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EU Says Serbia-Kosovo Meeting Canceled

EU mediator Robert Cooper
EU mediator Robert Cooper
A meeting between Serbian and Kosovo negotiators scheduled for July 20 has been canceled, according to an RFE/RL correspondent in Brussels.

European Union mediator Robert Cooper said in Brussels that the talks were canceled because although the two sides are "very close to agreement on a number of items," it became clear that such an agreement was not going to happen at that scheduled round of discussions.

Cooper said the dialogue would be resumed in September.

The EU-brokered talks focus on outstanding issues related to Kosovo's 2008 unilateral declaration of independence, which Serbia does not recognize.

Kosovo's declaration of independence has so far been recognized by 72 countries, including the United States and all but five members of the European Union.

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Ukraine Downed More Than Two Dozen Drones Over Seven Regions, Military Says

Air defenses search the sky over Kyiv for Russian drones. (file photo)
Air defenses search the sky over Kyiv for Russian drones. (file photo)

Ukraine's air defenses shot down 25 out of the 38 drones launched by Russia at its territory early on July 25, the air force said. The drones were destroyed over the Odesa, Kherson, Mykolayiv, Kyiv, Sumy, Zhytomyr, and Cherkasy regions, it said, adding that three drones "were lost on location after crossing the Romanian border." NATO member Romania separately said that mobile-phone messages were issued for Tulcea County, which borders southern Ukraine, alerting the public of the risk of falling drone debris. It was the second time Romania issued such an alert in as many days.

Military Helicopter Crew Killed In Crash In Western Russia

A Russian Mi-28 helicopter (file photo)
A Russian Mi-28 helicopter (file photo)

A Mi-28 helicopter belonging to the Russian military crashed in the western Kaluga region and the crew was killed, the Defense Ministry reported, saying that a technical malfunction was identified as the preliminary cause of the crash. It did not say how many people were on board, but Mi-28 helicopters usually have a two-people crew. The helicopter had been on a scheduled flight, the ministry said. Regional Governor Vladislav Shapsha wrote on Telegram that rescuers were working at the crash site. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Biden Vows To Defend Ukraine, Democracy In Final Months Of Presidency

President Joe Biden addresses the nation from the Oval Office of the White House in Washington on July 24 about his decision to drop his reelection bid.
President Joe Biden addresses the nation from the Oval Office of the White House in Washington on July 24 about his decision to drop his reelection bid.

U.S. President Joe Biden, speaking publicly for the first time about his decision to drop his bid for reelection, vowed to defend democracy at home and in allies such as Ukraine in the final months of his presidency.

In an address to the nation on July 24, Biden explained his decision to drop out of the November 5 presidential election, saying it was time to put personal ambition to the side and allow a new generation to take over.

Instead of running against Republican rival Donald Trump -- Biden has endorsed Vice President Kamala Harris as the Democratic Party's candidate -- the 81-year-old president said he would "keep working to ensure America remains strong and secure and the leader of the free world."

"We’ll keep rallying a coalition of proud nations to stop [Russian President Vladimir] Putin from taking over Ukraine and doing more damage. We’ll keep NATO stronger, and I’ll make it more powerful and more united than at any time in all of our history," he said in the 10-minute address broadcast live to the nation.

Throughout his nearly decade-long political career, Trump has praised authoritarian leaders like Putin, Turkish President Tayyip Recep Erdogan, and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

At times Trump has publicly criticized U.S. aid to Ukraine's defenses as it tries to repel invading Russian troops, while his candidate for vice president, Senator J.D. Vance, helped lead Republican efforts to try and block billions in U.S. military and financial assistance to Kyiv.

During his term in office from 2017 to 2021, Trump tilted the Supreme Court to the right of the political spectrum, sought to overturn the 2020 election results, and -- his critics say -- undermined NATO unity.

Biden and Harris, who attended an international Ukraine peace summit in Switzerland last month, have been staunch supporters of Ukraine and of NATO's role in helping the country.

Biden, whose term officially ends on January 20, 2025, said that with the United States at an inflection point, Harris, 59, is best-placed to run in an election where "the soul of America was at stake."

Biden had sewn up the Democratic Party's nomination for the election, but dropped out of the race and endorsed Harris amid an erosion of support over concerns about his fitness to run because of his age.

He had been under pressure for weeks since a horrendous performance at a debate with Trump, where the president appeared frail and confused at times, raising questions about his physical and mental state.

Biden said he became the first incumbent U.S. president to give up his party's nomination in more than five decades because he needed to unite Democrats, even though he believed his record in the Oval Office merited a second four-year term.

"So I've decided the best way forward is to pass the torch to a new generation. That's the best way to unite our nation," he said.

"I know there is a time and a place for long years of experience in public life, but there’s also a time and a place for new voices, fresh voices, yes, younger voices, and that time and place is now."

Trump, who now becomes the oldest presidential nominee in U.S. history, immediately slammed Biden, saying in a post on his Truth Social network the address was "barely understandable and so bad."

Harris, a former prosecutor and California senator, would become the first black woman to run at the top of the election ticket for a major party in the country's history if she is confirmed as the Democratic nominee at the party's convention in Chicago that begins on August 19.

"The great thing about America is here kings and dictators do not rule, the people do. History is in your hands. The power is in your hands. The idea of America lies in your hands," Biden said at the end of his address.

With reporting by AP

Man Charged With Stabbing Salman Rushdie In 2022 Faces New Federal Charges

Salman Rushdie (file photo)
Salman Rushdie (file photo)

A man who severely injured author Salman Rushdie in a knife attack in 2022 was motivated by a Hizballah leader's endorsement of a fatwa calling for Rushdie's death, prosecutors said on July 24. A new indictment of Hadi Matar, a U.S. citizen from New Jersey, said he was attempting to carry out a fatwa. The prosecutor said in a news release that Matar believed the call for the Iranian-born author's death, first issued in 1989, was backed by the Lebanon-based militant group Hizballah and endorsed in a 2006 speech by the group’s secretary-general, Hassan Nasrallah. U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said that in attempting to murder Rushdie, Matar "committed an act of terrorism in the name of Hizballah, a designated terrorist organization aligned with the Iranian regime.” Matar, who faces separate state charges of attempted murder and assault, pleaded not guilty to the new federal charges. To read the U.S. Justice Department news release, click here.

Constitutional Court In Bosnia Temporarily Suspends Republika Srpska's Election Law

Citizens who oppose changes to the election law of Bosnia-Herzegovina protest in Sarajevo. (file photo)
Citizens who oppose changes to the election law of Bosnia-Herzegovina protest in Sarajevo. (file photo)

The Constitutional Court of Bosnia-Herzegovina on July 24 temporarily suspended an election law passed by the National Assembly of Republika Srpska in April, sparking negative reaction by the international community and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) mission to Bosnia.

The court declared the law “temporarily invalid,” saying that the decision will stay in place until the Constitutional Court makes a final decision.

The suspension came in a case to assess the compliance of Republika Srpska’s election law with the constitution of Bosnia. Denis Zvizdic, deputy speaker of the House of Representatives of the Bosnian parliament, requested the court make the assessment.

The Constitutional Court said the case brings up "a very serious and complex issues regarding the constitutionality of the contested election law of [Republika Srpska].”

It said the entity’s new election law regulates issues that are already regulated by the election law of Bosnia and transfers the competences of the Bosnian Central Election Commission to the lower-level entity commission, invalidating at the same time some provisions of the state level election law.

OSCE Chairman Ian Borg and Secretary-General Helga Marie Schmid said in their criticism of the election law that the establishment of parallel structures that undermine the overall security and stability of the country are against the constitutional order of Bosnia.

The court's decision on July 24 said it must resolve the question of whether the National Assembly of Republika Srpska has the authority to differently regulate areas that are already regulated at the state level in Bosnia.

The court therefore considers that there are valid concerns that the disputed law could violate the constitutional order and political stability of Bosnia, the court said.

This is sufficient to determine the existence of the possibility of "irreversible adverse consequences" if the Constitutional Court of Bosnia does not temporarily suspend the law, the court stated, adding that the temporary measure does not prejudge the final decision on the constitutionality of this law.

The court considers that election regulations represent one of the key areas for ensuring free, fair, and transparent elections that reflect the will of the citizens, the court said. Bosnia is preparing for local elections on October 6.

The court said that the implementation of the election law ahead of this year’s elections “would seriously undermine the role of the Central Election Commission of Bosnia-Herzegovina." It added that implementing the law ahead of upcoming local elections "could cause irreparable damage to the democratic election process, legal stability, and threatened the legitimacy of the electoral process."

3 Dead, 4 Wounded In Shooting Between Ukrainian Troops In Kharkiv Region

Ukrainian national flags flutter over the graves of fallen Ukrainian soldiers in a military cemetery in Kharkiv in northeastern Ukraine. (file photo)
Ukrainian national flags flutter over the graves of fallen Ukrainian soldiers in a military cemetery in Kharkiv in northeastern Ukraine. (file photo)

Three members of a Ukrainian military unit have been killed and four wounded in the Kharkiv region in a shooting between soldiers. The Khortytsia operational-strategic group reported on Telegram on July 24 that the shooting took place "on the basis of personal relationships." The four wounded soldiers were transported to a military clinic, where they are receiving emergency medical care, the Khortytsia group said, adding that their condition is serious. The Military Law and Order Service of the Ukrainian Armed Forces and law enforcement agencies were at the scene to begin an investigation. To read the original story on RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.

Russia Is Waging A 'Christian Jihad' In Occupied Ukraine, Military Chaplain Says 

Ukrainian Military Chaplain Mark Serhiyev on July 24, 2024, after testifying before the U.S. Helsinki Commission
Ukrainian Military Chaplain Mark Serhiyev on July 24, 2024, after testifying before the U.S. Helsinki Commission

WASHINGTON -- Churches in occupied Ukraine are “loyal to Moscow rather than God,” Ukrainian military chaplain Mark Serhiyev said at a July 24 congressional hearing, adding that Russia is waging a “Christian jihad” in the region.

Serhiyev, an evangelical pastor in Melitopol, a city in southern Ukraine, was invited to speak to the Helsinki Commission about life as a non-Orthodox Christian in occupied Ukraine. Serhiyev said he came to the United States to meet with over 25 pastors and American Christians to “spread the stories” of Ukrainian believers.

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.

Members of Congress in recent months have met with representatives from various Ukrainian Protestant churches to better understand the impact of the war on religious freedom. Evangelical leaders, in turn, have said that minority faith groups are under threat in Russian-occupied territory in Ukraine as they appeal to American evangelicals, a key constituency in the presidential election this November.

Serhiyev told the commission that he watched “from the windows of my church” as Russian tanks “rolled into my city” in the early days of Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022.

There are no evangelical churches left in Russia-occupied parts of Ukraine, Serhiyev told Representative Joe Wilson (Republican-South Carolina), chairman of the Helsinki Commission, which is a committee that focuses on security, cooperation, and human rights in Europe.

Serhiyev noted that before the war there were 2,000 Baptist churches and 2,500 Pentecostal churches in Ukraine. He didn’t specify how many remain but said many Christians are now worshiping underground.

Serhiyev said his father, also an evangelical pastor, was given 72 hours early in the invasion to record a video in front of his Melitopol church stating that Russian President Vladimir Putin controlled the area. His father refused to make the video, even under threat of having his fingers cut off, and the church’s 40-foot cross was “cut up” and “replaced with the Russian flag.”

“Russians are trying to make a weapon of religion,” Serhiyev said, adding that his church is now being used to host pro-Russia concerts funded by the Kremlin.

Moscow values religion for controlling the public, Serhiyev said, noting that Russia in June exchanged a single Orthodox priest for Ukrainian soldiers in a prisoner swap.

While Serhiyev told the commission that Ukraine has “100 percent religious freedom,” in Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine members of all non-Orthodox denominations and religions are targeted.

Under Russian occupation, Serhiyev said 80 percent of congregants from his 1,500-person church fled. Those who remain meet and pray in small groups of less than five people in what Serhiyev described as a “new level of faith.” One small group leader, Lena, is being held prisoner by Russia for leading a small evangelical group, Serhiyev recounted.

Penn State professor Catherine Wanner told the commission there is “no place for Protestants in the Russian world.” According to Wanner, who previously worked for the Ukrainian Research Institute at Harvard University, evangelicals in Russia are considered “apostates,” “traitors,” and “spies.”

For Serhiyev, Russia’s behavior parallels his great-grandfather’s experience as a jailed pastor in the Soviet Union. He was later killed.

“Nothing has changed,” Serhiyev told RFE/RL. “The questions by the communist KGB were the same when Russians came into my house.”

Serhiyev said that when the Russian forces found out he was a pastor, he was forced to go outside in the middle of the night. Russian soldiers, he said, pointed an assault rifle in his face while his 9-year-old son, Christopher, watched.

Serhiyev also condemned Patriarch Kirill, who is the head of the Russian Orthodox Church and known for his ties to Putin.

The hearing addressed Kirill, who announced a “Christian jihad,” and proclaimed that every Russian soldier who fights against Ukraine would “go directly to heaven because he’s fighting for the country” if he died in battle, Serhiyev told RFE/RL.

From the Russian perspective, Serhiyev said Kirill wants a “fight for the Slavic Orthodox world,” which “is crazy because they are killing kids and destroying our city.”

Defamation Case Filed By Tate Brothers Can Proceed, Florida Judge Rules

Andrew Tate (file photo)
Andrew Tate (file photo)

A judge in the U.S. state of Florida ruled on July 24 that a defamation lawsuit filed by Internet influencer Andrew Tate against a Florida woman who accused him of imprisoning her in Romania can go to trial. The judge ruled that the former professional kickboxer, 37, and his brother, Tristan, 36, can present their allegations to a jury that the woman in 2022 engaged in a plot to extort money from them. The British-American brothers say the woman falsely accused them of human trafficking and rape, costing them their freedom and millions of dollars in income from their social media ventures. The brothers are currently awaiting trial in Romania on charges of human trafficking, rape, and forming a criminal gang to sexually exploit women.

Orban Allies Show Trump Solidarity With Ear 'Bandages' At Closely Watched Gathering

Hungarian Fidesz lawmaker Zsolt Nemeth with a folded paper "bandage" over his ear at the Tusvanyos Festival in eastern Transylvania on July 24.
Hungarian Fidesz lawmaker Zsolt Nemeth with a folded paper "bandage" over his ear at the Tusvanyos Festival in eastern Transylvania on July 24.

The chairman of the Hungarian parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee and the organizer of an annual political boot camp for Hungary's ruling Fidesz party in neighboring Romania made a show of solidarity with former U.S. President Donald Trump at the opening of the five-day event on July 24.

Lawmaker Zsolt Nemeth and David Campanale, the co-founder of the 33rd annual Tusvanyos Festival, each wore a folded paper rectangle next to their right ear in homage to the bandage that Trump wore after an assassination attempt at a campaign rally in Pennsylvania on July 13 injured the Republican nominee for U.S. president.

The red-white-and-green papers had "Go, Hungarians" written on them.

Speaking at a panel discussion at the Transylvanian event, Nemeth cited the attempt on Trump's life alongside the shooting at close range of left-wing nationalist Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico in mid-May, nearly killing him.

"The escalation of violence and aggressiveness demands that [we] demonstrate and protest against it," Nemeth said. "This is unacceptable. It goes against everything for which Tusvanyos was launched 33 years ago."

David Campanale, a former journalist and co-founder of the event, which is officially called the Balvanyos Free Summer University and Student Camp, also wore the paper bandage.

The Tusvanyos Festival is an annual event that Orban frequently uses to lay out broad strategic goals and policies and appeal to ethnic Hungarians abroad, including to announce his support for Trump's successful presidential bid in 2016.

Orban will address this year's festival on July 27.

An estimated 1 million ethnic Hungarians live in northern Romania, hundreds of thousands of them with dual citizenship since Orban mounted a major effort to extend voting rights and other benefits of Hungarian nationality to the diaspora.

Hungarian nationalism is a sensitive topic in northern Romania and in nearby Ukraine, where Orban has pressed for greater autonomy for ethnic Hungarians and where Hungarian-language media are readily available.

Orban and his national populist Fidesz party have dominated Hungarian politics since 2010. Orban and Trump have become staunch transatlantic allies of the political right on issues from immigration and Russia's invasion of Ukraine to multilateralism since the run-up to Trump's first presidential bid eight years ago.

Orban was the first foreign leader to endorse Trump's successful campaign in 2016 and has repeatedly expressed his support ahead of the 2024 race that looks likely to pit him against Democratic Vice President Kamala Harris.

Orban's comments have sparked a feud with the U.S. ambassador to Budapest under President Joe Biden's administration, David Pressman.

Orban and his foreign minister, Peter Szijjarto, have resisted but so far avoided vetoing EU sanctions on Russia since its full-scale Ukraine invasion began more than two years ago, blaming those economic punishments for a flagging national economy and depicting many Western leaders as warmongers.

They have insisted on keeping NATO member Hungary out of military supply efforts for Kyiv, arguing that defeating Russia is out of the question and that arming Ukrainians extends the war.

Critics say Budapest has cynically adopted Kremlin talking points on the war, the continent's first all-out invasion since World War II.

Earlier this month, Hungary's Foreign Ministry quoted Orban as urging the European Union "not to copy the foreign policy of U.S. Democrats."

Before NATO's 75th anniversary summit earlier this month in Washington, Orban traveled to Kyiv, Moscow, and Beijing as part of a "peace mission" that the EU denounced, and he accused the United States of conducting a "war policy."

Orban also predicted a Trump victory in November, adding, “I’m sure that a change would be good for the world."

Orban met with Trump at the latter's Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida after the summit, where the Hungarian leader said they "discussed ways to make peace," adding of the Republican U.S. presidential nominee, "The good news of the day: He’s going to solve it!"

Trump and his party have criticized the amounts of aid being given to Ukraine, and Trump has vowed, without elaborating, to end the war quickly.

Trump wore a rectangular bandage over his right ear throughout last week's Republican National Convention where he officially received the party's nomination for president, sparking supporters to don similar patches in a show of solidarity against the attempt on Trump's life by a 20-year-old gunman.

Former Azerbaijani Diplomat Sent To Pretrial Detention On Stabbing Charge

Emin Ibrahimov (file photo)
Emin Ibrahimov (file photo)

The Nizami district Court in Baku on July 24 sent former Azerbaijani diplomat Emin Ibrahimov to pretrial detention for at least four months on a stabbing charge, which Ibrahimov rejects as totally fabricated. The 43-year-old government critic was detained two days earlier. Ibrahimov's lawyer, Aqil Layic, said the criminal case was fabricated in retaliation for his criticism of the government. The Interior Ministry has not responded. Ibrahimov used to work at the Azerbaijani Embassy in the United States and held other diplomatic posts. In recent years, he criticized the government for Baku's worsening relations with the West. In September, he was sentenced to 30 days in jail on a charge of "spreading harmful information" after an online post criticizing Russia. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service, click here.

Square Of Europe In Moscow Renamed As Square Of Eurasia

The square was unveiled in 2002 as part of a Russian-Belgian project symbolizing European unity.
The square was unveiled in 2002 as part of a Russian-Belgian project symbolizing European unity.

The mayor of Moscow, Sergei Sobyanin, on July 24 signed a decree renaming the Square of Europe in central Moscow as the Square of Eurasia. The square was unveiled in 2002 as part of a Russian-Belgian project symbolizing European unity. National flags of 48 European nations were flying on the square until they were removed without explanation in March 2023. A monument called The Abduction of Europa by Belgian sculptor Olivier Strebel is located on the square, while The European mall was opened nearby in 2006. It was not clear if the monument would be removed. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

Probe Launched Into Alleged Plot To Kill Leaders Of Georgia's Ruling Party

Bidzina Ivanishvili, founder and honorary chairman of the ruling Georgian Dream party (file photo)
Bidzina Ivanishvili, founder and honorary chairman of the ruling Georgian Dream party (file photo)

Georgia's State Security Service (SUS) said on July 24 it had launched an investigation into an alleged "plot" to assassinate Bidzina Ivanishvili, the founder and honorary chairman of the ruling Georgian Dream party, and then "violently overthrow" the government.

The SUS said in a statement on July 24 the investigation is looking into "criminal activities" allegedly supported by "former high officials."

The investigation comes amid heightened tensions in the Caucasus nation over the recently passed controversial law on "foreign agents" that has juxtaposed the country's aspirations to join the European Union with accusations the legislation -- analogous to a law passed a decade ago in Russia -- is another move toward warmer relations with Moscow.

"The purpose of the mentioned criminal actions is to violently overthrow the state government by destructive forces in the background of creating disorder and weakening the government," SUS said.

SUS did not name any suspects in the case, though local media said at least six people had been questioned, some of whom had fought on the side of Ukraine in the war to repel invading Russian forces.

However, the announcement of the investigation came one day after the Tbilisi City Court questioned Gela Kakhabrishvili, who fought on the Ukrainian side against occupying Russian armed forces.

At a briefing in Tbilisi, Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze blamed unspecified "global political forces" behind the plot to kill Ivanishvili, adding that "the same forces" were behind the assassination attempts of former U.S. President Donald Trump and Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico.

Kobakhidze, a member of Georgian Dream, gave no evidence to directly link the investigation to the assassination attempts.

On June 4, the speaker of parliament, Georgian Dream member Shalva Papuashvili, signed the foreign agent bill into law.

Twenty days later, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the European Union will downgrade political contacts with Georgia and consider freezing financial aid to the Tbilisi government in reaction to the law.

Critics say the legislation was introduced by Georgian Dream in order to cement the party's grip on power ahead of elections later this year seen as crucial for Georgia's Euro-Atlantic aspirations.

The law requires civil-society and media organizations that receive more than 20 percent of their funding from foreign sources to submit to oversight that could encompass sanctions for as-yet-undefined criminal offenses.

Both the United States and the EU have warned Georgian Dream that ignoring criticism and cracking down violently on protesters will have negative consequences.

Georgia obtained the coveted EU candidate status last December but has yet to start actual accession talks, which could last for years.

Georgian Dream has insisted it remains committed to joining Western institutions and the law was only meant to increase transparency on NGO funding.

But Western governments and organizations have issued stark statements warning the Georgian Dream government that the Tbilisi's EU path will be blocked if the law comes into force.

Russia Adds Arrested Musician Eduard Sharlot To Terrorist List

Eduard Sharlot was initially arrested and handed 13 days in jail for hooliganism. (file photo)
Eduard Sharlot was initially arrested and handed 13 days in jail for hooliganism. (file photo)

Russia's financial watchdog, Rosfinmonitoring, on July 23 added to the list of terrorists and extremists musician Eduard Sharlot, who was arrested in November on his return from Armenia, where he publicly protested against Moscow's ongoing invasion of Ukraine. Sharlot was initially arrested and handed 13 days in jail for hooliganism. He was later placed in pretrial detention on charges of rehabilitating Nazism, insulting believers' feelings, and publicly damaging an official document. The charges stem from a video Sharlot posted on Instagram in June 2022 showing him burning his Russian passport and condemning Moscow's aggression against Ukraine. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Idel.Realities, click here.

Jailed Former Navalny Team Member Faces New Charge

Olga Komleva is a former member of late Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny's team in Bashkortostan. (file photo)
Olga Komleva is a former member of late Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny's team in Bashkortostan. (file photo)

The jailed former member of late Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny's team in Bashkortostan, Olga Komleva, has been additionally charged with distributing false information about Russia's military, the Basmanny district court in Moscow said on July 23. It remains unclear what the new charge stems from. The 45-year-old Komleva, who is also a journalist with the RusNews online media outlet, was arrested in late March on a charge of taking part in an extremist group's activities. All of Navalny's organizations were labeled extremist in 2021. The Memorial human rights group recognized Komleva a political prisoner. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Idel.Realities, click here.

Uzbek Court Again Rejects Appeal Of Karakalpak Activist

Karakalpak activist and journalist Dauletmurat Tajimuratov (file photo)
Karakalpak activist and journalist Dauletmurat Tajimuratov (file photo)

The Supreme Court of Uzbekistan has again rejected the appeal by Karakalpak activist Dauletmurat Tajimuratov against the 16-year prison term he was handed over mass antigovernment protests in the country's Karakalpak Autonomous Republic in 2022. Tajimuratov's lawyer, Sergei Mayorov, said on July 23 that his client had filed a second, so-called revised appeal with the Supreme Court after it had rejected his initial appeal in June last year. Mayorov added that the hearing late on July 23 was held without his client's presence as the court did not allow Tajimuratov to participate in the hearing via a video link. Mayorov added that he is not aware of Tajimuratov's exact whereabouts. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, click here.

Kazakh Anti-War Activist Gets 10 Days In Jail Over Online Rap Song

Kazakh activist Maria Kochneva (file photo)
Kazakh activist Maria Kochneva (file photo)

A Kazakh court on July 23 sentenced anti-war activist Maria Kochneva to 10 days in jail for performing a rap song online that was critical of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Kochneva told RFE/RL she will appeal the ruling, which she called politically motivated. Kochneva's performance sparked an outcry on pro-Kremlin Telegram channels earlier in July. Kochneva has said she and her relatives have received anonymous threats since her song was posted online. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, click here.

Russian Anti-War Activist Released From Extradition Center In Kazakhstan

Russian anti-war activist Natalya Narskaya (file photo)
Russian anti-war activist Natalya Narskaya (file photo)

The Kazakh Bureau for Human Rights said on July 23 that Russian anti-war activist Natalya Narskaya was released from an extradition detention center in Almaty after spending exactly one year there. Kazakh law allows those facing possible extradition to be held for no more than 12 months. Narskaya, who fled Moscow in 2022, was arrested in Kazakhstan at Russia's request. Kazakh human rights defenders have helped prevent her extradition to Russia, where she is wanted for publicly condemning Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Narskaya is said to have developed psychological problems while in custody. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, click here.

Kuleba Says Moscow Not Ready For Peace Talks 'In Good Faith'

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba (file photo)
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba (file photo)

Ukraine remains ready to hold talks with Russia provided Moscow proves it's ready to negotiate in "good faith," but Kyiv has yet to see such inclination from the Kremlin, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba reiterated on July 24 during talks with his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi.

At the invitation of Wang, Kuleba is on a three-day visit to China, his first since Russia's 2022 full-scale invasion, for talks to explore a possible Chinese role in ending the war.

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.

"I am convinced that a just peace in Ukraine is in China's strategic interests, and China's role as a global force for peace is important," Kuleba said, according to a Ukrainian Foreign Ministry statement, in opening remarks at the meeting with Wang in Guangzhou, a major commercial and manufacturing center in southern China.

Kuleba "presented the consistent position of Ukraine, that is its readiness to conduct negotiations with the Russian side at a certain stage, when Russia is ready to conduct negotiations in good faith, but emphasized that currently such readiness has not been observed on the Russian side," the statement added.

Kuleba's trip came as a surprise to some observers, given Beijing's close relationship with Moscow and diplomatic maneuvering that has often seen Chinese diplomats keep their distance from high-level Ukrainian officials.

Ukraine last month held an international summit without Russian representation in Switzerland to promote its vision of peace.

The gathering hosted delegations from 100 countries and Washington was represented by Vice President Kamala Harris, the front-runner to obtain the Democratic Party's nomination for the November presidential poll following President Joe Biden's announcement that he will not run for reelection.

China, which did not attend the Swiss summit, published a separate six-point peace plan with Brazil in the weeks leading up to the gathering which called for a separate international peace conference to be held that would have representation from both Kyiv and Moscow.

Kuleba, who reportedly said Ukraine had "carefully studied" the Chinese plan, also informed Wang "about the results of the peace summit in Switzerland and explained the logic of further steps in the implementation of the peace formula as a way to a fair end to Russian aggression," the statement said.

In an Instagram post ahead of the visit, Kuleba said: "We must avoid competing peace plans. It is very important that Kyiv and Beijing conduct a direct dialogue and exchange positions."

Wang in turn told Kuleba that Bejing believes that all conflicts should be resolved "at the negotiating table," the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

He added that recently, both Ukraine and Russia had sent signals that they are willing to negotiate "to varying degrees."

"Although the conditions and timing are not yet ripe, we support all efforts conducive to peace and are willing to continue to play a constructive role in cease-fire and the resumption of peace talks," the statement quoted Wang as saying.

China's invitation to Kuleba came after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy voiced rare criticism directed at Beijing, saying that China's efforts were undermining the Swiss peace talks by pushing some countries to not attend and others to not sign the final communique.

Kyiv has been hesitant to criticize China, with Zelenskiy often encouraging Beijing to play a role in reaching a peace settlement.

China says its ties with Russia are built on the basis of nonalliance and do not target any third party.

Despite expressing neutrality toward the war in Ukraine, China has emerged as the Kremlin's leading international supporter by supplying Russia with key components that Moscow needs for its production of weapons and as a vital consumer for oil and gas that has helped boost the Russian economy.

Western governments have also accused China of providing crucial support to Russia during the war, with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg saying Beijing's assistance to Moscow has made it a "decisive enabler" of the war.

Some 3,400 Tajik Nationals Turned Back From Russian Airports In Past 6 Months

Tajik migrants stranded at Moscow's Vnukovo airport in early July
Tajik migrants stranded at Moscow's Vnukovo airport in early July

Some 3,400 Tajik migrant workers have not been allowed to enter Russia and turned back to Tajikistan from Russian airports over the last six months, the director of the Tajik Civil Aviation Agency, Habibullo Nazarzoda, told reporters on July 24. According to Nazarzoda, Tajik citizens were not allowed to enter Russia due to alleged problems with their documents. Since Russia arrested several Tajik nationals suspected of being involved in a terrorist attack at an entertainment center near Moscow that left more than 140 people dead in late March, Tajik migrant workers have faced increased restrictions inside Russia and when traveling to Russia. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Tajik Service, click here.

Germany Carries Out Raids, Bans Group Accused Of Links To Iran

A police officer is seen in front of the Blue Mosque, housing the Islamic Center of Hamburg, in Germany on July 24.
A police officer is seen in front of the Blue Mosque, housing the Islamic Center of Hamburg, in Germany on July 24.

The German government on July 24 banned a Hamburg-based organization accused of promoting the Iranian leadership's ideology and supporting Lebanon's Hizballah militant group, as police raided 53 properties around the country. The ban on the Islamic Center Hamburg, or IZH, and five suborganizations around Germany followed searches in November. Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said evidence gathered in the investigation "confirmed the serious suspicions to such a degree that we ordered the ban today." The IZH "promotes an Islamist-extremist, totalitarian ideology in Germany," while it and its suborganizations "also support the terrorists of Hizballah and spread aggressive antisemitism," Faeser said in a statement.


Turkey Detains Russian Man Suspected Of Car Bombing In Moscow

A damaged car is seen in a parking spot following a blast that reportedly injured an officer from Russia's GRU military intelligence, in Moscow on July 24.
A damaged car is seen in a parking spot following a blast that reportedly injured an officer from Russia's GRU military intelligence, in Moscow on July 24.

Turkish Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya said on July 24 that Turkish police have detained a Russian man suspected in a car bombing in Moscow earlier in the day that wounded two people, one of whom is reported to be a senior military intelligence officer.

The man, identified by Yerlikaya as Yevgeny Serebryakov, a Russian citizen, is suspected of conducting a terrorist act using an explosive device on a car in Moscow that left two people wounded, Yerlikaya said on X. Serebryakov arrived on a flight from Moscow and was detained by police in Turkey's Mugla Province, Yerlikaya added.

Yerlikaya's post carried a video showing Turkish police taking a man out of a white vehicle and handcuffing him.

Russia's Investigative Committee said earlier in the day that the owner of the Toyota Land Cruiser SUV and a passenger were wounded in the blast, while Interior Ministry spokeswoman Irina Volk said the blast was caused by an "unidentified device" placed in the vehicle.

"Preliminary investigations revealed that an unidentified object placed in a vehicle detonated in a parking lot in the capital’s north," Volk said. "Two people were injured in the explosion and rushed to a medical institution by ambulance."

Neither agency identified the two people wounded in the blast, saying that a criminal investigation and a forensic investigation had been opened into the incident that occurred in a parking lot on Sinyavinskaya Street in the northern part of the Russian capital.

The Kommersant newspaper reported that one of the wounded served in the Main Intelligence Directorate of Russia's General Staff, known as the GRU.

The Astra Telegram channel initially reported that Andrei Torgashov, 49, the deputy chief of unit 33790, a Russian military satellite communications radio center, and his wife were the two victims, and that both had been hospitalized.

Astra also issued an edited security-camera video purporting to show the moment of the explosion.

Pictures and videos of the vehicle parked in a residential courtyard with the windows, doors, and front side destroyed in the explosion circulated on the Baza Telegram channel, which is linked to Russian security services. Baza said that "presumably" one of the two victims was an officer of the Russian military intelligence.

Torgashov, who had reportedly taken part in Russia's invasion of Ukraine, had his feet torn off and his wife suffered facial injuries, some reports said.

However, the 360 Telegram channel later quoted Torgashov's wife, Maya, as saying that neither she nor her husband was in the car when the explosion occurred, claiming other people were in the vehicle.

A report in the Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper said that "the investigation leads include possible involvement of Ukrainian special services and their agents."

Several Russian military officials and pro-Kremlin public figures and bloggers have been targeted by bombing attacks since Moscow launched its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

With reporting by Baza, TASS, Interfax, Astra, Moskovsky Komsomolets, 360, Mash, and RIA Novosti

At Least 2 Killed In Russian Strikes On Ukraine As Danube Port Infrastructure Damaged

Several missile strikes on Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city, killed at least one civilian on July 24.
Several missile strikes on Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city, killed at least one civilian on July 24.

Russian shelling and missile strikes on Ukrainian regions on July 24 killed at least two people, injured several others, and damaged infrastructure in the Danube port of Izmayil, regional officials reported.

An elderly woman died in the southern city of Kherson during Russian shelling overnight, the regional military administration reported.

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.

"At night, the Russian Army hit a residential building in the Dnipro district of Kherson. Unfortunately, a 77-year-old woman was killed and her body was found under the rubble of her own home," it said on Telegram.

Several missile strikes on Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city, killed at least one civilian, Mayor Ihor Terekhov said on Telegram.

"The first strike targeted an industrial zone in one of Kharkiv's districts.... The second hit a private enterprise area, setting a building on fire. There are reports of one dead person," Terekhov said.

Kharkiv Governor Oleh Synyehubov said separately that an industrial building was set on fire in the attack on the city's Nemyshlyanskiy district.

Oleh Kiper, the governor of the southern region of Odesa, reported that Russian drones struck the area of the Danube port of Izmayil, which is critical for Ukraine's grain exports.

"The port infrastructure and an apartment building were targeted by the Russians," Kiper wrote on Telegram, adding that three people were injured. Kiper said the attack damaged several port installations and a fire broke out, but it was eventually put out by firefighters.

In Bucharest, the Defense Ministry of Ukraine's NATO neighbor, Romania, said that following the attacks on Izmayil, which is located on the Danube's left bank just across Romania's Tulcea county, it scrambled two warplanes in the area.

"Two F-16 fighter jets took off at 2:19 a.m. local time from Borcea Air Base to monitor the situation. The two aircraft returned to the base at 4:20 a.m.," the ministry said in a statement. Romania's Borcea Air Base is located some 135 kilometers southeast of Izmayil.

Earlier, authorities in Tulcea county issued alerts after several drones were observed close to the border. Debris from Russian drones has fallen on Romania's territory several times in the past.

Ukraine's air force said that its air-defense systems shot down 17 of the 23 drones launched by Russia at Ukrainian targets. According to the commander of Ukraine's air force, General Mykola Oleschuk, most drones were downed over the Odesa region.

Meanwhile, Russia's Defense Ministry said its air-defense systems downed three Ukrainian drones over the Belgorod region.

Ukraine, whose civilian and energy infrastructure has been devastated by incessant Russian missile and drone attacks, has in turn targeted oil refining installations and other fuel-producing facilities inside Russia that work for the military.

In an interview with The Guardian, Ukraine’s top military commander, Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskiy, said on July 24 that so far, Ukrainian drones have targeted "about 200 critical infrastructure sites" such as factories, fuel dumps, and ammunition depots deep inside Russia, all of which were connected with "military logistics."

Ukraine has also claimed that its sea drones have sunk or disabled one-third of all Russian warships in the Black Sea.

"It really became a trap for them and for some [vessels] a grave," Sryskiy told The Guardian.

U.S. Embassy Urges Russia To Free RFE/RL's Kurmasheva After 6 1/2-Year Sentence

Journalist Alsu Kurmasheva attends a court hearing in Kazan in May.
Journalist Alsu Kurmasheva attends a court hearing in Kazan in May.

The U.S. Embassy in Moscow has called for the release of Alsu Kurmasheva, a veteran RFE/RL journalist who holds dual U.S.-Russian citizenship, after she was sentenced to 6 1/2 years in prison by a Russian court on charges she, her employer, the U.S. government, and her supporters reject as politically motivated.

Responding a day after news of Kurmasheva's sentencing broke, the embassy said it was "a sad day for journalism in Russia."

"We once again call on the Russian authorities to release Alsu and other imprisoned journalists and prisoners of conscience," the embassy said in a post on social media on July 23.

"The suppression of dissenting voices harms all Russians. A free and independent press is at the heart of democracy, enabling voters to make informed decisions and holding public officials accountable," it added.

The court convicted Kurmasheva on a charge of spreading falsehoods about the Russian military.

RFE/RL President and CEO Stephen Capus called the trial and conviction -- first reported by AP -- "a mockery of justice," adding that "the only just outcome is for Alsu to be immediately released from prison by her Russian captors."

"It's beyond time for this American citizen, our dear colleague, to be reunited with her loving family," Capus said in a statement.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said late on July 23 that Kurmasheva's case was purely a criminal matter.

"Despite the fact that in the West this topic is presented as an alleged persecution of a journalist, I would like to note that in relation to Kurmasheva, such statements, to put it mildly, are not true," TASS quoted Zakharova as saying. "Her case is being considered exclusively as a criminal case."

Kurmasheva, a 47-year-old mother of two, was arrested in Kazan in October 2023 and first charged with failing to register as a "foreign agent" under a punitive Russian law that targets journalists, civil society activists, and others. She was subsequently charged with spreading falsehoods about the Russian military.

RFE/RL and the U.S. government say the charges are reprisals for her work as a journalist for the broadcaster in Prague.

"She’s a dedicated journalist who is being targeted by Russian authorities for her uncompromising commitment to speaking the truth and her principled reporting," U.S. State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters on July 22 after the news of her conviction.

"Journalism is not a crime, as you have heard us say on a number of occasions, and we continue to make very clear that she should be released," he said.

The Kremlin has not commented on the conviction. In the past, it has said it is not closely following the case and that it wouldn't commen, as Russia's justice system must be allowed to work through the case.

The verdict came on July 19, the same day that Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich was found guilty of espionage charges -- which he, his employer, and the U.S. government have rejected as politically motivated -- by a court in the city of Yekaterinberg.

A White House statement on July 19 said Gershkovich was targeted by the Russian government because he is a journalist and an American.

Unlike Gershkovich and another American, Paul Whelan, who is serving a 16-year sentence also on espionage charges, Kurmasheva has not been designated by the U.S. government as "wrongfully detained."

Such a designation ensures that the case is assigned to the office of the special envoy for hostage affairs in the U.S. State Department, raising the political profile of the prisoner's situation and allowing the U.S. administration to allocate more resources to securing their release.

The U.S. National Press Club -- a professional association of American journalists -- and 18 other media freedom groups called on President Joe Biden in an open letter on May 31 to press for the recognition of Kurmasheva as a "wrongfully detained" person.

"She meets all the criteria. This should happen immediately. It should have happened months ago," the letter said.

"We have listened to the State Department twist itself into a pretzel explaining how there are other factors to be considered besides the criteria, but we have yet to hear a clear reason why [it] cannot declare her wrongfully detained," it added.

Miller did not address the issue of Kurmasheva's designation with reporters, saying only that the Biden administration remains focused on her case.

Russia has been accused of targeting Americans by detaining them on trumped-up charges to later use as bargaining chips in talks to bring back Russians convicted of crimes abroad.

Some analysts have said the move to expedite the cases of Kurmasheva and Gershkovich could be a sign that talks are heating up between Moscow and Washington on a possible prisoner exchange. There has been no word on such talks from either Washington or Moscow.

RFE/RL's jailed journalists (left to right): Alsu Kurmasheva, Ihar Losik, Andrey Kuznechyk, and Vladyslav Yesypenko
RFE/RL's jailed journalists (left to right): Alsu Kurmasheva, Ihar Losik, Andrey Kuznechyk, and Vladyslav Yesypenko

Kurmasheva is one of four RFE/RL journalists -- the other three are Andrey Kuznechyk, Ihar Losik, and Vladyslav Yesypenko -- currently imprisoned on charges related to their work. Rights groups and RFE/RL have called repeatedly for the release of all four, saying they have been wrongly detained.

Losik is a blogger and contributor for RFE/RL's Belarus Service who was convicted in December 2021 on several charges including the "organization and preparation of actions that grossly violate public order" and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Kuznechyk, a web editor for RFE/RL's Belarus Service, was sentenced in June 2022 to six years in prison following a trial that lasted no more than a few hours. He was convicted of "creating or participating in an extremist organization."

Yesypenko, a dual Ukrainian-Russian citizen who contributed to Crimea.Realities, a regional news outlet of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, was sentenced in February 2022 to six years in prison by a Russian judge in occupied Crimea after a closed-door trial. He was convicted of "possession and transport of explosives," a charge he steadfastly denies.

Russia Using Disinformation To Undermine Moldova's Upcoming Elections, Officials Tell U.S. Panels

Moldova is preparing for a vote on October 20 that will include a referendum on membership in the European Union. (file photo)
Moldova is preparing for a vote on October 20 that will include a referendum on membership in the European Union. (file photo)

WASHINGTON -- Russian disinformation threatens to interfere with Moldovan elections later this year just as the country begins to make significant progress on reforms under pro-Western President Maia Sandu, U.S. and Moldovan officials said at separate events in Washington on July 23.

Moldova is preparing for a vote on October 20 that will include a referendum on membership in the European Union.

Sandu, who defeated pro-Moscow socialist Igor Dodon in 2020 and has since said that Moldova’s future is in the EU, will seek reelection, a test for the country wedged between Ukraine and Romania.

The election will be "historic and pivotal" for the country of 2.5 million people where the transition to democracy and a market economy has been slower than in many post-Soviet states, Moldovan Ambassador Viorel Ursu said.

Ursu said Moldova, which is also contending with about 1,000 Russian troops in its breakaway Transdniester region and coping with an influx of about 1 million refugees from Ukraine, remains in a vulnerable position, as Russia uses it as "a testing ground" for disinformation, which he said "is everywhere" and getting more advanced.

He noted that Russian disinformation used to be in Russian but in the last six months has started to arrive in perfect Romanian, which is similar to the Moldovan language and is spoken by a majority of the population.

He also said he expects an increase in deep fakes in the week before the election, leaving no time to debunk them.

At a hearing later on July 23, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Christopher Smith told members of Congress that the election will be a "historic opportunity" for Moldovans but there will also be much at stake as the country faces Russian aggression, interference, and disinformation.

"We see very clear action by the Russians to undermine this upcoming election and referendum. They are engaging networks of interference financed by the Russian state...designed to deprive the Moldovan people of their right to choose their future," Smith told a subcommittee of the House Foreign Relations Committee.

Subcommittee Chairman Thomas Kean (Republican-New Jersey) said Moldova had been on track to be a post-Soviet success story, but now faces the question of whether it will continue down a Western path or fall back into the Kremlin's sphere of influence.

Smith told Kean that Russia uses a variety of methods to spread disinformation, including campaigns funded by Russian oligarchs that pay people to protest. Russia has also tried to undermine turnout by spreading false information that Moldova will be dragged into the war in Ukraine, he said.

"The goals that we have seen them articulate make clear that they are doing this in order to get a pro-Kremlin candidate in office," Smith said.

Smith said the United States had assisted Moldova to bolster its security and territorial integrity, integrate its economy, and implement sanctions designed to counter Russia's malign influence.

Since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the United States has backed Moldova's fight against corruption and its efforts to get closer to Europe with $824 million in aid, he said. That compares with the European Union’s 2.4 billion euros ($2.6 billion) since 2021 for similar programs.

Alexander Sokolowski, deputy assistant administrator for Europe and Eurasia, told the committee that the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) had stepped up programming to support the diversification of Moldova’s energy sources and foster increased trade with the European governments.

Moldova now meets 100 percent of its natural gas needs with non-Russian supplies, but the supply of electricity continues to be a concern, as the country gets between 70 percent and 90 percent of its electricity from a plant in Transdniester, Sokolowski said.

The committee also heard a report on U.S.-Georgia bilateral relations from Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Joshua Huck, who said the United States continues to support civil society in Georgia but has seen an anti-democracy shift with the recent adoption of a "foreign agents" law similar to one that Russia has used to suppress dissent.

Smith said by contrast Moldova is addressing human rights and practical issues that relate to the economy, adding that the United States sees "tremendous progress when it comes to their commitment."

Russian Internet Pioneer Handed 2-Year Prison Sentence

Aleksei Soldatov (left) in 2015
Aleksei Soldatov (left) in 2015

One of Russia's Internet pioneers has been sentenced to two years in prison on a charge of abuse of office that he has rejected. Aleksei Soldatov, who served as deputy minister of communications in 2008-10, was convicted on July 22 on charges related to a deal to transfer a pool of IP addresses to a foreign-based organization. Soldatov and his lawyers rejected the charges as unfounded. In 1990, Soldatov, a nuclear physicist by training, led the Relcom computer network that made the first Soviet connection to the global Internet. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Soldatov helped establish other organizations that provided the technical backbone of the Russian Internet.

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