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Japan Protests Russian PM's Visit To Disputed Islands

A Russian soldier on July 2 shot and killed up to three accountants before killing himself at a branch of the Russian Central Bank on the island of Kunashir, where Medvedev landed for his trip.
A Russian soldier on July 2 shot and killed up to three accountants before killing himself at a branch of the Russian Central Bank on the island of Kunashir, where Medvedev landed for his trip.
The Japanese government has summoned Russia's ambassador to Tokyo to express "extreme regret" over a visit by Prime Minister Dmitry Medevedev to a chain of Russian-controlled islands that are also claimed by Japan.

Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba said on July 3 that the visit to the Kuriles “pours cold water" on Russia-Japan relations.

Ahead of his arrival earlier the same day on Kunashir Island, Medvedev called the Southern Kuriles "an important part of the Russian land."

Speaking at a government meeting on Sakhalin Island, Medvedev also warned that ceding territory leads to the disintegration of a state.

"Those who gave away even a small patch of land usually sowed a storm. All of this ends in the collapse of a state," he said in televised remarks. "This is a very dangerous thing."

The Russian prime minister also pledged to improve the lives of the Kurile residents, many of whom eke out a threadbare living on the windswept chain.

"The farthest region of our state cannot and should not be the most deprived region although this was virtually the case some time ago," Medvedev said.

In November 2010, when he was president, Medvedev became the first Russian president to visit the island chain. The islands, home to some 19,000 people, are rich in gold and silver and lie in waters abundant in marine life.

Tokyo claims the chain's four southernmost islands, known as the Northern Territories in Japan. The two countries' dispute over ownership continues to cast a cloud over Russian-Japanese relations and complicate investment and trade.

Tensions surrounding the Kuriles soared upon Medvedev's first visit two years ago, with Moscow saying in February 2011 that it would boost military defenses on the islands.

However, the dispute slackened somewhat after the earthquake and ensuing nuclear accident that shook Japan in March 2011 and prompted expressions of solidarity in Russia.

Russia and Japan have yet to sign a World War II peace treaty due to Tokyo's ownership claim.

Moscow seized control of the islands at the end of the war.

Based on reporting by AFP, Interfax, and ITAR-TASS

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Extremism Trial Of Kazakh Journalist Resumes

Duman Mukhammedkarim (file photo)
Duman Mukhammedkarim (file photo)

QONAEV, Kazakhstan -- The trial of independent Kazakh journalist Duman Mukhammedkarim, who is accused of financing an extremist group and participating in a banned group's activities, resumed on May 22 after a pause of more than 100 days.

Mukhammedkarim's lawyer, Ghalym Nurpeiisov, told RFE/RL that the trial resumed after investigators concluded that his client's complaint about being tortured by jail guards was "baseless."

About 20 people came to the court in the southern town of Qonaev to support Mukhammedkarim but were not allowed to enter the building as the trial is being held behind closed doors.

Mukhammedkarim, whose Ne Deidi? (What Do They Say?) YouTube channel is extremely popular in Kazakhstan, was sent to pretrial detention in June 2023 over an online interview he did with the fugitive banker and outspoken critic of the Kazakh government, Mukhtar Ablyazov.

Ablyazov's Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK) movement was labeled extremist and banned in the country in March 2018.

Mukhammedkarim's trial started on February 12 but was postponed after he complained of being beaten by jail guards, prompting prosecutors to launch a probe into the matter.

The journalist has held at least two hunger strikes demanding that his trial be open to the public and protesting against being held behind bars for such a long period when his trial was on hold.

If convicted, Mukhammedkarim could be sentenced to up to 12 years in prison.

Domestic and international rights organizations have urged Kazakh authorities to drop all charges against Mukhammedkarim and immediately release him.

Kazakh rights defenders have recognized Mukhammedkarim as a "political prisoner."

Rights watchdogs have criticized the authorities in the tightly controlled former Soviet republic for persecuting dissent, but Astana has shrugged the criticism off, saying there are no political prisoners in the country.

Kazakhstan was ruled by authoritarian President Nursultan Nazarbaev from its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 until current President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev succeeded him in 2019.

Over the past three decades, several opposition figures have been killed and many jailed or forced to flee the country.

Toqaev, who broadened his powers after Nazarbaev and his family left the oil-rich country's political scene following the deadly, unprecedented anti-government protests in January 2022, has promised political reforms and more freedoms for citizens.

However, many in Kazakhstan consider the reforms announced by Toqaev to be cosmetic, as a crackdown on dissent has continued even after the president announced his "New Kazakhstan" program.

Baltics Criticize Russian Proposal On Maritime Borders; Moscow Withdraws Draft

Zelenogradsk in Russia's Kaliningrad exclave (file photo)
Zelenogradsk in Russia's Kaliningrad exclave (file photo)

Russia has withdrawn without explanation a Defense Ministry draft that proposed revising Moscow's maritime border in the eastern Baltic Sea and expanding its territorial waters that raised the ire of littoral NATO members Finland, Sweden, Lithuania, and Estonia.

The draft, dated May 21, was initially published on an official Russian portal of legal drafts. It proposed expanding Russia's territorial waters in the Gulf of Finland and around the Kaliningrad exclave near the maritime borders with Finland, Estonia, and Lithuania.

Since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, Finland and Sweden have joined NATO, leaving Kaliningrad completely surrounded by members of the alliance.

According to the draft, expanding the border off the coast of Kaliningrad between Baltiysk and Zelenogradsk and in the eastern part of the Gulf of Finland would have allowed the corresponding maritime areas to be used as internal sea waters of Russia as vessels made the trip from St. Petersburg.

It also proposed changes off the coast of Lithuania in the area of the Curonian Spit, the crescent-shaped sand dune separating the Curonian Lagoon from the Baltic Sea.

Following the publication of the draft, Lithuania's Foreign Ministry said it was "summoning a representative of the Russian Federation for a full explanation." Moscow has not had an ambassador in Vilnius since April 2022.

Lithuania expelled Moscow's envoy and downgraded its diplomatic relations with Russia following the atrocities allegedly committed by Russian forces in the Ukrainian town of Bucha.

"Another Russian hybrid operation is under way, this time attempting to spread fear, uncertainty, and doubt about their intentions in the Baltic Sea," Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

“Finland acts as always: calmly and based on facts,” Finnish President Alexander Stubb wrote on X.

Finnish Prime Minister Petteri Orpo said Helsinki will monitor Russia's moves, while Foreign Minister Elina Valtonen told reporters that Helsinki was "following the situation."

"We don't have any official information on what Russia is planning," she said.

Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson reminded Moscow that it was a signatory to the UN convention regulating maritime border changes.

“Both we and Finland assume that Russia -- which is a signatory party to that convention -- lives up to that responsibility,” Kristersson was quoted as saying by the Swedish news agency TT.

The draft was withdrawn without any explanation just hours after the wave of criticism, with an unnamed Russian diplomatic source telling Interfax that Moscow had no intention of revising its maritime borders, while Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters there was “nothing political” in the draft.

“You see how tensions and the level of confrontation are escalating, especially in the Baltic region. This requires appropriate steps from our relevant bodies to ensure our security,” Peskov said.

With reporting by AP and Reuters

Kyrgyz Activist Goes On Trial On 'Mass Unrest' Charge

Askat Jetigen
Askat Jetigen

Kyrgyz activist Askat Jetigen, known for his criticism of the Central Asian nation's government, went on trial on May 22 on a charge of calling for mass unrest. Jetigen, who rejects the charge as politically motivated, was arrested in March days after his last video criticizing reforms by the Culture Ministry was posted online. 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.

Memorial Rights Group Recognizes Bashkir Activist As Political Prisoner

Fail Alsynov
Fail Alsynov

The Memorial human rights group on May 22 recognized Bashkir activist Fail Alsynov as a political prisoner. The 37-year-old was sentenced to four years in prison in January on a charge of inciting hatred that he and his supporters call politically motivated. Thousands of Alsynov's supporters have rallied before and since his sentencing, sometimes clashing with police, who have used tear gas, stun grenades, and batons to disperse the protesters. Alsynov is known for his open criticism of Bashkortostan’s Kremlin-backed chief, Radiy Khabirov, and his government. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Idel.Realities, click here.

Fire-Bomber Of Russian Embassy In Chisinau Given Suspended Sentence

Smoke pours out of Moscow's embassy in Chisinau on March 17.
Smoke pours out of Moscow's embassy in Chisinau on March 17.

A man accused of throwing two Molotov cocktails over the fence of the Russian Embassy in Chisinau on March 17, the day of Russia's presidential election, has been sentenced to 150 hours of unpaid community service. The Chisinau court took into consideration that the man, whose identity has not been disclosed, admitted his guilt. Judges deducted from the sentence the time spent by the man in preventive custody and house arrest since March 17, thus ruling the sentence has been completed and he can be set free. Moscow had demanded a severe punishment for the man. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Moldovan Service, click here.

U.S. Says Russia 'Likely' Deployed Anti-Satellite Weapon In Space; Moscow Rejects Claim

Pentagon spokesman Patrick Ryder (file photo)
Pentagon spokesman Patrick Ryder (file photo)

The Pentagon has said Russia "likely" deployed an anti-satellite weapon in space earlier this month, a claim quickly rejected by Moscow.

Pentagon spokesman Patrick Ryder told journalists during a press conference on May 21 that the new counter-space weapon was launched five days earlier into the same orbit as a U.S. government satellite.

He added Pentagon assessments "further indicate characteristics resembling previously deployed counter-space payloads from 2019 and 2022."

"Certainly, we would say that we have a responsibility to be ready to protect and defend the domain -- the space domain -- and ensure continuous and uninterrupted support to the Joint and Combined Force," he said.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov on May 22 rejected the statement, calling it "false information from Washington."

"We always stand against the placing of assault items in the Earth orbit," Ryabkov told reporters in Moscow.

A growing number of nations have moved into space, with about a dozen capable of launching spacecraft. Meanwhile, about 80 nations and many private companies have assets in orbit, making the weaponization of space a global concern, even though the the 1967 Outer Space Treaty requires weapons to remain on Earth.

On May 20, a UN resolution proposed by Russia against an arms race in space was not approved by the Security Council, with seven countries, including the United States, France, and the United Kingdom, voting against it, and seven nations, including Russia and China, voting in favor of the resolution.

Last month, Russia vetoed a U.S. resolution against nuclear weapons in space. The U.S. representative in the UN, Robert Wood, accused Russia at the time of using manipulative tactics regarding the issue of nuclear weapons in space.

In February, media reports in the United States described Russia's nuclear ambitions in space and the nuclear potential of anti-satellite weapons as a threat to national and international security.

Amid the reports, Washington accused Russia of developing anti-satellite weapons, while President Joe Biden publicly assured Americans that neither they nor the international community face any danger.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said then that his country "has always been categorically against and is now against the deployment of nuclear weapons in space."

With reporting by AP and TASS

Former Siberian Official Suspected Of Serial Killings To Face Trial

Russia's Investigative Committee said on May 21 that the former deputy governor of the Kalman district in the Siberian region of Altai Krai, Vitaly Manishin, will face trial over the deaths of 11 women. The committee said an investigation into the case is over and that it has been sent to a court. After several women were found dead in 2000, investigators detained Aleksandr Anisimov, who had a criminal record, as a suspect. Anisimov maintained his innocence. He died after he reportedly jumped from a high-rise building while in police custody. Manishin was arrested in May 2023. To read the original story by RFE/RL;'s Siberia.Realities, click here.

Imprisoned Kremlin Critic Ilya Yashin Placed In Solitary Confinement

Ilya Yashin
Ilya Yashin

Russian opposition politician Ilya Yashin, who is serving an 8 1/2-year prison term for his criticism of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, has been placed in solitary confinement, just ahead of a scheduled visit by his parents. Yashin said on his Telegram channel on May 22 that the prison administration sent him to solitary for 15 days on May 17 for "a delay in leaving his barracks after a wakeup command in the morning." Yashin says the move was intentional to disrupt his three-day stay with his parents on the penitentiary's premises. The visit was scheduled for May 20. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Ukraine Repels Fresh Wave Of Russian Drone Strikes

Ukrainian soldiers patrol an area heavily damaged by Russian military strikes in the town of Orikhiv in the Zaporizhzhya region on May 20.
Ukrainian soldiers patrol an area heavily damaged by Russian military strikes in the town of Orikhiv in the Zaporizhzhya region on May 20.

Ukrainian air defenses shot down all 24 drones launched by Russia at targets on Ukraine's territory early on May 22, Ukraine's Air Force said in a statement. "The drones were destroyed over the Mykolayiv, Dnipropetrovsk, Zaporizhzhya, Donetsk, Sumy, and Odesa regions," the Air Force command said. Separately, the Sumy city council said power lines and water pipes were damaged by falling drone debris and that the power supply to the city was disrupted. It said work was already under way to restore water and electricity to the city's inhabitants. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service click here.

Updated

Funeral Ceremonies Under Way In Tehran For Raisi, Others Killed In Helicopter Crash

Mourners attend the funeral for victims of the helicopter crash that killed Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, and others, in Tehran on May 22.
Mourners attend the funeral for victims of the helicopter crash that killed Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, and others, in Tehran on May 22.

Thousands attended the funeral procession in Tehran for Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, and other officials killed in a helicopter crash over the weekend, with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei presiding over the start of the ceremony at a time of deepening crisis between the country's Islamic leadership and many citizens over a lack of freedoms and declining living standards.

Khamenei delivered a traditional "death prayer" for Raisi at the ceremony on May 22, three days after the accident in a remote, mountainous area of the country's northwest. Khamenei then left without giving a speech.

Crowds reached out to touch the caskets, with Iran's acting president, First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber, standing nearby.

Besides Iran's top leaders, including the chiefs of the paramilitary Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, several foreign dignitaries attended, including Pakistan's Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian, Iraqi Prime Minister Muhammad Shia al-Sudani, and a delegation from Afghanistan's Taliban rulers led by Foreign Minister Amir Khan Mutaqqi.

No Western leaders attended. Three former Iranian presidents -- Mohammad Khatami, Mahmud Ahmadinejad, and Hassan Rohani -- were also not seen among dignitaries in attendance.

After the ceremony, the caskets of Raisi and the other victims of the crash were carried out on the shoulders of people onto a platform truck amid chants of "Death to America!" and "Death to Israel!" from the crowds.

Some reports said Tehran residents received mobile phone messages urging them to attend the funeral procession, which headed toward Freedom Square in central Tehran.

The caskets were draped in Iranian flags with pictures of the deceased on them, while on Raisi's casket, a black turban was placed to mark his alleged direct descendance from Islam's Prophet Muhammad.

Although Egypt and Iran do not have diplomatic relations, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry traveled to Tehran to attend the funeral. Tehran and Cairo have recently floated the possibility of reestablishing relations, which were cut after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry said Vice Premier Zhang Guoqing would also attend the memorial service for Raisi.

Ismail Haniyeh, the leader of Hamas, which has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union, was also seen in live footage as attending. Iran has armed and supported Hamas during the ongoing war with Israel in Gaza. Sheikh Naim Qassem, the deputy leader of Hizballah, Iran's Lebanese proxy, was also present.

A presidential election to determine Raisi's successor was announced for June 28. The election is to be organized by a council consisting of the speaker of parliament, the head of the judiciary, and the first vice president.

According to Iranian media, Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Baqeri Kani was appointed acting foreign minister.

WATCH: A woman who lost 11 relatives in executions in 1988 told RFE/RL that she was celebrating Raisi's death. Raisi was accused of being on a "death committee" that ordered mass executions at the time.

As Raisi Funeral Ceremonies Begin, Mother Of Executed Iranians Celebrates
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The ceremonies marking the deaths of those involved in the crash started on May 21 with tens of thousands of mourners in attendance in the city of Tabriz, the capital of Iran's northwestern province of East Azerbaijan where the crash occurred, and the Shi'ite clerical center of Qom.

Beyond the official display of public grief, many Iranians who have been victims of acts of repression by Raisi and the Iranian regime or had relatives who suffered from such acts were adamant in voicing their satisfaction at Raisi's death.

A woman who lost 11 relatives, including two daughters, in executions allegedly coordinated by Raisi in 1988 told RFE/RL that she was celebrating his death.

"Truly, I cannot express how limitless my happiness is," Esman Vatanparast said. "When Raisi became president, it was very difficult for us hurting mothers, the survivors of the massacres committed by him."

The White House, too, had harsh words for Raisi.

U.S. national-security spokesman John Kirby told reporters that "no question, this was a man who had a lot of blood on his hands" for supporting extremist groups in the Middle East.

U.S. Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson said Raisi's rule was "barbaric" and marked by "terror, danger, and oppression."

Raisi was elected president in 2021 and had tightened many restrictions on Iranians through the enforcement of morality laws and a bloody crackdown on anti-government protests spurred by the death of Mahsa Amini while in police custody for allegedly violating the Islamic dress code on head scarves.

Thousands of people, including protesters, journalists, lawyers, athletes, and artists have been arrested and at least 500 people have been killed in Iran's brutal crackdown on the protests.

Raisi also pushed hard in nuclear talks with world powers while also allowing the country to markedly increase its uranium enrichment program.

With reporting by AP and AFP

Moldova Becomes First Nation To Sign Security, Defense Pact With EU

Moldovan Prime Minister Dorin Recean (left) shakes hands with European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell after a signing ceremony in Brussels on May 21.
Moldovan Prime Minister Dorin Recean (left) shakes hands with European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell after a signing ceremony in Brussels on May 21.

Moldova has signed a security and defense partnership with the European Union, the first country to ink such a pact, according to EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell. "This partnership will strengthen the country's resilience. It will allow for a joint approach to security challenges, make our engagement more effective, and explore new areas of cooperation," Borrell said. Moldova, led by pro-Western President Maia Sandu, has expressed hopes of joining the EU and has strongly condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Moldova’s Transdniester region, a mainly Russian-speaking sliver of land on the eastern bank of the Dniester River, declared independence in 1990. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Moldovan Service, click here.

Council Of Europe Commission Denounces Georgia's 'Foreign Agent' Law

Salome Kurasbediani, a member of the Georgian Dream party, rejected the Venice Commission's report on May 21.
Salome Kurasbediani, a member of the Georgian Dream party, rejected the Venice Commission's report on May 21.

TBILISI -- The Venice Commission of the Council of Europe said it "strongly recommends" that authorities in Georgia abandon efforts to introduce planned "foreign agent" legislation that has been condemned in the West and led to massive street protests in the South Caucasus nation.

"The Venice Commission strongly recommends repealing the law in its current form, as its fundamental flaws will involve significant negative consequences for the freedoms of association and expression, the right to privacy, the right to participate in public affairs as well as the prohibition of discrimination," its said in its "urgent opinion" published on May 21.

The commission, at the request of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, undertook to assess the Georgia legislation, which critics say is similar to laws used in Russia to silence independent media and civil society groups.

It said it "regrets that the Georgian parliament did not wait for its opinion before adopting the law, despite the calls by the president of the Parliamentary Assembly and by the secretary-general of the Council of Europe."

The ruling Georgian Dream party, which has pushed the legislation through parliament, quickly rejected the commission’s report.

"We find many unsubstantiated and conflicting legal reasonings as well as a number of gross distortions of facts [in the conclusions], which further encourages the radicalization of specific groups," Georgian Dream member Salome Kurasbediani told a briefing.

"Obviously, all this undermines the credibility of the institution and the values it should serve," she said.

The so-called foreign agent legislation -- formally the Law On Transparency Of Foreign Influence -- has been condemned by the United States, the European Union, and rights watchdogs and prompted weeks of protests that were repeatedly cracked down on violently by authorities.

The law would require media and NGOs to register as "pursuing the interests of a foreign power" if they receive more than 20 percent of their funding from abroad.

Opponents have pointed to similar legislation used by President Vladimir Putin to crush dissent in Russia and stifle independent institutions, prompting Georgians to refer to the measure as "the Russian law" and see it as endangering the country's path toward EU integration.

Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili, who has increasingly feuded with the ruling Georgian Dream party since it endorsed her candidacy in 2018, has vetoed the bill.

However, Georgian Dream's parliamentary majority will allow it to easily override the presidential veto.

Parliament Speaker Shalva Papuashvili said lawmakers, as expected, will override the veto in the upcoming week.

During the crackdown on protesters, dozens of people have been arrested, with many reporting beatings at the hands of security forces or roving bands of thugs.

The government, which claims the law is necessary to ensure transparency in social matters, has denied that demonstrators have been beaten.

An American And A Russian Confront Georgia's Violent Crackdown On Protests
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Bryan Bingham, 53, who says he is a tourist from the United States, told RFE/RL he was detained by security forces at a demonstration on May 13. He claims he was beaten by beaten by police wearing black masks.

"It happened very quickly," he said in an interview conducted three days later. "They pulled me through the police and dropped me on the ground."

"They beat me. And somebody punched my face."

"They quit beating me, but there were some Georgians that quickly arrived and they were being beaten badly," he said.

A pro-government media channel reported that Bingham came to Georgia to create "unrest," a claim he denies.

"How ridiculous," he said. "I came here to go backpacking, to meet some Georgian people."

Director Mohammad Rasoulof, Who Fled Iran, Will Attend Cannes

Film director Mohammad Rasoulof, who fled Iran, is expected to attend the Cannes Film Festival.
Film director Mohammad Rasoulof, who fled Iran, is expected to attend the Cannes Film Festival.

Film director Mohammad Rasoulof, who made a dramatic on-foot escape from Iran, will attend the Cannes Film Festival for the premiere of his new movie, organizers told AFP on May 21. The award-winning director will be on the French Cote d'Azur on May 24 when The Seed Of The Sacred Fig competes for the top prize Palme d'Or, festival director Thierry Fremaux said. An outspoken critic of the Iranian government, Rasoulof served two terms in Iranian jails over previous films and had his passport revoked in 2017. His new film tells the story of a judge's struggles amid political unrest in Tehran. He had come under pressure from the Iranian government to withdraw it from Cannes before the festival opened.

Chechnya's Kadyrov Replaces Sanctioned Prime Minister, Names Relative By Marriage To Post

Muslim Khuchiyev
Muslim Khuchiyev

Ramzan Kadyrov, the authoritarian ruler of Russia's North Caucasus region of Chechnya, on May 21 said the region's prime minister, Muslim Khuchiyev, had resigned to take to another, unspecified job. Kadyrov named Highways Minister Isa Tumkhadzhiyev as acting prime minister. Tumkhadzhiyev is married to a relative of Kadyrov. Last week, close Kadyrov associate Magomed Daudov resigned as speaker of the Chechen parliament after serving in the post for nine years. Both Khuchiyev and Daudov are under U.S. and British sanctions over their alleged roles in mass violations of human rights in Chechnya. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Caucasus.Realities, click here.

Russia Begins Drills Of Tactical Nuclear Weapons Near Ukrainian Border

 A Russian Iskander-K missile is launched during a military exercise in Russia. (file photo)
A Russian Iskander-K missile is launched during a military exercise in Russia. (file photo)

Russian has begun the "first stage" of exercises in the Southern Military District to increase the readiness of tactical nuclear forces near the Ukrainian border, the Defense Ministry said on May 21. The ministry said the "exercise is aimed at maintaining the readiness of personnel and equipment of nonstrategic nuclear weapons combat units to respond to and unconditionally ensure the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the Russian state." Plans for the drills were announced on May 6. The West has accused President Vladimir Putin of "saber-rattling" and undertaking a "continuation of Russia's irresponsible behavior." To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Russian Service, click here.

U.S., EU Criticize Kosovo's 'Uncoordinated' Moves In Serb Areas

Residents and police scuffle outside a Serbian-run bank in North Mitrovica on May 21, when Kosovar police closed six such institutions.
Residents and police scuffle outside a Serbian-run bank in North Mitrovica on May 21, when Kosovar police closed six such institutions.

PRISTINA -- EU and U.S. officials have expressed mounting concern at uncoordinated actions by Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti's government that threaten to further raise tensions with ethnic minority Serbs in the north of that Balkan country.

Speaking to reporters in Pristina on May 21, visiting U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Nicole Chulick urged Kosovo to "listen to the advice of its closest partners" as the partly recognized former Serbian province seeks to join Euro-Atlantic institutions.

Chulick said she had expressed concerns in meetings with Kurti and with Kosovar President Vjosa Osmani about a long-promised association of Serbian municipalities for dialogue with Pristina and a recent ban on the use of the Serbian dinar, which has remained in widespread use in four Serbian-dominated areas of northern Kosovo.

Kosovar police a day earlier forcibly closed and cordoned off six branches of Serbian banks operating in the region as a currency lifeline for tens of thousands of Serbs.

Pristina said the operation was aimed at establishing "order and legality."

The State Department had previously said in response to a question from RFE/RL's Balkan Service that the action had not been coordinated with Kosovo's international partners.

"Monday's operation proves again that Kosovo authorities prioritize unilateral and uncoordinated actions rather than cooperation with its friends and allies," EU spokesman Peter Stano said in a May 21 statement.

He said the seizures "without prior notice or coordination" just a few days after the last internationally mediated meeting aimed at establishing functioning Serbia-Kosovo relations "is escalatory and goes against the spirit of normalization and it undermines Kosovo's good faith in achieving normalization of relations."

Serbian and Kosovar officials have met seven times in Brussels in the span of just a few months to break the impasse over the currency ban and its effect on financial assistance from Serbia to Kosovar Serbs who make up a majority in 10 of Kosovo's 38 municipalities.

Many Kosovar Serbs don't recognize Kosovo's 2008 declaration of independence from Serbia and continue to receive social and other payments from Belgrade and conduct cash transactions in dinars.

Kosovo's Central Bank imposed a strict prohibition in February against use of the dinar outside of designated financial institutions, sparking an immediate outcry from Serbs and Belgrade and compounding EU and U.S. frustrations at unilateral moves by Pristina that could further destabilize a fractious region.

Pristina regards as illegal the parallel structures that Serbia encourages in health care, education, and other aspects of life in northern Kosovo.

"Knowing also the responsibilities that the Central Bank of Kosovo has, we have constantly expressed our concerns about the manner of implementation [of the dinar ban]," Chulick said at her Pristina press conference. "We have not felt that it has taken into consideration how it will affect the communities, especially the Serbian community. So, we are observing the situation and we are concerned."

A previous Kosovar government pledged as early as 2013 to establish an Association of Serb Majority Municipalities.

"Kosovo must continue to work on these issues, address them, and move forward again," Chulick said.

The EU spokesman echoed the U.S. linkage between progress in talks and the establishment of an entity to represent minority Serbs in Kosovo.

"The status of all Serbia-supported structures and services is foreseen to be resolved in the EU-facilitated Dialogue, in connection with the establishment of the Association/Community of Serb-Majority municipalities," Stano said.

Kosovar police said the operation followed reports from financial monitors including the central bank, and included Kosovar tax authorities.

The United States and the European Union have repeatedly expressed frustration with actions by Kurti's government, including the forcible seating of ethnic Albanian mayors in four majority-Serbian municipalities after boycotted elections in the north last year that sparked violent protests, injuring dozens of NATO KFOR peacekeepers.

KFOR vehicles were visible in areas where the Kosovar police were raiding the Serbian banks.

But KFOR said on May 21 that its personnel "were not involved in the conduct of these operations."

Ex-Russian Army Commander Who Once Criticized Top Brass Arrested On Fraud Charges

Ivan Popov
Ivan Popov

The former commander of Russia’s 58th Army -- who had once complained about his forces' lack of support from Moscow -- has been arrested on fraud charges, state-run TASS news agency reported.

TASS, citing unidentified law enforcement officials, on May 21 said a military court had ordered that Major General Ivan Popov be detained for two months amid ongoing actions against current and former military leaders.

Interfax quoted Popov’s lawyer, Sergei Buinovsky, as saying the general has claimed his innocence and has appealed against the detention.

Popov was fired as commander of the 58th Combined Arms Army in Ukraine's occupied Zaporizhzhya region in July after complaining to top officials that his forces were not receiving the proper weapons and reconnaissance systems and that they were not being sufficiently rotated.

The Dva Mayora and Grey Zone Telegram channels reported that the case against Popov is linked to the alleged embezzlement of 100 million rubles ($1.1 million) allocated for military needs in parts of the Zaporizhzhya region.

The reports about Popov's arrest come less than a week after investigators arrested Lieutenant General Yury Kuznetsov, who headed the personnel directorate of Russia's Defense Ministry, in an alleged corruption case.

Kuznetsov’s arrest on May 14 came just two days after President Vladimir Putin relieved his close ally Sergei Shoigu of his duties as defense minister.

In late April, police detained Deputy Defense Minister Timur Ivanov on bribe-taking charges and a court later sent him to pretrial detention for at least two months.

Putin replaced Shoigu with former First Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Belousov, 65, a politician who specializes in economic matters. The move is seen as part of a strategy to make the armed forces more streamlined with Russia's invasion of Ukraine now in its third year.

On May 20, Putin appointed Oleg Savelyev, the former minister on Crimean affairs, to the post of deputy defense minister.

The 58-year-old Savelyev also served as deputy minister for economic development and as the auditor at the Audit Chamber, a parliamentary group that serves as a financial watchdog.

With reporting by Reuters
Updated

EU Approves Use Of Frozen Russian Assets For Ukraine As Zelenskiy Claims 'Tangible' Results

(file photo)
(file photo)

The European Union has given official approval for the use of proceeds from frozen assets of the Russian central bank to beef up the defense of Ukraine, the European Council announced on May 21, a move that could see as much as 3 billion euros ($3.23 billion) diverted to Kyiv's military this year.

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The news comes as Ukraine continues to urge its Western allies to ramp up and accelerate military aid for its troops , who are struggling to stave off an offensive in the east by the much more numerous and better armed Russian forces.

It also comes as President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on May 21 insisted that Ukrainian troops in the Kharkiv region were fighting back with “tangible” results against Russian forces amid reports of fierce battles and territorial setbacks in the northeast.

"In the Kharkiv region, our forces are destroying the occupier, the results are tangible," Zelenskiy said in his nightly video address while acknowledging that the situation in some areas was "extremely difficult at the moment."

Battlefield claims could not immediately be verified.

The EU decision was announced in Brussels by the Belgian government, which currently holds the 27-member bloc's rotating presidency.

"The European Council has confirmed its agreement to use windfall profits from Russia’s immobilized assets to support #Ukraine’s military self-defense and reconstruction in the context of the Russian aggression," it said on X, formerly Twitter.

Some 210 billion euros ($225 billion) of assets belonging to Russia's central bank were frozen by the EU following Moscow's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 -- an amount estimated to generate interest of some 3 billion euros ($3.23 billion) annually.

Some 90 percent of the proceeds would be placed in the European Peace Facility fund used by most EU members to obtain reimbursement for military equipment delivered to Ukraine.

Separately, Reuters reported, quoting an unnamed source, that Germany -- the bloc's largest economy -- plans to increase its military aid for Ukraine by another 3.8 billion euros ($4.13 billion) this year, confirming a report by the German newspaper Bild.

The news came as German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock traveled to Kyiv for a previously unannounced trip -- her seventh since the start of Russia's invasion.

Barbock called for more international support for Ukraine's air defenses in view of the current Russian offensive.

At the end of last month, Germany delivered Ukraine a fresh package of military aid, including weapons and ammunition.

Meanwhile, regional officials reported that four people were wounded and a transport infrastructure facility was damaged in a series of drone strikes on Ukraine's northeastern city of Kharkiv early on May 21.

Meanwhile, regional officials reported that four people were wounded and a transport infrastructure facility was damaged in a series of drone strikes on Ukraine's northeastern city of Kharkiv early on May 21, regional officials reported.

“Regarding the morning attack, the target was a transport infrastructure facility,” Kharkiv Mayor Ihor Terekhov wrote on Telegram.

Governor Oleh Synyehubov also said on Telegram that an infrastructure facility had been damaged, and added that debris from fallen drones damaged several private houses in Ukraine's second-largest city.

Earlier on May 21, a general air raid alert was declared for the whole territory of Ukraine.

With reporting by AFP

Imprisoned Kremlin Critic Kara-Murza Loses Another Appeal In Court

Vladimir Kara-Murza (file photo)
Vladimir Kara-Murza (file photo)

The Moscow City Court on May 21 rejected an appeal filed by imprisoned Kremlin critic Vladimir Kara-Murza against a lower court's refusal to consider his lawsuit against Russia's Investigative Committee for failing to fully investigate his suspected poisoning.

“I am absolutely not surprised that nobody will investigate attempted murders of opposition politicians in current Russia, including the murders of [Kremlin-critics] Boris Nemtsov and Aleksei Navalny,” Kara-Murza said after the ruling.

Kara-Murza suddenly fell deathly ill on two separate occasions in Moscow -- in 2015 and 2017-- with symptoms consistent with poisoning.

Tissue samples smuggled from Russia to the United States by his relatives were turned over to the FBI, which investigated the case as one of "intentional poisoning."

U.S. government laboratories also conducted extensive tests on the samples, but documents released by the Justice Department suggest they were unable to reach a conclusive finding.

Kara-Murza's lawyer sent requests to the Investigative Committee to investigate both of the poisonings, but those requests were denied.

The Kremlin has denied any involvement in the incidents.

Moscow's Zamoskvorechye district court rejected Kara-Murza's inaction lawsuit against the Investigative Committee in February this year.

Kara-Murza, 42, who holds Russian and British passports, was initially arrested in April 2022 after returning to Russia from abroad and charged with disobeying a police officer.

He was later charged with discrediting the Russian military, a charge stemming from Russia's 2022 invasion of Ukraine and a Kremlin push to stamp out criticism of the subject. He was later additionally charged with treason over remarks he made in speeches outside Russia that criticized Kremlin policies.

In April last year, Kara-Murza was found guilty of all charges and sentenced to 25 years in prison. He and his supporters reject the charges as politically motivated.

With reporting by Mediazona

Iranian-Danish Director Of The Apprentice Offers To Screen Movie For Trump

Iranian-Danish director Ali Abbasi (file photo)
Iranian-Danish director Ali Abbasi (file photo)

Donald Trump’s reelection campaign has called The Apprentice, a film about the former U.S. president in the 1980s, “pure fiction” and vowed legal action following its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival.

But Iranian-Danish director Ali Abbasi is offering to privately screen the film for Trump.

Following its premiere on May 19 in Cannes, Steven Cheung, Trump's campaign spokesperson, said the Trump team will be filing a lawsuit “to address the blatantly false assertions from these pretend filmmakers."

Abbasi said he "would offer to go and meet [Trump] wherever he wants and talk about the context of the movie, have a screening and have a chat afterwards, if that’s interesting to anyone at the Trump campaign.”

Russian Scientist Gets 14 Years In Prison On Treason Charge

Anatoly Maslov in court on May 21
Anatoly Maslov in court on May 21

A court in St. Petersburg sentenced Russian physicist Anatoly Maslov on May 21 to 14 years in prison for treason. The 77-year-old expert in the field of fluid gas and a professor at the Aerohydrodynamics Department at Novosibirsk State Technical University was arrested in 2022 on suspicion of passing classified information to a foreign country. Maslov rejects the charge. At least 12 scientists have been arrested in Russia on treason charges since 2018, mostly for activities considered a normal part of scientific work, such as publishing papers internationally, collaborating with colleagues from other countries, and attending international conferences. To read the original story by RFE/RL's North.Realities, click here.

Pakistani Students Continue To Leave Kyrgyzstan Following Mob Attacks

Pakistani students wait to leave Kyrgyzstan at Manas international airport in Bishkek on May 21.
Pakistani students wait to leave Kyrgyzstan at Manas international airport in Bishkek on May 21.

BISHKEK -- Pakistani students are continuing to leave Kyrgyzstan following last weekend's violent mob attacks targeting university students from the South Asian nation who were studying in Bishkek.

Eight charter flights from Bishkek to the Pakistani cities of Islamabad, Lahore, and Peshawar took hundreds more students from the Central Asian nation's capital on May 21.

A day earlier, Kyrgyz officials confirmed that about 1,200 Pakistani students had left the country after the May 18 violence, which was triggered by the appearance on social media of a video purportedly showing a group of "people of Asian appearance" harassing foreign students on the night of May 13.

The group then pursued the students to their dormitory, where at least one foreigner was assaulted by several men and dragged along the floor.

Kyrgyzstan’s Health Ministry said on May 20 that more than 40 people were injured during the violence, some of whom were taken to hospital.

As Foreign Student Exodus Continues, Officials Fear Kyrgyzstan's Reputation Is On The Line
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On May 21, Kyrgyzstan's Foreign Ministry said Pakistani Foreign Minister Muhammad Ishaq Dar, who is currently attending a gathering of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s foreign ministers in neighboring Kazakhstan, will visit Kyrgyzstan and meet with Kyrgyz officials to discuss the situation faced by Pakistani students in Bishkek.

The Interior Ministry said on May 21 that police detained a fourth Kyrgyz man suspected of being involved in the initial attack on foreign students. The ministry said earlier that four foreign nationals had also been detained on hooliganism charges.

The Kyrgyz government has vowed to pursue those responsible for the violence and rejected what it said were "insinuations aimed at inciting intolerance toward foreign students."

Still, it appeared to lay the blame for the violence on illegal migrants, saying authorities had been taking "decisive measures to suppress illegal migration and expel undesirable persons from Kyrgyzstan."

Just three days before the violence, Kyrgyzstan's State Committee for National Security detained 28 Pakistani nationals for "working illegally" in a sewing shop in Bishkek.

The same day, Bishkek city police shut down delivery services conducted by more than 400 foreign students, mostly from Pakistan, on motorcycles and scooters, citing traffic safety concerns.

Kyrgyzstan's State Committee for National Security (UKMK) said on May 21 that six Pakistani nationals were detained overnight while trying to illegally enter Kyrgyzstan from Kazakhstan.

Belarusian Activist Not Released After Serving Prison Term For Second Time

Palina Sharenda-Panasyuk (file photo)
Palina Sharenda-Panasyuk (file photo)

Belarusian activist Palina Sharenda-Panasyuk, who was expected to be released from prison on May 21 after serving 3 years and 5 months, remains in custody and may face an additional unspecified charge, her husband, Andrey Sharenda, told RFE/RL. No reason has been given for the extended detention. Sharenda-Panasyuk, an activist for the European Belarus movement, was initially arrested in 2021 and sentenced to two years in prison for insulting authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka and allegedly assaulting a police officer. She was scheduled to be released in August 2023 but instead she was charged with "violating her penitentiary's internal regulations" and her prison term was extended until May 21, 2024. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Belarus Service, click here.

Chinese Foreign Minister Reiterates Beijing's Support For Kazakh Independence

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Astana on May 20.
China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Astana on May 20.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has reiterated Beijing's readiness to "firmly support Kazakhstan's efforts to defend its independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity."

Speaking after a meeting with Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev in Astana on May 20, Wang echoed several similar statements made by Chinese leader Xi Jinping in recent years for China's backing of its neighbor to the northeast.

"China will support a series of strategies for development and important measures initiated by [the Kazakh] President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev, oppose with resolve against any external forces that are trying to interfere in the internal affairs of that country," Wang said.

Since Moscow launched its ongoing invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, many in Kazakhstan and elsewhere have considered statements from Chinese leaders regarding Kazakhstan and other Central Asian nations to be a message to Russia, where in recent months, many pro-Kremlin politicians and political observers have hinted that Kazakhstan is a takeover target for Moscow.

Toqaev, in his turn, praised Chinese-Kazakh ties, emphasizing that his country's giant neighbor "will remain Kazakhstan's reliable partner."

"China's diplomacy plays an important role in the world's policies. The future of Kazakh-Chinese relations is significant," Toqaev said during his talks with Wang.

The Kazakh presidential press service said that Toqaev also held talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on May 20.

Foreign ministers from member states of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) -- China, India, Iran, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan -- arrived for a meeting in the Kazakh capital this week.

It was announced at the foreign ministers' gathering held on May 21 that the leaders of the SCO's member states will convene again in Astana on July 3-4.

With reporting by Xinhua and Tengrinews

Pakistanis Warned To Stay Indoors Ahead Of New Heat Wave

People cooling off on a sweltering afternoon in Lahore on May 19.
People cooling off on a sweltering afternoon in Lahore on May 19.

Authorities in Pakistan on May 21 urged people to stay indoors as the country is hit by an extreme heat wave that threatens to bring dangerously high temperatures and yet another round of glacial-driven floods. Pakistan’s most populous province, Punjab, is shutting all schools for a week because of the heat, affecting an estimated 18 million students. Zaheer Ahmed Babar, a senior official at the Pakistan Meteorological Department, said temperatures could reach up to 6 degrees Celsius above the monthly average. This week, the temperature could rise above 40 degrees Celsius in many parts of the country, Babar said.

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