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Iraqi Security Forces End Hostage Crisis, Casualties Reported

Iraqi security forces have stormed a local government compound in western Anbar Province to rescue hostages taken by a group of armed assailants.

Several people were reported killed, but it was not immediately clear whether they were killed during the initial attack or the storming of the government building.

Security forces stormed the building -- which also houses a police station -- in the town of Al-Baghdadi after a two-hour siege.

According to some reports, all of the attackers -- said to be six or seven -- were killed by security forces.

The attack was preceded by at least two explosions, possibly set off by suicide bombers.

It was unclear how many people had been taken hostage and whether any of the hostages had been killed.

The predominantly Sunni province of Anbar was a key insurgent base in the years after the U.S.-led invasion of 2003, but since 2006 local tribes have sided with the U.S. military and day-to-day violence has subsided.

compiled from agency reports

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Blast At Czech Military Grounds Kills 1, Injures 8

The Soviet-era military base in the Czech town of Libava has been used by the for military testing since 1949.
The Soviet-era military base in the Czech town of Libava has been used by the for military testing since 1949.

A munitions blast at a military testing ground in the Czech town of Libava has killed one soldier and injured eight, seven of whom were soldiers, the Defense Ministry said. The ministry gave no details on what caused the June 17 explosion, which occurred at a site used by the army for testing since 1949. "The families of the injured and the deceased soldier have been notified," the ministry added.

Kremlin Says Putin To Visit North Korea

Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) and North Korea's Kim Jong Un in Russia's Amur region in September 2023.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) and North Korea's Kim Jong Un in Russia's Amur region in September 2023.

Russian President Vladimir Putin will embark on a two-day visit to North Korea starting June 18, the Kremlin announced. Putin is expected to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for talks focused on expanding military cooperation. U.S. and South Korean officials have accused Pyongyang of providing Russia with artillery, missiles, and other military equipment to help Moscow in its invasion of Ukraine, possibly in return for key military technologies and aid. Both Pyongyang and Moscow have denied accusations about North Korean weapons transfers, which would be in violation of UN Security Council resolutions.

U.S. Soldier Gordon Black Pleads Not Guilty To Attacking Russian Girlfriend

Gordon Black is escorted into a Russian courtroom on June 6.
Gordon Black is escorted into a Russian courtroom on June 6.

U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Gordon Black, who was arrested in Russia's Far East city of Vladivostok last month, rejected a charge of attacking his Russian girlfriend and threatening to kill her, as his trial resumed.

Black testified at the trial on June 17 that Aleksandra Vashchuk drank a large amount of vodka on the day of the incident in question and started behaving aggressively towards him, verbally insulting him and also physically attacking with punches to the ear and eye. She also threw a plate at him, he said.

According to Black, when he started to pack his belongings to leave the apartment, Vashchuk tried to block his exit and they scuffled.

Black accepted that he hit Vashchuk once and pushed her twice after which Vashchuk crashed into a wall.

Black partially accepted guilt on a charge that he had taken cash from Vashchuk, adding that he had no bad intention about it as he returned the sum to her the next day.

Black also said that, before arriving in Vladivostok from South Korea, he sent about 300,000 rubles ($3,350) to Vashchuk. After arriving in Russia, he transferred another $525 to her via an acquaintance.

Vashchuk confirmed that Black had contributed to a major part of the rent for the apartment in Vladivostok where they had lived together for a month. She reiterated her previous statement, saying that Black had aggressive episodes several times during their partnership.

At the trial's first session on June 6, Vashchuk asked the court not to imprison Black, saying he needs "psychiatric help."

U.S. authorities have said Black traveled to Russia via China from South Korea -- where he had been assigned before heading back home to Texas -- without informing his superiors.

Weeks later, Russian authorities also said that another U.S. citizen, identified as William Russell Nycum, had been detained on "petty hooliganism" and alcohol charges in a separate case, adding that Nycum was being held in a detention center in Moscow.

The two arrests have again raised questions over whether Russian authorities are targeting Americans by detaining them with an eye on using them in potential prisoner swaps amid sharp disagreements between Moscow and Washington over the war in Ukraine and other international security issues.

Among those U.S. citizens being held are journalists Alsu Kurmasheva of RFE/RL and Evan Gershkovich of The Wall Street Journal. Both have been detained on charges they, their employers, and their supporters reject as politically motivated.

American Paul Whelan was convicted in 2020 and sentenced to 16 years in Russian prison on espionage charges that he and the U.S. government have repeatedly rejected.

Russia's Foreign Ministry has said the cases involving Black and Nycum are not political and neither is accused of espionage.

The State Department in September 2023 issued a "do not travel" warning to U.S. citizens and cited "the singling out of U.S. citizens for detention by Russian government security officials."

With reporting by Vladivostok1.ru

Ukraine's Top Military Chief Says Russia Is Upping Attacks Ahead Of More Western Military Aid

Ukrainian Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskiy (file photo)
Ukrainian Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskiy (file photo)

Russia's military is intensifying its attacks in Ukraine, trying to gain more territory before the Ukrainian military receives more promised Western military aid, including F-16 jets, Ukraine’s top military commander said on June 17.

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.

"The enemy is well aware that as a result of the gradual receipt of a significant amount of weapons and military equipment from our partners, and the arrival of the first F-16s, which will strengthen our air defense, time will play in our favor and its chances of success will decrease," Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskiy said in a post on Telegram.

"Therefore, the command of Russia's troops is currently making every effort to increase the intensity and expand the geography of hostilities in order to maximize the depletion of our troops, disrupt the training of reserves and prevent the transition to active offensive actions," Syrskiy added.

Syrskiy said Russian forces were focusing on the Pokrovsk front, in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donetsk.

Moscow's forces there are closing in on a key transit artery and supply route linking civilian hubs in the north of the industrial territory to towns further south, according to Syrskiy.

His assessment come after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the current level of Western military aid was not enough to guarantee Ukraine’s victory over invading Russian forces.

"There is aid. There are serious packages. Is it enough to win? No. Is it late? Yes," Zelenskiy said on June 16 on the sidelines of an international peace summit in Switzerland.

Like other Ukrainian officials, Zelenskiy has repeatedly called on Ukraine’s Western allies to expedite weapons deliveries, particularly promised fighter jets and air defense systems.

At the two-day gathering at a Swiss resort over the weekend, 80 countries called for the "territorial integrity" of Ukraine to be the foundation of any peace agreement to end Russia's war.

Russia's absence at the Ukrainian-initiated Global Peace Summit has tamped down hopes of any breakthrough, as has China's decision to stay away.

Participants India, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates were among those that did not sign the final document, which focused on issues of nuclear safety, food security, and the exchange of prisoners.

On June 17, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the summit produced “zero” results.

He added that Russian President Vladimir Putin was "still open to dialogue and serious discussion."

On the eve of the summit, Putin issued terms for a cease-fire, including that Ukraine hand over control of four regions in areas not only occupied by Russian invading forces, but Ukrainian-controlled parts of those regions as well.

The proposal was rejected immediately by Kyiv and its Western backers.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg has slammed the conditions as a path to "more aggression, more occupation."

Azerbaijani Activist Held In Custody For 2 Days On Unknown Charges

Nicat Amiraslanov (file photo)
Nicat Amiraslanov (file photo)

The NIDA civic movement in Azerbaijan said one of its members, Nicat Amiraslanov, was released from custody on June 17 after spending two days in a police station in Baku on unspecified charges. Amiraslanov said he "cannot give any details about the case at the moment." Some 20 civil rights activists and journalists, including employees of the ToplumTV channel and the Abzas Media investigative website, have been arrested in Azerbaijan on charges of foreign currency smuggling since last November. The activists and journalists have rejected the charges, calling them politically motivated. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service, click here.

Updated

Moscow Court Issues Arrest Warrants For 2 Self-Exiled Investigative Journalists

In the spring of 2022, Yekaterina Fomina published a report revealing facts confirming allegations of crimes committed by Russian troops against Ukrainian civilians. (file photo)
In the spring of 2022, Yekaterina Fomina published a report revealing facts confirming allegations of crimes committed by Russian troops against Ukrainian civilians. (file photo)

A Moscow court on June 17 issued arrest warrants for two journalists from the independent iStories investigative website -- Yekaterina Fomina and chief editor Roman Anin -- on a charge of "distributing false information about the Russian military." The court's ruling came hours after the Interior Ministry added the two journalists to its wanted list. In the spring of 2022, Fomina published an investigative report revealing facts confirming allegations of crimes committed by occupying Russian troops against Ukrainian civilians. iStories has been branded an "undesirable organization" and banned in Russia. Both Fomina and Anin are currently outside of Russia. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

Kyrgyz Activist Held For Protesting Change In Flag Transferred To House Arrest

Aftandil Jorobekov (file photo)
Aftandil Jorobekov (file photo)

Kyrgyz activist Aftandil Jorobekov, who was arrested in December for openly protesting a change to Kyrgyzstan's national flag, was transferred to house arrest over the weekend, his lawyer told RFE/RL. The 40-year-old activist was charged with calls for mass disorder and disobedience to authorities' requests. The flag's amendment was proposed by President Sadyr Japarov, who signed the bill on December 22, 2023. The law allowed for “straightening” the wavy yellow rays of a sun on a red field of the old flag to avoid resemblance to a sunflower. The Kyrgyz word for sunflower is kunkarama, but it also means "dependent." To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, click here.

More Tajik Citizens Stranded At Moscow Airport

Moscow's Vnukovo International Airport
Moscow's Vnukovo International Airport

More than 30 Tajik nationals have been stranded at Moscow's Vnukovo airport since last week amid tightened passport controls almost three months after a deadly terror attack near Moscow. Some of the stranded Tajiks told RFE/RL that Russian security officials did not allow them to enter the country, saying that "Tajiks cause problems in Russia." In April, thousands of Tajiks were stranded in Moscow airports after they were barred from entering Russia amid anti-Tajik sentiments after 11 Tajik men were arrested for their alleged involvement in the attack on a concert hall near Moscow in March that left 144 people dead. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Tajik Service, click here.

Nuclear Powers Continue To Modernize Arsenals, Rely On Them More, New Study Says

Russian troops load an Iskander missile onto a mobile launcher during drills at an undisclosed location in Russia. (file photo)
Russian troops load an Iskander missile onto a mobile launcher during drills at an undisclosed location in Russia. (file photo)

The nine nuclear-armed nations in the world continue to modernize their nuclear arsenals amid growing reliance on them as deterrence in 2023, a fresh report issued on June 17 by a Swedish think tank said.

"While the global total of nuclear warheads continues to fall as cold war-era weapons are gradually dismantled, regrettably we continue to see year-on-year increases in the number of operational nuclear warheads," said Dan Smith, director of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). "This trend seems likely to continue and probably accelerate in the coming years and is extremely concerning."

Earlier this month, Russia and its ally Belarus launched a second phase of exercises to practice the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons, part of the Kremlin’s efforts, analysts say, to discourage the West from ramping up support for Ukraine.

Separately, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), said in its own report issued on June 17 that the nine nuclear-armed states spent a total of $91.4 billion on their nuclear weapons programs in 2023. The Geneva-based coalition of disarmament activists won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017.

ICAN said that figures show a $10.7 billion increase in global spending on nuclear weapons in 2023 compared to 2022, with the United States accounting for 80 percent of that increase. The U.S. share of total spending, $51.5 billion, is more than all the other nuclear-armed countries put together. The next biggest spender was China at $11.8 billion, ICAN said, with Russia spending the third largest amount at $8.3 billion.

In its report, SIPRI estimated that some 2,100 of the deployed warheads were kept in a state of high operational alert on ballistic missiles, and nearly all belong to Russia or the United States. However, it said that China is also believed to have some warheads on high operational alert for the first time.

Russia and the United States have together almost 90 percent of all nuclear weapons, SIPRI said. The sizes of their military stockpiles seem to have remained relatively stable in 2023, although Russia is estimated to have deployed around 36 more warheads with operational forces than in January 2023, the watchdog added.

In its SIPRI Yearbook 2024, the institute said that transparency regarding nuclear forces has declined in both countries in the wake of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, and debates around nuclear-sharing arrangements have increased in importance.

Washington suspended its bilateral strategic stability dialogue with Russia, and last year Moscow announced that it was suspending its participation in the New START nuclear treaty.

With reporting by AP

Trial Of Jailed U.S. Journalist Gershkovich To Start June 26 Behind Closed Doors

Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich stands in a glass cage in a courtroom at the Moscow City Court in December.
Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich stands in a glass cage in a courtroom at the Moscow City Court in December.

The trial of jailed U.S. journalist Evan Gershkovich will start on June 26 and be held behind closed doors, Russian court officials announced on June 17.

Last week, prosecutors said Gershkovich will stand trial for espionage in a court in Yekaterinburg.

It was in that Ural city that Gershkovich, a reporter with the Wall Street Journal, was arrested in late March 2023 during a reporting trip.

Russian authorities have not provided any evidence to support the espionage charges, which The Wall Street Journal and the U.S. government have vehemently rejected. They say Gershkovich, 32, was merely doing his job as an accredited reporter when he was arrested.

The U.S. State Department said in December that Moscow rejected a significant offer it made to secure the release of Gershkovich and Paul Whelan, another American imprisoned in Russia on espionage charges.

Another U.S. citizen currently held by Russian authorities is Alsu Kurmasheva, an RFE/RL journalist who was arrested in Kazan, the capital of Russia's Republic of Tatarstan, in October 2023 and charged with failing to register as a "foreign agent" and spreading falsehoods about the Russian military.

Russian Court Again Extends Detention Of RFE/RL Journalist Alsu Kurmasheva
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Prior to her arrest, Kurmasheva, who faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted, had her passport confiscated following a visit to care for her mother. RFE/RL and the U.S. government say the charges against her are reprisals for her work.

Many analysts and officials say it appears as though Russia is targeting American citizens to detain for potential use in prisoner exchanges or for other geopolitical purposes.

Russia is believed to be seeking the release of Vadim Krasikov, who was given a life sentence in Germany in 2021 for the killing of Zelimkhan "Tornike" Khangoshvili, a Georgian citizen of Chechen descent who had fought Russian troops in Chechnya and later claimed asylum in Germany.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, asked in February about releasing Gershkovich, appeared to refer to Krasikov by pointing to a man imprisoned by a U.S. ally for "liquidating a bandit" who had allegedly killed Russian soldiers during separatist fighting in Chechnya.

With reporting from Reuters

Russia Steps Up Attacks In Donetsk Region During Peace Conference In Switzerland

Ukrainian soldiers fire a test round from their T-72 tank at an undisclosed location in the Donetsk region.
Ukrainian soldiers fire a test round from their T-72 tank at an undisclosed location in the Donetsk region.

Russia stepped up its military attacks on Ukraine, the General Staff of the Ukrainian military said in its evening assessment on June 16 as the leaders of Ukraine and its supporters wrapped up a two-day peace conference in Switzerland.

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.

An estimated 88 combat clashes took place during the day, the Ukrainian General Staff said.

"Throughout the day, the enemy is intensifying its offensive and assault operations, looking for ways to penetrate our defenses and try to drive Ukrainian units out of their positions," the assessment said.

According to the report, the most active area was around the city of Pokrovsk, where the Russian military is attempting to make further advances. Several attacks were ongoing there at the time of the assessment.

"In the Pokrovsk area, the Russian troops are not reducing the pace of their offensive. Since the beginning of the day on this part of the front they have attacked Ukrainian defensive lines 36 times. Twenty-five enemy assaults were unsuccessful, another 11 attacks are ongoing," the Ukrainian military said.

Russian forces twice attached in the Vovchansk area during the day, firing 16 missiles from the Belgorod region in southern Russia.

The Russian military also made 10 attempts to storm Ukrainian positions in the Lyman area and around Kurakhove.

“Three assaults by the invaders were repulsed by the defense forces, and seven more clashes are ongoing," the summary said, adding that two clashes were ongoing in the Kupyansk area.

The General Staff said that since the beginning of the day, Russia lost 54 of its soldiers, one armored fighting vehicle, and a warehouse of ammunition in the Lyman area.

The information could not be independently verified.

Russia intensified its attacks as representatives of nearly 100 countries attended the peace summit in Switzerland. Russia and China were not among them.

Eighty countries and four organizations, including the Council of Europe and the European Commission, joined the the final communique of the meeting.

Switzerland will discuss the results of the meeting with Russia, China, and other countries that did not attend, Swiss Foreign Minister Ignatius Cassis said.

"We have an active embassy in Moscow, and every two weeks we communicate with the minister of foreign affairs, and we also intend to discuss with Russia the results of this conference," Cassis told a news conference.

The Swiss minister said a "detailed discussion" of the results of the conference is planned with those countries that didn’t attend, including China, which refused to participate due to the absence of Russia.

“There are different opinions and ideas about how to continue this path, the path to peace. And these different ideas need to be united in order to find a common way forward," Cassis said.

Serbian Soccer Fans In Custody After Clashes Ahead Of Euro 2024 England Match

Supporters arrive prior to the UEFA Euro 2024 Group C soccer match between Serbia and England at the arena in Gelsenkirchen on June 16.
Supporters arrive prior to the UEFA Euro 2024 Group C soccer match between Serbia and England at the arena in Gelsenkirchen on June 16.

Seven fans of Serbia's national team were taken into custody on June 16 after scuffles broke out in the German city of Gelsenkirchen ahead of the team's Euro 2024 match against England, police said. A complaint of dangerous bodily harm was filed against one of the fans, a police spokesman told AFP. Details of any injuries and what happened in the scuffle were still unclear, the spokesman said. Police earlier reported having to separate England and Serbia fans after clashes between the two sets of supporters. The spokesman said no England fans had been taken into custody.

Russian Journalist Killed In Drone Attack In Ukraine's Donetsk Region

Residents of the village of Shebekino rest at a temporary accommodation center in Belgorod Arena in a photo taken last year by News.ru correspondent Nikita Tsitsagi, who was killed in part of Ukraine's eastern Donetsk region controlled by Russian forces.
Residents of the village of Shebekino rest at a temporary accommodation center in Belgorod Arena in a photo taken last year by News.ru correspondent Nikita Tsitsagi, who was killed in part of Ukraine's eastern Donetsk region controlled by Russian forces.

A Russian journalist was killed in a drone attack in the Russian-controlled part of the Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine, his news organization said on June 16.

"Our correspondent Nikita Tsitsagi was killed during an attack by Ukrainian Army drones," News.Ru said on Telegram.

The editors reported that the journalist died in the area of St. Nicholas Monastery near Vuhledar in southern Donetsk region, the scene of fierce fighting for the past three months. No other details were provided.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said a Ukrainian drone had "purposefully hit the Russian journalist preparing a report in the area."

The death of Tsitsagi was confirmed to TASS by the pro-Russian authorities of the region.

The journalist collaborated with TASS, the online magazine New Tab, and the Russian-language online newspaper Lenta.ru. He received an award last year for his reporting for New Tab from the city of Shebekino in the Belgorod region.

Tsitsagi’s death came to light three days after a cameraman with the Russian television channel NTV was killed when his film crew came under fire in the in the area around Horlivka, which lies north of Donetsk city in part of the region controlled by Russian troops.

Russian state news agency RIA Novosti reported that cameraman Valery Kozhin died in the hospital, citing Ivan Prikhodko, the Russian-installed head of the Horlivka administration.

Russian authorities in the region reported that Kozhin and another NTV journalist, correspondent Aleksei Ivliev, were severely injured in an explosion. Ivliev's condition, according to NTV, is stable.

There has been no comment from Ukraine.

Kozhin previously covered military conflicts in which Russian forces participated, including in Syria, Russian media reported.

Two other Russian correspondents -- Rostilav Zhuravlev of RIA Novosti and Boris Maksudov of the Rossiya-24 TV channel -- were killed in separate incidents last year in Ukraine's Zaporizhzhya region while covering Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

More than 10 Ukrainian journalists have been killed in the war.

With reporting by AFP

Ukraine Coach Asks For Continued Support Ahead Of Opening Match In Euro 2024

Head coach of the Ukrainian national soccer team Serhiy Rebrov (file photo)
Head coach of the Ukrainian national soccer team Serhiy Rebrov (file photo)

Ukrainian national soccer coach Serhiy Rebrov asked Europe to keep supporting his country in the war against Russia ahead of Ukraine's Euro 2024 opener against Romania on June 17. "Football is not the top priority in our country," Rebrov said on June 16. "The war continues. We need continued support. We are fighting for peace, we are fighting for peace in Europe," he added, saying this will be an "extra tick of motivation." Ukraine managed to qualify for the European Cup despite the war preventing any home games. Rebrov said Ukrainians are proud of their players and the players are proud of the people back home. Defender Illya Zabarnyi added: "There's a lot of pressure on everyone, but it's also a great motivation to get out on the pitch." The first game will be a "very emotional moment," he said.

Afghan Taliban Delegation To Attend Next Round Of UN Talks In Qatar

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid (file photo)
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid (file photo)

Taliban authorities will attend the third round of United Nations-hosted talks on Afghanistan in Doha, Qatar, a government spokesman said on June 16. The Taliban-led government's participation in the conference of foreign special envoys to Afghanistan had been in doubt after it was not included in the first round and then refused an invitation to the second round. Zabihullah Mujahid told AFP a delegation from Afghanistan will participate in the Doha conference scheduled for June 30 and July 1. Mujahid told Afghan media that a delegation would attend because the talks' agenda appeared "beneficial to Afghanistan." The agenda includes "topics such as aid for Afghanistan and creating opportunities for investors in Afghanistan."

Updated

First Pride Rally Held In Kyiv Since Russia's Full-Scale Invasion

People take part in the annual Pride parade under the protection of riot police in Kyiv on June 16.
People take part in the annual Pride parade under the protection of riot police in Kyiv on June 16.

Several hundred LGBT activists and their supporters, including Ukrainian soldiers, marched in central Kyiv on June 16 to demand the government grant them more rights as they took part in the first Pride march in the Ukrainian capital since Russia launched its full-scale invasion more than two years ago.

Protected by riot police, demonstrators demanded the legalization of civil unions and harsh penalties for discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Staff from the U.S. Embassy and several European embassies attended the rally on one of the central streets of Kyiv as participants shouted slogans such as, "It's always time for human rights."

Ukrainian soldiers and LGBT community activists take part in Kyiv Pride 2024 on June 16.
Ukrainian soldiers and LGBT community activists take part in Kyiv Pride 2024 on June 16.

In addition to seeking legal reforms to legalize civil unions for same-sex couples, campaigners are seeking changes in the law to allow people in those partnerships to make medical decisions for wounded soldiers and bury victims of the war.

Viktor Pylypenko, a Ukrainian soldier who has served as a rifleman and paramedic in the Kyiv, Kharkiv, and Donetsk regions, told RFE/RL his group brought two messages to the march, each one displayed on banners.

One called on the world to "stop procrastinating" and send Ukraine more weapons and air-defense systems, he said. The other demanded the Ukrainian president and parliament "stop procrastinating" on the implementation of European values and on the introduction of human rights for groups that face discrimination.

Soldiers and activists place Ukrainian flags with an LGBT coat of arms in tribute to fallen LGBT soldiers at a makeshift memorial on Independence Square on June 16.
Soldiers and activists place Ukrainian flags with an LGBT coat of arms in tribute to fallen LGBT soldiers at a makeshift memorial on Independence Square on June 16.

Others said LGBT soldiers serving in the military are fighting the same as others and only want equal treatment under the law in their relationships and other aspects of their lives.

"We are ordinary people who are fighting on an equal footing with everyone else, but deprived of the rights that other people have," Dmitriy Pavlov, an army soldier who used a cane to walk, told the Associated Press.

Many of the soldiers displayed rainbow patches on their uniforms and showed off the medals they had received.

Participants carried rainbow flags or wrapped themselves in them. Undeterred by rainy weather and a heavy police presence, many participants wore colorful clothing and gawdy accessories as they marched. The event lasted about 20 minutes and ended without provocations when participants went to the nearest metro station and dispersed.

Parade attendees carry a banner bearing photographs of fallen soldiers in Kyiv on June 16.
Parade attendees carry a banner bearing photographs of fallen soldiers in Kyiv on June 16.

Organizers faced difficulties ahead of the event. City authorities turned down a petition to allow it to be held at a metro station.

Police set up cordons in central Kyiv to keep the marchers clear of a counterdemonstration in which protesters carried posters with anti-gay slogans as they joined a march to a memorial for fallen soldiers in the center of the city.

The Pride march was condemned by one of the main branches of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

"This action is part of a left-wing radical political movement and is aimed at imposing a political ideology, and also aimed at destroying the institution of the family and weakening Ukrainian society in the conditions of war and repelling Russian aggression," the church said in a statement.

With reporting by AP

4 Killed In Roadside Bombing In Pakistan's Restive Northwest

Activists in Kurram, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, staged a protest against insecurity on on June 15. Carrying white flags, they demanded peace and condemned harassment by both militants and security forces.
Activists in Kurram, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, staged a protest against insecurity on on June 15. Carrying white flags, they demanded peace and condemned harassment by both militants and security forces.

Four passengers were killed and two others wounded in a roadside bomb explosion in Pakistan’s northwest province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on June 16. The incident occurred in the restive tribal district of Kurram. District emergency service officials told Radio Mashaal that all the victims were members of one family. The two wounded are being treated at a military hospital in Peshawar. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack. Kurram has a history of sectarian violence. To read the original story by Radio Mashaal, click here.

Iran Rebukes G7 For Statement On Nuclear Program Escalation

An Iranian underground nuclear site (file photo)
An Iranian underground nuclear site (file photo)

Iran called upon the Group of Seven (G7) on June 16 to distance itself from "destructive policies of the past," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani said, referring to a G7 statement condemning Iran's recent nuclear program escalation. On June 14, the G7 warned Iran against advancing its nuclear enrichment program and said it would be ready to enforce new measures if Tehran were to transfer ballistic missiles to Russia. "Any attempt to link the war in Ukraine to the bilateral cooperation between Iran and Russia is an act with only biased political goals," Kanaani said.

Updated

Security Forces Storm Russian Detention Center To End Hostage Drama

(Illustrative photo)
(Illustrative photo)

Two corrections officers at a Russian detention center in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don were freed on June 16 by Russian special forces who stormed the facility after several inmates took the officers hostage.

Russia's Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) confirmed that the two corrections officers had been released and the inmates who had taken them hostage killed.

"During a special operation to free hostages in pretrial detention center No. 1 of the Main Directorate of the Federal Penitentiary Service of Russia in the Rostov region, the criminals were eliminated," FSIN said on Telegram. "The employees who were held hostage were released and were not injured."

Residents of Rostov-on-Don reported hearing the sounds of gunfire in the area of the detention center around noon local time. The FSIN confirmed soon afterward that riot police had stormed the building.

According to the Baza Telegram channel, one of the hostages was slightly wounded. He was treated at the scene and his life was not in danger, the report said.

Some local news outlets reported that some prisoners had also been killed.

Baza reported that six inmates managed to knock out the bars over the windows of their cells and enter the duty station, where they took the two corrections officers hostage, demanding weapons, a car, and free passage.

Videos distributed on social media showed the hostage-takers armed with knives and sharp objects.

The six had been accused of terrorist activities and some were reported to have links to the Islamic State (IS) extremist group. Among them were natives of Ingushetia and Chechnya who were convicted of terrorism charges in December, according to Kavkaz.Realii, citing preliminary information.

IS has carried out a number of attacks on Russian soil in recent years, including most recently in March when gunmen opened fire on a crowd at a concert hall in suburban Moscow, killing 145 people.

Residents of the Rostov region noted that Governor Vasily Golubev did not comment on reports about the hostage-taking incident while it was ongoing despite a number of central streets having been blocked, and questions from residents about the situation were deleted from Golubev's Telegram channel.

The governor said after the hostages were release that it had been the work of "provocateurs with obvious anti-Russian sentiments and an attempt to stir up an interethnic theme."

Updated

80 Countries Back Ukraine's 'Territorial Integrity' At Swiss Peace Summit

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (left) with Swiss President Viola Amherd at a Ukraine peace summit in Switzerland on June 16.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (left) with Swiss President Viola Amherd at a Ukraine peace summit in Switzerland on June 16.

Eighty countries have called for the "territorial integrity" of Ukraine to be the foundation of any peace agreement to end Russia's war in a communique issued on the second and final day of their gathering at a Swiss resort on June 16.

Russia's absence at the Ukrainian-initiated Global Peace Summit has dampened hopes of any breakthrough, as has China's decision to stay away.

Participants India, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates were among those that did not sign the final document, which focused on issues of nuclear safety, food security, and the exchange of prisoners.

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.


The final statement said the UN Charter and "respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty…can and will serve as a basis for achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in Ukraine."

"We believe that reaching peace requires the involvement of and dialogue between all parties," it also said.

Viola Amherd, the Swiss president who hosted the event, told the final news conference that the fact that the "great majority" of participants agreed to the final document "shows what diplomacy can achieve."

On the eve of the summit, Russian President Vladimir Putin issued harsh terms for a cease-fire, including that Ukraine hand over control of four regions in areas not only occupied by Russian invading forces, but Ukrainian-controlled regions as well, demands immediately rejected by Kyiv and its Western backers.

Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, said the conference was "rightly" titled "Path to Peace" because such a goal will not be achieved in a single step.

"It was not a peace negotiation because Putin is not serious about ending the war. He is insisting on capitulation. He is insisting on ceding Ukrainian territory -- even territory that today is not occupied by him," she said. "He is insisting on disarming Ukraine, leaving it vulnerable to future aggression. No country would ever accept these outrageous terms."

Ukrainian Peace Summit Wraps With Pledge To Invite Russia To The Table
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Speaking at the end of the two-day meeting in Burgenstock, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the support of Western and other leaders demonstrates that the rule of international law can be restored.

"I hope that we can achieve results as soon as possible," Zelenskiy said. "We'll prove to everyone in the world that the UN Charter can be restored to full effectiveness."

Responding to a question from RFE/RL at the final news conference, Zelenskiy said more countries may join the final communique.

"First of all, [the term is] not signing but joining [the final communique]. This is an important difference, because joining the communique means that the communique is open," he said. "Even countries that are now thinking to join it have consultations ongoing in their respective countries."

Russian political scientist Aleksandr Morozov told Current Time, a Russian-language network run by RFE/RL in cooperation with Voice Of America, that countries such as South Africa and India that did not join the communique are reserving space for their own peace initiatives. He said that while these wouldn't be bad, they would only prove that Putin's demands are unrealistic because they disrespect Ukraine's territorial integrity and thus go against the UN Charter.

In holding the summit, Zelenskiy had been seeking to rally a greater number of countries behind Ukraine's cause, especially those from the so-called Global South, and maintain world attention on Russia's brutal invasion. That has become more urgent amid some global fatigue with the 28-month war, fighting in the Middle East, and growing concern about Chinese aggression toward Taiwan.

The June 15-16 summit was the culmination of Zelenskiy's efforts over the past 19 months to engage global leaders in helping end the biggest war in Europe since World War II.

Switzerland agreed to host the summit with the hope it would pave the way for a future peace process that includes Russia. Zelenskiy did not want Russia to participate at this stage.

International Summit Debates Ukrainian Peace Deal In Russia's Absence
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At their meeting on June 16, delegates agreed on a final summit declaration that focused on three issues: a call for the need for nuclear and food security and the return of prisoners of war and children removed from Ukraine during the conflict.

Ihor Zhovkva, Zelenskiy's deputy chief of staff, told reporters on the sidelines of the summit that Kyiv decided to focus on these three issues "because the majority of the international community is united around these positions today."

"The text is balanced. All of our principled positions on which Ukraine had insisted have been considered," Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told reporters on June 16 about the final communique.

"Of course we...understand perfectly that a time will come when it will be necessary to talk to Russia," he said. "But our position is very clear: We will not allow Russia to speak in the language of ultimatums like it is speaking now."

The conference was expected to decide the host country for a follow-up conference, but the meeting in Switzerland closed with the location of a second meeting undetermined.

Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis said it was conceivable that a follow-up summit could be held before the U.S. presidential election in November.

Zelenskiy Adviser: Putin's Conditions 'Attempt To Hijack' Peace Summit
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Saudi Arabia was believed to be one of the leading candidates, and Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud said on June 15 that the kingdom was ready to assist the peace process, but he warned a viable settlement would hinge on "difficult compromise."

China, which backs Russia, joined scores of countries that sat out the event. Beijing has said any peace process would require the participation of both Russia and Ukraine, and has put forward its own ideas for peace.

Ukrainian security analyst Alina Hrytsenko told Current Time that China is trying to position itself as a peacemaker and doesn't believe that either side can achieve a military victory. She pointed out that that Putin's "peace offer" included a refusal to consider Zelenskiy legitimate, making it unclear under China's peace initiative who could be Putin's counterpart in peace talks.

On June 15, on the first day of the Swiss summit, many Western leaders condemned Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, citing the UN Charter in defense of its territorial integrity, and rejecting Putin's demands for Ukraine to cede land for peace.

"One thing is clear in this conflict: There is an aggressor, which is Putin, and there is a victim, which is the Ukrainian people," Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said.

"Russia should realize that it has borders, like any other state, and that it has neighbors, like any other state. This international community, the new security architecture, can exist only when the big countries, the biggest of the biggest, recognize their neighbors, respect their neighbors and their territorial integrity," Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili said.

"Sovereignty, territorial integrity, and discrediting aggression as a tool of statecraft are crucial principles that must be upheld in case of Ukraine and globally," Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas told the opening session on June 15. "That is why I'm concerned about so-called peace plans and initiatives that ignore the core UN Charter principles. We cannot treat Ukraine's territorial integrity and sovereignty as somewhat secondary," Kallas added.

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, representing the United States while President Joe Biden attended a fundraiser in California, said Putin's June 14 “peace” proposal was not a call for negotiations but a call "for [Ukraine's] surrender."

Harris also reiterated America's full backing for Ukraine and announced $1.5 billion in new U.S. assistance for multiple projects, including energy infrastructure and civilian security.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz stated that "peace in Ukraine cannot be achieved without involving Russia" but noted Russia has refused all collective calls for peace.

Ahead of the summit, leaders from the Group of 7 major industrial nations announced a $50 billion loan package for Kyiv that will leverage interest and income from the more than $260 billion in frozen Russian assets.

Biden and Zelenskiy this week signed a security agreement that commits the United States over 10 years to continued training of Ukraine's armed forces.

Biden, who decided not to attend the summit despite pleas from Zelenskiy, also approved sending Ukraine a second Patriot missile system and imposed another round of financial sanctions on Russia.

The White House also eased restrictions that kept Ukraine from using American weaponry to strike inside Russia, allowing strikes into Russia for the limited purpose of defending Kharkiv.

Last month, Russia launched a small-scale offensive in the northern Kharkiv region, seeking to stretch Ukraine's outgunned and outmanned forces across the roughly 1,200-kilometer front line. The effort has slowed, as Ukraine rushed new units to the area, reinforced positions, and fired on Russian positions across the border.

Armenia Proposes 'Joint Mechanism' With Azerbaijan To Investigate Cease-Fire Violations

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian speaks in the parliament in Yerevan on June 12.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian speaks in the parliament in Yerevan on June 12.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian has proposed the establishment of a mechanism to investigate allegations of cease-fire violations with Azerbaijan.

His suggestion for a "joint mechanism" on June 15 came days after the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry claimed Armenian soldiers had opened fire on Azerbaijani troops in Baku's Naxcivan exclave.

The Armenian military dismissed the allegation, describing it as "misinformation," and EU observers in Armenia said they had not recorded unusual activities along the border.

Addressing members of his Civil Contract party, Pashinian said allegations of cease-fire violations were either true or meant to escalate tensions between the neighbors.

The embattled prime minister said the launch of a joint investigation committee could help determine whether claims of cease-fire violations were true.

Azerbaijan on June 13 accused Armenian troops of targeting Azerbaijani positions in the village of Khavush in the Sharur region, the village of Nurgut in the Ordubad region, and Guney Gyshlag village in the Shahbuz region. Baku said it had responded.

The Armenian premier's popularity has taken major hits in recent years, in large part because of the loss to Azerbaijan in the 2020 Second Nagorno-Karabakh War and the subsequent Azerbaijani military recapture of Karabakh in 2023.

Protests have gripped Yerevan since April, when authorities agreed to hand back to archrival Azerbaijan territory that Armenia had controlled since the 1990s.

Residents of nearby settlements say the move cuts them off from the rest of the country and accuse Pashinian of giving away territory without getting anything in return. Pashinian has defended the move as part of efforts to secure peace with Azerbaijan.

Led by Archbishop Bagrat Galstanian, protesters have been calling for Pashinian’s resignation as his government nears a controversial peace deal with Azerbaijan.

Secretary Of Russia's Ruling Party Steps Down

Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) appointed Andrei Turchak (right) as the governor of the Altai Republic, which is seen as a demotion by observers. (file photo)
Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) appointed Andrei Turchak (right) as the governor of the Altai Republic, which is seen as a demotion by observers. (file photo)

Andrei Turchak on June 15 resigned from his post as secretary of United Russia. Accepting the resignation, party Chairman Dmitry Medvedev appointed Vladimir Yakushev, the presidential envoy in the Urals Federal District, as the acting secretary of Russia’s ruling party. Earlier this month, Russian President Vladimir Putin appointed Turchak as the governor of the Altai Republic -- a move seen by observers as political exile for a man once described as Putin's star student. Turchak also serves as the first deputy chairman of the Federation Council. To read the full story by RFE/RL’s Siberia.Realities, click here.

Belarusian Journalist Facing Extradition Says Fighting To 'Save My Life'

Andrey Hnyot photographed on June 14 at home in Belgrade, where he is under house arrest and fighting extradition to Belarus.
Andrey Hnyot photographed on June 14 at home in Belgrade, where he is under house arrest and fighting extradition to Belarus.

Belarusian journalist and opposition activist Andrey Hnyot, who is being held in Serbia, told RFE/RL's Balkan Service on June 14 that he is fighting extradition to "save my life." Hnyot was detained at the Serbian capital's airport at the request of Belarus last October. Last week, he was transferred to house arrest. Belgrade's Higher Court on June 13 upheld his extradition ruling, but it can still be appealed. Hnyot is wanted by Minsk for tax fraud, a charge he said was "ridiculous" and politically motivated. An EU spokesman has expressed concern to RFE/RL that Hnyot will face "political repression and ill-treatment" if extradited. To read the full interview by Nevena Bogdanovic of RFE/RL’s Balkan Service, click here.

Olympic Committee Approves 25 Russian, Belarusian Athletes For Paris Games

Russian and Belarusian athletes were initially banned from the Olympics after Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. (file photo)
Russian and Belarusian athletes were initially banned from the Olympics after Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. (file photo)

The Olympics governing body on June 15 approved 14 Russians and 11 Belarusians with neutral status to compete at the Paris games this summer. The athletes compete in four sports: cycling, gymnastics, weightlifting, and wrestling. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) did not clear any Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete in taekwondo. After initially banning the two countries' athletes from world sports following Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the IOC adjusted its regulations to allow their participation under a neutral banner subject to strict conditions and excluding team events. The summer games kick off on July 26 and conclude on August 11.

Updated

Former Iranian Prison Official, Swedish EU Diplomat Released In Prisoner Exchange

Hamid Nouri was convicted by a Swedish court of human rights violations in Iran against political prisoners. (file photo)
Hamid Nouri was convicted by a Swedish court of human rights violations in Iran against political prisoners. (file photo)

A former Iranian prison official who was sentenced to life in a Swedish prison for crimes committed during the mass execution of political prisoners in 1988 was released by Sweden, officials said, in a prisoner swap that also saw Tehran release an EU diplomat.

A third man, a dual Iranian-Swedish citizen, was also released as part of the June 15 deal, which was hailed as a breakthrough in long-strained relations between Tehran and Stockholm.

Hamid Nouri was arrested at a Stockholm airport in 2019 and was charged with the mass execution and torture of political prisoners at Iran's notorious Gohardasht prison. The killings targeted members of a political-militant organization known as the MKO that advocated the overthrow of Iran's clerical regime.

Sweden's prime minister, Ulf Kristersson, meanwhile, said in a video posted to social media that Johan Floderus and Saeed Azizi were en route to Sweden "and will soon be reunited with their families."

All three returned to their countries on June 15.

The exact conditions or circumstances of the swap were not immediately clear, although it appeared to have been negotiated with the help of the Gulf state of Oman, according to a statement published by the Oman state news agency.

Floderus, a Swedish national, had been visiting Iran in the spring of 2022 on a private trip. He was detained at Tehran airport on April 17, 2022, as he prepared to leave the country. He was later accused by Iranian prosecutors of espionage.

He had been employed as a diplomat with the EU's External Action Service, the bloc's foreign policy arm.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell hailed the release of Floderus and Azizi, adding that the bloc "will continue to work" to secure the release of other EU citizens "arbitrarily detained in Iran."

Azizi, a dual Swedish-Iranian national, was taken into custody on November 12, 2023, at his residence in Tehran shortly after arriving from Sweden. He was convicted of "colluding to act against national security" and sentenced to five years in prison.

Azizi’s lawyer, Reza Shefakhah, wrote on X that neither he nor his client's family had been made aware of the prisoner exchange.

At least three other Swedish citizens are currently held in Iran.

Amnesty International welcomed the release of Floderus and Azizi but questioned why Ahmadreza Djalali, an Iranian-Swedish doctor and academic who is sentenced to death in Iran, was not among the prisoners released.

"The circumstances confirm our earlier fears that Iran is holding Swedish citizens hostage to use in a prisoner swap," the rights group said in a statement posted to X.

Djalali was detained in 2016 and subsequently sentenced to death for allegedly spying for Israel -- a charge that his family denies.

Simon Kasper Brown and Stephen Kevin Gilbert, who were detained in 2021 and later convicted of drug trafficking, receiving eight and five years in prison, respectively.

Other Europeans held in Iran include French citizens Cecile Kohler and her partner, Jacques Paris, as well as a man identified only by his first name Olivier. Kohler and Paris are accused of spying, but no details have been released about Olivier's case.

The Islamic republic is also holding German-Iranian Nahid Taqavi, who was sentenced to more than 10 years in prison, and Jamshid Sharmahd, a German citizen of Iranian descent sentenced to death.

An unnamed Austrian national was sentenced to 7 1/2 years in jail in Iran last year for spying, according to Vienna.

With reporting by AFP

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