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U.S. Says Moscow Aims To Destabilize Moldova, Bring In 'Russia-Friendly' Government

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby (file photo)
White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby (file photo)

The United States on March 10 accused Russia of trying to destabilize the ex-Soviet republic of Moldova, including through the use of street protests, with the goal of eventually bringing in a pro-Moscow government. "We believe Russia is pursuing options to weaken the Moldovan government, probably with the eventual goal of seeing a more Russian-friendly administration," National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters. Moldova's government is seeking closer ties to Western institutions and is close to the pro-Western government of neighboring Ukraine, which has been battling a Russian invasion for more than a year.

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Zelenskiy Says Fighting 'Difficult' As Ukrainian Forces Repel Russian Assault On Chasiv Yar

Ukrainians Scramble To Evacuate Vovchansk As Russia Advances In Kharkiv.
Ukrainians Scramble To Evacuate Vovchansk As Russia Advances In Kharkiv.

Russian forces shelled the border regions of Sumy and Kharkiv on May 18, wounding civilians, while pitch battles took place near the cities of Kramatorsk, Pokrovsk, and Kurakhiv, military and civilian officials said.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said that the fighting "is difficult, but the Armed Forces are giving a worthy rebuff to the occupier."

Speaking in his evening address, Zelenskiy said the Ukrainian military repelled a Russian assault in the area of Chasiv Yar in the Donetsk region. Ukrainian soldiers destroyed more than 20 units of armored vehicles of the occupier, he claimed, thanking “the guys who repelled the Russian assault on Chasiv Yar.”

The village lies on high ground that Russia has been fighting desperately to capture. Ukrainian forces have repelled the effort so far.

Seizing Chasiv Yar would allow Russia to threaten Kostyantynivka and its rail and roadway and crack the door toward Kramatorsk to the north, and Slovyansk, both large population centers and redoubts of Ukrainian troops and supplies.

In the Chernihiv region on May 18 one person was wounded by shelling, according to the press services of the local regional military administrations.

According to the information of the Sumy regional military administration, Russian forces as of 9 p.m. local time on May 18, shelled border territories and settlements in the region 46 times, wounding one person. It said 284 explosions were recorded.

The General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said seven of 77 combat clashes during the day were still ongoing in the evening, the "hottest" being in the Pokrovsk direction.

According to the military, Ukrainian aviation on May 18 struck 18 areas of concentration of Russian forces and two of their anti-aircraft missile systems.

Ukrainian soldiers carried out assaults four times with the aim of knocking the enemy out of the occupied positions, the General Staff said.

Ten clashes took place in the Kharkiv area during the day after Russian forces carried out an air strike on a residential area of the city of Kharkiv using two guided aerial bombs.

Ukrainian prosecutors said they were investigating the air strike, which wounded five civilians, including a 13-year-old girl and 16-year-old male, as a potential war crime.

Meanwhile, the Russian Defense Ministry said its forces captured the village of Starytsya in the Kharkiv region on May 18.

It was not possible to verity either side’s battlefield claims.

Russian troops began shelling border settlements in the Kharkiv region on May 10 and launched a ground offensive in the area of Vovchansk. On May 16, Russian units appeared to have entered Vovchansk, about 5 kilometers from the border, and the site of the fiercest fighting in the north.

Earlier on May 18, a Russian missile attack on Ukraine's southern Black Sea port city of Odesa killed one person and wounded eight others, regional Governor Oleh Kiper said on Telegram.

Ukraine's Emergency Situations Service reported that the strike hit a warehouse and a fire broke out on an area of 800 square meters, which firefighters were extinguishing.

Poland To Spend Around $2.5 Billion On Securing Eastern Border, Tusk Says

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk (file photo)
Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk (file photo)

Poland will invest 10 billion zlotys ($2.55 billion) in a program to secure its eastern border, Prime Minister Donald Tusk said on May 18. Tusk did not provide specifics but said the program would include fortifications and landscaping that will make the border impossible for a “potential enemy" to pass through. Poland's border with Belarus has been a flashpoint since migrants started flocking there in 2021 after Minsk began encouraging Middle Eastern migrants to travel to Belarus and then use the new route into Europe. Warsaw and the European Union accused Minsk and Moscow of sending migrants to the border as part of an effort to destabilize Poland.

U.S. Military Cargo Plane Arrives In Moldova To Take Part In Emergency Response Training

A C-17 military transport aircraft of the U.S. Air Force (file photo)
A C-17 military transport aircraft of the U.S. Air Force (file photo)

A U.S. C-17 military aircraft landed on May 18 in Chisinau to support an exercise called Shield of Peace, the U.S. Embassy in Moldova said in a statement. On board the cargo plane were 35 military personnel from the North Carolina Air National Guard and the U.S. Air Force in Europe, according to the embassy. They will collaborate with Moldovan government ministries “to implement response tactics aimed at ensuring the best protection of Moldovan citizens in the event of civil emergencies.” The aircraft also delivered medical and defense equipment to be donated to the Moldovan Defense Ministry of as part of U.S. grant assistance. To read the full story on RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, click here.

Final Text Of UN Resolution On Srebrenica Genocide Agreed

Bosnia-Herzegovina Ambassador to the UN Zlatko Lagumdzija (file photo)
Bosnia-Herzegovina Ambassador to the UN Zlatko Lagumdzija (file photo)

Bosnia-Herzegovina’s ambassador to the United Nations has announced that the final text of a resolution on the Srebrenica genocide has been agreed.

Zlatko Lagumdzija announced the agreement on X, formerly Twitter, late on May 17, saying that changes proposed by Montenegro had been considered in the last few days and were largely implemented in the text of the resolution.

The latest revisions "led us to an even better 'refined' text with two amendments that became an integral part of the document," Lagumdzija said.

The agreed final version of the resolution will be presented to the General Assembly for a vote on May 23, Lagumdzija said.

He added that the discussion of the Srebrenica genocide in recent months represents "the fight for justice, truth, reconciliation, learning, prevention of genocide, and ultimately -- a symbol of the fight against the denial of genocide. No one can 'escape' from that anymore," Lagumdzija added.

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

The massacre has been deemed genocide by various verdicts of both the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

The UN resolution, which would declare July 11 as the International Day of Remembrance for the Genocide in Srebrenica, was initiated by Germany and Rwanda and is co-sponsored by the United States, France, Bosnia, and other countries. If the resolution passes, the day of remembrance would be observed starting on July 11 next year, the 30th anniversary of the genocide.

The final draft condemns any denial of the Srebrenica genocide as well as actions that glorify convicted war criminals and perpetrators of crimes against humanity and genocide.

It also highlights the importance of completing the process of finding and identifying the remains of victims of the genocide and calls for the continued prosecution of its perpetrators that have yet to be brought to justice.

The leaders of Bosnia's Serb entity, Republika Srpska, and Serbia have voiced angry opposition to the resolution, which they claim would label Serbs as a “genocidal nation.”

Milorad Dodik, Republika Srpska's Russian-friendly leader, has repeatedly threatened that if the resolution is adopted, the entity "will withdraw from the decision-making process in Bosnia."

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

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

Lagumdzija in a separate post on X on May 17 said the resolution includes language that "breaks out the arguments of false patriots who promote the nonexistent guilt of 'genocidal peoples'!"

The text reads: "We repeat that criminal responsibility under international law for the crime of genocide cannot apply to any ethnic, religious, or other community as a whole."

Serbia's nationalist president, Aleksandar Vucic, said the resolution should be subjected to a vote in the UN Security Council, not the General Assembly.

Unlike resolutions presented to the General Assembly, those put to a vote in the Security Council can be vetoed by any of its five members, therefore allowing Russia and China to sink it.

Russia’s UN ambassador, Vasily Nebenzya, has dismissed the resolution as “one-sided” and “politically charged.” Nebenzya said on April 30 that the move would not promote reconciliation among Bosnia’s two entities.

Georgia's President Vetoes 'Foreign Agent' Law As Protesters Attacked In Tbilisi

Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili speaks at a joint news conference in Tbilisi on May 15.
Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili speaks at a joint news conference in Tbilisi on May 15.

TBILISI -- Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili has vetoed the so-called foreign agent bill targeting media and NGOs that are funded by foreign governments following weeks of mass protests by Georgians who see the bill as endangering the country's path toward EU integration.

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.

Zurabishvili said earlier in the week that she considered the law "unacceptable."

Zurabishvili, who has increasingly feuded with the ruling Georgian Dream party since it endorsed her candidacy in 2018, previously expressed her intention to veto the bill, which was approved by parliament on May 14.

Protesters rally outside Tbilisi State University on May 17.
Protesters rally outside Tbilisi State University on May 17.

She said earlier in the week that she considered the law "unacceptable" and "not consistent" with the country's path toward integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions. She also warned that the law endangers the very existence of the Georgian state.

Zurabishvili said the Georgian Dream party together with several opposition members of parliament voted through the legislation in defiance of protesters who oppose any shift away from a pro-Western course back toward Russia.

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.

Opponents have pointed to the similarity to 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."

Zurabishvili used that description in a briefing after announcing her veto.

"This law is a Russian law in essence and spirit, which contradicts our constitution and all European standards. Thus, it represents an obstacle on our European path," she said. "This veto is completely legal and will be delivered to the parliament today."

The law is not subject to any change or improvement, she said, adding that the move is simple veto indicating the draft law "should be repealed."

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

Earlier on May 18 opponents of the law were attacked by Georgian Dream supporters outside Tbilisi State University, where they were waiting for the arrival of Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze, who teaches a course at the university on Saturdays.

One of the organizers of the rally, Niko Managadze, said a group of people confronted the protesters in front of the university and began to physically attack them.

Managadze told RFE/RL's Echo of the Caucasus that the move was meant to allow Kobakhidze to safely enter the building without having to face the protesters.

"We decided to gather in front of the university and protest, although as you could see, the others have mobilized and came into direct physical contact with us," Managadze said. "There was no adequate reaction from the police. They just stood next to us."


The attackers, who were said to be members of the youth wing of Georgian Dream, came to the university building dressed in black and wearing masks -- apparel similar to that worn by what appeared to be riot police who violently and repeatedly attacked protesters against the law earlier in the week before its adoption.

The incident outside Tbilisi State University came a day after top officials from the ruling party joined senior Orthodox clerics and conservative religious groups in rallies across the country on May 17 to mark a new holiday known as Family Purity Day, including a march in central Tbilisi, the scene of weeks of protests against the bill.

In Georgia, Church-Led 'Family Purity Day' Forces Out LGBT Events
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A procession attended by thousands began at the Holy Trinity Cathedral attended by Kobakhidze, Tbilisi Mayor Kakha Kaladze, who is also Georgian Dream's secretary-general, and parliament speaker Shalva Papuashvili.

The attention given by Georgian Dream to the event appeared to be an attempt to tamp down the impact of the weeks of massive protests against the contentious "foreign agent" bill approved by parliament amid the violent crackdown on protesters.

Kobakhidze has accused the protesters of "following the agenda of the political minority" and charged that they were showing a "great irresponsibility" toward their country.

Georgian Dream was founded by Russian-friendly billionaire and ex-Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili.

Updated

Suspected Would-Be Assassin Ordered Detained As Slovak PM's Condition Is Stable

The 71-year-old suspect was detained after shooting Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico after a government meeting in Handlova, Slovakia, on May 15.
The 71-year-old suspect was detained after shooting Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico after a government meeting in Handlova, Slovakia, on May 15.

The man accused of attempting to assassinate Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico was ordered to remain behind bars on May 18, while Fico remains in serious but stable condition, officials said. Slovakia’s Specialized Criminal Court ordered the detention of the suspect after prosecutors said they feared he could flee or carry out other crimes if set free, a court spokesperson said. Fico, 59, was shot multiple times as he greeted supporters following a government meeting on May 15, officials said. Unconfirmed media reports say the suspect is a 71-year-old retiree known as an amateur poet. Though he doesn’t belong to any political groups, allies of Fico have said the attack was politically motivated.

Russian Missile Attack On Odesa Kills 1, Wounds 8

 Missile attack on Odesa on May 17
Missile attack on Odesa on May 17

A Russian missile attack on Ukraine's southern Black Sea port city of Odesa has killed one person and wounded eight others, regional Governor Oleh Kiper said on Telegram. Ukraine's Emergency Situations Service reported that the strike hit a warehouse and a fire broke out on an area of 800 square meters, which firefighters were extinguishing. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

50 Dead In Heavy Rain, Floods In Central Afghanistan

Rain and floods have ravaged Ghor Province over the past week.
Rain and floods have ravaged Ghor Province over the past week.

At least 50 people are dead following a fresh bout of heavy rain and flooding in central Afghanistan, an official said on May 18. Mawlawi Abdul Hai Zaeem, head of the information department for the central Ghor Province, told Reuters there was no information about how many people were injured in the rain spell that began a day earlier, which had also cut off many key roads to the area. Zaeem added that 2,000 houses were completely destroyed, 4,000 partially damaged, and more than 2,000 shops were under water in the province's capital, Feroz-Koh.

Updated

Bishkek University Reportedly Calm After Mob Violence That Injured At Least 29 People

Attackers Storm Foreigners' Dorms In Kyrgyzstan
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BISHKEK -- The situation in Bishkek was stable late on May 18, police said, after mob violence against foreign students injured at least 29 people, including several foreigners, and triggered diplomatic tensions with Pakistan and India.

RFE/RL correspondents reported that the situation near the dormitory where foreigners live at Kyrgyz International University in the eastern part of Bishkek was calm on the evening of May 18 and said security measures had been strengthened.

Kyrgyz authorities said the Pakistani Embassy and a dormitory where foreigners live were put under strict security.

The Health Ministry said on May 18 that 15 of the 29 people injured in a brawl the night before were taken to the Bishkek City Emergency Hospital and the National Hospital and the rest were treated on the spot.

Health Minister Alymkadyr Beishenaliev said three foreign students were hospitalized, one in the maxillofacial department and two in the trauma department.

The nationality of the injured students was not released, but students confirmed to RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal that Pakistani students were involved in the incident and some of them were injured.

Indian media reported that Indian and Pakistani students were injured, and Indian Foreign Minister Subramanyam Jaishankar said he was monitoring the situation.

About 140 students and 40 other Pakistanis flew out of Bishkek late on May 18. The students were received by Interior Minister Mohsin Naqvi at Lahore International Airport, Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) officials told RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal. A second flight is arriving on May 19, the CAA officials said.

Pakistani Deputy Prime Minister Ishaq Dar, who is also foreign minister, and Minister for Kashmir Affairs Amir Muqam, will leave for Bishkek from Islamabad on May 19 at the direction of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif to accelerate the evacuation of the students, officials told RFE/RL.

The Kyrgyz government said earlier that four foreign nationals born between 1993 and 2003 had been arrested following the violence. It said they were placed in a temporary detention facility as part of a criminal case for hooliganism without stating their nationalities or the circumstances of their arrests.

Those found guilty will be punished, the Kyrgyz government said in a statement, rejecting what it said were "insinuations aimed at inciting intolerance toward foreign students." But 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."

The Kyrgyz Interior Ministry said in a statement on May 18 that the violence was triggered by the appearance on social media of a video purportedly showing a group of "persons of Asian appearance" harassing foreign students on the night of May 13 and then pursuing them to their dormitory, where at least one foreign student was assaulted by several men and dragged on the floor.

Video Appears To Show Mob Attacking Foreigners In Bishkek
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Samiulla Qureshi, a fifth-year medical student at the International University of Bishkek, said the fight on May 13 broke out between Egyptian students and local residents.

Later a video of Egyptians beating international students went viral on social media, he said.

The violence that started on the night of May 17 occurred when "local guys gathered and decided to visit the places where international students live,” Qureshi said. They were beaten “regardless of whether they are from Pakistan, India, or [another country], he added.

The ministry, which posted a version of the video on its Telegram channel, said other foreign students, alerted by the intruders' apparent attempt to enter the female students' quarters, mobilized and fought off the attackers.

"A fight ensued between them in the hostel yard, during which three of the attackers fled, leaving one behind," the statement said.

It said four foreign nationals born between 1993 and 2003 were detained and placed in a temporary detention facility as part of a criminal case for hooliganism without stating their nationalities or the circumstances of their arrests.

The ministry said authorities are still looking for two of the alleged attackers who were identified as natives of Kyrgyzstan's Kemin district: Nursultan Mukaev, born in 2006, and Tilek Shermatov, born in 2005.

The ministry claimed in its statement that the emergence of the video on social media on May 17 "without an explanation of the true circumstances of the incident" triggered a public outcry, and 500-700 people gathered, demanding action by authorities against those responsible for the May 13 incident at the hostel.

The ministry claimed security forces cordoned off the area where people had gathered at the intersection of Kurmanjan-Datka Street and Chui Avenue. "Explanatory work was carried out onsite, and after some time, the crowd dispersed," the statement said.

However, the statement does not explain how dozens of people were injured on the night of May 17, while the official account was contradicted by video footage appearing to show attackers ransacking a student hostel and beating up people, as well as riotous crowds in different parts of the city.

It also did not clarify why authorities took four days to intervene and identify the alleged suspects.

Muhammad Ihtisham Latif, a Pakistani medical student in Bishkek, told RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal, "The situation is bad here. The situation started when Egyptian students clashed with locals here. The locals are now protesting and they are beating Indian and Pakistani students.... They chase them in their hostels and houses...hostel [doors] were broken. I am locked up in the university along with other students since yesterday and I am sharing my voice with you."

Syed Shah Rukh Khan, a medical student in his final year, told Radio Mashaal the past night had been "living hell."

Kyrgyz Security Forces Cordon Off Parts Of Bishkek Amid Violence
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"Our hostel and many other hostels were attacked. The locals beat whoever came their way, boys or girls, and they were dragged to the ground. Even outside the universities, they went after the Pakistani and Indian students and beat them," Khan said.

Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif expressed "deep concern" over the situation of Pakistani students in Kyrgyzstan, saying in a statement that he directed Pakistan's ambassador to provide all necessary help and assistance to the students.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Ishaq Dar said on X, formerly Twitter, that the reports of mob attacks on students in Kyrgyzstan are extremely concerning.

"We have established contact with the Kyrgyz authorities to ensure protection of Pakistani students. I have instructed our ambassador to Kyrgyzstan to fully facilitate them," Dar said.

In a separate statement, Pakistan's Foreign Ministry said the charge d'affaires of the Kyrgyz Embassy to Islamabad, Melis Moldaliev, was summoned to the ministry, where he "was conveyed the deep concerns of the government of Pakistan about the reports of last night’s incidents against Pakistani students studying in the Kyrgyz Republic."

Moldaliev was told that Islamabad expects the Kyrgyz government to take all possible measures to ensure the safety and security of Pakistani students and citizens in Kyrgyzstan.

The head of Kyrgyzstan's State Committee on National Security (UKMK), Kamchybek Tashiev, appeared to try and lay the blame for the violence on illegal migrants, saying protesters were demonstrating against migration.

Tashiev claimed Kyrgyzstan has been grappling with an influx of illegal migrants coming to the country, mostly from Pakistan and Bangladesh, many of whom "break the law."

"We identify at least 20-30 or 50 illegal migrants per day and try to expel them from the country. Based on official statistics, most of the foreigners who break the law are citizens of Pakistan and Bangladesh. Of these, we returned about 1,500 people from Pakistan and about 1,000 people from Bangladesh to their countries."

The incident comes amid a drive by Kyrgyz authorities to expel foreign workers. On May 16, the UKMK announced the arrest of 28 alleged illegal Pakistani workers from a sweatshop. On May 15, Bishkek police shut down delivery services conducted by more than 400 foreign students on motorcycles and scooters, citing traffic safety concerns.

France Accuses Baku Of Backing Campaign Inciting Violence On New Caledonia

A protester holds the flag of New Caledonian nationalists at a demonstration in Paris on May 16.
A protester holds the flag of New Caledonian nationalists at a demonstration in Paris on May 16.

France has again accused Azerbaijan of interfering in the internal politics of New Caledonia by backing a disinformation campaign that Paris says is encouraging deadly riots in the French territory located between Australia and Fiji.

A French government agency said on May 17 that France has detected a "massive and coordinated" online campaign accusing French police of shooting pro-independence demonstrators. The agency linked the disinformation efforts to "Azerbaijani actors." Azerbaijan has rejected the claims.

Viginum, the French government's watchdog for online disinformation campaigns, pointed to the manipulation of information on social media platforms over the recent riots in New Caledonia.

"On May 15 and 16, 2024, Viginum detected massive and coordinated dissemination on various platforms of clearly inaccurate or misleading content, accusing French police of firing on pro-independence demonstrators," the agency said.

In recent days New Caledonia has been engulfed in clashes between supporters and opponents of independence. The protests started over an electoral reform law that expanded the voting rights of French nationals living in New Caledonia. Opponents of the law say it will weaken the vote of the local population and increase the influence of Paris.

French authorities in New Caledonia and at the Interior Ministry said that five people, including two police officers, have been killed in the clashes since May 13.

France imposed a state of emergency and deployed military forces to protect ports and airports. High Commissioner Louis Le Franc announced stringent measures under the state of emergency, which will run for at least 11 days, including a curfew from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.

The accusation made on May 17 by Viginum follows the comments of French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanen, who told French television that "some leaders of Caledonia's supporters of independence made a deal with Azerbaijan."

The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry said the French official’s words were "another baseless opinion" and added on May 17 that Azerbaijan was not connected to the New Caledonia protests.

Darmanen’s comments came after a delegation from New Caledonia visited Azerbaijan and held meetings with the chairman of the parliament, deputies, and other officials.

Azerbaijani Deputy Asim Mollazadeh said that according to the information provided by the guests from New Caledonia "almost all their rights are violated. It is not suitable for anyone to live in the 21st century with the actions of the 15th century," Mollazadeh said.

Mollazadeh, who participated in a conference in April dedicated to the topic New Caledonia's history, modern challenges, and future, said Azerbaijan can provide moral support to New Caledonia. The territory is "fighting for its freedom and rights…. History also remembers the crimes committed by France," he said.

New Caledonia held three referendums on independence between 2018 and 2021. None of them passed.

With reporting by AFP, Reuters, and AP

Bill Allowing Military Service For Some Convicts Endorsed In Ukraine

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (file photo)
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (file photo)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on May 17 signed into law a bill allowing for convicts under certain circumstances to serve in the armed forces as Kyiv deals with a military personnel shortage amid Russia's ongoing invasion. Parliament approved the bill on May 8 after the government dropped its opposition to the move. Kyiv has sharply criticized Moscow for recruiting convicts from prison to fight in the war in exchange for a release from their sentences. Reports in recent months say former prisoners have committed serious crimes across the country after they served in the war. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.

Updated

At Least 4 Killed In Attack On Foreign Tourists In Afghanistan

Bamiyan Province in Afghanistan (file photo)
Bamiyan Province in Afghanistan (file photo)

At least four people were killed in an armed attack on a group of foreign tourists at a market in Bamiyan Province in central Afghanistan on May 17, according to government and security sources.

Taliban-led Interior Ministry spokesman Abdul Matin Qane was quoted by AFP as saying that 11 people were shot and that four of them, including three foreigners, died. Among the other seven victims were four foreigners and three Afghans, he added.

But a Taliban security source told RFE/RL's Radio Azadi that the attack left eight people dead.

The source, who asked not to be named, told RFE/RL that five Afghan civilians and three foreigners were shot dead. The governor of Bamiyan did not respond to RFE/RL’s requests for additional information about the shooting.

Qane said the foreigners were tourists but did not provide their nationalities.

Hospital sources quoted by AFP said preliminary information indicated that three Spanish nationals were killed, and that the wounded were from Norway, Australia, Lithuania, and Spain.

A spokesman for the Spanish Foreign Ministry confirmed to Reuters that Spanish nationals were among the victims in the attack. The spokesman said the total number of victims had yet to be confirmed.

Security forces have arrested four people in connection with the attack, Qane said.

The Taliban government "strongly condemns this crime, expresses its deep feelings to the families of the victims, and assures that all the criminals will be found and punished," Qane said in a statement.

Afghanistan has been attracting more and more tourists since improvements in security following the Taliban's return to power in Afghanistan in 2021 after the withdrawal of international forces.

The Bamiyan region is home to many members of the mainly Shi'ite Hazara ethnic minority. The historically persecuted religious minority has been repeatedly targeted by the Islamic State extremist group, which considers them heretics.

In 2001, the Taliban blew up the giant, centuries-old Buddha statues that were carved into cliffs at Bamiyan. The statues once stood alongside caves, monasteries, and shrines that are among the tourist attractions in the province.

Before blowing up the statues, the hard-line Islamist group declared them "false idols.” Their destruction has been called the "cultural crime of the century.”

With reporting by AFP

Uzbeks Who Broke Laws In Russia Recommended To Avoid Travel To Kazakhstan

An Uzbek-Kazakh border checkpoint (file photo)
An Uzbek-Kazakh border checkpoint (file photo)

Uzbekistan's Foreign Labor Migration Agency on May 17 called on the Central Asian nation's citizens who may have broken laws in Russia to avoid travel to neighboring Kazakhstan, citing Kazakh-Russian agreements on joint efforts against crime. According to the agency, Uzbeks registered in Russia's database as violators will be arrested if they cross into Kazakh territory and subsequently handed to Russia. Many Uzbek migrant workers have left Russia in recent months, fearing forced recruitment into the war in Ukraine. As an alternative, many have chosen Kazakhstan as a destination for job opportunities. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Uzbek Service, click here.

Intense Border Clashes Between Taliban, Pakistan Cause Deaths, Destruction

The border gate in Kurram tribal district's Kharlachi between Afghanistan and Pakistan (file photo)
The border gate in Kurram tribal district's Kharlachi between Afghanistan and Pakistan (file photo)

At least one Taliban border guard and one Pakistani soldier have been killed and several more injured in the latest border clashes between them.

The clashes continued into the early hours of May 17 after they first erupted five days ago. Pakistani and Taliban forces targeted each other in several places along the eastern Afghan provinces of Paktia and Khost, which borders Pakistan's western Kurram district.

Most of the casualties occurred on May 15 when one Pakistani soldier was killed and six more injured after a Taliban rocket hit their post, according to official sources in the country. The Taliban also acknowledged the death of one of its fighters.

"Intense shooting is spreading a wave of fear among locals,” Imran Ali, a Pashtun tribal leader in Kurram, told RFE/RL’s Radio Mashaal on May 17.

Sameer Khan, a resident of the Teri Mangal area straddling the border, said that locals are moving to safer regions after mortar shells landed in civilian homes.

Shabbir Ahmad Usmani, a Taliban official in eastern Afghanistan, said they are collecting information on the human and material losses in the fighting.

The clashes erupted on May 13 after Pakistani forces began repairing the barbed-wire fence it first erected in 2017 to demarcate the Durand Line border, which no government in Afghanistan has formally recognized after it was first drawn by the British Empire in India in 1893.

Relations between Afghanistan's Islamist rulers and Pakistan have been tense since the Taliban returned to power in 2021. Islamabad blames the Taliban for sheltering the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TPP), a longtime ideological and organizational ally of the Taliban.

The recent tensions were partly flamed by an alleged Pakistani air strike in the southeastern Paktika Province, reportedly targeted by the Pakistani Taliban.

On May 12, at least seven Pakistani soldiers were killed and two more injured in two separate militant attacks in Pakistan’s North Waziristan district, which borders Paktika.

Ihsanullah Tipu Mehsud, director of news at the Khorasan Diary, a website tracking militant groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan, says the Taliban blames Islamabad's border fence for the tensions. At the same time, Pakistani authorities allege that the TTP is exploiting the border to infiltrate Pakistan with the help of the Taliban.

“Unlike previous Afghan regimes led by Karzai and Ghani, which largely relied on verbal criticisms over border issues, the Taliban has resorted to force,” he said, referring to former Afghan presidents Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani.

He said that the clashes have severely disrupted trade between the two countries, wreaking havoc among the Pashtun border communities in the two countries.

“Border tensions not only disrupt trade but also undermine trust,” he said. “This underscores the pressing need for a peaceful resolution to this long-standing dispute.”

But both the Taliban and Islamabad have been silent over the clashes, which experts say might indicate a complete breakdown in their relations.

'Leaders' Of Banned Islamic Group Detained In Kyrgyzstan

The Kyrgyz Interior Ministry said on May 17 that four "leaders" of the Hizb ut-Tahrir Islamic group and several of the banned organization's members have been apprehended in Bishkek and other locations inside the Central Asian nation. According to the ministry, the suspects were detained during a special operation two days earlier. Police confiscated books with "extremist content," mobile phones, and other electronic devices as they searched the suspects' homes. Hizb ut-Tahrir, along with such Islamic groups as Yakyn Inkar, Jabhat an-Nusra, Jaihul-Mahdi, Ansarullah, Jihad Tobu, and the Islamic Movement of Eastern Turkistan, have been outlawed in Kyrgyzstan since 2003. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, click here.

Russian Officer Who Fled To Kazakhstan To Avoid Ukraine War Detained

Russian officer Kamil Kasimov's military ID
Russian officer Kamil Kasimov's military ID

Kazakh rights defender Artur Alkhasov said on May 17 that Russian military officer Kamil Kasimov, who fled Russia last year to avoid being sent to the war in Ukraine and was legally residing in Astana, was arrested in late April and is currently being held at a Russian military base in Kazakhstan's central Qaraghandy region. The 23-year-old Kamilov was charged with being absent without notice in order to evade military service and faces up to 10 years in prison if extradited and convicted, Alkhasov said. Officers at the Russian military base in Kazakhstan’s Priozyorsk refused to comment on the situation when contacted by RFE/RL. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, click here.

Dubai Unlocked: Convicts, Wealthy Iranians With State Ties Implicated In Leaked Property Data

An aerial view of the palm tree-shaped Palm Jumeirah real estate development in Dubai (file photo)
An aerial view of the palm tree-shaped Palm Jumeirah real estate development in Dubai (file photo)

Over 7,000 Iranians, including convicts and some with ties to the state, own what experts estimate to be billions of dollars of property in Dubai, according to a report by the Netherlands-based outlet Radio Zamaneh.

The information was obtained as part of a monthslong investigative project known as Dubai Unlocked. Journalists from 75 media outlets from across the world, including Radio Zamaneh, pored over the leaked data and have gradually released their findings over the past week.

Radio Zamaneh’s report cites academics and experts who say the total value of properties owned by Iranians in Dubai is around $7 billion.

It notes that while there is a slew of ordinary Iranians who have properties in the United Arab Emirates, there are also convicts, fugitives, and known figures with links to the Iranian establishment.

An office in Dubai’s Aspect Tower worth around $650,000 belongs to Abbas Iravani, a former head of the Ezam Automotive Parts Group who was sentenced to 65 years in prison earlier this year for his involvement in smuggling auto parts, disrupting the economy, and bribing officials. He has denied the charges.

Another prominent figure is Mohammad Emami, an investor and TV producer who is serving a 20-year prison sentence for his involvement in financial corruption. His friend and alleged co-conspirator in the case, Amir Reza Farzanrad, is a fugitive and also implicated in the Dubai Unlocked leaks.

Radio Zamaneh says Emami and Farzanrad each own a villa in the affluent Al-Merkadh neighborhood of Dubai worth $5.5 million and $12 million, respectively.

Convicted steel magnate Rasul Danialzadeh, sentenced to 16 years in prison for bribery, owns $12.6 million worth of property in Dubai, including five apartments in the upscale Al-Thanyah Fifth community and a villa in Palm Jumeirah.

The family of the late former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani feature prominently in the leaks.

His oldest son, former Tehran City Council chairman Mohsen Hashemi Rafsanjani, owns an apartment worth an estimated $380,000. Mohsen’s son, Ehsan, has a small apartment in Dubai valued at $100,000.

Yasser Hashemi Rafsanjani -- the ex-president’s youngest son -- and his wife, Maryam, own two apartments in the Burj Khalifa worth a combined $1.45 million.

The reports also notes that several dual national Iranians own properties in Dubai, including Mehdi Shams, a former executive at the state-run Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Line Group.

The report said Shams, who is sentenced to 20 years in prison over his involvement in a multibillion-dollar embezzlement case, purchased a villa valued at $20 million on his British passport.

To put the figures into perspective, the average annual household income in Tehran in the Iranian year 1401 (March 2022-23) was around 2.3 billion rials. That is roughly $3,900 per year, or around $325 a month.

“With a reputation for financial secrecy, low taxes, and an ever-expanding spread of valuable real estate, [Dubai] is an appealing option for those looking to launder or hide cash,” says the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, which along with Norwegian financial outlet E24 coordinated the investigation project.

Russia Pounds Kharkiv Region As Putin Looks To Create 'Buffer Zone'

A police officer runs past a burning house destroyed by a Russian air strike in Vovchansk on May 11.
A police officer runs past a burning house destroyed by a Russian air strike in Vovchansk on May 11.

Russia continues to pound Ukraine's northeastern Kharkiv region in an offensive that has seen the active combat zone grow as Moscow looks to establish what President Vladimir Putin called a "buffer zone."

The Ukrainian military's commander in chief, Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskiy, said on May 17 that the combat zone had expanded by some 70 kilometers in a move meant to force Kyiv, already at a troop disadvantage on the battlefield, to concentrate more soldiers in the area and stretch it thin elsewhere.

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Speaking during a trip to China on May 17, Putin said Russia needed to create a safe zone, as Ukraine was regularly launching attacks on border regions such as Belgorod, around 80 kilometers north of the city of Kharkiv.

"Civilians are dying there. It's obvious. They are shooting directly at the city center, at residential areas. And I said publicly that if this continues, we will be forced to create a security zone, a buffer zone. That is what we are doing," Putin said.

Syrskiy said in a message on Telegram that Moscow's attack failed because it was launched prematurely.

"The enemy launched an offensive well ahead of schedule when it noticed the movement of our troops. However, it failed to break through our defenses," Syskiy wrote, adding that Ukraine "understands that there will be tough battles ahead."

The fiercest battles have been under way for the town of Vovchansk, some 5 kilometers from the Russian border.

Kharkiv's regional administrator, Oleh Synyehubov, said on May 17 that Russian forces had been attempting to encircle the small town that has all but been abandoned by its inhabitants with the exception of some 200 people trapped inside.

"The enemy has actually started to destroy the city. It is not just dangerous to be there, but impossible," Synyehubov said.


President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in his evening address on May 16 that Russian shelling continued, but Ukrainian forces "have managed to increase confidence in the Vovchansk area."

Meanwhile, a source told RFE/RL that a joint operation of Ukraine's Security Service (SBU) and the Defense Ministry's Main Intelligence Directorate (HUR) targeted Russian military-logistics facilities in Sevastopol in the occupied Crimea and in Russia's Krasnodar region along the Black Sea coast.

Separately, authorities in the Krasnodar region said a drone attack early on May 17 caused a fire at an oil refinery in Tuapse but it was contained and there were no casualties.

WATCH: Russian forces opened a new front in the war with an invasion of the Kharkiv region in Ukraine's northeast last week. That has not meant a letup in the fighting in the east, where Ukrainian forces are still battling to defend territory that they retook almost two years ago. Troops in the town of Terny in the Donetsk region say they're short on munitions and manpower as they await fresh military aid.

As Russia Attacks Northern Kharkiv Region, Ukrainian Troops In The East Are Stretched Thin
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In Sevastopol, a drone strike on a power station caused power cuts, according to reports. The Russian-appointed head of the city, Mikhail Razvozhayev, claimed that Russian defense systems destroyed "dozens of drones and more than five unmanned boats."

The Russian Defense Ministry said on May 17 that 51 drones were destroyed over occupied Crimea, 44 over Krasnodar, six over Belgorod, and one over the Kursk region. Overnight, naval aviation and patrol boats destroyed six Ukrainian naval drones in the Black Sea, the ministry said.

The Russian claims could not be independently confirmed immediately.

Ukraine's Air Force said early on May 17 its air defenses shot down all 20 drones that were launched by Russia at five of its regions overnight.

The drones were downed over the Kharkiv, Poltava, Vinnytsya, Odesa and Mykolayiv regions, it reported. There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage.

Lukashenka Meets Azerbaijan's Aliyev In Nagorno-Karabakh

Alyaksandr Lukashenka (left) is greeted by Ilham Aliyev at the Fuzuli airport on May 17.
Alyaksandr Lukashenka (left) is greeted by Ilham Aliyev at the Fuzuli airport on May 17.

Authoritarian Belarusian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka on May 17 visited Azerbaijan's Nagorno-Karabakh region, known as Qarabag Province in Azeri, for the first time since Baku regained full control over the region last year following several decades of ethnic Armenian control. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev greeted Lukashenka at the international airport in the town of Fuzuli that was built after Azerbaijan took over the district in 2020. Lukashenka and Aliyev also visited the city of Susa (Shushi in Armenian). Lukashenka asked Aliyev to include Belarus in renovation programs in the region launched since Azerbaijan retook control. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Belarus Service, click here.

First Russian Transgender Politician Decides To Detransition

Yulia Alyoshina changed her gender to female in 2020. (file photo)
Yulia Alyoshina changed her gender to female in 2020. (file photo)

Yulia Alyoshina, the first Russian transgender politician, announced on May 16 that she had decided to change gender again and return to using her former name, Roman. The ex-chief of the Civic Initiative political party's branch in the Siberian region of Altai said the idea to restore her former gender came to her during Lent after she prayed for her ancestors. Born in 1990 as Roman Alyoshin, she changed her gender to female in 2020. After the Supreme Court labelled the "international LGBT movement" extremist, Alyoshina quit politics. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

Slovak PM Remains In Intensive Care As Doctors Consider Move To Bratislava

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico is stretchered into the Banksa Bystrica hospital after an assassination attempt on May 15.
Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico is stretchered into the Banksa Bystrica hospital after an assassination attempt on May 15.

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico remains in intensive care in serious condition and will stay in a hospital in the central city of Banksa Bystrica at least until May 20 before he may be moved to Bratislava, according to local media and government officials. Fico, who was shot four times on May 15, is able to speak a little, officials said, and his state of health has improved since the attack, when his injuries were considered life-threatening. Local media reported on May 17 that a medical council would assess Fico on May 20 to decide whether he could be medically evacuated to the capital.

Chechen Teen Flees Russia Complaining Of Domestic Violence

Lia Zaurbekova
Lia Zaurbekova

A 19-year-old from the North Caucasus region of Chechnya has fled Russia after leaving home to escape domestic violence, Aleksandr Ionov, a member of Russia's Public Monitoring Commission and Human Rights Council, said on May 17. The Marem human rights group said Lia Zaurbekova left Chechnya for Moscow on May 13, fearing for her life after she was physically and psychologically abused at home. Her family tracked her down in Moscow and tried to forcibly take her back to Chechnya but was unable to do so after Zaurbekova called the police and a lawyer. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Caucasus.Realities, click here.

Noted Political Analyst Flees Russia After Being Denounced

Aleksandr Sungurov (file photo)
Aleksandr Sungurov (file photo)

Aleksandr Sungurov, a Russian political analyst and professor at the Higher School of Economics, has fled Russia after pro-Kremlin film director Nikita Mikhalkov accused him of anti-Russian activities, one of Sungurov's students said on May 17. Mikhalkov said recently on his television show that the Sungurov-organized Strategia (The Strategy) foundation received financial support from abroad and must be labeled a "foreign agent." Sungurov has led Strategia, a liberal and analytical center in St. Petersburg, since 1994. He has also worked as an expert on the Council of Europe and the European Union. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Russia Issues Warrant For Journalist Marshenkulova In Exile

Zalina Marshenkulova (file photo)
Zalina Marshenkulova (file photo)

A Moscow court on May 17 issued an arrest warrant for Zalina Marshenkulova, an activist journalist in exile, on a charge of justifying terrorism. The charge stems from Marshenkulova's online post last year in which she called the death of pro-Kremlin blogger Vladlen Tatarsky, who was killed in a blast in a restaurant in St. Petersburg, "appropriate." Marshenkulova, a native of Russia's mostly Muslim Kabardino-Balkaria region, has a Telegram channel called Women's Power, with around 30,000 subscribers. Last month, the Interior Ministry added her to its wanted list. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Caucasus.Realities, click here.

EU Urges Iran To 'Reverse Nuclear Trajectory' As Tehran Threatens To Cross Threshold

 The European Union's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell (left) meets Iranian Foreign Minister Amir-Abdollahian in Tehran in June 2022.
The European Union's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell (left) meets Iranian Foreign Minister Amir-Abdollahian in Tehran in June 2022.

The European Union has joined the United States and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in urging Iran to abandon suggestions that it might develop nuclear weapons.

"We continue to call Iran to reverse its nuclear trajectory and show concrete steps, such as urgently improve cooperation with the IAEA," EU spokesman Peter Stano told RFE/RL in written comments on May 16.

The Islamic republic has long claimed that its nuclear program is strictly for civilian purposes, but a growing number of officials in recent weeks have openly suggested that Iran might review its nuclear doctrine if it deems it necessary.

A landmark deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) between Iran and world powers in 2015 restricted Tehran's nuclear program in exchange for relief from sanctions.

However, Iran expanded its program and restricted IAEA inspections of its nuclear sites after then-President Donald Trump withdrew the United Staes from the deal and reimposed sanctions in 2018.

The EU, which is the coordinator of the JCPOA's Joint Commission, mediated several rounds of indirect talks between Tehran and Washington from 2021 to 2022.

The 27-member bloc presented a final draft of an agreement to revive the deal in August 2022, but talks broke down soon after as Tehran and Washington accused each other of making excessive demands.

"Our goal has always been to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, through a diplomatic solution," Stano said, adding that the EU's foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, and his team continue efforts to revive the Iran deal.

Iran has particularly upped the rhetoric since last month, when it launched an unprecedented missile and drone attack against its archfoe Israel in response to a deadly air strike on its embassy compound in Syria that killed several members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

An IRGC general at the time warned that an attack on Iran's nuclear sites could lead to a rethinking of its policy on nuclear weapons.

Kamal Kharazi, a senior adviser to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and a former foreign minister, repeated the threat earlier this week.

"We do not want nuclear weapons and the supreme leader's fatwa is to that effect. But if the enemy threatens you, what do you do?" he said.

The fatwa refers to a religious decree by Khamenei in which he said the Islamic republic considers the use of nuclear weapons to be "haram" and Iran would not pursue one.

The fatwa has long been cited by the Iranian authorities as evidence that Iran would never weaponize its nuclear program. Experts, however, question how effective of a barrier the fatwa really is.

Farzan Sabet, a senior research associate at the Geneva Graduate Institute, said, "The nuclear fatwa does not pose an insurmountable religious or legal obstacle inside Iran for the system there to pursue nuclear weapons or potentially build them."

Despite the public comments by Iranian officials, the Foreign Ministry has insisted that there has been no change in the country's nuclear doctrine.

Stano said that it "is imperative to show utmost restraint" given the heightened tensions in the Middle East.

"Further escalation in the region -- also in the form of statements about the nuclear posture, even if not reflecting the official position of the country -- is in no one's interest," he added.

In response to in Iran's new rhetoric, the United States has said it "will not allow" Tehran to obtain nuclear weapons.

Separately, IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi has called on Iran to "stop" suggestions that it might review its nuclear posture.

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