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Biden Welcomes ICC Arrest Warrant for Putin, Says Russian Leader 'Clearly Committed War Crimes'

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian Presidential Commissioner for Children's Rights Maria Lvova-Belova meet in Moscow on February 16. On March 17, 2023, the International Criminal Court issued a warrant for their arrest.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian Presidential Commissioner for Children's Rights Maria Lvova-Belova meet in Moscow on February 16. On March 17, 2023, the International Criminal Court issued a warrant for their arrest.

U.S. President Joe Biden has said the International Criminal Court (ICC) decision to issue an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin for war crimes is "justified."

"He's clearly committed war crimes," Biden told reporters on March 17, referring to Putin.

His comments in Washington came after the ICC said it had issued a warrant against Putin, accusing the Russian leader of personal responsibility for the abductions of children from Ukraine. The move by the ICC was hailed by Kyiv and rejected by Moscow.

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The court also issued a warrant for the arrest of Maria Lvova-Belova, a Russian children's rights official who allegedly directs the removal of Ukrainian children to Russia.

The two are suspected of "having committed the acts directly, jointly with others and/or through others" the ICC said in a statement, adding that Putin had failed "to exercise control properly over civilian and military subordinates who committed the acts, or allowed for their commission, and who were under his effective authority and control, pursuant to superior responsibility."

The immediate impact of the ICC action is unclear. Moscow does not recognize the court and does not extradite its nationals. However, Putin may be more cautious about traveling to a nation bound to arrest him.

While Washington does not recognize the court either, Biden said it "makes a very strong point" to call out Putin's actions in ordering the invasion.

Earlier, European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the ICC's decision was the start of "holding Russia accountable for its crimes and atrocities in Ukraine."

"This is an important decision of international justice and for the people of Ukraine," he said.

ICC President Piotr Hofmanski said in a video statement that while the ICC’s judges have issued the warrants, it will be up to the international community to enforce them. The 123-member ICC doesn't have a police force of its own to carry out arrests.

WATCH: A family from Mariupol spoke to RFE/RL about their experiences of going through a Russian filtration camp and then being taken to Moscow.

'You Are Russian Now': Ukrainian Family Recalls Deportation To Moscow
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With the warrant, Putin becomes the third serving head of state to be targeted in an arrest warrant from the ICC, the world's permanent war crimes tribunal, along with Sudan's Omar al-Bashir and Libya's Muammar Qaddafi.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia found the questions raised by the ICC "outrageous and unacceptable" and noted that Russia, like many other countries, does not recognize the jurisdiction of the ICC.

"Accordingly, any decisions of this kind are null and void for the Russian Federation from the point of view of law," Peskov said.

Peskov refused to comment when asked if Putin would avoid making trips to countries where he could be arrested on the ICC's warrant.

Maria Lvova-Belova
Maria Lvova-Belova

Neither Russia nor Ukraine is a member of the ICC. Kyiv has, however, granted the Hague-based court jurisdiction to prosecute crimes committed on its territory since Moscow launched its invasion last year. The United States and China also are not members of the ICC.

Lvova-Belova reacted sarcastically to the ICC announcement. “It is great that the international community has appreciated the work to help the children of our country, that we do not leave them in war zones, that we take them out, we create good conditions for them, that we surround them with loving, caring people,” she said.

The U.S. Treasury outlined her role when adding her to its sanctions lists on September 15, 2022.

"Lvova-Belova's efforts specifically include the forced adoption of Ukrainian children into Russian families, the so-called 'patriotic education' of Ukrainian children, legislative changes to expedite the provision of Russian Federation citizenship to Ukrainian children, and the deliberate removal of Ukrainian children by Russia's forces," it said at the time.

WATCH: On March 17, the president of the ICC announced that The Hague-based court has issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin, accusing him of responsibility for war crimes allegedly committed during Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

ICC Issues Arrest Warrant Against Putin Over Alleged War Crimes In Ukraine
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Dmytro Lubinets, the Ukrainian Parliament's human rights commissioner, has said that based on data from the country's National Information Bureau, 16,226 children have been deported. Ukraine has managed to bring back 308 children.

Human Rights Watch, which has documented the transfers of Ukrainian civilians and called them "a serious violation of the laws of war that constitute war crimes and potential crimes against humanity," said the warrant against Putin is the "first step to end the impunity that has emboldened perpetrators in Russia's war against Ukraine for far too long."

In Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy called it a "historic decision from which historic responsibility will begin."

The deportation of Ukrainian children "means the illegal transfer of thousands of our children to the territory of a terrorist state," Zelenskiy said, adding that this could not have taken place without an order from Putin.

"Separating children from their families, depriving them of any opportunity to contact their relatives, hiding children in the territory of Russia, scattering them in remote regions -- all this is an obvious state policy of Russia, state decisions, and state evil, which begins precisely with the first official of this state," Zelenskiy said in his nightly address to the nation.

In a post on Twitter, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said the "wheels of justice are turning," and added that "international criminals will be held accountable for stealing children and other international crimes."

Ukrainian Ambassador to the UN Serhiy Kyslytsya recalled that on the night of Russia's invasion, "I said at the Security Council meeting that there is no purgatory for war criminals, they go straight to hell. Today, I would like to say that those of them who will remain alive after the military defeat of Russia will have to make a stop in The Hague on their way to hell."

With reporting by Reuters and AP

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Russia Adds Actor Aleksei Panin To List Of Extremists

Actor Aleksei Panin (pictured in 2013) left Russia in 2020 and now lives in the United States.
Actor Aleksei Panin (pictured in 2013) left Russia in 2020 and now lives in the United States.

Rosfinmonitoring, Russia's agency for countering money laundering and terrorism financing, said on May 29 it has added noted actor Aleksei Panin to the register of terrorists and extremists. No reason was given for adding Panin, who left Russia in 2020 and now lives in the United States, but a year ago he was placed on the wanted list after a probe against the actor was launched on a charge of "justifying terrorism." The charge stems from an online post that Panin published in October 2022 in which he expressed his support for an explosion that seriously damaged the Kerch bridge connecting Ukraine's Russian-annexed Crimea with Russia's Taman peninsula. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Dodik Says Bosnian Serb 'Foreign Agent' Bill Pulled Back For 'Harmonization' With EU Laws

Milorad Dodik (file photo)
Milorad Dodik (file photo)

Milorad Dodik, the Russian-friendly president of Bosnia-Herzegovina's Serb-led entity, said the sudden withdrawal from parliament of a controversial "foreign agent" bill was prompted by the need to harmonize it with EU legislation "since Republika Srpska is committed to the European path."

The law, initiated by Dodik himself back in 2022, was withdrawn without explanation from the agenda of the National Assembly on May 28, the same day Georgian lawmakers pressed ahead with similar legislation, overriding a presidential veto and ignoring weeks of mass protests against what is seen as a measure tailored on a repressive Russian law.

The withdrawal of the bill was announced by Deputy Prime Minister Milos Bukejlovic, who is also justice minister.

Dodik later explained on X, formerly Twitter, that the bill had been pulled back because "certain objections are visible, and they concern European norms, and since the Republika Srpska is committed to the European path, we agreed to withdraw it and additionally harmonize it...with European legal practice."

Bosnia became a candidate for EU membership in 2022, but the 27-member bloc said in December that accession negotiations will only begin "once the necessary degree of compliance with the membership criteria is achieved."

One of the main stumbling blocks in Bosnia's progress toward the EU has been Dodik's separatist statements and actions. His statement on X did not mention the Bosnian state and did not explain how Republika Srpska can pursue European integration outside the Bosnian state.

Dodik, who is on friendly terms with Russian President Vladimir Putin, has been placed under sanctioned by the United States and Britain over his efforts to undermine the Dayton peace accords that ended the Balkan country's civil war in 1995 and led to the formation of a Bosnian state consisting of two entities -- a Bosniak-Croat Federation and Republika Srpska -- tied together by a weak central government.

Last week, Dodik announced a formal proposal to "disassociate" his entity from the Bosnian state, a move that prompted a stark warning from the U.S. ambassador to Sarajevo, Michael Murphy, who called the proposal "secession by another name" and accused Dodik of pursuing "a dangerous path."

Dodik's "agents of foreign influence" bill is aimed at NGOs and other organizations that deal with political activities or that attempt to influence public opinion and those that "violate the integrity and constitution of the Republika Srpska."

The bill was introduced in parliament in March, one month after Dodik held talks with Putin during his fourth visit to Moscow since the start of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

The draft law calls for the surveillance of NGOs and other organizations that receive funding from abroad and requires registration, financial reporting, and a ban on political activities.

A written request from 46 NGOs was sent to deputies to vote against the law, which would open the way to repressing everyone "who fights for human rights and against corruption."

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) also warned last week that the bill contradicts the constitutions of Republika Srpska and Bosnia and the country's international obligations to respect human rights.

Research conducted by RFE/RL showed that the draft law is similar to one that has been in effect for more than a decade in Russia, where the Kremlin uses it to silence political opponents and stifle independent media.

The U.S. Embassy previously told RFE/RL that the draft law was "repressive and undemocratic” and, if implemented, would drastically violate the rights and freedoms of people living in Republika Srpska.

The Office of the High Representative to Bosnia also asked for the withdrawal of the draft law from the parliamentary schedule, saying it was intended to scare civil society organizations into submission.

Chinese-Led Consortium To Build Massive Port Project On Georgia's Black Sea Coast

Once a Black Sea resort town, Anaklia will now be the site of Georgia's first deep-sea port, which will be built by a Chinese-led consortium.
Once a Black Sea resort town, Anaklia will now be the site of Georgia's first deep-sea port, which will be built by a Chinese-led consortium.

TBILISI -- Georgia has announced that a Chinese consortium submitted the sole bid to build a sprawling deep-sea port in Anaklia, ending a multiyear political saga over the megaproject that puts Tbilisi's growing ties with Beijing in the spotlight.

Georgian Minister of Economy and Sustainable Development Levan Davitashvili made the announcement at a May 29 press conference, where he said the government had received bids from a Swiss-Luxembourg consortium and a joint offer from China Communications Construction Company Limited and the Singapore-based China Harbour Investment Pte. Ltd.

"The application is complete, the relevant bank guarantees have been presented," Davitashvili said. "In a few days, we will have clarifications, after which the Chinese consortium will be announced as the winner."

He added that China Road and Bridge Corporation and Qingdao Port International Co Ltd will serve as subcontractors to build the port.

After months of consultations with both bidders, Davitashvili said that Tbilisi only received a final proposal from the Chinese consortium, which now looks set to build the country's first deep-sea port.

The announcement brings an end to a controversial political struggle over who would build Georgia's strategically important port, while the winning Chinese bid highlights Tbilisi's burgeoning relationship with China.

A previous attempt to build the port in Anaklia by a consortium formed between Georgia's TBC Bank and U.S.-based Conti International was canceled by the government in 2020 after years of political controversy that saw TBC co-founders Mamuka Khazaradze and Badri Japaridze facing money-laundering charges.

Following the charges, the American investor pulled out and the project ground to a halt until the government canceled the $2.5 billion port contract. In 2022, a court found Khazaradze and Japaridze guilty of fraud, but they were both released without prison time.

Khazaradze has claimed the authorities were trying to sabotage the project and that the real issue behind the dispute was his personal conflict with Bidzina Ivanishvili, the billionaire former prime minister who leads the Georgian Dream party that has been in power since 2012.

The government announced plans to revive the project in 2022 and opened up a call for bids, saying that Tbilisi planned to hold a 51 percent stake in the port.

Georgia's strategic location on the eastern edge of the Black Sea has made it particularly crucial for the Middle Corridor, a trade route between China and Europe bypassing Russia that has grown in importance and usage since Moscow's full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

But the megaproject has been at the center of geopolitical jostling, with European Union-based and Chinese companies said to have been in the running. Political observers and officials said that Tbilisi's choice of winner for Anaklia would be a bellwether for where the country was leaning in its future political orientation.

"If what is chosen is not in line with the EU -- a club that Georgia wants to join -- then that should help tell us about the direction this government is heading towards,” Asuncion Sanchez Ruiz, deputy head of mission of the EU delegation to Georgia, told RFE/RL in 2023.

Davitashvili's announcement also comes one day after parliament pushed through an override of a presidential veto of a controversial "foreign agent" law that has been criticized by Western governments and faced widespread protests at home.

In recent years, the government has pushed connectivity to the top of Georgia's foreign policy agenda and looked to capitalize on newfound interest in the Middle Corridor.

But the country has a dearth of high-quality infrastructure, which has so far held back its transit potential, with long lines of trucks at its borders and ports at Batumi and Poti operating near capacity as trade along the route has steadily increased since 2022.

This has led to organizations like the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the World Bank warning that without a deep-sea port in Georgia -- which would allow larger ships to transport increased volumes at a more efficient rate -- neither the country nor the Middle Corridor will be competitive as a global trade route.

Georgia has increasingly turned to China for infrastructure projects, with one study by the Tbilisi-based Civic Initiative for Democratic and Euro-Atlantic Choice saying that since 2021, every infrastructure project worth more than $100 million has involved Chinese companies.

Written by Reid Standish in Prague with reporting from RFE/RL’s Georgian Service in Tbilisi

Iranian Rights Activists Slam UN For Planning Memorial For 'Butcher' Raisi

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi addresses the 78th United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York City on September 19, 2023.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi addresses the 78th United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York City on September 19, 2023.

The United Nations has announced plans to hold a memorial ceremony for the late Iranian president, Ebrahim Raisi, this week, sparking sharp criticism from rights activists, who decried a move to honor a man they refer to as the "Butcher of Tehran."

UN General Assembly President Dennis Francis said he will convene the tribute on May 30, with member states "encouraged" to deliver statements at the meeting "to pay tribute" to Raisi, who along with Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and several other officials, died in a helicopter crash on May 19.

The tribute has sparked a wave of criticism from activists who refer to Raisi's alleged role in the mass execution of political prisoners in 1988, when he was Tehran's deputy prosecutor.

In addition, they said that as president he oversaw a brutal, and sometimes deadly, crackdown on dissent during protests in Iran after the death of Mahsa Amini, who was in police custody for an alleged head-scarf violation when she died.

"When the governments of the world elevate a blatant human rights violator and butcher from Iran's history to a position of honor, as if mourning a peace-loving and democratic figure, they set a dangerous precedent," Nobel Peace Prize laureate Narges Mohammadi wrote from her prison cell in Tehran.

The UN has already been sharply rebuked by rights groups for observing a moment of silence for Raisi on May 22, and for flying its flag at half-mast in honor of the Iranian president.

Monica Grayley, the spokeswoman for Francis, said paying tribute to the memory of a deceased head of state is a diplomatic practice.

But Iranian Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi argued that the UN's decision flies in the face of its own protocols, as Raisi was not Iran's highest-ranking official, while pointing out that a UN fact-finding mission recently said that "crimes against humanity" were committed by the Iranian regime during the crackdown on protesters in 2022.

"[Supreme Leader Ayatollah] Ali Khamenei is the highest political and military official in the Islamic republic. Whenever they die, the United Nations can hold a quadruple memorial ceremony for them along with Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi and Hitler," Ebadi said in a post on Instagram.

“I want the respected Secretary General and President of the General Assembly to recognize Ebrahim Raisi as the people of Iran called him, the 'Executioner of Iran' and the 'Butcher of Tehran' after his death.”

The UN has also implicated Iranian officials in the "physical violence" that lead to Amini's death, raising further questions over honoring Raisi at the United Nations.

A group of 23 LGBTQ+ rights organizations also issued a statement condemning the UN's actions, describing them as a "disgrace to the body of the global community."

The group said Raisi played a role in the execution and killing of members of their community and that many Iranians "consider the likes of Ebrahim Raisi among the murderers, torturers, and violators of their loved ones.”

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

Execution Spike In Iran Boosts Global Total To Highest In Almost A Decade, Amnesty Says

Iranian refugees rally against executions in Iran in front of the building of the Commissariat for Refugees in Brussels in June 2023.
Iranian refugees rally against executions in Iran in front of the building of the Commissariat for Refugees in Brussels in June 2023.

Executions around the globe rose to their highest number in almost a decade, spurred by a spike in cases of the death penalty being carried out in Iran, according to a new report by watchdog Amnesty International.

In the report, released on May 29, Amnesty said a total of 1,153 executions took place in 2023 -- not including the thousands believed to have been carried out in China -- marking an increase of more than 30 percent from 2022.

In particular, Amnesty highlighted Iran, where the authorities intensified their use of the death penalty "to instill fear in the population and tighten their grip on power" by carrying out at least 853 executions, a 48 percent rise from the previous year.

"The huge spike in recorded executions was primarily down to Iran. The Iranian authorities showed complete disregard for human life and ramped up executions for drug-related offenses, further highlighting the discriminatory impact of the death penalty on Iran's most marginalized and impoverished communities," said Agnes Callamard, Amnesty International's secretary-general.

"Despite the setbacks that we have seen this year, particularly in the Middle East, countries that are still carrying out executions are increasingly isolated. Our campaigning against this abhorrent punishment works. We will continue until we have put an end to the death penalty."

Amnesty chided Iran for the high number of executions -- at least 545 -- that were carried out "unlawfully" for acts such as drug-related offenses that under international law are not punishable by the death penalty.

The rights group said executions "disproportionately impacted" Iran's Baluch ethnic minority, who accounted for 20 percent of recorded executions even though they make up only around 5 percent of Iran’s population.

At least 24 women and at least five people who were children at the time they are accused of committing a crime were executed, the Amnesty report said.

Despite the higher overall total of executions, Amnesty said progress on stopping the usage of the death penalty was made.

Executions were carried out in only 16 countries last year, it said, the lowest total ever recorded.

Belarus, Japan, Myanmar, and South Sudan, all of which carried out executions in 2022, did not register any last year, Amnesty said.

"The inherent discrimination and arbitrariness that marks the use of the death penalty have only compounded the human rights violations of our criminal justice systems. The small minority of countries that insist on using it must move with the times and abolish the punishment once and for all," Callamard said.

YouTube Confirms Iranian Foreign Ministry Account Closed Over U.S. Sanctions

Iran blocked access to YouTube in 2012. (file photo)
Iran blocked access to YouTube in 2012. (file photo)

Internet video platform YouTube has confirmed terminating an account run by Iran's Foreign Ministry to comply with U.S. sanctions against the Islamic republic.

"Google is committed to compliance with applicable sanctions and trade compliance laws, and enforces related policies under our Terms of Service," YouTube spokesman Alzbeta Houzarova told RFE/RL in a written statement on May 28.

"If we find that an account violates our Terms of Service, we take appropriate action," she added.

Iran's official IRNA news agency said the account had been suspended after posting a video in English in support of Palestinians amid Israel's war against Hamas, which has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union, in the Gaza Strip.

State-controlled IRNA accused YouTube, which has been banned in Iran since 2009, of "violating freedom of speech."

Asked about IRNA's claim that a pro-Palestinian video had resulted in the account's removal, Houzarova reiterated that U.S. sanctions were the reason for the channel's suspension.

The account "will remain terminated," according to YouTube, which is owned by Google's parent company, Alphabet.

"Due to established U.S. sanctions, Iran's state-owned channels are not permitted on YouTube," the platform said.

Iran has blocked all major social media platforms and outlawed the use of virtual private networks (VPNs) to bypass the ban. However, the authorities themselves continue to use the blocked platforms.

Iran has for years tried to encourage the public to use domestically developed alternatives to popular social media platforms, with little success. A survey in January by the state-affiliated ISPA polling agency found that Instagram, WhatsApp, and Telegram -- all of which are blocked -- are the most popular platforms among Iranians.

YouTube has previously suspended other Iranian state-owned accounts, including the English-language news service Press TV and the Spanish-language Hispan TV.

In February, Instagram removed accounts run by the office of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Instagram and Facebook for posts in support of Hamas.

A spokesperson for Instagram’s parent company, Meta, told RFE/RL the accounts had been shut down for "repeatedly violating our Dangerous Organizations & Individuals policy."

The policy includes organizations backlisted by the U.S. government.

Updated

Russian Shelling Kills Several In Ukraine As Sweden Donates Modern Radar Planes

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (left) and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson meet in Sweden in August 2023.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (left) and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson meet in Sweden in August 2023.

NATO member Sweden on May 29 announced its largest military aid package for Ukraine so far will include modern radar surveillance planes as Russian attacks continued to target civilians, killing several people in three Ukrainian regions.

Two people were killed and three wounded early on May 29 when Russian troops shelled Krasnopil in the northeastern region of Sumy, the regional military administration reported on May 29.

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.

Vadym Filashkin, the governor of the eastern region of Donetsk, said on May 29 that three civilians were killed and six were wounded by Russian bombardment the previous day.

In the northern region of Chernihiv, one person died in the hospital after being wounded by Russian shelling the previous day in Semenivsk, near the border, Ukraine's Interior Ministry reported on May 29.

Ukraine's air defense said it shot down 13 of the 14 drones launched by Russia early on May 29 at three of its regions -- Mykolayiv, Kirovohrad, and Rivne. There were no immediate reports of casualties or damage.

In Stockholm, the Swedish government announced a package of 13.3 billion Swedish crowns ($1.3 billion) in military aid for Ukraine -- the 16th since the start of Russia's invasion and the largest so far.

The package includes two Swedish-made SAAB ASCC airborne early-warning-and-control aircraft.

Swedish Defense Minister Pal Jonsson said the two planes would have the "greatest effect on the Ukrainian air defense," complementing and supporting the U.S.-made F-16 fighter jets pledged by several countries.

Stockholm has provided 43.5 billion Swedish crowns ($4.1 billion) in military aid to Ukraine since the start of Russia's full-scale invasion in February 2022.

The Swedish donation was the third secured by Ukraine this week, following similar packages pledged by Spain and Belgium during visits by President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

The Belgian donation included a pledge of 30 F-16s to be delivered to Kyiv by 2028, with the first aircraft expected to arrive later this year.

Ukraine's air defenses have been struggling with insufficiently modern air-defense systems and dwindling supplies of antiaircraft ammunition needed to counter an increasingly intense Russian bombardment, mainly in the northeastern Kharkiv region, where Russian President Vladimir Putin has claimed Moscow wants to establish a "buffer zone" against cross-border Ukrainian attacks on military targets inside Russia.

Ukraine has complained that some donors, chiefly the United States and Germany -- have banned the use of modern Western missile systems by Ukraine to attack targets inside Russia.

However, French President Emmanuel Macron, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg have been in favor of such strikes on military facilities located just across the border and used by Russia to bomb Ukrainian cities and civilian infrastructure.

However, Yuriy Sak, an adviser to Ukraine's minister of strategic industries, on May 29 told Bloomberg that Kyiv had used British-supplied missiles on targets inside Russia after securing London's approval.

"We already have a precedent. For example, Great Britain -- they have already allowed Ukraine to use the long-range Storm Shadow missiles that they supply. And we successfully use them," Sak said.

Former Putin Bodyguard, Kremlin Aide Dyumin Elevated To Key Position

Aleksei Dyumin (left), former governor of the Tula region, previously worked as a bodyguard for President Vladimir Putin.
Aleksei Dyumin (left), former governor of the Tula region, previously worked as a bodyguard for President Vladimir Putin.

Aleksei Dyumin, a former bodyguard to Russian President Vladimir Putin who was recently named a top Kremlin aide, has been appointed secretary of the State Council.

Dyumin's appointment to the council, an advisory board consisting of governors, top parliament deputies, the prime minister, and other regional officials, was the latest indication of his growing clout within the Kremlin.

Though not as powerful as the Security Council, the council is nevertheless a highly public venue that analysts say is used by Putin to build support among regional officials and business elite.

The Kremlin made the announcement on May 29, but gave no other details.

A former governor of the Tula region, home to a sizable number of defense industries, the 52-year-old Dyumin was named as an aide to Putin earlier this month amid a wide-ranging shuffle of top Defense Ministry and Security Council positions.

Dyumin had previously worked as a bodyguard for Putin as part of the powerful Federal Protective Service, Russia's equivalent of the U.S. Secret Service.

In a 2016 interview with the newspaper Kommersant, he described how once, when he was serving on Putin’s security detail, he scared off a bear that had approached a presidential residence where Putin was sleeping.

A recipient of Russia's highest honor and regular ice hockey teammate of Putin, Dyumin has also served as deputy defense minister and was instrumental in the 2014 operation to occupy Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula, which was subsequently annexed.

The U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on Dyumin in 2018, citing his role in the Crimea annexation.

He's also frequently been on Kremlin watchers' short list of possible successors to Putin.

The Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta has reported that Dyumin may have been instrumental in the creation of the Wagner mercenary group.

The company's founder, Yevgeny Prigozhin, was killed in a mysterious plane crash in August 2023 two months after he staged an unprecedented mutiny that openly challenged Putin and Russia's military leadership.

During the June 2023 mutiny, Dyumin reportedly played a key role in persuading Prigozhin to back down.

Afterwards, Dyumin publicly praised Prigozhin as "a true patriot, a decisive and fearless man."

Putin recently began a reshuffle of top defense-related jobs, including relieving his close ally, Sergei Shoigu, of his duties as defense minister. The appear to underpin an attempt by the Kremlin to crack down on corruption in the sector.

In his appointment as a Kremlin aide earlier this month, Dyumin was given oversight of Russia's military-industrial complex, a position Kremlin watchers said was aimed at balancing other powerful business interests, including the state defense conglomerate, Rostekh.

"Apparently, Putin decided that some kind of independent supervision over them was needed," Abbas Gallyamov, a former Putin speechwriter who now lives outside of Russia, told Current Time on May 29.

"Dyumin is not from their clan, he is not their enemy, but he is not from their clan. And this independent supervision of an extremely important industry for Putin will be carried out by Dyumin," Gallyamov said.

Poland To Reintroduce Buffer Zone At Belarus Border, PM Says

Polish soldiers patrol along the border fence on the Polish-Belarusian border in Usnarz Gorny.
Polish soldiers patrol along the border fence on the Polish-Belarusian border in Usnarz Gorny.

Poland will reintroduce a 200-meter buffer zone at the Belarusian border at the beginning of next week, Prime Minister Donald Tusk said on May 29, after a soldier was left fighting for his life after an attack on the frontier. The border has been a flashpoint since migrants started flocking there in 2021, after Belarus, a close Russian ally, reportedly opened travel agencies in the Middle East to offer a new unofficial route into Europe -- a move the European Union said was designed to create a crisis. Belarus rejects the accusation that it helps to channel migrants to the Polish border.

Eyes On Georgia's President After Lawmakers Nix Her Veto Of 'Foreign Agent' Law

President Salome Zurabishvili delivers a speech on Georgia's Independence Day in Tbilisi on May 26.
President Salome Zurabishvili delivers a speech on Georgia's Independence Day in Tbilisi on May 26.

TBILISI -- Georgia's so-called "foreign agent" law is expected to land back on President Salome Zurabishvili's desk after lawmakers on May 28 overrode her veto, prompting fresh protests against the piece of legislation seen as mirroring a repressive Russian measure and jeopardizing the country's drive toward the European Union.

The ruling Georgian Dream party, as expected, pushed through the override on May 28 with an 84-4 vote in the 150-seat parliament. A simple majority of 76 votes was needed to cancel Zurabishvili's veto.

Most opposition deputies had walked out of the chamber ahead of the vote.

Angry Protests In Tbilisi As Parliament Rejects Veto On 'Foreign Agent' Bill
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Zurabishvili, who has been at odds with Georgian Dream over the bill and sided with the pro-Western protesters, now has five days to sign the measure into law. She has given no indication she intends to do so but if she refuses, the speaker of parliament, Georgian Dream member Shalva Papuashvili, can sign the law and publish it.

The vote to override Zurabishvili's veto came despite last-minute appeals from the European Union and several member states to Georgian lawmakers as hundreds of mostly young protesters chanted "No Russian law!" and "Slaves!" while waving Georgian and EU flags.

Zurabishvili addressed the crowd massed peacefully at the back entrance of the legislature via video link, urging them not to let the 84 lawmakers who voted for bill have the final say.

The 84 deputies who voted for the law are "nobody compared to those who are here today -- the new Georgia, the Georgia of the future," she said, encouraging demonstrators to save their anger and energy for national elections in October.

Georgia's civil society has for years sought to move the country away from the influence of Russia, which still maintains thousands of troops in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, two breakaway Georgian regions that Moscow recognized as independent states following a five-day war with Tbilisi in 2008.

Critics say the legislation was introduced by Georgian Dream, founded by Russian-friendly Georgian tycoon Bidzina Ivanishvili, in order to cement the party's grip on power ahead of elections later this year seen as crucial for Georgia's Euro-Atlantic path.

Both the United States and the European Union have warned Georgian Dream that ignoring criticism and cracking down violently on protesters will have negative consequences.

Georgia obtained the coveted status of EU candidate country in December, but it has yet to start actual accession talks, which could last for years. There had been hope such talks could start later this year, but Brussels has warned that the "foreign agent" law could endanger the path toward Europe.

Georgian Dream has insisted that it remains committed to joining Western institutions and the law was only meant to increase transparency on NGO funding.

But European Council President Charles Michel warned on May 28 that overriding Zurabishvili's veto was a "step backward" for Georgia's European aspirations.

"The European Council decided in December to grant Georgia candidate status on the understanding that Georgia undertakes the relevant steps and necessary democratic reforms," Michel wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

"The adoption of the transparency law in the parliament is a step backward and takes Georgia further away from its EU path. The Georgian people have clearly chosen a future in the EU and we will do everything to support their ambitions," Michel said, adding that the issue will be on the agenda of the next European Council meeting.

A day before the vote, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the bloc had started weighing options should Georgia enact the law. He said a decision will be made next month.

After the Georgian Dream party pushed the bill through, a State Department spokesman said the United States condemns the parliament's decision and told reporters that the party's actions and anti-Western rhetoric threaten Georgia's democratic trajectory.

Senator Ben Cardin (Democrat-Maryland), chairman of the influential Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the Georgian Dream vote was a "sad day for Georgia," and reaffirmed Washington's determination to back the aspirations of the Georgian people.

"The people have demonstrated that they will not allow Ivanishvili to destroy their democracy & take away their European future. We stand with them," Cardin said on X.

Zurabishvili, meanwhile, has urged Georgians to gear up for the upcoming parliamentary elections later this year.

"We must now do everything we can to prepare for October 26, which will be our answer to today. Are you angry today? Get angry, but let's get down to business," she said, calling for a campaign to collect signatures for an EU referendum.

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

Ukraine Repels Russian Drone Attacks On Three Regions

Ukrainian air defenses intercept a Russian drone. (file photo)
Ukrainian air defenses intercept a Russian drone. (file photo)

Ukraine's air defenses shot down 13 of the 14 drones launched by Russia early on May 29 at three of its regions, the Ukrainian Air Force reported on Telegram. "As a result of antiaircraft combat, 13 Shahed [drones] were shot down in the Mykolayiv, Kirovohrad, and Rivne regions," the message said. There were no immediate reports of casualties or damage. Meanwhile, Veniamin Kondratyev, the governor of Russia's southern Krasnodar region, said in a message on Telegram that a Ukrainian drone had been shot down by Russian air defenses over the city of Armavir. There were no casualties or damage, Kondratyev wrote. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.

Updated

Blinken Praises Progress Toward 'Dynamic Moldova' In Visit To Chisinau

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Moldovan President Maia Sandu pose after a joint news conference in Chisinau on May 29.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Moldovan President Maia Sandu pose after a joint news conference in Chisinau on May 29.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on May 29 pledged $135 million in aid to Moldova for energy security and to counter Russian disinformation, reaffirming Washington's support for Moldova's European integration and its sovereignty against the backdrop of Russian threats and the war in Ukraine.

Blinken announced the assistance and expressed his admiration for President Maia Sandu's leadership at a joint news conference with Sandu in Chisinau, where he is on a stop before traveling on to Prague for a NATO foreign ministers meeting.

He praised recent progress made in Chisinau, including the fight against corruption and preparations for EU accession.

"Two years ago when I was here we discussed how we will be able to build a dynamic Moldova, anchored in Europe, that lives in peace. Despite all the difficulties you are facing you have taken concrete steps to fulfill this vision, which will create a strong future, through progress along the European path," Blinken said.

Blinken also thanked Moldova again for the help it has provided to Ukrainian refugees.

"You really are a small country with a big heart," Blinken said.

Since the start of Russia's full-scale invasion the United States has provided Moldova with $774 million in financial aid. Nearly half of that amount -- $300 million -- was earmarked for energy security.

Sandu said the U.S. aid has been used to foster energy security, modernize agriculture, and fight corruption.

"As a matter of fact, in this way you support us in achieving our dream of Moldova to become a land of guaranteed peace, freedom, and well-being for everyone who works in honest manners," Sandu said.

Blinken made a stop in Moldova amid concerns over renewed threats from Russia to both Moldova and Georgia.

Russia still has 1,500 troops stationed in the disputed territory of Transdniester, and in Georgia backs the ruling party’s anti-Western moves that run counter to its aspirations to join the European Union.

Both countries have candidate status to eventually join the EU.

Blinken also answered questions on whether Ukraine's Western backers will allow Kyiv to use arms they have provided to strike targets in Russia. Blinken's response was that Ukraine's allies would "adapt and adjust" their weapons deliveries to ensure its success.

"As what Russia does has changed in terms of how it's pursuing its aggression, we've adapted and adjusted to it and I'm confident we'll continue to do that," Blinken said.

James O'Brien, the top U.S. diplomat for Europe, said last week there is no direct military threat to Moldova at this time from Russia, but he said there are "ongoing Russian influence operations, and that is of concern."

Moldova has repeatedly accused Russia of meddling in local elections and running disinformation campaigns to try to topple the government and derail its path toward joining the EU. Sandu said she expects Russian disinformation to increase in the coming months. Russia has denied the accusations.

In Georgia, those fears intensified on May 28 when the country's parliament overrode a presidential veto of a "foreign agent" bill that has prompted weeks of street protests against the legislation. Demonstrators say it will restrict media freedom and obstruct Georgia's EU aspirations.

With reporting by AP

Allies Meet In Prague To Discuss Czech Munitions Drive, Air Defense For Ukraine

Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala (file photo)
Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala (file photo)

The leaders of five European NATO states reaffirmed their support for Ukraine on May 28 at a meeting in Prague where the main focus was a Czech plan to procure up to 800,000 artillery shells from countries outside the European Union and provide them to Ukraine.

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Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala said Ukraine can expect the first delivery of tens of thousands of 155-millimeter shells in the next few days.

Fiala hosted the working dinner attended by Polish President Andrzej Duda, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, and Latvian Prime Minister Evika Silina and said they would also meet with Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal.

At a news conference ahead of the dinner, Fiala said the officials would discuss how their countries can help Ukraine "at this critical stage of its defense from Russian aggression."

They also would discuss to what extent the existing initiatives to arm Ukraine are working and what more could be done beyond the Czech initiative and a German initiative on supplying air defenses.

Under the Czech initiative, Czech government officials and private companies have worked to source ammunition rounds from around the world. Fifteen EU and NATO states have pledged around 1.6 billion euros ($1.7 billion) to fund the project.

The leaders said in a joint statement after the meeting that with the current financing, they "expect to ensure the donation of half a million rounds of artillery ammunition before the end of the year."

They added that they would continue the initiative as long as needed.

Duda pledged to support the transport of the artillery shells and described the situation on the Ukrainian-Russian front as difficult. He said Russia had the initiative in the war and is preparing another major offensive, and artillery will play a key role in defense.

"We need it (the ammunition) at the front lines as soon as possible," said Shmyhal, who also spoke about the initiative to provide Ukraine with air defense systems to secure its skies.

“We need, [at] a minimum, seven Patriot systems and modern combat aircraft also as soon as possible,” he said.

Fiala also commented on Ukraine's request to use weapons supplied by its Western allies against targets inside Russia.

"I see this as fully logical. Ukraine is a country that defends itself from Russian aggression. It needs to protect its territory and civilian population," he said. "Being a country under attack, it definitely has the full right to use all means for its defense."

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and others have endorsed letting Ukraine use weapons on Russian targets, saying concerns that the use of Western weapons inside Russia would implicate the alliance in the war are unfounded.

With reporting by Reuters and dpa

Bosnian Serbs Withdraw 'Foreign Agent' Law From Assembly Agenda

The National Assembly of Republika Srpska (file photo)
The National Assembly of Republika Srpska (file photo)

The government of Republika Srpska has withdrawn a controversial proposed "foreign agent" law from the agenda of the National Assembly.

The move on May 28 came on the same day that lawmakers in Georgia overrode the president’s veto of similar legislation and then voted overwhelmingly to pass the bill despite mass protests against it in recent weeks.

The withdrawal of the bill in Republika Srpska, the Serbian entity of Bosnia-Herzegovina, was announced by Deputy Prime Minister Milos Bukejlovic, who is also justice minister, without explanation.

The proposed "agents of foreign influence" bill is aimed at NGOs and other organizations that deal with political activities or that attempt to influence public opinion and those that "violate the integrity and constitution of the Republika Srpska."

The draft law calls for the surveillance of NGOs and other organizations funded from abroad and requires registration, financial reporting, and a ban on political activities.

It was included in the agenda at the beginning of the assembly session on May 22 despite a written request from 46 NGOs to deputies not to vote for the law. The NGOs expressed concern that under the draft law everyone "who fights for human rights and against corruption" would be attacked.

The government of Republika Srpska considered the foreign agent law proposal on May 22, but no details were announced afterward.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) also warned last week that the bill contradicts the constitutions of Republika Srpska and Bosnia and the country's international obligations to respect human rights.

The law was announced in 2022 by Milorad Dodik, the pro-Russian president of Republika Srpska, who is also the leader of the largest party in parliament. Dodik is under sanctions imposed by the United States and Britain for his efforts to undermine the Dayton agreement that brought an end to the 1992-95 Bosnian War.

The draft law was referred to the National Assembly on March 28 just days before the legal deadline.

Research conducted by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty showed that the draft law is close to one that has been in effect in Russia for more than a decade.

The U.S. Embassy previously told RFE/RL that the draft law was "repressive and undemocratic” and, if implemented, would drastically violate the rights and freedoms of people living in Republika Srpska.

The Office of the High Representative (OHR) to Bosnia also asked for the withdrawal of the draft law from the parliamentary schedule, saying it aimed to scare civil society organizations into submission.

Zelenskiy To Attend D-Day Commemorations In Normandy, Says Macron

A general view of the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial Colleville-sur-Mer, France. (file photo)
A general view of the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial Colleville-sur-Mer, France. (file photo)

French President Emmanuel Macron said on May 28 that he will greet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy along with other world leaders in Normandy for the 80th anniversary commemorations of D-Day. U.S. President Joe Biden is also scheduled to attend this year’s commemorations of the landings, which led to the liberation of France and Europe from Nazi Germany’s occupation. Dozens of World War II veterans are expected to return to Normandy’s beaches for the ceremony. Macron said during a visit to Germany that he will elaborate on Paris’s support for Ukraine next week, when Zelenskiy visits for the D-Day events.

Iranian Court Sentences Journalist To 21 Years For 'Propaganda Against Regime'

Iranian journalist Zina Modares Gorji (file photo)
Iranian journalist Zina Modares Gorji (file photo)

The Islamic Revolutionary Court in Sanandaj, western Iran, has sentenced journalist Zina Modares Gorji to a combined 21 years in prison for her advocacy of women's rights.

The Kurdish human rights portal Kurdpa reported that Judge Mohammad Karami, handed down a split verdict in the case, with Gorji receiving 10 years for "forming an illegal group aimed at overthrowing the regime" and another 10 years for "collaborating with hostile groups and governments." Additionally, she was given one year for "propaganda against the regime."

Under Iranian law, the longest sentence in cases where multiple punishments are handed down is enforced, meaning she will spend 10 years in prison. However, the court also enforced a 10-year exile period after that.

Her supporters said the sentencing was officially communicated on May 23 and that her legal team has filed an appeal. Her lawyers have requested a retrial and are challenging what they view as an overly harsh and politically motivated verdict aimed at intimidating voices within the country.

The exile portion of the punishment, analysts said, shows how far Iranian authorities are going to stifle dissent in the wake of nationwide unrest over the death of Mahsa Amini while in police custody for an alleged Islamic head scarf, or hijab, violation in September 2022.

Gorji was first detained during Amini-inspired protests.

After an initial 40-day detention period for "assembly and collusion against the system," Gorji was temporarily released on a bail.

She was rearrested in April 2023 and spent about a month in solitary confinement before being transferred to a general prison ward.

Last month Gorji said on Instagram that her bookstore in Sanandaj was forcibly closed for several days by local authorities for alleged noncompliance with mandatory hijab laws.

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

Spain Says Its Decision Not To Recognize Kosovo Unchanged After Deciding To Recognize Palestinian State

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said that recognizing a Palestine state was "an imperative to achieve peace." (file photo)
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said that recognizing a Palestine state was "an imperative to achieve peace." (file photo)

Spain's position on recognizing Kosovo’s independence from Serbia remains unchanged, the Spanish Foreign Ministry said May 28 after announcing Madrid’s decision to recognize a Palestinian state.

The ministry told RFE/RL that it viewed the two situations as very different.

"Recognition of the state of Palestine does not affect Israel's territorial integrity, as this territory has never been legally part of the state of Israel,” ministry spokeswoman Elena Aljarilla Cortezon said in response to an inquiry from RFE/RL.

“Spain's decision to recognize the state of Palestine aims to uphold international law, the principles of the UN Charter, and the resolutions of the UN Security Council," Aljarilla Cortezon said.

Spain joined Ireland and Norway on May 28 in formally recognizing a Palestinian state. Israel has slammed the decision as a "reward" for Hamas, which has been declared a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union.

More than 140 countries of the 193 in the UN General Assembly have now recognized Palestine as an independent state.

Spain, Ireland, and Norway said they believed their initiative has strong symbolic impact that is likely to encourage others to follow suit.

"Recognition of the state of Palestine is not only a matter of historical justice, with legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people, but is also an imperative to achieve peace," Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on May 28.

"It is the only way to realize the solution we all recognize as the only possible one to achieve the future of peace -- a Palestinian state that coexists alongside the state of Israel in peace and security," Sanchez said.

Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia in 2008. It has been recognized by more than 110 states, including many EU-member countries and the United States. Serbia, Russia, and China are among those that refuse to recognize it along with EU-member states Spain, Greece, Cyprus, Romania, and Slovakia.

The issue of the recognition of Kosovo by Spain in the light of it recognizing Palestine came up during a meeting of foreign ministers on May 27 in Brussels. Sources told RFE/RL that there was an open spat between Germany and Spain. While Germany was "very convincing" on Kosovo recognition, "Spain was defensive, arguing that Kosovo was not on the agenda."

Spain's former ambassador to Belgrade, Raul Bartolome Molina, said last year just before Madrid took over the presidency of the European Union that his country's position is not to recognize Kosovo's independence, while supporting EU efforts to normalize relations between Kosovo and Serbia.

“This position has not changed, nor will it change, and all our allies know it very well," Bartolome said on June 30, 2023.

Siberian Court Upholds 9-Year Prison Sentence Handed To Former Navalny Associate

Ksenia Fadeyeva (file photo)
Ksenia Fadeyeva (file photo)

A court in the Siberian city of Tomsk has rejected an appeal filed by Ksenia Fadeyeva, a former local lawmaker and the ex-head of late opposition politician Aleksei Navalny's regional team, over a nine-year prison term she was handed in December for extremism, a charge she and her supporters reject.

Judges Andrei Arkhipov, Ksenia Gerasimova, and Lyudmila Matyskina of the Tomsk City Court ruled on May 28 that Fadeyeva's sentence must be upheld as a lower court's decision to convict her of organizing the activities of an extremist group and participating in the activities of an NGO that violates "citizens' privacy and rights" was legally grounded.

The judges also concluded that the initial ruling by a lower court ordering Fadeyeva to pay 500,000 rubles ($5,535) fine also remains.

Fadeyeva's lawyers, meanwhile, have called for their client's immediate release, stressing that she had ended her involvement with Navalny's organization before it was labeled extremist in 2021.

During her trial last year, prosecutors asked the court to sentence Fadeyeva to 10 1/2 years in prison.

Fadeyeva was detained in December 2021. She was later released but barred from using the Internet and from communicating with others without the permission of investigators, She was also banned from attending public events.

She was then placed under house arrest and later put in a detention center for what investigators said was a violation of house arrest conditions.

After that, her trial, which started in mid-August, resumed behind closed doors.

In January 2022, Russian authorities added Fadeyeva and several other former leaders of Navalny's teams across the country to the list of extremists and terrorists.

Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation and his other organizations were labeled extremist in August 2021 as part of a crackdown on civil society.

Since Russia launched its ongoing unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, several of Navalny's former associates have been charged with discrediting the Russian armed forces, distributing "fake" news about the military, and extremism.

Earlier in 2023, the former leaders of Navalny’s teams in the Republic of Bashkortostan and the region of Altai Krai -- Lilia Chanysheva and Vadim Ostanin -- were sentenced to 7 1/2 and 9 years in prison, respectively, on extremism charges, which they and their supporters call politically motivated.

In April, Chanysheva's prison term was extended by two years at the request of prosecutors.

Visa-Free Travel To China For Georgians Comes Into Force

The Chinese Embassy in Tbilisi, Georgia (file photo)
The Chinese Embassy in Tbilisi, Georgia (file photo)

A deal allowing Georgians to travel to China without visas for up to 30 days came into force on May 28, the Georgian Foreign Ministry said. In September, Georgia canceled the visa requirement for Chinese nationals visiting the South Caucasus nation after the two countries announced a decision to upgrade their bilateral ties to a strategic partnership. Tbilisi's move to enhance ties with Beijing coincided with rising tensions between China and both the United States and the European Union over what was seen as the Georgian government's ambivalence toward Russia in the face of its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Echo of the Caucasus, click here.

Former Deputy Chief Of Almaty City Police Detained In Torture Case

The arrest is reportedly linked to the beating and torture of Kyrgyz jazz musician Vikram Ruzakhunov in Kazakhstan. (file photo)
The arrest is reportedly linked to the beating and torture of Kyrgyz jazz musician Vikram Ruzakhunov in Kazakhstan. (file photo)

The Kazakh Prosecutor-General's Office said on May 28 that the former deputy chief of the Almaty city police department, Berik Abilbekov, was detained as part of a case of torture during unprecedented anti-government protests in January 2022 that turned deadly after security forces opened fire.

While the office provided no details, the media outlet Orda.kz cited lawyer Rena Kerimova, who represents popular Kyrgyz jazz musician Vikram Ruzakhunov, as saying that Abilbekov's arrest was linked to the beating and torture of her client.

Ruzakhunov, who says he suffered a chest injury, broken ribs, a concussion, and multiple bruises while in Kazakh custody, visited Kazakhstan several times after Kazakh officials launched a probe into his beating in Almaty.

Ruzakhunov has said that four Kazakh police were detained in Almaty on suspicion of involvement in his beating.

Anti-government protests sparked by a fuel-price hike erupted in Kazakhstan in early January 2022. President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev has publicly blamed what he said were “20,000 extremists” trained abroad for attacking Almaty during the unrest. He has not produced any evidence to back up the claim.

Ruzakhunov's situation was amplified when a Kazakh television channel showed a video in which he said he was recruited by an unspecified group to take part in the unrest for $200.

In the video, severe bruises can be seen on Ruzakhunov's face, which appear to back up his claims that he was forced to make the statement.

The video sparked protests in Kyrgyzstan, where Ruzakhunov was immediately recognized by his fans. He was freed several days after his arrest and allowed to go to Bishkek after the Kyrgyz government demanded his release.

Kazakh officials have said that six people were tortured to death after being arrested for taking part in the protests, and 238 people died during or after the unrest, which was violently dispersed by law enforcement and the armed forces.

The Kazakh Prosecutor-General's Office has said 25 people were officially considered victims of torture as investigators used hot irons during their interrogations.

Human rights groups insist that the number of people killed during the unrest may be bigger, presenting proof that many peaceful demonstrators and persons who had nothing to do with the protesters were slain by police and military personnel following a "shoot-to-kill-without-warning" order issued by Toqaev.

After Ruzakhunov was released following the public outcry in Kyrgyzstan and returned from Kazakhstan to Bishkek, Kyrgyz authorities concluded that Kazakh police had inflicted severe injuries on Ruzakhunov's body during his illegal arrest.

Jailed Kyrgyz Activists Demand Medical Checkups Fearing TB Outbreak

Supporters demand the release of activists and politicians detained for protesting a Kyrgyz-Uzbek border deal. (file photo)
Supporters demand the release of activists and politicians detained for protesting a Kyrgyz-Uzbek border deal. (file photo)

Eight jailed Kyrgyz activists and politicians on trial for protesting a Kyrgyz-Uzbek border deal issued a statement on May 28 urging authorities to organize immediate medical checkups for them after at least two inmates in their detention center were diagnosed with tuberculosis. The eight men were arrested in 2022 along with 19 other people and charged with organizing mass disorder and plotting to seize power after they protested the deal that saw Kyrgyzstan hand over the territory of the Kempir-Abad reservoir to Uzbekistan. Nineteen of the group were later transferred to house arrest. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, click here.

Updated

Belgium Pledges $1 Billion In Military Aid, 30 F-16s For Ukraine

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (left) and Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo shake hands after signing a bilateral security agreement in Brussels on May 28.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (left) and Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo shake hands after signing a bilateral security agreement in Brussels on May 28.

Belgium will deliver 977 million euros ($1 billion) in military aid and 30 F-16 fighter jets for Ukraine under a 10-year bilateral security agreement signed by President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo on May 28 in Brussels.

The agreement is the second of its kind signed by Zelenskiy in as many days as he continues a whirlwind tour to secure more military aid for Ukraine's outgunned and outmanned troops as they struggle to fend off a Russian offensive and relentless strikes on civilian targets in the northeastern region of Kharkiv.

"For the first time, such an agreement specifies the exact number of F-16 fighter jets -- 30 -- that will be delivered to Ukraine until 2028, with the first arriving already this year," Zelenskiy wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

De Croo said at a joint news conference that Brussels will do "everything possible" to deliver the first fighter jets by the end of the year.

Asked by RFE/RL to specify how many warplanes will be delivered this year, De Croo did not answer, saying just that efforts of the aircraft coalition for Ukraine were ongoing.

De Croo stressed that the planes are to be used only above the territory of Ukraine. "The security agreement stipulates that military equipment will be used by the armed forces of Ukraine and on the territory of Ukraine," he said.

The Belgian prime minister added that training was already under way for Ukrainian pilots on Belgian F-16s.

"Today, our planes are used to train new Ukrainian pilots. Our technical teams are used to provide technical support to keep aircraft in the air. Our teams are training Ukrainian technicians how to perform [technical support]," he said.

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Zelenskiy, asked by RFE/RL about the progress of negotiations with partners on obtaining permission to strike targets on the territory of Russia, replied that he was "confident of a positive result both from some partners and from our production."

Ukraine has been frustrated by the lack of permission from some of its allies, mainly the United States and Germany, to hit military targets inside Russia with Western weapons systems.

The European Union's top diplomat, Josep Borrell, has backed Kyiv's request.

"According with the law of war, it is perfectly possible and there is no contradiction. I could retaliate or I could fight against the one who fights against me from his territory," Borrell told journalists ahead of a meeting with EU defense ministers.

"You have to balance the risk of escalation and the need for Ukrainians to defend," he said.

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.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has also thrown his weight behind Ukraine's plea, saying concerns that the use of Western weapons inside Russia would implicate the alliance in the war are unfounded.

"Ukraine's use of weapons supplied by its Western allies against targets inside Russia would not make NATO and its members part of the conflict," Stoltenberg said in Brussels on May 28.

French President Emmanuel Macron added his voice, saying on May 28 that Kyiv should be allowed to "neutralize" Russian military bases from which Moscow troops have fired missiles into Ukraine.

"We think that we should allow them to neutralize military sites where missiles are fired," Macron said on a state visit to Germany.

He stressed, however, that Ukraine should not be allowed to hit other targets in Russia or civilian facilities.

But the White House on May 28 again rejected ending restrictions on Kyiv using U.S.-supplied arms to strike Russian territory.

"There's no change to our policy at this point. We don't encourage or enable the use of U.S.-supplied weapons to strike inside Russia," White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told a briefing.

Russian President Vladimir Putin warned earlier on May 28 that hitting Russian soil with Western-supplied long-range weapons could set the war on a dangerous new path.

Speaking to reporters while on a trip to Uzbekistan, Putin said the use of such weapons would rely on Western intelligence data and imply the involvement of NATO military personnel.

“Representatives of countries that are NATO members, particularly in Europe, should be aware of what they are playing with,” Putin said, adding that “countries with small territory and dense populations” should be particularly careful.

With reporting by AP and AFP

Former Siberian Coal Mine Official Imprisoned Over Deadly 2021 Blast

A Russian Emergency Ministry rescue team at the Listvyazhnaya coal mine after a deadly blast in 2021
A Russian Emergency Ministry rescue team at the Listvyazhnaya coal mine after a deadly blast in 2021

A court in Russia's Siberian region of Kemerovo on May 28 sentenced the former chief engineer at a coal mine over an explosion in 2021 that killed 51 people. Anatoly Lobanov was convicted of giving false information regarding the mine's safety. The court had already handed sentences to several former employees of the mine and a technical safety service inspector ranging from parole-like sentences to up to six years in prison for safety violations, negligence, and bribery. Numerous inspections of the mine in 2021 revealed 914 violations and operations were stopped nine times. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Siberia.Realities, click here.

Tatar Activist Gets Suspended Sentence Over Anti-War Stance

Anti-war activist Zulfia Sitdikova was convicted of rehabilitating Nazism and discrediting Russia's military.
Anti-war activist Zulfia Sitdikova was convicted of rehabilitating Nazism and discrediting Russia's military.

The Supreme Court in Russia's Tatarstan region on May 28 handed a suspended two-year prison sentence to anti-war activist Zulfia Sitdikova, who was convicted of rehabilitating Nazism and discrediting Russia's military. The charges stem from two public actions Sitdikova carried out in 2023 to protest against the war in Ukraine. In 2022, she was fined for wearing a hoodie with the words "No war" on it while attending a pro-Kremlin concert in Tatarstan's capital, Kazan. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service, click here.

Belarusian Entrepreneur Gets 9 Years In Prison Amid Crackdown

Artur Rolich
Artur Rolich

The Vyasna human rights center said on May 28 that the Minsk City Court sentenced Artur Rolich, the owner of a shop selling brand-name clothing and shoes, to nine years in prison on charges of financing terrorist and extremist activities and financially supporting an extremist group. The charges stem from Rolich's donations to various foundations assisting Belarusian citizens, including those who fled their homeland amid an ongoing crackdown on democratic institutions, free media, and dissent. The 39-year-old Rolich left Belarus in late July 2023. He was most likely arrested after he returned home.

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