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Russian Court Finds Art Organizers Guilty Of Inciting Hatred

Yury Samodurovy (left) and Andrei Yerofeyev in the courtroom
Yury Samodurovy (left) and Andrei Yerofeyev in the courtroom
A Moscow district court has found two prominent members of the city's art community guilty of inciting religious hatred with an exhibition that critics called an anti-Christian provocation.

But the court stopped short of ordering jail time for the men, and instead fined them between $6,500 and $4,900 and ordered their release.

Art expert Andrei Yerofeyev and former museum director Yury Samodurov were on trial in connection with a 2007 exhibit that included a depiction of Jesus Christ with the head of Mickey Mouse and a Russian Orthodox icon filled with black caviar.

The judge at the Tagansky court ruled today that Yerofeyev and Samodurov had "committed actions aimed at inciting hatred." (See some of the images here.) They could have faced up to three years in jail.

The light sentence raised an audible cheer from Yerofeyev and Samodurov's supporters, who had complained the case was politically motivated and that prosecutors had presented no solid evidence.

The lawyer for the two men, Anna Stavitskaya, told RFE/RL's Russian Service she was pleased with the outcome despite what she characterized as the poor performance of the court.

"Of course we're going to appeal this verdict in the appeals courts, but from our perspective, this sentence can be considered the same as an acquittal," Stavitskaya said.

"From a judicial point of view, naturally we're not satisfied, insofar as there are an enormous number of [procedural] violations we're going to appeal. But you can practically call this a 'not guilty' verdict."

The relatively lenient punishment appears to reflect the state's uneasiness over a case that had pitted the country's secular intelligentsia against a particularly zealous strain of the Russian Orthodox Church.

All the same, the guilty verdict hands a certain victory to Russia's religious nationalists.

One of the "Forbidden Art" works showing Disney's iconic Mickey Mouse as Jesus Christ
It also sends a chilling message to Russia's rights community and contemporary arts advocates at a time when free-expression rights are increasingly under attack in the country.

Speaking after the sentencing, Yerofeyev, a onetime curator for the world-famous Tretyakov Gallery, said confidently that Russian art "will only get stronger" as a result of the case -- but that society would suffer.

"Because now everyone will need to check everything 10 times, they'll run to the patriarchy to ask for permission, thinking maybe some exhibits won't be allowed. So our exhibits are going to get more and more bland," Yerofeyev said.

"But that will be mainly in the state institutions," he added. "When it comes to private galleries, or those that are protected -- those, for example, like the Garazh exhibit hall, which has powerful guardians in the government [Garazh was founded by Dasha Zhukova, the heiress and girlfriend of billionaire Roman Abramovich] -- there, freedom will remain."

'Anti-Christian Provocation'?

Yerofeyev and Samodurov were charged in 2008 after an ultranationalist Russian Orthodox group, the People's Council, filed a complaint about the pair's "Forbidden Art" exhibit.

The exhibition was held at Moscow's Andrei Sakharov Museum, a hub of human rights activity where Samodurov was the director. Yerofeyev, who had had previous exhibits banned as controversial, emphasized the "forbidden" nature of the Sakharov exhibition by placing them behind a fake wall and forcing visitors to view them through a peephole.

The Russian Orthodox Church was not the only institution targeted in the exhibition. The military also comes under fire, with an image of a Russian general raping a soldier above the slogan "Glory to Russia."

Another work casts a critical eye on Islamic fundamentalism, showing a female suicide bomber pulling up her robes to reveal high heels and shapely legs.

But the People's Council condemned the exhibit as "anti-Christian," with representatives saying that the sentiments represented in its works, once displayed in public, were "no longer art but a provocation."

No Laws Broken

The verdict adds heat to a slow-simmering confrontation between the Russian Orthodox Church and the contemporary art world.

Samodurov in 2003 came under fire from church members for a similar exhibit of sculptures and paintings at the Sakharov Museum titled "Caution, Religion!" The exhibition was on display for just four days before it was attacked by a group of six church members, who destroyed many of the works and defaced others with spray paint.

The men were quickly cleared of charges related to the attack, and in the end it was Samodurov, not the church, that was denounced for staging the exhibition in the first place.

The priest who led the campaign against the museum, Aleksandr Shargunov, is seen as one of the most conservative members of the Orthodox Church, and has been tied to the current case against Yerofeyev and Samodurov.

Gleb Yakunin, a member of the Moscow Helsinki rights group and a priest with the Apostolic Orthodox Church, a splinter group that has broken with the Russian Orthodox Church, blames Shargunov with orchestrating the case against the two men.

Yury Samodurov holds replicas of some of the exhibited works on July 9.
The trial has shown the complete emptiness of the indictment," Yakunin said. "It was all fabricated, and a few priests in the Aleksandr Shargunov entourage in their parishes told people, 'This is such a disgrace, so sign [a petition] and tell everyone you have seen it all and you were offended.' In short, there was an attempt to say that this [complaint represented] the mass of religious believers, and, namely, the Orthodox. "

Russia's Culture Ministry has said Yerofeyev and Samodurov broke no laws in staging the exhibition.

Even members of the Russian Orthodox Church have sought to distance themselves from the case, with a spokesman telling Ekho Moskvy radio the prosecutor's demands seemed "excessive for our society, unjustified, and possibly even harmful."

All the same, the ruling appears to bolster fears among rights activists that the Russian Orthodox Church is playing an increasingly dominant role in Russian politics and society.

Speaking today before the verdict and sentencing, Yerofeyev said the case against him and Samodurov was just part of a larger wave of right-wing sentiment washing through Russia.

"The state supports the People's Council. Of course, this People's Council doesn't represent itself independently," Yerofeyev said. "They claim that they protect the interest of various strata of society -- the Orthodox people of Russia, their traditional values -- but these are all demagogic statements, behind which stands the desire to break into the broad field of political life in Russia."

Yerofeyev described a "right-wing wave that is beginning to swamp our country."

"While this is not a tsunami, it has reached our feet. Why should the state supports it? By all means, this is the big question."

based on RFE/RL's Russian Service and agency reports

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UEFA Opens Disciplinary Proceedings, Probe Over Serbian Fan Actions At Euro 2024

Security was increased as fans gathered in Gelsenkirchen before the England-Serbia match on June 16.
Security was increased as fans gathered in Gelsenkirchen before the England-Serbia match on June 16.

European football's governing body UEFA on June 17 announced disciplinary proceedings and a further investigation into alleged misconduct by Serbian fans at the Euro 2024 soccer championships' group-stage match against England in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, a day earlier.

It said the disciplinary charges against Serbia's Football Association involved the throwing of objects and "transmitting a provocative message unfit for a sports event."

Meanwhile, the investigation involves alleged "discriminatory behavior."

The football association of the former Serbian province of Kosovo, whose independence Serbia rejects, filed a complaint alleging that Serbian fans had brandished “political, chauvinistic, and racist messages,” including a flag showing Kosovo within Serbia's borders.

Decisions on both will be made "in due course," UEFA said. Serbia next plays in Munich on June 20 against Slovenia.

Seven of Serbia's fans were detained by German police on June 16 after violence broke out ahead of the same match, which England won 1-0.

Reports said one of the fans had been accused of dangerous bodily harm.

Police had said earlier they had been forced to separate the two sides' supporters.

Before Summit With North Korea's Kim, Putin Vows They'll Beat Sanctions Together

Russian President Vladimir Putin last visited North Korea in 2000, when Kim's father, Kim Jong Il, was still its leader.
Russian President Vladimir Putin last visited North Korea in 2000, when Kim's father, Kim Jong Il, was still its leader.

Russian President Vladimir Putin thanked North Korea for supporting his actions in Ukraine and said their countries will cooperate closely to overcome U.S.-led sanctions as he headed to Pyongyang on June 18 for a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Putin’s comments appeared in an op-ed piece in North Korean state media hours before he was expected to arrive in North Korea for a two-day visit as the countries deepen their alignment in the face of separate, intensifying confrontations with Washington. Putin, who will be making his first visit to North Korea in 24 years, said he highly appreciates its firm support of his invasion of Ukraine. To read the original story by AP, click here.

Outspoken Armenian Archbishop Leads Another Anti-Government Rally In Yerevan

Archbishop Bagrat Galstanian addresses supporters in Yerevan on June 17.
Archbishop Bagrat Galstanian addresses supporters in Yerevan on June 17.

YEREVAN -- Thousands of people took part in a demonstration in the Armenian capital on June 17 in support of the Tavush for the Motherland movement, which has been holding rallies calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian over plans to hand over several border areas to Azerbaijan as part of a peace deal.

The demonstration, led by Archbishop Bagrat Galstanian, started on Baghramian Avenue, which was closed.

There was also a police presence during the demonstration but no violence was reported, unlike on June 12, when clashes erupted near the National Assembly during a rally by the movement.

Police used stun grenades and detained more than 100 people, and nearly as many were injured in the clashes. Pashinian angered the opposition by defending the use of force, saying it was "legitimate and professional."

Galstanian said at the June 17 demonstration that the people who were injured had not been visited by a "forensic doctor" until the night of June 16 as part of an effort to cover up what happened.

"June 12 is another stigma on the face of this government and its leader," Galstanian said, vowing to start legal proceedings against the perpetrators of the violence.

Opposition deputy Garnik Danielyan also addressed the crowd.

"We will continue the struggle as long as Nikol Pashinian and his regime exist," he declared.

The deputy also referred to an extraordinary session of parliament that failed to take place earlier on June 14 because opposition parties could not secure a quorum.

At least two opposition parties wanted the meeting to discuss a draft on the resignation of the government and the formation of a new one.

National Assembly speaker Alen Simonian told RFE/RL that Civil Agreement faction members declined to attend the session because they did not want to "serve the agenda of the opposition."

Simonian added that the government "is legitimate, therefore they will not discuss the issue of the resignation of the government."

Galstanian told the demonstration that the movement would continue its discussions and "expand the toolkit for the struggle." The movement will meet to discuss "having a new quality country and other ideological issues," he said, adding, "There is no such thing as a retreat for us."

The Investigative Committee said earlier on June 17 that 12 criminal cases had been filed in connection with the clashes on June 12. The cases include charges of mass disturbances and hooliganism filed against eight people. Two of them are under house arrest, and one was banned from leaving the country.

Ruben Melikian, a lawyer for one of the two defendants under house arrest, said the criminal cases against the protesters were political persecution. The authorities are trying to justify the violence that police used against the demonstrators, Melikian said.

The government must answer to Armenia and the international community "because these brutalities of the police are in front of everyone's eyes," Melikian told RFE/RL.

Melikian's client, Tigran Saribekian, is accused of hooliganism. Melikian said Saribekian's ears were injured by a stun grenade. After he was injured, he picked up a piece of wood from the ground and threw it at the police, according to Melikian.

"They are trying to show that some serious crime happened and the police heroically defended it," Melikian said, adding that the portrayal of the police as victims was "artificial."

Ukrainian Command Says Russian Air Defenses Damaged In Crimea

A Russian S-400 air defense system near Yevpatoria, Crimea (file photo)
A Russian S-400 air defense system near Yevpatoria, Crimea (file photo)

The Strategic Command of Ukraine's armed forces said on June 17 that its forces had damaged 15 Russian air defense systems in occupied Crimea since May.

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.

Russian S-300, S-350, and S-400 antiaircraft divisions have been affected, the Strategic Command said on social media. These missile divisions are capable of launching surface-to-air missiles.

Military experts have called the S-400 system one of the most advanced air defense systems in the world. Some estimate the production cost per S-400 system at $600 million per unit.

The system has been key to Russia's air defenses in Crimea, which it illegally occupied in 2014.

The Strategic Command also said dozens of launchers, more than 15 radar stations, and more than 10 control points had been destroyed in Crimea.

As Russian air defenses weaken, the Strategic Command said, "The day of the liberation of the Ukrainian Crimea is approaching."

The Strategic Command included a map in the post, which showed damaged divisions throughout Crimea. According to the map, the locations are Ai-Petri, Alushta, Belbek, Chornomorske, Dzhankoy, Donskoye, Yevpatoria, Misov, Saki, Sevastopol, and Tarkhankut. In some locations, multiple divisions have been damaged.

Ukraine hopes to improve its air defense capabilities, notably through the acquisition of F-16 fighter jets.

The Strategic Command post comes the same day NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the "path to peace is more weapons for Ukraine," ahead of the NATO summit in Washington in July.

In addition to military assistance, Group of Seven allies announced on June 12 that Ukraine will receive a $50 billion loan using the profits from Russian sovereign assets that have frozen in Europe.

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said on June 17 that the loan will help repair Ukrainian infrastructure that has been damaged by Russia's aggression inside the country and to help them with reconstruction.

"It's a way to get that reconstruction started right now and have Russia literally and figuratively footing the bill," Kirby said.

Russian Nuclear-Powered Submarine Leaves Cuba After 5-Day Stay

The Russian nuclear-powered submarine Kazan enters Havana's bay on June 12.
The Russian nuclear-powered submarine Kazan enters Havana's bay on June 12.

A Russian nuclear-powered submarine and other naval vessels on June 17 left the port of Havana after a five-day stay. The Russian nuclear-powered submarine Kazan -- which Cuba said was not carrying nuclear weapons -- docked in Havana on June 12. Washington said it did not see the visit as a threat, but the U.S. Southern Command said on June 13 that a U.S. fast-attack submarine arrived at the naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as part of a planned and routine port visit. A Canadian Navy patrol ship also docked in Havana. Ottawa said the ship arrived on June 14 to signal the "capable and deployable" nature of the Canadian military.

Rod Stewart Defends Support For Ukraine After Boos In Germany's Leipzig

Rod Stewart performs in Copenhagen on June 9.
Rod Stewart performs in Copenhagen on June 9.

British rock star Rod Stewart on June 17 defended his support for Ukraine after he was booed at a show in Germany after an image of Ukraine's flag and President Volodymyr Zelenskiy appeared on screens in the stadium. Stewart, 79, has been outspoken in his support for Ukraine, which has included help for a family of seven fleeing Russia's invasion. While performing in Leipzig on June 14, the display of the Ukrainian flag and an image of Zelenskiy was met by loud boos, shouts, and whistles. Steward told Britain's PA news agency that his support for the Ukrainian people will continue. "[Russian President Vladimir] Putin must be stopped," he said.

Updated

NATO Chief: West Should 'Impose A Cost' On China For Its Support Of Russia

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg speaks to the media outside the West Wing of the White House in Washington on June 17 following a meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg speaks to the media outside the West Wing of the White House in Washington on June 17 following a meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden.

WASHINGTON -- NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on June 17 that China was providing technology to Russia that is prolonging its full-scale invasion of Ukraine and called on Beijing to face the consequences of this support.

"Beijing cannot have it both ways. At some point -- and unless China changes course -- allies need to impose a cost. There should be consequences," Stoltenberg said at the Wilson Center in Washington.

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.

Stoltenberg said that in the past two years 90 percent of Russian microelectronics originated in China, and that China was working to improve Russian satellite capabilities.

"Threats are not regional," Stoltenberg said. "China is fueling the largest armed conflict in Europe since World War II, and at the same time it wants to maintain good relations with the West."

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby also said China was continuing to provide Russia with components for military equipment and weapon systems.

Speaking at a briefing on June 17, he said microelectronics had helped "shore up...what would have been a truly crumbling Russian defense industrial base." Kirby added that the United States had raised the issue with China.

Stoltenberg noted that NATO faces threats from China related to Russia along with threats from China related to the Indo-Pacific and the Arctic.

Russia has also built up relations with North Korea, and on June 17 the Kremlin announced that President Vladimir Putin will embark on a two-day visit to North Korea starting on June 18. Putin is expected to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for talks focused on expanding military cooperation.

The deepening relationship is a concern for the United States, Kirby said.

"We know North Korean ballistic missiles are being used to hit Ukrainian targets," he said.

Both Pyongyang and Moscow have denied accusations about North Korean weapons transfers, which would be in violation of UN Security Council resolutions.

Stoltenberg said the "growing alignment between Russia and its authoritarian friends in Asia makes it even more important that we work closely with our friends in the Indo-Pacific."

Non-NATO members Australia, Japan, South Korea, and New Zealand will attend the July 9-11 NATO summit in Washington as observers.

The secretary-general said Russia's ongoing war against Ukraine will be the "most urgent topic" for discussion at the summit, along with NATO defense spending.

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Stoltenberg said he will announce new defense-spending figures for NATO allies later on June 17 when he meets U.S. President Joe Biden.

"This year, more than 20 allies spent at least 2 percent of GDP on defense," Stoltenberg said, previewing the announcement.

The increase in defense spending has bolstered Ukraine's defense capabilities, according to Stoltenberg, adding that the path to peace is more weapons for Ukraine.

Defense spending by many European countries has risen sharply since Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 and NATO officials have been keen to stress that its European members are now stepping up to the plate.

Although Ukraine will not become a member of the alliance at the Washington summit, Stoltenberg said NATO will "build a bridge" to future membership for Ukraine and praised the NATO-Ukraine Council set up last year at the summit in Vilnius.

"We are helping to ensure that the Ukrainian armed forces are more and more interoperable with NATO, meet NATO standards, and meet NATO doctrines," Stoltenberg said. "The idea is to move them so close to membership that when we reach a consensus, we can make them members straight away."

In his remarks at the Wilson Center, Stoltenberg did not mention earlier comments reported by The Telegraph that NATO is in talks to deploy more nuclear weapons.

The British newspaper quoted Stoltenberg as saying that the weapons would be taken out of storage and placed on standby.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called the comments "nothing but another escalation of tension," saying they appeared to contradict the communique of the Ukraine Conference that said any threat or use of nuclear weapons in the Ukraine context was inadmissible.

With reporting by Reuters

5 Residents Of Volatile Tajik Region Extradited By Russia

A crackdown on the restive region intensified in 2022 after mass protests in May that year were violently dispersed by police and security forces.
A crackdown on the restive region intensified in 2022 after mass protests in May that year were violently dispersed by police and security forces.

DUSHANBE -- Russian officials detained five residents of the village of Yazgulom in the volatile Gorno-Badakhshan autonomous region and extradited them to Tajikistan last week, where they were charged with "membership in an extremist organization," a source close to Tajik law enforcement told RFE/RL on June 17.

RFE/RL has chosen not to disclose the names of the five, who were arrested in Russia in late May. The source spoke on condition of anonymity.

On May 16, Tajik security forces arrested more than 30 residents of Yazgulom, accusing them of plotting unspecified sabotage.

Sources told RFE/RL at the time that those arrested were suspected of having links with "extremist groups" in neighboring Afghanistan.

There were no details regarding the arrests in Yazgulom and the deportation of the five Tajiks from Russia as neither officials nor relatives of the detained individuals agreed to talk to RFE/RL.

Residents of Gorno-Badakhshan have been under pressure for years. A crackdown on the restive region intensified in 2022 after mass protests in May that year were violently dispersed by police and security forces.

Tajik authorities said at the time that 10 people were killed and 27 injured during the clashes between protesters and police.

Residents of the remote region's Rushon district, however, have told RFE/RL that 21 bodies were found at the sites of the clashes.

Dozens of the region's residents have been handed lengthy prison terms on terrorism and extremism charges since then.

Deep tensions between the government and residents of the volatile region have simmered ever since a five-year civil war broke out shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Still, protests are rare in the tightly controlled nation of 9.5 million where President Emomali Rahmon has ruled with an iron fist for nearly three decades.

Putin Names Cousin's Daughter As Deputy Defense Minister

Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) meets with Anna Tsivilyova at the Kremlin in April.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) meets with Anna Tsivilyova at the Kremlin in April.

Russian President Vladimir Putin dismissed four deputy defense ministers on June 17 and appointed three new ones, one of whom is Anna Tsivilyova, who, according to investigative reports, is the daughter of Putin's cousin. Tsivilyova is the wife of the former governor of the Kemerovo region, Sergei Tsivilyov, who recently became Russia's energy minister. In recent weeks, several top military officials and Defense Ministry officials have been arrested on corruption charges before and after Putin dismissed his longtime ally, Sergei Shoigu, as defense minister and appointed former First Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Belousov in his place. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Russian Journalist In Exile Accused Of Justifying Terrorism

Tatyana Lazareva (file photo)
Tatyana Lazareva (file photo)

Russian lawmaker Andrei Alshevskikh quoted Interior Ministry officials on June 17 as saying that an investigation was launched last month against television journalist Tatyana Lazareva on a charge of justifying terrorism. The charge stems from Lazareva's report about Ukrainian drones attacking Russian sites. Last week, the ministry added Lazareva to its wanted list. In July 2022, Lazareva, who openly condemned Moscow's full-scale aggression against Ukraine, was added to Russia's list of "foreign agents." Lazareva fled Russia after Moscow launched its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Denmark Seeks To Limit Shadow Tanker Fleet Carrying Russian Oil

About one-third of Russia's seaborne oil exports pass through the Danish straits between the Baltic and North seas. (file photo)
About one-third of Russia's seaborne oil exports pass through the Danish straits between the Baltic and North seas. (file photo)

Denmark is considering ways to limit a potentially environmentally harmful shadow fleet of tankers from carrying Russian oil through the Baltic Sea, Danish Foreign Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen said on June 17. Since Western governments imposed a price cap on Russia's oil to limit funds for its war in Ukraine, Russia has relied on a fleet of aging tankers based outside the West. About one-third of Russia's seaborne oil exports pass through the Danish straits between the Baltic and North seas, and any restrictions on the tankers could send oil prices higher and hit the Kremlin's finances. The Russian Embassy in Copenhagen called any proposed restrictions "unacceptable."

Russian-Uzbek Billionaire Usmanov Sues UBS In Germany Over 'Erroneous Decisions'

Alisher Usmanov attends the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs congress in Moscow in 2016.
Alisher Usmanov attends the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs congress in Moscow in 2016.

Russian-Uzbek billionaire Alisher Usmanov has filed a lawsuit against the bank UBS Europe SE in Frankfurt over what his lawyers said were unsubstantiated reports made about his transactions that triggered an investigation of him. Usmanov's lawyer, Peter Gauweiler, said in a statement on June 17 that German prosecutors and the Council of the European Union "have issued numerous erroneous decisions for which UBS is partly responsible, in particular, due to the use of its suspicious transaction reports as an instrument for the purposes of criminal prosecution and EU sanctions policy." UBS declined to comment.

Blast At Czech Military Grounds Kills 1, Injures 8

The Soviet-era military base in the Czech town of Libava has been used for military testing since 1949.
The Soviet-era military base in the Czech town of Libava has been used for military testing since 1949.

A munitions blast at a military testing ground in the Czech town of Libava has killed one soldier and injured eight, seven of whom were soldiers, the Defense Ministry said. The ministry gave no details on what caused the June 17 explosion, which occurred at a site used by the army for testing since 1949. "The families of the injured and the deceased soldier have been notified," the ministry added. The Czech Republic recently urged Brussels to restrict the movement of Russian diplomats and their families within the EU, saying the matter had gained new urgency following a spate of sabotage incidents in EU states, which have been blamed on Russia. Czech police also confirmed in April that Russian agents were involved in two munitions depot blasts that killed two workers near the eastern Czech village of Vrbetice in 2014.

Kremlin Says Putin To Visit North Korea

Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) and North Korea's Kim Jong Un in Russia's Amur region in September 2023.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) and North Korea's Kim Jong Un in Russia's Amur region in September 2023.

Russian President Vladimir Putin will embark on a two-day visit to North Korea starting June 18, the Kremlin announced. Putin is expected to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for talks focused on expanding military cooperation. U.S. and South Korean officials have accused Pyongyang of providing Russia with artillery, missiles, and other military equipment to help Moscow in its invasion of Ukraine, possibly in return for key military technologies and aid. Both Pyongyang and Moscow have denied accusations about North Korean weapons transfers, which would be in violation of UN Security Council resolutions.

U.S. Soldier Gordon Black Pleads Not Guilty To Attacking Russian Girlfriend

Gordon Black is escorted into a Russian courtroom on June 6.
Gordon Black is escorted into a Russian courtroom on June 6.

U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Gordon Black, who was arrested in Russia's Far East city of Vladivostok last month, rejected a charge of attacking his Russian girlfriend and threatening to kill her, as his trial resumed.

Black testified at the trial on June 17 that Aleksandra Vashchuk drank a large amount of vodka on the day of the incident in question and started behaving aggressively towards him, verbally insulting him and also physically attacking with punches to the ear and eye. She also threw a plate at him, he said.

According to Black, when he started to pack his belongings to leave the apartment, Vashchuk tried to block his exit and they scuffled.

Black accepted that he hit Vashchuk once and pushed her twice after which Vashchuk crashed into a wall.

Black partially accepted guilt on a charge that he had taken cash from Vashchuk, adding that he had no bad intention about it as he returned the sum to her the next day.

Black also said that, before arriving in Vladivostok from South Korea, he sent about 300,000 rubles ($3,350) to Vashchuk. After arriving in Russia, he transferred another $525 to her via an acquaintance.

Vashchuk confirmed that Black had contributed to a major part of the rent for the apartment in Vladivostok where they had lived together for a month. She reiterated her previous statement, saying that Black had aggressive episodes several times during their partnership.

At the trial's first session on June 6, Vashchuk asked the court not to imprison Black, saying he needs "psychiatric help."

U.S. authorities have said Black traveled to Russia via China from South Korea -- where he had been assigned before heading back home to Texas -- without informing his superiors.

Weeks later, Russian authorities also said that another U.S. citizen, identified as William Russell Nycum, had been detained on "petty hooliganism" and alcohol charges in a separate case, adding that Nycum was being held in a detention center in Moscow.

The two arrests have again raised questions over whether Russian authorities are targeting Americans by detaining them with an eye on using them in potential prisoner swaps amid sharp disagreements between Moscow and Washington over the war in Ukraine and other international security issues.

Among those U.S. citizens being held are journalists Alsu Kurmasheva of RFE/RL and Evan Gershkovich of The Wall Street Journal. Both have been detained on charges they, their employers, and their supporters reject as politically motivated.

American Paul Whelan was convicted in 2020 and sentenced to 16 years in Russian prison on espionage charges that he and the U.S. government have repeatedly rejected.

Russia's Foreign Ministry has said the cases involving Black and Nycum are not political and neither is accused of espionage.

The State Department in September 2023 issued a "do not travel" warning to U.S. citizens and cited "the singling out of U.S. citizens for detention by Russian government security officials."

With reporting by Vladivostok1.ru

Ukraine's Top Military Chief Says Russia Is Upping Attacks Ahead Of More Western Military Aid

Ukrainian Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskiy (file photo)
Ukrainian Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskiy (file photo)

Russia's military is intensifying its attacks in Ukraine, trying to gain more territory before the Ukrainian military receives more promised Western military aid, including F-16 jets, Ukraine’s top military commander said on June 17.

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 enemy is well aware that as a result of the gradual receipt of a significant amount of weapons and military equipment from our partners, and the arrival of the first F-16s, which will strengthen our air defense, time will play in our favor and its chances of success will decrease," Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskiy said in a post on Telegram.

"Therefore, the command of Russia's troops is currently making every effort to increase the intensity and expand the geography of hostilities in order to maximize the depletion of our troops, disrupt the training of reserves and prevent the transition to active offensive actions," Syrskiy added.

Syrskiy said Russian forces were focusing on the Pokrovsk front, in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donetsk.

Moscow's forces there are closing in on a key transit artery and supply route linking civilian hubs in the north of the industrial territory to towns further south, according to Syrskiy.

His assessment come after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the current level of Western military aid was not enough to guarantee Ukraine’s victory over invading Russian forces.

"There is aid. There are serious packages. Is it enough to win? No. Is it late? Yes," Zelenskiy said on June 16 on the sidelines of an international peace summit in Switzerland.

Like other Ukrainian officials, Zelenskiy has repeatedly called on Ukraine’s Western allies to expedite weapons deliveries, particularly promised fighter jets and air defense systems.

At the two-day gathering at a Swiss resort over the weekend, 80 countries called for the "territorial integrity" of Ukraine to be the foundation of any peace agreement to end Russia's war.

Russia's absence at the Ukrainian-initiated Global Peace Summit has tamped down hopes of any breakthrough, as has China's decision to stay away.

Participants India, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates were among those that did not sign the final document, which focused on issues of nuclear safety, food security, and the exchange of prisoners.

On June 17, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the summit produced “zero” results.

He added that Russian President Vladimir Putin was "still open to dialogue and serious discussion."

On the eve of the summit, Putin issued terms for a cease-fire, including that Ukraine hand over control of four regions in areas not only occupied by Russian invading forces, but Ukrainian-controlled parts of those regions as well.

The proposal was rejected immediately by Kyiv and its Western backers.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg has slammed the conditions as a path to "more aggression, more occupation."

Azerbaijani Activist Held In Custody For 2 Days On Unknown Charges

Nicat Amiraslanov (file photo)
Nicat Amiraslanov (file photo)

The NIDA civic movement in Azerbaijan said one of its members, Nicat Amiraslanov, was released from custody on June 17 after spending two days in a police station in Baku on unspecified charges. Amiraslanov said he "cannot give any details about the case at the moment." Some 20 civil rights activists and journalists, including employees of the ToplumTV channel and the Abzas Media investigative website, have been arrested in Azerbaijan on charges of foreign currency smuggling since last November. The activists and journalists have rejected the charges, calling them politically motivated. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service, click here.

Updated

Russia Issues Warrants For 2 Investigative Journalists In Exile

In the spring of 2022, Yekaterina Fomina published a report revealing facts confirming allegations of crimes committed by Russian troops against Ukrainian civilians. (file photo)
In the spring of 2022, Yekaterina Fomina published a report revealing facts confirming allegations of crimes committed by Russian troops against Ukrainian civilians. (file photo)

A Moscow court on June 17 issued arrest warrants for two journalists from the independent iStories investigative website -- Yekaterina Fomina and chief editor Roman Anin -- on a charge of "distributing false information about the Russian military." The court's ruling came hours after the Interior Ministry added the two journalists to its wanted list. In the spring of 2022, Fomina published an investigative report revealing facts confirming allegations of crimes committed by occupying Russian troops against Ukrainian civilians. iStories has been branded an "undesirable organization" and banned in Russia. Both Fomina and Anin are currently outside of Russia. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

Kyrgyz Activist Held For Protesting Change In Flag Transferred To House Arrest

Aftandil Jorobekov (file photo)
Aftandil Jorobekov (file photo)

Kyrgyz activist Aftandil Jorobekov, who was arrested in December for openly protesting a change to Kyrgyzstan's national flag, was transferred to house arrest over the weekend, his lawyer told RFE/RL. The 40-year-old activist was charged with calls for mass disorder and disobedience to authorities' requests. The flag's amendment was proposed by President Sadyr Japarov, who signed the bill on December 22, 2023. The law allowed for “straightening” the wavy yellow rays of a sun on a red field of the old flag to avoid resemblance to a sunflower. The Kyrgyz word for sunflower is kunkarama, but it also means "dependent." To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, click here.

More Tajik Citizens Stranded At Moscow Airport

Moscow's Vnukovo International Airport
Moscow's Vnukovo International Airport

More than 30 Tajik nationals have been stranded at Moscow's Vnukovo airport since last week amid tightened passport controls almost three months after a deadly terror attack near Moscow. Some of the stranded Tajiks told RFE/RL that Russian security officials did not allow them to enter the country, saying that "Tajiks cause problems in Russia." In April, thousands of Tajiks were stranded in Moscow airports after they were barred from entering Russia amid anti-Tajik sentiments after 11 Tajik men were arrested for their alleged involvement in the attack on a concert hall near Moscow in March that left 144 people dead. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Tajik Service, click here.

Nuclear Powers Continue To Modernize Arsenals, Rely On Them More, New Study Says

Russian troops load an Iskander missile onto a mobile launcher during drills at an undisclosed location in Russia. (file photo)
Russian troops load an Iskander missile onto a mobile launcher during drills at an undisclosed location in Russia. (file photo)

The nine nuclear-armed nations in the world continue to modernize their nuclear arsenals amid growing reliance on them as deterrence in 2023, a fresh report issued on June 17 by a Swedish think tank said.

"While the global total of nuclear warheads continues to fall as cold war-era weapons are gradually dismantled, regrettably we continue to see year-on-year increases in the number of operational nuclear warheads," said Dan Smith, director of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). "This trend seems likely to continue and probably accelerate in the coming years and is extremely concerning."

Earlier this month, Russia and its ally Belarus launched a second phase of exercises to practice the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons, part of the Kremlin’s efforts, analysts say, to discourage the West from ramping up support for Ukraine.

Separately, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), said in its own report issued on June 17 that the nine nuclear-armed states spent a total of $91.4 billion on their nuclear weapons programs in 2023. The Geneva-based coalition of disarmament activists won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017.

ICAN said that figures show a $10.7 billion increase in global spending on nuclear weapons in 2023 compared to 2022, with the United States accounting for 80 percent of that increase. The U.S. share of total spending, $51.5 billion, is more than all the other nuclear-armed countries put together. The next biggest spender was China at $11.8 billion, ICAN said, with Russia spending the third largest amount at $8.3 billion.

In its report, SIPRI estimated that some 2,100 of the deployed warheads were kept in a state of high operational alert on ballistic missiles, and nearly all belong to Russia or the United States. However, it said that China is also believed to have some warheads on high operational alert for the first time.

Russia and the United States have together almost 90 percent of all nuclear weapons, SIPRI said. The sizes of their military stockpiles seem to have remained relatively stable in 2023, although Russia is estimated to have deployed around 36 more warheads with operational forces than in January 2023, the watchdog added.

In its SIPRI Yearbook 2024, the institute said that transparency regarding nuclear forces has declined in both countries in the wake of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, and debates around nuclear-sharing arrangements have increased in importance.

Washington suspended its bilateral strategic stability dialogue with Russia, and last year Moscow announced that it was suspending its participation in the New START nuclear treaty.

With reporting by AP

Trial Of Jailed U.S. Journalist Gershkovich To Start June 26 Behind Closed Doors

Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich stands in a glass cage in a courtroom at the Moscow City Court in December.
Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich stands in a glass cage in a courtroom at the Moscow City Court in December.

The trial of jailed U.S. journalist Evan Gershkovich will start on June 26 and be held behind closed doors, Russian court officials announced on June 17.

Last week, prosecutors said Gershkovich will stand trial for espionage in a court in Yekaterinburg.

It was in that Ural city that Gershkovich, a reporter with the Wall Street Journal, was arrested in late March 2023 during a reporting trip.

Russian authorities have not provided any evidence to support the espionage charges, which The Wall Street Journal and the U.S. government have vehemently rejected. They say Gershkovich, 32, was merely doing his job as an accredited reporter when he was arrested.

The U.S. State Department said in December that Moscow rejected a significant offer it made to secure the release of Gershkovich and Paul Whelan, another American imprisoned in Russia on espionage charges.

Another U.S. citizen currently held by Russian authorities is Alsu Kurmasheva, an RFE/RL journalist who was arrested in Kazan, the capital of Russia's Republic of Tatarstan, in October 2023 and charged with failing to register as a "foreign agent" and spreading falsehoods about the Russian military.

Russian Court Again Extends Detention Of RFE/RL Journalist Alsu Kurmasheva
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Prior to her arrest, Kurmasheva, who faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted, had her passport confiscated following a visit to care for her mother. RFE/RL and the U.S. government say the charges against her are reprisals for her work.

Many analysts and officials say it appears as though Russia is targeting American citizens to detain for potential use in prisoner exchanges or for other geopolitical purposes.

Russia is believed to be seeking the release of Vadim Krasikov, who was given a life sentence in Germany in 2021 for the killing of Zelimkhan "Tornike" Khangoshvili, a Georgian citizen of Chechen descent who had fought Russian troops in Chechnya and later claimed asylum in Germany.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, asked in February about releasing Gershkovich, appeared to refer to Krasikov by pointing to a man imprisoned by a U.S. ally for "liquidating a bandit" who had allegedly killed Russian soldiers during separatist fighting in Chechnya.

With reporting from Reuters

Russia Steps Up Attacks In Donetsk Region During Peace Conference In Switzerland

Ukrainian soldiers fire a test round from their T-72 tank at an undisclosed location in the Donetsk region.
Ukrainian soldiers fire a test round from their T-72 tank at an undisclosed location in the Donetsk region.

Russia stepped up its military attacks on Ukraine, the General Staff of the Ukrainian military said in its evening assessment on June 16 as the leaders of Ukraine and its supporters wrapped up a two-day peace conference in Switzerland.

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An estimated 88 combat clashes took place during the day, the Ukrainian General Staff said.

"Throughout the day, the enemy is intensifying its offensive and assault operations, looking for ways to penetrate our defenses and try to drive Ukrainian units out of their positions," the assessment said.

According to the report, the most active area was around the city of Pokrovsk, where the Russian military is attempting to make further advances. Several attacks were ongoing there at the time of the assessment.

"In the Pokrovsk area, the Russian troops are not reducing the pace of their offensive. Since the beginning of the day on this part of the front they have attacked Ukrainian defensive lines 36 times. Twenty-five enemy assaults were unsuccessful, another 11 attacks are ongoing," the Ukrainian military said.

Russian forces twice attached in the Vovchansk area during the day, firing 16 missiles from the Belgorod region in southern Russia.

The Russian military also made 10 attempts to storm Ukrainian positions in the Lyman area and around Kurakhove.

“Three assaults by the invaders were repulsed by the defense forces, and seven more clashes are ongoing," the summary said, adding that two clashes were ongoing in the Kupyansk area.

The General Staff said that since the beginning of the day, Russia lost 54 of its soldiers, one armored fighting vehicle, and a warehouse of ammunition in the Lyman area.

The information could not be independently verified.

Russia intensified its attacks as representatives of nearly 100 countries attended the peace summit in Switzerland. Russia and China were not among them.

Eighty countries and four organizations, including the Council of Europe and the European Commission, joined the the final communique of the meeting.

Switzerland will discuss the results of the meeting with Russia, China, and other countries that did not attend, Swiss Foreign Minister Ignatius Cassis said.

"We have an active embassy in Moscow, and every two weeks we communicate with the minister of foreign affairs, and we also intend to discuss with Russia the results of this conference," Cassis told a news conference.

The Swiss minister said a "detailed discussion" of the results of the conference is planned with those countries that didn’t attend, including China, which refused to participate due to the absence of Russia.

“There are different opinions and ideas about how to continue this path, the path to peace. And these different ideas need to be united in order to find a common way forward," Cassis said.

Serbian Soccer Fans In Custody After Clashes Ahead Of Euro 2024 England Match

Supporters arrive prior to the UEFA Euro 2024 Group C soccer match between Serbia and England at the arena in Gelsenkirchen on June 16.
Supporters arrive prior to the UEFA Euro 2024 Group C soccer match between Serbia and England at the arena in Gelsenkirchen on June 16.

Seven fans of Serbia's national team were taken into custody on June 16 after scuffles broke out in the German city of Gelsenkirchen ahead of the team's Euro 2024 match against England, police said. A complaint of dangerous bodily harm was filed against one of the fans, a police spokesman told AFP. Details of any injuries and what happened in the scuffle were still unclear, the spokesman said. Police earlier reported having to separate England and Serbia fans after clashes between the two sets of supporters. The spokesman said no England fans had been taken into custody.

Russian Journalist Killed In Drone Attack In Ukraine's Donetsk Region

Residents of the village of Shebekino rest at a temporary accommodation center in Belgorod Arena in a photo taken last year by News.ru correspondent Nikita Tsitsagi, who was killed in part of Ukraine's eastern Donetsk region controlled by Russian forces.
Residents of the village of Shebekino rest at a temporary accommodation center in Belgorod Arena in a photo taken last year by News.ru correspondent Nikita Tsitsagi, who was killed in part of Ukraine's eastern Donetsk region controlled by Russian forces.

A Russian journalist was killed in a drone attack in the Russian-controlled part of the Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine, his news organization said on June 16.

"Our correspondent Nikita Tsitsagi was killed during an attack by Ukrainian Army drones," News.Ru said on Telegram.

The editors reported that the journalist died in the area of St. Nicholas Monastery near Vuhledar in southern Donetsk region, the scene of fierce fighting for the past three months. No other details were provided.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said a Ukrainian drone had "purposefully hit the Russian journalist preparing a report in the area."

The death of Tsitsagi was confirmed to TASS by the pro-Russian authorities of the region.

The journalist collaborated with TASS, the online magazine New Tab, and the Russian-language online newspaper Lenta.ru. He received an award last year for his reporting for New Tab from the city of Shebekino in the Belgorod region.

Tsitsagi’s death came to light three days after a cameraman with the Russian television channel NTV was killed when his film crew came under fire in the in the area around Horlivka, which lies north of Donetsk city in part of the region controlled by Russian troops.

Russian state news agency RIA Novosti reported that cameraman Valery Kozhin died in the hospital, citing Ivan Prikhodko, the Russian-installed head of the Horlivka administration.

Russian authorities in the region reported that Kozhin and another NTV journalist, correspondent Aleksei Ivliev, were severely injured in an explosion. Ivliev's condition, according to NTV, is stable.

There has been no comment from Ukraine.

Kozhin previously covered military conflicts in which Russian forces participated, including in Syria, Russian media reported.

Two other Russian correspondents -- Rostilav Zhuravlev of RIA Novosti and Boris Maksudov of the Rossiya-24 TV channel -- were killed in separate incidents last year in Ukraine's Zaporizhzhya region while covering Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

More than 10 Ukrainian journalists have been killed in the war.

With reporting by AFP

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