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Obama Says 'Qaddafi Has A Choice' Or UN Force Will Take Military Action

A woman fires a weapon in the air as people gather to celebrate the UN resolution in the eastern rebel-held city of Benghazi today.
A woman fires a weapon in the air as people gather to celebrate the UN resolution in the eastern rebel-held city of Benghazi today.
U.S. President Barack Obama has called on Libya's Muammar Qaddafi to halt all military attacks against civilians and stop his troops from advancing on Benghazi and other opposition-held contested cities, or face the wrath of an international military air force.

In an brief appearance before reporters at the White House, Obama said the whole North African and Middle East region could be destabilized if Qaddafi is allowed to commit what Obama said would be "atrocities against his people."

Late on March 17, the UN Security Council passed a resolution authorizing a no-fly zone over Libya in an attempt to stop Tripoli from bombing opposition forces and civilians.

"Muammar Qaddafi has a choice. The resolution that passed lays out very clear conditions that must be met," Obama said.

"The United States, the United Kingdom, France, and Arab states agree that cease-fire must be implemented immediately. That means all attacks against civilians must stop."

In a brief appearance at the White House, Obama warned the Libyan leader that if he did not back down, he would face military action.

"Let me be clear: these terms are not negotiable. These terms are not subject to negotiation," he said. "If Qaddafi does not comply with the resolution, the international community will impose consequences, and the resolution will be enforced through military action."

Obama said the United States would not deploy ground forces in Libya, and added that Washington was also "not going to use force to go beyond a well-defined goal -- specifically, the protection of civilians in Libya."

Cease-Fire Declared

Earlier today, the Qaddafi regime announced a unilateral cease-fire in its war with rebels. Libyan Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa said in Tripoli that the government decided to halt all military operations to protect civilians in line with the UN resolution passed on March 17.

He also questioned the fact that the UN had authorized the use of force against Libya.

"Libya also finds that it is very strange and unreasonable that the Security Council allowed in its resolution the use of military power and there are signs that this might, indeed, take place," he said.

Libyan Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa
In rebel-held Benghazi, the Libyan announcement was rejected as a "bluff."

Despite the Libyan cease-fire announcement, news agencies citing opposition members reported that forces loyal to Qaddafi were continuing their attacks on rebel positions.

In the town of Misurata, doctors said heavy bombardment by Qaddafi forces today killed at least 25 people, including several children.

The cities of Benghazi and Tobruk in eastern Libya and the town of Misurata in western Libya are the only major centers still in opposition hands, as Qaddafi's forces have rolled back the rebels' early gains.

Preparing To Act

Meanwhile, NATO members met today in Brussels to discuss how to immediately implement the resolution, which authorizes the use of "all necessary measures" -- except ground troops -- to stop Tripoli from attacking rebel-held towns and killing civilians.

It is not immediately clear what impact the unilateral Libyan declaration of a cease-fire will have on NATO's plans.

But U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that it was not at all clear if the cease-fire announcement was being matched by Tripoli's actions on the ground and that Washington and its allies were still considering what would be "the most effective measures" to end the crisis in Libya.

Clinton also said the "final result" of the UN resolution must be Qaddafi's departure.

"The overwhelming vote by the Security Council I think reflects a broad understanding that, No. 1, stop the violence, and No. 2, we do believe that a final result of any negotiation would have to be the decision by Colonel Qaddafi to leave," she said. "But let's take this one step at a time."

Obama said Clinton would travel to Paris to attend an emergency summit on Libya on March 19, which will include the leaders of France, Britain, and Germany, as well as Arab allies.

France said earlier today that military action against Libya could come "within hours."

"The strikes will take place rapidly," French government spokesman Francois Baroin told RTL radio in Paris. "There is no question, you will understand, of saying this morning when, how, which target, and in what shape. But what happened overnight is a very important stage in the management of this war in Libya and the massacre by Qaddafi of his people."

British Prime Minister David Cameron told the House of Commons today that U.K. fighter aircraft would be moved to air bases in the region "in the coming hours."
France is the only country to have diplomatically recognized the Libyan rebels' provisional government. Along with Britain and Lebanon, France sponsored the UN resolution and even sent its foreign minister, Alain Juppe, to speak to the Security Council immediately before the vote on March 17.

More Countries Joining In

Multiple countries have stepped forward to vow their support for the UN-approved intervention.

British Prime Minister David Cameron told Parliament today that Britain would deploy Tornado and Typhoon fighter jets to bases near Libya.

Italy said it was ready to offer use of its air bases.

Qatar, Norway, and Poland have all promised to contribute to the multinational effort. Warsaw said it was "ready to help with our transport plans," while Oslo also said it would contribute "by means of air [power]." Meanwhile, Denmark said it will await parliamentary approval before joining the action by contributing warplanes.

Libyan Army rocket launchers are seen in the desert near the town of Ajdabiya on March 16.

The NATO resolution, which was approved by two-thirds of the UN Security Council while another one-third abstained, ends weeks of mounting tension over whether the international community would intervene in the Libyan crisis.

The proposal to intervene initially was opposed by Russia and China over fears it might lead to "excessive" use of outside military force in Libya. But in the end neither Russia nor China used their veto power to block the vote and instead joined Germany, India, and Brazil in merely abstaining.

Today, Germany reiterated its reservations about the UN resolution even as it joins NATO discussions over how to implement the measures.

"We understand those who, out of honorable motives, decided for an international military intervention in Libya," Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said. "However, after evaluating the risks we came to the conclusion that we will not participate in a military mission in Libya with German soldiers, and that's why Germany abstained in the vote."

Serious Concerns

China, too, said it still had serious concerns. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said in a statement today, "We oppose the use of military force in international relations and have serious reservations about some of the content of the resolution." He did not elaborate.

Arab League chief Amr Musa said he backed the resolution as a way of protecting civilians but cautioned he did not want any side "to go too far."

Rebel fighters celebrate the UN Security Council's resolution to impose a no-fly zone over Libya.

The Turkish government called for an immediate cease-fire in Libya and a peaceful solution to the conflict.

'We Will Not Be Afraid'

Earlier, Libya appeared to take a defiant position with respect to the UN resolution. Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, the Libyan leader's son, dared foreign forces to take action.

"We will not be afraid. Come on! We will not be afraid," he told ABC News's "Nightline" program overnight from Tripoli.

He warned that foreign action would only unite people behind the government, saying: "You are not helping the people if you are going to bomb Libya, to kill Libyans. You destroy our country. Nobody is happy with that."

compiled from agency reports


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International Court Issues Arrest Warrants For Russia's Ex-Defense Minister Shoigu, Top General Gerasimov

Russia's General Valery Gerasimov (left), President Vladimir Putin, and ex-Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu (right) (file photo)
Russia's General Valery Gerasimov (left), President Vladimir Putin, and ex-Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu (right) (file photo)

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued arrest warrants for former Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and the Russian military's chief of staff, General Valery Gerasimov, for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Ukraine after the start of Russia's unprovoked invasion of its neighbor in 2022.

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Shoigu and Gerasimov "are each allegedly responsible for the war crime of directing attacks at civilian objects...and the war crime of causing excessive incidental harm to civilians or damage to civilian objects...and the crime against humanity of inhumane acts," the ICC said in a statement issued on June 25.

It said the ICC's pretrial chamber composed of Presiding Judge Rosario Salvatore Aitala, Judge Sergio Gerardo Ugalde Godinez, and Judge Haykel Ben Mahfoudh considered that Shoigu and Gerasimov are responsible for Russian missile strikes conducted between October 2022 and at least March 9 of last year against Ukraine's energy infrastructure.

The statement said "the expected incidental civilian harm and damage would have been clearly excessive to the anticipated military advantage" for those who ordered the strikes.

Shoigu was dismissed by Russian President Vladimir Putin in May.

Kyiv immediately hailed the ICC's announcement.

"Shoigu and Gerasimov bear individual responsibility. This is an important decision. Everyone will be held accountable for evil," the head of Ukraine's presidential office, Andriy Yermak, wrote on X.

The ICC in March last year issued arrest warrants for Putin and his children's commissioner, Maria Lvova-Belova, for being responsible for the deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia -- a war crime under international legislation.

The Hague-based ICC does not have means to enforce its arrest warrants, but relies instead on the judiciaries of its 124 members to fulfill them.

Separately, in a case brought by Kyiv, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled on June 25, that Russia committed multiple human rights violations in Crimea since it occupied the Ukrainian peninsula in 2014.

Russia was guilty of violations of the right to life, failing to prohibit inhuman or degrading treatment, freedom of religion, and freedom of expression among other violations, the court said in its ruling.

European Court Rules Russia Guilty Of Human Rights Abuses In Ukraine

The European Court of Human Rights (file photo)
The European Court of Human Rights (file photo)

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled that Russia committed human rights violations in the Crimean Peninsula since its annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula in 2014.

The Strasbourg-based court said in a ruling on June 25 that atrocities committed by Russia include harassment and intimidation of priests and journalists. Moscow has denied the claims in the case, which was brought to the court by Ukraine.

It also concerns allegations by Kyiv that Russia has used a pattern of persecution of Ukrainians for their political stance or pro-Ukrainian activities, whether they occurred in Crimea or other parts of Ukraine or in Russia.

Kyiv insists Moscow controlled the peninsula since February 27, 2014 and that Russian forces tortured and killed police as well as civilians, allegations that Moscow also denies.

"There has been a violation of Articles 5 and 7 of the [Geneva] Convention on account of an ongoing administrative practice of unlawful deprivation of liberty, prosecution and conviction of 'Ukrainian political prisoners' based on the application of the Russian law in Crimea," the court said in one of its decisions within the ruling.

"The Court held, unanimously...that Russia had to take measures as soon as possible for the safe return of the relevant prisoners transferred from Crimea to penal facilities located on the territory of the Russian Federation," it added.

It added that legal breaches committed by Russia include violations of the right to life, the prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment, freedom of religion, and freedom of expression, among other rights.

Both Ukraine and Russia are members of the Council of Europe, of which the court is a part.

Moscow’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula by force and its ongoing full-scale invasion of the country launched in February 2022 have been condemned by the international community.

Czech PM Says First Shipment Of Ammunition From Initiative Arrives In Ukraine

A Ukrainian tank of the 17th tank brigade fires at the Russian positions in Chasiv Yar, Donetsk region, Ukraine.
A Ukrainian tank of the 17th tank brigade fires at the Russian positions in Chasiv Yar, Donetsk region, Ukraine.

Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala says the first shipment of ammunition from an initiative launched by his country has reached Ukraine. "The first shipment of ammunition from our initiative arrived in Ukraine some time ago," Fiala said on X. "We are doing what it takes." The Czechs have been working for months on a plan to procure artillery shells from countries outside the European Union and provide them to Ukraine, whose troops in recent months have suffered from a debilitating shortage.

Russia Issues Arrest Warrant For Former Chechen Separatist Government Member Zakayev

Akhmed Zakayev (right) is a former top official of the short-lived independent Chechen Republic of Ichkeria who lives in London.
Akhmed Zakayev (right) is a former top official of the short-lived independent Chechen Republic of Ichkeria who lives in London.

An arrest warrant has been issued for Akhmed Zakayev, a former top official of the short-lived independent Chechen Republic of Ichkeria who resides in London, on charges of the "creation of a terrorist grouping in the interests of Ukraine's armed forces, and the justification of terrorism."

The TASS news agency reported on June 25 that Zakayev was also added to Russia's wanted list.

Along with Zakayev, Russia added to its wanted list and issued an arrest warrant for Murad Yusupov, who is a leader from Chechnya of the Separate Special Battalion within the International Legion of Ukraine's armed forces.

Russian investigators accuse Zakayev of proclaiming himself the leader of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, the name of Chechnya chosen by the separatist government in the 1990s, They say he attracted Yusupov and other unspecified individuals to join Ukraine’s armed forces fighting against Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Zakayev and Yusupov also have been added to Russia's list of terrorists and extremists.

The Southern military court in the city of Rostov-on-Don is scheduled to start a trial in absentia of Zakayev and Yusupov on July 2.

Kazakhstan-born Zakayev, 65, served as culture minister, deputy prime minister, prime minister, and foreign minister in Chechnya's separatist government.

He and his immediate family members have been residing in exile in London since 2002.

Zakayev told RFE/RL earlier that despite probes launched in Russia against him and his colleagues, Chechen groups in Ukraine's International Legion will continue operating and taking part in Ukraine's efforts to repel Russia's aggression.

Moscow-backed authoritarian leader of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov, who himself is a former Chechen fighter who battled Russian troops during the First Chechen War in 1994-1996, called on natives of Chechnya to kill Zakayev and announced his personal blood feud against supporters of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria fighting on Ukraine's side.

Bishkek Court Extends Former Customs Official Matraimov's Pretrial Detention

(Left to right) Raimbek, Ruslan, Tilek, and Islambek Matraimov
(Left to right) Raimbek, Ruslan, Tilek, and Islambek Matraimov

BISHKEK -- The Birinchi Mai district court in Bishkek told RFE/RL on June 25 that it extended until at least August 26 the pretrial detention of Raimbek Matraimov, the former deputy chief of Kyrgyzstan’s Customs Service who was at the center of a high-profile corruption scandal involving the funneling of close to $1 billion out of the country.

Raimbek Matraimov and three of his brothers -- Tilek, Ruslan, and Islambek -- were extradited to Kyrgyzstan in March from Azerbaijan, where they were in hiding.

Raimbek, the most notorious of the brothers, was charged with money laundering and the abduction and illegal incarceration of unnamed individuals as part of the 2020-21 corruption scandal.

Raimbek Matraimov
Raimbek Matraimov

In February 2021, a Bishkek court ordered pretrial custody for Matraimov in connection with the corruption charges. He received a mitigated sentence that involved fines amounting to just a few thousand dollars but no jail time.

The court justified the move by saying that Matraimov had paid back around $24 million that disappeared through corruption schemes that he oversaw.

In November last year, the chairman of the state security service, Kamchybek Tashiev, accused Matraimov and crime boss Kamchy Kolbaev (aka Kamchybek Asanbek), who was added by Washington to a list of major global drug-trafficking suspects in 2011, of "forming a mafia in Kyrgyzstan."

Matraimov left Kyrgyzstan in October after Kolbaev was killed in a special security operation in Bishkek. In January, the Kyrgyz Interior Ministry said Matraimov was added to the wanted list of Kyrgyzstan's State Committee for National Security.

In 2019, an investigation by RFE/RL, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, and Kloop implicated Matraimov in a corruption scheme involving the transfer of hundreds of millions of dollars out of Kyrgyzstan.

Also in March, a court in neighboring Uzbekistan sentenced late Kolbaev's close associate, influential Uzbek crime boss Salim Abduvaliev, to six years in prison on charges of illegal possession and transportation of arms and explosives.

Abduvaliev is believed to have ties with top Uzbek officials and leaders of the so-called Brothers' Circle, a Eurasian drug-trafficking network that included Kolbaev.

Kyrgyz Officials Say Leader, Members Of Banned Islamic Group Detained

Kyrgyz police searched the homes of suspected members of the banned Yaqyn Inkar Islamic group in the Batken region on June 25.
Kyrgyz police searched the homes of suspected members of the banned Yaqyn Inkar Islamic group in the Batken region on June 25.

Kyrgyzstan's State Committee for National Security (UKMK) said on June 25 that "a leader and nine members" of the Yaqyn Inkar Islamic group, which is banned in the Central Asian nation, were detained in the southern Batken region. The UKMK added that 12 residents of the region denounced their membership in the group after police held "explanatory talks" with them. Yaqyn Inkar was founded in India. Authorities in Kyrgyzstan, a mostly Muslim country whose secular government is wary of people whose religious beliefs or practices fall outside the mainstream, deemed it an extremist organization and banned it in 2017. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, click here.

Kyrgyz Prosecutor Seeks 8 Years In Prison For Government Critic

Askat Jetigen in the courtroom on June 25, 2024
Askat Jetigen in the courtroom on June 25, 2024

The Kyrgyz prosecutor asked the Sverdlov district court on June 25 to convict activist Askat Jetigen and sentence him to eight years in prison on charges of calling for the seizure of power and mass unrest. In his final statement at the trial, Jetigen, known for his criticism of the Central Asian nation's government, reiterated his innocence. Jetigen was arrested in March, days after his last video, criticizing reforms by the Culture Ministry, was posted online. His trial started in late May. Human rights groups have criticized the Kyrgyz government for using the charge of "calling for mass unrest" as a tool to muzzle dissent. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, click here.

Ukraine, Moldova Set To Open EU Accession Talks

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Moldovan President Maia Sandu (file photo)
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Moldovan President Maia Sandu (file photo)

Ukraine and Moldova are set to officially open accession talks with the European Union on June 25 in Luxembourg, a move that marks a watershed moment for the two countries' aspirations to eventually join the bloc.

The EU Council, which groups representatives of the governments of the 27 states that make up the bloc, approved the negotiating framework for Ukraine and Moldova on June 21 after the European Commission, the bloc's executive arm, on June 7 recommended opening the process, saying the two countries are sufficiently prepared.

The official opening of the negotiations -- an arduous journey that could take years -- will take place first for Ukraine at 3:30 p.m., followed by Moldova at 6 p.m.

European Council President Charles Michel said in October that Ukraine, which is currently engaged in a defense war against Russia's unprovoked invasion, could become a member of the bloc by 2030 "if both sides do their homework."

Moldova's pro-Western President Maia Sandu has also made a political commitment to achieve EU membership by 2030. Sandu, under whom Moldova made an abrupt U-turn from Russia to Europe, is up for reelection later this year after handing an upset defeat to Moscow-backed incumbent Igor Dodon in 2020.

Ukraine and Moldova submitted their candidacies shortly after the start of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 and obtained candidate status in June of that year, gaining the conditional green light for the start of negotiations in December.

With Sandu at the helm, neutral Moldova strongly condemned Russia's invasion of Ukraine, firmly aligning itself with Kyiv while tightening its ties with its Western neighbor, EU and NATO member Romania, with whom Moldova shares a common language and history.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on June 21 that pursuing EU integration was a sovereign matter for Chisinau but said there were "many Moldovans" who also desired close ties to Russia.

Russia Claims To Have Downed 30 Ukrainian Drones Over 2 Regions

A damaged apartment building in Stroitel, Belgorod region, Russia, on June 25
A damaged apartment building in Stroitel, Belgorod region, Russia, on June 25

Russia's Defense Ministry said its air-defense systems shot down 29 Ukrainian drones over the Belgorod region and one over the Voronezh region early on June 25. Separately, Belgorod regional Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said one woman was killed while four other people were injured during drone attacks on the village of Belovskoye and the cities of Stroitel and Yakovlevsky. Local media said private houses and vehicles were damaged during the attack. Ukraine has not commented on the Russian claim, which could not be immediately verified independently. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.

Daghestan Holds Second Day Of Mourning After At Least 20 Killed In Attacks

Sergei Melikov, head of the Daghestan region, visits the Derbent synagogue following an attack by gunmen on June 24.
Sergei Melikov, head of the Daghestan region, visits the Derbent synagogue following an attack by gunmen on June 24.

Russia's North Caucasus republic of Daghestan is holding a second day of mourning on June 25 following apparently coordinated attacks that targeted Christian and Jewish religious locations and a police station and killed at least 20 people, including civilians and police officers.

At least 46 people were also wounded in the attacks that occurred late on June 23 when gunmen opened fire at two Orthodox churches, two synagogues, and a police station in the cities of Derbent and regional capital Makhachkala.

Russia's Investigative Committee announced criminal probes over what it said were "acts of terror."

Daghestan is a predominantly Muslim region that has a history of armed militancy and is located near Chechnya, where Russian forces fought two wars against separatists in the mid-90s and early 2000s.

Derbent is one of Russia's oldest Christian centers and has one the oldest Jewish communities in the country. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Shock And Devastation After Attacks In Russia's Daghestan Region
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Makhachkala and other cities in the region have been the scene of anti-Jewish protests after the October 7 attack on Israel by Hamas, which has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union.

The Makhachkala airport was shut down for several days in October after a mob shouting anti-Jewish slogans stormed it after the arrival of a flight from Israel.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the June 23 attack, which occurred on Trinity Sunday, one of the most important religious holidays in the Russian Orthodox calendar.

But the Russian branch of Islamic State-Khorasan's Al-Azaim Media posted a statement praising what it called "brothers from the Caucasus" for the attack.

The Washington-based Institute for the Study of War said in a research note that Wilayat Kavkaz, the Northern Caucasus branch of Islamic State, had "likely conducted" the shootings.

In recent years, Russian security forces appeared to have had the upper hand in their fight against armed militants in the region, despite rare attacks such as an Islamic State-claimed shooting outside a church in Daghestan in 2018.

Regional Governor Sergei Melikov, who declared three days of mourning for the victims said in a statement posted on Telegram said that among the civilians killed was 66-year-old Father Nikolai, who served for more than 40 years in the Orthodox church in Derbent.

Melikov said that six "bandits" were "liquidated" by security forces and called the attacks an attempt to "destabilize" his region.

"This is a day of tragedy for Daghestan and the whole country," Melikov said.

Among those detained was Magomed Omarov, the head of the central Sergokala district and secretary of the local branch of the United Russia party, whose home was searched. Omarov was expelled from the party for actions discrediting the organization, United Russia's press service in Daghestan said.

Three of the suspected attackers who were killed have been identified, according to Interfax, which quoted an unidentified source as saying two of Omarov's sons and one of his nephews were among the slain attackers.

There has been no official statement by Russia on the attacks, But Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed the analogy with the late 1990s, when militant attacks were frequent.

"Russia is different now, society is absolutely consolidated. And such criminal terrorist manifestations as we saw in Daghestan yesterday are not supported by society, either in Russia itself or in Daghestan," Dmitry Peskov told the media on June 24.

Meanwhile, Russian lawmaker Abdulkhakim Gadzhiev told Russian state TV that the attacks had been the work of Ukrainian and Western intelligence services, without providing any evidence.

The chairman of the public council of Russia's Federation of Jewish Communities, Boruch Gorin, said on Telegram that synagogues in both cities caught fire during the attacks.

"Two are killed: a policeman and a security guard," Gorin said.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry said the synagogue in Derbent was burned to the ground and shots had been fired at a second synagogue in Makhachkala.

The attacks came just three months after 145 people died and hundreds were injured when Islamic State (IS) extremists opened fire in a crowded concert hall on the outskirts of Moscow, in Russia's worst terrorist attack in years.

Months later, after the deadly March 22 massacre at the Crocus City Hall concert venue near Moscow, Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) detained four people in Daghestan suspected of providing financing and weapons to participants.

Responsibility for that attack was claimed by an offshoot of IS known as Islamic State-Khorasan. Russian investigators said the assault was carried out by four men, all Tajik nationals.

Russian authorities arrested 11 Tajik citizens and a Kyrgyzstan-born Russian citizen in connection with the Moscow attack.

U.S. Disputes Russia's Claim About Responsibility For Strike On Crimea

A makeshift memorial for the victims of the Sevastopol missile attack
A makeshift memorial for the victims of the Sevastopol missile attack

The United States responded on June 24 to Russia's claim that it was to blame for a deadly attack on Crimea on June 23 by pointing the finger back at Moscow for starting the war and by saying that the weapons it provides are for Ukraine to use to defend its territory against Russian aggression.

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The Russian Defense Ministry said that the June 23 strike near Sevastopol involved five longer-range missiles that the United States began supplying to Ukraine this year.

It also claimed that U.S. specialists had set the missiles' flight coordinates based on information gathered from U.S. satellites.

State Department spokesman Matthew Miller responded by saying it was not unusual for Moscow to make "ridiculous, hyperbolic claims about responsibility that aren't borne out by fact."

He noted that Russia initially blamed Washington for a terrorist attack on a Moscow concert hall in March that killed more than 140 people and was later claimed by the extremist Islamic State group.

"We regret any civilian loss of life in this war. We provide weapons to Ukraine so it can defend its sovereign territory against armed aggression -- that includes in Crimea which, of course, is part of Ukraine," Miller told reporters. "Russia could stop this war today."

Miller said the United States had no assessment on the attack on Crimea, which Russia said killed four people, including two children, and injured 151. Moscow claimed it was carried out by U.S.-supplied Army Tactical Missile Systems, known as ATACMS, loaded with a cluster warhead.

Pentagon spokesman Major Charlie Dietz said that Ukraine "makes its own targeting decisions and conducts its own military operations."

Russia summoned U.S. Ambassador Lynne Tracy to the Foreign Ministry earlier on June 24 to face accusations that Washington was "waging a hybrid war against Russia and has actually become a party to the conflict" and was told that the attack would not go unpunished.

"Of course, the involvement of the United States in the fighting, as a result of which peaceful Russians are dying, cannot but have consequences," Peskov said. "Which ones exactly -- time will tell."

While he declined to provide specifics, Peskov cited Russian President Vladimir Putin's comments on June 6 about supplying conventional weapons to regions near to the United States and near U.S. allies.

Putin also has said that Russia might supply weapons to North Korea, suggesting this would be a mirror response to the West supplying military arms and equipment to help Ukraine defend itself in the full-scale invasion that Russia launched in February 2022. Since the start of the invasion, Russian attacks have killed more than 11,000 Ukrainian civilians, according to the United Nations.

While the Russian Defense Ministry said four people died in the attack on Crimea when they were hit by falling debris from the missiles, Sevastopol's Russian-appointed governor, Mikhail Razvozhayev, said that five people were killed.

Video footage aired by Russian media and posted on social media showed vacationers running to safety and injured people being evacuated from a beach said to be on the north side of the city, which is a popular tourist destination and home to the Russian Black Sea Fleet.

Russia seized and illegally annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and installed a local government, although the territory is still officially part of Ukraine.

Since Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, Kyiv has vowed to restore control of its territory and has targeted key Russian military and naval installations in Crimea.

The attack came as Russia continues to pound Ukrainian energy infrastructure and strike the northeastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, near the border with Russia.

At least two people were killed and more than 50 were injured on June 22 when an apartment building was struck by a Russian bomb. On June 23, the air strikes on the city continued, killing one person.

Russian forces also attacked Ukraine's eastern Donetsk region on June 24, killing at least four people and injuring 34. Regional Governor Vadym Filashkin said that two Iskander-M missiles destroyed a home and damaged 16 others in the town of Pokrovsk.

Russian military bloggers sharply criticized the Russian Defense Ministry and occupying authorities in Crimea following the missile strike near Sevastopol, according to the Institute for the Study of War (ISW).

In a June 23 report, the ISW said that "Russian sources criticized Russian authorities for not using air-raid sirens to alert civilians to seek shelter."

The U.S. think tank also said that Russian authorities were criticized for "failing to detect and destroy all the missiles before they approached Sevastopol."

Ukraine has in recent months stepped up attacks against Russian forces in Crimea, which Russia has militarized since annexing it in 2014. There are more than 200 Russian military sites on Crimea, including air bases, naval installations, training grounds, air defense and rocket forces, as well as signals and communications facilities.

The Kremlin has been promoting Crimea as a tourist destination despite the danger of attacks. Crimean officials have organized festivals and concerts this summer as the peninsula is heavily dependent on tourism to sustain its economy. The Kremlin and Russian businessmen have poured tens of billions of dollars into infrastructure, hotels, and real estate since 2014.

Tourists who go there have been told to heed official warnings, like air alarms. At the same time, Ukrainian authorities have been warning Russians since 2022 not to vacation in Crimea.

With reporting by AFP and Reuters

EU To Downgrade Georgia Ties And Mull Finance Freeze, Borrell Says

Protests in Tbilisi on May 28 after parliament voted to reject the president's veto of a controversial "foreign agent" bill.
Protests in Tbilisi on May 28 after parliament voted to reject the president's veto of a controversial "foreign agent" bill.

The European Union will downgrade political contacts with Georgia and consider freezing financial aid to the Tbilisi government after it pushed through a controversial "foreign agent" law, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on June 24. The Georgian law has been slammed as a Kremlin-style authoritarian move, which Borrell said shifts the South Caucasus country away from the EU. “If the government will not change the course of action, Georgia will not progress on the European Union path,” Borrell said. He also said the EU would reconsider its support for Georgia through a military aid fund, the European Peace Facility.

Zelenskiy Replaces Commander Of Ukraine's Joint Forces

Yuriy Sodol has been replaced as commander of the Joint Forces of the Ukrainian military. (file photo)
Yuriy Sodol has been replaced as commander of the Joint Forces of the Ukrainian military. (file photo)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has announced that the commander of the Joint Forces of the Ukrainian military, Yuriy Sodol, is to be replaced with Brigadier-General Andriy Hnatov. Zelenskiy did not provide the reasons for the move in his video message on June 24. The announcement followed criticism of Sodol's performance in Odesa by Ukrainian lawmaker Maryana Bezuhla. In addition, Bohdan Krotevych, the chief of staff of the National Guard’s Azov Brigade, submitted a statement to the State Bureau of Investigation with a request to investigate Sodol. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.


Georgia Receives Invitation To NATO Summit Despite 'Foreign Agent' Law

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State James O'Brien said the Georgian people want EU and NATO integration. (file photo)
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State James O'Brien said the Georgian people want EU and NATO integration. (file photo)

WASHINGTON -- Georgia has received an invitation to attend partnership events at the upcoming NATO summit in Washington, according to U.S. Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs James O’Brien on June 24.

The invitation comes despite the June 3 passage of a “foreign agent" law in Georgia. The law requires nongovernmental organizations and media groups that receive at least 20 percent of their funding from outside the country to register as organizations "pursuing the interests of a foreign power."

At a press conference, O’Brien condemned the Georgian Dream party’s bill, which some opponents have called the Russia law, and Tbilisi’s shift away from NATO.

“The violence against opposition figures, the violence against civil society, the Moscow-based foreign agent law, [and] the apparent decision to award a new port to a Chinese company are incompatible with wanting to join the U.S. and EU-based international organizations,” O’Brien said.

At the same time, O’Brien said the Georgian people want EU and NATO integration.

“We want them to understand that the path they are on and the rhetoric that they are using about the West is incompatible with what 80 percent of Georgia’s citizens say that they want,” O’Brien said. “We’re trying to be as clear as we can that there’s a way to step back from the path that they have chosen.”

He compared Georgia’s potential integration to the current Euro 2024 soccer championship taking place in Germany.

“Georgia has decided it wants to come and play in our football league,” O’Brien said. “Georgia, in its sovereign right, has decided to join the club and we’re making clear what that means.”

This year marks Georgia’s first time qualifying for the European soccer championship since it gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

The foreign agents law raised concern throughout Europe and the United States. Some Georgians have expressed concern that the country would face national repercussions for the law.

On June 6, the United States imposed visa restrictions against dozens of Georgian officials including members of the Georgian Dream party, members of parliament, law enforcement, and private citizens.

Washington, which has been one of the main backers of Georgia’s integration into Western institutions, gave Tbilisi over $390 million in aid over the past several years.

O’Brien said that, shortly after the law passed, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced a policy that any individual or entity undermining the path to democracy in Georgia would face some kind of repercussion but he did not list any specific action.

All of NATO’s partner countries have been invited to attend the July 9-11 NATO summit in Washington, O’Brien said, adding that key summit priorities include “the health of the alliance, partnerships in the Indo-Pacific, and Ukraine’s success.”

O’Brien said a “parade of deliverables for Ukraine,” have been announced leading up to the summit and mentioned a “bridge” to Ukraine’s NATO membership as an anticipated summit outcome.

O’Brien emphasized participation from Indo-Pacific partners such as Australia, Japan, New Zealand, and South Korea.

Other NATO partners include Algeria, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Colombia, Egypt, Iraq, Ireland, Israel, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Malta, Mauritania, Moldova, Mongolia, Morocco, Pakistan, Qatar, Serbia, Switzerland, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, the United Arab Emirates, and Uzbekistan.

Fire In Office Building Near Moscow Reportedly Kills At Least 8

The blaze in an office building in Fryazino near Moscow reportedly killed at least eight people on June 24
The blaze in an office building in Fryazino near Moscow reportedly killed at least eight people on June 24

At least eight people died in a fire that broke out on June 24 at an office building in the town of Fryazino near Moscow, Russian news media reports said. The Emergency Situations Ministry said firefighters saved one person. Some reports cited officials as saying that the office building belongs to the Platan Research Institute. But the Ruselectronics holding company of the state-owned Rostec defense conglomerate said the building had been sold to a private firm in the 1990s. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

U.S. Supreme Court To Take Up Hungary's Bid To End Lawsuit Filed By Holocaust Survivors And Heirs

A view of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C.
A view of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C.

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed on June 24 to intervene for the second time in a dispute between Hungary and Holocaust survivors who want to be compensated for property confiscated from them during World War II. The justices will hear arguments in the fall in Hungary's latest bid to end the lawsuit filed 14 years ago by survivors, all of whom are now over 90, and heirs of survivors. The issue in the case concerns whether an American court is the proper forum for the lawsuit. Under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, sovereign nations like Hungary are shielded from lawsuits in U.S. courts. But the law makes an exception for lawsuits involving “property taken in violation of international law.”

Russian Gets 4 Years In Prison For Arson Attack On Lenin's Mausoleum

Konstantin Starchukov (file photo)
Konstantin Starchukov (file photo)

A Moscow court on June 24 sentenced Konstantin Starchukov to four years in prison for throwing a Molotov cocktail at Lenin's Mausoleum. The Tver district court found the 37-year-old native of the Siberian city of Chita guilty of "hooliganism using a weapon." Starchukov threw a Molotov cocktail at the mausoleum on Moscow's Red Square in June 2023. The bottle hit a fence and caused no harm to the building. Starchukov said he did what he did as part of his "struggle against Freemasonry's influence on Russian society." To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Kyiv Says Russia Stepping Up Attacks With Banned Chemical Agents

Ukraine says that Russian forces primarily use grenades dropped by drones to deploy banned hazardous chemicals.
Ukraine says that Russian forces primarily use grenades dropped by drones to deploy banned hazardous chemicals.

Ukraine has accused Russia of stepping up frontline attacks using prohibited hazardous chemicals, including tear gas, the latest in a series of allegations of battlefield abuses. Moscow and Kyiv have accused each other of carrying out war crimes and deploying banned chemical munitions throughout the Russian war in Ukraine, now in its third year. The Ukrainian military said on June 24 that it had registered 715 cases of the use of munitions containing "hazardous chemical compounds" by Russian forces in May. It said that figure represented an increase of 271 cases compared to the month before.


Russian Missile Strike Kills 4 In Eastern Ukraine

Russian Attempts To Advance In Eastern Ukraine Bring Devastation To Civilian Areas
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At least four people were killed and 34 injured on June 24 after Russian forces launched a missile attack on Ukraine's eastern Donetsk region. Regional Governor Vadym Filashkin said that two Iskander-M missiles destroyed a home and damaged 16 others in the town of Pokrovsk. "This is one of the largest hostile attacks on civilians in recent times. Its final consequences are yet to be determined," Filashkin said. Earlier in the day, another person was killed by Russian shelling in the Donetsk region town of Toretsk. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.

Whereabouts Of 5 Tajiks Deported From Russia Unknown

Passengers disembark at Kulob airport. (file photo)
Passengers disembark at Kulob airport. (file photo)

The parents of five young Tajik men from the volatile Gorno-Badakhshan region told RFE/RL on June 23 that their sons did not arrive at the airport in the southern city of Kulob, where they were expected to arrive from Moscow on June 20 after Russian authorities deported them for unspecified reasons.

It remains unclear if the men were deported for violating Russia's migration regulations, or at the request of the Tajik authorities.

Relatives told RFE/RL that the men called their parents, who are from the community of Yazgulom, asking them to meet them at the Kulob airport on June 20. However, the men were not among the passengers who disembarked from the plane on that day.

The parents said they travelled 300 kilometers to reach Kulob to meet their sons after a Tajik official promised them by phone that they would be able to meet their sons at the airport.

Sources close to Tajik law enforcement have told RFE/RL that since May at least 15 residents of Yazgulom had been extradited from Russia to Tajikistan, where they were charged with "membership in an extremist organization" or "having links with members of an extremist organization."

There has been no official statement regarding the situation.

On May 16, Tajik security forces arrested more than 30 residents of Yazgulom, accusing them of plotting unspecified sabotage.

Sources told RFE/RL at the time that those arrested were suspected of having links with "extremist groups" in neighboring Afghanistan.

Residents of Gorno-Badakhshan have been under pressure for years. A crackdown on the restive Tajik region intensified in 2022 after mass protests in May that year were violently dispersed by security forces.

Tajik authorities said at the time that 10 people were killed and 27 injured during the clashes between protesters and police.

Residents of the remote region's Rushon district, however, have told RFE/RL that 21 bodies were found at the sites of the clashes.

Dozens of the region's residents have been jailed for lengthy terms on terrorism and extremism charges since then.

Deep tensions between the government and residents of the volatile region have simmered ever since a five-year civil war broke out shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Still, protests are rare in the tightly controlled state of 9.5 million where President Emomali Rahmon has ruled with an iron fist for nearly three decades.

Flooding Cuts Off 10 Villages In Russia's Far East

Nizhneudinsk in the Primorye region after flooding
Nizhneudinsk in the Primorye region after flooding

Floods caused by heavy rains have cut off access to 10 villages in Russia's Far East region of Primorye and are wreaking havoc with transportation in and around several other towns and settlements, the region's administration said on June 24. Some roads connecting towns and villages were fully or partially flooded, the officials said. Roads in nine municipalities were mainly affected by the rising water levels, they added. No casualties were reported. Earlier this spring, several Russian regions were hit by heavy floods caused by abrupt warm weather that caused a massive runoff from melting snow. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Siberia.Realities, click here.

Another Kyrgyz Jailed For Fighting With Russian Troops In Ukraine

Askar Kubanychbek-uulu fled the country for Russia after being given a suspended sentence in January.
Askar Kubanychbek-uulu fled the country for Russia after being given a suspended sentence in January.

The Osh regional court in southern Kyrgyzstan told RFE/RL on June 24 that a lower court had sentenced a local man, whose identity was not disclosed, to five years in prison two weeks earlier for joining Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. In January, a Bishkek court handed a suspended seven-year prison term to another Kyrgyz man, Askar Kubanychbek-uulu, for joining the Russian military in Ukraine. In April, Kubanychbek-uulu fled the country for Russia. On June 22, the chairman of Russia's National Anti-Corruption Committee, Kirill Kabanov, said that Kubanyuchbek-uulu signed a new contract with the Russian military to fight in Ukraine. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, click here.

North Korea's 'Deepening Military Cooperation' With Moscow Condemned

Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un enjoy a ride together in a Russian armored limousine during Putin's visit to Pyongyang last week.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un enjoy a ride together in a Russian armored limousine during Putin's visit to Pyongyang last week.

The United States, South Korea, and Japan have condemned the deepening military cooperation between North Korea and Russia, while a top North Korean military official has reiterated Pyongyang's support for Moscow's war against Ukraine.

The three Western allies said in a joint statement on June 24 that the increasing ties between Moscow and Pyongyang, including arms transfers that aid Russia's war in Ukraine, serve to "prolong the suffering of the Ukrainian people, violate multiple United Nations Security Council Resolutions, and threaten stability in both Northeast Asia and Europe."

The statement also said that the recent signing of a strategic partnership treaty between Russia and North Korea during Russian President Vladimir Putin's June 19 visit "should be of grave concern to anyone with an interest in maintaining peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula, upholding the global nonproliferation regime, and supporting the people of Ukraine as they defend their freedom and independence against Russia’s brutal aggression."

The three allies reaffirmed their intention to strengthen diplomatic and security cooperation to counter threats posed by North Korea to regional and global security, the statement said.

Washington and Seoul have accused Russia and North Korea of violating international law by trading arms, including the provision of North Korean missiles and munitions used on the Ukrainian battlefield.

The Washington Post reported on June 22 that Russia may have received about 1.6 million artillery shells from North Korea, while military analysts have said that North Korean missiles have been fired by Russian forces at Ukraine.

Moscow and Pyongyang have denied any such arms transfers.

The pact signed last week by Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un commits each side to provide immediate military assistance if either state comes under armed aggression.

On June 24, a top North Korean military official criticized Washington for its military assistance to Ukraine and reiterated Pyongyang's support for Moscow in the war, according to state media.

Pak Jong Chon, one of North Korea's top military officials, said that Russia had the "right to opt for any kind of retaliatory strike" should it be attacked, and warned that Washington could provoke a "world war" should it continue pushing Ukraine into a "proxy war" against Russia.

Last week, Washington said that Ukrainian forces had the green light to use U.S.-supplied weapons to strike Russian forces anywhere across the border into Russia.

With reporting by Reuters

3 Police Officers, Suspect, Civilian Killed In Shoot-Out In Baku

Three Azerbaijani police officers were reportedly killed. (file photo)
Three Azerbaijani police officers were reportedly killed. (file photo)

Azerbaijani officials said on June 24 that five people, including three police officers, were killed during the arrest of a suspect being detained for unspecified crimes. The incident took place in the Suvalan neighborhood of Baku's Xazar district, where a suspect with a criminal record, identified as Rovsan Allahverdiyev, resisted arrest and opened fire on police while "using relatives as human shields." The suspect, three police officers, and a civilian were killed in the shoot-out. No further details were given by the Prosecutor-General's Office. The Interior Ministry also did not elaborate on the situation. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service, click here.

Catholic Priest In Belarus Not Released After Serving 45-Day Jail Term

Andzhey Yukhnevich (left) was jailed for a Facebook post. (file photo)
Andzhey Yukhnevich (left) was jailed for a Facebook post. (file photo)

Catholic priest Andzhey Yukhnevich was not released over the weekend after serving a 45-day jail term on a charge of "violating regulations for holding pickets," and instead had his incarceration extended for unspecified reasons until July 2. The charge against the priest stemmed from his post on Facebook of a picture, showing him holding a Ukrainian national flag, and the historical flag of Belarus. The white-red-white flag was used by the short-lived Belarusian Democratic Republic in 1918-1920 and reinstated after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. In 1995, the authoritarian ruler of Belarus, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, replaced the historical flag with one similar to that used in the Soviet era. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Belarus Service, click here.

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