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Spain To Withdraw All Troops From Kosovo

Spanish KFOR soldiers secure a bridge in Mitrovica
Spanish KFOR soldiers secure a bridge in Mitrovica
MADRID (Reuters) -- Spain has announced plans to withdraw its over 600 troops from Kosovo, in coordination with other NATO countries, by the end of summer.

"Mission accomplished. It's time to go home," Defense Minister Carme Chacon said during a visit to Kosovo, where Spanish troops have been present as part of the KFOR mission since it was launched in 1999.

Spain is one of five European Union countries that has yet to recognize Kosovo -- which broke off from Serbia last year -- as independent.

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Kazakh Prosecutors Seek Lengthy Prison Terms For Coal Mine Managers Over Deadly Blast

A general view of the Lenin coal mine in the Kazakh town of Shakhtinsk where an explosion killed five miners in 2022.
A general view of the Lenin coal mine in the Kazakh town of Shakhtinsk where an explosion killed five miners in 2022.

Kazakh prosecutors on April 22 asked a court in the central town of Shakhtinsk to sentence four managers of the Lenin coal mine to prison terms of between 6 years and 7 years over an explosion that killed five miners in November 2022. Deadly accidents in the region’s mines are frequent. In 2006, a similar blast at the Lenin mine killed 41 miners. In 2021, an explosion in the Abai mine in the town killed six miners. According to Kazakh officials, more than 180 miners have died in blasts, mainly caused by methane gas leaks, in the last 30 years. To read the original story from RFE/RL’s Kazakh Service, click here.

Iranian Rapper's Death Sentence Changed To 5 Years In Prison

Iranian rapper Saman Yasin (file photo)
Iranian rapper Saman Yasin (file photo)

Iranian dissident rapper Saman Yasin, who was detained during nationwide protests in 2022, has been sentenced to five years in prison, according to a verdict obtained by RFE/RL’s Radio Farda.

In sentencing Yasin, Branch 15 of Tehran's Islamic Revolutionary Court said Yasin will serve the punishment at a prison in the city of Kerman, as dictated by a fatwa from the Islamic republic's leader that bars Yasin from associating with others. Yasin is from the northwestern Kurdish region of Iran, while Kerman is located near the southeastern part of the country.

Legal sources noted that Yasin, who was involved in the "Women, Life, Freedom" protests sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini while in police custody for an alleged head scarf violation, was initially sentenced to death, but that sentence was overturned by the Supreme Court.

Hossein Sartipi, Yasin’s lawyer, confirmed on social media platform X (formerly Twitter) that the sentence had been changed, remarking, "Saman Yasin was saved from execution."

Yasin has been in temporary detention for over 18 months. Sartipi said he plans to appeal the latest sentence.

The 25-year-old rapper recently made a plea from prison to the judiciary to "issue my death sentence" rather than continue holding him indefinitely without a trial after multiple court dates were set and then delayed.

Yasin described enduring a "mock execution" set up by prison officials before being moved to a prison in Karaj.

He has consistently maintained his innocence, releasing multiple audio recordings to publicize his claims. He has also reportedly launched at least one hunger strike in protest.

After the September 2022 death of Mahsa Amini in custody after she was detained for allegedly wearing a head scarf improperly, Iranians took to the streets across the country to protest a lack of rights, with women and schoolgirls making unprecedented shows of support in the biggest threat to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution.

The judiciary, at the urging of lawmakers, has instituted harsh penalties, including the death sentence, for offenders.

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

In Sign Of Thawing Relations With Saudis, Iranian Pilgrims Leave For Mecca

Despite the recent thaw in relations, the resumption of flights between Iran and Saudi Arabia was delayed over technical issues, keeping pilgrims from making the trip until this year. (file photo)
Despite the recent thaw in relations, the resumption of flights between Iran and Saudi Arabia was delayed over technical issues, keeping pilgrims from making the trip until this year. (file photo)

For the first time in nine years, a group of Iranian pilgrims has arrived in Saudi Arabia to perform the Umrah pilgrimage to Mecca, a sign of thawing relations between Tehran and Riyadh.

The arrival follows a restoration of full diplomatic ties in March 2023, which was mediated by China after a rift sparked by the 2016 execution of a Shi'ite cleric by Saudi Arabia and subsequent attacks on the Saudi Embassy in Tehran.

Diplomatic efforts, including a significant meeting in Beijing between Ali Shamkhani, the former secretary of the Supreme National Security Council of Iran, and a visit by Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi to Saudi Arabia, resulted in the lifting of restrictions on Iranian pilgrims. However, the resumption of flights from Iran to Saudi Arabia was delayed over technical issues, keeping pilgrims from making the trip until this year.

Muslims around the world pray toward the Kaaba, which is located in the Grand Mosque in Mecca, and pilgrims walk around it seven times.

Unlike the haj, which is compulsory and subject to strict annual quotas, the Umrah can be performed at any time of the year and is not deemed compulsory.

A ceremony held at Tehran’s main airport on April 22 -- coinciding with an announcement from Iran Air that it would operate two daily flights carrying up to 260 pilgrims between various cities in Iran and Saudia Arabia -- was attended by Saudi Ambassador to Iran Abdullah bin Saud al-Anzi, marking a significant step toward increased cooperation between the two Middle Eastern powers.

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

U.S. Senate Expected To Vote On Long-Delayed Ukraine Military Aid Bill

A Ukrainian Police investigator examines debris at television tower hit by a missile strike on Kharkiv, a city that has been vulnerable to air and missile attacks amid air defense shortages.
A Ukrainian Police investigator examines debris at television tower hit by a missile strike on Kharkiv, a city that has been vulnerable to air and missile attacks amid air defense shortages.

The U.S. Senate is expected to vote on a long-delayed military aid package that includes more than $60 billion for Ukraine as early as April 23 after the House of Representatives passed the measure on April 20 following months of bickering.

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 package, which contains desperately needed aid for Ukraine's embattled military, is anticipated to pass in the Senate as early as April 23 and be sent to U.S. President Joe Biden for signing by the end of the week.

Biden told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in a phone call on April 22 that the United States will "quickly provide significant new security assistance packages to meet Ukraine’s urgent battlefield and air defense needs," the White House said in a statement.

Ukraine has been under mounting Russian pressure over the past several months as its stocks of ammunition and air defense systems gradually ran out.

An intense campaign of Russian missile and drone strikes on Ukrainian cities has taken a large toll in human lives and has caused huge damage to the country's already battered energy infrastructure after more than two years of war.

Zelenskiy said on X, formerly Twitter, that Biden told him he will sign the bill "immediately as soon as it is approved by the Senate."

If the timing for a vote is rapidly agreed, the Democratic-controlled Senate could pass the massive, $95 billion package, which also contains military aid for Israel and Taiwan, as soon as the afternoon of April 23. If Republicans opposed to the bill attempt to delay the process, a vote could be held on April 24.

The bill is expected to easily garner the 60 votes needed for approval.

Zelenskiy also told Biden about a strike on the TV tower in Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city, which had occurred just before their conversation.

"I also informed President Biden about Russia's air terror using thousands of missiles, drones, and bombs, including the recent strike on the Kharkiv TV tower just minutes before we spoke," Zelenskiy wrote.

The missile strike broke the 240-meter television tower in half, as seen in footage circulating on the Internet.

The television tower, which went into operation in 1981, provides the region with radio and television reception and is located six kilometers from the city center. The digital television broadcasting signal was disrupted, regional Governor Oleh Synyehubov said.

Ukraine's air defense shortages have made Kharkiv, a city with a population of more than 1 million located just 35 kilometers from the Russian border, more vulnerable to air and missile attacks. The power supply has already been disrupted and electricity is only available on an hourly basis.

“Russia clearly signals its intention to make the city uninhabitable,” Zelenskiy said in his post on X about his call with Biden.

In the latest strikes, Russian drones targeted Ukraine's Black Sea port city of Odesa early on April 23, wounding nine people, including four children, of whom two are less than a year old, regional administration chief Oleh Kiper said, adding that several buildings caught fire.

Ukrainian air defense systems shot down 15 out of 16 drones launched by Russia at the regions of Odesa, Kyiv, Mykolayiv, and Cherkasy, the air force said in a statement on Telegram.

All drones targeting Kyiv were destroyed, Serhiy Popko, the head of the Ukrainian capital's military administration, said in a message on Telegram adding that there were no casualties in the city and no damage was caused.

With reporting by Reuters and AP

U.K. To Announce Largest-Ever Military Support Package For Ukraine

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak

U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is to announce a $617-million aid package for Ukraine -- Britain's largest ever -- on a visit to Poland on April 23, the British government said in a statement. "Ukraine is facing an existential threat as Russia continues its barbaric invasion, risking the security and stability of all of Europe," the statement said. Britain has been one of Ukraine's staunchest supporters. The extra funding brings the U.K.'s total military aid for this financial year to $3.71 billion. Britain will also send what it said is its largest-ever single package of equipment, the statement added.

Swiss Report Big Drop In Frozen Russian Assets

Swiss authorities said the main reason for the decline was a decrease in the market value of the shares and other financial assets that have been blocked.
Swiss authorities said the main reason for the decline was a decrease in the market value of the shares and other financial assets that have been blocked.

Switzerland has frozen Russian assets worth 5.8 billion Swiss francs ($6.36 billion), the government said on April 23, a big drop that could intensify international pressure on the neutral country to do more to sanction Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine. The figure, which applies to assets frozen at the end of 2023, was down from the 7.5 billion francs in assets frozen at the end of 2022. The main reason was a decrease in the market value of the shares and other financial assets that have been blocked, said the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs, which oversees sanctions.


Updated

Children Among 9 Wounded In Russian Attack On Odesa

Odesa's regional governor said several buildings caught fire in the latest attacks on the city on April 23.
Odesa's regional governor said several buildings caught fire in the latest attacks on the city on April 23.

A Russian drone attack on Ukraine's Black Sea port city of Odesa early on April 23 wounded nine people, including four children, regional administration chief Oleh Kiper said, adding that several buildings caught fire. Ukrainian air defense systems shot down 15 out of 16 drones launched by Russia at the regions of Odesa, Kyiv, Mykolayiv, and Cherkasy, the air force said in a statement on Telegram. All drones targeting Kyiv were destroyed, Serhiy Popko, the head of the Ukrainian capital's military administration, said in a message on Telegram adding that there were no casualties or damage in the city. To read the original stories by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here and here.

Kosovo, Serbia Trade Accusations At UN Security Council Meeting

Kosovar President Vjosa Osmani speaks at a UN Security Council meeting in New York on April 22.
Kosovar President Vjosa Osmani speaks at a UN Security Council meeting in New York on April 22.

The presidents of Serbia and Kosovo traded accusations on April 22 at a session of the UN Security Council in New York called to consider a report on the work of UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK).

Kosovo President Vjosa Osmani accused Serbia of preventing the integration of ethnic Serbs in northern Kosovo into Kosovar institutions, while Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said the world is not paying enough attention to the plight of Serbs living in the region.

Osmani also accused Serbia of "intimidating" the Serbian community in the region, citing as an example the recent detention of Kosovar police officers at the border for what Serbian officials said was "security checks.”

Osmani also noted that a vote on April 21 in four mostly Serbian municipalities in the north of the country fell far short of the 50 percent required to validate the results amid a boycott by Serbian List, the leading Serbian political grouping. The vote was an initiative to remove the current mayors and elect new ones through a recall process.

Speaking at the UN in New York, she said that Serbs in Kosovo “can thank Serbian President Vucic” for the fact that Albanian mayors remain at the head of the municipalities.

Vucic, whose country has refused to recognize Kosovo's 2008 declaration of independence, was also present for the council meeting, telling its 15 members that the international community paid a lot of attention to the incident in Banjska in September but not to the attacks on the Serbian minority.

The incident near Kosovo's border with Serbia escalated tensions dramatically when an ethnic Albanian Kosovar police officer was left dead after an encounter with masked commandos allegedly led by a Kosovar Serb politician who has long enjoyed Belgrade’s support. Three of the gunmen were also killed.

"We will not allow it to be used as an alibi for the persecution of Serbs (in Kosovo)," he said, adding that poor conditions are being deliberately created for the Serbian minority in Kosovo.

The incident is a "consequence of repression" in Kosovo, said Vucic, who also raised the Central Bank of Kosovo’s decision to ban the Serbian currency, the dinar, for cash payments, calling it “an ethnically motivated campaign against Serbs and non-Albanians" in Kosovo.

U.S. Deputy Ambassador Robert Wood said that Serbia has not made significant progress in bringing responsible justice when it comes to the incident in Banjska.

"It is important that Serbia works with KFOR so that this [kind of] attack does not happen again," he told the Council, referring to NATO’s peacekeeping force in Kosovo.

The detention of Kosovar citizens traveling through Serbia and “the arrest of Serbs working in the Kosovo police" are also concerns of the United States, Wood said, calling such actions “a violation of previous agreements on free movement."

Russian Ambassador to the UN Vasily Nebenzya said that the situation in Kosovo is worrying because of the "ethnically motivated violence by the authorities in Pristina."

He said the European Union was “standing by” Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti, and said Brussels and Washington aim for Serbia to recognize the independence of Kosovo and take away its territory.

Caroline Ziadeh, who heads the UNMIK, told the council that tensions have increased in recent months and one of her key observations has been "dissatisfaction with what was achieved in the [Pristina-Belgrade] dialogue," which Brussels and the United States have been trying to restart.

Ziadeh said that it has never been more urgent to carry out "the full implementation of the agreements reached under the auspices of the European Union to help solve the major crises and series of crises that have occurred."

U.K.'s Cameron Seeks To Define Common Interests On Visit To Kyrgyzstan

British Foreign Secretary David Cameron speaks with RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service on April 22.
British Foreign Secretary David Cameron speaks with RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service on April 22.

BISHKEK -- British Foreign Secretary David Cameron said he's seeking to highlight the common interests of Britain and Kyrgyzstan on his first visit to the Central Asian country in his new job as foreign secretary.

Cameron told RFE/RL in an interview on April 22 that he believes the two countries had "a whole series" of common interests on their agendas, particularly the areas of climate change, trade, education, and security.

The former British prime minister, who 11 years ago was the first British leader to visit Kyrgyzstan, also said his meetings with President Sadyr Japarov covered the importance of healthy and functioning democracies, and that this is in the interest of both Britain and Kyrgyzstan.

Cameron noted that the world has become a more competitive and contested place in which "big powers are muscling around" trying to win partners. Without naming any country in particular, he said his message to Kyrgyzstan was that it doesn't have to choose one partner over another or reject partners it already has.

"We're saying we are a new partner that is keen to work with you with common interests, where we can make success together," Cameron told RFE/RL.

On Central Asian Trip, U.K. Foreign Secretary Cameron Criticizes Russia's 'Aggression'
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He noted that Kyrgyzstan was "investing hugely" in education, while Britain believes in the "importance of the English language" and wants to help promote that.

Asked about concerns over the deteriorating state of press freedom and the shrinking civic space in Kyrgyzstan, a country that was once called "an island of democracy in Central Asia," and other states in the region, Cameron said he raised these issues in his meeting with Japarov.

"We talked about the importance of voluntary bodies, charities, nongovernmental organizations, civil society organizations," he said.

Countries should always respect each other's differences and approaches, but he said that in his view, civil society organizations play a role in "helping to make our democracies work better, and that's the approach very much that we take in the United Kingdom."

On Russia's war in Ukraine, Cameron said his message was that it's wrong because Ukraine is an independent sovereign country just like Kyrgyzstan, and Britain is helping Ukraine to fight off the illegal invasion.

"But I think there's a broader message for everyone about the importance of sovereignty, the importance of borders, the importance of respecting those things, and I think that's a message that people want to hear [and are] very receptive to hear," he said.

Cameron visited Israel before arriving in Central Asia. He said his message there was that Britain wants the fighting to stop and the hostages released.

"Our message is one of: let's have a pause in the fighting. Let's turn that into the hostage release. Let's turn that into a sustainable cease-fire where we deal with the problems of the conflict," he said.

Biden Assures Zelenskiy That He Will Sign Military-Aid Bill Immediately

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (left) and U.S. President Joe Biden hold a press conference at the White House in Washington in December 2023.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (left) and U.S. President Joe Biden hold a press conference at the White House in Washington in December 2023.

U.S. President Joe Biden assured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in a phone call on April 22 that he will immediately sign legislation providing military aid as soon as it reaches his desk, and the aid will be dispatched quickly to Ukraine.

The U.S. Senate is expected to vote on a massive national security aid package that includes more than $60 billion for Ukraine on April 23 and send it to Biden for his signature.

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.

Zelenskiy said on X that Biden assured him during their phone call that the package of aid would include the type of aid that Ukraine needs to fend off advancing Russian forces.

"I have the president's assurance that it will be fast and powerful and will strengthen our anti-aircraft, long-range, and artillery capabilities," Zelenskiy said.

He also told Biden "about Russia's air terror using thousands of missiles, drones, and bombs," including an attack on the Kharkiv TV tower just a few minutes before their conversation.

The digital television broadcasting signal was disrupted, regional Governor Oleh Synyehubov said.

A video circulating on social media showed the main 240-meter-tall mast of the tower breaking off and falling. It was unclear what hit the tower, but Kharkiv prosecutors said Russia had likely used a Kh-59 cruise missile in the attack.

The television tower, which went into operation in 1981, provides the region with radio and television reception and is located 6 kilometers from the city center.

The northeastern Ukrainian city, with a population of more than 1 million, has been under heavy Russian fire since mid-March. The power supply has already been disrupted and electricity is only available on an hourly basis.

"Russia clearly signals its intention to make the city uninhabitable," Zelenskiy said in his post on X on his call with Biden.

Russian forces also shelled areas near the village of Yurchenkove in the Kharkiv region, killing a man who was driving an excavator, according to the regional prosecutor's office.

"A direct hit was recorded on an excavator driven by a 34-year-old driver. A fire broke out, the man died on the spot," the prosecutor's office said on Facebook.

Russian troops also shelled the town of Krasnohorivka in the Donetsk region, killing a 70-year-old woman, said the head of the regional military administration, Vadym Filashkin, adding that three high-rise buildings were also damaged in the attack.

WATCH: On the eve of the Ukraine aid vote in the U.S. House of Representatives, gunners with Kyiv's 148th Separate Artillery Brigade told RFE/RL that Ukraine would lose the war without more ammunition.

Ukrainian Frontline Gunners Await More U.S. Shells For 'Best Artillery Weapon'
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The Russian Defense Ministry claimed its forces had captured Novomykhailivka, a village in the eastern Donetsk region, where its forces have steadily been gaining ground.

The claim of Novomykhaylivka's capture came as the Ukrainian military repelled 14 attacks in the area of Lyman and 12 in the area of Bakhmut, according to the April 22 evening summary of the General Staff of the Ukrainian military.

There were a total of 62 combat clashes recorded during the day, the General Staff said.

The assessment did not confirm the Russian claim that Novomykhaylivka had been captured. It said the Ukrainian military "continues to restrain" Russian forces in the areas of Novomykhaylivka and two other settlements west of Avdiyivka, which Russian forces captured in February.

Military analysts have said that Vuhledar, which lies south of Novomykhaylivka, is the next target for Russian forces in this area.

With reporting by Reuters and dpa

EU Ministers Agree To Expand Iran Sanctions

Several EU countries called for widening the drone-related sanctions regime to cover missiles and transfers to proxy forces.
Several EU countries called for widening the drone-related sanctions regime to cover missiles and transfers to proxy forces.

EU foreign ministers agreed in principle on April 22 to expand sanctions on Iran following Tehran's missile and drone attack on Israel, the bloc's foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said. The European Union already has multiple sanctions programs against Iran, for the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, human rights abuses and supplying drones to Russia. But several EU countries had called for widening the drone-related sanctions regime to cover missiles and transfers to proxy forces.

Ex-Employee Of Banned Belsat TV Jailed On Extremism Charge

The Minsk City Court on April 22 sentenced a former employee of the Poland-based Belsat television channel, which was declared extremist and banned in the country in November 2021, to two years in prison. The court found Anastasia Matsyash guilty of being a member of an extremist group and also ordered her to pay a 20,000-ruble ($6,100) fine. Matsyash rejected the charge and maintains her innocence. Several journalists from Belsat, as well as individuals who gave interviews to the news agency, have been imprisoned on extremism charges after it was banned in Belarus. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Belarus Service, click here.

Russia Sentences Spokesman For Facebook Owner To Six Years In Prison

Andy Stone (file photo)
Andy Stone (file photo)

A military court in Russia on April 22 sentenced Andy Stone, the spokesman for Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, in absentia to six years in prison for the "justification of terrorism." Prosecutors sought seven years in prison for Stone. Earlier in February a Moscow court issued an arrest warrant for Stone, who was targeted due to a policy change he announced in March 2022, less than a month after Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The policy shift by Meta allowed some calls for violence against Russian invaders, including President Vladimir Putin, to be made on Facebook or Instagram. To read the original story on Current Time, click here.

Mudslides Triggered By Heavy Rains In Kyrgyzstan Kill 1

A Kyrgyz man clears water from a flooded house in Jalal-Abbad on April 21.
A Kyrgyz man clears water from a flooded house in Jalal-Abbad on April 21.

Kyrgyzstan’s Emergencies Ministry said over the weekend that a mudslide in the southern region of Osh killed one person on April 20. Several roads were closed due to the mudslide in the districts of Alai, Kara-Kulja, Ozgon, and Kara-Suu. Another mudslide in the southern region of Jalal-Abad damaged 45 households and four private houses in the village of Barpy. Kyrgyzstan's north has been plagued by severe flooding for weeks. In neighboring Uzbekistan, heavy rains caused mudslides and floods in the eastern region of Samarkand over the weekend. No casualties were officially reported there. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, click here. To watch a video about mudslides and floods in Uzbekistan, click here.

Ex-Wagner Mercenary Allegedly Dismembers Woman After Returning From Ukraine

The suspect was recruited from a penitentiary by the Wagner mercenary group in late 2022. (file photo)
The suspect was recruited from a penitentiary by the Wagner mercenary group in late 2022. (file photo)

Police in Russia's northwestern Leningrad region detained Aleksei Serov, a former fighter for the Wagner mercenary group, over the weekend on suspicion of killing and dismembering a 20-year-old woman. The 42-year-old man was detained after police found a suitcase in his apartment with parts of a human body. Serov confessed that he killed his acquaintance after a quarrel and dismembered her and planned to get rid of the body. Serov was recruited by the Wagner mercenary group in late 2022 from a penitentiary in Udmurtia, where he was serving a 12-year prison term for murder. He was pardoned after serving for Russia in Ukraine. To read the original story from RFE/RL's North.Realities, click here.

Updated

Additional Rescue Teams Sent To West Kazakhstan To Tackle Flood Situation

Local residents and volunteers prepare sandbags to strengthen flood defenses in Ishim in Russia's Tyumen region on April 21.
Local residents and volunteers prepare sandbags to strengthen flood defenses in Ishim in Russia's Tyumen region on April 21.

ASTANA -- The Kazakh government has sent additional rescue teams to West Kazakhstan Province to deal with ongoing floods, which have hit much of the country's north and west. Meanwhile, across the border in southern Russia, officials braced for the Ishim River to crest.

The Kazakh government said in a statement on April 22 that 600 military personnel and experts from the Emergencies Ministry had been deployed to the region, where the water level in the Zhaiyq River in the regional capital, Oral, reached 8.5 meters a day earlier, which is above the point where it is considered "dangerous."

Emergencies Ministry spokesman Asqar Sharip said on April 22 that 23,085 people returned to their houses after water levels went down in the northern provinces of Amola, Aqtobe, Atyrau, and North Kazakhstan. According to Sharip, 8,872 people, including 3,852 children, remain in temporary shelters.

"The water was diverted from 4,554 private houses and 2,767 households. More than 11.4 million cubic meters of water have been pumped out, 5.3 million sand sacks were used to stop the water," Sharip said.

"Works to divert and pump out water from 5,842 private houses and 1,061 households are under way in the four regions named."

Kazakh officials said earlier that at least seven people died and two went missing in the floods.

Kazakhs Prepare For Second Wave As Central Asia, Russia Struggle With Floods
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In neighboring Russia, emergency officials said on April 22 that the situation remains tense in several regions flooded by a combination of heavy rains and a massive snowmelt sparked by unseasonably warm weather.

Flooding has washed across the region, forcing tens of thousands to seek shelter and clean water supplies.

The Foundation for Public Control over Environmental and Population Safety said on April 22 that in the Russian region of Kurgan that borders Kazakhstan, floodwaters had pushed uranium waste from the defunct Dobrovolnoye uranium field into the Tobol River.

Subsidiaries of Russia's state nuclear agency Rosatom produced uranium at Dobrovolnoye and on April 16 it said the floods didn't pose a threat to the uranium mines in Dobrovolnoye.

Rosatom said four days later that the floods had bypassed the uranium mines.

However, the foundation on April 22 issued a video showing that the territory in the area between the villages of Trud-i-Znaniye and Zverinogolovskoye were completely underwater, undercutting Rosatom's claim.

Adding to that, Andrei Ozharovsky of the Radioactive Waste Safety program said uranium salts had been washed into the Tobol River and will cause an increase in radiation-related illnesses in the region.

The situation also remains especially dramatic in the Russian regions of Tyumen and Orenburg, officials said, with thousands of people forced to leave their homes.

"The situation with flooding in the Tyumen region remains tense," regional Governor Aleksandr Moor said on Telegram.

"The Ishim River in the city has exceeded 10.5 meters. The rise over the last 24 hours was 140 centimeters. But the intensity of the increase has subsided and we expect the maximum water level to be hit in the near future," he said, adding that the river could crest as early as late on April 22.

As of April 22, officials said 14,743 private houses remain under water in 190 towns and villages in Russia's southern regions bordering Kazakhstan.

With reporting by Tengrinews
Updated

Muscovite Gets Five Years Of 'Forced Labor' For Talking To RFE/RL

Yury Kokhovets (file photo)
Yury Kokhovets (file photo)

A Moscow court on April 22 sentenced a 38-year-old man to five years of so-called forced labor for condemning Russia's invasion of Ukraine during an on-street interview in July 2022 with a reporter from RFE/RL.

The Ostankino district court also banned Yury Kokhovets from administering websites for four years.

The punishment defined as "forced labor" in Russia means that convicts will not serve their terms in prison, but instead may stay home and be sent to work at an industrial facility in their towns, cities, or sent to other places as designated by the Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN).

A certain portion of their salaries are deducted by the State Treasury.

His lawyer, Yelena Sheremetyeva, said the court ruled that Kokhovets will be paying 10 percent of his monthly salary to the state.

Kokhovets was detained in March 2023 and charged with spreading false information about Russia's armed forces. He was later released but ordered not to leave Moscow.

In July 2022, Kokhovets was approached by an RFE/RL journalist who asked him if he thought a detente between Russia and NATO countries was needed.

"Of course we need (de-escalation), but it all depends on our government. It is our government that started it all.... It is Russia who created all these problems," Kokhovets told RFE/RL. "I don't see any problems with NATO, it is not planning to attack anyone."

He added that Russian forces had killed civilians in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha "for no reason at all." Moscow denies accusations it has committed war crimes in Ukraine.

Kokhovets pleaded partially guilty, denying that his statements during the interview with RFE/RL were hatred-based. He also stated at the trial that he was exercising his constitutional right to freely express his opinion while talking with the RFE/RL journalist.

His lawyer also said at the trial that her client had no hatred toward anyone when he talked to RFE/RL.

According to Sheremetyeva, the "proof" of her client's guilt was based purely on a forensic linguistic examination of Kokhovets's speech, which according to her, had been held with gross violations, namely that the two people who studied his statements are not state-licensed linguists, she said.

The linguistic forensics study was carried out by math teacher Natalya Kryukova and interpreter Aleksandr Tarasov, who also conducted similar linguistic examinations in the cases of shutting down the Memorial Human Rights Center in 2021 and imprisonment of Memorial's co-chairman, Oleg Orlov, in February this year.

With reporting by RBK, OVD-Info, Kommersant, Meduza, Mediazona, and Reuters

Iran, Pakistan Hold First Talks Since Cross-Border Strikes

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi (center) walks with Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif (right) to inspect a guard of honor in Islamabad on April 22.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi (center) walks with Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif (right) to inspect a guard of honor in Islamabad on April 22.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi held talks with Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on April 22 in Islamabad in their first meeting since their countries exchanged missile strikes in February.

Raisi’s three-day trip to neighboring Pakistan is part of efforts by both countries to mend relations that were strained earlier this year.

Iran and Pakistan share a porous 900-kilometer border where separatists opposed to the governments in Tehran and Pakistan operate.

In February, Iran struck what it described as bases used by Iranian Baluch separatists in Pakistan. Islamabad responded by targeting locations in Iran it said were used by Pakistani Baluch separatists.

The Iranian president was greeted at the airport by Housing Minister Riaz Hussain Pirzada before receiving a formal welcome from Sharif.

Authorities have deployed hundreds of additional police and paramilitary forces to ensure security during the visit as Pakistan has witnessed a surge in militant violence.

According to a statement released by the premier’s office, Sharif and Raisi discussed a range of issues to promote bilateral relations and cooperation in various fields and vowed to cooperate to fight terrorism.

They are also expected to hold a joint news conference later on April 22.

Iran’s official news agency IRNA said eight cooperation documents will be signed during Raisi’s visit.

The two sides will also discuss a multibillion gas pipeline project, which has been on hold since 2014. The project -- opposed by Washington for what it says is a violation of sanctions imposed on Tehran over its nuclear program -- was launched in 2013 to supply much-needed Iranian natural gas to energy-starved Pakistan.

Raisi is accompanied by his wife and a high-level delegation. He plans to visit Karachi, the country's biggest city, and Lahore, where he will meet with the Pakistan's recently elected first female chief minister Maryam Nawaz Sharif.

Raisi will travel to Sri Lanka after wrapping up his Pakistan visit.

With reporting by AP

Russian Media Watchdog Blocks Reporters Without Borders' Website

Reporters Without Borders was established in 1985 to defend press freedom and the right to free and reliable information. (file photo)
Reporters Without Borders was established in 1985 to defend press freedom and the right to free and reliable information. (file photo)

Russian media watchdog Roskomnadzor said on April 22 that it has "restricted access" to the website of the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) group, which monitors the rights of journalists around the world, the NGO Roskomsvoboda reported. Roskomnadzor said the move was made over RSF's "spreading false news about the special military operation," a term Russian officials use to describe Moscow's full-scale ongoing invasion of Ukraine launched in February 2022. RSF, headquartered in Paris, was established in 1985 to defend press freedom and the right to free and reliable information. To read the original by Current Time, click here.

Updated

Ukraine Expects War Situation To Worsen From May As EU Considers Aid

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (left) and Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk have both welcomed the approval of the aid package for Ukraine that was recently passed by the U.S. House of Representatives.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (left) and Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk have both welcomed the approval of the aid package for Ukraine that was recently passed by the U.S. House of Representatives.

European Union foreign ministers are meeting in Luxembourg to discuss bolstering the bloc's support for Kyiv as the head of Ukraine's military intelligence warned the situation in the war with Russia could worsen amid intensifying air attacks.

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EU foreign ministers were scheduled to meet on April 22 to discuss strengthening Ukraine's air defenses as Russia continues to target Ukraine with drones and missiles.

Russia has stepped up its air attacks on energy infrastructure and other targets, putting pressure on the EU to supply more air defenses to Ukraine.

Kyrylo Budanov, chief of Ukraine's military intelligence agency, told the BBC that his country faced "a rather difficult situation" on the front line against the Russians from mid-May.

"But it is not catastrophic, and we need to understand that," he added. "Armageddon will not happen, as many people are now saying."

Budanov's comments come after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in an interview with U.S. broadcaster NBC on April 21 that Russia wants to occupy Chasiv Yar in the Donetsk region before May 9, the day Russia celebrates as Victory Day to mark the defeat of Germany in World War II.

The meeting in Luxembourg comes after the U.S. House of Representatives approved a package worth more than $60 billion in Ukrainian aid that will head to the Senate for discussion this week, clearing the way for President Joe Biden to sign it into law.

Western leaders welcomed the approval of the package, with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen saying in a post on X, formerly Twitter, that "Ukraine deserves all the support it can get against Russia."

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk thanked House Speaker Mike Johnson, while also noting the holdup in Congress. "Better late than too late. And I hope it is not too late for Ukraine."

The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, said the complicated logistics of getting U.S. assistance to the front line would mean that "Ukrainian forces may suffer additional setbacks" while waiting for it to arrive.

'There Is Hope': Ukrainians Welcome Passage Of U.S. Military Aid
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Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused the United States, Britain, and France on April 22 of risking a “direct military clash” between nuclear powers by bolstering their support for Ukraine.

Hours before the meeting in Luxembourg, Russia launched seven Shahed-type kamikaze drones at Ukraine, most of which were shot down. Odesa's regional governor, Oleh Kiper, said drones targeted a farm, where they damaged a warehouse and some machinery.

The Shahed drones are cheap and effective unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) made by Iran. Tehran insists that it is not supplying Russia with drones to use against Ukraine.

Iran used the same drones on April 14 to target Israel in an unprecedented attack that included more than 300 UAVs and missiles.

During their meeting in Luxembourg, EU foreign ministers also agreed to expand the bloc's sanctions on Iran for its attack on Israel, which Tehran says was retaliation for the bombing of its embassy complex in Syria earlier this month. The attack, which Iran blames on Israel, killed seven military officers, including two generals.

Many EU countries have called for widening the drone-related sanctions regime to cover missiles and transfers to Iranian proxy forces in the Middle East.

With reporting by Reuters and the AP

2 Police Officers Killed In Attack In Russia's North Caucasus

The Interior Ministry in Russia's North Caucasus region of Karachai-Cherkessia said on April 22 that unknown attackers opened fire on a police patrol, killing two officers and wounding another one. The two police officers killed in the attack were identified as Lieutenant Murat Kalakhanov and Sergeant Roman Gushchin. The Investigative Committee said it had launched an investigation into "a deadly attack against law enforcement officers and illegal firearms possession." Several Telegram channels reported that during the overnight attack in the city of Karachayevsk, unknown assailants managed to take a pistol, an AK-47, and ammunition from the officers. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Ukraine Downs Several Russian Kamikaze Drones

Odesa's regional governor, Oleh Kiper, said drones targeted a farm, where they damaged a warehouse and some machinery. (file photo)
Odesa's regional governor, Oleh Kiper, said drones targeted a farm, where they damaged a warehouse and some machinery. (file photo)

The Ukrainian Air Force shot down five combat drones and one reconnaissance drone launched by Russia in the early hours of April 22. The air force said Russia had launched seven Iranian-made Shahed-type kamikaze drones from Cape Chauda in the Moscow-occupied Crimea region. Russia also launched three antiaircraft guided missiles from the occupied Donetsk region, according to Ukraine. In Odesa, regional Governor Oleh Kiper said the drones targeted a farm, where they damaged a warehouse and agricultural machinery. No human casualties were reported. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.

Zelenskiy Says Russia Wants To Capture Chasiv Yar By May 9

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy inspects defense fortifications in the Donetsk region late last week.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy inspects defense fortifications in the Donetsk region late last week.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in an interview with a U.S. broadcaster on April 21 that Russia wants to occupy Chasiv Yar in the Donetsk region before May 9, the day that Russia celebrates as Victory Day to mark the defeat of Germany in World War II.

Zelenskiy said on NBC that he expects an influx of weapons will arrive in Ukraine "in time," and its forces will to be able to "repel the enemy, and then defeat the plans of the Russian Federation for full-scale counteroffensive actions in June."

Zelenskiy was interviewed the day after the U.S. House of Representatives finally approved $61 billion in new U.S. aid, giving Ukraine and its soldiers on the battlefield a morale boost just as Russian forces claimed territorial gains near Chasiv Yar.

'There Is Hope': Ukrainians Welcome Passage Of U.S. Military Aid
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Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskiy, commander in chief of Ukraine's armed forces, recently said that top Russian military leaders set the capture of Chasiv Yar as a goal for its troops by May 9.

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.

Ukrainian forces currently are holding out in the Chasiv Yar area despite a lack the necessary weapons, according to Zelenskiy.

"I was recently in the region. I spoke with the fighters," he said, reiterating their need for equipment "to fight against Russian reconnaissance drones, which are correcting Russia's artillery fire."

Maksym Zhorin, the commander on the front line in the area, told national television on April 21 that all positions around Chasiv Yar were under Ukrainian control.

The Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement on April 21 that Russian forces had taken control of Bohdanivka, located just to the west of the Russian-held city of Bakhmut.

Ukraine has described Bohdanivka as an important post in keeping the Russians from advancing westward through the Donetsk region to the cities of Kramatorsk and Slovyansk.

In its evening report on April 21, the General Staff of the Ukrainian military mentioned the town of Bohdanivka as one of a series of villages where it said Ukrainian forces repelled 13 enemy attacks. It said about 20 settlements in the Donetsk region, including Chasiv Yar, came under artillery and mortar fire.

Ukraine's Defense Ministry denied last week that Russia had captured all of Bohdanivka, while acknowledging it had lost some positions in the village in eastern Donetsk region.

The Ukrainian military also said in its evening report that its forces shot down two Kh-59 cruise missiles and repelled nine attacks in the area of Terna in the Donetsk region.

With reporting by Reuters

Low Voter Turnout Scuttles Mayoral Recall Vote In Northern Kosovo

A polling station in Leposavic, north of Kosovo, waits for voters on April 21.
A polling station in Leposavic, north of Kosovo, waits for voters on April 21.

The Central Election Commission of Kosovo said turnout for elections on April 21 in four mostly Serbian municipalities in the north of the country fell far short of the 50 percent required to validate the results and therefore the election failed.

Only 253 people out of a combined estimated 46,000 registered voters across all four municipalities turned out, the head of the
Central Election Commission said at a press conference after polls closed.

The head of the commission said the majority of registered voters did not vote as required by law, so the necessary 50 percent was not reached, "therefore we conclude that the citizens' initiative for the removal of the mayors of Leposavic, Zubin Potok, Zvecan, and North Mitrovica municipalities has failed."

The vote took place amid a boycott by the leading Serb political grouping.

Kosovar President Vjosa Osmani said the election had been an opportunity for citizens in the northern municipalities to remove the current mayors and elect new ones through a recall process, but voters "largely did not take advantage" of the opportunity.

"Unfortunately, this was primarily due to pressure from Belgrade, exerted by the Serbian List and illegal criminal structures," Osmani said on X. "Once again, Serbia has illegally interfered in the electoral process of another country. Once again, [Serbian President Aleksandar] Vucic has not kept his word given to international partners."

The United States appreciated the efforts made by Kosovar election officials to allow all citizens registered in the four municipalities to participate in the vote, an embassy spokesperson said in a statement e-mailed to RFE/RL.

"We understand from international observation teams that there was extremely low voter turnout," the spokesperson said. "There is therefore no decision by the voters to recall the mayors. The mayors in place were elected, and remain in place, under Kosovo’s legal framework."

Local Government Administration Minister Elbert Krasniqi said earlier that the powerful Srpska Lista (Serbian List), which called the boycott, wants a "monopoly" on the politics of the Serbian community in Kosovo.

Northern Kosovo Holds Mayoral Votes Amid Boycott By Serbian Parties
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"They see the institutions only for themselves and not for the citizens," said Krasniqi in a statement issued in Leposavic, where he visited polling stations. "They continue to have seats reserved for the Serbian community in the Assembly of Kosovo and do not represent the interests of the citizens, but receive the salaries of the Assembly of Kosovo."

The voting is the latest irritant between Kosovo's majority ethnic Albanian population and tens of thousands of ethnic Serbs in Kosovo who, along with Belgrade, reject the former Serbian province's 2008 declaration of sovereignty and Pristina's authority.

The powerful Srpska Lista (Serbian List) party that represents many Serbs has urged them to boycott the mayoral by-elections in the North Mitrovica, Zvecan, Zubin Potok, and Leposavic municipalities.

Pristina cleared the path to the recall votes last September amid international pressure to hold new elections after ethnic Serbs overwhelmingly boycotted voting in April 2023 to replace Serbs who quit in protest over an intensifying administrative spat between Serbia and Kosovo.

Serbia does not recognize Kosovo's independence and normalization has eluded the former Yugoslav neighbors despite over a decade of EU-mediated talks that has failed to build sufficient trust or a binding road map to ensure Serb representation and Kosovar membership of international institutions including the United Nations.

Recently, Pristina stepped up pressure on its Serb population by suddenly prohibiting use of the Serbian dinar in January despite its continued use throughout many mostly Serb areas for essential payments and pensions and other supports from Serbia.

The abrupt restriction drew criticism from Belgrade and from many of Kosovo's strongest allies, including the United States, of Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti as he continues a long-running test of wills with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic.

The Serbian List has criticized voter registers in the four municipalities as "outdated," and said on April 7 it would boycott the elections.

Serbian List leader Zlatan Elek alleged "unfeasible procedures" for the April 21 voting and said the number of registered ethnic Albanians on the lists of local voters "has grown" since voting a year ago. He said voter lists "do not reflect the real situation on the ground."

"The position of the Serbian List is not to participate in the referendum called by Albin Kurti, because he did everything to make it fail," Elek said.

The dispute over the mayoralties escalated after ethnic Serbs in late 2022 quit those and other official posts -- including on the police force and posts within the so-called parallel institutions that operate in Kosovo with Serbian support despite Pristina's insistence that they are illegal.

After elections to replace the mayors in the four towns, Kurti's government ignored international pleas to de-escalate the situation and sought in May 2023 to forcibly seat ethnic Albanians who'd been declared the winners despite paltry turnout reflecting the ongoing boycott.

Local resistance -- some allege with direct support from Belgrade -- erupted into violence that injured dozens of NATO peacekeepers and reminded the international community of the depth of tensions in a region only decades removed from ethnic cleansings and bitter warfare.

After the Kosovar government established a procedure for possible recall votes, Serbs were said to have collected signatures from the required one-fifth of voters in the four regions -- reportedly with the open encouragement in January of Serbian List.

EU officials expressed disappointment at the Serbian List boycott effort.

Ukrainian Navy Says It Hit Russian Salvage Ship In Sevastopol

Ships of Russia's Black Sea Fleet (file photo)
Ships of Russia's Black Sea Fleet (file photo)

Ukraine says its navy struck another ship belonging to Russia's Black Sea Fleet. The Ukrainian Navy hit the Russian salvage ship Kommuna in occupied Sevastopol, Dmytro Pletenchuk, spokesman for the Ukrainian Navy, said on April 21. "The nature of the damage is being verified," Pletenchuk said on Facebook. Mikhail Razvozhayev, the Russian-installed governor of the Ukrainian peninsula seized by Moscow in 2014, said an attack by an "anti-ship missile" on a Russian warship had been repelled. "The falling fragments caused a small fire, which was quickly extinguished," Razvozhayev said on Telegram. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here. To read the original story by Crimea.Realities, click here.

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