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China Claims Nuclear Fuel-Reuse 'Breakthrough'

State media in China say Chinese scientists have developed a technology for reprocessing nuclear fuel that could dramatically increase the efficiency of existing nuclear-fuel reserves.

China Central Television said the technology, developed after 24 years of research, will enable the country to reuse irradiated fuel.

The report said the technology would help stretch uranium reserves to 3,000 years, up from current estimates of 50 to 70 years.

China has been concerned over fuel supplies for its nuclear power program, which Beijing plans to expand to meet rising electricity demand.

compiled from agency reports

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Ukraine Marks Anniversary Of Stalin-Era Deportations Of Crimean Tatars

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyi gave an address for the Day of Remembrance of the Victims of the Crimean Tatar Genocide in Kyiv on May 18.

KYIV -- Ukraine has marked the 78th anniversary of the Stalin-era deportations of Crimean Tatars from Crimea.

May 18 is the date that Ukraine officially marks as the Day of Commemoration of the Victims of the Genocide of the Crimean Tatars.

Due to the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine, events devoted to the anniversary were not held as widely as they normally are, however, smaller gatherings were held across the country to offer prayers for the victims of the deportations in 1944.

Refat Chubarov, chairman of Crimean Tatar’s self-governing body Mejlis, said on Facebook that a commemoration of the deportations' victims was held in Russia-occupied Crimea as well.

Hundreds of people took part in honoring the victims in the Crimean city of Kerch, bringing flowers to a monument to the victims and taking part in prayers.

Moscow’s illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014 was vocally opposed by many Crimean Tatars, who are a sizable minority in the region.

Exiled to Central Asia by Soviet authorities under the dictatorship of Josef Stalin during World War II, many Crimean Tatars are very wary of Russia and Moscow's rule.

U.S. Unlikely To Extend License Allowing Russia To Pay Bond Debt, Increasing Possibility Of Default

Russian ruble banknotes and coins (file photo)

The United States is unlikely to extend a license that allows Russia to pay U.S. bondholders, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said on May 18.

Moscow faces deadline on May 25 when the license allowing it to make payments to U.S. bondholders is due to expire. Failure to make the payments could put Moscow closer to defaulting on its debt.

Yellen, who is on a visit to Europe meant to address the effects of the war in Ukraine, spoke in Germany ahead of a Group of Seven (G7) finance ministers meeting in Bonn.

Asked by reporters if the United States would allow the license to expire, Yellen said: "There's not been a final decision on that, but I think it's unlikely that it would continue."

But she added that if Russia is unable to make the payments and it defaults, it would not represent a significant change in Russia's situation because the country is already cut off from global capital markets.

Russia has so far managed to make its international bond payments even though Western sanctions ban transactions with the Russian Finance Ministry, central bank, or national wealth fund.

Yellen also noted risks to the world economy brought on by the war, which has touched off a sharp increase in energy and food prices that are contributing to a slowdown in growth.

“The economic outlook globally is challenging and uncertain,” Yellen said. “And higher food and energy prices are having stagflationary effects, namely depressing output and spending and raising inflation all around the world.”

To address concerns about food shortages, the United States, several global development banks, and other groups on May 18 unveiled a multibillion dollar plan that aims to prevent starvation prompted by the war, the U.S. Treasury Department said.

Based on reporting by Retuers and AP

Russia Expels Dozens Of European Diplomats In Reciprocal Move

The headquarters of the Russian Foreign Ministry in Moscow (file photo)

Russia has announced the expulsion of dozens of European diplomats in a "retaliatory" move for similar actions taken across the continent as part of a coordinated campaign over Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

The Foreign Ministry in Moscow said on May 18 that it had informed France, Spain, and Italy that members of their diplomatic missions in Russia have been declared personae non grata.

It said the French ambassador was told that 34 employees of French "diplomatic institutions in Russia" must leave the country within two weeks, while Rome was informed that 24 Italian diplomats also were being expelled for similar reasons and were ordered out of the country within eight days.

Another 27 diplomats from Spain were also told they must leave Russia within seven days.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi called the decision a "hostile act" that he said "absolutely must not lead to an interruption of diplomatic channels because it is through those channels that, if we succeed, peace will be achieved and that is certainly what we want."

France, which in April kicked out 35 Russians with diplomatic status, condemned the May 18 move by Moscow.

At the same time, Rome informed Moscow that 30 Russian diplomats had been told to leave the country "for national security reasons."

In all, European countries have expelled more than 300 Russian diplomatic staff since Moscow launched its war against Ukraine on February 24.


With reporting by RIA Novosti

Police Break Into Apartment Of Self-Exiled Former Associate Of Navalny

Natalya Peterimova, an associate of jailed Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny (file photo)

Police in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk have broken into the apartment of a former associate of jailed opposition activist Aleksei Navalny and searched the home, the former Navalny associate told RFE/RL.

Natalya Peterimova, who fled Russia fearing for her safety, told RFE/RL that police broke in her apartment on May 18.

According to Peterimova, police ordered her mother to arrive at her apartment in Krasnoyarsk and unlock its door, which Peterimova's mother refused to do.

Peterimova says police then broke the door and windows and searched the premises.

"They refused to give any explanations to my mom and when I talked to them by phone, they also refused to give explanations. A number of procedural regulations were violated," said Peterimova, who worked in Navalny's regional office in Krasnoyarsk before fleeing the country.

She added that it is very likely that a criminal case on extremism charges similar to cases launched against other former associates of Navalny has been launched against her.

Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation and his political movement were declared extremist organizations by the Russian authorities in June 2021 and disbanded.

Several of the Kremlin critic's associates subsequently were charged with establishing an extremist group. Many of them have fled the country amid pressure from the Russian authorities.

Hearings Into Cases Against Noted Kyrgyz Journalist Start In Bishkek

Kyrgyz journalist Bolot Temirov (file photo)

BISHKEK -- A court in Bishkek has adjourned a preliminary hearing into the high-profile case against investigative journalist Bolot Temirov on charges that he and his supporters call politically motivated.

Temirov and traditional bard singer Bolot Nazarov, who performed his anticorruption songs on the YouTube channel Temirov LIVE, were arrested in January for allegedly possessing illegal drugs, which the two men say were planted by police.

Temirov's lawyer, Razak Ashimbaev, told RFE/RL that the Sverdlov district court on May 18 rejected his motion to find all charges against his client baseless and exclude what investigators call "evidence' from the trial.

Ashimbaev says the drugs police claim they found in Temirov's belongings cannot be considered as evidence as there is no video or photos proving that they had not been planted. He added that the hearing was adjourned until May 25.

In April, Bishkek city police came filed additional charges against Temirov, accusing him of forgery and illegally crossing the border with Russia. It said Temirov, who was born and raised in Russia and holds a Russian passport, used forged documents to obtain a Kyrgyz passport in 2008 and used it to illegally exit and enter Kyrgyzstan in recent years.

The same court also started a separate preliminary hearing into the additional charges on May 18 and promptly adjourned it until May 20.

Temirov has rejected all of the charges saying they were brought against him after he published results of his investigation suggesting corruption among top officials of the Central Asian nation.

Kyrgyz authorities have denied that probes against Temirov are politically motivated.

Temirov was among 12 people recognized by the U.S. State Department last year as anticorruption champions.

Belarusian Businessman Autukhovich, Associates Begin Trial On Terrorism Charges He Rejects

Belarusian businessman and political activist Mikalay Autukhovich (file photo)

HRODNA, Belarus -- The high-profile trial of Belarusian businessman and political activist Mikalay Autukhovich, along with 11 others accused of terrorism, has started in the western city of Hrodna.

The trial started on May 18 at the Detention center No.1 in Hrodna, with Autukhovich and one of his co-defenders, Lubou Razanovich (eds: a woman), sitting in separate tiny metal cages in the courtroom that are designated for "the most dangerous defendants." The other nine defendants were placed in two wider metal cages.

Autukhovich was charged with high treason, creating a criminal group and participating in its activities, attempting to power seizure, inciting social hatred, publicly calling for sanctions against Belarusian officials, preparing the implementation of a terrorist act, attempting a terrorist act, illegal activities involving weapons, ammunition, and explosives, and illegal weapons trafficking.

If convicted, Autukhovich faces the death penalty or life in prison.

The other defendants face the same charges, with the exception of high treason. Some were also charged with conspiracy and the preparation of actions to disrupt social order.

Autukhovich and the other defendants were arrested in December 2020 in the wake of a crackdown on activists, opposition politicians, independent journalists and civil society following months-long rallies protesting the results of an August 2020 presidential poll that announced authoritarian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who has ruled the country since 1994, as the winner.

Opposition members, protesters and the West have insisted that the election was rigged.

Investigators say Autukhovich and his group conducted several arson attacks against vehicles belonging to police officers and planned attacks on their property. Autukhovich has rejected all of the charges. It is not known for public if any of his co-defenders pleaded guilty.

Autukhovich previously spent 7 years and five months in prison on charges of illegal weapons possession, which he and his supporters rejected as politically motivated.

Russian Soldier Accused Of War Crimes Pleads Guilty In Kyiv

Vadim Shishimarin, 21, sits inside a defendants' cage during a court hearing in Kyiv on May 13.

The first Russian soldier to stand trial on accusations of committing a war crime in Ukraine has pleaded guilty at a hearing in a Kyiv court.

When asked in court on May 18 if he was guilty of killing a 62-year-old Ukrainian civilian who was riding a bicycle in the village of Chupakhivka in the northeastern region of Sumy, Sergeant Vadim Shishimarin, dressed in a blue and gray hoodie at the hearing, replied, "Yes."

Shishimarin, who comes from the Siberian region of Irkutsk, faces life in prison for the crime.

The killing occurred just days after Russia launched its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. The 21-year-old Shishimarin, a member of a tank unit that was captured by Ukrainian forces, admitted that he shot the civilian in a video posted by Ukraine's Security Service.

"I was ordered to shoot," Shishimarin said in the video as he described the February 28 killing. "I shot one (round) at him. He falls. And we kept on going."

Prosecutor-General Iryna Venediktova last month identified 10 soldiers of Russia's 64th Mechanized Infantry Brigade, saying they were suspected of "cruelty toward civilians and other war crimes," that investigators were continuing to gather evidence, and those named were just the first.

She also said at the time that investigations were under way to find out if the 10 Russians took part in the killing of civilians in Bucha.

The retreat of Russian forces from Bucha and other towns near Kyiv revealed harrowing evidence of brutal killings, torture, mass graves, and the indiscriminate targeting of civilians in the fighting.

On May 12, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) overwhelmingly approved a resolution to set up an investigation into allegations of abuses by Russian troops in areas of Ukraine they temporarily controlled.

The UNHRC's resolution cited apparent cases of torture, shootings, and sexual violence, along with other atrocities documented by a UN team on the ground.

Russia Expels Dozens Of French, Italian Diplomats In Reciprocal Move

France and Italy expelled Russian diplomatic personnel as part of a coordinated European action over Russia's campaign in Ukraine.

Russia has announced the expulsion of dozens of French and Italian diplomats in a "retaliatory" move for their similar actions as part of a coordinated European action over Russia's campaign in Ukraine.

The Foreign Ministry in Moscow said on May 18 that it had informed the French ambassador that 34 employees of French "diplomatic institutions in Russia" had been declared personae non grata and must leave the country within two weeks.

The same day, the ministry said 24 Italian diplomats were also being expelled for similar reasons.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi called the decision a "hostile act" that he said "absolutely must not lead to an interruption of diplomatic channels because it is through those channels that, if we succeed, peace will be achieved and that is certainly what we want."

France, which in April kicked out 35 Russians with diplomatic status, condemned the May 18 move by Moscow.

At the same time, Rome informed Moscow that 30 Russian diplomats had been told to leave the country "for national security reasons."

With reporting by RIA Novosti

Russian Gymnast Banned For One Year For Wearing Pro-War 'Z' Symbol

Ivan Kulyak won a bronze medal in the parallel bars at the Apparatus World Cup in Doha in March.

A Russian artistic gymnast has been banned from competition for one year for displaying the letter "Z" -- a sign of support for Russia's war against Ukraine -- on his outfit during a competition in Qatar in March.

The International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) said in a statement dated May 17 that Ivan Kulyak, who won a bronze medal in the parallel bars at the Apparatus World Cup in Doha, "breached the FIG Statutes, the FIG Code of Discipline, the FIG Code of Ethics, the FIG Code of Conduct and the FIG Technical Regulations" by taping the "Z" symbol to his uniform while he stood on the podium next to Ukrainian gold medalist Illya Kovtun.

Russian military vehicles in Ukraine are marked with the letter "Z," and the symbol has begun appearing on social media and on clothing in support of the war, which began on February 24.

The FIG said Kulyak "is not allowed to participate in any FIG-sanctioned event or competition organized by an affiliated FIG member federation for one year as of the date of this decision."

Kulyak was also forced to return his bronze medal and ordered to pay back the prize money of 500 Swiss francs (almost $503). He also must make a contribution of 2,000 Swiss francs for the costs of the proceedings.

"If the protective measures keeping Russian athletes from competing are still in place on May 17, 2023, the ban shall continue and expire six months after the removal of said measures," the federation's disciplinary commission said in its ruling.

Kulyak has 21 days to appeal the decision.

Russia Claims Nearly 1,000 Ukrainians 'Surrendered' In Mariupol

Ukrainian soldier sit in a bus after they were extracted from the Azovstal steel plant in territory held by the separatists in eastern Ukraine on May 17.

Russia says that nearly 1,000 Ukrainian fighters holed up in the Azovstal steel plant -- their last stronghold in the besieged southern Ukrainian port city of Mariupol -- have given themselves up.

Defense Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov said on May 18 that 694 Ukrainian fighters at Azovstal had "surrendered" over the past 24 hours, including 29 wounded soldiers.

Konashenkov said that 265 Ukrainian troops, including 51 wounded, had laid down their arms during the previous 24 hours.

That brings the total number of Ukrainian troops who have left the plant this week to 959. All of them were reportedly transferred to territory in eastern Ukraine that is controlled by Kremlin-backed separatists.

Ukrainian authorities have not confirmed the numbers.

On May 17, Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar said negotiations for the fighters' release were ongoing, as were plans to extract those who are still inside the sprawling steel plant.

She added that Kyiv would not disclose how many fighters remained inside until all were safe.

Mariupol has been the site of some of the heaviest fighting since Russia launched its war against Ukraine on February 24.

Kyiv has said it hopes to exchange the surrendered Ukrainian fighters for Russian prisoners of war. Russia has yet to confirm whether the soldiers would be part of a prisoner swap, but some lawmakers in Moscow have come out strongly against such a move.

Reports have estimated that as many as 2,000 Ukrainian fighters had been holed up in Azovstal's sprawling maze of tunnels and bunkers.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said that "the most influential international mediators are involved" in the current negotiations.

Based on reporting by AP, Reuters, AFP and dpa

Nine Dead In 'Anti-Terrorist Operation' As Protests Roil Tajikistan's Gorno-Badakhshan

Local media reports quoted witnesses as saying several protesters were injured during the fresh clashes.

DUSHANBE -- Tajik authorities say nine people, including a police officer, have been killed in "an anti-terrorist operation" in the volatile Gorno-Badakhshan region as the government tries to quell protests sparked by anger over the lack of an investigation into the 2021 death of an activist while in police custody.

The Interior Ministry said on May 18 that a security officer was killed, and eight soldiers were injured during the latest clashes in the restive region, which borders Afghanistan and China.

It added that eight others were also killed, and 11 wounded, while more than 70 "active members of a terrorist group" were apprehended.

The unrest was sparked by protests in recent days that have seen demonstrators take to the streets to demand the resignation of the regional governor and the mayor of the regional capital for their inaction after the death of a kidnapping suspect in police custody in November 2021.

The ministry said the situation in the region was now "stable" and that public transportation and other social institutions had resumed operations. RFE/RL correspondents, however, reported from the region that schools and state entities in Badakhshan remain closed.

According to the ministry, "criminal groups" blocked a highway connecting the Rushon district with the regional capital, Khorugh and clashed with law enforcement officers for a second day as they tried to clear the road.

The Interior Ministry said the decision to start the "anti-terrorist operation" was made because the highway was blocked by "members of an organized criminal group with the goal to destabilize the social and political situation" in the region.

It added that the protesters were supported by unnamed international terrorist groups, who, according to the ministry, supplied the protesters with weapons and ammunition and sent their representatives to the region "to conduct terrorist acts."

It provided no evidence to back up the claim.

The day before, the ministry said one protester was killed and three law enforcement officers wounded as security forces used rubber bullets and tear gas against the protesters.

Four RFE/RL journalists -- two from its Tajik Service (known as Radio Ozodi) and two from Current Time -- were attacked on May 17 by unknown assailants after they interviewed civil rights activist Ulfatkhonim Mamatshoeva, who was accused by Tajik authorities of organizing the protests.

Mamatshoeva's relative told RFE/RL that police detained the activist early in the morning on May 18.

The protesters have insisted their actions are peaceful and that they have a right to peaceful demonstrations.

Opposition groups based abroad have called on Tajik authorities to stop what they called the "persecution of peaceful demonstrators" in Badakhshan.

The protests started earlier in the week after the regional authorities refused to consider the resignation of Governor Alisher Mirzonabot, and Khorugh Mayor Rizo Nazarzoda.

The situation in the restive region that borders with Afghanistan has been tense since November 2021 when security forces fatally wounded Gulbiddin Ziyobekov, a local man wanted on charges of kidnapping. Locals rallied at the time to demand a probe into Ziyobekov's death.

The rally turned violent when protesters tried to seize the local government building, prompting security forces to fire into the crowd, killing at least one person.

The violence then continued for several days.

Protests are rare in the tightly controlled country of 9.5 million where President Emomali Rahmon has ruled for nearly three decades.

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

Gorno-Badakhshan, a linguistically and ethnically distinct region, has been home to rebels who opposed government forces during the conflict.

While it occupies almost half of the entire country, its population is a mere 250,000. The region is difficult to travel around because of the mountainous terrain, while its economy is wracked by unemployment, difficult living conditions, and high food prices.

War Crimes Court Sentences Kosovo Veterans To Prison For Witness Intimidation

Nasim Haradinaj appears in court at the start of his trial in October 2021 at the Kosovo Specialist Chambers in The Hague.

A war crimes court in The Hague has sentenced two Kosovo war veterans to 4 1/2 years in prison each after finding them guilty of witness intimidation, obstructing the administration of justice, and violating the secrecy of court proceedings.

Hysni Gucati and Nasim Haradinaj, the leaders of the Kosovo Liberation Army War Veterans Association, had pleaded not guilty at the start of their trial in October at the Kosovo Specialist Chambers in The Hague.

Witness intimidation has been a major problem as investigators built their cases, and the court has struggled to protect people who offer to assist its investigations.

"This judgment clearly paints those acts for what they are: criminal and not patriotic," presiding Judge Charles Smith said as he sentenced Gucati and Haradinaj on May 18.

Hysni Gucati appears in court in October2021.
Hysni Gucati appears in court in October2021.

The court is mandated to investigate and prosecute suspects in war crimes committed during Kosovo's 1998-99 guerrilla war against rule from Belgrade.

Gucati and Haradinaj were acquitted of the charge of seeking retaliation.

The two will each have to pay a 100-euro ($105) fines and the time spent in detention on remand will be deducted from the sentence. They have been in custody since September 2020.

The veterans' association represents former ethnic Albanian separatists who fought Serbian troops during the Kosovo war, in which more than 10,000 people were killed.

The most prominent Kosovar to be indicted to date is former President Hashim Thaci on charges of murder, torture, and persecution. He has denied the charges.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, nine years after the end of the fighting.

The United States and most of the West recognize Kosovo’s independence. Serbia does not, however, and tensions between Kosovo and Serbia persist.

With reporting by AFP

Fighting Rages In Ukraine As Talks Over Soldiers At Steelworks Continue

Buses carrying Ukrainian soldiers who were holed up at the Azovstal steel works drive away under escort of Russia's forces in Mariupol on May 17.

Fighting continues to rage in several parts of Ukraine as Kyiv negotiates the release of soldiers holed up at Mariupol's Azovstal steelworks.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov said on May 18 that nearly 1,000 Ukrainian fighters at the steel plant -- Ukraine's last stronghold in the besieged southern port city of Mariupol -- have "surrendered," including 694 over the past 24 hours.

Konashenkov said that 265 Ukrainian troops, including 51 wounded, had laid down their arms during the previous 24 hours.

That brings the total number of Ukrainian troops who have left the plant this week to 959. All of them were reportedly transferred to territory in eastern Ukraine that is controlled by Russia-backed separatists.

Ukrainian authorities have not confirmed the numbers, with Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar saying negotiations for the fighters' release were ongoing, as were plans to extract those who are still inside the sprawling steel plant.

"The state is making utmost efforts to carry out the rescue of our servicemen. Let's wait. Currently, the most important thing is to save the lives of our heroes," added Ukrainian military spokesman Oleksandr Motuzaynik.

"Any information to the public could endanger that process," he added.

Reports have estimated that as many as 2,000 Ukrainian fighters had been holed up in Azovstal.

Thousands of civilians, some of them members of the fighters' families, had also been sheltered in the sprawling maze of tunnels and bunkers of the industrial complex, in increasingly dire sanitary conditions, without, food, water, or medicines.

A large number of civilians have been evacuated, some to Ukraine, some to Russian-held parts of Ukraine where they were interned in so-called triage camps, many against their will.

Anna Zaitseva, a young civilian who managed to leave Azovstal after two months, described to Current Time on May 18 the conditions inside the bunkers where she and other civilians had been sheltered.

Hundreds Of Ukrainian Fighters From Taken From Azovstal Steelworks
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She said civilians lived in quarters separate from the fighters, who would regularly provide them with supplies and sometimes with news about their loved ones. Anna did not get to see her husband, who was one of the fighters defending the complex, for the duration of her stay.

"Stocks of food, water, medicines have almost run out. And most importantly, there are the wounded guys, who, unfortunately, are now left without medical care," Anna said, adding, "they are without arms, without legs, their bodies rot."

Anna said she found out that her husband was badly wounded but she does not know if he is among those who have already left Azovstal or if he is still there.

“I don't know his current situation, but all the information I've been given is that he's badly injured. Unfortunately, he is unable to walk now. He is on crutches," she said.

Kyiv has said it hopes to exchange the surrendered Ukrainian fighters for Russian POWs. Russia has yet to confirm whether the soldiers would be part of a prisoner swap, but some lawmakers in Moscow have come out strongly against such a move.

In launching the invasion on February 24, President Vladimir Putin pointed to the expansion of the NATO military alliance as a threat to Russia -- even though Ukraine had not officially applied for membership in the aliiance -- thus necessitating what Moscow is calling "a special military operation."

However, the war appears to have had the opposite effect on this front, with Finland and Sweden both formally applying on May 18 for NATO membership, citing increased security risks due to Russia's unprovoked war.

Finland, which shares a 1,300-km (810-mile) border with Russia, and Sweden were both militarily non-aligned throughout the Cold War, and their decision to join NATO represents the biggest change in European security in decades. It will more than double the alliance's land border with Russia and give NATO control over nearly the entire Baltic Sea coast.

"This is a historic moment which we must seize," NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said.

More Ukrainians Evacuated From Mariupol's Besieged Azovstal Steelworks
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Meanwhile, the cost of the war in terms of human life continues to rise.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) says 3,752 civilians have been killed in the 12 weeks since Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February, while a further 4,062 have been injured.

Most of the recorded civilian casualties were caused by shelling, missile and air strikes, OHCHR said, adding that given the difficulties in verifying information on the ground, the true figures for civilian deaths in the conflict are probably considerably higher.

Russia has repeatedly claimed it has not targeted civilians in the fighting, but evidence to the contrary continues to mount.

On May 18, the first Russian soldier to stand trial on accusations of committing a war crime in Ukraine entered a guilty plea at a hearing in a Kyiv court.

When asked in court if he had killed a 62-year-old Ukrainian civilian who was riding a bicycle in the village of Chupakhivka in the northeastern region of Sumy, 21-year-old Sergeant Vadim Shishimarin, dressed in a blue and gray hoodie at the hearing, replied: "Yes."

Shishimarin, who comes from the Siberian region of Irkutsk, faces life in prison for the crime.

Britain's Ministry of Defense said in its daily intelligence bulletin on May 18 that staunch Ukrainian resistance is likely to have forced Moscow to use thousands of Chechen fighters in the Mariupol and Luhansk areas, underlining its "significant resourcing problems in Ukraine."


Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Ukrainian fighters would be treated "in accordance with international standards," and that Russian President Vladimir Putin had guaranteed this.

Ukraine's General Staff of the Armed Forces said in an update on May 18 that Russian forces are also attacking in Donetsk in the east, and continue to shell border areas of Chernihiv and Sumy.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa, BBC, and TASS

NATO Chief Says Finland, Sweden Have Officially Applied For Membership

Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson (left) receives Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin prior to a meeting in Stockholm on April 13.

Finland and Sweden have handed in their official applications for membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), ending their longtime neutrality status amid growing concerns over Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine.

“I warmly welcome the requests by Finland and Sweden to join NATO. You are our closest partners,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters on May 18 after receiving the application letters from the two Nordic countries' ambassadors at alliance headquarters in Belgium.

"The applications you have made today are an historic step. Allies will now consider the next steps on your path to NATO," Stoltenberg said.

Both Sweden and Finland are members of the European Union, and the latter shares a 1,340-kilometer border with Russia.

The two Nordic countries' choice to join NATO marks a watershed in the current European security architecture.

Helsinki chose to remain neutral in the postwar era following two wars with the Soviet Union that saw Finland lose 1-10th of its territory, while Sweden has been traditionally nonaligned for the past two centuries.

The application has set in motion a process that is expected about two weeks, although Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has expressed reservations about Finland and Sweden joining.

Erdogan said on May 16 he could not agree to the accession of two countries that support "terrorist organizations," a reference to the banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and the Kurdish militia People's Defense Units (YPG) in Syria.

If Turkish objections are resolved, the two Nordic countries could become members within a few months, fast-forwarding a process that usually takes eight to 12 months.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said he also was confident Turkey would support the move by both countries, and U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price likewise expressed confidence that Ankara would not block their entrance into the alliance.

The White House said earlier that U.S. President Joe Biden will host Niinisto and Andersson for a meeting on May 19 to discuss the applications as well as the broader topic of European security.

The two countries have moved quickly toward joining NATO since Russia launched its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine on February 24.

The steps taken by the two Nordic neighbors have prompted warnings from Russia, which would see NATO expand right up to its western border.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on May 16 that while Russia did not see Finland and Sweden's decision to join NATO as a threat, any deployment of military infrastructure there may trigger a response from Moscow.

With reporting by AP, Reuters, dpa, and AFP

U.S. Launches Program To Document War Crimes In Ukraine

Cemetery workers exhume the corpse of a civilian killed in Bucha, outside Kyiv, from a mass grave in April.

The U.S. State Department has announced the launch of a new program to capture and analyze evidence of war crimes and other atrocities committed by Russian forces in Ukraine.

The goal of the program will be the documentation, verification, and dissemination of open-source evidence to ensure that Russia is held accountable for its actions, the U.S. State Department said on May 17 in a statement.

Known as the Conflict Observatory, the program will make its reports and analyses available on its website.

"The Conflict Observatory will analyze and preserve publicly and commercially available information, including satellite imagery and information shared via social media, consistent with international legal standards, for use in ongoing and future accountability mechanisms," the statement said.

The online platform will help refute Russia's disinformation efforts and shine a light on abuses, the statement added.

Ukraine has accused Russia of committing atrocities during its unprovoked invasion and said it has identified more than 10,000 possible war crimes.

'I Came To Identify My Son': In Bucha, Relatives Retrieve Bodies Of Loved Ones
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Russia denies targeting civilians and claims that evidence of atrocities presented by Ukraine was staged.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said last week there were many examples of possible war crimes in Ukraine.

The International Criminal Court is also working with Ukrainian, Lithuanian, and Polish prosecutors in investigating war crimes allegations against Russian forces.

With reporting by Reuters

Ukraine's Zelenskiy Surprises Cannes Film Festival

Volodymyr Zelensky appears on a screen during the opening ceremony of the 75th annual Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, France, on May 17.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has delivered an unscheduled address to the opening ceremony of the Cannes Film Festival, assuring attendees that "hatred will disappear and dictators will die."

The actor-turned-politician referred to the connection between cinema and reality, making references to films like Apocalypse Now and Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator, which mocked Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.

"We need a new Chaplin who will demonstrate that the cinema of our time is not silent,” Zelenskiy said in his surprise video message to the ceremony in Cannes, France.

"Today, the cinema is not silent. Remember these words. The power they've taken from the people will be returned to the people."

He received a standing ovation from the audience gathered at the festival's main venue.

The festival, which was canceled in 2020 and scaled back last year because of COVID-19, had an eye turned to the war in Ukraine as it kicked off this year largely without pandemic protocols.

Several films from Ukrainian filmmakers, including Sergei Loznitsa's documentary The Natural History Of Destruction, are scheduled to be shown.

Mariupolis 2, a documentary about the conflict by Lithuanian director Mantas Kvedaravicius, who was killed in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol last month, will get a special screening.

Twenty-one films will vie for the festival's top award, the Palme d'Or, over the next 12 days. Top Gun: Maverick!, Elvis!, and the zombie comedy Final Cut are all premiering during the festival.

Final Cut, whose premiere opened the festival, was renamed from its original title, Z, after Ukrainian protesters noted that the letter Z symbolizes support for Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Festival organizers have barred Russians with ties to the government.

With reporting by AFP and AP

Russia Scraps Several Key Car Safety Standards As Western Producers Exit Market

Russian employees work at the assembly line of the Lada Izhevsk automobile plant, part of the Avtovaz Group, in Izhevsk.

MOSCOW -- Russia's government has relaxed safety and emission standards for locally built vehicles as it looks to stimulate production following an exodus of Western manufacturers over Moscow's war in Ukraine.

According to a government resolution quietly approved on May 12, airbags and seat-belt pretensioners, which lock seat belts in place in the event of a crash, will no longer be mandatory in automobiles.

The resolution, which will be valid until February 1, 2023, also allows the production of vehicles without anti-lock braking systems (ABS), electronic stability controls (ESC), and emergency signal systems, all standard safety equipment for new cars in most parts of the world.

The safety systems were introduced in car-making standards in Russia after leading foreign automobile makers came to the market in the early 2000s.

However, major car producers have exited the market since Russia launched its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine on February 24.

The most recent major automaker to leave was Renault, which on May 16 said it was selling its 100 percent stake in Renault Russia to the city of Moscow, while its 67.69 percent interest in AvtoVAZ will be sold to the state-owned Central Research and Development Automobile and Engine Institute, with a provision to buy back that stake "at certain times during the next 6 years."

'Deeply Alarmed' UN Calls On Tehran To Halt Imminent Execution Of Iranian-Swedish Doctor

Ahmadreza Djalali with his wife, Vida Mehrannia.

The United Nations says it is "deeply alarmed" by the imminent execution in Iran of Swedish-Iranian doctor and academic Ahmedreza Djalali, and called for an immediate halt to it.

Liz Throssell, spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in a statement on May 17 that the authorities in Tehran should revoke Djallali's death sentence immediately.

Djalali, a medical doctor and lecturer at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, was arrested in Iran in 2016 during an academic visit. Jalali specializes in disaster relief and has taught at European universities. Rights groups have condemned his detention.

He was accused of providing information to Israel to help it assassinate several senior nuclear scientists.

Iran has threatened to execute him by May 21.

"Use of the death penalty for espionage offenses is incompatible with international human rights law. Countries that have not yet abolished the death penalty may only impose it for the 'most serious crimes,' which is interpreted as crimes of extreme gravity involving intentional killing," Throssell said in the statement.

Many Western groups say the threat to execute Djalali is tied to the current trial of an Iranian in Stockholm for his alleged role in the mass execution and torture of political prisoners at an Iranian prison in the 1980s.

Tehran has denied the cases, which have strained relations between Iran and Sweden, are linked.

Russia Leaves Baltic Council Amid Standoff With West Over Ukraine War

Russia says it is quitting the Council of the Baltic Sea States, accusing the organization of becoming "an instrument of anti-Russian policy" and "increasingly bogged down in Russophobia and lies."

The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on May 17 that it is leaving the regional grouping that also includes Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Sweden, and the European Union amid tensions with the West over its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

The statement came as German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said his country will intensify its military collaboration with Sweden and Finland as the two countries seek NATO membership in the wake of Russia's aggression against Ukraine.

Last month Russia quit the Council of Europe under threat of expulsion after its membership was suspended over its invasion of Ukraine.

With reporting by AFP and Reuters

Belarusian Publisher, Associate Arrested After Opening New Bookstore

The Knihauka bookstore in Minsk

MINSK -- Police in Minsk have detained the director of a publishing house, Andrey Yanushkevich, and his associate, Nasta Karnatskaya, after they opened a general bookstore in the Belarusian capital.

Yanushkevich and Karnatskaya were detained on May 16 soon after a visit from well-known pro-government propagandist journalists Ryhor Azaronak and Lyudmila Hladkaya.

Azaronak and Hladkaya started berating the bookstore staff for selling books in Belarusian that they said were inappropriate.

The two questioned why the store was selling a book about the Radziwill family, who influenced historic developments in what is today Lithuania, Poland, and Belarus.

They also accused the bookstore owners of selling a book with a photo of a gathering that was "reminiscent of a Nazi parade." The picture in the history book was actually of Lithuanian armed forces in Vilnius in 1939.

Hours after the visit of the two journalists, police arrived at the bookstore and conducted a search, after which, Yanushkevich and Karnatskaya were detained.

Andrey Yanushkevich publishes books on a variety of subjects, mainly in Belarusian.
Andrey Yanushkevich publishes books on a variety of subjects, mainly in Belarusian.

Yanushkevich's relatives say they do not know the grounds on which the two were detained. It also remains unclear whether Yanushkevich and Karnatskaya are facing any charges.

Yanushkevich Publishing House issues books on a variety of subjects, mainly in Belarusian.

In January 2021, the State Control Committee confiscated the publishing house's equipment and suspended its bank account for several months. Earlier this year, city authorities ordered it to vacate its offices in Minsk.

In recent months, Belarusian authorities have suspended the activities of several independent publishing houses -- Limaryus, Knihazbor, Haliyafy, and Medysont -- for the "violation of regulations on registration at the Information Ministry."

A crackdown on independent media and publishing houses has intensified in the country since mass anti-government protests followed an August 2020 presidential election that proclaimed authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka as the winner, while the opposition and the West say the poll was rigged.

With reporting by Nasha Niva

Russia Will Not Ban YouTube, Minister Shadayev Says

Maksut Shadayev, Russia's Digital Development, Communications and Mass Media Minister (file photo)

The Russian minister overseeing digital communications says the government has no plans to block the video sharing platform YouTube despite threats to do so over parent company Alphabet Inc's failure to delete content Moscow has deemed illegal.

Speaking at an education event in Moscow on May 17, minister of digital development, communications and mass media, Maksut Shadayev, said "Russia must remain part of the global network," though it must "learn to filter information" in the Internet.

"We do not plan to ban YouTube. First of all, when we restrict something, we must clearly understand that our users do not suffer... A ban is an extreme move that can be only possible, to my understanding, when we have a competitive alternative," he said.

Last month, Russia's media watchdog, Roskomnadzor, openly accused YouTube of "spreading fake news" about Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

In March, Roskomnadzor demanded Alphabet stop the spread of videos on its YouTube platform that it said were "threatening Russian citizens."

Shadayev said Russia "must build up barriers to avoid too much pressure on Internet users."

Days after Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine on February 24, Roskomnadzor ordered media across the country to publish information about the war in Ukraine only if it is provided by official sources.

It also has forbidden describing what several Western nations have called an "unjustified and unprovoked" attack on Ukraine as an invasion or a war, instead insisting it be called a "special military operation."

Over the past year, Russia has tightented the screws on opposition voices, forcing the closure of most independent media outlets and limiting the free flow of information.

On March 4, Roskomnadzor blocked Facebook, claiming the world's largest social-media platform was discriminating against Russian media and information resources such as RT, RIA Novosti, and Sputnik.

A day later, President Vladimir Putin signed a law that calls for lengthy prison terms for distributing "deliberately false information" about Russian military operations as the Kremlin seeks to control the narrative about its war in Ukraine.

The law envisages sentences of up to 10 years in prison for individuals convicted of an offense, while the penalty for the distribution of "deliberately false information" about the Russian army that leads to "serious consequences" is 15 years in prison.

It also makes it illegal "to make calls against the use of Russian troops to protect the interests of Russia" or "for discrediting such use" with a penalty possible of up to three years in prison. The same provision applies to calls for sanctions against Russia.

Multiple websites of RFE/RL, BBC, and other independent media outlets have been blocked over what Russian regulators claim is erroneous reporting.

Some Russian journalists have left Russia after their companies had to stop or suspend operations following the criminalization of the coverage of the war in Ukraine.

Several have since started up their own streams on YouTube to cover and discuss the ongoing war.

With reporting by TASS and Interfax

Moscow Expels Two Finnish Diplomats In Tit-For-Tat Move

Finland's Prime Minister Sanna Marin and Finland's President Sauli Niinisto are seen at a joint news conference on Finland's security policy decisions in Helsinki on May 15.

Moscow says it is expelling two Finnish diplomats in retaliation for Helsinki's decision to expel a similar number of Russian diplomats in April.

Russia's Foreign Ministry said on May 17 that it had summoned Finnish Ambassador to Russia Antti Helantera to inform him of the move, citing "Finland's confrontational course towards Russia."

Finland has provided arms to Ukraine, which Russia invaded in February, and lawmakers in Helsinki are expected later on May 17 to formally endorse joining the NATO security alliance.

Last month Finland expelled two staff members of the Russian embassy in Helsinki in reaction to Russia's aggression against Ukraine.

European nations have expelled hundreds of Russian diplomats since the unprovoked invasion was launched on February 24.

Moscow Court Postpones Hearing Into Navalny's Appeal For Week

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is seen on a screen via video link before a court hearing to consider an appeal against his prison sentence on May 17.

MOSCOW -- A Moscow court has delayed a hearing into jailed opposition politician Aleksei Navalny's appeal against his latest sentence.

The court started the hearing on May 17 but postponed it for one week after Navalny, who took part in the hearing via a video link from a prison in the Vladimir region, asked the court to give him time to get better acquainted with case documents. The next hearing will be held on May 24, the court said.

Navalny, who was sentenced to nine years in prison in March while he was already serving another prison term from a separate case, said he wanted to compare the texts of his verdict and sentence with what a court pronounced at his trial.

Navalny also said that his family members were scheduled to visit him on May 20, and he did not want to lose the visit, which is granted just a few times a year, as he may be transferred to another penal colony if his sentence is upheld.

A court handed down a new sentence against Navalny -- nine years in prison -- on March 22 after finding him guilty of embezzlement and contempt of court charges that he and his supporters have repeatedly rejected as politically motivated. That sentence is expected to come into force if the Moscow court rejects the appeal.

Navalny was arrested in January last year upon his arrival to Moscow from Germany, where he was treated for a poison attack with what European labs defined as a Soviet-style nerve agent. He was then handed a 2 1/2-year prison sentence for violating the terms of an earlier parole because of his convalescence abroad. The original conviction is widely regarded as a trumped-up, politically motivated case.

Navalny has blamed Russian President Vladimir Putin for his poisoning with a Novichok-style chemical substance. The Kremlin has denied any role in the attack.

International organizations consider Navalny a political prisoner. The European Union, U.S. President Joe Biden, and other international officials have demanded Russian authorities release the 45-year-old Kremlin-critic.

Navalny is currently serving his term in a penal colony in the town of Pokrov, some 200 kilometers east of Moscow.

With reporting by Mediazona

Sweden, Finland To Submit Bids To Join NATO Together

Sweden's Foreign Minister Ann Linde signs the country's application for NATO membership on May 17.

Finland and Sweden announced they will submit their bids to join NATO together, as the two countries expect to be able to smooth out a threat from Turkey to block the military alliance's expansion.

"I'm happy we have taken the same path and we can do it together," Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said on May 17 during a joint press conference with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto.

Finland's parliament on May 17 overwhelmingly endorsed a bid to join NATO, abandoning more than seven decades of neutrality.

Lawmakers voted 188-8 in favor of the proposal put forward by Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin, which came hours after neighboring Sweden signed a formal request to become a member of the Western alliance.

However, opposition from Turkey, which accuses Sweden and Finland of failing to take a clear stance against terrorism, has complicated their accession, which must be unanimously approved by the alliance's 30 members.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused the two countries of harboring Kurdish militants, and Turkish Justice Ministry sources quoted by the official Anadolu news agency said Sweden and Finland had failed to respond positively to 33 Turkish extradition requests over the past five years.

But Niinisto told Sweden's parliament in an address to lawmakers on May 17 that he was confident that "with the help of constructive talks, the situation will be resolved."

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said he also was confident Turkey would support the move by both countries, and U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price likewise expressed confidence that Ankara would not block their entrance into the alliance.

The White House said earlier that U.S. President Joe Biden will host Niinisto and Andersson for a meeting on May 19 to discuss the applications as well as the broader topic of European security.

The two countries have moved quickly toward joining NATO since Russia launched its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine on February 24.

The steps taken by the two Nordic neighbors have prompted warnings from Russia, which would see NATO expand right up to its western border.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on May 16 that while Russia did not see Finland and Sweden's decision to join NATO as a threat, any deployment of military infrastructure there may trigger a response from Moscow.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on May 17 echoed Putin's comments, saying that Finland and Sweden joining NATO probably wouldn't make "much of a difference," as the two countries had long participated in the alliance's military drills.

But he warned that Russia would closely monitor NATO's activities in the future member states.

"NATO takes their territory into account when planning military advances to the east. So in this sense there is probably not much difference. Let's see how their territory is used in practice in the North Atlantic alliance."

With reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters

Hundreds Detained In Yerevan Anti-Government Protests

Police officers are seen detaining protesters attempting to block streets in Yerevan on May 17.

Armenian police have detained more than 400 people in Yerevan as protesters blocked streets during opposition-led demonstrations to force Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian from office.

Groups of protesters began blocking streets at 8 a.m. local time in an attempt to disrupt traffic and step up pressure on Pashinian's government. Opposition leaders claimed that demonstrators blocked more than 50 streets in various parts of the capital.

Riot police clashed with protesters and detained many of them as they stepped in to unblock the streets. The police reported a total of 414 arrests by the afternoon, a daily record since the opposition began a civil-disobedience campaign on May 1.

Hundreds Arrested As Opposition Blocks Roads In Armenian Capital
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Demonstrations organized by the opposition since April 17 have called on the public to commit acts of civil disobedience, accusing Pashinian of what they said were unacceptable concessions made during negotiations with Azerbaijan over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Pashinian has faced heavy criticism since he and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev agreed last month in Brussels to begin drafting a peace treaty to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and set up a joint commission on demarcating their common border.

The demonstration and clashes on May 17 came a day after police detained almost 100 drivers who took part in a car rally in Yerevan.

The previous day, police detained almost 100 drivers who took part in a car rally in Yerevan.

Azerbaijan wants the peace deal to be based on five elements, including a mutual recognition of each other’s territorial integrity.

Pashinian has publicly stated that the elements are acceptable to Yerevan in principle, fueling opposition claims that he is ready to recognize Azerbaijani sovereignty over Nagorno-Karabakh.

Armenia lost control over parts of the breakaway region in a 2020 war that ended with a Russian-brokered cease-fire that an estimated 2,000 Russian troops have been deployed to monitor.

Nagorno-Karabakh, which had been under ethnic Armenian control for nearly three decades, is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan.

Pashinian, who said he had agreed to the 2020 cease-fire to avoid further losses, said he would not sign any peace deal with Azerbaijan without consulting ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh.

With reporting by AFP

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