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Moldova To Sharply Reduce Number Of Russian Diplomats Amid 'Destabilization' Fears

Moldovan Foreign Minister Nicu Popescu (file photo)
Moldovan Foreign Minister Nicu Popescu (file photo)

Foreign Minister Nicu Popescu has announced that Moldova is drastically reducing the number of accredited Russian diplomats allowed into the country.

Popescu, who made the announcement at the start of a government meeting on July 26, said the move will result in fewer "individuals to destabilize the country."

He added that for decades Moldova has been "the target of quite hostile types of activities and policies on the part of the Russian Federation," with some of those activities carried out through the embassy.

"It's very important that diplomatic missions focus on developing good relations between countries," Popescu said.

"Or, since a sizeable number of diplomats of a country are focused on efforts to destabilize our state...we decided together with the political leadership to limit the number of accredited Russian Federation diplomats so that a smaller number of destabilizing individuals remain here."

Government spokesman Daniel Voda said the number of Russian diplomats will be reduced by some 75 percent -- to 10 from 37 -- and the number of technical personnel to 15 from 34.

Russia must comply with the decision by August 15, the Foreign Ministry said.

Since Moldova gained independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991, Moscow has been continuously holding considerable sway in the country.

Russia still keeps more than 1,000 troops in Moldova's breakaway region of Transdniester, ostensibly as peacekeepers after Chisinau and Russia-backed separatists fought a short but bloody war in 1992 that was curbed by Moscow's intervention on the side of the insurgents.

The small country of 2.6 million has received thousands of Ukrainian refugees and initially voiced fears of a potential Russian invasion aided by the troops stationed in Transdniester.

Russia's Ambassador to Moldova Oleg Vasnetsov was summoned on July 25 to the Moldovan Foreign Ministry following a media investigation that found that there were an "excessive" number of antennas on the roof of the embassy building.

The investigation by The Insider and Jurnal TV found that there are many antennas capable of receiving various electronic signals mounted on the embassy roof and identified individuals who operate the antennas and who are reported to have links with Russian intelligence.

Vasnetsov argued that the antennas were installed during the construction of the embassy in the late 1990s when phone networks and the Internet were of poor quality in Moldova.

"This so-called espionage scandal is just an excuse to implement a decision already made some time ago to reduce the number of diplomatic staff," Vasnetsov said after the meeting.

"In our opinion, this move seriously undermines the dialogue between our countries and is not in the spirit of friendly relations."

Since beating Moscow-backed incumbent Igor Dodon in November 2020, U.S.-educated President Maia Sandu has firmly steered Moldova toward the West and last year gained an invitation for her country to open negotiations for European Union membership.

With reporting by nordnews.md

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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.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

RFE/RL's Live Briefing gives you all of the latest developments on Russia's full-scale invasion, Kyiv's counteroffensive, Western military aid, global reaction, and the plight of civilians. For all of RFE/RL's coverage of the war in Ukraine, click here.

The 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.

Updated

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

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State James O'Brien (file photo)
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State James O'Brien (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 Four 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.

Updated

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 Five 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

Three 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.

Updated

EU Approves New Sanctions To Limit 'Russia's Criminal Actions Against Ukraine'

The European Union's foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, says a new package of sanctions seeks "to limit Russia’s criminal activities against Ukrainians."
The European Union's foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, says a new package of sanctions seeks "to limit Russia’s criminal activities against Ukrainians."

The European Union's 27 members agreed on a new package of sanctions against Russia over its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, with the target being "high-value sectors" including energy, finance, and trade.

The package, the bloc's 14th against Russia, also seeks to make it more difficult for third parties to circumvent all of the measures put in place against Moscow since February 2022, when Russian troops poured over the border, setting off Europe's worst conflict since World War II.

"Our sanctions have already significantly weakened the Russian economy and prevented Putin from accomplishing his plans to destroy Ukraine, although he still continues the illegal aggression targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure," said Josep Borrell, the EU's foreign policy chief.

"The 14th package of sanctions demonstrates our unity in supporting Ukraine and seeking to limit Russia's criminal activities against Ukrainians, including efforts to circumvent EU measures."

The package includes restrictive measures on additional 116 individuals and entities "responsible for actions undermining or threatening the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine," the bloc said, adding that it was also "equipping itself with additional tools to crack down on circumvention."

Since Moscow's full-scale invasion of Ukraine more than two years ago, the United States, Britain, the European Union, Australia, Canada, and Japan have imposed thousands of sanctions on Russia.

The main target of the measures has been Russian finances, especially the networks that fund Moscow's war effort.

Moscow dismissed the new measures, saying the sanctions are ineffective and will actually hurt the European Union.

The West is not looking at the consequences for its own economy or for the prosperity of people in the EU, said Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Grushko in Moscow.

"The purpose of the sanctions was to strangle the Russian economy and destroy the cohesion of society. The EU has achieved the opposite," said Grushko.

The Russian Foreign Ministry also announced that it banned additional people from politics, business, and institutions from entering Russia. No details were given.

Amid the grinding conflict that's claimed tens of thousands of lives, the companies, entities, and individuals connected to Russia's defense and security sector have been added to ever-growing lists compiled by Brussels, Washington, and their partners meant to curb Moscow's capacity on the battlefield.

But as the war enters its third year, a growing body of evidence shows Moscow can circumvent many of these sanctions and get key items for its military from third countries despite Western attempts to stop those efforts.

The EU's sanctions list now includes more than 2,200 entities and individuals.

In the energy sector, the bloc said reloading services for Russian LNG in EU territory for the purpose of transshipment operations to third countries is banned.

The new package outlaws the use of the System for Transfer of Financial Messages (SPFS), a specialized financial-messaging service developed by the central bank of Russia to neutralize the effect of restrictive measures.

It also forces EU operators transferring industrial know-how for the production of battlefield goods to third-country commercial counterparts to include contractual provisions to ensure that such know-how will not be used for goods intended for use in Russia.

Earlier this month, the United States issued new sanctions targeting hundreds of individuals and companies for helping Moscow circumvent Western blocks on obtaining key technology, including seven Chinese-based companies.

North Macedonia's Parliament Elects New Right-Wing Government

North Macedonia's parliament session for the election of the government
North Macedonia's parliament session for the election of the government

North Macedonia's parliament on June 23 approved a new coalition government led by Hristijan Mickoski’s right-wing nationalist VMRO-DPMNE party.

A total 77 lawmakers in the 120-seat parliament voted in favor of the new government; 22 voted against. The remaining 21 lawmakers were absent during the balloting.

Including the 46-year-old Mickoski as prime minister, there will be 24 ministers in the government, five of whom will be deputy prime ministers.

Sixteen of the cabinet members are from the VMRO-DPMNE-led coalition Your Macedonia, six from the coalition Vredi block of Albanian opposition parties, and two from the political party Znam.

Mickoski's VMRO-DPMNE received 43 percent of the vote on May 9, winning 58 seats -- three short of a governing majority -- and driving out the Social Democrats (SDSM) after seven years in power.

Mickoski then struck a deal to form a government with the ethnic Albanian parties and the left-wing nationalist Znam party, which together have 20 seats.

In his closing remarks before the vote, Mickoski told the parliament that the citizens of North Macedonia “are fed up with bickering" and "need work, dedication, accountability, and concrete projects."

He pledged to raise standards in the first 100 days and announced tax cuts, an increase in pensions, a 250 million euro ($267 million) project for municipalities, new foreign investments, and front against corruption.

After the government was elected, Mickoski and his cabinet made a statement in which the leader of VMRO-DPMNE used the constitutional name Republic of North Macedonia.

Referring to the word North as a “shameful adjective,” he said he would “do everything I can as long as I live to right this injustice,” but added that he is “powerless at this point” and must “capitulate…and say it."

Gordana Siljanovska-Davkova, the president of North Macedonia, angered opposition leaders when she refused to use the country's full official name at her inauguration on May 12.

Explainer: Why Won't North Macedonia's New President Say The Country's New Name?
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Mickoski in his speech referred to the negotiating framework with the EU and the need for constitutional amendments to continue the accession process.

Mickoski, a former professor, has pledged to continue his efforts to shepherd North Macedonia into the European Union, but VMRO-DPMNE’s questioning of key agreements with neighboring Bulgaria and Greece -- both which can block North Macedonia’s accession -- could affect North Macedonia’s chances.

Defending the composition and program of the new government, deputies in the ruling majority described the vote as "huge" and "historic."

The opposition in turn criticized the new government, saying its platform is far from the promises made by VMRO-DPMNE during the election campaign. SDSM deputies criticized it as manipulative and expressed doubts that the promised projects would come to fruition.

The new government's first working day will be June 24 when the new prime minister and ministers are expected to take office. Mickoski announced a "furious start to projects," including the promotion of new investments.

Tajik Scientist Released In Australia After Being Jailed On Charge Of Inciting Terrorism

Abdusalom Odinazoda, a Tajik scientist who has completed his prison sentence for inciting terrorism in Australia (file photo)
Abdusalom Odinazoda, a Tajik scientist who has completed his prison sentence for inciting terrorism in Australia (file photo)

A Tajikistan-born scientist and former researcher at the University of Western Australia has been released after serving a 3 1/2-year prison sentence for inciting terrorism.

Abdusalom Odinazoda confirmed in an interview on June 23 with RFE/RL that his sentence concluded on June 19. He was released on June 22.

Australian authorities alleged that Odinazoda had shared numerous videos on his YouTube channel between January 2019 and his arrest at the end of 2020 in which he advocated for the overthrow of the Tajik government and the establishment of a caliphate.

Odinazoda told RFE/RL that authorities investigated 16 of his videos and concluded they contained “terrorist propaganda.”

Court records indicate that Odinazoda extensively discussed the influence of the Taliban in Afghanistan and the Islamic State extremist group in Syria. These videos garnered more than 1.6 million views, largely from people located in Russia and Tajikistan.

Odinazoda at the time of his sentencing in August 2022 was considered by the authorities in Western Australia to be one of the state’s most dangerous people.

He was due to stand trial on three charges in 2023, but prosecutors dropped two of the charges after Odinazoda agreed to plead guilty to one count of inciting terrorism.

In the interview with RFE/RL, Odinazoda did not fully accept the accusation that he incited terrorism, but he admitted to having crossed a "red line" at that time.

Odinazoda stated his intention to continue his activities on social networks but expressed a commitment to exercising greater caution.

Prior to his arrest in December 2020, Odinazoda, 56, worked as a biochemist at the University of Western Australia for a decade.

"Given my criminal record, there is no possibility of returning to university employment. Currently, I rely on state aid provided to unemployed individuals," he said.

Odinazoda emigrated to Australia years ago and obtained citizenship. He briefly returned to Tajikistan for work but subsequently returned to Australia. He is also sought in Tajikistan on charges of "extremism."

Gunmen Kill At Least 20 In Attacks In Russia's Daghestan

Emergency services personnel work at a local synagogue in Derbent set on fire early on June 24.
Emergency services personnel work at a local synagogue in Derbent set on fire early on June 24.

At least 20 people were killed, including civilians and police officers, when gunmen opened fire at two Orthodox churches, two synagogues, and a police station in separate attacks in the cities of Derbent and Makhachkala in Russia's North Caucasus region of Daghestan.

Investigators earlier said that four civilians were killed, with 15 police officers reportedly killed in the June 23 attacks.

At least 46 people were injured, according to Russian officials.

Shock And Devastation After Attacks In Russia's Daghestan Region
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Regional Governor Sergei Melikov, in a video statement posted on Telegram early on June 24, 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.

Russia’s National Anti-Terrorism Committee declared the security operation over by the morning of June 24.

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 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.

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, Russia's worst terrorist attack in years.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility by IS or any other groups for the attacks in the volatile North Caucasus region on June 23.

"This is a day of tragedy for Daghestan and the whole country," Melikov said after officials announced three days of mourning for the region.

According to a local religious organization in the majority Muslim region, the attacks occurred on a religious holiday in the Russian Orthodox Church.

"The radicals want to pit us against each other with all their might and burn interfaith bridges. But they won't succeed," the organization said.

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.

Derbent is home to an ancient Jewish community and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The attack on the police station occurred in Makhachkala, the capital of Daghestan, 125 kilometers north of Derbent.

Unknown assailants attacked a traffic police post, and according to the Interior Ministry of Daghestan, two assailants were killed in Makhachkala, whose airport in October was shut down for several days when a mob shouting anti-Jewish epithets stormed it after the arrival of a flight from Israel.

Anti-Jewish protests broke out in several cities in the region after the October 7 attack on Israel by Hamas, which has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union.

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 attack, Russia's worst terrorist attack in two decades.

Albanian Forward Daku Gets 2-Game Suspension After Leading Offensive Chants At Euro 2024

Albanian forward Mirlind Daku during the UEFA Euro 2024 match against Croatia
Albanian forward Mirlind Daku during the UEFA Euro 2024 match against Croatia

Albania forward Mirlind Daku has been suspended for two games for leading his team's fans in offensive chants about Serbia and North Macedonia at Euro 2024. Daku used a megaphone for joining in the chanting of slogans against the two countries following his side's 2-2 draw with Croatia on June 19 in Hamburg. He later apologized. UEFA said in a statement on June 23 that the Daku had violated the basic rules of decent conduct. It added that an investigation into potential racist and discriminatory conduct by fans at the match was ongoing.

Police In Pakistan's Swat District Arrest 22 Following Mob Killing, Rioting

The aftermath of the June 20 mob violence in the Swat District
The aftermath of the June 20 mob violence in the Swat District

Twenty-two people have been arrested in the restive Swat District of Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province following mob violence and the killing of a local tourist accused of blasphemy. Bacha Hazrat, the head of the Swat Police investigative unit, said on June 23 that those arrested are being investigated for murder and terrorist acts in connection with the killing and the subsequent storming of a local police station on June 20. Hazrat also said that a charge of blasphemy had been filed against the victim, who was beaten and set alight after he was accused of defiling a local shrine. To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Radio Mashaal, click here.

Anniversary Of Prigozhin Mutiny Marked By Detention Of Media Ally

Members of Prigozhin's Wagner mercenary force are seen in southwestern Russia as they marched toward Moscow last year.
Members of Prigozhin's Wagner mercenary force are seen in southwestern Russia as they marched toward Moscow last year.

On the anniversary of the mutiny carried out in Russia by the late mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin, the Federal Security Service (FSB) has detained a top manager of his purported “troll factory.” Ilya Gorbunov, a former top manager of Patriot media, was detained on June 22 in St. Petersburg, according to the local newspaper Fontanka. Gorbunov has reportedly been accused of extorting money from a member of the Public Chamber and former director of the St. Petersburg television channel. Gorbunov was allegedly responsible for covering the march on Moscow by Prigozhin’s Wagner mercenary force on June 23, 2023. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

Metropolitan Ionafan, Imprisoned By Ukraine For Supporting Russia, Being Sent To Moscow

Metropolitan Ionafan
Metropolitan Ionafan

Metropolitan Ionafan of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC), who was sentenced to five years in prison in August for his support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, has reportedly been released and will be sent to Moscow following the intervention of Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill.

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The development regarding Ionafan of the UOC, formerly known as the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP), was announced on June 22 by the Russian Orthodox Church.

The separate Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) gained its ecclesiastical independence from the UOC-MP and the Russian Orthodox Church in 2019. Following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, authorities in Kyiv have accused some UOC-MP clerics of supporting Moscow in the war.

Metropolitan Ionafan, or Anatoliy Yeletskykh, was accused last year of distributing pro-Russian leaflets to his congregation, posting statements on his diocese’s website declaring the primacy of the UOC-MP over the OCU, and of supporting the Russian invasion.

Ionafan was sentenced on August 8 to five years in prison after a court in the Ukrainian city of Vinnytsya found him guilty on four counts, including calling for the violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity, taking actions against Ukraine’s constitutional order, and the premeditated violation of citizens’ rights.

Ionafan was the first working UOC diocese head to be sentenced to a prison term in Ukraine in relation to the war. A former metropolitan, Iosaf, was previously sentenced to three years’ imprisonment for distributing pro-Russian propaganda.

Ionafan had been under house arrest following his appeal of his sentence and reportedly suffered a stroke during his incarceration. On June 18, an appeals court upheld his original sentence.

The UOC-MP said that Ionafan had lost his Ukrainian citizenship and would “soon arrive in Moscow,” without providing further details of his release.

Updated

Russia Targets Kyiv Region As Moscow Says 4 Killed In Attacks On Sevastopol, Belgorod

Residential buildings damaged during a Russian missile strike are seen in the Kyiv region on June 23.
Residential buildings damaged during a Russian missile strike are seen in the Kyiv region on June 23.

Russia launched three missiles targeting Kyiv region in an early morning strike on June 23 after at least two civilians were killed when a residential building was struck by a Russian bomb in the northeastern city of Kharkiv a day earlier.

Ukraine’s Air Force said that two of the three missiles fired at the Kyiv region on June 23 were downed. It was unclear whether the third missile caused any injuries or damage.

The strike came on the same day that Russian officials announced that Ukraine had launched dozens of drones and missiles targeting Russian-occupied territory on Crimea and the southern Russian city of Belgorod.

Russian Strike On Kharkiv Apartment Building Leaves Dead, Injured
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Mikhail Razvozhayev, the Moscow-installed governor of Sevastopol on the occupied Crimean Peninsula, said three people were killed and more than 100 injured in the strike on the peninsula. Razvozhayev said missile fragments fell near a beach on the north side of Sevastopol in a park.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said Ukraine fired five long-range missile systems known as ATACMS, short for Army Tactical Missile System. It said four were shot down and the fifth exploded in midair.

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RFE/RL's Live Briefing gives you all of the latest developments on Russia's full-scale invasion, Kyiv's counteroffensive, Western military aid, global reaction, and the plight of civilians. For all of RFE/RL's coverage of the war in Ukraine, click here.

In Russia’s southwestern Belgorod region, which borders Ukraine, one person was killed and three were injured by Ukrainian drones, said regional Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov.

More than 30 drones were reportedly destroyed over Russia’s western Bryansk, Smolensk, Lipetsk, and Tula regions, the Russian Defense Ministry said.

No casualties were reported by Russian authorities in the two regions.

The General Staff of Ukraine’s’ Armed Forces said on June 23 in its afternoon report on fighting that Russian troops made 81 attempts to advance, most of them in the areas around Kupyansk and Pokrovskiy, where 17 attacks were ongoing as of 4 p.m. local time.

Russia's attacks on Kyiv and Kharkiv earlier on June 23 came a day after Russia launched a large-scale missile and drone attack on Ukraine’s battered energy infrastructure. The strikes damaged power transmission systems in the southeastern Zaporizhzhya and western Lviv regions, Ukrenerho said.

Ukrenerho said the attack was the eighth large-scale strike targeting the country's energy grid over the past three months. Rolling electricity blackouts will be imposed nationwide throughout June 24 as a result of the attack, Ukrenerho announced.

The Ukrainian Interior Ministry said on June 22 that three people were killed in the Kharkiv bombing and at least 56 were injured. The State Emergency Service on June 23 issued revised the figures downward to two killed and 53 injured, including three children.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who has called in recent days for measures to protect Ukraine’s energy system, said during his nightly televised address on June 22 that Russia has dropped more than 2,400 guided bombs on Ukraine this month, including about 700 on Kharkiv alone.

Zelenskiy repeated his plea for additional air defenses from his Western allies and for decisions that would allow Ukraine to destroy Russian combat aircraft "where they are."

With reporting by Reuters, AP, dpa, and AFP

Thousands Gather In Sofia For Annual LGBT Celebration

Bulgarians participate in Pride events in the capital, Sofia, on June 22.
Bulgarians participate in Pride events in the capital, Sofia, on June 22.

Thousands of people gathered in central Sofia on June 22 for the annual LGBT Pride celebration in the Bulgarian capital. "I would define Pride as a celebration of freedom and acceptance. An opportunity and an invitation to be ourselves, not to judge, not to hate, and to love a little more," host Karina Okolies said during the opening of a concert at the event. The LGBT community in Bulgaria has been subject to frequent homophobic attacks in recent years. Earlier this year, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) obliged Bulgaria to provide legal recognition for same-sex relationships. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Bulgarian Service, click here.

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