danube's left bank just across Romania's Tulcea county, it scrambled two warplanes in the area.

"Two F-16 fighter jets took off at 2:19 a.m. local time from Borcea Air Base to monitor the situation. The two aircraft returned to the base at 4:20 a.m.," the ministry said in a statement. Romania's Borcea Air Base is located some 135 kilometers southeast of Izmayil.

Earlier, authorities in Tulcea county issued alerts after several drones were observed close to the border. Debris from Russian drones has fallen on Romania's territory several times in the past.

Ukraine's air force said that its air-defense systems shot down 17 of the 23 drones launched by Russia at Ukrainian targets. According to the commander of Ukraine's air force, General Mykola Oleschuk, most drones were downed over the Odesa region.

Meanwhile, Russia's Defense Ministry said its air-defense systems downed three Ukrainian drones over the Belgorod region.

Ukraine, whose civilian and energy infrastructure has been devastated by incessant Russian missile and drone attacks, has in turn targeted oil refining installations and other fuel-producing facilities inside Russia that work for the military.

In an interview with The Guardian, Ukraine’s top military commander, Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskiy, said on July 24 that so far, Ukrainian drones have targeted "about 200 critical infrastructure sites" such as factories, fuel dumps, and ammunition depots deep inside Russia, all of which were connected with "military logistics."

Ukraine has also claimed that its sea drones have sunk or disabled one-third of all Russian warships in the Black Sea.

"It really became a trap for them and for some [vessels] a grave," Sryskiy told The Guardian.

U.S. Embassy Urges Russia To Free RFE/RL's Kurmasheva After 6 1/2-Year Sentence

Journalist Alsu Kurmasheva attends a court hearing in Kazan in May.
Journalist Alsu Kurmasheva attends a court hearing in Kazan in May.

The U.S. Embassy in Moscow has called for the release of Alsu Kurmasheva, a veteran RFE/RL journalist who holds dual U.S.-Russian citizenship, after she was sentenced to 6 1/2 years in prison by a Russian court on charges she, her employer, the U.S. government, and her supporters reject as politically motivated.

Responding a day after news of Kurmasheva's sentencing broke, the embassy said it was "a sad day for journalism in Russia."

"We once again call on the Russian authorities to release Alsu and other imprisoned journalists and prisoners of conscience," the embassy said in a post on social media on July 23.

"The suppression of dissenting voices harms all Russians. A free and independent press is at the heart of democracy, enabling voters to make informed decisions and holding public officials accountable," it added.

The court convicted Kurmasheva on a charge of spreading falsehoods about the Russian military.

RFE/RL President and CEO Stephen Capus called the trial and conviction -- first reported by AP -- "a mockery of justice," adding that "the only just outcome is for Alsu to be immediately released from prison by her Russian captors."

"It's beyond time for this American citizen, our dear colleague, to be reunited with her loving family," Capus said in a statement.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said late on July 23 that Kurmasheva's case was purely a criminal matter.

"Despite the fact that in the West this topic is presented as an alleged persecution of a journalist, I would like to note that in relation to Kurmasheva, such statements, to put it mildly, are not true," TASS quoted Zakharova as saying. "Her case is being considered exclusively as a criminal case."

Kurmasheva, a 47-year-old mother of two, was arrested in Kazan in October 2023 and first charged with failing to register as a "foreign agent" under a punitive Russian law that targets journalists, civil society activists, and others. She was subsequently charged with spreading falsehoods about the Russian military.

RFE/RL and the U.S. government say the charges are reprisals for her work as a journalist for the broadcaster in Prague.

"She’s a dedicated journalist who is being targeted by Russian authorities for her uncompromising commitment to speaking the truth and her principled reporting," U.S. State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters on July 22 after the news of her conviction.

"Journalism is not a crime, as you have heard us say on a number of occasions, and we continue to make very clear that she should be released," he said.

The Kremlin has not commented on the conviction. In the past, it has said it is not closely following the case and that it wouldn't commen, as Russia's justice system must be allowed to work through the case.

The verdict came on July 19, the same day that Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich was found guilty of espionage charges -- which he, his employer, and the U.S. government have rejected as politically motivated -- by a court in the city of Yekaterinberg.

A White House statement on July 19 said Gershkovich was targeted by the Russian government because he is a journalist and an American.

Unlike Gershkovich and another American, Paul Whelan, who is serving a 16-year sentence also on espionage charges, Kurmasheva has not been designated by the U.S. government as "wrongfully detained."

Such a designation ensures that the case is assigned to the office of the special envoy for hostage affairs in the U.S. State Department, raising the political profile of the prisoner's situation and allowing the U.S. administration to allocate more resources to securing their release.

The U.S. National Press Club -- a professional association of American journalists -- and 18 other media freedom groups called on President Joe Biden in an open letter on May 31 to press for the recognition of Kurmasheva as a "wrongfully detained" person.

"She meets all the criteria. This should happen immediately. It should have happened months ago," the letter said.

"We have listened to the State Department twist itself into a pretzel explaining how there are other factors to be considered besides the criteria, but we have yet to hear a clear reason why [it] cannot declare her wrongfully detained," it added.

Miller did not address the issue of Kurmasheva's designation with reporters, saying only that the Biden administration remains focused on her case.

Russia has been accused of targeting Americans by detaining them on trumped-up charges to later use as bargaining chips in talks to bring back Russians convicted of crimes abroad.

Some analysts have said the move to expedite the cases of Kurmasheva and Gershkovich could be a sign that talks are heating up between Moscow and Washington on a possible prisoner exchange. There has been no word on such talks from either Washington or Moscow.

RFE/RL's jailed journalists (left to right): Alsu Kurmasheva, Ihar Losik, Andrey Kuznechyk, and Vladyslav Yesypenko
RFE/RL's jailed journalists (left to right): Alsu Kurmasheva, Ihar Losik, Andrey Kuznechyk, and Vladyslav Yesypenko

Kurmasheva is one of four RFE/RL journalists -- the other three are Andrey Kuznechyk, Ihar Losik, and Vladyslav Yesypenko -- currently imprisoned on charges related to their work. Rights groups and RFE/RL have called repeatedly for the release of all four, saying they have been wrongly detained.

Losik is a blogger and contributor for RFE/RL's Belarus Service who was convicted in December 2021 on several charges including the "organization and preparation of actions that grossly violate public order" and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Kuznechyk, a web editor for RFE/RL's Belarus Service, was sentenced in June 2022 to six years in prison following a trial that lasted no more than a few hours. He was convicted of "creating or participating in an extremist organization."

Yesypenko, a dual Ukrainian-Russian citizen who contributed to Crimea.Realities, a regional news outlet of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, was sentenced in February 2022 to six years in prison by a Russian judge in occupied Crimea after a closed-door trial. He was convicted of "possession and transport of explosives," a charge he steadfastly denies.

Russia Using Disinformation To Undermine Moldova's Upcoming Elections, Officials Tell U.S. Panels

Moldova is preparing for a vote on October 20 that will include a referendum on membership in the European Union. (file photo)
Moldova is preparing for a vote on October 20 that will include a referendum on membership in the European Union. (file photo)

WASHINGTON -- Russian disinformation threatens to interfere with Moldovan elections later this year just as the country begins to make significant progress on reforms under pro-Western President Maia Sandu, U.S. and Moldovan officials said at separate events in Washington on July 23.

Moldova is preparing for a vote on October 20 that will include a referendum on membership in the European Union.

Sandu, who defeated pro-Moscow socialist Igor Dodon in 2020 and has since said that Moldova’s future is in the EU, will seek reelection, a test for the country wedged between Ukraine and Romania.

The election will be "historic and pivotal" for the country of 2.5 million people where the transition to democracy and a market economy has been slower than in many post-Soviet states, Moldovan Ambassador Viorel Ursu said.

Ursu said Moldova, which is also contending with about 1,000 Russian troops in its breakaway Transdniester region and coping with an influx of about 1 million refugees from Ukraine, remains in a vulnerable position, as Russia uses it as "a testing ground" for disinformation, which he said "is everywhere" and getting more advanced.

He noted that Russian disinformation used to be in Russian but in the last six months has started to arrive in perfect Romanian, which is similar to the Moldovan language and is spoken by a majority of the population.

He also said he expects an increase in deep fakes in the week before the election, leaving no time to debunk them.

At a hearing later on July 23, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Christopher Smith told members of Congress that the election will be a "historic opportunity" for Moldovans but there will also be much at stake as the country faces Russian aggression, interference, and disinformation.

"We see very clear action by the Russians to undermine this upcoming election and referendum. They are engaging networks of interference financed by the Russian state...designed to deprive the Moldovan people of their right to choose their future," Smith told a subcommittee of the House Foreign Relations Committee.

Subcommittee Chairman Thomas Kean (Republican-New Jersey) said Moldova had been on track to be a post-Soviet success story, but now faces the question of whether it will continue down a Western path or fall back into the Kremlin's sphere of influence.

Smith told Kean that Russia uses a variety of methods to spread disinformation, including campaigns funded by Russian oligarchs that pay people to protest. Russia has also tried to undermine turnout by spreading false information that Moldova will be dragged into the war in Ukraine, he said.

"The goals that we have seen them articulate make clear that they are doing this in order to get a pro-Kremlin candidate in office," Smith said.

Smith said the United States had assisted Moldova to bolster its security and territorial integrity, integrate its economy, and implement sanctions designed to counter Russia's malign influence.

Since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the United States has backed Moldova's fight against corruption and its efforts to get closer to Europe with $824 million in aid, he said. That compares with the European Union’s 2.4 billion euros ($2.6 billion) since 2021 for similar programs.

Alexander Sokolowski, deputy assistant administrator for Europe and Eurasia, told the committee that the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) had stepped up programming to support the diversification of Moldova’s energy sources and foster increased trade with the European governments.

Moldova now meets 100 percent of its natural gas needs with non-Russian supplies, but the supply of electricity continues to be a concern, as the country gets between 70 percent and 90 percent of its electricity from a plant in Transdniester, Sokolowski said.

The committee also heard a report on U.S.-Georgia bilateral relations from Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Joshua Huck, who said the United States continues to support civil society in Georgia but has seen an anti-democracy shift with the recent adoption of a "foreign agents" law similar to one that Russia has used to suppress dissent.

Smith said by contrast Moldova is addressing human rights and practical issues that relate to the economy, adding that the United States sees "tremendous progress when it comes to their commitment."

Russian Internet Pioneer Handed 2-Year Prison Sentence

Aleksei Soldatov (left) in 2015
Aleksei Soldatov (left) in 2015

One of Russia's Internet pioneers has been sentenced to two years in prison on a charge of abuse of office that he has rejected. Aleksei Soldatov, who served as deputy minister of communications in 2008-10, was convicted on July 22 on charges related to a deal to transfer a pool of IP addresses to a foreign-based organization. Soldatov and his lawyers rejected the charges as unfounded. In 1990, Soldatov, a nuclear physicist by training, led the Relcom computer network that made the first Soviet connection to the global Internet. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Soldatov helped establish other organizations that provided the technical backbone of the Russian Internet.

Belarusian Athlete Who Fled 2021 Olympics Disavows Former Team As She Prepares To Compete For Poland

Krystsina Tsimanouskaya poses for a picture with a red and white flag, which is a symbol of the opposition movement in Belarus, during a competition at a stadium in Szczec, Poland, in August 2021.
Krystsina Tsimanouskaya poses for a picture with a red and white flag, which is a symbol of the opposition movement in Belarus, during a competition at a stadium in Szczec, Poland, in August 2021.

Former Belarusian sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, who escaped being forced to return to Minsk prematurely from the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 after she criticized her coaches, says she wants nothing to do with Belarusian athletes set to compete at the Paris Olympics.

"To represent today's Belarus at the Olympic Games in Paris means to represent today's Belarusian government," Tsimanouskaya told RFE/RL in an interview.

Tsimanouskaya, who is now a Polish citizen and will compete for her new country in Paris, said she will not approach Belarusian athletes in Paris because she does "not want to have anything to do either with the Belarusian government or the current national flag."

The International Olympic Committee is allowing Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete only as neutrals at the Paris Olympics and as such they will not be allowed to display flags or emblems and their anthems will not be played. They also will be barred from taking part in the parade of athletes at the opening ceremony on July 26.

In addition, no teams from the two countries will be allowed, and no Russian or Belarusian government or state official has been invited or accredited. The number of Belarusian athletes at the games is expected to be very small.

Tsimanouskaya took refuge in August 2021 in the Polish Embassy in Tokyo after refusing to allow Belarusian team officials to force her onto a flight to Minsk after she voiced criticism of their coaching decisions.

She was granted a humanitarian visa by Poland and boarded a plane to Europe and reached Warsaw. She said at the time that she feared for her safety if she returned to Belarus.

She told RFE/RL that the current national flag of Belarus would not be the one that she would raise if she were competing at the Olympics for her native country.

"I would like to raise the national flag of Belarus," she said, referring to the historical white and red flag that has been used by opposition groups for decades.

The flag, whose origins are in the short-lived Belarusian Democratic Republic in 1918-1920, was reinstated after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, but authoritarian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka replaced it one year after he came to power with a flag similar to the one used in Soviet times.

Tsimanouskaya said that after Russia launched its ongoing invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, she stopped any contacts with the majority of Belarusian athletes, as they supported the war.

"There are only two people among the Belarusian national team with whom I can keep communicating," Tsimanouskaya said.

The Crisis In Belarus

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

Tsimanouskaya also said that she is very grateful to Poland for everything the country has done for her and her family but emphasized that it's not easy for her to feel completely at home in Polish society due to peculiarities of culture and language.

Tsimanouskaya's plight at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 drew international attention to repression in Belarus a year after massive protests erupted when Lukashenka claimed victory in the presidential election in August 2020. The Belarusian opposition and many Western government say the election was rigged.

Lukashenka has moved to align Belarus closely with neighboring Russia, including allowing the Kremlin to stage military operations from Belarusian territory since the start of its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

In addition to Tsimanouskaya, other Belarusian athletes and coaches have left the country.

In August 2021, a coach of the Vitsyaz handball club in Minsk, Kanstantsin Yakauleu, fled to Ukraine weeks after he served 15 days in jail for taking part in an anti-government rally.

Belarusian heptathlete Yana Maksimava and her husband, Andrey Krauchanka, who won an Olympic medal in 2008 in Beijing, also announced in 2021 that they had decided to stay in Germany with their child due to the ongoing crackdown in Belarus.

Bulgarian President Admits Blocking Pro-Western Envoy To Kyiv

President Rumen Radev had quietly opposed the appointment of Nikolay Nenev as ambassador to Kyiv dating back to at least April, the president said. (file photo)
President Rumen Radev had quietly opposed the appointment of Nikolay Nenev as ambassador to Kyiv dating back to at least April, the president said. (file photo)

SOFIA -- Bulgarian President Rumen Radev has acknowledged blocking the appointment of a pro-Western former defense minister as Sofia’s ambassador to Kyiv, underscoring a long-running division between the head of state and successive governments over support for Ukraine in its battle against invading Russian forces.

Radev's July 23 statement followed reports that the caretaker government of Prime Minister Dimitar Glavchev used a workaround that doesn't require the president's signature to plug a diplomatic gap that had existed since the early months of the 29-month-old full-scale war in Ukraine.

Radev, a 61-year-old retired general and two-term president whose critics accuse him of holding pro-Kremlin positions, alleged that the government circumvented the constitution to appoint Nikolay Nenchev as the envoy to Kyiv.

Glavchev, who was appointed prime minister on a caretaker basis by Radev in April and also serves as foreign minister, responded that Nenchev's appointment as temporary ambassador was conducted in accordance with Bulgarian law.

Radev said the previous prime minister, Nikolay Denkov, had been "insistent" on Nenchev's appointment to the Kyiv post in their final regular cabinet meeting in April.

"I firmly refused because the candidate does not have the required professional qualities or expertise for this important post," Radev said.

Radev has clashed with multiple Bulgarian governments amid two years of inconclusive elections in the EU and NATO member state over Sofia's provision of military aid to Kyiv. He has referred to supporters of such aid as "warmongers."

Nenchev, who was defense minister in 2014-17, is a generally pro-Western figure who has publicly argued in favor of military aid for Ukraine.

RFE/RL's Bulgarian Service requested comment from the Foreign Ministry and from the cabinet, but those requests went unmet by the publication of this article.

Nenchev did not return RFE/RL's phone calls.

Sofia temporarily closed its embassy in Kyiv as a precaution after Russian troops invaded in February 2022, and former Bulgarian Ambassador Kostadin Kodzhabashev's mandate expired before the mission was reopened in September 2022.

The Bulgarian ambassadorial post has remained vacant ever since.

A former Bulgarian foreign minister who heads a think tank in Sofia that advocates for transatlantic defense and security ties, Solomon Passy, sparked the public spat when he disclosed the Nenchev appointment on July 22.

Vice President Iliana Iotova, a Radev ally, said Passy's revelation had "presented us all with a fait accompli, because I understand that this appointment must become a reality within days." She said it risked "lowering" Sofia's representation in Kyiv.

Tensions between Radev and Nenchev reportedly date back to Radev's days as the commander of the air force, with Nenchev serving as defense minister.

Radev boycotted this month's NATO summit in Washington, reportedly over his exclusion from talks on a final communique laying out alliance members' positions on the war in Ukraine.

Russia Adds 15 More British Citizens To Its Sanctions List

Russia's Foreign Ministry said on July 23 it had added to its sanctions list another 15 British nationals, including what it called representatives of defense-industry entities, military analysts, and publicists who push "anti-Russian" narratives in the media. According to the ministry, the list also includes people "involved in training Ukrainian military personnel," and those who provide Kyiv with weapons. Among others, the list includes Robert Paxman, the CEO of Paradigm Security Solutions Limited; Angus Cockburn, a member of the board of BAE Systems PLC; and Thomas Sharpe, an analyst at The Daily Telegraph newspaper.

Ukrainian Lawmakers Approve Presidential Decrees Extending Martial Law

A Ukrainian lawmaker casts a vote during a session of parliament in Kyiv. (file photo)
A Ukrainian lawmaker casts a vote during a session of parliament in Kyiv. (file photo)

Ukrainian lawmakers on July 23 approved bills to support decrees issued by President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to extend martial law and a general military mobilization for 90 days starting on August 12. Lawmakers Yaroslav Zheleznyak and Oleksiy Honcharenko said on Telegram that 339 lawmakers voted to extend martial law, while 338 supported the extension of mobilization. Zelenskiy is expected now to endorse the bills into law. Martial law and the general mobilization were last extended in May, the 11th extension since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.

Russian Lawmakers Approve Bills On Labeling Any Foreign Organization 'Undesirable'

Deputies attend a plenary session of Russia's State Duma in Moscow. (file photo)
Deputies attend a plenary session of Russia's State Duma in Moscow. (file photo)

The Russian parliament's lower chamber, the State Duma, on July 23 approved in the second and third readings bills that would allow any foreign entities, including those established by state organs of third countries, to be declared "undesirable." The bills will not affect international intergovernmental organizations of which Russia is a member, or organizations incorporated into the government structures of foreign countries. Last month, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Russia violated the European Convention on Human Rights when it labeled several foreign organizations operating in Russia, including RFE/RL, as "undesirable." To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Russia Accuses Detained Russian-German Lawyer Of Treason

Moscow's Lefortovo prison (file photo)
Moscow's Lefortovo prison (file photo)

Russia has accused a dual Russian-German national and lawyer, German Moyzhes, of treason, the TASS news agency reported, citing law enforcement agencies. TASS said that Moyzhes had helped Russians obtain European residency permits. He is being held in pretrial detention in Moscow's Lefortovo prison after being transferred from a detention center in St. Petersburg, the agency said. TASS did not say when his trial would begin and Reuters could not immediately contact his lawyer. Moyzhes joins a growing list of foreign nationals and dual citizens detained in Russia who have found themselves caught up in a crisis in relations between Moscow and the West during the Ukraine conflict.

Belarusian Foreign Minister Arrives In North Korea Amid Warming Ties

Belarusian Foreign Minister Maksim Ryzhankou (file photo)
Belarusian Foreign Minister Maksim Ryzhankou (file photo)

Belarusian Foreign Minister Maksim Ryzhankou arrived in North Korea on July 23 following a visit to Beijing earlier this week, according to the Belarusian Foreign Ministry. Ryzhankou will spend two days in Pyongyang in what a press release called a "reciprocal visit," although no announcement was made about a previous North Korean visit to Minsk. Belarusian Deputy Foreign Minister Yauhen Shastakou visited in April, which then-Foreign Minister Syarhey Aleynik said had "a bilateral agenda with an emphasis on humanitarian cooperation." According to the North Korean news agency KCNA, Shastakov emphasized "traditional relations of friendship and cooperation" with Pyongyang. To read the original story on RFE/RL’s Belarus Service, click here.

Russian's Conviction Of Distribution Of False Information About Military Cancelled

Sergei Vedel appears in court in Moscow in April 2023.
Sergei Vedel appears in court in Moscow in April 2023.

The Moscow City Court has annulled the conviction and sentence of former police officer Sergei Vedel (aka Klokov) who was handed seven years in prison in April 2023 on a charge of distributing "fake information" about Russia's armed forces involved in Moscow's ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

The court's collegiate on appeals ruled on July 23 that Vedel's case must be sent back for retrial and ordered him to remain in custody at least until September before his case is retried.

Vedel was the first Russian citizen to face the charge in 2022 right after Russia adopted a law criminalizing any expression of opinion about the war in Ukraine that differs from official statements by Moscow. The law has been used to stifle even minor expressions of dissent.

Vedel's defense team has insisted the charge is illegal as it came about from recordings of private telephone conversations he had with friends, relatives in Ukraine, and colleagues, and therefore cannot be defined as distributing information.

Investigators say that the Ukrainian-born Vedel in three private telephone conversations said that Russian military losses in Ukraine were much higher than official statistics showed. He also said that Russia's military was killing civilians and that Ukraine's government was not led by Nazis, as Russian officials and propaganda have said in justifying the war.

Vedel, who was born and raised in the town of Irpin near Kyiv, was arrested on March 18, 2022, after his telephone conversation with a Ukrainian police officer in Kyiv, who is his 67-year-old father's friend, was intercepted.

During the conversation, Vedel asked the police officer in Kyiv to get information about his friends and their families residing in the town of Bucha, near Kyiv.

Vedel admitted to making the statements and offered apologies to the court.

Russian troops were forced to leave Irpin and Bucha in late March 2022 after they failed to capture the Ukrainian capital, leaving behind the bodies of hundreds of dead civilians in the streets.

Kyiv, rights groups, and the United Nations have described the Russian military's actions in Bucha, Irpin, and some other towns as war crimes.

Russia has denied targeting civilians in its attacks on Ukrainian targets, and has repeatedly denied its forces have committed any war crimes even with mounting evidence that it has targeted hospitals, residential areas, cultural centers, and other nonmilitary installations.

With reporting by Setevyye svobody

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