COVID-19: Russia To Seal Border; Iran Reports Single-Day Record In New Deaths
A roundup of the latest news on the coronavirus crisis in RFE/RL's broadcast countries:
Iran says the COVID-19 illness has killed 129 more people, a single-day record high for one of the countries worst hit by the coronavirus outbreak.
During a televised news conference on March 16, Health Ministry spokesman Kianush Jahanpur appealed to the public to drastically curb outings, especially intercity trips.
"Our plea is that everyone take this virus seriously and in no way attempts to travel to any province," Jahanpur said.
The deaths bring the overall toll to 853 fatalities since February 19, when the government announced Iran's first two deaths from the COVID-19 disease sparked by the coronavirus.
Ayatollah Hashem Bathaei, a 78-year-old member of the Assembly of Experts, which is empowered with selecting the country's supreme leader, is the latest of several Iranian officials to have died, local media reported.
Interactive Coronavirus Map
Jahanpour also reported 1,053 confirmed new cases of infection in the past 24 hours, raising the total to 14,991.
Iran has the third-most registered cases after China and Italy.
Tehran Province had the highest number of new infections with 200 cases, about 50 fewer than the day before.
The central province of Isfahan followed with 118 cases, with Mazandaran in the north of Tehran coming next with 96.
The holy city of Qom in central Iran, where the virus was first reported, had 19 new cases that took its total to 1,023.
There are suspicions that the outbreak in the Islamic republic -- whose government is known for its opaqueness and censorship -- is far worse than authorities are admitting.
President Hassan Rohani on March 16 urged Iranians to stay home for the Norouz holiday celebrations on March 20 and to avoid traveling over the festive period.
Police are to begin checking the temperature of drivers, Rohani said, adding to a raft of measures that include the closure of schools, universities, and Iran's most sacred site.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has canceled his annual Persian New Year's speech in the city of Mashhad, planned for March 21.
Russia says it will ban the entry of foreign nationals and stateless people to May 1 in response to the novel coronavirus outbreak.
The government said on March 16 that the ban, starting on March 18, won’t apply to diplomatic representatives and some other categories of people.
Russia has reported 93 cases of the virus so far, but no deaths.
Earlier in the day, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin announced new measures in the Russian capital, including prohibiting gatherings of more than 50 people until April 10, and closing schools and universities from March 21 until April 12.
Sobyanin also asked elderly people to stay home.
A subsidiary of Russian Railways Rail said service between Russia and Ukraine, Moldova, and Latvia would be suspended as of March 17.
Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has criticized Russia's "unnecessary" decision to close the border between the two countries in an effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.
"There must be no unnecessary moves that might complicate already uneasy relations between the two nations," he said on March 16 during a meeting with officials in Minsk.
The Russian government said the restrictive measures against Belarus, announced earlier in the day, were "prompted by special circumstances and are absolutely temporary."
Belarus has reported 36 cases of coronavirus so far, but no deaths. Russian authorities have confirmed 93 cases, and no deaths.
Belarus, heavily reliant on Russia for cheap oil, has been at odds with Moscow over oil prices for months. The dispute is part of wider political discord between the two countries over forming a union state.
Instead of closing the Russian-Belarusian border, Lukashenka said, "our dearly beloved" Russia should help Belarus beef up security against coronavirus at its border with Poland, which he called "our common union-state border."
The Belarusian leader also said he would talk to Russian President Vladimir Putin by phone soon.
Lukashenka, who has been in power in Belarus for more than 25 years, has faced growing pressure from Moscow in recent years to agree to deeper integration under a 1999 unification agreement, which envisaged close political, economic, and military ties but stopped short of forming a single country.
Serbian election authorities have delayed general elections scheduled for April 26 until after the end of a state of emergency imposed due to the coronavirus outbreak.
The Republican Election Commission said it decided to "temporarily suspend the elections process during the state of emergency triggered by the coronavirus outbreak," in a statement on March 16.
Preparations for the elections will be resumed after the state of emergency is revoked, according to commission Chairman Vladimir Dimitrijevic.
The Balkan state has so far recorded 57 coronavirus infections. There have been no fatalities, but two patients are in serious condition, health authorities say.
Serbia declared a state of emergency on March 15 in a bid to prevent the rapid spreading of the epidemic, shutting down schools and universities.
In announcing the decision, President Aleksandar Vucic said in a televised address that from March 16 the military would be guarding state hospitals, while police will be monitoring those quarantined or in self-isolation for 14 or 28 days.
Those who violate quarantine may face jail terms of up to three years, he warned.
Serbia also announced it was closing its borders to foreigners coming from the worst-hit countries.
Vucic, however, said the border-entry ban did not apply to people from China, praising Beijing for helping Serbia amid the COVID-19 crisis.
He criticized the European Union for allegedly failing to provide adequate support.
After Vucic's address, Prime Minister Ana Brnabic told state TV that borders will be open only "for Serbians, foreign diplomats, and foreign nationals with residence permits."
Five more cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in Uzbekistan, bringing the total to six, the government's Telegram channel dedicated to the disease said on March 16.
Four of the six individuals are members of one Uzbek family returning from France, the government said in a separate statement.
Uzbekistan early on March 15 had reported its first confirmed case of COVID-19.
The same day, neighboring Kazakhstan declared a state of emergency as authorities announced that three new cases had been recorded, pushing the total number there to nine.
Kazakhstan was thought to have been coronavirus-free until four infections were confirmed on March 13.
The state of emergency announced by presidential decree imposes a nationwide quarantine and will restrict both entry to and departure from the country to all except diplomats and individuals invited by the government.
Kazakhstan had already announced the cancellation of Norouz holiday celebrations and a military parade devoted to the 75th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany.
Officials there previously said more than 1,000 people were in quarantine and nearly 500 others in self-quarantine at home.
Uzbekistan announced similar sweeping measures on March 15, barring entry for all foreigners and departures by locals.
The Uzbek government also closed schools and universities for three weeks, canceled all public events, and suspended international air and highway connections beginning March 16.
Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are the only Central Asian republics to have officially registered any cases of the new coronavirus at the center of a global pandemic that as of early March 15 had infected more than 156,000 people and killed more than 5,800.
The Armenian government has declared a monthlong state of emergency to slow the spread of the coronavirus outbreak.
The National Assembly discussed the move for several hours, and none of the three parliamentary factions raised any objections or proposed any amendments.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian told lawmakers that Armenia would have to hold its referendum on constitutional reforms, originally planned for April 5, after the state of emergency ends.
"Under Armenian legislation, a referendum cannot take place during a state of emergency. The referendum will take place no sooner than 50 and no later than 65 days after the end of the state of emergency," he said.
Armenia reported 17 new coronavirus cases on March 16, bringing the total number of cases to 45. One patient is said to have recovered, and more than 300 people remain in quarantine. There have been no recorded deaths from COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, in the country.
INTERACTIVE: The Symptoms Of COVID-19
Armenia and Russia have agreed to suspend passenger flights between the two countries for two weeks in a bid to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, the Armenian government press service said on March 16.
The decision was made during a phone conversation between Pashinian and his Russian counterpart, Mikhail Mishustin.
All Armenian educational institutions in the country are shut, while the borders with Iran – one of the countries hardest hit by the outbreak – and Georgia are closed.
Georgia will close its borders to foreign nationals for two weeks, starting on March 18.
Irakli Chikovani, the spokesman of the prime minister, said Georgian citizens who wish to return to the country will be able to do so, using Georgian Airways flights.
Georgia has registered 33 cases of the new coronavirus.
Afghanistan reported five new cases on March 15, bringing the total number of registered cases in the country to 16.
Officials in Kabul said that all of those infected are Afghans who have recently returned from neighboring Iran.
The officials said up to 15,000 Afghan migrants workers and refugees are returning from Iran on a daily basis.
Pakistani President Arif Alvi is on an official visit to China on March 16-17 to hold meetings with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, and other top officials, Alvi’s office said in a statement on March 15.
The statement said the visit aims at “further solidifying historic bonds" between the two countries and described China and Pakistan as “the closest friends and staunch partners.”
It also pointed out that the visit comes as China is “engaged in efforts to contain” the spread of the new coronavirus, which has affected 157 countries and territories since it was first recorded in Wuhan, a city in central China.
It’s Alv'’s first official visit to China, a strategic partner and major investor to Pakistan’s economy.
Pakistan on March 16 announced 41 additional cases of infection with the coronavirus after 41 more cases were confirmed in the Sindh region, bringing the total tally to 94.
Dozens of people quarantined at the Pakistan-Iran border protested what they called the poor hygiene in the camps.
The quarantined include religious pilgrims who are now returning from Iran.
President Klaus Iohannis has declared a state of emergency for 30 days to fight the spread of the disease.
During the state of emergency, schools will be closed; prices for medicine, fuel, and utilities are frozen; road and air traffic could be banned; and borders may be closed if necessary.
Romania has 158 registered cases.
One Romanian citizen -- a woman in her 80s -- died last week in Italy from COVID-19, the illness sparked by the virus.
Bulgaria banned entry on its territory of citizens from 15 countries with large coronavirus outbreaks, including five EU member states, as of March 18, the Health Ministry said.
Exceptions will be made for citizens with permanent or long-term permits to stay in Bulgaria and their family members.
With reporting by RFE/RL's Balkan, Armenian, Uzbek, and Kazakh services, Radio Mashaal, and AP, AFP, and Reuters
Siberian Rights Defender Handed 18-Year Prison Term On Illegal Drugs Charge He Rejects
A court in the Siberian city of Kemerovo on June 7 sentenced noted human rights defender Dmitry Kamynin to 18 years in prison for allegedly distributing illegal drugs, a charge he and his supporters call retaliation by local authorities for his rights activities. Kamynin, a coordinator of Sibir Pravovaya (A Legal Siberia), a group that monitors inmates' rights and helps people released from penitentiaries reintegrate into the society, was arrested in February 2020. Kamynin was on a hunger strike for two months while in custody, protesting the probe against him. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Siberia.Realities, click here.
Explosion Rips Through Mosque In Northern Afghanistan, Several Killed
An explosion has torn through a mosque in the northern Afghanistan province of Badakhshan, reportedly killing the former Taliban security commander in the city of Baghlan and several others. Moazuddin Ahmadi, the head of information and culture of Badakhshan Province, told Radio Azadi that the explosion took place in Baghlan on June 8 during the funeral of a deputy governor who was killed in a suicide car bomb attack three days ago. "In this incident...the former police commander in Baghlan, was martyred. Civilian casualties are high.... The number is not yet known," he said. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Radio Azadi, click here.
Tajik Authorities Detain Dozens of 'Armed' Afghan Citizens, Sources Say
Sources in Tajikistan's government entities told RFE/RL on June 8 that dozens of armed Afghan citizens, including former Afghan military personnel, have been apprehended by Tajik law enforcement and security troops in the Central Asian nation's southern Khatlon region. Speaking on condition of anonymity, one of the Tajik officials said the detained Afghan nationals had been transferred to Dushanbe. The authorities of the tightly controlled former Soviet republic have yet to confirm the situation. After the Taliban took over Afghanistan in 2021, hundreds of Afghan citizens fled to other countries via neighboring Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Tajik Service, click here.
Ilhom Theater In Tashkent Stages 'Reading' Of Play Of Jailed Russian Director Berkovich
The Ilhom Theater in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, has staged what it called "a reading" of a play by jailed Russian theater director Yevgenia Berkovich and playwright Svetlana Petriichuk, who were arrested in May in Moscow on a charge of justification of terrorism through the play. Ilhom theater's Maksim Fadeyev said on June 8 the "reading" of the play Finist -- The Brave Falcon was conducted to express support for Berkovich and Petriichuk. The play is about Russian women who married Muslim men and moved to Syria. Berkovich was the director of the production that sparked the charges. To read the original story from RFE/RL's Uzbek Service, click here.
Federal Judge Dies After Apparent Fall From High-Rise Apartment In Russia's Tatarstan
A federal judge has died after apparently falling from his 12th floor apartment in Kazan, the capital of Russia's Republic of Tatarstan. The body of 42-year-old Artyom Bartenev was found early in the morning on June 8. Investigators say the man most likely had fallen from his apartment. Suicide has not been ruled out by investigators. Bartenev heard administrative and civil cases at the Kirov district court in Kazan. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Idel.Realities, click here.
Council Of Europe Envoy Calls Russian Rights Defender Oleg Orlov's Trial 'Travesty Of Justice'
The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatovic has called the trial of Oleg Orlov, a leader of the liquidated Memorial Human Rights Center in Moscow, over the alleged discrediting of Russian forces involved in Kremlin's ongoing invasion of Ukraine "a travesty of justice."
Orlov, whose trial began on June 8, was detained for questioning and charged with the repetitive discrediting of Russian armed forces after his home was searched in March. The charge stems from Orlov's online article condemning Russia's full-scale aggression against Ukraine. He faces several years in prison in convicted.
"Oleg Orlov's courage and dedication to human rights are crucial to speaking truth to power," Mijatovic said in a statement on June 7.
"Like many other activists serving time in prison or otherwise sanctioned on similar grounds, he should never have been charged in the first place. I stand in solidarity with Oleg Orlov and many other human rights defenders, independent journalists, and civil society activists in Russia who carry the torch of human rights in these challenging times," she added.
A member of the directorate of the German Sakharov Society, Peter Frank, also criticized Russian authorities for what he called "brutally acting" against Russians who have spoken out against the "aggression and war crimes related to it."
He added that the increased pressure and persecution of the country’s leading rights defenders indicate that Russia is sliding into a "new totalitarianism."
The Memorial Human Rights Center was shut down by a Moscow court decision in December 2021 at the request of Moscow prosecutors who accused one of the country's most-respected human rights organizations of violating the law on "foreign agents."
In a parallel case at the time, the Supreme Court ruled that Memorial International, a standalone group and the umbrella organization for many regional branches and the Memorial Human Rights Center, should be liquidated on the same charge.
Memorial and its supporters have called the move by the Russian authorities politically motivated.
Memorial was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize last year together with jailed Belarusian dissident Ales Byalyatski and Ukraine's Center for Civil Liberties.
Russian Human Rights Group's Websites Blocked For Unspecified Reasons
Russian human rights group OVD-Info said on June 8 that its two websites had been blocked by the country's media watchdog, Roskomnadzor, without explanation. The group's main website was blocked by the authorities in 2021 but has been available outside Russia. The group said its websites can be accessed in Russia via VPN, adding that its accounts on social media are still functioning. OVD-Info monitors the detention of activists at rallies and provides politically persecuted citizens with legal assistance. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.
- By dpa
EU Agency Calls For Longer-Term Prospects For Ukrainian Refugees
EU governments should make preparations to integrate refugees from Ukraine permanently, according to the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights. The current aid measures should be better aimed at the women and children who make up the majority of refugees, the agency said in its annual report in Vienna on June 8. The call comes as the Kremlin's full-scale war on Ukraine, launched in February 2022, rages on. Since then some 8.3 million people have fled Ukraine, according to the UN refugee agency UNHCR. Of those, some 5.1 million have temporary protection under special arrangements without them having to apply for asylum in the EU, Switzerland, and Norway.
- By Reuters
Pakistan's Imran Khan Gets Bail On Murder Charges
Ousted Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan secured bail on June 8 from the Islamabad High Court over murder charges, blocking his arrest for 14 days, his lawyer Gohar Khan said. The ousted prime minister is now free on bail in several other cases. He had been arrested on May 9 and held for three days, triggering violent protests by his followers. He had traveled to the capital from his Lahore home to extend his bail in the other cases and seek bail over new murder charges, to avoid a new arrest. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Zelenskiy Visits Areas Hit By Flooding As Rescue Efforts Under Way In Southern Ukraine
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has visited the southern region of Kherson where rescue teams are working to save thousands of people trapped by catastrophic flooding caused by the rupture of a major dam on the Dnieper River as Russian shelling nearby further frays residents' nerves.
Zelenskiy thanked rescuers and volunteers on June 8 as he visited a crossing point for those evacuated from flooded areas and discussed with authorities measures to alleviate the situation of the people affected and eliminate the consequences of the disaster.
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"It is important to calculate the damage and allocate funds to compensate residents affected by the disaster and develop a program to compensate for losses or relocate businesses within the Kherson region, Zelenskiy said on his Telegram channel.
"Our task is to protect lives and help people as much as possible. I thank the rescuers and volunteers! I thank everyone involved in this work!"
The rescuers' work has been hampered by additional dangers posed by continuing Russian shelling from across the river and land mines displaced by the floods.
Oleksandr Prokudin, governor of the southern Ukrainian region of Kherson, said on June 8 that the water level downstream had risen almost 6 meters (20 feet) with 600 square kilometers of the region under water, most of it on the Russia-occupied left bank of the Dnieper.
"This morning, the average level of the water is 5.61 meters. Some 600 square kilometers are under water, of which 32 percent is on the [Ukrainian-controlled] right bank and 68 percent on the [Russian-controlled] left bank," Prokudin said in a video message.
He said that as of 6 a.m. local time, almost 2,000 people had been rescued form the dangerous areas, most of them -- 1,495 -- from Kherson city's Korabel district.
The Kherson region comprises 28,461 square kilometers.
WATCH: Boat after boat of exhausted and stressed civilians arrived in the flooded streets of Kherson on June 7. Some of the people had made it here from Russian-occupied areas on the east bank of the Dnieper River.
As high water wreaked havoc downstream, state-owned hydroelectric power plant operator Ukrhydroenerho said the level of the huge reservoir upstream dropped by a meter over the past day as water continued to gush out through the breach in the dam.
Ukrhydroenerho chief Ihor Syrota said it would take about two months to repair the breach in the dam -- if the region is liberated from occupying Russian forces.
"We can do it and we will do it, we are already preparing today, but only after the deoccupation," Syrota told Ukrainian national television.
"It will take time -- approximately two months," he said.
It is still unclear what caused the breach, but Zelenskiy has pointed the finger at Russia as the perpetrator of an "absolutely deliberate" act.
Moscow has accused Ukraine of destroying the dam in an act of "deliberate sabotage" at the suggestion of the West. The dam had been under Russian control for more than a year when it was breached.
Russia accused Ukraine at the UN's top court June 8 of destroying the dam with artillery strikes and alleged Kyiv was led by neo-Nazis -- a claim Moscow has used to try to justify its invasion. Moscow's comments to judges at the International Court of Justice came as it denied wider allegations by Ukraine that Russia had breached terrorism laws by backing separatists in eastern Ukraine since 2014.
Ukrhydroenerho's Syrota said that such a large breach could only have been caused by powerful explosions in three different spots inside the dam.
"To blow up the dam you need to drop at least three bombs weighing half a ton in one place. This cannot be done with a single missile. It was a very powerful explosion in three places inside the station," Syrota said.
Ukraine's Agriculture Ministry says several millions of tons of crops may be lost due to flooding. The ministry said in a statement on June 8 that the growing of grain and oil crops, along with vegetable and melons, will be most affected by the disaster. Unless a solution for lost irrigation is found, several millions tons of grain and oil crops won't be grown, threatening international food security, it added.
Russian forces have continued shelling Kherson and its surroundings from across the Dnieper River despite the catastrophic flooding caused by the destruction of the Nova Kakhovka dam upstream, Nataliya Humenyuk, head of the United Coordination Press Center of the Southern Defense Forces, said on June 8.
"Because of the continued rise in the water level, the enemy was forced to pull back 5-15 kilometers from their previous positions, and the shelling isn't so intense now, but the Beryslavskiy district (just east of Kherson city) continues to be targeted by shelling," Humenyuk told Ukrainian television.
Humenyuk also said that Russian forces jammed communications in the area around the time of the alleged blast in order to conceal it, and that some of their own troops may have been left to drown or isolated on rooftops. Her claims could not be independently verified.
On the Russia-occupied side of Kherson, the Moscow-appointed mayor of Nova Kakhovka, Vladimir Leontiev, said early on June 8 the death toll was already five people, and 41 people were injured.
With reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters
NATO Officials 'Committed' To Ukraine Victory Ahead Of Alliance Summit Set To Discuss Enlargement
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and U.S. Ambassador to NATO Julianne Smith said on June 7 that NATO funding will be a major topic at the military alliance's summit next month in Vilnius along with enlargement and security guarantees.
Smith and Stoltenberg, who took part virtually in a conference sponsored by the Center for New American Security, said members will discuss the 2 percent of GDP defense spending threshold and the need to recognize that it is a minimum for member states.
Smith vowed to continue U.S. pressure to ensure members are committing at least 2 percent of their GDP toward defense spending as agreed in the Defense Investment Pledge (DIP) created in 2014, which calls for countries to meet the 2 percent threshold by 2024.
Additionally, Smith said 2 percent “is a floor, not a ceiling,” and that future NATO plans may require further increases.
The United States is “planning roll out DIP 2.0” at the summit, Smith said, with continued pressure on NATO allies to meet and surpass the 2 percent threshold within the next few years.
The leaders of the 31 NATO countries, who are scheduled to gather July 11-12 in the Lithuanian capital, are expected also to hold critical conversations about the future of NATO, membership, and enlargement.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who has pressed NATO to allow Ukraine to join, is expected to attend the summit. He said earlier this week that Ukraine is "ready to join" and the alliance needs to make a decision about Ukrainian membership at the summit.
On NATO enlargement, Smith and Stoltenberg made it clear that there is a wide range of potential models for continued NATO contributions to Ukraine, but that the solution will likely be a compromise between the varied opinions among the allies.
“We are looking at an array of options to signal that Ukraine is advancing in its relationship with NATO,” Smith said.
Stoltenberg agreed that until Ukraine joins the alliance some discussion of security arrangements would be necessary, though he did not provide specifics on what the arrangements would be.
The NATO chief clarified that it is up to the allies and Ukraine to make the ultimate decision on when Ukraine should be allowed to join. However, he reaffirmed the NATO’s ultimate commitment to make Ukraine a member after the war.
“When this war ends, we have the framework in place to…prevent further attacks on Ukraine,” he said.
An additional area of focus at the summit will be the resource commitment for NATO allies.
The new DIP and new U.S. regional defense and deterrence plans expected to be on the summit's agenda would result in “a whole new world” for NATO allies’ clarity and level of responsibility, he said.
Both officials also emphasized the NATO commitment to Ukraine’s victory.
Asked about an expected Ukrainian counteroffensive, Stoltenberg said a Ukrainian victory as an independent, sovereign nation is a top priority of NATO, but he would not say more about Ukraine’s plans for the much-discussed counteroffensive beyond saying that the Ukrainians “have the capability to liberate Russian held lands.”
With reporting by Shelby Rayer in Washington, Reuters, and The Guardian
Belarusian Leader Pardons Russian Jailed After Forced Landing Of Commercial Flight
MINSK -- Authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka has pardoned Sofia Sapega, a Russian citizen who was serving a six-year prison term in Belarus on charges related to civil disturbances that followed a disputed 2020 presidential election.
Sapega was handed to a delegation from Russia's Far Eastern region of Primorye on June 7 after she was released from prison following Lukashenka's decree pardoning her, the BelTA state news agency said.
She thanked Lukashenka for pardoning her, allowing her to return home, and giving her a second chance, according to BelTA.
Earlier reports said the Russian and Belarusian authorities had agreed to allow Sapega to serve her prison term in Russia.
The Crisis In Belarus
Read our ongoing coverage as Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka continues his brutal crackdown on NGOs, activists, and independent media following the August 2020 presidential election, widely seen as fraudulent.
Sapega and her then-boyfriend, dissident blogger Raman Pratasevich, were detained after their commercial flight from Athens to Vilnius was forced to land in Minsk in May 2021.
Sapega was accused of administering a channel on Telegram that published the personal data of Belarusian security forces. She was sentenced in May 2022.
Belarus said it had ordered the plane to land after an anonymous bomb threat. Evidence later revealed Belarusian officials conspired to fake the bomb threat as a pretense for diverting the plane so they could detain the two.
Pratasevich, who fled Belarus in 2019, worked as an editor at the Poland-based Nexta Live channel on Telegram that extensively covered the violent crackdown on unprecedented protests in Belarus following an August 2020 presidential election that the opposition and Western governments say was stolen by Lukashenka, who has run the country with an iron fist since 1994.
Last month, Pratasevich told journalists he had received a pardon from Lukashenka.
In early May, a Minsk court sentenced Pratasevich to eight years in prison, and his co-defendants, Stsyapan Putsila and Yan Rudzik, who were tried in absentia, to 20 years and 19 years in prison respectively, on charges stemming from their online coverage of the 2020 anti-Lukashenka protests.
Lukashenka has denied stealing the election and has since cracked down hard on the opposition, whose leading members were either jailed or forced to flee the country in fear of their safety.
With reporting by BelTA
Six Arrested In Romania, Germany, Bulgaria In Probe Of People-Smuggling Ring
Six people have been arrested in Romania, Germany, and Bulgaria in raids targeting a network alleged to have smuggled hundreds of migrants into Romania and Germany, officials said on June 7. Fifteen properties were searched, 11 of them in Romania, German federal police said in a statement. Four of the arrests were made in searches of accommodation in Romania used to house migrants. There was one arrest in Germany and one in Bulgaria. The suspects are accused of smuggling more than 560 people into Germany and more than 300 into Romania, according to German police.
Ukraine's Prosecutor To Provide ICC With Data On Kakhovka Dam Destruction
Ukrainian Prosecutor-General Andriy Kostin on June 7 signed a decree on providing the prosecutor's office at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague with data related to the destruction of the Kakhovka dam. According to a statement by his office, Kostin also informed ICC chief prosecutor Karim Khan about the situation caused by the dam breach. Ukrainian and Russian officials traded blame over the breach on June 6 of the Russian-controlled dam, which prompted the evacuation of thousands of local residents.
Former Kazakh President Nazarbaev's Office Being Canceled
The office of former Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev, known as the office of the First President of Kazakhstan, will cease to exist within the next 45 days, the Central Asian nation's Finance Minister Erulan Zhamaubaev said on June 7.
According to Zhamaubaev, the closure of the office will free up to 3 billion tenges ($6,675,000) of state money, which will be used for other needs.
Zhamaubaev's statement came less than a week after the Justice Ministry said that parliament is poised to scrap an article in the Criminal Code that envisions punishment by up to five years in prison for insulting Nazarbaev.
President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev has taken a series of moves since January 2022 to push Nazarbaev, who ruled the tightly controlled former Soviet republic with an iron fist for almost three decades, further into the background following his resignation in 2019.
Though he officially stepped down as president, Nazarbaev retained sweeping powers as the head of the country's powerful Security Council. He also enjoyed substantial powers by holding the title of "elbasy."
Earlier this year, Kazakh lawmakers annulled the Law on the First President -- the Leader of the Nation (Elbasy).
Although the law was canceled, Nazarbaev himself continues to have immunity from prosecution in accordance with the law on presidents.
Even after Nazarbaev's resignation, many Kazakhs remained bitter over the oppression felt during his reign.
Those feelings came to a head in January last year when unprecedented anti-government nationwide protests were sparked by a fuel price hike.
The demonstrations unexpectedly exploded into deadly countrywide unrest over perceived corruption under the Nazarbaev regime and the cronyism that allowed his family and close friends to enrich themselves while ordinary citizens failed to share in the oil-rich nation's wealth.
Toqaev subsequently stripped Nazarbaev of his Security Council role, taking it over himself. Since then, several of Nazarbaev's relatives and allies have been pushed out of their positions or resigned. Some have been arrested on corruption charges, of whom some were handed prison terms.
On June 7, Kazakhstan's Anti-Corruption Agency said Nazarbaev's once powerful nephew, Qairat Satybaldy, who was sentenced to six years in prison in September after being found guilty of fraud and embezzlement, will hand over his property, including the Double Tree by Hilton Almaty hotel, as well as jewelry, automobiles, and cash to the state treasury to compensate damages caused by his crimes.
The agency added that investigations into Satybaldy's alleged tax evasion and money laundering activities are under way.
With reporting by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, KazTAG, and Tengrinews
Kazakh Opposition Politician Detained On Bribe-Taking Charge
Nurzhan Altaev, the leader of Kazakhstan's unregistered El Tiregi (People's Pillar) party has been detained on a charge of taking a bribe, the Central Asian nation's Anti-Corruption Agency said on July 7. Altaev quit the ruling Nur-Otan (now called Amanat) party in 2021 and has been trying to register his party since then, accusing the Justice Ministry of refusing to do so. In April, a court in Astana sentenced Altaev to 15 days in jail on a charge of violating regulations on holding public gatherings after he openly supported protesting oil workers who demanded jobs. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, click here.
Russia Claims Ukrainian 'Saboteur' Group Blew Up Ammonia Pipeline, Kyiv Yet To Comment
Russia's Defense Ministry claims a Ukrainian "saboteur group" blew up a segment of the Tolyatti-Odesa pipeline, the world's largest ammonia conduit, in Ukraine's Kharkiv region. Kyiv has not commented on the statement but previously it has said that the pipeline has come under repeated Russian shelling. Ammonia is a main ingredient in production of nitrate fertilizer, of which Russia is one of the world's leading producers.
Banks In Kazakhstan, Armenia, Hong Kong Block Payments For Electronics Deliveries To Russia
Banks in Kazakhstan, Armenia, and Hong Kong have started blocking payments for deliveries of electronics to Russia to avoid U.S. sanctions for helping Moscow evade Western penalties imposed over its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the Kommersant newspaper cited sources as saying on June 7. In March, the United States said Russian companies evaded sanctions using intermediaries in other countries. The same month, the EU's special sanctions envoy, David O'Sullivan, publicly questioned the final destination of many goods imported to Kazakhstan, Armenia, and several other nations. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Siberia.Realities, click here.
Belgrade To Prod Ethnic Serbs In North Kosovo To Vote In Elections
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said he will try to use his influence to persuade Serbs in northern Kosovo to take part in elections, the U.S. envoy for the Western Balkans, Gabriel Escobar, told journalists on June 7 in Belgrade.
Escobar was speaking after he and the EU's special envoy for dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia, Miroslav Lajcak. held talks with Kosovar and Serbian leaders in Pristina and Belgrade.
The U.S. and EU envoys were trying to ease tensions in northern Kosovo over the installation of ethnic Albanian mayors that triggered clashes last week between ethnic Serbs and NATO peacekeepers, leaving dozens -- including the peacekeepers -- injured.
The ethnic Albanian mayors were installed with the help of Kosovar police in three towns with an overwhelming ethnic Serbian majority -- Zvecan, Leposaviq, and Zubin Potok -- following by-elections in April with a turnout of under 3.5 percent amid a boycott by ethnic Serbs.
"We must immediately de-escalate the situation. This means that we hope the [ethnic Albanian] mayors will not try to [enter] the municipal buildings and [Kosovar] police units will withdraw -- but we want to be sure that [ethnic Serb] protesters will also withdraw," Escobar said.
The West has increased diplomatic pressure on Kosovo to reduce tensions in the northern part of the country and organize new local elections.
"If there are new elections, and we hope there will be, we want Serbs to participate in them without preconditions," said Escobar.
He added that the biggest challenge for the authorities in Belgrade is to convince the local Serbs in the north of Kosovo to return to the institutions, and that it must be ensured that the representatives of the Serbs who participate in the elections and institutions in Kosovo are "welcome."
The U.S. envoy also warned that Kosovo has to ensure that Serb-majority municipalities in its northern part enjoy greater autonomy if it wants to make progress toward eventual NATO and EU integration.
Kosovo is a majority ethnic Albanian former Serbian province. Kosovo declared independence in 2008, but Serbia as well as its traditional ally, Russia, has refused to recognize it.
With reporting by Reuters
Richard Branson Calls For Release From Prison Of Iranian Rapper Salehi
Billionaire entrepreneur and philanthropist Richard Branson has called for Iranian authorities to release popular rapper Toomaj Salehi, whose health has reportedly deteriorated since he was arrested during Tehran’s clampdown on nationwide anti-government protests in October. "As his life hangs in the balance after 8 months+ of imprisonment and torture, we all must give our voice to him and call for his release," Branson said in a tweet. In November, Iran’s judiciary charged Salehi with spreading “corruption on earth,” a charge that could see him sentenced to death. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Radio Farda, click here.
Local Official Throws Molotov Cocktails At Military Recruitment Center In Russia
A local official in the Russian city of Vladimir, 200 kilometers east of Moscow, was detained on June 7 after she threw Molotov cocktails at a military recruitment center. Media reports identified the woman as Zhanna Romanovskaya, a 55-year-old official from the local Architecture and Construction Ministry. Since Russia launched its ongoing unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, dozens of military recruitment centers have been targeted by arsonists, but Romanovskaya appears to be the first official to have done so. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.
EU Launches Case Against Poland Over 'Russian Influence' Panel
The European Commission said on June 7 that it is launching legal action against Poland over its creation of a controversial body probing "Russian influence," which is seen as targeting the opposition. The announcement of the infringement procedure came despite Polish President Andrzej Duda saying last week that he would propose amending the law on the panel after criticism from the EU's executive and the United States.
Poland Deports Former FSB Officer To Russia After Rejecting His Asylum Request
Poland has deported to Russia a former officer of the Federal Security Service (FSB), Emran Navruzbekov, who fled the country in 2017 and claimed the FSB fabricated terrorist cases against residents of the North Caucasus. The Vot Tak media project quoted Navruzbekov on June 6 as saying Polish authorities had handed him to Russian officials in the Kaliningrad exclave. Polish authorities rejected Navruzbekov’s asylum request, citing security issues. Navruzbekov's wife said earlier that she and the couple's children were granted political asylum in Poland. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Caucasus.Realities, click here.
Norway Rescues Russian By Helicopter Near North Pole
Norway rescued a Russian in need of emergency medical assistance on board a scientific vessel stuck in ice near the North Pole in a spectacular helicopter operation, its rescue services said on June 7. The evacuation took place on June 6 in the evening from the Russian ship Severny Polyus located at the 86th parallel north, some 444 kilometers from the North Pole. "It's the extreme limit of what the helicopter can do" in terms of range, a Norwegian spokesman told the AFP news agency. The operation was carried out despite a deterioration of relations between the two countries since the start of Russia's war in Ukraine.
NATO Allies Prepare Unprecedented Air Deployment Exercise Over Europe In Show Of Force To Russia
Germany is preparing to host the biggest air deployment exercise in NATO’s history, a show of force intended to impress allies and potential adversaries such as Russia, German and American officials said. Air Defender 23 exercise starting next week will see 10,000 participants and 250 aircraft from 25 nations respond to a simulated attack on a NATO member country. While the drill, which is being led by Germany, has been planned since 2018, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year has jolted NATO into preparing in earnest for the possibility of an attack on its territory. To read the original story by AP, click here.
U.S. Ex-General Says Russia Benefits From Dam Blast, Putin 'Likely' To Use Nuclear Weapons Rather Than Lose In Ukraine2
Destruction Of Major Dam In Ukraine Causes Massive Flooding, Raises Fears Of Environmental Disaster3
Ukrainian Military Says Forces Making Advances In Bakhmut Area4
Zelenskiy Says Ukraine Ready To Launch Its Long-Awaited Counteroffensive5
Kremlin Says Putin Mobilization Announcement Broadcast On Radio Stations Was 'Fake'6
Wagner Group Posts Video Of Russian Officer In Sign Of Rising Tensions With Army7
Live Briefing: Russia Invades Ukraine8
Belarusian Tennis Star Says She Does Not Support Ukraine War Or Lukashenka9
After The Flood: What We Know About The Destroyed Ukrainian Dam And Its Consequences10
Has Ukraine's Long-Awaited Counteroffensive Finally Begun? Maybe.