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Explosion On Bus In NW Pakistan Kills At Least 15

At least 15 people have been killed and nearly a dozen wounded in an explosion on a minibus in northwestern Pakistan.

It's unclear whether the January 17 explosion was caused by a bomb or the gas cylinder used to power the bus.

The bus was traveling between the cities of Hangu and Kohat when the blast occurred.

Islamist militants frequently carry out attacks in this area against both civilians and security forces.

compiled from agency reports

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Ukrainian Forces Could Quit Donbas Pocket To Avoid Encirclement, Official Says, As Russians Make Advances

A Russian tank sits in front of a damaged apartment building in the town of Popasna in Ukraine's Luhansk region on May 26.

Ukrainian forces may need to withdraw from Syevyerodonetsk, one of the two main cities in the last remaining pocket of resistance in the east that Russian forces are close to surrounding, an official there warned, as Britain said Moscow was in acute need of a victory in the Donbas region as political justification for the war.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy called the current situation in Donbas "very difficult."

"Russian forces have concentrated their efforts in the Donbas, using maximum artillery fire and missile strikes as Ukrainian forces protect our land in the way that our current defense resources allow," Zelenskiy said in his nightly video address.

Russian troops seeking to regain momentum in the three-month-long war have been pressing a rapid advance in the Luhansk region with a focus on the cities of Syevyerodonetsk and Lysychansk.

The relentless and indiscriminate Russian artillery fire has destroyed Syevyerodonetsk almost completely and killed hundreds of civilians, officials there said.

Serhiy Hayday, the governor of Luhansk, said on May 28 that he estimates there are some 10,000 Russian troops in the region and that Russians are already in parts of Syevyerodonetsk.

"It is possible that in order not to be surrounded, they (Ukrainians) will have to leave," Hayday said the previous night.

Syevyerodonetsk Mayor Oleksandr Stryuk said that at least 1,500 people have been killed in his city since the start of Russia's invasion in late February. About 12,000 to 13,000 remain in the city -- down from a prewar population of about 100,000, he said.

The British Defense Ministry said in its daily intelligence bulletin on May 28 that Russian forces had likely captured most of Lyman, a railway hub west of Syevyerodonetsk, in what appears to be a preliminary operation for the next stage of Russia’s offensive.

Ukraine said Russians had captured most of Lyman but that its forces were blocking their advance to the southwest.

The British intelligence report estimated that Russia is likely to prioritize forcing a crossing of the Siverskiy Donets River that separates Syevyerodonetsk from it twin city, Lysychansk.

Moscow has made seizing the whole eastern Donbas region a key objective of the invasion after being pushed back from Kyiv.

In its bulletin, Britain assessed that "if Russia did succeed in taking over these areas, it would highly likely be seen by the Kremlin as a substantive political achievement and be portrayed to the Russian people as justifying the invasion."

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on May 27 that Ukraine needed long-range multiple-launch rocket systems to repel the Russian onslaught.

"I'm afraid that Putin, at great cost to himself and to the Russian military, is continuing to chew through ground in Donbas," he told Bloomberg. "He's continuing to make gradual, slow, but I'm afraid palpable, progress and therefore it is absolutely vital that we continue to support the Ukrainians militarily."

Ukraine is pleading for a long-range weapons system to halt the Russian advance, but Washington has so far not offered one.

On the diplomatic front, Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer said he and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed a possible prisoner swap and blocked shipments of Ukrainian grain during a phone call on May 27.

Nehammer, who spoke to reporters after the 45-minute call, said Putin told him that Moscow is ready to discuss a prisoner swap with Ukraine but the question is complex. The Austrian leader said his impression during the call was that Putin wants to create facts on the ground that he can take into negotiations.

Zelenskiy said earlier that he must hold talks with Putin in order to safeguard Ukraine's sovereignty and existence.

Zelenskiy also accused Russia, which has said it would allow Ukraine to resume its grain exports by sea if the West lifts some sanctions imposed on it for starting the war, of weaponizing the global food supply crisis.

The last known face-to-face talks between Russian and Ukrainian negotiators were held on March 29. Negotiations continued online for a while, but both sides now say they have stopped.

According to a Kremlin statement, Putin informed Nehammer about actions that Russia is taking to secure safe passage for vessels in the Azov and Black seas.

Putin told Nehammer that attempts to blame Russia for difficulties shipping grain worldwide were unfounded and pointed to Western sanctions being responsible instead, according to the Kremlin.

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

Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Loyal To Russia Since 2019 Schism, Now Cuts Ties Over War

Russian President Vladimir Putin (left), Russian Patriarch Kirill of Moscow (right), and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu talk while visiting a marine church in St. Petersburg. (file photo)

The leaders of Orthodox churches in Ukraine that have been affiliated with the Russian Orthodox Church on May 27 adopted measures to sever ties with Russia over its invasion of Ukraine in a significant move against the Russian Orthodox Church and its spiritual leader.

The leaders of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church -- Moscow Patriarchate made the announcement in a statement on Facebook after holding a council in Kyiv focused on “issues that arose as a result of the military aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine."

"We disagree with the position of Patriarch Kirill of Moscow...on the war in Ukraine," said the statement.

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church -- Moscow Patriarchate has until now formally pledged allegiance to Russia's Patriarch Kirill, who has expressed clear support for President Vladimir Putin's offensive in Ukraine.

Church spokesman Archbishop Kliment said the council stressed its "complete rejection" of Kirill's position regarding the war.

"Not only did he fail to condemn Russia's military aggression but he also failed to find words for the suffering Ukrainian people," the archbishop told AFP.

In recent weeks, hundreds of Ukrainian Orthodox priests signed an open letter calling for Kirill to face a religious tribunal over the war.

The statement said it condemns war as “a violation of God's commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill!' and expresses condolences to all those who suffer in the war."

It said relations between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Moscow leadership had been "complicated or absent" since the war began, and that the council had approved amendments testifying "to the full independence and autonomy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.”

The statement also appealed to both Ukraine and Russia to "continue the negotiation process" and find a way to "stop the bloodshed."

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church -- Moscow Patriarchate remained subordinate to Russia after a schism that formed the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. It broke away from the Russian Orthodox Church over the Kremlin's annexation of Crimea and support for separatists in the Donbas region and in 2019 was granted autocephaly, or independence.

Putin's invasion and Kirill's support for it had placed the Moscow-backed branch of the church in Ukraine in an increasingly precarious position.

It is unclear whether clerics of the Moscow Patriarchate will join ranks with those who broke away in 2019 and who now pledge allegiance to Istanbul-based Patriarch Bartholomew, who is considered the leader of the worldwide Orthodox community.

With reporting by AFP

Ukraine Calls On Germany To Cut Natural Gas Flows Through Nord Stream 1 Pipeline

Ukraine says it is willing and able to provide an alternative transport route to the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, which runs under the Baltic Sea

Ukraine has demanded that Germany either halt or severely curtail natural gas flows through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, the head of Ukraine’s gas system operator said on May 27.

Serhiy Makogon said the Ukrainian gas transmission system and Ukraine's state energy company Naftogaz have sent an appeal to the German Economy Ministry and the German regulator on the suspension of gas from Nord Stream 1.

Ukraine is willing and able to provide an alternative transport route to the pipeline, which runs under the Baltic Sea, Makogon said on Ukrainian television.

Germany has already halted the Nord Stream 2 gas project as punishment for Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Construction on Nord Stream 2, half owned by Russia’s state-owned Gazprom in a consortium with European energy companies, was designed to double shipments of Russian gas to Germany.

European countries have been under pressure to reduce their energy dependence on Russia, which is using revenues from sales of gas, oil, and coal to help fund the war.

Slovakia announced on May 27 that it has considerably reduced its dependence on gas supplies from Russia. The country has reduced its dependence by 65 percent, said Economy Minister Richard Sulik.

Slovakia was able to do this by signing several gas supply contracts, including one with Norway and others to supply liquefied gas delivered by tankers.

Prime Minister Eduard Heger also announced the start of test operations of a gas pipeline connecting Poland and Slovakia at a new natural gas compressor station in eastern Slovakia.

The pipeline, built with EU funding, will enable Slovakia to also obtain gas from Norway and overseas, he said.

Based on reporting by Reuters and dpa

Battles In Ukraine's East 'Very Difficult;' Governor Says Troops May Have To Retreat To Defend Themselves

Ukrainian forces faced "very difficult" battles in Donbas region on May 27.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy called the current situation in the Donbas region "very difficult" as Russian forces and Moscow-backed separatists attacked the last Ukrainian strongholds in the eastern Luhansk region.

Russian forces have concentrated their efforts in the Donbas, Zelenskiy said, using maximum artillery fire and missile strikes as Ukrainian forces "protect our land in the way that our current defense resources allow."

The fighting on May 27 focused on the cities of Syevyerodonetsk and Lysychansk -- the last areas under Ukrainian control in Luhansk.

Serhiy Hayday, the governor of Luhansk region, said that Ukrainian forces are engaged in a "fierce defense" of Syevyerodonetsk, which is two-thirds surrounded by Russian forces.

"The Russians will not be able to capture Luhansk region in the coming days as analysts have predicted," Hayday said on Telegram, referring to Syevyerodonetsk and Lysychansk, which lies across the Siverskiy Donets River.

"We will have enough strength and resources to defend ourselves. However, it is possible that in order not to be surrounded we will have to retreat," he said.

He said earlier that "very strong" shelling has destroyed 90 percent of the housing in the city.

The Defense Ministry says the current phase of the war is the most active full-scale military aggression thus far.

The Ukrainian military reported that eight attacks by Russian troops had been repulsed in Donetsk and Luhansk during the day, while fighting continued at five locations.

Zelenskiy said Russian forces are trying to achieve some success by next week when the 100th day of the war will be marked.

"The occupiers are trying to achieve in 100 days of war those goals that they hoped to achieve in the first days after February 24," Zelenskiy said in his nightly address.

Syevyerodonetsk Mayor Oleksandr Stryuk said that at least 1,500 people have been killed in his city since the start of Russia's invasion in late February. About 12,000 to 13,000 remain in the city -- down from a prewar population of about 100,000, he said.

Moscow-backed separatists on May 27 also claimed full control of the important battlefield town of Lyman, some 60 kilometers west of Syevyerodonetsk, but the Ukrainian Defense Ministry denied that the major railway hub had fallen, saying in a statement that its forces continue to counteract Russian attempts to overrun it.

Lyman has been a front line target as Russian forces press down from the north, one of three directions from which they have been attacking Ukraine's industrial Donbas region.

On the diplomatic front, Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer says he and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed a possible prisoner swap and blocked shipments of Ukrainian grain during a phone call on May 27.

Nehammer, who spoke to reporters after the 45-minute call, said Putin told him that Moscow is ready to discuss a prisoner swap with Ukraine but the question is complex. The Austrian leader said his impression during the call was that Putin wants to create facts on the ground that he can take into negotiations.

Zelenskiy said earlier that he must hold talks with Putin in order to safeguard Ukraine's sovereignty and existence.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

RFE/RL's Live Briefing gives you all of the major developments on Russia's invasion, how Kyiv is fighting back, the plight of civilians, and Western reaction. For all of RFE/RL's coverage of the war, click here.

Zelenskiy said in an address on May 27 to an Indonesian think tank that Ukraine was not longing to talk to Putin, but that it has to face the reality that this will likely be necessary to end the war that Moscow launched against it on February 24.

"There are things to discuss with the Russian leader. I'm not telling you that our people are eager to talk to him, but we have to face the reality of what we are living through," Zelenskiy said.

"What do we want from this meeting?...We want our lives back...We want to reclaim the life of a sovereign country within its own territory," he said, adding that Russia did not appear to be ready yet for serious peace talks.

Zelenskiy also accused Russia -- which has said it would allow Ukraine to resume its grain exports by sea if the West lifts some sanctions imposed on it for starting the war -- of weaponizing the global food supply crisis.

The last known face-to-face talks between Russian and Ukrainian negotiators were held on March 29. Negotiations continued online for a while but both sides now say they have stopped.

According to a Kremlin statement, Putin informed Nehammer about actions that Russia is taking to secure safe passage for vessels in the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea.

Putin told Nehammer that attempts to blame Russia for difficulties shipping grain worldwide were unfounded and pointed to Western sanctions being responsible instead, according to the Kremlin.

"Detailed explanations have been given of the real causes of these problems, which have emerged due to anti-Russian sanctions by the United States and the European Union, among other things,” the statement said.

With reporting by Reuters and AFP

Mirziyoev Says New Railway Linking Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, China Will Start Being Built Soon

Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev (file photo)

BISHKEK -- Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev says his country, Kyrgyzstan, and China plan to start construction of a new railway line connecting the three Asian nations.

Speaking at the online economic forum of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEC) on May 27, Mirziyoev said the project will "open new opportunities for transport corridors linking our region with markets in the Pacific Ocean area. The move will add to the widening of existing railway routes connecting East with West."

The EEC consists of Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Armenia. Its economic forum is being chaired by Kyrgyzstan this year.

Last week, Kyrgyz Prime Minister Akylbek Japarov said the China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan railway line will start being built this autumn, calling it "the largest project in Kyrgyzstan's history."

Chinese Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan Du Dewen said earlier that the railway project had been on the agenda of talks between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov when they met in Beijing in early February.

Moscow Court Extends Pretrial Detention Of Cybersecurity Company Chief Charged With Treason

Ilya Sachkov, Group-IB Founder and CEO, a member of cyber crime expert committees at the Russian State Duma, Foreign Ministry, the Council of Europe, and OSCE, Co-Chairman of the RAEC

A court in Moscow has extended the pretrial detention of the head of a leading Russian cybersecurity company who was arrested last September on charges of state treason.

An official for the Lefortovo district court told the state-controlled TASS news agency that it had ruled on May 27 that Ilya Sachkov's pretrial detention was being prolonged until at least July 28.

Sachkov is the founder of Group-IB, a company known for its work in tracking down hackers and fighting theft and cyberfraud.

Sachkov, 35, is one of a group of prominent people, including scientists and cybersecurity officials, to be arrested in Russia on treason charges in recent years. Moscow has faced numerous allegations of being behind cyberattacks on Western countries -- which it has consistently denied.

Investigators said Sachkov was suspected of passing classified information to a foreign country. No other details were given by officials.

Sachkov was arrested and charged after police searched his company's offices in Moscow on September 28. He denies any wrongdoing.

Group-IB, founded in 2003, has grown markedly in recent years as cybercrimes increase globally.

In addition to Moscow, the company has offices in Singapore, London, New York, and Dubai.

Based on reporting by TASS

Finland, Latvia To Host 2023 Ice Hockey Championships That Were Pulled From Russia

This year's Ice Hockey World Championship was originally meant to have been held in St. Petersburg. (file photo)

The International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) has chosen Finland and Latvia to jointly host the 2023 Ice Hockey World Championships after the tournament was pulled from St. Petersburg following Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

The IIHF said in a statement on May 27 that the Finnish city of Tampere will be the main venue for the tournament, with the Latvian capital, Riga, hosting one preliminary round group and two quarter-finals.

The tournament was taken away from St. Petersburg on April 26, when the IIHF said the "decision to relocate the event was taken primarily out of concern for the safety and well-being of all participating players, officials, media, and fans."

It had earlier stripped the 2023 IIHF World Junior Championship from the Russian cities of Omsk and Novosibirsk citing similar reasons.

Russia launched its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine on February 24.

Russian Court Rejects Belarusian Activist's Asylum Appeal Paving Way To Extradition

Belarusian activist Yana Pinchuk with her husband. (file photo)

A court in Russia has rejected an appeal filed by Belarusian activist Yana Pinchuk against Moscow's refusal to grant her political asylum, paving the way for her extradition home where she faces charges for protesting the disputed August 2020 election that kept authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka in power.

The Belarusian human rights group Vitsebskaya Vyasna said that, as a result of the May 26 decision by the Smolny district court in St. Petersburg, Pinchuk will very likely be extradited to Belarus with a hearing on the issue scheduled for June 1.

Police in St. Petersburg arrested Pinchuk on November 1 at the request of Belarus.

Pinchuk is wanted in Belarus on several charges, including inciting national hatred, calls for activities that damaged national security, and slander.

Belarusian authorities accuse Pinchuk of administering the Vitsebsk97% Telegram channel, which had been critical of Lukashenka's regime and has been labeled as extremist in Belarus.

Pinchuk rejects all the charges and says she immediately closed her Telegram channel after it was officially labeled as extremist.

In December, the Moscow-based Memorial Human Rights Center recognized Pinchuk as a political prisoner and demanded her immediate release.

Pinchuk is one of many Belarusians who have faced multiple charges linked to the mass protests against Lukashenka following the controversial presidential election.

Thousands have been arrested and much of the opposition leadership has been jailed or forced into exile. Several protesters have been killed and there have also been credible reports of torture during a widening security crackdown.

Belarusian authorities have also shut down several nongovernmental organizations and independent media outlets.

The United States, the European Union, and several other countries have refused to acknowledge Lukashenka as the winner of the vote and imposed several rounds of sanctions on him and his regime, citing election fraud and the crackdown.

Zelenskiy Says Talks With Putin Needed To Get 'Our Lives Back'

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has said that he must hold talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in order to safeguard Ukraine's sovereignty and existence.

The last known face-to-face talks between Russian and Ukrainian negotiators were held on March 29. Negotiations continued online for a while but both sides now say they have stopped.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

RFE/RL's Live Briefing gives you all of the major developments on Russia's invasion, how Kyiv is fighting back, the plight of civilians, and Western reaction. For all of RFE/RL's coverage of the war, click here.

In an address to an Indonesian think tank on May 27, Zelenskiy said Ukraine was not longing to talk to Putin, but that it has to face the reality that this will likely be necessary to end the war Moscow launched against it on February 24.

"There are things to discuss with the Russian leader. I'm not telling you that our people are eager to talk to him, but we have to face the reality of what we are living through," Zelenskiy said.

"What do we want from this meeting?... We want our lives back... We want to reclaim the life of a sovereign country within its own territory," he said, adding that Russia did not appear to be ready yet for serious peace talks.

Zelenskiy also accused Russia -- which is has said it would allow Ukraine to resume its grain exports by sea if the West lifts some sanctions imposed on it for starting the war -- of weaponizing the global food supply crisis.

In response, the Kremlin said on May 27 that it was unclear what Kyiv wanted.

"The Ukrainian leadership constantly makes contradictory statements. This does not allow us to fully understand what the Ukrainian side wants," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in a call with reporters.

With reporting by Reuters and TASS

Exiled Belarusian Opera Singer's Parents Fined, Were Asked By Police To Make Video Against Her

Marharyta Lyauchuk (left) and Andrey Pavuk recorded several joint singing sessions critical of Lukashenka and his government and posted them on YouTube.

A well-known Belarusian opera singer and political activist says her parents have been fined for "disobeying police orders" after their house was searched and they refused to record a video calling on their daughter to stop her political activities.

Marharyta Lyauchuk said her parents were detained on May 26 in the western region of Brest and then ordered to pay 2,240 rubles ($660) each for what the judge said was refusing to follow police orders. It was not clear which orders they refused to follow.

Lyauchuk earlier told RFE/RL that before detaining her parents, police searched their house in the village of Stradzech in the western Brest region.

According to Lyauchuk, her parents' neighbor, who was present when officers searched her parents' house, told her that her parents were handcuffed and taken away.

Last July, Belarusian authorities launched a criminal case against Lyauchuk, accusing her of "desecrating the national flag." The charge stemmed from a video on Lyauchuk's YouTube channel.

Police also searched the home of Volha Pavuk, the former wife of noted opposition blogger and singer Andrey Pavuk, on May 26.

Pavuk, his former wife, and their children left the country in the wake of anti-government protests questioning the official results of an August 2020 presidential poll that handed a sixth consecutive term in office to strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

He was charged in absentia with publicly insulting a prosecutor and disclosing the personal data of a prosecutor’s aide. He denies the charges.

Lyauchuk and Andrey Pavuk recorded several joint singing sessions critical of Lukashenka and his government and posted them on YouTube.

Both are on the Interior Ministry's list of wanted persons.

Russian Forces Advance Deeper Into Ukraine's Donbas

HRW Urges Tajik Government To Stop Repression Of Protesters

The rallies intensified after a protester was killed by police on May 16.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on Tajikistan's government to refrain from abusing participants in the protests that erupted earlier this month in the restive Gorno-Badakhshan autonomous region.

The protests were initially sparked by anger over the lack of an investigation into the 2021 death of an activist while in police custody and the refusal by regional authorities to consider the resignation of Governor Alisher Mirzonabot and Rizo Nazarzoda, the mayor of the regional capital, Khorugh.

The rallies intensified after a protester was killed by police on May 16, prompting the authorities to launch what they called a "counterterrorist operation" during which as many as 40 people were killed by the security forces, according to Fernand de Varennes, the UN special rapporteur on minority issues.

As government forces dispersed the protests, the authorities also cut Internet and mobile connectivity in the autonomous region.

"Tajik citizens in the autonomous region were peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly to protest abuses against their community when the police engaged in excessive force," HRW's Syinat Sultanalieva said in a statement on May 26.

"Tajik authorities should immediately stop harassing protesters, investigate the abuses against them, and restore communications in the region to allow citizens access to information," the statement said.

"The authorities should also immediately end abuses against protesters in the towns of Khorugh and Rushan, whom central Tajik authorities have labeled 'militants' and 'members of terrorist groups,'" the statement added.

Gorno-Badakhshan, a linguistically and ethnically distinct region whose residents identify themselves as "Pamiri," was home to rebels who opposed government forces during the Tajik civil war in the 1990s.

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

The escalating violence in the region has sparked a call for restraint from the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, the Western diplomatic missions in Tajikistan, and human rights groups.

In Rare Display Of Dissent, Lawmakers In Russia's Far East Urge Putin To Stop Ukraine War

Cars pass by destroyed Russian tanks in a recent battle against Ukrainians in the village of Dmytrivka, close to Kyiv.

In a rare display of political protest in Russia, a group of lawmakers representing the Communist Party in the Far Eastern region of Primorye have called on President Vladimir Putin to stop military operations in Ukraine and withdraw all troops from the country.

Leonid Vasyukevich, a member of the regional Legislative Assembly, read out the statement at a session held by lawmakers on May 27.

The statement said that as Russian troops are suffering significant losses in Ukraine, there is no way to get any success by military means.

"We understand that if our country does not stop the military operation, there will be more orphans in the country. During the military operation, young men are dying or becoming disabled, while they could be very useful for our country," the statement said.

Vasyukevich said that the statement was signed by him and his colleagues Gennady Shulga, Natalya Kochugova, and Aleksandr Sustov.

The region's governor, Oleg Kozhemyako, who was at the session, ordered Vasyukevich and Shulga, who vocally supported the statement, to be removed from the premises.

"The action defames the Russian Army and our defenders who are fighting against Nazism. You are a traitor," Kozhemyako said, addressing Vasyukevich.

The lawmakers then deprived Vasyukevich and Shulga of their right to take the floor at the session. The leader of the Communist lawmakers, Anatoly Dolgachyov, said the deputies' action will have "very severe repercussions."

Vasyukevich, Shulga, and Kochugova did not respond to an RFE/RL request for comment on the situation.

Sustov told RFE/RL that he had "my personal thoughts about the special military operation [in Ukraine,] but I did not sign the statement," contradicting Vasyukevich's statement.

The Interfax news agency reported that Kochugova said at the session that she did not sign the statement either.

Russia launched its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine on February 24 and has met with much stiffer-than-expected resistance from Ukrainian troops.

Ukrainian and Western officials say thousands of Russian soldiers have died during the war.

Moscow has said little on the death toll. In its last official statement, the Defense Ministry said on March 25 that 1,351 of its soldiers had been killed in the fighting.

With reporting by Interfax, Kommersant, and NewsBox.24

Russia Expels Five Croatian Diplomats Over 'Unfriendly Actions'

Protesters gather in front of the Russian Embassy in Zagreb to demonstrate against the invasion of Ukraine on February 24.

Russia says it is expelling five Croatian diplomats over "unfriendly actions" taken by Zagreb against Moscow, including the expulsion of 24 Russian diplomats from Croatia in April.

The Foreign Ministry said in a statement on May 27 that it had summoned Croatia's ambassador to Moscow to inform him of the move, taken "in connection with the groundless attempts of the Croatian authorities to blame Russia for war crimes in Ukraine and the provision of military assistance by the Croatian side to the neo-Nazi Kyiv regime."

The statement did not say how long the diplomats had to leave Russia.

Croatia expelled the Russian diplomats in April in response to Moscow's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

Moldovan Ex-President Dodon Placed Under House Arrest

Moldovan President Igor Dodon (left) meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin in Moscow in January 2019.

CHISINAU -- A Moldovan court has placed former President Igor Dodon under house arrest for 30 days to allow prosecutors to investigate allegations of corruption and treason.

The May 26 decision by the Ciocana district court in Chisinau came two days after Dodon's house was searched and he was placed under detention for 72 hours.

Dodon told journalists after the hearing that the case was politically motivated, a charge the government has rejected.

Dodon, who was openly backed by Moscow and was seen as a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was president from 2016 to 2020, when he lost to Maia Sandu, a pro-Western, U.S.-educated former World Bank official.

Dodon said he had no property other than that which he had officially declared, and told journalists that the judge was carrying out a "political order" from Sandu. Dodon's brother-in-law, Petru Merineanu, was also arrested for 30 days, but he will be kept in a detention facility.

The government has rejected the allegation of political interference in the case, which comes as relations between Russia and Moldova are increasingly strained.

"Prosecutors should be guided only by the rule of law, not to play political games and not to make decisions based on public pressure," Sandu said on May 27 at a meeting of the Supreme Security Council.

"Everyone must be held accountable for the illegalities committed but in strict accordance with the law. The gentleman in question in this case, if he thinks he is honest, has nothing to worry about," Sandu said in her first comments on the investigation.

Justice Minister Sergiu Litvinenco said earlier that the case would be carried out "in strict accordance with the law," while Foreign Minister Nicu Popescu told RFE/RL that Dodon's case was part of Moldova's fight against corruption and "unrelated to geopolitical events."

"The fight against corruption starts from the top, from combating corruption among the political class among the oligarchs," Popescu told RFE/RL.

Russia has repeatedly voiced "concern" about Dodon's rights being respected, with Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov saying that Russia was "naturally alarmed that such a practice and persecution once again affects those who advocate the development of friendly relations with Russia for mutual benefit."

Moldova, one of Europe's poorest countries, has a long border with Ukraine and has been hosting hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian refugees since the start of Moscow's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

Russia has some 1,500 troops in Moldova's Moscow-backed separatist region of Transdniester, a sliver of land sandwiched between Moldova proper and Ukraine.

In recent months, Transdniester separatists claimed that Kyiv had orchestrated what they claimed were shootings, explosions, and drone incursions, raising fears that Moldova could be drawn into the conflict in Ukraine.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, and dpa

Russians Close To Encircling Key Town, Zelenskiy Urges Talks With Putin

Firefighters put out a burning coffee kiosk -- a result of shelling in Kharkiv on May 26.

Russian forces have further intensified their shelling of the last Ukrainian strongholds in the eastern Luhansk region, making their biggest gains in weeks and closing in on capturing the key cities of Syeveyerodonetsk and Lysychansk.

In the face of Russia's all-out assault on the Donbas, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on May 27 that he must hold talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in order to safeguard Ukraine's sovereignty and existence.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

RFE/RL's Live Briefing gives you all of the major developments on Russia's invasion, how Kyiv is fighting back, the plight of civilians, and Western reaction. For all of RFE/RL's coverage of the war, click here.

Serhiy Hayday, the governor of the Luhansk region, said that Ukrainian forces were engaged in a "fierce defense" of Syevyerodonetsk, which is two-thirds surrounded by Russian forces.

"Very strong" shelling has destroyed 90 percent of the housing in the city, Hayday added, also citing information he received from the city's mayor, Oleksandr Stryuk.

Stryuk said earlier that at least 1,500 people have been killed in his city since the start of Russia's invasion in late February. About 12,000 to 13,000 remain in the city -- down from a pre-war population of about 100,000, he said.

Moscow-backed separatists on May 27 also claimed full control of the important battlefield town of Lyman, some 60 kilometers west of Syevyerodonetsk, but the Ukrainian Defense Ministry denied that the major railway hub had fallen, saying in a statement that its forces continue to counteract Russian attempts to overrun it.

Lyman has been a front-line target as Russian forces press down from the north, one of three directions from which they have been attacking Ukraine's industrial Donbas region.

In its daily intelligence bulletin, Britain's Ministry of Defense said that, while Russian ground forces continue to put pressure on the Syeyverodonetsk pocket with some success,Moscow appears to have moved 50-year-old T-62 tanks in recent days from deep storage into the theater of operations in the Donbas.

The report assessed that the move proves Russia's shortage of modern, combat-ready equipment. Furthermore, "the T-62s will almost certainly be particularly vulnerable to anti-tank weapons and their presence on the battlefield," British intelligence said.

Kharkiv Hit By Renewed Russian Shelling, Nine Dead
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Zelenskiy, in an address on May 27 to an Indonesian think tank, said talking to Putin will likely be necessary to end the war.

"What do we want from this meeting?... We want our lives back... We want to reclaim the life of a sovereign country within its own territory," he said, adding that Russia did not appear to be ready yet for serious peace talks.

In response, the Kremlin on May 27 accused Kyiv of a lack of clarity.

"The Ukrainian leadership constantly makes contradictory statements. This does not allow us to fully understand what the Ukrainian side wants," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in a call with reporters.

Zelenskiy also accused Russia -- which has said that it would allow Ukraine to resume its grain exports by sea if the West lifts some sanctions imposed on it for starting the war -- of weaponizing the global food supply crisis.

Zelenskiy has become increasingly critical of the West in recent days as the European Union moves slowly toward a possible Russian oil embargo while Ukraine's military situation becomes increasingly difficult in the east.

The embargo requires unanimity among the bloc's 27 members, but Hungary opposes the move, arguing that its economy would be gravely hit.

Zelenskiy blasted the lack of agreement within the EU. "How many more weeks will the European Union try to agree on a sixth package?" he asked.

In Geneva, the UN rights office (OHCHR) said in a statement on May 27 that more than 4,000 civilians have been killed in Ukraine since Russia's invasion began on February 24, although the true number is likely much higher.

In total, 4,031 people have been killed, including nearly 200 children, according to the OHCHR, which has dozens of monitors in the country. Most were killed by explosive weapons with a wide impact such as shelling from heavy artillery or air strikes.

Russia has denied targeting civilians in the conflict.

Also on May 27, the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) said that more than 6.6 million Ukrainian refugees have fled to neighboring countries, and 2.9 million have moved on to other European nations.

"According to the latest data we have available... 2.9 million refugees have moved beyond countries neighboring Ukraine," UNHCR spokeswoman Shabia Mantoo told a briefing in Geneva.

The UNHCR said the largest numbers of Ukrainian refugees in non-neighboring countries were in Germany, the Czech Republic, and Italy.

"They often arrive in a state of distress and anxiety, having left family members behind, without a clear plan for where to go, and with less economic resources and connections than those who fled earlier."

Before the February 24 invasion, Ukraine had a population of 37 million in the regions under Kyiv's control, excluding Russia-annexed Crimea and the pro-Russian separatist-controlled regions in the east.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, CNN, and BBC

Iranian Oil Seized From Formerly Russian-Flagged Tanker Stopped Off Greece

It was unclear whether the oil was confiscated because it was Iranian oil subject to U.S. sanctions or whether the action was due to the sanctions on the tanker, which recently changed its name from Pegas to Lana and which has been flying the Iranian flag since May 1.

The United States has confiscated Iranian oil held on a Russian-operated ship near the Greek island of Evia in the Aegean Sea, according to news reports quoting Greek sources.

Following a "judicial intervention by U.S. authorities concerning the ship's cargo," the process is currently under way for the oil "to be handed over" at U.S. government expense, an unidentified official quoted on May 26 by the AP news agency said.

The vessel was temporarily seized by Greek authorities on April 15 when it anchored off the port of Karystos on Evia. At the time, it was flying a Russian flag and was carrying a crew of 19 Russians.

The Greek Coast Guard said it was seized due to suspicions it had breached EU sanctions imposed against Russia due to the war in Ukraine.

It was unclear whether the oil was confiscated because it was Iranian oil subject to U.S. sanctions or whether the action was due to the sanctions on the tanker, which recently changed its name from Pegas to Lana and which has been flying the Iranian flag since May 1.

A source at Greece's Shipping Ministry quoted by Reuters said the U.S. Department of Justice had "informed Greece that the cargo on the vessel is Iranian oil."

"The cargo has been transferred to another ship that was hired by the U.S.," the source added without providing further details.

The United States on May 25 imposed sanctions on what it described as a Russian-backed oil-smuggling and money-laundering network for Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps' Quds Force.

With reporting by AP and Reuters

Armenian's First Satellite Reaches Orbit After SpaceX 'Rideshare' Launch

The satellite was the result of "cooperation" between the state-run Armenian company Geocosmos and Satlantis, a Spanish company that specializes in the production of small satellites and cameras for them.

Armenian's first satellite has reached Earth's orbit after launching aboard a SpaceX rocket, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian has announced.

Pashinian said the satellite, which was launched on May 25 from Cape Canaveral in the U.S. state of Florida, will have multiple uses.

"Photographs to be taken by the satellite will be used in Armenia for border control, emergency prevention and management, environmental protection, including climate-change monitoring, urban planning, road construction, geology, and other purposes," Pashinian told a weekly cabinet meeting in Yerevan on May 26.

SpaceX released photos of the launch of its Transporter-5 mission on Twitter.

The mission carried 59 payloads as part of what the company calls a small satellite "rideshare" program.

SpaceX has done three such missions so far this year and plans another in October, according to Spacenews.com.

Pashinian said the satellite launch was the result of "cooperation" between the state-run Armenian company Geocosmos and Satlantis, a Spanish company that specializes in the production of small satellites and cameras for them.

He did not reveal financial terms of the deal or provide a technical description of the satellite, but the Armenian government's press office released photographs of it.

Armenia first announced plans to launch a commercial satellite in 2012 after holding talks with Russia's Federal Space Agency.

A year later, a senior government official said Yerevan hoped to attract private investments in the project worth $250 million. The project never materialized.

Pashinian did not explain why his administration opted for a smaller-scale project and contracted Western rather than Russian companies to implement it.

With reporting by Spacenews.com

U.S. Sees China Posing Greater Challenge To World Order Than Russia

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has laid out the Biden administration’s China policy, which aims to lead the countries now jointly opposing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine into a broader coalition to counter what Washington sees as a more serious threat posed by Beijing.

In a speech in Washington on May 26, Blinken said that, while the U.S. sees Russia's war in Ukraine as the most immediate threat to international stability, the Biden administration believes China poses a greater danger.

“Even as President Putin’s war continues, we will remain focused on the most serious long-term challenge to the international order -- and that is the one posed by the People’s Republic of China,” Blinken said.

He made the case that the global response to Russian President Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine can serve as a template for dealing with China's efforts to shape a new and unpredictable world order.

China has benefited greatly from the existing international order based on rules and institutions that have guided relations since the end of World War II, but it is now trying to subvert it under the leadership of President Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party, Blinken said.

“China is the only country with both the intent to reshape the international order -- and, increasingly, the economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to do it," he said.

It is undermining rather than reinforcing and revitalizing the laws, agreements, principles, and institutions that enabled its success, according to the top U.S. diplomat.

Blinken laid out a three-pillar approach for the administration to marshal its resources and allies to push back on China's assertiveness around the world.

Investment in domestic U.S. infrastructure and technology along with a stepped-up diplomatic outreach to potentially vulnerable countries are among the key elements of the policy, Blinken said.

He made clear that the U.S. is not seeking to change China's political system, but will "shape the strategic environment around Beijing to advance our vision for an open and inclusive international system.”

There was no immediate reaction to the speech from the Chinese Embassy in Washington.

Blinken emphasized that China, the No. 2 world economy after the U.S., plays a crucial role in global economics and in solutions to problems such as climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic.

This means that the United States and China have no choice but to deal with each other, making it "one of the most complex and consequential relationships of any that we have in the world today."

The speech followed President Joe Biden’s visits to South Korea and Japan during which Biden raised eyebrows when he said that the United States would act militarily to help Taiwan defend itself in the event of an invasion by China.

Blinken restated that Washington has not changed its “One China” policy, which recognizes Beijing but allows for unofficial links with and arms sales to Taipei.

“We oppose any unilateral changes to the status quo from either side," he said, adding that “we do not support Taiwan independence.”

With reporting by AP

U.S. Envoy TO OSCE Condemns 'Barbarity' Of Russia's War In Ukraine

U.S. Ambassador to the OSCE Michael Carpenter (file photo)

The U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has condemned the "sheer barbarity, sadistic cruelty, and lawlessness" of Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Ambassador Michael Carpenter also warned in a speech to the OSCE Permanent Council in Vienna on May 26 against allowing Russia to achieve “success” in Ukraine.

If it did, he said there would be "more horrific reports from filtration camps, more forcibly displaced people, more summary executions, more torture, more rape, and more looting. There would be many more damaged or destroyed cultural objects, hospitals, schools, and apartment buildings. More death and destruction,” Carpenter said, according to a copy of his speech posted on the U.S. mission’s website.

Carpenter called on OSCE member countries to provide Ukraine with “the support it needs right now to defend itself against [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s revanchist delusions.”

The U.S. envoy scathingly criticized Russia for conducting a “scorched earth campaign” that he said was not only an attack on Ukraine, but also an attack on the principles of the UN Charter, the Helsinki Final Act, and the Geneva Conventions, and “on the most basic norms of human decency.”

Carpenter said that, while Russia will be able to object to his statement, many people who have suffered in Ukraine at the hands of Russian troops are not able to raise a “point of order” to protest as he anticipated Russian representatives at the council would do.

Citing several examples of violence against civilians, saying the “stark and ugly truth is that until Ukraine wins this war, Russia will never give up on using the most brutal methods to conquer Ukraine.”

With reporting by AP

Belarusian Police Detain Parents Of Opera Singer, Search Home Of Other Musician's Ex-Wife

Belarusian soprano Marharyta Lyauchuk and opposition blogger and songwriter Andrey Pavuk

Police in Belarus have detained the parents of well-known opera singer and opposition activist Marharyta Lyauchuk and searched the home of the former wife of noted opposition blogger and singer Andrey Pavuk.

Lyauchuk, who is currently in self-imposed exile in Lithuania, told RFE/RL that her parents were detained on May 26 in Stradzech, the village where they live in the western Brest region.

According to Lyauchuk, a neighbor who was present when officers searched her parents' house told her that they were handcuffed and taken away by law enforcement officers.

Pro-government Telegram channels said the pair were detained for "disobeying police." In July last year, Belarusian authorities launched a criminal case against Lyauchuk, accusing her of "desecrating the country's national flag." The charge stemmed from a video placed on Lyauchuk's YouTube channel.

Separately, the home of Pavuk's former wife was searched by police on May 26.

Volha Pavuk, who is also currently out of the country, told RFE/RL that her neighbors in the southeastern town of Aktsyabrski informed her about the search. Officers told the neighbors that it was conducted due to "a criminal case launched against Andrey Pavuk."

Pavuk, his former wife, and their children left the country in the wake of anti-government protests questioning the official results of an August 2020 presidential vote that handed a sixth consecutive term in office to strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

Pavuk was charged in absentia with publicly insulting a prosecutor and disclosing the personal data of a prosecutor’s aide. He denies the charges.

Lyauchuk and Andrey Pavuk have held several joint singing sessions that were critical of Lukashenka and his government and placed them on YouTube.

Both have been added to the Belarusian Interior Ministry’s registry of wanted persons.

Russia Reportedly Seizes More Than $20 Million From Alphabet's Google

(illustrative photo)

Russian bailiffs have reportedly seized more than 7.7 billion rubles ($123.2 million) from Alphabet's Google that it had been ordered to pay as part of a fine calculated on the basis of its turnover.

Russian news agencies said on May 26 that Google's name disappeared from the registry of debtors of the Russian Federal Bailiffs' Service (FSSP), concluding that it means the fine had been paid off.

Neither Google nor the FSSP have commented on the issue.

Google's Russian arm said last week that it planned to file for bankruptcy after authorities seized its bank account, making it impossible to pay staff and vendors. Free services such as the company's search engine and YouTube have continued operating.

The decision to fine Google was made by a Moscow court in December for what the court said was the repeated failure to delete content that Russia deems illegal.

The fine was then said to be calculated as a percentage of Google's annual earnings, the first revenue-based fine of its kind in Russia.

President Vladimir Putin has accused social media platforms and other tech giants of flouting the country's Internet laws and has initiated a push to force foreign firms to open offices in Russia and store Russians' personal data on its territory.

Many critics say the move is an attempt by Russian authorities to exert tighter control over the Internet and quell dissent.

Last month, a court in Moscow impounded property and froze bank accounts of Google's Russian arm as a guarantee against a possible court decision regarding a lawsuit filed against Google by a subsidiary of Gazprom-Media holding.

Based on reporting by TASS, Interfax, and Reuters

Trial Of Kazakhstan's Ex-Health Minister On Embezzlement Charges Starts

Former Kazakh Health Minister Elzhan Birtanov (file photo)

NUR-SULTAN – Former Kazakh Health Minister Elzhan Birtanov, who was removed from the post in 2020 amid a surge in coronavirus cases, has gone on trial on embezzlement charges.

The trial started on May 26 in the Saryarqa district court of Nur-Sultan. Birtanov and his co-defendant, former Deputy Health Minister Olzhas Abishev, pleaded not guilty.

The two are suspected of embezzling about 500 million tenges ($1.2 million) that had been allocated by the government for the digitization of the Health Ministry.

After he fired Birtanov in June 2020, President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev criticized him for what he called his failure to tackle the spread of the coronavirus in the country.

Toqaev also ordered the establishment of a special commission to investigate his activities as health minister, a post Birtanov had held since 2017.

Residents In Southern Iranian City Of Abadan Stage Protests Following Building Collapse

The protest came following the collapse of a building in Abadan that killed at least 19 people.

Hundreds of residents took to the streets of Abadan, the capital of the southwestern Iranian province of Khuzestan, late on May 25, chanting slogans against the Iranian authorities.

The protest came following the May 23 collapse of an unfinished building in Abadan that killed at least 19 people and injured nearly 40, according to official figures.


Rescuers are still searching for dozens of people who are believed to be trapped beneath the collapsed building.

An emergency official interviewed earlier this week on state television suggested that some 50 people may have been inside the building at the time of the collapse. However, it wasn't clear if that figure included those already pulled from the rubble.

Many in the city are angered by the incident, blaming city officials for the deadly accident.

An angry crowd at the site chased and beat Abadan Mayor Hossein Hamidpour immediately after the collapse, according to the semiofficial ILNA news agency and online videos.

Critics say the building work was poorly constructed due to efforts to save on costs.

Videos posted online on May 25 showed crowds mourning those killed while beating their chests.

Some chanted that the 1979 revolution was a mistake, while others said, “Death to incompetent authorities.”

The head of Khuzestan Province's judiciary has ordered a probe into the accident.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has offered his condolences and appealed to local authorities to investigate the case. Iran’s vice president in charge of economic affairs, Mohsen Rezaei, and Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi visited the site.

With reporting by AP and dpa

Russia Warns It Will Expel U.S. Journalists If YouTube Blocks Briefings

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova (file photo)

Russia's Foreign Ministry has warned it will expel a U.S. journalist or media outlet if the YouTube streaming platform blocks any more of its press briefings.

Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on May 26 at a roundtable discussion devoted to "the role of Internet platforms in Russia's standoff with the West" that several of her briefings had been blocked by YouTube.

"What we did [after the briefings were blocked] was this -- we simply came and said, 'If you block another briefing, one journalist or one American media outlet will go home.' That's it.... If another briefing is blocked, we will name a certain name or a certain media outlet that will go away home," Zakharova said.

She did not specify when or which of her briefings were blocked on YouTube.

It is the second warning to foreign journalists in as many days by Zakharova.

The day before, Zakharova told reporters that Moscow is preparing measures to use against "unfriendly actions" by English-language media toward Russian media. She did not specify what those actions were.

After Russia launched its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine on February 24, the European Union suspended the broadcasting activities of some Russian state-backed media, including RT, a leading Russian broadcaster abroad, over questions on the impartiality of its coverage of the war.

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