Kremlin Plays Down, Then Kindles, Hopes For Putin-Biden Summit Over Ukraine Tensions
WASHINGTON -- The chances of a meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and Russia’s Vladimir Putin were thrown into doubt on February 21 after the Kremlin said talk of such a summit was “premature,” but Russia's top diplomat later said he would travel to France to prepare for it.
Meanwhile, Western leaders – while continuing to push for diplomacy -- warned again on February 21 that a Russian invasion of Ukraine appeared to be imminent, with the Kremlin massing more than 150,000 troops along the two countries’ border.
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The latest developments made for another day of ups and downs as threats and allegations were mixed with hopes that diplomatic activity could head off a major war in Europe.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said alongside Putin at a televised meeting of the Russian Security Council that he had accepted a French invitation to visit Paris on February 25 and that a meeting with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian would include "preparatory consultations" ahead of a possible Putin-Biden summit.
White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on February 20 that Biden had tentatively agreed to a summit with Putin in the coming days as he seeks to deter the Kremlin leader from invading Ukraine.
The White House stressed that such a meeting would only take place if Russia did not attack Ukraine and would follow February 24 talks between U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov -- also only to be held “if an invasion hasn’t happened.”
The idea of a bilateral meeting was proposed by French President Emmanuel Macron, who spoke separately to both leaders on February 20.
No date or location was announced for a summit. Biden and Putin met for the first time as the respective heads of their nations in June in Geneva. That summit was prompted by a smaller Russian military buildup near Ukraine in the spring.
However, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on February 21 that the two leaders could meet if they consider it necessary, but he added that “it’s premature to talk about specific plans for a summit.”
“The meeting is possible if the leaders consider it feasible,” he said, adding that there were no “concrete plans” in place for one at this time.
Nikola Patrushev, who heads the Russian Security Council, told Putin at the televised meeting of that council on February 21 that the only meaningful interlocutor in the West is the United States and suggested that other countries will do what Washington says.
Some analysts have suggested that Putin's longer-term intentions are to divide and disrupt NATO, and Patrushev's statements appeared aimed at stoking potential rivalries within the alliance.
However, echoing years of accusations from Moscow of Western "Russophobia," Patrushev alleged that the West was working to bring about the breakup of Russia.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba early on February 21 had welcomed Macron’s initiative and said he hoped it would lead to a withdrawal of Russian forces menacing his country.
"We welcome this initiative. We believe that every effort aimed at a diplomatic solution is worth trying," Kuleba said prior to a meeting with EU counterparts in Brussels.
"We hope that the two presidents will walk out from the room with an agreement about Russia withdrawing its forces from Ukraine."
Ukraine's top security official, Oleksiy Danilov, insisted, though that any summit should include Ukrainian officials as well.
"No one can resolve our issue without us. Everything should happen with our participation," he told a news briefing.
Prior to any Putin summit, Biden will participate in a virtual meeting with his counterparts from the Group of Seven (G7) on February 24 to discuss the crisis provoked by Russia's troop buildup. The G7 includes the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Canada, Italy, and Japan.
In a statement on February 21, the Kremlin said Putin and Macron agreed in two weekend phone calls that there’s a need to continue dialogue on Ukraine, according to Interfax.
Biden said February 18 that he was “convinced” that Putin had made a decision to invade Ukraine and that it could happen in the coming days. Biden said the United States and European allies would impose severe sanctions on Russia if Putin went ahead with the attack.
Russia currently has more than 150,000 combat-ready troops surrounding Ukraine.
Moscow further angered Ukraine and the West when it broke a pledge to return its troops to their bases when a military exercise in Belarus ended, instead extending the drills past the February 20 scheduled finish.
Belarus said the troops would return to their bases "when there is an objective need to do so" and would depend on when NATO forces pulled away from near the borders of Belarus and Russia.
The Kremlin is seeking to prevent Ukraine from someday joining NATO and pull the country firmly back into its sphere of influence.
Russia has repeatedly denied it intends to invade Ukraine and claimed to have begun pulling back some forces. The United States and NATO have said they see no signs of a partial pullback.
Germany had tough words for Russia, with Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock on February 21 accusing of playing an "irresponsible" game with the civilian population of eastern Ukraine, putting their lives at risk.
"I urgently call on the Russian government, on the Russian president: Don't play with human lives," she told reporters as she arrived in Brussels for a summit of EU foreign ministers.
The United States has warned in recent weeks that Russia could use a “false flag” operation in eastern Ukraine to justify an invasion of the country.
On February 21, Moscow claimed it foiled a border raid by Ukrainian forces and that armed military vehicles from Ukraine were destroyed in Russia’s Rostov region.
Kyiv vehemently denied the allegations, calling them "fake" reports.
Russia-backed separatists have been fighting government forces in two provinces in eastern Ukraine for nearly eight years.
While the two sides have agreed to multiple cease-fires, European monitors have registered a surge in shelling over the past few days in eastern Ukraine that Western officials blame on the separatists.
Putin has blamed Ukraine for the increase in fighting, raising concerns he could use it as an excuse to invade.
With reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters
Report: Secretive Real Estate Holdings On Moscow's Outskirts Linked To Putin Family
Family members of Russian President Vladimir Putin quietly acquired several plots of real estate in Moscow’s tony western suburbs near his residence, where a series of luxury homes have been built, a new investigation found.
The findings, by the Russian news site Proyekt, were the latest documenting what some experts believe is a vast, secretive, and lucrative network of assets linked to Putin, his allies, and his family.
Putin officially earns an annual salary of around $140,000, while his publicly declared assets include a 75-meter foot apartment, a trailer, and three cars. But some analysts estimate his wealth -- hidden behind complex financial schemes organized by close associates -- at some $200 billion or more.
In its report released on June 1, Proyekt found that, in 2006, several plots of land near the official government residence of Novo-Ogaryovo, where Putin lives much of the time, were acquired by offshore companies based in Panama and elsewhere.
Putin’s two daughters from his now ex-wife Lyudmila later received the real estate as a form of dowry, Proyekt said.
Putin’s eldest daughter, Maria, settled in one of the locations. Maria, who has used the surname Vorontsova, was married to a Dutch man for several years, though they reportedly have since split and she remarried a Russian oil and gas executive.
Kirill Shamalov, the now ex-husband of Putin’s other daughter, Katerina Tikhonova, reportedly received title to another plot, Proyekt said, not long after he and Tikhonova married in 2013. The couple then conducted extensive renovations on the property worth millions of euros.
Among the refurbished house’s decorations were a handmade gilded chandelier with an estimated value of 72,000 euros ($77,576) and a 19th century painting by revered Russian artist Ivan Shishkin, Proyekt said.
Another plot that was titled to Shamalov was expected to have a house built on it for Lyudmila Putin. She and Putin announced in 2013 that they were ending their marriage, and she later remarried.
According to Proyekt’s findings, in 2013, Shamalov sent a power of attorney regarding the plot to the man whom Lyudmila ultimately remarried.
Shamalov and Tikhonova later separated, and Shamalov has since been hit with financial sanctions starting in 2018 by the United States, Britain, and other countries, for his close ties to Putin.
Shamalov then transferred ownership of the plots he owned to a firm allegedly associated with Arkady Rotenberg, a childhood friend of Putin and billionaire businessman.
Shamalov reportedly sold the properties for significantly less than their estimated land values, Prokyekt said.
Putin’s wealth and assets have been the subject of numerous investigations by Western governments, reporters, and other researchers.
Researchers at Aleksei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation have documented a massive mansion on the Black Sea that Putin uses regularly.
And the 2016 “Panama Papers” report by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, found luxuries linked to Putin and his friends and families, including yachts and real estate inside and outside of Russia.
Navalny's Bizarre Requests, Including Pet Kangaroo, Denied By Russian Prison Authorities In Stilted Language
Imprisoned Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny on June 2 released excerpts of his correspondence with prison administrators, detailing sarcastic demands for outlandish things such as a bottle of moonshine and a pet kangaroo.
Prison officials denied all of his requests, according to the correspondence often in stilted bureaucratic Russian.
Navalny, 46, is serving sentences that add up to 11 1/2 years for violating the terms of a parole, contempt of court, and embezzlement through fraud that he and his supporters have repeatedly rejected as politically motivated and designed to silence him.
He is currently in a punitive solitary confinement at a penal colony in the Vladimir region east of Moscow.
“When you are sitting in a punishment isolation cell and have little entertainment, you can have fun with correspondence with the administration,” Navalny said on Twitter in a series of tweets posted on June 2 apparently by his team.
Among the items he requested was a megaphone to be given to the prisoner in a nearby cell “so he can yell even louder.” Another was a request for an inmate who “killed a man with his bare hands” to be awarded with the highest rank in karate.
"The question of awarding eastern martial arts qualifications is not handled by the administration," the prison wrote back on April 28.
Prison officials also turned down requests for moonshine, tobacco for rolling cigarettes, a balalaika, and the kangaroo.
In response to his wish for a pet kangaroo, the prison wrote: "The animal identified in your request relates to the double crested-marsupial.... Your request is left without satisfaction."
In mock outrage over the refusal, Navalny said he would continue to fight for his “inalienable right to own a kangaroo." The politician said inmates can have a pet if the prison administration allows it.
Navalny will mark his 47th birthday on June 4, and there have been calls by his team for protests to support him.
Navalny has been in prison since February 2021 following his arrest one month earlier after he returned from Germany where he was treated for a near-fatal poisoning that he blamed on the Kremlin, which has denied any involvement.
He and his team have said the charges against him are were trumped-up because of his efforts to expose corruption in the Russian government.
A Moscow court has set a June 6 date for a hearing for a new trial for Navalny on a charge of extremism, which could keep him in prison for 30 years. He also said an investigator told him that he would also face a separate military court trial on terrorism charges that potentially carry a life sentence.
With reporting by Reuters and AP
Iranian Student Beaten Amid Fears That Growing Wave Of Attacks Is Related To Protests
Security personnel at a university in southwestern Iran appear to have severely assaulted a student, the latest in a series of violent attacks on school campuses amid anti-government protests led by young Iranians angered at the regime's intrusions on their rights.
The incident took place on May 30 at Chamran University in the southwestern Iranian city of Ahvaz, where a video shows several security personnel cornering and severely assaulting a student near the university dormitory.
The Union Council of Iranian Students reported the incident, sharing a video of the attack on June 2.
"According to numerous reports, on May 30, security agents for Chamran University in Ahvaz attacked a male student after a football match, beat him, and then took him away in a car," the council said.
As of June 2, no information has been made available about the condition of the student who was assaulted.
The incident comes days after a a video was released showing a female student being injured when someone pulled a knife on her at Tehran’s Soore University and another on the campus of Kerman University in central Iran where a female student was stabbed.
The Union Council said that in the Kerman University attack, security forces failed to intervene to aid the student, who was rescued instead by other students. The woman who was attacked was seriously injured and is currently in the intensive care unit at a local hospital.
It added that security forces have since tried to "cover up" the incident and "have not accepted any responsibility for it."
Iranian universities have become a hotbed for unrest since the death of Mahsa Amini in Tehran. The 22-year-old died while in police custody for an alleged violation of the country's mandatory head-scarf law.
Police have tried to shift the blame onto Amini's health, but supporters say witnesses saw her being beaten when taken into custody. Her family says she had no history of any medical issues and was in good health.
There have been clashes at universities and schools between protesters and the authorities, prompting security forces to launch a series of raids on education facilities across the country, violently arresting students, especially female students, who have defiantly taken off their head scarves, or hijabs, in protest.
The Union Council blasted campus authorities for pushing security officers to focus on enforcing dress codes "lest a strand of hair disgrace the university," instead of ensuring safety.
Another group, the Student Guild Council, noted that since the student protests started, "increasing the budget, increasing power, and an extensive recruitment for the university’s security office" have become the main focus of school administrators.
Meanwhile, it says there has also been an influx of people, thought to be security agents, "in civilian clothes roaming universities, taking pictures of students, and engaging with them" as officials try to enforce the hijab law.
The situation has prompted some to say these attacks are intentional and a scare tactic being used to intimidate students so they will end their protests.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
Belarusian Player Sabalenka Skips French Open Press Conference Citing Mental Health
Belarusian tennis star Aryna Sabalenka skipped the post-match press conference at the French Open on June 2, citing mental health reasons. After defeating Russian Kamilla Rakhimova, the world No. 2 instead released an interview with the tournament organizers in which she said she had not felt safe at a press conference two days earlier during which she was asked about Russia's invasion of Ukraine and her country's role as a staging ground for Moscow's troops and weapons. Sabalenka said that her choice not to take part in the press conference was supported by the French Open organizers. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Online Tatar Language School To Close As International Educator Leaves Russia
The popular online Tatar language school Ana Tele (The Mother Tongue) has announced its closure as of June 30. The Education Ministry in Russia's Republic of Tatarstan explained on June 2 that the closure is linked to the international Education First (EF) group's decision to leave Russia. The online school was launched in 2013 on the order of the president of Tatarstan, Rustam Minnikhanov. Hosted by the EF's website, the online school had more than 100,000 users from Russia's regions and various countries who registered to study Tatar, which is a Turkic language. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service. click here.
Ethnic Serbs Again Gather In North Kosovo As West Pushes Diplomatic Solution To Crisis
Protesters have again gathered in front of municipal buildings in several cities in northern Kosovo as Western diplomats ratchet up pressure on Pristina to hold fresh elections to defuse tensions over the installation of ethnic Albanian mayors that sparked clashes between ethnic Serbs and NATO peacekeepers earlier this week.
The ethnic Albanian mayors were installed with the help of Kosovar police in three towns with overwhelming ethnic Serbian majorities -- Zvecan, Leposavic, and Zubin Potok -- following by-elections in April with a turnout of under 3.5 percent amid a boycott by ethnic Serbs.
Reports from the towns said hundreds had showed up to protest again, though the situation remained calm four days after violence flared -- injuring dozens, including peacekeepers -- when the new officials were brought to their offices with the help of special police units. NATO's KFOR peacekeeping troops have since erected a cordon to keep ethnic Serb protesters from accessing the buildings.
The presidents of Kosovo and Serbia held talks on measures to lower tensions between the Balkan neighbors late on June 1, and sources told RFE/RL that the Special Representative of the European Union (EU) for dialogue, Miroslav Lajcak, and the American envoy for the Western Balkans, Gabriel Escobar, will visit Pristina and Belgrade next week to push for a diplomatic solution.
The president of Kosovo confirmed that the European Union, France, and Germany have all suggested holding new elections in four municipalities in as a means of defusing tensions over the forced installation of ethnic-Albanian mayors.
So far, Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti has appeared to be against fresh elections, but on June 2 he acknowledged that another vote could happen at some point.
"Removing violent mobs in front of municipality buildings & full implementation of the [Brussels] Agreement is the way toward de-escalation until new elections," he said, referring to a 2013 deal struck by the country in Brussels to normalize relations some five years after Kosovo declared independence from Serbia.
But later, in a speech at parliament, Kurti seemed to fan the flames by blaming the escalation of the situation on Serbia.
"The escalation of the situation on May 29 was planned, well-organized and had an author," Kurti told lawmakers in parliament.
"The author is official Belgrade," he added.
That prompted an immediate response by the Serb minority political party Serbian List (Srpska Lista).
"How much of a farce is everything that Kurti said today in the assembly, and the fact that he labeled honorable people, women, disabled people, and even some who are in the hospital, and have not been in the north of Kosovo for weeks now, as criminals and protest organizers," the party said.
The by-elections at the center of the current unrest were sparked by mass resignations in November 2022 by influential Serbian mayors, police, and other officials essential to the "parallel system" that helps local Serbs avoid recognizing Kosovar institutions.
The mayoral buildings in all but North Mitrovica have been controlled for years by the so-called "parallel" institutions run by Serbs and backed by neighboring Serbia, which 15 years after Kosovo's declaration of independence still doesn't recognize its former province's sovereignty. Neither do Russia or China.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic used a major rally in Belgrade last week to condemn Kosovo's swearing-in of ethnic Albanian "alleged mayors" in the north without local Serbs' votes.
Officials in neighboring Serbia have demanded as part of EU- and U.S.-mediated talks over the past decade that Pristina fulfill the 2013 Brussels Agreement to establish an association of Serb municipalities to represent the majority-Serb communities.
Kurti came to power in 2020 and again in 2021 pledging to impose greater “reciprocal” measures on Serbia and accelerate efforts to achieve full international recognition for his country. He has resisted forming the association.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has urged Kosovar and Serbian leaders to ease tensions, warning they were putting their aspirations of European integration at risk.
Security Forces Fire On Protesters In Abdanan Demonstrating Over Student's Death
A group of citizens in the western Iranian city of Abdanan, took to the streets chanting anti-government slogans on June 1 to protest the suspicious death of 21-year-old student Bamshad Suleimankhani. Several protesters were injured when security forces opened fire on them, local sources reported.
Suleimankhani reportedly died earlier this week following his release from prison. Authorities said he had committed suicide.
According to videos shared on social media, protesters chanted slogans such as "Death to Khamenei," a reference to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. They also blocked some streets of Abdanan by setting fires and continued their protest with slogans like " We don't want a child-murdering government.”
The Twitter account "Voice of Shahrivar," which covers protests in Iran, reported hours before the night protests in Abdanan that the seventh-day memorial service for the “government murder" of Bamshad Suleimankhani, who died “after continuous threats by government institutions” was attended by many of the city’s residents.
The human rights website Hengaw reported that security forces and special units had attacked protesters in Abdanan, firing "live ammunition, pellet guns, and tear gas."
Images and videos from the protests appear to show that several demonstrators were injured by the pellet guns of security forces during the protests on June 1. Dozens of security forces and special unit vehicles were reportedly stationed in the main square of Abdanan and various streets of the city in the late hours of June 1. However, reports said protests continued in different neighborhoods of the city.
Issa Baziar, a civil activist from Abdanan who now resides outside the country, said on Twitter on May 28 that Suleimankhani returned home on May 26, “with signs of beating and cigarette burns on his hand, and due to severe injuries, he fell into a coma that night and his death was announced by doctors on May 28."
Baziar said Suleimankhani had received “serious warnings” from security forces. He also said that Suleimankhani’s family have been threatened by authorities and warned not to speak to the media.
Judicial and law enforcement officials in Abdanan in Ilam Province did not provide any explanation about the manner of Suleimankhani's death until the start of a strike by some merchants in the city, the widespread presence of people marking a week since his death, and the beginning of nighttime protests in Abdanan.
Speaking on June 1, Omran Ali Mohammad, the head of the Ilam Province judiciary, was quoted by the Tasnim news agency, affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), as saying that Suleimankhani died as a result of “suicide.”
Mohammad said that the student “had not been accused or summoned by any law enforcement, military and security institutions, or the judiciary of Ilam Province."
Universities and students have long been at the forefront of the struggle for greater social and political freedoms in Iran.
According to the Human Rights Activists Organization, more than 750 students have been arrested by security forces, mostly by kidnapping accompanied by assault and battery in the streets around universities amid the nationwide antiestablishment protests sparked by the death in custody of Mahsa Amini in September.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
Days After Belgium Released Iranian Diplomat, Iran Frees One Danish And Two Austrian-Iranian Citizens
European governments confirmed on June 2 that one Danish and two Austrian-Iranian citizens have been released by Iran after mediation efforts by Oman and Belgium.
The Austrian Foreign Ministry issued a statement expressing "satisfaction" with the release of Kamran Ghaderi and Massud Mossaheb, confirming that the two men were returning to their homeland.
Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg said on Twitter he was “very relieved” that Ghaderi and Mossaheb were released after years “of arduous imprisonment” in Iran.
“They are already on their way to Austria, where their families are eagerly waiting for them,” Schallenberg said.
Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said earlier that he had informed the governments of Denmark and Austria about the release of the prisoners, which came a week after Tehran freed a Belgian aid worker in exchange for an Iranian diplomat who was convicted on terrorism charges.
The Austrian Foreign Ministry also praised Belgium and Oman for their role in the release and called the years of detention in Iran "excruciating."
Ghaderi was jailed for more than seven years and Mossaheb more than four years. Both men had been tried and convicted on espionage charges.
The identity of the Danish national who was released was not disclosed.
Danish Foreign Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen said he was "pleased" at his return to his home country and to his family but said he could not name the man because it was "personal" and it was not possible to give further details.
A Belgian government statement said the Danish citizen was arrested in the autumn of 2022 in the midst of nationwide protests in Iran following the death of Mahsa Amini in police custody for an alleged infraction of the country's mandatory head-scarf law.
The Iranian Intelligence Ministry said on September 30 that it had identified and detained people it called "seditious" and "destructive agents," including nine foreign nationals at the scene of or behind the scenes of the recent protests.
Neither the Austrian Foreign Ministry nor the Danish Foreign Ministry elaborated on the manner of support of the Belgian government or on the role of Oman. However, the release of the three Europeans came five days after Oman’s Sultan Haitham bin Tariq al-Said arrived in Tehran for a two-day visit.
Oman also played a role in negotiations that resulted in Iran and Belgium exchanging two prisoners last week.
The swap involved Olivier Vandecasteele, a Belgian aid worker jailed in Iran, and Asadollah Assadi, an Iranian diplomat imprisoned in Belgium.
Assadi was sentenced to 20 years in prison last year in connection with a plot to bomb a rally of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), an exiled opposition group, outside Paris in June 2018. Tehran considers the NCRI a terrorist group and has called the Paris attack plot a "false flag" move by the group.
The NCRI called the release of Assadi a "shameful ransom to terrorism and hostage-taking."
Western countries have repeatedly charged that Iran is trying to take advantage of foreign countries by taking dual and foreign nationals hostage and then using them in prisoner swaps.
With reporting by Reuters and AFP
Pashinian Says Armenia Is Not Russia's Ally In Moscow's War With Ukraine
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian says "in its war with Ukraine, we are not Russia's ally." In an interview with CNN Prima News in Prague, broadcast late on June 1, Pashinian said Armenia's membership in Russia-led groupings creates the opinion in the West that Yerevan is Moscow's ally, while Russian authorities understand that Armenia is not their ally in the war against Ukraine. "So, in this situation, we are nobody's ally," Pashinian said, adding that it is difficult for Yerevan to continue to maneuver between the West and Moscow as the situation gets "more complicated." To read the original story by RFE/RL's Armenian Service, click here.
Russian Activists Under Pressure Over Pro-Navalny Rally Scheduled For June 4
Police in Russia have warned activists of possible repercussions for their participation in nationwide rallies to support jailed opposition politician Aleksei Navalny, scheduled for June 4, his birthday. Anton Kartavin, a municipal lawyer in Novosibirsk, and local activist Irina Selishcheva were detained for questioning on June 2 and handed written warnings about the consequences for taking part in "extremist activities." Kartavin said he had nothing to do with the planned rallies. Meanwhile, blogger Sergei Veselov in the city of Shuya was charged with violating regulations for holding public events over his announcement of rallies on his Telegram channel. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.
- By Current Time
Ukraine Freezes More Assets Under Name Of Pro-Russian Politician's Wife
KYIV -- The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) has frozen more assets of Oksana Marchenko, the wife of pro-Russian politician Viktor Medvedchuk.
The SBU said on June 2 that the assets, estimated to have a value of 740 million hryvnyas ($19.8 million), are related to stakes Marchenko owned via offshore schemes in several energy transportation companies located in Ukraine's Black Sea port city of Odesa -- Eximnaftoprodukt, Sintez Oil, Sintez Transit, Ukrloadsystem, Odesnaftoprodukt, Black Sea Fuel Terminal, and Albion Commodities.
"The freezing of these assets will prevent their re-registration under other fake names and will allow them to be transferred for our state's needs," the SBU statement said.
Marchenko's husband, Viktor Medvedchuk, is a longtime Ukrainian political fixture and reportedly a godfather to Russian President Vladimir Putin's daughter. Medvedchuk was one of Ukraine’s wealthiest individuals with a fortune estimated in the hundreds of millions of dollars, including energy assets in Russia.
Ukrainian courts have already frozen and impounded assets and property in Ukraine held by Marchenko with an estimated value of 7 billion hryvnyas ($188 million).
In April, Ukraine's Interior Ministry added Marchenko, who is not in Ukraine, to its wanted list, saying she is suspected of financing actions to forcibly disrupt Ukraine's constitutional order, seize power, and change the state borders of Ukraine.
Ukraine sanctioned Medvedchuk in February 2021, freezing his assets, and took off the air three television stations it said belonged to him for promoting Russian propaganda.
He was arrested in 2021 on charges of treason and terrorism financing and later placed under house arrest on bail.
Shortly after Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine in late February last year, Medvedchuk escaped house arrest, but he was rearrested in April while trying to flee to Russia.
In June, a court in Ukraine banned the Medvedchuk-led pro-Russia Opposition Platform -- For Life political party.
In September, Ukrainian authorities handed the 68-year-old politician over to Russia in a prisoner exchange.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has since stripped Medvedchuk and three other pro-Russian Ukrainian politicians of their Ukrainian citizenship.
Belarusian Union Activist Sentenced To 42 Months On Charge Of Insulting Lukashenka
A court in Minsk has sentenced union activist and genetics scientist Alyaksandr Kandratsyuk to 42 months in prison for allegedly insulting authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka amid an ongoing crackdown on dissent and civil society in Belarus.
The Minsk-based Vyasna (Spring) human rights group said on June 2 that the Minsk City Court sentenced Kandratsyuk after finding him guilty of insulting Lukashenka, discrediting the country, and inciting social hatred.
Kandratsyuk was initially arrested in September and handed a 13-day jail term, but he was not released after serving the sentence and instead was sent back to pretrial detention. The reason for his initial arrested remains unclear.
Vyasna also said on June 2 that the Minsk City Court is currently trying 21-year-old activist Dzmitry Hudzeyeu on charges of organizing the actions of a terrorist group and the creation of an extremist group.
It remains unclear what exactly the charges stem from. Last month, Belarusian KGB added Hudzeyeu to its terrorist registry. If convicted, Hudzeyeu may face up to 12 years in prison.
Hundreds of people have been handed prison terms in Belarus following the unprecedented anti-Lukashenka rallies sparked by the election results.
Thousands of others have been detained and there have been credible reports of torture and ill-treatment of detainees by security forces. Several people have died during the crackdown.
The 68-year-old Lukashenka has leaned heavily on Russian support amid Western sanctions while punishing the opposition and arresting or forcing many of its leaders out of the country.
Lukashenka denies voter fraud and has refused to negotiate with the opposition, led by Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who supporters say actually won the vote.
The European Union, United States, Canada, and other countries have refused to recognize Lukashenka as the legitimate leader of Belarus and have slapped him and senior Belarusian officials with sanctions in response to the “falsification” of the vote and postelection crackdown.
U.S. To Offer To Keep Nuclear Arms Curbs Until 2026 If Russia Does Same
The United States on June 2 will offer to abide by the nuclear weapons limits set in the New START treaty until its 2026 expiration if Russia does the same, in order to bolster global security, two senior administration officials said. U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan will make the offer in a speech to the Arms Control Association, the oldest U.S. arms control advocacy group, the officials said on June 1 on condition of anonymity. Sullivan will say President Joe Biden's administration is open to resuming unconditional talks with Moscow on managing nuclear dangers, including replacing New START with a new pact, the sources said. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Former Lawmaker Gets 16 Years In Prison For Ordering Journalist's Assassination In Siberia
Isa Khashiyev, a former lawmaker in the Siberian city of Minusinsk, has been sentenced to 16 years in prison for ordering the assassination of an editor of the Ton-M newspaper in 2016. The Krasnoyarsk regional prosecutor's office said on June 2 that another defendant in the case, Viktor Shestakov, was found guilty of shooting Dmitry Popkov on Khashiyev's order and was sentenced to 14 years in prison. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Siberia.Realities, click here.
U.S. Lawyer Named Chief Prosecutor At Office Linked To Kosovo War Crimes Court
American lawyer Kimberly West has been appointed as the chief prosecutor linked to a European Union-backed court prosecuting war crimes in Kosovo, the prosecutor's office announced on June 2. West replaces Jack Smith, who stood down as head of the Specialist Prosecutor's Office in November to become a U.S. Justice Department special counsel overseeing investigations into the retention of classified documents at former President Donald Trump's Florida estate, Mar-a-Lago, as well as aspects of an investigation into efforts to overturn the 2020 election won by Democrat Joe Biden. To read the original story by AP, click here.
Russian Writer, Staunch Kremlin Critic Barred From Entering Georgia
Russian writer Viktor Shenderovich, an outspoken Kremlin critic, has not been allowed to enter Georgia. Shenderovich, who fled Russia last year after a probe was launched against him on a libel charge that he calls trumped up, wrote on Facebook on June 2 that he canceled his readings in Georgia after he was rejected without explanation from entering the Caucasus nation. Shenderovich accused Georgia's government of "doing the work" to turn the nation into "Putin's province."
- By dpa
Swiss Parliament Votes To Block Indirect Arms Exports To Ukraine
The Swiss parliament rejected an exemption for the transfer of arms to Ukraine on June 1. The majority of members of the Swiss National Council voted against the proposal that had been drafted by the security policy committee of the country's larger parliamentary chamber. The Swiss Federal Assembly is made up of the National Council and the smaller Council of States. The "Lex Ukraine" would have allowed other states to deliver Swiss-made war materiel to Ukraine. The laws of neutral Switzerland prohibit support for countries involved in acts of war. Switzerland has therefore so far refused to give Germany permission to pass along Swiss ammunition, purchased years ago for the German Leopard tank, to Ukraine.
Pakistani Human Rights Activist Returns Home After Abduction
Pakistani human rights activist and lawyer Jibran Nasir has returned home after being abducted by unidentified armed men in the southern city of Karachi.
"With the prayers and efforts of all friends and colleagues, especially journalists, lawyers and bar councils, civil society and politicians, I have returned home safely," Nasir said on Twitter on June 2.
He also pledged to continue his struggle for the rights of Pakistanis.
In a separate tweet, he thanked his wife, who he said had suffered the ordeal of his abduction and yet kept calm and focused on the struggle for his return.
He did not say who abducted him or the circumstances of his release. No one has claimed responsibility.
Nasir has been an outspoken critic of human rights violations in the country and represented victims as a lawyer in a number of prominent cases.
He has recently criticized the arrests of leaders of former Prime Minister Imran Khan's party and the move to try them in military courts following violent protests earlier month.
Dozens of protesters earlier held a rally in Karachi to demand his release after his wife, Mansha Pasha, said on Twitter that he had been kidnapped by armed men on June 1 in Karachi.
The men took Nasir away but left her unharmed, said Pasha, a prominent actress, who asked people to speak out for his return and pray for his safety in a video message.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) said it was deeply concerned by the reports that Nasir had been abducted, and Amnesty International called on Pakistani authorities to investigate.
Nasir's abduction comes amid an ongoing crackdown against supporters of former Prime Minister Imran Khan, who was ousted in a no-confidence vote in April 2022.
Violence erupted after Khan's arrest on May 9 outside a court in Islamabad where he was appearing in a graft case.
The turmoil subsided only when the Supreme Court released Khan.
With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, and dpa
Amnesty Blasts Iran's 'Shameless' Use Of Executions For Drug-Related Cases
Amnesty International says Iran's prisons have turned into "killing fields" with the number of people executed on drug-related charges almost triple this year compared with 2022, calling it a "shameless rate" that exposes the regime's "lack of humanity."
The London-based rights organization said in a report released on June 2 that Iranian authorities have executed at least 173 people convicted of drug-related offences this year after "systematically unfair trials," nearly three times more than this time last year.
Amnesty said members of Iran's Baluch ethnic minority accounted for around 20 percent of the recorded executions, "despite making up only 5 percent of Iran's population."
"The shameless rate at which the authorities are carrying out drug-related executions, in violation of international law, exposes their lack of humanity and flagrant disregard for the right to life," said Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty International's deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa.
"The international community must ensure that cooperation in antidrug trafficking initiatives do not contribute, directly or indirectly, to the arbitrary deprivation of life and other human rights violations in Iran," Eltahawy added.
Amnesty said the number of executions for all crimes had also significantly increased in the Islamic republic, with at least 282 people executed in total so far in 2023.
"If the authorities continue to carry out overall executions at this alarming pace, they could kill nearly 1,000 prisoners by the end of this year," the rights group warned.
The report said the poor and vulnerable are mostly impacted by the death penalty while the families of those executed frequently struggle with the dire economic consequences of losing breadwinners and being heavily indebted from legal fees.
The wave of executions has sparked outrage among rights activists and many Western governments who have called the legal proceedings against the accused "sham" trials where proper representation is not always granted and decisions are rushed behind closed doors.
The Norway-based Iran Human Rights (IHR) group said on June 1 at least 307 people have been executed in 2023, a 76 percent rise compared with the same period last year.
IHR said at least 142 people were executed in Iran in May, the highest monthly total in eight years, amid a brutal crackdown on dissent that the Norway-based watchdog says is aimed at spreading "societal fear."
According to Amnesty International, Iran was the world's top executioner in 2022 after China.
Ukraine Says It Downed All Drones, Missiles Shot At Capital, Two Injured
Ukrainian authorities say air-defense forces shot down all 15 missiles and 21 drones over the capital, Kyiv, as Russia launched its sixth consecutive day of attacks on the capital.
Ukraine's Prosecutor General's Office said a 68-year-old man and an 11-year-old child were wounded in the June 2 attacks, which came from several directions and hit residential areas.
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 counteroffensives, Western military aid, global reaction, and the plight of civilians. For all of RFE/RL's coverage of the war in Ukraine, click here.
Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko, who earlier reported two separate waves of attacks, said on Telegram there had been no calls for rescue services.
“Already after the alarm, smoldering fragments of a rocket were found on the road in the Darnytsya district of the capital. The rescue and fire service is on its way to the scene," Klitschko wrote.
Russian troops have intensified their attacks against Ukrainian cities, particularly Kyiv, since the start of May.
The Ukrainian capital has been targeted by 19 waves of Russian air strikes since the start of May.
Kyiv military authorities have said that as a result of falling rocket fragments on the capital on June 1, three people were killed, including a child. Another 11 people were injured.
Two of those killed were hit by debris after they weren't able to enter a bomb shelter that was locked, sparking anger among many residents.
Klitschko said on June 2 that the city will immediately implement mandatory controls of all shelters to ensure they are always open.
"The city authorities are strengthening control over the work of shelters. Yes, there are questions. And we will work on it," he said, adding that residents can also volunteer to control facilities to make sure they are accessible.
"The enemy is now shelling the capital with ballistic missiles. When the alarm sounds, it's a matter of minutes. If you think you cannot get to a shelter in time, follow the rule of [standing by a junction of] two walls in the house," he added.
The head of the Kharkiv regional military administration, Oleh Sinehubov, said late on June 2 that Russian troops attacked a village in the Kharkiv region with two guided aerial bombs, killing an elderly man and a woman. In addition, three women and a 3-year-old boy were injured, he said.
Meanwhile, the governor of Russia's Belgorod region, which shares a border with Ukraine, said four people were killed in separate incidents on June 2.
In the first, two women were traveling by car near the town of Shebekino when shrapnel hit their vehicle, killing them, Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said on Telegram, blaming Ukrainian army for the attack. Two men were hospitalized with serious injuries, he added.
Gladkov said later that two people were killed and six injured when rockets hit the town of Sobolevka, 125 kilometers southeast of the first incident. The victims had been standing near residential buildings, he said.
Other Russian regional authorities said earlier that two villages in the country’s western Bryansk region were shelled by Ukrainian forces.
Regional Governor Alexander Bogomaz said on Telegram that no one was injured in the attacks.
The governor of the southern Kursk region, which also borders Ukraine, said air-defense systems shot down "several" Ukrainian drones. He did not say if there were any casualties.
None of the reports could be independently verified.
The increase in attacks comes days after Chinese Special Representative for Eurasian Affairs Li Hui toured Europe to try and make progress on a peace agreement to stop the fighting.
Speaking at a news briefing in Beijing on June 2, Li said that while the "risk of escalation" was "still high," China is "willing to do anything" to help mediate the situation and is willing to send another delegation for further peace talks.
On a trip to Finland, NATO's newest member, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on June 2 called the invasion of Ukraine a "strategic failure" for Russia, pointing to Western unity and Moscow's losses.
"Putin's war of aggression against Ukraine has been a strategic failure -- greatly diminishing Russia's military, economic, and diplomatic power and its influence for years to come," Blinken said in a speech in Helsinki.
Blinken also said the United States was working with Ukraine and other allies to build consensus around the core elements of a "just and lasting peace" to end the war.
"We will support efforts -- whether by Brazil, China, or any other nation -- if they help find a way to a just and lasting peace," Blinken said in his speech.
With reporting by Reuters, AFP and dpa
U.S. Sanctions Iranians Over Alleged Plots To Kill John Bolton And Others
The U.S. imposed sanctions on June 1o on an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) official and others in Iran it says took part in wide-ranging plots to kill former national security adviser John Bolton and others around the world, including at least one additional U.S. government official. The alleged 2021 plot against Bolton, one of the best-documented of the alleged assassination efforts, is part of what U.S. prosecutors and former government officials describe as ongoing efforts by the IRGC to kill Trump-era officials behind a 2020 U.S. air strike that killed the head of the IRGC's elite Quds Force, Qassem Soleimani. To read the original story by AP, click here.
U.S. To Stop Giving Russia Certain START Nuclear Arms Data
The United States will stop giving Russia some notifications required under the New START arms control treaty to retaliate for Moscow's "ongoing violations" of the accord, the State Department said on June 1. In a fact sheet posted on its website, the department said the United States would also stop giving Russia flight telemetry information on launches of U.S. intercontinental and submarine-launched ballistic missiles. The State Department said international law permits such measures to induce a state to return to compliance with its international obligations.
U.S. Envoy Warns About Russian Efforts To Use Disinformation To Divide U.S. Allies In Balkans
SOFIA -- The Kremlin is "weaponizing information" to divide U.S. allies in the Balkans, and media outlets in the region should increase efforts to detect Russian disinformation and distinguish it from the truth, a top U.S. diplomat said on June 1 in an interview with RFE/RL.
James Rubin, coordinator for the U.S. State Department's Global Engagement Center, cited North Macedonia, Montenegro, Slovakia, and Bulgaria as countries where the United States has discovered "the Kremlin is really working to try to divide our countries, divide our friendships with NATO allies, EU allies and friends, partners, by using this information as a weapon."
For the Kremlin, he said, it's part of a broader plan because Russia understands it can't win the argument on the ground over the war in Ukraine.
"They are trying to use whatever technique they can to divide the West in its support to Ukraine," he said.
Rubin spoke with RFE/RL in Sofia, one of the stops on his current European tour in which he’s talking to governments about developing the will to spot disinformation and the capacity to do something about it.
While every country has the right to free expression and news outlets have the right to report what foreign governments say, they shouldn’t repeat foreign government disinformation without reporting where it comes from, he said.
"We need to use whatever tools we can in a democratic society to distinguish between the noise in the information domain and those operations that are run by the Kremlin that are designed to divide us, that are intended to upset democratic process so that NATO support evaporates," Rubin said.
He said his job is to ensure there’s transparency and to expose any links to Russian media and let each government make its own decision on how to respond, noting that Bulgaria, along with Slovakia and Montenegro, are among the countries where Russia has spent money and corrupted politicians and media organizations.
The United States is also aware that China also has spent spend billions of dollars developing what he called "disinformation manipulation systems" around the world, but its tactics are different from Russia's.
The Chinese offer their Xinhua news service for free to newspapers in certain countries and do not allow the newspapers to use other independent Western news agencies.
"So that means that the African journalist writing a story about the world is writing it from a Chinese point of view in which horrible things happen in America, wonderful things happen in China," he said.
The United States is attempting to "make sure that that is transparent," he said, so that readers know that the newspaper is getting its news from China.
With reporting by Elitsa Simeonova of RFE/RL's Bulgarian Service
Two New York Lawyers Sentenced For Helping Asylum Seekers From Former Soviet Union Falsify Affidavits
Two New York lawyers, husband and wife Arthur Arcadian and Ilona Dzhamgarova, have been sentenced to six months and two years in prison, respectively, for assisting asylum seekers, mostly from the former Soviet Union, to prepare false affidavits and coaching their clients to lie under oath. The U.S. Attorney's Office said on May 31 that the couple's Dzhamgarova Firm "advised certain of its clients regarding the manner in which they were most likely to obtain asylum in this country, fully understanding that those clients did not legitimately qualify for asylum." To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.
Mudslide Kills Three, Including Two Children, In Tajikistan's East
A massive mudslide killed three people, including two children, in the village of Qushai in eastern Tajikistan in the early hours of June 1. Officials of the Lakhsh district identified the victims as 38-year-old woman, her 15-year-old daughter, and 12-year-old son. Mountains cover 93 percent of the Central Asian nation's territory, and mudslides and avalanches kill dozens of people every year. Since January, natural disasters have killed more than 20 people in the country. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Tajik Service, click here.
Satellite Imagery Captures New Defensive Fortifications In Belarus Near Ukrainian Border2
Dozens Of KFOR Troops, Protesters Injured As Clashes Break Out In Serb-Majority Towns In Northern Kosovo3
High Schoolers' 'Last Dance' Becomes Symbol Of Blockaded Karabakh Armenians4
Moscow Does Not Believe In Drones: Why Are Military-Grade Drones Flying Over The City And Who's Behind It?5
Kyiv Using 'Ukrainian Storks' For Reconnaissance Over Bakhmut6
Live Briefing: Russia Invades Ukraine7
Iran And Afghanistan's Taliban Clash As Water Dispute Boils Over8
Ukrainian Analysts Studying Downed Russian Missiles, Drones9
'Z' Marks The Trouble Spot: Russia's Symbol Of War Appears In Northern Kosovo10
Kosovo 'Tactical Game' Is A Strategic Blunder, Security Expert Charles Kupchan Warns Amid Balkan Violence