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Yanukovych Heads To Victory In Ukrainian Presidential Election

Presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovych answers journalits' question after casting his ballot at a polling station in Kyiv.

KYIV --In what appears to be a stunning reversal of Ukraine's Orange Revolution, pro-Moscow opposition leader Viktor Yanukovych looks set to win the country's presidential election.

With almost all votes counted from the February 7 runoff, Yanukovych has a lead of some 2.8 percentage points over Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, meaning she can't overtake him.

"Even if you think that all the votes that have yet to be counted would go to one candidate...you know it means [there will be no change], and that is the answer to your question," said Volodymyr Shapoval, chairman of Ukraine's Central Election Commission. "It's hard for me to say what will happen, to sign the last protocol is always a problem."

A win for Yanukovych would complete a dramatic reversal of fortune for a man seen as the villain of the Orange Revolution in 2004. His victory in a rigged presidential election then brought hundreds of thousands onto the streets in protests that helped overturn the result. But Ukrainians have been disillusioned by five years of bitter infighting between the Orange Revolution's leaders.

This afternoon, international observers hailed Ukraine's vote as "an impressive display" of democracy. The observers, headed by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), in a statement called on Ukraine's political leaders to ensure a "peaceful and constructive" transition of power after the vote. The pan-European rights watchdog said in a statement that the electoral process "met most OSCE and Council of Europe commitments."

A Switch To Russian

At his campaign headquarters in Kyiv's lavish new Intercontinental Hotel -- where hefty party bigwigs relaxed around dinner tables -- a smiling Yanukovych declared victory and urged Tymoshenko to concede defeat.

"I believe we took the first step toward uniting the country," he said, "which is something that's important, and that I need."

Yanukovych's main message wasn't in what he said but in what language he spoke: not Ukrainian but Russian.

The former communist official was plucked from obscurity in 2004 by then-President Leonid Kuchma to be his successor. Moscow openly backed his campaign.

Since then, the stout 59-year-old -- who often appears awkward when speaking in public -- has tried to position himself as a centrist figure and switched to giving most of his speeches in Ukrainian.

Yanukovych's reversion to Russian in his speech last night was a nod to his base of support in mainly Russian-speaking, industrial eastern Ukraine, where many want better ties with Russia.

In a country whose electorate is split almost exactly in half, Yanukovych's choice of Russian can't have gone over well in western Ukraine, the seat of the Orange electorate where people favor integration into the European Union and many refuse to speak Russian.

A Yanukovych win would also be welcomed in Moscow as a victory in its struggle for influence with the West in former Soviet republics. The Kremlin has bitterly opposed Ukraine's drive to join NATO, something Yanukovych has said he would stop.


Down But Not Out

But Tymoshenko hasn't conceded defeat. In a defiant appearance at her own campaign headquarters last night, the former natural-gas tycoon -- whose braided blond crown and glamorous white outfits have branded her as Ukraine personified -- said exit polls indicating her defeat were only "sociology" and not a real vote count.

"I'm convinced that there are more of those who voted for a European, democratic, strong Ukraine than those who don't see the country that way," she said. Tymoshenko urged her campaign staff to "fight" for every ballot during the vote count by ensuring a fair tally, saying the election could come down to a single vote.

The two candidates fought a bitter campaign in which Yanukovych often called Tymoshenko a liar and Tymoshenko said Yanukovych's victory would bring criminals to power. Each accused the other of preparing to falsify the election.

But many Ukrainians are now deeply disappointed by what they say are the revolution leaders' broken promises to clean up rampant corruption and reform the economy. They're also suffering the effects of a devastating economic crisis.

The two candidates, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and opposition leader Viktor Yanukovych, cast their ballots, as does outgoing President Viktor Yushchenko. Also, activists from a radical feminist movement, Femen, call on politicians "not to rape Ukraine." (video by Reuters):


A Vote 'Against All'

Much will be made in coming days of President Viktor Yushchenko's role in the election.

Tymoshenko's estranged Orange Revolution partner changed the election rules three days before the vote, one of several actions that prompted accusations he would do anything to help Tymoshenko lose.

Political science scholar Oleksiy Haran, of the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, says Yushchenko's decision played a role in the outcome. "The results clearly show that it weren't for the call by Yushchenko and [former Foreign Minister Arseniy] Yatsenyuk, who speak to the Orange electorate, to vote 'against all,' Tymoshenko probably would have won," he said.

The Central Election Commission put the vote for "against all" at more than 4 percent.

Overshadowing the vote count are accusations of ballot stuffing and other electoral violations by both sides.

Some believe Tymoshenko may contest the tally in court. She has also vowed to bring on a second Orange Revolution if she believes Yanukovych rigged the polls, a call she didn't repeat on election day.

But after casting her ballot for Tymoshenko in central Kyiv, Tatyana Pavlyk said she doubted Ukrainians would take to the streets. "[In 2004], they turned out for the idea [of democracy]," she said, "but now they don't believe either of the two candidates can change anything in the country for the better."

Snap Elections


The atmosphere in Tymoshenko's headquarters was grim last night, and some supporters were already privately admitting defeat, saying Tymoshenko would concentrate on backroom negotiations to bring a potential standoff to an end.

If she concedes, Tymoshenko will remain a powerful prime minister able to challenge Yanukovych's rule.

Most Ukrainians expect him to call snap parliamentary elections in May in the hope his party will win a majority that would force Tymoshenko from office.

Yanukovych is also likely to change the constitution to restore powers to the presidency that were transferred away in 2006.

In what sounded very much like a victory speech at his campaign headquarters, Yanukovych said he would bring Ukraine out of its devastating economic crisis.

Whoever wins the presidency will have to reopen talks with the International Monetary Fund, which last year froze a $16.4 billion bailout.

Yanukovych has also said he wants to renegotiate a gas supply deal with Moscow, which some believe would enable him to reestablish closer ties with Russia's Gazprom.

All Of The Latest News

Moscow Court Extends Pretrial Detention Of Cybersecurity Company Chief Charged With Treason

Ilya Sachkov, Group-IB Founder and CEO, a member of cyber crime expert committees at the Russian State Duma, Foreign Ministry, the Council of Europe, and OSCE, Co-Chairman of the RAEC

A court in Moscow has extended the pretrial detention of the head of a leading Russian cybersecurity company who was arrested last September on charges of state treason.

An official for the Lefortovo district court told the state-controlled TASS news agency that it had ruled on May 27 that Ilya Sachkov's pretrial detention was being prolonged until at least July 28.

Sachkov is the founder of Group-IB, a company known for its work in tracking down hackers and fighting theft and cyberfraud.

Sachkov, 35, is one of a group of prominent people, including scientists and cybersecurity officials, to be arrested in Russia on treason charges in recent years. Moscow has faced numerous allegations of being behind cyberattacks on Western countries -- which it has consistently denied.

Investigators said Sachkov was suspected of passing classified information to a foreign country. No other details were given by officials.

Sachkov was arrested and charged after police searched his company's offices in Moscow on September 28. He denies any wrongdoing.

Group-IB, founded in 2003, has grown markedly in recent years as cybercrimes increase globally.

In addition to Moscow, the company has offices in Singapore, London, New York, and Dubai.

Based on reporting by TASS

Finland, Latvia To Host 2023 Ice Hockey Championships That Were Pulled From Russia

This year's Ice Hockey World Championship was originally meant to have been held in St. Petersburg. (file photo)

The International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) has chosen Finland and Latvia to jointly host the 2023 Ice Hockey World Championships after the tournament was pulled from St. Petersburg following Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

The IIHF said in a statement on May 27 that the Finnish city of Tampere will be the main venue for the tournament, with the Latvian capital, Riga, hosting one preliminary round group and two quarter-finals.

The tournament was taken away from St. Petersburg on April 26, when the IIHF said the "decision to relocate the event was taken primarily out of concern for the safety and well-being of all participating players, officials, media, and fans."

It had earlier stripped the 2023 IIHF World Junior Championship from the Russian cities of Omsk and Novosibirsk citing similar reasons.

Russia launched its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine on February 24.

Russian Court Rejects Belarusian Activist's Asylum Appeal Paving Way To Extradition

Belarusian activist Yana Pinchuk with her husband. (file photo)

A court in Russia has rejected an appeal filed by Belarusian activist Yana Pinchuk against Moscow's refusal to grant her political asylum, paving the way for her extradition home where she faces charges for protesting the disputed August 2020 election that kept authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka in power.

The Belarusian human rights group Vitsebskaya Vyasna said that, as a result of the May 26 decision by the Smolny district court in St. Petersburg, Pinchuk will very likely be extradited to Belarus with a hearing on the issue scheduled for June 1.

Police in St. Petersburg arrested Pinchuk on November 1 at the request of Belarus.

Pinchuk is wanted in Belarus on several charges, including inciting national hatred, calls for activities that damaged national security, and slander.

Belarusian authorities accuse Pinchuk of administering the Vitsebsk97% Telegram channel, which had been critical of Lukashenka's regime and has been labeled as extremist in Belarus.

Pinchuk rejects all the charges and says she immediately closed her Telegram channel after it was officially labeled as extremist.

In December, the Moscow-based Memorial Human Rights Center recognized Pinchuk as a political prisoner and demanded her immediate release.

Pinchuk is one of many Belarusians who have faced multiple charges linked to the mass protests against Lukashenka following the controversial presidential election.

Thousands have been arrested and much of the opposition leadership has been jailed or forced into exile. Several protesters have been killed and there have also been credible reports of torture during a widening security crackdown.

Belarusian authorities have also shut down several nongovernmental organizations and independent media outlets.

The United States, the European Union, and several other countries have refused to acknowledge Lukashenka as the winner of the vote and imposed several rounds of sanctions on him and his regime, citing election fraud and the crackdown.

Zelenskiy Says Talks With Putin Needed To Get 'Our Lives Back'

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has said that he must hold talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in order to safeguard Ukraine's sovereignty and existence.

The last known face-to-face talks between Russian and Ukrainian negotiators were held on March 29. Negotiations continued online for a while but both sides now say they have stopped.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

RFE/RL's Live Briefing gives you all of the major developments on Russia's invasion, how Kyiv is fighting back, the plight of civilians, and Western reaction. For all of RFE/RL's coverage of the war, click here.

In an address to an Indonesian think tank on May 27, Zelenskiy said Ukraine was not longing to talk to Putin, but that it has to face the reality that this will likely be necessary to end the war Moscow launched against it on February 24.

"There are things to discuss with the Russian leader. I'm not telling you that our people are eager to talk to him, but we have to face the reality of what we are living through," Zelenskiy said.

"What do we want from this meeting?... We want our lives back... We want to reclaim the life of a sovereign country within its own territory," he said, adding that Russia did not appear to be ready yet for serious peace talks.

Zelenskiy also accused Russia -- which is has said it would allow Ukraine to resume its grain exports by sea if the West lifts some sanctions imposed on it for starting the war -- of weaponizing the global food supply crisis.

In response, the Kremlin said on May 27 that it was unclear what Kyiv wanted.

"The Ukrainian leadership constantly makes contradictory statements. This does not allow us to fully understand what the Ukrainian side wants," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in a call with reporters.

With reporting by Reuters and TASS

Exiled Belarusian Opera Singer's Parents Fined, Were Asked By Police To Make Video Against Her

Marharyta Lyauchuk (left) and Andrey Pavuk recorded several joint singing sessions critical of Lukashenka and his government and posted them on YouTube.

A well-known Belarusian opera singer and political activist says her parents have been fined for "disobeying police orders" after their house was searched and they refused to record a video calling on their daughter to stop her political activities.

Marharyta Lyauchuk said her parents were detained on May 26 in the western region of Brest and then ordered to pay 2,240 rubles ($660) each for what the judge said was refusing to follow police orders. It was not clear which orders they refused to follow.

Lyauchuk earlier told RFE/RL that before detaining her parents, police searched their house in the village of Stradzech in the western Brest region.

According to Lyauchuk, her parents' neighbor, who was present when officers searched her parents' house, told her that her parents were handcuffed and taken away.

Last July, Belarusian authorities launched a criminal case against Lyauchuk, accusing her of "desecrating the national flag." The charge stemmed from a video on Lyauchuk's YouTube channel.

Police also searched the home of Volha Pavuk, the former wife of noted opposition blogger and singer Andrey Pavuk, on May 26.

Pavuk, his former wife, and their children left the country in the wake of anti-government protests questioning the official results of an August 2020 presidential poll that handed a sixth consecutive term in office to strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

He was charged in absentia with publicly insulting a prosecutor and disclosing the personal data of a prosecutor’s aide. He denies the charges.

Lyauchuk and Andrey Pavuk recorded several joint singing sessions critical of Lukashenka and his government and posted them on YouTube.

Both are on the Interior Ministry's list of wanted persons.

Russian Forces Advance Deeper Into Ukraine's Donbas

HRW Urges Tajik Government To Stop Repression Of Protesters

The rallies intensified after a protester was killed by police on May 16.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on Tajikistan's government to refrain from abusing participants in the protests that erupted earlier this month in the restive Gorno-Badakhshan autonomous region.

The protests were initially sparked by anger over the lack of an investigation into the 2021 death of an activist while in police custody and the refusal by regional authorities to consider the resignation of Governor Alisher Mirzonabot and Rizo Nazarzoda, the mayor of the regional capital, Khorugh.

The rallies intensified after a protester was killed by police on May 16, prompting the authorities to launch what they called a "counterterrorist operation" during which as many as 40 people were killed by the security forces, according to Fernand de Varennes, the UN special rapporteur on minority issues.

As government forces dispersed the protests, the authorities also cut Internet and mobile connectivity in the autonomous region.

"Tajik citizens in the autonomous region were peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly to protest abuses against their community when the police engaged in excessive force," HRW's Syinat Sultanalieva said in a statement on May 26.

"Tajik authorities should immediately stop harassing protesters, investigate the abuses against them, and restore communications in the region to allow citizens access to information," the statement said.

"The authorities should also immediately end abuses against protesters in the towns of Khorugh and Rushan, whom central Tajik authorities have labeled 'militants' and 'members of terrorist groups,'" the statement added.

Gorno-Badakhshan, a linguistically and ethnically distinct region whose residents identify themselves as "Pamiri," was home to rebels who opposed government forces during the Tajik civil war in the 1990s.

Although it occupies almost half of the entire Central Asian country, it has a population of only 250,000. The region is difficult to travel around because of the mountainous terrain, while its economy is wracked by unemployment, difficult living conditions, and high food prices.

The escalating violence in the region has sparked a call for restraint from the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, the Western diplomatic missions in Tajikistan, and human rights groups.

In Rare Display Of Dissent, Lawmakers In Russia's Far East Urge Putin To Stop Ukraine War

Cars pass by destroyed Russian tanks in a recent battle against Ukrainians in the village of Dmytrivka, close to Kyiv.

In a rare display of political protest in Russia, a group of lawmakers representing the Communist Party in the Far Eastern region of Primorye have called on President Vladimir Putin to stop military operations in Ukraine and withdraw all troops from the country.

Leonid Vasyukevich, a member of the regional Legislative Assembly, read out the statement at a session held by lawmakers on May 27.

The statement said that as Russian troops are suffering significant losses in Ukraine, there is no way to get any success by military means.

"We understand that if our country does not stop the military operation, there will be more orphans in the country. During the military operation, young men are dying or becoming disabled, while they could be very useful for our country," the statement said.

Vasyukevich said that the statement was signed by him and his colleagues Gennady Shulga, Natalya Kochugova, and Aleksandr Sustov.

The region's governor, Oleg Kozhemyako, who was at the session, ordered Vasyukevich and Shulga, who vocally supported the statement, to be removed from the premises.

"The action defames the Russian Army and our defenders who are fighting against Nazism. You are a traitor," Kozhemyako said, addressing Vasyukevich.

The lawmakers then deprived Vasyukevich and Shulga of their right to take the floor at the session. The leader of the Communist lawmakers, Anatoly Dolgachyov, said the deputies' action will have "very severe repercussions."

Vasyukevich, Shulga, and Kochugova did not respond to an RFE/RL request for comment on the situation.

Sustov told RFE/RL that he had "my personal thoughts about the special military operation [in Ukraine,] but I did not sign the statement," contradicting Vasyukevich's statement.

The Interfax news agency reported that Kochugova said at the session that she did not sign the statement either.

Russia launched its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine on February 24 and has met with much stiffer-than-expected resistance from Ukrainian troops.

Ukrainian and Western officials say thousands of Russian soldiers have died during the war.

Moscow has said little on the death toll. In its last official statement, the Defense Ministry said on March 25 that 1,351 of its soldiers had been killed in the fighting.

With reporting by Interfax, Kommersant, and NewsBox.24

Russia Expels Five Croatian Diplomats Over 'Unfriendly Actions'

Protesters gather in front of the Russian Embassy in Zagreb to demonstrate against the invasion of Ukraine on February 24.

Russia says it is expelling five Croatian diplomats over "unfriendly actions" taken by Zagreb against Moscow, including the expulsion of 24 Russian diplomats from Croatia in April.

The Foreign Ministry said in a statement on May 27 that it had summoned Croatia's ambassador to Moscow to inform him of the move, taken "in connection with the groundless attempts of the Croatian authorities to blame Russia for war crimes in Ukraine and the provision of military assistance by the Croatian side to the neo-Nazi Kyiv regime."

The statement did not say how long the diplomats had to leave Russia.

Croatia expelled the Russian diplomats in April in response to Moscow's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

Moldovan Ex-President Dodon Placed Under House Arrest

Moldovan President Igor Dodon (left) meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin in Moscow in January 2019.

CHISINAU -- A Moldovan court has placed former President Igor Dodon under house arrest for 30 days to allow prosecutors to investigate allegations of corruption and treason.

The May 26 decision by the Ciocana district court in Chisinau came two days after Dodon's house was searched and he was placed under detention for 72 hours.

Dodon told journalists after the hearing that the case was politically motivated, a charge the government has rejected.

Dodon, who was openly backed by Moscow and was seen as a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was president from 2016 to 2020, when he lost to Maia Sandu, a pro-Western, U.S.-educated former World Bank official.

Dodon said he had no property other than that which he had officially declared, and told journalists that the judge was carrying out a "political order" from Sandu. Dodon's brother-in-law, Petru Merineanu, was also arrested for 30 days, but he will be kept in a detention facility.

The government has rejected the allegation of political interference in the case, which comes as relations between Russia and Moldova are increasingly strained.

Justice Minister Sergiu Litvinenco said the case would be carried out "in strict accordance with the law," while Foreign Minister Nicu Popescu told RFE/RL that Dodon's case was part of Moldova's fight against corruption and "unrelated to geopolitical events."

"The fight against corruption starts from the top, from combating corruption among the political class among the oligarchs," Popescu told RFE/RL.

Russia has repeatedly voiced "concern" about Dodon's rights being respected, with Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov saying that Russia was "naturally alarmed that such a practice and persecution once again affects those who advocate the development of friendly relations with Russia for mutual benefit."

Moldova, one of Europe's poorest countries, has a long border with Ukraine and has been hosting hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian refugees since the start of Moscow's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

Russia has some 1,500 troops in Moldova's Moscow-backed separatist region of Transdniester, a sliver of land sandwiched between Moldova proper and Ukraine.

In recent months, Transdniester separatists claimed that Kyiv had orchestrated what they claimed were shootings, explosions, and drone incursions, raising fears that Moldova could be drawn into the conflict in Ukraine.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, and dpa

Russians Close To Encircling Key Town, Zelenskiy Urges Talks With Putin

Firefighters put out a burning coffee kiosk -- a result of shelling in Kharkiv on May 26.

Russian forces have further intensified their shelling of the last Ukrainian strongholds in the eastern Luhansk region, making their biggest gains in weeks and closing in on capturing the key cities of Syeveyerodonetsk and Lysychansk.

In the face of Russia's all-out assault on the Donbas, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on May 27 that he must hold talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in order to safeguard Ukraine's sovereignty and existence.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

RFE/RL's Live Briefing gives you all of the major developments on Russia's invasion, how Kyiv is fighting back, the plight of civilians, and Western reaction. For all of RFE/RL's coverage of the war, click here.

Serhiy Hayday, the governor of the Luhansk region, said that Ukrainian forces were engaged in a "fierce defense" of Syevyerodonetsk, which is two-thirds surrounded by Russian forces.

"Very strong" shelling has destroyed 90 percent of the housing in the city, Hayday added, also citing information he received from the city's mayor, Oleksandr Stryuk.

Stryuk said earlier that at least 1,500 people have been killed in his city since the start of Russia's invasion in late February. About 12,000 to 13,000 remain in the city -- down from a pre-war population of about 100,000, he said.

Moscow-backed separatists on May 27 also claimed full control of the important battlefield town of Lyman, some 60 kilometers west of Syevyerodonetsk, but the Ukrainian Defense Ministry denied that the major railway hub had fallen, saying in a statement that its forces continue to counteract Russian attempts to overrun it.

Lyman has been a front-line target as Russian forces press down from the north, one of three directions from which they have been attacking Ukraine's industrial Donbas region.

In its daily intelligence bulletin, Britain's Ministry of Defense said that, while Russian ground forces continue to put pressure on the Syeyverodonetsk pocket with some success,Moscow appears to have moved 50-year-old T-62 tanks in recent days from deep storage into the theater of operations in the Donbas.

The report assessed that the move proves Russia's shortage of modern, combat-ready equipment. Furthermore, "the T-62s will almost certainly be particularly vulnerable to anti-tank weapons and their presence on the battlefield," British intelligence said.

Kharkiv Hit By Renewed Russian Shelling, Nine Dead
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Zelenskiy, in an address on May 27 to an Indonesian think tank, said talking to Putin will likely be necessary to end the war.

"What do we want from this meeting?... We want our lives back... We want to reclaim the life of a sovereign country within its own territory," he said, adding that Russia did not appear to be ready yet for serious peace talks.

In response, the Kremlin on May 27 accused Kyiv of a lack of clarity.

"The Ukrainian leadership constantly makes contradictory statements. This does not allow us to fully understand what the Ukrainian side wants," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in a call with reporters.

Zelenskiy also accused Russia -- which has said that it would allow Ukraine to resume its grain exports by sea if the West lifts some sanctions imposed on it for starting the war -- of weaponizing the global food supply crisis.

Zelenskiy has become increasingly critical of the West in recent days as the European Union moves slowly toward a possible Russian oil embargo while Ukraine's military situation becomes increasingly difficult in the east.

The embargo requires unanimity among the bloc's 27 members, but Hungary opposes the move, arguing that its economy would be gravely hit.

Zelenskiy blasted the lack of agreement within the EU. "How many more weeks will the European Union try to agree on a sixth package?" he asked.

In Geneva, the UN rights office (OHCHR) said in a statement on May 27 that more than 4,000 civilians have been killed in Ukraine since Russia's invasion began on February 24, although the true number is likely much higher.

In total, 4,031 people have been killed, including nearly 200 children, according to the OHCHR, which has dozens of monitors in the country. Most were killed by explosive weapons with a wide impact such as shelling from heavy artillery or air strikes.

Russia has denied targeting civilians in the conflict.

Also on May 27, the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) said that more than 6.6 million Ukrainian refugees have fled to neighboring countries, and 2.9 million have moved on to other European nations.

"According to the latest data we have available... 2.9 million refugees have moved beyond countries neighboring Ukraine," UNHCR spokeswoman Shabia Mantoo told a briefing in Geneva.

The UNHCR said the largest numbers of Ukrainian refugees in non-neighboring countries were in Germany, the Czech Republic, and Italy.

"They often arrive in a state of distress and anxiety, having left family members behind, without a clear plan for where to go, and with less economic resources and connections than those who fled earlier."

Before the February 24 invasion, Ukraine had a population of 37 million in the regions under Kyiv's control, excluding Russia-annexed Crimea and the pro-Russian separatist-controlled regions in the east.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, CNN, and BBC

Iranian Oil Seized From Formerly Russian-Flagged Tanker Stopped Off Greece

It was unclear whether the oil was confiscated because it was Iranian oil subject to U.S. sanctions or whether the action was due to the sanctions on the tanker, which recently changed its name from Pegas to Lana and which has been flying the Iranian flag since May 1.

The United States has confiscated Iranian oil held on a Russian-operated ship near the Greek island of Evia in the Aegean Sea, according to news reports quoting Greek sources.

Following a "judicial intervention by U.S. authorities concerning the ship's cargo," the process is currently under way for the oil "to be handed over" at U.S. government expense, an unidentified official quoted on May 26 by the AP news agency said.

The vessel was temporarily seized by Greek authorities on April 15 when it anchored off the port of Karystos on Evia. At the time, it was flying a Russian flag and was carrying a crew of 19 Russians.

The Greek Coast Guard said it was seized due to suspicions it had breached EU sanctions imposed against Russia due to the war in Ukraine.

It was unclear whether the oil was confiscated because it was Iranian oil subject to U.S. sanctions or whether the action was due to the sanctions on the tanker, which recently changed its name from Pegas to Lana and which has been flying the Iranian flag since May 1.

A source at Greece's Shipping Ministry quoted by Reuters said the U.S. Department of Justice had "informed Greece that the cargo on the vessel is Iranian oil."

"The cargo has been transferred to another ship that was hired by the U.S.," the source added without providing further details.

The United States on May 25 imposed sanctions on what it described as a Russian-backed oil-smuggling and money-laundering network for Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps' Quds Force.

With reporting by AP and Reuters

Armenian's First Satellite Reaches Orbit After SpaceX 'Rideshare' Launch

The satellite was the result of "cooperation" between the state-run Armenian company Geocosmos and Satlantis, a Spanish company that specializes in the production of small satellites and cameras for them.

Armenian's first satellite has reached Earth's orbit after launching aboard a SpaceX rocket, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian has announced.

Pashinian said the satellite, which was launched on May 25 from Cape Canaveral in the U.S. state of Florida, will have multiple uses.

"Photographs to be taken by the satellite will be used in Armenia for border control, emergency prevention and management, environmental protection, including climate-change monitoring, urban planning, road construction, geology, and other purposes," Pashinian told a weekly cabinet meeting in Yerevan on May 26.

SpaceX released photos of the launch of its Transporter-5 mission on Twitter.

The mission carried 59 payloads as part of what the company calls a small satellite "rideshare" program.

SpaceX has done three such missions so far this year and plans another in October, according to Spacenews.com.

Pashinian said the satellite launch was the result of "cooperation" between the state-run Armenian company Geocosmos and Satlantis, a Spanish company that specializes in the production of small satellites and cameras for them.

He did not reveal financial terms of the deal or provide a technical description of the satellite, but the Armenian government's press office released photographs of it.

Armenia first announced plans to launch a commercial satellite in 2012 after holding talks with Russia's Federal Space Agency.

A year later, a senior government official said Yerevan hoped to attract private investments in the project worth $250 million. The project never materialized.

Pashinian did not explain why his administration opted for a smaller-scale project and contracted Western rather than Russian companies to implement it.

With reporting by Spacenews.com

U.S. Sees China Posing Greater Challenge To World Order Than Russia

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has laid out the Biden administration’s China policy, which aims to lead the countries now jointly opposing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine into a broader coalition to counter what Washington sees as a more serious threat posed by Beijing.

In a speech in Washington on May 26, Blinken said that, while the U.S. sees Russia's war in Ukraine as the most immediate threat to international stability, the Biden administration believes China poses a greater danger.

“Even as President Putin’s war continues, we will remain focused on the most serious long-term challenge to the international order -- and that is the one posed by the People’s Republic of China,” Blinken said.

He made the case that the global response to Russian President Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine can serve as a template for dealing with China's efforts to shape a new and unpredictable world order.

China has benefited greatly from the existing international order based on rules and institutions that have guided relations since the end of World War II, but it is now trying to subvert it under the leadership of President Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party, Blinken said.

“China is the only country with both the intent to reshape the international order -- and, increasingly, the economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to do it," he said.

It is undermining rather than reinforcing and revitalizing the laws, agreements, principles, and institutions that enabled its success, according to the top U.S. diplomat.

Blinken laid out a three-pillar approach for the administration to marshal its resources and allies to push back on China's assertiveness around the world.

Investment in domestic U.S. infrastructure and technology along with a stepped-up diplomatic outreach to potentially vulnerable countries are among the key elements of the policy, Blinken said.

He made clear that the U.S. is not seeking to change China's political system, but will "shape the strategic environment around Beijing to advance our vision for an open and inclusive international system.”

There was no immediate reaction to the speech from the Chinese Embassy in Washington.

Blinken emphasized that China, the No. 2 world economy after the U.S., plays a crucial role in global economics and in solutions to problems such as climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic.

This means that the United States and China have no choice but to deal with each other, making it "one of the most complex and consequential relationships of any that we have in the world today."

The speech followed President Joe Biden’s visits to South Korea and Japan during which Biden raised eyebrows when he said that the United States would act militarily to help Taiwan defend itself in the event of an invasion by China.

Blinken restated that Washington has not changed its “One China” policy, which recognizes Beijing but allows for unofficial links with and arms sales to Taipei.

“We oppose any unilateral changes to the status quo from either side," he said, adding that “we do not support Taiwan independence.”

With reporting by AP

U.S. Envoy TO OSCE Condemns 'Barbarity' Of Russia's War In Ukraine

U.S. Ambassador to the OSCE Michael Carpenter (file photo)

The U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has condemned the "sheer barbarity, sadistic cruelty, and lawlessness" of Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Ambassador Michael Carpenter also warned in a speech to the OSCE Permanent Council in Vienna on May 26 against allowing Russia to achieve “success” in Ukraine.

If it did, he said there would be "more horrific reports from filtration camps, more forcibly displaced people, more summary executions, more torture, more rape, and more looting. There would be many more damaged or destroyed cultural objects, hospitals, schools, and apartment buildings. More death and destruction,” Carpenter said, according to a copy of his speech posted on the U.S. mission’s website.

Carpenter called on OSCE member countries to provide Ukraine with “the support it needs right now to defend itself against [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s revanchist delusions.”

The U.S. envoy scathingly criticized Russia for conducting a “scorched earth campaign” that he said was not only an attack on Ukraine, but also an attack on the principles of the UN Charter, the Helsinki Final Act, and the Geneva Conventions, and “on the most basic norms of human decency.”

Carpenter said that, while Russia will be able to object to his statement, many people who have suffered in Ukraine at the hands of Russian troops are not able to raise a “point of order” to protest as he anticipated Russian representatives at the council would do.

Citing several examples of violence against civilians, saying the “stark and ugly truth is that until Ukraine wins this war, Russia will never give up on using the most brutal methods to conquer Ukraine.”

With reporting by AP

Belarusian Police Detain Parents Of Opera Singer, Search Home Of Other Musician's Ex-Wife

Belarusian soprano Marharyta Lyauchuk and opposition blogger and songwriter Andrey Pavuk

Police in Belarus have detained the parents of well-known opera singer and opposition activist Marharyta Lyauchuk and searched the home of the former wife of noted opposition blogger and singer Andrey Pavuk.

Lyauchuk, who is currently in self-imposed exile in Lithuania, told RFE/RL that her parents were detained on May 26 in Stradzech, the village where they live in the western Brest region.

According to Lyauchuk, a neighbor who was present when officers searched her parents' house told her that they were handcuffed and taken away by law enforcement officers.

Pro-government Telegram channels said the pair were detained for "disobeying police." In July last year, Belarusian authorities launched a criminal case against Lyauchuk, accusing her of "desecrating the country's national flag." The charge stemmed from a video placed on Lyauchuk's YouTube channel.

Separately, the home of Pavuk's former wife was searched by police on May 26.

Volha Pavuk, who is also currently out of the country, told RFE/RL that her neighbors in the southeastern town of Aktsyabrski informed her about the search. Officers told the neighbors that it was conducted due to "a criminal case launched against Andrey Pavuk."

Pavuk, his former wife, and their children left the country in the wake of anti-government protests questioning the official results of an August 2020 presidential vote that handed a sixth consecutive term in office to strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

Pavuk was charged in absentia with publicly insulting a prosecutor and disclosing the personal data of a prosecutor’s aide. He denies the charges.

Lyauchuk and Andrey Pavuk have held several joint singing sessions that were critical of Lukashenka and his government and placed them on YouTube.

Both have been added to the Belarusian Interior Ministry’s registry of wanted persons.

Russia Reportedly Seizes More Than $20 Million From Alphabet's Google

(illustrative photo)

Russian bailiffs have reportedly seized more than 7.7 billion rubles ($123.2 million) from Alphabet's Google that it had been ordered to pay as part of a fine calculated on the basis of its turnover.

Russian news agencies said on May 26 that Google's name disappeared from the registry of debtors of the Russian Federal Bailiffs' Service (FSSP), concluding that it means the fine had been paid off.

Neither Google nor the FSSP have commented on the issue.

Google's Russian arm said last week that it planned to file for bankruptcy after authorities seized its bank account, making it impossible to pay staff and vendors. Free services such as the company's search engine and YouTube have continued operating.

The decision to fine Google was made by a Moscow court in December for what the court said was the repeated failure to delete content that Russia deems illegal.

The fine was then said to be calculated as a percentage of Google's annual earnings, the first revenue-based fine of its kind in Russia.

President Vladimir Putin has accused social media platforms and other tech giants of flouting the country's Internet laws and has initiated a push to force foreign firms to open offices in Russia and store Russians' personal data on its territory.

Many critics say the move is an attempt by Russian authorities to exert tighter control over the Internet and quell dissent.

Last month, a court in Moscow impounded property and froze bank accounts of Google's Russian arm as a guarantee against a possible court decision regarding a lawsuit filed against Google by a subsidiary of Gazprom-Media holding.

Based on reporting by TASS, Interfax, and Reuters

Trial Of Kazakhstan's Ex-Health Minister On Embezzlement Charges Starts

Former Kazakh Health Minister Elzhan Birtanov (file photo)

NUR-SULTAN – Former Kazakh Health Minister Elzhan Birtanov, who was removed from the post in 2020 amid a surge in coronavirus cases, has gone on trial on embezzlement charges.

The trial started on May 26 in the Saryarqa district court of Nur-Sultan. Birtanov and his co-defendant, former Deputy Health Minister Olzhas Abishev, pleaded not guilty.

The two are suspected of embezzling about 500 million tenges ($1.2 million) that had been allocated by the government for the digitization of the Health Ministry.

After he fired Birtanov in June 2020, President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev criticized him for what he called his failure to tackle the spread of the coronavirus in the country.

Toqaev also ordered the establishment of a special commission to investigate his activities as health minister, a post Birtanov had held since 2017.

Residents In Southern Iranian City Of Abadan Stage Protests Following Building Collapse

The protest came following the collapse of a building in Abadan that killed at least 19 people.

Hundreds of residents took to the streets of Abadan, the capital of the southwestern Iranian province of Khuzestan, late on May 25, chanting slogans against the Iranian authorities.

The protest came following the May 23 collapse of an unfinished building in Abadan that killed at least 19 people and injured nearly 40, according to official figures.


Rescuers are still searching for dozens of people who are believed to be trapped beneath the collapsed building.

An emergency official interviewed earlier this week on state television suggested that some 50 people may have been inside the building at the time of the collapse. However, it wasn't clear if that figure included those already pulled from the rubble.

Many in the city are angered by the incident, blaming city officials for the deadly accident.

An angry crowd at the site chased and beat Abadan Mayor Hossein Hamidpour immediately after the collapse, according to the semiofficial ILNA news agency and online videos.

Critics say the building work was poorly constructed due to efforts to save on costs.

Videos posted online on May 25 showed crowds mourning those killed while beating their chests.

Some chanted that the 1979 revolution was a mistake, while others said, “Death to incompetent authorities.”

The head of Khuzestan Province's judiciary has ordered a probe into the accident.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has offered his condolences and appealed to local authorities to investigate the case. Iran’s vice president in charge of economic affairs, Mohsen Rezaei, and Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi visited the site.

With reporting by AP and dpa

Russia Warns It Will Expel U.S. Journalists If YouTube Blocks Briefings

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova (file photo)

Russia's Foreign Ministry has warned it will expel a U.S. journalist or media outlet if the YouTube streaming platform blocks any more of its press briefings.

Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on May 26 at a roundtable discussion devoted to "the role of Internet platforms in Russia's standoff with the West" that several of her briefings had been blocked by YouTube.

"What we did [after the briefings were blocked] was this -- we simply came and said, 'If you block another briefing, one journalist or one American media outlet will go home.' That's it.... If another briefing is blocked, we will name a certain name or a certain media outlet that will go away home," Zakharova said.

She did not specify when or which of her briefings were blocked on YouTube.

It is the second warning to foreign journalists in as many days by Zakharova.

The day before, Zakharova told reporters that Moscow is preparing measures to use against "unfriendly actions" by English-language media toward Russian media. She did not specify what those actions were.

After Russia launched its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine on February 24, the European Union suspended the broadcasting activities of some Russian state-backed media, including RT, a leading Russian broadcaster abroad, over questions on the impartiality of its coverage of the war.

Iran Says 'Accident' At Military Complex Kills Engineer

A satellite photo of facilities at he Parchin military site in Iran

Iran's Defense Ministry says an "accident" in the Parchin area near Tehran occurred at one of its research units, killing one person and injuring another.

Parchin, some 60 kilometers southeast of Tehran, is a military base where the UN's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), has previously said it suspected Iran conducted tests related to nuclear detonations more than a decade ago.

"On Wednesday evening, in an accident that took place in one of the research units of the Defense Ministry in the Parchin area, engineer Ehsan Ghad Beigi was martyred and one of his colleagues injured," the ministry said.

It did not elaborate on the cause of the accident or provide any further details, saying an investigation was under way.

Iran in 2015 allowed the IAEA to take environmental samples at Parchin to make an assessment of "possible military dimensions" of its nuclear program.

Iran says its nuclear program is solely for peaceful purposes, but it is now enriching uranium to up to 60 percent purity -- its highest level ever and a short technical step from weapons-grade levels of 90 percent.

In June 2020, an explosion caused by a tank leak occurred in the Parchin area at a gas storage facility.

Western concerns over the Iranian atomic program led to sanctions and eventually to Tehran's 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

U.S. President Donald Trump in 2018 withdrew from the accord and reimposed harsh economic sanctions. Talks to revive the agreement resumed in Vienna last year but have lately stalled.

U.S. special envoy for Iran Robert Malley said on May 25 that the prospects of reviving the 2015 deal were "tenuous" at best, telling a Senate committee that it is more likely than not that talks will fail.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and AP

U.K.'s Truss To Caution On 'Appeasing' Russia In Speech During Bosnia Visit

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss. Kyiv, February 17, 2022

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss is expected to warn against the "appeasement" of Russian President Vladimir Putin in a speech during a visit to Bosnia-Herzegovina on May 26 and tell Western allies and partners there must be no "backsliding" in support for Ukraine.

"Russia's aggression cannot be appeased. It must be met with strength," Truss will say, according to excerpts of the speech to be delivered to Bosnian armed forces at Sarajevo's Army Hall.

Truss will use the speech to rally allies to deliver more weapons and targeted sanctions against Moscow and argue "we must all learn the lessons of history" in standing up to Putin, ensuring he loses in Ukraine.

"We must not allow a prolonged and increasingly painful conflict to develop in Ukraine.... We must be relentless in ensuring Ukraine prevails through military aid and sanctions. We can't take our foot off the accelerator now," she will say.

Britain's top diplomat will also use the speech to reaffirm her country's commitment to peace and stability in the Western Balkans "in the face of Russian malign influence."

Truss is expected to take a step toward this by announcing during the speech her aim to mobilize $100 million of U.K.-backed investment in the Western Balkans by 2025 through an investment partnerships agenda.

"Bosnia and Herzegovina's future lies in sovereignty and self-determination, in greater partnership with NATO and countries like the U.K.," Truss will say.

Russia launched its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine on February 24.

Moldovan Foreign Minister Says Dodon Arrest Strictly Tied To Fight Against Corruption

Ex-President Igor Dodon is detained in Chisinau on May 24.

Moldova's foreign minister says the detention of former President Igor Dodon on suspicion of treason and corruption is about Moldova's fight against corruption and "unrelated to geopolitical events."

Foreign Minister Nicu Popescu said on May 26 that the arrest of Dodon, whose home was searched earlier this week, is related only to the election of a government that has pledged to root out corruption.

"The fight against corruption starts from the top, from combating corruption among the political class among the oligarchs," Popescu said in an interview with RFE/RL.

Popescu said there was evidence in the form of a video that is available online purporting to show Dodon, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, receiving a bag of money from an oligarch.

The case against Dodon is not the only one that has been launched, Popescu said. There have been several indictments, and Moldova is seeking the extradition of "several oligarchs...who have stolen a lot of money from Moldova and have escaped to other countries," he said.

He also responded to comments by Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Rudenko, who said on May 25 that Moscow would not like to see Moldovan authorities begin "settling scores with their former political rivals."

Popescu said Moldovan authorities are "subject to a political mandate from our population, and we don't find these statements as being relevant, useful, [or] correct."

The Kremlin and the Russian government have both warned that Moscow is closely monitoring Dodon's case and whether his rights are being respected.

Moldovan prosecutors have asked that Dodon be placed in pretrial detention for 30 days.

Prosecutors on May 24 searched Dodon's home and confiscated luxury goods, foreign currency, receipts, and other documents.

He was later arrested for 72 hours as part of a judicial investigation into suspected treason, corruption, illicit enrichment, and illegal party financing.

"Anti-corruption prosecutors have filed their request that Dodon be detained for 30 days and the court is due to assess their request," Mariana Cherpec, a spokeswoman for the Prosecutor-General's Office, said on May 25.

Dodon was president from 2016 to 2020, when he lost to pro-Western Maia Sandu, a U.S.-educated former World Bank official.

Dodon, 47, has denied all the accusations against him and blamed Sandu for wanting to distract people from the country's economic woes.

In Chisinau, dozens of members and sympathizers of Dodon's Party of Socialists took to the streets on May 25, calling for his release and accusing the authorities of political persecution.

Sandwiched between Ukraine and EU and NATO-member Romania, Moldova, one of Europe's poorest countries, has accepted hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian refugees.

Chisinau has firmly backed Kyiv since Russia invaded Ukraine. Russia maintains more than 1,000 troops in Moldova's breakaway region of Transdniester.

Moldova formally applied for European Union membership in March after Russia's unprovoked invasion.

With reporting AFP and AP

Ukrainian Officials Describe Intensity Of Battles In East As Russia Ties Unblocking Of Ports To Sanctions Relief

A Russian mortar shell lands near the road leading to the city of Lysychansk in the Donbas as a car passes on May 23.

The military situation in eastern Ukraine is even worse than people say it is, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba has said as Russian forces continue to thrust ahead in the Donbas.

Kuleba made the statement during a live question-and-answer session with Twitter users in which he also said the country needs heavy weapons now to effectively fight Russia and said peace talks with Moscow were not really taking place.

Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar told a press briefing that battles in the east had reached "maximum intensity," with Russian forces storming positions simultaneously.

"We have an extremely difficult and long stage of fighting ahead of us," she said.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, who had a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin on May 26, said during the call he felt not even a glimmer of hope for peace.

Draghi told a news conference that he did, however, feel a readiness on Putin's part to try to find a solution to the international food crisis.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

RFE/RL's Live Briefing gives you all of the major developments on Russia's invasion, how Kyiv is fighting back, the plight of civilians, and Western reaction. For all of RFE/RL's coverage of the war, click here.

According to the Kremlin, Putin told Draghi that Russia "is ready to make a significant contribution to overcoming the food crisis through the export of grain and fertilizer on the condition that politically motivated restrictions imposed by the West are lifted."

Britain immediately accused Russia of "trying to hold the world to ransom," insisting there would be no sanctions relief.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said Putin had "essentially weaponized hunger and lack of food among the poorest people around the world."

Speaking during a visit to Sarajevo, she said any appeasement "will simply make Putin stronger in the longer term."

The White House said there were no talks being held about relaxing sanctions on Russia in order to get grain exports.

Ukraine is one of the world’s largest exporters of wheat, corn, and sunflower oil, but Russian forces are currently blocking Ukraine's Black Sea ports, endangering world food supplies.

The international community has been calling on Russia to unblock the ports and allow the export of Ukrainian grain.

The Russian Defense Ministry has proposed a corridor to allow foreign ships to leave Black Sea ports and another to allow vessels to leave Mariupol on the Sea of Azov.

Kuleba said his country was ready to agree on safe corridors in principle but was not sure if it could trust Russia.

The question is how to ensure that "Russia will not violate the agreement on the safe passage and its military vessels will not sneak into the harbor and attack Odesa," he said.

Russian forces briefly reached the last highway out of two key cities which they have been attempting to encircle as Western leaders reiterated that Putin will not win the war.

Russian forces shelled 40 towns in the easternmost pocket still held by Kyiv in the Donbas, Ukraine's military said on May 26.

Russians were advancing on the key twin cities of Syevyerodonetsk and Lysychansk, which lie on either side of the Siverskiy Donets River, with the fighting reaching the limits of Syevyerodonetsk.

Serhiy Hayday, the governor of the Luhansk region, acknowledged that Ukrainian forces were retreating, but said the last road out of Lysychansk and Syevyerodonetsk remained outside of Russian control.

"The Russian Army has thrown all its forces into the fight to capture the Luhansk region. There is heavy fighting on the outskirts of Syevyerodonetsk in one direction. They are simply destroying the city," Hayday said.

Hayday said in an interview posted on social media, that "some 50" Russian soldiers had reached the highway linking Lysychansk to Ukrainian-held Bakhmut, and "managed to gain a foothold for some time" before being "thrown back."

Hayday said Ukrainian forces "are slowly retreating to more fortified positions," and indicated that further Ukrainian withdrawals would follow as "we need to win the war, not the battle."

The head of the local military-civil administration in Syevyerodonetsk said the city had been under "constant fire" for the past week-and-a-half, and 90 percent of housing had been damaged by the fighting.

Oleksandr Stryuk, speaking to Ukraine's NV radio station, said some 12,000-13,000 people are still thought to be in the city that had a pre-war population of 100,000 -- many of them sheltering in basements.

The fall of the two cities would leave the whole of the Luhansk region under Russian control, one of the Kremlin's goals in its war.

A senior U.S. Defense Department official said at a briefing on May 26 that Russian forces had made incremental progress in the northeastern Donbas region.

The strategy of encircling the whole Donbas region hasn’t worked, the official said, so the Russians have started trying to pinch off the far eastern elements of the Ukrainian forces between Syevyerodonetsk and Popasna. It is still an effort to encircle Ukrainian forces and cut them off but on a smaller scale, the official said.

The official also provided an accounting of the equipment losses of the Russian forces in the war thus far, saying they were "not insignificant."

The losses include almost 1,000 tanks, 350 artillery pieces, almost three dozen fighter aircraft, and more than 50 helicopters. But the official said the Russian military still has a lot of capability left.

Despite its current momentum, Russia cannot win, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz told the World Economic Forum in Davos on May 26.

Scholz said that three months of war, "the capture of the whole of Ukraine seems further away now than at the beginning of the war."

"Putin must not win his war, and I am convinced he will not win," Scholz said.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, CNN, and the BBC

U.S. Lawmakers Say Plenty Of Bipartisan Support For Ukraine In Congress

U.S. Representative Gregory Meeks (right) speaks as Representative Michael McCaul (left) listens in Prague on May 25.

Two members of the U.S. House of Representatives say bipartisan support for Ukraine remains strong in Congress, which last week passed another massive aid package for the country -- $40 billion worth of weapons and other aid to help the country in its fight against Russia.

Representative Michael McCaul (Republican-Texas) said members were aware of the horrific circumstances caused by the war and when they visit countries such as Romania, Poland, and Moldova, which have taken in millions of people who have fled the war, they always return "in a very bipartisan manner."

McCaul, top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Representative Gregory Meeks (Democrat-New York), the committee's chairman, spoke in an interview on May 25 at RFE/RL's headquarters in Prague.

The visit followed passage of the $40 billion bill to send military, economic, and food aid to Ukraine that President Joe Biden signed into law last week. It came two months after the passage of a $13.6 billion aid bill for Ukraine and passed the House overwhelmingly by a vote of 368-57.

But all no votes came from Republicans, fueling warnings about isolationist tendencies in the current election year.

McCaul denied that the vote revealed any fractures in the bipartisanship that Congress has shown for Ukraine. Some members had concerns about the size of the package, whose original price tag was $33 billion, he said. Others objected to the short amount of time they had to read it before voting.

"I think most of the no's on that bill were based on process and not substance," McCaul said. "So there's still very, very strong bipartisan support for Ukraine against the horrors of what Mr. Putin is doing."

Ukraine Can Rely On Republican Lawmakers, Says Ranking Member McCaul
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McCaul said the people of Ukraine can rely on the U.S. Congress and even after the midterm elections in November there will still be enough votes among Democrats and Republicans to reach a majority.

"I think Ukraine's earned that," he said, adding that by many accounts Ukraine is "actually winning this war against what we though was a major world power."

Meeks said the $40 billion aid bill was passed to ensure that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and the people of Ukraine have the military protection they need to save their country.

He said the United States was now working "in a in a fashion that is unprecedented" to move weapons as quickly as possible and coordinating closely with allies to ship the equipment that the Ukrainians have requested. He noted that the package included between $4 billion and $5 billion for humanitarian concerns.

Chair Of U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee Hopes For 'Different' Russia After Ukraine War
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Both lawmakers expressed concern about Ukrainian ports being blockaded by Russian forces.

Meeks said the situation was discussed during the congressmen's visit to Moldova, which is concerned about the situation along with other countries of the world.

“We're talking about the possibility of starvation in various other parts of the world, particularly on the continent of Africa and other underdeveloped areas,” Meeks said. “We're talking about the inclusion of inflation all over the world, the cost of food and bread.”

He said that’s why it’s important to give Ukraine what it needs to help it open those ports as the United States approaches problems caused by the war not thinking solely about itself but “the entirety of an interconnected world.”

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