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Belarusian Officials Designate Two Poems By 19th-Century Author As Extremist

A bust of the Belarusian writer Vintsent Dunin-Martsinkevich in the city of Babruysk. (file photo)
A bust of the Belarusian writer Vintsent Dunin-Martsinkevich in the city of Babruysk. (file photo)

Belarusian authorities have designated two 19th-century poems by a writer who is considered a father of Belarusian literature as extremist. The August 17 decision by the Prosecutor-General’s office targeted poems by Vintsent Dunin-Martsinkevich, written during the uprising of Kastus Kalinouski, a partisan who led a revolt against Russian imperial forces in 1863. Many of Dunin-Martsinkevich’s writings are required reading in Belarusian schools. His plays are frequently staged in Belarusian theaters, and several streets and theaters also bear his name. Dunin-Martsinkevich died in 1884. A 20th-century preface to a collection of his works, written by a scholar of Belarusian literature and culture, was also designated extremist. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

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Ukraine, EU Hail Official Start Of EU Accession Talks With Kyiv, Chisinau

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (left) and Moldovan President Maia Sandu (file photo)
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (left) and Moldovan President Maia Sandu (file photo)

Ukraine officially opened accession talks with the European Union on June 25 in Luxembourg, a move that marks a watershed moment for the country's aspirations to eventually join the bloc.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy hailed the official start of the negotiations, saying that the European project was only truly complete with Ukraine as its part.

"As of today, we have full confidence -- Ukraine will definitely become a full member of the European Union," he said in a video address from Kyiv.

Ukraine's delegation, led by Deputy Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration Olha Stefanishyna, includes more than 30 officials, mostly representatives of the government.

"This is a truly historical moment for my country. All the nation stands as one behind this decision," she told reporters as she arrived for the ceremony to mark the opening of talks.

Stefanishyna said that as Russia's attack on Ukraine rages on, the hope embodied in the opening of talks will give the country's citizens "the moral power to continue withstanding."

Belgian Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib, whose country currently holds the EUs rotating presidency, said that "this is a historic moment" for all those involved and pledged the EU's continued support for Ukraine.

"Russia's unjustified and unprovoked war of aggression against Ukraine and salutes the resilience of the Ukrainian people," Lahbib said.

The EU Council, which groups representatives of the governments of the 27 states that make up the bloc, approved the negotiating framework for Ukraine and Moldova on June 21 after the European Commission, the bloc's executive arm, on June 7 recommended opening the process, saying the two countries were sufficiently prepared.

Moldova is also due to launch its membership talks later on June 25. The negotiations will be arduous for both countries and could take years.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen congratulated Moldova and Ukraine, saying the start of accession negotiations "is very good news" for the citizens of the two countries and the entire European Union.

"The road ahead will be difficult, but full of opportunities," she said.

European Council President Charles Michel said in October that Ukraine, which is currently engaged in a defense war against Russia's unprovoked invasion, could become a member of the bloc by 2030 "if both sides do their homework."

Moldova's pro-Western President Maia Sandu has also made a political commitment to achieve EU membership by 2030. Sandu, under whom Moldova made an abrupt U-turn from Russia to Europe, is up for reelection later this year after handing an upset defeat to Moscow-backed incumbent Igor Dodon in 2020.

Ukraine and Moldova submitted their candidacies shortly after the start of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 and obtained candidate status in June of that year, gaining the conditional green light for the start of negotiations in December.

With Sandu at the helm, neutral Moldova strongly condemned Russia's invasion of Ukraine, firmly aligning itself with Kyiv while tightening its ties with its Western neighbor, EU and NATO member Romania, with whom Moldova shares a common language and history.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on June 21 that pursuing EU integration was a sovereign matter for Chisinau but said there were "many Moldovans" who also desired close ties to Russia.

With reporting by Reuters and AP

Tajikistan Toughens Punishment For Soothsaying Amid 'Anti-Witchcraft' Campaign

Women wait to see a fortune teller in Dushanbe.
Women wait to see a fortune teller in Dushanbe.

Tajikistan has toughened the punishments for soothsaying and performing "healing sessions" for sick and disabled people as part of an ongoing campaign against those involved in fortune-telling, sorcery, or witchcraft.

According to amendments introduced to the Central Asian country's Criminal Code last week, sorcerers and fortune tellers will now face up to two years in prison or a hefty fine of up to 144,000 somonis ($13,350) .

Previously, according to a 2008 law that outlaws soothsaying as a form of witchcraft, the punishment did not envision imprisonment, while the fine for performing fortune-telling was up to 3,000 somonis ($280).

The campaign against witchcraft has been ratcheted up in recent weeks after multiple videos showing men and women "repenting" for performing soothsaying and "healing sessions" for disabled persons to earn money were aired on television.

It is not clear where and in what conditions the videos were shot.

Relatives of some individuals shown in the videos "repenting" for their soothsaying activities told RFE/RL that not all those who were shown on television as magicians were engaged in fortune telling or healing activities.

Lawyer Shokirjon Hakimov questioned the showing of "repenting" individuals on television before their trial.

Hakimov told RFE/RL that the authorities showed their "incompetence" in understanding the concept of presumption of innocence, adding that showing "repenting" people on television across the country was "an act of humiliation."

An Interior Ministry official defended the practice, telling RFE/RL that it helped society tackle a "widespread and deep-rooted problem."

Although 90 percent of Tajikistan's population is Muslim -- a religion that considers soothsaying to be a sin -- many Tajiks also hold superstitious beliefs in magic, fortune tellers, and paranormal powers.

Even relatives of high-ranking military and government officials have been among the clients of the most elite soothsayers -- who often take hefty payments for their consultations.

In 2012, in an apparent effort to eradicate widespread soothsaying practices, Tajik authorities even introduced higher taxes for soothsayers, as if the profession was legal.

First Russian Transgender Politician Says She Was Forced To Detransition

Yulia Alyoshina (file photo)
Yulia Alyoshina (file photo)

Yulia Alyoshina, the first Russian transgender politician, says her announcement in May about detransitioning was made under pressure. Alyoshina told the Novaya Gazeta Baltia newspaper on June 25 that she was threatened with being confined to a psychiatric clinic if she continued to be a woman. Born in 1990 as Roman Alyoshin, the ex-chief of the Civic Initiative political party branch in the Siberian region of Altai changed gender to female in 2020. After the Supreme Court labeled the "international LGBT movement" extremist, Alyoshina quit politics. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Siberia.Realities, click here.

Kyrgyz Jailed For Fighting For Russia In Ukraine Gets Early Release

Beknazar Borugul-uulu after his arrest (file photo)
Beknazar Borugul-uulu after his arrest (file photo)

A Kyrgyz man who was sentenced to five years in prison last year for joining Russia's Wagner mercenary group to fight in Ukraine has been released due to a January presidential amnesty decree, a Kyrgyz court announced on June 25. Beknazar Borugul-uulu was released after his term was cut by more than four years. Earlier this month, another Kyrgyz man, whose name was not disclosed, was sentenced to five years in prison for joining the Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. In January, a Bishkek court handed a suspended seven-year prison term to another Kyrgyz man, Askar Kubanychbek-uulu, for joining the Russian military in Ukraine. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, click here.

ICC Issues Arrest Warrants For Russia's Ex-Defense Minister Shoigu, Top General Gerasimov

Russian General Valery Gerasimov (left), President Vladimir Putin (center), and ex-Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu (file photo)
Russian General Valery Gerasimov (left), President Vladimir Putin (center), and ex-Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu (file photo)

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued arrest warrants for former Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and the Russian military's chief of staff, General Valery Gerasimov, for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Ukraine after the start of Russia's unprovoked invasion of its neighbor in 2022.

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.

Shoigu and Gerasimov "are each allegedly responsible for the war crime of directing attacks at civilian objects...and the war crime of causing excessive incidental harm to civilians or damage to civilian objects...and the crime against humanity of inhumane acts," the ICC said in a statement issued on June 25.

It said the ICC's pretrial chamber composed of Presiding Judge Rosario Salvatore Aitala, Judge Sergio Gerardo Ugalde Godinez, and Judge Haykel Ben Mahfoudh considered that Shoigu and Gerasimov are responsible for Russian missile strikes conducted between October 2022 and at least March 9, 2023, against Ukraine's energy infrastructure.

The statement said that "the expected incidental civilian harm and damage would have been clearly excessive to the anticipated military advantage" for those who ordered the strikes.

Shoigu was dismissed by Russian President Vladimir Putin in May. He now heads Putin's Security Council.

Kyiv immediately hailed the ICC's announcement.

"We look forward to more arrest warrants in order to deprive Russia of its sense of impunity. The feeling that has fueled Russian crimes for decades. Accountability is the only way to put a stop to them," Zelenskiy said on X, formerly Twitter.

"Shoigu and Gerasimov bear individual responsibility. This is an important decision. Everyone will be held accountable for evil," Zelenskiy's chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, wrote earlier on X.

The ICC in March last year issued arrest warrants for Putin and his children's commissioner, Maria Lvova-Belova, for being responsible for the deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia -- a war crime under international legislation.

The Hague-based ICC does not have the means to enforce its arrest warrants, but relies instead on the judiciaries of its 124 members to fulfill them.

Separately, in a case brought by Kyiv, the European Court of Human Rights ruled on June 25 that Russia had committed multiple human rights violations in Crimea since it occupied the Ukrainian peninsula in 2014.

Russia was guilty of violations of the right to life, failing to prohibit inhuman or degrading treatment, freedom of religion, and freedom of expression among other violations, the court said in its ruling.

European Court Rules Russia Guilty Of Human Rights Abuses In Ukraine

The European Court of Human Rights (file photo)
The European Court of Human Rights (file photo)

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled that Russia committed human rights violations in the Crimean Peninsula since its annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula in 2014.

The Strasbourg-based court said in a ruling on June 25 that atrocities committed by Russia include harassment and intimidation of priests and journalists. Moscow has denied the claims in the case, which was brought to the court by Ukraine.

It also concerns allegations by Kyiv that Russia has used a pattern of persecution of Ukrainians for their political stance or pro-Ukrainian activities, whether they occurred in Crimea or other parts of Ukraine or in Russia.

Kyiv insists Moscow controlled the peninsula since February 27, 2014 and that Russian forces tortured and killed police as well as civilians, allegations that Moscow also denies.

"There has been a violation of Articles 5 and 7 of the [Geneva] Convention on account of an ongoing administrative practice of unlawful deprivation of liberty, prosecution and conviction of 'Ukrainian political prisoners' based on the application of the Russian law in Crimea," the court said in one of its decisions within the ruling.

"The Court held, unanimously...that Russia had to take measures as soon as possible for the safe return of the relevant prisoners transferred from Crimea to penal facilities located on the territory of the Russian Federation," it added.

It added that legal breaches committed by Russia include violations of the right to life, the prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment, freedom of religion, and freedom of expression, among other rights.

Both Ukraine and Russia are members of the Council of Europe, of which the court is a part.

Moscow’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula by force and its ongoing full-scale invasion of the country launched in February 2022 have been condemned by the international community.

Czech PM Says First Shipment Of Ammunition From Initiative Arrives In Ukraine

A Ukrainian tank fires at Russian positions in Chasiv Yar in Ukraine's Donetsk region. (file photo)
A Ukrainian tank fires at Russian positions in Chasiv Yar in Ukraine's Donetsk region. (file photo)

Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala says the first shipment of ammunition from an initiative launched by his country has reached Ukraine. "The first shipment of ammunition from our initiative arrived in Ukraine some time ago," Fiala said on X. "We are doing what it takes." The Czechs have been working for months on a plan to procure artillery shells from countries outside the European Union and provide them to Ukraine, whose troops in recent months have suffered from a debilitating shortage.

Russia Issues Arrest Warrant For Former Chechen Separatist Government Member Zakayev

Akhmed Zakayev (right) is a former top official of the short-lived independent Chechen Republic of Ichkeria who lives in London.
Akhmed Zakayev (right) is a former top official of the short-lived independent Chechen Republic of Ichkeria who lives in London.

An arrest warrant has been issued for Akhmed Zakayev, a former top official of the short-lived independent Chechen Republic of Ichkeria who resides in London, on charges of the "creation of a terrorist grouping in the interests of Ukraine's armed forces, and the justification of terrorism."

The TASS news agency reported on June 25 that Zakayev was also added to Russia's wanted list.

Along with Zakayev, Russia added to its wanted list and issued an arrest warrant for Murad Yusupov, who is a leader from Chechnya of the Separate Special Battalion within the International Legion of Ukraine's armed forces.

Russian investigators accuse Zakayev of proclaiming himself the leader of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, the name of Chechnya chosen by the separatist government in the 1990s, They say he attracted Yusupov and other unspecified individuals to join Ukraine’s armed forces fighting against Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Zakayev and Yusupov also have been added to Russia's list of terrorists and extremists.

The Southern military court in the city of Rostov-on-Don is scheduled to start a trial in absentia of Zakayev and Yusupov on July 2.

Kazakhstan-born Zakayev, 65, served as culture minister, deputy prime minister, prime minister, and foreign minister in Chechnya's separatist government.

He and his immediate family members have been residing in exile in London since 2002.

Zakayev told RFE/RL earlier that despite probes launched in Russia against him and his colleagues, Chechen groups in Ukraine's International Legion will continue operating and taking part in Ukraine's efforts to repel Russia's aggression.

Moscow-backed authoritarian leader of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov, who himself is a former Chechen fighter who battled Russian troops during the First Chechen War in 1994-1996, called on natives of Chechnya to kill Zakayev and announced his personal blood feud against supporters of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria fighting on Ukraine's side.

Bishkek Court Extends Former Customs Official Matraimov's Pretrial Detention

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

BISHKEK -- The Birinchi Mai district court in Bishkek told RFE/RL on June 25 that it extended until at least August 26 the pretrial detention of Raimbek Matraimov, the former deputy chief of Kyrgyzstan’s Customs Service who was at the center of a high-profile corruption scandal involving the funneling of close to $1 billion out of the country.

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

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

Raimbek Matraimov
Raimbek Matraimov

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kyrgyz Officials Say Leader, Members Of Banned Islamic Group Detained

Kyrgyz police searched the homes of suspected members of the banned Yaqyn Inkar Islamic group in the Batken region on June 25.
Kyrgyz police searched the homes of suspected members of the banned Yaqyn Inkar Islamic group in the Batken region on June 25.

Kyrgyzstan's State Committee for National Security (UKMK) said on June 25 that "a leader and nine members" of the Yaqyn Inkar Islamic group, which is banned in the Central Asian nation, were detained in the southern Batken region. The UKMK added that 12 residents of the region denounced their membership in the group after police held "explanatory talks" with them. Yaqyn Inkar was founded in India. Authorities in Kyrgyzstan, a mostly Muslim country whose secular government is wary of people whose religious beliefs or practices fall outside the mainstream, deemed it an extremist organization and banned it in 2017. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, click here.

Kyrgyz Prosecutor Seeks 8 Years In Prison For Government Critic

Askat Jetigen in the courtroom on June 25, 2024
Askat Jetigen in the courtroom on June 25, 2024

The Kyrgyz prosecutor asked the Sverdlov district court on June 25 to convict activist Askat Jetigen and sentence him to eight years in prison on charges of calling for the seizure of power and mass unrest. In his final statement at the trial, Jetigen, known for his criticism of the Central Asian nation's government, reiterated his innocence. Jetigen was arrested in March, days after his last video, criticizing reforms by the Culture Ministry, was posted online. His trial started in late May. Human rights groups have criticized the Kyrgyz government for using the charge of "calling for mass unrest" as a tool to muzzle dissent. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, click here.

Russia Claims To Have Downed 30 Ukrainian Drones Over 2 Regions

A damaged apartment building in Stroitel, Belgorod region, Russia, on June 25
A damaged apartment building in Stroitel, Belgorod region, Russia, on June 25

Russia's Defense Ministry said its air-defense systems shot down 29 Ukrainian drones over the Belgorod region and one over the Voronezh region early on June 25. Separately, Belgorod regional Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said one woman was killed while four other people were injured during drone attacks on the village of Belovskoye and the cities of Stroitel and Yakovlevsky. Local media said private houses and vehicles were damaged during the attack. Ukraine has not commented on the Russian claim, which could not be immediately verified independently. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.

Daghestan Holds Second Day Of Mourning After At Least 20 Killed In Attacks

People leave flowers at a makeshift memorial for the shooting victims on June 24.
People leave flowers at a makeshift memorial for the shooting victims on June 24.

The number of deaths following apparently coordinated attacks on June 23 that targeted Christian and Jewish religious sites and a police station in Russia's Daghestan region on June 25 rose to 21 as the North Caucasus region holds a second day of mourning.

At least 45 people were also wounded in the attacks that occurred late on June 23, when gunmen opened fire at two Orthodox churches, two synagogues, and a police station in the cities of Derbent and regional capital Makhachkala.

Derbent regional chief Mavsum Ragimov said on June 25 that a police sergeant died of his wounds in the hospital, bringing the total number of victims to 16 police officers and five civilians, including an Orthodox priest.

Russia's Investigative Committee announced criminal cases over what it said were "acts of terror."

Daghestan is a predominantly Muslim region that has a history of armed militancy and is located near Chechnya, where Russian forces fought two wars against separatists in the mid-1990s and early 2000s.

Derbent is one of Russia's oldest Christian centers and has one the oldest Jewish communities in the country. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Shock And Devastation After Attacks In Russia's Daghestan Region
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Makhachkala and other cities in the region have been the scene of anti-Jewish protests since the October 7 attack on Israel by Hamas, which has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union.

The Makhachkala airport was shut down for several days in October after a mob shouting anti-Jewish slogans stormed it after the arrival of a flight from Israel.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the June 23 attack, which occurred on Trinity Sunday, one of the most important religious holidays in the Russian Orthodox calendar.

But the Russian branch of Islamic State-Khorasan's Al-Azaim Media posted a statement praising what it called "brothers from the Caucasus" for the attack.

The Washington-based Institute for the Study of War said in a research note that Wilayat Kavkaz, the Northern Caucasus branch of Islamic State, had "likely conducted" the shootings.

In recent years, Russian security forces appeared to have had the upper hand in their fight against armed militants in the region, despite rare attacks such as an Islamic State-claimed shooting outside a church in Daghestan in 2018.

Regional Governor Sergei Melikov, who declared three days of mourning for the victims, said in a statement on Telegram, said that among the civilians killed was 66-year-old Father Nikolai, who served for more than 40 years in the Orthodox church in Derbent.

Melikov said that six "bandits" were "liquidated" by security forces and called the attacks an attempt to "destabilize" his region.

"This is a day of tragedy for Daghestan and the whole country," Melikov said.

Among those detained was Magomed Omarov, the head of the central Sergokala district and secretary of the local branch of the ruling United Russia party, whose home was searched. Omarov was expelled from the party for actions discrediting the organization, United Russia's press service in Daghestan said.

Three of the five suspected attackers who the Investigative Committee said were killed have been identified, according to Interfax, which quoted an unidentified source as saying two of Omarov's sons and one of his nephews were among the slain attackers.

Caucasus expert Denis Sokolov told RFE/RL that the attackers appear to be members of a rich and influential group of Daghestanis with ties to the leadership of republic, known as the Mekegin Clan, after their native village of Mekegi, in eastern Daghestan. Omarov used to be the right-hand man of the group's founder, Gamid Gamedov, a Daghestani finance minister who was assassinated in 1996, Sokolov said.

"This is this huge and very rich group, a family-like financial-political group, called the Mekegin Clan," Sokolov said.

There has been no official statement by Russia on the attacks, But Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed the analogy with the late 1990s, when militant attacks were frequent.

"Russia is different now, society is absolutely consolidated. And such criminal terrorist manifestations as we saw in Daghestan yesterday are not supported by society, either in Russia itself or in Daghestan," Peskov told the media on June 24.

Meanwhile, Russian lawmaker Abdulkhakim Gadzhiyev told Russian state TV that the attacks were the work of Ukrainian and Western intelligence services, without providing any evidence.

The chairman of the public council of Russia's Federation of Jewish Communities, Boruch Gorin, said on Telegram that synagogues in both cities caught fire during the attacks.

The attacks came just three months after 145 people died and hundreds were injured when Islamic State (IS) extremists opened fire in a crowded concert hall on the outskirts of Moscow, in Russia's worst terrorist attack in years.

Months later, after the deadly March 22 massacre at the Crocus City Hall concert venue near Moscow, Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) detained four people in Daghestan suspected of providing financing and weapons to participants.

Responsibility for that attack was claimed by an offshoot of IS known as Islamic State-Khorasan. Russian investigators said the assault was carried out by four men, all Tajik nationals.

Russian authorities arrested 11 Tajik citizens and a Kyrgyzstan-born Russian citizen in connection with the Moscow attack.

U.S. Disputes Russia's Claim About Responsibility For Strike On Crimea

A makeshift memorial for the victims of the Sevastopol missile attack
A makeshift memorial for the victims of the Sevastopol missile attack

The United States responded on June 24 to Russia's claim that it was to blame for a deadly attack on Crimea on June 23 by pointing the finger back at Moscow for starting the war and by saying that the weapons it provides are for Ukraine to use to defend its territory against Russian aggression.

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 Russian Defense Ministry said that the June 23 strike near Sevastopol involved five longer-range missiles that the United States began supplying to Ukraine this year.

It also claimed that U.S. specialists had set the missiles' flight coordinates based on information gathered from U.S. satellites.

State Department spokesman Matthew Miller responded by saying it was not unusual for Moscow to make "ridiculous, hyperbolic claims about responsibility that aren't borne out by fact."

He noted that Russia initially blamed Washington for a terrorist attack on a Moscow concert hall in March that killed more than 140 people and was later claimed by the extremist Islamic State group.

"We regret any civilian loss of life in this war. We provide weapons to Ukraine so it can defend its sovereign territory against armed aggression -- that includes in Crimea which, of course, is part of Ukraine," Miller told reporters. "Russia could stop this war today."

Miller said the United States had no assessment on the attack on Crimea, which Russia said killed four people, including two children, and injured 151. Moscow claimed it was carried out by U.S.-supplied Army Tactical Missile Systems, known as ATACMS, loaded with a cluster warhead.

Pentagon spokesman Major Charlie Dietz said that Ukraine "makes its own targeting decisions and conducts its own military operations."

Russia summoned U.S. Ambassador Lynne Tracy to the Foreign Ministry earlier on June 24 to face accusations that Washington was "waging a hybrid war against Russia and has actually become a party to the conflict" and was told that the attack would not go unpunished.

"Of course, the involvement of the United States in the fighting, as a result of which peaceful Russians are dying, cannot but have consequences," Peskov said. "Which ones exactly -- time will tell."

While he declined to provide specifics, Peskov cited Russian President Vladimir Putin's comments on June 6 about supplying conventional weapons to regions near to the United States and near U.S. allies.

Putin also has said that Russia might supply weapons to North Korea, suggesting this would be a mirror response to the West supplying military arms and equipment to help Ukraine defend itself in the full-scale invasion that Russia launched in February 2022. Since the start of the invasion, Russian attacks have killed more than 11,000 Ukrainian civilians, according to the United Nations.

While the Russian Defense Ministry said four people died in the attack on Crimea when they were hit by falling debris from the missiles, Sevastopol's Russian-appointed governor, Mikhail Razvozhayev, said that five people were killed.

Video footage aired by Russian media and posted on social media showed vacationers running to safety and injured people being evacuated from a beach said to be on the north side of the city, which is a popular tourist destination and home to the Russian Black Sea Fleet.

Russia seized and illegally annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and installed a local government, although the territory is still officially part of Ukraine.

Since Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, Kyiv has vowed to restore control of its territory and has targeted key Russian military and naval installations in Crimea.

The attack came as Russia continues to pound Ukrainian energy infrastructure and strike the northeastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, near the border with Russia.

At least two people were killed and more than 50 were injured on June 22 when an apartment building was struck by a Russian bomb. On June 23, the air strikes on the city continued, killing one person.

Russian forces also attacked Ukraine's eastern Donetsk region on June 24, killing at least four people and injuring 34. Regional Governor Vadym Filashkin said that two Iskander-M missiles destroyed a home and damaged 16 others in the town of Pokrovsk.

Russian military bloggers sharply criticized the Russian Defense Ministry and occupying authorities in Crimea following the missile strike near Sevastopol, according to the Institute for the Study of War (ISW).

In a June 23 report, the ISW said that "Russian sources criticized Russian authorities for not using air-raid sirens to alert civilians to seek shelter."

The U.S. think tank also said that Russian authorities were criticized for "failing to detect and destroy all the missiles before they approached Sevastopol."

Ukraine has in recent months stepped up attacks against Russian forces in Crimea, which Russia has militarized since annexing it in 2014. There are more than 200 Russian military sites on Crimea, including air bases, naval installations, training grounds, air defense and rocket forces, as well as signals and communications facilities.

The Kremlin has been promoting Crimea as a tourist destination despite the danger of attacks. Crimean officials have organized festivals and concerts this summer as the peninsula is heavily dependent on tourism to sustain its economy. The Kremlin and Russian businessmen have poured tens of billions of dollars into infrastructure, hotels, and real estate since 2014.

Tourists who go there have been told to heed official warnings, like air alarms. At the same time, Ukrainian authorities have been warning Russians since 2022 not to vacation in Crimea.

With reporting by AFP and Reuters

EU To Downgrade Georgia Ties And Mull Finance Freeze, Borrell Says

Protests in Tbilisi on May 28 after parliament voted to reject the president's veto of a controversial "foreign agent" bill.
Protests in Tbilisi on May 28 after parliament voted to reject the president's veto of a controversial "foreign agent" bill.

The European Union will downgrade political contacts with Georgia and consider freezing financial aid to the Tbilisi government after it pushed through a controversial "foreign agent" law, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on June 24. The Georgian law has been slammed as a Kremlin-style authoritarian move, which Borrell said shifts the South Caucasus country away from the EU. “If the government will not change the course of action, Georgia will not progress on the European Union path,” Borrell said. He also said the EU would reconsider its support for Georgia through a military aid fund, the European Peace Facility.

Zelenskiy Replaces Commander Of Ukraine's Joint Forces

Yuriy Sodol has been replaced as commander of the Joint Forces of the Ukrainian military. (file photo)
Yuriy Sodol has been replaced as commander of the Joint Forces of the Ukrainian military. (file photo)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has announced that the commander of the Joint Forces of the Ukrainian military, Yuriy Sodol, is to be replaced with Brigadier-General Andriy Hnatov. Zelenskiy did not provide the reasons for the move in his video message on June 24. The announcement followed criticism of Sodol's performance in Odesa by Ukrainian lawmaker Maryana Bezuhla. In addition, Bohdan Krotevych, the chief of staff of the National Guard’s Azov Brigade, submitted a statement to the State Bureau of Investigation with a request to investigate Sodol. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.

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Georgia Receives Invitation To NATO Summit Despite 'Foreign Agent' Law

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State James O'Brien said the Georgian people want EU and NATO integration. (file photo)
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State James O'Brien said the Georgian people want EU and NATO integration. (file photo)

WASHINGTON -- Georgia has received an invitation to attend partnership events at the upcoming NATO summit in Washington, according to U.S. Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs James O’Brien on June 24.

The invitation comes despite the June 3 passage of a “foreign agent" law in Georgia. The law requires nongovernmental organizations and media groups that receive at least 20 percent of their funding from outside the country to register as organizations "pursuing the interests of a foreign power."

At a press conference, O’Brien condemned the Georgian Dream party’s bill, which some opponents have called the Russia law, and Tbilisi’s shift away from NATO.

“The violence against opposition figures, the violence against civil society, the Moscow-based foreign agent law, [and] the apparent decision to award a new port to a Chinese company are incompatible with wanting to join the U.S. and EU-based international organizations,” O’Brien said.

At the same time, O’Brien said the Georgian people want EU and NATO integration.

“We want them to understand that the path they are on and the rhetoric that they are using about the West is incompatible with what 80 percent of Georgia’s citizens say that they want,” O’Brien said. “We’re trying to be as clear as we can that there’s a way to step back from the path that they have chosen.”

He compared Georgia’s potential integration to the current Euro 2024 soccer championship taking place in Germany.

“Georgia has decided it wants to come and play in our football league,” O’Brien said. “Georgia, in its sovereign right, has decided to join the club and we’re making clear what that means.”

This year marks Georgia’s first time qualifying for the European soccer championship since it gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

The foreign agents law raised concern throughout Europe and the United States. Some Georgians have expressed concern that the country would face national repercussions for the law.

On June 6, the United States imposed visa restrictions against dozens of Georgian officials including members of the Georgian Dream party, members of parliament, law enforcement, and private citizens.

Washington, which has been one of the main backers of Georgia’s integration into Western institutions, gave Tbilisi over $390 million in aid over the past several years.

O’Brien said that, shortly after the law passed, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced a policy that any individual or entity undermining the path to democracy in Georgia would face some kind of repercussion but he did not list any specific action.

All of NATO’s partner countries have been invited to attend the July 9-11 NATO summit in Washington, O’Brien said, adding that key summit priorities include “the health of the alliance, partnerships in the Indo-Pacific, and Ukraine’s success.”

O’Brien said a “parade of deliverables for Ukraine,” have been announced leading up to the summit and mentioned a “bridge” to Ukraine’s NATO membership as an anticipated summit outcome.

O’Brien emphasized participation from Indo-Pacific partners such as Australia, Japan, New Zealand, and South Korea.

Other NATO partners include Algeria, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Colombia, Egypt, Iraq, Ireland, Israel, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Malta, Mauritania, Moldova, Mongolia, Morocco, Pakistan, Qatar, Serbia, Switzerland, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, the United Arab Emirates, and Uzbekistan.

Fire In Office Building Near Moscow Reportedly Kills At Least 8

The blaze in an office building in Fryazino near Moscow reportedly killed at least eight people on June 24
The blaze in an office building in Fryazino near Moscow reportedly killed at least eight people on June 24

At least eight people died in a fire that broke out on June 24 at an office building in the town of Fryazino near Moscow, Russian news media reports said. The Emergency Situations Ministry said firefighters saved one person. Some reports cited officials as saying that the office building belongs to the Platan Research Institute. But the Ruselectronics holding company of the state-owned Rostec defense conglomerate said the building had been sold to a private firm in the 1990s. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

U.S. Supreme Court To Take Up Hungary's Bid To End Lawsuit Filed By Holocaust Survivors And Heirs

A view of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C.
A view of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C.

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed on June 24 to intervene for the second time in a dispute between Hungary and Holocaust survivors who want to be compensated for property confiscated from them during World War II. The justices will hear arguments in the fall in Hungary's latest bid to end the lawsuit filed 14 years ago by survivors, all of whom are now over 90, and heirs of survivors. The issue in the case concerns whether an American court is the proper forum for the lawsuit. Under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, sovereign nations like Hungary are shielded from lawsuits in U.S. courts. But the law makes an exception for lawsuits involving “property taken in violation of international law.”

Russian Gets 4 Years In Prison For Arson Attack On Lenin's Mausoleum

Konstantin Starchukov (file photo)
Konstantin Starchukov (file photo)

A Moscow court on June 24 sentenced Konstantin Starchukov to four years in prison for throwing a Molotov cocktail at Lenin's Mausoleum. The Tver district court found the 37-year-old native of the Siberian city of Chita guilty of "hooliganism using a weapon." Starchukov threw a Molotov cocktail at the mausoleum on Moscow's Red Square in June 2023. The bottle hit a fence and caused no harm to the building. Starchukov said he did what he did as part of his "struggle against Freemasonry's influence on Russian society." To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Kyiv Says Russia Stepping Up Attacks With Banned Chemical Agents

Ukraine says that Russian forces primarily use grenades dropped by drones to deploy banned hazardous chemicals.
Ukraine says that Russian forces primarily use grenades dropped by drones to deploy banned hazardous chemicals.

Ukraine has accused Russia of stepping up frontline attacks using prohibited hazardous chemicals, including tear gas, the latest in a series of allegations of battlefield abuses. Moscow and Kyiv have accused each other of carrying out war crimes and deploying banned chemical munitions throughout the Russian war in Ukraine, now in its third year. The Ukrainian military said on June 24 that it had registered 715 cases of the use of munitions containing "hazardous chemical compounds" by Russian forces in May. It said that figure represented an increase of 271 cases compared to the month before.

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Russian Missile Strike Kills 4 In Eastern Ukraine

Russian Attempts To Advance In Eastern Ukraine Bring Devastation To Civilian Areas
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At least four people were killed and 34 injured on June 24 after Russian forces launched a missile attack on Ukraine's eastern Donetsk region. Regional Governor Vadym Filashkin said that two Iskander-M missiles destroyed a home and damaged 16 others in the town of Pokrovsk. "This is one of the largest hostile attacks on civilians in recent times. Its final consequences are yet to be determined," Filashkin said. Earlier in the day, another person was killed by Russian shelling in the Donetsk region town of Toretsk. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.

Whereabouts Of 5 Tajiks Deported From Russia Unknown

Passengers disembark at Kulob airport. (file photo)
Passengers disembark at Kulob airport. (file photo)

The parents of five young Tajik men from the volatile Gorno-Badakhshan region told RFE/RL on June 23 that their sons did not arrive at the airport in the southern city of Kulob, where they were expected to arrive from Moscow on June 20 after Russian authorities deported them for unspecified reasons.

It remains unclear if the men were deported for violating Russia's migration regulations, or at the request of the Tajik authorities.

Relatives told RFE/RL that the men called their parents, who are from the community of Yazgulom, asking them to meet them at the Kulob airport on June 20. However, the men were not among the passengers who disembarked from the plane on that day.

The parents said they travelled 300 kilometers to reach Kulob to meet their sons after a Tajik official promised them by phone that they would be able to meet their sons at the airport.

Sources close to Tajik law enforcement have told RFE/RL that since May at least 15 residents of Yazgulom had been extradited from Russia to Tajikistan, where they were charged with "membership in an extremist organization" or "having links with members of an extremist organization."

There has been no official statement regarding the situation.

On May 16, Tajik security forces arrested more than 30 residents of Yazgulom, accusing them of plotting unspecified sabotage.

Sources told RFE/RL at the time that those arrested were suspected of having links with "extremist groups" in neighboring Afghanistan.

Residents of Gorno-Badakhshan have been under pressure for years. A crackdown on the restive Tajik region intensified in 2022 after mass protests in May that year were violently dispersed by security forces.

Tajik authorities said at the time that 10 people were killed and 27 injured during the clashes between protesters and police.

Residents of the remote region's Rushon district, however, have told RFE/RL that 21 bodies were found at the sites of the clashes.

Dozens of the region's residents have been jailed for lengthy terms on terrorism and extremism charges since then.

Deep tensions between the government and residents of the volatile region have simmered ever since a five-year civil war broke out shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Still, protests are rare in the tightly controlled state of 9.5 million where President Emomali Rahmon has ruled with an iron fist for nearly three decades.

Flooding Cuts Off 10 Villages In Russia's Far East

Nizhneudinsk in the Primorye region after flooding
Nizhneudinsk in the Primorye region after flooding

Floods caused by heavy rains have cut off access to 10 villages in Russia's Far East region of Primorye and are wreaking havoc with transportation in and around several other towns and settlements, the region's administration said on June 24. Some roads connecting towns and villages were fully or partially flooded, the officials said. Roads in nine municipalities were mainly affected by the rising water levels, they added. No casualties were reported. Earlier this spring, several Russian regions were hit by heavy floods caused by abrupt warm weather that caused a massive runoff from melting snow. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Siberia.Realities, click here.

Another Kyrgyz Jailed For Fighting With Russian Troops In Ukraine

Askar Kubanychbek-uulu fled the country for Russia after being given a suspended sentence in January.
Askar Kubanychbek-uulu fled the country for Russia after being given a suspended sentence in January.

The Osh regional court in southern Kyrgyzstan told RFE/RL on June 24 that a lower court had sentenced a local man, whose identity was not disclosed, to five years in prison two weeks earlier for joining Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. In January, a Bishkek court handed a suspended seven-year prison term to another Kyrgyz man, Askar Kubanychbek-uulu, for joining the Russian military in Ukraine. In April, Kubanychbek-uulu fled the country for Russia. On June 22, the chairman of Russia's National Anti-Corruption Committee, Kirill Kabanov, said that Kubanyuchbek-uulu signed a new contract with the Russian military to fight in Ukraine. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, click here.

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