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Nobel Committee Says Peace Prize Not Against China

Imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, whose selection for the Nobel Peace Prize infuriated Beijing
Imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, whose selection for the Nobel Peace Prize infuriated Beijing
The Nobel Committee has insisted that this year's choice of peace laureate was not "against China."

"The universal rights explained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are not Western values, are not Western standards," Committee Chairman Thorbjoern Jagland said at a press conference in Oslo ahead of December 10 Nobel Peace Prize ceremony for Chinese dissident Liu Xiabo.

"They are global standards, applied to every country of the world that are members of the United Nations. So we are not advocating certain Western values."

Pointing out China's fast economic development, Jagland insisted on the importance to push for parallel political reforms.

Earlier in the day, China launched a last salvo against the Nobel Committee. Speaking to reporters in Beijing, a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman called the award to Liu an "obscenity."

"The fairness is in everybody's heart. Many members of the international community are not supporting the wrong decision by the Norwegian committee," Jiang Yu said.

"Any means by the Norwegian committee cannot change the fact that Liu Xiaobo is a criminal. Any attempts to pressure China using this issue and to deter China from its development will not be successful."

Jiang had earlier described supporters of the awarding of the Nobel Prize to Liu as "clowns" taking part in a farce.

An Empty Chair

When Liu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in early October, Beijing reacted with fury, and embarked on an intensive campaign to sabotage the award ceremony in Oslo.

Such efforts appear to have borne some fruit, as the prize itself -- for only the second time in its history -- in all probability won't be handed out on December 10 because neither the recipient nor a representative is likely to attend.

Instead, Liu is expected to be represented by an empty chair, a photograph, and one of his texts read by Norwegian actress Liv Ullmann.

Liu is serving an 11-year sentence for subversion for campaigning for political freedom, and his wife, Liu Xia, has been under house arrest.

Other family members have reportedly been prevented from leaving China along with dozens of Chinese dissidents and intellectuals considered likely to travel to Oslo.

Chinese Pressure

In addition, 19 other countries have declined invitations to attend the ceremony, amid Chinese pressure for a boycott. They include Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Serbia, and Russia.

A number of countries have received criticism for skipping the Nobel gala.

A spokeswoman for EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele said on December 8 that the European Union was "disappointed and concerned" about Serbia's decision not to attend.

The New York-based lobby group Human Rights Watch said it was "shocked and disappointed" that the Philippines, an advocate of democracy and human rights in Asia, would stay away from the event.

Still, Nobel Committee Chairman Jagland expressed satisfaction that two-thirds of the countries that have an embassy in Oslo will attend the ceremony -- including Ukraine, which earlier had said it would stay away.

He also voiced confidence that Liu's award will help his early release from prison.

"I think it will be difficult for Chinese authorities to keep him in prison for 11 years because, after this prize, the pressure from the outside world will be heavy, it will be quite difficult for many political leaders not to raise human rights issues in China when they meet with Chinese leaders," Jagland said.

Expressions Of Support


Jagland also said today he was surprised at the level of international support for Liu, despite pressure from Beijing.

He told Norway's TV2, "We were not expecting a lot of support at a political level since so many countries depend on China economically and politically."

One such gesture of support in particular has irked Beijing: the Foreign Ministry today criticized U.S. lawmakers after the House of Representatives called on China to release Liu and his wife.

"The U.S. Congress's so-called resolution distorts the truth and rudely meddles in China's internal affairs," spokeswoman Jiang said.

"China urges relevant U.S. lawmakers to stop issuing the wrong words on Liu Xiaobo's incident and change their arrogant and rude attitude."

Meanwhile, the AFP news agency reported that the websites of several foreign media, including CNN, the BBC, and Norwegian public broadcaster NRK, appeared to be blocked in China today.

'Confucius Prize'

Meanwhile, China hoped to counter the Nobel with its own peace prize, intended to give the Chinese "viewpoint of peace."

The first Confucius Peace Prize was awarded to former Taiwanese Vice President Lien Chan in Beijing for his efforts to build peace between Taiwan and mainland China.

But in a harbinger of the December 10 event in Oslo, the Confucius Prize ceremony also took place in the absence of its intended recipient.

Lien's office in Taiwan said it had no information about the prize, and the award was collected by a young girl instead.

The chairman of the prize committee, Tan Changliu, told a press conference that the new prize should not be linked with the Nobel laureate.

"We believe that Mr. Lien Chan, with his knowledge, dignity, and political wisdom, would not refuse peace, and he would not refuse this prize," Tan added.

compiled from agency reports

More News

Russian Journalist Detained For Questioning After His Home Was Searched

Artyom Kriger (file photo)
Artyom Kriger (file photo)

Artyom Kriger, a journalist with the independent SotaVision Telegram channel, has been detained for questioning in an unspecified case. On June 18, Kriger's sister confirmed reports that her brother had been detained after police searched his apartment. Kriger is known for his interviews with Russian politicians. In May last year, his uncle, Mikhail Kriger, was sentenced to seven years in prison on a charge of justifying terrorism. Investigators said Mikhail Kriger made calls online for the "execution" of Russian President Vladimir Putin and the killing of security officers. Mikhail Kriger rejected the charge. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Hungary, Slovakia Said To Drop Resistance To Rutte For Top NATO Job

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte

Dutch media say Hungary has dropped its objection to longtime Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte becoming NATO's next secretary-general following meetings in Brussels, while Slovakia's president also signaled his country's possible support early on June 18.

The transatlantic military alliance is seeking the required consensus among its 32 members for someone to succeed Norwegian Jens Stoltenberg as secretary-general when he steps down in October.

The United States, Britain, France, Germany, and Turkey have all said they would support Rutte's candidacy.

If the reports that Hungary and Slovakia now support Rutte are confirmed, Romania would remain the final holdout. All of the military alliance's 32 members must approve a candidate for the four-year term.

Dutch RTL News on June 18 quoted unnamed sources as saying Budapest "no longer opposes [Rutte's] candidacy" after a meeting between Rutte and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban on the sidelines of an EU leaders' meeting.

Orban spokesman Zoltan Kovacs confirmed on the social network X that Orban and Rutte had met late on June 17 ahead of the EU summit to focus on "bilateral and international issues."

Dutch outlet NOS quoted Orban's spokesman as saying the Hungarian prime minister and Rutte had a "good conversation."

There has been no public word from Hungarian officials of any change of position.

Orban had said earlier this month that he would end his opposition to Rutte's NATO candidacy if he apologized for recent criticism of his government in Budapest and permitted Hungary to exclude itself from the military alliance's higher aid plans to Ukraine.

Rutte said on June 17 that he remained "cautiously optimistic about Hungary."

Then on June 18, new Slovak President Peter Pellegrini said his country is prepared to support Rutte for the NATO top job.

"After a final discussion with Mark Rutte and consultation with the Slovak government, Slovakia can imagine Mark Rutte as the NATO chief," Reuters quoted Pellegrini telling a televised news briefing.

Slovaks are among the most pro-Russian of EU and NATO members, and left-wing populist Prime Minister Robert Fico halted arms shipments to Ukraine after his appointment as prime minister in October.

Like Orban, Fico has also publicly opposed Ukraine's eventual membership in NATO.

Pellegrini, who is regarded as a Fico ally, was sworn in to replace staunch Ukraine supporter Zuzana Caputova as president on June 15.

Orban has been a staunch critic of sanctions and direct military assistance to Kyiv since Russia invaded Ukraine two years ago, and he has continued visits and other diplomatic overtures to Moscow despite Western calls for unity in the face of the Russian threat.

He and his national populist Fidesz party have also spearheaded anti-EU sentiment within and outside the bloc that seemingly contributed to right-wing gains in this month's elections for the European Parliament.

Stoltenberg traveled to Hungary on June 12 and emerged from a meeting with Orban saying Budapest had agreed not to block assistance and military aid to Ukraine, although it would exercise an opt-out.

Romanian President Klaus Iohannis has sought the NATO leadership job for himself.

U.S. Puts 'High Priority' On Attending Gershkovich's Closed Trial In Russia

U.S. President Joe Biden appears in front of an image of jailed Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich at an event in Washington in April.
U.S. President Joe Biden appears in front of an image of jailed Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich at an event in Washington in April.

The United States has expressed concern over Russia's decision to try Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich for alleged espionage in a closed trial but said U.S. Embassy representatives will still try to attend the court hearing scheduled for later this month.

State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said on June 17 that attending was a "high priority for us" but that "ultimately we’re going to try to bring [Gershkovich] home and we’re going to try to bring [fellow detained American] Paul Whelan home, and that continues to be our overriding goal."

Washington has classified the jailing of both Gershkovich and Whelan, a former Marine who was convicted of spying in 2020 and jailed for 16 years, as "wrongful detentions" by Russia.

"We are going to attempt to attend the trial [of Gershkovich]. Don’t know if that will be possible," Miller told journalists.

Russian investigators have alleged that Gershkovich was acting "on instructions from the CIA." He could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

Miller called the charges against Gershkovich "completely bogus" and "a very serious breach of international norms."

He said that "as we have made clear...we believe the Russian government knows that they are completely bogus."

RFE/RL journalist Alsu Kurmasheva attends a court hearing in Kazan on May 31.
RFE/RL journalist Alsu Kurmasheva attends a court hearing in Kazan on May 31.

Miller also stressed that Russia should release veteran RFE/RL journalist and dual Russian-U.S. citizen Alsu Kurmasheva, who was initially detained at Kazan's airport after visiting her sick mother in June 2023, then arrested and charged in October with failing to register as a "foreign agent."

Kurmasheva was later charged with spreading falsehoods about the Russian military, a charge that could lead to a 10-year prison sentence.

The U.S. government and RFE/RL say the charges are punishment for Kurmasheva's work as a journalist for RFE/RL.

"Journalism is not a crime," U.S. President Joe Biden said of the Gershkovich and Kurmasheva cases.

Russian authorities have not provided any evidence to support the espionage charges against 32-year-old Gershkovich, which The Wall Street Journal and the U.S. government have vehemently rejected.

Russian officials said this week that Gershkovich's espionage trial in a court in Yekaterinburg would take place behind closed doors beginning on June 26.

Gershkovich was initially arrested during a reporting trip to that Ural city in March 2023.

State Department spokesman Miller repeated that Moscow rejected a "significant offer that we put on the table" several months ago to secure the release of Gershkovich and Whelan "and we will continue...to pursue their release."

Analysts and Western officials accuse Russia of targeting U.S. citizens for detention for potential use in prisoner exchanges or for other geopolitical purposes.

Russia is believed to be seeking the release of Vadim Krasikov, who is serving a life sentence in Germany for the 2019 killing of Zelimkhan "Tornike" Khangoshvili, a Georgian citizen of Chechen descent who had fought Russian troops in Chechnya and later claimed asylum in Germany.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, asked in February about releasing Gershkovich, appeared to refer to Krasikov by pointing to a man imprisoned by a U.S. ally for "liquidating a bandit" who had allegedly killed Russian soldiers in Chechnya.

Whelan was detained in December 2018 and convicted on espionage charges in 2020.

Russian Oil Depot Ablaze After Suspected Ukrainian Drone Attack In Rostov

An image from a video of the Azov fire posted by the Russian Emergency Situations Ministry on June 18.
An image from a video of the Azov fire posted by the Russian Emergency Situations Ministry on June 18.

A major fire is burning at an oil depot in the southern Russian city of Azov after what the regional governor called an attack by drones overnight on June 17-18.

Rostov Governor Vasily Golubev said there were no casualties in the incident.

He also said there was "no risk of the fire spreading to other facilities, or threats to residents."

The Russian Emergency Situations Ministry posted video of the blaze and said a 5,000-cubic-meter fuel tank had caught fire.

It said more than 70 firefighters with equipment, including a fire train, were trying to extinguish the fire.

Russian officials have blamed Ukrainian drones for multiple attacks on oil installations in recent weeks near the border with Ukraine, in Belgorod and Novoshakhtinsk.

Kyiv generally avoids commenting on the incidents. But Ukraine has increasingly resorted to targeting Russian energy infrastructure, mainly oil installations, with its own drone strikes in order to degrade the Russian military's fuel reserves.

Ukraine has been subjected to near-constant Russian drone and missile strikes on its civilian and energy infrastructure since the start of the full-scale invasion by Russia two years ago.

The Russian air attacks have caused numerous casualties among civilians and huge material damage across the country, including the capital, Kyiv.

UEFA Opens Disciplinary Proceedings, Probe Over Serbian Fan Actions At Euro 2024

Security was increased as fans gathered in Gelsenkirchen before the England-Serbia match on June 16.
Security was increased as fans gathered in Gelsenkirchen before the England-Serbia match on June 16.

European football's governing body UEFA on June 17 announced disciplinary proceedings and a further investigation into alleged misconduct by Serbian fans at the Euro 2024 soccer championships' group-stage match against England in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, a day earlier.

It said the disciplinary charges against Serbia's Football Association involved the throwing of objects and "transmitting a provocative message unfit for a sports event."

Meanwhile, the investigation involves alleged "discriminatory behavior."

The football association of the former Serbian province of Kosovo, whose independence Serbia rejects, filed a complaint alleging that Serbian fans had brandished “political, chauvinistic, and racist messages,” including a flag showing Kosovo within Serbia's borders.

Decisions on both will be made "in due course," UEFA said. Serbia next plays in Munich on June 20 against Slovenia.

Seven of Serbia's fans were detained by German police on June 16 after violence broke out ahead of the same match, which England won 1-0.

Reports said one of the fans had been accused of dangerous bodily harm.

Police had said earlier they had been forced to separate the two sides' supporters.

Before Summit With North Korea's Kim, Putin Vows They'll Beat Sanctions Together

Russian President Vladimir Putin last visited North Korea in 2000, when Kim's father, Kim Jong Il, was still its leader.
Russian President Vladimir Putin last visited North Korea in 2000, when Kim's father, Kim Jong Il, was still its leader.

Russian President Vladimir Putin thanked North Korea for supporting his actions in Ukraine and said their countries will cooperate closely to overcome U.S.-led sanctions as he headed to Pyongyang on June 18 for a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Putin’s comments appeared in an op-ed piece in North Korean state media hours before he was expected to arrive in North Korea for a two-day visit as the countries deepen their alignment in the face of separate, intensifying confrontations with Washington. Putin, who will be making his first visit to North Korea in 24 years, said he highly appreciates its firm support of his invasion of Ukraine. To read the original story by AP, click here.

Outspoken Armenian Archbishop Leads Another Anti-Government Rally In Yerevan

Archbishop Bagrat Galstanian addresses supporters in Yerevan on June 17.
Archbishop Bagrat Galstanian addresses supporters in Yerevan on June 17.

YEREVAN -- Thousands of people took part in a demonstration in the Armenian capital on June 17 in support of the Tavush for the Motherland movement, which has been holding rallies calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian over plans to hand over several border areas to Azerbaijan as part of a peace deal.

The demonstration, led by Archbishop Bagrat Galstanian, started on Baghramian Avenue, which was closed.

There was also a police presence during the demonstration but no violence was reported, unlike on June 12, when clashes erupted near the National Assembly during a rally by the movement.

Police used stun grenades and detained more than 100 people, and nearly as many were injured in the clashes. Pashinian angered the opposition by defending the use of force, saying it was "legitimate and professional."

Galstanian said at the June 17 demonstration that the people who were injured had not been visited by a "forensic doctor" until the night of June 16 as part of an effort to cover up what happened.

"June 12 is another stigma on the face of this government and its leader," Galstanian said, vowing to start legal proceedings against the perpetrators of the violence.

Opposition deputy Garnik Danielyan also addressed the crowd.

"We will continue the struggle as long as Nikol Pashinian and his regime exist," he declared.

The deputy also referred to an extraordinary session of parliament that failed to take place earlier on June 14 because opposition parties could not secure a quorum.

At least two opposition parties wanted the meeting to discuss a draft on the resignation of the government and the formation of a new one.

National Assembly speaker Alen Simonian told RFE/RL that Civil Agreement faction members declined to attend the session because they did not want to "serve the agenda of the opposition."

Simonian added that the government "is legitimate, therefore they will not discuss the issue of the resignation of the government."

Galstanian told the demonstration that the movement would continue its discussions and "expand the toolkit for the struggle." The movement will meet to discuss "having a new quality country and other ideological issues," he said, adding, "There is no such thing as a retreat for us."

The Investigative Committee said earlier on June 17 that 12 criminal cases had been filed in connection with the clashes on June 12. The cases include charges of mass disturbances and hooliganism filed against eight people. Two of them are under house arrest, and one was banned from leaving the country.

Ruben Melikian, a lawyer for one of the two defendants under house arrest, said the criminal cases against the protesters were political persecution. The authorities are trying to justify the violence that police used against the demonstrators, Melikian said.

The government must answer to Armenia and the international community "because these brutalities of the police are in front of everyone's eyes," Melikian told RFE/RL.

Melikian's client, Tigran Saribekian, is accused of hooliganism. Melikian said Saribekian's ears were injured by a stun grenade. After he was injured, he picked up a piece of wood from the ground and threw it at the police, according to Melikian.

"They are trying to show that some serious crime happened and the police heroically defended it," Melikian said, adding that the portrayal of the police as victims was "artificial."

Ukrainian Command Says Russian Air Defenses Damaged In Crimea

A Russian S-400 air defense system near Yevpatoria, Crimea (file photo)
A Russian S-400 air defense system near Yevpatoria, Crimea (file photo)

The Strategic Command of Ukraine's armed forces said on June 17 that its forces had damaged 15 Russian air defense systems in occupied Crimea since May.

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.

Russian S-300, S-350, and S-400 antiaircraft divisions have been affected, the Strategic Command said on social media. These missile divisions are capable of launching surface-to-air missiles.

Military experts have called the S-400 system one of the most advanced air defense systems in the world. Some estimate the production cost per S-400 system at $600 million per unit.

The system has been key to Russia's air defenses in Crimea, which it illegally occupied in 2014.

The Strategic Command also said dozens of launchers, more than 15 radar stations, and more than 10 control points had been destroyed in Crimea.

As Russian air defenses weaken, the Strategic Command said, "The day of the liberation of the Ukrainian Crimea is approaching."

The Strategic Command included a map in the post, which showed damaged divisions throughout Crimea. According to the map, the locations are Ai-Petri, Alushta, Belbek, Chornomorske, Dzhankoy, Donskoye, Yevpatoria, Misov, Saki, Sevastopol, and Tarkhankut. In some locations, multiple divisions have been damaged.

Ukraine hopes to improve its air defense capabilities, notably through the acquisition of F-16 fighter jets.

The Strategic Command post comes the same day NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the "path to peace is more weapons for Ukraine," ahead of the NATO summit in Washington in July.

In addition to military assistance, Group of Seven allies announced on June 12 that Ukraine will receive a $50 billion loan using the profits from Russian sovereign assets that have frozen in Europe.

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said on June 17 that the loan will help repair Ukrainian infrastructure that has been damaged by Russia's aggression inside the country and to help them with reconstruction.

"It's a way to get that reconstruction started right now and have Russia literally and figuratively footing the bill," Kirby said.

Russian Nuclear-Powered Submarine Leaves Cuba After 5-Day Stay

The Russian nuclear-powered submarine Kazan enters Havana's bay on June 12.
The Russian nuclear-powered submarine Kazan enters Havana's bay on June 12.

A Russian nuclear-powered submarine and other naval vessels on June 17 left the port of Havana after a five-day stay. The Russian nuclear-powered submarine Kazan -- which Cuba said was not carrying nuclear weapons -- docked in Havana on June 12. Washington said it did not see the visit as a threat, but the U.S. Southern Command said on June 13 that a U.S. fast-attack submarine arrived at the naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as part of a planned and routine port visit. A Canadian Navy patrol ship also docked in Havana. Ottawa said the ship arrived on June 14 to signal the "capable and deployable" nature of the Canadian military.

Rod Stewart Defends Support For Ukraine After Boos In Germany's Leipzig

Rod Stewart performs in Copenhagen on June 9.
Rod Stewart performs in Copenhagen on June 9.

British rock star Rod Stewart on June 17 defended his support for Ukraine after he was booed at a show in Germany after an image of Ukraine's flag and President Volodymyr Zelenskiy appeared on screens in the stadium. Stewart, 79, has been outspoken in his support for Ukraine, which has included help for a family of seven fleeing Russia's invasion. While performing in Leipzig on June 14, the display of the Ukrainian flag and an image of Zelenskiy was met by loud boos, shouts, and whistles. Steward told Britain's PA news agency that his support for the Ukrainian people will continue. "[Russian President Vladimir] Putin must be stopped," he said.

Updated

NATO Chief: West Should 'Impose A Cost' On China For Its Support Of Russia

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg speaks to the media outside the West Wing of the White House in Washington on June 17 following a meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg speaks to the media outside the West Wing of the White House in Washington on June 17 following a meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden.

WASHINGTON -- NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on June 17 that China was providing technology to Russia that is prolonging its full-scale invasion of Ukraine and called on Beijing to face the consequences of this support.

"Beijing cannot have it both ways. At some point -- and unless China changes course -- allies need to impose a cost. There should be consequences," Stoltenberg said at the Wilson Center in Washington.

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.

Stoltenberg said that in the past two years 90 percent of Russian microelectronics originated in China, and that China was working to improve Russian satellite capabilities.

"Threats are not regional," Stoltenberg said. "China is fueling the largest armed conflict in Europe since World War II, and at the same time it wants to maintain good relations with the West."

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby also said China was continuing to provide Russia with components for military equipment and weapon systems.

Speaking at a briefing on June 17, he said microelectronics had helped "shore up...what would have been a truly crumbling Russian defense industrial base." Kirby added that the United States had raised the issue with China.

Stoltenberg noted that NATO faces threats from China related to Russia along with threats from China related to the Indo-Pacific and the Arctic.

Russia has also built up relations with North Korea, and on June 17 the Kremlin announced that President Vladimir Putin will embark on a two-day visit to North Korea starting on June 18. Putin is expected to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for talks focused on expanding military cooperation.

The deepening relationship is a concern for the United States, Kirby said.

"We know North Korean ballistic missiles are being used to hit Ukrainian targets," he said.

Both Pyongyang and Moscow have denied accusations about North Korean weapons transfers, which would be in violation of UN Security Council resolutions.

Stoltenberg said the "growing alignment between Russia and its authoritarian friends in Asia makes it even more important that we work closely with our friends in the Indo-Pacific."

Non-NATO members Australia, Japan, South Korea, and New Zealand will attend the July 9-11 NATO summit in Washington as observers.

The secretary-general said Russia's ongoing war against Ukraine will be the "most urgent topic" for discussion at the summit, along with NATO defense spending.

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Stoltenberg said he will announce new defense-spending figures for NATO allies later on June 17 when he meets U.S. President Joe Biden.

"This year, more than 20 allies spent at least 2 percent of GDP on defense," Stoltenberg said, previewing the announcement.

The increase in defense spending has bolstered Ukraine's defense capabilities, according to Stoltenberg, adding that the path to peace is more weapons for Ukraine.

Defense spending by many European countries has risen sharply since Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 and NATO officials have been keen to stress that its European members are now stepping up to the plate.

Although Ukraine will not become a member of the alliance at the Washington summit, Stoltenberg said NATO will "build a bridge" to future membership for Ukraine and praised the NATO-Ukraine Council set up last year at the summit in Vilnius.

"We are helping to ensure that the Ukrainian armed forces are more and more interoperable with NATO, meet NATO standards, and meet NATO doctrines," Stoltenberg said. "The idea is to move them so close to membership that when we reach a consensus, we can make them members straight away."

In his remarks at the Wilson Center, Stoltenberg did not mention earlier comments reported by The Telegraph that NATO is in talks to deploy more nuclear weapons.

The British newspaper quoted Stoltenberg as saying that the weapons would be taken out of storage and placed on standby.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called the comments "nothing but another escalation of tension," saying they appeared to contradict the communique of the Ukraine Conference that said any threat or use of nuclear weapons in the Ukraine context was inadmissible.

With reporting by Reuters

5 Residents Of Volatile Tajik Region Extradited By Russia

A crackdown on the restive region intensified in 2022 after mass protests in May that year were violently dispersed by police and security forces.
A crackdown on the restive region intensified in 2022 after mass protests in May that year were violently dispersed by police and security forces.

DUSHANBE -- Russian officials detained five residents of the village of Yazgulom in the volatile Gorno-Badakhshan autonomous region and extradited them to Tajikistan last week, where they were charged with "membership in an extremist organization," a source close to Tajik law enforcement told RFE/RL on June 17.

RFE/RL has chosen not to disclose the names of the five, who were arrested in Russia in late May. The source spoke on condition of anonymity.

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

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

There were no details regarding the arrests in Yazgulom and the deportation of the five Tajiks from Russia as neither officials nor relatives of the detained individuals agreed to talk to RFE/RL.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Putin Names Cousin's Daughter As Deputy Defense Minister

Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) meets with Anna Tsivilyova at the Kremlin in April.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) meets with Anna Tsivilyova at the Kremlin in April.

Russian President Vladimir Putin dismissed four deputy defense ministers on June 17 and appointed three new ones, one of whom is Anna Tsivilyova, who, according to investigative reports, is the daughter of Putin's cousin. Tsivilyova is the wife of the former governor of the Kemerovo region, Sergei Tsivilyov, who recently became Russia's energy minister. In recent weeks, several top military officials and Defense Ministry officials have been arrested on corruption charges before and after Putin dismissed his longtime ally, Sergei Shoigu, as defense minister and appointed former First Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Belousov in his place. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Russian Journalist In Exile Accused Of Justifying Terrorism

Tatyana Lazareva (file photo)
Tatyana Lazareva (file photo)

Russian lawmaker Andrei Alshevskikh quoted Interior Ministry officials on June 17 as saying that an investigation was launched last month against television journalist Tatyana Lazareva on a charge of justifying terrorism. The charge stems from Lazareva's report about Ukrainian drones attacking Russian sites. Last week, the ministry added Lazareva to its wanted list. In July 2022, Lazareva, who openly condemned Moscow's full-scale aggression against Ukraine, was added to Russia's list of "foreign agents." Lazareva fled Russia after Moscow launched its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Denmark Seeks To Limit Shadow Tanker Fleet Carrying Russian Oil

About one-third of Russia's seaborne oil exports pass through the Danish straits between the Baltic and North seas. (file photo)
About one-third of Russia's seaborne oil exports pass through the Danish straits between the Baltic and North seas. (file photo)

Denmark is considering ways to limit a potentially environmentally harmful shadow fleet of tankers from carrying Russian oil through the Baltic Sea, Danish Foreign Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen said on June 17. Since Western governments imposed a price cap on Russia's oil to limit funds for its war in Ukraine, Russia has relied on a fleet of aging tankers based outside the West. About one-third of Russia's seaborne oil exports pass through the Danish straits between the Baltic and North seas, and any restrictions on the tankers could send oil prices higher and hit the Kremlin's finances. The Russian Embassy in Copenhagen called any proposed restrictions "unacceptable."

Russian-Uzbek Billionaire Usmanov Sues UBS In Germany Over 'Erroneous Decisions'

Alisher Usmanov attends the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs congress in Moscow in 2016.
Alisher Usmanov attends the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs congress in Moscow in 2016.

Russian-Uzbek billionaire Alisher Usmanov has filed a lawsuit against the bank UBS Europe SE in Frankfurt over what his lawyers said were unsubstantiated reports made about his transactions that triggered an investigation of him. Usmanov's lawyer, Peter Gauweiler, said in a statement on June 17 that German prosecutors and the Council of the European Union "have issued numerous erroneous decisions for which UBS is partly responsible, in particular, due to the use of its suspicious transaction reports as an instrument for the purposes of criminal prosecution and EU sanctions policy." UBS declined to comment.

Blast At Czech Military Grounds Kills 1, Injures 8

The Soviet-era military base in the Czech town of Libava has been used for military testing since 1949.
The Soviet-era military base in the Czech town of Libava has been used for military testing since 1949.

A munitions blast at a military testing ground in the Czech town of Libava has killed one soldier and injured eight, seven of whom were soldiers, the Defense Ministry said. The ministry gave no details on what caused the June 17 explosion, which occurred at a site used by the army for testing since 1949. "The families of the injured and the deceased soldier have been notified," the ministry added. The Czech Republic recently urged Brussels to restrict the movement of Russian diplomats and their families within the EU, saying the matter had gained new urgency following a spate of sabotage incidents in EU states, which have been blamed on Russia. Czech police also confirmed in April that Russian agents were involved in two munitions depot blasts that killed two workers near the eastern Czech village of Vrbetice in 2014.

Kremlin Says Putin To Visit North Korea

Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) and North Korea's Kim Jong Un in Russia's Amur region in September 2023.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) and North Korea's Kim Jong Un in Russia's Amur region in September 2023.

Russian President Vladimir Putin will embark on a two-day visit to North Korea starting June 18, the Kremlin announced. Putin is expected to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for talks focused on expanding military cooperation. U.S. and South Korean officials have accused Pyongyang of providing Russia with artillery, missiles, and other military equipment to help Moscow in its invasion of Ukraine, possibly in return for key military technologies and aid. Both Pyongyang and Moscow have denied accusations about North Korean weapons transfers, which would be in violation of UN Security Council resolutions.

U.S. Soldier Gordon Black Pleads Not Guilty To Attacking Russian Girlfriend

Gordon Black is escorted into a Russian courtroom on June 6.
Gordon Black is escorted into a Russian courtroom on June 6.

U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Gordon Black, who was arrested in Russia's Far East city of Vladivostok last month, rejected a charge of attacking his Russian girlfriend and threatening to kill her, as his trial resumed.

Black testified at the trial on June 17 that Aleksandra Vashchuk drank a large amount of vodka on the day of the incident in question and started behaving aggressively towards him, verbally insulting him and also physically attacking with punches to the ear and eye. She also threw a plate at him, he said.

According to Black, when he started to pack his belongings to leave the apartment, Vashchuk tried to block his exit and they scuffled.

Black accepted that he hit Vashchuk once and pushed her twice after which Vashchuk crashed into a wall.

Black partially accepted guilt on a charge that he had taken cash from Vashchuk, adding that he had no bad intention about it as he returned the sum to her the next day.

Black also said that, before arriving in Vladivostok from South Korea, he sent about 300,000 rubles ($3,350) to Vashchuk. After arriving in Russia, he transferred another $525 to her via an acquaintance.

Vashchuk confirmed that Black had contributed to a major part of the rent for the apartment in Vladivostok where they had lived together for a month. She reiterated her previous statement, saying that Black had aggressive episodes several times during their partnership.

At the trial's first session on June 6, Vashchuk asked the court not to imprison Black, saying he needs "psychiatric help."

U.S. authorities have said Black traveled to Russia via China from South Korea -- where he had been assigned before heading back home to Texas -- without informing his superiors.

Weeks later, Russian authorities also said that another U.S. citizen, identified as William Russell Nycum, had been detained on "petty hooliganism" and alcohol charges in a separate case, adding that Nycum was being held in a detention center in Moscow.

The two arrests have again raised questions over whether Russian authorities are targeting Americans by detaining them with an eye on using them in potential prisoner swaps amid sharp disagreements between Moscow and Washington over the war in Ukraine and other international security issues.

Among those U.S. citizens being held are journalists Alsu Kurmasheva of RFE/RL and Evan Gershkovich of The Wall Street Journal. Both have been detained on charges they, their employers, and their supporters reject as politically motivated.

American Paul Whelan was convicted in 2020 and sentenced to 16 years in Russian prison on espionage charges that he and the U.S. government have repeatedly rejected.

Russia's Foreign Ministry has said the cases involving Black and Nycum are not political and neither is accused of espionage.

The State Department in September 2023 issued a "do not travel" warning to U.S. citizens and cited "the singling out of U.S. citizens for detention by Russian government security officials."

With reporting by Vladivostok1.ru

Ukraine's Top Military Chief Says Russia Is Upping Attacks Ahead Of More Western Military Aid

Ukrainian Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskiy (file photo)
Ukrainian Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskiy (file photo)

Russia's military is intensifying its attacks in Ukraine, trying to gain more territory before the Ukrainian military receives more promised Western military aid, including F-16 jets, Ukraine’s top military commander said on June 17.

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"The enemy is well aware that as a result of the gradual receipt of a significant amount of weapons and military equipment from our partners, and the arrival of the first F-16s, which will strengthen our air defense, time will play in our favor and its chances of success will decrease," Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskiy said in a post on Telegram.

"Therefore, the command of Russia's troops is currently making every effort to increase the intensity and expand the geography of hostilities in order to maximize the depletion of our troops, disrupt the training of reserves and prevent the transition to active offensive actions," Syrskiy added.

Syrskiy said Russian forces were focusing on the Pokrovsk front, in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donetsk.

Moscow's forces there are closing in on a key transit artery and supply route linking civilian hubs in the north of the industrial territory to towns further south, according to Syrskiy.

His assessment come after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the current level of Western military aid was not enough to guarantee Ukraine’s victory over invading Russian forces.

"There is aid. There are serious packages. Is it enough to win? No. Is it late? Yes," Zelenskiy said on June 16 on the sidelines of an international peace summit in Switzerland.

Like other Ukrainian officials, Zelenskiy has repeatedly called on Ukraine’s Western allies to expedite weapons deliveries, particularly promised fighter jets and air defense systems.

At the two-day gathering at a Swiss resort over the weekend, 80 countries called for the "territorial integrity" of Ukraine to be the foundation of any peace agreement to end Russia's war.

Russia's absence at the Ukrainian-initiated Global Peace Summit has tamped down hopes of any breakthrough, as has China's decision to stay away.

Participants India, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates were among those that did not sign the final document, which focused on issues of nuclear safety, food security, and the exchange of prisoners.

On June 17, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the summit produced “zero” results.

He added that Russian President Vladimir Putin was "still open to dialogue and serious discussion."

On the eve of the summit, Putin issued terms for a cease-fire, including that Ukraine hand over control of four regions in areas not only occupied by Russian invading forces, but Ukrainian-controlled parts of those regions as well.

The proposal was rejected immediately by Kyiv and its Western backers.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg has slammed the conditions as a path to "more aggression, more occupation."

Azerbaijani Activist Held In Custody For 2 Days On Unknown Charges

Nicat Amiraslanov (file photo)
Nicat Amiraslanov (file photo)

The NIDA civic movement in Azerbaijan said one of its members, Nicat Amiraslanov, was released from custody on June 17 after spending two days in a police station in Baku on unspecified charges. Amiraslanov said he "cannot give any details about the case at the moment." Some 20 civil rights activists and journalists, including employees of the ToplumTV channel and the Abzas Media investigative website, have been arrested in Azerbaijan on charges of foreign currency smuggling since last November. The activists and journalists have rejected the charges, calling them politically motivated. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service, click here.

Updated

Russia Issues Warrants For 2 Investigative Journalists In Exile

In the spring of 2022, Yekaterina Fomina published a report revealing facts confirming allegations of crimes committed by Russian troops against Ukrainian civilians. (file photo)
In the spring of 2022, Yekaterina Fomina published a report revealing facts confirming allegations of crimes committed by Russian troops against Ukrainian civilians. (file photo)

A Moscow court on June 17 issued arrest warrants for two journalists from the independent iStories investigative website -- Yekaterina Fomina and chief editor Roman Anin -- on a charge of "distributing false information about the Russian military." The court's ruling came hours after the Interior Ministry added the two journalists to its wanted list. In the spring of 2022, Fomina published an investigative report revealing facts confirming allegations of crimes committed by occupying Russian troops against Ukrainian civilians. iStories has been branded an "undesirable organization" and banned in Russia. Both Fomina and Anin are currently outside of Russia. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

Kyrgyz Activist Held For Protesting Change In Flag Transferred To House Arrest

Aftandil Jorobekov (file photo)
Aftandil Jorobekov (file photo)

Kyrgyz activist Aftandil Jorobekov, who was arrested in December for openly protesting a change to Kyrgyzstan's national flag, was transferred to house arrest over the weekend, his lawyer told RFE/RL. The 40-year-old activist was charged with calls for mass disorder and disobedience to authorities' requests. The flag's amendment was proposed by President Sadyr Japarov, who signed the bill on December 22, 2023. The law allowed for “straightening” the wavy yellow rays of a sun on a red field of the old flag to avoid resemblance to a sunflower. The Kyrgyz word for sunflower is kunkarama, but it also means "dependent." To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, click here.

More Tajik Citizens Stranded At Moscow Airport

Moscow's Vnukovo International Airport
Moscow's Vnukovo International Airport

More than 30 Tajik nationals have been stranded at Moscow's Vnukovo airport since last week amid tightened passport controls almost three months after a deadly terror attack near Moscow. Some of the stranded Tajiks told RFE/RL that Russian security officials did not allow them to enter the country, saying that "Tajiks cause problems in Russia." In April, thousands of Tajiks were stranded in Moscow airports after they were barred from entering Russia amid anti-Tajik sentiments after 11 Tajik men were arrested for their alleged involvement in the attack on a concert hall near Moscow in March that left 144 people dead. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Tajik Service, click here.

Nuclear Powers Continue To Modernize Arsenals, Rely On Them More, New Study Says

Russian troops load an Iskander missile onto a mobile launcher during drills at an undisclosed location in Russia. (file photo)
Russian troops load an Iskander missile onto a mobile launcher during drills at an undisclosed location in Russia. (file photo)

The nine nuclear-armed nations in the world continue to modernize their nuclear arsenals amid growing reliance on them as deterrence in 2023, a fresh report issued on June 17 by a Swedish think tank said.

"While the global total of nuclear warheads continues to fall as cold war-era weapons are gradually dismantled, regrettably we continue to see year-on-year increases in the number of operational nuclear warheads," said Dan Smith, director of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). "This trend seems likely to continue and probably accelerate in the coming years and is extremely concerning."

Earlier this month, Russia and its ally Belarus launched a second phase of exercises to practice the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons, part of the Kremlin’s efforts, analysts say, to discourage the West from ramping up support for Ukraine.

Separately, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), said in its own report issued on June 17 that the nine nuclear-armed states spent a total of $91.4 billion on their nuclear weapons programs in 2023. The Geneva-based coalition of disarmament activists won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017.

ICAN said that figures show a $10.7 billion increase in global spending on nuclear weapons in 2023 compared to 2022, with the United States accounting for 80 percent of that increase. The U.S. share of total spending, $51.5 billion, is more than all the other nuclear-armed countries put together. The next biggest spender was China at $11.8 billion, ICAN said, with Russia spending the third largest amount at $8.3 billion.

In its report, SIPRI estimated that some 2,100 of the deployed warheads were kept in a state of high operational alert on ballistic missiles, and nearly all belong to Russia or the United States. However, it said that China is also believed to have some warheads on high operational alert for the first time.

Russia and the United States have together almost 90 percent of all nuclear weapons, SIPRI said. The sizes of their military stockpiles seem to have remained relatively stable in 2023, although Russia is estimated to have deployed around 36 more warheads with operational forces than in January 2023, the watchdog added.

In its SIPRI Yearbook 2024, the institute said that transparency regarding nuclear forces has declined in both countries in the wake of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, and debates around nuclear-sharing arrangements have increased in importance.

Washington suspended its bilateral strategic stability dialogue with Russia, and last year Moscow announced that it was suspending its participation in the New START nuclear treaty.

With reporting by AP

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