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U.S. Drone Attack In Pakistan Kills 10

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) -- A suspected U.S. drone aircraft fired missiles at militants in a Pakistani region on the Afghan border, killing 10 of them including two Arabs, Pakistani intelligence officials said.

The United States, alarmed by deteriorating security in Afghanistan, began stepping up drone attacks on Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants in Pakistan last year.

There has been no let-up since President Barack Obama's administration took office in January, despite objections from Pakistan.

Two missiles were fired into the Khaisor area of the North Waziristan ethnic Pashtun tribal region at around 8 a.m. local time, the security officials said.

One missile hit a house in the Khaisor area of North Waziristan's ethnic Pashtun tribal region. Another struck a nearby vehicle.

"Ten militants were killed. Two of them are Arabs but We don't know their nationalities," an intelligence official in the region told Reuters.

Khaisor is about 20 kilometers south of Mir Ali town, a hub for foreign militants in the region.

It was third such attack this month. This week, eight people were killed in a similar attack in neighboring South Waziristan.

The United States has carried out about 40 drone air strikes since the begining of last year, most since September, killing more than 320 people, according to a tally of reports from Pakistani security officials, district government officials and residents.

Agreement?

Pakistan says the drones, operated by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), violate its sovereignty and undermine efforts to deal with militancy because they inflame public anger and bolster militant support.

Pakistan has pressed the United States to provide it with drones to allow it to conduct its own antimilitant operations.

U.S. officials said on May 14 the United States had given Pakistan data on militants in the Afghan border area gathered by surveillance drones in Pakistani airspace under an agreement with Pakistan.

Confirming the existence of the program, which started in mid-March, U.S. military officials said it allowed the Pakistani military to request missions over specific areas of its Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

But on May 15, Pakistan denied any such agreement.

"There is no agreement. If there was an agreement, then why would we be protesting against violations of our sovereignty?" Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told reporters in Paris.

U.S. officials say that CIA missile strikes are carried out under an agreement with Islamabad that allows Pakistan's political leaders to decry the attacks in public.

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UN General Assembly To Vote On Resolution To Commemorate Srebrenica Genocide

A woman prays amid the gravestones of Srebrenica victims at a memorial cemetery in Potocari.
A woman prays amid the gravestones of Srebrenica victims at a memorial cemetery in Potocari.

The UN General Assembly has scheduled a debate on a UN resolution to establish an annual day to commemorate the 1995 genocide of more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslims by Bosnian Serbs on May 23 to be followed by a vote.

The resolution would designate July 11 as the International Day of Reflection and Commemoration of the 1995 Genocide in Srebrenica.

The resolution has sparked protests and a lobbying campaign by Serbia’s president and the Bosnian Serb leadership to block its adoption by the 193-member General Assembly. Approval requires a majority of those countries that take part in the vote.

The draft resolution condemns “without reservation any denial of the Srebrenica genocide as a historical event.” It also “condemns without reservation actions that glorify those convicted of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide by international courts, including those responsible for the Srebrenica genocide.”

Sponsored by Germany and Rwanda, the resolution also asks the United Nations to prepare an outreach program and invites countries, organizations, civil society organizations, and others to observe July 11 with “appropriate education and public awareness-raising activities" in memory and honor of the victims.

The killings began near the end of the 1992-95 Bosnian War, which broke out after the breakup of Yugoslavia and pitted Bosnian Serbs against the country’s two other main ethnic populations, Croats and Muslim Bosniaks.

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On July 11, 1995, Bosnian Serbs overran a UN-protected safe area in Srebrenica and began targeting Bosniak men and boys. Those who tried to escape were chased through the woods and over the mountains around the town.

The International Court of Justice, the UN’s highest tribunal, determined in 2007 that the acts committed in Srebrenica constituted genocide, and the court’s determination is included in the draft resolution.

Germany’s UN Ambassador Antje Leendertse said the resolution “has the support of a large cross-regional group. She noted in a statement to the Associated Press last week that there is an official UN commemoration of the 1994 Rwanda genocide every year on April 7, and the Srebrenica resolution aims to do the same for Bosnia before the 30th anniversary of the start of the genocide in 2025.

Serbia’s nationalist president, Aleksandar Vucic, and the leadership of the Bosnian Serb entity, Republika Srpska, have vehemently opposed the adoption of the resolution, saying it brands Serbia as a “genocidal nation.”

Serbian Foreign Minister Marko Duric told the UN Security Council on April 30 that Serbia has consistently condemned the “horrific” Srebrenica massacre and other crimes committed during the Bosnian War. Duric called for the resolution to be withdrawn and replaced by one that honors all victims of the war.

Vucic said the resolution should be subjected to a vote in the UN Security Council, not the General Assembly. Those put to a vote in the Security Council can be vetoed by any of its five members, therefore allowing Russia and China to sink it.

Russia’s envoy to the UN, Vasily Nebenzya, dismissed the resolution as “one-sided” and “politically charged” in his comments to the Security Council on April 30. Nebenzya said the move would not promote reconciliation among the peoples of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Milorad Dodik, Republika Srpska's Russia-friendly leader, has repeatedly threatened that if the resolution is adopted, the entity "will withdraw from the decision-making process in Bosnia."

Dodik, who has regularly reiterated his denial of the Srebrenica genocide, told supporters at a rally in Banja Luka last month that the actions of the Republika Srpska Army in Srebrenica in 1995 were "a mistake that left the crime," but he denied it was genocide.

With reporting by AP

Turkey Claims Its Drone Was Instrumental In Finding Wreckage Of Iranian Helicopter

An Akinci drone made by Turkey (file photo)
An Akinci drone made by Turkey (file photo)

Turkey says its Akinci drone deserves more credit for helping to locate the wreckage of the Iranian helicopter that crashed in a remote and mountainous area of Iran on May 19, killing President Ebrahim Raisi and other top Iranian officials, according to Turkish media reports on May 22.

The reports say that the Akinci drone was first to find the site of the wreckage and accused Iran of changing its narrative about the use of the Turkish equipment after it provided information about the location of the wreckage and then made counterclaims that its own drone found the site.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said earlier this week that the Akinci drone was sent at the request of the Iranian government.

According to Erdogan, despite the bad weather conditions the drone was able to conduct search operations in the region for seven and a half hours and fly a total of 2,100 kilometers.

After the Turkish drone identified the helicopter wreckage and detected heat sources believed to be the crash site in Iran’s East Azerbaijan Province, the Iranian search team successfully located the downed helicopter and the bodies of Raisi and the others in the mountainous terrain, according to Turkish media reports.

However, Iran rejected the notion that there was foreign participation in the search operation despite data from the Turkish drone that revealed the coordinates of the crash, and confirmation of this data by some Iranian news agencies.

After the Akinci drone captured images of the wreckage using its night vision and thermal camera and released them on the Internet, Pirhossein Kolivand, the head of the Iranian Red Crescent Society, called foreign participation in the search a rumor.

“We did not stop the search in the dark, fog, and rain, and when we discovered the wreckage of the helicopter with our own drone, we moved to the exact place where the helicopter fell," Kolivand said.

He claimed that rescuers from the Red Crescent found the wreckage at an altitude of 2,500 meters and "it took 40 minutes from the time of finding the wreckage of the helicopter to reaching the accident site.”

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But during the overnight search, the Red Crescent said in a statement at around 4 a.m. local time on May 20 that after the Turkish drone identified two potential “hot spots” the Red Crescent rescue teams headed toward the sites.

The head of the East Azerbaijan Red Crescent also cited the Turkish drone report that a “burning spot” had been detected and said rescue forces were sent to that area.

The head of Turkey, Asia, and Indo-Pacific studies at the Institute for International Relations and Strategic Research (ULISA) said in an opinion piece published by the state news agency Anadolu that the drone’s role in finding the wreckage site demonstrated the need to recognize Turkey’s commitment to fulfilling its humanitarian responsibilities through its defense capacity.

Professor M. Nazmul Islam said that, after Iran accepted Turkey’s offer to send the drone, the Akinci took off from a Turkish base at around 11:30 p.m. local time and began searching nearly an hour later. Turkey claims that it transmitted the image of the wreckage of the helicopter at 3:06 a.m. Iranian time and shared the coordinates with the Iranian authorities.

But according to Iranian media accounts, an Iranian drone belonging to the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps found the remains of the helicopter at around 5:30 a.m. local time.

A statement issued by Iran's military said that, despite Turkey sending a drone equipped with night vision and thermal cameras, it "failed to accurately locate the crash site due to its lack of detection equipment and control points below the cloud," referring to the adverse weather conditions.

Iran Radio reported that it was “five o'clock in the morning when the correct coordinates were finally found with Iranian equipment and Iranian relief forces.”

Iran, whose military has its own drone program, was not able to deploy its drones because they were located in the northern part of the Indian Ocean at the time, the Iranian military said. Western powers have accused Iran of providing drones to Russia for its war in Ukraine.

With reporting by Anadolu and Reuters

Bulgarian Prosecutor Seeks Closure Of 2 Pro-Russian Paramilitary Groups

Pro-Russian demonstrators hold a rally in Sofia in May 2023.
Pro-Russian demonstrators hold a rally in Sofia in May 2023.

Two pro-Russian paramilitary organizations operating in Bulgaria should be closed because their activities violate the constitution, a district prosecutor’s office said on May 22.

The request to shut down BNO Shipka and the Vasil Levski Military Union was submitted to the district court in Varna by the local prosecutor’s office. The court is expected to schedule a hearing to consider the request.

The two paramilitary organizations are connected to one another and known for their pro-Russian rhetoric. They have been conducting combat training for years and oppose Bulgaria’s Euro-Atlantic affiliations, including its membership in the European Union and in NATO.

The request comes a year and a half after the state prosecutor’s office announced that it was investigating BNO Shipka for sedition.

Investigators found that the two paramilitary organizations violated the constitution’s prohibition of actions “against the sovereignty [and] territorial integrity of the country and the unity of the nation” and its prohibition of inciting hatred and creating "secret or paramilitary structures."

The Varna district prosecutor's office said members of both groups had made organized visits to the border with Turkey aimed at "catching illegal migrants."

In addition, the leaders of the two associations have maintained contacts with representatives of German political factions, including people known for their far-right beliefs, the investigators said.

The groups describe their activities as patriotic.

The leader and spokesman for the organizations, a man who introduces himself as Vladimir Rusev, has spread conspiracy theories against NATO and the European Union on social media for years. Rusev, who has gained fame in the past with the nickname Walter Kalashnikov, opposes COVID-19 vaccination, linking it to disinformation that circulated on social media during the pandemic.

Questions about the organizations were raised last year by investigative journalist Hristo Grozev, who reported that they were linked to a 2016 attempt by Russia to destabilize Bulgaria using a model deployed in Montenegro the same year.

Grozev’s investigation looked into a protest in Sofia in April 2016 organized by BNO Shipka and the Vasil Levski Military Union in front of the National Assembly. Many of the activists of the paramilitary organizations were preemptively detained before the protest.

A few months later members of the organizations beat protesters who demonstrated against the visit of the pro-Russian biker Night Wolves club to the Black Sea port city of Burgas. The Burgas district court in April 2019 convicted three people in the case.

Custody Extended For Russian Anti-War Teen Jailed After Posting Ukrainian Poet's Verses

Darya Kozyreva in court earlier this year
Darya Kozyreva in court earlier this year

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia -- A court in St. Petersburg has extended pretrial detention by another two months for an 18-year-old activist who is charged with repeatedly discrediting Russian armed forces involved in Moscow’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

The Petrograd district court ruled on May 22 that Darya Kozyreva must stay in pretrial detention at least until July 25.

Kozyreva was detained on February 24, the second anniversary of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, after she glued a poster on a monument to prominent Ukrainian writer, poet, and thinker Taras Shevchenko with an excerpt of a well-known poem from his book, My Testament:

Oh bury me, then rise ye up

And break your heavy chains

And water with the tyrants' blood

The freedom you have gained.

The poster was so strongly glued to the monument that police were unable to remove it and had to cover it with a black plastic bag.

Kozyreva was initially charged with vandalism in January last year after she left a comment in December 2022 on an art installation symbolizing "friendship" between St. Petersburg and Ukraine's city of Mariupol, which was destroyed by Russian bombs at the start of the invasion.

An investigation into that case is still under way.

On December 18, 2022, less than a week after the installation was unveiled in St. Petersburg's Palace Square, the words “Murderers, you bombed it to ruins yourselves!" appeared on the installation.

Kozyreva was expelled from St. Petersburg State University in January after she was found guilty of discrediting Russia's armed forces and ordered to pay a 30,000 ruble ($330) fine in December.

That charge stemmed from Kozyreva's online posts criticizing Russian laws on discrediting the country's armed forces, which were introduced shortly after Russia launched its full-scale invasion in late February 2022.

6 Kyrgyz, 4 Foreign Nationals Detained Over Mob Attacks In Bishkek That Triggered Exodus

Pakistani students leaving Kyrgyzstan following mob attacks. Manas international airport in Bishkek. May 21, 2024
Pakistani students leaving Kyrgyzstan following mob attacks. Manas international airport in Bishkek. May 21, 2024

BISHKEK -- The Kyrgyz Interior Ministry said on May 22 that six Kyrgyz and four foreign citizens had been detained on suspicion of being involved in a brawl that sparked mob attacks on foreign students in Bishkek, triggering a mass exodus of Pakistani students from the Central Asian nation.

According to the ministry, nine investigations have been launched into hooliganism, robbery, mass disorder, and inciting ethnic hatred. Thirty-three people were injured in the violence, the ministry added.

Hundreds of Pakistani students have left Kyrgyzstan since the May 18 violence, which was triggered by the appearance on social media of a video purportedly showing a group of "people of Asian appearance" harassing foreign students on the night of May 13.

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The group then pursued the students to their dormitory, where at least one foreigner was assaulted by several men and dragged along the floor.

Kyrgyz officials said later that the foreigners involved in the brawl on video were Egyptians.

The Kyrgyz government has vowed to pursue those responsible for the violence.

Still, it appeared to lay the blame for the attack on illegal migrants, saying authorities had been taking "decisive measures to suppress illegal migration and expel undesirable persons from Kyrgyzstan."

On May 22, Kyrgyzstan’s State Committee for National Security (UKMK) said in a statement that five Egyptian citizens were arrested on charges of extortion, illegal drug possession, and violating immigration laws.

A day earlier, the UKMK said six Pakistani nationals were detained overnight while trying to illegally enter Kyrgyzstan from Kazakhstan.

Just three days before the violence, the UKMK detained 28 Pakistani nationals for "working illegally" in a sewing shop in Bishkek.

The same day, Bishkek city police shut down delivery services conducted by more than 400 foreign students, mostly from Pakistan, on motorcycles and scooters, citing traffic safety concerns.

Britain Accuses China Of Working To Provide Russia With 'Lethal Aid'

Chinese leader Xi Jinping (left) and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Beijing on May 16 during a two-day state visit.
Chinese leader Xi Jinping (left) and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Beijing on May 16 during a two-day state visit.

Britain has accused China of preparing to or already providing ‘lethal aid’ to Russia for its ongoing full-scale invasion of neighboring Ukraine.

Citing U.S. and British defense intelligence, Defense Secretary Grant Shapps said there was evidence that “lethal aid is now, or will be, flowing from China to Russia and into Ukraine.”

“Today I can reveal that we have evidence that Russia and China are collaborating on combat equipment for use in Ukraine,” Shapps told a defense conference in London on May 22.

The British defense minister did not provide details or evidence to back up his claim, but his assertion, the first such accusation from a Western official, would indicate a new level of support for Moscow from Beijing and that China had pivoted to directly supporting Russia’s military.

“We should be concerned about that because in the earlier days of this war, China would like to present itself as a moderating influence on” Russian President Vladimir Putin, Schnapps said, adding that trade data since the Kremlin’s February 2022 full-scale invasion of invasion shows that Beijing and Moscow “are covering each other's backs.”

China has emerged as the Kremlin's leading international supporter as a vital consumer for oil and gas that has helped boost the Russian economy and by supplying Russia with key militarily useful, but nonlethal, dual-use components for the production and repair of weapons.

In April, senior U.S. officials said that Beijing was providing Moscow with drone and missile technology, satellite imagery, and machine tools.

Analyses of Chinese customs data show that in 2023 some 90 percent of “high priority” dual-use goods used in Russian weapons production was imported from China.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said during a late April visit to China that there was no evidence that Beijing was sending weapons to Russia to use in Ukraine.

“What China is doing, or what some of its enterprises are doing, is to provide critical components for Russia’s defense industrial base, things like machine tools, microelectronics, and optics,” Blinken said during his trip to the Chinese capital.

However, Shapps' accusation would mean that China is no longer shying away from directly helping Russia’s war effort in Ukraine, where fighting is in its third year.

Putin visited China in May for a state visit with Chinese leader Xi Jinping where the pair touted their burgeoning ties as a “new era” and as “one of the main stabilizing factors in the international arena,” while criticizing the United States for “hegemonic” behavior.

With reporting by AP and Reuters

Extremism Trial Of Kazakh Journalist Resumes

Duman Mukhammedkarim (file photo)
Duman Mukhammedkarim (file photo)

QONAEV, Kazakhstan -- The trial of independent Kazakh journalist Duman Mukhammedkarim, who is accused of financing an extremist group and participating in a banned group's activities, resumed on May 22 after a pause of more than 100 days.

Mukhammedkarim's lawyer, Ghalym Nurpeiisov, told RFE/RL that the trial resumed after investigators concluded that his client's complaint about being tortured by jail guards was "baseless."

About 20 people came to the court in the southern town of Qonaev to support Mukhammedkarim but were not allowed to enter the building as the trial is being held behind closed doors.

Mukhammedkarim, whose Ne Deidi? (What Do They Say?) YouTube channel is extremely popular in Kazakhstan, was sent to pretrial detention in June 2023 over an online interview he did with the fugitive banker and outspoken critic of the Kazakh government, Mukhtar Ablyazov.

Ablyazov's Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK) movement was labeled extremist and banned in the country in March 2018.

Mukhammedkarim's trial started on February 12 but was postponed after he complained of being beaten by jail guards, prompting prosecutors to launch a probe into the matter.

The journalist has held at least two hunger strikes demanding that his trial be open to the public and protesting against being held behind bars for such a long period when his trial was on hold.

If convicted, Mukhammedkarim could be sentenced to up to 12 years in prison.

Domestic and international rights organizations have urged Kazakh authorities to drop all charges against Mukhammedkarim and immediately release him.

Kazakh rights defenders have recognized Mukhammedkarim as a "political prisoner."

Rights watchdogs have criticized the authorities in the tightly controlled former Soviet republic for persecuting dissent, but Astana has shrugged the criticism off, saying there are no political prisoners in the country.

Kazakhstan was ruled by authoritarian President Nursultan Nazarbaev from its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 until current President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev succeeded him in 2019.

Over the past three decades, several opposition figures have been killed and many jailed or forced to flee the country.

Toqaev, who broadened his powers after Nazarbaev and his family left the oil-rich country's political scene following the deadly, unprecedented anti-government protests in January 2022, has promised political reforms and more freedoms for citizens.

However, many in Kazakhstan consider the reforms announced by Toqaev to be cosmetic, as a crackdown on dissent has continued even after the president announced his "New Kazakhstan" program.

Baltics Criticize Russian Proposal On Maritime Borders; Moscow Withdraws Draft

Zelenogradsk in Russia's Kaliningrad exclave (file photo)
Zelenogradsk in Russia's Kaliningrad exclave (file photo)

Russia has withdrawn without explanation a Defense Ministry draft that proposed revising Moscow's maritime border in the eastern Baltic Sea and expanding its territorial waters that raised the ire of littoral NATO members Finland, Sweden, Lithuania, and Estonia.

The draft, dated May 21, was initially published on an official Russian portal of legal drafts. It proposed expanding Russia's territorial waters in the Gulf of Finland and around the Kaliningrad exclave near the maritime borders with Finland, Estonia, and Lithuania.

Since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, Finland and Sweden have joined NATO, leaving Kaliningrad completely surrounded by members of the alliance.

According to the draft, expanding the border off the coast of Kaliningrad between Baltiysk and Zelenogradsk and in the eastern part of the Gulf of Finland would have allowed the corresponding maritime areas to be used as internal sea waters of Russia as vessels made the trip from St. Petersburg.

It also proposed changes off the coast of Lithuania in the area of the Curonian Spit, the crescent-shaped sand dune separating the Curonian Lagoon from the Baltic Sea.

Following the publication of the draft, Lithuania's Foreign Ministry said it was "summoning a representative of the Russian Federation for a full explanation." Moscow has not had an ambassador in Vilnius since April 2022.

Lithuania expelled Moscow's envoy and downgraded its diplomatic relations with Russia following the atrocities allegedly committed by Russian forces in the Ukrainian town of Bucha.

"Another Russian hybrid operation is under way, this time attempting to spread fear, uncertainty, and doubt about their intentions in the Baltic Sea," Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

“Finland acts as always: calmly and based on facts,” Finnish President Alexander Stubb wrote on X.

Finnish Prime Minister Petteri Orpo said Helsinki will monitor Russia's moves, while Foreign Minister Elina Valtonen told reporters that Helsinki was "following the situation."

"We don't have any official information on what Russia is planning," she said.

Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson reminded Moscow that it was a signatory to the UN convention regulating maritime border changes.

“Both we and Finland assume that Russia -- which is a signatory party to that convention -- lives up to that responsibility,” Kristersson was quoted as saying by the Swedish news agency TT.

The draft was withdrawn without any explanation just hours after the wave of criticism, with an unnamed Russian diplomatic source telling Interfax that Moscow had no intention of revising its maritime borders, while Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters there was “nothing political” in the draft.

“You see how tensions and the level of confrontation are escalating, especially in the Baltic region. This requires appropriate steps from our relevant bodies to ensure our security,” Peskov said.

News of the Russian proposal to redraw the maritime border was first reported by the Moscow Times

With reporting by AP and Reuters

Kyrgyz Activist Goes On Trial On 'Mass Unrest' Charge

Askat Jetigen
Askat Jetigen

Kyrgyz activist Askat Jetigen, known for his criticism of the Central Asian nation's government, went on trial on May 22 on a charge of calling for mass unrest. Jetigen, who rejects the charge as politically motivated, was arrested in March days after his last video criticizing reforms by the Culture Ministry was posted online. Human rights groups have criticized the Kyrgyz government for using the charge of "calling for mass unrest" as a tool to muzzle dissent. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, click here.

Memorial Rights Group Recognizes Bashkir Activist As Political Prisoner

Fail Alsynov
Fail Alsynov

The Memorial human rights group on May 22 recognized Bashkir activist Fail Alsynov as a political prisoner. The 37-year-old was sentenced to four years in prison in January on a charge of inciting hatred that he and his supporters call politically motivated. Thousands of Alsynov's supporters have rallied before and since his sentencing, sometimes clashing with police, who have used tear gas, stun grenades, and batons to disperse the protesters. Alsynov is known for his open criticism of Bashkortostan’s Kremlin-backed chief, Radiy Khabirov, and his government. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Idel.Realities, click here.

Fire-Bomber Of Russian Embassy In Chisinau Given Suspended Sentence

Smoke pours out of Moscow's embassy in Chisinau on March 17.
Smoke pours out of Moscow's embassy in Chisinau on March 17.

A man accused of throwing two Molotov cocktails over the fence of the Russian Embassy in Chisinau on March 17, the day of Russia's presidential election, has been sentenced to 150 hours of unpaid community service. The Chisinau court took into consideration that the man, whose identity has not been disclosed, admitted his guilt. Judges deducted from the sentence the time spent by the man in preventive custody and house arrest since March 17, thus ruling the sentence has been completed and he can be set free. Moscow had demanded a severe punishment for the man. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Moldovan Service, click here.

U.S. Says Russia 'Likely' Deployed Anti-Satellite Weapon In Space; Moscow Rejects Claim

Pentagon spokesman Patrick Ryder (file photo)
Pentagon spokesman Patrick Ryder (file photo)

The Pentagon has said Russia "likely" deployed an anti-satellite weapon in space earlier this month, a claim quickly rejected by Moscow.

Pentagon spokesman Patrick Ryder told journalists during a press conference on May 21 that the new counter-space weapon was launched five days earlier into the same orbit as a U.S. government satellite.

He added Pentagon assessments "further indicate characteristics resembling previously deployed counter-space payloads from 2019 and 2022."

"Certainly, we would say that we have a responsibility to be ready to protect and defend the domain -- the space domain -- and ensure continuous and uninterrupted support to the Joint and Combined Force," he said.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov on May 22 rejected the statement, calling it "false information from Washington."

"We always stand against the placing of assault items in the Earth orbit," Ryabkov told reporters in Moscow.

A growing number of nations have moved into space, with about a dozen capable of launching spacecraft. Meanwhile, about 80 nations and many private companies have assets in orbit, making the weaponization of space a global concern, even though the the 1967 Outer Space Treaty requires weapons to remain on Earth.

On May 20, a UN resolution proposed by Russia against an arms race in space was not approved by the Security Council, with seven countries, including the United States, France, and the United Kingdom, voting against it, and seven nations, including Russia and China, voting in favor of the resolution.

Last month, Russia vetoed a U.S. resolution against nuclear weapons in space. The U.S. representative in the UN, Robert Wood, accused Russia at the time of using manipulative tactics regarding the issue of nuclear weapons in space.

In February, media reports in the United States described Russia's nuclear ambitions in space and the nuclear potential of anti-satellite weapons as a threat to national and international security.

Amid the reports, Washington accused Russia of developing anti-satellite weapons, while President Joe Biden publicly assured Americans that neither they nor the international community face any danger.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said then that his country "has always been categorically against and is now against the deployment of nuclear weapons in space."

With reporting by AP and TASS

Former Siberian Official Suspected Of Serial Killings To Face Trial

Russia's Investigative Committee said on May 21 that the former deputy governor of the Kalman district in the Siberian region of Altai Krai, Vitaly Manishin, will face trial over the deaths of 11 women. The committee said an investigation into the case is over and that it has been sent to a court. After several women were found dead in 2000, investigators detained Aleksandr Anisimov, who had a criminal record, as a suspect. Anisimov maintained his innocence. He died after he reportedly jumped from a high-rise building while in police custody. Manishin was arrested in May 2023. To read the original story by RFE/RL;'s Siberia.Realities, click here.

Imprisoned Kremlin Critic Ilya Yashin Placed In Solitary Confinement

Ilya Yashin
Ilya Yashin

Russian opposition politician Ilya Yashin, who is serving an 8 1/2-year prison term for his criticism of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, has been placed in solitary confinement, just ahead of a scheduled visit by his parents. Yashin said on his Telegram channel on May 22 that the prison administration sent him to solitary for 15 days on May 17 for "a delay in leaving his barracks after a wakeup command in the morning." Yashin says the move was intentional to disrupt his three-day stay with his parents on the penitentiary's premises. The visit was scheduled for May 20. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Updated

Ukraine Needs Improved Defense Against Russian Aerial Bombs, Zelenskiy Says

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (file photo)
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (file photo)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy made a plea on May 22 for upgraded defense systems to protect Ukrainian cities against guided bombs, which have been used by Russian forces to hit Ukrainian energy infrastructure.

Zelenskiy said the need for improved air defense systems was discussed at a special meeting on Ukrainian arms production and countermeasures against Russian guided aerial bombs.

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.

"This is a challenging topic, and while we see some good progress on electronic warfare, drones, and the missile program, there is still a lot of work to be done to counter Russian bombs," he said in a summary posted at his website.

He said Ukraine needs systems and tactics that will allow it to protect its troop positions and cities and other communities from the bombs, which he said are the "main instrument of Russian terror and the advance of the occupier."

Zelenskiy's comments came after a Russian air attack on Kharkiv injured at least nine people and set fire to a residential building, local officials said.

"One of the guided aerial bombs, according to preliminary data, hit a cafe. It is very close to a multistory residential building," Serhiy Bolvinov, the head of the investigative department of the regional police, told Ukrainian television.

Zelenskiy said earlier this month that Russia used more than 3,200 guided bombs against Ukrainian targets in April. Russia has increasingly resorted to these bombs, which are directed to a target by a guidance system, have great destructive potential, and pose fewer risks to air crews delivering them.

Commenting on the situation at the front, Zelenskiy said border issues are receiving maximum attention not only in the Kharkiv region but also in the Sumy region.

The areas of the main battles have not changed and remain primarily Pokrovsk and other areas in the Donetsk region and in the area around Kupyansk in the Kharkiv region.

The Ukrainian Air Force said earlier on May 22 that its air defenses shot down all 24 drones launched by Russia at targets on Ukraine's territory early in the say.

"The drones were destroyed over the Mykolayiv, Dnipropetrovsk, Zaporizhzhya, Donetsk, Sumy, and Odesa regions," the air force command said in a statement.

Separately, the Sumy city council said power lines and water pipes were damaged by falling drone debris and that the power supply to the city was disrupted. It said work was already under way to restore water and electricity to the city's inhabitants.

Zelenskiy also announced in his address that four more countries -- Albania, Austria, Chile, and Mozambique -- had agreed to attend a peace summit in Switzerland in June. The aim of the meeting is to create a broad front to oblige Russia to agree to a peace settlement under the terms of the UN Charter.

"Russian aggression has tried to turn the UN Charter into a museum exhibit," Zelenskiy said. "Our peace summit…can restore the full effectiveness and full protection of the UN Charter to every nation."

Zelenskiy's peace plan calls for the withdrawal of all Russian forces and the restoration of Ukraine's 1991 borders.

Russia, which rejects the plan, has not been invited to the summit and has dismissed any discussion of the conflict without its participation as pointless.

With reporting by Reuters
Updated

Khamenei Prays Over Coffins At Funeral For Raisi, Others Killed In Helicopter Crash

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (center) and other clerics pray over the coffins of President Ebrahim Raisi and other officials in Tehran on May 22.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (center) and other clerics pray over the coffins of President Ebrahim Raisi and other officials in Tehran on May 22.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei led prayers in Tehran at the funeral of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi on May 22 as thousands attended a procession for Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, and other officials killed in a helicopter crash over the weekend.

Khamenei presided over the start of the ceremony at a time of deepening crisis between the country's Islamic leadership and many citizens over a lack of freedoms and declining living standards. He delivered a traditional "death prayer" for Raisi and then left the ceremony without giving a speech.

Khamenei delivered a traditional "death prayer" for Raisi at the ceremony on May 22, three days after the accident in a remote, mountainous area of the country's northwest. Khamenei then left without giving a speech.

Crowds reached out to touch the caskets during the procession as Iran's acting president, First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber, stood nearby.

Besides Iran's top leaders, including the chiefs of the paramilitary Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, several foreign dignitaries attended, including Pakistan's Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian, Iraqi Prime Minister Muhammad Shia al-Sudani, and a delegation from Afghanistan's Taliban rulers led by Foreign Minister Amir Khan Mutaqqi.

No Western leaders attended. Three former Iranian presidents -- Mohammad Khatami, Mahmud Ahmadinejad, and Hassan Rohani -- were also not seen among dignitaries in attendance.

After the ceremony, the caskets of Raisi and the other victims of the crash were carried out on the shoulders of people onto a platform truck amid chants of "Death to America!" and "Death to Israel!" from the crowds.

Some reports said Tehran residents received mobile phone messages urging them to attend the funeral procession, which headed toward Freedom Square in central Tehran.

The caskets were draped in Iranian flags with pictures of the deceased on them, while on Raisi's casket, a black turban was placed to mark his alleged direct descendance from Islam's Prophet Muhammad.

Although Egypt and Iran do not have diplomatic relations, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry traveled to Tehran to attend the funeral. Tehran and Cairo have recently floated the possibility of reestablishing relations, which were cut after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

New Pictures And Account Emerge Of Raisi Crash As Thousands Attend Funeral
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Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Guoqing was to attend the memorial service, according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

Ismail Haniyeh, the leader of Hamas, which has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union, was also seen in live footage as attending. Iran has armed and supported Hamas during the ongoing war with Israel in Gaza. Sheikh Naim Qassem, the deputy leader of Hizballah, Iran's Lebanese proxy, was also present.

A presidential election to determine Raisi's successor was announced for June 28. The election is to be organized by a council consisting of the speaker of parliament, the head of the judiciary, and the first vice president.

According to Iranian media, Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Baqeri Kani was appointed acting foreign minister.

WATCH: A woman who lost 11 relatives in executions in 1988 told RFE/RL that she was celebrating Raisi's death. Raisi was accused of being on a "death committee" that ordered mass executions at the time.

As Raisi Funeral Ceremonies Begin, Mother Of Executed Iranians Celebrates
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The ceremonies marking the deaths of those involved in the crash started on May 21 with tens of thousands of mourners in attendance in the city of Tabriz, the capital of Iran's northwestern province of East Azerbaijan where the crash occurred, and the Shi'ite clerical center of Qom.

Beyond the official display of public grief, many Iranians who have been victims of acts of repression by Raisi and the Iranian regime or had relatives who suffered from such acts were adamant in voicing their satisfaction at Raisi's death.

A woman who lost 11 relatives, including two daughters, in executions allegedly coordinated by Raisi in 1988 told RFE/RL that she was celebrating his death.

"Truly, I cannot express how limitless my happiness is," Esman Vatanparast said. "When Raisi became president, it was very difficult for us hurting mothers, the survivors of the massacres committed by him."

The White House, too, had harsh words for Raisi.

U.S. national-security spokesman John Kirby told reporters that "no question, this was a man who had a lot of blood on his hands" for supporting extremist groups in the Middle East.

U.S. Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson said Raisi's rule was "barbaric" and marked by "terror, danger, and oppression."

Raisi was elected president in 2021 and had tightened many restrictions on Iranians through the enforcement of morality laws and a bloody crackdown on anti-government protests spurred by the death of Mahsa Amini while in police custody for allegedly violating the Islamic dress code on head scarves.

Thousands of people, including protesters, journalists, lawyers, athletes, and artists have been arrested and at least 500 people have been killed in Iran's brutal crackdown on the protests.

Raisi also pushed hard in nuclear talks with world powers while also allowing the country to markedly increase its uranium enrichment program.

The director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said that the death of Raisi has pushed back nuclear negotiations to improve Iran's cooperation with the agency.

"Now Iran is in a period of mourning and it should be respected, but when this period is over, we want to re-engage with Iran to improve cooperation," Rafael Grossi said on May 22 in Helsinki.

With reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters

Moldova Becomes First Nation To Sign Security, Defense Pact With EU

Moldovan Prime Minister Dorin Recean (left) shakes hands with European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell after a signing ceremony in Brussels on May 21.
Moldovan Prime Minister Dorin Recean (left) shakes hands with European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell after a signing ceremony in Brussels on May 21.

Moldova has signed a security and defense partnership with the European Union, the first country to ink such a pact, according to EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell. "This partnership will strengthen the country's resilience. It will allow for a joint approach to security challenges, make our engagement more effective, and explore new areas of cooperation," Borrell said. Moldova, led by pro-Western President Maia Sandu, has expressed hopes of joining the EU and has strongly condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Moldova’s Transdniester region, a mainly Russian-speaking sliver of land on the eastern bank of the Dniester River, declared independence in 1990. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Moldovan Service, click here.

Council Of Europe Commission Denounces Georgia's 'Foreign Agent' Law

Salome Kurasbediani, a member of the Georgian Dream party, rejected the Venice Commission's report on May 21.
Salome Kurasbediani, a member of the Georgian Dream party, rejected the Venice Commission's report on May 21.

TBILISI -- The Venice Commission of the Council of Europe said it "strongly recommends" that authorities in Georgia abandon efforts to introduce planned "foreign agent" legislation that has been condemned in the West and led to massive street protests in the South Caucasus nation.

"The Venice Commission strongly recommends repealing the law in its current form, as its fundamental flaws will involve significant negative consequences for the freedoms of association and expression, the right to privacy, the right to participate in public affairs as well as the prohibition of discrimination," its said in its "urgent opinion" published on May 21.

The commission, at the request of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, undertook to assess the Georgia legislation, which critics say is similar to laws used in Russia to silence independent media and civil society groups.

It said it "regrets that the Georgian parliament did not wait for its opinion before adopting the law, despite the calls by the president of the Parliamentary Assembly and by the secretary-general of the Council of Europe."

The ruling Georgian Dream party, which has pushed the legislation through parliament, quickly rejected the commission’s report.

"We find many unsubstantiated and conflicting legal reasonings as well as a number of gross distortions of facts [in the conclusions], which further encourages the radicalization of specific groups," Georgian Dream member Salome Kurasbediani told a briefing.

"Obviously, all this undermines the credibility of the institution and the values it should serve," she said.

The so-called foreign agent legislation -- formally the Law On Transparency Of Foreign Influence -- has been condemned by the United States, the European Union, and rights watchdogs and prompted weeks of protests that were repeatedly cracked down on violently by authorities.

The law would require media and NGOs to register as "pursuing the interests of a foreign power" if they receive more than 20 percent of their funding from abroad.

Opponents have pointed to similar legislation used by President Vladimir Putin to crush dissent in Russia and stifle independent institutions, prompting Georgians to refer to the measure as "the Russian law" and see it as endangering the country's path toward EU integration.

Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili, who has increasingly feuded with the ruling Georgian Dream party since it endorsed her candidacy in 2018, has vetoed the bill.

However, Georgian Dream's parliamentary majority will allow it to easily override the presidential veto.

Parliament Speaker Shalva Papuashvili said lawmakers, as expected, will override the veto in the upcoming week.

During the crackdown on protesters, dozens of people have been arrested, with many reporting beatings at the hands of security forces or roving bands of thugs.

The government, which claims the law is necessary to ensure transparency in social matters, has denied that demonstrators have been beaten.

An American And A Russian Confront Georgia's Violent Crackdown On Protests
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Bryan Bingham, 53, who says he is a tourist from the United States, told RFE/RL he was detained by security forces at a demonstration on May 13. He claims he was beaten by beaten by police wearing black masks.

"It happened very quickly," he said in an interview conducted three days later. "They pulled me through the police and dropped me on the ground."

"They beat me. And somebody punched my face."

"They quit beating me, but there were some Georgians that quickly arrived and they were being beaten badly," he said.

A pro-government media channel reported that Bingham came to Georgia to create "unrest," a claim he denies.

"How ridiculous," he said. "I came here to go backpacking, to meet some Georgian people."

Director Mohammad Rasoulof, Who Fled Iran, Will Attend Cannes

Film director Mohammad Rasoulof, who fled Iran, is expected to attend the Cannes Film Festival.
Film director Mohammad Rasoulof, who fled Iran, is expected to attend the Cannes Film Festival.

Film director Mohammad Rasoulof, who made a dramatic on-foot escape from Iran, will attend the Cannes Film Festival for the premiere of his new movie, organizers told AFP on May 21. The award-winning director will be on the French Cote d'Azur on May 24 when The Seed Of The Sacred Fig competes for the top prize Palme d'Or, festival director Thierry Fremaux said. An outspoken critic of the Iranian government, Rasoulof served two terms in Iranian jails over previous films and had his passport revoked in 2017. His new film tells the story of a judge's struggles amid political unrest in Tehran. He had come under pressure from the Iranian government to withdraw it from Cannes before the festival opened.

Chechnya's Kadyrov Replaces Sanctioned Prime Minister, Names Relative By Marriage To Post

Muslim Khuchiyev
Muslim Khuchiyev

Ramzan Kadyrov, the authoritarian ruler of Russia's North Caucasus region of Chechnya, on May 21 said the region's prime minister, Muslim Khuchiyev, had resigned to take to another, unspecified job. Kadyrov named Highways Minister Isa Tumkhadzhiyev as acting prime minister. Tumkhadzhiyev is married to a relative of Kadyrov. Last week, close Kadyrov associate Magomed Daudov resigned as speaker of the Chechen parliament after serving in the post for nine years. Both Khuchiyev and Daudov are under U.S. and British sanctions over their alleged roles in mass violations of human rights in Chechnya. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Caucasus.Realities, click here.

Russia Begins Drills Of Tactical Nuclear Weapons Near Ukrainian Border

 A Russian Iskander-K missile is launched during a military exercise in Russia. (file photo)
A Russian Iskander-K missile is launched during a military exercise in Russia. (file photo)

Russian has begun the "first stage" of exercises in the Southern Military District to increase the readiness of tactical nuclear forces near the Ukrainian border, the Defense Ministry said on May 21. The ministry said the "exercise is aimed at maintaining the readiness of personnel and equipment of nonstrategic nuclear weapons combat units to respond to and unconditionally ensure the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the Russian state." Plans for the drills were announced on May 6. The West has accused President Vladimir Putin of "saber-rattling" and undertaking a "continuation of Russia's irresponsible behavior." To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Russian Service, click here.

U.S., EU Criticize Kosovo's 'Uncoordinated' Moves In Serb Areas

Residents and police scuffle outside a Serbian-run bank in North Mitrovica on May 21, when Kosovar police closed six such institutions.
Residents and police scuffle outside a Serbian-run bank in North Mitrovica on May 21, when Kosovar police closed six such institutions.

PRISTINA -- EU and U.S. officials have expressed mounting concern at uncoordinated actions by Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti's government that threaten to further raise tensions with ethnic minority Serbs in the north of that Balkan country.

Speaking to reporters in Pristina on May 21, visiting U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Nicole Chulick urged Kosovo to "listen to the advice of its closest partners" as the partly recognized former Serbian province seeks to join Euro-Atlantic institutions.

Chulick said she had expressed concerns in meetings with Kurti and with Kosovar President Vjosa Osmani about a long-promised association of Serb municipalities for dialogue with Pristina and a recent ban on the use of the Serbian dinar, which has remained in widespread use in four Serbian-dominated areas of northern Kosovo.

Kosovar police a day earlier forcibly closed and cordoned off six branches of Serbian banks operating in the region as a currency lifeline for tens of thousands of Serbs.

Pristina said the operation was aimed at establishing "order and legality."

The State Department had previously said in response to a question from RFE/RL's Balkan Service that the action had not been coordinated with Kosovo's international partners.

"Monday's operation proves again that Kosovo authorities prioritize unilateral and uncoordinated actions rather than cooperation with its friends and allies," EU spokesman Peter Stano said in a May 21 statement.

He said the seizures "without prior notice or coordination" just a few days after the last internationally mediated meeting aimed at establishing functioning Serbia-Kosovo relations "is escalatory and goes against the spirit of normalization and it undermines Kosovo's good faith in achieving normalization of relations."

Serbian and Kosovar officials have met seven times in Brussels in the span of just a few months to break the impasse over the currency ban and its effect on financial assistance from Serbia to Kosovar Serbs who make up a majority in 10 of Kosovo's 38 municipalities.

Many Kosovar Serbs don't recognize Kosovo's 2008 declaration of independence from Serbia and continue to receive social and other payments from Belgrade and conduct cash transactions in dinars.

Kosovo's Central Bank imposed a strict prohibition in February against use of the dinar outside of designated financial institutions, sparking an immediate outcry from Serbs and Belgrade and compounding EU and U.S. frustrations at unilateral moves by Pristina that could further destabilize a fractious region.

Pristina regards as illegal the parallel structures that Serbia encourages in health care, education, and other aspects of life in northern Kosovo.

"Knowing also the responsibilities that the Central Bank of Kosovo has, we have constantly expressed our concerns about the manner of implementation [of the dinar ban]," Chulick said at her Pristina press conference. "We have not felt that it has taken into consideration how it will affect the communities, especially the Serbian community. So, we are observing the situation and we are concerned."

A previous Kosovar government pledged as early as 2013 to establish an Association of Serb Majority Municipalities.

"Kosovo must continue to work on these issues, address them, and move forward again," Chulick said.

The EU spokesman echoed the U.S. linkage between progress in talks and the establishment of an entity to represent minority Serbs in Kosovo.

"The status of all Serbia-supported structures and services is foreseen to be resolved in the EU-facilitated Dialogue, in connection with the establishment of the Association/Community of Serb-Majority municipalities," Stano said.

Kosovar police said the operation followed reports from financial monitors including the central bank, and included Kosovar tax authorities.

The United States and the European Union have repeatedly expressed frustration with actions by Kurti's government, including the forcible seating of ethnic Albanian mayors in four majority-Serb municipalities after boycotted elections in the north last year that sparked violent protests, injuring dozens of NATO KFOR peacekeepers.

KFOR vehicles were visible in areas where the Kosovar police were raiding the Serbian banks.

But KFOR said on May 21 that its personnel "were not involved in the conduct of these operations."

Ex-Russian Army Commander Who Once Criticized Top Brass Arrested On Fraud Charges

Ivan Popov
Ivan Popov

The former commander of Russia’s 58th Army -- who had once complained about his forces' lack of support from Moscow -- has been arrested on fraud charges, state-run TASS news agency reported.

TASS, citing unidentified law enforcement officials, on May 21 said a military court had ordered that Major General Ivan Popov be detained for two months amid ongoing actions against current and former military leaders.

Interfax quoted Popov’s lawyer, Sergei Buinovsky, as saying the general has claimed his innocence and has appealed against the detention.

Popov was fired as commander of the 58th Combined Arms Army in Ukraine's occupied Zaporizhzhya region in July after complaining to top officials that his forces were not receiving the proper weapons and reconnaissance systems and that they were not being sufficiently rotated.

The Dva Mayora and Grey Zone Telegram channels reported that the case against Popov is linked to the alleged embezzlement of 100 million rubles ($1.1 million) allocated for military needs in parts of the Zaporizhzhya region.

The reports about Popov's arrest come less than a week after investigators arrested Lieutenant General Yury Kuznetsov, who headed the personnel directorate of Russia's Defense Ministry, in an alleged corruption case.

Kuznetsov’s arrest on May 14 came just two days after President Vladimir Putin relieved his close ally Sergei Shoigu of his duties as defense minister.

In late April, police detained Deputy Defense Minister Timur Ivanov on bribe-taking charges and a court later sent him to pretrial detention for at least two months.

Putin replaced Shoigu with former First Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Belousov, 65, a politician who specializes in economic matters. The move is seen as part of a strategy to make the armed forces more streamlined with Russia's invasion of Ukraine now in its third year.

On May 20, Putin appointed Oleg Savelyev, the former minister on Crimean affairs, to the post of deputy defense minister.

The 58-year-old Savelyev also served as deputy minister for economic development and as the auditor at the Audit Chamber, a parliamentary group that serves as a financial watchdog.

With reporting by Reuters
Updated

EU Approves Use Of Frozen Russian Assets For Ukraine As Zelenskiy Claims 'Tangible' Results

(file photo)
(file photo)

The European Union has given official approval for the use of proceeds from frozen assets of the Russian central bank to beef up the defense of Ukraine, the European Council announced on May 21, a move that could see as much as 3 billion euros ($3.23 billion) diverted to Kyiv's military this year.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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The news comes as Ukraine continues to urge its Western allies to ramp up and accelerate military aid for its troops , who are struggling to stave off an offensive in the east by the much more numerous and better armed Russian forces.

It also comes as President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on May 21 insisted that Ukrainian troops in the Kharkiv region were fighting back with “tangible” results against Russian forces amid reports of fierce battles and territorial setbacks in the northeast.

"In the Kharkiv region, our forces are destroying the occupier, the results are tangible," Zelenskiy said in his nightly video address while acknowledging that the situation in some areas was "extremely difficult at the moment."

Battlefield claims could not immediately be verified.

The EU decision was announced in Brussels by the Belgian government, which currently holds the 27-member bloc's rotating presidency.

"The European Council has confirmed its agreement to use windfall profits from Russia’s immobilized assets to support #Ukraine’s military self-defense and reconstruction in the context of the Russian aggression," it said on X, formerly Twitter.

Some 210 billion euros ($225 billion) of assets belonging to Russia's central bank were frozen by the EU following Moscow's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 -- an amount estimated to generate interest of some 3 billion euros ($3.23 billion) annually.

Some 90 percent of the proceeds would be placed in the European Peace Facility fund used by most EU members to obtain reimbursement for military equipment delivered to Ukraine.

Separately, Reuters reported, quoting an unnamed source, that Germany -- the bloc's largest economy -- plans to increase its military aid for Ukraine by another 3.8 billion euros ($4.13 billion) this year, confirming a report by the German newspaper Bild.

The news came as German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock traveled to Kyiv for a previously unannounced trip -- her seventh since the start of Russia's invasion.

Barbock called for more international support for Ukraine's air defenses in view of the current Russian offensive.

At the end of last month, Germany delivered Ukraine a fresh package of military aid, including weapons and ammunition.

Meanwhile, regional officials reported that four people were wounded and a transport infrastructure facility was damaged in a series of drone strikes on Ukraine's northeastern city of Kharkiv early on May 21.

Meanwhile, regional officials reported that four people were wounded and a transport infrastructure facility was damaged in a series of drone strikes on Ukraine's northeastern city of Kharkiv early on May 21, regional officials reported.

“Regarding the morning attack, the target was a transport infrastructure facility,” Kharkiv Mayor Ihor Terekhov wrote on Telegram.

Governor Oleh Synyehubov also said on Telegram that an infrastructure facility had been damaged, and added that debris from fallen drones damaged several private houses in Ukraine's second-largest city.

Earlier on May 21, a general air raid alert was declared for the whole territory of Ukraine.

With reporting by AFP

Imprisoned Kremlin Critic Kara-Murza Loses Another Appeal In Court

Vladimir Kara-Murza (file photo)
Vladimir Kara-Murza (file photo)

The Moscow City Court on May 21 rejected an appeal filed by imprisoned Kremlin critic Vladimir Kara-Murza against a lower court's refusal to consider his lawsuit against Russia's Investigative Committee for failing to fully investigate his suspected poisoning.

“I am absolutely not surprised that nobody will investigate attempted murders of opposition politicians in current Russia, including the murders of [Kremlin-critics] Boris Nemtsov and Aleksei Navalny,” Kara-Murza said after the ruling.

Kara-Murza suddenly fell deathly ill on two separate occasions in Moscow -- in 2015 and 2017-- with symptoms consistent with poisoning.

Tissue samples smuggled from Russia to the United States by his relatives were turned over to the FBI, which investigated the case as one of "intentional poisoning."

U.S. government laboratories also conducted extensive tests on the samples, but documents released by the Justice Department suggest they were unable to reach a conclusive finding.

Kara-Murza's lawyer sent requests to the Investigative Committee to investigate both of the poisonings, but those requests were denied.

The Kremlin has denied any involvement in the incidents.

Moscow's Zamoskvorechye district court rejected Kara-Murza's inaction lawsuit against the Investigative Committee in February this year.

Kara-Murza, 42, who holds Russian and British passports, was initially arrested in April 2022 after returning to Russia from abroad and charged with disobeying a police officer.

He was later charged with discrediting the Russian military, a charge stemming from Russia's 2022 invasion of Ukraine and a Kremlin push to stamp out criticism of the subject. He was later additionally charged with treason over remarks he made in speeches outside Russia that criticized Kremlin policies.

In April last year, Kara-Murza was found guilty of all charges and sentenced to 25 years in prison. He and his supporters reject the charges as politically motivated.

With reporting by Mediazona

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