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One Of Brussels Bombers Worked In EU Parliament

Belgian prosecutors say Najim Laachraoui blew himself up in a deadly attack on Brussels airport on March 22.
Belgian prosecutors say Najim Laachraoui blew himself up in a deadly attack on Brussels airport on March 22.

One of the men who carried out the deadly attacks in Brussels on March 22 had worked as a cleaner in the European Parliament six years earlier.

In a statement on April 6, the EU Parliament said the individual had month-long summer jobs there in 2009 and 2010.

Although the EU Parliament did not reveal his name, sources identified him as Najim Laachraoui, a 25-year-old Belgian who prosecutors said blew himself up in the airport attack and is also suspected of making suicide vests for last November's Paris attacks in which 130 people died.

The Belgian prime minister defended his country's approach to fighting terror threats, insisting Belgium is not a "failed state."

Charles Michel said authorities had to take a share of the blame for failings before and after March 22, when attacks claimed by the Islamic State militant group killed 32 people.

Based on reporting by AFP and Reuters

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Former Ukrainian Secret Service Employee Injured When Car Explodes In Moscow

A former Ukrainian secret service employee was injured when a device under his car exploded in Moscow on April 12. Russian media said Vasily Prozorov suffered leg injuries that are not considered life threatening after the device detonated as he tried to start his car. Prozorov worked for Ukraine's SBU until 2018. The following year, he told media in Moscow that he had collaborated with Russia “for ideological reasons” from April 2014 until his departure from the SBU. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

France To Co-Sponsor UN Resolution On Bosnian Genocide, Says Srebrenica Memorial

The Srebrenica Memorial Center on March 1
The Srebrenica Memorial Center on March 1

France will be one of the co-sponsors of a draft UN resolution on Srebrenica, the Srebrenica Memorial Center announced on April 12, a move that would establish a day marking the massacre of thousands of Bosnian Muslim men by Bosnian Serb forces in 1995.

The news, announced by the Srebrenica Memorial Center but has yet to be confirmed by France, came after the Voice of America (VOA) earlier this week reported that several UN member states are working on a draft resolution that would declare July 11 as the International Day of the Remembrance of the Genocide committed in Srebrenica in 1995.

The draft resolution is to be presented on April 17 at a closed-doors meeting at the UN, VOA reported citing unofficial sources.

The draft resolution, seen by RFE/RL, calls for the condemnation of any denial of the genocide in Srebrenica and encourages UN members to establish educational programs to prevent future manifestations of revisionism and genocide.

The move has been opposed by Milorad Dodik, the Russia-friendly leader of Bosnia-Herzegovina's ethnic Serb entity, Republika Srpska, who threatened that if the resolution is adopted, "Republika Srpska will withdraw from the decision-making process in Bosnia."

Dodik, who has been sanctioned by the United States and Britain over his efforts to undermine the Dayton peace accords that ended the Balkan country's war in 1995, has reiterated his denial of the Srebrenica genocide.

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in 2008 ruled that the killing of some 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys by ethnic Serb forces in July 1995 during the bloody breakup of the former Yugoslavia was genocide.

The final text of the resolution is still in the works, and all 193 UN member countries will have their say on the document at the UN General Assembly early next month.

So far, more than 50 individuals have been sentenced to some 700 years in prison for their roles in the Srebrenica genocide.

Radovan Karadzic, the first president (1992-1995) of Republika Srpska, one of the two entities that make up Bosnia, was sentenced to life in prison by ICTY for the Srebrenica genocide and crimes against humanity. Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serbs' military commander was also sentenced to life by the same court for his role in the genocide.

The initiators of the resolution are Germany and Rwanda, but as VOA has reported citing unofficial sources, the United States, Albania, Finland, New Zealand, Turkey, and other countries are also participating in the drafting of the text.

Ukraine, Russia Exchange Bodies Of More Than 120 Fallen Troops

The bodies of 99 fallen Ukrainian soldiers were returned to Kyiv, Ukraine's Coordination Headquarters for the Treatment of Prisoners of War reported in a message on April 12. "The bodies of 77 defenders killed in Donetsk, 20 fallen in Zaporizhzhya region, and two killed in Kharkiv" were returned, the message posted on Facebook said. Russian news site RBK meanwhile reported, citing Duma deputy Shamsail Saraliev, that Russia received 23 soldiers' bodies. The previous exchange took place on March 29. At that time, the Russian side received 29 bodies while Ukraine received the remains of 121 troops. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Brussels Says It Suspects Russia Of Interfering In EU Elections

European-wide polls are being held on June 6-9 to elect a new EU parliament. 
European-wide polls are being held on June 6-9 to elect a new EU parliament. 

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo announced on April 12 an investigation into suspected Russian interference in European-wide elections in June, saying his country’s intelligence service has confirmed the existence of a network trying to undermine support for Ukraine. De Croo, whose country holds the European Union’s rotating presidency, said the "the goal is very clear: a weakened European support for Ukraine serves Russia on the battlefield and that is the real aim of what has been uncovered in the last weeks." European-wide polls are being held on June 6-9 to elect a new EU parliament.

Moscow Expels Slovenian Diplomat In Tit-For-Tat Move

Slovenia on March 21 expelled a Russian diplomat over "activities incompatible with the diplomatic status." 
Slovenia on March 21 expelled a Russian diplomat over "activities incompatible with the diplomatic status." 

Russia has ordered a Slovenian diplomat to leave the country in a retaliatory move after Ljubljana expelled a Russian diplomat, Russia's Foreign Ministry said in a statement on April 12. The ministry said it had also told the Slovenian ambassador that his country was responsible for what it called the "destruction of bilateral relations" between Russia and Slovenia. "We regard this openly unfriendly step in the context of Ljubljana’s general course toward the destruction of Russian-Slovenian ties," the statement said. Slovenia on March 21 expelled a Russian diplomat over "activities incompatible with the diplomatic status."

Tehran Police To Launch New Phase Of Hijab Enforcement

Women walk without the mandatory hijab in Iran.
Women walk without the mandatory hijab in Iran.

Tehran police said they will launch a new phase of enforcement of the mandatory hijab law from April 13 even though the new "hijab and chastity" bill has yet to be approved by the country's Guardians Council.

Police Chief Abbasali Mohammadian announced the new phase of tightened enforcement ahead of a similar declaration made by the police chief of the southern city of Bushehr. Both said a more "vigorous enforcement" of the law will begin in all public spaces starting April 13.

Even though the Guardians Council has yet to approve the law, a necessary step to it becoming official, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei gave a directive during the Eid al-Fitr prayer sermon for enforcement of measures against what he called "religious norm-breaking" within Iranian society.

Khamenei also emphasized the mandatory hijab law as a "definite religious decree," underscoring the obligation of all to adhere to this and other legal decrees.

The "hijab and chastity" bill, which passed in parliament last year without public discussion, came in reaction to a wave of protests and defiance by women against being forced to wear the head covering. However, the approval process is still ongoing after some objections by the Guardians Council, including questions over how the law will be enforced.

Mehdi Bagheri, a lawmaker involved in the bill's review, said there are plans to resubmit an amended bill to the Guardians Council next week.

Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei, head of Iran's judiciary, said that given Khamenei's comments, existing legal frameworks could be leveraged to enhance compliance without waiting the bill's formal approval.

The renewed focus on the mandatory hijab enforcement arrives as numerous reports suggest a decline in adherence to the head scarf among Iranian women in Tehran and other cities following widespread protests triggered by the death of Mahsa Amini while in custody of the morality police in 2022 for an alleged hijab violation.

The hijab became compulsory for women and girls over the age of 9 in 1981, two years after the Islamic Revolution in Iran. The move triggered protests that were swiftly crushed by the new authorities. Many women have flouted the rule over the years and pushed the boundaries of what officials say is acceptable clothing.

The death of Amini released a wave of anger that has presented the Islamic regime with its biggest challenge since the revolution.

The Women, Life, Freedom protests and civil disobedience against the compulsory hijab have swept the country, involving tens of thousands of Iranians, many of whom were already upset over the country's deteriorating living standards.

Campaigns were also launched against the discriminatory law, although many have been pressured by the state and forced to leave the country.

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

Russia Strikes More Ukraine Energy Infrastructure

A social media image shows the burning Tripilska Thermal Power Plant -- the largest supplier of electricity to the Kyiv, Cherkasy, and Zyhtomr regions -- burning on April 11 following a targeted Russian missile attack.
A social media image shows the burning Tripilska Thermal Power Plant -- the largest supplier of electricity to the Kyiv, Cherkasy, and Zyhtomr regions -- burning on April 11 following a targeted Russian missile attack.

Russia on April 12 kept up the pressure on Ukraine's energy infrastructure with a fresh series of drone and missile strikes that caused additional damage to an already battered electricity grid amid dwindling Ukrainian air-defense capabilities as critical Western military aid fails to materialize.

Russia in recent days has launched massive air and drone strikes on Ukrainian civilian and energy infrastructure, causing casualties and major damage.

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The new strikes on April 12 targeted an energy facility in the southern region of Dnipropetrovsk, which sustained serious damage after catching fire following a Russian drone attack early on April 12, the Ukrainian military and a regional official said.

The energy facility was not identified in the military report, which only said debris from four downed Russian drones fell on the territory of a "critical" infrastructure facility in the Kryvorizka district, setting it on fire.

Ukrainian firefighters managed to put out the fire, but the extent of the damage could not be immediately assessed, regional head Serhiy Lysak said.

Meanwhile, Kherson regional administration head Oleksandr Prokudin said on April 12 that overnight Russian strikes on the southern Ukrainian region damaged a critical infrastructure facility, without identifying which one.

Prokudin said 15 settlements across the region were shelled, adding that residential areas were targeted in particular. He said that no casualties were immediately reported but that several houses had been destroyed.

Ukrainian air-defense systems shot down 16 out of the 17 drones launched by Russia at six regions on April 12, Ukraine's Air Force said in a message on social media.

"The Defense Forces of Ukraine shot down 16 Shahed-type attack UAVs within the Mykolayiv, Odesa, Kherson, Dnipropetrovsk, Vinnytsya, and Khmelnytskiy regions," the Facebook post said.

On April 11, the Trypilska power plant, a major electricity supplier for the Kyiv, Cherkasy, and Zhytomyr regions located some 50 kilometers south of the Ukrainian capital, was destroyed by Russian missiles.

WATCH: RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service and Current Time journalists speak with outgunned Ukrainian soldiers as Moscow continues its efforts to overwhelm the country's defenses.

Outnumbered And Outgunned, Ukraine Struggles To Slow Russian Advance
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The strike, which left hundreds of thousands of people without electricity, appeared to highlight Ukraine's waning capabilities to repel massive aerial barrages being launched by Moscow.

Ukraine has been pleading with its allies to speed up efforts to cover drastic shortfalls in ammunition and weaponry in recent weeks as a massive $60 billion aid package remains on hold in Washington as Republican lawmakers refuse to approve it without an agreement on deep domestic policy changes.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, during a visit to Lithuania on April 11, pleaded with Ukraine's allies to give the embattled country more air-defense systems.

"The main task for now is to make every effort to strengthen our air-defense system, to meet the urgent needs of the Ukrainian Defense Forces, and to consolidate international support so that we can overcome Russian terror," Zelenskiy wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

Israel Vows Defense If Iran Responds To Attack On Consulate

An ambulance is parked outside the Iranian consulate in Damascus after a suspected Israeli strike on April 2.
An ambulance is parked outside the Iranian consulate in Damascus after a suspected Israeli strike on April 2.

Israel’s military says it is prepared to defend the country and strike back if Iran retaliates for a deadly air strike on the Iranian Consulate in Syria. Tehran holds Israel responsible for the attack earlier this month, which the U.S. military believes Israel carried out. Israel has not commented on it. The increased tensions have sparked international concern that Israel's devastating war in Gaza against Hamas, which has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union, could spill over into the rest of the Middle East.

EU Wants 'Substantial' Talks Between Armenia, Azerbaijan, Says Envoy

Toivo Klaar (right), the EU's special representative for the South Caucasus and the crisis in Georgia, meets with Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan in Yerevan on March 1.
Toivo Klaar (right), the EU's special representative for the South Caucasus and the crisis in Georgia, meets with Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan in Yerevan on March 1.

A top EU diplomat on April 11 said he wants to see "genuine, substantial negotiations" between Armenia and Azerbaijan leading to a peace treaty, agreements on border delimitation, and opening of transport links.

Toivo Klaar, the EU's special representative for the South Caucasus and the crisis in Georgia, told RFE/RL that Armenia and Azerbaijan could move forward in the peace process faster if conditions are right.

"It should not take that long to arrive at a positive outcome if the political will is there, if the commitment is there. And that is what we want to work for together with Armenia, together with Azerbaijan, that indeed we get from the point where we are to a positive outcome," Klaar said.

Klaar added that Brussels supports the Turkey-Armenia normalization process, and he hopes the special envoys for normalization talks designated by Yerevan and Ankara will meet soon.

"My hope would be that in the near future this process would indeed move forward and show results for the sake of Armenia, for the sake of Turkey, for the sake of the region," he said.

As for Armenia's possible membership in the EU in the future, Klaar said it depends on political decisions made in Yerevan, Brussels, and the member states.

"There are so many elements related to this. Certainly what we are seeing right now is a strengthening of relations between the European Union and Armenia, which corresponds to the interests of the European Union, which corresponds to the interests of Armenia. How this relationship will evolve, we will have to see," he said.

Compared to only a few years ago, the relationship between the EU and Armenia has evolved significantly, he added, but it's too early to say where things will end up.

Armenia is only starting to catch up on some elements of the process that it could have achieved 10 years ago, he said.

"We are catching up on maybe lost time that we have had in our relationship," the diplomat said.

Armenia has long been a close ally of Russia but in recent months has taken steps to distance itself from that alliance, apparently angered by what it saw as a lack of support from Moscow during the 2020 war in Nagorno-Karabakh.

The Armenian government has also criticized Russian peacekeepers deployed to Nagorno-Karabakh of failing to stop Azerbaijan's lightning offensive in September last year that ended with Baku regaining control over the breakaway region that for three decades had been under ethnic Armenians' control.

In other signs of Armenia's move to distance itself from Russia, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian said last month that his country had frozen its membership in the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), and the Armenian Foreign Ministry said on April 10 that Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan will not attend a meeting on April 12 of his counterparts from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), a Moscow-led grouping of former Soviet republics that was set up immediately after the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991.

The CSTO has been at the heart of Armenia's turn away from Moscow. The Pashinian government has long criticized the CSTO for its "failure to respond to the security challenges" facing Armenia.

Asked whether Armenia's membership in organizations like the Russian-led CSTO was an obstacle to the country's further integration with the EU, Klaar said: "Right now we have to look at what the Armenian government and what the Armenian people want to do, where they want to go, and how they see best the development of our relations."

A meeting last week in Brussels between Pashinian, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, and EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell represented "a real strengthening of EU-Armenia relations," Klaar said, adding that the United States is there to help support the resilience of Armenia.

At the meeting the EU unveiled an aid package for Armenia in the amount of 270 million euros (about $290 million) to be made available over the next four years, with the United States pledging $65 million in additional "development assistance" to Armenia this year.

Russia Sends Military Instructors To Niger

A supporter of Niger's ruling junta holds a placard in the colors of the Russian flag reading "Long Live Russia, Long Live Niger and Nigeriens" at the start of a protest called to fight for the country's freedom and push back against foreign interference in Niamey, Niger, on August 3, 2023.
A supporter of Niger's ruling junta holds a placard in the colors of the Russian flag reading "Long Live Russia, Long Live Niger and Nigeriens" at the start of a protest called to fight for the country's freedom and push back against foreign interference in Niamey, Niger, on August 3, 2023.

Russian military instructors arrived in Niger in a plane loaded with military equipment, Niger state television RTN said on April 11, citing an agreement between the junta and Russian President Vladimir Putin to boost cooperation. It aired footage of a military cargo plane unloading gear on April 10. A man in a camouflage uniform, whom RTN said was one of the instructors, said they were there to train the Nigerien Army and to develop military cooperation between Russia and Niger. RTN also said Russia had agreed to install an anti-aircraft system in Niger.

Lufthansa Extends Suspension Of Flights To Tehran Amid Rising Tensions

Lufthansa and its subsidiary Austrian Airlines are the only two Western carriers flying into Tehran, which is mostly served by Turkish and Middle Eastern airlines.
Lufthansa and its subsidiary Austrian Airlines are the only two Western carriers flying into Tehran, which is mostly served by Turkish and Middle Eastern airlines.

Germany's Lufthansa extended a suspension of its flights to Tehran on April 11 with the Middle East on alert for Iranian retaliation for a suspected Israeli air strike on Iran's embassy in Syria. Lufthansa and its subsidiary Austrian Airlines are the only two Western carriers flying into Tehran, which is mostly served by Turkish and Middle Eastern airlines. The region and the United States have been on alert for an attack by Iran since April 1, when Israeli warplanes are suspected to have bombed the Iranian Embassy compound in Syria.

Father Of Slain Iranian Protester Detained, Whereabouts Unknown

Reza Lotfi's parents
Reza Lotfi's parents

The father of Reza Lotfi, who was among the hundreds of protesters killed by security forces during nationwide protests that swept across Iran in 2022, has been detained by police and taken to an undisclosed location, according to the HRANA news agency.

HRANA, which specializes in human rights coverage in Iran, quoted a family member as saying Kamal Lotfi was arrested on April 10 after he received a summons from the Islamic Revolutionary Court in the western Iranian city of Qorveh.

In April 2023, Kamal Lotfi was arrested and physically assaulted by security forces before being incarcerated at the Kamyaran prison. He was released from custody three months later.

Reza Lotfi was fatally shot by security personnel during protests in the city of Dehgolan in September 2022 after Mahsa Amini died under mysterious circumstances in police custody for an alleged head-scarf violation.

Tensions between the government and the families of those killed or arrested in the nationwide protests have been on the rise in recent months.

The government has been accused of stepping up the pressure on the victims' families through collective arrests and the summoning of grieving families by security agencies with the aim of keeping them from commemorating the deaths of their loved ones, which the government fears will trigger more unrest.

The Islamic republic has a long-standing history, extending over four decades, of employing tactics such as intimidation, threats, job termination, arrests, and imprisonment against the family members of individuals who have been killed or executed in protests.

This pattern of repression also extends to the dismissal of parents, siblings, and occasionally more distant relatives of deceased or executed protesters or political activists from their employment or educational institutions on multiple occasions.

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

Russian 'Shadow Fleet' Ups Risk Of Baltic Sea Spill, Finland's Border Guard Says

An oil tanker in the Gulf of Finland passes the Lakhta Center skyscraper, the headquarters of Russian gas monopoly Gazprom, in St. Petersburg, Russia, in June 2023.
An oil tanker in the Gulf of Finland passes the Lakhta Center skyscraper, the headquarters of Russian gas monopoly Gazprom, in St. Petersburg, Russia, in June 2023.

The risk of a large Baltic Sea oil spill has risen since Russia began using a "shadow fleet" of tankers to circumvent curbs on its oil exports, Finland's Border Guard warned on April 11. Mikko Simola, head of the Border Guard’s maritime-safety unit, told AFP that around 70 "ghost" oil tankers navigate through the Gulf of Finland every week, increasing the risk of "an accident with environmental consequences." Experts say the fleet of tankers with opaque ownership or without proper insurance has allowed the Kremlin to keep exporting despite a Western-imposed embargo and oil price cap.

German Foreign Minister Phones Iranian Counterpart As Mideast Tensions Rise

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock (file photo)
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock (file photo)

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock phoned her Iranian counterpart on April 11 to urge de-escalation amid rising concerns of a direct Iranian attack on Israel. "No one can have any interest in a conflagration with completely unforeseeable consequences," Baerbock said in Berlin, urging all actors in the region "to act responsibly and to exercise restraint." This was the message she conveyed to Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, she said. Asked whether the call had been coordinated with Israel or the United States, she responded, "All diplomatic phone lines are running hot at this time to prevent a regional escalation."

IMF Chief Says Pakistan Seeking Potential Follow-Up Loan Program

IMF chief Kristalina Georgieva (left) meets with Pakistani Prime Minister Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif in June 2023.
IMF chief Kristalina Georgieva (left) meets with Pakistani Prime Minister Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif in June 2023.

Pakistan is in discussions with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on a potential follow-up program to its nine-month, $3 billion stand-by arrangement, IMF chief Kristalina Georgieva said on April 11. Speaking in Washington, Georgieva said Pakistan was successfully completing its existing program with the IMF and was now "turning to the fund for potentially having a follow-up program." But she said that it had important issues to solve, including "the tax base, how the richer part of society contributes to the economy, the way public spending is being directed, and of course, creating...a more transparent environment."

Recent Attacks On Nuclear Plant In Ukraine Raise Safety Concern To New Level, IAEA Chief Says

 International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Rafael Grossi attends a press conference in Kyiv in February 6.
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Rafael Grossi attends a press conference in Kyiv in February 6.

Attacks over the weekend on the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant in Ukraine have raised the level of concern over the safety of the facility to an even higher level, the head of the UN's nuclear watchdog told his agency's board of governors on April 11 in Vienna.

The most recent attacks "have shifted us into an acutely consequential juncture in this war," Rafael Grossi said in a statement issued by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Grossi added that he wanted "to ensure these reckless attacks do not mark the beginning of a new and gravely dangerous front," according to the statement as prepared for delivery at the opening of an emergency board meeting called by Russia and Ukraine.

Grossi issued a stark warning on April 8, a day after the plant in southern Ukraine -- Europe's largest -- was struck by drones. He said an IAEA team of experts located at the plant "confirmed that at least three direct hits” against the plant's main reactor containment structures had taken place.

Grossi said on April 11 that those attacks "marked a major escalation of the nuclear safety and security dangers in Ukraine, significantly increasing the risk of a nuclear accident."

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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The plant has been controlled by Russian forces since Moscow launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Grossi also appealed to military decision makers to abstain from any action violating the IAEA's principles to prevent a nuclear accident and he urged the international community to work toward a de-escalation of what is "a very serious situation."

Detailing the three direct hits that occurred on April 7, Grossi said one of the strikes hit the reactor dome of Unit 6. The damage it caused had not compromised nuclear safety, he said. But strikes on the plant's primary containment structure represent "a step-change increase in risk to nuclear safety."

The other two attacks were in close proximity to the main reactor buildings and resulted in at least one casualty, he said.

A further drone attack and bursts of rifle fire were reported on April 9, Grossi added, saying this was "an ominous indication of an apparent readiness to continue these attacks, despite the grave dangers they pose to nuclear safety and security," and repeated his call for the strikes to end.

Memoir Navalny Wrote Before Death To Be Published In October

Aleksei Navalny (pictured with Yulia Navalnaya) began writing the memoir in 2020 while convalescing in Berlin after being poisoned.
Aleksei Navalny (pictured with Yulia Navalnaya) began writing the memoir in 2020 while convalescing in Berlin after being poisoned.

Aleksei Navalny, the late Russian anti-corruption campaigner and opposition leader, began writing a memoir four years ago that will go on sale later this year in what his publisher says is his "final letter to the world."

Navalny, 47, died on February 16 in unclear circumstances in an Arctic prison where he was serving a 19-year term on extremism and other charges widely seen as politically motivated.

His publisher, Alfred A. Knopf, said on April 11 that the memoir, which the Kremlin critic began writing in 2020 while convalescing in Germany after being poisoned, would be available from October 22.

Knopf said that Navalny continued work on the book from prison after he returned to Russia in January 2021, when he was immediately arrested at the airport.

Navalny's widow, Yulia, said in a statement on X, formerly Twitter, that the book will be released in several languages, including Russian.

"This is not at all how I imagined Aleksei would write his biography. I thought that we would be about 80 years old, he would sit at the computer by the open window and type. And I would walk around and grumble that the grandchildren will arrive soon, and he is doing nonsense," she said.

"Sharing his story will not only honor his memory but also inspire other to stand up for what is right and to never lose sight of the values that truly matter," she added.

Navalnaya, who is now living outside Russia, vowed to continue her late husband's fight for "a wonderful Russia of the future" after the outspoken Kremlin critic died on February 16 in one of Russia's most notorious prisons in the Arctic.

Navalnaya and her husband's associates, along with several Western governments, have blamed Russian President Vladimir Putin for the Kremlin critic's death.

The Kremlin has denied any role or responsibility in Navalny's death.

Belarusian Accused Of Insulting Lukashenka Dies Awaiting Trial

Alyaksandr Kulinich died two days before his 52nd birthday.
Alyaksandr Kulinich died two days before his 52nd birthday.

A Belarusian man accused of insulting authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka has died in a pretrial detention center in the city of Brest, just days before his trial was to begin.

The Vyasna human rights group said in a statement on April 11 that Alyaksandr Kulinich died two days earlier, with sources telling it the official cause of death was listed as coronary disease. He died two days before what would have been his 52nd birthday, Vyasna added.

The Crisis In Belarus

Read our coverage as Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka continues his brutal crackdown on NGOs, activists, and independent media following the August 2020 presidential election.

The cause of death has not been independently verified. Local media reported that Kulinich's family has already taken custody of the body, but gave no further details.

"Vitold Ashurak, Mikalai Klimovich, Ales Pushkin, Vadzim Khrasko, Ihar Lednik, and now Alyaksandr Kulinich have all died in Belarusian prisons for opposing the regime. For many political prisoners held incommunicado in Belarus, it is unknown whether they are dead or alive," opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya said on X, formerly Twitter.

Kulinich was taken into custody on February 29 and held since then in pretrial detention center No. 7 in Brest, near Belarus's western border with Poland, Vyasna said.

Details of the case against Kulinich were not made public.

Thousands of Belarusians have been detained or imprisoned since wide-scale protests in 2020 against presidential election results that gave Lukashenka a sixth term in office despite extensive evidence of fraud.

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

Lukashenka, who has ruled the country with an iron fist since 1994, has refused to negotiate with the opposition, and many of its leaders -- including Tsikhanouskaya -- have been arrested or forced to leave the country.

Ambassador Warns Georgia 'Foreign Agents' Bill 'Incompatible' With EU Values

People march through the capital, Tbilisi, against the reintroduction of the "foreign agents" bill on April 9.
People march through the capital, Tbilisi, against the reintroduction of the "foreign agents" bill on April 9.

The European Union's ambassador to Georgia has criticized the reintroduction of a "foreign agents" bill in parliament -- legislation compared with a similar law in Russia that the Kremlin has used to stifle dissent -- saying it's "incompatible" with the values of the bloc Tbilisi is looking to join.

The ruling party in EU-candidate Georgia last week said it planned to reintroduce a bill that would oblige noncommercial organizations and media outlets that receive foreign funding and are engaged in broadly defined "political" activities to report their activities to the authorities.

The legislation, which sparked mass protests when first introduced last year, causing the government to withdraw the bill, would also introduce wide oversight powers by the authorities and potential criminal sanctions for undefined criminal offenses.

"We are seriously concerned. These are legitimate concerns about transparency, which should not be used to justify the restriction of space and the stigmatization of civil society organizations," Pawel Herczynski said in remarks to the media at a meeting of civil society organizations.

"This bill, as it is now, is incompatible with European norms and European values, and especially in today's context, it will be very difficult for the European Commission to make a positive assessment of the adoption of the law...This law is simply not good."

The ruling Georgian Dream party announced on April 3 that it intended to reintroduce the law in parliament a year after large-scale protests forced the party to abandon its first attempt to pass the law last year.

This year's bill would be identical to last year's, they said, except for one change: the term "foreign agent" would be replaced by the more circumlocutious "organization pursuing the interests of a foreign power."

The party insists the bill is simply copied and pasted from U.S. legislation and does not imitate Russia's "foreign agent" law, but the newly resurrected On Transparency of Foreign Influence bill is, more than anything, a product of Georgia's homegrown struggle for political power.

And its return bodes yet another bout of internal political strife, sharper pressure on the government's opponents, and yet more stress on Tbilisi's increasingly fragile relations with its Western partners.

Georgians March Against Russian-Style 'Foreign Agents' Law
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On April 5, Washington expressed its "deep concern" over the legislation, saying the draft legislation "poses a threat to civil society organizations."

Herczynski said the bloc was in "constant contact" with the Georgian government as it looks to make strides toward eventual membership in the 27-member bloc.

But, he added, "time is running out" even though "all the ingredients are there to make progress" with reforms as Georgia looks to move to the next stage and open accession negotiations.

"These are legitimate concerns about transparency, which should not be used to justify the restriction of space and the stigmatization of civil society organizations," Herczynski said.

"Freedom of speech and media is absolutely necessary for every democracy, including Georgia, especially for a country that is a candidate for EU membership."

Updated

'Situation Critical': Flooding Forces Mass Evacuations In Russia, Kazakhstan

A drone view shows a truck driving along the flooded street in the settlement of Zarechnoye, Orenburg region, Russia, on April 11.
A drone view shows a truck driving along the flooded street in the settlement of Zarechnoye, Orenburg region, Russia, on April 11.

Officials in southern Russia were forced to begin mass evacuations of the city of Orenburg after the flood situation became "critical" due to a deluge of water from heavy rains and snowmelt accelerated by unseasonably warm temperatures.

Swollen rivers around the border areas between Russia and Kazakhstan have wreaked havoc over the past week, pushing tens of thousands of people out of their homes. Aerial photos show massive swathes of residential areas submerged.

In southern Russia, the Ural River reached record levels in Orenburg, a city of half a million people, where the water rose to 11.43 meters on April 12 from 10.87 meters on April 11 -- nearly 2 meters above the critical mark of 9.3 meters, prompting Mayor Sergei Salmin to order the mass evacuation.

"Sirens are sounding in the city. This is not an exercise," he said in a post on Telegram.

"The situation is critical. Do not waste time," he added.

City authorities said they expected the flood level to reach 11.6 meters.

Thousands of people have already left Orenburg, where 12,000 houses have been flooded since last week and electricity is sporadic.

Orenburg Governor Denis Pasler, speaking during a video link with President Vladimir Putin late on April 11, said the previous record level of the Ural was 9.4 meters in 1942, during World War II.

A sharp rise in temperatures -- said by some experts to be caused by climate change -- has turned regular spring flooding that is common in large parts of the border region between Russia and Kazakhstan into the worst disaster in decades.

Russian Emergency Minister Aleksandr Kurenkov, meanwhile, arrived on April 12 in Orsk, one of the hardest-hit cities, after a nearby dam on the Ural River broke on three different occasions over the past week, killing at least five people.

Some 5,100 houses have been flooded in Orsk, prompting the evacuation of 2,500 people, including more than 800 children, according to authorities.

Orsk locals have even staged rare protests earlier this week over the insufficient level of compensation they were offered for damage to their property.

Farther to the northeast, in Western Siberia, sharply rising water levels on the Tobol River in the Kurgan region early on April 12 prompted the evacuation of the village of Kaminskoye, Vadim Shukov, head of regional administration, said on Telegram.

Exclusive RFE/RL Drone Footage Captures Scale Of Flooding As Kazakhstan Says Almost 100,000 Evacuated
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"The water level in Kaminskoye, Kurtamysh district, continues to rise. Now it is 743 cm. The increase overnight is 140 cm. The village is being evacuated," Shukov wrote, warning floods could reach regional capital Kurgan, a city of 310,000, in the coming days.

Kurgan houses a large factory, Kurganmashzavod, that manufactures infantry fighting vehicles for the Russian military that have been used extensively in the war the Kremlin launched in February 2022 against Ukraine.

In northern Kazakhstan, some 100,000 people, including more than 36,000 children, have been evacuated, the Kazakh Emergencies Ministry said on April 12.

Amid their protracted predicament, some inhabitants in the areas hit by the floods have been sharply critical of how authorities have been handling the crisis.

People know that "a lot of water" is coming toward our village, Nadezhda, a resident of the northern Kazakh village of Petrovka,told RFE/RL.

"No anti-flood work was carried out. The mayor didn't do anything. People here are used to flooding, but when we heard the levels were so high and had risen over the dam, people were overwhelmed and began to panic."

Dissatisfaction also surfaced in the western Kazakh region of Atyrau, where residents of the Zhylyoi district, frustrated by the government's slow reaction to their predicament, staged a protest in the town of Qulsary on April 10, demanding financial compensation for their material losses.

Rights Groups Call On UN To Pressure Iran On Drug-Related Executions

A noose is prepared ahead of public hanging in Tehran.
A noose is prepared ahead of public hanging in Tehran.

More than 80 human rights organizations from Iran and around the world have called on the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime to condition its ongoing cooperation with the Islamic republic on a halt in drug-related executions.

The groups, which include the Iran Human Rights Organization, the International Committee Against the Death Penalty, and the Global Campaign Against the Death Penalty in Iran, said on April 10 they were launching a global campaign to draw international attention to the issue amid a sharp rise in executions in Iran, especially for drug offenses.

"The execution of drug suspects has not had an appropriate international reaction. Their daily execution is accompanied by media silence and this has spurred the Islamic republic to increase executions related to drug crimes by 18 times compared to three years ago at next to no cost," the groups said.

According to a report released by Amnesty International on April 4, 853 executions were carried out in Iran last year, with at least 481 coming for narcotics convictions. Iran's government has been accused of weaponizing executions to quell unrest and in its war on drugs, even for minor offenses.

The number of executions in Iran in 2023 was the highest since 2015 and 172 percent higher that in 2021, when Ebrahim Raisi became president and Gholamhossein Ejei was made head of the judiciary.

Since the Iranian government does not publish official statistics on the number of executions, rights groups have to document cases using open sources such as state media and human rights organizations. Thus, they say, the actual number may be even higher.

"If we do not increase the cost of these executions for the Islamic republic, we fear hundreds of people will be executed on drug-related charges in the coming months," the group said.

Mahmoud Amiri-Moghaddam, the director of the Iran Human Rights organization, said the concerted campaign's aim to raise awareness among the international community that many of those executed belong to the most marginalized sections of society, including ethnic minorities such as Kurds and Baluchis, who are disproportionately affected.

The statement also highlighted the unfair trial processes for those accused of drug offenses in Iran, noting that convictions are often based on confessions obtained under torture with suspects not given access to legal representation.

The United Nations Human Rights Council recently extended the mandate of its special rapporteur on Iran, reaffirming the international community's concern over the human rights situation in the country.

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

Ukrainian Parliament Passes New Mobilization Law

On April 2, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy signed a bill lowering the mobilization age from 27 to 25.
On April 2, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy signed a bill lowering the mobilization age from 27 to 25.

KYIV -- Ukraine's parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, has passed a law on military mobilization that will boost the number of its troops, two lawmakers reported, as the country struggles with depleted forces in the face of the more than 2-year-old Russian invasion.

The law expands the powers of Ukrainian authorities to issue draft notices, including through an electronic system, a change that is expected to help limit evasion.

The measure was passed with 283 votes in favor in the 450-member parliament early on April 11, lawmakers Yaroslav Zheleznyak from the Voice faction and Oleksiy Honcharenko from the European Solidarity faction reported.

A provision on the demobilization of those currently serving in the armed forces was scrapped from the law -- a move likely to be met with anger by Ukrainian troops and their families.

New Mobilization Law Draws Mixed Reaction From War-Weary Ukrainians
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Fedir Venislavskiy, a lawmaker from President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's faction in parliament, said the main goal of the draft law is to register all conscripts and update their data so that the state clearly understands who can be mobilized, who has the right to postpone entering the draft, and who can enter the reserves.

One of its provisions requires men between the ages of 18 and 60 to update their personal information within 60 days with the military or with the civil administrative services responsible for conscription.

Since a major Ukrainian counteroffensive last year failed to make significant gains, Russia has used its significant advantage in manpower and equipment to erode those gains in the east.

General Yuriy Sodol, who commands the troops in the Kharkiv, Donetsk and Luhansk regions, stressed the need for more troops, telling lawmakers that Russian forces outnumber Kyiv's troops up 10 times on the battlefield in the east.

"We are maintaining our defenses with our last strength," he said as lawmakers stood up and applauded more than a dozen commanders who attended the session.

"The enemy outnumbers us by seven to 10 times, we lack manpower," Sodol said.

Former army commander in chief Valeriy Zaluzhniy said in February that Ukraine needed up to 500,000 new recruits this year to strengthen forces, replace expected losses, and demobilize those who have served for years.

Zelenskiy had resisted the request amid concern over public backlash.

Russia Says It Killed 2 Militants In North Caucasus

The two suspected militants allegedly opened fire on Russian security forces after refusing to surrender and were shot dead.
The two suspected militants allegedly opened fire on Russian security forces after refusing to surrender and were shot dead.

Russia's National Anti-Terrorist Committee (NAK) said two alleged militants were killed in a "counterterrorism" operation that started on April 11 in the North Caucasus. Russian law enforcement officers had received information about the “location of armed individuals involved in terrorist activities” in a community in the suburbs of Nalchik, the capital of Kabardino-Balkaria. The two allegedly opened fire on Russian security forces after refusing to surrender and were shot dead, the NAK said in a statement. The incident came a month after more than 140 people were killed in an attack claimed by the Islamic State extremist group outside Moscow. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Updated

Zelenskiy In Vilnius To Press For Aid As Russia Strikes Power Infrastructure

Rescuers prepare to carry the body of a person killed during Russian air strikes on the village of Lyptsi, in Ukraine's Kharkiv region, on April 10.
Rescuers prepare to carry the body of a person killed during Russian air strikes on the village of Lyptsi, in Ukraine's Kharkiv region, on April 10.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has again called on Ukraine's allies to give the embattled country more air-defense systems as Russia struck Ukrainian energy infrastructure targets, including a major power plant south of Kyiv, killing at least four people and leaving hundreds of thousands Ukrainians without electricity.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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

The coal-powered Trypilska thermal power plant, a major electricity supplier for the Kyiv, Cherkasy, and Zhytomyr regions located some 50 kilometers south of the capital, was completely destroyed in the Russian attack, Ukrainian energy company Centrenerho said on April 11.

Energy Minister Herman Halushchenko said that energy infrastructure was the main target of the Russian missile and drone strikes on the Kharkiv, Zaporizhzhya, Lviv, and Kyiv regions.

President Vladimir Putin said Russia had been obliged to launch strikes on Ukrainian energy sites in response to Kyiv's attacks on Russian targets.

"Unfortunately, we observed a series of strikes on our energy sites recently and were obliged to respond," Putin said after a meeting on April 11 with Belarus's authoritarian ruler, Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city, which is less that 30 kilometers from the Russian border, was again one of the main targets of Russian strikes in the early hours of April 11, with 10 air strikes that cut the energy supply to more than 200,000 consumers in the city.

Russian attacks on Kharkiv have intensified in recent weeks. Mayor Ihor Terekhov said recently that S-300 missiles need only 40 seconds to reach Kharkiv from the Russian region of Belgorod.

Russian ballistic missiles struck the southern city of Mykolayiv at noon on April 11, killing four people and wounding five, the Ukrainian military and the head of the regional military administration, Vitaliy Kim, said.

Zelenskiy, who arrived in Lithuania's capital, Vilnius, for a summit of the Three Seas Initiative, said he and Latvian President Edgars Rinkevics had signed a bilateral security agreement as he seeks to shore up aid and support in the face of unrelenting attacks from Russia.

"The main task for now is to make every effort to strengthen our air-defense system, to meet the urgent needs of the Ukrainian Defense Forces, and to consolidate international support so that we can overcome Russian terror," Zelenskiy wrote on X, formerly Twitter, upon arrival in Vilnius.

Zelenskiy earlier said Russia had attacked with scores of drones and missiles that overwhelmed Ukraine's dwindling air-defense systems and ammunition.

"More than 40 missiles and about 40 attack drones. Some of the rockets and Shahed [drones] were shot down. Unfortunately, only a part," Zelenskiy wrote on Telegram, calling the latest attack "vile."

Ukraine's air force separately said that during the April 11 attack its air defenses destroyed 39 drones, 16 cruise missiles, and two guided missiles.

Zelenskiy made another impassioned appeal to Ukraine's allies to act faster and provide Ukraine with the means to defend itself.

"Air defense and other defense support are needed, not turning a blind eye and long discussions," Zelenskiy wrote, adding that permitting Moscow to bomb Ukraine with impunity ammounted to giving Russia carte blanche to terrorize the world.

"If Russia is allowed to continue to do this, if Russian missiles and 'Shaheds' will strike not only at Ukraine but also at the determination of its partners, this will be a global license for terror," he wrote.

A $60 billion U.S. aid package has been stalled in the U.S. House of Representatives for months, blocked by a small number of Republicans who believe domestic matters should take priority, despite both the State Department and Defense Department pushing Congress to pass it.

Japan's prime minister told U.S. lawmakers that Ukraine risks collapsing under Russia's onslaught without U.S. support, a disaster that could embolden China and spark a new crisis in East Asia.

In the first speech to a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress by a Japanese leader in nine years, Fumio Kishida urged Americans on April 11 not to doubt their country's "indispensable" role in world affairs, and said Tokyo was undertaking historic military upgrades to support its ally.

On support for Ukraine, he asked, “Without U.S. support, how long before the hopes of Ukraine would collapse under the onslaught from Moscow?”

On April 10, the top U.S. general in Europe warned that Ukraine cannot sustain the fight against Russia alone.

General Christopher Cavoli, the commander of European Command, told the House Armed Services Committee on April 10 that the severity of the situation in Ukraine “can’t be overstated” as troops on the battlefield run short of ammunition and as the country’s air-defense capabilities are depleted.

Ukraine's parliament on April 11 moved to boost the number of troops available for duty by approving a law on military mobilization. The law expands the powers of Ukrainian authorities to issue draft notices -- including via an electronic system -- that is expected to help limit evasion.

Speaking in parliament on April 11, General Yuriy Sodol, who commands the troops in the Kharkiv, Donetsk and Luhansk regions, put in stark contrast the battlefield disadvantage Ukraine faces.

"The enemy outnumbers us by 7-10 times, we lack manpower," he said.

With reporting by Reuters

Freedom House Sounds Alarm As Democracy Plummets Amid Autocratic Surge For 20th Year

A Russian paratrooper prepares his sniper rifle at an undisclosed location in Ukraine on April 8. The Freedom House report singled out Russia and Azerbaijan for their "wars of aggression."
A Russian paratrooper prepares his sniper rifle at an undisclosed location in Ukraine on April 8. The Freedom House report singled out Russia and Azerbaijan for their "wars of aggression."

Democratic governance in Central Europe and Central Asia declined for a 20th consecutive year, according to rights watchdog Freedom House, driven by Moscow's full-scale invasion of Ukraine and Azerbaijan's "military conquest" of Nagorno-Karabakh.

In a report released on April 11, the Washington-based group said that of 29 "nations in transit" -- a grouping comprised of former Soviet and Warsaw Pact nations -- 10 saw a decline in their democracy scores in 2023, while only five improved over the previous year.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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

The report singled out Russia and Azerbaijan for their "wars of aggression," calling them the two "most glaring examples of the disdain that today’s autocrats hold for fundamental human rights and pluralist societies."

“Authoritarian regimes are stepping up their attacks and undermining democratic governance across the region,” said Michael J. Abramowitz, president of Freedom House.

“In Ukraine and Nagorno-Karabakh, we’ve already seen the devastating consequences of authoritarian expansion, and there’s no reason to believe it will stop there. Unless democracies act urgently and consistently to uphold their own interests and values, more territory will be lost to dictatorship and repression,” he added.

Russia launched its ongoing full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, while Azerbaijan launched a lightning offensive in September 2023 that ended with Baku regaining control over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh that for three decades had been under ethnic Armenian control.

The report said the countries with the lowest "democracy scores" among the 29 nations were Turkmenistan (1.00), Tajikistan (1.04), Azerbaijan (1.07), and Russia (1.07).

Serbia posted the largest decline in its score among the nations, falling to 3.61 from 3.79. The lower the score, the lower the level of democracy in a country.

"[Serbia's] decline was the result of fraudulent elections, state capture of the media, the weakening authority of municipal governments, and years of waning judicial independence," Freedom House said.

One of the few bright spots in the report was Ukraine.

Freedom House said that gains in the country resulted from the government’s progress in building up judicial and anti-corruption institutions and actively investigating graft, including in the military. Ukraine's score rose to 3.43 from 3.36.

It added that in order to ensure that "Ukraine wins on Ukraine’s terms," governments must sustain and increase "much-needed" military, humanitarian, and budgetary aid to the country while also seizing and repurposing frozen Russian assets to facilitate Ukraine’s reconstruction and support its efforts to build a "durable democracy."

“The fate of European democracy now depends in large part on the willingness of democratic states to adopt a more active approach to security in the region, most urgently by supporting Ukraine,” said Mike Smeltzer, the report's co-author and senior research analyst for Europe and Eurasia.

“Any failure to stand up for democracy during this critical moment will make it more costly to check authoritarian expansion in the future, both in the region and around the world. The United States and Europe must act now to ensure the defeat of Moscow’s invasion and to protect democratic institutions and norms more broadly,” he added.

The report said the countries with the highest "democracy scores" were Estonia (6.00), Latvia (5.79), and Slovenia (5.79).

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