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EU Leaders No Closer To Price Cap On Russian Gas After Informal Summit In Prague

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen arrives for a meeting of the European Political Community at Prague Castle on October 6.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen arrives for a meeting of the European Political Community at Prague Castle on October 6.

European Union leaders have agreed to give more financial and military aid to Ukraine, but they were no closer to deciding on whether or how to cap gas prices after holding an informal summit in Prague on October 7.

Most of the EU's 27 countries want a cap on gas prices to deal with soaring prices amid a decline in gas supplies from Russia. The EU has been discussing a price cap for weeks, but disagreements over details of how to do it have left it without a result.

Gas and electricity prices have skyrocketed because of Russia's turning off the taps in response to the EU slapping successive waves of sanctions on Moscow for its war in Ukraine.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has proposed a "road map" of measures to help ease the burden -- including a potential price cap.

Ideas include capping the price of Russian gas imports, reducing the price of other gas imports, limiting the price of gas used for electricity generation, and capping the price of gas transactions within the bloc.

"Everyone agrees we need to lower power prices but there is no agreement what instruments to use to that end exactly," Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said.

Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin also said that "lots of work needed to be done" still before an agreement emerges.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said the bloc's executive later this month will present EU leaders with a broader package of short-term measures to lower prices and longer-term steps to redesign the electricity market.

As the meeting in Prague closed, France announced it has created a fund for Ukraine to directly buy weapons and other materiel directly from arms manufacturers.

"We are setting up this special, dedicated fund initially with 100 million euros to allow the acquisition of equipment that we have already delivered and that we will continue to do so in terms of weapons, meaning defensive ones," President Emmanuel Macron said.

He added that discussions were being held, particularly with Denmark, to deliver more highly accurate CAESAR truck-mounted cannons to Ukraine. This would be in addition to the 18 it has already given.

The bloc's foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said earlier during the summit that he wanted the bloc to earmark more money for military support for Ukraine, including for training, and that specific proposals on that could be approved later this month.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Germany would make an important contribution to the European training mission.

On the gas price cap matter, Scholz said the meeting had helped clear "misunderstandings" about Berlin's plan to spend up to 200 billion euros ($196 billion) in subsidies to shield German consumers and businesses from soaring energy costs.

Morawiecki had criticized the plan as an attempt to use the crisis to gain a competitive advantage for German businesses. Scholz countered by saying that other EU countries, including France and the Netherlands, had their own support measures in place.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy addressed the EU leaders virtually, calling for more air systems to defend Ukrainian energy infrastructure from Russian strikes.

"Russia brought war to our land...and only thanks to the fact that the Ukrainian people stopped this invasion by Russia, Russia cannot yet bring the same war to other parts of Europe, in particular, the Baltic countries, Poland, and Moldova," Zelenskiy said, according to a transcript on his website.

He also called for international pressure to remove Russian troops from the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant in occupied Ukraine, and for funds to rebuild Ukraine.

With reporting by AFP, Reuters, and dpa

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Russia Announces Deal On Exchange Of Children With Ukraine

Ukrainian children to be returned from Russia through Qatari mediation (file photo)
Ukrainian children to be returned from Russia through Qatari mediation (file photo)

Russia's children's rights commissioner on April 24 announced a deal with Ukraine to exchange almost 50 children displaced by Moscow's invasion, but a Ukrainian official declined to confirm the agreement. Maria Lvova-Belova announced that 29 children are due to go to Ukraine and 19 to Russia. Lvova-Belova said the agreement was reached in "talks with the Ukrainian side" in Doha. But as Russian and Ukrainian officials met with Qatari mediators, the Ukrainian human rights commissioner, Dmytro Lubinets, told AFP he "can't confirm the information." The Ukrainian official added that the two countries "don't have any direct communication on this case."

U.S. Confirms It Sent Missiles With 300-Kilometer Range To Ukraine

The ATACMS that have been delivered have a longer striking distance -- up to 300 kilometers – than the version of the weapon with a range of 165 kilometers provided by the U.S. in October.
The ATACMS that have been delivered have a longer striking distance -- up to 300 kilometers – than the version of the weapon with a range of 165 kilometers provided by the U.S. in October.

The U.S. State Department confirmed on April 24 that the United States sent long-range missile systems known as ATACMS to Ukraine for use inside its territory, and the weapons arrived in the country this month.

State Department spokesman Vedant Patel told reporters that the ATACMS, short for Army Tactical Missile System, were sent at President Joe Biden's direction.

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Patel’s confirmation came after U.S. media reports said they were used last week to bomb a Russian military airfield on the Crimean Peninsula illegally annexed by Russia in 2014 and Russian forces in another occupied area overnight.

The ATACMS have a longer striking distance -- up to 300 kilometers – than the version of the weapon with a range of 165 kilometers provided by the U.S. in October. They were part of an aid package for Ukraine in March, not the one just approved by Congress and signed by Biden earlier on April 24.

“We did not announce this at the onset in order to maintain operational security for Ukraine at their request," Patel said.

White House national-security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters that a "significant number" of the missiles had been sent to Ukraine, adding, "We will send more."

He said Ukraine has committed to only use the weapons inside Ukraine, not in Russia.

The weapons are being sent at a critical time as Russia continues advancing on the battlefield in the eastern region of Donetsk. Russia could make more gains against Ukrainian forces in the coming weeks, Sullivan said.

Patel said Biden directed his national-security team to send the ATACMS specifying that they be used inside Ukrainian sovereign territory.

The Biden administration declined to send them previously over concerns that it would risk further escalating the conflict. According to news reports quoting unidentified officials, Russia's use of North Korean-supplied long-range ballistic missiles against Ukraine in December and January led to a change in heart. Russia's continued targeting of Ukraine's critical infrastructure was also a factor, the official said.

The military aid bill signed by Biden clears the way for the Pentagon to announce an assistance package featuring desperately needed artillery and air defense munitions.

Ukraine Welcomes Long-Delayed U.S. Military Aid, Vows To Make Up For Lost Time
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Air Force General Charles Brown, chairman of the Joint Chief of Staffs, told a Washington conference on April 24 that the Pentagon had been preparing to send weapons to Ukraine as the bill moved forward in Congress.

“We’ve already leaned pretty far forward on a lot of areas. So we are moving out. We’ll get capability to Ukraine as quickly as possible,” he told the conference at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).


Ukraine’s demand for some armaments, like 155-millimeter artillery shells used in howitzers, has outstripped U.S. production, leading to a decline in U.S. stockpiles.

Following the passage of the aid package, the United States will be able to ramp up production of the shells from 30,000 a month now to 100,000 by next summer, General James Mingus, vice chief of staff of the Army, told the CSIS conference.

Ukraine has used more than 2 million shells during the 26-month war, he said, a rate of more than 75,000 a month.

“We've ramped up to a level that is going to be commensurate with the need,” Mingus said.

Russia Vetoes UN Resolution Calling For Prevention Of Nuclear Arms Race In Space

Thirteen countries voted in favor of the resolution at the UN Security Council (file photo)
Thirteen countries voted in favor of the resolution at the UN Security Council (file photo)

Russia has vetoed a UN resolution sponsored by the United States and Japan calling on all nations to prevent a dangerous nuclear arms race in outer space. The vote in the 15-member Security Council on April 24 was 13 in favor, with Russia opposed and China abstaining. The resolution calls on all countries not to develop or deploy nuclear arms or other weapons of mass destruction in space, as banned under a 1967 international treaty that included the United States and Russia, and to agree to the need to verify compliance.

Iran Sentences Dissident Rapper To Death

Iranian protest singer Toomaj Salehi (file photo)
Iranian protest singer Toomaj Salehi (file photo)

Iranian rapper Toomaj Salehi, detained during the nationwide protests of 2022, has been sentenced to death in what activists called "a new low" in Tehran's crackdown on dissent.

The charges against Salehi also include aiding in rebellion, assembly and conspiracy, propaganda against the regime, and inciting chaos -- all offenses classified under corruption on earth, as per Article 286 of the Criminal Code. Surprisingly, the court also imposed additional penalties, including a two-year travel ban and a prohibition on engaging in artistic activities.

Amir Raisian, Salehi’s attorney, said on April 24 that the Isfahan Revolutionary Court issued the sentence for a new charge of "corruption on earth" while refusing to acknowledge a prior Supreme Court ruling that might have mitigated the case.

Raisian criticized the judgment saying that, given its legal inconsistencies, his client would launch an appeal.

"The primary court's verdict has clear legal contradictions, particularly ignoring the Supreme Court's guidance which had advised reducing the charge count and considering a pardon," Raisian said in an interview with Tehran-based Shargh newspaper.

Since unrest rattled the country following the death of Mahsa Amini in September 2022 while in police custody for a supposed head scarf violation, Iranian authorities have launched a crackdown on even the slightest hint of dissent.

Thousands have been detained, hundreds have died, and there have been credible reports of torture, including by Salehi.

Still, the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) said Salehi's death sentence "underscores the glaring unlawfulness and injustice of the Islamic republic's judicial system, which has been weaponized and used as a tool by the state security forces to crush dissent and perpetuate political repression."
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"This grotesque manipulation of the judicial process aims to silence dissent. Toomaj’s imprisonment stems from his vocal advocacy against state oppression. It is imperative that supporters of free speech and dissent unite to demand his immediate release,” said CHRI Executive Director Hadi Ghaemi.

Raisian noted that the same court previously acquitted Salehi of other serious allegations, such as disturbing public order and insulting leadership, due to insufficient evidence.


Salehi, 33, was initially arrested in October 2022 after making public statements in support of the protests, which had erupted the previous month following Amini's death.

He spent much of his pretrial detention in solitary confinement and was subsequently sentenced to more than six years in prison but released after the Supreme Court, on appeal, found "flaws in the original sentence." His case was sent back to a lower court for reexamination and possible retrial.

He was released on bail in November after spending over a year in prison, including 252 days in solitary confinement, but rearrested two weeks later after publicly talking about his alleged torture in prison in a video.

Raisian said reports in local media about a possible pardon or sentence reduction citing Salehi's youth were false. The court, he said, only requested leniency from the pardon commission, which does not impact the execution sentence.

Salehi gained prominence for lyrics that rail against corruption, widespread poverty, executions, and the killing of protesters in Iran.

His songs also point to a widening gap between ordinary Iranians and the country's leadership, accusing the authorities of "suffocating" the people without regard for their well-being.

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

Kazakh Foreign Minister, U.K. Foreign Secretary Hold Talks In Astana

British Foreign Secretary David Cameron (left) and his Kazakh, counterpart, Murat Nurtileu meet in Astana on April 24
British Foreign Secretary David Cameron (left) and his Kazakh, counterpart, Murat Nurtileu meet in Astana on April 24

Kazakh Foreign Minister Murat Nurtileu and visiting British Foreign Secretary David Cameron held talks on April 24 in Astana, focusing on bilateral ties, regional security, cooperation, and the ongoing war in Ukraine, the Kazakh Foreign Ministry said. Nurtileu said his country supports a “peaceful solution to the conflict in Ukraine.” An agreement on strategic partnership and cooperation between the two nations was signed during the talks. Earlier this week, Cameron also held talks with top officials in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. He is also scheduled to visit Mongolia during his ongoing diplomatic tour. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, click here.

On Genocide Remembrance Day, Armenians Told To 'Overcome Trauma' Of 1915 Mass Killings

People march on April 24 to the Tsitsernakaberd memorial in Yerevan to commemorate the Armenian genocide.
People march on April 24 to the Tsitsernakaberd memorial in Yerevan to commemorate the Armenian genocide.

Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian urged Armenians to “overcome the trauma” of the massacre of their ethnic kin by Ottoman Turks more than a century ago and stop yearning for their “lost homeland” as they marked the anniversary of the Armenian genocide on April 24.

Pashinian said the enduring trauma prevents many Armenians from objectively assessing international affairs and challenges facing Armenia.

“Maybe this is also a reason why we get new shocks, reliving the trauma of the Armenian genocide as a legacy and as a tradition,” he said in a statement as tens of thousands of people marched to the Tsitsernakaberd memorial in Yerevan to commemorate the genocide.

The daylong procession followed a wreath-laying ceremony at the hilltop memorial led by Pashinian, Parliament Speaker Alen Simonian, and President Vahagn Khachaturian. Catholicos Garegin II, the supreme head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, who has increasingly been at odds with Pashinian’s government, was again excluded from the ceremony.

The genocide began on April 24, 1915 with mass arrests of Armenian intellectuals and activists in Constantinople, now Istanbul. An estimated 1.5 million Armenian subjects of the Ottoman Empire were massacred or died from starvation in the following months and years. About three dozen nations, including Russia, France, Germany, and the United States, have recognized it as genocide.

Pashinian’s statement came amid Yerevan’s ongoing rapprochement with Ankara. Armenia recently said Yerevan seeks full normalization of relations with Ankara, including the opening of their border and the establishment of diplomatic ties. Their strained relationship stems from their differences over whether the killings were a genocide, a distinction Turkey has vehemently rejected.

Pashinian’s choice of words could risk more opposition allegations that he is helping Turkey deny that the 1915 events were genocide. He frequently used the Armenian phrase Meds Yeghern (Great Crime) in reference to the events of 1915 and did not condemn the regime of the so-called Young Turks that ruled the Ottoman Empire during World War I. He said instead that Ottoman Armenians “became victims of geopolitical intrigues and false promises.”

The commemoration of the genocide “should symbolize not the lost homeland but the found and real homeland, the Republic of Armenia, whose competitive, legitimate, thoughtful and creative policies can preclude a repeat [of the genocide,]” Pashinian said.

Armenians should speak the phrase “never again” only to themselves, not as an accusation but as a point of view that puts Armenians “in charge of our own destiny,” he added.

Earlier this month, a senior Armenian pro-government lawmaker allied with Pashinian, Andranik Kocharian, called for “verifying” the number of the genocide victims, saying Pashinian wants to “make the entire list of compatriots subjected to genocide more objective.”

The remarks sparked uproar from Armenian government critics, civil society figures, and genocide scholars. They accused Kocharian of echoing the Turkish narrative that the number of Armenians who died was lower than the 1.5 million estimated and that the cause was not a premediated Ottoman government policy.

Kocharian said the following day that it was his personal opinion rather than the Pashinian government’s position and denied casting doubt on the Armenian genocide. Opposition leaders dismissed the explanation, continuing to accuse Pashinian of planning another far-reaching concession to Ankara.

Pashinian’s wife, Anna Hakobian, was jeered by several dozen people when she visited the Tsitsernakaberd memorial later on April 24. The hecklers, who apparently included opposition supporters, chanted “Genocidal Nikol!” and “Nikol the Turk!” as Hakobian and one of her daughters surrounded by bodyguards laid flowers by the memorial’s eternal flame.

With Conflicts Raging In Ukraine, Middle East, Amnesty Warns Rights Under Threat

A Ukrainian serviceman smokes sitting on a bench as a local resident clears debris near a building damaged in a Russian air raid on the town of Orikhiv in the Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine. (file photo)
A Ukrainian serviceman smokes sitting on a bench as a local resident clears debris near a building damaged in a Russian air raid on the town of Orikhiv in the Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine. (file photo)

Rights watchdog Amnesty International has warned that world order is under threat amid a wave of international rule breaking, deepening global inequality, superpower rivalries, and accelerating climate change.

The group said in its annual report on the state of global human rights, released on April 24, that the world is "reaping a harvest of terrifying consequences" from the pressures of escalating conflict and "a near breakdown" of international law, with advances in artificial intelligence likely to exacerbate the situation.

Amnesty said its report "presents a stark assessment of the betrayal of human rights principles by today’s leaders and institutions," and that in the face of multiplying conflicts, "the actions of many powerful states have further damaged the credibility of multilateralism and undermined the global rules-based order first established in 1945."

"Alongside Russia's ongoing aggression against Ukraine, the growing number of armed conflicts, and massive human rights violations witnessed, for example, in Sudan, Ethiopia and [Burma] – the global rule-based order is at risk of decimation," said Amnesty Secretary General Agnes Callamard.

The report noted that the war in Ukraine, launched by neighboring Russia in February 2022, was another key contributor to the decline in the global human rights situation.

Amnesty called out indiscriminate attacks by Russian forces "on populated areas and civilian energy and grain export infrastructure."

"Both Russian and Ukrainian forces used cluster munitions despite their inherently indiscriminate nature and lasting risks for civilians," the report reads.

The report pointedly criticizes the United States for its "brazen use" of its veto power to "paralyze" the UN Security Council for months as it tried to mediate a halt in fighting between Israel and Hamas, which has been designated a terrorist organization by Washington and the European Union, in the Gaza Strip.


It also slams the "grotesque double standards" of European countries such as the United Kingdom and Germany, given their "well-founded protestations" about war crimes by Russia and Hamas, while they simultaneously bolster the actions of Israeli and U.S. authorities in this conflict.

The violence erupted after Hamas launched an attack on Israel on October 7 that killed some 1,200 people, mostly citizens, while around 240 others were taken back to Gaza as hostages. Since then, an Israeli offensive aimed at neutralizing Hamas has killed almost 35,000 people, according to the Hamas-led Health Ministry in Gaza.

“The confounding failure of the international community to protect thousands of civilians -- a horrifically high percentage of them children -- from being killed in the occupied Gaza Strip makes patently clear that the very institutions set up to protect civilians and uphold human rights are no longer fit for purpose. What we saw in 2023 confirms that many powerful states are abandoning the founding values of humanity and universality enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” Callamard said.

Arson Attacks Reported In Kazakh Town After Alleged Rape Of Teen Girl

Law enforcement beefed up security measures in Kazakhstan’s southern town of Zaghambar on April 24 amid a series of crimes feared to be part of ethnic violence. Local police say a teenage boy suspected of sexually assaulting a teenage girl was detained. Media reports say police also launched a probe into arson attacks on two private cars and several households belonging to the suspects’ relatives. The town has been cordoned by police and access to the Internet was blocked in the area. Some 4,000 of the 5,400 residents of Zaghambar are ethnic Uzbeks. Similar situations in the past have caused ethnic conflicts in the Central Asian nation. To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Kazakh Service, click here.

Updated

Biden Signs Ukraine Aid Package, Says Weapons Shipments To Start In Coming Hours

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks after signing a foreign aid bill at the White House in Washington, on April 24.
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks after signing a foreign aid bill at the White House in Washington, on April 24.

U.S. President Joe Biden has signed a long-delayed military aid package hours after it was passed by the Senate, saying U.S. military aid will begin flowing again to Ukraine in the next few hours.

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.

"America is going to send Ukraine the supplies they need to keep them in the fight," Biden said, speaking from the White House after signing the aid bill on April 24. Biden said the package showed that the United States and its allies fully support Ukraine in its battle against invading Russian forces and that the approval was important to show "we stand up against Putin," a reference to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"In the next few hours we will begin sending air defense munitions, for artillery, for rocket systems, and armored vehicles," Biden said. "I’m making sure the shipments start right away."

The State Department confirmed later on April 24 that the United States sent long-range missile systems known as ATACMS to Ukraine for use inside its territory and the weapons arrived in the country this month. State Department spokesman Vedant Patel told reporters that the ATACMS, short for Army Tactical Missile System, were sent at Biden's direction.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy thanked Biden for authorizing the desperately needed military aid that had stalled in Congress since late last year.

"No matter what anyone says, we are getting the support we need to continue to protect lives from Russian attacks," Zelenskiy said on X. "Over the past few days, we have already been actively working with our American friends on all levels to include the exact types of weapons that our warriors require in this package."

Biden said that the package was "literally an investment not only in Ukrainian security but in Europe’s security, in our own security." He said that if Congress had not stepped up and passed the aid to Ukraine, it would have sent the wrong signal to NATO, which he said the United States has worked to unify, strengthen, and expand since Russia launched its full-scale invasion in February 2022.

"Imagine instead if we had failed…to step up now and to support Ukraine. All those gains would have begun to unravel. The cohesion of NATO would have been weakened. And our national security would have been undermined without any question," the president said.

Biden spoke from the White House after the U.S. Senate easily approved a package of bills late on April 23. The legislation had stalled in the House of Representatives for months, but House Republican leaders decided last week to bring the measures up for a vote, and they passed on April 20, sending it to the Senate.

Ukraine Welcomes Long-Delayed U.S. Military Aid, Vows To Make Up For Lost Time
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The bills provide $61 billion for Ukraine, $26 billion for Israel, and $8.12 billion "to counter communist China" in the Indo-Pacific. The fourth bill includes a potential ban on the social media app TikTok, measures for the transfer of seized Russian assets to Ukraine, and new sanctions on Iran.

During debate, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (Democrat-New York) had urged his Senate colleagues to pass the legislation as Kyiv struggles to hold its territory amid a shortage of weapons and ammunition caused in large part by the delay in U.S. aid.

"This is an is an inflection point in history. Western democracy perhaps faced its greatest threat since the end of the Cold War," Schumer said.

Schumer told a news conference after the aid to Ukraine passed that it was "one of the most important measures Congress has passed in a very long time to protect American security and the security of Western democracy."


Many of the no votes against the bill came from Republicans, most of whom are allied with former President Donald Trump. The Republicans said they oppose the bill in part because it doesn't include any U.S. security matters, particularly to strengthen the U.S.-Mexico border.

Zelenskiy said in a post on X, formerly Twitter, that he was grateful to the United States Senate for approving the aid.

"I equally appreciate President Biden's support and look forward to the bill being signed soon and the next military aid package matching the resoluteness that I always see in our negotiations. Ukraine's long-range capabilities, artillery, and air defense are critical tools for restoring just peace sooner," he added.

In the face of an expected wave of weaponry from U.S. and Ukraine's other allies, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said his forces would expand their aerial bombardment of Ukraine to include storage bases that house Western-supplied weapons.

An intense Russian missile and drone strikes campaign on Ukrainian cities has taken a large toll in human lives and has caused huge damage to the country's already battered energy infrastructure after more than two years of war.

With reporting by Reuters and AP

Pardoned Georgian Activist Vows To Continue Protesting Law On Foreign Agents

Lazare Grigoriadis was released from prison on April 24 after being pardoned by President Salome Zurabishvili. (file photo)
Lazare Grigoriadis was released from prison on April 24 after being pardoned by President Salome Zurabishvili. (file photo)

Georgian activist Lazare Grigoriadis said after he was released from prison on April 24 due to presidential clemency that he will continue to protest Georgia's controversial bill on "foreign agents," which many say is a replica of a similar Russian law used to muzzle dissent in that country. Grigoriadis was sentenced to nine years in prison on April 12 over taking part in protests against the bill in March last year, when he threw two Molotov cocktails at police, according to investigators. The 22-year-old activist said right after his release that he would join ongoing protests against the bill later the same day. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Georgian Service, click here.

Another Former Wagner Fighter Imprisoned For Crime In Russia

The number of crimes in Russia committed by former Wagner recruits and other ex-military personnel has been on rise since early 2023. (file photo)
The number of crimes in Russia committed by former Wagner recruits and other ex-military personnel has been on rise since early 2023. (file photo)

A court in Russia's Kirov region sentenced a former fighter with the Wagner mercenary group on April 24 for murdering and raping a woman. Ivan Rossomakhin returned to his native village in March 2023 after taking part in Moscow's ongoing invasion of Ukraine. He was recruited by the Wagner group in 2022 from a penitentiary where he was serving a 14-year prison term for murder. He was pardoned after serving for Russia in Ukraine. The number of crimes in Russia committed by former Wagner recruits and other former ex-military personnel has been on rise since early 2023. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Idel.Realities, click here.

Russian Anti-War Activist Loses Appeal Against Conviction

Russian anti0war activist Svetlana Marina (file photo)
Russian anti0war activist Svetlana Marina (file photo)

A Russian court on April 24 rejected an appeal filed by anti-war activist Svetlana Marina against a "forced labor" sentence she was handed last month on a charge of discrediting the Russian armed forces. The charge stemmed from Marina’s online post last year where she called pro-Kremlin blogger Vladlen Tatarsky, who was killed in a blast in a restaurant after an explosive device in a gift handed to him detonated, "a murderer." Marina was sentenced to 18 months of work at a facility to be designated by the authorities. A portion of her salary will be deducted and given to the State Treasury. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Idel.Realities, click here.

Updated

Opposition Candidate Leads Presidential Race In North Macedonia

A woman votes during the presidential election in Skopje, North Macedonia, on April 24.
A woman votes during the presidential election in Skopje, North Macedonia, on April 24.

SKOPJE -- Presidential candidate Gordana Siljanovska-Davkova of the main opposition VMRO-DPMNE held a big lead after the first round of a presidential election in North Macedonia, initial incomplete results showed late on April 24.

With 72 percent of the votes counted, Siljanovska-Davkova led with 39.25 percent over incumbent Stevo Pendarovski of the Social Democratic Union (SDSM), who had 19.24 percent. Both were well short of the 50 percent needed to win outright, making a runoff necessary.

Foreign Minister Bujar Osmani, candidate of the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (DUI) party and the European Front, had 14.50 percent. Behind him is the candidate of the Vredi coalition, Arben Taravari, with 10.45 percent.

Seven candidates competed in the race, but the two favorites were Pendarovski and Siljanovska-Davkova, whose coalition's full name is the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization-Democratic Party for Macedonian Unity.

According to a poll conducted just before the election by the Center for Political Research and Communications, Siljanovska-Davkova, who is 70, had a 3.6 point lead over the 61-year-old Pendarovski, whose SDSM has been in power since 2017.

The two faced off in the last election as well, with Pendarovski winning.

Among the other five candidates were law professor Biljana Vankovska from leftist party Levica and two ethnic Albanians, Foreign Minister Bujar Osmani and Arben Taravari. Approximately one-quarter of North Macedonia's population is ethnic Albanian.

The voting process was generally peaceful, and turnout was 48.38 percent, the State Election Commission said.

The runoff, to be held in two weeks, would coincide with a parliamentary election and would need turnout of at least 40 percent of the 1.8 million registered voters to be valid.

The main topics of the campaign have been accession into the 27-member EU, the fight against corruption, consolidating the rule of law, and alleviating poverty.

North Macedonia's 2.3 million people have become increasingly anxious to see their tiny Balkan country finally join the European Union. A candidate since 2005, Skopje opened EU membership talks only in 2022 after years of opposition from Greece and Bulgaria.

The dispute with Greece was settled in 2017 when the country agreed to change its name from Macedonia to North Macedonia, subsequently becoming a member of NATO in March 2020.

However, Bulgaria has continued to block more consistent EU membership talks with Skopje unless it amends its constitution to mention a Bulgarian minority in the preamble -- a highly contentious issue because of the overlapping histories and cultures of Bulgaria and North Macedonia.

Such a constitutional amendment would need a two-thirds majority in parliament, which so far has been not possible in the face of opposition from the VMRO-DPMNE.

With reporting by AP, AFP, and dpa

Relatives Demand Open Trial For Kyrgyz Group That Protested Border Deal

Relatives of some of those arrested for protesting a border deal with Uzbekistan rally in the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek on April 24, 2024.
Relatives of some of those arrested for protesting a border deal with Uzbekistan rally in the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek on April 24, 2024.

Dozens of relatives of 27 members of a Kyrgyz group that is on trial for protesting a border deal rallied in Bishkek on April 24, demanding the trial be open and nine defendants held in pretrial detention be released. The defendants were arrested in 2022 and charged with organizing mass disorders and plotting to seize power after they protested the deal that saw Kyrgyzstan hand over the territory of the Kempir-Abad reservoir to Uzbekistan. The trial is being held behind closed doors as materials of the case were tagged as classified. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, click here.

8 Members Of Tajik Opposition Group Detained In Italy

Tajik President Emomali Rahmon visits Italy on April 22.
Tajik President Emomali Rahmon visits Italy on April 22.

Activists from the Tajik opposition movement Group 24 said on April 24 that police in Italy detained the movement's eight members a day earlier. According to the Group 24, Tajik opposition activists from the EU countries gathered in Rome to take part in a rally challenging policies of the Tajik President Emomali Rahmon during his ongoing official visit to Italy. Rahmon has been criticized by international human rights groups for years over his disregard for independent media, religious freedoms, civil society, and political pluralism. In March 2015, Group 24's founder, Umarali Quvatov, was assassinated in Istanbul, Turkey. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Tajik Service, click here.

Russian Court Orders Seizure Of JPMorgan Chase Funds In VTB Lawsuit

JPMorgan Chase building in New York City (file photo)
JPMorgan Chase building in New York City (file photo)

A Russian court has ordered the seizure of funds in JPMorgan Chase bank accounts in Russia, court filings showed on April 24, in a lawsuit filed by state-owned bank VTB as it seeks to regain funds blocked abroad. JP Morgan Chase last week sued VTB in New York to halt its efforts to recover $439.5 million from an account that was blocked after Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022 and VTB was hit with sanctions. JPMorgan Chase declined to comment on the Russian court's interim measures. VTB also did not immediately comment.

UK's Sunak To Discuss European Security, Ukraine With Scholz In Berlin

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (file photo)
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (file photo)

U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will talk defense and security with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on April 24 when the British leader makes his first trip to Berlin since becoming taking office 18 months ago. Discussions are expected to focus on Ukraine, defense spending levels, and a push by Germany to bolster NATO's air defenses in Europe amid Russia's relentless missile strikes on Ukraine. "At this dangerous moment for the world, the U.K. and Germany are standing side by side to preserve security and prosperity at home and across our continent," said Sunak, hailing "a new chapter" in the countries' relationship.

Orthodox Priest Suspended After Presiding At Navalny's Funeral

Relatives and supporters bid farewell to opposition leader Aleksei Navalny at a Moscow church on March 1.
Relatives and supporters bid farewell to opposition leader Aleksei Navalny at a Moscow church on March 1.

Russian priest Dmitry Safronov has been suspended for three years and demoted after he oversaw a farewell ceremony at the funeral of outspoken Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny last month. Patriarch Kirill's decree on the move appeared on the website of the Moscow City Diocese on April 23 but it gave no explanation. Safronov also officiated a religious ceremony at the traditional Orthodox ceremony marking the 40th day of Navalny's death. He also was among priests who signed a petition demanding Navalny’s body be handed to his family after the politician died in an Arctic prison in February. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Updated

Ukraine's SBU Hit Oil Facilities in Russia's Smolensk, Says Source

Eyewitnesses reported a fire at an oil refinery in Smolensk on April 24.
Eyewitnesses reported a fire at an oil refinery in Smolensk on April 24.

Ukraine's Security Service (SBU) carried out drone strikes early on April 24 that set fire to oil-storage facilities in Russia's Smolensk region, a source familiar with the issue has told RFE/RL.

Drones hit two fuel and lubricant storage depots in the settlements of Yartsevo and Rozdorove in the Smolensk region, causing major fires and prompting the evacuation of employees, the source said.

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"26,000 cubic meters of Russian fuel were stored in these depots. After powerful explosions, a large-scale fire started at the facilities and forced the evacuation of personnel," RFE/RL's source said.

The SBU considers the logistics facilities that supply the Russian Army with fuel to be legitimate military targets, the source added.

Earlier on April 24, Smolensk Governor Vasily Anokhin reported that Ukrainian drones struck fuel and energy facilities in his region, setting them on fire.

"Our region is again under attack by Ukrainian UAVs," Anokhin wrote, adding that there were no casualties and that the fires were being put out by emergency workers in the Smolensk and Yartsevo districts.

Separately, eyewitnesses reported fires at the Smolensk and Yartsevo oil refineries. The Astra Telegram channel published a video filmed by eyewitnesses purporting to show a large fire at one refinery.

Confronted with an increasing lack of air defense systems, weapons, and ammunition as Western aid dries up, Kyiv has increasingly resorted to air and naval drone strikes deep inside Russian territory, targeting both military installations and critical oil-refining capabilities.

The strikes are part of an effort to cut fuel supplies to the Russian military and also cut export revenues that Moscow uses to fund the war.

Earlier this month, the Istories website said Ukrainian drones might have destroyed 15 percent of Russia's oil refinery facilities, while the Russian statistics service said that by the end of last month, the country's gasoline production had decreased by 14.3 percent and diesel production had reduced by seven percent.

According to British intelligence, as of March 23, Russia lost at least 10 percent of its oil refinery capacity due to drone strikes.

London believes the strikes are causing financial losses for Russia by affecting its domestic fuel market.

Griner Says She Contemplated Suicide During Russian Prison Ordeal

U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner (file photo)
U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner (file photo)

U.S. women’s basketball star Brittney Griner has revealed she contemplated suicide during her ordeal in a Russian jail. Griner, who was detained in February 2022 on drug charges before being sentenced to nine years in prison, made the revelation in an interview with U.S. broadcaster ABC released on April 23. Asked if she had considered "ending it all," Griner said: "Yeah, I just didn't think I could get through what I needed to get through." Griner, who was freed in a prisoner swap, also gave details in the interview about the grim conditions at a Russian penal colony.

Russian Deputy Defense Minister Detained On Suspicion Of Corruption

Russian Deputy Defense Minister Timur Ivanov (file photo)
Russian Deputy Defense Minister Timur Ivanov (file photo)

Russian law enforcement officials have detained Deputy Defense Minister Timur Ivanov on suspicion of taking a bribe, the Investigative Committee said on April 23.

The committee announced the arrest of Ivanov on Telegram but provided no further details of the accusations against him, saying only that he is suspected of taking an especially large bribe -- a criminal offense punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

The 49-year-old was the subject of an investigation published in December 2022 by Aleksei Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK).

It said that Ivanov oversaw and profited from construction projects in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol, which was heavily bombarded and occupied by Russian forces in the first months of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

The investigation showed that Ivanov and his wife, Svetlana, spent more than 1 million euros ($1.07 million) on vacations, renting villas and yachts, jewelry, and clothes. It also showed that the personal bills of Ivanov’s wife were paid by a company engaged in the restoration of Mariupol.

According to the FBK, which has been banned in Russia for alleged extremism, the minister divorced his wife to allow her to bypass EU sanctions.

"Today is a good day," said Maria Pevchikh, the head of investigations at the foundation, in a post on X, formerly Twitter.

"The person involved in our investigation was detained on suspicion of bribery. We talked about the glamorous and luxurious life of Deputy Defense Minister Timur Ivanov back at the end of 2022."

Ivanov was appointed deputy defense minister by presidential decree in May 2016.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said a report on Ivanov's detention had been presented to President Vladimir Putin, according to Russian news agencies.

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu had been informed in advance of his detention, he said.

Ivanov's duties included overseeing housing for troops and the construction and overhaul of ministry facilities. Ivanov has been designated for sanctions by United States, the European Union, Britain, and Canada.

Forbes magazine listed Ivanov as one of the wealthiest men in Russia's security structures.

With reporting by AFP and AP

Latest U.S. Sanctions On Iran Target Four People, Two Companies Suspected Of Hacking

The hackers targeted companies and entities on behalf of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps' Cyber-Electronic Command, the Treasury said.
The hackers targeted companies and entities on behalf of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps' Cyber-Electronic Command, the Treasury said.

The United States on April 23 imposed more sanctions against Iran, designating four people and two companies that the U.S. Treasury Department said were "involved in malicious cyber-activity" on behalf of the country's military.

"These actors targeted more than a dozen U.S. companies and government entities through cyberoperations, including spear phishing and malware attacks," on behalf of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps' Cyber-Electronic Command (IRGC-CEC), the Treasury Department said in a statement.

In addition to the sanctions, the U.S. Justice Department and FBI unsealed an indictment against the four individuals for their alleged roles in cyberactivity targeting U.S. entities.

The defendants are accused of engaging in a coordinated hacking campaign originating in Iran that targeted more than a dozen American companies and the U.S. Treasury and State departments, Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement. The activity started in about 2016 and continued through about April 2021, the Justice Department said.

The Treasury Department said Iranian cyber-actors "continue to target the United States using a wide range of malicious cyber-activity, from conducting ransomware attacks against critical infrastructure to conducting spear phishing and other social-engineering campaigns against individuals, companies, and government entities."

It said the IRGC-CEC was one of the Iranian government organizations behind the malicious cyber-activity and worked through a series of front companies to target the United States and several other countries.

Much of the Iranian public is not aware that some companies in Iran such as Mehrsam Andisheh Saz Nik, one of the two companies designated for sanctions on April 23, are used as front companies to support the IRGC-CEC, the department said.

"The Iranian public should be aware that the IRGC-CEC uses private companies and their employees to achieve illegal goals," it added.

The sanctions freeze any assets the entities and individuals have in U.S. jurisdiction and generally bar Americans from dealing with them.

Writers, Artists Demand Iran Release Cartoonist Arrested For Trying To Hang Picture

Atena Farghadani (file photo)
Atena Farghadani (file photo)

PEN America, along with a group of organizations that support cartoonists and artists, has condemned the violent arrest of Atena Farghadani, an Iranian cartoonist currently being held in Tehran's notorious Evin prison for attempting to hang one of her drawings on a wall near the presidential palace.

Farghadani's lawyer, Mohammad Moghimi, said she was violently arrested on April 12 by intelligence officers of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and sustained facial injuries that were visible during her arrest.

Moghimi said in a post on social media that Farghadani refused bail in protest against her violent arrest and was initially transferred to Qarchak prison, only to be moved to Evin prison due to the refusal of Qarchak to accept her because of her injuries.

A statement issued jointly on April 22 by PEN America, Cartooning for Peace, Cartoonists Rights, and the Freedom Cartoonists Foundation expressed outrage over the treatment of Farghadani by Iranian authorities, noting her work in support of human rights and democratic values.

"We call on the Iranian authorities to immediately and permanently cease their deliberate and brutal campaign against artistic freedom, and artists like Farghadani, and for the charges against her to be dropped immediately," Julie Trebault, managing director of Artists at Risk Connection, said in the statement.

The Iranian Cartoonist Arrested For Her Art
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The groups highlighted Farghadani's courage in upholding democratic values under "severe repression" and called for her "unconditional and immediate release."

At a recent United Nations Human Rights Council meeting, PEN America joined an international coalition that urged the extension of a mandate of a commission that is investigating human rights abuses in Iran, underscoring ongoing concerns about the suppression of free expression in the country.

In 2022, the association reported that Iran was responsible for imprisoning over one-third of all female writers jailed worldwide, emphasizing the systemic suppression of women's voices amid their struggle for full human rights.

Farghadani was previously detained in 2015 and served 18 months on various charges including "propaganda against the regime."

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

Five Suspects Named In Deadly Attack On Police In Russia's Karachai-Cherkessia

The regional Investigative Committee added the five men to its wanted list. (file photo)
The regional Investigative Committee added the five men to its wanted list. (file photo)

Authorities in Russia's North Caucasus region of Karachai-Cherkessia on April 23 identified five men suspected of opening fire on a police patrol a day earlier, killing two officers and wounding another. Ruslan Semyonov, Vladimir Averyanov, Kazbek Dzhazayev, Akhmat Elkanov, and Ruslan Elkanov were added to the wanted list, the regional Investigative Committee said. The committee said earlier that it launched an investigation into "a deadly attack against law enforcement officers and illegal firearms possession." The assailants managed to take a pistol, an AK-47, and ammunition from the officers during the attack. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Caucasus.Realities, click here.

Sister Of Iranian Teen Killed In Anti-Government Protests Released From Prison

Aida Shakarami (file photo)
Aida Shakarami (file photo)

The sister of a 16-year-old killed in 2022 in anti-government protests has been freed from an Iranian jail. Aida Shakarami, sister of Nika Shakarami, was released on April 23 after about a week of detention for violating Iran’s hijab law. Shakarami was arrested by the morality police during the government's attempt to reimpose the compulsory head scarf. Nasrin Shakarami, the mother of Nika and Aida, said the judge in the case had insulted and threatened her daughter, including accusations of promoting corruption and prostitution. Pictures of Aida Shakarami on social media after her release showed her without a hijab. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Radio Farda, click here.

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