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Western Powers Push For Fresh Iran Sanctions

Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Said Jalili, said Iran has prepared an "updated nuclear proposal" and is ready to hold negotiations with world powers.
Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Said Jalili, said Iran has prepared an "updated nuclear proposal" and is ready to hold negotiations with world powers.
BRUSSELS -- Senior diplomats from the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany are meeting in Frankfurt to discuss their options if Iran continues enriching uranium without addressing international concerns that it may be building nuclear weapons.

The meeting of officials from the five permanent UN Security Council members and Germany (known as P5+1) will be the international community's first chance to respond to a reported new Iranian offer to resume talks over its nuclear program. A new International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report on Iran will also be on the table.

Announcing Tehran's new willingness for talks on September 1, the secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, Said Jalili, gave no further details.

Later the same day, U.S. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said the United States would take any new Iranian proposal "seriously," but said Washington has received no such offer so far.

"We haven't seen any new proposal and we haven't received any answer to our proposals the issues outlined in the [P5+1] declaration of April and our proposal to engage with them and talk about these issues, the nuclear issues," Kelly said.

Nevertheless, reports suggest there is some optimism among Western officials that Iran's latest offer of talks could present the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama with another opportunity to try to defuse the issue before moving ahead with another round of sanctions. Obama has indicated that the United States is now willing to contemplate the existence of a limited civilian nuclear program in Iran.

However, past Iranian offers of talks have failed to address the key Western demand that Iran provide airtight guarantees its nuclear program has no military applications and submit to a stringent international monitoring regime.

A confidential IAEA report on Iran, circulated on August 28 in the UN Security Council, is reported to say that Iran has allowed international monitors increased access to some of its nuclear facilities in recent weeks.

But the report also states that Tehran continues to refuse to talk to the IAEA about a possible "military dimension" of its nuclear program, which now includes 4,600 enrichment centrifuges. However, the six-page IAEA document lists no direct evidence that Iran is preparing to assemble nuclear warheads.

Weighing Support For Sanctions


Three rounds of economic sanctions have been imposed on Iran by the UN Security Council since 2006, but without tangible effect. This time, Western countries are threatening to substantially ratchet up the measures by targeting the country's financial interests abroad and blocking Iran's economically crucial imports of refined gasoline.

However, Russia and China -- both veto-wielding members of the Security Council -- are thought to remain skeptical, offering Iran a potential lifeline.

Tehran has been rattled in recent months by the hardening stance of Germany and France. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on August 27 she supports new sanctions if Iran should fail to comply with Western demands for direct and comprehensive talks.

"If there is no positive answer [from Iran] by September, we will have to consider further measures, such as sanctions in the energy and financial market sectors," Merkel said. "We will not only have to think about [sanctions], but discuss within the international community how to enforce them."

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has also spoken out in favor of new sanctions. Earlier this summer he was reported to have told a gathering of French ambassadors in Paris that Tehran's denials that it has a military nuclear program are no more credible than the regime's insistence that the June 12 presidential elections were free and fair.

The bloody crackdown on protesters that followed the elections has done a lot to turn public opinion in Western Europe against Iran. EU countries now operate a de facto visa ban on holders of Iranian service passports. Iran has retaliated by denying visas for Western journalists. Tehran has accused Berlin and Paris of falling under the sway of Israel, its archenemy.

Israel remains the biggest unknown in the international community's attempts to contain Iran. Israel has repeatedly warned it is prepared to carry out unilateral "preventive" aerial strikes on Iranian nuclear sites should it decide that the international community has failed to prevent Iran from acquiring a military nuclear capability.

This threat will weigh heavily on the minds of international diplomats now heading into four weeks of furious activity -- first two weeks of IAEA meetings in Vienna, then the G20 meeting in Pittsburgh, and then the UN General Assembly later this month in New York.

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Iran Frees Imprisoned French Citizen, Macron Says

Louis Arnaud (file photo)
Louis Arnaud (file photo)

Iranian authorities have released a French citizen held since September 2022, French President Emmanuel Macron announced on June 12, urging Tehran to free three other French nationals "without delay." "Louis Arnaud is free. Tomorrow he will be in France after a long incarceration in Iran," Macron said on X, thanking Oman for helping to secure "this happy outcome." Arnaud, a banking consultant, was sentenced last year to five years in jail on national security charges. His arrest in 2022 came as protests roiled Iran over the death in custody of Mahsa Amini in police custody for allegedly violating Iran's strict dress rules. Arnaud's family said he had "kept a distance from the social movements that were starting" at the time and never acted "with political intentions or carelessness."

Microsoft Says Russia 'More Aggressive' In Cyberspace

Brad Smith, vice chairman and president of Microsoft (file photo)
Brad Smith, vice chairman and president of Microsoft (file photo)

WASHINGTON – U.S. tech giant Microsoft said Russian cyberattacks are becoming even “more aggressive” and warned that Moscow could deepen collaboration with U.S. adversaries in cyberspace, making it much harder to prevent intrusions.

Hackers from Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Agency (SVR) are no longer disengaging from a computer environment once they are discovered but are doubling down, leading to the equivalent of “hand-to-hand combat” in cyberspace, according to Brad Smith, vice chairman and president of Microsoft, who is scheduled to testify on June 13 to the House of Representatives' Committee on Homeland Security.

The committee made a transcript of Smith’s statement to the committee available on June 12.

Smith said in the statement that Microsoft believes the SVR is now allowing its top engineers to use what they learn during the day in criminal ransomware operations they work on during their free time for financial gain as a way to retain them.

“This is creating a vicious cycle reinforcing nation-state and ransomware activity,” Smith wrote in the statement.

Smith will address the committee on Microsoft’s plans to boost security following successful intrusions by Russian and Chinese state actors. He said closer cooperation between Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran on the geopolitical stage could be replicated in cyberspace.

“This is grave at multiple levels. It’s one thing to engage in cyber combat with four separate nation-state adversaries, but quite another scenario if two or all four of these countries work in tandem,” he wrote in his testimony.

He said each of those nations has its own strengths and weaknesses when it comes to cyber capabilities, and through cooperation they could enhance each others' effectiveness.

“Unfortunately, this is where the future is likely going,” he wrote.

Smith painted a grave picture of current cyberspace, saying “lawless and aggressive cyber activity has reached an extraordinary level” and that state actors are more sophisticated and better resourced than ever. He said Microsoft detects almost 4,000 password-based attacks against its customers every second.

He called for tougher responses to such countries, saying they suffer few consequences for their actions.

“Deter nation-state threat actors by imposing appropriate punishment so that the actions of nation-state actors are not without a cost,” he wrote in his testimony.

U.S. Aware Of Reports Russia Is Listing Ukrainian Children For Adoption

U.S. national-security adviser Jake Sullivan (file photo)
U.S. national-security adviser Jake Sullivan (file photo)

U.S. national-security adviser Jake Sullivan said the United States is aware of “new and credible reports” that Russia has listed abducted Ukrainian children on Russian adoption websites. Sullivan described the development as "despicable and appalling" in a statement on June 12. He acknowledged that since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Russian officials have deported hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian civilians to Russia, “including children who have been forcibly separated from their families.” He stressed that these children belong with their families, adding that Russia is “waging a war not just against the Ukrainian military but against the Ukrainian people” and is “committing war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine.” To read the full statement from the White House, click here.

Austria Says Security Concern Was Behind Decision To Pull TASS Accreditation

The Russian Embassy in Vienna
The Russian Embassy in Vienna

Austria annulled the accreditation of two correspondents working for Russia's TASS news agency in April "due to a negative security assessment by the security authorities," the Interior Ministry said.

The Interior Ministry's statement, quoted by dpa on June 11, came a day after the Russian Foreign Ministry said it had canceled the accreditation of a correspondent for Austrian public broadcaster ORF, Maria Knips-Witting, and told her to leave the country in response to Austria's expulsion of Ivan Popov, a journalist for TASS, in late April.

Though the Russian Foreign Ministry only cited the expulsion of Popov, the Austrian Interior Ministry statement referred to two journalists for TASS, both expelled in April.

ORF said it could not understand Russia's move to cancel Knips-Witting's accreditation, while the Austrian Foreign Ministry called it "completely unjustified."

A report in March in the Vienna-based Falter weekly wrote about suspected Russian intelligence activities in the Austrian capital in a story that mentioned TASS.

In addition, the Austrian Interior Ministry's latest intelligence report says foreign intelligence services are active in the country under the cover of news agencies.

Knips-Witting joined a long list of journalists expelled by Russia since it launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

In August 2023, Eva Hartog, a Dutch journalist working for Politico -- a U.S. based politics-focused digital newspaper -- was denied a renewal of her Russian visa.

Russian authorities in March refused to extend a visa for Xavier Colas, a reporter for Spanish newspaper El Mundo and ordered him to leave Russia.

Moscow also has arrested and charged foreign journalists with crimes.

Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich has been under pretrial arrest since late March 2023 on charges of espionage that he, his employer, and U.S. officials reject as unfounded.

RFE/RL journalist Alsu Kurmasheva, a U.S.-Russian citizen, has been in Russian custody since October on a charge of violating the so-called "foreign agent" law. She’s also been charged with spreading falsehoods about the Russian military and faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted. Kurmasheva and RFE/RL maintain her innocence.

With reporting by dpa, Deutsche Welle, and VOA

U.S. Treasury Widens Sanctions To Curb Russia's War Production

The U.S. Treasury building in Washington (file photo)
The U.S. Treasury building in Washington (file photo)

The U.S. Treasury Department on June 12 announced new sanctions on over 300 entities suspected of providing Russia with products and services needed to sustain military production for its war in Ukraine. U.S. officials expressed concern over Russia's ability to procure advanced semiconductors, optical equipment, and other goods needed to produce advanced weapons systems, despite prior sanctions. The latest sanctions primarily target Belarusian and Chinese entities suspected of aiding Russia’s defense and energy sectors. The sanctions come on the eve of the June 13-15 G7 summit in Italy. To read the full statement from the U.S. Treasury Department, click here.

Russian Warships Enter Havana Harbor Following Military Exercises

The Russian Navy frigate Admiral Gorshkov arrives at the port of Havana. (file photo)
The Russian Navy frigate Admiral Gorshkov arrives at the port of Havana. (file photo)

A Russian navy frigate and a nuclear-powered submarine docked on June 12 in Havana harbor, a stopover the United States and Cuba said posed no threat but which was widely seen as a Russian show of force as tensions rise over the Ukraine war. The Admiral Gorshkov frigate and the nuclear-powered submarine Kazan were accompanied by a tugboat and fuel ship that arrived earlier in the morning. The four vessels sailed to Cuba after conducting "high-precision missile weapons" training in the Atlantic Ocean, the Russian Defense Ministry said. The ministry said the submarine and frigate carry Zircon hypersonic missiles, Kalibr cruise missiles, and Onyx anti-ship missiles.

Ukraine Peace Summit Draft Calls On 'All Parties' To Work On Future Talks

This aerial photograph taken on June 4 shows the luxury Burgenstock resort above Lake Lucerne that will host a Ukraine peace summit on June 15-16.
This aerial photograph taken on June 4 shows the luxury Burgenstock resort above Lake Lucerne that will host a Ukraine peace summit on June 15-16.

A draft of a communiqué being worked on for the Ukraine peace summit in Switzerland this weekend says future peace negotiations should involve "representatives of all parties" in the conflict and follow agreements on nuclear security, food security, the return of prisoners of war and kidnapped children.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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The draft, which is not final and subject to change, was seen by RFE/RL on June 12, three days before the summit is set to begin in the Swiss town of Burgenstock.

Some 160 heads of state, government leaders, and international organizations have been invited to the summit, with Swiss officials saying on June 10 that just over 90 have so far indicated their participation.

However, European Union diplomats told RFE/RL that the number has fallen to 78. While they did not name the countries that reportedly dropped out, one of the sources, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter, said the list could still grow as countries make last-minute decisions on participating. A final list of participants is expected by June 14.

In the current version of the communiqué, the draft specifically refers to the "aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine," while saying that the summit builds on previous discussions "that have taken place based on Ukraine's Peace Formula and other peace proposals which are in line with international law, including the United Nations Charter."

"We believe that achieving peace requires the participation and dialogue of all parties. Therefore, we have decided to take concrete steps in the aforementioned areas with further involvement of representatives of all parties. The Charter of the United Nations, particularly the principles of respect for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of all states, can and will serve as the foundation for achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in Ukraine," it says.

Ukraine hopes to win broad international backing for its vision of the terms needed to end the war with Russia, which broke out after Moscow launched a full-scale invasion of its neighbor in February 2022.

The United States will be represented by Vice President Kamala Harris and national-security adviser Jake Sullivan, while French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz will also attend the summit.

Beijing, which has close ties with Moscow, has so far said it will stay away from the June 15-16 summit, saying the attendance of both sides is a prerequisite for any substantive peace conference.

Russia has not been invited.

South Korean Leader Signs Deals As Central Asian Tour Hits Kazakhstan

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol (left) and Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev in Astana on June 12.
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol (left) and Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev in Astana on June 12.

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, on a tour of Central Asia, signed agreements on energy, oil, and chemical industry cooperation with Kazakhstan after meeting with President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev in Astana on June 12. The two leaders also took part in the Kazakh-Korean business forum in Astana. Yoon is expected to meet representatives of the Korean diaspora in Kazakhstan, who are the successors of Koreans deported by Josef Stalin's regime from Russia's Far East in the 1940s. Before visiting Astana, Yoon held talks with Turkmen President Serdar Berdymukhammedov and is expected to visit Uzbekistan after finishing his trip to Kazakhstan. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, click here.

Poland Forces Man Back To Belarus After Deportation Notice

Dzmitry Smaktunovich
Dzmitry Smaktunovich

A Belarusian man was forced to cross the Poland-Belarus border back into his homeland on June 12, a day after he resisted leaving Poland after receiving a deportation notice. Dzmitry Smaktunovich's wife, who with their three children remains in Poland, told RFE/RL that her husband was deported after his Lithuanian residence permit was canceled. Self-exiled opposition politician Paval Latushka cited the Polish border guard service as saying that among other reasons, Smaktunovich was deported over his alleged involvement in an illegal immigration ring. Polish officials refused to provide RFE/RL with information related to Smaktunovich’s case, saying that such data can be given only to Belarusian officials. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Belarus Service, click here.

Iran Commutes Death Sentence Of Sunni Cleric Detained During 2022 Protests

Mohammad Khezrnejad, a Kurdish cleric in Iran, had his death sentence commuted to prison time.
Mohammad Khezrnejad, a Kurdish cleric in Iran, had his death sentence commuted to prison time.

Iran's judiciary has commuted the death sentence of Sunni cleric Mohammad Khezrnejad to imprisonment after widespread criticism of the punishment both at home and abroad.

Khezrnejad, originally detained during the widespread Women, Life, Freedom protests, was facing execution for charges including "corruption on Earth," "acting against national security," and "propaganda against the system."

It gave no details of the length of time Khezrnejad would spend in prison, but his initial sentence on one of the charges was 15 years.

He was arrested in Bukan, West Azerbaijan Province, two months after the death of Mahsa Amini, whose death in police custody sparked widespread unrest in late 2022.

Khezrnejad's arrest and subsequent sentencing -- the trial was held via video conference with the defendant deprived of legal representation -- drew widespread condemnation, highlighting the Iranian judiciary's harsh stance against dissent.

Nonetheless, the sentence was confirmed by the Supreme Court.

However, on June 11, the Mizan news agency, which is affiliated with Iran's judiciary, announced that following appeals for clemency from several Sunni scholars and expressions of remorse by Khezrnejad, his sentence was reduced.

The report highlighted his pledge of good behavior as a contributing factor to the mitigation of his punishment.

Mizan also said authorities blamed foreign Persian-language media for escalating the situation by falsely linking the case to ethnic and religious issues.

Khezrnejad's case is another example of Iranian authorities blaming "external forces" for internal dissent without giving evidence to back up the claim.

The case had attracted international attention, with human rights groups, including Amnesty International, warning against the execution.

Hundreds of Sunni clerics within Iran had also called on the judiciary for Khezrnejad's release, criticizing the lack of fairness in the judicial proceedings.

Khazrnejad remains incarcerated at Urmia prison, with the judicial process drawing ongoing scrutiny for its handling of cases related to the Women, Life, Freedom protests.

Sunni Muslims make up a majority of the population in Iran’s Kurdistan region and Sistan-Baluchistan Province but account for only about 10 percent of the population in Shi'a-dominated Iran overall.

Since Amini's death in September 2022, more than 500 people have been killed in the police crackdown, according to rights groups. Several thousand more have been arrested, including many protesters, as well as journalists, lawyers, activists, digital rights defenders, and others.

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

Pashinian Defends Yerevan Police After Bloody Clashes With Demonstrators

Police In Armenia Use Stun Grenades On Anti-Government Protesters
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Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian has defended police actions taken on June 12 against demonstrators outside parliament where he was participating in a regular question period that saw him indicate Armenia would withdraw completely from the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO).

An Interior Ministry spokesperson told RFE/RL that as of 8 p.m. local time 70 people had been detained and there were injuries among both the protesters and the police in scuffles in central Yerevan.

"There are people who have applied for medical help," a spokesperson of the health minister told RFE/RL, without specifying the number of people injured.

Police "justly used" a stun grenade after the leader of the protest, Archbishop Bagrat Galstanian, "directed people to attack the police," said parliament speaker Alen Simonian.

The police performed "the functions assigned to them by the law strictly within the framework of the law," Pashinisn said.

He added that all photos showing victims will be examined, and if it is found that illegal acts occurred, the state will respond appropriately.

During the question period, Pashinian told parliament that his government will decide later when to leave the CSTO, an alliance of six ex-Soviet states -- Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan.

Pashinian has repeatedly said that he could pull his country out of the alliance altogether unless it addressed Yerevan’s concerns.

Armenia announced on May 8 that it had stopped making financial contributions to the CSTO. It had previously suspended its participation in joint military drills, high-level meetings, and other activities.

Tensions between Armenia and Russia arose after Armenian authorities accused Russian peacekeepers of failing to stop Azerbaijan’s lightning offensive in September 2023 that gave Baku full control of Nagorno-Karabakh, which had been controlled by ethnic Armenians with Yerevan's support for decades.

Moscow rejected the accusations, arguing that its troops didn’t have a mandate to intervene. Armenia requested Russian military support after weeks of hostilities along the Armenian-Azerbaijani border in September 2022.

The Kremlin more recently has been angered by Pashinian’s efforts to deepen Armenia's ties with the West and distance his country from Moscow.

Armenian opposition groups have said that an exit from the CSTO and a breakup of Armenia’s broader military alliance with Russia would create a dangerous security vacuum that cannot be filled by Western powers and would only encourage Azerbaijan to launch new attacks.

Pashinian made his CSTO comments amid protests led by Galstanian, the outspoken 53-year-old head of the Tavush Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church, against plans to hand over several border areas to Azerbaijan as part of a peace deal.

Galstanian has attracted tens of thousands of demonstrators with his Tavush for the Motherland movement in an unprecedented challenge to Pashinian's six-year leadership.

Earlier on June 12, Azerbaijan's Defense Ministry said that the withdrawal of Russian troops from Nagorno-Karabakh had been completed. Moscow has yet to confirm the statement by Azerbaijan's Defense Ministry.

Pro-Kremlin Ballet Dancer's Performance Canceled In Slovenia

Svetlana Zakharova was expected to play the role of Coco Chanel in the Bolshoi's performance of Modanse in August.
Svetlana Zakharova was expected to play the role of Coco Chanel in the Bolshoi's performance of Modanse in August.

Ukraine's Foreign Ministry said authorities in the Slovenian capital, Ljubljana, canceled a performance by Svetlana Zakharova, the pro-Kremlin prima ballerina of Moscow's Bolshoi Theater, at the requests of Ukraine's embassy and Slovenia’s Ukrainian community. Zakharova was expected to play the role of Coco Chanel in the Bolshoi's performance of Modanse in August. Ukrainian-born Zakharova is a member of Russia's ruling United Russia party. She served as a lawmaker in 2007-2011. In 2014, Zakharova publicly supported Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea. This year, she took part in President Vladimir Putin's presidential campaign. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

Senior U.S. Diplomat Says Ukraine-NATO Policy Unchanged Despite Biden Comments

James O'Brien, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, speaks to RFE/RL from Yerevan on June 11.
James O'Brien, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, speaks to RFE/RL from Yerevan on June 11.

U.S. President Joe Biden's recent comments signaling Ukraine is unlikely to become a NATO member during its war to repel invading Russian troops is not a change in Washington's position on the issue ahead of a key summit for the military alliance's leaders, a senior State Department diplomat told RFE/RL.

In an interview conducted on May 28 and published by Time magazine, Biden appeared to suggest he no longer supported Ukraine's NATO membership, a change from previously stated goals by Washington and the alliance itself.

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.

But James O'Brien, U.S. assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, told RFE/RL on June 11 while on a visit to Armenia that "interpretations began to run away" from the meaning of Biden's comments, and that Washington remains committed to Ukraine's membership in the alliance.

"There's no change in our position. I think what the president said, if I could just paraphrase, he said he doesn't believe in Ukraine joining NATO now," O'Brien said.

"Our position, really...is that Ukraine will be in the alliance when conditions allow."

In the wide-ranging June 4 interview with Time, Biden said that "peace looks like making sure Russia never, never, never, never occupies Ukraine. That's what peace looks like."

But, he added, "It doesn't mean NATO, [that] they are part of NATO."

O'Brien further elaborated saying Biden was referring to the NATO summit in July when stating that he was "not prepared" to support Ukrainian membership.

"It will be clear that Ukraine needs to undertake some reforms, and it will take some time to adapt its military from what it had been before Russia's further invasion, to what it will be needed to be part of NATO.

"And we'll lay out [at the summit] both how NATO will assist Ukraine in getting ready. So we are talking about several steps," he added.

Top Diplomat: U.S. Aims To 'Build Bridge' For Ukraine Into NATO
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NATO stated in the final declaration of last year's summit in Vilnius that "Ukraine’s future is in NATO" and there are indications that the upcoming summit of the alliance in Washington next month would reinforce the message of support for Kyiv's eventual membership.

In reaction to Biden's interview, a NATO source who spoke on condition of anonymity told RFE/RL that "my understanding is that the American line has been and still is that Ukraine should be offered 'a bridge to NATO membership.'"

O'Brien echoed those comments, with Ukraine remaining a NATO ally in the near future as it prepares for the longer term.

"We're talking about NATO assisting with building Ukraine's future force, so that it will know that it has a military able to deter and repel further Russian aggression, but also that NATO will assist with Ukraine's reforms," O'Brien said.

U.S. Diplomat Says Armenia-Azerbaijan Deal A 'Momentous' Step Forward

James O'Brien, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, said during a visit to Yerevan that a demarcation deal between Armenia and Azerbaijan is a "very good step forward."
James O'Brien, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, said during a visit to Yerevan that a demarcation deal between Armenia and Azerbaijan is a "very good step forward."

The leaders of Armenian and Azerbaijan say they are committed to a "momentous" demarcation accord signed last month that is designed to end decades of hostile relations in the volatile region, a top U.S. diplomat said during a visit to Yerevan.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Armenia and Azerbaijan have fought wars over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh -- with more than 30,000 people killed -- as they transitioned into independent countries.

Azerbaijan regained control of Nagorno-Karabakh in a lightening military offensive last year, but much of the border between the countries remained in dispute, with both sides occupying villages that formerly belonged to the other side.

"I think both sides say that they're committed to peace. It's a momentous agreement. It will be a generational commitment by the two countries," James O'Brien, U.S. assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs, told RFE/RL in an interview on June 11 during a visit to Yerevan.

O'Brien was referring to an agreement between Yerevan and Baku completed on May 15 that delineated the border between the two bitter rivals who have seen their relations marred by several deadly wars and conflicts.

Some critics have cited the lack of progress following the agreement, with the Armenian side often suggesting Baku has been slow to follow through on efforts to attain an overall peace deal to settle longstanding issues.

"It's appropriate to be careful and take time, so the two countries have had a number of discussions at the level of the leaders, deputy prime ministers, foreign ministers, national security advisers, technical teams, just to be sure that they are aware of all the implications of an agreement," he said.

"I think the recent demarcation arrangement was a very good step forward."

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian (right) greets O'Brien in Yerevan on June 11.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian (right) greets O'Brien in Yerevan on June 11.

O'Brien said the deal "acknowledged that some territory belonging to Azerbaijan had to be transferred, but also that the basis of further demarcation would be the Alma-Ata agreement, and that, I think, is a very constructive basis for next steps."

The deal, which involved Yerevan returning to Baku four abandoned villages that had been part of Azerbaijan during the Soviet era but which had been occupied by Armenian forces, has sparked protests in Armenia and calls for the country's leadership to resign.

U.S. Diplomat Sees 'Great Moment' For Peace, New Trade Routes In Armenia, Azerbaijan
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Armenian opposition groups have denounced what they describe as the latest "unilateral territorial concessions" to Azerbaijan. They argue that the border demarcation that affects the infrastructure of border communities leaves local residents more vulnerable to further possible Azerbaijani aggression.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian has rejected the criticism, saying the demarcation agreement was necessary to assure Armenia's security and end decades of enmity with Azerbaijan.

The United States and the European Union have hailed the demarcation agreement, stressing it contains a reference to the 1991 Alma-Ata Declaration, a document by which a dozen former Soviet countries, including Armenia and Azerbaijan, pledged to recognize each other's territorial integrity within existing administrative borders.

The declaration was named after the city now known as Almaty in Kazakhstan where it was signed.

"In our [U.S.] view, there's a once-in-a-generation -- maybe several generations -- opportunity to build a trade route from Central Asia across to the Mediterranean. That can come only if there is peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan," he said.

When asked whether the United States would be willing to act as guarantor of an agreement between the two sides, O'Brien said that "neither side has asked us to play that role."

"We are very happy to support the peace agreement that the sides reach. And the exact role that we might play, or no role, is really up to the two sides to conclude. We are not looking to serve as intervener or superpower in the region."

James O'Brien spoke from Yerevan. RFE/RL's Armenian Service's Heghine Buniatian conducted the interview from Prague.

Trial Begins Of Belarusian Rights Defender In Exile

Leanid Sudalenka fled Belarus in July 2023 after serving more than 2 1/2 years in prison for taking part in activities that "disrupt social order."
Leanid Sudalenka fled Belarus in July 2023 after serving more than 2 1/2 years in prison for taking part in activities that "disrupt social order."

A court in the Belarusian city of Homel on June 12 started a trial in absentia of noted rights defender Leanid Sudalenka on a charge of participating in extremist activities. Sudalenka fled Belarus in July 2023 after serving more than 2 1/2 years in prison for taking part in activities that "disrupt social order." The charge stemmed from Sudalenka's participation in mass protests in the summer of 2020 against the results of a presidential election that pronounced authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka as the winner. In October 2022, Belarusian authorities added Sudalenka to their list of extremists. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Belarus Service, click here.

Imprisoned Kremlin Critic Yashin Says He Will Reject Swap With Russians Jailed In West

Ilya Yashin, a former municipal lawmaker, also called on ordinary Russians "not to throw themselves under the tank that is speeding up toward them."
Ilya Yashin, a former municipal lawmaker, also called on ordinary Russians "not to throw themselves under the tank that is speeding up toward them."

Imprisoned Russian opposition politician Ilya Yashin, who is serving an 8 1/2-year prison term for his criticism of Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, says he will not agree to get exchanged for Russian citizens jailed in the Western countries if such a proposal occurs.

In his interview to Dozhd TV, parts of which were published on Telegram on June 12, Yashin said a possible swap would mean emigration for him, which he called "unacceptable" for him.

"I have stayed in Russia to be a Russian voice against the war and dictatorship. And, of course, it is important for me to share the fate of my country and my people. I sincerely believe that a Russian politician must be with Russia, as we say, both in joy and sorrow," Yashin said.

Talking about the self-exiled widow of opposition politician Aleksei Navalny, Yulia Navalnaya, Yashin said her role is "to explain to the world and the Western leaders that the Russian people and Putin are not the same, that our compatriots are in fact hostages in the hands of the Kremlin junta."

The former municipal lawmaker also called on ordinary Russians "not to throw themselves under the tank that is speeding up toward them."

"Just remember that sooner or later that tank will stop, and then we have to be ready to disassemble it," Yashin said.

Yashin, 40, is an outspoken Kremlin critic and one of the few prominent opposition politicians who stayed in Russia after a wave of repression against those who have condemned Russia's aggression against Ukraine since the full-scale invasion was launched in February 2022.

The sentence handed to Yashin in December 2022 was the harshest among the cases against those charged with discrediting Russia's armed forces under a new law introduced days after the invasion commenced.

The criminal case against Yashin was launched in July 2022. The charge against him stemmed from his YouTube posts about alleged crimes committed by the Russian military in the Ukrainian city of Bucha.

Yashin is serving his prison term in correctional colony No. 3 in the western Smolensk region.

Kazakh Court Rejects Appeals Of Convicted Killers Of Anticorruption Activist

Activist Ghaly Baqtybaev was shot dead near his house in May 2019.
Activist Ghaly Baqtybaev was shot dead near his house in May 2019.

A court in Kazakhstan on June 11 rejected the appeals of four men imprisoned for the killing of a noted anticorruption activist in the Central Asian nation's Aqmola region. Ghaly Baqtybaev, 59, was shot dead near his house in May 2019. In January, former police officer Ghalym Akhmetzhanov and businessman Azamat Bokenaev were sentenced to 15 years in prison each for their roles in ordering and organizing the assassination. Iman Miyashev was handed 16 years for attacking Baqtybaev, while a fourth man, Eldar Zhaken, was handed a three-year prison term for his role in the crime. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, click here.

Updated

Stoltenberg Says Hungary Agrees Not To Block NATO Support To Ukraine

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban (right) listens as NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg speaks at a press conference in Budapest on June 12.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban (right) listens as NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg speaks at a press conference in Budapest on June 12.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg says Hungary will not block support to Ukraine, though it will exercise its opt-out and not provide soldiers or funds the military alliance supplies to Kyiv as it battles to repel invading Russian forces.

Stoltenberg has been meeting with NATO members on a tour as he looks to shore up support ahead of a summit in Washington next month for the alliance to increase its role in aiding Ukraine's military.

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.

Hungary, led by Prime Minister Viktor Orban, arguably Moscow's closest ally in the European Union, has been wary of NATO's involvement in the conflict and has suggested a new definition for Budapest's position to keep Hungarian forces from operations outside the territory of NATO members.

"Hungary will not participate in these NATO efforts and I accept this position," Stoltenberg told reporters in Budapest after meeting with Orban on June 12.

"At the same time, the prime minister has assured me that Hungary will not oppose these efforts, enabling other allies to move forward, and he has confirmed that Hungary will continue to meet its NATO commitments in full."

Orban, at the same news conference, confirmed Hungary won't block NATO support.

Since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of neighboring Ukraine in February 2022, Orban has forged closer relations with the Kremlin, angering Brussels for refusing to join EU sanctions against Moscow or to allow, like other NATO countries, arms shipments to Ukraine.

Western government have been unhappy over Orban's continued warm ties with Moscow and Hungary's delay in the ratification of Sweden's NATO accession, though Budapest ultimately approved the move.

Hungary had asked the Brussels-based military alliance for an exemption from providing military support to Ukraine in exchange for allowing decisions to be carried out, meaning it would not exercise its veto power, since NATO makes all of its military decisions by consensus.

Stoltenberg said he had agreed with Orban on "modalities for Hungary's nonparticipation in NATO's support for Ukraine," though he gave no details on what such an agreement entailed.

NATO is looking to create a plan to provide more predictable military support to Ukraine in the coming years to repel Moscow's full-scale invasion, as better-armed Russian troops assert control on the battlefield.

The alliance will hold a summit next month in Washington where its leaders are looking to finalize such a plan.

1 Person Injured, Buildings Damaged In Latest Russian Attacks In Kyiv Region

Firefighters extinguish a fire caused by falling missile debris during a Russian attack in the Kyiv region on June 12.
Firefighters extinguish a fire caused by falling missile debris during a Russian attack in the Kyiv region on June 12.

Russian forces targeted Ukraine's Kyiv region with missile and drone attacks overnight, injuring at least one person and damaging several buildings, Ukrainian officials said on June 12. “As a result of falling debris one person was injured…and medical assistance was provided on the spot,” said the head of the regional military administration, Ruslan Kravchenko. A residential house, a gas station, and a garage were damaged by falling debris, which also caused a fire in an industrial facility, he added. To read the original story by RFE/RL Ukrainian Service, click here.

Updated

8 Killed In Russian Attack As U.S. Pledges To Send Ukraine Patriot Missile System

Rescuers work at a site of a deadly Russian missile strike in Kryviy Rih on June 12.
Rescuers work at a site of a deadly Russian missile strike in Kryviy Rih on June 12.

A Russian ballistic missile strike on the Ukrainian city of Kryviy Rih on June 12 killed at least eight people and injured at least 21, including children, Interior Minister Ihor Klymenko said.

Klymenko announced the updated number of victims on Telegram after initially saying six had been killed. He added that four more people were missing.

The attack, which came after a report that the United States will provide Ukraine with another Patriot missile system, damaged an administrative building and an apartment block, Ukraine's Southern Defense military command said on Telegram.

Kryviy Rih, a major city in the Dnipropetrovsk region that is President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s hometown, has been the target of Russian air attacks multiple times in Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Zelenskiy responded by calling on Ukraine's allies to step up deliveries of sophisticated air-defense batteries to ward off Russian attacks.

"Every day and every hour, Russian terror proves that Ukraine, together with its partners, should strengthen air defenses," Zelenskiy said.

He expressed condolences to the families and friends of the victims and said emergency services were working on site, sharing a video showing a man being carried out of the rubble on a stretcher as firefighters battled blazes.

In an earlier statement on Telegram, Zelenskiy said Russia tried to launch a combined attack on Ukraine using missiles and drones. He said five missiles and more than 20 drones were shot down.

“It is this result in protecting life that can be our daily achievement if we have enough tools to repel terrorist strikes,” he said.

The Air Force reported that 29 out of 30 targets were shot down.

Earlier on June 12, the Associated Press reported that the United States will provide another Patriot missile system in response to Ukraine's pleas for more air defenses as devastating Russian strikes keep the country on edge and decimate its energy grid, forcing Kyiv to import record amounts of power.

The pledge would give Ukraine its second Patriot system since the Russian invasion of the country in February 2022, while the Pentagon routinely provides an undisclosed number of missiles for the system.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

RFE/RL's Live Briefing gives you all of the latest developments on Russia's full-scale invasion, Kyiv's counteroffensive, Western military aid, global reaction, and the plight of civilians. For all of RFE/RL's coverage of the war in Ukraine, click here.

The move has been approved by President Joe Biden, the AP said, citing two U.S. officials who spoke on condition of anonymity. It followed an impassioned plea by Zelenskiy for more help against the 3,000 missiles, drones, and other projectiles that he said Russia launches at the country each month.

Germany on June 11 also pledged to send a Patriot system, along with Gepard self-propelled antiaircraft guns and an IRIS-T air-defense system.

U.S. national-security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters on June 12 that the United States and Ukraine will sign a bilateral security agreement on the sidelines of the G7 summit in Italy.

Zelenskiy and Biden will discuss U.S. support for Ukraine now and in the future after which they will sign a security agreement, Sullivan said. The agreement will not commit U.S. troops directly to Ukraine's defense against Russia's invasion but will "show our resolve," Sullivan said.

“We want to demonstrate that the U.S. supports the people of Ukraine, that we stand with them, and that we’ll continue to help address their security needs,” he said.

Zelenskiy has said Ukraine urgently needs more air defenses to fend off Russian strikes against the power grid and civilian areas, as well as military targets.

Russian missile and drone attacks on Ukraine's energy sector have intensified since March, causing blackouts in many regions, and forcing Kyiv to begin large-scale electricity imports from the European Union.

Ukraine's Energy Ministry said in a statement the country would import 29,796 megawatt hours on June 12, exceeding the previous record of up to 28,000 MWh set earlier this month.

"Yesterday, due to the shortage of generation capability caused by massive Russian attacks on energy facilities, consumer restrictions were applied," the ministry noted.

Firefighters extinguish a fire caused by falling missile debris during a Russian attack in the Kyiv region on June 12.
Firefighters extinguish a fire caused by falling missile debris during a Russian attack in the Kyiv region on June 12.

The U.S. decision to give Kyiv an additional Patriot missile system comes as defense leaders from the United States, Europe, and other countries prepare for their monthly meeting on Ukraine's security needs. U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will host the meeting in Brussels on June 13.

Pentagon spokesman Major General Pat Ryder told reporters earlier this week that Ukraine's need for air defenses will be a topic at the meeting.

Washington has routinely urged allies to provide air defense systems to Ukraine, but many are reluctant to give up the high-tech systems — particularly countries in eastern Europe that also feel threatened by Russia.

With reporting by AP, Reuters, and AFP

8 People From Tajikistan With Possible IS Ties Arrested In U.S.

American flags fly outside of FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C.
American flags fly outside of FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Eight people from Tajikistan with suspected ties to the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group have been arrested in the United States in recent days, multiple people familiar with the matter told AP on June 11. The arrests took place in New York, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles. The individuals, who entered the country through the southern border, are being held on immigration violations, said the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The nature of their suspected connections to the IS wasn't immediately clear, but the individuals were being tracked by the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force.

U.S. Restates Support For Multiethnic Bosnia Following 'All-Serbian Assembly'

Serbian nationalists gather in Belgrade on June 8 for the "All-Serbian Assembly."
Serbian nationalists gather in Belgrade on June 8 for the "All-Serbian Assembly."

The U.S. State Department on June 11 restated its support for the unity of Bosnia-Herzegovina following the gathering of a so-called All-Serbian Assembly on June 8 under the slogan "One People, One Assembly -- Serbia and Srpska." Western leaders have condemned any suggestions by leaders of Republika Srpska -- the Serb-led entity of Bosnia -- to separate from the country. "As we have consistently made clear, we firmly support the sovereignty, territorial integrity, and multiethnic character of Bosnia-Herzegovina, of which Republika Srpska is a part," the State Department said in a statement. Since the Dayton peace agreements that ended the 1992-95 Bosnian War, the country has consisted of a Bosniak-Croat federation and the mostly ethnic Serb Republika Srpska under a weak central government.

New Measures To Punish Russia To Be Unveiled At G7 Summit, U.S. Says

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Washington is planning new measures against Russia. (file photo)
White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Washington is planning new measures against Russia. (file photo)

The White House on June 11 said new measures will be announced to punish Russia for its aggression against Ukraine when the Groupof Seven (G7) meets this week, including action on the use of frozen Russian assets to aid Kyiv. "We will announce new steps to unlock the value of the immobilized Russian sovereign assets to benefit Ukraine," National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters. Kirby said Washington will also announce new sanctions and export controls against Russia during the June 13-15 summit in Italy. The West has been looking for ways to utilize interest income from frozen Russian state assets to shore up Ukraine's finances. "We're going to continue to drive up costs for the Russian war machine," Kirby said.

Georgian Activist Says Beaten By Unknown Assailants Outside His Home

Georgian civil activist Zuka Berdzenishvilli recovers after he said he was attacked on June 11.
Georgian civil activist Zuka Berdzenishvilli recovers after he said he was attacked on June 11.

TBILISI -- Georgian civil activist Zuka Berdzenishvili says he was attacked outside his home by three unknown assailants after parliament speaker Shalva Papuashvili publicly accused him and other activists of "politically motivated terror" for criticizing lawmakers.

Berdzenishvili, the son of opposition Republican Party member Davit Berdzenishvili, said in a Facebook post on June 11 that he suffered head and facial injuries when he was attacked from behind.

Berdzenishvili had previously reported attempted attacks on him, but said he had evaded assault in those incidents.

The Georgian Interior Ministry told RFE/RL that an investigation had been launched into the attack.

The incident occurred shortly after Papuashvili in a Facebook posting accused citizens who protested against the government of engaging in "politically motivated terror" sponsored by the European Union.

Opponents of Georgia’s "foreign-agent" law approved on June 3 have accused the Georgian Dream-led government and roving groups of masked thugs of targeting protesters and activists over the past several months.

Western governments have condemned the South Caucasus country's government for passing the law, which they say mirrors legislation used by the Kremlin to silence critics in Russia. The Georgian government claims the law is needed to assure transparency in political matters.

The United States on June 7 imposed visa restrictions against dozens of Georgian officials over adoption of the law, which sparked weeks of mass protests and warnings from the West that it would derail Georgia from its Euro-Atlantic path.

Georgia's pro-Western president, Salome Zurabishvili, refused to endorse the measure after it was sent to her. On May 28, lawmakers overrode her veto by an 84-4 vote, leading to its passage in parliament.

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

Shortly after the law took effect, Georgian Dream General Secretary Kakha Kaladze, who is also the mayor of the capital, Tbilisi, said that once the law was published, organizations that receive funding from abroad and do not register in a database that the law provides for will be fined and their assets will be seized.

With reporting by Civil Georgia

Bosnia Protests To Montenegro Over 'Two States' Reference To Bosnian Serb Entity

Montenegrin parliament speaker Andrija Mandic (right) attends the All-Serb Assembly in Belgrade on June 8.
Montenegrin parliament speaker Andrija Mandic (right) attends the All-Serb Assembly in Belgrade on June 8.

SARAJEVO -- Bosnia-Herzegovina's Foreign Ministry has sent a protest note to Montenegro over what it called "controversial statements" by the right-wing speaker of the country's parliament implying statehood for Republika Srpska, the mostly Serb entity that makes up about half of Bosnia.

Speaker Andrija Mandic referred to an "All-Serb Assembly" in Belgrade on June 8 attended by the leadership of Republika Srpska as "a gathering of two states."

The Bosnian Serbs' leadership has repeatedly threatened to break away from the rest of Bosnia and has taken steps in the past two years to establish key parallel institutions.

"Even though we know him, even though he constantly behaves like this, we will always respond to attempts to attack the constitutional architecture of Bosnia-Herzegovina," Bosnian Foreign Minister Ellmedin Konakovic said.

He said Bosnian officials were considering sending a note of protest to Serbia as well.

The June 8 assembly in Belgrade was organized under the slogan "One people, one assembly -- Serbia and Srpska."

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic shows a Serbian flag during the "All-Serb Assembly" in Belgrade on June 8.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic shows a Serbian flag during the "All-Serb Assembly" in Belgrade on June 8.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has kept a number of its post-Yugoslav neighbors with Serbian minorities off-balance with appeals to Serbian ethnicity and nationhood as well as Christian Orthodoxy.

Pro-Moscow Republika Srpska President Milorad Dodik, accused of corruption and targeted by Western sanctions over his moves toward secession, has wielded mostly unrivaled power among Bosnian Serbs for decades and actively undermined Bosnian statehood.

Bosnia was admitted as a member of the United Nations in May 1992.

The constitution of Bosnia -- comprising Republika Srpska and the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina, along with the self-governing Brcko District -- arose from the Dayton agreement that ended the Bosnian War in 1995.

Montenegro declared independence from its State Union with Serbia following a referendum in May 2006 and has grappled with identity issues stemming from its close historical, religious, and ethno-national ties with Serbs.

Among other assertions, its participants described Kosovo -- a partially recognized state that declared independence from Serbia in 2008 -- as "an inalienable part of Serbia."

U.S. officials have called the "All-Serb Assembly" assertions an attack on Bosnia's postwar institutions.

In a statement on June 11, the State Department reaffirmed its support for Bosnia's unity, saying, "As we have consistently made clear, we firmly support the sovereignty, territorial integrity, and multiethnic character of Bosnia-Herzegovina, of which Republika Srpska is a part."

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