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Serbs, Bosnians First To Lose Home Heating In Gas Crisis

A technician from state-owned Sarajevo Gas shows zero pressure on a gauge at a gas distribution facility near Sarajevo on January 7.
A technician from state-owned Sarajevo Gas shows zero pressure on a gauge at a gas distribution facility near Sarajevo on January 7.
BELGRADE/SARAJEVO -- With temperatures dipping to minus 5 degrees Celsius, talk on the streets of Belgrade is all about the Russia-Ukraine natural-gas dispute.

Dimitrije, who offers only his first name, expresses the feelings of many when he says, "I hope that Russians are going to be cooperative."

Serbia is almost entirely dependent on Russian gas piped through Ukraine to Southeastern Europe. Normally, the country gets 90 percent of its gas this way.

But on January 6, the gas stopped flowing. And Serbia, which has no gas stockpiles, is among the first countries to suffer the chilling consequences.

Early on January 7, most Serbian heating plants began switching from gas to oil. People living near such plants are the lucky ones. The centrally controlled temperature in their homes has been reduced to no more than 16-18 degrees Celsius, but the heat is still on.

In some parts of Belgrade and Novi Sad, and in a number of small towns, the gas-fired heating plants cannot be converted. There, electric space heaters are the only option.

Bitter, Helpless

Predictably, consumption of electricity shot up on January 6 to record levels. The question now is how long the country's aging power grid can cope with the demand.

Everyone feels helpless. Some are bitter.

One man, Stojan, sarcastically blames the Serbian government for keeping almost no energy reserves.

Small entrepreneurs in Bosnia have started selling wood and coal after gas supplies were cut off.
"We do not need heating. All news is bad news, and this is no different," he says. "But it is unbelievable that the state has heating oil reserves for one day. I have much bigger reserves in my cellar. What kind of state is this?!"

The manager of state-owned Srbijagas says there are only enough gas reserves in the country for a matter of hours. He said the country's oil stockpile is enough for one day.

That kind of news brings out the stoicism that is the ordinary citizen's final resource.

"After so many sanctions in the past, we should survive and we should find the way out of the crisis," says one woman who said her name was Jovanka.

Nobody is asking us for our opinion. The politicians are doing what they want, and we can just wait and freeze.
Far away, Moscow and Ukraine blame each other for cutting off the gas to Europe. Their dispute is over how much Ukraine will pay for gas deliveries in 2009 and how much Moscow will pay for sending gas through Ukraine's pipelines.

But Serbs, most of whom regard Russia as their closest ally, find it incredible that they should be dragged into the fight.

Belgrade last month finalized an agreement with Moscow to sell a majority stake in Serbia's state-run oil company, NIS, to Gazprom.

At the time, officials hailed the move as a step toward Serbian energy security. Moscow said it would make Serbia a distribution hub for Russia's planned South Stream gas pipeline across the Black Sea to southern Europe -- guaranteeing plenty of gas in Serbia, too.

Now it seems Russian gas comes with no guarantees until South Stream is built around 2015, even if the Balkans freeze in the meantime.

Next door in Bosnia, it is just as cold, with temperatures dipping as low as minus 7 degrees Celsius.

Anger And Stoicism

And on the streets of Sarajevo, there is the same mixture of incomprehension, anger, and stoicism.

"All this is politics, Russian politics," says one woman.

"Nobody is asking us for our opinion," says another. "The politicians are doing what they want, and we can just wait and freeze."

"We managed during the war," a third woman pipes in. "We will manage now."

Again, there are virtually no gas reserves and the alternative, oil, is in short supply.

Sarajevo's city heating company says its oil stocks are sufficient for only three to seven days. BH Gas company manager Almir Becarevic told local media, "If this lasts, it could turn into a true humanitarian disaster."

In both Belgrade and Sarajevo, emergency government meetings and appeals to the population to save energy are the order of the day.

But no one is under any illusions. The only real solution to the crisis lies in the outcome of the talks between Moscow and Kyiv. And in those talks, the voices of Russia's chilly gas customers in the Balkans seem to have little weight.

Reporting by RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service; written by correspondent Charles Recknagel

Factbox: Russian Gas Export Pipelines, Projects

Pipelines & Projects

A factbox on how gas gets to Europe from Russia and some of the new pipeline projects aimed at bringing more Russian gas to Europe and diversifying supplies. More

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Iranian Court Sentences Journalist To 21 Years For 'Propaganda Against Regime'

Iranian journalist Zina Modares Gorji (file photo)
Iranian journalist Zina Modares Gorji (file photo)

The Islamic Revolutionary Court in Sanandaj, western Iran, has sentenced journalist Zina Modares Gorji to a combined 21 years in prison for her advocacy of women's rights.

The Kurdish human rights portal Kurdpa reported that Judge Mohammad Karami, handed down a split verdict in the case, with Gorji receiving 10 years for "forming an illegal group aimed at overthrowing the regime" and another 10 years for "collaborating with hostile groups and governments." Additionally, she was given one year for "propaganda against the regime."

Under Iranian law, the longest sentence in cases where multiple punishments are handed down is enforced, meaning she will spend 10 years in prison. However, the court also enforced a 10-year exile period after that.

Her supporters said the sentencing was officially communicated on May 23 and that her legal team has filed an appeal. Her lawyers have requested a retrial and are challenging what they view as an overly harsh and politically motivated verdict aimed at intimidating voices within the country.

The exile portion of the punishment, analysts said, shows how far Iranian authorities are going to stifle dissent in the wake of nationwide unrest over the death of Mahsa Amini while in police custody for an alleged Islamic head scarf, or hijab, violation in September 2022.

Gorji was first detained during Amini-inspired protests.

After an initial 40-day detention period for "assembly and collusion against the system," Gorji was temporarily released on a bail.

She was rearrested in April 2023 and spent about a month in solitary confinement before being transferred to a general prison ward.

Last month Gorji said on Instagram that her bookstore in Sanandaj was forcibly closed for several days by local authorities for alleged noncompliance with mandatory hijab laws.

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

Spain Says Its Decision Not To Recognize Kosovo Unchanged After Deciding To Recognize Palestinian State

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said that recognizing a Palestine state was "an imperative to achieve peace." (file photo)
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said that recognizing a Palestine state was "an imperative to achieve peace." (file photo)

Spain's position on recognizing Kosovo’s independence from Serbia remains unchanged, the Spanish Foreign Ministry said May 28 after announcing Madrid’s decision to recognize a Palestinian state.

The ministry told RFE/RL that it viewed the two situations as very different.

"Recognition of the state of Palestine does not affect Israel's territorial integrity, as this territory has never been legally part of the state of Israel,” ministry spokeswoman Elena Aljarilla Cortezon said in response to an inquiry from RFE/RL.

“Spain's decision to recognize the state of Palestine aims to uphold international law, the principles of the UN Charter, and the resolutions of the UN Security Council," Aljarilla Cortezon said.

Spain joined Ireland and Norway on May 28 in formally recognizing a Palestinian state. Israel has slammed the decision as a "reward" for Hamas, which has been declared a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union.

More than 140 countries of the 193 in the UN General Assembly have now recognized Palestine as an independent state.

Spain, Ireland, and Norway said they believed their initiative has strong symbolic impact that is likely to encourage others to follow suit.

"Recognition of the state of Palestine is not only a matter of historical justice, with legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people, but is also an imperative to achieve peace," Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on May 28.

"It is the only way to realize the solution we all recognize as the only possible one to achieve the future of peace -- a Palestinian state that coexists alongside the state of Israel in peace and security," Sanchez said.

Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia in 2008. It has been recognized by more than 110 states, including many EU-member countries and the United States. Serbia, Russia, and China are among those that refuse to recognize it along with EU-member states Spain, Greece, Cyprus, Romania, and Slovakia.

The issue of the recognition of Kosovo by Spain in the light of it recognizing Palestine came up during a meeting of foreign ministers on May 27 in Brussels. Sources told RFE/RL that there was an open spat between Germany and Spain. While Germany was "very convincing" on Kosovo recognition, "Spain was defensive, arguing that Kosovo was not on the agenda."

Spain's former ambassador to Belgrade, Raul Bartolome Molina, said last year just before Madrid took over the presidency of the European Union that his country's position is not to recognize Kosovo's independence, while supporting EU efforts to normalize relations between Kosovo and Serbia.

“This position has not changed, nor will it change, and all our allies know it very well," Bartolome said on June 30, 2023.

Siberian Court Upholds 9-Year Prison Sentence Handed To Former Navalny Associate

Ksenia Fadeyeva (file photo)
Ksenia Fadeyeva (file photo)

A court in the Siberian city of Tomsk has rejected an appeal filed by Ksenia Fadeyeva, a former local lawmaker and the ex-head of late opposition politician Aleksei Navalny's regional team, over a nine-year prison term she was handed in December for extremism, a charge she and her supporters reject.

Judges Andrei Arkhipov, Ksenia Gerasimova, and Lyudmila Matyskina of the Tomsk City Court ruled on May 28 that Fadeyeva's sentence must be upheld as a lower court's decision to convict her of organizing the activities of an extremist group and participating in the activities of an NGO that violates "citizens' privacy and rights" was legally grounded.

The judges also concluded that the initial ruling by a lower court ordering Fadeyeva to pay 500,000 rubles ($5,535) fine also remains.

Fadeyeva's lawyers, meanwhile, have called for their client's immediate release, stressing that she had ended her involvement with Navalny's organization before it was labeled extremist in 2021.

During her trial last year, prosecutors asked the court to sentence Fadeyeva to 10 1/2 years in prison.

Fadeyeva was detained in December 2021. She was later released but barred from using the Internet and from communicating with others without the permission of investigators, She was also banned from attending public events.

She was then placed under house arrest and later put in a detention center for what investigators said was a violation of house arrest conditions.

After that, her trial, which started in mid-August, resumed behind closed doors.

In January 2022, Russian authorities added Fadeyeva and several other former leaders of Navalny's teams across the country to the list of extremists and terrorists.

Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation and his other organizations were labeled extremist in August 2021 as part of a crackdown on civil society.

Since Russia launched its ongoing unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, several of Navalny's former associates have been charged with discrediting the Russian armed forces, distributing "fake" news about the military, and extremism.

Earlier in 2023, the former leaders of Navalny’s teams in the Republic of Bashkortostan and the region of Altai Krai -- Lilia Chanysheva and Vadim Ostanin -- were sentenced to 7 1/2 and 9 years in prison, respectively, on extremism charges, which they and their supporters call politically motivated.

In April, Chanysheva's prison term was extended by two years at the request of prosecutors.

Visa-Free Travel To China For Georgians Comes Into Force

The Chinese Embassy in Tbilisi, Georgia (file photo)
The Chinese Embassy in Tbilisi, Georgia (file photo)

A deal allowing Georgians to travel to China without visas for up to 30 days came into force on May 28, the Georgian Foreign Ministry said. In September, Georgia canceled the visa requirement for Chinese nationals visiting the South Caucasus nation after the two countries announced a decision to upgrade their bilateral ties to a strategic partnership. Tbilisi's move to enhance ties with Beijing coincided with rising tensions between China and both the United States and the European Union over what was seen as the Georgian government's ambivalence toward Russia in the face of its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Echo of the Caucasus, click here.

Former Deputy Chief Of Almaty City Police Detained In Torture Case

The arrest is reportedly linked to the beating and torture of Kyrgyz jazz musician Vikram Ruzakhunov in Kazakhstan. (file photo)
The arrest is reportedly linked to the beating and torture of Kyrgyz jazz musician Vikram Ruzakhunov in Kazakhstan. (file photo)

The Kazakh Prosecutor-General's Office said on May 28 that the former deputy chief of the Almaty city police department, Berik Abilbekov, was detained as part of a case of torture during unprecedented anti-government protests in January 2022 that turned deadly after security forces opened fire.

While the office provided no details, the media outlet Orda.kz cited lawyer Rena Kerimova, who represents popular Kyrgyz jazz musician Vikram Ruzakhunov, as saying that Abilbekov's arrest was linked to the beating and torture of her client.

Ruzakhunov, who says he suffered a chest injury, broken ribs, a concussion, and multiple bruises while in Kazakh custody, visited Kazakhstan several times after Kazakh officials launched a probe into his beating in Almaty.

Ruzakhunov has said that four Kazakh police were detained in Almaty on suspicion of involvement in his beating.

Anti-government protests sparked by a fuel-price hike erupted in Kazakhstan in early January 2022. President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev has publicly blamed what he said were “20,000 extremists” trained abroad for attacking Almaty during the unrest. He has not produced any evidence to back up the claim.

Ruzakhunov's situation was amplified when a Kazakh television channel showed a video in which he said he was recruited by an unspecified group to take part in the unrest for $200.

In the video, severe bruises can be seen on Ruzakhunov's face, which appear to back up his claims that he was forced to make the statement.

The video sparked protests in Kyrgyzstan, where Ruzakhunov was immediately recognized by his fans. He was freed several days after his arrest and allowed to go to Bishkek after the Kyrgyz government demanded his release.

Kazakh officials have said that six people were tortured to death after being arrested for taking part in the protests, and 238 people died during or after the unrest, which was violently dispersed by law enforcement and the armed forces.

The Kazakh Prosecutor-General's Office has said 25 people were officially considered victims of torture as investigators used hot irons during their interrogations.

Human rights groups insist that the number of people killed during the unrest may be bigger, presenting proof that many peaceful demonstrators and persons who had nothing to do with the protesters were slain by police and military personnel following a "shoot-to-kill-without-warning" order issued by Toqaev.

After Ruzakhunov was released following the public outcry in Kyrgyzstan and returned from Kazakhstan to Bishkek, Kyrgyz authorities concluded that Kazakh police had inflicted severe injuries on Ruzakhunov's body during his illegal arrest.

Jailed Kyrgyz Activists Demand Medical Checkups Fearing TB Outbreak

Supporters demand the release of activists and politicians detained for protesting a Kyrgyz-Uzbek border deal. (file photo)
Supporters demand the release of activists and politicians detained for protesting a Kyrgyz-Uzbek border deal. (file photo)

Eight jailed Kyrgyz activists and politicians on trial for protesting a Kyrgyz-Uzbek border deal issued a statement on May 28 urging authorities to organize immediate medical checkups for them after at least two inmates in their detention center were diagnosed with tuberculosis. The eight men were arrested in 2022 along with 19 other people and charged with organizing mass disorder and plotting to seize power after they protested the deal that saw Kyrgyzstan hand over the territory of the Kempir-Abad reservoir to Uzbekistan. Nineteen of the group were later transferred to house arrest. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, click here.

Belgium Pledges $1 Billion In Military Aid, 30 F-16s For Ukraine

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (left) and Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo shake hands after signing a bilateral security agreement in Brussels on May 28.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (left) and Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo shake hands after signing a bilateral security agreement in Brussels on May 28.

Belgium will deliver 977 million euros ($1 billion) in military aid and 30 F-16 fighter jets for Ukraine under a 10-year bilateral security agreement signed by President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo on May 28 in Brussels.

The agreement is the second of its kind signed by Zelenskiy in as many days as he continues a whirlwind tour to secure more military aid for Ukraine's outgunned and outmanned troops as they struggle to fend off a Russian offensive and relentless strikes on civilian targets in the northeastern region of Kharkiv.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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"For the first time, such an agreement specifies the exact number of F-16 fighter jets -- 30 -- that will be delivered to Ukraine until 2028, with the first arriving already this year," Zelenskiy wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

De Croo said at a joint news conference that Brussels will do "everything possible" to deliver the first fighter jets by the end of the year.

Asked by RFE/RL to specify how many warplanes will be delivered this year, De Croo did not answer, saying just that efforts of the aircraft coalition for Ukraine were ongoing.

De Croo stressed that the planes are to be used only above the territory of Ukraine. "The security agreement stipulates that military equipment will be used by the armed forces of Ukraine and on the territory of Ukraine," he said.

The Belgian prime minister added that training was already under way for Ukrainian pilots on Belgian F-16s.

"Today, our planes are used to train new Ukrainian pilots. Our technical teams are used to provide technical support to keep aircraft in the air. Our teams are training Ukrainian technicians how to perform [technical support]," he said.

Zelenskiy, asked by RFE/RL about the progress of negotiations with partners on obtaining permission to strike targets on the territory of Russia, replied that he was "confident of a positive result both from some partners and from our production."

Ukraine has been frustrated by the lack of permission from some of its allies, mainly the United States and Germany, to hit military targets inside Russia with Western weapons systems.

The European Union's top diplomat, Josep Borrell, has backed Kyiv's request.

"According with the law of war, it is perfectly possible and there is no contradiction. I could retaliate or I could fight against the one who fights against me from his territory," Borrell told journalists ahead of a meeting with EU defense ministers.

"You have to balance the risk of escalation and the need for Ukrainians to defend," he said.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has also thrown his weight behind Ukraine's plea, saying concerns that the use of Western weapons inside Russia would implicate the alliance in the war are unfounded.

"Ukraine's use of weapons supplied by its Western allies against targets inside Russia would not make NATO and its members part of the conflict," Stoltenberg said in Brussels on May 28.

Ukraine on May 27 signed a bilateral security pact with Spain under which Madrid will provide Ukraine with 1 billion euros ($1.08 billion) in military aid this year.

Former Siberian Coal Mine Official Imprisoned Over Deadly 2021 Blast

A Russian Emergency Ministry rescue team at the Listvyazhnaya coal mine after a deadly blast in 2021
A Russian Emergency Ministry rescue team at the Listvyazhnaya coal mine after a deadly blast in 2021

A court in Russia's Siberian region of Kemerovo on May 28 sentenced the former chief engineer at a coal mine over an explosion in 2021 that killed 51 people. Anatoly Lobanov was convicted of giving false information regarding the mine's safety. The court had already handed sentences to several former employees of the mine and a technical safety service inspector ranging from parole-like sentences to up to six years in prison for safety violations, negligence, and bribery. Numerous inspections of the mine in 2021 revealed 914 violations and operations were stopped nine times. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Siberia.Realities, click here.

Tatar Activist Gets Suspended Sentence Over Anti-War Stance

Anti-war activist Zulfia Sitdikova was convicted of rehabilitating Nazism and discrediting Russia's military.
Anti-war activist Zulfia Sitdikova was convicted of rehabilitating Nazism and discrediting Russia's military.

The Supreme Court in Russia's Tatarstan region on May 28 handed a suspended two-year prison sentence to anti-war activist Zulfia Sitdikova, who was convicted of rehabilitating Nazism and discrediting Russia's military. The charges stem from two public actions Sitdikova carried out in 2023 to protest against the war in Ukraine. In 2022, she was fined for wearing a hoodie with the words "No war" on it while attending a pro-Kremlin concert in Tatarstan's capital, Kazan. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service, click here.

Belarusian Entrepreneur Gets 9 Years In Prison Amid Crackdown

Artur Rolich
Artur Rolich

The Vyasna human rights center said on May 28 that the Minsk City Court sentenced Artur Rolich, the owner of a shop selling brand-name clothing and shoes, to nine years in prison on charges of financing terrorist and extremist activities and financially supporting an extremist group. The charges stem from Rolich's donations to various foundations assisting Belarusian citizens, including those who fled their homeland amid an ongoing crackdown on democratic institutions, free media, and dissent. The 39-year-old Rolich left Belarus in late July 2023. He was most likely arrested after he returned home.

Missing Ukrainian Journalist Turns Up In Russian Custody

Ukrainian journalist Victoria Roshchyna
Ukrainian journalist Victoria Roshchyna

Ukrainian journalist Viktoria Roshchyna, who went missing in the Russia-occupied part of Ukraine's southeastern Zaporizhzhya region last August, has turned up in Russian custody. The Russian Defense Ministry informed Roshchyna's father on May 28 that his daughter "was detained and is currently on the territory of the Russian Federation." No reason for her detention was given. Roshchyna covered Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine from its outset in February 2022. In March 2022, she was detained for 10 days by Russian authorities in the Russian-occupied city of Berdyansk. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Updated

Georgian Parliament Votes To Override Presidential Veto Of 'Foreign Agent' Law

Demonstrators protesting the "foreign agent" law crowd outside the parliament building in central Tbilisi on May 28.
Demonstrators protesting the "foreign agent" law crowd outside the parliament building in central Tbilisi on May 28.

TBILISI -- Georgian lawmakers approved an override of President Salome Zurabishvili's veto of the so-called "foreign agent" law, angering protesters gathered outside parliament and jeopardizing the country's drive toward the European Union.

The ruling Georgian Dream party, as expected, pushed through the override on May 28. It's alliance with the Democratic Georgia party holds 84 of the chamber's 150 seats. A simple majority of 76 votes was needed to cancel Zurabishvili's veto.

Lawmakers then voted 84-4 to pass the bill. Most opposition deputies had walked out of the chamber ahead of the vote.

The approval came despite last-minute appeals from the European Union and several member states to Georgian lawmakers not to override the veto of a law frequently referred to as the "Russian law" because of its resemblance to legislation introduced by the Kremlin to silence opposition and free speech.

The law now goes back to Zurabishvili to be signed. If she refuses, the speaker of parliament, Georgian Dream member Shalva Papuashvili, can sign the law and publish it.

Hundreds of mostly young protesters chanting "No Russian law!" and "Slaves!" while waving Georgian and EU flags massed peacefully at the back entrance of the legislature amid a heavy presence of riot police. Further protests were expected later in the day.

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

Critics have said the legislation was introduced by Georgian Dream, founded by Russia-friendly Georgian tycoon Bidzina Ivanishvili, in order to cement the party's grip on power ahead of elections later this year seen as crucial for Georgia's Euro-Atlantic path.

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

Georgia's civil society has for years sought to move the country away from the influence of Russia, which still maintains thousands of troops in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, two breakaway Georgian regions that Moscow recognized as independent states following a five-day war with Tbilisi in 2008.

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

After the party pushed the bill through, a U.S. State Department spokesman said the United States condemns the parliament's decision and told reporters that Georgian Dream's actions and anti-Western rhetoric threaten the country's democratic trajectory.

The European Union said it "deeply regrets" the decision to override Zurabishvili's veto.

"The EU has stressed repeatedly that the law adopted by the Georgian Parliament goes against EU core principles and values. Its enactment leads to a backsliding on at least three out of the nine steps (on disinformation; on polarization; on fundamental rights and involvement of Civil Society Organizations) set out in the Commission's recommendation for candidate status endorsed by EU leaders and will negatively impact Georgia's EU path," the statement said.

"We urge the Georgian authorities to reverse this trend and to return firmly on the EU path. There is still time to change the dynamics -- but a strong commitment by the governing authorities is needed," the statement said.

It also said its member states "are considering all options to react to these developments."

Georgia obtained the coveted status of EU candidate country in December, but it has yet to start actual accession talks, which could last for years. There had been hope such talks could start later this year, but Brussels has warned that the "foreign agent" law could endanger the path toward Europe.

Parliament speakers from seven EU member countries -- the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, France, Netherlands, and Poland -- on May 27 issued a joint statement calling on the Georgian lawmakers to scrap the legislation.

The statement addressed to Papuashvili says recent developments in Georgia are "disturbing" and the Georgian government's actions contradict the values and principles that Georgia undertook to respect.

"The spirit and content of the Law on Foreign Transparency adopted by the Parliament of Georgia are incompatible with European norms and values. The law as it stands seeks to silence media and civil society organizations that play a vital role in a democratic society and are instrumental in helping Georgia on its path to the EU," the statement said.

Georgia Marks Independence Day Amid Protests Over 'Foreign Agent' Law
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"We urge you to withdraw this law and engage in a meaningful and inclusive dialogue with organized civil society and citizens. We also urge you to respect the fundamental values by upholding the rights of people to assembly and discontinue the use of violence and intimidation against peaceful demonstrators."

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on May 27 that the bloc had started weighing options should Georgia enact the law. He said a decision will be made next month.

Georgian Ombudsman Levan Ioseliani also warned on May 27 that the law needs changes to limit the damage it will bring to civil society.

Lawyer For Family Of Executed Iranian Protester Sentenced To 6 Years In Prison

Lawyer Amir Hossein Koohkan represents the family of Mohammad Mahdi Karmi, who was executed during nationwide protests.
Lawyer Amir Hossein Koohkan represents the family of Mohammad Mahdi Karmi, who was executed during nationwide protests.

The Islamic Revolutionary Court of Karaj has sentenced Amir Hossein Koohkan, a defense lawyer for the family of Mohammad Mehdi Karami, who was executed during protests over the death of Mahsa Amini that rocked Iran in 2022, to six years in prison.

Koohkan faced several charges, according to the Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA), including assembly and collusion and propaganda against the regime.

Koohkan's arrest comes after he was summoned by the Karaj Intelligence Department last year. He was detained at the time and held until he was granted a conditional release in December.

The charges come shortly after the sentencing of Mashallah Karami, Mohammad Mehdi Karami’s father, to six years in prison on charges of endangering national security and propaganda against the regime.

The cases highlight a pressure campaign, rights groups say, the government is using against those connected to protest movements in Iran.

Mohammad Mehdi Karami was one of nine individuals executed by the Islamic republic in relation to the protests of 2022, which saw widespread unrest over government policies that protesters said curbed basic human rights and intruded too deeply in the lives of most Iranians.

His execution in January 2023, which was tied to the alleged murder of a Basij militia member during the nationwide upheaval, drew international condemnation.

The cases of Koohkan and Karami underscore the concern among Iranian authorities of the possibility of a new wave of unrest.

Following the death of Amini in September 2022, hundreds of thousands of Iranians took to the streets nationwide to protest. The 22-year-old died under mysterious circumstances while she was in police custody for an alleged head-scarf violation.

A clampdown by security forces against protesters has resulted in the deaths of approximately 600 demonstrators, as reported by human rights groups, and thousands of arrests.

The Iranian judiciary has also executed several protesters, further inflaming public outcry against the regime's harsh tactics.

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

Iranian Authorities Ratchet Up Crackdown On Critics After Raisi's Death

Factory owner Ali Reyhani Kajvar was reportedly detained and charged with "propaganda against the system and insulting Ebrahim Raisi" for his online posts regarding Raisi's death.
Factory owner Ali Reyhani Kajvar was reportedly detained and charged with "propaganda against the system and insulting Ebrahim Raisi" for his online posts regarding Raisi's death.

Rights groups say Iranian authorities have intensified their crackdown on posts made by social media users following the death of President Ebrahim Raisi in a helicopter crash on May 19.

Raisi, who along with Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and several others died in the helicopter crash in a mountainous region in northwestern Iran, had been accused of serving as a prosecutor for an "execution committee" that sent thousands of political prisoners and regime opponents to their deaths in the late 1980s.

He is often referred to by critics as "Ayatollah Execution" or "Ayatollah Massacre" due to his alleged role in mass executions during 1988.

The crash was mocked by many users of Persian-language social networks. In turn, Iranian security and judicial agencies have responded vigorously to the online activities of citizens and media activists.

The Association for the Defense of Azerbaijani Political Prisoners in Iran highlighted an example of the crackdown with a report saying that factory owner Ali Reyhani Kajvar was detained and charged with "propaganda against the system and insulting Ebrahim Raisi" for his online posts regarding Raisi's death.

It was not clear which comments the charges referred to.

Similarly, human rights media outlets said Akbar Yousefi, a resident of Malekan in East Azerbaijan Province, is said to have been arrested on charges related to his social media commentary on the crash.

Others have been charged, rights groups say, for "spreading lies and insulting the sanctity of service martyrs," for their comments on Raisi’s death.

Reza Babarnejad, whose brother was a casualty in the Women, Life, Freedom protests that followed the death of Mahsa Amini while in police custody for an alleged head scarf violation, was also arrested for his reactions to the incident.

Others say they have been warned by authorities for their online activities.

The Judiciary Information Center of Kerman province announced that 254 individuals received telephone warnings for posting "offensive" content, while eight people faced judicial summons.

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

Russia To Build 'Vital' Nuclear Power Plant In Uzbekistan

Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) signed several agreements in Tashkent with Uzbek leader Shavkat Mirziyoev on May 27.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) signed several agreements in Tashkent with Uzbek leader Shavkat Mirziyoev on May 27.

Russia and Uzbekistan have signed an agreement for Moscow to build a small nuclear power plant in the Central Asian country.

The agreement was one of several deals signed on May 27 in Tashkent between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Uzbek counterpart, Shavkat Mirziyoev.

The Uzbek leader hailed the project as "vital" in a statement released by his press service after the talks, noting that Uzbekistan had "its own large reserves of uranium."

Meanwhile, Putin vowed to "do everything in order to work effectively" on Uzbekistan’s nuclear energy market.

If the agreement is enacted, the nuclear plant will become the first in Central Asia, further cementing Russia's influence in the region.

Putin said Russia would inject $400 million into a joint investment fund of $500 million to finance projects in Uzbekistan.

Mirziyoev also said Tashkent was interested in buying more oil and gas from Russia, a reversal of decades-long practice where Moscow imported hydrocarbons from Central Asia.

The Russian president pledged to increase gas deliveries to Uzbekistan.

Putin and Mirziyoev also discussed migration, with the Russian leader reassuring the Uzbek president that his government would ensure good working conditions and provide social protection for migrant workers from Uzbekistan.

Putin arrived in Tashkent on May 26 and was greeted at the airport by Mirziyoev.

International investigations have identified Uzbekistan as one of the main entry points into Russia for goods that are subject to sanctions. Putin has traveled sparingly since he launched Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Putin's trip to Uzbekistan is his third foreign trip since being inaugurated for a fifth presidential term earlier this month.

He previously traveled to China, where he welcomed China’s proposals for talks to end the war in Ukraine.

Putin later traveled to Belarus, an ally where Russia has deployed tactical nuclear weapons.

With reporting by AP and Reuters

Iran's Stockpile Of Enriched Uranium Continues To Increase, Says UN Nuclear Watchdog

IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi (left) holds a news conference in Tehran with Iran's nuclear energy chief, Mohammad Eslami, on May 7.
IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi (left) holds a news conference in Tehran with Iran's nuclear energy chief, Mohammad Eslami, on May 7.

Iran has further increased its stockpile of uranium enriched to near weapons-grade levels, according to a confidential May 27 report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Iran's stockpile of uranium enriched to 60 percent purity is now 142.1 kilograms -- an increase of 20.6 kilograms since the watchdog's last report in February. The IAEA also said that the deaths of Iran's president and foreign minister in a helicopter crash on May 19 have forced a pause in the UN nuclear watchdog's talks with Tehran over improving cooperation.

EU's Borrell 'Horrified' At Israeli Strikes That Killed 45 In Rafah

Palestinians gather at the site of an Israeli strike on a camp for internally displaced people in Rafah on May 27.
Palestinians gather at the site of an Israeli strike on a camp for internally displaced people in Rafah on May 27.

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has decried the latest Israeli air strikes on the southern Gaza city of Rafah that killed at least 45 Palestinians, including children and people living in tents after being forced from their homes.

Speaking after a meeting of the bloc's foreign ministers on May 27, Borrell said that he condemned the attack "in the strongest terms."

"It proves that there is no safe place in Gaza. You can imagine how horrified we all are of these attacks," he said.

The strikes occurred late on May 26, when Israeli forces hitting what they called a Hamas -- designated a terrorist organization by the United States and the EU -- installation, killing two senior members of the group.

The Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza said around half of the dead were women, children and older adults.

Israeli Prime MInister Benjamin Netanyahu said the strikes were "a tragic mistake," which comes amid mounting criticism of Israel for its war against Hamas, which was sparked by a Hamas attack on Israel on October 7 that killed more than 1,200 people, mainly civilians.

EU foreign ministers were meeting in Brussels and agreed in principle to press ahead with the reopening of the EU border mission in Rafah, which has not been operational since 2007, when Hamas seized full control of the territory.

When the mission was first deployed, it consisted of roughly 70 personnel monitoring crossings at the border between Gaza and Egypt with Borrell noting that the mission could "play a useful role to get people in and out of Gaza."

It is, however, unlikely that the mission will be fully operational before the hostilities in Gaza end and Egypt, Israel, and the Palestinian authorities have given their green light to it.

The Rafah crossing is the main entry point between Gaza and Egypt for aid but has been closed since Israeli forces took control of it earlier this month.

EU foreign ministers agreed on May 27 to immediately start preparations to relaunch the border mission.

There was also broad agreement to work toward an EU-sponsored international conference on how to implement a two-state solution, which according to Brussels can be merged with a previous call by the bloc to host an international peace conference.

The ministers also found consensus on calling for a so-called EU-Israel association council to discuss the situation in Gaza and to the need to respect human rights. The association council, which last met in 2022, is the formal political avenue between the EU and the Israeli government.

The meeting in Brussels comes shortly after several international developments in recent days relating to the conflict.

Last week, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) overwhelmingly ordered Israel to halt its Rafah offensive, while the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced recently that he was seeking the arrest of the Netanyahu, his defense minister, Yoav Gallant, and three Hamas leaders.

Meanwhile, EU member states Ireland and Spain announced last week that they will recognize a Palestinian state as of May 28.

Borrell noted that the EU wants Israel to implement the ICJ ruling, as "all members of the United Nations have an obligation to comply with its decision."

He also urged Jerusalem to unblock funds for the Palestinian Authorities and to allow UNWRA to operate in the Palestinian territories.

The call comes amid reports that the Israeli Knesset is preparing a vote to brand the UN body providing aid for Palestinian refugees "a terrorist organization."

7 Soldiers Killed In Clashes With Pakistani Taliban

A Pakistani soldier stands guard near the border with Afghanistan. (file photo)
A Pakistani soldier stands guard near the border with Afghanistan. (file photo)

Seven Pakistani soldiers, including an army captain, were killed in separate clashes with the Pakistani Taliban on May 26 and 27, according to the military's media wing, the Inter-Services Public Relations. It added that 23 Taliban fighters were killed in the clashes. A captain and a soldier were killed in an operation near Peshawar on May 26, during which six militants were shot dead. The next day, five Pakistani soldiers and seven militants were killed in clashes in the Bara region of the Khyber district. There were no military casualties in a third operation on May 27 near South Waziristan district, but 10 Taliban fighters were killed. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal, click here.

Zelenskiy Sees 'No Faith' In Putin As EU Mulls Russia Peace Talks

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said multiple rounds of Ukraine-Russia peace talks failed to yield results. (file photo)
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said multiple rounds of Ukraine-Russia peace talks failed to yield results. (file photo)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has said he does not trust Putin amid reports that the European Union plans to organize peace talks with Russia.

Bloomberg on May 27 reported that the bloc is working on organizing a meeting in Saudi Arabia later this year with Russia's participation.

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The meeting would come after a June 15-16 Ukraine peace summit in Switzerland, where representatives of dozens of countries -- but not Russia -- are expected to attend.

"There is no faith in [Russian President Vladimir] Putin," Zelenskiy said during a press conference in Spain, where he signed a bilateral security deal with Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez worth 1 billion euros on May 27.

The Ukrainian president said his country had held around 200 rounds of talks with the Kremlin, many of which were held long before Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

"There were no results; the occupied territories remained occupied," Zelenskiy told reporters.

He said 90 countries had agreed to attend the summit near the city of Lucerne in Switzerland next month.

In a video message on May 26, Zelenskiy urged world leaders, particularly U.S. President Joe Biden, to "show leadership in advancing the peace" and attend the gathering.

However, Bloomberg said Biden will skip the gathering to attend a fundraiser for his presidential campaign, while Brazil and China are planning to organize their own initiative and will send junior officials.

Russia has not been invited to the Ukrainian-organized summit. Zelenskiy has said Russia's participation risked disrupting the summit.

Moscow has dismissed the significance of the summit in Switzerland, with Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov saying in April that peace talks without Russia "make no sense."

Similarly, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova has said decisions regarding the war in Ukraine that "ignore Russia's position" are "detached from reality."

EU Puts Sanctions On Russian Officials For Persecuting Opposition

European Union foreign ministers agreed to impose sanctions on 19 Russian officials and Russia's Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) over their involvement in the persecution of opposition politicians and activists. The decision, agreed in Brussels on May 27, targets investigators, prosecutors, and judges who were involved in politically motivated cases against a number of dissidents, including Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny, who died in February while serving a lengthy prison term in an Arctic prison, Memorial human rights center co-Chairman Oleg Orlov, and activist Aleksandra Skochilenko, who was imprisoned for her opposition to Russia's invasion of Ukraine. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

HRW: Lawyers In Belarus Under 'Unprecedented Pressure' Since 2020

Human Rights Watch said on May 27 that lawyers in Belarus have been under "unprecedented" pressure since mass unrest followed the official results of a 2020 presidential election that handed authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka victory. The report said more than 140 Belarusian lawyers have lost their licenses in politically motivated moves since the vote, while at least 23 lawyers have been arrested in what appears to be an attempt to force them to drop clients facing politically motivated charges. At least six Belarusian lawyers are currently serving politically motivated prison terms of between six and 10 years, the report said. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Belarus Service, click here.

Former Kyrgyz Customs Official Matraimov's Brother To Face Trial Soon

(Left to right) The Matraimov brothers: Raimbek, Ruslan, Tilek, and Islambek
(Left to right) The Matraimov brothers: Raimbek, Ruslan, Tilek, and Islambek

OSH, Kyrgyzstan -- The Osh regional court in Kyrgyzstan's south told RFE/RL on May 27 that it had registered a criminal case against Tilek Matraimov, a brother of Raimbek Matraimov, the former deputy chief of Kyrgyzstan’s Customs Service who was at the center of a high-profile corruption scandal involving the funneling of close to $1 billion out of the country.

Tilek Matraimov, the ex-governor of the Kara-Suu district, was charged with abuse of office, his lawyer Mamat Shaiev said.

Tilek Matraimov and his brothers -- Raimbek, Ruslan, and Islambek -- were extradited to Kyrgyzstan in March from Azerbaijan, where they were in hiding.

Raimbek Matraimov, the most notorious of the brothers, was charged with money laundering and the abduction and illegal incarceration of unnamed individuals as part of the 2020-21 corruption scandal.

In February 2021, a Bishkek court ordered pretrial custody for Matraimov in connection with the corruption charges. He received a mitigated sentence that involved fines amounting to just a few thousand dollars but no jail time.

The court justified the move by saying that Matraimov had paid back around $24 million that disappeared through corruption schemes that he oversaw.

In November last year, the chairman of the state security service, Kamchybek Tashiev, accused Matraimov and crime boss Kamchy Kolbaev (aka Kamchybek Asanbek), who was added by Washington to a list of major global drug-trafficking suspects in 2011, of "forming a mafia in Kyrgyzstan."

Matraimov left Kyrgyzstan in October after Kolbaev was killed in a special security operation in Bishkek. In January, the Kyrgyz Interior Ministry said Matraimov was added to the wanted list of Kyrgyzstan's State Committee for National Security.

In 2019, an investigation by RFE/RL, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, and Kloop implicated Matraimov in a corruption scheme involving the transfer of hundreds of millions of dollars out of Kyrgyzstan.

Also in March, a court in neighboring Uzbekistan sentenced late Kolbaev's close associate, influential Uzbek crime boss Salim Abduvaliev, to six years in prison on charges of illegal possession and transportation of arms and explosives.

Abduvaliev is believed to have ties with top Uzbek officials and leaders of the so-called Brothers' Circle, a Eurasian drug-trafficking network that included Kolbaev.

Updated

Ukraine, Spain Sign $1 Billion Bilateral Security Deal

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (left) and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez pose for photos after signing a bilateral agreement on security cooperation in Madrid on May 27.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (left) and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez pose for photos after signing a bilateral agreement on security cooperation in Madrid on May 27.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez have signed a bilateral security agreement that provides for Madrid to provide Ukraine with 1 billion euros ($1.08 billion) in military aid this year.

The announcement was made at a joint news conference in Madrid, where Zelenskiy arrived on May 27 for talks with the head of the Spanish government and King Felipe VI.

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"For the period up to 2027, Ukraine will get 5 billion euros from Spain through the European Peace Fund," Zelenskiy told the news conference.

Ahead of the visit, the Spanish newspaper El Pais reported that Madrid plans to send missiles for Patriot air-defense systems and Leopard tanks to Ukraine as part of the weapons package.

The bilateral security agreement was the 10th signed by Ukraine with Western allies, following similar pacts with Britain, Germany, France, Denmark, Canada, Italy, Netherlands, Finland, and Latvia.

Zelenskiy's office has said that bilateral security agreements are also in the works with the United States, Japan, Romania, Norway, Greece, and the European Union.

Zelenskiy will travel to Portugal on a working visit on May 28, according to a statement by Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa's office.

The statement said the leaders will seek to enhance relations, with a "special emphasis" on strengthening security and defense cooperation.

Zelenskiy was forced to postpone his visit to Spain and other countries earlier this month after Russian troops launched a cross-border offensive in the northeastern Kharkiv region.

Outmanned and outgunned Ukrainian forces have been grappling with a severe lack of modern air-defense systems and ammunition as they struggle to stave off the Russian offensive amid a slowdown in deliveries of weapons, despite the U.S. Congress finally approving a $61 billion military aid package for Kyiv after several months of delay.

Highlighting Ukraine's increasing difficulties in protecting its skies against Russia's indiscriminate strikes on civilian targets, at least 14 people were killed and 43 wounded when Russia bombed a DYI store in the country's second-largest city, Kharkiv, located just some 35 kilometers from the Russian border.

Following the Kharkiv attack, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg called on May 27 on Ukraine's Western allies to step up their military aid to Kyiv.

Speaking at the NATO Parliamentary Assembly in Bulgaria's capital, Sofia, Stoltenberg said Ukraine had the right to use Western weapons against military targets on Russian territory and called on Western countries to reconsider forbidding Ukraine to launch such attacks.

"The time has come to consider whether it will be right to lift some of the restrictions which have been imposed because we see now that especially in the Kharkiv region the front line and the border line is more or less the same," Stoltenberg said.

"If Kyiv cannot attack military targets on Russian territory then it ties one hand of the Ukrainians on their back and makes it very hard for them to conduct defense."

Kyrgyz Blogger Fined Amid Crackdown On Independent Media

Kyrgyz journalist Ali Ergeshev after his arrest in February 2024
Kyrgyz journalist Ali Ergeshev after his arrest in February 2024

The Jalal-Abad City Court in southern Kyrgyzstan told RFE/RL on May 27 that independent journalist Ali Ergeshev was fined 70,000 soms ($795) on a hooliganism charge three days earlier. Ergeshev was detained on February 13 and placed under house arrest. His detention came just before Kyrgyz lawmakers approved a controversial bill allowing authorities to register media outlets and NGOs as "foreign representatives" in a way that critics say mirrors repressive Russian legislation that the authorities there have used to discredit its critics and stifle civil society. Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov signed the bill into law in early April. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, click here.

Ukraine Claims Drone Attacks On Russian Radar Station Near Kazakh Border

A Russian Voronezh-M radar system (file photo)
A Russian Voronezh-M radar system (file photo)

KYIV -- A Ukrainian military intelligence official claimed to RFE/RL that one of its drones targeted a Russian Voronezh-M early warning radar system, in one of Kyiv's deepest attacks inside Russian territory since Moscow launched a full-scale invasion of its neighbor more than two years ago.

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According to the official on May 27, the drone covered a distance of 1,800 kilometers to hit a radar station in the city of Orsk near the Russian-Kazakh border.

There was no immediate confirmation from Russian officials concerning the attack claim.

Last week, a Ukrainian drone attack targeted a similar radar installation in Russia's southwestern region of Krasnodar. Satellite images showed that the Armavir radar station, which has two Voronezh-type radars, had suffered serious damage to the buildings housing the radar installations.

The Ukrainian attack on the Armavir station came shortly after Russia began exercises with its tactical nuclear weapons forces in the Southern Military District.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said the exercises were held “in response to provocative statements and threats from certain Western officials.”

Separately on May 27, Krasnodar Governor Veniamin Kondratyev said several Ukrainian drones were shot down by Russian air defenses overnight in areas close to a giant luxury complex on the Black Sea coast near the city of Gelendzhik.

The late Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny’s investigative group said in 2021 that the palace complex had been built for President Vladimir Putin, which he denied at the time.

After the report by Navalny’s team sparked debate across Russia, Putin’s close associate, businessman Arkady Rotenberg, publicly said he is the owner of the property in question.

Another Ukrainian drone attack on May 27 targeted a gasoline station in the western Russian region of Oryol, killing one person, the region's governor, Andrei Klychkov, wrote on Telegram.

Later on May 27, Moscow region Governor Andrei Vorobyov said air defenses had downed a drone in Balashikha, just east of Moscow. He said drone fragments had landed on a house but nobody was injured.

In recent months, Ukraine has stepped up strikes on Russian territory and off its shores, targeting, in particular, oil production and refining facilities, air defense installations, and naval vessels.

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