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Fighting Resumes On Armenian-Azerbaijani Border After Brief Lull

What's Behind The Deadly Clashes Between Armenia And Azerbaijan?
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WATCH: What's Behind The Deadly Clashes Between Armenia And Azerbaijan?

Fighting on the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan reportedly resumed early on July 16 after a brief de-escalation in fighting, with the two sides accusing each other of attacking their frontline positions and shelling villages.

The Armenian military claimed to have thwarted a predawn Azerbaijani raid on one of its border posts in the northeastern Tavush district.

“After a fierce gunbattle, the enemy was repelled, suffering casualties,” Defense Ministry spokeswoman Shushan Stepanian said, adding that Azerbaijani forces then began shelling two Armenian border villages with mortars and howitzers.

“Gunfire is continuing at the moment,” Stepanian wrote on Facebook in the morning. “Units of the Armenian Armed Forces are neutralizing Azerbaijani provocations.”

Stepanian also claimed in a Facebook post on July 16 that Armenian forces had destroyed an Azerbaijani tank and struck “artillery and mortar positions that were shelling our settlements and positions.”

She posted a short video of plumes of black smoke rising from behind a hill on what appeared to be the Azerbaijani side of the frontier:

Stepanian also said that Armenian Defense Minister Davit Tonoyan had phoned Andrzej Kasprzyk, the head of an OSCE mission monitoring the cease-fire in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone, to brief him on the latest escalation.

She said Tonoyan told Kasprzyk that the Azerbaijani side suffered “many casualties.”

The official added that no Armenian soldiers were killed at the volatile border section as of 9 a.m. local time.

Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian Service at around the same time, Tavush Governor Hayk Chobanian said that not only the local villages but also the town of Berd came under Azerbaijani artillery fire.

None of their residents was hurt as a result, he said, adding that the shelling caused damage to civilian homes and infrastructure.

A man shows artillery shell fragments in the village of Agdam in the Tovuz district near the Azerbaijani-Armenian border on July 15.
A man shows artillery shell fragments in the village of Agdam in the Tovuz district near the Azerbaijani-Armenian border on July 15.

“Residents are hiding in basements and shelters,” said Chobanian. “Their life is not at risk.”

“There is no need for evacuation.… I hope that [this situation] won’t last long,” added the governor.

Meanwhile, the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry accused Armenian forces of attacking its frontline troops and shelling Azerbaijani villages in the Tovuz district bordering Tavush. It gave no details.

Armenian soldiers take part in the funeral in Yerevan on July 16 of Mayor Garush Hambardzumian, who was killed during clashes in the Tavush region.
Armenian soldiers take part in the funeral in Yerevan on July 16 of Mayor Garush Hambardzumian, who was killed during clashes in the Tavush region.

The renewed fighting in the area broke out after a one-day pause that followed three days of deadly clashes between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces that left at least 15 soldiers dead and prompted serious concern from the international community.

Before the July 16 escalation, the U.S., Russian, and French mediators co-chairing the OSCE Minsk Group hailed the lull in the fighting and urged the parties to “make every effort to continue de-escalation.”

“The co-chairs welcomed the confirmation of the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan to hold substantive negotiations on crucial aspects of a Nagorno-Karabakh settlement as soon as possible and emphasized the importance of returning OSCE monitors to the region as soon as circumstances allow,” said the statement issued late on July 15.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Armenian and Azerbaijani services and AFP

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Armenian Border Residents Protest As Yerevan, Baku Agree On Delimitation

Some residents of Voskepar -- another Armenian village affected by the planned border demarcation -- claimed, meanwhile, that what was announced by the authorities on April 19 contradicted what Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian had said when he held a closed-door meeting with residents earlier in the week.
Some residents of Voskepar -- another Armenian village affected by the planned border demarcation -- claimed, meanwhile, that what was announced by the authorities on April 19 contradicted what Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian had said when he held a closed-door meeting with residents earlier in the week.

Residents of several Armenian communities in northeastern Tavush Province began protests late on April 19 after authorities in Armenia and Azerbaijan announced a border-delimitation deal under which Baku will regain control of four formerly Azeri-populated villages in the area, an agreement hailed by the United States and European Union.

Following the announced agreement, residents of the villages of Kirants and Baghanis blocked traffic at sections of the road linking their communities to the towns of Ijevan and Noyemberian, respectively.

Some residents of Voskepar -- another Armenian village affected by the planned border demarcation -- claimed, meanwhile, that what was announced by the authorities on April 19 contradicted what Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian had said when he held a closed-door meeting with residents earlier in the week. They said would gather in the village on April 20 to decide their next steps.

Following the eighth round of talks between Armenian Deputy Prime Minister Mher Grigorian and Azerbaijani counterpart Shahin Mustafayev -- held at an undisclosed section of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border on April 19 -- the parties announced a preliminary agreement on border delimitation.

The initial stage will affect land areas between four villages in the territory of Armenia's Tavush Province and four abandoned villages that used to be part of Azerbaijan's Qazax district during Soviet times.

Armenia agreed to return the four abandoned border villages that it has controlled since the early 1990s to Azerbaijan as the initial step in defining the frontier between the two South Caucasus nations.

The delimitation on those sections is to be completed by the middle of May, the parties agreed.

Residents of border villages in Tavush are particularly concerned that the demarcation of the border with Azerbaijan in accordance with the Soviet-era configuration will deprive them of access to their farmlands and complicate their communications with the rest of the country due to the fact that some parts of area roads will fall under Azerbaijani control.

They also voiced concerns that Armenia's withdrawal from current military positions will make local civilians more vulnerable to Azerbaijani armed attacks.

The Armenian prime minister's office on April 19 sought to address some of the residents' concerns.

"For the first time, there will be a demarcated state border between our countries [Armenia and Azerbaijan] in the section of the four villages," the office said, according to Armenia's state-run Armenpress news agency.

"Yes, as a result of this process, the border guard service of Azerbaijan will get closer to the villages of Kirants and Voskepar, but their villages and ours will be separated by a delimitated state border."

The office added that "border protection will be carried out by the border guards of the Republic of Armenia" and that further security details will be "discussed and detailed in the near future."

It stressed that the agreement was based on the 1991 Almaty Declaration -- "which is set as a fundamental principle of the border-delimitation process."

Pashinian on April 20 touted the arrangement, praising the fact that the two bitter rivals "have, for the first time, resolved an issue at a negotiating table."

The deal was hailed as another success of the government in Azerbaijan.

"Armenia has agreed to return four villages under occupation since the early 1990s," Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry spokesman Aykhan Hajizada wrote on social media, describing it as a "long-awaited historic event."

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington welcomed the announcement as "an important step toward concluding a durable and dignified peace agreement."

The agreement was also hailed by the European Union.

"Encouraging news today regarding the work of the Armenian and Azerbaijani border commissions and the start of a delimitation process based on legal documents and the 1991 Almaty Agreement," Toivo Klaar, the EU's Special Representative for the South Caucasus and the Crisis in Georgia, wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

"The EU fully supports the process of negotiations and the aim of a comprehensive and lasting settlement," he added.

Germany's Foreign Ministry said the agreement "removes a major hurdle on the way to a peace agreement. Germany remains ready to do everything in its power to support the path to lasting peace."

Bulgaria Seizes Heroin Worth Nearly $9 million In Truck Heading From Iran To Western Europe

Packages containing heroin seized during an operation are seen in Sofia in 2021. Bulgaria, which lies on a drug route from the Middle East to Western Europe, has taken steps in recent years to prevent drug trafficking.
Packages containing heroin seized during an operation are seen in Sofia in 2021. Bulgaria, which lies on a drug route from the Middle East to Western Europe, has taken steps in recent years to prevent drug trafficking.

Bulgarian customs officials say they seized 403 kilograms of heroin found in a truck with Turkish registration en route from Iran to Western Europe. The heroin was hidden inside the officially declared 156 mattresses transported in the truck. Officials valued the drug haul at 8.5 million euros (nearly $9 million). The drugs were thought to have originated in Iran and destined for EU nations, officials said. The Turkish driver was detained and could face up to 20 years in jail if convicted on drug trafficking charges. Bulgaria, which lies on a drug route from the Middle East to Western Europe, has taken steps in recent years to prevent drug trafficking.

Deadly Blast At Iraq Army Base Amid Israel-Iran Tensions

A general view shows the Kalso military base after it was hit by a huge explosion late on April 19, in Babylon Province, Iraq.
A general view shows the Kalso military base after it was hit by a huge explosion late on April 19, in Babylon Province, Iraq.

One person was killed and eight wounded in an overnight explosion at an Iraqi military base housing a coalition of pro-Iranian armed groups, officials said on April 20. The full details remain unclear hours after the blast hit the Kalsu military base in Babylon Province south of Baghdad, where regular army, police, and members of Iraq's Popular Mobilization Forces, or Hashed al-Shaabi, are stationed. It comes days after Iran launched an unprecedented assault on Israel, which reportedly responded with a drone strike on the Islamic republic on April 19, amid tensions fueled by the Gaza war.

Iran Downplays Impact Of Israel's Reported Retaliatory Air Attack

A screengrab from a video purportedly showing an Israeli aerial attack on Iran on April 19.
A screengrab from a video purportedly showing an Israeli aerial attack on Iran on April 19.

Tehran has downplayed the scope and impact of a reported Israeli attack on targets inside Iran that appeared to be in retaliation for an unprecedented air attack the Islamic republic launched last weekend on its sworn enemy amid signs that an escalation of the conflict has been avoided.

Explosions rang out early on April 19 -- the 85th birthday of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei -- near the central city of Isfahan with reports unclear over the cause, while several major U.S. media organizations quoted U.S. government sources as saying Israel had launched an attack on targets inside Iran.

Iranian state media quoted officials in Tehran as saying the explosions were caused by air-defense systems that shot down three drones.

Israel has not commented on the report.

Video Purportedly Shows Israeli Aerial Attack On Iran
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But Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian told U.S. outlet NBC News that Tehran is investigating the incident but has not seen any indication that the attack was related to Israel.

He warned that if Israel strikes again, Iran will respond immediately and "at maximum level."

"If Israel retaliates, then we will respond. But if not, then we're done," Amir-Abdollahian told NBC News in Persian late on April 19.

He added that there are no signs to prove that this action was the work of Israel.

"They [the drones] took off from inside Iran, they flew like a few hundred meters and then they were downed, they were struck by our air defense. It's not even proven that there is a connection between these and Israel," Amir-Abdollahian said through an Iranian official interpreter.

"Two or three, they're more like toys that our children play with, not drones. It was not worth telling us," he said when asked whether any other country had warned Tehran in advance about an expected attack.

Earlier, Hossein Deliriyan, the spokesman for Iran's National Center for Cyberspace, also dismissed the U.S. media reports saying in a post on X, formerly Twitter, that "there has been no air attack from outside the borders on Isfahan or other parts of the country."

Speaking at a mosque on April 19, President Ebrahim Raisi didn’t mention the attack near Isfahan and with the Israeli retaliation limited in size and scope, experts said it appeared it was aimed at deescalating soaring tensions while still sending a clear message to Tehran.

Tehran launched more than 300 drones and missiles at Israel in the early morning hours of April 14, almost all of which were shot down by Israeli defense systems, along with intercepts by forces from the United States, France, Britain, and Jordan.

The attack by Tehran had been widely anticipated in Israel following a suspected Israeli air strike on the Iranian Embassy compound in Damascus, Syria, on April 1 that killed two brigadier generals.

Since then, diplomats and politicians around the world, fearing another major escalation of fighting in the Middle East, had urged restraint as they awaited Israel's response.

U.S. President Joe Biden has not made any statement about the alleged Israeli attack.

However, according to Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani, Washington informed the Group of Seven nations (G7) that it had received word from Israel on the strikes at the "last minute," but “there was no sharing of the attack by the U.S. It was a mere information.”

“I’m not going to speak to that [the suspected Israeli attack] except to say that the United States has not been involved in any offensive operations,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said after a G7 ministerial meeting on the Italian island of Capri.

Iran's state news agency IRNA said air-defense systems fired from a large air base in Isfahan that is home to Iran's aging fleet of U.S.-made F-14 Tomcats acquired before the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Isfahan also houses facilities that are part of Iran's nuclear program, including its underground Natanz enrichment site.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said it had seen no damage to Iran's nuclear sites. Earlier this week, the sites were rumored to be a possible target if Israel launched a strike inside Iran.

One of Iran’s top nuclear facilities, the installation at Natanz, is located in central Isfahan. Such sites have seen several sabotage attacks that Tehran has blamed on Israel.

"IAEA can confirm that there is no damage to Iran’s nuclear sites," the UN nuclear watchdog said in a post on X, formerly Twitter.

"Director General Rafael Grossi continues to call for extreme restraint from everybody and reiterates that nuclear facilities should never be a target in military conflicts. IAEA is monitoring the situation very closely."

Israel and Iran have been bitter enemies for decades, but this was the first direct attack by one on the other's soil instead of through proxy forces or by targeting each other's assets operating in third countries.

Ukraine Shoots Down 2 Of 7 Russian Missiles As Russia Says It Downs 50 Ukrainian Drones

Ukrainian rescuers clear the rubble of a residential building partially destroyed as a result of a missile attack in Dnipro on April 19.
Ukrainian rescuers clear the rubble of a residential building partially destroyed as a result of a missile attack in Dnipro on April 19.

Russian troops launched seven missiles from Belgorod region and the Black Sea at targets in Ukraine on April 20, the Ukrainian Air Force reported.

Two Kinzhal guided air missiles were destroyed by the Ukraine's air-defense systems, the air force said, adding it had also shot down three Russian reconnaissance drones.

Russia in recent weeks has drastically increased the number of missile and drone attacks on Ukraine's energy infrastructure amid dwindling Ukrainian stocks of air-defense systems and ammunition, causing large numbers of civilian casualties and extensive damage.

Meanwhile, Russia's Defense Ministry said that its air-defense systems shot down 50 Ukrainian drones over eight Russian regions on April 20.

Over Belgorod region, 26 drones were downed, 10 were destroyed over Bryansk region, eight over Kursk region, two over Tula, and one each over Smolensk, Ryazan, Kaluga, and Moscow regions.

In a village in Belgorod, two people died in a fire ignited by falling debris, Belgorod Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov wrote on Telegram.

Ukraine has not commented and the claims could not be independently verified.

Updated

House To Vote On Crucial U.S. Aid Package For Ukraine, Israel

U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Mike Johnson
U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Mike Johnson

The U.S. House of Representatives is to vote on April 20 on a much-delayed $95.3 billion aid package for Ukraine, Israel, and other U.S. allies after Democrats and Republicans finally joined together behind the legislation following months of Republican opposition over continued U.S. support for Ukraine against Russia's invasion.

The $95.3 billion amount matches the total that the Senate passed in mid-February, but the House package contains a few differences compared to the Senate bill that are meant to placate some House conservatives.

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.

Ukraine is to get a desperately needed $60.84 billion if the package passes as expected.

Kyiv has been under mounting Russian pressure over the past several months both on the battlefield in the east, where Ukraine's dwindling stocks of artillery ammunition and mounting human losses have given a better-armed and more numerous Russian military an overwhelming advantage, and in Ukraine's cities, where an intense Russian missile and drone strikes campaign has taken a large toll in human lives and has caused huge damage to the country's already battered energy infrastructure after more than two years of war.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and his government have been pleading for months with Kyiv's Western allies to increase supplies of modern air-defense systems, weapons, and artillery ammunition as deliveries of military aid both from the United States -- by far Ukraine's main military donor -- and from European countries began to dry out.

The package expected to be passed by the House on April 20 is seen as a critical lifeline for Ukraine's survival in the face or Russia's aggression.

The aid for Ukraine includes $23.2 billion to replenish the stocks of U.S. weapons and military facilities and $11.3 billion for current U.S. military operations in the region, where the Pentagon has been training Ukrainian troops and keeps a presence across the continent, including eastern European allies.

Like the bill passed in the Senate, it includes $13.8 billion for the purchase of advanced weapons systems, but the one in the House also contains a provision about more than $9 billion in economic assistance to Ukraine in the form of "forgivable loans."

The White House would have the power to set the terms of the loan to Kyiv and also be given the authority to cancel it.

It also sets aside $26 million to "continue oversight and accountability" of aid provided to Ukraine.

The House would also vote on legislation to allow the United States to confiscate and transfer some $5 billion in Russian assets to a Ukraine Support Fund.

If approved, the package will go to the Senate, where rapid passage is nearly assured. President Joe Biden has pledged to sign it immediately.

The likely approval would bring the total amount that Washington has spent so far to aid Ukraine to $170 billion.

For Israel's support, the bill provides $26.38 billion, with more than $9 billion the humanitarian assistance for Gaza, where millions of Palestinians face starvation.

The humanitarian aid for Gaza, frowned upon by some Republican conservatives, eventually made into the bill as Republican Speaker Mike Johnson risked losing key Democratic support if the measure was scrapped.

The Indo-Pacific aid to counter China's influence in the region amounts to some $8 billion, with $2 billion in foreign military financing for Taiwan and other key allies.

The package also includes legislation that would give ByteDance, the Chinese owner of the video app TikTok, up to a year to sell its U.S. assets or face a ban in the United States.

With reporting by Reuters and AP

Srebrenica Genocide Must Be Condemned, Denial Banned, 2 Members Of Bosnian Presidency Tell UN

Denis Becirovic (left), Zlatko Lagumdzija (center), and Azir Osmanovic at a UN session in New York on April 19.
Denis Becirovic (left), Zlatko Lagumdzija (center), and Azir Osmanovic at a UN session in New York on April 19.

The 1995 genocide in Srebrenica must be globally condemned, support for victims must be expressed, and denial of genocide and glorification of war criminals be banned to prevent future similar tragedies, two members of the tripartite presidency of Bosnia-Herzegovina told a UN session on April 19.

Denis Becirovic and Zeljko Komsic of Bosnia's presidency made the remarks along with Azir Osmanovic, a survivor from Srebrenica, at the UN headquarters in New York.

A third member of the presidency, Zeljka Cvijanovic -- who represents the Serbian entity -- is banned from U.S. entry due to sanctions imposed for violating the Dayton Peace Agreement, which ended the war in Bosnia in 1995, and didn’t attend the session.

Germany and Rwanda initiated talks regarding a resolution on the Srebrenica genocide. Voice of America, citing unnamed sources, reported that the United States, Albania, Finland, New Zealand, Turkey, and other countries are also participating in the drafting of the text.

UN member nations are expected to vote on the final resolution, which is still being worked on, at a session of the UN General Assembly in early May.

In a draft seen by RFE/RL, the resolution calls for, among other things, the "condemnation without reservation" of any denial of the genocide in Srebrenica, as well as actions that glorify those convicted of war crimes, including those responsible for the genocide.

The resolution would declare July 11 as the International Day of Remembrance for the Genocide in Srebrenica.

In July 1995, more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were rounded up and killed by Bosnian Serb forces in Potocari near the eastern town of Srebrenica -- the worst mass killing in Europe since World War II.

The massacre has been deemed genocide by various verdicts of both the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Court of Justice (ICJ). The UN war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague established that the killings constituted genocide.

So far, more than 50 individuals have been sentenced to some 700 years in prison for their roles in the Srebrenica genocide.

A Doctor Hid Bones Of Srebrenica Victims In His Garden. He's Still Practicing.
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The move to draft a UN resolution has been opposed by Milorad Dodik, the Russia-friendly leader of Bosnia-Herzegovina's ethnic-Serb entity, Republika Srpska, who threatened that if the document is adopted, "Republika Srpska will withdraw from the decision-making process in Bosnia."

Dodik, who has been sanctioned by the United States and Britain over his efforts to undermine the Dayton Peace Accords, has regularly reiterated his denial of the Srebrenica genocide.

Dodik told supporters at a rally in Banja Luka on April 18 that the actions of the Republika Srpska army in Srebrenica in 1995 were "a mistake that left the crime," but he denied it was genocide.

The U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo condemned the remarks by Dodik and other Bosnian-Serb leaders, saying the comments were “reprehensible and irresponsible. “

“Genocide denial insults victims of all ethnicities and compounds the suffering of their families. It tears at the fabric of the society of Bosnia and Herzegovina, threatens [Bosnia’s] stability, and is illegal under [Bosnian] law.”

Separately on April 19, the Srebrenica Memorial Center demanded an urgent public statement from the Iranian Embassy after remarks made by Iran’s ambassador to Serbia, Rashid Hassan Pur Baei, regarding Srebrenica.

When asked on Belgrade TV what he thought about the proposed UN resolution, he said "that a crime was committed there, but that this fact is presented in an improper manner."

"It is absolutely reprehensible that they are using this event as a political instrument for their goals. There is a hidden agenda behind it. Serbia admits that a crime took place there, but the presentation of the Serbian people as a genocidal people is absolutely with political intentions and political goals," the ambassador reportedly said.

U.S. National Dies In Occupied Donetsk, Says Russian Journalist

Russian journalist Margarita Simonyan announced the news on Telegram.
Russian journalist Margarita Simonyan announced the news on Telegram.

Russell Bentley, a U.S. national, has died in the Russian-controlled city of Donetsk in Ukraine, Margarita Simonyan, the head of Russia's state media outlet RT, wrote on Telegram on April 19. Simonyan said Bentley had been "fighting there for our guys" and working with Russia's Sputnik news service. She did not say how he died. Bentley, born in 1960, a self-declared supporter of Russian-backed forces in Ukraine whom Russian state media had described as a war correspondent, reportedly went missing on April 8, police in the Russian-controlled Donetsk region said in a statement last week.

Imprisoned Mother Of Chechen Activists Loses Bid For Early Release For Health Reasons

Zarema Musayeva (file photo)
Zarema Musayeva (file photo)

Zarema Musayeva, the imprisoned mother of three self-exiled outspoken Chechen opposition activists, has lost a bid for early release because of her medical condition after health officials in Russia's North Caucasus region of Chechnya changed her diagnosis.

Musayeva's lawyer, Aleksamdr Savin, told the Team Against Torture human rights group on April 19 that a medical commission in Chechnya replaced Musayeva's previous diagnosis -- type 2 diabetes with multiple complications -- with a new one -- type 2 diabetes without complications.

"The new diagnosis excludes the possibility for Musayeva to get an early release on grounds of her state of health," Savin said.

Savin said last month that his client, who is serving a five-year term in a colony settlement -- a dormitory-like penitentiary located near an industrial facility where convicts work alongside regular employees -- was hospitalized in late March after her eyesight deteriorated sharply and swellings appeared on her body.

Human rights groups have said that Musayeva needs proper medical assistance as she has an acute form of diabetes, a cataract, and a constant pain in her knee.

Musayeva is the mother of Ibragim, Abubakar, and Baisangur Yangulbayev, all of whom have fled the country citing harassment from Chechen authorities over their online criticism of Kremlin-backed Chechen head Ramzan Kadyrov.

Chechen police and security officers detained Musayeva in January 2022 in her apartment in the Russian city of Nizhny Novgorod, some 1,800 kilometers from Chechnya, and forcibly returned her to the North Caucasus region's capital, Grozny.

In July, a court in Chechnya sentenced Musayeva to 5 1/2 years in prison on charges of fraud and attacking a police officer, which Musayeva and her supporters have denied.

In September, the Supreme Court of Chechnya shortened Musayeva's prison term by six months and said Musayeva must serve her term in a colony settlement instead of a penitentiary colony.

Kadyrov, other Chechen officials, and a member of the Russian Duma have publicly vowed to kill all members of the Yangulbayev family, calling them "terrorists."

Journalists, rights activists, and other Russians have urged the government to punish those who issued the threats.

Chechen Leaders Step Up Threats To Activist's Family As Kremlin Looks On
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Abubakar Yangulbayev has accused Kadyrov's law enforcement and security officers of "lawlessness on a daily basis in Chechnya" and said the case against his mother is Kadyrov's retaliation for his activities.

Ibragim and Abubakar have said they faced years of pressure from Chechen authorities over their online criticism of Kadyrov and the rights situation in Chechnya.

Many of their relatives have been similarly harassed in Chechnya and even deprived of their homes since Kadyrov and his people vowed to kill them and their families.

The activists' father, retired federal judge Saidi Yangulbayev, and a sister fled Russia in January 2022, following the threats.

Russian and international human rights groups have for years accused Kadyrov of overseeing grave human rights abuses, including abductions, torture, extrajudicial killings, and the persecution of the LGBT community.

Kremlin critics say Putin has turned a blind eye to the abuses because he relies on the former rebel commander to control separatist sentiment and violence in Chechnya.

Ukraine, Israel Aid Advances In Rare House Vote As Democrats Help Republicans

The vote produced a seldom-seen outcome in the typically hyper-partisan House, with Democrats helping Republican Speaker Mike Johnson’s plan advance. (file photo)
The vote produced a seldom-seen outcome in the typically hyper-partisan House, with Democrats helping Republican Speaker Mike Johnson’s plan advance. (file photo)

With rare bipartisan momentum, the U.S. House of Representatives pushed ahead on April 19 on a foreign aid package of $95 billion for Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan, and humanitarian support as a robust coalition of lawmakers helped it clear a procedural hurdle to reach final votes this weekend. The vote produced a seldom-seen outcome in the typically hyper-partisan House, with Democrats helping Republican Speaker Mike Johnson’s plan advance overwhelmingly by 316 votes to 94. Final House approval could come this weekend, when the package would be sent to the Senate.

Detained Former Karabakh Separatist Official Begins Hunger Strike, Says Family

Ruben Vardanian (file photo)
Ruben Vardanian (file photo)

Ruben Vardanian, a former Russian citizen of Armenian descent who served as prime minister in the de facto government of the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, has begun a hunger strike in a Baku prison, his family said on April 19. Vardanian, a billionaire banker who had renounced his Russian citizenship, was arrested and brought to Baku after a military operation by Azerbaijan retook Nagorno-Karabakh from ethnic-Armenian forces in September. He served as prime minister of the region from November 2022 to February 2023. He has demanded his release and that of other detained former Karabakh separatist leaders, his family said. Baku hasn't confirmed the hunger strike. To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani Service, click here.

Armenia Agrees To Return 4 Villages To Azerbaijan As First Step To Define Borders

The agreement was reached during the eighth round of talks between Armenian Deputy Prime Minister Mher Grigorian (left) and his Azerbaijani counterpart, Shahin Mustafayev. (file photo)
The agreement was reached during the eighth round of talks between Armenian Deputy Prime Minister Mher Grigorian (left) and his Azerbaijani counterpart, Shahin Mustafayev. (file photo)

Armenia has agreed to return four abandoned border villages that it has controlled since the early 1990s to Azerbaijan as the initial step in defining the frontier between the two bitter South Caucasus rivals, the countries said in identical statements on April 19.

Armenia’s Foreign Ministry said the agreement was reached during the eighth round of talks between Deputy Prime Minister Mher Grigorian and his Azerbaijani counterpart, Shahin Mustafayev, which was held at an undisclosed section of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border.

It said the parties reached preliminary agreement that the initial stage of the delimitation process will involve sections between four villages in the territory of Armenia’s northeastern Tavush Province and four abandoned villages that used to be part of Azerbaijan’s northwestern Qazax district.

"Armenia has agreed to return four villages under occupation since the early 1990s," Azerbaijan Foreign Ministry spokesman Aykhan Hajizade wrote on social media.

The abandoned former Azerbaijani villages face the Armenian villages and have been under Armenia’s military control since 1991-92, when ethnic clashes between the two former Soviet nations intensified. The proposed border will run between the Armenian and Azerbaijani villages.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Armenia and Azerbaijan have fought wars over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh -- with more than 30,000 people killed -- as they transitioned into independent countries.

Azerbaijan regained control of Nagorno-Karabakh in a lightning military offensive last year, but much of the border between the countries remains in dispute, with both sides occupying villages that formerly belonged to the other.

The statement says the paired villages are Baghanis (Armenia) and Baganis Ayrum (Azerbaijan), Voskepar (Armenia) and Asagi Askipara (Azerbaijan), Kirants (Armenia) and Xeyrimli (Azerbaijan), and Berkaber (Armenia) and Qizilhacili (Azerbaijan).

According to the statement, the process is aimed at “bringing them in line with the legally established inter-republican border that existed within the framework of the Soviet Union at the time of its disintegration.”

"It was agreed...to continue the process of delimitation of all other sections of the border, including on the issues of enclaves and exclaves."

The agreement comes two days after Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian visited three border villages in Tavush to meet with residents and discuss upcoming arrangements, which he said were vital to ensuring Armenia’s sovereignty and independence.

Residents of border villages have expressed concerns that the demarcation of the border with Azerbaijan in accordance with the Soviet-era configuration would deprive them of access to their farmlands and complicate their communication with the rest of the country due to the fact that some sections of the only road they have would fall under Azerbaijani control.

Pashinian pledged his government’s efforts to address the difficulties that local residents might face in connection with the planned border demarcation, including building new sections of the road stretching along the border.

Talking to residents in Berkaber on April 17, Pashinian said that he was putting his political career in the balance so that “Armenia can become a truly independent state.”

Armenian opposition groups have strongly criticized Pashinian for agreeing to discuss the transfer of four formerly Azeri villages to Baku without immediately getting Azerbaijan to withdraw from parts of sovereign Armenian territory that Baku's military captured during a series of border incursions in 2021-22.

Word of the latest agreement comes shortly after the Group of Seven (G7) nations called on Armenia and Azerbaijan to remain “fully committed” to the peace process as the group’s foreign ministers issued a communique after their meeting in Capri, Italy, on April 19.

In the lengthy statement on various challenges around the world, the top diplomats of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Britain, the United States, as well as the European Union’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, also called on Azerbaijan “to fully comply with its obligations under international humanitarian law.”

“We urge Armenia and Azerbaijan to remain fully committed to the peace process to achieve a dignified and durable peace based on the principles of non-use of force, respect for sovereignty, the inviolability of borders, and territorial integrity,” the part of the communique concerning the South Caucasus reads.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service

'Security Measures' Taken For Kazakh Judge In Murder Trial Of Ex-Minister Amid Threats

Former Kazakh Economy Minister Quandyq Bishimbaev in court last month
Former Kazakh Economy Minister Quandyq Bishimbaev in court last month

Kazakhstan's Supreme Court said on April 19 that Judge Aizhan Qulbaeva -- who is presiding over the high-profile trial of former Kazakh Economy Minister Quandyq Bishimbaev -- has been provided with "measures of personal security" after she received multiple unspecified threats by phone from persons unknown. The court added that a probe has been launched regarding an "obstruction of justice." Bishimbaev, who is accused of viciously beating his wife, Saltanat Nukenova, to death in a restaurant in Astana in November, faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

Russian Military Court To Try Theater Director Berkovich, Playwright Petriichuk

Russian playwright Svetlana Petriichuk (left) and director Yevgenia Berkovich appear at a Moscow court hearing last year.
Russian playwright Svetlana Petriichuk (left) and director Yevgenia Berkovich appear at a Moscow court hearing last year.

Moscow theater director Yevgenia Berkovich and playwright Svetlana Petriichuk will face trial in a Russian military court after prosecutors affirmed charges of justifying terrorism, lawyer Sergei Badamshin said on April 19. The two women were arrested in May 2023 following the production of the play Finist The Brave Falcon. The play is about Russian women who married Muslim men and moved to Syria. Berkovich and Petriichuk maintain their innocence. If convicted, they face up to five years in prison. Military courts handle cases related to terrorism charges in Russia. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Belarusian Gets Prison Term For Sending $32 To Banned Groups

A court in Belarus has sentenced a man to 3 1/2 years in prison for sending the equivalent of $32 to three Belarusian groups -- Honest People, the Belarusian Culture Council, and ByHelp -- which were labeled extremist and banned by authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka's regime. Fyodar Shvedau, 48, was found guilty of "financing extremist groups." Shvedau pleaded partially guilty. He was held handcuffed in a glass cage during the court proceedings, which human rights groups have called a common practice under Lukashenka's regime to additionally humiliate people on trial. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Belarus Service, click here.

G7 Urges Armenia, Azerbaijan To Stay 'Fully Committed' To Peace Process

Foreign ministers from the Group of Seven leading industrialized nations meet on the island of Capri, Italy, on April 18.
Foreign ministers from the Group of Seven leading industrialized nations meet on the island of Capri, Italy, on April 18.

The Group of Seven (G7) nations have called on Armenia and Azerbaijan to remain “fully committed” to the peace process as the group’s foreign ministers issued a communique after their meeting in Capri, Italy, on April 19.

In the lengthy statement on various challenges around the world, the top diplomats of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Britain, and the United States, as well as the European Union’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, also called on Azerbaijan “to fully comply with its obligations under international humanitarian law.”

“We urge Armenia and Azerbaijan to remain fully committed to the peace process to achieve a dignified and durable peace based on the principles of non-use of force, respect for sovereignty, the inviolability of borders, and territorial integrity,” the part of the communique concerning the South Caucasus reads.

Recalling the joint statement issued by Armenia and Azerbaijan on December 7, 2023, which also included a prisoner exchange deal, the G7 foreign ministers encouraged the sides “to uphold that spirit of cooperation in their future interactions,” stressing that “further escalation would be unacceptable.”

They also called on Azerbaijan to “fully comply with its obligations under international humanitarian law” and encouraged “appropriate steps to ensure the safe, dignified, and sustainable return of refugees and displaced persons wishing to come back to their homes.”

According to the statement, the G7 and its members are “ready to facilitate further constructive contacts at all levels, notably within the established negotiating frameworks provided by the EU and the USA, whose enduring efforts we commend.”

“We reiterate the importance of the commitment to the Alma Ata 1991 Declaration through which Armenia and Azerbaijan recognize each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. We encourage greater regional cooperation and the re-opening of all borders, including the border between Armenia and [Turkey],” it said.

Locals Fear Being Cut Off Amid Armenian-Azerbaijani Peace Talks
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Last November, the top diplomats from the G7 nations expressed “grave concern” regarding the humanitarian consequences of the displacement of Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh after the military operation conducted by Azerbaijan,” and called on Baku to “fully comply with its obligations.”

Russia confirmed on April 17 that its peacekeepers are leaving Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan's once-breakaway region. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists that Azerbaijani media reports saying that Russian troops had started leaving the region were true.

Armenia has criticized Russian peacekeepers deployed to the once mostly ethnic Armenian-populated Nagorno-Karabakh for failing to stop Azerbaijan’s lightning offensive in September 2023, which ended with Baku regaining control over the region that for three decades had been under ethnic Armenians’ control.

With reporting by RFE/RL’s Azerbaijan Service

EU's Von Der Leyen Visits Finland-Russia Border To Assess Security Situation

The president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen (left), and Finnish Prime Minister Petteri Orpo attend a press briefing in eastern Finland on April 19.
The president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen (left), and Finnish Prime Minister Petteri Orpo attend a press briefing in eastern Finland on April 19.

The head of the European Union's executive branch said Finland's decision to close its border with Russia over a surge in migrants is a security matter for the whole 27-member bloc. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen made the remarks on April 19 during a trip to the frontier, visiting a part of the border in southeastern Finland. “We all know how [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and his allies instrumentalize migrants to test our defenses and to try to destabilize us,” von der Leyen told officials. “Now Putin is focusing on Finland, and this is no doubt in response to your firm support of Ukraine and your accession to NATO.”

Updated

Floods Expand In Southern Russia, Northern Kazakhstan As Rivers Keep Rising

In this grab taken from a video released by the Russian Emergency Ministry Press Service on April 18, Russian Emergency Ministry employees evacuate a woman from a flooded area in Russia's Orenburg region.
In this grab taken from a video released by the Russian Emergency Ministry Press Service on April 18, Russian Emergency Ministry employees evacuate a woman from a flooded area in Russia's Orenburg region.

Swollen rivers in the border region between southern Russia and northern Kazakhstan keep rising, with water levels reaching record highs as floods caused by abrupt warm weather that led to an enormous snowmelt continue to wreak havoc and force thousands to leave their homes.

The level of the Ishim River near the city of Ishim in Russia's Tyumen region rose by more than 2 meters over the past 24 hours, reaching 9.11 meters early on April 20, well over the danger mark of 8,5 meters, the city administration reported.

The governor of the Tyumen region, Aleksandr Moor, said the current floods are the most massive since 1947.

Mass Evacuations Ordered In Southern Russia, Northern Kazakhstan As Floods Surge
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The region has been under a state of emergency since April 8 and authorities ordered an urgent evacuation of residents of the Kazan and Ishim regions already last week, when Moor announced that 51 settlements, including the city of Ishim, would fall into the flood zone.

Moor also promised evacuated residents 50,000 rubles ($531) per person as aid for immediate needs, and several dozen temporary accommodation centers have been opened in the region.

The administration also ordered the evacuation of farm animals to safe zones listed on a special website.

In Kazakhstan, the level of the Ural River, known locally as Oral, rose by 34 centimeters, reaching 8.28 meters within the administrative region of West Kazakhstan. An 8.5-meter level is considered critical.

Houses located on the banks of the Chagan, a tributary of the Ural, that were first flooded first at the beginning of the month, are now being flooded again, with houses in the settlement of Samal being already under water.

Local resident Alla Ivanova told RFE/RL that by the morning of April 20, water had entered the houses in settlement and continued to rise.

Upstream on the Ural, in the regional capital city of Oral, deputy mayor Zhandos Duisengaliev said the day before that the city does not have enough sand and dirt to reinforce the river banks.

Duisengaliev told RFE/RL the authorities have limited options, being able to provide residents with equipment and empty sacks, while the residents must buy sand and dirt and build dams themselves.

Kazakh authorities say the peak of the flood is expected on April 22–24 in Oral and on April 20–21 in other regions.

Officials have said that well over 100,000 people have been forced from their homes across the country because of heavy flooding.

Russian Journalist's Home Searched Over Case Against Colleague In Exile

Andrei Zakharov left Russia in 2021.
Andrei Zakharov left Russia in 2021.

Police in St. Petersburg on April 18 searched the home of journalist Ksenia Klochkova as part of an investigation of her former colleague, Andrei Zakharov. Klochkova was told that she is a witness in the case against Zakharov, who is accused of failing to comply with the requirements of a "foreign agent," a status he received in 2021, after which he fled Russia. Zakharov worked with Klochkova at the Fontanka online newspaper until 2016, before he moved to Moscow. Russia has used the controversial law on "foreign agents" to muzzle free media and dissent for years. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Bulgarian President Blocks Replacement Of Caretaker Minister

Bulgarian President Rumen Radev (file photo)
Bulgarian President Rumen Radev (file photo)

Bulgarian President Rumen Radev, who has been criticized by the oppposition as taking a pro-Russian stance, has refused to endorse the replacement of current caretaker Foreign Minister Stefan Dimitrov with Daniel Mitov from the pro-Western GERB center-right party, raising concerns about Bulgaria's support for Ukraine. The caretaker government took office on April 9 after the dissolution of the previous pro-Western cabinet of Nikolay Denkov. Caretaker Prime Minister Dimitar Glavchev had requested Dimitrov's replacement following concerns about his stance on Ukraine. In contrast, Mitov is known for his consistently pro-Western and pro-Ukrainian positions. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Bulgarian Service, click here.

Hungary's Government To Discuss Potential Fuel-Price Intervention

(file photo)
(file photo)

Hungary's government will discuss fuel prices at its upcoming government meeting on April 24, the economy minister told a press conference on April 19. The minister said reintroducing fuel price caps is "not ruled out," putting further pressure on suppliers to cut fuel prices closer to the Central European average as part of a wider government price-setting intervention after the worst inflationary surge in the European Union.

Russian Suspect In Assassination Attempt On Ex-Ukrainian Security Officer Arrested

Russian authorities said the assassination attempt was organized by the SBU. (file photo)
Russian authorities said the assassination attempt was organized by the SBU. (file photo)

A court in Moscow on April 18 sent to pretrial detention a Russian man suspected of being involved in the attempted murder of a former officer of Ukraine's Security Service (SBU), according to local media reports. Vladimir Golovchenko is the second suspect arrested in the case. Former SBU officer Vasily (Vasyl) Prozorov, who in 2019 defected to Moscow and publicly stated that he had collaborated with the Russian secret services, survived the car bombing in Moscow last week. Russian authorities said the assassination attempt was organized by the SBU. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Poland Detains 2 Suspects In Attack On Navalny Associate In Lithuania

Leonid Volkov (file photo)
Leonid Volkov (file photo)

Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda said on April 19 that Polish authorities had detained two men suspected of attacking Leonid Volkov, an associate of late Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny who left Russia in 2019 fearing for his personal security. Nauseda added that the suspects will be extradited to Lithuania following due process. Volkov was attacked in March with a meat hammer by an unidentified assailant in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, leaving him bloodied with a broken arm and other injuries. The attack occurred less than one month after Navalny died in a Russian Arctic prison. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Updated

Apparent Israeli Air Attack Strikes Near Iranian City Of Isfahan

Video Purportedly Shows Israeli Aerial Attack On Iran
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Israel's military reportedly struck targets inside Iran in retaliation for an unprecedented air attack Tehran launched last weekend on its sworn enemy, but the limited scope of the operation and a muted Iranian response appeared to indicate an escalation of the conflict had been avoided.

Explosions were heard early on April 19 -- the 85th birthday of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei -- near the central city of Isfahan, with reports unclear over the cause.

Several major U.S. media organizations, all citing U.S. government sources, said Israel launched a missile or drones to strike targets inside Iran.

Video posted on social media and broadcast around the world showed several large explosions that were reportedly near Isfahan.

Iranian state media quoted officials in Tehran as saying the explosions were caused by air defenses that shot down three drones in the area of Isfahan.

Hossein Deliriyan, the spokesman for Iran's National Center for Cyberspace, refuted the U.S. media reports, saying in a post on X, formerly Twitter, that "there has been no air attack from outside the borders on Isfahan or other parts of the country."

Speaking at a mosque on April 19, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi didn’t mention the attack near Isfahan and with the Israeli retaliation limited in size and scope, experts said it appeared it was aimed at deescalating soaring tensions while still sending a clear message to Tehran.

Reuters quoted an unnamed Iranian official as saying that Tehran “has no plan to strike back immediately.”

Tehran launched more than 300 drones and missiles at Israel in the early morning hours of April 14, almost all of which were shot down by Israeli defense systems, along with intercepts by forces from the United States, France, Britain, and Jordan.

The attack by Tehran had been widely anticipated in Israel following a suspected Israeli air strike on the Iranian Embassy compound in Damascus, Syria, on April 1 that killed two brigadier generals.

Since then, diplomats and politicians around the world, fearing another major escalation of fighting in the Middle East, had urged restraint as they awaited Israel's response.

According to Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani, Washington informed the Group of Seven (G7) leading industrialized nations that it had received word from Israel on the strikes at the "last minute," but “there was no sharing of the attack by the U.S. It was a mere information.”

“I’m not going to speak to that [the suspected Israeli attack] except to say that the United States has not been involved in any offensive operations,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said after a G7 ministerial meeting on the Italian island of Capri.

Iran's state news agency IRNA said air defenses fired from a large air base in Isfahan that is home to Iran's aging fleet of U.S.-made F-14 Tomcats acquired before the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Isfahan also houses facilities that are part of Iran's nuclear program, including its underground Natanz enrichment site.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said it had seen no damage to Iran's nuclear sites. Earlier this week, the sites were rumored to be a possible target if Israel launched a strike inside Iran.

One of Iran's top nuclear facilities, the installation at Natanz, is located in central Isfahan. Such sites have seen several sabotage attacks that Tehran has blamed on Israel.

"IAEA can confirm that there is no damage to Iran's nuclear sites," the UN nuclear watchdog said in a post on X, formerly Twitter.

"Director-General Rafael Grossi continues to call for extreme restraint from everybody and reiterates that nuclear facilities should never be a target in military conflicts. IAEA is monitoring the situation very closely."

Israeli strikes targeting a Syrian Army position in the country's south were also reported on April 19.

According to AFP, Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said the strikes, which he attributed to Israel, "targeted a radar installation of the Syrian Army" between the provinces of Sweida and Daraa provinces.

Raisi had warned earlier this week that Tehran would deliver a "severe response" to any attack on its territory and the limited scope of the reported Israeli attack appeared to heed U.S. President Joe Biden's comment to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Israel should show restraint with any response and instead "take the win" since the Iranian attack didn't have a great impact.

"It is absolutely necessary that the region stays stable and that all sides refrain from further action," European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said during a visit to Finland on April 19.

Inside Israel, some hawkish lawmakers appeared to acknowledge the strike while criticizing it.

"Feeble," wrote hard-right Security Minister Itamar Ben-Givir in a post on X, formerly Twitter.

Israel and Iran have been bitter enemies for decades but Iran's was the first direct attack by one on the other's soil instead of through proxy forces or by targeting each other's assets operating in third countries.

With reporting by CNN, ABC, CBS, and IRNA

Japanese Group Escapes Suicide Bombing Attempt In Pakistan

Five Japanese nationals escaped unhurt from a suicide attack in Pakistan's largest city, Karachi, early on April 19. Police official Azfar Mahesar told a news conference the five Japanese were on their way to Karachi's Landi Economic Zone, when a suicide bomber attempted to blow himself up neat them. Mahesar said the suicide attacker and another armed accomplice were shot dead by the Japanese nationals' security detail. Three security guards were wounded in the exchange of gunfire. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack.

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